You’ll Walk Into A Bar

You’re standing by a table in the corner of the room, nursing a cup of cider and trying not to stand out. People around you are talking and moving around and, in one instance, singing. You consider sitting down at the table, but the group already there would probably try to include you in conversation, so you don’t.

A huge guy winds over to the table. He catches your eye and smiles at you, then disappears suddenly from view. There’s a crashing sound and a muffled curse as the man hits the ground. Without thinking, you step forward to see if he’s okay.

He’s sitting on the floor, looking very sheepish.

“Are you alright?” you ask him, holding out a hand to help him up.

“Yeah, thanks,” he says. He takes your hand and pulls himself upright. “I’m Axel.”

“Greg,” you say. Axel’s eyes are deep brown, and there’s a small tattoo on his wrist. He looks behind him and frowns slightly at the table leg.

“That wasn’t very smooth,” he admits.

“I’ve seen smoother,” you agree. “Are you sure you’re alright? That sounded like a hard fall.”

Axel dismisses this with a wave of his hand. “I fall a lot. It wasn’t that bad. Nothing broken.”

“You spilled your drink,” you observe. “Can I buy you another one?” You aren’t sure exactly where this is coming from.

Axel’s face lights up. “I would love that.”

° ° °

You’ll walk into a bar. You’ll go up to the bartender and say, “I’d like a beer.”

The bartender will frown at you. “ID?”

You’ll smile nervously. “C’mon.”

She’ll roll her eyes, gesture at the door. You won’t move. “Out,” she’ll say. You’ll pretend not to hear her. She’ll beckon to the bouncer, expecting you to get the hint. You won’t. She’ll shrug. “Your choice, pal.” You’ll be escorted out of the bar.

You’ll struggle, but you’re only 5’4” and the bouncer, like most bouncers, is as tall as a mountain. So you’ll be lifted out and dropped on the curb. The bouncer, whose name is Axel, will sit down next to you, sigh, and drag a paw-like hand over his face.

“What the hell are you doing here, Greg?” he’ll ask.

You’ll shrug. “I’m getting a drink.”

“That’s not what it looked like.” You won’t say anything. He’ll wait, then shake his head at you. “I work at this bar. I work here.” He’ll rub at his forehead, sigh again. “You know I work here.”

You’ll carefully avoid his eyes, looking instead at your beat up pink Toms. But you’ll feel his irritation. He’ll exhale and push himself up. He’ll turn to go back into the bar.

“Axel,” you’ll say.

He’ll stop walking. “Greg. I need to get back to work.”

“I miss you.” You won’t mean to say it until you do.

“I know.” His voice will be soft, a gentle rumble and a gentle phrase. You’ll wait, hoping for something more, but instead the door of the bar will open, then swing shut.

After a moment, you’ll get up. You’ll push your bangs out of your eyes and take a deep breath. You won’t cry. You won’t. You’ll want to (you always want to), but you won’t.

You’ll feel trapped. You’ll want to claw your way out of the feeling, but you won’t be able to.

So you’ll walk. Quickly, arms wrapped around your torso like they’re holding you together.

You’ll walk down the sidewalk. Past the family owned shoe store that they’ll have converted into a Starbucks, past the swing set where you used to sit with pretty eyed boys and spill all your secrets for a kiss, past what feels like everything.

You’ll walk to the end of the street. And you’ll stop. And you’ll breathe. You won’t think about the dumbass thing you just did.

Once you feel like you can trust your mind and your legs, you’ll sit down on the curb. The tight feeling won’t be gone, but you’ll pretend that it is. Sometimes that works, and this will be one of those sometimes.

You’ll open your phone and tap out I’m sorry, then delete it before you can hit send. I’m sorry won’t fix how many times you’ll have shown up uninvited (unwanted) in his life. You’ll understand that.

° ° °

You blink.

“Greg? You alright?” Axel asks.

“Yeah…yeah,” you reply. You shake your head. It feels like cobwebs are draped over your thoughts. Axel still looks concerned. “I’m fine,” you add. “I just zoned out for a minute.”

“Yeah, you looked pretty out of it.” He takes a sip of his drink. “What were you thinking of?”

“The future, I guess,” you say.

Axel smiles. “The future, huh. What about it?”

You shrug. “Axel…” You stop. “I’ve got to go.”

“Oh, alright.” He looks puzzled, but he says nothing and stands up with you. “Here, I’ll give you my number.” He writes it down on a piece of newspaper and hands it to you. “Call me, okay?”

“I will.” You won’t.

You take one look back when you get to the door. Axel’s watching you, and you quickly push the door open and step outside.

It’s better this way. You understand that.

Yaha

I was a pet. I only existed to benefit a man. I was there to boost a man’s mood. I was on earth to be an accessory for a man. Father ruled mother and I around as if we are his servants. He went out all day in his silk turban with gold scarves that mother and I bought him. Then, mother and I would take the scraps of the soup and eat it before Father awoke. I checked Father’s room and I covered him with yet another blanket. I tiptoed back to the kitchen making sure not to disturb Father in his “so precious” sleep. Mother opened the front door and we sneaked into the empty stable. The imprints of cows in the hay reminded me of the cows and chickens we used to have just days before. But as usual Father just gave away our hard-worked gold. Before I knew it, mother and I would be thrown away too.

I miss papa so much. Last year when he died, mother married this man. He was horrible. Once he came to our little hut, he bossed us around to get supper going meanwhile we had been chopping vegetables all day and sweeping the floor since dawn. Once the stew was fully cooked and mother bathed Father, we watched as he quickly ate the bean and lentil soup. Once he was done and lied down for his dusk nap, Mother told me that if we didn’t have a man in the family we really wouldn’t have a house to live. I rested on my bale of hay with mother on the plank of wood next to me and I tried to wake up less than 52 times that night.

I woke to a strange woman in many jewels and gold jewelry. She was talking to Father and mother was listening from the kitchen. I heard Father say to the lady, “You want Yaha? You want that thing?”

The lady answered, “Yes, she will provide you with money and maybe a new life.”

Father’s feelings towards me changed. “Well, yes,” and then he used a word I had never heard him say before, “My daughter…”

Mother came to the barn. She whispered in my ear, “They are going to come and take you in three days time. You will go to the city and work for us. The lady says that you will send us money for the house. Just like Esha.” Esha was our neighbor down the hill. Last year she left for the city with the same lady. Every month she sent a bundle of Indian Rupees. Rumor has it that Esha will be back next year. I will miss mother with my whole heart. I hope Father treats her well and I will miss them very much.

Later that day, mother and i started packing. I brought my best silks for my job and my new blouse. Then, mother slipped something in my hand. I looked down and a golden chain slipped through my fingers. On the chain, an elephant lay on a golden circle which opens up. Inside the necklace, a drawing of mother and I rests. I believe everyone has a talent. Mother’s talent was art. When papa was alive, mother drew all the time. Since papa passed and mother married Father, she hadn’t drawn anything, or so I thought. The necklace was beautiful and mother clamped it around my neck. I tell her, “I will always think of you.”

Mother replied, “I love you. I will pray to Brahma for you.”

I tied my bag and hugged mother. I will miss our hugs.

Two days later the lady came. She had a big grin on her face and handed Father a big sash of Rupee and he reflected the grin. I kissed mother and Father. The strange lady grabbed my hand and tugged me from mother. I looked back for the last time with tears in my eyes. Mother blew me a kiss, I smiled and continue walking. The lady grinned so wide I could see her gums. She had metal in her mouth and goosebumps climbed up my arms. She shoved me into a cart and snarled, “No more pretending,” and ripped off her hair and a lock of hair is in her hands and her head is shaven. I wanted to run home. I wanted Mother. I wanted to hide in Mother’s arms. I wanted to cry. I didn’t want to be there.

The cart rumbled down the dirt roads. I felt every thump and shift through my soul. I suddenly felt the roads become smoother and the noises become louder. I poked my head through the sheets in the cart and peek outside. I saw these metal structures high as the clouds and more people than I have ever seen. There were more food than could feed my family for our lives stacked on carts all around me.

A man walked to the cart and I heard the lady arguing with him. He opened the sheets and saw me curled up in the corner. He forced me out of the cart and pushed my shoulders backwards. He measured every part of me. Then, he shook his head with disapproval and I am forced back into the cart. The strange lady called my name. “Yaha will not eat her scrap of bread today.” The cart continued to drag along the roads.

I woke to loud voices once again. I peaked out from the cart and saw men selling fish saying, “Precious fish for sale.” Even the food had a beautiful name. I wished I was a fish. Able to swim freely and mate with who they want. I took a spoon from the corner and carved a fish into the wood of the cart. I thought of mother and papa and knew they would love the art. The cart stopped and I hide the spoon and my thoughts of mother.

This time the man was greasy and heavy. He shoved a naan down his throat and smiled. The bread squished between his teeth and not only is it visible but so is his personality. He pulled out a wad of rupee and I knew he can pay the price so goosebumps climbed up my body. The man slid his hand down my back and whispered, “Don’t worry, sweetie.” His breath smelled like onions and turmeric. He needed a mint lassi, and I knew he can definitely afford it. The rude lady grins almost as wide as he does. As he was handing over the rupee I thought of mother. I thought of what she would tell me right now. I missed mother. I pushed mother out of my mind and told myself that I will never see her again if I am with this man. I run.

Through the vendors. Through the children skipping in the square. Through the men dragging around their servants. Then I saw the elephant. This huge gorgeous creature stood ahead of me. Our eyes locked and time stopped. The elephant wrapped its trunk around my body and for the first time since I left mother’s side I felt protected. Then I remembered the locket mother gave me. I rubbed my fingers along the engraved elephant. I felt as if hugging the elephant is hugging mother and papa together. Then I felt ice cold and I saw the rude lady with two large men. The elephant was spinning and everything went dark. All I could hear was the cursing of the lady. A sharp pain drove up my back. All was silent.

I heard more people. I opened my eyes and I thought I was in the cart. Not everything was clear. I looked at my drawing and it did not look right. I closed my left eye and the fish was perfect. I closed my right eye and the entire cart was fuzzy. A sudden burst of light and pain entered the cart. Without thinking my hand flew to my left eye and the pain was gone. The lady dragged me out of the cart and my hand stayed on my face. She pried my hand off my eye and fell backwards in awe. Her steps were stuttered and she tried to walk back to me and screamed. She started crying. The lady stormed to the front of the cart and we were back on the road.

We passed six more towns and each man had the same expression as the strange lady did. One man said to the lady, “Kamī, I am disappointed in you, how could you get stuck with such an ugly piece of merchandise?” and walked away with a smirk. The lady rolled her eyes and as she was walking to the front of the cart. I asked her, “Your name is Kamī?”

The lady responded, “No, that is what they call me, you can call me Maya, that is what my family calls me. Did you know you are the first to stay with me this long?” Then Maya shook her head and murmured, “This can’t be happening…” She walked to the front of the cart and said, “No dinner for you.”

