THS Writing Contest 2021

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Short Story Writing Contest 2021

Note from the Organizer: This year has been filled with transition from in-person to zoom classes, wearing of masks to getting vaccinated, and more. As students adjusted to changes, they also found writing to be a creative outlet—there was a record number of submissions received from this year’s THS Writing Contest. As always, I am amazed at the innovative stories I had the privilege to read: stories took place in mystical lands to those set in historical times. My aim for the contest is to inspire students to use writing as a way to share their voices, express themselves, and connect with others. In addition, I wanted to give back to my alma mater that has helped me grow immensely as a healthcare provider, writer, and person. I want to express my sincere gratitude to all who made this contest possible: Dr. Charles Steltenkamp in helping me organize this competition and for being a wonderful mentor; Mr. Remo Roncone and Mr. Daniel House for all their support; and everyone who participated in the contest by sharing their writing! I’m excited to share winning entries here – take a moment to peruse the talents coming from innovative, ingenious Troy High students. Sincerely, Ellen Zhang (Troy High School, 2015)

Winners: First Place: Nostalgia by Mark Hong .............................................................................................. 3 Second Place: In My Hand by Seeun Oh ........................................................................................ 6 Third Place: Cycle by Jessica Mathew ............................................................................................ 9 Honorable Mention: Midnight Red by Max Murphy .................................................................... 11 Honorable Mention: Lighthouse to Infinity by Benjamin Odell ................................................... 15


Nostalgia* By Mark Hong Wrinkle was a gray and boring town. It was gray because it had almost never seen the sun for millenia, as sheets of cloud flocked above the place, condensing just enough so that they darkened to the point where it could be thought as if it would rain soon, but it almost never did. It was boring because nothing had ever happened there. Besides Morris, nobody ever thought about how no crime other than the occasional shoplift seemed to occur in the old town, nothing on the same plane as a suicide. If a person were to drive into an exit off the highway to stop at a gas station in the middle of the night, they probably wouldn’t notice the entire town behind it, because that’s the only section of Wrinkle that’s lit up at that hour. The town was truly in the middle of nowhere, a small chunk of condensed urbanization in the blank and empty countryside, and literally too. Unlike most of the neighboring towns, not a lot of Wrinkle was taken up by farmland, as if the entire town was photoshopped from the middle of a metropolis and pasted onto a rural area. It was also strangely cramped, because the roads and buildings gave no room for pedestrians, almost like the town was suffering from overpopulation, but was probably affected by the opposite. Heck, most of the area outside of the town were thin coniferous forest and dry elds. It took around 10 minutes to walk from one side of a small lake located at the edge of the village to the other, and it looked like it sagged into the ground for who knows what reason, but was the only interesting geographical feature in Wrinkle, so nobody chose to question it. There was only a miniscule shop that was frequently mistaken for a wardrobe that sold actual produce, because convenience stores were present. A couple small businesses were positioned here and there, plus a police station, a re department, a post o3ce, a hospital twenty minutes away; every facility required for a community to function had already materialized, only dull. Students had the luxurious education options of a single elementary school, a single middle school, and a single high school, all single-story buildings, and almost all single rooms. Yeah, the town was dying, and it was the crucial fact that every citizen in Wrinkle had to face, or perhaps change, but the latter was mostly being ignored by the younger generation, and some of the older generation for that matter, all of them wanting to move to a big city to make their livings. Who would want to live in a place so dead? The future’s approaching at light speed and the only way to swim through it is to get an early start. That said, the town’s problems would be handed back to the elders plus the mayor, who was a college graduate, tried moving to one of said big cities previously mentioned, was doing ne, grew homesick, ran all the way back home and somehow ended up as the person in charge, not that he did much, all he amounted to was being greeted as an example of what would happen if ambitious youngsters lost their ambition, a shame optimistically, but a disgrace realistically. On a normal day, Morris unusually cussed at the clouds a few minutes earlier than scheduled, a surprise to his unsuspecting 25 or so high school classmates. He was known for being reckless and hot-headed, and mostly pushed away into peripherals by most, told to go elsewhere. It didn’t help that he was shorter than others in his grade level, nor did it help that he used to spatter nonsense about someone drowning in the lake. As a diaspora of students was created, Morris soon found himself walking alone, sticking close to one side of the road, as if a car would actually come close to running him over, or come to Wrinkle at all. On either side of him, there was no space between the bloated buildings and chunky street, only a very thin section of uneven weeds protruding from the middle of them. On the little space those weeds o3ered, telephone poles and their wires were cramped to dis3guration as they tried to t between the two hoarding


