569 writers sent their stories to the 2017 "It's All Write!" Teen Writing Contest! Below is a list of the 2017 winners and finalists.
2017 Winners in Flash Fiction:
6th-8th Grade Winners:
|1st||Lily Patterson||"25 Pills"|
|2nd||Madeline Gupta||"The Color Blue"|
|3rd||Jeremy Klooster||"The Cycle"|
9th-10th Grade Winners:
|1st||Julianna Eng||"A Hymn from a Mother"|
|2nd||Seun Ajepe||"They Came for My Tusks"|
|3rd||Jessica Xu||"The Orange Tree"|
11th-12th Grade Winners:
|2nd||Mackenzie Konschuh||"The Monsters in Us"|
|3rd||Miranda McCarthy||"Open New File"|
2017 Winners in Short Story:
6th-8th Grade Winners:
|1st||Billie Hoffmann||"Dans le Trou de Lapin (Down the Rabbit Hole)"|
|2nd||Delaney Christy||"5 Million 270 Thousand Seconds"|
|3rd||Amber Yu||"Why I Loved You"|
9th-10th Grade Winners:
|1st||Adam Whitbeck||"The Sky and the Land"|
|2nd||Sophie Nadel||"The Traveling Hat"|
|3rd||Julia Somma||"His & Hers"|
11th-12th Grade Winners:
|2nd||Sara Roza||"Leave the Doors Open"|
2017 Finalists in Flash Fiction:
Finalist 6-8 Grade:
|Cate Weiser||Melia Austin|
|Aidan Quinn||Tyler Diehl|
|Duncan Powell||Caroline Plotner|
Finalist 9-10 Grade:
|Rajunea Stevens||Alexis Greca|
|Sonja Benjamins-Carey||Leah Fleming|
|Alexandra Grossman||Anna Rinvelt|
Finalist 11-12 Grade:
|Owen Brooks||Stina Trollbäck|
|Cierra Taber||Katie Watson|
|Kamryn Thomas||Soo Yun|
|Sofia Amanda Bening|
2017 Finalists in Short Story:
Finalist 6-8 Grade:
|Emma Hudson||Maya Miller|
|Catherine Bui||Diane Glasford|
|Max Janevic||Aidan Quinn|
|Avani Hoeffner-Shah||Sydney Thompson|
|Leo Nelson||Sofia Brimhall|
Finalist 9-10 Grade:
|Seth Wimberly||Christina Diaz|
|Jarod Werner||Elliana Branchesi|
|Destiny Piela||Marissa Minor|
|Emily Hampton||Chelsea Macasaet|
|Sofia Aleem||Hannah Kat Cohen|
Finalist 11-12 Grade:
|Gwen McCartney||Adrija Bhattacharya|
|Angeles Parada||Annasofia Padua|
|Allyson Koda||Annie Ning|
|Isabel Sicree||Anya Bothner|
|Mary Collins||Alaina Pellar-Kosbar|
Around 496 writers sent their stories to the 2016 "It's All Write!" Teen Short Story Contest! Below is a list of the 2016 winners.
6th-8th Grade Winners:
|1st||Chioma Ilozor||"Where We Belong"|
|2nd||Deniz Kirca||"My Father's Memories"|
|3rd||Elizabeth Plotner||"The Cage"|
9th-10th Grade Winners:
|2nd||Zoe Lubetkin||"To Desire the Sky"|
|3rd||Tiffany Vembenil||"Dear Dawn"|
11th-12th Grade Winners:
|1st||Devin Quinn||"Lock's Wasteland"|
|2nd||Samuel Giedzinski||"The Painter's Foe"|
|3rd||Katherine Horning||"Coming Out"|
Enjoy the stories and happy writing!
Around 496 writers sent their stories to the 2016 "It's All Write!" Teen Short Story Contest! Below is a list of the 2016 winners and finalists.
6th-8th Grade Winners:
|1st||Chioma Ilozor||"Where We Belong"|
|2nd||Deniz Kirca||"My Father's Memories"|
|3rd||Elizabeth Plotner||"The Cage"|
9th-10th Grade Winners:
|2nd||Zoe Lubetkin||"To Desire the Sky"|
|3rd||Tiffany Vembenil||"Dear Dawn"|
11th-12th Grade Winners:
|1st||Devin Quinn||"Lock's Wasteland"|
|2nd||Samuel Giedzinski||"The Painter's Foe"|
|3rd||Katherine Horning||"Coming Out"|
2016 Finalists in three grade categories:
Finalist 6-8 Grade:
|Ari Yaffe-Inoue "In the Midst"||Alex Alesso "Make it Home"|
|Anonymous||Aaron Belman-Wells "Phoenix"|
|Sierra Lubetkin "The Book That Got Around"||Michael Cherkasky "The Golden Arm"|
|Zoe Buhalis "Encircle"||Shelby Williams "Finding Civilization"|
|Logan Deyarmond "Of Pachyderms and Predators"|
|Austin McDonald "The Unlikely Team"|
Finalist 9-10 Grade:
|Grace Bassick "Journey to the End"||Margaret Camilletti "The Magic Flower"|
|Christina Starks "Night Blood"||James Johal-Smith "An (Almost) Free Korea"|
|Matthew Nguyen "The Red Village"||Emily Ma "The Conquest of Flight"|
|Michelle Merritt "Farewell to Fireflies"||Anonymous|
|Anonymous||Gabriella Chu "Yosemite "|
|Sam Stroud "What Remains"|
|Jennifer Wiland "Until It's Gone"|
Finalist 11-12 Grade:
|Emily Schussheim "Lizards Who Expel Their
Sticky Tongues Like Fishing Line"
|Sonya Moss "The Prey"|
|Chasity Hale "Agoraphobia"||Simone Schade "12th Street"|
|Kimberly Schmidt"It Was Always Too Late"||James Rode "Late, Bound for London"|
|Sarah Chan "Six Words for Love"||Janine Faust "Migration to Russia"|
|James Stinnett "Verbindung im München"||Keri Haddrill "Stairway to the Sky"|
|Anastasia Beer "Hope"|
|Maddie DePuy "Egg Islands"|
|Mila Serefko "Grandpa Lost His Marbles"|
A Twist of the Watch
The scruffy thirty-four-year-old man was already frighteningly dead. His blank eyes stared at his grisly feet, which were atrociously white and bare, shuffling slowly as the stoic guards pushed him forward, their grainy red uniforms shifting in the faint wind. His sallow hands were tied behind his dead back with coarse twine. A small, imperfect patch of fleeting gray whiskers stood out harshly against his lifeless, white face. Ragged prison clothes fluttered about him, showing off holes and stains in their demented, foreboding fabric. His hair, greasy and unkempt, hung long and lanky around his shoulders.
Ahead of him, he could see through a narrow aisle that the police had managed to carve out of the maniacal crowd. The gap showed him a crude wooden platform with two thick poles protruding from its roof like menacing canines. Fastened purposefully between them was a shaft of mahogany wood, from which a rope hung, tied in an eager noose. That noose held all the eyes of the crowd fixed in place. They could not shift their gaze from the object that would take the life of the already-dead man, the forlorn man who was looking through the jagged slit of the pulsating crowd.
There was one face in the endless throng that made the man smile, an action that pained him immensely due to cracked and battered lips. The face was excruciatingly simple. It was round and plain, slightly flushed, and it looked down. The face reminded him of his son’s face, back in France, at the heavenly shop with all the little ticking watches. It reminded him of the face that had greeted him every morning with “Salut, papa,” or “Se lever, papa.” It reminded him of the face that would run into the shop full of marvelously ticking watches and laugh as it stared at each one in turn, moving like the graceful dancer that it belonged to. The already-dead man would smile with lips that weren’t yet broken as he watched his son float around the room with flowering wings of happiness. The boy’s mother would glide gently down the stairs that connected the small ticking shop to their even smaller apartment upstairs. She would lovingly slide her arm around his waist and lean her head on his shoulder as they watched the scrumptious wonder in their son’s eyes.
The already-dead man felt a greasy, red-coated guard push him roughly from behind, and he stumbled out of his stupor. He felt the eyes of the round face in the crowd boring into him from his left, but he dared not look again.
Behind the calm, downcast eyes of the round faced boy, a storm was brewing. His simple, 19-year-old mind spiraled on a collision course with disaster. It flew back through the fabric of time to the day before the catastrophe.
The beautiful maid had curtsied to him, with a faint smile on her face, as they had passed each other in the hallway of the apartment above the bakery on Pudding Lane. His face had flushed to a bright red and, hoping she hadn’t noticed, he clumsily bowed. She had let out a slight, tinkling laugh that sounded like a cascading brook softly flowing through a still, uninhabited forest.
That night, as he was dousing the fire in the bakery’s huge stone oven, the round-faced boy was still hysterical with joy. He let that cascading stream laugh resonate throughout his mind. He carelessly tossed empty flour sacks into a corner, then grabbed the bucket of water that rested dutifully by the oven. He threw the water over the blaze within the stone kiln, and then, still dreamily thinking of clear water and silent woods, he floated upstairs to the small bedroom that housed the bakery’s servants. Meanwhile, downstairs, the embers still glowed in the huge oven, just waiting for something to set ablaze.
