Blood of Betrayal

(Wrote a short story with a 10 page limit. After forming more ideas throughout writing this, I think I may expand this and make it… more.)


Betrayal and death flash before my eyes. Images I wish to un-see, as I am forced to experience such a vivid nightmare. My father. A gun. Yelling and then a loud pop. Pain pierced me as I fell overboard into the raging black waves as they swallowed me whole.

            I woke with a jolt, gasping as drops of sweat dampen my skin. Instantly my eyes take in my surroundings as I turn all my senses into overdrive. All I hear is the chirping of the birds, the leaves that rustle as the wind swirls through them, and the waves lapping at the shore. I allow myself to calm only a little, knowing I am safe at this moment. The nightmare I had comes roaring back at me, and then reality settles in. Still a nightmare, but not a dream. All of that happened three months ago. The only difference is that I was not supposed to survive. My father underestimated me. His voice still ringing in my head, “Life is unexpected, Rosalyn. This is how it has to be. Say hi to your mom for me.”

            I wonder what my allies at the assassin’s guild think of my absence. Surely, they will be scouring every city to track me down since I have never been gone this long, at least without contact. Then again, with my father’s betrayal, who knows what kind of nonsense he is telling them. I mean, he is the leader of our guild in New York City, or as others call him, Chief. Everyone believes the words that come out of his mouth, and they have no reason not to. Until now. I just need to get off this godforsaken piece of land.

            The rumble and pain that curls my stomach over halts all of my thoughts. My father believes me to be dead; that is his mistake. I am not the top assassin at our guild because my father is the leader; I earned my place with my skills and ruthlessness. Amid his deceit, I could read his body language and the twitching of his left eye and index finger. As much as his actions create an emotion I am not used to, I knew he was going to pull the trigger. That is why at the last moment, I twisted mid-leap off the boat and allowed the bullet to just graze me instead of causing major damage. Still hurt like hell, though. I let the sea drag me under and away until he was out of sight, then began swimming for my survival. Which is precisely what I have been doing for the past three months. I found a deserted island that seems to be off any radar and not located on any maps. I’m just doing my best to survive, even though I can tell my muscles are shrinking and my now torn clothes have become loose.

            Slowly standing up since quick movements make my head spin, especially before I have had a chance to find and consume some much-needed food. I grab my makeshift spear that has been a blessing, and I thank the guild for having a class on making weapons. I scan around as I heave a sigh; this place is like a mini jungle. Dawn is on the horizon, splinters of light creeping through the towering trees. Dewdrops dripped off the leaves from the dense humidity. The sun is blistering hot here, and this island smells of earthiness and the perfume of flowers. Everything is overgrown and untouched. I try to catch my food, which consists primarily of fish, in the early morning, and evening when the sun is not trying to burn me alive. Subtle drops of moisture trail down my back as the heat intensifies. Twigs snapping underfoot as I venture through the dense undergrowth. Climbing over enormous roots, I approach the shoreline from my hut made of mud, sticks, and leaves.

            About ten feet before I near the clearing to the beach is when I hear what sounds like a grunt. My whole body seizes as I instinctively form into a low crouch. I keep my spear along my side for easy use and ease myself to lean back into the rough bark of a tree. Patting my thigh, making sure my knives are still sheathed that I always have on me. Another blessing to never take them off because it allowed me to have some sort of protection aside from my fighting skills when I first arrived here.

            I can smell the scent of rain as inky clouds begin to creep toward the island, the wind picking up its speed as gusts make the trees dance back and forth. There is a whistle to the wind, and the water becomes more aggressive as it attacks the shore. As stealthy as I can, I progress towards where I heard the sound. Staying hidden behind trees and bushes, I drop to my stomach and spread the leaves as I spare a glance. What the hell? A man is tugging his boat into the sand while roping it around one of the trees. My training and psyche scream internally at me. Trust no one! Rain starts pelting down and imploding the grains of sand ahead. Shooting my eyes to the man, taking note that he is distracted and unaware of my presence, I dart forward. Unsheathing the blade from my holster, I close the distance before he can register the threat in the air. As he stands, I wrap my arm around him and press the sharp blade against his vulnerable throat.

            His whole body tenses and brings his hands up in surrender, keeping still as I can feel his heartbeat quickening. “I m-mean no harm.”

            With the uneasiness in his deep voice, there is also an edge of confidence. I lean on my tiptoes from behind and put my mouth close to his ear. “Why are you here?”

            Still not moving a single muscle in his body, he said, “I’m just securing my boat up to wait through the storm.”

            I think his words over as my mind keeps repeating, trust no one. But maybe the words he speaks hold truth, instead of the thought of my father sending him. Then again, I am positive my father has no doubt that he did not complete his deed. I slowly walk around in front of him as I take him all in. Messy dark hair soaked from the rain, deep brown eyes that almost look black, golden skin, and definitely built. He is the opposite of me as I have blonde hair that is practically white and dark blue eyes with fair skin. I have no doubt that I cannot take him down, though. “What is your name?”

            He regards me with a cool stare as he seems to think I would not slice his throat right here. “Michael. Yours?”

            I ignore him and drop the knife and place it back on my thigh. The wind is whipping my hair around as the rain is creating a pounding melody around us. “You have two options. Either I kill you quickly here and take your boat, or you can take me to my destination on your boat.”

            His eyes widen a fraction before he masks his face again. “How do I know you won’t kill me if I take you to where you want to go?”

            I lift my eyes to his and stare deep into them. “You don’t.”

Nodding his head, he begins to head towards the tree where he knotted the rope, making sure it will not become loose. He glances back at me over his shoulder. “Okay. I’ll take you.”

            It took hours for the storm to pass through as we waited in silence under cover of the trees. I managed to spear two fish before the water became too frantic, and my attempts would be hopeless. Once the rain let up, I created a small fire under my hut and quickly cooked them. I ended up giving one to Michael even though one is not nearly enough for me. But, if he was going to help me sail, he would need a little energy.

            When it was time to set sail, he untied the rope, and we loaded ourselves in, readying for the journey. He looked up at me, waiting, but I simply stared at him. The vibration of his voice sent a tingling sensation down my spine when he spoke. “Where to?”

            Never breaking his stare, I told him, keeping my voice cold. “New York.”

            The look on his face became questioning as he looked me over. “How long have you been on that island?”

“Three months.”

He just started blinking at me, opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it again. Then, finally, he decided to speak as he choked out the single question. “How?”

Tilting my head, wondering how I want to respond. But, I feel the need to be honest, to see what his reaction will be. “My father shot me off his boat, and I survived by coming across that island.”

All color from his face drains as he begins to scan his eyes all over my body as if he will find a bullet hole gushing with blood. I roll my eyes and turn away, looking out in the distance. “I’m fine. But my father won’t be.”

