Window to the Soul

January 17th, 1982: My 14th birthday. It’s a shame that mom suddenly died today. But yesterday, she gave me this wonderful diary to share my memorable moments… I just did something I might regret. But it was so easy and satisfying. The same eyes that I admired so much. Mother was right. Eyes are beautiful. I’m glad I could help my mother even after she’s passed. Even the hospital couldn’t figure it out. I tried to tell them, but they just handed me money and pushed me away.

October 30th, 1990: “Eyes are the windows to the soul.” My mom told me this when I was a kid, that you could learn anything about a person just by looking at their eyes. I could see her lingering resentment for my father every time she looked at me, a reminder of what once was. Even in my sleep, I was not free from her resentful gaze. Nevertheless, I have fond memories: how we would dance in the tall grassy fields, how she looked me in the eyes, how her gaze never faltered. I have preserved these memories forever, by saving her soul from the confines of her dead body. I am so happy to have saved my mother, and have her by my side. I like to protect other souls and be their companion forever.

October 31st, 1990: I recently moved to a new town and made some friends. Luckily, one of my new friends is letting me stay and house sit. I find it remarkable how trusting humans can be. However, I need to find a job soon.

November 2nd, 1990: I just passed a “help wanted” sign by the mortuary. I’ll check it out.

November 13th, 1990: I got the job. I’m only cleaning the gravestones but it’s a start. I’m shaking with delight just thinking about it. Hopefully I’ll get to be more hands-on soon.

November 22nd, 1990: I’ve already been promoted and I’m in charge of embalming the bodies now. Exhilarating!

November 23rd, 1990: Bodies. Bodies everywhere. More than 20 today. How wasteful to embalm the eyes with the bodies and lose them forever… these precious souls.

I don’t think anyone will notice if I just take them, where they’ll be truly appreciated.
I was right. No one noticed and now these lost souls have a proper home.

November 25th, 1990: My friend came home. I’m contemplating whether I should tell him about my hobby. I’ve found that people don’t really appreciate my ideas, they say I am being weird or gross.
I’m a bit worried about how he’ll respond…

(10pm) I told him. I told him and he was just like all the others. His eyes told me everything I needed to know… I did something. I HAD TO. HE THREATENED ME FIRST! Of course I tried to explain but he just REFUSED to listen! I feel bad, but also disappointed that he didn’t understand. His eyes are devoid of disgust now. I promised to apologize to his soul everyday, so surely he’ll forgive me.

November 27th, 1990: Strange. A police car is waiting outside. A nice man interviewed me. He seems suspicious. I’m glad I got rid of the body. He couldn’t be here to talk to me about “that” though right?

November 28th, 1990: His mother stopped by. Nice lady. I feel bad about her son, but I don’t think I can tell her the truth either. Kind of reminds me of my own mom. I like her eyes. They remind me of somebody…

December 1st, 1990: Working at the mortuary is getting a little… crowded. I keep hearing little voices, saying ‘Free me. Save me.’ I want to reply, but I think people will look at me weird again. Doesn’t appear like anyone else can hear the voices.

December 6th, 1990: I can’t handle it anymore. They just keep begging and I have to help those in need right? They’re reaching out to me constantly. How can I turn a blind eye to the needy? When I, only I, can save these souls from eternal damnation. It’ll be quick and easy. I remember the scalpel in the other room. No one will notice. I won’t get in trouble with the nice man again.

December 8th, 1990: Our house doesn’t feel as empty anymore. Plus, I’m not alone now! My true friends, my “soulmates,” talk to me every night. I talk about my frustrations, joys, plans. I will build the world’s biggest mortuary and save thousands of souls each and every day.

I am careful, though. I lock my soul friends every morning, inside the shack. I feel bad, but it’s for their safety.

December 10th, 1990: I know why I liked that lady’s eyes. I recognize them. That same feeling of contempt and hatred. How did she know? Was it the blood on my cheek? That troublesome woman! She called the nice man and asked him to investigate me. Can you believe it? When I’m gone, those souls will be trapped once again. How horrible!

Wait… I hear somebody yelling in the backyard, near the shack. I think they found my friends.

January 1st or 3rd?

Where am I? There are no windows, just solid walls.

The last three weeks have been a blur.

After the policeman searched the shack, they dragged me to one of their facilities. I don’t know their purpose or why I’m here. There’s nothing wrong with me, so what are these white coats saying? They let me keep my diary but their eyes are telling me that, for whatever reason, they want their grubby hands on it.

Some things I’ve noticed though, are the voices. They’ve come back.

“Eyes need to be free. Eyes need to be free!”

They took my friends’ eyes but not the two eyes that I haven’t freed yet: my eyes. I want to respond to these lovely voices: YES, YES!

I raise the dinner spoon to my face, smile, and prepare for enlightenment.