The already-dead man felt a harsh stone strike his cheek. He didn’t need to look to know that it had been thrown by the round-faced boy. It made him sad to see such a young soul so angry. It reminded him of the judge on the day that he falsely confessed to starting this horrible catastrophe. The judge that day had been furious, flying to a standing position as his chair was shot backward and fell over from the force of his leap. He had leaned over his desk and yelled at the already-dead man to “Confess! Confess! Confess!” The man had stolen a wild look from a member of the jury, and used it to force his mind to confessing to many petty crimes. He had confessed to shoplifting, to pickpocketing, even to breaking and entering, but the judge simply became even more aggravated. He swiped his desk clear of everything on it, creating a shower of stained paper that fluttered all over the small courtroom, and shouted at the already-dead man to “Confess! Confess! Confess!”
The attacked, dead man became exasperated. He dangerously obtained a frivolous lunacy that matched the judge’s, and he began yelling back, confessing to bigger and bigger crimes. It was never enough for the judge. Finally, the courtroom had fallen into a deadly silence, within which a fuming stare-off had occurred. The already-dead man had lost it. He had turned his head slightly to the left, stared at the ground, and whispered quietly, “I confess to starting the Great Fire of London.” The judge had leaned back with a smile of contempt on his face, and nodded his approval. Meanwhile, the already-dead man had another type of great fire raging behind his eyes: a great fire of internal fury.
The man saw the boy pick up another stone. He saw more internal fury behind those simple eyes. The boy was burning up in an inferno of self hate. The face in the crowd remembered the smell of smoke at one o’clock, a horrible thing to wake up to. He remembered hearing a scream that reminded him of the cascading-stream laugh, which reminded him of the embers left sizzling in the oven… he had started this blaze.
He remembered springing to his feet, and yelling, shaking the other servants awake before running into the next room where the maids slept. There was one already awake, the one with the cascading stream laugh, and she was waking the others with a hurried calm. He remembered running down the long hallway to his master’s bedroom, the bedroom that housed Thomas Farriner and his wife. They woke, and he helped them out of bed with a gentle urgency. The walls were burning.
The round-faced boy remembered staring out the bedroom window towards another roof, one that was not yet ablaze. He remembered yelling at everyone to come into the master’s bedroom, and then opening the window. He beckoned to Thomas Farriner, who came and stared out the window for a split second that seemed to last for an eternity before he made a flying leap and landed on the distant, adjacent roof. Thomas Farriner grimaced, but then stood up and beckoned to the rest of the servants, maids, and family.
His wife went next. She barely made it; her fingers had scrabbled for the lip of the roof at the last second. Next went all of the servants, except for the boy, and then all the maids, except the one with the cascading-stream laugh. The boy remembered her horribly pale face as she looked at him in that instant, all traces of her beautiful smile gone. She told him with a wobble in her flawless voice to go first. He remembered hesitating, staring into her eyes, and then jumping, feeling his feet hit the opposite roof. He could feel the heat from the inferno that he had started. He turned around… The maid, the one with the cascading stream laugh, was gone. The boy never saw her again.
The already-dead man felt his body being roughly lifted onto the coarse wooden platform with the two poles and the noosed rope. He numbly felt his neck being encircled by the rough rope, felt his windpipe slowly close off as the guards raised him into the air. He calmly spotted the boy in the throngs of people, thought of his son and his wife, and fell limp. He embraced death, for he knew that one day his family would join him in the heaven of their ticking workshop in France. He died as a forlorn man who found a spark of joy in everything, even in the face of the young man who had thrown a stone at him for taking the blame of a crime that he did not commit.
In that mind, the mind of the stone thrower, there was nothing but a bleak landscape of guilt and grief in which the maid, the one with the cascading-stream laugh, reigned supreme. She was the cause of his self-hate; he had obliterated the one thing that there had been for him to love. And now, he had only hate to hold onto. The boy had tried to blame the maid, had tried to hate her, but he could only love her. He had tried to blame the man hanging from a noose, dying while finding joy in everything. He had tried to lay the blame on the man that everyone else believed committed the crime, but he had been unable to. In a selfish way, the boy loved the dead man too. He loved him for saving his life, for saving his dignity even though he had already lost it in a horrible way that he was not aware of. The boy loved the already-dead man because he could viciously attack him without needing the consent of the public, because they all wanted the same thing. The boy loved him because he could go unnoticed in his grief due to the already-dead man, because he could retreat into his own bleak mind while the public had a distraction.
The man who had previously been figuratively dead was also dead now in a literal sense. The noose had aggressively bit into his neck and drawn a thin line of blood. The boy loved that noose, but he also loved the man hanging from it. He loved the limp man because of his death, because he paid the ultimate price for a monstrosity that was committed by the younger face, the face that could have a future. The scruffy man hanging in front of the boy had sacrificed his love for his family, for France, for life itself, and unknowingly traded them all for the bleak future of a small boy that he had never met, a boy who had promptly killed the one thing that the boy had loved. Now that the man was dead, the boy realized that he loved him too, but for different reasons. Now both of the things that the boy had loved were dead.
An obvious thought flew into the boy’s head. He would inevitably join his loved ones in the transition from life to death, but why not shorten that transition? He could take his own life, end this horrible journey that had ended disastrously. He walked down the street, away from the hanging man, thinking his dark thoughts. He stayed close to the side, near the reflective windows that lined the street. He heard a ticking sound, and he stopped. He slid into a small shop, one of the many businesses where there was an apartment on top. As he entered, he was greeted by a chorus of small, ticking watches. He felt a smile come to his eyes, and his mouth opened wide. He lifted up onto his toes, and leaped around the room like the dancer he was not. A man came down the stairs from the apartment above and watched the boy, who was oblivious to the older spectator. Soon he had an audience of two. A woman had joined the man, and they had leaned against each other and smiled as they watched him.
That night, the boy was happy in the small apartment above the ticking watches. He had found happiness, he had found work, he had filled the hole left in the world by the man who was still hanging between the two harsh wooden poles fixed to the crude wooden platform. The boy with the round face was now becoming a watchmaker.
24 Years Later
The boy with the round face was not a boy anymore. His hair was gray and brittle, his face melancholy, his body slightly frail. His face still showed discreet signs of past tragedy, and his eyes still looked downwards. The corners of his mouth lifted, however, when the little bell that rang whenever the mahogany door swung open tonged gently and his son floated in, lightly and wondrously gazing at the endless ticking watches that lined the walls of the small London watch shop. The man stood by the open door that showed the corner of stairs leading up to the cramped apartment above that was home and watched his flowering son float around the beautiful room, dancing from watch to watch and listening intently to the unique ticking of each one. The man’s wife came silently down the stairs and gently slid her arm around the man’s waist. She leaned her head on his shoulder as they watched their son together. They smiled as he laughed while he spun around the shop, and they watched his hat as it flopped around on his head, and they watched his face. He had the same simple face as the man had had, twenty four years ago; round, plain, and normal, yet simultaneously wondrous and beautiful, just like the simple watches that they both loved.
Have you ever wished and wished for a snow day off from school? Normally your wish just drifts off into the wind and is forgotten quickly. Sometimes though, it reaches the man who brings ice and snow into the sky. It reaches an ancient power, strong and cold, so very, very cold. So very cold and alone. He is strong beyond imagining, and yet is held prisoner. No chains bind him for he is held prisoner with fire and blood, blood of ice.
The icy man shuddered and howled as the white-hot iron rod bit into his icy flesh. He lay on a cold stone slab that pressed against his frosty cheek. The steaming rod carved, “Frost. Snow, please, Frost.” Icicles surged into his wounds to seal the rift as a cloud, heavy with snow, seeped out from his fingers and drifted out of the dim stone chamber. He longed to shed his snowflake tears but he had stopped crying from the pain many years ago. He fought against the searing metal as it again dug into his glacial back. He pushed icicles out from his cuts and froze the stone slab, but the heat kept coming, kept battling his cold.
Anastasia trudged through several inches of snow covering the forest path, her dog lunging at his leash. Her warm, soft mittens strained to pull her dog along the path and away from a tree he wanted to sniff. The January wind blew along the drifts of snow and whipped it into her face. She had woken up that morning to her brother’s sleepy announcement that school had been canceled due to a snowstorm. She had promptly turned over and was soon fast asleep. However, though school was off, her normal duties were on and she had to walk her dog. She glanced up from the frosty ground to see where she should turn next and suddenly her hood was thrown off her head by a strong gust of wind. It whipped her long dark hair into her face and sprayed it with snowflakes. Her dog yipped and pranced momentarily, thrown off balance by the gale.
Deep inside a stone prison, miles beneath the earth’s surface, an ancient power stirred. An icy man began to gain power, began to wake. Tortured and held, the pain and hidden fury grew and grew, compressed and put to sleep, waiting for the day it could be free. One day, the stone began to crumble, the fires began to burn low, the battling powers of fire and ice slipped for a moment and the ice gained a few precious inches of freedom. It sacrificed this freedom to send a message into the upper world, to find the one that may free it.
