PTPWC: The Meaning of Fear

  I wrote this story for Samantha‘s writing contest (which has ended) and submitted it via the comment form. But I wanted to share it with my readers, to, so here it is — The Meaning of Fear.

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      Fear is a powerful thing. It can drive us, or make us alert. Or it can wrap its icy fingers around our heart and turn us to stone.

It can beat it our brains and chant Run, run, run. Or it can curl around our minds like a snake and hiss, Don’t move, don’t move, don’t move.

Either way, there is always something we fear.

      * * *

      I was up when the sun peeked above the mountains that morning, the sky shot through with magenta. According to the weather app on my phone, today was supposed to be glorious. I wanted to spend the entire day outside, starting with a pleasant walk at sunrise.

Running my fingers through my short brown hair, I searched my room for my favorite hoodie. It was gray, lined with fleece, and had a big pocket to stuff my hands into. I found it under a pile of dirty jeans and tugged it over my head.

I hurried into the kitchen, where I grabbed a notepad and pen. I scribbled a quick note to my mom: Going for a walk. Be back soon. Love you, Reese. I stuck it to the coffee pot, where Mom would be sure to see it. With a banana in hand, I slipped silently out the back door.

The cold air hit my face with a rush. I shivered in delight as marched through the back yard. My face was turning pink and numb by the time I reached the edge of the woods.

Our property was bordered by a wild, overgrown forest. Wolves howled from it at night, owls hooted from their branches, and some said it was haunted. And I absolutely loved it. The soft bed of pine needles beneath my feet, the twittering birds flitting through the trees, the burbling brook; all these things and more were reasons to love the forest.

I strolled through the woods, breathing in the smell of the pine trees and honeysuckle. This place made me feel content. And there were always new wonders to marvel at each time I visited it: bright blue eggs in a robin’s nest; tiny red tea berries dotting the ground; a doe and her fawn bounding through the underbrush.

As I meandered down the well-worn path, which I’d walked upon so many times, I heard a low growl off to my left. My feet rooted themselves to the ground. I hardly dared to breathe.

No snarling, starving beast jumped out of the surrounding bushes. I finally allowed myself to take a breath. It was probably nothing. A stray dog or something.

Nevertheless, I was curious. I wanted to investigate. Some part of me didn’t believe the stray dog idea. Like an idiot, I pushed aside some clingy briars and ventured off the familiar path.

After several minutes of walking, I hadn’t found anything. No paw prints, no broken sticks, no fresh animal droppings. I was just about ready to find my way back to the path when I stumbled into a clearing.

Tiny periwinkle-blue flowers covered the clearing. Six tall, leafless tree inhabited the space. Two in a straight line on the left; three, also lined up, on the right; and one in the middle.

Something was off about this serene clearing. Maybe it was the fact that the grass seemed duller, or that the birds had ceased their singing, or that a shadow had concealed the still-rising sun.

My chest tightened. Something was definitely wrong. I could feel it in my gut.

I was desperate to leave, to run away as quickly as I could. But, against my will, my legs drew me forward, toward the six trees.

I came to a halt in front of the first tree on the left. Something was scratched into the bark. I ran my fingers over the groove. It appeared to have been made using a knife, or maybe a claw. It formed a letter: B.

I peeked at the tree directly behind the one with B carved on it. Scraped into the trunk of the second one was the letter E.

            My eyes flicked over the four remaining tree. Letters were cut into them, too. B . . . E . . . W . . . A . . . R . . . E . . .

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            “BEWARE,” I whispered to myself, stunned and terrified.

Suddenly, a bloodcurdling, guttural scream erupted form the forest. A hulking, shadowy object charged through the bushes surrounding the clearing.

I turned on my heel and ran, my heart trying to bust out of my chest. Blindly, I tripped over roots and my own feet as I made a mad dash for the path. Once I’d found it, I sprinted back toward my house, faster than I’d ever run before. I lept onto the porch and slammed through the door, locking it behind me.

I tore into my mom’s bedroom. She was still sleeping, but she woke up when I tumbled onto her bed. Frowning in a concerned way, she grabbed my shaking hands and asked, “Reese, baby, what is it? What’s wrong?”

Normally, I would object to be called “baby.” I was nearly sixteen, after all. But this was a special case. I leaned into my mother’s hug without a word.

“Reese?” Mom’s voice was quivering. “What’s wrong?” she repeated.

