All We Want is Love and War

A short story by grade 10 student Frida Purdon.

Three goddesses sit on the curb and chew bubblegum. It has just rained. The sky is tender like a bruise. It is the moment when people begin to notice the presence of silence after the storm like a man sitting in the corner of the world wearing a trenchcoat and smoking a pipe.

This is all very poetic of course. In fact, at this moment, the least poetic things in all the universe are the three elegant goddesses sitting on the curb, blowing pink bubbles. It is their perfection that is disturbing.

They subconsciously finger the human prayers in their laps and, with their smooth hands of moonlight flesh and birdsong bones—hands like summer nights—they rip them, these prayers, into smaller and smaller pieces.

The first goddess is Athena. Her hair is shaved close to her skull and her teeth are very white against her black skin. She wears big gold hoop earrings and a red bandana. She smells like New York bagels.

During Paradise Lost, Athena lead the Peace March.She and the wolves and the birds and the bears stood before the Gates of Eden and hollered, cried, lit the skies on fire and waited for some entity to use its immense voice and fill the basins of emptiness within their chests, fill them with love or art or misery or the ocean, which was so human it hurt to swim in it. They waited there until they could wait no longer. Lips and eyes burning like infidelity, they stuck their signs into the ground and then slipped away. The signs are still up there, white and distant, protesting one form of darkness or another.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,” says Athena, loading her gun with pink cartoon hearts. Her many bracelets clatter around her skinny wrists. The words To Be or Not To Be are embroidered on the back of her leather jacket above a sewn illustration of spider with a long, oblong face and glistening doe eyes.

The second goddess is Hera. She has heavily penciled eyebrows and short purple hair. Her nails are ragged and short. She has a voice like a dead woman’s dream of walking barefoot on broken glass.

And Zeus can never get enough of her. His hair is soft like dandelion seeds and he takes pictures of Hera at the Heavenly Wafflehouse, whipped cream smeared on her upper lip like oblivion. The storms ravage this land and Zeus tattoos a skull onto Hera’s shoulder, says their love is as bright as a mortal’s. Outside, the souls ache breathtaking colour and rustle in the Destiny that sweeps the world and all its vestigial questions. Inside, the lamp burns. Zeus and Hera’s shadows on the wall look like dark children catching butterflies with nets and giving names to all the things they don’t understand.

“And I will show you something different from either your shadow at morning striding behind you or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” Hera says, sipping her Coca Cola with a straw.

The third goddess is Aphrodite. Her hair is tangled and her knees scabbed. Her socks don’t match and her overalls are covered in obscure stains like clouds with no one to turn them into familiar shapes. A key hangs from a shoelace tied around her neck. Her face is smudged with soot. Her breath smells like a poem dragged itself to the back of her cavernous throat and died.

“She tied you to the kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair and from her lips she drew the hallelujah,” says Aphrodite, poking at an animal carcass smeared across the road with a stick. Her eyes are enormous, like the infinity you feel when holding a newborn in your broken arms.

Across the divine street, a boy finds a golden apple. Being a good person is what pays the rent in this heavenly dominion so he decides to ask the goddesses sitting on the curb and chewing bubble gum if the apple is theirs.

“Is this yours?” the boy asks, “I’m Paris, by the way.”

Athena says, because the apple is not hers, “Nobody wanted your dance. Nobody wanted your strange glitter, your floundering, drowning life and your effort to save yourself, treading water, dancing the dark turmoil. Looking for something to give.”

The apple is not Hera’s either so she says, “The whole shadow of man is only as big as his hat.”

But Aphrodite is hungry and even though the apple isn’t hers, she says, “I desire the things which will destroy me in the end.”

The boy smiles. Aphrodite grabs the apple. She bites into the fruit and tastes all the wonderful things about death.

“Thank you.”

The boy nods, runs his hand through his hair and walks away. The other goddesses throw her scornful looks. They never approve of Aphrodite’s little games.

At a party later, Paris will tell a joke and a very pretty girl will laugh. She will cover her mouth with her hand.

Her eyes will be like the language of flowers.

“What’s your name?”

“Helen.”

“Well Helen. Do you believe in love?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Do you believe in war?”

“War believes in me. You know, every baby born is the Devil’s attempt to become a better person for the one he loves.”

“So you believe in love.”

“I guess.”

Athena and Hera find Aphrodite in an alleyway. She curls and twitches as though burning in a fire. Her eyes are misty, her lips form words but the letters are made of blood and bone, things they haven’t learned yet.

They shake her shoulders, slap her flawless cheeks.

“Rage, I will sing your rage, Achilles. I will sing, I will sing, I will sing.”

Dragging her through the streets, she kicks and splutters, cries and scratches.

Under a tree, Helen and Paris spill into each other.

“I will sing, I will sing, I will sing for you, Achilles.”

“Hush, Love.”

“Rage! I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry . . .”

“Hush, now. It’s okay, Love, you’re safe. It’s okay.”

“Rage . . .”

When Aphrodite was little, she always used to love building things. She could make a desert out of a sea, a night out of a day and out of a man, a grief so magnificent it gleamed like a polished car in the driveway.

She would tie her hair back and plunge her hands into his mind.

When she was done, her face would be ruddy, her hands bleeding.

“Do you believe in love now?”