Anastasia lifted her hands to flip her hood back up but paused, frowning slightly, as the wind seemed to mutter something in her ear. Again, a word appeared to be coming from the winter gales themselves. Her dog pulled along the trail but she held firm, shut her eyes, and tried to block all other noise. “Help.” She jumped in shock because this time she had definitely heard a voice upon the icy wind. She steadied her breath and screwed her eyes shut again, hardly daring to breath. “I… am… Frost… burning… free… me... “ A small surge of burning agony flew swiftly through her body as if to sign the message. She opened her eyes, a glint of icy blue flashing across her warm brown eyes. Almost against her will, she began to whisper into the snow. “Frost. You are free now, Frost. Rise from your prison, Frost. I hear your voice calling on the wind and I answer, Frost. Be free.” She breathed out softly, bringing warmth into her eyes, shook her head slightly, and began to head home, absentmindedly tugging her dog’s leash.
Jack Frost whispered, sending a small, cold breeze into the sky, the only message he had ever sent of his own free will. He waited, feeling hope again for the first time in centuries, but felt it drift away as the metal rod was dragged through his back to spell out another message. A reluctant snowstorm blew out of his fingers and icicles came slowly to his wounds this time. He then felt pure joy and overwhelming cold flood his body. The burning torture device came again to his back but simply froze upon contact. His tormentors took no notice and the iron simply slid across his icy body. He slowly muttered the spell he knew could free him and felt it written along his shoulders.Tiny ice crystals began to slide from his frosted eyes as he wept as he had never wept before, not centuries ago, not ever. Not even in his first days of creating winter storms. The snowflakes drifted out across the room. The fires cooled, the iron froze, his torturers turned to ice. The time had come to leave his stony prison. For good.
Anastasia settled down into her favorite armchair and pulled out her severely dog- eared novel, “The Silent Storm” and flipped to her current page. Her head then jerked up from the words as she heard a quiet, almost snowlike whispering outside her window. An unbelievable sight awaited her eyes. A blanket of snow and ice was creeping through her yard, up the fence, over the wilted flowers, and up the side of her house. The amazing view was quickly obscured when the window was glazed over by a cold coating. The old chair rocked and spun as she leapt from it and rocketed to the coatrack to get her coat. She charged out the door and stumbled to a halt in the deep snow. Parading elegantly up the street was a magical procession of ice and snow. Dragonlike creatures morphed and spun, their wings huge one moment and fading into their scales the next. Animals, real and unreal, of all shapes and sized walked, hopped, flew, slid, and melted along the slushy asphalt. A hidden, very recent memory leaked back into her brain and she realized this was her doing, that she had released these creatures onto the world, and she was glad of it. So very glad she had freed winter.
Jack Frost rose for the first time in centuries from the stone slab he had been tortured on. He felt icicle-covered wings begin to grow from his frozen shoulders. Flexing his wings, he caused them to spread far out and even grow larger than before and carved deep groove in the stone walls. He melted and refroze, walking slowly out of his cell, testing his strong and icy legs. His wings began to grow and grow, larger than him, larger than the room. They began to flap, slowly at first, then beat quickly, smashing the furnaces and the walls and the frozen shadows of his tormentors. As he finally rose from his prison, frosty creatures sprouted from his fingers and began to morph and shift themselves. He burst up into the upper world, the winter sun blinding him momentarily for he had not seen sun in years and years. He then blinked away the distraction and set off to find the one who had, voluntarily or not, helped free him.
Anastasia stood ready at the end of her driveway. Her eyes had returned to cold blue and her skin had paled noticeable. She knew what she must do and as the frozen parade crept closer, she felt the cold creep ever closer to her heart, threatening to freeze her entirely. Finally, a visibly larger, colder, and more important figure burst from the crowd. He was a man, yet not a man. His eyes were hard, cold spheres of winter clouds. His back held a magnificent pair of icicle covered wings. He was shrouded in a cape of snowflakes. He strode gently up to her, his footsteps placing a thin layer of frost where he walked. “Frost…Jack… Frost...” She muttered. Suddenly, as if the strike her, he brought his arm far into the biting air. She shrank back and began to creep back towards the house but the relaxed as another came up. It was time. She stepped up to him and hugged him fiercely, gasping as a palpable wall of cold slid across her bundled-up figure. The ice man’s arms dropped around her. The ice from his body began to swallow her body whole, and she slowly became part of Jack Frost, her very soul dissolving into him.
Jack blinked slowly. Something was different now. He was more powerful, far colder, more… human? He and the girl were now one. Carefully, he tested his powers and what would previously have created a single icicle sent a snowstorm whizzing off into the distance. Flapping his wings slowly, he rose into the sky. He tilted his head towards the sun, feeling the warmth wash over him and knowing it could never harm him again. Raising his arms, he sent a sudden flash of ice towards the sky, snow showering down over his fantastic escort. Another gesture sent a blizzard, crackling with cold energy. Yes. This is what he was meant to do. Bring ice and snow to the world without spilling his own blood, without torture and pain and blazing heat. He had found his calling in the winter breeze, in the first thaw of spring, in freedom from pain. And he was so much stronger than before, so much stronger because the one who freed him embraced his power, enlightened him to his destiny, brought him to his life. He was free.
The first hint: “He always had a cookie in his hand.”
I pause, my pen frozen in midair inches above my notepad. Looking up, I meet eyes with the teenage girl. “Pardon?” I ask.
“He always had a cookie in his hand,” She repeats, her face flushing ever so slightly.
“Could you expand on that?”
She rocks back and forth on her heels for several moments, her blonde hair falling over her face, obviously embarrassed over her statement. Finally, she looks up, “Well, Mark had a sweet-tooth and, well, it seemed like he always had a cookie in his hand anytime I saw him… and I… he always gave me one if I asked.”
I stare at the young girl again as she turns away, noting the glint of tears in her eyes. I decide to leave it at that, nodding my thanks to her as I scribble down the first hint on my notepad.
The second hint: “He was my best friend… and… and he was kind… and stuff…you know.”
This one comes from a pimply teenage boy with a hoodie and baggy jeans. He swipes at his eyes repeatedly and I refrain from asking him to expand, leaving him to weep by himself, as I get the feeling that grieving in isolation is his preference.
The third hint: “He always held the door open for me.”
This one is thrown over the shoulder of a stern-faced, elderly, woman as she writes furiously on a chalkboard. Peering over her ramrod-straight back, all I can make out are pasty scribbles smudged with the teardrops which she tries, but fails miserably, to keep at bay.
The fourth hint: His home.
I plow through knee-high snow to get to the doorway. His home isn’t the only one knee-deep in snow, though, it’s every home in the neighborhood, as if no one on his street had the heart to perform such a commonplace task as shoveling. In fact, if I didn’t known any better, I’d say the whole neighborhood was abandoned. There are no children playing in the snow, no old folks walking their dogs, no bands of teenagers wandering about, trying to snitch a few bucks shoveling walkways. There is no sign of life throughout the entire street, save a week-old snowman that has lost his hat and face as his semi-melted body leaves him bent over backwards, a mere skeleton, really, of an actual snowman.
I turn towards the house. A minivan sits in the driveway with frost nearly an inch thick encompassing it’s hood and mounds of snow enveloping its tires. The house is in very much the same state. The windows are dark, the blinds drawn, the door shut tight, the snow appearing to form a barrier between the house and the outside world. The steps creek as I climb them nimbly and stand on the porch. No face peers out of the window to wonder at who the man on the porch is. The entire house seems like an empty shell, the mere remains of what used to inhabit it. However, I know that they’re in there. I ring the doorbell.
The fifth hint: Them.
The door opens to reveal a pallid-faced young man, no older than twenty. He offers a stiff-lipped smile, but I note the grimace he makes, as if the mere action of smiling fills his entire being with pain. He moves aside to reveal the woman. She must be fifty, with gray hair and wrinkles. She appears to turn to me as I enter the room, but her glazed eyes merely stare past me into… into… what? Staring into what I know not. They talk about him, but it doesn’t give me any new hints. I walk down the hall and stop at the bedroom door that must have been his.
“May I?” I ask over my shoulder to the young man.
He nods vacantly, turning to go back to the old woman, who sits shaking on a creaking rocking chair.
The sixth hint: His bedroom.
A baseball bat leans against his bed, which is decorated with a galaxy-patterned bedsheet, along with a matching pillowcase and comforter. A lava lamp still runs, but monotonously, as if it, too, is dragged down by the heaviness of the air. I open the closet door to reveal a collection of Air Jordan’s, each shoe placed so that it’s toe touches the toe of it’s matching mate. Each pair is scarred and dirty, but every blemish has the appearance of having been scraped, scrubbed, and cleaned by a boy who obviously loved his shoes. Hanging on a rack above his shoes is the usual apparel of a teenage boy: hoodies, baggy jeans, skinny jeans, and designer - tees, the majority of the T’s with Captain America’s shield printed smack-dab in the middle of them. No clues there. I close the door and look at the walls, one by one. Each is adorned with posters of rock bands or fantasy movie characters, hung up so sloppily and with so much duct tape that the walls will surely never recover. Finally, I turn to the front of the room.
The seventh hint: Him.
