Just stay calm…just stay calm… The thoughts seemed to emerge from my desolate mind into the silence of dusk as I paced down the lone highway. Keep your thoughts clear, just keep them clear. I knew that it was coming. I knew that I could not stop it. Empty thoughts…blank thoughts. Everything is fine. It taunted me in the back of my mind as the sun inched closer to the horizon far off. You’ll be safe. It’ll be all right. The horizon seemed to be the blade of a knife as I waited for night to come, for with night, death would follow. Just don’t think about it. Don’t think of the pain. I could imagine the gruesome scenes before me with my heart rate increasing. No, don’t lose control. Don’t lose control. I shook the bloody thoughts from my mind as I tried to regain control of myself. I noticed that my breathing had become sharp and quick along with each beat within my chest. Happy thoughts…happy thoughts. I could not live with this forever. I had to do something about it. What to do? What to do? I felt the shrill pain of fear bite into me along with a nagging at the back of my mind. Look at the moon…look at the moon. You must look at the moon. “No!” I screamed aloud, grasping my head within my hands. I was surprised at my sudden action and found that I had stopped walking. The sun is setting. It won’t be long now. I glanced back in the direction that I had come from, checking to see how far from the Air Force Base I had actually walked. This seems far enough. This is good. Flashing my dark eyes about, I found that I was beside a wide spread field of wheat with the empty highway to my left. “This is good,” I said aloud, confirming my thoughts. The sun is almost gone. Darkness is approaching. I knew that my mind was correct but I didn’t want to believe it. Ignoring the instinctive thoughts, I turned from the pavement, placing my tennis shoe into the wet snow of the field. It is coming…it is coming.

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The administrator of the writing club, Magic Pens, that I am in, created a story prompt to motivate us to write. Basically, we were at a meeting and read some of our stories on stage in front of everybody. Afterwards, our stories came alive and started attacking us. He wrote about where each person was afterwards and what state they were in, and I have matched them up in my story pretty well. We each had our own versions of what happened, and here is mine…

I nervously began to walk up the few stairs of the stage clenching my story within my hands. Walking to the small podium that was erected before the audience of Magic Penians, I felt a timid shake overcome me for a second. I had never actually read my story before an actual audience before, yet I was ready for the new challenge. I gave a faint, weak smile before reading the first few words of my rewrite. “Running through the early morning moistness of the Mathurin Forest that enveloped her quaint home in obscuration, a young girl of ten brushed through the rough branches that tore at her soft-featured face.” After a few minutes of reading my Horse from the Woods story, I began to feel more confident as I began to twitch less often and become more steady and fluent with my words. Before I knew it, I was leaving the stage with applause from the crowd and taking my seat in the first row.

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All was shrouded in silence as I lay against the cold, hard surface of the rocky mountain ground. The penetrating frost bit into my skin as I shivered and trembled with shock. I could feel my life slipping from me with the thoughts of death consuming my mind. Using all the strength that was left in my small, weak body, I reached for my walking stick but was unable to find it. I lay there helplessly as I waited…waited for death to meet me.

I was unsure of when my mind had left the world and had entered the freedom of dreams. I felt light and weightless as my mind created pictures, vivid in my imagination. The only time that I was ever able to see the world clearly was when I closed my eyes and hid the world away. Only then could I truly see.

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I have decided to rewrite my entire Horse From the Woods story from the prologue up! Well, I have rewritten this story many times from 1st grade, including in 4th, 5th, and 8th. I have once again rewritten it this year, as I am in 9th grade and you can see the immense improvements that I have made. I hope that it is better and that I have worked out all of the bugs. Please tell me what you think!

Running through the early morning moistness of the Mathurin Forest that enveloped her quaint home in obscuration, a young girl of ten brushed through the rough branches that tore at her soft-featured face. As she flailed her arms to shield herself from the treacherous twigs, her light, maple- colored hair snagged on the trees’ wooden appendages and her cheeks grew red with frustration. She frantically scanned the thick forest before her with her dark, emerald green eyes as she searched for the source of the strange sound that had impelled her to run through the wood. She quickly passed trees and bushes as the light dew that covered the grass below her feet, soaked into the leather of her boots.

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The next morning, I found myself pressing lightly against the soft, dew-covered ground with my walking stick. My father carved me a new stick as I grew older and I always kept it close. Each one was made to fit my height, and carved from the sturdiest of wood. My brother and I found it a tradition to venture out each year to find the perfect tree to cut from, and I always enjoyed it. I depended on my stick, for it was my eyes.

“Be careful here,” my brother warned ahead of me. “We’re just entering the mountains.”

Mountains, I thought to myself. Oh, how I had dreamed of what the image of mountains might look like. All that I knew of mountains was what my brother had described to me. He’d explained that they reached to the skies and blessed their lands with their majestic appearance. I was taken by surprise when my stick hit the hard surface of rock at my feet. The vibration through the carved wood sent a sudden message to my brain, “Rock.” I lifted my foot and pulled myself atop the first rock with great confidence.

