Wild Words Volume 4
Leitrim County Council Arts Office, Aras an Chontae, Carrick on Shannon, Co. Leitrim, Ireland. +353 (71) 96 21694 www.leitrimarts.ie ISBN: 9780957618947 Edited by Helen Carr ÂŠ Leitrim County Council Arts Office, Wild Words Childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Book Festival and the individual contributors. August 2016.
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
Three Last Breaths
Destruction in the Ashes
Of Science and Stars
The Red Bookshelf
A Tattered Coat
Eve Dwane Mooney
Promising Bright Blue Eyes
Who am I?
Her Name Was Delilah
The Game of Life
Ocean of Hope
The Ghosts of you & I
A Moment of Sheer Madness
The Sylvia Plath Appreciation Society Lea McCarthy
A Locked Door
The Dream Collector
A Stranger in the West
Learning to Love Yourself
Half Empty or Half Full
The Knockout Zone
Take My Advice
The Nuclear Tea Ladies
Branwen Zara Boyce 169
Silence, Exams in Progress
Introduction Helen Carr
Back in 2013, when Leitrim County Council decided to run a competition for young writers, giving them the chance to be published in Wild Words, they probably didn’t envisage just how successful it would be! Now into its fifth year, the Wild Words festival, and the associated writing competition, book and creative-writing masterclass has gone from strength to strength. I’ve been involved with Wild Words – assessing the submissions and choosing which should be included in the book – since the very beginning, and I look forward each year to working on the new volume and to seeing what young and emerging writers from all around Ireland are working on. Every year this competition draws in a broad age range of writers, working in a wide variety of styles, from satire to dystopia, poetry and love stories to clever twist-in-the-tail stories; this year was no different and once again I was delighted to read so many different genres, all of them having in common great use of imagery, strong characters and storylines or imaginative use of language. In the world of publishing, the last few years have seen a real resurgence in strong, honest and impressive writing for teenagers and young adults, and many of the leading writers are Irish: this year Sarah Crossan’s young adult verse novel One was the first work in verse ever to win the Carnegie prize, while Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It has swept the boards in 2015 and 2016, winning prizes often reserved for general fiction, like the Irish Book of the Year award, Claire Hennessy’s Nothing Tastes as Good is also garnering rave reviews; perhaps this golden age of writing
for teenagers is giving strength and confidence to young writers, as this year’s Wild Words entries were very strong in every way. There was a greater number of submissions, an excellent mix of poetry, short stories, novellas, prose poems and more experimental pieces, a good gender balance and—most importantly—the quality of writing was very high. Every year it’s hard to choose from all the excellent submissions, but I was really struck this year by the maturity and assuredness shown by many of the young writers. I think that Wild Words Volume 4 deserves a wide readership and that young, and not so young, readers will find much to enjoy here. I hope that we may be reading the award-winners of the future between these covers!
Helen Carr August 2016
Helen Carr has worked in publishing for nineteen years and is Senior Editor with The O’Brien Press. She has worked with many Irish children’s and YA authors, including Judi Curtin, Oisín McGann, Celine Kiernan, Alan Nolan, Erika McGann, 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.
Teddy By Maggie Larson, age 15.
I thought the funeral would be the worst of it. For two hours I sat, uncomfortably warm in a black suit that hadn't fit properly since seventh grade, drowning in quiet noises of mourning: the shuffling of feet and blowing of noses and droning voice of the priest. The two dark coffins were like black holes in the centre of the church. After the service Mom and I made our escape back to the car, moving stealthily as bank robbers. I felt a certain relief as I shut the door, as though the weight of other people’s grief had lifted from me. It quickly descended again. “I want you to go and help Julie around the house for the next few days.” “What? Why?” Sudden horror at the prospect of long, agonising hours of sorting through Tupperware containers of sympathy food and tidying away dead people’s stuff so it could collect dust in an attic like a physical manifestation of Freudian psychological baggage. “I mean, why me?” I amended, which wasn’t much better. I hadn’t known Mrs Collin’s husband or son – the last I saw of Teddy was probably when he came to our house trick-ortreating in his astronaut costume several years ago, and Henry spent most of his time at the university where he worked, not making small talk with neighbours. The accident had been an unpleasant shock, like it had been for everyone in our neighbourhood, but not one that really affected me. And hey, these things happened, and when they did you sent a card and moved on.
“She’s moving up to New York next week to look after her mother. I think it would help her out a lot, you know, not having to worry about the household things while she makes her arrangements, since she doesn’t have any family in the area...” Mom was gnawing at her thumbnail and not entirely meeting my eye and I got the impression this was mostly a way for her to fulfill her need to help while also accommodating her reluctance to deal with the messy business of other people’s personal tragedies. I saw any hope of getting out of this grow smaller and wink out of existence. “Fine.” “You’re a good kid,” she said, with no small amount of relief in her voice, and started the car. The whole way home I thought about how little I wanted to spend any more time than I absolutely had to stewing in the sensationalistic gloom of tragedy, and how pointless not wanting to do things is when the things in question are non-negotiable. My philosophy in life was essentially pragmatic. It involved feeling sorry for myself as little as possible. Of course, despite attempts to be philosophical about the situation, I continued not wanting to face the unpleasantness at hand right up until I was standing on the Collin porch two days later telling Mrs Collin I was sorry for her loss and could I please come in, and for quite a while afterward as well. “Of course, come on in,” she said. “I can’t thank you and your mom enough for this. It means a lot.” I didn’t mention that it had taken a significant amount of arm twisting to get me here because that’s just not the sort of thing you mention in a scenario like this. Instead I gave her that smile that people reserve for funerals and holocaust memorials, the one that exudes polite regret for something that wasn’t your fault. And 2
Mrs Collin, for her part, led me into the combination kitchen/living room (that masterstroke of 80s interior design) and offered me a plate of what were very clearly sympathy cookies – dry and bland, because it’s probably disrespectful to actually enjoy cookies while in mourning. She poured herself some coffee while I looked around the room with a bit of morbid curiosity. I was probably imagining the aura of death that seemed to hang over the living room, or maybe it was the way Mrs Collin moved. She poured the coffee like it was the blood of Jesus Christ. Just a glance around the room made the little empty spaces stand out like they were lit up in neon – a jacket hanging over the bannister, a half-drunk bottle of water on the coffee table. It was kind of unnerving seeing all the loose threads of an unexpected ending. The sense of absence was so obvious it felt like a physical presence in the room. I started to wonder how Mrs Collin was dealing with it, then realised she wasn’t. “I’ve got some cardboard boxes to pack up my things. There’s not much I need to take with me, it shouldn’t take too long. Then I suppose we’ll have to clean the house... Oh gosh, I don’t even know where to start.” She wrapped her hands around the coffee mug. It occurred to me that for someone who was moving in seven days she hadn’t touched the house at all since before the funeral. It still looked exactly as it must have the last time Henry and Teddy left it. “I’ll have to go through some things in the office. Could you start putting the books from that shelf into one of these boxes?” “Sure, of course, don’t worry about it,” I told her, three affirmations in one breath. She looked at me for a while. “You’re a good kid.” After she disappeared into the office, I started the uncomfortable 3
process of trawling through the fallout of the Collins’ life. I thought as little as possible about Teddy Collin, which of course means that I thought about him almost constantly. A dog-eared copy of The Great Gatsby, discovered under a pile of magazines with a bookmark eight chapters in, threw me for a moment – I remembered reading it the year before for English class. Teddy had been home-schooled by his mom, and mostly hung out with a group of friends from a home-schooling group he went to, so my interactions with him had been minimal. A few of those friends had been at the funeral. One of them had read a poem. It occurred to me that I hadn’t really known Teddy at all, despite living three houses away from him my whole life. Mrs Collin reappeared maybe fifteen minutes later and for a while she sorted things into piles while I packed them into boxes labelled ‘to keep’ and ‘to sell’. Any furniture which wasn’t easily moved would be sold with the house. A lot of stuff went into the ‘to keep’ boxes – the usual photo frames and ornaments and other memorabilia. Then she dragged the vacuum cleaner out from under the stairs and I spent the better part of thirty minutes ridding every flat surface in the room of the accumulated particles of skin which had previously belonged to the two bodies now occupying urns in nearby columbarium. Eventually she called a halt to the proceedings to tell me that I could go home and ask if I was sure I didn’t mind coming back again the next day. I responded with the polite lie: no, of course I didn’t mind. So things continued on pretty much the same for the next few days. By Tuesday we’d worked our way through every room but one. The house was stripped bare, as sterile and naked as though the Collins had never lived there. Except for Teddy’s room. The door at the end of the hall stayed
locked. I didn’t want to bring it up – that would definitely qualify as getting more involved than necessary – but the longer it went on the more I wondered if she was intending to just live in denial forever. I understood sentimentality, up to a point, but there was no way a shrine to a dead kid wasn’t going to be off-putting to potential buyers. Tuesday night I emailed Mrs Collin to say that unless there was anything else that needed to be done, I didn’t think it was necessary for me to go back the next day. On Wednesday morning the message was waiting: there was one more job. Then it would be over. I walked over to the house just after noon. Everything was sealed away in cardboard boxes, waiting for the moving van to arrive on Friday. For once Mrs Collin didn’t seem to feel obligated to make small talk. She just smiled in a way that looked like she was about two inches from crying and said, “I guess it’s time to accept that he’s gone.” The key to the door at the end of the hall was on top of the doorframe. She twisted the key in the lock with trembling hands and stood back. To my horror, tears were beginning to well up in her eyes, as though she wasn’t aware of the social contract in place here which forbade the showing of emotion. There was a whisper of wood on carpet as she opened the door. For a moment I couldn’t see anything in the room; it was too dark. Then details swam into focus. An unmade bed, clothes scattered across the carpet, closed curtains. Galaxies on the walls. The whole room was covered in posters mapping constellations, the name of every star next to its tiny pinprick of white in the darkness. A huge poster stretched across the wall over the bed showing the planets of the solar system in bright colour. A tiny 5
earth was held aloft by a silver needle inside a snow globe on the desk. Nine dark shapes hung from the ceiling – papier mâché reproductions of the planets, painstakingly made by hand. I imagined Teddy carefully painting each ridge and hollow and felt a kind of twisting in my chest. He would never come back to this room. He was gone. And for the first time I really felt the weight of that word, all four letters of it pressing down on my chest so hard I couldn’t breathe. I could see those glow in the dark stars on the ceiling over the bed, and I thought about how often he must have fallen asleep looking up at them, and how maybe as he’d lain dying on the hot pavement he’d thought about how he’d never see the stars again and he’d never do all the things he would have if not for that cyclist who wasn’t looking where they were going. And I couldn’t seem to make my feet move and my eyes were filling with hot angry tears, social convention be damned. The rules weren’t fair, the rules that said two people die every second so why bother caring about one just because they happen to be in closer geographical proximity to you? Because it wasn’t fair that Teddy Collin was never going to grow up and it wasn’t fair that we all had to live in a world without a boy who filled his room with stars because his mind was full of galaxies. Funerals were just ceremony and convention. I’d thought the church was unbearable – that was just Teddy’s body. This was his soul. Beside me, Mrs Collin wiped tears from her face and smiled sadly. “You can see why I didn’t want to change anything in this room, huh? I don’t know what I’ll do with all this stuff. There’s too much of it to bring with me – apart from maybe the snow globe.” She laughed, then sniffed into her sleeve. “I have an idea,” I said.
Months later, I watched the new neighbours’ kids trot down the sidewalk in their Halloween costumes, buckets of candy swinging from their hands. The little girl, maybe six years old, stopped to adjust the boots of her space suit. I glanced at the posters of constellations piled on my desk and thought – maybe there’d be a use for them after all.
Three Last Breaths By Louise Treacy, age 15.
Three last breaths. That’s what mum used to say to calm our nerves. Her voice would float through the house like a feather caught in a gust of wind. “Take three last breaths and go for it.” So I did. Three last breaths and I walked out on stage to the echoing sound of encouraging applause. Seeing one million faces staring at you, with the teachers giving encouraging smiles or whispering about how “she’s always so quiet” or “what’s she doing up there?”, or the students waiting for you to crash and burn. Three last breaths and the music began. A melody rang through the room and transported me to a place of hope, and I sang. I poured my heart and soul into that performance until the last note hummed into non-existence and there was no more emotion in me. I walked off stage in silence, waiting for the odd clap of hands or the jeering whistles. Neither came. Even now, I’m not sure whether that was a good sign or not. Three last breaths and I jumped. The force of gravity dragging me towards the darkest blue imaginable. And suddenly I was completely submerged in water. It filled my pores, trying to force its way into my mouth. With a swift flick of my toes, I broke the water’s surface, taking in the screams of delight and laughter from my friends, both childhood and new. I lay back, squinting my eyes against the blinding rays of gold that made rainbows on the waves. Three last breaths and I spoke one word that would seal my fate forever. “Yes”, a tear streaming down my face as a diamond ring
was placed on my left hand. The bright flashes of a memory being captured came from every angle. Onlookers nodded in approval, already discussing possible venues. Controlling aunts and mothers arguing over whether to buy a new dress or continue the family tradition that has lasted a century and a half. I shivered at the thought. Three last breaths and I said “I do”, trying not to laugh as my mother finished yet another packet of Kleenex. The lace in my train was encrusted with diamonds that glistened with every move I made. Walking down the aisle, hand in hand with a person who gave my life purpose, I had never felt happier. Three last breaths and I showed my husband a white stick with two blue distinguishable lines in the centre. Now eight months on, with Sophie dozing in my arms, purring softly, her chest rising and falling with every second that passed. Three last breaths and I was told my death was on the horizon. Cells had weaved their way onto the left side of my brain. I stared out the window, watching the sun arguing with itself whether to set or not. The slightest hint of red and yellow were beginning to appear on the leaves. A single tear escaped my eyes, dropped to the floor and made a swimming pool for ants. Three last breaths and I told the men dressed in ridiculously oversized lab coats to discontinue my treatment. I missed my hair. I missed not getting sick every morning. I missed not waking up to the horrified look on my darling Sophie’s face. She hasn’t hugged me since my hair began to fall out. I miss my old life. Three last breaths and I said goodbye to my mother and father. My mum had just finished yet another packet of Kleenex. She gripped my hand so tightly that it turned purple, the first bit of colour seen on my face in weeks. My father stood silently in the 9
corner of the room, unable to look me directly in the eye. He brought Sophie in, her Dora The Explorer bag strapped onto her body. She stared at me, the tubes covering my face, the tiny spikes of hair that were beginning to show and the monitor giving off the faintest of beeps, signalling that I was still alive. Three last breaths and I closed my eyes for the last time, the weight of the world bearing down on my lids. Slowly, I began to lose the feeling in my toes, then my feet. I would never be able to feel the burning heat from the sand of a Spanish beach. Soon I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t feel my entire lower body. I would never be able to cliff jump again. Never hear the laughter and cheers of my friends and my head appeared above the surface of the water. Soon I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t feel anything. Not even pain.
Destruction in the Ashes By Conor Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Rourke, age 15.
A pale blue sky lay above me, gradually transcending to a vibrant orange, and lastly to streaks of blood red. The cold air stung my skin like icicles, keeping me alert to my surroundings. I briskly approached the village, a small settlement of old, corroded buildings just over the hill. My eyes fixed on the market square, my destination. Our rations had been cut, again. I heard the screams of frustration as the locals pushed and shoved to get as much supplies as possible. My instructions were clear; get to the square and wait for my mother, who would be late as she was taking care of Reilly, my newborn sister. She had fire-red hair, ocean blue eyes and already a face-full of freckles. My father had been drafted into the army just weeks previously, diminishing our weekly income. Our community had to live with the fear that any day we could be dead, and I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have been more terrified. I had now reached the square, and the swarming crowd around me only grew. Hundreds of worn out individuals, intoxicated with hunger and exhaustion, desperately clawing at anything to survive like starving vultures. I frantically searched around for my mother, worried that there might not be any supplies left. The tension only grew and now there was a full-blown riot in the square. However, the yelling was drowned out by the sound of my heart thumping against my chest, compelling me to run, to get as far away as possible. I finally caught sight of my mother, rushing towards me with Reilly tightly grasped in her arms. I was making my way over to her when the whole atmosphere changed.
Black clouds filled the sky, transforming the village into darkness. The entire community stopped in their tracks. Everything fell silent. I looked into my mother’s blood-shot eyes and I could sense the fear possessing her enervated body. We both knew what was about to happen. A dull, rumbling noise broke the silence, and a horde of horrifying jets came into view. Death was upon us. A sea of green gas swirled around us, smothering everyone in sight. I fumbled to find my gas mask and I hastily put it on, but I was one of the lucky ones. Bodies dropped left and right, howling out in agony while the poisonous gas incinerated their insides. My mother, sister, and I hurried to find shelter, only to catch sight of numerous more jets fast approaching us. Before we could witness another hell, my mother handed me Reilly. “Dillon, listen to me,” she pleaded, “Take Reilly and run to the forest. Wait there until I come for you. Whatever you do, don’t look back!” I tried to plead with her, but to no avail. I clutched Reilly closely and sprinted to the dense, overgrown forest beside the village, not daring to look back. The bombs hit just as I reached the forest floor, the deafening blast throwing me to my knees, leaving a piercing sound in my ears. I turned to view the destruction. My home was now piles of rubble and ash, with the faint cries and the crackling of the treacherous flames. I covered Reilly’s eyes for fear she knew what was happening. Tears streamed down my face. I no longer had a home. Nevertheless, I waited. Hoping my mother had survived, hoping she’d come and get us. But she never did. Nothing moved in the village. Death lay right before me. I stood there for hours. I couldn’t do anything, my whole body frozen in shock. I had nowhere to go. My life no longer had any meaning.
Of Science and Stars By Sadhbh Goodwin, age 14.
My name is Nikola Tesla, working for Edison 1882 to 1885, in Manhattan. Fat, American tongues, sitting at a spinning wheel of lies and deceit. Humiliated, you mock me. When you feel as though I have dirty hands, have my fingers stained your fragile glass ego? You make me walk on broken glass, running circuits on the cracked lightbulbs of all your failed inventions, You may have found one hundred ways that didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t work, but my feet are torn and so sore. You need me, but you are afraid, So when I finish solving your algorithms, your flimsy problems, You laugh at me with your beady, laser eyes and snake tongue, In a foreign humour, I do not understand, in a language unfamiliar to me, in a desperate anger You say we walk the same path, as people of science, but when did science make it so that Your uphills are stairs while mine have been constructed of steep jagged rock and my falls Are more painful than your mind could ever possibly imagine.
I long for the sky, for feathers and freedom, for electricity, lightning, Lightning courses through my wings, I am more than what fits comfortably in the palm of your clammy, white hand. This poem is for the schoolteachers and priests, You preach equality, fairness, individuality. But in the terms and conditions section of your sadistic sermons your words hiss “Uniformity, propriety, individual but in a way that is acceptable to society, listen to me. Can’t you see? I feast upon your weaknesses, you’re weak this is a feast for me. I can see your thoughts, I can see your search history.” This poem is for politicians and parents and vice-principals Your mouth screams “Pride!” Your eyes say “Quiet.” You teach us things, I’m scared to try it, Try sell us things, we’ll never buy it. Your stifled rifle to my head, Made of study cards and lead, you said, “When I was young.” What? This poem is for the historians and the hierarchy, My name is Sappho. 620 to 570bc on the isle of Lesbos, writing 14
poems. Almost completely erased from history, because of who I was and what I was, And who I chose to love. Exiled from my home and my humanity, A hyacinth pulled me into darkness. My love, I hide my pain from my poems. And write instead about sunshine and the sound of your smile and soft skin, sweet honey and lavender. And bodies entwined, like roses, stems entangled, and my love, your thorns feel so good. The sweet perfume of jasmine and tears, bitter bouquets, bleeding. Sometimes lyres and liars make the same sad music, weeping willow, wind and whips. Plato’s words may have warmed my heart but your words start a fire that will warm me forever. I am the twelfth muse, the forgotten sister, a child of Aphrodite or Apollo or Eros, I am more than what you can hold, your hands are Pandora’s Box to my mind’s potential, my tidal waves, my blood, My strength, my heart I long for gardens of flowers, and fountains of, Fountains of fishes like golden ingots and pale pink waterlilies, shimmer and flicker and you. You. This poem is for the gravediggers and gods, Lilting, crooning, sickly sweet, you eat, 15
Through flesh and silk and metaphors, through corridors and catacombs With stones and fear I build a wall, to keep you out, you’re always near, You’re evergreen But in a bad way. Your churches are vast, shadowy forests, Sallow saplings kneel beneath the rotten priest-trunk, Bark flaking and breaking, like bones crack, step back and call timber, Sunlight filters through but is soon blocked out by fat, purple brambles, or angels, Both are covered in biblical thorns. And in the dry earth shrivelled bodies, unable to grow without a little rain or hope, Hands knotted tight, clasped stiff in prayer the angels come, Swooping down, wielding talons and teeth plucking up the next devoted subject, Chosen to don the white bishops’ robes, to match their translucent skin, Star-spangled with blue veins to add a splash of colour. Making abstract art from arteries, a part of me just fails to see, A brighter side to crowns of thorns, And crucifixion. This poem is for the Jury.
Slowly filling my throat with sand, your hands, your nails tear at the lining of my stomach. Your acrid taste lingers, staining the inside of my mouth red. I never knew hate was a colour until I met you, Now itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the colour of your shadow, your tongue Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the colour of your eyes and fingerprints, fingerprints you leave on the rim of the sink, Or stained on a glass in the kitchen, or smudged onto the spine of my favourite book, I know, That I can never look at, never touch these things again, but in bed the colour of you is all over me, your shadow, Is all over me, you make me feel like a junkyard, or a graveyard. You know how you make me feel, You know all the colours you make me see, You know, Why I take so long in the shower each morning, not that hot water does much good. Neither does holy water. After all they both fall from the same clouds, same tears, same piss, same sweat, I am more, Than your hollow frame can contain, I am rain. Your pain means nothing to me. You call yourself an artist as you paint your colour all over my skin, smearing, your hands are rough on my cheeks and I can Feel my freckles being ripped away And replaced by you. 17
This poem is for the ringleaders and the rose-garden revolutionaries My name is Robespierre, the French Revolution 1793 to 1794, with my guillotine, What have I done? My reign of terror has painted Paris sunset red, the air is thick the king is dead, blood shed on humid cobbled streets. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, To end like this, my killing is done, I finished what I started, took a bullet for my freedom dream, I tried to seem like I didn’t enjoy killing, that it was necessary for the greater good, But I let the night and the sight of the red in their heads sweep me off my feet. Now I’m headed to the blade that fell from my lips, my head, feels like it’s filling up with ash. My guillotine cut through their silk cravats, floral-patterned ladies’ lace and diamonds. I remember how Marie Antoinette was wearing perfume like lilies and fear, her eyes were so wide and empty, She looked like the pale moon, her pretty, powdered head was in the clouds, she didn’t cry, But I heard a soft whimper escape her chapped, lily lips as her face was freckled with her husband’s fresh blue blood. I felt no remorse only the grim satisfaction of a job well done.