The End

The ground shakes underneath my feet, making me stumble. I keep slipping and sliding off balance. I hear the echoes of peoples’ screams, including my own. I watch as the ground opens up and swallows buildings and people. I just watch in shock as parts of the sky break apart so swiftly and smoothly. As if it was normal. What should I do? Where should I go?
My breath becomes faster as I breath in and out, getting louder. My hands automatically grasp my ears to try to block out the sound. The scene of people falling into cracks. disappearing, keeps playing repeatedly in my head. What if that happens to me? What do I do to make sure that I will survive? My heart is beating so fast it would explode if it could. More cracks are forming in the ground. The cracks are small, but are wide and deep. I look around, trying to spot my family but I don’t know where they are.
Tears prick my eyes fast. No! I can’t think like that! I have to just stay positive, positive. Who am I kidding? There’s no way that I’m going to survive! But I guess I’d rather die trying to live. Suddenly I notice cracks are starting to spread underneath me. I jump around the cracks as if that’s what I should do. But I honestly don’t know what to do! But one thing is for sure, if I stay in one place I will fall through the cracks. I start to run now since pieces of the sky are hitting the ground, making more cracks for me to dodge. The cracks are getting way wider, bigger, and deeper. I gulp as I run, trying to not get hit by the sky and not falling through the cracks. Deep down I know there is nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. I will just be running around dodging cracks until I fall into one. But my mind won’t face the facts. As long as I keep running everything will be okay, I keep telling myself. Just keep your head up and run. How did a beautiful normal day turn out like this? Running for my life!
One second ago, I was in my front yard enjoying a nice beautiful sunny day. And now I’m trying hard not to die. Where the sky is supposed to be is replaced with a giant black hole. It is getting harder for me to see what is in front of me. It looks like nighttime but it isn’t. It is the afternoon. My hands tighten into fists as images keep appearing in my mind. Buildings collapsing, sky falling, ground shaking, cracks appearing, people screaming! I feel trapped. Like someone cornered me alone in a room with nowhere to go. Should I try to escape? Or should I just stay trapped?
I suddenly stop still. I can just overhear my gasps for air over peoples’ screams. I look towards the ground to make sure there aren’t any cracks around were I am standing. Then I look up towards the sky, the pitch blackness is growing all over the sky. I try to calm myself down, but it isn’t easy. Right now, I just want to shrink down in a corner and cry my eyes out. I want a superhero to come out of a comic and save the day. I want this all to be a nasty dream that I will get to wake up from. Streams of tears escape my eyes. I knew this day would come but I didn’t think that I would be alive to see it. Today is the day we will all be forgotten. Today will be the last day for everyone here on earth. As I brush my hand over my blurry eyes, wiping some tears. That’s when I notice some cracks are growing under my feet. I immediately try to move. I search for any spots that are still solid ground but there aren’t. Right in that moment my heart explodes. There’s nowhere to go! And then I look up to see a piece of the sky heading towards me. My eyes open in shock. I wondered if this is how I will die. I thought it would have been from old age or maybe a car accident. But I would have never in a million years have thought that this is how I die. I can do nothing but stare at the sky that is coming really fast towards me. But in this moment, it feels as if time stopped. As if everything slowed down.
I feel the ground underneath me shake rapidly. I feel my body tremble with my tears. My hands melt into fists, as if I could somehow punch this giant piece of sky out of the way. I bite my lip to hold back a dreadful scream. If there is anyone out there, then I don’t want them to hear another horrible scream. I don’t want to fill them with any more terror than they already feel. The sky is now only about ten feet away from me. I notice how little bits of the sky are breaking off as if to distract me from the big piece. I really enjoyed life; it was so much fun, sad, painful, wonderful, confusing and always a mystery. You never know what life will throw at you. It’s your choice to dodge it or not. I have no other choice but to accept my fate as I bet a lot of people did already. Tears fill my eyes. No one can run from death or escape it. They just have to accept it, and move on.
I take in my final breath with my last thought.
Most likely every human will be extinct in less than 3 minutes, as the earth collides with a black hole. Pretty soon the word human won’t even exist, and the word Earth, will only be a memory.

An Unnecessary Bad Day

After years of working in the same position in my job, I finally got the promotional email from my company’s CEO for the vice president position. I had waited so long for the promotion, and I really hoped it would be perfect.

My interview day had been off to a bad start. My alarm clock broke, so I woke up ten minutes later than usual. I stumbled out of bed, throwing on my clothes. I tumbled down the stairs, falling over the fur carpet. I had fallen over it every day since I bought it at a garage sale. I picked myself up and walked over to the kitchen for breakfast.

“Hopefully I still have some food left.” I thought

I was wrong. There was nothing inside the refrigerator, except moldy cheese and an oatmeal energy bar. Since when did I last go shopping? I devoured the contents of the oatmeal bar quickly. Not much, but better than nothing. A glance at the pantry told me there was nothing else in there. I checked my watch. An hour until the interview. It would take sheer luck to make it to the meeting in time now.

I threw my blueprints and my ThinkPad into a briefcase. I grabbed my wallet and winter coat, heading out the door. I was halfway to the garage before I realized it was snowing heavily. Layers of ice and snow covered my car. Now how was I supposed to get to work? The subway was not really an option, considering the closest station was fifteen minutes away, and even then I needed to ride for a whole hour to get to the office. I’d have to take a taxi.

Two minutes later, I flagged down a passing taxi. More time than I could spare. And what’s more, that was exactly when the garbage truck came down. I sighed. The garbage truck would take up the whole lane, which was not very wide on its own, especially with cars parked on both sides. We couldn’t even reverse down the one-way road. I could only watch as the workmen picked up trash bags and threw them in the compressor at the back of the truck. They seemed to be in no rush.

After an eternity, the taxi cleared out of the neighborhood and onto the local highway. It was rush hour now, and knowing my luck, it would probably take more than the half hour I had left.

“The traffic had better not be too bad,” I thought.

Wrong again. Throngs of other people crowded the motorway, in various vehicles. Cars, trucks, school buses, and campervans, squished into a mere four lanes. Strange how there were that many people in this weather. Patrol officers drove along the shoulder, urging people along. Good luck to them. Chaos was bound to happen. I began to think even the subway would’ve been faster.

