I’m surrounded by people, saying so many different things, but I block it all out. I focus on the gray sky, rain pouring down hard. I watch the leaves fall off the withering trees, and hear the low rumble of thunder as lightning strikes the sky. I see the grass glistening with rain, and the moon peeking through the dark clouds. It gives me peace and hope, like no matter what, I’ll be okay.
This is my escape.
I’m Lena Xairia Evergarde, or L3N3. My job is removing ideas of rebellion, thoughts of unsupervised creativity, things 1’s can’t control and 2's can't quell. The day I was born, The Authority decided I was different. They designated me a number in branch 3 and I became a part of the authority.
From six different branches, Branch One keeps everyone in line by feeding the public half-truths and deceptions. Branch Two destroys anything that will cause a disruption to The Authority's Order. I was placed in Branch Three, in charge of The Happy-Place. When citizens get too many big ideas or are unsatisfied, they go to The Happy-Place. They always come back better, but after a while, they’re even worse. It's addictive. It fills you up with serotonin and drugs your brain into compliance. We permanently remove thoughts if they're deemed dangerous.
The fourth branch is in charge of all tech and devices. You'd think Branch One has the most control, but in truth, it's Branch Four with true power. If all tech was shut down, the citizens would be powerless and confused. Branch Five handles jobs, schooling, housing, and work. The five branches are all the Citizens know about. In the Authority there is one more branch. Branch Zero, the killers. It's the smallest but most dangerous branch, considered a necessary evil to maintain quality of life.
My name is Natalene Katsa Winters, but anyone who calls me that is in danger. My Authority-given code is N4T0. The last digit of my code means I belong to branch 0. My profession was decided at birth by genetics, and so was the rest of my life. My parents haven’t seen me since I was 3. Here, we don’t have family. Life in the Authority isn't our own, it's run by elites pretending to help us. Somehow nobody else thinks we should be free. But I for one know I wasn’t meant to be a 0. I wasn’t meant to be a killer.
Rebels who act out are sent to The Happy-Place. In The Happy-Place, they sift through your thoughts and eliminate anything that doesn't agree with The Order. One of my allies is addicted to it, the feeling of ecstasy he gets when his brain is hooked up to their machines. Normal citizens who step out of line are swiftly dealt with, but in the Authority, we're silenced. Being silenced is worse than being unable to speak, it’s an inability to see the issue to begin with.
The Authority is corrupt and controlling. It started as protection and now we're barely allowed to have our own thoughts. It's said that before the Authority created the Order there was violence and pain. People used to die of sickness, violence, and accidents. Now they die by the hands of zeroes. By my hands. Everyone around me dies. It's my fault, the last relationship I was in, her name came up on my kill-list. My first assignment at 11 was a friend I tried to keep in touch with. Eventually, even my own parents were given to me. In a list of names, the Authority knew exactly how to hurt me, to make me the perfect killer. Emotionless.
Occasionally I pass a girl in the halls who seems to always be alone. Everyone knows she is a zero. She's intriguing to me, she looks hurt and tired. “The Authority did that to her,” I think whenever I see her. She's been here longer than me even though we are almost the same age. I’m 19 and she looks to be around 18.
A few weeks ago, I figured out her code was N4T0. The fourth N-name in the Traylone district, a zero. I’ve heard the Authority made her kill her own parents and friends. Unlike most other zeroes she isn't addicted to The Happy-Place. As far as I can remember, N4T0 hasn't been to The Happy-Place at all. Everyone says zeroes are conditioned to be emotionless, but they're still human. I often wonder how she deals with all the horrors she's witnessed. Someday I’ll get to talk to her.
Two weeks ago I realized L3N3, the transfer, was watching me. At first, I was surprised she wasn’t afraid of me, and then I was angry. “Doesn’t she know she’ll get herself killed?” I thought. She could choose to ogle any of the ‘hot’ men in the Authority like other girls.
After a few days of avoiding her, I knew her schedule and routine. I was hyper-aware of where she was whenever we were in public spaces simultaneously. This confused me, I shouldn’t care, I shouldn’t be trying to push her away and save her. She should just be another girl in the Authority who doesn’t matter. But she does matter, and it's a terrifying realization. I can’t get attached to her, at least not visibly, or I’d get sent to The Happy-Place. If I get sent there, it’s over for me. I have many thoughts The Authority would deem "dangerous for The Order."
I stopped going to lunch or break rooms during the designated times. Nobody would dare stop me because I’m a zero, and everyone knows sometimes we work through lunch hours. Maybe L3N3 was watching me for The Authority, what if I've been figured out?
I hid in the human history library. It's the smallest library and most of the books are fabrications to glorify The Authority. The books portray utter chaos before The Order. They never showed the beautiful art that was destroyed, the cultures that were erased, or the differences that made a certain person themselves. There was beauty in the old chaos. Even with shelves of lies, the library is comforting to me. Nobody came here, or at least I thought. L3N3 came to this library too.
I realized I wasn’t alone one day in the human history library. N4T0 sat along the back wall. This was the only time we'd ever been alone in a room. She looked up and I met her piercing emerald eyes. I knew this was my chance to talk to her. I walked over and simply said ”Hi.” A look of shock flashed across N4T0’s face so quickly that if I had blinked I would’ve missed it. Then came an expression of suspicion followed by exasperation.
“Why are you talking to me?”
“I wanted to.” I said simply.
Tiredly she replied, “Nobody wants to talk to me, I’m a zero.”
“I honestly don’t care, The Authority has put you through enough already I’d bargain. You shouldn’t be alone just because of your job. You’re interesting and you probably think differently than the rest of us.”
“My thoughts are as boring as anyone else’s L3N3.”
My eyebrows lifted as I said, “I never told you my code.”
