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#VOX5Year: Top 5 Writer’s Quill Submissions

Anna Hermes, Writer's Quill Editor

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In celebration of the 5th year anniversary of VOX, the VOX journalists and editors have picked their five favorite Writer’s Quill story submissions to share with you! They have selected Lost by Maria Sammons, The Faerie Child by Frances Bell,  Red Rubber Ball by Katherine Milliken,  The Birthday Ducks by Katherine Milliken, and Caged by Lindsay Newman.

Enjoy!

Don’t forget to tag us @modgvoxnews on Instagram or Facebook and tell us YOUR favorite stories and prompts from the Quill. 


LOST

by Maria Sammons

11th Grade

 

Alfred Stanford was exceptionally good at getting himself lost.

Alf look at his first sentence and laughed. It was a good start to his paper. Mrs. Felix, his old English teacher, had always told him that to start a story, he should write a statement at the top of the paper and then either prove it or disprove it. Alf intended to prove this statement.

The first time he remembered getting himself lost was when he was six years old. At a grocery store, with his mother, just like always. And he wandered off. She was busy with his little brother and he walked away without her noticing. They found him crying in the kitchen supplies aisle. (On a side note, he found that kitchen towels were good at drying tears.)

When he was nine years old, Alf was sent to a summer camp where everyone was bigger and more talented than him. He was lost from the moment he saw them all. So he walked away, deep into the woods, and found an old fallen tree to sit on. He wished he had a kitchen towel with him. The camp staff members, of course, were not impressed. They told his mother, and she asked him about it when he came home.

“Why would you wander off like that?”

“I was lost,” he replied.

But his mother did not understand the answer. She did not know that he was lost before he ever entered the woods.

One summer, when Alf was twelve years old, his family went to a fairground. It was supposed to be a fun time, but his parents would not stop arguing. When his father raised his voice, Alf walked away.

They didn’t notice.

He took as many turns as he could and eventually stood behind a food cart with no idea where he was. It took his parents 27 minutes to find him. They were still angry, and now they were angry with him, too.

When he was fourteen, Alf entered the Academy. As soon as he arrived, he thought of that summer camp. The school was huge, and everyone there was bigger and more talented than him. Alf was already lost.

In his first couple weeks there, Alf spent a lot of time in dark closets and empty rooms, sometimes clutching towels. Occasionally people would find him there and ask what he was doing.

“I’m lost,” Alf would always tell them.

And then they would give him directions or show him a map, but they never helped the fact that Alf was lost.

But by the time Alf was fifteen things were different for him. He had two best friends, Melanie and Elijah. They had found him in an empty classroom in some forgotten corner of the school grounds once, and instead of simply giving him directions they stayed and talked. They walked back with him. They became Alf’s favorite people, always finding him and inviting him to sit and talk with them. The three of them did everything together.

Until they didn’t.

Until Melanie and Elijah started doing everything together – but just the two of them. Suddenly Alf’s friends only wanted to talk about the other friend. They would still sometimes try to include him, but they didn’t understand why he was silent as they talked and laughed and held hands.

It was time to lose himself again.

Alf wandered around the academy, but suddenly the huge school was too small for him. So he walked away, towards the stores on the outskirts of the dusty town. He walked until he found streets he’d never been on before. He wasn’t sure he knew the way back.

It was five hours and twelve minutes before someone found him. Melanie. Alf wasn’t sure if she had been looking for him or just going into town, but when she saw him in a store she hurried over and grabbed his arm.

“What are you doing here? Where have you been?! Alf – we were worried about you!” Melanie glared at him and waited for an answer.

Alf tugged at his shirt collar. “I’m sorry, Mel,” he said, but he didn’t feel sorry at all. “I’m…lost.”

She crossed her arms. “No, you’re not. You’re moping.”

“Some would call it coping.”

“Coping? From what?!”

“From being lost all the time.”

Melanie threw up her hands in frustration. “You know what, Stanford, I don’t care. I can’t keep chasing you, and neither can Elijah. Keep running, if that’s what you want, and maybe you’ll find yourself someday. I hope you do.”

***

Now Alf was eighteen, and he was lost.

He had done it again, and this time even he was impressed with how lost he had gotten himself. He was in a different country now, a different continent. When he left the Academy he had set out for Europe, a new place where nothing was familiar and it was easy to get lost in the busy streets. Here in this new place Alf often found himself wondering if this was his end or his beginning.

He stared down at his paper and knit his brow. Mrs. Felix had also taught him that he always needed to tell why. Why did Hamlet kill his uncle? Why did Roland wait to blow his horn? Why did Frodo persevere?

Why was Alfred Stanford always getting himself lost?

Look at the intent, look at the outcome, find the pattern, find the motive. The intent was getting lost, and the outcome was inevitably being found. But why would he want that?

Alf picked up his pen and then out it back down. No, he would not write that he wandered off for the sole purpose of being brought back. He would not write that he got himself lost because it was the only way he could get people to notice him. That it was to make sure anyone cared enough to look for him. Alf wouldn’t write that, because he didn’t want it to be true. He didn’t want his life to be about seeking validation from other people. Because what was it Mel had said? Not that she hoped someone would find him someday – she said she hoped he would find himself. So what had he been doing all his life? Losing himself in the hopes that someone else would find him and find meaning in his life?

No, the truth had to be simply that Alfred Stanford was exceptionally good at getting himself lost.

Alf studied that sentence for a while, then frowned and shook his head. He quickly turned the paper over and wrote another sentence, a message only for his eyes:

You will be found.

Maybe all this time he had been running for nothing. Maybe what he was really hoping to find was within him, not in the forests and empty rooms and new countries.

He would be found.

He would find himself.

~ The End ~



The Faerie Child

by Frances Bell

11th grade

The boy was always the quiet, queer, sort.

He played in the trickling brook, his brothers played near home. He climbed in wild trees apart, while children stayed near house and yard; he braved the fields before his house and strayed a long ways out.

Inside was his mother, large and comforting, a floury apron around her waist, a cross about her neck. And she was unaware at first, her hands being busy at food – but when she saw him walk away, like someone in a dream, her face contorted as in fright she screamed against the dreadful sight – the faeries, those creatures of unearthly delight, had stolen her child away.

His sisters did not see him, his brothers could not fight, when the silver faerie swept him out into the night.

He toddled forward towards the faeries without a backwards glance. He looked at their shining faces and to their willowy hands.

“Don’t look back, don’t think twice,” they said softly, “Come fly away with us! There’s much joy to be had, leave your fate and human lands, leave the sorrowing world behind.”And silver hand grasped startled fingers; sweeping him out to the blue.

Don’t look back, don’t look back… He struggled with his will to stay. He took a step. Then, another.

“Do not think of your mother–”

But he whirled around, going against everything – taking one last look – his mother’s face was grey, aghast, and his brothers’ eyes were big as a cat’s; his sister’s eyes were opened wide.

And that was his biggest mistake, the faeries thought. For the look planted a seed in his heart, one that would not go away.

And so the human child made a home among the fay, and stranger things would happen before his feet would wend again towards Home.

***

“Come dance with us,” the faeries whispered, “Keep pace and give praise to Him.” And so he did. He danced with the faeries, kept pace and praised without pause, but somehow something was missing. “You looked back,” said the faeries, “And that has made you yearn for more.” But he sang with them, and tried not to think of home.

