The inaugural ACT Secondary Schools Writing Prize by Noted was held in 2016 in partnership with The Stella Prize. It was judged by Simmone Howell, Steph Bowe and Zoya Patel.
In the middle of the room there was a long white table. On it was a girl. She lay stretched out across the table, her arms either side of her, limp, and hanging over the edges of the table. Her hair ballooned beneath her, long and matted, inches from her waist. Her eyes were closed. Blood splatters were starting to rust on the white sheen that coated the walls. The carpet was all tattered, strands pulled up in places, and it frayed along the sides. The only sound that could be heard in the room was that of a faint beeping.
The girl was breathing very slowly, with a long time between each breath. It seemed every breath was fighting to get out. However, she wasn’t the only presence in the room. The room that was confined solely to her mind.
The others that filled the room could not exactly be defined. They were shadowy shapes. In this room the shadows weren’t hiding. They danced about, swirling through the air in an almost gleeful manner. The odd thing about the room was that the girl seemed to be breathing in time with the dance of the shadows.
A man crashed through the door. The door shut as quickly as it had opened, and disappeared. He hurried over to the girl, not deterred by the shadows that were came towards him to try and keep him away. It was almost as if he couldn’t see the shadows. He was a surgeon, and she was his patient. He pulled out a scalpel, seemingly from nowhere. An antiseptic was being smothered over the skin, a cold liquid on a cold dead surface. The doctor’s gloved hand dug the scalpel into the skin, red blood seeped to the surface of the wound.
The doctor plunged his other gloved hand inside the incision, to try and improve visibility of the area. Inexplicably the wound wouldn’t widen, so he was forced to feel his way around inside.
He was unable to find anything wrong with her until he reached the heart. Here at last he found part of his answer. Some physical evidence of what exactly was wrong with this girl, which was all that he wants. He could feel the irregular heartbeats. The doctor searched for a blood clot, or a burst artery, or really anything that would explain why the girl’s heart was beating with such pain. He couldn't find anything. The longer his hand was around her heart, the quicker the girl’s pulse got, until the beeping was so quick and loud that it could not be ignored by the doctor.
The shadows closed in on her and the doctor. Some would say that they were trying to protect her, other’s that they were trying to destroy her. The doctor still could not see them, and he was far too occupied trying to slow the girl’s pulse, and stabilise her condition. Yet the doctor did not understand that this was the most work her heart has done for days, and at least if it was beating then she was alive.
The shadows blocked out the light around the girl and the doctor. The girl’s body started to shake, forcing the doctor to abandon the procedure. He attempted to keep her still, placing both his hands on her shoulders, unsuccessfully trying to pin her to the table. Her heart rate continued to rise, climbing upwards, and upwards. Then everything in the room seemed to freeze for a second. Her heart rate dropped drastically, and there was the long beep of a flatline, as the girl went silent. The doctor stepped away from the table. He disappeared.
The shadows closed in on her. Even though the doctor was gone they did not stop their march. Then she moved. Her body started shaking, gently at first, then it became more vicious, until she was writhing on the table. The girl moved to sit up. For the first time, she was awake.
She tried to get up, swinging her legs over the side of the table and pushing herself down off it. She was still shaking, and she ended up crumbling to the floor. The girl let out a loud, sharp, hollow scream. It didn't stop, even when she should have run out of breath. It sounded like she was being tortured, and the shadows continued to dance around her, unbothered by the sound.
She started pulling at the flesh where the doctor cut, the wound still open. She dug in her hand and pulled out her spleen, her liver, her kidneys, her lungs, throwing the organs in front of her, the blood from her body staining the carpet. The girl was in a fit of madness. She ripped out her heart. It dropped from her hands, and bounced slightly along the floor. She struggled to get up, wheezing breaths in between her movements, as she followed her heart. She stomped on it. Hard. As hard as she possibly could, years of rage, and hurt, and sadness being let go in that one moment, somehow having her heart torn out hurt less then when it was inside of her, teaching her not to love herself.
She stomped. Cried. Screamed, and fell to the floor, no longer in pain. She had cured the things that the doctor never could, because he couldn’t see what she could see. That the problem was not a invader, but a civil war. Now the war was over. There was no winner. Finally she was at peace.