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An Absence of Light, Part 1 (REVISED)

by maisewriting

I can remember the day almost exactly.

It was Rosie’s birthday. I had a gift for her tucked under my arms (a pile of books, all of them wildly fantastic) and I was running to our little cave in Gull’s Cove. Rosie liked to call it the Secret Garden. I don’t know why: there weren't any plants in there, just sand and rocks. But that’s Rosie for you, I guess. She had all her quirks and then she’d give inanimate objects their own quirks. That teapot loves knitting. The bus has an awful cold today but the pharmacy doesn’t stock medicine powerful enough for it. My phone wants to be on Australia’s Got Talent but doesn’t actually have a talent. I would laugh at her and then she’d pretend to hit me and say “Shut up Xander, you’re making the phone sad!”

But I digress. It was maybe eight-thirty in the morning. Thursday, summer holidays. It was incredibly humid, as if God just dropped a bucket of water into the air but it forgot to fall down. The sun was still quite low in the sky, and it was casting a reflection in the ocean. It was almost blinding. I wanted to paint it. I guess that was my talent, painting. I painted, Georgie studied, and Rosie… Rosie did everything.

I knew Rosie would be there already, and Georgie too. Georgie was early to everything. Even school. Some days she would turn up at the school at seven o’clock and just sit outside the gates, waiting for the teachers to turn up and let her in. She called it being punctual. I called it hating herself. Who chooses to wake up at six o’clock every morning? She likes to tell me I should go early with her. I tell her that if she suggests that again, I’ll transfer to the boy’s school down the road.

I raced down the old wooden steps onto the beach and made a beeline for the water. The beach was my favourite place. I had grown up there, and every time I stepped into the water, I felt like a little kid again. I kicked my sandals off and put them on top of the box I had wrapped for Rosie. She wouldn’t mind if it was a bit sandy. The water was cool on my feet. My footsteps sank into the sand. It felt like a perfect day.

I got to the Secret Garden after ten minutes of nearly getting my feet stuck in the sand. It was quiet in the cave. Maybe they weren’t there yet. But then I saw a shadow move, so I barged right in.

“Happy birthday Rosie!” I yelled. “To many more years of knitting teapots and un-talented iPhones!”

Then I looked up, and Georgie was crying, and I realised that for Rosie, there would be no more years at all.

I turned around straight away and sprinted back up the beach and onto the road, Rosie’s present lying forgotten in the sand. Georgie followed me, her footsteps margin with mine in the soft sand. As soon as I had stepped into that cave, I knew something was wrong. Georgie didn’t cry easily, and Rosie should’ve been there. My mind was racing more than usual, trying to come up with different reasons as to what had happened.

All that I came up with was nothing I wanted to believe. My first thought had been death. I tried to shut that down quickly, but my mind kept playing awful scenes, like a horror movie that Rosie starred in. I pushed my legs harder, willing myself to fly down the road like a bird.

Birds didn’t have problems. If something went wrong, they could just fly away. Not me, though. I was completely and irrevocably tied to the ground, my humanity acting as a chain. I remember one time Georgie told me that birds grieve too. I didn’t believe her. Birds are to free to grieve.

As soon as I entered my house, my stomach dropped like a stone. Mum was on the phone, and she was crying. We locked eyes for a second and there was something in them that told me everything. That was the moment that I was forced to accept that Rosie was gone, and wasn’t coming back. It felt like being let go and being pushed down at the same time. Like flying through the air, but someone shoots my wing and I fall into an ocean and drown. I’m a good swimmer, but there are some things you can’t out-swim.

I heard a sniff behind me, and I remembered Georgie. That was so selfish, to just wallow in my own misery. Georgie didn’t cry, but she was so sensitive. I pulled her into a hug, letting her bury her face on my shoulder. A couple of years ago, I was too short for her to do this.

“Dad rang me,” Georgie whispered. “Just before you got there. He said I had to get — get home quick, and it was about Rosie.”

“What did you say?” I whispered back.

She took a shaky breath. “I told him I wasn’t going anywhere until you got there.”

We stood there for a few moments more, listening to my Mum say “Okay,” and “I’m sorry,” and “I’ll let them know.”

Finally, she finished, and she led us into the living room and told us to sit down.

“There was an accident,” Mum told us. “A car accident.”

I started shaking. Not little shivers. It was like there was an earthquake, and my heart was the epicentre. I got scared. I didn’t want to hear any more, but at the same time, I wanted to understand everything.

“What kind of car accident?” I asked hoarsely. I didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t believe it. Rosie was my best friend. She was practically a sister. She couldn’t be gone. She was too young, way too young.