At the front of the room is a piece that looks so foreign in his room that it could only have been put up by someone other than himself. It was a picture of him. It had to be an 18x24 portrait, the frame was of polished, dark wood, with a gold-stenciled spiral design. Inside the frame was Mark himself. He had a twinkle in his deep-blue eyes, a rosy face, a sharp chin, a firm jawline, and a smile. I tilt my head a bit as I step around the room, viewing the picture from various angles. Somehow, it’s not what I expected. After a while, I realize what’s wrong. It’s the smile. The way his mouth is upturned so far, the way his lips part ever so slightly to reveal his crooked teeth. Somehow the smile seems out of place. The polo shirt, the tie, even the sparkly blue eyes, although startling, don’t trouble me as much as that smile. It’s this hint that throws me off my track. I pull out my notepad and flip furiously through the pages, but the blurbs and comments, no matter how many times I read them, fail to make sense.
The eighth hint: She doesn’t know either.
As I prepare to leave, upturning the collar of my coat and tightening my scarf over my mouth and nose, I hesitate with my hand on the doorknob. I turn back to the young man and the old woman, both sitting, staring vacantly… at nothing. Feeling obligated to say something I turn to the old woman, “I... ah… if you need… or if you want… I, mean, if there’s anything I can do for you… just… let me know.”
I shuffle my feet, not knowing what else to say and uncertain if I should expect a response or not. The young man, appearing to feel obligated to be polite mumbles a ‘thank you’. Taking one last look at them, I turn to leave, but at the same moment see a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye. The old woman hurries from her chair and grasps my elbow.
“What are you going to write?” She asks, urgently, pulling at my elbow until I lean over so as to stand at eye-level with her.
“I… I don’t know,” I admit. “Is… is there anything you would like me to add about your son?”
She thinks for a moment. By this time her nails are digging painfully through my coat and into my skin, but I refrain from moving, lest it startle her back into her blank silence.
Finally, she looks up at me, “I just want to know who he is. Can you tell me? Can you tell me who Mark is? Was he brave? Was he a coward? I - I just want to know… who my son is.”
I can’t answer her and she knows it. Slowly, she releases my arm and returns to her creaky rocking chair, where she rocks back and forth and stares into nothingness, because it's all she knows how to do anymore. The young man looks at me questioningly, but I have nothing to say. I have no answers, despite my notepad of hints and my surplus of interviews and recordings. Having nothing more to say I nod, before heading out into the cold. It has started snowing again and my eyes tear up as freezing flakes and wind sting my face. Carefully, I descend the porch steps, clutching the rail to steady myself as my boots slide on the layer of ice hidden underneath the snow. I walk towards the street, stopping at the curb, looking out onto the road directly in front of the house.
The ninth hint: He’s dead.
It should have been the first hint, but somehow it doesn’t feel real until I stand in the same place he had stood moments before he died. They had explained it to me. He stood right here. His Air Jordan’s hidden by the depths of the snow, his long-thin, calloused hands stuffed into the pockets of his red-hoodie, his blue eyes sparkling through the snowflakes, his huffs of breath vaporizing in the freezing wind, and in his mind… what? What could have been in his mind? What was in his mind at that moment is just as incomprehensible to me as what must have been in the mind of the lady behind the wheel when she slammed on those brakes and, despite blurting, or rather, screaming, out a prayer, still felt the thump against the front of her car. I step out onto the street, staring at my notepad. No matter how many hints I get, none of them can explain it. Nothing can explain why a sixteen year old boy who loved cookies and sports and galaxies and shoes would stand on this curb on a cold night and decide to jump out into the street as the car that would be his death barreled towards him at full speed.
I stare at my notes, my hints. I stop at the eighth hint: She doesn’t know either. His own mother couldn’t figure out who he was. After all those years of being a light-hearted young man who didn’t need a second bidding to smile and sparkle in his photographs, his death left everyone wondering the same question: who was he really? Maybe that smile in his portrait felt so out of place because it really didn’t belong there. The longer I thought about his picture, the more I realized that the smile looked as if it had been ripped from some foreign image and then merely plastered over his weeping face.
I’m suppose to write a story about Mark. It got dumped on me just because I’m the new guy. I wasn’t surprised, though. After all, who wants to write a story about a suicide and wander around neighborhoods and schools trying to piece together a story about someone who's already in a coffin.
“Just write about him… tell the world who Mark is and why he’s dead,” My boss had barked at me without so much as looking up from his computer, when I approached him about the topic.
I couldn’t, though. No matter how many hints I collected or how many painful interviews I sat through, I couldn’t tell one person who Mark was or why he was gone. He always had a cookie in his hand. He held the door open. He liked shoes. None of those can tell me who he really was, because these notes only tell the world who he was on the outside. On the inside, though, no one could tell me who Mark is… I mean… who he was. Nor could a single person tell me why he’s dead. Most claim it’s because he stepped in front of a car, but he had to have died long before that. I can fathom his physical death, I just can’t fathom his inward death. Only some sort of inward death could bring a sixteen year old boy to such a point in his life that he could feel the need to step in front of that car. It wasn’t either cowardice or bravery that submerged him as he stood on that curve days ago. It was something else. Something else killed Mark and not a single person can let me know what it is. What’s more, no one can even tell me who he is.
I drop my notepad into the slush that fills the road and walk away. I only turn back long enough to see my notepad and all it’s useless pages dissolve into the slush. However, that’s not what gets my attention, nor is it the old woman staring at me from the window with glazed eyes, mouthing to me, pleading to me, to tell her who her son is. It’s him that catches my eye. It’s Mark. A phantom of what he used to be, standing on that curve, frozen tear-drops stuck to his face, and that smile slowly dissolving and landing in the snow, nothing more than paper mâché after all. He’s the kid that no one ever took the time to ask who he was, before his shoes carried him off that curb and into the middle of the road where Death came barreling towards him. Death, who Mark opened his arms wide open to, to embrace.
She was a stunning beauty, one that caused the sun to beam his teeth even brighter in her silhouette. Her body curved and twisted in the perfect glass for any hour. Her skin shone in bright bronzer, and along with her full lips dimpling up with delight, males would be reeling over on their heels. By the time they balance their bodies back to solid ground, the girl would vanish, embarking to the unknown that males wanted to discover. Oh yes, they tried. They tried every tactic and method that they could conjure, but alas, they fell short. She was a dancing light, in a flicker of smoke. The males would only get singed, and they quickly put their fingers to their mouths, what a brief, tingling sensation! But it wasn’t enough. The only source that they could get a pinch of information was from her older sister, Adonna.
Adonna was also graced with rarity of beauty; in fact she was the first of bloomer of big bum and breasts. She was the starling that males would drool over, she was the vanilla mixed with praline. Her round eyes held droplets of the Maker’s oceans, and her buttery lips were shiny enough for looks, but not to hold a kiss. Adonna was the bejeweled prize that peers would handled with awe. Until Aura blossomed.
It was an unexpected; Adonna saw that her baby sister now held meaning. Walking down the halls of her life were like crossing the red sea. She didn’t need a staff. Or blue contacts, or hair extensions, no head status as being the lead cheerleader. She only need herself, and her trusty camera, ande her carrot orange hat, and her bright brown eyes that soaked up everything. She only needed she as light, which made Adonna look upon her with a withering, dissolving heap of contempt.
So of course Adonna had to quickly build back her walled status before it crumbled and weathered away. The poor males, thanks to Adonna, were now even far away from their prize. Thanks from the silken honey, their light was now even impossible to touch with fingertips.
A waft of wind lilts through my whole body, and sigh deeply, feeling it run thrills. I hoisted up my body, tweaked my orange hat, and aim my camera towards a group of colors, all creating a dizzying light. How dazzling band instruments are, silver and blue, and especially gold, which mirrors the sun. And we all know that without sun, there’s only darkness, no images to capture, no memories that will be revealed. That’s why I’m anticipating to snap this photo for the cover for year book, reminding our students that beauty was shown in the light, where no darkness can interrupt it.
“Um, excuse me…”
At the deep sound of monotone rumbling in my ear I swiveled around, causing my camera to fly out of my hands. I shrieked in alarm, already visualizing shattering glass spinning at my feet, memories smattered. But before it could formulate into reality, strong brown hands reached through the air and caught it, smoothly. He handed it over to me, with a “I’m sorry miss,” on his lips.
To this day, IO thanks the Lord for letting me look up. I don’t always look up, because my world is down, in the camera lens, and that’s all. But today I looked up, without my lens, and there I saw a stunning creation that not even a high-tech camera such as mine could capture. He was tall, a male with smooth chocolate that made me melt in his presence. The strong jaw line was there, and the curly black hair, was I reminiscing? I flitted my eyes at him and tried to think of something to say. “Thanks, you saved a fortune!” I uttered.
The male gleamed at me(good God, he had white teeth too!) and held out his hand. “ Are you reffering to the camera, miss, or yourself?”
Butterflies were bursting to unleash my response to his flattery. I quickly reached out my matching brown hand to clasp his, the perfect moment---
“Hey yall!!!” I turned just to see my sister flounce up towards us. Her cheer outfit which she “slightly adjusted” made the sun catch the sequins and throw it in my eyes, causing me to squint. “Hey Adonna, I mumbled, trying top lok down. It was my natural response whenever I am in her presense. But it was now hard to look down with the male’s eyes staring down at me. What color were his eyes. Iyearned to know, but in order to know I had to look up…
“ Hweey my sweet Ethan.” Adonna blinked her blue eyes at him, then taking the hand that was cradling my possession, she pressed it to her cheek. “Don’t people just bore you to deth with all teir yak-yakking?”
