Short Story: Eid Memoirs From Home, by Ayesha Ahmed

Short Story Contest - Contestant: Ayesha Ahmed

I glanced up and around the vibrant room, filled with the warmth of close relatives and faces I recognized since birth, yet not a single drop of chatter. Everyone was so concerned and dedicated to their prayers while seated at the dining table. I skimmed the sight in front of me; the transparent glass table with a Chester brown wooden structure that stood empty a few hours ago; was now filled with a range of traditional Pakistani recipes. Tempted by the smell of the delights in front of me, my eyes lit up in surprise, mesmerized by the aroma of Pakistani edibles as I held my temptations from a dreadfully long eight hour fasting day. A few classic delights I spotted instantly were samosas, a fried pastry filled with a spicy vegetarian filling of potatoes, pakoras, a dumpling consisting of creamy spinach and cornflour. There were also shortbread dumplings made by my mother, indicated by the delicacy on each dumpling. In addition, my grandma made a family traditional drink, chilled rose lemonade. I imagined a young child on a hot summer day washing down the refreshing drink; in one giant gulp. In an attempt to distract myself, I peered around the room, and a glimpse caught my eye. The sunset shone brilliantly, lighting the entire sky like a glorious conflagration, as it gracefully dipped below the horizon, the last gasp of beauty before the death of the day, intelligently contrasting against the white pane of the expansive window. Lost in my thoughts as mice and butterflies raced through my empty stomach, a sudden yet soulful voice alarmed me. The speakers at the local mosque amplified the athan, symbolizing the end of fasting, the national anthem, and the calling of God; the soothing voice relieved me as if I had forgotten my hunger. I slowly watched as the quiet room broke into polite chatter, and the feast began. Dating back to an Islamic tradition in the 7th century, everyone broke their fast with an Arabian date. 

Afterward, my family lounged in the back garden on the patio, breathing the fresh night air, sipping Kashmiri Chai, a pink or rosy-hued tea originating from the Indian Subcontinent, which tastes like a creamsicle with a sweet strawberry flavor, as the last spark of the light faded the sky. As I studied the dark and graciously clear sky, wrapped around the warmth of pink tea, the new crescent moon appeared in sight like a wraith-silver salver hanging in the lonely sky. Tendrils of moonlight brightened my mood as I shrieked in glee, realizing that today was the 30th fast, and the moon sighting indicated that tomorrow is Eid! A new sensation of excitement filled the house as everyone began Eid preparations. From last-minute dress alterations to preparing the feast for Eid day, the buzz and enthusiastic attitudes lasted the entire tireless night. 

As the first streak of dawn reached my drowsy face from a small opening in the window, I sat up instantly in the split of a second, ready to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the holy fasting month. I showered and changed into my scarlet red sequined and heavily embroidered dress. My dress was a traditional Pakistani dress, with a long shirt, pants, and a scarf. I wore a scarlet red 

chiffon dress, embellished with gold sequins and other tiny ornaments, and carefully embroidered in the front and on the baggy gold sleeves, with the hems delicately pressed and hand-sewn patterns paired with gold chiffon pants and a silk gold and scarlet red striped scarf. To accompany my dress, I wore elegant gold studded earrings; in the shape of a teardrop,

bordered by an opaque metallic silver outline. The gold luster of the delicate jewelry glimmered as if the sun was radiating its warmth yet, the silver borders reminded me of the crescent moon brightening the night sky. My hands were covered with beautiful and intricate patterns of henna, skillfully drawn as a form of art, while my gold and red glass bangles covered with glitter and sparkle caged the henna underneath. 

I hustled downstairs and was readily perplexed and astonished by the decorations and festivities arranged. I carefully stepped onto each stair step around the spiral staircase, cautioned steadily by the glimmering heels I wore, as my hand wrapped around the railing, covered with a vibrant string of lights with the striking color contrast of white and green light. As I walked into the living room, I paused in bewilderment; the walls emerged with Eid Mubarak posters and exotic resplendent banners with delicate Arabic calligraphy and ornaments with scented candles, streamers, and lights. I glanced around the room; I was mesmerized by the transformation of the living room. Later, at a local mosque, we prayed Eid prayers and continued with our festivities at home with friends and family. After greeting all family members, the adults’ gifted children an envelope of money referred to as Eidi, as a token to appreciate and celebrate the 30 days of fasting and worship. 

The festivities planned never failed to amaze me from, mouthwatering appetizers to succulent desserts; traditional Pakistani delights were essential on a celebration like Eid. A few main dishes included biryani, long-grained rice flavored with exotic spices, such as saffron, layered with lamb, chicken or vegetables, and a thick gravy, nihari, a breakfast dish made with an array of spices, and kewda water, haleem, a rich mutton stew made with coarsely pounded meat. In terms of dessert, a traditional Pakistani recipe my mother prepared is kheer, a sweet South Asian dish made by boiling rice with milk, sugar, spices, and sometimes nuts and other ingredients until it thickens to the consistency of gruel. 

After a delightful meal and the opportunity to meet many distant relatives, Eid slowly came to an end. Reflecting upon the festivities and celebrations, I recognized that Eid was one of the most auspicious occasions awaited by Muslims, as it was a time to enjoy and give back to the community, especially those less fortunate. However, it was a moment spent with family and friends, to enjoy and spread the tiny satisfaction and pleasures of life.

