Congratulations to Atticus Cox, who won 1st place and 2nd in the Youth Fiction category.
Familiar Space, written by Atticus Cox, inspired by Familiar Space
I watched from above as the sadness swallowed the artist whole.
It started with his hands, and the way they set the paintbrush down in frustration. Quickly it spread to his coffee, cold and stale, then his dishes, a precariously tilted stack in a few inches of dirty water, then his laundry, abuzz with insects, then his room, then his body. I watched, and watched, and watched, and waited for him to finally pray. Just ask for a sign, I silently pleaded. Just ask for a little bit of help.
But an artist is a stubborn beast.
And so I waited.
I kept expecting the artist to see me, to have a wrench thrown in his reality, to invite me in and ask for my guidance. I hid in a smudge of orange sunset, warm enough to thaw even the coldest of hearts, and he closed the shutters. I hid in a merry song and threw myself through the radio, which, annoyed, he silenced. Tired of subtlety, I sent a dozen stars down from the sky, a light show that would put the aurora borealis to shame, but he wasn’t paying attention. I must have placed a hundred white feathers in his path, which he thoughtlessly trampled underfoot. I changed every clock in the house to 2:22. I sent rainbows. I sent ringing ears. I sent everything I could, but the artist wasn’t receptive, and I knew I couldn’t help until he asked me to. I had never known anyone so resistant to blessing.
An artist is such a stubborn beast.
And so I made him ask.
A change in tactic was necessary. Fine. I started small- I stole his favorite paintbrush, which, having given up on his art, he didn’t notice. I hid in a dog and barked on the street. He shut the window. I hid in his doormat and stole the key. He stopped bothering to lock the door. I hid in a dove and hurled myself against the window of his apartment. I burnt his TV dinner. I broke his microwave. I defaced all his paintings while he slept, anticipating enough devastation to warrant prayer, but when he woke he only half-sadly wondered how much he’d been drinking. Let me help you, I whispered to him in the night. Let me save you. In the morning he recalled strange dreams that meant nothing to him. It saddened me to see his faithlessness. It saddened me to see such a broken creature refuse a chance to be mended.
An artist is a stubborn beast.
But so is an angel.
I don’t care to tell you what I did next. It’s not that I felt bad, not exactly, not when all I was doing was helping him. Even so, the tragedies the artist came across started to weigh on my divine conscience. All I needed was for him to ask for me. I could help. I could fix everything. I could make him a painting. I could make him a hundred. I had only to make him pray.
I watched from above as the artist’s phone rang.
The perfect opportunity for invocation presented itself. So how have you been? A tinny voice from the other end of the call. I could sense the confession caught in the artist’s throat, clawing desperately up towards his tongue. All he needed was courage.
Luckily for him, he had a guardian angel on his side.
I- uh- I’ve been better.
If I had breath, I would have been holding it.
I think I need-
Anticipation rioted within me.
I could use some help.
That was all I needed. Now my work could begin.
Cue wings and eyes. Cue flashing lights. DO NOT BE AFRAID.
I watched from above as the final stroke was painted.
The artist set down his paintbrush. He brewed a cup of tea. He called a friend. He never forgave me, but I didn’t need his grace. I was satisfied with my work.
Everyone saw something different on that canvas. Some saw the northern lights. Some saw an ocean, some a springing deer, some a familiar space, some a gaping, meaty, wound. Some saw a rainbow-winged angel, some a flock of birds. Some saw nothing but colours. It was called absurd, and abstract, and brilliant. It was called warm and sad and hopeful. It was called peaceful. It was called pathetic. It was called artless. It was called a mess. It was called a masterpiece. It meant home. It meant hope. It meant serenity. It meant boredom. To the artist, it meant a new start and a sworn enemy. To me, it meant a success. Another soul saved.
Ivan, written by Atticus Cox, inspired by Ivan
I don’t remember much anymore, not with all the blur, but I remember Ivan. I remember when he stayed six days in the old red house. I remember how the cold came early that year. Dad stood out in the yard in his overalls, rake in hand, cursing the snowflakes as they fell. The winter coming was to be a cruel one, but how could I have known that? All I knew or cared to know was how hard it was not to laugh at Ivan swaddled in three layers of shirts and coats, smothered in scarves with only his eyes visible.
“You look like a mummy,” I said, “Like in one of your horror films.”
He shoved snow down my shirt in retaliation. I remember how he shed the scarf to catch snowflakes on his tongue, how we laughed blue-faced like little kids. Littler kids. Ivan was so excited. It’s like he’s never even seen snow before, I thought, and then realized he hadn’t. His nose turned red and the fields turned white and he caught a horrid chill but hardly complained once.
“City kid,” Dad teased over steaming mugs of hot chocolate, “You’re not used to such honest air.”
Ivan tried to tell him that the cold doesn’t actually cause sickness, but dad and I found it hard to take him seriously with whipped cream on his nose. He couldn’t sleep that night for all his sneezing, so we hosted a seance. Grandma will know, I promised, lighting a circle of candles. Grandma always knew. She could cure any ailment. I started to cry when she didn’t show and I felt so silly that I cried even harder, and harder still when Ivan’s arms wrapped around me. We fell asleep on the hardwood floor and when we woke to the sound of the crowing rooster I had his cough in my throat and his hand under my head. I remember how thrilled he was to scatter seed to the chickens, how he imitated their clucking and chatted to them like old friends. I remember the bonfire, and tossing rotten apples from the orchard into it. Smells like pie, you said. Smelled like home. I remember how he taught me the names of the stars and the constellations they wove. Those I do not remember.
“I’m jealous,” I confessed on the last night, our necks aching from craning towards the sky. “How come you know so much?”
Ivan said he knew nearly everything but he couldn’t climb trees like I could. I remember the train station, and how I hated the cold there like I never had before. I remember how Ivan waved out the window, how I ran after the train all teary-eyed as it rushed away, until his face out the window was only a blue smudge in the cold scene, thinking all the while take me with you and come back soon and how come it’s always him who’s leaving?