Wild Words Volume 5
Leitrim County Council Arts Office, Aras an Chontae, Carrick on Shannon, Co. Leitrim, Ireland. +353 (71) 96 21694 www.leitrimarts.ie
Edited by Helen Carr.
ÂŠ Leitrim County Council Arts Office, Wild Words Childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Book Festival and the individual contributors. August 2017.
A collection of writing by young people produced as part of the Wild Words Childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Book Festival, Carrick on Shannon, Co. Leitrim.
Published by Leitrim County Council Arts Office.
Contents Introduction by Helen Carr
Freelance Work is Hell
Sticks and Stones
The Barras Empire: Divided we fall John Shannon
William O Connor
Song of a Mute
The Trade Policies of Pirates Emma Flannery
Drums, Drums in the Deep
Only you can stop forest fires Eimear Healy
Gone but Never Forgotten Astrodynamics
Pichamon Nene Lonergan
Scribble of a Girl
I Wish to be Free
Emmanuel Ntemuse 122
My Mind’s Eye
New Year’s Eve
21st Century Politics
The Girl from the Sea
Halcyon Part II
Introduction This is the fifth year that Leitrim County Council has held its annual writing competition, inviting young people aged between fourteen and eighteen to submit their work for inclusion in the Wild Words book. From Wild Words’ very first year, the submissions were excellent and varied, but the number and geographical spread of entries has just grown and grown – this year there were over 160 entries from all around the country. I always look forward to the Wild Words time of year – not to the need to whittle hundreds of very good pieces of work down to the thirty-something included in the book, but rather to seeing what the inclination, interests and talents of Irish young people have inspired them to submit each year. I come to the selection process looking for original voices, convincing dialogue, compelling characters and strong storylines. I think you’ll agree that in the works included here I’ve found all these ingredients, as well as a lot of wit, no small amount of lyricism and a real striving to understand and express one’s place in the world. Through poetry and prose, in genres ranging from crime and fantasy to romance and gritty realism, these young writers explore many of the issues that become more important and urgent during adolescence, like death and loss, love, relationships, how it feels to really connect with someone, bullying and feeling different, the environment and our place in the universe. In this collection you’ll find everything from killers and warriors to parents and children, freelancers from hell, dragons and fairytale archetypes to perfect little vignettes of childhood and a typical family get-together on New Year’s Eve.
Good writers are often great readers, and the young writers here may be benefitting from the current golden age of Young Adult fiction (YA). Many Irish writers like Louise O’Neill, Sarah Crossan, Kim Hood, Dave Rudden, Claire Hennessy and Anna Carey are to the fore, writing about issues that affect teens and producing some ground-breaking literature. Recently on Twitter, I read a long discussion of YA where a fan pointed out that it contains within it so many genres, that in exploring the YA section of a bookshop readers can discover writing across a broad range of subjects and stumble across books and authors that become friends for life. I hope that some of the names in this collection might become the well-known writers of the future and that in dipping into this collection readers may come upon stories or poems that they love. So open this book, read and enjoy!
Helen Carr August 2017
Helen Carr has worked in publishing for twenty years and is Senior Editor with The O’Brien Press. She has worked with many Irish children’s and YA authors, including Judi Curtin, Kim Hood, Alan Nolan, Erika McGann, Ger Siggins, Ruth Frances Long, Chris Judge, Nicola Colton and Sarah Bowie. Helen has also reviewed books for many publications, including The Sunday Independent, Inis magazine and BookFest.
Freelance Work is Hell By Emma Flannery, age 15.
I knew something was wrong as soon as I saw the room. It was nice, as far as living rooms went. Fluffy carpet, snazzy TV, embers of a big fire, and chairs that looked to be deeper than the Mariana Trench. There was even a bowl of Doritos on the desk. But it wasn’t the room I’d been expecting. I checked the card in my hand. 138 Partavia Drive. Definitely the right house. Maybe I had the wrong room? Yeah, that made more sense. After all, anyone summoning a demon would be way more likely to do it in the basement. Okay. Basement, basement. Where was the – “You!” I screamed, and jumped into the air. Literally. Perks of being a spirit. Hovering above the ground, I whirled to face the door. A woman was glaring at me from the doorway. She had fluffy yellow hair, blue eyes and was wearing jeans. She also had big white wings extending from her shoulders, and was currently pointing a huge sword at my chest. A guardian angel. Great. “Uh, hi…” “Sh!” she hissed. “My charge is a very light sleeper! Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“Oh. Diana Newmoon, and I’m a freelance spirit. I got called to a demon summoning?” Fruitlessly I searched my pockets for a business card. “Demon? Excuse you, I am the only spirit ever called to this house! My charge would never…” She lowered her sword. “Wait. Why is a freelance standing in for a demon summoning?” I shrugged. “I don’t know. Apparently Hell is really understaffed at the minute, they’re getting freelancers in for everything. Didn’t you hear?” “Of course not. I was too busy dealing with the lack of staff in Heaven.” She crossed her arms. It didn’t look like she was going to stab me anytime soon. I floated down onto one of the chairs. “So… Uh… Miss Angel. You have a name?” “Angela.” I raised an eyebrow. “Creative.” Her cheeks turned pink. “Shut up.” Clunk. We both froze. Clunk. Footsteps on the stairs. Whoever Angela’s charge was, they’d woken up. In a whirlwind of feathers, Angela tackled me and pulled both of us behind the couch – the only conceivable hiding place. I heard someone sigh softly as they entered the room, then the couch sagged backwards, pushing both of us even further 2
back against the wall. It had been a tight squeeze to begin with, but now it was unbearable. I heard the TV come on, tuned to some overhyped game show. “He’s insomniac,” Angela whispered, “such bad timing. You don’t happen to have a teleporter do you?” “No, it got revoked,” I whispered back. “You don’t have one either, I assume?” She shook her head. The sound on the television grew louder, and Angela started to slowly wriggle out from behind the couch. I followed her lead, as carefully as I could. The way the sitting room was laid out meant that if we were very, very careful, we would be able to get out unseen. And we did. That is to say, we got out into the hall safely. Then Angela’s wing brushed up against a fairly expensive looking vase, knocked it off its table and smashed it into glittering smithereens. Angela didn’t give me any time to react. She grabbed me and exploded through the door into the sky. Below, I saw a confused man stumble through the remains of his front door, looking around for the culprits. “That’s it!” Angela hissed into my ear. “Show me the address you were given!” I found the card and handed it to her. She glared at it in the half-light of the moon. “This says 148, you eejit,” she said after a moment. I squinted at the card. Arguably, she could be right. “Okay,” I said. “Where’s that?”
She pointed at a house a little further along the street from the one I’d appeared into. “Now go, before I’m tempted to kill you myself.” Angela flew away, probably to try and fix all the damage my visit had caused. I brushed myself off and started gliding towards the house she had indicated. After all, I had a demon summoning to get to.
Sticks and Stones By Siobhán Walsh, age 15.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Words will never hurt me, but people did, when my friends told me that I was strange, that I was different, that I was weird. Words will never hurt me, but they betrayed me, when no one ever listened to mine, when their words decided what I should feel when mine were not allowed to. Words will never hurt me, but they got inside my head when I doubted people who told me that they cared, when I doubted whether or not I could decide how I felt. When I doubted myself. Words will never hurt me, but they made my life hell when I dreaded going to school every morning. When I had a group of friends whose words hurt me and a best friend who told me that what I was feeling was wrong. Words will never hurt me but they turned on me, when my whole class knew that I was “the weird one.” Words will never hurt me, but I was small and the wrong people used them the wrong way and suddenly I was crying. Words will never hurt me but they helped me to escape from a world that didn’t seem to like me, when I put my pen to paper. When I wrote this. Words will never hurt me but they started to make it up to me when I befriended a boy that I used to think was like the
others, but their words hurt him too and now I have a best friend who uses the right words in the right way. Words will never hurt me again because I have made them my own. I have a shelf full of books that I used to save me and a best friend whose words promise to protect me. Words will never hurt me again, but it’s too late now for the little girl who’s crying because her friends don’t really like her. Words broke her heart and although words put it back together again, there’s always going to be a little piece shattered, still quietly wondering why words had to hurt her at all. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words, they nearly broke me.
Endgame By Caleb McKeever, age 15.
Three more bodies knelt in the centre of the path, hands held to their faces. Her quarryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most recent victims. Alice stared at the charred corpses, her face twisted in disgust. She looked over her shoulder at the village behind her. What were once houses were now piles of ashen cinders, burnt to oblivion by a dragonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s flame. Tendrils of smoke rose from the embers, tainting the morning air. Those that had survived the attack had come crawling to her, begging and crying for the hunter to slay the beast. Alice averted her gaze to a group of hills in the distance. Even from here, she could see the snapped tree trunks and burnt grass that marked a dragonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s territory. She stood, her shoulders squared and eyes narrowed, she exhaled a long breath of determination. A hint of a smile touched her lips at the thought of the hunt ahead of her. She hefted her battleaxe onto her shoulder and began to make her way down the path. Frost crunched beneath her feet as Alice crested the hill. She was used to the cold. She had hunted here many times now. Gazing down into the valley, she marvelled at the sight of the frozen lake glimmering in the morning sun. Trees rustled in the chilly breeze as sunlight glinted off the ice clinging to their branches. But as her gaze settled upon the huge scaled creature that slumbered between the hills, her smile faded. Marring the beautiful landscape was a dragon, his ruby-red scales contrasting brilliantly with the snow upon which he lay. His wings were folded around him like a blanket, while his 7
bladed tail was wrapped around a boulder. Asleep, it almost resembled a harmless pup on a rug before the fire. But Alice knew better. Every now and again a stream of hot, smoky air would blast from his nostrils, instantly melting the snow in front of him. Alice bared her teeth. This one looked tough. Slowly, so very slowly, she began to make her way down the hill, doing her best to keep her greaves from slipping. She had to be quiet, as the element of surprise was key. As Alice finally reached the bottom of the hill, she could not help but stare at the beast in wonder. Even after a dozen years of monster hunting, the sheer size and elegance of dragons still took her breath away. Taking care not to make a sound as she approached, the hunter took a moment to check her arsenal. Her axe had been sharpened to perfection and her sword was sheathed securely in a scabbard by her side. The steel armour that Alice wore was scratched and scorched, but it had withstood attacks from hundreds of different creatures, including dragons. Taking a breath to steady her nerves, Alice slowly approached the dragon, flinching at every little movement he made. He was a mighty adversary, a beast to be feared. She couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t let this opportunity escape her. Suddenly, her foot collided with a metal object, sending it clattering towards the dragon. She gritted her teeth as she looked down to see the skeleton of a previous hunter lying half-buried in the snow. Aliceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s heart pounded as she glanced up. Refocusing her gaze, she now saw that other similar mounds of patchy snow were really dozens of other skeletons scattered around the valley, some still clutching their ancient weapons. As if, even in death, they believed they still had a chance against the monstrous dragon.
She had kicked an old iron helmet at the dragon, but luckily it was still sound asleep. Alice silently thanked the gods and continued her advance. Without any warning, the dragon’s eyelid slid open, revealing a great amber orb, with a slitted pupil that stared directly at the hunter. A low growl rumbled from his throat as he raised his head, horns gleaming in the light. Beads of sweat formed on Alice’s forehead. “Good morning,” she hissed, gripping the handle of her axe tightly. The dragon’s eyes narrowed. His serpentine body uncoiled and he spread his wings. He reared up in a display of power, towering over her, poised to strike. Alice rolled out of the way right as his razor sharp claws came crashing down, sending snow and clods of earth flying. Her heart was in her mouth, adrenaline coursing through her veins, but the hunter still smiled despite herself. She enjoyed fighting monsters, but dragons were her favourite. Their agility, their grace, their power… Slaying one was a true challenge to a hunter. Dodging another vicious blow from the immense reptile’s claws, Alice grinning as she ducked beneath his swipes. Right as the beast primed himself for another attack, Alice suddenly rushed forward and swung her axe over her head, screaming an impressive war cry as she did so. Such an attack would have cleft a normal man in twain, but all it did to the dragon was crack one of his scales. He roared in anger and suddenly kicked off the ground, blasting Alice back with a beat of his powerful wings. The hunter growled as she watched the dragon soar through the clear sky, not daring to avert her gaze for one second. He arced and swooped through the air. Suddenly, the 9
beast twisted around and began to fly straight towards Alice, smoke streaming from his mouth as he prepared to attack. She smiled and stood her ground. “Bring it, beast,” she taunted, resting her weapon on her shoulder. Right as the words left her mouth, the dragon opened his jaws, spewing forth a great jet of searing flames. Once again, Alice rallied her own remarkable agility by rolling out of the way of the blaze. The dragon gave a furious screech as he began to circle for another attack. The hunter smiled at her small victory, but she knew that she couldn’t keep it up for long. Dragons were intelligent creatures. She had to get him out of the air before he found a way to counter her evasive manoeuvres. Glancing to her left, Alice spied the top half of a skeleton clutching an old crossbow close to its chest. Beside it, a quiver of bolts were scattered in the snow. She set her face in determination as a plan formed in her head. As the dragon let loose with another stream of fire, the hunter grabbed the crossbow and a handful of bolts. Loading one into the device, she pulled the stiff lever back with a grunt and took aim. She squeezed the trigger and launched a bolt at the dragon’s wing, but he jerked away at the last second. She growled in frustration and fired a second bolt. It bounced harmlessly off his back. “Come on! Fall to me, dragon!” roared the hunter, reloading the crossbow. The dragon suddenly inhaled deeply as he sped towards Alice. She aimed down the sights of the crossbow as he prepared another volley of fire. The two simultaneously released their payloads. 10
Alice’s crossbow bolt buried itself in the dragon’s eye right as she was engulfed in flames. He screamed in pain and crashed into the ground, gouging out a large area of soil. The hunter, on the other hand, cried out as she rolled along the snow in an effort to put out the flames. They died easily, and within a few moments she was back on her feet, patting out the embers on her steel pauldrons. “Nice move, beast,” she laughed, grabbing the handle of her axe, “but it ends here!” The dragon was visibly shaken and turned his head to glare at her with his remaining good eye as he struggled to get to his feet, blue blood flowing freely from his right eye. Alice dashed towards him, her weapon gripped tight. But as she approached, the massive lizard began to beat his wings. She narrowed her eyes. “Oh no you don’t!” Just as the dragon leaped into the air once more, Alice dove forward and clung onto his hind leg. As he soared upwards, her breath was knocked from her lungs, just as her axe was knocked from her hand. The dragon, enraged by his passenger, twisted through the air and kicked his leg in an effort to dislodge her, but the hunter gritted her teeth and began to clamber up onto his back. Using his scales like handholds, Alice slowly made her way along his back, wincing as the freezing winds nearly sliced through her. Suddenly, the dragon somersaulted through the air and began to drop straight towards the frozen lake. Alice’s eyes widened at the sight of the rapidly approaching ice. She gripped the dragon’s scales tightly, shut her eyes and held her breath.
The beast smashed straight through the ice and plummeted through the freezing cold waters. Alice’s heart fluttered as it struggled to cope with the shock. She opened her eyes and glared at the dragon. He was going to have to do more than take her for a dive to shake this hunter off! As quickly as he dove into the lake, the dragon abruptly leaped out of it, spraying water and shards of ice everywhere. Alice gasped for breath and clung tight to the dragon’s back. The frigid waters had chilled her right to the bone. But Alice wasn’t one to give up. Reaching for her blackened chest plate, she undid the straps on her armour. It slid off her and fell through the air and landed somewhere far below, becoming the most recent addition to the graveyard of fallen hunters. Although she was now protected only by her leather tunic, Alice was able to crawl along the back of the dragon’s neck towards his head. Drawing her sword from its scabbard, she held it in her right hand while holding on to the beast’s neck with her left. Roaring a cry of victory, she swung the blade downwards and pierced it straight through the dragon’s already injured eye. He screamed and thrashed, but she didn’t stop there. A triumphant grin spread across the hunter’s face as she twisted the blade. Finally, she tightened her grip and ripped the sword outwards, tearing away the beast’s eye in a shower of cobalt blood. However, as she was so caught up in her victory, Alice didn’t notice the dragon bowing his head until it was too late. Before she could hold on to something, he rapidly knocked his head back, sending the hunter flying through the air. Time seemed to stand still. Her sword fell away from her, just out of reach. Even the wind seemed to stop blowing, 12
leaving Alice suspended in a trance like state, unable to comprehend what went wrong. This had never happened to her before. She was always precise with her planning. Nothing ever went wrong on her hunts! But as she fell towards the gaping maw of the dragon, the truth dawned on her as gently as an anvil from the sky. This was the first time she would taste failure, and it was disgusting. He bit down, piercing one of his long teeth straight through Alice’s stomach. She screamed in pain as the dragon’s fang tore through both cloth and flesh with ease, splattering her with her own blood. But the beast soon gave a groan of pain as his jaw slackened, dropping the hunter onto the snowy ground down below. Tears poured from her eyes as she landed in a snow drift. She clutched the wound in her stomach, wincing as she felt warm blood flowing from the hole. A little way ahead of her, she spotted her sword, sticking up out of the ground. “Cu…cursed beast!” she stammered, grasping the weapon’s shaft. Suddenly, the dragon roared weakly and crashed into the ground. It looked like he wasn’t faring too well either. Gasping for breath, Alice pulled herself to her feet, using her sword for support. Slowly, she began to trudge towards her quarry. She left a trail of blood in the snow behind her, like crimson paint on a blank canvas. The dragon regarded her with his remaining eye; its lid drooped low over the pupil.
“Y…you… You think you’ve won?!” wheezed Alice, clenching her teeth in an effort to ignore the immense pain in her stomach. The huge lizard sighed, instantly melting the snow in front of his face. The hunter dragged herself towards him, her sword trailing behind her. Slowly, painfully, she clambered onto the beast’s neck once more. With one final cry, she raised the blade and sunk it deep into the dragon’s neck at the base of his skull. He didn’t even flinch. Alice exhaled and slid down onto the ground as a stream of dragon’s blood began to stream down her back. Resting her head against the dragon’s side, the wounded hunter gazed up to see birds circling far above. “I guess we’re both done for,” she murmured, her eyes drooping. The dragon growled in response. She reached up and patted his side, leaving a dark stain on his bright red scales. “Y…you fought well. I’m…I’m honoured to fall to s…such a worthy opponent.” With that, Alice shut her eyes as her body stopped shivering. One by one, her nerves shut off and her breath grew shallow. Finally, both she and the dragon fell still, their blood pooling together in the snow. The hunter had hunted her quarry, and the beast had slain his prey.
Leaves By Tiarnรกn Duddy, age 14.
Down, down, down Goes the leaf Popped off the branch Of the mighty oak Like a sliver-thin Green sword Out of the hand Of a slain warrior.
Floating down The Last leaf Of summer to The crispy brown Snow of autumn.
Missing Madison By Monica Thorne, age 15.
The problem with living in a sleepless city was that it meant Laila was always awake. Like now. She strolled restlessly around Madison’s barren flat, the soles of her shoes echoing against the cold, hard floor. Madison. She was a friend of Laila’s – a sister who wasn’t really a sister, but after spending 10 years of their lives together trapped in a basement, they probably knew each other better than lots of ‘real’ sisters. The clock in the room was one of the only pieces of furniture – Madison had had to sell the rest. Not that any of what had been there before was worth much… especially considering the way Madison would spend the meagre sums she received monthly. Unemployment Benefit. That’s what they called the money she got, those social worker people. What a fancy name for such a negligible amount of money. It was meant to be spent on things like rent, food and clothes. Practical things. But gambling was one of Madison’s favourite things about being freed from the basement. Oblivious to the protests of others, she was certain her ‘lucky day with the horseracing’ was soon. Thin scrawny arrows on the clock pointed this way and that, telling Laila that it was nearly 3am. Madison wasn’t usually back this late, which was worrying. True – the girl had her faults – but who doesn’t? And friends are meant to look out for each other… that’s what Laila had been told. Laila had been told many things, though, by many people. What was a lie? How could she even tell what was the truth anymore?
Despite her worries, Laila quickly concluded that she should search for Madison – even though they both knew the dangers of empty alleyways at night time all too well. As she closed the door of the flat, all Laila noticed was the flame of a single candle on an otherwise empty shelf, it’s dancing flames bringing an uneasy dim light to the room. Unsurprisingly, there weren’t many on the metro. The underground station wasn’t more than a few metres from Madison’s flat on Rue Jardin and it had a pervasive stench of dampness, food and sweat. Laila clambered on the first train that turned up, and it soon jolted her to the centre of Paris. The deafening silence of the metro station was sharply contrasted by the blaring bellows of the city’s main street. The crazy time seemed to have no effect on the Champs-Elysées. People sat in large groups outside restaurants, chatting away to one another, relaxing lazily on the shortest night of the year. Laila was jerked to life as ear-splitting sirens screeched and screamed and a gaggle of fire engines sped past her. Confused, she turned and ambled behind them for a while, before stopping at an old stone bridge. The sun was beginning to come up, turning the sky a candyfloss pink. Laila’s grandmother’s hoarse voice immediately sprang to the girl’s mind: “A red sky in the morning is a shepherd’s warning.” She shuddered. What was being warned? Why her? Why now? Laila was admiring a fat white bird soar through the sky when her life was dramatically shaken. She turned to see where it’d fly, when she saw the smoke. It looked like nothing more than huge black clouds, spiralling up and away into the never-ending sky. The greedy blackness ate into the delicate pink sky ruthlessly, making the clouds turn a murky grey
colour before being dominated by smoke. The typical city smells of food and exhaust fumes were starting to be replaced by the vague odour of burning. Laila knew that she probably should leave, that she should run away from the nearby fire. But something inside her told her not to. She left the bridge and headed down a riverside cobbled street, intent on finding the source of the pungent fumes. At first, she strolled nervously. It was soon replaced, however, by an urgent run. People were shouting at her, telling her not to be stupid, to get away from the fire. But Laila knew that they didn’t matter. She had to get to Madison. She had to. Thick smoke was starting to get in Laila’s way. It lingered in her throat, forcing her to gag and cough and gasp for breath. Her lungs could feel its powerful hands clinging to her unmercifully. It got in her eyes, too. The darkened air and ash was forcing her to squint, to second guess her way through the street. By the time she reached the source of the fire, Laila could feel herself getting weaker. But she knew that she shouldn’t let herself give up. Not now. Not ever. The girl stood in front of a recognisable spot. She peered down Rue Jardin to see a familiar block of flats. Only this time, hungry flames engulfed the walls, killing the ivy that had once crept up the walls – and probably people, too. Fire fighters dressed in neon coloured uniforms surrounded the building, angrily hosing down the flames in the hope of them extinguishing. The firemen and their fancy uniforms and hoses seemed to be of little effect, however. The angry orange flames still shot up to the sky, rising above the rooftops of Paris. Up, up and
away. The colourful flames reminded her of the rich colours of autumn leaves. Autumn. It was autumn when she’d been captured. She still remembered the crunches of leaves under her feet as she’d cowered back further into the alleyway. Why hadn’t she run? She still remembered the promises of a lift home in the man’s nice navy van. Why had she told him she was lost, a small girl in a strange big city? It was only when she’d landed in the basement with a thud that she discovered someone else was there – Madison. The other girl had been in the basement for months, wearing away, losing all will to live. The two of them were all one another had had to stay alive. They’d calmed and comforted each other when they could. Sometimes they both knew that it was too much. Those were the worst days, for sure. Red and white police tape swayed flimsily in the breeze, blocking public access to the street. Laila observed the crowds of people gawping in on her with indifference. Parents broke down, mourning the loss of the children that had been trapped in the building with no escape. Those who weren’t sad were furious. Word had it that the fire had been started simply by someone leaving a candle burning in a room, and that the thin block of wax had toppled over. “Who could be so stupid?” they’d shout. Laila knew who it was. It had to have been Madison. Maybe Madison was still in there? She could’ve come back whilst Laila was out? It was worth it to go in. Laila was certain of it. Her calm stroll up to the building was abruptly stopped by a strong policeman. He held her firmly by the shoulders and started shouting at her. All these strange, scary words he was saying was too much for Laila. His taut grip reminded her too much of the tight grip another tall man used to have on 19
her. “Let me go,” she pleaded. The policeman found the lack of emotion in her voice rather strange. “My friend and I live there.” This evoked a strange response in the policeman. “Together?” he asked. Laila nodded hurriedly. She didn’t have the time to chat with a policeman. Madison could be in the flat. Madison. What would Laila do without her? They needed each other – that’s what friends are for. “Names?” the sergeant asked, taking out a pen and paper from a pocket, keeping his grip on Laila with his other hand. “Laila LeBrun and Madison Bruyére.” His blue ballpoint pen scribbled furiously. His eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Why were there two people living in flats with a strict one person per flat rule? This was strange. He was about to tell her that the whole flat had been evacuated, that nobody her age had been reported dead. He was going to add that there was nobody by the name of Madison Bruyére on the list of residents of the flats. Laila looked up at him, and the second his grip loosened slightly, she bolted away. Laila LeBrun died by running into a fire on the morning after the longest day of the year. She was sick, practically screaming out for help, but never got it. Nobody ever acknowledged her much, and now nobody ever would. She was placed in the same graveyard as where a memorial spot for her friend, Madison, had been placed. Poor Madison – she had died in the basement of hunger, and never got to be released. Laila had never taken it well. But the severely unhealthy grieving process she’d adopted was only realised once it was too late. One of the few remains found in the house was an unopened card, and an unwrapped birthday present with ‘Happy Birthday Madison’ scrawled over the packaging, saved for the next day. They’d been well hidden from the flames – you can’t have your roommate finding their 20
birthday present early. Unless of course they’re dead. That was where Laila’s little rhyme she liked to use would come in: Madison will never die, just so long that you deny. Just how she’d been trained to think. Maybe ten years in a basement can teach you a thing or two.
