The Alleyway Portal
By Jason W.
“Oh my god, school is finally over!” exclaimed an exhausted Jeridiah, to his two best friends, William and Alistair, as they walked out of Jennifer Mendow High School. Jeridiah was what one would call the “team leader.” He was the oldest one in the group at 16, and William and Alistair, who were both 15, naturally followed him.
“Hey, do you guys want to come over and explore those alleyways next to my house? I’ve always wanted to see what’s in there, but I always wanted to do it with friends. So would you guys wanna do it with me?” questioned Jeridiah.
“Sure, I’ll go,” replied William, who was the biggest of the three. “I love adventures! How about you Alistair?”
“I don’t know, it’ll probably get dark in there really fast, and then we won’t know how to get out. Plus alleyways like that are always super scary, so I don’t really want to go in,” mumbled Alistair, always being cautious.
“Oh come on, nothing’s going to happen, we’ll be fine, it’s just exploring,” chuckled Jeridiah.
“Fine,” grumbled Alistair, “I’ll go with you guys.”
“Awesome, let’s go then!” said William.
As they slowly ventured in, they noticed that Alistair was right, since the surrounding buildings were extremely tall, sunlight couldn’t get through from the sides, making the whole alleyway darker.
“I didn’t realize how dark it would be,” said Jeridiah. “Guess you were right Alistair.”
“Ha! See, I told you!” replied Alistair in a triumphant voice. “I was right and you guys were wrong, I win!”
“Okay okay, geez, no need to get all worked up,” chuckled William. “Well I’m still going in, how about you guys?”
“Well, of course, you’re going! You’re the biggest and strongest one out of all of us, and you never back down!” exclaimed Alistair, who wanted to be like William in the physical sense. William was well built, strong and tall. He loved adventures but hated studying, which led him to be a failing student with grades going no higher than a C+. Alistair, meanwhile, was a top student who always had A and A+ grades but hated the mere thought of going somewhere unknown and scary.
“Let’s go in then,” said Jeridiah, watching with amusement as his two friends argued back and forth. Jeridiah always found it funny how the short and smart Alistair and the strong but not so smart William always argued about trivial things. Jeridiah himself was almost a combination of the two, he wasn’t as strong or tall as William, or as smart or ingenious as Alistair, but he was in good shape, and passed all of his classes.
William led the way into the maze and starts navigating his way through the alleyways.
“Wait! How are we going to get out of this maze? We’re going to be stuck in here!” exclaimed Alistair with the sudden realization.
“It’s fine, I remembered the way we came, I can just backtrack,” replied Jeridiah, “but if it’ll make you feel better, we can make marks on the walls with all of the leftover wine in these wine bottles scattered every — What was that?”
“Look! Dogs!” said William.
“Aww, these poor dogs look so mangy and emaciated,” said Jeridiah, who had two dogs.
“It doesn’t matter! They look hungry, and there are so many of them. We need to go,” yelled Alistair, who was already running, with William hot on his heels.
“But, but, but… fine,” mumbled Jeridiah with a resigned sigh before turning and chasing after his two friends.
As they were running, Jeridiah, who was the last one, could hear the heavy panting and the clatter of claws as the dogs chased after them. After turning left and then right and then left again many many times, Jeridiah finally realized that the dogs were no longer chasing them.
“Guys! Stop! I think the dogs are gone,” he yelled.
“Finally! Those dogs were so fast considering they looked so skinny,” Alistair said, panting.
“Hey guys, where are we?” asked William, “And why are we glowing blue?”
“Come look at this.” replied Jeridiah, who had wandered off a bit, “It might explain your question, William.”
“Woah! What is that?” said William, who was looking at Alistair for an answer.
“Hey! Why are you looking at me? Just because you don’t know doesn’t mean that I know.” answered Alistair in indignation.
“Whatever it is, I’m going to check it out,” said Jeridiah, already walking closer to the thing.
We're Looking for the Sky - Chapter One, Part Two
By Alyssa G.
Isaiah was never the one who was interested in seeing the sunrise in the morning. As strange as it sounded, it was true. He could list reason after reason on why he didn’t particularly like seeing the sunrise. He could even write a book on why he didn’t like it. Yet, the only one that would stand out was this: his own brother dying as the sun rose on one horrific morning. Isaiah could remember it clearly, Max Sylvia was on the edge of a roof of his condo, staring out into the distance. Tears streamed down his face with a little smile appearing there as he looked at Isaiah, who was calling out for him. The next thing he knew was that Max took one step forward and he was...gone.
Now here Isaiah was, standing on the edge of a building, looking over. His breathing was erratic, stomach in knots, and tears rushing down his face. He held onto a single picture of Max wondering if this was something he should do. If it was something Max would want him to do. Isaiah knew his brother better than anyone, and he knew that Max would talk him down from something as crazy as this. But Max wasn’t here. Max wasn’t here to talk him down from the edge. He was gone and there was no point in being here if he wasn’t. Isaiah stuffed the picture into his pocket, staring at the sunrise. The warm, summer wind was hitting his face softly, dragging along his black, curly hair and the loose t-shirt he was wearing. He took a little step forward, feeling a little lightheaded. He kept telling himself, don’t look down, don’t look down, but he did anyway. He glanced down again, seeing the world below. Cars looked like little toys and people looked like small ants he could easily crush. Isaiah thought of what they were thinking at this very moment. Certainly not thinking about the guy who was about to jump and they certainly were not looking up at him, gasping in horror and pointing. Well, they were doing exactly that. Damn. Couldn’t he do anything without getting someone’s attention? Couldn’t he do something right for once?
He pushed those thoughts aside, pulling his gaze from the people below and back to the sunrise. Isaiah was halfway there with his brother. Max was only a few seconds away. It was just one step forward. Just one step and that was it. Just one. Just one. Just one. Just one. Just one. Just one. Just one. Just—
Why couldn’t he do it?
Isaiah balled his hands into fists. His sharp nails pinched into the palm of his hands and little crescents formed within them. His jaw clenched tightly as more tears streamed down his face. He tried and tried to take a step forward. Just one step. Yet, he couldn’t. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t walk forward. Why?He let out a frustrated sigh, glaring at the sunrise. It was Max’s doing. He was the one stopping him of course. Isaiah cursed, clenching his fists tighter, feeling little cracks of blood spillover. Damn Max. Forget all about it. Just walkforward.
