Below is a short story that I wrote for my creative writing class originally. I am posting is online to help me receive my MAT in AYA Language Arts education licensure. Hope you enjoy it!
Form: Narrative Text
Audience: Young Adult
Context: Short Story
Form: Narrative Text
Audience: Young Adult
Context: Short Story
The Art of Death
On Emily’s first day in the institution, she walked through a door labeled Art Room. Upon entering she stopped to survey the space. The white room was a long rectangle to her right with two rows spanning the majority of the room. Most of the stations were for painting or drawing but there was also one pottery station off to the side in the front. To her left were a single, multicolored desk and a big wooden door, which was propped open so that Emily could see blank canvases and drawing sketchpads.
A short, thin woman strode toward her and asked politely, “Hello, are you new here?” Emily didn’t say anything and just handed over the papers she was given to present upon arrival. The woman pushed the dark hair falling out of her messy bun and glanced at the papers. She looked back at Emily and smiling, said, “We’re glad to have you with us, Emily.”
Emily eyed the dark haired, middle-aged women named Mrs. Sky, evident by her nametag, with a flat expression. She noticed the fake smile spread on the women’s face, the one everyone seemed to have given her in the past couple hours, and couldn’t bring herself to smile back. She knew she was supposed to say something kind back like ‘thank you’, but instead she produced, “Where should I sit?”
“Anywhere you like,” Ms. Sky said opening her left arm and gesturing towards the two rows. There were about twenty places to sit and most of the front was full. “The canvases are in the closet over here,” Ms. Sky turned around and gestured towards the opened wooden door. “There are many different sizes you can choose from. I’m sorry to be nosey, but is your mother Melissa Clove?” Emily nodded in agreement. “Oh, I’m a huge fan of her work! I love local artists and I must say she’s one of my favorites. It’s a pleasure to have you with us, Emily,” this smile was genuine.
Emily adverted her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered as she went to choose a canvas.
As Emily strode head down the aisle, the only sounds she could hear where the strokes of brushes and pencils against canvases. She stole glances at the others paintings and wondered why they were here and why society thought them to be imperfect as well. She passed a black haired boy on her left and saw his forearms wrapped from wrist to elbows in bandages, which made her eyes automatically shift to her own bandaged arms. We must be here for the same reason, she thought. She looked back at him and his green eyes followed her as she passed; first at her matching forearms, then to her face where they exchanged looks of empathy.
As she walked forward, she felt the vast difference of moods in the room striking her: sad, numb, content, and even one person in the very back seemed happy. She’s had to have been here a while. I can’t imagine how anyone could be happy here.
Emily passed a number of empty seats, but she wanted to sit in the back left corner. She choose the back not because she was insecure about her painting ability, quite the opposite really since she’d started scribbling objects even before she tried write, she simply didn’t want anyone staring at her.
Before turning to her seat, she quickly stole a glance at the girl on her right, who seemed to not notice anything going on in the room. The girl, like Emily, looked to be in her late teens. She wore a baggy, paint-splattered t-shirt and her unkempt hair fell to her waist. She never glanced at Emily so she couldn’t tell the color of her eyes, but she could see they were opened wide, engrossed in her art.
Emily set her canvas on the easel and then scooted her chair up to sit down. As she scrapped the chair across the floor, she noticed her neighbor jerk her head in Emily’s direction and then frantically back again to her painting. Emily couldn’t help but notice the girl murmuring to herself and wondered if she should have sat somewhere else. This wasn't Emily's first institution visit though so she knew the girl was talking to the voices in her head and wouldn't be a threat to Emily.
To Emily’s right was a large, wooden cabinet that came just above Emily’s waist when she was sitting. On top sat multiple sized brushes, paints, mixing palettes, jars of water, colored pencils, and charcoal. Emily picked up a medium sized brush and decided to start coloring her canvas.
After an hour, Emily finally looked up from her painting. She realized she was extremely thirsty and decided to get up to get a drink of water. Leaving her station she glanced at the frenzied girl’s painting next to her. So far she painted only a girl, one strikingly similar to Mrs. Sky, and the detail was so precise Emily knew there had to have been at least a couple of hours work behind that woman. Emily was an exceptional painter and even she thought Nora’s work pristine, which she had not expected.
Half an hour later a ding chimed through speakers in the room. Emily looked at the clock and noticed it was five o’clock, which meant dinner had started. When she arrived earlier this morning, straight from her over-night stay at the hospital, the head of the institution, Mr. Wilder, greeted her and her mother. He and some others informed Emily she was mostly free to do what she wanted other than the required counseling sessions, meetings, and meals. There were lots of activities for her to do during the day like art, sports, just hanging out or even going outside around the institutions perimeter. But every morning for the first two weeks Emily was to have a meeting with her therapist to assess her progress. She would have her doors locked at night until she was released of her ‘suicidal prone’ status. She couldn’t even eat with a knife and fork until they knew she was thinking clearly again. Lunches started at noon and five o’clock meant dinner. They weren’t required to go right away to the meals, there was a time frame. Since she’d missed lunch this afternoon because of her tour, she decided to leave right away.