“Yes,” says Helen. She smiles. It is dark and all Paris can see are the corpses of men scattered like roses thrown at an opera singer across the land.

Paris takes her hand.

 

And so it begins.

 

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Mother Goose Strikes Again!

A Short Story by grade 10 student Nicole S. Entin

Edgar Allan Poe was sitting at his writing desk, sifting through applications for the latest position in the Court of Stories. E. L. James had just been evicted, because people finally realized that her writing was utter trash, and she was not fit to serve as a member of the Court.

“Nevermore,” his raven muttered as Poe tossed out application after application. Not just anyone could be a member of the Court of Stories. The Court consisted of the best writers of the past, present, and future, and they came together in a monthly meeting to decide on which people to bestow creative inspiration. But for some reason, Poe couldn’t find anyone right for the position.

Suddenly, the room shook as if a bomb had just gone off. The raven squawked loudly, and flew up in the air in a panic. Poe stood up, dusted off his suit, and went to the door to see what was happening. When he peered past the threshold, he recoiled in shock, the whiskers of his mustache curling in pure fright. Before him was a sight more terrifying than his childhood poetry. A tiny old woman with a large black hat jammed overtop her corkscrew grey hair stood in front of him, almost blending into the monochrome palette of the Court’s main hall behind her. She looked up at Poe and beamed.

“Eddie! How’ve you been, sonny?” she asked, wrapping her arms firmly around his midsection. “Underfed, I can tell.”

“Mother Goose,” Poe mumbled, detangling himself from the woman’s surprisingly firm grip.

“I’ve come to apply for the Court position,” Mother Goose declared, flopping down in a large chair, and taking stock of her surroundings. The office was dimly lit, with a tiny white noise machine on a stand, and a bookshelf containing tomes that looked even older than her, and much more boring. Dissatisfied, she began to rummage through the carpet bag she was carrying, and pulled out a large hip flask. Taking a deep swig from it, she smiled contently, the lines in her face becoming even more pronounced.

“That’s the good stuff. Much better than whatever’s in that cask of am- amontilly- amitil- forget it,” Mother Goose said, pulling out a slightly damp resume that smelled of alcohol. She handed it to Poe, who took it delicately between his forefinger and thumb.

“Ah, yes,” Poe stammered. “Well, Mother Goose, given your record, the other council members and I thought it would be best not to,”

“The other council members? Phooey,” Mother Goose scoffed. “Take that upstart playwright. Entin? She can’t tell an adjective from an adverb. You need a member with panache. Style. Good looks. You need me!”

As Mother Goose fluffed her hair and batted her eyelashes, Poe was seriously considering getting the raven to claw her tongue out.

“Mother Goose, I’m not going to sugarcoat this anymore,” Poe said, trying to sound brave but failing miserably. “Over the past four hundred years, you’ve been reported to be an alcoholic, a lunatic, and have taught children how to efficiently hide a dead body.”

“Eeper Weeper was tame stuff,” Mother Goose retorted, putting her feet up on the red silk-upholstered footstool, her boots leaving distinct scuff marks on the fabric. “I’m teaching people to use their existing career skills!”

“You call stuffing your dead wife up a chimney ‘tame stuff’?” Poe gawked.

“Sounds like something you’d write, Eddie,” Mother Goose countered. “At least read the resume.”

Poe stalked behind his desk with a grumble, and flipped to the first page, which bore a glossy photo of Mother Goose astride a large version of her namesake bird, wearing a tight-fitting minidress. He quickly flipped to the next page.

“Has intimate knowledge of William Shakespeare’s work,” Poe mused. He then looked up sharply. “Why is the sentence followed by numerous winking faces and hearts? And why is the word ‘intimate’ underlined five, no, six times?”

Mother Goose leaned back in her chair, her red lips twisting into a deceptively sweet smile. “Ah, Willy was my first love. Our time together was grand, I tell you. I was his Juliet. His Desdemona. His Lady Macbeth.”

“But unlike all three of them, you’re still very much alive,” Poe muttered.

Mother Goose ignored him, and continued. “My writing has taken me all around the world. In all sorts of places. Have you ever tried vodka, Eddie?”

Seeing that Poe shook his head in response, she pulled out a long blue bottle and two red Solo cups from her carpet bag. She uncorked the bottle with her teeth, and poured generous amounts for each of them.

“This is how the kids do it, Eddie. No taste, but then again, who are we to judge? I teach them how to stuff their spouses up chimneys, you write short stories that’ll scar them for the rest of their lives,” Mother Goose mused.

She held up her cup for a toast, her wide blue eyes sparkling with wit and trickery. “To the Court of Stories.”

“Hear, hear,” Poe answered, and downed the drink. He coughed violently, scaring the raven again. For a few minutes, the room reverberated with the sounds of hacking and bird screeches. When he recovered, Poe hesitantly held out his cup for a second. Mother Goose smiled, and poured again. And again. And again.

Over the next hour, Edgar Allan Poe wondered if he should start writing comedy more often. He certainly had plenty of material for a second lifetime of work. Mother Goose had regaled him with stories of her travels. She had rambled for a solid half-hour about Mary Queen of Scots, the subject of “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary”, who had a secret fondness for agriculture, and could rival Mendel in her crossing of plants. Not to mention the stories she had about the French Revolution.

