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Elena's Light

Prologue

Aderyn stood on the wide, stone ledge of her balcony. Below her, the river roared, swollen and angry the way it always was after the late summer rainy season. A ferocious beast, it carved its way through Alethea from the mountainous, frigid North to the dense forests of the Southern Lakes.

And now it called to her.

It pleaded. It begged. It sang to her as she slept, coaxing her with the sweet promise of freedom.

Inching closer to the edge, she wiped a clammy hand against her brow. The night air was thick, suffocating, and so humid that moisture beaded and rolled down the back of her neck. Even the breeze was hot as it brushed against her damp skin.

The moonless night concealed her in it's blackness, leaving only the stars to bear witness to her betrayal. Far beneath, the white water swirled and raged, but she wasn't afraid. She knew the river like an old friend, a confidant who had shared her darkest thoughts. A constant ally in her fight for independence.

Closing her eyes, Aderyn took a series of quick, determined breaths, and the smell of sweet night-blooming jasmine filled her with purpose. Throwing her arms wide— as if embracing the sky— she dove, plunging into the darkness below.

1 | Reflection

The old woman gripped the arms of her chair, the velvet upholstery slick under her long, arthritic fingers. She adjusted her hold and pushed hard against it, easing her weary body out of the seat. It was a struggle that she adamantly refused help with. If she couldn't get herself out of a chair she wasn't much better than a corpse now was she? Might as well put her out of her misery.

The last twenty years had not been kind to Ama, and the once spirited woman had become faded and worn. Her agile hands were withered and twisted, her honey-blonde hair dulled to gray, and her bright, crystal eyes were blanched.

Ama's bones popped and the wood groaned as she braced her fragile weight against the antique armchair. It was symphony of decay, each reminding the other that there wasn't much time left in this world.

The Seer made it to her feet and grasped the cane that had been resting against the wall. Nearly as old as she was, it was made of deep, rich mahogany. Wider at the bottom, it tapered at the top with an elegantly carved lotus, the symbol of Danya, the mother goddess.

Shuffling across the floor, Ama made her way to her looking glass. The massive oak-framed mirror made the small suite look peculiar and endless, but it was her most prized possession. It had been her grandmother's, and then her mothers, and someday it would pass on to one of her granddaughters. If either of them could get their head on straight. Though powerful, Aderyn was still a fool of a girl and Elena would have the mirror sold and the money spent before Ama was cold in her grave.

Reaching the glass, she stared into her reflection. The old, haggard Seer stared back for only a moment before the image blurred and changed, revealing a beautiful young woman with knowing eyes and a gentle smile.

"What have you to say this morning?" the Seer croaked.

"Oh, much has happened!" the apparition clapped excitedly. "The Truthsayer has gone, fled, abandoned her duty. She has kissed the sky and flown far away. She was washed clean, perished, but revived. She knows she is vital to finding the girl. Grayson has given the plot away with his passion."

"Well Gods-be-damned."

"Ama! You should not speak so."

"I'm ninety-seven. I shall speak how I like," she grumbled. "Curse that girl. Why today of all days? I had plans to see the ballet, you know, and now I'll have all of Rohem knocking on my door looking for answers. I don't suppose you see anything else?"

"I see . . . trees."

"For Danya's sake," Ama said, throwing her spindly arms in the air. "Alethea is nearly all forest. How is that even remotely helpful?"

"I'm a manifestation of your own psychic ability," the woman said sweetly. "It's not my fault you aren't better at it."

"Oh, you saucy thing, you," Ama chuckled waving away the image. "You've got more attitude than I ever did, that's to be sure."

The Seer hobbled to her desk. With a trembling hand, she wrote a series of letters on thick, yellow paper. There was still time to fix this situation if she called in a few favors. With any luck she could be sitting front row for the evening performance. 

2 | The Hogwash

The Hogwash, or "Wash", was a wooden hovel built on the outskirts of the Alethean empire. It was a home for washed up dreamers and desperate souls; a place where bad decisions were born and good intentions went to die. The Wash was a reminder that Alethea wasn't always pristine white walls and gleaming cities.

The homely bar had sat at the soggy base of two steep hills for as long as anyone could remember. It was resilient— like an insect that adapted rather than died— but not immortal. Perched on the banks of a noxious bog, it existed on borrowed time. Each year the pungent mass of black water and moldy trees grew inch by inch, promising to swallow the building whole.

Owned by an old sailor named Yosh and his pretty Soine wife, the Wash attracted only the lowest of Aletheans, Fae and Human alike. No matter the season, the air was stifling and smelled of unwashed bodies and stale alcohol, but no one cared. Why would they? The Wash was rock bottom and couldn't find a more accepting place than rock bottom.

By all rights, it was the last place you would expect to find a Danyan, but there she was, tucked into a dark corner of the smokey room, her legs crossed in a show of relaxed confidence. She was sitting across from a gnarled, mangy Tobbin with a sour complexion and questionable constitution. Drenched in sweat, his moist skin glistened as he gnawed on a ragged fingernail, contemplating his next move.

The girl smiled and sipped her frothy drink. The withered creature glared back at her with shrewd, beady eyes. He knew she was bluffing. Or at least he thought he did.

Resigned, he picked up his last coin, feeling its weight in his palm before tossing it into the pile. He wouldn't eat for a week if he lost this hand, but if he won, he would live like a king.

Holding his breath, he watched her, his nerves tensing and his two hearts flailing in his chest. With their tiny rib cages, Tobbins weren't made for stress, and he was no exception. Just the anticipation of seeing her cards was enough to make him light-headed and nauseous. His fingers ached to take back his coin, but he resisted, forcing his hands into his lap instead.

Amused by his discomfit, the young woman stalled like she always did, content to make him suffer. When he looked ready to faint under the pressure, she tossed her cards onto the table with a playful wink. Incensed, the Tobbin jumped to his feet as she burst into a fit of giggles.

"You're nothing but a cheat!"

Her good humor vanished as soon as the words slipped from his greasy lips. Wide-eyed he watched as she unfurled herself from her chair, uncoiling like a viper. In a flash of movement her hand was wrapped about his throat. His eyes grew wide.

"Now how could I cheat a smart fellow like yourself?" she asked, tightening her grip, letting him feel the warmth of her skin against his.

"Alright, alright!" he yelped, backing away from her reach. "You win, but mark my words . . . one day I'm gonna catch you cheating. And when I do—"

"You will do nothing," she laughed, releasing him.

The Tobbin sighed and fell into his chair, rubbing his chest in relief.

"You need to ask yourself one question," she said, pushing a refilled mug toward him. "If something happened to me, who would buy your beer? Not to mention I'm the only one left who will play with you."

His sickly green cheeks bloomed with shame.

"Talk about a cheater," she scoffed. "You couldn't get one over on Old Frank, and he only has one eye."

"It's a damned good eye!" a voice called from across the room.

"Yes, Frank, it's lovely, but you lack peripherals," she called back. "Everyone knows it's all about the peripherals."

Her companion huffed. "You don't even need the money. My children are starving and here you are, swindling a poor Tobbin out of the last of his wealth."

"Since when do you have children?" she laughed. "I'd like to meet the lady brave enough to bed you."

The Tobbin fumed in his chair, a line of slime dripping down from his pouting bottom lip.

"Oh, fine," she said, her arm making a dramatic sweep over the table. "Take the coins. I would hate to be the reason your fictional children starve."

"That's generous of you Elena," a warm voice whispered in her ear.

"Gods Grakk!" she cried, with a start. "Why didn't you tell me Ranon was here?"

"I did not know who he was," Grakk shrugged, scraping the pile of cash and coin into his bag.

"You saw a man standing behind me and didn't say anything?"

"Women are strange," he shrugged, giving her a yellow grin. "Especially your kind. How am I to know what you do or do not want?"

"You were just hoping he would kill me is what it is."

The Tobbin shrugged again and jostled off with his treasure.

"Ungrateful wretch. . ."

"Nice to see you too," Ranon said, taking the a seat. "I'm surprised you recognized my voice."

"Yes, well, it has a certain quality to it. Not quite a lisp, more of an intermittent whistle."

"I do not whistle."

"Maybe not anymore," she giggled before slamming her glass on the table, the remnants of her drink sloshing over the side.

"I don't believe it," Ranon said wide-eyed, sitting back in his chair. "You're drunk."

"Haven't you heard? I'm always drunk. Now why are you here?"

"We haven't spoken in seven years and all you can say is, "Why are you here?""

"I didn't ask you to find me."

"You didn't ask me anything," he fumed. "You didn't say anything. You left in the middle of the night without so much as a note explaining where you were going. I was tormented for years trying to figure out what I had done to make you leave me."

"I didn't leave you. I left Rohem. You should have known that."

"How would I have known it? I was a boy! Of course I thought it was me," he said, banging his fist against the table. Yosh looked up from washing dishes with concern, but Elena waved him away. Ranon gave a deep sigh and leaned across the table to take her hand. "If you had to go, couldn't you have at least told me why?"

"My reasons were my own," she said, signaling for another drink. "I couldn't explain them then, and I won't explain them now. I don't know why my grandmother decided to give me up, but you've wasted your trip."

"A trip," he laughed softly. "I've been riding like mad for days and you call it a trip."

She shrugged.

"Gods, never mind," he said exasperated. "It doesn't matter, I'm here to bring you home."

"Not going to happen."

"Look," Ranon said, lowering his voice. "Something has happened at the Estate. I can't talk about it here, but you have to come back with me. You're needed at home, Elena, and I won't leave without you."

"I guess you better order a drink then," she said, taking hers from the Soine waitress. "It's going to be a long night.

3 | For the love of a drunken . . . 

Quill was miserable. A social young man, he needed– no, craved– stimulating company. Yes, the lake near their camp was inspiring, and yes, the wild scent of witch hazel was invigorating . . . but he was in desperate need of entertainment. His artistic soul longed for a theater or art gallery— a brothel at the very least.

For now he would settle for tending the fire, which he did like all things, with a bawdy song on his lips and his unruly curls waving madly in the wind.

When Ranon returned, an unconscious Elena slung over his shoulder, Quill's world shifted. Call it fate, call it divine poetry, but the moment he laid eyes on her, he knew everything would be different.

"What did you do to her?" he cried, dropping his trusty fire-poking stick in shock.

"Nothing," Ranon protested, lowering her onto the lake's mossy bank. "She did it to herself. I have never seen anyone drink that much."

"She's drunk? Well, how about that," Quill said, crouching down to look at her. "Why did you put her on the ground?"

"I don't know. It doesn't seem right to put her in one of the tents where we've been sleeping all this time. It's too intimate."

"Time to grow up my friend. A boy, or rather, a man your age should be looking for intimacy, not running away from it."

"So you keep saying," Ranon mumbled, his attention more on the sleeping girl than his friend.

He was baffled by how much she had changed. Gone was the young, high born girl he had known and in her place was an exotic and vibrant woman. Only the high cheekbones and wide, dark eyes that ran in her family gave away her heritage. Her time out in the wild had made her strong. Though still tiny, barely coming up to his shoulder, she was an alluring mix of feminine softness and lean muscle. She looked amazing. And dangerous.

"Well, did you talk to her?" Quill asked. "What is she like?"

"She's definitely not the girl I remember," Ranon sighed. "Do me a favor and grab the rope out of my saddle bag. I'm going to tie her up."

"That sounds like kidnapping," Quill mused, scratching his chin.

"Don't be so dramatic," Ranon huffed, taking the rope and wrapping it around her hands and feet. "I just want to talk to her when she's sober. I get the impression it's only going to happen if we keep her here long enough to dry out."

"Alright, then. I will play along, but only because it will make for an interesting song."

"You are not writing about me kidnapping her."

"You bet I am. I'm going to call it, For the Love of a Drunken—"

"Enough!" Ranon interrupted laughing. "Go to sleep already, we wasted half the night waiting on that one to drink herself agreeable. I don't think we will get much sleep once she wakes up."

4 | Elena's Light

"Wake up!" Quill shouted, shaking Ranon's shoulders. "Wake up! She's glowing!"

Ranon sat up with a start, bumping heads with his frazzled companion. Rubbing his temple, he turned in Elena's direction, amazed to find that she was, in fact, glowing.

"What did you do?" Ranon whispered.

"What did I do? I didn't do a blessed thing! I got up to take a— to relieve myself, and she was glowing!"

With a trembling hand, Quill pulled her blanket away and they both sucked in a breath. Her entire body was radiating a soft, white light. It brightened as they watched, the moss around her releasing steam into the air.

"She's burning!"

Ranon grabbed her shoulder, jerking back with a yelp as her skin seared his hand. At his touch, her eyes flew open and she sat up, scanning the small camp with round, hysterical eyes.

"I need a drink!" she cried. "For the love of the Gods, give me some wine, beer, or . . . something. Just get it now!"

"We don't have anything!" Quill shrieked.

"Then run," she said, her voice dark and low. "Run as far and fast as you can."

"I'm not leaving you," Ranon swore. "Whatever this is, we can help."

"Forget about me, Ranon, you have to Run!"

Elena's light intensified, and the ropes dropped away from her wrists in a blaze of flame and smoke. Ranon and Quill shrank back in fear. Across the camp, the horses broke away, their startled cries ringing through the trees.

"Run!" she screamed, her leather clothing sending thick plumes of smoke into the air. "Get to the lake. You have to get as deep as you can."

The boys took off. Diving, they swam hard. When they reached the center, they turned back just in time to see Elena lift from the ground.

"Is she FLYING?" Quill shrieked.

Her light continued to grow, igniting the trees around their camp. The tents were long gone, burned to ash in the short time it took them to swim across the lake.

Elena floated in the air, her arms outstretched on either side, her head thrown back. Her face twisted in pain. The halo around her was a ball of brilliant white, blinding as the sun.

With an inhuman screech, the light exploded out from her. The boys dove deep into the lake, fighting to get low enough not to burn. Ranon was the first to emerge, gasping for air. Quill popped up a second later, sputtering and coughing up water.

The cool lake was now a heated pool with steam billowing into the sky. Everything living on shore was now ash. The ground was still smoking as they stepped onto the bank. They could feel the heat seeping up through the skin of their feet.

The path of destruction reached out in every direction for at least a half a mile. Ranon was grateful they had camped so far out of town. The boys made their way back to where Elena had been, terrified of what they would find. If they found anything at all.

Ranon let out a ragged breath when they found her. She was lying on the ground, her clothes burned away, but otherwise unscathed. When she rolled over to face them, Ranon shut his eyes and turned his back to her.

"What's wrong with him?" she croaked, her voice dry and raspy.

"You're naked," Quill said, grinning at her.

"Ah, right. Why aren't you covering your eyes?"

"I don't suffer from the same chivalrous sensibilities as my friend here. I'm Quill. Nice to meet you," he said, reaching out to shake her hand. "If you don't mind me asking, what's with the whole burning down the forest thing?"

"I'm sober."

"I see," he said, nodding, "that's completely understandable."

"Could you please stop looking at my naked wife already?" Ranon growled as he pulled off his wet over-shirt, throwing it to a stunned Quill who handed it Elena.

"Wife?"

"Since the tender age of twelve," Elena said, pulling on the shirt. "I'm dressed now Ranon, you can turn around."

"What is going on Elena?" he demanded. "You—"

"Turned into a flaming ball of light?"

The boys nodded their head in unison.

"Look, I don't know why it happens, just that it does. I went to Ama, but the old bat couldn't help. She told me leave Rohem because she had a vision of your father using me as a weapon. I haven't heard from her since so I've had to figure it out on my own."

"Wait," Quill interrupted. "Who's Ama, and why didn't you tell me Elena was your wife?"

"Ama is the seer who works in the castle," Ranon sighed. "You've met her at least six times. I didn't say anything because it was none of your business."

"We were still children when I left," Elena said, wringing the hem of the shirt. "Our "marriage" was nothing more than signed contracts and the infatuation of youth."

"For you perhaps," Ranon said bitterly.

"So, Elena," Quill said, turning his back to Ranon with a dramatic flourish. "I'm guessing the booze keeps you from turning into a flying fire demon, am I right?"

"Clever boy," she grinned. "It seems to be a pretty universal thought that alcohol drowns out magic. I've talked to countless Fae all across Alethea and it's the only solution that seems to work. Speaking of which, we only have a few hours at most before it starts back up."

"This can't be happening," Ranon said, sitting down heavily on the steaming moss. "It's you. Gods-be-damned, it's you."

"What are you talking about?" Elena demanded.

"This!" Ranon cried, waving his arm at the destruction around them. "My father is looking for the girl responsible for this, or rather another incident like this. He's obsessed. I can't believe it, but it all makes sense. They knew. They both knew."

"Ranon," Elena said impatiently, crouching down in front of him. "What are you talking about. Who knew?"

"Ama and Aderyn. They knew you were the one my father is looking for. They knew what he has planned. That's why Ama sent me to find you and why Aderyn . . ."

"Aderyn, what?"

"She's gone, Elena. She ran away. My father wanted her to use her power to help track you. Well, not you specifically, but the girl with the power to burn cities."

"Village." 

"What?" 

"It was a village. It was also  an accident and no one was hurt. Not seriously anyway."

"Where's Aderyn? Does anyone know?"

"Ama saw that she was alive, but other than that no one knows. They are sending troops to find her."

"Well, I suppose we need to find her first. How far are we from the Wash?"

"A few miles at least."

"I'm renting a room upstairs and have things I need to get before we leave. If we start now we might be able to make it."

"It should be an easy walk," Quill mused. "You burned up all our stuff, so there's nothing to carry."

To be continued

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by NovelGirl
Elena's Light

Prologue

Aderyn stood on the wide, stone ledge of her balcony. Below her, the river roared, swollen and angry the way it always was after the late summer rainy season. A ferocious beast, it carved its way through Alethea from the mountainous, frigid North to the dense forests of the Southern Lakes.

And now it called to her.

It pleaded. It begged. It sang to her as she slept, coaxing her with the sweet promise of freedom.

Inching closer to the edge, she wiped a clammy hand against her brow. The night air was thick, suffocating, and so humid that moisture beaded and rolled down the back of her neck. Even the breeze was hot as it brushed against her damp skin.

The moonless night concealed her in it's blackness, leaving only the stars to bear witness to her betrayal. Far beneath, the white water swirled and raged, but she wasn't afraid. She knew the river like an old friend, a confidant who had shared her darkest thoughts. A constant ally in her fight for independence.

Closing her eyes, Aderyn took a series of quick, determined breaths, and the smell of sweet night-blooming jasmine filled her with purpose. Throwing her arms wide— as if embracing the sky— she dove, plunging into the darkness below.

1 | Reflection

The old woman gripped the arms of her chair, the velvet upholstery slick under her long, arthritic fingers. She adjusted her hold and pushed hard against it, easing her weary body out of the seat. It was a struggle that she adamantly refused help with. If she couldn't get herself out of a chair she wasn't much better than a corpse now was she? Might as well put her out of her misery.

The last twenty years had not been kind to Ama, and the once spirited woman had become faded and worn. Her agile hands were withered and twisted, her honey-blonde hair dulled to gray, and her bright, crystal eyes were blanched.

Ama's bones popped and the wood groaned as she braced her fragile weight against the antique armchair. It was symphony of decay, each reminding the other that there wasn't much time left in this world.

The Seer made it to her feet and grasped the cane that had been resting against the wall. Nearly as old as she was, it was made of deep, rich mahogany. Wider at the bottom, it tapered at the top with an elegantly carved lotus, the symbol of Danya, the mother goddess.

Shuffling across the floor, Ama made her way to her looking glass. The massive oak-framed mirror made the small suite look peculiar and endless, but it was her most prized possession. It had been her grandmother's, and then her mothers, and someday it would pass on to one of her granddaughters. If either of them could get their head on straight. Though powerful, Aderyn was still a fool of a girl and Elena would have the mirror sold and the money spent before Ama was cold in her grave.

Reaching the glass, she stared into her reflection. The old, haggard Seer stared back for only a moment before the image blurred and changed, revealing a beautiful young woman with knowing eyes and a gentle smile.

"What have you to say this morning?" the Seer croaked.

"Oh, much has happened!" the apparition clapped excitedly. "The Truthsayer has gone, fled, abandoned her duty. She has kissed the sky and flown far away. She was washed clean, perished, but revived. She knows she is vital to finding the girl. Grayson has given the plot away with his passion."

"Well Gods-be-damned."

"Ama! You should not speak so."

"I'm ninety-seven. I shall speak how I like," she grumbled. "Curse that girl. Why today of all days? I had plans to see the ballet, you know, and now I'll have all of Rohem knocking on my door looking for answers. I don't suppose you see anything else?"

"I see . . . trees."

"For Danya's sake," Ama said, throwing her spindly arms in the air. "Alethea is nearly all forest. How is that even remotely helpful?"

"I'm a manifestation of your own psychic ability," the woman said sweetly. "It's not my fault you aren't better at it."

"Oh, you saucy thing, you," Ama chuckled waving away the image. "You've got more attitude than I ever did, that's to be sure."

The Seer hobbled to her desk. With a trembling hand, she wrote a series of letters on thick, yellow paper. There was still time to fix this situation if she called in a few favors. With any luck she could be sitting front row for the evening performance. 