God, who did Max send this time?
He didn’t bother to bat an eye to whoever she was. Isaiah stared off into the distance, wiping at his tear-stained cheeks. “What? What is it?” he asked.
“What...what are you doing?”
Her voice was soft, concerning, and Isaiah wanted to laugh. Max did this. He sent her to stop him.
“What does it look like?” Isaiah fumed.
She was quiet. Quiet enough that he could hear her breathing and the few steps she took forward. The clacking of her boots or heels she was wearing made him flinch. If she took another step, he was sure enough that he was going to jump off. She would be the last one to see him and it would be stuck in her mind forever.
“Don’t—” Isaiah said sternly. “don’t come by me.”
She stopped walking. “Why?” she asked.
Why? Ah, well, he didn’t want to be here anymore. He wanted to be with his brother. Was that too much of an answer? Isaiah opened his mouth, hoping for those words to slip out. The only thing that came out was, “I—I don’t know….”
“Okay,” she said, “can I just stand here and...talk to you?”
No. Please leave. “Yeah…” he said.
She let out a sigh, and Isaiah stood there, still looking at the sunrise. It was slowly making its way up behind the tall, grey buildings. The warm, summer wind picked up and the sky was turning into a mix of orange, red, and pink. He cringed at the sight, hoping that it wasn’t going to be the last thing he saw before he jumped. Max would have liked this. He would have liked the sunrise and the sky. He would have liked the vomit mix of those warm colors that made Isaiah sick to his stomach. Max would have liked all of it.
“Are you going to do it?” she asked.
Isaiah carded a hand through his black hair, tucking some of it behind his ear. If there was a better way to answer that question, he would say exactly that. Only if there was. He glanced down at his shoes and shifted forward just a little. His legs were becoming noodles and millions of butterflies invaded his stomach at that very moment. He choked back a few words and the only thing that came out was strangled huff. Another step, perhaps a shuffle, and everything would be over. Isaiah Sylvia would be non-existent and the last thing he would see was his shoes. The last person to ever talk to him was the girl behind him, closer to him than ever before. He could feel her warmth radiating off of her and her steady breathing on his arm.
She was so...so close.
Why was she so close?
“Yeah, I think I might,” he answered.
There was a pregnant pause, a sigh, and then—her hand slipping into his. Her fingers carded through his and she held him there. She was so warm and her nails were pinching into his sun-kissed skin. Isaiah didn’t flinch or even pull away. She felt so good to be around. She felt so real. He didn’t want to let go of her and she didn’t want to let go of him. Was she going to let him jump? Isaiah didn’t know as much as she did.
“I don’t think you should,” she said quietly. “I don’t think he would be so happy if you did.”
Max. Of course, Max.
“And I don’t think anyone else would.”
Isaiah bit his lip hard until the point where it bled. His chapped lips were trembling as he listened to her soft voice. Tears were beginning to form at his eyes and a snowball was clogging up his throat. A raw feeling hit him as she gripped onto his hand as if her life depended on it.
“I don’t think youwould be so happy about doing this, right?”
No. No, he wouldn’t. Max wouldn’t. The rest of his family wouldn’t. Or anyone else in the matter.
“Isaiah?” she called out. “Isaiah.”
Her voice rang in his ears, steady and low. A sickening feeling was swirling around in his stomach as he felt her pull him back and off of the ledge. As much as he didn’t want her to, she did. She pulled him back and he fell right into her warmth. Her body pressed up against his slightly and the grip of her hand was loosened. The girl let go of him completely but was still next to him as she too stared out into the distance. Isaiah glanced over to get a better look at her. At this angle, the sun was hitting her just right and made her golden-honey skin tone pop out. The black, short dress rose up every time the wind glided past them and even made the little zipper of her ankle boots jangle. She flipped her dark brown hair to the side, quickly shoving her bangs behind her left ear that was heavily pierced with different earrings. He watched as her fingers trailed down beside her ear and to the side of her neck. Her nails were covered in black nail polish, glossed over and shiny. She fixed the strap of her dress, letting it rest on her shoulder, and her hand fell to her side. She picked at her dress, strangely, waiting for whatever response she was expecting, but never to come.
“Isaiah,” she called out again, softly.
He moved in closer to where their shoulders were touching, even though he was a lot taller than her. Isaiah kept his gaze on her. “Yeah,” he answered.
“What happened to you?”
She said that like she knew him forever. Like they were old-time friends. He could hear the disgust and pity in her tone. It gnawed at him tirelessly. He heard that same tone everywhere he went, being reminded that his brother was dead and that everyone felt 'so bad’ for him. What kind of person would do that?
“What do you expect me to say?” Isaiah questioned. “What do you want me to say after what happened to Max?”
Not that much. Hopefully.
“If I’m being honest here,” she started, “I would expect you to say a lot. To the point where I would have to make an excuse to leave.”
He bit the inside of his cheek. “Yeah? Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but that won’t happen.” Isaiah gazed into her dark brown eyes, wondering if he would find something for her to leave. But there was nothing coming from him, and he turned around. She was always like that, even with Max. “We’re not close like that. We’re not friends.” he snapped. “Not anymore at least.”
That got her quiet for a few moments. A few missed beats and she opened her mouth to say something. “We were at one point, weren’t we?” she squeaked.
Sure, they were at one point in time. But now? Right after Max died? Definitely not. She was by far one of the worst people that ever roamed earth itself. Shedeserved to be put on that ledge instead of Max. It was her fault that he was up there in the first place. It was her fault.
“Yeah, at a certain point in time, but not anymore.” he hissed, whirling back to her. His lips thinned into a sharp, deep scowl and his eyes narrowed. “Do you even know what kind of hell you put my brother through, Jess?”
She flicked her eyes toward the ground and hung her head low. “I—I didn’t—it wasn’t…it wasn’t meant to end like that, Isaiah.” Jess mumbled.
“Sure, keep telling yourself that,” Isaiah said. “Might as well tell yourself it wasn’t your fault that he died. We both know why he put you in that note. Youmade his life a living hell when he was supposed to be happy. When he was supposed to be doing his work and helping others. When he was supposed to be the amazing brother he was. You got in the way of all of that. Youalways made him feel like he had to stop everything just to make you happy.”
“Let me finish,” he snapped. “You made him do everything for you. And you want to know what happened in the end? Well, he jumped off the roof of his condo...and died. He died, Jessie. He died because of you. Do you even have any shame in that? Do you even care about him?”