Ethan’s laugh was a harmonious wonderful sound, but I knew he was unaware that Adoona smirked in my direction That ‘yak-yakker’ was me.
I always felt this way around my sister, small and inconspicuous. But as I looked upon her, her praline butter cream hand massaging at Ethan’s shoulder, her eyes trying to swallow him in one big bite, Something foreign happened within me. A tingle turned into a searing sensation, it was brief, but it was real, and it hurt. I clutched at my stomach and gasped, causing them to look over at me.
“ Are you alright?” Ethan’s brown (I knew he had brown!) eyes filled up with concern.
“Of course she’s alright,” my sister drawled , flipping her black extensions. I fingered at my shorter locks, stretched it tight, and let it go. Boing.
“I’m fine, just gotta snatch more pictures.” I managed to smile up at him. He smiled back with sunrays. Alright, I really have to go. I grabbed my camera, waved. “See you at home, Adonna,” I called to her.
I knew she wouldn’t answer. I knew she would just continue her performance in her light. I walked away quickly, kicking up wafts of smoke.
I arrived home just as the sun was beginning to snooze in the earth’s depths. I threw down my hand, plumped onto my beanbag chair, and stared. It was so quiet with my parents and sister gone. My parents informed us that they’ll be back on Wednesday but it’s already Friday, and I don’t expect them to be back on Sunday. Noththat Im worried. My mom told my dad when they were courting that life feels much freer without having kids. Better not interfere in their fantasy.
I curled tighter to get comfy, and before I was aware, I inserted an old memory my camera slot. I clicked at the sidebars, watching my life unfold in the lens.
There’s my sister, all bundled up in a lace blanket, staring directly at the camera. Her tuff of hair was clip[ back, and my parents were shining art her like a million books. What happened to the no children policy?
I flipped through more pictures. Adonna was everywhere, petite and angelic in the camera flash. Her eyes shone with confidence, saying. Look at me. I’m pretty and I know it. Even as a child she held this status. Even with her real skin color and eye color she knew that she was beautiful.
I stumbled upon Adonna looking up at the camera with a squeamish uncomfortable face. It surprised her because in all the previous pictures she was all light and smiles. I looked closer at the picture. There was pink bundle in her lap.
That bundle was me.
My fingers shook, as I pressed the closeup button. I was a shriveled up being, crumbled and battered, ruining a perfect picture because of my presence. Ruining a perfect girl’s light because I was in it.
I wanted to hurl my camera at the wall, as well as my feelings, but both were delicate and I could not harm. I buried my face in the covers. All my life I was ugly and weird, and now that boys are paying attention to me, I don’t know what to do with myself. How can I shine my candle if I don’t know how to light it?
I was deep in slumber when I heard it. It was a moan, a shuffling, a rustling. I sat up. Was it a rat? A robber? I grouped through the darkness trying top find the light.
I suddenly tripped over something, cold and soft, and I cry rang out. My heart froze, and I switched on the light. “Adonna!”
I could barely recognize her. She was all crumbled and battered, a shuddering heap. Her clothes was stained with wetness, and blood was seeping in her clothes. I shrieked and clutched her hand. “Adonna, Adonna!” I forced her to look ath me. “Who did this to you?”
Adonna sniffled and looked up in my eyes. And I saw the same eyes that I have seen through my lens, her eyes were like mine, a deep brown. And so was her skin, but whitened it so that no one could have known.
I remembered the day Adonna started to wear the contacts. It was when she discovered that my cup size was bigger than hers. Then she brushed past me and cried in her room
And I remembered when I had the first boy ever to call me. And he also happened to be the cutest boty in school. Adonna didn’t speak tp me in a week.
And I remembered, most vividly, when I was six and she was nine, and I said, “see how pretty my skin shines in the light?” and she bought skin lightener secretly, when she turned thirteen.
As I stared at her I wondered, was I just light to my sister or darkness that happened to influence her. Was it because of her avoidance to the reality of things that she escaped to find something new? Including tonight, all broken so she could show me that she was better than I?
I stroked her hand, softly.”Don’t worry, Adonna, I got you.”
Her eyes, I realized, were like mine, but they were even more beautiful because they have been hidden away for so long…
At dusk, the last bit of the blizzard's rage glinted the fiery light of the setting Sun and fluttered to the forest floor, blanketed with a foot of snow. The crisp wind shrieked one last time and slowly fizzled into a whisper. Silence followed. The great forest breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, the storm was finished. Yet, every single branch and pine needle was glazed with pure white snow.
It was only the silence did I dare crawl out from the icy chamber of my cave. I pawed through the bleached fluff and emerged into a world, different from the fresh greenery forest, I remembered. The snowfall was so deep it nearly touches my belly. I shake the snow from my silver fur and look to the sky. In between the pines, I glimpsed the star filled void.
I felt a familiar tug on my soul, suddenly the moon's pull over took me. My muscles tighten, demanding that I never shift, but my soul longs for another form. I look to the ground, with my fangs clenched tightly together. I don't want to change. The Wolf embedded in my heart never will.
Yet, I feel the full moon drawling me out of the forest, beaconing for me to bask in it rays. No, I silently cried, I must remain the Wolf. My forelegs plow through the snow towards to clearing, a minds of their own. I saw the moonlight showering the exposed frosted field in stardust through the snow drizzled thickets. My body squirmed, desperately trying to refuse the moon. My charcoal tipped tail draws inward between my legs. I don't want to be human.
I step out into the light and a great aching pain weaved it's way to my very bone. I lock my amber gaze onto the snowflakes, willing every muscle to retain it's form, but the pain—the enteral feverishly pain filling my very soul—is far to great. An unholy force grips my snout and forces it to the beady white eye gazing down upon me.
Other wolves begin to eagerly howl to the moon for there human form in the distance. There deep melodies surround me, reminding me of the change and all that came before the first. I remember my father's face the night he found me, naked and shivering. The terror in his eyes, that looked similar to mine own. I know my father won't be there this time, but a howl escaped my muzzle.
I howl until the melodic sound became muffled cry of a human girl. My entire body twisted and elongated. My jaw snapped out of its socket and is pulled back into my skull. My sliver fur contracted under pail vein-traced skin. With a splintering pain, my entire backbone re-alined. I would have screamed if my throat wasn't coiled into another form.
The change only ends once the last howl dies down. I blink a few times while my vision changes. The shadows on the edges of the field become too dark for me to see through and all the familiar scents of the trees faded. I was standing there, knee-deep in snow, naked and violently shaking. The change is over. For now.
I watch the humans from window of my father's wood cabin. Some of huddle around the fire laughing, joking and even dancing. Children so heavily bundled inside their coats waddle through the snow banks. They all remind me of the pack. Destructive, playful and beautiful like the wolves.
A sigh escapes my lips. But just like the pack, I don't belong with them. The humans are content with their skin and unable to skin shift, even if they wanted to. I, however, will never be as happy nor as stable in their form. Once the full moon calls me again I will leave the campgrounds as quickly as I came.
My former pack members are similar to the humans in someway. They all want to be human and are the first to howl once the full moon rises, but I am not.
I shake my head and pull the warm buck skin closer to my body. I burry my smooth flat face into my hands and stifle a sob. The wolf in me has chased away everyone. My parents, my friends, and even my own pack. Benkei's growl rings in my hears for awful moment along with his message: Olivia, if you really were one of us, you would have joined us in the moonlight.
I clutch the tuff of the blanket and scream into it, until the memory fades. I try to let smells of the buck remind me of the hunt and the time when I was free, but I catch the sweaty-smoky smell of my father.
I raise my head with tear streaked cheeks and toss the buck skin on the wooden floor. It hurts to remember any good part of him because I know my father hates me, now. He hates the Wolf.
As my sobs shorten down, I find myself looking around the cabin. The front door was left unlocked when I found this place, after wondering through the forest. Wether it was left open on accident or by some miracle, on purpose, I know not. Many things are familiar, but covered in layers of dust. The walls are inked with rings of aging trees. There are small embers the cobblestone chimney's fireplace that casts shadows everywhere. High above the mantle is the familiar shoulder mount of a buck, staring forward with expressionless black eyes. It's massive rack glints the light of the fire.
My father, Harrison McSmith was an expert hunter, with hopes of passing his abilities to me. He had no idea what one simple hunt would result in. I glance at my boney hands. He didn't know anything about me. He didn't know about the wolves.
I search the cabin's shadows, again in hopes of finding the inevitable; my father. Then, I see the eyes. My body tenses and a low growl emanates from my throat, instinctively, but once the cerulean eyes move in unison my own, I realize it's me. My reflection in the gold rimmed mirror hanging on the wall.
The girl who stares back at me looks different from the ten-year-old child whom shared my reflection years ago. She grew up. The baby roundness of her ghostly pail chin is gone. I notice she bares many new scars and scratches on her cheeks and chestnut hair is short, hardly making it past her chin and filled with silver streaks. There is even a bend in her nose that hints the presence of the Wolf.