Short Story: The Value of Possessions, by Ali Adil

Short Story Contest - Contestant: Ali Adil

Have you ever faced an experience that profoundly changed the way you perceived the world and our global community? Most experiences that change an individual’s perception happen to be a situation that they have gone through or learned from. My particular experience is an experience that truly opened my eyes and that made me appreciate my possessions in my everyday life; the day I witnessed how fortunate I was. 

It was a sunny afternoon as the scorching sun shone upon me while I stood outside of the King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. My dad was on a business trip so my family decided to visit our Aunt living in Saudi Arabia. Despite visiting my aunt, I wasn’t so excited about this trip, but little did I know I was about to face a truly mind-blowing and unforgettable experience. I was completely exhausted by travelling 10,738 kilometres and while arriving in Saudi Arabia, I realized how strict the laws and customs were of this place! 

“Mom?” I asked, drained and irritated from the tropical heat. 

“How long will it take for our ride to come?” 

“Just a few more minutes,” she replied, tiredly. 

At the thought of that, I aggressively sighed. Waiting for the next few minutes felt as if time had just stopped ticking! Eventually, after waiting a few more minutes, our ride came just around the corner. As we got in, the driver loaded the luggage into the car and before I knew it, I was fast asleep. When I woke up, half an hour had passed as the sun was setting across the horizon painting the sky shades of red and pink, casting its golden rays down upon the clouds. 

As we passed by a few roads, I noticed several people spending the dark yet the chilly night on roads, homeless with no shelter to protect them, starving to death with lack of food and care. We passed by a mother sitting on the corner of a street holding young children varying from ages 2 to 3 in her rough and wrinkled hands trying to calm them down as they constantly wept and cried. We rode further on and saw young children peering into waste in search of something. 

“Strange,” I said. “Why are they looking into garbage cans, did they lose something?” I asked with a puzzled expression across my face. 

“They’re looking for food,” my dad said dishearteningly. 

I was shaken and felt extremely nauseated by what I had witnessed. It brought me to shock to see people living in such poor conditions and I felt the eagerness and urge to help them. 

Feeling regret and sadness of what I had just beheld, we had finally arrived at our Aunt’s house. We greeted my aunt with a warm welcome and unpacked our things. 

The next morning, I peered through a window, disheartened by the sight before my eyes, I saw young children in makeshift clothes made from rags who looked as if they had spent the night on

the streets. They looked so fragile, so frail as if they would fall and break into a million pieces at the slightest touch. Trying to ignore their outstretched arms, I headed towards the bathroom, bewildered of looking at those filthy children. 

I felt an awful feeling that would not escape me. It was a mixture of guilt and sadness. I felt guilty for all that I had, sadness at seeing people living in such poor conditions. and drop the children to a shelter for the homeless and in need where they would be looked after properly. 

After one week, our flight departure was at 7:00 pm. When I glance back at this experience, I realize that it was truly eye-opening. However, this experience also altered and changed my mindset as I witnessed many things that startled me, but most importantly taught me the value of gratitude. Before leaving, my parents donated money to the woman and her children, enough to bring a smile on her face. They also gave charity to organizations and people that are unfortunate, frequently throughout our trip. 

In addition, I started realizing the daily possessions I have and that are available to me while some people are struggling to make ends meet for simple necessities, which I take for granted. I think this trip was a powerful and rewarding experience as it changed the way I viewed the world. 

Lastly, this experience taught me the simplicity of living and 20 years from now, I will always remember to be grateful and value the possessions and luxuries I have in my everyday life instead of looking at what I don’t have. Beneath my story lies a powerful message as the value of our possessions is zero at the end of life and I urge you to donate and help those less fortunate than you as not only would it make help make a difference but in fact it would brighten your day since “Your greatness is not what you have, it’s what you give.”

Short Story: Swish, by Hanna Grover

Short Story Contest - Contestant: Hanna Grover

2022
1:24 PM 

Her phone buzzed and she walked quickly to pick it up. 

“Hello mom?” 

“Aria, what’s wrong? Aren’t you at school?” 

“Yes but I’m not feeling well, I need you to come pick me up.” 

She was appalled and held her breath. Aria never leaves school early. She knew something was wrong, and it definitely wasn’t her health. 

“Aria, honey, you never leave school early. Did something happen?” 

“No mom I just need you to come pick me up. And stop asking so many questions, it’s annoying.” 

I recognized that familiar raspy tone, and I wasn’t going to give up. 

“Tell me what happened sweetheart, you know I’m always here to help.” “Nothing.” 

Aria paused and I could hear her internal battle through the phone. 

“Well, I guess something did. Ms. Clark paired us up in gym and most of my teammates were boys and they wouldn’t pass to me. I tried calling for the ball but everyone just ignored me. And when I did get the ball, I tried scoring but I missed and all the boys were upset because I made them lose. They made fun of me in front of everyone. It was so embarrassing Mom.” 

“Jason even said, ‘sports aren’t for girls.'” 

Aria’s mom sighed. Suddenly, a flashback hit her. 

1996 

Anaya zipped up her backpack full of thick textbooks, the fabric almost ripping at the delicate red seams. Relentlessly, she pulled out a thick book and tossed it aside on her bed. She walked over to her mirror– her blanket-like black hair was dancing with frizz and tangles, while her hazel eyes shimmered with light. She opened her jewelry case and took out her tarnished gold chain, one that never leaves her neck to the point where that you might even think it’s been

super-glued onto her. She quickly brushed through her hair with her fingers, grabbed her bright red backpack, and rushed down the stairs. 

