I had never seen anything like it before.
It was soft and fluffy, like a white blanket that covered the space where the yard used to be. But it was wet and cold to the touch, not like any blanket I’d ever slept on. In the nine months I’d been living here, it was the strangest thing I’d ever seen.
I wasn’t sure if I liked it.
The kids and the dog were the next to come outside. Unlike me, they weren’t afraid to run out into the white stuff. In fact, they seemed to love it, like they’d been waiting all year for it. They all looked better prepared than I was: the kids wore thick clothes that covered them from head to toe, and even the dog had a sort of long blanket around his neck.
Mom and Dad followed the kids out into the yard a few minutes later, also covered in strange thick clothes. How did everyone else know this cold fluff was coming today? I watched as they packed the white stuff into balls and threw them at each other. How strange. I know I would hate that, so why did they look like they enjoyed it so much?
I’m not proud to admit that watching them all play in the yard made me a little curious. What was it about the cold, wet fluff that made it so fun? I was curious to know why the kids loved it, and I was intrigued to see Mom and Dad playing in it like they were children too.
But it was the sight of them all playing with the dog that made me jealous. Why should Buddy get all the attention while I was stuck on the porch like a common house pet? I could have fun outside too! Right?
Cautiously, I took another step off the porch. The cold shot through my paw and up my leg, but I shook it off and took another few steps until I was standing completely in the white stuff. I was already starting to regret my decision; my paws were freezing and my fur was damp. But I couldn’t stop now. Or could I?
I glanced between my family and the porch, wondering what to do next. Just then, I heard a whistling sound coming from the yard. I turned and froze at the sight: a great white ball was flying toward me!
I dove out of the way a split second in time. The ball missed me, crashing into the tree behind me instead. I jumped to my feet and shook the white stuff off my fur, licking my paws clean of their cold touch. That was a close call. Or so I thought.
Another whistling sound over my head made me look up. More of the fluff was falling toward me, dislodged from the branches above. This time I wasn’t so lucky.
What happened next happened so fast that I barely had time to react. I remember I was suddenly very cold and very wet, surrounded by nothing but white. The next thing I knew, I was being scooped out of the pile into Dad’s arms. They rushed me into the house and I sat shivering on the table as Mom warmed me up with blankets and a blowdryer (it was loud and scary, but at least it got my fur warm and dry again). I glared at the dog as he stared at me with those innocent yet mocking eyes. As the kids watched, one of them laughed and made a comment to the other.
“Maybe we shouldn’t let Buttercup out in the snow anymore.”
That was my very first winter, three years ago. Since then, every year when the weather gets cold and the yard turns white, I’ve kept my paws dry and curled up to watch my family from the warmth of the porch. This fluffy white stuff they call “snow” is not for me.
I didn’t believe it when they said what I’d become.
But deep down, I knew it must be true.
I no longer felt any warmth inside me.
The taste of blood had become delectable.
And the sunlight burned like fire.
Embrace the darkness, they said.
Accept what you are.
No longer human.
This piece is based on What If? Exercise 93: “Ten to One”. The exercise is to write a 55-word story in which the first sentence has ten words, the second has nine, etc., until the last sentence has only one word. The objective is to show that precision and thrift in writing can produce surprisingly powerful results. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!
You think you’re so tough, don’t you?
You think you have limitless power. Every time you strike, it gives you such a high. You revel in the chaos and devastation you create. It’s never enough; no matter how much pain you cause, you always want more.
I know because I’ve been watching you from the start.
I know why you do what you do. You think you can tear down their spirits. You think if you hit them hard enough, you can break them. You think if you destroy them from the inside, you can win.
But I also know that you’re wrong. You will never win. You can hit them as hard as you want, and you may even break a few, but you will never destroy them all. Because on the other side, there will always be someone to catch them, to heal them, to mend their spirits and send them right back out to fight you and everything you stand for.
That someone is me.
Every time you threaten them, I tell them not to be afraid. Every time you hurt them, I defy the impossible to heal them. Every time you break them, I embrace them and remind them that they will recover, that the pain will make them stronger, that it’s not the end.
You want everyone to know they should fear you. But I want you to know that you should be afraid too, because no matter how many hearts you break, how many souls you claim, or how many lives you take, you will never defeat me.
You forget that for every one spirit you break, many more rise up against you. For every one soul you claim, countless others flock to me. For every one person you push over the edge, hundreds find solace in my love and choose to believe in the better life I promise. We outnumber you, and we always will.