The Red Bookshelf By David Rawle, age 15.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Manor B & B!” said the short, stout little B &B owner. As Will was the only person there, he deduced the man was being particularly theatrical. Will mentally sighed. “My name is Count Abraham, but you may call me Abe.” Will sighed mentally again. He had been sent here by his grandfather who had heard that this house contained the most sought after book collection in Europe, and Will had recently become his ‘antique book inspector’, even though he had zero interest in anything to do with books. His grandfather was of a considerable age and considerable wealth and had shamelessly played the ‘sick old man’ card. Will only agreed because the man promised free bed and breakfast in a premises that was under reconstruction. Will got out of his car and began to introduce himself. He couldn’t help but stare at the austere and sinister looking porter who had taken his luggage. He looked away when he realised the porter was staring back at him. “Are you sure he’s not the Count?” said half-jokingly once the man was out of earshot. “Oh I wouldn’t worry about old Mr. Thornthwaithe. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.” This statement was to prove false that very night. Will had never been in such a large house before. It could even be considered a mansion, and it was certainly old enough. The candelabras and the Ikea fixtures made the place look like a cross between Downton Abbey and Fawlty Towers, but Will liked it all the same. “Very...minimalist.” Will said to the porter as he showed him around the house. He had no idea what the word 19
meant but he felt he had to say something to break the deafening silence. His dislike and distrust for the silent man grew every second that passed. If only Will had realised that for a house under reconstruction there was an unusual absence of construction workers... The owner came towards them and Will smiled. “Time to put a stop to the tour for now. I can’t wait to show you my books after dinner” Abe said and Will noticed he seemed just as eager to get away from the frowning porter as Will was. As they turned the corner, Abe whispered into his ear “Away from the beast and off to the feast”. “That was delicious! I’m going to have to get that recipe off you,” Will laughed as he finished off his fourth course. Abe had made the dinner himself and was an excellent host, ensuring that both of their glasses had a steady amount of wine in them. “So you’re probably wondering what I’m doing in a place like this?” Will nodded, as the man seemed more like a friendly librarian then a wealthy man with a title. “Well, I picked it up for next to nothing a number of years ago at an auction and I simply adore it. Unfortunately, it came with the old guy...” Will was entranced. “What’s his deal? And what kind of a butler works in a B & B anyway?” “Oh, well, he was still here when the last owner died and I didn’t have the heart to kick him out when I moved in here. All the other staff left, but I decided to give the old guy a chance. Big mistake.” Will was spellbound, clinging to the man’s every word. “Why was it a mistake?” “Surely you’ve noticed how strange he is? He scares all the guests 20
and, quite frankly, I’d be lying if I said he didn’t scare me a little bit. But sometimes... oh, never mind.” “What, what?” Will demanded, almost shrieking with anticipation. “Well it’s just...he sometimes seems to be a bit...ok, never mention to anyone that I told you this, and I’m quite tipsy and you seem like a sound guy. I have reason to believe that Mr. Thornthwaithe has a penchant for matters of a more...devilish nature.” Will stared blankly at him. “The occult?” The candles seemed to dim and the room flashed like lightning. Several heart-stopping seconds passed before they realised it was just a bulb going off. A power cut! The flash of light seemed to wake Abe up and he went hunting for candles and matches to light up the shady dining room. “Oh, look,” he said glancing at his watch. “It’s nearly 12 o’ clock. I’ll just give you a quick glance at the books and we’ll head to bed, yeah?” As Will left the room, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that the butler was somewhere watching him. He shrugged and followed after Abe. Will was nearly dozing off by the time they reached the last room. They entered what was clearly the oldest part of the house and it looked like it wasn’t used much. Will had to admit he was disappointed. The books looked old, but he was expecting more. “Only a very select few have ever been in this room before, except myself and Mr Thornthwaithe. You see, when they cleared the house out, no one had any idea this room was here. It was full of expensive artefacts and furniture, all sold now to pay for the refurbishing. But there was one thing in this room that I refused to 21
sell...That is until now.” He pressed down on a curtain and a bookshelf opened up to reveal a hidden room. The room was too dark to see into, so Abe took out a candle and lit it. “We stumbled across it quite by accident and I hardly come down here, but at night the butler comes down here quite a lot.” Will entered the room and gasped. It was dominated by a single bookshelf of the most beautifully bound, ornate books he had ever seen. Even Will, who had little interest in antique books, felt his heart beat faster and his fingers tingle at the haul. Suddenly they heard a noise outside, and he realised the butler must be out there. “I’ll have a look to see what’s out there and you can have a closer look at the collection.” Will didn’t even hear him, let alone notice the worry in Abe’s voice. And the door locked with a click behind Will. Will slowly reached out and delicately touched the spine of the oldest and most beautiful of all the books. Now he could see them better he noticed that every book was a deep crimson. All the titles were either faded away or in Latin, but he could occasionally make out the odd word. He noticed a gold bookstand that looked as old as the books. He gingerly picked the book and laid it down. His hands trembled as they carefully peeled back the cover to a random page. It was then he realised this was not a normal book. Every page was red. But not a normal red like the cover, this was the colour of blood. The colour was so deep that not a single word could be read. He thought that this must have been some kind of joke, and so he kept flicking the pages until he came across a single exception. This page was still white. A small gasp escaped him. Across the top of the page, in the most beautiful and ornate handwriting he had ever seen were the words ‘Will Spencer’. 22
It was then he realised that the page was becoming red like the rest of the pages, but only too late he realised that it was his own dripping blood that was covering the page. Sigh. I hope the next victim gives up at least a bit of fight. This idiot didn’t even hear the door open, and it had really been all too simple sneaking over and stabbing him whilst his back was turned. He usually preferred stabbing through the neck. How can they scream without a throat to scream from? But it raised too many questions such as why someone would drown themselves in a lake when they had already a sliced throat. So he stabbed through the chest and watched the victim’s face as their blood merged with The Book. And finally, once this waste of life has filled the last page of The Book, I will throw his body off the cliff and complete the ritual. And just as Will had been so entranced, so was the man as he watched the drip, drip, drip of the blood onto the page, not content until every last bit was covered in the fresh blood. He didn’t notice another figure enter the room. It was Mr. Thornthwaithe, holding an old revolver. The butler had seen his worst fears confirmed. He had known all along that the new owner was a strange man, that’s what had scared the other staff off, but Mr. Thornthwaithe knew this man was not what he seemed. And so he stayed to keep an eye on the Count. He had tried to warn the people who came to visit to see the amazing collection, but they never listened. Some days later their cars would be found near rivers or cliffs, but the bodies would never be found. And always, it seemed, the phone lines were down for at least a week as the Count ‘mourned’. Mr. Thornthwaithe vowed that he would catch the Count in the act and put a stop to his insanity. So that night, he played with the lights and distracted the Count when he was in the secret room. Now Mr. Thornthwaithe
stood watching the Count with a dagger pressed into Willâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s side, and he pulled the trigger. And so the corpses of the unsuspecting visitor and the crazed Count fell to the ground.
Royal Ruby By Aoife Dudgeon, age 15.
“It’s gone!” whispered Bill, the phone in his right hand falling to the ground. “Excuse me?” said Veronica, looking up from her cleanly polished nails. “It’s gone!” Bill roared, his face growing a deep red. The veins on his forehead were bulging as he paced the room. Veronica stood up suddenly, as Rosalie and William sat in shock. Veronica approached Bill tentatively as he leaned against the wooden mantelpiece with his head in his hands. “What’s gone, dear?” Veronica uttered, her voice barely louder than a whisper. “The royal ruby,” Bill croaked, his voice shaking. It was silent. Everyone sat in shock. They knew his was bad. In fact, they knew this was disastrous. The royal ruby was more than just an expensive piece of jewellery. It belonged to Bill’s late mother and it was a treasured family heirloom. Bill’s mind raced with memories. His beautiful bride Veronica walking down the aisle, as the ruby glistened on her hand. His innocent daughter gazing at the jewel in awe with wide eyes as a young girl. “Who took it?” Veronica said suddenly, her words cutting through the tense atmosphere. That’s the question. Who took the royal ruby? No one answered. Bill strode over to the bar, poured himself a large drink of whiskey in a crystal clear glass and settled on the 25
plush burgundy armchair he loved so much. Rosalie and William stared at their father with shock clear on their faces. Veronica made her way over to Bill, placed her soft hand delicately on his broad shoulder and said “Don’t worry love, we’ll find it.” The following day, Bill and Veronica sat opposite two solemn policemen. “There’s no trace of a break-in on the property,” said one of the men. “How is that possible?” Bill questioned, confused. Veronica sipped her coffee, looking at her husband. “It’s completely possible Mr. Fitzgerald,” said the other man with a stern look. Rosalie, always snooping, stood eavesdropping around the corner. “So you’re telling me that my late mother’s ruby, one that I’ve protected with my own life, is just gone. No one trespassed in my home. It simply vanished?” Bill exclaimed, standing up and slamming his fist on the table. “No, sir, I’m telling you that someone in this house helped themselves,” the first man said. Bill slumped back down into his chair as his eyes squinted with confusion. Rosalie’s mouth gaped open in shock. She turned swiftly around and ran to her brother’s bed. Rosalie burst in and saw her brother sound asleep on his bed. She shook her brother’s shoulder and said “William, Will, wake up!” William’s eyes darted open and he sat up, leaning on his elbows.
“Rose, what’s wrong?” he said wearily, not yet fully awake. “It’s the ruby, someone in this family stole it!” Rosalie exclaimed, her eyes popping out dramatically. “That’s ridiculous. It can’t be,” William whispered, shaking his head in disbelief. “Believe it, because two policemen just confirmed it,” Rosalie said. Bill appeared at the door suddenly and said, “There’s going to be a family dinner tonight. I think we all need... a little chat”. On that note, he was gone. Seconds dragged painfully by like hours that day in the Fitzgerald house. They passed each other in the tense hallway with silent nods. The vague sound of rain pattering on the windows was all that could be heard. As dinner loomed, the storm outside was brewing. The wind began to howl and the thunder crashed upon the house. Veronica sat in the living room in the dim light with a large glass of red wine and a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach. Her reading glasses were perched delicately on the edge of her nose and a few single strands of silky hair cupped her cheeks. She had been staring at the same page of her book for an hour, as her mind raced. Would they discover the truth? What would they think of her? How would she explain herself? “Dinner’s ready,” Bill stated suddenly, standing in the doorway. Veronica jumped and the glass slipped from her hand and shattered on the crystal table in front of her. “Oh, dear me, I’ll be there in a minute love, just let me clear up here,” Veronica stuttered nervously with a faint smile to her husband. Bill nodded and walked toward the dining room. Veronica’s smile faded almost immediately. She grabbed a bundle 27
of tissues and started to clean the red liquid with extremely shaky hands. She stood up, brushed herself down and regained her composure. I’m in trouble, deep trouble trouble, she thought. The family sat around the elegantly decorated table, eating a Caesar salad in complete silence. “So,” Bill said, “I’m sure you are aware of what we need to discuss.” That particular topic had been running through everyone’s’ minds all day, they knew exactly what needed to be discussed. ‘‘It has been brought to my attention that someone in this room stole my mother’s ruby. God rest her soul.’’ Bill said watching his family’s expressions intently. Veronica gulped unintentionally and everyone turned to face her. Bill’s eyes looked accusing and angry as he shouted, “Veronica!’’ Veronica hung her head low. ”Was it ... you?’’ Bill whispered. Veronica looked up and took in her surroundings. The desperate eyes of her devoted husband and caring children were glued to her in disbelief. She took a deep breath and uttered, “It was me.’’ Bill stared at his wife, a million questions running through his head. Did he even know her at all? How could she do this? Bill stood up slowly, opened his mouth and was about to speak until – ”No!’’ William shouted, before his father could speak. “I love you, Mother, I can’t let you take the blame for me. Thank you for protecting me,’’ he said, tears welling in his eyes. Bill stared at his only son and said, “William? No... I don’t understand. Why?’’ William looked at his mother with wild eyes; she was nodding encouragingly.
“I... I...’’ he said his voice wavering ‘‘...have a gambling problem’’. The whole room froze. “I lost all my trust fund’’ he continued, gaining confidence slightly. “I don’t know what happened, the rush. It got... it got to my head. I was on cloud nine and I fell, and I fell hard. I panicked and... I sold the ruby. I confided in Mother, she promised to protect me. I can’t live with this guilt. I’m so sorry,’’ William croaked a tear falling down his cheek. Bill was silent for a moment, and then stood up. He took a long glance at his son, his boy, and said firmly, “This never happened. William, you never sold that ruby. As for the rest of us, we have no idea about the whereabouts of the ruby. Am I clear?’’ Bill and Veronica made eye contact and she understood. They had to protect their son and they had to protect their family name. The royal ruby would remain one of the Fitzgerald family secrets, if it killed them.
A Tattered Coat By Eve Dwane Mooney, age 15.
I walk to and from school, I take the same route every morning that I take home. My school is in Galway city centre. I live just outside Galway city. The journey is not to long but it isn’t the shortest either. I enjoy the walk. I normally zone out into my own world, thinking of what is going on in my life, boys, friends, gossip, normal girl things, but lately I have not been able. It could be due to stress or nerves. I honestly don’t know, so much is going on these days. I’ve started to notice things, lots of things, I feel so alert to everything lately, I don’t know why? Lately, when I walk to school, I notice how everything moves. What shops I pass, when the traffic lights change. There is this coat I have started to notice. It is brown in colour. It looks old and worn. I had never seen it before I started to feel like this. I’ve been feeling like this for a good two weeks now. I have noticed that coat every day since. It lies thrown over a wall just a little bit down the road from my house. It stands out to me, it looks odd. I could not tell you how long it has been there, it scares me. Sometimes I consider throwing it in one of the bins, but then I think that maybe someone is coming back for it. Every day I notice the coat. I really wish I never noticed it because it is all I think about all the time. How did it get there? Who owns it? How long has it been there? Sometimes I think of some crazy stories like whoever left it behind over there is waiting somewhere nearby, they’re waiting for
someone to pick it up and something bad is going to happen. I refuse to walk that side of the road now because of it. I started crossing the road every morning and evening, to avoid seeing it; I thought it would get it out of my mind. I thought wrong. I always notice it. It is making me anxious and nervous to look at it, but when I don’t look at it, I get even more scared, something bad could have happened to it, it could be moved and I could see it on this side of the road, so I have to, I always give in, I cannot resist looking at it. I have started to notice the material it’s cheap cotton fabric, it is a cream brown in colour. The front of it is slightly folded over and I can see the brand ‘Atmosphere’ written on the inside underneath is a ‘XL’. It must be from the men’s section in Penney’s. At the bottom of the right sleeve it is torn, you can see a chocolate brown thread making a ‘loop the loop’ on the lighter coloured fabric on the outside. There is a muck stain on the inside half on the collar, and just above the label ‘Atmosphere’. I need to stop. I cannot keep noticing this. It is making me more nervous. Why am I noticing this? I’m terrified of the coat, the feelings I get when I look at I overwhelm me. It never moves. It is always in the same spot, on the other side of the road thrown over the wall. It stares at me, as if asking me, begging me, pleading with me to pick it up. I must give in, I just cannot take the curiosity anymore, I have to go over to it. Today I am going to do just that. I am going to go over. Maybe there is a name on it, and if not I will just put it in a bin or something. That coat, it bugs me. It is old, worn and tattered. I was right. There is a name on it. Mike, it says Mike. Thank you Mike for leaving this coat here for me to notice, really thank you, 31
it never made me curious, scared, anxious. Next time bring your coat with you. Who is Mike? I do not know any Mikes that live on this street or nearby. Will he be angry if I touch his coat? Is he going to jump out and scare me...? It’s old and tattered, I doubt he would mind. Today was great, I do not know why, but I felt so calm, I was not scared or anxious. It must have been because I got over my fears and checked out the coat. The tattered old scary coat. I didn’t notice it this morning. I must have finally gotten over my fears. The coat. The coat is gone. It is not on the wall. It has lay on that wall for a long time, it just disappears, like that. That must have been why I was calm, why I did not notice the coat. That coat is creepy. I am so scared now. Why would it just disappear, right after I went over and examined it, touched it. It could just be a coincidence. I don’t think so. Was that coat even there? Did I just imagine it? No I am pretty sure it was there. It felt real, like I touched it. My fingerprints are on it. I am even more scared now.
Promising Bright Blue Eyes By Ciara Mullarkey, age 14.
‘The night was black….’ Yes, that’s it. Carla thoughtfully chewed the end of her pencil. Her fair hair fell over her shoulder and she pushed the curly locks back absent-mindedly. The only light was the moon which hung like a pearl in the darkness. Its ivory light shone down on the thin layer of soft mist covering the countryside. Carla put her head to one side and thought for a while before crossing her knees under the wooden desk and began writing again. A lone hooded figure stepped tentatively into the light. It was dressed in a short cloak with worn jeans showing underneath. It was barefoot and carrying a bundle of cloth. It looked around cautiously. There was no movement through the mist. All that could be heard was the figure’s heavy breathing and the far off sound of a vixen calling to her mate. The figure looked at the distant lights far away across the countryside. Then, with a heavy sigh, it pulled back its hood, revealing straight, dark hair and a pale, sorrowful face. Carefully pulling aside the cloths, she gazed sadly down at the sleeping face of her newborn son. ‘That is where we’re going,’ she murmured to him. ‘It will take all night and my feet will be sore, but they are closing in on us fast and you must be somewhere safe.’ 33
The woman gently smoothed down the blond locks on her baby’s forehead. The boy’s eyelids fluttered and he gazed up into his mother’s caring face with crystal blue eyes. Sighing, she covered up her son once more and set off into the misty night; fleeing from and searching for things she didn’t understand. Carla sat back and flexed her fingers. It was getting chilly. She rose from her German designed chair and closed the window. Strolling back to her desk, she stopped before she sat down and looked at the chair fondly. It was an antique and she knew its story well. Made in Berlin, her city, her grandfather had owned it since he was a young man. He had been a passionate writer, something he had passed on to Carla, and only wrote his stories when sitting in that chair. He had stated in his will that it was to go to Carla when she would begin her writing. The chair was a 1960’s style with leather upholstering and a lift-up seat for storage space. Carla always put her finished stories in there and locked it. She settled back to her story with new energy. The woman walked for hours through the night. Through dark, damp fields, over gates and over ditches. All the time she was gently carrying her beloved son. She passed foxes on the hunt, badgers with their cubs, but eventually she reached the town she had wanted to arrive at for so long. The streets were long, dark and silent. The only light glowed from orange street lights. The woman crept along in the shadows of the street. Finally she reached the tall, old building that she had been looking for. She laid her precious child on the top step in front of the old wooden door. Weeping silently, she kissed the child’s golden locks and said, ‘You will be safe here, they will look after you.’ Her son 34
looked up at her with bright blue eyes. ‘Never forget me. I will never forget you. I will come back for you my darling child, I promise.’ With that she stood up, rang the bell by the door, fled down the steps and disappeared into the shadows. The sleepy Sister who found the baby on the steps of her orphanage was shocked. They found her body on the first of December, three weeks after her son’s arrival at the orphanage. She had frozen to death. The wind and the cold had finally caught her. She could never outrun the demons who chased her. After a while everyone forgot about the woman who died in the back field, everyone except her son Colden. Etched in his mind was a memory – a face and words full of promise – that kept her alive in his heart. Satisfied, Carla pushed back her chair and put the finished story in the chair’s compartment. Then she ran outside into the sunny streets where she danced and played until her father called her in for bed with promising bright blue eyes.
Who I am? By William Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Connor, age 14.
Who am I? What I am? Why am I here? I am smart I am depressed I am lonely I have no friends Only thoughts And these thoughts set me free I have tried And I have failed But isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t that what we do Try and fail Win and Lose? What am I? What are We?
Little things By Saoirse Duignan, age 15.
She sat in the cold dark empty room. Not waiting to get attention from her parents, not waiting for a simple gesture, a soothing smile, a warm embrace, anything to stop her feeling the way she felt. Tears streamed down her face. She hunched herself over making herself smaller, thinking she couldn’t show the pain, couldn’t let anyone know her pain. Although all she wanted was a hug and a smile, she knew it was pointless, so on that day like every other day, she swore she would do that for others. She wiped the tears, let her sadness pass, went upstairs and smiled into the mirror. She looked like herself again, a smiling happy girl, who no one could hurt. She wasn’t, but she knew that in life people sometimes need to believe the lie. She took out her phone in the bathroom; she smiled: 8 new messages on Viber, 2 snaps from snapchat and 4 updates for apps. She flicked through the messages, snaps, updates. She sat down deciding which message to respond to first. They all wanted something: help with their homework, attention and advice. She picked the two people who were asking for advice. She wrote what she thought they could do, but like always added: “I don’t know, though, it’s up to you.” This seemed the easy option so that if things got bad they couldn’t blame her. Well they could, but she would know that she warned them. Next she went for the three people asking for homework, she took out the books out of her bag and took pictures of what they wanted. As soon as she sent them, she knew their response would be “bye”. She smiled; they never said “hi” or “please”, just “I need the homework”. She was right; in under two minutes she had
three “got to go bye” text messages. Last she went to the people who simply wanted attention. They had both sent multiple texts. She flicked into their chats, they told her all about their “fantastic new boyfriend” or their “fantastic new test result”. All they did was brag, never asking how she was. Although there wasn’t much point asking how she was; it’s not like she would tell them the truth. She didn’t want to draw attention to herself, she preferred being invisible or “the one to come to if you have a problem”. They were the only things she had ever been and would ever be. She scrolled through every image of her phone on Instagram, looking at people through the camera lens, envying their lives, which they had made “comfortably” for themselves, huddled into friendship groups. Getting all the attention they deserved and, most importantly, not lying about who they were. Having friends who would make fools of themselves with them. She loved her friends, but her life was too simple, she never had her own mind set unquestioned, her actions not being judged, her appearance not upsetting people, her voice not driving people to stop listening. All she ever wanted was the little things. When people would ask what she wanted for her birthday, knowing only a select few would remember she would say one thing: all she wanted was for people to say the words “happy birthday”, even sing, but not like the times where they forgot her name. Happy birthday sung with happy people and people who knew her name and said it. She often wondered was that too much to ask for? She did so much for people and yet when it came to the small stuff no one ever did it for her. She had made peace with the fact she WAS invisible and that the little things nowadays were far too much to ask for. However what broke her down to tears was when she saw other people getting all her wishes, where 38
all the little things had been done. She NEVER broke down in public however, she wanted to be peopleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s rock, unbreakable, and this would only prove that she was shattered inside and out. Her rock was shattered and all that was left was a small pebble which she was determined not to let get broken. This was all she wanted, the little things, because the little things can make the biggest changes. That was why she, the little pebble, had made the biggest difference to so many lives. By being there, by being the little thing that held their world up while her world crashed down. She was emotionally drained, but how could she show or tell these people that they expected her to be 100% daily? The truth was, that was impossible; she tried, but it never worked. That is why she understood all the problems, worries, they had. She put herself in their shoes like she wished someone would do for her. She tried hinting this to everyone, but no one paid attention to problems, unless they were their own, pretending to help, but worrying about their own problems is what they did, nothing more nothing less. That is what she expected nowadays.
Listen By Leah Farrell, age 14.
I grab my school bag from the back seat of the car quickly. “Bye, Mam, love you,” I whisper before closing the door behind me. “I’ll pick you up at four o’ clock, have a good day!” she calls to me before driving off. I sigh and look left and right before crossing the road to enter the old, grey school building. Monday mornings are the worst and I already know today won’t be a good day and I’m proven correct immediately as my attention is drawn to the group of sniggering second years gathered in a corner beside the radiator, phones out. I look straight ahead and march into the assembly hall to put my books into my grubby locker. The ominous deluge outside echoes around the vast room as more students pile into the hall before the bell rings. I slip into the developing line for second years and turn to talk to the girl on my right. “Willow not in again today?” I ask quietly before the principal strides in. Ellie drops her head and shakes it slowly, “Too much pressure for her” she mutters back. I nod sympathetically in return before turning to the top of the hall to wait for assembly to begin. The laughter and murmurs die down as the principal proceeds to talk about the upcoming events of this week. It ends with a brief morning prayer and then the whole school of under 200 pupils turn to file out the hall hastily. I hoist my bag onto my back and stroll slowly around to the cramped English prefab at the back of the school. 40
The door is locked and I wait outside as everyone else starts to arrive. I ramble over to the girls and join into their circle, but regret it instantly. “Oh my God, she is so annoying!” says one angrily and a chorus of “yeah, I know right! She always starts everything!” echoes back to her. I already know the conversation topic is Willow and I gaze around awkwardly as they chat on. “Yeah, I was texting her last night and we had this huge fight and I told her that nobody likes her and she actually thought some of you did, can you believe that? But I set her straight right away”. A ripple of giggles follow and I quickly duck out of the circle from pure frustration. I wait by the door of the prefab until our teacher comes along to let us in. I take my seat squashed up against the back wall and take out my English books. “Ok, today we will be watching more of the play...” I tune out after that, unable to concentrate due to all the incidents going on within our class. Finally, lunch rolls around and I sit down at one of the tables in the hall as the rest of the girls saunter up. They sit down around me and take out their phones. I look down at the table and mutter a quick hello to everyone. “Hey, did you see the messages Willow sent me yesterday?” says Callie and I know she’s not speaking to me. “No,” Josie says, “here, show me your phone.” She grabs the phone from Callie and starts scrolling down the screen, eyes wide. “Wow, Callie, who does she think she is?” “I have no idea, but I was so mad at her so I messaged her right back telling her what I thought of her.” “Yeah, good for you, Willow is such a bully anyways,” Tina pipes 41
in. “She texted me on Facebook the other day saying she just wanted to be friends and I was like, ha yeah right, like that’s ever going to happen, she was obviously just making fun of me, how stupid does she think I am”. \ I snap my head up, fists clenched so tight under the desk that my knuckles are white, “Maybe she really does want to be friends again” I remark, neutrally, “you don’t actually know that she didn’t mean it and you’re just as bad as her if you respond as aggressively and viciously as she does”. All the girls turn to stare at me. “Well, she’s the one doing all the bullying,” retorts Tina. “She reported me for bullying, but she’s really the one doing it to me, she called me so many horrible names and I know she keeps talking about me behind my back”. I quietly stand and grab my bag before leaving hurriedly to go to the bathroom. I take a deep breathe, the sound of their words still ringing in my ears. The fury in me rises high into my chest and I feel urgent tears of anger ready to escape me. I bite my lip and it’s all I can do to stop myself from storming back in there, slamming my fist onto the table and telling them just how oblivious they are to their actions. Willow won’t come to school now and none of them will even glance her way when she does come in. The whole dispute is just fuelled by a number of “he said, she said” misunderstandings, yet the girls refuse to see the part they are playing in all of this and the hurt they are causing and I can’t stand it. I shove the door of the bathroom open and walk to one of the battered cubicles, where I wait until the bell rings for class 7.
