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So, is everyone here trying that Death Machine book? Here's my entry- inspired by the "approaches to avoid" page.

She broke my heart in neat little block letters.

I first saw her Sophomore year after Chemistry II. I was in a hurry, examining my syllabus, attempting to keep my cheap backpack from sliding off my shoulder. She was rushing in the opposite direction.

We collided. Two objects may not occupy the same space at the same time.

I apologized.

She cursed me out. At some point in her profanities, I noticed her eyes were two different colors. One was green, and the other a dark hazel. I thought that they might be contact lenses, but I couldn’t see the telltale circles around the cornea. She asked me what the hell I was staring at.

“Your eyes,” I said.

She smiled. “People usually don’t notice them,” she said.

I could understand why. The shock of red and blue hair, the flowing black coat, the pale makeup- there was a lot to take in before you were even able to look at her eyes. She said her name was Eleanor.

She was on her way to AP Lit, and I was on my way to Trig. I didn’t see her again until after school. I was waiting for Kevin, Chin, and the rest of my car pool group to get their collective asses together. She was standing across the street at the bus stop, holding an open book in one hand.

She was amazingly intent in her reading. I had seen that look on people’s faces before. I’m sure that others had seen it on my face when I was working a particularly difficult equation or theory.

It was the look of love.

And in that moment, I discovered something that I had never dreamt existed inside of myself.

I had never imagined a life outside of my course of study until that moment. Astronomy, Physics, Science: these were my constant friends, my goals, and my dreams.

I went home and didn’t begin my homework immediately. I laid down on my bed and looked up at the constellations on my ceiling.

All my life, I had envisioned myself as a stellar explorer, investigating new realms beyond our solar system. In all that time, why had I never considered what might be discovered here, on my own planet?

The next day, I went to the registrar and dropped my Physics III class. I signed up for Shakespeare. This prompted an immediate reaction from my guidance counselor, who tried to talk me out of it.

“Astrophysics is a very competitive field,” he said. “You’re in such an accelerated program. I don’t think you want the distraction. As it is, you’re...”

And so on. I finally got him off my back by unveiling a weighty summer school schedule to offset the fluff of Elizabethan theater. Listening to him, you would have thought that I was about to jeopardize not just my academic future, but that of mankind as well.

One of the benefits of my private school was that it allowed one to focus on one’s chosen field. The problem with this, in hindsight, was that it isolated us. I could have gone my entire life without meeting anyone in the Literature or Language fields. Only an apparently random event showed me otherwise.

I say apparently, because there are no random events. I believe this because of science, because of experience, but mostly because of Eleanor.

I walked into the classroom and handed Mrs. Smith my transfer slip. She looked it over, then studied me carefully. “I am so glad you decided to join us,” she said. There was a strange emphasis in her voice that I didn’t recognize. Later, Eleanor would tell me that it was called “sincerity.”

I looked around for a place to sit. They had already divided themselves into small groups. A gloved hand touched my shoulder, and I turned to look at those hazel and green eyes.

“We’re looking for a Mercutio. Want to join us?”

I sat with the group and listened as they read. Words flowed off their tongues and they bantered with wit and ease. I stumbled badly when it came my turn.

James and Alan looked at each other, then laughed. Eleanor punched them in the arms.

“Knock it off!” she scolded.

“OK, OK. Look, Tom... you’re not in your element are you?” asked Alan.

I shook my head. “I’m from the science track. I wanted to try something different.”

James nodded. “Fair enough. Look, check out the first couple of lines. When you’re reading, try to stress alternate syllables...”

So they explained the basics of iambic pentameter to me. It began to make sense. There was a pattern. Eleanor ruffled my hair, nearly knocking my glasses off.

“We’ll make an actor of you yet, Major Tom,” she smiled.

She had to explain that to me, too. Over the next weeks, she brought me a world of new music. She started with David Bowie and Pink Floyd. “It’s space stuff, you’ll like it.” Every day held a new sonic discovery. I would find the hand decorated discs stuck in my locker always with a note telling me which song would change my life.

Later, at home, I would listen to each song carefully. I tried to divine meaning, linking songs together in constellations of sound. I had no music to give her, so I would draw pictures. The Crab Nebula, the surface of Venus, Haley's comet, the Apollo modules. As detailed as I could research or, even better, imagine.