“Do you need some help, Arin?” my brother asked me. I felt his touch against my arm.

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“But, Father! You know that I’m old enough to go!”

“Yes, I know, Arin, but-”

“You let Theo go when he was of seven years!”

“Arin, please. Just listen to me!”

“Father! I’m of ten years! I’m old enough to go with him! He only has four more years than me!”

My father groaned as I persisted to travel with my older brother into the wilderness of the mountains. I could sense the tenseness in the air as I listened intently. “Son,” my father paused. “You…you just can’t go with Theo.” I noticed the sympathy in my father’s voice as he rejected my request. “You aren’t like your brother. You’re…different, special. You’re special, Arin.”

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Natalie’s breaths came in gasps as she ran with all her strength, past the first trees of the forest. Ignoring the branches that scratched at her face, she continued with cuts along her cheeks and arms. Blood slowly crept from her small wounds, yet she was determined to find her horse. She had to find Duchess, before the dragons did. Unaware of her surroundings as she ran blinded by shear determination, she found herself falling as her foot was caught on an ugly, moss-covered log. She sprawled over the small log before her, and hit her head on a flat stone. Her world began to spin and fade just before it all went black.

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Natalie grasped her horse’s neck tightly as she took in the horrific scene around her. Duchess became uneasy and broke free of her owner’s embrace to neigh loudly as she rose onto her back legs. She kicked her strong, front legs wildly as Natalie tried to regain control over her horse. Keeping her distance, she felt the fear within the atmosphere and could sense Duchess was troubled. She could see the deep fear within her sparkling, blue eyes. “Duchess, what is it? What is it, girl?” she cried out reaching for the reigns that were whipping around wildly. Duchess quickly turned and bolted down the dirty, cobblestone path out of the destroyed village leaving Natalie to run after the mare. She was unable to keep up with Duchess’s incredible speed as she yelled out in despair with her arms outstretched, “Wait, Duchess! Come back! Where are you going? What’s wrong?”

Her attention was quickly averted when she heard a deafening roar from the skies above her. She glanced to the dark horizon behind her and was suddenly filled with fear as her breathing seemed to stop and her heartbeat skipped a beat. A large swarm of dragons was flying towards the village from the distance. Their silhouettes littered the sky, as their numbers were high. Natalie slowly began to back away, still in awe from the sight of so many ferocious beasts. Dragons were never known to hunt or travel in groups. They were solitary creatures and they preferred to be alone. Why were there so many of them?

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Claire sat on the edge of her bed and looked out her window to the forest that stared back. The tall woods were dark and looked unfriendly as they reached up towards the sky. The sun was just setting casting a watercolor effect on the sky. Pastel colors of red, orange, yellow, pink, and purple mixed and swirled together, fading into the horizon. She brushed her short, blonde hair with her fingers as she thought silently to herself, watching the sunset.

It had been nearly three months now, since the accident.

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I wasn’t always this way. I led a normal life. I was perfectly happy before. I was even married. Yes, believe it or not, I had a wife. Oh, how I miss her dearly. I wish that I could take this curse from my life, but it will not leave. I wish that it had never come, never chosen me, but it’s here and it’s a part of me. I must deal with it as I go about my day and I must learn to pay the consequences.

This curse…the curse of the phoenix.

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With the full moon above them, Natalie and Duchess rode down the long, unpaved path, only taking a short time to reach their destination. Duchess quickly galloped the entire trip under the moonlight without slowing in speed or growing in exhaustion leading Natalie to wonder where she had received this stunning endurance. Duchess’s movement was smooth and balanced, making it easy for her rider to stay on. Natalie grasped onto the reigns of her horse tightly, however, in nervousness as she thought of never returning to her past life.

As they approached the quaint town of Anzama, Natalie slowed her horse and turned her off the dusty road to a small hill that overlooked the town. After dismounting and climbing the grassy mound, she was astonished at what she saw before her. The color drained from her face as raging flames met her dark eyes. The town lay in ruins, burned to the ground. Visions from her frightening past came back to haunt her, as her breathing became heavy. The full moon shed little light on the ground, however the fire lit up the sky as it burned over the wood of houses. Flames licked at the sky, casting smoke to dance above before vanishing.

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Four Years Later

Natalie’s dark green eyes shot open at the pounding of her bedroom door.

The unpleasant sound of her uncle’s voice followed the pounding, “Wake up Natalie! It’s time for work!” Sitting up and rubbing her eyes drowsily, she yawned and walked to the small circular window of her attic room, staring out to the darkness of early morning. The many stars of Septia’s sky met her drowsy eyes as they twinkled and danced in the sky.

Another hard day of enduring work was ahead of her.

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