HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for the Toys & Games Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website. Below are just a few of the pieces we loved. Keep an eye on our website for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release date of Toys & Games…

My Final Fantasy

Sam Illingworth


You were my first true love –
On the day when we first met,
I carefully spun you round on my middle finger,
Watching how the light danced across your perfect form.
We lived and breathed as one,
Watching clouds and angels drift past
As the days flew by in a cascade of
Hope and loss and Materia;
Sick girls in sewage pipes and
Memories of hidden waterfalls.
No sparkling stone was left unturned,
Everything had long been learned.
With golden bird and knights in tow,
I slowly made my way towards the crater;
Then put you down for another day,
Unable to face the absence it would bring.
The following Monday, I walked sadly into the dining room,
Only to find that you had already left without saying goodbye;
The only sign of your departure was
A Crash Bandicoot save from my sister.
Lost for words, I stumbled into the floor’s embrace
And sat staring at an empty screen for days.
Slowly a smile crept over my face
And nestled gently in my breast –
We had to do it all over again.
Once more together. This time forever.

Sam Illingworth is a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, where he uses poetry to help bring science to new and varied audiences. He currently spends his spare time listening to fishing in Final Fantasy XV whilst listening to the Final Fantasy VII prelude and trying to recapture his youth.


Those Who Stay

Demetri Raftopoulos


I drive up Edgewood. The windows are down in my Acura. The early fall air wakes my tired face. I’m twenty-six years old and still live with my parents, unable to fully grow up; to be a man in the same split-level, now teetering between independence and suffocation, that I was once a boy in. I inhale. The smells of early fall are as poignant as my mother’s omelettes on Saturday mornings. Smells of football, Pepsi’s fizzing, roast beef sandwiches. Of rubbery Halloween masks. Lonely branches sending their leaves out into the world. Smells of battle. Of winter trying to take over too early, houses on Edgewood Drive warming up their fireplaces for the inevitable day of winter’s triumph.
   Every house on Edgewood is structured identically. The driveways all lead to a path to the backyard on the right side of the house, a rectangular garage, and steps to the front door. Above the garage are ten rows of bricks, and above the bricks are two windows, eyes on a face that always watch my return. Next to the front door is a rectangular window, one that if you peeked into you could see the brown couches in my living-room and the crystals of a chandelier hanging over my dining table. Each house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs, a kitchen connected to the living- and dining-room, and a family room perpendicularly underneath the kitchen, leading to the basement.   
   My sister and I played hide-and-seek in our basement. I invented new spots every time I hid: the dryer, cabinets, laundry hampers, underneath dirty clothes. I was a creative hider, but initially a petrified seeker. Despina loved jumping out from her hiding spot to scare me. Still, I shook the fear of her suspenseful lunges at me in the dark and, over the years, evolved into a hide-and-seek professional. I learned to control my asthmatic breath instead of wheezing in trepidation. I began to hide objects, pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, in spots that I would normally hide in, throwing off my sister’s quests to find me. During my allotted thirty seconds before “Ready OR not! Here I come” whispered from behind the basement door, I knocked chairs over, books off their shelves, and made noises in each corner of the room, attempting to confuse Despina’s two-years-older-than- mine brain. In my thirty seconds of counting, my ears glued to the wood of the door, my back to the family room, I listened for clues of my sister’s whereabouts. She called it cheating. I called it taking advantage. The student became the teacher and I was ready to graduate from the basement: Manhunt.  
   I turn left at the corner of Edgewood. Rarely was this my first move in Manhunt. I usually stayed on the block, made it easier to come storming into base like it were Normandy. But now, it’s my first move every morning on the way to work. The Kate Drive and Edgewood street sign is pointed in the wrong direction. You would steer onto someone’s lawn if you followed it. I stuck a New York Jets sticker on that same sign over the word Kate when I was 10, waiting for the school bus to take me to Denton Avenue Elementary. The sticker is gone now. The sign, though, is still crooked.
   I spent most of my youth playing Manhunt with neighbourhood friends. We escaped the watchful eye of our parents, our stacks of homework incomplete. At night, we pow-wowed around the house and made teams, usually two sides of about ten pre-deodorant-wearing kids. I dressed in all black, as did the rest of the gang.  
   The best hiding spots were impromptu. We hid on roofs, lying flat on our stomachs on top of garages. We climbed trees, scaring away the cardinals and blue jays of the block, and did our best not to shake any branches. We crawled under cars and prayed that no one was smart enough to look there, because there was no safe way out from the undercarriage. We sat in random backyards, lounging on yard furniture, waiting to sprint to the front into enemy fire. We climbed fences that led to main roads and walked gingerly back to the block, appearing as if we were strolling towards night’s inevitability. We stayed outside, away from our parents and anything that would take us away from the orchestra of cicadas, the flickering of lightning bugs, the splinters on our hands. We didn’t care about television, about Nintendo (that was saved for snow days), about computers. We, the youth of New Hyde Park, cared to be with one another, smelling like the outdoors, the way the crisp air sticks to your skin and releases an odour earned by experience. We wanted to play Manhunt until we heard our names in the sound of a motherly yell from the front door of our respective homes, or until we were dragged inside, a firm yet endearing grasp of the wrist, while pleading for five…more…minutes!
