Editor’s note: This wonderfully creepy story contains violent imagery that may be disturbing to younger readers.

“You guys, I don’t think this is a good idea.” I hate the dark. And the woods. 

“Don’t be so stuck-up, Mae,” Dillan says. “It’s the last week of camp. We’ve got to do something fun before we leave.” 

My friends woke me up in the middle of the night. They told me that one of our camp counselors, Aubrey, had snuck out of our cabin and that we needed to follow her. 

“It’s none of our business. Let’s just stay here,” I told them. Yet they insisted, practically dragging me out of bed. 

“Maybe Mae is right,” Chris says, holding out his flashlight over his feet. 

“Shut up, Chris.” Dillan turns, flashing his light in Chris’ face. 

We spend the next five minutes looking left and right for Aubrey. I’m not sure what they think we’re going to find out. Aubrey plays the guitar and has a peanut allergy. I doubt she has much to hide.

It’s too quiet. We all walk slowly, afraid that if we put too much weight on the ground, it’ll snap beneath us. Suddenly, there’s a squishing noise behind us. We all immediately turn around to face Imani, who’s lifted up her right foot and is gagging. 

“I stepped on something…” she says, covering her mouth. I hear a loud, relieved sigh from Chris. 


We walk for another ten minutes before Imani says she’s getting bored. 

“If we don’t find her in five minutes, we can go back to the campsite. Okay?” Chris says. 

The rest of us nod. Suddenly, there’s a light that starts flickering. 

“You guys…?” I say, beginning to shake. We stop and look around. Chris lets out a loud sigh. 

“It’s just my flashlight. I think it’s dying,” he says. 

Dillan rolls his eyes. “You know what? Let’s just go back to the cabin.” 

I groan.

“Finally,” I say, a smile appearing on my face. We start walking back in the direction of the campsite. It seems like it got even darker outside. In a flash, we hear another squishing noise. I don’t think Imani stepped in something this time.

The hairs on the back of my neck stick up. 

“What was that?” Imani whispers. I let out a shaky breath. 

“Do not say anything,” I utter, barely loud enough to be a whisper. I turn around, slowly. 

“Mae – ” Chris begins. I raise my hand to shut him up. I walk towards the continuous squelching, kneeling down to hide myself behind a bush. 

“Oh my God.” I shoot up almost immediately. “We have to leave right now,” I whisper. 

“Why? What is it?” Dillan asks. 

I shake my head in response, a tear slipping down my cheek. Dillan shoves me aside, peeking behind the bush. More tears escape my eyes. He doesn’t say anything, but I can tell I’m not the only one who sees it, because Dillan starts breathing heavily. 

Next thing I know, I’m crying hysterically. I shove my hand against my mouth to stop myself from making noise. 

“Aubrey…” Dillan says, facing the rest of us. He’s crying, too. “Do any of you have your phones?” 

Chris and Imani haven’t seen what we saw, so they are visibly confused, but they check their pockets anyway. 

“No,” Imani says. Chris shakes his head, too. 

I need to calm down. I squeeze my eyes shut, but no matter – I can’t get the image of her limp body out of my head. Her blonde hair was bright red as she lay in a pool of her own blood.

Aubrey was stabbed

“She needs help,” I say quietly. “Someone call for help!” I yell, snapping to my senses. 

There we were. Four teenagers standing before their dead camp counselor, screaming for help. 

Let’s just say this is not how I would spend my summer.

The Senseless Request

“I find a pleasing humor in that fruit bowl. And the hanging lantern. And the — what is that vast… thing… over there?”

The juvenile servant rushed to the rich man’s side. “It is the ocean. Quite beautiful, if I may say?” 

The rich man squinted his eyes, then clenched his fists, resisting the impending irritation. “Well, it was not there yesterday.”

“It was, you just did not perceive its presence.” 

The rich man paced back and forth to the patio door, then to the fence overlooking the ravine. He raised a hand to the sky, feeling the breeze of the ocean against his hand. Bringing it down to his eyeline, he furrowed his eyebrows.

“How greedy of it to consume so much land! I do not like it. Have it removed by sun up tomorrow.” 

The servant sighed, then hesitantly nodded, brushing his fingers against the darkening sky. The rich man turned and left for the house without another word. The servant remained, his wide, nervous eyes motionless. He perched on the wooden rail of the fence and dangled his legs off into the ravine. The only thought in his mind was, How will I go about this? Will I be sent home if I do not follow through with his request?

The servant finally gathered the courage to reenter the home. These long hallways are beginning to nauseate me, he thought as he made his way to the dining room. 

The rich man finished his meal, enjoyed the comforting glow of his fireplace, then made his way to a door in the back of his home. As he slept in his palatial bedroom without a single fret, the young servant crept out of his corridor, pulled on a long jacket and fedora, made his way outside to embark on his journey, and alas, found the sun resting beneath the horizon. 

“Ma’am! Good morning. You seem to have overslept.” 

