A story inspired by the ‘Power & Conflict’ cluster – by Sara (age 16)

“Fix bayonets!”

Rain poured in torrents. The merciless winds knifed through the swarm of soldiers. A clamour of shrapnel erupted far off from a distant landmine. Soon, they too would be travelling down that same fate forged path. Flights of bullets streaked the silence of the air. Rifles clenched by quivering hands, as sacred as the letters they’d crammed in khaki pockets, a guilty comfort. The vicious gales struck rain against their mud-stained faces, masking the droplets of grief flowing down their cheeks.

His heart pounded in his chest. He looked down at his palms, blotted with sweat, his shoes, stained with dirt and blood, his clothes, worn and torn, telling the tales of battles won and lost. “What are we doing here?” – his mind was plagued with thoughts of death, honour, dignity, death. In the distance, he could see the horizon lined with trees and grass, stretching endlessly beyond the battlefield, an oasis compared to the ditch in which they were crouched. He waited. He waited to fulfil his death-marked duty. He waited until commands were given. His thoughts dwelled on family meals, Christmas time, the warmth near the fireplace – all dropped like luxuries – was this really worth it?

* * *

A mass of onlookers gathered near the platform, an array of red, white and blue flags waving goodbye, as mothers masked their grief with a steely expression of pride. After all, they were the pride of the nation. Sunlight leaked through the windows of the train, and maybe, there was a futile hope that they’d return to see their families, as heroes. He reached out through the window, tightly grasping his mother’s soft palms as the whistle was blown, unwilling to let go. Tears brimmed in her eyes as she forced composure, knowing that an outpouring of grief would consume her as she’d travel home and release the songbird within her. The grip of their palms loosened and a bustle ensued as the train prepared for departure. He slumped back into his seat and touched the poppy that was pinned to his lapel, avoiding any eye contact with his mother who yearned to take him back home. But she knew he had to fulfil his duty. The crowd erupted into cheers once more, flags waving back and forth as the train began to move, the future overflowing like a treasure chest.

* * *

Silence emanated the atmosphere as they waited for the final order. His body quivered like a leaf in the autumn as he longed for an escape. He looked into the distance once more, catching a final glimpse of the line of trees before him, branches outstretched like hands, beckoning him to alter his fate. “Carlton!” An echo of panicked voices melted into the cacophonous silence as his mind narrowed towards one goal: freedom. In a split second, a stampede of weakened legs hauled themselves towards no man’s land. A fury of screams and cries erupted. A scene of devastation unfolded, bodies instantly tossed to the ground like rag dolls, spasms of red, as explosions strangled the air, concocting into flames and scorching heat. Soldiers scrambled closer to death. But his legs were frozen. His hands no longer clenched his rifle. And whilst a hundred agonies and cries resounded through his mind, his stare remained fixed upon the horizon, which remained untouched by death, blood, terror. And then he realised, this was his chance.

Image (Sara's narrative)Suddenly he awoke and was running, as he took one last glance back at the battlefield where bodies were left lifeless. No honour. No value. Just corpses that would soon rot. And he turned his back to it all. Rifle plummeting to the ground. Death shrinking behind him, disguised by the petrified voices of his comrades, shrieking his name as he darted towards the distant oasis of trees and fields, cowardice plaguing his thoughts.

It was too late to turn back. He couldn’t. He didn’t want to. Eventually reaching the open field, breathless, his legs collapsed into the comfort of the long strands of grass, releasing a heavy sigh. He had made it. A feeling of relief engulfed him. He looked around the verdant landscape – no life, no bullets, no screams, no blood. Just silence. But it wasn’t the ‘peaceful’ sort of silence. It was one that rung in his ears. One which forced him to think of his dying comrades, lying lifelessly: a fate which he had cheated. The warmth of the air was slowly negated by a bitter, cold breeze. The wind howled as leaves fluttered and tossed, leaving the branches barren and bare, inviting a maddening chorus of crows. And he sat there, all alone, while they turned back to their dying.

 

 

 

A speech exploring the power of paper in today’s world – by Aime (age 15)

Do you want to know what one of the biggest challenges of my childhood was? When I played ‘rock, paper, scissors’ with my friends, and I had rock, they would beat me with paper! And I would think to myself: if a rock can destroy a pair of scissors, and scissors can cut paper, why can paper merely cover rock and take home the trophy? Why is it assumed that paper is stronger?