After ten more minutes, the driver gave up and took an exit. Now we would have to detour around the whole Manhattan just to get to my destination. Suddenly, the car in front of us had slipped on ice and crashed into a parked SUV. The cars behind us had gotten too close to us for a U-Turn, so we were forced to wait for emergency services to come. I was sweating profusely, despite the weather. We were stuck inside the rows as tight as fish in a fisherman’s net. I had less than twenty minutes to make it to the office.

After the authorities let me leave, I paid the driver and raced out of there. The air felt cold after a ride in the taxi. The freezing wind bit against my jacket, and I pulled down my hood to keep the snow out of my face. Just then, I saw a bus stop up ahead. Would it work? I sprinted over and collapsed on the bench to catch my breath. After a short while, the bus came. Thank goodness. I scanned my card and took the only seat left. For fifteen minutes, I sat wedged between the wall, and a woman with a baby who was constantly crying right next to my ear. The other people on the bus weren’t helping much either. I didn’t even have enough room to cover my ears. Even after I arrived at my stop, it took almost a whole minute to squeeze out of the seat and out the back door.

Four minutes left. I tore down the city road, running towards the office. I could barely hear the street vendors or the passerby’s, as I concentrated on reaching the building. I ran a bit too fast and slipped on ice multiple times. Two minutes to a business meeting with a sore back. Great. Finally, I made it to the skyscraper.

I finally arrived, panting and out of breath. I slapped my ID on the card reader, and I ran for the elevator doors but was just a second late. Now I would have to either wait for the elevator or run up eight flights. But with one single minute left, what choice did I have? I clambered wearily up the steps, still out of breath from the run.

I collapsed outside the CEO’s office with barely five seconds to spare. But where was the CEO? My eyes hopped around wildly. What happened? Just then, his secretary came.

“Mr. Ronalds, your promotion interview with the CEO was cancelled because he called from home and said he was sick. We forgot to send an email, sorry about that.”

“So, I came all the way here for… nothing?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And I have to go all the way back?”
“I guess so.”

I was so infuriated, I grabbed my things and stormed right out of there. I was going home and not coming out again until the CEO reassured me that he would actually be there for the interview. Or maybe for shopping. After all, don’t I deserve a good lunch?

Lakeview Boulevard

Most nights I get home quickly to take care of Mama. Mama’s skin is pallid and saggy, bones protrude from her cheeks and ribs, her hair has become thin and lacks luster. The doctors said they couldn’t help. I knew it was sadness, she was wasting away from sadness. It was just the two of us, Papa had left when everything was silent and dark leaving nothing behind. An ocean of emotions floods me. Anger. Sorrow. Resentment.
My vision becomes clouded with tears, I stare up through my car’s skylight blinking till the sky is no longer blurry. The darkness contrasts to the stars that glitter brightly without fail. How do they come back every night?
I turn down Lakeview Boulevard. While most nights I went down a faster route, Going down this route allowed me more time to think.
I hate thinking.
I hate thinking about the things I have done wrong, the things I could have done differently. Yet I make time to think every day.
I need somewhere quiet to think, a place such as Lakeview Boulevard. Unlike most streets, it lacks rockus. I wish I could afford a house on Lakeview Boulevard. A house with a grand lawn and balconies that make you feel as if you are touching the sky. The house I have conjured up is so unlike my home with its shabby shingles that have started falling and the broken windows that I can not afford to replace.
I turn the dial on my car for a distraction, music blares causing the car to rattle. I open the windows and my hair whips into my face. The music envelopes me, urging me to sing along. I sing to the upbeat song until my throat is sore and my lungs burn. I barely care if the residents of Lakeview Boulevard call the police to complain. I know it is reckless, I should be thinking about Mama.
As soon as that thought enters my mind, the song ends and the sound of sirens never comes. I close my windows and lower the volume of the music. It makes me feel as if I am shut in a box again. It reminds me of how I feel whenever I have to face Amanda.
Amanda.
Long sleek chestnut hair. Porcelain like skin. Fake sugar coating over a sour interior. Everyone pretends to like her. At first, I didn’t understand why, but that soon changed. When I first started High School, I had a temper. An inextinguishable fiery rage that Mama said I had always had.
When I first stepped foot into the dazzling halls, I had been fidgeting with my frizzy, unruly hair. As soon as she saw me, Amanda’s face lifted in a smug smirk, she pushed her hair behind her shoulders.
The principal came with a concerned look. “Amanda, are you here to meet our new student?”
With a plastered on smile she answered, “Of course, just giving her a warm welcome to our lovely school.”
The principal left and Amanda hissed.
“You don’t belong, and you never will.”
I had feared this would happen. I wanted a new start, a chance to succeed in making friends when I had failed so many times before. Against my better judgment, I blurted out “Yeah, well I don’t want to fit in with a bunch of freaks like you and your friends anyways.” It rushed out. My blood was heated, steam billowed out of my ears.
In response, she gave me a nonchalant smirk. It confused me, I had not even dented her armor. She turned and walked away with her posse following close behind. No one had stood behind me while Amanda had others cheering her on, giving her the strength to destroy my chances of making a friend. Friendless and alone, I have come to resent thinking. This is the origin of my nightly ritual.
The overwhelmingly large houses surrounding me cause me to think about them instead of my past. I look at the houses wondering if I would ever be able to buy one. White stone. A balcony that faces the front. A tended lawn with lush grass and round bushes that line the pathway to the front door. What really catches my eyes is a couple fighting. They are illuminated by the lights in the living room. I drive slowly. I don’t want to get caught watching but I’m incapable of tearing my eyes away.
Anger radiates from them and bounces in all directions. The woman’s bleach blonde hair is in a bun at the base of her neck. It has become disheveled, yet she seems like a woman who would never have a hair out of place. Her dress of pure onyx is made from lavish silks and her neck is adorned with expensive pearls. Her hands are in the air while the man across from her points his finger. His white dress shirt is creased and loosened, a blue necktie hangs around his neck.
The room they stand in has the largest flat screen TV I have ever seen, directly across from it is a luxurious white couch and a large painting of smiling people strolling with ease. The door is slightly ajar, behind is a figure of a girl. I can see her chestnut hair even with the darkness that envelopes her. Her hair reminds me of Amanda’s.
Amanda.
She lives on Lakeview Boulevard. The perfect girl, with perfect hair, with perfect friends, has a not so perfect family. She looks scared. So unlike the Amanda I knew. Her head is tilted down and she seems to be hiding from the anger that suffocates the room. Amanda’s perfect life that was shaped as a faultless castle crumbles, reforming into something not so perfect. Its walls have missing bricks and its moss and ivy covered towers have fallen and shattered to pieces. I tear my eyes away from the private scene, no longer yearning for a house on Lakeview Boulevard.