Anaya’s mom was waiting with a fresh breakfast prepared and chai, her favorite beverage. An instant smile appeared on her face and she set aside her backpack on the chair as she quickly grabbed a spoon to enjoy the food her mother made her. With her mouth full, Anaya checked her class schedule for today. She pulled out the crisp folded piece of paper out of her cramped pocket and scanned it. Science, math, english, gym, all the usual subjects. Without care, she set it down the paper and put her dirty dishes in the sink. She rinsed them with water, grabbed her backpack and rushed into the car. 

First period was gym, and Anaya was excited. She’s been practicing basketball with her father for the gym unit and was getting better and better. She walked into the gym, the rain water under her shoes squeaking on the vinyl floor. She loved her class’ tradition of sitting in a circle after laps and she took her usual spot, right across from center. She waited patiently to hear what the today’s gym activity would be, and Ms. Rana had walked in holding a dusty wooden clipboard in her hand. 

“Alright class! As promised, we will play some basketball today! I’ll number you off randomly,” Ms. Rana spoke, her fingers flying as she pointed us off. 

“Alright, one’s in the middle, two’s in the corners, 3’s and 4’s in the back.” 

Anaya got number 2, and her eyes wandered around the gym to find her teammates. She saw a cluster of boys in the corner of the gym and got up to join them. As she walked over, the boys noticed her and a rhythm of sighs and disappointment came from their direction. 

“Not another girl.” 

“Bro now we’re never gonna beat the other team.” 

“Miss, can I switch teams?” 

“Can we trade teammates?” 

The comments continued and repeated like a broken record tape, and soon their voices started to sound like one too. They all stood away from her whispering, but Anaya didn’t care. She picked up a jersey. Her team was blue, her favorite color. She was still excited to play, even if her teammates weren’t. The games started and Anaya felt herself run like she did with her dad. She called out for the ball, but it was like they had earplugs in. Everyone ignored her, until the ball slipped out of Tommy’s hands, and landed 3 feet away from Anaya. This was her chance, she thought to herself. She scooped it up, but was surrounded by people. When she played with her dad, it was only him and her. She panicked and tried to shoot, but it bounced off the rim and the disappointing sound of the ball dropping was enough to cause a commotion. 

“Are you kidding? How did you miss that? This is why this team sucks, we would’ve won if it weren’t for you,” explained Tommy.

Tears filled Anaya’s eyes, and her vision became distorted, as if there was water covering a camera lens. She tried to say something, but couldn’t. Everyone was staring in her direction, and she was standing there looking like a fool. Her classmates were like blobs in Anaya’s vision, but her understanding became crystal clear when she heard what Tommy said: 

Sports aren’t for girls.” 

2022 

1:24 PM 

“Hello? Are you still there? Mom? Did you hang up?” 

She snapped back out of it, lost of breath. 

“Well, I’m sorry to say but it’s just like that. It was like that when I was a little girl too. It’s okay Aria. And anyways, I was never fond of you playing so much basketball instead of helping around the house or studying.” 

“I know you don’t like me playing basketball mom. But it’s not fair, why are we always treated differently? I’m always excluded. They made me feel like I was less than them.” 

“I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do Aria. I was like you too and trust me it never works out. Sports just aren’t for girls.” 

With anger, Aria slammed the phone down and the school receptionist gave her a questioning look. She stormed down the halls, opened her locker and took out her basketball. She felt the ridges of the rubber touch her gentle skin and she held it close to her body. Without thought, she walked to the gym. They were still there playing, so she went to a side hoop and started shooting, her mind running a mile a minute. 

With every shot, her ears rang with the words she received. 

Swish. 

“sports are not for girls” 

Swish. 

“sports are not for girls” 

Swish. 

“sports are not for girls”

She stopped to catch her breath, her hands on her knees. She looked up at the hoop and realized she just made all those shots in a row. Sports are for girls and boys, and she was living proof of it. She picked up the basketball and yelled out to Jason. 

“Jason, stop for a second, I’m joining again.” 

“Feel better already? I thought you went to call your mom because you were scared,” he joked. A few guys snickered, but Aria didn’t care. 

“Funny, Jason. I hope you know girls play sports and are good at them too. Maybe you should start treating everyone equally, because it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy. 

Jason stood in the middle of the court silently and was stunned. Aria gave a gentle smirk and joined in to show him how girls play sports. 

2032 

Aria sprinted down the court, the ball bouncing rapidly. 

Swish

Instantly, the majestic swish sound occurred again, the fifth one in a row. The crowd cheered including her coach and Aria saw her mom in the bleachers. “Nice shot Aria! That’s my girl,” she yelled. 

Swish. 

Aria gave her a small smile. Ten years ago, her mom would never agree to basketball as a career. Now, she’s cheering for the first women athlete in the NBA. 

Swish. 

Aria hears noise from behind her and she turns around to see a little girl on her father’s shoulders clapping for her. Her big eyes shimmer with admiration. That’s when she realized, she didn’t just stand up for herself. 

Swish. 

She stood up for equality, so other little girls could realize that they can be an athlete too. Swish. 

Because, “sports are for everyone.”

