Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! 🌠Without a Trace

“Without a trace.” These were the words that rang in the ears of the people, that sliced on the wind with whispers and ruffled the wise willows (who seemed to droop lower and lower with each time her name was spoken.) Pictures plastered the windows. Amber alerts screeching their discordant call into the night air. One name spat like a curse, one woman sobbing it, the whole world buzzing about it. One name that swept through the school hallways like a tornado, leaving silence and tension in its wake. One name that rolled through the rural Ohio town like a ghostly fog creeping over the fields.“Mira. Casse.” 

It was the last thing Melissa Casse would hear before it happened. It was a night like every other before it, deathly silent except the whisper of the wind and the chatter of crickets roaming the moonlit fields. Selene’s captor stood in the light of the open window, looking out across the glittering grasses.
“Mira. Casse.” A detached voice whispered into the night, a voice that had plagued her nightmares, haunting every waking moment. A second later, a silver blur screamed down from the clouds. The frail blonde woman felt a prick on her chest, a burst of pain like a bee sting amplified a hundred times. She shrieked, placing her pale fingers to her chest, feeling the wetness there. 

Blood. The silver glinted in the light as she yanked it out of her chest, crimson spurting onto the wood floor in gushing drops. Rattling moans escaped her chest, the pain starting to jab at her. Eyes wide, her knees buckled.

“Melissa? Honey, are you okay? Let me in!” His voice was rough with worry, each muscle of his sun-weathered skin taut as a tightrope. She could imagine him outside the door-  his head in his hands, dark hair ruffled wildly, dark shadows lurking under his eyes like a brand of the many sleepless nights. 

“Melissa, please. Please, don’t do this. What’s wrong? Let me in!” Silence clung to the air for a second, shattered almost instantaneously by a screeching sob. Pure pain, the rawest heartbreak, the hottest fire, the iciest cold- bottled up into an ear splitting scream. James pounded the wood. Crack. Crack. Crack. CRACK. Not enough. Not enough. Melissa cried out again, thrashing as her heart pounded brokenly. Panic surged in white-hot waves, crashing through her veins. 

She had to get to the window, had to lock the latch and get away from this place as soon as possible. Mira. Casse. Artemis’s chilly laugh echoed on the night as though mocking her futile attempts to move. Crimson blossomed over her white nightgown as she covered her ears, slicking her pale fingertips with blood like Sleeping Beauty with a lot of curiosity but no prince. Melissa dragged herself an inch closer, the little metal latch glinting in the moonlight. 

Sharp, stabbing pain rocketed through her, vision blurring into a foggy haze with each little movement. Everything was blurry now. Swishing white curtains like vengeful phantoms. Stars in the sky shone painfully bright like torchlights bobbing in a dank black cave. Her cotton nightgown stained with red, creeping over the fabric like weeds in an untended garden. The silver arrow protruding from her chest was like an exclamation mark misplaced at the end of a grim sentence.

Crack. Crack. CRACK. CRACK. “Melissa, I’m coming, hold on!” Blackness began to creep in around the edges. The frail blonde woman slammed the window shut, stinging pins and needles pricking her skin. Just as she reached for the latch, so tantalizingly close, the window flew open with a gust of wind, knocking her back onto the floor. THUD. Pain crackled through her skull, a spark bursting in a blazing inferno.

Standing there, wreathed in moonlight, was Artemis in all her glory. Auburn hair loose around her shoulders, hazel eyes burning with fury like hot embers in her pale face. Her stark white toga fluttered in the breeze as she reached for her quiver. Melissa tensed, braced for another shot, but nothing came. Artemis plucked a broken chain from the leather bag, tossing it at the blood-stained woman. Mira’s star necklace. 

“What have you done to her?” Melissa sobbed, blonde strands of hair whipping in the wind that picked up with each passing second. The goddess’s face was cold, emotionless, missing any humanity. The glint of mercy and love she had seen and nurtured in Selene wasn’t there in Artemis. Washed away with the countless centuries… or perhaps it had never been there at all. 

“Nothing, Mrs. Casse. Nothing at all… yet. Perhaps you should ask her what she did to me.” Venom overflowed from the icy words, a fury so cold and deep it burned away the melodic, silvery sweetness of her voice. “You changed her, Melissa. Turned her weak-willed and sensitive. I could have fixed her, could have hardened her with the passing centuries. If that had been all the damage you’d done. But it wasn’t, was it?” 

Mrs. Casse moaned, visions of Mira’s sparkling midnight blue eyes dancing across her mind’s eye, memories of family breakfasts, looking lovingly on as her “daughter” scampered onto the high school bus in jeans and flannel, completely oblivious that she had lived in golden gowns for most of her life until Melissa had taken her away. Crickets’ chirps cried in the golden fields, interrupting the still night air. 

“It wasn’t was it?” Artemis asked vehemently, trembling from head to toe. Her silver heels jittered on the floor, an uneven, jittery tap like a soundtrack of insanity. The mellifluous, crooning voice of the huntress was gone, scorched away like green grass burning to a crisp under a desert sun. Melissa groaned, the arrow throbbing in her chest just a fraction of an inch from her heart.

 “Was it? Was it?” Artemis shrieked, her heels tapping more violently with each passing second, her pale face flushing a furious pink. Crack. CRACK. CRACK. CRACK. The wood of the door splintered, beginning to give way. She could see a glimpse of her husband’s sweat-beaded face through the cracks, bronze cheeks flushed red with effort, eyes wide with desperation. Melissa whispered a silent prayer that he would have the strength. Hope rose in her chest like a phoenix unfurling its mighty wings. 

“No. It wasn’t the only thing I did. But I’m glad for the things I did. You made her cold, heartless, almost beyond saving. I loved her, I helped her, I tried to give her humanity and mercy-” 

“Ha!” Artemis’s lips curled into a twisted grin. “Mercy is for the weak. You did the damage that I couldn’t repair. Not only did you steal her from me, wipe her memory, pit her against me, you did the worst thing of all. You made her human.” Before you could blink, Artemis drew her silver bow and flicked her finger. Melissa felt a sharp prick of pain and saw her husband’s tortured face looming above her. Artemis was gone, disappeared without a trace. The last thing she felt was the sticky blood on her fingertips where the second silver arrow had directly pierced her heart. Mira. Casse. 

*****************

I jolted awake, gasping for air. My heart throbbed, pulsating with a sharp pain that felt like something lodged directly in my chest. Clutching my throat, I ran a hand over the star shaped scar where my necklace had sat for so many years. 

“Where are we?” I asked, glancing around the deck. Daria’s puddles of sticky crimson blood had dried by now, leaving ominous brown stains clinging the the wood like an omen of disaster; the cloying metallic scent still clung to the air, intermingling with the tangy sea salt breeze. 

“From what I’ve heard, we’re nearing the Cape of Good Hope. There’s buzz that they came to Africa to hunt down Earth, but are concerned by a new article that was released about us.” Daria paused, widening her eyes in a shockingly good imitation of innocence as one of the mercenaries stalked by. Grumbling along, he barely gave a second glance to us. Obviously the crew didn’t seem to think we were much of a threat (with the enchanted bonds and lack of substantial food). They’re probably right, I thought with frustration, staring helplessly at Artemis’s burly mercenaries conversing on the bow. 

“Crescent Cunningham, a news reporter from Manchester-” Kenna’s head shot up like a bullet, tendrils of dark brown hair swirling around her shoulders like Medusa’s snakes.  

“Manchester?” The word flew out of her mouth like a dart, so fast it was almost hard to tell if it was a question. Something about the feral look in her eyes made me cringe back, as though shrinking myself down could save me from Kenna’s glare. I had never seen her coal black eyes burn so bright. The ropes around her wrists hissed, sizzling violently like an egg slammed to the sidewalk on a hot day.

“Yes,” Daria cleared her throat anxiously. “She’s from the Manchester Post. It’s something about our disappearance. She thinks we’re witches.” Her voice fell to a whisper on the last word, face crumpling as she put a hand to her anklet. It was adorned with a little golden cross. This power she was given must seem very unholy to her… The thought that our gift was unnatural sent shivers down my spine. It would take years for her to come to terms with it, let alone the fact that the Olympians existed, just barely out of sight her whole life. I pushed the thought aside. This was no place to console her. 

