EPY WRITING FINALISTS
"Late night too, huh?" She yawns. "Yeah, deadline's tomorrow." I sheepishly smile at her since I'm dead tired. Ding! The elevator door opens for both of us. I let her go first and her heels click after her. As we stepped inside, I noticed that her hair still seemed to shine in the wee hours of the morning. What the hell do they do in their department? Hair treatments? We've never really had a proper conversation before but since we were the only two left in the building, we either had a choice to speak with each other or be left in awkward silence.
"Gwen, right?" She tries to break the ice. I nod to assure her I've acknowledged her presence. I was exhausted and I didn't have the best habit of making friends. 40...35... could this elevator get any slower? 34... -- ERRRRRK! The elevator suddenly rumbles and I'm forced to stay awake. The abrupt movement makes me lose balance and I fall on my back. "Woah! Are you okay?" She extends a hand and helps me get up on my feet. "Yeah, thanks." I press the buttons and they don't work. I bang on the door and it won't open. She looks frightened and she tries yelling for help. After a while, I give a big sigh and slump on my shoulders. "Are we... are we stuck inside?" She whispers. "Yeah... I think so." She joins me and there's a pause. "I'm Jessica, by the way."
"What are we going to do?" I lower my voice. "We wait." Jessica bites her lip. "Oh no, Macy's going to kill me." I press my hand against my forehead. "Who's Macy?" She leans on the other side of the elevator so we're across each other. "She's..." I stop, wondering if I could trust her. "She's your daughter." She makes a guess that turns out to be correct. "I promised her I'd be home." I figured it could be a while so I decide to open myself up to her. "Single mom?" "Divorced. He gets her 4 days of the week and I... get her when I can." I remind myself of how lousy a parent I was. "Guess I'm not going to be able to see her tonight." "Hey, it's alright, I'm sure you're doing everything you can." "But it's not enough." My voice starts to croak. "Anything you do is enough, you try your best and you push yourself, don't bring yourself down, you're a great mother if you're working this hard to provide for her." That was nice of her to say, so I give her a nod and a sincere smile.
"How about you? Any family?" I turn the subject to her. "None, I'm a free bird." She laughs. "How are you so... positive? You seem so... happy." I question her, hoping for a straight answer. She stifles another laugh and just grins at me. "Sure, we're stuck inside an elevator, for who knows how long, but... I'm here with you. I could be alone, but instead, I get to talk to a beautiful, diligent and amazing lady, yet she doesn't seem to know that herself. She complains about the darkness, she forgets to see the light. The world is... terrible, yeah. Bad things will happen to you, but nothing will change unless your outlook on it does. That's my secret to my own happiness. I created it and to be honest, I'm gosh darn owning it." I giggle at the end of her sentence, it wasn't an answer I was expecting, but it was definitely something I needed to hear.
We managed to talk about a numerous amount of topics and discovered that we had so much in common. I was getting along with someone and it seemed unlikely, but... this was the first time, I was truly being honest with myself. CRRRRK! There's a sudden noise and Jessica and I are startled. We bot
eyes to where she's standing, but she's not there. "Ma'am, are you okay? I know the last 12 hours have been hard, especially spending it alone." His words make me choke. "Alone, what...?" The elevator's steel wall glints and I don't see my reflection, I see Jessica's.
"Allison -- Look at me!" Daniel roughly turns me around to face him. His eyes are bloodshot and his breathing rapid. "Run! You keep running and you don't look back." The wind howls behind us and I hear the storm quickly approaching. They were right, all of them. For the past few months, I've been avoiding the news reports on TV and I would scroll past those pathetic warnings posted on the internet. I wiggled my finger in front of my friends and I shushed them. The end was 'near?' Ha! It made me laugh.
Civilians started panicking and I still managed to go fort with my stubborn ways. Now, look at where that got me. I chuckle. I'm trying to outrun death with my boyfriend. "No! Please don't!" I choke on my own words as his mouth trembles. "Don't leave me" "I need to find Luna!" Luna, his younger sister. Was it selfish for me to want him to stay by my side rather than him going after his own flesh and blood? "Shh... Allison, please... I'll be back." He hugs me one last time before leaving.
