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“Ladies and gentleman, from District Four, please welcome Finnick Odair!” Caesar Flickerman’s voice boomed. The audience erupted into applause as Finnick came onto the stage, the bright lights illuminating his face and causing him to squint slightly. When he saw everyone staring at him expectantly, he gave them all a bright grin.

“Mr Odair, we are so glad to have you here tonight. So tell me, what was it like to leave behind your family in District Four. It was hard, I imagine.”

He nodded in response. “It was. I only hope that I’ll get to see them again.”

There was a collection of ‘aahs’ from the audience and Caesar nodded towards them. “And not just family, I hear there’s a special someone as well. Y/N?”

Finnick gave him a look of surprise and confusion. “Y/N? They’re my friend. I mean they’re special, of course, but not in that way.”

“Of course. So, they’re your friend.”

“They’re my best friend. Actually, more like a sibling. Been around for longer than I can remember.”

"So you hope to get back home and see them again?”

“Absolutely”


*Not my gif

Poetical Essay at the End of the World by Annie Cardi

The first thing we lost was power. Within a few days, electrical grids were down—no one to run the power plants. My phone was already almost dead from trying to call Mom over and over, so I tossed it and to be honest, I started crying when I turned away from it. I expected some people to roll their eyes at me—some teen girl crying over her dead cell, but I thought of all those photos and texts I’d never see again. Those voicemails from Mom I barely listed to because I thought how could I spend a whole three minutes listening to her talk when she could just text me what she wanted.

No one made fun of me, though, if they saw me crying. Small blessing.

We talk about the small things we miss—coffee and cars and slippers and movie theater popcorn and Youtube and chocolate cake and concerts and on and on and on. We talk about them like we’re on some wilderness vacation and will be back to all the comforts of home soon enough. Like they’re only gone for a little while and might come back again someday.

They might. Maybe.

No one talks about the people we miss. Once the sickness spread in the cities, and the bodies started walking, the ones of us who were left and who got out started gathering. Anytime you found someone who was scrambling toward you, shouting, “Help, help, please!” you brought them with you.

But it’s been over a month and there are fewer and fewer people we find. It’s like we all keep thinking maybe they’re still out there and will meet us at a crossroads any day now. Our eyes are always scanning the landscape, and not just for the dead. But no one says who they’re looking for. We are all Eurydice, afraid to turn back for fear of losing everything.

So we keep marching forward, trying to find other people, other resources. We break into houses, into sheds, into stores. We take food and clothes and medical supplies and anything that could be a weapon. Before the sickness, I never broke any laws, not even stealing a lip gloss when my friends did. I said as much the first time we broke into a home, and one of the others, an older woman with the sinewy limbs of a runner, laughed. “It’s the end of the world, kid,” she said. “Anything’s possible.”

The home was just as the owners’ left it—before they ran or died. There was a pile of laundry in a basket, neatly folded. Two of the others sorted through it for anything we could use. I wandered by the bookshelves, tilting my head to scan the titles.

“Take a few,” one of the others said when we saw me by the books. “We can use them for kindling.”

I put a few in the my bag, probably more than was safe to carry. Before we tore any pages out, I read every word.

Whenever we need to make a fire, I try to memorize what I can, because it’s hard to tell when we might come across more books, or if one day all the books will be gone.

Ms. Simpson, fifth grade teacher, was big on memorization. She had us memorize a different poem every month. “You’ll never be bored if you memorize poetry.” My friends all groaned and talked about how Ms. Simpson was the worst, but I stood in front of my bedroom mirror, repeating the words over and over until I knew them by heart:

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We, the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

I wonder if Ms. Simpson is somewhere now, walking with the living and reciting poetry.

Sometimes I see the dead walking in the distance and I wonder why we keep huddled together, stealing what we can and talking about the things we miss, because there might never be any more coffee or slippers or concerts or books.

But sometimes I look up at night and see the stars—so many of them, more than you could hope to see before. I know how far apart they are, how far from them we are, but there are so many it seems like the sky is crowded with them. They’re all so far apart but ages and ages ago people looked up and drew lines between stars and told stories about how the stars got that way.

It doesn’t bring back coffee or slippers or concerts or people we lost, but for a moment it’s beautiful.

I’m still walking; I am writing a poem in my head.

Gradually, I’m forced to accept who I am. A badly burned girl with no wings. And no fire. And no sister.

SHATTERED, by Ashley Herring Blake

Usually, we dance to forget, but tonight feels different. Tonight, we move our bodies through the full moon’s light to remember. Maybe it’s because our father finally drew blood, the evidence a crimson smear across Naomi’s cheek. Maybe it’s because when Mama turned her face away while he raged, I saw the ghost of the girl she used to be and more and more lately, my body has started to feel transparent. Too light, too easily tossed aside.

