Writing & posts

Writer's Wednesday!

Midnight Rogue 5–Hellfire

The Midnight Rogue awoke as Miranda. For a moment, blind to her surroundings, the teen felt blissfully well-rested. Eyes closed, she plotted out a breakfast for herself–toast with peanut butter, bacon reheated in the bunker’s clunky microwave, strawberries haggled from the hag down the street. 

She tried to roll over, but found that she wasn’t lying down. Her sweaty arms ached against an unseen force. She groaned, and as she attempted to stretch once more, an abrasive noise shattered the silence. The sound of chains.

Flashes of memories bubbled behind her eyes: midnight and bronze, royal purple silk, the sun chasing her through the streets. Chloroform. 

The Midnight Rogue had killed last night. And this wasn’t her bed. 

Miranda’s eyes snapped open. Her feet were bare and clammy, wrists rubbed raw by manacles. Her ink hair hung limp, black buttered noodles against a sunken skull. Sweat moistened the cloth at her armpits. It was hot–devastatingly hot; an oppressive humidity, like the bathroom after a scalding shower. 

What was this place? A bunker? No, there was an open door, overflowing light into her cell. A basement? A torture chamber? Pressure built in her throat, phantom vomit clawing the base of her tongue. 

She had been kidnapped.

And given her history, she was awaiting torture. 

A shadow spilled across the yellow light of the unseen door, shifting closer. She strained against the chains in a panicked fervor, breath rattling up her trachea in mangled puffs of air, caught somewhere between a shriek and a grunt.

Why does she do this? Why does she have to kill? Her brain pummeled itself with desperation, jabbing lances of accusation at her darker half. There was no answer from the Rogue–she seemed only a fantasy now, the imprint of a dream fading from the mind. Gone with the night.

A foot crossed the threshold and all at once the cacophony froze. The final chain link clinked halfheartedly against the wall as he plodded into the light. It was a man. A man that was startlingly big, unnaturally big; shoulders like an ox and the gait of a teetering semi truck. 

The Midnight Rogue would have laughed, purple braces sparkling in the dim. She would have taunted him, armed with an arsenal of clever yet coercive jibes, something to reel him in with anger so she could strike. 

But Miranda wasn’t the Rogue–if you could look past the physical sense. Their souls were inextricably laced, yet they weren’t the same. One was forged from dawn and the other from dusk. Blending some moments, repelling in others. Coexisting. 

So Miranda didn’t lash out a devastating quip, or formulate a plan. She did nothing but sink in her fear, blinking as his milky eyes caught hers. 

“The Midnight Rogue…corny, isn’t it? Little brace-faced girl with a name like that,” the man remarked. His voice was calm–if not slightly smug. A scientist observing a caged beast.

“I suspected it was you, back in the alley. You put on quite a show.” He gestured to his shoes, which were stained with an ambiguous, clumpy material. “I was almost convinced. Until of course, the same ‘drunken party girl’ waltzed out of the alley a minute later, cool and collected.” 

“I’m not who you think I am. I’m not her!” Miranda pleaded. The man smiled serenely, veiny temples bulging. He bent down and urged a small object from the heel of his shoe.

In an instant he was in her face. She screamed. Metal glared in the light, the shiv glowing as it slashed across her cheek. Miranda shrieked, pushing her back against the wall and thrusting her feet. She connected fruitlessly; her jabs were like a fly ramming a cow. Her bare toes cracked against his muscle. 

The man stood calmly, taking the abuse without comment. Soon the clatter of chains wound down. Her feet lashed out inconsistently, the motion clumsy and leaden. The great Midnight Rogue sank as far as her manacles would allow until she was half-sitting half-hanging from the chains, lower thighs barely skimming the concrete.

Her cheek burned.

“Now, tell me, Rogue…why is it that you killed my brother?” he asked. She whimpered, mind blanking as she felt her pulse in the cut. Brother… Brother… Men that she’s killed–that I’ve killed…

Faces flashed in her mind’s eye. It was all too blurry. Too dim. The emotion in the memories overpowered any details, obscured any victims. 

“I’m not who you think I am,” Miranda repeated softly, without conviction. 

Unsatisfied, the man slowly raised the shiv. Her cheek throbbed with the phantom metal. Miranda…the Rogue?–she was no longer sure–wracked her mind for her victims. 

A serial rapist from City Central, ripe both with age and sex-trafficking connections. Too old.

 Perhaps it was the con-man who had practically stolen all of Mrs. Pelencia’s wealth; a skinny, red-headed weasel. Not a likely candidate, considering the mound of bulk staring her down. The mound of bulk that was inching the shiv forward to carve her face.

“WAIT!” Miranda screamed. The metal retracted a hair, itching to slice her skin. “He…he lived off an alley. Trash strewn everywhere, dark brick. A view of City Central glowing in the distance. I don’t know his name. But it was him.” 

She waited one heartbeat, then two. No recognition came to his eyes, no emotion whatsoever–and Miranda braced herself for the cut. 

It never came.

Slowly, silently, he withdrew, sauntering towards the light and disappearing through the door. Dread swiftly overtook her relief.

Obviously she had killed his brother, the man that lived off the alley. She could remember him clearly now. The physical similarities between the two were unmistakable.

Boxy chin.

Flat nose.

Flush cheeks that implied constant intoxication.

She had murdered this man’s brother for killing Paisley. And neither the Rogue nor Miranda held any regrets for that. Logically, the only reason he had just spared her life was so that she would die slowly.

Miranda didn’t want to thirst to death, or waste away to a bag of bones. She pondered irritating the man on purpose–at least then she would meet a quick death.

There was–thankfully–no time for her to consider this. A grating note see-sawed on the air; the sound of a cheap doorbell. Her great grandmother’s apartment used to have the exact same one.

She heard the scuff of boots and a loud creak, followed by a voice that sounded reasonably polite. Strangely polite–given that this was the outer boroughs. You don’t get many boy scouts this far from City Central. 

Miranda made out the words “friend” and “teenager,” then “black hair.” Her whirling brain took several seconds to compute that the voice was referencing her.

Someone was looking for her. Not The Midnight Rogue… someone was looking for their friend, a normal teen girl who had been missing for days.

She stood hastily, holding her breath to hear better. 

Fight…missing….Rogue…danger…killer…murder. The snippets grew more and more aggressive. Dagger. Slayings. Stalker. Scum. The two voices bounced back and forth with more intensity, the gruff clashing with the desperate. The pleading voice grew hard and  deepened. 

Miranda snapped to attention, wanting to strangle herself for her stupidity. She knew who it was–wasn’t sure how she hadn’t figured it out sooner. He was the only person who would have cared enough to look for her if she was missing. He was the only person who cared about her at all.

Ben.

“Ben! Ben! Ben!” She erupted. He was here to help. He was here to save her. She wrapped the chains around her hands and shook them furiously. The whole room was filled with the deafening rattle. “Ben! Ben! I’m downstairs, please…help…”

Through the clatter she heard a crash, then the thud of a body hitting the floor. She knew that sound all too well. Sweat stung her eyes and she squeezed them shut, tears flooding in to fight the salty burn.

When she opened them again, he was there. 

A blade hacked through the chains and she collapsed on the cool concrete, unable to move. She tried to gasp out a sentence, to thank him profusely, to tell him how she really felt. 

To tell him that she loved him and she always would. From the sweet years of childhood into nights at the club, walking home with their arms linked, from mourning a death and recovering to where they were now. It was a feeling that persisted, a feeling that fought through her life when everything else came and went.

But instead she lay there sobbing, incapable of speech. Miranda didn’t fight his grip when he carried her up the stairs and down the hall, leaving the cell behind.

When they emerged onto the street, the soft sunlight awoke her senses and calmed her sobs. Ben propped her against the wall. She sank to the sidewalk, eyes puzzling out her surroundings. This was an outer boroughs street she had never seen, yet one that looked just like every other: lined with dilapidated brick buildings, broken windows refracting the sun. 

He sat down next to her, breathing hard but saying nothing.

“Ben, I swear, I didn’t mean…I’m so sorry–” 

“No, no… stop. Miranda, there’s nothing to be sorry for. I should be the sorry one. I was so obsessed with finding the Rogue that I didn’t come looking for you for days.” He heaved a breath. 