masses. There was no sense of elevation at any point in his stroll, as the entire town was at. He passed a small shop whose owner had died recently, Morris had heard, and was inherited by a younger relative. It was obvious that the relative had no idea what to do with the place, and he enjoyed their weirdly stern and sullen facial expressions as they stared at it each day. He slowly approached the outskirts of the town, and he sure could recognize where the town stopped and the wilderness started, realizing that it was the one place where a tourist (not that Wrinkle would have any tourists) would find unique in any way, because it was very distinctly marked by a sudden stop in the rundown edifices The road and buildings just ended, and the next step Morris took was straight into the long grass. There wasn’t even a stop sign to warn cars (again, not that there would be any cars in Wrinkle), so if a driver wasn’t paying attention and drove towards the lake, they would be driving through town one moment, and suddenly find themselves in a grassy eld the next, with grasses so tall they wouldn’t be able to see out the car windows, remaining stranded for however long. Raising his arms to his chest, he tried to part the forest, layer after layer as a ray of sun shined down on the small bits of dew that were lying on the blades, each one stretching upwards towards the never-ending clouds as if they’d be unemployed if they didn’t. He looked down for the entire length of his walk, until he could see the gravel-like sand through a couple blades of grass, his eyes already yearning for a sight of the lake. After swatting away the last couple of blades, he was met with the small cliff, maybe as tall as he was, that the ripe grass slightly hung over the side of. It was slanted outwards, not vertical, but not slanted enough so he could walk down it. He braced himself, making two tiny lunges before placing a foot right on the edge of the cliff, pushing himself off of it, leaping into the air, his body in free fall, before falling right back down on the sand. The initial impact of his feet on the crunchy beach caused a long, obtuse wave of pain in both of his legs, shaking his bones. As some of the sand flew into the air in a small cloud, he tried to shake off the pain, gritting his teeth. He looked straight ahead. The gleaming sun was in the dead of noon, shining down on every little swoosh on the surface of the lake. Its waves directed the glittering, twinkling sunlight into his eyes, blinding him. The water owed back and forth, a clean, clear smell penetrating his nostrils, settling him in a calm, focused mindset. Rocks ranging from the size of a pebble to almost as large as him sat on the dust, different shades of grayish-blue and brick red. As he stood, his shoes sunk into the ground a good centimeter or so into the sand, and he wiggled his feet to dig them in a bit deeper, the ground’s heat protruding through his sneakers. He would never be bored of looking out from the beach. “Hey,” He heard from beside him. He shot his eyes in the direction from where the sound came from. A half-second glance was made, Morris seeing the blurry image of a kid sitting on top of a rock that was half his height, one of the kid’s feet resting on the gravel, the other placed kind of on the side of the rock, but kind of on top of it too. He had a pencil in his hand and a notebook lying open on his knee. Morris recognized him as Isaac, an eighth grader that occasionally came to the beach after school. His backpack rested by the side of the stone. Morris didn’t bother to look at him, and returned his gaze to the lake. “Hey,” he returned. His hands felt an instinctive itch. He paid no attention to the clouds gathering overhead, nor to Isaac. “Didn’t know Tim actually had a copy, if I knew he didn’t, I would’ve made him one, but I guess she, uh, misjudged—or, eh, misinterpreted. . .” Isaac was probably continuing a conversation that him and Morris had when they last met, but Morris forgot what he was talking about. He bent his knees and started searching through the gravel for a at rock on the smaller side. As he did, he continued to listen half-


heartedly to Isaac’s ramblings, imagining him doing his homework while pretentiously adjusting his glasses, but he had also forgotten if Isaac had glasses or not. As Isaac complained about one of his teachers purposefully making him work with students who he didn’t usually work with, Morris stood up with a chosen rock in his palm, gray and smooth. He took gentle steps closer and closer to the edge of the water, or rather, the beginnings of the wet gravel, having been smothered under the gentle waves weaved by the breeze. His tiny stroll ended with his left leg remaining a decent distance in front of his right leg. He then began to wrap his fingers around the rock, his thumb and middle fingers’ fingertips resting on the two sides of the stone, like the sides of a coin, an index finger hooking itself along the sharp border, and his left arm had its elbow bent, parallel to the ground. He bent both of his legs, his left one forming close to a 90 degree angle, his torso maybe two feet off of the ground, as he was stooping down low. Seemingly a permanent imprint on his muscle memory foam, he twisted his body back, shifting his weight on his back leg, winding up the rock by the side of his body. In a singular, graceful, powerful motion, he shifted his weight to his front leg, and as he leaned forward, his back leg staying in its position, only pivoting, he let go of the rock.