“I had attended all of Marie’s parties,” Mother Goose slurred through her seventh shot of vodka. “They were fabulous. She had hired all of the best pastry chefs in the country, ‘cause boy did that lady love her cake. She would have given each town a personal royal baker if she wasn’t given the chop first. Why do you think she said, ‘let them eat cake’?”

For some reason, Poe laughed at her last comment. He always did have an unabashedly morbid sense of humour. But now, and it must’ve been the alcohol talking, Mother Goose turned to a more serious topic.

“I remember being a young woman when the Black Plague was in its final years,” Mother Goose said. “The suffering I had seen was unbelievable. Sometimes, I still see the faces of the doctors in my nightmares, covered in those awful, bird-like masks. The children were the worst, quarantined in rooms, on their own. They had no one to help them, to comfort them through their pain. So, I came to them, wearing a mask of my own. I called myself ‘Mother Goose’ because I didn’t want them to be afraid of me. None ever saw my real face, but they weren’t as scared as they used to be when the doctors came in.”

With tears streaming down his face, Poe ripped up the rest of the resumes in the pile on his desk. His enthusiastic movements had scattered the fragments across his meticulously cleaned Persian rug, but in his drunkenness, he had forgotten to care. “Mother Goose, I’d like to extend an official invitation to you to join the Court of Stories.”

“Are you sure?” Mother Goose asked. “I mean, I’m a lunatic, drunkard, and a bad influence on children. Just look at the sign over there.”

She pointed to the large poster of authors who were to be approached with caution, her face wedged between that of the poet William “The Great” McGonagall, and Stephenie Meyer.

“Forget regulations!” Poe screeched, now sounding almost like his raven. “This is the time for change in the Court of Stories. We’ve tried to be so selective, so grammatically and morally correct all the time, we’ve lost sight of what writing meant to us.”

Of course, this was the exact opposite of what Poe believed, as he’d often go into an apoplectic fit when he’d see a misplaced comma or a preposition at the end of a sentence. But, when you’re drunk, you often mix things up (a lesson to all you kids reading this: alcohol abuse can make you do stupid things).

Poe rummaged in his fine oak desk for a form, and presented it to Mother Goose along with a fountain pen. “Sign here please.”

Mother Goose reached for the pen, missed, and tried again. Her clumsy fingers finally enclosed around it on the tenth try, and she scribbled her signature on the form.

“Well, Eddie, it looks like you all aren’t a bunch of fuddy duddies after all- forgive me, I’ve forgotten how to curse. It’s the result of writing age-appropriate material, more or less, for four hundred years,” Mother Goose declared.

“Less,” Poe added, as Mother Goose picked up her carpet bag, the empty vodka bottle, and her hat, and sailed out of the office. She planted her shiny leather boots firmly on the black and white marble floor of the main hall, looking around at the somber busts of authors, and elegant vases of cream-coloured lilies. Mother Goose had plans for the Court of Stories, and they may or may not have involved coffee and donuts every Thursday, and a change of curtains on the windows. She never did like the colour mauve.

Moments

by Anna Nabutovsky
excerpt from final project for EWC4U, The Writer’s Craft

Tears:

And I wept. The tears fell onto the canvas one by one, creating puddles on the bright display. And I hoped they would wash away the paint, leaving the canvas blank, fresh, clean, and ready to begin anew. And I wept, watching the tears fall onto the canvas not clearing a thing away but rather smudging the paint, leaving it a blurry, murky mess. And I sighed, knowing that tears would do me no good. So I took out my finest brush and my darkest shade of red, and painted over the canvas, covering the shameful blur with a powerful, deep, seeping, all consuming red.

Emptiness:

In the iridescent glow of the moonlight
In the outline of a palm on the glass
In the flickering of lights
In the moment of passion
There was beauty

In the fantasies you had
In the dreams that were not realized
In the sleepless nights
In what could have been
There was hope

In the days spent without care
In the sound of your laughter
In the lecherous thoughts
In the treacherous moments
There was desire

But when the flame burns out
When reality collides with vision
When you stand before me as you are
And I stand before you as I am
Nothing left unseen
And nothing left unspoken
There is emptiness.

Anger:

The moment was red. Thrashing wildly against the restraints of reason, tugging at the chains of social order, and entirely rid of the emotional consciousness which plagues day to day interactions. From tense voices to piercing screams in an instant. The shatter of wedding china, ceramics shredding into fine pieces, impossible to fix, broken apart for good. And then silence, the red fades to white. White hot rage, broken away from passion, fading to indifference.

Betrayal:

The beginning of a day
The coy playfulness of a wink
The excitement of risk
The treacherous sound of your heart beating

A moment of desire
A ballet of silhouettes
A soft whisper
A silky strand of hair

The movement of one hand
The cry of pain
The sound of water running
The ending of a story which never began.