The Barras Empire: Divided we fall By John Shannon, age 15.
The Barras Empire was one of the strongest imperial powers on earth. Its territory stretched far and wide and its influence was unparalleled. Its epicentre was its capital, Pirius. Its wealth and prosperity was prevalent due to the large houses, rich populous and prospering infrastructure. At its head was Lord Barras. Lord Barras was a powerful leader, having taken the lands of his empire as a feared warlord. He had two sons Barronie and Londanas. Both wanted to inherit his empire, but neither wanted to spill blood over it. Barras also had a daughter whose name was Vixon. For as long as she could remember, Vixon had been undervalued by her father and brothers. She had never been gifted land or wealth. Her place in the empire was that of a shadow. Vixon despised her brothers. As youths, Vixon, Barronie and Londanas would train together. As the Empire was built on war and bloodshed and their father was a battle-hardened war lord, the three would spar often. Barras saw it as a test â&#x20AC;&#x201C; he wanted to identify the heir to his Empire and make sure it was in safe hands. As a young girl, Vixon showed promise. Her fighting style was unrivalled within the three but it was ignored by Barras who failed to nurture her talent. She urged for recognition from her father, but he constantly turned his back. Vixon soon began to take great pleasure in defeating her brothers, out of spite and hatred. She began to stray away from them and the trio fell apart. Barronie and Londanas too grew in frustration. Londanas was constantly being defeated by his sister. When he would take one step in improvement she would take two. Only on rare occasions could he match 22
her in one-to-one combat. However, he was also frustrated with his brother. Barronie cared more about inheriting his father’s throne then he did anything else. Making improvement to the way he fought was no concern of his, unlike Vixon and Londanas. He thought that if he inherited his father’s throne he would have a large and powerful Barras army and that there would be no reason for him to fight. However, his laziness and contented attitude angered his father. Barras saw great potential in him yet no warrior came forth. Time passed quickly and when the trio were in their twenties, their father, Lord Barras, died. His will was to be read to the three in their father’s imperial court. And so, one fresh summer morning, Barras’ Generals, Imperial Advisors and Councilmen and the inheriting siblings met in the Pirius courtroom, all expecting to be named in the will. The council leader stood, followed soon by the rest of the court room. Everyone looked at each other anxiously and the reading of the will began. “Behold, the last will and testament of Lord Barras,” said the council leader solemnly. “If your name is to be read from this paper, see yourself as honoured, for you were a close friend and associate of Lord Barras.” Barras divided small amounts of land, power and wealth to council members and generals and so the reading of his will was longwinded and monotonous. However, soon enough the matter of the imperial throne was announced. “My children, you have served your father well and have been constantly loyal to the throne, the Empire and my name. For many years I have observed your many characteristics and have pondered on the destiny of my Empire. However, it is with great regret that I cannot select just one to inherit everything. So I shall divide my lands.”
The council leader stumbled and stopped to better understand what he had just read. He read it and re-read it. His eyes grew wide with disgust and the entire council room sat stunned in anticipation at what might come next. “Excuse me,” said the council leader weakly, “I shall continue.” “My land, although vast, must be divided, my Empire, although strong in unity, must co-operate with independence. My son Londanas you are a strong warrior with a strong mind and a steady hand. You shall receive half of the Barras Empire.” The court was submerged in silence. Everyone assumed Londanas would inherit his father’s empire. He was the eldest and the more experienced fighter, leader and politician of the three. Yet here he stood with only half an empire to his name. “YOU LIE,” screamed Londanas. “Let him finish Londanas, your sharp tongue will do you no good in this quarrel,” said Barronie assertively. Londanas sat back down and the councillor continued. “My son Barronie, you have let comfort and contentment blind you. Therefore I leave you with only a quarter of my Empire in the hopes that if you wish to gain more land and prosperity you will have to encounter war like I did and become truly at one with the field of conflict. Know that I do not depart this world with a grudge against you, this is merely my final lesson.” “A quarter? Years of serving him and this is all I get? Continue councillor there is still a quarter remaining,” said Barronie anxiously. “The final ounce of my Empire is to be gifted to Vixon.” Vixon, who was present, stood in shock. She had not expected to be gifted anything bar jewellery and insignificant
objects from her father’s will. But here she stood with a quarter of his Empire under her control. “Speak again councillor,” said Vixon nervously. She made her way down to the centre floor where Londanas and Barronie stood, equally as stunned. “The final ounce of my Empire is to be gifted to Vixon. It’s written here my lady, I tell you no lie. You now reign over the northern region of your father’s Empire.” The council room fell into utter silence. Few councillors moved, others stretched their collars or fidgeted with their fingers in sheer panic. The silence was finally broken when Londanas spoke. “Very well sister, as this is father’s final wish I shall honour it, but don’t be so hasty as to assume I’ll honour you or your reign,” and with that Londanas stormed out of the council room in fury. “Council dismissed,” said Barronie softly still very much stunned at the news. Council members shuffled out quickly fearing what might happen if they stuck around. “Listen Vixon, you may rule over the northern regions now but I very much doubt Londanas will tolerate your reign any longer than is necessary,” said Barronie quietly and in great secrecy. “The thought of the Empire going to war with itself is preposterous and will bring great shame upon us. I’ll speak with Londanas, but I can’t promise anything will come from it.” “Very well, do what you can,” said Vixon assertively. Vixon marched out of the hall, but before she could leave Barronie stopped her. “You’re going to war, aren’t you, sister?”
Vixon stopped, and looked over her shoulder. “It’s Londanas, war is unavoidable with him.” Surprisingly, years past and the now divided Empire was somewhat prospering. However, prosperity didn’t mean peace. The siblings constantly bickered over borders and land. Militaries were built and threats of war were announced but no true action ever came from these empty threats. Londanas had had the largest and most prospering region; because of this he had a lot of control over his siblings, but not total control. He had a wife, Lady Londana, and a son, Barras, named after his father. Barras was about nine and had a pleasant soul. Much like his father he was good with a sword but lacked the experience to do much with it. Londanas had been gifted the wealthiest region in the Empire but as for Vixon and Barronie, they weren’t so lucky. Barronie’s region had a high but poor population. He relied on Vixon for trade. His hatred for his brother was growing as Londanas refused to trade or support either of his siblings. Barronie’s region was struggling to support itself and was dragging Vixon down with it. A large riot had occurred outside the palace gates and Barronie felt terror at the thought that he might be overthrown. To counter the riots he militarised quickly and held an emergency imperial conference. High ranking generals, politicians and the few that were wealthy sat around a black marble courtroom. Vixon was present as the destruction of one monarchy could, and probably would, have a profound effect on the stability or survival of her region. The men and women invited to the meeting were snuck in from the back of the palace. It was a piercingly cold night, the moon lit very little and those out at such late hours were usually criminals or those up to forbidden activities, like treason against the king perhaps. Those invited were brought
into a large ornate hall, poorly lit and air so cold your lungs nearly rejected it. They sat around a circular oak table and when everyone was seated, Barronie stood. “This meeting is held with a matter of great urgency. One week ago a mob of thousands of my citizens lay outside my gates. Their goal, to tear down my monarchy as we know it,” said Barronie assertively. “We must find a way to counter this ever growing threat, not even I know when this mob will strike again.” “My Lord, with all due respect this land has been poor since the empire was formed, I doubt there is much you can do to change that. The people are hungry and too weak to farm the already infertile soil, I see no way this can be changed,” said a voice from the corner. “Who speaks about my region in such a way?” said a confused and somewhat angered Barronie. The figure revealed himself as a wealthy business man who had made his money from selling slaves to Lord Barras before he died. “I mean no offence my Lord, please forgive me.” “Any other suggestions… anything?” Barronie stood and slowly made his way around the circular table. Suddenly a general stood and looked at Barronie before slamming his fisted right hand against his shoulder “I see no wrongdoing in a little war, if successful it should only bring prosperity,” said the general confidentially. “Our men have neither the strength nor the morale to last on the battlefield. Our economy has not the money or the prosperity to create swords and spears to defeat our foe,” said Barronie. “A war is folly.”
“Perhaps not,” said Vixon curiously, “our regions together may just cause Londanas’ downfall. Either way, his tyranny must come to an end.” “I admire your enthusiasm sister, but I doubt many of our men would stand up to him. He was one of father’s highest ranking generals, these men used to take orders from him, why would their loyalty have changed now?” said Barronie in desperation. “Greed, Barronie. Every man, woman and child will fall to greed and our soldiers are no exception. I have witnessed it firsthand. When you and Londanas used to argue it was always about your wealth and inheriting the empire. Brother, these men will fight if we promise wealth,” said Vixon cunningly and with a certain smirk that Barronie knew too well. “How is his son, Barronie? I heard he named him after father. I am yet to meet him,” said Vixon. This time Vixon had an all to know grin, cunning yet sinister. She stared blankly at her brother with one eyebrow slightly raised “Well?” “Why do you wish to know about the child Vixon? His wellbeing is no concern of yours,” said a worried Barronie. “If we are to crush Londanas, it is essential we make sure he has no heirs that might… get in the way,” said Vixon, a certain streak fell across her face and an almost sinister look glared back at Barronie “Don’t you agree, brother?” Fearing he may lose the support of his only ally and that of his high council, which were all in admiration of Vixon’s ruthless personality, Barronie felt he had no choice in the matter.
“What is it you want with the boy…?” Before Barronie could finish Vixon interrupted this time with a more assertive tone in her voice “I want the boy dead, Barronie. Simple as that; there’s no way around getting rid of someone you don’t like, his downfall will save us a lot of grief in the future, brother I assure you of that.” Suddenly, a voice came from the other side of the table. “Very well, my Lord … What are your orders?” said the darkened voice of the general who had spoken earlier. “General, prepare your armies. In a month we go to war with Londanas.” And with that the council men left and under the cover of twilight vanished inconspicuously back to their homes until only Vixon and Barronie remained. “Does the boy really need to die, Vixon?” said a distressed Barronie. “Soon enough he shall just be another casualty of war, brother. Do not fret. I’ll try and find out exactly where the boy is held; I’ll leave it up to you to bring him back. Do not fail me brother, I shall sincerely enjoy striking down Londanas. I’ll see you and your army in a month.” With that, Vixon left leaving a confused Barronie alone in the cold, vast great hall. The two regions franticly started preparing for war. Vixon would supply the men while Barronie would supply the arms. Men wishing to fight for their region and men too poor in mental and financial stability joined and began training. Vixon advertised it as a fight for freedom encouraging young people to join the cause. However, little could be said for Barronie. 29
He pondered for many nights contemplating whether war was the right thing to do. There was little he could do at this point. His region was enthralled in the war effort and large factories creating all manner of weapons opened its doors and employed anyone from seven to seventy. The day of war swiftly beckoned on both Vixon and Barronie. The first wave of twenty thousand soldiers gathered at the eastern border. Vixon ordered their first advances into enemy territory. Small outer rim villages were swiftly seized and the little resistance they put up was quelled. Surprisingly, the two made large amounts of ground from their one advance. After questioning a local it appeared that in a bid to gain more land Londanas had gone to war with neighbouring Mongols and had suffered heavy losses. The soldiers he had remaining in his army were now preoccupied trying to keep a very angry Mongol chief out of their borders. Vixon’s invasion could not have occurred at a worse time for Londanas. His defences were so crippled in fact that Vixon’s armies made their way right up to the city walls of one of the largest cities in the empire, Mirum. At its height, Mirum was a hub of trade and a symbol of power. However, under the rule of Londanas it had suffered a great deal. The battle for Mirum was long. The outer city walls built by Barras were serving their purpose and were repelling the invaders with ease. However, when Vixon’s spies discovered Londanas’ son was staying here it was imperative that Mirum fell. Londanas had left his son here because of his failures with the Mongols. He feared that they would invade and harm his son. When news came that Vixon and Barronie had invaded and were targeting Mirum, Londanas made a last ditch attempt to repel the Mongols. Londanas enforced conscription and gathered a large army, much to the dismay of his already furious
population. His attempt had been a success and for the time being the Mongols had been pushed back to their borders. Now, with a huge army Londanas and his troops marched to Mirum with a single order given; save Londanas’ son and heir. Mirum had been fortified by its enslaved citizens. Those who escaped and survived the initial skirmish were now forced to work on rebuilding outer walls and fortifying the once mighty stronghold. However, Londanas’ advance was swift and he had dawned upon the fort quicker than expected. Vixon ordered troops go march out to meet his but their efforts were null and they were struck down. Londanas swiftly placed the fort under siege and launched a massive offensive strike on the wall. Knowing defeat was imminent, Vixon ordered Barronie to take his troops and attack Londanas in a last attempt crush him. Although Barronie’s army vastly outnumbered that of Londanas, it was hungry, exhausted and lacked discipline. Vixon knew that the only thing that lay between her and Londanas was his son. To keep the fires of war bright she planned on escaping with a small army and the boy. She would return home and regroup to launch another attack on Londanas. Barronie prepared his men for one final attack while Vixon prepared to flee. When the fortress gates were opened Barronie’s men rushed out and engaged with Londanas’ troops. Swords clashed, men were toppled and blood was spilt. The battle raged on for many days nether knowing who was winning, however, although Barronie was successful in many of his campaigns he was taking many casualties. Londanas’ men were better skilled, had better training and wore superior armour. Although they were outnumbered, Londanas and his men continued to fight valiantly. However, Barronie was losing ground as well as the morale and support of his men. They struggled to fight
against Londanas as he had once led them when his father was in power. Some men turned their back on Barronie and betrayed him. Some confronted him directly, swiftly leading to their execution. With Vixon and the boy long gone, Barronie knew that he needed to attack and defeat Londanas before all his men overthrew him. The day was set and soldiers notified, their target was the area east of the outer wall. The battlefield lay still, stuck in time as corpses remained motionless and scattered around the entire area. Death’s silence only disturbed by Barronie’s men marching across the uneven bloody terrain. Every man in Barronie’s army moved on Londanas. Shortly, Londanas’ disciplined and organised army reacted and the two fleets engaged. The clattering of armour was met only by the screams of those too foolish or inexperienced to not stay in formation. Years of training wasted in a single second if so much as a foot was misplaced. Archers on the side lines discreetly picked off those who seemed vulnerable. Death rained down on the soldiers below. Cavalry horses trundled through the battlefield at an immense pace and clashed with those too ignorant to move out of their way. Soon enough the battle cooled off with no decisive victor. However, the victor was soon to be known when a rough arrow flew from the surrounding foliage and struck Barronie in the shoulder. He fell from his horse and on to the blood-soaked ground. Those loyal to him rushed to his aid, Barronie was alive but injured. It soon became apparent that in the initial scuffle, Londanas had taken a large group of soldiers and flanked around Barronie and his men. With defeat imminent, Barronie gave the order to “fight and wish for an honourable death.” The last skirmish of the war began, friend fought against friend and brother against brother as both received orders 32
from power hungry leaders. His men were dwindling and Barronie saw an opportunity for escape and seized it. A horse had lost its rider and was now aimlessly galloping around the battle ground. He climbed upon the horse sluggishly and with great effort, took off though enemy lines and past Mirum’s now dilapidated outer walls. When riding, he managed to narrowly defeat Londanas’ soldiers with his one good arm and retreat back to ally territory. Alas, when he returned, the news of his survival didn’t bode well with Vixon. While she had been successful in her campaign of transporting the boy safely back to allied lands and boosting the morale of the people as well as regrouping and forming a new large army, Barronie had been unsuccessful and this infuriated Vixon. “You mean to say you lost, brother?” inquired Vixon sharply. A now badly injured Barronie limped over towards her still holding his bleeding shoulder. “There was so little I could do Vixon, they had us surrounded. They outflanked us, out manoeuvred us, there was nothing I could do,” said a weakened Barronie. “You abandoned your men, men that would lay down their lives for us, you are a coward, brother.” Vixon spat. “This is no game, Barronie. You of all people must know that. How many war campaigns did you go on with Londanas before the split? You have failed your region and you have failed me. I shall tolerate it no more,” Vixon looked at her brother blackly, fury raged within her eyes. The silence was quelled when Barronie spoke up “Where is the boy, Vixon?”
“He is safe, that’s all you need to know … for now. You stray from the topic brother, why? Humiliation, perhaps?” Barronie glared at his sister. “This was a regrettable outcome to say the least. It will not happen again.” Barronie moved limply towards the chair and sat slumped within it. Vixon began to smile and it soon broke into a quiet laugh which caught the attention of her brother. “How humorous, you seem to be under the illusion that there will be a second time. Your failure is enough for me. You won’t fail me again, brother, because I won’t give you the chance, you’ve outgrown your usefulness to me. You are now a broken man, Barronie, you’ve outstayed your welcome. Goodbye, brother, it’s truly been a pleasure!” and with that Vixon drew her sword and drove it fiercely into Barronie’s chest. His body slumped over the sword which was supporting his position in the chair. Vixon held into the hilt a little longer staring into her brother’s clear dead eye, a smirk of pleasure grew across her face. Vixon dragged over a chair and sat next to her brother in the middle of the great hall. “Don’t worry,” she said, “soon enough Londanas will join you, and every other imbecile that wishes to follow him.”
They Remember By Emily O’Sullivan, age 15.
They don’t remember the colour of my eyes nor the redness of my skin They remember my characters they loved and the world I poured my heart into They don’t remember my height or weight They remember the awards I won and the generation I influenced They don’t remember the scars I bore They remember the scars I healed They don’t remember my thigh gap They remember the story I wove into every detail They don’t remember me but they remember my legacy.
Natureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Face By William O Connor, age 15.
A heavy tree Mills of wind Turning calmly and quiet A glimmering light in the hills And an eastward glow
A landscape true to the eye
Rolling hills Wisping winds Twisting Trees And green fields left fallow
A beauty taken for granted
Song of a Mute By Anne McSherry, age 14.
It was a particularly dismal and cold day when he found her. Frosty accentuations were apparent in their delicate detailing in windows of homes everywhere and each blade of grass in the area had a snowy white tint on its tip, like a whole cart full of icing sugar had been sprinkled right on the tops of them in the middle of the night. Not that surprising, he supposed. It was the middle of January. A stout young man, burly and strong –with a chest like a barrel– was trudging off home, late one night, futilely trying to shield himself from the frigid cold. His heavy, patched up, woollen coat was ineffectual against the persistent, bitter gale of winter’s inevitable annual air, and his hobnailed boots pinched his feet painfully. His fingers were numb and his nose was all red and uncomfortably runny. He hoped he wasn’t coming down with a cold – Rose would not be sympathetic. Bill stopped short at the sight of a tiny, diminutive looking bundle of rags, inconspicuously perched on the side of the road, seemingly so insignificant and hard to spot that he almost believed he was imagining things; that it would disappear any second now. He blinked. The bundle remained existent. Cautiously shuffling forward, he approached the hill of cloths suspiciously and with reservation. For all he knew, there could be a dead animal concealed within the tattered material. A decrepit mummy. A bloodsucking vampire. Maybe even a witch… He peered around fearfully. The village folk were a superstitious lot. There were even rumours of haunting singing being heard from the woods, possibly from a banshee.