 “What if he’d killed you? Sold you? Pawned you off as a sex worker for some City Central diplomat? I’d never forgive myself. If I hadn’t knocked him out a minute sooner…” Ben trailed off, running a hand through his golden-brown hair. 

The guilt on his face dredged up every muddled feeling Miranda had ever had for him: all the thoughts of are we just friends? and what would Paisley say? and would this be wrong? unraveled themselves. Seeing his face, sappy and concerned for her, marred by the scars of bravery, she knew.

She loved him. She loved him so much it exploded in her chest, set her heart’s cadence at double time. Desperately, the words came gushing out.

“Ben, no. It’s not you. I’m the guilty one. It was karma when that man took me, karma that should have been served.” His face went blank. 

“What are you talking about?”

She loved him. She loved him, she loved him, and he had to know, he had to know…

“I’m The Midnight Rogue. I killed that man’s brother for what he did to Paisley. I killed rapists. The worst of the con-men. The drunkards who beat their girlfriends, the drug dealers who leave their children to fend for themselves.”

He stared at her blankly and she kept going. She loved him with such certainty that she couldn’t stop if she tried. Everything spilled out, the secrets she had kept for so long, every horrific guilt that lived in her gut.

“After Paisley died, I was destroyed… I couldn’t stop myself. It got out of control, worse and worse, and I thought it was wrong at first. I thought I was a monster. An animal. I beat myself bloody trying to stop killing…but one day, I realized. What I did? What I’m doing?” She shook her head, a solemn certainty in her gaze.

“It’s not wrong. It’s justice, Ben. And it’s the right thing to do.”

Shock was in his eyes. His mouth was slack. But she looked into his face without worry, seeing the same boy she’d always crushed on, the boy she’d grappled over emotionally for as long as she could remember. 

And she had finally told him her secret. After all this time. She loved him, she loved him, and she felt so much lighter–until he frowned.

“If this is a joke, stop it now. It’s not funny,” he hissed. She drew back, faltering. “Miranda, tell me this is a joke. You’ve got to be kidding.” 

Her lip quivered as tears sprang to her eyes. No, no, no. This can’t be happening. 

But it was real, and this was happening, and she shook her head.

“I’m not joking. I’m The Midnight Rogue.” 

In that moment, the world shifted. His kind face contorted. Something changed in his eyes, a burning ember of disgust. Abhorrence. Like she was a rat in the gutter. 

“You. Are. Literally. Insane.” Her heart plummeted. “This isn’t a game, Miranda. These are people! How many people have you killed?” He stood, fire in his eyes. She cringed against the brick. “How many people?!” Ben roared.

“I–I don’t…twenty? Thirty? But, Ben, they were–”

“No.” He said, wiping his forehead in disbelief. “No, The Midnight Rogue is a cold-blooded killer. There’s nothing that can justify brutalizing thirty people!” he shouted. Her temper began to simmer; slime built in her throat. 

“Ben, it’s justice.” She stood to meet his gaze, heat peppering her voice. “Those men were dogs. Trash. Child molesters, rapists, drunks and drug addicts and freaks. They had to be killed. If I didn’t stop them, they would have done it again and again.” She stated, indignance rising.

“Since when is violence the only option? You don’t know these men, Miranda! How do you know they can’t change?” he screamed, exasperated. His fury bounced in echoes down the street. “And even if they wouldn’t stop, this isn’t your job. Let the police do their work instead of playing God.”

She resisted the urge to slap him. Her anger was boiling now, filling her brain with a blinding red. Her fingers itched for a blade. 

“How can you be so daft? These are the outer boroughs. Police don’t help. People don’t change. You’re naive, Ben.” And you must be blind too, if you can’t see how much this hurts me. 

She was suddenly very glad she hadn’t said those words–I love you. What hurt even more was that they were still true. She loved him. She loved him, she loved him… and it made her want to die. 

“If it was only him…only the one who killed Paisley…I would have understood. God, I wanted to thank The Midnight Rogue for what she’d done! Because I might have done the same,” Ben said. He rubbed his temples and she wanted to cry from the disappointment in his voice. “But you took it too far, Miranda.” 

Her chest ached. She had to concentrate on standing still as the tears shook down her pale cheeks. How could so much pain exist? So much moral gray? 

As her life crumbled around her, she thought of Paisley, those sunny caramel eyes beaming light into her life. 

She had been Miranda’s everything. When she no longer had any family or purpose, Paisley had been there. When she was at her highest high and her lowest low, Paisley had been there. 

She was Miranda’s world, and she had been brutally murdered. By a clobbering, drunken monster high on god-knows-what, intent on assaulting a young girl outside a club.

Ben could think what he wanted. That man–and people like him–had no right to live.

“I don’t regret it, Ben. I had a reason to kill each and every one of those irredeemable bastards. And I would do it again,” she stated. He sneered at her like she was a piss-stained rodent bleeding out on the road. 

The boy she adored was disgusted by her. Her rage intensified. 

She hated that she thought she had loved him. That she still loved him, a beanpole of a boy. How could he be so stupid? How could he sit idly by, when he had seen his sister die? How could he preach forgiveness when people were so cruel, so horrible? 

“If that’s the way you feel,” he seethed, teeth gritted, “then why don’t you just kill me too.”  Hellfire in her eyes, she ripped a shard of broken glass from the pavement and pushed him down to the pavement. 

He screamed, but she leaned in harder, heart breaking at the crunch of bones.

She loved him. He hated her. Paisley was dead. And Miranda was burning with a rage that couldn’t be quenched. Couldn’t be stopped, couldn’t be controlled…

 She stabbed the glass into his arm, sobbing as she drew it back and thrust it again, and again, and again. Her heart was on fire. She couldn’t see through the tears. She hated herself for thinking she had a chance at love, hated Ben for his naivety, hated life for doing her wrong.

When she finally stopped, his right arm and shoulder were gushing blood. With an ire hotter than Apollo’s fire, she hissed out her words, ignoring his agonal gasps.

“I won’t kill you, Ben. But know this… for Paisley, I would. For change, I would. But you don’t understand that. You don’t understand justice, or sacrifice. You don’t understand anything, Ben Renee. Especially not me.” She threw down the blood-stained shard and it skittered across the pavement.

Miranda stood. The Midnight Rogue and the teen girl were one and the same, fused like they had never been before. There was no divide anymore–perhaps there had never been in the first place.

“You were the one person, aside from Paisley, that I would never have hurt. And I thought you were the one person who would never hurt me.” She paused, turning away from his crimson-dashed face. “I guess I was wrong.”

The teen girl brushed the tears from her cheeks and wiped the sweat off her brow. She hoped she hadn’t struck an artery. But even if he died…how could my heart get any more shattered?

The Midnight Rogue took off at a run, visions of vengeance dancing on her eyes, carrying a grief so profound it could boil the seas. In the hurricane of hurt she bobbed just above the surface, struggling to stay afloat. She was anchored by one sole resolution: nobody in the outer boroughs would ever have to die like Paisley did. Someday, somehow, some way, she would protect them all. 

Even if it took every last day of her life.


Articles

The Art of Self-Inflicted Busy Work

Image from the New York Times

Busy work.

When someone says this phrase, what do you think of?

Maybe your teacher doling out endless assignments with trivial questions. Or your boss loading you up with work that seems like a waste of time. 

And you would be completely right. But recently, I’ve discovered a new kind of busy work. It doesn’t take the form of stacks of paper, or long office hours, or pointless tasks from a superior. It differs on one simple thing…

It is self-inflicted.

Self-inflicted busy work is, arguably, the hardest to manage. It can take the form of procrastination–doing any minor, easy task to avoid the most pressing matter. Ambition, the deep-seated desire to thrive in every possible field. Even obligation–a self-imposed feeling of guilt when you aren’t doing a certain activity or when you are doing something else instead.

The difficulty with self-inflicted busy work is that it is a gray subject. All the catalysts I just listed could have catastrophic effects… or wonderful, inspirational impacts. 

Ambition is an admirable trait. Obligation to better yourself is much the same. But busy work of this nature can also cause you to overload your schedule, forget to prioritize, and push aside your passions in pursuit of more activities.