Kenna drew her knees to her chest, lip trembling with fury or grief- I couldn’t tell. Her bonds hissed angrily, charring black with each second. Out of the blue, it hit me. My heart pounded as I took in her knitted brows and tense shoulders. This just might work.

“Your school probably thinks you’re an arsonist. Don’t you think? They hear the accounts of you murdering a man, exploding in a ball of fire. An article about you on the run with other delinquents? They must think that you finally snapped,” I said lightly, sprinkling in some snark on a few words like an exclamation mark punctuating an angry sentence. Murdering. Delinquents. Snapped. Daria looked at me in alarm, mouthing a silent warning. I ignored her, smiling as Kenna clenched her fists, dark eyes scrunching at the corners. 

“Manchester, your hometown. Imagine how shocked they were, how disgusted they were to hear about you. A witch. I bet your brother can’t even walk through the hall without whispers and laughs trailing in his wake. Will, was it?” Guilt twinged in my heart as the words hung in the air, my heart strings plucking a discordant twang. It was working. Her coal eyes smoldered with intensity, furious tears dripping down her tan cheeks. Frayed black strands of rope were falling away slowly, hissing like an angry cat. Daria glanced at the charred threads then back at me, understanding lighting her eyes. 

“Stop. Now.” Kenna hissed through clenched teeth. I conjured up my most venomous smirk, suppressing the disgust and guilt that roiled in my gut. You have to do this. We have a chance. My lips were stretched so wide my cheeks stung; I felt like the Cheshire Cat lurking smugly in the dark woods.

“Oh, wait. I forgot something, didn’t I? Don’t you think Charles would be upset too?” Her eyes glowed hot. The rope curled away, threads blackening quicker and quicker with each word. The smile that curled my lips felt wrong, twisted, demonic. It was necessary. I tried to think of happy things as I braced myself for the next sentence, but all I could think about was how merciless I sounded. How… inhuman. Like Artemis. I steeled myself with an achy breath. 

“Ah, but he can’t be, can he.” My smile was pained, teeth gritted as I forced out the words. “Because you killed him.” A single, silent second passed, a second that felt like an eternity. Then she exploded. Fire burst from her fingertips, ravaging her bonds in a foul swoop of flame! Kenna lurched for me, a blur of flying hair and clenched fists. Charred ropes fell from her wrists.

“It was an accident and you know it! You sick, twisted, lying-” She screamed, too consumed in fury to finish.Within seconds I was pinned to the ground, Daria frantically holding Kenna back as she threw herself forward. Fire licked my skin, searing pain rocketing across my arms. Then it all stopped. Kenna froze in place, her furious face smoothing as she looked out across the horizon. I sat up and followed her gaze. There it was. The Cape of Good Hope in all its glory. But more than that? Storm and Earth racing towards our ship in a boat. Today was the day we would escape.

Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! 🌎Earth 2- Frenzy

Kommetjie, Cape Town, South Africa. Image from South Africa Info

Shoutout to Jina Bazzar (check out her blog authorsinspirations.wordpress.com,) my friend Kamina Lambert, and my amazing aunt Teresa Arend for commenting on the last edition! You are all amazing!

The smell of coffee and a good story was in the air. Crescent Cunningham breathed in deeply, a sly grin spreading over her thin lips, unkempt black hair ringing her face with a halo of frizz. Sunlight filtering through the cafe window bathed her freckled skin in gold. If she tried hard enough, the reporter could imagine it was a spotlight, beaming blinding white light down at her like a model walking the runway.

A thin blonde waitress slid a towering cup of double chocolate cappuccino onto the table before ducking away hastily, as though she feared what would happen if she lingered even a millisecond longer. Crescent shot her a glare as she scurried off, blonde hair swishing frantically in its high ponytail. Every other day of the year, she would have scolded the girl for her wrinkled blouse even as she walked away- but today, she was in a good mood. The best.

You see, Crescent Cunningham was ruthless. She knew it would hit Manchester hard, as it was the home of one of the subjects from her article- Kenna King, the missing girl and murder suspect. But that never stopped her. The lines of connection had been drawn in bold red ink that no one could seem to see but her. Until now. 

People shouted in the streets, crowding around the big red news dispenser. Papers fluttered in the breeze, coins clinking to the pavement as passersbys scrambled to get in line. A dark-haired woman cried out at the headline, wiping a tear from her eye and hurrying off, still sobbing at the front picture. Teenage girls stood in a cluster, whispering and trading a newspaper around. Crescent smirked, eyes roving ravenously over the scene, ears hungrily taking in each sound. The clank of coins entering the slot, the scuffle of hasty feet, conspiratorial whispers, the crinkle of a turning page. 

Each time a person walked by holding a newspaper from the Manchester Post, her heart leapt, clinging to that feeling. A twisted joy, a strange triumph, a guilty pride. Success. Every time she heard the clink of a coin slipping into the newspaper dispenser, giddiness flooded her senses and she could forget about the brutal harshness of reality for a moment. 

No more rich-smelling coffee shop, no more small apartment, no more crappy desk job. Just Crescent Cunningham in the spotlight for once, and all the newspapers in town trumpeting her article on the front page. The headline? Elemental witches at large! Five missing girls in the past week, all disappearing without a trace. Each of them with a connection to an element and demonstrating strange powers. Police may want to consider changing their approach from investigation… to witch hunt.”


*************************

“Selene, Kenna, Talia, Daria, Zara. Starlight, Embers, Storm, Sea, Earth,” I looked up at the frail blonde girl with confusion, the names still roiling in my head like angry bubbles on the surface of boiling water.

“Did I get that right?” My voice sounded loud and boisterous even to my own ears- the English language seemed so brash compared to my native tongue. Talia winced at my voice. Maybe I was just talking loud.

“Yeah, that was a lot better, Zara. How do you know so much English? I noticed some other children in your village spoke it too, during the ri-” The bus lurched over a pothole, sending the petite young woman bouncing off her seat. She yelped, smoothing her ruffled navy skirt.

“Riot?” She repeated, looking me over with disdain as I sat calmly, completely unmoved by the jolt. I resisted the urge to snicker at just how fragile my savior was. How could such a small girl conjure such a vengeful storm? She was incredibly short and waifish- I practically towered over her even sitting down!

Glancing out the window at the golden fields, a sob threatened to escape my chest. The earth had always been a part of me, a constant in the turmoil. My brother’s death. My family’s horror at my gift. Lonely nights under the cold starlight, echoes of my parents’ yells shattering the stillness, my only solace the chirp of crickets and the grit of dirt on my palms. 

Image from Framepool

Now, with the world gleaming right outside the window, I yearned to smash the glass and dive into the fields, letting the power surge through my body in a warm golden tide as life sprang from my hands. Longing to release the anxiety of a cramped bus, bury myself in the plants until I melted into the earth, feeling it thrum with life beneath my fingertips. I could still sense the distant pulse of the earth’s energy, beating like a far away heart. Pressing a clenched fist to my heart, I exhaled slowly, trying to flush out the chest-tightening anxiety. 

“In school, they taught us basic English. Are you sure your friend is going to be here?” I asked, looking over at Talia. She looked pensive, surveying all the other passengers with those ice-chip blue eyes as though she could find the secrets of the world in their faces. To me, almost everyone looked the same- just one blur of life, fighting to survive but never taking time to think. About life, the earth, the universe, that there might be something more than the endless shuffle of money and people. 

No one cares about the earth, no one else notices the way the ethereal white-gold sunlight filtering through the leaves at dawn. Nobody sees the elegant way the fireflies sashay through the sky at dusk like a glowing ballet, no one runs their hands along the grass just to feel the sweet tickle against their fingertips. No one gazes at the shadows the moonbeams scatter on a quiet night, no one smells the earthy musk of dirt and grass. No one loves the chirp of crickets or the gnarled bark of an old tree. No one but me. It was a lonely thought- but it just may have been a true one. Everyone on that bus that Talia was studying so closely were all infuriating to me. Mindless, in search of money and survival- nothing more, nothing less. My parents had been the same way…

“Yes, I’m positive!” Talia said, halting the hurtling freight train of thoughts to a screeching stop. “We can rent a boat from ARK Inflatables in Kommetjie, Cape Town,” she stumbled over the name, pausing to gather her thoughts. 

