School Name: Bay Village High School
Educator: Kristen Srsen Kenney
Category: Writing Portfolio | Portfolio Award
School Name: Bay Village High School
Educator: Kristen Srsen Kenney
Category: Writing Portfolio | Portfolio Award
Less Than or Equal To Twenty-Four
Category: Short Story
There was only one thought on the minds of the entire city: Only four more days until Homecoming.
My town has always been dedicated to making the day perfect, this year being no exception. Walking down my street, I quietly admired the decorations hung throughout the town. Banners hung from porches, candles twinkled through window panes, and festivities rang all through the streets.
Celebrations lasted the entire week leading up to Homecoming. Children could be found in school dutifully coloring images to add to their home’s decor, and in the evenings, they listened intently to tales of Homecomings past, eyes and mouths wide. It was gratifying to see the townspeople’s bond strengthen during Homecoming season each year. Living in a small town in what I considered the middle of nowhere, Homecoming was one of the few citywide celebrations I got to experience. It might not be enough to put us on the map, but it had always been a huge, meaningful day to everyone here.
In every home, a calendar could be seen with the 24th circled boldly, the days before it X-ed out like a countdown. Homecoming was an event that could only go on with everyone’s participation, and it was plain to see that everyone was devoted to making it as perfect as necessary. Along what was considered the main street, although it wasn’t much busier than other streets, were more banners hanging from telephone poles, a vibrant explosion of color. Each one was embossed with a candle insignia, the symbol of Homecoming. A symbol of light. Of truth. Of remembrance.
Three days left.
From the looks of it, the entire town was outside today. During today’s walk, I watched as younger children ran around outside and neighbors talked on the sidewalk in between houses. The warm colored leaves hadn’t yet fallen, a natural addition to the decor. Homecoming season doubled as the perfect time for people watching, which I always enjoyed doing on my walks. It had been a tumultuous year so far to say the least, so my walks weren’t always as calming as they used to be. Sometimes I would find myself yelling out a greeting to a neighbor or reaching out to grab a ball thrown too far before catching myself.
Homecoming week felt like a breath of fresh air, something familiar to cling onto. I smiled as I passed a group of children that I had practically watched grow up. They were still young, so they didn’t completely understand the meaning of Homecoming. The most prominent feature among everyone was a smile, although whether it was a joyous or subtly solemn one varied from person to person. I myself was filled to the brim with anticipation for the big day, but it was difficult to tell if my excitement had changed to nervousness.
At this point in the week, I could physically feel myself preparing for the day. By now, the nerves had kicked in and a few stray worries began to invade my thoughts. I knew that this year would be a particularly difficult Homecoming for me, and the effects of that were evidently bearing down on me. Today’s daily walk had a particular bittersweetness to it. Instead of focusing on the joy of the holiday, I had seemingly decided to fixate on the melancholy side. Split second visions played in my head: a purple banner waving from a newly renovated porch. A golden dog slowly making its way around a backyard. A nuclear family of four. I tried not to dwell on the visions for long, but as the day went on, I felt my mood gradually move downhill.
The toughest part was that once the 24th came and went, it would be over. Banners stored away for next year, candles blown out, streets quiet. The day after Homecoming is always the most difficult. The townspeople are still amiable of course, but nothing truly beats the emotion and camadrie of Homecoming. Once the clock strikes midnight, everyone is forced to remember what normal life is like, left only with an aching pain in their hearts. The feeling eventually goes away as one resettles into the mundane.
One day left.
My entire street seemed to be outside today. Autumn had barely just begun, and the weather was a perfect combination of warmth. Children were enjoying the weather outside, while their parents put the finishing touches on their outdoor decorations. Each house had its own unique banner hanging near their front door, much like a family crest. The intent of the banner was to aid in guiding older relatives who may not remember what the house looks like back home.
As I passed each house, it occurred to me how different families treated Homecoming. Many families treated the day as a celebration of life and death, while others were still in periods of grieving, Homecoming simply making it even more difficult. I used to consider myself the former but in recent years the latter. Children are often more enthusiastic than adults about Homecoming simply because they haven’t had enough time to grasp the concept of death yet. As the years go by and they begin to recognize more of the spirits visiting their home on Homecoming, the day becomes much more personal.
Tonight, I watched contentedly from my rooftop as I did every year, fireworks exploding into the cool air and candles shining all down the street. Despite midnight’s chill, front doors opened and some families made their way outside to sit and wait. It was finally Homecoming. My sense of fear had seemingly left my body, with only pure excitement remaining. Today was the day I’d been waiting all year for, the day where, just for a few hours, I would get the honor of being reunited with my family. Something inside me felt the candle belonging to my family light up, signaling that they were ready. Combined with that signal, my energy level seemed to increase. I climbed off my roof, crawled through my bedroom window, and slowly walked downstairs.
When the stairs audibly creaked from the weight of my foot on the seventh step down, as it always had done, I heard quick steps bounding around the corner. I was met with a friendly face that I hadn’t been able to see since last year. I crouched down, my face crinkling into a grin as my dog licked my face. It took me a moment and a bit of drool to realize that I could actually feel my dog. He was surrounded by a shining golden outline, but I inhaled sharply when I realized I could actually feel his fur, something that I hadn’t been able to do since he was alive. I buried my face in his fur once I felt tears threatening to fall.
A moment later, I felt a solid hand that could only belong to my grandfather lightly rest on my shoulder. I shakily stood up, looking into his kind eyes with my now tear-stained ones. I could tell he was already close to tears too as he pulled me into a hug. I’d always been close to my grandfather, and being able to feel his embrace caused more tears to fall. Looking further into the living room, I watched in awe as other relatives manifested at the front door, a number of whom I had never gotten the opportunity to meet during their lives, only recognizing them from my parents’ stories.
One of the things about Homecoming that never failed to amaze me was the visual of seeing relatives appear. There was something so ethereal about their golden outlines that made me stare in wonder year after year. Soon, the room had become a family reunion with relatives appearing one after another.
As I made my way around, hugging the family members that I had known before their deaths, I finally came to rest my eyes on my immediate family in the center of the room. At this point all three of them had also broken down in tears, something I once thought I had gotten used to seeing. I mustered a smile as I got closer, but it was difficult to keep it in place as tears streamed down my cheeks. I managed to choke out a simple “You’re here”.
At the sound of my voice, the three of them turned to look at me. My mother gasped loudly, hiding her face in her hands, her shoulders rising and falling as she sobbed. My father stared unblinkingly at me, in shock that he was really looking at me. Finally, I looked down at my younger sister as she stared directly into my eyes, as if she was trying to memorize them. Perhaps she was.
“It’s you,” she replied in a whisper. “Mom, Dad, it’s her!” she exclaimed louder. Reaching out her small hand, my sister tried to pull at my own hand, but expectedly failed. I involuntarily gasped upon feeling her cool hand pass through mine, it being a very strange new feeling.