The boy waxed strong and tall, his hair grew long and wilder than the heath. But still something was missing, no matter how hard he tried, and he grew tired of the midnight music and dancing, though it was beautiful. So one day he shouldered his satchel and panpipes, and pointed bare feet away, and did not look back lest the nighttime mushrooms and silver faeries also grow unwanted on his heart.

He came across the fish as in the streams they played, and asked if he might join them.

“Yes,” said the fishes, “Come swim in the water, frisk in the streams, and play among the reeds.” So he swam with them, frisked in the streams, and played among the reeds with the fish to his heart’s content. But his heart was not content.

“You looked back!” remarked the fish, “So you cannot be happy here. It does not please Him.”

And the boy left fins and scales, shook the water from his hair, and left the streams and rivers without looking back.

The birds found him, the lonely boy, as he walked the forest paths, and took him in. “Fly with us,” they cried, “Forget the ground, live in our woven nests and sing praise to Him!” But the boy could never manage to fly very well, and the nests were small and poky. He built his own and lived in a tree, but his heart still did not rest with the birds.

“Ah, foolish one, you do not belong there,” said a rabbit from the forest floor.

“He looked back at home, and cannot be content with us,” observed the birds. So the boy shook the feathers and twigs from his hair and moss from his panpipes and jumped to the ground. He did not look back.

“Burrow with me,” said the rabbit, “Find joy in the tunnels below the ground and the little clovers.” And so he ate clovers with the rabbit and burrowed as best he could. But the boy soon found that he was missing home, and his heart was uneasy even with his new friend.

The rabbit was a wise old creature, and saw why the boy could not be satisfied in the wilderness.

“Go home,” he advised, “You shall find what you must do.”

***

The lost boy traveled a long way; he passed under the trees and beyond the streams and stepped among the mushrooms of the faerie circles.

But he could not find home.

He wandered long ways and long days, and many a traveler heard the eerie music of his pipes on hot summer nights. His muscles became harder still as he lived for years in the craggy wild. And he was lost.

But when the boy finally reached his old house he found that it was not home. The door hung awry from its hinges and the roof had caved in. The garden was overgrown with weeds and there was no one in sight.

He tamed the fields, he plowed the earth and planted crops. He repaired the roof, thatching it as the birds thatched their nests. He made his dwelling in his old home and lived there for a long time.

And on many nights he would lie on the heath, stare up at the silver moon, and wonder why his heart was empty and his life joyless. And he cried bitterly, though he did not fully know why.

The trees groaned, stirred in their sleep, and indigo clouds sailed in, borne by the breath of western wind.

And suddenly He was there. The young man turned and fell to the ground before Him, and he knew that he had found what he was searching for. The One Whom the fairies praised – the One for Whom the fish swam – and the One of Whom the birds sang.

“Why does it hurt, Master? I praised You, I danced and swam and burrowed for You. I have even left the delight of the wild and returned to till the ground as the men do, and yet I cannot find

peace.”

“It is not for men to praise Me merely in the way of nature and her creatures. Your fate is above theirs. Though the world is full of sadness, it is your part to spread My joy.”

“How, Master?”

“Follow Me.”

And he followed Him to the edge of cliff, high in a mountain. Far below them was a village, marked here and there with the torches of some late-night wanderers.

“These are My people, but they do not know Me. You have learnt My joy of which nature sings – learn My ways and teach My people.”

He placed a hand on the man’s shoulder and met his eyes. “Courage.”

And He was gone.

~ THE END ~


Red Rubber Ball

by Katherine Milliken

Grade 8

Ellen and Evan Maynor had found that merely walking around one’s neighborhood could either be intensely boring or intensely interesting. Evan, being that sort of person, wrote down every day whether their walk was interesting or not. He finally came to the conclusion that it was arbitrary, as their most interesting walks had occurred when they were miserable, and the most interminable walks had occurred when all sorts of things were happening in the neighborhood. Ellen thought this was an interesting discovery, but she didn’t understand why Evan bothered to figure it out.

The two of them went out to walk one day prepared to be unhappy. A firefly had somehow got into their shared room last night, and as a result it had taken hours for them to fall asleep. The next morning Evan found that his skunk had somehow escaped from its cage, leaving a smell behind that drove everyone crazy, neighbors included – and, as Evan pointed out, you can tell where the day’s going if you’ve had trouble with the neighbors before you’ve even had breakfast.

Ellen found that she had forgotten to take off her glasses overnight, with the result that they were broken. They had been very nice glasses, and she couldn’t see very well through her old pair.

These unfortunate occurrences caused brother and sister both to resign themselves to unconquerable gloom. They both wished that they had schoolwork to do – although, had it been the school year, they would have wished that they hadn’t any – and after breakfast the two sat gloomily on the back deck.

Ellen twirled her straight blond hair around her fingers and began elaborately tying small braids in it. Evan just irritably shook his red mop of curls out of his eyes and frowned. “I’m too tired to think straight,” he said, “and it’s as hot as heck out here.”

“I want to sleep for a hundred years,” said Ellen.

“I want to sleep for a thousand years,” Evan replied.

“But you can’t be as tired as I am,” Ellen protested.

“I’m far tireder than you are. Remember, I woke up earlier.”

“I fell asleep later, though. That wretched bug settled down in my side of the room, of course.”

“I still got less sleep. I was up a full hour before you, and you only fell asleep a few minutes after me.”

“You don’t know that,” said Ellen, warming to her task. “I bet that I fell asleep hours after you did!”

“Can’t you two stop bickering?” said Mrs. Maynor, coming out to water her flowers. “It’s a lovely day. Can’t you go for a walk?”

They agreed without much enthusiasm. Ellen ventured to suggest that she would not be able to see well enough wearing old glasses.

“Evan will make sure you don’t get run over, honey,” Mrs. Maynor said gently, feeling somewhat exasperated with her offspring. “I’ll schedule another appointment for you at the eye doctor’s as soon as I can. You probably need new glasses at this point anyway.”

“We could drive to the library,” Evan suggested, brightening the slightest bit.

“How about you walk to the library?” said Mrs. Maynor.

“But then, if we request anything, we’ll have to carry it back,” said Ellen.

“That won’t hurt you,” said Mrs. Maynor. “You should be grateful that we live near a library. Many people would have to drive. You can bring a bag to carry the books.”

“Okay,” they said in perfect unison. Despite themselves, they had to grin at each other.

So it came about that five minutes later Evan and Ellen were walking together along the sunny streets to the Bangor Public Library. Evan had a bright green Celtics bag – which Ellen felt slightly embarrassed about, as it was an extremely bright shade of green – wadded up underneath his arm. Ellen drew her arm through Evan’s as they crossed a street.

“What’s it like to drive?” Ellen asked curiously, watching a small sports car roar past.

“Pretty cool,” said Evan. “It’s kind of like a game, except if you play it wrong, you could get killed.”

“I’m not in too much of a hurry,” said Ellen. “That doesn’t sound all that fun to me.”

“Don’t worry,” said Evan. “You’re only fourteen, anyway.”

From anyone else Ellen would have resented that, but with Evan, it simply didn’t occur to her to become offended at something as trivial as that. Evan was three years older than she, but they hardly ever thought about this, and dismissed it as unimportant when they did think about it.