The mention of a familiar city sent torrents of deja vu crashing into my thoughts- memories of a trip to Kommetjie years ago: the jostle of a rickety old truck bed, my sister Inara’s mellifluous laugh, a long winding road from our village as we made the journey to deliver crops to the city. It had been the furthest I had ever been from home. The small, less than 3,000 population town, had seemed like a metropolis. Streets. Cars. People. Shops. A cacophony of foreign sounds grating my ears: tires grumbling across pavement, church bells clanging, footsteps thumping on cement.

 Inara had loved the bustle of the small city. Her pale jade eyes had lit up as the truck thundered down Gladiola Way, the tiny golden chips glinting in the fluorescent shop lights. I remembered joking to her that she should move to the city, the pang of despair that struck deep in my heart when she smiled that radiant smile of hers and agreed. My sister’s dream life didn’t involve me and the family farm anymore. She had loved the city the moment she got there, giddy with glee as I cringed at the noise and scent. It was her dream. It was my nightmare. 

“Kommetjie, Africa! I can’t believe I’m here, all the way from London. But they will be coming through here, I know it!” Talia clapped excitedly, either ignoring or not noticing the old lady’s harsh stare from across the aisle. “Selene said it herself in my dream. She overheard the kidnappers say they were going to sail past the Cape of Good Hope. They will be there. And we are going to intercept them.”

The bus thunked over another pothole, roaring down the dirt road and kicking up billowing clouds of dust in its wake. 

“I’ve never been on a boat,” I said plainly, Inara’s pale eyes still haunting my thoughts like a wrathful ghost refusing to be ignored. If I closed my eyes tight enough, I could imagine I was on the truck with her, thumping towards the town- the chatter of passengers replaced by my sister’s snort and our out-of-key singing interspersed with bursts of laughter. Before she had gone. Inara, my shining light, my sister, my best friend. Before she had gone.

Talia said something, put a hand on my shoulder, but I was far away. So far. Of course I was looking forward to the plan, saving all the other Elementals and overthrowing the tyrant Olympians… but I couldn’t focus when we were returning to the place I had gone long ago, when everything had been different. I was back in the time where my long black hair whipped in the wind and laughter floated on the breeze. When starlight shone down from the heavens like billions of spotlights on our grand stage, just my sister and me in the bed of a truck.

I felt Storm put her small head on my shoulder, and just as blissful sleep began to take me away, I heard them- sirens. Oh no. I jerked upright, Talia jolting out of a light doze. Looking back, blue lights painted the horizon. The color of the South African Police cars. The specks grew, hurtling towards the bus. I yelped at the ear-splitting moan of dozens of sirens and the screech of the bus brakes as it pulled over. 

“Don’t stop! Don’t stop!” Talia shrieked, standing up in her seat. The bus driver shot her a confused glance, brow furrowed. I shoved her aside, and we plowed down the aisle. Passengers shouted at us, hands raking my body and bringing intense flashbacks of yesterday’s mob careening across my mind’s eye. 

“Hey! Sit down, ladies!” The bus driver shouted gruffly. We charged up the aisle, chaos erupting in our wake. Screaming sirens blared louder with each passing second, my breath hitched. Panic and adrenaline warred in my chest, a tide of newfound emotions. 

Talia jerked the wheel out of his hands in a blur of flying blonde hair. Reeee!!! The wheels shrieked in protest and the bus swerved, plowing through the field. I waved my hand as we thundered over the golden fields, the trampled crops rising immediately to full height. A man grabbed me, valiantly trying to pull me away from the driver. With a flick of my fingers, vines exploded around his legs, curling into makeshift bonds until he fell back into a tide of panicked passengers. Police cars swerved after us, the crackle of their radios echoing on the wind. 

“We’ve found the missing girls. In pursuit.” Not for long. I thought as Talia yanked the wheel, nicking a tree in a huge U-turn that sent us bouncing along the road. My powers repaired the damage as we went, the slack-jawed farmer watched from a distance in awe. I gave him some extra height and produce (for his trouble- and to pay for any consequent shock therapy).

Just as the police cars emerged blazing and plant-covered from the crop field, Talia jammed her elbow into the driver’s face and sent the bus spinning back towards Kommetjie. Thrill exploded in my veins in bursts of adrenaline. Sirens blared like bleating sheep being herded by a Border Collie. 

“Can you even drive?” I yelled as Talia swerved the bus side-to-side in a zig-zag. 

“Depends-” She gasped, flooring the gas pedal, “what’s your definition of driving?” I laughed, not even caring about the cacophony of sounds pounding my ears. Me, Zara Nightlock, a simple farm girl from South Africa, had not only powers… but was in a car chase! Well… bus chase. I smiled, visions of Inara’s dark hair and pale eyes fading from my mind in the waves of adrenaline. Kommetjie was on the horizon, the police cars blaring behind us. 

We were on a quest to save Storm’s friends and save the world, running on nothing but a few dollars, gasoline… and a lot of luck.

Articles

Envy- Why we feel it, how to get rid of it

“There’s always going to be someone better.” If you are anything like me, you’ve heard this before. And it breaks your heart every time. I’ve been there! I hate those words more than anything. Why? Because I want to be the best at something. Anything. A simple desire, yet one that causes a lot of pain for me and many others, a lot of tearful breakdowns and a feeling of hopelessness that festers, building up and bursting like a raging inferno. 

You look at other people, doing the things you love, but better. Envy swells in you. In your mind, it doesn’t matter how much work they had to put in to get there, how much time and commitment. The only thing that matters is that they are there, and you aren’t. 

Hopeless. Unmotivated. Furious. Maybe you’ve felt it before, or are feeling it now, that dark voice that whispers, “Why try if there’s always someone better?” and the yearning for a legacy, the insatiable desire to be the best, to make your mark on the world. You want what the other person has so much that you lose sight of what you have. It’s easy to do. So how can we expel that hopelessness and turn it into something great? How can you be the best you if there truly is always someone better? 

Envy. It grows like a weed, and like a weed, it can take over and start to kill off flowers, or the good things in life. To beat envy, you need to find its roots and tear them out. Let’s find out how.

You are different- Stop Comparison!

Comparison is the thief of joy.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

You have hobbies, loves, interests. There will never, ever be another person exactly like you. And yet, that seems to get lost in seas of envy, comparison, anger. 

I’ve met people, had friends that seem like they are better in every way.

I had a great friend in elementary school who had the same interests. We played the same sport, had similar hobbies… it seems great, but for me? That was a double edged sword. Sure, we had fun, of course, but I always found myself comparing me to her. I worked hard in gymnastics, writing, and yet she was just… better. At the time it was easy to be jealous because she simply seemed like a better version of me. Prettier. More athletic, more trophies, won the award I had worked so hard to get. 

There will always be people like that- some worked hard to get to the place they are, but others seem to naturally be better. It can be infuriating when you try your best and someone else breezes past you without hardly any effort. 

Judging your skills and self-worth against someone else’s comes naturally. It’s called the Social Comparison Theory, says Psychology Today. It states that humans compare themselves to others- usually someone with similar characteristics as their own (like age or gender)- simply because it is biologically ingrained in us as a way to judge how you stack up in development and other areas (Social Comparison Theory- Psychology Today.)

But ultimately, though comparing is a natural thing, it causes stress, anxiety and self-loathing. Studies have shown that people who frequently compared themselves to others were more depressed and had less self-confidence than those who didn’t. Try to be a better person instead of trying to be better than someone else.

Monitor your “diet”

No, not your food diet! What you read, watch, listen to, and look at. Nowadays, there are millions upon millions of opportunities for jealousy. As technology advances, envy grows stronger, feeding off its new platforms like a smug demon puppeteering our society. With social media being as it is, jealousy runs rampant in the streams of people posting their highlights. 