Short Story: Window Sill Sadness, by Tanishq

Short Story Contest - Third Place Winner: Tanishq

I was scared of birds growing up. There were these menacing, gawking ones that would come and sit on the fence in my backyard. The backyard of my home which resided in an aging neighborhood among many similar dim homes of its kind, on a bit of a sloping street which made each home seem a tad higher and lower to its contemporaries.The birds however, were black and purple and to be honest I had never seen anything quite like them anywhere else. When I stood by our sliding patio door that seemed to grow brackish in the fall weather, or by the kitchen window above the sink, their black, beady eyes bore down into me. They resembled the black obsidians that were my mother’s but unlike hers, I never grew close to them over the years. I once heard Mr. Smith say “birds are like. . . there to send you signs. . .” His scratchy old voice looked for better words and his eyes squinted in his retired search. He was a man of 84 (barely hanging on if you were to ask me) who had the habit of clicking his tongue after most sentences and he owned the gas station off First Boulevard which was one of those roads that you could have a calm afternoon walk on. Not quite busy. Not jammed with loud traffic and cars that didn’t budge. It made you wonder how well his business did if you didn’t find cars bustling around— but the pump was doing good for him. Good enough. He frequently leaned over one of the pumps popping a beer open, gritting its tin cap with his aged teeth. You would stop to hear his stories as cars circled through the lot around you, with a cola in hand as he, on occasion, stepped outside his humid, crammed room of an office to lean against the cooler out front. You would wait as condensation grew on the cold glass, as your hands grew wet and slipped around the neck of the bottle. You would stand patiently as the man of 84, dying of bad habits he picked up at fifteen of smoking between fifth period under the bleachers- habits that once made him too cool for school back in the day- opened his box of old stories that seemed like faraway, aged lives once lived with an excitement he wouldn’t show on his face. 

“They’re those things you call omens.” He finally completed, satisfied as the cap of his beer popped off making that hollow whistled noise. 

Omens. If you’ve heard of that word it was most likely connected to a negative connotation. “That’s a bad omen” you might have heard. I was wary of the word. If I thought too much into it, I would drive myself mad about those birds— even years after our move from that home. If I dismissed the word as a superstition, I would feel as if I were turning my back to a bad fate that was written into my future. I would believe as if I am turning my back to a monster, walking away from it though not getting any farther. And that feeling. . . The insecurity of the monster behind your back. . . that feeling creeps up on you. It crawls up your back and whispers unsurety and doubt into your ears. The birds, to me, were omens. Bad ones. When they showed up, they made a good day turn bad, and a bad day turn worse. 

I told my mother about them. About how they sat proud and deservingly on our fence. How the snarky little things flew away when she appeared.

“I hate that you give them all that unnecessary attention. You’re only stressing yourself out.” She would say as I sat on the kitchen countertop, watching her cook, watching her stir the ceramic red pot of stew with her wooden spoon and her nose scrunch up as the steam rose up into her face. She said that often as I often sat on the kitchen counter watching her cook, sometimes coming to her crying about the birds who didn’t seem to leave me alone. I even stopped going into my backyard at all because of them. Now, my mother was a loving woman. She never had the means to leave my side even when I became too difficult to deal with. But despite my personal discomfort for the birds, it seemed that they were never keen on my mother. And I took those birds’ sentiments seriously. This odd feeling crept up on me, corrupting every neuron in my brain because I knew surely that between the two of us, my mother carried a far more warm, inviting aura. She didn’t frown at the birds like I did, instead they sneered at her. Sometimes it even appeared to me that they liked to warn me before my mother would enter the room. They would point their beaks in unnatural ways and cryptically twist their rounded little heads around, squawking as she walked in a room behind me. Some would fly away as my mother appeared while the others left behind would viciously continue their squeaking noises directly at me, so loud that it made you want to bring your hands up and clasp them against your ears, eventually following the trail of their family. Despite their gawking, beady eyes, they were much more tame when only I was around, even serving as a serene background to glance up when I washed the dishes or entered a room. 

So, one Thursday I was surprised to notice the birds hadn’t appeared when I showed up at my kitchen sink and looked out the window at our backroads fence. It was lonesome, missing its usual companions. Perhaps a wish I had been muttering to myself for years, had finally come true. Though, because of it, a guilt began settling at the core of me, separating itself from my wishes like oil and water. That night I sat by my mother in the kitchen again, as she stirred the red ceramic pot with her wooden spoon, mixing plump, feathery lumps into the stew. Stirring the eight limp corpses of my childhood nemesis in the pot, carrots and peas floating around with them in the brackash liquid. My mother noticed me staring, tears appeared in her eyes, round beady ones, her gaze shifting away from the stray feet, talons, and what I couldn’t mistake as their beady black beads boiling away into washy marbles, floating at the mixture’s surface. 

“I just hated how sad they made you feel, dear. I got rid of them for you.” She said in a soft voice, then she mumbled a delicate “I love you more than anything” under her breath, continuing her stirring. Sitting comfortably on the counter top, I now gawked at the helpless birds. 

The End.