Blank Canvas By Hannah Cahill, age 15.
You’re born into this world a blank canvas Which can become the bigger picture Or just a splash of colour in someone’s life You can be a beautiful watercolour adored by many Or a complicated abstract mulled over by few. Some people are born with paints, brushes and supplies at hand, Others must work for what some consider commodities. Whether your life is shaped as a Renaissance artist would decorate a canvas, or an ameteur sketch in a bland waiting room, Each began as a blank canvas with the potential to be extraordinary, or sweet and simple. As individual and creative people, This must be our philosophy in life For no artist would ever compare their work to another’s.
Her name was Delilah By Catherine Jordan, age 14.
Her name was Delilah. An exotic name for a plain girl. We all have Delilahs in our lives. They never seem to speak up, just stand, watching life go by. They nod, speak when spoken to, and never retort back. They are, in a word, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;yes-menâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;. Funnily enough, they usually go the furthest in the end. Because people love to wrap themselves in a coat of usualness, to make themselves feel like they are different to others. Her name was Delilah. Her plain, green eyes scanned the page of the little hardback book, its few pages worn from so many other children using it. Mary and Tom go to the store. Mary and Tom like the store. Yes, Delilah decided, Mary and Tom do like the store. Because that is how people think. They are first drawn to the things they understand, then decide to leave them behind for more interesting things. The children do not like Delilah. She is not interesting. The others are interesting. They like them. The poor, innocent child spun a tale around herself, because she did not understand the world outside of her head. Her mind, so wild and untamed, with perhaps all of the universeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s secrets hidden in the leafy glen of her cranium. So within reach. Brushing at your fingertips, out of sight. Crushed. Because children are not meant to have important dreams. They are meant to go to stores, and like stores. Her name was Delilah. She sat in the playground, dangling her legs off the swing. She wondered, if she swung hard enough on it, would she fly through the air, far enough to escape the grips of usualness? But the others did not think like that. They thought 44
Mary likes Tom. Mary likes Tom because he is good at football. Tom likes Mary. Tom likes Mary because she is pretty. They are happy. Broken thoughts flittered in her mind, little butterflies with wings of paper, decorated with ink. Their bodies were silver, made out of tinsel. They flew in graceful patterns, making lights in the sky of her mind. She heard a giggle, a proper giggle, a giggle of a proper girl. One who would be a proper woman soon, and then a proper wife, and a proper mother. Delilah ignored her, biting back a smile. How would they giggle, if they knew the truth about her? That her mind was the cosmos, her eyes a gateway to the sky? But she was innocent; all children think the world revolves around them. Until they realise, Tom goes to work. He is happy. Mary is a good mother. She cooks. She is happy. They settle into happy routines, cheerfully going on about their business. Delilah knew that she would never be like that, and she bottled up this thought, letting it keep her company. She was happy, seeing the world through the eyes of perhaps a greater force than of any other in the world. She paid no attention to the other children, who laughed behind their hands at the girl on the lonely swing. Her name is Delilah. Life has been good to her, so far. She counts herself lucky. Life is a gift given to the fortunate. Her mind may last forever, now. Now that it is on paper. Her beautiful papertinsel butterflies, swoop and flitter in cerulean skies, with purplepink blossoms under the great expanse of the heavens. But now â&#x20AC;&#x201C; hah! Experience has added to her paintings, giving shape to what she could never image. There is beauty in the abstract, and Delilah knows, when she steps down from her canvas, that this isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t right. This is not normal, not synchronised. And itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s perfect in its imperfections. All down on paper, eager, reaching out to the viewer. To last for many generations. Many asked, how she was able to draw in such a way, to take the universe and force it onto 45
paper. To be able to draw such innocence, while she herself had lived in such bad conditions? The newspapers whispered words like ‘father’, ‘brutal’, ‘corrupted’, but Delilah ignored it. She knew that they would never see it like she did, the girl with the cosmos in her eyes. Her story was a long one, but it was simply a list of reruns. She knew that life was a circle, where folk simply spun around until their luck ran out. But she was not folk, and no wheel would hold her. No world could hold her. But she would hold her crushed and cracked dreams to her chest, hold them away from the world. Because she was Delilah Thompson, the girl with the cosmos in her eyes.
Black Flag By John Shannon, age 14,
Black Beard groaned as he woke up. His growls could be heard all throughout the cabin. He slowly opened his heavy eyelids and raised his bandaged hand. “Good”, he thought to himself. He was still clinging onto his half-empty bottle of rum. He blinked his eyes a couple of times before pouring a healthy amount of the liquor into his mouth. Much to his dismay, he missed his target and most of his hard-earned rum streamed down his face. Cursing himself, he rolled over off his bed and landed straight on the cold, wet cabin floor. He slowly propped himself up and staggered before falling again. Accepting that he was too drunk for his own good, he sat up and listened to the familiar noises of his ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge. The ship was a massive, cannoned, layered ship that would tear through any wave that dared stand in its way. Black Beard could hear the water crashing against the side. It sounded like the bony fingers of dead sailors who had drowned in the murky depths of the Atlantic long ago. The footsteps of his crew stamped against the rotting floor of the deadly vessel. The sounds of blasting cannons boomed like thunder in a hell-raising storm. It was loud enough to almost deafen any man that stood too close to the massive barrel. Screaming seagulls swooped low for any scrap of food they could lay their beady eyes on. Charles Vane, Black Beard’s second in command screamed at the top of his lungs. Black Beard finally got to his feet and burst out of his cabin onto the deck filled with surprised crew. He walked to the wheel, pushing Vane out of the way. He grunted impatiently as he took possession of the wheel and stared gloomily at the crystal clear sea. 47
Black Beard was on his way to La Havana. By day merchants and traders wandered the sandy streets of the dying town, by night assassins and bounty hunters roamed the narrow alleyways in search of a drunk to rob or kill. It was a corrupt town, where the rich got richer by the day and slaves were nothing but dirt underneath their shoes. Black Beard was well known around La Havana. His former partner and the love of his life, Jane, came from there, but when he was called to serve in the British Navy she left him and set up a life with someone else. Jane leaving him was bad enough, but weeks later a letter came informing him that his beloved brother Stephen had been arrested for piracy. In an instant, Black Beardâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s life had fallen apart. His mother went into a deep depression and his father became reliant on drink. Days later, Black Beard had been informed that his brother had been executed for his crimes. Falling into despair, Black Beard rallied a crew and replaced Stephen. He became one of the most feared pirates on the Atlantic. Now, when he looked back on his life, he knew the root of his problems began with Jane. All the evil things he had carried out in his life since then were because of her. Jane was the epicentre of his problems, she had to go, she had to die. Black Beard had not been in La Havana for many years. His first few steps along the crumbling footpath brought shivers down his spine. He still had many friends in the town so he had no problem discovering exactly where Jane spent her time these days. She had in fact married a noble man who was well known around La Havana but very rarely appeared out in public. Once he knew where to look, Black Beard quickly found the palace. The Aguiler Palace stood strong against the crumbling houses that were built around it. It truly was a magnificent structure. Marble statues stood reverently around the majestic garden. Their glaring eyes watched as Black Beard approached the ornate rear door of the 48
palace. Black Beard paused as he looked around. He couldn’t help but feel like he was being watched. His theory was proven correct when a man appeared right behind him. Black Beard turned around, a smug look on his face, as he confronted his challenger. The smug grin was soon wiped clean off his face when he realised that the man, the noble he had heard so much about, was in fact his brother. Black Beard went pale. The man, that for years Black Beard assumed was dead, now stood in front of him, a noble man. The wind eerily passed by and the sun seemed to get warmer. Black Beard’s plan crumbled before him. He had intended to kill Jane and the man she had left him for. But his plans were now crippled. The fire that was once burning up inside of him had been quenched. Black Beard took a moment to decide what he would do in this bitter-sweet situation. He simply walked away. Away from the two people he had once loved. For the first time in Black Beard’s life he was speechless. Tears ran down his face as he boarded The Queen Anne’s Revenge. He grabbed the wheel of this mighty vessel and smiled weakly. Perhaps a ship was the only true love a pirate really needed.
The Game of Life By Lucy Moore, age 15.
Simon’s life is bad. Really, very incredibly not good. Generally, people complain about their lives being awful when they get fined for letting their dog empty its inner workings on a path, or when they spill coffee all down that lovely-new-dress-that-was-on-salein-Debenhams and have to go change. But Simon, although being a very melodramatic person by nature, does indeed have good reason to complain. First off, there’s his car. A rusty old bandwagon – the wheels nearly the same colour as the silver door – Simon struggles to move anywhere in it. It probably doesn’t help that the wheels don’t actually turn. The silver paint has nearly all been scratched away, and a layer of dust and grime coats the windows. Simon probably should just dump it and get a replacement, but sadly he has no money, so he lacks the minorly important thing known as insurance. This little tragedy leads us on to Simon’s next ailment. Simon’s father owns the bank. This seems like it should be a good thing, but his father is what some people might call a miser and is stingy with his money. The small portions Simon has managed to wheedle out of him, he now cannot pay back, and Simon now enjoys frequent reminders of how much he owes him and how much it is increasing as each month goes by. This has made Simon a very anxious person – the kind who bites their nails to a stub and then keeps biting even when the nail has worn away, and who cracks their knuckles in public and enrages that old lady sitting next to them on the bus.
To add to this pitiful list, Simon also has a good-for-nothing, lousy, slimy brother. This probably isn’t anything new to hear; good-for-nothing, lousy, slimy brothers are practically a species in their own, but Simon feels is one is the king of them all. If you don’t know one yourself, it would be advisable for you to step back and assess your life – because it’s likely you are the good-fornothing, lousy slimy brother. They don’t even have to be a brother – cousins, sisters, friends, neighbours and that cranky, hairy old man who always sits with you at bingo are all good candidates for the role as well. Simon’s brother, Jeff, has the surplus money of the two, and has invested it in airports, train stations and bus stations. Any land Simon buys, Jeff buys all surrounding land so he can fine Simon for trespassing when he inevitably accidentally steps on it. This happens more often than you’d think. One would wonder why Simon isn’t a bit more careful for the sake of his wallet, but Simon is a tad forgetful and never fails to cross onto the forbidden plains at least once a month. The one thing we can say about Simon positively is that he is certainly punctual. Simon’s father declares at every and any family gathering that Simon is the polar opposite of Jeff who is rich, successful and clever. He’s also extremely lucky – having won the lottery at least twice. While his brother builds estates and hotels on his land, Simon can barely afford a proper front door. Probably the worst ailment of them all is the fact that he’s been to jail several times. It sounds bad, it sounds dreadfully bad, but don’t fret dear readers, Simon hasn’t murdered anyone or robbed any banks. It was all simply quite an extreme case of wrong place, wrong time – numerous times. With so little money, Simon can 51
never afford to bail himself out, so he has to call on his putridshade-of-red-with-fury father to pay for him. Each time his father drives Simon home in his luxurious, air-conditioned, leather seated Mercedes and lectures Simon on how he needs to get his life together, all to the twangy, shrieking soundtrack of his favourite country collection CD. Simon still hasn’t. With no real job, Simon finds it difficult to get by and dabbles in the act of borrowing from the bank. He keeps taking and taking and taking and taking until the bank has to – regretfully – inform him that they have to freeze over his bank account until he pays him back. Thus, Simon mostly lies at home drinking tea – infused with alcohol – and pitying his life and the state it’s in and how he’ll never get a job, or a girlfriend for that matter, and that his house smells life drains (because he can’t afford plumbing) and damp (because he doesn’t have proper insulation) and his electricity and water bills are piling up outside the front door that was so expensive and caused a permanent dent in Simon’s savings and how he had to give his little Scottie dog, Maurice, away because he couldn’t afford to keep him and how he has no acceptable clothes to wear because his rusted iron has finally cut out so he mostly just wears his dressing gown, sits on the couch and never leaves the house. It’s usually around this time that Simon folds up the board, packs it away in its box and calls it a night. Monopoly has never been his favourite game anyway.
Ocean of Hope By Hannah Rudden, age 15.
You stroll along the sand, stopping to embrace the beauty of the clear blue sky overhead. Your eyes, mirrors of hope and contentment squint in the golden sunlight as it kisses your face. You tread lightly, barefoot in the silky sand. Pausing to close your eyes and breathe in the fresh, salty breeze, you allow the distant laughter of children playing in the sand, the soft crooning of the seagulls soaring above and the gentle lapping of the approaching waves to lull you into a state of tranquillity. It is here you are most comfortable, the crisp salt water washing over your waiting toes. Your very being radiates innocence and hope, happiness and excitement for the future. But now I see you walking along the sands, hardly recognisable. What has happened to you, my dear? A tight line replaces the easy grin you always wore. Tears take the place of the sparkle and determination I once saw in your eyes. You are frail, wrapping your arms tightly around your thin frame. The sky has turned a dull grey all of a sudden, plump thunder clouds peering down at you. Your eyes are dull and glazed over, hopeless like the sky. They betray you, portraying your deep despair, the great darkness you carry on your shoulders. You are alone, there is nobody to bear some of the darkness that consumes you, that eats away at your soul. I fear life has broken you. You are lost, the darkness has smothered you in an abyss of overpowering sadness. The tears roll freely down your face as you absentmindedly stare ahead of you. I watch you, willing you to be strong even though I know that there is no strength left. You donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t deserve this, any of it. And it tears
me apart that I am the cause of your pain. I remember when you were so carefree, naïve to the cruelty of life. You were once truly happy. Now the damp sand holds you down like concrete. The mirrors of hope you carried in your eyes have been broken into thousands of shards of glass that, in turn, have been used to wound you. I realise now, how broken you truly are. Life has ruined your soul. And I really am sorry for that. I watch you take a shaky breath before you lie flat on the sand. You just lie there, staring blankly at the grey sky as heavy thunder begins to ring through the air. The distant laughter of the children has become mournful sobbing. The waves have become an enemy, not a friend but you welcome them nonetheless. I think for a fleeting moment that you can see me, past the thick sheets of cloud. Maybe it reassured you that your decision was the right one. The tide begins to roll in, the coolness of the water enveloping your whole body in what seems like a hug. I watch; I can do nothing but watch as the shocking blue waves lap over you. You don’t struggle, you have no urge to fight the darkness any longer. The waves are welcomed. They carry you away. You continue to drift and drift until you are a mere speck in the distance. Your sleeping body is no longer in my view but I know I will see you soon; a prospect that makes my heart race with excitement and break all at once. You have left the darkness behind you, it will no longer burden you, little one. I should have been the one to chase it away but ironically, it was me who caused it. I don’t know if you will ever be able to forgive me, dear, but you have to know that it wasn’t my choice… Around me, the sky lightens, the clouds dissipate, children begin to laugh again and the frightening thunder has been replaced with
the soft jingle of an ice-cream van. That is when I know, when I am certain that you are safe, that you are no longer burdened by the great darkness that hung over you like a thunder cloud since I left you. You will not shed another tear, feel another worry, get lost in another infinite abyss of hopelessness. You will be free, I know that now. As free as the birds overhead, the wild ocean breeze, the flowing water. The ocean has always been your escape, the realisation hits me. I want you to know that I don’t blame you. It is not your fault; it’s mine. A familiar hand finds mine; yours, my little girl. My heart now knows that you didn’t blame me either, that you forgive me for leaving you. You have finally found the brightness you once believed in , even if it meant you had to stumble through the darkness first…
Mr. Hawks By SeĂĄn Gray, age 15.
The piano stood out upon the lone stage. A spotlight gave the sleek black paint a shine, creating an image of splendour. The ivory keys glistened, and though the top of the grand piano was closed, one could imagine the bronze wires inside, bathing in the light. Despite the bright halo that surrounded it, that begged for your attention, there was no one there to witness it. The rows of seats that stretched outward were empty, a sea of red upholstery and wooden armrests. The oak doors that granted access to the room were closed, a padlock sealing the handles together. It was a disconcerting image that, this piano, a masterpiece of music, polished and waiting to be used, had no one to play it. Then a side door opened, the exit sign glowing softly above it, revealing little. Finally a mop came into view, sweeping back and forth along the grimy recesses of the stage wings. The hands that clasped it were tiny and bony, shaking slightly as they carried out their mundane task. Occasionally the head of the mop would be plunged once more into a small grey bucket, the water sloshing and heaving when it was withdrawn. The hands that held the mop were connected to the sleeve of a faded grey overall, several stains marring the rough garb. The suit seemed to be too big for whoever was wearing it, for the sleeves hung loosely, and gave the impression of a skeleton clad in a janitorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s uniform. The pale skin of the hands did nothing to dispel this image. Tired eyes glanced round from underneath the cap perched upon the strange creatureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s head, which was framed by grey, greasy hair. A nose, tinged with red, protruded from the angular face it was set 56
in, the thin lips beneath cracked and chafed. Occasionally the bony hand would pull out a pristine handkerchief from one of the many pockets, a contrast to his otherwise grubby state. Another oddity that he possessed was the gleaming nameplate attached to his chest, which simply read “Mr. Hawks – Maintenance”. There wasn’t a speck of dust to be seen on the brass, it was clear that Mr. Hawks valued it highly. Hawks made his way over to the piano gradually, cleaning the floor slowly, laboriously. Despite his best efforts, the layers of grime remained, the same seemingly ingrained in the wooden stage floor. Pursing his mouth in what was evidently a sign of frustration, he placed the mop into a side holder. Guiltily his eyes darted round and when his paranoia was sated, he slid onto the leather stool. A long twig like finger descended onto one of the keys and a soft gentle sound issued from it. Instantly, a look of contentment eased its way onto Mr Hawk’s face and it softened. He was at peace, the annoyance of a few minutes before forgotten. His fingers painstakingly flicked through the sheaves of sheet music, until finally he plucked one out. His eyes scanned the page, deciphering the symbols laid out before him. He set it down in front of him, and began. At first his playing was stiff and hesitant, he was afraid to make the slightest mistake. As time passed however, he began to pick up confidence and the music swelled and ebbed in a glorious symphony. As he played his imagination seemed to conjure up an audience, filling the seats behind him with row upon row of faces. They smiled and nodded when the music growled and roared with regal pride and cried and cast despairing glances when the music limped sadly. Other instruments seemed to echo from all around, adding their voices to the chorus. It was a maelstrom of emotion,
and Mr. Hawks was at the centre of it. He had the audienceâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s undivided attention, they were spellbound by the work of art he was performing. He had long since left the sheet music behind, his mind composing its own melody which was alien in its uniqueness. It seemed as though with each note he was painting a tapestry of life, telling story upon story, with naught but piano and fingers. Gradually however, the audience began to fade away again, content smiles on each of their faces, the instruments dropping out one by one, until only the piano was left. Once more Mr. Hawks was left alone in the centre, and his face had grown sickly and strained. Even as he played, his skin began to whiten further and further until it was as white as bone. His fingers seemed to slip through the keys, but still the music continued. The symphony reached a crescendo, and once again Mr. Hawkâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s face became content and at ease. Even as the music spiralled down to the end, he bore the same expression. When it finally stopped a great beat seemed to echo through the theatre, and Mr. Hawks slipped from the chair. In the morning they found his body, and looked on with horrorstricken faces at the sight of their dead colleague. If they had looked closely they would have noticed the tiny smile that still played upon his face, and have thought it odd. Mr. Hawks had been renowned for his gruffness in life, yet in death he was truly content. Had they listened, they would have heard the swelling chords lifting the ghosts of this place to their feet, cheering and clapping their applause. Had they opened their eyes they would have seen Mr. Hawks, dressed now in an immaculate suit, drawing another symphony to a close. But some things are better left to the eyes of the angels alone, and so they stood deaf and blind in a theatre filled with heavenly music, unaware of the beauty around them. 58
Saturday By Cian McGrath, age 15.
My mother dried my tears Against the shoulder Of her blouse. The terrier Whimpered in the backseat Blood congealed on its fur. My father drove, and as we entered He thundered through the clinic His footsteps echoing in the distance As the dog lay dying in his arms.
When my father came back to the waiting room His shirt was dotted with crimson. His shoulders slack, his heart heavy With defeat, numbed with pain, He looked at us all bleakly.
My mother held my hand And took me to see him On the operating table. I nestled my head against his fur 59
As our hearts beat to perfect rhythm. And nothing could have undercut The simple tapestry of our silence.
And I swore When I looked into his eyes I saw for the first time True terror.
The Ghosts of You And I By Ashling Gormley, age 14.
Melissa drove on the slippy road in the rain, cursing her boss. She’d known from the start the client wouldn’t take the deal. It had been a wasted journey. As the rain got heavier and heavier, she sighed and pulled in, taking out her phone. He took a while to pick up, it being one am. “Tristain?” “Melissa?” His voice was slurred with sleep, obviously she’d just woken him up. She peered out at the downpour. “I don’t think I’ll make it home in this rain. I’ll have to stay at a B&B or something.” She stared out at the desolate road. He yawned. “Ok, but be careful driving.” “I will. Love you.” “You too.” She put it away, and pulled out again. The road was empty for a fair few miles, and she almost upended into a ditch at one point, but eventually saw a sign for a bed and breakfast and pulled up the road. She was so tired at this point her eyes were blurring. The building was small but charming, painted white. She didn’t have much time to appreciate it, running up the drive, and knocking on the door. It was opened surprisingly fast, given the time. An old woman stood in the doorway, her hair held back in an old fashioned bun and her glasses perched on her nose. “Sorry if I woke you––” began Melissa. “Not at all! Come in, child, it’s pouring!” 61
Inside was dark, and Melissa took off her coat gratefully. “I’m Betty. I suppose you want a room for the night?” “Melissa. And yes please. I’m knackered.” She gave a little laugh and the woman smiled. There was something odd about it, something sad. “Here you go.” She said, handing over a key. “First door on the left.” “Thanks,” said Melissa. “Not at all. Sure I couldn’t leave you out in that.” She went upstairs to her room. It was fairly basic, but it had a bed and that was all she needed. As she collapsed on it, she thought of something. Strange there had been no price mentioned. She hoped she had enough. There weren’t any pass machines nearby. She was drifting to sleep, when she heard it. Terrible crying coming from next door. Horrible sobs that racked their chest and made them gasp. She knocked on the door. “Um. You alright in there?” There was a pause, and a shuffle. But the door wasn’t opened. She went downstairs, then, to Betty, who was sitting by the fire, beside a young man in a suit, his hair slicked back. “Uh, there’s someone crying upstairs….?” Betty sighed. “He always does that. Hasn’t adjusted, poor dear.” “Ok…. Actually, while I’m here, can I just enquire about the price?” “Just tell her,” said the man, taking a sip of his whisky. “She needs time to adjust.” “We’re all still adjusting.” He got up and stared into the fire. “Forgive him,” said Betty apologetically. “He has a tendency to be a tad melodramatic.”
“Well, wouldn’t you be, after god knows how long–– What year is it, by the way?” He directed this at Melissa, who frowned. These people were weird. Soon as she could, she’d go back to bed. “2016?” “About eighty years then.” Not only weird, but apparently insane too. “Listen, I’ve got to get back to bed––” “Sit, dear.” Said Betty. Melissa, not entirely reassured, sat. “I built this B&B with my husband in 1910.” “That’s impossible. You’d have to be, what, one hundred years old?” She smiled an odd smile of pity and sadness. “I’m dead. We all are. Charles here was one of my final living guests, in 1928. Souls just get drawn to the place.” Melissa decided she was going to leave right now, before they murdered her in her sleep or something. She got up. “I don’t think…” A teenage girl appeared, seemingly from nowhere, in a white dress stained with red. “Ooh, a new one! She’s pretty.” “Shush, Cordelia,” said Betty sternly. “Try to leave,” said Charles. “You can’t.” “That’s ridiculous, of course I––” She opened the door, and a wave of coldness swept over her as she confidently walked into some sort of block. “What–– I––” She began to kick the barrier, whatever it was, as tears rolled down her cheeks. “I’m not! I can’t be!” “You crashed,” said Betty, as Charles caught Melissa’s arms to stop her. 63
“But my husband, my job?” “You can’t go back.” Betty’s voice sounded hollow. “I’m sorry child. Had I known what sort of place this was, I would never have built it.” “Well you did.” This was Cordelia, her tone flat. “And we’re stuck like flies in a web. So thanks. As far as I’m concerned, you’re as much to blame as James.” She disappeared, as Betty sighed and Melissa cried, and the souls of the dead gathered on the stairs, watching.
A Moment of Sheer Madness By Maggie Larson, age 15.