Since she was sitting in the back of the room, she had to wait till most of the others exited before she could get up and leave. As she walked out Mrs. Sky stopped her, “Hi Emily, did you find our art supplies to be enough for your liking? Compared to your mother’s studio this must not seem like much, but I hope it was okay and you found everything you needed.” This time Ms. Sky’s smile was genuine and Emily could feel her longing for Emily's approval.
“It was great. Everything I worked with did just fine,” Emily said, speaking honestly.
Mrs. Sky’s face released the slight nervousness as she spoke; “I’m glad to hear it. Please let me know if there’s anything specific you would be looking for and I’ll see if I can get it.” Mrs. Sky paused here and let out a cough that startled Emily. The cough seemed unnatural and definitely something Emily’s never heard before. Mrs. coughed once and then instead of continuing and coughing in multiple spurts, there was one long, deep sound coming from Mrs. Sky's throat, as if the cough didn't want to end. After the sound dropped off Mrs. Sky exaplined, “Pardon me, I haven’t been feeling well these past couple of days and I seem to have obtained the strangest cold. The doctors can’t seem to figure out what it is yet but I hope they do soon, I sound ridiculous.” Emily didn't have to respond because another cough took Mrs. Sky before she spoke again, “Anyways, you and Nora, the girl who sits beside you, are the best two painters here. I’m really glad you’re sitting next to each other in the back. I think it will keep the other kids from feeling incompetent. Nora already has everything she needs so you just let me know if anything comes to mind.”
Although Mrs. Sky's cough unnerved Emily a little, she decided Mrs. Sky wasn't so bad and that she really wouldn’t mind seeing her every day. “I will thank you again,” she replied.
After gathering her dinner, Emily looked around dining hall for a place to sit. The room had stark white walls and cream linoleum floors. The room was a huge square with the buffet lining the back wall and about twenty square tables scattered throughout the rest of room. There were two entrances to the room. The door on the left lead to the hall of the art room, the REC room, and other activities rooms while the door on the right lead to the sleeping quarters.
Emily knew everyone admitted here was under the age of twenty-one since her parents picked this institution specifically for that reason. The dining area was pretty full and there were no empty tables. She looked around and spotted the dark haired guy with padded forearms sitting with the girl who Emily thought looked happy in the art room. The girl had long, brown hair and a petite frame. Emily headed over to their table. The two looked up as she approached the table and seemed unsurprised by her presence.
“Hey,” she addressed them.
“Hey,” the boy replied. He looked around the room and back at Emily, "I know there isn't really anywhere else to sit so you can sit with us."
“Thank you," she replied shyly. Emily didn’t like talking to people she didn’t know.
“Yeah, no problem. There are always new people coming and going here so it's not uncommon to sit with new people. I think they put a small number of tables on purpose so people make friends,” he explained. "I'm Kyle and this is Scarlett," Kyle gestured to the girl sitting next to him.
“My names Emily. Nice to meet you both.”
Emily got settled in her seat as Scarlett and Kyle exchanged conversation. After a minute, Scarlett spoke to Emily curiously, “So, Emily, what do you think of this place so far?”
Emily chewed her food and pondered the question a bit, "It doesn’t seem too bad. I’ve only been here since noon but they showed me around. It’s pretty big and I like the idea that we pretty much get to do whatever we want. Well, at least, I will be able to after a while.” Emily looked down at her bandages.
“Yeah, they like to make sure you’re not going to try and hurt yourself again before they let you do things unsupervised, or at least give you a fork and knife again that is,” Kyle said dropping his spoon in frustration. He held up his arms. “My knife privileges have been revoked again."
“I can’t believe you did that again. Isn’t your medicine working?” Scarlett asked concerned. “I know you’re not trying to kill yourself anymore, right?” Emily could tell that even if Kyle’s medicine wasn’t working yet, Scarlett’s obviously was.
“I can’t believe you did that again. Isn’t your medicine working?” Scarlett asked concerned. “I know you’re not trying to kill yourself anymore, right?” Emily could tell that even if Kyle’s medicine wasn’t working yet, Scarlett’s obviously was.
“Must not be,” Kyle said sounding defeated. “But, no, it’s just the pain. It keeps my mind off of things.”