Balloon Boy

It was Valentine’s day. I was down on Loning Way. It was real cloudy, and raining too.
You know, it’s hard. It’s hard, on Valentine’s day, when nobody notices you, no chocolates, no flowers, no sideways glances, and you’re standing there next to your best friend while she’s getting her own pile of caramels from that guy she met just last week at the diner. I guess it’s that I’ve never been a cosmetic kind of girl, so I don’t stand out as a pretty pick. I don’t do my hair, and I don’t wear pink. I don’t giggle. I don’t gossip. I’m not a tomboy, though. I hate that, I hate that word. Can’t I just be a girl?
Anyways, I was standing there on Loning Way, when this balloon floated past. It was a heart-shaped one, aluminum, all red and shiny. Thing is, it was half-deflated and all wrinkly, like someone had poked a bunch of holes in it and squeezed it real hard. Sort of wilted, you know? It just skittered past with its string dragging over the curb and the rain pattering on it, beaten-up like that.
And then this boy scampers up from the street where that balloon came from, right past me. Looking behind himself and everything, like he’s being chased. I couldn’t see too well because of the rain and my umbrella and everything, but I could tell he was filthy. Skinny, like food was a luxury or something. He had these awful brown bags under his eyes, and real dark hair, pavement-dark; real shifty, sunken eyes. When he scampered past—reminded me of a rat or something, real pitiful—he splashed into a puddle and got water all down the front of my overalls.
I hollered, “You impish humdinger!” at him. I like those words. They sound real insulting without being barbaric, so I like to holler them at people, and at Pete when he’s being funny and makes a bad joke. I like it a lot–especially cause most people don’t understand it. So, I hollered that at this scrawny kid. And he stopped like he was caught in a headlight, like he was a burglar or something, mouth half-open and everything. He had bad teeth, too. All black, like he’d never heard of the dentist.
“What was that for?” I bellowed at him. He didn’t move. I think he was scared of me.
Then, like he was resigned or I’d threatened to whoop him or something, he put his head down and went and shuffled towards me. He was all soaked from that awful rain, that pavement hair all stuck to his thin face, his sunken eyes popping out of their ash sockets. I saw this blue mark on his collar, but I can’t be sure it was real cause his collar shifted up over it when he walked. I didn’t know what to do, so I did something, and that was saying, “C’mere! It’s raining!”, and holding out my umbrella. He swallowed. Those pink eyes darted down the road, like someone was coming for him. The bogeyman, or something. And then he stumbled over under the umbrella, next to me; only, a foot away, and leaning on his heels so he could run for it if I tried to grab him or something. He didn’t look me in the eye. Just studied my forehead anxiously. I don’t think he really had anywhere to go, or if he did and was too scared to say. I know I didn’t have anywhere to get, so I just stood there, watching him and the water pouring down his neck.
I wanted to get a closer look at his face. Pete tells me it’s rude to walk up to a person and start studying their face, which is true but I still want to, so I’ve got to do it real discreetly. That way they don’t get all uncomfortable and walk away.
I hadn’t noticed before, but his face was all messed up. It hurt to look at. He had this one black eye, a fresh one, and the other one was green, which meant it’d been a black eye last week, but not anymore. And there was this old cut on his cheek, right below his right sunken eye, that was probably from a year ago or something like that, because it was white now and all scar-ish. It made me feel a little sick.
I didn’t ask him anything. We just stood there awhile. Listened to the pounding rain. It got heavier, and the umbrella got hard to hold up, but the clouds didn’t go away. There were no cars out. It was dinner-time, so everyone was inside, I guess, eating and pushing more chocolate boxes into each other’s arms. After a forever the rain lightened up, and the sun peeked out, all yellow-mellow, and then it hid again. This boy was still staring at my forehead. I told him, after it had been half an hour or something like that, I had to get back home, Pete and Ma were waiting, but he could have the umbrella if he liked, I had another one, a blue one at home. He shook his head hard, and he did that eye-dart thing, searching for the bogeyman. So I gave him a pat on the back for letting me study his face so long, and then I turned with my umbrella and left him standing there in the drizzle. He watched me all the way with those sunken pink eyes and those cuts and bruises, and those slumping shoulders, watching me like I was a lucky pretty bird flitting away. Like I was a red aluminum balloon rising away into the cloudy sky, getting smaller, smaller, till I turned a corner and hid behind a cloud. And when I’d turned the corner, I heard his scampering rat-feet, splashing away back down the street, and off away from the bogeyman again. All by himself on Valentine’s Day.