“Seamus,” said Noreen, “what on earth were you thinking?” His smug grin lost its footing – slipped a little – wobbled and slid off his face. “I thought you’d be thrilled. Sure you’re always saying you wish we had more nice things.” They looked out the kitchen window at the glossy cherry-red zero-to-sixty sports car sitting like a king in pauper’s clothes in their derelict driveway, just left of the gardening shed. “I didn’t bloody well mean a Lamborghini,” she said. “I thought maybe some new curtains.” Seamus’s eyes flickered out towards the car and back again. “The neighbours’ll think you’ve lost your mind. You’ll have to bring it back.” At this he licked his lips – “Bring it back?” His eyes fixed on the car; smooth and streamlined, bright red like a shiny new toy car. It looked fast even standing still. And, to be fair, it wasn’t really one of those fancy expensive brands, just a similar model (though it had been described as a poor man’s Lamborghini – he’d heard them say it on the radio). “Well we’re hardly going to keep it, are we? Say – I don’t know – say you bought it in a moment of madness and you need your money back. They might take pity on you.” A moment of madness – a moment of sheer madness. Yes, that had been it. The pure unsullied joy of the sound of that purring engine, that silk-smooth ride, that flash of dull damp green 65
countryside out the passenger side window. He was almost salivating at the memory. The body was so red it looked like one of those sweets that came in the box they always got at Christmas, the strawberry ones Noreen couldn’t stand. He looked back at her. She had an expression like sour milk. “I’ll call the dealership tonight.” He deflated, sinking under the weight of her gaze. “Grand.” Honestly, what had he been thinking? What a fool he’d look driving to the farmer’s market or down to the shops or to collect the kids from school in that flashy new car. Really, he’d been mad to buy it... The car winked at him from outside the window. His tea was fading to lukewarm. “We’ll need to fix that kettle,” he commented. Noreen, poring over Hello! magazine at the kitchen table, didn’t respond. She had her reading glasses on and her lips set in a resolute line. He left it. The TV was a subliminal hum in his ear, like a fly buzzing around his head. The picture melted into colours; a child’s fingerpainting, red and blue and green. He felt stupid and sleepy. The heat was stifling and he was tired. The ads were on. Model families laughed uproariously at nothing in particular. Buy this and be like us, buy this and be happy. Glinting chrome appliances floated behind his drooping eyelids. Maybe that was the answer. If he had the money to afford things like these – bright, shiny, rainbow-coloured things – maybe Noreen would be happy. He pictured her at the kitchen table, wearing a cherry-red apron and a toothpaste smile, demonstrating how perfect life could be if only you’d buy this or that or the other product. 66
The television kept chattering. Little cheery riffs and jingles wormed their way into his head. A familiar snatch of music began, a smooth voiceover repeating the words he’d heard a hundred times over. Dynamic – innovative – buy me – A car racing down blurry roads as the music soared, sunlight reflecting off the sleek curve of the body. It sailed smoothly through city lights and shadows. The driver – some nondescript man in dark sunglasses and an expensive suit – rolled to a stop. The manufacturer’s logo flashed silver on the screen and was gone, but it stayed burned into Seamus’s eyelids. He saw himself in that car, cruising along highways and city streets, the glory of it, the excitement, the adrenaline in his veins, a moment of pure joy, a moment of sheer madness... He woke in the armchair. His back hurt (his back often hurt these days). He eased himself onto his feet, stretched, and rubbed his eyes. The house was still and dark and quiet. Noreen had gone to bed. The clock on the mantelpiece read 6 o’clock. He wandered into the kitchen and turned on the kettle. The new car outside the window called for his attention out of the corner of his eye. It grabbed his gaze and pulled him in, too big and bright and bold for this small unimportant road (and, he couldn’t help but think, for this small unimportant life). The kettle started screeching and he remembered – too late – he needed to get it fixed. If they had the cash. He knocked the switch off and poured a cup of not-quite-hot tea. There was a yellow sticky note on the table. He squinted to read it. Dealership open 9 to 6. Take it back today. He felt something like a weight in his chest. He had to do it. He repeated that thought to himself, over and over – he had to take the car back. It was there in his mind as he ate breakfast, got dressed, watched 67
Noreen walk out the door without a goodbye to meet the neighbour she carpooled with. The kids got the bus to school and he stayed sitting at the kitchen table. The sun struggled into the sky and slid back down the other side. Clouds rolled like tanks overhead. It got late. It got dark. He did not bring the car back. The kids came home and he thought, there’s still time, it’s only 4 o’clock – 5 o’clock – nearly 6 o’clock – He did not bring the car back. Noreen came home. He could see it on her face when she walked in. Storm clouds approaching. “I told you to take it back.” “I – I – I forgot. Time got away from me. You know how it is.” He kept his eyes on the farming section of the paper. She seemed to be about to say something – she was probably about to say a lot of things. She didn’t say them. She said, “I can’t face cooking tonight. I’ll order a Chinese.” “Grand,” he said, and felt sad, though he was not sure why. He didn’t bring the car back the next day, either. He tried. After Noreen left for work and the kids left for school, he got in the car and drove it into town, towards the dealership. It had that newcar smell, and the polished paint job that said it had never driven down a country road in winter. The seats were luxuriously upholstered in a material that gave the impression of leather without actually being leather. Crawling through midday traffic, stuck between a sheep trailer and a ‘99 Ford, he felt the creeping twinge of paranoia like a prickling on the back of his neck. Were people looking at him? Looking at him and laughing – God, Noreen was right, they thought he was a fool. Just another middle-aged fool trying to compensate for his receding hairline 68
(he’d heard her say that to her sister on the phone, but pretended he didn’t). But then he’d turned onto the main road to the dealership and felt the hum of the engine and the power of it, and, well, that didn’t seem so important. When the turn for the dealership came up he drove past it. So he hadn’t brought the car back. Noreen didn’t say anything this time. She just looked at it, sitting smugly in the driveway, taking up space – and announced, shortly afterwards, that she was going to bed early. He stayed sitting at the table for hours until one day fell into the next. The clock ticked. Tiredness clouded his mind but he couldn’t sleep, could only remain trapped in this state of confused stillness. What was he supposed to do? Noreen wanted him to return the car – but he still held onto that last little hope that the car would fix everything – but it hadn’t. It had only make everything worse. At some point he drifted into sleep and when he was woken by a beam of bright light through red clouds (red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning) he had a sort of certainty about what he was going to do. He held onto that certainty like if he let go he would lose it forever. He heard the shower come on upstairs. Keys in hand he stepped into the cool morning air (he’d slept in his clothes; they were creased but still acceptable). Got into the car, started the engine. Reversed around the side of the house and onto the road. The sunlight was still bright in his eyes. Frost-bitten fields blurred past, the milky glow of morning clouding his thoughts. The radio murmured, began to hum a familiar tune... Into town. Onto the main road. There – up ahead – the turn was there. 69
Just beyond the trees. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;d be there in a moment...
The Sylvia Plath Appreciation Society By Lea McCarthy, age 17.
Daphne is failing English. Opal is failing life. And Eyre is trying desperately to pass both. It’s the first meeting of the Sylvia Plath appreciation club and the atmosphere is nothing less than awkward. Eyre I break the silence. “I guess we should introduce ourselves?” No one answers my question but I guess it never really was a question so I take to the floor. “My name is Eyre, you’ve probably heard of me, I’m the cancer girl. In remission. And I need to catch up on my English poetry work.” “How’d you pronounce your name? I always thought it was Eerie or Eyrie or something,” the dark haired girl says. I know her name of course. She’s Daphne, she’s eye-liner and crazy rumours, she’s a lazy smile and a hallowed name. “Air,” I say, keeping my voice on level with hers, care-free, almost bored. “Like Jane Eyre. It’s quite ironic seeing as how I had lung cancer and all.” No one laughs but I’m used to that. “My name means unlucky,” the other girl says, in hoarse voice. Honesty, I’ve never seen her before. “Opal,” she continues, “It’s an unlucky stone.” I realise I know the name. The whisper of it. Opal’s depressed and 71
everyone knows it. Even I, ever the optimist, cannot find a paltry excuse for her liquid eyes and melancholic voice. “I don’t know what Daphne means. It’s in Scooby-Doo, I guess.” “It’s in Sylvia Plath too,” Opal says. “If I just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree. She’s referring to the nymph Daphne when she says that.” Daphne gives a little off-hand laugh, but Opal is deadly serious. “I guess you know a lot about Sylvia Plath then,” I say. “D’you think you could help me out?” “Okay I guess,” she hesitates over it. She takes my notebook and starts writing in cramped handwriting. Daphne’s phone is vibrating with tiny bleeps of messages flashing across the screen. She sees me looking. “Sorry,” she puts it back in her pocket. “Its fine, do what you want,” I say. People always apologise to me. “I do want to do well,” she says, maybe falsely, maybe earnestly. “Honestly, I like the poems. I don’t know them or what they mean, but I can feel them y’know?” “I don’t know really,” I say honestly. “In here,” she taps her chest. “Like when you watch fireworks and they make such an enormous noise that it hurts.” “What’s your favourite poem?” Opal asks, hopefully. “Eh. There’s this one line. I don’t know what poem it’s from, to be honest. But... I am the owner. It just… it sounds so powerful.” I’m surprised, Opal is surprised. Even Daphne herself looks a bit surprised. She clears her throat and reapplies her chilled-out smile.
“I need to take some notes too. I’m seriously failing English, and my teacher says if I don’t pass at summer, I have to drop to Ordinary Level. That’s like, why I’m here, y’know with everyone saying its Sylvia coming up on the Summer Test. “It is definitely Sylvia,” I say. “Couldn’t be anyone else.” Because that’s what everyone’s saying, so much that I’m surer of it than I am of evolution or of gravity. Sylvia is coming up on that paper. Daphne I’ve been going to the Sylvia Plath appreciation club for just over three weeks now. Opal’s knowledge of Sylvia Plath is useful, but bordering on obsessive. All she talks about is Sylvia Plath and sadness. Eyre bridges the conversation with a safety net chatter about every-day life. I mostly check my phone, scrawl few notes, make a few comments. I’m trying to look un-invested. But one of my tests has actually been returned without the trademark F scrawled in the high corner. And it’s another day like this when I make the bad mistake. I peer at my phone to check on my group-chat and Cathy says something there that I felt some bizarre need to share. “Hey, d’you know if somebody dies during the exam, we all automatically pass?” Realisation comes rushing in just as the words come rushing out. “That could be me then,” Eyre says, flicking through her textbook. She’s fine, she tells us always, in remission and that, but still her cheekbones have been smudged with pink at hearing me say that. I remember she’s got a doctor’s check-up next week and that she’s worried about it.
“Or me,” Opal says mournfully, quietly. I keep silent because there’s not really much you can say in a room full of would-be corpses. I blame Sylvia Plath. She brings it out in people. In Opal definitely. I guess I can’t blame Eyre for that lung mutation thing. Maybe she’ll go to the appointment next week and it’ll turn out that really she’s been slowly turning into a massive winged creature and she’ll swoop down and pick up Opal and me and fly us off up to some remote cliff cave or something, I don’t know. Maybe Opal would really enjoy the simple life there and start picking fruit and gathering fishes and berries and all that. Like a “primary worker.” It’d be so cool. The two other girls have switched conversation to “Pheasant” now and I doodle absent-mindedly, a tiny sketch of Eyre with her enormous swan-like curved wings. She looks a little too much like an angel. That’s the thing with sick people. You just can’t remind them that they’re sick. “So really it’s a metaphor for...” Metaphor this, metaphor that, I’ve started to tire of this analysing things. Why can’t I just enjoy the poems without butchering them? Oh that’s right. The Summer Tests. My D-day if you will. A text alert sounds on my phone. “Jo saw Engl paper. Durcan’s on, not Plath. Every1 is freaking out xx” “What?” “What is it Daphne?” Eyre asks. I show her my phone. “Sylvia’s not on the test?” Eyre says. Opal’s eyes grow wider than I’ve ever seen them. I sit back heavily on my chair. 74
“I can’t do the test,” I hear myself say. “Literally, I haven’t looked at Durcan.” “I need to write about Sylvia,” Opal says, her breathing hitching a little. “I have to.” Eyre just looks lost and destroyed at the work she’s put in, the work that’ll be thrown away. And then her eyes brighten. “I know what we can do. They always make anyone who was absent for the Summer Tests resit a different test in July, right? She’ll have to come up on that one. All we have do is make ourselves scarce on the first test day.” It’s not a terrible idea. Opal This is a terrible idea. I’ve just left the examination centre after my technology exam and told the secretary I feel sick and that I’ll do the July paper instead, and outside standing at the gate I see two familiar figures. It’s raining and Daphne and Eyre are standing there, grinning, with hats as their only disguise. “What are you doing?” I hiss at them. “We’re not going to sit home sadly, Opal,” Daphne says. “We’re going on an adventure.” Eyre looks at me apologetically. “Mum wanted to drop me off at the gate,” she says, shrugging. “Why didn’t you just tell her you felt sick?” I ask, exasperated. “Duh. Because she would have thought it was stage four cancer and brought me to the hospital.” She does have a point. We start walking; Daphne is striding, Eyre is bopping along. I am running to catch up, as always. 75
“Where are we going?” I ask. “We are not achieving my life-long goal,” Eyre says as Daphne opens her mouth. “I refuse to be a stereotype. I refuse to be given the right to die happily.” Daphne closes her mouth. “Actually…” I surprise myself. It’s been a very long time since I’ve volunteered information. “What?” “There’s a bee box.” The girls stop and look at me. “There’s an eco-farm out around the coast there. My mum brought us when we were kids and they had bees, I don’t know, I just thought…” Of course we end up at the bee box. *** But nothing feels right. I can taste darkness and apprehension in my throat, and the wind is too strong, otherworldly. The rocks are craggy, steep and the sea is a mixture of tar and ice and fear. Daphne sees none of it of course. She is aglow with liberation and starts reciting poetry, screaming it into the wind. “I lay my ear to furious Latin, I am not a Caesar, I have simply,” she swings herself onto a rock tower. “Ordered a box of maniacs!” she bellows. “Daphne, be careful,” I yell She’s parading around on the rocks on the cliff’s edge and something terrifying has been drawn over her face as she screams. She looks haunted, demoniac.
“They can die!” she screeches like a banshee. “I need feed them nothing, I”-There’s the tiniest little movement, a butterfly kiss, an integral cog. Her favourite line falters at her lips. A rock budges. And she falls. Daph is being thrown around like a china doll with the most beautiful hair ever. She goes under for too long and then she comes up; once more and she doesn’t say anything but she takes this huge breath. Like it’s her first ever breath, or like she’s saving up all the air in her lungs for something wonderful. And I think she is. Then she falls down down and drowns her screams. Eyre Opal stands behind the pulpit, trembling like she’s been caught in a panic attack, and clears her throat. She recites the poem, Daphne’s favourite. I let the words wash over me. I wonder how hungry they are. The girls from school are crying some of them, others are rubbing their eyes with coarse jumper sleeves. The red itchy eyes are artificial but it’s trying isn’t it? They’re not malicious, not all of them anyway. Daphne might have laughed or might’ve screamed they were stupid and fake. It would have depended on her mood, she was always independent on everything except exactly how she felt in the moment. I can’t close my eyes without seeing her gasping for breath in that river. It hurts in my chest, like she’d say, like looking at fireworks. I wonder if they would forget me. Never, ever, ever in a million years, your legacy is us, you had a death, and you’ll be a story. You’re the best worst thing that ever 77
happened in our school, the most beautiful, the strangest. If i just undid the locks and stood back and turned into a tree. Daphne. You were a source of honey. You were a perfect friend. You are the owner.
A Locked Door By Emma Donohoe, age 17.
“Our Father who art in Heaven Hallowed be thy name...” The deep husk of Tommy Boyle’s voice rang out across the dim kitchen. It was late in the evening and the last of the day’s sun light shone feebly through the grimy window panes. This light fell faintly on the coppery hair of a young girl, Tommy’s daughter. Áine perched at the foot of the scrubbed kitchen table, staring blankly at the collection of curated stains that decorated the wooden surface. They sat together, the eerie stillness of the room disturbed only by the prayers echoing monotonously off the grey slabs at their feet. The two of them lived in a small stony cottage out in the wilds of Connemara. It stood out, a white blotch on a canvas of greyish brown, greyish green and greyish blue. Tommy worked the small acreage that was their farm, and Áine tended to their vegetable garden and a pitiful collection of hens. It was out to this garden Áine regularly escaped after supper. Tommy had finished mopping his bowl with a lump of baked bread when he sat back in his chair with a soft sigh. His eyes glistened slightly as he mumbled to Áine; “Make some tea, I’ve been out since half six this mornin’...” He stopped for a moment, his mouth half open, a gaping hole ringed with grey stubble. He looked up again briefly, “The remembrance mass is at eight this evenin’.”
“Ok.” “So wear somethin’ nice, look in your mother’s closet.” Áine winced slightly, but nodded and said nothing. She stood quietly, gathered up the dishes and placed them in the large kitchen sink by the window. Áine leaned against the cupboard as the tap spat out water over the glinting bowls. The only sounds now were the hens that clucked gently through the window, and the hiss of a pipe. Áine looked out across the yard. From the window, the scene was a simple one. The yard was swept in a tidied state of slight disarray. Gates that cried out for a fresh coat of paint lurked behind the slatted sheds with tongues of piled turf reaching out across the walled edge; a plough, bits of timber, the rotting hen house and a fine collection of rose bushes framed the stony gravel. In the evening light, the pale pink rose blossoms shone in tender furls. Áine gazed out at the plants and felt a familiar ache in her chest. She had helped plant those. She could still feel the sun on her face, warmer and more inviting as the summers of memories always are. After Áine cleared away the last few dinner things, she left her father sitting by the stove. He folded himself forward into a little armchair in the corner of the kitchen. Áine paused for a moment in the shadow of the back step. She glanced back into the room and saw Tommy leaning over a small framed photograph. Áine herself had spent countless hours looking at that same photograph. She knew from a distance, that her father was caressing the same battered frame that she had. It had a nick in one corner from the day before the funeral, when Áine was too angry to be sad. Afterwards, she had fingered that cut in the wood, tracing over the angry white seams exposed underneath. Another gash in the wooden fringe was due to one of the many times her
father’s anger reflected her own. The glass front held a faded black and white figure. It was now exactly a year since her passing and still Áine longed for an escape from this warped reality. She carefully closed the back door with a click, leaving Tommy and his reflection behind. The sun was slipping quietly over the horizon, rushing to leave the desolate fields and derelict sheds in its wake. Áine slumped against the low mossy wall. She looked out across the darkening hillside and ached with the lack of life buzzing inside her head. Her dark eyes strived to discover a hidden patch of crimson, tangerine or a burning rosy hue, of any evidence of breathing colour. Áine stretched her thin arms up towards the descending sky, her breaths losing depth along with her control. A moment’s suffocation took hold sitting before this dreadfully familiar scene, she leapt the wall. Her skirts fanned around her in a farewell wave to the clucking hens. She stood for a moment on the other side of the wall. Áine looked around the yard with its sheds and plough and those sad and lovely rose bushes. She turned her back to the wind and began walking down the trail that led from the house out to the west. But walking seemed to gentle. Her placid steps matched the grey slats sheds and the dull clink of washing dishes. She needed to burn, to feel her paces jolt her limbs and the stones crunch under her frantic footsteps. Áine gathered up her greying layers of dressing and ran through the fields, running faster and faster! Past the walls and cows of home. Past their boorish-bovine glares. Past the distant reach and sight of the cottage until – she reached the sea. Oh! The sea! How she’d missed this heaving mass of powerful waves and swirling salts! It stretched away beyond her 81
imagination, reaching out with curious arms to embrace foreign lands out of sight. Áine breathed in gulps of the tangy breeze with an innerving air of deprivation, as if she only had moments left to seize. As if she’d just broken the surface of that azure expanse and burned for the winds of the coast to engulf her insides with their bitter cold. – but the cold! Was it cold? She hadn’t noticed her hands turn blue, veins dripping pale ice across her raw fleshy palms. They shook at the thundering roof that dulled sounds like dense thatch overhead. Its menacing rumbles fell like the purrings of a kitten on her ears. Áine trod along in her mud trimmed boots till the sludge of cattle clumped together with the sands of the shore. The smell of sea-weed stung her nose. Her eyes watered and smudged the scene with a distorted impressionist influence. Áine stood amidst this storm. The wind swirled with vindictive spite around her scraping craftily at her bare cheeks. She stood like a soldier bracing the rain, ignorant of her body’s violent shaking. It was only when the calamity finally bowed its head that she bowed her own. A hush of serenity descended as the waves soothed themselves into gentler stirrings. Áine’s limbs locked with the damp that fuses bones, slowly awakening with jerky movement. Bruises, inside and out, seared as feeling returned to them. Áine stood as the light rose up from the darkness. Rosy hues flooded the sky, mirroring the stains framing her dull eyes. Áine took each step purposely, yet her body moved unknowingly forth. Water lapped around her ankles, then her knees. Foam filled her papery blouse. Seaweed shrouded her shawl. Áine had reached it.
Dark doors with heavy handles. She pulled desperately at the gap, the ebony abyss between the latches. “Let me out!” she screamed “Dear Lord let me out!” Áine howled ferociously at her sodden fingers clumsy with cold, as they struggled to prise open a sliver of shadow. Sobs of bubbling relief rose trembling, like freed prisoners escaping her lips. Áine slipped inside the doorway. The cold numbed the ageing pain as the doors slammed shut again. The light from her eyes dissipated and – The lock clicked shut with a watery scream.
The Dream Collector By Trethyn Trethyn, age 17.
The doorbell was red. Cherry red, and circular. It looked genuinely old, quite out of place next to the door, which had a fake stained glass window and a doorknob that pretended to be gilt. A finger, hidden by a black knitted glove, pressed down on the red doorbell. Chimes played inside the house, muffled by the door. The door opened, and a tall, pale woman with hair like candy floss and impossibly bright lipstick opened the door. She turned on a luscious ruby smile and directed it at her visitor. “Hello?” The visitor smiled, a tight stretched thing like a rubber band. He touched the rim of his black hat. “Good morning, madam. My name is Melvin River. I’m from Astral Services Ltd, I’ve come to empty your dreamcatcher.” The smile shifted to a lower key. “Ah, yes, I’ve been expecting you. Come in, I’ll bring it to you.” She beckoned him into the hallway and left him standing there while she hurried away up the staircase at the end of the hall. Melvin stared after her, putting both gloved hands to his neck and rubbing his collar bone under the black Aran scarf. His quick grey eyes flashed about the hall, taking in the three doors, the red carpeted staircase, the burgundy raincoat hanging on the wall. His nostrils detected the strong odour of Persil creeping into his skull, and he snorted, trying to rid himself of the scent. He heard her feet on the stairs again. She was coming back, with the 84
dreamcatcher in tow, no doubt. Melvin tugged his heavy black coat tighter around his body and let out an involuntary shiver. Even here he could feel the catcher, getting closer to him. He prayed silently that it would be a simple one, an easy one. Then he could get out, get warm, get clear. Until he arrived at his next port of call. She turned the corner, and stepped into the hall, carrying in one hand a balsa wood circle, from with hung an astonishing variety of beads, feathers, bells and even a DreamGoWay logo. Melvin watched it with a sinking feeling. She handed it to him and he took it, his hand hurting even beneath the thick woollen glove with the intense astral cold it radiated. He turned it in his hand, watching the purple threads woven in the open middle of the circle, forming a token net. He let out a short sharp breath and took hold of the logo, flipping it so that he could read the model on the back. DreamGoWayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Deluxe Nightmare Banisher. A large model with matching capacity, if he remembered right. A little out of date, heavy on the astral net. He dropped the logo, and lifted his hand to remove his glasses. Without the special lenses protecting his sensitiveâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eyes, sudden silver light burst into his pupils, and he put up a hand to protect them as they adjusted. Once they were used to the astral light, he lowered his hand and gazed into the cold silver light, gushing into the dreamcatcher. Now that his eyes were no longer protected, he could see a delicate silver filigree, shimmering and flowing like drops of water along a spiderâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s web. It hung inside the balsa wood circle, fragile to the eye, but as strong as steel. The various decorations hanging from the dreamcatcher also shone, outlined in silver light. They seemed to throb with it, almost bursting. Lures. Bait. And the bait had certainly been taken. There, trapped in the net above, thrashed forty or so golden creatures, each and every one different. 85
Some were insectile, hairy, segmented, many eyed, their mandibles opening and closing as they tried to chew their way free. Some were more like swollen bats, their bodies grotesquely enlarged, bellies glowing with golden light. Still others resembled ordinary household appliances, scissors, needles, a washing machine. But they all had one thing in common. Their golden eyes dripped malevolence. Melvinâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s teeth began to chatter with the intense cold blowing out of the object at him. Gritting them firmly shut, he pulled off the glove on his right hand, feeling the cold rush to attack his now unprotected hand. With a sharp intake of breath he thrust the hand into the silver web, feeling its chill threads catch and twist at his fingers, trying to pull at the skin. Tiny drops of silver radiance fell from his hand as he caught hold of an insect creature, and it fixed its mandibles in his thumb. He shook the thing free, dropping it into his collecting bag where it clacked its mandibles angrily. He pressed his fingers to the cut in his thumb until it ceased to bleed, then firmly took hold of another creature, this one more resembling an angry comb than anything else. He grasped it firmly and tipped it safely into his bag. It landed with a thud. His hand was now chilled to the bone. He brought it close to his mouth and blew on it, warming it a little. Then, shivering, he plunged in back into the web. Mandibles caught at his fingers, wings beat at him, teeth and blades tried to slice his hand. Many he succeeded in beating off, but some struck home. By the time he was ready to rid the web of the last creature, his hand dripped silver in three places. The last creature was a bat thing. Winged and clawed, it hissed and snapped at his hand, and Melvin wished that a sensitive could 86
get another job – any other job. With a deep breath he eased his hand in behind the creature, gripping it behind the wings. It flapped wildly as he eased it free from the shimmering silver web. And then, somehow, it slipped free. It just seemed to drip like water from his hand, and jumped into the air, wings beating hard. Melvin lunged after it. He had to banish it, to throw it into his bag, otherwise it would return without a doubt. The creature spun in the air, flared out its wings to hover, and sunk teeth and claws into his hand. Melvin tried to shake the thing free, but it wouldn’t come. He tried to pluck at it with his gloved left hand, the dreamcatcher falling unheeded to the floor, but his protected hand fell right through the creature, and it held on too tight. Then the room blurred before his eyes, and the nightmare filled him. It was bad. No matter how many times this happened to him, it was always just as bad. Even the dreams of children - full of monsters hiding under the stairs and wolves springing out from cupboards - were bad. Melvin couldn’t remember the details afterwards. It was just bad. When the blackness lifted, he was lying flat on his back, gazing up at the beige roof of the hall. He shivered violently, and pulled his coat tight around him, even though sweat stood out on his skin. He levered himself to his feet, and looked down at his hand where the creature had bitten him. No sign now of the bite, only smooth, unblemished skin. Still shivering, he pulled his glove back on. Then he looked at the dreamcatcher. Innocently it lay on the floor, empty and lifeless now. It still chilled him to the bone, but the catch was gone, thank God. Melvin turned his back on the hallway and the woman who owned it. Let her find that he was gone, job done. Right now he just didn’t care. He had to get out, get away from everything. He 87
was taking the rest of the day off, and damn his boss. Sensitives might not be able to get any other work, but there were few enough sensitives to make anyone think twice about firing one. It didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t matter. He opened the door and fled.