Not that he believed all that baloney; it was still pretty unnerving though. Especially out in the country. In the middle of the night. Alone. He gulped. By now his nerves were pretty frayed. His limited supply of confidence had long since dried up and now he was only continuing through with his possibly perilous journey for the sake of his own curiosity and pride. Besides, if it was a vampire, it would have noticed him by now. He gently pulled on the top of the threadbare fabric and reeled back in shock. It wasn’t a monster. It was a girl. *** Bill tentatively carried the defenceless, little stranger home, trying his very best to not manhandle or jostle her like he did with the lads down at the tavern; or when he was cajoling his ol’ horse to plough the fields. He gave her a bed for the night and some warm broth in her stomach. She was a petite creature; so small she almost seemed like she could be blown away with the passing breeze. It was no wonder so many people had wandered past her temporary hiding place, unaware that they had been passing a living, breathing human being. At least he thought she was human. She was so strange sometimes he honestly couldn’t tell. She didn’t speak. Not a word. In fact the only sound she ever made was a very low hum whenever she was thinking deeply, which was ironic since that was her name – Hum. He had found it written on a piece of paper she was holding, and had just assumed it to be her name. She hadn’t indicated otherwise so far. Obviously. *** She had a soothing presence and sweet smile; always quiet and polite, no fuss and no complaining. He had asked about her parents, and she had responded with one extremely sad 38
and faraway look that was so pitiful, he felt even his – normally impervious to all emotional blackmail – heartstrings tug and ache for her. Finally he decided to let her live with him for a bit. Just until her parents got back, he tried to convince himself. His inner voice was just as unconvincing as his outside one. “Whatever,” he thought wearily, as he watched her get under the covers of her newly dubbed bed, as gracefully and silently as she did everything else. “It’s not as if she’s staying or anything.” “Goodnight,” he said gruffly, closing the door with an almost petulant swing; but even he couldn’t deny, that when he heard her soft little hum in response right before he shut it fully –he couldn’t help but smile. *** Her parents never came, and she never left. It became pretty obvious to the whole village that Bill Sikes had unofficially adopted himself a child. How shocking! Rose left him; he couldn’t bring himself to care. She was always a right old nag anyway. The gossip spread like wildfire, but most of the time Bill ignored it. He didn’t care if the local old knitting hens thought he had had an unseemly affair with a member of the local gentry’s wife, or if the occasional rumour or two flitted around putting his status as an only child into question, and making the whole town wonder if Hum was the daughter of a long lost sibling or not. He did however mind when they started to bother Hum. He told her to do what he did and take no notice of their shallow and petty whispering campaigns. Of course that was before they started calling her a witch. ***
He’d awoken one night, in a terrible fright, to the sound of a mesmerising, high pitched voice, singing an extremely strange and poignant song to an unfamiliar tune outside his window. He rushed outside and immediately spotted a heart stopping sight right above him. There was Hum, standing precariously on the edge of the roof of his farm’s barn, right across from his house, with her eyes shut tightly and her delicate snow white nightgown blowing in the wind. She was the one singing! He had never heard her voice before and it was quite a shock. Her voice was melodious and pristine as a bell, but the lyrics seemed slightly too morbid for such a young girl to be singing. Worried for her safety, he called out to her. She visibly started and shut up quickly, and in her momentarily frozen state, she started to fall –head first– off the roof. Reacting quickly, he dived forward into the mud and caught her just in time, his chin hitting the ground with a painful thud but in his relief, he didn’t even notice the pain. Once they were both up and stable, he opened his mouth to scold her fiercely but quickly shut it again when he saw her tears. They sparkled like precious jewels in her eyes and he immediately felt bad. Sighing inaudibly, he held her close and comforted her gently as ferocious hiccups and desperate full body sobs racked her small frame. He stayed like that for three hours. The next day his neighbour, Ms. Tewilager, died. *** The neighbours were starting to complain. Despite his firm warnings, she continued to make her way outside and onto the roof each time, until he was forced to lock her inside her room every night to keep her from resuming her nightly escapades. He tried to tell himself that he was doing the right thing, even if her pleading wails and desperate 40
incomprehensible screams did nothing to ease his guilty conscience and conflicted heart. Her desolate eyes in the morning were the worst though; so lifeless and miserable. “It’s for her own good,” he reminded himself once more. The words sounded even emptier in his head now than they had before. *** They all blamed her – a vulnerable little child – for the horrific accidents that had been steadily increasing in frequency during the past few months. Children vanishing without a trace and then their clothes being found, torn to pieces after. Fires mysteriously starting in the middle of the night, disappearances and strange sightings of monstrous creatures in the surrounding area. And each and every accident was connected to her. The children that went missing were ones whose company she had been to prior to their disappearances, she was found near the scene of the crime at every fire event and the monsters seemed to linger around her, some religious fanatics even claiming that she glowed an unholy black whenever she went near a church. It all gave him a headache. He wanted to protect her; he just didn’t know how. In the few months that she had stayed with him, she had quickly become the most important person in his life and he knew he would do anything for her. *** They came in the middle of the night. The cowards. That was what he screamed at them when they left him there, tied up with thick flaxen rope in his very own barn. Her horrified scream awoke something in him, the pure terror in her voice fuelling his rage and the ropes were no match for his adrenaline pumped muscles. They’d had a head start but his paternal love for her motivated him all the more, and he sped
up quickly, heading deep in the woods, following her desperate muffled cries. He spotted a light, and headed towards it, jumping behind a bush and surveying the scene carefully. The whole town was there! Father Jenkins, the local Priest, Hollie Mint, the flirty barmaid he had kind of liked (well not anymore!) and even his best friend, Sam. “Rotten bast––” He never got to finish his sentence as they brought her in. She was tied up in painfully tight chains, to a large wooden stake, being roughly carried by five men. Father Jenkins stepped forward as they set the stake down into a deep hole, surrounded by numerous loose piles of hay. The crowd jeered at Hum making his fists clench tightly, calling her terrible names and taunting her with insults as tears streamed down her pale cheeks. “Hum Sikes. You are hereby being punished for the following crimes. Associating with demons. Calling for misfortune to fall upon your brethren. Causing the deaths of sixteen people in total and practising a form of witchcraft.” She shook her head desperately but no one paid any attention and before Bill could do anything, the flames ignited with the single throw of a match and an agonising cry broke forward from Hum’s chapped lips. Suddenly, every fire in the middle of the glade went out, plunging the scene into complete and utter darkness. Bill could hear the mob going into a panicked frenzy, but all noise ceased at the sound of an inhuman snarl, coming from the centre of the glade. A single scream caused the tense silence to escalate into pandemonium. He closed his eyes tightly, and wished for it all to go away. As the sounds of dozens of excruciating screams and dreadful growls filled the air, his body tensed every time a terrifying shriek seemed too close to his current hiding spot. After what seemed like hours, silence 42
prevailed over the now moonlit parting, and Bill dared peek his eyes over his faithful safe place before immediately regretting it. It was a bloodbath, carnage upon carnage with no survivors. All of his friends, everyone he ever knew, were gone. He had no one leftâ&#x20AC;Ś except â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Hum! He tried to look around but was instantly frozen in place by the ominous glare of a myriad of crimson eyes, with completely red sclerae and irises. The nearest monster crouched lower, preparing to attack when suddenly a sweet, dulcet voice sang out clearly to his left. Hum! Every monster in the glade hissed and screeched savagely, their bodies seeming to burn as if on fire before bursting into various forms of dark, cloudy smoke, leaving a traumatised Bill in their wake. Hum approached him cautiously and leaning down, she put her small arms around him and soothed him gently. She shushed him like a child and nodded at him with an understanding expression. That was the breaking point for Bill, and almost immediately his whole body was encompassed with nerve wrecking sobs. He wept and bawled his eyes out for hours and hours before his body, finally, collapsed with exhaustion and he fell into a restless sleep. All the while she consoled him gently, singing a soft lullaby that was so low, he could only hear it as a gentle hum, tickling the inside of his ear as he rocked back and forth between the conscious world and the land of dreams. When he woke, she was gone, the only trace of her left behind was a thin set of footprints that led deeper into the woods, half covered by freshly fallen snow and too light to track. *** If he had looked back for just a second, he might have noticed her, standing there, alone in the snow. Just as he found her. A tiny little eight-year-old. Defenceless and cold. 43
She watched him make his way back to the village with sad eyes and a deep sigh. Clutching her most precious item in one hand and a small piece of crumpled paper in the other, she continued walking without slowing her stride. Only when she had reached the perimeter of the woods did she stop, and take out her only sentimental treasure – a golden locket containing a picture of who was the most important person in the world to her. A single tear rolled down her cheek, as fleeting and tender as a doves wing, as she remembered the cause of the charred edges of the old photo. “Humans,” she scoffed. “Humans are the true monsters…” *** Eight years later. An adorable ten-year-old girl, with golden braids and skyblue eyes, and a smattering of freckles across her rosy cheeks, ran across a meadow, giddily chasing after a ruddy blue ball. A few feet away, her father watched her fondly. His formerly dark brown hair had long since turned a graceful salt-andpepper shade, respectable for a man of his age. His azure eyes, almost identical to his offspring’s, were still guarded, but unusually happy and free in this rare moment of utter tranquillity. The usually deep lines on his forehead were smoothened out and almost imperceptible, and you could see the trace evidence of faint wrinkles gathering around his eyes as he laughed at his daughter’s humorous antics. “Cosette Sykes! You be careful now! Your mother would skin me alive if she found out you dirtied your dress while I’m meant to be watching you,” he called out half-heartedly as she took her fifth tumble in the dirt.”
Bill Sykes had appeared in the village six years ago, a travelling nomad and drifter at the time; he had wandered about from place to place, never really settling and getting along with the village folk, but not enough to make any friends. He thought that Cottonsby would be like all the others. And in the beginning – it was. He made an agreement with a local landlord, six months lodgings for manual labour was a pretty good accord in his book, and he had to haggle hard with just a bit of intimidation to help seal the deal. He met the locals, a welcoming bunch, and only ever so slightly cautious of his hulking size and dark eyes. His mother always said they shone like sapphires. He didn’t want to think about how they looked back then, in his darkest hour. He met Nancy Mulligan about two weeks after his initial arrival. She was a sweet thing, just turned nineteen, and with an equally charming child of two years. It took one month for her to convince him they were friends, three months for him to ask her on a date; six months for him to admit to himself he was in love, and another three months for him to finally pop the question. She had cried, and blubbered all over him, getting his best Sunday shirt wet with her tears, but strangely, he didn’t seem to mind. It was a disturbingly familiar position he had found himself in, that Sunday morning he decided to propose, but he decided to push that thought to the back of his mind and enjoy the moment, not matter how short he was convinced it would be. Surely someone as pure and full of light as Nancy would realise she was better off without him. It was only a matter of time, he said to himself. And yet, days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, and months turned into years. The ring on her finger remained, and he finally came to accept that she wasn’t going anywhere, and he was just going have to give in and be happy 45
with her, whether he liked it or not. People often said they were an unusual couple, as opposite as day and night, and not just physically either. But they worked, and they were content with each other, little Cosette promoted the relationship with all her might. The tiny girl was strangely attached to him, despite his reluctance to even speak to her, let alone touch her. She reminded him too much of what he had lost, a child that he didn’t do enough to help, and the life he had lost in the span of one night. Eventually though, he came to love the bubbly ball of innocence and sunshine. Of course, he still missed Hum, and thought of her occasionally. What had become of his solemn little siren? Was she safe? Did she finally find a family of her own? So many unanswered questions crossed his mind, but he guessed he would never really know. The fear that her new daddy would leave, just like her old one did, was always at the back of her mind. Even now, as she curiously watched a ladybug take flight from atop a daffodil, she glanced back at him from the corner of her eye. He looked lost in thought, but a gentle smile was played out on his face, one full of nostalgia and a bit of sadness. He had never shown that kind of tenderness with anyone. Not even her mother. “Not even me,” she pouted. Her eyes widened as she realised something. He was distracted! She could finally go and check out that thing she had found the other day! Squealing in delight, her eyes widened in realisation, and she quickly muffled the sound with her hands, a smile growing on her face. She quietly tiptoed behind a bush, peeking over the edge and seeing that her father was still distracted, broke into a
sprint, disappearing into the treeline, and running along the forest path. She promptly arrived at her destination, a nook, carefully hidden behind an array of small shrubs, and covered by some strategically placed branches. Cosette removed this blockage and picked up the object within. A pretty necklace! She had found it buried under a mound of leaves and dirt a few days ago, and washed it â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;till it shone, before storing it away in her special hiding place after hearing her daddy calling for her. She wondered if her mommy would like it, her birthday was coming up soonâ&#x20AC;Ś Although, she quite liked it herself, she wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t mind giving it up if it meant it would make her mother happy! It really was lovely, though. She slipped it on over her head, before the gold heart suddenly opened and something fell out, fluttering to the ground gracefully. She leant down, and was just about to pick it up, when a low growl reverberated throughout the clearing, paralysing her. Cosette slowly lifted her eyes, and froze in absolute terror at the horrifying sight before her. A creature made of pure shadow, with blood red eyes and glinting teeth was staring right back at her. The thing rose onto its two hind legs and she fell down, scrambling backwards and shivering terribly as hot tears streamed down her cheeks. It snarled at her menacingly, coming closer and closer, midnight swirls rising from it like steam from a kettle. She closed her eyes, praying to god and thinking of her mom and dad. Her hand unconsciously clutched the necklace, as the looming beast steadily approached her. It was right in front of her now. She could feel its hot breath hit her face, it smelt like smoke and ash. She was going
to die; more tears ran down her face. “Please,” she whispered in her mind, “I don’t want to die.” Suddenly, her prayers were answered. A heavenly voice sung out like sunlight breaking through on a cloudy day. The monster twisted and howled in pain, its shadowy body becoming distorted before finally being sucked into an invisible vacuum and Cosette could only stare in disbelief at the space it had previously occupied. A million questions ran through her mind. What was that thing? How was any of this possible? And who was singing? Her eyes lifted in wonder, looking around before finally landing on a mysterious figure – a young girl, maybe sixteen or seventeen – standing in the middle of the clearing, in a pure white dress. She had long dark brown hair, and black eyes. Her skin was pale, almost deathly so, and she stood as still as a statue. Her gaze pierced through Cosette like a blade, like she was peering through her very soul. Finally, after a tense few moments, Cosette hesitantly spoke. “Who are you?” She mentally scolded herself. This stranger just saved her life, and here she was questioning her! How rude. Her mother would have a heart attack at how mindless she was being. “I…I mean… Thank you. You…You saved me.” The girl didn’t reply, and instead her gaze fell lower, down to Cosette’s – neck? “Oh! The necklace!” Her eyes widened in realisation. “Does she like it?” she wondered as the stranger continued to stare at it intensely. Suddenly, she got a brilliant idea. “But would she even accept it?” Deciding that doubting herself wouldn’t help; she made up her mind and set her jaw. Getting up, she took off the necklace and marched over to the stranger and held it out like she was offering it in her hand.
The girl blinked, and stared down at her curiously. For some strange reason, the girl’s inquisitive scrutiny made her cheeks feel hot and she stumbled over her words. “A…as a thank you… Do you maybe… I mean… would you like this? I… It’s very pretty!” She tried to sound enthusiastic, even as her pitch rose at the end in a very unladylike way. For an uncomfortably long time, the stranger just stared at her, making her fidget nervously. Did she not like it? Did she think she was being too forward? She probably thought she was just some random child bothering her out of nowhere. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the girl’s lips quirked into what looked like a half smile for a fraction of a second, leaving Cosette to stare at her in wonder. Seemingly realising this, the smile quickly disappeared, and the stranger held out a pale hand to take the necklace. Cosette quickly released it into her palm and looked down shyly, staring at her feet, before her eyes flickered up and she gasped out loud. She was gone. Walking back over to her secret nook, she noticed a crumbled piece of paper on the ground, with slightly charred edges, and picked it up. It was a photograph of a cute little girl and a woman around her mommy’s age. The little girl had dark brown hair, pale skin and black eyes, and was laughing and pointing at something off camera. Something about the little girl’s smile made her feel warm inside, and so Cosette carefully rolled tucked the picture on the inside of her blouse and made her way back to her father, intent on telling him all about her little excursion. *** Bill nearly had a heart attack at the state of her clothing, and scolded her fiercely before she could get a word in
edgeways. He had looked horrified at the thought she had been cornered by a shadowy beast, even more so than that time she tried to befriend a wolf, and she thought she saw a flash of recognition in his eyes when she mentioned the odd girl, although, she might have just been imagining it. “…she was so pretty too! Her eyes were so dark, and so was her hair! It was all silky and nice. Do you think that was really her singing too? Her voice was like an angel! She kinda looked like one too, especially when she smiled. Do you think I’ll ever see her again? Huh? Do you? Do you, daddy?” He laughed as she fired off question after question and he shook his head slightly, patting her on the head. “Calm down, Hun. Who knows? Maybe you will meet her again one day…” He’d quite like to meet her again himself. He silently thanked her, even now; she was still looking out for him and his family. As his gaze fell back on his daughter’s golden head, his blue eyes twinkled playfully and he started walking back towards the village. “We better be heading back now. And besides, don’t you want to tell mommy all about your new crush?” Cosette quickly stumbled after him, face resembling a ripe tomato as she pummelled his side with her tiny, hard fists, calling him as many childish insults as she could think of. He just laughed harder, and hugged her tightly, causing her to squirm and punch him even harder in an attempt to get free. “Thank you Hum. Thank you.” A few feet away, a slender figure, with dark brown hair, and dark black eyes, watched the heart-warming scene with a ghost of a smile on her face, before fading into the darkness.
The Trade Policies of Pirates By Emma Flannery, age 15.
It is not easy to die, even for a good man. In the very heart of the city castle, a boy thought about this as he lay in a slippery pool of his own blood. He was trying not to move too much. Even too deep a breath could move the knife stuck between his ribs into pulsating agony. His name was Caleb; his name was Maggot. Even on his deathbed, he knew which name he preferred. Which name he knew as his own. How had things come to this? He had started life nameless, after all, as the squalling offspring of an unmarried kitchen maid and a visiting noble. How was it that the queen herself had decided to execute him? *** It began the summer the pirates came to the castle. The kitchens were abuzz with the news. A group of men and women had arrived at the castle that morning. They were beautiful, but not in the way that the castle nobles were, in the way of powdered faces and tight corsets and dainty steps. No, these people wore clothes of unimaginable hues with perfumes and body artworks from distant lands. These people seemed always to be dancing and singing and humming. “They were foreign nobles,” said the cook. “Sailors,” said the scullery maid. “Pirates,” said everyone else.
What else could they be? Who else could perfectly balance mystery with danger, beauty with laughter, art with life? Everyone wanted to wait the tables at the great feast that day. But the cook, the head of the kitchen, looking about, saw the boy, curled in the corner of the kitchen. “You,” he said, pointing. “Caleb, yes?” Caleb had been his father’s name. At least, that was what his mother said. The name never seemed to be quite his own. “You’re clean. You’ll help wait the tables today.” It must have been a comical sight. A boy, who seemed barely to have the strength to stand upright, whose whole body was narrower than the queen’s arm, struggling to push trolleys full of food into the Great Hall. The nobles, at least, took great pleasure from it. But there was nobody who could be considered a pirate at the table. Nobody who did not seem identical to everyone else. It was at the dessert course that he saw them. In the corner, by the fire, there were a great many armchairs, and sitting there were many shadowy silhouettes. But he knew by the looseness of their bodies that these were the pirates. He knew by the man he saw. In the centre of the semicircle of armchairs, there was one chair facing the fire. The occupant of this chair had turned the chair ever so slightly, just enough to see the rest of the Hall – enough for the rest of the Hall to see him. He was tall, taller than many of the servants. He wore strange clothes – black, devoid of decoration save for a
dragon that curled its tail about his left wrist and its head about his right. He had skin the colour of burnished gold, a sharp contrast to the milky skin of the natives. Ink traced patterns all over his hands, and silver rings formed a line along his earlobes. He was watching Caleb with glittering green eyes that had seen the world, and when he saw Caleb looking he smiled a slow, lazy smile. A pirate. What else could be so exotic? Much later that night, Caleb lay awake, partly from hunger and partly from curiosity. He had not eaten in nearly a day, and he was desperate to know more about the pirate man. When he was very, very sure that everyone else was asleep, he got up and tiptoed to the Great Hall. The nobles were gone, but the pirates were not. They were speaking in low murmurs, the fire their only light. Caleb hid in the shadows behind the nearest pillar, the cold seeping through his bare feet and into his bones. “I dunno cap’n. Seems fishy, like. Why would the queen entertain the likes of us?” A male voice, scratchy. “I am with Herr Fitz in this matter. It is suspicious.” A female, softer. The pirate who had smiled held up his hand. “Silence for a moment, comrades.” Then he looked into the shadows where Caleb was hiding. “Well, maggot? Are you going to stay there all night? Come into the light, where we can see you.” Trembling, Caleb tiptoed forwards. There were five of them, he saw. The pirate who had called him. A man with a
beard and a surly expression. Two women, one with a tattoo of a wolf and the other with spiked rings on every finger. One with a shock of white hair and a black mask covering her face. They all scrutinised him in the firelight. “Scrap of a thing, isn’t he?” “I could count his every rib if I wished.” “Strong eyes, however.” This from the masked one. The captain watched him with eyes that seemed to know everything. “Strong eyes indeed. For a maggot.” He picked up a plate from beside him, still almost full of food, and handed it to Caleb. “Sit. Eat that.” Just like that, the conversation resumed. Caleb sat, and basking in the fire’s warmth, ate the cold food with his fingers. The pirates were arguing about something called trade policies, and why the queen was likely to break one. Caleb let the rumble of their voices lull him into a dreamy calm. When he woke up, the pirates were gone, the fire was out and it was morning. He was curled in the captain’s chair, under a heavy black coat. Standing before him was the queen herself. “Your… Your Highness…” He bowed, as well as he knew how to bow, which wasn’t very well. “I suppose you’re their pet now.” She walked away. *** On the second night, the woman with the wolf tattoo asked him his opinions on trade policies. “I don’t know what trade horsies are,” he said truthfully, and couldn’t understand why they all laughed.
*** On the third night, they discussed oranges. Something Caleb had many opinions on. *** Night four, five, six, seven, they told him stories of their adventures. He sat with wide eyes, drinking in every word. *** On the eighth night, they told him they were leaving, and he cried, even though he was a big boy and big boys didn’t cry. He begged them to take him with them. “How old are you?” asked the captain. “Six.” “When you are twelve, you can come with us. We’ll come back every year until then.” The captain patted his head, and the next morning they were gone. What was a year but four seasons? *** They did come back. Every year, without fail. By the fifth visit, Caleb had a chair of his own and took part in all their conversations. And all that year was anticipation. Because, on the sixth visit, he would be going with them. There was only a day left when disaster struck. The queen summoned him. To the echoing courtyard at the very centre of the castle. A routine errand, but she’d asked for him by name.
“Caleb.” She smiled. Her way of saying the name was strange. She almost hissed it. “You are a cute child. Do forgive me.” “For what, your Highness?” Caleb was miles away. A day more, only a day! “Trade policies must be ended. Alliances must be severed.” Her eyes met his. The eyes of a predator. “Hope must be broken.” She moved with lightening speed. Caleb moved on reflex. The knife was deep in his ribs before he could blink. “Such a pity,” she murmured in his ear, as his body tensed and a scream froze in his throat. “That captain really does care for you. But if he is to die, then you must too.” She left him there, crumpled in a red heap. *** Caleb heard running footsteps. He closed his eyes. Here was death, then. Running a little late. “Maggot! Oh no, oh no…” A voice, cracked with worry. But one he knew. When he opened his eyes, the captain was there. Kneeling beside him, mindless of the mess. “You’re still alive, then.” The captain took a deep breath. “Be brave now, maggot, be brave.” The captain was gentle, but being lifted still hurt. Being held while the captain was running hurt more. But Caleb wasn’t afraid. His family would never let him die. 56
*** The cabin that he woke in was sparse. A bed, a table, a stool, a door that let in sunlight and the sound of the sea. The captain leaned in the doorway, blocking most of the light. He watched Caleb with eyes that didn’t waver. “Is this your ship?” Caleb whispered. Everything hurt, but he was alive. “Yes. We kidnapped you.” Caleb smiled. “Funny, isn’t it? How home can be somewhere you’ve never been before?” The captain grinned. “Take it easy, you. I’ll show you around when you’re feeling a little better.” Caleb closed his eyes, breathed in the salt air, and smiled. Home.
Drums, Drums in the Deep By RĂgan Roche, age 15.
I can hear them, Resounding throughout the walls, Pebbles quake in their wake, BOOM, BOOM. They are coming, No one can escape. Again, resounding throughout the crevices, Closer this time, more dangerous, louder. I can hear them, like metal grinding against metal. They are coming, No one can escape. I can hear them, banging against my door, Padlocked, bolted, secure. Yet splintering the wood, cracking my lock. They are coming, But I cannot escape. They are here. I can see them, hear them, touch them. They are talking to me, but no one can hear them. 58
Who are they? They are the voices inside my head, Threatening to break free. They are here, dangerous, feral, untameable. I can not control them, So now I say good bye. But it wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be goodbye. At least, not yet. No. We have other things planned for her. Dark things. Things that plague dreams, Turning them into nightmares, Inescapable. Only In death, We are here. But you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t see us. Dark minds, black souls, no shadow We are coming for you.
Starling Hearts By Emma Harris, age 15.