We sit in silence as the boat rocks and glides along the waves. I feel Michael is too stunned to ask any more questions. Plus, I know I am not the most welcoming person. I prefer solitude. The sea air invading my senses as a sliver of peace settles over me that I have not felt in a long time. Not since before my mom passed away in a car crash. At the thought of my mom, guilt washes over me because I should not have survived. She should have. If I could replace her…

Michael’s voice cut through my heart-wrenching thoughts. “There it is.”

We were not as far as I anticipated from New York, and we were able to dock up on the first piece of land we spotted along Long Island. When we hit the ground, I hopped out of the boat and began walking away while throwing my hand up in thanks.

I heard footsteps getting louder behind me, and I swung around and with a high kick. Holding my foot in the air, a mere inch from Michael’s face. Raising his hands up, he takes a step back. “I was just curious if you needed help finding your way to where you need to go.”

Squinting my eyes as I lift my chin to look up at him, searching those near-black orbs. “I’m good. I’ll manage.”

His shoulders sag slightly before I turn away and walk up mounds of sand, making a beeline for the city. It will take some time to make my way back to my loft, especially with how deflated my body feels, but I have endured worse. Before I entirely disappear out of sight, I twist around and cage my mouth with both hands to yell. I do not know why I do, but I guess knowing I will not see him again is a probable cause. “By the way! My name! It’s Rosalyn!”

Michael’s head jerked up like the speed of light, and his eyes widened as if some sort of realization clicked in his mind. But I decided not to stick around to find out, needing to make my way home undetected and deal with the man who is supposed to be my father.

After hiding in shadows, scaling buildings, and ducking behind corners, I made it home. As soon as the door closes, I collapse to the cold wood surface. The soles of my feet pulsing in pain and knowing they are swollen. I take a deep breath in as the familiar scent of lavender consumes me. Opening my eyelids, taking in my escape from this cruel life, the plush cream furniture, the overflowing bookshelf, the specifically chosen pieces of art hanging on the walls, and the picture of my mom and I on the light wood entry table of a time when I was only six. Guilt lodges in my throat, and grief invades me. The only time I have felt true feelings is before my mom died and now, with her death hanging over my head. When she passed, my father treated me as a recruit. I never felt like his daughter since then, just his human-machine to be a cold-hearted killer. It seems he does not like that I am surpassing him, so he felt the need to handle it.

I scour my pantry for any food that would still be edible and devour it. Then make my way to the shower. There have been a handful of times I have been on the brink of death. Staring in the mirror now, I can hardly recognize myself. My cheeks have caved in, my pale hair appears duller, my soft skin has a tint of red from the sun and scratches all along it from trudging through that dreadful island. My eyes begin focusing on the scars from my past that decorate my body. Most I have earned from missions and various fights that my opponent got a lucky shot in, some from the interrogation classes I mastered, and many others were caused by punishments my father felt the need to extract on me. The thought of him boils my blood, and I clench my jaw as I internally promise I will be the one to take his last breath.

A month has passed since I have been gathering intel and remaining hidden. The best way to go about my plan is to make sure my father still believes me to be down under. I made contact the first week I was back with the one person I trust at the guild, Demetrius. We are both the same age and grew up together training within the guild. He is second best to me, and we both have an understanding that no matter what, we will have each other’s back. All the torment, pain, simulations, and some missions, we have conquered together. He met me at a hole-in-the-wall bar in the city’s outskirts and somewhere my father would never set foot in. I carefully explained everything once his initial shock of me being alive dispersed. When he first laid those familiar hazel eyes on me, his face looked like he saw a ghost. He told me my father said our mission we were on ended tragically when we were “attacked.” Said they got a tip we were crossing the sea to them and took advantage of the information to prevent us from reaching land. That one fighter shot his gun directly at my father, but that I dove in front of him to save him and ended up tumbling overboard in the process. Yeah, right, I’m not clumsy. From there, I guess that gave him time to kill the remaining few, but by that time, I was long gone. Apparently, Chief has been “heartbroken” ever since.

I filled Demetrius in on my plan and that I needed a little bit of his assistance. He agreed, which is how our alliance with the assassin’s guild in Delaware heard a little rumor about my father backing out of their treaty. Like I anticipated, their leader is requesting an in-person meeting with my father to feel him out and demand what the hell is going on. But, of course, knowing how my father operates, he will be requesting his travel by boat to avoid any issues and stay under the radar.

The next day Demetrius confirms when the boat will leave the dock, and I make sure to arrive an hour beforehand to scope it out and welcome myself aboard. I made sure to wear my black custom-designed full body suit with light armor to ensure flexibility, that allows me to blend in the darkness and stay protected. Strapping blades against my thigh, one is tucked into my left boot, and my sword is strapped along my back. Braiding my long hair, even though a few strands manage to escape. Making my way along the dock, scanning the area, I am able to hop up on the deck and back against the side. This boat is huge, more like a ship. I would not expect anything less for my father though, he prefers the finer things. I silently make my way along the walkway on the shiny boat floor; it looks like it was waxed and polished this morning. I memorized the layout Demetrius conjured up for me and crack open the first door I come across and sneak in. Keeping my body ready for attack, I make my footsteps nonexistent as I head down the darkened hallway to my father’s office. The heavy metal door creaks when I push it, the whole room smells faint of his favorite cigars. Bile threatens to crawl up my throat from it; his cigars always made me nauseous. His office is masked in darkness, only the moonlight shining through the small circular window by his desk.

Over an hour passes when I feel the shift of the boat, signaling we are heading towards Delaware. I prop my feet on my father’s desk as I sit in his oversized, cushioned chair. Picking my nails with my sharpened knife as I wait. I can hear the echo of a few voices out on the deck, the water slapping against the side of the ship as we trudge forward.

Another hour passes before footsteps become louder with each second, the door clicks as the handle turns and begins opening. As soon as a foot comes into view, I throw my knife straight into the door frame; it grazes by missing the side of their head by a hair. The man stares at the blade that is embedded in the wood and whips his head to me. I suck in a sharp breath, and my eyes bulge out of my head. “Michael…?”

His dark eyes sear into me with just as much shock. Silence ascends between us for a few moments. “Rosalyn?”

Shaking my head in disbelief at him and to myself, keeping my eyes tracking each of his movements as he closes the door. “Michael. I should have known. What are you doing here? Or should I simply put the next knife straight into your head?”

Taking a step forward, he puts his hands up while his eyes plead for me to listen. “I’m not against you. I infiltrated your guild the week after you went missing. Our leader heard the daughter of New York’s Chief died, leaving your father in a vulnerable state. Our guild took advantage, and I became one of the guards. I met you by coincidence. I was on my way back to New York after making a trip from my home in Cuba, just happened to find that island when I saw the storm brewing. I was sent to kill your father, hence me sneaking in his office.”