Image 1 (Aime's speech)

This thought has resided with me, honestly, up until today. Only a few moments ago had I been able to recall the joy I felt as a child flying paper kites with my auntie, or that feeling of turning the thinning pages of the Qur’an for the first time. The day I started reading the newspaper – and I mean really reading it – and I realised the world we live in is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad place, which leads to the night I realised the healing power of putting pen to paper in a highly digital era.

Today there are more paper trails than anyone can count. The power of paper is translated through the history we know and the history we write. Paper shapes tomorrow; it’s uses are endless, from the photocopier to the toilet. It can be used to plan our decisions, plan our futures, however it also controls us…

Paper is an instrument of tyranny – a contraption used by the government to gain control over us.

Paper. Paper is the auto registration we must show, the insurance we must show, the tax forms we must file, the passport we must own and the birth certificate that proves our existence. Whether we know it or not, we are continuously submitting to paper.

These ideas are presented in the poem ‘Tissue’. The poem ‘Tissue’, written by Imtiaz Dharker, is the first of the 2006 collection, ‘The Terrorist at my Table’. If we look at the first lines of the first stanza, they read – “Paper that lets the light shine through, this is what could alter things” – already the writer is suggesting that paper has the power to effect change. The imperative verb “let” suggests a sense of authority and control and the fact that the writer starts with the noun “paper” emphasises its importance in the change to be made. Since the poem is so full of symbolism, we might have to take a few steps back and look at the title. So, what is tissue? Yes, it’s thin paper but it’s also what makes up our organs, what makes up us. Here the writer uses paper to symbolise human life and essence, and therefore, through this double meaning, the metaphor suggesting that the power of paper is human power is exemplified clearly. If we keep this in mind, the poem is much easier to understand.

In stanzas two and three, the writer uses enjambment as each line continues onto the next. The freedom in structure presents the freedom we find in paper as well as the freedom we have as humans; however, it can also reflect the lack of control mankind actually has. It undermines the order we try to put in place and reveals our attempts at control are futile.

Image 2 (Aime's speech)The last lines of stanza three read – “paper smoothed and stroked, turned transparent with attention”. This suggests that our frequent use of paper allows us to gain more knowledge and see more deeply, the more we devote ourselves to our own growth. The sibilant “s” sounds in “smoothed and stroked” suggest this is a soothing comforting process; however, it can also mimic the sound of machinery cutting down trees to obtain paper. This suggests the writer recognises the destruction we cause as humans to gain power. The conjunction “and” shows she understands this is a continuous process and how the more attention we give paper, the less concentrated the world’s forests will become. The adjective “transparent” means to be see through; however, when thinking in terms of people rather than paper, it means to be clear and honest. This could be the poet cleverly exposing those in power such as government organisations who need to be more explicit.

In the next stanzas, the writer lists the different uses for paper such as for maps and “fine slips from grocery stores”. Here we start to realise that all paper is an act of man, used to gain some sort of power or control. Maps divide the natural world, man chooses to segregate countries with borders; receipts are proof that money is what makes the world go round and that money dominates. The use of listing also presents our desire for order. In the lines “fly our lives like paper kites” the writer is suggesting that we are letting something so fragile and something that can be so easily distorted dictate our lives. This suggests our fragility and that our power won’t last forever and is not permanent.

So the question is: what are we so desperately trying to gain control over? What holds the true power?

This poem is a critique of human power. “Paper that lets the light shine through, this is why could alter things”, “the sun shines through”, “daylight breaks through”. Imtiaz Dharker uses light imagery to symbolise nature and therefore suggests that all these attempts are merely mankind trying to exert power over nature, a force that cannot be dominated, a force that will always overpower mankind.

The last line of the poem is particularly powerful – “turned into your skin”.

Image 3 (Aime's speech)This line is isolated within its own stanza which emphasises its significance. Here, the author is highlighting that human power is fragile, like tissue. The power we find in paper or the power we think we hold as mankind, is all a facade – an illusion. She could also be referencing the consequences that come from our self-serving nature, implying that blame’s tattoo is marked on our skin. The 4 billion trees massacred annually, the 137 species that continue to become more and more extinct every day – the blood is literally on our hands!