Ellen breathed a sigh of relief as they stepped into the library, as it really was very hot outside. Evan immediately went to the apologetics section. Evan was very fond of philosophy, and everyone who knew him thought he was quite an apologist already. Ellen was very bad at thinking logically, and preferred fiction or books concerning violins. She had started to play the violin several years ago and was improving rapidly, but was still eager to find more information about them.

After about fifteen minutes Ellen drifted over to the adult fiction, holding An Encyclopedia of the Violin. She skimmed the titles carelessly until she came to Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. Her eyes lit up. She had always wanted to read it.

Carrying her finds, she went to sit near Evan, who was absorbed in The Principles of Metaphysical and Ethical Science Applied to the Evidences of Religion. Ellen opened Our Mutual Friend and was immediately drawn in from the first sentence:

In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to

be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in

it, floated on the Thames between Southwark Bridge, which is of iron, and

London Bridge, which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.

As Ellen grew unaware of the world around her in her interest in the world that was on

the page in front of her, Evan stared in complete bewilderment at a slip of paper that had fallen out of his book. Both were quite startled when the upbeat intro to the Seekers’ “Red Rubber Ball” broke the usual quiet of the library. Evan seemed completely shocked, and stared blankly at the paper he was holding for a few moments. Ellen nudged him. Didn’t he remember that that was the ringtone for his phone?

Evan suddenly realized that it was his own tracfone that was making the music, and he sheepishly fumbled in his pocket for it while glancing anxiously about him,

mentally berating himself for forgetting to silence it before entering the library. As luck would have it, he dropped it after fishing it out of his pocket. He and Ellen both reached to pick it up at the same time and banged their heads together. When, red with embarrassment, Evan finally answered the call and cut off the song, the first verse was almost over.

Looking about as she massaged her injured head, Ellen saw a middle-aged woman nearby who glanced at them and was obviously trying very hard to smother an amused smile. Ellen thought things of that woman that ought not to be uttered. How dare she laugh at them!

Ellen then turned her attention to Evan’s phone conversation. “Sure, Mom,” he said first, then, “All right, Ellen and I will come back right now. Goodbye.” He closed his phone and put it back in his pocket, trying to keep a low profile lest anyone was still looking at them. “Mom wants us to come home now,” he whispered.

“Why?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t say.”

Ellen nodded, and they slunk away to check out their books. Neither of them noticed the tall, heavy-set man who was watching Evan intently.

“How’s your book?” asked Ellen as they waited in line with their books, nodding to The Principles of Metaphysical and Ethical Science Applied to the Evidences of Religion.

“Haven’t read enough yet to say,” said Evan. “I’m still in the preface. You know, the funny thing is, Ellen -” but before he could finish the man in front of them left and they were called over to check out their books.

Ellen was surprised at how much better she felt, walking home, than she had walking to the library. The only thing that bothered her was that Celtics bag, which Evan was swinging about quite unconcernedly. In fact, Evan seemed a little preoccupied, and he tried to interrupt Ellen twice while she was relating an amusing story. About halfway through he became interested in spite of himself, however, and evidently forgot what he had been going to say.

“How was your walk?” asked Mrs. Maynor as they stepped into the house.

“Good,” said Ellen. “See, we got several books.” Ellen displayed their books.

“So, why did you call us home?” asked Evan.

“Ah, yes,” said Mrs. Maynor, smiling. “Mrs. Davids came over after you left. She had a gift card to a diner that she said she would never go to, so she decided to give it to us. Why don’t you two head over there tonight?”

Evan and Ellen exchanged excited looks. They never got to eat out. “Can’t you come too?” said Evan.

“I really wish I could, darlings,” said Mrs. Maynor, looking distressed, “but I have business to attend to tonight, and I wanted you to have a good time while I was away.”

“What sort of business could you have?” asked Ellen.

“I’m looking into buying a new house,” said Mrs. Maynor. “How would you like that?”

Ellen and Evan turned to look at each other, slightly shocked. “What’s wrong with this house?” ventured Ellen.

“The yard’s pretty small,” said Evan. Ellen glared at him and turned to their mother.

“Well, Evan’s right, and that’s part of it,” said Mrs. Maynor. “This is a very small house, and a small piece of property. Besides that, I really don’t like the location. I haven’t liked this neighborhood ever since we moved in.”

“I wouldn’t mind moving,” said Evan.

“I don’t know,” said Ellen slowly. “Do we have to leave Bangor?”

“No,” said Mrs. Maynor. “I’m not looking to leave Bangor. I’ll consult you before I make any decisions.”

“Okay,” said Ellen and Evan together. They had perfected the art of saying it in unison a long time ago.

“Let’s go play music together,” said Ellen, pulling at Evan’s arm. Evan complied and let himself be pulled away. They liked to do duets with Evan on the piano and Ellen on the violin. Although music was not his favorite hobby, Evan was fairly good at the piano, and enjoyed playing their duets.

It was mid afternoon when they finally stopped playing music. They realized then that they had forgotten about lunch. They quickly remedied this, and spent over an hour afterwards sitting at the table arguing over the particulars of the geography of a place Evan had made up called Adripodle. They did both agree on the name, but Ellen thought the capital city should be right in the middle, and Evan thought it should be near the northern border. Ellen was glad that Evan was not the sort to consider such an argument childish. Both had been taught that it was stupid to dismiss anything as childish without considering the real merits of the activity – and this was pretty important, Ellen thought. How could the Adripodleans function without a capital?

They were in the middle of a very heated argument about the positioning of the underground safety shelters when Mrs. Maynor came into the kitchen. “For goodness’ sake, can’t you two stop that?” she said.

“But, Mom,” said Ellen, “he thinks that there should be a big network of them! The whole country will collapse if I let him do it.”

“But, Mom,” said Evan, “she wants to have such a piddling amount! Only half the population will fit and there’ll be a huge catastrophe if I let her do it.”

Mrs. Maynor couldn’t help but smile as she saw how sincerely earnest the two were. “Do you have to decide right now? It’s really nice outside.”

So Evan and Ellen went outside and promptly fell into arguing all over again while they walked around aimlessly, and they considered the afternoon well spent.

They did not notice that the same man who had watched as they left the library was looking at them out of the window of a house across the street.

***

“Have a good time,” called Mrs. Maynor as Evan drove off with Ellen in their little convertible that evening. She left in the less exciting car to go house-hunting a few minutes after.

Ellen brushed her hair out of her face for the dozenth time. She loved riding in the convertible, but it did make one’s hair rather messy. Even Evan found his hair a little troublesome, but, obviously, he couldn’t push it back, since he was driving. The diner was nearly half an hour away, and it was well past six when they got there. Ellen took a comb out of her purse as Evan put up the roof. “You’re not leaving this car until you comb your hair,” said Ellen firmly, quickly combing her own.

“I don’t carry combs in my pockets,” said Evan. “Anyway, who’s going to notice or care?”

“It’s not decent,” said Ellen, handing him her comb. “You look like you just got out of bed.”

“Who would wake up at six o’clock at night, anyway?” demanded Evan.

“That’s just the point!” said Ellen triumphantly. “It looks weird.” Evan finally acquiesced and carelessly ran the comb through his hair a couple times before handing it back.

