“Gray” by Lucy Cross

2017 Youth 1 Division Winner



One word that defines my entire existence.


I hear it every day. Everywhere I go, everyone I meet. Points, stares, you name it. It doesn’t even bother me anymore, I’ve seen it all so often. When I was younger, it ate at me. I always used to think, why can’t I be like the rest of the kids? Countless days of complaining to my parents for an answer led to the conclusion that I was not supposed to be this way. My mom is red and my dad is yellow. I should have been one of those colors, or maybe even orange. Instead, I got stuck with gray.

Everything I am is gray. My hair, my skin, my eyes, everything. The only thing that I think is more colorful than anyone I know is my personality. Quite honestly, I’m surprised that my “friends” haven’t dropped dead from lack of it.

Speaking of friends, school is another place I feel uncomfortable. The whispers that fly among the hallways and bounce against the lockers are always about me. Even when that cyan kid in the grade below me broke his arm, the gossip never strayed far from its center – me. We’re in the middle of a history unit about the Darks and the Lights, and our teacher just had to point out that I belong in neither. This, of course, spawned new conspiracies about how I would be placed in the In-between at the ceremony.

Chapter One

The day of the ceremony has arrived, and I can’t help but feel a little afraid of the hours ahead. The variations of gray in my skin shimmer in the light coming through the window as I pull my dress from the closet. Long and drab, it looks like the cotton embodiment of a funeral. I know that the dresses are personally assigned from the Palette of Administrators based on skin tone, so I find myself wondering why I didn’t expect this. The rulebook clearly states that the clothing tailored for you must be worn to the ceremony, but it doesn’t specify how it has to look.

Fifteen minutes later, I return the pair of scissors and needle and thread to my mother’s desk and throw away the gray scraps. Tugging on the seemingly new dress, I admire myself in the mirror. Still gray, but the creativity helps a bit. Hearing the pattering of feet on the hardwood floor, I know it is my brother. Opening my door to let him in, he runs in and sits on my bed. My brother is only nine, but everyone already knows where he’s going to be placed. His skin is a buttercup yellow, like my dad’s, only brighter.

Kicking his feet, he asks me where I want to go. I remind him that I can’t choose, but he insists anyway. Finally obliging, I tell him that I would rather not be placed at all. His face falls and the conversation ends. What I don’t tell him, what I never tell him, is that either side would be unhappy to have me, being gray, in their midst. He has yet to understand why people back away whenever we pass in public, why people turn ashen when they see us holding hands at the bus stop.

My mother calls us downstairs, running my thought train right off its tracks. My golden sunbeam of a brother is already halfway down the staircase when I leave the room. My parents greet me at the bottom of the steps, already launching into speeches about how my color doesn’t matter, and that I shouldn’t care. I’ve heard these lectures multiple times, especially on days of elongated public exposure.

Secretly, I know that they are wrong.

Chapter 2

We arrive at Aurantiaco Hall, and I pointedly ignore my mother whining at me to lift my head up. The crowd parts as we make our way to our seats, and I shoot a couple of my former classmates sour glares. I file into our row last, but I have to move in-between my father and my brother so that people will sit next to us. As I plop down behind a tall, lime green man, I realize how stupid this all is. Why do I have to be here if I want to stay? I would be perfectly fine staying here, shut up in my house all day. People must think it’s contagious, that if I hang around their kids long enough they’ll bring the gray home with them.

Making up my mind, I try to wiggle my way out of my seat, but my father lays a restraining hand on my lap. He looks up at me, the sheer willpower of his gaze pushing me back down. Nudging his hand off my legs, I cross my arms and close my eyes.

Chapter 3

The ceremony goes in color order. The leader of the Palette, the Master, calls out all known colors in chronological order and gives an origin story for each one. I always find this part boring, so I usually tune in around the “calling-names” part. My brother, however, always pays close attention and spouts facts about yellow on the way home. Right now, he is babbling about how the new Master is yellow, and I am completely distracted from the lecture coming from the stage. Finally quieted by our parents, we look forward as the names are called.