Suddenly, an empty black void opens from below and the roaring wind knocks me over. I hold on to the ground as I dangle from above. "DANIEL! HELP!" I weep as I start to lose my grip. "Shh... you'll be alright." I look up and see Daniel! He lifts me up and I'm relieved. "Where's Luna?" "Luna?" A mischievous grin spreads across his face. My hair stands up as I hear his voice. This is not Daniel. He shoves me into the black void and as I'm falling, I knew that I had faced my death.
The news of me leaving the family business hit my mother like an avalanche, but I didn’t care at the time. All I could see was black and all I wanted was a way out… And so I left… I left my neatly organized cabin with nothing but a small handbag and some gold to keep me going for a while.
What I did in the meantime is not worth mentioning. What you need to know is what happened when I returned.
I had only heard rumors about my folks’ whereabouts. They tried to keep the business together, but the burden was too heavy. Father received a lot of doubt from his men.
“If you can’t control your own boy, how can we expect you to control an entire crew?” that’s what they told him. And the doubt and resentment grew among the men. And matters only became worse after mother’s weak heart betrayed her. He looked all over for a way to revive her, but there was no doctor, alchemist, or witch that could save her, and as he slowly slipped towards depression, his crew slowly slipped towards taking over.
On the darkest day of the coldest winter he woke up by a pinch on his neck. It was the sword of his first mate.
“Abandon the ship.” he barked, “As of now, I am Captain.” He cut off his long black beard as a sign of shame, “…so that you’ll never forget what you had and what you lost.” Then he led my father to the plank and threw him in the sea to die. But little did he know about my old man, he was stubborn as a mule. He survived. When I finally tracked him down, he wasn’t the same man I left behind on that fateful day. Inside a shady bar, known for the best brandy in town, he sat, huddled up like a slug on a charred oak stool, pale and weak from his sickness. He raised his shaved face; his red baggy eyes looked straight at me.
“You killed us, you know…” those were his first words to me.
I could have sworn at that moment that I was seeing a ghost, a shadow of father’s former self. I felt chills running down my spine. He hadn’t forgiven my betrayal, not since he blamed me for mother’s death.I remembered him a tall dark man who stood imperiously on the deck of his ship, refusing to even take a glimpse at his only son while I said my goodbyes to mother. He had always been a proud man, but there was nothing proud, neither notorious about him anymore.
“Come on”, I told him, “We have a ship to claim”. He looked at me once again; his puzzled eyes stared at me for a while.
“There’s nothing to claim, boy; it’s all lost” he replied. I can tell you… those words hurt me more than anything I had ever heard before.
“It’s something new, “cancer” they called it.” he continued… “No cure for that, boy, only agonizing death.”
And so I left once again... But this time with a purpose. I would take back what was mine, and what was taken from me by force, and then maybe, just maybe my old man would get better.
The plane is crashing. I just hold my breath, close my eyes, and wait for fate to take me into its unforgiving hold.
Turning, tumbling. I can't do anything.
Plummeting, plunging. I'm going to die.
And as I'm shutting my eyes, awaiting my death, everything goes silent.
All the screams and shouts suddenly stop.
I open one eye and look around curiously. Nobody is moving. Everyone is still like a statue.
What's happening right now seems completely surreal.
It seems as if... time is frozen? I stand up, eyes wide, and turn to look out the small window. Nothing moves outside the plane either. I'm unsure whether I'm hallucinating or not, but whatever is happening right now is something that I'm going to take advantage of.
The plane is on a slant, so I run down, tripping, to the front, where the pilots control from, and try to open the door before time starts moving again. I yank on the door as hard as I can, but with no luck. Try as I might, the door won't budge. So, guilty as I feel doing it, I run to the middle of the plane, around where the wings are, looking for the emergency exit.
My eyes scan around the area where I know the exit is, and I finally find it. Tears running down my cheeks, I climb over some frozen people in their seats, whom I know are going to die very soon.
I push the thought out of my mind as I force more statue-like people aside to get where I need to be. I powerfully shove the window, and it opens. I look back at all the doomed people behind me, and then jump.
The second I'm out in the air, time moves again, the screams resume, and the plane continues on its unavoidable course. I look only forward, mourning those innocent people's lives, but also rejoicing in the fact that I'm still alive. I look down at the water beneath me, glad to still be breathing.