*This story is an excerpt of a much longer story, which can be found here


In My Hand By Seeun Oh “Do you believe it?” That’s what Won asked his bride on the night of their marriage. That day, a widow threw herself into the well. Villagers collected her body and praised her for being a noble wife, loving her husband and dying after him. “Excuse me?” “Do you really believe that we are a perfect match?” His bride didn’t answer. The sound of Yeona’s hanbok filled the silent room. She was grabbing her hanbok restlessly, and it was her way of enduring the awkwardness. Won stared at her face. It was his first time to see Yeona’s face this close; they just met today. Won smiled softly, waiting patiently for Yeona to say something. “Yes.” Yeona finally answered. She let out the hanbok that she was squeezing hard. Won knew her reason, that’s what Lady Ahn said: “Match made in heaven.” “I agree.” He lied. He didn’t believe Lady Ahn. Their marriage wasn’t too bad, perhaps Lady Ahn was correct. Just enough care and respect, no expectation nor disappointment toward each other. They became good friends with each other. That peace shattered about a year after they married. It all began with Won getting a cut on his palm. The cut itself wasn’t a big deal. Won was coming back to his home from the capital, and he fell off from his horse at a steep mountain. The blood dripped down from his left hand falling onto the ground. It was quite deep, making a long red line across his palm. What made it significant was Lady Ahn’s words. “No way,” Lady Ahn gasped as she held Won’s hand. Her eyes were glued onto his left palm and she squeezed it hard with surprise. Lady Ahn’s wrinkled hand brushed Won’s palm. “You cut your fate.” “What?” Won squinted his face in pain. That was a little rude of him, but the wound was yet to heal. By that time, all the villagers gathered, forming a big crowd around them. Yeona, who was preparing meals at home when she heard that her husband came back, joined the crowd. People pushed each other to hear what Lady Ahn was saying. Lady Ahn was the oldest person in the village. People respected what she said. Not only that, she was also a palm reader; she read people’s fate through their palms and made predictions and they were never wrong. She speaks God’s words, people thought. Villagers never doubted her, leaving their fate in her words. If anyone disobeyed, it was considered as challenging God. It was also Lady Ahn who tied the knot in Yeona and Won’s marriage. “You see this cut splitting your palm in half? It went through all your palm lines.” Lady Ahn looked at Won with pity in her eyes. “Your fate is now all tangled. It has changed.” The crowd became quiet. Lady Ahn continued. “You must leave the village and go live at the mountain where nobody lives. Otherwise, you will put others in danger.” Yeona gasped. Fear filled her. She knew how women without husbands lived. Won’s mother, who lost her husband right after she gave birth to Won, lived a rough life. She always struggled to fit in the village. She never got a proper job, so Won and his mother always suffered in poverty until Won married Yeona. Women in this village could not do much without a husband. Even worse, unlike Won’s mother,