“There was a drunk driver. He went off the road, and Rosie was walking there…” Mum hesitated. “The paramedics said there was nothing they could do.”

Under the table, I found Georgie’s hand. I gave it a squeeze. She didn’t make a sound. Just let tears fall down her face, into her lap, and onto my hand.

“Okay,” I said. I meant it as a dismissal, but Mum didn’t leave.

“Xander,” she said quietly.

“No,” I said. I guess that was rude, but I wasn’t in the right mindset to care about manners. Looking back, I think I should have said something to Mum. She treated Rosie like family. We’d known each other since we started school. It must have been just as hard for Mum.

But Mum finally took the hint and left the room. She turned around for a second and gave me a sad kind of smile before closing the door.

Georgie and I sat like that for a while, just staring at the closed door. It felt like closing the door on Rosie’s life. It was too final, too much.

“It’s not fair,” Georgie bit out.

That was true. No one deserved to be killed by a drink driver at eight o’clock on a Thursday morning, much less Rosie. Rosie was the kind of person who lived her life in a whirlwind of colour and noise, and that’s how she should’ve gone out. Tied to a firework at the ripe age of 86 and let go with a bang, in an explosion of light in the sky. That was the only way I ever thought Rosie could die. She always seemed so immortal, like nothing could touch her. I thought she was untouchable.

Evidently not.

“I know,” I said.

Georgie and I didn’t say anything after that. It was too quiet. All I could hear was Georgie breathing and the fan. I didn’t think anything like this could happen on a day like that. Tragedies happen in winter, in the pouring rain under booming claps of thunder.

So that was me, the bird with no wings. I wanted to fly away. Rosie had. A sudden wave of emotion hit me like a tsunami, dragging me down into the depths of the ocean. It was anger and sadness and fear, but most of all it was loneliness. Rosie was always there. Sure, I had Georgie, but I still felt like there was a piece missing. Maybe birds do feel grief, but I don’t think it could possibly be anything like a human’s grief. I wished I was a bird. I wouldn’t feel so much, so intensely. If this is what it means to be human, then I didn’t want it.

I got my phone out and plugged my headphones in. I put on this emo shit. I don’t know why. I don’t usually listen to that. I guess I just needed something to distract me. Something loud and screamy. Something that reflected the cyclone inside me. Me, the earthquake, tsunami, and cyclone. Me, the natural disaster.

Wait, no. I wasn’t that natural disaster. I was the tiny, weak, insignificant bird caught in it.

I put my headphones in my ears, then turned the volume way up. I put it louder and louder, until I couldn’t hear anything else at all. Just me, the music, and no Rosie.

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User avatar
6 Reviews

Points: 60
Reviews: 6

Tue Jan 03, 2017 7:06 am
UnidreamXOXO wrote a review...

I really like your story, it has a lot of depth with feelings, it helps to visualize how the characters are feeling. I like the transition of Xander feeling fine in the morning but then, he quickly feels horrible when he finds out that Rosie is dead, the transition links perfectly with it. You put in a lot of descriptive words, enough to hit in the feels emotionally. Overall, the reactions to a friend's death is accurate and your story is amazing.

maisewriting says...


User avatar
205 Reviews

Points: 125
Reviews: 205

Mon Jan 02, 2017 6:29 pm
inktopus wrote a review...

I think that this is definitely an improvement from the first version. I like how you expanded the more emotional scenes, though they could use a bit more work. Your descriptions are great, so put all that ability to work describing just how broken up Xander is over Rosie's death, especially when he finds out that she’s gone. I also found a few grammatical mistakes that could use fixing.

Despite the mistakes, this is a very strong piece of writing that you should be proud of.

maisewriting says...

thanks! i'll go back through it and fix any mistakes :)

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45 Reviews

Points: 133
Reviews: 45

Mon Jan 02, 2017 6:14 pm
Pentavalence wrote a review...

Hey, Pentavalence here.

Really nice job! I found myself literally holding my breath in excitement for some of it. In just 1500 words you made me feel deeply for these characters. Just a one quick thing:

Why would Xander assume Rosie had died? The sentence: "...That for Rosie, there would be no more years at all." is really beautiful, but maybe you should place it somewhere else? It kind of ruined the next few paragraphs for me, and the moment of revelation wasn't quite as strong.

Other than that, I really loved the piece, especially the descriptions of grief.

Good work!

maisewriting says...

oh, thanks for pointing that out! i meant to move or get rid of that sentence from the last version of this story but evidently i forgot... thanks for letting me know!

Pentavalence says...