We sat on the church walls, six pale legs dangling from beneath our Sunday best, gulping in sunscreen scented breaths and blowing spit bubbles until they popped and dribbled down our chins. Writhing within us was the urge to run, strip to our hello kitty briefs and plunge into the lake that lay taunting only ten minutes down Main Street, but the promise of orange pops and a full twenty minutes play if we behaved kept us grounded under the blistering heat. As beetles scaled our daisy yellow skirts we slapped horse flies from each otherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s braids and willed Mass to begin. It was then that we saw Leg Seven And Eight, slick and glistening, coming towards us in a bare foot trudge. Her plaits whacked her back like wet fish and shame scratched itself in ballpoint graffiti across her cheeks. Leg Seven And Eight was wet. Leg Seven And Eight had taken the plunge, gone down like a deep sea diver and emerged, dripping, to face the consequences. We watched her sniffle as her skirts dried stiff. We watched her as we hurtled on the swing sets fast enough to kick a breeze through the sweltering heat. We watched her watch us, empty handed as we nursed our orange pops and praised our own resistance. The summer before, when the days had been less stagnant and we could play barefoot on the driveway without tar gluing to our soles, we watched a bird die. A starling had launched itself at our kitchen window, hit the pane with a thud, then rolled off the whitewashed sill and lay motionless on the pavement. We paused our make-pretend and gathered around to inspect it. We touched a finger to its slowing pulse, each of 60
us in turn, unfazed by the mess of congealed blood and feathers. We can still feel it. Long after the starling’s heart stopped and its body melted into the earth it pulses beneath our skin, dull, a beating throb keeping time with our own hearts. All around us birds sang and screamed and wrenched quivering worms from beneath their claws and swallowed them whole. One creature in particular, a scruffy jackdaw whose beetle eyes peered out at us from the back of his skull, stood not two feet from us with his head cocked, taking in our strange scene. He was waiting. We spent the rest of the summer with the window never leaving the corner of our eyes, straining our necks at the dinner table and listening for the tell tale thud of garden bird against glass, but it never came. Even as the days shortened and clouds of swallows could be seen flying south from the bitter winter, not one straggler mistook its own reflection for a short cut. Birds are intelligent creatures, they learn from each other’s misfortunes the same way little girls learn from each other’s misbehaviours: by standing in the sidelines, and watching.
I wish… By Anna Carey, age 16.
But, I don’t wish. These days, I don’t wish for more, More wealth or clothes More room or more perfection, And I don’t wish for less, Less troubles, less experiences Or less embarrassments, I don’t need less Of what has happened To shape me, Or more Of what is not me.
But I strive, For the days of colour And timeless moments, Of music close to the heart, And stunning views Of life and of the sea. I strive to grow And embrace true happenings, 62
And the real unfolding of my soul. As I ground my roots, Family and Home, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll sprout and flow To new worlds of life And new experiences.
Customer Service By Lucy Moore, age 16.
The first time she calls, it’s because she has forgotten her credit card pin. And, then again, it’s not really her fault they play such good songs on hold. She’s standing on her kitchen table belting out Wonderwall and wondering if it was too late in her life to start considering a Broadway career when she hears a voice. “Hello?” Her heart drops like a stone in her chest, and her mouth opens but no sound comes out. “Are you there? Hello?” “Um… yes. Hello. Hi,” “Graham from Customer Service, how can I help you today?” She feels like she needs a second to calm her speeding heart, and cool her burning face, but instead she just ploughs right on. “Hi, yes, I’ve forgotten the pin for my credit card, how do I recover that?” It sounds smooth and clear, like she hadn’t already rehearsed it twenty times previous to calling. “Okay, do you have phone and internet banking?” She doesn’t say anything for a second. She doesn’t really know what that is. “No?” She is annoyed how her voice rises at the end of the sentence, and tries to amend it. “I mean, no. I don’t.”
“Okay.” He sounds annoyed. She tries not to overthink it. Then again, that was what she did best. “Well, can I have your credit card number, please?” It takes her a minute to figure out which one this is, and she begins to recite. (Obviously it’s not being printed for security reasons.) “Okay, and your full name?” “Janice Woodstock.” “Date of Birth?” “14 September, 1991.” “And your address?” “9 Ivy Park, St Mary’s Road, Cork.” He appears to be typing. She gnaws on her thumbnail. “Okay, I can have that posted out to you on Tuesday.” “That would be perfect, thanks so much.” “No bothers. Anything else I can help you with?” “That’s all, thank you.” “Ok, see you.” “Bye.” She’s about to hang up, when she hears a laugh. Then… “And Janice?” “Yes?” An uneasy feeling rises up in her stomach. “You’re a godawful singer.” And he hangs up with a sharp click. The second time she calls, it’s because it’s been three weeks and her new pin still hasn’t arrived. Janice secretly hopes 65
Graham will be on the other line. She’s ready to give him a piece of her mind for daring to be so unprofessional. However, when he hears the familiar– “Graham from Customer Service, how may I help you?” –her courage fails her, and instead she goes with a more passive, “Hi, how are you?” “I’m… good thanks.” He seems to be taken aback. “How about you?” “Well, been better. My hamster died, so I was late for work this morning.” She doesn’t know why this strange, useless information spews out of her, but it’s too late to take it back, so she rolls with it. “And, how do those two occurrences correlate?” A hint of amusement threads his tone, and she wonders if he’s making fun of her. “Well, first it took me a while to actually discover that he was dead, and not asleep. Then, I had to take out his tiny little body…” Her voice clogs up, and she breaks off. “Are you… crying?” He’s alarmed now, and Janice tries to pull it together. “Yorkie was just an important part of my life.” She says stiffly. “Yorkie?!” He chokes out. She pretends he too is choking up from sorrow, like herself, as opposed to laughing at her misfortune. “Yes. Yorkie. Now, if you don’t mind, can we get back to professional business?” She hopes he doesn’t bring up the fact that it was actually her who started this whole mess. “Yes, of course. My apologies.” Graham clears his throat. 66
“What was it you called about?” “My new pin for my credit card. It still hasn’t arrived.” “Okay,” his tone has returned to business like, “can you confirm your address for me?” “9 Ivy Park, St Mary’s Road, Cork.” There’s a sound of keys tapping. Tapping. Still tapping. “I’m so sorry, it was posted out to the wrong address. I can send it out tomorrow, it’ll probably be there by Friday.” “My credit card pin was posted out to someone else?” Her voice hitches up at the end. “Yes, but it’s fine.” She breathes heavily. Fine was not a comforting word. “Seriously, it is. The woman living at the address we sent it to rang us about an hour ago, she’s returning it tomorrow. I’ll send it out then. So sorry about all this.” “Okay,” she says slowly, “thanks. I suppose.” “You’re welcome.” He sounds amused. “I suppose.” The sharp click alerts her that this brief, but odd conversation is finished. Her pin does eventually arrive, and it’s a while before she needs to call the bank again; so long, she forgets about Graham and their acquaintanceship. Janice only rings the bank because her mother has asked her to set up a bank account for her. She, of course, already has one, but wants to switch banks. So Janice, who was about to head out to do the grocery shopping, is landed with this job.
Therefore, when Graham picks up, his Northern accent and joking tone only seek to annoy her further. “Ah, Janice,” he says, after she has started speaking, “haven’t heard from you in a while. We were starting to wonder.” Her anxiety spikes. We? Who else knows about her embarrassing conversations with the Customer Service man? “I’d like to open a bank account, please,” she says, trying to maintain her dignity. There’s a silence. “Janice, I don’t wish to point out the obvious, but you already have a bank account,” Graham says eventually, with equal amounts of dignity. “I know I do, you toe.” The insult slips out without her noticing. She inwardly curses. She hears high pitched squeaking noises from the other line, and an odd choking noise. Either Graham is in fact choking, or he is laughing at her. Again. “It’s for my mother,” she continues, hoping he’s actually not dead. “Oh, okay.” There’s a tapping of keys. “Well, this would be much easier if your mother could call us herself.” “She won’t do that,” Janice says flatly. “She doesn’t like phones. Says they’re the devil’s work.” “Wow, do we have the same mother?” Graham sounds weary. “Yeah, she also won’t let me eat sausages.” “Or rashers, right?” 68
“Gracious, we do have the same mother!” There’s another long pause, and really, Janice is getting tired of pauses. “Janice, this may be extremely impertinent of me, but your details say you’re twenty six. What twenty-six year old says ‘gracious’?” Janice feels a bubble of rage pop inside her. “You’re correct, that is extremely rude, and I could get you reported for that. Also, might I ask, how old are you?” “Twenty-eight.” “What twenty-eight year old says ‘impertinent’?” She’d never let this on to him, but she’s actually enjoying this ‘back and forth’. “That is a fair point,” he replies, impressed. “Now back to this bank account, I actually can’t set up an account for someone else over eighteen, so your mother will have to brave the dangers of the devil’s communication device. Alternatively, she can come in and get a form to sign up. Or do it online.” “That won’t work,” Janice cuts him off, “she’s scared of the World Wide Web.” “I expected that, tell her to drop into us for a form, we’re open all week until seven.” “Will do, thanks Graham.” “Talk to you soon, Janice.” Every time he speaks, Janice has to analyse his tone, because most of the time it sounds like he’s making fun of her. “Hopefully not, Graham.” This time it’s her who hangs up.
A sense of triumph fills her chest. And she realises she doesn’t necessarily mean what she just said. The fourth time she calls, she tells herself it’s completely necessary, and she definitely doesn’t want to talk to Graham anymore. She also tells herself that she 100 per cent, definitely needs to set up internet banking. “Hello, Graham from Customer Service here, what can I do for you today?” “Hi, it’s Janice.” “Janice!” He sounds pleasantly surprised. “How’s the mother?” “Oh, she’s good. She bought a hands-free hoover, and got the parish priest to throw holy water at it to expel demonic activity from it.” “Wise woman.” “How’s yours?” Janice asks lightly, half forgetting the reason she called. “Oh,” he sounds subdued, which is unlike him. “Actually not so good at the moment. She’s sick.” Janice is stumped for words at this. She’s not used to meaningful conversations with Graham. “I’m sorry,” she says suddenly. It sounds unnatural and strange, “I’m sure she’ll be okay.” She’s racking her brain for another comforting phrase you might read inside a card, when she hears a snicker from the other line. “Oh my god. That’s not true at all, is it?” Janice bursts out, furious, “you’re having me on!”
His low chuckle is the only answer she needs. “My god! I felt so bad! I was seconds away from sending a fruit basket!” Despite herself, she’s not actually that angry. “You’re so gullible.” She can practically hear the infuriating smirk in his voice. She realises she’s never actually seen his face, and is sort of imagining a plainer Jamie Dornan in her head. “You don’t need to tell me.” She slumps on her couch, “In primary school everyone told me we had a Hallowe’en costume party, so I came in dressed as Frankenstein – but there was no costume party.” “Oh god.” He sounds genuinely distraught. “That is my actual worst nightmare.” “I still wake up in cold sweats about it.” She sighs. “Speaking of my nightmares, I have a new hamster.” “Why is that a nightmare?” “Because he’s going to die again someday.” “Well, we’re all going to die one day.” They both go silent, stewing in this displeasing statement. “What’s your hamster called?” he asks, moving swiftly onwards. “Hershey.” “Yorkie and Hershey?” he chuckles. “Completely unrelated.” Janice says haughtily. He snorts, “if you say so.” “I do.” “What did you call about, anyways?” he asks, after a few 71
more minutes of idle chat. “Oh yes.” She sits up, “I want to set up phone and internet banking.” “I’m going to have to transfer you over to Dave, he’s head of that department.” She hums her approval, but is secretly disappointed. “Goodbye Graham.” “Bye, Janice. Call again soon.” She can’t find an excuse to call for a number of days, and so is shocked when one day she receives a call from No Caller ID, and picks it up. “Hi, Graham from Customer Service here.” “Graham?” Janice is shocked. “Yes, Janice?” he responds patiently, as if he has no explaining to do. “You do realise I’m supposed to ring you, not the other way around?” “I know, but I wanted to hear about your new hamster.” “Hershey’s fine.” Janice says shortly. “That’s it?” “Are you ringing me in work right now?” “I’m on my lunch break.” “And this is how you choose to spend it?” Janice is incredulous, but a little flattered. “The people in my department are, as you would put it, ‘toes’.”
“That’s understandable. Also, if you must know, I gave Hershey away.” “What?!” he cries, horrified. “Why?” “I would look into his tiny little eyes, and all I saw was Yorkie’s lifeless ones gazing at me.” “Maybe you should get therapy,” he suggests, unhelpfully. “Shut up.” “So what do you do, Janice?” “I’m a temp.” “Do you enjoy it?” “Not completely.” “So what’s your ambition? Do you have any secret ballerina dreams?” She hesitates, wondering if she should tell him. She decides to go for it. “I want to start a circus, and be the ringmaster.” “I would expect nothing less.” he says, not even sounding a bit surprised. “What about you, what do you want to do?” she asks curiously. “I want to set up a bakery in Romania,” he says, without missing a beat. “I’d come.” It’s the truth. Graham sighs. “Lunch is over, I have to go. Talk to you soon.” “Bye.”
*** A week passes with no call. Janice bites the bullet, and taps in the number. She has no excuse for this call, she just wants a chat. “Hello, Alicia from Customer Service, how can I help you today?” Janice is stumped for a second. But obviously Graham has shifts, he can’t be on all the time. Still, she has a bad feeling. “Hi, I was wondering if I could speak to Graham from Customer Service?” She decides to chance it. She can always call back later. “Graham? Graham Cusack?” Alicia sounds disinterested, detached. “Northern accent? Sarcastic?” “That’s the one,” she says absently. Janice already knows she won’t be having any interesting chats with her. “Yes, can I speak to him please?” Janice says politely. “He transferred just last week,” Alicia says, sounding a bit impatient. “He doesn’t work here anymore. However, I have all your details, I can help you with anything you may need.” Janice hangs up the phone. The click vibrates in her ear, an empty click. No more scintillating banter, then. She looks around her small, empty, silent apartment. Maybe it’s time to get a cat.
The Promise By Cian McGrath, age 16.
He had a bullet in his back and the sky swam before his eyes. Sand beneath his feet, and in the distance a seagull, soaring, diving, and his brothers were playing, far out, where he could not tread. His parents were behind him, arguing, their voices barely heard over the screech of the birds and the delighted cries of children.
But that wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t important. He couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think; a blur of faces and names; a forest, his girlfriend, New York, a girl, his girl, and a promise; not to her but to someone else, someone whose face skimmed by, and nothing came to him except that he loved her, and that vague promise.
Last words, doubts, restless fears. What had been said, not said, could not; how long had he left? Green and red before him, shifting, ethereal, colours forming and dissolving and a police badge, just beside him, the seal of authority so close to him, and 75
the wail of sirens, and a voice, telling him things would be fine, while he felt his blood pool around him.
Then a brief moment of lucidity, and she was standing before him, like an angel. But no, she was so small, so young still. He smiled, but she would not budge. She asked him not to leave but already she was swaying, already she was falling asleep. “I’ll see you in the morning.” But this wasn’t enough, and while she slept her face betrayed her annoyance, and she was so beautiful his heart ached. He looked at her and could not understand what he had done to deserve her, and he could remember shutting the door, very quietly, so as not to wake her.
But what about the promise? It eluded him; a missing key to a room he could never reach; and then it came to him. A promise to do better, to be a better person, to love and look after his daughter, to get a job, a real job, to hold his girlfriend in his arms and tell her he loves her, and that everything will be okay.
There were no clouds tonight, just darkness. He looked up 76
but everything was starting to blur, and things were getting smaller and smaller. He felt his eyes starting to shut, and all he wanted to do was to hold them both in his arms, and wait for the storm to pass.
Soul Child By Alice Hesnan, age 16. Obscured by windows reflecting candlelight, the boat glides down the mountain’s river paths, roaring as it peaks a wave of mist. Its luminous sails emit streaks of starlight. The brume twirls as it catches in the tugging wind and spills across the sky. Shades of violet and red bloom in an easterly corner as a light drizzle wakes the grey highland town. “How’s Dad?” I mumble into the phone, catching the coiled green wire between my fingers. It’s one of those mandatory questions with an answer that never changes. My sister begins to list the newly prescribed treatments, an edge to her tone meant to remind me that my monthly remittance is due. I look out the rusty telephone booth door at the desolate cobbled streets, glimmering tangerine, that are flanked with sombre mahogany stores, closed during the dark hours. The air seeping in is moist, warm and tinged with salt. “Asa?” My sister asks sharply, knowingly reprimanding me for my lack of attention. “How is your work going?” I moved to this jungle encased island, hoping to study abnormalities among the flora and fauna. The professor, Erwin Kline, whom I was sent to work alongside, refused my thesis and berated me during a lunch break in front of his further indentured students. I’m currently working at Cravitt’s Grocery Store. As I struggle to create a plausible answer, a small spectral girl wearing a white dress darts by, her stifled giggles trailing behind her. My gut plummets with familiar dread, while my
mind conjures up fabrications of my doubtful diagnosis. I hear her feet slapping the stone promenade as she ambles along it. I first saw her when I arrived at my apartment, as I fumbled with keys in the afternoon haze. The second encounter was during one of Professor Kline’s rambling talks at the laboratory, where she stood in the doorway, pulling ludicrous faces. Kline stopped his speech short when I enquired too loudly to a fellow student about the ghoulish looking child. He, in turn, stopped short my dreams of becoming a botanist extraordinaire the next day. A surge of adrenaline overtakes me and I find myself whispering into the receiver “Look, Mona, the Professor didn’t want to take me on. I…I won’t be able to send money your way for a while. I’m sorry, I’m trying…” A glum face appears at the window and I curse. I nearly grab the receiver and tell her that I want to go home, that soon I won’t cover the rent bill, that since I’ve arrived it’s not only the ecosystem that’s abnormal, that I think I’ve inherited Dad’s dreams, the ones he had before he fell ill, those of night boats sailing down mountain rivers. I can’t hear what she’s saying now, blood rushes in my ears. I slam the phone down and cover my face with my hands, leaning against the booth, wondering where it all went wrong. Outside I hear her. My bones freeze over with fiery anger. I rip the door open and explode “leave me alone!” The anger courses through my veins, feeding me with animosity. “It’s your fault,” I spit venomously at the otherworldly girl, “You cost me my education, cost me my future, cost me my life! My Dad is going to die because of you. I might be dying because of you. It’s all your fault!” I shout louder and louder
trying to free the hive of wasps swarming inside me. I smash the glass door. Silence floods into the harbour. Ataraxia replaces my fury. I feel numb as I wait for a light to flicker in a nearby window, the inevitable disturbed neighbour, reporting the case of a neurotic young man, raving on the streets below. No one stirs. I feel like I’m the only person alive, in this frozen moment. The girl is slumped on the side of the road, sobbing from the brunt of my fusillade. We’re both sobbing, watching the sky’s slow metamorphism into dawn. I take her small hand as a light drizzle commences to wake this lethargic, tin and timber town. “I’m sorry” I whisper, dragging it out from my stubborn resistance. A shiver tickles my shoulders as I think that, this was no fortuitous encounter, it was something inescapable. A boat flows into the sea, carried by a wave of mist and we both watch as it floats toward us. My consciousness returns. I gasp and flex my fingers, trying to regain movement. Empyrean stars gaze at my predicament, twisting into kaleidoscopic patterns as my eyes blur. An alien sea sighs, soothing me as I find myself lying on a sandy floor. A hazy apparition of the girl sits beside me, watching violet stratus clouds above us move in spiral patterns. She stands, takes my hand and pulls me up. Surrounding us is a small island, covered in sapphire stones. Our boat is moored in front of us, tethered to a rock. It bobs as the tide ebbs and flows. When I look at the sea, its waters encompass the universe. “Where are we?” I ask the girl, who is seemingly 80
undaunted by our surroundings. She tugs at my shirt sleeve, pulling me towards our boat. “No!” I exclaim, my voice shaking. “Who are you?” Eyes watch me cautiously and I don’t know their owners. She whispers softly, “Asa.” I swallow, my throat is caught. “Your name is Asa too?” She shakes her head. “We are Asa.” The world swims around me as I clamber into the boat with her. Nausea rises in my stomach, clenches my heart. A wave of mist condenses. It hits us gently and as it carries us out into the waters, we join boats manned by creatures made of stardust, who lead dark figures to unknown destinations. The starry sky fades around me, like the end of one of Dad’s favourite films. “Where are we going?” I whisper to her, peering over the boat’s edge, into the eerie pools of galaxies. “We are going to start again.”
Only you can stop forest fires By Eimear Healy, age 17.
Your words burn Like napalm on children, Fleeing from an anonymous entity. Stripping away All that covers our tender hearts. We were born in an inferno, Volatile. No forest fire lasts an Infinity. We saw this coming Warning sirens and smoky clouds of ash Run run run If they canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t run leave them. Twisted ankles mean death Bruised arms and scorched throats I am not a lush canopy I cannot regenerate every cell Stronger than before Each blow leaves me 82
Weaker than before You left me And the sirens sound like a melody One that Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve heard before Let us dance among the flames Kissing our skin with their gentle tendrils For the first time I am not afraid
Bluebird By Sean Maguire, age 17.
The attic was brighter than most – lit by a single round, dirtied window on the far wall, about halfway between the floor and the low ceiling. Beneath the window sat a pile of cardboard boxes, each packed with old Super-8 film reels. A thin spotlight, dotted with ambling feathers, waded upon them. With boxes scattered circumferentially around the room, I was drawn to these in particular – perhaps by predisposition, perhaps by their implied importance beneath the spotlight, or perhaps, only, by their position as the first objects I saw upon climbing up the ladder. I kneeled down and picked a reel from the top of one of the boxes. Its title, scrawled across yellow masking tape: “This must be the place . . . 5/5/1968” I was startled to hear a voice behind me as I read it. “I see you’ve found my old collection.” It was my Grandfather. I placed the reel back down in the box. “No, no. You’re alright. Come over here and we’ll watch it.” He sat down slowly on a stool, his hands on his knees, and sighed. He pointed to a pile of cardboard boxes. “The projector’s behind there. If my memory serves me right.” I lifted it out, placing it beside him and in front of a slapdash screen of six large boxes.
“Before I became a writer,” he explained, “I wanted to be a director.” I loaded the reel onto the projector. “There’s an interesting story behind most of these. It’s been a while. I could never bring myself to write about any of them. Then again, I suppose I did, in many ways.” The projector stuttered to a start. After a few seconds it showed, in its nostalgic, static image, a field and a cliff, and sitting cross-legged in the green, sun-soaked grass, the most attractive girl I had ever seen… *** “This must be the place.” It was a steep, grassy cliff at the edge of a field. She sat cross-legged in the grass as I filmed her. “It’s much nicer here than I thought it would be. I’m glad.” The rushing of the nearby river was amplified in our silence. I lay down on my back, turning my head, the camera pointed still at her. “I…I can’t help but ask why?” she said. “Why here? Why like this? “I imagine it was quick. And easy.” “I hope so. But what if it wasn’t? What if she was down there for hours with a broken back? Or lay there until she bled out?” “I try not to think about it.” “It’s gruesome. It really bothers me, sometimes. Not just what she did, but, thinking about why. How does someone get to such a place that this is even an option?” “She had a tough life, you know.”