The sun flicked her eyes open. “I never oversleep! Read me the time, please!”

The servant peeked at his watch, and read a bold 11:00 PM. “It is 11:00 AM,” the servant lied.

“Well, thank you very much. I will begin getting ready so as to not set the entire world into a state of panic. Whatever can I do to repay you?” the sun asked, trembling her fingers as she carefully brushed her golden locks. 

“Well, there is one thing. Would it be too much trouble for you to evaporate the Pacific Ocean?” 

The sun tilted her head in confusion as she tugged a yellow sundress over her head and fixed a sunhat on her head.

“There is an odd request, if I’ve ever heard one! But of course, anything for you.”

The sun guided the servant to the horizon door as she busily attached her earrings and jewelry. Thanking him for coming, she rushed up into the sky as swiftly as possible. Better late than never! she blithely thought.

The servant returned to the rich man’s home and let his eyelids drop as he rested on his metal-wired bed. The sun ascended the sky and took her place next to the moon.

“Thank you for covering the sky for me. I seem to have overslept,” the sun said, graciously shaking the moon’s hand.

The moon had a suspicious look in her eyes. “Is it really 6:30 already?” the moon interrogated. 

“11:00! If you can believe that!” the sun blurted.

The very much confused (but naive) moon bowed her head and descended down the sky below the horizon. 

The rich man awoke at 7:14 AM and consumed his usual breakfast of grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. The young servant eagerly stood in the doorway, concealing the thrilled expression on his face. 

“What is it? Why are you staring?” the man demanded crossly. 

“Have you forgotten? Come take a look outside!”

The man pushed his stool back and followed his servant out to the patio.

“The ocean. Where has it gone? What have you done with it?” the man shrieked shrilly.

“You requested its removal. Remember? Do you?” A smile slowly faded away.

“Look at the land it has left! How barren! Where is the life? The joy? Bring it back now!”

“But I cannot… The sun has taken it. I am afraid it will not return.”

As the days flew by and the sun and moon rose at peculiar times, people in the world were split. A message from God? A punishment from Satan? The Earth falling off its axis? Nobody knew why but some chose to pay no attention. The rich man, for one, did not question the sun and the moon. 

The once beautiful, thriving ocean had gone away, and the rich man began to absorb his surroundings and enjoy every charming aspect of it. Although he consumed his nightly tea while the sun still beamed and enjoyed his usual breakfast as the moon patiently shimmered in the sky, the man could not complain. He made it his moral obligation to not question anything. Not to complain, not a single word. Everything is just heavenly. Oh, just heavenly!

“Look at the ivy growing from the trellis! And the flowers growing from the cracks in the dirt! Oh, how I love the way the aged wood of the railing feels against my fingers and how the clement air touches my face ever so gently! Don’t you just love it?” the rich man howled. “Well, now I will not act on my impulses. There is just too much beauty in everything to want to rid anything!”

The servant just nodded, a broken smile pasted across his face.

The Passenger

A soft pinging plays as the stewardess who’s probably been working in this airport for far too long asks, for the third time, for a passenger to give up their seat on the overbooked plane. The terminal is cold and stiff, unlike the hot and stuffy air awaiting me in 600 miles and 4 hours. I look out the large windows facing the tarmac. The sun is shrouded in bright white clouds and a murky snow coats the grass. In the distance, an outline of my big gray city is barely visible. A line of older people begins to form in front of the desk of arguing flight attendants. I sit and stare at the bustling terminal until the same stewardess grips the intercom again and for the fourth time pleads, “Ladies and gentleman… This flight has been overbooked. If no one chooses to give up their place, the flight cannot leave. Southwest is willing to give away a 500 dollar voucher to another flight, if no one takes this we will randomly select one passenger.” 

She puts the microphone down and I see her begin to lecture a much younger, and likely more patient, flight attendant. The terminal falls to low chatter and the piercing screaming of three toddlers. Every person in the terminal knows someone would have to be crazy to willingly give up their spot on the only flight to Key West 12 hours before Christmas Eve. I whip out my phone and check the time, 12:22. The flight was supposed to board 30 minutes ago and now it seems that I’ll never get to escape this stiff bench and give my ears the relief of silence 10,000 ft in the sky. 

My eyes adjust to a rapidly darkening room as the layers of clouds thicken just outside the glass. I can understand why someone would want to leave Minneapolis in December. I don’t blame the passengers or the flight attendant for being so stubborn. Still, the tension in the room is tangible and all I want is for someone to just give in and let the rest of us leave. After not even a minute, for the fifth time in 30 minutes, a chiming plays again.

Instead of the gruff voice of a weathered old woman, a warm, eager voice of a man begins to play with the intonation of a grade-school PSA.

“Hello ladies and gentleman, this is Captain Pearson speaking for flight 2869. I hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas Eve with us at Southwest airlines.” 

He leaves a bit of space after an idiotic chuckle for a laugh but the room rings silent.