“I know exactly how you feel,” Emily said holding up her arms. At least for the most part. Emily liked hurting herself but she wasn’t all about the physical pain; she was more suicidal. Usually, Emily took drastic measures like making deep slits in her wrists and forearms, or overdose on any pill she could find at that time. Mostly, her suicidal rages went in bouts. She didn’t always want to kill herself, but every once in a while since she was about thirteen, she’s had strong thoughts about it.
The promise of getting a knife, eventually, made Emily relax a little and gave her something to look forward to. She had been taking new medicine since she arrived but it wasn’t working yet. For all she knew it could be making her worse because she definitely wasn’t feeling any better. She knew she’d eventually be able to convince them she was fine, and then she could get something to hurt herself with again, maybe even soon. Emily wasn't here to get better, she was here because she had to be.
For a while, Kyle and Scarlett talked to Emily about the institution, giving her gossip about the other patients, the workers, and advice on how to earn trust. After they were all finished eating, they got up to leave.
Scarlett scooted over toward Emily, “Where are you headed now? Kyle and I were going to go to the computers if you’d like to come.”
“Thanks but I was told I needed to report to my counselor after dinner for some kind of check in.”
“Oh yea, I haven’t done one of those in so long I forgot about them. You won’t have to do those eventually either. They only have the new people and the people on suicidal watch do those stupid sessions. Well, we’ll see you in the art room tomorrow then?” Scarlett said.
“Yup, I’ll definitely be there.”
Kyle came up to join them and Scarlett said, “Great. Hey, some advice,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “in art, don’t sit in the very back next to Nora.”
Emily wasn’t expecting that, “Why? I kind of liked the back.”
Scarlett turned to Kyle with a look that said 'you tell her'. Kyle turned toward Emily as he spoke, “Well… that seat is supposedly bad luck... or ‘cursed’,” he made quotations with his fingers around the last word.
“What do you mean?” Emily was curious.
Scarlett answered this time, “Well, not trying to scare you, but for as long as I’ve been here, which is about 6 months, whoever sits in that seat ends up… leaving. For good.”
Emily didn't understand what the two were trying to tell her. Isn't the point of being in the institution to leave? “Leaving? Like the institution?”
She shook her head, “No, leaving, leaving as in Earth. Permanently.”
Realization hit Emily, “Oh, they die.”
“Well it’s just superstition but I thought you’d want to know. I’d want to know,” Scarlett informed her.
“Thanks for telling me.” Emily’s curiosity started to set in, “How did it start? I mean how many have died?”
“Since I’ve been here, a lot. Maybe like twelve.”
The number shocked Emily. That was huge. “Wow that seems like more than a coincidence.” Emily knew that this should scare her, but it didn’t. She’s was confused why more people aren’t trying to sit next to Nora; she didn’t believe she was the only one here who still wanted to die. “Do they have any idea why? I mean is there any leads as to what is happening?”
Kyle replied, a little bemused, “They think there is something going around. They’re definitely keeping an eye out. The doctor’s don’t think it’s anything air-born so they’re trying to find a connection between all the people. So far, people besides those in the art room have died too. It just seems like your seat gets replaced more than the others.”
"Well I'm glad it's nothing air-born." Although Emily didn't care about her own life didn't mean she wanted others to die. "Thanks for letting me know. I should probably get to my session. I'll see you guys tomorrow."
"No problem," Scarlett replied.
"See you tomorrow, Emily," Kyle nodded as they parted.
For the next couple days, Emily’s days were pretty identical. They consisted of showering, eating, strolling around outside, reading, counseling sessions, group therapies and painting. Emily knew the threat of death should keep her from sitting next to Nora during art, but that’s exactly what kept her there. She liked the idea that she might get a chance at being released from her miserable life.
Painting made the fact of being at the institution bearable Emily realized one day as she was staring at her first finished product. For the first time since being dropped off at the institution, she felt a little happy, completing a painting usually gave her that giddiness, and here she could paint as much as she liked. She knew administration let the patients do things they liked in abundance so they would start to feel better again. Emily decided she was going to take full advantage and bolted into the art room every day after lunch. She’d prefer to come in the mornings but they only left the art room open from noon to six. They had to have someone watching them at all times in the room, just in case someone decided to steal art supplies to damage themselves.
One day while painting, Emily was suddenly distracted by Nora conversing with herself, “Yes, yes, I know, it’s almost finished.” Everyday Mora seemed to be talking to someone no one could see. Emily had a suspicion that Nora was planning something in her head, though Emily couldn’t figure out what. Nora kept to herself and never talked to anyone, except to the voices she appeared to be hearing. Emily got the vibe that Nora liked her privacy and left her alone, not that she wanted to talk to her anyways. Nora was the most unstable person Emily had seen in the institution so she always felt uneasy around her.