“We… we expected you to come through the door, and I have to admit I got worried when you didn’t. But then when I saw you coming from the direction of your room, it made me feel… it made me feel as if you were still... here,” my mother said, whispering her last word. A small smile appeared on my face as I realized that I had come from the roof like I had in past years. When I was alive. Now, I remembered, I was to be expected to enter through the front door just like the other spirits.
“We miss you, honey. Every single day. I know this is supposed to be a day of closure and satisfaction, but I can’t be satisfied when I have to see my seventeen year old daughter become one of them.” Emphasizing his last word in a grievous tone, my father gestured to the ghosts around us who were respectfully keeping their space as I talked to my family.
Carefully, I ventured, “Has there been closure on… the case?” At that, my father went to place his hand on my shoulder, jerking slightly as his hand fell through my body.
“Yes, thank God. They managed to locate the driver soon after. He was drunk and we knew you weren’t at fault. Now he’s rightfully in jail where he belongs.” With that, my father went silent again, and I knew that would be all I’d get out of him on that topic. In the first few weeks after the accident, I had done a lot of thinking about what had happened to me, and despite being a ghost, I still impulsively flinched whenever a car passed by. I felt like I was obligated to know fate of the incident though, to gain some sort of closure.
By now, a number of the ghosts came up to bid their farewells before disappearing to visit the homes of our other relatives. The intensity of which my town celebrated Homecoming made it the first stop for ghosts with family here, and I was happy for that. It meant that I would get to reunite with my parents and my sister first, and then, I suppose, I will have to move on to visit my various other family members.
Later on, as the room became darker and emptier, my parents led me over to the cabinet in the corner of the room. I already knew what was inside, as I had witnessed many a ghost sign it over the years. My mother continuously wiped her tears as she pulled the books out of the cabinet. Both were fairly large, the pages worn over time. They were family heirlooms, one from each side of the family, that were only taken out during Homecoming.
Ever since I was young, it had been made clear to me that my family was one based off of tradition and kinship. We visited my extended family often, and they had an infectious familial pride of their ancestors.
Every Homecoming, my parents read out a different set of names and told my sister and I stories about them, passing down stories from generations past. As my parents flipped through the pages to the first clean page of each book, I realized that my sister was the lone audience member for their stories this year. It was a small tradition, one that was most likely filled with a number of falsities as stories dramatized over time, but it was one of the simpler joys of life that I won’t get to experience ever again.
Not wanting to dwell on everything I was missing out on, as I already experienced enough of that longing daily, I busied myself with figuring out how to pick up the pen. As ghosts can only touch other ghosts, I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about writing my name in the books, another lesser hardship of being dead. Going purely off of the telekinesis that I had seen in movies, I put all of my thoughts into grasping the pen.
My attempt was fruitless, as my hand had simply hit the book. I sighed dejectedly, until I realized that my hand had actually made contact with the book. Upon this realization, some power within me allowed me to pick up the pen, and I slowly wrote out my name. Another hardship that I hadn’t thought about was that I hadn’t written anything in months, so writing out my name and date two times took an embarrassingly long amount of time. Finally, I carefully placed the pen back down and took a step back.
Feeling a cool sensation on my back, I turned around to see my sister, who had seemingly attempted to poke me, holding a piece of paper in her other hand. I smiled, finding it oddly endearing that she still hadn’t realized that she can’t touch me. Crouching down to her level, I studied the drawing she held. I covered my mouth with my hand and felt the tears come back.
“Is this us?” My sister nodded, gripping the paper tighter.
“It’s beautiful! I can tell you really spent a lot of time on it," I exclaimed with her smiling in response. I continued, eyes wide, “I wish I could keep it… but... “, I trailed off.
My sister’s eyes widened too, and she seemed to shrink back in fear. Noticing something was off, I looked down at myself in confusion. My body was becoming even more translucent. “What’s…”
Through her tears, my mother replied, “That just means that you’re moving on to another house. Whoever it is first, tell them we say hello.”
Just then, it finally set in that this was my last few minutes interacting with my family. That I would have to wait an entire year until I could speak to them again. Of course I knew that already, having experienced over a decade of Homecomings, but the gravity of the situation increased tenfold when you are on the other side. All of my time would be spent waiting in anticipation for next September, as after just a few months of being one, I could already tell that there wasn’t much one could do as a ghost. There was nothing stopping me from visiting my family on any other day of the year, but as expected, it’s far more painful to see them knowing they can’t see or respond to me.
For what felt like minutes but was most likely a couple seconds at most, I watched my outstretched hand fade
closer and closer to transparency. My sister grabbed onto my father’s side, watching with unblinking eyes as tears slid down her face. To me, it felt as if time had stopped in its tracks, giving me the feeling that it was taking an abnormally long time for me to disappear. I used the reactions of my parents to try and gauge time, but they were almost as frozen as I felt. The process of being summoned to another house had never taken this long when I had seen it happen to family ghosts throughout the years.
This was my first Homecoming as a ghost, so perhaps it took longer for new ghosts. Deciding upon that hypothesis, I attempted to snap out of my trance in order to spend every last second I had with my family. I desperately wanted to hug them, to feel warmth for the last time again. I wanted to talk to them for hours, to hear every single detail about how my sister was doing in third grade, to hear what my family had spent each and every day doing. There was so much I wanted to do, and yet I couldn’t manage to force a single word out of my mouth.
My time with my family was decently long but felt so very short, and now it was finally coming to an end until next year.
The first sensation I felt was a tugging deep in my heart, similar to the one I’d felt at midnight. My body seemed to move on its own, leading me to the front door. My family followed next to me, not taking their eyes off of me. As my golden halo outline faded, the world outside the door grew brighter, a beacon of light. I wasn’t sure if my family could see the bright light outside too, but it didn’t seem to matter since they kept their stares on me.
As I stepped closer to the door, my mother buried her face into my father’s shoulder as he reached out his hand toward me, not wanting me to move any further. I knew that I couldn’t fend off the pull much longer though, and after a simple yet meaningful farewell, I stepped outside, where I was promptly engulfed by the golden light.
Three hundred and sixty five days until Homecoming.
One More Day
Category: Short Story
I woke up with a cloudy memory and a watch I didn’t own around my right wrist. Groggily, I propped myself up against the headboard of my bed, blinking the sleep out of my eyes. I lifted my arm in front of me, staring confusedly at the watch. It appeared to be an ordinary analog clock, but upon closer inspection, the hands were frozen in place, at the approximate time 6:28. After a few seconds of blankness, the realization of what I was looking at kicked in. I was now the not-so proud owner of a countdown watch. 6:28… I whipped my head to my left to the alarm clock on my nightstand. 6:26. I was going to die in two minutes.