Earlier this year, I attended a youth leadership seminar where one of the speakers said roughly this:

“You need to actively choose to do the things you love, not just make time. Using whatever few spare minutes you have on these sources of joy won’t make you happy in the long run. Make the choice to spend time doing what you love.”

This struck a chord with me, and led me to wonder…

How much time do I actually devote to the things I love to do?

In the end, I came to the simple conclusion: not that much.

Each year starts out as a new slate, but, like most ambitious individuals, that slate is jam-packed within a month. I have so many interests it gets hard to keep track and my resume’s “activities” list devours the page. 

Things start to fall by the wayside when I get flustered: writing for the blog or writing for myself, reading, playing my french horn. More demanding aspects of my schedule wedge themselves in until the “non-deadline” and “creative” passions wither and cramp.

Sadly, that’s just the way things are in life. Nowadays, people (especially kids) have so many opportunities that we start to overload. 

Before you get angry, let me say what you were already thinking:

So drop a few things. Sure, it may suck, but it’s the right choice in the end.

Good point. The dilemma? I genuinely enjoy everything I choose to do. But most importantly…

I like to be busy.

It’s not often that I hear someone say that, but I’ll be the first one to admit it. Whether it is good for me, my hobbies, and my schedule or not, I like to be busy. 

I’ve started to take pride in my ambition, bragging of my packed schedule with fake complaints. I won’t deny it–like most self-inflicted busy workers, I often compare my schedule to others in a “contest” of sorts. To those who aren’t the “try everything” type, this kind of conversation will sound incredibly petty:

“My schedule is soooo busy. I go straight from school to swim, then to leadership right after, then to band all the way til’ 9, and I don’t get to sleep until 10:30!”

“Me too. After school I have jazz band, orchestra rehearsals, chess club, online cooking classes, and track. I’m busy all the time.”

Annoying? Probably. But it is important to know that many people who have all these activities and self-inflicted busy work know what they are doing and actively choose to pursue this lifestyle anyway.

Like me, many ambitious people like to be busy. Why would we choose to add one more project, one more club, one more assignment? Because, in our minds…why not?

For those of you with this same mindset, I offer a word of advice–do everything you want to do. Sign up for the chess club, and golf, and track, and cross country, and culture club, and student council. With two conditions.

#1. Do not complain about your schedule to other people. I know from experience–they will either nod half-heartedly, vigorously compare and contrast their own busy lives, or tell you that you need to drop some things.

And, finally,

#2. Do not let the important things slip away while you chase all those paths. Family relationships. Friendships. Schoolwork. Your mental health. And, of course, activities that make you, you! Those things, large or small, that make you genuinely happy should not be shoved aside.

Takeaways

If you take away anything at all from this article, let it be this: it is perfectly normal to like being busy. To be interested in a lot of things and avidly pursue them is not a claim many can make. 

So continue to seek out those ambitions for as long as they bring you happiness, so long as you never lose sight of what matters most: the people and activities that bring you joy. 

As you and I know best, life is nothing without passion. Don’t let anyone make you feel stupid for chasing it.


*Featured image from Forbes.com

Writer's Wednesday!

WW Elementals Finale Part 4–Abyss and Anarchy

Image from Medium

Artemis looked awful. Singed. Slightly smoking. Blackened with shocks, hair somehow equally frizzy and wet, matted to her scalp with rain. But that was just the problem…she should look perfect.

Goddesses were the essence of perfection. Shiny hair. Bright eyes. Lithe yet ample figures, dressed to the nines in luxurious silks–how Artemis always had looked. Until now.

She was torn to shreds…and more human than ever before. Because of the Huntsman.

Artemis had saved him. For no gain of her own. For no discernible reason other than true affection; was that even possible for an immortal? True affection for a human–not even a king or noble: a human distinctly beneath her status, one more love-sick mercenary blinded by devotion. She hadn’t just changed…I looked into her eyes and saw a true metamorphosis. 

Yet the perfect symmetry of her cheekbones reminded me of her alienness. And my memory reminded me of the friend I had never known, dead in the road. Zara.

“I don’t know what’s changed in you, Artemis. I can see–but it doesn’t change what I have to do. I think you know what I mean,” I stated. A final invitation of mercy. Artemis didn’t waver; I sighed with resolve. So it had to be said. 

“Surrender Olympus. Or we will have no other choice.”
Our chain of power unlinked, each girl raising a palm to the clouds. Elements exploded into the air, bonded by an invisible force. It was like a row of fireflies igniting at once–flame, water, starlight, storm. Even the earth groaned, dirt kicking up in flurries around us. Watching the dust clouds twirl up from the soil, a phenomena I would have previously attributed to wind became a sign that Zara’s spirit lived on. Somewhere in the great beyond, she was on our side.

Artemis seemed to consider the scene. Orion, healed, just barely stirring the soot. Our line of glistening power, banded together like a strand of stars.

And all the while, I saw her shoulders rise and fall in a way they never had before, just one more inhuman detail I had missed before. Artemis was breathing now. Like me, or Daria, or any other living person.

But even I would not confuse the presence of humanity for a lack of pride. Before she even said the words, I knew. 

“Olympus will never be surrendered.” 

My mercy condensed into anger. I beckoned starlight down from the heavens, opening myself to accept the surge. Bitter as frost. Hot as fire. Intensely painful and blissful, coating my veins and burning my tongue with a buzz I could only describe as transcendence. I was higher than the sky itself, whirling in a sea of energy, soaring on the wings of a cosmic beast.

And then I fell.

Snatched back down through the bliss. Reality crashed in. My hand caught on a ledge as my feet slid out from underneath me, swinging forward and smashing my body against the cliff. Cliff? Shrieking, my pinkies slipped on the grass, roots sprayed dirt into my eyes. 

“Selene!” Kenna cried out. I couldn’t think to respond. Looking down, I saw a gaping maw of darkness, descending through the bowels of the earth. Dirt morphing from light to dark to stone, down and down into the abyss. 

I clawed out, screeching, throwing my right shoulder to gain purchase on the ground above. My nails scraped the ashy dirt–there was nothing to pull myself up. And no one to help me. Artemis’s face appeared above me, sarcastically grim. As though she couldn’t effortlessly help me to safety. As though my life couldn’t be spared, as though she couldn’t simply bend over and lend a hand.

“You disgust me,” I spat, gritting my teeth. A few more fingers slipped, catching on jagged rocks. Blood trickled down into my eyes along with the dirt, fat, viscous drops warm as they splattered my forehead.

Another face appeared. Orion. He drew his bow, arrow pointed directly at my forehead. I refused to conjure an innocent expression. Beg for mercy. Weep and cry. There was no point, just as there was no way out of this…so how did I get into it at all?

Artemis may be incredibly powerful–maybe even omniscient–but the earth wasn’t her domain. She couldn’t split it any more than I could. So who did? 

I didn’t have time to ponder the question. A figure flew over my forehead, tackling Orion to the ground. Fire erupted across the grass. I was yanked up by two strong, tan hands. Kenna. Turning to the ravine, I saw Daria leap across the impossible gap, boosted by a gust of wind I assumed was Talia’s doing. She herself flashed across, flying so deftly it seemed like a second nature; in fact, I guess it was her undiscovered first nature, one she could have been using since she was a kid. How helpful that would have been during the chase…

A few figures emerged through the gloom, fog dissipating as they came into view. It was impossible to ignore them. Impossible to fight. 

Kenna’s flames dissolved where they had been scorching Orion’s hair. Talia dropped unceremoniously to the dirt. Daria’s water projectiles splashed uselessly back into puddles. 

The Olympians were here. Suddenly it became all too clear to me who split the ground as Hades himself stepped forth, black robes trailing in the rubble. Zeus, tanned, donning a gold and white toga. Apollo clad in a laurel crown, hyacinths tucked in his buttery hair. Demeter, beautiful, draped in vines, Poseidon hefting a silver trident. Hermes with winged shoes. Aphrodite, the vision of perfection, shifting through super model forms in a dizzying display of beauty. Hera. Athena. Ares. Hephaestus. Dionysus. 

“I hear word that you challenge the Olympic thrones,” Zeus’s guttural voice boomed, crackling on the air like electricity. I quivered as the shockwave slammed through the ground at my feet—it took every drop of my will not to fall to my knees. “I would suggest you abandon your plight. It would be a shame if such potent talent was wasted.”

