Growing up in NH
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A fictional story I wrote for a scholarship that ad to be about the state I live in, New Hampshire. We currently have a huge heroine problem, so I wrote about a high school girl who is like a mother to her siblings since her real mother works to pay for her father's heroine addiction. I won because it was different from the others I guess.
She stood barefoot on the frozen ground, holding her siblings, keeping them as warm as she could. The flames blazed before their eyes and a sudden explosion sent a fireball skyward. Her brothers and sisters shrank back, clutched her nightgown and buried their faces onto her sides. Alice bent down and wrapped her bathrobe around them, exposing herself to the wind and falling snow. She shivered and closed her eyes, trying to regulate her temperature. They waited in the snow for almost an hour before the firefighters finally arrived from the base of the mountain. By then, her skin was blue, and her toes were numb. They pried her crying siblings from her sides, and they were rushed into ambulances. While they ushered her into her own, she watched the firemen begin to douse the flames before the doors to the ambulance closed and she drifted into shock induced unconsciousness.
When she awoke later, she was in a hospital bed and a nurse loomed over her.
“How are you feeling?” she asked with a smile.
The girl rubbed her eyes.“Where am I?” she croaked.
“St. Joseph's Hospital,” she responded “The ICU. You had some pretty nasty frostbite and a lot of smoke in your lungs.”
As Alice remembered the fire, her eyes widened and she tried to scramble out of bed. The nurse placed her hands on her shoulders and held her down.
“Now you need to stay in bed, you can’t walk yet, your feet need to heal,” the nurse murmured. The girl only struggled in response.
“Where are they?” she quivered. “Where are my siblings? Where are Tyler, George, Autumn, and Molly? Are they ok? I was supposed to protect them! Let go of me! Let me see them!”
The nurse spoke sternly. “Alice,” she said,”they’re being taken care of. You may see them later. Now, please, calm down.”
Alice took a deep breath and began to relax. “Where are my parents?” she asked. The nurse didn’t respond. “I said, where are my parents?” she demanded.
The nurse frowned. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” she whispered,”but your father didn’t make it, and your mother isn’t doing well. She’s in critical condition.”
Alice felt tears in her eyes. She couldn’t believe it. She rolled over and wondered what was going to happen.
He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead, taking his perspiration with it. Feeling the sweat drip on his scalp, he shook his head to fix his hair. He sighed and looked around him then shivered as his skin cooled. Even in the afternoon sunlight, the air was dry and bitter cold. But, that was the way it always was when he decided to take his annual winter hike up Mount Monadnock. As he enjoyed the serenity of the mountain peak, his phone rang, making him jump.
“Hello?” he answered.
His friend’s voice came through on the other end. “Dude, don’t think I forgot about our bet. You have to do it tonight. You lost, you’ve gotta do it, or I’ll tell her, and everyone else.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah I won’t forget. How could I?” he muttered.
His friend snickered. “Ok man, see you tomorrow, Owen.” And then the line went dead.
Owen sighed and put his phone away. He shook his head and closed his eyes, irritated at his own cocky stupidity. He shrugged his coat on and placed his hat back over his blonde hair and began to descend the mountain, leaving the peace of it all behind him.
The sky had gone dark and he sat watching the moon as it drifted in and out of clouds that would surely bring snow. Owen made his way through the darkness, with an oil lamp in one hand and a rose in the other, towards her house. When he arrived, he lingered in the yard, watching where he was told her window was, waiting to see if he was at the right place. Finally, he saw her pass by. It was brief, but he was sure it was her. He could see the glow of the light make her honey colored hair shine as her slender figure passed the window, and he knew he was at the right place. He picked up a stone and got ready to throw it. It had to be done quickly; he couldn’t be seen. He’d have to leave the things there and make a run for it after she came to the window.
The snow began to fall, and he shivered as his fingers began to ache. He pulled back his arm and threw the stone at the window. It made a loud thunk, followed by the sound of glass splintering. A dog barked inside the house and she appeared in the window. He had to move fast or she would recognize him. He dropped the rose and the lantern at the side of the house and ran. He got to the cover of the woods and watched from a distance. As he watched he noticed the flame in the lantern shone bright. Suddenly, it suddenly grew brighter. Smoke began to rise, accompanied by the smell of burning grass. The oil had spilled from the lantern, and the dry grass had caught fire. Owen panicked; he didn’t know what to do. As the siding of the house caught fire, Owen ran in the other direction.
