They said the air here was better for me. I suppose I can't complain. I've never seen skies so clear in my life. From the moment we arrived, I could tell how much better it was going to be from now on.

I guess if I was going to narrow down the true culprits for my immediate moving, I would have to blame the other students. They were the type that the school's anti-bullying brochure talked about; they were the ones who hurt for the fun of it. They did everything imaginable: name-calling, nasty remarks, and I'm pretty certain they threw a book at me once. This went on for what felt like forever. Why they singled me out from the entire school is beyond me. Perhaps it was because of my dorky glasses, or the way I behaved so differently than others. I think that the real reason they picked on me was because I didn't have a mark.

My parents thought I was a "late-bloomer". They told me that sooner or later, it would appear at my side, and the bullying would stop. I still feel like this wasn't the case, though. Even if I had gotten my mark back then, I'm sure that they would have found a new way to hurt me. Eventually, I began to develop anxiety over the course of a school year. My parents tried all they could to help me, including their latest idea, which was to get me here to live with my cousins. It was far from my old home, but perhaps it's for the best.

It's a part of town that's pressed into beautiful green hills and stunning purple mountains. I loved how clean the air smelled. Every morning I took a deep breath outside my window. Birds flew by occasionally, and once or twice, they'd perch on my open window as I got ready for school. I felt so clean being here. It was as if the bullies never really existed at all. Perhaps they were just a bad dream. For all I cared, I hoped they were. School was better here. The bullies were nowhere to be seen, much to my relief. I won't lie: I was just as shy on my first day in my new school as I was in my old one. Before I knew it, though, the fear disappeared without a trace. I never felt more welcomed in my life. It was a wonderful feeling; a feeling of safety.

Since I was always looking forward to the weekdays, I had to find ways to keep myself busy on the weekends. Because my cousins were out tending to an apple orchard, I would be alone for the most part. With nothing to do, I decided to venture around to see what was around. I must have circled this town nearly three times looking for something to keep me occupied. By the end of the day, I was nearly exhausted from walking. I perched myself on the top of a stone bridge, of all places. That's the thing with me: I like jumping up on top of stuff when no one's watching. I'm not sure why; I just like to do it. Anyways, I realized that I could see very little once I was on the wall of the bridge. I wasn't surprised: the darn things were up to my legs. But the thing about this spot was, as others walked across to get in and out of town, I could see their marks as clear as day. Before long, I caught myself watching them go by, and even more embarrassingly, bobbing my head up and down to the bounce of their marks as they strolled by. I decided I would spend my weekends here. All I wanted to do was sit back and see what kind of marks I can catch a glimpse of from there. Now, that might not mean a whole to you, but again, that's the thing with me.

For weeks on end, this became a ritual: first I'd pack a few apples into a brown paper bag, and then I would let my cousins know where I was going before making my way to the bridge. The rest of the day was spent sitting on that wall and waiting for others to walk by. The apples would hold me over until supper and by the time supper did roll around, the bridge was desolate. My favorite part of being there was greeting the ones crossing the bridge. As soon as I saw them approaching, I would sit up and adjust my position, as if I was in the presence of royalty. Then, a squeaky "HI! WELCOME TO TOWN!" would escape my lips, often in a loud manner so as to avoid being misunderstood. I always looked forward to the smile they gave me on the way over the bridge. It was something I took pride in doing with every visitor. However, the real highlight of the day was getting a look at their marks. As they passed me, I took a very quick peek at their sides, in an attempt to see it without drawing attention to my wandering eyes. Oftentimes I would get a view easily, but the thing that bothered me the most was when I couldn't see them because there would be too many crossing the bridge for me to see every mark on them, or if two of them were walking side-by-side or against a cart, which completely blocked off all of what I was trying to find.

But when I actually got to see them, I thought they were the most interesting things in the world. They're colorful and pretty, but I mostly like them because they're so unique. One mark isn't exactly the same as another, and that's why they're so special. With every new visitor that walked over the bridge came more new marks that I had never seen before. I've seen some swell ones from that bridge: I saw a vegetable farmer that had a pod of green peas, an athlete with a basketball one, and one that was a cluster of pink butterflies, which I remembered because the one that it belonged to got startled when I greeted her. Never has that actually happened to any other one before or after, so I was really puzzled that day. But whatever the marks were, I then came to the disappointing realization that I myself did not have one. It was a topic I had brought up more than once to my parents and my cousins, and both families had the same response: "You'll get your mark soon enough. Just you wait!" By the end of the day, their words of encouragement dissipated into a long, restful sleep, and in the morning, I remained mark-less. Regardless, I kept my post on the bridge, eagerly waiting for a microscopic spot in the distance to climb the hill and make its way towards me with a bright and dynamic mark proudly displayed at its side. It was a hobby that you couldn't talk me out of, even if you tried. It's simply something I loved too much.