So, when will be begin to appreciate paper and the things it has to offer? When will our mindsets and attitudes change? The games we play like ‘rock, paper, scissors’ reflect the lives we live. Will we ever break the rules, accept our defeat to nature and let rock take home the trophy?

A speech exploring the notion of societal collapse – by Reece (age 15)

Look.

The Western Roman Empire, the Egyptian civilisation, the Mayan civilisation, now nothing but remnants in a history book, kept alive through the constant reiteration of historians – the upholders of history, yet also the key to building the foundations of a society. Now where are there examples of societal collapse within society today? The definition of societal collapse is: the fall of a complex human society, which could be gradual like the fall of the Western Roman Empire, or abrupt like the fall of the Mayan civilisation; however, the causes of their collapse, albeit from different time periods, stem from the same problems.

The problem is that there are a number of people within society that are complacent when it comes to doing ‘their part’. Not only this, they are often reluctant to define what ‘their part’ is, what their duty within society is. Perhaps it’s to earn more money to put back into society? Perhaps it’s to help society in any way they can? Or perhaps it’s the opinion that the rest of society is none of their concern: their only concern is to put money into their own bank accounts, to help themselves in any way they can. It is this portion of society, that, rather than helping society to progress in the right direction, are actually forcing society to regress.

Image 1 (Reece's speech)

This could be perhaps due to their blinkered and insular view of the world around them, blanketing them from the harsh realities of life that they obliviously pass each day, as they go about their daily lives. However, it could also be due to a lack of motivation and belief in life, because without motivation or moral principle, there is no strive to better the world around you. Yet without belief, there is no world to better. Everything we touch, see, hear, taste, learn, smell, feel is all a testament of our belief that life does exist – without it there is nothing. ‘Mors certa, hora incerta’ or ‘Death is certain, its hour is uncertain’ is an Italian phrase that accurately describes Nihilism: the rejection of all religious and moral principles, the belief that life is meaningless. This means that Nihilists live their lives believing that life is meaningless, knowing that their deaths are inevitable, yet wait all their lives until that ‘uncertain hour’ – living, not existing. Thus, Nihilism being one of the main causes for our swiftly approaching collapse in the foundations of a moral and just society.

Image 2 (Reece's speech)However, not only are historians able to uphold the moral foundations of society, but so are revolutionary figures within literature, like J B Priestley, the playwright of ‘An Inspector Calls’ a morality play intended to make audiences question Capitalism within society. Within the play, the Inspector claims that ‘We are not alone. We are all members of one body’ suggesting that the Inspector believes Capitalism is one of the contributing factors of corruption within society, casting out the supposed idle people within society, or those who challenge the Capitalist structure. Instead, he proposes that Socialism is the way forward, by treating everyone equally regardless of their social status within society. The noun ‘members’ could symbolise the body parts that society shares, when one cell, one tissue, one organ, one body part fails, the whole body collapses, thus being a reflection of society itself, where if one person is ostracised from society then the whole of society collapses. Furthermore, the noun ‘members’ could also suggest that everyone is entitled to play their part within society, share their opinions and feelings, as though they are a part of a social club or organisation, the social organisation being society itself. The engagement dinner may be seen as a microcosm of society, each family member associated with an inimitable trait that is solely theirs to express. Furthermore, the frequent repetition of the collective pronoun ‘we’ further emphasises the concept of inclusion, an ideal that the Inspector believed to be his duty to promote and share, as a member of society.

It is this ideal.

It is this ideal that we, as members of society, should feel obligated to promote – this ideal of inclusion, because it is a lack of inclusion that is condemning society to an irreversible collapse in moral principles. How can we as a society hope to improve the world without the inclusion of people? It this addition of people that contributes to the improvement of our society; it is their beliefs, their commitment, their thoughts, their motivations, their opinions, their ambitions, their life that creates more than one person could destroy, because what they leave behind is a legacy. It is this legacy. It is this legacy that lays down the blueprints for the rest of society to follow, lays down the blueprints for a monument that epitomises the values of a proud and unified society. Yet we need time to change, time to manifest these concepts into the fabric of us as humans and society, otherwise we will become overwhelmed by an influx in change, like we are now, being bombarded by change, slowly suffocating, yet we are too stubborn to ask for help.