It has been four years, I think, since I last set foot here. Four years since I was a human being. Shivers drift down my spine. Benkei warned me once that werewolves that cling to their animal forms can lose themselves to the beast. Yet, sometimes a small part of me wishes I could be a wolf forever, no longer bound by the burdens of the world of man.
Abruptly, something hits the window so hard, it makes a sound that sends vibrations through the cabin. A huge wad of snow is slowly slithering down the window. I frown at the projectile until I finally register what it is. Snowball.
A human part of me wants to run out in nightgown in the snow and fling snow at whoever decided send the ball spiraling at my window, but my instincts tell me it's a threat.
"Come on out old man! We all know your in there." A muffled voice taunts from the outside. An other snowball is hurtled at the window and this time the glass shatters into million sparkling shards. I roll across the floor and cover the back of my neck with my hands as the knifes descend. The fragments pierce the very fabric of my gown and then deeper into my skin. I waste no time crying out to alert my enemies of my presence.
I jump to my feet, ignoring the pain the glass beneath my bare heels. I know message of the wounds to my brain will fade, once the adrenaline courses into my veins. I dart to the door, where Harrison's gun rested along it copper hinges.
I have always known that humans play dirty. I doubt the snowball, alone shattered the window. The snow must have concealed metal or another deadly projectile. My fingers instantly cling around the obsidian handle direct to my shoulder. Anger toward the people who destroyed my father's house empowers me to bust the door open.
The crisp air greets me with a stinging kiss. The sky has already shifted from a deep starry black to a warm pink. The full moon has already set. My glaze quickly flies to the snow banks, tattered by the boots of man. The happy campers are all sound asleep in their cabins, now. Three figures—presumably male teenagers in black hoodies—stand out easily to my keen eyesight.
With a gun raised high, I snarl in voice still twisted from the shift,"Get off this property or else I'll shoot you!"
"What the heck?!" One of teens said.
"Holy cow! Is that a chick?" The group suddenly burst into laughing that feeds fuel to my rage. I pull the scoop lens to my eye and get one of the snow in front of their feet the crosshairs. It has been a long time since I had my hands on a gun, but this is natural technique to me. Simultaneously, my index finger pulls the trigger.
Bang! The youths jump in fright, the most fowl of words spew from their mouths, while his partners cussed directly at me.
"Yay?!" I shout. "I got news for ya! That was a warning shot! Next bullets are heading for your skulls!" That gets the bums running for their worthless lives. I even fire again at the snow just make them speed up. Even the goon with the limp runs at that point. Their shadows dash across the snow and leap toward a ebony convertible that I see through the trees.
For a moment, I feel triumph, but then I hear the cry of an infant. It is so faint I think my mind is playing tricks on me, but the fact that it comes in direction of the criminal's car terrifies me. Once lights of a police car flashes off the snow, everything snaps into perspective. There kidnapers and they're getting away.
I run out into the freezing weather as I hear the car doors slam shut. My bleeding bare-feet go numb quickly as they tread across the rocky snow. The car engine starts up and here the wail as clear as day. A child is in there, surrounded by it's enemies, much like the night I was bitten. No living being deserves such an awful fate.
I jump over logs and drive under branches. Twigs snag and tear at every part of me. The campers are shouting somewhere in the distance, but I can only focus on is the shiny surface of the vehicle backing out into the dirt road. I hoist my gun to my shoulder while I run and aim one of the wheels with extreme caution for it passenger. Then, I fire.
The car comes to a halt and seconds later the door on drivers' side pops open. While the door is open, the child cries out to anyone for help. Only ten feet separate me from the driver that emerges. I see the silver rings on his brown and a scar on his lip, but rest of his features are obscured from view.
" You come here for a show on the mattress, chick?" He asked as he produced his hand gun.
"What's a kid doing in your car?" A smile curls menacing on his lips.
"Her folks didn't pay the boys back." He pauses and looks into my eyes,"Why do you care, Wolf?" His eyes are green and crazed like a wild animal's when he asked me the question. I realize instantly he is no human because of that savage look. He must have seen it in my own eyes. The siren of a police car wails, making us both jerk are heads in the direction of the approaching vehicle.
"It's over," I smile for moment, "Wolf."
It all passed by in blur and the ringing in my ears ceased to end. It seemed to surreal to actually be happening and my body is nearly in shock with the pain adrenaline tried to hide. The police filed out of there cars as the sun's morning rays filter into the forest, making the snow sparkle. They ordered us all to drop our weapons and raise our hands above. I could barely move, but somehow I willed myself to give in.
We were all arrested. I couldn't speak. I had been drained of all the rage that gave me the power to do it. I noticed one man and women with blood-shot eyes full of fear running through the snow together toward the scene and an officer coming out of the bums' car, with a baby girl that had nearly turned pink in the cold. The sight made my chest flutter with warmth and relief.
"Young lady, it's dangerous to be so underdressed in this weather." A gruff voice of a man said. The warmth of a coat enveloped me and a hand gently pushed toward the flashing light of the officers' car. My knees give way beneath me and I am forced to rely on that hand for support.
"Wait! Officer, she's not apart of the Snake Gang!" Another voice calls from somewhere. My head started to spin.
"Ma'am, are you are alright?" My head bobbed back. The ringing in my ears grew louder. I'm freezing. I'm freezing. Though in a daze and finally, I blacked out.
I dreamed I was running through the woods with Benkei and the rest of the pack, on a late summer night. We ran as one under the starring night, but they I started to fall behind. I tried to run faster, though it seemed like the harder I tried to keep their pace, the slower I became.
"Benkei, wait for me!" I cried. The rest of the pack kept running, but Benkei stopped. His charcoal fur, filled with orange streaks, was highlighted by the moon. His placid golden eyes met mine for a moment. He through his massive head back letting out a long laugh that shone off his fangs.
"Oh, Olivia, why would I wait for a wolf that's about to die?"
With the wolf shifted into my father, armed with a rifle. His brow wrinkled furrowed, deeply and even with his grizzly beard hiding his frown, the hatred was clear in his graying blue eyes. Without hesitation he pointed the pistol at my snout.
"You're no daughter of mine, demon!" He yelled.
I tried to tell it was me, but whenever I open my mouth, only the whine of the Wolf could escape it. Nooo! Dad it's me!
I watched his finger move to the trigger and pull it back.
"Dad?!" I shrieked as my eyes flew open. My cheeks were streaked with hot tears. I nearly jumped out of bed, but a hand above the covers kept my chest down.
"Hey, take it easy." Said a boy hovering over me like a nurse. The guy gave me a pearly white grin, with two small dimples. His chocolate brown eyes were bright, although they had large bags hanging under them. He had olive oil skin and long dusty cinnamon hair that just grazed his eyelids. He looked amount fourteen, which was probably my age as well, but I had stopped keeping track a long time ago.
"Who are you?!" I demanded, instantly. The dude frowned at me for a moment.
"I think I liked you better when you had hypothermia."
"Oh, gosh," I slapped my hand on head,"I'm in a hospital." The pristine white walls all made sense now.
"My house actually." I sat up and took in my surroundings, instantly. I was in a small round in a bed. A real bed with actual covers. Judging my the clear blue sky I could see from my window it was midday. I longed to break out the cage of this house and absorb the wilderness beyond.
"You've been unconscious for three days and you talked about...things in your sleep."
I gave the boy a fierce glare and snarled,"I not going to explain anything I said." The guy raised his hands in surrender.
"Hey. Relax, I'm not going to charge with questions. Although," he gave me a nervous glance, "I do have them, but you saved my little sister."
"I.." I stared to choke on my words,"don't deserve credit for that." The human's eyes nearly popped out of his head.
"Are kidding?! You rescued a baby and got the leader of the Snake Gang arrested! You're like Supergirl!" I could feel roses blossoming on my cheeks. I knew this was wrong. If this boy knew what I was he'd be willing to shoot me, just like my father had.
"Oh! Yay, I forgot. My name's Caleb and...well, the authorities couldn't figure out who your parents are so my parents though we could let you stay here until everything is figured out."
"Nothing needs to be figured out," I said, flatly, "I'm going home." I slid off the mattress.
"But my name's Olivia...by the way." I wasn't sure if the comment was normal to humans. Caleb grinned at me again and said, "Okay, Olivia." The way he says my name makes my heart skip a beat.
I can't love Caleb. He won't love me because of the Wolf, but I might anyway. I'm domed.
Red and White
My newly-wedded husband’s hand seemed to transfer warm pulses of energy through my body. We walked beside each other in perfect harmony as we neared the large, white hospital. I tried to prepare for anything that could possibly come my way.
I sat in the waiting room, somewhat dazed. At the same time, I was very aware of all the tiny, discrete noises around me. The scuffling of patients as they walked in and the noise from the front desk, such as the receptionist typing. I heard my name, and twisted around, scanning the bland grey lobby.
“Allison?” a tall nurse said with a terribly hoarse voice. I glanced over at Adam. He gently slid his arm around me. He didn’t speak but this tiny action soothed my nervousness. I looked into his generous blue eyes and I knew that I wouldn’t experience hell for long.
Step by step, I was guided through a series of confusing corridors that resembled a labyrinth. I could hear Adam’s soft footsteps behind me as we approached the room. Inside was a dusty chair that was propped up against the aged but clean cot. I offered the seat to Adam, who firmly insisted I take it. The all-too-familiar hospital scent traveled to my nose and I waited in painful silence.