A Stranger in the West By Cormac Kelly, age 16.
The man ran a hand across the barrel of his pistol as he rode, a crooked birch tree appearing ahead. The steel gun vanished under his mustard shirt again and he urged his grey mustang onward. Shimmering waves of light and air danced on the horizon deceptively close. But the stranger had ridden through many summers on jobs north and south of the border, and he knew well to keep his eyes on the birch tree. Soon he was under the cover of the leaves, partially sheltered from the sweltering Austin heat. He dismounted and withdrew a calfskin canteen and a sheet of folded parchment from the saddle pack. The man slumped at the foot of the birch tree, amid the scorched roots and sage-coloured thorns. He took off his hat, his oily black hair matted and curly at the ends. His coal green, smoky grey eyes scarcely left the road as he rested against the tree. He took a slug of his water and unfolded the paper in his hands. There was a faded sketch of an unkempt man with a gauntly drawn face. ‘Ronnie Young’, it read. ‘Wanted for arson and three counts of assault.’ There wasn’t a second option; the bounty for killing him was 200 dollars. It was always the same job for him, different men committing the same crimes. It was his fourth year doing it; and he was still shy of twenty five. But it was never a difficult decision for him, choosing this kind of life. His father had been killed when he was six, shot in a barn by Weller’s River. It wasn’t long before he got his revenge, and not long before he began to hunt others for cash. He had accepted his first job without hesitation, angry and hopeless as he was. The man with the smoky eyes and oily hair read his name
aloud as he did twice before, took another look at the wanted manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sketch and slipped it under his shirt again. He studied his mount in the shade and allowed himself a sigh. The mustangâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s coat was a grey-silver, a jet-black streak running across its back. Its hind cannons were muscular and thick, and its forelock was broad and hard. The beast was his own for three years, when he stole it from a vagabond in Memphis. When he had seen his smouldering stare and his pistol appearing in his hands, the vagabond had given up the horse quickly enough. He stood from his place at the tree and looked out at the vast pockets of hills and the parched, red lands north at the Mexican border. The stranger set off by a dry ravine, his young grey mustang cantering eagerly onwards. The green brown grass was dying in the sunlight and the trees by the trickling river were sagging against the heat. Rattlesnakes wormed by the road and the dust from the wind and wagon trails hung in the air. He had run out of water by the time he reached the pastures of New Austin, where the crops were abundant and the farms were old and creaking, moaning with the torment of age. Not since Phoenix had he seen such a wide stretch of farms and crop fields. The land turned molten in the shafted light as dusk approached swiftly. It was pitch dark when the man reached the country town of Hornberry. Grand white farms lined the outskirts of the town and within; shop and tavern lanterns guided the way to Redhome saloon. As he rode past the first of the farm houses, he was met with sharp eyes from the locals. Men sitting on porches eyed him narrowly. The man had a history in Hornberry, and he was no longer welcome. Near the saloon, he found a cracked well of grey bricks and sprouting weeds. After filling his canteen he mounted coolly again to depart. The crack of wood sounded behind him, as the doors of the saloon flew open. A woman hurried out, almost tripping on 90
her skirt as she descended down the steps of the porch. “Will Moyer!” she shrieked, “You’re a killer, Will Moyer. A killer!” she broke down in the dead grass, sobbing, looking up woefully at the rider. Her dirty tresses were drawn across her face like a cowl, her bones visibly frail in the night light. The stranger, Will Moyer, with the smoky eyes couldn’t say a word and lowered his hat so they were concealed. A boy of seventeen or eighteen emerged from the saloon, fumbling to tie his belt. He knelt by the woman in the grass, consoling her where she lay. “Even in the dead of night I know his face. That’s Will Moyer, Eddie, the man who killed your father.” The woman spoke amid her sobs. When Will looked down at the boy for a second time, the son was staring back. He was looking up at him, with intelligent green eyes that seemed somehow untamed, and above, a curling brown forest of hair. His countenance was a mask of defiant old stone, and Will saw a fury rising in his face. With that he turned and lashed the reins and his mustang was off into the night, the shrill cries of the woman following him for much of the way down the path. Will was chased by hanging shadows for the rest of the night, as he rode through a small valley of jagged, moon-lit boulders. Everywhere he looked he saw the son, shining in his sights. Will saw the father’s resemblance in his green eyes. He had been wanted for murder, and Will had shot him in Hornberry two months before, without hesitation. He did not kill him out of hatred, but for his duty. Will could hardly remember what the word meant. Over time, he knew the line between hatred and duty clouds, until nothing good can justify your actions. He held that thought as he swayed in the saddle, his horse veering left through a side passage between the rocks. There was something in the boy’s eyes that made him uneasy as he rode. Will drank some water and let some drops run down his face. He could hardly keep 91
his eyes open as he reached the end of the narrow valley, with plain, scorched fields greeting him on all sides. The Young Farm wasn’t far; Will could see it on the hill, a vague shadow in the predawn light. When morning light crept over the mountains to the west, Will reached the road to Ronnie Young’s Farm. Will brought his horse to a halt by the side of the road to survey the scene. The solitary farm house was grey-walled and tall, with a long porch and two pine doors. A windmill stood tranquil on a green hill beyond the farm, and Will watched it while he rested for a moment. In his life, nothing was as constant and serene as that windmill. He gathered his things and mounted again, praying he would be finished his job come the midday. He glanced behind him as he rode, to find the path vacant of life, with only shifting waves of light in the air. As always, he did not trust them. A breeze came blowing from the west which cooled his face and brought him forward with some vigour. His mustang’s hooves dug deep into the dirt beneath them, as he broke to a gallop, a silver blur in the morning haze. Rummaging and breaking glass sounded from within the farmhouse as Will’s horse skidded to a halt by the gate. He took a hasty look at the parchment with the sketch of Ronnie Young and dismounted. Will leaped over the gate into the farm and made for the house with bold strides. The grass was long and wild before the house, and dead crops from the harvest littered the path. Will drew his revolver slowly from his shirt, his eyes darting from window to window of the house ahead. He stopped and stood, composed before the home, his gait wide and his hand steady. Ronnie was inside, Will knew, as he approached the first steps of the porch. A whisper in the breeze sent Will spinning behind him, and there he was. He was dressed in grey, with a cotton shirt and 92
his fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s rifle in his hands. The sonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s eyes were now an emerald blizzard of hate and sorrow and his hands were steady. Will knew then that it was not his look that befitted his father which frightened him, but that the son reminded him of himself, when he was a boy, bright eyed and red with anger having lost his father by Wellerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s River. But there was some good in his eyes too, some glimmer of hope in the orbs that shone so fiercely. Will wanted to say something, to give the boy some message, some warning. The shot scattered the birds and filled the air with rifle smoke. Will had been too late to raise his hand, and too late to warn the son. He landed in the dirt, sprawled on his back before the steps of the porch. Blood came surging like a wave in the hole in his chest and his vision strayed. He thought of the son growing to manhood, a stranger in the west, hunting criminals like he once did. In his final moments of jarring agony and shifting memories, Will hoped that the son would one day leave his gun in the dirt and lead an untroubled life, like the windmill on the hill.
The Creator By Sam Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Carroll, age 17.
Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m drawing maps in Irish class Of places you will never see Wondrous worlds of Fantasy The places I would rather be
Customised Geography The moons and stars, Astronomy Flora and Fauna, Biology All the elements controlled by Me
I create man, I create life With nothing but my pen in hand and their predetermined sentience could cease to be at my command
Imprints of Mentality Politics, Society Peace and War and History All they know is shaped by me
Heroes, Prophets, Geniuses rise And wonders erected to the Gods of their lands But greed and hate and dictators wrath Bring nothing but the makings of dystopia
A creatorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s presence, Philosophy The things in this world our eyes cannot see Space and Time, and Infinity The ideas that go far beyond me
The Bell tolls and I leave
Apple By Lea McCarthy, age 17.
Snow White was beautiful. I am not. The fairest of them all. I never will be. She was saved. Who would ever save me? An apple poisoned her. I take the apple. It looks healthy and good, I sink my teeth into it. I can do this, I can do this. Because I’ve felt like I’ve been dead, for so long and here it stops. I need to fix myself, to destroy the flaws that made them kill me. This is my post-mortem. I take the apple. I imagine my stomach filling up with layers of blue and nothingness. Nothingness is blue, I’d imagine, the most perfect shade of blue that means I’m doing well. I exercise too, and the burn within me makes it all real yet still there’s no change no magic-mirror voice to tell me I got it right. But I know I can persevere. I take the apple. I’m airy, I’m alive, I’m light, I’m clear. Not enough though, not enough until my bones are made of glitter and the air carves out spaces in my skin. I take the apple but I’m almost too tired to eat it, all those sleepless nights I’m too scared to slip into, longer nights I’ve spent tensing my limbs until they ache. But it’s a slight price for the
glorious wealth of knowing I will be thin. I take the apple but my hands are shaking and I’m dizzy enough for people to ask what’s wrong. Nothing, I say because I feel like, because I’m living on and because I am, absolutely nothing. I take the apple because it’s too late to care that it’s handed to me with ill-intent. And I never realised that I’d want to be braver than I am beautiful, but bravery would save me now. I take the apple and it falls from my hand like a heart that’s stopped beating and my body falls with it, and I form a thought. Snow White was beautiful. I think I’m dying. The fairest of them all. Did that ever matter? She was saved. I definitely won’t be. An apple poisoned her. An apple poisoned me.
The Sea By Fionn M. O’Sullivan , age 17.
Primary school division one. The cup final. We’d done well this season, we made the league final but lost, so there was no way we were losing the cup. It was 1-1. There was five minutes left. We had possession, driving up their end of the pitch, all of the parents shouting like mad on the sidelines. I was jumping up and down on the spot from where I stood at right back, almost the entirety of the team up helping the forwards get the ball in that damn goal. My knuckles had gone white clenching my hockey stick in trepidation. Turnaround. Oh no. Their centre forward with the ball now, dribbling it up the pitch with the rest of the players racing after him, none of them could keep up though. Our centre back ran up to intercept before he could make it into our D, but their forward just clipped it though his legs and ran around. More shouts from the parents. Next our keeper ran forward, diving with his pads up, trying to take down the forward, who lifted the ball into the air over the keeper as I ran in to cover the goal, my team’s last line of defence. C’mon, I thought. Sky it. Put it over. Miss. Their forward swung his stick through as hard as he could, connecting with the ball before it hit the ground. I brought my stick up to stop it, but I couldn’t see it.
Then my world turned to black. What followed was an indefinable nothingness. A grey area of consciousness in which eternity and now are the same, broken with erratic moments of half awareness; beeping monitors...stern voices and incomprehensible words. Thoughts were never fully formed, consciousness an insurmountable yet infuriatingly close grasp away. After a time I began to float slowly towards the surface and out of my deep sea state. Words became distinguishable when heard, though still jumbled; ...terminal... ...three weeks at best... ...too late... ...Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m sorry... My awareness slowly continued towards the surface, feeling almost returning to my limbs, still I could not move. Thoughts could be framed but they never reached my lips, hearing returned, but only the hearing one has underwater. My eyes never opened. I knew I was sick, but I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t mind, emotions were strangers to me. The passage of time became somewhat recognisable once again, I knew I toiled in this state for days, easily, weeks no doubt, yet still the ocean held me. I broke the surface to a pounding on my chest. Shouting. I felt desperation in the air as I breathed it in. My hearing was no longer muffled. 99
“Wake up!” Thump. “Wake up!” a male voice, torn with anguish. Thump. “Wake up! For God’s sake, wake up! Please!” Sobbing. Thump. Pain barely registering. “Godammit son! WAKE UP!” THUMP. THUMP. “WAKE UP!!!” I startled, coughing. The thumping stopped, only the sobbing remained. My eyes flashed open, taking a few moments to focus. White. A well-lit hospital room. White walls. White sheets. I was sitting in a bed. A man lay kneeling on my right, his elbows resting on the mattress, his face buried in his hands. “Please...” he sobbed. Grey hair. Well into his sixties. He reminded me of Grandad. “Grandad?” I mumbled, voice box still sleepy. He dropped his hands and turned to me. I choked. It was my father.
His watery eyes met mine and his sobbing stopped. “Dad?” was all I could manage. He stared at me for a moment before comprehending, when he did, the sobbing resumed. “Son...y...you’re...awake?” His face...it looked so old. The match. “Did we win, Dad?” “Win?” his voice a whisper. “The match, Dad, did we win?” When the recognition hit his face, he burst out crying. He reached up and touched my face, then held my shoulders as he rested his head on my chest and continued to cry for what seemed like hours. It probably was. Emotion began to return to me, though my paralysis hadn’t left me. Monitors made new noises and doctors rushed in, busying themselves about me and the room. My father’s hands in mine was the last thing I remembered before I returned to the ocean’s depths. My time there, however, was far shorter than before. I awoke later that day, the doctors had gone, the room empty but for my father slumped in a chair pulled up at the end of my bed. He held a photograph in his hands. “Dad...did we win?” I mumbled again, he glanced up, putting the photograph into his pocket, before pulling his chair around to sit beside where my head lay propped up on pillows. “Dad?” I asked. 101
“Yes, son,” his voice weary, aged, “your team won...at a great cost though.” he sighed. “I got injured though, didn’t I?” “Yes...you did...you were hit by the ball, you suffered severe head trauma...” I could hardly hear him now, “you’ve been in a coma for twenty four years.” He resumed sobbing now. “Twenty-four years...?” I repeated. He nodded. My thought process still slow. It hit me. That made me thirty-six. It hit me again. Thump. I’d missed out on secondary school. Thump. I’d missed out on college. Thump. I’d missed out on a life. Thump. My friends. Thump. My family. “Dad...w...where’s mum...?” His gaze met mine, then fell to the floor. He tried to keep his sobs down as he took out the photograph and held it again in his trembling hands. I wanted to get out of bed and calm them, but movement hadn’t fully returned to me.
He took a deep breath and swallowed his tears, still staring at the photograph, he spoke. “Gone. Almost gone. She’s at the other end of the hospital, she won’t be here for much longer though...” “What do you mean, Dad? What’s happened to her?” He put the photograph away and looked at me again, emotions somewhat calmer. “She was rushed into hospital a month ago; breast cancer, diagnosed too late, she’s always been a stubborn one, it’s everywhere in her now. They’ve told us it’s terminal, they gave her three weeks.” “What...?” was the only word I could manage. “H...how is she, though?” My father let out a sigh, shoulders heavy. “She sleeps most of the time, they have her fairly drugged up, y’know... for the pain.” I nodded. Well, I tried to. He turned to gaze out at the distance. “When she is awake though, she talks about you. Twenty-four years...without you. She’s sad, son. We never gave up hope... after your accident we both went back to working full time to pay for your care. We waited, and waited. You stayed asleep, but we could never let you go. She’s sad, son. She’s given up hope.” “But...I’m awake now, can’t you tell her? Can’t I see her...?”
He sighed again. “She hasn’t woken up in the last two days, son, the three weeks were up last week. You only woke up this morning. The doctors say it’ll be another two months before you can move and walk again.” Now it was my turn to sigh. Is there a harsher reality to wake up to? “The doctors say they can’t let you leave until you’ve recovered, your heart and lungs are too weak, they say they don’t want to risk giving you a shock.” Thump. “But...that means I can’t see...” “I know, I argued and argued with them but I can’t risk losing you as well. Not again.” Thump. “No...” was all I could whisper before the waves of sleep washed over me once more. I woke that evening, my father hadn’t moved, though he lay fast asleep, the photograph loose in his hands. He looked at peace, as if this was his first time sleeping without worry in a very long time. I studied the wrinkles on his face, his thin hair and dying colour, his old hands and the photograph resting in them. It had been taken last week, the three of us, at my twelfth birthday. Thump. Tired, so very tired. Far too much to take in at once, it would’ve been bad enough without having twenty four years pass in one blink of my eyes.
My eyelids were half closed when the door burst open, my father startled. I would’ve too, if I wasn’t paralysed. “You’d better come quick.” A doctor. My father nodded, getting up off his chair. He knew why he was being called. He looked at me as he approached the doorway. “Dad...please...” “I wish I could, son.” “We don’t want to risk your health.” said the doctor. “Please, Dad, let me see mum...let me see her.” “I’m sorry,” the doctor looked at me with a false kindness, “but your father’s already signed your recovery treatment papers.” Something in my father’s eyes changed, passing into his body, he’d had enough. He punched the doctor square in the face, hitting the floor cold. My father rushed over to my bed, trying to wheel it out the door, but it was locked to the wall, so he picked me up and carried my limp body in his arms down the corridor. “Thank you.” I said. He just nodded, his gaze set forwards. “Do you know the way, Dad?” He looked down at me briefly, “Yes...I do son, I’ve walked these corridors far too many times.” He didn’t run, for I lay like a rag doll in his arms, all I could do was watch the lights on the ceiling pass by. We turned a few corners, through doors, down stairs, more doors, more corridors. I hoped we weren’t going to be too late. We stopped, opening a door, I caught a glimpse of two other doctors in the room, they nodded
solemnly when they saw us, then left quietly. My father walked slowly over to the bed, a fragile figure beneath the sheets with a head resting on the pillow. An old woman turned her withered face to look at us. Old. Aged. Tired. Mother. She spoke in a cracked voice. “Why...why have you brought him to me...? He hasn’t opened his eyes in twenty four years, what makes you think he’ll do it now, as I’m dying?” My father said nothing, he just gently laid me on the bed beside her. “Hi Mum” I said softly. “No...” she whispered, “I’m dreaming...I’m dead already...you died that day...” “I’m awake now, Mum” I said, meeting her eyes. She looked at me, then slowly brushed a strand of hair from my forehead as she used to when I was little, only her fingers...they were so cold... “He woke up this morning.” my father said, sitting down on the other side of her. “H...how...? Why now?” she asked, looking at my father. “Because I asked him to...one last time...” he said, lying down and putting his arm around both of us. She turned to me once last time, a change seemed to have passed over her face, the lines of despondence gone, and she looked to me as she did in the photograph on my birthday. My mother. This wilted old lady. 106
She spoke, her voice slower, quieter, now more difficult for her to get the words out, “Thank you.” she coughed a bit, looking from me to my father, both of us now crying, before her gaze turned to look past us, her voice barely audible. “Thank you.” she said. I do not know who it was for.
Learning to Love Yourself By Lauren Hannon, age 16.
Blue. Sometimes grey or glass-like when the light hit them. Little specks of the lightest brown surrounded the pupil. My eyes. I looked in the mirror in my childhood room and I saw them so clearly. The broken glass seemed to have put itself back together. I looked in the mirror and I felt a smile forcing its way onto my face. The memories of the same girl with the blonde hair and the blue eyes looking into that mirror all those years ago, rushed into the room and I could feel her there with me. She was six years old in her Groovy Chick room. The purple walls with the small mirror hanging in the corner beside her bed. Clear and rectangular. It showed her things as they were. It was certain. She liked that. She was only a child, yet she could stand in front of it for hours. She looked at herself. She looked. She looked. She couldn’t stop looking. Her face. Her hair. Her eyes. She was always so fascinated to know that no matter how long we live, we will never see ourselves. All we will ever see is merely a reflection. She was only a child, so she didn’t care whether her hair was greasy or whether her skin was spotty. She would look in the mirror because she found it so interesting that everyone had their own features. Features that they were recognised by. Oh, how beautiful her mind was. I looked up from my thoughts and I could feel that little girl leave the room, as the memories of the girl who killed her flooded through the room like a tsunami. The mirror on the wall became smudged, distorting her vision. It became covered in the words people didn’t mean to say and the make-up she was expected to 108
wear. The little girl was twelve years old now. When she looked in the mirror, she felt like the person looking back wasn’t even her. She knew she wasn’t pretty, but she also didn’t know what she was. She didn’t recognise the girl looking back anymore. Not many people understood what it was like to have such a bad image of yourself at such a young age. Most people would never understand what it was like to be the fat girl. The one with big arms and big legs. The one who never felt comfortable in clothes. She wished there was less of her. Things would be easier. Everything would be easier. Twelve-year-old her was happy though. Not with how she looked, of course. She didn’t like how she looked, but she liked her personality. That was enough for her. If you looked closely at the mirror, you could see that even now, there were still little pieces of glass that couldn’t be put back together again. I put my hand on them and they fell to the ground. It was like deja vu as I remembered the monster who took over that little girl’s mind when she was fifteen years old. The mirror on her bedroom wall fell to the floor and smashed into bits. The string that held it up had worn away. She was looking through the mirror at the broken image of herself. She hated every single thing about herself. If you had given her the choice between being incredibly beautiful or incredibly intelligent, she would have chose beauty. She would have chosen beauty every single time. You see, she had convinced herself that even those who said that they didn’t judge people on how they looked, were lying. She thought that everyone preferred the pretty girl. The skinny girl. The one with nice hair and good skin. The girl she thought she would never be. She looked through the smashed mirror to see herself. Seven years bad luck. She thought to herself that maybe after the bad luck had gone, something good would come. In that moment, 109
the fifteen year old girl wanted nothing more than to go back to her younger self to ask her how she did it. She knew she couldn’t, so instead she looked through the smashed glass. She looked. She looked. She couldn’t stop looking. Sometimes she would cry for the little girl she used to be. The blue eyed little girl had hope. Too much hope. I stood in front of the mirror and I hadn’t realised I was crying until the tears dripped onto my t-shirt. The seven years bad luck had come and gone. I left my childhood room in search of better things and I found them. The mirror still remained on the wall as a reminder that things are good and then they get bad, but eventually would be better than they had ever been before. The feeling I felt standing in that room, looking at myself all these years later, scared me. I felt more like that little girl than ever. I picked up my stuff and got ready to say goodbye to my childhood room once again. As I walked out the door I whispered “goodbye” under my breath. “Goodbye, goodbye, thank you for teaching me,” I said out loud to the monsters that took over my mind as a teenager. I walked out of that room with hope. The same hope that little girl once had. I wanted to make her proud and so that’s what I would spend the rest of my life doing.
Half Empty or Half Full By Meadhbh Finnegan, age 16.