“Of course I cared about him. I still do,” she said. “why do you think I’m up here, huh?”
“To possibly grill me about all of this,” Isaiah answered, “Or remind me of Max every time I look at you.” he flicked his eyes toward her, hoping for her to see the complete disgust and anger mingling within them. “Do you know how hard it is to look at you right now?”
“No,” she answered simply, “I don’t. At all.”
Slowly, he moved backward. The lightheaded feeling was soon fading and the butterflies were leaving his stomach. Only anger coursed throughout his body and the sudden urge to throw Jess off the building. He held himself back as he tried his best to stay away from her, counting in his head and thinking of things that Max would do. Just back off. Stay away. Leave.
“Isaiah, please, can we just talk?” Jess asked with a shaky tone.
He shook his head and made his way to the roof access door. He placed his hand on the doorknob gently, feeling the cold metal hit his sweaty palm. A cruel shiver snaked down his spine in those fleeting moments that Jessie called out again. It hurt to hear her voice like that, so desperate and alone.
“Isaiah, please,” she begged, “please.”
It hurt so much.
His grip on the doorknob was tighter than ever before. He turned it to the left side once, then to the right, and left again. The cool metal pressed against his skin, soon sticking to him. All he could hear was her voice and nothing else to it. What would Max do in a situation like this? Well, Isaiah knew for a fact Max would run back to her, comfort her, and tell her everything was going to be okay. He wasn’t here to do that. He left Isaiah to clean up the mess he made.
“I have to go,” Isaiah mumbled.
Jessie’s footsteps hurled behind him, and she lurched forward. Her hand was back on his again, fingers intertwining with sweaty and cold palms. How come he didn’t notice that before?
“You can’t go, Isaiah. You can’t leave me.” Jess cried. She was choking between sobs, sniffles, and tears. Mascara soon dripped down her perfect face and tears clouding her brown eyes. “You can’t go, Isaiah,” she whispered.
“Why? Why can’t I go?” he questioned with a soft tone. The storm in him faded into nothing as he stared into her eyes.
“You—I need you, Isaiah, I need you here.” she wept.
He quirked an eyebrow. “You’re just fine, Jess. There’s no point in me staying here.”
“There are a lot of things, Isaiah!”
“Then what is it? What is it, Jessie?”
She let out a loud sob and her hand instantly flew to her mouth. Jessie was shaking against Isaiah, squeezing onto his hand tightly. Nails pinched into his skin as she continued to cry and cry until there was nothing left. Her face was tomato-red by the end of it with veins visibly popping out. Mascara stuck to her face, making her look like a raccoon of some sort. He never felt so bad for someone before, let alone Jessie Fetcher.
“I can’t do this alone, Isaiah.” she breathed out. “I can’t be alone.”
Isaiah held his breath in the matter. Did he hear her correctly? Did she just say what he thought he heard? He was stuck between his endless thoughts and reality, trying his best to fail at losing himself. For a long moment, he didn’t say anything. Even throughout that moment, a million things rush through his mind. Things that he wanted to say to her. Most of all, he just wanted to tell her that lonely feeling was always going to be there, even if Max was still here. The words didn’t come out as planned or as he hoped. They stick to the tip of his tongue and sat in his head as heavy as a 500-pound weight. Isaiah kept her close as he opened the door. She was still shaking by the time they got off the roof and into the main lobby of the building. Jessie was on the verge of a panic attack. He saw only once in his life when Max was still alive. They were arguing about something in his room in a large house they lived in—one that was at the end of the road that everyone envied. The argument was muffled and behind closed doors, but Isaiah could hear that distinct yelling and anger in his brother’s tone. Of course, Isaiah did his best to stay out of what was happening, but he couldn’t help by eavesdropping. Something was said about Max, then Jessie, after that, it was their relationship, then Max’s career, and back to start again. At the end of it, Jessie freaked out and started to hyperventilate. She was choking out sobs and cries about how she couldn’t breathe, and then she had a panic attack. Her face was undeniably red and her eyes clouded with fear. Isaiah never saw something so scary in his life. How in the world was he going to handle her?
Oath of the Bloodstained
By Jesse S.
The waning gibbous was high in the pitch sky as I walked along the battlefield. The grass, once emerald, was stained in crimson, a spoil of the battle that took place just hours before. I saw many fall on this mountain top: my wife, my children, my apprentice. Yet none of it could have been prevented.
How did the bloodbath begin? Well that’s a story that can’t be told now. I must away, for the memories hurt too much and my situation is much too urgent. My feet crunched upon the broken bones of fallen warriors and my alder staff pushed deeper into the soft peat. Clovers gleamed in the moonlight as the soft whisper of wind whipped wary across my warm, worn face. A raven, a foul, ebony raptor with cruel, red eyes and a burning temper, landed softly on the branches of a yew tree rooted next to a pool to the east of the field.
The whispers of the wind were harsh as they flew past my ears. I could never gather it all but I heard pieces. “You held...” “Sword of the bright--“ “--Son of death” “Betrayal”. Each syllable etched grief into me. They knew.
I wandered towards the pool and looked down upon the marred version of the person I used to be. Stark white hair framed my sharp face. My ice blue eyes shot daggers at me from across the water. I could could see the grief I wore. My face brandished a nasty red cut from a silver dagger that grasped me during the battle. The raven cried as a strong gust of wind, eerie and more powerful than usual, picked up a yew branch off the ground and flung it towards me, knocking my alder staff to the ground, the two pieces of wood forming a T on the peat.
I walked the perimeter of the pond widdershins until a faint green light emitted from the centre of the pond. The wind started to bristle against the pine trees and I continued my route. I counted each step as I walked feeling my strength increase each time I touched the vibrant earth. I stretched out my right arm and hovered my hand above the ground as I moved. A small emerald orb grew inside my palm.
Upon completion of the 2nd roundabout the wind picked up taking holly leaves in its whim. As one flew over the water I heard the light sing in a melodious tune,”Child of the Forgotten lord. Cursed to wield the godly sword. Broken o-“ a violent gust of air ripped the song out of the atmosphere. Once again I paraded around the pool watching the lights dance in their fluid brilliance. They formed into a small scene. It was my manor upon the mountaintop and my son’s screams within it. He begged for mercy, for help, for his father… but I couldn’t give it to him. I heard a man with a burly voice address me from across the water.