As Emily got up to take her finished painting to Mrs. Sky, she took a habitual glance at Nora’s painting. Even though Nora was miles away from mental stability, Emily was fascinated with her paintings. Emily’s paintings were abstract, which was her favorite, but Nora’s were more realistic. Yesterday, Nora finished the painting of Mrs. Sky. In the picture, she was lying in the institution entrance and even though her eyes were open, it was obvious she wasn’t alive. Standing above Mrs. Sky were people wearing sullen faces that were either crying or comforting each other. That day, Nora was drawing someone else. Emily could tell it was a guy, but that’s all she could make out so far.
Emily walked up to Mrs. Sky with her painting in her hand. “Hi, Mrs. Sky, I finished this one, can I take it over,” Emily pointed through the entrance to a door across the hall, “or do you need to look it over first?”
Emily looked at Mrs. Sky and noticed dark circles under her eyes. Her body slumped forward like it was tired of holding itself up. “Just turn it around so I can look at it dear.” Emily turned her painting towards Mrs. Sky. After eyeing it for a minute, she said, “Very nice work again, Emily. You’re just as good as your mother.” Mrs. Sky’s voice softened almost to a whisper but there was a small smile pulling at her mouth. Emily was sure Mrs. Sky wasn’t well enough to be there today but she didn’t want to say anything to her.
“Thank you, very much,” Emily smiled back. She crossed the hall towards the big wooden doorway that opened up into a large walk-in closet. Inside there were already an abundance of paintings hiding one wall and Emily deposited hers on the pile.
The next day at lunch, Kyle was bantering with Emily about her sitting in the back of the room.
“So do you feel any different? Like maybe you’re about to die?” he joked.
“Oh yes, I think I’m about to croak over any second now,” Emily played along.
Scarlett came up to the table then. “Guys, I have something to tell you,” Scarlett’s voice came out in a rush and her face was all seriousness.
“What?” Kyle and Emily said together.
“Mrs. Sky passed away this morning. I guess her husband called in,” Emily realized there were small tears in Scarlett’s blue eyes.
“How do you know?” Emily asked shocked.
“I overheard one of the ladies in the office tell Mr. Wilder a little bit ago.” A tear escaped from one of Scarlett’s eyes. Emily wasn’t good friends with Mrs. Sky so she didn’t feel the urge to cry, but she did feel sad about not being able to see Mrs. Sky ever again. Emily liked it that Mrs. Sky was so nice to all of them, even if they were quiet, and Emily secretly liked the praises she received for her paintings. She knew Scarlett and Kyle had been here much longer than her though, so she understood why Scarlett was tearing up. Kyle also seemed very disturbed and trouble by the news.
“Did you hear how?” Emily asked.
“No, I don’t know exactly. I knew she’d been really sick. It was obvious in class but I didn’t think she was that sick.”
“Me either. It just seemed like a really bad cold,” Kyle agreed.
The group fell silent. After a while they started chatting as normal, but the thought of death had tainted them that day.
The three walked together noiselessly into the art room that afternoon. Emily noticed some of the students were missing and the rest presented red eyes and tear stains on their cheeks. Some even looked scared, which Emily thought was strange.
A very tall, thin, balding man was standing in the front of the room and greeted everyone as they walked in. Emily recognized him as Mr. Wilder, the head of the institution. She figured he was there to deliver the bad news, even though everyone already seemed to know.
Emily went to the closet and retrieved her work in progress. Some of the people were already painting and Emily decided she’d rather start painting then wait for Mr. Wilder to start offering condolences. After a couple of minutes, Mr. Wilder finally spoke, “Hello everyone.” He paused and continued with a sad face, “As you can see, Mrs. Sky isn’t here today. I’m sorry to inform you that, sadly, Mrs. Sky passed away this morning. Her husband called us earlier to let us know.”
There wasn’t a sound in the room. Most of the people were glancing down at the floor while others were looking out the windows. Mr. Wilder continued, “If anyone is having trouble with this, please feel free to inform someone and you can speak to a therapist right away.”
A short, blond boy sitting diagonal from Emily turned to the pale, dark haired girl in front of Emily and said, “Can you believe it? Another supervisor!”
In a hushed voice, the girl responded, “I know, didn’t Mr. Brown just pass away like six months ago? I heard the painting supervisor before him also passed away not too much longer before him too.”
“Yea, I heard about that too. Things like that creep me out.”
Emily couldn’t believe the conversation the boy and girl were having. Why were so many people connected to the art room dying, or rumored to be dying? She knew about the kids dying but she didn’t know about the administrators. She realized this must have been why some of the kids looked scared when she first walked in, they were thinking about the coincidence of so many deaths. Emily knew she should feel disturbed by this idea but instead she felt hopeful; maybe she would catch whatever seemed to be going around.