Our notes grew longer and longer. We wrote volumes explaining our lives. Her absent father, my overbearing mother. Her distrust of religion, my cautious agnosticism. We covered everything. One Friday, she took my hand and I walked her to the bus stop. Just before she stepped on, she kissed me. I stood dazed in the draft of the bus as it left.

And then, nothing. I called her on the weekend, but she didn’t picked up. Monday came and she wasn’t there. Tuesday was the same.

What had I done? I was sick to my stomach and couldn’t eat. Had I written something to offend her? Was she embarrassed and having second thoughts? Time slowed and space altered. The distances between classes and lockers seemed like marathons.

Nothing at home helped. I wasn’t interested in my parents’ workdays or my sister’s cheer leading. The Tuesday family dinner nearly did me in.

I went to my room and lay on my bed, listening to Morrisey sing about being run over by a bus.

“God, you’re depressing!” Eleanor laughed from the window. “You’re such a fucking stereotype.”

I ran to the window. We kissed. Everything was right with the world. Lou Reed sang about meeting himself in a dream.

“Where were you?” I finally asked. “What happened?”

Eleanor got a strangely serious look on her face and moved away from the window. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s walk.”

It had rained earlier, and there were puddles everywhere. My sneakers had soaked through by the time she finally spoke.

“I have something to show you, but I’m scared to. I don’t know how you’ll take it and I don’t want to lose you as a friend.”

She reached toward her chest and lifted a small, rectangular glass trinket. She always wore a chain, but I had never seen what was on it. Inside the blown glass was a scrap of paper. I knew exactly what it was, even as my mind tried to wrap around the meaning of the word printed on it: SUICIDE.

“Where did you get this?” I gasped.

“My asshole father left it for me when he took off.”

I shook my head. Suddenly, I was crying. I had lost my best friend already. The Death Test was always right. We used to say that it was the test that no one ever passed.

“Tom, I’m all right with this.”

“How can you be all right with that?”

“I’ll be in good company. Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain...”

I pulled away from her.

“This isn’t funny! I fucking care about you. How am I supposed to...?” I fell flat on the grass. Soaking wet, I never noticed. It finally hit me.

“Is it me? Are you going to kill yourself because of me?”

She laughed and jumped on top of me. “Don’t flatter yourself.” She kissed me. “Just don’t ever give me cause to, OK?”

“I won’t. I promise.”

I meant that promise. I was sincere. Again, we kissed. As if every kiss would keep death away.

I did my best to make her happy over the next year. We were inseparable. My grades dived, much to the consternation of pretty much everyone. Her grades went up, which we were always quick to point out.

We fought, too. I was too rational and she was too impulsive and we clashed over stupid things. We always made up quickly, over a joke or a kiss.

Our biggest conflict was over my death.

“Aren’t you the least bit curious?” she would ask.

“No. I don’t want to know. I mean, it wouldn’t change anything if I knew.”

“But you know that your parents gave you the test?”

“Everyone’s parents give them the test. My death is in a cabinet in my dad’s study with my birth certificate.”

She would press me on it. I would refuse. She thought that it would empower me, the same as it had her.

“I still don’t understand how knowing you’re going to die of suicide is empowering,” I would say.

“It means I’m in control. I get to decide the most important decision of my life.”

Since we knew that we would never agree on my knowing, we finally agreed to drop the subject. I thought.

Kevin was flunking out of school and had started to get flaky with his carpool duties. One day, he had just left the rest of us in the parking lot. I smelled beer on him, so it was just as well. In any case, by the time I arranged a ride home that day, it was dark.

The door was unlocked when I got home, even though my parents weren’t there. My sister had some competition out of town and they left for the weekend.


Silence. I stepped in and looked down the hall. The light in my dad’s study was on. I walked down the hall and opened the door.

“Dad? Did you decide to stay?” He wasn’t there. One of the drawers was open though. The one that held my birth certificate.

Eleanor was in my bedroom, wrapped around one of my pillows. She had been crying, and her makeup smeared a nebula on my sheets.

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I know I shouldn’t have done it. I’m so sorry.”