2 | The Hogwash

The Hogwash, or "Wash", was a wooden hovel built on the outskirts of the Alethean empire. It was a home for washed up dreamers and desperate souls; a place where bad decisions were born and good intentions went to die. The Wash was a reminder that Alethea wasn't always pristine white walls and gleaming cities.

The homely bar had sat at the soggy base of two steep hills for as long as anyone could remember. It was resilient— like an insect that adapted rather than died— but not immortal. Perched on the banks of a noxious bog, it existed on borrowed time. Each year the pungent mass of black water and moldy trees grew inch by inch, promising to swallow the building whole.

Owned by an old sailor named Yosh and his pretty Soine wife, the Wash attracted only the lowest of Aletheans, Fae and Human alike. No matter the season, the air was stifling and smelled of unwashed bodies and stale alcohol, but no one cared. Why would they? The Wash was rock bottom and couldn't find a more accepting place than rock bottom.

By all rights, it was the last place you would expect to find a Danyan, but there she was, tucked into a dark corner of the smokey room, her legs crossed in a show of relaxed confidence. She was sitting across from a gnarled, mangy Tobbin with a sour complexion and questionable constitution. Drenched in sweat, his moist skin glistened as he gnawed on a ragged fingernail, contemplating his next move.

The girl smiled and sipped her frothy drink. The withered creature glared back at her with shrewd, beady eyes. He knew she was bluffing. Or at least he thought he did.

Resigned, he picked up his last coin, feeling its weight in his palm before tossing it into the pile. He wouldn't eat for a week if he lost this hand, but if he won, he would live like a king.

Holding his breath, he watched her, his nerves tensing and his two hearts flailing in his chest. With their tiny rib cages, Tobbins weren't made for stress, and he was no exception. Just the anticipation of seeing her cards was enough to make him light-headed and nauseous. His fingers ached to take back his coin, but he resisted, forcing his hands into his lap instead.

Amused by his discomfit, the young woman stalled like she always did, content to make him suffer. When he looked ready to faint under the pressure, she tossed her cards onto the table with a playful wink. Incensed, the Tobbin jumped to his feet as she burst into a fit of giggles.

"You're nothing but a cheat!"

Her good humor vanished as soon as the words slipped from his greasy lips. Wide-eyed he watched as she unfurled herself from her chair, uncoiling like a viper. In a flash of movement her hand was wrapped about his throat. His eyes grew wide.

"Now how could I cheat a smart fellow like yourself?" she asked, tightening her grip, letting him feel the warmth of her skin against his.

"Alright, alright!" he yelped, backing away from her reach. "You win, but mark my words . . . one day I'm gonna catch you cheating. And when I do—"

"You will do nothing," she laughed, releasing him.

The Tobbin sighed and fell into his chair, rubbing his chest in relief.

"You need to ask yourself one question," she said, pushing a refilled mug toward him. "If something happened to me, who would buy your beer? Not to mention I'm the only one left who will play with you."

His sickly green cheeks bloomed with shame.

"Talk about a cheater," she scoffed. "You couldn't get one over on Old Frank, and he only has one eye."

"It's a damned good eye!" a voice called from across the room.

"Yes, Frank, it's lovely, but you lack peripherals," she called back. "Everyone knows it's all about the peripherals."

Her companion huffed. "You don't even need the money. My children are starving and here you are, swindling a poor Tobbin out of the last of his wealth."

"Since when do you have children?" she laughed. "I'd like to meet the lady brave enough to bed you."

The Tobbin fumed in his chair, a line of slime dripping down from his pouting bottom lip.

"Oh, fine," she said, her arm making a dramatic sweep over the table. "Take the coins. I would hate to be the reason your fictional children starve."

"That's generous of you Elena," a warm voice whispered in her ear.

"Gods Grakk!" she cried, with a start. "Why didn't you tell me Ranon was here?"

"I did not know who he was," Grakk shrugged, scraping the pile of cash and coin into his bag.

"You saw a man standing behind me and didn't say anything?"

"Women are strange," he shrugged, giving her a yellow grin. "Especially your kind. How am I to know what you do or do not want?"

"You were just hoping he would kill me is what it is."

The Tobbin shrugged again and jostled off with his treasure.

"Ungrateful wretch. . ."

"Nice to see you too," Ranon said, taking the a seat. "I'm surprised you recognized my voice."

"Yes, well, it has a certain quality to it. Not quite a lisp, more of an intermittent whistle."

"I do not whistle."

"Maybe not anymore," she giggled before slamming her glass on the table, the remnants of her drink sloshing over the side.

"I don't believe it," Ranon said wide-eyed, sitting back in his chair. "You're drunk."

"Haven't you heard? I'm always drunk. Now why are you here?"

"We haven't spoken in seven years and all you can say is, "Why are you here?""

"I didn't ask you to find me."

"You didn't ask me anything," he fumed. "You didn't say anything. You left in the middle of the night without so much as a note explaining where you were going. I was tormented for years trying to figure out what I had done to make you leave me."

"I didn't leave you. I left Rohem. You should have known that."

"How would I have known it? I was a boy! Of course I thought it was me," he said, banging his fist against the table. Yosh looked up from washing dishes with concern, but Elena waved him away. Ranon gave a deep sigh and leaned across the table to take her hand. "If you had to go, couldn't you have at least told me why?"

"My reasons were my own," she said, signaling for another drink. "I couldn't explain them then, and I won't explain them now. I don't know why my grandmother decided to give me up, but you've wasted your trip."

"A trip," he laughed softly. "I've been riding like mad for days and you call it a trip."

She shrugged.

"Gods, never mind," he said exasperated. "It doesn't matter, I'm here to bring you home."

"Not going to happen."

"Look," Ranon said, lowering his voice. "Something has happened at the Estate. I can't talk about it here, but you have to come back with me. You're needed at home, Elena, and I won't leave without you."

"I guess you better order a drink then," she said, taking hers from the Soine waitress. "It's going to be a long night.

3 | For the love of a drunken . . . 

Quill was miserable. A social young man, he needed– no, craved– stimulating company. Yes, the lake near their camp was inspiring, and yes, the wild scent of witch hazel was invigorating . . . but he was in desperate need of entertainment. His artistic soul longed for a theater or art gallery— a brothel at the very least.

For now he would settle for tending the fire, which he did like all things, with a bawdy song on his lips and his unruly curls waving madly in the wind.

When Ranon returned, an unconscious Elena slung over his shoulder, Quill's world shifted. Call it fate, call it divine poetry, but the moment he laid eyes on her, he knew everything would be different.

"What did you do to her?" he cried, dropping his trusty fire-poking stick in shock.

"Nothing," Ranon protested, lowering her onto the lake's mossy bank. "She did it to herself. I have never seen anyone drink that much."

"She's drunk? Well, how about that," Quill said, crouching down to look at her. "Why did you put her on the ground?"

"I don't know. It doesn't seem right to put her in one of the tents where we've been sleeping all this time. It's too intimate."

"Time to grow up my friend. A boy, or rather, a man your age should be looking for intimacy, not running away from it."

"So you keep saying," Ranon mumbled, his attention more on the sleeping girl than his friend.

He was baffled by how much she had changed. Gone was the young, high born girl he had known and in her place was an exotic and vibrant woman. Only the high cheekbones and wide, dark eyes that ran in her family gave away her heritage. Her time out in the wild had made her strong. Though still tiny, barely coming up to his shoulder, she was an alluring mix of feminine softness and lean muscle. She looked amazing. And dangerous.

"Well, did you talk to her?" Quill asked. "What is she like?"

"She's definitely not the girl I remember," Ranon sighed. "Do me a favor and grab the rope out of my saddle bag. I'm going to tie her up."

"That sounds like kidnapping," Quill mused, scratching his chin.

"Don't be so dramatic," Ranon huffed, taking the rope and wrapping it around her hands and feet. "I just want to talk to her when she's sober. I get the impression it's only going to happen if we keep her here long enough to dry out."

"Alright, then. I will play along, but only because it will make for an interesting song."

"You are not writing about me kidnapping her."

"You bet I am. I'm going to call it, For the Love of a Drunken—"

"Enough!" Ranon interrupted laughing. "Go to sleep already, we wasted half the night waiting on that one to drink herself agreeable. I don't think we will get much sleep once she wakes up."

4 | Elena's Light

"Wake up!" Quill shouted, shaking Ranon's shoulders. "Wake up! She's glowing!"

Ranon sat up with a start, bumping heads with his frazzled companion. Rubbing his temple, he turned in Elena's direction, amazed to find that she was, in fact, glowing.

"What did you do?" Ranon whispered.

"What did I do? I didn't do a blessed thing! I got up to take a— to relieve myself, and she was glowing!"

With a trembling hand, Quill pulled her blanket away and they both sucked in a breath. Her entire body was radiating a soft, white light. It brightened as they watched, the moss around her releasing steam into the air.

"She's burning!"

Ranon grabbed her shoulder, jerking back with a yelp as her skin seared his hand. At his touch, her eyes flew open and she sat up, scanning the small camp with round, hysterical eyes.

"I need a drink!" she cried. "For the love of the Gods, give me some wine, beer, or . . . something. Just get it now!"

"We don't have anything!" Quill shrieked.

"Then run," she said, her voice dark and low. "Run as far and fast as you can."

"I'm not leaving you," Ranon swore. "Whatever this is, we can help."

"Forget about me, Ranon, you have to Run!"

Elena's light intensified, and the ropes dropped away from her wrists in a blaze of flame and smoke. Ranon and Quill shrank back in fear. Across the camp, the horses broke away, their startled cries ringing through the trees.

"Run!" she screamed, her leather clothing sending thick plumes of smoke into the air. "Get to the lake. You have to get as deep as you can."

The boys took off. Diving, they swam hard. When they reached the center, they turned back just in time to see Elena lift from the ground.

"Is she FLYING?" Quill shrieked.

Her light continued to grow, igniting the trees around their camp. The tents were long gone, burned to ash in the short time it took them to swim across the lake.

Elena floated in the air, her arms outstretched on either side, her head thrown back. Her face twisted in pain. The halo around her was a ball of brilliant white, blinding as the sun.

With an inhuman screech, the light exploded out from her. The boys dove deep into the lake, fighting to get low enough not to burn. Ranon was the first to emerge, gasping for air. Quill popped up a second later, sputtering and coughing up water.

The cool lake was now a heated pool with steam billowing into the sky. Everything living on shore was now ash. The ground was still smoking as they stepped onto the bank. They could feel the heat seeping up through the skin of their feet.

The path of destruction reached out in every direction for at least a half a mile. Ranon was grateful they had camped so far out of town. The boys made their way back to where Elena had been, terrified of what they would find. If they found anything at all.

Ranon let out a ragged breath when they found her. She was lying on the ground, her clothes burned away, but otherwise unscathed. When she rolled over to face them, Ranon shut his eyes and turned his back to her.

"What's wrong with him?" she croaked, her voice dry and raspy.

"You're naked," Quill said, grinning at her.

"Ah, right. Why aren't you covering your eyes?"

"I don't suffer from the same chivalrous sensibilities as my friend here. I'm Quill. Nice to meet you," he said, reaching out to shake her hand. "If you don't mind me asking, what's with the whole burning down the forest thing?"

"I'm sober."

"I see," he said, nodding, "that's completely understandable."

"Could you please stop looking at my naked wife already?" Ranon growled as he pulled off his wet over-shirt, throwing it to a stunned Quill who handed it Elena.

"Wife?"

"Since the tender age of twelve," Elena said, pulling on the shirt. "I'm dressed now Ranon, you can turn around."

"What is going on Elena?" he demanded. "You—"

"Turned into a flaming ball of light?"

The boys nodded their head in unison.

"Look, I don't know why it happens, just that it does. I went to Ama, but the old bat couldn't help. She told me leave Rohem because she had a vision of your father using me as a weapon. I haven't heard from her since so I've had to figure it out on my own."

"Wait," Quill interrupted. "Who's Ama, and why didn't you tell me Elena was your wife?"

"Ama is the seer who works in the castle," Ranon sighed. "You've met her at least six times. I didn't say anything because it was none of your business."

"We were still children when I left," Elena said, wringing the hem of the shirt. "Our "marriage" was nothing more than signed contracts and the infatuation of youth."

"For you perhaps," Ranon said bitterly.

"So, Elena," Quill said, turning his back to Ranon with a dramatic flourish. "I'm guessing the booze keeps you from turning into a flying fire demon, am I right?"

"Clever boy," she grinned. "It seems to be a pretty universal thought that alcohol drowns out magic. I've talked to countless Fae all across Alethea and it's the only solution that seems to work. Speaking of which, we only have a few hours at most before it starts back up."

"This can't be happening," Ranon said, sitting down heavily on the steaming moss. "It's you. Gods-be-damned, it's you."

"What are you talking about?" Elena demanded.

"This!" Ranon cried, waving his arm at the destruction around them. "My father is looking for the girl responsible for this, or rather another incident like this. He's obsessed. I can't believe it, but it all makes sense. They knew. They both knew."

"Ranon," Elena said impatiently, crouching down in front of him. "What are you talking about. Who knew?"

"Ama and Aderyn. They knew you were the one my father is looking for. They knew what he has planned. That's why Ama sent me to find you and why Aderyn . . ."

"Aderyn, what?"

"She's gone, Elena. She ran away. My father wanted her to use her power to help track you. Well, not you specifically, but the girl with the power to burn cities."

"Village." 

"What?" 

"It was a village. It was also  an accident and no one was hurt. Not seriously anyway."

"Where's Aderyn? Does anyone know?"

"Ama saw that she was alive, but other than that no one knows. They are sending troops to find her."

"Well, I suppose we need to find her first. How far are we from the Wash?"

"A few miles at least."

"I'm renting a room upstairs and have things I need to get before we leave. If we start now we might be able to make it."

"It should be an easy walk," Quill mused. "You burned up all our stuff, so there's nothing to carry."

To be continued


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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by NiiaFalls

ARIZONA

He was a new dog. He didn't know better.

She was standing with him on the subway platform at Columbus Circle. Still more puppy than service dog, he was moving about, despite his harness, sniffing through her groceries and walking around within his limited range of motion.

"Down," she said in an authoritative timbre. The dog obeyed, placing its jaw on its paws and looking up at its mistress. Soon after, however, he was once again distracted, this time by a patch of chewed gum that was stuck to the yellow line on the platform. When the train's headlight became visible in the tunnel, the dog stood up, alerting her of its impending arrival. She picked up her packages in her left hand and waited. She could hear the screech of its approach in her left ear, the slowing rumble of it, the sparked cry of the third rail.

As the train approached, the dog stepped to one side of the support column on the subway platform, eager to be on the subway car full of lights, people, smells. Still a novice at riding the subway, she was unaware of the column, which is how she lost hold of the dog's harness. She stepped on the other side of the column, the harness sliding from her already tenuous grasp. As she whirled around in confusion, she lost her footing and fell onto the track.

She pushed with her arms against the damp soil beneath the rails, and managed to get onto her feet. But, because of her blindness, it was impossible for her to even figure out which way she should move. She whirled around with a drunken disregard, weaving back and forth in an attempt to situate herself. People were yelling, but it all just sounded like garbled noise. Because of the echo, chaotic sound came at her from all sides. As she sensed the train bearing down on her, large tears of fear welled up in her eyes. But her sobs quickly turned to hysterical giggles, the irony of it all. Strangely, she sat down on the rails and covered her ears with her hands and just laughed, even as the first steely wheels sucked in the hem of her skirt.

Had she been able to see, her last sight would have been of her dog looking down on her from the platform, barking frantically, pleadingly.

The 1 and 9 trains were rerouted for most of rush hour.

*

She was beautiful. They had pictures of her in the newspapers, her palest blue eyes almost coquettishly downcast, though it was probably just a reaction to the camera flash. On the news they showed her when she was only sixteen, blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. Her cheeks were rosy and her icy eyes were wide as she blew.

They didn't have videotape of her as she was before her death. They didn't have footage of her so hatefully blind that she lashed out at those that loved her most.

*

On NBC, they pronounced at first that she was just brain dead. They took her to the hospital where her lungs stopped working and, slowly, her heart stopped beating. In the Times, they had pictures of her dead body, twisted into obtuse angles. They reported that her arm and parts of both of her legs were completely severed. She wore long, blood-covered sleeves in the photo, a color shot. Her eyes were open, her wan irises barely discernible due to the poor contrast of newspaper copy. They remarked in Newsday that the shape of the subway bumper was dented in her chest. The Daily News speculated that if she had been closer to the head of the platform rather than the other end, there might have been less damage to her gross anatomy. Her death may have been less painful had she simply fallen on the third rail, said another less reputable news source. As it was, almost the entire length of the train rolled over her, the rumbling noise masking her laughter, followed by her deathly silence.

The casket was closed at the wake.

*

The man had first seen her when he was cleaning the windows in a classroom at the school. The other blind girls were playing games and running around in circles. Their laughs and screams rose to the second-floor window where he stood, watching. Most flopped this way and that like rag dolls. But she sat on the side, alone, her hands folded in her lap. She wore a blue dress and a ribbon in her hair. It seemed funny for a girl her age to wear a ribbon, but somehow it looked perfect on her. Her head was turned away from him. She sat like a statue, untouched by everything around her but the wind, which sent her ponytail billowing over her shoulder like a sail. She probably wanted to join in the games with the other girls, he thought. But she was a new girl and he knew how mean the blind girls could be to new people. So she sat alone, peacefully, as if she were carefully observing something in the distance.

He watched her until a teacher came into the room, followed by eight little blind girls, all on a string.

*

She liked to walk down the hallways alone, her hand sliding gently along the wall. The other girls held hands or were led on a rope like lambs. And she went to the bathroom at eleven thirty every day. He knew because he would be in his custodial closet as she passed, about to start his rounds. Her hand would brush awkwardly past the open door, waiting for the next stretch of wall.

One day he took her open hand. She started, her eyes flying open. They were the most beautiful of blues, though they stared nowhere in particular. She gasped and her whole body shook slightly.

"Don't be scared." He said, holding the hand tighter. As quickly as they had opened, her eyes closed and her face turned away from him.

"I wasn't." She replied. "Just startled."

That began their friendship. Each day she would walk by and wait for him to grab her hand. Each day he would grab it. She would smile and stop for a moment to talk to him about what was new with her. She was trying to convince her family to get her a seeing-eye dog.

"Then I could take the subway home instead of the school bus." She explained.

"Don't you like the school bus?" He asked, never letting go of her hand.

"No, I hate the school bus." She answered, casting her head downward. "I hate blind people."

*

He would sit in his room in the boarding home at night and think about her. She always had a kind word and a smile. But she was sad, deep down inside, just like him. She would have gone to college this year, had she not gone blind. She still wanted to go, one day. "Once I know this Braille stuff, I'm going to college. I don't care," her brow furrowing in emphasis. She hated being who she was, the blind girl, the new girl. She hated it.

He wished that he could help her, somehow, that he could make her happy the way that she made him happy, with her smile, her gently outstretched hand. He wished that he could make her understand what she meant to him, how beautiful she was.

*

He gave her the money that he had hidden in a Folger’s coffee can beneath his bed. He had been saving up to buy a motorcycle so that he could go to Arizona. A guy that used to work with him in construction said that Arizona was “gorgeous.” He had never been anyplace gorgeous. So he wanted to buy a motorcycle and go there. Just to see it.

He placed it in her outstretched hand one day. 

"What's this?" She asked. She was so pretty.

"It's some money that I have. I thought you could use it to get a seeing-eye dog..." She thrust the money back toward him. "I couldn't. You probably need it."

"No. Take it. I wasn't going to use it for anything, really."

*

She walked by, her hand reaching toward him. This time he grabbed it and covered her mouth. Her body went stiff as he pulled her into the custodial closet and shut the door.

"Don't be scared." He said, touching her hair as he had so often wanted to do. Her body was so frail under his hands. The smell of ammonia filled the room, but when he put his mouth against her neck, she smelled faintly of perfumed soap. She cried out as he moved his hands down her body. Her rib cage was small, her hips only slightly bigger.

"Don't be scared. Don't be scared." He kept repeating it as he pulled up her skirt and unzipped his pants. He had wanted this so much. He wanted her to know that she was beautiful. He wanted to make her so happy. He wanted her to know how much she meant to him. She was just so frail, held there against the concrete wall by his thick, sandpaper fingers. He could break her with only his hands, she was so fragile. But he would never do that. He only wanted to make her happy.

With the first thrust she gasped. Her pale eyes flew open, looking nowhere in particular.

*

She walked by the next day, her hand reaching out to him. He took it and pulled her into his closet again. He buried his head in her chest and closed his eyes. Her hand rhythmically stroked his hair.

"You came back."

"Yes."

"You're not scared."

"No. Take me again."

"I love you, you know."

"I know."

"I-- I hope I didn't hurt you. Did it hurt?"

"Yeah, it hurt." He flinched.

"I'm sorry. I only wanted to make you happy."

"I know. Take me again."

"You want me to?"

"More than anything." She said sadly. "It was the first time since I was blinded that I knew that I was alive."

*

Her hands were small like the rest of her, he noticed as her fingers sought his.

"I got my dog." She said, smiling.

"Where is it?" He asked.

"In the kennel room, with the others." Her hand held his tightly. "And I took the subway today."

