To Live

[fiction]

Emma Williams woke up at ten o’clock on Saturday morning, darkness flooding her window. She blinked twice. She forgot her dreams. Shouldn’t there be sunlight? she thought to herself. Peering helplessly around her room, she fumbled for her glasses in the dark, stupidly discovering that they could not help her see a thing in the pitch blackness. She arose out of her serene rest and hobbled onto her sore legs. She felt a wave of pain traverse her chest. Sleep deprivation had worked its effect on her for the past few months. 

Already, her luck seemed to be turned against her, for not only had the sun disappeared, she had overslept. “Goodness!” she sighed, pitying herself immensely. 

She collapsed onto her soft bed. Emma felt the burden of countless homework assignments, endless tests, and most importantly, the impending deadline of her English fiction piece hanging above her poor head, like a sword of Damocles. “Why do I do this to myself?” She shook her head, a sorrowful expression written across her face. “I procrastinated all of yesterday; I could’ve gotten it all done then. A whole twenty-four hours later, I still have three tests, a quiz, four homework assignments, two essays, three internship applications, a club and an organization to manage, and three magazines to submit to!” 

She put her head in her hands in despair. After wallowing in self-pity for a bit, Emma assured herself that all of her ceaseless, burdensome efforts would be recognized when college applications eventually rolled around, and that she’d be grateful for herself when that point ultimately came. She knew her life was carefully orchestrated, first by her parents when she had little knowledge of the college process and of life, and then by her own accord, when she realized that the college she would attend would pave the path to a life of greatness or failure. After that point, Emma Williams based her entire life around college. It depressed and drained her, and to console herself, she made a note reminding that she would later indulge in the greatest pleasures of life: ostentatious, splendid beachside mansions in California, shining white yachts standing as the truest trophies of triumph, and seasonal vacations to the most luxurious hotels in the most exotic and beautiful places on the globe. 

She was sure that as long as she was accepted into an Ivy League university, she would instantly gain access to all of it.

Emma witnessed her grandmother, in tears, huddled alongside her mother and father, who seemed to have lost all capability of movement, staring up at the television screen, which blared headlines like blinking lights. Huge words seemed to pop out of the screen, one phrase most prominent of them all: 

SUN DISAPPEARS DUE TO COSMIC GAMMA RADIATION BURST

I suppose that’s bad, Emma thought, her mind unperturbed, gravitating, as it always did, back to her impossibly long to-do list, which consisted of three boring tests, a quiz, four taxing homework assignments, two onerous essays, three important internship applications, a biology research club and an organization to manage, and three literary magazines to submit to. She had to get it done. She retreated to her father’s room, which had a mahogany desk along with her laptop, which in turn contained a multitude of files she considered vital to her life. Emma was incredibly irritated by her family’s very audible whimpering, which made it difficult to think carefully. The pathetic sounds seemed to block out any and all good ideas that sprouted from her brain.

She had to get it done.

Her father’s room had massive glass windows; while she waited for her laptop to load, she could see the stars poke out from the cloudy and polluted heavens, like distant white dots on an artist’s canvas. Her laptop’s clock read 10:30 AM, Eastern Time, but the heavens were indistinguishable from the magnificent darkness of the midnight. Regardless, she knew the three irksome tests, a chemistry quiz, four tedious homework assignments, two long essays, three upcoming internship applications, a club and an organization to manage (whose meetings she thought were a terrible drag), and three magazines to submit to weren’t going to finish themselves. 

She had to get it done.

*     *     *

While the world around her hacked itself apart in a panicked, turbulent hurricane, Emma Williams sat at the eye of the storm. Her fingers were always moving, eyes always fixated at the alarmingly bright screen, back hunched in an unhealthy position arching over her laptop. Whenever she felt tempted to rest her mind, which had been working in overdrive, she told herself she had to get it done.

“Help me, Emma, I’m making a garden in the basement so that we can have food to eat,” pleaded her mother. Her family was emaciated, and the outline of skeleton became apparent across all their bodies; they were skin and bone, though more bone than skin. Her mother’s voice had the coarseness of a witch, nothing like the robust and commanding tone that she had before the incident. 