N4T0 was an interesting character. I had a feeling we both thought things the Authority would silence us for thinking. I started, "The Authority computer systems have a database for everyone and over time some authority members get flagged if they haven't been to The Happy-Place in a while."
N4T0 tensed and said, "So that would be why you've been watching me isn't it?"
Calmly I replied, "No, I'm curious about you, I think we are quite similar. A benefit to being in branch three is I can avoid actually using the machines. I'm the reason you haven't been flagged yet." Nobody outside of branch 3 knows Happy Place procedures. That is the way it is for every branch.
I was shocked at what L3N3 said. Is she trying to say she can trust me? The next thing L3N3 said silenced every thought in my head.
"My name is Lena. Lena Xairia Evergarde."
A real name, not a code. It may be soon to say that I trust her but this is something. "Mine's Natalene… -" "What is the rest of your name?" "-Natalene Katsa Winters." I continued. There is no way to know if anyone is truly trustworthy in the Authority.
"I figured out a few days ago that The Authority is planning to do a mental sweep. People's consciousnesses are going to be scanned at night. To scan them though you have to undergo a mental sweep of your own. So I can't keep you safe anymore-" I was skeptical but everything she said made sense. I've run out of luck. "-I'm not safe either, N4T0. We need to leave. My friends and I need to leave, but the Wild is dangerous. Will you come with us?" On second thought, I haven't run out of luck, it just came in the form of Lena this time.
When Nat’s face softened my relief was immediate. Nat would be a perfect protector in the Wild. From what I can tell, we'd both thought about running from the Authority but couldn’t bring ourselves to do it alone. My thoughts were interrupted by the chiming of bells. “Meet me here tomorrow. The scans begin four days from now. We need to leave in two nights.”
“The Authority watches zeroes closely. If I spend too much time alone with you they’ll put you on my kill-list. They’ll think I got emotionally attached to you. It may be true but I can’t kill you,” Nat commented.
When she paused I said, “They can’t kill me in two days. You'll never have to get another kill-list.”
After waking up the next morning I did my usual routine. I ate then worked on the kill-list that the Authority had given me yesterday. Chances are I’ll never have to get another.
Around Lena’s lunch time I slipped into the Human History library. Today we would discuss who else would be going with us and what we needed to bring. I gathered weapons, water, and some food. Lena in turn had the connections we needed to escape the compound. All that's left is escaping the compound.
It was sundown and I was in the cafeteria. If I didn't know whom we were leaving with, I wouldn't have been able to tell that anyone would break the rules tonight. I found myself wondering how many times this had happened before. The Authority would've covered up any previous escapes so nobody got ideas. It was nearly curfew, one way or another I knew I'd never get another kill-list from The Authority.
"Hey, Lena," I whispered in the shadows at the edge of the courtyard. "Hey," she smiled back. "We have to work our way towards the meetup point and not get caught. After that, it's just a matter of time till they figure out we're gone. I know all the Authority's tactics. We can't leave a trace. If push comes to shove, we scatter. Everyone knows the basics." I confirmed the plan. "Well, I will try to stay with you," Lena said. I smiled but it looked more like a grimace.
Once Nat and I reached the gates we saw three of the five people meeting us. Tonight we were escaping with K4T0 or Kaito, E8X3 or Elyian, S5L3 or Seline, L1K3 Lucan, and T4N4 Thiaa. Our companions are from branch 3, except Thiaa and Kaito.
I knew Thiaa from the Nevranile training facility, she'll help us escape and remain undetected on the technological side. Kaito joined us because Natalene knew he wanted to leave and he could be useful. It turns out he is kind albeit rather quiet. Whenever he's alone he has a haunted look in his eyes. The Authority ruined his life, I'm sure of it. We need to get out of here.
"Elyian and Lucan aren't at the meeting point. Waiting this close to the gates could get us caught. We wait 3 minutes and if they aren't here yet we go," Natalene said.
"Trust me, I don't want to leave anyone behind, but to me, it's preferable to leave two people rather than all of us getting caught," I said reluctantly. The minutes stretched painfully long as we hid like wraiths in the dark. Finally, The two men arrived, quietly approaching from the opposite side of the courtyard.
Breathless, Lucan said "We nearly got caught twice. The guards by our quarters asked us a bunch of questions and we had to say we were going to go out and smoke. Neither of us would ever touch that stuff but lots of the guards do so they let us go."
I quickly replied "Okay, well we have to go." The moon was a sliver in the night sky as we slipped out of the gates single file. Suddenly a guard patrolling the citadel saw us and reached for her radio. I signaled Thiaa and she used one of her gadgets to disable the communication system temporarily. It was only a matter of time before they came for us anyway.
We ran down rough stone streets slipping through the darkness. The faint light of the moon barely illuminated our features. Lena's hair came undone and was streaming down her back. My legs were starting to burn and my feet were racing along the paved streets. I felt more alive than I had in months. The feeling of escaping was exhilarating. The cold night air filled my lungs, a faint smile on my lips. We blended into the silence of the night seamlessly. Upon hearing Authority guards approaching we split up and ran into separate alleyways. The outer city is my home. I've spent countless long nights watching the stars from rooftops in this area. We had the advantage.
Suddenly I realized Lena wasn't with me, we were separated. I kept running, now my heart was beating faster. I should've been paying attention. I got sidetracked avoiding some guards I nearly ran into. Once I led the guards the wrong way from where we were going, I turned and sprinted back to my destination.
Horrified at the scene in front of me I watched as two guards held Lena and Elyian hostage. I wasn't going to let this happen. Before I made any decisions I looked for the others. Kaito wasn't there, Seline, Lucan, and Thiaa were standing helpless. They couldn't do anything because of the Guards threatening Lena and Elyian. I spotted Kaito in an alleyway opposite to me, we made eye contact and in that split second, we knew what to do. We rushed at the guards closest to us and knocked them out. I stole their weapons and then turned to comfort Lena.
