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Student Takes 2nd Place in Writing Contest

Congratulations to freshman Alieha Dryden who won 2nd place in the Freshmen & Sophomore short story category at Walla Walla University’s Young Writer’s Contest! 

Here is her compelling story!

Paper People 

by Alieha Dryden

Pain shot through my arm, and I felt another prick though my paper thin skin. I yelled until my chest was so sore I could barely whisper. Their taunts echoed through my ears as they held down my arms and legs, so I couldn’t fight back. Not that I would, I could never hurt them. I love them, my tormentors, even though they don’t love me.

We’ve been with each other since birth. Lucas, Tom, Jen, Penny, and I. They’re my family and all I have. Though we’re family, they find the need to tease me mercilessly. Whether it’s my straight hair, plain clothes, or something I did. There are times I want to leave, when the teasing gets harsh or Lucas gets out his knife to intimidate me. I don’t know how I could possibly escape, or even where I would go. Whenever I think about it, it seems impossible.

When I finally cleared my head the others had gone to do other things. I checked my wounds, they were minimal. Only a few pricks and bruises on the outside, but the inside was a different story. I just couldn’t understand why they did what they did. I had never done anything to them, not one harsh word or action. I wasn’t sure I would ever know.  I sat up slowly. Tom and Penny, who were on either side of me, complained loudly.

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

Penny glared back and threw a strand of curly hair over her shoulder, “Watch it Mary Lin. Do you have to bother everyone when you move?”

I squeaked out another apology and tried not to move. Penny was always a brat. Since she usually ignored Jen, and I was the only other girl. It was me she focused her anger on. Penny seized every opportunity to tell me how useless or how ugly I was. In my eyes, Penny out of all of them, was the worst. Even Lucas and his knife come second.

Lucas is the oldest out of the five of us. He’s a big guy and tends to use that to his advantage. I mentioned his knife before. That’s his one and only possession and he guards it like a dog. Jen tried to touch it once and has a nasty cut to show for it. I tend to avoid him when I can, however that isn’t always possible. I have more than a few bruises and cuts as evidence of his rage.

There’s something you should probably know before I continue with the story. I’m a paper person. Do you know the paper dolls, where all of the hands and feet stick together? If you do, then you have a pretty good idea of what we are and what we look like. We were made by a family of artists. Each one of us made by a different member.

Lucas and Jen pride themselves for being created by the parents, each with intricate faces, real looking hair and clothes. Penny and Tom, a little less boastful, were made by the teenagers of the family. They weren’t as well done as Jen and Lucas, but they still look amazing, both having colorful hair and fashionable outfits. Then there’s me. Wanting to include everyone in their family, the artists had their little girl draw the one in the middle. Being only three, she drew me in a rush; scribbling straight brown hair, two pebble eyes and some clothes, before rushing back to her own activities.

Since I was positioned where I was, every time I moved I pulled on someone’s arm or leg. Not being the most graceful person didn’t help. Maybe there was something in that family I couldn’t see. Something that made their paper people the way they are. It didn’t matter though. I was stuck and there was little I could do about it. Sitting as still as I could, I looked out across the living room from our spot on the mantel.

On the far side of the room hung a painting of three women. A mother and her two daughters. I gave a smile to the youngest, but her mother quickly turned her away. The woman gave me a glare and I glared back. Even the other art pieces didn’t like me. I looked away. The living room usually comforted me, but today I just wasn’t feeling it. I sat like that for hours, while the others laughed and talked. Occasionally one of my limbs would get roughly pulled but I didn’t make a noise. After all this time, I learned when to be quiet and when I could talk.

Finally my time of solitude came. Moonlight shown through the high windows and danced across the floor. I looked closely around me. Everyone was asleep. At least that’s what it looked like. I stood up and stretched, not caring about the others. When they were asleep that’s how they stayed. The night was the one time I could be free without being attacked. I walked forward to the edge of the mantle, dragging the others behind me. It was the one bit of revenge I allowed myself.

I swung my legs over the edge. I took a few deep breaths, taking in the clean air tinted with the smell of paint, charcoal, paper, and ink. I must have been sitting there for only a few minutes but soon I heard someone moving. I didn’t think to worry about it, a mistake that would cost me. A hand laid itself on my shoulder and the blissful night air turned cold and stale.

I looked slowly. Either way I was probably going to be in trouble. Jen stood over me, her face was taunt. A slow smile spread across her now hysterical looking face.

“Jen…”

A demented giggle escaped her. “Wait ‘til Lucas hears about this.”

Jen had always been a little off, but the look in her eyes now made mine widen in horror. I was surprised she even cared what I did. She barely even talked to me before but it was obvious she craved the others attention enough to talk to me now. “No Jen, please! I wasn’t doing anything. I’ll give you anything; just please don’t get Lucas.”

