by Bailey Langbo
Art was everything to me. The curve of a line, the feel of a pencil in hand—amazing. The scent of a freshly painted easel was my favorite thing about the subject. Filled sketchbooks littered my room, ideas I had finished and discarded long ago. The best ones were taped onto the wall, a showcase. It was my passion before all the things that happened. After they had, all I could draw was the person I saw when looking in the mirror, all hooded eyes and bruised temples and hollowed cheeks. Wild hair. All I could paint was the view of the sky from the path of the labyrinth, the tease of freedom I just couldn’t quite seem to reach.
And when I closed my eyes, all I saw was him. Cowering, struggling to blend into the walls of the maze. Unfamiliar eyes. Scratches, gashes, copious amounts of dirt rubbed into his porcelain skin. The brutality of it all.
Art had been everything to me. But the following events occurred, and I could no longer stand it.
The first time I ever met Archie Mitchell was in the fourth grade. He had just moved to town, in the bright blue house down the street from my own, and I was sitting under the biggest maple tree on my lawn when he rode down the street on his bicycle, shaggy red hair blowing back from his face. The first time he came by, that morning, he didn’t stop. But it was the second time, later that afternoon, when I was still outside, that he became curious.
He slowed down as he was passing the maple tree, hesitant. Not sure what I would do. Ten-year-olds could be pretty erratic. But he stopped anyway, lingering at the edge of my lawn. “Hi,” he called. “I’m Archie. I’m new around here.”
I knew that. “Oh, I didn’t know that,” I replied carefully. “I’m Savannah. I’ve lived here all my life.” Also not true. “Nice to meet you.”
I don’t know why I lied. I supposed I was scared to tell him what he didn’t know and have him find it out from someone else. Someone who wasn’t there, who didn’t know everything. There were things that didn’t need to be known, and this was one of them.
But Archie took that as an invitation. He gently leaned his bike against the sidewalk and took a seat next to me on the grass, peering at what I had been working on all day. “What’s that?”
I looked down at my paper, studying the rough patch of landscape I had been working on. “It’s my yard,” I said, holding the paper out to him. “See, this is the sidewalk—” I pointed at the place he had just put his bike down, “—and this is the maple tree we’re under.”
He cocked his head, a wide smile growing over his face. “I see it. Cool. So you’re, like, an artist.”
It was the first time I had ever been called that. “I guess so, yeah,” I said. “I’m going to be the best one day.”
His face lit up. “I’m going to be the best football player one day,” he said. “We can be the best together.”
And just like that, we became the best of friends.
I moved when I was six years old. My mother and father had gotten into some trouble that fall. It was hard to explain back then, but I know the right words for the perfect tragedy now.
I figured if I didn’t tell Archie, he would never know what happened. It was far enough away that no one in our town had heard about it, save for my foster parents, who were sworn to secrecy anyway. It was perfect.
When it happened, it was dark. I had just gone to bed when I woke up with a jolt of panic.
Someone was screaming downstairs, and someone else was running up the stairs towards my room. Terrified, I had snuggled down into the mattress, willing it to make me disappear and to lull every- one back to sleep.
It partially granted my wish.
The screaming was cut off almost immediately. The house was eerily quiet, save for the rabid stomping going on outside my door.
I could hear my father. “Savannah! Savannah, open the door!” He sounded panicked. Not himself.
I wrenched the doorknob to the side, allowing him to slide into my room and shut the door behind him, panting. I could only see the whites of his eyes in the dark, so when something cold pressed against my stomach and he began to laugh, I was startled. What a fool. I looked up at him, my own father, holding the gun he had always loved more than me. It was the gun he liked to talk about when he was drunk, the gun he had owned since he was sixteen years old. He looked back down at me, the whites of his eyes bloodshot, the light of the moon reflecting off his teeth as he continued to cackle at me, slowly pushing me against the opposite wall of my room.
“Daddy?” I whispered, trembling. “Who was downstairs?”
I already knew. I had the feeling I would end up just like her, shot and bleeding and dead. Dead.
“It was your mama,” he said, breathing heavily. “She’s gone, Savannah. And you will be, too.”
He pulled the trigger. Sometimes, I wish it had killed me.
I was sixteen when he finally caught up to me. To us. He took us, plucked us from the street like nothing had even happened. He thrust us into the labyrinth, the place of horrors he had been planning since the failed murder attempt. The rabid dogs within its walls. The open sky above, raining hell upon us. And when the nights came—the cold, bitter feeling of neglect shooting up and down our spines.
He took away my everything. Our everything.
I used to think that I knew what fear was. I used to think that it was the cold barrel of a gun pressed up to your stomach, a bullet barely missing your spine. Panicked calls to your local police station, hazy ambulance rides, hours of surgery. The foster care system.
But until I entered the labyrinth, torn apart from my Archie, starved and dehydrated to the point where standing was a chore, I had no idea.
Inside those walls, I learned that the Devil is very real. He isn’t a red man with horns, he doesn’t have a tail, and he doesn’t carry a pitchfork around.
He is fear manifested. He is the feeling you get when you run up the basement stairs, the paranoia you feel that someone is chasing you, and you will not reach the door. He is the collection of hopes and dreams you are forced to give up when you have no way out. He is the shiver you feel racing up your spine when the wind blows just a bit too hard and just a bit too cold.
Archie Mitchell and I, we never became the best at anything. We were ruined inside those walls. We were never given a chance.
We died inside those walls. But maybe, in its own terrible way, that’s art in itself.
Bailey Langbo, 12th Grade St. Francis High School