Chapter 1

I raise the viewfinder to my eyes. The dark coarse body of the camera, streaked with scratches from before it became mine, fits soundly within my fingers. I squint my eyes as they adjust to the impossibly small lens. The street blurs before reappearing in stark clarity before me. Unlike most days, I am not looking at a bleak beige sidewalk, barren asphalt roads that bear no tire tracks. My camera is angled towards a figure standing across the street, shrouded behind tall hedges.

One hand steadies the camera as the other zooms in, my eyes narrowing as his magnified image materialises in view. The outdated device fuzzes his features from a distance, but captures the full glory of the sky behind him, paling into a fission of marigold and coral, illuminating his face with a warm glow. My feet shift as I adjust my focal point, bringing myself closer to the ground, pointing my lens upwards. The shutter clicks—he freezes in frame, his eyes raised to the sky, coated with a golden sheen. His dark bangs curl into his face, leaving me with a hint of his eyes, the slightest exhalation parting his lips in wonder. 

It is only when I lower the camera that I realise he is no longer looking up.

The camera nearly falls from my fingers as I feel his stare burning my skin. It jerks off the ground as I catch it by the strap, swearing silently in my head when I hear someone speak.

“Are you… stuck outside your house?”

It takes too long to realise that the Voice had not spoken. My first instinct is to step back. The boy’s face is composed yet pointed, his eyes widened by just a fraction. The expectancy in his expression is almost laughable, until I realise my error.

He doesn’t know, Cara. 

The Voice’s sudden awakening startles me. Subconsciously, my hand reaches for my hoarse throat, nodding my head while glancing towards the window. There is no shadow moving around behind drawn curtains to open the door and let me in. I can only wait for Caleb to return home and scuttle in after him.

“I’m Quinn,” he says, the cordiality in his voice wavering slightly when I do not respond.

“Why don’t you… get your parents to let you in?”

Ice trickles under my skin, my fingers gripping tighter around the rubber casing of the camera. I bathe in the shame of silence as the Voice cackles in my head, like the roaring of the thunder foreshadowing a coming storm. 

People, it says. They always find a way to hurt you.

The Voice arrived on the day we buried my mother. An undisturbed emptiness draped our walls as Caleb and I reentered the house for the first time since we were declared parentless. The remnants of Mother’s remaining pills lined the kitchen table, like an army glowing oblong and bronze, returning from a losing battle. In all the years awaiting death’s looming scythe, no one had prescribed her anything to save her from what finally killed her—grief. I had never met my father. All I knew was that he never wanted a second child.

Caleb leaned against the door as slowly, petite body swimming in our father’s suit, he slid to the floor, head sunken in with the rest of his body. His eyes were rimmed with red, the surface of his cheeks glazed with tears, every inch of childhood shrouded away, looking seventy over seventeen. The cherubic youth of his skin had wasted away with the eternal damnation of orphanhood. 

Caleb, I mouthed, my fingers barely grazing his shoulder before he snapped himself away, eyes going wide in shock but unable to look my way as we both drowned numbly in the quiet between us. He had spent the majority of the funeral avoiding my presence, leaving me to run home after him. I followed his gaze to the wall across from us, barren except for towering photographs framed in sleek ebony. One of them had my mother cradling Caleb in her arms, her eyes mere lines shadowed by the brilliance of her smile, the slightest sign of my existence starting to protrude from beneath her flowery blouse. Caleb hugged onto the palm of Mother’s hands, Father’s arm curled around her shoulders as she leaned into him. He looked different from the image my mind had conjured of him—a pale, hunched ghost of a man walking out on our family the day I was born.

The anguish in Caleb’s eyes intensified as he stared at a smaller portrait below it, tracing the faint outline of his arms around my neck as my pudgy hands held his. I remembered the way Mother tried to sit us both down, the distant echo of our squeals, the small dark camera waving in the air, neither of us looking her way as the shutter clicked. 

In a second, the image was wrenched out of my head as the photo came crashing to the ground, shards of glass bursting in every direction. Before I could stop him, the second photograph frame splintered against the floor. I stared into the faces of our younger selves, canvases torn by Caleb’s trembling fingers, erupting into slivers of airborne glass pricking at my skin. 

Caleb, my mouth opened instinctively to scream, but his name emerged from my mouth as nothing but a hoarse throng of sounds clawing their way up my throat. He stood amongst the field of broken glass, the edges of his toes starting to blossom with crimson stains. His chest was heaving, rivulets gathering under his eyes as the first wretched sob escaped his lips. I reached for him, begging for finally someone, anyone to respond, but his face contorted with a suffering I could not save him from, that I seemed to be the cause of.

 “First he leaves… and I know I’m not supposed to blame you… but now Mom… and… and you’re…” he whispers, his voice crackling with the pleas of a child burdened with adulthood.

“You’re all that’s left and you won’t even speak to me.”

I felt the venom on the tip of his tongue before he could swallow it, pausing for a moment, leaving us to sit in the irrevocable reality of how I would never be able to forget what he had just said. A final tear fell to the carpet before he brushed past me, shoulder slamming against my chin, leaving glass shards and prints of blood in his wake. 

I will protect you. 

In the silence it came, an opening constructed of unbridled agony. It slithered against the walls of my head like a sonorous whisper, colder than the east wind, soothing the pain cascading through my cheek, through whatever was left of me. It was not the weakness talking to myself sounded like. It was uncontrollable, impossible to unhear.

He will never protect you, but I will.