Loneliness:

Four borders, fading at the edges. I look down. She sits alone on a rocking chair draped with a wool blanket. The room is small, poorly lit, with only a faint glow which casts menacing shadows. She is old, but more frail than befits her age, so frail in fact, that she blends seamlessly into her surroundings, becoming one with the battered, dusty furniture. A Persian rug is strewn across the floor, not exactly carelessly, just haphazardly. She looks up suddenly from her trembling hands, and we see her eyes. Vividly expressive. Now watery, but once a bright blue, filled with a zest for life. The room grows darker, as the wax drips from the lone candle in the corner. She looks down, with a half defeated sorrowful glance, and begins to rock in the chair. The candle in the corner drips again, creating a stain on the rustic wooden table, which shakes slightly. She looks up again, her thin lips twist into a half scowl which evokes more pity than fear. Her bony fingers reach for her cane, she trembles slightly, unable to grasp it, and gives up with a defeated sigh. Her eyes fall onto a photograph which hangs above the torn sofa. It is a mustard yellow colour from age, but that gives it a quaint sort of charm. It depicts a smiling young woman. Bright blue eyes. Her hair waves in the wind in an elaborate adage. There is much innocence in her gaze, a smirk plays on her lips, which shows that she has not yet shed all the layers of youthful conceit. Yet, she is a worldly sort of beauty. A becoming young man stands in a wool coat by her side. His blonde hair is covered with snow. He looks at her, not at the camera. She lowers her gaze from the photo. A single tear slides down her face. Not just nostalgia: regret. She shifts her gaze again, and looks out the lone window. It is already April, yet winter refuses to leave. There is something beautiful about the plush white carpet and black still night. They call forth memories of laugher, and fireplaces. It is too late for that now. It is springtime. Yet the snow persists, refusing to leave the past and make room for the future. The moonlight gives the still landscape an ethereal glow. She sees two men pass by, both wearing large spectacles and wool coats. They pass with a sense of impending purpose, yet simultaneously a cavalier air follows them. They don’t seem to notice the stars or the moonlight. She is glad when they pass, their briefcases sully the beauty of the night. I hold her gaze for a second longer. She is fading away at the edges. The picture crumples, and falls to the ground.

Belonging:

I dip my brush into the paint, watching each stroke find a home nestled amongst the others. The paint dries quickly in the blazing heat. I wipe my brow to stop the sweat from dripping into my eye. Alongside me the others work chirping away in a flurry of merriment. The giddiness twirls around me, engulfing me into its welcoming embrace, begging me to join if only for a second. Yet, for some reason I resist the temptation preferring sulky isolation to the surrounding joy. I frown, immersing my paint brush into the can and stroking the walls of the decaying tunnel with the familiar rhythm. Sounds of laughter echo around me again. Talk about pathetic fallacy, I think to myself bitterly. The high pitched squeals of delight go hand in hand with the admittedly glorious weather and vivid colours. I shake my hand, everything is almost offensively bright. Like a scene plucked from a children’s book, designed to fool the naive and innocent into believing in the lightness of momentary paradise. Their joy rains onto my parade. It is ironic considering I am the sole dark blemish on the purity and sunniness of our surroundings. Somehow that makes me feel worse. I dip my brush into the darkest colour available, a glaring anime purple, and shudder. I watch the young girl next to me spread the yellow paint generously over the walls. She has a butterfly tattoo on her ankle. I think its shamefully typical, but maybe she has it all figured out. Pink butterflies, ankle tattoos, silky blonde hair, and an infectious smile. I look up at the previously grim tunnel now painted to resemble a rainbow. Glitter, unicorns, butterflies, rainbows, and me, I think to myself. Name the thing the does not belong. I smirk and start to think about rainbows, the irony of sunshine and rain working together. I look to the herd of giggling girls next to me. Sunshine, I think to myself. Suddenly, I stop, feeling a genuine smile creeping onto my lips for the first time today. This rainbow wouldn’t exist without rain. I am grim, dark, and hopelessly past naiveté, yet I can’t help but giggle, and for one moment I feel as though I truly belong.

The Not-So Tragic History of the Complete Opposite of Dr. Faustus

 

by Josiah Cohen
for ENG3U

“Hey soul sister, I don’t really wanna miss a single thing you do-oo—tonight” I hummed as I opened the door to my apartment, hot pizza box in hand. Humming some more, I proceeded into the kitchen, cheeks rosy with the cold of winter; January had just turned into February, and I wasn’t sure my coat would make it through the rest of the snowy season.

“Mmm, pizza” said my roommate Brian. He cast his puppy-dog eyes look, but knowing that he’d already scarfed a pizza down, I merely shook my head and started to unpack my stuff.

“Aww, c’mon,” he whined. “I’d sell my soul for a piece of pizza!”

“Take it up with Lucifer, bud,” I replied. “I bought this fair and square, not gonna give some of it up, even if you somehow manage to sell your soul. Surprised you even have one to sell,” I added on in that roommate-banter manner, immediately dodging the friendly punch that I knew would be on its way. Yet the punch never came. I cracked open an eye. Brian was standing there, hands on his hips, clearly deep in thought. Thinking being such a strange occurrence for him, I opened my mouth in concern, only to close it at a disarming gesture. Subtlety and diplomacy were not his strong suits. He frowned in concentration.  Then he shrugged, and grabbed for the pizza. Normal Brian was back. Unfortunately for him and his stomach, so were my excellent reflexes. Crowing in triumph, I returned to my room.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. My dreams—nightmares, really—kept me awake: rollercoaster rides that ended “poorly,” if poorly means the track becoming a river of fire; hikes where my feet seemed attracted to crevasses; and, most of all, Brian actually getting that slice of pizza.

*   *   *

“MEPHISTOPHELES!”

“Yes, my lord Lucifer?”

“There is a soul to be claimed, the goal is the mastication, consumption, digestion, and eventually excretion of a slice of Domino’s pizza.”

