Calista Snellgrove is my featured artist this month.
She is a wonderful student who is not only
talented in visual art, but also in creative writing.
Calista will be auditioning for the creative writing school
of ASFA this Spring I hope she gets in
because she deserves to
learn and grow as a writer.
Below is her Short Fiction piece for her audition.
Human Kind by Calista Snellgrove
I could tell that Aikaterina was angry with me even before she started yelling. Call it intuition or instinct if one wishes, but all my mind focused on was trying to remember what I had done wrong. Aikaterina stormed up to me, her face aflame with fury. Quite literally. Smoke floated off the ends of her hair like a gorgon’s snakes, and light scorch marks adorned her beautiful, snarling face. I reflexively started backing away from the furious Leimakide. Holding out my hands in a plea for mercy, I dared to speak:
“Aikaterina! Calm down, it’s only a few tiny burns!” The taller, older nymph’s eyes were lit with madness, and she growled at me. Thankfully, I managed to silence my comment about how feral she sounded. A few nearby Anthousai glanced at us as they tried to smother embers on their flowers without crushing the blossoms.
“This, Kallista,” Aikaterina gestured to the scorched meadow behind her. “Is ALL YOUR FAULT!!” she roared and smacked the side of my head with her fist. I shrieked and cowered, prompting a sigh from the smoldering nymph.
“Village men set fire to my meadow, Kallista. Euthalia went to investigate and came back saying the men were angry at a dryad who would not lend them lumber.” Her pale eyes narrowed on my face.
“If I recall correctly, you recently threw a fit because ‘pushy young men’ arrived in your section of the forest in search of wood. You were seething with anger, and screeched to the men that you were going to get the meadows to curse them. Perhaps,” she drawled, “they felt a tad threatened.” Aikaterina cocked an eyebrow sarcastically and turned to look out over her meadow once again. I nibbled on my bottom lip nervously, and tugged at the sleeves of my gown. As I opened my mouth to apologize, I found myself being cut off by the Aikaterina’s voice.
“I could’ve died, Kallista. Euthalia could have died. All of the Anthousai could have. Our community is a fragile one, Kallista, so you must try to be more careful. I can’t have men running around burning nymphs just because you got a little irritated at them. Now, I understand why you got upset. Kallista, you are young, and I know giving up too much of your tree could kill you. We don’t want that.” I hung my head guiltily, staring at my feet as Aikaterina rambled. Her words gradually started to blur and fuze together. I began to picture a river that idly flowed into one of my ears, through my mind, and poured out of my second ear. The waters were made up of all my thoughts. Her words became shimmering, flickering fish that dove joyfully into the clear waters. Long words swam slowly and steadily, taking their time to feel the water run over each lettered scale. Shorter words went fast, though, barely pausing to swerve away from the larger fish. They glinted as they sped silently from end to end of the river. In one ear and out the other.
I started suddenly at the feeling of a sharp jab to my ribs. Aikaterina, looking exasperated, shook her head. Cocking my head to the side in confusion, I opened my mouth to ask the meadow nymph why she seemed to be swirling and fading. However, my voice caught in my throat. Mist poured into the edges of my vision, obscuring Aikaterina’s familiar face from view. Her eyes flooded with sympathy while the river in my mind simultaneously dried up. Trying to gasp, I found that my lungs had ridden themselves of air. Could my young life be over? I was but 67 years old! Practically a baby!
“I’m so sorry, child.” I heard a voice murmur. Could it have been Aikaterina?
“You’re so small, but you’ve made so many mistakes. This is your punishment. Please, forgive me when all is said and done.” Tears pricked the backs of my empty eyes. How could Aikaterina do this to me? I know she is my elder, she deserves all of my respect and much more, but why would she not let me now of my punishment prior to this? Was I that unimportant to her?
The mist had infiltrated my mouth and nostrils, it burrowed up into my head. I felt quite faint along with the slight sensation of movement. Not quite swimming, not quite flying, and not quite running, but a strange mixture of the three. Aikaterina and Euthalia would have a name for it; they were intelligent girls. I, however, was a dumb child. Everyone said so, it must be true. The urge to break down and sob was strong within my core, but the feeling seemed like it was literally being ripped out of my throat. Could this be what it felt like to have your tree chopped down? If so, I pitied the souls of the poor dryads whose trees had been taken for wood in the villages. My chest was swelling peculiarly, as if the magic residing inside me had been purged from my body and all of the space it had taken up was being replaced with empty air. I needed to gasp, to breathe, which was absolutely ridiculous; I am a dryad whose tree breathes for me. Having to breathe was a human trait. It shouldn’t be affecting me at all.
The mist began to clear, although my head still felt a bit foggy. Scenery began to fill in the area around me as the last wisps of that delusional mist dissipated. The first thing I recognised was that I had not been delivered home. The second, that my mind was moving abnormally sluggishly. My reaction time had always been a little on the slower side, a trait that Aikaterina constantly chastised me for, but for it to be this slow was very unusual. A horrible pain erupted in my neck when I tried to toss my head. It was sharp enough that I nearly screamed, but my vocal cords felt to be rubbed raw. Blinking, the world slowly came into focus. My vision seemed a little skewed, and everything wasn’t in as much detail and definition as what I was used to. These were not dryad’s eyes. Why were my surroundings so crooked, though? Why was everything looming over me?
