Angie Barrios Mackepeace

A great trip needs a great purpose. You’ve gathered your belongings, asked your friend to watch the cat, and planned a loose itinerary for your journey, but you have yet to slow down and think about why you needed this vacation in the first place. Could it have been the difficult conversation with your mom? Could it be the pending meetings between irritatingly proud colleagues you have back at the office? Or was it just that consistent fit of restlessness in your fingertips that does not leave you alone? That unusual feeling of detachment in your chest had become hard to ignore in the weeks prior to the impulsive decision. The Bahamas sound peaceful right about now. Or maybe the Grand Canyon could give you some perspective? Tickets are at a decent price, just pick your poison. You need some time to be in tune with yourself. 
Your friend, the one entrusted with the cat, stares at you intently. He sits on your squishy couch, listening to you wrestle with yourself while you pack too many pairs of underwear into a cheap set of luggage. Amid your incoherent raving, your friend’s gaze has shifted to the door behind you; his knee is bouncing, tapping, shifting. His responses, ranging only from “yeah” to “mmm” lack any comprehension and he seems somewhere else. It doesn’t matter. it’s time to go. You thank him again for taking care of Bruce and take one last look around the room. Noticing every detail, as if to ground yourself before taking an imminent plunge that removes you from familiarity. Everything and nothing is about to change.
Bombs away.
A few hours later, you make your first stop: a gas station. It’s a lone building trying to blend in with the desert sand that surrounds it. A nice man in a clean, pressed, white shirt and hat with a nametag that reads “Alan” greets you as you step out of your car. His inviting demeanor compliments the attentive and eager look on his face as he offers his hand out to shake. Alan’s firm grip assures you; you are in the right place. Before you can exchange pleasantries, the hot asphalt burns through your sandals, melting them into puddles right before your eyes. You liked those. Alan reaches behind him, pulling out a new pair of identical sandals without missing a beat. He’s my hero, you think. He invites you to join him inside the gas station and as you walk together, the wind sends dust to brush against your face in a warm welcome.
The loud honk of an approaching eighteen-wheeler behind you makes you jump. Alan doesn’t flinch.
“I would introduce you to Ol 'Frank back there but the man will not look me in the eye these days. One thing you learn in a million years of working the industry, my boy: never offend those you do business with, and if you must, get your fair share before you do”.
Just as you turn to see the face of the driver, the door of the truck opens. No one steps out but you see the nozzle of the pump raise and be pushed into the semi, as if by magic. 
Before you can ask Alan what happened between him and the ghost, a red square, way off in the distance, catches your attention. You squint your dry eyes to make sense of the odd figure but it’s too far down the dusty road to picture. Alan hands you a pair of binoculars and when you hold them up to your eyes to investigate the vast land, you are astounded. The magical binoculars reveal a tall board decorated with prices ranging from $5.35 to $5.62, a small building lined with bright lights, and walls with posters picturing several different drinks and snacks. The gas station. You swing around to see the road behind, expecting to see your car and the eighteen- wheeler, but it has all blended into a blur of tan dust. A shiver runs down your spine and into each limb. A deep insecurity runs deeper than the blood that warms your body.
Everywhere you turn you see dust, hiding more dust. Even under the killer Sun turning your skin to a cracked leather, the shivers make you feel cold and still. 
Alan taps your shoulder to turn your attention back to the long walk ahead of you.
Oh, right, the walk. You really need to get gas.
Alan stops to direct you South, but he does not join you. His eyes aren’t so inviting anymore, only tired. His uniform is suddenly wrinkled and dirty, only a memory of the sincere uniform he once wore. Permanent dirt stains adorn his one-white pants. Now holding his hat in his hands, he excuses himself and walks in an unknown direction. Soon, he becomes part of the hidden world behind the dust.
Anxious about the journey ahead of you, you fill your lungs with the warm air and in a long, cleansing exhale, you accidentally blow away the miles of sand, revealing a stunning marble floor. Figures, rich in detail, flaunt their perfect painted bodies in the vivid art on the marble. Clouds and blue skies adorn the background of the floor’s patterned tiles, blessing you with a cool sensation that stems through the soles of your feet into the rest of your tired body. You fear that if you were to try to step another foot forward, you would find no floor and escape into a never-ending pit of skies. Clouds brush against your ankles, coming to and from every angle. They are as full and desirable as the figures.
Stuck on the last remaining pile of sand that creates a surface, you tilt your head back to what you knew to be the sky before the floor became an eternal paradise. Above you, is a body of water glistening behind the ducks that flap and fly south bound. The sky above you has turned into a pond. The pond has dozens of floating lily pads and a small dock made of breakable wood. The dock reminds you of one your grandpa had in his old house, where he would fish for hours and not catch a thing. A fishing pole; his fishing pole is made visible as the ripples settle, allowing a clearer picture. Incredibly, the pole is lifted and cast into the pond and ripples take over again. You are humbled in the presence of such a dense pond. The water looks like it could cure cancer. The water looks like it could clean your blood. The water looks like it could replenish you; like it could wash away all the worries in your world.
You reach for the pond in the sky, hoping to dip into the water and wet your lips before they crack from the heat. The sky seemed so close a second ago, but now you realize just how far away it is from you; you who stands on a pile of sand that is getting blown away with every gust of wind that passes by. Soon, these grains of sand that keep you afloat will seep into the endless marble floor of skies, and you will have to take your chances with one of the clouds that move fast and slow under you. Left to your own devices you leap at the lily pads and scream for help. Someone at the dock must hear you. You reach for the pebbles around the edge of the pond, praying the toss of one would create a ripple so strong, waves would ensue, and you would be heard. You fight as long as you can but the same shaking in your fingertips that brought you here is your enemy. That unsteady hand falls farther from the water of life, fountain of youth, medicine of the gods. That unsteady hand fails to save you.
Something tugs at your sleeve. It’s Bruno, standing on a cloud. Oh, sweet Bruno. Your heart beats twice as hard now, staring at this beautiful creature standing before you. He is a work of art, like all the angelic figures on the marble floor. He could do anything with those huge brown eyes and soft paws at your sleeve, even convince you to go back. His paws have touched your heart and many before you. You turn away from Bruno to look at the pond in the sky. You could feel the sand from under you run out, but you are reluctant to look down and see what is still holding you up in the sky. Light clouds still brush your legs, but you feel nothing beneath your feet. For all you know, there is no solid ground. For all you know, you are a figure joining the dance of desire. Not likely, but maybe. Maybe it is just sky; sky, clouds, angels, and Bruno. What holds you up is entirely up in the air. Do you dare look down and risk seeing nothing?
Angie Barrios Mackepeace is a first-generation college student entering her sophomore year as a Creative Writing major at Chapman University. As a Southern California local, she attributes her creative expression to the colorful environments in her life, including her hometown of Pomona. Unconditional love from her Guatemalan family and support from her closest friends have led her to succeed in multiple artistic endeavors across dance, theatre, and writing. Angie strongly believes in the power of passion thriving through inspiration. Her hope is that her works will be an active contribution to social change and continue to emphasize the voices of the people. "Sand" is the result of sitting with one’s imagination and finding art in the cracks of unstable ground. Her narrative voice takes a chance, escaping challenging realities she has witnessed and questions she has for her own future.

"sand storm" by EladeManu is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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A magazine for teen writers—by teen writers. Under the Madness brings together student editors from across New Hampshire under the mentorship of the state poet laureate to focus on the experiences of teens from around the world. Whether you live in Berlin, NH, or Berlin, Germany—whether you wake up every day in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North or South America—we’re interested in reading you!