Interesting. I know Michael is not lying, no telling signs from his body language or expressions. He must have felt fine telling me his plans to assassinate my father from what I told him a month ago. “My father will die today, but not by you.”

In the next moment that followed, an all too familiar voice carried down the corridor. Michael glanced at me for a second before trusting I will stay true to my word and slid into the shadows aside the bookshelf. As soon as the door opens and my father’s face appears, I leap across the top of his desk and launch myself at him right as he noticed the knife hanging next to the door. Before my father can acknowledge me, I slam the door, knocking him to the floor. He stands up ungracefully, looking at me like I am the grim reaper sent from hell. Maybe I am. He does not need to figure out why I am here. He knows he had a lapse in judgment to believe I indeed died without making sure my heart stopped beating. His hands yank out the metallic pistol with his initials engraved on it, the same gun that he only uses golden bullets with and the weapon he tried to kill me with before. Pathetic.

Like slow motion, I can see his fingers tightening on the trigger. I race towards him in a zig-zag, whipping my sword out. The feel of the smooth handle in my grip ignites a sense of tranquility. The calm before the storm. He blasts a bullet out of the nose of the gun but misses as I spin out high, kicking it midair out of his hand. It slides across the floor with a scraping sound; my father’s eyes follow his trusty weapon. Stupid. I’m the threat. When his heartless eyes connect back with mine, I can see a sliver of fear in them. I bring my arm back, then forcing my fist forward, so it connects to his face. I felt the crack right before he lets out a loud groan. Staggering backward, I kick his chest with my boot, knocking him on his ass. As he meets the floor, I already have my sword against his pulsing neck.

He peers up at me with a big gulp as I put a little extra pressure on the sword. His hands come together as if he were to pray. “Please, Ros, don’t do this. I’m your father.”

I snort while heaving an exasperated sigh. “You never were a father.”

Something cold taps against my hand, and I steadily turn my head to see Michael holding out my father’s most precious gun. A smirk curls the side of my lips as I take it from him. “Kind of symbolic, Father. Don’t ya think?” Before he can say any last words, I cut him off. He does not deserve to have them. Pointing the gun at his head, my voice firm. “Life is unexpected. This is how it has to be. Say hi to mom for me.” Bang.

-A. Stuebbe

Two Paths Collided

(A condensed story of how my husband and I met, but wanted to keep it within a certain word count. Hope you enjoy my internal dialogue with myself and how fate guided our two souls together.)


The heat radiating from the sun was being absorbed into my fair skin as I lay on my towel, digging my feet in the sand and enjoying its velvety caress. I have had this much-needed vacation planned a year in advance, with this being my second time enjoying the beauty of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. But I never anticipated that this trip would tear down the walls protecting my heart.

  Jolting upward, the burning sensation becoming unbearable as I decide to head towards the coastal blue ocean that crests into mini plumes of white as it hits the shore. The heat here is more potent than where I grew up, as I am more accustomed to winter and the mounds of snow that come with it. Each step forms a sensual thrill that runs through the soles of my feet as I walk across the light specs of powder; it has been way too long since I have been to the beach. The beach in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, does not compare. Lake Erie’s sand is rough between my toes, the water is murky, and let’s be honest, the bacteria in it is most likely thicker than a bowl of oatmeal. So, this endless vibrant water is welcomed as I dive in. Pure bliss. That is the only way to describe the feeling of the cool saltwater as my body glides through it under the waves.

Shooting up out of the water, I fling my hair back and look up at the beach where my sister and mother sit. How can people layout for hours? I mean, I can lay out for a little while if I have a good book, but I want to be active and have some fun. I booked this vacation with my older sister, saying she wanted to come, so we split the costs, and then last minute, our mom wanted to join, so here we are on a girl’s trip. The crazy thing, neither of them have ever been to the ocean, so I wanted to make sure they can experience as much as they could for the trip. Unfortunately, today is our last full day to soak it all up.

Leaving behind the alluring water, I jog up to my sister and grab the football I brought. “C’mon, sis, let’s go toss the ball.”

She peeks up at me from under her hand, acting as makeshift sunglasses, blocking the blinding rays. She sighs, knowing she is the only one I can play catch with. “Alright, let’s go.”

We stayed for a bit longer before we decided to head back to our rental for lunch. The rental I chose is my favorite place to stay because it looks like a treehouse, secluded with trees and the marsh in the distance. It has a small door at the bottom that is just big enough for laundry and the metal spiral staircase that leads you to the top, which is the main floor. The shape of the sea loft is a hexagon with floor-to-ceiling windows all around that make you feel like you are outside.

As we settle down for lunch, we brainstorm what we could do the rest of the day. I mindlessly doodle on my glass of ice water along with the condensation that formed. I suggest kayaking since we went jet skiing already and they do not want to go wakeboarding. Boo. Everything we have done is their first for it all, so I have let them decide our course of action. “Neither of you has been kayaking yet, and the best part is we can get out to swim, hook our legs on the front and just lay back in the water and chill.”

My mom spoke up after taking a sip of her water, “Oh no. I do not want to have my whole body in the water with who knows what swimming around. How about we go jet skiing again! Kayaking sounds fun if we stay out of the water, but I would love to go back to that jet ski place if there are any spots still open.”

I look over to my sister, who nods her head in agreement. I shrug and make the call. Luckily, they have an opening at 3:30pm, and I instantly booked us the spot; we just all three need to share one jet ski. Already my mind is wrapping around a brilliant yet mischievous idea.

Pulling up to Sea Monkey Watersports, I park the car and am excited to do this again. I am a thrill-seeker, but as long as I am outside, I am down for whatever. I wore my most secure bathing suit with an orange knotted top and black bottoms, tying my hair up in a tight bun. Long hair being whipped at fast speeds stings when it strikes against the skin and not pleasant for whoever sits behind me. I leave my shoes behind, preferring to just be barefoot on the rocky ground as we make our way over to the shack where we check-in. Only one other family is booked for this group which is surprising since it is tourist season. Being the introvert that I am, I do the typical smile and nod to the other family and then keep to myself. Except my mother is just like my grandmother, who can make friends anywhere and begins introducing herself.

“Hi, guys! I’m Rita, and these are my daughters Cori and Ali. Looks like it will be just our two groups jet skiing today, huh?”

A woman with short black hair, a petite, tall frame from the other family spoke, “Hi there, I’m Connie. This is my daughter Grace and son Casey. Over here is my nephew Chris and Ray, and then this is my mother Jenny and her husband, Frank. Just the boys and I and my two are going out. Where are you guys from?”

