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Maeve Wilbourn, 16

Maeve Wilbourn, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a passionate student of creative writing and female rock bands from the 1970s. She says writing is very important to her as it allows her to put her thoughts on paper, which she doesn’t get much opportunity to do outside of her time spent at the Creative Youth Center, a creative writing center in Grand Rapids. Her writing allows her to explore any setting she desires and to become totally lost in a story and explore the depth of her characters. Her writing process sometimes surprises her; she usually has a plan for her story plots but finds that often a narrative takes its own shape.

Wilbourn draws much of her activist fervor from The Runaways, a 1970s all-female rock band in the male dominated scene that challenged the idea of what was culturally “unacceptable” for women to do. Their dedication gives Wilbourn the determination to do whatever she puts her mind to, including educating herself and advocating solutions for the income divide in the United States. Wilbourn notices the inequality affecting peers at her own school: classmates relying on school meals to eat and their families suffering from not having their basic needs met. She believes it is unfair and unacceptable that her generation exists in a system where one individual may earn ten times in an hour what a single mother with two jobs earns in one week. Wilbourn proposes solutions like raising the minimum wage and making quality education available to everyone.

After graduating high school, Wilbourn plans on attending college to explore the liberal arts, and to study abroad to gain a better understanding of other cultures. Her writing will be featured in a forthcoming anthology of student writing, Dear Monster, Dear World: The Book of Explosions VII.

 

Stillwater

by Maeve Wilbourn

 

Aleph sat up, rubbing his eyes. The room was lit up in a dark green, flowing in from the windows, leaving everything with an evil tint. The sun had never been quite the same since the incident, and now it glowed whatever color it wanted, whenever it wanted, but at least it still rose and set at the proper times. He stood and walked to the window, drawing the blinds.

The cat could be seen before he was heard, padding on soft paws to greet him. He ruffled his fur. “Hi Stillwater,” he murmured, and the cat purred good morning. Stillwater leapt up onto the windowsill, purring. The early morning light was warm, whatever the color, and Stillwater relished it. There wouldn’t be much longer until the end of summer, and the approaching days would shrink, leaving both of them cold.

It wouldn’t be as much of an issue if it weren’t for Stillwater. Aleph let the little creature enjoy himself for a moment, and then picked him up gently and carried him into the bathroom, where he washed his face. His dark hair settled unnaturally when he ran his fingers through it; he hadn’t had a shower in who knows how long, and the grease felt like hairspray at this point. He set Stillwater into his backpack, on top of his supplies, and tied the string loosely. He laced up his shoes and set out for the day, prepared to cover some ground.

He let himself out of the building that had been his shelter for that one night and stood facing the mountains, shielding his eyes with his hand. They weren’t that far away, relatively; they were hundreds of miles away, purple points on an otherwise dim landscape, but he’d traveled thousands of miles to get to where he was now. A lot of ground had been covered on a bike he’d bagged, but that had been stolen from him in the last week as what must have been an act of some higher power’s karma. Aleph didn’t believe in any god, he never had, but if there really was someone out there, they clearly never put their faith in him either.

The mountains came closer with every painful, plodding footstep. That was good. Some days it felt like he got nowhere at all, maybe the length of two or three city blocks, and other times it felt tenfold. Some days felt more anxious than others as well; anyone might be able to see Stillwater in his backpack at any point and call him out. Aleph was harboring a small, furry fugitive, carrying him to somewhere even he didn’t know. There was a certain pull to the mountains, like he’d swallowed a magnet and the range had one too, pulling and pulling him closer. He’d felt the pull even before he knew it was yanking him towards the mountains themselves; there was always a tugging in his gut, and sometimes he even dreamed about them. Something had to be there, something for Stillwater, but it was in no way clear what it could be. He just knew he had to get there somehow.

The robots lined the streets. Aleph picked up his pace, feeling like those bionic eyes were watching him everywhere he went. They were, he knew they were, he knew they could see Stillwater through his bag with their top-tier x-ray eyes, and they would instantly know he wasn’t bionic like them. Aleph would be arrested or fined or maybe even sentenced to jail time, but he did know that they would kill Stillwater on the spot. The robots hadn’t turned on yet, but it felt like their dead eyes were staring back at him. You were supposed to treat them like people too, but he never saw how you could upload feelings to a bunch of wires without a single shred of flesh. His heart jumped, and the pull of the mountains caught it in midair.

He looked around for a bike, feeling Stillwater shift in the backpack. If he could take one of those pastel rental bikes and smash the tracker before any people were out, he could make a grand escape out of the town he’d been walking through for days. The bikes were everywhere, part of a nationwide standard, just like the robots. Aleph began to run, scanning the streets for the bike racks. They had to be somewhere, and the robots could wake up at any time. He had no idea what time the robots would wake up, but it had to be soon. The green of the sunrise was giving way to a shade of blue, a color he’d been told was the sky’s original color, which meant people would be out and about in a couple hours.

The backpack bounced against his back as he ran, and he felt a little guilty for tossing Stillwater around, but this had to be for his benefit at the end. Something had to come out of this, or else he would never have felt the way he did. Aleph turned a corner sharply, having seen the bikes out of the corner of his eye on the street perpendicular to the one he’d been running. He set the backpack down and rummaged carefully for his wire cutters and his hammer, trying not to disturb the cat more than he already had. The lock that kept the bike on the rack split easily and the tracker smashed off in a couple of hits. He hit it a few more times, breaking it down, and threw the pieces in separate directions. Nobody would hear it; people had slight wiring for their natural circadian rhythms, and weren’t supposed to get up or go to bed until a certain time. It just couldn’t happen, but Aleph managed to break down their control over him over a period of time while traveling.

He set the tools back into his backpack. If there was anything at all he’d ever been good at, it was using his hands, but right now he just needed to go. He was getting an uneasy feeling, increasing at the same rate that the sky was turning colors, and hopped on the bike. He rode for hours on end, getting away from the main streets fairly quickly, seeing fewer and fewer robots as he went, but still pushing himself to pedal faster.

The days and nights themselves blurred; Aleph saw various colors but remembered few, stopping only to rest and to eat, and occasionally to let both him and Stillwater stretch their legs. It might have been the third or fourth day when, coming closer and closer to the mountains, he heard a buzzing noise. Stillwater audibly yelped as Aleph jumped off the bike suddenly, throwing himself into the bushes, using his momentum to keep trampling through the plants.

“It’s okay baby, it’s okay, I’ll do this.” He shouted, the words slurring. He didn’t know how long it had been since he had slept last, but the call from the mountains had become absolutely unbearable, a wild instinct to blindly follow since his body had switched over into autopilot some time ago. The buzzing became louder, undeniably robots. Aleph swore under his breath, nearly tripping over a tangle of roots. Those buckets of rust could never catch up to him, they could never take him, they could never force him to hand over his cat.

“Baby, baby.” He ran faster than he ever ought to have been able to, unrequited tears flowing down his face and disappearing into the underbrush. He swung the backpack over his shoulder as he dodged trees and grabbed the cat, cradling him as kindly as possible as he ran. The bag itself was gone; he had a feeling he wouldn’t be needing it anymore. His physical body stopped mattering and feeling, he was pure emotion now, laughing as he cried.

“Oh, baby.” Aleph pressed his face against Stillwater’s fur, and he purred. He kneeled on the forest floor, the pull of the mountains so all-consuming it felt like his heart would burst and the buzzing felt ready to destroy his eardrums. All his senses dimmed as his vision faded to black, smiling like a madman as both he and his beloved cat passed on to somewhere better.