“I can’t go back to help! I’ll be arrested for arson or something! They’ll be fine,” he told himself over and over again, and the snow fell faster. “They’ll get out, they’ll all be fine. Alice will be fine.”
He prayed he wasn’t wrong.
Little feet pattered across the dirty kitchen floor, white socks blackened by filth. Autumn opened the fridge and took out a juice box. She was getting hungry now, and it was past her supper time, but there was nothing to eat. Her big sister stood making a spoon bread for them all to share. Alice was a good cook, but she had little to work with. All they had were some eggs, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. The recipe called for sugar, butter, and milk. But they didn’t have any sugar, so Alice used molasses, and they didn’t have any butter, so she used lard. The only milk they had was spoiled, so they’d have to do without it. Autumn watched her sister, hoping she’d start cooking something else.
“Alice, what’s for supper?” she asked in her little voice.
Alice sighed and tried to smile. “Spoonbread and applesauce. Now, go get Molly for me, and you two can help me make it. Sound good?”
Autumn smiled and ran to fetch five year old Molly whom she was always teasing for being so little, even though she was only six herself. As she entered the tiny room she and her four siblings shared, her old brother Tyler laid asleep on his bed, and her other brother George sat reading a book the school librarian had given him for free.
She tapped Molly on the shoulder. “Molly, Alice wants us to help her cook supper. Come on.”
Molly nodded and followed Autumn back to the kitchen where Alice sat waiting. On the way, they passed their unconscious father. Autumn turned his head to the side so he wouldn’t choke if he threw up. He’d come down from his high soon and would be angry if there was nothing to eat.
Alice had begun to peel the old mealy apples in the kitchen with their only sharp knife. “Molly, as I peel, can you keep all the scraps away? And Autumn, can you put the apple in the bowl and fill it with water after I cut them up?”
The two younger girls nodded and went about their tasks. Molly threw away the apple peels and Autumn filled the bowl. Then Alice moved over to mash up the apples and told the girls to go get the boys to set the table and told them to wash up.
As Autumn passed her father again, he began to stir. “Alice,” she said, “he’s waking up.” Autumn saw her sister cringe and work faster to get everything ready. Then they heard their mother open the screen door. The boys had set the table, and they all greeted their mother as their father began to wake up.
Suddenly his voice grumbled to life, quiet and hoarse. “Alice,” he demanded, “what’s for supper? It smells terrible.”
“Spoon bread and applesauce dad, it’s all I could make with what we have. I’m sorry if you don’t like it.”
Autumn watched as her father rose from the couch and approached her 17 year old sister. Her mother stood in silent fear, and the boys shrank back towards the corners of the small room. Autumn held Molly behind her, shielding her from what she knew was about to happen.
“Alice,” he growled, “what have I told you about making excuses for preparing a bad dinner? Your mother works all day and I owe money. So whose responsibility is it to feed us?”
“It’s mine...I’m sorry.”
Her voice was a fear filled whisper.
“I’m sorry, what?” their father demanded.
Alice shrank back even further. “I’m sorry, sir,” she whimpered.
His eyes narrowed and he went towards Alice. Autumn began to walk backwards with Molly, trying to escape the coming storm. She hurried to the side of her brothers and the four of them made it back to their room without their father noticing. Of course, he was too busy yelling at Alice to have heard them moving.
Autumn listened from her door. She heard her father shout and the sound of a hand striking skin, followed by Alice’s cry of pain. She closed her eyes and put her fingers in her ears, trying desperately to block out the sound and the picture in her head of Alice with new bruises. It was no use. He was too loud to block out the sound of his shouts. She heard her mother crying and Alice pleading with him to stop. When he finally released her, Alice came as quickly as she could to their shared room. Autumn watched Alice as she lay on the floor, covering her face so as not to scare her siblings with her fresh bruises. Autumn saw snowflakes fall outside, and a small light glimmered out the window. And then she smelled smoke and wondered where it was coming from.
Owen sat in his fourth period English class, looking for Alice. She was never late to class. He feared the worse.
He turned to the girl sitting next to him, a friend of Alice’s. “Hey, do you know where Alice is today? She doesn’t usually miss school.”
The girl shook her head. “I heard there was a fire last night. Her house went up and she was stuck waiting in the snow for a long time. She had to be brought to St. Joseph's Hospital to be treated for frostbite and other injuries with unknown sources. At least that’s what the news said.”
