Photography by Silja Pietilä, 17, Finland
Photography by Safia Henniche, 16, Boston
Dear Readers and Contributors,
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It’s been a pleasure growing this community over the past three years, so I know I speak for the entire editorial board when I say we hold this magazine and our contributors close to our heart. It takes a tremendous amount of research and effort to manage the magazine, which is why we're so thankful for all of your support. We encourage you to share our publications and Advice Articles to help our other young creators who may be interested in pursuing their craft.
Founder, Nonfiction Editor in Chief
The Elysian Muse Youth Literary Magazine
Written by Julia Keiser
March 29, 1940. This was the most dramatic day of my life.
The streets in Cherbourg, France seemed to be frozen with a new kind of fear. Unwanted, filthy rats scurried inside and out of houses, feeding off our food, spreading disease. German soldiers ran daily inspections of stores and houses- luckily not my house. I didn't think the war could affect me, or my family- not that much anyways. I mean, Just yesterday, I was shopping with Maman at the local supermarket. The German soldiers in there never bothered anyone. They were always polite.
It’s amazing how these things can change overnight.
World War 2. Bombs. Hatred. I knew these things didn’t only hurt my family. It affected everyone. In fact, my neighbors are doing far worse. But despite our differences, we were in this together.
I came back home on a Saturday, late in mid - afternoon, after a long week of school. My education is almost almost over - I still have two years left, so I’m thirteen years old. Just another thirteen year old in the city of Cherbourg. Just another hazel-haired girl. Just another story. I have trouble remembering that - I often have to remind myself that a tough girl like me has nothing to complain about (that much), and that other people have it worse than I do.
Although Cherbourg was different, it still smelled and looked as it always did during spring. Birds still chirped, and children still skipped. If you tried really hard, you could convince yourself that there was no war going on. You could almost banish fear, almost let go of the fact that bombings could occur any second.
I opened my aged, creaking door, and ignored the cardboard box that waited silently at the corner of my porch, unnoticed. My back ached, and my left foot throbbed from the long walk, as I readied myself for the usual cycle: Open door, have ‘happy attacks’, homework, eat, then bed.
My sister heard me coming and yelped with joy. She always makes a big deal when I come home for the weekend… But then again, she makes a big deal out of everything. The only way to describe my sister is bubbly, dramatic, and obnoxious. Just the other day, she almost called a man fat to his face. Luckily, I slapped my hand over her mouth just in time.
“Illea! You’re back!” She exclaimed, with a huge grin.
“And you’re still saying the same thing every time,” I responded. Usually, I wasn’t this dull, but today, I was in a really bad mood.
Nonetheless, my insult fell flat on her back. Sometimes, I feel like what I say comes in one ear, and out the other. She just stared at me with the same dopy grin plastered onto her face.
“I have so much to tell you! Yesterday, I went bike riding with Sara and we were stopped by this weird dude. I was like, ‘Get out of my face!’. Then I punched him square in the nose when he asked for my identification papers- just because I felt like it. So after that, I grabbed Sara’s hand and I super sped to her house to have cake and cookies with flying mice... ”
The only reason my sister is so talkative is because she’s only five, and I usually have to pocket her ridiculously unbelievable lies. Although Papa says that she just has an insane imagination, I sometimes wonder if she needs medical attention.
I interrupted her rambling.
“Yes, sure Yvette, but do you know where Maman is?”
My sister, Yvette, pointed to the kitchen, but never shut her mouth.
“...But then all of a sudden the portal started closing, and we only had six seconds to score a touchdown. And the people of Sleepy Slumberville started counting down to zero. Luckily, Sara and I made it back home, but poor Prince Lumburger got left behind in his realm because he could never quite figure out how the toilet works! The evil Goldylocks never followed us back though, because she got lost in a pink corn maze...”
My ears rung from her riot, so I decided that I’ve been a good enough sister so far, and I didn’t deserve any more of this.
I stumbled into the kitchen, my knuckles white from grasping my clutches too tight for too long. The kitchen smelled of beef and unwanted vegetables.
My mother- I call her Maman- was washing the dishes and preparing lunch, tolerating her messy brown hair that had an annoying habit of frizzing. Her eyes brightened like the sun when she saw me, and asked, “How’s your foot?”
I took a seat and lied, “Better.”
My mother has a magical, soft look that could melt ice. She’s kind, and a very good cook.