Emily turned toward Nora to see how she was reacting to the news. Did she even hear what he said? Nora was so absorbed in her work, painting a man meticulously, just as she always was. Nora looked over at Emily and Emily quickly turned her head back to her canvas. Emily didn’t know why, but she didn’t want Nora to know she was checking out her painting.
Ms. Silia was the new supervisor. She was a plain-Jane with an exuberant attitude. She would walk around and talk to the students every day and, although she’d only been there a couple days, she already knew everyone’s name. She walked towards the back of the room, smiling at everyone she passed, and wandered up to Nora.
“Hello Nora, nice to see you today. How’s your painting coming along?”
Nora looked up at Ms. Silia with a smile that didn’t show in her eyes. “It’s going great,” she said sounding annoyed.
Ms. Silia looked and pointed to the man on the canvas, “Is that someone that goes here? I think I’ve seen him before. Are you friends with him?”
Nora’s eyes darted around the room. It was obvious to Emily she was uncomfortable having to talk about her painting. Emily figured Nora sat in the back for the same reason Emily did; they didn’t like a lot of attention. “Yes, maybe. I don’t know. I draw people I see a lot. Or know. It’s easier that way. No, we’re not friends.”
Ms. Silia must have understood that it was painful for Nora to converse so all she said was, “Great idea to draw people you see or know, it makes things so much easier. Keep up the good work,” and scurried back up the aisle to stop and comment on someone else’s drawing.
Two days later, the sun was shining strong and since it was the first nice day in a while, Emily asked Kyle if he’d spend the afternoon with her outside instead of painting. He agreed and as they walked around, Emily noticed he seemed quiet so she asked, “Something wrong?”
He shrugged, “Yea, I guess. I’m just thinking. Did you hear that Jeff Donahue died last night?”
Emily didn’t know who Jeff was but the thought of another death startled her, “No. He was here? How did you know him?”
“I didn’t know him very well. He was admitted about the same time I was and we had some group therapy together.”
“Aw, I’m sorry, Kyle. Are you doing ok?”
He sighed, “Yea, for the most part.” He stopped and lifted his head towards the sky. Then he proceeded, “I just think it’s really weird that… ok, this might sound crazy but hear me out.”
Emily nodded, “Ok.”
“Well last week when Ms. Silia commented on Nora’s painting, how she thought it was a boy that went here, I looked to see who she was painting and it was Jeff. I didn’t think it was weird at the time, I was just curious. But then I saw how she finished the painting yesterday. Did you see it?”
Emily did see it. She always watched Nora. In the picture, Jeff was sitting in a bathtub with his wrists wide open. The water around him was starting to turn red from the blood gushing from the cuts. “I definitely saw it. That is creepy,” she admitted.
Kyle shook his head, “First Mrs. Sky, and now Jeff. I think I better get out of here before I’m next.” Emily could detect a slight amount of humor in his voice. She knew he did that when he was nervous.
Kyle bringing up Mrs. Sky’s death made Emily remember that Nora had drawn her dying too. She knew it could have just been a coincidence but her gut feeling was telling her otherwise.
Wide-eyed, Emily stopped her walk and turned to Kyle, “Kyle, Nora drew Mrs. Sky right before she died too.”
As Kyle comprehended Emily’s words, disbelief flooded his face, “Are you serious?”
“This is nuts. It has to be coincidence. But what if it's not? What are we doing to do?I really hope it's just a coincidence,” Kyle was pleading with no one particular.
“I hope so too,” was what Emily said, but that’s not really what she was thinking.
The next day Emily was anxious to take a peak as to who Nora was drawing next. If she was drawing someone in the institution, then Emily was going to be paying very close attention to that person. After getting to her station, Emily was soon disappointed because Nora had positioned her easel so that Emily couldn’t see it. Instead of angling the easel towards the wall, like everyone else, Nora had hers backed towards the aisle. There wasn’t any way Emily could see what Nora was drawing without being too obvious about it. Still determined, Emily devised a plan to catch a glimpse right before dinner when everyone. At the end of the period, Nora didn’t leave for dinner and Emily headed to dinner dissatisfied.
but the door was locked by the time she arrived. Emily knew they only allowed patients in the art room during certain hours but she decided to take a trip back to the art room after dinner. Emily had to try the door in the off chance that it was open. She really wanted to know what, or who, Nora was drawing. Unfortunately, the door was locked.