“I know. I’m not blaming her. I can’t imagine what she had been through. I just don’t understand.” “I know I could never do it.” “Can we stop talking about this now? It’s making me sick.” “I don’t think I could ever do that – to my friends, my family, to you –” “Stop! Please.” She began pulling fists full of grass from the ground and dropping them again. The wind arrived and blew her dark, blonde tipped hair across her face. She pushed it back behind her ear. It was still warm, but it was not hot. Clouds and the tall trees shaded us from the sun, and the freshness of the wind was cold on our skin. Lifted by the wind, the smell of grass, breathed in, was cold on the inside. “We’ll be in film school in less than two years now.” Birds were singing in the trees. “I don’t know if I can wait that long.” “It’ll go quick, I promise.” I saw one bird jump from its branch and fall, its short blue wings spread wide. “It was too slow for her.” “We all feel the same way…” “I don’t think we do.” “We’re all upset.” “That’s not true. How can that be true when we’re all just moving on like nothing happened? Like she never existed?” “You asked me to stop talking about it.” “It’s not just about us. It’s everyone. In fifty years, nobody’s going to remember any of this. Or any of her!” 86
“That’s not true.” “It will be true! We all move on, and these things are left behind. Locked away in the attic, never opened again.” “She’s gone. The world doesn’t stop. For anybody.” “It should have stopped for her.” The blue bird fell and fell, and just before the ground, the bottom of its wings brushing the surface of the grass, was lifted wonderfully up and flew and landed on another branch. “Maybe we shouldn’t have come here.” “No, it was the right thing to do. Everything has been moving so fast. It feels like, recently, I’ve only been chasing reality, and I can’t catch up. It’s all so surreal. And things are going to be different now, aren’t they?” “Yeah. I think they are.” “Do you think we’ll get by?” “I think we’re going to have to.” She reached out her hand and I held it. “And for the record, I could never do it either.” “I know.” She squeezed my hand. “I wouldn’t leave you.” The navy hills beyond the cliff were peaked with white. She admired them, and, turning to the camera, spoke: “The hills are white elephants… Isn’t that what they say?” And the bird, upon finding a new branch, had jumped and flown again, its voice augmenting the others around it. ***
The projector loitered at a slow, relentless stuttering, before a heavy silence swept upon the attic. “That was filmed, I believe, in May ‘68,” my grandfather explained. “And she left us in September.” I began to unload the reel from the projector. “No, no. Don’t worry about that. I think I heard your mother calling. You’d best get going. I’ll put these away.” As I climbed down the ladder, I turned to see him standing, breathing, still before the window, the reel still in his hands. He placed it back inside the box and folded over the cardboard lids.
Spain By Alison Dunne, age 17.
Aisling could smell the Mediterranean heat as the plane descended, over the red roofed buildings and as she exited the plane, stumbling down the set of stairs on cramped legs, she could almost taste salt water on the breeze. She couldn’t hear anything but the thump of her heart beat. That’s when she saw him, and stopped the sound of her bag wheels on the concrete. He didn’t smile. Walking in long strides towards her, he enveloped her in his strong arms, as if he would never let go. She rested her head against his chest. When he pulled away, her cheeks burnt a brilliant pink and his eyes were wet. “You’re so tall,” she laughed. “You haven’t changed a bit.” *** Alejandro watched her as she took it all in, the shrieks and splashes – children jumping off the pier into the water, running barefoot on the beach, on the promenade, the orange hue of the evening sun bouncing off the wet ground, towels wrapped around their shoulders, their faces pure images of delight. She still felt like one of them, like it was only yesterday. Her eyes filled with tears. He reached for her hand, but thought the better of it. “Missing home already?” he joked. She flashed him a watery smile.
“I am home.” *** They stayed in his aunt’s house. He carried her bag up the creaking staircase and she followed, her hand trailing against the cracked paint of the whitewashed wall. The strings of the bed protested as she sat on the floral pattern, catching the eye of a twenty-one-old woman, staring back at her in the spotted mirror of the dressing table. “It’s been so long,” she whispered, mostly to herself. He let out a long, painful sigh. “It’s been six years.” *** She sat with her legs under her, swiping away mosquitoes with her free hand. She felt the weight of his gaze on her as he laughed, his golden complexion, illuminated by the candle. “I’m glad you came.” His voice was so much deeper now. She sipped her wine. *** The following morning, he was woken by the sound of the front door closing. He checked the time, it was 8 o’clock. Perhaps she couldn’t sleep. He opened the balcony doors, and let blinding light intrude. He stepped outside onto the warm tiles. And there she was, on the beach, silhouetted against the light, her long golden hair, dancing in the wind. He watched as she untied her dress and let it fall to the sand, a pool at her feet. She walked into the waves in a blue bikini. ***
“Nice swim?” he asked her, handing her a towel. She wrapped it around her shoulders and smiled. “It was beautiful.” *** She sat on a cushioned balcony chair, listening to the rhythmic sound of the sea, washing up on the sand. He was inside, pouring boiling water into two cups from an old metal kettle he had heated on the stove. He poured milk into hers and added one spoon of sugar, just as she liked it. He gave it a final stir before handing it to her carefully, the handle facing towards her. She held it between her hands, letting its heat warm her. “Nice Irish tea,” he said in English, making her laugh, in his warm Spanish accent, which made her blush. He pulled one of the chairs out from under the table and sat, facing her. She had to tilt her head to look up at him, he seemed so tall, so masculine. She remembered when she once towered over him – the shy, yet playful boy he was, with thin dangly legs always shining with bruises. He clasped his hands on the table inches from her own. The light ocean breeze ruffled his dark hair, and she let her eyes trace the contours of his face. Once, his skin had been as familiar to her as her own. Now she noticed scars and lines she had never noticed before that told of a life he had gone on living without her. She felt heat rise in her neck and she tore her gaze away, she could only look at him for so long. Looking at him was like looking at the sun. ***
“I’m sorry.” His eyes were dark with sorrow and pity. “What for?” “About your father.” She stirred her tea. “It must have been awful for you.” She nodded but she couldn’t bring herself to look at him. Cancer. She remembered sitting on the edge of his bed feeling his slowing heartbeat where their palms touched. She clutched his hand, long after he had grown cold and still. At his wake she sat by his side and evaded curious eyes heavy with sadness and pity that peered around the doorframe, muttering nonsense to fill the uncomfortable silence, “He looks just like himself,” they’d say, “just like he’s sleeping.” But he wasn’t asleep. He was dead, dead and would never open his eyes again. She tried to focus on her father, trying her best to memorise what was left of him, before he’d be gone forever. His waxy skin, pulled taut over his sharp cheekbones, bore lines of the life he had led, long summer days spent in the hot Spanish sun, and laughter lines creased his forehead. His laugh always seemed to fill a room with its warmth. Sometimes she could almost hear it, almost feel it, before she was torn from her imagination, a ball of painful, unbearable grief, unfolding in her chest. She felt like she was falling into a bottomless pit of darkness, that she would never see the light again. So many hands to shake, so many unfamiliar tear-stained faces, his college friends, colleagues and neighbours, who all spoke of a man she barely recognised as her father.
It had only ever been the two of them. Aisling and her dad against the world. As she watched the coffin, disappear beneath the cold, hard ground, a sympathetic whisper filled the silence. “She’s all alone now, the poor thing.” Five years later, she still felt alone. She fidgeted pulling the towel over her shoulders. “And how are your parents?” “Why don’t you see for yourself? Dinner tonight?” She flashed him a smile, “I’d love that.” *** She took a shower, and washed the salt and sand from her hair. She wore a denim skirt and slipped a tight white blouse over her head and wedged sandals completed the look. In the spotted mirror she put on some mascara and dark red lip gloss. She shook out her damp hair and admired her reflection. She thought she looked beautiful and hoped he would stare. *** He wore a shirt as blue as the sea, along with black trousers. He was clean-shaven and smelt wonderful. Her breath caught. *** They stood outside the bar for a few silent moments, unspoken words marking the distance between them. “The last time we were here, we…” she trailed off. His face seemed to harden, pain or anger, she couldn’t tell which.
She could still remember that night, standing amongst the crowds, all eyes facing upwards at the football match which blared on the screen. It was nil all and she held his hand tightly, filled with nerves and anticipation. “Are you ready?” His uncharacteristic impatience brought her back to the present. She nodded and without a second thought took his arm, feeling him tense at her touch. *** There were hugs and a kiss on either cheek. “Hola.” “ ¿Qué tal?” “¡Qué alegría verte!” She kissed his sister last and pulled her in for a hug. Maria was tall, like her brother, and towered over Aisling’s small frame. “I’m so sorry about your father,” she spoke in English, into Aisling hair. Everyone was. *** They sat at the window and sunlight spilled onto the table. Alejandro sat beside her. They spoke so much their food was cold by the time it was eaten. Alejandro was studying marine biology at the local university, “The top of his class,” his mother was all too happy to remind her. Aisling smiled sideways at him. That didn’t surprise her. In the corner of the bar, the television blared with some football match and Aisling’s mind drifted. 94
She is fifteen, clutching Alejandro’s hand, burying her face into his shoulder. The match has gone into extra time, she can’t bear to watch. Alejandro tries to concentrate on the match, but instead feels his mouth twitching up at the corners as he holds her close, so close he can feel her breathing against him. Then Andrés Iniesta swoops in with the winning goal and the bar goes wild. He looks around at the sea of red and yellow, jumping up and down, crying, screaming and waving Spanish flags, then he returns his gaze to Aisling. She hugs him so tight he feels like he can’t breathe, when she pulls away, she can’t stop smiling and neither can he. “We missed you.” His mother smiled a warm smile at her before his father jutted in. “Well, not as much as Ale missed you!” Laughs followed this and Aisling was surprised to see Alejandro’s cheeks turn pink. She reached under the table and found his hand. It was calloused and warm and enveloped her small dainty fingers. He smiled a shy smile and she let out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding. A few glasses of wine later, the evening sun cast an orange hue over the beach and Aisling glanced out of the window at the golden waves, lapping at the shore. Alejandro’s thumb traced circles on her palm. Soft lips peck the corner of his mouth and her whisper tickles his ear. “Do you want to get out of here?” The sun is setting as she takes his hand in hers. The golden light falls on his features and she finds herself entranced by his beauty. She is wearing a Spanish jersey. It’s too big for her and hides her small denim shorts. Her legs are long, lightly tanned. She is barefoot. The cool sand beneath her feet turns to water. He is about a head smaller than her and he has to tilt his head to look at her, to kiss her. She can barely see him 95
in the dark, but she can feel his warmth and his hands on her back. She runs her hands through his hair. It’s awkward at first and they laugh and hit noses. He is shy and nervous, but she leads him. They move in rhythm, their movements complimenting each other in perfect harmony. When they finally stop, their lips are numb and swollen. Aisling smiled down at the table, heat crawling up her neck at the memory. She lifted her gaze from the table and found Maria’s dark eyes, fixing her with a sharp question. She froze. “I’m just going to the toilet,” Maria rose in a question. Aisling slipped her hand out of Alejandro’s grip and stood. “Me too,” Alejandro smiled up at her and Aisling felt uncomfortably aware of Maria’s heavy gaze. *** “I saw you.” They made eye contact in the mirror. Maria pretended to fix her hair. “What…?” “With my brother.” She spun around and Aisling took a step back. “Holding hands!” Her voice rose in exasperation. “I’m sorry,” Aisling flashed a sarcastic smile, “nobody told me it was illegal!” Maria shot her a poisonous glare before her features softened with concern. “I love you Aisling.” She took her hands. “And I was over the moon when Ale said he liked you. I was so happy. He was so happy. But then you left with empty promises, and he didn’t see you or hear from you for six years! You broke his heart.” They had spent the last days of her holidays together, swimming and playing football as usual. But it was all different now, like their time together meant more. They didn’t fight or bicker like they used to, instead 96
they seemed to realise how precious their remaining time was together, they treasured every moment. Holding hands and kissing, they felt as though they were getting to know each other for the first time. On the last day, they sat on the pier and watched the sun disappear beneath the horizon. She buried her face into his t-shirt, into his smell and cried. He planted a kiss on her head. “I love you.” She wrapped her arms around him. “I love you too.” Aisling could feel her eyes burning and she freed her hands to wipe away tears. “I couldn’t,” she sobbed, “I couldn’t come back without him. Without my dad. It was too hard.” “Oh Aisling,” she heard Maria gulp, reaching out to her. Aisling brushed her off and turned to the mirror. Her mascara ran in rivers down her face, she shouldn’t have bothered with makeup, she just ruined it. “But I did.” She steadied her breath, but sobs slipped from between her lips. “I did love him, so much. And…and my promises weren’t empty. I was going to come back, but…,” she trailed off. “He met a girl in college.” Maria broke the silence. “They were dating for about a year… maybe more. He heard you were coming; the next day he ended it.” Aisling felt numb, watching herself stare back at her. She felt flattered and scared. She meant that much to him. She didn’t want to be a disappointment. She wiped mascara from her eyes and felt Maria’s hand on her shoulder. She spoke clearly, a threatening hint to her voice. “Don’t hurt him again.” *** 97
“You ok?” He slipped his hand into hers, flashing a concerned smile. She nodded, but stared down at the table. Maria’s warning echoing in her ears. They walked home in silence, his arm over her shoulder pulling her close. Eventually she surrendered and melted against him. The door clicked shut behind them. Aisling reached for the light switch and the dusty hallway filled with light. Alejandro reached for her hand and pulled her close. They stayed like that for a long time as he ran his hands up and down her arms. When she finally pulled away he kissed her so hard she leaned against the wall for support. Maria’s words faded into the corners of her mind. They sat on the balcony and drank Spanish hot chocolate. He remembered she had always loved it. She wore his hoodie. It was far too big for her, but she never wanted to take it off. She scooted over on the bench, leaned her head against his chest, into his smell and fell asleep. She woke up to glaring sunlight and lifted his arm from over her, so as not to wake him. He pretended to be asleep. Only once he heard a light patter of footsteps down the stairs did he allow himself to open his eyes and watch her as she walked down the beach, disappearing beneath the green water. She held her shoes in her hand and smiled up at him on the balcony, holding a towel and a steaming cup of tea. They went into the city and she dragged him from shop to shop. Buying yet more bracelets to add to her extensive collection up her arms. He tried on silly hats and they laughed like little children, until their sides ached. They visited the
cathedral and viewing points over the city and asked tourists to take photos of them. In the evening they sat with their feet buried in the sand on the edge of the wall and watched kids play football on the beach. “Do you still play?” One of the kids scored a goal and there were screams and whoops of joy. She shook her head. “No,” he creased his brow. “No? You were good.” “I was,” she smiled at him. She would run down the beach, cold sand beneath her feet. Dribbling the ball with expert skill. Less girls played as they got older, retreating to the side lines, twirling their hair around their fingers, cheering the boys on ever so prettily, pretending to enjoy themselves, though Aisling could see their feet itched to play. She did and she loved it. She could still hear Ale’s voice calling to her “¡Aiqui! Aisling. ¡Aiqui!” But she never passed to him. He wasn’t any good. She knew he’d lose possession. “¡Aiqui!” She would ignore the desperation in his call and pass it to Nacho. One day Ale had tackled her, hard, and she fell, lying on her back on the sand. She squinted against the sun and noticed his eyes were wet. “You never pass it to me!” She punched him in the chest and tried to throw him over. “Cállate.” She had rolled her eyes. He punched her back, hard. She blinked hard at the sudden pain and her lips took a while to form words. She wasn’t used to Ale fighting back. She saw red. She spat at him. “Maybe if you played better, I’d pass it to you.”
As soon as the words had left her mouth she wanted to reach out and catch them before they hit him. He let her go and got to his feet slowly, red creeping down his neck and he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. She tried to comfort him, a hand on his arm, but he shoved her back and she fell. “Lo siento, Ale, Lo siento.” They didn’t talk for a week. They avoided eye contact, and he was painfully polite and distant. She remembered sitting on the wall, watching him play football, a horrible pain in her chest as she longed to join him. Her father had slipped a gentle arm over her shoulder and spoke softly. “Go play.” Her heart had thundered in her ears. Their laughter stopped. The ball rolled to a halt. Ten dark eyes stared at her coolly. She swallowed. Ale stepped forward. Their eyes met. She kicked the ball in his direction and his stony expression broke into the smile she was so familiar with. It was the biggest fight they ever had and it served as a reminder of how truly awful life was without the company of her best friend. *** She watched as Ale asked the two boys for their ball. He whispered something indecipherable and the three of them turned to look at her. She blushed. He passed her the ball and she jogged, dribbling it slowly. It had been her father who had introduced her to football. “What did you say to them?” On this very beach. He laughed. “Only that you are beautiful.” He loved it when she blushed. “And I am one very lucky man.” 100
She could almost visualise his silhouette against the blinding sun, crouched down, passing the ball to her. She could almost feel his presence here, walking with her, now. She stopped. She could hear her father’s voice, soft, “Aisling, I…” The image was torn from her. She fell, feeling sand beneath her hands as Ale tackled her with skill she had taught him. Through watery eyes she watched him run up the pitch and score; his laughter filling the night air. When she was younger, her father would kiss her bruises better. “I think that calls for a penalty,” he announced with confidence, “that was one nasty tackle.” She gave him a watery smile and stood. The sun had set and the sky bled a terrible red. “Line up the ball and the goal,” her father’s whisper tickled her ear. “Take a few steps back…and then…kick!” It bounced off the post. “Bit rusty, are we?” Ale joked, but she did not hear him. It was too quiet. Her father’s voice had faded into the corners of her imagination; her eyes searched the beach in vain. His presence had come as fast as it had left and an overwhelming sadness filled the void. She fell to her knees and Ale caught her. Sobs were ripped from her as he held her. She felt so small, so broken in his arms, and he held her, he held her together, as she threatened to fall apart. “I’m so sorry I left you.” He could feel his heartbeat echo hers. 101
“It’s alright, I understand.” “I love you.” He blinked tears away. “I love you too, Aisling.” She pulled away and slowed her breathing, taking his face in her hands. “I don’t ever want to leave,” she laughed sadly. He kissed her hard on the mouth. “Then don’t. Stay.”
Gone but Never Forgotten By Meadhbh Finnegan, age 17. He had painted it, Using old paints and brushes. Half lined grass, In a field of golden glimmer. This was where the pheasants perched, Blending in like lime to leaf. Each trimming an exact replica. The tree bark, rough And sky so soft, In waves of greens and blues. Carefully unfolding an evening sun, Delicate and warm. The colours told me this As the painting spoke for itself. The thatched house was not centred But slightly to the right, It was homely. The gentle crosses on the windows And bricked material with hints of black.
It was not perfect But that was the beauty. Fading inwards now, Revealing the outline Of dominant pencil mark. Held in his own hand crafted frame, He had been so skilled. If living in another generation, A more modern and earlier year, His talents would have gotten him far. Taken for granted When he was amongst us. All the questions I could have asked, Time I should have spent. But he still lives on with us now, Through the painting. I see his figure in all his glory, Paint brush in hand. He is gone now But his ways will always be remembered, And his master pieces, Never forgotten.
Astrodynamics By Pichamon Nene Lonergan, age 16.
When I looked at him then, I knew. By the way the stars echoed in his eyes and that goofy little involuntary smile. The way there’s a million heavenly bodies above but he shunned them all, looking at me like I was the brightest thing in the sky. Starstruck. We were planets in orbit. Galaxy-eyed eclipses. Nuclear hearts constellating into something beyond words. Sparks like space dust falling into place. “Tony?” “Yeah?” “This is the part where you kiss me.” “…” He opened his mouth as if to say something but instead smiled; adoration laced with patronising dismay. The classic you’re-stupid-and-I’m-ashamed-of-you smile. Heat rose to my face suddenly and I looked down at my hands. “You’re not supposed to ask.” “Y…yeah? Well… it looked like you were too big of a wuss to do it, so I did.” He started to argue and then closed his lips. There was decision in his eyes. I moved closer and so did he. The air was drawing us together, a perpetual motion. I touched his hand, and to my surprise, he closed his fingers around mine; the
warmth pouring into me. There was no stopping now. We were prophesized asteroids in nebulous trajectory. 3… 2… 1. Collision. It was soft, of course it was soft. I’d looked at his lips many times and imagined it would be. But it was also sweet. Not in the same way you’d taste a lollipop, but the way it’d make you feel. A little sick and lightheaded but in a good way. I had my eyes closed but I could feel the stars watching us, twinkling in applause. I almost pulled back when he suddenly made a move. The clumsiness of which catalysed the pulsing in my heart. We were ecstatic. Magnetic. Entangled and unwilling to relent. Tumbling together in Newtonian submission. It was no more than a few minutes but when we broke apart, breathless; it seemed dwarfed by the vastness of the universe. Small and precious. The grandest electric-charged scheme in the furthest of voids.
Tick Tock By Aoife Dudgeon, age 16.
Tick tock. The rain pelted down around him, soaking through his clothes and covering every inch of his skin. The night was freezing and as he stared ahead all his eyes could comprehend were never-ending darkness and the faint luminous glow of some street lights. He was unfazed by this, as nothing could possibly be darker than his own mind. Although the orange haze of colour from the street lights attempted to illuminate his path, he was blinded by his own thoughts. His mind was racing with millions of them, each own fighting its own battle to take the lead. Suddenly this overwhelmed him and he screamed out in a manic frustration, clasping his face with his hands. His legs gave way beneath him and he landed with a painful thud on the hard, gravelly road. He felt his skin burn against the icy air but he stayed motionless, basking in the glory of the silence. He felt an unsettling wave of calm pass through him and his body released a gasp as if he only just remembered how to breathe. He felt at peace until the loud cheerful voice of a young woman cut through his temporary serenity. This filled him with a sudden aggressive rage that passed through him with a shock, it filled his whole chest and he instinctively clenched his fists tightly. He slowly lifted his head from the road, and caught a glimpse through the rain of the dark hair of the blissfully unaware young woman entering her house up ahead. He placed both hands firmly on the hard surface beneath him and lifted himself to his feet. He brushed down his stiff jeans that had torn at the knees and took a step in the direction ofâ&#x20AC;Ś 107
Tick tock. She let the door close shut behind her and audibly sighed as she stood in the doorway, relieved to be home from work. An impromptu gust of wind slammed the door shut, making her jump. “Jesus… look I’ll talk to you later, Em, I’m just home from work and I’m absolutely freezing.” She struggled out of her clingy jacket as she attempted to keep her phone to her ear, barely catching what her friend was saying. “Yeah, yeah… love you too… bye…” She shakily pressed ‘end call’ with her numb hands and made her way into the kitchen, wrapping her arms around herself in a futile attempt to contain her body heat. She felt along the cool wall to her left to find the light switch and she pressed it down. Her eyes squinted as they adjusted to the sudden harsh light. She ambled over to the kettle and began to fill it with water from the tap. She grabbed her faded yellow mug her little sister made for her last year from the counter. It wasn’t a particularly sturdy mug but it always reminded her of… CRASH. Her whole body jolted and she let out a frightened gasp as she heard the loud distant crash from the hallway. Everything was completely still for a few seconds as if time has been frozen. All that could be heard was the wind whistling and banging against the roof and the sound of the rain hammering against the windows. She slowly peeked around the corner down the dimly lit hallway, her breath hitching in her throat. She groaned as she realized that a strong gust of wind had blown the door open, she hadn’t closed it properly. She felt silly, like a child left alone by her parents, as she briskly
walked towards the door and quickly closed it, locking it behind her. Now feeling secure, she went back towards the… Tick tock. His heart slammed against his rib cage as he leaned against the wall in the corner of the cold hallway by the coats. His chest felt tight and he could feel the adrenaline coursing through his veins. He felt alive, a familiar feeling that hadn’t made an appearance in too long. He kept his eyes wide open and stared directly at her as she stumbled back into the kitchen. Gullible, he thought. He still didn’t know why he was here, or what his plan was but that doesn’t really matter anymore, he supposed. Nothing does. He leaned his head back against the wall, closed his eyes and let feeling of the adrenaline consume him, pushing all the other unwanted thoughts out of his head. He could hear the sounds of her moving about coming from the… Tick tock. She shook her head and sighed at herself as she placed the yellow mug on the counter. She heard the distinctive click of the kettle as it finished boiling to her right. She poured the steaming water into the mug from the kettle and clicked it back into place. She clasped her freezing fingers around the mug desperately, exhaling in content as the warmth spread through her body. She closed her eyes as the steam from the mug fanned across her face, bringing her back to life again. She started to dip the dry tea bag into the water and slipped into a daze, staring absentmindedly at the brown shades invaded the clear water. She snapped back into reality and walked over to the fridge to get the… Tick tock.
