Denton Writes 2010 Winner-Teen Fiction-Jessica Collins

 

        

                   The Hostage

               By Jessica Collins

I live a nightmare. Everywhere I look monstrous creatures chase after each other with vicious intent and lies press down upon me with the pain of a thousand knives. I am one of the gifted, one of the cursed. My violet eye turns ordinary humans into the very symbol of their essence; a rat for greed, a peacock for pride. Very rarely though do I see such a pure blood creature, instead the halls of my school are lined with monsters strait from Greek mythology; creatures that bare peacock feathers, rat eyes, a lion body, and the legs of a goat, each part telling about the essence of their soul. My blood red eye will show me the truth behind the words of strangers, like the subtitles of a movie. My lips spill forth the truth in a forceful manner, interrupting the speakers so their lie might be known.  Try as I might I cannot keep the words back. I cannot stop myself from correcting other people’s lies, which is why I sit in this dark hole of room watching as the investigator interrogates his newest victim.

“I did not kill her! I’ve never even seen her before in my life!” the beast said. The investigator had described him as a redheaded Irishman with brown eyes and sharp teeth but all I could see was a mouse with scales instead of fur squeaking at the top of his lungs lies that burned my throat. The truth pressed behind my lips like a volcano about to explode, until it finally erupted.

“You killed her. You saw her every day of your life. You were childhood friends, in fact.” My calm, icy tone caught him off guard and he jumped in his seat.

“A truth teller? A truth teller! How do you know she’s real? Have you had her tested? I demand you have her tested!” tested, the very word made me bored and hot with rage at the same time. Many people had claimed to be truth tellers, ones who could not physically stop themselves from correcting other people’s fallacies, yet in fact were mere rats attempting to help their fellow vermin.

“Don’t you know who that is? That is the finest truth teller in New York. That” he said drawing out the word, “is Emily Moore.” He pointed at my figure hunched in the shadows of the little cell. Everyone had heard of me. I was legendary.  As the man sat there, shaking in his seat, he saw the girl who had solved a hundred cases and had never once been caught in a lie, not even a little white one.

“So, how did you kill her?” the interrogator whispered into the little rat-snake’s ear. “Did you shoot her through the head?”

 “I…I…didn’t shoot her.” He said.

“Yes you did.” I said. I had become so accustomed to interrogation chambers and criminals that I no longer feared them. On the contrary, I had learned that the calmer I am the more shook up the crook gets and the easier it is for me to make him lose his cautious mind.  Many criminals had quickly figured out that if he tells half truths or doesn’t answer definitely yes or no their lies could confuse a truth teller or pass through their internal filter that siphoned out the truth. But if you shook a criminal up, made him mad, he would answer definitively or spin tales that were so outrages that even the cop could spot the lie. 

To allow us to use our powers to their fullest, cops had developed a system of interrogation that caused the criminals to loosen their tongues. Officer Andrews was the best at this and gladly grilled each criminal sent to him, including the one I now sat with.  We continued on like this for five minutes until the suspect confessed to the murder of the girl. As I rose to leave the room the rat-snake asked “How old are you?”  He eyed my figure up and down disgusted by the sight of me but also baffled. No doubt my deepening wrinkles, silver cane, womanly figure and thick gold curls sent mixed messages to him.

“I’m fifteen.” The door closed behind me.

No sooner was I out of one horror then I jumped into the hands of the next. “Julie wants to see you.” The hoofed mouse said. I knew his name to be Charlie.

“Why? What’s the matter?”

“She’s…she’s dying.” He hung his head and shuffled away.  This is why we call ourselves the cursed ones. The energy our powers require ages us far faster than any other human. None of us have ever lived past their twenties. Julie was the worst kind. She was an elemental; she could shoot fire from her palms and stop a forest fire with the wave of her hand. She most often worked with the fire department but moonlighted as a cop on arsenic cases. She even worked down at the burn center at the hospital. She could sometimes heal small, fresh, fire wounds or decreases the intensity of more sever cases. But the strength of her powers meant she was to die young.  Elementals lived a meager fourteen years, though no one had ever known an elemental to live such a long life. Such a life span was only granted to single, harmless abilities.

As I entered the office I had to hold back a sob as I saw that little girl sitting behind a grown-ups desk. Her red hair masked her tortured face. She was only ten year old but she bore the face and body of a woman on her way to the grave. “What do you want to see?” I cooed while scooping her up in my arms and wiping a tear off her wrinkled cheek.

“I want to see my mommy and daddy. They won’t get here before I go.” She sniffed.

“Alright,” I said and placed my forehead onto hers. My mind melded with her memories allowing me to create a happy scene of her and her parents out fishing. As the scene of her mother squealing at the sight of the bugs her father tauntingly put in her face, I could feel Julie’s smile against my cheek as she laughed at her family. Then I felt nothing and I knew she was gone.

When it is time we just vanish. No body, no ashes, not even the clothes we wore that day remain for our loved ones to mourn over. We exit this world much the same we entered it, with only pictures to say we existed.

