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Anything I Want
The blood rain soaked my skin and its tangible pigment coated me, camouflage, threading my very essence with the sinewy cords of red fern. The rain was an emblem of who knew what, a reminder that we were never safe, not under the precise eye of the cyclone. By default, my eyes shot to the sky, if that's what it was. A tear of the slimy stuff plopped onto my iris, cloaking my vision in a thick blanket of crimson that slid down my cheeks. My legs gave out beneath me but I didn't mind, perhaps I could rest awhile there, in the shadowy corners of the mystical forest I'd been driven into.
That night, beneath the absolute tyranny of the annual washing, I sobbed blood.
I didn't mean to be gone so long. I knew what the date meant. I understood that the clothing blowing aimlessly on the line outside of the dining room's slanted window were an excuse. That in two hours, I should be huddled under my comforters in a slight panic, chanting the usual to restrain from counting the time, measured in repeated poundings on the windowpane.
But did that stop me?
It was the pinnacle of March, the natural stormy season anywhere else, I'd heard. As I halfheartedly scrubbed a particularly ruthless spaghetti stain from one of mother's finer china plates, I watched as the leaves tumbled lazily here and there, but wherever, they were everywhere.
It wasn't a surprise that they plagued our city at this time of the year; with the threat so many years ago came the disappearance of regulated weather. This month, I had noticed strange patterns in the wind's ever-changing directions. Whichever way it blew, the overbearing amount of leaves were sure to follow. They didn't cling to the trees' bare branches anymore like they did in Grandfather's day, but nobody seemed to know why. The wind resulted in hopeless confusion in the vegetation. They just couldn't seem to find their way.
I guessed we all related sometimes.
Typical to Sunday procedure, I'd finish the dishes and gather the fresh laundry. Then mother would be here, a screaming whirlwind of orders. The busy weekend would only be intensified by the certain promise of a lovely downpour of O Negative.
My daydreams drifted far beyond the confines of the Land, stretched until they were caressed by the open sea's comforting breeze. That's where I longed to be, somewhere afar from any harbor. I wouldn't even have mined being submerged twenty feet below in a cozy coral reef. We'd studied those in the unit of life, ever-so-briefly, and I thought their diverse, neon colors would maybe soothe the chaos that was my mind.
If I opened my eyelids to find freshwater, I might not ever return to the surface.
As I dragged at the stain, still marring the plate like an ugly scar, my attention shifted to the fine, white ghostly silhouettes on my own skin. Five years of hardcore dedication to the sharpened fence that separated life and the stench of death.
The salt water had healed the callouses rather rapidly each time the links cut jagged grids into the skin, but it was never enough to fade the marks. I didn't mind, however. They were a part of me now.
A figure appeared in my peripheral and I started, dropping a mug that promptly landed in the stone basin with a CLANG.
“Sara, it's only me!” My younger brother giggles.
“I just didn't know what to expect next with all of these creepy masks lying around.” I fake an exasperation sigh, which throws him into another fit of laughter. The mask remark was a reference to Gabe's recently acquired status of Jr. Forager, a feat he was impressively proud of for a ten year old.
Gabe moved in to wrap his arms around my hips and I hastily removed the crisp, cream apron from my waist and openly invited his touch. Gabe was my rock in the hectic brewing of a storm.
We stood like that for a minute or so but then I felt his tiny hands release me. He pulled back to look up at me, an unreadable expression on his face.
“Sara,” he mumbled, eyes wide, voice low. “Why do they do it to us?”
My jaw dropped and a moment passed as I watched him, open-mouthed. My baby brother, asking such a question. It seemed ridiculously impossible.
I only had a short amount of time to ponder his unreal curiosity, though, because the heavy metal door of our Placement whined open, warning me of my mother's presence and the clutter of utensils at the bottom of the basin, all at the same time. I also became overtly aware of the tangles in my auburn hair, the grease smudged on my smooth forehead, an almost mocking sock tangoing with the leaves in the wind fluttering across the yard. But before I could even think of adjusting any of these things, she was upon me.
“H-hi, Francine,” I managed to stutter. Mother was very modern and conservative, she preferred us to call her by her first name. Sometimes I enjoyed secretly spiting her when we were apart.