From this, as a society we should learn to be undivided in our morals and standards that we hold ourselves to, as well as others. We should also learn to be truthful to those that we model the future for. It is not our power or title or wealth that defines us, but our strength of character and societal concern. We could survive if we held virtue over wealth, yet we wouldn’t be able to survive if we held wealth over virtue. Wealth is a materialistic concept imposed upon us at birth; whereas, virtue is a moral concept that is inherent, moulded and shaped as we mature. It is a power of our own making.

History has its eyes on you: don’t be the villain in your own narrative, because when you’re gone who can justify your actions except yourself?

Look.

A speech exploring the influence of culture within society – by Kamisha (age 15)

Loosely defined, culture refers to the shared values, beliefs and ideologies of a specific group of people. Culture, therefore, influences the manner in which we learn, live, and behave. The culture is the unifying force that brings the people, the economy, and the politics into one. In the words of Mahatma Ghandi – “… a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people…”.

We can see the heavy influence of the ‘Shinto’ culture within Japan. Shinto, developed roughly around 500BC, started as a clan religion that worshipped the ‘Kami’. Kami – literally meaning ‘divine’ – should not be mistaken for meaning one god as it is a polytheistic religion. The kamikazes valued their religion and way of life so much so that they were willing to die for it. By volunteering for the special attack corps, they felt that they were standing up for their way of life. The kamikaze attacks took place because it was considered honourable to die for an important cause and when that honour was witnessed by others within your community, your family’s honour was celebrated. Shinto put forth the values that the Japanese lived by, and those values are what prompted many young Japanese men to give their lives for their nation.

Image 1 (Kamisha's speech)Beatrice Garland openly expresses challenge to the influence that culture poses over people. In her poem ‘Kamikaze’, she explores the repercussions of attempting to defy your culture. When Shinto is followed unquestionably, a great honour is bestowed upon you and your family, but in the poem ‘Kamikaze’, at the prospect of reluctance to devote his life to what society believes is the right path for him, he is treated “…as though he no longer existed…” and rejected by his family; furthermore, his children learned to “…live as though he had never returned”. Garland reveals the conflict that ensues within the family – even the pilot’s grandchildren learn by the example of their elders, to shun and ignore their grandfather, exposing how cultural influences are passed from one generation to the next. The “shaven head” of the pilot, the “samurai sword” and the prayers all symbolise adherence to the strict bushido honour code of death before defeat. Kamikaze pilots were expected to die in battle by crashing their planes into enemy ships. We can also see the psychological effects and consequences of not adhering to cultural expectations through the powerful line at the end of the poem:

“sometimes he must have wondered which had been the better way to die”

This shows that the pilot’s wife wondered if the pilot ever considered whether his living death – being shunned by those who he came back for, those who once loved him – is worse than the kamikaze death he avoided. This emphasises the pressure and strain placed upon individuals to accept the dominant culture whole heartedly.

Whilst, in Japan, cultural ideologies are seen to have a major influence, in England, music plays a significant part in the culture of young people today. For example, a renowned band named the Beatles were founded in Liverpool and they are considered to be one of the most influential music groups that ever existed. Some of the best artists today are from England! For instance, the popularity of Drill music continues to increase in popularity amongst the youth of today and has somewhat become a part of their shared culture. More recently, it has been associated as an influential factor contributing to the growing societal issues of gang culture and knife crime. Like countless youth music movements before, Drill lyrics deal with controversial issues. Born in the harsh landscape of inner city Chicago, and chiming with kids growing up in London’s sink estates, there’s heated debate over whether Drill simply reflects the realities of living in places where hardship seeps into every aspect of daily life, or whether it influences gang culture.

But what if Drill isn’t the catalyst for violence, but instead, a way of curing it?

A group named ‘Hope Dealers’ overtly use the Drill flow to offer positive messages and preach in flows that are proudly influenced by the likes of artists Headie One and K-Trap. Hope Dealers are a group based within London that pioneer the ‘Gospel Drill’ sound. Gospel Drill is a subgenre of UK Drill that places emphasis upon Christian values as opposed to violence. In theory, by using a sound that has proven popular and is seemingly a better way to be understood, they are attempting to turn young people away from gangs and towards God. The group is affiliated with the somewhat controversial church, SPAC Nation, where they went viral after a video surfaced of them performing Gospel Drill music in church whilst wearing balaclavas.