The fear I felt while being held at gunpoint by the very same guards who were supposed to protect me was debilitating. The moment they pushed the cold end of a gun into the space between my shoulders I froze. Natalene attacked with force, speed and precision, forcing the guard to let go of me.
When the bruising hold on my neck released I fell to the floor. I reached over and hugged Natalene. Then, she said we had to go, picked me up, and carried me out of the city, into the forest. I could've walked by myself but Natalene took care of me instead. For the first time in my life, I knew I was free and safe.
After running between trees in the forest for a few hours we finally stopped to eat. I occasionally stole glances at her, thinking back to the way her arms felt wrapped around me protectively. I began to think about the way I've always admired her eyes and the way she smiles or the way she tucks her hair behind her ear. We were finally far enough from the city to be safe. Who knows where we will really end up next but as long as we stick together we'll be fine.
When Lena was in danger I scooped her into my arms instinctively to keep her safe. Now we sit in the dark without a fire eating our dinner. I stiffened at first when Lena leaned her head on my shoulder but then relaxed after a moment. I think I finally have a real friend. I wonder if this is what love feels like, it's been so long, I've forgotten.
From this day onward it will be as if we never existed. We will stay silent to be free.
The Vanished Heirloom
It was the middle of the night, I silently crept around in the dark trying to make my way to the kitchen. I knew my own house well enough, but it was still challenging to walk down the stairs quietly in the pitch black. I had only one simple goal in mind: to get to the cookie jar without being caught by my family. The scent of fresh cookies led me down the winding stairway as I made my way to the kitchen. I felt the crumbles in my hand as I was about to have a midnight snack.
At that moment, I heard a voice overhead. Not a minute later, the sound of someone running was right above me. I feared getting caught with my hand in the cookie jar. I knew I had to cut my midnight snack time short. Fortunately, I made it back to my room without getting caught, and I slowly drifted to sleep…
Next morning, I woke up to the sound of my hideous alarm right at 7:00 AM because I forgot to turn it off on the weekend. I heard the sound of doors opening in the hallway and decided to check what happened.
I walked out of my room and looked around. I saw my grandmother leaning against the wall. My other family members are consoling her. That’s when I noticed her wedding ring wasn’t in her hand. That was her most cherished possession and she was never without it. Not only was it given to her by my late grandfather who passed away years ago, but it was also a treasured and very valuable family heirloom that has existed in the family since my great grandfather.
You know when in movies and books after an appalling incident everyone would come together to support each other, hum, that could not be more far off from what happened. In the event of this vanished family heirloom, everyone in my extended family started blaming each other for pocketing the vanished ring.
“It was you, I know it,” my uncle said, directing his scream at my aunt.
“Says the one who needs extra money the most,” my aunt retaliated. As the blaming game continued, it occurred to me that nobody had even called the cops to report the missing heirloom.
“Stop,” I tried to speak at the highest volume without losing my calm. Well, it didn’t matter, because no one was paying attention. Not even my parents and so-called family. I quickly fumbled for my phone in my pocket and dialed 911.
“911, what is your emergency?” a female voice asks.
“We have a valuable ring stolen in this house,” I said.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, I swear I’m not joking,” I told her our address. I could literally hear a deep breath in her pause when I said it. Everyone in town knows the honorable or not-so-honorable Curtis family. When our great-grandfather came to town, he quickly rose to power because his mining company created many jobs. After hitting it rich by finding gold and diamond in the mine, he retired and lived in peace. The missing ring was made with the first piece of gold and diamond found in the mine. My grandfather owned the company and then passed it down to my uncle. Although these days, the company is going through financial problems.
When the cops finally arrive, we settle down and tell them what happened. Then they start interrogating everyone of us in the mansion.
“Michela Curtis,” a cop says as my mom walks into the study the cops are using as the interrogation room. Next, they interrogate my dad. Then my aunt. Then her husband. When it is my uncle’s turn for interrogation, my aunt asks who wants breakfast. All three kids including me said yes. It was a stressful morning and I needed a snack because my midnight snack got disturbed. My mom is toasting bread and my aunt is about to cut up some fruit when
I hear one cop say to the other, "He's just arrived."
Just that second, the doors slam open and a figure walks in. He is covered in black wearing a black hat and trench coat while smoking a cigar. He hangs his coat on our rack and reveals a pistol strapped to his belt. He is wearing a tailored suit with slicked-back hair. He plops down on the couch and grabs a bowl of pretzels on the table. Another cop hands him a list and the first thing does is cuss.
“What is this garbage, you guys need to go back to police academy to relearn about collecting evidence.”
“Sorry detective, we did all we could,” one of the cops says.
He then tears the paper and sprinkles all the bits onto the beige carpet.
“We are restarting this investigation from the ground up, everyone please head into the living room”
I had just started eating but I went over to the living room without complaint. When everyone settled down, he addressed us.
“I am detective Charles Harvey, and as far as I am concerned, someone in this room stole the heirloom worth several millions”
Then he motioned with his hands and the two cops locked the doors. I could tell my uncle was going to open his mouth, but detective Harvey put a knife concealed in his pocket on the table which shut my uncle up.
“We will be taking each of you one by one to interview, until then you all will stay here. First, up will be Benjamin Curtis”
“Me,” I stuttered.
“Are you Benjamin Curtis?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Then I am talking about you, now come with me”
We walked together to my grandfather’s old study that they were using as an interrogation room. As he opened the doors I thought about the unused study collecting dust over the years since my grandfather passed away. When detective Harvey opened the door, I looked around at the old bookshelf and all the medals my grandfather earned in his years in the army before he went into the mining business. Then I thought about the motive. Who would want my grandmother dead? As much as I hated the idea it had to be someone from my family. At the top of my suspect list was my uncle. Although I just said that because I never really liked him.
