Burning Coal by Saja Jaber

The English Department organized a Creative Writing Competition that was open to all university students this semester. Students were encouraged to submit an original piece of writing in English. The genres were open; students could submit works in poetry, short fiction or literary essays. The Department received 12 entries. Students from across campus submitted creative works. All the entries were quite creative and showed the imaginative abilities of Bethlehem University students. A committee was set up to read and evaluate the works. The criteria of evaluation were based on three components, creativity, literariness, and language accuracy. After careful consideration by the committee, the best works in all three categories were chosen. We at JustPost are very delighted to share such creativity.

Burning Coal by Saja Jaber

Burning Coal

We stood before our new home, that looked like anything but a home. My father, my mother and I craned our necks to see the end of the massive, three-story old house. Then we looked at each other; my father had a weird look on his face, then sighed and said directly to my mother and I “Welcome home ladies”. I turned my head back towards our new “home”, it stood tall and proud yet old, like an old man who used to be a general in army. The bricks of the house were brown and told a story about this house and what it once was and to whom it had belonged. There were many windows; some of their shutters were wide open and others looked like they have been closed for a long time. But the most captivating thing about the house was its door. It was massive; a giant could enter through it without having to lower his head. My eyebrows furrowed when I noticed it wasn’t fully closed, the door was ajar. A gust of wind blew by the house and the door slammed shut with a forceful sound; both of my parents who were talking quietly to each other were startled, however I remained still and simply watched the door with fascination. I didn’t know what held me captivated but I couldn’t take my eyes away even if I wanted to, it felt like I had already formed a connection with our new “home”.

We kept standing before our new house, me observing it and my parents talking quietly. My father was speaking intently with a lot of hand gestures and my mom was listening and speaking softly while clutching her purse to her chest and her eyes would dart every few minutes towards our new home. What are they talking about? I turned my attention to the house and noticed it was neighbor-free; there were no other houses around, just our house.

I suddenly felt the need to get closer to the house and unravel what’s inside of it. I pulled my mother’s skirt to get her attention and she gave me a startled look because she was engrossed in the conversation with my father, “come on, let’s go inside!” I moved my legs in the direction of the front door and my parents followed. I stood before the massive door, my father stepped in front of me and pushed it open with some force.

The inside was beautiful, we stepped into the hallway, where a big, old, golden chandelier hung above our heads. To our right was a big kitchen, and for a second then, I thought I saw my mother’s eyes sparkle with excitement. Though things looked good, they looked old. The kitchen was covered with dust and so was the hallway. To our left was a closed door, I was curious so I pulled its handle down and pushed the door wide open to reveal a vintage living room, that looked like it once held tea-parties in the afternoon. My parents were still in the hallway so I stepped inside, the furniture was covered with once white sheets, that became yellow with dust and age. I lifted a corner of one of the sheets, only for a cloud of dust to come out that sent me in a coughing fit. My mother came into the living room to check on me, she took a glance at the living room and pulled me out of it and said “I’ll clean it up and then you can come inside here, come on let’s go upstairs and see where we’re going to sleep” I followed her, she started ascending the stairs leading to the second floor and I followed quietly, taking everything about the house in. After she chose their room as the one on the right across the hall and mine on the opposite she left after she told me “Oh well, get settled in you new room, I’m going to go make some lunch” I excitedly asked her, “Do you need me to help peel off the vegetables?”, she dismissed my offer with a wave of her hand and said “Oh no thank you, just get settled in, I can do it by myself”.

My shoulders slumped in defeat, I was left alone to “get settled” and basically do nothing. I looked at my new room, which was big, bigger than my parents’ room at our old house even. The walls were painted a dark grey that didn’t sit well with a person’s vision. The room was empty save for a white closet and a queen sized bed, I moved to sit on it only for dust to rise out of the mattress and cloud the room. I started coughing and headed outside the room to breathe normally; I thought mom was going to come up and check on me because my coughs were quite loud and I could hear her from where I stood bustling around the kitchen, but I thought wrong. After my coughing fit subdued I stood in the hall for a minute, through the corner of my eye I sensed movement coming from a corner close to my room’s door.

Slowly I approached it to see what it was, expecting to find a rat of an insect of some kind. But what I found was a small set of stairs, set narrowly between the walls, curiosity got the best of me and I started ascending the stairs to discover where they led to. The end of the stairs was a ceiling door, I pushed it open and it gave a loud thud when the panel hit the floor of what appeared to be an attic. I got into it and stood to my full height, my head was a few inches below the ceiling of the attic. I looked at my surroundings, though the attic was not small, there was barely any space as it was filled with items, and broken furniture; chairs and tables and piles of white sheets here and there and like every part of the house, it was covered with dust. I noticed a small vintage cupboard to the right of me, I put my hand on the handle to open it but a movement to the left stopped me and then I was even more curious to find out who or what caused it. I took slow steps in the direction of the movement. Next to a cluster of chairs was a black curtain, a makeshift curtain of a once black sheet. It had a few holes in it and looked very old.

In that moment, I felt a presence behind the curtain, something of power, the movement I caught earlier was not a rat or an insect, it must have been something else. I believed that if I pulled the curtain I would discover who or what it is. Carefully, with trembling fingers I started pulling the curtain to the side. In a slow-motion manner, where the attic was deadly silent, the darkness behind the black curtain overwhelming my vision, and midway through pulling the curtain I took a deep silent breathy gasp. Two red burning-coal like eyes stared back at me and for a moment, I felt completely at ease. Aren’t I supposed to scream? Be scared out of my mind? Why was I rooted in my place, simply staring back?! A Yell from my mother from downstairs, calling for lunch knocked my back into reality and as quick as flash the eyes disappeared like they’ve never been and I doubted if they were real in the first place.