Short Story: A Coincidence Like No Other, by Abbi Kam

Short Story Contest - Second Place Winner: Abbi Kam

It was 9 am on May 12th, the day after Willow Kemp had been released from the hospital. Her mother, Sylvia Kemp, was forcing her to talk with “the most prominent child psychologist in America” named by the International Journal of Psychology, Dr. P. Lotor about the events that lead to her hospitalization. His office sat on the highest floor of one of the biggest skyscrapers she had ever seen. Willow internally lamented not only due to the fact that she thought it was a ludicrous idea but because she would rather be at home playing video games. So there she sat as Dr. Lotor asked her questions one after the other about what happened on May 7th. Her eyes scanned the room, noticing a big, floor-to-ceiling window on her left, where she observed the sombre setting for what was forecasted to be a sunny, spring day. On the adjacent wall hung a blank, jumbo T.V., with the accompanying remote on the coffee table in front of her, just an arm’s length away. Her nose could smell the unpleasant mix of aromas that were emitted due to various scented candles that were lit on the desk behind Dr. Lotor. Willow’s body kept moving from side to side on the big, leather couch searching for a spot that felt comfortable. Her tongue was holding onto the bitter taste of the black coffee that Willow forced her mother to get her. She desperately tried to focus on anything else as Dr. Lotor relentlessly repeated the same set of specific questions about her emotions which she didn’t even know the answers to. After 10 minutes of repetition, Willow became fed up and just wanted to leave. It was then that he had broken the pattern. This time he asked her “are you okay Willow?” but she obviously was not okay. Dr. Lotor followed up with “can you tell me what happened?” “Fine.” 

Willow began recounting what had happened “The day started off like any other. I slumped out of bed, got ready and actually left for school on time. As I was walking I pulled out my phone, trying to check Instagram but I accidentally clicked on ‘The Update’, one of those news apps. I saw some articles in the breaking news section and was kinda curious so I stopped and clicked on a couple of the headlines. The first one was about some rabies infection going on with the animals on Staten Island, that’s where I am from. But I didn’t care because it was not like a little bunny or rat was gonna hurt me anyway. The next article though, that one kinda scared me. The headline said that there was a serial shooter on the loose who targets schools and the useless police had zero leads. I was seriously considering ditching again and going back home to play video games, but the last time I did that my annoying principal told my mom that if I ditched 1 more time then I would be suspended. And even though there was a chance I could die if I went to school, my mom would have definitely killed me for getting suspended. So I continued walking again, and I got a text from my childhood best friend, actually, my only friend, Jai. She wanted to know where I was but I was confused because I left for school on time. But I guess when I stopped to read the article I kinda paused a little too long. And knew my extremely boring and irritating Math teacher would just mark me absent if I was even a second late. So I started to run to class and because I am so damn lucky, the sunny skies quickly started to pour down rain. 

I got in through one of the side doors and was about to make my way up the stairs when someone came flying down and crashed into me. I mean I was glad to know

I wasn’t the only one late. But they were going so fast that I fell back and the trash can behind me toppled over into the doorway. It spilled trash both inside and outside of the door frame. I got up and looked at the kid but I didn’t recognize him. Which was lowkey 

weird because Jai is like the school president and really popular so she knows everyone. And because I am her best friend, I kinda know everyone too. I didn’t make much of it though, because he was wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and this really ugly turtleneck sweater that basically covered his entire face. He seemed really agitated though and was murmuring to himself about something, then grabbed his bag as if there were a million dollars in it. He adjusted the collar of his sweater and I noticed a tattoo on the left side of his neck. I couldn’t tell what the exact image was but it was definitely in the style of Trash Polka. It was cool to see some Trash Polka on a kid like me because it’s a style not many people know about.” Thump! Willow is jolted out of her memory by Dr. Lotor’s pen slipping out of his hand and hitting the ground. He grabs his phone and furiously starts messaging someone. She looks at him and his panicked face urges her to continue on. 

“I brushed off the trash and rushed up the stairs and through the halls trying to avoid getting caught by the teachers. When I finally got to Math class, Jai smirked at me and said “and she makes it into class with a second to spare.” Our teacher, Mr. Alpin rang his dumbbell to get the class’ attention and then started our boring review before the test tomorrow. So I sat through the dull lesson as everyone’s heads were dropping as they fell asleep. I prayed for some sort of break from this dead 3-hour class. Then, as if someone was answering my prayers, the bright, white emergency light started flashing on the yellowish classroom wall and our school’s principal, Mrs. Moreno’s monotone voice came through on the P.A. system saying ‘We are in a lockdown’. She didn’t elaborate much, leaving the class to wonder. I hobbled over to the cramped lockdown corner and saw my best friend showing me a seat next to her. Mr. Alpin quickly rolled down the blinds and locked the door. I thought to myself ‘Sweet finally, a break from Math’. 

Strangely though, after 20 minutes, the lockdown was not over. It wasn’t long before the class started to become anxious, whispering around, quietly asking why we were still on the floor. Jai asked, “This is a drill right?” I nodded unsurely. Soon, a panicked murmur began to spread that a shooter was in the school. I immediately remembered the article, and then that weird kid from the stairs. That is when havoc wreaked in the classroom. My class was beginning to lose their cool. Some people were even hyperventilating! I tried to remain calm but there was a shooter in my school, how could I? I glanced at the emergency light. It was blinding me as my life flashed before my eyes! All I could think about was how I hadn’t beaten Minecraft in under 20 minutes yet, I knew this was it. I heard something outside the door, like rapid footsteps and they were getting louder and louder: thump, thump, thump in the hallway outside my classroom. My class started moving closer to the walls, trying to protect themselves as if a couple of inches closer to the wall was going to save them. We braced ourselves for the shots that were to come. As someone in my class backed up further to the corner there was a “POP”. The person next to me fainted after the gunshot. Who was the person that got shot? Are they alive? Did someone call the cops? There were so many

unanswered questions, but I couldn’t focus on anything. Everything became a blur. The only thing I could think about was our monotone principal saying “we are in a lockdown” and the “POP”, that just repeated in my head. Then Jai whispered something in my ear 

“No gunshot, Hannah backed onto some random bubble wrap.” Just when things started to look up, I could hear the door of the empty classroom next to us creak open. I thought that the shooter must have heard the bubble wrap pop and was trying to find where it came from. I was desperate for answers and just wanted to know what was going on. 