“Now begn’s the fall O’ the house of Rook. How’d it make yer feel Atticus? There’s no need ter bare yer fangs. Jus’ tell meh why dja do it? Why dja kill him. Why dja start tis war?”
I sighed. I wasn’t proud of what I’d done, but every throat I’d slit fueled my engine. The war bells had tolled in Ireland, and unfortunately I was the ringer. “ If I could tell you the answer, Brago, I would… please leave me here to mourn.”
“Who? Yer family?” He stared at me with his big, sad, brown eyes and started again,” or Yer Victims?”
That sentence felt like a gut wrenching strike that made me want to fall to my knees and succumb to his bait. Alas, that’s what he wanted and I’d fought too long to break here. I ejected the blade from the bottom of my alder staff, a bright silver never tarnished from the impurities of the world, and started back around the pool dragging the blade in my wake. Brago was no where to be seen, but I knew he would be back. The fourth cycle was completed and the ball of earth energy I held was a bright lime color. A few more rounds and I would be able to absorb what I needed to curate the cure.
The water scene changed to me and my son Rofellos. And I could here the words of that horrifying conversation.
“Please my child,” I pleaded in vain,” understand what I must do!” I was crying freely. Then I didn’t think I could do any of it, yet I was standing by the water dragging my blade through the peat on my fifth walk of the round. “Father… I know that your… situation has… well taken you to some ends. But it doesn’t have to be like this!! If I die… what does Mum think?”
I replied sorrowfully, ”She doesn’t know, Rofellos. But once I’m ascended I can beat death. I almost did it once, but all I got was my curse. My fangs and wings and lust for blood. I will bring you back. We all have to make… sacrifices.” I rose my blade despite his screams of protest and slid it across his neck. His blood spilling upon the marble tile, its pure virginity ran afoul by the red river of death. And I drank that night. My first step completed. My war had only just begun.
"Atticus Rook. The butcher of men.” Brago stared at me from across the water.
“Savior of Ireland!” I ejaculated back at him.
“Slayer of innocents.”
“Redeemer of souls!”
“Profaner of the dead.”
“Blesser of the forsaken!”
“Thief of crowns.”
“Sanctifier of blood!”
“Vampyr of the east.”
I glared daggers at Brago’s ethereal form. “Monster of the Green Cathedral,” I dully admitted.
“Why’dyah do it Atticus? Why’dyah kill yer family? Surely it wasn’t worth it. Every step yeh take is stained with yer sins, but yeh still did it. With yer god watching, beating his granite gaze at yeh waiting fer yeh to crack and succumb to yer evil. Yet here yeh are, fangs and all. Even the wind winnowing through yer robes is stained.”
I couldn’t face him. My ancestor was right, everything I’d done was nothing short of a disgrace, but I had ascended. “I am the master of death Brago! Every vein split beneath my alder staff’s blade was worth it. They paid their price for my cause. OUR CAUSE! Death scared you so much that you decided to remain a shell of yourself. Nothing but a soul that has never experienced the exhilaration of life or death. You are nothing! You are hollow! I am the Apex! I AM DEATH! And NOTHING you do to befoul me will work. The earth’s power flows through me, and with my Druidic gifts given to me by YOU, Brago, will be the last step I need.”
One step forward was all I took before the ground erupted underneath me. The pool, dazzling forest spirits lighting the water in an emerald hue danced across my vision. Flames glazed the stones that I barreled towards as Brago’s mocking voice echoed through the wind, betraying my mind. “Yeh have tested life ter its limits. The earth cannot bear the burden of yer soul tarnishing it’s name, it’s power. Yeh have abused and soiled the earth ter benefit yer life, and for yeh crimes against nature, yeh will experience a fate worse than death.”
My limp body stilled upon the burning granite underneath me. A blinding, numbing, indescribable pain ripped through every atom of my body as the sinner’s soul was ripped from it. The last thing I saw was Brago’s form flitting down to incinerate that tarnished soul in a wall of flame that split the world between us. That was it. I was nothing. I was hollow. I hadn’t accepted death, and in turn life ravaged every ounce of my self.
The Abstracts: Seer - Chapter Six
By Danielle N.
Bridget wasn’t talking to me.
I was up early at the bus stop after the weekend, hoping I’d see Bridget. She came to the 3rd stop after the one I was at, and didn’t even look at me as she rushed to the very back.
Before Bridget came, I was a loner - that bookish girl at the back of the classroom who has virtually no friends and sat alone at lunchtime. I didn’t really mind it - I didn’t have to talk to anyone, so I could read as much as I pleased. I got the best grades in spelling and grammar, even in second grade, when everyone else was just learning to read.
When Bridget arrived at school, in acid - washed jeans and a pale blue t - shirt, she was so shy, wouldn’t introduce herself, wouldn’t even answer in a conversation. Everyone was having a competition to get her to talk, smile, or just look at the person talking.
Everyone was blind to the fact that Bridget had just arrived from Ireland, leaving behind her home, language, traditions, and everything familiar.
People offered her a spot at lunch tables, but she sat by herself on the side of the library each day. People got offset by that, and got lost interest.
But not me.
I walked right up there and sat right next to her. “Mind if I sit here?” I said.
No answer from her, not that I expected one.
So I sat with her every time at lunch, by the library. We didn’t often talk, but we were both reading, so it was okay. She and I had somebody to sit with at lunch, and the hope that we had each other and weren’t complete losers.
But when Bridget left, it was just like the beginning of the year, with nobody to have lunch with, or read with, or share opinions on favorite authors, or anything like that. I was back to being a loner again.
Of course, there was always the option of sitting with Lyla and her friends, but then she would know that I’m completely unpopular. Not that she wouldn’t tease me anyway.
This went on for a few weeks, until I find a hastily drawn note stuck in my locker.
Vikki, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have run away like that, it was so babyish. I was overwhelmed, but I’m fine now. Could you meet me in the library again after school today? I have to talk to you.
So I did. Bridget was squirming in the same seat in the back of the library, binder slid right next to the wall. I looked over by the computers, noting that a few kids are still there. A cluster of future models were giggling over a table on the other side of the library, doing something super secret. I dropped into the seat across from Bridget, folding my palms over each other, hoping that this time I would be more careful.
Bridget took an audibly deep breath.