Image 2 (Kamisha's speech)

One member, Nathaniel Oki, who grew up in Peckham, South East London, and whose best friend was stabbed to death when he was 15, said that mixing Drill with Christian messages has helped to reach him as a troubled child. Now, at the age of 28, he is a well-respected pastor at SPAC Nation. This, to me, supports my belief that music can be used as a tool for change, heightening morality and discouraging the acceptance of societal ills that threaten the world we live in today.

A description of a boat in a storm – by Alina (age 15)

Far in the distance, the horizon began to quiver. Low bruised clouds hung on the unsettled skyline, tugging nature’s plague behind them.

A storm was brewing.

The silent waves were no longer idly staring at the world above them; instead, mother nature’s infuriated army, massing, stared back, beckoning them to join their ranks. No longer silent, nor idle, the waves embodied all of nature’s wrath, lashing and whipping anyone and anything in sight.

The small boat floating on the ocean had no choice but to receive each ferocious attack. Paralysed in the midst of the battle, the feeble body of the boat was continuously abused by each crashing wave – as though it were a deer within a lion’s den, entrapped, with nowhere to run. Trembling, windows were coated by the merciless waves, leaving the crew inside fearfully staring into the empty abyss of the inky sea. Although the tiny windows were blotted with the spray of the murky water, blasts of thunder were heard and shook the frail boat. Hearing every shriek, the sailors envisaged the bolts of electricity dominating the sky and braced themselves for the next attack.

image (alina's description)

The lightning darted across the empty granite sky, stripping the air of its final breath. Bolts of rage blasted the inky void and, as every strike of lightning threatened the stray boat, it inched away, seeking comfort in a distant rocky cove. It was as though the Gods themselves were partaking in the war; Zeus’ demonic spears hammered on the sickly sea, unleashing his rage upon the human world.

After every lethal spear was released, the land and sea shuddered, revealing something far on the horizon. The sailors had spotted a lone beam of light, crying out, a melancholy symbol of futile hope. The vigorous storm had swung the little boat closer towards the shore. Possibly a mile away; probably a bit more. Nobody dared succumb to the feelings of joy and relief – the war was far from over.

Inside the boat, the crescendo almost mirrored the frantic scene outside.

Some ran around screaming for supplies, some desperately attempted to contact home for help, some were attempting to inflate a safety boat. The rest of the sailors, limp and defeated, sluggishly began to pray for help from their benevolent God, oblivious to the reality that they were unwilling to accept: their omnipotent God was their opponent in battle.

Secluded in his cabin, the Captain attempted to manoeuvre the defenceless boat back to shore. Despite his determined efforts, in the end, his actions were rendered useless as the storm shifted its course towards a swirling pool of desolation in the centre of the menacing ocean. There was no way back – nature had already planned the abrupt end of those sailors’ lives as the horizon thinned and disappeared out of sight. The sea was all that was left as the storm clawed at the boat, taking the sailors’ sanity with it.

Although the boat was no longer seen, swallowed by the wrath of the ocean, a glimpse of sunlight leaked through a chink in the clouds, chasing the bruised clouds away from the now glistening sky.

 

A story with the title ‘Pass or Fail’ – by Tabiya (age 15)

Five years of preparation, of learning, of revising had come to its end. He entered the hall clinging to his clear pencil case, avoiding glances from the surrounding invigilators as he hurried to his seat. Emptying out his pencil case, he checked off his list: biro pen – half bent lid, ink fading down its cartridge; foldable ruler – snapped and smeared with glue from his attempt to put it back together; and pencil – blunt and scratched with nervous bite marks. Biro pen, foldable ruler, pencil. He hadn’t forgotten anything amidst the chaos in the cloakroom, from which erupted a hoard of students clambering into the hall; invigilators hushed them into their seats, quietening them in an instant.

Outside, rays of sunlight leaked through the grey clouds from the previous night’s storm. Birds sang harmoniously, nature’s sound resonating through the fern trees just across for the exam hall. In the distance, he could hear faint sounds of laughter from children in the neighbouring park: something Caleb could hardly remember now. Warmth and sunshine peppered the air, yet his eyes were fixated on the clouds: dense, massing to form a stain across the sky and tinged with grey.

