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The Cursed One This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Aura hugs the cliffs as she goes by, releasing the loose dirt from the side, helping it find its way to the earth below. She twirls and spins carelessly, laughing as she plays with the leaves in the trees. She picks up pollen from flowers and spreads them elsewhere. It’s her job. It’s what she was created for.

As she crosses the land, like she’s always done for thousands of years, she sees me. For a moment, as she is heading for me, I think that she’ll be the first to help me. I want her to help me. I need her to help me.

But — I should’ve guessed — I frighten her. And no one ever scares Aura. In the midst of countless battles, she was always there. The Great One always told her who to help. She was never afraid because war could never kill the lovely wind.

Aura shrills, whisking through a hallow log and dodges me. But not before the edge of her hits me, and takes my breath away.

“Wait,” I beg as she retreats. Her cool breeze against my burned flesh feels so good.

“Come back!” I call.

But Aura doesn’t return. I’m not surprised. The Curse is written all over my flesh. The sickness is soaking in to me, trying to get to my bones.

Well, I suppose it’s a good thing Aura won’t be helping me. After all, I don’t want her carrying the Curse to others and infecting them. I wouldn’t put this curse on anyone.

As I trek through the thick forest I was banished into, I see the trees shy away from me. They would run if they weren’t rooted to the ground. No one loves me. Everyone hates me.

I look up at the sky and wonder if this is a part of the Great One’s plan for my life. To die from the Curse. To die alone. To die unloved. I could think of no worse death than this.

I remember when the God of Deception — who goes by many names, a popular one among my people being Albius — cursed my little sister, Tressa, at the ripe age of ten. That was five years ago.

Tressa was banished into this forest, and died here, somewhere. Maybe the trees buried her so that none passing by would be cursed if they found her. The Trees of Riathon are like that — caring and cautious. That is why they lean away from me now, warning me not to get near them with the creaking of their bark and the rustling of their leaves.

My flesh feels on fire. What I wouldn’t do for a single drop of cool water on any part of my skin.

I look up at the heavens. The sky has grown pink, purple, and orange from the setting sun. The clouds are puffy and huge. On any normal day, when my skin isn’t crawling with agonizing pain, I would enjoy the Great One’s creation.

“Please,” I beg, hoping He’ll hear me. “Rain. Please let it rain on me!” I wonder suddenly why I even bother. Why would the Great One help a Cursed One like me? Cursed Ones always die painful, lonely deaths.

That night, I stare at the twinkling stars, laying on the dirt Aura stirred earlier today. Brown and yellow dead leaves are my cushions. I don’t like them though. They remind me of my future, of my fate. But, at least they don’t shy away from me like their green, living relatives.

There is no sign of rain clouds. At all.

I realize when my heart sinks lower than the crust of the earth that I’d had my hopes up too high, even though I knew there was no way on earth or any other planet that the Great One would save me from this excruciating pain. Why would He, the greatest of all beings, spare pitiful me? Sadiemay from Galebridge?

I blink away the tears. They make my flesh burn more when they run down the side of my face.

“Don’t cry!” I tell myself harshly. I’m being mean to myself because I am angry with myself. If I hadn’t have agreed to enter the God of Deception’s temple to see his collection of seashells — something I am oddly obsessed over considering seashells are very rare in Galebridge — then I wouldn’t be here.

Besides, he lied to me. He didn’t have a collection of seashells. Just a room full of the Curse. A room that attacked me with the sickness, that burned me and had me banished forever into Riathon.

So this is how Tressa felt as she slowly withered away from the Curse. Laying on the dead leaves and lifeless dirt, knowing she’ll soon have something in common with them.