My thoughts got disturbed when detective Harvey motioned for me to take a seat. “Please tell me what you know”
“Nothing that could be of any use to this investigation,” I replied. Not wanting to talk about my sneaking at night.
“I know you are hiding something but I can't tell what it is. Please remember that any information would be of help!”
“Fine”, I sighed and said, “I was awake when it happened. I heard footsteps but then I went back to bed. That’s All, I swear.”
“Thank you for your information, he said. You may rejoin your family. Please send word to your family that the case is almost solved. You all shall remain there until I have put the pieces together.”
I walked out of the study, down to the library where my family was. As I passed the dining room I thought of my hunger as I was interrupted in eating breakfast. I decided to grab a snack and then head back to the living room. When I went back into the living room and settled down with my family, who were in the middle of a game of cards.
Then all of a sudden detective Harvey rushed into the room holding a stack of papers and signaled for the other officers to stand by the door. He then said, “I have figured out who stole the ring.”
Then he said “No one”
He then walked upstairs to my grandmother’s room and we all followed him. Everyone was fixated on Detective Harvey listening intently at what he was about to say. That is except my Aunt who was scolding my little cousin for dropping cookie crumbs on a priceless rug. At that moment, my little cousin dropped the chocolate chip cookie he was eating behind the bed and crawled down to get it. Although when he came up he had an unsanitary cookie in one hand and a ring in the other. “Look, everyone!” he screamed, “I found grandmother’s ring under the bed between the wooden seams where my chocolate chip cookie rolled down.” He said.
It must have rolled under there during the night was what everyone agreed on. He then handed it to my grandmother. Detective Harvey didn’t get to announce his investigation conclusion but he looked relieved and then proclaimed the job to be finished and left in haste.
I was happy that the missing heirloom was found and no one was harmed but I was still confused about what I heard last night. So the next night I stayed awake to see if I would hear it again. And as it turned out, my little cousin also had gotten his cookie from the same place as me. Now both the vanishing heirloom and the midnight noise cases were solved. I could go back to have a nap to catch up on my sleep!
It was the foggiest day Wesley had ever seen, even for Maine. The bow of the fishing boat was barely visible. Fog crept along the ocean, concealing everything but the small boat. It was silent except for the lapping of waves against the boat and the low hum of the motor.
The driver sat in the back, hands on the tiller with his eyes barely open, like he had done this many times before. Which he probably had. He appeared almost eighty years old and smelled of old fish; a fisherman by the looks of it. He had a tattered shirt with stains, overalls, and an old bucket hat. A scruffy gray beard covered his mouth with his breakfast scattered over it.
The man noticed Wesley staring at him and tipped up his hat.
“So,” he said in a rough voice. “Why’d ya do it?”
“Do what?” Wesley asked, defensive, confused.
“Take up the job,” he said. There was silence. Wesley wasn’t sure how to respond. “I mean, what's yer reason? You running from demons? Guy before you came out here running from the second Great War.” He paused again, waiting for a response. “Not trying to get personal but,” he stared off into the fog with a faraway look. “It ain’t normal people who take up this job.”
Detective Theo Gautier liked to wake before dawn at the start of a case. He opened his blinds revealing a clear morning. He was staying at the only inn in a small, seafaring village, Port Harbour. It was the kind of place where fishermen and sailors would grab a drink, maybe stay the night.
He had received the assignment only the day before; the three-year lighthouse keeper, Wesley Murray, had gone missing. From his briefing, Theo was informed that Wesley had uprooted himself and had defaulted on his rent. Four days later, he’d taken up a job as lighthouse keeper.
It was clear the police did not sufficiently look into it. They sent Theo to investigate further, but they wanted to write it off as a suicide. But, something didn’t sit right with Theo about the case.
He got to the docks seven minutes early. He looked at the horizon but saw no sign of the lighthouse. It was further out from land than he thought.
Theo’s boat arrived. Piloting it was an old fisherman, who gestured for Theo to get into the boat.
“You do this a lot? Take people to the lighthouse?” Theo asked.
The fisherman nodded. “Been doin’ this since the twenties. Came out here to Port Harbour right after the Great War.” He paused. “Well, the first one. Someone’s gotta take people out to the lighthouse.”
“So, you must have known Wesley Murray, then?” Theo asked.
“’Course I did.” The old man coughed. “He was a strange one. Didn’t seem the talkative type. Brought him out three years ago. He barely ever visits the mainland – “ he paused, “I mean, visited.” Another pause. “I brought him supplies ‘bout every two weeks.”
The old man leaned forward, like he could see the lighthouse. “This here job – it’s for people escaping demons. Wesley wasn’t no different. ‘Cept he talked less than the others. When I’d ask him questions, he’d start scratchin’ his face. Left a right ugly mark on his cheek.”
Theo had seen people with nervous habits like this. They all had something in their past.
Then the fisherman added, “oh, one more thing. Don’t think the fella could swim. Imagine that, taking this job and not knowin’ how to swim.”
Wesley walked up the trail to the lighthouse, lugging a box of tinned foods and coffee tied with a strap and a leather suitcase. Stopping to look around the small island, he saw a small wooden rowboat hauled up on the rocky shore.
The lighthouse sat on the raised rocky edge of the island, about three hundred feet above the ocean. Waves lapped against the cliff face. He couldn’t shake the feeling the water was reaching out for him. Daring him.
Hugging the base of the lighthouse, was a small, lonely dwelling – his home for the foreseeable future. He unlocked the one-room cabin. On one side was a small kitchen with dishes stacked neatly on shelves. On the other side was a bunk and a small desk. On the desk was a make-shift manual, presumably scribbled down by the previous keeper.
He walked towards the windows, lined with mold. He looked out over the cliff. The fog was beginning to clear, revealing sharp rocks, jutting out of the gentle sea.
