Kayla Thomas: Co-Managing Editor

Kayla is a transfer student who doesn’t know when she will meet the requirements for graduation. She is majoring in English and minoring in Communications and Global Studies. She loves writing stories from strange perspectives and there is always a death. Right now, her book is The Jungle by Upton Sinclair!

Alchemist Review 2018! Click the Link to Read Online!


Short Stories By: Vika Mujumdar, Diana Vazquez, Maura Freeman, Brittany Wiser, Kayla Thomas, and Zoey Pritchett!

Poetry By: Glenn Cassidy, Stanley Sharkey, Thomas Brooks, Maura Freeman, Kaya Schreiber, Drew Kodrich, Cheyenne Gain, Daymon Kilman, Allen J. Dixon, Kayla Thomas, and James Kanter!

Artwork By: Abbi McKinnie, Drew Van Weelden, and Cheyenne Gain!

Painting a Vivid Image: Imagery in Robert Shuster’s “The Existence of the Opposite”

by Elizabeth Howell


I’ve always appreciated reading vivid details within a story, those descriptive scenes or images that allow you to put yourself into the story. I think the ones in which I remember best, the stories I enjoyed most, were the ones that allowed me to see what was going on around the characters within the story. Whether I’m working on a story I plan to post on Fanfiction or I’m crafting an original story for my own pleasure or even a class, I find that I just can’t seem to help incorporating as much imagery as I can when I get the chance. I like to feed my readers little morsels of the real meat of the story. The scenes in which characters interact, even if it’s just through dialogue, can still be made into a scene for your audience. You can describe a person based on their appearance, their personality, their quirky little habits, their body language or facial expressions. I was often shocked to receive praise on Fanfiction for this very reason. The readers “just love” my portrayal of the characters in my stories because they could imagine it all playing out in their head.

In Shuster’s story, the author incorporates several instances of imagery. While some are rather gruesome, detailing the images of the corpses of those lost in an ongoing war, others help to describe the men who have passed on from their lives before the war. He writes this scene, portraying Savic’s character before the war: “… to be drunk, he always insisted, from snifters as big as vases which all but disappeared in the cradle of his huge, stupid hands.” Another scene we see him captured in is as follows: “… his lips shiny with grease, sloppy as a dog’s, and the sauce always dripping onto his sweater.” Savic is portrayed as being a character that has great pride and likes to think of himself as a “survivor of tragedy” – though the fact that he does not survive the tragedy of war is quite ironic – and a great lover of alcohol. Just a paragraph later, we see that the woman he was having an affair with imagined him as such: “He would be lying there like a butchered steer, as hard as freezer meat, in pieces maybe…” In these instances, we are shown what this man was like before the war and what he would be reduced to after the tragedy he couldn’t survive.

However, it is not simply the characters that we’re given vivid details of. Scenery is another part of the story that is painted quite descriptively. In the city where the women meet the Red Cross bus driver, the writer paints this picture of their surroundings: “The scorched roofs became black again, craters opened, and the remnants returned – a wristwatch, five cubes of chewing gum still wrapped, a torn umbrella, the unclaimed bone of a child’s finger.” Later, we see the gruesome account of one of the women helping clean up the streets after an attack: “She had helped scoop up intestines scattered across a roadway like streamers dropped in a parade, she’d touched skin made into paper from God-knows-what disease…” These scenes paint a very haunting image for the reader to understand just how brutal and horrific the war is. It allows them to picture things from the survivors’ perspectives.

The weather can also be a key element in toying with imagery. Shuster’s use of winter landscapes is rather unforgettable in this story. Two particular sentences stood out to me while reading this story: “A light spring snow was falling, wide flakes that descended so slowly as to make one feel drawn down, sleepy. The trees and the muddied road were becoming ghosts of themselves.” The imagery this writer uses here is quite fitting, considering the fact that these women are now stuck, desperately trying to find their lost loved ones to confirm that they are, in fact, dead and seek some form of closure. When the Red Cross driver stops the bus because he finds a sign posted, warning them that there are mines ahead on the road, they all climb out and take a look around. The bleak setting matched the overwhelming defeat the women felt.

