sorry this is long, but I’ve a story to tell. It starts not too long
ago, with something that honestly not out of the ordinary. My father
took a trip. He was a traveler, not usually for pleasure, but because
his work sent him to conferences all over the world. Because he was
always traveling, we were never very close. I loved him, but knew very
little about him, personally. By the time I was eleven, the same travels
that had stolen a dad from me had taken him to six continents. It was
on the trip that he made it to his sixth, his first time on the
continent of Africa, he would make a decision that changed our lives: he
bought a painting.
Now, there’s nothing particularly spectacular about the event itself,
at least that he remembers. He was in a poorer part of Ghana, and
bought it off of a street vendor. The only thing strange about it was
that he wasn’t usually a fan of modern art, and this one was abstract to
say the least. The background was done with some kind of thick paint,
layered on to almost an inch in thickness in vivid shades of red,
oranges, and yellows, looking like flames melted down to the consistency
of plaster. Then, with surprising precision, it was divided into four
boxes by lines of coal black paint, forming dents in the thick
vermillion. Inside the boxes were very simple images, done in the same
black paint. The first was simply a stick figure. The next held two of
them, side by side. The third, what seemed to be some kind of insect,
and in the fourth, three check-mark birds flying through the air.
Even he wasn’t exactly sure why he decided to buy it. The thing was
massive, maybe six feet wide and four feet tall, and the images didn’t
even have rudimentary detail. Whatever his reasoning was, when he came
home from his trip to Africa, it was rolled up next to his suitcase, not
seeming even slightly ominous in the rosy sunshine filtering through
the trees and onto our porch.
He had my mom frame it as soon as possible, and wanted it hung in
their bedroom. It, surprisingly, didn’t clash with their sage colored
walls, and made the otherwise sparsely furnished room seem a little more
complete. We had just moved into the big house, and finally having some
decorations up was really comforting, at first.
Until it wasn’t.
I can’t say when it really began. At first, the feeling was so faint
it was easy to dismiss, especially as a child with an overactive
imagination. If you walked alone in the house, you’d start to get this
feeling that started in the center of your back, between your shoulder
blades. It reminded me of the feeling you’d get when an adult was
watching you try and do something you honestly had no idea how to do,
like any moment they’d speak up and yell at you for doing something
The worst part of it wasn’t the feeling, however. It made me
uncomfortable and jumpy, but not exactly threatened. No, the worst part
was the staircase that led upstairs to my siblings and I’s bedroom.
Around the same time that the feeling started, I noticed something had
changed about them. The whole area just had this feeling of wrongness
that I don’t really know how to describe. No matter how fast you went up
or down them, you would just know that someone was watching you,
someone who wanted very, very badly to watch you tumble down those
stairs and hear your neck snap halfway down.
I tried speaking up about it to my mom, but she was always a skeptic
despite being religious. Anytime I brought it up, she would go up and
down the stairs a few times to show me that there was nothing wrong with
them, and that I was just being childish. She blamed it on me watching
one too many ghost movies with my friends, or on staying up too late the
night before. In all honesty, I wanted to believe her: it was a much
nicer explanation than that there was actually someone standing at the
top of the stairs. I couldn’t make the feeling fade, though, no matter
how hard I tried, nor could I avoid the staircase. For one, my bedroom
was on the second story, and for another, our front door was at the
bottom of the stairs, so even if I slept on the downstairs couch I’d
still have to pass by them every day.
I comforted myself by the fact that, even if there was something there,
it wasn’t physical and couldn’t do anything to me even if it wanted to. I
didn’t believe in ghosts, and thought that demons were just biblical
creatures that couldn’t leave the confines of hell. I simply resigned
myself to running up the stairs and locking my bedroom door, and
pretending everything was fine.
One day, my mom let me have a few of my friends over. Elaine, Gwen,
and Lizzy were my three closest, and the prospect of having them over
all but made me forget about the staircase and the odd feeling in the
house. After school we all went up to my bedroom, giggling about our
favorite books and falling all over ourselves to talk about the latest
gossip. Elaine was a diabetic, so having to get her a snack late at
night wasn’t uncommon, and when she asked, I obediently trotted down the
stairs to get her something to eat.
In the kitchen, the clock read 3:08, the fridge-light bathing our
kitchen in a comforting glow as I poured milk and cereal to bring back
upstairs for my friend. The feeling was back, but I had gotten good at
ignoring it as I moved through the house. I had to walk back up the
stairs slowly as I carried the bowl, the first time I had done so since
the feeling started. That’s when I heard it. Voices.
