High Grade’s Call for Submissions is now open! Students, faculty, and alumni are welcome to submit art, poetry, fiction, and original music to High Grade, CSM’s literary arts journal. Submit at highgrade.mines.edu/submit.html Deadline: Friday, September 29th. To apply to join our staff or if you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
To the Job That Never Was, I found you the other day on Diggernet. You just happened to catch my eye from across the computer screen. In an endless sea of mediocre jobs and boastful internships, you stood out to me. You were special. I clicked on your “apply” button and was swept away to…
Given that he has asked us to carefully record everything that crosses our mind for later analysis, I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not believe that this record will be in any way useful. To my reader, I want to make it clear that the events recounted in this personal journal are being told only because it is required of me. Most likely if you are reading this then you already know the nature of my work and the purpose of this research endeavor.
However, if on the very slim chance that this project is declassified I will start from the very beginning. Also, I am being asked to start at the beginning, so don’t get it in your mind I am doing this for you. And it certainly isn’t for me.
About a year ago I, along with Dr. Selridge were contacted by REDACTED with an opportunity to come work on a new emerging technology. At the time we were told that we would be flying out to a facility near Silicon Valley in California. Although now I would hardly call this a small facility. But I digress.
Ajay was stretched out on her back by the creek, eyes closed, soaking in the sun. As Rawlin drew near she sat up and watched as he pushed through the branches. You know there was an easier way to get here, she said with a snicker.
I wasn’t looking for the easy way, just the fast way. Father is impatient.
Rather than respond she gave him a strange smile and stood. Father broke into the clearing just behind Rawlin. He froze solid when his eyes fell upon Ajay and his jaw fell open.
“This isn’t some sort of joke is it Rawlin? Did Dain put you up to this?”
Rawlin shook his head, “Father, this is Ajay. Ajay, this is my Father, Dicen.”
Ajay bowed slightly, “May Saelu’s light bless this greeting.”
Yesterday was a whirlwind. I did not have time to journal last night about my Ceremony, so I will do so now. Before I begin, I must preface this by saying that what I am about to write is not what happened “officially.” It is what actually happened, but hopefully no one else will ever know.
I know that by writing the truth in this journal, I am from now on going to constantly worry about whose hands hold this journal, and which eyes peruse its contents. This journal is my co-conspirator in events that may in the future prove life-threatening.
Now that I’ve gotten the terribleness off of my chest, I can at least say that the Ceremony was actually quite nice. Mom and Dad were obviously nervous, but I think by the end they at least settled down enough to swallow some of the chocolate cake. They were expecting the worst. The worst, according to the official record, did not happen.
My letter is still unopened, and it is lying at the bottom of the hidden compartment in the back of my closet. There it will stay until I see fit to otherwise remove it. It must not be opened.
Of course, I did read a letter aloud at the ceremony. It just wasn’t mine. It was all made up.
“I’m sorry,” I blurt out before I can stop. My eyes start to heat up, and I laugh humorlessly to myself as I turn my head further away from her. “I didn’t expect them to just show up there.”
“Hey.” She gets to her feet and I feel her hands on my shoulders. “It’s just a broken house in the woods. The cabin isn’t a big deal. And the men aren’t either. You’re safe. That’s all that matters.”
That sounds cliche. I meet her eyes and we share a smile.
“You don’t need to worry about them. You got away. And they won’t ever see you again.” She smiles, and I can’t help but remember Bird’s insistence on my meeting others. I try not to furrow my brows. I feel my wings move restlessly at my back.
“Yeah,” I say, not really focusing on her face when I glance back up at her.
“Nobody ever does,” she says, “not if you don’t want them to.”
My wings shift again.
I get to my feet, breaking the strange closeness. “Let’s just go home.”
He doesn’t say anything more. He watches me, head turned so that one eye can look directly at me. Then, with an odd little hissing noise, he spreads his wings and takes to the sky in one leap. He curves off through the canopy of the trees, vanishing into the cerulean backdrop.
I pause for a moment, an unfamiliar fear tickling my belly. I find myself gazing off in the direction of the cabin. I didn’t fall far from it. Maybe a few hundred feet.
My stomach ties up in a tight coil. Without another thought, I lift my wings and ascend through the trees, ignoring the strain in my shoulders.
It was a path that Nilast knew well, having taken it quite a few times as child. It was left at the corner, right after the old oak tree and another right at the worn cross-section. He cringed at the burned remains of the hut that he had grown up in and he could only guess that the bodies in front belonged to his parents. He slowly made his way around to the back, his heart suddenly in his throat as he spotted the still form of his younger sister.
Her body had gone stiff, a sign that the destruction and death was not recent. Her eyes were open, dried blood trailing along her lips. Her dress had been stained, a gaping hole in her stomach where some weapon had been tore through her. Nilast gently covered her eyes, swallowing thickly before standing. Lightning traced across his fingertips and with a flick of his wrist, the element slammed into the still form. Fire roared to life where his sister lay, her body a fuel to its flames.
“Just go.” They bicker for a moment, and I glance down the hallway. I could be out the back in seconds. I take several breaths, half watching them and half the hallway. When Oliver starts to talk again, I turn and start off as quietly as I can.
“Wait, Miss,” Oliver shouts slightly, and then falls very quiet. Even the fire settles a little, dimming the room with the hush. My back is to him.
I hardly even hesitate. I take off down the hallway in a blind run, making for the back room with most of the rear wall missing.
“Wait!” I hear Oliver give chase, and I fumble for half a second with the knob. There are tears in my eyes when I turn and slam the flimsy door shut. I lock it loudly, one hand flat against the wood, and take half a step back. Every feather on my wings stands on end, and I can’t seem to catch my breath.
He clicks a few more times, and for a moment I think he’s about to answer. But a sudden hush falls over the cabin, dampening even the warmth of the fire. I freeze, glancing around without moving. The morning has begun spilling into the rooms, but only barely. Bird turns in a little circle, gazing around the room.
There is a sudden crackling outside. It is so abrupt and so loud that my body jerks slightly. I am on my feet within the space of a heartbeat, my wings unfurling just a bit in a flight response.
There is another noise outside now. Like footsteps. My chest cavity freezes over. I turn to look at Bird, and I can sense his fear in the hair along the back of my neck.
And then, too late, the doorknob is turning. Before I can put out the fire, run, or even duck for cover, the door has opened just a crack and a voice shouts far too loudly.