The other worlds

Waiting. It’s what I’ve been doing for the last few days just to get to the new house. I feel like it will never end: the car ride, the lack of entertainment, and my little sister Emily yammering on about how her friend got a puppy and saying that she should have one too. “And that is the 39th reason why I should have a puppy. And the 40th reason why I should have is-“. “WILL YOU STOP BEING ANNOYING FOR ONE SECOND!?” I screamed. The good news was that she had stopped talking, but the bad news was that she was looking at me with her furious little eyes. “Mommy, Laret interrupted me,” she said with a smirk on her face. “Did not,” I lied. “Who wants to play the quiet game?” Mom said with her ‘please stop arguing’ face on. “Whoever wins gets an extra 30 minutes of screen time.” And just like that, we were quiet for the rest of the trip. That is until we saw what our new house looked like.
It had a dusty porch with a dirty chair on the side. The interior walls were leaning like they were about to fall and bury whoever was inside, and the roof didn’t look like a roof; it looked like a giant rock nailed to a bunch of old, creaky boards. “Look, I know what you’re thinking and-.” “It looks like a monstrosity that used to live in a swamp!” Emily said in disgust. ” Well, too bad for you because this is where we’re going to live until I can find a job that meets your standards.” Mom got out of the car and asked us to unload our stuff and pick a room. So we collected our things, entered the house, and discovered that the outside looked like the Mona Lisa compared to the inside, which was covered in mold and smelled like a wet dog. Mom told us to go upstairs and get settled. As I trotted up the stairs, I couldn’t help but think how I could ever call this place home.
A few hours later, I was fast asleep having wonderful dreams; that was until my sister went downstairs. She was acting like she was trying to sneak up on someone that must have been wearing earmuffs because she was walking really loudly. I looked to see what she was doing and realized that she was chasing a small, bright colored puppy, probably a golden retriever. “Okay, I’m probably dreaming,” I thought as I ran down the steps . As soon as I got down the steps, I saw that the puppy and my sister had gone through a bright blue portal, like the ones in science fiction shows. That definitely wasn’t there when we got here. I didn’t want to tell Mom that her daughter went through a portal that had appeared out of nowhere, so I had to go get her myself. When I returned from the portal, I knew I would never be the same.
After going through the portal, my brain felt woozy and my legs were like jelly. I tripped over my own foot and fell onto the soft palate of grass on the ground, as my head continued to spin. A few seconds later, I gathered myself and realized I was staring at what appeared to be a paper floor. ‘Wait paper’ I thought. I looked up at the sky and saw that the sky was made of paper too. I looked at my surroundings, seeing that I was in a forest of hand drawn trees. I was about to question whether I was dreaming or not, but then I heard an ear-piercing scream, “AAAAAAAHHHH!!!” It was my sister.
“Hold on. I’m coming!” I screamed back. I ran across the forest, following my sister’s screams until I saw the puppy biting my sister’s leg. So, I grabbed a nearby branch and started pointing it at the puppy saying ”Back, Back!”. It stopped biting my sister and ran away deeper into the forest. “Hey, what are you doing!” called a voice. I looked over and saw a girl with bright red hair and freckles. She was wearing long jeans and had a short sleeved shirt saying ”Stay Happy” which is ironic because this girl did not look happy. “What are you doing!” she said impatiently. “Uhhh.” I didn’t know what to do but she didn’t care. She grabbed Emily and picked her up. “Come on,” she called. I walked right behind her, wondering who she was and whether I could trust her.
After a few minutes of walking on a rocky path, we came to an open field where there were other people gathered in the middle, some walking and some sitting. ” This is it, all 100 contestants out in the field,” the mysterious girl sighed. ” Now where is that Fox man?” “What fox man?” I questioned. She shot back “who told you that you could talk.” she glared at me with some kind of death stare. But I didn’t pay attention to her, and instead stared at Emily. She was still looking as if she had been given some sleep medicine, but didn’t look as pale as she once was before. “Hey, mysterious girl” I started. “My name is Ava” she snarled. “Right, so Ava, who is this fox man?” I asked. She looked straight at the forest in front of her “you’ll see soon enough.” Then looked up into the sky as soon as a choppy noise filled my ears. The noise got louder and louder until I looked up into the sky, seeing a big airship that had filled the sky, with a man at the front with a fox mask and little hat. He grabbed a megaphone and called out the word “three,” he called in his loud booming voice. “Two,” Ava looked at the forest right then and there. “One,” and with one last word he said “Begin.”

The Shadow To The Flame

The rain had fallen, one drop at a time. I had long felt the icy wetness on my skin. I felt only a hollow ringing in my heart, like every sense had been taken away. I hadn’t stopped waiting on the shore. The ocean was an empty void, a reminder of the chasm I would never fill. The only person left in the world that I loved had left. My sister was everything I was not, a flame to my shadow. I thought I couldn’t exist without her. And yet Ravadryn had left without saying goodbye, leaving on a ship to somewhere I couldn’t follow. So I stared at the empty ocean, willing for the ship to return.

The village was dark when I returned. No lights filled the windows of the houses. It was as if the world wanted to hide from me. I reached the familiar path of my house. I didn’t want to return to the place filled with my sister’s presence. A place that used to be filled with the love of two sisters. There would be no laughter when I returned. Only haunting silence.

The door creaked as our bedroom came into view. The room was a portrait of color, each hue bringing life to the room. Now the colors felt dull, each one too sickly or bright. My sister’s lavender perfume haunted me as I sat on her bed.

I couldn’t understand why my sister had left without saying goodbye. I scoured my mind for possibilities. What if she was in danger? Panic surged through me. I wanted nothing more than to ask why she left.

