Brighter

By Hannah Frank, age 12
Brighter

“The second thing I notice is the fallen, crumbling buildings. Most of them are still on fire. There’s a burning piece of wood only a few feet away from me. There isn’t a single living person in my vicinity. Emphasis on “

A month before I moved, someone I used to like told me that I was blocking the world out. He said that at this point the world could end and I’d be so manic with the need to block it out that I wouldn’t even register it. He said that he was worried about me and that I shouldn’t go away on my own because he didn’t know how far my obsession with pretending that it’s all okay would go.

But that doesn’t really matter anyway.

Right now, I’d say I’m going through the best period of my life. What I’d have to say I’m happiest about is that things aren’t how they used to be anymore. The place I am in my life right now… it’s like utopia. Both metaphorically and literally, that is. Everything’s been going uphill for almost a year now. I moved a few months ago, from the cramped city where I’d been raised to a town I’d never heard of, a few hours’ drive over. I’d say that helped a lot. Maybe I needed a change of scenery.

But what really changed my mood was not letting things get to me anymore. I guess I’d just had enough, and that’s what my friends told me to do, at first. And that really made everything so much better. After about a month I’d done it so much that it became automatic. People started saying that I was blocking too much out, but I didn’t let that bother me. I stopped talking to people who were bringing me down. I realized there were a lot of things that I hadn’t noticed were making me feel worse – there’s a lot I don’t do anymore. But I’ll be alright. I’m doing it for my own good, after all.

There’s not much I miss about my “old life.” I don’t like to think about it, really, because I have trouble thinking about the good things without connecting them to the bad. So I try to move on with all of it. I wouldn’t want to remember things that make me feel badly, anyway.

I realize I’ve been lying in the same place for nearly an hour. I didn’t get all that much sleep last night – I had a nightmare. Every now and then images and words and pictures all flood into my head during a dream, snippets where I’m fighting with a friend I’d stopped talking to before I moved, or where I accidentally step on my computer and break it into two. I don’t know why it happens, but it unsettles me every time. Last night was one of the worst I can remember. Everything was on fire and there was so much screaming. I woke up terrified and oddly warm, like I’d gone to sleep in a jacket. I spent the rest of the night tossing and turning.

I stretch and stand up. I’m not sure what time it is but based off of the yellow glow coming through the windows, I’d say it’s late morning. It’s brighter than most days, though. I can’t help but wonder why that is.

I change and go into the kitchen, but I don’t grab anything to eat. I think I’d rather walk down to the coffee shop and get a pastry or something there. The walk’s short, only about five minutes, so I put on shoes and head to the door. I almost reach for a jacket, but stop when I remember how hot it is outside. It would just make me look ridiculous.

I open the door.

It feels like all the energy’s been sapped from me the second I can see outside. I don’t have any idea why, but I crumple to the ground – the only thing stopping me from entirely falling is my grip on the doorknob. I get up immediately, confused. Why had I fallen? I regain strength in my limbs and shut the door behind me. It’s probably just how tired I am, considering how little sleep I got last night. Maybe I need that coffee more than I thought.

As I walk I can’t help but think back to how many things I’ve done to stop dreams like these from coming. They’re the only things that block the path to me finally being happy and I can’t stand it. Every night that I look out my window and see the stars in the sky and the shiny skyscrapers on the horizon and finally think to myself that everything is alright, I wake up at 3:00 with my heart pounding in my throat.

I clench my fist, then unclench it. One day the dreams’ll stop. They have to. I’ll forget all about my old life and about when things weren’t the way there are now and when that’s out of my head, the dreams will be too. Maybe then I’ll be happy.

I look up into the sky as I walk. The sun is hovering on the outer edge of my vision, and I’m reminded of how much that used to annoy me. I used to look up into the sky and see fire. Now all I see is sunshine.

