Welcome to StoriesEtc, a place where University of Wisconsin students can share their original works of creative writing with the community, whether it be poetry, short stories or anything in between. As a section dealing with the arts, it feels only natural to create an opportunity for students to share their creative talents.

With that being said, let’s meet this week’s contributor, Madeline Sweitzer:

The Badger Herald: Tell us about yourself. What’s your major? Year in school?

I’m a senior majoring in political science, history and journalism. I’m currently The Badger Herald’s copy chief and Editorial Board chair. I’ll hopefully be graduating in May, and I’m not sure where I’ll end up afterward.

BH: Define your writing, authorship and perspective.

This is hard. It’s been a long time since I wrote fiction as opposed to reporting news or opining about it. For me, writing is a very selfish thing. When I’m writing something, whether I’m writing opinion pieces, news or creatively, it’s because I feel a personal need to – I really just need to express that thing in that moment and writing provides that outlet. 

BH: When did you start writing creatively?

Cheese alert: it feels like I’ve been writing in some capacity for as long as I can remember. When I was little I was convinced I was gonna be a novelist. There may or may not be a Lenovo laptop somewhere in my mom’s house with some half-finished, cringe-worthy young adult fiction novels I wrote when I was a preteen stored on it. 

BH: Talk about your creative process. What inspires you, and how do you get from an idea to a finished product?

Creatively, ideas tend to start off as a raw emotional or personal response to something, then I go back and clarify my writing once I’ve calmed down. Boiled down, the process can probably be described as: frenzy, calm down, edit. Maybe it sounds cliche but I often take inspiration from real life. This story, for example, is based on my experiences with depression. I’ve written about mental health before, specifically in my time as opinion editor for the Herald, but never like this. At one point, I was challenged to describe my experiences and the metaphor that summed it up for me was, “I was a fish fully submerged in water, yet still couldn’t breathe.”

Here is a sample of Maddie’s work:

The Invisible Hand

Ziva was a fish who always knew where she was swimming – she had essentially had her life planned out for herself since she was a guppy.

Other fish had taken notice of Ziva’s hard work, praising her ambition. She felt a responsibility not only to them, but to herself to live up to their expectations – no excuses, no weakness.

Ziva had also lived a pretty nice life for a fish. She seldom had to hunt for food, went to the tide’s premier school and lived in a safe part of the reef.

But, unbeknownst to Ziva, and to most other fish, the Invisible Hand did not discriminate when it came to its victims.

The first time it happened, Ziva was simply swimming home. The past few weeks she had felt a slight tension in the water and she had hurried along with the current, eager to return to her bed of seaweed – unable to shake the feeling someone, or something, was following her right below the surface.

Suddenly, Ziva stopped, unable to breath. She gasped, feeling her gills filter oxygen but getting no relief. Terrified, her eyes flitted back and forth, searching for the cause of her paralysis – she found none. Ziva tried to stay calm and eventually the paralysis subsided on its own.

As soon as she could move, Ziva bolted into her coral, breathing heavily. The occurrence had shaken her, but reassuring herself nothing was overtly wrong, Ziva resolved to move on.

Her resolution proved fruitful for a bit as several days passed with no similar incidents.

Soon though, the tension returned to the water and Ziva found herself swimming furiously between school and her coral.

Ziva felt the paralysis strike again. But this time, Ziva felt her body lift up against her will. She fought against the force, noticing some other fish were making their way along the current.

“They’ll see you, they’ll help. Just breathe,” she thought, feeling her anxiety surge. “It will be OK, all you have to do is –” her meditation was cut off as the Hand thrashed her violently, back and forth, slamming her against the rocks that surrounded her coral.

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Ziva screamed, her voluminous shouts reverberating around the invisible space she was held captive in, her own screams echoing back to her. Still, no other fish looked her way. Ziva, now becoming anxious that there may be no way out, thrashed violently against the unseen forces. Her efforts yielded no effects besides leaving her exhausted, trembling on the sea floor.

When Ziva awoke, she was home and tucked in her bed of seaweed as if nothing had happened.

Now, truly scared for her safety, but also nervous others may not understand, Ziva was hesitant to confide in other fish about her experience with the Hand.

How could she explain something that was so violent yet so unprovoked, and that left no visible scars? How could she make them understand when she didn’t understand it herself?

Still, she felt the urge to try. Nothing could be worse than continuing to endure this alone.

After the next attack occurred, she hesitantly swam to her neighbor’s coral, her body still heaving as she regained breath, the pain only she could see slowly fading.

“Why can’t you breathe? There’s water all around you,” the other fish asked, taking on a slightly annoyed tone. “If anyone should be able to breathe, it’s you – other fish have real problems, you know?”

“I don’t know,” Ziva thought, feeling discouraged. “That’s the problem. If I knew what provoked this, I would have just stopping doing it.”

Sensing that any other attempt to explain herself would simply fall on deaf ears, a deflated Ziva darted back to her coral, wondering if the fish was right. Was she just being sensitive? Was the pain and despair she felt nothing more than her imagination?

The next morning when she woke up, the tears were almost instant as she imagined having return to the ocean, enduring day after day of paralysis, fear and pain.

“Maybe I’m just crazy,” she thought. “But I’m fighting. I’m fighting so hard. Why can’t they hear me? Why can’t they see?”

Ziva lay, huddled under her seaweed, terrified if she emerged the force would seize her again. A few hours must have passed when Ziva awoke, still completely exhausted.

Soon the hours turned to days and the days turned to weeks and so on. Ziva resigned to life inside her coral, the Hand lurking outside.

Unable to leave her home, Ziva fell behind on schoolwork, was forced to quit her job at the local feeding ground and her once-bright future grew dimmer, snuffed out under the weight of fear and misunderstanding.

One day, with Ziva still laying to her bed, eyes glazed over, the Hand forced its way in her coral and seized her, lifting her off the bed of seaweed, this time never to let go. Ziva was left flopping around, gasping for air – all the while thinking, “There’s no reason I should feel this way – I must be at fault.”

She discovered that the Hand could finally reach her where she never thought it would — a place she thought of as her safe space. After this discovery, Ziva was only left with answered questions and the realization that no where was safe.