This story is by Parker A. Hankins and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Monster was erupting again.
Tesline stared, the blood rushing from her face. Fear stifled her breathing, constricted her heart, leadened her feat. The Monster was erupting, yet she couldn’t find the will to move.
In the distance, a tall narrow dome protruded from the ground. All around Tesline were shouts and shrieks, warning her to flee from the impending wrath of this volcano.
Tesline was far too frightened to notice.
The mountain’s wicked face grinned evilly at the escaping peasants as if it knew it would overcome the village. Two bulbous eyes grew at the dome’s top, their orange, red, and yellow coloring threatening and poisonous. The eyes suddenly burst, flinging burning blobs into the air. More eyes came to replace the missing.
An explosion of the fiery liquid blasted from the volcano, the colors flashing more fear than ever in Tesline’s amber eyes. The lava poured down the face of the dome, reaching a small house at the bottom and engulfing it into flames. The danger was advancing closer to Tesline. A gust of wind smote her face, stinging her throat as she inhaled the billowing smoke.
It brought her back too, and she spun around. Her home. It was gone. Her family—everything—it was all gone! And she hadn’t been able to tell her parents goodbye—to hug her precious younger sister. Tesline’s eyes spilled tears onto her lashes, flowing onto her cheeks in an endless waterfall. She hadn’t known a sixteen-year-old girl could endure so much in only a few minutes. Yet, she was. All she longed for was peace, but it always seemed to run from her. Right when she thought she obtained it, it would disappear.
Tesline fell into line behind the other peasants who were rushing from the Monster’s doom. She knew why everyone called the mountain that startling name. Even now, the volcano’s explosions screamed of death, hissing murderous whispers in a gleeful tone.
Tesline brushed her finger under her bottom eyelash-line, washing the teardrops away. Her heart had long since ceased to ache. It was torn into tiny shreds, tossed about, and trampled on.
Death. She had just witnessed it minutes ago. Her father’s face. Noble—cheerful. Her mother’s face. Kind—tender. They were enveloped in fire. Tesline tried to help. The efforts were in vain. Her parents died. Lacey, Tesline’s sister—she dropped on her dying parents, cries streaming from her lips. Tesline again tried to help. She was too late. Lacey died.
The memories ceased as fresh tears began their stream across Tesline’s cheek. She barely realized she was standing, her head bowed, straight blonde hair falling over her face. There was no peace. None at all. And to add to all this, guilt flooded her mind. She had committed a horrible act against her friend. She had allowed his mother to die.
Tesline couldn’t go on. What was there to live for? There was a king to serve, but who cared about him right now? A sob escaped her mouth, and Tesline slowly collapsed to the ground. It was over. Her life was shattered—broken beyond repair.
The throng of peasants swarmed around her, worried solely about safety for them and their families. Tesline had no one to worry about. Not even herself. Why would a poor girl without a family or friend have any worth? Almost not enough worth for a grave. She knew dirt probably had more importance than her. It helped to produce food. But what about her? Nothing, and much much less. Her family had loved her, but they were the only people. And they were gone.
Tesline buried her face in her hands, ignoring the tears that trickled from beneath her fingers. She shook with each sob. As sadness enveloped her conscious, she stood and turned once more to see the burning house in the distance. The crowd was too tall. She raised herself onto her tiptoes, catching her last glimpse of the beloved home. Maybe she could go back. She could die where her family had died. Die so she could be left in peace to not survive these hopeless days. But, no. She still needed to apologize to her friend.
She turned around again, being pushed onward by the fast-moving wave of peasants. Over the sea of heads, she spotted a familiar face only a few paces away. It was her best friend. The torture attacked her again. The guilt was unrelenting. She didn’t expect him to like her anymore. He would probably resent her.
Suddenly, a booming pop was thundered from behind. A few small rocks pounded Tesline’s head. The Monster’s explosion had been powerful. It was only worsening!
At that instant, a rock the size of a watermelon slammed into the woman in front of Tesline. She fell to the ground, dead. Tesline shuddered. She couldn’t think of the dead woman, probably a child’s mother. She had to get to Paiten, the young man she had wronged. Her heart ripped into tiny shreds as sorrow and guilt dissolved into tears. Peace was impossible.
Another loss to the volcanos fury.
Tesline needed to hurry, but the group was too packed. She forced herself in front of someone, who only rammed her back with a glare.
“Please!” Tesline pleaded.
The man only ignored her.
Tesline tried again and again, but her attempts were futile. She finally decided to call Paiten’s name. His head turned to look as he halted, a question on his dark furrowed brows. Tesline gave a desperate wave. How would he respond? She couldn’t read his handsome features. His expression was unchanging. He gradually approached Tesline, his stride determined and strong. Though he was only eighteen, he had the look and maturity of a grown man.
The last of the peasants were going by, making it easier for Paiten to move. He stopped in front of Tesline. She gripped her dress, and her gaze dropped. “I’m sorry for—” She choked up. She couldn’t believe what she had done to him. It was horrible! “For—” She closed her eyes, her lip quivering. “for not helping your mother when the lava came towards her.”
And she cried all the more. A firm hand gripped hers, and she gazed at Paiten’s confident features through blurred vision. She found herself staring into his blue eyes. They were light, electric, like no others, a striking color to behold. They had a compassionate look in them—a forgiving look.
After a moment, he said in his soothing deep voice, “I forgive you.”
This time, they were tears of thankfulness. “How can you?”
“Because the king forgave me of a greater wrong. And I understand you being concerned.”
“The king? He really cares for us? Even after what we did to him?”
Paiten smiled ever so slightly and nodded. “Yes, he does.” He paused, his smile melting and his eyes far away. “But there’s only one problem: our punishment for our actions against the king. As you know, the ancient law commands everyone’s punishment to be endured by someone. Anyone can take your punishment, as long as someone does. Did you know the king sent his son, the only son he has, to come and endure the punishment for us?”
So many emotions flooded Tesline’s soul. But Joy was the most prominent right then. And maybe some peace. “I didn’t know that,” she said through sobs. “Thank you, thank you!”
Paiten’s smile saddened. “You didn’t know because the king’s worst enemy has kept this wonderful truth away. The enemy has confused everyone he could. But the King is trying to change that.”
She threw her arms around his neck, and he hugged her close. She cried against his chest. So many tears today—so many feelings. She had never known life could carry these experiences. Paiten’s heartbeat was comforting in her ears, as her mind comprehended everything he spoke.
Suddenly, she felt secure—loved—cared for. She felt worth and had something to live for in her life. She had another companion—another friend in Paiten. She had a king who really cared for her, who sent his son, the prince, to pay the price for the people’s wrongs. Finally, she had peace. Peace greater than any she had encountered before. And she was grateful.
She didn’t know, but the Monster had quieted down.