“Anyway… I am obliged to alert you all that a severe winter storm is approaching, and with this delay, there is the possibility of cancellation. I encourage anyone to please give up their seat so we can all go about our trip without further disruption.”

I can feel the collective stomach of the room drop. Instead of the sunny beaches and glorious sunsets of Key West, one of us will be stuck in the luxurious Minneapolis airport during a blizzard. 

How cliche, I think to myself with a grin, what Hallmark plot is this?

The minute that follows is one of the most tense moments of my life, second only to the time at work when I made an ill-timed joke about one of my colleagues’ late mother. In my defense, I didn’t realize she was a late mother at that time.

I took a week off work for this trip; I really could not miss this flight. The decision was pretty spontaneous. I was sick of the same routine over and over and I remembered how my parents would take my brother and me to Key West every winter vacation when I was young. Maybe the change of scenery or the déjà vu from my childhood would help me… 

The fluorescent lighting above seems to get stronger and stronger by the second, and the processed air seems to become more oppressive by the instant. The older people preemptively standing in a line like silver generals on a hill look around as if telling us that we were selfish for refusing to give up our seats that we paid for. I begin to think about why I’m really taking this trip.

Help me what?

Suddenly, the intercom screeches back on and Captain Perfect’s voice begins to replay like a scratched record. At this point, it probably would make sense for someone to just give up already instead of a random selection. Someone like me, I conclude. I mean, I’ll leave it up to another 5’11’’ guy on an irrationally expensive trip for no reason with a bit more honor than me. 

“Okay… since no one wants to give up their seat, uh, we will commence a random selection,” the captain states. I should interject, but I don’t. The odds I get selected are low anyways, and honestly some of these entitled rich people on their vacations should be humbled a bit. But then I kind of feel like this is some sort of Hunger Games drawing. A part of me is sure my name will be the one read out. 

“Marissa Waltzon, would you please check in at the desk to receive your flight voucher,” the captain states.

I quietly grunt a, “Yesss!” with a celebratory fist. As if I would actually be chosen at random. I guess this isn’t really a Hallmark film after all. 

I look around as the room releases a sigh of relief and the stewardess begins to check people onto the flight. I don’t really feel bad for this Marissa. She’s probably some Karen who’s been harassing the airport employees like most of the women here. 

“Sucks to suck.” I mindlessly let out with a grin as I gather my bags to board the plane. 

I then notice the woman next to me, a very young woman actually, and she seems equally offended and heartbroken. She gazes up at me like a wounded street cat. She’s an attractive woman unlike the others in the terminal. She seems to actually take care of herself. 

Her mouth hangs open as if debating whether she wants to say something or not. She definitely is one of those types. I prepare myself to back off and apologize to avoid any confrontation when she looks me up and down and scoffs before turning around to walk over to the desk. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t incredibly offended by that gesture, but I guess that’s women for you. I definitely need to go up and apologize. I’m above that. I speed over to the desk with my backpack in hand.

Right before approaching her I realize, Wait, what do I even say? Oh, sorry for having the maturity of a twelve year old boy. I hope you have a lovely Christmas Eve in an airport… There is no reason for me to even have to apologize. This is stupid.

Before I can turn around to retreat, Marrissa begins to talk to the flight attendant and I can’t help but overhear.

“Are there no other flights to Key West tonight?” she pleads.

The flight attendant shakes her head before tapping her iPad screen with ridiculously long, grotesque pink nails. 

“Ma’am, all flights for the next week are fully booked,” she nonchalantly says, not even bothering to glance up from her screen.

“How about Tampa? Tallahassee? Miami? Orlando?” she says, exasperated. Each time, the flight attendant shakes her head. “Well, is there anything you can do? Please, my mother is on her last legs and she has no one,” she begs. The flight attendant looks up at her, flaunting her wrinkled pale face and obvious wig that’s a bit sideways. 

Annoyed, she says, “Ma’am, it is Christmas week. All direct flights to Florida are booked, you should know that. The best I can do is fly you out to Missoula and get you on a flight to Miami from there in about 36 hours.” She looks down and starts typing before concluding with, “Unfortunately, the voucher can’t fully cover that and you’ll need to pay about 400 additional dollars.”

“Where the hell is Missoula? My mom doesn’t have two days, and I don’t have 400 dollars. This is ridiculous, aren’t you supposed to help me?” Marissa cries.

“Montana,” she replies, not even batting an eye. Marissa’s jaw drops and she stares at the stewardess in shock. “You can always drive,” she replies as if it were some sick joke.

Oh great, now I feel like a double asshole. This has to be some movie plot somewhere. Okay… I need to step up and help this poor woman. She’ll appreciate me so much. 

Nobly, I step up, struggling to find the words.

“Hello ma’am, uhm I’m sorry about your predicament and uhm, uhh,” I stutter.

She turns to look at me like she’s about to kill me before immediately turning back to the attendant.

