Rocky River High School
Instructor: Ashley Morris
Koree carefully shaded the mulberries with her violet Prismacolor pencil. They didn't look right, but she put the drawing in her growing stack of mulberry tree sketches. In the dim yellow light of her desk lamp, the purple pencil reflected onto her finger tips, bringing her back.
Ashley's watermelon-patterned sneakers gripped the smooth bark of the mulberry tree, her dark braids swinging as she pulled herself up to perch on a higher branch. It was the only fruit-bearing tree in the forest. Ashley would know. The forest had been her playground since before she could remember.
"You're gonna fall," Koree called from the ground, as she sat on Ashley's abandoned, baggy jacket, twirling the stem of a rosy forget-me-not between her thumb and finger. Ashley had gifted the flower to her earlier as they walked, plucking it from a cluster along the trail. Pachysandra and ivy curled over much of the ground, ready to trip hikers who strayed from the path. Ashley had helped Koree navigate the hazardous green carpet to reach the mulberry tree.
"I did this all the time as a kid to get mulberries," Ashley pulled herself higher, biceps flexing, "I used to think all the best fruit grew at the top where the little wood elves couldn't steal it. Of course, then I learned that the elves could climb." A chirp of laughter from up in the branches left Koree visualizing Ashley's sparkling amber eyes, the light catching on the line of gold circling each pupil.
"Oh yeah? What else did your imaginary wood elves do?" Koree looked up at the branches, surprised when she found Ashley already a quarter of the way up the tree.
"Well, the elves wouldn't like me telling you all their secrets, but I suppose if you really want to know," Ashley paused her climbing for dramatic effect, "Remember those paper fortune tellers we used to make in elementary school? They use those to make all their important decisions. Maybe we should try that." The tree leaves seemed to chuckle with Ashley as they rustled in the wind.
Koree found herself inexplicably smiling as she tucked the forget-me-not behind her ear. She foraged through her salmon-pink duct tape purse, another gift from Ashley. She pulled out a battered Hello Kitty notebook, left in her bag mainly for reminders and occasional tiny sketches, and tore a page from the shiny, purple spirals of the book. She gently gnawed on her tongue as she tore the paper into a square and made the folds to create the fortune teller.
"What sort of question should we ask it?" Koree saw that Ashley had scaled half way up the tree about twenty feet up. The height would have made her dizzy.
"I can't tell you my question. That would jinx it." Ashley called down, her voice startling a cawing shadow of a bird from a nearby tree.
"I'm pretty sure that's only birthday wishes." Koree scribbled the "Y" of Yes onto the folded paper with her pencil.
"Whatever, still not telling you. I can almost reach the best mulberries," Ashley tested the weight of the branch above her. The thick branches from below had started to give way to thinner branches nearing the top.
"Pick a color."
"Not one of your options."
Ashley pulled herself a branch higher, grasping onto nearby branches to keep her balance on the thinner branch, "Ugh, black."
Koree shifted the fortune teller into its second position as Ashley reached up to the next branch.
"Choose either 4, 3, 6, or 9."
"Definitely 4" Ashley pulled on the next branch within reach.
"Same options again."
"Still 4," Ashley pulled herself up and let her weight shift like a gymnast on the uneven bars.
"You're in luck, the answer to you question is 'Yes" Koree called up.
A sudden jarring snap hit Koree's ears like a crushing weight. The sound echoed— everything else in the forest had gone quiet.
Ashley had no time to react; her feet slipped on the trunk's bark as she fell. The branch hit the ground a second before the sickening thud of Ashley's head on the forest floor.
"Ashley!" Koree screamed, dropping the paper fortune teller to the ground, a small "Yes" peeking from between the paper. Koree rushed to Ashley's side.
She had landed face up, her amber eyes looked frozen, their usual glint extinguished. Koree's pale-as-death fingers trembled as she felt for a pulse at Ashley's wrist.
"Come on Ashley, wake up!" Koree's own heartbeat thrummed faster. Ashley's skin was warm like the flesh of a mulberry left in the sun, but there was no heartbeat. Koree took in a shuddering breath as her eyes pricked with tears. She leaned over, feeling for breath. Nothing. She stood up, looking around in desperation, but no help was coming.
She stepped backwards without thinking, her feet stumbling over the pachysandra, eyes still trained on Ashley. No, not Ashley. It couldn't be Ashley. Not Ashley who picked mulberries and laughed with the trees and made pink duct tape purses until her fingers were raw from the tape. Not Ashley who found forget-me-nots in forests and made up stories about elves. Not Ashley who scared crows with her silly superstitions yelled from the tree tops. That body was not Ashley. Not her Ashley.
Her feet snagged on a plant root and she fell, palms crushing overripe mulberries beneath them. Koree tried to take a deep breath, but could only get out shuddering gasps and sobs as she tried to wipe the juice of the berries on her jeans. Her hands trembled, they were still stained a crimson purple. Another few gasping breaths and her lungs tightened.
Her legs shook as she stood up again. She had to get away. To somewhere where Not Ashley wasn't, where the oxygen didn't seem so painfully thin, where her hands didn't look like they were covered in sticky mulberry blood. But the corners of her vision started to darken, her legs buckled. The maroon stains on her hands were the last thing she saw before the world went black.
Koree lined up her purple pencil with the others. It was the shortest one by almost an inch. But she still couldn't get the shading right. She switched off her lamp, trudged through her door and down the stairs. It was the most she'd moved her body all day. She hovered near the entrance to the kitchen, listening to her parents.
"It's been four months since the funeral; she just needs time." her father's voice was muffled by the sound of running water and the clatter of dishes.
