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Four Years at the Mount

Short stories...

May 2015

Once upon a timeÖ

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

There lived a King and Queen who loved each other deeply and in return their subjects loved them. The Queen Adina had one sibling, who she loved dearly and who, she thought, loved her in return. Her name was Fiera, she was beautiful to behold, but her heart had long ago become cold and twisted. It had corrupted to such a degree that the area of her chest, where her heart beat, began to gray and blacken. She concealed the tarnish beneath the fabric of her gown. Along with her hard heart, she held a deep-seated jealousy toward Adina and her husband. To curb this anger, she set about causing small bits of chaos around the kingdom to make her sisterís life as difficult as possible; the royal couple knew nothing of her involvement in what they considered to be unfortunate, but minor, catastrophes. The Queen was ever oblivious to her sisterís envy and hatred.

The King and Queen longed for a child and, at length, their wish was granted. The Kingdom erupted into celebration and across the country, festivals were held in honor of the coming royal child. Meanwhile, Fiera sat, pensive and alone with her loathing, plotting of a way to ruin this current happiness as she sat there wallowing in her hatred in front of her looking glass and staring at the blemish on her chest. Blaming the imperfection on her sister, she was startled as a crack appeared on her blackened chest. She sat, stunned, and as three clear drops fell from the opening, she quickly grabbed a crystal vial and caught the liquid with it. She gazed into the vial and saw the glass slowly clouding over with frost; she nearly dropped it because the cold was so intense.

Fiera smiled as she prepared for the nightís celebration and as she greeted her sister affectionately. No one had ever seen her so happy and her smile grew, somehow, larger as she congratulated her sister on her recent happiness. She did not stop smiling, even after everyone grew tired and went to bed. Fiera moved about the palace toward the royal chambers with a serene grin gracing her face. She made her way past the sleeping guards into the room where the happy couple slept. She pulled out the small vial that chilled her hands and pulled out the stopper. She hovered over her sisterís sleeping form and watched the contents of the bottle drip onto the Queenís lips. Adina inhaled sharply and furrowed her brow, but remained asleep. Fieraís face grew thoughtful yet sinister as she said, "Congratulations, oh fair sister!" Leaning over the Queen she whispered ever so silently, "May your childís heart be a cold as mine."

The months passed and the Queen remained in good health, although wherever she went she was bundled in so many blankets to keep off the chill that seemed to surround her. The happy day finally came and everyone rejoiced at the birth of the royal baby boy. His parents named him Samson, which means "sun-child," because with his golden hair he was as beautiful as the sun, but the skin over his heart was cold to the touch. They watched him grow into a handsome young man and the King and Queen saw that though he was charming and everyone loved him, there was a type of absence in his eyes. It was like he would display whatever mask seemed appropriate and sold its authenticity with practiced words. This worked with everyone except the King and the Queen. Adina confided her worries to her sister, Fiera, who listened with a smile in her heart. Being wrapped up in her own success, she never noticed the darkness surrounding her heart grew. This continued for eighteen years as they all watched Samson grow up with varying degrees of pride, joy, and worry.

As Samsonís eighteenth birthday approached, the kingdom was thrown in a tizzy preparing for the festivities. He began to grow tired, keeping up the pretense of excitement, and escaped, momentarily, from the castle and its frenzied occupants. He wandered around the streets, wearing some clothing that could pass as belonging to a commoner. Everything was bustling and loud, but he preferred it that way because it meant fewer people would take notice of him and he had more he could observe. He made his way past vendors and merchants and found himself in front of a bakery; the smell of fresh bread and sweets reminded him that he had yet to eat that day. Walking by the window, he picked up one of the rolls that were cooling. As he was ready to walk away, a voice stopped him: "I do hope you are going to pay for that." Hearing that it was a female voice, he turned around, hoping to use whatever charms at his disposal to get out of this situation; he took on the appearance of a poor, lost, hungry traveler and turned to face the speaker. He stopped when he was met with a raised eyebrow and a look of annoyed amusement etched into the face of a pretty woman.

