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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

           She is running, the heels of her five-inch Barbie pink stilettos click-clacking against the pavement as her legs furiously thrust forward. Her dress is torn; her heavily made-up face has become pale, and her eyes, outlined in a thick contour of black, are as wide as that of a deer caught in the headlights. When she trips on her own feet, she flings off her shoes and continues running barefoot, her neon-colored toenails gleaming like beacons in the darkness. It is a midsummer’s night, but her arms are prickled with goose bumps, and shivers tingle up her spine. She glances over her shoulder and quickens her pace, her breath coming in short but heavy intervals, making it seem like she is gasping for oxygen. The air smells strongly of drink; she can still taste the alcohol that had passed over her tongue a just a short while ago. At this moment, however, she is not overtaken by the effects of drink, for the adrenaline pumping within her seemed to have beaten out all other sensations in her body. Her heartbeat is flying; she looks behind her once more, her eyes searching for something in the night. Perhaps she imagines it, but for one terrifying second, she catches sight of a figure in the shadows—a moving outline blacker than the surrounding gloom. She begins to tremble. Her bottom lip quivers, and a chilling scream escapes her throat. Her eyes dart desperately toward the several unlit mansions along the road, but no help comes. She is alone.

            Except—she’s not.

            Her body tenses as something sharp bounces off the back of her head. It lands behind her, and she stops to see what it was: one of her own hot pink stiletto shoes. A warm trickle of blood oozes down onto her neck, which is suddenly grasped by ice-cold fingers. They wrap around her tightly, sending her into an oblivion darker than the shades of night. The last thing she hears is a raspy, all-too-familiar whisper:

            “I have you now.”

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            He was a song that wove in and out of my dreams—a lullaby capable of calming even the fiercest of storms. His presence was like sunlight; it shone upon the world but cast shadows that could not be ignored. To him, everything was effortless, and he moved with both a grace and an energy he could barely contain. He was fire in a lonely hearth. He was color in a world of black-and-white.

            It was all wrong. So wrong. But he wiped away the tears and told me it was right. And in that moment, even the most unyielding of people would’ve believed him, for he put a confidence into his words that made it seem like he was swearing upon his life.

            Yet he rarely took anything seriously. His laugh was an infectious melody that never went too long without being played. Life was a game of cards, and he always bet his all. No one expected him to play fair—not because it was his priority to win, but because he lived to misbehave. Winning, however, was inevitable.

            His emotions were strong as the tide. He tried to conceal them, but his eyes betrayed all—blue-green eyes that were as beautiful as he was himself. They revealed what most people did not know: He was broken. Internally shattered. The past was a source of pain, and the future was something that would be put off for as long as possible. He lived in the here-and-now; he brushed everything else away.

            It was intoxicating to be around him. He was a diamond in a bed of crystals—a masterpiece hidden away in an attic. Everything about him was so unbelievable that sometimes I wondered if he was a figment of my imagination.

            But perfection could never be attained. He was a disaster waiting to happen—a match struck in the middle of a forest. He was beyond the point of being fixed, so there was no use in trying to repair the damage.

            He was a beautiful mess. And I loved everything about him.

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      As knowledgeable as any respected scholar, she is an expert on the English language. There is no grammatical question that she can’t answer, and if a student made any blunders in the paper they wrote, she will not hold back. It is a good thing, however, for her meticulousness allows her students to learn from their errors and do better next time. She makes the complex rules of grammar become understandable and applicable. She helps her pupils sound much more sophisticated in their writing than they actually are. Fragments are her sworn enemies, but if you use well-placed commas, you will become her best friend.

      Not only does she teach well, but she also keeps her class entertained. Whenever it relates to the material, she shares anecdotes from her personal life—stories about her beloved family members and her adventures at Dickens Camp, which is heaven for all the Charles Dickens aficionados out there. The sentences she writes on the board as examples of correct and incorrect grammar are always about her class, and she becomes so absorbed in them that they become an amusing tale that keeps the children laughing while they learn. She engages her students in discussions that relate to what they have read and allow them to share their views with their peers. These conversations give her a new, fresh perspective and keep her thinking long after she has gone home. She loves to hear what the children have to say.