My hair is flying everywhere, and the wind is blowing against my body. I've never felt more alive! As I'm about to pull the cord on my parachute before hitting the water, I realize with a sudden fright that it's not there. I left my parachute on the plane.
So actually, I did learn something that day. What goes around comes around. Death really is inevitable.
"Nelia!" The name rang through the fresh air of a beautiful summer's day. I turned around. Amongst the sun-dappled trees with leaves rustling in the slight breeze, my friend Nate was waving to me, with his girlfriend Chloe in tow. I gazed at the two of them as they walked towards me, albeit slowly. Watching them walk toward me, it reminded me of when I first met Nate. At this exact spot, two years ago, I stumbled across him for the first time. And I do mean stumbled. I was nose-deep into Harry Potter when I was walking, while he was reading his chemistry textbook.
He was such a dork, I know. When we collided, our books flew out of our hands as we tripped over each other and fell. As I quickly got up while muttering countless apologies and trying to grab his textbook to give back, he quickly picked his and my book up and handed mine back to me. "Sorry, sorry, I'm so sorry!" I kept repeating. He chuckled. "Don't worry about it." I was surprised. He didn't get mad or talk back, like I expected. "Okay..." I responded cautiously while awkwardly shifting my weight onto my other foot and glancing away. He checked his watch. "Listen, I'm really sorry. I'm almost late for my chemistry class. Could I get your name?"
"It's Nelia!" I called in his direction as he was already jogging away while waving at me. "Nate!" he called back. Later that week, I ran into him again. Not literally, this time. It was at a local coffeeshop. He recognized me almost immediately and called me over to his table, where he was sitting alone. Beside him was his chemistry textbook. "Do you like chemistry?" I asked, gesturing to the textbook. "Yeah, I do." He glanced at his textbook, eyes crinkling as he chuckled softly. I put my elbow on the table, placing my chin in my hand. I stared at him challengingly, my eyes giving away a hint of humour. "Do you know any good chemistry jokes, then?" His eyes widened a bit, as well as his smile. "Too many for you to count."
"I don't suppose you could tell me any then?" I asked, quirking my eyebrow. Nate smiled mischievously. "Hmm...Okay, I've got one. Why did Chlorine's siblings have to lock her in a closet?"
"Why?" I asked, playing along. "Because she was too attractive!" He started laughing. That joke was a bad one, I had to admit, but his laughter was infectious, and I joined in. We grew closer after that incident. With every passing day, we became better and better friends, and I came to like chemistry more and more. Along with chemistry, I started to like *him* more and more. Finally, after several weeks, I finally worked up the nerve to confess to him. "I...I really like you..." I confessed awkwardly, trying to look anywhere but him. His face fell just a bit. "I...I'm really sorry, Nelia. I think we should just be friends." I bit my lip, trying not to let my feelings show, and nodded mutely.
I ran away after that. I don't remember much of that day...or I'm just trying to suppress those memories. We slowly became good friends again after that. Now, I think that it was for the best. Nate and Chloe are perfect for each other. Everyone thinks so. They complement each other perfectly. I'm too introverted, and I don't complement him at all. Chloe is everything Nate deserves. Nice, pretty, and just as chemistry obsessed as him.
The chemistry students even call them NaCl, like the compound. And like the compound, it just works. I remember the first chemistry joke Nate ever told me, about chlorine being too attractive. Chloe is like the embodiment of the attractiveness of chlorine, unlike Neon, who isn't. As Nate and Chloe arrive at where I'm standing, I silently agree with the chemistry students. NaCl works. NaNe never will.
Everything was perfect. It was my 16th birthday and my family and I were going to Hawaii to celebrate. I was enthralled by my luck. I never thought we could travel for my birthday. When my parents dropped the bomb that we were getting plane tickets to Hawaii, I nearly screamed. We don’t have that much money, what with my mother being a nurse and my father a mechanic. We get along all right, but normally family vacations are just dreams. I gazed out at the cloudy, blue sky. I wished I could stop time at this exact moment where everything was perfect. I knew I could, I had the ability to stop time for two minutes, but the consequences of nature were that my heart would also stop. So lame. My baby brother pointed out the window.