The cart rolled along. I heard the approach of another city. I saw more people than any other city. As Maya’s footsteps near the opening of the cart, she said, “Welcome to New Delhi,” under her breath. Another greasy man waddled over. I knew there was no running now. This man’s hair was gelled back and his shirt was unbuttoned. My stomach turned. He slipped his hand down my shirt and I backed away. Maya smirked this time. She demanded the usual number, “Six thousand rupee.” The man handed over a wad of cash without hesitation. I noticed something. He never looked at my eye. His eyes never left my hips. At that moment I knew why he didn’t care about my blurry eye. I looked at Maya as she grinned running into the cart and sped away as fast as possible. The man grabbed my arm and pulled me down alleyways and we ended in a small opening.

We ended at a giant house. Inside an extravagant cooking quarter was in front of me. He showed me twelve rooms and two of them had long beautiful wooden tables topped with baskets and baskets of food. High ceilings and long shining crystals hanging from them. Why would you waste gems on your ceilings? He also had these glass pear shaped things everywhere. They were also hanging with the crystals and on the tables. He brought me to a door but instead of a room, there was only a decreasing elevation. He made a gesture for me to go down and as I made my way down, I heard murmured conversations and the closer I got to the bottom, the quieter they get. There are many other girls. I counted and there were nine of them. They look at me and laugh and continue their conversations. There were mats on the floor and concrete walls. I heard the door above us slam and the girls talk louder. I was unsure of what to do. I sit in the corner and run my fingers across the elephant necklace and the girls stare at me. I close my eyes and try to block out their chatter.

The next morning they surrounded me and stared as I got up. One stopped me and asked me about my eye. I told her I see a blur and she handed me what she called a ‘mirror’ and I saw that one eye looked at the mirror and the other was rolling in circles. No wonder no one wanted me but this man didn’t care. The girl told me her name was Nandita. She used to live on the streets by herself and she explained that the man told her he would give her food and a bed. What she didn’t know was that the bed would be his. She warned me that if he wanted to talk to me in private to do it quick because when it is quick it is less painful. After, if he likes it, you get more food and are welcomed back and stay, but if he doesnt, you’re back on the streets.

While Nandita was explaining life here to me, a bell rang and everyone got in a line. I shuffled to the back and an older lady makes her way down and hands us each a scrap of bread and walks back up. She returns a little later with a piece of meat and gives it to four tall girls who smile and eat it quickly. I think I will not do something I don’t like just to eat.

We are ordered upstairs and each one of us given a long wooden pole with hairs on the bottom and forced to ‘sweep the kitchen,’ ‘clean the toilets,’ ‘dust the furniture,’ ‘soak and dry the dirty clothes,’ ‘wash the dirty dishes.’ Some of the girls that received the meat are allowed to prepare food in the kitchen for the greasy man and his “family.” My arms ache and my head pounds. My fingers feel frail and my legs stumble down the stairs. I lie in the corner and try to take the pain away from my body.

The next day more bread, more cleaning, more aching, more talk, more sleep. About twice a day, a girl was called upstairs and when she came back received an extra scrap of bread.

The cycle repeated for 72 days. I know this because the nice girl Nandita who gave me the mirror engraves a line on the wall everyday. Days that someone new entered she made the line deeper so you know when your time started.

The next morning the old lady comes down and says, “Yaha you are wanted.” I go up to the cooking area and the man is there. He brings me to a room. I get scared but follow.

Leaving the room my body stinged and I felt as if my soul is drained. I looked back and saw the greasy man still in the bed smirking with his rolls spilling over and gelled hair out of place. I could not think straight. When I walked back I saw two little girls marching down the hallway and they asked me, ‘Is daddy in there?” I look at them and barely nodded. Tears crawled down my face and I passed another girl. This one seemed to be about twelve. She looked at me and asked, “You’re new?”

I nod silently and she gives me a tight hug. “You are different, none ever cry. I like you. Tonight meet me in the kitchen after Lila brings you supper.”

“Lila?”

“The old one, my mum. Follow her up the stairs and when she closes the door, stick behind and crawl out into the kitchen and I will be there. Oh and my name is Rajani.”

“Why?” I asked with confusion. “Why would you want to help me? Wouldn’t you want to stay with your mother and father?”

“My mum is silent. She pretends I don’t exist. And that man in there, I wouldn’t call him my father. You know, I heard some white people talking on the streets and they called him a strange word. I think the word was ‘rapist.’” I nodded and walked down the stairs. This all was a lot for me. All I could think was that I could leave this place.

When Lila came downstairs with the bread, I took my scrap and I sneaked behind her. No one saw me except for Nandita and I looked at her and she mouthed, I’ll pray to Brahma for you. I felt a burst of pride and hope through my body. I thought of mother and I felt suddenly happy and my goal was right in front of me. We smiled at eachother and I continued tip-toeing up the stairs. Through the crack in the door, I saw Rajani.

Rajani was holding a sack. It was filled to the rim with not only luxurious food but water canisters. She smirked and motioned me to come towards her. I slowly opened the door and crawled to her. We sneaked through the rooms and ended at the front door with the crystals and bright glass spheres on the ceilings. She whispered, “It’s called a chandelier and those are light bulbs.” I tried saying chandelier but instead said ‘candlair.’ Rajani giggled and as she opened the door a blaring alarm went off. We heard shrieks from the lower level where all the girls were. Now there were only 8.

We ran. We ran and ran. I saw the greasy man run to the door when we were down the alleyway he didn’t say anything but just stared. All eight girls surrounded him cheered. They were all smiling and jumping. Only one woman wasn’t happy. We saw Lila standing in the doorway frowning with her hands on her hips. I pushed her out of my mind and thought about mother. Nothing could stop me from getting to her.

At the end of the alleyway two tall men stood in the way. They were dressed in black pants and shirts and had a gold patch on their chest and nice black shoes. I ducked past them and Rajani passed me the basket and I grabbed it. I waited for Rajani. I run my fingers run down the textured elephant on my necklace and think of mother. Rajani tried dodging the police but they grabbed her. She shrieked and scratched them. She screamed, “YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME IN THIS HELL HOLE! NO, YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT HE DOES TO ME!”

She flew her wrist into one of the men’s face and kicked the other in between the legs. The cheers from the house grew louder. We ran faster this time and Rajani smiled and said, “While those two Bēvakūphōṁ were strangling me, I stole his gun.” She smirked and pulled out a metal handle and as she pushed her finger a loud boom echoed, cats scattered and glass shattered. Rajani smiled wide enough that her dimples could touch her eyes. She shoved the powerful device into the sack and we continued running.

We ran through towns, through people, through homes, and through time. We ran and never stopped. If we stopped we would be misusing our newly found freedom. We ate while running and we talked but running but we never stopped. We ran through the days and nights and holidays. We didn’t try to run, our legs just wouldn’t stop. We couldn’t control our legs but now we could control our fate.

Wishful Thinking

“‘Hello, my name is Steve. I am a male underwear model, so I know how to strike a pose!’…and that’s when I just wink and point my fingers like guns and…. BAM I got myself a girlfriend!!”

I circle the word “Goal!” on my notebook and start twiddling my pencil between my fingers and think, No, no that’s waaay too cheesy. Darn! At this rate I’m never gonna get myself a girlfriend! Plus my name’s not even Steve. Why did it have to be the uncool name, Swanhilde! Along with this lame name comes my short height which would never make me a model! Arg, I just about have the WORST luck in the world! Maybe I should just give up and become a priest or something. At least that way I would have a legitimate reason as to why I don’t have a girlfriend… Ugh, but being a priest would be so exhausting! I mean, keeping the secrets of people’s bad deeds and repeating the same lines over and over again everyday is definitely not for me. Okay, okay, I just need to take a few breathers, calm down, and think of a plan that would actually work; because at this rate I’ll never get a girlfriend by the end of high school!

…Alright so it’s already been 30 minutes, and I still can’t think of anything better. I mean now my mind has somehow wandered into the realm of cheesy pickup lines with the horrible catastrophes, “Are you a banana? Because I find you a-peeling,” or even, “You’re so beautiful that you made me forget my pickup line.” Now I’m starting to feel as though something’s wrong with me. All those years of being raised under the constant torture of my dad’s bad jokes is probably finally getting to me.

I stop to seriously think for a minute, then finally a brilliant idea pops in my head.

“Maybe it’s about time I got some professional help,” I proclaim.

I grab my phone out of my pocket, swipe through the contacts and stop at that beautiful name, Jacob a.k.a. the Love Expert. This guy has dated tons of girls; he’s dated girls in our high school, girls from different high schools, girls that currently go to college, and girls that are out of college and working. He is definitely my idol; the man who will hopefully one day turn my name from Swanhilde to Suavehilde. Although none of his relationships have ever worked out…but that’s not the point. The point is that he has experience. Wow, I never thought I could ever associate that word with dating, but it’s all because of that truly divine man, Jacob. I quickly dial his number, press the call button, and begin listening to those lull rings as I anticipate that “Hello?” when the love expert picks up and can finally answer all of my prayers… But instead I find myself with his voicemail and decide to politely leave a message asking him to call me back.

Alright, so it seems that so far I have not made any progress at all, and all I’ve been doing is sitting at my desk for a few hours thinking of nothing but pure nonsense. At this rate there’s no way I’ll ever get a girlfriend, I should probably give up on such wishful thinking for now. I guess it would be a good time to commence the backup plan. I scrummage through my backpack and whip out my true bae, my Nintendo DS. I insert my pokemon game, the screen begins to glow, and that beautiful theme song begins to play. Well, I may not be able to catch the ladies’ hearts, but I know for sure that I am a master at catching pokemon! I flop on my bed and play until I fall asleep. Jeez, being a teenager is exhausting.

Used

Yellow strings dancing

A used guitar on its last tour

The air is spinning

from left to right

The hallucination

of tireless

perspiration, precision, and

power

An intricate maze of

fatigue, fear, and

furiosity

Legs

Weak and barren,

like a wasteland

inhabited by a

dark and detrimental

black hole

Lost in a sea

of his own world

known to the outside as

imagination

A rainbow

of red, orange, yellow, green, and blue

Connecting the past

to the present

Like a stopwatch

Passing by

time

Minute by minute

Deteriorating

Inside, out

Counting down

the minutes

A web of

Pessimism

Never half full

Always half empty

Optimism concealed by

Reality

The reality of death

Where do we go

after death?

An impossible question

posed for fact or

fiction

People want to believe in

Hope or

desperation

The reality of size

Tall, short

Obese or anorexic

A concept

Bound by time

Weight

DIet

Concepts

That abide by other

concepts

To make one more

concept

Of life

Or death

When thinking of infinity

We think of a

sideways eight

But what really

is infinity?

We are infinite

Trillions of particles wrapped around

in a genetic code

Earth

A particle so tiny

Compared to the

universe

Humans

are infinite of

stupidity and curiosity

And are foolish

enough to think they can make a

difference in the

universe when they can’t even on

Earth

We are prisoners

In our own homes

Thinking our lives are

ours to choose

But in reality are just

stories for the world to see

We fall in love just

like that when

love is still a mystery to

us

Politicians

backstab one another

to make headlines

and buy people

out to

gain their superficial support

We waste billions of dollars

in the blink of an eye

when it wasn’t even our money

to spend

Celebrities say they want to

make the world a better place,

but behind the scenes

commit untruthful, unlawful and

immoral acts that

come back to haunt them

What-If?

