By Marisa Paloma Williams
The ocean, roaring from a window, was blue and glistened earnestly in the moonlight. Upon looking closer, one could make out the silhouette of a young girl.
As May walked through the hallways she could feel hundreds of eyes on her. Everyone had known that she, May Harris, was a pathological liar. That she had been telling everyone that she was about to leave town for good, probably just for attention. Everyone had understood that May Harris had gone crazy.
She entered a narrow office.
“Do you know why you are here today?” Mrs. Hartley, the school counselor, asked with a concerned look. May knew exactly why she was there. She also, however, was unfazed by Mrs. Hartley’s unnecessary serious tone. May stared at the dusty blinds, daydreaming as cars on the busy street went by. This, May thought, is certainly a waste of time.
“Your friends and family are concerned about you, May,” Mrs. Hartley explained. “If you don’t want to talk to me, that’s fine. But I simply cannot allow you to continue telling everyone that you are dying next week. Do you understand how serious of a statement that is?”
“I’m very serious,” May declared. The concerned expression on Mrs. Hartley’s face intensified.
“Please, help me understand,” Mrs. Hartley paused, “why on Earth could you possibly think that you are dying?”
“I’m not dying. It’s not a process. It’s more of an event – a single action. I’ll be going next week, that is, returning to my original state.” May smiled. She often found amusement, and the slightest bit of pity, in conversing with close-minded people. May understood, before even walking into her office, that it was very unlikely that Mrs. Hartley would understand her story.
“And what state would that be?”
“The ocean.” May pulled the sleeve of her shirt down so that it covered her fingers. She’d noticed her skin had been dry and somewhat scaly recently.
“The ocean isn’t a state.” Mrs. Hartley was getting irritated.
“I am of the ocean. Not from it. I was given this physicality,” May gestured at her body, “for a very brief amount of time. Time that, unfortunately, is running out. As much as I would love to stay here and explain to you the story of my life, I want to go home. Thank you for the concern, though.”
And with that, May jumped out of the seat, quickly grabbing her backpack, and left the room.
Mrs. Hartley let out a deep sigh, concluding that May was likely just overly imaginative, and resigned to simply phoning Mr. and Mrs. Harris at a later date about the matter. May swiftly left the school and began to walk home, feeling more and more close to the end with every step. She wasn’t always sure quite how she would return to her original state, but she had the inkling that her human body would die and her consciousness would live on in another state.
She walked through the neighborhood. It was filled with the tallest trees that one could imagine, a sky that always seemed to be blue, and a sun that seemed to shine exponentially brighter than it did anywhere else in the world. Every yard on the block was filled with a plethora of flowers and elegant birdbaths. May’s life nearly matched her name. She approached her home, a moderately sized colonial that she had lived in almost her entire life. Except for, according to May, the several billion years she spent before her life as a human, living as a part of the sea. May approached the picturesque house.
The Harris household had always been warm and welcoming on the inside and out. The Harris family included Patrick Harris, Samantha Harris, and their adopted daughter, May Harris. Patrick and Samantha had always treated May as they would if she had been their biological daughter. They were, however, starting to grow ill with disappointment about May’s detailed conspiracies about how the Ocean was her true origin. They knew that adopted children tended to be insecure about their birth parents, so they tried earnestly to ignore May’s elaborate fantasies.
May tried her very hardest to enter the house quietly. Patrick and Samantha had spent every waking moment of the past week trying to plan May’s 18th birthday party with her. She, however, knew that she would not live to see 18. The Ocean had granted the Harrises with a child, but even The Ocean could not cheat life. May had known that The Ocean possessed the capability only to give the Harrises a child — nothing more. Therefore turning 18, or becoming an adult, would render The Ocean’s careful replica of a human life as void.
“May, is that you?” exclaimed a peppy voice from the kitchen. Ms. Harris eagerly removed her glasses, pushing her work to the side, and made her way to the foyer to greet May with ecstatic zest. May forced a smile.
“You’re going to love the cake I ordered this morning,” piped Ms. Harris, beginning what was panning out to be a long monologue on every detail imaginable of May’s party.
Shutting down the conversation almost instantly, May retorted, “I have a lot of homework to do, Mom,” she lied, “and I don’t want to know about the party,” she paused, “I want it to be a surprise!” May lied again, and quickly rushed upstairs to her room, trying desperately to avoid coming to terms with the fact that this party might be the final scene of a very well-lived life.
She glanced around, glimpsing at photos scattered amongst her walls from the photobooth at the local movie theater, polaroid photos of dark basements and rooftops of parking garages taken by May’s best friend, Violet Brown, and at various ticket stubs from summer concerts that May and her friends attended as if they were sacred. A tear formed in the corner of her eye. May would miss everything so dearly. May stopped. She looked in the mirror. Three seemingly new scars had presented themselves on May’s neck. One might say they resembled gills.
11:00AM. It was the eve of May’s 18th birthday and the festivities were beginning. Despite everyone else’s excitement about the party, May was actively focused on the swirling the Honey Nut Cheerios that had been floating around in her cereal. May had been sweating immensely for the past few days. But the sweat was cold and fluid, unlike the typical sweat that one would acquire on a hot summer’s day. And it wasn’t summer, either. Everything felt like it was melting – or, more so, transitioning. May was not scared by this unusual phenomenon. She had quite the inkling about what was happening.