Yeona didn’t have a child. The only matter to corner a childless widow to death was time. Like the woman who gave up her own life on Yeona’s wedding day. Everyone knew that she didn’t die because she loved her husband, but because she couldn’t stand living alone. Yeona knew how hard that widow struggled to live and how strong she was, but something was killing her inside, blocking her from surviving this world. People started keeping a distance from that widow, blaming her for everything, jawing at her and saying things like “It’s your fault that your husband died.” Because of this, the last time Yeona saw her, she was a cold corpse, and the face that always held a smile was expressionless. Either way, widows had a hard life. And if Won left her, she would live like that too. No. I can’t. I can’t stand all that blame. Yeona shook her head as the bad thoughts filled up her head. “Please don’t leave me.” Yeona decided to be selfish. I can’t live as a widow, so you stay and endure the blames. Block them from me, she thought. Won dropped the bag that he was holding. Things he packed to leave spilled out. “Don’t go. You know that mountain is dangerous. That’s why nobody lives up there. You will die.” Yeon said desperately. Won looked down at Yeona and let out an absurd laugh. How funny that Yeona is imploring him, not the other way around. Although Won didn’t believe Lady Ahn’s words, if there was somebody to blame, that was Won, not Yeona. Yeona shouldn’t lower herself like this to Won. “I can’t live against Lady Ahn’s words.” Won said halfheartedly. “You heard Lady Ahn. I will put people in danger, including you.” “It...It's okay!” Yeona grabbed Won’s sleeve tightly. “It doesn’t matter.” Living as a widow would be worse. Yeona knew that this could put all the others in danger. But she also knew that if Won left her like this, she would be not only the widow but a disgraceful one since Won now has a disastrous fate. Yeona closed her eyes. The image of the dead body appeared. That widow was beautiful, even after her death. Although it was just a short glimpse Yeona took after her wedding, she could still picture it clearly. “So please stay.” Yeona begged Won. Won lowered his body to meet her eyes. Her eyes filled up with despair. He knew why Yeona stopped him from leaving her. He knew that it was not for him, but Yeona herself. “I will.” Won said. The day everyone turned away from Won, Yeona needed him the most and Won was responsible for her life he ruined. A single cut and Lady Ahn’s words were enough to give them this tribulation. Won never left the village. Every time people met, they talked about him. “Why is he not leaving the village?” “I thought he was a nice young man. I didn’t know that he wouldn’t listen to Lady Ahn.” “I knew he would not. You see, I’ve always thought that Won was acting nice. He’s wanting us all to die.” Some people spread false rumors. “I must put fire on his house. Then he would leave.” Some threatened. But nobody was willing to go near Won. They were afraid to be wielded by his fate. “We cannot live like this!” A villager spoke up. “We cannot be afraid of Won forever. We must chase him and his family out. We must protect our village. This is our home.” People agreed and about a week later, they gathered in front of Won’s house. “Do you want me to go out?” Yeona asked Won. They could hear the angry mob through the door.


“It’s okay.” Won said. He looked at Yeona and asked her a question. “Do you believe that our fate is determined in our palm? Am I really a disaster? I’m the one that made villagers mad.” He didn’t believe Lady Ahn’s words, or he thought he didn’t, but as days passed, guilt was piling inside him. Yeona shook her head. “You are not causing any disaster.” She paused for a moment then added. “Those that are causing the disaster are them, not you.” Yeona pointed at the door, where villagers were standing on the other side. “I’ll go and calm them down.” Won got up and opened the door. Villagers shouted at Won to leave. Won opened his mouth. “I won’t leave.” The crowd got louder. “Our fate is not already made. Our choices build it. My fate is not written in my hand.” “You are speaking against God. God has decided our destiny and you are denying it! We cannot let such dishonorable and menacing person like you live in our village.”A loud voice broke out of the crowd. Won closed his eyes. He knew he couldn’t convince villagers– they were mad. They were blind and didn’t see the truth. They fooled themselves. People don’t doubt things that they are already familiar with. Instead, they are hesitant to accept that they were wrong. Won stared at each person in their eyes. His neighbors, friends, and all the other people who once loved him were now looking at him coldly. He sighed and went back to the room where Yeona was. He decided not to be swayed by others. Yeona greeted him with an anxious smile. He smiled back. Fate is in my hand, and I have control over it.


