By Zehava Shatzkes
According to the Oxford dictionary, a spark “provides the stimulus for a dramatic event or process.” I believe that when considering our own lives, we have all experienced a spark. There are points in your life that you feel as if you are drowning, stuck in the continuous motions of life. Not truly moving, but instead static. Yet, those times don't last. We all have our spark. That one moment, the point in our lives that it truly hits us. At that moment, we know that there is something bigger, a fire has begun to ignite within us. That is when we truly have strength.
By Mia Hahn
I graze against the tall, prickly grass and my body shakes with a tingling sensation. Spotting a delicate pink dandelion, I urge my wings to flutter over. The softness of the petals feels light under my feet, and I take a moment to rest, allowing the warm air into my lungs. A flick of sweet honey seeps onto my lips. I know I should keep going, that I should fly away in search of more food. But the soft petal, the balmy sun against my cool skin urge me otherwise. I sit for what must be an hour while I watch others pass. Finally, finally, as the sky shifts from grey to blue to purple, I lift my head. With a conscious resolve, my wings regain life, and I fly away.
Stronger Without You
By Brooke Kohl
The first time I was betrayed was four years ago. The next betrayals came soon after that, one after another, scarcely giving me room to breathe.
And then you came along.
I never thought you could betray me like the other ones did. You seemed so perfect, a doll-turned-human who could do no wrong. I trusted you, confided in you like never before.
I don’t know why. After all those betrayals, it became harder for me to trust. The slightest act of kindness made me crazy. I would wonder:
What are their true intentions?
What do they want from me?
When are they going to betray me?
I spent years alone, never giving any hint to the life bubbling below my surface, the words itching to be said, the friends I longed to make, the life I longed to create. I thought I was better without anyone else. I was stronger, I thought, if I didn’t let anyone get close enough to betray me.
But then you came along.
When I first met you, I realized I had been wrong. Being strong doesn’t mean creating steel barriers to protect myself from everything and everyone. Being strong means being able to trust, no matter what happens. No matter who betrays me. It means being true to myself no matter what.
But then you betrayed me.
That’s when I realized that I wasn’t strong. I used to think I was strong because I could shut myself away, stop myself from getting close to anyone. But when I met you, I realized that I was wrong. That’s when I thought I could be strong, really strong. That’s why I let you into my life.
But then you betrayed me, and I figured out that I’m not strong. I’m not strong because I put those walls right back up, ran away from anyone who might be able to help me, who might want to get close to me and might never betray me.
So I’m not strong. But I am stronger without you. I was stronger before I met you, before you came into my life. I was stronger back when I thought that being strong meant closing into myself each time someone took a little piece of me. I was stronger when I thought that being strong meant not allowing anyone to get close to me. I was stronger when I thought that being strong was being able to go on alone, without anyone else. So back then, I was strong. I was stronger without you.
Or at least I thought I was.
And that’s all that matters.
By Nadav Lemberger
The drums were beating to the tune of sacred death. The setting sun hung low in the sky, shimmering in anticipation over the great semicircle of worshippers. The edge of the Plateau neatly cut the circle in two, those closest to the edge shying away. The rhythm of the drums reverberated through Teani’s ears, declaring the holiness of the day.
Teani watched, spellbound, as the Vessel was brought to the center. It was overflowing with smooth stones, each bearing a colored glyph, Teani knew — except for three; one blue for the next Mediator and two pure white for the Second Half. The Second Half would be lowered from the Plateau to join the Mist and become one with the Ra’dak, Great One of the Sky, linking the Mediator to heaven. The priests said ecstasy would envelop them as they became the strength of the people of Ra’dak. Teani’s dream was to become Mediator, to become Ra’dak’s divine messenger, just as her father was once.
Her father’s body was brought to the Vessel. Tears clouded Teani’s eyes as she saw her father for the last time. The rhythm of the drums changed, beating slow and steady. The bittersweet sound of plucked strings joined them, mourning the death as the Mediator’s body was lowered off the plateau to join the Mist forever. Then the music stopped.