I mean, I could hear my friends talking upstairs, but these voices
were different. They were grown up, and were very quiet like they were
whispering, except their tone was conversational. It sounded sort of
like someone had turned down the volume on a TV show to the point I
could only catch a few words: house, girl, run, and laugh. I thought for
a moment that someone might have left the TV on, but you would have
been able to see the glow from the staircase if someone had. It was
pitch dark, aside from the light of my bedroom down the hall. I wasn’t
an idiot, I only listened for a second before continuing to walk up the
stairs, still slow due to the milk and cereal. It was easy enough to
just ignore the voices, until someone laughed.
It was a bit louder than the voices, and it wasn’t exactly sinister
at first. Just a laugh that continued for a long time. Again, it could
have been my friends, except it was a grown man’s laugh. I kept climbing
the stairs, but something was off; it was taking a lot longer to keep
going than it usually did, even at a slow pace. The laugh just kept
going and going, the whispering voices growing louder in volume, but I
still couldn’t quite make out words. At this point, I was thoroughly
frightened, trying to hold on to the cereal bowl and walk a little
faster up the stairs, jaw trembling with fear, wondering how the voices
and laughter weren’t waking up anyone else in the house. My friends
hadn’t come to see what was going on, and they didn’t come, not even
when the man’s laugh grew to be booming, hurting my ears, drowning out
the voices. I was nauseated, giving up on trying to preserve the milk in
the bowl and just sprinting up the stairs, nearly tripping as I went up
them and running down the hall into my bedroom, slamming the door shut
Lizzy and Gwen were still talking and laughing on the same subject,
as though not much time had gone by, barely even noticing as I burst
into the room. Elaine, however, sat on my bed, staring right at me as I
entered the room. Her face was pale, knuckles white on my bedsheets as
our eyes met. I opened my mouth and shut it, the question coming out of
her mouth before I could ask it.
“You heard it, too?”
They left the next day, Lizzy and Gwen confused as Elaine and I both
refused to talk about what we had just heard. It wasn’t that we didn’t
trust them, but Lizzy was easily scared and Gwen was somewhat obsessed
with psychology and would probably have tried to label us both with a
mental illness that was somehow connected to each others thoughts. It
was the validation that I wasn’t the only person to hear it is the only
thing that kept me from trying to tell my mother: if it wasn’t just me
hearing it, I wasn’t going crazy, which meant all she would do was
dismiss it as both of us having odd imaginations. Maybe I should have
tried, but at age eleven, the last thing I wanted was to get in trouble
Nothing happened to that degree again for quite a while. I let myself
be lulled into a sense of false-security, dismissing what I had heard
and felt as the TV and paranoia from the feeling that still lingered in
the house. I comforted myself by saying that, even if it had been
something, it couldn’t physically do anything to me. Life went on.
One summer morning, I was sitting on the bench on our front-porch,
thoroughly immersed in a good book. There was a light breeze going,
blowing my frizzy hair into a halo around my face, pages turning rapidly
as I got caught up in the plot. When I heard footsteps on the stairs
inside, just beyond the front door, I didn’t pay much attention, nor
when the door opened halfway. I only looked up when no one stepped
outside, eyebrows furrowing.
“Lark?” I said the name of my sister, assuming she had come to find
me and tell me lunch was ready. Instead of getting a response, the door
simply shut slowly. I stared a moment before returning to my book, the
fact that she had changed her mind about coming inside not particularly
concerning. A moment later, however, the door slowly opened again, just a
crack, this time. I couldn’t see inside, the bench on the same side of
the door as the hinges. As it shut again, I decided just to dismiss it
as the breeze, pulling it all the way shut so it wouldn’t creak open
again. When it did, this time a good deal faster, I looked up irritably.
This time, the door slammed shut, hard enough to make me jump. I blinked
in surprise, watching as it re-opened halfway once more. “Luke,” I
tried again, guessing at my brother. If it was him, he didn’t answer,
the door shutting and opening faster, now. “Cut it out.” No response.
“Dude, it isn’t funny…” The door was opening and closing without
pause, now, hitting its frame harder each time, like someone was just
swinging it on it’s hinges to get a rise out of me.
Tired of having my reading interrupted, I stood with all the fury of an
older sister, grabbing the door and yanking it all the way open.