Cycle By Jessica Mathew He lay on the ground, the vibrancy of the sky fading with every minute that passed. Acres of forest stretched for miles on both sides of the road. The ground accepted more and more of his blood, absorbing it like a sponge. “Help,” he croaked, voice raspy from crying out before, when he still had a voice to give. His phone was smashed to smithereens. The red pickup truck was long gone now. No cars could be seen except his own totaled one. He gazed at the wrecked Audi R8, and it carried him away. *** “Man, how’d you manage to get a car this nice?” Rick asked enviously. He smiled, proud of his own success, and replied, “I invested in the right stocks at the right time. You need to have the intuition to know what works when.” Rick whistled, running his hand along the console. “This is absolutely gorgeous. With a car like this, you own the world. May I?” Rick asked, gesturing reverently toward the radio. He nodded enthusiastically, dropping his façade of nonchalance. Rick turned the dial slowly, savoring the feeling. Eventually, they both agreed on a station. He started driving with no particular destination in mind, enjoying the thrum of the vehicle all around him. They rode in companionable silence. He was drunk, but would easily have passed a sobriety test. He was intoxicated on youth, on his own vitality. Nothing had ever felt this amazing before. He could go anywhere, do anything—who could stop him now? Sunlight like melted butter flowed through the windows. Clouds sped merrily past. Fields of corn bowed in respect. He glanced out the window, and saw a flash of black among the green and gold. His mind told him it was just some trash, but he somehow felt like it was important. He suddenly pulled over to the shoulder of their road and turned off the car. “Why’d you stop?” asked Rick, startled. “There’s something here,” he said before opening the door and running to the place he saw it. “What?” Rick yelled, flabbergasted, before following slowly. He looked down at what he had seen, and he was shocked. It was a black dog, probably a Labrador, lying on its side in a pool of its own blood. He knelt to check its pulse, and it was barely there. The dog must have been hit by a car. It had a collar on, but he couldn’t see what its tag said. This dog belonged to someone, someone who was probably looking for it frantically. “Rick, there’s a dying dog here!” he yelled. Rick walked up to him, confused. Then he saw what he was kneeling over, and his expression changed. “Is it dead?” Rick asked. “I think it’s almost dead,” he replied. Rick leaned over and squinted to read the tag. “Lucky. Ha,” he snorted. “Maybe there’s someone around who can help the dog.” He began to cry out, “Hello? Did anyone lose a dog named Lucky? Can someone help us get this dog to the vet?” Immediately Rick was at his side, hissing, “Don’t do that. If anyone comes, we’ll be blamed for this. No one will believe that we didn’t hit this dog.” He looked at Rick, not understanding what he was saying. “But this dog needs help,” he said. “I need to take it to the vet, then. I can’t just let it die without doing anything.” He was getting panicky, remembering how much his grandmother used to love her own


dog, and how she would feel if her dog was dying with no one to help. He put his arms around the dog’s abdomen and began to lift it. “Dude, that’s a brand new car. Do you really want to get some dog’s blood all over it? It’ll probably die anyway. There’s nothing you can do,” Rick said. “Maybe I can call the police,” he said, getting desperate. “Or an ambulance. This is someone’s dog, Rick. Someone loves this dog.” “You think the police care about this?” Rick smirked. “They’ll have a good laugh over it, if they don’t accuse us of hitting it. They have more important things to do. Anyway, it’s just a dog, and not even yours. Why do you care?” He hesitated a moment, and looked up at Rick questioningly. “Come on,” Rick said. “Don’t be so emotional. Dogs are easy to replace.” He straightened up slowly, wiping the blood on his hands onto his pants. He trusted Rick—after all, they’d been friends for ages. The dog might not have been lost recently. Maybe the owner had already forgotten about Lucky. As he walked away from the dog, though, something gnawed at his heart. What if a child was looking for the dog right now, putting up posters that said “LOST” in a messy scrawl? But Rick looked at him impatiently, and he walked away like he was walking through cement. The sunlight that had once cast an illuminating glow on him now burned him with an accusing glare. He sweated in the heat, turning on the AC to try and escape his shame. The uncomfortable silence between him and Rick was absolute, with no music to fill the void. He tried to convince himself that maybe someone else would help Lucky, or that Lucky wasn’t being searched for. He didn’t want to admit to himself that he left his conscience to save his friendship, because he knew he would never see Rick in exactly the same way again. It was such a waste. But he and Rick remained somewhat close throughout the years. The streamlined leather seats of his car never felt the same, though. *** Who would find him, if they even did? What would they tell his family? The questions flooded through his mind, and he was powerless to stop them, much like he was powerless to cry out, or to sit up, or to move at all. At first, he felt enraged at the driver who had hit and run, but his own fear and thoughts that someone else would help from the past came knocking at his mind’s door again, and he couldn’t blame the driver. He had lived a selfish life, and destiny had given him a chance to make a difference, but he chose to ignore it. Who was he to decide who deserved to live and who didn’t? His unceasing pain and loneliness was perhaps well-deserved. Would any more cars come by? Possible. Unlikely. Maybe. Improbable. He didn’t know anymore, and he didn’t care. The sweet chirping of the birds grew faint. The deep greens and browns of the forest blurred together—a combined result of his situation and the tears. His breaths slowed, becoming one with the lullaby of nature. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, impossibly soft.


