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I stumbled through the swirling snow, clutching my book to my chest. Bloody, goddamned snow. I tripped again, for the hundreth time, and only managed to right myself after sliding headfirst into a towering snowbank. I scowled as I shook the snow from my hair, and wrapped my scarf tighter. Normally this walk to school would only take around fifteen minutes; today I had already been gone for half an hour.
Finally I had made it to the gates of my school. Academy, more like. The huge stone gates enclosed The Institute For Advanced Students, aka, a nightmare. I trudged up the stone steps and flung open the giant wooden doors. The icy wind was like a burst of fresh air in the musky darkness of the Institute.
An eerie silence enveloped me as I stepped into the gloom. The long hallway was missing something. Where were all the children? Where were all the students that usually were hustling to and fro? Why was I the only one here? I might as well warm up, I decided, blowing on my half-frozen fingertips.
Suddenly I heard voices. Not exactly voices, more like whispers. I couldn't tell which direction they were coming from - they seemed to be whispered right into my brain. But I couldn't figure out what they were saying because they kept growing fainter and fainter.
"Hello?" My voice came out as a dry whisper. I tried again, "Hell-o-o!" Silence. I strained my ears, listening for any noise.
I bit my lip. Maybe . . . I better just go home. RIGHT NOW. I didn't even care about the snow anymore, I just wanted to leave my oddly deserted school as soon as possible. I stumbled back to the door, and pushed on it with all my might. It was stuck, or locked, or at least it wouldn't budge. I tried harder, leaning on it with all my might, but to no avail. I was trapped!
I spun around frantically, searching for any way out. All of the windows were at least two stories above me, and there were no side doors as far as I could tell. The imposing stone walls that usually made me feel like a princess in a medieval castle now just made me feel claustrophobic and small. They seemed to be getting closer to me every moment that passed. I wiped my eyes, trying to knock some sense into me. Surely it was just a trick of the light. It had to be.
The whispers returned, this time louder. I managed to make out what they were saying.
"Come . . . follow . . . hurry . . ."
I needed to find a way out. I started to run, not caring where I was headed. I passed through many rooms; some which I knew, and others I had not yet explored. This was not my first year at the Institute, but the huge academy had an endless number of nooks and crannies.
I tried to slow down and catch my breath, and that was when I realized that my course was not as random as I thought it had been; instead, I seemed to be on a carefully planned path. I couldn't stop. I was running full speed toward my fate, and I knew it couldn't be good.
I stood up, gasping for air and shaking. Where am I? Who am I? What am I doing here? I spun in a circle, taking in everything. I was at the Institute, in the main hallway. Suddenly the memories came flooding back to me.
My name is Gabrielle. Gabrielle Nicole. Named after my mother, who died when I was seven. Of "Unknown Causes" - or at least that's what they put on her death certificate. We all know what happened. It was obvious; the screams late at night, the bruises on her arms, the bags under her eyes.
I remember waking up to her silent sobbing.
He beat her. He hurt her. He killed her.
They took me away from him; away from my father. "Thank goodness." They said, "Thank goodness we got her away from him before it was too late."
I'm still not sure what they meant by "too late".
As much as I could tell, it was far too late. I still have scars from when he forgot who I was between his fist and his belt buckle. I still have scars from where I cut myself when I was scared - when I was scared that I didn't know how to feel. And even worse than the physical scars, I have ones inside. They still hurt me when I remember back to those dark days.
But I am safe. I am well. And I will move on.
With those resolute words I stood up, ready to face whatever was in store for me.
I was back in the main entry of the Institute. Had the past few hours been a dream? Had the running all been a hallucination?
Just then, all of the lights began to fade. What? No! This can't be happening. I shivered as the temperature in the room plummeted. A thin white figure slid gracefully into the room. Who is this - what is this? I wanted to say, I wanted to scream, but I couldn't find the words.
And then I recognized the shape. My mother. My mouth gaped in shock.
"My sweet . . . my sweet, sweet Gabrielle." the figure shimmered.
My mouth went dry.
"Hard times are ahead. Do not be afraid. Trust in yourself, believe in yourself, just as I believe in you." She said.
"Is that what you are here for - to tell me that?" I couldn't believe my eyes. I wanted to run to her, have her hold me again. But something held me back.
"I love you. And I miss you. Don't be afraid, I am with you."
I wasn't sure why, but I started to cry. The wet tears soaked my face, dripping down my cheeks and blurring my vision.
"I love you." I said. She reached out a hand to me, but slowly she began to fade. In her place was a large, dark figure; the exact opposite of my mother. Instantly I knew who it was.
The ghost of my father hurtled toward me at a million miles an hour. I drew back in fear, but I already knew that I was too slow, too late.
My mother's words came back to me and I felt a warmth sink into my body. But the shape was coming at me faster . . .
and faster . . .
and faster . . .