"I'm just worried about how this will affect her future," her mom's voice this time. Koree almost laughed at that. Almost. There was no future without Ashley. She had stopped asking questions. No more need for paper fortune tellers. For hope. For a future. Ashley wasn't the only one who died that day.
But when she couldn't sleep in the dead of night and her mind wandered, she did wonder: What was Ashley's question? What had she asked? Koree craved that question. Whatever it was, the answer had been "Yes."
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Seraphina wrapped her small fingers around a violently red wooden block, adding it to the top of her growing stack. One block on top of the other with a bright blue block at the bottom. The tower wobbled for a second with the addition of her red block, then collapsed onto the worn beige carpet.
"Not my fault they can't see you."
"Is too," Clay draped himself over the bony arm of the green paisley arm chair, "I'm your imaginary friend. Why can't you imagine me being seen?" His curly electric blue hair stood out against his highlighter-colored eyes.
"That's not how it works," Seraphina tossed a block at him, only barely missing his head as he dodged. Sticking out his tongue, he slid off the armchair.
"Speaking of not working," he gestured to the fallen blocks that were spread out on the carpet like the world's saddest mosaic, "you're supposed to build a big base and make it smaller at the top." She picked up an emerald green block and set it down on top of her blue one, building her tower back up with her method out of defiance. Clay just rolled his eyes.
Seraphina rested her chin on her knees long enough that she knew an imprint of her torn jeans would leave a noticeable mark. She watched the other kids as they ran along the school's playground in front of her bench, scuffing their shoes on wood chips and climbing the ladders with the ease of mountain goats. To her left, others created elaborate rhymes while jumping rope and drew dusty pastel scribbles with cracked stubs of chalk.
Seraphina's bench rested in the shade of the only tree. A spider spun its delicate home on one brightly painted armrest. "Buddy Bench" was painted in colorful letters against the back of Seraphina's perch. Whichever guidance counselor had painted the words failed to center them, resulting in the last few letters of "bench" looking bunched up and slightly smaller than the rest. If her teacher's presentation on the bench were accurate she was supposed to have been asked to join at least five friend groups. Maybe benches only made you friends when the lettering was centered and correctly sized.
She wished Clay were there, but he wasn't real, a figment of her childish imagination, and no matter how hard she'd tried, she couldn't summon him again. Without him, her tower had collapsed.
The tables in the art room seemed to be held together with layers of paint and Mod Podge. The floor itself had a fine layer of glitter, crayon wrappers, and pencil shavings. The substitute teacher had given the class a jumble of colored pencils and some printer paper with the directions to "do some art."
"Why does your drawing have blue hair?" Seraphina's pencil stalled over her drawing. Eve, the girl next to her, stared curiously at her sketch, red hair tied up into braids.
"He was my only friend, but he's gone," the answer was quiet enough that only Eve could hear it over the chatter of their classmates.
"That's sad. You should be my friend," Seraphina looked up from her drawing, her eyebrows lifted in surprise. She didn't expect the sincere smile on Eve's face.
Seraphina found herself playing an elaborate game of hide and seek during recess. She was the current seeker. She'd found Morgan and Lizzy, but Eve somehow evaded her capture. She looked for even a glimpse of Eve's fiery red hair, but she wasn't anywhere obvious. A better vantage point might help her.
Seraphina climbed the wavy faded-blue ladder up to the top of the highest tower in the playground. Thankfully the playset was empty enough that she could stand, blocking the dark mouth of the snaking tube-slide to search for her friend. Eve was nowhere to be found, but an idea occurred to her.
She kneeled down and peered into the dark of the tube slide. A pair of highlighter yellow eyes met her gaze, aged from when she had seen them last. Her breath caught in her throat, suspended in time for just a second. His hair was darker too, no longer electric blue, closer to the color of denim, but it was still Clay.
"You built your tower," a smirk played across his lips as he pushed off into the twists of the slide. Seraphina blinked in shock for a second before throwing her legs into the tube slide and pushing off after him.
Seraphina's vision went dark as she entered the tunnel. She felt her sneakers push against someone in the tunnel's last turn. Her momentum pushed them both into the light, but the grunt wasn't Clay's voice. It was Eve's.
They tumbled out of the slide together, crashing onto the mulch, a tangle of limbs. Seraphina sat up first, looking for blue hair or yellow eyes, but Clay was gone again. Her eyes traveled back to Eve who was pulling wood chips out of her hair.
"I thought you would never find me," Eve said.
"So did I."
Oh Great and Powerful Genie, I wish:
1). All major problems
resulting in large scale death or suffering
would be eliminated. This would include,
but not be limited to:
climate change, world hunger, war, etc.
This wish would not interfere
with the world's necessary cycles
or the Earth's delicate ecosystem
(seasons changing, forest fires, decay)
to a negative end; some death is necessary
for the world to function,
but it need not be agonizing.
2). I would have basic mind control abilities.
I could influence the five senses,
possess rudimentary emotional manipulation such as:
Including myself—to enjoy
(doing rote work, chores, exercising);
Instilling negative emotions
after an immoral act;
Increasing overall happiness, etc.
This ability would be simple and intuitive
for me to use, requiring little to no practice.
That said, this wish would not allow me to alter
a person's stream of thought, nor change
large aspects of their personalities.
3). Every full rotation of the Earth,
five random people would find
$25 or their country's equivalent,
in a purse, wallet, pocket, or other location
where they could claim possession of it.
Over time, this amount would be adjusted for inflation
and would always appear in the most convenient form
for the individual such as a bill
instead of one hundred pennies.
This boon would not largely impact the economy.
Oh Great and Powerful Genie, I wish.