Then, I noticed that some of the tape holding the paper over the window on our classroom door was starting to peel. I wanted to get up to go and fix it but Mr. Alpin told me to sit back down. I stared at the tape hoping that it would hold up, otherwise the shooter would for sure know where we were. The top corner of the paper fell down but most of the window was still covered. I couldn’t take it anymore, I knew that the shooter was coming and I was not going to let him see us. I watched Mr. Alpin make sure he was looking away, then I stood up and lept over the other kids for the door. I reached my hand out to push the corner of the paper back up and re-stick the tape. I was almost there but I looked down and realized my shoelaces were untied and before I knew it I started to fall face-first onto the cold, hard, tiled floor. My hand was still holding the paper over the window so as I went down, so did it. Everyone watched as I not only exposed the entire window but made a loud noise when I hit the ground. I lifted my face up off the floor and peered out the bottom of the window where I saw a trail of the garbage along the halls, then something appeared out of the corner. It was brownish-grey and I could only assume it was one of the shooter’s shoes. My memory flashed back to the run-in I had with that mysterious teen earlier this morning. Was he the shooter? I started to panic even more, as I thought he was probably looking for me as I pissed him off by bumping into him. I was frozen to the ground in shock. 

I closed my eyes and accepted my fate when I heard hissing coming from the other side of the door. My curiosity took over. I opened one eye slightly when the most ferocious, creepy raccoon looked directly into my eyes with a desire to kill. It lept right at me, its long, sharp claws and mouth wide open showing me all its teeth. That moment I passed out as the rabid raccoon tried to jump through the glass window. 

I woke up in this strange hospital bed with no one beside me. I looked at the table to my left and I saw my phone. Scared for the sake of my school and my friend, I grabbed it and searched up “Littlewood High shooting” and hit the news tab. I clicked on the first article I could find and started reading, but nothing made sense. It said that the shooter came in at the end of the day but we went into lockdown in the middle of the first period. I scrolled to the top of the article and found that it was dated 20 years ago. So I searched it up again, “Littlewood High shooting” and all the information was still 20 years ago. I thought to myself if there was no shooting, then what in the world caused the lockdown? Just as I was thinking, a doctor, a nurse and my mother walked in. “Willow, you’re awake” my mother squealed with excitement. “Hi Willow, I am Dr. Kaur and you are going to be just fine. You suffered some injuries from the fall and we want to monitor you for a couple of days.” “That means no phone until you’re better. You will

need the rest Willow” my mother chimed in as if she is just knowledgeable as the real doctor. “In addition, the raccoon definitely gave you a scare and I recommend that you see a therapist” concluded Dr. Kaur. Oh the raccoon, I thought to myself. 

Knock, knock knock, the door creaked open as a faint female voice whispers “sorry to interrupt but Dr. Lotor is needed urgently on line 2.” “I’m on my way,” Dr. Lotor tells the secretary as she quietly closes the door. He then tells Willow to sit still and that he will be back in a minute. She tries but Willow very quickly gets bored and finally decides to turn on the T.V. She picks up the remote and the first channel that pops up is the news. She can see on the screen that the latest story is about another school shooting. Intrigued, Willow grabs the remote and turns up the volume so she can hear what the news anchor is saying. “We are live in front of the police station with police chief Cooder who says that after multiple school shootings and no arrests, the police have a break in the case. Police Chief Cooder, what new information do you have about the school shootings? ‘Well, evidence from the latest shooting shows us that the once stealthy shooter has now entered what psychologists call a spiral. Most likely due to an added stressor causing the shooter to lose focus and become sloppy but most importantly, more dangerous. This has caused them to make mistakes that can help us identify who they are. We found footage from the school shooting that took place less than 24 hours ago, revealing that the shooter is a young male, dressed in all black clothing with a, umm, Trash Polka style tattoo on the left side of his neck. We are asking that if anyone has any other information to please contact our tips hotline.’ “Thank you so much, Chief Cooder and we will be back after a short commercial to tell you all about the rabid animals roaming our city.” 

Willow’s breathing was getting heavier as she started to panic. Just then the door creaked open once again, and Willow quickly turned off the T.V. thinking that Dr. Lotor had returned. Instead, a younger, almost identical man wearing dress pants and a turtle neck walked in. “Sorry, I just need to grab something from the safe under my father’s desk,” he said. “Oh yeah go ahead,” Willow responded as she watched him reach down to the safe. “Hey, have we met before, you look familiar” the boy pointed out, “No I don’t think so, this is my first time coming this far into the city, I actually live on Staten Island.” “Oh, near the shootings?” he questioned, “yeah but my school wasn’t attacked, well we were but only by a raccoon and well a, you know what nevermind” Willow responded. “You know the point of therapy is being honest,” “It’s just something I saw on the day of the lockdown” she replied. “I knew it was you,” he thought to himself as he entered the pin numbers into the safe. Beep, beep, beep, beep! As she curiously waited to see what Dr. Lotor kept in his safe, Willow couldn’t help but notice the Trash Polka tattoo on the left side of the boy’s neck. He stood up and smiled directly at Willow as he pulled out the fully loaded handgun and pointed it right at her….