I often found myself staring out of a window, it was my idea of calming down, and it was like a thinking area. The thing was if I did find myself lingering around a window I knew it wasn’t good. I would spent a various amount of times there from ten minutes to a half an hour, my eyes open to the possibilities both bad and good. Thinking of all sorts. The two most popular were, ‘It wasn’t my fault; they don’t understand’ and ‘Why don’t I have the guts to say sorry?’ That’s the thing, saying sorry can be as easy as saying your A, B, Cs and as hard as learning to ride your bike all at the same time. Apologies are one of the things that grow with you, when you were younger it was easy and you could just come right out with it but as you grow older saying you’re sorry becomes a lot tougher. That’s what I don’t understand; parents have been through all this so why when it comes to their children they can’t just lay off a bit. I’m not asking them to completely let them free of every sin but just to ease off a tiny bit. During a row things can turn over very quick, for example if you think, “Wow, I’m not getting given out to!” you’d better snap out of it because in the space of two minutes you can go from everything in your favour to nothing. A teary eyed mess is how I would describe myself when I’m in the dog house, but can you blame me. If all fingers were pointed towards you in the middle of a fight you would also tend to get a bit rowdy and start to say stuff that you would never say before, stuff that’s at the tip of your tongue, any old rubbish that you can 111
think of. I think we could all agree that a time machine is what every teenager needs. Why, because the amount of thinking you do after a row really leaves you saying… ‘I wish I could start this day again.’
The Knockout Zone By Sean Maguire, age 16.
The lethargic lapping of ocean waves… The left glove hooked Buster like a speeding bus. Birds. I can hear birds… Dazzling white flashed before his eyes. The careless rustle of the ocean breeze, sifting through the treetops… Pain flashed through his skull like fire, from temple to temple. He was left in a daze, his senses disabled. The fight, Buster, the fight… Buster snapped back into focus. The once-deafening roar of the crowd was slipping away, becoming but a faint, distant howl. It was just him, Jim Baker, and a flat-lined ringing in his ears. Buster couldn’t help but laugh at the bitter cruelty of his situation, the way a man laughs in an attempt to cope with his imminent destruction. …So they finally give you a shot at the big time, and you go and get your ass kicked…same old Buster! Always good but never good enough… The left hook struck him like stone and sent him swaying backwards. But he stayed on his feet, his senses returning.
Buster saw Baker’s cherry-red glove swinging towards him through the receding darkness. He clumsily dodged the blow, grunting in pain, and planted a right hook on Baker’s left jaw. The two fighters regained composure, and circled the ring. Buster moved swiftly, with nimble feet – dancing. He faked a left, catching Baker off guard with a right hook. He was back on top. He continued to dance with nimble feet, increasing pressure. He could taste the thick, red, coppery blood on his tongue. He felt it gush inside his mangled jaw, through the gaps of his busted teeth, to come trickling out of his mouth, and along the contours of his cheeks. Each drop of sweat and blood staining the floor of the ring a dark, cherry red, in fine rhythm with the consistent beating of his heart. His nose was broken and crooked, blood cascading without falter. So close to death, Buster had never felt more alive. A faint smile spread across his disfigured, broken lips. With great effort, or maybe an outright miracle, Buster raised his glove and threw a right hook, one final hook, at Baker. But it missed. Baker swayed to the left and caught Buster off guard with a thundering right hook to his left upper jaw. Just below the knockout zone. Blood, sweat and spit flew from Buster’s mouth and nose as the blow struck him. It felt like a slow-mo shot from a boxing flick. Like he was Sylvester Stallone being pounded by world champion Apollo Creed in Rocky. But this wasn’t a film.
Buster fell into the ropes and, trying to grab a hold with his fingerless red gloves, slammed smack down into the floor. His elbows tingled with pain where he landed on them. He felt his dreams slipping away with every moment he lay on the cold hard floor. The lethargic lapping of ocean waves… The birds… I’ve been here before… The knockout zone… With a heaving gasp, and a miracle, Buster awoke. Five seconds. Dazzling lights flashed before him. He forced himself not to succumb to their ever enticing hypnotics. He raised himself onto on knee, and slotted the fingerless groove of his glove onto the rope. Two seconds left. All of sudden he was back up, locking eyes with the referee. “I’m good…I’m good…” He raised his gloves, and the bell sounded. He was back in the moment. The pain was there; irrelevant. He moved swiftly, taunting Baker, letting his guard down. Baker took the bait and swung with his left. But Buster was ready. He knew Baker would swing with his stronger left side. Buster stepped back, dodging the blow with ease, and Baker fell forward, with momentum and fatigue. But he kept his footing. Buster, in an ecstasy of confidence, attempted the taunt again. But Baker was 115
quick. He jabbed at Buster’s cheek like lightning, and Buster fumbled backwards, stunned. Baker then took advantage of his position and struck Buster with a powerful left hook. Buster’s sweat and blood sprayed out into the air as Baker punched, and punched, and punched. He punched his way from one side of the ring to the other. He had him on the ropes. Right jab. Left hook. Right hook. Left jab. Jab. Hook. Jab. Hook. Jab. Jab. Hook. He was working Buster like a machine. Suddenly, Baker’s senses quit, and a bolt of pain flashed through his broken jaw. Baker couldn’t believe what was happening. Out of nowhere, Buster had just reclaimed the fight. If he could still move his face, Baker would probably have resembled a timid deer caught in the headlights of a speeding car. People today still talk about that punch. They call it ‘The Poltergeist’. Buster hooked Baker with his right, and sent him swinging backwards, tumbling to the floor. He stood up once again, but he was greeted by an uppercut to the jaw, knocking him back down.
On the floor of the ring, Jim “The Breaker” Baker lay in a pool of his own sweat and blood, asking himself how an amateur boxer had him beaten. He crawled slowly, with his last lease of life to the ropes, and, slotting the fingerless groove of his sweaty red glove onto the curve of the thick white rope, pulled himself up. His body was too numb to feel the final blow from Buster’s left glove, and the last sound he heard, was the lethargic lapping of ocean waves… …and the birds.
Felix Black By Katie Soden, age 17.
Today, the council was debating whether to kill or recruit Felix Black. The headquarters of STAG network security was a tall, sleek grey blade of a skyscraper. It looked as if it had been dropped from the heavens aeons ago and the inner city had just sprawled around the gleaming giant wedged in the earth. It gave nothing away, reflecting the world around it with mirrored panes and yet if you viewed it from within you could clearly see the outside world moving along oblivious to the secret observers. The name of the corporation was bolted onto the side of the building along with its signature logo of a stag. STAG was a reliable company, and a brilliant place to hide the headquarters of the secret organization HARP. On the top floor the main council had gathered with a case on their hands like no other. The meeting room was decorated minimally and yet tastefully with porcelain walls, a black carpet and small potted plants in the corners of the room. The entire wall consisted of windows that overlooked the entirety of Dublin which not only provided a scenic view but reminded the council members of what they were trying to protect. Around a white oval table were six council members were gathered, three men and three women. At the head of the table sat a man with dark skin dressed in a black suit. He was Edward Stirling, the leader of HARP and one of the most powerful people in the entire country. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Good evening ladies and gentlemen.â&#x20AC;? He began in a silvery voice, his gaze sweeping over the men and women gathered around the 118
table. He held a particularly piercing gaze with one blue eye and one brown eye that made the fellow council members sit up a little straighter as he glanced over them. “I’m sorry to call you all here so urgently but a matter has appeared that we had to discuss immediately.” His fingers traced the silver plated swan brooch pinned over his heart. Today had been one of the rare days he was supposed to have off with his husband and daughter but an alert was raised following a peculiar letter that had been addressed to the council. Its contents revealed the existence of a very dangerous individual who needed to be discussed immediately. In a situation like this what Stirling wanted came second. The safety and security of an entire nation was an obligation he had to uphold no matter the strain it held on him or his personal life. “This matter is about an individual named Felix Black.” He announced, tapping a black envelope on the table. “Recently this letter was sent to our headquarters addressed to the main council. Considering that this individual not only knows of our organization and our headquarters but also decided to contact us is enough reassurance to assume he is not an ordinary subject.” “Well, have our agents had the time to get information about him?” Elizabeth Hawkins asked. She was a woman with red hair and black rimmed glasses dressed in a pinstriped dress suit. Of course she was speaking about Felix’s past acts and convictions. His criminal record would help sum up his intelligence and the nature of his work, indicating whether he was a common criminal, idiot vigilante or worth looking into.” “He doesn’t have any sort of criminal record or even legal documents. We’ve sent agents to research his background but nothing has been found on him or his past, although something 119
may show up later since our agents have just started researching him...” Stirling admitted. “In an odd twist, the letter doesn’t contain demands or threats but instead actually contained information on what he’s been doing. With this information we must assess this individual and decide what we will do with him.” “What has he done?” Hawkins asked. “Well Felix is a... precarious case.” He cleared his throat and adjusted his tie. “The Hidden Allies Recruitment Project runs off of a simple concept. We find talented individuals who can be useful. If they’re causing terrible danger for the citizens of this country or any other we erase them. If they’re skilled at what they do and seem to have some rough moral code we recruit them. Those who don’t want to be recruited we leave alone but keep tabs on from a distance.” Opening the file once again an unpleasant cold shiver writhed around the leaders gut. “Felix has taken down drug lords, rapists, murderers, human traffickers and even cannibals.” Stirling remarked tracing a finger down the list of names and crimes put into a neat graph. The facts had been checked and all of these people had either gone missing or be found floating face down in a river. There was a reoccurring trend in those whose crimes had consisted of some form of sexual assault. They all had much more severe injuries and had the word ‘rapist’ carved into their body, usually on the chest or face. Only one of them had actually been found alive and was currently locked away in an asylum in a strait jacket. “I don’t see why we needed to be called in for this.” Dick Chambers stated with a hint of irritation in his voice. “Assessing whether to eliminate or recruit a new candidate isn’t something you should call an emergency meeting for. We all read the files on 120
the way here and know what he’s done and what he can do.” “Chambers.” Stirling uttered the name, his view shifting to view the man from the corner of his eye. The man shrank back into his seat and swallowed thickly. “M-my apologies Sir, it’s just that I’m not sure why we-” The leader held up his hand and Chambers lips abruptly clamped together. Turning his gaze from the council member to the rest of the group Stirling resumed talking. “The reason why Felix Black is such a worrying case to me is because of one detail that makes him contrast so starkly with any other candidate I have ever seen. One detail that sets him apart from the others that make him so much more worrisome than you can imagine. We’ve all seen the photos of his past victims which clearly display what this candidate is capable of. What worries me so much about Felix is that he has done all this...” Stirling paused and the council members leaned in. “At the age of sixteen.” A noticeable stir passed over the fellow council members faces as they nervously exchanged glances with expressions of shock, turning to disbelief as they looked back to their leader. His unflinching face set in the realisation that his words were real and their looks of disbelief faded into grim acceptance. “That detail was left out of the versions that were sent to all of you. Our files are always secure but if there was ever a leak...” “It would be catastrophic.” Hawking’s breathed. “Granted, he’s not devoid of morality.” Stirling murmured. “Everyone he’s ever targeted or harmed has been a criminal or has committed some form of wrong doings. It would be easy for him 121
to target civilians or other more susceptible groups but he hasn’t laid a finger on them. This means he does possess some form of a moral code. He’s even donated money anonymously to charities and has donated to many fund raisers. This means he could be useful for HARP.” “Why not just offer him a job then?” Hawking’s asked. “Maybe the file is a cry for help. Maybe he’s scared and needs guidance.” “This is where things get strange.” Stirling sighed. “Felix made it very clear he didn’t want to join us.” “What do we do then?” “The reason why Felix is such a difficult case if because of his age. This is no ordinary boy. We’ve seen what’s in these files and know fully well what he’s capable of. My fears lay in how this will play out in the long run. Felix is an extremely skilled but also unstable individual.” “If he’s unstable we should get rid of him.” Chambers debated. “Killing a teenager is a horrible thing to do but this boy could destroy Ireland if we aren’t careful.” “That’s another element to it. Ordering the murder of a dangerous criminal is one thing but to murder a sixteen year old boy? If it were to ever get out this would cause horrific damage to HARP’s reputation and would disgust not only future but current recruits of our organization. This is an extremely rash move and in the event that we don’t actually succeed in assassinating Felix, it could have dire consequences.” “But, we can’t just leave this boy alone either. Teenager or not he is still dangerous.” Chambers countered. The woman nodded.
“Keeping tabs from a distance will be difficult and he may catch us spying which I can imagine he won’t take to kindly. If he is capable of so much at such a young age he could become truly powerful in the future and a lot may happen to change him in those years. He could join or be forced into some sort of plot. He might abandon his values and turn to crime. There is no exaggeration when I saw that the consequences of this could be disastrous.” “So, what will we do?” Chambers asked. “There’s another piece of information that was altered on your version of the files.” Stirling admitted. “A part near the end.” “Was it- was it a threat?” Hawkins asked timidly. “Does he want help?” Chambers piped up. “No.” Stirling sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Felix has made it very clear he doesn’t want to join us. This time however, there’s something else.” “Well, what does he want?” Chambers inquired. Stirling took his hand away from his face to reveal his grim expression. “He wants to make a deal with us.” ---8 hours later, County Meath. Walter Evans woke up with his feet nailed to the ground. The first thing he saw through his half lidded eyes was the bloody six inch nails impaling his feet, pinning him to the mahogany floorboards of his own home. Agony pulsed from the wounds up through his legs and every move caused another jolt of searing 123
white hot pain. He tried to move his hands but cuffs tightly shackled around his wrists connected him to the radiator against the wall. Without the use of his hands or feet the only option was to scream but even that was unavailable. For some reason his body was slower and couldn’t respond with the urgency his mind felt. Terrified whimpers rose from the back of his throat but they were muffled by a ball of fabric inside his mouth and the layer of duct tape sealing it in. The dull numbness from his sleep were replaced by sickening nausea and anxiety that racked through his body. Despite the whirlwind of emotion ripping through him his limbs could only respond with limp twitches and jerks. Why couldn’t he move right? Lifting his head with great effort Evans took in the left side of the room with cream coloured walls hung with abstract canvas paintings he had made himself. It was all wrong though. Everything was washed over with shadows and darkness lingered in the deeper corners of the room daring to reach out and engulf him at any moment. He never slept with the lights off. It was his worst fear that he had carried on throughout childhood. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being able to see what’s in front of him. Fear of things that move in the dark. On the left side there was a glass table with two cups filled with Fanta on it, one which had tipped over that was leaving a horrid stain on the thousand euro cerulean coloured rug. A black hoodie was slung over the back of the sofa with a grey messenger bag sitting on the seat. As his senses cleared he became aware of an incessant tapping and could visualize fingers swiftly gliding over a keyboard. The sound became sharper and his head followed it, swivelling from the left to the chair directly opposite him.
In front of the chair there was a desk pushed up against the wall with a laptop, his laptop, being used by someone else. He couldn’t see who it was due to the chair’s back facing him but he did see a head of shaggy black hair peeking over the top. As he leaned forward a muffled cry rose from his throat as a jolt of pain reappeared from moving too much around the nails. The typing abruptly stopped, slender fingers hovering over a keyboard. The figure in the chair shifted, leaning away from the screen. Evans saw a pair of converse soles slip off of the chair and push against the mahogany floor. As the chair swivelled around the legs pulled inwards again to where a teenage boy was curled up in the seat. Plastic wrist length gloves coved his hands. He was wearing a grey vest with a large bullet pendant necklace and black jeans. His sharp green eyes were lined with silver eye liner that curved into an elegant flick at the edge. “Temporary unconsciousness, paralysis, inability to speak coherently, dizziness...” The teen drawled. His accent was definitely Irish but the man couldn’t pinpoint an exact county or region his voice could be pinned to. What he did hear was a certain sharpness in the boy’s voice, a tone that held an air of power and self-assurance so prominent it seemed to resonate from his very core. Observing Evans the teen recoiled further into the chair, thin lips formed a tight scowl as his fixated eyes narrowed. “Rohypnol, I’m guessing?” The man’s heart stopped. A triumphant smirk tugged at the corner of the boy’s lips and something wicked in his green eyes sparkled. “Good thing I switched our glasses while you were rambling on about those amazing paintings on the wall you made. Honestly Walter, I’ve seen modern art but that’s just chicken scratch on a 125
canvas. It’s not even pretty chicken scratch.” Twirling a lock of coal black hair he babbled on. “You know, they always tell us young ones not to drink something we haven’t poured ourselves. I think it’s more interesting to give predators a taste of what they inflict on other people. You know what I mean. Those horrible, horrible feelings your victims feel. Terror. Vulnerability. Helplessness.” The teen’s voice darkened with the last word, his lips pulling back in a snarl. For a second something flickered across the boy’s face, something that made him look completely feral. Then he regained his composure, clearing his throat and leaned back wearing an expression of satisfaction. “In case you’re wondering what I’m doing with your laptop, I’m just hacking into these mysterious encrypted files on your computer. After the little fiasco back there I don’t think it’s exactly out of order.” The surrealness of the situation made Walters head swim. How was any of this real? It was so spontaneous, so out of place that he couldn’t believe it was actually taking part in his so far perfect life. He almost felt as if he was drifting away from this fever dream when he shifted slightly and pain shot through his feet again, firmly grounding him to reality. “It’s funny really. People think hacking is just green binary code and numbers but unfortunately Hollywood isn’t the best known for its accuracy. This program I’m running should finish up soon enough and unlock your hidden files so while we’re waiting how about we get to know each other a bit more?” He asked, tilting his head to the side with a playful smile. “Okay. First question: Why did you invite me into your apartment and then try to drug me?” 126
He tried to speak but the rag and the duct tape made it impossible. Even if Walter could talk he wasn’t sure what he would say. How... what was he supposed to do now? What the hell did this kid want with him? “Second question: Why were you sending flirtatious comments to a teenage boy in an online one on one chatroom? Don’t you know there’s laws against those sorts of things with people under the age of consent?” Felix rose out of the chair and began stalking towards the man. The lighting cast dark dramatic shadows across his face that contrasted starkly against the glow of his pale skin in the moonlight. His intense green eyes reminded him of the gaze of a panther as he prowled closer to Walter. If he was willing to do this, what else would this sick nut job do to him? He had seemed so harmless when he first saw the boy sitting in his apartment with that bashful smile of his. In the chatroom Felix had been so engaged with their conversations. The way he listened so intently to Walter when he talked about art made him feel as if he had finally found someone who understood his work. He wasn’t like the idiots in Walters’s classroom who just thought of art as a picture. Those canvases were a picture of his soul, the very essence of his being that he had managed to recreate onto a canvas after hours of exhausting work. The way he had listened captivated Walter. Felix was engaged with such an earnest sense of interest that it was as if every word he spoke was somehow the most crucial and fascinating thing the boy would ever hear. But now he knew what this boy really was. Some screwed up hell demon of a child who was trying to be some vigilante hero. He didn’t deserve this. He was too good to be killed by some wannabe girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo freak. Why was this
happening to him? Walter squirmed in terror, muffled whimpers and pleas falling on deaf ears as the teen prowled closer. Terror thrilled through the man’s body growing to a screaming crescendo in his mind as Felix drew closer and closer and closer. Felix crouched in front of Evan’s. His heart hammered so hard he felt it would shatter his ribs at any second. The man shrank back, squirming and whimpering despite the pain in his feet as the teen leaned towards him. He hovered in front of the man with a mute, almost bored expression. “Walter Evan’s.” Felix began. “Even if you weren’t gagged you wouldn’t be able to come up with a good answer anyway, would you? Walter, you work as a secondary school art teacher at a local school in this town named Willow Creek College. I’ve been to your website, you know. Not the website featuring the collection of your so called ‘art’ which looks like human faecal matter clawed onto a canvas. I’m referring to services you offer on the deep web.” Sweat poured down the man’s face as terror gripped him in an iron fist. Felix grasped the necklace and began to unscrew it. To Walter’s horror, he pulled it away revealing two inches of a wicked silver blade. He began to squirm again as he imagined the blade slicing through the skin of his cheek or gouging into his eye socket. “Stay still. I need to get this rag out of your mouth.” The teen ordered. “Oh and by the way, don’t even think of screaming for help. The whole ‘trying to drug a teenage boy’ thing isn’t going to work too well in court and that program will decode your encrypted files leaving your dirty little secrets out in the open. Unless you kill me, rip through the nails in your feet and bite through your wrists you won’t be able to get anywhere near that 128
computer.” The coldness of the steel drew a shiver from him as it glided beside his cheek and seemed to slice the very air itself. It cut through the rag with very little tension. After the rag was removed he spat the scrunched up fabric out of his mouth where it tumbled onto his white dress shirt leaving a damp spot of saliva there. The material had absorbed the saliva in his mouth and as a result made his throat horribly dry making it hard to speak. His lips parted as he took in a shaky breath. When he was just on the verge of asking a question the boy interrupted him. “You’ve been hacking into the cameras of teenage girls on their mobiles and their laptops.” The words hung in the air like invisible beasts about to bear down on him at any moment. “Where’s your proof?” His voice croaked out. God, he sounded terrified and pathetic even to his own ears. “I have screen shots saved on a hard drive at my home. Right now the programmes on the verge of -” The computer binged and Felix strolled towards the laptop, glancing back at the man with a smirk that made him want to choke the boy to death. “Looks like the programs done hacking.” He mused, placing the blade on the table as he typed in Walter’s password. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He asked in disbelief. His voice had changed from fear to anger as his chest swelled with incredulous rage. “This- this is my home! You can’t just barge in and do all of this without facing any consequences!” How could he be stupid enough to let this boy intimidate him? Once the
authorities got a hold of Felix they’d lock up this mad kid for good. The teen carried on typing, opening picture after picture, and file after file as the man continued to speak. Observing the files Felix’s eyes darkened and his jaws clenched. There were pictures of teens from all over the country. Some were simple face pictures while others were clearly pictures taken from a webcam of a girl while she was changing. Underneath was a list of what the girls names were, where they lived and ways to contact people who would be willing to kidnap them for you. There was also prices. Of course. Walter showed the picture of the girls’ faces and then sold info not only on where the girls lived but also how to abduct them. Felix had already seen these but seeing it again and being in the same room as the man running this operation set in that this was really happening. The man behind him was ranting on and on and on, non-stop. “You- you think you’re god damn Sherlock Holmes or something! What the hell is this anyway? Are you trying to be some sort of vigilante here? Once the cops find out about this stunt you’ll be locked away for the rest of your life. You better wake the hell up kid because playing as a hero will get you killed!” A storm raged in his eyes. The forest green seemed to have darkened to a vicious jade and his fists clenched and unclenched. Felix stood up suddenly and grasped the blade on the table. He strode towards the man with violence swelling in his chest. When he saw the look on Felix’s face his arrogant bravado died away again into terrified whimpering. The teen grabbed a fistful of the man’s hair, wrenching it back hard enough to tear several strands and bring pinpricks of tears to the man’s eyes. “Evans.” He hissed the word between gritted teeth. “My job is 130
not ‘playing’ and I am anything but a hero. In fact, I’d call it more of a duty than a simple job to bring in income. What I do is hunting. I hunt rats, rats like you. As for the cops catching me and locking me up? Hah. After the amount of criminals I’ve caught for them and the schemes I’ve foiled they wouldn’t dare step in my way. It’s not like they’d be able to catch me any ways.” Felix leaning in closer and terror writhed in Walters gut as felt the tip of the knife pressing against his forehead. He stared up at Felix, the blade hovering in his vision and beyond it those morbid green eyes devoid of mercy. The teen’s mouth twisted into a sickening grin. “I meet a lot of bad people, Mr. Evans.” He whispered. Felix dragged the blade across the man’s forehead as he spoke with enough pressure to leave a small trail of red. The man’s eyes squinted shut and his face twisted from the stinging pain. “Serial killers. Cannibals. Murderers. Drug dealers. I’ve gone through the works, really, and sometimes when I meet these people I...” He sighed. The ice in his tone began to melt with sentimental warmth and a small smile curled the corners of his lips. The blade eased in pressure and stopped moving but Walter didn’t dare open his eyes. “I can’t always blame them for doing the things they do. I met a woman in Tyrone who was a murderer. She had murdered the man who killed her eight year old son. After discovering this I promptly helped her drag the man’s corpse into a boat and we flung it into the river. I met a drug dealer who has been living on the streets since he was nine and I managed to convince him to get off of heroin. I hardly recognize him now. He has a steady job at a bakery and a stunning girlfriend. Sometimes grave actions have good outcomes. Cops shoot criminals in self-defence. Judges give monsters dressed as men the death sentence. We do bad things all the time. A crime can lead to greater good.” 131
He wretched the man’s hair back harder making him cry out. He had been lulled into a moment of calmness due to the nostalgic warmth in the boy’s voice but then it had disappeared as if it had never occurred at all. “Despite this there is never, ever, a good reason to rape someone. It will not make someone love you. It will not save someone. It is only based on the perpetrator’s selfish desire of power and dominance. It can’t ever be excused. I suppose you could say with all the flirting and me accepting your drinks I was asking for it. What a stupid phrase, asking for it. It’s impossible to ask for someone to do that to you. “ “I thought you liked me.” He retorted, squinting at the boy through watering eyes. “I didn’t like you at all. You’re vile, selfish and a god damn paedophile.” He snarled the last word with a shudder of revulsion. “You just committed attempted rape. Do you even understand what that is? You wanted me. Wanting to screw someone isn’t love. It’s not the same god damn thing at all but an animal like you wouldn’t know what love is.” “I never touched anyone though.” His voice cracked and fat tears began to roll down his cheeks. “I never did anything to those ggirls or you.” “No, you didn’t.” Felix admitted. Because you didn’t get to. “You instead took part in a systematic process of dehumanizing these girls, turning living breathing human beings into products to be sold off over the internet. And for what? Extra money? You don’t even need it! You’re not going to starve or die if you don’t have Persian slippers or flipping sea blue rugs imported from Egypt your pretentious prick.” He hissed, jabbing the knife in the direction of the rug. “Even if you never touched a single one of these people 132
you still enable harm to come to them. So no, Walter, you’re not a rapist. You are however the one who orchestrated their assault for the sake of profit. Everything that has happened to any of those girls due to being on that site is your fault.” A buzzing noise cut through the air. Felix released the man’s hair and his head fell forward with a small exhale of relief. The teen plunged his hand into his pocket and retrieved a cheap old phone. His eyes scanned over the text, brows narrowing with irritation at being interrupted. Then Felix’s lips parted slightly and his eyes widened. A smile pulled at the corner of his mouth but then vanished again. He slipped the phone into his pocket and sighed, running a hand through his dark messy locks. “Jesus Christ, I’ve gotten off point.” The teen looked at Walter with an expression of disappointment. “It’s not like you’ll absorb anything from this. Besides, I came here to do something.” Fishing a picture from his back pocket the teen produced a picture of a handsome youth. The man recognized him immediately. It was an image showing a blonde haired teen with dark brown eyes holding a book. There were crutches nestled against his lap due to his cerebral palsy taking form as a weakness in his legs. He was sitting in a classroom smirking over the top of his book at the photographer, probably his friend taking some stupid pictures to put on Facebook like teenagers did these days. “That’s Eric Lancaster.” Evan’s said in a small voice. “I know.” Felix replied quickly. “He’s a student in your art class. Two weeks ago his little brother Chris went missing and three days ago Eric also disappeared.” Slipping the photo back into his pocket the teen pulled a tape recorder from his pocket and pressed the record button, laying it on the ground beside him. With a sharp click it began to record. 133
“This is the part where you tell me what happened to them.” Walter knew Eric Lancaster. He was indeed a student in his art class but only took the subject since he thought it would be easy. Eric wasn’t wealthy or very talented at anything of worth. He did have some abilities concerning computers but Walter had no idea what that meant. He could recall a vague memory of a conversation he overheard of Eric chatting to his friend about something to do with surfing the web or webs. Why the hell would he bother to kidnap some stupid god damn crippled kid? “I wasn’t involved with them. My work...” He nodded hesitantly to the computer. “Only consists of girls.” “Right.” Felix said slowly as if he felt unsure of the taste of the word leaving his mouth. “Well, if you didn’t kidnap Eric or his little brother than that means you’re pretty much useless. I suppose I’ll just call the cops now and let them know about the attempted rape and your website.” He tucked the recorder into his pocket and strode towards the table snatching up Walter’s phone. “Wait. WAIT!” Walter cried, straining against the shackles. “I know something that can be useful to you! Something that may help you find the brothers.” Felix stopped in his tracks and glanced back. “Really?” He huffed sceptically. The man nodded earnestly. “If I tell you,” He began, nervously licking his lips. “You– you’ll let me go, right?” Felix narrowed his eyes, turning over the option in his mind. It could be a bluff, a bluff that would waste Felix’s time and give him a false lead. On the other hand it could be useful information. If
Walter was lying Felix would be able to catch him out on it. “If you give me information that’s true you might walk out that door alive.” “I understand.” The man gulped. He went over everything. Every detail in his story was combed over meticulously to the point where he could have closed his eyes and visualized the moment. At twenty-three minutes past seven he had been walking down the street along a string of shops in the local area. He had called in being ‘sick’ for the day but in reality he had been roaming around an art gallery. Afterwards he was looking for a place to eat when he went into a cafe known as Slice of Life. He ordered an espresso and went to the bathroom when he saw Eric Lancaster. The teen was seated in a booth as far back as possible away from the windows and his crutches were tucked on the seat beside him. He shouldn’t have been out of school that day and Eric wasn’t the type to skip either. He was sitting with a Caucasian man in his late twenties with buzz cut hair, a square jaw and had a scar over the bridge of his nose. The man was wearing brown loafers with khaki pants and a white dress shirt. He was very muscular and his dinner-plate sized hands were clasped together on the table. He and Eric were talking in low voices, Eric dressed in converse, jeans and a blue flannel shirt. The teen spoke with a serious tone and was staring at the man intently as he spoke to him, his finger tapping a brown file on the table. It was closed so the contents were unknown and there was no writing on the top that could indicate what it contained. As Walter approached on his way to the bathroom he strained his hearing, but only made out one word. A name, in fact.
