I sit on the cold floor, the room lit with nothing but a half-burned candle. The silence is deafening. Chains wrap around my arms and legs, locked with a rusted padlock, keeping me from reaching what is almost within arm's reach. I try again, straining against the chains. They dig into my skin, leaving angry red marks behind. Come on, just a little more! I just need to reach it and I'll be free! But no matter how much I yearn for it, I'm unable to do any better than graze the side of the wooden stick. I groan in frustration. The pencil points towards me, seemingly pointing blame at me. "This is your fault," it seems to say. "You got yourself in this mess". It's not wrong. If only I'd been strong enough to complete the spell. My spellbook lies open beside the pencil, reminding me of my failure. The words on the page stare back at me. Unfinished.
Curse these monsters faking care.
They're not parents, though they swear.
No longer shall they torture me.
End their reign and set me ...
I hear footsteps outside, faint at first, slowly growing louder. I huddle in the shadows, trying my hardest to disappear into the shadows of the dark room. "Hello Mizra!" the monster spits out, false kindness giving way to show her hidden intentions, "I've got a surprise for you!" I pray for help, but deep down I know I'm doomed. She steps closer as she draws a whip from behind her back and raises it high. I clamp my eyes shut and brace myself for the unescapable pain.
Full moon shining bright.
Bodiless footsteps follow.
Hair-raising screams ahead.
Do you dare to continue?
The Scent of Fried Food Draws Me Towards the Booth
An Extremely Long Line, but Definitely Worth the Wait
Squeezed Batter Swirled and Dropped into Bubbling Oil
The Sizzle and Pop of Golden Perfection
The Hum of the Ice-cream Machine
Finally Served on a Platter
Crunch of Fried Batter
Sweet Strawberry Syrup
Grammars wurst knightmare
Me and my sister went to the perk.
Their were many bird’s they’re!
Maibe the birds we’re having a partie or very excited cuz it was sunny or maibe the clowds invited them, or there was a secrt meating.
Your not very, lukky you missed them.
Should of taken, pictures two show.
Disgorge the phlegm,
Gagging in disgust.
Pick at the scab,
Left behind by a bloodsucking leech.
Knead the bunion,
Smearing the ointment.
Regurgitate the worm,
I ate for breakfast.
I buckle my seat belt as the rocket rumbles around me, a living machine emitting beeps and groans. My friend Arlo calls out to me as I press buttons and flip switches, preparing for the most important moment of my life. I respond to his commands, as I work to get the ship ready for its mission.
You never really get used to the chaos of the ship, or at least that’s what our Caption Culver says. No matter how much you train and prepare, no matter how controlled you think everything is, nothing is certain, and anything can happen. I thought I was used to the uncertainty, that I had pushed the fear of the unknown away, but I can feel it lurking in the back of my mind, huddled with the pain that I’ve shoved into the darkest and deepest corners of my mind.
I push away the fear. There’s no point of being scared now. It’s too late to back down. I take a deep breath, or do the best I can with the constricting suit I have on, and settle into the seat as I hear the countdown begin. This is what I’ve been waiting for. I’ve trained too hard to leave now. Let’s do this.
Bracing myself for the force of the liftoff, I push my arms into the seat and press my back against the hard cushion. I grit my teeth as the rocket begins to rumble and shake, gathering speed before it flies up like the cap off a bottle of pop. I feel myself get heavy as the gravity doubles, and I struggle to breathe even with the suit feeding me air.
The ship begins to glow orange and heat up as we exit the Earth’s atmosphere, and the noise seems to grow tenfold. Buzzing, shaking, rattling, thumping, it feels as if I’m inside a volcano that’s about to erupt. The noise only grows louder as the pressure increases, and I struggle to keep my eyes open and stay conscious. Nothing in the training prepared me for the fear I feel at this moment. I feel the walls of my skull push inwards, struggling to protect my fragile brain from the pressure outside, and I struggle to keep my breakfast down. Holding my breath, I pray that this will be over soon.