Silently I sat, as I listened to the doctor’s endless rant of questions. She asked everything about my medical history, from baby exams to my last Tetanus shot a few years back. She checked parts of my body to see if there were any decreases or increases in tissue or any serious inflammation. She also asked me if I had had any weight loss, fever, bruising, fatigue, or coughing, any worrisome symptoms. I answered her questions as truthfully as I could, sometimes not answering at all and having Adam reply. After evaluating me and performing all the essential procedures, they conducted the blood tests.
“How are you holding up after all that?” asked Adam as we left the room and headed back to the lobby. “I don’t know,” I mumbled, my chin low. He acknowledged with a simple nod as if he thoroughly understood, but I knew he didn’t.
As soon as I stepped into the warm environment of our apartment, I became relaxed and peaceful. I draped my coat over the couch. Adam approached me and gave me a nice, soothing kiss. My spirits lifted, but only for a limited period of time. I then dragged myself over to the master bedroom, and fell onto the safe, cozy mattress. I sunk into the pool of covers and left reality, for a roller coaster of excitement and thrill in my dreams.
Days of stress and exhaustion gradually passed. I had an empty spot in my stomach. I was yearning to know how my life would play out… if it ever did.
One morning I was awakened by my usual obnoxious alarm, ready for another dreadful day. Although I didn’t realize it, that dreadful day changed my life. Adam’s voice found its way through all of the clanking plates and rushing water from the sink, “Allison! You gettin’ ready to go to your appointment? You’ll be getting your results today,” Adam called from the kitchen. I halted in my thoughts and processed what was happening. I thought so heavily for those few minutes that I had forgotten to reply to him all together. “You alright darling?” he called again, this time more softly. I shook my head as I tried to wake myself up. “Fine,” I lied. I imagined him nodding while I dragged myself to the bathroom with what was left of my remaining will. I stared at my pale face in the mirror. Dark grey circles surrounded my grey eyes, revealing the exhaustion. I rubbed those grey eyes as if to make them alive, bright with color.
I lightly grasped my toothbrush, as I squeezed on the spearmint toothpaste and brushed the heck out of those teeth, until I was sure my gums were bleeding. I rinsed my mouth out with water and spit the remains into the sink. There was a river of water, toothpaste, and a surprising amount of blood just from my gums. I gazed at the blood and wiped my mouth with a rough, white washcloth. Suddenly I could feel a cough trailing up my throat. I coughed hard into the sink, and again saw the vermilion liquid. I was coughing blood. No wonder there was so much. I turned the faucet on as the red river spilled down the drain and I dizzily wandered back to the master bedroom. Blood, what a terrible way to start the unbearable hours. I got dressed and we left the house, unprepared as ever.
I sat slouched on that same dusty chair. I was almost sure I knew what was coming. I jumped up from my seat as the doorknob turned. “Hello Allison and Adam,” said the doctor with the fakest smile that I had ever seen.
“Hello…” I answered.
“Are you ready for the results?” she said again, far too enthusiastically for what was to come. I gave a subtle nod when she said those dreaded words. The truth that was unsaid became reality. It hit me hard in the chest, harder than anyone could imagine.
“Allison, are you alright?” said the doctor. Was she stupid? No, I was not alright. I was terrified, sad, angry, and so many more emotions flowed. Although she was probably just trying to be nice, it sure wasn’t the right thing to say to someone in my position.
After Adam and I had checked out of the hospital, we slowly made our way to the car. I could feel his presence stronger than ever before. He probably didn’t have a clue what to say, but I wasn’t paying much attention. We arrived to the car in the parking lot and slipped in. He just sat there for a few minutes and thought, and that was when I broke the ice.
“Adam,” I said, as I stared out the windshield.
“Yeah, sweetie,” there was immense hesitation in his voice. I felt a tear as it made its way down my cheek, burning my skin. I opened my mouth to speak and tasted the salty warm tear.
“I have leukemia.”
There I laid on the soft, white bed. We were home, finally. Adam and I spooned and I felt his warm embrace. I could feel his chest on my back as it rose and fell again. I was whimpering, and the next thing I knew sobs were spilling out of me. Eventually, we drifted off to sleep, just like that.
Those next days were harsh. I never thought I would get through. Adam and I had gone to my oncologist to discuss the next steps… like chemo. I never imagined that such a thing would happen to me. Why me? I guess it’s just the way things had to play out. The thought of being bald, just the whole chemo thing, lingered in my head. And all the needles, the needles that would slowly penetrate my soft skin, leaving a scar that would be unnoticed by all the people as they walked past me. Just getting on with their amazing, cancer-free lives. They didn’t know anything, but then again, neither did I.
Adam and I found ourselves in the hospital once again. Today I was starting chemotherapy. The nurse led us to the infusion suite. I gazed at it for a few horrible seconds through the window, and hesitantly pushed myself through the door, my hand slipping out of Adam’s soft grasp. The nurse told me she was going to order my chemo cocktails and any pre-medications that I would need from the pharmacy. In the next few minutes the nurse returned with an IV. I studied her delicate, slender hands as she set it up with the saline solution. She then approached me and explained how she was going to puncture my veins with needles and how there would be medicine running through my body which was so incredibly strong, it would strip me from my hair. Her words sounded muffled as if I were under water, and the next thing I knew, I felt a prick in my skin. I cringed and didn’t dare to look at my arm. I glanced at Adam, relying on his face for comfort. From that moment on, nothing in the world, was ever the same to me again.
My body was awake. I struggled to lift my eyelids, they felt as heavy as fifty-pound metal weights. I was able to see about half of the room, and it had been roughly two weeks since my first day of chemo, I would have to return in about a week.
I thrusted my left hand to the bedside table. My fingertips lightly caressed my icy water glass as it tipped over and began to fall from my weak touch. My ears rung from the sound of the sharp shatter. I slapped my hands over my face and rubbed my pale, dry skin in frustration. Adam’s footsteps thudded as he came to the rescue. He stood in the crimson door frame. “I’m sorry… I can’t even pick up a glass of water without ruining it. How will I be able to live life as best as I can before I die if I can’t do the easiest things?” I croaked. Adam sat on the bed next to me and traced the simple designs on the quilts.
“Allison, nobody ever said you are going to die!” he stated, his voice shaky. “And you know what? I would never let that happen. Because my love for you is so strong, not even God could pull you away. If you ever want to do something, we’ll do it. If that is what will make you happier”. I cracked a sad, genuine smile.
“I love you too. I’m just so tired all the time, it’s hard you know?” he pursed his lips and nodded. “Now, clean that up would you?”
“Yes, my queen,” he replied. I let out a small laugh. The first I had had in a long time.
I sat at the table in my cozy flannel pajamas. It was around 2PM, and I hadn’t eaten anything. Adam stood in the kitchen only several feet away as he poured his ingredients on a pan which he then put on the stove.
“So, your parents are coming later today,” he said over the sound of the sizzling eggs. My head darted up as if I were a dog who just spotted a squirrel.
“What? Since when?” I replied with a high tone.
“Since yesterday,” he said as he stirred the food. “I would have told you, but I didn’t want to wake you,”
“Oh god. They’re not going to know how to deal with… the situation I’m in. They’re gonna be all awkward”.
“Honey, don’t worry too much. We’ll figure it out. They’ll be here in a few hours.” I shrugged as he slid the eggs onto my plate and brought it over. I picked at it as the smell of pepper curled my nose. I started to itch my head, and what remained in my hand was not satisfying. In my hand lay a curly brown piece of hair. It shined as the light glinted off of it. I put my hand back on my head and focused my grip on a nice thick lock. I pulled just the slightest amount to see if more of my hair would come out, and it did. Soon enough, I was going to be a bald woman.
I flinched as I heard the sharp ‘ding’ of the doorbell. “I’ll get it,” said Adam. He flung his legs over the edge of the bed and almost dropped his computer. I grabbed ahold of his sleeve, stretching the fabric. “Um… let me come with you. Hold on I need to put on a sweatshirt,” I grabbed my oversized USA hoodie and threw it over my head, careful not to pull too much hair out. We headed over to the doorbell, hand in hand. The next thing I knew, two old, wrinkly parents stood before me.
After Adam helped put my parents luggage in the guest room, we all sat on the sofa, making small talk. My mother sat next to me. The strong stench of her perfume roamed the air.
“So Allison, your father and I have lots of things we want to do with you during our visit. We have made some plans,” she said, her back straight as a stick. I frowned. It seemed to me as if she thought I was just going to die and that was that. No hope. Way to go, Mom.
“What sort of things do you have planned exactly?” I said, picking my nails. She grinned, revealing the red dollar-store lipstick on her tooth, which made me smirk.
“Well, first we want to take you out to a fancy dinner, then we will take you to the beach, then we were thinking you’d be interested in that old art museum… “
“Mom, we can’t do all of that!”
“Well… why not?” Was she blind? I had LEUKEMIA. It was exhausting just to climb up and down some stairs a few times. But then again, I did want to do as much as I could, just in case.
“Listen, we’ll start with the fancy dinner. But I’m not promising too much,”
“Oh, you’ll be fine. You will see honey.” There was a long pause. “What shampoo are you using Alison?” she said again. “Um, I don’t know. Pantene? Why?”