Beads of sweat trickled down the side of his forehead, dampening the collar of his white shirt. The heat seemed to suffocate him as he loosened his tie and removed his blazer. His eyes darted left and right to the other students: all waiting, like him. Some tapped their feet, whilst others coughed and sneezed. Some rustled through their pencil cases, whilst others clicked their pens. The clock ticked on the wall, whilst birds tweeted inconsiderately outside.

“3, 2, 1.”

The invigilator counted down as papers were flung open, pens furiously scribbling across the flicking pages. Caleb opened the paper, whispering a silent prayer. It was pass or fail. Looking down, a look of dread formed; ‘Speciation. Great!’ he thought, as the sea of words merged into one big meaningless blur. They all disappeared into what seemed like a splodge of ink, leaking across the page. Desperately, he tried to differentiate the words, squinting with little success as he scrawled whatever came to mind. Drooping his head low, he thought back to the night before: biology revision.

***

“Caleb! Either come down now or no dinner!” shrieked his mum, her voice fighting with the sound of the extractor fan, to be heard.

“I’m going to eat your dinner if you don’t come down,” taunted his little sister.

“Son! Where is the remote? The premier finals are on!” called his father.

His mum, his sister, his dad. They all had one thing in common; they were not victims of the mountain of revision Caleb had to pile through. He cranked up the volume of his music, slamming the door shut to drown out all the noise. Their voices echoed as he tried to focus, staring blankly at the explosions of flashcards and posters sprawled across the floor.

***

image (tabiya's story)

“Pens down,” announced the invigilator. “End of test.”

Caleb sat there shaking, every tiny movement rocking his squeaky table as he anxiously waited for his row to be called.

“Row F.”

Grabbing his pencil case, he dashed out of his seat, scurrying to the cloakroom. He stuffed his things into his bag, swung it over his shoulder and bolted out the door.

His cap rested on his head, neatly tucking away his mousy curls as he walked down the school drive, darting towards the gate. His head hung low, avoiding glances with the teachers, avoiding the interrogation that would inevitably follow. The school bell rang as students flooded out of classrooms.

‘Three more steps and I’m safe,’ he thought. But then he heard it.

“Caleb! How’d the exam go?” called Mr Fisher, his biology teacher.

He looked up to see his teacher, waiting for an answer with a plastic smile painted across his face. His voice seemed to fail him. His fingers fumbled in his pockets. His eyes froze, focused on Mr Fisher’s. He had done all he could. He had crammed as much as he could. He had tried his best. It was pass or fail.

A story with an unexpected ending – by Hibatellah (age 15)

Whispering, the wind rustled the branches of solemn, towering trees and hauled leaves through the brisk, winter air. The cloudy, moonless night seemed to create a bitter atmosphere in the park amongst the tumultuous wind. The stubborn moon refused to show itself and its sulphurous glow, too self-absorbed to share its glimmering beam with others. Laying against the trunk of a willow tree, he sat, breathing heavily, hiding within it. He wore a perturbed expression and had his head buried low within his woolly cowl, twiddling with a plastic, film coated packet, grunting every now and then. With his eyes fixed on the prize that he toyed with, the sound that emerged from his endless fidgeting seemed to have made him even more agitated as he pulled hard at the packet; he was unable to achieve his final goal – the last pill.

The stubborn moon refused to show itself and its sulphurous glow, too self-absorbed to share its glimmering beam with others.

“Come on!” he muffled with a distressed tone, hoping that the last pill would drop into his desperate hands. It didn’t. After countless attempts at pricking the packet open, he gave up, abandoning his task, and throwing the grey packet away from him in distress; even with an infirm throw he clenched his shoulder tightly, gasping in pain, thudding his head back against the wooden trunk. He gave a heavy sigh, before streams of tears tumbled down his cheeks that seemed to be of a pallid complexion, arriving at his chin, and then plunging down into his pale hands – they were shaking tremendously. He didn’t prevent the tears from plummeting; he was too exhausted to even move. A formation of blues were painted on the ends of his fingertips. The flood of blue colours seemed to spread down the length of his fingers, slowly engulfing him. Half closed, his eyelids flickered, like an isolated light bulb on its death bed in a dark room, and laying back, the man shut his eyes; the man seemed to have drifted to the locked safe in his brain, where most of his happy memories were stored. The memories that he didn’t think of much. They had been locked away and replaced by negative, haunting memories that sailed across every nerve within his brain, constantly envisioned by him.