The same desperate fire lifts Elisa’s arms over her head, her face still tear-damp and her feet bare. Naomi’s fingers fly over the church’s old piano, delicate and elegant but fierce, like she’s pulling her own marrow from the keys and placing it back in her bones.

Naomi’s the youngest, but of the three of us, she’s the one who stands the tallest, her shoulders always rolled back and ready for a fight. Elisa, the eldest, is quiet and thoughtful, her mind always full of strategy, a way out that never comes.

I’m the girl in the middle, the one who spends months squirreling away granola bars and little cups of applesauce and bottles of water under our bed for when our father locks us inside, spewing hate and corrections on the other side of the door.

Good girls don’t talk back to their fathers, Naomi, you little slut.

Good girls don’t smile at boys, Astrid, you little slut.

Good girls don’t cry when they’re being reprimanded, Elisa, you little slut.

Good girls don’t. Good girls don’t. Good girls don’t.

Those words are a constant presence in our house, a member of the family that slips into each of our beds in turn, trying to fuse with our skin. They even creep between Mama’s sheets, clinging to her nightdress and wrapping around her shoulders. She never does anything to slough them off. They drag her farther and farther down, a chain on her ankles and wrists until she barely has any words of her own anymore.

The first night she turned away while our father pointed his thick finger in my face and ripped the hem of the dress I’d spent months babysitting the Briley twins to afford, telling me Good girls don’t wear dresses that short, you little slut, that was the night I knew.

She’d given up.

But I hadn’t.

I couldn’t.

Later that night, I gripped my sisters’ hands as we climbed out the window of our tiny locked bedroom, our feet bare in the moon-silvered grass, our breaths terrified but alive in our throats.

“Where are we going?” Naomi asked.

“Another world,” I said.

This was a silly thing to say, but it made sense to us. Naomi ran faster and Elisa squeezed my fingers, the possibly of something else a solid heartbeat in our chests. We ran through the woods, the river was a rolling force next to us that seemed to spur us on.

Go. Flee. Run. Fly.

We ran and ran and I didn’t know where we were going until I saw it.

The abandoned church was about a mile from our house, tucked in between the pines and beeches like a forgotten secret. It was once a vibrant Baptist water cooler, its Sundays and Wednesdays filled with organ music and clapping and the quiet hush of prayer. At least that’s what Mama says. The pews in that church haven’t been filled in years, abandoned for flashier services, lights and drums and stages.

I pulled my sisters up the rickety front steps and by some midnight miracle, the padlock was rusty enough that it broke right off in my hands. Inside, the once-red-now-pink carpet was covered with twigs and dead leaves and raccoon poop.

But we didn’t mind. The room was alight. The full moon streamed in through the stained glass windows, spilling red and blue and green and gold over the pulpit and pews and floor. Naomi headed straight for the piano, flipping its creaky lid and laying her long, skilled fingers on the yellowing keys.

As she started to play, Elisa and I crept up to the front of the sanctuary, where the pews ended and there was a wide open space in front of the alter.

Then we danced.

It started small, just a gentle sway of our hips to the beat of Naomi’s song. Naomi had a way of playing the piano that made you move. It was impossible to stay still when her music filled the air, because it filled you too. Your heart and blood and bones. Elisa grinned at me and soon I was grinning back. The smile felt so foreign on my lips, but I liked it. I lifted my arms in the air and soon it was more than a gentle protest.

It was an anthem. Naomi pounded out the song of our rebellion, our bodies acted it out, cemented it, made it real. I felt my nightdress slide over my thighs, my arms, my breasts. My bare feet pressed into the carpet, reminding the earth I was here. I was alive. I was a girl and I was real.

We danced until the sky pinked up and grew hazy. I held my sister’s hand and we laughed and felt and moved. Naomi moved in her own way, her eyes shining, her fingers quick and determined. We made our own world, dancing underneath the colors of the moon.

Since then, we’ve sought out that little sanctuary more times than I can count. Our father locks us inside our room and then forgets us, forgets we are girls with hearts and minds and wills. We climb outside and into our secret haven and we forget all that ugliness. We remember we are beautiful.

But tonight is different. Tonight, Naomi’s fingers fall heavy on the keys. Tonight, Elisa doesn’t smile while she dances. She cries. She rages. She throws her body about the room, every action a demand for more, for freedom, for respite. Tonight, I my legs move underneath me, but my mind is with Mama, with the note I left in her vanity, the one our father never ever touches because it’s full of those womanly graces he despises so much.

Him or us.