So be very afraid, Despair.
Because my name is Hope.
And I will always be stronger than you.
(What If? Exercise: Read the description here.)
I must be a terrible teacher.
Since college, all I ever wanted to do was teach. I studied pedagogy for years. I took student teacher positions at three different schools. And I graduated from my university with highest honors. But evidently, I was unprepared for the real challenge of being a full-time teacher.
I was sure my students would hate me just for teaching everyone’s least favorite subject. So from my first day, I tried to make math as fun and accessible as possible. I tried to create stories with numbers. I came up with scenarios that had applicable solutions. I made every effort to explain problems in a way even the slowest kids could understand. I thought if I made my class interesting enough, they would want to put in the effort to learn.
But I never saw any appreciation from my students. They never asked questions in class, even though my subject is difficult and unpopular. They never requested extra credit, even though I offered dozens of worksheets to help them pass their tests. They never came to my after-school tutoring sessions, even though I sat in my classroom for two extra hours every Tuesday and Thursday just to clear their doubts. By all accounts, they were utterly determined not to learn math.
Yet miraculously, as I sit here grading their final exam, they all seem to have passed with flying colors. Even without answers or extra credit or tutoring, not a single student has flunked my class. It’s as if they all banded together and studied hard on their own time just so they wouldn’t have to endure my class for another semester. Math is extremely difficult; there’s no way they did so well based on my lessons alone. They must have gotten help. Just not from me. Because they hate me.
There’s no other explanation. I must be a terrible teacher.
This story is based on What If? Exercise 24: “The Unreliable Narrator”. The exercise is to write a self-deceiving first-person story containing clues that the narrator is not the person she thinks she is. The objective is to create a narrator who unwittingly reveals that her judgment of people and events is too subjective to be trusted, so readers must create a more objective version of the story for themselves. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written! Thanks for reading!
Back to the story
My first mistake was trusting him enough to give him everything. My second was getting caught taking it back.
Sanity’s a funny thing. You take it for granted your whole life, until one day you hear the neighbors calling you crazy as they watch you being shoved into a police car. Whatever happens in between is a mystery.
We started out fine. He was sweet, charming, everything I looked for in a man. I fell head over heels for him. It was after we got married that things went south. That was when he started calling me names and putting me down. At first I dismissed it as playful teasing, but then he started exploiting my deepest insecurities. The words became more painful, bitter, and downright cruel, until I wasn’t laughing about anything anymore. The worst part was that I believed every word he said, and he knew it. He knew exactly how to hit me where it hurt.
The real trouble came when he started casting doubt over everything I said and did. He was so confident in contradicting me that it got to a point where I couldn’t disagree anymore. I lost all sense of what I knew and who I was. I stopped trusting my own judgment. I became dependent on him to tell me what was real and what wasn’t. Everything that happened to me became a question of my own sanity.
So you can imagine my confusion that night when I walked in on him in bed with another woman.
My first instinct was to scream, then to cry, then to curse at him for cheating on me. But he shrugged my words off like they were nothing. He didn’t even acknowledge the woman lying next to him; no matter how much I yelled or how many times I pointed her out, he just shook his head and stared at me like I was crazy. So finally I gave up and stormed downstairs in tears, once again questioning my perception of reality.
And I might have walked away believing he was right, that nothing I just saw had really happened… if I hadn’t found her bra hanging over the banister.
When I took that foreign garment in my hands, I realized that I didn’t need anyone to tell me it wasn’t mine or that it really existed. It suddenly became clear that I never needed him to tell me what was real because I knew all along. I never imagined anything. Everything he ever did to me, he did to hurt me, to manipulate me, to break me. He took everything from me. And he had to pay.
Now when I say I can’t remember what happened next, I mean it. One minute I was in the kitchen staring at the stove, the next I was out on the sidewalk watching the house go up in flames. Sometimes flashes of candles and a lit match cross my memory, but that’s it.
I still wonder if I might have gotten away with it if the neighbors hadn’t heard the commotion upstairs or seen me leave the house minutes before the explosion. To be honest, I don’t really care. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. I’m just glad he got what he deserved.
I don’t know how I let him push me to that point. But I do know why I killed him.
Whether all this warrants conviction for double homicide is up to the jury. I’m sure as my lawyer, you’ll want to spin this story in any way that makes me look like the victim, and that’s fine. I just needed someone else to know the truth, so I could prove to myself once and for all that I know what really happened.
The bastard gaslighted me. I simply returned the favor.