an open space for youth writing & mental health discussion
an open space for youth writing & mental health discussion
When hunger struck Yeong-Su, it was like the venom of a snake. It was long, and painful. It wasn’t like the hunger one gets when it is time for lunch. It was the type of hunger one got when starved for days. Yeong-Su had been spending time with his friends when an artillery strike wiped out his neighborhood, one of the many destroyed towns in Incheon. The Communists in the North were responsible for the flattening of Yeong-Su’s town, and that was why he scavenged for food every day. Although he found nothing, he would always search.
Let’s say there’s a time-travelling machine that only I can use. I am thirteen again and Grandma has finally passed away. I know she didn’t leave any will. Or an inheritance. It’s the winter of 2005 again, the coldest winter since 1992. It won’t be this cold until 2019. Jindos are tightly leashed inside the homes for the first time, because the dog houses are covered in thick snow. At the burial, father and I are wrapped in geese feathers, under a black umbrella.
In the pulpit, my aunts and uncles are giving eulogies. They speak in a dialect so strong, I can hardly understand it. My city-born father is staring at his feet. Whether of respect for his mother-in-law, or to hide his boredom, I am still not sure. No one is crying, so I don’t cry either.
[Content warning: death & grief]
She doesn’t want to believe it.
All the air is pressed out of her lungs; the world sinks in a blur, but not enough to make the devastating sight unintelligible. Sirens blare furiously in a monstrous cacophony as she collapses on her knees; hands shaking as she tenderly strokes her son’s hair. Upon contact she recoils her fingers as quickly as a child from a hot stove. But instead of heat it is the coldness that terrifies her; in the brief touch enough heat is stolen to turn her lips blue. She holds his hand in a cold caress.
His eyes are glassy, and he lies still like a cold kiss of death. It can’t be real. It doesn’t feel real.
What would life be like, she thought, if I could stop time?
Only a hundred pages to go, she said to herself. She hated this; researching why the printer at the office didn’t work was never what she imagined herself doing on a Friday night ten years ago. Thirteen-year-old Josie would’ve been repulsed.
Her whole life had been planned. She would finish her novel, sell it, make a name for herself and write books until the day she died. Josephine Taylor, best-selling author. She could almost see herself on the billboards and the headlines. If only she had the time to finish her novel, it would only be a matter of time before the world knew her name.
[Content warning: domestic abuse/violence]
Lalita does not know where the babies disappear to.
Amma is pregnant again. Her faded cotton sari rustles against the skin of her swollen stomach, and the glass bangles she wears have clearly become too tight on her arms. Lalita watches her as she eats her rice in the kitchen. She doesn’t know if this baby will die too, like the past two--they were twins, Amma told her--did. Her grandmother says people go to Heaven when they die if they are good. Lalita hopes she’ll go to Heaven someday too, a heaven filled with sweetmeats, fried fish and chicken curry.
[Content warning: sexual assault.]
I look around me. I feel my entire body falter. I’m alone. A tear trickles down my face. One more. And another, and another. I can’t breathe. Where am I? How did I get here? I’m afraid. Never in my life have I felt so vulnerable, debilitated. Never in my life do I recall feeling this way at all. I was never susceptible to fear; rather, I was apathetic, strong. I feel an urge. An inexplicably powerful urge to escape, to return. The urge surges from my stomach and leads me to release a scream of exasperation; a sound unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. A determination to escape. With all my tenacity, I try to push myself off the chair. It's no use. The ropes further scar my body. My wrist begins to shed blood. What have I ever done to deserve this?
“If you keep swallowing watermelon seeds, one day a watermelon will grow inside your stomach.”
Her mother’s voice was stern and followed by an urging frown, her dark eyebrows arched downwards and over her eyes, her forehead covered with wrinkles. The girl was only five then, and her small hands could barely hold up the heavy watermelon slice, red juice seeping out of the fruit and dripping down her hands and onto the blanket. The beach was crowded but they had their own little spot near the rocks, far enough from the splash of the waves but close enough to hear them crashing again and again against the yellow sand.
I believe in lies. They are: aconitum, blue like my hair, creeping into my words; oleander, an innocent pink, slithering from under my tongue; dark purple belladonna flourishing in my promises. Poison blooms, all of them.
A whiff of apricots. Delicate flowers poised on the poison bush. Vibrant blossoms in palms, and passing by chapped lips.
It happens suddenly- at once. A gag reflex, last lunch passing by flushed lips. Air disappears, vanishes into thin-
The roses grow in the old woman’s yard, with cherry-red heads brandished perpetually at the clouds. They only answer the questions of those who ask nicely.