I remember when I was thirteen, when Tressa was ten, and Albius, the God of Deception, invited her into his temple to see his pet penguin. Now Tressa was in love with birds. She knew everything you could know about birds. From the different sounds birds make to how they can fly, she knew it. And, out of every bird in the world, the penguin fascinated her the most. She always dreamed that one day she would be able to see a live penguin, and get to pet him. I told her not to do it, not to agree. But she was lost in Albius’ eyes and in his sweet words. His promises of getting to hold, feed, pet, love, and even keep his penguin captivated my little sister. She willingly followed the God of Deception in to his temple, leaving me in the street, watching the entrance for hours.

Finally, when Tressa stumbled out of the entrance, she wasn’t holding a penguin, and she didn’t look happy. I remember seeing the smoke and hearing the sizzle her singed flesh produced. She fell down the temple’s steps, bleeding from the burns, and laid in the street for a long moment before crying out for help. But no one would approach her — not even me. I’d backed away into the shadow of a building, sorrowfully watching my ten-year-old sister lay in the street in burning agony, people avoiding her so they wouldn’t get the Curse. People shouted at her to get out of Galebridge. People threw stuff at her, telling her to go to Riathon. So, she did. And I just stood there and watched her leave.

Even though it burns, I cry, because I should’ve helped my sister, even if I did get the Curse from her. I should’ve loved her in her time of need. I should’ve been there, even if it was bad for me, if it cost me my life.

Suddenly, I hear the rustling of leaves, dead and alive a few feet away from me. I jerk my head towards the motion, my heart hammering. The dead leaves on the ground blow towards me. I realize Aura is back. She’s cautious still, but she’s here with me.

“Why did you come back?” I ask, my voice crackling with pain. She brushes my hair away from my sticky, bloody face. The coolness of her touch sooths me.

“Sadiemay of Galebridge,” whispers Aura as she cool my cheeks. I exhale in relief, closing my eyes. If I have to die, I’d like to die now, when I’m not alone.

“Sadiemay,” the wind whispers again, nudging my shoulder. She cools my bear arms with her breath, and then my shins and my knees. I think about taking off my shorts so that she can cool my thighs, but then she says my name again. “Sadiemay.” This time it seems more urgent.

“Yes, Aura?” I whisper, wishing she’d blow on my face again.

As if the lovely wind can read my mind, she touches my face and runs her fingers down it, over my nose, my lips, and my cheeks — cooling my consistently burning flesh.

“Thank you,” I sigh.

“Sadiemay,” she says. I wonder how many times she’s going to say my name. Maybe she likes the way it sounds.

“Yes, Aura?” I say again.

“You’ve done a wrong, dear Sadiemay.”

I sigh. “Yes, Aura. I have.”

“What did Albius use to trick you?”

“Seashells.”

She whirls for a few seconds upward, rustling the leaves in the trees. They chatter together as she runs through them, but I don’t know what they’re saying. Maybe they’re complaining. Maybe they don’t approve of Aura coming back to help me.

She comes back down, running over my whole body, giving me a second of instant relief. But the pain always comes back. My skin will always burn. It’ll never be fully healed. I’m a Cursed One.

“Sadiemay,” Aura whispers. “My Master has told me to help you.”

My heart skips a beat. The Great One. He heard my prayers. He listened to me! He listened to a wretched Cursed One! “Really?” I ask.

Aura brushes across my forehead. “Yes. He also wants me to tell you about a little girl I helped five years ago. He said you know her. Her name is Tressa.”

My heart hammers in my chest, pulsing in my ears. “Tressa,” I gasp. “Is she alive?”

Aura sooths my burning arms and face as she replies, “Yes, Sadiemay, Tressa is alive. And she’s healed.”

I gasp so loudly, it startles Aura for a few seconds. “Healed? How?” I ask when Aura comes back and runs her fingers through my hair and over my face again. “I wasn’t aware that there was any going back. Is there a cure or something?”

Aura giggles lightly. “Yes. But only the Great One can give you the cure.”

I swallow. I’m so thirsty that my throat sticks together and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. “Would He give me the cure?” My voice is so low that I wonder if Aura can hear me at all.

“If you ask Him, He will give you life. The Curse will be forever gone.”