A few months later, I was back at the same spot, perched on the stone bridge like a songbird. By this time, the holidays brought families together in town, which had nearly doubled the number of visitors. I was so excited by Saturday’s sudden rise in visits that I headed out to the bridge super early on Sunday. With fresh apples in my bag, I raced to the bridge. Hopping up onto the edge, I could see a dot on the horizon. The dot turned out to be a somewhat nervous-looking visitor, wearing a look of despondency on her face. She behaved like one would if they had eaten a box of rotten fruit: her pace was fixed, almost calculated, and she kept looking straight ahead, even as I began to assume my greeting position. Even as a cheerful, and now more confident, "HI!" broke the silence around us, she didn't blink or anything. Believing that she didn't hear me, I greeted her again. No response. It was as if she was deliberately ignoring me, despite the fact that she, as far as I could tell, was new here. She began to cross the bridge as I sat there, feeling distraught. I decided to take a glance at her mark as always, but I did it very indiscreetly because I figured she wasn't going to mind me staring. She had a design that I had never seen before. It was a small dot surrounded by three triangles, and each triangle's end was rounded slightly. I was intrigued by the mark, but I was also disappointed in seeing it, both because it was an all-black mark with absolutely no color to it, and because I had no idea what it was. Every mark is supposed to represent their owner, but I honestly couldn't make heads or tails of the thing. Soon enough, she had jerked and shimmied into town, and at that point I was mystified. However, the more I thought about it, the less of a conclusion I seemed to get. Eventually, I got back to my original train of thought just as more visitors arrived.

With nearly the entire day gone and the sun almost touching the mountains, I decided it was nearly time for me to leave. I placed the discarded cores of the apples in my bag and folded the top over, just like I did every evening. I spun around just in time to see the sky light up as clear as it had been this afternoon. At a glimpse, I thought the town being swallowed by a bright light. It was almost like I was looking directly at the sun, and I only noticed it before a thunderous growl erupted around me. The noise was unlike anything I've ever heard, and it was loud enough to make my ears pop. Before I had a chance to react, the light expanded and pushed past me, hitting me with enough force to knock me to the ground. As I tumbled to the ground, I could see pieces of wood and rocks fly past me. The rest is a blur.

It felt like I was lying on the ground for hours. The growl had settled to a roar loud enough to disguise itself as an approaching thunderstorm's bark. It hurt to open my eyes. Eventually, when I opened them just enough to see, I was greeted by a massive cloud hanging in the sky. As I watched it briefly, I could tell it was growing in size. Now on my side, I immediately began to feel pain all over my body. At first, I assumed it was because I had fallen over, but as I tried to get up, I leaned my head forward and saw myself covered in cuts, bruises, and burns. I was horrified at how much abuse I took, and knew right away that I had to get out of here. I desperately tried to pick myself up, but the burning was too strong. I felt defeated, and wanted to remain on the ground so that I wouldn't be able to trigger the stinging. I wanted to tell myself that my cousins would come and find me. At that moment, it dawned on me that they were directly in the town when the light emerged. Using all of my strength, I focused on the direction of the town, only to see a thick, black smoke dissolving over the area, and the only thing I could clearly make out was a scattered arrangement of stones at my side. I didn't take me long to figure out that the stones were the same ones that made up the bridge.

My heart began to race. I thought of my cousins in trouble somewhere. They must have felt the light twice as bad as I did. Now I knew I had to get to the orchard. I forced my legs to move, with each inch of movement bringing me only astonishing pain. Eventually, my legs slid into place and with one big push, I was up. My entire body ached still, but I didn't want to think about it. Pushing my weight forward, I ventured into the town. For the most part, I couldn't see a whole lot, as my eyes were now trying to adjust to the smoke. I could make out a lot of light and heat, from what I assumed to be fire. There was a horrible burning smell that lifted from all around me. I saw pieces of houses on the ground, as well as belongings and food. I debated on whether the crackling around me were caused by buildings falling down or the fire, but I could never get within range to hear it distinctly because of how loud the thunder-like rolling was. It all felt like a dream that I couldn't wake up from. I desperately searched for a clear view in the smoke.

Figuring that I was now lost, I made an attempt to call out my cousins' names. For every few seconds that I couldn't hear anyone calling back to me, I was yelling even louder than before. Before long, I stumbled across something on the ground that I thought was a body. As I approached, it was clear to me that it wasn't alive. Sprawled along the road was what appeared to be a skeleton, but with enough body left to hide all the bones. It, too, was covered in burns and scratches, but its body was so changed, it didn't even look like anything alive. I couldn't bear to look at its face. I now made finding my cousins my number one priority. I won't leave the town without them.

I really couldn't tell whether it was still night or not, nor was I aware of how much time passed. Again and again, I called out, switching back and forth between screeching my cousins' names and hollering for any others to help me. At one point, I collapsed under the shock of the pain pulsating throughout my body. Tears furiously escaped my swollen and throbbing eyes. I couldn't make sense of what I was feeling anymore. I wanted to scream, but nothing passed through my lips except my heavy panting. Everything hurt. I wanted to wake up from this nightmare. I wanted it to end.

That's when I saw a figure walk by me. It was almost ghost-like in the way it walked by me, in the fact that I couldn't hear it or see it walking towards me from a distance. I couldn't tell exactly who it was, but I remember the mark. I think it was a small dot surrounded by three triangles, with each triangle's end rounded slightly. I weakly leaned my head back to get one more glance of the figure as it disappeared into the smoke. That's when I passed out.

Written by MooseJuice 
Content is available under CC BY-SA