I have always been waiting

for my big “what-if”

where an option,

maybe our final phone call,

swoops in

and I can just

grasp it, the way Dad

used to grip the steering wheel

of our blue Toyota and steer

my life in an entirely new

direction.

 

But as I wait

my fingers quake,

my body hovers, and

I am always watching

and waiting

and watching

but never seeing

and as I wait

life passes me by.

 

It’s all I can do

not to cry.

I have seen everyone

get up and move on

and still, I am waiting

for my big “what-if”

and waiting for John

to come back.

 

John went out

to look for Dad,

who left nearly

ten years ago,

with a woman

who was Not-Mom

but could have been

in another world

with another

what-if.

 

And sometimes I wonder

what it would be like

to have Not-Mom as a Yes-Mom?

to come home to her

baking brownies

for the next PTA meeting

or going shopping with Not-Mom

and getting a shirt that hasn’t

been stained and torn and re-sewn

and adjusted to be five sizes bigger.

 

Because Real-Mom can’t afford

to take me shopping for a new shirt

so my precious shirt,

the shirt Dad might have adored

had it been torn one less time,

because he loved anything that was stained

and ruined, but I guess he got sick of us.

This shirt is all I have, but

Not-Mom would scoff at it

and buy me a better one

with the money Dad enjoys spending

on his alcohol and not-shirts.

 

Sure, there are the shirts

from more fortunate girls

that the thrift store gives to us

when no one else wants them

but they are scratchy

and choking me

and Not-Mom’s daughter

wouldn’t wear anything

like that.

 

I’m not even sure that Not-Mom has a daughter

but she must have one,

or else Dad wouldn’t have left.

Dad is a Natural-Dad,

and he can only go

where there are children

to take care of and love.

 

I’m all grown up now,

15 years old and taking care of myself.

Real-Mom told me Dad needed children

and since I am not a child anymore

Dad couldn’t stay and take care of me.

 

Sometimes I wish

that I was eternally a child,

that I could stay and play on the

rickety swing set

and not have to worry about

a big what-if

and not have to worry about

John or Dad or Not-Mom

or if Real-Mom will get out of bed

today, or if she’ll stay in

for the seventeenth consecutive day

this month.

 

Real-Mom has a habit

of not getting out of bed

or caring about her appearance.

Sometimes the people on the street

outside the thrift store

where we get the scratchy clothes

will judge us

and I will be quick to apologize

with a shy smile and a slight shrug

saying

 

“What can you do?”

as if there is anything that

any of us can do

to fix the old habits

that haven’t died yet

and fix her broken heart

that has spread to the rest of her

broken body and broken life

and I suppose

 

That is why John left

he was looking to make

stained glass windows

out of the broken

fragments of his childhood

while I am only cutting my hands

on the glass.

 

My hands

have always been

too big and callused,

and cold,

but Dad used to tell me

“cold hands, warm heart”

as he blew on my fingers

and cooled down my heart

until all that is left for him

is a big slab of ice.

 

It’s only felt right

when Dad held my hands

because he doesn’t laugh at them

and he doesn’t try suggesting

lotion for me or ways for me

to make my hands more lady like.

Not-Mom must have had

more nimble hands than Real-Mom

and a much more nimble waist.

 

Because Real-Mom was never perfect

and neither was I, but Dad craved

perfection and money and alcohol

to dull the pain

that we had no power

to take away.

 

On the day that I met Not-Mom

her hands were pale and small

and soft, with long, slim fingers

and carefully trimmed, manicured nails

bright red nail polish screaming out.

Her hands were entwined in Dad’s

and I kept my hands on my elbows

digging my nails into the dead skin.

 

Dad was loading his car with all of his stuff

putting the possessions

that he cared most about

in the trunk of the car,

locking it and pushing past

a broken Real-Mom, who was

screaming and crying for him

not to leave, with an empty

bottle that she kissed more often

than she kissed me goodnight.

 

And I kept on wishing

that Dad would put me in the trunk

and he would look at me and John

and say something, anything

and I kept on wishing that he said

he would come back

and I kept on waiting

and looking out the window

for that dark blue Toyota that

probably still had my Barbie’s heads

shoved in between the seats

and John’s cars broken and abandoned

in the cupholders.

 

And as I looked out the window

I looked down at the ground below

and I swore that I could fly

and I would fly into Dad’s arms

and Not-Mom’s kitchen

and she would be baking brownies

and he would be playing piano

and I would be singing

and we would be a family.

 

Real-Mom doesn’t bake brownies,

she sold the grand piano in the living room

for “emergency money,” as she told me

but I noticed the jar of money

hadn’t increased in months

but Real-Mom always went out

and came back with things for her

forcing John to buy food for us

and I wanted to ask him for another shirt

but I could never find my voice.

 

Dad always loved my voice

So maybe he bottled it up

and put it in his car

because I haven’t been able to sing

my voice is raspy and burns in my throat

so I have decided to stop talking

and Real-Mom doesn’t talk to me

and John is gone

and I am fleeting

but I don’t quite know it yet.

 

I’ve got a song on my lips

and a war on my mind

only I don’t know how to soothe both

so I let them rage on and it’s eating away

at my heart, until slowly

very slowly

there is nothing left.

 

Dad used to talk to me all the time

he used to talk with John, too,

and I would love to watch John’s

eyes light up the way they used to

with Dad, because Real-Mom and I

could never give that to him

 

And maybe that’s why John left

to get another twinkle in his eye

for a smile to dance on his lips

and to finally feel appreciated

because no one feels appreciated

in this house.

 

Maybe, with the chance of a

What-If

John will come back and

tell stories and he’ll

barely be able to contain the

excitement of his voice,

and he’ll murmur,

stumbling over his words

saying, “oh yeah,

and look what else!”

 

And Dad will walk in

with his arm draped around Real-Mom

and we will be smiling

and we will be a family

and we will be…

 

But it’s time to stop daydreaming

because fantasizing about things

that will not happen are unhealthy

and unfair to the heart, who only yearns

for fantasies, for those what-if moments

that will one day be reality.

 

My last conversation with Dad

was at a coffee shop

miles away from our house

as I was trying to escape

and he already had.

 

He tried to cut me in line

ordering a coffee–

black, although I knew

he despised the taste

of tastelessness. He

always needed sugar and milk

or his cup would go untouched.

 

He craved sweetness

and eventually, Real-Mom

ran out of smiles to sweeten his day

and he ran out of spontaneous kisses

in the middle of the street

or when she was making pancakes

or applying more things to her tea, like

 

Sugar and spice and everything nice

was what he used to tell John and me.

He used to bounce me on my lap

as John stared up at him from the

dirty, carpeted floor with nothing

short of adoration in his eyes.

He would repeat these mantras to us

getting in our heads

and the worst mantra of all was

 

“I love you”

I was just short of telling him

in the coffee shop

but I knew how he cringed

hearing it from Real-Mom

as he stepped on our

carpeted floor in his

dirty boots and drove away.

 

But the coffee was not for him

I watched Not-Mom watch him

from the counter by the window

bringing her long, slim fingers

up

and

down

her red nails

striking the linoleum countertop

drumming out the beat of my heart,

 

amplified by the blood

rushing through my ears

and suddenly, I wasn’t craving

green tea, just his attention

and I knew I couldn’t have either.

 

I pulled my guard up

along with my hood

stepping out of the door

and I barely heard the twinkling of the bells

but by then they were sitting at the window

watching me

their eyes open and

Dad left Not-Mom with her coffee

and stood across from me on the street

that wasn’t familiar under my feet

and he opened his mouth

but had nothing to say.

 

I shrunk back against the window

it wasn’t John’s stained glass,

but the glass was forever stained

with this memory, though I’ve been

keeping it to myself for three years,

and I had dreamed of this moment

this was perhaps a what-if I was searching for.

 

He held out his hand

and I wanted to take it but my body was stiff

and he stepped closer while I wanted my distance.

In his hand was a five dollar bill and if John saw

he would have thrown a fit,

kicking and screaming that it wasn’t enough

for the seven years he had been gone.

But he placed the bill in my hand

his fingers lightly brazing the blisters on my sweaty palm.

He dropped his arm to his side and I wrapped my fingers

around the crumpled bill, he opened his mouth again.

 

“You dropped this,”

he told me, his voice dead

and his eyes unknowing.

My what-if window of opportunity slammed shut

almost closing on my fingers and locked

and I realized

 

He didn’t recognize me.

Three years have come and gone

and I’ve never told anyone

and he hasn’t come back for me

and now, as I look in the mirror,

and think about that day

 

I don’t even recognize myself.

Two Excerpts from Leo and the Lima Bean

Excerpt One:

 

I sit in my bed reading Fudge by Judy Blume. I remember in third grade it was my favorite book. I would read it every day, over and over again. It felt right saying that Lila, my sister, was a little bit like Fudge from the book. I didn’t say that to any of my family members. I guess you can say that my mom and dad have always been protecting Lila. Whenever I jokingly say, “Oh, Lila. I guess you are going to be a mean old witch when you grow up!” My parents are always like, “Leo this kind of stuff can hurt someone mentally as a child and then affect how you are when you grow up.” It’s pretty funny some of the stuff she does, but if I say one word… Poof… There goes all my allowance for the next month.

When I was Lila’s age, my parents left me with 7-year-olds and told them to be careful. Well, they were never careful. And if some older cousin said I had funny ears, then my parents would laugh and say, “Oh yeah, he does have hilarious ears!”

If I said that to Lila, I would probably be in jail. It just goes to show that parents go crazy the second time around.

 

Excerpt Two: In this Excerpt Leo is wondering where his friend Marshal is because he hasn’t seen him all day.

 

It was nine at night and I was trying to figure out where Marshall was. I didn’t think he was at Wilson’s. There was a little alley way between Marshall’s house and my house, and I could see that there was no light in his bedroom. He wasn’t asleep because he always slept with the closet light on. There was no window from my bedroom, but I was down in Lila’s room. She was asleep, so I was trying my best to stay quiet while peering through Lila’s closed curtains. None of the other lights in his house where on, so he was definitely not watching TV or something. As I stepped onto the window sill to get a better look at the closet, a toy that was on the window sill fell to the ground, causing a loud noise followed by the words, “Hi, what’s your name?” coming from the speaking doll now lying on the floor.

“Leo?” I heard an unsure Lila from her bed across the room.

“Hey, Lila,” I said, turning around and facing her. Hair was all over her face as she rubbed her sleepy eyes.

“What are you doing here Leo? It’s-” She turned and looked at her clock.

“I was trying to sleep Lo Lo,” she said slowly as she fell back into her bed.