It was time for the Choosing.
The process was slow and dull, yet Teani watched apprehensively, praying each time that the Mediator’s stone would not be drawn. Each tribesperson wound the cloth over their eyes and picked a stone. As the ceremony drew on, the children grew less and less attentive. Under six, Teani would have done the same, but she was now eleven, nearly a grown woman. Pay attention. Focus. Suddenly, a young girl drew a pure white stone, drawing the crowd’s attention for a few moments before they looked away. The girl’s parents began to cry, but Teani was relieved. Not the Mediator, thank Ra’dak. The Choosing made its way around the circle, coming closer and closer to Teani. She held her breath as her mother stepped up, but she drew a marked stone. Safe, then.
Teani’s heart echoed the drumbeats as she stepped up to the Vessel, blind. The urn’s edges were thick and hot as Teani reached down to the stones, which were cool as ice. She reached to the bottom, feeling around for the right one. A stone slipped into her grasp, buried at the bottom. This is the one. When she drew it from the urn, she felt the moment of silence, the apprehension carried on the wind. The crowd around her burst into speech, murmuring with fervor. Yes! I’ve done it! Teani exultantly removed the blindfold and looked down at the stone.
It was white.
The rest of the Choosing passed in a haze, Teani watching with empty eyes from her mother’s arms. The crying was the only sound. The people seemed to blur together until Teani realized, belatedly, that everyone was waiting for her to step into the center. The other girl, short and red-eyed from crying, was waiting next to the Vessel. I will face this. Teani stepped up beside her, flanking the new Mediator. He was a young man, bright-eyed and eager, full of the energy Teani had felt during her draw, excited by glory, power, and his own chosenness. This is what we die for?
Teani’s thoughts were interrupted by the renewed strumming of strings. I will face this! I won’t be like the other girl. She held her head high as the tribe erupted in song around, a wordless tune of death and rebirth, new beginnings and hope. Teani reached within her for the fervor she should be feeling — she would experience Ra’dak himself! Excitement should be flowing through her veins! Yet she thought back to her faint memories of the previous Second Half, and nothing came to mind except the tears of the mothers. A bag was placed at the feet of the Mediator and tribespeople came forward to place their stones within. Teani’s mother was last, following the other girls’ mother. Her last kiss was salty.
“Goodbye, Teani. Your father would be proud of you.”
Had she actually thought she would become Mediator? Did she think she was special, just because her father had been? Had she really expected to be chosen?
The bag was filled. Teani knelt, in tandem with the other girl, to kiss the feet of the Mediator. She walked proudly to the edge, the girl slouched beside her, ready to face her fate. She tried to summon the joy she should feel, but failed again. The stones were lowered first, a symbol of every tribesman accompanying the Second Half, before ropes were tied around the girls’ waists. As they were lowered, sinking down into the shadow of the Plateau, a chill settled into Teani’s bones. She closed her eyes, looking away from her mother’s face at the edge of the precipice. The stone was cool under her feet when they reached the bottom. Her father’s body, waiting for them at the bottom, strengthened Teani. I must make him proud. The tribespeople looking on were just dots at the top of the cliff, the drums a dull beat. Teani grasped for her companion’s hand, which was shaking slightly. The desert stretched into the distance, vast and shimmering in the sunset. The sun dipped below the horizon and the drums tolled a great boom.
“That’s our signal to go.”
Teani’s partner breathed in and they walked away from her father’s body, dragging the bag of rocks behind them. As the stone turned to sand beneath their feet, twilight settled across the desert. They stopped once they could no longer see the people crowding the top of the plateau and waited for the Great One to come for them.
Night fell. The Mist was slow, rolling in in great waves of white vapor, chilling the air in its path. It came closer and closer, filling the panorama of dunes with a silver sheen. Teani turned to the other girl and asked, “What’s your name?”