“I understand that you told me I am a Seer.” Deep breath. “And I was hoping you could teach me to hone my powers.”
I didn’t even notice how straight I was sitting, but now I couldn’t help but arch my back as much as it could. I felt myself staring, and my eyes got wider and wider until I feel like the water on their surface has dried over like a cover.
took a giant breath, but before I could continue Bridget placed her hands on my shoulders and shook me with surprising strength.
“Vikki. Calm. Down.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Do you...not want to talk anymore?”
“What? Oh, no... It’s actually quite nice, feeling sound coming out of me again. Back at home everyone called me the Loudspeaker because I would always talk a lot in the mornings because…I don’t know, I was in second grade, I was weird. But anyway, I was thinking about what it really meant to be a Seer last night when I was kept awake by my baby Deartháir.”
“Who’s Darth hair?”
Bridget giggled and then escalates to a giant, whooping laugh. It was a great laugh. It was like soda bubbles floating to the surface of a cup. It made you want to laugh too. So I did. The models at the other side of the library glared at us over their perfect shoulders. They must’ve been really annoyed because they were distracted from looking over a poster of some boy band, or whatever it is they did. A blonde in 9th grade about a head taller than both of us was flicking her hair and strutting over to us, her pink miniskirt swaying each time she jutted out her hip. She was also wearing a midriff-showing close-necked white tank top with some unreadable cuss word scrawled across the top. Girlish and fierce. The giggly gangs leader.
“C’mon, let’s get out of here, she’s going to ruin and tear all our stuff while sweet talking us. I had the displeasure of annoying them before.”
“Honestly? I kinda wanna watch.”
“No, you don’t. We gotta go, like right now. I can smell her perfume. Mmmmm, jasmine…”
Bridget grabbed my arm, and yanked us out of the library. I just barely grabbed my binder. Glancing quickly behind me I saw the giggly gang’s leader jutting out her hip with her hand on it and smirking at us. She made me want to punch that stupid little smirk right off her snobby rich girl face. But Bridget didn’t notice; she was still practically dragging me down the hall before I pulled out of her grip and ran alongside her. I felt that my face was full of sweat, and I didn’t realize how cold and clammy I was.
Bridget pulled me into a classroom and we hid in the closet. I didn’t see her coming after us, so I don’t see why Bridget is so freaked out about it. I was bending over, I was so tired, but Bridget pulled me upwards like a giant baby and told me to be quiet. We waited in complete silence, until I stopped panting so hard and it was awfully dark and hot.
Then, peeking through the tiny window in the closet door, we could see the small window in the classroom door. And a giggly gang leader shadow passed over it. She darted everywhere, like an agitated squirrel, but then I felt something clutching my head in a gentle but firm grip, standing just behind us.
I screamed. I literally screamed and fought my way blindly out of that closet. I saw Bridget vaguely behind me running too, but again I didn’t see the giggly gang leader, or GGL. I suppose I would laugh at it when I looked back on this when I was twenty and that girl was a supermodel, but right then I was terrified, and that gave me the strength to keep running down that hall. Everybody had gone home by then, so there were no hall monitors anywhere. Bridget was running ahead of me, and I was dead out of breath, but I forced myself to keep going, and we eventually got to the sidewalk at the edge of school. We wanted so badly to sit down, but that was what we did a few minutes ago. So we kept walking. It was a public place so somebody would see a 9th grader in a bright pink mini skirt chasing two 8th graders.
Bridget lifts her head and runs her hands through her long hair, and her hands come out with sweat between her fingers.
“I...told you...we had...to get...out…”
I sigh “Yeah...that was....my bad...How did...she...get in...the closet…?”
We keep gasping all the way home, and I feel crummy when Lyla asks if I just ran the mile, and mom freaked out and scolded me on how too much physical exertion could severely damage the area of my brain that was damaged. I told Bridget that my room was upstairs on the left before this, so she could go look around while I was stuck up here.
Once my mom finished “lecturing” me about my misbehaviors (“NEVER, EVER IN MY ENTIRE LIFE HAVE I MET SOMEBODY AS FOOLISH AS YOU FOR RUNNING JUST AFTER A CHRONIC INJURY!”) I ran upstairs, which made mom shriek and made me walk downstairs again. And go up the stairs again. Always holding the rail. Veeeeeeeery slowly as to not tire myself out.
Finally, after the tortoise walk up the stairs, Bridget was lying on my bed, staring at the pointed ceiling.
“Why is your bedroom so plain? Mine is completely decked out with toys, posters, paintings and stuff.”
“Oh, this is nothing. Sometimes I don’t even go up here to sleep here. I just told you to go up here so I can show you what I reallydo.”
“You mean the workshop you made the tongs in?” Bridget sits upright now, rubbing her eyes.
We creep downstairs, and when I see that mom isn’t anywhere near I run down the stairs to the landing. Bridget goes all the way down, but stops when she sees that I’m up here.
“What are you doing? I thought this was downstairs.”
“It is. But there are two entrances. One through that door to your right, and one through this stair landing. I wanted you to have a choice on which to go through.”
Bridget doesn’t even hesitate. “The stair landing.”
I grin, and take out the key and show her the side of the opening. The landing opening doesn’t even creak, and she marvels at the staircase leading down to the Garage.
We both creek down the steps, and then she sees the room. “Whoa, this is twice as large as my bedroom!”
“Yeah, this is my work area. There’s the boring stuff, like homework, and interesting stuff, like the tongs-”
“Can we not call them the tongs? That name is so boring, like what you would use to pick up pasta.”
“Well, what would you call them?”
She thinks for a few seconds, then says “The Firebug.”
I blink. “I’m sorry?”
“And not The Firefly?”
“Nah. If we say Firebug, people will wonder why we didn’t just call it The Firefly, and why that glowing stuff at the end isn’t yellow or orange. Wait, can you make it yellow or orange?”
“Nah, deep blue is the natural color of concentrated energy. It’s held at the end of the two tongs, held from the outside atmosphere by a thin membrane that can protect from a nuclear explosion. It has to, because the concentrated electricity was jumping around in there at incredible speeds, but if I left it in there by itself this thing would get overheated very quickly. After some time, I found this cooling liquid that’s as thick as tapioca that won’t change the chemical compound of the electricity. This will slow down the electricity’s movement, which will keep it from overheating at the same time. The electricity’s super sensitive, that’s why it’s at the tip of the tongs and why the membrane is so thin, so it can detect even the slightest brain waves. I would get much better results if I used the traditional method of placing sensors on the scalp, but I can’t very well go around sticking suction cups to people’s heads, can I?”