That’s what I wrote to her. And I meant it. I glance over at Naomi’s face, so wise for her thirteen years. I look at Elisa with her effortless beauty, the smiles she can’t help pull out of everyone who meets her. I think about Helena, the girl who lives down the road and who doesn’t think I notice how she watches my sister, the longing in her eyes so clear, it makes my heart hurt.

Elisa doesn’t think I notice how she watches Helena back, a shy smile curving her pretty mouth.

I look down at my own arms, my own feet, my skin and my desires trapped beneath an ugly man’s hate, a sad man’s inability to understand.

Well, I’m done with imprisonment. I’m done with weakness. I’m done with blood trickling out of my little sister’s nose. I’m done with that quick flash of shame I feel whenever I hide wrapped in the quilt on my bed and slip my hands under the sheets to figure out my own needs and meet them.

They are mine. I am mine. Elisa is hers and Naomi is her own and tonight feels different.

Tonight is different.

We dance. We dance and Naomi plays and the room grows hotter and hotter. The colors steaming in through the windows seem to move with us, undulating in my vision. They twist and curl as our bodies twist and curl and I know they’re on our side. They’re with us, the colors. They’ve watched us all this time and now they know it’s time.

They know it’s time to break free, to be reborn.

The sound starts low, a tickle in my ear. I keep dancing, my heart thrumming in my chest so loudly that at first, I think that’s it. My blood is coursing through me so fast, so violently, it’s audible, a tangible force in this tiny room.

But then it gets louder and a little pucker forms between Elisa’s eyes. Naomi turns her head toward us, a question on her brow. Still, we keep dancing. It’s almost otherworldly, this understanding between us, how we just know that we need to keep moving, keep shouting to the universe.

The sound grows, a crackling, like ice thawing on the pond in March. My fingers splay above my head, a dark silhouette against the colored glass and looking up, just to see my hands in motion and life, that’s when I see it.

A crack splintering across the center stained glass window. The fissure grows and widens, zig-zagging across the glass like a living thing. Soon, there are more of them, more jagged lines over the glass, kaleidoscoping the color through the room.

I grab Elisa’s hand and we run over to the piano so that we’re next to the piano. I press my fingers into Naomi’s shoulder, but she doesn’t stop playing. Her music goes on and on and I can’t stand still. Even though a fear bites at my heart, I have to move.

I catch Elisa’s eye and she smiles. The breaking has softened now, like it’s in tune with our bodies. I arch my arms in the air and lift up on my toes. Immediately, the noises increase, the glass splits and groans and the more we move, the more it breaks, our little world coming apart all around us.

Pieces of glass fall from the windows, sloughing off all the old, letting in the cool night air and the pure, unadulterated moon. It envelops us, the colors bursting into silver over our skin.

We laugh, the windows shattering around us, our feet brushing with the glass but untouched. It’s wild and impossible, beauty unleashed.

It is us.

We dance until the air shifts, the breeze through the empty windows stilling, the quiet clear and stark even against Naomi’s music.

All at once, we stop. All at once, my hand finds Elisa’s and Naomi’s hand finds mine. All at once, we see her.

Mama.

She stands in the doorway, jeans on under her own nightdress, her hair braided messily and her wool peacoat buttoned up to her chin. A duffel bag hangs from her already stooped shoulders, the straps of two more gripped in her hands.

She’s breathing heavy, like she’s been running.

Or maybe, like she’s been dancing.

My sisters and I stare at her. Behind her, I see our father’s old pickup truck. Well, actually, it’s Mama’s old pickup truck, passed down to her from her older brother, Vance, when he moved to the city. Its engine is running and I peel my eyes for my father’s head, for his piercing, impatient eyes locked on me, yelling at me silently to hurry up, you little slut.

But he’s not there. The truck is empty, the driver’s side door yawning wide open, waiting for us.

Us.

“It’s time to go,” Mama says.

I suck in a breath, my fingers tightening on my sisters’. I look around at the bare windows, the colors strewn around our feet, the echo of Naomi’s song still whispering through the sanctuary. The whole room breathes, urging us on.

These windows can’t shield us anymore. They’ve broken and now they’re something new. A window that reveals what’s outside rather than shelters.

My mother meets my wary gaze. She doesn’t turn away. Her eyes are soft on me, but a hardness runs just underneath. A readiness, a determination to be remade.

As one, my sisters and I move toward her. We fall into arms, we fall into her tears, we fall into a new life, right there in that moment.

As one, we leave the broken little church behind and everything we’ll never forget.


Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and watching Buffy over and over again on Netflix with her friends. Her young adult contemporary debut, Suffer Love, is out now from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Her second book, How to Make a Wish, will release in 2017.

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