Untitled

Let me tell you a story

About a girl who died

But that’s not the start

No, we can’t begin there

She was silent, immortal

Until she collapsed into

A deep trance, a spell

Love, it’s called

And she was held its victim

 

Yet even further back

To when she was innocent

Fate was her name

She lived alone in a house

A house in the middle of dreamland

When she awoke at dusk

The promise of imaginary nights

Was kept by the minds of children

Children, sleeping, unaware of her watching

Of her sending nightmares

To their dream catchers, eagerly waiting

To ensnare her choices

She perches on the windowsill

On the glowing, teal night

Dusted with stars in the false sky above

She twiddles a razor, sighs once or twice

Rolls up her silky sleeve

Creamy folds soon bloodstained

As she matches silver with red

Letting crimson drip into a bottomless inkwell

With the touch of her fingertip

Her scars are a faint reminder

Of the pain she once felt

She returns inside

Bare feet padding ghostly

She does not exist

If only you fail to believe

 

She sits at a wooden desk

Old, dark, and worn

Candlelit with her feather quill

And pure pages of a blank book

She dips the pen into the ocean

Oceans of her life’s memories

The inkwell, so rich

Teeming with all she is

Draws the blooming, velvet roses

Growing in the eternal gardens of heaven and hell

Her tears are the snow

Falling swiftly downward now

The ink swirls, the vines twist

Curved designs implanted in stone

Every twilight, she arises from death

To finish what she began

Picking up on last night’s work

Crows shooting from the lips of liars

Wingless angels blessing the cursed

A blank-faced reaper lighting the path

 

Yet still, nothing may be forever

And soon enough, she, in one slumber

Met a boy

Fair and tall, gentle and kind

When her hollow eyes locked

With his, filled with dread

All seemed to stop

All seemed to cease

They were soulmates, she knew

Tied with a thread

She had stitched it herself

After all, she was Fate

She had chosen to die

A peaceful passing

If only she knew

How much love really hurts

So she asked him his name

And gave hers in return

He had said he was no one

No one of great importance

“Well,” Fate said to no one

“You’re someone to me.”

The years passed like days

As Fate became a myth

She began to fade away

Without her inkings, her drawings

Of the world she creates

She became nothing

Fully dissolved when he asked for her hand

She accepted with pride

Unbeknownst to her, she was mortal at last

 

In a torn gown of moonlight

Slippers of shattered glass

Heart-shaped necklace of stone

She walked down the aisle

With every step, her lungs caught

She soon struggled to breathe

Her fingertips, once teeming

With the power to heal

Now aged with use

Wrinkled like satin

And the worst of all, I have yet to spare

Like a porcelain doll, she began to crack

Pale skin tearing with jagged lines

Lightning bolts darting across a stormy sky

And from each of these scars, blood would ooze

Leaking out and staining

Her lovely wedding dress

And when she reached her love

At the end of the aisle

He was of the same

Yet both, they still smiled

Phantom spiders crept

Through the locks of her midnight hair

Rain crabs prodded

Around his shiny, black boots

But when they kissed, it was gone

Everything was

For they had crumbled to ashes

As time always does

 

To this day, her book sits unread

Pages like white lilies dreaming of feather pens

Never to be touched again

Silver blade discarded

Fallen outside her window

Fate is no more

And Time, he is gone, as well

That is the tragic tale

Of a no one

Who found a someone

Until death do us part

Rest in peace, my love

Trapped Part 1

Why do i feel this way?

Why am i trapped in a box?

Why do i feel like i can’t breathe?!

Why do i feel like  i can’t get  out of this box?

Why can’t i speak?

But when i try to speak nobody can hear me.

I’m trapped in this box where nobody can hear me.

Is it because i push people away and didn’t listen to what they have to say?

Or maybe i’m out the box but why do i feel so trapped on the inside?

Maybe i’m still in the box.

But i feel like i can’t speak and tell them how i feel.

Does that still mean i’m in the box trapped?

I feel like i’m in a small space where i can’t move.

Am i just trapped in this box forever?

Because on the inside i’m melting.

Thunderstorms

The water hits the window

and she sits on the couch.

Wind howls outside

and a candle flickers on the table.

 

The sounds echo around her,

reverberating in the space.

 

Everything is illuminated

for an instant,

before it disappears.

 

Coldness seems to seep

through the windows and walls,

sneaking past her sweater

and chills her to the bones,

as the demons fight in the air

where they can’t be seen.

 

Their loud cries of rage and pain

and the shining streaks of weapons clashing

makes her feel small.

 

Their tears and blood splash

against the roof,

slipping down the sides

and collecting around her

like an ocean.

To Me, Izzy Meant

To me, Izzy meant losing someone

It was the end of something old

But the start of something new

I realize now that it was for the best

Even though at the time it was horrible

 

To me, Izzy meant finding myself

It was a painful process

But less hurtful than staying

I realize now that staying would have killed me

Even though I wanted to kill her

 

To me, Izzy meant technology

It was the horrific memory of my old life at school

but the amazing memory of starting over

I realize now that I became a better person

Even though at first I was worse

 

To me, Izzy meant hateful words

It was blaming myself for everything

But then realizing nothing was my fault

 I realize now that it was no one’s fault

Even though I put blame on everyone

 

To me, Izzy meant a change of name

It was a new way of seeing her

But in truth I knew the real her all along

I realize now that I was trying so hard for everything to stay the same

Even though I knew it never would

 

To me, Izzy meant taking sides

It was understanding that I was alone

But knowing I had a whole army to back me up

I realize now that I was so much more powerful

Even though I had felt so weak

 

To me, Izzy meant popularity

It was trying so hard to fit in

But knowing that I wanted to be myself

I realize now that something was wrong

Even though I thought everything was perfect

 

To me, Izzy meant the friendship was over

It was forced at first, never seeming right

But at the time I didn’t see it

I realize now that she was horrible to me

Even though I was worse back

Thunderstorms

She sat there,

numb.

It was almost okay,

she was almost okay.

Her booming thoughts were interrupted.

It was as if happy children were running across the roof of her

lonely,

musty, house

eager to get somewhere, anywhere.

She sighed,

a deep, echoing sigh,

wondering if it would ever be over.

She got up from her chair struggling a bit as she pulled the string that was attached to the bulb.

She walked slowly, anciently to her bed.

She laid there,

numb.

It was okay.

She was okay.

There’s No Rain in Winter

MISSING

Olivia Hackett

Age: 5

Eyes: Green

Height: 3’5

Fresno, California

Declared missing September Sixth, 2006, 4:06pm. She was last seen exiting The Mountainside School with her sister Rain Hackett, 12 years old. Quotes from her sister say, “She was walking with me until I closed my eyes for a second and then all of a sudden she was gone.” She was not near anyone except for her sister. Reports say that she was not one to play practical jokes like this or to want to run away.

 

I glanced up from my paper to the analog clock that stood on the cobbled adobe wall of the small classroom. 3:46. 14 minutes left. I looked back down at my quiz. One question left.

 

  1. James bought 66 watermelons at the grocery store. He gave half to his friend then and ate ⅙ of the watermelons that were left. How many watermelons does he still have?

 

66 watermelons? What’s wrong with you?” I thought to myself but completed the equations nonetheless. I scrawled down the answer on the page and then turned over my paper. I sat at my desk quietly, surveying a small roly poly’s ascent up the window sill.  Just as he was about to finally reach his destination, a shrill ringing woke me out of my stupor. Ms.Cooper sighed and pulled off her spectacles.

“Alright, everyone hand in your papers, then you’re free to go,” she said absentmindedly. I carefully folded my paper and threw it into the air. The airplane soared, doing a loop de loop through the air before landing smoothly on Ms. Cooper’s desk. Then someone started clapping.  The class joined in, and so I gave bow while Ms. Cooper just rolled her eyes, unfolded it,  and put it in her desk.

I pulled on my coat and backpack, then swirled out of the room to go find Liv so that we could go home.  I walked down the stairs to Liv’s classroom where she’d  just been dismissed. She stood patiently outside the door, where we’d declared our meeting spot. Her bright smile encased in a raincoat that was a few sizes too big greeted me as soon as she saw me.

“Hey Liv! How was school?” I said as I gave her a hug.

“So much fun! We started learning times tables,” she replied, jumping up and down. “And I got an A on my science project!” She held up a piece of construction paper crudely illustrating a butterfly’s life cycle.

I grinned at her and said, “That’s great! Now c’mon, let’s get home, Mom’s waiting.” I tugged her hand and she started skipping next to me across the hallway. As we came to the wooden doors that led outside the school, I pulled out mom’s dark blue umbrella; mine wasn’t big enough for the both of us. I opened my umbrella after I pushed through doors, you know, just in case. I held it over our heads as the angry drops of water hit the ground incessantly, the air smelling that roasted kind of smell that always comes with rain.

I closed my eyes blissfully for a moment, taking in the perfect weather. Other people like sunshine, the beach and the water, others the coldness of the snow, making angels and fighting with friends. But I will never enjoy anything better than a good pour. And it’s not just because my name’s Rain!

Opening my eyes, I looked beside me to find Liv. But she wasn’t there. “It’s alright, she’s probably just run ahead.” I thought. But as I looked around, Liv was nowhere to be seen.

“Liv? Liv!” I yelled out. “She’s just hiding, playing a game with me.” I looked around the playground for her, but she wasn’t anywhere. She couldn’t have disappeared…could she? I  started to grow panicked. “LIV! WHERE ARE YOU? COME OUT! COME ON LIV, YOU CAN COME OUT NOW! LIV!” I looked everywhere, checked everywhere 5 times. No Liv. “Where is she?!” I thought. I ran back inside of the school desperately.

I ran until I came to the office where I said breathlessly to the secretary “My sister’s missing.”

“Calm down Ms. Hackett — are you sure that she’s gone?”

“I’ve looked everywhere! I can’t find her!” My big eyes pleaded for her to me believe me.

“Okay, okay. Tell me what’s happened.” She sat me down in a chair and looked at me sympathetically.

“A-alright,” I began, forcing my voice to steady. “We were leaving the school because we were about to walk home, when I closed my eyes for a second and she was gone. I looked everywhere — but I couldn’t find her.”

I choked out a sob and she said, “There there, we’ll find her, don’t you worry. Stay here for a second, okay?” I nodded sorrowfully and watched her enter the principal’s office. She said a few words to Mr. Adams, and he nodded, then dialed a number on the phone and starting saying something when the secretary returned.

“Okay, Mr. Adam’s calling your mom. She’ll come pick you up, okay?”

“But what about the police?” I asked with a sniffle. “Don’t they ought to know? She patted me and said, “Don’t worry, we’ve notified the authorities, they’re coming.”

“Okay,” I said and coughed. I waited in silence, watching the secretary and the principal to bustle about. Finally I hear the door crack open — my mom. As soon as she sees me she pulls me into a hug.

“Oh Rain — how could this happen?!”  she said tearfully.

“I’ve wondering that myself,” I replied. She pulled away from me looking the saddest and most scared expression I’ve ever seen.

“She’ll come back, I know she will. I hope for god’s sake that she does.” My mom said.

“Let’s go home,” I simply said.

“Okay,” she said. She turned around to the secretary and said, “Thank you so much for helping — this kind of thing is tough.”