I buried my head into her shoulder, starting to cry. I didn’t know how to tell her about what I’d seen. In fact, I didn’t even know what I’d seen. All I knew was that I was terrified of it.

“Reese –” Mom sighed. “Did something scare you?” When I still didn’t reply, she gave up on talking and began to stroke my hair comfortingly.

We all fear something. I fear that creature in the woods. But I have choice, because F-E-A-R means two things.

Forget Everything and Run or Face Everything and Rise.

 Loren

AAWC + PTPWC: To Smile Again

I spend most of my time thinking about the accident. Maybe if I had been a little quicker. If I had paid more attention. Maybe then, it wouldn’t have happened.

But I was too slow. I was groggy. And it did happen.

No matter what I do, nothing will change the fact that my twin sister is dead.

We were ice skating on the lake in the woods behind our house. My sister, Amber, was the one who always wanted to go outside and do things. That’s why she was ready to go skating at eight on a Saturday morning. I, on the other hand, was content to sit inside all day and read to myself. That’s why I was only half awake when we reached the lake.

Amber removed the guards from the blades of her perfect white ice skates. She twirled in a circle on the ice before zooming gracefully around the lake. “Come on, Ash!” she sang.

My name is Ashlynn, but I prefer to be called Ash. It fits better.

I rubbed the gunk from my eyes, took off the guards, and stumbled towards the ice. I wasn’t nearly as good at skating as Amber was, but I still enjoyed it. I wobbled forward, and my ankles bent outward. The ice rushed up to meet me, colliding with my tender cheek. The freshly bruised skin ached, but I pushed myself to my feet and skated forward hesitantly.

Amber breezed past me from behind. “Slowpoke,” she teased, sticking her tongue out playfully.

And that’s when everything went wrong.

She glided toward the middle of the lake. It must not have been frozen the whole way through, because the ice began to break beneath her. Hairline cracks spread out like a web beneath her feet.

“Amber –” I shouted, trying to warn her.

Her startled brown eyes met mine a split second before she fell through the ice.

Amber!” I screamed, forcing my heavy, uncoordinated feet to shuffle toward the hole. I could see my sister’s pale hand gripping the jagged ice. After falling over several times, I reached the middle of the lake.

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Her hand was gone.

“No!” I shrieked. This couldn’t be happening. I ripped off my skates and down jacket and dove into the freezing water. The water was a murky blue, hard to see in. But I needed to find Amber. I plunged deeper into the lake, searching for a telltale wisp of dark brown hair, or a flailing limb. Nothing.

By now, my lungs were demanding air. I spotted the hole several yards above me and kicked toward it. When I surfaced, the crisp morning air hit my face like a slap. I hauled myself onto the ice and pushed my dripping hair out of my face. My soaking clothes stuck to me like an extra layer of skin.

“Amber!” I cried, peering into the water. The cruel, unfeeling water, which had swallowed my sister. “Amber?”

I sat by the hole in the ice for who knows how long. In denial, I kept telling myself, She’s coming back. She’ll surface any second. And she’ll stick her tongue out and say, “Scared ya.” Then I’ll punch her, because she did scare me.

She didn’t surface, of course. Because she had drowned.

Feeling numb — inside and outside — I staggered away from the pond. I left my drenched skates and coat by the hole. I trekked home all by myself, my emotions a mess, churning around inside me.

I dragged myself into our snug, cozy house, knowing that it would never feel like home without Amber. Mom and Dad were sitting at the kitchen table, obliviously sipping their morning coffee. If they noticed that I was soaked, or that I was missing my shoes and jacket, they didn’t say anything.

“Honey, where’s Amber?” Mom asked.

“Coming,” I muttered, unable to say that she was dead, that she was never coming home. I hurried up the stairs to the bedroom that I shared — had shared — with my sister.

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My half was lined with bookshelves, and scattered across the floor was a globe and a model of ship and a giant pillow shaped like a wolf. Styrofoam balls decorated like planets hung from the ceiling, which I’d painted to resemble a galaxy. Periwinkle and magenta and deep purple and midnight blue swirled across the ceiling.

I locked the door behind me. Red hot anger coursed through my veins. I wanted to flip a table or rip the head off my stuffed wolf. Anything was better than crying and feeling sorry for myself.