Midnight Red By Max Murphy It was late in the stormy night, fifty pages into her book about an ancient and fictional war, that the large doors were subject to a sudden knocking. It'd been long since Lady Reyya received a visitor, and she'd lived alone with her servants on the northern cliffs of Altan since her husband had died some months past. Tonight, though, she told her attendants to rest, feeling she needed nothing more. Nothing more except some time alone with her books in the library, an ancient place built early in the 4th Era, before the growth of the Elven forests and the battles for Exalia. Placing the book down, she could feel her hands shaking, almost excited at the idea of a new face. Standing, she walked through the hall lined with bookshelves built forty feet high. The tables, brightly lit by candles, surrounded the sides of the red carpet laid across the floor, all leading toward the massive door, adorned with gold. Anxiously, she opened it to the roars of the storm. There stood a tall fellow covered in black and silver armor, a kind she'd only seen in the books her father had read to her in years long past. He wore a red cloak which obscured his face, save for two purple, luminescent eyes. Resembling embedded amethysts or the setting dusk, their color was interrupted by black slits like those of a reptile. He invoked distant images of the east, where the beastfolk lived. "Lady Reyya, I presume..." he spoke, raising a clawed hand scaled with glossy scarlet skin. His voice was leathery, like a dagger taken to a tanning rack. "Yes..." she responded, keeping the doors half-closed. Her head peeked gingerly past the wood, looking him up and down. "I’ve come on a journey far from my home, but I’m afraid I’m lost... would you let me stay the night?" The armor seemed half-moving on his scales, like there was a snake coiling around the metal. Upon closer inspection, however, his cloak seemed... familiar? “Your home is... beautiful... especially to a traveler in Altan’s dangerous forests.” "H- how did you know my name?" she asked after a moment of hesitation. He smiled, the lips opening across what she imagined was a long snout. "Your name reaches far across Altan, even to a traveler from Ran-Ying." His voice moved up her spine, coming to rest at the base of her skull, sending soft vibrations. "Y-yes... come in... the rain is..." she stopped a moment, her eyelids growing heavy. "The fireplace will warm you." "I thank you for your hospitality, dear Lady Reyya..." Following behind her, the lizardfolk sauntered in, silent as a shadow.


When she sat in her large chair at the end of the hall, she stared out the window behind her. It overlooked the grey and black sea, gloomy and depressed, as the lightning lit up the moonless sky. The trees that grew on the edges of the cliff swayed so violently that, on nights like these, she wondered if one would be carried off by the wind. But they always remained, firmly rooted in the ground. By the time Reyya looked back and opened her book again, ready to read through another chapter, the man had taken a seat at one of the many desks lining the library. She expected the visitor to begin browsing for something, or to ask for one of the guest bedrooms. But he didn’t say a word. And so, silence pervaded the hall for what seemed like an hour. The candles and fireplace cast a light that crawled across the room, the red glow making the statues and the gold embellishments in the wood as bright as the moons in full phase. She remembered spending what seemed like years at a time in this room, a wine cup in her hand, admiring the paintings and sculptures from bygone eras and reading her life away. When she’d reached the end of the fourteenth chapter, Reyya looked past her book to see the man sitting there...doing... Nothing. Inhumanly, the slits in his oculi shifted towards her, the head remaining still. In the moment their eyes met, a slow, long grin broke across his face. “...Why have you come so far?” Reyya asked, placing the book on her lap. “I wanted to see more of the world. It’s a very large place, and we often see so little of it before we die...” “Oh, I see...” she paused, her eyes flicking intermittently to her book. “What’s it like in Ran-Ying?” “Different from Altan, I assure you.” “You know, my father took a ship there, decades ago,” she tried, seeking a conversation to ease her mind. “Interesting.” A pause invaded the space between them, filling the air like poison in an empty chalice. “Do lizardfolk still...” She searched her mind for something, anything, to keep the silence away. “Do they still...” “...Do we what, My Lady?” “Well, my father, he...” Reyya could feel something. It was the same feeling she’d had at the door, the same vibrations amongst her bones. But now warmth spread across her skull like the grasping fingers of a hand. “My father always used to tell me that-”