I aimlessly walked around our room, scouring my mind for where she would have gone. I came to the map on the wall, it’s edges fraying with use. There were thousands of islands in Seren. I ran my fingers on the paper surface of the map, wishing it would reveal Ravadryn’s location. They snagged at a tear in the center of the map. An unfamiliar lump rose under my fingers.

In a hurried daze, I tore at the map. A piece of paper floated to the ground. My hands shook as I opened the letter.

Dearest sister,

I never imagined that I would leave you. We were always together, twin flames in the world.You have to trust me when I say everything you know is a lie. I found a letter in father’s room. Kyra, I think he is alive! There were coordinates to an island that I didn’t recognize. He left this letter in hopes that we would find him. I wanted to tell you, truly. But I know you would have never let us go. But I will bring him home.

Remember, you are the shadow to my flame.
-Ravadryn.

Tears ran hot down my face as I folded the letter. This couldn’t be possible. My mind fractured over the thought of my father being alive. I had grieved for five years. And only an ocean separated us. I wanted to be angry at my sister. She didn’t trust me with this, something that would change our lives. All she had left me was coordinates for a place that had been lost for hundreds of years.

I would never be able to find them. Sobs rose in my throat, the sound of grief filling the room. I had no money, no ship. My sister had left me alone. I was helpless. I couldn’t stop the tears from trailing down my face in silent succession. I closed my eyes in defeat.

I had fallen asleep in front of the map, the tear an ugly scar on the beautiful surface. I had to find a way to reach the island. My sister and father were waiting for me. Suddenly, an idea formed in my head. I stood up from the floor, rushing out the front door. I could ask the captain for his boat. I had worked for him for years, paying a debt my father owed him.

The shipyard was empty except the captain. I found him cleaning his many boats, all shining in their glory. “Captain, I need a favor.” I was met with skepticism at that, his mistrust already showing. I explained to him what happened to my sister, and the truth of my father. His eyes shone with pain at the mention of my father. I knew that he would do anything to see his friend. The captain gave me his smallest ship and watched me leave the island I had always known.

Days passed in a blur. There was no sign of the island that my sister had mentioned. The dawn had painted the sky red. I did not know what caused me to rise early this morning, to watch the sun make its descent across the sky. I looked across the horizon, expecting to see the empty void of blue water. There was something in the distance. I rubbed my eyes in confusion, thinking that I was just imagining the island.

It was real. I felt tears form in my eyes as the island came in view. I was going to see my sister. I ran to the helm of the ship, looking for the silhouettes of my family. I willed the boat to go faster, to reach the island that was lost.

As the boat got closer to the island, panic surged through me. I didn’t see Ravadryn. She had to be there. I followed the coordinates she gave me. “Ravadryn,” I yelled into the silence. There was no response. The boat reached the shore, no evidence of her there.

Suddenly, I heard yelling across the beach. Two silhouettes ran toward me. Tears ran down my face as I ran towards them. My sister was alive. Her laughter filled my ears as I hugged her, never wanting to let her go. I looked to the person with her, realizing who it was.
My words came out in a whisper. Father?

.

Gone With the Sand

The desert sand of Arizona crunched under my sneakers as I dragged my feet through the endless stretch of tan. Saguaros, yucca, tumbleweed passed me, and still, I went on. The heat bit against my skin and yanked through my hair. Fisted in my palm was a single cactus seed.
Once upon a time, I would have complained, weary of the humidity and blistering colors of the desert. But here, clothed in a white lace gown that billowed around my shoulders, away from the never-ending metropolitan adrenaline of Los Angeles, I finally understood how my mother could have once loved this place.
Something small and wet suddenly tickled my cheek. My hand reached up to find it.
Oh.
My chest suddenly felt tight. I jerked my head back and forth, trying to slow my breathing, only to find it picking up speed by the second. No. Hadn’t I promised myself that I wouldn’t do this?
It had been three years. When I crossed the border into California, I’d submerged into the harried pace of the entertainment world without looking back. I didn’t want to remember the close-knit community that was once my only lifeline, though they still appeared in my dreams. They had heard my screams. They had heard my wails. They had seen my mother’s life ebb away in that smoldering-hot hospital room.
I’d worked and worked and worked. I’d attended college, I’d moved out, I’d afforded an apartment in the entertainment capital of the west. I’d escaped. All that, and still…I unfurled my fingers. The cactus seed I’d been holding stared me in the face. Gritting my teeth, I slammed my fingers shut.
Breathe in, breathe out. I inhaled a mouthful of dust and coughed, forcing myself to focus on the ground beneath my feet and the liquid topaz sky above. Then, with a resolute clench of my jaw, I continued to move through the desert.
My feet knew where they were going. No matter what, I would never be able to forget this trail; when I was younger, my neighbors and I would walk this route. I still remembered the cacti that marked the way. My mother had once pointed out every kind to me—prickly pear and Southwestern barrel and jumping cholla—all boasting a healthy shade of green. Surviving for hundreds of years under the harshest of conditions.
I bit my tongue. Stop thinking about cacti, I told myself. My feet shuffled forward. Slightly ameliorated, I lifted my eyes toward the sky. In the distance, the Maricopa Mountains were just visible, kissing the blood-orange clementine in the sky. For the slightest fraction of a second—still basking in the silence that enveloped me—a smile whispered across my face in response to the view of the Maricopas.
Mom and I used to fantasize about climbing those mountains, a voice in my mind said.
Nope. Nope nope nope. I walked faster, but I had opened the doors to a floodgate that couldn’t be closed again: I used to dream of flying a magic carpet over the mountains. Mom gave me the postcard with the Maricopas on them, the one I always keep in my wallet. Mom said she was going to climb the Maricopas.
Though my skin festered from the heat, somewhere inside of me suddenly seemed very cold. Even as I pumped the muscles in my legs to run, the ice chip stayed rooted deep inside my heart, unmoved by the rivulets of sweat or tears on my face. The white gown on my body, the endless carpet of Sonoran sand, the blazing yolk in the sky suddenly felt so very foreign.
“Why?” a shrill cry erupted out of me, tearing my lungs. “Mother, why did you have to leave? Why did you have to—”
A round of tears broke through my words, and this time, I let them spill over. Suddenly, I was sixteen years old again, sitting in my mother’s hospital room. Her face had been sweaty and pale, but she’d pulled me closer and whispered, “Maria, my love, even when I’m gone, don’t stop taking our morning walks through the desert. Arizona’s my home…it’s yours…don’t run away. You won’t, won’t you?” Breathing haggardly, she had unfurled my fingers and dropped a cactus seed onto my palm. “You know I love cacti. One day, when you feel ready, please walk through the Sonoran Desert with me in your thoughts, with this seed in your hand. I’m sorry, Mari…I’m sorry.” And then she’d sank back into her pillows with a gasp of effort as I held her hand, still thinking that she was wrong, and the doctor was just lying, and my mother will still be alive the next day.
Six hours later, all I had left of her was a seed.
Tears rolled down my face, hot and fast. I’m so sorry, Mom, I thought. Pain and guilt throttled me; I’d completely disobeyed my mother. I had run away without intending to return. But thirty-seven months after her death, here I was, clenching the beaten-up cactus seed, trying to fulfill her last wish.
Her last wish.
The words stung like disinfectant on an open wound. Slowly, I let out a breath and lifted my eyes to the landscape before me. Cacti here, cacti there, cacti everywhere.
My mother was everywhere.
It was as if the ice chip fell out of me and shattered, melting against the blistering heat of the sand. I was motionless for several seconds.
“This is for you, Mother,” I whispered. And then I stood up, shaking the sand off my white dress, taking a shaky breath as I planted my sneakers on the ground. My chin still trembled, but I held my head high, rolling the cactus seed between my thumb and index finger.
And then I walked the final stretch of tan to complete the route my mother and I used to take, slowly fading into the scenery as the taupe Maricopa Mountains and blazing orange slice in the sky eclipsed me.