May spent the afternoon walking around the neighborhood, waving at the occasional neighbor. At the rare sight of a wilting flower, May would gracefully graze the petals, and with her touch the dried petals seemed to elegantly sprout with moisture. She hopped on a local bus, deciding to ride around town with no clear destination in mind. As she stared out of the window on the bus, watching how the passing buildings seem fade into each other, she realized that no one would ever know her in the form that she currently inhabited, and that no human possessed the necessary understanding of life to comprehend that she actually wasn’t dying or leaving – just changing. May felt a buzzing coming from her back pocket and almost immediately picked it up.
“May, sweetie, you need to come home! Your party is starting soon,” exclaimed Ms. Harris. May checked the time and realized that she had been gone the entire day, and the sun was setting.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mom! I’ll just get off the bus now and call a Lyft,” responded May.
It was a windy, temperate day. The quaint beach town had been warm and cloudy for the past few weeks, despite the fact that it was December. As she walked off the bus, ordered a Lyft, and waited patiently for her ride to arrive, May smiled at the picturesque scene before her. Everything from the brightly painted houses to the color of the sky was perfect. This life is perfect, thought May. She genuinely loved the way that clothes felt, the way that bread smelled, the way that people smiled when they laughed. She also loved the way her peers didn’t understand her. She had no desire to be understood.
7:00PM. The party was beginning. Violet had already arrived, her arms filled with presents. A good amount of others were flowing in, namely Jackson, Katherine, Emily, Claire, and Grayson, all of which had been May’s closest friends throughout high school. During the course of the night, games were played, movies were watched (and hardly understood due to many loud, energetic conversations), candles were lit, presents were opened, and cake was devoured. Later on in the night, despite the happy undertone of being surrounded by loved ones, May’s cough had progressively gotten worse. So as to not disturb anyone, she would go outside or into the bathroom during her coughing fits. Such coughing fits were, however, progressively getting harder to stop.
11:30PM. The room was filled with laughter and joy. The party was slowly coming to an end. It was not the first time in the entirety of the buzzing conversation that May joined in on the laugher. It was, however, not the same as before. Her laughter turned into coughing. It would not stop. May couldn’t manage to summon any air, regardless of her immense efforts. The conversation abruptly died down —- May was choking.
At 11:42PM Samantha and Patrick Harris tumultuously jumped out of ambulance into a local hospital. Violet, Jackson, Claire, and the others quickly followed behind them as May, laid out on a stretcher, struggled to breathe. The hospital had a beautiful view of the surrounding ocean. Oddly enough, it was a beautiful place to fall ill and die. However, such a spot by the ocean would be a far better place to live.
11:57PM. The Harrises and May’s most immediate friends could not understand anything at the moment. They couldn’t understand how May, who had a clean bill of health her entire life, suddenly (according to quick analysis from several experienced doctors), had lungs filled with water. They also couldn’t understand what the doctors meant when they assured them that everything would be okay.
A tear ran down the face of Samantha Harris.
Patrick Harris assembled his lips to speak, but nothing would come out.
Violet and the others sat impatiently in the fluorescent hallway.
May’s breath faded out. Her eyes slowly closed. She stole a final glance out the window, gazing at the ocean, and smiled.
11:59PM. A long, constant beep filled the room. It was the worst sound. Doctors rushed in.
“Time of death, 11:59. Age, 17.”
Samantha Harris was weeping.
The ocean, roaring from the window, was blue and glistened earnestly in the moonlight. Upon looking closer, one could make out the silhouette of a young girl. Closer. She walked slowly, appearing to approach the horizon, sinking into the ocean with every step.
Short Story Rubric
|Short Story Components||Publishable||Sophisticated||Adequate||Needs Development||Unsatisfact-
|Style||10||9||8 7||6 5 4||3 2 1|
|Author uses creative and effective use of rhetorical and stylistic devices, the “Show, Don’t Tell” technique, Point of View, and dialogue to enhance the reader’s experience.||Comments on Style:
Great imagery and use of detail
|Organization of Plot and Setting||10||9||8 7||6 5 4||3 2 1|
|Author effectively develops the components of the short story arc (hook, exposition, inciting action, rising action, climax, falling action and insight). Setting is distinguishable and well developed.||Comments on Organization of Plot and Setting:|
|Character Development||10||9||8 7||6 5 4||3 2 1|
|Author creates real, believable characters and captures a universal aspect of the human condition. The main character’s conflict is clear and likely causes/requires change. Character is motivated by a catalyst, likely presented in the inciting action.||Comments on Character Development:
You could really tell what kind of person May was nice job of showing that.
|Theme/Insight||10||9||8 7||6 5 4||3 2 1|
|Author weaves through the plot a recognizable and effective theme that isn’t cliche. The story’s ending type is appropriate for the story’s genre and story arc components.||Comments on Theme/Insight:
Her dying was kind of confusing. If she lived in the ocean and was used to it then why did she cough when her lungs were filled with water?
|Mechanics||10||9||8 7||6 5 4||3 2 1|
|Author uses Times New Roman or similar, 12 point font, one inch margins, page numbers as a footer, and includes a heading and effective title on the first page only. Author has no spelling, grammar, punctuation, or formatting mistakes. Dialogue is properly punctuated and capitalized and dialogue tags, syntax and diction are varied. Author either single spaces and skips lines between paragraphs (2.5 – 4 pages total) or double spaces and indents paragraphs and dialogue (5-8 pages total).||Comments on Mechanics:|
|____48___ / Total Grade|