“We drove down from Ohio. How about you guys?”

Connie lit up the moment my mom said Ohio. “Really?! What part? I live in San Diego now because my husband is in the Navy, but everyone else here still lives in good ol’ Cleveland, Ohio.”

            That piqued my interest when she said Cleveland. Just enough for me to include myself in the conversation. “Wow, what a small world. We’re from Cleveland too, but outside of it in the Eastlake area.”

            Her eyes widened when I said Eastlake. Before she could speak, her nephew Chris spoke. “What! That is crazy, we are from Mentor. I graduated from Mentor High School last year”.

  Taking this all in for a moment as I let the shock of how insane this is dissolve. What is the coincidence that all of us live 15 minutes from each other and happen to be here on vacation, with the same time slot to go jet skiing at this particular place? If there was ever a moment where my mind was blown, this would be it.

Mindlessly, I looked down and trace a circle in the sand with my foot and brought my hand to rub the back of my head as nerves tingled through my body. Get it together and say something. Stop being awkward. “Cool. I graduated last year too but from North High School. I wonder if we know the same people.” Smooth.

He scrunched his face and pursed his luscious lips to the side in thought. Wait, what… why am I staring at his lips? Quickly shooting my gaze away from his mouth and back up to his eyes before he notices.

I knew the moment he thought of a name to ask by the way he displayed his full smile that could knock you off your feet. “Do you know Nick Romero?”

A small chuckle escaped my mouth in disbelief. “Yeah, I do, actually.”

Then it was his turn to laugh at how unreal this situation is, and the sound did something to me inside. Such a strange feeling since my mind and heart are safely guarded with walls and chains made of steel. Protecting myself from the pain of my past. I kept to myself and told myself a while ago that I do not need a man. I may be young still, but I am confident in who I am, strong from putting myself together when I was left in pieces. Therefore, I stopped “looking” for that special someone a long time ago.

I can feel the pounding of my heart as I truly take this man before me in. Short chestnut hair that is thick and looks like he just ran his hand through it. With his rosy lips that look feather soft and light scruff that seems he may have skipped a day shaving. He is wearing a cut-off that shows off his golden skin, toned arms, and tattoos on his side and bicep. I wonder if he has more ink… Easily I can see that he is active and in shape, the thought making my cheeks flush. But what really captures me are his searing green eyes. The sun is making them glisten, almost looking like sea glass as he holds my gaze, making it feel as if he can see every part of who I am.

Just now do I realize that he is taking me in, and man, do I wish I did not look like a beach bum. To also make matters worse, my hair is wrapped in such a tight bun on top of my head, making me look like Miss Trunchbull from the movie Matilda. Internally cursing at myself and the universe, that this is how I look in front of the first guy who caught my attention.

All conversations came to a stop when it was time to head out on the water. My mom and sister wanted me to be the first to drive the jet ski since part of it are following the guides out to where we can let loose. Instantly my body thrums with delight as my fingers curl around the level of the throttle. Before we know it, we take off soaring across the glimmering water that is twinkling under the sunlight. Racing through the wind and splitting the salty air like the red sea. Both my mom and sister have not been swimming in the ocean. The deepest they went was up to their knees. Well, that is about to change. My sly plan is to fling them off or tip the jet ski enough to make them fall in. What I did not anticipate is tipping the jet ski so intensely while zooming around to make a donut that not only did all three of us tumble ungracefully into the water, but the whole jet ski flipped upside down.

Our heads popped out of the water, making us look like a game of “Pop goes the weasel.” Right at that moment, awareness tingled down my spine as I spun around to find Chris racing past on his jet ski while giving us a thumbs up. I felt my face heating from him witnessing that whole show. Face, meet palm. I swear, the universe is against me today, and I damn well want to know why. But I turned to my mom and sister to see wide eyes and huge smiles directed towards me. Silence ascended between us before we all bobbled around in the waves erupting in a pit of laughter.

My muscles ached with the good kind of pain as we made our way back to the car. Chris had asked my last name before we departed, which makes me buzz with nervous excitement? Is he actually interested in me? Despite being a complete and utter hot mess? Nah.

The voice of my mom startling me as she draws me out of my internal mumbling. She nudged my shoulder,  “He was CUTEEE! You should have got his number!”

Sighing, I explain my stubborn thought process. “Mom, I’m not going to ask for his number. If he is interested, he will find a way to contact me.”

She rolled her eyes but seemed satisfied with my answer as we were driving away from the parking lot towards the main road. Casually waiting to find that perfect opening to join the other charade of cars, my phone dings. Glancing down at the screen, I freeze. All the airlocks up in my lungs, and my mind cannot seem to process what I am seeing. No. No way. I must be hallucinating. This guy searched for me and requested me on Facebook. We have not even left the parking lot yet, and already he hunted me down.

Humorously feeling a little smug, I swivel in my seat to face my mom. I’m displaying a little comedic smirk to play the part while raising my eyebrows up and down in a lazy manner. “See. If he is interested, he will find a way.”

I showed her my phone, and her eyebrows shot to the top of her head. My sister leaned between the front seats to take a peak, and her jaw dropped—all of us staring dumbfounded at my phone before giggling as we became speechless. 

The whole way back to our rental, my mind was churning with uncertainty. Am I ready to rip open my scars if the opportunity arises? To set free the pain coursing through my veins from months of abuse from the one who had shattered me to the core? Constant thoughts course through my psyche, wondering why I felt such a strong pull towards this man I hardly know. My past makes me want to jump ship and continue to sail alone out to sea, but my soul seems to have ignited the slightest flicker of a spark. Anchoring the boat and halting the path I carved for myself.

We ate dinner not long after we settled back down into the rental, and the remaining hours of the day and our time on vacation are ticking away. The only thing my sister and mom want to do is pack the rest of the evening and relax on the couch, but that is the last thing I want to do. A light bulb went off in my head, and an unexpected idea of messaging Chris shot through my brain. Do I take that step and make the first move? Do I want to? Before I can go back into a downward spiral, I already pressed accept and sent him a message. Staring at my phone as if I can will his reply to appear, not blinking. Not even a minute goes by before my phone dings with a notification from him. Holy shit. Gulping down air, I did not know I needed from unintentionally holding my breath. Daring to do something I have never done, I ask him out to see if he can hang tonight since I will be gone tomorrow. To my utter surprise, he says yes.

Wiping my clammy palms on my shorts as I pull up to his timeshare in my sisters’ car, waiting for him to approach. I offered to pick him up since I had a vehicle we could use at the ready, and now my heart is beating so fast I feel like it will run out of my chest. As I try to slow my breathing down, I glance across the road, and there he is. Oh, God. He’s wearing a maroon V-neck shirt with dark faded jeans, grey high-tops, and all of it conforming to his body, making him look like trouble with a capital T.  I’m fucked. What did I just get myself into? He slides into the passenger side, and his cologne hits me and floats around my senses. Sin. If sin and man could be a smell, this would be it. Creating butterflies fluttering in my stomach and forming a need to lean towards him, until his scent is cemented into my being.

