These entries from January's challenge were selected as Honorable Mentions. Those who completed this challenge are now encouraged to share their stories in the comments section of the "January Writing Challenge."
I woke with a start as a gust of cold winter air hit my face. I rolled over, covering myself before realizing what this meant. Snow. It didn’t come often, but it always left me enchanted.
I leapt out of bed and stuck my head out the window. I heard a muffled ping in my pocket and wiped off my glasses, now foggy, to read the text from April. It read: “Kingsley, see you at the clubhouse in 10.” She had stopped asking me to meet her places. It was more of a command.
I hopped on my bike and rode to the clubhouse, which was really just a shed in April’s backyard. She called it the clubhouse because she thought it sounded more refined, but that’s just how she was. Classic and bold and broken. She lit up a room. She talked enough for the both of us. But I knew this was all her façade. Maybe that was why she was my best friend… because I wasn’t intimidated by her. I learned that I probably should have been.
I found April sitting in the corner. She had a signature look that no one could quite pinpoint. Whatever she wore just made her look like a newer version of herself, having the strange effect of making me feel left behind. I decided long ago that she was creative in that way that no one really understood.
“Morning, April. What’s up?”
She launched into a spiel that I couldn’t comprehend. Even now I can’t remember a single phrase. It boiled down to this: She was leaving, right then. Her dad thought she was being “negatively influenced” and was sending her to preparatory school. She rolled her eyes as she said this. I couldn’t believe how she approached this complete upheaval with such a nonchalant attitude. It was that look on her face; goodbye was etched into every grimace and soft smile. I couldn’t bear to watch. I ran out.
What April’s father didn’t realize was that all the influence on April’s life belonged to April. Some people are leaders; some are followers; some are hurricanes. April is more of a hurricane. You get swept up with her and you’re having the time of your life; you’re flying. Next thing you know, you aren’t in control anymore. You’re just being flung through life with no idea where you’re going or what you’ll do when you get there.
April was a story, a fairytale. She was a chronicle of adventure, a dramatic cliff hanger, and a thriller that leaves you on the edge of your seat. She made my life something worth reading. And then, ultimately, like all the best are, she was a tragedy. The kind that left you in a daze, wondering what ever happened to you.
I felt myself dissolving — giving in to the pain. I shut down.
Kingsley imagined April sitting in a small airplane seat, on her way to attend some school with a confusing Latin phrase inscribed on the gates. In her mind, she watched as April struck a match and lit her life on fire. Kingsley saw her own ambitions and memories and hope for the future burn and shrivel into pieces, creating smoke which billowed in thick and heavy clouds through the plane. With a gust of wind, Kingsley saw the remnants of everything she used to be blowing out the window. She looked up at the ash falling from the sky like snow. With a final sigh, she turned around and walked away, not looking at what she was leaving behind.
Noralfareeza bt. Azlan
Take a deep breath. Look at yourself. Who do you see?
I can’t be sure how often I’ve repeated this to myself over the years, but I do it every time I look into a mirror. It sounds vain, but I don’t do it to admire myself. I know how I look: long auburn hair in waves, cold blue eyes lined with dark circles from sleepless nights, and lips that get a little too pale when it’s cold—that’s not the point. I stare at myself in the mirror everyday in third-person, just to find something memorable.
I’ve thought about this since middle school, and I’m pondering this now, as I lay in bed at 6 a.m., staring at my plaster ceiling with M83 flooding my ears, trying and failing to lull me to sleep, a mere few hours from when I’ll leave this town for New York, and college.
New York. College.
I don’t think there’s ever been a time in my life where I didn’t associate the two as a pair and my future.
I’m still thinking about these things when my music pauses and my phone vibrates.
Prince Alex, it reads, so I answer the call, because it’s Alex, and he’s my prince, and if he asked me to stay, I’d say yes.
“Why are you awake?” is the first thing he says.
“The usual,” I say. “What about you?”
“Thinking,” he answers. A pause. “Hey, on a scale of one to dead, how tired are you?”
I can’t help but smile. “I’m alright. Probably alive?”
Another pause. “I’m at the beach. Come?”
“We’re watching the sunrise,” Alex replies. “You haven’t joined us in months.”
I sigh, recalling the freezing temperature of the beach in the early morning.
“There’s a fire for you,” Alex tries, and I sigh again.
“Wait for me,” I say before hanging up.
When I get to beach, I realize there’s more people than I anticipated, but I remember it’s a senior thing now, not just for misfits.
I sit by the fire, relishing in its heat and mesmerized with the violet and blue flames of the burning driftwood. I hate the way it smells, but I could never resist its gorgeous color.
Alex sits next to me and hands me a thermos, presumably of warm tea.
“Can I ask you something?” he says softly. “Why does it matter what people think of you?”
I think about this for a while before saying, “I guess I just want to be remembered.”
“What makes you think that you won’t?” Alex replies, frustration tinging the edges of his words. “You act like you have no one around to remember you, but you have all these people, and so many others. You think you’re not special enough, but you’re wonderful; you just don’t see that. What more can I do to show you? You’re supposed to be growing, Poppy, but you’re still stuck with your middle school thoughts.”
I’m quiet, but I agree, and he knows this. So we sit and drink tea together, my head on his shoulder, waiting for the sun, taking in our last hour together for a while.
The sun is rising. My phone is ringing. Everything is telling me to leave, and move on. So I get up, wave goodbye, and for the first time in years, I see myself in third-person, but through my eyes, not anyone else’s.