For the next two days, Nora positioned her easel just out of Emily’s view. Emily was becoming very frustrated with being unable to ease her curiosity, so the next day she decided to try a different activity. She waited outside the art room for Kyle and Scarlett to see if they would go to the REC room with her. Shortly, Scarlett strolled up by herself.
“Where’s Kyle?” Emily asked.
“He said he wasn’t feeling well so he was going to the nurse. He sounded kind of bad but nothing big, probably just a cold.”
“Oh, ok, well do you want to go to the REC room today? I need to get my mind off of something else besides painting for a while.” Emily was hoping Scarlett wouldn’t ask her why. Kyle and she hadn’t told Scarlett about their suspicions of Nora yet. There seemed to be a silent agreement between them that they were going to wait until they knew for sure before saying anything. They both knew their theory sounded crazy and they didn’t want any extra counseling sessions.
“That’s cool with me. I heard they bought a volleyball net this week. Let’s go check it out.”
When Emily didn’t see Kyle at dinner later that day, she decided to head to the nurse’s office. She passed the art room and made a left turn. The entrance to the whole facility was at the end of the hallway, and halfway down on the right was the nurse’s office. Emily let herself in and asked the woman at the front desk if Kyle was there. The nurse confirmed and directed Emily to room 23.
Emily entered Kyle’s room very quietly. Kyle was lying on a hospital bed in the middle of the room. He had an IV in his arm and he was connected to a heart monitor. Kyle heard Emily shut the door and opened his eyes struggling to sit up.
“Emily, what are you doing here?”
“You don’t have to sit up Kyle. Lay down,” Emily walked over to the side of the bed. Kyle had dark circles under his eyes and he seemed to have a hard time keeping his eyes open. He lay back down and Emily noticed his normally strong arms seemed weak and shaky. “Scarlett told me you probably had a cold. This seems more than just a cold.”
“I wasn’t this bad when I came in this morning. I seem to be getting worse.” Kyle suddenly broke out into a long, deep cough, identical to the one she heard from Mrs. Sky. Emily suddenly became painstakingly scared for Kyle's life. “They aren’t sure what it is yet. They said they’re running some tests for me.”
Emily didn’t want to tell him about his coughs similarity to Mrs. Sky’s. She hoped that maybe even he heard her cough before so he already knew. She couldn’t bring herself to tell him herself. “Well I hope they figure out what it is. It’s weird going a whole day without seeing you.”
"Well I don’t plan on being in here long, so there’s no need to worry.” Kyle's breathing was ragged but he managed a smile. He kept closing his eyes and Emily decided she should leave him alone.
“I’ll let you go. You get some rest and I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said as she gave his arm a reassuring squeeze.
She felt Kyle relax under her hand. He closed his eyes and said, “Thanks, Emily. I’ll see you later.”
“Bye, Kyle,” Emily said as she closed the door behind her.
The next morning, her counselor granted Emily non-suicidal status. This didn’t mean Emily wasn’t still suicidal, because she definitely still was. Emily had been struggling with depression so long, that through so many counseling sessions and therapists, she became pretty good at knowing what to say. Emily did feel genuinely happy leaving the counselor’s room after receiving that information. The thought of knowing she’d be able to use a fork and knife again and not have to sleep with her room locked, lit a little spark inside her.
After leaving the counselor’s office, she decided to swing by the nurse’s office to see how Kyle was doing. When Emily walked into the office and saw Scarlett crying hysterically, Emily knew exactly why Scarlett was panic-stricken. Emily's eyes welled up with tears.
Scarlett saw Emily enter and ran toward her, “Emily, Kyle’s gone. He’s gone!” Emily held out her arms and comforted Scarlett as she dropped into them. The nurse left them alone and they stood there a while, crying in each other’s arms.
Scarlett was crying so much she started to hiccup. “They don’t know what happened. They said he just died within the hour. They still aren’t sure what was wrong with him. This is just so sudden!” she broke out between sobs and hiccups.
Emily thought of the two prior deaths. Mrs. Sky seemed to have the same black circles under her eyes and same cough Kyle did. She didn’t know for certain if Jeff had them but she could bet he did. Emily knew without needing confirmation that Nora had been drawing Kyle. Maybe that’s why she hid it from me. She knew we were good friends.
For rest of the day Emily and Scarlett were allowed to do whatever they felt like doing, besides having to attend more therapy sessions. Emily’s non-suicidal status was revoked again. Emily didn’t want dinner but she was restless and worn out from excessive crying. She needed something to occupy herself and decided to go look at the finished paintings.