Struggling, her words turned to inarticulate gibberish, and she found herself unable to look at anything except the violet eyes trained on her. His face was so dark, as if the night itself had come to life and snatched it into its open jaws. “What do you- the people do for fun, in Ran-Ying...” “My Lady, you seem awfully curious about my home when you have a book about it right in your hands.” Reyya opened her mouth, and turned her gaze downward, towards the yellowed and aged pages she’d been skimming only hours earlier. The book had been something... different, she could swear, and yet, she couldn’t remember what. Looking up again, the narrow slits of his eyes were still looking right through her. She briefly pondered asking him what he’d done with her book, but she realized he couldn’t have moved. At least, not without her knowing. “Have any family back home?” she smiled, nervously. “No,” the smile still on his face, his mouth full of daggers. Gulping, she flipped a page in her book as the looming warmth spread across her chest. Whatever talk she tried to make with him in the next hours, he answered simply, almost seeming cautious not to enter a conversation. With no sound but the turning of the pages, the crackling of the fire, the booming strokes of thunder and the pounding of the rain, she closed her book and announced to him: “I’m going to sleep. I... should see you in the morning?” “Yes. I believe you will. Good dreams, Lady Reyya.” “Mustn’t you need to know where the guest bedrooms are?” “No.” “But-” “I will manage, dearest Reyya. Don’t delay your slumber any longer.” She left the room, peeking back at him as she rounded the corner. Walking past the marble pillars and the ancient paintings, she realized the castle was truly beautiful. But even months after her husband’s death, months alone in such a place, it was still hard to think of it as anything but their home. She entered her room and took one last glance outside, seeing the storm out a window. A stroke of lightning brightened the night for a split second, the waves crashing against the cliffs. Reyya blew out the candles in her room and lay onto the mattress, letting the comforts that wealth afforded lull her to sleep, never quite remembering who the man was or what they had talked about… The mountains were beautiful that day, a road carved out of their side. She’d been taking a carriage to the King’s city, having been invited to a ball. Fog rolled over the hills, but the trees poked stubbornly out of


the mist. The sound of singing birds filled the air, as foxes and squirrels ran across the mountains. Best of all, however, was that she was spending the day with her husband. He sat across from her, gazing out into the wilds. Reyya longed to see his face, to touch his cheek, and tell him she loved him. But when he was about to turn to her, the vision faded and she awoke, in her bed. She wasn’t sure what time it was or how long it had been since she had slept, but when she could feel her spine trembling, her hands shaking... she realized something was... wrong. Reyya slowly turned her head and saw the visitor at her door, looking in, the candles in the hall casting his long, dark, formless shadow on the rug beneath her. He prowled closer, like a tiger, waiting to lunge onto unsuspecting prey. She opened her mouth, not sure if to scream or to ask him his intentions. But when he reached her, he merely placed his hand onto her face. The fingers were like a velvet curtain, smooth and soft, but almost like they weren't even there. She could remember the last time she'd been in Altan's great cities, with her husband, looking at the King's castle, sitting atop a hill. His face was fair, with a full brown beard, and eyes blue and green as the ocean in summer. He would smile and take her by the arm, off to see more that the city had to offer. And when the night came they would slumber, their arms wrapped around each other, a silent promise of safety, and trust. She felt the visitor’s scaled lips on the back of her neck, the clawed hands on her face, the warm breath like a dragon, venting smoke from its jaws. Finally... he asked: "Do you love me?" She answered, as her dreams bled into reality... "Yes." And then Reyya awoke, sloppily laid out on a desk in the library, a book under her crossed arms. Against the window, she could feel the rain, hear the thunder. Disoriented and delirious, she rose, looking around the library, blearily groping the book in her hands. When she rubbed the remains of her dream from her eyes, she realized it was a book about the God of Death written by a scholar from Ran-Ying, the land of the lizardfolk far to the east. But before she could read any further, the door was subject to a large knock. She sauntered down the long red carpet, her hands and feet shaking in anticipation, a cold sweat forming on her skin. But when she opened the door... outside, stood... her husband.