She chattered passionately into the headset attached at her ear, taking no time to stop and ask Gabe and I about our days. She bustled through the foyer and dining room area, straight into her master bedroom, renovated specifically for her purposes. Gabe and I looked at each other helplessly.
“And honestly, Sarafine! Would you collect the laundry so we don't look like a bunch of commoners?” I heard her call just as the wooden door pulled shut behind her. The wince in the word 'commoners' was evident, and I smiled wryly. At least I could always expect the same from her.
“You better go get the clothes, Sara. She sounds mad,” Gabe told me, a slight tone of worry in his voice. His chocolate eyes were as large as the moon in his spectacles and I couldn't help but pull him to me and grin. He was so innocent.
“You're right, Gabe, I'll go do just that.”
His face relaxed and he fidgeted with his bangs, blowing them off of the metal of his glasses.
I smiled at him again and laid my apron on the main table, walking backwards to the door.
“Hey, Sara?” Gabe's face went still again and took on that serious face I'd seen only a few minutes before. He stopped puffing at his hair.
“Be careful, okay?”
Without further word or waiting for my answer, he turned and walked off, heading in the direction of the bedroom we shared. I was puzzled and wanted to go to him, to ask what he meant, but I knew I had to keep moving. I had twenty minutes before the washing began, and if I got caught in it, it was guaranteed that I'd never go to him again.
I heaved the metal door open and stepped into the hazy evening. My bare feet squished into soft mud and I breathed in deeply, letting them guide me to the clothesline. I drank in the noxious air as I walked. It was far fresher than that inside the Placement, but not anywhere near as clean as the bay's. I always enjoyed this part of the chores, the freedom, if only for a moment.
All too soon, the slip of water over my feet indicated that I had reached my destination.
I looked up from the trodden ground and found the clothing, mysteriously pinned back onto the line, whereas five minutes ago they had been loose. Even the sock lie obediently in the clutches of a clothespin.
I began to gather the fabric across my arm when I heard it: the growl of thunder. How long had it taken to get out here? As if in answer, a small, fat raindrop landed on the tip of my nose. I crossed my eyes to further inspect it and found, to my immense relief, that it was pure water, not the crimson-tinged fatality. But however relieved I was in that second, a new feeling of panic engulfed me the next. Rain came before the washing, the purest rain that fell from above.
I had to move, and now.
Quickly stepping out of the puddle that lie near the line, my feet hit mud again and I began to jog in it, tripping every few steps but always catching my balance again.
When I was midway home and I could see the Placement up ahead, could almost smell its cold sterility, the darkness swallowed me.
The bright red clouds overtook the previous white ones, puffier and more ready to open their contents on me than ever.
I shrieked but then closed my mouth, knowing that the only way to overcome this obstacle would be to stay calm. I picked up my pace, practically sprinting in the general direction of the Placement, and watched in horror as another drop, this one crimson, landed a mere five feet in front of me.
This was it. I'd be drenched by the blood rain, it would seep into my pores, my very tissue. I'd never again hold Gabe or fight the fence. I'd die here and now, alone and afraid.
My terror was only increased as I saw a large, industrial-looking padlock overtake the knob of the Placement's door. In complete fear, I stumbled away from the path and found myself diving headfirst into the forest that enclosed the entirety of the city.
My body plunked heavily onto the forest floor, feet just barely tucked into the greenery. But it wasn't green anymore; the rain was painting it the same crimson as the first drop in long strokes. My eyes opened not unlike the clouds and tears mingled with the streams of the blood rain dripping through the forest's canopy. Something tugged at a foot and I jerked around, not knowing what to expect.
A girl that appeared to be around my age stared back at me, icy blue eyes piercing the vegetation. I noticed a small pile of clothespins piled in her tan hand, turning redder all the time.
I opened my mouth in confusion and was rewarded with a tangent taste on my tongue.
I kept it ajar for one moment more and uttered a simple question, more out of delirium than anything.
“Why?” I moaned to the girl, as if she would understand and give me every answer I'd ever searched for.
“For any reason you want.”
And then she was gone.