      It is clear that she wants the younger generation to further involve themselves in reading and writing—diversions that seem to have become lost with the rise of technology. The knowledge her students have gained in her class will forever be to their benefit. Although they complain of their assignments now, as they progress on their educational paths, they will never forget how much she has taught them. She, on the other hand, will never forget how much they have taught her—they, the students she considers as her own. The students who remind her that, although she is a teacher, there is still so much for her to learn.

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       She was so young—just a little girl, not even on the verge of womanhood. She was at that age where she was supposed to be preoccupied only with having fun and getting outside to discover the world. Her mother encouraged her to do so, for she knew that childhood doesn’t last and should be enjoyed while it can. She bought her daughter a variety of toys and introduced her to all the other children in the neighborhood in attempt to keep her entertained. The daughter politely obliged and was grateful for all she had, but in truth she was only interested in one thing: growing up.

       The little girl wanted to become a lady, she said, with proper manners and elbow-length gloves, just as she had seen in black-and-white movies. She wanted to drink tea and gossip—to dance in ballrooms with the hem of her dress flowing out beneath her. The prospect of handsome young gentlemen whispering gallant nothings into her ear excited her and caused her to seek out potential suitors in her circle of friends from the neighborhood. In her dreams, she was a sought-after member of gentility, just like the heroines of films of the past.

       Her mother knew that such old-fashioned ways did not exist anymore, but she saw the symbolism in her daughter’s wishes: a desire to leave childhood as quickly as possible. Soon she would be wearing lipstick and having boyfriends—she would be breaking countless rules and countless hearts, including those of her parents. The future wasn’t too distant; in just a matter of years, the little girl wouldn’t be so little anymore. True, she would never be a proper young lady of the past, but the venture into womanhood was inevitable. Her mother just wished it wouldn’t come so quickly. Because she, like her daughter, had waved away her childhood, and now she regretted it more than anything. She knew the glamour of becoming an adult was fleeting, and she feared that her daughter would make the same realization when it was too late and childhood had already slipped away.

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       If you could see the world through my eyes, you’d be astounded. The sky is not blue—it is azure, and each blade of grass is a shard of glittering emerald. The flower petals fall from the trees like snow, and the snow falls like fragments of the moon drifting down to the earth. With every raindrop comes the smell of the sea, and the canopy of stars above shines brighter than the sun. The colors are pure—overwhelming, as if the saturation has been set to the extreme. They will stun you, captivate you, and make you think that you have never seen such hues before. In everything you behold, you will find beauty, and you will become lost in the brilliance that shines through.

       There are shadows, however—undeniable shadows that accompany the light. They will creep around you when you are not looking; they will feel like a pair of eyes watching you from behind. Be wary, for the darkness consumes everything in its path. And the cold—a thousand fingers made of icicles were latching onto you, trying to drag you into the depths of your fears. Every voice is a scream. Every cloud turns to gray and sends a cackle of thunder. The rivers are made of tears, and once the sun sets your nightmares will be free to roam. The worries you push to the back of your mind will be suddenly impossible to avoid. If you close your eyes, you could pretend none of it exists. But the broken path will always be the one underneath your feet.

       In my world, everything has a place—every key has a lock, every word has a phrase, every rhyme has a song. And if you look closely, you will be able to find a meaning in all you see. At first it might not be evident, but in time you will wonder how you had not realized it before. There are no rules, and reason is to be frowned upon. You will find that lies are thin and can be cut through with a knife. The truth is made of diamonds and therefore cannot be penetrated. If you need to know something, it will be clear as your reflection—but only after you have cleaned the glass. The rainbows come before the rain, and when it does rain, it comes as a downpour. But the sun will always shine again, peeking out through the clouds and offering you a glimpse of the heavens.

       If you could see the world through my eyes, everything would be explained, and you would realize how blind you had been before.