Wesley opened the door to the lighthouse tower. Stairs spiraled up toward the lantern room. He climbed the staircase as it wound its way up. As he ascended, he peeked through the tiny windows, each round bringing him higher above the ocean, giving him a sense of security.
He climbed through the hatch at the top and leaned against the railing, looking out into the now-clear day. There was no sign of land. He was truly alone, completely surrounded by the desolate ocean.
Theo and the fisherman docked at the lighthouse. Theo could see why a lighthouse was needed; the remains of a boat were strewn along the rocks.
“What happened here?” Theo asked.
“Two boaters comin’ in during a storm. Must’ve been a big one, ‘cause they crashed against the rocks and had to jump ship. They’re the ones who told us Wesley was missing. Ya know what’s funny tho’? Wesley never radioed about it. Not one message ‘til the two boaters – they was brothers – called in.”
Theo walked down to the rocky shore to look around. He came upon a piling, wedged between two rocks. The piling stood lonely, its purpose long forgotten.
After completing a lap around the island, he headed back to the cabin. Theo waited as the old man flipped through his key ring for the right one. Theo pushed on the door, and to his surprise, it creaked open.
“Guess we won’t be needin’ these,” the fisherman said, looking at his keys.
The cabin appeared as if Wesley had only just stepped out. A chair was pulled out. A plate with a half-eaten sandwich sat at the table. Drawers hung open, and dishes were piled in the sink.
Theo walked towards the windows. Notes were scattered on the desk. He looked at the top page, struggling to read the handwriting:
“For water crafts in distress, use The Spotlight to locate the craft and any survivors, then signal the port for help.”
He read it again, confused. Was the document referring to the lighthouse spotlight?
His eyes scanned the cabin for additional clues. Next to the bunk he found an old leather book, the title faded away. Picking up the book, a newspaper clipping floated to the floor. Theo retrieved the clipping and examined it. It was an obituary of a young boy named Sean Lowell. The boy had drowned in the ocean off the shore from an old chapel.
“Do you know this boy?” Theo handed the fisherman the clipping.
“Nope, that’s forty miles down the coast,” he replied. “Besides, just another drowning. Happens ‘lot ‘round here.”
That didn’t explain why Wesley would have the boy's obituary. Theo placed the clipping into his case to look into later.
The fisherman turned and opened the door to the lighthouse. He gestured Theo through but said he’d wait behind; stairs were difficult for a man his age. Theo ascended the spiral and climbed through the hatch at the top. He looked out at the sea. What would drive someone to choose this life?
Wesley had read the manual; the job seemed simple enough – he had to document everything he saw at sea and keep the light burning during the night hours.
As the days turned into months, Wesley settled into a routine. During the day, he slept. During the night, he kept the light burning. When fuel ran low, he climbed down to the oil cellar to get more. The repetitive nature of the job kept him at peace.
Some days, however, he couldn’t sleep. On those days, he spent time looking at the ocean, just staring.
It was one of those days. Wesley sat on the lantern room balcony, staring at the horizon. His mind began to wander. He found himself back in the nightmare.
A piece of wood on the beach. A stick. He picks it up and throws it into the sea. The tide is going out. He watches as it draws the stick further out to sea.
His heart was racing. He began to scratch his face.
After a thorough check of the island, Theo had the fisherman return him to the mainland. He felt stuck.
He went for a walk along the shore, and was out until sunset, revisiting what he knew: Wesley left his life and took up a lonely job. He appeared to be in distress, but there was no sign of a suicide. A boat crashed nearby the day he disappeared. There had to be something that connected these events. He decided to turn in for the night.
Just as he was about to turn back, his foot struck something in the sand. Looking down, he saw a large piece of smooth broken wood; part of a boat. Printed on the side was the word: The Spotlight. So that was it. ‘The Spotlight’ in the manual was Wesley’s rescue boat. He had tried to rescue the two brothers – and had been lost at sea.
Wesley sat in his kitchen eating his dinner. Night had fallen, and it grew windy. Rain beat against the windows of the cabin. A flashing light caught his eye. Morse code. A boat was in distress.
Wesley had dreaded this moment since the day he took the job. He’d gone over the protocol a hundred times in his head, but he still checked it again. He grabbed his light and ran to the door, when the nightmare returned.
The dog runs into the water, splashing through the waves. The tide moves out. The sound of coughing fills Wesley’s ears.
Wesley scratched his face. He froze staring out the open door. The waves crashed against the rocks, threatening to crawl up and engulf the island.
His resolve strengthened. He was not going to make a mistake again. He would rescue the boat.
The case was mostly concluded now, but Theo wasn’t satisfied with a simple drowning: Why did Wesley want to isolate himself? And, was there a connection to the drowned boy? He pulled out the obituary. The date at the top was one month before Wesley took the job. The boy had drowned in the sea outside St. Mary’s chapel, while his mother attended a funeral.
He booked the next train to the town near the chapel. The chapel was an hour’s walk from the station.
The sun was beginning to set when Theo finally got to the chapel. He was reminded of the lighthouse. The chapel sat isolated perched on a rocky cliff. At the base of the cliff was a small bay with a beach.
Inside the chapel, colored rays of light shone through the stained glass. Theo found a priest hunched in a corner, lighting votive candles. Theo approached him and after a short introduction, questioned him about what happened the day Sean drowned.
The priest sighed, and crossed his chest. “It was a tragic day. The funeral itself was a quiet one; quite sad, really. Only six people came, including the mother of the boy, Ms. Lowell.” He looked at the votive candles. “Ms. Lowell and her boy were often visitors to this chapel. Sean was playing outside as usual. You know, kids have a hard time sitting through mass. After mass, the congregation left for the burial.”
Theo interrupted him, “did you know the other people?”
The priest replied, “I recognized a few regular faces, including Ms. Lowell. The man who died must not have had any family; the few people who attended didn’t seem to know him very well. And, one of them didn’t know the hymns. I can always tell a newcomer to the house of God.” He paused as if just realizing something. “Actually, the newcomer wasn’t at the burial. He must have left early.