“Oh it’s no problem. I’m so sorry for your loss — er — no, but I know that we’ll find her. “

“Sorry for your loss? She’s not dead… I hope…” I thought. She smiled and we went through the door. I found Mom’s hand and I clung to it, my clammy fingers to hers. Our walk home was in silence, each contemplating our own despair, tears burning our faces.

***

Later that night I started researching kidnapping. My mouth gaped as I read about some of the things that had happened to unsuspecting people. All I could do was hope that Liv would be okay. If she wasn’t, I didn’t know what I’d do to myself. The rest of the evening rested in silence throughout dinner. I couldn’t help but glance over to the chair where Liv always sat, start to say something, only to realize she wasn’t there. I slept fitfully, dreaming of horrible things happening to Liv. I went to school in a despicably miserable state, my mom at a loss for words with no Liv to tell to brush her teeth and not forget her lunch.

At school I picked up my books without another glance. But when I returned to put them back before lunch, I saw something peculiar… a note. I wondered what that could be from, since I usually kept my locker pretty tidy. It was fancy paper, the kind that’s used for wedding invitations. I put down my books and picked up the note and squinted at the neatly scrawled words .

Dear Ms.Hackett,

We have Olivia. If you ever want to see her again, follow the clues. Drop it in locker 168. Oh, and if you tell your parents or the police, we won’t hesitate to kill her.

Here’s your first clue.

And then nothing. Nothing except the one last clue — a dot, blood-red. I put my finger on it — still wet. The note was new. I was smart enough to guess it was Olivia’s — unless it wasn’t. This all could just be a red herring as they say. But who knew that Olivia was gone? I counted on my fingers — Mom knew, so did Mr. Cooper and the secretary. And then whoever on the police force. Who could’ve done this?

And then there was the question of what the musical note meant. I knew I should remember what those are called, since I did learn it. But that was in 3rd grade! I pulled out my phone and quickly thumbed in “curly musical note with line through it” on Google and pressed send.  A Wikipedia article titled “List of Musical Notes” appeared. I tapped it, and up came the page. I scrolled through all the lines until there, the first one under clefs. Next to the picture read the title, G-Clef.

Like I knew what that meant. I kept on thinking about what it could mean as I sat down at lunch. I could barely pay attention to my friends talking about an anime show, my favorite one. And suddenly I didn’t feel quite as sorrowful about Olivia’s kidnapping with this new development. I was, as they say in mystery novels, hot on the trail.

***

The rest of the day was a whirlwind of tests and homework, which I worked diligently at so that I could spend the rest of the day trying to figure out the clue. When the final bell finally rang, I bolted from my seat before anyone could stop me.

As soon as I got to my locker to pick up my stuff I called my mom to tell her I’d be staying late at school for clubs. My mind was tearing myself apart about whether I should tell her what I was actually doing. But what if doing so got Liv killed?

She agreed to me staying but told me, “Take care. I couldn’t handle you disappearing as well…”

As I shut my locker closed I realized I needed somewhere to think. I finally decided the best place to work this out would be the tables next to playground (where Lily went missing).

As I made my way outside all I could think about was “G-clef, G-clef, G-clef, what does it mean?” Scanning my eyes over the playground I tried to think if there was anyway she could still be hidden there, just waiting to pop up and say “Gotcha!” but of course that couldn’t happen. She had been kidnapped for whatever reason, and it was my job to find her.

I absentmindedly sat down at the plastic blue table. I set down my backpack and pulled out my laptop, suddenly realizing there was another kid sitting across from me.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I’ll sit over –” I started to say, standing up.

“No, no, it’s alright.”

I sat back down slowly, realizing that this kid was in my grade. Sam, the shy kid who played the guitar really well. I had a crush on him back in 5th grade, but I was over him now. He’d always been nice to me but we’d never really been friends.

“Um,” he said quietly, “I heard about your sister. I’m sorry.”

My throat became dry as I looked into his dark brown eyes. “I… it’s okay. We’re, we’re going to find her, I know it.” But really my mind was saying Yeah, unless this psycho killer doesn’t get to her before I figure out what music scales mean!

An idea suddenly hit me.“Wait. Sam…you’re good at guitar right?”

“Uh… yeah, I guess,” he said modestly, turning his glasses-covered eyes away from me. “Been playing since I was six.”

“Um, do you think… you could tell me what this means?” I said, rummaging for the incriminating note in my bag and showing it to him.

“Yeah, that’s a treble clef, less commonly a G-clef. In sheet music, depending on what instrument you’re playing, it tells you what octave to play the notes in a higher or a lower octave.”

“Okay… thanks for the help, Sam,” I said, excited, opening my laptop.

“Wait a second… what did the rest of that note say?” he said worryingly, trying to take it from my hands.

“Um… nothing!” I replied nervously, trying to stuff it in my pocket, but he snatched it before I had the chance.

“…We won’t hesitate to kill her!” he read shrilly as I tried to pry it from his hands. “Rain, you’ve got to tell someone! The police, a teacher… someone!” he cried out.

“Be a little louder why don’t you? Didn’t you read the note? They’ll kill her if I do! These clues are the only way I can find her.”

Sam sighed defeatedly. “Fine. But only if you let me help you,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“What!?” I whisper-shouted. “Nope. Out of the question. Liv might be dead just because I told you! There is no way you are getting involved,” I said firmly.

“Look, I’m good at puzzle solving! I’ll help you! For example, I’ve already figured out that we need to get the key for Room G and take down the three inspiration posters to get the next clue.”

I stood there shell-shocked for a moment before replying quietly, “H-how d’you suppose you figured that out?”

Sam shyly turned his head away. “Oh, well, y’know I figured, I take Latin and clef means key, so I thought Room G at school… and then I realized treble means threefold and what three things is Ms. Giamatti constantly going on about? Our three inspirations,” he replied modestly.

“W-well then,” I replied, surprised at his intellect. “We should probably go do that.”

***

Sam and I wandered the halls together trying to find the janitor (the only person in the whole school who has all the keys) until we finally walked into the office, spotting him at his desk. He was a large man with scarily dark eyes and a wispy mustache, hunched over devouring a sandwich. A plaque in front of him indicated his name was Mr. Ruiz.

“Mr. Ruiz?” I said quietly as we approached his desk. Still focused on ferociously eating his sandwich he took no notice of us. “Mr. Ruiz?” I said a bit louder. Finally he stopped chewing his sandwich and looked up at the pair of us.

“What do you kids want?” he grunted in a suspicious manner. “If you need keys for a prank m’ not helping you, *** kids almost got me fired…” he trailed off in his husky voice.

“No no, nothing like that,” I replied as nicely as I could. “I just… I… well, I um…” I sputtered. Mr. Ruiz glared at me angrily while eyeing his sandwich.

“She thinks she forgot her laptop in Room G. We were wondering if you could unlock it for us? We’d be really grateful.” Sam said smoothly from behind me. Mr. Ruiz grunted and started standing up, mumbling, “*** kids, was on my lunch break, never should have taken this job…” quietly under his breath.

When we finally arrived at Room G on the other side of the school I bounced impatiently on the balls of my feet, waiting for him to open the door already. He unlocked it so slowly it felt like a million years had gone by once we finally stepped into the music room. Me and Sam both a mixture of excited and very nervous walked over to the posters on the wall of Beethoven, Franz Liszt, and Mozart each looking pretentious and pompous in their stance.

As quietly as I could, trying not to alert the hungry janitor outside, I ripped the bottom of the posters off the wall, and out fell a small piece of parchment paper. I quickly stuck the poster back on at hopefully the right angle while Sam picked up the paper. We rushed out the door, janitor only looking a bit suspicious.

“Sorry for wasting your time,” I said quickly. “It wasn’t in there, um, you can go back to your lunch now!” We rushed away from the scene, probably looking like the most suspicious a pair of people can be without having a burglar mask or a gun. We walked quickly back outside to our blue table while Sam anxiously opened the note. This is what it said:

Well done Ms. Hackett. We did not expect you to solve our puzzle quite so fast. But, well, we did not expect your little friend either. Tell no one else or you will bid your sister adieu.                 

Here is your next clue :

Stendhal Syndrome

 

Again, it was only accompanied with one drop of blood. The strange thing, however, about the note was the words. As I ran my hand across the cursive I could tell it was penned by hand, perhaps with a fountain pen. However I could still feel the wet printer ink from the strange clue’s font. Why go through the trouble of printing the words on the paper and writing it?

“Stendhal syndrome… I’ve never heard of that…” Sam mumbled over his shoulder. Still uneasy about the strangeness of the note, he dismissed it.

“Me neither. We should–” I started to reply before feeling a vibrating against leg. I pulled out my  phone out of my pocket, and sure enough it was my mom calling.

“Dang,” I muttered under my breath. An hour had gone fast. “We’ll finish this later. I have to go home, or my mom will freak,” I said to Sam, folding the paper and stuffing it in my pocket.

“Alright. Do you have a Skype? I’ll look up Stendhal’s Syndrome and text you if I find anything,” Sam said, both of us starting to set off down the paved road.

“Okay,” I intoned and wrote down my name in his contacts. “I’ve really got to go, I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah,” he responded absentmindedly. We both started setting off but a few second later somebody tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and saw Sam standing there under the cloudy sky, peering up at me gravely. “You know Rain, this is serious. This isn’t just some puzzle game. We’re not just having fun. Someone’s life is at stake.” I looked at him and saw how determined he was, and I knew I had made the right choice in letting him help me.

“I know. This is my sister that’s at stake, and we’re getting to the bottom of it.”

 

***

 

7:06 9/7/06 starsandguitars: heyyyy its sam. i found some stuff on stendhal’s syndrome. u might want 2 check it out. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stendhal_syndrome

 

7:09 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: Whoa that’s some weird stuff. PS why is starsandguitars your name. I mean I get the guitars part but

 

7:10 9/7/06 starsandguitars: idk i like stars!! gee so judgy. when urs is rainthecupcake

 

7:10 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: I WAS 6 YEARS OLD. MISTAKES. WERE. MADE.

 

7:11 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: Anyways about this Stendhal guy. Who was he?? Maybe he’s somehow part of the answer.

 

7:13 9/7/06 starsandguitars: hmm he was a french writer dude in the 19th century. stendhal is only his pen name tho. he’s written a bunch of stuff, novellas and biographies…but he’s best known for Le Rouge et le Noir and La Chartreuse de Parme.

 

7:15 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: Doesn’t sound like anything I’ve read. Send me an excerpt maybe?

 

7:16 9/7/06 starsandguitars: “Love born in the brain is more spirited, doubtless, than true love, but it has only flashes of enthusiasm; it knows itself too well, it criticizes itself incessantly; so far from banishing thought, it is itself reared only upon a structure of thought.”

 

7:18 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: That can’t be it. What is the actual syndrome tho?

 

7:19 9/7/06 starsandguitars: its like this thing that sometimes happens when u go and see famously amazing art, some people actually faint bc they are so amazed. lol

 

7:19 9/7/06 starsandguitars: it mostly happens in florence, italy cus the statue of david as well as like the uffizi gallery cus it has lots of famous michelangelo type art

 

7:20 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: Weird. I wonder if the clue has to do w/ art or italy or something.