Just when I start to think this’ll never end, the rumbling stops, and the ship steadies. “The N150 has safely entered orbit. Congratulations!” I hear in my ear as I slowly open my eyes all the way. The first thing I see is the deep black blanket of night through the window, peppered with stars of every colour and size. The beauty of it takes my breath away, and I can’t help but gasp in awe. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?” asks Culver, the captain of the ship. It takes me a while to reply, and even then I don’t want to break the moment of peace, so I simply nod in response.
Surprisingly, it isn’t as quiet as I thought it would be, and I still hear the whoosh of the air conditioning and the beeps of the machines in the ship stabilizing the gravity. But after the deafening storm of noise of the launch, this is as good as absolute silence. “Feel any different? The pain … ebbing away?” Arlo asks. I close my eyes and wait for the darkness inside to subside, to dissolve into the peace and quiet of this new world, something I haven’t been able to find since … her death. But I can still sense it there, writhing and shaking in the back of my head as it creeps towards the front of my brain, where I’ll be forced to face it. The pain gains strength as it grows closer and closer, spreading its numerous limbs as it grips my thoughts, taking over my consciousness, forcing me to -
“Hey Mallory, are you ok?” Arlo asks as he shakes my shoulders, bringing me back to the present. “You were just sitting there with your eyes closed for so long. What happened?”
I look up to see the worry in his eyes, his forehead wrinkled in concern. “It didn’t work. I … I thought it would. The peace and quiet was supposed to make it go away! Why is it still here?” I ask frantically.
“Hey, hey, calm down. It’s gonna be ok. You know what, why don’t you take a break alone? Hook yourself up and take a stroll outside the ship. The beauty of space can heal any wound, when experienced firsthand,” Culver reasons.
“You’re right,” I reply, feeling my heart calm down. “You always know just what to say”.
“Are you sure Mallory? I mean you’ve never been alone since .... you know” Arlo asks gently.
“I need some time to think this over. To come to terms with what happened. I need to … find inner peace. Besides, you’ll be able to pull me in if anything happens,” I reassure him with a weak smile.
Walking over to the closet, I pull out my suit and step into it, Arlo helping me get my arms in. I pick up the heavy helmet and put it on my head, twisting it to secure it to my suit. I connect the thick metal cord to my suit, and Arlo checks it twice before preparing to open the door. Inside the suit, the silence envelopes me.
I look out into the endless void of darkness scattered with light, and feel the pain from before grip my heart and mind, threatening to take control. It seems to have a brain of its own as it slithers into every crack and crevice in me, looking for weaknesses and taking hold of them with everything it has. I struggle to fight it off as it crawls around inside me, like a thousand spiders weaving a web strong enough to keep me from escaping. I struggle to break free from the net it has me entangled in, but struggling only makes it worse.
I watch as memories of Arabella pass before my eyes, memories I’ve been trying to push away because with them comes guilt and regret. Guilt that it was her instead of me. Regret that I didn’t spend more time with her. Regret that I couldn’t save her. I could do nothing but watch as the life was sucked out of her happy-go-lucky self. As she struggled to smile through her pain. As her cheerful eyes lost their shine, gradually growing dark until they were black empty voids.
Just like the space in front of me.
Mommy, why are you so sad? You don’t look as nice with those wrinkles on your forehead. I miss your smile. Will you smile for me?
I gasp inwardly as I hear Arabella’s voice for the first time in years. “Is it, really you?” I call out to her.
“Mommy, I’m so happy you got to do what you’ve always wanted. You were always so excited to go to space, and now you finally get to do it!”
“Arabella, I-I’m so sorry. No matter what I tried I couldn’t save you. I need you to come back! I can’t live without you!”
“Mommy, you know I can’t come back. You have to let go.”
“I can’t Arabella! You’re my life, my everything! If I let go, I’ll forget about you! I’ll never be able to live with myself if I forgot you, even for a second!”
“Mommy, I didn’t tell you to forget about me. I told you to let go of the pain, but to hold on to the memories. Hold on to the love. You have to tell yourself the truth. I’m not coming back, mommy. I know that . You know that. But you have to accept it. Come to terms with it. Then let it go.”