Np :)

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38 Reviews

Points: 772
Reviews: 38

Mon Jan 02, 2017 5:18 pm
Ruby68 wrote a review...

Hi there! First of all I really like this piece! I like your style of writing a lot. You did a really nice job of describing the characters in such a short amount of time. The beginning really hooked me.
However when it got to the middle I got kind of confused.

"Then I looked up, and Georgie was crying, and I realised that for Rosie, there would be no more years at all."

Why does Xander see Georgie crying and immediately assume that Rosie has died? This part was confusing. Maybe you should have led with the part about Georgie never crying.
I really liked your connection to the bird after this, that was a really beautiful connection. Just a small thing here, in this sentence: "Birds are to free to grieve." it should be: Birds are too free..., just a small grammatical error.

I love your description of the pain Xander feels after finding out what happened as well as the continued connection to the bird. I really loved this line: "If this is what it means to be human, then I didn’t want it."

Overall I really enjoyed this! Great work!

maisewriting says...

thank you so much! i'm glad you especially liked those parts because they're the bits i'm most proud of! that sentence in the middle was supposed to be deleted or changed (the last draft was a bit different) but i forgot about it, thanks for reminding me!

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509 Reviews

Points: 20610
Reviews: 509

Mon Jan 02, 2017 5:09 pm
Lauren2010 wrote a review...

Hello maisewriting!

Man, this was awesome. You have a great knack for descriptions, especially when it comes to setting a scene. Every description was interesting and specific, which makes the story feel real and genuine. I could really connect with your main character and the emotions they were feeling, how they felt about their friends and their place in this friendship, and how it all comes crashing down when Rosie dies. Fantastic job!

On that note, I think you have a really excellent opportunity for expansion here:

I got my phone out and plugged my headphones in. I put on this emo shit. I don’t know why. I don’t usually listen to that. I guess I just needed something to distract me. Something loud and screamy. Something that reflected the cyclone inside me. Me, the earthquake, tsunami, and cyclone. Me, the natural disaster.

Wait, no. I wasn’t that natural disaster. I was the tiny, weak, insignificant bird caught in it.

I put my headphones in my ears, then turned the volume way up. I put it louder and louder, until I couldn’t hear anything else at all. Just me, the music, and no Rosie.

This is the most significant moment of this first part of the story. It's when the emotion is the highest for the main character as they begin to grapple with the grief of losing their friend, and since this story is already so heavy in the description it gives you the liberty to really dig into this moment and be as specific as possible.

My favorite part of this description is when they describe themselves as a natural disaster, but then realize they're not that disaster but a weak little bird caught inside it. This is an amazing image, and the turn from disaster to insignificant bird is amazing. I think it would benefit the story to expand on this moment, to really push it to do as much work for you as it can. Dig into the sensory details. We understand as readers that the main character is not experiencing a natural disaster, but you have room for them to imagine themselves as a natural disaster, and for that fantasy to shift to them being the victim of a natural disaster.

Detail-heavy stories have the interesting ability to dip into magical realism in moments like this, where even if the story is a realistic one characters can have moments like this where everything is elevated and it's as if they're experiencing something they wouldn't be able to experience in real life. Such as being a natural disaster, or being a bird swept up in one.

Whether you expand this moment a bunch, or not, I think it's a good place to pay a little more attention to the detail. It's such an important moment for the character, such a big realization as to their place in their grief, I think giving it more prominence will really help the story.

Otherwise, I'd maybe take a look at the scene where the main character finds Georgie crying in their secret garden. I was a little confused about the order of things, and why the main character automatically assumed something terrible had happened to Rosie and then ran off without Georgie offering anything of the information they knew from the phone call with their dad. Also, why didn't Georgie automatically leave the secret garden, assuming they would run into the main character on their way? Just a bit of detail to clear up here to make everything clearer and more realistic.

All in all this was such a pleasant read! I really enjoyed it, and I hope you'll let me know when/if you post more.

Keep writing!


maisewriting says...

thank you very much! your tips definitely help! as for that part where Xander assumes Rosie is dead, that was from a previous draft and i forgot to fix it... thank you for pointing it out to me!

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6 Reviews

Points: 329
Reviews: 6

Mon Jan 02, 2017 2:20 pm
Mmellowme wrote a review...

I really liked this story! It'd be really interesting to see where it goes. A few things I noticed;

- You did a really good job at describing Rosie's personality. Though a bit more on Xander and Georgie would be nice. :)

- The setting, It would be great if you could describe the cave and house a bit more.

- I really liked the way you use your words, to me it flowed quite nicely. Keep it up!

For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.
— Audrey Hepburn