Once in the restaurant, Ellen found that she had a hard time selecting something to eat. It was easier to just look about her.

“Remember when your phone went off in the library?” whispered Ellen as they looked at the menus. She grinned. “I have to admit I felt pretty embarrassed.”

“Oh!” said Evan. He felt in his pocket. “I was about to show you something when the phone rang. That was why I was so startled – or, rather, the song itself startled me.”

“I’m confused,” said Ellen, somewhat understandably. “You set that as your ringtone yourself.”

“I know,” said Evan. “Here, I’ll show it to you, and then you’ll understand.” He pulled a small, light green piece of paper out of his pocket that read like this:

The song “Red Rubber Ball” was co-written by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley. It was first recorded in 1966.

“Where did you get this?” said Ellen, frowning in puzzlement.

“It was in The Principles of Metaphysical and Ethical Science Applied to the Evidences of Religion,” said Evan.

“Wait a minute,” said Ellen. “Do you mean to say that you found this in the morning and you didn’t tell me about it until now?”

“I was going to,” said Evan. “I didn’t get a chance in the library, and then you were telling that story outside, and I forgot. I didn’t think of it again until now.”

Just then their waiter returned to see what they had ordered. He glanced down at the slip of paper in Evan’s hand, and then away to another table. Ellen almost thought the old man’s face looked anxious. He picked up the salt shaker, which had fallen down, and in pulling his hand back he knocked over a glass of water onto Evan’s napkin. “I’m very sorry,” he said. “I’ll get you a new one. Perhaps you will have made your choices by then.”

The waiter left, and Evan shoved the paper back in his pocket while he and Ellen looked at the menu again and made their decisions. By the time the waiter came back, they were ready, and he gave Evan the new napkin, took their orders, and again left. Ellen leaned back on the cushioned seat happily.

“Ellen!” Evan suddenly said, in a tense whisper.

Ellen looked up, startled. “What is it?”

Evan help up a folded note. “This was in my napkin,” he said. Ellen leaned over to look at it as he slowly unfolded it. Written on it in an untidy scrawl were the words: “Get out while you still can.”

Ellen gasped and grabbed his arm. “What could this mean, Evan?”

“I don’t know,” said Evan, carefully looking at each occupied table in turn. “Ellen,” he whispered, “that man over there keeps looking at us.”

Ellen glanced at the man. He was tall and heavily built, and his face had a bored expression. His eyes were intensely bright, however, and his gaze kept turning to Ellen and Evan’s table, then quickly turning away to the bottle of ketchup on his own table.

“I think we’d better leave, Evan,” said Ellen, the hand that clutched Evan’s sleeve shaking.

“We can’t just leave,” said Evan. “We ordered food. We’d be stealing if we left without paying for it.”

“But, Evan!” Ellen was almost hysterical. “I’m scared!”

“Don’t worry,” said Evan. “As soon as we get the food, we’ll pay with the gift card, and then we’ll leave. You did bring it, right?”

“Bring what?”

“The gift card.”

Ellen felt in her purse. Her eyes slowly got bigger as she didn’t feel it anywhere.

“Oh, no!” Ellen groaned and covered her face with her hands. “Evan, I forgot it!”

“Well, how much money do you have with you?” asked Evan practically, pulling out his wallet.

“About ten dollars,” said Ellen, sniffing and trying hard not to cry.

“And I have about fifteen,” said Evan, counting the bills and then putting his wallet back into his pocket. “That should be enough if there isn’t a required tip. Luckily, we didn’t order very much.”

Suddenly, a shadow fell over the table. They looked up and saw the tall, heavily built man who had been watching them from his table, and, although they did not know it, had been following them ever since Evan phone had gone off in the library. He slid into the bench across from them.

“I believe you wanted to talk to me,” he said in a low voice.

“No, actually, we didn’t,” said Evan. Ellen was too scared to talk.

“Really?” said the man. “You have been trying very hard to get my attention.”

“I’m sorry, then,” said Evan. “We didn’t know, if we were.”

“I find that hard to believe,” said the man. “What was I to expect, when your phone just happened to play that song?” It was hard to tell whether he was speaking to both of them or just to Evan, but Evan still answered for both of them.

“If that song had any significance for you, we didn’t know it,” he said. “In the meantime, we don’t know you, and you don’t know us, so -”

The waiter returned at that moment, but he didn’t have any food. He immediately went over to Evan and whispered in his ear, “Never mind paying for it! I’ll pay myself. Just get out of here.”

“You get out of here, old man,” said the man. “I’m talking to this young fellow here, and you’re interrupting.”

The waiter looked at the man squarely. “My son owns this restaurant, sir. I feel responsible for the safety of the customers, and, though it may seem rude, I do not trust you, Mr. Jones.”

“You have no right to interfere,” said the man. “I’m not a criminal. There’s nothing wrong with having a conversation with a couple kids.”

“Neither is there anything wrong in me advising them to leave,” said the waiter.

A voice called, “Andy! You’re needed.” The waiter turned and left, glancing back, troubled, as he went.

“Now, as I had been saying,” continued the man. Evan stood up, and Ellen quickly did so as well.

“Where do you think you’re going?” the man demanded.

“We’re leaving,” said Evan. “A pleasure to meet you, Mr. – Jones, was it?”

“Jeremiah Jones is my name,” he said, “and yours is Evan Maynor, I know. Look here, you must give me that piece of paper. I can’t let you leave until I have it.”

Evan sat down again. Ellen did too, but tugged his sleeve and hissed in his ear, “Evan, what are you doing? We have to get out of here!”

“I don’t know if that would be a good idea,” Evan responded. “If that waiter were still here, it would be different. He’s not, though – and we’re just kids. Do you really think it would be safe to just walk out on him?”

“What could he do to stop us?”

“That’s just it. I don’t know.”

“Yes, and what about your sister?” said Mr. Jones, who had been watching them with a slightly amused smile on his face. “Perhaps she can’t talk? She has yet to say anything to me.”

“Of course I can talk,” Ellen said indignantly.

“Good. I was a little worried.” His look grew more intense. “Give me the paper, and you can leave.”

“Does it belong to you?” asked Evan.

“Not exactly,” he said carefully.

“Why do you want it, anyway?” Ellen couldn’t help but ask. “If you’re that familiar with the song, you probably already know the information.”

“I don’t know what it says,” he said. Evidently his patience was dwindling. “Look, this is pointless. Just give it to me.”

Evan reached into his pocket and pulled out the paper, then slowly handed it over. Mr. Jones grabbed it eagerly. “Good, good,” he said, shoving it into his pocket. “I would like to know one more thing before you go.” He looked Evan in the eye. “How did you just so happen to pick that song, when you claim you weren’t trying to get my attention?”

“I don’t know,” said Evan. “It must be a coincidence. I like the Seekers, that’s all.”

“You’re sure that you’re not in league with the Red Rubber Ball Society?” he asked coolly.

Ellen thought he was joking, but Evan appeared to take it seriously. “No, I’m not,” he said.

The waiter returned and stood by them. “You may leave now, Mr. Jones,” he said.

“I’ll leave when I’m ready,” said Mr. Jones.

“You’ll leave now,” said the waiter.

Mr. Jones was about to argue the point, but seemed to decide against it. He got up and left, a smile on his face.