Why hadn’t the watch appeared on my wrist earlier, to give me more time to prepare for my death? I had no time for rational thinking - no time for anything at all! Instead, a flurry of miscellaneous thoughts flew through my head: What would my parents think when they saw their seventeen-year-old daughter dead on her mattress? They would think I had been hiding the watch from them, when in fact I was just as shocked as they were two minutes earlier. And the rest of my life still lay ahead of me, my senior year of high school had just begun! At least I won’t have to see Austin’s expression when they tell him the news. What abo-
My thoughts were swept away as I watched, stock-still, as my alarm clock switched from 26 to 27. One minute. I had one minute left to live. I had no time to write a goodbye letter, to call anyone, to do anything. I was frozen in place, eyes fixated on the clock. Suddenly, a thought occurred to me. The thought was beginning to form in my head when the clock changed again, to the time I dreaded. 6:28.
One minute later, when the clock hit 6:29 and I was still very much alive, I knew my idea was correct. In my stoic frenzy, I had failed to remember that watches didn’t tell time of day. It was obvious now that the watch showed 6:28 in the evening, not the morning. I allowed myself a sigh of relief, but then I finally came to my senses. The evening wasn’t really any better, I shouldn’t be dying at all today! Although I obviously knew it was going to happen at some point, I had never even thought it would be so soon.
It was an extremely rare case for people younger than their senior years to receive their countdown watch at such a young age, and much less their senior year of high school. The premise of the watch was simple: an everyday analog wristwatch, with its two hands frozen in place at one specific time. However, no one was completely sure how the watches manifested themselves. Every so often, a new conspiracy theory came out, relating the watches to some government scheme, or even magic. One of the biggest conspiracy groups even sold shirts and other merchandise proclaiming their devotion to finding the truth. But since everyone knew there was no avoiding the watch and their death, most people just didn’t see the point about trying to find more information. I admittedly never put much thought into it either, as I’d always figured that death would be a problem I’d deal with decades in the future.
I inhaled sharply when I heard my alarm clock go off at 6:30, and quickly slammed the loud ringing bell off.
After getting dressed, I dug through my dresser to find a short scarf, which I tied over my watch. I didn't necessarily want everyone who walked past me knowing about what would be happening today. None of my peers had ever had a watch themselves, but many had the misfortune of seeing one on an older family member or friend.
There was no way I was going to spend my last day on Earth in school, but I didn’t like the idea of driving out on the town alone. Thinking quickly, I flipped open my phone and thumbed out a text message to Austin, my since-childhood best friend: “meet at cafe before school”. The only difficult part of my plan would be convincing Austin to sneak out of school with me, which is why I knew I’d have to go to school first to talk to him. Once we got that far, then I’d worry about actually being able to successfully sneak out. I figured he’d do it under these circumstances, or at least I hoped, but neither of us had ever snuck out of school before.
My thoughts were interrupted by a yell from down the hallway, “Lydia, get a move on! You’re running late!” Shoot. My parents. Should I break the news to them before I leave, considering I probably won’t be back home…ever? I was terrible with confrontations, especially now, so I ripped out a paper from a spare notebook and scribbled a note to them explaining the situation. As I shrugged my backpack onto my shoulders and made my way to the front door, I stopped both of my parents and hugged them, my heart sinking as I felt their
unknowing embraces for what would be the last time. The final thing I saw before I dropped the folded note onto the kitchen table and walked out the door was their confused glances at each other, and then widened eyes at the table.
In the school cafeteria, Austin stared at me in disbelief as I explained in a hushed whisper the events of this morning. “You-you’re joking, right? There’s no way th-”
I stopped his rambling by pushing away the scarf hiding my watch, and he leaned in to look, turning deathly pale. “For the class president, you aren’t that smart sometimes. Why on earth would I joke about this?” I responded with a smile that felt out of place. After a moment of silence between the two of us, Austin exhaled nervously.
“So… I figure you didn’t come to school today to learn, right? What time will we be leaving?” Although I knew Austin would agree to come with me, I was shocked that it didn’t take any persuading. I could tell something was up with him too, watching his knee bounce up and down, a habit he did whenever he was anxious.
I didn’t want to add anything else to my already high stress levels, and Austin didn’t seem like he wanted to talk about anything, so I let the matter go, and answered, “The end of first period, probably. I have a basic idea of how it’ll go, and since attendance is only taken in homeroom, you’ll still be marked as present even though we’ll be gone by the next bell.”
Austin laughed - a laugh that seemed more forced than anything - and said, “Clever. See, this is why we’re friends. You look out for my perfect attendance and I look out for you on your deathbed.” I rolled my eyes, feeling almost as if it was just a normal Wednesday conversation. I continued to explain the plan a little more, until the first bell rang.
We stood up at the table, and looking him in the eyes, I reminded Austin, “Okay, you know the plan. It’s not a very good plan considering it was first figured out on my walk to school less than an hour ago, but it’s a plan.” He looked at me, mirroring my nervous expression, and nodded.
As we split up to our separate homerooms, Austin murmured, “See you in thirty minutes.” I gave him a short wave as I walked into my first and last class of the day.
Fifty minutes later, we were driving in the autumn sun, green leaved trees whipping past us as we went onto the highway. “I cannot believe that worked,” I said for what felt like the thousandth time. Austin and I were now well on our way to the downtown area in his car, accompanied by the quiet AM radio.
Austin flicked his eyes over to me, responding, “To be fair, there’s no way this would’ve worked if we weren’t good students. Also there’s hardly any security at this school, I honestly don’t think they care about any of us.” I nodded, partially to myself as I stared out the window. It was a strange feeling, being on the highway when I should be in math class. All of the cars surrounding us, their drivers having no clue the girl in the car next to them was destined to die tonight. We were all just driving to our destinations without a care for anyone else.
After a few seconds of silence between the two of us, Austin spoke up again. Continuing to look onto the road ahead of us, he asked me, “So what’s next? Like, where are we headed now?”
“Well-” I paused, picking up my bag to take out a folded piece of lined paper. “Considering we - well, I - have less than 24 hours, I had to make a lot of cuts to this bucket list.” Unfolding it, I read out the top item on the checklist. “We’ll start small at first. I’m going to dye my hair whatever obnoxiously bright color we can find on the shelves.” Austin laughed as he pulled into a CVS parking lot.
“You have some money I’m assuming?” His voice trailed off as I pulled out a wad of cash from my bag. “Well, more than some money I guess…” Austin hesitated before continuing, “You didn’t steal that from your parents did you? Because you might be dying, but they aren’t.” I shook my head.
“Nah, this is all mine. You know I hate spending money. Looks like that ended up being a good thing after all.” I sighed slowly and separated a ten dollar bill and a five from the rest of the money. “Let’s get moving, we’re obviously racing the clock today.”
Eleven dollars, forty-nine cents, and one CVS bathroom trip later, my formerly blonde hair was now bright blue. “You know, considering I've never done anything like this to my hair before, it didn’t turn out half bad,” I commented brightly, which was the happiest I had felt all day so far. Austin took my checklist out of his back pocket and checked off item one, “Dye my hair”.
Slowly but surely, we went down the checklist one item at a time, traveling around the downtown area as we did so. I felt that despite all the times I had been there, this time felt different, as if I was viewing it through the eyes of a tourist - and a rich tourist at that. Austin and I were living large, having just dined at a restaurant I never dreamed I would even step into. We had admittedly felt out of place, paying with crumpled dollar bills after our luxurious lunch, but I continued to remind myself the patrons there would never see me again.
