A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
BY TRINI FENG
I was afraid of the moon. This much I knew. Every night, I drew the curtains and shoved my closet against the window, hoping to block out the moonlight—and failing. No matter what, the pale light seeped into my room, soaking me in its warmth and laughing at how powerless I was. Its faint glow lurked everywhere, demanding that I remember, and I hated it.
My escape plans were futile. I ran and found myself outside on the sidewalk, closer than I liked, nothing shielding me from the moon’s brightness. I buried myself under pillows, but I came up for air not long after. I hid in the closet, but the nightmares were worse there. Eventually, I stopped and waited for my alarm to release me. The screaming sirens composed a symphony so chaotic that I forgot everything else. I let it reach a fever pitch before grabbing my phone.
Already late. My mom would throw me out if she got another phone call about my absence. At least I didn’t need breakfast. Nowadays, I found food overrated, another way to satisfy a person’s desires, and I didn’t have any of those left.
I glanced at the mirror. A girl’s hollow face stared back at me, her sunken eyes pleading for salvation. Her haggard frame swayed, struggling to stand. She was what they’d showcase on TV as a poor, lost girl who needed just a few cents a day to save her life.
I shrugged and headed out the door. That wasn’t me. My eyes were yet another thing I couldn’t trust. These days, they told more fiction than fact.
I tried as much as I could for my mother. It still wasn’t enough. When the bell for second period rang, I stumbled out of the school and into the woods that bordered it. I curled up against a tree trunk and shut my eyes. The tree bark scratched, but I didn’t care.
That school was too much for me. Once, it hadn’t been. I was pretty sure I had been there for two years. Now its hallway lights blinded me, the kids’ shouts deafened my ears, and the teachers’ sure airs of authority did nothing to comfort me. Everything reminded me of a low, even voice telling me I’ll always be here for you, strobe lights blinking red and blue, and a shrill scream that had cut my heart from my body.
When I opened my eyes, everything was bright, muted green and brown forest tones removed. Red, white, orange, and yellow blurred together. I wondered dimly if a wildfire was spreading and would set me ablaze.
“I know you’re there.” The words were barely audible over the silence.
I looked up. A woman, not a fire, stared at me, light shining in her eyes. Her blonde curls bounced off her head, caught up in her energy. She knelt next to me. “You’ve stuck to a routine this week,” she said. “Always disappearing after first period to this exact place.”
I didn’t respond. The woman smiled. “Do you know my name?”
Only because she had forced it into me. Every day, she dressed in the brightest colors she could; today, it was a red dress and a white cardigan. Whenever she talked to me, she started and ended with her name. My voice was a hoarse croak. “Mrs. Franklin.”
Her smile widened. “Good!” She surveyed me, and for a second, her light dimmed. “When was the last time you drank?”
I didn’t drink. My father wouldn’t let me. He’d lie across two kitchen chairs, chuckling to himself and taking the occasional sip from a bottle. The moment I reached for one, he bolted up and snatched it out of my grasp. How inconsiderate of Mrs. Franklin to think I’d follow in his footsteps. I shook my head, hoping that would answer her.
“Now, you have to hydrate yourself.” Something landed on the ground next to me: a small plastic water bottle. “Don’t throw away your life.”
I didn’t react. The best way to escape a predator was to play dead.
“Do you know why I haven’t dragged you back to school yet?” Mrs. Franklin continued. “Why I keep going into the system to excuse your absences?”
She had? I could’ve sworn my mother had yelled at me about my truancy last night. Or had it been the night before?
“It’s because I know that wouldn’t help you. I see the look in your eyes. You’re dead to the world. Nothing affects you anymore. Am I correct?”
Probably. I nodded.
“Discipline won’t reach you, and expulsion might make it easier on you. I won’t let that happen.” A bright fire, like the one that I thought had scorched the trees, blazed in Mrs. Franklin’s eyes. “I can help you. I’m your counselor. You can talk to me.”
No, I couldn’t.
“If you want to, I’m here.”
I didn’t want anything.
Mrs. Franklin shook her head. “I’m curious. How do you get home?”
Her jaw dropped. “All three miles? By yourself?”
“Over hills,” I murmured. “Underground. I duel a monster. Or two. Their screams stain my lungs, so I cough and run away.”
Silence. I thought Mrs. Franklin had left, but then she spoke, hesitant. “Do they, by any chance, have two large, gleaming yellow eyes?”
I turned to her. Was something real for once? I nodded.
“And they always come around the same time? About halfway into your trip?”
I nodded again.
She heaved a sigh. “I see. You’re even crossing Grant Avenue in its rush hour.”
I stared at her, the words trickling through my brain like water.
“Let me know if you ever want to talk,” Mrs. Franklin said.