"How was it?"

"Wonderful." She gushed, her face flushing with the words. "My mom brought me here, but I'm going home by myself." She looked so happy. He was glad that he had done something to help her. Arizona was probably not gorgeous anyway. The guy from the construction site used to make up stories all the time.

"I named the dog after you." She said. "Want to go see him?"

"Sure." He said, pulling the door shut behind him.

"Wait." She commanded. "I want you to take me first. Please."

*

If she was going to be his girlfriend, he wanted to take her out on an actual date. School ended ended in late June and he wanted an opportunity to give her the romance she deserved. The big Black guy who stayed at the boarding house said girls loved romance, so that was what he she deserved. The only problem was that he had never been on a date, didn’t know what he was supposed to do exactly.

“Call her!” The Black man told him in his booming voice. “Take her out on the Fourth of July! It’s right around the corner. Take her for a ride in a carriage in Central Park. Chicks eat shit like that up.” The guy seemed to spend a lot of nights out, probably with women who loved his hulking frame and warm, lopsided grin.

He couldn’t find the Black guy to ask him where to take her first on the date. In the films they showed on movie night at the house, couples went out to eat, and he planned to take her somewhere memorable. The only person around to ask was an older Chinese guy. He suspected he didn’t understand English very well, because he didn’t speak it very well. He sat down next to the old man, who was whittling something that looked like a doll. He explained to the man that this was his first date ever, that he wanted to impress her and take her somewhere special, but he didn’t eat in restaurants and didn’t know where to take her. The old man nodded as flecks of wood flew from the flint in his hand onto the ground. He hoped he would clean them up afterward, but didn’t mention it.

“So where should I take her to make her want to be my girlfriend? Where is a nice restaurant for that?” The old man continued to nod, his eyes seeming almost closed in sleep, though his hands kept moving over the wooden doll. He was almost ready to give up, to wait for the big Black man to return-- which could take days-- when the old man finally spoke.

“Dim Sum. East side near 57th street. Best food in city. She will love you then.”

*

He went to the payphone with at least five dollars worth of quarters. He wanted to be prepared, in case she wanted to talk.

She didn’t. She accepted quickly and demanded a time and place. He gave her the address, but hadn’t thought about the time. Seven seemed good because then they could maybe catch the sunset, which was always romantic in the movies. Then he remembered she couldn’t see the sunset. She couldn’t see anything. Still, seven seemed appropriate and was already in his throat, so he blurted it out. Seven.

“Okay. See you then.” She said curtly and hung up. He pocketed the rest of his change and walked happily back to his room. It was a date.

*

He arrived early, just in case she needed help with her dog or something, but when he tried the door to the restaurant, it was locked. He read the hours on the door, stricken with horror. They had closed at three. He was four hours late for the meal that would make her love him. He didn’t even know what to do. He lurched up and down the street, looking for another restaurant. There was a diner on the corner of Lexington, but it looked greasy. Still, greasy food was better than no food at all, and she would be there any minute. He tried to take a few deep breaths and walked back to the bolted door of the Chinese restaurant, defeated.

She pulled up in a cab and opened the door. He rushed to help her out and up onto the sidewalk. She stepped gracefully, followed by the bounding dog.

“Hey! You brought my namesake?” He asked, letting her arm slide gently into the crux of his own. Her hair was down and blowing gently in the breeze like a movie star.

“Yeah. I hope it’s not a problem. Some restaurants may not let him in, but I figured I’d risk it. He hates when I leave him home alone” Of course, he thought. She was so smart. No wonder she was going to go to college. She thought things out like that.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” he started shyly, “but the restaurant I had planned to take you to is closed. It’s a dim sum restaurant, but they close early. I didn’t know.”

“Ooh, dim sum! I love dim sum. I haven’t had that in a while.” She exclaimed. He felt chagrined, as if he had really let her down with his poor planning. He should have just waited for the Black guy; then none of this would have happened. Then he remembered Plan B.

“There is another restaurant close by. It’s a diner though. Want to try it?” He glanced at her to gauge her reaction. She wrinkled her nose in what looked like disgust.

“Did you know that one hamburger could have thousands of cows in it? I don’t really do greasy spoons.” She said flippantly. “I saw that in a movie once. Changed my life completely.” He wondered if she actually saw the movie before she was blind, or if she just heard the movie. He didn’t ask.

“I don’t know this neighborhood too well-” he started hesitantly.

“I do,” she cut him off abruptly. “We’re here all the time. Take me to The Plaza. They have a lot of things I can eat there. It’s on Fifth Avenue”

Fifth Avenue sounded expensive. He had cashed his entire check at the check-cashing place and, after he paid for his room, he wadded the rest of it up and brought it on his date. Fifth Avenue sounded like rich people, not like what was in his pocket. But it was his first date, and he was desperate to make her happy. So he led her down 57th Street toward Fifth Avenue. He wished she could see the color of the sky as they walked west, like a bouquet of flowers you would get at the hospital-- lilacs and blush colored roses, amber clouds hovering over the buildings, their windows lit with fluorescent energy like stars.

He said nothing. He didn’t want her to feel like she was missing something.

*

When he got to the Plaza, he realized that this was the fanciest place he had ever been into in his whole life. Once he had been to Carnegie Hall because he won tickets on the radio, but this was even fancier than that. His brown wool pants and white button down shirt seemed underdressed for this place. Even the guys holding the doors were dressed nicer than the was.

“Look,” he told her flatly, “I don’t know if I’m dressed nice enough to get in here.” He was right. At the entrance, a man asked his size and promptly returned with a suit jacket and tie. He slipped them on and thanked him, then gave him a dollar. He thought about it for a moment, then gave him a second dollar. This was way out of his league.

Once they were seated, he could barely keep his eyes on her because the room was so opulent. Frescoes and gilded everything. Real velvet on the chairs, he imagined. He was in awe of everything around him.

“Have you been here before?” She asked. He shook his head, then realized she wouldn’t see that, then answered negatively.

“It’s my parents’ favorite around here. They like the fancier restaurant, but I like it here in the Palm Court. The food is good. And they let me bring my dog. You’ll like it.” Unlike at school, she looked perfectly in her element, her hands folded neatly in her lap.

When the waiter brought the menu, he nearly burst into tears. Even just salads cost more than he made working two full hours. Was the water even free? She ordered something called an endive salad and a half-bottle of Blanc des Blancs. Half bottle? He thought, alarmed. He couldn’t find the items on the menu quickly enough to add up how much was already spent, plus he had to remember the two dollars he had given the jacket guy.

“And for you sir?” The waiter asked. He kept his head down as if he were gazing at the menu, but really he was fighting back tears. This was not the first date he had planned at all.

“Oh, I’m not so hungry…” He started.

“Nonsense!” She interjected. “He likes meat. He’s never been here before. He’ll have the rib-eye and a glass of Malbec. He’ll be in heaven. Medium rare, I’d guess.” The waiter bowed and promptly left. He tried to get around the knot in his throat to speak.

“Relax,” she said, finding his thigh with her hand. “I’m paying.” Though he was finally able to breathe again, he knew this was not how dates were supposed to be. Men were supposed to pay.

“I have a credit card. And you know the best thing about this place?” She leaned in conspiratorially, “They never card me because I’m blind.”

*

She was right. The steak was better than any food he had ever tasted in his lifetime. And the wine slid down his throat as if to catch the juices from the beef. The tiny potatoes were soaked in something that smelled and tasted like an elixir, and the “haricots verts” tasted exactly like green beans, which he loved. He could barely make any conversation because he was eating so eagerly and happily. When he finally did come up for air, his voice was more effusive than he expected.

“This is the most delicious meal I’ve ever had. Thank you so much!”

“Well, a first date should be special…” She replied, placing her hand on his thigh again. He could immediately feel himself getting aroused, the white linen napkin in his lap rising like a flag.

“You mean, this is your first date too?” He asked, astonished. He couldn’t believe that a girl this beautiful wouldn’t have gone on a date before.

“Oh, no! I mean it’s our first date. I’ve been on a lot of dates,” she snorted, “Too many. Mostly with losers from the boarding school I used to go to… So, wait. This is your very first date, like, ever?” He felt so embarrassed by the question, by his erection, that he couldn’t think up a clever way around the truth.

“Yes,” He said, “This is my first date ever.” He saw something like a sparkle flash across her face, something in her closed eyes that was still somehow expressive and sexy. She slid her hand further up his thigh toward his tented napkin.

“So, no girl has ever done this to you before?” She inquired as her fingers nimbly found his stifled penis encased in brown wool and draped in white linen. He jumped and almost knocked over his sparkling water. She smirked as her hand cascaded up and down the napkin. Holy Fuck, he thought as he let his head fall backward and closed his eyes.

He opened them to see the waiter standing over him. He sat up straight and put his hand on top of her hand, but she didn’t stop. She didn’t see him there. The firmer he grasped her hand, the harder her stroke became. He looked expectantly at the waiter, who said nothing but just looked on. As much as he didn’t want it to stop, he had to say something.

“Oh, look, honey, the waiter!” He exclaimed in a breathy timbre. He had been so close to coming that he had forgotten where they were. In the fanciest restaurant in the world. Getting a hand job. His face was beet red and downcast as the waiter cleared the plates.

“Can I interest you two in some dessert, perhaps? The chef has made something special for the Fourth of July.” So nonchalant, this waiter, as if this were completely normal.

“I think just the check, please. We’re ready to get out of here.”

*

Outside, the July air was nothing like the cool interior of The Plaza. Part of him was thinking how he couldn’t wait to tell the Black guy about how he got a hand job at the fanciest restaurant he had ever seen. But mostly he wanted to focus on her.

“I thought I would take you for a carriage ride in the park, if that’s alright with you.” He took her hand and gently threaded it through his arm so she could use him as a guide. He held the dog’s harness in his other hand. Her nose wrinkled again and she chuckled.

“Really? You’d want to do that?” He couldn’t tell if she thought it was stupid. It probably was stupid. Stupid Black guy.

“You know what? I’d love that. A horse-drawn carriage ride on the Fourth of July. It sounds very romantic, like something out of a movie.” He asked God to take back what he said about the Black guy and led her toward the park. Several carriages sat in a row, some of the drivers sitting in them, others talking and smoking nearby.

“Smells like shit.” She noticed. And it did. It smelled like every horse in the row had just taken a dump. Not romantic at all. He wanted to hit himself.

“You lovely folks looking for a ride?” One driver asked from atop his seat. His horse was white and looked princely, the way his coat gleamed under the streetlights. He looked exactly as he had imagined.

“Yeah,” he replied gruffly, then, realizing he had nothing else to add, he just said it again, “Yeah.” He helped her into the carriage and then began to pick up the dog. The driver made a “tsk” noise that really bothered him, reminding him of scoldings he had gotten as a child.

“No dogs, pal. We can leave him here with these guys though. They’ll watch him. I promise.” Uncertain, he handed the dog to the gaggle of drivers and hoisted himself up next to her. She shrugged. The seats were wooden and not very comfortable. Things always seem better in fantasy than reality.

“You picked a great night for this. From here, we should still be able to get a pretty great view of the fireworks on both rivers.” The driver told him as he prodded the horse and pulled him out into the street.

“She can’t see,” he told the driver, almost annoyed that he had mentioned the fireworks. It was like telling someone about something special that wasn’t meant for them. “She’s blind.”

“Well,” the driver said over his shoulder, nonplussed, “Whatever. You enjoy it then, buddy.” The horse stopped at a stop light, which struck him as funny, then pulled into the park.

He looked at her. She had a content countenance, relaxed, as the streetlights brought her face into glowing sharpness then obscure bas-relief. She had her hand on his thigh again, but he was just happy it was there.

“I’m drunk.” She said matter of factly, smirking at him. For the first time, he noticed a spray of freckles across the bridge of her nose. “And I have a present for you.”

A present? This was all so strange to him. He was supposed to pay for dinner. He was supposed to be the one making the moves on her. And now she had a present for him and he had nothing to give her. He wished he had bought her some flowers or something, but he didn’t think they would want to carry them around for the whole night. He made a quick resolve to get her some before she went home.

The first explosion happened in the east. Bright pinks and purples, followed by blues, white, and smoke. They followed in quick sequence, color upon color lighting up the dark, always followed by a cloud of grey smoke, even visible in the night sky. When the horse turned, the western heavens were filled with brilliance from above the Hudson River, crimson and gold.

“So what’s my present?” He asked, curious what she would give him. With little notice or hesitation, she moved her hands to his pants zipper and lowered her head onto his lap. The stratosphere exploded in reds and blues as he sat, astonished, bewildered, and in awe.

*

Before he took her to the subway, they stopped at a bodega. He picked a bunch of roses for her, then thought of the thorns and put them back. Instead, he chose a bunch of bright flowers dyed red, white, and blue, which he would explain to her, once he presented them to her. She had gone inside the store to get a few things she needed, while he waited outside with the dog. When she finally emerged, her arms were burdened with plastic bags.

“Wow,” he smiled, “You really loaded up.”

She shrugged. “I needed some stuff. I can never just get one thing when I shop.” He thrust the bouquet at her, then realized that she didn’t see he what he was doing. He grasped her hand and put the flowers in it.

“These are for you,” he said shyly. “They’re red, white, and blue.” She smiled slightly then bent her head to smell them. He wasn’t sure if they smelled or not. He hadn’t thought of that.

“Very patriotic.” She said with a genuine smile. “Thank you.”

They strolled to the obelisk statue in Columbus Circle and sat on the steps that surrounded it. The dog kept pulling on his left arm as he chased the pigeons into flight. Though it distracted him, he focused on his left, where she sat. This was the end of their date. It had been a lot of fun, not what he expected at all. There were a lot of firsts for him that night, some of which made him uncomfortable, but maybe love was sometimes uncomfortable. He knew he had missed his curfew at the house, but he didn’t even care. Sometimes the guy on duty let people in after hours; he had seen him do it. He never broke curfew before, but even if he had to sleep outside on the street until the doors were unlocked at 5:30am, it was worth it. It had been the most amazing night of his life.

"Hey, have you ever been to Arizona?" He asked her. She inclined her face toward his. Her hair fell over her closed eyes.

"Yeah, I went when I was a kid. Why?"

"What was it like?" He asked sheepishly.

"It was fun. I went with my parents and my brother. It was a vacation, you know-"

"No." He interrupted, shaking his head as if she could see. "I mean, what did it look like?" He implored.

"Oh, it was really beautiful. The landscape was amazing. It's a really pretty place. You should go someday."

He replied, but his face was turned away, his words lost in the breeze.

*

"Hey, can I feel your face?" she asked a few moments later.

"Why?" he replied, knowing the reason, but trying to delay the moment. Her head tilted to one side, toward the moonlight. "So I can imagine what you look like. I'm so curious..." She smiled and reached her hands toward his face. He closed his eyes so that he couldn't see hers when they flew open.

*

His story was followed by the papers and the T.V. news for months. The press loves a tragic hero, a victim. He was only eleven at the time and, though part of him was embarrassed about the whole thing, he thought it was kind of cool to see his picture in the Times, to hear his name on ABC news. His nurses started clipping the articles and taping the news shows for him, which they would present to him at the start of their shifts.

The attention became annoying, however. All the well-intentioned cards, flowers, and letters piled up on his bedstand. He hated the way that the people who wrote him would put down his mother, saying she deserved whatever she got. He couldn't understand how these people could condemn her when they didn't even know her. When he was especially angry, he would write back in his best print and explain that his mother loved him and that she was a very good mother and that it was he, not she, who had been bad.

*

He had been very bad. He tried to be good, but somehow he always did something horrible. He was a bad seed.

He had made soup for snack when he got home from school. It was pretty easy to make, just add three cans of water to the soup stuff and stir. He had ladled the soup into a bowl, put the rest of the soup into a Tupperware container, and washed the pot and ladle that he had been using. He was in a hurry because Superfriends, his favorite cartoon show, was about to begin and the first scenes always featured Aquaman, his favorite character. He raced into the living room, taking care to not spill his soup on the way. After the show, he took his bowl and spoon back to the kitchen, washed them, and put all the dishes away before he returned to the living room to take a nap. The first sensation he remembered was that of a presence over him as he awakened. He opened his eyes and smiled up at his mother. Her face was red and she looked hatefully at him.

Haven't I taught you anything? Why can't you do anything right? Do you do it to hurt me? You must hate me to be such a fucking awful child. Are you fucking trying to kill us both? Don't you know how hard I work just so we can stay here in this fucking apartment? Look at what you did!

She grabbed him by the throat and lifted him to his feet. She pulled him into the kitchen and flung him on the linoleum tile. He curled up in a ball and kept crying the same two phrases over and over, gasping for air between them.

I'm so sorry, Mommy. What did I do wrong?

The first thing that hit him was a folding chair. It slammed on his body with what felt like the weight of a person. His torso started to writhe and the words came faster, his lips wet with tears and saliva.

I'm so sorry, mommy, what did I do wrong, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, what did I do? I'm sorry, mommy, what did I do?

A jar of jelly hit him in the lower back, but didn't break. She grabbed him by the arm and yanked him to his feet. The chair clattered as it fell from on top of him.

WhadidIdo? WhadidIdo? WhadidIdo, mommy?

She led him over to the electric stove. The dial on the burner he had used was still set on medium high. The coil glowed red hot. He had forgotten to turn it off when he made his snack.

Sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry!

She pushed the back of his head and his face bounced off the burner. His head started tingling, his hands waving frantically, uncontrollably, at his sides. His mouth was moving, but he couldn't form words. He could only scream while his jaw moved, uncontrollably, up and down. She held him by one ear and pressed his profile against the coil. His wail grew fainter and fainter until he fell silent. In his last few moments of consciousness, he could hear his mother's voice and the sizzle of his drool and skin against the burner.

*

He never saw his mother again. She was convicted before he was released from the hospital. He spent the better part of a year in there, while doctors tried to reconstruct his face through various grafting procedures. He wrote, but she never replied. He even visited once, despite the disapproval of his foster family. His foster mother finally allowed him to go, accompanied by the next-door neighbor.

She refused to see him. He waited in the lobby, his legs dangling a few inches above the floor. He kept his eyes downcast. He hated the looks of pity that strangers gave him. His face was almost normal on one side, but the other side resembled a poorly crafted patchwork quilt. The skin was taut in places, loose in places, scarred virtually everywhere. So he kept his head down and slightly angled so that the ugly side would face the floor, a posture that became as much a part of him as his smile.

As he walked back to the fenced-in parking lot, the tears welled up in his eyes. His neighbor took his hand and put her other hand on his shoulder. The tears burned as they rolled down some parts of his face, still raw and unhealed.

He hadn't loved another woman besides his mother, until now.

*

Her fingers traced the scarred side of his face. He tried to explain what had happened, but the words didn't sound right.

"I love you." he said, reaching up to take the roving hand. She recoiled, pulling her hand back as if from a flame.

*

He called her for the rest of July, then August. Her phone generally just rang and rang. Sometimes her father would answer and he would hang up, ashamed. The first day of school couldn’t come fast enough for him.

He waited for her in his custodial closet. He could hear the distinct click of her heels as she neared. He checked his watch. Eleven-thirty, on the dot. But when she appeared, she was on the other side of the hallway, gripping the far wall. She didn't even turn her head his way.

He walked down the hallway after her. She kept walking. He grabbed her shoulder and turned her around.

"What do you want?" she said in a low tone.

"I… I just wanted to say hi." He looked at her entreatingly, searching her face for its usual warmth.

"Oh. Hi." she replied and turned around. She started to walk away, but he grabbed her shoulder again, more firmly this time, and held her there.

"Do you want to go out and get some food or a drink or something tonight?"

"I can't..." her hand flew to her throat, as if noticing that a precious locket were missing.

"What about tomorrow?" he asked hopefully.

"I don't think so."

"Friday? Saturday? Sun-"

"Look," she said, "I don't think that we should be... seeing that much of each other,"

"Why?" he asked, his words almost a cry.

"Why?" She laughed at his question then paused. "Because you are a monster. A living, breathing monster. You are grotesque. I never want you to touch me again. If I could see, this never would have happened. You took advantage of me because I'm blind and I can't see how ugly you are."

"What did I do wrong? Why are you being like this?" he asked, the words constricting in his throat. She paused and sighed. "If you were me, would you be embarrassed to walk down the streets with you?"

"Yes." he replied, shame bowing his head slightly at an angle.

"Would you take someone like you home to meet my parents, if you were me?"

"No." he said, turning his face further from scrutiny.

"So what would you do if you were me?" She turned and fled the corridor, occasionally tripping over her own feet.

*

grotesque (n): odd and unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre. Her sadness was grotesque.

*

He had imagined that she would take him in her arms and hold him there, that she would cry for him, that she would kiss all of his scars and tell him that he had been very brave. He had imagined that she would help him erase the past, through love. 

How a blind girl could reject him because of his looks, something intangible to her, was beyond him. Still, he loved her.

*

He sat at the home that night, thinking. The T.V. was the only light, blue and electric against the walls of the room. He wasn't going to let her go that easily. With true love, you hold on, no matter what. He was going to follow her home, take her in the twilight behind a building, in an alley. He would do it forcefully at first, then gently, once she realized that it was him. Then she would know that he loved her more than he had ever loved anyone else, even his mother.