Kenna was the first to snap out of our collective trance. Here I was, gaping at them like an idiot, and she was already stepping forward. Vigor lit her eyes. Fire licked her shoulders. 

“You sicken me. These earthquakes and wildfires devastating our cities, tsunamis that rock the waters, storms that slaughter innocent children…all your fault. Under your control! Whether you’re enraged by some helpless servant who drops your dinner or just bored while sitting on your throne, human people die. 

Mothers. Fathers. Sisters and brothers. Future doctors. Your own children lose their lives for your enjoyment! In a fit of your petty rage!” Kenna screamed. The flames on her shoulders shifted from red to orange, lighter, brighter, hotter and hotter. The smell of burning cloth filled the air, mingling with the ash—

Something flickered white among their ranks. Apollo was on the ground in a flash, gold body slammed from behind. Hyacinths crushed on soot. Laurel wreath flung off into the ravine. A lithe figure kneeled on his back. He thrashed. Other Olympians swarmed the form, but it clung on even tighter, ripping at bare skin, thrusting a dagger forth with reckless abandon. 

I shot a glance at my friends. Each wore a mask of confusion. All were accounted for. Then what–who–was attacking? 

Impossible.

Impossible…

Yet I saw it, the willowy build concealing strength as it pocked Apollo’s skin with holes. 

Artemis was attacking her own brother.

I didn’t have time to question it. This was my shot. I surged forward, tackling Demeter. Her head slammed a rock and bounced back without cracking. Vines sprouted from the earth at my feet, entangling my ankles and circling my torso. I was trapped.

The harvest goddess lunged at me. Faster than I could summon the starlight to blind her, she was struck down by a crack of lightning. Breaking free of the plant’s thorny grip, I saw Talia sweep her arm towards the abyss. Demeter’s blackened body swept over my head in a monstrous gust of wind and rammed the cliffside. 

The Olympic goddess fell. Spiraled. Clawed at empty air. Down she plummeted into the milky black, ink hair and singed dress melting into nothingness. 

I waited five seconds, ten. No figure emerged. The pit was deathly silent. 

Silent…and begging for more food. 

Shock struck even more powerful than Talia’s lightning: we could use Hades’ own weapon to dethrone them.

I surveyed the chaos. Apollo was unmoving, face a mask of shock; betrayed by his own sister. Immobilized by her dagger. Talia was simultaneously locked in a war of lightning with Zeus and trading blows with Dionysus. I couldn’t see Kenna or Daria in the blur of figures. I prayed their disappearance was because they were in the throws of battle, not lying in the ashes. 

I bolted for Apollo. Artemis’s weapon stuck out on his back like a poison thorn. Powerful enough to incapacitate the sun god…I was certain it would incinerate me if I touched it. As for the god himself, I wasn’t sure I could lay a hand on him without devastating burns. So I didn’t. Calling back that icy-hot light, I let it fizzle through my fingertips and materialize in the air. A lasso of white-hot starlight snaked around his toga. With a flick of my wrist it pulled tight. 

The god stared up at me in horror. His life was in my hands…yet I felt no guilt when I searched his face. The stunning perfection which had enchanted so many mortal girls showed me inhumanity. The scorched earth I saw in Kommetjie showed me disregard for life, carelessness with his all-important task. Crops had wilted. Families had starved. And it was all his fault.

I wound up the rope and cast him into the ravine. Before I could watch him fall I was knocked off my feet. My tattered dress was immediately soaked through by a tide of rushing water. 

Sputtering, I righted myself, suddenly floating in a rising river. Floundering for a hold, I found a crumbling tombstone and latched on, fighting the hungry current. A body shot towards me as a new wave crashed over my head. Dionysus–purple robes soaked black–fumbled for a grip on the grave.

Two fingers latched on. Side by side, we struggled with the suction of the abyss. I shrieked, lashing the spike of my heel at his calf. With a yowl of pain, he disappeared over the frothy edge.

Squinting into the roiling water, I saw one more form devoured by the pit. She was beautiful as she fell, perfectly coiffed hair somehow unwetted by the tide. The despair in those bright eyes wrenched my heart. My gut grew suddenly warm, a fever dawning over my head. In the millisecond that my squinting eyes locked with her amber-gold gaze, I was entranced. 

So I let go. The tombstone rushed away in a haze of sea spray, my body thrown back into the racing current. Aphrodite’s spell was broken at once. What have I done? I thrashed in the water, but the tide was too strong. My gut was cold with the nearness of impending death. She wanted to take me out with her.


Poem, Writer's Wednesday!

Ode to Marching Band

MHS Marching Band via MHS Music Parents Page

Warm, languid color swirls in eddies through the open air, hearts beating as one, breath strong and steady.

Music. Flowing, soft, growing in a grand crescendo that spirals up the melody, climbing up and up and up and up and…

silence.

Not a hair moves. The night buzzes with nothingness. Kids stand motionless, locked in place by the sure, guiding hands of the conductor. Lips glued to mouthpiece. Fingers frozen on keys and–a flick! Baton up!

Just a twitch, and the whole body breathes as one.

Then explodes.

A thousand notes, a thousand living and beautiful strokes of sound painted on the crisp night air, bellowing in an organized cacophony. Pounding drums, bopping trumpets, smooth mellophone, staccato flute, sultry saxophone; it goes on and on and on, lighting up the freezing black.

Does this not feel right? Parents and students tap their toes with a smile, hearts swelling with the music of a life, music that transcends the notes on the page or the brass of a bell. Souls ignite with the glint of metal under floodlights, unite in the joy of a tune played just right. Listen close–let it steal your breath.

The most thrilling sound in the world…

A band.

A symphony.

A masterpiece.

Writer's Wednesday!

The Iris City

It wasn’t always like this. We used to live together as one.

Shaking the history teacher’s words from her head, Blythe pushed through to the outside world, the bitterness of the notion seeping into her mind like the fetid worms oozing lifelessly on the pavement. Better to let a notion like that die. Drown. Decompose. Rot. 

Anything was better than to think that her people had once been friends, family, peers, with them. Blythe couldn’t even imagine a past like that, nor could anyone for generations back until time had been disposed of and the world was born anew. 

She didn’t know much of what the world was like before the Rebirth – only that it was better now, and that she, much to her delight, had never spoken a word to anyone with a different color eye.

 It was comfort from conformity…why question the wisdom of The Supreme? He, the ruler of all, had seen the Before World. He knew the agony of her ancestors, had felt the disgust and degradation of interaction with them.

Pausing at the intersection and double-checking she had all her things, Blythe gathered herself and drew up the skirt where it sagged around her waist. Breakfast had been skipped this morning, as was quickly becoming custom in her household. 

Food was a scarcity; her mother didn’t want to go to the market anymore. Such was the tension, such was the hate: just the sight of the hazel-eyed worker was indecent exposure. 

Appalling – how the colors entangled like rabid dogs in an alley fight. Blythe wasn’t sure she could spend more than a fleeting instant locking eyes with any one of them. 

Brown was comfort. Fur blankets. Leather-bound novels. Brown was her people: a soft, caressing hue which exuded warmth and earthy sensations. The exact opposite of them. 

The Blues made her stomach knot: the watery clearness, thin and clouded with puffs of too-light pigment. Saliva spread over a crisp white sheet, doused by rotted fruit, dashed with flecks of phlegmy white and gray. 

The Greens set her on edge. Arrogant in their elite few, yet the very sight of them was equally sickening as the so-called “ocean blues.” Chewed cud and pungent vomit, a one-dimensional shine that some would call “iridescence” in the green eye was the film of slime on the surface of a bacteria-riddled pool – one which had a stench of molded fish permeating the air and snarls of loose hair entangling your fingers with every stroke.

A Gray was decent, she supposed, but shifty: the cold, calculating assassin surveying every passerby as a target. Let the Grays be tucked away in their coding alcoves to rot. Better that their danger be contained by monotony. Positions reserved for them were the dreariest of all – dismal work, sorting through paperwork or punching away numbers into a computer for hours on end.