Her footsteps crunched on the grass until I could no longer hear them, leaving me wondering if I had imagined the whole confrontation.
Mrs. Franklin’s words wouldn’t leave my head. If you want to, I’m here. I’m here… I told you… I’ll always be here… for you…
I didn’t want to believe her. Couldn’t let myself believe her. As soon as I trusted someone, they slipped away, like that was all they had been living for.
I opened the door, and the bells chimed a sweet tune to announce my arrival.
When I was five, I had loved those bells. They fascinated me in a way that only appealed to a kid. I kept opening the door just for the sound, to the point where my parents had to drag me away. Even after I outgrew that childish phase, the soft cadence signaled that I was home and that I could let go.
Today, I just hoped that she wasn’t—
“I’ll be there in a minute, Henry!” she shouted from the kitchen. That single sentence urged me to curl up on the floor and melt into its coldness, but my muscles wouldn’t work. Surviving the day had sapped every ounce of my strength.
My mother sauntered in and slipped on her six-inch heels, every action graceful and steady. With dolled up hair and a face full of makeup, she looked like a princess without a care in the world. She was the one thing I knew was real, for my mind avoided thinking of her whenever possible.
“I’m going to Henry’s tonight.” She didn’t look at me. “You know what to do?”
I didn’t, not really. She had assumed I did for the past few weeks, leaving me here almost every night without supervision. Whether I said yes or no, she didn’t care. Henry had captured her attention for years. I couldn’t blame her. I wouldn’t stay with a lost teenager if I could prance off and pretend everything was alright.
My mom strutted out the door. It slammed behind her.
I had met Henry at the funeral. My mother had the gall to bring her boyfriend and his two children to mourn her dead husband. Before the service, he had pulled me into a firm handshake, grinning with all his teeth. “Henry,” he said. Then he had leaned in and whispered, “I guess we’re business partners now, both working to take care of your mother.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that my mother didn’t need or want my help. Instead, I smiled, the motion never reaching my eyes.
Later in the service, his five-year-old daughter tugged on his sleeve, whining that it was taking them too long and that she wanted to go home. The whole time, his three-year-old son tottered around on his newfound legs and circled the pews. He hadn’t done anything to pacify either of them. Awful. My father deserved more respect than that, especially considering he was dead.
I staggered into the kitchen, keeping a hand on the wall. My three-year-old potential stepbrother probably walked better than I did. The thought sickened me, but the opened bottle on the kitchen counter was worse.
I lunged for it, and the moment I touched it, I knew something was wrong.
The bottle was half-empty and still cold.
My father was the only drinker in our house. My mother had barely tolerated his habit, and he had banned me. So why…
I ripped open the fridge doors. My father had his own space in the fridge, a zone no one else could touch. I had memorized its contents, specifically the seven beer bottles still in the cardboard carrier box.
Now there were six.
There had never been six.
The letters on the beer bottle twisted upward into a sinister grin, cackling. Who cares about him anymore? She stole his things, your counselor stole his words, and that man stole your mother’s love long ago.
I hugged the bottle to my chest and ran. This was something I could do: save my father. Get rid of the poison that had ended his life, the thing that, when he pushed it far past its limits, had submerged him until he could no longer breathe.
The beer bottle shattered on the patio bricks, brown liquid soaking my socks and running into the cracks, the glass, the dirt.
I needed more.
The rough bricks scratched against my socks as I paced back. I propped open the back door, cold air sinking into my bones and pervading the house.
The carrier box went next, each bottle shattering. I ripped the box apart, face by face, scattering the pieces around the yard. Let my mother clean that up later. She could turn it into a little game for the little daughter that she actually liked.
Since my father had died, we had left his things untouched, unsure of what we could do with them. Most were little trinkets he had gathered over the years. They weren’t valuable, but they broke so easily. Shot glasses from Vegas. Bracelets from the pawnshop half an hour away. Spiked rings caked with dirt. I broke each one, bending and twisting the metal, ignoring the cuts left on my hands. I would do at least this for my father, the only one who had tried, the only one who had cared, and the only one who had died.
I was tearing apart my dad’s photo album when I thought it would be a perfect time for a fire. A fire to burn the pictures, warm up the cold air, and offer light—
I froze. I didn’t have to look up to know it was night, but I did anyway.
The dark sky pressed on top of me. The stars twinkled, beckoning my attention. Not a single cloud was in the sky, nothing else except for the full moon watching me.
I thought of running, but for some reason, I didn’t feel as though I should. The moonlight blinded me, but I wasn’t scared as much as I was awed. There was something so breathtaking about such a simple thing starkly on its lonesome. Instinctively, I stepped closer, craning my head.
It wasn’t the moon I saw anymore, but a baseball my dad tossed at me. I danced backward on the grass to catch it. As my mom drove out of the garage, I threw it back, and the baseball hit my distracted father square in the shoulder.
