Displaying items by tag: fiction
Lake Bodom is a mirror, the trees trapped on its surface like a Polaroid snapshot of a forest in repose. It’s so peaceful it’s almost impossible to believe we’re on the brink of war—or that, tonight, I’m here to meet the enemy.
Niko and Samu set up the tent, Niko stealing furtive glances at me he thinks I won’t notice. There’s a puckered v between his brows—a mark of worry, and mild disapproval he knows better than to voice out loud.
I should be more gracious, more grateful for every time he holds my hand or kisses my cheek when he knows others are watching, for every time he buys me flowers making other girls swoon. It’s a lie, a pretense, a deceitful dance we’ve perfected the steps to these past eighteen months, a careful choreography facilitating my true love life and more.
But this is different. This isn’t just meeting up with girls where my parents won’t see. This isn’t Niko planning date nights so I can spend the evening at a Youth for Peace meeting or making out with a girl everyone else thinks is just a friend.
This is dangerous. This time the girl I’m waiting for isn’t even entirely human.
I spoke before I could walk, with a voice as pure and clear as running water.
Is this truth? I do not know, but it was the story given to me as a child.
Each night my mother read aloud from the Book of Tales, praising when I mimicked her. “Katya, you will become a Teller of Tales,” she said, “one chosen by the Crown to perform across the land.” And I, obedient child, snuggled in my bed and tried to dream my mother’s dream.
My younger sister was given the noisy tasks on our farm. Jaylah was free to yell and shout as she chased crows from the corn and called home the milk cows. When I fretted, Mother gently chided me. “We must protect your voice,” she insisted, “like a treasure.” And so I spent my days helping in her pottery shed, where she turned lifeless lumps of clay into useful vessels.
Once a month a Teller of Tales visited the market town in the valley below us; once a month we walked miles along a rutted road to see her. This story, the one I now give to you, begins on that road in the spring of my seventeenth year.
How did I get here?--Sprawled out in pig crap. A second ago, two angry sows pushed me down. I quickly hop up before one of those beasts tramples over me.
I hate pigs.
I am like the prodigal son (daughter), finding myself a keeper of pigs. I jump out of the pigpen as pig poop drips from my clothes. This time, the foul stuff has embedded in my hair.
Out of my pocket, I pull the letter from my twin sister, the sister who is home enjoying my inheritance of the trampoline, and all my friends, while I slave on this forsaken pig farm.
Squeal. Another sow is on a rampage, attempting to mount a smaller pig, which sends the other pig bucking and racing around the pen. That is how I had gotten knocked over.
The first time I thought I was too poor was in the third grade, the first day back from Christmas Break. We were still in the old middle school, which smelled like dust and dead flowers. The walls were covered in pictures: maps of the United States, the new 1999 calendar, family photos with you in brand-new pressed shirts. A color of green that had only been popular in the 70’s leaked through the cracks between. Every time I looked at it, my stomach turned; something about those chinks in the armor forced my eyes back to the bright posters and beaming faces.
But that day, the green just reminded me of the Christmas tree that still sat in my living room. I was so excited to show off all of the gifts that Santa had left under it: a tiny stuffed horse, a soft blue sweater, and three extra-large packs of peanut M&Ms. I wore the sweater now, and my mom braided my fire-red hair into two plaits, just like Anne of Green Gables. I’d never felt better.
Jade Stephan is from Mulhouse, France, and attends the Lycée Schweitzer High School. She is her class delegate, and involved in environmental issues.
Her school held a flash fiction contest and Jade was the winner. The theme was societal issues. Jade chose to write about student depression to raise awareness for mental health worldwide. Since Covid-19, student depression has increased. Jade has dedicated this story to them. With only minor edits, this is Jade’s story exactly as she wrote it.
1-800-273-8255 - Suicide Prevention Lifeline – US
1-833-456-4566 – Crisis Services Canada - CA
Victoria is not sleeping anymore.
She goes to bed when asked; the girl is wise.
"She has always been an easy child," says her mother.
As soon as the door to her room closes, she turns on her phone and, hidden under the sheets, she waits for the message that will change her life, or a sign from her friends. She plays games she knows are stupid. She’s smart, but she’s not sleepy. She’s never sleepy. And when she finally sinks into a black hole, nasty nightmares wake her up.
Victoria doesn’t eat anymore.
“Dude, please, you gotta take me with you this time.”
Kalek perched on a low branch of a Platinum Oak, his Elven ears poking through a massive mound of ragged curls. I cringed at the way his onyx eyes gleamed. He’d convince me, I was sure, but I wouldn’t go down without a fight.
“No way,” I said, “I’m going camping. Alone. That means without you, so forget it.”
