Page 1

 A.G. Howard

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My art teacher says that a real artist bleeds for her craft, but he never told us that blood can become your medium, can take on a life of its own and shape your art in vile and gruesome ways.
I shove my hair over my shoulder, puncture my forefinger with the sterilized safety pin I had tucked in my pocket, then position the final glass gem on my mosaic and wait.
As I press the translucent bead into the wet white plaster, I shudder at the seeping sensation. It’s like a leech at the tip of my finger where I touch the glass, sucking and siphoning my blood to the underside of the gem, forming a pool of deep, velvet red. But it doesn’t stop there.
The blood dances … moves from gem to gem, coloring the back of each with a line of crimson—forming a picture. Breath locks in my lungs and I wait for the lines to connect … wondering what the end result will be this time. Hoping it won’t be her again.
The last bell of the day rings, and I scramble to cover my mosaic with a drop cloth, terrified someone might see the transformation taking place.
It’s yet another reminder that the Wonderland fairy tale is real, that my being a descendant of Alice Liddell means I’m different from everyone else. No matter how much distance I try to put between us, I’m connected forever to a strange and eerie sect of magical creatures called netherlings.
My classmates gather their backpacks and books and leave the art room, giving each other fist bumps and high fives while talking about their plans for Memorial Day weekend. I suck my finger, although there’s no blood leaking from it anymore. Hips leaning against the table, I look outside. It’s cloudy, and mist specks the windows.
My 1975 Gremlin, Gizmo, had a flat tire this morning. Since my mom doesn’t drive, Dad dropped me on his way to work. I told him I’d find a ride home.
My cell phone vibrates in my backpack on the floor. I push aside the fishnet gloves folded on top, lift out the phone, and open a text from my boyfriend: Sk8er grl… waiting in east parking lot. Can’t wait 2c you. Tell Mason hi 4 me.
My throat catches. Jeb and I have been together for almost a year and were best friends for six years before that, but for the past month we’ve only been in contact through texts and spotty phone calls. I’m eager to see him again face-to-face, but I’m also oddly nervous. I worry things will be different now that he’s living a life I’m not a part of yet.
Glancing up at Mr. Mason, who’s talking to some student in the hall about art supplies, I text my answer: K. Can’t wait 2c you 2. Give me 5 … finishing something.
I drop the phone into my bag and lift the cloth to peek at my project. My heart falls into my feet. Not even the familiar scents of paint, chalk dust, and plaster can comfort me when I see the scene taking shape: a Red Queen on a murderous rampage in a bleak and crumbling Wonderland.
Just like in my most recent dreams …
I smooth the cloth back into place, unwilling to acknowledge what the imagery might mean. It’s easier to hide from it.
“Alyssa.” Mr. Mason comes to stand by the table. His tie-dyed Converse shoes stand out like melted rainbows against the white linoleum floor. “I’ve been meaning to ask … are you planning to accept the scholarship to Middleton College?”
I nod in spite of my bout of nerves. If Dad lets me move to London with Jeb.
“Good.” Mr. Mason’s wide smile showcases the gap between his front teeth. “Someone with your talent should take advantage of every opportunity. Now, let’s see this latest piece.”
Before I can stop him, he tugs off the drop cloth and squints, the pockets beneath his eyes magnified by his pink-tinged glasses. I sigh, relieved that the transformation is complete. “Rapturous color and movement, as always.” He leans across it, rubbing his goatee. “Disturbing, like the others.”
His final observation sends my stomach tumbling.
A year ago, when I used bug corpses and dried flowers in my mosaics, my pieces retained an air of optimism and beauty, despite the morbidity of the materials. Now, with my change in medium, everything I create is gloomy and violent. I can’t seem to capture lightness or hope anymore. In fact, I’ve stopped trying to fight it. I just let the blood have its way.
I wish I could stop making the mosaics altogether. But it’s a compulsion I can’t deny … and something tells me there’s a reason for that. A reason that keeps me from destroying all six of them—from busting their plaster backgrounds into a thousand pieces.
“Do I need to buy more red marbled gems?” Mr. Mason asks. “I’ve no idea where I got them to begin with. I checked online the other day and can’t seem to find the supplier.”
He doesn’t realize the mosaic tiles were clear when I started, that I’ve been using only clear gems for the past few weeks, and that the scenes he thinks I’m meticulously crafting by matching colored lines in the glass are actually forming themselves.
“It’s okay,” I answer him. “They’re from my own personal supply.” Literally.
Mr. Mason studies me for a second. “All right. But I’m running out of room in my cabinet. Maybe you could take this one home.”
I shudder at the thought. Having any of them in my house would only invite more nightmares. Not to mention how it would affect Mom. She’s already spent enough of her life imprisoned by her Wonderland phobias.
I’ll have to figure out something before the end of school. Mr. Mason won’t be willing to keep them all summer, especially since I’m a senior. But today I have other things on my mind.
“Can you fit just one more?” I ask. “Jeb’s picking me up on his bike. I’ll get them next week.”
Mr. Mason nods and carries it over to his desk.
I crouch to arrange the stuff in my backpack, rubbing sweaty palms over my striped leggings. The hem brushing my knees feels foreign. My skirt is longer than what I’m used to without the petticoats underneath to fluff it out. In the months since Mom’s been home from the asylum, we’ve had a lot of arguments about my clothes and makeup. She says my skirts are too short and she wishes I would wear jeans and “dress like regular girls.” She thinks I look too wild. I’ve told her that’s why I wear tights and leggings, for modesty. But she never listens. It’s like she’s trying to make up for the eleven years she was away by being overly invested in everything about me.
She won this morning, but only because I woke up late and was in a rush. It’s not easy to get up for school when you’ve been fighting sleep all night, avoiding dreams.