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The old trees shudder in the wind, releasing snow and thick icicles from their branches, some barren and others blanketed in white. One frosted tree unleashes a sharp icicle from its loaded ranks, but the frozen missile shatters at my touch. I persevere through this ancient forest and make my way to a small clearing, where my childhood home still stands. Carefully, I open the door, trying to avoid breaking the fragile hinges. Once a decade, I make a pilgrimage here and always head to the same place; my secret room.
Everything is still intact, thankfully, so I head to the floor rug and undo the secret latch beneath. A small room is then revealed, filled with a few wooden toys, a chest, and a looking-glass, or “mirror” as it is termed today. I stare into my old looking-glass, just like every time I have been here. A young man with a fair complexion and piercing blue eyes stares back at me. My hair, black as a raven’s wing, is cropped short. The room begins to shift around me, and I know that my hair must be the beginning point of this decade’s journey. I shut my eyes, and when I open them again I find myself floating in the memories, and regrets, of my mind.
A boy with dark hair stands outside the house, playing with his friend, who, like the rest of the people around, has light-brown hair. It is a warm, sunlight afternoon, and the trees seem to be bursting with leafy green foliage. People in drab garb walk around to fulfill their work during this fine summer day and, as a result, only the two boys take notice of a large raven perched high in the trees.
The boy’s friend mischievously remarks to him that his hair is as dark as the raven’s wing. The dark-haired boy flushes pink, then red, first from embarrassment, and second from anger.
“Is not!” the boy exclaims, feeling insulted by this connection to a bad omen.
“Is too!” the friend replies back, now angry at his friend’s outburst at him. They go back and forth until the raven takes off, cackling at the foolish and ignorant humans beneath him.
Some time has passed, and the dark-haired boy, now a young man, shakes from a fever. The town’s healer furiously mixes his potions to try and save one person from the horrible virus that forest demons had supposedly sent into the land. He doesn’t notice a drop of sap from the tree above him fall into the concoction, nor take heed of how the potion turns a golden color. The dark-haired lout drinks the vial and becomes immediately healthy, much to the delight of his parents. No one is the wiser of what has just occurred.
The dark-haired person runs from his village as crude pitchforks and torches are brought out to get rid of the demon changeling who had obviously taken the dying boy’s place as he lay with fever. They had burned the healer on charges of witchcraft and dealings with forest spirits three days before. The boy runs and runs until he is finally caught by the villagers, who leave him for dead in a circular forest blaze. For the first time, the boy realizes he cannot be hurt by fire. In fact, nothing can hurt him. Nothing, except for her…
A new scene washes over the others, and this one is in much greater detail. Sounds of gunfire and explosions echo throughout the grey and marred wasteland, created by human ingenuity and scarred by human fallacy. The dark-haired young man now wears a soldier’s uniform, surrounded by British allies as they fight off the enemies in impenetrable trenches from their own impenetrable trenches. One man from the enemy side suddenly rushes over, and manages to throw a grenade near the young man and his allies before being cut down by gunfire. Everyone runs or drops to the ground, but fortunately the grenade doesn’t go off. Nurses quickly come down and start to rush the wounded away from the front lines. One nurse, a brunette who looks serene even when carting away soldiers, turns and winks at the young man. He smiles back, but the smile fades when he sees a rock cast from faraway shrapnel sail in a long arc headed towards them. Time seems to slow down right before the rock finishes the deadly path that Fate ordained. The soldier has just enough time to scream out the girl’s name before the rock hits the grenade and sets it off.
“Sarah!” The young soldier rushes over to the beauty, now marred by grenade shrapnel. He does not feel the blaze close to him, nor realizes the disbelief reflected in the soldiers still standing that he is completely unhurt, a stark contrast to the young woman, whose scarlet blood soaks the ground with her life essence. It’s not the blood that bothers the solider, however. It is her smile. Wounds can be healed, but that smile… that smile says goodbye.
“It’s all right,” she whispers to him in her velvety voice, “No one lives forever.”
“I do,” he whispers back. I think that her eyes widen briefly, but just as quickly the spark of life fades from her gaze.
I watch as the tears stream down my cheeks, remembering the heartbreak I felt at this moment. Then, in an instant, everything vanishes and I find myself seeing only soft white light. A cacophony of voices echoes from my past, softly at first, and then louder and louder until I cannot bear it anymore.
I open my eyes, mulling over the memories that had appeared this time. It had been a long time since I had seen the scene of my villagers chasing me, not comprehending how a boy had not aged a day since he recovered from that fever ten years before. Sarah’s face was also much clearer than it had ever been, but my tears for her dried up in the war long ago. The ritual I had started after the plague killed all the inhabitants of my village was almost done, and to complete it I unlock my old chest. Inside is a fragile paper, on which a poem is inscribed. Whispering it aloud in the world, flashes of memory began to appear around me, all bound in my heart and unleashed through ink and the spoken word.
Those who hang by a golden thread
Are destined never to die
Forever the earth they must tread
And that is why they cry
Life is normally short and fleeting
But for those who must endure
Their golden thread is memory meeting
Fear retaining immortality’s allure
Images and scenes flash in and out of my mind’s eye. I see devastated towns rise from the ashes and begin a new age of festival and faith. I see vast ships come into port laden with golden treasures beyond imagination and belief. I see a group of colonials rise up and form a new nation while the British Empire blankets the world in coal and ash. Planes and trains and cars and czars and a thousand other snapshots of the world I have viewed obscure my vision. Times of peace and times of war flicker in front of me like candlelight as I read the eight-lined incantation that exemplifies out my blessing and spells out my curse.
When the last syllable rolls off my tongue, I smile at the old, well-worn paper, but the looking-glass tells me that the smile has failed to reach my eyes. I look into the blue, only to see pain in them reflected in my looking-glass, the kind that isn’t expected in a person who looks like they are in their twenties. Tucking the paper away, I finish up my self-imposed ritual and once again hide the entrance to my room. Once the door is locked and I stand outside, I heave a long, wistful sigh. In ten more years I will return again. Different memories will appear, but I will look the same. The paper will have the same words. I look back, down at my boot prints, and notice that large flakes are descending and already hiding my tread on the otherwise-pristine and white floor. The ground, covered with snow, will be the same as well.
When you are immortal, you lose everything that you cherish at some point in your life, over and over again to the point that most mortal minds would be consumed with grief and sorrow. For better or for worse, you will forever be comforted and haunted by the one thing that remains as you walk through eternity. That gift, which binds past to present, which prevents immortality from transforming into immorality, is memory. And so I walk the Earth, tethered to life by the golden thread of joys and sorrows from centuries past.
I look up at the trees one last time, and start to tread the ground once more when something catches my eye. A raven, perched in the tree, is watching my movements. I stare back at him and he cackles, fanning his wings at me. Shocked, I rub my eyes to try and clear what seems like a remnant memory from before, but the raven still remains. He takes flight and lands in front of me, with glowing eyes like polished ebony reflecting my expression of disbelief.
This is the same raven from over six centuries ago.
Then his talons latch onto my chest, and somewhere inside I feel my golden thread snap.