 

7:21 9/7/06 starsandguitars: i wonder…no i bet not

 

7:21 9/7/06 rainthecupcake: oh no i gotta talk to u later im eating dinner w/ my parents. try to think of connections k? ttyl

 

7:21 9/7/06 starsandguitars: oh ok bye…

 

***

“Rain! Get off your computer for once and come eat dinner!” my mom hollered at me just as I finished tapping out my last message to Sam.

“I’m coooooooming!” I replied. “Gee, can’t you be patient?” I said jokingly at my mom as I walked into the dining room. My mom rolled her eyes and finishing putting her classic arrabiata pasta with turkey onto her plate. My stomach grumbled as the smell wafted up at me.

“Smells so good,” I said as I sat down at the table, across from my mom, the spot next to me eerily empty.

“Thanks sweetie. I just hope my worry hasn’t gotten into it….” she said distantly. My mom thinks that her emotions seep into her cooking, and she’s kinda right. In our house you can usually tell if my mom is having a bad day by her chicken.

I took the first bite of the pasta, and though it was amazingly spicy and good, there was something lacking, something that could only be discerned by a mom-cooking-aficionado such as I.

“It’s really good,” I assured my mom through a mouthful of pasta who was chewing with a sadness to her eyes.

“Yeah…” she answered, looking at the window. Suddenly she turned her head and stared at me pleadingly with her large eyes gazing into mine. “If you knew where she was, you would tell me right? This isn’t some elaborate prank you two are pulling?” I looked at her and saw the intense worry in her eyes.

“Number one: I promise I would tell you if I knew. Number two: I wish I could say it was, but it’s not. She’s missing.” I said, the guilt creeping into my stomach like a bloodsucking parasite.

My mom sighed. “I almost wanted you to say yes. But of course you wouldn’t. I’m so sorry for doubting you,” she said sincerely as she gave me a hug over the table. It felt like the guilt was consuming my body. Chewing it inside out with its corroding, insidious black slime, making my throat go dry.  “I love you so much. Please don’t ever missing. I don’t think I could ever go without both of munchkins,” she begged of me.

“I promise I never will,” I barely squeaked out before rushing to go clean my plate.

 

To be continued…

The Zoobreak

The night the monkeys took the keys

from the belt of a sleeping guard

they escaped into the outside zoo

from which they were previously barred.

 

From the belt of a sleeping guard

escape came to their minds

from which they were previously barred

they went to complete their crimes.

 

Escape came to their minds

they rescued the others too

they went to complete their crimes

in the Great Break of the Zoo.

 

They rescued the others too

from the elephants to the ants

in the Great Break of the Zoo

to the exit they advanced.

 

From the elephants to the ants

the guards saw them coming near

to the exit they advanced

and they could not help but fear

 

The guards saw them coming near

there was no time to make amends

and they could not help but fear

the animals wanted revenge!

 

There was no time to make amends

into cages they were thrown

the animals wanted revenge

they made the zoo their own.

 

Now the zoo is full of animals

and humans are there too.

But the animals are guards-

it is a human zoo.

The Story of Scaricia

It was a stormy night on the island of Scaricia in the year of 4027. This island was the only surviving land on Earth since all the other countries had sunk due to global warming. It has a land area of about 2,450 square kilometers but continues growing as they are making new land off the sand and dirt on the seabed. Scaricia has a population of almost 30 million. It used to be an uninhabited island controlled by the People’s Republic of China, but is now a safe haven for all people across the world, although the only inhabits are some of the major ethnicities of the world, such as Chinese, Indian, Russian, American, French, German, British, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish. Most of the other ethnicities have escaped onto their navy ships, for example, a Battleship or an Aircraft carrier where the people have to fish for food and drink soup for water. Others, sadly, didn’t escape and drowned in the powerful ocean. Thankfully the average elevation of the island is about 5,000 meters above sea level and will most likely not sink for a long time. Also, the population has shrunk extremely as well from around nine billion people to only around 30 million, probably more than 99%.

This island is generally peaceful and everyone mostly gets along with each other. Everyone keeps their own culture and speaks their own language at home but speaks the major languages outside. These major languages are Chinese and English. Even though the island is peaceful, the government still requires everyone to serve in the military for at least four years and encourages people to try to get into the police department. Its government is democratic and allows every ethnicity to be in the government and government affairs.

The military of Scaricia is also quite strong even though there is no military to compete with, with about five million troops that are ready for combat at all times. An extra one million people help in the factories making ammunition, such as first aid packs, equipment, etc… Although the military is strong, people live quite peacefully as no one really breaks the rules unless they want to face extreme treatment. Technology is also quite high. They have created vehicles which can turn invisible and use lasers to destroy other objects. The biggest invention they have created so far was the force field. This was mainly created just to defend earth from aliens, if they even decide to conquer the 2,450 land areas on earth.

The space program is also really high tech. They have already set foot on Mars and have an office for astronauts on the Moon and Mars. They are currently planning to colonize and build living spaces for humans on the Moon and Mars.

 

⃝⃝⃝

 

“BREAKING NEWS!! Mars has just been invaded by aliens. We suggest every civilian take cover,” I heard from my bedroom. At first, everyone was normal and no one was actually panicking. Mom was just cooking and as usual Dad was in the computer room working from home. No one seemed to be paying attention to any of this “nonsense” quoted by my mom. People thought they were just doing some kind of military drill and wasn’t expecting any form of life to be able to defeat them. Everything seemed to be going normally. People going to work, minding their own business. The alarm on the TV was still going off and finally, soldiers came in with anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank guns and even tanks although I thought that would be of no use to us since we have a force field surrounding us. I actually kind of got scared since I believed in all of that alien stuff but I was also a little bit scared thinking aliens are more high tech than us.

Suddenly, alien escape pods flew out from the sky and turned into military aircraft and began bombing us. I looked out the window and people were just staring in the sky hoping that the force field would protect us. Then, our force field began to disintegrate. Everyone started screaming and panicking as soldiers began firing and I was also thinking, What are we gonna do??! Both my parents have finally awakened back to their senses and as we were told, we got down into the protected basement hoping to not die. We watched the news from inside the house and it first seemed as if the war was going in our favor.

 

Three years later…

 

The fighting still continued and our manpower was slowly going out and it also seemed as if the aliens had infinite amounts of manpower. Also, according to the CUG News, the aliens have outer space heavily patrolled especially at the wormhole that keeps spawning aliens out. Nightly and daily, the aliens bombed Scaricia and everyone lived underground. We were told not to look outside as we might see very bad sights but I went upstairs onto the first floor and looked through the windows…

All I could see was destruction and chaos. Finally, I felt like I needed to start doing something to help in this war. I took out my telescope and looked at the wormhole, surprisingly there was one place that was not guarded by aliens. At first, I thought this would be of no use to helping in this war since astrophysicists probably have noticed it already but couldn’t do anything since our space military is wayyy too weak…then I thought, “Wait, but the government and people are probably too busy managing the safety of civilians and the war itself that they won’t know about this.” I have to go tell the government immediately. But how can I get there without getting bombed?

It took me at least a day getting there and about an hour to convince soldiers to take me there for “important information,” but I finally made it! I told them the story and they actually believed me! So they began making preparations and named their plan “Operation Downfall.” Just like how France fell 2,090 years ago, just as long as their capital falls, the entire country falls since apparently, no capital = no country. This form of logic applied to the aliens for which now we know how to defeat them.

The Price of Words

Words are the things that define us,

shape us,

make us who we are

because

try as we might

we will, even in the most minor way possible,

concede with the labels slapped so harshly upon us

because

that’s how it is

we are a

loser

freak

blank

clear

unloved

forever alone

nothing

and we can’t change that

so really

we think that a picture is not worth a thousand Words

Words are worth a thousand pictures

and we can’t change that, either,

but

we can change schools

we can change our appearance

we can face our greatest fears and survive

just for the sake of fitting in

we can convince our parents to drive us to a tattoo parlor, late at night

we can have them strap us down so we don’t try and escape

we can scream louder than we have ever screamed before

pleading to be let up

pleading to be kept down

we can feel the needle on our skin

we can keep our eyes shut

squeeze them tight as we may, the tears trickle out

forming a steady waterfall down the side of our face

falling into a natural saltwater lake

we can be done after what feels like eternity

we can look at the Words in the mirror

curved along our jawline

with letters that spell out

‘May I?’

we can move the next day

start school the day after that

pretend that we’ve met our soulmate on a train

never to see him again

we can lie through our teeth

keeping a straight face

but on the inside

we can wonder

is the price of Words too much?

is the price of fitting in too much?

we can wonder this

wonder this until we regret that night

regret our false identity

but we can’t change it

we can’t change this new label that’s been forced on us

this new burden to carry around on our shoulders

slowly

slowly

breaking our back

cracking our bones

until we are nothing but a ‘May I?’ on our corroding jaw

until we can’t stand it anymore

until we realize that

yes

the price of Words is too much

the price of Words is us

our identity

who we are

and

we want all that back

so

‘May I?’ we want to ask to whatever stole them from us

‘May I have it back?”

that ‘May I?’ will be imprinted in our mind as long as the ‘May I?’ on our jaw is imprinted there

and one day

just before we crack

someone will come up to us on the bus and say

‘May I?’

and we think we’re imagining it

but we feel our foot burn

and as we say

‘Of course’

they grab their neck

and we get their phone number

they get ours

but really

we never return their texts

because

we were never more happy than when we were ourselves and we still didn’t know

the price of Words.

The Last Moments of a Noble Man

To obtain the quietness of a mournful passing, one must have the grandeur of the coronation of a promising king. The silence is all there needs to be, the warm touch of a predecessor of life, the assurance that a mark is left in continuous progress. Let there be that touch in all that is bonded, for bondage is not to be hidden. The heavy breathing of all that witness, that of the dying, that of the skies, that of the following, it all comes together in unison, a monologue of dreadful sadness, and yet, there is a hearth that lies at the opposite side of the room. The heat is belittled with each passing moment until there is nothing left but ashes, but may these dusty forms represent the eradication of pain, and an epiphany of equilibrium. The silence is a moment of respect that is acquired through the actions in one lifetime. To all that is unsaid, is the greatest triumph of all, formulating an epitaph that feeds on the dripping tears, to make something much greater; a legacy. There is no sound louder than the radiating pound of quietude.

There lies a man flat on a bed, his hackle horrendous, his skin frosty, his eyes a certain color of impassive magnitudes. The hoarseness of his breathing infected the atmosphere with dense tension. For such a small room, with even a blazing fire, the family could not produce enough body heat to thaw the pain from nature’s debt. There is a love to be had, and as great as affection might be, there is a hardship that must be endured. The negative correlations that are lived through the flow of a starry damsel who meanders in the sky, and then takes a good long look at the moon, and realizes that if the beginning of such a beautiful gift known as life can be mysterious, then the embrace of the unknown shall be more inviting to explorers of the edge between reality and fantasy. A paradise is what people crave, an eternity of serenity, though do people deserve such a reward? Those that have silence very much do. Their acts are imprinted in the past, but also an example for the future, and morals, even when altered by different time periods, are never to cease to be. Existence will always gaze down from the patterns in the sky, but nothingness will never have a voice in a universe so filled with pioneering. Such pioneers waltz to the tune they have formed by themselves, as their closest friends and family gaze in amazement and see that the elegance of death is that it is just a phase, much like a benchmark that unlocks a new establishment of freedom.