“What was all that about?” asked Ellen, somewhat shaken.

The waiter sat down across from them. He appeared almost cheerful now that Mr. Jones had left. “Well, he’s been nicely fooled,” he said in a satisfied voice.

“Would you mind explaining for us, Mr. -?” said Evan.

“Bates,” he said. “I suppose you have a right to know. First off, do you know about the Red Rubber Ball Society?”

“I don’t,” said Ellen. “There really is such a thing?”

“Yes. Their headquarters is here in Bangor, I believe,” said Evan. “I’ve heard of it, but I don’t really know what they do.”

“Few people do,” said Mr. Bates. “You see, their main method of communication is through library books.”

“And did I happen to choose a book that they had been communicating through?” said Evan.

“Yes,” said Mr. Bates, smiling. “Now, we know that Mr. Jones has been trying to intercept our messages. When he heard your phone going off in the library, he assumed that either you wanted to get his attention, or you were a member of the Red Rubber Ball Society yourself.”

“Wait a minute,” said Ellen. “Where did he come from? Why was he trying to intercept the messages?”

“Have you heard of the Bus Stop Society?”he asked.

Evan and Ellen looked at each other and shook their heads.

“It works against the Red Rubber Ball Society,” he explained. “Jeremiah Jones was sent from them.”

“Why are the societies named after 60’s songs?” asked Evan.

“Probably mainly because the founders of the societies are fond of certain kinds of 60’s music. You might find out if you ever join the Red Rubber Ball Society – or if you join the Bus Stop Society, for that matter, although I would highly recommend you don’t.

“We are getting off topic, however. After Jeremiah heard the song on your phone and saw you holding a light green piece of paper, he naturally assumed that you had a message from the Red Rubber Ball Society. He tracked you both here, where he obtained it and left thinking that he had gotten a great prize.” Mr. Bates chuckled softly. “That’s where he was mistaken. The Red Rubber Ball Society knew that he was here and trying to intercept messages. He can try as hard as he likes to break the code in that message, but he can’t, because there isn’t any code. We’re not sending any real messages through our system until he leaves.”

“So it was just a sham?” said Evan, his eyes twinkling.

“It was just a sham,” said Mr. Bates.

“Then why did you warn us to leave?” asked Ellen.

Mr. Bates’ face grew more solemn. “I was thinking of your safety,” he said. “Jeremiah Jones is a dangerous person. I came back as soon as I could after I was called away.”

“Do you have the time to talk to us now?” said Ellen anxiously.

“Don’t worry,” said Mr. Bates, “I just finished my shift.” Suddenly he slapped his forehead. “I never did get you your food, did I?”

“That’s okay,” said Evan. “I don’t really feel like eating anymore anyway. How about you, Ellen?”

“Me neither,” said Ellen. “Mr. Bates, what do the Red Rubber Ball Society and the Bus Stop Society do?”

“Well, I mustn’t give away confidential information,” said Mr. Bates, “but I can tell you that the Red Rubber Ball Society is dedicated to help humanity progress in healthy and wholesome ways. Many of our various experiments and findings have greatly benefited the nation, and some the whole world. The Bus Stop Society was founded by band of criminals who had been released from jail unreformed, and it is dedicated to thwart the Red Rubber Ball Society. Originally, this was because the founder of the Bus Stop Society had a personal grudge against the founder of the Red Rubber Ball Society. Unsavory characters like Jeremiah Jones are attracted to it because of the money involved.”

“And you are the president and founder of the Red Rubber Ball Society, right?” said Evan.

Mr. Bates smiled. “Well, yes, I am. I’m considering handing over my presidency to my son, however.” He leaned forward. “Why don’t you join us, Evan? You’re just the kind of person we’re looking for.” He turned to Ellen. “We’d be glad to have you too in a couple years.”

“I’ll seriously consider it,” said Evan. “It depends on what my mother thinks, mostly.”

“Of course,” Mr. Bates assented.

“In the meantime,” said Evan, glancing at his watch, “I believe it’s time to go. We’re very glad to meet you.”

“Yes,” said Ellen, “and thank you for clearing things up for us.”

“That’s my job,” said Mr. Bates with a laugh. His keen blue eyes twinkled in his old, rugged face. “You get on home before your mother worries about you.”

The two got up and left the fast emptying restaurant. They were silent until the car was on the road again. Evan kept the roof down to make conversation possible.

“Well,” said Ellen.

“Well?” said Evan.

“I’m glad you were there, Evan.”

Evan only smiled and risked taking his right hand off the steering wheel long enough to pat her arm.

 

~ The End ~


The Birthday Ducks

Katherine Milliken

Grade 8

   Martha Hartson was quite satisfied with her seventh birthday. Thinking it over the next day, she couldn’t make any improvements on it, except that she wished they had given her a dragon for a present. Just a little dragon, who was very friendly and would give you rides. She had confided this to her brother Danny, who was a year older and her best friend, and he had been very enthusiastic about the idea. Later he came back to her looking crushed. “It’s no good,” he said. “I asked Mom and she said dragons aren’t really real anyway.”

   “They must be, though,” argued Martha. “I just read a book with all sorts of dragons, big, and little, and all different colors and everything. They couldn’t publish the book if it wasn’t true.”

   Danny looked puzzled. Then he shrugged. “Maybe they can’t live in our climate,” he suggested. Martha didn’t know what climate meant and Danny didn’t know how to explain, so the discussion degenerated into an argument about dictionaries: Danny was for them, and Martha was against them.

   Meanwhile, other than that, Martha felt fairly satisfied. She was sitting by herself in a hammock in the warm summer sunshine, there were three stuffed ducks which had been birthday presents sitting near her, and she had the prospect of leftover birthday cake before her. As she idly admired the ducks’ plumpness, she suddenly felt a shiver of horror. Wasn’t that duck in a different position than it was a minute ago? It was moving–and worst of all, it was looking at her! She felt too frightened to move, and watched with dread as the other two also turned and looked at her. Then they all honked.

   That was the last straw as far as Martha was concerned. She screamed and ran away as fast as she could. She only stopped when she ran into Danny.

   “What’s the matter?” he asked.

    “My ducks came alive, and they honked at me,” she said breathlessly.

   “Cool! I want to see,” said Danny, and he ran off in the direction of the hammock. Martha felt very indignant. What was so cool in the horrible event that had just taken place? She had been hoping for some sympathy.

   Danny soon came back looking disappointed. “They sure didn’t seem alive to me,” he said. “They just sat there.”

   “Well, they were alive when I was there,” said Martha, feeling slightly irritated. “Danny, can you do me a favor?”

   “What?”

   “Please take those ducks and lock them up in a box someplace, where I can’t see them,” said Martha.

   “But then I’ll never see them come alive,” objected Danny, “and supposing they get mad and bust out at night and attack us?”

   Martha was appalled at the thought. “I told you to lock it,” she said sternly. “Not even a duck could break through a locked box.”

   “They might,” said Danny. “I can just see it happen, can’t you? They would creep out on a moonlit night, and they would keep to the shadows and whisper plans of attack, and then,” he continued with relish, “they would pounce on us!”

   “Stop that, Danny!” said Martha, “and you can keep the box in your room, if you really think they’ll get out.”