My voice is raspy when I go to say hello, forcing me to clear my throat. Get it together. Praying Chris does not take notice of my cheeks which I am sure are flaming from ogling him. “H-hi.” Wow. Smooth Ali. I meet his gaze as I greet him.

His eyes lift at the corners as he gives me his heart throbbing smile. “Hey.”

The more we talk to each other, the less nervous I feel. My breathing soothes out, the tingles coursing through my body before as nerves have now turned into excitement. His voice vibrates through my core, and it calms me. What is it about him that has me drawing to him like a moth to a flame?

            We chose to walk the beach, and I am unsure how far we walked along the shore, shoes in my hand and sand between my toes. The water floating up with each wave, splashing our feet, the sun is setting, creating a reflective sheen on the wet sand. I keep greedily inhaling the fresh sea air as if I can engrave it to my memory. Side by side, we absorb the beauty of our moment in time as we talk about everything. For once, I do not feel shy and awkward. The way he looks at me makes me feel like the only one on the beach with him, as if the rest of the world does not exist. He is the fire to my ice, melting away fears of showing someone my true self. I find myself not wanting this moment to end.

            The sun disappeared as the sky turns an inky black, with the moon illuminating a dim glow all around. We decide to head back for the night with me having to be up early for the drive home and his grandma wanting him to head back. Once again, I find myself with sweaty palms and a fluttering heart as I park in front of his building. We both are quiet as we smile at one another, unsure of how to end the evening.

Before I can say a word, his smile drops, and his eyes form a blazing trail to my lips. “Can I kiss you?”

When I suck in a quick breath, my lips part when all I can do is nod as my eyes meet his. He leans towards me ever so slowly as a small smile tugs on his lips. His scent once again swirls around me, making my head buzz with pleasure. Bringing his warm hand to the side of my face that sparks goosebumps along my skin and pulls me towards him. Gently, I feel the soft brush of his lips on mine, pressing against me creating a tremor through my body. This kiss was patient but sure, as it broke the dam safeguarding my heart; the flow of emotions erupted and began swimming around and making me want to cling to him. The kiss was quick and left me wanting, as I try to keep myself steady. We both say goodnight, and I watch him walk to his door until he completely disappears. 

            Two weeks later, I buzz around my house and anxious as I keep peeking quick glances out the window. Since coming home from vacation, Chris and I have kept in touch and message each other every day. He traveled home a few days ago, and today is the day he asked if he could see me. I see a black car pull up along the curb, and as if in slow motion, I watch him get out to face my house. Don’t rush out there. That will make you look like you were staring out the window the whole time, even though I was… I don’t want him to know that. I give myself a minute as I see him approaching and then open the door. We both stop our movements as our eyes meet, gazes locked. At that moment, it felt as if our souls were attached to a magnetic pull, forcing us to become one. Call me crazy, but the universe may have collided me into the path of my twin flame.

-A. Stuebbe

The Red Witch

The light would fade in an hour, and darkness will take over the forest. I could see my breath and feel the crisp, cold air straight to my bones. The breeze’s bitterness made my body feel stiff and my muscles burned with every step I took, but now I have slowly started feeling numb. My threadbare clothing underneath my cloak does nothing against the frigid air. Hunger was consuming my every thought, and I felt my body struggling to keep pushing forward as exhaustion was slowly creeping in. I have been traveling since early this morning and am thankful that the snow has not started to fall yet. Winter is close to arrival, making my task at survival that much harder.

            Deciding I need to rest and replenish some energy, I gathered up some wood for a fire and will try to shut my eyes for a few hours. I hated not being aware of my surroundings when I had to sleep; it makes me an easy target to the hunters who have been after me since I was young. Prior to starting the fire, I needed to hunt before the sun completely vanishes from the sky. Retrieving my bow and arrow, my limbs protesting as I began my search, hoping this wouldn’t be another fruitless hunt like yesterday. The animals have been scarce since snow is almost here. All I have left in my bag is the end of a stale loaf of bread.

            Twigs and leaves crunch underfoot as I slowly scoured the forest. Crouching beside a tree, trying to ease my breathing, and straining to listen for any hint of game passing by. Readying my bow as slight movement rustled the bush ahead. Holding my breath, my stomach aching for food, a rabbit appeared in my line of sight. I needed to be as efficient and silent as can be. I drew my bow back, feeling the smooth wood against my cheek, readying my aim. I was reasonably good with a bow, I learned when I was young since it was my primary way of filling my hunger, aside from the minor stealing I have had to do. Drawing my bow back a little farther, I took my shot. Letting the arrow race towards its intended target and I would have hit my mark, but something soared overhead that startled what would have been my supper.

            Glancing upward to where the moonlight is slowly filtering through the trees, searching for anything overhead. The forest around me became eerily quiet; the only sound I could hear was my pounding heart and the faintest whirl of the wind brushing the leaves. The hair on the back of my neck prickled, my body and mind frozen but alert. Substantial black wings zoomed above the trees as quick as lightning. Panic seized me, clutching my bow and arrow as I took off through the woods. The will to live overpowered my body, demanding me to rest. Racing between trees, dodging branches, and leaping over roots, my lungs stinging from the exertion. Before I could form my next move, pain blasted me in the back of my head, and everything went black.

The light started filtering in as I began to peel my eyes open. My head pounding as I took in my surroundings. The contrast from the vast darkness that overtook me to the blinding light caused me to squint. How long have I been out? Where am I? Fear gripped me as reality caught up to me. My vision blurred for a minute before my eyes could fully adjust. The room was cold and musty; the stench of urine and something rotten instantly made me nauseous. The floors were damp, the old tattered brick walls were stained with dry blood. Probably from the previous victims that were captured. With force, the truth settled in my chest as if it was being crushed by a stone; they caught me. Shit.

            I have been hunted my whole life by the demons, and I still have yet to figure out why. I am just an orphaned human girl; my parents died in a house fire when I was twelve and have been on my own for 10 years. Unable to settle anywhere for long, I have not been able to make friends either, especially the part of putting them in danger. Every few months, I have to find a new location to lay low for a while. Why do the immortals want me? I have no ties to the supernatural realm. Looks like my luck has run out. Escaping wasn’t on my side this time. I didn’t even get a fighting chance; they knew my location earlier than expected and ambushed me. Now I am chained in some wretched cell, the sharp cuffs digging into my skin. I stalked up towards the thick iron bars peering down the hall. A clinking sound snapped my attention to the cell adjacent to me, and I sucked in a breath. Another girl who looked a little younger than me stared at me with wide eyes, curled up in the corner. Her clothes were torn and covered in filth, her skin pale, and her body looked haggard from whatever suffering she has endured. Her brown hair is dull, cheeks sunken in, and dark circles under her fear-filled eyes.