Some relatives step outside for a break of strain. They see an ensemble of colors that paint their faces with the subtle light of dusk. The variety of colors masterfully splattered on a view most magical for a reality. Some of their fingers tremble and decide to light a cigarette, while others just let the water flow from their eyes, and accept that it is an alleviation from the burden of watching a loved one in pain. None of them interact with each other, for they would not hear each other anyway. The silence could not be talked over; too deafening. The grass grazes their ankles, the wind tickling their ears. They all import this image to a fond memory. An instance of the innocence in youth, a grin, a harmless mischief, a celebrated union. The memories recollect and meet in the span of a few moments, a place taken by the present. To the amazement of the wanderers, they realize that all they craved from the past is put on display at the death of a noble man.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

The man of high honor but no aristocracy traveled to the depths of his memories and remembered believing that what is considered customary is the natural forgetfulness of happy times. Foolish in character, wise in mentality, he was never a boy who sat still, nor a boy who meandered off into abstract proportions. His priorities lay with his mother, a pure nonpareil of justly strictness who made the absolute best pastries in the entire village. A village in Central America where sand sprinkled on the streets, and the breeze of the ocean whipped the faces of the inhabitants. Tall palm trees sprung, blue skies glowed, and clouds enveloped themselves in the warm blueness of serenity. There was a spicery on almost every corner, and on a specific one, the manager installed himself, ready for the day. He pulled a picture out and placed it on his desk every day to remind him of what type of father he was. A father who acted as a jester for the sake of an image of a grinning baby. Both parents devoted themselves to family, both diving in dangers, and both loving every second of it. Any other type of family that considered themselves the epitome of unification were caught with dropped jaws of mediocre conduct when compared to a family such as that of the noble man’s. Were they wealthy? Not too deep in impoverishment, but on the fair side of needing, but not receiving. In fact all that was earned, was given to those who did not know if living the next day was an option. Thrown off by benevolence, the parents came down ill. With money scarce, and a denial of interrupting their alms, proper treatment was but an illusion.

Word of the sudden deaths of the two parents dispersed throughout the village, and so the flood of tears flowed under the gloomy eyes of friends, and rushed into the cracks of the streets. Their ends were not far apart, only a gap of a few days. Though for their son, he crouched on the floor and picked up his mother’s favorite flowers–dahlias. He placed them on both of their caskets and said indistinguishable words. Never were they repeated, until the day of his final gasps.

The orphan had an aunt, a physical replica of his mother, though with ill-founded motives, and abusive teachings. The orphan had more quality time with a belt from auntie’s husband than with the pair during dinner time. There was to be no leisure, and education was said to be a waste of time, a blockade of entering life earlier. The orphan liked to look at books with pictures in them, though he never understood the words on the page. However, even gazing at the books was most punishable in a family of farmers. His mother never had such extremities of either complete neglect, or conscious beating. Mother always rewarded for goodness, and only dare smack him for doing something repulsive. Something against the rules she always made. Father always had a soft spot for his little boy, but he knew there had to be a balance in parenting, a balance that the little boy would never receive.

Quotas were to be met; number of cows milked, berries picked, and fields shredded. No protest was ever uttered by the little boy, until one day he left a scribbly drawing depicting that he was to never return to the household, the household in which he was dying at the very moment.

The boy became a lad through the discovery of starvation and thirst. He joined a group of street kids whose rags matched the dark colors of the ashen streets. They robbed from the central market that placed itself in the grand courtyard in the middle of the village. Even with the exotic name of Plaza de Fortuna, no men nor women of high status mingled in that courtyard. The adolescent knew it was against the lessons his mama had told him, but he was just so hungry. It took him three days to decide to take an apple from an old man who only had a few coins in his jar. The juice of the apple burst in his mouth, the sweetness pouring and flooding over his taste buds. He moaned at the beauty of the savory taste. The skin of the apple melted in his mouth, until the second bite. The second bite tasted of corpses, rotten, spoiled. The apple, so beautiful in its shining redness, was now thrown on the ground, the smack of his mother’s backhand imprinted on his cheek. But now, even his mother was not there to discipline him.

A homeless man stood at a corner of a collapsed church, a gold cross hanging on his neck, a single shoe on his right foot, and a beard that stretched to the base of his neck. Though the man had the eyes of a youthful being, his wrinkles made him look old and worn. He was playing a melodic tune with his embarrassingly scratched guitar, and tapping his shoe with the rhythm. Like the merchant, nothing but a few coins in a jar. The boy, without even greeting the beggar, approached the old man, placed the apple next to the jar, and decided to simply sing at the melody. It was not for a moment of glorious spectacle, nor was it for an income. It just seemed comforting to have some music with an accompaniment of vocals. The man did not protest, and so the strings of the guitar danced with the pitches of the boy’s singing. It lasted from the morning all the way to midnight, with no meal in between. The jar had filled up to a decent value of a loaf of bread to split between the two. What was thought as a one-time occurrence, became a daily occupation, and everyday the two would split a loaf of bread and even add some jam, without even a conversation spoken. The only language they needed was that of their music. There was one day where the boy purposefully tripped on the sidewalk near their usual music spot. The scrape against the rocky pavement left a bright red bruise with a thick smudge of dirt mixing with his weary skin. The old man helped the boy up, tore a strip of his sleeve, and patched him up with that. The old man told the boy not to be so clumsy, but it ended in a brief gaze of bondage between the two. However, once again, few words were exchanged.

After several months of trudging, though rather enjoying the frustration, the old man bought a book with the title Blueberries for Sal printed with large font on the cover. The boy told the man he did not know how to read. The old man said that he would teach him, though he admitted he knew little as well. They worked during the day, and read during the night. The words, the sentences, the pictures, it all became an obsession to the boy. With permission from the old man, the boy bought more books. Each night became an infuriating passage of perseverance, understanding what each word meant, what the story wanted to say.

It led to one night where the boy finally spoke to the man under rags.

“Where are your parents?” said the young boy.

The old man did not look at the child. “Far and happy,” he said. “What about you? I assume you ran away. Why?”

The little boy sighed but did not shed a tear. “I would never run away. But I would say they’re far and happy.”

The old man regretted his question. His relation to the young boy still disoriented his manners towards him.

The boy knew the silence in between was for that very reason of mixed communication. He did not feel offended, for he was the one who commenced the conversation. “Do you have any kids?” asked the boy. His curiosity was greater than his proper manners.

The old man leaned on his elbow, believing he had not heard correctly. “What?”

“Do you have any children? Like the bears in Little Red Riding Hood. The bears have a smaller bear. He’s their child. Do you have a smaller version of you?”

The old man looked away and sighed. “Go back to sleep,” He felt his closure to the topic was rude on his part, and added, “Have a good night.”

“You too, papa.” The man did not hear the last word, but they both slept soundly that night.

The old man coughed horrendously and in colossal intervals. His strength was weakening, his motivation was deteriorating, his eyes were fading. The little boy knew what was happening to the old man, for he had seen it twice before, and it was about to be three times too many. The old man passed away within the spectrum of a few days. No proper funeral, no relatives, just the little boy. He decided to cry only after the man’s death, because for a man so dear, the moment belonged solely to him. The boy trudged through the sadness and thanked the heavens that he had the opportunity of having two great fathers. The old man was buried in a rotten field, with an unpolished cross sticking from the ground. It read in carved letters, To the Father Who Was Kind Enough to Give Me Blueberries.

———————————————————————————————————————

With the noble man’s memories slipping away, he decided it too painful to keep looking there, and instead focus on the people that stood near his bed. He hated the house for all its malice, but the people that were in it–each had a light inside of them that gazed into the noble man’s heart, and built a connection. All that was needed to say farewell was received, but not spoken. The relatives that stepped outside resumed their positions in the room, standing tall as if to prove that the next generations of the family would be in good hands.

The noble man’s eyes scanned the room, his neck creaking, his bones snapping, his muscles tingling. He met the eyes of his daughter, a beautiful woman with dark brown hair and a stance that shouted promise. Her two children, teenage twins with blue eyes and bright hair also had the same stance, though their eyes were watery and red. The noble man found his son, a man with the eyes and mouth of his mother and the distinguishable nose of his father. It reminded the noble man of his own parents, a lovely pair they were, and lovely he indeed saw in the room. The noble man’s grandchildren, Sophia, Maria, Thomas, Daniel, Fernando, and the littlest one, Paula, all sat at the edge of the creaky bed. The noble man smiled at them, and he saw a little glow behind their soaked cheeks. Cousins, nephews, nieces, friends, neighbors, they all came with pretty faces and ugly expressions. The thought saddened the dying man, but he soon grinned as much as he could, because it was the first time in a long time that all these faces were in one room.

The male nurse nodded his head to the noble man’s children. The dying man closed his eyes slowly, he tilted his head back and listened to the sound of paper unfolding and the sweet voice of his daughter break the silence–the words spoken, the same words he had said to his own parents and the old guitarist: “I thank you, not just for being a figure for the family, but for being the person that everyone needs. It is tragic that you are passing, but be assured that your legacy of goodness will not end here. All is good, because now, we will always be together, in life, in death, and beyond.”

The Inner Souls of Fog Bank

It is Fire Season in Fog Bank, Scotland, and all that is green turns to ebony. Nothing is the same, and it never will be. The tree outside my ivory window will soon be burned, and the targets that I use to shoot my arrows will be gone. All that work: burned. The fireplace in my room is filled with a scowling fire. Bigger than the moon and stronger than the sun. I try to tell myself that everything will be all right, but it never works. There is always something burning, burning the hearts of the people of Fog Bank.

Fire Season in Ireland is nothing like the Fire Season in Fog Bank. Fire Season in Paris is nothing like Fire Season in Fog Bank. Fire Season anywhere else in Scotland is nothing like Fire Season in Fog Bank. Fog Bank is special. My kind of special.

I would kindly like to introduce myself. My name is Matilda Heindman, President of the HCC (the Horse Caregiver Club). In my club, we take care of the horses of Fog Bank. Should I say “we”? No. I need to say “I.” You see, I have no other members of the HCC club. I do all the work. Although, I do get all the money from the customers who need me to take care of their horses. #BONUS. I love horses. They seem to relieve me from all the pain of Fire Season.

 

(Next Morning, 5:45 a.m.)

I grab my cloak. I grab my combat boots. I grab my knife. I race out of my bedroom and run down four flights of stairs. I go into the stable and grab the first horse I see. My breath is as cold as the night. My skin is turning blue, but I don’t care. I ride this beast deep into the surrounding forest. The branches are starting to cut into my skin. It burns, but doesn’t. The crisp wind is making my cuts shed blood. I begin to faint. I fall off the horse. I can’t see the light of day anymore.