There was no one there.
It took a moment for the fact to register, my eyes going wide in
surprise as I tried to understand what I was seeing, or, rather, the
lack of it. No one stood inside the doorway, or in the TV room, and no
one was running up the stairs. It was as though the door had simply been
slamming itself open and shut on its own accord. I felt my stomach
drop, calling out in a trembling voice in a vague hope it had been one
of my siblings playing some stupid prank.
“Lark…? Luke? Maggie?” I called, stepping inside tensely. No one
responded, so I swallowed, moving into the house and down the hall to
stick my head in my dad’s office. He was seated at his desk, headphones
on as he played a video game on his computer, oblivious to the outside
world. I blinked, stepping out of the office and moving into the
kitchen, where my mom was on the phone with our grandmother, chatting as
she made dinner. She looked up, raising an eyebrow.
“Where are Luke and Maggie?” I asked, my mom’s reply being a nod
towards the backdoor. I walked across the kitchen and dining room to
stick my head outside. They were all up in the climbing tree, thoroughly
immersed in their game, Lark on the highest branch. There was no one
else in the house, and no way they could have made it from the door all
the way through the house and up the tree at the back of our expansive
yard in the micro-second it had taken for me to open the door. I did
what any normal eleven year old would do: I burst into tears.
My mother came into the room, offering anxious consolation and
confusion as I blubbered out my story, letting out a little laugh as it
finished. She offered forehead kisses and a hug, telling me it was just
the wind and that I shouldn’t let things like that scare me so badly. I
was too frightened to be angry or to explain there was no physical way
the wind could have slammed and opened the door so quickly and only
opened it halfway, and just went limp in her arms. I wanted nothing more
than to get out of the house. It wasn’t the fact that a door had opened
and shut so quickly that scared me. It was the fact that, whatever was
watching me in our house, it could affect the physical world.
I started avoiding being near the stairs at all from then on, and avoided sitting near the front door.
Things only got weirder from there. It began as just seeing something
moving in the corner of your eye, typically in the doorway or out the
window, a little blur of black as if someone had passed by. I didn’t say
anything about it, knowing that, no matter what I said, no one would
believe me. Despite everyone claiming they didn’t notice anything, there
was something tense in the air around the house. My mom began looking a
little paler, a little thinner. My dad started coming home a bit late
from work and just staying in his office. My siblings didn’t like going
upstairs alone at night. We stopped inviting people over. But we didn’t
talk about it, didn’t acknowledge that there was something wrong in our
Whatever was moving in our doorways and windows was gaining presence.
As weeks wore on it went from simply seeing it in the corner of my eye
to looking directly at it as it walked by. It was a black man, and I
don’t mean African American, I mean a pitch-black silhouette of a man
walking through our hallways. One night, I looked up to see him standing
in the doorway of my bedroom, just watching. Most often, he would be
standing at the top of the stairs. As long as you didn’t look at him, he
would just stand still, just observe things you were doing. If you did
take the chance to glance up, he would turn, slowly, and just start
walking. If he rounded a corner, by the time you rounded it yourself, he
would be gone.
It sounds like something that would scare the crap out of an eleven
year old, but as time wore on, it just became normal. I stopped looking
when I saw movement in the corner of my eye. It never did anything but
watch, and soon just became part of the scenery in the house. I thought I
was the only person that could see him, but once, as I played with my
brother in his bedroom, he tapped my shoulder to bring my attention to
the doorway, where the man stood. As I looked, the silhouette man turned
and walked away, my brother and I sharing a glance. His expression was
relieved that he wasn’t the only person seeing it. Mine was simply
exhausted. I had realized a long time ago that whatever was watching us
was very real.
A few weeks later, I heard my parents arguing about it. It was the
first time I had heard either one of them acknowledge that there was
something going on, but from the sound of it, my dad had been trying to
talk to my mom about it for some time. It went something like this.
“I’m telling you, it’s real.”
“That’s impossible, maybe you’re tired, maybe you imagined it!”
“I didn’t imagine it, you don’t just imagine things more than once!”
“You’re paranoid! There’s nothing in this house! Even if there was, what would you want me to do about it!”
“I don’t know, I don’t know! I just want you to stop acting like I’m crazy!”
“Do you realize how crazy this sounds?!”
“I’ve seen something!”