Now, the two of us walked briskly down the wealthier sector of the city, breathing in the crisp air and squinting through the midday sun. The tantalizing smell of chocolate taunted me from inside a fancy storefront, and I suddenly stopped in my tracks, gesturing toward the extravagant chocolate display in the window. Before I could drag Austin in, he lightly grabbed my wrist.
“Lydia, are you aware of how much money we literally just spent twenty minutes ago? We have to be running low by now, right?” I shrugged in response, paging through my wallet.
“We still have enough, Austin, you really don’t need to worry about me. Especially today, considering I’m dy-” Austin looked into my eyes. “Yeah, I get it, you’re dying. I know. I’m surprised every passerby doesn’t also know by now. Lydia, you’ve been different all day, I don’t think you’ve once thought about anyone else around you. Did you ever stop to think about how I feel about this? Imagine if you were given the news that I was going to die tonight?” The snobby-looking worker of the chocolate shop, who was walking toward us standing outside her shop, balked at his words.
We continued walking down the street, as Austin continued babbling and I silently fumed next to him. I had to admit he had a point, but I still thought my point stood too. It might’ve seemed as if I was doing this all for myself, but I wasn’t completely. I had brought Austin along with me so I could spend my last day with my best friend, although I now realized that I had made a number of idiotic impulse purchases in the past few hours. I sighed, running my fingers through my blue hair.
“Okay. Fair point. I just wanted to… do something, go out with a bang. And yeah, I know I’m talking about my death too much and it seems like I don’t care anymore, but I really do. I’m so sick of the thought that’s been in the back of my head all day long, reminding me over and over that I’m going to die. Laughing at me. So that’s why I’m distracting myself by eating at fancy restaurants and buying two hundred dollar shirts. To forget, even just for a couple of hours.” I exhaled dramatically, looking over at Austin, who was silent.
He led me over to an empty park bench surrounded by white lilies and dying grass. Without a word, he pulled out the list again, his eyes falling on the final, unchecked, item. Hesitantly, I lifted up my right arm, pushing the silk red scarf off of my wrist, revealing what I had been trying to forget all day. The light from the fading sun reflected off of the crystal watch face. I shifted my numerous shopping bags onto the ground, and took the cheap disposable camera we had used to take photos of the day’s adventures out of the purse, placing it in between Austin and I on the bench.
Slowly, I mumbled, “T-time check?”.
Austin pulled out his phone and quietly responded, “Six twenty.” I could feel tears emerging, dripping down my face and onto my shirt. I sat up, and took the paper from Austin, turning it over.
“Give the clothes and everything else to my parents. They can sell them to make up for everything I spent. If you can get the watch off of me after I d-... after, give it to them too. Sorry, sorry for putting all this pressure on you.” Austin opened his mouth as if to speak, but then closed it again, looking me in the eyes.
“This might not be what normal friends are for, but it’s what I’m for.” Something about his response sounded off, wrong. Nonetheless, I ignored it and we stared out into the empty lake as the sun showed its first signs of setting. The small park was deserted except for us on the old bench, the only noises being the rush of cars and quiet chirps of birds. We overlooked a railing separating us from the water below, and for a few seconds, I had forgotten why we were sitting here. Suddenly, Austin groaned, putting his head in his hands.
“Are you okay?” I looked over at Austin. He shook his head. Slowly, he pushed up the long sleeve of his left arm, that his jacket had been covering all day. I nearly screamed when I saw what sat on his wrist. “Austin, why didn’t you tell me that yo-” He stopped me in the middle of my sentence.
“I... I was going to this morning, but when I saw you had one too, I couldn’t bear to make your day even worse than it was already going. Considering you got concerned about me missing a day of my perfect attendance, I knew you’d absolutely freak out over this. I’m sorry, I should’ve told you sooner.” I was speechless. Both of our watches had the exact same time frozen onto them. I looked up at Austin, mouth wide open in shock. After a beat of silence between the both of us, I felt my watch begin to tighten around my wrist, and I could tell Austin felt it too.
I felt as if I were in a trance, unable to move. As my mind whirled with possibilities of what was happening, it barely registered a white truck spiraling off of the road behind our park bench. I didn’t know how, but I found myself registering the number of seconds I - we - had left. 3, 2, … 1. The truck’s huge mass slammed into Austin and I, forcing us into the air and over the railing into the water that lay below it, our watches simultaneously unclasping and falling to the unknown.
The last thing I could focus on was watching my list fly out of Austin’s now-limp hand as we fell. The thing I didn’t have the time to see, however, was the driver of the truck opening the door and stepping onto the ground. The driver wore a shirt under a shabby lab coat that upon first glance, might look like an ordinary item from a sports team, or a band perhaps.
But upon further inspection, one would notice the shirt featured a very familiar wristwatch in the background, with the words “The Truth is Seconds Away”. The driver bent down to pick up two watches lying next to the railing, but noticed another item on the ground next to the watches. Pocketing the watches, they unfolded the piece of almost-ripped lined paper, reading the checklist hastily written just this morning. Smiling faintly, the truck driver took out a pen to check off an empty box next to a single scrawled word: “Die”.
C is for (CLAS S IF IE D)
Category: Short Story
Two things happen when I wake up Sunday morning: I open my eyes, like everyone does upon waking up, and I scream. The latter, if it wasn’t obvious, is most definitely not something everyone does upon waking up. The screaming isn’t planned, for further clarification. Maybe somebody out there enjoys starting off their day by yelling, to get the grogginess out or something, but I personally have no interest in adding it to my morning routine. The person who had been shaking my blanket-covered shoulders gives me a strange look, as if I’m the weird one for screaming about a complete stranger hovering above me in my own bedroom.
This is my own bedroom, right? A quick scan around me confirms that I wasn’t kidnapped and I am in fact laying in my bed, and so I bring my attention back to the stranger, eyes still slightly tired from sleep. Although, as I continue looking at their face wordlessly, the person looks oddly familiar. I can’t place a name or reason why, though. Eventually the stranger gets fed up with my silence, and comments “It’s about time you’re awake, it’s nine- o’-clock and we have things to do!”
I blink, once, twice. They even sound familiar, too. The stranger is still there, looking increasingly exasperated at my lack of response. I sit up, going from sleepy to serious in the blink of an eye. Eyes narrowing, I start rapid-fire questioning her. “Do I know you? Do you know my mom or something? Why are you so casual about this when you have no idea who I am, you’re a complete stranger!”
The stranger snorts, brushing off my questions in favor of only answering the last one. “I’m not a stranger.
You can call me C.”
“C? Like… Cece or something? One letter clarifies literally nothing about what is happening right now.” ‘C’ shakes her head.
“Just C, not Cece or whatever you said. Seriously, we need to get moving. Your mom is fine with it, but you should probably text her before you leave. Although I doubt she’ll say no.”