“Wait no, uhmm, uh, do you wanna trade spots?” I manage to get out. Wow, this is pathetic.

“Huh?” she blurts out.

“I mean if you want to take my place… I can use the voucher,” I try to say as calmly as possible.

Before she can reply, the attendant working the line states that this is the last call to board over the intercom.

Panicked, she looks at me and gives me a nod of approval, and I try to flash a smile but it seems to fall a bit flat.

She whispers a brief, “Thank you,” before hurrying to the line and walking through the tunnel to the plane. I’m shocked. 

She’s walking through my tunnel to my plane to sit in my seat. Is that really all I get? She didn’t even ask my name or insist otherwise. Did I really give my vacation plans to a woman who didn’t even ask my name? Aren’t I owed at least that? That’s it, last time I’m being noble…  Totally unfulfilling… I really didn’t get any credit at all. Zero?!

I snap back to reality when I begin to think about my hotel reservations and my car rental. Oh my God, what have I done? I realize.

I talk to the flight attendant and she redirects me to another desk. After maybe an hour of frustrating back and forth with a much kinder employee, she issues me that ticket to Missoula and Miami for an additional 150 dollars. I go to my stiff bench to hunker down for the rest of the day as it begins to snow. The plane lifts off and here I am, still waiting to board, like I always am. As I sit and wait, I think about Marissa and her mom and the flight of ungrateful passengers and rude attendants, all waiting to get to the next place and do the next thing, moving from one boarding terminal to another while I’ll be sitting on this uncomfortable-ass bench. 

I guess that’s how the world works sometimes… 


Softball Setback


The year after everything happened at my old school…


“Hailey, are you ready for your first day of school? You can’t be late on your first day at a new school,” says my mom in her overexcited voice.

It is my first day of middle school. Everyone says middle school is where you mature and become more responsible. I don’t want to go to middle school. At this middle school I am going to, everyone knows each other from elementary school, so it will be much harder for me to make friends. I had to leave all my friends and my home for this school, well at least the people I thought were my friends.

As I walk onto the bus, everyone stares. I lose my small sliver of confidence and walk to my seat with my head down. Everyone knows each other and fills the bus with their laughter. A group of kids (I think they are eighth graders) steps onto the bus. All of a sudden, the laughter turns into dead silence. Even I tremble a little, and I don’t know the kids. The kids who just arrived on the bus kick the other kids in the back out of their seats. I guess that is their spot. At least I know where to sit now. We arrive safely at school, and I sigh in relief.

Dingggg. Everyone rushes to get to their classes. Everyone knows where to go, and I feel so lost. Sometimes I feel like that in life. Everyone has a path they want to take or a dream they want to follow, and I don’t know what I want. I just stand there not knowing where to go and look confused.

A girl with dark brown hair in braids approaches me. “Hey, you look lost. Do you know where to go?”

I want to say that obviously if I look lost I don’t know where to go, but instead I just smile and show her my schedule.

“You need to go to room 205 which is right down that hallway. Also, my name is Julia.” As I walk with her, she tells me about school and my feeling of loneliness slowly fades. “So I will see you at lunch.”

“Yeah sure,” I reply as I slowly walk to my classes.

Each class is like the other, all strange and embarrassing. I get mean glares from the kids, and the teacher always calls me out for some reason.

“Hey, Hailey, over here.” I see Julia sitting at a table with some other girls, and she is waving at me to come over to the table. “Hailey, these are my friends Alex, Ashley, and Sarah,” Julia says as she points to each one of them.

Alex seems like she has something so important to say and says, “Hey, I saw a flier for school softball team tryouts. We should all try out. Hailey are you going to do it?”

Without time to answer, Sarah replies, “You definitely should. You don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t. Because that would be weird.”

“Ummmm.” I sprint out of the cafeteria and run. I call my parents and tell them I don’t feel well (that is true, just not in the way they think). My Dad picks me up. I probably just ruined the only friendships I had. To make myself even more sad (not on purpose) I sit in my bed and look at my yearbook from my old school. I flip to the page where it says sports teams. There is a photo of the wildcats softball team, and I am in it. I have my arms around two girls (Emma and Katie) who used to be my friends. Why did I have to be mean to my friends. Why why why, I think to myself.



Wooh, wooh, wooh go wildcats!” Everyone cheers (mostly very intense parents) as the game is about to start.

“O-M-G I am so nervous,” I whisper to Katie as our coaches are talking.

“It is the championships, so we have to try our hardest.”

The game goes by quick, and we play well. The score is tied 5-5. It is the last inning, and we are up to bat. There are already two outs. Emma walks up to the plate. One strike… two strikes… three strikes, YOU’RE OUT. The other team is up to bat, and they score. The final score is 5-6.

“Why did you have to do that. You just ruined our chance. It’s all your fault,” I yell at Emma.

Katie jumps in, “It’s just a game. You always overreact about these things. You are so mean.”

SMACK!!! I didn’t even know I was capable of hitting someone so hard. Everyone rushes over around Katie, “Are you okay? What happened?”