It was the first time I had considered trying to talk to my dad about
it instead of my mom. She couldn’t let herself believe in something
that wasn’t physical or strictly from our religion. It was just too hard
to let go. My father, however, had always been more open minded. A man
of science, yes, but also willing to trust what his gut was telling him.
I couldn’t quite make up my mind until, one day, I looked out the
widow and the silhouette was standing just outside of the glass. Instead
of walking away, it just stood there, staring at me. I stared back,
heart pounding, holding my breath. Now that we were looking at each
other, a feeling like ice shot through my body. It radiated the same
exact feeling that had been lurking in our house for months, mixed with
the same mocking hate that was concentrated on our staircase. What
seemed like hours later, it turned, and simply passed through our fence.
It didn’t open the gate or go over it, just walked through. I felt sick
to my stomach at the contact, fleeing to sit in my dad’s office until
he got home, making my brother come with me.
I honestly don’t remember exactly what I said. I think I let my
little brother do most of the talking, though I doubt a nine year old
was very convincing as he rambled about a shadow-man upstairs. My dad
didn’t say he believed us, but, unlike my mother, he didn’t try and just
explain it away. His face got very serious, and eventually he let us
leave the office. I don’t think I ever regretted telling someone
something as much as I regretted telling my dad about seeing whatever
was in our house, because from that day on, things got much, much worse.
At least before there was some semblance of normalcy in our house. I
was terrified to be alone, now. Sometimes you’d go upstairs only to have
every door in the hallway slam shut, leaving you feeling trapped and
claustrophobic. I didn’t dare walk room to room in the house- instead, I
got places by running full speed, curling up on a chair and holding as
still as possible when I entered a room, unsure the heavy breathing was
my own. Nightmares of rotting bodies and bloodstained rooms I didn’t
recognize often woke me with anxious tears. My mom began finding broken
glass in places where nothing had shattered, cabinet doors flung open,
clothes dragged out of drawers and strewn across the house. You’d be
surprised how many signs of something terribly wrong can be dismissed as
One morning, I came down to find my dad enraged and yelling at my
sisters. He whipped around when I came downstairs, getting in my face
and grabbing me by my shoulders.
“What were you doing downstairs last night?” He demanded, breath hot
on my face. I blinked, both started and puzzled. I hadn’t woken up last
night, which was odd, considering the nightmares.
“I-I didn’t-…” I tried to explain, silenced by his furious look.
“I saw you!” He spat. “Dancing in the living room! What in god’s name
were you doing up in the middle of the night? What the hell were you
I tried to get something out, too scared to form words, my mom taking
her turn to snap at my dad. “You said whoever you saw was wearing
green. Look, her pajamas are red, it was just a bad dream!”
He couldn’t explain it.
He swore, though, that either me or my sister had been standing in
the living room, hands raised to the ceiling as we swayed and sang
something he couldn’t understand under our breath. He had the look of a
man who was convinced beyond doubt, and the fact that he was dead-set on
it being the truth is what scared me the most. I didn’t remember waking
up or going downstairs, but something told me he wasn’t just going
Two nights later I had a nightmare and decided to sleep in my
parent’s bedroom, on the floor. There wasn’t room in the bed itself, so I
just brought my blankets downstairs and huddled on their floor to go to
sleep. By now, their bedroom was the least scary thing about the house,
and I fell asleep pretty easily. It wasn’t until I woke up in the
middle of the night that something would go wrong.
When I opened my eyes, it felt sluggish. My whole body felt like it
was moving too slowly as I rolled over, like it didn’t quite want to
obey my commands. I blinked in the darkness, noticing something strange:
I wasn’t in the room I had fallen asleep in. I say it nonchalantly
because, honestly, nothing seemed out of the ordinary to me as I woke up
in the wrong place. There was this strange feeling of calm as I looked
around the unfamiliar room, and up at the strange bed, before closing my
eyes and falling back asleep. I would have just dismissed it as a
dream, aside from the fact that, in the morning, the bed I had set up
for myself was outside of my parent’s closed bedroom door. No one had an
explanation for how my little set-up had been moved, looking just the
way it had last night, outside of the room. No one tried to explain. I
don’t think any of us really wanted to know.
That phrase they always use on paranormal TV shows, that people just
try to explain away occurrences they don’t understand and if they can’t,
just try to forget them, is true.
This sort of thing became normal. Whenever my dad would go to sleep
in his bedroom, he would either wake up to the sound of someone in the
living room, or worse wake up to feeling someone’s hand on his own.