Bridget says something like “Uh huh.” and keeps poking at the negative water fountain in the far left corner of the room. The water keeps shying away from her finger. “How does this thing work?”
“Oh, that’s just negatively charged water.”
She looks at me blankly.
“Oh, come on. It’s water that’s infused with negatively charged iron shillings. The iron shillings are super tiny, and either avoid something’s touch or cling to it until you wash it out in the sink. I started playing with it last summer.”
Bridget completely sticks her hand under the water flow, and the water bounces a little on her palm before spilling upwards like a fountain. This can keep me occupied for hours, trying to get my hand to just feel the cold water. Lyla could touch the water, but complained that “the stupid stuff just won’t get off! It won’t even stick to the towel!” And mom got super freaked out about it and threatened to take away the Garage if I didn’t get the evil water off of her daughter’s hand. So I told Lyla to stick her hand in some sink water and dry it off after that, and after she did so, she calmed down a bit. A few minutes after that, she was fine, and pissed at me for god knows why.
“So, Bridget…” I start to say, and I try to karate chop an area on her back, but she moves just slightly to the left so I hit flesh and not her spine.
“I’m really sore there.” Is her explanation.
“Yeah, but this time try to-”
“Dodge it, yeah.”
“Keep trying to-”
“See what you are going to say?”
“This was the training you were thinking of?”
I pause for a second to try to distract Bridget. She really was getting this…
“Yes and could you-”
“Please stop doing this because it’s annoying? Yeah, I’ll stop. That was giving me a major headache anyway.”
“Okay. If you would, please step away from the incredibly distracting negatively charged water and turn your back to me. I am going to try to knock you over, and you will have to see what I will do to you prematurely, before I do it, and stop yourself from falling.” And taking out a bandana and tying it around her eyes. “And to make sure you do not see me doing anything, you will wear this blindfold.”
“Aw, c’mon! Couldn’t I just close my eyes?”
“I don’t want you peeking.”
“I knew you would say that. I also know that my head is still hurting from overexertion. Could we just take a snack break or something?”
“In fifteen minutes. I just wanna see this.”
And in a flash I chop the bending area behind her left knee. I’ve seen people on TV do that, and it makes the person topple over. However, nobody on TV who did that was a Seer. Bridget puts her weight on her right foot, making her left foot just pop up awkwardly. I move to her right and shove her hard in the shoulder, and she instantly puts out her left foot to sturdy herself. I get onto her other side and shove her left shoulder. She falls.
“Okay let’s go for a break.” Bridget shoves the blindfold out from her eyes and grins sheepishly at me. I grin back, triumphant.
“Hey, I’m hungry and my leg was still feeling like jelly from where you hit it. How do you know I didn’t just fall to get us a snack break?”
“How do you know I...something or other. Anyway, I’m hungry too. I think Lyla has some fruit snacks in her room stuck in a closet somewhere. Want some?”
“Nah, I don’t really like that stuff. Do you have any waffles?”
“Oh, yeah. Dad made a few this weekend, but Lyla spilled orange juice on most of them, so we threw them out.”
“That’s okay. I have a really good recipe for waffles. Just show me where things are and I can whip up a few for us.”
They really are perfection. The moment I bite into them I can taste the warmth of the outside and the light and airiness of the pastry. They aren’t overly chewy and I sink my teeth into bite after bite until the whole thing is gone. No maple syrup is necessary, and that allows us to use our hands. When I look inside the bite area, there are a few coatings of sugar on the sides.
“These are literally the best waffles I have ever tasted, Bridget.”
Bridget grins proudly. “Thanks. I make them for my family on weekends. A friend from my old school was from Belgium, and picked up an old recipe for Belgian waffles. It’s great the first time you try them and every time afterwards. And it’s not even that high in sugar or fat! Well, it’s not as much as you would get for a cookie or brownie. But the way they cook makes it taste like there is more sugar than there is.”
Lyla comes out of her room, crossed arms and looking dangerous. “Are you guys cooking? Cause Vikki can’t cook, and whatever it is smells really good out there.”
Bridget turns her head and smiles that way you do to a pouty toddler “Actually, I did. My name’s Bridget, I’m Vikki’s best friend. I just finished a batch of Belgian waffles. Do ya wanna try some?”
Lyla cranes her neck around the table to get a look at the waffles, and frowns. “But daddy’s waffles are the best. Yours are gonna stink. But I’ll try some.”
She struts over to the table and grabs one off the heaping plate in the center. She bites into one, and her eyes go huge, and she has a bunch more after that first one. After she eats half of the entire plate of waffles, she is grinning ear to ear, sugar covering the sides of her mouth. Bridget helpfully offers her a napkin.
“No thanks. I don’t need napkins. I’ll lick it off my face later when I’m hungry. And those Belji waffles are awesome, by the way.” And with that, she hops off her chair and skips out of the room.
Bridget grins. “I like your little sister. She’s cute.”
I sputter. “No. Nononononono. You should see her when she’s mad. She could rip apart a rhino if she wanted to.”
She laughs. “She’s better than my baby brother. He wakes me up late at night because he is hungry for his formula.”
“Why doesn't your mother nurse him?”
Bridget looks away, and I realize too late that I said something wrong.
“Sorry. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”
“I don’t want to”
“So I won’t push you.”
We sit around in an uncomfortably long period of silence. Bridget sits up after a few seconds, saying something about getting downstairs to keep training. I follow her, and pretty soon we’re both too focused to think much on that uncomfortable conversation.
It is the East
By Renna B.
The heavy beat of my music pulses through my headphones and trails its way through my ear canal. It warrants confused glances from the class around me, but it locks me in another world. A world where I can finally finish the five-paragraph essay that was due last night.
I’m an introduction in, and already I can tell I’m going to be BSing the entire thing. I consider it only a second before I spit out a topic sentence about how technology is ruining today’s youth or whatever. Mrs. Coolidge grades in typical baby-boomer fashion, hating on everything that keeps my heart beating. My last two essays about LGBT rights and legalizing abortion both scored failing grades. Am I really willing to give up my morals for a grade? Absolutely.