She narrowed her eyes at me as I took my backpack off, and relieved the pressure on my left foot. “Why did you come all the way home alone? I was about to come and get you.”
I shrugged as Yvette sped into the kitchen, tripping over her own feet, and sliding across the tile floor with her socks. Yeah… I may have forgotten to tell you that she spends about 75% of her life messing up.
“There’s a package out there waiting!” She exclaimed, panting. “It doesn’t say who it’s from or anything!” Then again, she took off.
I struggled to get up and follow her to the front porch. There, indeed, a package sat waiting.
It was a plain cardboard box- literally plain. No stickers, stamps, or stray black marks. The only other thing on the box was duct tape and a note.
I went inside to rest while I had my sister try and break her back getting the package inside.
“What’s in this thing? It weighs a ton!” she complained as she plopped the package next to me. She put her hand over her back and yelled, “I think I broke a bone or something!”
Yvette fetched scissors from Maman, who was too busy to come see. She called from the kitchen, “It’s probably the new pipes for the sink Papa ordered!”
Yvette came back, scurrying as if she were about to open a present. She sat next to me and began to slice through the tape like a hot knife through butter.
“What do you think it is?” She asked as she lifted the cardboard folds.
“It’s obviously something not worth our…” I stopped dead in my tracks.
My mouth hung open, and I had to rub my eyes twice to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. Yvette gasped, and dropped the scissors when she saw what was inside the package. She looked as if she had seen a ghost.
“No…” I managed to sputter.
In the package, laid cigarettes, chocolate, cake, chocolate cake, beautiful fabric, wrapped beef, and all of these other goods that are hard to find.
I jumped up, surprised, and was unaware at the moment that I had a broken foot. Despite the tremendous pain shooting up my leg, I stayed frozen in my uncomfortable standing position.
“Maman!” I exclaimed. “Come quick!”
Yvette started scooping everything out, marveling at the goods as my mother hurried into the living room.
She cried out loud when she peeked at the box. Everywhere laid these amazing, rationed sweets and treats - it was too good to be true.
We received the same reaction when Papa came home. He almost started dancing when he saw the cigarettes piled up on the coffee table. So as you can guess, Papa is a smoker.
My Father is… Well, he’s a man, and… A sane person. I’m sorry, but describing my father is like describing a rock. He doesn’t really have an obnoxious personality- but if he did, he doesn’t really show it. Don’t get me wrong though, Papa loves his family to death, and would stop at nothing to protect us. I’m just saying that he’s average, and isn’t exactly the most colorful black - haired man.
I helped my mother store all of the goods into the kitchen as Yvette sucked on a piece of chocolate - something I had not tried in a very long time. I wondered where the package had come from, and why anyone would ever give it to us.
As I left the kitchen, I noticed a piece of paper lying on the ground, next to the door. Although the procedure was awkward, I struggled to pick it up. I attempted to read the script, but it seemed to be written in code. To me, the note was just a random mix - match of scribbled numbers and letters, but to someone else, it could be valuable information. I shrugged to no one in particular, and stuffed it in my pocket.
That’s when the door fell down.
I jumped (but held my ground), and my sister scrambled in the opposite direction and screamed loud enough to wake the dead.
Two German soldiers were at the door. The first soldier had messy sandy hair, while the other, taller one had darker hair. Both were obviously in their uniforms.
“We’re doing an inspection of the house,” hollered the first one. “We need to make sure there are no spies in this neighborhood.”
The tall soldier said nothing, but grunted in agreement.
I immediately panicked. If they found the goods, they would surely suspect something!
And if they check my pockets...
For a third of a second, I wondered if my family had been set up. Maybe someone was expecting for all this to happen. But who would do such a thing to us? I couldn’t think of anyone who thought of us that badly.
“Of course,” replied my mother. It surprised me how calm her tone was. “Let me just go get my younger one.” With that, my mother left the room.
The first soldier demanded, “you all have two minutes to get out while we do a brief search.”
Normally, I would have immediately exited with Papa, fearful for the future, but today, I didn’t feel like it. Today, I felt strong.
I stayed in place, like a dumb thirteen - year - old girl trying to be a hero.
“Will you pay for the door?” I dared to ask. My heart threatened to pop out of my chest with it’s rapid beating.
My dad stared at me, shocked and disappointed. The two soldiers stared at me, shocked and disgusted. Due to the constant exposure of fear, I started to doubt everything I’ve done.
The soldiers said something to each other in German, then one of them kicked at the legs of my clutches and I fell. Surprisingly, the pain didn’t bite hard.