“My, have standards fallen from the days of Faust. What man once desired was knowledge, now it is a slice of pizza. I believe menfolk be closer to hell than we, lord.”

“Mephistopheles, I don’t pay you to be a philosopher, I pay you to get stuff done, come hell or high water. Go!”

*   *   *

I awoke the next morning still tired, my tongue lolling, my legs splayed with feet hanging over the side of the bed. I crawled out of bed and toward the kitchen, hoping Brian might have spared some bacon (this was highly unlikely) or even a piece of cheese (this was also highly unlikely, though slightly likelier than the first possibility). I heard—was it conversation? Weird. Neither Brian nor I liked having guests over before noon, assuming we were even up by then. Who could he be conversing with?

I entered the kitchen and saw a terrible sight. Brian was sitting there, cool, composed, and collected… and eating a very familiar slice of pizza. My jaw dropped. A man, sitting on the far side of the table, rose, dressed in a dapper grey suit.

“Mephistopheles, MDP, at your service.”

“MDP for Master of Disappearing Pizzas or MD as in doctor person?”

“I am merely contracted to make sure Mr. Brian Evergreen here masticates, consumes, digests, and excretes one piece of your pizza.”

I checked the calendar again. Yep, still winter, not April Fools.

“This sucks. It was my pizza, after all.”
“Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God and tasted the eternal joys of heaven, care for your claim of possession of the pizza?”

“That’s ironic, your selfishness, considering how you just dismissed my selfishness.”

The man grinned. With a twinkle in his eye, he said: “A philosopher, eh? Nice to meet another one. Pity you waste your time squabbling over pizza.”

“You never tried Domino’s?” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Brian narrow his eyes in disbelief. Domino’s was a lifestyle to him—it was inconceivable that someone would never have tried it. “It’s fantastic. I need that slice back, Meph. Can I call you Meph? Thanks.”

He sneered. “Call me what you want, just don’t call me late for dinner, I believe is your saying. I, who have dined from the plates of Popes and courted Helen of Troy, I need no sampling of your pizza. Hell needs no cheese-tomato-bread combo.”

“You don’t get out much, eh Meph.”

“Of course not; Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d in one place; but where we are is hell, and where hell is, there must—”

“Yeah, yeah. Can you just get me back my pizza?”

His perfect smile widened even further. “Without a doubt. For a price.”

“Yes?”

“Your soul.”

“What does my soul do for you?”

“I can trade it in for a baseball glove. No, you fool, it enlarges my kingdom.”

There was an Earth-shattering roar, and the floor beneath us cracked in half. Meph, Brian, and I were all sent heads over heels. When we finally crawled to our feet, we saw another man in a grey suit, looking very much like Mephistopheles, standing there.

“Oh, come on, Lucifer,” said Meph irritably. “Saying ‘my kingdom’ as opposed to ‘your kingdom’ only enhances the legend.”

“Who cares? But a baseball glove? Really? What use do we have for baseball down in hell? It’s freezing there! Go for a basketball or something, dear God, er, not-so-dear God.”
“Basketball is much better than baseball,” offered Brian, voicing one of his few opinions.

The new suit cast him an appreciative, appraising glance. “Agreed.” Turning back to Meph, his ire increased. “How about hockey equipment? That’s so damn expensive. And there’s even an NHL team named after us, whereas the baseball team that sorta kinda had our name removed it!”

“Hockey equipment is very expensive,” Brian added. I looked at him, amazed. This breadth of purchasing experience was quite unlike my roommate, even more so considering the fact that he had no soul.

“See, I like this guy!” Luke—was that his name? —was speaking to Meph. “Doing a better job than you, even without his MDP.”

“Master of Disappearing Pizzas is very fitting for Meph (Luke let out a snort of laughter). He took mine!”

“Not quite. MDP stands for Most Devilish Person. It’s the equivalent of a PhD in hell, or just getting any degree from Ohio State. Mephistopheles, er, Meph took your pizza?” Luke looked at me inquisitively. I hesitated, unsure whether to remind him that Brian had sold his soul. Meph just glared.
“Well… um, actually, Brian sold his soul for a piece of my pizza. Sorry bud.” Brian shrugged, stoic as ever. He reached for a chocolate bar.

“For a piece of pizza? Brilliant. Now that’s a fair trade, let me tell you. Much better than the old days, when stuffy theologians would sell their soul for knowledge and beauty. Ha!”

“Wow, foolish thing to do!” said Brian. If looks could kill, Meph would have chopped him up by now. I got the feeling that Meph was involved in that particular “stuffy theologian” case.

“I like this guy! But, you have sold your soul. Can’t get that back, I’m afraid. Or you could give me a slice, I’ll trade your soul back.”

Before Brian could leap to accept, I said quickly: “Nope, sorry man, pizza is pizza.” Brian shrugged, stoic as ever. He reached for a second chocolate bar.

“Fair enough. I respect a man’s right to eat pizza. I’ll make a compromise then. You get your pizza back. But Brian here comes with me down to hell and I’ll put him in the advanced MDP classes. Take it or—” here he was overcome by a fit of giggles—“I’ll take it! Ha! Get it? You take the deal or I’ll take his soul! Hahaha!”

I chuckled, if only to placate Luke. It was clear that he was in charge. I glanced over at Brian, only to be amazed yet again as I saw him laughing hysterically. He usually only laughed at toilet jokes.