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, all showing pictures of people having amazing times. Countless beauty magazines portraying women decked out in the finest clothes without a blemish on their skin and men with six-pack abs and bulging muscles. Celebrities sharing their wealth on Instagram, TV shows boasting billion-dollar mansions decorated to the max with gold filigree and gorgeous sprawling gardens that rival the Palace of Versailles. All of it cultivates a breeding ground for envy like never before. 

Poisoning our society with pressure to be like other people, to change yourself and who you are- it’s a real problem that only gets worse with the passing years. Unrealistic beauty expectations can cause body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia, unhealthy habits. Overwhelming envy of a celebrity (or even just a friend!) can cause depression and forms of anxiety. Envy goes deeper than momentary frustration. For many all across the world, it can be detrimental to their mental health and overall happiness.

To help eliminate any jealousy you may feel, you have to monitor your “diet.” Cut out anything that makes you feel like a lesser person, anything that gives you unhealthy desires. Skip the beauty magazine, don’t record the millionaire reality shows. Unfollow a celebrity on social media, stop scrolling through a successful friend’s pictures. Truly think about how things make you feel, if the simple things you do every day might be taking a toll in the long run. Make what you listen to, watch, and read things that have a positive impact on you and your self-confidence. It’s okay to want something you don’t have occasionally, but jealousy can be cured- and I guarantee you will be better off.

Think about what they aren’t showing you

Image from CNN

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

-Socrates

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Social media can be toxic! It warps our perception of people’s lives like a fun-house mirror, a bright facade slapped onto a dingy gray building. In the age of internet and social media, envy and jealousy is made easier than ever. You look at a post of a person on vacation, lounging on the beach with friends under a shining sun, and jealousy takes over. But you have to remember- you only see what they want you to see. 

Nobody takes pictures of their darkest days, crying on the couch surrounded by used-up tissues. Nobody shows the world how it stormed almost everyday on their tropical vacation, how they returned to the normal world in a week with a hundred chores and an overflowing inbox. It may seem like they have it all, but there are always hidden struggles behind the endless stream of smiling faces and beautiful photos.

The same thing applies to real life as well. You can never know what people have been/are going through. Festering envy can easily be cured if you imagine what they aren’t showing you, take the person who seems perfect and think about their dark days, how they have obstacles and fears and struggles just like you and everyone else. 

Better at a sport? More attractive? Good grades? It can be hard to fight back the yearning to be like someone else, but they may have had to work hard for their reward. You will always be happier and more content in your own body, doing your own work, no matter how it may not seem like it. By putting yourself in their shoes, you will find that you like your own much better. 

Sources used:

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/social-comparison-theory
Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! 🌎⚡Earth 1- Storm’s Quest

Image from ColourBox

*This is a continuation of the Elemental Series! You can find the rest in the archives. Comment below who your favorite Elemental is and why and I will give you a shout out in the next edition!

Blood stained her black swimsuit, gushing steadily from the torn flesh of her gut. Her incredibly wavy hair was soaked with sticky crimson that took over everything in an unforgiving tide, strong as the sea that lurched beneath the deck and twice as merciless. Seeping into the gnarled wood, the ropes that bound her wrists, the other girls’ clothes. Life flickered weakly, in and out; a grim reaper hovering just out of reach, ready to pounce. Salty ocean spray nipped at her pallid cheeks, the bronze fading into white like a waning moon.

Daria’s dreams were plagued with visions that danced across her mind like a rambunctious squirrel leaping into the road to interrupt the endless black of unconsciousness.

 A girl with ebony skin and the greenest of eyes, eyes that held a million memories overflowing with life. A green as deep as glinting emeralds far below the surface, as glittering as dewy wildflowers under the morning sun. A sheen of black hair dark as craggy mountains silhouetted in the dusk. The fiery sun lit up her bottle green eyes so they glinted like shattered glass. 

What she was standing in was the exact opposite of the life and warmth she exuded. Dead. A dirty, desolate landscape as far as the eye could see; the only sign of life were the sparse patches of dying yellow grass dotting the ground and the weak, spindly fingers of leafless trees clawing the sky. Everywhere you looked life was being quenched like a fire doused with water: cracked earth, remnants of animal bones scattered across the dirt, flurries of dust suffocating the dry air. 

The girl raised her hands in a beckoning motion. The earth shook, thrumming with power as grass emerged in waves, green spreading over the dirt like the sun leaching darkness from the sky at dawn. Trees sprouted up, growing and aging in seconds, the skinny shoots expanding into gnarled trunks under a single, delicate touch of her fingers. 

A horde of dark figures rushed across the rapidly growing field like the tide creeping up the shore in front of her house, leaping flames punctuating the ends of their torches like a crackling exclamation point. A blonde girl with eyes like raindrops thundered ahead, pushing through the mob and screaming at them to stop. Clouds coalesced, darkening the sky like a gray stain. Boom! Crack! With one sweep of her dainty hand, lightning split the sky, sending the green world spinning into blinding white.

Daria awoke with a gasp, sucking in air like a fish out of water. She tenatatively pressed a hand to her aching stomach, lips light with a prayer that this had all been a dream. The boat. The pain. The woozy, chemical smell of chloroform intermingling with the metallic stench of blood. Her hand came back sticky with red. Daria’s breath hitched in her chest, panic rising as she jerked her wrists wildly, watching the blood-stained rope darken as her skin chafed away to blood. 

“Hello. You must be Sea,” someone said airily with a sing-song tone like a flute’s song. She whirled at the voice, cautiously eyeing the pale black-haired girl that sat straight backed with her hands bound.

“I don’t- how did you know about my powers? Who are-” Daria paused, wincing and touching another careful hand to the torn flesh,”you? Other than the night girl from my dreams.” The girl raised a precisely trimmed brow.

“I wasn’t aware that I was in your dreams, Sea. All you need to know is that I am Selene, and that is Kenna,” Selene said, gesturing to a tan, dark haired girl thrashing against her bonds. She stopped to wave to Daria before throwing herself back into a wild fit. 

“You are one of five goddesses that control the Elements. I am Starlight, crazy over there is Embers- fire, if you prefer- and you are Sea. Now… what did you see in your dream?” Utter confusion and a wave of exhaustion rolled over Daria as blood seeped between her fingers, the flow slowing slightly under the pressure. At this point, there was no point in questioning it. She tried to recall the lapping of water on her toes. 

“A girl growing things,” she inhaled shakily, pinpricks of pain spiking all along her bronzed skin, “A mob. It looked like trouble- a big mob calling her a witch. She was a witch. But then a blonde girl made a storm and then everything was over in a flash of light.” 

As soon as the sentence was over, she sighed. Heavy lidded eyes fluttered shut just in time to see Selene smile. As she dozed off Daria heard Selene’s beautiful voice in fluent Italian,

“Storm did it. We have hope after all.”

**********************************

Dust rampaged through the dry desert air, caking peach sand over my pale skin. Hot wind carried the cries of the townspeople, venomous words floating on the breeze like a hungry vulture gliding on the currents. They were words I could understand in any language, words I’d heard countless times over the last few days. Witch. Unnatural. Threat.

I tore through the small, decrepit village, the dirty huts and collapsing buildings flying by in an indistinct haze. The journey from the beautiful, colorful coast of Italy to the dry expanses of the African savannah hadn’t been easy. 

Days upon days hitchhiking and trekking across the desolate land from dawn to dusk. Matting my hair into dirty strands, clogging every pore with dust that floated thick on the air like smog in the London streets, sand clinging to my clothes. Exhaustion was setting in with each time I used my powers, sprinkling myself with cool rain and beckoning the northern breeze to combat the brutal heat. Hiking over miles of cracked land with no guide but my instinct and a niggle in my gut urging me on.