“Clouds!” He chortled.
“Yeah, Mason, those are clouds.” His bright blue eyes gazed gleefully at the fluffy, cotton candy-like, clouds.
“Can I touch them?” He inquired.
“Not yet, but maybe one day.” My beautiful mother replied. She had soft green eyes and flowy auburn hair, like mine. My hair was curlier like my dad.
“Birdie!” Mason cried out in joy.
We all looked out the window to gaze at the free birds gliding through the air.
“Are they going to Hawhyee too?” Mason asked, sounding out Hawaii.
“I’m sure they are.” My dad responded, his smile reaching his eyes.
“The birds are flying rather close to the plane.” My mom worried.
“Don’t think about it, dear. Birds are smarter than we think.”
“Consoling skills on fleek, Dad.”
We all laughed. I was starting to get tired so I lay down for a nap. Before I even closed my eyes, the plane jolted downward.
"This is your captain s-speaking. We’ve reached some-whoo! -Turbulence. Up and down we go!"
Suddenly an even bigger drop occurred and the plane was shaking unusually.
“Alec, what’s happening?” My mother’s worried voice made me uneasy and Mason’s big eyes were filled with fear.
“Make it stop, this isn’t fun anymore.” He demanded.
“This is your captain speaking once again, anyone have some spirits, my co-pilot drank it all. Or know how to fly-”
The intercom cut off and a thud was heard. No one was flying the plane.
“Alec!” My mom cried, “We’re going to-“
“Reina, don’t.” My dad eyed Mason, whose blue eyes were an ocean of tears.
I could…no. I have to…no.
“Mom, Dad. I can stop time. We just need two minutes to find someone that knows how to fly a plane.”
“Brielle, don’t even think about it.” My mom said sharply.
“You’ll all die! Everyone on this plane could die!”
Mason cries echoed in my head.
“Damn it, Brielle, you’re only 16!”
I didn’t want to die, but I was ready to do anything for my family.
“Baby, it’s your birthday.” My dad’s brown eyes were pleading.
“Everything freezes when you stop time, even people. How are you going to find someone?” My mother asked doubtfully.
“That’s the mysterious thing about nature, sometimes things work out.” I lied, there was no way someone would have the same ability as me. I was going to try anyway. I had a back up plan as well. It wasn’t much, but I hoped I could just stop the time in the plane. I would need two minutes to be the only one to contact someone for help. That is only if, my abilities worked in my favor.
“This is my birthday wish. I have to help.”
I closed my eyes and concentrated, blocking out my mother’s cries and my father’s attempts to console her. Mason had quieted down and held my hand.
“We almost at ground, Bri.” He whispered nervously in my ear.
I breathed out and everything stopped. I had to be quick; I was already beginning to feel weak.
“Hello?” I cried out. Praying that someone would reply.
“Hello?!” A boy my age replied.
“Please, you have to help.” I begged him, “can you fly a plane?”
“I-I took flight lessons last summer, but I’m not very good.”
“Please, you just need to get them over water.”
“How did you do…?”
“You can do it too. Wait for the right moment.”
“Can you help me?” He pleaded.
“I’m going to die, it’s the law of nature. Please help my family.”
The boy nodded and ran to the captain’s quarters.
“What’s your name?” He called to me, “I’m Mason.”
I almost laughed at the irony of his name.
He smiled and disappeared into the pilot’s quarters.
My family couldn’t see or hear me, but I hugged them good-bye. I felt my body grow more tired. Frantically I looked out the window, anything to calm my panicking mind. The clouds were there in the sky, inviting me to reach out and touch them. I trusted this boy. I had to. With my family safe and all the innocents on the plane safe, I reached out and touched the clouds.
Before all of creation was made, there was only black. Such an achromatic color, devoid of so much prosperity and life. Sometimes I wished I could wrap myself in blackness, and forget the outside world. That was before it actually happened.
How I wished I could simply whisper to the darkness, "Let there be light," but, in a world alone with nothing but black, I quickly found out that I was no God.
The morning was cold, the kind of cold that sent chills down your spine and seeped into your bones. I slowly trudged towards the kitchen, vision hazy and distorted by sleep. I didn't even notice the color stripped world around me. That just shows how clueless we are as humans, taking for granted the simple pleasures such as clear blue skies and cloudless days.