“We’ll take it,” he said through his chortles. I looked at him in amazement. MDP classes? The thing was ludicrous! He shrugged, stoic as ever. He reached for a third chocolate bar.

Luke said, still giggling: “I’ll send up a man later to finalize the details. But now, Brian let’s go.” The two of them disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving Mephistopheles and me alone in the kitchen.

I sighed. He looked at his shoed. I checked my watch. He adjusted the cuffs of his suit.

“Well…” he said, seeming a bit sad that the whole episode was ever. I got the feeling that he didn’t really mind the Earth so much. I felt bad for him, which I guess explains what I did next.

“Hey Meph,” I said. “Want to go get some pizza?”

“Mes très chères chaussures de pointe” by Anna Nabutovsky

In the French programme at Abelard, in addition to learning the language, students at all levels are encouraged to use their knowledge to compose short stories, poems and songs in French.  Here is one sample, a “love letter” composed by Anna Nabutovsky, a grade-11 student in our core-French programme:

Mes très chères chaussures de pointe !

Je vous aime avec tout mon cœur. Je vous aime passionnément. Vous êtes mon monde, ma vie, et tout mon existence dépend de vous. Votre beauté est sans pareil, à l’intérieur aussi bien qu’à l’extérieur. Je sais que je ne suis pas toujours gentille avec vous, je vous blesse, je vous casse, et pour vous venger vous faites saigner mes orteils; mais quand je vous quitte vous êtes déchirées. Je ne veux pas vous jeter de la poudre aux yeux et je veux être tout à fait sincère avec vous: Je ne peux pas me changer, mais je veux que vous sachiez que malgré tout, je chérirai toujours notre amitié et le temps que nous avons passé ensemble. Je ne vous oublierai jamais. Vous serez toujours tout près de moi: dans mon cœur et dans mon placard.

Je vous aimerai toujours.

Anna

BYWAY by Noa Magen (grade 12)

The old man lay in his bed. His chest rose and fell slowly, growing more and more slow with each wheezy breath that shook his frail body ever so gently. His sheets were ragged and dirtied and moth-eaten, as was he. The rough cloths were stained with old blood, old spit, and old booze. They piled on him in uneven arrangements, every shroud a slightly different shade of various faded dyes. Some had ragged tassels, a number of which had been ripped away from the body of their covering with time, whose strings were damp and frayed. The thin fiber of a certain tassel hung by the old man’s finger. It swayed slightly in the wind of the cracked window, stroking the finger softly again and again as it swung limply from side to side. The finger was thick and ruddy, its calloused skin was numbed by labor of the past and cold of the present, spotted with age. The nail was dense and blue around the edges, discoloured throughout, and flaking at the tips. His face was heavy and fat. The wrinkles were set deep into his flesh, displaying a design not unlike a wave as it reaches the shore, worn and many layered, cascading down his face. His eyes, red and lined with gunk, waded in their own liquids which seeped out of their corners steadily. The tears ran along the creases of his face in the zig zag pattern of its meandering path, sluggishly covering his cheeks and running down his neck in rotund droplets. His eyelids fluttered closed, short, dark eyelashes batting against each other stupidly. He attempted, uselessly, to keep them open. Each time he pried them apart, the sludge separated into thin strands which broke and retreated into the mass on either lid. The old man did this once, and then another time, and then another time still, struggling, raging against his death, thundering against his final moments.

The man lay now in a different place, his head and stomach pressed against the cold, wet ground. The grass upon which he had woken was long and unkempt. Each strand was accustomed to shining in the warm light of the day, gold and green intertwined in each blade, collectively forming rolling waves which stretched out beyond the farthermost point the eye could see. Each strand would stand a soldier of a battalion, lanky and fragile as all soldiers are. Now, however, they stood less gloriously, the night having depressed their lengths and lowered them to the earth. The grass was damp now, damp with dew, and the dew moistened the young man’s face. His head flattened the turf on which it was resting. The rest of his body seemed alien to him, though not quite as alien as his surroundings. His dry lips were parted, parched skin peeling as they begged for water silently. A lowly trickle of water parted the dark and newly submissive blades of the lea like a snake. It was so thin and insignificant in the greater scheme of the complex world whose factories hummed on unawares that this dribble of accumulated moist would save a man’s life. It approached him leisurely in the fading light of dusk, and his muddled mind grew excitable as it saw its salvation. The pearly serpent twisted and became thicker as it hoarded what droplets it encountered. It glistened now in the dull gleam of twilight, mauve on silver, in the day’s fading luster, on the eve of the man’s comrades’ deaths, though he had not yet been made aware of this.

He heard the high clinks of a hammer hitting nail. He heard the grinding sound of a saw cutting into wood. He heard the crackling of the fire sending waves of heat onto his already sweat drenched body. He heard the rasp of a chair being carved into existence. He tasted the war and perspiration and musty stench of the room on his lips. He smelled the sawdust which covered the floor and the rusting tools being worked by the rusting men. He felt the tired, monotonous, rhythmic tune of the place, void of speech, a factory of fraudulent manhood. In its vacuous patterns, the shop was easy to tune out. He stood on his raw, aching feet, which throbbed and seemed to hum a jaded rhythm of their own. His rough tongue brushed the roof of his mouth back and forth, numbing it gradually. He would abrade it for hours until he could no longer feel either, at which point he would stop, awaiting the return of sensation, and begin the process once more. His mouth began to tingle and sting as if little eruptions were bringing it back from the dead. He moved the pudgy muscle on his teeth, beginning to detect each corrugated bone. A mouse darted out of a small hole in the thin wall and scurried across the floor, narrowly avoiding many a raised shoe and swung mallet until it was eradicated by a stout hobnail. The cracked edges of the man’s mouth twitched upwards, then frowned.