Image from English Stack Exchange

Through the sweltering streets, I could see the blazing torches of the mob swinging wildly like drunken fireflies. Cutting through a shadowy alley, I rammed into the crowd, shoving forward. Malnourished children clawed at me, some shouting at me in a language I didn’t recognize, others screaming in choppy English. Bodies pressed in on all sides. Hot. Sweat-slicked. Tense with anger and fear. Clamoring through the masses, dodging swinging torches and children hurling spears. Trampling feet. Pounding heart. Trembling hands. Angry people wide-eyed with fury. Writhing masses. Guttural screams that split the air like an arrow piercing an apple.

Over the dark tide of people I caught a glimpse of the goal. All I could do was stare with wonder at the sight before me. 

Trees were rising out of nowhere, the cracked earth crumbling into dark soil that sprouted grass. Waves of green crashed over the dusty landscape, life springing up in seconds. Wildflowers rose up, dotting the carpet of lush grass like fireworks bursting in a dark sky. In the middle of it all, trembling with the effort, was a dark girl with long black hair cascading down her back. Earth. 

I pushed forward, tearing through the hordes of people. The girl cried out, her thin frame convulsing under the ratty dress. Breaking free of the pulsating crowd, I kneeled beside her. She looked up at me, starry green eyes glimmering with terror before glancing helplessly at the oncoming tide of citizens.
“Can you speak English?” I asked. She nodded meekly, tears streaking down her dirt-stained cheeks. Even as she convulsed with the fatigue, I could feel the earth below me thrum with power, renewed life coursing through its veins. 

“My family- my people,” she gestured towards the mob, thin hands shaking with the effort. “I just tried to help undo the damage of the years. They call me a witch. Please help. Please. I can’t do this much longer.”

“Stop using your powers. It’s okay, I can help. I’m a witch too,” I said, clasping her hand in mine. The earth rattled and she rose, the tide of people edging closer and closer. I had to save her. I had to let it rain. Raising a hand to the sky, I clenched my fist, pulling it down with all my force. Thunder boomed, the roar of a vengeful beast crackling in the heavens. Clouds swirled overhead, the endless periwinkle sky splashed with ominous gray. Rain began to drizzle, pouring down faster and faster. Drops splattered the new leaves, the small canopy sheltering us from the worst of it. Flames were quenched, plunging the world into darkness. 

“What’s your name?” I shouted over the din, thunder rumbling like a bowling ball striking the wood. People shrieked, raging on as their torches died out one by one, rain pounding the newly grown grass.
“Zara!” She shouted between cracks of thunder.

“My name is Talia. I’m going to make a distraction, and then you have to run as fast as you can in the direction of the nearest port,” I yelled, gusts of wind howling like a banshee. Pelting rain came down in torrents, stinging my skin. The heat still clung to the now humid air, each lurching breath pulling in the suffocating air. Zara parted her lips as though to ask a question, staring at me in wonder as though I was the strangest girl she’d ever seen. I probably was, actually- it’s not everyday that you see a pale Londoner in the middle of Africa starting a storm with nothing but willpower. 

With a deep, rattling breath, I squeezed her hand. Bites of rain nipped at my skin, cool and stinging like a blizzard’s icy kiss. The mob of people crashed over us, tearing at my clothes and ripping at Zara. I held on, squeezing my eyes shut as hands raked my skin. Vicious. Merciless. Just like the storm.

Summoning all my power, I raised my hand towards the sky again, forcing my mind to go blank. The cacophony of thunder and pounding rain, of screaming children and guttural yells, the warmth of Zara’s calloused hand in mine, the pain itching in my veins- all of it melting away. With everything I had, I brought down my fist. Lightning cleaved the sky, striking the earth with a bang! The world was lost in blinding white. Screams erupted. Feet scrambled. Smoke tinged the humid air.

 Everything was lost as Zara pulled me away, my feet stumbling across the terrain. We separated from the panicked horde of people, sprinting through the lush grass as rain pelted the world furiously.

Through the chaos, I could imagine Selene smiling at me, Kenna joking with a playful grin, Daria filled with hope (though I had never seen her face.) Thunder roared, the storm raging on as the power drained from my body little by little. Stumbling through the torrents, trembling with adrenaline, all I could think was, you did it, Storm. You saved her from her death. Saved Earth. There is still hope yet.

Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! 🌊Sea 2- Kidnapped

Image from Telegraph India

*A multi-perspective continuation of the Elemental series- find the rest in the archives!

🔥Kenna King- Embers

I woke up in a pool of blood, a sea of red. I was drowning in fire, throat burning, head throbbing. My memories were a hazy fog rolling over a roiling sea of thoughts- Why am I here? What happened? With a groan, I tried to stabilize myself with my hand to sit up only to find ropes knotted around my wrists. 

Where am I? The floor pitched and swayed wildly beneath my feet, the sky seeming to swim above me. Visions barraged my mind’s eye, a jumble of places and colors all crying out for my attention, sounds blurring into an ear-splitting static. Waves crashing. Dawn rising over an infinite sea. Thunder rumbling like a beast uncaged. Black hair in the wind. Fire. Talia’s meek voice rising louder and louder, screaming in desperation. Burn marks. Howling gales. A desert. A herd of dark figures. Blood on white sheets.

I screamed, thrashing on the floor as the static shrieked louder and louder. Yanking on the ropes that bound me, shrieking, my head splitting apart with visions. Pain rattled through my skull as the jumbled fragments of memories hurtled through my mind like a freight train derailed. Blonde hair flying in the wind. Stormy skies. Silver heels broken on the floor. Shattered glass glinting like crystals under a fiery sun. Men’s guttural yells followed by crack across the head. Black flooding my vision, an unforgiving tide swelling and pitching a boat like a monster ravaging the dusk. 

I was a rock in the middle of a raging river, overtaken by a tsunami of colors and memories, a million sounds compiled into a static roar. Out of the torrents, one word arose like a silver salmon leaping from the crashing waves. Kidnapping. 

It all stopped abruptly, gone in an instant like a light switch flicked to off. A strange calm took over my mind. Kidnapped. The ropes around my hands and feet were bindings, the dark figures my kidnappers. I stopped thrashing, feeling the heat that had unconsciously flooded to my wrists. White hot. These ropes had been designed for me, to quench my fire. Fury bloomed in my heart, curses pouring out of my mouth so fluently that my mother would be appalled enough to suspend my access to pizza- pizza… 

My stomach panged with hunger, a longing for sauce and cheese so intense I retched on the deck. That was all it took to set me off. The uncharacteristic calm evaporated immediately into madness, thrashing and screaming, not caring about the blood that soaked my clothes. I focused all the fire I had on my wrists and forced my hands apart as hard as I could, viciously attacking the bindings. I was going to get out. No matter what it took.

💧Talia Thorn- Storm

Image from Pixabay

The dock was slippery beneath my feet, slicked by a sheen of rain and the spray of the surf. Petrichor. That was the perfect word to describe it- the earthy smell after rain. Positano’s bustling harbor was silent in the early light of day as dawn reigned on the horizon, painting the world in red and gold. The fiery sun reminded me of Kenna, her fierce eyes splashed with playfulness as she had conjured sparks to heat up my room service food. The gold reminded me of Selene’s star necklace, pulsating and glowing hot against her throat. When I had asked if it hurt, she had said, “No. It’s white hot and ice cold all at once, like being wrapped in starlight.” I had smiled at just how wondrous it was to be within two feet of a real star.

Each memory was like a knife to my gut. The kidnappers should be here, in the harbor with Sea. After asking around town for a girl connected to the ocean, desperately fumbling through conversations with locals in sloppy Italian, I had found her. Daria. The man had smiled and said, in broken English, “It’s one form of the name Darya. In Persian, it means “sea.”” I had been so close, gone to her house that was nestled right along the sandy, sparkling coast. The door had been unlocked, footsteps leading out to the water. They had taken her.

Now, standing in an abandoned harbor, I collapsed to my knees. I had to find Earth next, I knew. And I had to get there before the kidnappers did. A light, drizzling rain began to fall in time with my melancholy heart. I could see the silhouette of a sailboat on the horizon, just a speck in the distance taking my friends, my only hope, taking everything out to sea. 