It took Mom and Dad four minutes to figure out that something was wrong. I could hear fabric rustling downstairs as they put on jackets. Then the front door swung open and their footsteps were muffled by the fresh snow. Soon, they would realize that one of their daughters was dead.

About ten minutes later, the front door opened again. The sound of my parents’ devastated sobs  tore at my aching heart. I would have done anything to change the past.

My pointless anger changed to helplessness. I gazed at my galaxy ceiling and pleaded silently, desperately, God, if you’re listening, please do something! I know you can work miracles. If you love me, bring her back to life. Please! I’ll never do anything bad again. I’ll be nice to everyone and work hard in school, I promise. Just please . . . please . . .

I knew, in my heart, that my bargaining would do nothing. A sinner like myself had no reason to try to barter with God himself.

There was a knock on my door. My mom’s voice, choked with sobs, said, “Ash, honey, p-please come out here.”

Slowly, I unlocked the door and stepped into the hallway. My parents’ eyes were red, and their cheeks were stained with tears. Wordlessly, they put their arms around me. Then they started to cry uncontrollably.

I cried with them.

The world — so cruel and unforgiving — kept moving on, despite the fact that my beautiful, vivacious sister was dead. It seemed like everything should be turned black and white until thing were OK again. But it would keep spinning in full color.

My parents released me after several minutes. I went straight back to my room.

I slept in Amber’s bed that night. Everything smelled like her, which somewhat eased my pain. Not that much, though, because I still cried myself to sleep.

My parents let me skip school for a week and a half. It was thoughtful of them. I barely left my room the entire time. And whenever my mother saw me, she would burst into tears. It was because Amber and I were identical twins. When my mom saw me, she saw Amber, too.

One of my friends, Jenna, got me a cat as a Christmas gift. She’d read that pets were supposed to lower depression or something like that.

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It was incredibly fluffy. All black, except for a white bib. It had shockingly intelligent emerald eyes.

“I want to see you smile again,” Jenna told me when she gave me the cat. “I miss you, Ash.”

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When I wasn’t thinking about Amber, I was thinking about traveling. I wanted to go somewhere where the people didn’t feel bad for me and frown sympathetically whenever they saw me. Every little thing in my home, my town, my school — they sparked memories of Amber. I wanted to go somewhere where Amber wasn’t haunting me.

I sat on the floor and spun my globe idly.

I needed to leave this place.

Jenna had to wait four months until she saw me smile again. Oh, yes, Amber’s loss still hurt. I doubted that it would ever stop, because these things never really do. The hurt just . . . changed. Instead of the denial and the anger and the depression that I felt every time I thought of Amber, I felt more of a fond longing. Memories of her made me smile sadly as I wished that we could have had more time.

But it was a smile nonetheless.

Loren

AAWC + PTPWC — To Restore a Faded Soul

   I squished my AAWC and PTPWC stories together. Misty, I included the word fade and I mentioned an eagle. Samantha, I used both prompts and mentioned both periwinkle and magenta.

To Restore a Faded Soul

     I dreamt of you last night. I had to sleep with all the lights on.

      Because you terrify me.

      What you are capable of — I didn’t know that anyone could wield so much power. Certainly no one could and remain kind. The power corrupted you, dear. You went too far, and the power consumed you until I hardly recognized you. You — my own sister. The power made you forget yourself. It made you forget me.

      So I tried to forget you.

      I decided to leave the family, lest I become like you.

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      I remember leaving you there on the wooden bridge. The one that let you see the whole earth: the soaring trees, tinted orange in the light; the proud, sloping mountains; and the river far below, glowing the color of a robin’s egg. I loved that view.

      You were angry that day. So enraged that it scared me. I knew you would not take my news well.

      I was right. When I told you that I was leaving the family, you screamed at me. Maybe it was my imagination, but I saw a faint red aura flare up around you. More magenta than red, really. Like there was some smidgen of kindness left in you, and it kept the aura from being pure, undiluted evil.

      I sprinted away, pulling my feet high so I wouldn’t trip on one of the wooden boards. If I did, and if I fell over the simple platform of the bridge, it would be a very long way down.

      You didn’t stop me, and I reached the nearest town. It was a desolate wasteland. The once-graceful buildings had crumbled to dust. The overgrown stalks of grass wilted. I was the only breathing thing in that place. And it was all because of you. Bitterly, I thought to myself, Are you proud of your handiwork, sister?