“Hailey, are you feeling better? Hailey, Hailey, are you awake?”

“Oh sorry, Mom. I was just thinking, and I guess I got carried away.”

“Is everything alright?”

“Yes, I am fine,” I reply. “Wait, Mom, I have been thinking about last year and everything that happened.” I end up telling my mom everything that has happened in these past few days and how I have been feeling.

“Sometimes you just need someone to talk to. I am glad you told me,” she softly and kindly replies.

The next day at lunch, I am confused about where to sit because of the whole incident, but Julia and her friends Alex, Ashley, and Sarah kindly invite me over to sit with them.

“Are you okay?” they all ask in sync.

“Yeah I am. Well, umm, actually there is something I would like to tell you guys.”

“What? You can tell us anything,” Sarah says, eager to know.

“So pretty much I got in a fight with two girls on the softball team, and I know it sounds crazy and it is not an excuse.”

“Wow, I was not expecting that,” Julia says quietly and nervously.

“Thanks for being honest at least,” Sarah adds in with a bit of a sarcastic tone.

I probably ruined my whole school year just from the first few days, but at least I have nothing to hide. I thought that I wouldn’t have to tell everyone here about my incident at my old school, but I did. I learned that you can’t hide or change who you were, but you can always improve who you are.



My classmates are filing out of the front doors of the school, while the bell I dread every day rings, and I sit on the sunbaked front steps. None of them acknowledge me. They are rushing out of school to summers filled with friendship and freedom while I dread the car that comes to pick me up and deliver me to another two hours of emptying my brain to professionals of everything they consider “toxic.” They want me to be normal, and they continue to repeat that as if I believe it is something that I’m not. Every day, I take pills upon pills that are supposed to calm me down and pick me up at the same time so that I run on a wavelength they think will match everyone else’s. The doctors tell my parents that I am not trying, that I don’t seem to want to get any better. My parents think this couldn’t possibly be true because they don’t believe that I cannot see what everyone else thinks is the matter with me.

In the car, my mother tells me how good this vacation will be, how it will give me a chance to relax and a break from what she thinks is so stressful. While she talks, I think about how the summer will give me far too much time to think. After a while, she decides there is no way she can get me to reply, and she matches my silence for the rest of the ride. There is no such thing as a comfortable silence between us. The absence of words between my mother and me only ever means she is wishing she could read my mind and fill it with her own thoughts. As I leave, she shouts out a message to encourage me to share, which simply reminds me that none of them understand me and that all of them want me to change. She thinks that watching her sister go to therapy prepared her to send me into this room, but she’s wrong. If she had really been prepared for this, she would understand how much better it would be if I never went.

The room is always stifling. They think that I will be more comfortable if I can see the sun streaming through the windows, and they think the soft, white furniture and the bright walls with colorful paintings will inspire me to be as bright as the sun and as colorful as the bowl of fruit hanging behind the smiling lady. The questions are always the same. The doctors whose names I never bother to learn before they trade me off always want to start the same way.

“Tell me about yourself.”

They say that as if they are doing me a favor and giving me an easy way to begin. They present this as a statement and not a question, and they listen through my answer, trying to find somewhere to interject and give their opinions which they think they can fix me with. But I am smarter than them. I have been for a while. I know what I am supposed to say, how to talk in circles so that I have all the power. I know how to present all my unrelated issues as the basis of what is wrong with me so that they waste their precious time fixing a problem that I discovered yesterday, that wouldn’t have bothered me tomorrow. Sometimes, I forget the circles and simply list facts that they cannot dissect so we can sit in a standstill and wait for the other to break first. I never break first. Every once in a while, I start to feel bad that my parents spend so much of the money they care so much about on trying to make sure I am okay, but then I remember that they haven’t bothered to find out whether I already am okay. I can confuse the doctor easily, more easily than almost anything else I do, but I can’t seem to convince my parents that nothing is wrong. So I begin listing the facts they think will add up to me and create who I am.

“My name is Elizabeth Morgan. I just finished the ninth grade. My favorite color is gray. I have two dogs named Salt and Pepper. I run track, I write poetry, and the only bad grade I have ever gotten was in my sixth-grade Spanish class when I threw up during my oral presentation.”

I decide that’s all the information she needs, and I lean forward and sigh as if I am about to tell her how this all makes me feel, as if I am about to do her entire job for her and diagnose myself, and then I sit back and watch as her smile turns into a look of bafflement and disbelief. She didn’t think that what the other doctors said was true. She was hoping she would be the one to crack me open and make me see what the other doctors saw that made them pump me with pills. The next question is the same as it has always been.

“So why do you think you’re here?”

This question was hard to answer at first. I couldn’t figure out how to explain that I didn’t belong here without sounding like an insecure teenager that simply felt out of place. I’ve discovered the best way to get someone to stop asking you questions whose answers you don’t want to think about is by questioning their purpose in the conversation. I refuse to move to answer the questions I have heard a thousand times that have been presented as an innovative way to discover what is wrong with me, so I sit in the same position that shows just how bored I am by all her attempts.

