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Honorable Mention Short Story -- “The Departed”

By Steven Katzman ’21
The Departed
Steven K

The soot filled brick hole that once resembled a fireplace was now devoid of purpose. The walls, now covered in black mold, dripped with thick yellowed paint, peeling in too many a place to count. A lone wooden table stood proudly in the center of the small room, leaning heavily on its three bent legs. The missing leg was strewn off to the side, stabbed through the adjacent wall. The once polished wooden floor was suffocated by layers of ash and debris. The trinkets—goblets, silverware, and anything else that was not stationary—blanketed the floor, hidden in the layers of trash. It was an old house, aged from time and lack of care. Miles of dense woods separated the lone shack from any form of civilization. Though it was in the middle of a forest, rarely would the wildlife go near it. As if some ancient primeval instinct told every living creature in the woods to stay as far away from it as possible.

Three miles away, a lone boy staggered toward the cottage. His skeletal hands shook from a mixture of terror and excitement. His eyes darted from left to right; he never moved his head in the slightest way. He learned this trick from Grandpa, to help fool onlookers into thinking he was unaware of them. Though he could not sense anyone nearby, he still maintained his vigilance and toyed with the idea of surprising any unprepared followers. It was also Grandpa who gave the boy the worn out map, now folded into a small slip, which the boy glanced at methodically, uncontrollably. According to his map, he should have already reached the cottage. The boy stared at the hastily written tick marks and symbols that he could not fully understand. He knew it was too late to go back; they would never let him back, whether it was right or wrong, that was for fate to decide.

His stomach let out a deep, low growl. He blushed instinctively, pretending not to notice the sharp pains coming from his abdomen. Luckily, before he left, he was given a new pair of shoes, so he was not barefoot anymore. The thin leather soles crunched against the scorched earth repeatedly, leaving shallow imprints. The sky grew darker every minute, and at last, burst open, sending small snowflakes downwards. The uniform crystals sank into the ground, creating the monochrome scene below, breaching the serenity of the endless oblivion. The boy’s eyes glistened just for a moment. He had never seen snow, but he had always heard of the wonderful substance back home. His legs were sore and his hands began to go numb. The teachers never told him how cold it would be outside. He smirked at the thought that of all the other dangers, but not once did anyone ever mention the cold.

By the time the boy spotted the small clearing where the shack lie waiting, his feet were completely numb. The small snowfall kept getting heavier and heavier. Each time the wind passed through him, he had to stop for a whole minute, just to catch his breath. If the cottage was any farther away, he would not have made it. In one final burst of adrenaline and frigid fear, the boy ran. In a mixture of trembling, limping, and awkward running, a wide grin was plastered to his face. e had made it. He let out a whimpered laugh at the thought of his victory, he had made it, he had won. Just as soon as he began to laugh, it morphed into a wicked lung retching cough. He spewed up a warm red blood from the cough. He limped, regaining his bearings inside the broken down cottage. He could not process the inside, and only felt relief from the wind, though the cold was just as bad. An intense wave of lethargy passed over him, his throat began to close. He kneeled down, resting on the ash ridden floor. The shape of his lips were contorted and turning blue.  His eyes squinted at the folded paper, as his deadened hands fumbled to open it up. His fingertips were blackened from a mixture of ash, sickness, and frostbite. He winced from the pain of touching the letter. Reading the same scrambled text again, which was already memorized, he clamored one final remark, shredding his morbid throat in the process. “Dad, where are you?”

216 Hope Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02906-2246
Phone: (401) 421-8100
FAX: (401) 751-7674

Founded 1889

The Wheeler School is an independent coeducational college preparatory day school for Nursery, Pre-K, K-Grade 12 serving Providence, RI, Greater Providence and Greater Boston. The Hamilton School welcomes Grades 1-8 with language-based learning differences.