Sometimes, we’d be sitting at the dinner table and hear like someone was
running full speed up and down the upstairs hall, except on four
appendages instead of two, as though they were crawling. Our dog,
Athena, stayed close to one of us at all time, tail between her legs,
whining loudly whenever we went upstairs. One day, we woke up to find
our cat shaken to death. We thought it might have been a neighborhood
dog, aside from the fact that there were no teeth marks or blood drawn.
It looked as though someone had grabbed him, shaken him around until he
stopped moving, and set him neatly on our porch. I thought things
couldn’t get any more traumatic after finding the cat like that, but I
I was trying to fall asleep in my bedroom at the end of the hallway. I
had gotten used to hearing voices, to ignoring footsteps or a passing
shadow. Just after the nightmares had started, my dad had hung a cross
by my door as a strange form of a night-light, and looking at it usually
brought enough comfort to doze. Right as I was about to fall asleep,
however, a shadow ran across my room. It wasn’t unusual, seeing as my
window faced the street and driver’s headlights usually cast odd lights
through the shade, but it moved the wrong direction. I blinked sleepily
awake, bringing the blanket closer around my shoulders. I didn’t want to
move, knowing something felt wrong. Then, it crossed the room again. My
eyes watched it carefully as I half-sat up, heart beginning to pound.
My bedroom was usually a safe haven from strange things happening,
despite it being connected to the hallway and staircase where things
were worst. The shadow darted across my room again, before slipping
underneath my bed. I held very, very still before moving to lie down
again. When you’re a kid, the safest thing always seems to be just to
hide under your blankets and pray nothing happened.
Then, the bed moved.
Just a few inches to the left, it was enough to stop my breath for a
moment, childishly shutting my eyes. I remember the thought ‘it’s only a
dream’ running through my head again and again, knuckles white as I
held onto the sheets. The bed jolted an inch or two to the right, this
time, before back into its position.
I felt like I was going to be sick. It was one of those times when
you just know that, if you don’t do something, things are going to end
very, very badly for you. I opened one eye as the bed began shifting
again, a little bit faster. Something was pushing up underneath my
mattress, like someone was lying under the bed and pushing it back and
forth. On my nightstand was the little flip phone my parents had bought
for when they left me alone with my siblings, hardly visible in the
darkness of the bedroom. I thought briefly about screaming for help, but
the bed’s movement, getting faster, made me too afraid that any noise
would just send this thing, whatever the hell it was, into a rage. So,
little by little, I stuck my hand out from underneath the blanket,
trying to stifle a whimper as the bed slid back and forth, back and
forth, shaking slightly as it drug scratches into the paint on my
It felt like forever, but my hand closed around the phone.
I pulled it underneath the blanket with me, trying to shield the
light from the rest of the room, whimpering and trying to hold back
terrified tears as it drug back and forth faster. It took eons to type
four letters into the box, ‘HELP’, and to hit send to both of my
parents. I shut the phone, clinging onto the sheets as I let out a
little sob of both relief and terror. As soon as I let it out, I felt
something grab my leg through the sheets. Even through the fleece, it
was cold, hand tight around my leg. I screamed, this time. There wasn’t
any point in trying not to, anymore.
It brought my mother running, and as soon as I heard her footsteps on
the stairs, the thing let go. Everything returned to the still of
nighttime, except for an odd, metallic scent on the air as my mom pushed
open my bedroom door, rushing over to me. I couldn’t stop crying,
terrified out of my wits, the bed still pushed too far over to one side.
She wrapped me up in a hug, tried to calm me down, but I refused to be
consoled. I ended up curling up on the couch downstairs, still sobbing
softly, numb after that kind of intense fear.
If I were writing this to be entertaining, I would say we flew into a
rage the next day, calling priests and paranormal experts alike. We
didn’t, though. I think that, even before this straw that broke the
camel’s back, he knew what was causing all of this. It was the same
thing that he slept underneath at night, the place where vivid dreams of
violence were dreampt and young girls dancing were seen. His face was
deadpan and strained the next day as he opened the door to his bedroom
and moved to the wall, lifting the massive painting down from the place
it had rested for the past year. The paint on the wall behind it looked
faded, as though it had drawn even the color from what it touched. He
didn’t even take it out of the frame, just carrying the hulking work of
art out of our house and down to the road. I was terrified something
would lash out at us when he did so, but nothing did: the most that
changed was the feeling in the house. It felt like something had gone
out of the house with them, something that had filled our home to the
brim before until there was room for nothing else.