I answer, “Isn’t that what you’re supposed to tell me?”

Sometimes, they think I am joking, but they tend to figure it out quickly. Sometimes, they think that I don’t understand how therapy works, and they launch into long-winded lectures on how this room is a safe space and how they’re simply there to guide me to discoveries about myself. Those always give me a nice chance for a nap. This doctor isn’t any different. She laughs as if I have said something funny and not as if I have said the only honest thing I will say the whole time. Moving on, she tries to ask me how I feel about the approaching summer. I give her the response I know that she is expecting, and she sounds like a broken record of my mother, explaining how good this break will be. Eventually, she lets me leave. She doesn’t seem quite as defeated as I’ve come to expect, and I wonder if she’ll last longer than the last doctor who decided he couldn’t help me either. Another silent car ride, and I’m finally home.

Dinner is not a particularly pleasant event in my house. My parents have conversations with their eyes, thinking that if they don’t make any sound, I couldn’t possibly hear what they’re saying. While they do this, I try to find something to fill the stretch of empty time lying in front of me. Once I leave the table, they give up on their silent conversations, and I once again listen as they try to decode what could possibly be happening in my head. My mother whispers about a sister she stopped mentioning to me once it became clear I might have ended up with the same problems everyone thought she used to have.

“I’m worried about her, you know. She seems so much like my sister right before, well, you know what happened. We can’t let that happen to her. She’ll never be able to move past it.”

My father has never seemed comforting to me, but he manages to calm down my mother as I walk back to my room. Once I’m there, I begin to wonder more about this woman I’ve only heard of in passing. “Aunt” is not a term I have ever used before to describe this woman who used to be in my mother’s life. I have never met her, and everything I have heard about her is composed of my mother’s desire to convince me how important it is that I do not let things get as far as her sister did.

Back in my room, I decide I need a plan, a way to escape the routine they designed to help me which can only be making me worse. My aunt will take me in, I’m sure of it, and she won’t tell anyone where I am because she understands me. Everyone thought she was sick, and I know by the way they talk about it in the past tense she has to have proved them wrong. If I can just get to her, she won’t let them bring me back to this. The only problem is I don’t know where she lives. But that can be solved, and having a goal helps me feel focused. When I don’t have a goal, I feel like I’m drifting. Like I can’t move unless I’m moved by someone else, and no one ever sends me where I want to go.

It won’t be easy to find out where she lives. My mother hasn’t talked about her openly in two years, and even before she stopped being mentioned completely, my mother only ever told me how troubled she was. But my mother has a weakness. She believes so thoroughly that I will one day see in myself what she wants to change that she will believe anything I say as long as I show her that I am trying. And so, I set my plan in motion.

It is easy to convince the doctor that I’ve finally changed, finally seen the light from which all the others refused to give me shade, and that I am finally prepared to use their help. I ask her whether she thinks it would help me if I could talk to someone outside of this room, someone who has lived through what I am feeling and isn’t being paid to try and fix me. I know it’s only a matter of time before my mother cracks and sends me to her sister. I have given her just enough hope for me that she’ll think even her sister can’t drag me down. Later, my mother is helping me pack. She can’t hide the fact that she is nervous, but she tries to, saying she’s simply going to miss me.

The door to my aunt’s apartment is gray. My mother drove away ten minutes ago, explaining that she couldn’t possibly see her sister again, even after all this time. I haven’t rung the doorbell yet, and a second later, I don’t need to. The door swings open, and a woman steps out. She is small, like my mother. I am bigger, but standing in front of her shrinks me. There are a thousand colors in the clothes on her body, and her shoes are missing. It looks like a costume, but makes me feel like, in my gray t-shirt and black pants, I’m the one wearing a disguise. I can’t tell if she’s happy to see me, and I am shocked by how little she reminds me of myself. Seeing her makes me realize how many expectations I had for how she would be. When I had imagined her, it was always as if I were talking to a mirror image of myself who simply had the power I didn’t. When she ushers me into the living room and sits across from me, I am shocked by how familiar it feels until I notice the oranges sitting in a basket on the piano behind her. I want to believe she will help me the way that I want to be helped, but I am afraid she will help me in the way everyone else has been trying to.

Instantly, I know she is wondering why I could possibly be here. We have never talked before, and she doesn’t understand why I think she can help me. I’ve never been much for small talk. Or if you’ve heard my mom speak recently, I just don’t know how to communicate anymore. So I’m instantly uncomfortable when she starts in on all the questions she has about my life. Her first question surprises me.

“Are you glad to be out of school?”

I don’t know how this question is supposed to help me, so I don’t bother responding. She tries again, this time it’s a question I can answer. A question about facts.

“What grade are you in?”