“Mariana.” He whispered glancing up from the floor to Felix’s stern expression. “Go on.” The teen ordered. At this point Eric noticed his teacher. He forced a smile and waved at him before returning to chat to the man. Walter assumed it was nothing serious and entered the bathroom. After approximately three minutes the he exited the bathroom and the booth was empty. The man and Eric had vanished. He then returned to his table. “Were there any signs of a struggle?” Felix asked. “No. Eric didn’t have any bruises on him, but the man opposite was built like an ox.” Walters’s eyes widened. If he helped Felix solve this than he could get off easier. “Maybe– maybe that man kidnapped Eric and his brother!” He suggested. “Shut up.” Felix ordered. “Don’t try to play detective with someone who’s smarter than you. Just answer my questions and don’t add in anything for drama.” God, he wanted to kill this kid. If he wasn’t shackled to the radiator he’d be wringing this boy’s pale neck. Watching the light fade from his eyes and the fear on his pretty little face would be so damn satisfying. “I didn’t see anything else.” The man mumbled. “Hmm. Well, thank you for your services Walter Evans, you’ve been very helpful, but I’ve got places to go and things to do.” Felix chirped. Felix strolled over to the couch and plucked a spray bottle and sponge out of his bag. “What are you doing?” Walter asked fearfully. 136
“Erasing my fingerprints from all the surfaces I touched. When we were drinking wouldn’t it have seemed weird if I was wearing plastic gloves the whole time?” He began spraying and scrubbing every surface that could link him back to the crime. On his way in he had touched the glass and the table but he scrubbed more surfaces just to extra careful. “Why?” “Because someone could copy my fingerprints and frame me for a crime I actually didn’t commit. Anyway, I’m leaving now.” Felix responded tugging on a black hoodie he had left on the couch. “Leaving? What the hell do you mean you’re leaving? You said you’d let me go if I helped you!” “I didn’t lie, Mr. Evans.” Felix responded with a small smile as he deposited the contents back into his bag. “I said you might leave this room alive. I never said you’d leave a free man.” “NO!” He screamed, straining against the shackles. “You said you’d let me go if I helped you! You god damn lied!” “It seems we had a failure of communication here. Oh well.” Felix muttered, tapping in the house address on Walter’s mobile. “That’s it? That’s IT? Who gave you the right to do this in the first place?” The man snarled. “No one gave me a right Walter, just like how no one gave you the right to harm those poor girls. But you know what I was given? A reason to do this and the one who gave me that reason was you.” Felix held the phone so the man could see his address and the details of his crimes. The teen hit the send button, sealing Walters’s fate.
“This was your own fault.” He murmured, turning towards the door. “WHO ARE YOU, HUH!?! WHO THE HELL ARE YOU!?!” He roared, thrashing against the radiator as spittle flew from his mouth and his face contorted with fury. Standing in the doorway he cast a glanced over his shoulder at the man. Walter’s chest heaved as he glared at the teen, hatred and rage radiating from every inch of his being. He looked so distraught, so pitiful. Sweat gleamed against his skin and dark wet patches trailed from his armpits and neck. He was cowering like a kicked dog and his face was streaked with tears. The boy on the other hand looked eager to move on to more interesting things and already had one foot hovering out the door. He was done with Evan’s. Felix met the man’s demented stare with half lidded green eyes and his signature Cheshire smirk. “My name is Felix Black.” He purred, fingers hovering over the switch. “And I’m the one who monsters are afraid of.” With that he flicked the switch off and exited the blackened room as the man screamed. Shutting the door behind him darkness engulfed the entire room and terror gripped the man’s chest. He trashed against the radiator, his emotions a mixture of pure terror and rage. Fresh tears streamed down his face and his voice echoed off the walls. Agony radiated like two red hot blades from his feet, screaming at him to stop moving but he was so far gone that his mind no longer had the capacity to hold him back. His petrified screams followed Felix as he casually made his way down the stairs towards the back exit of the house. “DON’T! DON’T YOU GOD DAMN DARE WALK OUT ON ME! DON’T! PLEASE! NO! DON’T!”
Something in his throat broke and blood filled his mouth spilling over his lips and stung his tongue with an overpowering metallic taste. He gagged on the liquid as it trailed over his chin and onto his shirt. Evan’s sobbed and writhed helplessly like an insect pinned to a wall, waiting in a room full of his worst fear for his inevitable fate to finally arrive and destroy him. Closing the outside door sealed off the screams from inside leaving the teen in a calm grassy back garden. As he breathed in the crisp night air Felix sighed with pleasure. He stood at the back of the house, his neck craned back as he gazed at the stars. The sky was so beautiful tonight. Why didn’t he look at the stars more often? Oh. He thought. Right. That’s because I have things to do. He mused, pulling the brim of his black hoodie up as he began to walk around the front. Now on the deserted side walk he dug into his pockets and retrieved his phone. He read over the text again.
Felix Black. We appreciate your interest in our company. You have now become a loyalty member of STAG industries and should find your order outside your home. Thank you for working with us. Sincerely, STAG industries.
This message had been forwarded to him via a friend. Felix didn’t want HARP to know his actual phone number as they could track him with that so he gave his friend in Limerick a new phone for HARP to contact him through. Excitement bubbled up inside of
him pulling his mouth into a grin that stretched ear to ear. He felt the urge to bounce on the balls of his feet as he walked, but he pushed down the feelings and stifled the giddy grin until it only formed as a subtle tweak at the edges of his lips. They had agreed to his deal. Contacting them was certainly a risk. Granted it was a calculated risk, but a risk all the same. He had a backup plan as well since adults were often reluctant to take him serious unless he was holding a scalpel to their neck but he wouldn’t need the plan any more. HARP had listened to him. For a moment he had feared he might have them chasing after him but they had agreed to Felix’s request. He pulled off the back of the phone and pinched the sim card between his fingers before snapping it in half and crushing it under his shoes. He then sprayed the phone to erase his finger tips and wiped it clean all over before depositing it in a roadside bin along with his plastic gloves. It was only a cheap burner phone but Felix had touched it when checking the time in Walters’s apartment before Walter roofied himself. Right after getting away with a crime some criminals tended to relax and slip up but not him. Not now, at least. Not now. Not with what’s at stake. He thought, his brows narrowing as he approached a turned a corner. He was now in the inner city region of this area and a black car with a luminous yellow taxi sign was sitting along the row of cars at the edge of the street. Felix jerked open the car door and the driver turned to look to him. He ducked in and offered a sheepish smile to the man. “Where to?” He asked, cautiously watching the scruffy teen. “Phoenix street in Dublin, please.” He replied handing him roughly two hundred euro from his pocket. “The west street, by 140
the way.” The drivers eyes widened in surprise as he took the bundle of notes. “You can keep the change if you get me there quick enough.” Felix chirped. “Phoenix Street it is, Sir.” The driver replied with a new found sense of professionalism as he shifted the car into gear. The taxi man seemed harmless enough but even still Felix sat directly behind the driver so aiming a gun at Felix would be harder and it would be easier for Felix to stab him in the neck. He didn’t like getting into a car with a complete stranger but Felix wasn’t old enough to drive and the walk home would be too long. Granted he could have gotten the bus but he wanted a quieter place to collect his thoughts. The warmth of the car combined with the snug seat were so comfy he had to fight the urge to sleep. Why couldn’t he be in bed now? He missed his house. He missed his lovely, lovely cats and the massive TV he had and dead Jim, the head in a jar he had on the mantelpiece. Ok, maybe the last one wouldn’t be most people’s idea of a cosy thing to come home to but it was familiar to him and therefore comforting. Well, he was more comfortable when Jim’s head was in the jar as oppose to when it was attached to his shoulders because he had tried to rip out Felix’s eyes with a pair of salad tongs when he was alive. Honestly, some cannibals have no bloody manners. After everything Felix was exhausted and just wanted to go to sleep but he still had more to do. When he arrived at his house they would be waiting for him. The order. He gazed out the window watching terraced houses and lamps shining pools of amber onto the cobble stone streets fly by. Felix chewed his lip. Maybe... Maybe it was a mistake to get HARP involved. He had always worked alone since 141
it was easier. Felix had dealt with major threats before. In truth though, he needed help this time. If his intuition was right, he was dealing with something much bigger than himself. Something bigger than HARP. Something bigger than all of Ireland. There was one thing about Walter’s confession that had stuck out to Felix. One word. One name.
Mariana. Eric had uttered it in that coffee shop and it had been the one crucial piece of information that led to Felix’s worst fear being realised. Felix knew of a Mariana but this ‘Mariana’ was not a girl. Mariana wasn’t even a person. Mariana was something so much more dangerous than you could even begin to comprehend. Some people believed it didn’t even exist but more mounting evidence in Felix’s investigation unfortunately proved the contrary. What he had been hoping as that Eric had become tangled up in something small. Maybe a simple hostage situation or a drug deal would have been nice. Well, ok not nice, but easier to solve. Unfortunately that was not the case. Eric had been talking about Mariana’s web. Mariana’s web received its name after the world’s deepest ocean trench. The internet itself could also be viewed as an ocean. At the top there was Facebook, google, eBay and all other sorts of simple every day sites people used. Over time however technology advanced and developed until it seemed to take on a life of its own to the point where no one could control it. There were layers to the internet and the further you went down, the more horrific things you discovered. This deeper more disturbed portion of the internet was known as the deep web. It housed anything that you would expect to find on a digital black market. Drugs, weapons, human organs, snuff films of kids... Nothing good happened on the 142
deep web. Walter Evan’s site had been there but on one of the more shallow layers of the deep web. The deeper you went the more disturbed it got and the more likely you were to not come out. Mariana’s web was the darkest, most dangerous part of the web. It was like some sort of rotten beating heart that the rest of the site festered around. What’s more, Eric had been ensnared by Mariana’s web. The spider Mariana seemed alive now and was plotting. Someone had penetrated the deepest layer of the deep web and was now utilising it to its fullest extent. Her plan was finally being set into motion. Its battlefield was the treacherous infinite seeming web that formed the deep web and now Felix would have to navigate through it and stop their plot before Mariana brought the world to its knees. The help he had asked for from HARP wasn’t an arsenal of weapons or some sort of elite SWAT team. Felix needed a fighter, someone who was strong but inconspicuous and sliced through enemies like a scalpel. That’s why he asked for an agent of HARP to work with him. Not just any agent though. He asked for a juvenile who was now probably standing outside his house waiting for him to arrive and explain what the hell he needs them for. Maybe they’d get along since they were both teenagers. Probably not, though. As to why he didn’t just hand the matter over to HARP, well... Felix had discovered some things about Mariana’s forces and those who may be in on the spider queen’s plan. The head council of HARP may have enemies on the inside and he could not risk them knowing he was on to them. What’s more he wasn’t sure exactly who it was, but he did know someone on the council was in on Mariana’s plot. I hope you love your country, agent. Felix thought grimly as the taxi driver turned the corner on to Phoenix Street and he spied a
hooded teen outside his front porch. Because with the way things are looking so far, we might end up dying for it.
Poetry Perplexion By Sarah Buckley, age 16.
Mistakes and retakes, Contemplation, Frustration, A clumsy creation, A poem. Easy simplicity, Turns to complexity, When pushed through an analysed mind. Perfect is defect, For the words lose all effect If tailored and too well thought out. Meaningless melody? Or soulful serenity? A concoction of both perhaps? Each manâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s interpretation Lends new explanation To language not even his own.
Though only the poet Ever truly will know it Its reason, its soul, His poem.
Take my advice, By Laura Carroll, age 17.
You’d always told me about how much you’d loved the pier, especially at sunset, with its orange sky, crying seagulls and steady lapping of waves. You’d liked the calm atmosphere, the soothing, balmy breeze that came in off the sea. It was your place, our place. And now it’s your place forever. I’ve never noticed how long the drop was before as I stare into the swirling water which conceals the rocks below. It’s a long fall, yet over in a second. ‘Take my advice,’ you’d told me the first day you’d brought me here. ‘Don’t go close to the edge. It’s too dangerous.’ Yet here I am now, toes peeing over, balancing delicately. My balance has improved since I was six, I’m sure you’d be glad to hear. How many times did you warn me not to walk on that wall? The same amount of times I ignored you. You’re strong arms comforted me that day as we waited for the ambulance, and you assured me I was going to be okay. But I wasn’t – I was broken. Even after all of these years, my leg is the only thing that has healed properly. My train of thought is interrupted by a yelp nearby. I look on fondly, and slightly envious, as a young boy holds a trout triumphantly above his head his dad clapping him on the back proudly. I remember the day I was that young boy, insisting I was going to catch something. ‘There’s no point’ you’d advised. ‘It’s too late now, all the fish are gone.’ But I was persistent, and twenty minutes later, my persistence paid dividends. How I wish I could
be that boy again. I’ve lost that drive, that enthusiasm. Scrunched it up and threw it out to sea, watched it flutter down, down past saving as you look on, the sunset reflecting the pain in your eyes. You didn’t have it easy with me. I certainly didn’t make it easy for you. ‘Take my advice,’ you’d said, the day you brought me here before I left for college. ‘Do what I never did what my father never told me. Work. Work hard and you will be rewarded.’ But that’s not true. You did work, harder than anyone I know, and your reward was me. No one deserves that. The first time you got infuriated at me was here too, your face the same colour as the lighthouse. ‘Why do you do this to me?’ you’d shouted, shaking me by the shoulders. ‘It’s my life!’ I’d yelled back. ‘I can do what I want with it! Stop trying to control mine just because yours was such a disappointment!’ Disappointment certainly showed its face that day, as you told me through tear-stained eyes. ‘I only want what’s best for you.’ ‘Maybe dropping out of college is what’s best for me!’ I’d retaliated, embarrassed by your display of affection. ‘It’s not the college part that’s the problem,’ you’d explained, slowly shaking your head. ‘It’s your lifestyle. You’re twenty-one, never had a job, you sleep on a friend’s couch and throw all of the money we give you away.’ I’d hit you then. I remember it as if it were yesterday. Right arm, hook punch, landed straight on your cheekbone. The people nearby gasped, and one threatened to call the guards, but you didn’t react. I ran away before you could. Those deep-blue eyes were staring straight through mine and into my soul, seeing what I 148
couldn’t – the decay, rotting me from the inside out. I never thought about how hard that must have been for you, to witness your only son, only child, slowly turning into a monster. Is that what you thought of when you did it? The day I changed, the day disappointment and guilt took over from joy and happiness? Did you see that young boy, full of life and hope? Or was it the young man with badness seeping out of every pore who met you? I’ll never know. A bird lands on the gate I find myself wandering towards now, moving away from the spot where it happened. It’s not really a gate, more of an old, rusty chain barrier. All it would take is one link to give way before the whole structure gives in and crumbles. That’s how I felt when I brought you here after I was released the first time. You wanted to stay at your spot, but there were too many ghosts floating around there. Besides, I wanted the barrier in case you got angry again and decided you’d finally had enough of me. But you didn’t – get mad, I mean. In fact, that’s the calmest I’d seen you in a while. It was that day I noticed the wrinkles forming on your prematurely ageing face. No doubt I’d sped up that process. The journeys to and from the prison must have taken their toll on you. Maybe that’s why you were calm that day, because you’d thought that I’d at long last reawakened that young boy you’d hoped was still inside me. But that boy was long gone by then, drowned in a sea of troubles, suffocated by hatred and detest. He needed that happiness, that light to live, and all I’d fed him was darkness, starved him of hope. But still you didn’t give up on me. ‘I know this is hard for you,’ you’d said, but it wasn’t. It was a
hundred times worse for you. ‘But it’s not too late to change. It’s never too late.’ It took me two years and three more sentences to realise that. By the time the last one was over, you’d lost that twinkle in your eye, your face a constant frown. Inadequacy overcame me every time I saw that face. I didn’t deserve you. I wish I’d known that then. ‘Take my advice,’ you’d told me, the day we saw the old man playing joyfully with his grandchild, not too long after your own was born, ‘don’t fight for custody. You won’t win, and I can’t bear to watch that happen.’ The despair in your fractured voice as you willingly gave up your only grandson damn near crushed me. I took your advice that time, even though it almost killed me. But you did what you do best- you picked me up and put me back together again, piece by piece. It was taking a while, but we got there. Well, I got there. That was you problem, you see. Like the waves conceal the deadly rocks, you plastered over the cracks. Looking across the bay now, I can see tiny lines running along the far wall, all of the years of battering finally showing its damage. I find myself drifting back towards the spot where it happened. In the few minutes I was away, someone had put flowers against the wall. Resisting the urge to kick them away, I try to spot who put them here. So many people have visited, expressing their sorrow, saying what a great man you were. They didn’t know you, not really, otherwise they’d know that they hate flowers because of your hay fever. Maybe the noise isn’t the waves crashing, it’s your ghost sneezing,
because if there’s anywhere you’d be right now, it’s here. Here, a place filled with joy, happiness, hope, disappointment, regret, hatred, forgiveness. Forgiveness. Did you forgive me? Can I forgive you for all that you’ve done? I came here to get answers, but now I only have more questions. Now I cry with the seagulls, sea water flowing from my eyes. Tomorrow would have been your seventieth birthday. Couldn’t you have waited until then? I still have your present- my acceptance letter to a new college. ‘Take my advice,’ you’d said the last time you took me here, only a few weeks ago. ‘Don’t let life get in the way of living.’ I took your advice. I’d wish you’d taken it too.
Liar, Liar By Kate Moore, age 16.