✨Selene- Starlight

Picture from Motion Array

Glowing hazel eyes shone down on me, lit with some furious fire. I looked around the dreamscape, taking in the clouds and starry night sky above me, the cascading golden gown I had worn that night in the dream. Everything was the perfect image of when I had first been reunited with her. The pavilion and my throne, studded with colorful planets and constellations delicately etched into the frame. The strappy silver heels on my toes and glowing gold wreath of stars sitting queen-like atop my head. Everything was the same. But this time, Artemis’s hazel eyes weren’t alight with joy. They were alight with fury.

“Artemis? Why did you bring me here?” My voice echoed across the clouds, rolling away in waves of echoes until it faded away into the dusk. She put a pale hand on my shoulder, gripping it fiercely. 

“Selene. Do you know what you are doing? Assembling the Elemental goddesses? Trying to overthrow the original gods and goddesses?” Her silvery voice cracked, and she trailed her fingers down my collar bone, where my star necklace pulsated and thrummed in time with my heart. The one thing I loved most in the world. A gift from Artemis. I flung a hand up protectively, clasping the chain and the glass orb in my fingers.

“You know that I’m doing the right thing, don’t you? The Olympians are corrupt! They cause earthquakes and hurricanes over silly spats, whip up tornados every day. Smite innocents for fun! Immortality has made them heartless. Can’t you see?”
“You fool. How could you turn your back on me, your best friend?” Artemis seethed, the pain of my betrayal glittering fiercely in her luminous eyes. There was no reasoning with her, I knew it. I moved to walk away, and she lunged for me, auburn hair whipping in the breeze. I shrieked as she yanked my necklace off. The chain snapped. My heart sank.

“NO! My star!” I cried, tears spilling out in torrents. The chain hung limp in her dainty fingers, trembling as her hand quaked. The star glowed and thrummed inside its glass orb, bursting with light like a distress signal. Flashing gold, shuddering and shining white hot. Crying out for me, to rest on my neck and glitter like it always had.

“Why,” I heaved, staggering forward to meet her eye to eye, “do you stand with the Olympians? Join me. Us. Help us get away from these kidnappers on Earth. Please.” She laughed, eyes glimmering with an inhuman rage. Cold. Merciless. 

“I sent them, Selene. The Elementals were cast down to Earth for a reason. You are immature teenagers, reckless, just humans with silly gifts.” She paused, running a finger over the necklace like she had years ago when she had given it to me. Her hands weren’t gentle like they had been. They were rippling with power, fingers tensed to crush the fragile glass.

“If Heaven wanted you to rule, you would be here. But you are nothing more than Mira Casse. You can never be Selene. Never.” I lunged for her and she deftly side-stepped, sending me sprawling face first into the clouds. By the time I turned to face her, cottony tufts clinging to my hair, I knew it was too late. Artemis, my best friend, the gentle, confident huntress looked me right in the eyes. And crushed to orb. 

My scream was lost in the roar as the star burst into a supernova, a blinding white light exploding into the dusk. 

*********************

The dream fell away and I lurched upright, clawing at my throat. Blood soaked my hands, my hair dripped crimson. But none of that mattered. What mattered was that my necklace was gone, and in its place was nothing but pale skin and a tiny, star shaped scar. I couldn’t breath. I was naked without it.

Surveying the deck through tear-blurred eyes, I saw Kenna, upright and howling curse words like a banshee, thrashing against her bonds. She was barely recognizable, a mess of dark brown hair and blood stained skin. When she saw me she paused for a millisecond before yanking her wrists apart, shrieking at the top of her lungs. The whole ship was a mess of blood, screams ringing out across the water as the Positano shore faded away in the distance. The kidnappers stood on the bow, talking calmly amongst themselves. Artemis’s mercenaries. What a mess. How could you, Artemis? 

I brought the rope to my teeth, chewing at them to no avail. The kidnappers didn’t even flinch as Kenna wailed on and I joined her, cursing the gods, shrieking Artemis’s name until my throat tore. They stayed calm, discussing routes and the weather, unaffected; Not even a reaction anymore- Kenna must have been going at this for a while. 

I smiled sadly. I’d grown fond of her and her tireless personality. Then, I saw her. Another girl, passed out on the deck with a rag in her mouth. She was lithe, her thin form hugged by a black bathing suit. Just a girl, about my age with sunkissed skin and incredibly wavy black hair. Blood flowed like a river from her abdomen, gushing out and filling the air with the metallic tang of blood. The wound was ugly, a mass of torn flesh. Sea. It must be sea. 

I put my head in my hands (as best as I could with bound wrists.) They have her. Storm was too late. There was hope yet. Talia could find Earth in time, I knew it. She could find the courage, and in the meantime Kenna and I would come up with a plan. With something. Hope usually flew in on swift wings like an angel or a shooting star. This time, it was a fight to keep it alive. I sighed, looking at Sea’s bloody chest rising and falling with ragged breaths. Too late.

Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! Sea 🌊

Image from TripAdvisor

*Note- This is a continuation of The Elemental Series. Find the rest (categorized by element) in the archives!

Daria woke up in a cold sweat. There was someone watching her. Cautiously tiptoeing over to the window, she skirted around her bedside table, pushing aside the flowing curtains that billowed in the wind. Squinting out, the shore in her front yard glittered with a billion glinting grains of golden sand, lighting up like glowing stars. Dawn was just starting to paint the sky with fire, golds and reds warring with the dull periwinkle horizon. 

A dwindling rain pitter-pattered softly on the sill, the smell of rain clouding the air even as she shoved the window shut and clicked the lock into place. Anxious tension swirled in her chest, and she found herself panting. What is it? There’s no one here, and you never wake up early… 

The rest of the Positano coastline was silhouetted further down, yet to be hit by the rapidly rising rays of sun. All was still in the streets as far as she could tell, and the air was undisturbed by noise. The only sound was the lapping of the tides, ever-constant, always in motion. 

Daria couldn’t find a single reason to be uneasy, but her stomach clenched nonetheless, ripples of nausea like a signal. Her body was telling her to do something, but she couldn’t tell what. Still, she felt like she was being followed, like something was lurking just out of sight. With one decisive motion, she drew the blinds, light disappearing and plunging her room into shadow. Immediately she rushed to the light, diving for it and flipping the switch, labored breaths wracking her chest. 

I’ve never minded the dark before… She had always had dreams where a striking young woman- a little older than her- with a crown atop her flowing black hair and a gown would be standing outside on the shore in the dark, bathed in moonlight. Gazing at the stars. Completely comfortable- relaxed, even as shadows fell on the sand. Standing tall and regal even as clouds passed over the moon and blackness encroached on her pale, moondust skin. Whenever Daria had been in the dark since that first dream, she thought of the girl and calmed down. But today felt… different. Her gut roiled, as though shouting a warning at the top of its lungs that was just soft enough that she couldn’t hear it.

Shuffling to her closet, she picked out a swimsuit, quickly pulling it on with the finesse of an experienced swimmer. She was down the stairs and out the door in moments, pushing back the aimless sense of panic and urgency. 

The sand was wet and mushy beneath her toes, still glittering bright as the jewels on a wealthy woman’s neck. A large sailboat came into the docks in the distance, dropping off a few men before departing again, headed out to sea. She smiled and waved at them, holding back the bile that rose in her throat. Something was wrong with her. Paranoid, up at dawn, afraid of the dark, anxious over a gut instinct? Swimming helps everything. Without any hesitation, Daria threw herself into the water.

 Diving in, everything disappeared. The sights, the sounds, her thoughts. It was just Daria and the sea, as it always had been. No family, no friends, no one. Her and the water. Always. Kicking deeper and deeper as the bottom sloped down, fish swirled in flurries around her, the darting schools seeming slow in comparison. She was a hot knife through butter, a jet in the sky, lightning striking a tree. Fast and effortless, no matter which way the current was going. Just by willing the tide to change, the waves bent and shifted, carrying her along in the current. Even without the help of the waves, each stroke was perfect- never breathing, rocket-fast kick, gliding on the surface or slicing through the depths. Bubbles erupted in streams from her nose, the ache in her stomach starting to dissipate like fog receding over a lake. She grew more and more at ease with each inch she ascended from the midnight blue depths.