You go to the woman’s house sometimes, to waste away the lonely summer days. She’s an old friend of your grandmother, and she gives you iced tea and cookies when you come over. You’ve seen the roses in her front yard. Gleaming like jewels, scraps of beauty standing against the desolate landscape.
One day you ask her, “Why roses?”
The old woman smiles, as if it was only a matter of time before you asked. “Roses not only symbolize love,” she says, “but secrecy, too. I like that.”
“Guard your heart, darling. Guard it with all you have and all you are.” These were her mother’s last words as her heart stopped.
Nina did not cry, for crying can upset the heart. She knew of people who let their emotions lead them, and eventually died from a dismal heart.
People like her mother, who fell in and out of love like it was a game.
Nina wished she could love. She hid her dreams and fantasies in sunrises and rose gardens, her ambitions in old libraries.
A familiar pit had formed in Anna’s stomach, and she was plummeting through it. Sweat beaded on her forehead, and she couldn’t stop checking her watch every few seconds. What am I supposed to do? Anna wondered as anxiety continued to marshall its forces. I don’t want to make him mad, but we really have to leave! Her heart pounded, but she gathered up her courage and cried desperately upstairs to her husband, “Jon, honey, if we don’t go now, we’ll miss the train!” Anna tried to make her voice sound nonchalant, but she had calculated the exact time they needed to leave the house, which had passed two minutes ago.
Jonathan thundered down the stairs. “Jesus, I’ll be ready in a second, you don’t need to yell. Call the kids while I finish up.”
A woman and a girl sat on the porch of a white house. The girl stared at her old shoes while the woman watched the cars pass Madison Street before disappearing at the curve. They were quiet and sad, and so they were speechless.
Outside it was still wet from the morning rain. Chipmunks and squirrels were buried in logs; birds hid within the black leaves of the trees and sang to each other; even the mosquitoes were avoiding the rest of the world. A pond on the other side of the street rippled from the sudden leap of a fish. The air was taken by the smell of pine needles and lily pads and petrichor.
A train broke the silence. As the whistle faded the woman checked her watch and then checked it again as if the time had cheated her.
Maybe she would be busy in the back of the shop, organizing the mugs that Brentwood’s Coffee offered to frequent customers. One after the other, carefully stacking them in their designated spots. The bell on the door would chime suddenly, breaking her out of her reverie. She would startle, almost dropping the coffee mug (but not quite because that would be cliché), and turn quickly to see who it was. She wouldn’t observe anything too specific about the man; perhaps a glimpse of green eyes or the small imperfections in his sweater.
As soon as Lelo fell asleep we went out to the balcony for lunch. Lela made mariquitas and black beans, and I cut an avocado for the salad, then dressed it with olive oil and vinegar. We each served ourselves and took the plates outside to eat.
Neither one of us spoke while we devoured our food. Once I had finished I gazed at the sea for a few minutes; the water was blue and green and old. When I was younger, we would go down to the coast and swim for hours while Lela sat on the rocks and watched. Enrique was always the first to get out of the water because he hated being the only boy. Soon after, my grandmother would ask us all to get out; the rocks always smelled like excrement and trash. Then she would wrap us up in towels and take us inside and we would drink hot chocolate and eat the tamales she had made for dinner the night before, even though I never liked tamales. When my cousins moved to Miami, we stopped swimming as often, and on the days that we did go down to the coast, Enrique only ever put his feet in the water, and I was always too cold to swim for more than fifteen or twenty minutes.
Go to the northern side of Pakistan. There's a valley over there; Neelum Valley. Go to the Army Cantt in Neelum Valley, and now sit quietly outside your room on the stairs. Do you feel the nature breathing? As the chilly wind blows around you, do you wonder what it carries within it? Maybe incomplete love stories from the border to a lonely home. Do you feel at peace as this wind kisses your cheek and you know that the one you have been waiting for will be back soon? Do you feel the autumn leaves slowly falling to the ground beneath you, one foot down and this leave will crunch, it will die completely as the sound of its last futile breath makes you feel alive from the inside? Do you listen to the river flowing through the dark nights, do you hear it gushing and roaring? Every roar of this river is a threat to some people and a breath to you. And above you, do you see the infinite stars shining and glistening at you?
November 22nd, 2019
I’m going to try to get this over with quickly and save us both a little heartbreak. I think it goes without saying that this is my last letter. I’m sorry that it’s come to this; there is no way for me to change what is about to happen, no matter how intensely I wish I could. The last year and one month with you have given me the perspective I’ve been craving since my accident. It’s amazing the joy and purpose that comes from a few typewritten pages from you every couple of weeks. I’ll forever be grateful for the short time I was able to have by your side as your days here dwindled down into a few last minutes on an execution table—the world has a sick sense of humor, doesn’t it?
