Untitled. Audrey Bell. Grade 10, Age 15. 2012 Gold Medal, Painting.

This 2012 Scholastic Award-winning story comes from Natalie Shoultz, Age 14, from Coralville, Iowa. It won a national Silver Medal in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category.

A moonless night. Stars spot the sky, creating a never ending web of light through the pitch-blackness. They make me feel so small, insignificant.

Suddenly, a shooting star streaks the sky. One blinding array of light, gone in a flash. I smile at it happily. I feel content, comfortable, here in my small space. I love my world. I wish I didn’t have to leave so soon.

But my time is running out. I wish I didn’t have to go. But I do. I always do.

Why won’t time just stop for a while? I wonder, heaving a sigh. I’m lying on my favorite field. The grass is slightly damp and cool. It feels good on my back, welcoming. The grass is so freshly green it looks like a small child painted it with magic marker. The smell of dew emanates from it, creating a pleasant aroma. The trees match the grass, looming high overhead, creating a barrier. Protecting me. I feel safe.

The sky stretches over me like a movie screen, playing the same film over and over, except that here it keeps getting better every time. The air is so crisp. Possibilities seem to stretch out in front of me for miles. I can do anything. I am powerful.

I lie there on the soft, cool grass and gaze at the sky a moment longer. Finally, my feet pick me up and carry me through the magic marker green blades of grass. I knew this time was coming. I am sad. Hollow.

I feel dizzy from the startle of standing up too fast. Everything is incredibly vivid. I can smell the damp grass, the trees, the decomposing leaves around me so well. I can hear every rustle, every movement, every whoosh of the wind. I see a city not too far away. The glow of the lights is dazzling, too bright. As always, I try to get to the city. That is my home. That is where I ought to be.

The wind is picking up. The cold air slices against my cheeks like needles, like knife blades. I need to go faster. I will my feet to move forward, waking faster toward the road, the city, the lights.

Soon, I am running. I try not to look back at my field, at my movie, at my shooting star. I see the road stretching ahead of me. Maybe I will make it this time. That will be a first. I’m almost there. So close.

But then I hear the footsteps. It’s them again. They’re coming. Their footsteps match the quickening pace of my heart, thundering toward me. I reach the road and try to take another step. But it seems as if the magic marker has turned to glue and my feet are stuck in the grass. I struggle, but, as usual, nothing happens. I was very close this time. The creatures, the demons, the monsters, they’re coming faster now. I see them emerge from the looming tall trees, once my protectors, now my mortal enemies. The sound of thunder comes closer. I try to scream again and again but my throat is stuck shut and no one can hear me. Nobody cares. Not in this world.

I squeeze my eyes shut and wait for them to come.

Five.

Thump.

Four.

Thump.

Three.

Thump.

Two.

Thump.

One.

Blackness.

My eyes flutter open. The scene is completely different. I’m falling, tumbling through the air, descending faster and faster. I look up through the mist and see the pitch-black sky, still speckled with stars. My movie. Getting farther and farther away. I struggle, reach out. The wind pounds against my ears, buffeting my body. I feel terribly helpless, plummeting downward, not being able to do anything to stop my own descent.

The mist begins to clear. I can squint and see a shape above me, far away. I can barely see it. It’s a… it’s a plane. I can’t see them very well, but something tells me the demons did this. Almost every night they do something horrible to me. It’s as if they can see the future. Tonight they’re black beasts, standing on the plane, looming over the world. Sometimes they’re shadows, sneaking up on me through the dark, catching me at my weakest. Other times, they shape-shift into my worst enemies, alarming me when I least expect it.

Most people don’t get it. They don’t understand the true terror of it all. But I do. I always have.

I’m still collapsing through the sky. I let my eyes close and wait for impact. The wind flings me around and around, and soon I am flying face-first through the blackness. I open my eyes and see my field below. Ten more seconds and I will be back to my world. The universe spins around me, dark colors colliding and blurring my vision. I wait almost impatiently for the impact. My field looks tantalizing, just out of reach. I want it to be over with, to go back to my world, back to everything I know.

Out of the blue, something unusual happens. I hear people calling my name.

“Chelsea!”

I want to answer, but can’t. The wind is too strong. My throat is so dry. I keep falling, tumbling into nothingness. I’ve lost all hope of reaching the ground by now.

“Chelsea!”

I try to speak, to cry out, but can only gasp. The ground seems to be getting further and further away. Falling, is all I can think, falling.

“CHELSEA!”

The fall abruptly stops and my eyes flicker open. I see my sister standing in the doorway.

I am relieved. The long terror that is the night is finally over.

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