I was laying on the ground. That’s why everything looked off. Gathering the few shreds of strength in my body, I braced my hands against the ground and pushed until I had gotten propped up in a sitting position. The ground felt rough and gritty underhand; it cut painfully into my skin. Strange. Normally, nothing could slice into my tough, calloused flesh. That meant that either the ground was made of uncut diamond, or my thick dryad skin had also been smoothed away by that mist. Upon turning to look at the ground, I saw my hands. Shock trickled down my spine and into my eyes. I blinked as if the action would prompt the mist to come back and take me home.
As I suspected, I no longer had dryad’s hands. They still looked like my hands, though. It’s peculiar, to say the least. There were my small palms, my long fingers, the tiny scar on the side of my left thumb. My flesh was abnormally soft and pink, almost like human skin. No, not almost, exactly like the skin of the village people. I gasped aloud, the air raking across the walls of my throat. I winced. Suddenly, there was a voice above me. An unfamiliar one, at that.
“Hey, are you alright? What are you doing out here? Can you hear me?” I gazed blankly at the tall figure standing some meters away from me. My surroundings still appeared very blurry, but I could tell that the person belonging to the voice was male. He took another step towards me; I heard the same voice asking those same questions. I mumbled incoherently, desperately searching for a plausible answer. My hand twitched and bumped into a strangely smooth surface, an item resting on the ground beside me. Quickly grabbing the small object, I gathered my voice enough to answer.
“I-I, um, w-was looking for...these..?” I rasped. The man quirked his head curiously. Clearing my throat, I attempted to clarify:
“Th-these. I lost them earlier.” I said, holding up the object in my hand. He squinted, and nodded his head a time or two. Crossing his arms, the man turned around and started for a set nearby doors.
“Put your glasses on and hurry before you’re late to class.” he barked over his shoulder at me. I hurriedly shoved the item onto my face. It still felt hard and smooth, and I suspected that slight scratch against my skin was from the grit of the ground. Long stick-like appendages on either end of the “glasses” slid neatly over each of my ears. A small indentation fit over my nose, and two large lenses rested in front of my eyes. Upon putting on these so-called “glasses”, my blurry vision became much clearer. I first used my newfound sight to look at the man holding open the door for me. He was about the height of the older village men, perhaps a bit taller. Graying hair, a pink face, not very muscly. He was wearing clothes of violet and heather-gray hues. The man looked at me expectantly.
“Calista? Are you coming?” he asked, sending a cold slither of shock down my aching spine. This man knew my name? Or, rather, he seemed to know my name. The man had pronounced it differently than what I usually hear. Perhaps it was just his accent. I shuddered again and shakily pushed myself to my feet, nodding.
“Y-yes sir.” I took a deep breath and started for the door. My legs trembled, my eyes and throat felt unbearably dry. Passing through the doorway and on into the hall, I heard the man behind me close the door and follow my steps inside. Noises ricocheted off the walls and through open doors, filling my aching head with sounds. It made me want to fall down and scream, but I figured that would be a tad impolite to the man in violet.
“You are alright, aren’t you?” he suddenly asked, causing me to jump. I nodded quickly and urged my racing heart to calm. He dipped his head in a brief nod and murmured something I couldn’t quite catch before hurrying off. I was left in the cavernous hall by myself. Glancing from side to side, I noticed two more doors. One set back in the wall to my right, the second a few meters up to my left. Numerous voices came from behind the one on my right, and I glimpsed people through a tiny window on the door. The people looked peculiar and acted even more so. All that I saw bore clothes of strange cuts and bright, unnatural colors that I had never thought to imagine. I even saw girls with hair shorter than some of the village men! Suddenly, I became very aware of the clothes I was wearing. The fabric now seemed to scratch and rub against my skin uncomfortably; my skin crawled with something akin to repulsion. Almost afraid to look at myself, I cringed and slowly, slowly brought down my chin. One eye opened just a bit, but my eyelashes fell down in front of it, blurring my vision. Heaving a sigh of great woe, I opened both of my eyes enough to look down at my torso and legs. I stared in shock at the baggy fabric hanging down to my upper thighs. It was such an atrocious shade of gray! The garment along my legs felt extremely unnatural; I am quite used to wearing gowns and tunics. The textile felt a bit rough, and was a shade of blue that looked like the sky had gotten drunk off wine.