      I traveled on to the next town. That one, thankfully, was inhabited. In this place, people scurried across the streets like rats, their heads bowed, making no eye contact. Stores were left unguarded, and many starving people darted into abandoned grocery stores and stole food. They were doing their best to stay alive.

      Now that I had escaped your heavy presence, I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d always spent my days hiding from your wrath. But now . . .? I trudged down the town’s main road, looking for somewhere safe to rest.

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      That was when I saw the girl. She was sitting cross legged in the grass with a thin gray cat in her lap. The girl’s pure black hair was tied into a loose braid. Her shocking periwinkle eyes stood out from her porcelain skin. She looked less threatening than some of the other shady characters I’d seen roaming the streets, so I crossed the road and sat down next to her.

      “H-hi,” I started haltingly. “I’m Owen.”

      Startled, the scrawny cat yowled and scrambled away. The intriguing girl stared after it in dismay before turning her ethereal eyes settled on me. “I’m Trinity. You’re new here, aren’t you?”

      I swallowed hard. “Yeah.” My fingers dug into the dirt, and I snapped the stem of a flower. It was delicate violet. Shyly, I handed it to her.

      Trinity smiled softly and tucked the purple flower into her braid.

      That was the day I met my best friend. I stayed in that town for years, undiscovered by you. Trinity stayed, too. Eventually, when we were much older, we got married. I liked to think that you would have approved of her.

      Trinity and I had been married happily for years when you sent the postcard. It was waiting there on the porch, not in the mailbox where all other correspondence went. Just like you, I thought when I saw your name signed at the bottom, to fight against normal things.

      On the front of the postcard was the view from our bridge. Even though I hadn’t seen it in years, every detail was burned into my mind.

On a postcard.:

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      I flipped over the postcard. Written in black pen, in your familiar handwriting, was one sentence: Please don’t forget me and all the things we did.

      My eyes misted over. I’d never truly forgotten you, sister, even though I’d tried. You’d simply . . . faded. The peaceful you that hugged me daily and sang to wounded animals in the forest — that faded.

      But faded things can be restored. A smudged drawing can be brought back to its former glory by running a pencil over the already existing lines.

      And as I gazed at the postcard, I thought that maybe I could restore you.

      “Owen?” Trinity called, stepping out onto the porch. She was in her late twenties. She spotted your postcard and narrowed her eyes. “What’s that?”

      “Nothing,” I murmured, folding the paper quickly. “I just need to go on a quick trip. It’s important.” I kissed my wife on the cheek as I rushed into the house, eager to pack a bag and get going. Because I was going to find you. My older sister.

      You do give me nightmares. But I still love you. I believe that there might still be some good in you after all.

      I hitched a ride on a bus and got off at that first desolate town I found after I left you. Things were finally starting to grow there again. I didn’t linger, because the lonely place brought back all the fear and heartache I experienced after I ran away.

      Eventually, I reached our bridge. I choked up when I saw that the wooden slats were decaying. I had grown up here, and to see it falling apart . . . With carefully placed steps, I made it safely to the other side. I descended the cracked stone steps that led down to the robin’s egg blue river.

      “Thea?” I called. “Thea, it’s me. I’m here . . .” I wandered along the riverbank, heading for our old home. The cold, damp mist rolling off the water cooled the sweat on my forehead. It transported me back in time, to the time before the power ruined you.

      I was jolted from my bittersweet memories when I tripped over a thick mossy root and tumbled into the river. The cold water was a shock against my skin. Spluttering, I scrambled back onto the bank and hugged myself, shivering.

      “Are you alright?” asked a a stern feminine voice.

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      I glanced around for the owner of the voice. A tall woman, dressed in a dark green cloak, stood upstream. The hem of her cloak brushed the ground, and a hood concealed her face. All you could see of her was a long, pale hand holding aloft a lantern, and red hair spilling out from under the hood.

      “Yes, thank you,” I said, approaching her cautiously. “Who are you?”

      She brought the lantern closer to her face. Light danced across her soft features. “I am Cyra, protector of forest.”

      I had never seen her before in my life, even though I’d roamed the woods until I was thirteen. She must have become “protector of the forest” after I left.

      I cleared my throat. “I’m Owen. Please let me pass.” Cyra was blocking a flight of limestone stairs that led to our old home.

      “Owen –” Cyra repeated in an awed voice. “Of course.” She sidestepped so that she was no longer in front of the stairs. “May I ask what business you have in the forest?”

