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The Night This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     The icy air seeped through the open window and Marta watched as her breath floated away, making her mother’s face as hazy as it had been in her dream just moments before. As her eyes adjusted to the candlelight, she could hear her mother sobbing softly as she ran her fingers along the walls. The white paint was chipped, and there were visible smudges where she had once written her name in blue wax. Her eyes roamed the small and perfect room where she had played games and heard stories of ever after for as long as she could remember. She heard happy voices ringing with laughter, and the pungent aroma of her grandmother’s perfume swirled around her as the memories cascaded through the halls and her feet, lifting her from the bleak reality.

“Marta.” She heard an assertive voice whisper next to her ear, tense with urgency. “Marta, we need to go. Now.”

Suddenly there was a pounding in her chest, a screaming in her ears. She looked with desperation at her father, but he was right. They had to go.

Marta took a final look around her home, then closed her eyes tightly, attempting to burn the image into her mind - a memory of happier times before the terrifying days she knew were coming. As her eyes rested on the fireplace, she remembered the plan she and her younger brother Felix had invented to take over the world. She remembered her pink quilt-covered bed (even though she always wanted blue), and the gentle thwack, thwack of the fan. She remembered her mother’s grandmother’s mirror, ancient and wonderful in tarnished silver with its mysterious engravings. And she remembered the interminable time-outs in the corner of her father’s study.

The candle was suddenly extinguished with a firm command from her father to remain silent, and an intense light from the streetlight outside that burned her eyes as the front door opened.

Marta pulled her coat closer, breathless as the fierce night air hit her. As she descended the three steps to the sidewalk, she was acutely aware of each pair of leggings she wore under her four skirts, and anxiously looked up. Her father’s eyes darted around the vacant street, watching the shadows with a frightening intensity, while beside him her mother shuddered.

With heads hanging, Marta and Felix followed like cattle being led to slaughter. The family walked in silence from lamppost to lamppost, only daring to look at each other in the shadows between.

After four blocks, a sharp right turn, another five blocks and many more of her mother’s tears, Marta looked up to see a familiar building across the street. Her mother let out a small sigh of relief, but as Marta’s foot hit the street, the sound of a siren pierced the air.

“Good heavens,” whispered her mother, her mouth and nose covered with two scarves. “And we were so close.”

She began to cry with high-pitched despair, but Marta’s father roughly grabbed her hand, ushering the family into the street. The siren grew louder with each step, the moon illuminating their escape.

The glistening puddles vibrated with their footfalls. Her mother’s terrified gasps reached Marta’s ears, and she knew they were at their end. There would be nothing more. Tears sprang into her eyes, contorting the ground before her into the mirrors she always used to dance in front of at the carnival.

They reached the end of the street and hurried to a door the color of blood, illuminated by a flickering lamppost. Two taps, a long pause, three taps. The door opened slightly and two eyes peered into the moonlight. The siren pulsated louder, and the door swung open, allowing Marta and her family to scurry in. The room was filled with a tense silence as the siren screamed louder and louder. Suddenly blinding lights came through the windows. Marta covered her face, trying to block the terror, and then the siren began to fade into the night.

Marta opened her eyes, shuddering as sweat fell down the back of her neck. She glanced at her mother huddled in the corner, her eyes covered with one hand, the other grasping Felix. Her mother’s muffled sobs echoed as Marta’s eyes roamed each face. Time was stretched thin, and she felt that if she dared move or breathe, think or speak, it would snap into a million pieces, leaving her tumbling in the darkness.

Her father’s hand was still clutching the doorknob; his white knuckles and slow exhalation telling Marta all she needed to know. She breathed in the safety, carefully piecing her soul together, and gently approached her father, watching his closed eyes. She held her breath and placed her fingers over her father’s trembling hand.

“Father,” Marta’s faltering voice sounded like a whistle of a ship lost in the fog, terrifying and unexpected.

Her father’s eyes flung open and darted around the room counting. They then rested on his daughter, and seeing that his family was together, his knees buckled as he slid to the floor, allowing the first tears in years. Marta, more confused by her father’s tears than by the now-distant sirens, bent toward him and placed her gentlest kiss on his forehead. Somehow he covered his eyes with his hands, shuddering with its weight and the magnitude of his fear.

Marta didn’t understand. They were safe, weren’t they? Her family had reached the Van Pels house. Isn’t that what mattered? Felix and Marta glanced at each other and then around the room, becoming aware for the first time of Mr. and Mrs. Van Pels, standing in the kitchen doorway, afraid to interfere. Marta’s mother continued to weep and her father reached to grab her hand, allowing Marta to help him to his feet. He began to speak, radiating wisdom.

“We have made it. Let us not endanger the lives of our gracious hosts any longer by remaining so close to the window. Would you show us the way, Frederick?”

Marta’s mother stood, leaning on her son for support. Now was the time for practicality and efficiency. Marta held her breath, grasped her father’s hand, and followed the candle to a small closet in the hallway. Mr. Van Pels pushed through the forest of coats, sweaters and mothballs. He felt around the bottom before slipping his fingers in a groove. Marta heard a lock opening. His fingers slid to the top of the wall and she heard another click and a barely audible shudder, telling her the wall was not as it appeared. She watched as Mr. Van Pels disappeared through the small hole in the back. She peered around her father’s shoulder into Hell, black as the cat she left behind and colder than the layers of ice under the snow outside.

“Welcome home,” her father whispered.

The dank air drifted around Marta. She covered her mouth, involuntarily holding her breath as she followed her father. She could feel the crunch of dead insects, and the cold emptiness of the room spread from her fingers and toes along her arms and legs, etching an icy path to her heart.

There was the pop of a switch, and the room was filled with a light so intense Marta’s eyes began to throb. The room was larger than the entrance would suggest, and there were even two twin beds in the corner, an unexpected luxury. Marta began to explore. The beds were covered with threadbare blankets, making the lumpy pillows look welcoming. Marta could vaguely hear Mr. Van Pels promising better blankets and a fourth pillow in a few days.

In the opposite corner was a kitchen that looked less stocked than the toy kitchen Marta had played with as a child. The right side of the room, to the edge of the ice box, was blocked by thin sheets hanging from a string. Marta peeked behind, grasping the reality of their situation as she viewed a chipped toilet with a steady drip forming a small puddle on the floor.

“It’s not much, I know, but-”

“It’s wonderful,” Marta’s mother interrupted. “This is wonderful, Frederick. Even as it is, we could not have asked for more.”

Marta looked up, surprised to hear her mother’s shaky voice. Her mother slowly took off her coat as she spoke, “You have saved our lives.”

Frederick lowered his eyes, “Well, it was the least we could do, Margaret. Heinous things are happening to everyone, everywhere. We have to share what we have. This brings me to our schedule. Every third or fourth day, Erika or I will bring food. It won’t be much, but it will have to do. Many of the luxuries your family is used to will have to be sacrificed, but we’ll do what we can. We will let you get settled in tonight, and tomorrow we’ll bring you some food. Sleep well, you deserve your rest.”

Mr. and Mrs. Van Pels hurried back through the hole, leaving Marta and her family in their new home. Marta slowly removed her layers of clothing, quietly folding and stacking them. As she did, her father sat on the edge of the bed, watching the floor as if waiting for it to open and swallow him whole. Her mother went to the kitchen, letting her fingers explore the shelves and drawers, producing a raspy sound while Felix paced the floor, his heels clicking against the cement. The air was dry and empty, and every sound was amplified in Marta’s ears as she pretended not to wait for the sky to fall.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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