The guys at the construction site used to joke that he had a face that only a mother could love. They hadn't known that he had never even had that.

He fell asleep with the T.V. on.

*

He walked a good distance behind her. He was afraid that she would smell him, sense him somehow, and run away. He was very careful to cross the streets only after she had reached the other curb. He waited patiently outside the stores as she ran her errands. He went in the other entrance to the subway station. He stood by the booth to buy a token, watching her all the while. She went through the handicapped gate and walked a few paces down the platform, out of view.

He put his token in the slot and stood two columns away from her. She was having problems controlling her dog. He was jumping about, looking this way and that.

"Down." she said intermittently, pulling back on his harness.

He was concentrating on what he would do once they reached their destination. He would possess her in the twilight, behind a building, in an alley. He would do it forcefully at first, then gently, once she realized that it was him. He saw the light in the tunnel as the train approached. He would get on through a different door and sit at the far end of the car. The dog stood and started to move forward.

He watched until the train came to a stop on top of her body. As the crowd began to gather, the transit authorities muscling through to the scene of the accident, he shook. For about five minutes he stood and shook and shook and shook, his arms across his rocking body, his head twisted to its awkward angle. The sunnier side, though contorted with its trembling, was up.

He then noticed the dog, his namesake, frozen in place on the crowded platform, below which his master's dead body lay. Wordlessly, he took hold of his harness and hurried him toward the exit.

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by NiiaFalls
ARIZONA
He was a new dog. He didn't know better.

She was standing with him on the subway platform at Columbus Circle. Still more puppy than service dog, he was moving about, despite his harness, sniffing through her groceries and walking around within his limited range of motion.

"Down," she said in an authoritative timbre. The dog obeyed, placing its jaw on its paws and looking up at its mistress. Soon after, however, he was once again distracted, this time by a patch of chewed gum that was stuck to the yellow line on the platform. When the train's headlight became visible in the tunnel, the dog stood up, alerting her of its impending arrival. She picked up her packages in her left hand and waited. She could hear the screech of its approach in her left ear, the slowing rumble of it, the sparked cry of the third rail.

As the train approached, the dog stepped to one side of the support column on the subway platform, eager to be on the subway car full of lights, people, smells. Still a novice at riding the subway, she was unaware of the column, which is how she lost hold of the dog's harness. She stepped on the other side of the column, the harness sliding from her already tenuous grasp. As she whirled around in confusion, she lost her footing and fell onto the track.

She pushed with her arms against the damp soil beneath the rails, and managed to get onto her feet. But, because of her blindness, it was impossible for her to even figure out which way she should move. She whirled around with a drunken disregard, weaving back and forth in an attempt to situate herself. People were yelling, but it all just sounded like garbled noise. Because of the echo, chaotic sound came at her from all sides. As she sensed the train bearing down on her, large tears of fear welled up in her eyes. But her sobs quickly turned to hysterical giggles, the irony of it all. Strangely, she sat down on the rails and covered her ears with her hands and just laughed, even as the first steely wheels sucked in the hem of her skirt.

Had she been able to see, her last sight would have been of her dog looking down on her from the platform, barking frantically, pleadingly.

The 1 and 9 trains were rerouted for most of rush hour.
*
She was beautiful. They had pictures of her in the newspapers, her palest blue eyes almost coquettishly downcast, though it was probably just a reaction to the camera flash. On the news they showed her when she was only sixteen, blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. Her cheeks were rosy and her icy eyes were wide as she blew.

They didn't have videotape of her as she was before her death. They didn't have footage of her so hatefully blind that she lashed out at those that loved her most.
*
On NBC, they pronounced at first that she was just brain dead. They took her to the hospital where her lungs stopped working and, slowly, her heart stopped beating. In the Times, they had pictures of her dead body, twisted into obtuse angles. They reported that her arm and parts of both of her legs were completely severed. She wore long, blood-covered sleeves in the photo, a color shot. Her eyes were open, her wan irises barely discernible due to the poor contrast of newspaper copy. They remarked in Newsday that the shape of the subway bumper was dented in her chest. The Daily News speculated that if she had been closer to the head of the platform rather than the other end, there might have been less damage to her gross anatomy. Her death may have been less painful had she simply fallen on the third rail, said another less reputable news source. As it was, almost the entire length of the train rolled over her, the rumbling noise masking her laughter, followed by her deathly silence.

The casket was closed at the wake.
*
The man had first seen her when he was cleaning the windows in a classroom at the school. The other blind girls were playing games and running around in circles. Their laughs and screams rose to the second-floor window where he stood, watching. Most flopped this way and that like rag dolls. But she sat on the side, alone, her hands folded in her lap. She wore a blue dress and a ribbon in her hair. It seemed funny for a girl her age to wear a ribbon, but somehow it looked perfect on her. Her head was turned away from him. She sat like a statue, untouched by everything around her but the wind, which sent her ponytail billowing over her shoulder like a sail. She probably wanted to join in the games with the other girls, he thought. But she was a new girl and he knew how mean the blind girls could be to new people. So she sat alone, peacefully, as if she were carefully observing something in the distance.

He watched her until a teacher came into the room, followed by eight little blind girls, all on a string.
*
She liked to walk down the hallways alone, her hand sliding gently along the wall. The other girls held hands or were led on a rope like lambs. And she went to the bathroom at eleven thirty every day. He knew because he would be in his custodial closet as she passed, about to start his rounds. Her hand would brush awkwardly past the open door, waiting for the next stretch of wall.

One day he took her open hand. She started, her eyes flying open. They were the most beautiful of blues, though they stared nowhere in particular. She gasped and her whole body shook slightly.
"Don't be scared." He said, holding the hand tighter. As quickly as they had opened, her eyes closed and her face turned away from him.
"I wasn't." She replied. "Just startled."
That began their friendship. Each day she would walk by and wait for him to grab her hand. Each day he would grab it. She would smile and stop for a moment to talk to him about what was new with her. She was trying to convince her family to get her a seeing-eye dog.
"Then I could take the subway home instead of the school bus." She explained.
"Don't you like the school bus?" He asked, never letting go of her hand.
"No, I hate the school bus." She answered, casting her head downward. "I hate blind people."
*
He would sit in his room in the boarding home at night and think about her. She always had a kind word and a smile. But she was sad, deep down inside, just like him. She would have gone to college this year, had she not gone blind. She still wanted to go, one day. "Once I know this Braille stuff, I'm going to college. I don't care," her brow furrowing in emphasis. She hated being who she was, the blind girl, the new girl. She hated it.

He wished that he could help her, somehow, that he could make her happy the way that she made him happy, with her smile, her gently outstretched hand. He wished that he could make her understand what she meant to him, how beautiful she was.
*
He gave her the money that he had hidden in a Folger’s coffee can beneath his bed. He had been saving up to buy a motorcycle so that he could go to Arizona. A guy that used to work with him in construction said that Arizona was “gorgeous.” He had never been anyplace gorgeous. So he wanted to buy a motorcycle and go there. Just to see it.
He placed it in her outstretched hand one day. 
"What's this?" She asked. She was so pretty.
"It's some money that I have. I thought you could use it to get a seeing-eye dog..." She thrust the money back toward him. "I couldn't. You probably need it."
"No. Take it. I wasn't going to use it for anything, really."
*
She walked by, her hand reaching toward him. This time he grabbed it and covered her mouth. Her body went stiff as he pulled her into the custodial closet and shut the door.
"Don't be scared." He said, touching her hair as he had so often wanted to do. Her body was so frail under his hands. The smell of ammonia filled the room, but when he put his mouth against her neck, she smelled faintly of perfumed soap. She cried out as he moved his hands down her body. Her rib cage was small, her hips only slightly bigger.

"Don't be scared. Don't be scared." He kept repeating it as he pulled up her skirt and unzipped his pants. He had wanted this so much. He wanted her to know that she was beautiful. He wanted to make her so happy. He wanted her to know how much she meant to him. She was just so frail, held there against the concrete wall by his thick, sandpaper fingers. He could break her with only his hands, she was so fragile. But he would never do that. He only wanted to make her happy.

With the first thrust she gasped. Her pale eyes flew open, looking nowhere in particular.
*
She walked by the next day, her hand reaching out to him. He took it and pulled her into his closet again. He buried his head in her chest and closed his eyes. Her hand rhythmically stroked his hair.
"You came back."
"Yes."
"You're not scared."
"No. Take me again."
"I love you, you know."
"I know."
"I-- I hope I didn't hurt you. Did it hurt?"
"Yeah, it hurt." He flinched.
"I'm sorry. I only wanted to make you happy."
"I know. Take me again."
"You want me to?"
"More than anything." She said sadly. "It was the first time since I was blinded that I knew that I was alive."
*
Her hands were small like the rest of her, he noticed as her fingers sought his.
"I got my dog." She said, smiling.
"Where is it?" He asked.
"In the kennel room, with the others." Her hand held his tightly. "And I took the subway today."
"How was it?"
"Wonderful." She gushed, her face flushing with the words. "My mom brought me here, but I'm going home by myself." She looked so happy. He was glad that he had done something to help her. Arizona was probably not gorgeous anyway. The guy from the construction site used to make up stories all the time.
"I named the dog after you." She said. "Want to go see him?"
"Sure." He said, pulling the door shut behind him.
"Wait." She commanded. "I want you to take me first. Please."
*
If she was going to be his girlfriend, he wanted to take her out on an actual date. School ended ended in late June and he wanted an opportunity to give her the romance she deserved. The big Black guy who stayed at the boarding house said girls loved romance, so that was what he she deserved. The only problem was that he had never been on a date, didn’t know what he was supposed to do exactly.

“Call her!” The Black man told him in his booming voice. “Take her out on the Fourth of July! It’s right around the corner. Take her for a ride in a carriage in Central Park. Chicks eat shit like that up.” The guy seemed to spend a lot of nights out, probably with women who loved his hulking frame and warm, lopsided grin.

He couldn’t find the Black guy to ask him where to take her first on the date. In the films they showed on movie night at the house, couples went out to eat, and he planned to take her somewhere memorable. The only person around to ask was an older Chinese guy. He suspected he didn’t understand English very well, because he didn’t speak it very well. He sat down next to the old man, who was whittling something that looked like a doll. He explained to the man that this was his first date ever, that he wanted to impress her and take her somewhere special, but he didn’t eat in restaurants and didn’t know where to take her. The old man nodded as flecks of wood flew from the flint in his hand onto the ground. He hoped he would clean them up afterward, but didn’t mention it.

“So where should I take her to make her want to be my girlfriend? Where is a nice restaurant for that?” The old man continued to nod, his eyes seeming almost closed in sleep, though his hands kept moving over the wooden doll. He was almost ready to give up, to wait for the big Black man to return-- which could take days-- when the old man finally spoke.
“Dim Sum. East side near 57th street. Best food in city. She will love you then.”
*
He went to the payphone with at least five dollars worth of quarters. He wanted to be prepared, in case she wanted to talk.

She didn’t. She accepted quickly and demanded a time and place. He gave her the address, but hadn’t thought about the time. Seven seemed good because then they could maybe catch the sunset, which was always romantic in the movies. Then he remembered she couldn’t see the sunset. She couldn’t see anything. Still, seven seemed appropriate and was already in his throat, so he blurted it out. Seven.

“Okay. See you then.” She said curtly and hung up. He pocketed the rest of his change and walked happily back to his room. It was a date.
*
He arrived early, just in case she needed help with her dog or something, but when he tried the door to the restaurant, it was locked. He read the hours on the door, stricken with horror. They had closed at three. He was four hours late for the meal that would make her love him. He didn’t even know what to do. He lurched up and down the street, looking for another restaurant. There was a diner on the corner of Lexington, but it looked greasy. Still, greasy food was better than no food at all, and she would be there any minute. He tried to take a few deep breaths and walked back to the bolted door of the Chinese restaurant, defeated.

She pulled up in a cab and opened the door. He rushed to help her out and up onto the sidewalk. She stepped gracefully, followed by the bounding dog.

“Hey! You brought my namesake?” He asked, letting her arm slide gently into the crux of his own. Her hair was down and blowing gently in the breeze like a movie star.
“Yeah. I hope it’s not a problem. Some restaurants may not let him in, but I figured I’d risk it. He hates when I leave him home alone” Of course, he thought. She was so smart. No wonder she was going to go to college. She thought things out like that.

“I don’t know how to tell you this,” he started shyly, “but the restaurant I had planned to take you to is closed. It’s a dim sum restaurant, but they close early. I didn’t know.”
“Ooh, dim sum! I love dim sum. I haven’t had that in a while.” She exclaimed. He felt chagrined, as if he had really let her down with his poor planning. He should have just waited for the Black guy; then none of this would have happened. Then he remembered Plan B.

“There is another restaurant close by. It’s a diner though. Want to try it?” He glanced at her to gauge her reaction. She wrinkled her nose in what looked like disgust.
“Did you know that one hamburger could have thousands of cows in it? I don’t really do greasy spoons.” She said flippantly. “I saw that in a movie once. Changed my life completely.” He wondered if she actually saw the movie before she was blind, or if she just heard the movie. He didn’t ask.
“I don’t know this neighborhood too well-” he started hesitantly.
“I do,” she cut him off abruptly. “We’re here all the time. Take me to The Plaza. They have a lot of things I can eat there. It’s on Fifth Avenue”

Fifth Avenue sounded expensive. He had cashed his entire check at the check-cashing place and, after he paid for his room, he wadded the rest of it up and brought it on his date. Fifth Avenue sounded like rich people, not like what was in his pocket. But it was his first date, and he was desperate to make her happy. So he led her down 57th Street toward Fifth Avenue. He wished she could see the color of the sky as they walked west, like a bouquet of flowers you would get at the hospital-- lilacs and blush colored roses, amber clouds hovering over the buildings, their windows lit with fluorescent energy like stars.

He said nothing. He didn’t want her to feel like she was missing something.
*
When he got to the Plaza, he realized that this was the fanciest place he had ever been into in his whole life. Once he had been to Carnegie Hall because he won tickets on the radio, but this was even fancier than that. His brown wool pants and white button down shirt seemed underdressed for this place. Even the guys holding the doors were dressed nicer than the was.

“Look,” he told her flatly, “I don’t know if I’m dressed nice enough to get in here.” He was right. At the entrance, a man asked his size and promptly returned with a suit jacket and tie. He slipped them on and thanked him, then gave him a dollar. He thought about it for a moment, then gave him a second dollar. This was way out of his league.

Once they were seated, he could barely keep his eyes on her because the room was so opulent. Frescoes and gilded everything. Real velvet on the chairs, he imagined. He was in awe of everything around him.
“Have you been here before?” She asked. He shook his head, then realized she wouldn’t see that, then answered negatively.
“It’s my parents’ favorite around here. They like the fancier restaurant, but I like it here in the Palm Court. The food is good. And they let me bring my dog. You’ll like it.” Unlike at school, she looked perfectly in her element, her hands folded neatly in her lap.

When the waiter brought the menu, he nearly burst into tears. Even just salads cost more than he made working two full hours. Was the water even free? She ordered something called an endive salad and a half-bottle of Blanc des Blancs. Half bottle? He thought, alarmed. He couldn’t find the items on the menu quickly enough to add up how much was already spent, plus he had to remember the two dollars he had given the jacket guy.

“And for you sir?” The waiter asked. He kept his head down as if he were gazing at the menu, but really he was fighting back tears. This was not the first date he had planned at all.
“Oh, I’m not so hungry…” He started.
“Nonsense!” She interjected. “He likes meat. He’s never been here before. He’ll have the rib-eye and a glass of Malbec. He’ll be in heaven. Medium rare, I’d guess.” The waiter bowed and promptly left. He tried to get around the knot in his throat to speak.
“Relax,” she said, finding his thigh with her hand. “I’m paying.” Though he was finally able to breathe again, he knew this was not how dates were supposed to be. Men were supposed to pay.

“I have a credit card. And you know the best thing about this place?” She leaned in conspiratorially, “They never card me because I’m blind.”
*
She was right. The steak was better than any food he had ever tasted in his lifetime. And the wine slid down his throat as if to catch the juices from the beef. The tiny potatoes were soaked in something that smelled and tasted like an elixir, and the “haricots verts” tasted exactly like green beans, which he loved. He could barely make any conversation because he was eating so eagerly and happily. When he finally did come up for air, his voice was more effusive than he expected.

“This is the most delicious meal I’ve ever had. Thank you so much!”
“Well, a first date should be special…” She replied, placing her hand on his thigh again. He could immediately feel himself getting aroused, the white linen napkin in his lap rising like a flag.
“You mean, this is your first date too?” He asked, astonished. He couldn’t believe that a girl this beautiful wouldn’t have gone on a date before.
“Oh, no! I mean it’s our first date. I’ve been on a lot of dates,” she snorted, “Too many. Mostly with losers from the boarding school I used to go to… So, wait. This is your very first date, like, ever?” He felt so embarrassed by the question, by his erection, that he couldn’t think up a clever way around the truth.
“Yes,” He said, “This is my first date ever.” He saw something like a sparkle flash across her face, something in her closed eyes that was still somehow expressive and sexy. She slid her hand further up his thigh toward his tented napkin.

“So, no girl has ever done this to you before?” She inquired as her fingers nimbly found his stifled penis encased in brown wool and draped in white linen. He jumped and almost knocked over his sparkling water. She smirked as her hand cascaded up and down the napkin. Holy Fuck, he thought as he let his head fall backward and closed his eyes.
He opened them to see the waiter standing over him. He sat up straight and put his hand on top of her hand, but she didn’t stop. She didn’t see him there. The firmer he grasped her hand, the harder her stroke became. He looked expectantly at the waiter, who said nothing but just looked on. As much as he didn’t want it to stop, he had to say something.

“Oh, look, honey, the waiter!” He exclaimed in a breathy timbre. He had been so close to coming that he had forgotten where they were. In the fanciest restaurant in the world. Getting a hand job. His face was beet red and downcast as the waiter cleared the plates.
“Can I interest you two in some dessert, perhaps? The chef has made something special for the Fourth of July.” So nonchalant, this waiter, as if this were completely normal.
“I think just the check, please. We’re ready to get out of here.”
*
Outside, the July air was nothing like the cool interior of The Plaza. Part of him was thinking how he couldn’t wait to tell the Black guy about how he got a hand job at the fanciest restaurant he had ever seen. But mostly he wanted to focus on her.

“I thought I would take you for a carriage ride in the park, if that’s alright with you.” He took her hand and gently threaded it through his arm so she could use him as a guide. He held the dog’s harness in his other hand. Her nose wrinkled again and she chuckled.
“Really? You’d want to do that?” He couldn’t tell if she thought it was stupid. It probably was stupid. Stupid Black guy.

“You know what? I’d love that. A horse-drawn carriage ride on the Fourth of July. It sounds very romantic, like something out of a movie.” He asked God to take back what he said about the Black guy and led her toward the park. Several carriages sat in a row, some of the drivers sitting in them, others talking and smoking nearby.

“Smells like shit.” She noticed. And it did. It smelled like every horse in the row had just taken a dump. Not romantic at all. He wanted to hit himself.
“You lovely folks looking for a ride?” One driver asked from atop his seat. His horse was white and looked princely, the way his coat gleamed under the streetlights. He looked exactly as he had imagined.
“Yeah,” he replied gruffly, then, realizing he had nothing else to add, he just said it again, “Yeah.” He helped her into the carriage and then began to pick up the dog. The driver made a “tsk” noise that really bothered him, reminding him of scoldings he had gotten as a child.
“No dogs, pal. We can leave him here with these guys though. They’ll watch him. I promise.” Uncertain, he handed the dog to the gaggle of drivers and hoisted himself up next to her. She shrugged. The seats were wooden and not very comfortable. Things always seem better in fantasy than reality.

“You picked a great night for this. From here, we should still be able to get a pretty great view of the fireworks on both rivers.” The driver told him as he prodded the horse and pulled him out into the street.
“She can’t see,” he told the driver, almost annoyed that he had mentioned the fireworks. It was like telling someone about something special that wasn’t meant for them. “She’s blind.”
“Well,” the driver said over his shoulder, nonplussed, “Whatever. You enjoy it then, buddy.” The horse stopped at a stop light, which struck him as funny, then pulled into the park.
He looked at her. She had a content countenance, relaxed, as the streetlights brought her face into glowing sharpness then obscure bas-relief. She had her hand on his thigh again, but he was just happy it was there.

“I’m drunk.” She said matter of factly, smirking at him. For the first time, he noticed a spray of freckles across the bridge of her nose. “And I have a present for you.”
A present? This was all so strange to him. He was supposed to pay for dinner. He was supposed to be the one making the moves on her. And now she had a present for him and he had nothing to give her. He wished he had bought her some flowers or something, but he didn’t think they would want to carry them around for the whole night. He made a quick resolve to get her some before she went home.

The first explosion happened in the east. Bright pinks and purples, followed by blues, white, and smoke. They followed in quick sequence, color upon color lighting up the dark, always followed by a cloud of grey smoke, even visible in the night sky. When the horse turned, the western heavens were filled with brilliance from above the Hudson River, crimson and gold.