            Carefully I lowered myself to her level to try and get some answers from her. “Where are we?” She stayed silent; maybe she was mute or too scared to simply talk. I crossed my legs on the floor and tried again. “My name is Natalia; what is yours?” She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She swiftly glanced around and whispered so soft that if I wasn’t so focused on her, I would have missed it. “Elise.”

Phew. Okay, not mute. I tried again. “Are you able to tell me where we are exactly?”

She double-checked to make sure we were alone again before she quietly spoke. “In the realm of the underworld. The Dark King’s castle.”

My jaw hit the floor … did she just say the underworld and Dark King?! What the hell would he want me for? I have done nothing to him! Putting my fear and confusion aside, I wondered why Elise was here. “Were you hunted down too?”

She tilted her head slightly, turning over what I just asked. “No … my mother could not pay off her debt, so he took me as a prisoner in exchange. Uhm, did you say hunted?”

I regarded her curiosity that hung onto her question, but before I could say another word, footsteps sounded down the hall. I took a quick glance at her and watched her cower closer to her corner. Dragging her knees to her chest and tucking her chin down. I was terrified and lost, but I did not want to show an ounce of fear. I needed to shove that down right now and put on a strong front.

Three mountainous-sized men appeared in front of my cell. Two of them looked like pure blood demons with their grayish skin, horns, bat-like wings, and pale eyes. Their stare felt like they could see into my soul, causing me to want to shrink back. The third one was slightly different looking; maybe he was half-demon? His wings were black but with soft, beautiful feathers, no horns, golden skin, and searing green eyes. His eyes widened when he noticed me, but just as fast, his eyes hardened again.

The one pure-blooded demon banged on the iron bars with the handle of his sword. “Well, well, aren’t you a pretty little witch.” He spat, seeming intrigued and disgusted at the same time. Wait… witch? They definitely got the wrong girl. I gave him no reaction, just a cold hard stare. Clenching my fist to help me focus on not making the wrong move. The demon unlocked my cell, grabbed my chains, and yanked me across the floor to him. My knees banged on the ground and I landed on my side. He leaned over, getting in my face, “Let’s have some fun with this witchling, shall we?” He went to kick me in the ribs, but before the blow could land on me, he was thrown back into the wall. The third demon, who looked different, glared at his companion.

“NO harm is to come to her, Amon! Those were direct orders from the Dark King.” This man was seething and was about one second away from ripping someone’s head off. He stalked towards the demon, who apparently is Amon, and grabbed him by the front of his armored tunic. “Get out of my sight! Both of you! Let me deal with the witch.” The two demons bared their teeth but followed his orders, nonetheless.

Once they were gone, the half-demon crouched down next to me, offering a hand. I shoved his hand away out of anger and got up on my own. When I looked up at him, it seemed like there was concern in his eyes. He stood up and folded his arms in front of his chest. “I’m Damien and am on your side” Hold up… what the heck?!

“What side?! You DEMONS have the wrong girl! I’m human, not a witch! Is this why you have been hunting me? Because your “Dark King” thinks I’m someone else?!” I was fuming, and from all the confusion, lack of food, and just overall being kidnapped, I took it out on him. I am pissed.

He took a deep breath in and sighed. “Look, Natalia, I can’t get into all the details now, but I am here to help you escape. I have been here for years undercover in case you were brought in so I could make sure the Dark King doesn’t get his hands on you.” I stared at him in shock. Before I could say a word, he continued. “To be blunt, you are a witch who was hidden amongst the humans. The Dark King wants to drain you of your powers to have them for himself and become even more powerful. We can’t let that happen; I need to get you out of here. I can explain the rest once you are safe again.”

I eyed him suspiciously, not sure if I can trust him. But what other option do I really have? I need to get out of here, and then I’ll process everything he just told me; it’s too much right now. I peered over at Elise. “Okay, but I won’t leave unless Elise comes with us.” He looked confused and jerked his head towards her cell. He sighed, closed his eyes, and swiped his hand down his face. Dragging his stare back to me. “Fine. But she will need to do what I say and keep her mouth shut. This is already risky enough. I will be back at nightfall.”

By: A.Stuebbe

Crisis/Resolution Analysis: “The Great Silence” By: Ted Chiang

This story is narrated by a parrot, which I found oddly unique and definitely not something I would normally read. Overall, Chiang was able provide big ideas and direct questions. “Why aren’t they interested in listening to our voices?” and “Aren’t we exactly what the humans are looking for?” (Chiang, 231). Chiang definitely pulls his audience in, and at times I felt like what I was reading was real. As if, this was non-fiction. A way for Chiang to open our eyes and put those thoughts/ideas into our heads. Maybe even wanting us question our own thinking? The story is delivered in sections and gives with it different mysteries that in the end, all combine as a whole. In the beginning sections, an example about the African grey, Alex is explained about how this parrot demonstrated to humans how parrots can understand concepts; such as shapes and colors. As well as a parrot’s unique contact call, how they can learn vocally, and empathizes with humans for assuming we weren’t “bright” from not recognizing a parrots intelligence right away. Next, Chiang dives into Hindu and the parrot describes the Hindu concept “the universe was created with the sound “om””. (Chiang, 235). We learn that parrots have their own myths that are at risk of dying with them, even though we are never actually told what that is exactly. But… maybe that’s the point? I am not sure if I am responding to this part correctly, since this story is different from the typical plot arc. 

As for the resolution, I feel there is no straight to the point conclusion. Aside from the parrot accepting their fate, and the upsetting realization that it cannot be changed. Not placing blame for humans being the reason for their extinction, “They just weren’t paying attention.” (Chiang, 235). The ending is not a happy one, but simply a message the parrot left with us that amplifies the sadness of the undeniable truth. Repeating what Alex, the African grey said to the researcher right before the parrot’s death, ‘You be good. I love you.” (Chiang, 236). 

But… What does “You be good. I love you.” (Chiang, 236) reveal? What does it mean?

I feel that could be the parrot barring farewell, with forgiveness. Repeating the same mantra as Alex. Sending the message out there for us to hopefully hear them. Since mankind is so focused on seeing what else is out there, instead of seeing what is right in front of us. Question is, how will we be able to forgive and love ourself? 

