“Of Ink and Dreams” by Avi Lohr

by Avi Lohr ‘24

There once was a child who was made out of paper and ancient dreams. He had been pieced together by an old wizard out of pages from books of mythology and fables. The wizard brought life from the fables to pump the inky blood through the paper heart, and left the child on a doorstep of a nearby town.

There once was a couple who desperately wanted a child. But they, unlike the old wizard, could not simply conjure one up, so they waited. The couple woke late one night with a start. Following the sound to the front step of their modest home, they found a wailing newborn who seemed to glow with starlight and library magic. His cries were light and somehow mystical, and his flesh was paper-thin, with many dark veins showing through. But he was beautiful, and the couple readily took him in. They saw him as the answer to their prayers. 

 The couple raised the child as their own and never gave much of a thought to where he might have come from. His father, a hunter, gave the child a tiny bow to play with, and his mother, a sculptor, made him tiny arrows with paper-heart tips. The couple called their child Cupid, because they thought him beautiful enough to steal hearts like kisses. 

The paper boy’s mother took him for a walk around the garden every morning, and on one particular moring the garden was crowded with with other people, many of them mothers as well. The townspeople crowed about how cute the child was, with his bow and arrows, and they joked that if he shot anyone they would surely fall in love, just like in the myths that were inscribed beneath the child’s flesh. But the child, being made of paper and heartless despite the beating in his chest, was unlike the other children, and everything he touched followed likewise. His paper arrows found their mark every time, and that morning a quiverful of people visited the medical clinic claiming they had been shot by Cupid. The doctors bandaged them up, prescribed them mental therapy, and sent them on their way without much worry at all. Within the week, every one of those people had died of a broken heart.

But the paper boy’s parents were blind to this, and did not take away the bow and arrow until weeks later. By then it was too late. 

The day before the child’s weapons were removed from his grasp, his arrow met the heart it had been searching for. A baby girl, about the same age as the paper boy. She was wearing many layers to keep out the cold, but the paper arrow pierced her heart all the same. But she did not die. Not that week, not the next, and then she was five and asking why there was a bullseye target on her chest, right above her heart. She was told it was a birthmark and turned away. She did not ask or wonder about it again. So, the paper boy and hunted girl grew beautiful and right, one not knowing of his beginning, the other not knowing of her end, though both had their fates inscribed on their chests.

The children attended school together, but did not speak unless it was absolutely necessary. The paper boy, now a handsome if somewhat frail young man, sat in the back of the schoolhouse, just in the perfect spot for sneaking long glances at the hunted girl. The hunted girl, now a strong, beautiful young woman, sat in the front left corner and often got in trouble for talking to her many friends. They would look back at the paper boy (who would immediately put his head down or flip to a random page of a book he would never read), and giggle, teasing the beautiful girl with the targeted heart.

And then they were seventeen and the world was theirs for the taking, and the handsome young heartbreaker and pretty little lady could be seen kissing in an alleyway or huddled on a park bench, his hand on the mark on her heart. The paper boy was training to be a hunter like his father, and always kept a small bow and a single arrow tipped in paper in his pocket. Many times he took his aim, but couldn’t bring himself to shoot, for he knew he would not miss.

The pair broke up many times but continued to gravitate towards each other like a moon to her planet. They were now twenty-one, and the girl had said she was done. No more second chances. The paper boy felt the arrow pulse against his leg. Not yet. The hunted girl walked away, but he ran and caught up to her. 

“Just give me one more shot.”

She looked into his eyes and couldn’t resist.

He came to her house in the morning. They had coffee and strawberries and sat on the slate countertops. The boy excused himself to the restroom, and slid into the hallway, out of sight. He watched the girl in the kitchen, humming to herself and dancing as she cleaned up. For a second he hesitated. She was just so beautiful. But the paper arrow in his pocket was aching to hit its mark. The paper boy took his aim and drew his bow. The hunted girl turned to face his hiding place, and he let his arrow fly. It struck, and she collapsed to the floor. The top half-circle of the bullseye on the girl’s chest peeked out from her dress, the paper-heart arrow just below. He never missed his mark.

And then she was bleeding and calling out his name, but she was already fading away. The boy archer felt a pang in his own chest, as if the arrow was piercing his heart instead of hers. But she was gone. The last of her dissolved into the air, and all the boy had left of his love was a heart-shaped pool of blood on the kitchen tile. He fell to his knees with an ache in his chest and a howl on his lips. He had never felt pain before this. So the paper heart in the chest of a paper boy lit on fire, smoke and fables filling his hollow body. And he ignited, spilling stories out onto the floor, until he was nothing but ash, floating away on the breeze in search of the only love he had ever had. He could still feel her; her perfume haunted the house with him, but she did not come back. He had taken his last shot. And he never missed.