I pass by rows of apartment buildings. Today they look… shinier than usual. I’d describe it like plastic. I don’t pay much attention to it, of course. It would just bother me all day. What I don’t want to do is let the post-nightmare days trip up my mood. Those can be the days where I forget to keep a handle on my emotions. Days when I look at things and worry that they’re not the same as they were when I last saw them. Shoes that I’d remembered being in perfect condition suddenly muddy and worn, two emails I’d never seen before that the computer marked as “read.” They’re always the worst days, a confusing jumble of anxiety and uneasiness.

I notice someone sitting on the steps to a building, but they just look through me. I’m not surprised, but not bothered either. Of course people don’t know me very well. I don’t go out very often, and when I do, I’m not usually one for starting up conversations. People are always so insistent to talk about unhappy things. I can’t imagine that talking to people would make you feel much better about anything.

Nothing that a friend has ever said me has ever made anything better.

I’ve still never been able to get those words out of my head – that I’m blocking the world out. Somehow the three sentences he managed to get out before I walked out of the room have bothered me more than anything else. It plays on an infinite loop in the background of my nightmares. It’s mixed in with the crackling of the fire and the sounds of buildings collapsing, quiet, but enough to drive me insane on its own.

I reach the coffee shop and my train of thought is broken. I still can’t help but notice the shininess of the perfect-looking world I’m in. Everything is a little bit blurry, a little bit off-looking. I have difficulty focusing on anyone’s face. It makes me wonder if I need glasses, or if I’m bleary-eyed from lack of sleep.

No one looks like they’re at all affected by today’s heat. Most are even wearing light jackets… which would usually be totally appropriate for fall, but on a day like this it just surprises me. Am I getting a fever or something? Usually fevers don’t feel like this, but it’s the only explanation I can think of.

Everything feels wrong. I don’t know how to explain.

I’m walking towards the shop when I trip on something. I land flat on what feels like a sharp rock, and pain shoots through my face. I don’t feel any blood when I reach up to touch it, but it’s clearly a pretty bad wound. Strange, this is the first injury I can remember getting in months.

I slowly stand up, in pain. When I look down I become a bit nauseated for a second. I blink and I think I see what looks like a gigantic, jagged piece of rubble, but when I blink again it’s gone and all there is, is flat sidewalk. No one seems to have noticed my fall, either.

I start to wonder if I’m going crazy. It’s somehow a worse fear than anything I could’ve imagined a few minutes ago. I think that maybe my friend was right. Maybe I’m in that place he worried I’d go.

I get up and immediately trip on something I can’t see again.

I lie there in place for minutes on end with my eyes closed, trying to tell myself that everything is okay. But this is the first time that I can’t get it to sink in. Something just feels so awfully, awfully wrong and I can’t put my finger on it. I feel like I’m on fire and the air smells like chemicals and the clouds are the color of ash. But of course every time I open my eyes I see this disgusting bright blue color above me and I’m breathing in fresh air that makes me want to vomit.

And then, after what I’m convinced was an eternity, I open my eyes and see something else.

The first thing I notice is the sky. It’s orange smeared with blood, far too bright and far too cheerful, like the color you’d see if you took a first step into hell. I can’t look at it without my eyes feeling like they’ve been doused in gasoline and lit with a match. The sun is radioactive yellow. The air smells toxic and the inside of my mouth tastes like acid.

The second thing I notice is the fallen, crumbling buildings. Most of them are still on fire. There’s a burning piece of wood only a few feet away from me. There isn’t a single living person in my vicinity. Emphasis on “living.”

I guess all the smoke is why I’ve been so hot today.

I stand up again. I can see the rubble I hit my head on. I can’t tell if it’s the remains of the coffee shop or of a building that used to surround it. I take this all in slowly. I reach my hand, already black with ash, up to touch the spot of my face where I’d fallen and when I look at my fingers they’re dripping with blood. The gash reaches from immediately under my left eye to the front of my chin. The vision there is flickering and painted red.

I sink to my knees and the sidewalk is burning.

A month before I moved, someone I used to like told me that I was blocking the world out. He said that at this point the world could end and I’d be so manic with the need to block it out that I wouldn’t even register it. He said that he was worried about me and that I shouldn’t go away on my own because he didn’t know how far my obsession with pretending that it’s all okay would go.

I always thought he’d been exaggerating.

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