A desert literacy story for a contest. Enjoy!
Long sheets of black hair weighed down by the heavy atmosphere and flying particles of sand, a girl sat patiently in the shade of a dune and studied the thousands of books surrounding her. The girl’s last memory had been when she and her father were practicing piano, and she was almost on the verge of getting the order of a simplistic song right. Her father had told her that even if she had made a mistake, if she hit the wrong key, she must continue to play and pay it no mind. He had said it kindly, so she had continued to play the song until the tips of her pale fingers grew red.
Her hands were entirely red now because of the heat of the sun. She could not remember what happened after that time at the piano, and she did not know who had brought her here. The girl did not panic, however, and she decided to pick up one of the books. It was a small book with no title and a cream cover. There were no words printed inside, only lines to where the reader would hold up their writing utensil and scribble down the thoughts of the day. The girl tossed it aside. She thought she saw a tall shadow glide by her, but she decided it was nothing.
The books were in piles and heaps all around her like tall landmines, all of their varied colors and shapes distinct from the course, blond ground. She walked for hours, the sand stinging her feet until they could no longer feel pain, and she leafed through only hundreds of the bound stories scattered about the desert like a trail. Though she was still quite small, she was a rather intelligent person, and it took her one day to read 1,000 pages. Once she had finished a hundred books (some six hundred pages, other only a few dozen), six months had passed. During that time she began to increase the speed of her reading. Her eyes scanned the pages like a printer on a wordy sheet, faster than the speed of her father’s second wife’s car as it steamrolled down the neighborhood roads. Exceptional she was.
The more words that filled her mind the less she could remember why she was here.
“You’re not to talk during your lesson, April.”
“I know. I just don’t feel like it today.”
“Practice your viola then.”
“I don’t really feel like doing that either.”
“Would you like to study for your algebra exam?”
“If those are my only options, then I suppose I’ll continue on the piano.”
“When you’re done, go to your room to sleep.”
“It’s only four, why am I being sent to bed so early?”
“Because I haven’t seen you in ten years and I’m already sick of you.”
“That’s terribly rude.”
“No talking during lessons.”
As she read more, she found that many of the stories were fiction. They centered around a protagonist, usually a child or young teen, on an adventure filled with macabre peril and subsequential plunder. She thought about her own situation and questioned the purpose of these sorts of stories surrounding her in some twisted destiny.
Being here in her solitude was nothing like the words typed on hundreds of cream pages. This was not a magical journey or a male power fantasy quest or a battle to defeat evil and restore the balance. She was a girl confined to the corners of a desert with no purpose, and she knew not where to find the exit, let alone her purpose.
Three years had passed now since her first memory of entering this cell. She was twelve now. A character in the book she was reading now had turned twelve, so she made this day her birthday. (By her calculations, she was fourteen, as she had aged herself up with the fictional characters in her stories twice too many times.) When she finished the novel, she threw it into the pile of all the others she had finished, and decided to walk around.
She did this very rarely, as it wasted a lot of energy to even bother moving. Whenever she did, she found it was useless because it all looked the same each time and with no end in sight. She did not long for companionship, and she truly was in no great hurry to be gone, but it would give her solace if she at least knew there was a possibility that she could end this one day.
It was night now. Nights were far worse than the days. The temperature dropped so suddenly that in the first month of her arrival, she had nearly died from sickness. She had grown accustomed to it only slightly, but she found picking up another book helped, holding it up underneath the sky bedazzled by dying stars. As she read, she felt the sub zero chill no longer and all she could feel was the anxiety of the large-eyed, black and white magical girls drawn on the pages.
“I’ll be out of this house in only a few months. Can’t you bear to see my face a bit longer?”
“‘Fraid not. Pack up, April.”
“Alright, give me a minute. It’s four in the morning.”
“I know what the damn time is. Move quicker.”
“No need to. I don’t have much of anything to begin with.”
“Then what is the protesting?”
“I wasn’t. I am just still tired. Do you have any suggestions as to where I must go?”
“As far away from this county as you possible, farther if you can muster the strength.”
“Fine. My bags are already packed in the closet. Move aside a moment please so I can reach them.”
“Hmph. Prepared were you? That’s something your father would’ve been proud of.”
“Yes. Oh, speaking of father, sell his piano.”
“Why on earth would I do that, you pasty gremlin?”
“Because he told me.”
“Don’t start walking out that door now! Told you what?”
“That if I can’t play his piano, if it’s not mine, he wants it to go to another child who needs it.”
“Lies. Moronic. He would never say such a ridiculous thing, and no child ever needs anything.”
“Perhaps to you. Before I depart, do you care to tell me what happened to my father?”
Hello and hello! Thank you for reading my story, which I just realized I can’t even submit to the Waterston contest because I don’t live in Oregon :’)) I’ll be posting the second part later this week. If you would like to check out my book Accursed Red, it is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It would mean everything if you purchased it, just to help me out with upcoming college funds as a currently unemployed (thank you, COVID-19!) senior. Thank you for supporting me and my blog, and thank you for over 100 followers!
(gif credit to zitawalker on tumblr)