Short Story: On the Precipice of Us, by Tiffany London

Short Story Contest - First Place Winner: Tiffany London

He watched Catherine in the greenhouse, picking up her brush, swirling it in a light, misty colour–almost grey. She always imagined the man on her canvas to have eyes light in colour, but she felt a chill falling down her spine before she could even lift the brush to the canvas. 

“Wrong shade?” She questioned under her breath, so quietly she was more so asking herself than anyone else, but the ghost in her house heard her and let her know he disapproved of her choice of colour. “I always imagined you with blue or grey eyes,” she mumbled still. “You have to understand, this is still new to me.” 

It was true, Catherine had dedicated the better part of her life to oils, not painting ghosts. Since the death of her late husband, Julian Roussin, she’d spent more time with this ghost in her house than she would have liked to admit. 

Before washing the paintbrush clean of the grey, she leaned over and marked the leg of her easel. One mark for today, and a million marks for the past. The ghost had introduced himself into her life almost two years ago. She’d kept track everyday, using paint to make a mark on the leg of her easel for each day that passed and he was still here. She did it at first to prove to herself she wasn’t going insane, but by now it was merely habit. 

Every month since then, she’d spent anywhere from days to months, painting the face of a man, the face of the man that she believed was in her house. “We do this every time,” Catherine said, studying the canvas. “You let me mix my paint, and it’s always the wrong colour, but you never stop me until I’m finished.” She shrugged her shoulders. “And by then, I’ve already wasted so much paint.” Turning her chair, she cringed at the number of paintings resting against the wall, all collecting dust. Every one of them wore a different face. One with eyes so bright and blue they just looked like bowls collecting water. One with a crooked nose that you could hang your clothes on, but they were all wrong. None of these were the ghost, and if attempting to capture him in acrylics was the only thing keeping her sane, she would do nothing but. 

A short rap at the door of the greenhouse caught her attention. Catherine didn’t have many friends, not before Julian and definitely not since his death. Not to mention Catherine hadn’t been anything short of hostile towards any friends who had stayed put. 

“It’s raining cats and dogs out there,” Marjorie said, letting herself into the greenhouse before Catherine could open the door all the way. Her jacket was drenched to the bone, her curly hair now stringy and limp around the shoulders. It was always like this with Marjorie–loud and her personality was often described as overstimulating, but she was one of the only people who still came around the house anymore. Being Julian’s older sister, she was only obligated to tolerate Catherine. 

“Well, why on earth should you come walking over here, then?” Catherine asked, deciding today was not the day to beat around the bush. “I was painting.” “You’re always painting,” Marjorie remarked, pulling a small wrapped parcel out of her coat pocket. “I tried to bake cookies. A gesture of my love.” She looked to the side, not entirely surprised to see the plethora of paintings littering the walls. “You’re still painting your mystery man?” 

Catherine pushed her shoulders back, “He’s not a mystery man,” she said. “And I’m trying to paint him, but you keep interrupting.”

Marjorie cocked her head, turning back around. “You’re obsessed with this man, Catherine, the least you could do is introduce us.” She pushed the wrapped cookies into Catherine’s hands, before taking a seat. “We need to talk.” 

Catherine placed the parcel on a random table, refusing to let herself throw Marjorie out in the rain, but she remained standing. “About what?” The woman paused for a second, staring at Catherine, knowing her next words would have to come out carefully. “I’m worried about you, Cathy. You never come outside, you’re always in here painting, and you’ve become infatuated with this man that you won’t tell anyone anything about.” 

Catherine’s jaw locked, stopping her from speaking and she knew it was the ghost. He was stopping her from saying anything. 

Marjorie took this as a sign to continue speaking. “You stay in here any longer and you’ll go insane. I’m going to have a doctor come over.” 

The ghost released Catherine. “I’m not insane, Marge and I don’t need to have a doctor come and tell me I’m fine when I already know I am. You’re overstepping.” 

Marjorie looked around at the greenhouse, the slash marks on Catherine’s easel and the way Catherine herself looked older than her real age. “He’s going to be here tomorrow. I’ll be here too. Please, Cathy, for your sake. It’s what Julian would have wanted.” 

It took a great deal of effort for Catherine to open the door to the doctor the next morning and it took a great deal more not to get rid of him. For one, he was utterly convinced that Catherine should be bedridden until he could come to any other conclusion. He said she was practically on the road to madness and ought not to spend so much time painting. 

He even stayed over to sit in the garden with her, talking to her about plants as if she could give a care in the world about any of it. He asked who built her wooden planting pots and who trimmed the hedges and even more! She’d never heard someone so interested in pots and dirt before. 

Marjorie suggested she stay over, at least for the next couple days to help around the house. She didn’t realise how little Catherine already did to keep the house clean and running, but it was no use anyway. Catherine insisted she was fine on her own and that was the end of the conversation. 

So she pretended to be perfectly okay when the doctor suggested another visit and waited until both he and Marjorie were gone before making her way to the greenhouse. She needed to paint this ghost, it was the only way she would meet him. It all made sense to her–to encapsulate him in her paintings would essentially be the same as talking to him, seeing him in real life. 

Taking out her acrylics, she decided to stand this time around. 

“Silly doctor,” she said aloud for the ghost to hear. “Silly Marjorie. They both believe me to be crazy. I’m not.” 

She stared into the eyes of her painting. They were staring back at her, she could tell. Catherine couldn’t look away. They held a warmth only dark eyes could and these were the darkest. 