The door to my right suddenly opened and I nearly shrieked in surprise. A person stood in the doorway, looking curiously at the panic surely written across my eyes. Waving a hand in an attempt to look nonchalant, I murmured and stuttered a few strange sounds. They didn’t resemble words at all. The person, a young lady that appeared to be my age, stepped to the side. She still held open the door, though; I assumed for me to walk through. Hurriedly nodding my thanks, I rushed into the large, loud room beyond the nondescript doors. I was met with magnified voices and numerous stares. Amongst all of the chatter, I heard my name:
“Calista! Calista, over here, you idiot!” Like the man who found me outside, they pronounced my name with an unfamiliar lilt. Deciding I had no better option, I followed the voice. A brunette girl sat on the floor, waving at me like a maniac. She gestured to the space on the floor next to her.
“C’mon, sit down!” she practically yelled while grabbing at my leg. I sat down cautiously, pausing to analyze each person sitting around the excited girl. There were only three other people, two girls and a boy. I didn’t pay them much mind. Instead, I opted to turn back to the girl next to me. The one who had called to me, and who had an arm wrapped tightly around my shoulders. She was yelling excitedly about something, a reference to something that I didn’t really understand. I only tuned into the conversation more when I heard one of the other two girls refer to the one beside me by name- Emily. A nearly overwhelming sense of relief swept over me, leaving me feeling a little strange. Why was I so happy to know this girl’s name? Emily glanced sideways at me at that very moment, concern flickering in her bright eyes. She opened her mouth and started to speak, but I cut off her words with another wave of my hand. This girl seemed to care about me, or the person whose place I had taken, and I didn’t particularly want to cause more fear and heartache today. I simply offered Emily a soft smile, one that had never managed to soothe Aikaterina, and relaxed against her warm side. I was strangely comfortable. The three began conversing amongst themselves once again, but I felt much too tired to properly listen. Aikaterina would’ve had my head if I had ever done that during one of her lectures.
A small sigh escaped me as I thought about my elder nymph. Surely she had gotten a god, or at least a witch, to carry out my punishment. Nymph magic certainly wasn’t strong enough to execute something like that. I hesitantly poked Emily’s side, a question forming in the back of my mind. She lightly smacked my hand away, giggling. I couldn’t help but to smile along with her. Emily raised her eyebrows, an indication to ask my question. A lump of nerves had settled in my throat.
“Uh-um, wh-what year is it?” I murmured quickly, shying away from the girl beside me. Emily quirked her head and made an incredulous face. It was an expression I recognised, Aikaterina and Euthalia were often exasperated with me. I mumbled a few more words, unsure of how to make the question seem plausible and normal.
“It’s 2016,” Emily said at last, the confusion never leaving her eyes. I barely managed a nod to indicate that I heard her reply. 2016?! I never would’ve thought that the world could exist for such a long time! A sense of unease settled across my shoulders as I surveyed the room once again. I had a feeling that the people here knew nothing of gods, goddesses, nymphs, or anything else of the sort. I was a person now, flesh and blood, not an immortal being whose life is tied to a tree. The idea seemed nearly impossible to believe, but the gods have the power to make all things possible. A shiver crawled down my spine and I took in a shaky breath. I would be fine, everything was going to work itself out. I just had to keep telling myself that, and it would come true in due time.
A loud whistle startled me out of my thoughts. A man, the very same who found me outside, was directing the other children in the room to the doors. Everyone around me stood; Emily took my arm and hauled me to my feet. She looked me over once, looped her arm through mine, and started for the doors I had entered in. I didn’t have much choice but to follow her. Emily chattered about various topics as we walked down the long hall. There was an opening at the very end of it, people were swarming through it and the the hallway beyond. As we moved along with the crowd, I noticed an item nearby. It looked like parchment, but smaller and glossier, and it hung on the wall like a tapestry. The words written on it were clearly not in Greek, but I somehow understood them. This place I had arrived at was a school.
Emily tugged on my arm, calling my name. Could I call it my name? No one said it quite right. I discarded the thoughts and broke away from the girl at my side. Mumbling an excuse, I turned for a doorway that I saw young women ducking into and out of. The people I passed by looked on curiously, but I paid them no mind. A irritated girl pushed me out of the way when I reached the doors. Stumbling from the shove, my nose hit the wall. I hope no time to dwell on possible injury, though, so I continued through the doorway and into the room. It was full to the brim with people; everyone walking and talking and laughing. I didn’t know what to make of it. Then, I spotted what I had come in search of. Large reflective surfaces hung on the wall.
Unfortunately, every one of them had a horde of girls crowded in front of it. I sighed in frustration, but quickly felt myself light up with hope when several people left. Nervously, I stepped up to the mirror. I heard myself gasp, but it sounded far away. I dimly noticed almost all of the other girls leaving the room. One quick glance at my reflection had confirmed all of my fears. I was human. My heart felt heavy; I had the urge to break down and cry. Every breath seemed to fill my crumpling lungs just half-way. The sensation was similar to the time I fell into a river.
Then, there was a voice. A voice asking my name. Looking up, I saw Emily curled around the entrance to the room. Her big blue eyes full of concern, smiling softly. Platonic affection practically flooded from her. I smiled back through the tears threatening to fall.
Perhaps being a human wouldn’t be so bad after all.