So she does know my mom, at least so she claims. For some reason I trust her word, even though I have no reason to. I know I’ve never met C in my life, but my brain has convinced itself that I do. I can’t quite place the feeling but if I had to put it into words, it would be that C is supposed to be here, right now.
“I have homework to do.” It’s a lackluster excuse, but it’s true. C doesn’t need to know that I always end up procrastinating my homework until around ten in the evening, which isn’t a routine I’m proud of but at least I always get my work submitted before midnight.
“We’ll be back by ten,” C retorts. I stare at C incredulously as she gives me a knowing look. I swear I didn’t say that out loud, and I want to question how exactly she knew that, but before I can open my mouth, she walks briskly to my door.
“I’ll be downstairs, get dressed so we can get moving. I didn’t account for you taking fifty years to wake up, so we need to get moving now.”
I shake my head to myself in disbelief as I grab the first sweater and jeans combination I see out of my closet. While closing my closet door, I start trying to figure out why I’m acting like this is just another average day in my life. I should be forcing my mom to leave work, or honestly, call the police. However, I can’t shake the thought I had just a few minutes ago, that C has some sort of reason for being here. She reminds me of myself, now that I think about it. Similar speech patterns and quips, even similar looks, we both have light brown hair. Hers is wavier, though, the way I’ve always wanted actually, and her eyes are darker than my own. That in itself raises a number of new questions about C, but I am interrupted by a shout from downstairs. “What part of getting dressed takes this long?!”
After pulling on my socks, I turn on my phone. No notifications, as per usual. I scroll to my most recent text conversation, with my mom, and type “I’m going out with a friend. Not sure what we’re going to do yet but i’ll let you know when I’m on my way home”.
A second passes, and the typing bubble already appears on her side of the chat. I’m walking down the stairs as her message comes in, and my mood darkens upon seeing her reply.
The text reads “Have fun!! It’s been so long since you’ve hung out with anyone, invite them over next time!”, followed by a smattering of heart and smiling emojis. The overly-enthusiastic texting isn’t what irks me, it’s that it’s another reminder that my friends have abandoned me, as if my brain hasn’t made that clear to me daily. But my mother doesn’t know that, and I’d rather keep it that way.
I can’t remember how long it’s been since I saw my friends in person, or even how long it’s been since our group chat was active. In my eyes it feels like it’s been forever, and it constantly haunts the back of my mind.
Scrolling through our group chat, I try to figure out where we went wrong, but nothing comes to mind. The shift between us happened all at once, and I just don’t know when or why.
I look up from my phone to see C sitting at my kitchen table staring into space. Her eyes come back into focus upon hearing my footsteps approach, and she stands up. We’re the exact same height, apparently. “Get the keys,” she says brightly, a contrast to my now-irritated mood, “we’re going for a drive.”.
I hate driving. I do it when necessary, but it’s only stress-free when I’m going somewhere I’ve been a million times, like school or my mother’s workplace. It’s not associated with any particular event that happened to me, it’s just an irrational fear that I’ve never been able to shake. If I had to guess, it’s probably related to the uncertainty of the road: each car is moving on its own and there’s no way for me to know exactly when someone will merge, or switch lanes, or turn.
Back when I did hang out with my friends, I always made an excuse why I couldn’t drive and needed a ride if it was somewhere I wasn’t used to going. It was selfish of me, sure, but I made an effort to pay for things like gas or food so I didn’t feel too guilty for never offering to drive.
Despite that, I now find myself sitting behind the wheel of my used car, starting up the engine. “Can I know where we’re going so I can put it in the GPS?” I ask, trying to mask the stress that just sitting in the driver's seat is giving me.
“I’ll tell you the directions, don’t worry about it. I know that driving- I mean, I can tell that driving makes you nervous... from your body language, you know?” I turn to look at her, confused. Is it really that obvious how stressed driving makes me? It’s beginning to get strange how C seems to know all these things about me that I’ve never mentioned before, at least never out loud. I file it away in the back of mind for now, though, so I can try to keep my mind free from distractions.
We’re driving down a street I’ve only been down a handful of times when C turns down the radio a couple levels down and calmly asks, “Are you satisfied?”
I falter, hands tightening on the steering wheel. “That... that’s kind of a loaded question to spring on someone out of nowhere, especially considering I still know nothing about you, I don’t even know your real name! Why did I even agree to go with you, what kind of spell did you put on me? I should have called the police or my mom or anybody else-”
“Who else? Tell me, who else would you call?”
She obviously knows she hit a nerve with that question, and if she didn’t, then my steely expression and silence gives it away. I would have answered an easy “One of my friends”, but now? I don’t think I could bring myself to do it.
C continues, “Seriously, answer the first question. We both know the answer but I want you to say it, out loud for once. It’s hard to seriously think about yourself like this but I really think it’ll help if you do. As tempting as it seems, you can’t just try to ignore all of your problems by internalizing everything you want to say. You need to start communicating, so you might as well start with me. Also, turn right at this intersection.”.
My grip on the wheel is still just as white-knuckled as I flip the turn indicator upwards and switch lanes. As we round the corner, I say quietly, “I’m not satisfied.” A beat of silence passes before I start speaking again, a little louder. “I hate that my friends seemingly abandoned me for no reason and I hate that I can never communicate the way I can in my thoughts. It’s just too difficult to properly word the things I want to tell people, so I just don’t do it at all.” I continue rambling until my throat starts to go hoarse. I’ve never unloaded that much at once onto anyone before, considering I only ever talk to myself these days. It’s unusually easy to rant to C, considering I am notoriously terrible at opening up to anyone other than my own brain.
I can see C nod in my peripheral vision as she responds, “I’m proud of you for admitting it out loud. I know that it might mean nothing to you because you barely know me, Now, the next step is deciding to do something about it. Don’t you want closure? Don’t you want to at least try? What if it was all a misunderstanding, and there’s really no issue other than your schedules not lining up? I don’t want you to lose this friendship because of overthinking, and I know you don’t either.” I sigh, unable to deny that she is right. Interestingly enough, the one thing C got wrong was saying her words were meaningless. If only I was able to verbalize my thoughts as easily as she does.
“Turn left into this lot and park somewhere,” C adds as an afterthought. I pull into a parking spot that looks easy to get out of, and balk at the clock above the radio when I realize that it’s already five in the evening. Had we really been driving for that long?
We unbuckle our seatbelts and get out of the car. Taking a proper look at our surroundings, I see that we’ve arrived at a park of some sort, one that I’ve never seen before. C immediately sets off onto the trail in front of us, and we walk, C a few paces in front of me.
After a couple minutes of walking, we end up at an empty clearing, grass and wildflowers abundant. I look at C confusedly as she lies down on the ground, staring up at the sky.
“Is this what we came here for?” I question. There really is nothing here worth mentioning, and I can’t understand why we came all the way out here for a field.
“Not this,” C replies, gesturing to the clearing, “but this.” She points up to the sky above us, as I follow suit in lying down. Now parallel to the ground, my jaw drops upon seeing what she pointed at.