By: A.Stuebbe

Ted Chiang. Exhalation : Stories. Vintage, 2019. EBSCOhost,

Style Analysis: “The Black Cat” By: Edgar Allen Poe

What in the…

Alright, I was at a loss for words through most of the story and at the end I fist-bumped the air like nobody’s business. Like holy freaking crap, the emotions Poe evoked from me were irrevocably insane. My jaw fell straight to the floor when he axed his wife… like what in the heck?! Talk about an escalated plot twist! The tone I got from this story is ironic. While the narrator is trying to convince the audience that he is sane, all the while going into detail about his horrific behavior. In the beginning he states “From infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition” (Poe).  Ironic, right? He is the COMPLETE opposite of what he is telling us.  All of the grim events that he inflicted, like stabbing the eye of his cat and then killing it and murdering his wife; he then went on with casual indifference. Acting with out a care and showing no remorse, even as he carefully and meticulously tombs his wife’s body in the wall. By the way… I noticed that after he murdered HIS WIFE, he then refers to her as “the corpse” or “it”. As if she never was and held no importance to him. The ending is also ironic, because the narrator is overly confident with his “burying the wife” skills. Tapping on the wall where his wife resides, unbeknownst that the cat (beast) he so dreadfully despises will meow back and cause his evil deed to be revealed. 

The mood is pretty on point, going with ominous and horrific. Poe provides dark language throughout the story, and even named the cat ‘Pluto” which means roman God of the Underworld. I mean, that right there is gothic and dark. There is superstition with the black cat and the house fire, providing symbolism with the wall left standing with a mark that looks like Pluto when he was hung. The symbol being revenge. Along with superstition, we were then introduced to another cat who resembles Pluto. It is obvious this is horror fiction, because of the narrators cruel intentions and murderous crimes. I even felt half-crazed just reading this, tapping into the mind of an unstable, violent individual. 

Here I just wanted to drop a few examples of figurative language I found in the text. Yes, I know there is more. For this though, I just wanted to keep it short and sweet.

 SIMILE – “But my disease grew upon me — for what disease is like alcohol!” (Poe). Obviously comparing alcohol to a disease, amplifying the negative effects of alcohol. Perhaps Poe has experienced the ill effect of alcohol firsthand, since the narrator in the story is consumed by it from beginning to end. 

HYPERBOLE – “The fury of a demon instantly possessed me.” (Poe). Clearly exaggerated, but another way to show his violent side from his indulgence of alcohol. Showing us his short fuse and bad temper, allowing his rage to take over. A way to let the audience know that he was so angry, he was seeing red. 

PERSONIFICATION – “I was aroused from sleep by the cry of fire.” (Poe). Fires do not not literally cry, but it provides us a way to envision the sound that woke him up. Giving sound effects to create the atmosphere being told. 

By: A.Stuebbe

Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Black Cat”. 1845.

Setting Analysis: “A Rose For Emily” By: William Faulkner

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner. This story intrigued me with the non-traditional theme, the mystery and gothic elements to it. I would say the movement for this story is Modernism, but also could be Naturalism. For modernism, noting from the time stamp of when it first appeared in 1930, but also because it portrays outside of normal tradition. Provides the readers with a sense of disorientation from Emily and the confusion throughout the town. This was also post Civil War. Faulkner had two of the main character embody characteristics of the decades-old feud. Emily portrayed as the “South” and Homer portrayed as the “North”.  As another thought, this could be paired into Naturalism as well… that era was diving into psychology, human behaviors and their outcomes.  The story begins in the year of 1894 in the beginning of the flashback. 

What year is it?

  • This is not a set in stone answer since it spans throughout Emily’s life. The story provides a flashback at the year of 1894 when she was relieved from paying taxes. We can surmise that the bulk of the story takes places the decade and few that follow it. Ending when she died at the age of 74.

What Country and region does it take place in? 

  • The story takes place in America, with the fictional city of Jefferson, Mississippi in the southern county of Yoknapatawpha. 

What is the political climate?

  • The town believes in the hierarchy that Emily’s family represents. Emily has been isolated due to the patriarchy from her father, when she has her breakdown to her illness; her money and social standing are what protects her. When Emily falls in love with Homer, the town cannot seem to understand or accept how she can be with someone that is a lower class northerner. 
  • This is also based Post Civil War from when there used to be slaves, but the African Americans are still not being seen as equals.

What is the culture like?

  • The era from the story is very different from our present day. So, what would be acceptable now, would be frowned upon back then. This story follows southern tradition and societal rules. Portraying the victorian era with women and the gossip that spread from Emily’s lack of husband and children. Back then, women were to be married in their 20s and already start to have kids. Emily being in her 30s went against the “established” tradition. I believe Faulkner used this perspective of Emily as a way to show that rules can be broken and that she embodies “change” in a sense. 

What specific things are apart of the surroundings?

  • Her house was stated that it is intricately decorated with cupolas, spires, and scrolled balconies, has fallen out of date and into disrepair. Also, the fact that it used to be white, suggesting the house has yellowed with age and that the paint has chipped to reveal the material underneath. 
  • The parlor: so old it “smelled of dust and disused” (Faulkner) and also “was furnished in heavy leather furniture” (Faulkner). 
  • When Faulkner mentioned the men sprinkling lime around her property to get rid of the bad smell.
  • “As they crossed the lawn, a window that had been darkness was lighted and Miss Emily sat in it, the light behind her, and her upright torso motionless as that of an idol.” (Faulkner). 

By: A.Stuebbe

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily”. New York. The Forum. 1930.

A piece of me…

*This is a creative non-fiction story that is based on my own personal past. A journey that shaped who I am today, and impacted my view on life. After years of keeping my inner thoughts to myself, I feel a sense of relief to write it down and put it out there for you to read.*

Normal Is Overrated

Lying in my twin-sized bed, staring up at the old faded stars stuck on the ceiling. At some point over the years, they stopped glowing, and I have been too dang lazy to take them down. It’s dark now. Leaving my window open to feel the crisp fall breeze filter inside and letting my thoughts drift with it. Four years. That is how long I have been imprisoned in this unknown agony. Trapped in my own body, my personal cage. My soul is wild and unbound, craving to do everything my body is denying. Forcefully squeezing my eyes shut, I clutch the downy blanket underneath me as I fist my hands. Not fair. This anger and frustration are pushing me to the edge of being defeated. Wanting to let myself succumb to the sadness within. I’m only 13 and 9 when this all began. Four long years of numerous doctors, tests, physical therapy. All were stating that there is nothing they can do, possibly arthritis or something I will outgrow. But this pain abusing my hips feels like a knife is slashing through my joints relentlessly. Depriving me of running, walking with being forced to limp, and even hindering me from putting on my own damn socks. Helpless. My eyes burn as a single tear wanders down my cheek as I drift off to sleep. Mentally preparing myself for another doctor’s appointment tomorrow and seeing no hope in sight.