“So what’s my present?” He asked, curious what she would give him. With little notice or hesitation, she moved her hands to his pants zipper and lowered her head onto his lap. The stratosphere exploded in reds and blues as he sat, astonished, bewildered, and in awe.
*
Before he took her to the subway, they stopped at a bodega. He picked a bunch of roses for her, then thought of the thorns and put them back. Instead, he chose a bunch of bright flowers dyed red, white, and blue, which he would explain to her, once he presented them to her. She had gone inside the store to get a few things she needed, while he waited outside with the dog. When she finally emerged, her arms were burdened with plastic bags.
“Wow,” he smiled, “You really loaded up.”
She shrugged. “I needed some stuff. I can never just get one thing when I shop.” He thrust the bouquet at her, then realized that she didn’t see he what he was doing. He grasped her hand and put the flowers in it.
“These are for you,” he said shyly. “They’re red, white, and blue.” She smiled slightly then bent her head to smell them. He wasn’t sure if they smelled or not. He hadn’t thought of that.
“Very patriotic.” She said with a genuine smile. “Thank you.”

They strolled to the obelisk statue in Columbus Circle and sat on the steps that surrounded it. The dog kept pulling on his left arm as he chased the pigeons into flight. Though it distracted him, he focused on his left, where she sat. This was the end of their date. It had been a lot of fun, not what he expected at all. There were a lot of firsts for him that night, some of which made him uncomfortable, but maybe love was sometimes uncomfortable. He knew he had missed his curfew at the house, but he didn’t even care. Sometimes the guy on duty let people in after hours; he had seen him do it. He never broke curfew before, but even if he had to sleep outside on the street until the doors were unlocked at 5:30am, it was worth it. It had been the most amazing night of his life.

"Hey, have you ever been to Arizona?" He asked her. She inclined her face toward his. Her hair fell over her closed eyes.
"Yeah, I went when I was a kid. Why?"
"What was it like?" He asked sheepishly.
"It was fun. I went with my parents and my brother. It was a vacation, you know-"
"No." He interrupted, shaking his head as if she could see. "I mean, what did it look like?" He implored.
"Oh, it was really beautiful. The landscape was amazing. It's a really pretty place. You should go someday."

He replied, but his face was turned away, his words lost in the breeze.
*
"Hey, can I feel your face?" she asked a few moments later.
"Why?" he replied, knowing the reason, but trying to delay the moment. Her head tilted to one side, toward the moonlight. "So I can imagine what you look like. I'm so curious..." She smiled and reached her hands toward his face. He closed his eyes so that he couldn't see hers when they flew open.
*
His story was followed by the papers and the T.V. news for months. The press loves a tragic hero, a victim. He was only eleven at the time and, though part of him was embarrassed about the whole thing, he thought it was kind of cool to see his picture in the Times, to hear his name on ABC news. His nurses started clipping the articles and taping the news shows for him, which they would present to him at the start of their shifts.

The attention became annoying, however. All the well-intentioned cards, flowers, and letters piled up on his bedstand. He hated the way that the people who wrote him would put down his mother, saying she deserved whatever she got. He couldn't understand how these people could condemn her when they didn't even know her. When he was especially angry, he would write back in his best print and explain that his mother loved him and that she was a very good mother and that it was he, not she, who had been bad.
*
He had been very bad. He tried to be good, but somehow he always did something horrible. He was a bad seed.

He had made soup for snack when he got home from school. It was pretty easy to make, just add three cans of water to the soup stuff and stir. He had ladled the soup into a bowl, put the rest of the soup into a Tupperware container, and washed the pot and ladle that he had been using. He was in a hurry because Superfriends, his favorite cartoon show, was about to begin and the first scenes always featured Aquaman, his favorite character. He raced into the living room, taking care to not spill his soup on the way. After the show, he took his bowl and spoon back to the kitchen, washed them, and put all the dishes away before he returned to the living room to take a nap. The first sensation he remembered was that of a presence over him as he awakened. He opened his eyes and smiled up at his mother. Her face was red and she looked hatefully at him.

Haven't I taught you anything? Why can't you do anything right? Do you do it to hurt me? You must hate me to be such a fucking awful child. Are you fucking trying to kill us both? Don't you know how hard I work just so we can stay here in this fucking apartment? Look at what you did!
She grabbed him by the throat and lifted him to his feet. She pulled him into the kitchen and flung him on the linoleum tile. He curled up in a ball and kept crying the same two phrases over and over, gasping for air between them.

I'm so sorry, Mommy. What did I do wrong?

The first thing that hit him was a folding chair. It slammed on his body with what felt like the weight of a person. His torso started to writhe and the words came faster, his lips wet with tears and saliva.

I'm so sorry, mommy, what did I do wrong, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, what did I do? I'm sorry, mommy, what did I do?

A jar of jelly hit him in the lower back, but didn't break. She grabbed him by the arm and yanked him to his feet. The chair clattered as it fell from on top of him.

WhadidIdo? WhadidIdo? WhadidIdo, mommy?

She led him over to the electric stove. The dial on the burner he had used was still set on medium high. The coil glowed red hot. He had forgotten to turn it off when he made his snack.

Sorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorrysorry!

She pushed the back of his head and his face bounced off the burner. His head started tingling, his hands waving frantically, uncontrollably, at his sides. His mouth was moving, but he couldn't form words. He could only scream while his jaw moved, uncontrollably, up and down. She held him by one ear and pressed his profile against the coil. His wail grew fainter and fainter until he fell silent. In his last few moments of consciousness, he could hear his mother's voice and the sizzle of his drool and skin against the burner.
*
He never saw his mother again. She was convicted before he was released from the hospital. He spent the better part of a year in there, while doctors tried to reconstruct his face through various grafting procedures. He wrote, but she never replied. He even visited once, despite the disapproval of his foster family. His foster mother finally allowed him to go, accompanied by the next-door neighbor.

She refused to see him. He waited in the lobby, his legs dangling a few inches above the floor. He kept his eyes downcast. He hated the looks of pity that strangers gave him. His face was almost normal on one side, but the other side resembled a poorly crafted patchwork quilt. The skin was taut in places, loose in places, scarred virtually everywhere. So he kept his head down and slightly angled so that the ugly side would face the floor, a posture that became as much a part of him as his smile.

As he walked back to the fenced-in parking lot, the tears welled up in his eyes. His neighbor took his hand and put her other hand on his shoulder. The tears burned as they rolled down some parts of his face, still raw and unhealed.

He hadn't loved another woman besides his mother, until now.
*
Her fingers traced the scarred side of his face. He tried to explain what had happened, but the words didn't sound right.

"I love you." he said, reaching up to take the roving hand. She recoiled, pulling her hand back as if from a flame.
*
He called her for the rest of July, then August. Her phone generally just rang and rang. Sometimes her father would answer and he would hang up, ashamed. The first day of school couldn’t come fast enough for him.

He waited for her in his custodial closet. He could hear the distinct click of her heels as she neared. He checked his watch. Eleven-thirty, on the dot. But when she appeared, she was on the other side of the hallway, gripping the far wall. She didn't even turn her head his way.

He walked down the hallway after her. She kept walking. He grabbed her shoulder and turned her around.
"What do you want?" she said in a low tone.
"I… I just wanted to say hi." He looked at her entreatingly, searching her face for its usual warmth.
"Oh. Hi." she replied and turned around. She started to walk away, but he grabbed her shoulder again, more firmly this time, and held her there.
"Do you want to go out and get some food or a drink or something tonight?"
"I can't..." her hand flew to her throat, as if noticing that a precious locket were missing.
"What about tomorrow?" he asked hopefully.
"I don't think so."
"Friday? Saturday? Sun-"
"Look," she said, "I don't think that we should be... seeing that much of each other,"
"Why?" he asked, his words almost a cry.
"Why?" She laughed at his question then paused. "Because you are a monster. A living, breathing monster. You are grotesque. I never want you to touch me again. If I could see, this never would have happened. You took advantage of me because I'm blind and I can't see how ugly you are."
"What did I do wrong? Why are you being like this?" he asked, the words constricting in his throat. She paused and sighed. "If you were me, would you be embarrassed to walk down the streets with you?"
"Yes." he replied, shame bowing his head slightly at an angle.
"Would you take someone like you home to meet my parents, if you were me?"
"No." he said, turning his face further from scrutiny.
"So what would you do if you were me?" She turned and fled the corridor, occasionally tripping over her own feet.
*
grotesque (n): odd and unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre. Her sadness was grotesque.
*
He had imagined that she would take him in her arms and hold him there, that she would cry for him, that she would kiss all of his scars and tell him that he had been very brave. He had imagined that she would help him erase the past, through love. 

How a blind girl could reject him because of his looks, something intangible to her, was beyond him. Still, he loved her.
*
He sat at the home that night, thinking. The T.V. was the only light, blue and electric against the walls of the room. He wasn't going to let her go that easily. With true love, you hold on, no matter what. He was going to follow her home, take her in the twilight behind a building, in an alley. He would do it forcefully at first, then gently, once she realized that it was him. Then she would know that he loved her more than he had ever loved anyone else, even his mother.

The guys at the construction site used to joke that he had a face that only a mother could love. They hadn't known that he had never even had that.

He fell asleep with the T.V. on.
*
He walked a good distance behind her. He was afraid that she would smell him, sense him somehow, and run away. He was very careful to cross the streets only after she had reached the other curb. He waited patiently outside the stores as she ran her errands. He went in the other entrance to the subway station. He stood by the booth to buy a token, watching her all the while. She went through the handicapped gate and walked a few paces down the platform, out of view.
He put his token in the slot and stood two columns away from her. She was having problems controlling her dog. He was jumping about, looking this way and that.
"Down." she said intermittently, pulling back on his harness.

He was concentrating on what he would do once they reached their destination. He would possess her in the twilight, behind a building, in an alley. He would do it forcefully at first, then gently, once she realized that it was him. He saw the light in the tunnel as the train approached. He would get on through a different door and sit at the far end of the car. The dog stood and started to move forward.

He watched until the train came to a stop on top of her body. As the crowd began to gather, the transit authorities muscling through to the scene of the accident, he shook. For about five minutes he stood and shook and shook and shook, his arms across his rocking body, his head twisted to its awkward angle. The sunnier side, though contorted with its trembling, was up.

He then noticed the dog, his namesake, frozen in place on the crowded platform, below which his master's dead body lay. Wordlessly, he took hold of his harness and hurried him toward the exit.



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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by Sasa22love94

The Ones That Care

I walk into the living room and set the two glasses down on the oak wood table with a satisfying CLANK. Josh apprehensively looks at the dark magenta beverage and looks at me in question. I immediately know what he’s thinking.

“Relax, it’s only grape juice,” I say to reassure him. Although my mom does have a wine cooler in the back of the fridge where she thinks I can’t see, I stick to what I’m used to. Josh had the liberty to bring chocolate to accompany my grape juice.

“Why did you bring it in wine glasses then?” Josh asks me, thinking he is is cracking the case of the century but in my opinion he looks and sounds very nosy.

I reply by pointing out, “ I’m too lazy to wash any of the dishes and these are the only clean ones I found okay?” As Josh laughs at my laziness we toast to an afternoon alone. Josh and I have been together since the seventh grade and even though I am now 15, my mom hasn’t accepted him. We already established the I love yous and determined we were going to be together for a long time so my mom just has to accept it. She says she has a “bad feeling,” but based on how long he stayed, I doubt it. All he has ever been to me is my protector. My knight in shining armor. I sip on my grape juice and let the chocolate caress my tongue and give a satisfying MMM as I think to myself, “This is bliss.”

I hear a wave a water coming from the direction of the kitchen and I presume that a pipe busted. As I get up to inspect it the patio door slams and makes me flinch, leaving my beverage to jump on a painting of me and my mom making goofy faces. As the paint ran down the canvas the juice submerged my mom’s face making it looks like streaks of blood while the juice stain made my face look like an expression of shock and terror.

“Tamera Jacqueline King! You are in BIG trouble! You deliberately disobeyed me and my wishes against you bringing this boy in this house! MY house!” At first I thought I was going crazy and the painting was yelling at me but once I saw Josh’s mortified face, I began to comprehend that my mom was behind me. And she did not sound happy.

I turn around to see her eye shooting daggers at me. If looks could kill I’d be six feet under right now. “Mama I-” I started to explain.

“No Tam. Not another-” my mom is interrupted by the WHOOSH of the predaceous water coming from the kitchen like a carnivorous dinosaur getting ready to feast on its prey.

“Josh!” I yell for him to be my hero. My protector. My knight in shining armor. A fantasy is obliterated when he runs away like a coward without even a regretful glance goodbye.

“Jerk” I angrily think to myself as the water now grasp my ankles like shackles and chills my bones to maximum capacity. Yet I overcome the shackles and find my mom desperately trying to open the door to get out of the house to get help.

The TV automatically cuts on.

Did a fuse explode?

“All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us,” Michael Jackson passionately sings on the screen. I really don’t listen to him all the time but this time I listen as that was the only melodic thing I heard as the WHOOSH and SWOOSH of the water manhandles me relentlessly. My moment of happiness is cut off when I see that my foot is tangled on the chord which connects to the now moonwalking Michael.

“Mama! I’m sorry!” I find myself screaming which interrupts her feeble attempt at getting out. “Just go! I’m stuck!” All I wanted her to do was go.

Yet she stays.

She suddenly gains the strength of a thousand The Hulks and the lungs of a dolphin to go and save me.

She stays.

I feel the chords being pulled every which way until I’m free.

Se stays.

I’m not very calm and rational so I lunge in whatever way I feel will set me free but I stagger back and slams against the wall cradling the TV. I look up and see that it was going to fall and there was no way to halt it in its process.

I feel two hands shove me down and I fall into the murky brown water. I am kneeling and the water rests above my head. I abruptly rise and see my mom now standing over the TV which is tilted over her head. She looks up at the TV almost as if accepting her fate and looks back at me as if to say “You are worth it.”

“I love you too,” I yell back. “And I’m sorry” I think as the water rushes. The wind blows. The deaths happen.

The TV breaks off and collapses on my mom’s head. She falls back and I hear a loud THUD which I assume is her head hitting the ground. She daintily and delicately floats back up and I see her eyes are glassy, her nose has streaks of blood coming out of it just like the painting and her cheeks are stained from a single tear. A tear that says “This is it.” Her mouth is curved up in a victorious smirk like a lioness who successfully warded off ravenous predators away from her cub.

The water is up to my abdomen but I don’t care. The water was probably frigid against my skin but I didn’t care. I was numb to it all.

She stayed. And all I wanted her to do was go.

It all happens too fast. A window shatters. A hand grabs me and puts me in a small dingy. The wood felt bumpy and coarse like I would receive several splinters from it. I don’t look at the person steering but I wish they could have just left me there to wallow in my misery. I look at my house on last time, with my dead mother inside before I look out into the distance and try to decipher what is happening.

Nothing. No helicopters. It’s not like we lived in the middle of nowhere.

No police. I’ve always have had a trust for them but now I’m not so sure.

No attempts to save me with the exception of this person on the dinghy. I don’t care who it is. I just know that they were the only ones there.

“She saved me and let herself die. She is better than any of them will ever be.” I suddenly realize.

“All I want to say is that they don’t really care about us” I hear Michael Jackson singing but I don’t know if it is real or if I am living in a false reality. But I know what isn’t false.

She cared about me.

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by Sasa22love94
The Ones That Care
I walk into the living room and set the two glasses down on the oak wood table with a satisfying CLANK. Josh apprehensively looks at the dark magenta beverage and looks at me in question. I immediately know what he’s thinking.
“Relax, it’s only grape juice,” I say to reassure him. Although my mom does have a wine cooler in the back of the fridge where she thinks I can’t see, I stick to what I’m used to. Josh had the liberty to bring chocolate to accompany my grape juice.
“Why did you bring it in wine glasses then?” Josh asks me, thinking he is is cracking the case of the century but in my opinion he looks and sounds very nosy.
I reply by pointing out, “ I’m too lazy to wash any of the dishes and these are the only clean ones I found okay?” As Josh laughs at my laziness we toast to an afternoon alone. Josh and I have been together since the seventh grade and even though I am now 15, my mom hasn’t accepted him. We already established the I love yous and determined we were going to be together for a long time so my mom just has to accept it. She says she has a “bad feeling,” but based on how long he stayed, I doubt it. All he has ever been to me is my protector. My knight in shining armor. I sip on my grape juice and let the chocolate caress my tongue and give a satisfying MMM as I think to myself, “This is bliss.”
I hear a wave a water coming from the direction of the kitchen and I presume that a pipe busted. As I get up to inspect it the patio door slams and makes me flinch, leaving my beverage to jump on a painting of me and my mom making goofy faces. As the paint ran down the canvas the juice submerged my mom’s face making it looks like streaks of blood while the juice stain made my face look like an expression of shock and terror.
“Tamera Jacqueline King! You are in BIG trouble! You deliberately disobeyed me and my wishes against you bringing this boy in this house! MY house!” At first I thought I was going crazy and the painting was yelling at me but once I saw Josh’s mortified face, I began to comprehend that my mom was behind me. And she did not sound happy.
I turn around to see her eye shooting daggers at me. If looks could kill I’d be six feet under right now. “Mama I-” I started to explain.
“No Tam. Not another-” my mom is interrupted by the WHOOSH of the predaceous water coming from the kitchen like a carnivorous dinosaur getting ready to feast on its prey.
“Josh!” I yell for him to be my hero. My protector. My knight in shining armor. A fantasy is obliterated when he runs away like a coward without even a regretful glance goodbye.
“Jerk” I angrily think to myself as the water now grasp my ankles like shackles and chills my bones to maximum capacity. Yet I overcome the shackles and find my mom desperately trying to open the door to get out of the house to get help.
The TV automatically cuts on.
Did a fuse explode?
“All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us,” Michael Jackson passionately sings on the screen. I really don’t listen to him all the time but this time I listen as that was the only melodic thing I heard as the WHOOSH and SWOOSH of the water manhandles me relentlessly. My moment of happiness is cut off when I see that my foot is tangled on the chord which connects to the now moonwalking Michael.
“Mama! I’m sorry!” I find myself screaming which interrupts her feeble attempt at getting out. “Just go! I’m stuck!” All I wanted her to do was go.
Yet she stays.
She suddenly gains the strength of a thousand The Hulks and the lungs of a dolphin to go and save me.
She stays.
I feel the chords being pulled every which way until I’m free.
Se stays.
I’m not very calm and rational so I lunge in whatever way I feel will set me free but I stagger back and slams against the wall cradling the TV. I look up and see that it was going to fall and there was no way to halt it in its process.
I feel two hands shove me down and I fall into the murky brown water. I am kneeling and the water rests above my head. I abruptly rise and see my mom now standing over the TV which is tilted over her head. She looks up at the TV almost as if accepting her fate and looks back at me as if to say “You are worth it.”
“I love you too,” I yell back. “And I’m sorry” I think as the water rushes. The wind blows. The deaths happen.
The TV breaks off and collapses on my mom’s head. She falls back and I hear a loud THUD which I assume is her head hitting the ground. She daintily and delicately floats back up and I see her eyes are glassy, her nose has streaks of blood coming out of it just like the painting and her cheeks are stained from a single tear. A tear that says “This is it.” Her mouth is curved up in a victorious smirk like a lioness who successfully warded off ravenous predators away from her cub.
The water is up to my abdomen but I don’t care. The water was probably frigid against my skin but I didn’t care. I was numb to it all.
She stayed. And all I wanted her to do was go.
It all happens too fast. A window shatters. A hand grabs me and puts me in a small dingy. The wood felt bumpy and coarse like I would receive several splinters from it. I don’t look at the person steering but I wish they could have just left me there to wallow in my misery. I look at my house on last time, with my dead mother inside before I look out into the distance and try to decipher what is happening.
Nothing. No helicopters. It’s not like we lived in the middle of nowhere.
No police. I’ve always have had a trust for them but now I’m not so sure.
No attempts to save me with the exception of this person on the dinghy. I don’t care who it is. I just know that they were the only ones there.
“She saved me and let herself die. She is better than any of them will ever be.” I suddenly realize.
“All I want to say is that they don’t really care about us” I hear Michael Jackson singing but I don’t know if it is real or if I am living in a false reality. But I know what isn’t false.
She cared about me.

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Written by raagocs

This is Between You and I

I don’t know when my nights began blurring into mornings I couldn’t differentiate. What day is it, again? There’s a pill to put me to sleep. There’s a pill to keep me away from a needle. There’s a pill to wake me up in the morning. Why did I let her convince me to accept help; is that what this is?

I used to see in so many different colors: vibrant, various, bright. But now, the colors have dimmed and I see in bland shades of a gray that I didn’t want in the first place. Instead of marveling at the way she’s breathing while she sleeps and the way she looks at me when she first wakes up, I’m staring at the insides of my eyes and wondering where my dreams have gone.

I’m dreaming on a different channel, now, one that I don’t get service for. And they’re all in black and white. Every day is the same, black and white and bland, and unfortunately for me… that’s what the future looks like. Gone are the days that I allowed myself to be in touch with the wild side where adventures were as easy to come by as the blatant redundancy of life. I thought I traded volatile behavior for safety. For support. For comfort. For love.

I hadn’t seen my brother in months, not until he showed up at the apartment I’d begun cohabitating with her in. I don’t know when it happened, really… probably somewhere around the time I couldn’t recognize what day it was anymore. I’d borrowed her hands for help. No, she offered them, right? Mutual hand-holding.