It was worth it, I reassured myself. It was worth it.
As I stood through Papa’s furious lecture outside, Maman and Yvette walked outside to join us. Yvette, poor Yvette, was in utter shock, whimpering and shuffling her weight uncomfortably.
I asked why Maman had taken so long, while ignoring the crunching sound the note in my pocket made.
“I told the soldiers that Yvette had put up quite a fight, but in reality, I was busy hiding the goods- I don’t want them suspecting anything. Illea, what’s in your pocket?”
I slid my hand into my dress pocket and fished out a wrinkled piece of paper. “I found it on the floor. I’m guessing it came with the package.”
Everyone studied it carefully- accept for Yvette, who’s only interest was going back home. I heard her whisper, “I thought that package’s magical happy effect would last forever…”
Papa gasped, “Of course,” as he took the note from my hand, and completely forgot that he was supposed to be angry at me. “This package that was mailed here, it was never supposed to be for us- probably for a German family, or a family of spies-”
A deathly scream rattled the air, already thick with dread. The soldiers that had once occupied our home now rushed to our neighbor’s house. Papa and Maman rushed us into our house, and told us to remain calm. Everything was happening all too fast for me to keep up.
Maman never let me see what was going on outside, but Papa did tell me.
“They found a spy,” he sighed. I could see sadness etched deep in his face. He looked as if he were guilty, and was regretting his crime. “It was Annette's brother. They killed him on the streets.”
My heart dropped, then jumped up to my throat. The mixture of feelings I was experiencing was too hard to describe. I felt very bad for Annette, who was not only my neighbor, but also my best friend, and angry at the soldiers. I felt relieved that the soldiers were gone, but worried if they might come back, and suspect one of us as spies. I could feel the tangled web of emotions die away as a new idea sprung to life.
After informing Maman, I grabbed a handful of chocolates, cigarettes, a cake, and a wrapped serving of beef, put them in a bag, and prepared myself to head over to Annette’s house.
Before I placed my hand on the door knob, Yvette stopped me with a single question:
“What did Papa say?”
I froze. “Um…”
I turned to my sister, who’s inner brat had suddenly vanished. When I stared at her, all I could see was a frightened little girl, who’d gotten her hopes up high with a package, and realized it wasn’t worth this drama. The very package that was about to help my friend.
I tried my best to spare her from the truth.
“Well,” I started, desperate to leave, to comfort my friend. “Papa said that all the screaming was because the German soldiers got scared by Annette’s older brother’s awesome fighting skills-”
“Liar,” My sister interrupted me.
I stopped when I realized my sister wasn’t buying it. I left then, rolling my eyes, thinking to myself, You think my lies are unbelievable…? You should listen to yourself.
I hurried to Annette’s house, and peeked through the gap that had once been filled by a door.
“Annette?” I called. I half expected my voice to echo throughout the abandoned looking house.
Annette approached the door as if she were a ghost, and looked as if she’d been hit by a bus. Her eyes were fluffy and red. Her cheeks had tear strokes painted on. When I realized her shoulders were shaking, I could tell she was still crying.
I tears immediately sprung to my eyes. She was my family friend, so I had known her brother since I was born. I felt very upset… However, Annette watched her brother die before her eyes. I wanted to do something useful for once in my life, and comfort her, like her brother would have. I wanted to be a friend, not some pitying, clueless, fake stranger.
But I didn’t want to be that oh-I’m- so-sorry-your- brother-died-but-you’ve-got-to- get-over-it person either.
I handed her the goods, and she peeked inside. For a hundredth of a second, instead of feeling thankful, she scowled at me. I knew that she didn’t want me to interrupt her mourning, and that she was thinking, “How could these ever replace my brother? Leave us alone! We don’t need your pity!”
I placed the bag in her hand, but she didn’t bother to grasp it. The bag fell with an uncomfortable thump. She doesn’t want these things, I thought. She doesn’t need them. Tears filled my eyes again, I hugged her tight, and whispered, “I’m sorry”.
She broke down then, and hugged me back, filling me with a warmth I hadn’t received in quite a while.
“Thank you,” she sobbed. “Thank you.”
Thanks for listening diary.
Julia Keiser is a 14 year old youth writer. She is from West Yorkshire, UK. Her favorite colour is blue, she loves to take long walks in the snow, and she has a heavy addiction for chocolate. You can find her on instagram @discoveringbabybluekites.