The Voice was the first person who had ever listened. The house nestled into a solemn embrace as I leaned myself away from the wreckage, swallowing my empty tears, and listened. 

“I’m Quinn,” the boy says again. 

He has moved from across the street to stand along the sidewalk, the only thing separating us a dire patch of grass, pathetically sprouting with shrinking daisies Mother used to water. By now the Voice has amplified itself almost ten fold, a tiny spark morphing into a raging wildfire spreading through my head, snaking through every broken inch of my sanity. But still, I ignore it. 

Don’t respond. Don’t respond. Don’t—

I mouth my name, shrivelling as the Voice emanates a high-pitched shriek. Quinn’s forehead creases with confusion. Finding someone to talk to in this part of town is never easy, but I have to come to learn that people would rather stay alone, than begin to try talking to me.

“Did you say something?”

I shake my head.

You know you can’t talk to him.

“Can you tell me your name?”  

If the Voice could draw blood, it would have been streaming from my ears by now. Muffling the cries in my head I sling my camera around my neck, using my hands to form letters.


I nod.

You know what he will ask.

Why are you still talking to him?

You like the silence. 

I do?

We do.

I condemn myself for making this conversation longer than it ever should have been, for not listening to the Voice as he opens his mouth to ask the four words to which I will never derive an answer. 

Why won’t you speak? “So you’re a photographer?”

I blink. He blinks back at me. My hair falls into my face as I nod once more, masking my mistake with a flushed scarlet that I try to suppress as it warms my face. When I look up, his eyes are lilting with what I would only dare to wish was interest. 

“What kind of—” I almost miss the flicker of disappointment that lingers for a second too long in his eyes when they shift behind me, before his voice falls, “I think…your brother’s here.”

Like a sudden strike of lightning it awakes with a vehement snarl in the single moment I turn to Caleb, thunders of ash smothering my mind as I move towards him, raking its claws across my skin. Caleb stands next to us on the street, his briefcase in hand, tie dangling from his neck. He stands silently, waiting, watching, eyes darting between me and Quinn, before he moves to finally unlock the door. The door swings at its hinges as he kicks it open. By the time I look back, Quinn has already made his way across the street, the distance between us causing him to fade once again into a tall, distant figure. He raises his hand high above his head, waving at me.

“I hope we’ll talk again soon,” his voice echoes down the street, the wisp of a smile rounding his face. He does not turn again. 

You used to listen. 

I told you to be silent. 

“You know him?” Caleb asks when I reach the door, his dismissive stare permeating my skull as the Voice growls.

People always find ways to hurt you. 

He cranes his head out of the door, narrowing his eyes in Quinn’s direction, ignoring my response. “I’m surprised he tried talking to you,” he says, slamming the door behind him.  

You know that the best.

As I listen to him retreating upstairs, the photograph I took of Quinn returns to mind. I fumble for my camera, not realizing the suppressed anticipation within me until I feel the Voice scowling at me. 

His eyes are green, I tell the Voice.

I don’t care that his eyes are green. 

You never trust anyone. 

You’re giving him a chance to hurt you. 

My hand releases the door as I find myself glancing in his direction. His last words ring in my head as my hand releases the door, wishing someone else except the Voice could hear me say me too.

I warned you. 

The door slams, bleeding off into the silence.

When I awaken, the newspaper is spread out across the table, the edges of dark crumpled paper floating limply in the little wind that seeps through the cracks in the window. It is secured with a cup of coffee that has long gone cold, corners of the sheet puddled with Caleb’s blotchy coffee stains.

As I scan the paper, I realise that for the first time since Mother’s death, an obituary section has been printed. I nearly add to the caffeinated mess Caleb has made already before, the hazelnut liquid sloshing at the rim of my cup before I plant it on the table. The breaths within my chest inexplicably coil around my ribs, out of reach. 

Why are you scared? 

I don’t know.

Flip the page.

I don’t like death.

Flip the page. 

The newspaper crinkles under my fingers as I stare into the face of a boy whose single death has claimed the entire page of the obituary. As I stare into his soulless, vacant eyes, my mind starts to bloom a streak of olive green into their plain grey shade, as the face starts to take shape in my mind.

I remember him, the Voice’s words dance, sickeningly jovial.

I assume you won’t be seeing him soon.

I ball the newspaper up in my hands, carrying it with me as I take the steps two at a time, my veins pulsating with panic when I reach my room. I snatch my camera from where it hangs on the wall, and pull up the last image I captured yesterday evening. 

With trembling fingers I lower the crumpled obituary, smoothing out the boy’s face, contorted by wild creases. I place the camera down, drawing both images closer together. The back of my eyes throb numbly as through a haze, I watch the photos swirl before they meld into one, until I see nothing but a single face. 

I stare at Quinn, captured in still image yet bristling with life, the darkness of his eyelids deepening into his honey-toned skin basking in the afterglow. 

I stare at Quinn, nothing but lifeless shades of black and white, his pupils dilated by an inch as he stares straight into the lens of whoever took this photograph, and I wished he had done the same for me.

My knees fold beneath me as I tell myself that it is not possible. The weight of my hands fall into my lap, unable to cling on any further to the last ounces of hope that he would ever give me.

People, the Voice whispers.

They always find a way to hurt you. 

Leandre Huang (Class of 2024) lives in an abyss of unfinished prose and poetry that she promises she will finish one day. She reads too much fiction and continues to believe in the beauty of writing with pen and paper.