“Ghost?” She mumbled. “It’s you, isn’t it? These are your eyes?” She didn’t feel anything. Nothing stopped and the world kept moving. She started to feel a rigidness in her back. She needed this to be him, she was desperate to be near him. 

Gradually, the rigidness built up inside her, anger and frustration making it difficult to see and breathe.

“Why are you hiding?” She asked herself, her voice small and tone sharp. “I’m right here–can’t you understand? I want to be with you. I can’t do this alone, you know this. Talk to me.” Her words came stumbling out of her mouth rushed, as if she was a little girl learning to speak again. 

A rash anger flooded her body. Catherine staggered around the greenhouse, tears dampening her cheeks in a hot rage, flinging her canvas and bringing it down to the ground. A pained scream left the depths of her throat leaving it scratched, but she couldn’t stop. This was her only chance to love again. 

She heard the drawings and cabinets opening and slamming on their own, then the familiar voice of Marjorie, yelling for Catherine and her hands palming the greenhouse door. It was only until the door finally gave in to Marjorie’s body slams when the noise stopped and Catherine stood there, her hands in shaking fists by her sides. 

Almost immediately, she felt Marjorie’s hands on her arms, pulling her and tugging her. After that, there was nothing. 

The doctor arrived early that morning. Marjorie had invited herself to stay the night after Catherine’s meltdown, which she had described to the doctor as ‘a display of complete and undeniable mental derangement’. And how could Catherine argue against that? There was no way, not since Marjorie witnessed her smearing paint on the floor and on herself, and not since she left the greenhouse looking like nothing short of a madhouse. 

Therefore Catherine didn’t try to oppose and settled for silence when the doctor ordered Marjorie to lock the doors to the greenhouse, believing it was the painting that led her to experience such large amounts of hysteria. 

She was already bedridden, but Marjorie had taken it upon herself now to stay sitting in the kitchen. Catherine saw her moving her stuff into the room next to her own earlier. She’d been rifling through the linen closet only a few minutes ago looking for clean sheets and pillow cases. 

“Honey for your throat,” Marjorie said, setting a thick rimmed mug down on the side table, eyeing Catherine, who hadn’t so much as whispered one word since last night. “You won’t talk,” the woman noted. “Don’t. Rest your voice. You nearly broke the windows with your screams.” Catherine noticed the way Marjorie’s voice wavered as she spoke. She was scared of her. She was scared of the crazy woman she was now looking over. 

Catherine stared straight ahead. Marjorie had never seen a presence so dark in a woman with eyes as blue and light as Catherine’s. Before she could walk away, Catherine suddenly grabbed Marjorie’s wrist, her hands cold–almost lifeless. 

“It’s not the painting,” she wheezed, her head turning and her eyes finding Marjorie’s. “It’s the ghost. He’s here, Marjorie. He’s in the greenhouse and he’s looking for me.” Catherine didn’t say anything after that. She stayed sitting in bed, even as Marjorie labelled her as clinically insane and left her, closing the bedroom door behind her. 

Catherine watched as Marjorie brought in laundry, listened to her shuffling around the house cleaning everything Catherine should have cleaned before. She sat and watched the wall, waiting for the moment. 

She let herself be taken care of, drinking every ailment and sleeping a great deal when ordered. She let herself be dressed and bathed and then put back in bed once again, just to be told to sleep once more. Catherine could hear him in the greenhouse, his breathing and his footsteps, calling her down.

When everything was quiet, when she was sure Marjorie was asleep, she climbed out of bed. Passing Marjorie’s room, she locked the door from the outside, her feet then making slow, small steps towards the greenhouse. He was there and he wanted to talk to her–Catherine already knew. 

Passing by the living room, she picked up a fire iron, letting it drag across the wooden floor as she walked down the hallway, the stick scratching up the wood. Catherine used the fire iron to force the greenhouse door open with an explosive crack, dropping the stick by the frame of the door. 

She could already hear Marjorie yelling upstairs, her hands banging and her feet stomping on the floor. It was deafening. Catherine could feel that rigidness ignite in her body once again, a humming noise filling her eardrums and Marjorie’s constant cries weren’t helping. 

“Help me,” Catherine asked the ghost, now back in the greenhouse. “Silence her for me. Can you hear me?” 

Everything stopped. The clock stopped in its place and the wind dared not to play with the curtains hanging over the windows. Catherine stood in the middle of the floor, surrounded by nothing but the absolute quietness of the evening. Looking outside, she watched as Marjorie fell from her room, her body still as it landed on the ground. 

All at once, the chandelier fell from the ceiling, crashing and splitting apart at Catherine’s feet. Every diamond previously attached flew across the room, the lights giving up. The mirrors slid down the wall, pieces of glass finding a home in every crevice of the room and littering the floor. Catherine saw her photo of Julian, once sitting prettily on her nightstand, shatter and she covered her head with her arms, hearing the metal photo frame slamming into the wall. 

Looking up, she watched as the large bay windows, sheets of glass, fractured and disintegrated into slivers smaller than dust. Falling, the shards of glass looked like rain against the darkness of the sky. 

Catherine lost her voice at the back of her throat, every attempt at speaking met with nothing but short, staggered breaths. A nervous weakness spread throughout her arms and legs. 

Her eyes focused on a large shard of mirror. She knew what she had to do–to be with the ghost. Picking up the glass, she smiled. 

“My love,” she whispered. “I’m coming.” And she brought the glass to her throat.