He could have mistaken her for a Lady of the Court if it were not for the flour that seemed to have exploded on her person. She was slender with honey-colored eyes and long, soft brown hair that was struggling to escape the ribbon that kept them at bay.

"Well?" she said.

"Iím waiting for whatever tale you have concocted to pull at my delicate heartstrings and let you walk away with that bread free of charge, though you can obviously afford it."

Something unfamiliar stirred and warmth spread through his chest at her playfully disapproving look. He found himself asking, "Might I inquire the name of my accuser?"

Her eyebrow rose higher.

"Violet. Now can Your Royal Highness please tell me why he was stealing from my establishment?"

He gave her a practiced look of surprise at her knowing who he was, flashing her a charming smile as he said, "Why my fair lady, I would never dream of stealing from you." She held out her hand expectantly. Samson would never know what possessed him to do so, but he grabbed her hand swiftly, drawing her close and placing a brief kiss on her cheek. "Well, Lady Violet, I think weíre even." He left quickly, forgetting the bread in his speedy retreat. When he returned to the palace, he felt indescribable warmth spread through his heart. When the Queen saw her son, her eyes filled with tears of joy and Fieraís cold, black heart shattered at the sight. Because for the first time in eighteen years, Samsonís smile was genuine.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir


Once upon an orphanage

Leeanne Leary
Class of 2017

If youíve been reading my articles for the past year, you might remember me mentioning in passing my trips to Haiti, the trips that changed my life and showed me that fairy tales and "Once Upon a Times" donít have to consist of parties and glass slippers; they can happen in orphanages in third world countries.

. . .

Once upon a time, I fell in love with 33 children and an entire country over the period of one month. This past Christmas I spent 30 days working in Christian Light School and Childrenís Home in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. I just spent almost an hour looking back at my journal from my trip, and I canít think of a better way to explain my fairy tale than giving the world a look into my private thoughts.

So, hereís my fairytale:

December 19, 2014 (My Birthday)

Yesterday I made it to Haiti, but almost turned around and left before leaving the airport.

I made it through customs and, to my surprise, navigated pretty easily through the airport until I reached the exit where I was supposed to meet the driver from the school, who would be holding a sign. Iím 100% positive this doesnít sound as frightening to you as it was to me, but there was a crowd of people waiting who were either beggars who knew what time the airplanes landed (as the smallest international airport in the world, this isnít often) or people waiting, with and without signs, to pick others up. I stood inside the glass windows for a few minutes, not seeing my ride, before I walked outside to look more closely. As soon as I stepped outside, looking slightly lost, I was approached by an airport service man (#15) and an airport taxi man named Wendy. I told them who I was looking for and they tried to help. The service man looked around for me multiple times, while Wendy just stood by me insisting that my ride was not coming and that he would take me; it would not be too expensive.

An hour and a half had gone by when I finally decided it was time to give in and take a trip with Wendy. He had conveniently known exactly where my destination was before, but when we got in the truck he wasnít too sure.

Needless to say, the 10-minute trip took almost an hour as we stopped every three feet to ask if anyone knew where we were going. I eventually made it and walked in to the end of the kidsí Christmas program at the school.

December 22, 2014

I could talk for hours about each kid already; theyíre amazing.

This morning I went with the Little Angels Baby Feeders down to the ravine. I donít know if I can put the experience into words.

We walked into a tent city for the second stop Ė Iíve driven by the tent cities, but never walked into one. Itís crazy. Itís just pieces of metal and tarps all connected together in lines to form tents the size of two twin beds put together with walkways about 3-feet wide in between rows. The temperature rises and the smell is nearly unbearable. We made it to the back of this tent city and stopped outside of what is used as a church Ė itís a much larger tent with 12 wooden benches. There I witnessed an unexplainable kind of joy and love among children and adults alike. Itís hard to make sense of it, but I love it more than anything.

December 23, 2014

Hereís the image I want to remember forever when I think of Haiti:

Sampson running around the street in a manís dress shirt and nothing else, pulling two cars made of trash and having the absolute time of his life.

