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Unhinged (3rd Prize Winner - Group II)

March, 2011
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All I remember is running. My heart beating like a hummingbird’s, my legs creaking like an old door with every step. Sprinting away from some evil force, a monster only visible from my eyes. His name? Yes, you guessed it, Guilt. Blind, like the three mice from my childhood stories, I ran further and further, the immense darkness ripping away all my senses. Left with only my animal instincts and the fear enveloping around me, I was like a newborn baby; no idea what was going on and scared to death about it. The sound of pounding feet behind me was getting louder; Guilt was catching up.

“CHLOE!” Boomed a voice in my head, and I shot up out of bed. I swallowed the scream aching to get out of my throat and began to get ready for school. I walked downstairs like a zombie, letting my feet hit the floor with a heavy thud. I had no intention of enjoying my day, nor had I for the past week.

“Chloe! Would you stop making all the ruckus?” My mom shouted from the kitchen.

“Hey honey,” she said as I walked in, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you caused an earthquake with all that stomping of yours.” She chuckled.

I let out a half attempt at fake laughter and sat down to eat my breakfast. My mom reached for the remote and turned on the small TV we have on the kitchen counter. She turned up the sound when she saw that the news was on.

“The police still have no leads on the cause of the local school fire occurring a week ago.” Said Tina Greene, the local news reporter, “As you can see behind me, the fire would have wiped out the entire gym if it wasn’t for our handy firemen, always ready to do the job!” She said in that annoying perky voice of hers. I turned my head away and ignored it, choking down the rest of my food in matter of seconds.

“Gotta go, mom” I mumbled and raced out the door with my backpack slung over one shoulder. As I shuffled to school, I looked down at the floor and saw that the tip of my shoelace was on fire. I let out a shriek and ran to the nearest hose in my neighbor’s backyard. When I was ready to turn on the tap, I looked back down but the fire was gone.
“What the hell?” I whispered to the wind. Shaking my head, I continued heading for school.

 

I walked to my first class, keeping my head low and ignoring all the chattering about the fire and whether the culprit would be caught or not. I kept hearing snippets of conversations,

“The police are pretty sure the person who did it is a student here!”,

“Wow, what a pyromaniac.”

“I hope they catch the person soon!” and a few more I dare not mention.

During the first class, time inched by and when it was finally over, I was ready to practically run out of the classroom. Before I had the chance though, a voice called me back in,

“Chloe, would you mind coming over here please?” I sighed as the rest of the students swarmed out of the room, one of them pausing long enough to stick their tongue out at me. I glared at them until they left, then headed over to the teacher’s desk.

“Yeah?” I asked, knowing I should probably be more polite to a teacher.

“Choe, has something been going on with you? You seem very distracted in class lately.”

“Nope. Fine. Can I go now?” I replied quickly, limiting myself to as few words as possible.

“Yes, all right” He said with a sigh.

Feeling as if I’d just been released from restraints, I stumbled to the door as quick as I could manage. The next class, I was allowed to go to the library to study. I picked up a history book and went to the way back where nobody ever liked to go. I plumped down

onto the dusty chair and opened up the fat book with a heavy sigh. I read for a while, but the words started to move around the page and blended together in weird ways. I blinked several times, but all that did was make several words appear on the page, “fire”, “gym”, and “GUILT.” I slammed the book closed, and it made a huge echoing noise throughout the library. Figuring the uptight librarian would come chastise me; I decided to leave. While walking through the usually busy aisles, I noticed that all of them were now empty. I walked over the reception desk, hoping to ask what was going on, but the desk was clear of all people as well. I checked the hallway next, but no such luck; it was completely empty as well. I began to pick up my pace, heart beating faster than normal. There was black ash everywhere in the hallway, everything was black and white, and time seemed to slow down. All sounds were cleared out except that of my rasping breath. It felt as if my feet were being weighed down and with every step I took, a whirlwind of ash was sent up. The vacant hallway seemed never-ending, the exit door moving further away. The whole world seemed to darken, the only light coming from the illuminated eyes all around me, every single one watching my every move. A deep growling came from behind me and I opened my mouth up to scream, but no sound came out. The familiar pounding of Guilt came closer and closer still. The floor seemed to turn to quicksand, leaving me trapped. Easy prey for the predator inside me.

 

I woke up with a jolt, my face leaning against the book. I jumped up in panic and sprinted out of the library and into the hallway. Tears streaming down my face, I ran down the hall as fast as my legs would take me. Unaware to anything and anyone around me, I managed to crash right into the principal of the school.

“Whoa, Chloe, what are you doing? You know running is prohibited inside the school hallways.”

“I caused the fire.” I sobbed. His eyes widened and he led me silently into his office. He motioned for me to sit down and then went into serious mode.

“Now Chloe, tell me exactly what happened.”

“Okay, so it was last week Friday, and after everybody had gone home for school…”

 

I was in a bad mood and didn’t want to go home. I had no friends to hang out with like everyone else, so I ended up wandering to the gym. I figured I’d shoot some hoops or something. But then I saw the janitor’s cart there, and I started messing around with the equipment. After a while, decided to head home, but I stumbled and accidentally kicked over a bucket of water. The water splashed all over the electrical outlet and the sparks caused a fire.

 

I sighed and added in, “I know I should have stayed and tried to put out the fire, or at least called for help, but the whole thing freaked me out and so I just… kinda….ran. I wasn’t thinking. And I’m really really sorry!” I refused to cry and just sat in the chair awaiting the punishment that was sure to come.

“I can understand, Chloe.” The principal said, catching me completely off guard, “But you know that’s why we have the rule against staying at school after hours. And the responsible thing would have been to tell someone straight away, but at least you did come clean. But you understand that I will have to suspend you a few days.”

“Yes, sir.” I said in the most polite voice I could manage.

“I’ll go call your mother.”

 

Lying in the comfort of my bed suddenly felt a lot better. I could still hear my parents arguing downstairs about how to punish me, and the lecture I had just earned from my mom would stay with me forever, but as strange as it may sound, I felt much better. I was glad I made the decision to tell the truth, and let the lies fall dead. I finally felt at peace. I had a long night’s sleep ahead of me. No monster named Guilt for me tonight. I sighed in content and drifted into a deep state of long overdue sleep. 

 

By Vera Willemsen,

Shanghai American School 

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