The sky is an absolute explosion of color, of warm blues and pinks and purples and colors that I can’t even put a name to. We came just in time to see the peak of tonight’s sunset, but it’s unlike any sunset I’ve seen while sitting in my room looking through the window. It’s intense yet calming at the same time, and looks as if a painter had swept broad strokes of color across the sky. I’m lost in the sunset, unable to formulate a single thought. It’s beautiful, and it immediately reminds me of my friends.
These days, reminiscing about what I decided to consider my “former” friends usually hurts my chest and my heart, but right now, oddly enough, it doesn’t hurt a bit. My mind is overflowing with memories, spilling out into the grass and in the sky, and instead of shoving them down, I let them overtake my imagination.
This moment right here feels like a scene out of a movie, one where the protagonist is bombarded with flashbacks zooming through her head, projected to the audience like a video compilation. In my case, I recognize mental images of us blasting the radio in the car as loud as we can stand, staying up until the sunrise talking about everything and nothing at the same time, laughing until our stomachs quite literally hurt-a feeling that I realize I haven’t felt in a while-, and laying on the grass staring up at the sky. Just like I’m doing right now.
The park I’m in currently isn’t the one my friends and I would frequent, but it still makes me wonder how exactly C knew to come here. It feels like it’s too much of a coincidence to bring up my friends and then take me to do the activity I loved doing most with them. I had brushed off all of her other off-hand comments where she sounded like she knew a little too much, but now it was getting a little too bizarre. Had she been stalking me? I seriously ponder this for a second, until C lightly shoves my arm.
“No I absolutely have not been stalking you!” C says indignantly, and then slaps her hand over her mouth immediately after. “You didn’t say that out loud-”
“I didn’t say that out loud.” We both speak at the same time as I turn my head to the left to look at C. “I didn’t say that out loud,” I repeat. “I wrote everything else off as coincidence but now, can you explain?”
C sighs, still staring up at the sky, which strangely enough is still just as vivid even though it should be dark by now. “The short answer is no, I can’t, because an explanation comes with lot of science and magic stuff that you aren’t going to understand, but-”
I interrupt with eyebrows raised, “Magic stuff?” C finally turns over to look at me with an annoyed expression. She continues,
“But, you know. You know the pieces. You know the parts. You just have to put them in place. Take a picture. Quiet your mind. Breathe. You’ll know what to do next. Who I am doesn’t matter. You do. I’m just here to make sure you don’t forget that once you get off the path.”
I stay silent for a moment, letting her words sink in, even though I’m still wildly confused. “You’re very well- spoken,” I comment, for lack of a better response.
C smiles, as if there’s an inside joke that I don’t know. “Yeah, well, I learned from the best.” With that, she gives me a light push so I’m now laying on my back again, eyes meeting the sky once more.
My eyes get lost in the colors instantly, but C’s words are still fresh in my brain and I pull my phone out of my pocket. Aiming it at the sky above me, I focus the camera and click the shutter. I turn my head back to the left, to face C, but I’m met with emptiness. She’s gone.
Sitting up, I whip my head around, looking for any trace of life, but the clearing is completely devoid of noise or movement. How had I not heard her leave so quickly? The sun has finally set now, so the dark makes it difficult to see, but I’m positive she couldn’t have ran that quickly.
In my hand, my phone buzzes, signifying a notification that I notice is just for some random app. It reminds me of the picture, still bright on the screen, although my measly phone could never do the true sunset justice.
Somehow, I know exactly what to do, and maybe exactly what C was trying to hint to me.
I open the messaging app and scroll down to the groupchat with my friends, which hasn’t been used in around a month. It surprises me when I see the timestamp- my brain had made me feel like it’s been months, but it really hasn’t been that long. Confidence surges through me seemingly out of nowhere as I begin to seriously entertain the idea that it wasn’t their fault, it was more mine. Adding the sunset photo to the chat bar, I hold my breath, but only for a second, before pressing send.
As an afterthought, I add “Thought of you all tonight, maybe we can do a sunset drive next weekend?” Almost immediately, the typing bubble pops up, and I get a chorus of “Yes!” and “Let’s do it!!”. I smile at the screen, slightly amazed that it was that easy.
" Don’t sell yourself short, things are harder when overthinking gets in the way." My inner monologue speaks up as I stand up and make my way back to the parking lot. It occurs to me at that moment that there was a reason C’s voice sounded so familiar.
And, with that, the last puzzle piece falls into place.
Category: Short Story
Some people’s comfort place is their bedroom, or maybe simply the people they surround themselves with. Mine is garage sales. It’s a niche hobby, but something about being there radiates warmth to me. I love having the opportunity to scrounge through boxes and tables of well-loved items from before my time. I’m an admirer more than I am a spender, which might seem strange for something that has the word “sale” right in the name, but being surrounded by things that all have their own hidden story makes me feel at home.
Hopping off of my bicycle and rolling it to the grass next to the curb, I put down the kickstand and make my way over to the driveway ahead of me. Breathing in the warm summer air, I smile to myself. Today is what I subjectively consider the best time of the week: Saturday morning. Even though it means I have to wake up at an ungodly hour, especially for a weekend, going on my weekly garage sale tour makes it worthwhile.
I am obviously not the peak demographic of garage sale customers, considering I’m usually surrounded by adults and the occasional family who happened to pass by on a bike ride, but something about getting to take a peek into the life of others through the objects they once cherished is fascinating to me. I don’t always leave with purchases in my bike basket, and sometimes I can only find one sale after combing the city for signs. Either way, I always end up finding something memorable, even if I don’t buy it.
Saturday is the unofficial garage sale day in my area, and today is no different. Right now is my third house of the morning, and there’s at least one more, a couple streets over, that I want to visit next. As I wave a hello to the kind-faced woman manning the box of money, I double-check that my journal is still inside my bag. Ever since I first purchased the leather covered journal from one of my first garage sales of the summer, I’ve used it to document each house I visit. If I find a particularly interesting item, whether it be a vintage typewriter or a well-loved book covered in creases and annotations, I make note of it in my journal with a simple sketch. It doesn’t serve any specific purpose, but my interest in these unique used items makes the garage sale field guide interesting enough for myself, at least.
My train of thought is interrupted by a voice coming from my left. Turning to face the source, I smile upon
seeing the familiar face of Robin, who is looking through a crate of yellowed novels. “How’s your morning going, honey? Any new finds?” I shake my head, gesturing to my empty bike basket at the end of the driveway.
“Nothing yet, but maybe I’ll find something after checking out one or two more after this,” I reply. I have, however, added new pages to my journal, but Robin has never really understood my motivation behind taking notes on things instead of simply buying them.
Robin nods and continues, “I just cannot get over how precious it is that you spend all these mornings out and about like this. At your age, I would never be caught out of bed anywhere near this time of day, much less at a garage sale!” Internally, I sigh. Here she goes again. Every time I run into Robin at garage sales, which is quite often, she makes an off-hand comment about how she simply adores the fact that I’m a weird teenager with a weird hobby. I know she means well, but the words of a woman who I figure must be older than my mother by a few years and myself, the aforementioned teenager, sometimes don’t translate perfectly.
