“The Boy Phoenix”
by Grace Aulicino
11th grade, Ridge High School
Teacher: Ms. Lauren Heuer
Third-place prize: $100
Sunlight filtered through the ratty curtains and broken glass onto the skin of the young boy’s face as his eyes opened to the world around him. As his perception began to form, he was reminded of the city’s legend whispered through the streets. “Born from ashes a boy takes his place in the sky. Once in one hundred years he learns to fly.” Just as quick as he remembered it, it was gone from his mind.
The threadbare blankets that covered his small body were thrown to the ground as he jumped from his makeshift cot in the old, dilapidated shed that he called home. He heard her, the sweet singing that held the most unbelievable beauty he’d known. He threw open the rotted wooden door to see her descend from her place in the heavens. Her red feathers shone in the morning sunlight.
The boys who lived in the shiny houses dripping with gold had beautiful songbirds, who sang arias of untold beauty and were as colorful as the most brilliant rainbows, and they had everything given to them. The forgotten boys, boys like but not quite like him, lived in the remaining places. They were the space fillers, the rotten underbelly. They had only themselves and the scavengers, the crows, vultures, and other unsavory, unbeautiful birds to hold on to.
However, he was shunned from both worlds, for his bird chose him. She chose the weakest, smallest, most unlucky boy of them all. The shining boys in their gold houses hated him for having a bird that should’ve belonged to them, because all the songbirds and rainbow-colored parrots could not compare to her beauty. They sneered and leered at him when they walked down the street, shouting at him and calling him foul names. He neither cared nor listened to their envious remarks, as he knew that they meant nothing compared to his love for his bird.
If the golden, shining boys of the city hated him, his own kind, the space fillers, despised him. Their small, twisted hearts could not bear the thought that he had been one of them. He was supposed to be fated to live a life of vicious jealousy toward the boys who had everything. He was supposed to grow up as crooked and twisted as they were destined to become. It was the forced agreement of their kind. But he had been chosen by the most beautiful, shining, brilliant, vermillion bird in the entire city of sun. This made him the target of envy and hatred from every boy in the city.
While the brilliant boys only resorted to name-calling and leering, the boys that lived in the darkness could not settle their hate so easily. So, they beat him. They tore what was left of his threadbare clothes and pounded his small body with their equally small fists till he was broken. The little boy pleaded, “Please, don’t hurt me. I haven’t done anything wrong,” but that only enraged them further.
When they finally left after they sedated their broken egos, he would try to pick up his torn clothes and walk back home. Sometimes he would make it all the way home; other times he couldn’t get up and just lay there and stared at the infinite sky. He wondered about what it would be like to be a bird, like the legend. He didn’t have to be beautiful or sing glorious songs; he just wanted to be able to fly. Fly away from the envious stares, those cold nights where try as he might he could never get warm, and the infinite loneliness that surrounded him.
Then if he reached home, there she’d be. Her golden talons perched on his slim windowsill next to his cot. He would stagger in and flop down on the bed, and then she would sing for him. His feelings of loneliness and sadness would vanish. His little hut would be filled with the warmth of her love for him. His chest swelled with the happiness. Even though no one else in the world loved him, at least he had her. Once he had finally fallen asleep, she would stop singing and fly into the night sky.
Tonight, however, it was almost unbearably hot. He had made it home before any of the boys had a chance to catch him. He had just closed the door and looked to the windowsill when he realized she wasn’t there. He ran to the door to try and look for her outside, but the handle didn’t turn. He pounded on the door hoping that maybe it was an accident that he was trapped inside. However, he could hear the squawking of crows and the children’s laughter mixed outside.
He cried, thinking that they had hurt his lovely bird. Through the laughter and his sobs, he didn’t hear flint and steel crashing into each other as they finally managed to get a spark.
The hot night couldn’t compare to the heat from the fire that began to surround him. His fear now turned into desperation as he realized what was going to happen. His small fists pounded on the door with fear and a desire to live. “Please, don’t hurt me. I haven’t done anything wrong,” he screamed into the night air. The rotted, unforgiving door did not yield to his pleas. The smoke began to fill his lungs. He was coughing as he crawled to the window that he had started all his mornings looking out of toward the bright sun. However, in his last moments, he faced the moon, and as he looked up into its vastness, he saw the outline of her. Her red feathers looked white in the bright moonlight, and he couldn’t help but think she looked like an angel as he finally took his place beside her. The two vermillion birds born from sun city’s ashes.
Linda L. Hellstrom, Founder
Wendy Supron, Chair
Elizabeth K. Parker
Diane Naughton Washburne