You know, it’s incredibly easy to disguise feelings as something else. They surface in the strangest of ways; you second guess yourself, you offer them your innermost thoughts and feelings. And then suddenly the fibers of your beings are sewn together in a way that you can’t tell one piece of material from another. 

Happily connected, there was comfort in her presence. There was normalcy in her routine mingling with mine. There was acceptance of my ferocious need to fix; and I was prepared to take her heart by storm, wearing my suit of white armor. Ever the white knight I needed someone to believe I was.

My brother slithered back into my peripheral vision last night. With him he brought an air of tenacious pride, his shoulders held square as he faced me and attempted to regard me with some kind of familial … something, or other.

Far be it for me to request his personal removal from the apartment, but she wasn’t here. I was less than content to sit in the presence of his swelling arrogance; there was a part of me that was glad to see him and so I allowed his conceited frame to pose lazily on the couch opposite the armchair I’d perched in. Languid and predatory, both characteristics I recognized as I knew the way they swam over my own features – oh, how his looked just like mine.

It was I who had patented that aloof expression, devoid of tendrils of pacified emotion. As if we’d been close, as if we’d embodied the stereotypical twin image, he offered me a description of his entry to the city and how he’d bumbled along to find a residence, employment, and companionship. 

The words were monotonous as they tumbled from his lips in what should have seemed like a carefully concocted speech, but my ears only heard unintelligible ramblings until the crystalline sound of one word, in particular, caused what felt like an earthquake to begin.

I hate it when the ground shakes. When something you’re so sure of, a truth you’re so reliant on, quivers and quakes. It’s almost impossible to keep your bearings. And that is exactly what I didn’t do; hearing your name on my brother’s tongue caused a shudder to wrack my existence, if and only if, it was because he and I had been here before.

How is it that your name came from his mouth? The single utterance stood out in his ramblings as an intelligible word, causing the room to sway out of focus briefly. I didn’t really want to think about how he’d come across you, or what you’d been doing when he had, or what you’d done after you’d met him, or what he had done after.

We might have shared genetics and looks, but there was little else he and I shared. And as he continued to describe his evening, his eyes intently resting on mine as if to lock them there to gauge my reaction, I was reminded of this fact. There truly was little else he and I shared.

When he spoke to you, did you recognize that too?

I don’t want to sit here and think about you. Hours after my brother had gone back to whatever snake-hole he’d come from, I’m sitting on the porch with the first cigarette I’ve had in what feels like years between my lips. The smoke doesn’t even feel good, it doesn’t feel like I’m accomplishing any kind of relief, but I keep inhaling it and watching as it contorts violently in the darkness that’s fallen long since she came home and went to bed without me. She worried about how I’d left a bottle of pills unopened with a dose clearly missed on the nightstand that stood next to my empty side of the bed, but honestly?

Even though my lungs are burning and I’m tired and I can’t sleep, I haven’t seen in color like this in too long. And I don’t want to lose that.

So instead of accepting the help I thought I wanted, thought I needed… I’m sitting out here, watching stars twinkle like they’re mocking my complacency. I didn’t even know I felt complacent until I wanted to wrap my hands around his fucking throat for mentioning you. I don’t know if it was rage. I don’t even know if it was jealousy that my mirror image had gotten to see you and I hadn’t been there. That I hadn’t gotten to see you and he had. I don’t fucking know; just the absolute vomit of thoughts had me smoking another cigarette like my life might have depended on it.

I don’t know. It just might have.

The nicotine was keeping me awake, letting me sit around festering in my own head. That was never a safe place to be, not really. There were times when it was okay to lay in a field of my own thoughts, leisurely staring up at the sky and pretending like I can make something out of life and if I think that there really is a God and whatever… 

But all I can think of right now is how strange it feels to feel something other than gray. Other than a temperate temperature. I’m hot, my skin is crawling and I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a large, gaping hole in my chest but dear Lord, even that feels good.

In that moment, I swear I could smell a hint of jasmine on the warm breeze that brought me from a reverie and made me aware of the tinge of orange feathering the horizon. As the night waned I started realizing that she’d wonder why I wasn’t in bed. If I was sane and what kind of state I might show up in. 

And I wanted to know if you ever wondered about my sanity. If you worried about what state you might find me in. Unsure if I actually wanted the answer, I let myself back into what felt more like a cage now than anything else and lay myself down in a bed that was more like a shackle.

Her hand is on my chest, her breathing is soft and careful, and she has no idea that I’m too hot to be laying here under the covers with her body pressed against mine. It doesn’t feel comfortable, and it doesn’t feel good and that just makes me want another cigarette, but she’s already waking up and wrinkling her nose at the smell. 

I’m not sorry. When she rolls over and props herself up on me to tell me it’s acrid and disgusting, and to ask me if I took medication and if I slept okay, her eyes try to steady mine. And as I look into the familiar warmth of her gaze, I can tell that something she sees in mine scares her.

Truthfully, I don’t want to fight it, I don’t like taming the wild. I don’t want to be laying here, I don’t want to be jealous that my brother saw you and I’m desperate to know what he did and what he said to you. And what you thought, and what you wanted out of it. If you wanted to see me. If you wanted him to say anything to me, or if you wanted him to keep it from me. She runs her hand through her hair, and the scent of lingering perfume distracts me enough to realize I’m mildly revolted by the smell. I’m craving the way my shirt smelled like jasmine and cinnamon after I’d had you in every way I possibly could. She’s urging me for attention, for me to be present, for me to wrap my arms around her.

I can’t, but I find the monotonous robot inside me allows her to find her way against me and to find whatever it is she needs from me right now. For me to hold her, for me to do anything besides set off like the rocket she thinks I am. When she gets it from me, what she wants, finding her skin on my skin and her fingers tangling in my hair, I get this sinking feeling that I’m not even thinking about her.

I think I’m angry; he was never supposed to be here. He was never supposed to step in that way. I was never supposed to feel like this, I’m supposed to be dutiful and be happy that there’s a loving woman who’s vying for my attention right now as I’m thinking about how badly I want to confront him - how badly I want to confront you about the fact that I’m sure you’re not awake right now. About how you’re probably thankful your pillow doesn’t smell like cigarette smoke after I’ve lain there. About how you might be satisfied that by somehow conveying anything to my brother, you’ve gotten to me. I’m sure you know you have. I want to confront you. I want to …

I didn’t want to go there, but I seldom do what I think is best. So, tell me Serafina, after meeting him… Could you sleep easy tonight? Or were you lying awake wondering what it would be like if there wasn’t a rift valleys deep between the two of us?

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Written by raagocs
This is Between You and I
I don’t know when my nights began blurring into mornings I couldn’t differentiate. What day is it, again? There’s a pill to put me to sleep. There’s a pill to keep me away from a needle. There’s a pill to wake me up in the morning. Why did I let her convince me to accept help; is that what this is?

I used to see in so many different colors: vibrant, various, bright. But now, the colors have dimmed and I see in bland shades of a gray that I didn’t want in the first place. Instead of marveling at the way she’s breathing while she sleeps and the way she looks at me when she first wakes up, I’m staring at the insides of my eyes and wondering where my dreams have gone.

I’m dreaming on a different channel, now, one that I don’t get service for. And they’re all in black and white. Every day is the same, black and white and bland, and unfortunately for me… that’s what the future looks like. Gone are the days that I allowed myself to be in touch with the wild side where adventures were as easy to come by as the blatant redundancy of life. I thought I traded volatile behavior for safety. For support. For comfort. For love.

I hadn’t seen my brother in months, not until he showed up at the apartment I’d begun cohabitating with her in. I don’t know when it happened, really… probably somewhere around the time I couldn’t recognize what day it was anymore. I’d borrowed her hands for help. No, she offered them, right? Mutual hand-holding.

You know, it’s incredibly easy to disguise feelings as something else. They surface in the strangest of ways; you second guess yourself, you offer them your innermost thoughts and feelings. And then suddenly the fibers of your beings are sewn together in a way that you can’t tell one piece of material from another. 

Happily connected, there was comfort in her presence. There was normalcy in her routine mingling with mine. There was acceptance of my ferocious need to fix; and I was prepared to take her heart by storm, wearing my suit of white armor. Ever the white knight I needed someone to believe I was.

My brother slithered back into my peripheral vision last night. With him he brought an air of tenacious pride, his shoulders held square as he faced me and attempted to regard me with some kind of familial … something, or other.

Far be it for me to request his personal removal from the apartment, but she wasn’t here. I was less than content to sit in the presence of his swelling arrogance; there was a part of me that was glad to see him and so I allowed his conceited frame to pose lazily on the couch opposite the armchair I’d perched in. Languid and predatory, both characteristics I recognized as I knew the way they swam over my own features – oh, how his looked just like mine.

It was I who had patented that aloof expression, devoid of tendrils of pacified emotion. As if we’d been close, as if we’d embodied the stereotypical twin image, he offered me a description of his entry to the city and how he’d bumbled along to find a residence, employment, and companionship. 

The words were monotonous as they tumbled from his lips in what should have seemed like a carefully concocted speech, but my ears only heard unintelligible ramblings until the crystalline sound of one word, in particular, caused what felt like an earthquake to begin.

I hate it when the ground shakes. When something you’re so sure of, a truth you’re so reliant on, quivers and quakes. It’s almost impossible to keep your bearings. And that is exactly what I didn’t do; hearing your name on my brother’s tongue caused a shudder to wrack my existence, if and only if, it was because he and I had been here before.

How is it that your name came from his mouth? The single utterance stood out in his ramblings as an intelligible word, causing the room to sway out of focus briefly. I didn’t really want to think about how he’d come across you, or what you’d been doing when he had, or what you’d done after you’d met him, or what he had done after.

We might have shared genetics and looks, but there was little else he and I shared. And as he continued to describe his evening, his eyes intently resting on mine as if to lock them there to gauge my reaction, I was reminded of this fact. There truly was little else he and I shared.

When he spoke to you, did you recognize that too?

I don’t want to sit here and think about you. Hours after my brother had gone back to whatever snake-hole he’d come from, I’m sitting on the porch with the first cigarette I’ve had in what feels like years between my lips. The smoke doesn’t even feel good, it doesn’t feel like I’m accomplishing any kind of relief, but I keep inhaling it and watching as it contorts violently in the darkness that’s fallen long since she came home and went to bed without me. She worried about how I’d left a bottle of pills unopened with a dose clearly missed on the nightstand that stood next to my empty side of the bed, but honestly?

Even though my lungs are burning and I’m tired and I can’t sleep, I haven’t seen in color like this in too long. And I don’t want to lose that.

So instead of accepting the help I thought I wanted, thought I needed… I’m sitting out here, watching stars twinkle like they’re mocking my complacency. I didn’t even know I felt complacent until I wanted to wrap my hands around his fucking throat for mentioning you. I don’t know if it was rage. I don’t even know if it was jealousy that my mirror image had gotten to see you and I hadn’t been there. That I hadn’t gotten to see you and he had. I don’t fucking know; just the absolute vomit of thoughts had me smoking another cigarette like my life might have depended on it.

I don’t know. It just might have.

The nicotine was keeping me awake, letting me sit around festering in my own head. That was never a safe place to be, not really. There were times when it was okay to lay in a field of my own thoughts, leisurely staring up at the sky and pretending like I can make something out of life and if I think that there really is a God and whatever… 

But all I can think of right now is how strange it feels to feel something other than gray. Other than a temperate temperature. I’m hot, my skin is crawling and I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a large, gaping hole in my chest but dear Lord, even that feels good.

In that moment, I swear I could smell a hint of jasmine on the warm breeze that brought me from a reverie and made me aware of the tinge of orange feathering the horizon. As the night waned I started realizing that she’d wonder why I wasn’t in bed. If I was sane and what kind of state I might show up in. 

And I wanted to know if you ever wondered about my sanity. If you worried about what state you might find me in. Unsure if I actually wanted the answer, I let myself back into what felt more like a cage now than anything else and lay myself down in a bed that was more like a shackle.

Her hand is on my chest, her breathing is soft and careful, and she has no idea that I’m too hot to be laying here under the covers with her body pressed against mine. It doesn’t feel comfortable, and it doesn’t feel good and that just makes me want another cigarette, but she’s already waking up and wrinkling her nose at the smell. 

I’m not sorry. When she rolls over and props herself up on me to tell me it’s acrid and disgusting, and to ask me if I took medication and if I slept okay, her eyes try to steady mine. And as I look into the familiar warmth of her gaze, I can tell that something she sees in mine scares her.

Truthfully, I don’t want to fight it, I don’t like taming the wild. I don’t want to be laying here, I don’t want to be jealous that my brother saw you and I’m desperate to know what he did and what he said to you. And what you thought, and what you wanted out of it. If you wanted to see me. If you wanted him to say anything to me, or if you wanted him to keep it from me. She runs her hand through her hair, and the scent of lingering perfume distracts me enough to realize I’m mildly revolted by the smell. I’m craving the way my shirt smelled like jasmine and cinnamon after I’d had you in every way I possibly could. She’s urging me for attention, for me to be present, for me to wrap my arms around her.

I can’t, but I find the monotonous robot inside me allows her to find her way against me and to find whatever it is she needs from me right now. For me to hold her, for me to do anything besides set off like the rocket she thinks I am. When she gets it from me, what she wants, finding her skin on my skin and her fingers tangling in my hair, I get this sinking feeling that I’m not even thinking about her.

I think I’m angry; he was never supposed to be here. He was never supposed to step in that way. I was never supposed to feel like this, I’m supposed to be dutiful and be happy that there’s a loving woman who’s vying for my attention right now as I’m thinking about how badly I want to confront him - how badly I want to confront you about the fact that I’m sure you’re not awake right now. About how you’re probably thankful your pillow doesn’t smell like cigarette smoke after I’ve lain there. About how you might be satisfied that by somehow conveying anything to my brother, you’ve gotten to me. I’m sure you know you have. I want to confront you. I want to …

I didn’t want to go there, but I seldom do what I think is best. So, tell me Serafina, after meeting him… Could you sleep easy tonight? Or were you lying awake wondering what it would be like if there wasn’t a rift valleys deep between the two of us?


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Written by Analytic

Orphelians: Beginning

BLOODY EYES

I’m the really strange new kid in school. Nobody knows me and nobody’s friends know me, but in my case that’s nothing different; nobody knows me anywhere. I don’t even know myself, and nothing is scarier than that.

OK, I’m wrong: there are scarier things. That’s why I’m here. My coming means your school has cancer and doesn’t know it. It’s weird being bad news wherever I go, but for you it’s a mixed bag. Just like you won’t know who I am if you see me walking the halls, the cancer walks the halls too, and you don’t recognize that even if it walks up to you, smiles, and says your name. That’s why it can be better for you if I show up: because nothing else can do any good.

Nothing else can keep you from dying.

So, like I said, mixed bag.

In this school it started fast. I was already getting the looks. I don’t mean the ordinary stares you get when you’re new. There were a lot of those, like you’d expect. Four preppie girls going the other way down the hall interrupted talking into their cells to stone-face me all at the same time, just for half a second; three jocks stared and laughed, and I heard “there’s a” and missed what; some skater-looking guys standing protectively around a locker like they had their stash there just looked, and maybe thinking I might be one of them, this bony redhead nodded at me. I’m tall, six feet, and kind of thin and move weird, and I dress in old jeans and either a leather jacket or a jeans jacket. None of it was expensive even new except the leather jacket, which I wasn’t wearing today, and maybe they thought I looked like one of them. I nodded back, being friendly, but I knew I wouldn’t be one of them; I wasn’t one of anybody.

It was the other looks that were freaking me out. Already it had happened four times. Twice the looks had come from behind or way off to one side. When that happens, it feels like something is crawling up my back, and there’s a creepy warm feeling like somebody standing right behind me is breathing on my neck. I don’t look around or give any sign I know.

The other two times it was face to face. Once it was in the eyes of a computer geek who passed me in the hall, and once it was in a sideways glance this tall jock girl in a basketball jersey gave me as she looked up from her iphone. When it’s that way, my vision gets this dark flicker for a second, like I’m about to go blind, and something even darker looks out at me from eyes that don’t belong to it. Right afterwards the eyes the look is coming from get red, like they have pinkeye. In a few seconds they go back to normal, most of the time.

“Where to, gimp? What’s in the case?”

Oh, yeah, I have a limp. It’s not too noticeable, but it makes me walk a little funny.

I stopped and looked up. I hadn’t been paying attention, and three kids had moved out to block my way. The one in the center was the one who spoke; he was big, black, maybe six four, and he had a Mohawk and tats of a red guitar and a white skull on his arms, while his two friends had shaved heads. With the straight leg jeans, Mohawk was probably going for a retro punk look.

I looked down at my battered brown instrument case. It was about four feet long, narrow, and looked like nothing special. It is, though, and I hate it when it draws attention. I had already had to open it for security on the way in. Hopefully these guys wouldn’t make a point out of messing with it. I didn’t want the kind of attention I’d get sending them to the hospital.

I shifted the case to my left hand, across my body in front of me, real fast. They blinked.

“It’s my strings. I’m really getting the looks here. What’s up with that?”

“You’re weird looking,” Mohawk said cautiously, but his words just kept me going.

“Not those looks,” I said, kind of worrying out loud. “I mean the Dark Looks, where something else is using a kid’s eyes to look out. It’s creepy, and if it happens enough to people, their eyes start bleeding from the corners. Do you know anybody in school with bloody eyes?”

Their expressions changed even more. I hadn’t meant to say all that out loud; I just forgot. I have this major problem with forgetting, and I mean big-time major problem.

One of the shaven heads got this wary look and started to say something, but without looking at him, Mohawk grabbed his shoulder, and he stopped.

“Nope, we ain’t seen that, and you talk weirder than you look. What’s your thing? Can’t tell if it’s playin’ the world, or you really trippin.”

Great, I thought, as they did a quick fade out of my way, now there’d be stories about me. At least they’d left before I’d had time to answer Mohawk’s question and blurt out what my thing was. That would have just made it all worse. It’s not like I can do anything about it.

Great start, Lem. I haven’t even been in this school five minutes, and I’d made problems for myself already. What was its name, anyway? I should know the name of my new high school. While we’re at it, what city was I in?

I had forgotten. That figured. Oh well, I was on the way to the office. They’d know there.

“Nobody knows me,” I muttered to myself. “Nobody.”

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: GHOSTS! LURKERS!

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: “Nobody knows me.” Hah. That’s truer of me than him, except for you guys. That’s right: I know you’re there. So you found my message board. I’m the only one who can post on it, so don’t even try. If you do, I’m going to have to kill myself or maybe go for electric shock therapy, because the freakin’ board is on my hard drive, not online, and this part really bites, but I thought you ought to know: you’re all imaginary. I created this board and you.

[Multiple Rejected Posts]

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: HEY! Don’t you people listen? I give you just one rule, and you--

NEMO7 says: You didn’t forbid imaginary posts.

SHE says: Oh. Well, yeah, I guess that makes sense for imaginary posters.

HORNDOG90 says: Yee Hah! Way to go, Nemo 7!

NEMO7 says: Our details have been coopted. Only the names remain, and those are changed. Why?

SCHIZO2 says: I hope you did that, She of Cleveland, or someone is hacking us, and nobody’s safe. Oh, and not that I care, but you talk like you’re 50 or something, Nemo7.

NEMO7 says: I do not!

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Yup, I did it, and deleted all the siggys. Pictures and places in your details? Don’t you want to be safe? Even Avatars show stuff about you. Siggys with links when you’re not online? Really?

NONEXISTENT34 says: You know, madam moderator, you’re coming across as kind of paranoid. I bet you’re not even from Cleveland. Why? Do you have some deep secret?

SCHIZO2 says: Don’t case on her. Paranoid is just another word for careful.

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: You are so right, Schizo2. It’s not so much that I have a secret, Nonexistent34; I am a secret: the greatest secret of all. I’m a seer. I know things before they happen. That’s weird by itself, and dangerous too, but what makes it a million times more dangerous is I’m an Orphelian seer--the last one--and that means that what I see…

ETHEREAL6 says: What’s an Orphelian?

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: you’ll know soon enough, and it so isn’t pretty. Anyway, I’m the most hunted person on earth, in a secret way. If anyone found out I was the Seer--anyone--

SOMATOTYPE68 says: I’m guessing y’all don’t have too many friends offline.

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: True, but I bet that’s true of a lot of people online, and there’s one person that’s not me I know more about than anyone else does, including himself: Lem.

EHEREAL6 says: Who is Lem?

NONEXISTENT34: How did you get to know anyone well?

NEMO7: How could you know more about someone else than he does himself?

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Lem seems like he’s about seventeen, but he worries he might be older: way older. There are the weird dreams, the musical instrument he carries everywhere, the Voice, the way dogs act around him, his freaky memory, the fits, and why he’s always running into us: the Orphelians. Lem doesn’t understand any of it, but me? I understand--some of it. I know him, Nonexistent34, because sometimes I see his life through his own eyes, as he lives it. That’s because of who and what he is; I know some things he doesn’t about that. Seer, Nemo7.

HORNDOG90 says: So you can see him naked if he’s looking in a mirror or something?

