Ashes, a child of devastation. Like paint covering a canvas full of black and gray and red. Like snow enveloping a battlefield. A soft blanket cloaking the charred and broken ground. The grieving, howling wind swept over the smoldering bones as the ashes lay around them. It rushed over the gray, barren land around the grave. Whimpering, the wind scraped its fingers over the ruins, leaving no footprints as it stumbled over the fluffy, dirty-gray ground. Tears fell from the rumbling sky, trying to mitigate the burning land and calm the grieving wind. Tumbling through the ghostly remains the wind brushes against something frail and delicate, something lost. Looking down, there lay a small flower, seemingly made out of ash. Its petals broken and painted gray. A small reminder of what was.
The wind started, dropping the fragile flower. The ashes were stirring, ever so slowly, and they climbed from the ground. It was as if a sand timer had been flipped upside down. The magnificent pillars the wind had so loved to run through exploded up and out from the ground. The white walls and ever-tormenting windows pieced themselves into place, stable and sturdy. Rose bushes bloomed white from the ground, the weeds grabbing at their thorns. Green spread over the black land like white frost, spiky, and soft. Inside, the spiral staircase twisted its way toward the domed ceiling and brilliant chandelier sparkling. Stars seemed to fall from the sky and create candles throughout the home. White rugs knitted themselves down the hall and up the stairs, throughout the maze-like house. Paintings hung themselves back on their walls, their faces noble and imposing. Laughter echoed through the house, laughter the wind once carried through the countless halls. A warm, beautiful smell filled the rooms, chasing away the bitter, burnt, cold, wet smell that haunted the outside.
Full of joy, the wind grazed its fingers across the wall, passing through it. Like a puzzle, the wall started falling apart. Looking around the wind saw, with devastating grief, the paintings smudge and blur, and the stairs fall apart. The white rugs unraveled as the lights dimmed and vanished. The beautiful laughter faded into the wind’s howling cries along with the warm, comforting smells that became wet and cold and burnt. Outside, the roses shriveled and withered into the ashy ground. The grand pillars toppled, and the domed roof surrendered. The beautiful mansion was once again bones and ash. Falling to its knees, the wind sobbed as it realized that only in memory could the ashes rebuild.
The Shadows Become People
Some people remember when they were kids but I don’t—I remember fragments. My mother died in a car accident when I was five. I remember her funeral but not much after. Everyone at her funeral was in tears except my father. I remember her in the casket, looking ill and pale, but still as beautiful as ever. As they laid her body in Maplewood Cemetery my memories stopped. I always assumed that nothing more in my childhood was important to remember, but that isn’t the case. I now stand at the exact same spot, speechlessly watching my father’s casket being lowered beside her grave. I stand here blank-faced, staring.
“He was only fifty-eight years old ... heart attack ... He will truly be missed by his family,” the preacher said comfortingly.
I honestly can’t believe he’s gone. My father scared me for as long as I can remember, and I actually feel relieved that he’s dead. But I know that feeling won’t last long.
When we return home: “Nico, you ungrateful child!” My stepmom. She hates me just as much as I hate her if that's possible. As I turn to look at her I feel a sharp pain across my face. She slapped me; she really slapped me.
“You're an adult now so don’t expect to stay with me anymore. Your father is dead and you are no longer my responsibility.”
I heard a faint whisper in my head, telling me she was lying but it’s not like I remember him in any way. Around age fourteen is when I can start to piece things together, but I still can’t recall the memories with my father. Because he was always at work, I became a slave to my stepmom. I was forced to do all things thinkable and, yes, I mean all things. Even though I’ve blocked it mentally, the pain lingers physically throughout my body.
I could only manage to say, “I don’t plan on staying with you, you pathetic excuse of a living thing. I already have an apartment ready. I just need my stuff.”
“There better be no sign of you when I get back!” was the last thing she said to me before slamming the door behind her.
Stumbling through the horror house, I grabbed anything I could, ending up with five boxes. I got out of there as fast as I could; my new apartment was all the way across town. I hopped into my two-door truck that rust has taken over. Neither my father nor my stepmother would agree to buy me one, so I got my own. It’s not much but it gets me where I need to go. I sped across town, arriving at my apartment about forty-five minutes later. I look around at the place I call home. It isn’t much but it will suffice. As I think about all the events of the day I become angry, but it doesn’t feel like normal anger. It feels more like a burning flame of rage that’s going to take over. I can’t let my emotions show because if I do, he wins. A man I have no memory of—or even had the chance of knowing—hated me. I probably can’t even remember some of the really horrible stuff. The more I think about my father the more rage and built-up emotions start to take over, and I can slowly start to feel myself being pulled into the darkest recesses of my mind as a figure appears and makes himself known.
Nothing about this feels normal or even remotely possible. I can feel myself being dragged slowly into my own mind as I hide from all the damage done. As I start to realize someone is present he steps into the light. Even though the light is faint I can see he isn’t human. This person is a shadow of himself; the dark aura and shredded cloak he wears floats around him, consuming him. The hood of his cloak is like a possessed wind commanded to stay in place to shield his identity, although his icy, blue eyes are still visible. His voice sounds like he is swallowing shards of glass—like he hasn’t spoken in years—and it makes me shudder. The cold coming from his mouth turns the room to ice, and as I look around me I realize I am no longer earthbound. This is my mind. This was where I went when I was a child to hide from the horrifying man I called father. I made it and named it Shadows to protect me and hide me from him when he became overwhelmed with rage. Here, he couldn’t hurt me. I could not feel anything he was doing or hear anything he was saying, almost like someone else was taking my pain.
I quickly remembered I wasn’t alone.
“I have been patiently waiting for this day, the day you would crumble under the rage and relinquish the connection to the body,” he whispered through the chards of glass.
“W-who a-a-are y-y-y-you, a-and w-w-where a-a-am I-i-i?” my voice trembled.
Hailey Weeks and Sophie Keen