He looked around him and his eyes registered a deep burgundy, narrow staircase up ahead of him. He slowly edged off the wall, allowing himself to take quiet shallow breaths. He placed one foot on the first step, and applied pressure. Satisfied that no sound could be heard, he kept going. He allowed his hand to run along the smooth banister as he took another step and… CREAK. The staircase groaned out as if purposefully trying to raise the alarm. He cursed under his breath and pulled off his heavy boots and continued on, slightly more hesitant than before. The carpet tingled under his icy feet and he focused on that sensation to keep his mind at bay. When he reached the top he was faced with a door. He crept towards it, something inside the room calling to him, pulling him closer. He reached out and placed a hand on the doorknob as… Tick tock. The hot pleasant liquid poured down her gullet as she leaned against the counter. She downed the remainder of the tea and grimaced as she tasted a few bitter tea leaves that had escaped. She dropped the mug into the sink with a clang as it hit against the saucepan from last night’s dinner. She’ll wash it tomorrow, she thought. She switched off the lights and made her way towards the stairs. She grabbed onto the banister for stability and guidance in the darkness and made her way up towards her room… Tick tock. He ran a finger along the desk as he admired her photos placed delicately along the surface. Two young schoolgirls, a family, a loving couple. He felt his eyes fill with hateful tears as he lingered on the photos. The happiness in the photos left 110
a sour taste in his mouth. All of his was taken away, why should anyone else get to have it. The photos seemed to be taunting him, staring back at his agony with smiling faces. He grabbed one of the frames and started to fling it at the wall when… Tick tock. She fumbled with the handle of her bedroom door, still not able to clearly see in the dark. She began to open the door and step inside when… Tick tock. His heart was hammering wildly, desperately trying to burst out of his chest. She was here, she would find him, she would… Tick tock. She stepped inside the room and felt along the wall for the light switch. She pressed it down, and the light filled the room. She began to turn and… Tick tock. He stopped. He stopped moving. He stopped breathing. He stopped thinking. He stopped everything. He… “I’m so sorry.” She looked up and saw him there, letting out the start of a blood-curdling scream that would never be heard again. Tick tock.
Scribble of a Girl By Anna Carey, age 16.
I don’t drink coffee. I’ve never liked it. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Too strong, often too hot to handle, and leaves me feeling a little on edge. That was always the difference between Saoirse and me. I longed more for a cup of tea. Coffee was Saoirse’s scent. The burnt smell emanated from her very being, from every pore. But by the end of that summer, down by the Lough, it had all turned cold and stale. Drumshanbo has always been a small town. That’s how I remember it. More often than not, nothing much went on. There were the usual routines of course; people had jobs, the bakers finished up and closed their doors once the first batch went, and then the locals with all their stories. No one minded the simplicity. There was no need nor longing for stranger things to happen. Expectations were not too big or bold. The everyday life of just a school girl was easy, I didn’t mind that. But it was June 26th now, summertime, and school was over. Only an hour had passed since school had finished up and I was already sweating. The whole town was bearing a new and unexpected heatwave and though we panted and complained, we did always appreciate it. It never lasted anyway, so the weather was praised in as many conversations on the street as possible before it all went away. Walking home along the side of the road, I tilted my face up at the high and blazing sun in all its glory. I couldn’t wait 112
to get inside. It was a substantial walk from the village, and it took time. As I turned my last corner, I caught the sound of little crackling noises coming from behind, and I could see a scribble of a person in a field. Generally unadventurous and lacking curiosity, I decided I would not go near the field. My belly was rumbling and I was already hot, so prolonging this scene was the last thing I needed. I moved on and continued until home but was eventually stopped by a figure standing in the middle of my driveway. It was a girl. She didn’t look much older than me, probably the same age, just taller. Her hair was short, dark and fanned out on her shoulders with a bit of a kink. She stood so close that I could see the little dark hairs that etched her thick eyebrows and all the rings and strips of icy blue in her eyes. I had hazel eyes, but they were damp soil compared to hers; wild and windy blues and whites. And so we stood there for a moment, our eyes locked and time suspended. We were curious about each other, like curious animals. “Hey, I’m Saoirse.” It took me a while to reply. My head was whirling with thoughts. Finally I coughed out a startled “hi” – all I could initially manage with this stranger. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” Her voice was light and breezy with just a hint of mischief. “No, no you’re fine. I just got a bit of a surprise that’s all.” I could feel myself begin to tighten up and I must’ve had my shoulders up to my ears. Saoirse laughed at this and looked at me as if I was the strange child. “What’s your name?” “Oh, I’m Susan.” “Have I just followed you to your house, Susan?” 113
“Well, yes. This is just the driveway in.” “Ah!” She twirled around to investigate the long stretch of road behind her and then turned back to face me with a smirk. “I’d love to see it.” “My house? Ah, God it’s only a bungalow now; nothing exciting.” I was trying hard to be polite to this girl when all I really wanted to do was get past her and get inside. “I think I’d better be getting in now anyway, it’s tea time.” I was pathetic at telling lies. “Ah right, I don’t drink tea. Never liked it. More chance seeing a cup of coffee in my hand! But anyway I’ll be seeing you tomorrow so.” She skipped past me and seemed happy enough to leave me alone for tea. She didn’t even look back once. I could tell she didn’t believe me though, I think she just chose not to complicate things. Saoirse certainly wasn’t lying when she said she would be seeing me the next day. I could just manage to make her out at the top of the drive when I was out in the garden in the morning. She stood there, with an even bigger smile than yesterday’s. I slowly made my way up the drive to meet her, as I figured she would not move until I came up to her. She gave me a tight squeeze with both arms wrapped around my shoulders and my lungs compressed. The smell of fresh coffee beans and toast hugged me too. “Ready for today?” “Sorry?” “It’s alright I forgive you.” She had her funny smirk and she was doing a little dance with her feet.
“No, I mean I haven’t a clue what you’re on about!” I couldn’t help being slightly grouchy with her. Saoirse just started to laugh. “You’ll see… Relax, Susan, God.” We went to the Lake that day. Saoirse jumped in the water within seconds of reaching the rocks. She bounced back up to the surface without a flinch. She has thick skin I thought. It was the start of summer and the water was only beginning to warm up. I stayed dry, perched on the water edge with my toes dipping in and out. We spent the whole day together there. I thought I would get bored after the first hour but Saoirse had so many stories and things to say that I found myself staying longer and longer by the water. Eventually we both retreated from the pier and seated ourselves on a lonely picnic table facing the lake and the mountains. It turned out that Saoirse was not from Leitrim, but she was born in Ireland. She said that her parents went away to America every summer and left her and her older brother here with their uncle. She didn’t mind Leitrim, though she said she got a little bored sometimes. She said that when she turned sixteen she wanted to buy a one-way ticket and go across the Atlantic, reach America and then go off on a big road trip around the states. “But you wouldn’t be able to drive in America!” I pointed out, quite pathetically. “I’d stick my thumb out on the side of the road and smile my face off at the driver!” Saoirse said. She scrunched up her face and tried as best she could to show all her teeth, which looked a little jagged and ever so slightly sharp. Mine were soft and rounded. They never really lost the baby tooth look. “You can come with me, if you wanted.” 115
“If I still know you in three years!” I said. “I bet you’ll still know me in five!” she thought out loud. After that, Saoirse and I began seeing each other every day. We’d meet up at the gate at the top of the driveway and head off for most of the day. Sometimes I’d have to be home for tea but then later when it got dark I would open up my window and hop out to see Saoirse, her eyes wide and all hyped up and ready for the night. Saoirse always wanted to do ‘night activities’. She said there was more fun in the dark and more freedom. The night was ‘ours to control’ she’d say. One night, we both went up Sliabh an Iarainn and Saoirse started chasing the sheep on the hillside. She said they were boring standing still. And when they’d prance around, so would she. On another occasion, Saoirse brought me along in the back of a trailer truck with a driver who didn’t know we even existed and drove off down the windy roads. We were flying and jumping everywhere. I even bumped my head a few times which hurt. Saoirse got a few hits too, though she didn’t give much attention to them. Nothing hurt her. She was fearless. She could do anything she wanted and it seemed like her parents wouldn’t know or even care for that matter. Saoirse was different from other girls I knew, and I felt a lot closer to her than many. I was doing things I thought I’d never ever do. I was a new person. Saoirse even dyed my hair. From a soil-boggy brown to a bright blonde that my mum found far too outrageous. Every day I felt an adrenaline inside of me that rushed through my veins and all over like electricity. I had found someone amazing. Saoirse was changing my life. *** It was after about a month and a half when I started to feel a little unsettled. Everything was grating on me. It was like an
itch. I was able to smell my toast burning in the toaster in the morning and I could feel the first few chills in the early autumn breeze. The wind and rain kept me up through the night, pelting the window like bullets. Around the same time, I also started noticing a few changes in Saoirse. She was more aggressive. She had a hysterical laugh and she would be laughing all the time. I wasn’t laughing once. The things we usually did together weren’t actually fun anymore. They were dangerous, impulsive. They had risks with no meaning. Was there ever any meaning I wondered? I started feeling heavy and clouded most of the time with Saoirse. I couldn’t sit comfortably anymore, I wasn’t Susan anymore. It felt like I was on strings, a puppet being tugged and pulled around. I questioned the stories too. Saoirse was starting to tell all of these weird and outrageous stories about her life. Stories that were quite unbelievable, though I’d never tell her this. Sometimes she would change something in a story that happened to us that actual day, just to make it oddly different, even if the truth was a better story. She told me one time that she would often see figures watching us from behind bushes, even if it was pitch black at night. Her stories sounded like dreams. Surreal and often dark with an unsettling twist. I just didn’t believe them anymore. The days went by, and Saoirse continued to push more boundaries and to push me. The day finally came when Saoirse and I had our first argument! It wasn’t as if we were perfect, it was more that I feared facing the truth and losing what I had. So, I kept my mouth closed. “So what are you trying to say to me Susan? You think I’m a freak! That I’m a liar!” Saoirse’s tone was aggressive and
sharp. I could feel my heart pulsing and it felt like she was rising up and looming over my head. My voice stayed low. “I never said any of those things Saoirse. Don’t put words in my mouth like that!” It was night-time and we were by the train tracks along some bog land. It was dark and dank. Saoirse made me follow her up there for a ‘fun surprise’. “I just don’t think that this is a good idea. It’s actually stupid Saoirse. There’s no fun in messing around on the tracks, waiting ‘til a train is right before your very eyes, flashing over you as you flatten yourself against some rusty looking tracks!” My voice became stronger. I wasn’t holding back anymore. “And well, yeah, I don’t like this anymore. I don’t like us anymore. And now that I say this out loud, I don’t think I ever did, even from the beginning!” I think we were both taken by surprise when I blurted this out. It wasn’t like me to be this angry and hurt. Saoirse was shocked too I could see, but she seemed as though she was rather panicked. Everything stayed silent for a brief moment that seemed to drag on. “No,” Saoirse said. “No, no I don’t want to talk about this anymore! Of course we are friends! We’re Sisters!” She was shaking. “You can’t just leave me Susan. You’ll have no one and neither will I!” She was talking much louder than necessary. I couldn’t move or say anything. I felt trapped by her words. She started to remind me of dogs when they get hyper and nervous; you know when they can’t sit still, with wild eyes, and you’re on edge waiting for when they might jump. Every now and then, Saoirse’s face seemed to soften a little and it looked like she was relaxed, but it was only brief.
Sharp lines would reappear all across her forehead and around her mouth. It made her look aged and withered and lifeless. I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t take it anymore. I made a quick decision to turn around and leave Saoirse there. Before I left, I could feel the low rhythm beating on the tracks of an oncoming train and a feeling of aching nausea travelled across my whole body. I would have been ripped to shreds. I could still hear the sound of Saoirse wailing, getting fainter as I moved further and further from the tracks. *** The next morning was a Sunday. Everything was still except for a few birds and some rustling trees in the back field. Our part of the Lake was so quiet it looked more like a glass mirror; perfecting the reflection of the mountains and life of Arigna on the opposite side of Lough Allen. I had gotten up early before anyone else to join the peace outside. I was tired but I embraced the fresh dewy air around me. I spent the whole morning outside, with a warm mug of tea in my hand. I felt calm, but my thoughts kept bringing me back to the events of the night before. I felt sorry for Saoirse. I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know how any young girl could be so wound up by herself. Our bond was brief but extreme. It all ended that night quite abruptly, though I would have liked to have understood it all a bit better. But now, thinking about it all gave me a headache. I wanted to forget it. I wanted nothing to do with Saoirse anymore. I breathed a long sigh, with the wind blowing steady. The trees shivered in applause as I drank the last sips of tea and got up to go inside. That day was a good day, I remember. I felt strong and liberated. I think my family noticed too. They
said I looked less anxious and that they were happy to see me smile again. And so I started to move on. But it soon all ended when the Gardaí started to ask for assistance in the search for a thirteen year old girl. My heart sank at the door when I heard her name. Saoirse had gone missing the day after we were fighting. I suddenly felt like bricks and stones were piling up on my back and pulling me down to my knees. The Garda looked at my mum with tired eyes and then turned to me. “I’m very sorry, Miss. We’re trying very hard to find your friend for you and her family.” What family? What friend? Don’t find her, stop! It took me a few weeks to stop seeing Saoirse in my dreams. She would sneak up behind me and then with all her force grab me by the shoulders. She’d whisper in my ear, something I couldn’t make out, and it would send me close to tears. I always woke up straight away, with my stomach aching. So Saoirse really did go missing. She disappeared completely. Most people never really knew her very well and didn’t seem to be too disheartened over time. The Gardaí finally stopped the search. Even I started to forget. My sleep improved and I started to feel rested again. I managed to cope with the smell of coffee again too. I used to not even be able to walk into the kitchen when mum was making it. *** Leaves dried up and it became a lovely autumn. Months went by, even years. I invited new friends over after school sometimes, and I studied hard. I wanted to leave Drumshanbo. I saw no point in staying. I got what I had hoped for in the Leaving Cert and I kissed mum and dad goodbye and promised to keep in touch. It was a long and 120
slow bus ride to Dublin, but it felt good to be on the road. University life was strange and there were so many people everywhere in town. It was surprisingly easy to settle in and adjust to it all, though. By the time I caught my breath it was snowing and I was wearing a thick coat that could just have easily been a blanket on me. I took it off when I went inside to have a cup of hot tea in the true comfort of Bewley's Café on Grafton Street. I had my books layered all over the table, which I happened to share with a polite, older looking man who was reading the papers and didn’t seem to mind the mess, though I would have hated it myself. I was just about to go up to the till for another cup of tea when the main door opened and the cold breeze misted through, spoiling the warm atmosphere for a second. Someone tall stood at the door for a moment and then slowly made her way to the till. I sat still in my seat, distracted by the familiarity. She wore a black bowler hat and a long black coat. Everything was black, even her hair. I couldn’t make out any voice or words, but the girl had ordered and was waiting aside. After some speedy minutes of grinding and frothing, the girl received her coffee, to-go. Bewley’s was busy that day, but as the tall girl walked around the tables and chairs, I felt as if the whole room suddenly became quiet, as if everyone was mute. People became blurred and all was focused on these icy blue eyes. They looked at me all the way to the door and out into the frost. The doors closed and all at once the volume increased again. Chairs moved, spoons clinked and the chatter of everyday life started again. The warmth came back to comfort me. I finished the last of my pocket money on a cup of warm tea and opened up a new textbook, Much Ado About Nothing.
I Wish to be Free By Emmanuel Ntemuse, age 16.
I wish to be free, Free from the shackles of convention that bind me, From the Lord of Oppression who cackles and teases and taunts me, As I toil in the soil of rigidity, I wish to be free from the misters who make me uniform, From the whisperers who coerce me to conform, And the people of this twisted sphere who pressure me to perform, Who when I fail laugh and scorn, How I yearn for freedom, To gulp its crisp fresh air, To frolic in its fields and prance in its plains, To dance and skip and bound in its rains, I wish to be free, Free from the shackles of convention that bind me.
Small Errors By Darragh Liddy, age 16.
BEIJING, CHINA, 22/03/2019 He fell, and continued to fall. His balcony was 16 storeys high. From the relative safety of another building the assassin looked on. The day was clear and he had picked his spot with his usual professional precision, so that he had a clear view. Through the scope of his rifle he watched as the corpse sickeningly thudded against a car roof, much below. The assassin breathed in the smell of the smoke wafting from the chamber of the Sako Model 85 sniper rifle. He pulled back the bolt and the empty shell casing flew out. He picked it up and began dismantling the rifle.
U.N. SURVEILLANCE BASE, [undisclosed location], CHINA 27/03/2019 The truck juddered down the potholed road, wheels spinning in the waterlogged mud. The rain thundered from the sky, hitting the mud with a plop, adding to the seemingly endless stream running atop the muck which could simply hold no more water. The truck lurched again, this time onto a gravel path. The tyres crunched against the loose stones as they struggled to grip, the whole truck like an elephant on skis. Through a clear pane in the heavy tarpaulin I saw the sign. It emerged from the downpour looking bruised and worn, â&#x20AC;&#x153;like everything else around here,â&#x20AC;? I thought to myself.
It read: United Nations Nuclear Surveillance Area NO TRESPASSING The truck pulled up into the base and passed through security. It came to a stop outside the main building. I stood up inside the truck, it was quite cramped, the air was heavy, but people were disembarking from the rear. I followed in line until it was clear for me to exit. I jumped from the rear of the truck, the loose, saturated gravel squelching under my boots. Any part of me that was dry was, at that point, soaked in the thunderous downpour. “Private Case,” a voice shouted. “Yes sir!” I replied with a crisp salute, turning toward the man who had just called my name. “Follow me to my quarters,” he barked back. “On my way, sir,” I replied, but he’d already turned and started walking. While following the man I observed the base. It consisted of tents and pre-fab buildings. The rain had, of course, soaked everything and was still pouring. As I walked I continued to observe numerous gloomy looking soldiers, patrolling the area, guns slung over their shoulder, trudging through the wet ground, obviously not expecting any trouble. We eventually arrived at the man’s quarters. I looked around. It was small, with no air-conditioning. The air was no less thick, but at least it was reasonably dry. “So you’re the fresh meat, I’m your squad commander, John McOake,” he said to me.
“I suppose I am,” I replied. I never liked that phrase; I liked to think better of the world’s fighting forces than slang. He gestured to a seat and we both sat. He pulled out a folder and began reading from it. “Justin Case, Private. Born 2000, Belfast, Ireland. Father died in the troubles. Lost numerous jobs, joined the academy at eighteen, first assignment, China. He put the folder down. “Now listen here, boy,” he continued, speaking informally. He was only eleven years older than me, but I had no doubt that he had seen so much more than I had. “This assignment isn’t, shouldn’t, be too dangerous, but if it ever does go down, we don’t leave men behind. You understand me?” “Yessir,” I replied. Just before he could dismiss me, the base commander’s voice rang over the PA system. “All hands to the assembly area,” it said. “Better go then,” John said. We both got up and walked back into the rain. After we arrived at the assembly tent we saw the base commander on the stage. The tent was crowded. Normally it only held a few people, not the whole base. After squeezing in with John we waited for the commander to speak. Moments later, he began to speak: “I’ve grave news,” he said. He had a heavy French accent. “China has just declared war on Europe, more specifically the European Union. This is because the Chinese Prime Minister was just murdered by an agent, allegedly working for the EU. This may, or may not be the case. However, either way, war is coming and we’d best prepare.” The general mood in the tent turned grim. I didn’t know what to expect, but most of those in the tent did. The commander continued to speak. 125
“We hold here for as long as possible. To most of us, Europe is our home. Remember what you’re fighting for. Now, everyone, get to work,” he finished. “Oh-rah,” we replied. For the next few days we set up defences. Prefabs were dismantled and equipment removed so as not to leave anything to the enemy. U.N. SURVEILLANCE BASE, 01/04/2019 I was dragging through my shift on an outpost bunker with another soldier. It was a clear day, in stark contrast with previous days of continuous downpour. I could still see dark clouds in the distance. I opened my mouth to speak to the other soldier when a thick red spray ejected from his head onto me. His body slumped and fell over on top of me, knocking me over. I heard explosions in the distance. I reeled on the ground, the sounds of death and pleas for help on my radio becoming distant and detached. On the ground a mixture of blood and mud stung my eyes. My breathing was short and sharp. I squirmed aimlessly underneath the corpse of my fallen comrade. Nothing made sense. Memories flashed before my eyes. I was sure I was going to… no, don’t think that. I steadied my breathing and slowly my senses returned to me. My radio was once again audible to my ears: “We are under attack, all boots on the ground,” the voice cried from it. I had a bigger problem: There was a sniper staring at my bunker. I heard a snap. The sound of a twig breaking was a sure sign that the sniper was on the move. I pushed away the corpse of my fellow soldier and got to my knees. My eyes still stung. I 126
forced them open regardless. The bunker was covering my body so the sniper couldn’t see me. I gripped my STEYR AUG rifle with both hands. Its solid construction strangely comforting. The sling had kept it attached as I fell. I took a breath. I pounced up, gun ready, finger on the trigger, safety off. I saw him; out in the wide open, framed by the grey sky. I had him in my sights. He turned. He saw me. Time seemed to slow. The features on his face revealed to me that this man, boy, was at most seventeen. His pale green eyes stared into mine. His rifle was rising to meet mine. Could I kill this boy? He nearly had his rifle in a firing position. I made my choice. With two controlled trigger pulls my rifle kicked twice heavily against my shoulder and time resumed at its normal speed. The boy fell backwards, spasmed and went still. Two growing dark red patches staining his uniform. I dwelled on what I had just done for a moment, but then my radio rang out. “Justin, are you there?” John asked over the radio. “Yeah, I’m alright,” I replied. “The base is lost, rendezvous for evac at the predetermined point,” John replied. “Affirmative,” I replied. The location wasn’t far away. I reckoned I could sneak through the jungle and get there in ten minutes. 12 MINUTES LATER I had managed to slip through the jungle unseen. As I approached my destination the sound of gunfire grew louder. Closer still, I heard the roar of engines. I came to an outcrop and took cover behind a tree. I saw the armoured people 127
carriers leaving with the surviving troops. I saw my squad’s assigned APC. I pulled out my radio: “I’m approaching from the north-east side,” I said, “I require cover-fire.” “Understood,” John replied. “Make your break in ‘ten’.” The APC was 250 feet away. I counted: Ten. Nine. Another APC took off out the gate. Eight. Seven. Six. The gunfire thickens. One of the soldiers loading an APC gets hit and falls into the carrier. Five. Four. Three. The side door of my APC explodes open. Two soldiers, John and another squad-mate, open fire, fully automatic Two. One. I jumped from behind the tree. I ran freely for two seconds. Bullets then began impacting the ground around my feet. I continued to run. Not far now, only about one hundred feet to go. A bullet caught my backpack and knocked me off balance. I fell, rolled and got back to my feet. Nearly there, I thought to myself. A bullet whizzed over my shoulder and impacted the other soldier in the doorway. Blood flew from his chest. He fell backward. Only 10 yards left now. A sharp pain went through my leg. I fell like a rag doll. John ran to 128
drag me the last few metres. A bullet caught him in the stomach and he fell. The door of the APC slammed shut and it sped off. As my vision dimmed I watched it get smaller and smaller, until it disappeared into the jungle. BEIJING, CHINA, 22/03/2019 The assassin looked back at his room. He had cleaned it and left it tidy. He had left no traces, except for the ones which he was told to leave. Finally, he went into the bathroom and placed his orders into the sink. ‘Confidential’ was sprawled across the pages in Cyrillic characters, the Russian alphabet. The assassin set light to the orders and allowed the ashes to wash down the drain. His mission was complete. He had left just enough evidence to incriminate Europe, but not so much as to make it obvious. The motherland would once again be the world’s greatest economic superpower with its rivals ‘dealt with’. It was only a matter of time.