The Mixes, like Hazels, were the worst of all. A Mutt. Best that Blythe not think of them. After all, she had a pure color, smooth chocolate ganache spread richly across a muffin; no imperfect specklings, spots, or streaks. Someone like her shouldn’t have to bear the vision of any shade but her own. They could all rot. They would not be missed.

Deciding she had forgotten nothing – she never did, of course, but the checking was habit – Blythe bobbed across the street, striding quickly down the foggy sidewalk. A weak sun pressed against the haze in a futile effort to break through, just barely illuminating the world as she surged forth into the empty city. 

Today was quieter than the day before, and the day before that, and the weeks and weeks back in the past. Storefronts, so precisely hewn from the cold alabaster stone, didn’t bother to light their signs any longer. 

Advertising was an effort that proved just as futile as the sun fighting the fog – the Browns knew which businesses were theirs, as did all the rest. The scent of bread wafted tantalizingly from an unlit bakery, and Blythe had to crinkle her nose to resist the sugary smell. The baker was a Blue – scum – she felt ashamed to pause even a moment at the aroma.

Though there was no law prohibiting interaction between her kind and them, it was extreme taboo. The Supreme knew best; society was in order…the Browns had their roles, the Greens theirs, and so on through the shades until you got to the Mutts. They got whatever was left – Blythe couldn’t comprehend a life of such disgrace.

Another crosswalk signaled her turn to go and she strode confidently into the street. This was the shortest light in town, she knew: the flashing orange would implore her to stop, the automated alarm would signal the cars to go, and she would not be safely to the other side for fifteen seconds more.

No one would come. No one ever came around this time. Blythe sauntered calmly into the intersection, rifling with the zipper of her bag. Shrugging up the strap that was sliding down her shoulder, and before she could watch the flashing orange turn solid, her world exploded. 

Light flooded her vision, harsh as fire, golden smoke swirling through the fog. She was flung back into the mist. A screech like a dying bird pierced the silence, tires skidding on stone.

Cement.

Wet and porous, oozing like the worms of the words in class. She choked for air, gasping jagged breaths. 

Voice from above, distraught, begging her over and over, 

“Please don’t be dead.”

“Please don’t be dead.”

And like a protest, Blythe grasped her ribcage, bones like shards of glass shredding her from the inside out. 

“Please don’t be dead.” Sizzling trails of agony burrowed down her arms, each petite limb throbbing as the shock faded to fire. 

“Please don’t be dead.” Driven by the intensity of the voice, she fought to keep her eyes open, but the lids sagged lower, and lower still, like the waning moon losing grip on the sky. Blythe heaved another breath – they were coming slower now…why couldn’t she breathe? Why was her heartbeat in her ears, a marching band storming the field?

Warm arms bundled her up, a boy’s face barely discernible through the dim, repeating the plea like a prayer. The dark curtain of her hair fanned across his arms like the sleeping maiden in a storybook, blouse crimson with blood and scuffed from the impact.  

Her vision slid away, but not before she glimpsed his fearful eyes, shining with panic in the headlights. Her limbs went slack. 

This boy was one of them. 

Leather against her back – the seat of a car; she strained in futility against his grip. He wasn’t just a Blue. Or a Green, Gray, or even Hazel. Through the fog Blythe had glimpsed one eye of a soft, pine green. And the other of a bright ocean blue. 

He was a monster in her world. The most revolting sight to grace her gaze in the seventeen years Blythe had lived. But not just that.

This boy, by law, should be dead.


When Blythe came to, her mind was dripping in molasses. A haze fogged her thoughts, slowly noting unfamiliar surroundings: a plush armchair, a couch swallowing her petite figure with cushions, an aroma of rising pastries that aroused a memory of the bakery. The bakery she had never entered…because it belonged to one of them. 

Them! 

Bolting upright, Blythe sprang from the warm pocket of tranquility into an alien world, a house – not the hospital draped in white or the school etched in alabaster. The home of a stranger.

At that moment the boy walked in and she gasped, stumbling back against the couch. Panic splashed her eyes and he held up his hands like a zoologist approaching a feral cougar. She scanned for exits and found only two – the entry he blocked or the window to his right.

“Wait! I don’t want to hurt you!” the boy took a step closer. Blythe grated her teeth and edged around the couch, hands twitching defensively into fists; it was all she could do to hold his gaze, her perfectly matched chocolate eyes begging to flit away from his unlawful mix.

 Two different colors. The thought was unimaginable to her: the worst taboo in her world of prowess through purity, a world where she could hardly stand to share an apartment building with them. 

“I know you must be scared. I swear I didn’t mean to hit you,” he stepped closer and she retreated back, “My name is Henry.” He was about her age – tall, thin, and just as pale as her and most of her peers; the sun was a friendly sight in the city and one not seen often. Henry – what a lovely name to assign to such a strange boy.

His revolting ocean-pine eyes searched hers, running over her taut muscles and mussed hair to land directly on her frantic gaze again. Blythe knew he expected a response; every cell of her body protested as she lifted her tongue to speak. He doesn’t deserve your words. He isn’t even a Mutt. Her thoughts insisted. 

This was taboo.

This was wrong.

He was wrong. 

“Blythe,” she gasped. An amiable smile lit his face. Ragged breaths slowed slightly into cautious ones: that was all she had to say. Her name.

When she got home – not if, Blythe wouldn’t deal in ifs – this wouldn’t be such a grave infraction. She took the opportunity to inch around further, eyes flitting to the window, unsure of the strength needed to break it. 

“I know you’re uncomfortable around me – it’s not your fault. Your city is so segregated, every aspect split by eye color, even the jobs…” Henry fumed, words echoing with intensity and genuine anger. Color rose on his cheeks, a twitch flexing his palm like someone straining to seem indifferent to little avail. Blythe averted her gaze, nodding in a way she hoped would look impassive. 

“And then your leadership!” he scoffed, gesturing vaguely towards the window. Her eyes locked on the region his hand indicated, desperate to glimpse the towering city walls with no success. An idle gesture. Just my luck. “That monstrous dictator–” 

Blythe’s eyes snapped to him, hand flying to cover her gaping jaw. Words leapt from her lips before she could gather the thought to stop them.

The Supreme?!” her eyes bugged, free hand knotting in her dark tangles of hair. The words ricocheted in her ears. Monstrous dictator. Segregated city. And the obvious fact, the one she couldn’t bear to think about: two different colored eyes. A trait punishable by death. 

Scattered pieces of the puzzle zipped into place, interlocking in a conclusion so frightening Blythe’s throat spit bile onto her palate. Henry looked up at her suddenly, startled by her reaction.

“The Supreme?” he repeated, puzzled. “Your leader. That’s what you call him, right? That sociopathic, manipulative, lying son-of-a…” Henry cleared his throat. Blythe stared back at him, fists uncurling in shock, too stunned to answer the question.

“Blythe, are you–”

“What do you mean, my leader?” Silence fell over the sunlit room, thick as the velvet drapes framing the window and crimson with tension. Blythe watched fearfully as realization dawned across his sculpted face.
“You don’t know, do you?” he ventured, eyes wide and disbelieving. She was frozen to the spot in anticipation. Tongue dry. Lips parted. Breath hissing. “I came to your city for an intelligence operation. I couldn’t just leave you in the middle of the road and trust that system to fix you–” 

“Tell me,” she insisted. Segregated city. Monstrous dictator. Horrible laws… She couldn’t gather the thoughts fast enough as they whizzed through her mind. Henry drew in a deep breath, realization melting into solemnity in those strange mismatched eyes.

“Blythe, you live in a dictatorship. They tell you The Supreme rules all land.” She nodded – this was a fact drilled into her countless times in school. 

“He doesn’t. The only place in the world ruled by him, the only place in the world like yours is the city you live in. Blythe…” His face turned down, feet shuffling. He had stepped closer while he spoke but she couldn’t conjure the coherence to back away. 

“The world isn’t separated by eye color. The rest of the planet has been trying to liberate your people for generations. Here we are free to work with the other eye colors. To live with them. To go to school with them. To love them.

“Outside your concrete walls is a whole new reality of acceptance. Welcome to the real world, Blythe. All the eye colors…together.” Henry stepped forward and caught her hand; skin on skin contact with a Blue-Green hybrid. Her eyes rocketed to his, growing so wide her eyebrows were in her hairline. Short-circuited. 