The cold was sudden and harsh, vision filling with paleness as the Mist fell over them. Teani breathed in, apprehension growing within her. The girl opened her mouth to answer, but her body began to convulse, her limbs shaking violently and low moans issuing from her mouth. Her limbs contorted in impossible ways, twisting in the sand, and blood flew from her mouth. Teani looked down nervously, the fear building within her. Why is nothing happening to me? Panic filled her eyes as she looked down at her partner in death. Was she immune? Did the Great One not want her?
A rasp issued from the girl’s mouth. “Stop… hurts… too… much…” But it was supposed to be… the greatest joy! The fear was insurmountable, paralyzing Teani, rooting her to the spot. Would this happen to her? As she felt nothing, the panic rose more. Would she die, dehydrated, slowly and painfully in the desert?
A wave of shaking seized the girl and she opened her eyes. They were sudden shocks of bright blue, seeming to glow in the covering of white. Teani was startled from her thoughts, backing away slowly as the other girl rose, stumbling on lethargic limbs. The girl seemed to recover slowly, becoming more coordinated.
“He...llo?” The words died on Teani’s lips as those blue eyes looked at her, seized with a feverish intensity. The girl stood and stumbled to Teani, her body shaking violently, hoarse screams issuing from her mouth. She shouldn’t be able to stand! Every bone in her body should be broken! She should be dead! With a sudden burst of speed, the once-girl tackled Teani, pawing at her face with inhuman strength. Teani struggled, punching and kicking, attempting to shove the thing that had seemed so frail earlier off. Why? What happened? What did it do!? Fists rained down tirelessly, and Teani’s energy began to flag. Her arms fell to the ground and the fists stopped. The girl opened her mouth, saliva dripping onto Teani’s chest, and growled.
Screams pierced the Mist.
Strength of the Sea
By Annabel Kermaier
“Why would they even want you?”
The question comes courtesy of Mikael, echoing the same thoughts I’ve had since the last time I was on a boat, fleeing my home. I give him a look.
“They have tens of thousands of soldiers,” he explains. “What use will they have for one more girl?” And just like that, he cuts right to the heart of the past ten years of my life, the reason I’ve struggled and raged instead of quietly carving out a comfortable place for myself in a new home. Because ten years ago they told me they didn’t want me.
Mikael stands, waiting for an answer, so I tell him the same thing I’ve told myself over and over again.
“It doesn’t matter if they want me, Captain,” I say quietly. “They’ll need me.” I feel the pain flicker across my face, betraying my thoughts as I close my eyes and see the images that have sustained me, propelled me through the past years.
I see my hand, small and darkened with the dirt that pervaded my childhood, as a ribbon of water winds its way between and around my fingers. I see my father’s face, twisted with disgust and shame, and the back of my mother’s turned head. I feel harsh hands grasping my arm, hear the slam of a thick wooden door and the thud of a lock echoing in my head, but nothing is more painful than my mother stepping away as I reach for her. Don’t you get it? she asks me again and again and again. Don’t you get it?
Don’t you get it? We don’t want you.
Mikael eyes me incredulously, and since he is my last hope, the only captain who hasn’t spit in my face or denied me passage on his ship, I thrust my hands out to either side and push. The same familiar power wells up within me as I force the water away. At first, Mikael doesn’t notice anything, and he looks ready to tell me to get lost, to get off his ship, but then he inhales sharply, eyes widening with fear and fascination in equal measure as his ship sinks lower and lower and the ocean rises on either side like glimmering walls. The rope holding us to the pier goes taut and the front of the ship starts to tip up before I drop my hands and water rushes back in under us, raising us to the same level as the other boats.
Passersby on the docks murmur and point, and my arms ache like they always do after holding the weight of the ocean, but I look directly into Mikael’s eyes as I say, “They need me. There are hundreds of enemy ships surrounding them — they’re an island and they have no navy. But none can rival the strength of the sea.”
Mikael nods, and just like that I have a passage back home.