I keep to myself most of the time, but I still get strange comments from teenagers and adults alike. The latter’s words tend to hurt most, but Robin is different in the way she speaks to me. She only ever sees me at garage sales, so our only topic of conversation is garage sales. It’s a much needed escape from never-ending questions about school and work.
Smiling through the now-awkward atmosphere, I quietly laugh in agreement. After seeing that I don’t have a response, Robin leaves me alone with a last smile before looking back down at the crate of books. Robin is a rare type of adult who usually understands that I’m not often inclined to make conversation, which is much appreciated by me.
Turning my focus to the table closest to me, I scan through the items with price stickers haphazardly placed
on them. My favorite part is guessing the owner’s background based off of the items they’re selling. There isn’t a section of children’s toys or clothing, a tell that this family has no children of their own, or maybe their children grew up too long for them to have any leftover items. The woman running the sale appears to be older, so I go with my second hypothesis.
There is, however, a bin of assorted trinkets that catches my eye. Worn dolls, small glass art pieces, and old toys lie together even though they have nothing in common. These items are the ones that often interest me most, the tiny knicknacks that people purchase on a whim from a gift shop or craft fair. It makes me think about what it would be like to live in the time when the owner was a child.
Or maybe, what it would be like to be one of these trinkets, like in those movies where toys come alive. Life would be much simpler as a toy, I can only assume. No judgemental stares from anyone, no backhanded comments thrown my way. I would be admired on a shelf, and then one day get the opportunity to people-watch while sitting on a garage sale table.
Snapping out of my reverie, I look at the other end of the table, where a pile of battered notebooks much like my own lay in a stack. I have no need for another journal, but I pick one up anyway and flip through it. The pages are blank save for a few at the beginning, filled with haphazard cursive that I can barely read.
I move on to the other item on the table, a fairly large wall clock. It isn’t in pristine condition, but its beauty causes me to stop and stare, too nervous to actually touch it. Opening my bag, I pull out my journal. The next open page is adjacent to my last sketch of a bracelet filled with tiny charms of different objects that I had spotted at the house I had stopped at before this.
I fill the center of the page with a quick sketch of the clock, and then I look back up to marvel at the real clock again. Suddenly, I feel a tap on my shoulder, and I instinctively move to the side so I don’t block the table. The person clears their throat, my eyes flicking up from my journal in response.
“Excuse me, are you interested in purchasing this?” It’s the woman who runs this garage sale, wearing a soft smile.
“Oh, no, sorry. I was just admiring it, it’s very beautiful,” I begin hesitantly, but she interrupts me with a wave of her hand.
“You should take it,” she responds firmly, “For free.” My eyes widen, staring at the woman in disbelief.
“I could never take this from you without paying anything,” I reply honestly. As if she didn’t hear me at all, she carefully picked up the clock, holding it out to me.
Staring into my eyes with a force that makes me want to look anywhere else, the woman stood her ground. “I can’t explain it to you right now, but right when you arrived I knew you were the one this clock is meant for. I didn’t think it would be so easy to find you, but it worked.” Her last sentence was said in a quieter tone as if I wasn’t meant to hear it.
Carefully, I take the clock from her hands, flinching a little upon realizing its weight. “Are you really sure?” The woman nods as if it’s obvious. Quietly, she adds, “Midnight will take you to where you are meant to be,” and promptly makes her way back to the cash table, where a customer is waiting.
Sitting in my desk chair spun around to face the clock that is now hanging on my wall, I sigh. The absurdity of this, staring at a random abandoned clock as if it’s going to come alive when midnight hits, makes me strangely uneasy. Realistically, I know nothing will happen, but another side of me hasn’t stopped thinking about what the woman said to me before turning away. “Where I am meant to be”. Just what exactly did she mean by that? Where am I meant to be, if not here?
I yawn silently as the clock nears midnight, off by just a few minutes now. It’s now or never, I suppose.
Either something happens now, or more realistically, I end up going to bed as if it were any other mundane night. My inkling of curiosity is quickly being replaced with weariness as the second hand ticks on.
Even so, I can’t bring myself to get out of my chair or take my eyes off of the clock. Eyes widening so I don’t miss anything, I take a nervous breath as the clock hits midnight. A second of silence passes. Then another, and another.
I begin to brush off the superstition of the clock being cursed or magical. I hadn’t necessarily assumed anything would really happen, but it still is a let-down. Making to stand up and get ready for bed, I stop. Glowing beside me, I sense an intense light on my right. Whipping my head towards the source, I freeze in shock.
The light is coming from my garage sale field guide sitting on my bedside table, and soon enough the pages begin to flip back and forth unprompted. It feels as if I’m watching a movie, but with infinitely better graphics considering this is actually happening right in front of my eyes. Frozen in place, I want to move towards it, yet nervousness holds me back. The light emitting from the journal gets increasingly brighter as the pages flipping generates wind, and I quickly cover my eyes with my hands, squinting them shut. With nothing to look at now, my ears zero in on a loud ringing sound filling the room. Not daring to open my eyes, I assume it’s the clock adding to the chaos.
Bright blinding white light engulfs me, streaming through my eyelids despite them being tightly squeezed shut. Nothing comes out when I attempt to scream. Maybe the chiming of the clock paired with the wind is too loud for my own ears to hear myself, or maybe fear is filling up my lungs to the point of overflow.
I can tell that one side of my brain is itching to present its bullet point list of ideas on the current state of things, in hopes to rationalize myself and get my heartrate down, but it is heavily overpowered by the other side, which is doing nothing but screaming. The personification of my brain is essentially pacing back and forth, arms gesticulating wildly, eyes wide open and terrified. This must be what the woman at the garage sale was talking about, but she was so incredibly vague that I had absolutely no way of knowing it-whatever it was- would be so intense.
I feel like I’ve been sitting in my desk chair with my arms crossed over my face for either half an hour or half a minute. It’s impossible to tell with no way of seeing or hearing. Wherever the wind is coming from, it hasn’t let up yet, and I begin to wonder if I’m even in my room anymore.
Then, all at once, my world goes dark. Or, at least the insides of my eyelids do, which leads me to believe that the white light that had been tormenting my eyes for what felt like an eternity has disappeared. My second observation is that it’s quiet, a very sharp contrast from just seconds earlier. Logically, that all means I can uncover my eyes and try to figure out what in the world just happened to my journal. Something about that idea makes me hesitant, though. It seems just a little too bizarre that everything disappeared just as quickly as it arrived.
I tell myself to count to five and then open my eyes, for no reason other than to psych myself into doing it.
After hitting five, I pause for a moment. My surroundings are just as dark and quiet as they were five seconds earlier, so I move my hands away. Blinking to try and adjust to the darkness, I slowly spin around in place. It’s near-pitch black, but I can tell that I definitely am not in my room anymore.