She threw herself over me. She kissed me with what I can only describe as desperation. Through her tears, she promised that she would never leave me.

She put her hand inside my shirt to feel my heart. Then she lifted my shirt and began to kiss my chest. “Are we going to be alone?” she asked. I nodded.

“I want you inside of me,” she whispered.

Afterwards, we held each other under the glow of luminous stars that I had placed when I was eight. “What’s that one?” she would ask and point.

“That’s Scorpio. See the tail?” I took her hand and traced in the air.

“Oh yeah. I see it now.” She rolled over on top of me and looked at me with her mismatched eyes. In the dark, they shone with different brilliances.

“I lov...” I started.

She covered my mouth with her hand. She shook her head, still smiling.

“You’re such a dork,” she giggled.

I remember every moment of that weekend. We went out for Chinese when we were hungry, but spent most of the time huddled together. We read, we slept, we loved.

By Sunday night, my family was back. My sister had placed first in her division, so we all went out to celebrate. Eleanor came with us, and it was so strange, but somehow right to have all of my family together. When Eleanor went home that night, my bedroom seemed so much smaller than before.

I brought coffee to her in the morning before class. She handed me a note to read, and we went on our way. I would meet her at first break with a reply. The world would be just that way forever and ever.

I first knew something was wrong when I heard the screaming. We looked up from our texts to see a freshman running past our window. Then, more students. The fire alarm began to sound. Mr. Howard tried to calm us down in order to evacuate quietly, but there was a weird power running through the air. Eleanor would have described it as a “panic.”

We ran out of the classroom down the hall toward the lockers. I heard a series of quick pops and more screams. Breaking glass. More people running. The alarm sounding.

The rush of people pulled me back toward the lockers. Kurt, one of the basketball players, threw me to the side as he rounded a corner. His shirt was covered in blood.

Kevin walked around the corner.

With his gun.

Everything stopped making sense. I looked at him.

I can’t even say to this day if he recognized me or not.

I can’t imagine what thoughts he had.

As I saw the grenade in his hand,

I knew





I remember seeing the emergency crew next. They stepped out of light, it seemed. Everything had become comfortably numb. That was a song... I had heard it with Eleanor.

My next memory is a day later. The pain of breathing. Hospital sheets. My family.

I had broken my promise. She had died because of me. She had thrown me behind a locker and taken the majority of the explosion herself.

She had saved me, and I had no memory of it. She was gone, and I was not.

She would have thought her funeral was ridiculous. Everyone in black, like she used to be. Most of the attendees had totally given her shit when she was alive. Called her names or ignored her. She would have been mortified to see them there. Now she was mortified. Memento mori. We’re all going to die.

She had been obsessed with death when I first met her. She had planned her suicides many times, according to the note she had handed me that morning. The note that I didn’t have time to read when she was alive.

“Tom, when I met you, you were so busy thinking about the future that you didn’t notice your present. I think I may have been the same way, too. In any case, I just wanted to say that I’m changing, Tom. I don’t know what’s going to happen on this road, but I’m glad to have met you.”

God, I wish she were here now to see this. The sight of the sun as it rises over the earth is a fantastic sight. I highly recommend it. Yeah, I’ve got a job to do and a satellite to repair, but sometimes you just have to stop for a while and notice what’s around you.

As the sky brightens and my visor darkens to compensate, I just can’t help but smile. I never get tired of this.

Against my heart, I can feel the locket that holds her death and mine. I remember the night of her funeral.

I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t live anymore.

So I went to my father’s study and looked in the file.


I laughed. Disintegration? What the hell kind of a death was that? It sounded like something out of a comic book.

Of course, I never saw this future back then. I got really good at noticing my present. Yet here I am, in orbit again.

Maybe I crash. Maybe I ignite upon takeoff. Maybe it’s aliens. Maybe it’s a freak accident. Maybe it’s intentional. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

She’d laugh at me.

I know it.

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I really liked this. I thought I knew exactly where it was heading, but Eleanor's actual suicide caught me completely by surprise. Nicely done.

Just make sure you get this submitted to the contest before the deadline! =)

Nicely done

Simple explosive sentences that keeps one hooked in the meat of the story.

Loved it, thanks for writing the story.