I start to sit up. “Where is He?” I sound excited, but there’s a good explanation for that: I am. I want to talk to the Great One. I want to ask him to heal me, to cure me, to save me. Only He can save me.

Aura whirls around me. The swift breeze feels good on my skin until the dirt she stirs starts pricking at my flesh, and then I wish she would stop.

I close my eyes tightly. “Stop, Aura. My skin hurts!”

But she doesn’t stop. She keeps spinning around me. I think she’s getting faster because the dirt feels like it’s hitting me harder. Then, all of a sudden, she disappears. So does the dirt.

I blink my eyes and look around. I have to squint against the bright light that comes from the sun far above me. I can’t understand where I am or how I got here. I’m not in Riathon anymore, in the dark of the night. I’m sitting in snow. The coolness abruptly soaks through my clothes and sooths my burning skin.

I laugh loudly, a thankful, grateful laugh and start rolling around in the fluffy white icy heaven. I like it here. I feel less pain.

“Thank you, Aura!” I say, even though I don’t know where she went.

“Sadiemay!”

I sit up and look around for the voice that called my name. It wasn’t Aura, and it wasn’t any voice I knew. It sounded like a girl’s voice. But whose?

I see a girl running through the thick snow wearing warm wool pants, a white shirt and an unzipped white winter jacket that hangs down to her knees. The red in her long auburn hair glistens in the light. Her smile is so wide and so familiar. Her sea-green eyes are twinkling, and in that moment, when our eyes meet, I know who she is.

“Tressa!” I yell. She’s so grown up. Fifteen years old now! A young lady!

I jump up and run for her until I remember that I’m a Cursed One.

Then, I freeze and yell at her, “Stop, Tressa! Don’t come near me! I’m cursed!”

She laughs and doesn’t stop.

“No, Tressa!” I yell, backing away from her. “I don’t want to curse you!”

“Sadiemay,” she says, stopping a few yards away from me. I see she’s wearing tall white rubber boots. She’s wearing all white. “The Great One has healed me from the Curse. I’m immune.”

I blink a few times. “Immune? Like, forever?”

She smiles and nods.

I say, “Then why didn’t you come home?” I feel a gush of sadness come over me. “Mom and Dad,” I say, “they mourned you for years. If you were immune why didn’t you…”

She inhales deeply and slowly lets it out, gazing out over the snow-covered land, thinking.

“I like it here,” she whispers, looking at me. “I love it here. Being with the Great One is way better than living in Galebridge.”

“But — what about us, your family?”

She takes a step towards me. I step back. I’m not sure if I believe that she’s immune. “Sadiemay,” she croons, cocking her head to the side. She looks like Mom when she does that. “You’ll understand once you meet Him.”

My stomach flips. “What’s He like?” I ask.

Her eyes brighten. She’s overwhelmed by emotions, I see, because tears fill her eyes, but they’re happy tears. “He’s so wonderful, Sadiemay. He loves me so much. He loves all of us. All the Cursed Ones. And he’s healed every single one that has asked him to.”

Tressa scans my infected body, the blood dried on my clothes, in my hair, running down my face, arms, and legs. My tattered flesh that aches to feel the snow again.

“Sadiemay,” she says, her voice kind and gentle. “Would you like to meet Him?”

I bite my lip. “I’m afraid,” I whisper. “Tressa, I’ve done wrong against Him. I’m a horrible person. How can he forgive me of what I’ve done enough to heal me?”

“He loves you, Sadiemay. No matter what you do, nothing will change how much he loves you.”

I start crying then, because this sounds like a fairytale, and I’m not sure if I can believe it. “Why?” I ask.

“Why what?”

I plop down in the snow, letting my skin enjoy the coolness for the moment. “Why does He love me? What have I done to make Him love me?”

She sits down beside me, reaches for my bloody hand with her perfect soft hand, but I jerk my hand away before she can touch it.

She sighs. “Why does Mom love us? Or Dad?”

I shrug. “They’re our parents.”