She seemed to contemplate my plea, tapping her foot and holding her hand to her chin. I quickly glanced at the others, I guess they were still asleep. After a moment of tense silence, with the only noise being the ticking of the wall clock Jen shook her head wildly. “What do you have that I want? What could you possibly offer me?”

My mind worked quickly. If she told Lucas this could be worse than all the other times. I thought of a dozen ways this could go, and what I could offer. Before I could think of anything substantial, Jen let out a giddy screech.

“I know! You could leave and never come back. The others would be ecstatic!” She started to mutter under her breath as I stood there stunned. It sounded good to me; leaving and never coming back. But unbeknownst to me, Jen’s definition was a little different than mine.

Jen’s mutters became louder, and if possible, my face became paler. “Which should it be? Fire or scissors? The dog or the cat?”

She looked up at me, “So which is it? How do you want to go?”

The way she said “go” confirmed what the little voice in the back of my head had started to tell me. When she said never come back, she meant ever.

“Jen, you don’t mean what I think you mean do you?”

She looked at me like I was the crazy one, “Of course I do! I can’t risk you coming back. So you’ll have to go.”

I started to move backward, forgetting for the moment that I was on the edge. Jen moved towards me seeing my intentions. Soon I was falling. Jen, adding to my weight, brought the others down behind us. I hit the ground hard. Blinking rapidly I looked to my left and then to my right. The fall must have knocked them out, but after my last assumption, I wasn’t taking chances. I started to walk. Their weight dragged me down, but I kept moving. I tried to avoid a lot of the obstacles, still trying not to hurt them. If you had asked me at that moment, as I walked along cold floor boards among the remains of forgotten art, why I still cared for them. I probably wouldn’t be able to give you an answer.

I don’t know what I was running from, since my tormentors were quite literally attached to me. I moved as fast as my legs could carry me, but that wasn’t very fast, seeing that they were connected to Tom and Penny. I started to hear low moans and quickly looked for something sharp. The moonlight glimmered against something under a nearby table.

A tack. I had never been so happy to see a piece of sharp insignificant metal. It was as if freedom was calling my name. I turned and headed towards it. I barely made it. A rough hand grabbed my leg and pulled me down and my face met the ground. I looked over my shoulder and saw that everyone was still asleep. The hand was just Tom moving in his sleep. I relaxed my body and let go of the breath I didn’t know I was holding. I shook my head and kept moving.

I half crawled half ran the little distance between me and the tack. Within seconds I had it. Searing pain coursed through my arm as I managed to set free my right hand by dragging it across the tack. Using my free hand, I cut the bit of paper connecting me to Tom. I grimaced and moved to my legs. I was free. I felt the weight fall off. No more teasing, no more abuse, no more waiting to be told what to do. Free at last, I took my first free step. I wobbled, but soon found my footing. Soon I was running, trying to find a hiding place among the gigantic furniture.

My breath was ragged as I hid behind the leg of the nearby couch. After I calmed myself, I peeked around the wood to see the others. Tom and Jen were the first to wake up. Jen’s eyes looked murderous. She shook the others awake, and seemed to talk to them quickly using her hands vividly. I started to backup. This couldn’t end well. In the background, the sun was slowly taking the place of the moon. As the others began to look for me, the humans began to wake up.

The father walked into the living room, rubbing his eyes and yawning. He shook the sleep out of his eyes and sat on the couch. His legs dangling inches from my face. Penny, Tom, Lucas, and Jen lay motionless just a few feet away. I hadn’t thought about the humans. They thought we were just a piece of art, there to look pretty. Now that we were broken… The man looked around the room and his eyes came to rest on them. He gave them a sad, disappointed look, and mumbled something about the dog. He bent over and picked them up. He gently rubbed Penny’s golden yarn hair and gave a hard look at Lucas. Who to my surprise took a strong resemblance to himself. Lifting them close to his face the father gave Jen a kiss on the cheek. Patting Tom on the head he shook his head hard and heaved a sigh that almost lifted me off the ground.

Then I watched in horror as he stood up and placed them in the fire place on top of a dry pile of wood. I covered my eyes as I heard the sound of rustling and the striking of a match. I turned around and edged my way further under the couch. The crack of the fire echoed behind me and the smell of singed paper engulfed my nose.

I turned around and didn’t look back. I felt a pang in my chest but I ignored it. I was free after all. Though it did come with a price, even if it wasn’t really me who paid it. In the days to come, I would wonder if they regretted their decision to hate me in their final moments. Maybe if they had accepted me as I was, none of this would have happened and we could have been friends. The times I think that though, I have to remind myself that we only live once. We decide what we do with that one chance. But what do I know? After all, I’m just a piece of paper.

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