Imagery is a very powerful tool that any writer can use to boost the mood of their story and hook their audience. While it might not always be rainbows and butterflies, the use of imagery helps encourage the readers to imagine the world that the characters are in. It allows them to go on a little journey with these characters and experience the scenes and surroundings within the story, making it one of the most essential elements of writing.

The Honeymoon Capital of the World: Place in Elizabeth Anderson’s “Daredevil”

By Dr. Meagan Cass


Lately, I’ve been writing and reading a lot of stories that involve travel. This is probably because of the weather: we’ve been in the negatives for weeks here in Springfield, IL. I think it also involves the unique possibilities of this type of story, though. I’m also interested in how the stresses of travel can shake things up inside characters, how the strangeness of a new environment can reveal aspects of the self we gloss over in our every day lives.

Elizabeth Anderson’s “Daredevil,” published last summer in Witness, got me started on this travel story kick. The plot involves a young, newly married couple who travel to Niagara Falls for their honey moon. While the husband, Roy, dictates much of the early action of the story—“Niagara Falls, he said, was the honeymoon capital of the world, the only place besides Vegas where anyone ought to consider tying the knot”—the story is told from the perspective of Irene, an eighteen year old who is newly pregnant and trying to quit heroin.

From the beginning of the story, we get the sense that the relationship between Irene and Roy and drugs is powerful, and that the Falls will serve as a loose metaphor for that power. Anderson writes, “Irene couldn’t see the Falls from where she was standing, but she could hear the low, urgent pounding, like the beating of some enormous heart.” It’s a menacing image, one that the story will echo meaningfully later on.

As the Falls come into full view and the honeymoon rolls on, Roy becomes increasingly unpleasant. He makes a xenophobic comment, flirts with another woman, makes outrageous claims about going over the Falls in a barrel, spends all their money buying beers for strangers, and invites his junkie friends to join them, ignoring Irene’s desire for food and intimacy. We learn that in the past, when the couple is low on cash, Roy gets Irene to have sex for money, and that he will likely do this again even though she is knocked up.

The rising tension between Roy and Irene, and the deepening of Irene’s character as she comes into greater self-knowledge and sees her new husband more clearly, is linked to place. Roy is the kind of person who makes ambitious promises (“he said he was going to take her to a restaurant that sat in a high tower above the Falls”) and then easily breaks them (“Instead he took her to the nearest bar…and spent the rest of the evening telling everyone he was a daredevil”). After Roy passes out, Irene returns to the rushing water, remembering the museum guide’s reference to the popularity of suicide here. As readers, we remember earlier in the story, when Irene described the Falls as “like the first time she ever got high with Roy, the cold rush of it, the way something could be so beautiful at the same time so terrible.”

Back then, she stepped back from the railing. Now, demoralized and uncertain about her future with Roy, she steps into the water, “waiting for something to come to her, an answer maybe.” What comes is the knowledge that nothing is a new awareness of her own power. She imagines Roy hurtling over the edge of the Falls in his stolen car, thinks of her unborn child, and experiences her own kind of awakening: nothing will change if she doesn’t act decisively. At the close the story, after she’s turned Roy in to the police and has sat down eat a full stack of pancakes, we feel that new sense of agency. When the Falls “[roar] in her ears,” we also hear Irene’s enormous desire to survive.

This story made me newly aware of the rich possibilities of travel stories. At their best, travel stories carve fresh, vivid emotional vocabularies from the places the characters visit, from rushing water and old bourbon barrels and cheesy museums and stolen cars, from all night diners and stock postcards and on and on. When we send our characters out of town, when we strand them in dingy hotel rooms or at the Crowne Plaza, at a hokey tourist attraction or at a fine museum, we also send them deeper inside themselves.

Archived Editions

Dear Reader,

We are excited to announce we are archiving the old editions of The Alchemist Review on the website. We will be adding more editions each week to celebrate the release of the new print edition in April. Here’s the first four, published in 1977, ’79, and ’80. We hope you enjoy. Click here for more info. Thanks for reading!

Erich O’Connor
Managing Editor
The Alchemist Review