He set it by the road, looking like he had just carried a mountain with him, and went back inside.
I decided to watch from my bedroom window until the garbage men came,
but they never got the chance. Someone pulled up, looked at the
painting for a few moments, put it in their car and drove away. Maybe I
should have stopped them, but I wasn’t even sure it was the source of
the problem. Besides, I didn’t think they’d believe a kid rambling about
ghosts and demons anyways.
Our problem stopped, for the most part. The feeling lingered in our
house for a while before feeling, for the first time in months, normal.
Things still are strange, sometimes. The stairs still make me nervous,
and sometimes, at night, it feels like someone might be watching from
the bedroom. The danger, though, was gone.
I can’t explain what happened those couple of years ago, I really
wish I could. I used to theorize that whoever had painted the picture
had also dabbled in witchcraft or demonology, or that it had been owned
by a possessed man. Part of me wonders, though, if there’s another
anwser. Perhaps part of who we are is caught in the things we create,
bits and pieces of our souls caught on paintbrushes and plastered to a
canvas. I honestly think that idea scares me more, because the thought
of a man being so wholly evil as to want nothing more than to watch a
child tumble down stairs and hear it’s neck snap is terrifying. The
thought that he could on long after death, preserved brushstrokes is
So, what I got out of 5.13 is that the teachers ship sciles… hence this little outsider POV oneshot. Pure fluff and silliness!
Ms. Kramer manages to put on a straight face, teach her class, and even answer a student’s question after class before all but running into the teacher’s lounge and–
“I THINK IT HAPPENED!” she announces to the staff lucky enough to be there for for this momentous occasion.
Unfortunately, they must not realize what a great moment it is because all she gets for her trouble is a set of blank stares.
“What happened?” Gio asks, turning back to her coffee.
“McCall and Stilinski!” Kramer clarifies, all but hopping in excitement. She’s only been here for one year and a couple months but she’s heard the stories. It’s been four years for most of the teachers at Beacon Hills High. Four long years of waiting and betting and allowing them to do every single group project together and- “I think it happened!”
The room goes very still. Very quiet.
Finally, Ms. Liston, the math teacher who smokes at least three packs a day and who may in fact be older than Beacon Hills itself, stands.
“What is your proof?” she asks and Kramer suddenly feels like she is on trial. She also suddenly feels like she may have been overzealous in her declaration.
She also vows not to assign so many presentations. Good lord.
“They- well, they’re absent,” she says. The room continues waiting. No one is even blinking.
“And?” Gio (short for Giovanni) asks, her voice a hopeful question.
“I’m sorry that I don’t remember you,” Abby apologized, not for the first time, filling the silence of my car. She had been released from hospital into my care with detailed instructions from the doctor on how to treat her wounds, manage her pain, and stimulate some of her brain activity, repairing the neural pathways to help restore her memories.
Sitting in the passenger seat and staring out the windscreen, Abby looked every bit the patient she had been for the past five days since the accident, the calamitous car accident that had stolen my status with her from passionate lovers to strangers in one night. The crash nearly took her from me permanently, the driver in critical condition with a broken arm and leg, a severe concussion and several cracked ribs from the impact. The car wreckage had been catastrophic and things could’ve been so much worse. Abby was battered and bruised, but I was grateful that her injuries weren’t far worse.
It was raining, that’s what Merida remembered thinking
when she woke that morning. And it was not the light, trickling raindrops that
made the grass sparkle and gleam, no, this was the kind of rain that washed out
everything and made the sky look dismal and angry. She rose from her bed,
glaring out the window at the land, silently willing the sun to magically
appear. To be honest, she should have guessed this was what would happen,
springtime in the highlands brought with it rain more days than naught.
Testament of Youth follows the story of Vera Brittain and her life through the years of the First World War, in a believable, steady-paced adaption of the memoir of Vera Brittain. From the trailer or the film poster, one most likely assumes the film surrounds the romance between a young woman and a soldier who leaves for war, however as the film unravels it proves to be so much more than a war-time romance. It reflects the horrors and tragedies of war, whilst highlighting the loss that people all over the world suffered because of it; from death and destruction to the loss of youth, which is echoed in the development of Vera’s character and how war forces her to grow up quickly. Testament of Youth is a moving story of suffering the worst life throws at you, and never giving up.