   “Okay, I’ll keep them in my room,” said Danny, “but I don’t even know if we have boxes that lock.” He ran off and soon came back with the ducks, looking at them with interest. Martha winced and backed away.

   “I don’t know,” said Danny. “This one,” he prodded a mallard, “I thought his head moved, but I can’t be sure.”

   “Get them away,” pleaded Martha. Danny looked a little annoyed.

   “They’re just ducks,” he said. “What could they do to you, anyway?”

   Martha didn’t want to think about anything as horrible as that.

   “Just please get them out,” she said. Danny complied, and Martha pointedly looked away until he was out of sight. She didn’t even want to see those ducks.

   Danny soon came back looking satisfied. “They’re in my room now,” he said. “Say, they’re pretty cool ducks.”

   “Let’s talk about something else now,” said Martha. Danny reluctantly did so–evidently the live stuffed ducks had captured his fancy.

   “Let’s go play with my planets,” said Danny. He had little models of all the planets, but Danny and Martha liked to pretend they were little aliens, and they would make up stories about them.

   Martha wasn’t quite sure what to do. She liked playing with Danny’s planets, but he kept them in his room, and Martha wanted to avoid those ducks at all costs. “How about you take the planets to my room,” Martha suggested.

   Danny looked scandalized. “I might lose them,” he said. Danny was always afraid that he would lose his planets. His mother had told him that they had never been able to find planets just like the ones he had (his own planets, by the way, had been made by his grandfather) and Danny hated the thought of having an incomplete set.

   “I don’t see that it would be any easier to lose them in my room than in yours,” said Martha.

   Danny considered that. “I guess we could take them in your room,” he said grudgingly, “but we’ll have to be very, very careful.”

   Martha decided not to comment, and soon they were in the hallway by their rooms. Martha began to shake at the thought that the ducks were very close, and she quickly ducked into her own room.

   “Hey!” said Danny. “We haven’t got the planets yet.”

   “How about you get them while I get a place ready for them,” said Martha. Danny saw nothing wrong with that, and he went into his room while Martha arranged books and odds and ends to make a little place for the Planet Aliens to live in. She was almost done when Danny came in with the Planet Aliens themselves. Martha thought in her mind that he had taken quite a while, and she realized with a shudder that he had probably stopped to look at the ducks. Danny seemed a little preoccupied.

   “What I can’t understand,” he said reflectively, “is why you wanted a dragon for your birthday and yet you can’t stand the thought of a live duck.”

   “Please, Danny, don’t talk about it,” said Martha. She thought of those ducks staring at her and shuddered. There was something horrifying about them.  

   Danny helped Martha finish the place for the Planet Aliens, and then for a while they traveled through space delivering goods and travelling in desolate places. Then Danny suddenly tired of such tame activities.

   “Say, let’s have a battle,” said Danny, and he neatly lined the planets up in rows, and then explained a complicated battle plan to Martha, who, to be kind to her brother, pretended she understood and thought it a good plan. She was sure it was a good plan, but she couldn’t understand any of it. Then Danny flicked the planets at each other and shouted excitedly as one side was winning, then the other side. In the end the bad side won, as he told her sorrowfully.

   “That’s too bad,” said Martha sympathetically. “Let’s go see what everyone else is doing.”

   After Martha got Danny to put his planets away, they went downstairs and found their four siblings were out in their large yard playing ball. Martha was very proud of her family, because they had not one, but two sets of twins, Eliza and Eli, who were twelve, and Becky and Benny, who were five. Martha didn’t know anybody who had two sets of twins.

   After a long time playing outside, Martha had almost forgotten about ducks, and during dinner and nighttime family prayers they receded to the innermost corner of her mind. Then, when she got in bed at night, she suddenly thought of them and felt terrified. She suddenly felt that all the ducks that ever were, stuffed or live, had always been spying on her, quietly discussing her every movement, and usually snickering to each other about her. She could see them clearly when she closed her eyes; gathering in corners, stealing furtive glances at her, and ducking out of her way if she happened to pass by.

   She remembered what her mother had said about if you couldn’t go to sleep at night, and she said the Rosary over and over again, skimming over parts when she got stuck. Finally she fell asleep, but not before she had the prickling sensation that she was being watched. She wanted to sit up, turn on the light, and look all around the room, just in case, but she found that she didn’t have the courage, and so instead she pulled the blankets up around her and clutched her stuffed rabbit to her closely. Why, she wondered, didn’t the idea of stuffed rabbits watching her not seem scary at all, but ducks did? She didn’t try to figure it out, and fell asleep soon after that.

   She went through this every night at bedtime after that, although sometimes it wasn’t as bad, and sometimes it was worse. She wanted to tell her mother about it, but she always seemed busy when Martha wanted to talk to her about it. If it had occurred to Martha just to ask her mother if she could talk with her, it could have easily been arranged, but it didn’t, so it wasn’t.

   Then, one night,, while Martha was shivering in bed wondering if ducks had teeth or not–oh, why hadn’t she asked Danny when she first thought of it?–she was sure she heard a banging on the window. She steeled herself, forced herself to sit up, and with trembling fingers she turned on the light. She was sure she saw a dark shape on the other side of the window. It quickly dived out of sight, but she had seen it. She carefully looked about the room. Nothing looked suspicious, and her alarm clock would be convenient as a weapon if a duck did make an entry, as it was right by her bed and fairly heavy as well. “I have to talk about this to Mom tomorrow, no matter how busy she is,” thought Martha as she turned off the light and burrowed back into bed.

   In the middle of the morning the next day, Martha approached her mother. “Mom, can I talk with you for a few minutes?” she asked.

   “Of course,” said Mrs. Hartson. They went and sat together on the hammock–that fateful hammock where it all had started–and Mrs. Hartson said, “Now, tell me, honey. What’s the matter?” She smiled at Martha, and it suddenly seemed to her that maybe ducks weren’t so bad after all. Then she thought of the shape she had seen through the window, and she quickly changed her mind.

   “Mom, I’m scared of ducks,” she began, and soon she had poured out the whole story, ending with the shape she had seen. “And Mom, when they came alive they honked at me,” she said, in case she had forgotten to mention it earlier. Mrs. Hartson thought for a few minutes, and then tenderly gave her little daughter all the advice she had to give on this somewhat obscure topic. Martha felt a lot better afterwards, but she had a creeping suspicion, lurking deep in her mind, that when night really came, she would be so scared that she wouldn’t even be able to put her mother’s advice into practice.

   “It’s not that bad in the daytime,” thought Martha. “It’s just at night that they could sneak up on me, after all. In the daytime, I could at least see them sneaking up.”

   It was later that day, when she was sitting in the hammock reading, that she heard The Noises.

   Martha was very fond of reading, although she often picked books far out of her depth and stubbornly insisted on reading all of them. To herself, she admitted that she understood very little of these books, but she liked what she did understand. Right then she was reading The Lord of the Rings. The only problem she could find was that the Nazgul reminded her a bit of ducks, or they seemed just as creepy, at any rate.

   She was wondering how Caradhras was pronounced when, suddenly, she was sure she heard a Noise. Not just some ordinary noise, but a Noise, a Noise that clearly meant that someone, or something, was creeping up on you; someone, or something, that did not want to be heard, but had very accidently made a Noise just the same.