Kate is only the length of two houses so I make a quick right onto Birchwood, avoiding an escaped branch. Two of my closest friends grew up on this block. One now lives in North Carolina and one in Las Vegas. The first is a light technician, illuminating stages for performers to perform. The other manages the pool party and nightclub at Aria, promoting, hustling, rolling craps and hitting points, fuelling off of the excited roar of his fellow gamblers. I work for my mother. They left. I stayed.
   On Birchwood, the three of us played harmless pranks on “The Psycho”. He wasn’t actually a psycho. We just called him that. All you could see was his roof peeking an eyebrow right below New York’s horizon. Shrubbery grew weary on his front lawn, the need for liberation evident beside the once-green bushes now fading towards the yellow of mustard. We slashed vines and swatted gnats, tiptoeing closer. He never came outside, though, even with all the stink bombs we let explode on his front steps.
   The Indian guy at the deli asked us why we always bought so many. They were a quarter each. That’s like when gas was less expensive. Anything that entertained us, for that cheap, was worth buying in bulk.
   “What are you doing with these? No trouble, I hope,” he also asked from behind the counter, like the police had him wired.
   “None-ya,” I told him.  
   “None-ya?” The man was filled with questions.
   Something as insignificant as stink bombs holds plenty of significance for me. I drive on Birchwood every day, another block I spent so much time on with friends who aren’t around anymore. I’m not saying we were all supposed to leave together, but my friends have left. While I have a story attached to everything, objects and places that are still here, those friends aren’t here to tell them with me.
   I pass the neighbourhood’s universal big blue mailbox. We have had two mailmen. Our first looked like the bus driver on The Simpsons. He had a curly, black mullet partly covered by a postal service baseball hat, headphones wrapped around. I always wondered if he was listening to the same musici my father did. His shorts revealed too much thigh. His socks hid too much leg. He smiled a lot, especially when my mother slipped him an envelope around Christmas time. He was reassigned and replaced with a dull, glasses-wearing, muscle-flexing, soldier-walking mailman. This guy never smiled.
   I roll through the stop sign before making a left onto Herricks Road. When I was nineteen, I got a ticket after making the same turn. Some Nassau County cop booked me for doing 48 in a 30. The limit on Herricks recently increased to 40.
   The brake lights of a white Mercedes trigger my right foot to let off the gas and move to its counterpart, stopping at the intersection of Herricks Road and Hillside Avenue. Morning commuters fill in the empty spaces of each lane, a game of automobile-Tetris, smoke from each exhaust disappearing into the sky like the fume off the end of a cigarette. Blinkers blink together. Drivers drive in each direction. Cyclists in their multi-coloured spandex stop peddling at the edge of the sidewalk, clutching onto a lamppost that impedes their momentum. Out-of-shape pigeons trot on the sidewalk next to me. Stores blink their eyes open, waking, starting their day. Feet tap with impatience, knees slightly shiver, fingers click against briefcases, from pinky to pointer; people gathering and sitting around the corner bus stop.   
   I follow the Mercedes, and my car rumbles through the pothole-happy-intersection. The scent of homemade bread wafts through my open windows from Met Food.   
   The Herricks Community Centre appears. Every year, our district puts together a carnival in the parking lot. This is where I used to meet up with the koritsakia, asking them if they wanted to go on the Zipper or the Gravitron, or even the Ferris Wheel, if I felt like talking.
   I was always like “come on, cutie,” smirking and winking.  
   They’d blush and giggle to their friends.
   “Let’s go make dirty noises while we’re flipping upside down on the Zipper,” I said.
   I always made up for my pervertedness by winning a giant panda or a teddy bear or one of those big ass Dr. Seuss hats, popping enough balloons with darts, knocking over milk-jugs with softballs, hitting the clown’s mouth with a water gun quicker than the competition. My favorite was the fish game. Not because I wanted another goldfish to name ‘Lucky’ or something original like that. I was good at it. Good enough to piss off my mana, when I walked through the door with “another fish?” I still make an annual appearance, but only to pick up zeppoles. Not girls. I don’t want to be that guy who still hangs around these things. Even though I am that guy. Who hasn’t left yet.
   There are still a lot of familiar faces around, always some type of reunion at the bar, the supermarket, the gym, with variations of “So, what are you doing with your life?” I’m not the only one from high school who still lives at home, but kids I graduated with went away for college and then came back to Herricks, some only to leave again to taste more of that on-their-own-ness.
   Herricks Road intersects with Searingtown Road. I merge over to the right. Branches snap and a paddling of ducks, waddling and quacking, cross Searingtown in front of me. Over six years ago, driving around this time of day, I would have gone left. I don’t exactly know how this started, probably because that’s what the older grades were doing, but every weekend, we hung out at the Hill.
   The Hill is my high school. It’s called The Hill because it’s on a hill. I apologise if you were expecting some mysterious hang-out spot. To get there, you follow the long three-lane driveway up to the school. Parallel to the driveway is a track, a soccer field, a football field, and a baseball diamond. Every weekend, we propped ourselves on the bleachers overlooking a football field that has seen more losses than Shea Stadium in September. More people sat on the bleachers at night than they did during the day at a game. We drank forties and smoked Marlboro Reds.
   When the cops interrupted our underage mischief, I cut through the football field, sprinting faster than any of our schools’ running backs. I ran towards Shelter Rock Road, where I slipped through the Community Centre to get home; the direction I travelled daily when the day’s light dimmed and the lampposts on my block brightened gradually.
   “Come back here, you little shit! Come back here!” the officers shouted, the jingling of keys against flashlight against nightstick followed behind me.
   Like these guys ever had a chance to catch me.