He yelped. I doubled over in laughter. He recovered faster than I did, lobbing the ball at me. It knocked me on the ground, which sent me into another uncontrollable fit of giggles.
When I had regained some sanity, my father stood over me, stretching out a hand. I shook my head, sinking deeper into the grass and drinking in the warm rays of the sun. “It feels nice here.”
My father studied me before smiling and flopping down beside me. We lay side by side under the sun, watching the clouds roll lazily across the sky. “You’re right. It does.” He chuckled. “Your mother’s always out shopping.”
I nodded. “She never brings anything back, though.”
“No. She just likes browsing the shelves and basking in her vanity. Even overnight, I suppose.”
My dad had been a little detached from reality, believing any excuse his mind made up. So when the truth finally came out, it had buried him underground, leaving his body to decay in a pool of that poison he loved so much. I had crawled in after him, surrendering myself to the lies.
He glanced over at me. “Why don’t you ever talk to her?”
“I hate shopping,” I replied. “Besides, I like talking to you.”
“She’s your mother.”
“And you’re my father. Your point?”
My dad stared at the clouds. “I shouldn’t be the only thing keeping you afloat,” he murmured.
Back then, his words had been too serious for me to think about. “You’re doing a good job of it. Keeping me afloat.”
“I am. I’ve always tried to be here for you. But…” He paused. “I’ll sink soon.”
I had scoffed, not understanding that when he said sink, he meant it literally, drowning in his liquor. Not understanding that he had cared about me when no one else had. The entire school might be on my back now, but that was because I had lashed out after he was gone. No one had cared when I had still passed for sane.
“What are you doing?” a voice asked me, coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once. The calm scene disappeared, leaving me with a messy but empty yard. That voice was so familiar…
I stared at the moon again.
What are you doing? Why don’t you wake up?
The moon morphed until I could’ve sworn I was staring back at myself. Wake up. Are you even real anymore?
I fell forward, barely catching myself from landing in a pile of glass.
What’s real? Tell me what’s real.
I didn’t want to, but my mind was fed up with lying to itself.
The tears running down my face. The beer and rum swirling together on the ground. The glass cutting into my feet, straight through the socks.
The blood, tears, and rum, mixing and coalescing…
All messy, but all real.
The stern face etched into the moon’s craters, staring down at me… not real.
The voice in my head, telling me to fix this… real.
I lay in the moonlight, gasping for breath between my sobs as a thought forced its way to the surface.
“My father is dead,” I said, “and I miss him.”
Such a simple truth, but I hadn’t let myself face it for so long out of fear. I couldn’t accept a world where I was alone.
“I…” I drifted off, trying to put a name to my pain and finding I couldn’t. I had lost myself to the depths of my mind.
I forced myself to my feet, staring at the moon until its brightness hurt my eyes. I didn’t want to go blind. I just wanted to remember, even if it happened to be that fateful night when Henry’s car had been parked in the driveway; when my father had reached for the refrigerator door; when my mother had gone downstairs to change the sheets and found his still body instead.
After having the door open for so long, the house was too cold. A perpetual chillness had settled in the air. I closed the door behind me, staying steady on my feet for the first time.
Pain lanced through my foot, reminding me of the glass buried there. Without that to sharpen my awareness, I would’ve collapsed, but I couldn’t rely on that any longer. I gritted my teeth and ripped out the glass shards.
Robotically, I headed into my room. Since I was little, my parents had insisted on keeping a first aid kit in my room. I had never used it, running to them if I got hurt. Well, my remaining parent probably wouldn’t even notice if I bled out in front of her, so it was my turn now.
My attention drifted as I cleaned the wounds. I gazed around the room in all its disoriented glory. How had I never noticed how bad it was?
I stared at my phone on the counter.
Let me know if you ever want to talk.
I should. I had her number through the school. I could call and tell her what was happening, but I couldn’t, not when I couldn’t explain even to myself what had happened.
There needed to be some way to get it out there and save it for when I was ready. For when I finally figured out how to face the pain rather than hide from it.
I reached for my phone, going to voice memos and pressing the red RECORD button.
A long moment of silence passed. How did I start? Was that even possible?
What you know. Start with what you know.
I wasn’t sure what I knew. Baseless facts like my name and age I had forgotten long ago. I might’ve dug my way out of the dark tunnel in my mind, but I had been down there for so long that the light now was so disorienting.
I took a deep breath and started with the one fact I was sure of. “I was afraid of the moon.”
That much I knew.
Trini Feng has written for as long as she can remember, dreaming up stories and worlds while she lives in her own—the quiet suburbs of Illinois. She enjoys music and video games, conveying her love by lightheartedly making fun of them. She is a high school sophomore.