A gust of wind blows a spray of cold rain directly into my face. My fingertips are blue as I push away yet another wave that towers high over our tallest mast. Without me, this ship would have capsized several times over already.
The wind whips the shouts of struggling sailors over my shoulder – “if we don’t get that sail down…three, alright? Now one, two” – and the ship rocks dangerously back and forth despite my best efforts, but I ignore everything and focus on the horizon as I whirl around to look in all directions. The deck is slick beneath my feet and my entire body trembles with the cold, but I push away wave after wave after wave, each one big enough to take our ship to the seafloor.
Mikael appears behind me just as I shove another wave out of the way. I turn my head towards him to see what he wants.
“Keep going!” he shouts at me through the cacophony of wind and storm and sea. I fling out my right arm towards another wave coming at us head-on, and it moves to the side but clips the edge of the ship, tilting us perilously far to port and sending me crashing into Mikael. He steadies me as I take a ragged breath, my arms burning and legs shaking, and I can see in his face that he doesn’t think we’re making it out of here. He’s wrong, though, so I scream and shove another wave away. I lift my head, shaking wet hair out of my eyes, when I see it on the horizon.
Far off for now, but making its way closer, the mountain I see is no wave, but a vengeful god of death. The wind seems to lift for a moment, as if the storm itself is shocked at what it has spawned, and the sailors drop their ropes, losing every inch they fought for, and no matter how I pull or push or rage against the water, I am empty.
And I have to admit it, if only to myself. None can rival the strength of the sea.
Not even me.
Thoughts of a Hero
By Brooke Kohl
strength gone/eyes wide/ears hurting/mouth watering/mind racing/tears falling/heart thumping/breathing labored/muscles aching/voice cracking/scrapes bleeding/body fighting fighting fighting
body fighting to go on even though there’s nothing left/even though there’s nothing to fight for/even though there’s no one to help/even though there’s no strength to help/no strength to let said body fight/no strength to do anything but fight anyways/fight because that’s what you have to do/that’s the only thing that will save you/will save the world/will save everyone and everything you know/even though they’re past saving
they’re past saving and you’re still here/and you wonder why that is/why you were left/because you’ve never been strong/you’ve never been a fighter/you’ve never fought/you can’t fight/especially now that the world is dying/and you’re dying/and everyone you know and everyone you’ve ever known is dying
they’re dying and you’re here/and you can’t help but think that this is some cruel trick of the universe/who in their right mind would leave you here to be the savior of the world/you’ve never saved anything in your life/the universe hates you/everything hates you/everyone hates you/it hates you so much/it’s leaving you to fight by yourself and taking away your strength and everything that ever mattered to you/and you can’t possibly do anything about it
you can’t do anything about it and so you close your eyes/that’s how they died wasn’t it/ they just closed their eyes and suddenly they were gone/but you close your eyes and then you open them and you’re still here/still in this world that is relying on you/that thinks that you can save everyone/that thinks that you’re a hero/and you want to laugh and you want to cry/because you know you’re not a hero/you’ve never been a hero/you can never be a hero
you can never be a hero because you can’t save anyone/because you have no strength/because you’re weak and pathetic and everyone hates you/and there’s nothing special about you/nothing that can save the world
you have nothing that can save the world/but you have to save the world because that’s why you’re here/because everyone has a purpose/because the universe gave you this purpose for some twisted messed up reason/because it needs someone to save the world and it wants that person to be the least likely person to do it
you’re the least likely person to do it but you know you have to/so you go out and you do your best/even though when has your best ever been good enough/your best has never been good enough/but everyone is looking at you and expecting you to save them/and so you have to do it you have to do it you have to do it
you have to do it and suddenly you did it/you saved everyone and everyone thinks you’re a hero/but you can’t accept their praise because you know you've never been a hero/you’ve never been strong/you can’t possibly save everyone again/but for now
For now you relax, for now there’s silence, because you’re finally done with your job, at least for the time being.
That’s the problem with being a hero.
The world never stops needing to be saved.