   Martha stiffened. She was sure that it was a duck, but she just couldn’t look around to make sure. The thought of the eyes of the spying duck staring deep into hers was enough to convince her of that. Would it go away? Wondered Martha, in an agony of suspense, or would it decide to settle down to a relaxing session of staring at her? A few moments later she heard it again, and then there was silence.

   It took Martha a long while to screw up the courage to look behind her, and then she held her heavy book tightly, in case she needed it as a weapon. There was nothing there, however, and Martha decided with relief that the duck had gone. She felt very unsafe, though, and moved into the house to read. The only problem in the house was that Danny insisted on reading over her shoulder, and he kept making her stop so that he could look up words in the dictionary.

   “Danny, do you have to read over my shoulder?” she finally asked in exasperation. “Can’t you read your own book?”

   “But your book is more interesting,” said Danny, “and don’t you like knowing what the words mean, anyway?”

   “It makes it so much slower,” protested Martha. She didn’t make him stop, though, as she wanted to be around other people after her traumatizing experience.

   That night, when she got into bed, Martha said to herself firmly, “There is no such thing as ducks. I won’t even think about them. I’ll think about the story I’m making up instead.”

   Martha tried hard to think about the story she was making up, concerning a family of mice who lived in a house and had a snug little hole under a little girl’s bed. A duck somehow got under the little girl’s bed as well, however, and he stared the mice out of countenance, ate all their food, laughed at their hole, and then went away to harass the little girl in the bed above. “This isn’t going to work,” thought Martha unhappily. She tried thinking about all sorts of other things, and yet a duck always popped up at some point, leaving a trail of havoc behind him.

   Then she saw the Shape.

   The night before she had only seen a dark object through the window, but this time, even without turning on the light, she distinctly saw a Shape, a Very Duck-Like Shape. Luckily it was, again, on the other side of the window, but still it was there. Martha almost thought that she saw eyes peering through at her, but she couldn’t be sure. Frozen with horror, Martha stared at the Shape, and the Shape stared back. Finally Martha could stand it no longer.

   “Go away,” she said, trembling a little as she wondered how the Shape would react. The Shape immediately disappeared, but Martha did not feel much better. She ducked under the blanket and hoped that, while she couldn’t see, ducks weren’t squeezing through cracks into her room and gathering around her bed to look up at her.

   “This can’t go on,” she thought. “Those darn ducks have got to stop this.” Just then she heard a Voice, an odd little Voice that didn’t sound quite human somehow.

  “Excuse me,” said the Voice. “I speak with you a little?” Martha peered out from under her blanket, and it was just as she feared: there was a stuffed duck sitting on her bed and looking up at her beseechingly. “You see,” said the Duck. “We ducks notice something, and we no like.”

  Martha shivered.

   “You see,” continued the duck, “you take ducks, shut them in box. They no like. They want to come out. You see, yes?”

   Martha nodded. This duck was not as terrible as all that.

   “You see, much ducks come, try to get ducks out of box, but there someone there, he keeps looking in box, so we not sure how to them out. You see?”

   Martha nodded. The duck must mean Danny.

   “So we try to ask you, why you shut them up? They not do anything bad. You no seem to like us, though, so we not sure if we should ask or not. Then, tonight, I think, ‘Something must be done,’ so I come and ask you.” The duck looked up pleadingly. “You let them out, yes? They very good ducks. They no do bad things.”

   “They honked at me,” said Martha, although that suddenly did not seem as terrible as it had before.

   “What wrong with that?” asked the duck, looking puzzled as only a duck can. “All ducks honk.”

   “It scared me,” said Martha.

   The duck looked surprised. “Is honking scary thing? I tell them not to, if you no like it.”

   “I didn’t know they were alive at all,” said Martha.

   “Of course they alive,” said the duck. “How else do they honk?”

   Martha didn’t know how to answer that, so she didn’t answer at all.

   “You like us now, though, yes?” asked the duck hopefully.

   To tell the truth, Martha found that she did like the duck. He was utterly  unlike how she had imagined ducks to be; he was, in fact, rather like the characters that she and Danny made up for their stuffed animals.

   “I suppose,” said Martha.

   “Good!” said the duck, flapping his wings joyfully. “Then I let them out, yes?”

   Martha didn’t answer immediately. Then, “I suppose,” she said hesitantly.

   “Good, good!” said the duck. An aura of radiant happiness surrounded him as he flapped his wings and flew to the door, opened it with some difficulty, and disappeared into the dark hall. Martha reflected how interesting it was to watch a stuffed duck fly.

  “I guess I was mistaken about ducks,” thought Martha. It seemed absurd now to think how terrified she had been by them. “When really they’re quite nice,” she thought.

   In a few minutes the duck came back, joined by the three birthday ducks. “Hello,” they all said. “How you do?”

   Martha greeted them, and then settled down to get some sleep. The ducks got a book and all went into a corner to read it, honking softly every now and again. “I can’t wait to tell Danny,” thought Martha as she looked for her stuffed rabbit, which had been dropped in her first fright at seeing the Shape. When she located him, he said, “I’d like to join them in reading, if you don’t mind. It’s my favorite book.”

    “What book is it?” asked Martha, too tired to be surprised at her rabbit being alive as well.

   “It’s Watership Down,” said her rabbit. Martha nodded. She hadn’t read it yet, but Danny had, and he had told her it was all about rabbits.

   “All right,” said Martha, and her rabbit hopped off the bed to join the party of ducks in the corner.

   Martha was almost asleep when she felt something pushing her hand, and a quiet honk told her it was a duck. She stroked his soft back and fell asleep happily for the first night in a while, while the ever-growing party of animals in the corner ordered a pizza and the moon shone in through the window.

~ The End ~


Caged

by Lindsay Newman

Grade 11

“If you’re thinking about running again…” a warning voice said from behind her. She sighed heavily, sitting only feet from the fence. “I don’t like it,” she said fiercely.

The voice sighed as though deflating greatly. “What is it you don’t like?”

“Everything,” she replied sourly. “I cannot stand waking up and knowing I have nowhere to go but the fields. It gets old after the first hundred times, don’t you think?” The voice behind her became a man sitting beside her. He was young and handsome, but he was cautious. She looked sideways at him and exhaled sadly. He had kept her from running the last time, and she knew if she spent anymore time in his company, he would hold her back once more.

“Life here isn’t to your liking?” he asked rather disappointedly.

She turned to face him this time, the deadened, yellow grass of the field poking through her thin garments. “If anything were to keep me here, it would be you. But you know how much I despise this place, Ben. I can’t live here like a caged animal for the rest of my life,” she told him, taking his hand in her own. He glanced at their intertwined hands, then up at her. He was not convinced. She sighed. “I do love you, Ben. I do.”

“But you love freedom more?” he shot back quietly, unable to meet her gaze. “I see how longingly you stare at the fence, Jenna. Day after day, month after month, constantly waiting for the right moment. Do you wish to stay or has the right moment not come?”

Jenna stared at him blankly. “Ben…come with me,” is all she can think to say.

He looked at her, then at the ground, laughing derogatorily. “I do not wish to leave, Jenna. I know the dangers that lie beyond the fence. I know of the Guard. Do not drag me with you,” he said pleadingly.

“You don’t have to come if you do not wish too…” Jenna said quietly, a heavy weight settling against her shoulders. She had been afraid of this.