Since the room that held the finished paintings wasn’t connected to the art room, it was never locked. After searching for a minute, she found what she was looking for. There was Kyle, jumping off what looked like the side of a cliff onto the rocky land below. Emily started crying and knew she couldn’t stay there looking at the picture. She returned the picture to its place and starting walking back down the hallway, stopping when she smelled an unfamiliar scent. It smelled like a combination of vanilla, chamomile, lilies and smoke. Trying to find the source, Emily roamed towards the art door. As she approached the door, she heard a murmur on the other side. She thought she heard Nora’s voice so she pressed her ear up to the door.
At first she didn’t hear anything, and then she heard two voices chanting something very softly. Emily couldn’t make out what they were saying since it sounded like a language she was unfamiliar with.
She stood in silence for a minute trying to figure out what they were doing and who they were. After they finished their chant, they were quiet for a minute. Finally, Emily heard a man’s voice she recognized as Mr. Wilder’s, “Pretty soon you should be able to do the ritual by yourself, Nora.” Emily was aware they were doing a ritual but she couldn’t figure out what for. She suspected it had something to do with her paintings, but the pieces weren’t clicking together yet.
“Yes, I’ve been watching very carefully and I've memorized the words now. Since we don’t need to perform the ritual that often, it’s taken me longer than I would like to learn it but I think I finally have it.”
“Good, next time I will watch you and make sure you are performing everything correctly."
“I will make sure to do everything I can to perform it exactly as you have taught me,” Nora said as if in a trance.
“Good. Remember don’t add any more paint without doing the ritual or they won’t work,” he cautioned. Finally, Emily understood. She never thought magical rituals actually worked, but she couldn’t think of any other explanation. The chanting puts the curse on the paint. The paint is Nora's key.
Nora responded, “I remember. The first time I drew Mrs. Sky I didn’t realize my mistake but I know now.”
“Yes, she was catching on and confronted me about you. Be careful Nora, we can’t afford to raise suspicions. You’ve been called upon to do this and I know you can.” There was a pause but Emily didn’t hear Nora respond. “You should get back to your room. They’ll be locking the doors soon.”
Emily didn’t stick around to hear the rest of their conversation. She wasn’t sure exactly how she felt about what she just overheard. However, she did know they wouldn’t be happy if they found her on the other side of the door, so she ran down the hallway towards her room.
That night in bed, Emily tried to think about why Nora and Mr. Wilder would be killing people. She couldn’t come up with a rational explanation, except that she knew Nora was crazy and maybe Mr. Wilder was too. He did work in a mental institution; it had to have affected him somehow. Emily pushed away the thoughts she couldn’t figure out and focused on the easy solutions. She decided tomorrow she was going to confront Nora.
Emily looked up and down the empty hallway to make sure no one was coming. She had followed Nora into the art hallway. She tapped Nora on the shoulder and Nora turned towards Emily, startled.
“I know what you’re doing, and I want in on it,” Emily told Nora flatly.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Nora sneered and turned towards the art room, her unkempt, light brown hair almost whipping Emily in the face.
Emily stepped right in front of Nora, halting her. Emily knew Nora wasn’t used to having people talk to her, mostly because Nora seemed to talk to her voices. Emily figured being here should have helped, but for Nora to still be hearing voices daily and talking back to them in public, she was still really suffering. Emily also knew most people didn’t talk to Nora because they were frightened of her, not because she seemed mentally distraught, but because those who tried ended up dead. Emily didn't want to confront Nora like this where anyone could just walk by, but to get the permanent solutions she’d been looking for, she had to.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. I know what you’ve been doing.”
Emily was proud of herself for putting all the pieces together. She hated that so many had to die, but she was happy to have found a solution to her problem.
Emily stood there in the hallway, waiting for Nora’s response. When one didn’t come, Emily repeated her question in a harsh whisper, “I told you, I know what you’re doing with your paintings. You don’t have to show me anything. I don’t care how you do it, I just want to you draw me.”
Nora snapped her head up then but didn’t say anything. Emily felt Nora examining her and taking into consideration her request. Emily paused a second longer before continuing, “Will you?” she almost pleaded.
Nora spoke so softly Emily had to strain her ear to hear, “I think we can trust her.” Nora was speaking to her voices, “She wants us to draw her. She won’t give us away.”
Even though Nora wasn't talking to Emily, she responded anyways, “No, I won’t say anything to anyone. I swear.” She threw her hands up palms out and made her face serious.
After a little bit more arguing with herself, Nora finally lifted her head up to Emily to meet Emily's eyes. Direct eye contact with Nora made Emily uneasy but her answer didn't. “Fine, I’ll draw you.”
Relief flooded Emily. Emily knew she should hate Nora for killing her newest best friend, Kyle, but after the initiate hatred of the first few days, Emily’s curiosity got the best of her. Kyle’s death sent her straight back into her avidly suicidal self. Right now, she wanted nothing more than to die. She was finally going to get her wish and this time no one would know how to stop her.