When Daria had gone under, all was still and quiet. When she surfaced, all she could hear was a blood curdling scream. Then she got run over. Slam! The air whooshed from her lungs as she was plowed under the surface. Stabbing pain attacked her stomach as slivers of wood thrust themselves deep into her gut. Crimson clouds billowed into the water, blood blossoming and staining the blue. Screams tore her throat, each cry a stab at her mangled flesh. 

It was surreal, like a nightmare. I’ve been run over. By a boat. Her mind blanked as she flailed her arms, striking the water without the usual grace and speed, floundering around like a fish that swallowed a hook. Daria could barely breathe, gasping and inhaling water. Yells came from the boat. She imagined some poor sailors, just departed from the dock and ran over a girl who wasn’t looking. But they weren’t shouting in distress. They were cheering. 

Shock and disbelief flooded her heart. Mind blanking, Daria barely registered it. Right now, she was steering with her heart. In any normal accident when you were hurt in the water, you would try to seek help from them. But her gut (not the literal one, which was shredded) told her to swim away as fast as she could. Waves slammed against the boat as it careened across the water, undulating wildly with the ebb and flow of the tide. 

There was no way to swim fast enough. Blood trailed behind her in crimson clouds, like smoke pouring out of a broken jet engine. She could feel the boat chasing her. Kick. Harder. Daria thought weakly, remembering back to all the swim meets, all the races she had won. Willing the sea to work with her. But consciousness was fading fast, strength flagging. This wasn’t a normal sailor. These people were after her. 

Tapping into all her power, every connection that she had ever felt to the water. How she had felt slicing across the water like a shark, diving in at swim meets, wading happily with her mother before the accident on a sunny day.

The accident. It all came crashing down at once, and the strength bled from her almost as fast as the blood. The memory brought back so much happiness, but so much pain. Her mother’s voice, melodic and beautiful like a siren‘s song. The exact gray of her eyes, light and flecked with blue, the same exact shade as Daria’s. Some summer days her mother had sworn she saw gold speckles in Daria’s eyes when the light of the sun hit just right.

“My little champion,” she had said, pulling her into a tight hug, Daria inhaling and smelling her warm, sugary scent of vanilla and cinnamon. She would never smell that again. The next time she saw her mother was to identify the body, a gaunt, blood spattered version of the mother she had loved. 

Sea salt stung her nose as she inhaled water in gasps. This was how she was going to die. A swimmer, bleeding out and drowning right outside her house. A hand caught hold of her leg and hoisted her up. She slammed her head against the wood, dark spots dancing across her vision. 

She felt like Wile E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, bashed constantly until stars swirled in circles above her head like a crown. The ship sloshed from side to side in the unforgiving waves. Daria knew on some level that she was causing them, but the shock and pain numbed her mind and rendered her utterly helpless as the men threw her on deck and bound her legs. 

“Let me go!” she sobbed, each word like a knife to her gut. A tall, burly man was at the helm, steering back towards the docks. They had intentionally veered away from the docks just to hit her. And she had smiled. Waved. Been friendly! 

A thinner man shoved a gag in her mouth to muffle her cries. The world swayed, darkness encroaching on the edges of her vision. Blood spatters dotted the dock, the crisp red dots becoming increasingly fuzzy with each passing second. She put all her effort into one final heave of the tide, and the boat keeled wildly to the side but refused to throw her overboard. Refused to let her die in peace. Daria was just too weakened by blood loss. There was nothing left to give. 

Two other girls were on deck too, both battered and passed out. One with matted dark brown hair, and a torn white shirt in sharp contrast to her tan, exotic skin. I gasped, not caring about the pain that came with it. The second girl was the one from my dreams. The star queen. She was real. She was here, with me, on this boat, looking regal somehow even crumpled on the deck. 

The kidnapper held up a rag that stank of chemicals. Chloroform… he might not need it in a second, Daria thought, looking down at the growing pool of blood. 

“Welcome, Sea. Or should I say, Daria?” He stuck the rag against her mouth, and she fell to the deck, wavy black hair falling over her eyes. Blood seeped into her swimsuit. In seconds, the world went black.

Writer's Wednesday!

Writer’s Wednesday! Mind Games 2

You know when you are in a moment so bizarre, so fundamentally wrong that you just know that it must be a dream? Well, I was caught up in the most intensely real “dream” of my life. I was chasing my mind-reading crush down the hall, after single-handedly persuading the teacher with powers of my own that I still could barely comprehend.

It wasn’t right. This was real. All of it. The most sick, twisted part of it all? That it was me. I was just Vivian Rose, an unremarkable school girl. Decent grades. Average beauty. Not overly striking, personality-wise or skill wise. Sure, I had some charm. Sometimes I could convince my brother to give me the bigger piece of pizza, but nothing like what James was suggesting. Mind control. 

The moment I had caught up to James, the teacher bellowed through the door. The torrent of thoughts and questions whirling in my mind screeched to a halt. Blankness blanketed my mind like a screen, masking any rational idea and freezing me in my place. 

“Vivian! James! You little imbeciles! How dare you cut my class?” He accentuated the word “my,“ as if his class was the most interesting thing in the world when in fact those hours had been the dullest of my life. 

Vivian! Move it! We’re going to get caught! James’ husky voice echoed in my mind, snapping me out of my haze. But my feet refused to move, like cement blocks dragging me under the waves. Even then I knew something was wrong. Not the teacher, or James, or broken rules. Those thoughts were lost in seconds as it began. 

Everything was painfully sharp all at once. The fluorescents overhead seemed to blaze, burning my eyes, James’ rich scent of sandalwood and cinnamon pummeled my nose, the soft squeak of the teacher’s shoes on tile seemed to shriek like nails on a chalkboard. James whispered to me, urging me to keep going, even trying futilely to control my mind, but each word of his soft honey voice I had fawned over for so long sent stabbing pains through my ears, a million nails slamming into my head all at once. His touch was like knives, the usually-subtle sandalwood musk suffocating me with scent.

The sensory overload plastered me to my spot. My knees buckled. I felt an overwhelming panic setting in, something beyond the hallway and the teacher. Why can’t I move? Why can’t I breathe? Another wave of dread and confusion crashed through my veins, making me both hot and cold at the same time. A burning cold. So hot it was cool, so cool it was hot, ice and flame searing my skin. 

The world flickered black. Noises cycled between being painfully loud to distant and quiet, a jumble of James’ concerned voice and the screech of shoes, students’ feverish speculations and the pounding of my own heart. My head hit the tile with a crack, and everything went black. 

*********************

It was hardly a second that passed before the black swam with a vision. The sensations of my body crumpled against the cold tile melted away, and in moments I was standing upright in the middle of a dark, dank corridor. Pains and icy hot pin pricks that had tormented me fell away and my vision cleared. A tall man stood in front of me, barely illuminated by the weak lights. He was scrawny, so gaunt and pale that he seemed ghostlike in the dimness. The glow of the bulbs glinted off his bald head, made his watery hazel eyes gleam; he reminded me of a hairless rat. Something about his broad, malicious sneer chilled me to the bones. 

“Who are you?” I asked, stepping forward. My footsteps thundered in the deathly silent hall. Distantly, I noticed rows of green lockers lining the walls. My brow wrinkled in confusion, and I glanced back at him and his knowing smirk. Am I… at school? 

“Nobody you know. Not yet,” he fiddled with his impeccable black suit, flicking off an almost imperceptibly small piece of lint before adding, “but I know who you are now. You’ve made quite the impression today… Vivian.” The slimy, smug way he said it sent shivers down my spine and I staggered back. I’d never seen this man in my life, but everything about him screamed pure evil, from the glint in his pale hazel eyes to the ratty, gaunt appearance. I have to wake up. I have to wake up. 

“I… what are you doing to me? Why am I here?” I stammered, picturing my limp body back in the hall. I focused all my energy on there, on my lifeless form, and I could faintly feel James’ calloused hands on my back. He must be carrying me somewhere… I let the thought slip away as the man spoke again.

“It’s simple, really. I’ve spent years seeking out James. My biological son.” A disgusting slimy pride coated the word. Son. 