My Mind’s Eye By James Coleman, age 17.
Sometimes I talk to myself – I’m the only person that makes sense to me. Mind you, that causes problems, especially if I’m in public, then people think I’m weird or maybe they just think that I’m a typical teenager. In some people’s eyes there is little difference between the two. So it’s like the other day, I’m at home in my own room, minding my own business just hanging out with a few of my friends. The next thing, the mother comes thundering through my bedroom door without even knocking and then she’s like, in front of the lads, “Did you talk to Mr. O’Connor about that project?” So what could I do only say “yeah that’s what we’re doing now, a study group, so if you wouldn’t mind!” As soon as she left I had to say to the lads that we’d have to go for a smoke in The Shambles. It was just for a bit of balance so they didn’t think I was a swot. And then of course I had to counterbalance that by being nice to my mother when I got home because she was after making my favourite dinner because she thought I was working so hard. The truth is I didn’t even inhale that fag and I only pretended to suck out of that can. You see that’s one of the dilemmas of being a teenager, you’re trying to please everyone and you haven’t time to please yourself. Then my sister Tara had problems in school. She told me that two little brats were absolutely tormenting her. I told her to stand up to them and that all bullies are cowards. I also told her I’d take care of them if they didn’t stop. Of course what I didn’t tell her is that I speak from personal experience and that I haven’t had the courage to take on the gang of bullies who are torturing me at school. I feel such a fraud, but 130
I can’t tell her the truth because I’m her big brother and I should provide an example for her and not let her see what a weakling I am! It’s like I can’t truly be myself. Even simple things like sport. Because dad was a rugby player, everyone expects me to like rugby and play as well as him. Even the coach in school is always banging on about dad. I hate that stupid game, I want to play golf! This being a teenager craic is such a tough job. It’s okay if you genuinely don’t care, but it’s a shocking struggle if you do because you always feel like you’re letting someone down. And then an opportunity comes your way. Like the day I was sitting watching telly and my friend Adam called and because I wasn’t talking to him face-to-face I had a bit more courage. He was boasting about racially abusing some fella on Facebook and I called him on it. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to say it to his face, but do you know it gave me a bit of courage and confidence. And then because of that I went to Tara and I told her the truth about me being bullied and instead of it making me look weak in her eyes it actually brought us closer and I was proud that she confided in me. We decided to talk to mam and dad about it and during that conversation it transpired that dad really doesn’t want me to play rugby at all. In fact he was relieved because he feels the game has become too dangerous with all the head injuries. If only I’d opened my mouth earlier I’d have pleased everyone! And so I continue to talk to myself –well the only change is I do it when I’m alone. I kind of think it does look a bit strange if I do it in public. But through these conversations I’ve grown, I’ve matured and I’ve learned. Yes being a
teenager isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t easy, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not all fun and games and thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s a lot of pressure and decisions to be made. The thing is that sometimes we put the pressure on ourselves, but when you talk it through, either with yourself or others, it does make more sense. We have the voice of our own best friend and our own worst enemy inside our head and the biggest decision we need to make is which voice we listen to!
Ancient Roots By Hannah Cahill, age 16.
In my lengthy time on this earth, I have witnessed many triumphs and defeats of mankind. I have always remained unbiased however, As judging was never the purpose of my creation.
I come from humble beginnings, From a small acorn in fact, that was planted by the gentle hands Of a settlerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s youngest daughter.
She cared for me in my weaker years And over time, we both grew, Until soon her own offspring were agilely swinging from my newly found strong branches.
Her home, now shrouded by my arms, soon expanded to a populous village. And my dear friend whom I owe my life and received my name in memoriam from was laid to rest before my feet.
Yet in my years of happy memories, I have also seen immense sadness. I have seen wars. I have been watered with blood of men killing for peace and the tears of those left behind.
Criminals have been strung from my branches, Displaying the cruelty found within the black hearts of some humans And my cries out in anguish have gone unheard; My tears that rolled from my leaves mistaken for the dewfall.
And of my many sunsets and sunrises, just as many people have crossed my path. I have been a meeting place for couples eloping, An ear for a guilty man with secrets otherwise taken to the grave, And an emblem for the bustling town of people that have now grown around me.
I am old now, and superfluous to the society that once grew from my ancient roots. My reputable name has been swallowed by the unyielding current that is time. I stand motionless, observing humanityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s stumbles and wins, Yet never passing comment. 134
And though my time left is short, I find immense peace in the knowledge That through wars, famines, bigotry and hatred Humanity will always prevail For there will always be a small girl somewhere who will take it in her heart to nurture new life.
New Year’s Eve By Alison Dunne, age 17.
It is New Year’s Eve. The light is dim. The air, heavy and thick with noise. Pulling my hood down over my eyes, I sink into the armchair in the corner of the room and try my best to disappear. Three long hours of Great-Aunt Clare screeching unrecognisable songs in a medley, (as everyone painfully managed a polite smile and a round of applause) three long hours of Granddad recalling endless mortifying events of my childhood (that all began with “When you were just about this tall…” met with the appropriate hand gesture) and three long hours of listening to the screams and shouts of younger cousins, high on full sugar Coke, had left me with an excruciating migraine and an undying need to break free of this torture chamber. Stealing a sideways glance at the door, the windows and even the chimney, I debate how best I can escape this prison. “Well… what do you think?” The shrill patronising voice of Kim, my older cousin by eight years, slices through the noise. A tall, platinum blonde, Kim arrives late to every party. As soon as she is through the door, she catches me in her sights, and as if in slow motion, shuffles towards me, muttering about, how much I’ve grown, before smothering me in lipstick kisses. *** 136
I had once stated she sounded like an excited Chihuahua when she talked. I meant it as a joke. However, she did not take it as one. In a blink of her false lashes, tears had made an appearance. Hysterically fanning her eyes with red painted talons, she began to reprimand me. Her voice rose to soprano screeches as I clutched my side, unable to stop laughing, for the more she spoke, the more she was proving my point. Kim, of course, was not at all pleased with this turn of events and in rivers of tears, stood up and fixed her me with a furious stare. “Do you think this is…funny?” she had barked. The relationship between the two of us has been tense ever since and although almost two years had passed since our entertaining conversation, from time to time I still find her glaring at me like I am a nasty insect she’d love to crush under her stiletto. “Eh…What?” I reply, oblivious, to the conversation she had been entertaining Great-Aunt Clare with. “Well…,” she continues, “I was just thinking…why Aunt Clare hasn’t auditioned for the X-Factor yet!?” At first I assume she is joking, until I glance at both Kim and Aunt Clare, both waiting in all seriousness for my opinion. “Why ever not!?” I sneer sarcastically. However, much to my dismay, my sarcasm goes undetected and reluctantly I am dragged into a conversation about what Aunt Clare should wear to her first audition. It was at this moment I catch my father’s eye from across the room. His gaze, while not unsympathetic, is that of an officer sending an army out to be slaughtered on the battlefield and I realise that he is not planning to rescue me any time soon. 137
I despairingly accept my fate when a welcome voice cuts me free from the bonds of Kim and Aunt Clare’s riveting conversation. “Could you help me with the food?” It’s Gerry, sticking his friendly, hairy face around the door. I mouth a genuine ‘Thank You’, making my way through the maze of chairs towards my beckoning freedom. *** “Sit yourself down,” he smiles, a smile of sparkling white teeth. I sit and rest my thumping head into my folded arms. “Tough party?” he grins, sliding me a plastic plate of food. He leans back in the chair, resting his feet of the table. I sighed in response. “Drink?” he offers, me a beer. “Nah, I’m good.” “Suit yourself.” As my mother’s youngest brother, he grew up as the solitary boy in a house of all girls. He took on the role of their model, sporting their dresses, skirts, make-up and nail varnish. According to my grandmother, his years of modelling his sisters’ attempts at a makeover are what ‘turned’ Gerry gay. Tanned, with long blonde hair and a matching beard, he seems to sail through life without a worry in the world. Gerry is often rumoured (jokingly, for the most part) to be adopted and considering he is cooler than my entire family put together, part of me entertains this idea. “How’s your love life, Gerry?” I ask him. Gerry’s love life is always colourful and he has no shame or sense or privacy in telling every one of his latest romantic endeavours. 138
“Not bad, not bad. Sure, your uncle here is a heart throb. I never have any trouble in that department. How about you?” I sigh and shrug, dunking a chip in ketchup. “Gerry!” Time stands still, my chip frozen on its way to my mouth. Gerry and I maintain eye contact and I see him physically wince. He had been hiding from her all day, but she has finally discovered his hiding place. “Clodagh!” he greets his older sister with forced enthusiasm, giving a weak wave of his hand. “Gerry! Take your feet off that table, this minute!” she snaps, marching towards him as he reluctantly obeys her order. It is routine for Clodagh to greet someone with a reprimand. Aunt Clodagh is always first to a party. She proudly strides over the threshold and plants herself firmly in the hallway, scrunching up her nose in silent disapproval. Her husband closely following; a hunched 5ft, balding postman living in Clodagh’s constant intimidating shadow. Gerry is sulking as Clodagh helps herself to his chips, when an eight-year-old with blonde curls bouncing on her shoulders comes skipping into the room. “Can I have some chips?” She drags out each word in her sing-song voice. “Emily…what’s the magic word?” Clodagh smiles down at her. Emily looks at her shoes. “Don’t mind that scary aunt of yours.” Gerry calls out from behind his sister’s towering figure.
“Geeerrrryy!” Emily squeals, running towards him, carefully avoiding Clodagh, and planting herself into his lap. My other cousins must have heard Emily shout, because, barely a second later, they all pile into the kitchen and jump on top of Gerry, tackling him to the ground. My mom emerges from the sitting room, heels clicking on the wooden floor as she walks. “Gerry!” she snaps, rolling her eyes at me. “Wuhhh?” he murmurs struggling to stand as six children tug at his sleeves and trousers. “Countdown in five minutes!” His face, lights up with a smile. “Do you know what that means….?” He pauses for dramatic effect and looks down at the little heads, gazing up at him in anticipation. “Champagne!” A chorus of children’s’ voices fill the air, chanting, ‘CHAMPAGNE, CHAMPAGNE, CHAMPAGNE.” As my mother and Clodagh exchange glances. Soon enough, Gerry is brandishing a bottle of sparkling and striding into the sitting room, a procession of children, at his heels, as if he is the Pied Piper. *** The Television blares, showing image after image of colourful, New Year’s celebrations. The countdown begins and everyone falls silent, sitting on the edge of their seats, as we watch big numbers flash on the screen before us. “Ten.”
“Nine.” “Eight.” “Seven.” “Six.” “Five.” Gerry smiles at me, his thumb on the cork. “Four.” “Three.” Everyone slowly gets to their feet. “Two.” And then it all goes black and the T.V. fizzes out into darkness. “I’m bli-iiiiiind!” As my eyes adjust, I can vaguely decipher the silhouette of my visually impaired grandmother, dancing around the room, in a frantic panic, “I’m bliiiiiiiiiiind!” The story goes, that she had been to the doctor complaining of poor eyesight, only to be told that, tragically her retina had detached and soon enough she would lose her sight. Equipped with the knowledge of her impending blindness, every time someone turns off a light, she hysterically screams, “I’m blind,” at the top of her voice before the light is turned back on and she informs everyone “False Alarm, False Alarm.” “Nobody panic,” Gerry’s voice rings out as he comes to the rescue yet again. “Ow, not in my eye!” “Ouch, that’s my foot.” “Sorry, sorry, ‘scuse me.” 141
Phone torches are switched on filling the room with an eerie white light. “Here,” Gerry says passing me candles and a lighter. *** Laughter fills the dimly lit room. The air is heavy and thick with noise. “Let’s do the countdown again!” Emily shouts. So we begin our second countdown. *** “Ten.” It’s an odd family I have. “Nine.” Of all different spaces and sizes. “Eight.” And quirks. “Seven.” But what would New Year’s be without. “Six.” Kim talking like a Chihuahua. “Five.” Gerry, with his feet on the table. “Four.” Clodagh and her constant disapproval. “Three.” and my nearly-blind grandmother. “Two.” Life would be dull. “One.” Light fills the room and the TV buzzes to life. My grandmother gets to her feet, “False alarm, everyone. False alarm.”
Some Body By Cian Morey, age 17.
Best practice for homicides, like visiting relatives or feeding alligators in a zoo, is to work as quickly as possible. But in that respect, among others, the particular homicide on 59th St. that Wednesday morning defied convention. The whole unsavoury business played out in the midst of a bustling crowd, in the broadest of daylights, for just under a minute and a half. Harry, who had ventured innocently out into the world that morning in search of nothing more than a nice donut and a good book, braked abruptly on the sidewalk and joined the other spectators in gaping fish-like at the scene in front of him in silent shock. The murderer was working overtime with the biggest knife that Harry had ever seen, shrieking abuse that his victim was long past hearing. One by one, like a crescendo in a dissonant orchestra, the members of the crowd erupted â&#x20AC;&#x201C;cries for help were liberally dispensed; demands for someone to call the police were feverishly made; general running in various directions was promptly begun. Harry heard calls for somebody, anybody, to spring into action and intervene. Still the murderer toiled on, a dedicated perfectionist, as oblivious to the commotion around him as an obsessive artist engrossed in his next masterpiece. Still Harry stared, teetering like a small tree in a strong gale as the throng pulsed about him, convinced that, any moment now, the Somebody would make a move and bring the virtuoso maniac before him to well-earned justice. Seemingly satisfied at last, the murderer turned to the crowd, bellowing threats to the establishment and informing anyone who cared to listen that they well on their way to a certain fiery doom and there
wasn’t a single thing they could do about it. This is the moment, Harry told himself, and added his own voice to the choir insisting on the Somebody to act –then the murderer hoisted his jeans a little higher on his hips, and ran away. Harry deflated against the nearest wall like a freshly punctured balloon, swearing at the murderer’s shrinking silhouette and wondering bitterly where the Somebody was when you needed them.
21st Century Politics By Oran Hegarty, age 17.
Democracy: A hungry and heartless machine where wolves in suits and ties push blindfolded sheep headfirst into poll booths.
With one hand on the bible and the other waiting impatiently to open the floodgates.
Snake-charmers and liars fill chairs that once belonged to men who built entire nations on words.
And us a whole generation left scrambling in the wake.
The Girl from the Sea By SeĂĄn Gray, age 17.
The waves were wild when he met her for the first time. They crashed and thundered against the towering cliffs of the island, a frantic, booming tempo that shook his bones to the core. The stony beaches were pounded apart and reformed in chaotic sprays of water, power unrestrained and unbound. There was wildness here, one that pulsed with every deep rumble of the water and the cries of the circling seagulls. It was magnificent, an overwhelming display of force that made one feel small and insignificant. He hated it. Loathed the feeling of being trapped on all sides by a malevolent creature that was as cunning as it was cruel; one that lured its prey in and snatched them away mercilessly. His parents thought him odd, the rest of the island called him mad. Look at the bounty it has to offer us theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d say, pointing to glimmering fish and the shimmering pearls occasionally dredged from the depths. When he tried to speak of the danger of the ocean, laughter was his reward. With skill and wit we have conquered the sea, they boasted proudly, there is nothing it can throw at us that we cannot face. He could not convince them of their folly, not even when the great storms caught a fragile ship and tore it to pieces. The islanders would consider the flotsam and jetsam that washed up to be a gift, the unfortunate souls lost soon forgotten as their cargo was looted. Despite his hatred of the sea, something had compelled him to descend down to the shore, an inexplicable feeling. Something was not right, a kind of tension that stretched
everything to its breaking point, that made his hands jittery and his breathing heavy. There was an itching sensation running up his back, a feeling as if one wrong step could ruin everything. It was as though thousands of eyes were watching his every step, judging each small movement and twitch with calculating eyes. So here he stood, cold, drenched by the spray on the glossy black stones, staring out at the rolling waves with fear and revulsion. The feeling had only intensified now, it burned like the sun in his gut, made his teeth ache and his skin crawl. A cloud of mist flew into his face and he blinked. In that instant, the storm he had been feeling broke. When he opened his eyes again he could see something struggling and thrashing desperately in the water, caught in the vice like grip of the waves. The sleek form and brown colour made him suspect a seal, and pity stirred in his heart. What must it be like, to die at the hands of your own home? The seal disappeared under the churning surface, and he held his breath, hoping desperately that it would resurface. What he saw next sent shards of ice dancing through his veins. A human head, that of a girl, emerged, gasping for breath. That was no seal that was a drowning person! Dread ate at his thoughts, what should he do? To try to save her would be suicide, the water was too strong, too vicious, and heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d never been a great swimmer. He wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be able to get help in time to save her, the village was on the other side of the island. He couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t leave her to drown though, could he? His head was full of conflicting thoughts and bad ideas, and maybe that was what made him wade into the shallows, shouting that help was coming. The area he had been standing was surrounded by large rocks that had deadened the strength of the ocean to nothing. Once he 147
swam past them he was immediately reminded as to why this was a bad idea. Immense waves tried to smash him against the cliffs, while the howling wind and freezing water sapped the strength from his limbs. Still he struggled on, half blinded by the stinging salt water that lashed at his face. Finally she came into view again, and he reached out and grabbed a hold of her. His hands must have been going numb, because it felt like a strange mixture of slick fur and smooth skin. With an enormous effort of will he fought off the fatigue that had crept over him, and turned back to shore. Air was becoming harder to find, each gasp getting less of it into his lungs in return for mouthfuls of saltwater. The girl had begun paddling as well, adding a surprising amount of erratic strength to their haphazard progress. Finally, they reached the relative safety of the beach. They staggered from the water, teeth chattering, bone tired, alive. He had managed to survive the ocean at its worst, and had saved someone else while doing so. He would be euphoric if he wasn’t so exhausted. The girl was evidently thinking on similar lines to him, because she let out a small laugh before collapsing to the rocky sand. His legs gave out and he quickly followed suit, the small pebbles of the beach digging into his back. He found that he didn’t mind all that much though, because the darkness that was encroaching on his vision was incredibly enticing and he’d just take a quick nap… He awoke to a splitting headache and the feeling of a warm soft blanket around him. Groaning he sat up, and blinked in confusion at the crackling fire and cave walls around him. This wasn’t his bedroom…A soft giggle drifted from a suspiciously human shadow across from him and he realised that the girl he had saved must have been watching him sleep. 148
The blush that followed that thought only made her laugh harder. He found that he didn’t mind though, it was musical and light and he could listen to it all day. “You scared me there you know,” she says, her voice filled with a gentle warmth and humour that put him at ease. “Dying after I saved you would be quite the let-down.” “What? Don’t go twisting things I was the one that saved you! Without me you would’ve been dashed against the rocks!” the words came out harsher than he intended, and he winced. The softness in the girl’s voice was replaced with indignation when she spoke next. “You’re a terrible swimmer; you would never have made it back without my help.” “Only because I had to save you first!” She huffed, a retort following moments later. “That was only because I was having problems with my sealskin –I mean I got caught in seaweed.” She stood up angrily, and he followed her lead, casting the blanket to the side, both of them glaring at the other across the fire. The girl’s face looked quite funny when she was furious, her petite features scrunched up while bright green eyes glared from narrow slits. Despite his best attempts, he couldn’t clamp down on the chuckle that slipped out of his mouth. The girl’s narrowed eyes only made it harder to stop laughing and soon she had joined in with him, airy giggles dancing above rumbling chortles. “That was a bad start to get off to,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye. “Let’s start over. My name’s Brendan.” “Ronat,” she replies, and her hand snaked out to shake his.
“It’s been an… unusual pleasure to meet you.” She smiled, a hidden sadness lurking behind her eyes. “I… have to go; my family are probably going out of their minds with worry.” “Can I have my sealskin back?” Hastily he grabbed what he had thought was a blanket and handed it to her, the fur surprisingly warm to his touch. Ronat turned away, and began to walk towards the mouth of the cave. Will he ever see her again? He didn’t even know where she lived, he couldn’t just let her enter his life so suddenly and leave it at the same pace! “Can we meet back here in a week’s time?” Ronat froze in place, and for a moment he feared that she would say no, that she wouldn’t have time for him. “Of course, I’d love to,” was the gentle reply, before she slipped out the entrance. By the time he had the wherewithal to see what direction that she would be swimming towards she was long gone. He found it easy to slip away on the day, his father having headed out to sea with the other fishermen while his mother and the other ladies of the village gather together to gossip before attending to their chores. Excitement bubbled up inside him as he neared the cave; he’d been looking forward to this meeting all week long. That’s why it gutted him to find that Ronat was nowhere to be found. He spent an entire miserable hour searching the horizon for her, with no luck. Disheartened, he descended into the depths of the cave, hoping that she’d arrive sooner rather than later. That was why he was quite surprised to find Ronat sitting smugly beside the beginnings of a fire, her eyes alight with mischief. “I snuck past you,” was the only explanation he received, but any anger that he felt quickly 150
evaporated as they talked. Hour after hour they chatted, about everything they could think of, and by the time the sun had begun to set he was feeling better than he had in years. There was an enthusiasm, an energy to Ronat that made him feel alive, that made him forget the raging ocean barely metres away. The promise that they’d see each other in another week filled his heart with delight, because for the first time he’d found something on the island that captivated him. They met again and again, the time between each secret meeting growing less and less until they made a point of meeting almost every day. He told her of his dreams to see the greatest cities of the world, to see the greatest heights that man could reach. She spoke of her love for the ocean, for its colours and harsh beauty, and while she was talking he could forget his fear of it. Friendship soon turned to attraction, for she made even the dullest of tasks a delight, and brought warmth and kindness to everything she touched. No matter how long they talked for it was never enough, and that was why he was making his way down to the cave with a small ring nestled in his pocket. He needed to know that she loved him as he loved her, and even if she didn’t just being near her would be enough for him. Her habitual call of I snuck past you brings a smile to his face, despite the fear of rejection that has coiled itself around his spine. “Will you marry me?” he asked, sweeping the ring bejewelled with a single white pearl out of his pocket. For a moment her expression wavered, and anxiety sunk its nasty fangs into his thoughts. She must hate him, for forcing her into such an awkward moment. “Of course, I would love to marry you,” she said, and her smile was like basking in the sun. “But, I can’t do so unless I tell you everything; I don’t want to marry you under false 151
pretences.” Unease took the place of terror, what secret was she keeping from him? “I’m a selkie, Brendan,” she said, and he couldn’t help it when he laughed. That was quite a good joke, wasn’t it; she’d really had him worried for a moment. He stopped laughing when with a twirl of her characteristic sealskin she turned into a seal, smooth fur taking the place of her skin, flippers her hands and legs. He is stunned, but only briefly. She was the woman he loved, why would her ability to change into a seal detract from that? He told her so, and in a blink of eye Ronat was hugging him as a human once more. Later she’d ask him where he’d gotten the pearl, and embarrassedly he would tell her how he had braved his fear of the sea to get it for her. Her delight that he’d done such a thing for her offset any lingering unpleasant memories of that trip for a long time to come. At their wedding they exchanged gifts, as was customary for the islanders. To her he gave the few sepia tinged photos he had of the cities he wanted to visit. “I don’t care if I never see them in person,” he said, holding her close, “as long as I’m with you.” Her response is to hand him her sealskin and he quickly realised what she was giving up for him. “I don’t want to roam the ocean if I cannot do it without you. Make sure to keep it hidden, so that I never feel tempted to go back,” she whispered, and he held her all the tighter. They would build a home here, he swore, with the best view of the ocean that there ever was. He buried the sealskin in the yard so that Ronat would never be called back to the ocean against her will. Time passed, as it always did. They built their cottage near the cliffs, and he treated Ronat like the gift from above that 152
she was. A first child was soon followed by another, then one more. They raised them all, Ronat a guiding hand that mended any argument and resolved all bad blood. All too soon their children were all grown up and had children of their own, but he did not mind. As long as he had Ronat by his side he could handle anything the world could throw at him. Alas, it could not last forever. One morning as he dozed in his chair by the fire, listening distantly to the sounds of Ronat playing with their grandchildren, the end began. The children had dug up most the yard, hoping to help their grandmother to plant the beautiful blue flowers that they loved. They never expected to find the sealskin instead. He knew before the children had started screaming for grandma to come back. He felt an icy cold that burned a hole in his heart. He was up out of his chair in an instant, but he was still far too slow to do anything. By the time he had made it to the door of the cottage she was long gone, and all he could do was weep as he realised the sea had lured him in as well. Despite his loss, time continued on, and the occasional glimpse he caught of a seal sunning itself on the rocks as he walked the beaches always filled him with joy, even though he knew the rules. Seven years before he could see his Ronat again, before he could apologise for failing her so badly. The wound in his heart ached less with each day nearer to her return, but he would spend many a night sitting outside in the cool breeze, watching the ocean for any trace of his love. It was nine months into the seventh year when he collapsed while out in the garden, his lungs aflame and his feet numb. The doctor from the continent told him that it was a mixture of pneumonia and old age, and that there was 153
nothing to be done but hope that it would run its course. He did not miss when the doctor informed his eldest son Ronan that he did not have much time left, perhaps only a month or two. His mind was eased by that, he would still see his Ronat one last time then. On the day that the seven years ended he found that his legs weak and unsteady, and so his passed the day lying there, Ronan fretting over him despite his reassurances that he was fine. Night had begun to fall, the stars twinkling in the heavens above, but Ronat did not appear. Ronan had decided to take a quick walk, something that he had given his full blessing to. The boy was too concerned about his father’s health for his good. A creak as the front door opened brought him from the light slumber he had lapsed into. “Hello?” he called, his voice thin and weak. With a massive amount of effort he climbed out of his bed and stood, the walking cane that lay beside his dresser propping him up. He shuffled slowly towards the noise, but a peek into the living room revealed nothing. A cruel trick of the wind then, and nothing more. Ronat had likely moved on by now, she wouldn’t come back, not for frail old him. He turned around, ready to slip back into his bed and wait out the month that he had left, to left death claim him, when he noticed a suspiciously human shadow on his bed. “Ronat?” he breathed, his voice for a moment as strong as it had been in his youth. “I snuck past you,” the figure said mirthfully, green eyes twinkling with tears, and she rose to embrace him. He knew that everything was going to alright now; he could close his eyes one final time…
In the morning Ronan would find his mother and father lying peacefully on their bed, faces content, and even as he wept he knew that somewhere theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re spirits were dancing among the great waves of the ocean and strolling down brilliant boulevards bedecked with lights. They had always been inseparable after all.