In one fluid motion Blythe snapped her hand from his and launched herself through the window. Glass exploded all around, a thousand shards catching the sun in a shower of razor-sharp, iridescent rain. Henry gaped after her, staggering towards the remnants of the smashed window. 

Blythe’s retreating form bolted away until she shrunk into a singularity on the horizon, a spot of dark hair whipping into an endless city maze. Only one thought lingered on her mind, one set of words crashing through the chaos: To love them. I could be free to love them.


Heartbeats. What a strange thing: in books they stall or flutter, in movies they are soundtracks to the most horrific suspense, but after minutes of sprinting, when Blythe rounded a corner to the most appalling sight she’d ever seen – it wasn’t her heartbeat that failed. It was her legs. 

She dropped to the sidewalk. 

They were everywhere. Hundreds of people meandering down the streets, strolling in and out of shops, her own kind intermingled with them. Chatting. Holding hands. Sharing earbuds. Locking eyes with no judgement, no revulsion, no animosity. 

Blythe’s ribs throbbed, fingers tingling where Henry’s hand had gripped hers. She kneeled there for a few moments, chest heaving with sobs, and hoped with all hope that no one would question her. Some passerbys shot her strange looks and she scooted against the bricks to let them pass – a young girl with uniform hanging loosely on her frame, disheveled hair, tears welling in panicked eyes. 

Minutes flowed into an hour, an hour into two; Blythe drew her knees up to her chest and suppressed her sniffles, watching the ebb and flow of humanity around her. Face phased into a mask of faux disinterest, none seemed to question the teen huddled on the sidewalk – a sight considered bizarre in her home city was just an everyday occurrence in this one. 

An elderly couple hobbled by, chatting idly about the merit of chrysanthemums versus posies for their garden. Blythe raised her gaze to watch them pass, flashing an uneasy smile in response to the woman’s genuine one. They resumed their conversation, one pair of eyes a soft cocoa and the other a steel blue. Both lit with affection. Ease. Love.

Her world was shattered into a thousand pieces. Basic facts of life, the ones she accepted without a second thought, were flipped inside out: The Supreme was the ruler of all. They should not be associated with. Each faction is separated for the good of the world, preordained by the ancestors as the way to salvage a cruel, inefficient Earth. 

Watching the loving couples and blathering friends intermingling in an illicit swirl of action was like watching her life unravel itself. Scents of fresh baked bread and blooming flowers wafted on a light breeze and suddenly she thought of the bakery. 

How many times had she walked past that damned store, slumping her shoulders as the enticing aroma beckoned her inside? How many times had she lectured herself that she could never enter, lest she speak to the owner? A Blue – a woman with a kind face and smile lines, one she had thought disgusting for such a simple thing as pigment, something you couldn’t control. Coded by genes. DNA. Interacting chemicals and molecules…was that truly all her life had been based around?

Perhaps this scramble of colors wasn’t so awful after all. 

Suddenly a hand grazed her shoulder and she whipped around to see a boy grinning at her with eyes she scolded herself for finding pleasant. 

“Henry!” Blythe leapt up, not backing away. 

“I searched for hours – I’m so sorry, Blythe. I know I need to take you back–”

“No,” she stated. He cocked his head, confusion slacking his face.

“No?”

“No. The people I see here…the baker on the route home from school…the girls I see in my apartment building…these are all people I’ve never spoken to. Every day I pass them, every day I recoil and rush past.” Blythe gestured widely to the road, the town, the world. Henry’s eyes glowed.

“You said you work in intelligence. That your people have been trying to liberate my city, infiltrate it?” she demanded. In the heat of the moment, his eyes didn’t seem quite so grotesque when she locked her gaze with his. The watery saliva blue was a tropical breeze, the vomit-cud green was a summer fern speckled with dew.

He nodded, shell-shocked to hear so many words spoken to him from a girl predisposed to hate him. Animosity drilled into her. Culturally. Economically. Socially.

And yet, Blythe found herself relishing in the spark that lit his eyes, studying the turquoise-surf blue and fir-forest green with curiosity rather than loathing. 

“I think I can infiltrate the city. I think…” she inhaled sharply, melting in the sweet scent of fresh-baked bread and cultural dystopia.

“Henry, I think we can start a revolution.”

Poem

Pressure

Image from The Conversation
Posture, poise, and grace
Expected of us, but not
Easily achieved

Other poems from Life and Lemons…

Writer's Wednesday!

Midnight Rogue 4–Origins

Revenge. The Midnight Rogue thrashed desperately in the trunk, walls of black all around. Pressing down, squeezing in, cutting off her air as efficiently as a sinner’s final wheezing breath. Chloroform dragged her down into the murky gray, into a haze of memory that swirled her back to her original self. An outer borough daughter, friend, student. A girl broken by tragedy. The darkness folded around her. The Midnight Rogue was whisked away into the past……


“Paisley!” A flash of blond hair glinted under the strobe lights and the girl bounded off after it, bumping into strangers and giggling apologies. “Paisley! Wait up!” Miranda called, voice engulfed in the din of clacking heels and throbbing bass. She felt a hand on her arm and tensed immediately, whirling against the grip. A man.

No…a boy? Not much taller than her, sporting a casual outfit, messy hair– Miranda laughed, taking in the blurry face. This wasn’t a stranger! She looped her arm through his and yelled over the pulse of the club,

“Ben! I thought you weren’t going home yet!” He stopped her, grabbing both her hands as she teetered dangerously. Bursting with a loud hiccup, Miranda wavered on her heels, eyes straining to focus on the face. Ben’s face. 

Ben? I thought he wasn’t going home yet! 

His thin yet athletic build glowed under the strobe. Tense shoulders. Strong shoulders. The shoulders of her best friend’s brother. 

She wasn’t quite sure why she latched her hands to them, but she did. Satisfied with how she stood, in a crude slow-dance stance and wobbling on her heels, she was able to focus on his eyes.

“I was going to stay, but I thought maybe I should walk you home!” he yelled, voice barely audible as the song pounded into another deep-bass chorus. Miranda knit her brows. Now why would he do that? I have a knife at my thigh, after all. I can defend myself… 

“Miranda!” The dark-haired girl swiveled her head, vision going blurry for a moment. A squeal tore the air. The girls leapt into each other’s arms in a massive bear hug.

“Paisley, I missed you!” 

“I was only gone for a second–”

“A second too long!” They burst into laughter; Ben stood off to the side, watching the scene unfold with amusement and disbelief. The lights lit up their hair, clinging onto each other like an onyx gem fused with gold. Paisley Renee, Ben’s sister, slightly taller and with hair like the sun beaming down on a meadow. It was a strange contrast to the raven-black of Miranda’s. A good contrast, he thought. He strode forward. 

Gently breaking them apart, he held an arm out to each girl, which they each took gratefully. Even in their stupor, they seemed to know they would need it to get out the door. 

The club was alive with people. The stumbling and sweating mass whirled across the floor, breaths heavy with the stink of liquor, baking under the heat of the flashing lights. 

When they finally burst through into the night air, it felt like a winter day after being cooped up inside. Miranda’s face lit up at the coolness, coming alive with the sting of the breeze against her cheeks. Some of the cloudiness dissipated then, a bright silver moon illuminating both the sidewalk and her mind in one graceful beam. 

Rejuvenated, she shrugged her arm from Ben’s and gazed around. It was late, late enough that the world was asleep. Gushing night wind held a biting chill that felt prickly on her tongue.
“Miranda, can you hold on a sec? Paisley has to fix her heel,” Ben called. Miranda nodded absentmindedly, hearing the words for a moment before letting them slip away under the alcohol. Ambling a few feet past the exit, she stopped in her tracks. What a beautiful song, she thought, looking up at the wall. 

Scrawled in concrete were a cluster of words. Stepping closer to examine it, Miranda realized that this was not a song at all, but a poem of sorts. Glancing back at Ben and Paisley, she saw they were still there, methodically tinkering with the beige heel for no obvious reason. 

Content with their closeness, Miranda began to read aloud to herself, drawing the leather jacket closer around her shoulders. 

“Beware! Those pleasures of humanity
For when the time of need arises
The angels will deem them sins. 

Justice will not come on drunken, senseless wings
Justice will not come when the fallen addict sings. 