“Your hair has gotten awfully thin,” she ran her fingers through the hair that remained. Her grin darkened. And suddenly, she was grim.
I buttoned up my maroon blouse with shaking hands and stood in front of the mirror. I studied my pale skin, my weak muscles only made me look more dead. I just stood there, and stared. Until I was startled by Adam as he entered the bedroom. “Sweetheart, are you doing alright?” he asked, and I could tell it was sincere.
“Yeah, just my parents. They don’t really understand. They’re not admitting to themselves that I have cancer. You know?”
“Yeah. I know. Listen, they’re waiting. How about we get out of here, and if you need to retreat back here, we will,” I smiled and nodded. We gracefully made our way out of the apartment to the car. I slid onto the leather seats next to my Dad in the back. Adam was the driver. And we were off to a fancy dinner.
A blond woman in a sundress escorted us to our table and set out the menus. I sat down next to Adam and opened it up, scanning all of the fancy dishes that were listed. I decided on some steak dish. After we had all ordered, I could tell everyone was just waiting for someone to speak. And that person was my Mom. “So Allison, tell me how your job is going?” suddenly all eyes were on me. Like a magnetic pull.
“Mom, I don’t have a job. You know that!” I said, somewhat surprised
“Now, how was I supposed to know that?”
“Under the circumstances I’m in? It’s fairly clear I’d like to think,”
“I think it would still be reasonable for you to have a job. It’s not like you’re going to have a stroke now is it?” she chuckled, but no one else joined in. I could feel my cheeks redden with frustration.
“Mom, I have leukemia! Anything could happen. I can’t just do anything I want, I need to be super careful! You just don’t wanna admit to yourself that I won’t be around for much longer!” I said, almost yelling. I glanced around the restaurant, spotting the people's gazes. I pulled out my chair and went to the bathroom, my vision off kilter. My heart was beating. Hard.
I was dizzy. I turned on the sink and splashed my face with cool water. It didn’t help. Nothing did. I then looked in the mirror, only to see a bloody nose. I began to cry. Tears streamed down my cheeks like a waterfall. It burned. My heart was pounding even more than before. Then, I collapsed. I saw the blurred image of Adam hurrying in, my parents behind. Their faces broke into fear. My eyes closed. And that was it. It had to be. It was.
The piano was leaking. With every note that was played- plink! - a drop of silver would fall- plip!- into the quickly collecting puddle on the carpet.
Surely she ought to tell someone. Surely someone ought to know. She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Her voice was drowned by the soft, silver music. She reached up and grabbed her father’s sleeve, giving it a sharp tug. The music stopped and he stared down at her, his eyes full of annoyance.
“What?” She could smell the brown bottle liquid on his breath.
She tried to communicate what was happening with one meaningful look. But as usual, he did not understand her. Worse, the puddle of silver had disappeared and he would never believe her now. Guests were starting to murmur, their yellow faces shining in the yellow light. Her father said something to pacify them, then looked down at her and said something else. The only word she caught was ‘bedtime’ and her heart clenched up, gripped tightly by fear.
‘Bedtime’ meant she’d be left alone in her room, where the shadowy snake would bite her. ‘Bedtime’ meant she’d be forced to let the dark ivy of its venom creep its way into her veins, making her sleepy and helpless. During the day it dozed peacefully under her armchair, quietly coiled up like a small patch of black. But at night, its ugly heads came out, surrounding her in writhing scales and filling the air with the smell of brown bottle liquid. It would wrap itself around her eyes like a blindfold and she would be forced to lay motionless and still as it bit her in funny places late at night. She had scars all over her body from the games it played with her.
They reached the top of long staircase and her father dropped her off in her room. The snake lay in wait as she made her way to her bed. She shivered and wrapped herself in her blanket, hoping it would afford her at least a little protection. But of course, it did not. The moment her father left, the snake encircled her playfully. It was the hunter, she was the prey. The only thing left to do was to try and distract herself. She strained her ears to hear the loose strands of silver music floating through the air and wafting up the stairwell.
If only her mother was there. Her mother never would have banished her alone to the snake’s den, her mother would have stayed there with her, reading her stories until she fell asleep on her own. But as her father so often reminded her, her mother was gone.
She remembered the hatred with which he’d regarded her, after the death of her mother. As if the whole incident had been her fault. Which it wasn’t, of course. Her mother’s death had nothing to do with her and the strange piece of metal she’d picked up. She remembered the look of panic in her mother’s eyes, how frantically she’d gestured. At first she thought her mother was trying to tell her to put down the strange heavy stick. But now she knew that her mother had been pointing at something behind her, for then the bird came out.
It was tiny, and black, and it zipped straight across the room at her mother, burying itself in her gut. Her mother had doubled over in pain, as the bird delved inside of her, and red blood began to spread across her outside. Father came running, he must have heard the bird hit, and rushed her mother to a white room where they could see the red blood better. She’d thought that they were going to try and take the bird out, but perhaps it was too late. Perhaps the wicked thing had already dug so deep into her mother it was making a nest and laying eggs there. All she knew was, when her mother died, the bird died with her. For it too went into the ground and never came back out.
People kept telling her that it wasn’t her fault. She knew that, of course. It was the bird’s fault. But she let them comfort her and stroke her face, and murmur words like “terrible accident,” “she still loves you,” and so on. Her father was the only one who didn’t try to tell her everything was okay. He didn’t hold her close, letting her sob into his side and just let go. If anything, he’d seemed furious at her, as if she herself was that little black bird, and she herself was responsible for her mother’s death.
She liked to think that perhaps it had just been a snake-bite, sending her mother into a dazed darkness that would eventually subside. Just like she herself woke up every morning after spending the night in a similar state. It wasn’t that she couldn’t deal with her mother being gone for good. Mother hadn’t been a whole lot of help anyways, since she was powerless over father, even if she meant well. But it sounded a lot nicer in her head, the thought that someday perhaps her mother would return.
Just then, she heard something and she was sure it was not the snake. For one thing, the snake was much stealthier, slinking through shadows and slithering around, ready to run its forked tongue up and down her body at an unexpected moment. For another, the noise seemed to come from outside, and the snake only stayed in her room. So she stood up, feeling the chill air on her ankles. She was surprised to find that the snake let her move about. Perhaps it hadn’t noticed yet, or perhaps it was only waiting, watching her every move with interest. Downstairs, the piano played on.
She stood up and made her way to the only window. The white curtains billowed out around her, as she opened it and let the night air in. The source of the noise was perched on a thin branch right outside, easily within reach of her short arms. When she saw it, her heart caught in her throat and she started to back up, tripping on the ghostly cloth. She fell and it fell with her, entangling her like a spider’s web. A soundless scream escaped her, and the metal rod hit the ground with a bang. She froze, guiltily. What would her father say now?
She crept back into bed, her heart racing. The snake’s venom seemed to have stopped working on her, for she was wide awake and afraid. She lay there for what felt like an hour, but nobody came upstairs to see what had happened. Not once did the silver music halt, and not once did the unseen monster pull off her blanket and night gown to expose her bare skin. Finally, she stood back up, feeling stronger somehow. If she could outsmart the snake, perhaps she had what it took to defeat the thing outside.
Was it still there? She held her breath as she made her way to the windowsill. Yes, there it was, the small black bird perched innocently atop a twig by her window.
“You,” she whispered, her voice filled with venom. “You’re what killed my mother.” She stared at the bird with the same angry stare that her father had given her on that fateful day.
The bird cocked its head to the side, mocking her. She knew what she had to do. Only fear could stop her now. She looked down. Her father had once told her that her room overlooked the garden, but now she could see he had been lying. Stretching out below her, reflecting the moonlight, was a green pond that she would slip into with a gentle splash should she fall.
She felt comforted knowing this, though she wondered briefly if the bird would fly at her like it had done with her mother. She imagined the curtains turning from white to bloody red in a matter of seconds like a canvas her mother colored with words from the stories she used to tell.
“Stop telling her these things,” her father used to say. “She’ll get all kinds of crazy ideas.”
But her mother had insisted that the stories did her some kind of good. She kept on telling them until the day she died, and they stayed alive with her daughter, a cursed legacy. How she hated those wonderful stories.
She hoisted herself onto the windowsill and began to reach for the bird. It shifted uneasily but did not fly away. Encouraged, she reached further, this time placing her other hand on the branch upon which it was perched.
It happened in a matter of seconds. A loud noise, like the sound the bird had made when it attacked her mother, pierced the starlit sky. She felt herself rushing downwards, unable to tell water from air. She hit the bottom, which felt strangely dry and solid.
Later on, people would say that she’d been driven to jump by the guilt over what she’d done to her mother. People would shake their heads and sigh. Such a shame, and only five years old too. She was always a troubled child, perhaps it would be for the best. And some would blame her father, repeating the rumors of abuse and neglect they’d heard from all their neighbors.
Alas she knew none of this. All she knew, as she lay on the grassy ground of the garden, was that the bird had gotten away. She watched it now, through her barely open eyes, as it stared at her with an expression of satisfaction, for it too had claimed her life. Then it turned, spread its wings and disappeared into the darkness. She uttered her final cry for it come back.