I recognize some, but I mostly focus on the colors. There’s only one scarlet kid this year, and he’s going to the Lights. I pay close attention to him because he was always nice to me. Even though the other kids taunted him for waving at me in the halls, he did it anyway.

Soon enough, the Master reaches the end of the list and calls out my name. It doesn’t surprise me that my color wasn’t called, because why acknowledge a group with only one member? My parents look at me expectantly, and I slowly rise from my seat. The walk to the stage seems to last forever. Feeling the sensation of hundreds of eyes on my back, I walk up the steps and stand next to the Master.

I wait to hear my placement, but instead I hear another name. From somewhere in the crowd, I see someone rise. Not until they are on the stage do I see that it is a girl. And she is beautiful. My head is racing, processing a million thoughts a second, but I can only utter one word. Black.

I’ve never seen someone who isn’t a color. Someone like me. This girl, whoever she is, holds the honor of being the first. Meanwhile, the Master is still rambling about how we are the only two who are like this. I tune him out, because it isn’t anything I haven’t heard before. Turning back around, I drink in my new companion’s appearance, scrutinizing every last detail of her perfect darkness.

With skin the color of freshly mined obsidian and hair tumbling over her shoulders in jet black waves, she seems almost ethereal. A handful of coal-colored freckles creeps across the bridge of her nose, and I notice that she is analyzing me as well. We make eye contact, and I cannot help the gasp that escapes my lips. Her eyes are absolutely transfixing. They are the only thing about her that isn’t a shade of black. Her left iris is a piercing, ice-cold blue, and her right is a spring-time green. That mitch-matched gaze is still on me as I look out into the crowd. Finally returning to the real world, I notice that all eyes are, for once, not on me. Instead, they are on the Palette, which is sitting in the front row, up against the stage.

For the first time in a long time, I am the one staring. One of the members of the Palette is standing, pointing at my hand, which is hovering near the hand of the girl on my left. I look down, and nearly scream. My hand, which had been a solid gray my entire life, is now a shiny silver. The girl notices my movement, and she does the same. I hear a gasp, and look up to see her hand, now shimmering as well, held in front of her face.

Almost immediately, the crowd breaks into murmurs and whispers, and I catch several remarks about our colors. The girl looks terrified, and she reaches out to grab my hand. I grab back, but we both pull away when there is a visible spark. A kid in the audience screams, noticing what happened. Everyone turns back to us. Out of instinct, I grab the girl’s hand again, but there is no reaction this time. The audience goes quiet as they watch our arms, and then our entire bodies begin shimmering. Flakes of solid gray break off my skin and flutter to the floor as the exposed places turn an awe-inspiring silver. Bits of black litter the stage, and I look at the girl holding my hand.

Her whole body is shining black, with bits of silver and gold spots. She reassembles a galaxy, the way the colors blend together. If we weren’t being stared at before, we definitely are now. Someone yells about this whole thing happening because we touched, and the Palate considers this idea. Meanwhile, I see someone in the crowd stand up. They walk up onto the stage, and I recognize him as the scarlet kid. He smiles at me, and reaches for my hand. We touch, receiving the same shock as the girl and I, but neither of us let go. Instead, I watch as the scarlet falls off of his body, revealing a beautiful shade that I have never seen before. His smile grows wider and he beckons to the Master.

Hesitantly making his way over to us, he grasps the scarlet kid’s hand. Yellow joins the black, gray, and scarlet on the stage as the Palate begins to stand. I smile as they come onstage and join the line of linked hands. People from the crowd rise from their seats and the line grows longer, snaking through the rows of seats. My brother runs up on stage and hugs me around the waist. I beam in a way that rivals his new shade of incredibly bright yellow.

The hall is filled with newly uncovered colors, and I realize that I am finally freed from all of the prejudice. My color is the same as everyone else’s: beautiful. I glance at the girl, still clutching my hand firmly, and our eyes meet. She mouths to me, we started this. I nod, thinking to myself that nothing can ever end it.