The man was seated now on the cheap plastic bench of the local children’s playground. The bench was a revolting shade of bright teal, rough with little bumps to prevent the children’s skin from adhering to it when they would, inevitably, fall upon it, so that their skin would not tear and bleed. The bench was built so that the children would not scream and cry, so that their parents would not have to soothe them and tend to their injuries, so that they would not have to hear their shrieks and hold their own heads and shout from the pain of their lingering hangovers which the teal only aggravated. The man rubbed his thumb on this surface and stuck his grey feet further into the cold, wet sand. His shabby sandals, made of flat strips of patterned rope which he had broken in so long ago, lay nearby. Grains of sand pooled in the imprint of his heel and became entrenched in the ridges of the shoe’s straps. He pictured the return to his home, where his wife would shout at him for bringing in the “mounds and mounds of filth” and screech like the children, his child, in the playground. He looked up and saw the bright, tawdry colours of the playground equipment. He looked out at his own offspring, the only offspring in the whole of the park. A child with golden locks and a fat, heavy face fell and began to sob as she attempted to remove the sand from her mouth, sticking out her little red tongue and wiping it frantically with her little red hands. The man’s gaze continued onto the swings, which seemed to be the only honest thing in the place. It swung, drab and grey and covered in rust, from one side to the other over and over again with a constant tune, a grating, melodic scrape propelled by the howling wind of late November. They were alone under the grey sky, utterly bleak and pallid, alone save the feeble, nondescript trees, having been stripped of all pride with their vibrant leaves long gone,  and the fake, gaudy jungle gyms, under the flat, ashen clouds so far above them: alone, without a soul as witness.

Thin sheets of linen billowed lightly in the wind of the outdoors. The gust was let into the room through the large sash window, propped open. The window was painted white, as white as his bedding. The paint cracked and peeled into fragile curls, like wispy, bleached cinnamon sticks. On the ledge of the windowsill sat a poised matte blue vase, and in it a single flower. On its inside, concealed to its owner, the vase had a layer of carefully building water stains, lines which made perfect, delicate circles of pale grey around the vessel’s body. A sliver of paint collapsed into the bottle’s murky waters. The water was lukewarm, though cooler on the side facing the breeze, where the glass was chilled. The flower, wilted and barren, hung limply over the lip of the vase, its petals hanging loosely and ashen and its stem dangling into its stale drink. The stem could faintly taste with some nostalgia the bitter taste of alcoholic residue which the old flask held when it was younger. If it could have, it would have remarked with some dismay that that would have made refreshment much more pleasing. The three remaining petals dangle despondently with clear view of their fellows’ fates. In youth they were smooth and strong and elegant. They were cream coloured, tinted with a dainty shade of rose in their past, for which they had no affection, now lusterless and bruised brown around their edges. Memories of days gone by are never more than caustic gestures of the present’s qualms. A petal tumbled onto the ledge’s dusty surface, and died.

And then the man was no more.  

“The Intruder’s Body,” a short story by Ayesha Liaqat (grade 12)

I moved into this apartment a week ago. I am still trying to get accustomed to it. The wide tall windows, the low ceilings, the compact rooms and balcony gardens add a hint of Parisian glamour to the interior. 21 rue de Saulles is a splendid location. This is quite different from my old house in Istanbul. It was rather a country chalet. Everything lay afar there but it pleased me. I was quite satisfied to have my own plot of land. The chalet was not immense with very many rooms but rather spacious and cozy. I had designed it myself. On all four sides of the chalet lay gardens, each decorated with a different type of flower. The rose garden lay behind the chalet. White roses formed the border; yellow roses formed the outline of the maze, which, as it grew more and more complex, changed its colours based on the scale: yellow was followed by orange, orange by red and red by crimson red. The crimson red roses surrounded the fountain which gushed forth water now and again to nourish its companions, the roses. This garden I dedicated to my mother.

The garden in front of the chalet had a cobblestone pathway bordered by an alternating pattern of delphiniums and gladioli; an ivy arch sheltered the entrance. The garden proper was rather simple: plain grass grounds with flowerbeds of gardenia. This garden I dedicated to my father.

The garden on the right had a central pond full of water lilies. On the right side of the pond was a towering willow from which hung a swing and on the left was a wooden bench surrounded by ferns. This garden I dedicated to my grandmother.

The garden on the left was the closest to my heart. It housed a bandstand in the centre, encircled by deep green bushes at the base against the backdrop of magnolia trees. The pathway to the centre of the garden was aligned with jasmines accompanied by hanging lanterns. This garden I dedicated to my Beloved.