December 24, 2014 (Christmas Eve)

SO I WAS LYING DOWN AND LOOK UP AND THEREíS A COCKROACH THE SIZE OF CANADA ABOVE MY BED! It was horrifying, but today I spent almost seven hours with Nikkelange. I love her.

December 28, 2014

I get to spend every afternoon at the orphanage; this is the best life.

December 29, 2014

I just got back from baby feeding and have to share. Sampson almost broke my nose today, but the most incredible thing happened at the end of the second stop. All of the babies had been fed and there was some leftover food. There were three boys who had been standing next to me playing the hand game the whole time and they were probably 4, 5, and 6 years old. They were too old for the program but there was a piece of bread and half of a hard-boiled egg left at the end. My pastor, Iysmaell, handed the piece of bread to the oldest boy and the egg to the youngest boy. Without even looking around to see if the others had gotten food and/or how much they had gotten, both immediately split their food into three pieces and started handing it around until they all had an equal amount. Iíve never seen anything like it. These boys probably wouldnít eat again today and I watched half of an egg be split three ways. There is not an ounce of selfishness in these people.

Also, side note, today I played Bananagrams with Bernaldo. English is his third languageÖthe boy is a genius.

January 5, 2015

I came back after visiting Ken and Andreaís ministry for the weekend and had this weird fear that the kids would forget me after two days. They see so many teams come in and leave that theyíve gotten so good at moving on. But exactly the opposite happened. Nikkelange gave me an envelope with four letters and little presents in it. I literally sat in my room and then went to the roof and cried for a good half an hour. I canít imagine leaving these kids next week.

January 7, 2015

If a person asked me how many times Iíve read "The Grouchy Ladybug" to my class this week, I literally wouldnít be able to answer because the answer would exceed a million and Iím too tired to count that high.

January 15, 2015

I had to leave today. This was the most incredible experience.

. . .

That was my fairytale and will be my "Once Upon a Time" story for anyone who will listen to me talk about it years from now. That was the end of my greatest adventure.

Read other articles by Leeanne Leary


The Red Bandana

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

Once upon a time, a freckled girl sat up among the tree branches and looked out at her world. It seemed like the whole universe was laid out in front of her. The sun was at its highest point and everything was lit with its golden rays. The tin roofs from the neighboring houses acres away reflected the light in many directions. Over past the railroad tracks, the cows could be seen grazing in the fields near the horses. Down beneath the tree branches, the girlís four younger siblings played in the shade. She was the eldest, followed by her three brothers, and the youngest was her baby sister. The boys sifted through the dirt and the mud looking for worms to go fishing with while her baby sister played with a hand-me-down doll. It was nearly noon and she anxiously multitasked between pretending to babysit and looking into the distance.

"Do you see it yet, Addie?" one of the girlís younger brothers yelled up to her.

"No, nothing yet," Addie responded.

Last week her father had woken up before the sun rose. He rolled out of bed and got dressed before coming into the bedroom and kissing each of his children goodbye. He headed out to the railroad tracks to help manage the deliveries and tend to the train. It was his job and everyone was used to him being gone for a few days. Even though the family had gotten used to his absence, it never seemed to get any easier, which made the days that he was supposed to return home equivalent to holidays that everyone eagerly awaited. Today was one of those days.

"There!" Addie shouted. "I see it!"

A small puff of black smoke could be seen in the distance just above the treetops. Addieís siblings all looked up excitedly and dropped what they were doing. Addie worked her way down the tree, doing her best not to scrape herself up too badly. Once on the grass, she turned toward the house and yelled to her mother.

"Mother! The train is almost here!"

The childrenís mother ran out the door and met them under the tree. Addie picked up her baby sister and her mother grabbed the other childrenís hands. Together, they walked toward the tracks that passed through the front of their land. Once there, they all speculated about what father could have brought them this time as their mother rolled her eyes. The train was getting closer and could be heard approaching quickly. Soon enough, the cars started to pass in front of them and the children did their best to count as many as they were able to, though after twenty, Addie was the only one who was able to keep counting. The cars continued to pass, going off far into the distance until the caboose was finally in sight. This is where father worked. Eagerly, the whole family cheered. Soon enough, the childrenís father stuck his arm out the window and waved with excitement. The family all waved back.