My tears flowed freely over my own deep wrinkles, reminding me of own mortality. My own end was coming soon. I could feel it in my bones, in my heart.

My name spewed out of the intercom system saying my sister was here to pick me up. I wiped my tears away and headed out to greet her. I peered around outside the station till I found her car. Inside sat a pretty black cat with its large eagle wings folded up behind its back. Her little mousey eyes darted around till she spotted me. She waved her monkey fingers at me and gave me a toothy smile. I ran over to the car as quickly as my cane would allow. I hadn’t even closed the door to the car when she started to frown. “You did it again didn’t you? You know how fast using that power of yours ages you!” Michelle huffed.  She had never gotten over the fact I was going to die. She scowled out at the road more in fear than anger. Even as a child she got this way. She was my guardian angel who refused to accept my mortality.

“It was Julie.” I mumbled. Her face softened as she understood what I’d done.

“Why does it have to be like this? If you use your powers your being kind but you die faster, if you don’t use your powers you live longer but you’re being selfish. Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t you live a long time and use your powers?” Tears were rolling down her cheeks in frustration.

“It’s like I always say, some people are roses but other people are pearls. I’m a rose Michelle; I’m not supposed to be on this earth that long.”  I brushed away her tears and placed a small wood box in her fragile little hands.  As she opened the lid to the rough wood box she gazed in wonder at the sight of the little pearl necklace inside.

“Oh, Emily you didn’t have to…”

“Yes I did.” I gently pulled out the pearls and put them around her neck. “Do you know why I call people roses and pearls?” I asked.

“Yes, but tell me anyway.” She laughed as she put the car into drive.  She had heard my story a thousand times yet it never failed to calm her down or cheer her up.

“Well, you see a pearl comes from an oyster. But before that oyster can make a pearl it has to swallow a grain of sand no bigger than a freckle that tears at its little body. In defense the oyster throws a layer of mucus over the grain of sand. And each year that layer gets bigger and bigger eventually turning it into a pearl for the entire world to see. A rose, on the other hand, blooms without trouble or strife, lives for a day or two so it might bring happiness in someone’s life and then dies. Those things God created are very much like how He created people. He made some to live for a long time and to make something beautiful out of the problems that get thrown their way. But God also makes those who were never meant to handle strife and were only meant to live a short time on this earth spreading happiness and joy.” As we pulled into the bank Michelle’s eyes had dried up.  She wiped what little moisture was left from her checks and said, “You always know just how to cheer me up.” She smiled a beautiful toothy smile and gave me a wind chime laugh that occurred on the rarest of moments when she was truly happy. As she grabbed the door handle she gave me an apologetic smile, “Sorry, its pay day and I need to get my check cashed, and then we can head home, ok?” She knew how much I liked spending time with the whole family.  I was determined and persistent that I wasn’t going to die with my family thinking they hadn’t made me happy or worse starring into an empty coffin trying to remember what was supposed to be there.

My thoughts were quickly brought back to the present as I heard the bell over the door announced our arrival. The bank wasn’t very big. It primarily held open space where people waited in line for the clerks behind the counters. The counters themselves formed an open box shape that left wings at each end of the building for seating. Plush black chairs and dark wood gave a calm environment to the bank. 

A machine gun went off behind my back. I spun around to see four men covered in black and carrying an assortment of guns. From my side, my sister dug her fingers into my arm. Her ragged breathing distorted her face into a mask of fear.

 “Everybody on the ground, now!”  Michelle grabbed me and threw me down behind a coffee table for protection. My heart raced. Never had I been so close to a criminal who could hurt me. They were always calm, and even the violent ones didn’t have a way of hurting me.  As I looked upon the men I saw rat-faced foxes and reptilian horses that, when translated in my head, meant we were facing the very scum of the criminal world. These men were smart, strong and sly. The real fear set in when I saw their leader. He appeared to me as a griffin like animal. He surveyed the scene like a hunter over his kill. His beady little rat eyes bore into every human’s soul. He extended his peacock colored eagle wings that seemed to fill every corner of the room with their domineering shadow. The fox-face swept over the crowd, baring his fangs at anyone who dared to look at his presence.  His giant lion paws swept over the cowering people and made them tremble in fear.

My sister could not see these things yet even she could not deny this man’s cruelty. She said it was written on his face and that it seeped from his skin. He bore a calm expression that unnerved her. “You are now what people refer to as hostages and until I get what I want your life will be in my hands.” He purred. As he spoke a reptilian tongue stuck out between his lips, savoring the flavor of fear that lingered in the air and grew stronger by the minute.  He reached over and gently pulled a woman’s face to look into his, “and if I decide to kill you to get what I want, then you will die. You will be mine, body and soul, until all my demands are met. Do you understand?” He hissed into the woman’s ear. She nodded, too afraid to move or cry. Her panic was written on her little rabbit face. His lips parted into a smile that showed off his fangs. “That’s a good little girl.”