Although some may argue that the film is very long and slow-paced, I think that those aspects amplify the time frame of the film, as it takes place over several years; the war years. Over this period we are taken through Vera’s journey; from her struggles to get the best education for herself, to the loss and corruption she experiences. The steady pace parallels this period of time effectively, breaking the story up into significant sections of her life, whilst giving the impression that Vera felt the war was never-ending, and survived by taking it day by day.
The characters within Testament of Youth were three dimensional, and not stereotypical or caricatured in any way. They had depth, making them interesting and likeable, as wonderfully portrayed by a fine cast of actors. The character of Vera Brittain was beautifully portrayed by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, with subtle elegance and poise. She achieved in presenting Vera as a normal woman, one to whom many could relate to, but also as an inspirational figure to whom many can look up to. Vikander’s performance was realistic and believable, managing to refrain from over-acting in moments where it was unnecessary, which only emphasised the emotion and anguish in the more intense scenes. Despite the fact that Alicia’s accent slipped a few times throughout the film, her portrayal of Vera was deeply moving, provoking sympathy for her character, not only because of what she had been through and how much she had suffered, but because of the emotional attachment to her character that develops as her story unfolds.
In addition the supporting cast, including Kit Harrington, Taron Egerton and Colin Morgan additionally present likable, sympathy-provoking characters that work well together on screen to portray young Oxford school friends whose lives change dramatically due to war. These characters are individual, distinctive characters that clearly have their own depth within the film. This attracts the audience, and affects them even more as they become invested in their lives and their stories as well as Vera’s. Harington, Egerton and Morgan, all displayed a clear sense of progression in their characters and how the war changed them. With Harington’s character Roland, it became clear that he he had seen things he could not unsee during war and had affected him psychologically, which Kit Harington implied using little words and a drastic change in his characteristics from the young, self-assured Oxford student to the soldier who had witnessed terrible things. The three males all showed the ability to convey what their characters were thinking without using dialogue. When any were conflicted or trying to hide something, it was clear for the audience to see, which I found really gave a deeper insight into those characters, enforcing more of a connection between character and audience.
Colin Morgan’s ‘Victor’ stood out as a smaller character with so much likability. His story, to me, was equally as tragic and provoking as the others. Morgan presented Victor in a way that made the audience feel sorry for him; not because of unrequited love, but of what he, too, suffers during the war. Morgan’s ability to tell the audience so much more about his character than the visuals and dialogue does is mesmerising, and at specific moments in the film, you can pinpoint what he is thinking and why he has said or done a certain thing, which really steals the scene.
As for Taron Egerton and his character Edward, you really got the sense of his love and devotion towards his sister, Vera, and his admiration for her through facial expressions and the things he did and said for her. By putting focus not only on the romantic relationship between Vera and Roland, the film emphasised the importance of sibling relationships and family. I found whilst watching the film that the sibling relationship was the one I was most invested in, and inevitably was the most tragic. It was refreshing to find a film that dealt with various types of relationships and how war can affect all of them; lovers, siblings, friendships, family. With Edward, Taron gave him a sweet, almost childlike quality near the start of the film, not only emphasising how he was the younger sibling, but also further amplifying the tragedy and horrors of his life to come as he was so young, and was forced to grow up so fast.
Although the story and acting was tremendous, I found the editing of the film very jumpy and, often, irrelevant. There were straight cuts that came across as too drastic and noticable, as well as being used to cut off a scene. These obvious straight cuts were often placed to jump to a new point in time, where I believed that a subtle fade or cross dissolve would have been more fitting in showing this time jump. Sound was often left untampered with at the end of a scene or shot so when the next scene or shot came on, the sound cut out, making it really noticable and often distracting. In terms of sound, however, I found the use of silence and absense of non-diegetic sound significant in reflecting the normality of her life, therefore producing realism, provoking escapism as the film felt believable by not giving Vera’s life a soundtrack. This effectively contrasts to the use of dramatic music in scenes with heightened emotion. In addition to the use of sound and realistic acting of believable characters, the costumes and setting within the film were consistent with little noticeable errors that aided the film’s realism, again making it more heart-breaking and moving due to how real it felt. This film gives justice to the memory of these characters, who were real people, and portrayed their life stories without sugar coating it. It discusses the loss and suffering of all during the war, and not just British soldiers and citizens, but everyone.