Lighthouse to Infinity By Benjamin Odell She woke up and lit the lamp, it was pitch black outside as the fire slowly grew in strength until becoming an intense beam that shone over the black sea into infinity. That’s when she saw it, the large outline of the grey rusted vessel coming out over the horizon. She stared for what could've been days until the ship passed behind the small confines of her window. The lamp began to dim. Time to sleep. She looked out at the black sea, the water like tar swelling from the wind, the darkness called to her. She wanted to take a swim, but the boats needed her, who else would light the lamp, it doesn’t matter anyway the door is locked she mumbled. She sat on her bed and reached towards her nightstand to grab a book, what book do we have today, she thought. “The Day That Changed Us” by Bradbrook Hills. I've read this one before. It's just another pretentious prompt through the world before the bombs dropped. She imagined what it must have been like to live life in the city. To have friends and go to parties together, sadness began to bellow from within. Why am I all alone? Then she looked out the window again and imagined what it must be like to live on the boats out on the sea, on an infinite journey through an inhospitable world, relying on the lighthouses to guide them forever more. Since we blocked the sun out, she said softly. She walked over and looked into the mirror and into her deep blue eyes. Just like the sea she thought, wondering if the ocean used to look like that. Why do I have eyes if all I do is light the lamp? She looked at her scar from long ago when she spilt oil on her face. Why must I feel pain if all I do is light the lamp? Tears began to swell up in her eyes and she sat down crying, bent over in fetal position cupping her eyes with her hands. Why must I cry if all I do is light the lamp? She laid down face first into her pillow as the lamp began to fade Time to sleep. It was night when she opened her eye again, she poured oil in the lamp and watched as it ignited, she stared into the luminous flame, her eye began to burn, she kept staring just to see what happened. A small ever expanding black circle began to form, slowly growing until it encompassed the entirety of her vision. I’m Blind she realized. She stumbled back to her bed and sat down, she sat there surrounded by her own thoughts until the heat from the lamp began to dwindle. Time to sleep. Black is all she saw when she woke up, but she felt something on her face she clawed at it. Bandages. She pulled them off, stood up and looked into the mirror. She looked into her new brown eyes. Why must I see if all I do is light the lamp? She looked out over the black tar and heard the sea call to hear to come swim in its depths. She ran to the door and grabbed the handle, locked. As it always was. She walked over to the window and looked out at the sea, anger filled her soul as she bashed her hand against the glass, it wouldn’t break she kept punching, and punching. She felt a sharp pain in her hand as blood began to pour down the glass. She was mesmerized by its crimson flow. Why must I bleed if I only light the lamp? The lamp began to fade, and the room began to cool. Time to sleep She looked at her hands, one covered in bandages. She unraveled it as saw a brand-new scar. Why keep fixing me if I only light the lamp? She watched the boats come and go and wondered what it must be like to live there, to live in constant need of the lighthouse in the distance. She saw a storm in the distance past all the boats. What if I don’t light the lamp? She sat there pondering, admiring the lightning and its pure untamed chaos. The lamp flickered out. Time to sleep. Thunder stuck and jolted her awake. She looked out over the tar as it was lit by the glow of the lightning, she turned to the oil. Take the oil and pour into the lamp. She thought back a long time ago, it was the only voice that she’d ever heard. Is it my own? She didn’t pick up the oil and pour. She stood


there like a statue and stared. It’s all she’d ever know, pour oil and stair, stair, STAIR! The boat came from the distance, it was head start for her. She wasn’t afraid, she was curious. Why must I light the lamp? It was like an earthquake when the boat crashed. She was certain she’d die. When her eyes opened there it was, her lamp and it was lit. There was a hole in the wall from when the ship had crashed. She climbed down. Freedom. She walked around on the lush island that lurked behind the lighthouse, found a nice cave. This was her new home now. She looked up at the lighthouse and admired the beauty of its intricate craftsmanship. The light flickered off. Time to sleep. That was the best sleep of her life. Curdled up on some leaves and mud. For the first time in her life she felt alive. She looked up at the lighthouse. It was repaired, without a single sign of the damage that she’d done to it. She stared furiously as the light flickered on. I’ve been replaced. She looked back over the black sea, it called to her once again, this time without thinking she quickly threw off her clothes and ran into the warm water. It’s felt nice, like a warm hug from a mother she never had. She kept swimming outwards until she could hardly see that land anymore. She looked back up at the lighthouse. I don’t exist just to light the lamp. I exist to swim. She swam with joy and vigor that she’d never felt before, staring at the lighthouse, and cursed it for all that pain and misery it's caused her. As she did this, she saw the woman manning the lighthouse looking out over the sea, she could’ve sworn she’d seen those blue eyes before. Just like the sea. How many times have I been replaced? Fear began to fill her soul, the water began to burn hotter, hotter than the lamp ever did. The tar felt thick and heavy as it began to pull her down. She reached up to the light that had always kept her safe and cried. Why’d I ever want to swim here? There is no safety, there is no life outside the lighthouse. I’d only ever had the lamp, that is why I’m here, that is why I can see, bleed, and cry. For the lamp. She took one final breath of air and the tar pulled her down. The lighthouse went dark. Time to sleep That’s why I’m all alone, to light the lamp She breathed in again and drowned.


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