Writers (in order): Francesca Interligi, A. Hamilton, Emily Jewel, Gisela Bunch, Alfred Estell, Sofia M, S.A, Mira Light, JM, Riley Johnson, Sagely Sandhuub, RANadia, Piper C, A, Crystal Tse, Alyssa Atienza, Ashley M., Hallel Abrams Gerber, PK Williams, Albatross, Elikia O, Isabelle S. Li, Christina Fernandes, Emily Hwang, Tara George, Xinyi Chi

Editor: Irene Tsen

The cliffside descended into the deep blue water, which glistened like diamonds. Seagulls screeched above the shoreline as they flew while the wind and waves struck harshly against the rocks below. A Mediterranean village, which was safely tucked away on a lush mountainside overlooking the sea, was showered in golden sunbeams.

The village was old, very old. So old that no one quite remembered where it came from or who settled it. It was made almost entirely of the same original buildings, simple square little old houses made out of solid stone from a nearby quarry. Over the years, many of the village’s occupants had painted their houses all sorts of bright colors. From bright reds to cool blues to even every shade of a sunset, the whole village was a tapestry of vibrant hues. However, even among all these colors, one house stuck out among the rest. A singular house near the center of the village, which was painted a solid, eerie black.

In this house, there lived a family. They had lived there so long that they were as much a part of the terrain as the seagulls and waves, a constant as much as the rocks. They had tried all, from fruit selling to writing to teaching to preaching—but now, their numbers were beginning to shrink. From hundreds, they now numbered merely thirteen; an endangered species, so to speak.

And yet the Demore family was at peace. They spent their days selling souvenirs to the tourists who came through, and the father of three sisters was the sole doctor in town. Thirteen may have been a small number, but the villagers still knew that turning to the Demores was the best way to fix their problems, and that they were the best mediators should any feuds arise.

But as the number of villagers kept growing and the number of Demores kept shrinking, the problem soon arose as to how to actually get these issues resolved in a timely fashion. And so a system was devised. Throughout the day, the villagers would write their squabbles and feuds down on various pieces of paper and leave them on a box on the cliffside. Then, from sunset to sunrise, one member of the Demore family would go to the cliff and meet with the spirits. Together they would carefully go over each problem that had been left for them until a satisfying solution had been reached. This tradition had been in place for decades, with each Demore taking their turn learning this delicate and sacred process. And now it was Ruby’s turn. The youngest of the Demore daughters, the last of three heirs to the Demore name stood at the cliffs’ edge with her hand on the Box, waiting for the spirits to arrive.

Rachel was no stranger to this ritual. Being a Demore family member required that she be familiar and comfortable with speaking to spirits from the very beginning. This night felt wrong, **though, somehow. She couldn’t pinpoint why or how she even knew, but a miniscule detail somewhere in this night was making everything feel off. Perhaps it was the early dimming of the village or the absence of the mist that usually covered the damp earth underneath her feet.

Despite all the wrongness in the air, Rachel knew that she had to take this journey with pride. She was Rachel “Ruby” Demore. She had to put all her confidence in her name and the connection she had with the spirits, or else they would swallow her whole. She knew this; the whispers she heard behind the spirits’ hands told her as much, even if her family lived otherwise. Though here on the damp ground awaiting the spirits, she had only to fear the loss of her predecessors’ pride.

Ruby waited for what felt like hours for the spirits to finally converse with her. Despite her pride in being a Demore, she still had her doubts about her own capabilities as one of the heirs. Her two older sisters were already so accomplished. The eldest, Esmeralda, had her own shop where she would make the townspeople magic jewelry to ward off evil spirits. The middle daughter, Amber, created new dishes from the limited resources the town had for the townspeople to eat. Her older sisters’ success put pressure on Ruby. She sometimes felt out of place, but she shrugged it off. She knew she’d get her chance in good time, just like all the others that came before her.

She took a deep breath and waited to stare into the vast beyond to welcome her fate, never once knowing where it would lead her. She opened the box with an old-looking wooden key that Amber had given her earlier that day and turned it in the keyhole… She sighed and gave a small smile to see only one piece of paper inside it, crumpled so tight it looked like it had been part of the garbage. Her work wouldn’t take much time today, huh? She freed her whistle from the clasp in the necklace lying around her neck and mellowed out a raspy tune. It was nothing eye-catching or head-turning, but it was enough to stop one’s feet, pure nostalgia stirring up feelings hidden deep inside their hearts that they would be too scared to admit out loud. She waited until a voice returned her tune, as though another girl were hiding in the thickets, but Ruby knew better than to have ever mistaken a spirit for a mortal. A sudden gush of air fanned her cheeks, throwing her off her balance while she still clutched the box in one hand. She grew still as she felt the presence of another being beside her and turned around, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, ready to get the job done.

Not a sound was made, but there hovered a shadow of scribbled edges just feet away. It made the girl flinch backwards, unintentionally causing the entity to flinch too. Then the scribbled shadow, oddly bright in this dead of night, became more… blurred, rather than unapologetically jagged as it was seconds before. Fearful that she may have already done something wrong, Ruby was quick to pay her respects. She smoothly swayed her arms in a split-second of polite dance, ending in a near-bowing position; from her opened eyes she kept her head facing the soil underneath her while stealing glances through her lashes at the hesitating spirit. Only when the ominous glow from that moving body of mist inched closer did Ruby raise her head.

“Spirits, I have come with the pains of the village,” she said softly.

Speak them, responded a residual voice.

Ruby opened up the crumpled paper. “I have just one.” She glanced at the small, cramped handwriting and her stomach dropped.

Speak it, urged the spirits.

“The… the people…” She paused midway, suddenly feeling like there were worms wiggling around in her stomach.

Speak! Or else… the voice cautioned.

“The people request protection from some spirits among you!” Ruby breathed out at last. She took a tiny step back and flinched a little. She dared not let her gaze stray from the mist-covered spirits, however, as she feared what would happen to her if she did. A deafening silence ensued, and it stretched out for a few gut-wrenching moments.

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