She looked up at the ash falling from the sky like snow. With a final sigh, she turned and walked away, not looking back at what she was leaving behind.
The cold winter breeze stung my cheeks as we trudged across the crunchy snow-covered hills. I could barely see through the whirling snow as I blindly followed Cassia through the persistent storm.
“Is this really the best day to blast off?” I yelled ahead to her as I motioned at our makeshift rocket.
She suddenly stopped and whirled around to look at me, a look of disbelief spread across her pale face.
“The science fair is in a week, Milo!” She said this as if it was an obvious explanation for venturing out in the middle of the coldest storm of January.
Considering Cassia is the smartest in our class, I wasn’t worried. I remember when we were seated in Mr. Jones class on the first day back from winter break. Everyone was groaning and muttering about how they didn’t want to be at school, including Cassia. I couldn’t help but suppress a smile as I sunk into the back row of the classroom, for this was a happy time for me. I was overjoyed to get away from all the awkward family dinners, foster-sibling fights, and above all, the inability to leave the cramped prison that was my bedroom.
After Mr. Jones had spent a good forty minutes expressing his undying love for science fairs and projects in general, he went ahead with assigning our partners. I never really paid much attention to Cassia. She was one of those girls that always knew the answer in class, causing all of the teachers to love her. She was beautiful, though. She had big blue eyes that lit up whenever she talked about her passion: science. Her thick brown hair was always curled and perfectly tangled. Though she was beautiful, she was intimidating, in a way that made you not want to talk to her in fear that she would seriously roast you.
I couldn’t tell if she was happy about being my partner or not, but as soon as she came over to my desk, she had a plan.
“We’re gonna make a rocket,” she said as she plopped down to her knees, spreading her neatly drawn plan over my desk.
We spent the next two weeks in her garage, finding supplies and building her design with her dad’s power tools. Within those two weeks, I found there was even more to Cassia than I had first thought. Sure, she was intimidating, as she gave me orders on where to put parts and how to write our report, but she was also almost reassuring, or at least easy to talk too. I found myself finding a friend in the girl that I told myself I never had a chance with.
As we stood, now, on the stretched out winter plain, I felt happier than I had ever been, lighting the fuse on our new rocket. I grabbed Cassia’s arm and pulled us back as we watched our creation soar into the sky… and veer sideways. The fuse caught on one of the cedars tallest branches, causing a bright fire to ignite above us.
“Call 911!” Cassia yelled frantically as she raced towards our rocket.
“Wait!” I called, as I whipped out my phone and quickly dialed the fire department.
As we jogged back to my car, Cassia stared down at our beautiful rocket, now burnt in her hands. My breath caught as I watched my new friend’s broken face. She looked up at the ash falling from the sky like snow. With a final sigh, she turned and walked away, not looking back at what she was leaving behind.
Up in Flames
Photographs. Cinema tickets. Postcards. It all went into the fire. Ally threw object after object into the brazier one by one, acknowledging each memory she was sending up in flames with as little emotion as she could muster.
“A good luck note from the first day of Year 11.” Into the fire it went. “Our place settings from prom.” Up in flames. “A photo of –” She paused. It was a photo of the four of them: Ally, Hannah, Eleanor, and Hayley, laughing, ankle deep in the lake, none of them ready for the camera to go off. She’d forgotten all about that day.
It was the height of summer, an unusually hot English day, the kind where the air is hazy and each day feels as long as two. The four friends had gone down to the lake to have a picnic — their tradition — and make the most of the elusive midday sun. It was the period of time between the end of exams and results day when you’re in a floating limbo of possibility, but you’re enjoying the time off from school too much to really think about what the future may bring. The girls spent all day relaxing on the grass by the lake. Hannah revealed the latest gossip, Eleanor showed off new dance moves, and Hayley plaited everyone’s hair. All the while, Ally flitted around, taking pictures, on phone and on film, documenting as much of this lovely day as she could before dusk came to put an end to it.
Those were the shoes Ally always filled. The documenter. The photographer. The archivist for their days spent as an inseparable four. Well, inseparable until October. Until it all came crashing down, when Ally’s walls collapsed around her and she was left standing in a pile of emotional rubble, waist deep. It started small. Hannah, Eleanor, and Hayley had gone out shopping, without Ally. Then they met up for coffee, without Ally. Then they went for a day trip to the beach, without Ally. Things kept building, piling up, one on top of the other, each crushing Ally’s spirits a little more, until the final straw.
Back in June, Ally had picked up a flier for a charity ball and had suggested to the girls that they all go. An evening of glitz and glamour and giving to a good cause, Ally thought it had sounded like a lovely thing to do, but the others didn’t seem interested. Oh well, Ally had thought. Maybe we could go to something else. Fast forward a few months, and up popped a photo on Facebook of Hannah, Ellie, and Hayley. At the ball. Without Ally. Ally stared, dumbfounded, at the photo, a combination of shock, confusion, and devastation etched across her face. That’s it, she thought. I’ve had enough.
“You don’t need people like that in your life,” Ally’s mum had said to her when she ran crying into her arms. “They don’t deserve your tears.” Ally tried desperately to stick to her mother’s words as she stood in front of her funeral pyre.
“A photo of what used to be.” Ally threw it into the fire. She threw the remaining contents of the box in in one go, and a few more logs for good measure, until the flames were taller than she was. She looked up at the ash falling from the sky like snow. With a final sigh, she turned and walked away, not looking back at what she was leaving behind.