“The most valuable asset on Earth. Control over someone capable of such destruction. And now you come along, with a similar skill set.” His voice is hungry, as though the thought of it fills him with twisted longing. 

“My power will be limitless once I have both, will it not? Imagine the riches, the control of having the whole world at your disposal. Mass mind control. I’m sure you understand the draw.”

“I’d never do that! I don’t… no. Not me. This is all one big mistake, I don’t have powers. I’m just an ordinary schoolgirl. I’m not anything!” I pleaded, willing myself to go back to my real body. Come on, come on! I could distantly hear the echo of James’ voice, growing stronger as I strained.

“Ah, well. Can’t you see that your normalcy makes you the perfect candidate for this gift? That unremarkableness that you so cling to, Ms. Rose, just shows me that you yearn for more in your heart. I see the strongest desire in you, stronger than I ever have in James or anyone else. Wouldn’t you like to be special? I can give you that, and so much more. Wouldn’t you like to be powerful, to have James on your arm… forever?” His words lured me in, and the overwhelming desire that had been locked away for so long bursting at the seams. It took all my strength to resist the offer. 

“No! I can’t do it that way. It’s not right!” He grabbed my arm, preparing to shout something, and I thrashed as hard as I could, screaming and thrusting myself into reality.

The world rushed back. James’ concerned face flooded with relief, beautiful brown eyes gazing down. I didn’t need to ask where I was, I had been there once before. The musty, dank scent, darkness, a lone window and mounds of boxes… it was the school’s basement.

“What happened?” He asked, and I gasped for air, trying to calm my racing heart.

“A- a vision,” I paused, panting and trying to collect my thoughts. “A pale, scrawny guy. Said he was-” The jagged, broken words caught in my throat; I inhaled sharply. “Your father. He wants to control us, James. I’m scared.” 

He drew me close, surprising me with the ferocity of the hug. He was warm, and the creamy sandalwood musk washed over me. Butterflies soared in my stomach, and I suppressed them as best I could. This was no time for that. We were in danger. 

“It’s okay. I’m here, we’re in this together now. I hoped you wouldn’t say that. Where were you, in the vision?” James asked, pulling away almost reluctantly. I narrowed my eyes in thought, trying to remember. Green lockers…
“Here! The school.” His face went deathly white, and he helped me up, fear written across his face. 

“He’s coming for us. He’s in the school. If he catches us, he’ll tempt us, but in the end we will always be puppets if we give in. We have to leave. Now.” 

Time was a blur for the next minute. Him yanking my hand, dragging me, urging me onward. Racing up the steps, running through the school, the eerie echo of shoes on tiles, the distant yells of teachers the only other sound to be heard. We were being watched. I could feel it, could feel the man’s slimy, malicious gaze on my back as we ran into the parking lot. 

“Here! Get in!” James gestured to a nearby  truck with a woman inside, jamming to music. I did a double-take. 

“Are you insane? Can you drive?” His eyes were wild, and he ran an exasperated hand through his tousled black hair before shaking his head. Desperation was scrawled across his face, lines of tension and fading hope etching themselves in his forehead. This was our only option. The sensation of the man’s presence was getting stronger each second that we stalled. There was no time for logic or laws. Without missing a beat, I flung myself into action.

“Get out!” I screamed at the woman through the open window, projecting so much of my power into those two words that the ground shook. She practically threw herself out the door, and I scrambled into the seat, flicking the key. The truck roared to life, quaking under my sneakers. James had barely slammed his door before I thrust my foot down onto the pedal, careening forward and plowing through the carefully landscaped lawn. 

“Vivian! Do you know how to work th-” His sentence was cut off as the wheels screeched on the asphalt, screaming in protest as I sped north on the (thankfully) empty road. The speedometer leapt up, further and further. 80. 90. Maximum speed. James let out a guttural whoop, caught somewhere between a fearful scream and an excited cry. 

He said something that I couldn’t hear, drowned out by the roar of the engine. The sensation of James’ “father” was fading, growing more distant with each passing second on the open road. I was driving. On an adventure. Perhaps the man was right about the desire to be special, but I knew he wasn’t right with his methods. Tracking down his own son and an innocent to control them wouldn’t make you special or powerful. It wouldn’t make you happy. But the bravery I felt right now? That would make me happier than all the control in the world. I let myself relax for a while, taking in the open road and fresh air. I could only pray there were no cops around, because I was almost certain a minor (without a license) going 90 on a road with a 30 mile per hour speed limit was quite illegal.

***************************

 “So, what do we do now?” I flopped down on the freshly made bed next to James, letting myself sink into the plush mattress. My body still felt like I was speeding down the highway, and I could feel the trembling roar of the engine even now as I sprawled on the hotel bed. 

“I don’t know. But we can’t stay here long. My… father-” he spat the word like a curse, “has been hunting me for years. It was one day.” He sighed, running a hand through his messy black hair. A spark of trauma and pain flashed across his eyes briefly before fading again. 

“One day that I gave in, let him use me for his sick, twisted game. I guess that’s all it takes. One moment. One day,” he trailed off, burying his face in his hands. I placed a tentative hand on his back. His muscles were hard as rock, taut as a rope in a ferocious game of tug-of-war. 

“And now I’ve gotten you dragged into it too. He’s so powerful, I just have no idea his capabilities. But- but I thought I was careful…” his voice broke and he stared numbly at a wall, eyes downturned with regret, twinkling with guilt. Any anger that I had felt at him for the shy facade and dragging me into danger dissipated with the pangs of sympathy. I could barely fathom how the shy, smart kid I had adored could harbor so many secrets. How did those large brown eyes hide such a strong soul and an unimaginably painful past?

“It’s not your fault,” I said, lifting my hand from his back, “How could you have known he was watching us?” He opened his mouth to protest and I held up a silencing finger. 

“You couldn’t have known. There was no way. But we’re hundreds of miles from the school now, and we’ve convinced the clerk to give us this room. For free! We’ll lie low for a day or two, then move out again. I’m just as panicked as you, but we have to stay calm. Formulate a plan,” I twirled a strand of ash brown hair around my fingertip in thought before adding, “Do me a favor. Try and get some sleep.”

He looked up and gave me a weak smile; I could have sworn I saw his hunched back relax slightly. I got up from the bed and walked to the bathroom, looking over my shoulder to find him sitting there, the light, hopeful smile still tugging at the corners of his lips.

*********************

Fog clouded the mirror in the humid room. My hair was still soaking wet from the shower, dripping down my back and peppering my shirt with water stains. I ran a comb vigorously through my silky hair, still soft from the shower. Whatever brand of conditioner this hotel uses is amazing, I thought, looking over to the mirror to see my reflection but only to be met by a foggy haze from the steam. 

Just before I could reach over to wipe it off, the lights flickered off. I screamed in surprise, stumbling back into the rim of the tub and smashing my heel. With a yelp, I staggered forward in the dark, feeling blindly for the lightswitch. After half a minute of jamming my fingers into the towel rack, mirror, and just the wall in general, I finally found it and flicked on the lights. The bulbs blazed and illuminated the room. 

Terror struck hot in my veins as I surveyed the room. Scrawled in the fog of the mirror was a message. It said, simply, eerily… “I’m coming.” I shrieked and rushed out the bathroom, slamming the door behind me. Footsteps thunked in the hall, racing in time with my wildly beating heart. I flung myself across the room.

“James! James, wake up!” I screamed, shaking him feverishly. He jolted upright, eyes wild and dazed. I slapped him across the face, feeling a pang of guilt but knowing the sting would help. There was no time to coddle him awake. Not now.

“Ow! What is it, Vivian?” I yanked the comforter off him, grabbing his arm and dragging him out of bed. “Have you lost your mind? What is it?!?” James yelped. I twirled around, pushing my hair out of my eyes frantically. The deep, nauseous feeling in my gut strengthened. The footsteps outside got louder and louder. My reflection in James’ pupils was that of a mad woman, with wild blue eyes and wet hair dripping, covering me in speckling drops. 

“We have to go. Now. He’s here.”