“When we got back, it had rolled around to evening, and Sean was nowhere to be found. Ms. Lowell stayed all night searching for him. It wasn’t until the morning that they found the body washed up on shore. God rest his soul.” The priest looked upward mournfully.
Theo sat silently with the priest for a moment before standing up to leave.
As Theo walked toward the doors the priest said, almost to himself, “whenever I meet someone, I wonder how God might help them. Like that man. There was a loneliness about him. And, I’ll never forget the mark on his face.”
Theo stopped. “The mark, is it from scratching?”
“Possibly. But what a strange thing to do.”
Theo stood, looking through the doorway. He realized what had happened.
Despite the urgency, Wesley slowly walked to the rescue boat. He fought the wind making his way to the beach. As waves crashed on the shore, they sprayed his face and body. He looked towards the distress signal. The desperate cry for help. His help.
He stares at the stick as it’s pulled out by the tide. A dog follows behind, paddling his way out to the stick. A child cries out to the dog. But, the dog keeps swimming. The boy sprints into the sea, falling over in the water. He wades out, crying out to the dog. The dog does not turn around, he pursues the stick. The boy’s head drops below the surface. He resurfaces and begins to gasp. Wesley stands frozen. The boy begins to cough.
Wesley untied the rowboat and pushed it out into the rough water. He jumped in the boat and used his paddle to propel off the shore. The waves fought back throwing the boat back and forth, water pouring over the edge each time. It was impossible to see the way ahead. Wesley fumbled in his pocket for his flashlight. He turned it on revealing a rock directly in his path. He couldn’t slow down. The boat struck the rock, splintering it to pieces. Holding onto a piece of the hull, Wesley watched his light source sink into the darkness.
The dog, stick in mouth, heads back. There is no sign of the boy. The dog paddles over where the boy was struggling moments earlier. Wesley still stands, a bystander, just watching. He can’t swim. He couldn’t have helped. He turns around and runs.
Water splashed into Wesley's mouth as he pulled himself onto the board. But, the waves pushed him back. He could feel his grip loosening on the board. And then, he let go and began to sink into the depths below.
When I put on socks,
I feel comfort.
that keep my feet so
wherever I go.
They follow me
no matter the time.
They follow when the clouds
cover the sky,
and when the sky
on winter evenings,
and even when the sun is out,
like a mirrorball.
I wake up with the bright light seeping
through the closed blinds.
I get up off of the warm sheets that surround me
and get ready to start my day with a shower.
When I get out of the burning
water of a shower,
And out of the humid
My feet touch the cold
They feel strange,
a feeling that lasts only long enough for me to walk
into my room, and pull out a cabinet
of all kinds are in there.
Long and short.
Striped and ripped.
I grab a pair that stand out to my eyes.
A shade of light blue
I slip them on for comfort.
A smile forms on my face everytime,
with those socks.
Vast lockets and chests
inhabit this realm
S c a t t e r e d with the shimmer of a million stars
Deep darkness ever expanding
There exists a well
from the glistening gold treasury
of all I have ever known
The keys have gone
With so many locks left to unlatch
Where did I place them?
A blooming blanket
the shade of a freshly-picked lemon
Beckons me to turn
towards the growing hall
Filled with chambers will soon explore
drifting with purpose
I swim in the blend
Between old and new
In the rose silk bow
Wrapped around the satin box
If only she wasn’t gone,
I would still have a best friend, one that would comfort me and offer to go to an ice cream parlor together while I vented about my problems.
If only she wasn’t gone,
I would still have somebody's shoulder to cry on when my closest friends left me; I would still have a person that offered me a smile when I accomplished something.
If only she wasn’t gone,
I would still have somebody to talk to about the voices that made me do things I didn’t want to do, somebody to remind me to refill the empty orange container lying on my counter proclaiming “PSYCHOSIS PILLS.”
If only she wasn’t gone,
I wouldn’t be standing in the middle of my apartment, clutching a knife in my sweaty hands. I wouldn’t have blood stains on my carpet, my best friend lying in the middle of the forming puddle.
If only she wasn’t gone.
I stumble around in the darkness. It's 9 A.M., and I am cleaning out my closet. Or, am supposed to be, anyway. Currently, I am trying (and miserably failing) to find the lamp and turn it on. After my arms flail around for what feels like eternity, my fingertips finally touch the thin metal chain that hangs from the ceiling. I grasp it, and give it a tug. I hear a small click, but no light. I try again, and still no light. The light bulb is so old, it must not work anymore. I grunt, disappointed that my efforts were fruitless, and go to get a new bulb.
On my way back out of the closet, I trip and nearly fall over something lying on the floor. Great. I cracked a mirror last Wednesday, that must be the cause of all this bad luck. But no, Bridget, there are no such things as bad luck signs, I tell myself. However, I still knock on the old oakwood table that I got as a gift a while ago.
I look down and scan the floor for what I tripped on. I find what I figure is a box, it being hard to see in the dim light. I pick it up, and carry it out with me. The box is roughly 9 inches in width and 11 inches in length, and has a rather ugly design. I open it, and find a pair of brown sandals that are just as ugly as the box, if not uglier. Then it hit me. These are the shoes that I had first gotten at the shoe store 35 years ago.
Ah, yes. That is a story I shall now tell you.
I walked down the air conditioned aisles of the shoe store, my eyes flitting from shelf to shelf. I saw platform shoes, ridiculously high heels, running sneakers, flipflops, llama fur slippers, light-up hightops, knee-high boots, Crocs, slip-ons, ballet flats, and everything in between, but no sandals. That is, until I had reached the second-to-last aisle, next to a shelf of wooden clogs.
