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Monday afternoon I had one of those moments with my daughter I will never forget. I’d received an email Sunday evening for school reminders. One event stuck out–the Literary Magazine Contest. My daughter has been a member for three years. She loves to write but she’s never entered anything in the yearly contest. I approached her about it and offered to proofread anything. I spent much of the day, while she was in school, editing one poem and one chapter from a short story. Most of the errors I fixed were things like commas and missing words. When she got home and read her newly cleaned up pieces her eyes sparkled. She’d not looked at her short story in some time and was surprised by what she’d written. Unfortunately, most of the Literary Magazine classmates were not so charmed. My daughter reads science fiction and fantasy, and she especially loves post-apocalypse/dystopian fiction. We live in a rural, conservative area where most of the young girls and young women read the equivalent of chick lit. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that they cannot appreciate anything outside that genre. The few kids who do read more speculative fiction gave my daughter’s story 8’s and above (the scale was from 1-10). The kids who gave it lower scores admitted they thought the writing was great but weren’t “crazy” about the story. Even the teacher who hosts Literary Magazine wasn’t very enthused. We talked about how you can’t write for other people’s tastes, you have to write what you want to write–what you love writing. She presented a story to a group that for the most part couldn’t appreciate the story because they don’t read in that genre. I told her how proud I was of her that knowing this she went ahead and entered her story anyway. She told me she felt even more inspired now to keep writing her story. (Yay!)  But this could have easily gone the other direction. I wonder how many young writers get discouraged by their peers and/or lack the support and encouragement they need from their parents?

I asked my daughter if she would mind if I shared her story on my blog. She agreed. I would love for you all to give her some more positive feedback, but I will say ahead of time her story may be upsetting if you don’t read post-apocalypse/dystopian fiction. It does contain some imagery that might be upsetting. If you don’t, you may want to sit this one out. Here are a couple facts to keep in mind before you begin reading.

1. This was originally meant as a prologue to a story, but we changed it to chapter 1 of the story for the contest.

2. My daughter is 14 years old.

3. The story is about 800 words long or two pages typed.

From the Ashes

Chapter 1

Sirens were going off everywhere, they blared out the sound of the explosions, but I could still feel them. The ground shook and vibrated from their impacts.

“Mom,” I yelled, hearing my voice crack. Tears raced down my face. My dark brown hair sat matted to my back. Usually, I would have stopped to fix it, but that didn’t matter right now. I had been doing this for hours, and for a while my head had hurt; now it was numb. My ears were ringing with the voices of the people trapped in surrounding houses, begging and pleading for help. But I gave them no thought. All I could think of was my mother, and finding her.

I slowly began to move the rubble of what was once my home. The jagged rocks cut my arms, blood pooled and streamed, staining my Green Day t-shirt. My muscles screamed at me to stop, but I ignored them. She had to be here. She had to be alive. If I was thinking logically I would have known that no one could be alive underneath the debris of our house. That’s the thing, I wasn’t.

I cried out in relief when I saw that her small manicured hand had emerged. I must have been digging for hours, and had been close to stopping, but this reignited my determination.

“Mom, I’ll get you out of there,” I said “I’m coming mom. I’m coming”.

As my work continued, I revealed her arms, legs, and torso. Her body appeared unharmed, a little dirty perhaps, but unharmed. This filled me with hope. I didn’t seem to notice she wasn’t responding. I also didn’t seem to notice her normally tan skin was pasty white.

“Mom,” I said gently as I slowly lifted the last rock from the top of her head. There was no response, she didn’t even a twitch. “Mom, don’t play around,” I whispered in her ear.

I began to laugh and cry hysterically. I whimpered. I turned over her body, gritting my teeth, preparing for the worse. But nothing, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Somewhere along the way I think I knew she’d been dead all along. I’d had a severe case of denial. I suppose I needed to see her myself, see her with my own eyes. She was my mother. My only family left. Her face was bloody and smashed in due to the rocks below. I crawled over beside her, scraping my knees on the jagged, rough rocks that surrounded her body. I lay there for hours, ignoring the hunger that clawed at my stomach, and the burning thirst lining my throat. My body racked with sobs. My tears stung the cuts that would become scars. I’m not sure how long I lay there, but for me it wasn’t enough.
Voices roused me from my morbid trance. I scrambled around, looking for something to defend myself with. My movements were sluggish and languid. The bombs had ended hours ago but I was still suspicious. I placed an arm defensively over my mom’s body; the other clutched a long, sharp piece of metal I had scavenged. A short, stout, grey haired man cautiously approached me. All the muscles in my body stiffened. I was prepared to attack at any sign of hostility.

“You’re among friends,” he said. His was voice scratchy, rough, and flat.

In my opinion, you’re among friends, was an overused movie phrase that was about as cheesy as you could get. Apparently he didn’t see it that way. I looked back at my mother, my only friend. Memories flashed through my head…..my mother catching me as I fell off my first bike, me crying while she comforted me, Christmas wrapping paper flying across the floor….I stood there, as if frozen in place by some mysterious force. I was surprised when no tears came; my eyes were as dry as a desert. I felt nothing.

I was only vaguely aware of my makeshift weapon being slipped and pulled out of my palm. I tried to pull back, bring the control of the weapon back to me, but it was too late. A sharp pain exploded in my right calf, it buckled, throwing me to the ground. I tried to cry out in pain, but my mouth had already been secured with duck tape, as if they thought I would hurt them with my desperate screams. A strong hand gripped my arm; yanking me to feet. Something small and sharp stung my neck. I tensed and then suddenly my muscles relaxed against my will, my vision blurred. The thoughts in my head seemed to be covered in fuzz. I felt as though I was losing my grip on reality, and then everything went black….

© Sydney Mattox

***

And to give you a taste of where this goes next:

Chapter 2

Yesterday I had woken up to steaming hot pancakes and warm buttermilk biscuits. Today was different. I woke to an empty stomach and a bomb shelter crammed with 473 strangers. Most people had been generally aware that there was some tension between the countries of the world, but none. . .

© Sydney Mattox

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