movement through particles

Cameron’s feet whisper across the pavement as she walks.
It’s early. The sun isn’t up yet.
She looks to the east.
She moves through the fresh city morning.
The air is cold and thin and crisp.
It bites at her cheeks and stretches a cracked lipped smile across her face.
Her breath puffs out in a white cloud, faintly visible in the pale light that had started to come over the streets.
The sun peeks through the tall standing buildings of downtown.
It seemed to Cameron that it was looking down on her, she felt like the only one alive.
The sun was of course not looking down on her at all.
The sun had other things to worry about.
As Cameron looked up at the sun and the sun burned on, brightly and beautifully unaware that she existed.
Her beautiful ignorance of the sun and all it provided her.
Such human ignorance, such human beauty.
Cameron looked up at the sun and felt it’s warmth on her face, in spite of the cold.
And the sun, to her, seemed to be looking after her.
In a way it was. She and the sun are deeply connected. She is made of the same elements that the sun is.
Of carbon and Iron.
Of stardust.
And she looks up at the sun in admiration and also in ignorance of their deep connection.
The sun burns steadily on.
With its presence it bends space and time.
It provides light and life and warmth for all the small lives on earth.
The earth that so beautifully weaves itself into the fabric of the universe, surrounded on all sides by the endless sheer beauty of the universe and all it’s happenings.
And as the sun, so are humans.
As much a part of the universe as those brightly blazing stars in the sky.
Cameron looked up at the sun and a feeling rose inside of her.
She stood, staring up at it.
The cold nipped at her cheeks.
The heat starts to leave her toes.
Evidence of the passage of time.
Particles that were moving fast collided with slower moving particles and out of beautiful probability, by sheer chance the particles slowed down.
Cameron’s feet grew colder.
Shit, she thought. Need to get some warmer socks.
Cameron had always had a problem with cold toes. Her feet never could stay warm. Her hands couldn’t either.
It was a wonder she loved the cold so much even though all of her biological signs pointed to the fact that she was not well suited for it.
As her toes got progressively colder, she wiggled them in vain, trying to get them to warm up.
Curse my biology, she thought.
As time seemed to flow by, Cameron moved on from staring up at the sun.
She continued walking through the city that was just waking up in the morning light.
She crossed at the crosswalk and walked by the pizza place at the corner.
Her footsteps slowed down as she peered through the frosty windows to the man sitting at the cash.
Memories settled heavily on her shoulders as she remembered buying pizza with her friends.
The shittiest pizza in the world, they had called it with affection.
Every time they went there they would always tell the story of the kid that nobody knew and how he got food poisoning.
Probably a highly untrue story, she thought now.
She squirmed under the weight of her memories.
It seemed highly unlikely to her that anyone would get pizza so early in the morning, she thought as she tried to distract herself from her other thoughts.
As the sun rose and lit up the front of the shitty corner pizza place, the guy working behind the counter looked up and out the window to where Cameron was peering inside.
He smiled and waved at her.
She smiled and waved back.
Some of the weight fell off of her shoulders.
Without thinking too much of it, her feet started moving again, down the street, past a couple coffee shops and a frozen park.
As Cameron moved through space, particles of light bounced off of her.
They bounced into other particles and changed their trajectory through space.
Forever altered.
As Cameron walked, she left a wave of movement in her wake.
Just by simply existing she was changing the world forever.
Cameron however, was completely unaware of this.
Thoughts condensed and bumped together inside of her head, collecting like dark clouds.
She had initially started out on this walk with the purpose of clearing her head but now those thoughts returned.
She could not escape them.
She felt trapped by her thoughts and her feelings.
But she was not trapped at all. In fact if she were able to step outside of herself she would have been able to see the immense difference her presence in the world was causing.
If she had not been a human being she would have been able to see all the particles, forever changed by her presence in the world.
As she detached herself from her body and her humanity, she would have been able to see with clarity all of what she was and all of what she had the potential to become.
The way that time was a part of space.
The way that all her past and present selves existed as one.
She would have been able to see that the pure beauty of her living was in her thoughts and her mind and her perception of the world.
But she could not escape her thoughts. They are part of her.
She is a beautiful combination of so many things.
It is impossible for her to disconnect herself from everything she is part of.
These things that make her who she is.
She begins to wonder, as she walks, what way she should go next.
She wonders if it matters.
The choices converge in her mind.
she chooses to go left.