Demetri Raftopoulos received an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. His writing is forthcoming or has appeared in Under the Gum Tree, The Common, Prairie Schooner, The Good Men Project, Cactus Heart, and more. He’s an editorial assistant for Under the Gum Tree and a regular contributor for the sports website, RotoBaller. He lives in New York, and is anxiously awaiting his return to Greece.


Toy Cars and Immortality

Darren Stein


I watch my son playing with his toy cars
on the lounge-room carpet, making
vrooming sounds and crashing noises
like I did when I was his age.
I still have some of my own old cars,
which I have given him, which he adds
with glee to his Lightning McQueen
collection and that other Disney character
whose name I always forget.
I watch and smile at his expression of
intense concentration, lying prone on the
floor as he pushes them to some imaginary
destination; I feel that warm glow inside,
and realise that I am the continuation of
my father, as he is the continuation of me;
and that it is through our children that we
will truly live forever.

Darren Stein was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1973, and immigrated to Sydney, Australia in 1996. He teaches History and English at a college on Sydney’s North Shore and publishes his art and poetry whenever someone gives him a chance. His recent work has appeared in Poetica, Metaphor, Words Apart, The Journal of Microliterature, and Twelve Winters Press. His second anthology, The Nut House Poems, was recently release by Red Dashboard Publications.