Unzipping of backpacks and screeching of metal chairs against tile floors fills the room with so much commotion it breaks through the boundaries of the headphones’ world. Is it already time to leave class? Now, of all times, when I have hundreds more words to write and no other time?
I slam my laptop shut and shove it into my backpack. The kids are not shoving each other out of their ways to get out of this damned classroom as soon as possible. Backpacks and laptops are left at desks. They’re clamoring for a spot against the wall so they have something to lean on for the five or ten minutes we’re in a lockdown drill. I have to push Isaiah out of the way in order to crumple up into the fetal position next to Tara. She offers a smile before leaning her head against the wall and getting lost in her own world of Frank Ocean.
My heart beats so fast I know my classmates can hear it through my bones and tissue. I need to remind myself several times over that it’s only a drill to calm the pace down to a run.
Everything is going to be okayto okay. It’s easy to tell from the way Tara looks so calm, though she’s always calm. It’s easy to tell from the way no one in this room seems to take this drill seriously, except me.
Everything is going to be okay.
What makes that more difficult to believe is the gunshots.
I am not safe. Not in the flickering lights of the house my father calls home. Not in patches of grass barely clinging to life behind the house. Not in the streets in which I cannot stop looking for someone to hurt me. Not anywhereNot in anywhere in this goddamn world.
Except next to Tara.
I wonder if her music is loud enough to overwhelm the pops coming from below us.
Her hair falls like flames down her chin. She once spent hours and $375 to rid her face of the freckles. I’ve never told her, but I think it looks as if she was born in the center of the sun, and the orange spots covering her skin is where the UV rays seared into her body. All except her eyes, which appear sapphire in the light stabbing through the classroom window.
Does she notice the way the sun favors her over me?
I grit my teeth as I shake her out of her trance. I’ll choose the world of bass drops and wispy voices over this one anyday. “What did the loudspeaker say before this?” My volume is like a whisper, tone like a scream. The people around me shush me faster than I can finish my sentence.
She takes out her right Airpod and whispers calmly, “This is not a drill.”
Did she not hear the bullets? Does she not know that they tear people to shreds?
“And you’re not scared?”
She shrugged. “Some gunfight in the streets.”
We were fourteen. The wind tugged at her hair through the bus window. I had been watching her for the past few weeks, noticing the little things that made her up. I noticed the way she shouted when she spoke in order to force people to listen. I noticed her red waves, marveled how they could stay so smooth through the wind and the troubles of the day. I noticed how she was friends with just about every person in the school. I noticed the way she wore her gym clothes onto the bus because gym was her last period and she couldn’t be bothered by changing. I noticed on the worst days she would talk to no one. She would roll down the window no matter the weather, close her eyes, lay her head against the metal frame, and let the wind run its fingers through herfingers her hair.
But she never so much as noticed my existence until someone took my seat across from her and forced me to ask her to sit at her side for the ride home.
“Sorry if I smell,” she warned me. “I had P.E. right before this and they never give us enough time to change.” I knew. I probably knew more about her than she will ever know about herself.
I smiled, hoping that looking down would hide the redness in my cheeks. “It’s okay. Um, I’m Sloane.”
She gave a friendly smile. “I’m Tara.” Her words were spat out without hesitation, like they didn’t have to go through thousands of filters to get into the air. I wished I was that careless.
Her pale eyebrows knit with confusion. “How?”
I wasn’t supposed to say that. I still regret it now. Even after sleepovers and school trips and classes and bus rides of sitting next to each other for two years, I still regret it. “Well, uh, the other eighth grade boys in the back. They’re always shouting your name.”
She rolled her eyes. “Are you as annoyed by it as I am?”
I shook my head. “I wish I had that kind of attention.” From you, is what I wanted to say. Thankfully, the words haven’t slipped since.
“Oh, believe me, you do not want it from them.” She thrived on the attention, though. I was afraid she would die if she did not have boys calling her name.
Later those boys were replaced by me.
Is my quick heartbeat from her or from the gunshots? I space out these thoughts with only desperate reassurances that this will all be fine.
She hands me an Airpod, and I try to lose myself in Frank Ocean’s voice. I try to remember last summer, when Tara and I went to the beach with her family. It was a six-hour drive. I still wonder if her parents noticed the way I watched her in the car seat next to mine.
Tara’s hand holds mine, and my heartbeat spikes. She gives me a smile that makes me believe what I keep repeating for the first time. Everything is going to be okay, she mouths. Then she hands me her phone and tells me to text my dad. I left my own phone at my seat, and it’s going to take a journey to get it back one day.
I leave a quick-worded message about the situation and hand the phone back. He doesn’t deserve more. He doesn’t care to know whether I live or die.
We hear the third gunshot, this one punctuated with screams. Each one belongs to one of my classmates. Each one belongs to a child like me, terrified and shivering and without knowledge on how this will end. Will it end with me dead? Tara dead? All of us on the floor and bleeding until we have no blood left?
It’s a gunfight, just as Tara says. It’s a gunfight outside. Those bullets will never get to me, never get to her. Everything is going to be okay. She is safe. I am safe.
I am never safe.
She raced home from her bus stop until she blurred into oranges and peaches and blues. I stumbled my own way out, wondering if I should yell after her or find my own way to her house. She answered my question by sprinting back to me and draping her arm around my shoulders, sending a shiver through my body. “I’m exhausted,” she said.
“Maybe you shouldn’t run away from me.”
She shook her head. “You know I’ll always come back.”
“Yeah.” But I didn’t know. I was always terrified that she’d leave me behind once we got to high school. Then when freshman year started and she stuck by my side I was always looking around corners for boys that would steal her away from me. “I know.”
“Come on,” she said, leading me through a suburbia of townhouses and white picket fences. Is this what she saw everyday? Was this her life? Perfect, to match her. It was fitting enough. “My house is this way.”
When we got to her house I heard shouting. She groaned. “One day. Can’t I just have one good day?”
Then she looked at me, and I saw the same drooping eyes and mouth that I did on the days she let her hair spin in the wind on the bus. Her emotions washed over her face like tsunamis. I had been hiding for so long I didn’t know anymore if my emotions were real or manufactured. “Sorry,” she said. “We can go in the back door.”
She led me through the back door. I was only hoping she didn’t notice the way I cringed at the yelling. The one good thing about only having a dad is that your parents can’t fight. I couldn’t even focus on the words they were saying. It was just loud, never-ending. I hated it.