She nods. “The Great One is our dad, too. He’s everyone’s dad.”

My eyebrows furrow together. “Even Albius’ dad?”

She inhales deeply and exhales before shrugging. “In a way, yes. But he didn’t create evil. You know that, right?”

“But he created Albius.”

She pauses for a few seconds before asking, “Is there such thing as light, Sadiemay?” I glance around, up at the sky, obviously seeing light.

“Yes,” I say. “Of course.”

“Is there such thing as darkness?” I remember the dark sky with the twinkling stars I had just been under with Aura before she brought me here to Tressa.

“Yes,” I answer.

She shakes her head. “No, Sadiemay. Darkness is just the absence of light.” Then she stares at me as if a light should click on in my head about something.

When I just stare at her with a confused expression, she says, “Evil is just the absence of the Great One, Sadiemay. Albius turned away from the Great One, and the only term we have for the absence of the Great One is evil.”

“Oh,” I say, raising my eyebrows. “I get it. The Great One didn’t create evil. He created people to make choices, and sometimes they choose to turn away from him, which results in — ”

“ — His absence,” Tressa finishes for me, smiling widely. Then, she holds out her hand to me. “Sadiemay, would you like to meet the Great One?”

I swallow and force my stiff neck to let my head nod. But I don’t touch her hand. Tressa and I stand up. Without saying a word, she abruptly takes my face in both her hands and presses her nose against mine.

I yank away from her, but she has already infected herself. I start to tremble, waiting for the Curse to consume her body again. Flashes of the memory of her lying in the street, withering from the pain of the Curse fills my head.

“Tressa,” I moan, tears coating my voice. “What have you done?”

She smiles at me, though, not afraid in the least. “I’m immune,” she whispers.

Suddenly, Aura is back. She wisps around Tressa — not me — and I watch my little sister close her eyes, a smile on her face, her hair wildly whipping around her, snow that Aura picks up slapping her everywhere.

“Tressa!” I yell desperately when I realize she’s fading away. “Don’t leave me!”

“She’ll be back, daughter.”

I startle at the sound of the deep voice. I twirl around so quickly that I lose my footing and fall. But I don’t fall in the snow. No. I’m in someone’s arms.

It’s a man. He’s graying, but not too badly. His brown eyes sparkle and His smile does the same.

“I’m right here,” He whispers to me.

My voice is lost. I don’t have to ask who He is. I know. I don’t know how I know. I just know. I start crying, and the Great One pulls me into a loving embrace. He cradles me and rocks me. He even hums. My skin feels less on fire when I’m here with Him. He makes me feel whole. I’ve never felt more like I belong. This is where I’m meant to be. Right here, right in the arms of the Great One.

“Sadiemay, my daughter,” He says, His voice deep and so wonderfully comforting. I want to raise my head to look into his eyes, to see that sparkle, but I’m not worthy enough to look at him.

“My daughter,” he says again. “I am here for you.”

Ask! I yell at myself in my head. But I’m afraid to ask for Him to cure me. I’m afraid that my request will sound selfish and be completely wrong.

“Look at me, my daughter,” he whispers to me, “and ask me what you want to ask.”

My exhale trembles, matching my hands and lips. I find myself raising my head to look at him, look into his deep eyes. They smile at me, matching the curve of his lips. He chuckles when I sniffle.

“Sir,” I whisper.

“Please,” he interrupts, “call me Daddy. I would love to hear you call me that.”

My lip trembles more fiercely and my eyes whelm with tears. “Daddy,” I whisper, “will you heal me?”

He smiles so widely that his pearly white teeth glisten in the bright light. His eyes fill with tears, and that makes me cry harder. “My daughter,” he says. “I love you, and I will heal you.” Suddenly, he kisses my nose.

All the pain disappears.

“You are immune to the Curse,” Daddy says. “My daughter, tell me, how would you like to stay here with me and your sister for eternity?”

I say, without a doubt, “I don’t ever want to leave.”



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