Owen frowned. This was all his fault, he didn’t know what he was going to do. “I should visit her he thought. But what will I say to her? “Hey Alice, I set your house on fire, sorry about that. It happened because I was too much of a coward to warn you that I’d done it. My bad”? No I can’t say that! Still, I should visit her, see how she’s doing.”
He made up his mind that that’s what he would do. So, after school he drove to St. Joseph’s and was directed to the ICU and entered room 215. He saw her lying there, badly wounded and asleep. He sat silently beside her, being careful not to disturb her.
She stirred. “You need to work on how loud you breath,” she muttered.
Owen tensed up. “Oh, sorry Alice. I came to visit you, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Alice rolled over and faced him. His jaw dropped at her sight. She was always so beautiful with her golden hair and brilliant green eyes, but now she looked terrible. The bridge of her petite nose was swollen and bruised. The black contrast of the bruises beneath her forest green eyes made them look as if they were casting shadows. Her hair was tangled and her cheeks were flushed. She coughed and as she lifter her hand to her mouth, he noticed the finger shaped bruises on her wrists, and the fresh burns on her fingers. Her toes were black from frostbite and the rest of her skin had the touch of death that the winter winds brought when one stayed exposed for too long. He realized now that much of this was all his fault and he didn’t even know what to say, where to begin.
“Alice...I…,” he began.
“Don’t bother,” she cut him off. “I know what you’re here to say. Don’t bother apologizing, I saw you drop the lantern. I don’t blame you for running, I would’ve been scared too. I saw it start and I didn’t even try to stop it. When the house caught I let it get to my room, pulled my siblings out and ran. If anything, I have to thank you. My father died in the fire, you rid me and my family of a vicious bastard and I’ll never have to lay eyes on him again. My only concerns were my siblings and how they’d handle it. Of course I hope my mother will be alright, and I don’t like the injuries I’ve sustained, but the worst part is having to act terrified and traumatized in front of the hospital staff. It’s a real pain in the ass.”
Owen was speechless. “Oh...but I mean, your father, why are you so glad he’s gone?” he asked.
“You really want to know? It’s because he’d beat us, especially me. But I was more scared for the little ones. I can endure it, but he was getting bored of me and my mother lately, and started lashing out at the kids. That’s why I’m glad he’s gone. He was an evil, heroine addicted, abusive scumbag and I’m glad he’s dead,” she answered. “Why were you at my house though? That’s what I want to know,” she asked.
“Oh um…..about that,” Owen stammered, “to be totally honest, I lost a bet.”
“What bet?” she asked.
“Well...I...um, er, I,” he stuttered, “my friend bet me that I wouldn’t steal our english teacher’s house key. He had something against her and wanted dirt on her, for what, I don’t know. Well, I chickened out after I told him I’d do it, so I lost. He said I had to bring that rose and lantern to your house, or he’d steal the keys and frame me.”
Alice scowled. “That’s the stupidest, most childish thing I’ve ever heard, it’s hardly believable, and it’s lame” she spat. “Why my house anyways?”
Owen’s face turned red. He began to stutter again, “He knew…he said it had to be you because he knew.”
“Knew what?” she questioned.
“Knew that I was gonna ask you to the winter formal, and he wanted to ruin it for me…” he trailed off.
Alice raised her eyebrows at him in a look of both shock and impatience. “You do realize how childish that sounds, right? And foolish too, if this were a story, it would have a really lame ending,” she criticized.
Owen’s heart sunk. “I know it was stupid-” he began, and then a nurse walked in.
“Alice,” she beamed, “your mother is stable. I figured you’d want to know. Oh! And I have some visitors for you.”
Owen watched four little children enter the room and they squealed with delight as they ran to hug their sister. Alice’s face glowed and Owen saw tears well up in her eyes as she embraced the little ones.
“Oh my darlings!” she cried. “I’m so happy you’re all ok!”
A warm smile spread across Owen’s face when he saw how happy she was. He waited until they left to say anything.
“You must really love them,” he said.
Alice smiled. “I do, as if they were my own. They were all I was worried about during the fire, but I’m fine now knowing they’re ok. And in case you were wondering, I won’t press charges, and my mother won’t either, she wouldn’t even ask for an investigation. So don’t worry.”
Owen gave a sigh of relief. “Thanks Alice. I don’t know how I could even begin to make this up to you.”
She smiled and her straight white teeth showed. “I know what you can do.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“You can take me to the winter formal if I’m well enough by then.”
Owen smiled back. “Yes, I could do that.”
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