More outlines come into view, some almost as tall as me. It’s too dark to see anything more than blobs, but as I look back and forth I can tell that my eyes will soon adjust. I reach my arm out towards the figure closest to me and stifle a gasp. It’s as if I’m moving through syrup, as no matter how quickly I try to extend my arm, it’s instead at an strangely slow pace. I try to wave both of my arms back and forth as quickly as I can, but it looks and feels like I’m stuck in slow motion.
Furrowing my eyebrows in confusion, I decide to try yelling out for help. Only a split second of noise comes out of my mouth before I go silent. My eyes widen as I impulsively bring my hands up towards my throat, although I immediately regret that as I’m stuck watching my arms slowly move. My mouth is still open out of shock, no sound coming out when I try again.
All of the events that have happened within these few minutes suddenly catch up to me: the chaos that happened when the clock struck midnight, whatever is happening right this second, it all causes a wave of nausea to fill my stomach. Fear courses through my veins as my brain takes off running a mile a minute. The sensation of feeling frozen in place isn’t the stuff of nightmares, as much as I wish it was.
All I can see are strangely shaped outlines placed sporadically around me, some small but others almost the height of the ceiling. Nothing is moving, but it makes me wonder if any of the shadows belong to humans who were rendered unable to speak or move like I am. That thought sends chills down my spine, the idea that I could be trapped here forever.
There’s no way of telling how long it’s been since that fateful moment in my bedroom, but it feels like it’s been hours of standing when the darkness finally transitions to light. It takes a scary amount of willpower just to tilt my head upwards to what I had assumed was the ceiling. Now, seeing it open in the middle, I’m not so sure what exactly it is. What I can comprehend is a bright blue sky dotted with puffy clouds above me. The sky instantly reminds me of my Saturday mornings, of biking through the sunlight and gazing up at the clouds.
The feeling of déjà vu clouds my brain. That would make sense, considering I was just at a garage sale yesterday after all. It was yesterday, wasn’t it? Everything concerning the day I took the clock home is jumbled and cloudy in my mind, and I can’t seem to remember how long it’s been, how long I’ve been in this room. Right before my mind starts to go haywire once again, a giant shadow looms above me, breaking me out of my sky-induced trance. It’s a giant hand, seemingly coming out of the sky.
Only then do I look back down, around at the figures in the room with me. The very first object in my field of vision causes my eyes to widen in recognition. It’s a giant silver bracelet, but more specifically it’s the very charm bracelet I had drawn in my journal. Oddly enough, though, it’s ten times bigger than it was when it was sitting on the table at the garage sale. I would have assumed it were some type of chain if I hadn’t recognized the unique charms dangling from it.
Why is the bracelet so large-or maybe, why am I so small? The giant hand gives me no time to ponder, however, picking up the bracelet, and then, as if an afterthought, picking me up as well. I am unceremoniously placed onto a cloth surface, the charm bracelet jingling next to me as it collapses in on itself. Now having a much clearer view of my surroundings, horror washes over me as I realize exactly where I am.
I know these trees. I know this driveway. I even know the fabric, the tablecloth, that I sit on. It’s a bit disorienting at first because of how small I am sitting on this table, but I can clearly see that I am once again back at the garage sale on Maple Lane, the very house I had visited before the one where I was gifted the clock. I had once stood in front of this table, marveled at the items that lay upon it.
This time, I’m sitting on the other side and it’s clear that I have finally found where I’m meant to be.
I always hear about the hypotheticals of plane crashes, but I’ve never stopped to actually imagine what it’d be like. I’ve heard the generic flight attendant safety speech so many times that I could probably do a passable job at standing up and reenacting it myself, but have I ever tried to picture myself in the situations depicted on those little pamphlets in the seat pocket? No. I haven’t. Have you?
Now that I am in this type of situation that I have (never) imagined, I see that there’s a reason why no one talks about these details. There’s nothing to compare it to, at least in my eyes.
“it felt like-”
“it reminded me of-”
because that sentence, I suppose, was meant to be left incomplete. This is new territory and I think that in of itself adds another level of terror. So many things are happening and my brain has no way of processing it because my brain has nothing to compare it to, no way to familiarize myself.
So I watch. I watch because I can’t find it in me to think. I can identify the fear, the panic, the chaos. But that is all I seem to be able to do. People are yelling things, but I can’t pick apart what each voice is saying, all noise rendered to gibberish. Sitting here squished in this tiny economy seat won’t do me much good, but I’m not really sure if getting up is any more beneficial.
I begin to move as if possessed by some outside force, my movements jerky and robotic and not my own. I follow what the people around me are doing so I can at least pretend I’m helpful, and once again I would love to explain what exactly we are doing but I have no way to put it into coherent thoughts.
The plane falls and I fall with it, and that’s about all I can tell you.
two photographs and one outtake
I look out at the water in front of me, how it reflects a deep shade of orange from the sun at the horizon. I
may not be the only person on the beach tonight, but there’s a certain sense of tranquility in this moment, marred only by the sound of an occasional crashing wave. Satisfied with the image captured on my phone screen, I turn it off in favor of looking directly at the sunset. It is often a matter of speed to catch a sunset like this, having to first find a good viewing point and then make it there in time. Arriving at just the right time makes it worth it, getting to see such a fleeting moment in real time. One minute the sky is ablaze with warm tones and highlights, and in the blink of an eye, the sun has disappeared and it’s as if nothing happened at all.
It’s a quieter sky today. There is nothing particularly striking about it upon first glance, which is what makes it all the more interesting to me. It gives me the feeling that most people might not be looking at the sky at this exact moment. For all I know, I could be the sole witness of this exact arrangement of clouds. Even after I lower my camera, I can’t look away, taking an extra minute to let my eyes follow the paths of the clouds as they inch across the sky. The clouds move lazily across their bright blue backdrop, at such a slow pace that it takes an extra moment of focus to even notice. To me, this random afternoon sky seems to be as close to perfect as possible. There’s just the right number of clouds, not enough to make the whole sky grey. It’s a quiet sky for a quiet day, one meant for a trip to the library and a leisurely bike ride. It’s a reminder that not every day has to be as extravagant as a sunset.
It looks like it’s just me and the cosmos tonight as I stare up at the dark sky, feet planted at the end of the
driveway. The only light is emitting from tiny Christmas lights woven up a palm tree and across the front of the house, the distinct lack of light pollution contributing to a completely clear sky. My eyes easily map out the Big Dipper and Orion, but my phone doesn’t fare as well. Every time I see the night sky from this point of view I pull out my phone in hopes that this time I will finally capture the stars, despite knowing it never works. The stars might elude my camera, but they have a home in my memory. Even when they aren’t visible, they’re always there, never changing to my eye. The constellations look the same every December, the only time of year when the stars let me in. Life changes too quickly for me sometimes, but the stars are constant. I find myself changing each year, but the stars are eternal.
Cover Image: Growth by Rylee Yackin