Hurriedly, I got out of the attic, shaken, confused and more curious than I ever was. I washed my hands in the bathroom in the middle of the hallway and went down the stairs in the direction of the kitchen, where the table was set with a steaming meal ready to be eaten. My father sat at the head of the table, with a document of some sort in his hand, reading and eating quietly while my mom sat there eating silently; she looked at me when I stepped into the kitchen but did not say anything, my father kept his eyes glued to the document in hand. I took the empty seat with a plate and cutlery set in front of it. Like them, I ate my meal silently, chewing with a closed mouth so I wouldn’t get yelled at like the last time I ate with an open mouth. A small shudder racks through me at the thought of the lecture I received then. After finishing with our meal, I start helping my mother with the dishes, moving them to the sink but she stops my attempts to help her with a dismissive hand “I’ve go this”.

The next day, my mother starts cleaning and wiping dust around the house, starting with the first floor. Upon my request in wanting something to help me occupy my time, she gives me some wiping rags and cloths to clean my room. After a few hours of thorough cleaning, my room was clean and shiny. I threw myself on top of the bed and stared at the spinning ceiling fan, thinking about the eyes I saw yesterday, to someone else they might have been scary but to me they were intriguing, I wanted to know whom they belonged to, why was “it” in the attic... I wanted to...become acquainted with “it”. Like a nail to a magnet, I started towards the attic, there was a mystery I needed to uncover. Going straight for the black curtain I pulled it completely in one strong pull, revealing nothing… but darkness. I stood there looking at the darkness, maybe I had imagined it ? maybe it was all in my head?. A deep, scratchy non-human voice saying “Looking for someone?” pulled me out of my trance. I turned my body towards the sound, and saw the same pair of red eyes looking at me intently; “it” was wearing a cloak that hid its form from my curious wandering eyes. The hat of the cloak covered its face leaving only its burning-coal red eyes. “Who are you?” I ask. “I’m someone who was left behind, abandoned and lonely”, I say “what are you? You aren’t human for sure”, his reply leaves me speechless “but I have more emotions than lots of other humans”. He keeps looking at me and I at him, he’s probably a male, then he asks “what’s your name?” I said in a quiet voice “Lilah”, he said “Hmm..Call me Damon, I think we’re going to be good friends” I actually perked up at the sound of “friends”, I asked excitedly “Oh wow, friends! I’d love to have a new friend” It looked like he was smiling but I wasn’t sure. Then he said “Alright, if you want to become friends you should visit me frequently, we’ll talk about a lot of stuff and everything you like”.

And I did, I visited him frequently. Our “friendship” developed; we would talk about different things and he would tell me stories of people from another world who have wronged him and casted him out. I sympathized with him and that encouraged me to keep him company so he wouldn’t feel lonely. My parents didn’t even suspect my long absence and I didn’t tell them about my new friendship that kept me occupied without boredom. Oddly, he’d ask me to bring him some random items like; candles, a white sheet, match box and with hesitance I brought him the knife he requested for. I once asked him what does he want with these items, he only said “random items to entertain myself with”, but even a twelve year old like me knew better than to believe his words.

One day after lunch, I went into the living room where my father was, studying so documents and doing work as usual. I sat by him and asked him “What is in these documents?”, he said “adult work sweetie”, next to him was a big folder that was filled with papers, i brought it to my lap in curiosity and unlocked the binding elastic holding the papers. I gasped when tens of pages flew across the floor, my father stood and glared at me and then yelled “What did you do, stupid girl!” then he took a step towards me, which made me cower in fear. He boomed “Look at me you stupid girl, these papers will take ages to collect and arrange! Put your hands in front of you now!” Shaking I did, and then he struck me on the back of each hand twice, leaving read angry marks on them, then he yelled “Leave now!”.

I hurried upstairs in the direction of my room, but before entering, Damon’s voice called for me from to the attic. That was the first time he ever called for me, I always went by myself. Face tear-stained and body slightly quivering, I got into the attic, but unlike every time where it’s dark and dim, it was illuminated by the candles I had brought him, the candles atop of the white sheet he had requested for, like a frame, all on the floor creating an empty canvas, ready to be painted, and I stood exactly in the middle of it.

“Damon, what’s this?” I asked in a shaky voice. He replied in the deepest voice “This is me cashing the price of my friendship and entertaining your boring life”. “What?” my voice cracked, “what price are you talking about?” I asked disordered. He looked at me with blood-red eyes for the first since I had stepped into the attic and said directly to me “You.” Then I understood that our “friendship” was a lie and that I was in danger and I had to run for my life, I went to dart outside the attic but I couldn’t, my feet were rooted in their place. “What have you done to me!” I screamed, hoping my parents would come to my rescue. He ignored me and started reciting something in a different language, that made the hairs on my neck and arms stand and slowly I felt the wind being knocked out of me and I started losing my breath, I struggled but managed to scream at the top of my lungs “STOP!”.

I was completely breathless and slowly I started to feel my soul shifting, something was fighting the soul in me and in a split second I felt darkness seeping inside of my being, and Damon was slowly fading from view. Almost like...almost like he’s fading into me. He was the darkness penetrating my soul! I had to do something to save myself! But i couldn’t move, talk or do anything except wish for my parents to come and save me. Slowly but surely Damon started to dissipate into thin air, and my soul was beginning to fill with the darkness of him. And finally he had moved completely in me that there was only a flicker of “Lilah” remaining in me. Damon’s empty cloak fell to the ground in the same time the attic’s door was pushed open and my father stepped into the attic and looked at me in horror, as my eyes shined burning-coal red as his soul filled my fragile body. My father dropped down on his knees like a sack of stones and said in the most broken voice “We should’ve never left you alone”.

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