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      The curtains were closed. The sound of the audience’s chatter resounded in Nicholas’ mind, synchronizing with the beat of his blood pounding through his ears. He knew they were talking about him, speculating on just how this show was going to be superior to all the others. That was how it had been advertised, after all: the grandest, most astounding act that would ever be performed by the young magician.

      Beads of sweat trickled down his face, and he felt sick to his stomach. On no occasion had nerves proved to be a problem for him—until now. He had put on shows for the wealthiest families in London, not to mention all kinds of royalties, including King Edward VII. Uneasiness was a new experience for him and one he wished he could escape from.

      He drew back one of the velvet drapes just enough so he could peek out at the theater beyond. Arranged in a vast semicircle were the seats, each and every one of them occupied by a member of high society. A gigantic, dimly lit chandelier hung from the ceiling, illuminating the floral pattern of the carpet that was spread across the entirety of the floor. The sense of anticipation that preceded any of his shows was heaviest tonight and evident on the faces of the spectators.

      Men were dressed in formal evening wear, and the hems of the women’s gowns elegantly spilled onto the floor. Familiar locals were interspersed with strangers that Nicholas had never seen before—people who had traveled to London just to see his performance. It was clear that this show was the place to see and be seen, and someone who could certainly not go unnoticed that night was the king himself, sitting conspicuously in one of the balconies along the auditorium’s wall. Next to him was Alexandra, his wife and the queen, her extravagant jewels glistening and binoculars raised up to her eyes.

       “If you can see them, they can see you,” said a gruff voice from behind him.

      Nicholas started and whirled around to face Percival, the wiry old man who produced his shows. He was dressed for the event in a black dress coat with an immaculate white bowtie. One of his gloved hands loosely held his walking stick, which Nicholas knew that, despite the man’s age, Percival did not need and wore only for aesthetic reasons.

       “Sorry,” muttered Nicholas, yanking the curtain closed. He felt as if he were a child being scolded for his misbehavior.

      Percival grumbled incoherently and dragged over a nearby stool, one of the props for the performance. He gestured for Nicholas to take a seat, which the young magician gratefully did.

       “You look pale, boy,” Percival remarked, sounding concerned. “And a bit green, at that.”

      Nicholas took a deep breath and removed his top hat, clutching it anxiously in his hands. “I don’t think I can do it.”

      Percival’s eyebrows shot up, causing him to adjust his monocle—which was merely a round piece of glass—to prevent it from falling. In truth, he had no problems with his vision, but he believed that wearing a monocle would make him look more urbane. Nicholas often mocked him about his fake eyeglass, and every time he did so the old man huffily responded that sophistication was a necessity for him, as he was the producer of the most esteemed performances in England.

       “What do you mean?” Percival cried. “Do you dare say that you will cancel this show when it has been appearing in the paper for months now and many people say that it will be the highlight of the new decade? Perhaps even the new century? Are you going to call this show off when the king is out there in the audience, waiting and wondering why it hasn’t started yet?”

      Nicholas shrugged. “Couldn’t we just postpone it to a different date?”

      The old man cackled humorlessly. “And dismiss all these people who have already gathered here? What a disaster that would be! Under no circumstance will this show be delayed! You are Nicholas Galvan, for God’s sake, the seventeen year-old magician who has the entire country waiting with bated breath to see what he will do next!”

      Crossing his arms, Nicholas grudgingly realized that his producer was speaking the truth. It would look foolish to put a stop to the show that would supposedly be one of the first significant events of the twentieth century.

       “But… should I really show them that it exists?” he asked quietly.

      The noise on the other side of the curtains was growing louder—a sign that the crowd was beginning to get restless. The show should have started already, thought Nicholas, feeling even tenser. He involuntarily pictured a clock in his mind, ticking off each passing second.

       “I believe,” said Percival, reaching out a hand to help the magician up and towing the stool back to the side of the stage, “that it has been kept a secret for far too long.”

      With that, the old man left, and all the lights promptly went out. The auditorium was immersed in darkness, leaving women gasping and shrieking in alarm. After this initial surprise, the crowd hushed in expectancy, and a silence that was almost deafening filled the air.