      I sighed heavily as I began to climb the stairs. Cyra trailed after me. “I’m visiting my sister, Thea,” I confessed. “Do you know where I can find her? I’m going to check our house, but if she’s not there –“

      “Oh,” she interrupted sorrowfully, coming to a halt. “Oh. Owen, please come with me. I can bring you to your sister.”

      The darkness in her voice made my heart twist with dread.

      Cyra swept past me and ascended the stairs silently. My anxiety about seeing you grew with every step.

      As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. Cyra led me past our old home. In the middle of a clearing beyond our home was a giant white crystal, probably quartz. Dark blue words were engraved in the crystal. Cyra slipped off her hood and bowed her head respectfully at the stone.

      “Where is she?” I breathed, even though I already knew.

      The words on the quartz were as follows:

      Here lies Thea Palar

Twenty-nine years old

      An elaborate, swirling eagle was scraped into the quartz below those words. There was a third line, but my eyes were almost too blurred with tears to make it out.

Never leave family.

      I crumpled onto the ground and pressed my forehead against the smooth crystal.

      I had lost you.

      “Your sister missed you dearly,” Cyra said softly after a minute or two. “I arrived to protect this forest a week after you left, according to Thea. She hardly left that bridge. Said she was waiting for you to come home. She hardly spoke, Owen, and I was deeply concerned for her. The winter months would come, and she would sit on the bridge through the snow and frost. She got horribly sick the Christmas after you left. She never made a full recovery.

      “I went to check on Thea yesterday morning, but she was gone. Turns out, she went to give you a note. When she returned today at dawn, she told me that much. But she never said what she wrote.”

      I reached into my jacket pocket and produced the postcard. I unfolded it and reread your words. To Cyra, I read aloud, “‘Please don’t forget me and all the things we did.'”

      Cyra continued, “I suppose the strain of traveling was too much for Thea. She . . . well . . . she passed away shortly after her return.” She faced the beautiful crystal gravestone. “I am sorry. She was a good friend to me.” Cyra left quietly.

      I leaned back and read the stone’s inscription once more.

      With Cyra gone, I allowed myself to cry for you. I was only with you for a few years. I wished desperately that I could reach back through the years and tell my younger self not to leave you. I was ashamed that I had let you fade. I would have given anything to have just a minute more in your presence.

      Never leave family.

Loren

PTPWC: The Gray Warrior

Hey! I’m here with another short story. This one is for Samantha’s PTPWC. I’m on Team Magenta. Samantha, I used my team’s color to describe a sunrise, so I get a few extra points, right?

Anyway . . . my story. :)

The Gray Warrior

The world is at war. Light against dark. Good against evil. Right against wrong.

The sides can be distinguished by their garb. The light side — the “good” side — is adorned in white. Proud and determined, the warriors’ filmy clothes float around them in the breeze. The dark side, the vile, the enemies — they are dressed in sturdy metal armor, the color of the night.

“Attack!” orders the commander of the dark side, thrusting his glinting sword into the air.

“Attack!” echoes the light side’s leader. She raises her twisted staff.

Before the armies begin their charge, a new challenger appears on the battlefield. He is dressed in gray. A hood shields his face, and his boots make no sound as he approaches the armies. They have paused, studying this gray-clad fellow. They will make no move until they know which side he is on.

The man reaches out his gloved hand. He utters one word: “Peace.”

Stone creeps up the legs of the soldiers on both sides, rooting them to the ground. It crawls up their legs, and the more they wriggle and cry, the faster the stone encases them. Within moments, the battlefield is silent. Warriors, frozen in stone, show no sign of life. They look like statues, and that is how they will remain.

The sun peeks over a mountain range, peering down on the battlefield. A magenta glow is cast over the newly created statues.

“I am sorry,” the mysterious gray-clad man whispers to the statues. “But this war would have consumed you.” He salutes the leader of each side. Soundlessly, he turns and walks away into the fog.

He is the Gray Warrior, keeping peace in the silent world. He is neither light nor dark; neither good nor evil. He is simply the Gray Warrior, who believes that things are not so black and white.

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Anyway, as I’m sure most of you know (I’ve been talking about it for awhile, after all), my first soccer game of the season was today! My team won, 7 – 1 (or 2, not sure which. :P ). While I didn’t score a goal this time (I almost scored one), I did a couple of assists.

Yeah. Bye.

Loren