image (hibatellah's story)Several hours earlier, he was sat, in the same position, under the same tree, with the same lost expression. Through the gap in the entrance, a young boy seemed to have caught his attention. He was coated in many warm, tight layers; he reminded the man of his brother, Jacob, who also used to be wrapped in hundreds of tight layers by his mother, who feared he would catch a cold. The man spotted the boy was on his tiptoes, grasping a long chestnut branch at an imposing tree. Squinting, he wondered what the young, care-free youth was doing; he was hauling at a mother chaffinch’s nest, prodding it to almost fall. The mother chaffinch’s blackish eyes observed the young, ignorant boy, peering down at her three eggs and then leaping forward, guarding her children from the discourteous child. Constantly repeating this action, he began tugging harder at the nest, oblivious to the harm he could cause. The mother bird echoed a strident squawk, startling the young boy as he jumped back, astonished by what he had just encountered. The turbulent wind seemed to aggress, plunging the young boy to the stony path for causing harm to the mother bird. Wailing, he scampered off, bawling for his mother down the extensive path. Shutting his eyes once more, the man seemed to have been reminded of his own care-free youth. He was sent back to his serene childhood and happier days, where the only thing that preoccupied his mind, was the amount of presents he would receive for Christmas, oblivious to the world around him. He knew now that there was much more to life than presents; a whole world surrounded him. But now, to him, most of it was dark.

“Don’t go anywhere. We’ll be right back after the break.”

The television was the only sound that had emerged from the house in hours. The sound would have been drowned out by the smallest of mutters, or by the exchange of words between family members, trivial words – the day’s events, the evening’s dinner, tomorrow’s plans. But nothing. The house stood still. It had for days. For weeks. The air inside the house wasn’t warm or cosy – it was glacial. There were no jokes being made. There were no conversations about how the father’s day had been at the office and what witty pranks he had pulled on his colleague. The smell of freshly steamed vegetables and steak pot pie weren’t evident. There were no candles shimmering their bright beams from the centre of the dining table. The family – cramped around the dining table – sat, eating their dinner, in the dark. In silence. The only sounds that emerged were that of spoons meeting their plates and the slurps of the father whenever he took a spoonful of soup. They weren’t eating fresh home cooked soup. Instead, they ate only the contents of tin cans and jars, easily prepared and no hassle for the mother, whose mind was elsewhere.

“And we’re back. Now in just a moment we’ll be speaking to Dr Carl about depression and what you can do to keep your mind healthy. But now, competition time!”

Silence erupted from the dining room. Nobody moved. The world to all three of them stood still. Nobody moved. Instantaneously, the mother dropped her spoon into her plate, causing an abrupt interference to the silence they had all endured several seconds ago. She screeched her chair backwards, exiting the room in a hurried motion. Jacob turned to his father, but he responded with a lost and vacant expression; not even he could help. The television was quickly muted, and all was silent again. Heavy sobs were heard from the lounge; the mother didn’t care who heard her – she was grieving.

“Mum? Mum, what’s wrong?”

“Jac –.” Her throat clenched and her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth; it was almost unattainable to speak.

“Mum?”

“Jacob please. I’m –.” She halted. The heavy sound of her breathing swallowed the air in the room, leaving little for the company she had acquired. After a long hesitation, the rays from a ceramic table lamp flooded the room like a crime scene, making a young man, standing up beside her, visible – her eldest son, whom she hadn’t seen in weeks. Eyes swelled with tears and jaw half dropped, she stared up at him.

“Mum?”

“No! No! No! No!”

“Mum. It’s alright.”

“No! No! No! No!” Muttering to herself, she was quivering, her hands shaking eccentrically.

“Mum please. What’s wrong?”

“You! You’re not real!” Hyperventilating, she grasped her head tightly, looking away from the shape of the young man that stood beside her.

“Mum. I’m right here.”

“You’re dead,” she murmured quietly, head still turned away.

“What? Mum.”

“You’re dead!” she screamed, standing up, facing her dead son, cheeks burnt red raw and stained with emotion.

“Mum? What?”

“I buried you last month! You! Are! Dead!”