Protect those who are innocent
Stand with the fierce and the bold. 
Trust the passage of time when you feel yourself grow old. 

Those who cheat the game 
And burn with pleasure’s wicked claim

Will feel the world’s pitiless wrath
Blaze over them with shame.” 

Something in those words chilled her to her core. Like they were speaking just to her. Preaching to her. Looking at her, knowing her, seeing her as she stood there, euphoric from a night of dancing and drinks. Very suddenly, Miranda wanted to go home. Or home as she thought of it: an abstract idea, anyplace where she was warm and alone and felt the knot in her chest uncoil. She wanted to go home now. 

Just as she began to step away, a hand clamped down on her shoulder.
“Ben?” She turned to see a hulking figure towering above her. Goosebumps swept over her skin, rippling down her bare arms up the thin straps of her dress. This was not Ben, with his lean figure and boyish features. This was something scary. Threatening.

The hand shoved her back against the wall, pinning her without effort. 

“Hey, sweetheart. How about we get out of here?” the man breathed. His breath was putrid, hot and stinking of alcohol as it beat down on her flushed cheeks. Miranda squealed and struggled, raking her nails down his arm. Thrashing fruitlessly against the hand that pinned her to the stone. 

“I don’t want to go. Please…I’m not interested!” she begged. But he didn’t draw away. His lips curled back, revealing an array of crooked yellow teeth. The smell of spoiled liquor intensified.

Looming over her like a vulture, he pushed her left shoulder even harder to the concrete; she could feel each little imperfection in the stone digging against bone and tenderizing her skin. 

With his free hand he traced a line along her collarbone where the dress neckline curved. Miranda wanted to molt out of her body. She wanted to disappear, melt back into the concrete and be one with the prophecy of the wall. Wasn’t that what she did best?
Disappear?

Suddenly the pressure was gone from her shoulder. A flash of caramel eyes, golden hair, freckles. Miranda wavered, still feeling the phantom touch of meaty fingers on her collarbone. 

It was a flurry of motion. One form bled into another–Ben’s light brown hair, Paisley’s olive skin, the frothing red mound of a man. Fumbling for the knife strapped to her thigh, she drew the blade and held it aloft in the moonlight. Silvery, shiny, warped from her intoxication and adrenaline. 

But in the grappling brawl there was no clear target. Tears blurred her vision. The blade was useless in her inept hands, staring at a tangle of friend and foe. 

At once the forms separated long enough for Miranda to raise her knife. The drunkard charged forward, fists looming, and she thrust the silver deep into his shoulder. And with a bellowing roar he struck her down.

Concrete. Dizziness lightened her head. She became a heap of white skin and black hair, crumpled uselessly on the ground. The next sounds she heard were that of defiant words, Paisley screaming. 

Then the sidewalk was overflowing. 

Crimson, sticky, spilling, everywhere. 

Somehow she fought, somehow she moved, pulled herself forth to the broken figure on the road. It all crashed down, images and sounds whooshing through the pain.

Miranda’s fingers knotting in Paisley’s golden hair. Her throat ripping screams. Ben crying out for help, help that would never come. Light leaving bright caramel eyes. Miranda’s heart draining humanity, draining benevolence, draining mercy. 

Soup strainer. 

It all melted away until the only things left were solid: her best friend lying dead in her arms, the cold lump throbbing weakly in her chest, the awful words clambering up her throat. Finally she managed to say them. Softly, despairingly; completely and utterly without hope.

“Ben. It’s no use.”

His shouts choked off hoarsely. Defeated, he slumped over his sister’s unbreathing chest, heart shattering in those tawny eyes. 

“Paisley’s dead,” she whispered, “she’s dead, Ben. And it’s all my fault.” He didn’t correct her. Wouldn’t have even if she was wrong.

That wasn’t his job, to console her, wipe her tears. His job was to mourn, to grieve, to wallow. His sister was dead; no one could help, and no one would even if they could. In this disgusting cesspool, what doctor would bother with an injured young girl? What passerby would pause to save a life? Not a single one.

Not a single one.

Miranda glanced up at the words on the wall, those which she had mistaken for a song–they were splattered with fresh blood now–and back to the most exuberant bundle of starlight and sunshine, newly dead. Skin still warm, eyes dark as twilight. Dim as dismal rain after a long, blissful summer.

Ben’s job may have been to grieve. But hers wasn’t. 

No.

Her job wasn’t to mourn, or cry, or say goodbye.

Her job was to hunt down the man who clobbered sweet Paisley Renee to death without a second thought. She would meld with the darkness. Blend into shadow. Become vengeance incarnate…and then, only then, could she do what needed to be done. 

She would stab him until he met his death.


Articles

Why are people so rude to each other?

Catfights over politics. Religion. Government. 

Screaming. Slandering. It ranges from snide remarks shot with a sneer to not-so-sneaky professions of black-and-white opinion. Nonetheless, every side staunching human progress and treading water, circulating through the same endless debates like a tug-of-war game going nowhere fast: You’re wrong! I’m right! 

This is true, this is false, this is what I believe and anything you say otherwise is invalid.  

We see it everywhere nowadays: in the comment sections of Youtube videos and Facebook posts, in the news, in the halls of our schools, offices, and homes. Thus, the question is raised– why are people so rude to each other? 

Instead of wondering idly for a moment and abandoning the thought with a shrug–”that’s just the way it is sometimes”–I decided to dive deeper into the concept. What does make people jump at each other’s throats? Is it just a few people hardwired with negativity or cattiness? Or is it something deeper…something biological?

Though perhaps I can’t crack the case, I can investigate. If you’ve ever wondered this same thing when faced with pointless feuds or cruel words, read on. Let’s investigate three of the main negative actions we see in today’s world.

Never budging on an opinion

In today’s world–especially in the weeks to months approaching Election Day–we are bombarded with infinite arguments and animosity between supporters of differing laws, candidates, beliefs, political parties, and more. 

But in my experience, what escalates these debates and distorts them into malicious fights is the human nature of never budging on an opinion. Throw facts into the arena. Reason. Morality. And it still doesn’t matter sometimes…people just keep arguing!

What causes this? One of the main catalysts is a phenomenon called “confirmation bias.” What is this? According to The New Yorker, confirmation bias is “the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them” (Kolbert). After forming an initial opinion, it is human nature to stick with this opinion, even when faced with conflicting evidence. 

Haven’t you felt it too? You consider swaying your opinion on a subject but you’ve already rooted yourself too firmly. Doubling down against mounting reason to cling to your ego with both hands… an argument that would seem logical if you hadn’t taken a stance now seems absurd or irrelevant. Defensiveness turns to aggression. Screaming. Yelling. Shame, if you know you were wrong. Twisted pride if it turns out you were right.

We can’t fully blame people for ignoring evidence and rejecting certain information. Confirmation bias, as stated in Encyclopedia Britannica, is “largely unintentional” and may just be a way for the human brain to process information more efficiently (Casad). 

With so much input–facts, figures, words, propaganda, reason, data–zooming in from every perspective, our brain doesn’t have the time or energy to process each piece of information from an unbiased standpoint. Ignoring or dismissing evidence that is conflicting to our initial viewpoint could just be a psychological, instinct-driven method to quickly sort through the flood of input (Casad). This is a mental reflex that evolved from the need to make choices on the fly and evaluate facts in our environment.

From another scientific viewpoint, this phenomenon could be a way for people to shield their ego and boost self-esteem (Casad). Admitting you are wrong in an argument can be embarrassing or shameful, even more so the harder you dig your heels in.  

Based on the theory of confirmation bias, the human desire to feel superior to others or better about themselves, and many other deeply ingrained factors, perhaps “never budging on an opinion” isn’t always done with malicious intent. Sometimes stubbornness truly is human nature!

However, confirmation bias and psychological factors don’t justify repetitive arguments or making ill-fated decisions to protect pride. Though it can be an explanation, it doesn’t excuse the behavior, just like how a lawyer saying “people have a natural tendency towards greed” wouldn’t pardon a bank-robber. So what can we do?

We can fight this by encouraging open-mindedness in debates and learning critical-thinking skills. Before entering into a heated debate, consider the already-formed opinions of yourself and the people around you and how that might influence the dialogue exchanged. Try to gather information from a variety of sources–you wouldn’t write a college essay about how oil drilling is good, then cite “Premium Oil Co.” as your only source, would you? 

