Under 18 Non-Native English Speaker – Winner 2014


by Maylandie Kuntz 

I run through the woods. Someone is following me. I don’t know who it is, I have no idea what they want. I run. The worst is something seems familiar to me. The shadow running, the situation. I am scared. It feels like I am supposed to be in control. I am running away instead of facing the danger, but everything screams to me : “Take control ! No one can do it but you ! It’s not such a big deal ! Why are you such a coward ? Acting like a child… all the time”. I shut my eyes. The voice in my head is loud and painful, and I’m scared my ears are going to burst into thousands of pieces of flesh. I open my eyes. I need to see where I am going. It doesn’t make sense: I have no idea where I am. I know those woods, I know those trees and the scent of summer. I know that fresh air better than I know myself. Maybe that’s the problem, after all. But yes, I know those woods like I know my home, but I’m still terribly lost. This world is a stranger that I know too well and now I’m panicking.

I take the risk and look behind me. The shadow is still there, so close. It’s threatening to catch up at any time, but it’s acting as though it just wants to be there. Terrifying me, but not finishing me off. I don’t know what I did to deserve all this. Surely I’ve done something awful and this is now the price I have to pay for all the wrongs I’ve done. This is a punishment some kind of divinity sent me.

I’ve been running for six months like this. I stopped a few times, thinking it was over. I took a breath of relief, smiled, and that was all I did before the shadow appeared again. I started running again, and I haven’t stopped since. I try thinking of everything I like, the food that tastes the best, the music that makes my whole body shiver. I try singing those songs in my head, but they don’t sound the same. They’re just noises put together and the melody is gone. They’re a story without a beginning. I think about everything I like and I slowly find out that I am destroying those things. The memories I have of them are getting tainted with a taste of ash. The memory of my own moments of joy is tainted with a taste of blood.

Sometimes the shadow almost disappears. But when I take a look, it’s still there, it didn’t vanish. It’s always there to remind me that I’ll never be free, that if I stop running it will catch me and end me. I am trapped but constantly escaping. I run for my life and never stop. Each day and each night, I run. Sometimes, I just want to give in. I consider the option. But I keep running because I am human and if I can reach the outside of the woods, then I’ll be fine. I am right there, between life and death. And I’ve been right there, contemplating the option that would free me. But I push the option away and I laugh for myself because no, I have to run. I have to keep running. I can’t consider stopping, not now, not after all those months and the years before that. I haven’t done all that just to give up now.

And so I run. Desperately, I carry my optimism on my shoulders even when it’s too heavy. I smile and I run. I forget the shadow and I feel great for a few seconds. I take deep breaths, let the best memories flow in my head before they start tasting like blood again. I don’t have much time. Soon, everything will be sad and scary again. I have to hurry. I take the best out of every thought. And then it’s gone. I want to scream because it’s unfair. The shadow is so close now, way closer than it was before. I panic and run faster. The trees are watching me, I don’t know if I am hallucinating but I swear they have eyes. They are watching me from above and judging my every move. I hear the voices of adults around me. It’s all in my head, but it hurts. Words are like knives and people seem to enjoy driving the blades into my skin. I’ve been running for too long, I feel numb. But the numbness hurts and the wound is somewhere in the depths of myself.

I am strong. I don’t care about what you think. I’m strong. You can tell me how weak I am for not controlling this mess. You can shout and call me childish. But I am strong for running. I am stronger than you’ll ever be, sitting there comfortably on your chair and telling me what to do, how to act. Telling me that I’m not capable of anything. Telling me that I won’t achieve anything ever if I keep running with this shadow after me. I’d like to see you try. There are some things you don’t understand. There are things that you don’t know and things that you never saw. What you don’t seem to realize is that you are one of the reasons why the shadow is here, right now. You created this whole mess but you want me to deal with it and live with it and stop acting like a child. I hate myself for hating you. I know you mean well, deep down in your heart. That’s the worst. You mean well but the scars you create are never going away and I can’t love you. I love you. But it’s the worst kind of love, because it can be beautiful and a few seconds later, it is harmful and it is poison. I am sorry it came to this. I am so sorry. I love you and I hate you. I wish we could be like we were before. But we can’t go back, can we ?

I am still running. I forget about the voices and run. Then, I start coughing. Panic seizes me. I can’t cough, I can’t stop. I can’t breathe. I need to run. I forget the pain in my throat, I forget how it hurts and how it tastes like blood now. Real, metallic blood. I must have slowed down, because the shadow is right there. And now it’s facing me. No. I stop running because it’s in the way and I can’t escape. It’s walking towards me and I start distinguishing the features, the lines of its face. Tears are rolling down my cheeks. It’s my reflection that I am facing. A clone of myself, made of smoke. It’s full of everything that’s ever gone wrong and all the bad that’s ever been said. A flash of hope lights my mind. Maybe I finally am ready, maybe I’ve grown up. And maybe I can finally destroy it all. Once and for all.