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: OK, I’m getting the feeling your board name fits you really well, Horndog90. Be careful, or I’ll cut you off, and don’t even think about making a joke about that.

[A short pause in posting follows.]

NONEXISTENT34 says: It sounds like Lem’s life really sucks.

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: It does, but it’s really entertaining. I may not have friends--OK, sorry, don’t flame me, I know you guys are now; I mean people who actually exist--but Lem is like this constant webcast I’m always tuning in on, and it is brain-tearing, dog-freaking, spoor-shedding weird. All that happens in the next few days—oops. My bad. Brain tearing doesn’t happen--yet. There will be lots of tarantulas, though, and who doesn’t like lots of tarantulas?

ETHEREAL6 says: Many of them? Crawling all over the place? Ew!

HALLUCINATION16 says: I get needing to be alone, but don’t you want to meet him?

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Good question, Hallucination16. Sometimes. Wouldn’t it be freaky to see myself through his eyes? I know so much about him, but he doesn’t even know I exist. If I do meet him, it better be soon. In a year the Orphelian Evolution will be done, Lem and I will probably be dead, and so will everybody else. Not existing has its advantages, posters.

HORNDOG90: We’ll all be dead? But I need to have way more sex!

NEMO7: What we are, She of Cleveland, indeed our whole “nonexistence,’ is more complicated than you realize.

SHE OF CLEVELAND says: You’re offensive, Horndog90, and what is going on here? You imaginary types are way feistier than I thought you’d be. If I were anybody else, I’d think I was going crazy, but I’m as sane as you guys are. Going now, and only I know when I’ll be back.

—She of Cleveland

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Written by Analytic
Orphelians: Beginning
BLOODY EYES
I’m the really strange new kid in school. Nobody knows me and nobody’s friends know me, but in my case that’s nothing different; nobody knows me anywhere. I don’t even know myself, and nothing is scarier than that.
OK, I’m wrong: there are scarier things. That’s why I’m here. My coming means your school has cancer and doesn’t know it. It’s weird being bad news wherever I go, but for you it’s a mixed bag. Just like you won’t know who I am if you see me walking the halls, the cancer walks the halls too, and you don’t recognize that even if it walks up to you, smiles, and says your name. That’s why it can be better for you if I show up: because nothing else can do any good.
Nothing else can keep you from dying.
So, like I said, mixed bag.
In this school it started fast. I was already getting the looks. I don’t mean the ordinary stares you get when you’re new. There were a lot of those, like you’d expect. Four preppie girls going the other way down the hall interrupted talking into their cells to stone-face me all at the same time, just for half a second; three jocks stared and laughed, and I heard “there’s a” and missed what; some skater-looking guys standing protectively around a locker like they had their stash there just looked, and maybe thinking I might be one of them, this bony redhead nodded at me. I’m tall, six feet, and kind of thin and move weird, and I dress in old jeans and either a leather jacket or a jeans jacket. None of it was expensive even new except the leather jacket, which I wasn’t wearing today, and maybe they thought I looked like one of them. I nodded back, being friendly, but I knew I wouldn’t be one of them; I wasn’t one of anybody.
It was the other looks that were freaking me out. Already it had happened four times. Twice the looks had come from behind or way off to one side. When that happens, it feels like something is crawling up my back, and there’s a creepy warm feeling like somebody standing right behind me is breathing on my neck. I don’t look around or give any sign I know.
The other two times it was face to face. Once it was in the eyes of a computer geek who passed me in the hall, and once it was in a sideways glance this tall jock girl in a basketball jersey gave me as she looked up from her iphone. When it’s that way, my vision gets this dark flicker for a second, like I’m about to go blind, and something even darker looks out at me from eyes that don’t belong to it. Right afterwards the eyes the look is coming from get red, like they have pinkeye. In a few seconds they go back to normal, most of the time.
“Where to, gimp? What’s in the case?”
Oh, yeah, I have a limp. It’s not too noticeable, but it makes me walk a little funny.
I stopped and looked up. I hadn’t been paying attention, and three kids had moved out to block my way. The one in the center was the one who spoke; he was big, black, maybe six four, and he had a Mohawk and tats of a red guitar and a white skull on his arms, while his two friends had shaved heads. With the straight leg jeans, Mohawk was probably going for a retro punk look.
I looked down at my battered brown instrument case. It was about four feet long, narrow, and looked like nothing special. It is, though, and I hate it when it draws attention. I had already had to open it for security on the way in. Hopefully these guys wouldn’t make a point out of messing with it. I didn’t want the kind of attention I’d get sending them to the hospital.
I shifted the case to my left hand, across my body in front of me, real fast. They blinked.
“It’s my strings. I’m really getting the looks here. What’s up with that?”
“You’re weird looking,” Mohawk said cautiously, but his words just kept me going.
“Not those looks,” I said, kind of worrying out loud. “I mean the Dark Looks, where something else is using a kid’s eyes to look out. It’s creepy, and if it happens enough to people, their eyes start bleeding from the corners. Do you know anybody in school with bloody eyes?”
Their expressions changed even more. I hadn’t meant to say all that out loud; I just forgot. I have this major problem with forgetting, and I mean big-time major problem.
One of the shaven heads got this wary look and started to say something, but without looking at him, Mohawk grabbed his shoulder, and he stopped.
“Nope, we ain’t seen that, and you talk weirder than you look. What’s your thing? Can’t tell if it’s playin’ the world, or you really trippin.”
Great, I thought, as they did a quick fade out of my way, now there’d be stories about me. At least they’d left before I’d had time to answer Mohawk’s question and blurt out what my thing was. That would have just made it all worse. It’s not like I can do anything about it.
Great start, Lem. I haven’t even been in this school five minutes, and I’d made problems for myself already. What was its name, anyway? I should know the name of my new high school. While we’re at it, what city was I in?
I had forgotten. That figured. Oh well, I was on the way to the office. They’d know there.
“Nobody knows me,” I muttered to myself. “Nobody.”









SHE OF CLEVELAND says: GHOSTS! LURKERS!
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: “Nobody knows me.” Hah. That’s truer of me than him, except for you guys. That’s right: I know you’re there. So you found my message board. I’m the only one who can post on it, so don’t even try. If you do, I’m going to have to kill myself or maybe go for electric shock therapy, because the freakin’ board is on my hard drive, not online, and this part really bites, but I thought you ought to know: you’re all imaginary. I created this board and you.
[Multiple Rejected Posts]
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: HEY! Don’t you people listen? I give you just one rule, and you--
NEMO7 says: You didn’t forbid imaginary posts.
SHE says: Oh. Well, yeah, I guess that makes sense for imaginary posters.
HORNDOG90 says: Yee Hah! Way to go, Nemo 7!
NEMO7 says: Our details have been coopted. Only the names remain, and those are changed. Why?
SCHIZO2 says: I hope you did that, She of Cleveland, or someone is hacking us, and nobody’s safe. Oh, and not that I care, but you talk like you’re 50 or something, Nemo7.
NEMO7 says: I do not!
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Yup, I did it, and deleted all the siggys. Pictures and places in your details? Don’t you want to be safe? Even Avatars show stuff about you. Siggys with links when you’re not online? Really?
NONEXISTENT34 says: You know, madam moderator, you’re coming across as kind of paranoid. I bet you’re not even from Cleveland. Why? Do you have some deep secret?
SCHIZO2 says: Don’t case on her. Paranoid is just another word for careful.
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: You are so right, Schizo2. It’s not so much that I have a secret, Nonexistent34; I am a secret: the greatest secret of all. I’m a seer. I know things before they happen. That’s weird by itself, and dangerous too, but what makes it a million times more dangerous is I’m an Orphelian seer--the last one--and that means that what I see…
ETHEREAL6 says: What’s an Orphelian?
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: you’ll know soon enough, and it so isn’t pretty. Anyway, I’m the most hunted person on earth, in a secret way. If anyone found out I was the Seer--anyone--
SOMATOTYPE68 says: I’m guessing y’all don’t have too many friends offline.
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: True, but I bet that’s true of a lot of people online, and there’s one person that’s not me I know more about than anyone else does, including himself: Lem.
EHEREAL6 says: Who is Lem?
NONEXISTENT34: How did you get to know anyone well?
NEMO7: How could you know more about someone else than he does himself?
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Lem seems like he’s about seventeen, but he worries he might be older: way older. There are the weird dreams, the musical instrument he carries everywhere, the Voice, the way dogs act around him, his freaky memory, the fits, and why he’s always running into us: the Orphelians. Lem doesn’t understand any of it, but me? I understand--some of it. I know him, Nonexistent34, because sometimes I see his life through his own eyes, as he lives it. That’s because of who and what he is; I know some things he doesn’t about that. Seer, Nemo7.
HORNDOG90 says: So you can see him naked if he’s looking in a mirror or something?
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: OK, I’m getting the feeling your board name fits you really well, Horndog90. Be careful, or I’ll cut you off, and don’t even think about making a joke about that.
[A short pause in posting follows.]
NONEXISTENT34 says: It sounds like Lem’s life really sucks.
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: It does, but it’s really entertaining. I may not have friends--OK, sorry, don’t flame me, I know you guys are now; I mean people who actually exist--but Lem is like this constant webcast I’m always tuning in on, and it is brain-tearing, dog-freaking, spoor-shedding weird. All that happens in the next few days—oops. My bad. Brain tearing doesn’t happen--yet. There will be lots of tarantulas, though, and who doesn’t like lots of tarantulas?
ETHEREAL6 says: Many of them? Crawling all over the place? Ew!
HALLUCINATION16 says: I get needing to be alone, but don’t you want to meet him?
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: Good question, Hallucination16. Sometimes. Wouldn’t it be freaky to see myself through his eyes? I know so much about him, but he doesn’t even know I exist. If I do meet him, it better be soon. In a year the Orphelian Evolution will be done, Lem and I will probably be dead, and so will everybody else. Not existing has its advantages, posters.
HORNDOG90: We’ll all be dead? But I need to have way more sex!
NEMO7: What we are, She of Cleveland, indeed our whole “nonexistence,’ is more complicated than you realize.
SHE OF CLEVELAND says: You’re offensive, Horndog90, and what is going on here? You imaginary types are way feistier than I thought you’d be. If I were anybody else, I’d think I was going crazy, but I’m as sane as you guys are. Going now, and only I know when I’ll be back.
—She of Cleveland

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by Acorn

Secrets

Arched eyebrows, folded arms, pursed lips: all seeming to glare at me with the reflection of my own palpable disappointment. 

I can feel it resting on my tongue, the bitterness polluting my thoughts with its judgmental weight. I push through the taste, my tongue scraping against the roof of my mouth with a frantic desperation to find an essence of anything to distract from my uncompromisingly absolute failure. 

Inflating into the back of my mouth, I begin to choke from just threat of it completely engulfing the entire length of my esophagus. Muscles contract as I fight the impulse to release this poison entrapped between my jaws. 

My tongue, once saturated with shame, no feels dry, sandpaper against my teeth coated with their dishonesty. 

Pounding down my windpipe, my lungs begin to fill with the perverted contamination this monster brings. With one finale exhale, the reaming oxygen flees from my body to be replaced with a toxin of my own design.

This terrible irony does not escape me with the rest of my air, ever present within the otherwise chaotic whirlwind of thoughts encased within the denseness of my skull. 

This cancer claiming every corner of my being is one I carefully crafted. With cautious tenderness, I coaxed it into the light from the depths of my mind, its grasp tightening around me, its claws sinking into my skin. 

Yet, I never seemed to notice it was my blood flowing from the wounds it had created. 

¨How could you?¨

The accusation, the hurt is too much for me to bare and I shut my eyes tightly against what I have done, what I am going to do. 

¨Well?¨

I´m frozen, sweat gathering on the back of my neck and across my upper lip. Tear filled eyes meet mine, better reflecting what I had already been able to picture completely. 

¨Do you have anything to say for yourself?¨

The argument of guilt had been presented clearly, offering no opportunity of release from this crime, now that everyone had been made aware of just how horrendous complete betrayal could be. 

We all knew there was nothing left to say. 

¨Very well.¨

A deep breath from all in the room. Frayed nerves sparked the visible anger and disappointment in the air, exuding from those who were encased in the four walls that would only hold awful memories for all involved. 

My fists tightened. This was it, this was the moment. I had always known, deep inside my corrupted, poisoned soul there was no hope left. I had started down this twisted path long ago, and now was the time to reap the consequences. 

I turned away after the sentencing was delivered, trying to maintain composure against the sound of handcuffs clasping shut, biting into the smooth wrists I was sure would soon be ruff and jagged from the wear the metal would cause. 

I was lead out of the courthouse with hands encased around me forearms, keeping me from the swarming press desperate to grasp any remaining information about the high profile case. 

¨Mrs. Raymond! Mrs. Raymond!¨

Shouts from these vultures with pens and notebooks in hand surrounding me with their penetrating questions managing to pierce the agitated thoughts of my mind. 

¨Are you certain your husband killed your daughter?¨

¨Are you pleased with the verdict?¨

¨What will you do now that your husband is in prison.¨

I kept my face straight, jaw locked as the secrets once again began pounding. How easy it would be, to free this truth that I was sure would never stop fighting, a constant reminder, a consistent struggle. 

Nevertheless, my teeth remained pressed together with the knowledge of what the consequences would be. What would happened to not only us, but the rest of the world. 

A necessary sacrifice.

The words echoed through my head. With my husbands sentencing, the rest of us would be free. We could return back to life as it was before Darlene´s death.

The pounding became a banging, shaking through my body at the mere thought of her name. I climbed into the back of the car, door shutting loudly behind me. 

Sacrifice

I suddenly felt nauseous, my hands clasping around my mouth. My thoughts were screaming, hands shaking as they pressed against all these secrets, all these horrible truths that persisted in their quest to liberation. 

I pushed them down my threat, coughing them down my lungs, spreading them through my veins. I deliberately swallowed the toxin that I knew would kill me. 

Better I, than every else.

My body yelled in protest at this deliberate act of self-deprecation. My mind settled as it focused only on self-preservation. My heart beat ferociously, unable to stop circulating the cancer to every corner of myself until it had molded itself permanently within every aspect of my being. 

My body, betraying itself, began to shake intensively, unable to handle this feeling. 

And it was true. I could imagine no greater sacrifice. These shameful truths would weigh on me until shattered. This awful, desperate feeling would never leave me. I would undergo this consistent battle to protect the greedy, condemn the pure.

I would be wounder, irreparably, carrying these scares within while stumbling through life with the haunted look of a soldier tattooed into my irises. 

This desperate war between good and evil, in which I was on the latter, and winning, side would never cease.

The full weight of these secrets settled upon me, my muscles aching against the strain.

And with this pulsing, everlasting pain came only one hope. A hope that this tremendous effort was too much, that I was not strong enough to carry on, that it would not be long before these secrets took my life. 

All I had to do was bury it with me. 

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by Acorn
Secrets
Arched eyebrows, folded arms, pursed lips: all seeming to glare at me with the reflection of my own palpable disappointment. 
I can feel it resting on my tongue, the bitterness polluting my thoughts with its judgmental weight. I push through the taste, my tongue scraping against the roof of my mouth with a frantic desperation to find an essence of anything to distract from my uncompromisingly absolute failure. 
Inflating into the back of my mouth, I begin to choke from just threat of it completely engulfing the entire length of my esophagus. Muscles contract as I fight the impulse to release this poison entrapped between my jaws. 
My tongue, once saturated with shame, no feels dry, sandpaper against my teeth coated with their dishonesty. 
Pounding down my windpipe, my lungs begin to fill with the perverted contamination this monster brings. With one finale exhale, the reaming oxygen flees from my body to be replaced with a toxin of my own design.
This terrible irony does not escape me with the rest of my air, ever present within the otherwise chaotic whirlwind of thoughts encased within the denseness of my skull. 
This cancer claiming every corner of my being is one I carefully crafted. With cautious tenderness, I coaxed it into the light from the depths of my mind, its grasp tightening around me, its claws sinking into my skin. 
Yet, I never seemed to notice it was my blood flowing from the wounds it had created. 
¨How could you?¨
The accusation, the hurt is too much for me to bare and I shut my eyes tightly against what I have done, what I am going to do. 
¨Well?¨
I´m frozen, sweat gathering on the back of my neck and across my upper lip. Tear filled eyes meet mine, better reflecting what I had already been able to picture completely. 
¨Do you have anything to say for yourself?¨
The argument of guilt had been presented clearly, offering no opportunity of release from this crime, now that everyone had been made aware of just how horrendous complete betrayal could be. 
We all knew there was nothing left to say. 
¨Very well.¨
A deep breath from all in the room. Frayed nerves sparked the visible anger and disappointment in the air, exuding from those who were encased in the four walls that would only hold awful memories for all involved. 
My fists tightened. This was it, this was the moment. I had always known, deep inside my corrupted, poisoned soul there was no hope left. I had started down this twisted path long ago, and now was the time to reap the consequences. 
I turned away after the sentencing was delivered, trying to maintain composure against the sound of handcuffs clasping shut, biting into the smooth wrists I was sure would soon be ruff and jagged from the wear the metal would cause. 
I was lead out of the courthouse with hands encased around me forearms, keeping me from the swarming press desperate to grasp any remaining information about the high profile case. 
¨Mrs. Raymond! Mrs. Raymond!¨
Shouts from these vultures with pens and notebooks in hand surrounding me with their penetrating questions managing to pierce the agitated thoughts of my mind. 
¨Are you certain your husband killed your daughter?¨
¨Are you pleased with the verdict?¨
¨What will you do now that your husband is in prison.¨
I kept my face straight, jaw locked as the secrets once again began pounding. How easy it would be, to free this truth that I was sure would never stop fighting, a constant reminder, a consistent struggle. 
Nevertheless, my teeth remained pressed together with the knowledge of what the consequences would be. What would happened to not only us, but the rest of the world. 
A necessary sacrifice.
The words echoed through my head. With my husbands sentencing, the rest of us would be free. We could return back to life as it was before Darlene´s death.
The pounding became a banging, shaking through my body at the mere thought of her name. I climbed into the back of the car, door shutting loudly behind me. 
Sacrifice
I suddenly felt nauseous, my hands clasping around my mouth. My thoughts were screaming, hands shaking as they pressed against all these secrets, all these horrible truths that persisted in their quest to liberation. 
I pushed them down my threat, coughing them down my lungs, spreading them through my veins. I deliberately swallowed the toxin that I knew would kill me. 
Better I, than every else.
My body yelled in protest at this deliberate act of self-deprecation. My mind settled as it focused only on self-preservation. My heart beat ferociously, unable to stop circulating the cancer to every corner of myself until it had molded itself permanently within every aspect of my being. 
My body, betraying itself, began to shake intensively, unable to handle this feeling. 
And it was true. I could imagine no greater sacrifice. These shameful truths would weigh on me until shattered. This awful, desperate feeling would never leave me. I would undergo this consistent battle to protect the greedy, condemn the pure.
I would be wounder, irreparably, carrying these scares within while stumbling through life with the haunted look of a soldier tattooed into my irises. 
This desperate war between good and evil, in which I was on the latter, and winning, side would never cease.
The full weight of these secrets settled upon me, my muscles aching against the strain.
And with this pulsing, everlasting pain came only one hope. A hope that this tremendous effort was too much, that I was not strong enough to carry on, that it would not be long before these secrets took my life. 
All I had to do was bury it with me. 
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Written by Liyaan

Adventures in the Emergency Room

A knock on the door.

“We come bearing tea.” Mitch, my older brother, prompted from the other side.

I opened the door to my room, letting in my uncharacteristically smiling brothers Frank and Mitch.

“So.. how are you feeling?” Frank asked, hesitantly.

“Bad.”

“Really? Even after all the insulin?” Mitch asked.

“I’ve barely eaten or drunk anything all day, been in an uncomfortable chair for around six hours doing nothing, I’ve peed into a cup at least four times, I came home with half the blood I left with, and I’ve been injected more times than I can count with a hormone that my body has not had access to for approximately three months.”

“So.. basically a day in college?” Mitch cheeked, trying to lighten the mood.

Unfortunately I'm not exaggerating, not even a little bit. It all began at 8-o-clock AM this morning.

“WAKE UP! And remember.. NO food and NO water until after the blood test!” Mom shrieked, throwing the door to my room open.

Mom dropped Mitch, Frank, and Dad off at the gov’t building, then parked near the tiny clinic that’d been recommended by Amparo, our Spanish neighbour that we'd met after our first few weeks living in Valencia.

The doctor assigned to us was young, good-looking, and the definition of a morning person. He was flying around the room multitasking, a smile blazing forth from his well-sculpted chin. In Spanish, he asked me if I’d prefer to sit or stand (he personally recommended sit.) I sat on the bed, and he (again with blistering enthusiasm), asked if I’d prefer my left forearm or my right. I proffered my left.

(Good decision! Honestly one of the best decisions I made all day)

With zeal he drew the crimson in my arms into four vials, two small, two large.

I felt relieved when he finally withdrew the needle from my arm. I don't much care for needles.

With another smile he took one of my fingers, squeezed pressure into a blushed lump at the end, and pricked it. He waved the blood over a tiny machine.