The Crypt Keeper

Once upon a time there was a crypt keeper who tended the ancient tombs beneath a grand castle. She never left the ancient catacombs, which would be darker than the land beyond the stars if not for the single rats’ fat candle she carried with her as she did her chores day after day. Down in the dark, empty halls, the crypt keeper’s only friend was a ghost king of days old, and neither could remember a time when they hadn’t respected and valued one another’s company.

The monotony of their days were interrupted when the ghost king noticed a light glowing in the distance, not at all like the flickering orange glow of the rats’ fat candle. “How odd!” remarked he. He and the crypt keeper sought out the source—an electric lantern—set down beside the tomb of a young prince and casting a harsh blue light over a girl dressed in black silks.

“You are not a ghost,” said the crypt keeper, startling the girl.

“No,” replied the girl, “I am the princess of the sunlit lands above, and this is the tomb of my brother.”

The sorrow in the princess’ demeanor inspired the crypt keeper to conjure the spirit of the dead prince. The siblings gasped and laughed and cried together, reunited despite death. But when the bell tower tolled twelve, the princess had to return to the castle above and sleep, with a promise to return the next day.

And so, by the flickering glow of the rats’ fat candle and the steady beam of the electric lantern, the crypt keeper led the princess back to the surface. As they reached the door to the castle above, the princess said, “I would like to be your friend. You must not have many in these dismal halls.” The crypt keeper happily agreed and bade her new friend goodnight.

When the light of the electric lantern faded, the crypt keeper found it replaced with the dim luminosity of the ghost king’s spirit. Having lived and died himself, the ghost king believed in the importance of grief and moving on. “If you allow the princess to see the dead prince, she will never learn to move on. You are cheating her grief.”

But the crypt keeper dismissed the words of her old friend. As he watched the rat’s fat candle bob away, the ghost king vowed softly, “I’ll do what I must.”

With dark plots in his mind, he came to the tomb of the dead prince, prepared to force the young spirit away, but the dead prince had heard the ghost king’s words and sat waiting upon his coffin. “I do not wish for my sister to cling to my dead spirit,” said the dead prince. “I shall go of my own volition. But if I am not allowed to stay because I am dead, why have you lingered down here for all these centuries?”

“Everyone who cared for me when I was alive is long dead,” said the ghost king. “I am not holding anyone back. I stay to keep the crypt keeper company.”

The prince nodded. “Then perhaps one day I would like to return as well.”

When the princess returned the next morning, the ghost of her brother was gone. In a frantic hysteria, the princess and the crypt keeper ran back and forth, in loops and laps and wandering spirals, searching but not finding the prince. He was gone. And though the crypt keeper suspected who was at fault, when the day waned, she went first to comfort the princess silently standing before the marble tomb.

“I’ve lost him all over again,” raged the teary princess. “He’s not coming back this time.”

The crypt keeper tried to sooth her, but the princess fled up the stairs, abandoning her friend to the dark catacombs. The moment the blue light of her lantern could no longer be seen, the crypt keeper raced through the dark chambers, promising vengeance.

“You were my friend!” she screamed, knowing her voice would echo through the labyrinthine halls. Hide as he would, her wrath would shake the catacombs and the ghost king would know her anger. “Look what you’ve done—she’ll never recover! I’ll find you!”

At long last, the crypt keeper found him in a dusty hall. “You forced the prince to leave! Have you heard the princess has not smiled once since then? Has not hosted her golden parties or dressed in silks the colors of the rainbow?” Fury driving her, she promised, “I will find a way to banish you—I’ll cast you out, destroy your tomb—I will do it.”

The ghost king’s heart broke seeing his oldest friend so angry, yet he could not regret his actions. “I heard the princess spends her days helping the people of her kingdom. Is that not better than spending her days in these dismal catacombs talking to mere shadows of who she once knew? She is facing her grief now, and only good will come from it.”

The fiery fist lowered. He spoke the truth; the crypt keeper had likewise heard of the princess’ good deeds. In her quest for revenge, she had neglected the good in favor of the bad.

Her anger spluttered out like a match dropped into a well. “You are right,” she said. “Terrible as loss is, it is a part of life. She will move on. I must too.” The crypt keeper held out her hand in forgiveness. Soon, the two fell back into their old routine.

The two cleaned and prayed and talked, remembering the time a living princess had graced those dark corridors. High above the catacombs, the princess relearned to smile and wished her brother a peaceful journey in the afterlife. And after many years, the princess remembered her friend, and thereafter the halls of the catacombs could be found lit by the faint glow of a spirit, the blue beam of an electric lantern, and the flickering orange light of a rats’ fat candle.