Then his arm retreated back into the caboose and returned again holding the infamous red bandana. He tossed it into the front yard and it rolled down the small hill toward the family. The children all ran to get it as the train continued to drive off down the tracks. The children grabbed the red bandana and Addie quickly untied her fatherís precise knots. They laid out the bandana on the grass and looked at the goodies. Inside were six pieces of hard candy and a bunch of coins along with a small note. The childrenís mother eagerly picked up the note and read it with a smile.

"Whatís it say? Whatís it say?"

All of her children asked as they shoved candies into their mouths.

"It says to take you all out for ice cream and that your father will be home in time for dinner."

Their mother responded.

The thought of ice cream excited them all and they cheered eagerly again. After heading back inside the house, the family got ready to go downtown. In a single line, they all held hands as they walked through their tiny city and through the front door of the ice cream shop. Everyone picked out their favorite flavor and wasted no time beginning to lick the melting drops as they slid down their sugar cones. They walked home with bellies full of ice cream, and hearts full of excitement for the moment that their father would soon arrive.

I have had the honor of interacting with many amazing people in my life. A few years ago I began to form a friendship with an elderly woman who has been willing to share some of her life stories with me. I once asked her what her favorite memory from her childhood was. I remember her distinctively looking up at me from above her teacup and smiling as she said, "the red bandana." At the moment I was completely baffled and had no idea what she meant. After asking for an explanation she began to express the significance that this bandana had in her life. Not only was this red bandana that was thrown down the hill in her front yard nearly every other week a sight that always promised goodies like ice cream, it also always promised that her father would be arriving home, and this meant all the world to her. Being struck by the importance that this single item had symbolized, I asked her what had happened to the bandana, thinking that maybe she had kept it after nearly seventy years. She laughed as she replied, "That old thing? It must have gotten holes in it. Iím sure it became a rag. But once upon a time, it was so much more."

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen


Once upon a time

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

He waited until the sun had set to make his approach. The thick line of ancient pines, and the rugged lines of the cliff shielded his progress from prying eyes. He hoped that such precautions would allow him to gain at least some sort of advantage over a far more experienced opponent. Every step up the rock strewn path brought him closer and closer to the mouth of the cave, and to his intended target. From where he lurked, he could make out the faint light of a cooking fire.

"Good," he thought to himself.

The ambient light and the gentle pop of the wood in the flames would help to mask his presence even more. Step by painfully taken step he crept over loose pebbles and tiny sticks that could betray his position at any moment. Such were the sacrifices that needed to be made. In order for him to win this fight, every advantage, from his choice in weapon to the heaviness of his breath, had to be carefully managed. After he had lived an eternity between each of the steps, he reached the edge of the cave wall, keeping his body just barely out of the opening. Gently he raised his tool of choice: a long wooden stick with a paint-soaked rag wrapped around the end.

In a swirl of energy and excitement he rounded the corner and brought the paint stick down in a tremendous arc, sending crashing against a bundle of twigs. Before he could utter a word of surprise, the familiar sensation of paint oozing down his back shoulder registered in his brain.

"Looks like your cooking dinner again tonight."

He turned and looked at his master, an elderly woman in her early 70s.

"Yeah, I guess so."

He grumbled before reaching for the pot next to the sizzling coals.

. . .

The above experience is of course, fictional (although those who know me will easily make out the feisty visage of my English advisor Dr. Hinds in the character of the mentor), however it is indicative of my experience. More times than not in my time at Mount Iíve found myself playing the role of the precocious apprentice, possessed by a great deal of enthusiasm but lacking the finesse that comes at the price of time and effort. After four years, Iím happy to say that while I donít think I quite hold a candle to the people that have gotten me this far, I could certainly do them proud.