Spreading rumors and false information

Rumor-mongering is especially prominent around Election Day here in America, but it is also something we see daily. On Facebook, posts about which foods to feed your dogs, “life hacks” on Youtube that don’t actually work, trolls online literally telling you to microwave a spoon if your ice cream won’t scoop (Please DO NOT microwave a spoon!). 

Slander and misinformation are harmful, but more often than not, lies spread faster than the truth. The Washington Post article “We finally know for sure that lies spread faster than truth. This might be why” explains that a reason for this is that fake stories often have more novelty, drama, or are more entertaining than reality (McArdle). In real life, stories are not as clear cut or exciting, with 100% evil villains or completely innocent victims, which makes fabricated statements more compelling and “shareable.” 

Let’s take this as an example. A study finds that a brand of dog food has been linked to cancer or premature death in 3 out of 1000 dogs. Two articles are published to Facebook on the topic. One is titled: “Dog Food Co. Kibble May Be Linked to Cancer in Some Pets, Studies Show, Among Other Factors.” The other is titled: “Dog Food Co. Kibble Is Killing Your Pets–Why You Should Stop Feeding It To Them NOW.” Which do you think will spread faster? The second headline, without fail. The title is falsely exaggerated to the point of clickbait–in the study only 0.3% of dogs experienced cancer, which may or may not be related to the food–but the shock value and novelty will spread this post like wildfire. 

You cannot blame people if they genuinely did not know the information they spread was false. Ignorance is not excusable in general, but in examples like the one above, you can assume that the “facts” were shared out of genuine concern with positive intentions.

However, it is the same rumor-mongering that will quickly morph to slander in the political and social world. Negative campaigning is said to be more effective than positive messages as an election tactic, and public figures will often use this to their advantage. 

When people intentionally spread lies it can be for social gain, to solicit attention from others, or out of revenge for some misdeed they perceive. 

Some things we can do to combat the spread of slander and misinformation are to check our sources, whether they are online, in writing, or word of mouth. You should always look for credible sources

Has this person been biased by something? Have they been trustworthy in the past?

Does this website look professional? Does the author have any expertise or education in the field? Does the information seem too crazy or too good to be true? 

Communication is key in today’s world, now more than ever. 

Criticizing others

If you’ve ever dove down the rabbit hole called the comment section on a celebrity post or Youtube video, or walked through the crowd when someone is performing or presenting, you’ve seen this with your own eyes. Heard it time and time again. 

Criticism. Blindly hateful–all out assaults on character traits. Assails on flaws. Snooty remarks for no reason other than…nothing. Hate for no reason but to be hateful.

Why do people judge others so intensely? 

Science shows that our brains are programmed to make snap judgements about people and things as a method for mental efficiency (Hall). Think about it… could you imagine if you had to carefully analyze every single action of a celebrity on the news or a person you pass on the street? Just like with confirmation bias, judging others can be a mechanism to avoid overloading our minds while we focus on more important things. 

But judgements aren’t always a bad thing. Where the true malicious spirit of criticism arises is in a type of judgement called “personality attributions.” Personality attributions are when we consider a person’s behavior to reflect their personality as a whole and not just their current situation (Hall). 

For example, say I was watching a Youtube video and the person on screen momentarily ignored their hungry pet to talk to their friend. Immediately, my mind could make the personality attributions that this person is self-centered, uncompassionate, or didn’t care about their pet. Spewing this all over the comments sparks further criticism–his clothes are ugly too. Her hair is so greasy! That dog is a mongrel anyway! Or going as far as to write, someone should call the police for animal neglect! 

But if instead I had made a situational attribution, considering the events or factors that may have inspired the person’s behavior (Hall), this firestorm could have been avoided. Maybe the Youtuber was stressed and overloaded with work. Maybe their dog is on a diet and begs for food constantly. Perhaps the friend was having a difficult time and the person was attending to their needs first to comfort them, and the dog was fed immediately after filming.

Studies have shown that when judging someone we don’t know very well, we are more likely to make personality attributions than situational ones. However, the opposite is true for loved ones or friends, from whom we may dismiss a hurtful word as stress or exertion…but the same hurtful word from a stranger would signal to us that they are a callous, rude person (Hall). 

Making snap-judgements and spreading criticism may be instantaneous, like attributions. But when criticisms are thought-out or published truly with intent to harm, there can be many factors. Someone could be trying to boost their own reputation by withering another’s, as you will often see in campaign ads. Someone could be acting out of envy, criticizing a feature that they privately covet, or hoping to make the other person seem inferior in any way possible: she’s pretty, but she’s probably failing all her classes. That boy is good at everything, he probably practices all the time… he should get a life! 

I myself am guilty of all of these judgements, especially ones out of envy. When a person seems too perfect, it is our egotistical nature to want to knock them down a notch to make ourselves feel better. So if personality attributions, self-esteem and ego issues, and the desire for political/social success are influencing these criticisms, what can we do to staunch the hate?

First of all, we can make an effort to be aware of our attributions (Hall). By attempting to make more situational attributions, our empathy for others grows and we can understand what other people are going through at home, at work, or in life. 

As for judgements made from jealousy, it is increasingly difficult to avoid nowadays with social media. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat are all bursting with the highlights in other people’s worlds, them presenting themselves in the best light possible. If you want to learn more about how to combat this, visit my other article, Envy–Why we feel it, how to get rid of it. Try thinking about yourself not as in competition with others, but on the same grand team. 

If you see a beautiful girl on social media, rather than comparing yourself to her, lift her up with a compliment. 

If someone is faster or smarter than you, do your best to encourage them to grow and succeed–they will most likely return the favor. If you believe that all of humanity is striving towards greatness together, you can feel good about lifting others up and improving yourself along the way. Driving progress for all.

Conclusion

Why are people so rude to each other? Why do we say awful things, do awful things? Why do people never budge on an opinion? Criticize others? Spread lies and rumors? I hope my research has helped answer a few of these questions to some degree. 

In the end, don’t get too frustrated. As humans, some of these behaviors are picked up from our environment, ingrained in psychological and physical evolution, or just staples of personality. Keep focus on the positive nature of humanity also. We can’t rely on everyone being polite or perfect or even good…but we can work to better ourselves and our world. Together. One step at a time. 

Sources

Kolbert, Elizabeth, and Maria Konnikova. “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds.” The New Yorker, 27 Feb. 2017, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds 

Casad, Bettina J. “Confirmation Bias.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 Oct. 2019, www.britannica.com/science/confirmation-bias  

Hall, Elizabeth Dorrance. “Why We Judge Others.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 May 2018, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/conscious-communication/201805/why-we-judge-others 

McArdle, Megan. “Opinion | We Finally Know for Sure That Lies Spread Faster than the Truth. This Might Be Why.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Mar. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-finally-know-for-sure-that-lies-spread-faster-than-the-truth-this-might-be-why/2018/03/14/92ab1aae-27a6-11e8-bc72-077aa4dab9ef_story.html 


Poem

Buzz

Class begins with droopy eyes
Dreary skies
A premonition of bleak surprise--
A day like the one before

Words etched in bold chalk letter
Tighten the fetter
Students, uncaring as a crotchety old debtor--
Yawn and feign interest for life

The lecture sets forth with little preamble
An angst-dashed scramble
But one spark catches like wildfire to a bramble--
She raises her head from the desk

Terms that mean nothing begin to ignite
Molten and bright
Phrases smolder, flash like a floodlight--
Peppery heat fills her chest

Fingers extend from an aching fist
 A bewildering twist
Torches blazing through the frosty mist--
Passion beckoned forth from the soul

Cached away in a drab, dusty room
Knowledge heirloom
Hidden from her world by a festering gloom--
Urges her on through the fog

Erudition in a dose like a drug
Goading tug
Heart thundering like current in an active spark plug--
She wrenches her calling from the chalk

Students snore through the lesson then leave
Ever naive
But she hangs suspended without reprieve--
She has found the ultimate raison d’être

Interest piqued like never before,
Spiral and soar! ; 
One concept that brings her potential ashore--
A buzz she will chase for the rest of her life