The man leaned against the wall in the doorway of the dark, grotty little church, hands shoved deep in his trouser pockets. He watched the mourners, and felt unexpectedly sad. He hadn’t thought that such an experience would affect him this much. The mourners milled about amongst the graves, occasionally casting furtive glances in his direction. They were giving him some alone time, and boycotted him with stubborn determination. It was a fine sunny day, the finest in a long time, and the sun highlighted the grime and cast dapples on the dusty stone floor. It was all going very much to plan. No one had noticed anything strange thus far, at least, and that was some kind of blessing in itself. He was concentrating on the floor when he was interrupted. “Harrison Ellis!” The voice was loud enough to turn heads in the crowd outside. Harris looked up, and then looked down. The woman before him was pixie-like in stature, and glared up at him, hands on hips, with eyes burrowed like tiny buttons in their sockets. Her hair was crimson, and she wore the only skirt of quite that shade of lilac that he’d ever seen. “Daisy Ford. And to what do I owe this pleasure?” “None of the manners, pretty boy. I know they’re not genuine. None of this is, is it? The grieving, nothing.” Well, that was abrupt. 152
He spoke, choosing his words carefully. “I feel affronted,” here, he took a carefully measured deep breath and pressed a melodramatic palm to his brow, “and quite frankly insulted by your accusations. They are most unfounded. What are you talking about, anyway? Why shouldn’t I mourn my dead wife?” Because she was dead. He had to keep reminding himself of that. She was most definitely dead. “None of your public school vocabulary, neither. You don’t impress me, Harrison Ellis. I know what you did, even if this lot don’t.” Harris straightened his tie in what he hoped was a self-righteous manner, and tried to remain nonchalant. His stomach shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know why you feel the need to keep repeating my name. I think it’s clear who you’re talking to.” He shot a pointed look towards the mourners, quite a few of whom were paying attention now. “I know what you did,” Daisy repeated. “I know what you did, and you’re not getting away with it. I saw you, Harrison. I saw both of you.” He looked at her, head on one side, for a moment. There was a silence. “Sorry. You saw what?” “I saw you threatening your wife. I saw you hit her, and I saw her fall.” Harris’s face did a number of strange things in this moment. It twisted from anger, to confusion, to absolute blank. And this, this was the strange part. 153
Harrison Ellis smirked. It made Daisy inexplicably angry. “How dare you, Harrison? How dare you smirk, smile, on the day your wife has died? You should know all about it, my friend, because you killed her!” His heart rose at her words. Strange, really. “Sorry to ruin your fun, but,” he peered around him. Their audience seemed to be mainly on his side, “could you please stop calling me a murderer? I find it a little off-putting.” “I will call you a murderer, Harrison Ellis, because you are one. You killed you wife, and you will pay for that!” Her fists clenched by her sides, her cheeks burned like sunsets and fire and she trembled back and forth on the balls of her feet. “Will I now? How nice. Goodbye, Daisy.” Harris had no time for her now that he’d heard her theories. He looked pointedly past her, and saw something that struck him as strange. The mourners were no longer gathered together in semi-emotionless grief. They milled about, whispering like ants with a shoe through their nest. Daisy followed his gaze, and then turned back, smiling. “I told you you’d pay, didn’t I?” “Daisy, what have you done?” “Nothing you have to be worried about, if you’re not guilty.” “Daisy…” Harris said, as he gazed at the line of policemen she’d called pushing through the crowd, “I think I’m going to have to kill you.” He only had time to take a few steps before a policewoman grabbed his arm. 154
“Harrison Ellis? I’m going to have to ask you to stay a while. We’ll need to take you in for questioning.” “Questioning?” repeated Daisy Ford. “Questioning isn’t quite good enough. We need proof, evidence.” The policewoman, a hand on Harris’s arm, regarded Daisy as if she was something particularly unpleasant found on the bottom of her shoe. “And what would you suggest, Miss? Since you are so clearly an authority on the subject?” Daisy didn’t even have the grace to blush. “I think we should open the coffin. If what I think happened happened, Claudia will have a rather large bruise on the side of her neck.” Harris’s face drained of all colour. The policewoman looked to him, then to Daisy, then back at him. “I don’t think that’s really necessary––” “Perhaps you don’t, Madam, but I think that these good people will disagree.” Daisy gave a rather theatrical flourish towards the crowd who were now too close for Harrison’s liking. In defence of the mourners, Harris rather thought that they were not quite as enthusiastic as Daisy believed. If she had not uttered the last statement, they would have faded away, into the background. As it was, they were enjoying the show, and were not about to let the prospect of more entertainment go. Cheers rose, and they began to swarm. The police followed them towards the altar, before which the coffin rested. Religious statues looked down disapprovingly upon
the crowd charging up the aisle. Daisy caught hold of Harris, when the policewoman let him go. “Oh, no. You are not going anywhere.” He shot her a look so barbed that she dropped his arm like hot coal. “I’ll go where I like. Anyhow, I’m not about to go rushing off now, am I?” “Look,” she said, then paused. “If you’re not guilty it’ll be fine.” “You’re opening my wife’s coffin, Daisy. Forgive me if I’m not feeling entirely affectionate towards you. I’ll be over in a minute.” She swallowed, gave him one last look, then followed them. He turned and looked after them for a moment, considering. Was there anything he could do to save the situation now? He looked down the path of the church, and thought of Claudia. Best just to make a quick getaway. *** They gathered around the coffin, wide-eyed in anticipation. Daisy was at the front, leaning over the polished wood. She would have been holding the crowbar had she been able to get away with it. The priest, after being brushed aside none too politely, hovered fidgeting in the background. The same policewoman, flanked by several others, stared daggers at the eager crowd as she ran the crowbar around the edges of the lid. It creaked slightly, but the sound of cracking wood had no deterring effect on the mourners. 156
Daisy remembered Harris’s expression as they prised it open, and wondered if she was necessarily doing the right thing. It was too late now, anyway. They pulled the coffin lid open. Daisy had never seen inside a coffin before. It was lined with plush purple velvet, impeccably clean for something they had expected never to be opened again. A layer of dust rose up to the shocked faces of the crowd. The coffin was empty. *** Harris saw her standing in the airport bookshop, suitcase in hand. He ran, touched her shoulder. She turned, and smiled. “Everything went OK?” “Without a hitch. What you got there?” She grinned, and opened the suitcase. “I may have hit a few more casinos…” He, seeing the money, snapped it shut. “Claud! We’re meant to be covering our tracks!” “It doesn’t matter. I’m legally dead! The debt passes on, right?” “Ah. About that…” She shot him a look. “Something may have gone a little bit wrong. But isn’t legally missing the same as legally dead, in our case?” Claudia raised an eyebrow. “If so, we have a plane to catch.”
Brotherhood By Grace O Connell, age 16.
Wilfred Jones was at the end of his life. He knew this and had accepted it. He didn’t have many regrets in his life, having three children he was proud of and loved, a wonderful wife who had passed away some years ago. Now he was using the last of his time to tie up loose ends. He’d had made peace with enemies. Said farewell to old friends. But now he had to say goodbye to someone much dearer to him. His brother. “Is it the next right turn up here? Or do I keep going?” Clara, Wilfred’s only daughter and oldest child, asked her father, sounding a little stressed at the whining her car was making due to the steep hill they were having to climb in order to reach the little holiday cottage they would be staying in. “Keep going, it’s the second right.” Wilfred informed her. He didn’t even need a map to remember where the cottage was. He’d stayed in the exact same cottage when he was a child, visiting the small seaside town, The Cove, as a child for two weeks holidays every summer. He was amazed the cottage was still standing, but it would help with the goodbye. “Right, we need milk. I’m gonna die if I don’t get a cup of coffee. I’ll be back in like twenty minutes. You gonna be okay?” Clara asked her father who was sitting at the dining room table, gazing out the small cottage window. “Of course. I’m not that old you know. I’ll probably go for a walk, get the last of the light,” he told her. “Okay. See you in a bit,” Clara said and grabs her car keys heading
out. Wilfred stood in the doorway, waving as she backed out of the driveway before going back inside for his coat. Near the bottom of the cottages sloping garden, there was a small gate that led onto a narrow cliff path which led to a secret cove at the base of the cliff the cottage sat on. As Wilfred pushed open the gate, listening to it creak with rust and age, he remembered the very last time he’d taken this path. Summers were always the best times, especially for the Jones twins. Wilfred, known as Will by everyone, was into his second week of holidays. It was always two weeks at the cottage by the sea. And he got to go with his best friend and twin brother, Owen Jones. Nothing was boring with Owen. He found adventure in anything. He had an imagination that knew no boundaries. And at the seaside, the possibilities were endless. They were pirates one day, survivors of a shipwreck the next. They would set off early in the morning, racing each other down the cliff path, ignoring their mother’s yells to be careful, laughing and pushing at each there. They wouldn’t return back to cottage until dusk began to fall, covered in sand, hair stiff with sea salt from swimming. It was the best of times. Of course they never stayed out when it was dark. That’s when the tide came in so the beach was hidden under the waves and it was impossible to see your footing along the path let alone the rock pools. They were expressly forbidden by their parents to ever go down there after dark. Wilfred would nod, understanding their concerns. Owen would nod too, but with his fingers crossed behind his back. “Wi....Will.....Hey! Will, wake up!” Wilfred’s eyes flew open and his head shot up, which caused him to collide with his brother’s head. “Ow! Gah, what was that for?” Owen groaned, holding his forehead, falling back onto the couch.
“You scared me! I thought you were the boogie man or something,” Wilfred snapped, not happy to be woken up in this way. “Honestly, you act like such a baby.” Owen sighed, shaking his head at his brother. “I can’t believe you still believe in the boogie man.” Wilfred frowned at this, not liking being teased by his twin. “I’m going back to sleep.” He muttered rolling over and curling up to sleep. “Hey, hey wait! You can’t sleep, we’re going on an adventure.” Owen gabbled, reaching over and pulling his brothers shoulder. “An adventure?” Wilfred asked, looking up at him. “But it’s the middle of the night.” Owen rolled his eyes at this. “So? That’s the best time for adventures. Come on. We gotta be quiet in case mom and dad wake up.” “But we’re not allowed leave the cottage at night without Mom or Dad.” Wilfred persisted, sitting up, squinting to see his brother’s silhouette in the gloom. “I know, that’s why we’ve gotta be quiet. Now come on!” Owen ordered him, standing up after pulling on his shoes. “Owen we can’t! We’ll get in trouble!” Wilfred hissed at him, standing up. “Don’t be boring Will. This is gonna be our greatest adventure!” Owen told him, grinning at him through the dark, his teeth gleaming in the moonlight that streamed through the gap in the curtains. “I’ll wait outside,” he told Wilfred, and turned, tiptoeing through 160
the door. “No, Owen. Agh!” Wilfred scrambled to get his clothes on, not able to see properly in the gloom. “He’s going to get us both in trouble.” Wilfred thought to himself as he pulled on his last shoe and headed out after his brother. “But I’m not a baby, I’ll show him.” It was much brighter outside with a full moon and glittering stars. Owen was waiting atop the gate. “Knew you’d come.” he said once Wilfred joined him, hopping down. “Now, let’s have an adventure,” he said and swung the gate up, forging ahead. Wilfred faltered, looking back at the cottage before quickly following his brother. As the tide had come in, they couldn’t go on the actual beach. But that wasn’t stopping Owen. He edged along the water line, climbing along the rock pools by the path. “Owen wait! You’re going too fast!” Wilfred called after him desperately, a lot more cautious than his brother when it came to rock-climbing in the dark. Owen just laughed, hopping over a pool of water. And then he just froze. “Owen, what is it? Owe––” But then Wilfred faltered because he’d seen what Owen had seen. A girl, about their age, long fair hair tumbling over her shoulders in a wave, wearing a summer dress with a sunflower print, her feet bare. She had an unearthly silver glow about her and if Wilfred concentrated, he could actually see through the girl. “A ghost...” he breathed. And then she raised a hand, seemingly reaching out for Owen. “O-Owen we have to go back,” Wilfred stuttered up to his brother, who was standing, transfixed ahead of him. “Owen!” Wilfred tried again. His brother finally moved, but in the wrong direction. He started scrambling up the rocks towards the girl. “Owen! No!” Wilfred 161
yelled desperately after his brother, trying to follow him. He was much slower then Owen and didn’t catch him before he reached the girl. He stood below them, watching Owen reach out to the girl, taking her hand, staring at her. A small smile appeared on her lips and then she turned, leading Owen away from Wilfred’s view. “No, no, no!” Wilfred continued climbing until he’d reached the spot where his brother had stood with the ghost. It was the edge of the rock pools that joined to the cliff. On the other side of it was a drop into the rocks and sea. No sign of Owen. Wilfred dropped to his knees, starring into the swirling seas below. His brother was gone. “OWEN!!” Present-day Wilfred stood at the start of the rock pools, gazing up to the spot he’d been found so many years ago, curled up, freezing, mumbling in his sleep about ghost girls and Owen. Owen was missing. When Wilfred told his story, of course no one believed him. There was a search for Owen’s body, but everyone believed he’d fallen to the sea and drowned. Wilfred was the only one who knew what had happened. “I hope you got your adventure, brother.” Wilfred sighed, turning to face the beach. And in the setting sun, who did he see? Owen, the same as the last time he had seen him, the usual grin on his face. Beside him stood the ghost girl, smiling too. “Come on Will! Let’s have an adventure!” Owen called, holding out his hand to his brother. “Owen...”Wilfred breathed. “Don’t worry. I’ll look after you. I am the oldest after all.” Owen grinned. Wilfred nodded and began walking towards his brother, then his pace quickened and he broke into a run. He wasn’t an old man anymore. He was his ten year old self, back with his brother. He took his hand and the ghost girls too. And the three of them walked into the sunset stained ocean.
Blue Eyes By Eimear Jordan, age 16.
He has blue eyes and it’s killing him. ‘I think we should take a break.’ It’s like one of those awful romantic comedies his mother loves; they’re sitting outside his house, because he can barely look him in the eyes any more, not for what feels like years. They can only kiss when he’s a silhouette, a ghost, only lit up by the soft glow of the street lights outside. Although it feels more like he’s the ghost now, slowly slipping away from everyone. And when he says it he wishes he could disappear, because his eyes are probably clouded with confusion and anger right now, and fuck, he wishes he could go back. He’s still thinking of that when he grabs his hand, tries to tilt his head upwards, when the whys and the please tell mes and the why are you so scared fill his head, and when he gives up and finally leaves he thinks back to when they could kiss lazily without thinking about it, when he could look at his eyes and compare them to the sky and the sea. And then everyone notices, and it’s hell. His parents notice and his teachers notice the black cloud swollen with memories that follows him everywhere, the nightmares, the red half-moons on his arms. But when they ask why, and when they get tired of playing nice and shout and scream, he wants to tell them. He wants to see if he can pull the black thread that’s been pulling his lips together since three months ago and just fucking tell them, to see if the words and the blood and the thoughts spill out of his mouth and pool at his feet, if they can sweep it all up, box it neatly and pack it away 163
somewhere he can never go to. But he knows it can’t happen. The thread was sewn by someone else, someone who stinks of beer and cigarette smoke someone whose name is at the tip of his tongue when he sees blue eyes, when he flinches when someone touches him, when he wakes up screaming in the night feeling imaginary hands and lips. It’s easy to say when people stop eating and sink into their own milky white bones, it’s easy to say when the voices in their heads become so loud they’re bursting out and hiding in plain sight everywhere they look, but no one knows why he’s so damn scared. He wants to say that there are boys who drink, boys who push you down and sew your mouth shut with bloody knuckles when you scream and cry and try to get away, and that beautiful things are pinned down and displayed, but things have to be dead to be pinned down too and maybe that’s a sign. But the thread’s still there, and maybe it will always be there, so for now all he can do is avoid blue eyes and scratch himself to sleep at night. He reads about it in the paper. And he reads it again, and again until the words are blurred. Because suddenly it’s there. Rape. Rape victim. It’s there and just like that it’s real, it’s so fucking real, it isn’t just a nightmare, something he can ignore, and it’s terrifying. Rape. Rape victim. And every time he reads it he can feel the black thread being pulled away, slowly but surely. It’s hell asking for help. It takes a while to think about it and being able to breathe, to not feel hands everywhere, to not feel pinned down, sewn up. It’s hard to realise that the thick black words on the page are describing something that happened to him, happened to millions of people. But he grabs the knife he’s been using to cut himself open with and prises open his mouth open instead. The words come out a lot slower then he’d like, and he learns he can’t box it away; it can’t be swept up and thrown away. 164
But there’s no blood when it all comes out, and they listen, and it’s still there. And it’s fucked up and wrong. And some days he can’t think about how it’s wrong, can still feel the thread on those days. But the thread wears and fades, and when he can’t feel it any more he kisses him when the light is glaring white and he can see every part of him without feeling like his eyes are burning into him. And he can see his face when he says his eyes are beautiful when he kisses him without thinking. And the thread can pull again, but it’s only for a few days, not for what feels like years. And it’d not perfect, but it’s okay.
The Nuclear Tea Ladies. By Richard Maher, age 16.
Nellie Walsh bustles into the kitchen, a whirlwind of deep red lipstick, blow-dried hair and carefully chosen earrings, she does not want to be portrayed as exuberant, and certainly not today. Nellie glances at the clock, it’s a quarter-to. She braces herself for the cavalry charge that is surely coming. Nellie surveys the gleaming kitchen and the small mountain of confectionery lying on the dining room table. Lightly-whipped butter-cream cupcakes, airy Victoria sponges, luscious chocolate cakes and fresh scones lay boastfully. All home-made, all delicious, but for the nuclear tea ladies nothing else would suffice. The doorbell rings and Nellie sees the elegant figure of Betty O’Dwyer standing patiently outside. It’s show time. Nellie opens the door and greets Betty, as they both exclaim generous sentiments of gratitude. One by one the manicured, pressed and presentable ladies arrive. Bridie McGrath, Maureen Browne, Ailish Creed. They all arrive slightly early, hoping to catch Nellie in some state of dishevelment, but they are disappointed, and must instead embrace through pursed lips and clenched teeth. At about ten past twelve the kettle boils. This call to arms leads the ladies to be seated one-by-one in the gladiatorial arena of the dining room. Amid a storm of “after you’s” and “you-take-that-one’s”, the serious business of the day begins. The harmlessly barbed chit-chat ebbs and flows. “Oh, these queen cakes are just gorgeous Nellie!” exclaims Betty, “What did you put in them?” 166
“Oh, the standard four-four-four,” states Nellie airily, pleasantly ignoring the three failed batches in the bin. The eagle-eyed Maureen notices Ailish has yet to take a bun. Upon interrogation, Ailish professes that she’s “not hungry”. The other women keep quiet in their knowledge that Ailish has recently been spotted leaving Weightwatchers. Nellie almost commits a fatal error as she pours milk into Bridie’s tea. Luckily, she swaps it with her own unpolluted beverage before anything is noticed. She rejoins the conversation as Maureen is telling the congregation of “Her Jim’s” “kidney infection”. According to Maureen “ ‘tis terrible, you know, faith’n his father had the very same problem, it must be the genes”. Nellie smiles wryly, she thinks the eight pints per night in the local may be more of a problem than Jim’s “genes”. ”Did you make the jam yourself?” asks Ailish in a question of innocent villainy. “Well, tis’ home made, but it’s made in somebody else’s home!” laughs Nellie, dodging the question masterfully while also injecting some humour to the group. As the conversation lulls, the women agree that the latest terrorist attacks “out’n Saudi” were “very sad” and concur that “there’s some right quare groups out there”. Nellie decides to put some pressure on Ailish. She asks, “How’s your Paul doing, he must be nearly finished second year now?” Nellie knew full well that Paul had failed “the maths” and was a “touch wild”. Ailish pulled her deaf act, she always does that when she doesn’t want to answer, thought Nellie. At this point the confectionery pile was beginning to wane, and the women’s thoughts turned to “putting on the spuds”. A great 167
excuse. “God, my four would eat all around them”. As usual, Maureen decided to boast about “Her Colm” and how he is “working so hard up in UCD at the medicine” while conveniently forgetting to mention that her husband was “always inside in Paddy Power”. Finally, as the agents were beginning to vacate the premises, Betty announced that “Jonjo and Breda O’Connor were breaking up, lordblessus.” With this tit-bit of gossip secured, the women left, graciously thanking Nellie: “Oh, t’was marvellous!” was the common consensus, and the bandwagon rolled on to Betty’s the next Saturday. As the front door shut, Nellie smiled gladly, she had got out alive, without divulging any classified information. Nellie had dodged another radioactive missile from the Nuclear Tea Ladies.
The Painter By Branwen Zara Boyce, age 16.
There she stood, like an angel all dressed in white. I hadn’t expected to see her and I definitely hadn’t expected a complete absence of colour. She had her back to me. Her white hoodie was hung loosely on her shoulders covering her white dress. White shoes, white tights, white gloves. Everything was white. I suddenly wondered if her hair was as white and would I be looking into eyes so pale it seemed impossible? I watched as she moved with grace, seemingly familiar with the night. It didn’t seem right, how someone could look so pure while committing a crime. Like a celestial being she danced across the dark ally, a sweet hum falling from her lips. I wanted to talk to her, to dance with her, to sing with her. I yearned for a fairytale with the beauty I’d never even met. I was a fool. I wasn’t even aware of what I had done until I did it. The step I took echoed across the empty space. I instantly regretted the unconscious movement when her song stopped. She turned like a startled animal towards the noise. The backpack she was filling clattered to the ground, a tin of black paint rolled out. Obscene words fell past her lips in a voice too sweet to be using such language. Black hair peeked out from beneath her hood. A silver wolf mask covered the bottom half of her face while hazel eyes lined in black bore into mine. Hung from her neck was the only colour she wore – a red heart in a little black cage. It was all but a second before she grabbed the fallen can and bag and dashed away. One step. Two steps. Three. She grabbed hold
of a skateboard hidden behind a rubbish bin. Four steps. Five steps. Six. Still running she threw the board to the ground before hopping on it. The sound of the wheels on the pavement was all she left behind. Well, of course that wasn’t exactly true. If she left nothing behind at the places she visited I’d never know of her now, would I? No, she left behind a painting, just like she did everywhere else. This time the former red brick now depicted a woman whose back was turned to the outside world. Two identical scars traced down her bare back almost as if she were an angel whose wings were ripped from her person. Her head was turned in the direction of the artist. I wanted to follow her. To rush after her, to kiss her, to ask her to stay as if this was some sort of movie. Obviously that wasn’t an option. No instead I just watched the woman I’d been searching for as she skated away, never turning back. Of course how was she to know I fell in love with her through the paintings that scattered the town? The black, white and grey paintings that spoke to me in a way nothing else ever had. I watched as she zipped around the corner. This particular Cinderella didn’t leave behind a slipper and I was positive she didn’t want to be found either.
“Silence, Exams in Progress” By Emma Donohoe, age 17.
Outside the examination hall, describe: nerves and other people mouth dry eyes darting over pages, flipping frantically through flashcards wringing hands pacing the corridor The cherry blossoms in the school garden had left their branches as the majority of the student body left their classrooms for the summer. Only the unfortunate exam students remained, with a light tinge of green in their pale cheeks. After weeks of studying for some, weeks of boredom for some, and weeks In the examination hall, Leaving Cert describe the room, sounds, mutual feelings of despair, panic and the general not-wanting-to-be-there. General Idea: John can read minds John frowned at Claire O’Reilly, who was sitting in the desk in front of his. Claire was the top student in his year. She was bent over her paper, pen flying across the page, decorating line after line with chemical equations. His brow furrowed deeper, if only he could see her answers! John’s eyes bore into the back of Claire’s head, as if willing it to swap places with his. With his own mind drawing a blank, he concentrated on Claire, infuriating himself even more. John stared at the dull brown 171
ponytail that bobbed with the energy at which she regurgitated information onto the page. ...okay question two... What was that? John’s head snapped around, glancing about the room. He was sure he’d heard something. A murmuring, like someone thinking out loud. The students around him stayed as they were, heads down; some writing, others staring at the paper, willing the answers to spontaneously pop onto the page. The supervisor at the top of the room sat surveying the room, taking sips from a glass of water every few seconds. None of them looked around with the confused expression that had fixed itself on John’s face. He shook his head, and turned back, facing forward. ...right, five minutes for this question... There it was again! John was sure he had heard something. It was louder this time, more insistent. No one but Claire had looked away from their papers, she sat up, studying the clock above the whiteboard. ...then 30 minutes for this next section, remember to leave time at the end to check over... His eyes widened with shock, as he recognised the voice as Claire’s. He leaned towards her slightly, trying to catch a glimpse of her face. Her jaw remained clenched and her lips stayed pursed together with nerves. Claire’s mouth may be silent thought John, but her commentary on the exam hit him like shouts. None of his classmates were even glancing in her direction. What the hell was going on? John sat there for a moment, listening to the steady flow of what
could only be Claire’s thoughts. Was he imagining it? ...phenylmethanol, appearance at room temperature, easy, you know this... Yeah, he wasn’t imagining it, he couldn’t even pronounce that word, let alone remember what it’s appearance was like at room temperature! Then it hit him like a slap in the face; answers! Claire was going through each question, what she knew, and what she was writing down! John grabbed his pen and began writing, listening to his new ‘teacher’ all the while... Two and a half hours later, John left Claire to go through her paper for the fourth time. He turned to one of his mates, Simon, who was sitting to his right. Simon was quite smart, but, like John, he hadn’t really applied himself. He was sitting shellshocked, his pen poised in mid air, fishing for inspiration. Like before, John began to pick up a low murmur, and soon he had his own personal radio link to Simon’s head: ...we definitely didn’t do this in class...is this question even written in English?!... John smiled sympathetically at the sound of Simon’s confusion. Poor guy, John himself had been in the same boat until he suddenly became magical. He almost laughed out loud. Magical? What a joke. Instead of contemplating how bizarre his situation was however, John decided to amuse himself. For the rest of the exam, he went from student to student, opening the little windows into their thoughts. His favourite was the supervisor’s intense longing for a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. The old man’s face slumped into a comical scowl at the glass of water in his hands. Each voice John sought out joined the cloud of conversations 173
hovering above him. The thoughts fought for his attention, getting louder when he focused on the student thinking them. The quietly intimidating atmosphere had been switched to a loud chorus, not unlike the noise heard in the canteen each day at lunch. Amongst the din, John glanced up at the clock, and the poster beside it. Laughter escaped his lips, drowned in the cacophony. Five minutes left read the clock. As for the poster, it glared in the lighting: Silence, Exams in Progress.
Creatures By Kinga Piekarczyk, age 16.
Beautifully strange, unconventionally mad Without stop signs, without rest Despite stumbles, fast paced on the run Peculiar kids with peculiar dreams Imaginative, ordinary... extraordinary Blooming with wildness, sinfully creative In the towns, our towns, our cities Ours are the veins of earth We build palaces from failures From scratch we write life Set out by skies, guided by stars To learn, to listen, to love, to observe We’re the elite team, the victors The runners, the brave, the risk takers Free spirits, chaotic on impulse but deep at hearts No feelings, no shame, no regrets Honest, brutal and rude to the core Cunning yet kind, never fearful, never blind Prospective, adaptive, rebellious We’re the youth We’re project juvenile. 175