      A single beam of light appeared at the center of the stage. Nicholas silently walked to it, searching his mind for some way that he could escape the finale. He found it was inevitable unless he wanted the show to be anticlimactic. With frustration, he realized that he had gotten himself into this situation. If he hadn’t asked for this performance to be publicized as flamboyantly as it had, he could have ended with a simple yet crowd-pleasing trick. Until just a few minutes ago, however, that was not what he’d wanted.

      He had thought he was ready. Now he knew he’d been mistaken.

      Deciding that it was too late to change his mind, he smoothed out his coat and threw on his top hat. The curtains began to open, revealing the now hushed members of the audience. Nicholas focused on the many eager faces before him, the blindingly bright light… anything but the finale. He couldn’t bear to think of what was coming.

       “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, spreading out his arms in a welcoming gesture, “allow me to introduce myself.” His voice boomed in the auditorium, sounding strange to him. “I am Nicholas Quincy Galvan, master of magic, keeper of mystical secrets. What you are about to witness is the greatest act that man will ever know of.”

      Murmurs surged throughout the crowd like waves. Nicholas took a few steps forward, his shoes clicking against the wooden stage and echoing off the walls of the theater. The beam of light followed him as he moved, as did the widened eyes of every spectator.

       “It is my deepest regret that misfortune has fallen upon every one of you,” he continued, “for everything you will see tonight is completely and utterly real.”

      A collective gasp emanated from the audience. He halted at the very edge of the stage, and with a flourish of his hand, the theater was abruptly basked in light. “For my first act, I will need a volunteer.”

Several hands shot up. It seemed that everyone wanted to be a part of the show that possibly even generations to come would talk about. Nicholas scanned the crowd, and his eyes fell upon an unfamiliar redhead, radiant and grinning.

       “How about the lovely girl in the green dress?” he said, gesturing for her.

      She seemed to glide across the auditorium, not paying any attention to the envious glares other young women who had raised their hands were giving her. A second beam of light followed her as she skipped up the steps and joined the magician on the stage.

       “What is your name?” Nicholas asked while hauling out a tripod from one of the wings. On top of it was a misshapen bundle of canvas.

       “Scarlet Brooks, of Oxfordshire,” she responded, staring questioningly at the equipment. Her eyes were the color of emeralds, and her voice reminded Nicholas of the tinkling of wind chimes.

      The magician set the tripod on the middle of the stage and tugged the canvas away, revealing a bulky camera. “Well, Scarlet, you are the epitome of beauty, and I don’t think your prettiness should go to waste. Would you allow me to take a photograph of you?”

      She gave him an astonishingly white grin
and faced the camera so naturally that it seemed as if it were something she was born to do. There was a sudden flash of light, and the picture was taken. With a nod of her head, Scarlet bid Nicholas farewell and began to stride toward the steps.

       “Wait,” he said quickly, motioning for her to come back.

      Scarlet turned around, her eyebrows furrowed. She gasped along with the audience as she saw the photograph Nicholas had just taken materialize in his outstretched hand.

       “For you, as a remembrance of tonight,” he said, presenting her with the photo.

       “Thank you,” she said, dazed, her voice drowned out by the wild cheers of the crowd.

      In his next act, Nicholas called a man to the stage and asked him to pick from a deck of seemingly normal cards. When the man inspected the card he chose, however, he was shocked to find that the face of his wife had replaced that of the queen of hearts. After that, the young magician made a flower grow from a pile of dirt in his hands, and later he fished inside of his top hat for an orb of light, which then floated over the heads of the members of the audience. He sat on his stool and levitated; he hid himself behind a wing of the stage and then walked through the front door in a mere second. Everything he did had the spectators in awe. He had even managed to forget about his troubles during his performance.

      But then it was time.

      All the lights flickered out again, save the dramatic beam that shone on center stage. The audience that had been applauding, shouting, and laughing throughout the show suddenly grew serious. The only thing Nicholas could hear was the sound of his own breathing, deep and gradual as he tried to calm himself.