My eyes soon landed on a brown pair with covered toes. Just what I was looking for. I took them off of the shelf.
First, I obviously had to check whether or not it had memory foam, so I pressed my thumb against the smooth footbed. I never got any footwear that had memory foam, because it was bad for your skin. The things you learn on the internet. Luckily, this pair didn't. So far so good.
Next, I crouched down, and was about to have my final epic Cinderella moment, until I realized something. I wasn't wearing socks. That was another thing you had to watch out for. Who knows what kind of foot had been in there last. My husband had foot fungus, and I wasn't about to step into a pair of sandals barefoot, and risk getting foot fungus too.
I straightened back up, and looked around the top of the shelves, but didn't see any of the little boxes with those disposable socks. Then, I remembered something. I dug around in my green Baggalini, and came up with two brown crumpled up pieces of nylon. Aha. I knew that I had a pair somewhere. Shoe store socks. Now and then I snuck those into my purse when I was at a shoe store; you never knew when you wanted to try on some footwear and couldn't find any socks. They turned out to be a bit ripped, but still usable. I pulled them onto my feet, and slid my feet into the sandals.
To my disappointment, I found that they were a bit big, but I could still walk in them. When I looked in the big mirror on the wall, I realized that they were also kind of ugly. However, they were comfortable non-memory foam shoes with covered toes, so I couldn't let go of them so easily.
After a little while of looking at them and debating with myself, I took them up to the check-out and ended up buying them. There was a 30 day return policy, so if I ever changed my mind, I could bring them back.
I took them home, left them lying on the shoe shelf, box and all, and... well, sort of forgot about them.
Before I knew it, I found Christmas to be right around the corner. I sat in front of my laptop, my eyes drifting around the room as I made plans to find some presents for family members.
I soon found myself staring at the box with the sandals sitting on the shoe shelf. I hadn't touched it even once since I first put it there. As I bought those sandals, I had known that I wouldn't ever actually wear them, but I had just pushed that thought to the very back of my mind, and gotten them anyway. I looked over at the calendar hanging on the wall. The 30 days were over, so I couldn't return them anymore. It had been a waste of money. What was I to do with those ugly sandals?
Then it came to me. I could use them as a Christmas gift! Oh, I was a genius. I mentally went through my list of people to give gifts to, and settled on one person. My sister Eleanor's feet were slightly bigger than mine, so those sandals would fit her perfectly.
On Christmas Day as we exchanged gifts, I gave Eleanor the box with the ugly sandals. I had wrapped the box, of course, with some wrapping paper that I had received a dinnerware set in last Christmas. I always save wrapping paper. Why throw away perfectly good wrapping paper that you can reuse? Save the trees, people.
Eleanor unwrapped it, and I could already see the thought running through her head: what could possibly be in such a box? When she opened the box and saw the sandals, she looked confused. Inside I was laughing. She was probably already trying to figure out how to get rid of them. "You know, I saw these in the shoe store, and immediately thought of you, so I thought they would make the perfect gift," I told her.
"Thanks! I love them," she told me, and smiled. I could tell she was lying.
"I'm glad you like them," I said anyway. Well, at least I got those ugly sandals off of my hands.
I don't know what gave Bridget the idea to gift me those sandals on Christmas. Seriously, did she really think I would wear them? And to be honest, those are some really ugly sandals.
When I had opened the box that Christmas morning, I thought that maybe Bridget had accidentally mixed up the gifts and given me the wrong one, but nope, those were for me, all right.
And so a few months later, I sat down with the box of sandals in front of me, thinking about what to do with them. I obviously wasn't going to wear them, so I thought of giving them away. My chance to do so came not so long after.
Before I knew it, Mr. and Mrs. Steiner's anniversary rolled around. They were my elderly neighbors, and I sometimes helped out around their house. I started thinking about what I could gift them. Then, I had the most brilliant idea. I would give them the ugly sandals. Elderly people like that style of sandals, right?
I put the sandals in a gift bag, and also tossed in some oatmeal cookies and a book on gardening, just in case. Those sandals have such an *ahem* "unique" design that even they might not like them.
On their anniversary, I walked over to wish them a happy anniversary, and gave them the sandals. I considered saying that I ordered them online, but they wouldn't understand that, so instead, I told them "I saw someone else wearing a similar pair, and I thought you might like sandals like those, so I got you these,".
Mrs. Steiner looked very happy, and I was happy about that, as well as the fact that I got rid of them.
When I received the sandals from Eleanor, I couldn't help but feel sort of disappointed. Now don't get me wrong, I liked Eleanor, and I was not disappointed in her, but I was disappointed in the sandals. How could a pair of sandals possibly look so ugly? Alright, I guess many elderly people like that kind of footwear, but not me. I didn't want Eleanor to feel bad though, she's always so nice, so I thanked her and acted like I really liked the sandals. Apparently I was good at that, because she didn't seem to notice anything.
After she left, I tried them on, and found that they didn't fit me anyway. No wonder, my feet are huge.
The good news was, I did know someone who would like that pair of sandals. Dorothy. She's one of my very good friends. Now she had a whole collection of ugly sandals.
I suppose that I just couldn't wait to give those sandals away. I walked over to the phone to ask Dorothy about the sandals right away. She picked up the phone in three rings. "Hi Dora, I just wanted to ask you if you would like a pair of sandals," I said into the receiver (It's a landline).
"A pair of sandals? Oh, yes, if you don't mind, I would love to --".
"Wonderful," I cut her off, and hung up. Life is short.
The next day, I visited Dorothy and brought the sandals along with me.
As we sat in her living room drinking tea, I pulled the box with the sandals out of my bag and handed it to her.
Dorothy looked delighted as she opened the box and took out the sandals. "Why, thank you, they're perfect! I can't wait to wear them," she told me. I smiled. I knew she would like them.