I grabbed at my beating heart and felt a little object that lay under the folds of my clothes. It was my rose brooch. My bones ached and my heart slowed. I knew what I had to do. I leaded heavily on my cane as I used it to try to stand. “Let them go. You only need one hostage.” I trembled at the site of the beast but I stood tall and held my ground.

“Oh and why is that?”  The beast hissed his hot breath only a short span from my face. 

“My name is Emily Moore. I work as a truth teller for the police. I am a valuable item they would think twice about losing. If you want to ensure you get what you want let the others go but keep me.”  He looked me up and down trying to estimate my age. He was smart; he knew that a blessed one, a cursed one, could die on him in a minute. If he trusted me and I was too old, I could die and he would get nothing. He weighed his options carefully. He made quick glances between me and the other hostages. He took his time. He had all the time in the world to decide.

In the end he chose me and sent the others out as a peace offering or an act of trust that the police would fill their side of the bargain. His reasoning mattered little to me, so long as the others were safe. I nearly faltered my calm exterior as I saw other hostages having to drag Michelle out of the building. Her screams echoed through my head. Cries of wanting to stay and protect me. But I couldn’t let her, not this time. This time she could not save me.

“So, boys, how much do you recon she’s worth?” the griffin asked as he grabbed my face with his thumb and pointer finger and pretended to examine it.

“At least a couple million I’d say.” One of his misshapen ghouls commented. It sent the rest of them howling like laughing hyenas.

“Let see how good she really is, what do you say boys?” another round of laughter. They knew. They knew about the pain that racked my body when I told the truth. How it felt like my body was being torn open by a grizzly bear every time I opened my mouth to correct a person or tried to stop myself from doing so. They knew.

“I have only raped five women in my life.” The griffin hissed.

“You’ve raped fifteen.” I said imitating his cool confidence.

“I killed ten men.”

“You’ve been responsible for seventy four deaths and personally killed twenty two of them.” I announced.  He let his men in on the fun while he went off to negotiate what my freedom was worth to the police force. His men were quick to make up lies about intimate part of their life so I would have to blurt out the truth.  The hyenas laughed till their sides wear sore yet I maintained the same dignity I had when interrogating a subject.

“I have never been charged because I never lie.” The griffin grinned upon his return from the phone conversation with the sheriff.

“You never get charged because you can lie your way out of any situation. You have such a calm cool air about you and such a way with people you can convince anyone you’re telling the truth.” I paused for a moment. My body could not keep up with the hammering questions. My lungs screamed that I stop talking and my body wished for a nap but I had to continue. “Those times are over now. You will no longer be able to lie and your career will be ruined.”  I whispered.

“Oh, and who or what is going to do that? You?” he laughed.

“Yes I am.” I stated and then I let go.

Emily seemed to disintegrate right in front of me. I became angry.  I no longer had a hostage. But my attention was quickly transferred as her ashes began to be stirred up by some invisible wind.  I tried to hold my breath and move away from the strange site when suddenly the air was full of dust. It found its way into my mouth and nose and even temporarily blinded me. Once I could see again, I found Jacob screaming bloody murder and pointing a bony finger at me.

“What are you looking at? Get back to work; we can’t make the police think we lost her.” I snarled.

“You’re a monster!” He screamed and ran for the door. I looked over at Joshua and saw he was looking at the bottom of his eyes as if he was reading something.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Everything you say I can see with my eyes.” He seemed as scared as Jacob but he was frozen to his spot instead of trying to escape through the doors we had locked. Eric was sitting in a corner rocking himself as if in some daydream. The whole world seemed to be going insane.

“You worthless little sons of a bitchs” I looked over at Jacob who was still trying to escape the prison we had made, “get your butt back over here before I shoot you!” Before I could pull my gun to frighten him, my throat began to burn and I felt a pressure behind my lips that bore its way through till it found an exit. “You’re not worthless you got me into this bank and I would never shoot you because I could never find a replacement.” That was when I began to get nervous. She couldn’t have been telling the truth, she can’t give people her powers! Can she? “I am wearing a red shirt. No I am wearing a black shirt. I killed two people.  No I killed twenty two. I’m dead. No I’m alive!!” This cannot be happing! I have to tell the truth?

 “Drop your weapons! Now!” The police swarmed around my team and me. In our state of confusion we complied with their demands.

“Where’s Emily? What did you do with her?” A young girl pushed her way through the police, now that we’d been disarmed.  She was pretty; she had long red hair and big doe eyes. But her eyes were red and puffy from crying and her cheeks were stained with tears.

“What did I do to her? What did I do? What did she do to me? I can’t lie anymore! When that little hag died she took away my work!”  She suddenly became bewildered by the thought, even the police looked at each other in confusion.  The girl gently rubbed her pearl necklace as tears began to run down her cheeks. The police swarmed my men and me and blocked her from my sight but her words still made it to my ears.

“And so the rose wilts yet leaves behind a petal.”

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