I always lived alone. I don’t recall ever noticing my solitude for I had already surrounded myself with memories held closest to my heart. People always posed a problem for me. In their presence, there was much tension; in their absence, much depression. Social and moral etiquettes teach us to let some thoughts repose in the depths of our hearts. It becomes difficult, however, to suppress sentiments which affect one so profoundly. You, gentle reader, are welcomed to refute the statement I am about to make for you and I see through different eyes. There are always aspects of each human being which appeal to us; regardless of how stupendous and magnificent their personality may be, we always find flaws here and there. Human nature is composed of imperfections, whether we consider the judge or the judged. Since memories are the only immutable and permanent aspects of human beings, it is best to capture them in a physical form lest they fade away.

It was a chilly evening; I lit up the fire and sat down to sip my jasmine tea.  Night began to spread its sheets over the firmament; soon the moon showed its face in all its beauty, accompanied by her procession of stars. There was no source of light in the room save the flickering fire, which cast shadows onto the wall, and the gentle moonlight. I recalled Halloween evenings from my childhood. I never understood the logic behind forcefully scaring oneself.  Like on Christmas day, grandma recounted her own horror stories on Halloween. Her best one was called “The Intruder’s Body.”

There is an Intruder inhabiting Jane’s room. He reposes during the day and ambles at night. He feeds off of books: the complexity of the work determines the increase in his size. In the beginning, he poses no threat but as he reads, his stature and mental capacity increase, allowing him to reach and understand more books rather easily. And thus in a couple of weeks’ time, the Intruder becomes a grown man. Now, he believes himself to be the rightful owner of the room (and the house) and begins to seek revenge for the injustice towards him.

The fire went out and I laid myself in the couch. Suddenly, door knob turned and I heard footsteps fading in the direction of my room. I trembled from fear and spent the night at the kitchen table. While I had lost my sleep, I enumerated the strange occurrences on which I had turned a blind eye over the past couple of weeks. I recalled a day from last week when I noticed the bizarre order of Professor Moucheboume’s books in the book rack; magazines were lying on the floor in the living room; my essays were out of their folder on the kitchen table…

For once grandma’s memories were uncomforting. I was unable to block out her story. The Intruder came out one night and with anger flaring in his eyes rampaged through Jane’s house. When Jane returned home from the market, she found a crowd surrounding her house. Jane’s friends were happy to find her unharmed but the mystery remained: what was happening inside in such an inhumane manner? The noises came to an abrupt end and the crowd dispersed. Jane felt relieved and the valiant woman that she was, she entered the house. From that moment on, her whereabouts became an enigma.

The more thought I gave to the story, the more terrified I grew. Keeping my wits about me, I packed my possessions in the morning and boarded the train to Strasbourg. Oftentimes thoughts and imagination run too free for reality.

After having spent a week with my siblings, I returned to 21 rue de Saulles. While still on the street, I heard the pandemonium. Curious to finally solve Jane’s mystery, I entered the apartment. Seated on the sofa was an unusual man: a top hat over his voluminous curls, a Dali moustache, and a pince-nez.

I intended to converse with him and inquire about his presence; however, he lacked the interest. “Young Lady, from generations have we inhabited 21 rue de Saulles. Without further ado, instantly part from here lest my anger should boil up once more and end your life,” bellowed the Intruder. I had no such intentions. I remarked, “Sir, if you will, allow me to provide my explanation: I pay the rent, I do the dishes, I sweep the floor, I organize the books (which you, now I figure, have been disarraying), and I just came from a long journey! Have some humanity.”

The Intruder reddened and reached for his top hat; having placed it on his knee, he reached for his pocket from which he took out a shiny boning knife and turned it in his hands. With great difficulty I swallowed my saliva and trembled from fear. The Intruder stood up and approached me with his knife held out towards me. I leaned in to embrace him, placed my hand over his and turned the direction of the knife. Minutes later, he fell unconscious to the ground. Whatever followed, my eyes were unable to believe. Instead of blood gushing forth, his body parts detached and shrunk tenfold the size. Soon, a procession followed: the eyes led the nose, the ear, the cheeks, and the lips out the window; the next procession was led by the hallux toe and the index finger which led the arms and the legs; finally, the back and the skeleton dragged themselves out the window. This was the Intruder whom Jane had failed to annihilate. He was now gone. The satisfaction and pride which filled me were beyond description.

I went into kitchen and began to bake kugelhopf to commemorate the death of my childhood friend: the Intruder. His mystery had finally been unveiled.

The Ranger

Fiction by: Matt Pilgrim, Grade 12

The first sound to enter your ears will be the light jingle of metal complemented by the heavy, determined trod of hard heeled riding boots. Then you will hear the revolting noise of someone who is free from the burdens of hygiene gathering a fat wad of phlegm from the back of their throat before contemptuously flinging it at the floor. Continue reading

Sound Lake

Fiction by: Jared Rand, Grade 12

Up in the north is a place that my parents called Sound Lake. We used to go there every summer when I was just a kid. I used to play on the beach while my parents watched me. I didn’t have a care in the world. This year, when I came back without them, Sound Lake was not as much a paradise as it had been. Continue reading

The Forgotten City

Fiction by: Jack Fine, Grade 12

It was a dark place, long forgotten, visited only by the occasional wayward soul or explorer wanting to reveal its secrets. The archaeologists had stopped coming long ago, the great exploration parties left before them, and the last attempt to resettle the region was centuries ago. Now it stands looming on the horizon, abandoned since time immemorial but refusing to vanish completely. Continue reading