Ala! Muy alto!” His excited energy mingled with a touch of fear. The number on the machine showed that my blood sugar rate was 457. I'd no idea as to the particular significance of that number, but from his reaction I gauged it wasn't pretty.

He thrust a cup into my hands for me to pee in.

(The first of many.)

Upon returning Mother informed me that we were to go to the emergency room in Sagunto's main hospital, Sagunto being the pitiful pueblo where we bought our house 6 months ago.

“But I feel completely normal!” I protested.

They printed a letter for us to present, something in Spanish. We picked up the rest of the family on our way, whom were all looking at me rather strangely, as if I were some alien dropped down into the car seat besides them.

With a casual air we located the emergency room.

The emergency section is not what it looks like in the movies. There were no people rushed in on stretchers, no crazed eyewitnesses to horrific gory incidents, in fact, there was no air of urgency whatsoever.

We approached old female receptionist, who (with leisure), pointed us in the direction of an old office, in which we had to register ourselves before treatment.The office ladies, with the same laid-back air, formulated the cards.

We were chauffeured to a waiting room of sorts, where all sorts of old Spaniards were waiting their turn. This gave Mom ample time to freak herself out. Through the internet we found that the normal blood sugar rate after a fast should be around 120.

Which meant mine was 300 points above average.

So why the hell did I feel so normal?

“I’m sure it’s just the milkshake from last night..”

I began my refined routine of denial. I’m not really diabetic no.. that drink last night just shocked my body and its sugar count…the machine must have made a mistaken reading..

But at another finger prick and still above the average it was getting harder to deny. Once admitted they took more blood for another test, and requested I pee into another cup.

I sat on the stretcher which they’d laid me out on while the doctor conversed in rapid Spanish with Mom and Dad.

“So she’s diabetic..” I heard Dad translate for my Mom.

Diabetic? No.

Diabetic? Noo.

Diabetic? No way.

Diabetics had to inject themselves with insulin everyday, diabetics couldn’t eat chocolates or candy.

Diabetic? Nuh uh. 

Diabetic? Not me.

But as the nurse attached a drip at my left forearm it was getting harder to lie to myself.

Tears sprung into my eyes as I stared at the drip veining it's way into me and the gown they’d made me wear.

The doctors translated that only one of them could come with me, but only to translate. Seeing as Dad had better Spanish speaking abilities, he was chosen. My mind shirked even further as a young male nurse wheeled a chair in, offering it to me. I wanted to lament that I could walk myself, but at that point the fight within me was dying.

He wheeled me, (I tried to sob as quietly as I could to preserve some sense of dignity), into a large room with many big chairs lined up against a wall. He readjusted the drip, put me in a seat, and left me with Dad.

“Tell me.. why exactly are you sad?” Dad asked, concerned.

I sobbed a good ten minutes. Dad hugged me and wiped a few tears away from his own eyes. The drip took a long time to empty. I felt the slow rhythmic movement in my forearm. In, then out. In, then out. I shuddered, breaking up my relaxation so that I couldn't feel the needle so poignantly anymore, sniffling up more tears.

When the drip finished the nurse brought me a juice pack and cookies.

“Here’s the gourmet meal you’ve been waiting for.” Dad joked, tears in his eyes.

After that minute meal I sank into my chair with hunger, and wear. Dad encouraged me to nap, but I was far too hungry for that. People, most of them debilitatingly old, came and went.

One rather talkative old fellow engaged Papa in conversation.

Azúcar?” He guessed.

After hearing the details he left off, sadly repeating. “Solo quince años.. quince..” Other patients had similar reactions.

Ella está muy joven.. muy joven..

The nurse was constantly pricking one of my fingers, taking blood, giving me more insulin. My head hurt, my body ached, my left forearm cried from the stress of the needle. Dad and I sat, weakened in the emergency sector of the Sagunto hospital as the hours passed us by.

An endocrinologist came, she was also quite old. She showed me my medicine, my injections. She showed me how to use them, and charted the food I could eat, and the food that I had to avoid. Theoretically I should be able to eat everything- but in moderation. She left us with the promise that she’d help me figure everything out.

Out of our immense boredom, Dad birthed a few of his old childhood stories. He told me of his childhood in Pakistan, my Spanish Grandma featured in many of them. He held my cold drip hand and arranged a trench coat around me to keep me warm. He smiled and made funny faces at me to keep me entertained and went out in pursuit of food that wasn’t there.

Older patients looked longingly at us, for they'd all come alone.

Around 6 PM we were finally let out of the hospital- with the promise that if I experienced any strange symptoms (like sharp pain in my stomach) I’d return immediately.

Mom picked us up and covered me in kisses. On the car ride back Mom and Dad fought over how to react.The thing is- they have polar opposite reaction to stress.

Mom tends to over react, and offend any feelings pertaining to staying calm while Dad under reacts and rationalizes everything at an amazing pace. Between these two marks I was able to find a stable medium, and end the sobbing for the day.

At dinner I jabbed (Dad's favorite word for this situation) the minuscule needle into the soft side of my belly slowly, alone, then ate platefuls of Moms Pakistani food. By the end of the meal I craved something sweet, and reflected aloud on my lack of satisfaction. Mom perked up and (rather proudly) brought out the three bars of 'diabetic' chocolate that she’d found in the supermarket today. Dad scrutinised each one, checking the backs before finally deciding it was alright for me to have some.. but only some.

I returned to bed with a pounding head and tired limbs- this is the start of my new life, I guess. My life as a diabetic.

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by Liyaan
Adventures in the Emergency Room
A knock on the door.

“We come bearing tea.” Mitch, my older brother, prompted from the other side.

I opened the door to my room, letting in my uncharacteristically smiling brothers Frank and Mitch.

“So.. how are you feeling?” Frank asked, hesitantly.

“Bad.”

“Really? Even after all the insulin?” Mitch asked.

“I’ve barely eaten or drunk anything all day, been in an uncomfortable chair for around six hours doing nothing, I’ve peed into a cup at least four times, I came home with half the blood I left with, and I’ve been injected more times than I can count with a hormone that my body has not had access to for approximately three months.”

“So.. basically a day in college?” Mitch cheeked, trying to lighten the mood.

Unfortunately I'm not exaggerating, not even a little bit. It all began at 8-o-clock AM this morning.

“WAKE UP! And remember.. NO food and NO water until after the blood test!” Mom shrieked, throwing the door to my room open.

Mom dropped Mitch, Frank, and Dad off at the gov’t building, then parked near the tiny clinic that’d been recommended by Amparo, our Spanish neighbour that we'd met after our first few weeks living in Valencia.

The doctor assigned to us was young, good-looking, and the definition of a morning person. He was flying around the room multitasking, a smile blazing forth from his well-sculpted chin. In Spanish, he asked me if I’d prefer to sit or stand (he personally recommended sit.) I sat on the bed, and he (again with blistering enthusiasm), asked if I’d prefer my left forearm or my right. I proffered my left.

(Good decision! Honestly one of the best decisions I made all day)

With zeal he drew the crimson in my arms into four vials, two small, two large.
I felt relieved when he finally withdrew the needle from my arm. I don't much care for needles.

With another smile he took one of my fingers, squeezed pressure into a blushed lump at the end, and pricked it. He waved the blood over a tiny machine.

Ala! Muy alto!” His excited energy mingled with a touch of fear. The number on the machine showed that my blood sugar rate was 457. I'd no idea as to the particular significance of that number, but from his reaction I gauged it wasn't pretty.

He thrust a cup into my hands for me to pee in.
(The first of many.)

Upon returning Mother informed me that we were to go to the emergency room in Sagunto's main hospital, Sagunto being the pitiful pueblo where we bought our house 6 months ago.

“But I feel completely normal!” I protested.

They printed a letter for us to present, something in Spanish. We picked up the rest of the family on our way, whom were all looking at me rather strangely, as if I were some alien dropped down into the car seat besides them.

With a casual air we located the emergency room.

The emergency section is not what it looks like in the movies. There were no people rushed in on stretchers, no crazed eyewitnesses to horrific gory incidents, in fact, there was no air of urgency whatsoever.

We approached old female receptionist, who (with leisure), pointed us in the direction of an old office, in which we had to register ourselves before treatment.The office ladies, with the same laid-back air, formulated the cards.

We were chauffeured to a waiting room of sorts, where all sorts of old Spaniards were waiting their turn. This gave Mom ample time to freak herself out. Through the internet we found that the normal blood sugar rate after a fast should be around 120.
Which meant mine was 300 points above average.
So why the hell did I feel so normal?

“I’m sure it’s just the milkshake from last night..”

I began my refined routine of denial. I’m not really diabetic no.. that drink last night just shocked my body and its sugar count…the machine must have made a mistaken reading..
But at another finger prick and still above the average it was getting harder to deny. Once admitted they took more blood for another test, and requested I pee into another cup.

I sat on the stretcher which they’d laid me out on while the doctor conversed in rapid Spanish with Mom and Dad.
“So she’s diabetic..” I heard Dad translate for my Mom.

Diabetic? No.
Diabetic? Noo.
Diabetic? No way.
Diabetics had to inject themselves with insulin everyday, diabetics couldn’t eat chocolates or candy.
Diabetic? Nuh uh. 
Diabetic? Not me.

But as the nurse attached a drip at my left forearm it was getting harder to lie to myself.
Tears sprung into my eyes as I stared at the drip veining it's way into me and the gown they’d made me wear.

The doctors translated that only one of them could come with me, but only to translate. Seeing as Dad had better Spanish speaking abilities, he was chosen. My mind shirked even further as a young male nurse wheeled a chair in, offering it to me. I wanted to lament that I could walk myself, but at that point the fight within me was dying.

He wheeled me, (I tried to sob as quietly as I could to preserve some sense of dignity), into a large room with many big chairs lined up against a wall. He readjusted the drip, put me in a seat, and left me with Dad.

“Tell me.. why exactly are you sad?” Dad asked, concerned.

I sobbed a good ten minutes. Dad hugged me and wiped a few tears away from his own eyes. The drip took a long time to empty. I felt the slow rhythmic movement in my forearm. In, then out. In, then out. I shuddered, breaking up my relaxation so that I couldn't feel the needle so poignantly anymore, sniffling up more tears.

When the drip finished the nurse brought me a juice pack and cookies.

“Here’s the gourmet meal you’ve been waiting for.” Dad joked, tears in his eyes.

After that minute meal I sank into my chair with hunger, and wear. Dad encouraged me to nap, but I was far too hungry for that. People, most of them debilitatingly old, came and went.

One rather talkative old fellow engaged Papa in conversation.

Azúcar?” He guessed.

After hearing the details he left off, sadly repeating. “Solo quince años.. quince..” Other patients had similar reactions.

Ella está muy joven.. muy joven..

The nurse was constantly pricking one of my fingers, taking blood, giving me more insulin. My head hurt, my body ached, my left forearm cried from the stress of the needle. Dad and I sat, weakened in the emergency sector of the Sagunto hospital as the hours passed us by.

An endocrinologist came, she was also quite old. She showed me my medicine, my injections. She showed me how to use them, and charted the food I could eat, and the food that I had to avoid. Theoretically I should be able to eat everything- but in moderation. She left us with the promise that she’d help me figure everything out.
Out of our immense boredom, Dad birthed a few of his old childhood stories. He told me of his childhood in Pakistan, my Spanish Grandma featured in many of them. He held my cold drip hand and arranged a trench coat around me to keep me warm. He smiled and made funny faces at me to keep me entertained and went out in pursuit of food that wasn’t there.

Older patients looked longingly at us, for they'd all come alone.

Around 6 PM we were finally let out of the hospital- with the promise that if I experienced any strange symptoms (like sharp pain in my stomach) I’d return immediately.

Mom picked us up and covered me in kisses. On the car ride back Mom and Dad fought over how to react.The thing is- they have polar opposite reaction to stress.

Mom tends to over react, and offend any feelings pertaining to staying calm while Dad under reacts and rationalizes everything at an amazing pace. Between these two marks I was able to find a stable medium, and end the sobbing for the day.

At dinner I jabbed (Dad's favorite word for this situation) the minuscule needle into the soft side of my belly slowly, alone, then ate platefuls of Moms Pakistani food. By the end of the meal I craved something sweet, and reflected aloud on my lack of satisfaction. Mom perked up and (rather proudly) brought out the three bars of 'diabetic' chocolate that she’d found in the supermarket today. Dad scrutinised each one, checking the backs before finally deciding it was alright for me to have some.. but only some.

I returned to bed with a pounding head and tired limbs- this is the start of my new life, I guess. My life as a diabetic.
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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by Hugo_Cloyd

Intemperance

  A glass of cold tap water sits on the scarred table of Dad’s workshop. The sour tang of fish pollutes the air; it must be a Monday. Dew collects on the rim and dribbles down.

My eyes flutter open and greet the shade of in-between, neither night nor day, when the walls, ceiling and drawn curtains ache with hollow silence. I yank back the covers and my limbs are sticky with sweat, my night gown clings to my legs. I tiptoe along the dark landing. I don’t want to be caught. One set of keys glints in the gloom. The other lies deep in a trouser pocket by the sea, where hauls of fish are being loaded into our white van. A floorboard creaks and I pause, my heart rending the deadweight clean in two, to my clamoring senses only. I squint into the grainy gloom, spooked. A dark shape catches my eye. It takes many forms, as do all familiar masses in the clutches of night. But I shake myself, I’m ridiculous. I tiptoe on and pour myself a glass, quiet as a daisy. It slips down my throat like molten glass, half spilling down my font. Only when I’m satiated does this bother me a little, and I make my way to the corner of the aisle, where a cloth lies forgotten on the veined surface. The shape sharpens slightly a few paces away. A chair? The dog bed? A cushion catapulted during child’s play? I flick on the light.

Mum is lying on the ground, her lips stained dark red. I wonder if she’s dead.

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Written by Hugo_Cloyd
Intemperance
  A glass of cold tap water sits on the scarred table of Dad’s workshop. The sour tang of fish pollutes the air; it must be a Monday. Dew collects on the rim and dribbles down.
My eyes flutter open and greet the shade of in-between, neither night nor day, when the walls, ceiling and drawn curtains ache with hollow silence. I yank back the covers and my limbs are sticky with sweat, my night gown clings to my legs. I tiptoe along the dark landing. I don’t want to be caught. One set of keys glints in the gloom. The other lies deep in a trouser pocket by the sea, where hauls of fish are being loaded into our white van. A floorboard creaks and I pause, my heart rending the deadweight clean in two, to my clamoring senses only. I squint into the grainy gloom, spooked. A dark shape catches my eye. It takes many forms, as do all familiar masses in the clutches of night. But I shake myself, I’m ridiculous. I tiptoe on and pour myself a glass, quiet as a daisy. It slips down my throat like molten glass, half spilling down my font. Only when I’m satiated does this bother me a little, and I make my way to the corner of the aisle, where a cloth lies forgotten on the veined surface. The shape sharpens slightly a few paces away. A chair? The dog bed? A cushion catapulted during child’s play? I flick on the light.
Mum is lying on the ground, her lips stained dark red. I wonder if she’s dead.


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Written by AyaRavenwood

Do you want to hear a story?

Sit with me a while and I will share a tale about anything you want to hear. I can tell you about times long ago and far away. Do you want to hear something about a princess who saves herself from a dragon? I can tell you a story about a man who lost his true love and learns to go on. The battle of grief and opportunities lost. It doesn't really matter to me, my head is full of visions of the past, future, and never going to happen.

What's your pleasure, something funny, perhaps a love story? I can do both, but if you truly want a good one I would go with a tragedy. They always make my life seem so much better. When I'm feeling like everything is coming apart. A sad story to bring your fears to light. What are you most afraid of?

Maybe something happy? Need a good laugh, to brighten your mood? Mishaps of a young woman with long hair and too many siblings. Her brother is a good hearted trouble maker, that needs a keeper. She has a sister that is unlucky in love. 

Tell me friend how I can entertain you? What is it you would like to hear?

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Written by AyaRavenwood
Do you want to hear a story?
Sit with me a while and I will share a tale about anything you want to hear. I can tell you about times long ago and far away. Do you want to hear something about a princess who saves herself from a dragon? I can tell you a story about a man who lost his true love and learns to go on. The battle of grief and opportunities lost. It doesn't really matter to me, my head is full of visions of the past, future, and never going to happen.

What's your pleasure, something funny, perhaps a love story? I can do both, but if you truly want a good one I would go with a tragedy. They always make my life seem so much better. When I'm feeling like everything is coming apart. A sad story to bring your fears to light. What are you most afraid of?

Maybe something happy? Need a good laugh, to brighten your mood? Mishaps of a young woman with long hair and too many siblings. Her brother is a good hearted trouble maker, that needs a keeper. She has a sister that is unlucky in love. 

Tell me friend how I can entertain you? What is it you would like to hear?

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We are a literary agency seeking fresh talent. In 200 words or more, demonstrate your writing talent. We will be in touch with any and all promising participants throughout the rest of this quarter.
Written by RJ_Bleu

MacKenzie

MacKenzie had been waiting for this day her entire life. All her hard work, all the sleepless nights had come to this. Her leg bounced up and down excitedly, glancing around the audience for her mother. It had only taken eighteen years, but she was here. Every moment since the day she was born brought her to this moment.

There was the time she was three and wrote her name for the first time. She had refused to do anything until she could at least manage to scribble out something that had at least resembled her name. She and her Mother had stayed up for most of the night, just repeating the motions of the letters over and over again. The blue crayon had long since begun to stain her hands a light shade of color; piles of paper tossed away scattering the floor of the small kitchen.

It wasn’t exactly what her Mom wanted to be doing after working a twelve hour shift to pay the bills, but it made the little girl happy. Then there was the moments after her daughter had managed to write her beautiful name for the first time. MacKenzie’s eyes lit up like a Christmas Tree as she giggles with delight. Hearing that sound, that wonderful sound of her daughters laughter, made all those hours worth it. Her little girl was strong, bright, and most of all she had an innocent view of the world that was paired with sheer determination.

That determination would carry her for the rest of her life. Mackenzie never backed down from a challenge; at school or with her friends. As long as it meant pushing herself out of her comfort zone, she was willing to do it. She was determined to make her life worth something; to live in each and every moment that she ever experienced. A lesson she had learned early on from her Father was life is too short, and you have to live it.

Finally the principle speaks her name into the microphone, but no one claps, no one cheers, no one says a word. Mackenzie gets to her feet and begins to make her way up to the stage, utterly confused. Even her own mother just sat there with a sad gaze, she wouldn’t even look at her.

“May we have a moment of silence in memory of Ms. Mackenzie Moore?” She comes to a stop beside the stage, not sure how to process the words reverberating around the auditorium. Confused, she turns in the direction of her mother, her loving, supportive, diligent mother, but the women of iron is in tears.

What was happening? Why was the entire room talking like she was dead? She had gone to the beach with friends over the weekend, she had gotten ready for graduation.

“It’s time Mackenzie…” Turning on her heel, she faces her Father for the first time in twelve years. He had died in Afghanistan serving their country; something that she had always been so proud of. Glancing at her mother one last time she walks over to her childhood hero, and he embraces her one last time…

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Written by RJ_Bleu
MacKenzie
MacKenzie had been waiting for this day her entire life. All her hard work, all the sleepless nights had come to this. Her leg bounced up and down excitedly, glancing around the audience for her mother. It had only taken eighteen years, but she was here. Every moment since the day she was born brought her to this moment.

There was the time she was three and wrote her name for the first time. She had refused to do anything until she could at least manage to scribble out something that had at least resembled her name. She and her Mother had stayed up for most of the night, just repeating the motions of the letters over and over again. The blue crayon had long since begun to stain her hands a light shade of color; piles of paper tossed away scattering the floor of the small kitchen.

It wasn’t exactly what her Mom wanted to be doing after working a twelve hour shift to pay the bills, but it made the little girl happy. Then there was the moments after her daughter had managed to write her beautiful name for the first time. MacKenzie’s eyes lit up like a Christmas Tree as she giggles with delight. Hearing that sound, that wonderful sound of her daughters laughter, made all those hours worth it. Her little girl was strong, bright, and most of all she had an innocent view of the world that was paired with sheer determination.

That determination would carry her for the rest of her life. Mackenzie never backed down from a challenge; at school or with her friends. As long as it meant pushing herself out of her comfort zone, she was willing to do it. She was determined to make her life worth something; to live in each and every moment that she ever experienced. A lesson she had learned early on from her Father was life is too short, and you have to live it.

Finally the principle speaks her name into the microphone, but no one claps, no one cheers, no one says a word. Mackenzie gets to her feet and begins to make her way up to the stage, utterly confused. Even her own mother just sat there with a sad gaze, she wouldn’t even look at her.

“May we have a moment of silence in memory of Ms. Mackenzie Moore?” She comes to a stop beside the stage, not sure how to process the words reverberating around the auditorium. Confused, she turns in the direction of her mother, her loving, supportive, diligent mother, but the women of iron is in tears.
What was happening? Why was the entire room talking like she was dead? She had gone to the beach with friends over the weekend, she had gotten ready for graduation.

“It’s time Mackenzie…” Turning on her heel, she faces her Father for the first time in twelve years. He had died in Afghanistan serving their country; something that she had always been so proud of. Glancing at her mother one last time she walks over to her childhood hero, and he embraces her one last time…

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