“I can’t,” Emma replied in a tone characteristic of the stereotypical, pretentious intellectual. “I have work to do.”

No amount of arguing would separate the girl from her work. She did, after all, have a quiz, three tests, a club and an organization to manage, three internship applications, three magazines to submit to, two essays, and four difficult homework assignments. 

She needed to get it done.

*     *     *

As weeks went by, the world wilted. Everything and everyone became despondent. Every being on Earth felt the sun’s absence, and the disappearance of the light had ripple effects across the deeply interwoven fabric of life. The presence of death, and the approaching fate of death, followed every man and woman like a shadow; each person dealt with the fact in his or her own way. For the parents of Emma Williams, it meant trying to delay fate as much as humanly possible. For her brother, it meant retreating into the depths of Grand Theft Auto V and Fortnite, shooting at computer-controlled players instead of real ones, because most of the children his age were dead. 

She needed to get it done.

And, of course, for Emma herself, it meant working.

As she churned out a comprehensive study guide precisely detailing how to find the solubility constant of any chemical reaction, a stellar application to a teenager magazine, and a fantastic AP World History essay on the partition of India, the cheek fat that Emma always despised melted away, and afterwards, her muscles followed suit. It was nothing worrisome, because her finger muscles hadn’t yet deteriorated; in fact, they were the only muscles that still functioned.

It was fine by her. 

She needed to get it done.

“Please help me, Emma, I am dying,” Emma’s mother stumbled into the frigid room, where it had gotten so frosty that her breath was visible. The outline of her macerated figure cast an eerie shadow across the walls of the room, which was poorly lit by the lonely flickering light that hung on the dilapidated ceiling. The shadow was reminiscent of a walking skeleton.

Emma didn’t turn around to look at her mother for one last time. Not only was she physically incapable of doing so, she didn’t want to. Perhaps she hadn’t even heard the voice of her mother.

She had one thought:

I need to get it done.

The expanse of the cosmos opened up beneath Emma Williams. It enveloped her bent form, encasing her in the blackness and the night. She was escaping life—she felt it slipping out of her grasp. An onlooker would have witnessed breathtaking sights of hazy nebulae glowing in a myriad of colors, emanating an aura of greens, purples, and blues that noartist could hope to replicate. Yet, like an artist’s canvas, innumerable amounts of stars stood out in the blackness of space, blue comets left trails of fire streaking across the view, and grey moons, though they were but rocks in the heavens, exuded the beauty and luminescence of starlight. And in the center of it all—Emma could almost touch it—was Harvard College! She recognized the old, yet homely and splendid, buildings from her own dreams. It was a marvelous sight, suitable for the moments before death. 

Her chair and her laptop gone, Emma ran towards it as fast as her malnourished legs could take her. The truly beautiful sights of space dissolved, making way for the physical embodiment of her life’s meaning—Harvard. She could feel joy ringing in her heart. It was all she lived for! What ecstasy she felt in that moment! She laughed out loud, stomping on planets while sprinting at full speed, and the cosmos dissipated into emptiness.

When she finally got there, she opened the gates of Heaven. But instead she saw nothingness, and a powerful blast of wind, along with a message, sent her spiraling down into purgatory.

Get it done.

And so, with her final breath, Emma Williams faded away, two items on her to-do list of three tests, a quiz, four homework assignments, two essays, three internship applications, a club and an organization to manage, and three magazines to submit to still unchecked.

Claire Shin is an aspiring writer from Stuyvesant High School in New York. She has worked with nonprofits dedicated to spreading a positive message through the written word, has received small-scale distinctions involving fiction and poetry, and, of course, writes for many of her high school’s magazines as well as The Spectator, Stuyvesant’s school newspaper. In addition to writing, she has played volleyball for her high school’s varsity team and has directed multiple musicals at Stuyvesant. She can be found typing away strange fanfiction stories at her laptop or singing her favorite Ariana Grande songs.