“You know that if you only say the right words, I will follow you wherever you go. Leave me, Jenna. Find your freedom. I only wish that I could have given it to you first.” He squeezed her hand lightly, avoiding her gaze, then released it. He rose to his feet without another word, his footsteps crunching the dead grass as he left Jenna alone, staring at the fence in stunned silence while a tear trickled down her cheek. She wanted to run after him, wanted him back, but it was too late.

She had nowhere to go but out.

*****

“He just…left?” a young woman said from the doorway. “You’re joking!” Jenna shook her head sadly as she finished her chores. She grabbed a basket of apples by its handles and lugged it away from the large washing basin to a cupboard. Ben had brought the apples in an hour after their parting in the field, and Jenna had watched with a pained expression as he greeted her with no more than a curt nod. He really had left her. She wished with her whole heart that she could reverse time, change their conversation, but she would not be able to undo what had been done. “I am so sorry,” the young woman told her. She almost sounded angry when the words were spoken as she was staring after Ben while he left the washing house. “There’s no use in staying here, I suppose,” she added sadly, hoisting her own basket of apples into the cupboard.

Jenna looked at her sharply. “You think I should go?” she asked in disbelief.

“You have no family to keep you here. Ben has abandoned you…and I’m no reason to stay behind. I have children, Jen….my husband. I do not think it wise for me to leave, but I do know that you do not belong here. Even if I don’t necessarily want you to leave,” the woman said. She was smiling slightly, though a very sad look had come into her eyes.

Jenna hugged her tightly. “Oh Beth…you know I’d stay if I could,” she told the woman.

“Of course,” Beth replied, though her voice was choked and her throat was tight with the threat of tears. “Remember me, would you? If even just my smile, I’d be content.”

“How could I ever forget you?” Jenna said quietly, fighting to keep back tears of her own. “Good-bye, Beth. I wish you every happiness.” She pulled away from her friend, taking her hand and pressing it to her lips before sweeping off into the fading light of day.

*****

Jenna stared at the envelope in her hands, moving her gaze over her handwriting which spelled out the name “Ben”. She couldn’t leave without saying good-bye to him, but she knew he would never speak to her in person. The note would allow her to give him her last words, well wishes….

Jenna swept a tear from her cheek as she tore her eyes from the name scrawled upon the envelope. She forced herself to stare out the window. Stars sparkled against the deep blue night sky. They danced and shone with a sort of happiness that Jenna envied. They were not caged as she was. They were free, far away from the clutches of those who kept her here. A dreamy smile flickered across her lips as she recalled her childhood. She had always wanted to be a star, beautiful and bright. Now she had her chance. She would soon follow the stars.

She clutched her letter to Ben in a trembling hand as she closed the door of her home behind her. She wound her way through the small village with ease. She had made the trip to Bens house many times. It was as though it were second nature to find him. When she came to his house, she halted abruptly, seeing that a soft light was filtering through his dusty windows. She approached slowly and cautiously, hoping against hope that he would not hear or see her outside. She crept up to his door and slid her letter beneath it so that it disappeared inside. Knowing that she would change her mind once again if she lingered any longer, she turned on her heel and ran. She ran harder than she’d ever run before, tears streaming down her cheeks. She fought furiously to keep from turning back, wiping at her tears fiercely once she came to a stop before the fence. She stared up at the top, then, with a determined nod, she began to climb. She scaled higher and higher, her lungs burning as she gasped for air. By the time she reached the top, her legs ached and her arms trembled with effort. She threw her leg over the fence, straddling it uncomfortably, then brought her other leg over. She descended slowly, sweat dripping down her back and beading on her forehead. She was about halfway down when she heard a voice crying out into the darkness.

She froze, peering through the fence to the other side. The voice was muffled, and she could not make out the words it spoke until it came closer. “Jenna!!” it called.

Jenna’s heart skipped a beat, then began to pound harder. It was Ben. “JENNA!” he called.

There was a definite note of fear in his voice. Jenna wanted to climb back over, her back to Ben, but the sweat collecting on her hands caused her grip to loosen. She felt the metal slip from her grasp and felt the air rushing past her as she fell to the darkened ground below. The wind was knocked from her lungs as her back collided with dirt and leaves. She gasped for air, a sharp pain in her chest. She could hear a distant rattling of metal which slowly became closer and more focused. She realized it was someone shaking the fence.

“Jenna!!” came Ben’s voice once more. “Jenna where are you?? JENNA!”

“Ben…” Jenna muttered groggily, hoisting herself to her feet. “Ben?” She stumbled into the darkness, following the sound of his voice. She finally felt the fence beneath her fingers, then hands closing over her own.

“Jenna, what are you doing?” he asked, the terror in his voice sending a wave of guilt crashing over Jenna. She knew she shouldn’t have left.

“I have to get out,” she croaked, her throat tightening as she fought tears. She was unsuccessful; the tears dripped slowly and steadily from her eyes. “Ben, you can come—“ A howl in the distance cut her sentence short. Jenna whirled around, her eyes wide with fear. She’s only heard of the Guard from the elders of the village. She hadn’t thought it could be true.

“Jenna run,” Ben told her suddenly.

Jenna turned back to him. “But—“

“Jenna, you have to run!” he told her sharply. Jenna knew he was right. She had to go.

Moonlight suddenly flooded the area around them as a cloud passed over the moon, and she saw a great, looming forest before her. Without a second thought, she dashed into the trees. As she ran, she wondered how long the Guard might follow her. She wondered where it was, what it was….but she ran. She didn’t stop. Not to look back, not to take a deep breath of much-needed air….she just ran. It seemed like hours before her lungs were screaming for a break. She knew she couldn’t run for much longer so she darted into the shelter of some nearby bushes. She pressed herself against the ground, breathing rapidly as she refilled her lungs. She could feel her adrenaline rush subsiding, feel the ache of her limbs and the stabbing pain in her back. She waited in the dark, praying that she had escaped the Guard. Then there were footsteps. She held her breath as she lie in the bushes, watching through the leaves as a pair of feet came into her vision. Then another. She watched four massive feet crunch the leaves beneath them as they came closer to her hiding place. But they were not just any feet. They were paws. Jenna wanted to cry as she sat in the deafening silence, watching the paws move closer. She wanted to run, but she knew she had to remain still.

At that moment, the moon was uncovered by the clouds once more. Moonlight filtered through the leaves, shining down on Jenna. One wrong move, and she’d be caught. If only she had listened when Ben had told her not to run. She’d be safe inside the fence, safe from the Guard. Jenna lay as still as possible as the paws came to a halt before her hiding place. She watched a snout lower itself to the ground, nudging the leaves at its feet. She saw the teeth as it snarled angrily. She felt a tear slip from her eye and fall noiselessly to the ground. The snout rose abruptly, as though it had heard the tear hitting the ground. Jenna waited for it to find her, to attack. She was going to die. The paws were almost upon her when a voice cried out. The Guard froze in its place, then dashed off to find the source of the voice. Panicked, Jenna rose shakily from her hiding place and stared, horrified, after the Guard. The voice had been Ben’s. She had only enough time to scream his name before his cries of pain filled the night.

~ The End ~


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Anna Hermes, The Writer's Quill Editor

Senior at Mother of Divine Grace.

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