            The following day, I was sitting in University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. Another waiting room in a different hospital, but they all began to look the same. The warn leather seat I’m sitting in does nothing for comfort. I start mindlessly scraping my nail over the rough edges of a tear in the cushion while silently watching people shuffle around the halls. My mom sits impatiently next to me as we wait to be called back for my MRI the doctor requested before meeting him. Checking in and answering the nurse’s questions feel robotic to me now. Time dragged on before we were called back. The MRI tech informed me that I would be receiving a contrast dye intravenously before the scan begins. The pinch from the needle was minor, and I could feel the dye’s chilled liquid creep through my veins. A sudden rush of metal and a tang of bitterness overflowed my taste buds. The scan was almost tranquil, even if this platform I lay on is unwelcomely cold. Goosebumps raised on my arms as a shiver swept over me. Closing my eyes, enjoying the steady hum of the machine and savoring this unperturbed moment.

An hour later, the nurse sent me to the doctor’s room to wait. I figured I should try to make myself comfortable in this faded brown suede chair since it will be awhile. My mom next to me began flicking her nails. Ugh. The sound of it makes me cringe. Every. Single. Time. Before I tell her to stop, she starts to enlighten me about what she feels might be “wrong with me” from her latest search on Google. My mother thinks Google knows all and can “cure” me. Restraining from rolling my eyes, I ignore her and glance around the room. Just another white, sterile, and impersonal space that smells like disinfectant. My chest begins to feel tight, but why? I have no hope left to give. Maybe it’s nerves or the depressing expectation of another dead end. Amid my thoughts, a knock sounded right before the door edged open. The doctor ushered himself inside, his face brightening offering us a cheerful smile causing the corners of his eyes to wrinkle. He reached out his hand to introduce himself.

“Hi, I’m Dr. Hashkis. So nice to meet you!”. He beamed, gently shaking my hand.

            I looked up hesitantly as I shook his rough, calloused hand. “Hi… Ali. But you probably already knew that.”

            He nodded in agreement. Then proceeded to introduce himself to my mom. I braced myself for what he was going to say next. I could see his eyes vaguely dim as he crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the counter. His smile softened as he looked at me. The pounding of my heart began to quicken. My breath caught when he started to speak.

“The contrast dye that was administered for your MRI scan allowed me to see a more in-depth view compared to a regular scan. What I found was cysts on your hips that are slowly causing those joints to deteriorate. In simpler terms, your body is attacking itself.”

            I think I blacked out. Not sure if I was still breathing. Shell-shocked. Dr. Hashkis noticed my distress and continued speaking before I could ask what all this meant.

            He uncrossed his arms, folding his hands in front of him—sympathy in his eyes. “I need to be blunt on this, and I apologize. Your diagnosis is called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which is an autoimmune disease. Your case is rare since, typically, this is most common in someone much older. Then, add that there is no family history with this disease that you are aware of. Unfortunately, there is no cure. There are treatments, though. You are so young, and I am afraid if you do not start treatment… you will need a hip replacement by the time you turn 20.”

            My eyes were burning from the tears that I struggled to hold in. This doctor just laid it all out there. My chest felt like it was just ripped open. My mom began rubbing my back, asking about the treatments, while I retreated to my internal chaos.

            The doctor turned those empathetic eyes back on me. “I want to start treatment today. This will be in the form of injections twice a week, and we can provide your first one here to show you. The shots will need to be administered behind your arms, stomach, or the top of your thighs. The medicine will help, though, significantly.”

            No words left my mouth; I just nodded and let my mom discuss the rest of the details. Well… I got my answer I so desperately wanted. Was I ready to face it? Do I have a choice? No. No choice. I am being forced to dive headfirst before I can even grasp my new reality. NOT CURABLE. Those words constantly cycling in my head. Devastation. Confusion. WHY ME?! I should be thankful the doctor found the reason for my pain. But, why do I feel so frustrated towards him? How awful can I be to be mad at the one person who provided an answer? Deep down, I knew why… it was an answer I did not want to hear. My head dropped down, my eyes downcast, my hair falling over my shoulders, and the tears that threatened to fall finally let loose. Each drop trailed down my face, speckling my denim jeans. I felt broken.

            That night I holed myself in my room, keeping the lights off and drowning in my own misery. My mother now looked at me with pity, as did the rest of my family. I just want to be “normal” like the other kids. Clenching my teeth together, I tucked myself deep in my closet, pressing my face to my pillow, and screamed my bloody heart out. My throat ached as I crawled back in bed. An unforgiving pounding started intruding my head. No more tears would fall tonight as I welcomed the blackness that swept over me, allowing me to escape this harsh truth that was now my life.

            I’m ashamed of myself for the maddening thoughts I have, even though a month has passed. Staring at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, taking in the bruises that marred my body. The injection sights stayed permanently sore each week. This darkness that invades my thoughts is not who I am—becoming infuriated with myself. Why am I wallowing around when so many others have it worse? The reality of that epiphany slapped me across the face. Dragging my gaze to my eyes, I stared directly at myself—determination washing over me.

            A few months went by, and the pain was subsiding. I could run again. The door to my personal cage tore open. I ran and never stopped. I was reveling in the feeling of the wind brushing through my hair and against my face. The sound of my feet pounding on the concrete, pushing my legs as fast as they would allow. Arms pumping and lungs burning, I felt free.

            With this new form of freedom, I joined the track and cross-country team in 8th grade and all through high school. I pushed my body to the limit every practice. I still felt that my disease was on display as if everyone could tell I was not “normal.” I kept my condition a secret from even my close friends. Afraid they would see me different, with pity-filled eyes.

            I refused to feel helpless again, and a fire developed to keep my body strong. Punishing and demanding myself to exert more strength, I began improving. Finishing each race with a faster time. Reciting the well-known phrase “pain is weakness leaving the body.” I willed that to be accurate and exhausted myself each day, filling my need to do better.

*15 Years Later *

Sitting on the white wood bench, looking out at the crystal blue water of the ocean. The salty breeze billowing around me, seagulls soaring overhead, thinking back to when my life changed. My lips curved upward, wishing I could tell that little girl back then that everything will be okay. I began writing in my journal, becoming aware of the hardship I had to work through; that’s what made me stronger. The battle I had to face mentally in the past had fueled my will—a will to overcome those struggles. I’m proud that I made my body strong because at 28 years old, I still have not needed a hip replacement. My recent MRI scan showed no further damage inflicted on my hips. A sense of calm washed over me, taking a deep breath and exhaling. I looked up at the cloudless sky and huffed a laugh. Remembering that I just wanted to be “normal.” Smiling to myself, I knew with absolute clarity that normal is overrated.

By: A.Stuebbe