I drank my coffee black that day, ironically enough, and smiled as I took a shower. I got ready for work, hardly paying attention as I muddled through my perfectly memorized morning routine. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it. An endless window full to the brim with a lack of color. I walked towards it, lost in a trance. My fingers fumbled on the latch to unlock the window, considering the side effects of the black sky in front of me. I damned the consequences before opening it wide, instantly feeling the pull.
It was subtle but undoubtedly strong. I found I couldn't control my hand as it reached out to touch it, feeling nothing between my calloused fingertips. It was like catching lightning in a bottle, impossible. But I kept trying, attempting to grab fistfuls of the strange air and claw at the colorless sky with no prevail.
I gazed in the void, mesmerized by the inky darkness. Shadows danced around and seemed to whisper menacingly sweet, "Welcome to Purgatory." My heartbeat faltered before picking up at an abnormally fast pace as I glanced down at my hand, which was slowly fading to black and spreading through my veins. I squeezed my eyes shut, only to feel my eyelids fade away to match the surrounding emptiness. Panic seeped in slowly and I welcomed the distraction. I had always been afraid of the dark.
The sky is falling.
Or so it seems to the passengers aboard the corkscrewing plane. The stuttering rumble of the engine provides a chilling baseline to the cacophony of screams, offering up a macabre chorus that soars and halts as people and bags alike are thrown like rag dolls against the sides of the vessel. There is no time nor room for thinking, or mourning, or regretting: there is only pain and adrenaline and terror flowering like bruises.
A spectator in the fields below sees the plane, toy-sized, spiraling soundlessly, almost serenely, trailing charcoal smoke and a bite of sun-bright orange flaring from the left engine, falling at a perfect forty-five degree angle towards the glittering ocean below. He grabs at his neck for the camera that isn't there: this is what he thinks of first when he sees the corkscrewing plane, not the lives about to be lost or the explosion or the terror, but the terrible beauty and poetry of the white plane against the cyan sky and that flare of sunset orange. Later, he will wonder why.
Now, though, as he shields his eyes from the sun, what he sees next pushes any thought of the camera out of his mind.
The plane has stopped.
The flames have frozen in red-orange shards, as though they've crystallized and shattered.
Inside the plane, the people hang suspended in midair, along with their bags. Below, the photographer wishes fervently for a camera, to capture the blown-glass flames, the motionless bend of the wheat in which he stands. But he can't move. He can't even blink.
The same is true for the poor souls aboard the plane. Mouths frozen in soundless screams, hair sucked back, eyes rolled in terror. See the woman, hunched around her child, upside down, about to crack her skull on the window of the plane. She had been bringing her child to see his grandparents, who still lived in their hometown: they couldn't afford to fly to her for the childbirth, so now she flies to them. How cruel it is that they should outlive their grandchild.
See the frail middle-aged man, one of the lucky few still strapped into their seats, stretching a pale hand hopelessly towards his airborne oxygen tank. He had been traveling to a foreign hospital to receive an experimental treatment—his fourth—for the tumor growth in his lungs, but in truth he was tired of the radiation, the chemotherapy, the cocktails of mystery drugs that never failed to make him feel him worse. His last thoughts will be spawned of reluctant gratitude, because at least this way will be quick and painless.
See the dark-haired girl, adolescence beginning to shape her body, dark streaks under her eyes where tears met eyeliner. She’s pinned to the curve of the plane’s wall, skull-ringed fingers splayed helplessly against the window. Resourceful girl, clever girl, rich girl, neglected girl. She thought she’d escape, have an adventure all to her own, without anyone telling her how to eat, dress, live, love. Here is her escape.
A photographer’s dream, a passenger’s nightmare.
Seconds stretch like toffee, time is heavy and slow as syrup. Their fear is more than the sum of them all, and the sky releases its hold on the plane and it’s as though a cork has popped: the flames roar and flare back to life, the wheat continues to ripple as thought some unknown force had not just congealed the wind.
The seconds spiral out, time spills over, and the plane barrels into the ocean.
Even as the sheer number of lives lost drives him to his knees, the photographer cannot help but think:
What a spectacular explosion.