Halcyon Part II By Eileen Cloonan, age 16.
Knowing you for years, seeing you grow and change, evolving like a caterpillar to a butterfly. Watching you slowly unfurl your delicate wings, presenting yourself in new skin to a greyscale world. You are the only colour I know. I am captivated by your sleepy eyes and your dry voice. The warm lighting and incense burning, a stick of charcoal and a smooth, creamy sketchbook occupying my hands, pillows littering the floor, like fallen leaves. Sitting cross-legged and strewn out comfortably. A coffee table bearing ashtrays and this morningâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s coffee mugs. Soft rock in the background and the nightlife orchestra harmonies. All fitting like a jigsaw puzzle; or the clasp of our hands. I inundate myself in your presence, mimicking the gentle curves and sharp edges of your body. The scratching of burnt willow depositing on dead tree. A metaphor for life; How beauty and new functions can be born from the ashes or body of the deceased. Though these instruments did not simply die, but were killed in that past life, and resurrected for this purpose. Like us. 156
Your breathing is unfluctuating, fatigue has tempted you to the land of slumber. You have ended your day but mine is still conscious. My mind races with memories, as paper cradles in my weary fingers; bearing the image of tranquillity, The image that lies solid before me. I cannot physically measure the volume of which I love you; I live for you. Let me be your friend forever in this day, encircled forever in halcyon. I ache to know you for the rest of my life.
The Problem By Kate Moore, age 17.
The room smelled of smoke. Its appearance was just as off-putting. Grey walls, stained, covered in biro scrawls. The pages of the magazines on the low table were stuck together and would not come apart; the water cooler had stopped working long ago. Crumpled plastic cups lay kicked under seats, and yellow foam poked through the cushions of the chair I sat on. I tapped my hand against the cold metal frame, nervous. There was a dull dread in the pit. Two other people sat in the waiting room. One, a man in his mid-fifties, overweight, balding. His clothes were too big for him, his sneakers untied. He sat with his legs far apart, staring down at the scuffed lino. The second was a young woman, stick-thin, her hair pale blonde and lank. Her eyes were wide as she gazed unseeingly into space, one hand relentlessly pushing a buggy back and forth across the floor. The rhythmic tapping of my fingers against the chair increased, pushing through the heavy silence. The man in the corner glared at me, teeth gritted, but I ignored him and continued on. My breathing was short and fast, and I took a few harsh breaths, trying to calm myself. I’d heard about this doctor before, from a guy in the group at the last place I’d been to. She was notorious. Her methods were, at the least, unconventional. To be frank, I didn’t know what to expect.
I heard the sound of the door behind me, and a voice, high, feminine. A short, squat woman in a bright pink dress stood in the doorway, smiling. “Adrian Cahill? Doctor Hanlon will see you know.” I stood, a little unsteady on my feet, and followed her down the corridor. She stopped in front of a door with an engraved gold plaque. “The doctor should be with you shortly.” I smiled back at her, but realised it was more like a grimace when her eyes widened in surprise. The sound of high heels clacking down the corridor rang in my ears. I leaned against the door, absentmindedly. It wasn’t like what I had going on was unconventional, anyway. This doctor should have come across it before. ‘Depression as a side effect of addiction’ was the official diagnosis, before they sent me here. Apparently after the initial problem goes, some of the side effects remain. What I hadn’t told them was that the initial problem hadn’t exactly gone, either… I felt my pocket, ensuring the presence of the small plastic bag. It wasn’t like I was addicted. I just needed a pick-me-up now and then. I was jerked out of my train of thought when the door opened and I stumbled backwards. The woman standing there snorted with laughter, then covered her mouth as I stared at her. She took a deep breath, composed herself, and stuck out a hand. “Dr Maria Hanlon. Pleasure to meet you.” Dr Hanlon was small, broad-shouldered, with black curly hair shot through with silver, pinned back so that it stuck out either side of her head. She wore a crimson blazer over navy trousers and shirt. Immense hooped earrings hung at her ears. 159
I shook her hand, but did not make eye contact. The handshake seemed to go on for too long, and when I finally glanced up at her she was beaming. “Avoidance,” she said, with relish. “Excellent. We are going to have a field day.” And with that she promptly dropped my hand, leaving me to dither before following her into the office. This office suited her. It was quite small, with a furry red carpet and a vast desk lost under various files and papers. The curtains at the window were pale pink and floral, and sunlight streamed in through the slatted blinds. There were at least two notice boards, overflowing with bits of paper and various charts. A blue patched armchair sat opposite the desk, and Hanlon ushered me towards it, brushing up against me. I sat down tentatively, but as soon as I hit the seat I sank about three inches down. She shut the door and went to the windows, shoving her hands jauntily in her pockets and peering out between the blinds. I’d just gotten used to the silence when she spoke. “I didn’t think you’d turn up.” I felt irrationally annoyed. “What’s that supposed to mean?” It came out more aggressive than I’d intended, and my voice was shaking. I backtracked. “I mean… I’m sorry, I just…” She cut me off. “It’s just statistics.” She took on a business-like tone, wandering over towards her desk. She didn’t sit down, instead beginning to flick through sheets, picking the odd one up, and scanning it. “You’re a cocaine addict, Adrian. A lot of people with your condition in addition to that tend to lack the motivation to recover. I’m simply talking in terms of probability here.” 160
“I’m not exactly an addict, actually…” “What’s your name?” She looked up at me, thousand-watt smile still in place. “What?” My voice was quiet. “I said: what’s your name? Your full name, please.” I coughed, trying to clear the lump in my throat. “Adrian Cahill. Adrian Malcolm Cahill.” She finally sat down behind the desk, diminutive in the chair. She picked up a pen, began clicking the end of it rhythmically. It agitated me. I began to tap my foot against the ground. “Malcolm? Funny. I’ve never heard of a saint Malcolm before.” I frowned. “What do you…” She looked up, the picture of innocence. “Funny name for a saint. Malcolm. Your confirmation name. There was a silence. I stared at her, trying to determine whether or not she was serious. Was this eccentricity, or something else? “It’s… it’s not a confirmation name. I wasn’t confirmed.” She dropped her pen. I looked away, and she coughed awkwardly, shifting in the chair. “Well… hmm. This changes things.” I gritted my teeth. “What on earth are you talking about?” She steepled her fingers, looking over the top of them. Her gaze was gentle. I felt somewhat patronised. “You’re aware that this is a Catholic establishment, Mr Cahill?” I almost laughed. Almost, but not quite. 161
“I’m sorry; I really don’t see what this has to do with-” Her stare was almost pitying, and she spoke slowly, as if addressing a small child. “You say you weren’t confirmed?” “No,” and then, feeling I had to explain myself, “I was raised atheist. I-” “Dr Hanlon cut across me. “I don’t need background. It’s no problem, Adrian. It just means I have to go about the process a little differently, that’s all. And it does strike me as information that should have been provided up front.” I sat in silence as she looked through her file. Was this the unconventional method I’d been warned about, or was she just a little mad? Finally, she stopped and looked up at me. “Well then, Adrian. Tell me about yourself. Why, from your perspective, would you say you’re here?” “I’m… I don’t know. I have some stuff going on, sure, but-” She cut me off, again. I was beginning to sense a pattern. “You’re shaking, Adrian.” “I…” I held a hand out in front of me. I was more than shaking. I shrugged, with as much ease as I could muster. I couldn’t exactly deny it. “…yeah.” She smiled, again. “And would you like to talk about that? If not, we can move on to another topic. I’d rather pursue this at your pace, Adrian.” Although this was more what I expected from the session, I felt myself flushing. “I really don’t think I need-” Without changing expression or tone of voice, Dr Hanlon said, quite suddenly: “And where do you live, Adrian?” Her 162
smile was fixed in place. I was beginning to find it slightly unsettling. The room suddenly felt very warm, and very small. I stood up. “Look, I’m not really sure that I’m-” From her chair, she said: “You can leave whenever you want Adrian, but do you not think that this session would be of more benefit to you if you were actually…present?” I looked at her, and I got the uneasy feeling that I was being stared down, although she was smiling all the while. I sat, shoving my shaking hands between my knees. “Now, Adrian. My question.” My mouth was desert dry. “I…I live on the south side?” “Mm hmm,” she scribbled something down. “Good, good. All in order. Now, I have a more important question for you, Adrian.” I nodded, hesitantly. “Who made the decision for you to come here today?” The question threw me off. I shook my head. “Well, I decided to… you know. A check-up. Not because there’s actually anything wrong, but…” The smile was indulgent, now. “Something tells me that that’s not strictly true, Adrian.” I shifted in my seat. “Are you… are you accusing me of lying to you?” I regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth. “Adrian,” she leaned forward, and the look in her eyes was one of fascination –like I was an animal in a zoo. “Please tell me who sent you here.”
I jumped up. “Look, Dr Hanlon. Can I…” She looked up at me, seemingly surprised. “Can I… where’s the bathroom?” Her smiled was now magnanimous. “Of course, Adrian. Right down the hall, to the left.” I hurried down the corridor, the walls beginning to close in on me. The walk felt like it went on forever. I passed several people, keeping my head down, desperately trying to stay normal. I stopped in front of the door, glanced around me, then ducked inside. There was no-one else in the bathroom. Three cubicles, brown lino floor, brown walls. It wasn’t the best looking place, but it suited my purpose. I hurried into a cubicle, slamming the door shut. I wasn’t addicted per se, but it helped. I fished about in my pocket. Then the other one. Then my jeans. It wasn’t there. Jesus Christ, no. This couldn’t be happening. I needed a fix, and I needed it now. I wouldn’t make it home. It had to be there somewhere… All the pockets were empty. I’d definitely had it when I came in. I didn’t just misplace that sort of thing. It occurred to me slowly. Dr Hanlon. She’d had plenty of opportunity. But even she wouldn’t go this far, surely… She’d taken it. She’d taken the bag. With this realisation came a second. I had to go back in there. Had this been some sort of weird plan all along? Was this how she worked? It was messed up, whatever it was.
I hurried back along the corridor, ignoring my now full on vibrating hands, the weight in my stomach, my skin covered in a layer of sweat. I made my way back to her office. She stared at me as I pushed open the door. Her smile was ingratiating. “Ah, Adrian. I was wondering when you’d be back. Take a seat. Your session’s almost up.” “Well, I didn’t pay for this,” I muttered, sitting down. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.” I stared down at my lap, and recommenced tapping my foot against the floor. “Nothing.” “Now, Adrian. I believe we haven’t yet got around to the issue at hand.” I stopped moving, despite every ounce of adrenaline in my body telling me otherwise. “What issue?” “Your drug abuse. And the fact that you were transferred here from your last clinic, which you’ve neglected to mention. You’re not here for depression.” “I’m not-” “I specialise in addiction, Adrian. Frankly, I’m a little offended that you didn’t do your research.” She grinned. That infuriating grin. “You appear to me to be in quite a bad place. Some part of you must want to be here, or you wouldn’t have come.” I didn’t say a word, chewing my lip. “Now, before the session ends for the day, I wanted to ask you…” I waited for her to continue.
She said it with a smile, leaning forward. “From a purely psychological point of view, Adrian, how do you live with yourself?” “That’s it.” I stood up, fists clenched by my sides. “I knew this was a bad idea. Not a single thing you’ve told me has been helpful, you realise that? Nothing you can say can make me stay now. Yes, I’m an addict, is that good enough for you? Goodbye, Hanlon. And good riddance.” I slammed the door behind me, and stood in the corridor, fuming, my hands balled into fists. I took a deep breath, and headed for reception. If I was quick, maybe I could get out without paying. I heard the door opening behind me. I turned, scowling. Dr Hanlon stood in the doorway, and she was beaming. “What the hell do you want?” Her smile was obnoxious. “Well done, Adrian!” “What?” She hurried up to me, and grabbed my shoulders. “You admitted you have a problem! Don’t you understand how great this is?” I shoved her away. “Not really, no.” “It’s progress, is what it is! Pure, unadulterated progress! So, are you willing to work with me?” “What?” I repeated, taking a step back. “I said: are you willing to work with me?” “Hang on,” I shook my head, trying to clear it. “Twenty minutes ago you… what was with all those questions?”
“Oh, that.” She brushed it away with a wave of her hand. “Don’t be ridiculous. It was necessary.” “So that whole goddamn thing… the confirmation name.” She snorted. “Do you really think I care whether or not you were confirmed?” And, when I didn’t reply. “The first step in fighting an addiction is to admit you’ve got a problem, Adrian. So, are you up for it?” I stared at her. I was beginning to suspect that this woman might be insane. “I…” She pulled a cellophane packet out of her back pocket, grinning. “Oh, and I believe this belongs to you.” This was the most ridiculous situation. I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Then I thought about the consequences. I nodded. “Excellent. Follow me.” It was for that reason that I ended up for the second time that day in a drug counsellor’s office. And this time, it was by choice.
Persephone By Sadhbh Goodwin, age 16.
I once heard that Persephone had golden skin like sunset, And that her hair was like hazel, or amber. Brown and alive. She was made of sunlight and Demeter her mother, who made the crops grow Must have wanted her all to herself, and greedily placed barley ropes and responsibilities around her daughterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wrists and ankles to stop her from ever being out of sight. And when Hades first saw her he probably thought that such a jewel only belonged under the earth with him As all the gems and crystals from the earth did. And so he whisked her away, barley ropes and all down to the underworld Which was pitch black and sulphurous, full of vengeful ghosts and trapped spirits who writhed and wailed. Hades wanted her all to himself as well, so to prevent her escape
He hungrily placed bronze shackles on her ankles and chained her to the bed, an ugly basalt slab So she would always be there to fulfil his wants and ugly wishes. She lay there for weeks, legs chained to the bed, torso held down by the crushing weight of the cavernous god. His pomegranate lips stung, and burned her flesh, branding her as his own Helpless, tied down to be sacrificed alive to a man or a monster She could no longer tell the difference. When her mother finally found her she grimaced in disgust at her once pure daughter chained to the death kingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s vast bed Her once golden skin had turned dull, the colour of cigarette smoke and her hair lay in damp, dead, tendrils around her grey face Persephone had wilted. Demeter hissed at her in anger, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Persephone how dare you, bringing shame on the gods and your name!â&#x20AC;? she shrieked and She grabbed Persephone by the shoulder, her nails were as sharp as her words Stalagmites spearing through her chest
“I raised you to be a goddess, Lord Zeus himself had asked for your hand in marriage! And look how you’ve disgraced me” She whisked her daughter away, in an angry cloud of barley dust and smoke “I have given everything to you, you slut of a girl, you’re no goddess, and you’re certainly no daughter of mine!’ Demeter dressed her daughter in the coffin clothes of a bride to be and thrust her into the cellar And then dressed herself in a fine mourning gown and flew to Olympus to announce the death of her daughter She locked eyes with Hades and the two glowered at each other In the cellar motherless Persephone screamed Then she cried Then she stopped crying, and she felt then she taught herself to speak. New words, to fill up the space where “Mother” had been “Friend” yes, friend sounded good “God”
that one she threw back into the underworld where it belonged “Hope” would fit there instead “Own” she swapped with “Free” “Dark” with “Moon” For Artemis would light her way The cellar seemed brighter now, and even though it had no windows moonlight seemed to seep from some Unknown source and illuminated the raw grey bands around her wrists Where the shackles and barley rope had chaffed away the gold revealing vein and vital arteries that throbbed painfully Persephone clenched her fist and watched as a trickle of blood ran down her wrist and seeped between her fingers She felt a longing in her chest, a longing not to belong to anybody No mothers with wasp-sting slaps and barley ropes and celestial responsibilities No Death-Gods with cavernous craving for jewels and fresh meat, invading being and bodies and breath
She gritted her teeth and pounded her torn fists on the locked door. Her mother wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t going to rescue her none of the gods would They were all too petty, too greedy She would rescue herself, not be owned by anybody, or owe anything to anybody She would be free. She tore long strips from the black bridal gown and bandaged her ankles and wrists In the cellar she found a blunt dagger and with this she hacked off the rest of her hair and started again She found an old sword buried under decades of dust so heavy that it hurt to lift but she swung it Again and again at the door until eventually it cracked open she left everything behind except her dagger and fled To a forest so tangled and wild that even Demeter had not been able to tame it Persephone ran through the trees seething Leaving wisps of tattered black lace caught on twigs and angry thorns behind her
Her legs burned and her heart beat hot in her chest but she didn’t stop Dodging trees and barbed wire brambles she caught the sun going down and the night fell upon her Unable to see she tripped on a tendril of tree root and found herself sprawled on the cold, mossy earth. She lay on the ground and breathed in the smells of the forest, rotted wood and leaf mould and pine needles. And looked up at the moon which was just a sliver of light through the clouds, “Artemis will light my way,” she whispered She felt another moon glowing in her stomach, its silver light was pumped through her bloodstream “Hope.” She closed her eyes and slept Soundly for the first time in weeks Listening to the sounds of the dryads in the trees whisper, Their voices were wind through the leaves She awoke to shards of sunlight that had broken through the canopy, Her feet were aching and blistered and her lips were chapped and cracked, Blood trickled painfully through her teeth in little red streams But she was alive and this gave her hope
And her hope made a well from which she drew strength She climbed stiffly to her feet and looked around The trees grew claustrophobically close together their roots entwined in a chaotic crochet The sun sliced through the canopy in gaudy yellow rays, dripping though the leaves like honey Shadows shied away from the sweet sunlight but Persephone drank in its warm nectar She decided to build herself a home in the heart of the forest Woven together with brambles and honey, dewdrops and earth She fastened branches together to make a shelter And covered them with moss to keep the rain out Using pine needles she sewed herself a cloak of animal skin and ferns And created a place where none of the gods would find her. At first she lived off nuts, which cracked her teeth and were dry and bitter on her tongue And berries Their juices staining her lips violet. She strained to sip rainwater, collected in bowls of bark But it wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t enough and once again Persephone felt herself slipping awayâ&#x20AC;Ś She made her first spear.
Used her dagger to sharpen a slender branch she had found lying under fallen leaves It was a flimsy weapon and she was no skilled hunter or markswoman The days passed and still she had caught nothing Her hunger had made her clumsy and in the shadows she had nothing but birdsong to aim at But slowly she learned and finally succeeded And built a small fire on which to cook her prize The meat was tough and tasteless but she picked the bones clean Licked the dripping fat off her fingers and reclined Drowsy and full in front of the crackling fire. After that it got easier, Persephone learned how to walk so softly on the mossy ground that Not even the dryads heard her footsteps as she stalked her prey Whispering lullaby spells that her mother taught her She sung the deer to sleep as her arrows expertly navigated their way through the animalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s soft hide Before embedding itself in its vital organs. She learned to carve arrows so sharp they couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t be felt as they sliced flesh from bone Weaving bow strings from vine and sinew
Persephone thrived and bloomed in the shadows, hidden from the gods And all who wished to possess her. Meanwhile, Hades grew more and more bored of the underworldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s macabre entertainment He no longer found thrill in the torturing of souls And even when he gazed down, into the pitch black depths of Tartarus He felt none of the usual exhilaration His rotting heart beat fast only when he thought about the golden nymph That had slipped out of his closed fist like a snake through a trap. Golden ichor pumping through his veins to the sound of her name, filling him with bitter longing He remembered how her mother had stolen her selfishly away And then announced to the Olympians that Persephone was dead But she wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t Hades of all people would have known that. Persephone remained among the living For now
Demeter had her and Hades wanted her back He would get her Hades always got what he wanted.
Demeter had grown increasingly unpredictable Flitting like a locust between seasons She spat blight at crops, wilting wheat with ergot and feverish fury Winter enveloped the earth as Demeter lamented her lost property It was all Persephoneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fault After all it was her daughter who had gotten herself kidnapped and locked away It wasnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t Demeterâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fault Demeter had just been doing a her job as a mother And when she came home from Olympus to find that once again her daughter had gone Hades was to blame He always was But Demeter would reclaim her prize And she would punish whichever god was responsible for stealing it Dressed in corn-silk and lurid crimson poppies she set forth to find Hades and make him beg for mercy She vowed that Death would fall when spring came to Tartarus Deep in the forest Persephone had changed
She was taller now, and strong No longer her motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s daughter she had shed gold in exchange for skin As dark as the mossy ground and as tough as tree bark Her hair had started to grow back after she had hacked it off in her motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cellar Her hands were calloused, cracked and caked in mud, and her legs always ached after Long days spent tripping over tree roots while hunting but Persephone was happy In a way that Demeter had never seen In a way that Hades never would She learned spells from the dryads who whispered willowy guidance As she cast glowing enchantments that spiral through the forest like ethereal glow worms She learned to etch runes into her arrows so they would never miss She was growing into a goddess and she knew Persephone had become less sunlight and more sorceress More power than petals and stinging pomegranate lips More predator The gods could tear themselves apart and they would But Persephone was not going to fall with them