“Tenth,” I reply quickly, and she seems surprised by the sound of my voice. Her questions don’t seem to be getting more helpful as she continues. She asks about the drive — fine –, and how my father is doing — fine –, how school is — horrible –, how my friends are — nonexistent –, what I like to do in my free time — not much. She doesn’t ask any questions about me for a long time. Finally though, she breaks, although the question confuses me as much as the others.

Her next question is too familiar, the same as it always is. “So, why are you here?”

I am shocked that she does not understand why I can’t answer that question, I can’t lie to her like I can lie to the doctors, but right now, I can’t see how they’re different. I want to leave, but of course, that would be too easy. I don’t know why I expected this to be simple; nothing has ever worked exactly the way I wanted. Whenever I think I have reached something, life has a cruel way of telling me to be careful what you wish for. I’m no longer sure why I am here; it has become glaringly obvious that she will not do what I need her to, but I have no other answer for her.

“Because you’re the only one who can help me. You understand what they’re putting me through. And you can save me from it.”

Once the words have left my mouth, I can see that she will not help me. Her head shakes. Then, almost as if she is not aware she has already denied me of her help, she speaks.

“I can’t save you from this. You don’t need saving.”

Already, I think that I have figured her out. So I am not surprised. She doesn’t want to help me, she thinks that I should suffer through what she had to. She is not what I imagined. I have not cried since my days when scraping my knees on the playground seemed like the end of the world, but by the time I remember what the burning sensation behind my eyes mean, the droplets are threatening to spill over. I cannot believe how much I allowed myself to believe someone would be able to help me. Then she shocks me again.

“But I will help you. You may not believe anymore that I understand you, but I do.”

She is more complicated than I thought. We don’t talk anymore after that. There doesn’t seem to be anything left to say.

Later, I sleep. The room I am in is too colorful. It reminds me of a vacation, and vacations are a time when I am left by myself for far too long. The walls are yellow, and the blankets on the bed are a myriad of colors that I am sure are the reason I am having trouble breathing. Turning off the lights does not help. The colors are still everywhere, and so I close my eyes and hope they will go away.

In the morning, my aunt makes breakfast. I pretend that I have taken my pills, and we sit at the table, and she does not try to make conversation. Tonight, my mother will pick me up, and I will forget my aunt, and I will go back to knowing there is nobody who can help me.

“You know they think they’re helping you.”

It feels as though she can read my thoughts, but she sounds too much like my doctors for me to want to believe that.

“But they aren’t, and they’re not changing anything. I don’t need help. Their version of help is making everything worse.”

I surprise myself with these words. They are the closest I have come to admitting something could be wrong, and I can’t believe they have come from me. My aunt looks at me sadly, like she is remembering.

“Do you remember why they sent you to the first doctor?”

No one has ever asked me this question. This is one I must answer. This is a question about facts, and I cannot lie about facts.

“My mother was scared.”

She flinches at the mention of my mother, like she forgot that I came from a part of her past.

“My friends stopped talking to me, and she didn’t understand why I was not upset. She didn’t understand why I did not try to make other friends and started coming home from school to spend all my time alone. She thought that I needed professional help because I wouldn’t talk to anyone else.”

I haven’t thought about that day in a long time, the day all my friends decided I was no longer worth talking to, and then a few weeks later, when my mother decided that ignoring everyone meant something was wrong. I didn’t seem to know how horrible those days would make my life. I know that I am angry now — that much has been clear for a long time — but I do not remember being angry then.

The first doctor I met was nice. She was the first one to ask me the questions. Before I crafted my perfect answers and before I learned that she wasn’t trying to help. I was not angry when I went home that day. I didn’t feel anything when I went home that day. Just as it had been for the past few weeks. My mother was not too happy when I came home, and my father didn’t bother to look up from his paper. He was not worried then. It was still only my mother’s job to worry then. She had wanted me to talk, and I had just wanted to sleep.

A week later, my mother sent me to another appointment. “We’re going to try someone better today.” I realize now that those were the last weeks she expected me to come back the way I was before. A new doctor entered the room and asked me the same questions. Another person had left, and still, I did not care. The new doctor lasted two months. In the beginning, he had understood when I did not want to talk. Later, he had tried to explain to me why I was there, and I had refused to acknowledge it. He had given up. And the pattern continued. Somewhere in the middle, the doctors had decided questions would not be enough and had all written me prescriptions for pills that were supposed to do the same job, only this time I wouldn’t have been able to fight it.

I want to know why my aunt was sent to her first doctor. I want to know whether she was angry. I want to find my connection to her again because if everyone else can still see it, it has to still be there. She breaks through my thoughts, and it surprises me. I am not used to being surprised, and this weekend hasn’t given me a chance to get back on my feet.

“It’s ok that you had a few bad days, you know. Bad days are ok. Once they start stringing together for so long that you can’t remember the good ones, that’s when it becomes a problem.”

I want to know if she remembers the good days now.

She does. She tells me she does.