“Verena!” A boy growled and followed his much smaller and mischievous partner into the shadows.
They weren’t partners in a romantic sense, though the girl was certainly attracted to him. No, the girl was one of the most feared and elusive assassins in all of Avianor, and at only age 16 she had slain more men than were on the Emperor’s Guard.
The boy loathed her. As the Captain of the Guard, he was constantly running after her, cleaning up her messes and keeping her out of trouble.
The Captain was in charge of the girl’s safety. You would think the heir to an empire would sit in meetings all day, but Verena was different. Darker somehow and always aching to avenge her mother’s untimely demise. Odd, as her mother had passed away when Verena was only 8 years old
There were dragons in the twin’s vegetable garden.
Jacob watched from the window as one of them ate radish right from the plump soil.
“Mom!” He yelled.
His mother was downstairs on their treadmill. “Yes, honey?”
“There are dragons in the vegetable garden!”
He heard his mother laugh. “Oh, don’t be silly, Jacob. I can see the garden right now, and there’s no dragons for miles! They all returned to their caves to hibernate a couple weeks ago.”
Jacob looked out his window. The dragons were still there. Now one was pulling up the melons.
He went into his brother’s room. “Jack, there are dragons-”
“I’m doing my homework. Get out.”
Valeria Flores stared out the window. The streets had become so empty since Vancouver had been put on lockdown. She missed the laughter and music that would carry into her family’s flower shop. Now, the streets were empty and full of silence.
“Valeria, tengo trabajo para ti.” Valeria, I have work for you, her Mamà called from the back of the shop.
Valeria smiled at her younger cousins, as she walked to the back of the shop. They were young and didn’t fully understand why fewer customers frequented the shop nowadays. Lucky.
On the coast of Ireland, there were five kids all in high school, all friends, and all wanted to find something new in their lives. It was the middle of May in the year of 2056. One of the five friends was named Isabella, she was the bravest of them all and was smart and creative. There was also Lea, Simon, Max, and Dylan. Lea was adventurous and the kindest out of their group. Simon, he was nerdy and clumsy. Then there was Max who was slightly like Simon but Max was weird, not nerdy and he was also very fast. So with all five of them being friends since preschool, they were all really close.
Imagine, dark space engulfs the path like oxygen smothering flames. Adrenaline crushes my chest as we wander further into the night. Roots knot and entwine themselves with one another. It is blackened and burning in my memory, never to disappear again. Deep in the archives of human history; untouched in centuries. Aphotic and abandoned for many generations. Imagine, arms reach out, tantalising me, daring me touch one. Wishing they would whisk me away to another land on the tips of their wooden fingers. Figures form and deform in shadows of the walkway.
Caves that once were rivers do not forget.
The creatures that made homes out of them still roam, swimming through the musty air in place of water, continuing their lives in the same unearthly shade of white. You might call them ghosts; they look you in the eye and challenge everything you’ve ever known. Without warning, you’re struck with an awful realization: how are you to prove that you’re the thing in this cave, much further than six feet down, that’s alive?
The soul awoke. It began to come into awareness of itself. The groggy cloud of oblivion faded. It sensed the presence of others.
A dizzying assortment of animated spirits filled the void-like chamber. Shining and resplendent orbs of silver, they hung, suspended. The enormity of the crowd of peers was comforting, yet the soul realized with a jolt how small--and alone--it was. The soul watched in fascination as another drifted over.
“Hello,” said the second soul.
“Who are you?” asked the first.
You are strong, kind, and loving. I trust your ability to make things right and your feelings are sincere. I know you have good intentions, and I know you care about her, but please, we want to help you. You are our friend, and we should share our pains. I wrote a story that is related to a game that we both love to play. I hope that we can all trust each other...
Once upon a time – for that was how stories were once told – there was an author walking on the perpetually damp sidewalks of Bay Point, California. She could not remember anything, except for how she built her dream house near Treat Boulevard, or how she sat on the railing before her old apartment was encompassed by a timeless flood. There were no calendars to organize anything because everything had been drenched – which made her brows furrow and navigate this place again. On a whim, she realized this was her home. Skies caved in by the way she thought it was like. She thought that if she could do anything amongst the debris, she could manipulate it back into an ageless form. The author hurried back into her old apartment, room to room, in search for an object she suddenly thought about. She failed to reclaim the image of it, abandoning her frail mind to wander back into her constructed metropolis.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.