Thatís one of the things that has begun to resonate with me more and more as my time at Mount St. Maryís winds down and I start to look beyond the mountain. Maybe itís that Iíve been writing a book on games with Dr. Murry and weíre actually presenting our work to schools, news stations, and (hopefully soon) publishing houses. Perhaps itís the fact that Iím working with Dr. Dudley in the English department to create a paper that delves into the finer points of horror fiction and HP Lovecraftís role in philosophy. Or it could be that this past weekend Dr. Hinds actually met my girlfriend of two and half years and gave her that "thanks for putting up with him" smile. It occurs to me more and more that without these people and more in my life, I donít think I would be anywhere close to the person I am today. Kyle Ott at 18 was a scared young man with a mop top haircut, an infinite love for Frisbee and sandwiches, and an unbridled sense of enthusiasm. Kyle Ott at 22 is a slightly less young man whose hair has been cut as close to his scalp as possible, whose love of sandwiches continues unabated, and whose enthusiasm has been tempered and molded by the lessons of his teachers and peers. At some point I stopped trying to be something I couldnít and started listening to the people that I wanted to emulate. As a freshman I was going to be a writer; as a senior Iím looking into a career in board and card game design and going to graduate school for online journalism. And the weirdest part is? All of me, both the man I am now, and the person I was then, is at peace with my path. That kind of emotional Zen doesnít simply come from within, but rather from a confidence forged throughout dozens of lessons with teachers whose intelligence and poise brings out a desire to surpass them (although I doubt I ever will).

All of these reflections are tempered by the realization that at some point, my masters of the craft, my Mister Miyagis, the Mickeys to my Rocky Balboa, all sat in my shoes. There had to have been a time when Dr. Mitra, the Mountís resident master-at-making-Kyle-want-to-dedicate-his-life-to-studying-Indian-Literature (itís a working title but Iím sure it will be official soon), was a student just like me. And knowing that means that at some point I will make the transition from the student who is just growing into their knowledge and talent, into the teacher who is comfortable not only with their own abilities but also with their role in the world. In my head I can see myself poking fun of some big-dreaming freshmanís poor scheduling practices the way that Dr. Hinds did (and continues to do) to mine.

If there is one thing that I can impart after four years of writing, one kernel of wisdom for my readers to glean from my countless foibles and numerous misadventures, it is this: cherish your mentors, and cherish the cycle through which you become a mentor for the next generation. They will learn from you, as you have learned from others. Iím Kyle Ott, and for the last time as an undergraduate student, wonít you sit and read for a while?

. . .

The sun set as she made her approach. After hours of waiting in the bushes for the ideal conditions, she emerged. Speed. Speed would be the key to her success. There was no way that she could get the drop on her opponent with planning. He was too patient, his ears to keen. Within moments his senses would ferret her out and he would, as he had done dozens of times before, find her and bring her dreams of victory to a crashing halt.

Instead she took the fight to him. In the back of her mind she was sure that her youthful vigor, coupled with the spring in her muscles, would give her the edge needed to overcome her foe.

A dim light swayed in front of her eyes as she dashed forward in a break-neck charge. It was the campfire, placed in the middle of a clearing. She cursed herself silently for her course of action. The position of the fire all but ensured that he would be able to see her coming from any direction. However it was too late now. She had already alerted him to her presence, her eyes had adjusted to the dark, and she was fully committed to her plan. Step by step she hurtled towards the light, knowing that he would be there. The faster she moved the harder it would be for him to catchÖ

She felt the gooey "slap" of paint colliding with her stomach and shoulder, just as she reached the outer circle of light.

"Your approach was sloppy, your form poor. Letís hope your cooking outpaces your skills."

He wheezed a little as he laughed at his own joke. It was hard to imagine 80 years being packed into the lean old fram.

"Master."

She groaned in frustration, tossing the paint stick on the ground.

"How did you get so good?"

He squatted by the campfire and looked to her, his smile becoming sad, his eyes becoming dreamy as he recalled the rapid frustrations and gradual success of his youth.

"I cooked a lot of dinners."

Read other articles by Kyle Ott

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