      It was too late to stop now. The crowd wanted a finale, so they would get the grandest finale of all. He would be the most famous magician in history, and no one in the future would be able to outdo him. Percival was right—the fact that it was real needed to be revealed.

       “And now, my friends,” Nicholas said, trying to keep from sounding as nervous as he felt, “is the moment you have all been waiting for.”

      He stripped off his coat and threw it carelessly onto the ground. Rolling back his shoulders, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath—

      And vanished from sight.

      The chandelier became illuminated once again. The shrill screams of women filled the auditorium. Men leaped to their feet in disbelief.

       “Impossible!” somebody cried.

       “It can’t be!”

      A tall man with a handlebar mustache sprinted up to the stage, taking the stairs two at a time. He kneeled down next to the magician’s coat and examined it frantically, checking each of the many pockets. He extracted a small, crinkled piece of parchment and read what was written in scrawled handwriting:

      Magic exists.

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      “If you could have one wish, what would it be?” she asked me, her face suddenly serious. We were on her back porch, leaning against the railing and gazing up at the night sky. I know that sky like the back of my hand. It’s the kind that’s dusted with so many stars you could spend your lifetime trying to count them. It’s the kind you can only see in small towns because city lights would ruin it.

      I don’t remember where her parents were. Or her sisters. They all seemed to have conveniently disappeared. A few minutes earlier, she had said something funny, and I’d laughed. I was always laughing when she was around. She was teeming with life—she had a fire inside her that was impossible to be quelled.

      Now I was quiet, though. I was thinking of what she had asked me and how I should respond. At first, nothing came to mind. My life was far from perfect, but I couldn’t find anything that I would wish for. Even though my parents were divorced and I hated my stepmom—even though my brother and I hardly talked to each other anymore—even though I was hiding more pain inside than anyone could imagine—nothing leapt out at me as the one thing I would change.

      “I don’t know,” I replied, trying to convey my honesty into my words.

      “Come on, Jason, there has to something,” Grace pressed. She thought I was trying to avoid the question; I could tell by her tone of voice. But I wasn’t. I genuinely couldn’t think of an answer.

      I looked at her. I looked at her eyes—brown and hinting at the fire within her. I looked at her hair, which was curly and seemed to have a life of its own. She was a skinny little thing. Her personality was too big for her body; that’s why it always spilled out. She reminded me of big lights and Broadway plays—of crowds and cities you could get lost in.

      That’s when it hit me.

      “If I could have one wish,” I said, “it would be to get away from here.”

      This small town had no hold on me. Or Grace, I was sure. We could escape—run away from everything we had ever known. We could venture into the unfamiliar and immerse ourselves in new surroundings. She’d be famous. I’d be someone different—someone who had left their old life and old pains behind. We could make a name for ourselves. We could live the way we had always wanted to.

      “I’d go with you,” she whispered.

      But she didn’t.

      I left without her. A few months after that night—that night of stargazing and conversation we thought to be merely idle—I was forced to go live with my father and my beloved stepmom. Apparently, I was too much for that small town to handle, and my “rebellious ways” were starting to aggravate my mother. I told everyone I was moving a week before I was gone. Grace cried. She wasn’t alone.

      In the end, I got what I wished for. I started my new life in a big city—a big, ugly city that to me seems lifeless. Everywhere I go, I’m reminded of what I left behind. I’m reminded of the sick way that what I had actually wanted got twisted—twisted into this reality I can’t escape from. There was nothing I had longed for more than to get away from that town, but now I realize that by leaving I got away from what was most important to me.

      Grace.

      If I could have one wish, it would be to go back.

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      It takes you—it seizes you like a fisherman’s hook latches onto its prize. You were certain you were following the right path, but in the blink of an eye, you’re lost. Everything starts to look the same; the green hedges that surround you offer no clue as to whether you have gone forward or fallen behind. How long have you been here? You’ve started to lose track of time. Has the sun moved at all? You can’t tell. You might have been here for hours. You might have been here for seconds.