That afternoon, Emily watched with sheer joy as Nora started drawing every detail of her onto a canvas. Nora finished the day with completing about half of Emily. Her extremities still needed to be done but her face was completely finished. Of course, when Emily looked at it she could have been looking into a miniature mirror. Nora had Emily’s eyes closed and she couldn’t tell what Nora was going to do with her in the painting yet. But Emily really didn’t care too much about the details; she was more anxious about the end product.
Throughout the day, Nora could feel the painting’s curse starting to take effect. She felt a little more tired than usual and her breathing became a little more labored. By that night, Emily couldn’t sleep. She kept thinking about Kyle and his death. Even though she was excited for her own, she couldn’t help feel sad for Kyle; he didn’t want to die. He had told Emily so a couple times. He slit his wrists like Emily but not for the intention of death. He used physical pain to block out the emotional pain. For Emily, physical pain was just a means to an end.
Lying on her bed, Emily suddenly realized she’d be thinking irrationally. Yes, she wanted to die but did she want others to continue to die? Mrs. Sky never wanted to die. Emily didn’t know about Jeff but she didn’t like the idea that he didn’t have a choice. Mostly, Emily was just furious about Kyle’s death. He had become one of her best friends and she missed him. No one close to her has ever passed away and having Nora practically admit she killed him made Emily furious. Would someone feel this way if I die? Emily had never thought about how others might feel if she killed herself. Of course her therapist told her to consider consequences but she never thought that someone might care enough to be this upset if she died. For the first time in Emily's life, her steal resolve to make sure she ended her life chipped away slightly.
Emily did know didn’t want to continue to let Nora kill people, but she couldn’t think of how she was going to stop. Finally, Emily came up with a solution she thought would get her everything she wanted. She knew she’d get one shot and she was determined to make it work.
The day Nora finished Emily’s painting, Emily made sure she saw Nora put it in the finished closet in the hallway. Emily was so weak she could barely focus on her canvas, but she was determined to not be taken to the nurse’s office. She needed to carry out her plan so she never complained about her symptoms.
After dinner that day, Emily walked into the art room just before six o’clock, right as Ms. Silia was preparing to leave. Ms. Silia was across the hall organizing the newly finished paintings. Emily tried the door to the art room to find it locked. Emily stood there for moment thinking about what to do next before taking out her hair tie.
Emily walked over to the closet Ms. Silia was in and walked in. “Hello, Ms. Silia, I think I dropped my hair tie inside and it’s the only one I have, do you think you could open the door for me really quick?” Emily put a smile on her face hoping to make Ms. Silia warm up to her - Emily knew she wasn’t exactly easy to be around sometimes.
“No problem dear.” They walked across the hall and she opened the door for Emily. I’m going to finish up across the hall really quick, let me know when you leave so I can lock it again.”
“I will thank you,” Emily was relieved. She wasn’t sure how she was going to pull it off if Ms. Silia would have stood there and watched her.
Emily ran down the aisle, causing her to burst out into a long, deep cough, towards the back of the room straight to Nora’s paints. She took a couple small bottles of paint and stuffed them in the waistband of her pants. She replaced Nora’s paint with her own so she wouldn’t draw suspicion tomorrow.
That night about half an hour before curfew, Emily crept towards the closet. She located the painting of herself and went to draw over her face but stopped short. Whose face should I draw? Nora’s or Mr. Wilders? Emily hadn’t given a thought about it till now. After giving it another moments thought she started painting. Instead of leaving the painting in the closet, when she was done she took it with her. At this time of the night there weren’t many people out so it was easy for Emily to stay away from others. When she got back to her room she stuffed the painting under her bed.
The next day Emily wasn’t surprised to find out Mr. Wilder was admitted to the hospital. She was startled when Nora attacked her after noticing her painting was missing from the closet. Nora was taken away and Emily assumed she wouldn’t be seeing her again for a while.
Two days later, Emily accepted the fact that her health wasn’t going to get any better or worse. Her body stayed at the state she was at when she switched the painting. She wouldn't die this way.
She finally admitted herself to the nurse’s office. Since she was on the brink of death, but not quit there, and her symptoms were the exact same as those before her, the nurse treated her as the others. They gave her an IV and left her to rest while they looked over the various tests they ran on her. Lying there trying to sleep, Emily silently sent a prayer being thankful for her life. She surprised herself with this act but she understood what had changed her attitude. Ultimately, it was all because Kyle had his life stolen. Emily knew she still would continue to have thoughts of suicide but she was determined to live for Kyle. She knew he'd be upset and unhappy if she would her life and she felt comfort in knowing that. For the first time in Emily's life, she truly believed someone cared about her.