“You’re so wise, my dear Arabella. Hold on to the memories. Let go of the pain. I’ve never thought about it that way. I always thought the pain was attached to the memories, and that if you got rid of one, you had to get rid of both. But I guess, the real memories I want to remember are different from the ones causing me pain. I guess, I have to let go.”
“That’s right Mommy. Just accept it, and let go. I believe in you. Come on, I’ll do it with you. On the count of three. One. Two. Three.”
I take a deep breath and let go of all my pain. All these years all I’ve done is hold on, but today that changes. I feel the darkness dissolve and fade away, leaving nothing behind but my love for her. My daughter. My beautiful daughter, Arabella.
“Are you ready to take the leap into space Mallory?” asks Arlo in my ear, his voice jarring me back to reality.
“I’m ready,” I say, both to Arlo and myself.
I smile, for real this time. This is for you, Arabella.
I let go, feeling the peace of the universe comfort me. The fear of being part of something so much bigger than me still bothers me a little, but I know the thick metal cord will keep me connected to the ship and the ones who love me, just as the warm memories of Arabella will keep me connected to her.
Finally, I’ve found the peace I’ve been looking for all my life. Guess all I had to do was let go.
Try to be the best,
At everything you attempt.
But someone's better.
Someone's always better.
The Masked Man
Ever since this coronavirus pandemic began, everyone’s been forced to wear these obnoxiously stuffy masks. I never bothered to stock up on them, being the introvert I am, but now that school’s starting, I guess I should. It’s slightly better than dying.
I set out with the last mask I have, and a light jumper to keep out the cold. As I step out the door a blast of cold wind hits me. How did the days go by so fast? It seems like only a couple days before the summer sun had been warming the streets. I hurry to the nearby corner shop, trying to avoid the crowds. I enter the shop and am greeted by an eerie silence. The shop is usually empty but never this quiet.
“Hello? Is anyone here?” I yell into the quiet.
“Over here! Welcome to my humble shop! Are you new here?” a strange man asks.
“I’m good, but who are you? I come here often and I don’t recognize you,” I reply in confusion.
“Oh, this shop is my uncle’s. I’m just watching it for today,” he replies in a muffled voice.
I notice he’s wearing some sort of a bandana as a mask, which reminds me of why I’m here.
“Do you happen to have any masks in stock?” you ask.
“It’s your lucky day! We have one box left!” he replies in what I assume is a cheerful voice.
It’s really hard to tell what people are feeling with these masks covering everyone’s faces. I walk over to the counter and pay for the box of masks.
“Those are some really nice masks by the way. They really stay snug on your face. Great for keeping the germs out!” the cashier states.
“That’s good to hear,” I reply as I take the box of masks and look up at him.
Now that I’m closer, I notice that the skin around his bandana looks red and puffy. Must be from the chaffing of these annoying masks. Why did this pandemic thing have to happen anyways?
“Well, I should get going now. I have some chores to do,” I say as I turn to leave the shop.
As I walk towards the door I hear the man clear his throat.
“It gets a little lonely around here, running the shop on my own. Would you mind… Oh what am I saying, of course you wouldn’t. We have nothing in common anyways.”
As much as I want to ignore him and walk away, I feel bad for the man.
Turning around I reply, “No no, go on.”
“It’s just… Would you be willing to spend some time with me sometime? You know, go for a walk? Or just talk… ”
“Sure. Maybe after I’m done my chores I can come back and we could chat for a little,” I reply hesitantly. It won’t be that bad right? I mean, it’ll only be for a little while. Until the owner’s back.
“Thanks! I appreciate it! See you soon!” he exclaims excitedly.
Poor man I think to myself as I wave goodbye. He must be really lonely in here. I sure would be.
It’s a few days later when I need to wear a mask outside. My parents keep pestering me about being locked up in the house so I decide to go out for a walk. I put on the mask and immediately love how snug it feels on my face. I test it out by faking a yawn and shaking my head, but it’s not going anywhere. The only thing that I find annoying is how trapped I feel with it on.