She carried them over to the shelf next to the door where she kept all of her sandals. There was one spot left, perfect to fit the ugly pair. I was very triumphant that I was able to get rid of them while making Dorothy happy at the same time.
"I think they are fit to wear on my daily walks," she was saying, but I was only half listening. I had to think of what to say to Eleanor if she ever asked about them.
Those sandals soon became my favorite pair. I wore them every day when I went on my walk.
A few weeks later, I started to have difficulty getting around, so I went to see my doctor. She told me that I was starting to age, and that I should reduce my walks to one or two times a week because too much movement would be bad for my joints. At first I didn't listen to her, but I started to agree as it became harder and harder to move around.
I still went on walks, but they kept getting shorter and less frequent to the point where I completely stopped going on walks. That also meant that I stopped wearing my sandals.
Soon, I realized that I would have to give my sandals away. My niece Caroline's birthday was next week, so I needed to figure out what to get her. I had an idea, but I was not quite sure yet. All day long, I thought about it, and finally came to a decision. I would give her my beloved sandals.
She's already nine, so those sandals should fit her, right? And they're only slightly worn on the soles, so I don't think anyone will notice.
I put the sandals in the shoebox, and wrapped it. The wrapping paper was apparently cute, according to Caroline, because it had these odd creatures that this generation calls "unicorns" on it. These "unicorns" are colorful sparkly horses with cone shaped horns on their foreheads. A truly odd sight to behold.
In her birthday card, I considered writing something about the sandals, like the I-saw-these-in-the-store-and-thought-you-might-like-them sentence, but I decided against it, and just wrote "Happy 9th Birthday".
I packed the box wrapped with the "unicorn" wrapping paper into a first-class USPS box and had it shipped to Caroline. I do hope that she likes the sandals.
I only realized until after I mailed it that I wrote "Happy 9th Birthday" and not "Happy 10th Birthday".
I tried. I really did. I just couldn't wait to see what was in that sparkly unicorn wrapping paper. I didn't mean to, I just couldn't wait. You could say that I'm quite impatient.
My mom had stored all the presents for my birthday in the closet, and gave strict instructions that I was not to open them until my birthday.
On the day before my birthday, I just couldn't wait any longer. My mom was out shopping, my dad was at work, my brother was with his friend, and I was the only one in the house. It was my chance.
I retrieved the package, the one with with the sparkly unicorns, of course, and carefully opened it as to not rip the wrapping paper. Inside, I found a shoebox. I opened the shoebox, and – oh. I honestly did not know what to say about the sandals that lay in the box.
What I can say is that I hid them at the bottom of my drawer. I wrapped up some books and a notepad in its place, and placed the “untampered with” package back. I can only hope that my family hasn’t seen the replacement items around the house before.
A few days later, I donated the sandals to Goodwill.
Grandma never asked about the sandals.
And there were the sandals, on a table at the Goodwill.
Is it? It can’t be. I thought. I looked closer, and indeed, they were. The sandals that I had given to my sister as a Christmas present. I guess I was right about her not liking them.
I sighed. There was no return policy this time.
I picked them up, and walked to the checkout.
each moment's a leaf,
which shall blow away
into the pile
on this crisp autumn day.
for you are a tree,
not a moment to spare,
as one day
you will be bare.
You stare at a blank wall, shaded in grayscale
A simple shade of white, like the slightest drop of coffee poured into milk
You find yourself staring at it
Over and over, and over, and over
Each day, at least you think so–
Each day is the same,
How can you keep track?
Counting silently in your head, second by second
Over and over.
Without saying a word, you stand slowly,
Dusting nothing off your knees.
Walking to a destination of nowhere, your feet finding its own way.
Does your mind think about your feet moving?
Does it think about every step you take?
Do you think about it at all?
Walking past a wide window, a panorama of a world you can’t see;
A world you don’t dare to find,
Hidden by monotonous white silk curtains,
That you maybe could simply open, with a brush of a hand
But you don’t.
Maybe the world is simply hidden by your ignorance.
Do you dare to look farther than what meets the eye?
Wandering aimlessly through the void shaped halls,
Feet hitting the ground
Should there be the sound of soft footsteps
But the only sound echoing through these blank halls
is your counting, second by second.
Seconds are passing by.
You can hear it, even if only in your head.
You keep counting.
Second by second, number by number.
1, 2, 3, 4.
You tell yourself to count each second, each minute, each hour
To keep your mind busy
For they aren’t the only thing that occupies it anymore.
Seconds have passed by. More than you can count.
You can feel it in your bones, deep within yourself
As if there’s a change in the world
Behind those silk curtains.
These days, you are grasping for the seconds you once counted with ease
Holding, desperately clutching the numbers, as if they could fly away without you
You don’t want to admit it. But who is there to admit to?
No one but yourself.
No one but yourself, and the blank walls of this cursed world.
These days you want to scream.
Scream at the walls, the ceiling, the sky that you cannot see.
Scream at the world that is hidden behind those silk curtains.
Scream at the pent-up frustration that you never knew existed inside of you.
Clutching a new pen in your fist,
Filled with obsidian ink,
Savoring its newness; its strangeness,
Its curves and crevices,
Its unlikeliness of the feeling of nothing at all,
When air flowed through your once empty fingertips.
There is now something to fill the gaps that you never knew existed.
Ebony ink flows out of your brush, painting across the walls that were blank
And although the walls are still grayscale, it’s almost as if you can see,
The tints of color,
Each day, you paint a new painting.
And with each one,
A new color comes.
A rush of blue, of what you once thought black–
Graces your ink,
Spilling through the walls.
The couches and chairs,
Vibrant bursts of
Slowly seeping into your world, the world
You were once afraid of.
And maybe, just maybe,
Beyond those seconds,
Those walls you hated so much,
Could maybe turn a vibrant color,
Beyond the world hiding behind those silk curtains.
Beyond anything that you ever knew.