Suddenly, I want to remember my good days. I want to laugh again and be happy when someone new talks to me, but that still all seems so far away.

“We should have a good day.”

I don’t know what she means by that, but I know that whatever she does can only help. I have been hovering over rock bottom for a long time now, but I’ve been refusing to look down and see how close I am. Anything we do can only help.

She takes me to an art studio. It is filled with people, which should make me nervous, especially when they all turn to look at us, but I can tell that they will not force me to talk. My aunt seems to know everybody. Every time we turn around, there is someone else waiting to ask her how she’s been and to show her what they’re making. Their laughter sounds too harsh, too foreign. Some of them glance at me, and when my aunt notices how tense I am, she distracts them. After a while, it seems like she has greeted everyone, and she makes her way to the middle of the room where an easel stands. She places something on the easel, and I notice the painting she was working on when I went to bed. It’s a room with yellow walls. There are a thousand colors in the painting, and in the corner, there is a dark spot. A girl in black sits in the corner and looks like she is fighting the room, fighting for her dark spot to grow, but the room is winning.

I decide I want to see what everyone else is creating. The room is filled with people who want to talk, they want to explain what they are creating, and this feels safe to me. So I listen as everyone manages to show themselves through their paintings and their drawings and their sculptures. All of them show a battle, a flower breaking through a barren wasteland, the sun breaking through a dark night over a city. Sometimes, the dark side is winning, and sometimes, both sides are equally frozen, like the artist isn’t sure which side is fighting harder. These are the ones I understand.

By noon, my aunt has finished her painting, and everyone in the studio has stopped working. They all wait for each other, like there is a protocol and they all know how this goes. So I follow along as we walk as a group, a noisy group filled with laughter, down the street and into a cafe. The waitress smiles as we walk in and hands me a menu. Everyone’s food starts arriving as I look through. Eventually, we’re all eating and talking, and I find myself smiling. Their laughter doesn’t sound so harsh anymore, and a few times, I find myself joining in. By the time we leave the cafe, we’ve been talking for two hours, and yet, I have the most energy I’ve had in months. In the studio, my aunt leaves her painting and makes her rounds to say goodbye. I don’t think I am ready to leave, but she drags me home.

I expect to feel different in her apartment. I expect the colors to be suffocating again, but they seem lighter now. I don’t want to go home tonight, to a room filled with gray and void of all color.

“You can’t stay here, you know. You can’t hide here and pretend you’re getting better. You need to go home.”

I know she is right, but I’m scared. I haven’t felt anything in a long time, and now I am feeling everything too much and too fast and it’s okay here because it’s new here, but I know that when I go home, it will be too much.

“How do I stop being scared?” I need her to tell me, I need to know that she did it so that I know I can.

“You don’t.” I think I stop breathing for a minute. “You have to let the fear help you. If everything gets easy, there isn’t a fight anymore, and it’s too easy to let everything take over.”

That night, it’s hard to say goodbye. She won’t talk to my mother. It’s too hard for her to remember how little my mother understood her. I understand, so I say goodbye in her living room. Behind her, there is a basket of oranges, but there are also paintings. In the corner, they are dark and scary, but directly behind her, they are full of light. I am not sure which ones I am afraid of.

When I say goodbye to my aunt, I’m not sure when I’ll see her again. She hugs me goodbye, and then she straightens up and clears her throat.

“You know your mother ruined my life. She doesn’t understand us at all. For your sake, I hope she doesn’t mess up so badly with you.”

She sounds so sure when she says this, as if she still knows my mother and she knows that it can’t be avoided. But she hasn’t talked to her for over fifteen years, and I can’t believe she is still acting like everything that happened between them was yesterday and that there is no way my mother could have changed. It shocks me that I feel so protective of my mother even though I thought she was so horrible for what she did to her sister. At that moment, I realize I don’t even know what she did to her sister.

I’ve never bothered to ask my mother why it was so hard for her to see parts of her sister in me. I realize that my aunt has never bothered to ask why my mother had such a hard time when she was getting help and that my mother has never bothered to understand her story either. I realize that my mother wasn’t the only one pushing off the blame and responsibility of the destruction of their relationship.

Every little comment my aunt has made about my mother seems to add up, and I know I’ve heard more bad things about my mother this weekend than I ever did about my aunt. As the gray door closes behind me when I walk out, I know that it is closing for good. That I have gotten what I needed from my aunt and that she faced my mother through me in the only way she could have. We don’t need each other anymore.

The car ride home is quiet. It’s no longer a bad kind of quiet. My mother and I are finally realizing that we both need to change. When we are almost home, my mother tells me she thinks that I should start therapy again. I do not yell like I would before. I understand now. I tell her that I can’t take pills anymore. She understands now.

Things are not different at home. Dinner is still quiet, but my parents are no longer talking about me silently. We are all apologizing with our eyes.

In my room, there are cans on the floor. They are filled with yellow paint, and for the first time since I scraped my knees on the playground, I let myself cry.