I hurry outside, looking forward to coming home and taking off the mask as soon as possible. A couple minutes into the walk I feel the mask getting tighter around my face so I adjust it. There’s barely any room between the mask and my face, but I manage to loosen it enough to let some air in.
Soon, it begins to rain and the park begins to empty out. I take it as a sign to start heading home, so I turn around. As I begin the short walk home I feel the mask tightening around my face again. I raise my hand to loosen it but I can’t seem to find the space between the mask and my face. I trace the edge of the mask looking for a small space to pull it away from my skin but still can’t find a gap.
I start to breathe faster as the mask continues to tighten around my nose and mouth, cutting the air out. I can barely move my mouth as I struggle to yell out for help. My vision begins to darken as I fall to the ground, clawing at my throat. As I begin to lose consciousness I see the man from the shop walking towards me. Weakly, I raise my arms towards him, begging him to help as the mask grows tighter.
I NEED AIR!
As I last ditch attempt I reach out for anything around me. Anything to get this demon of a mask off me! My fingers curl around a cold glass bottle. Struggling to keep my hold on it, I raise my hand and smash the bottle into the floor. I feel the sting of broken glass cutting into my hand as I raise the bottle to my face and cut into my flesh. I cut the mask off my face, sawing it off with the broken bottle edge. Crying out in pain I tear apart my tender face. The bloodstained mask falls to the floor as I suck in air. My vision returns, and I look down to see the mask, the skin still stuck to the cloth. The rain washes the blood off my face and I watch it swirl down the sidewalk.
Once I catch my breath, I look up to find the man still standing in front of me.
“Why didn’t you help me?” I ask faintly, grimacing at the pain this causes.
He continues to stare down at me in silence. It’s raining harder now and the sound is deafeningly loud.
“WHY DIDN’T YOU HELP ME?!” I ask, anger replacing the pain.
He simply reaches up and removes the bandana covering his face. I watch as he slowly reveals what’s been hidden for so long. The fabric slides off, uncovering an impossibly wide smile, splitting his face in half, glistening red flesh framing it. I watch in horror as he lets the fabric fall to the ground beside mine, and crouches lower, pushing his face in front of mine. The skin around his mouth peeled back to reveal needle sharp teeth, glinting with blood.
This feeling is worse than the suffocation of the mask.
This feeling woke up something carnal in me.
So this is what true fear feels like.
I look into his deep, hypnotic black eyes and see my reflection. I fall back, shocked by what I see. For I look exactly like the monster in front of me.
It steps closer, and opens its mouth, emitting an animalistic growl before beginning to speak.
“Still willing to be friends? We have something in common now.”
The sound draws you to it like a moth drawn to a light.
It longs for attention
To be picked up and cradled by a mother's arms.
To be sung to until it falls asleep.
To be cared for day in and day out.
It longs for love.
So it cries in the darkness, the sound echoing around you.
No one there to listen but you.
You step closer, its sound pulling on your heartstrings.
Its wailing song dragging you in like a siren's call.
Soon you're standing right beside it.
Close enough to touch.
It waves its pudgy arms towards you, begging to be held.
To be comforted,
Its pure face warped with its tears.
Don't let the adorable face fool you.
If you look closer, you'll see that
Its mouth is filled with sharp teeth.
Its tears a sickly yellow.
Its eyes filled with the malice of the Devil himself.
For its no ordinary human child calling to you.
It's a creature of darkness that feeds on the purest of emotions.
Whittling away at your defenses and manipulating your instincts like a puppet on string.
It draws you closer.
Early mornings and late nights,
Silent evenings and firefly light.
Reading books with blankets tight,
Pen on paper as I write.
Sharpened pencil lined up straight,
Wiping clean a brand new slate.
Grandma's cookies on a plate,
Going on that perfect date.
Gazing up at bright skies blue,
Soaking in the beautiful view.
Smiles and laughter shared anew,
Tears spilt with love so true.
But what I live for everday,
Is knowing that I'm here to stay.