      There are turns. Too many turns. At first you had a plan, but now you’ve veered left and right so many times that you don’t know what direction you’re going in anymore. It overwhelms you. You start to panic. What if you become stuck here forever? You know it’s impossible to find your way back.

      A dead end. One of the many you’ve encountered so far. It confuses you even further. You start to retrace your steps, but you forget where you came from. You forget where you’re going. You forget why you’re here in the first place.

      Maybe it was the allure of the maze. It sang to you; it promised you would find your way without trouble. It would be easy—before you even knew it, you would reach the exit. Confidence has always been your strength, but now you realize it was your weakness. You thought you could conquer the eternal challenge of the labyrinth.

      After more swerves and blocks in your path than you can count, you start to lose hope. You’re done for. No one will ever find you; you will never escape the web you’re trapped in. Your feet begin to lag. You want to sit down and rest. As you take another turn, you close your eyes and sigh.

      It’s hopeless. You kneel down to the floor and bury your head in your hands. Why were you so naïve? Why did you let yourself become lured by the song of the maze?

      You’re not sure how much time has passed. You lift your head and open your eyes. It’s dark. But even in the faint glow of the moon you can see that—somehow, someway—you’ve reached the end. You’ve defeated the maze.

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     When she was a child, starry-eyed and enchanted by the world, she had a music box propped up on top of her dresser. It was a simple little thing—made of dark wood and embellished solely by a design of golden flowers on the top. But once it was opened, a tiny ballerina was revealed, rotating in a lovely yellow dressed bedecked with roses. She danced in perfect accompaniment of the music—a melody of whimsy and nostalgia and lost dreams. The little girl became enthralled by the magic of the box every time she opened it. She spun around her room, keeping in time with the song and pretending she was the ballerina—full of grace and poise and a beauty that could only be described as timeless.

     Now the little girl has grown into a woman, not-so-starry-eyed and disenchanted by the world she has become accustomed to. She does not know what happened to the music box, but it is not sitting atop her new dresser in the new home she lives in. At night, however, she hears the song—a melody of whimsy and nostalgia and lost dreams. In her sleep, she is the ballerina, and she twirls around with a beauty that is timeless but reminds her of time and how quickly it can slip away.

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The Fisherman

            I remember clearly the day I was standing upon the pier, watching the sky burn with the colors of sunset. The water glistened as if there were thousands of diamonds floating on the surface, allowing themselves to be carried with the tide. At the horizon, the sea seemed like it had caught on fire, for it was so bright that I had to squint to look at it.

            Behind me, the shore was deserted. The only audible sound was that of the waves, gently lapping against the beams of the pier. Such a breathtaking sight—it was like the world had erupted in flames, yet I was the only one present to witness it.

            I sat down on the end of the pier, my feet dangling off the edge. The water was a long way down; nonetheless, I wished I could dip my toes into the drink. Somewhere above me, a seagull cawed. I leaned back and closed my eyes, but just as I was about to drift off into sleep, I heard a sudden voice.

            “Beautiful sunset, I’ll say.”

            I turned around. It was an old fisherman, tan and wrinkled like a raisin. He had a long white beard and blue eyes that still seemed to sparkle with youth. Behind him he carried his long fishing pole, and in his other hand was a ratted net that looked as if it had gone too many years without being replaced.

            “Have you ever thought that somewhere on the opposite shore, there’s someone doing the same thing we are now? Staring off towards the sea?” he went on, smiling at me with his collection of golden teeth.

            I blinked. Never had the thought hit me before. The world suddenly seemed much, much bigger, and I—who had felt so alone just minutes ago—realized that I was one of many.

            For now I knew there was someone on the other side of the sea, countless miles beyond the horizon. Someone with hopes and fears—with worries and dreams for the future. A real human being, gazing out at the water exactly as I had been. Although this person obviously couldn’t have been watching the sunset wherever they were, they still could’ve been marveling at the beauty of the world.

            The beauty of life, which I now believe is often revealed through nature.

            “No,” I replied at last. “I have never thought of that.”

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