He jumped down from the tree, lithe as a panther, and stood in front of me. “C’mon. I’ve never been off the island. Just this once.”
“Your father will be furious.”
“I know, dude, all the more reason.”
I should have known he’d say that. He’d never admitted it, not outright anyway, but that was pretty much the reason he’d befriended me. There wasn’t a person on the island his old man hated more than me. Why he’d stayed friends with me, I’ll never know. Tattooed Elven rockers and homebody farm boys generally have little in common, but somehow we’d become brothers. My camping trips were the only times I insisted he stay away.
I couldn't wait to get my Social Monitor and start rating people. Was this weekend ever going to end? Because our Dear Azure Leader had brought down the Age of Rating to sixteen, I intended to be among the first citizens to engage in the supreme civic duty.
But first, I had to pass the Trials.
Mother didn't share my enthusiasm; she had just received her updated Rating, and a frown ruined her beautiful face. She checked her hand mirror.
“What’s wrong, Mother?”
“Some bastard downrated me! I'm no longer mid-Green. Can you believe it? I was above average just last Sunday! People are mean, Anglus."
I tried to cheer her up. “Don’t you worry! When I get my Social Monitor, I’ll uprate you, I promise.”
She half-smiled. "Oh, my innocent Anglus. Just like your father. You don't waste your credits on family members, dummy! Better pay attention in school this week; you must get your Monitor." She wiggled her left wrist. I had seen it ample times before, but it still impressed me; the oversized wristwatch, its round screen glowed green--Mother's current Rating--with a number four blinking in the center: her scale within the Green Rating. At the top, there was a bright number zero that showed her remaining credits. They'd reset to five at midnight.
Holland Hills High seniors line the hall outside the gymnatorium, shrouded like a bunch of priests and priestesses in their red polyester gowns, waiting for their names to be called. Everybody wants to escape this conformist teen nightmare. Probably the only thing I have in common with my classmates, other than these stifling robes that smell like starch and great expectations.
Our families are all out in the bleachers rooting for us. All except for my dad, at least so far. On the way in I checked every dark corner, the shadows between the floodlights. The places where Death might stand to watch his daughter walk across the stage. But those places were all empty. He said he would try to make it. He’s got about fifteen more minutes, which I intend to spend staring into space. Awkwardly, no doubt.
“I’ll be so glad to get out of here for good,” Brian Martin says, stretching his arms upward to reveal wet circles under his armpits. He’s not talking to me. Nobody here does, if they can avoid it.
They don’t know what I am, not exactly, but deep down they know something is off. They never fell for the trappings my high-end mom insisted would help me fit in: my healthy tan, my long, black hair, my lash extensions, my limited-edition Louis Vuitton. They also didn’t bother to see the girl underneath, the gamer who laughs a little too loudly and still loves pastel locker decorations. All they feel when they see me is their mortality humming in their bones, so they down a glass of denial and choose to ignore me. Given my paternity, I guess I can’t blame them.
The sun radiated molten fire as Michael & I walked home from school. Around us, San Francisco suburbia hummed with activity as people bustled from place to place; walking dogs, picking up kids, returning from work, and so on. I stopped to wipe some sweat from my eyes as the concrete sidewalk bubbled beneath the heat. Michael kicked absentmindedly at the grass, watching the cars blur by; with his screen-addict eyes, overweight physique, and unshaven chin– he did not cut a very imposing figure.
“Are you going to Sam’s thing tonight?” asked Michael, with the deep squeak of adolescence.
“Dunno,” I said. “Did you understand what he was going on about earlier? Automated programming, neural networks, pattern recognition… way over my head.”
I readjusted my backpack, and we continued walking. I wished—as I always did—that I’d remembered to pack a water-bottle and cursed my past self for subjecting me to this torture, as the temperature eased towards the hundreds. My feet rubbed unpleasantly against the sides of my sneakers.
“He was talking,” said Michael, “about a process of automation that would allow an AI to generate certain patterns of text.”
Dad must be in a great mood tonight.
I can tell because his signature stench of rancid whiskey breath isn't flowing down the hallway as strong as it usually does most evenings. Instead, I can hear the sounds of some old, 60s war flick blaring from the living room where I can assume he's slumped in his recliner, sucking down what I hope is only bottle number one or two and nothing more. Even then, that's fine, as long as he's found a better way to spend his time than hurling inebriated verbal attacks at me until I feel so torn my only instinct is to take the razor blades under my pillow and carve in more scars for what feels like the umpteenth time this month. I've lost count since yesterday, when he told me I was an accident best left buried way beyond underground where even the worms can't crawl on me.