It was the first time I realized maybe Tara wasn’t safe anywhere either.
She had her thick textbook open by the time I turned around. Her eyes were focused a little too hard on the play in front of her.
I laughed to lighten the mood. “How can you even focus?”
She gave me a glare that I was sure would turn me to stone. I stumbled back, worried she’d come closer. Worried she had finally grown tired of me. Worried she’d raise her fists, as they all did. “I can’t.”
“I-I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to -”
“Stop,.” She shook her head. Her arms hugged the textbook like a teddy bear. “Sit down. Help me forget.”
I wished more than anything that I was able to.
Tara stands, towering more than usual over the rest of us. “What’re you doing?” I whisper-scream. She rolls her eyes at me.
“Showing you that it’s a gunfight.”
The world seems to part for her, but she is no Moses. She’s running toward danger. Moses was smart. Moses ran from it.
Mrs. Coolidge reaches out her arm and pulls Tara by the wrist with enough force to pull her arm out of her socket. Tara whips around with pure fury burning through her. I’m afraid it’ll eat her up and turn her to ash.
“I’m fine,” she told Mrs. Coolidge. “I told you guys,” she announced to all of the students quivering at the pops in the distance.. “It’s just a gunfight.”
Her torn-up fingernails edge closer to the door. “Stop right there, young lady!” The sheer volume of the voice makes Tara jump. Mrs. Coolidge shook her head. “Are you completely insane? You are not going out there.”
Tara laughs as if her life is a joke. “Oh, like you’re gonna stop me.”
She disappears out of the locked door.
And Mrs. Coolidge doesn’t stop her.
Why? Does she truly believe it is a gunfight out there? Does she know better? Is she willing to gamble with Tara’s life as much as she is herself? Why doesn’t she run to her, yank her back into the room?
Why am I not doing it either?
“But soft! What light from yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun,.” she spat, her English textbook held so tightly it's shaking. “It’s so stupid.”
It was so very stupid, though I did not blame Shakespeare for that. After all, he had not met the sun as I did. He could only compare Juliet to it because she was all that he had known.
But I answered, “I think that’s the point.”
She tilted her head ever so slightly, managing to look like both an injured deer and something that could tear me apart all at once. “What do you mean?”
“Romeo’s an idiot. He’s only calling her the sun because she reciprocated his love when Rosaline didn’t.”
She pursed her lips. “And you’re drawing this from what experience you have in men?”
I had to laugh to shake the hurt out of my heart. “The experience I have in literature is more like it. I’ve read Romeo and Juliet like a hundred times.”
“Well excuse me for not knowing.”
I breathed a laugh. “Shakespeare’s well known for tragedies, not love stories.”
“You should give it a go, then.”
“Speak to me as if you’re Romeo, trying to win me over.” Did she once ask her parents or one of those guys to speak sweet compliments to her? Was their refusal why she was asking me now?
I shrugged. “You are a sky full of suns. You are infinitely spiraling with light without a logical end. It is the east, and you are what the tourists cling to beaches for on their last day of vacation. You are what they try to take low-quality photos of so they never forget the feeling they get when they look upon you. But nothing compares to the rush upon seeing, feeling, reaching out and touching your glow.”
She waited there in her glow for a while. The light broke through the pale curtains in her room, and in that moment I knew that if Shakespeare were seeing her he would know he had made a mistake. For Juliet was not the sun. How could anyone quite match Tara’s luminance?
“I mean, that’s what a guy would say.”
“Right. Right, of course.”
She’s not coming back. No matter how many seconds turn to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days, days to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years, she will always be out there, proving to me that I was safe. I will always be a room away, remembering that I never am, even in her light.
Part of me wants to blame her. She’s the one that went out there in the first place. If she dies it will be her fault. Hers and her stupid pride. And the way her heart beats not on blood but on attention.
But nothing was ever Tara’s fault. It was mine. If the police find her body in the school hallway the reason will lie with me and my fear.
Why do I have to be afraid of everything? Why do I tense at my father’s hands? Why don’t I ever fight back? I am weak. I am useless. Above all, I am afraid. But Tara allows me to be. As long as I can hide behind her attitude I don’t have to grow a pair.
She is letting the wind pull her hair. She is running from me, laughing and checking behind her to make sure I’m still there. She is reading Shakespeare and calling it stupid and pushing her hair behind her ears and trying to hide the gleam in her eyes. She is rolling her eyes at her parents' shouts. She is wondering why we never go to my house. And through all this time she is looking at me with those eyes, those eyes filled with...pity.
I am a child to her, a charge she needs to protect, someone she needs to prove to that there are no monsters under her bed.
I am no child.
My dark hair hangs in dreads like a curtain covering my face. I shove it into a hair tie that will keep it out of my face for the time being and stand as Tara just had. It must’ve been centuries ago. She had to have been dead.
But I feel her heart beating still in my own. She has to be alive. I know it with every bone in my body.
It is the east, and she is the sun. And I am sprinting into the light.
I still remember the night she left like it was yesterday. Her hands cradled my face, fingers and thumbs brushing over all the peach fuzz. The whites of her eyes shone brightly in the light of the moon, two little crescents clutching her iris. I could barely see her through the tears. I wish I would’ve memorized the way her curls sat on her head, or the exact shade of brown her skin was in the light. I would hold the last memory of my mother closer to me than anyone has ever been since that day.
“Sloane, I need you to know this isn’t your fault,” she said. “I need you to know that I wish I could take you with me. I just can’t”
“Where are you going, Mommy?”
Her face fell. “Somewhere I can be happy.”
I guess she never was here. I guess I was never enough. She needed to find someone who’s virtues overruled their vices.
She’s not dead.
She’s sleeping or knocked out. That’s why she’s on the floor. That’s why she’s not moving. Or the person with the arms of the sun wrapped around her is not her at all. That empty body is of another girl, another star. Not my sun.
As I near closer, I can tell I’m only lying to myself.
It is the east, and she is the sun. And she is fading into a dwarf as I watch, as I do nothing. The blood leaking from her bullet wound is radiating light. I feel I’m about to be sick.
Why does she get to be the sun? Sure, she shines, but it is only me that revolves around her. It is only me that she keeps alive. Why her, when she only keeps me around for the attention? Why her, when she asked me to compliment her? Why her, when she throws her life away so carelessly?
If she was truly my sun my heart would’ve stopped beating minutes ago.