 

(Waking Up)

“Miss? Are you okay?”

All I can see is a dark figure. All I can feel is my back aching. I must have fallen hard.

“No, I seem to have fallen off this horse,” I say.

“Miss. I believe I should take you to the doctor. Or have the doctor come to you,” the man says.

As my vision clears, I see someone who I have never seen before. Someone magical. He looks like the Sandman, but that can’t be true. I look at him closely, but this time I saw fire, ice, earth, and water. Mother Nature? Father Nature? Weird. Plain weird.

“Forget about a doctor. Please take me back home this instant!” I yell.

“Okay, Miss. I will take you home before you explode!” the man says.

Suddenly, I am asleep and when I wake up, I am in my room. I look in the mirror at myself and all my cuts have disappeared. The “mystery man” is magical!

“Okay, Matilda. Don’t freak out. I know that all of your cuts magically disappeared suddenly. All you have to do is breathe and get a good night’s sleep,” I say to myself.

I am out for a long time. I believe I have been lying on the ground for about 15 hours. It is exactly 8:02. My sister’s bedtime. I don’t care. I have had a rough day of sleeping — I guess. I will ride my horse this time to the same part of the forest. I need to find the magical man –maybe he can save fog bank from Fire Season. Or maybe he can save myself from my own inner Fire Season.

 

(5:45 a.m.)

“Hello, Zeppelin. How are you? I missed you. Come on. I have another mission to take you on!” I say, cheerfully.

Zeppelin stares at me. He knows that I am never up this early. He knows me and I know him. We are a team. He was my very first horse that I got. I raised him when I was three years old with my Papa. He taught me how to walk with his strong muzzle.

I mount Zeppelin and ride him into the ebony forest. When we get to the spot, I notice the Man. He is meditating.

“Hello, Man. I want to know who you are, and what you did to my cuts,” I say, with demand in my tone.

“Sit, child,” the man says.

“I am not a child. I am 13,” I growl.

“Okay, 13,” the man says.

“My name is Matilda,” I say, very annoyed.

“Okay, Matilda. Why were you out of your house so early?” the man says.

“I was searching for the Emmet Crest. If you place it on a certain stone, it can cure any kind of Fire Season,” I say.

“I understand. You are in search of the relief of the inner and outer pain of Fire Season.” The man knows.

I break out into tears. The man hugs me. I feel a warm sensation of comfort and peace within me.

The man is short and stubby with a big beer belly. His hair is made out of gold dust. His eyes are as copper as a penny and sparkle like a shooting star. He is wearing a cloak with one side representing winter, spring, summer, and fall. I need to know who he is!

“Man, who are you?” I say.

“Why, I am Father Nature. You can also call me Bubba,” Bubba says.

“Well, Bubba. Were you summoned here to save Fog Bank from Fire Season? This is a big task… can you work that much magic?”

“Your questions will be answered in time,” says Bubba, with a wink. “You need to return home now.”

“By the way, thank you for bringing some serenity into my life,” I say.

“I will meet you tomorrow right here and I will take you to the happiest place on Earth: Huckleberry Farm,” Bubba says.

“Okay, bye!” I say, as I ride away on Zeppelin, back to my home.

 

(Next Day: 12:30 p.m.)

Today is the day that my best friend Amanda Hart comes into town. Today is the day that we will have a lemonade stand and end up drinking all the lemonade. Today is the day that we will race around the block calling out our lemonade cheer. I am so excited. It feels like I can’t even breathe. I know that I have to go to Huckleberry Farm, but I will do that later. No big deal!

“Amanda! Omg! I haven’t seen you in forever! How is your social life going?” I say, cheerfully.

“Life is going amazing! Tomorrow I am going to the lake and people say that there are a bunch of water slides!” Amanda says.

“Did you bring your horse, Apple?” I ask.

“Yes I did, but I changed her name to Rose. Gwyneth Paltrow stole the name Apple for her daughter. Ugh!” Amanda laughs.

“Talk about it!” I say.

Amanda and I start walking over to my house where we eat blueberry pie and drink lemonade. We dance in the peaceful meadows and ride our horses into the lake. We splash in the dancing waters, and end up laughing ourselves to sleep. It is the very best day of my life.

“I will see you next year, Miss Matilda,” Amanda says.

“Wait, why are you leaving so early? It is 7:30 a.m.” I say, with a look of puzzlement on my face.

“I just have to go. I will write you, okay?” Amanda says.

“Why? Tell me why Amanda! What is your problem?” I say, acting angry.

“Just leave me alone. Now. And by the way, here is your friendship bracelet,” Amanda yells, as she storms away with thunder in her eyes.

Here we go again. Another fire. Burning my heart and Amanda’s. I am so mad. I am so mad! I shall run my horse deep into the forest. I don’t need Amanda… wait. I don’t need a best friend.

After I get to “the spot,” I look around. No sign of Father Nature, or as I guess he likes to be called, Bubba. No sign at all. All of a sudden, he appears.

“Hello, 13. You didn’t come yesterday,” Bubba says.

“Very funny, Bubba. What do you mean, I didn’t come?” I say.

“Remember? Huckleberry Farm?” Bubba asks.

“Oh my gosh! I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to. I was so caught up with Amanda that I didn’t think about our meeting. I am so sorry. Please forgive me,” I say, with a sad look in my eyes.

“Amanda wasn’t your doing. She was mine,” confesses Bubba. “I put a spell on her so she would not make the mistake of convincing you to move where she lives. You need to save Fog Bank from Fire Season…. fast. The Emmet’s Crest doesn’t have a lot of magic left. If you don’t find it soon, you will never save Fog Bank or its inner souls from Fire Season.”

I say goodbye to Father Nature, and mount Zeppelin as quickly as possible. I ride my horse into the wild forest and begin my journey to find the Crest. Today is not the day to mess around with friends. Today is the day to save my town.

You see, I heard that the Emmet’s Crest is not that far away from my town.

“Wow, what’s this?” I say, as I come across a shimmering tree.

I look inside and I see a miniature chair with silver lining and a really tiny book. I open up the book and see words written in cursive black ink. Who wrote this?! Thankfully, I notice a wooden magnifying glass. I read the tiny manuscript and it says that the Emmet’s Crest awaits right here…. IN THIS CHAIR. “I don’t see any Emmet’s Crest,” I say aloud. I keep reading. It still says that it lies IN THIS CHAIR. “I think this book is wrong. It is getting late. I will just camp out in this tree. Maybe, I will find more clues to where the Emmet’s Crest really is.”

 

(The Next Morning)

I start to wake up to the sounds of crackling and the feeling of warmth. I smell something burning. My eyes start to open to a city of orange.

“Fire!!!” I yell with all my might.

I run and jump out of the tree and try to untangle Zeppelin from the branch. We are surrounded by a fire. I jump on his back and tell him to go full speed ahead, straight into the fire. If we can’t go around it, then we have to go through it. Zeppelin races up the hill and into an old barn. We both breathe hard with panic.

“It’s okay, boy. It’s okay. We will have to head towards the ocean and bring water back to shore. We will use the buckets in this old barn,” I tell him in a comforting tone.

I ride him out to shore and take the buckets. After we fill them all with salt water, I ride him back out to the roaring fire. Then, we design a catapult to launch the buckets of water into the fire.

“Watch out Zeppelin! 3, 2, 1!” I say, as I launched the cold crisp water into this evil spirit.

The townspeople watch with horror painted on their faces. One girl and a horse with no armor are jumping into fire, launching 200-pound buckets of water. They are risking their own lives, in place of the town risking theirs. But the Emmet’s Crest is still out there.

Even though the fire is out, the real fire out there is still burning the inner souls of Fog Bank.

The Hidden Cost of Hamburgers

Thesis: People shouldn’t eat hamburgers because they are bad for you and for the environment because they are wasteful.

 

  1. Waste:
  • 3,000-5,000 gal of water per lb of beef
  • pollutes streams and rivers
  • destruction of rainforest and soil- 257 burgers
  • release of CO2 and methane
  • destroys wildlife habitat
  • Half a burger requires enough energy to power your car for 3 weeks. (1)

 

(2) Health:

  • weight
  • heart
  • blood pressure

 

CONCLUSION

 

solutions:

  • save massive amounts of water – 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of water for every pound of beef you avoid,
  • avoid polluting our streams and rivers better than any other single recycling effort you do,
  • avoid the destruction of topsoil,
  • avoid the destruction of tropical forest,
  • avoid the production of carbon dioxide. (Your average car produces 3 kg/day of CO2. To clear rainforest to produce beef for one hamburger produces 75 kg of CO2. Eating one pound of hamburger does the same damage as driving your car for more than three weeks);
  • reduce the amount of methane gas produced. (I imagine the next bumper sticker: stop farts, don’t eat beef);
  • reduce the destruction of wildlife habitat, and
  • help to save endangered species.

 

  1. http://www.earthsave.org/environment/foodchoices.htm              
  2. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/bad-effects-burgers-11402.html
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ut3URdEzlKQ

 

The Hidden Cost of Hamburgers

 

America consumes an excessive amount of beef. Not only is beef bad for your health, but to raise it is extremely wasteful of natural resources. Did you know that by eating one less hamburger a week is the equivalent of driving your car for 350 mi? Beef can make you gain weight, it causes heart disease, it increases your blood pressure, it causes diabetes, but did you know that it is also especially harmful to the environment? People shouldn’t eat beef because it’s bad for their health; and for the environment, because it’s wasteful.  

Americans eat an average of three hamburgers per week, and America eats more than 48 billion hamburgers total per year. That’s three times more beef than any other country. America is the biggest beef producer in the world. Also, America’s beef consumption has doubled since WWII. A burger costs three to four dollars, which is pretty cheap. Billions of dollars are spent every year on beef production. But what is the hidden cost of hamburgers?

Cows produce a lot of greenhouse gases- as much as cars, planes, and trains. This is because we are raising an excessive quantity of livestock for hamburgers, thus causing a significant increase in the amount of greenhouse gases produced by cows in the atmosphere. One of their main byproducts is methane, which comes out as a gas. Cows fart because they are forced to eat feed made out of oats and corn to make them grow fatter, which they can’t digest; instead of grass, which is what their digestive system is built to eat. Methane is 21 percent more harmful than CO2 to the environment, contributing to global warming.

Another byproduct of cows that are raised for food consumption is nitrous oxide. Cows produce 500 million tons of poop per year- three times as much as we do. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more harmful than CO2. Cows produce ⅔ of all the nitrous oxide in the world. Fertilizer, used to grow the feed, also produces nitrous oxide. Seventeen billion pounds of fertilizer is produced each year. Cow poop and fertilizer run into rivers and oceans, producing algae that sucks out all the oxygen from the ocean, creating “dead zones”. Dead zones are areas of the ocean where no life exists. Cows produce more greenhouse gas than 22 million cars per year. One hundred fifty-eight million tons of greenhouse gases are produced every year. That’s as much as 34 factories. Shipping the beef also produces CO2.

Cows also take up a lot of space: 30 percent of Earth’s land area; mainly consisting of pastures and land to grow grain for feed. Rainforest space the size of a football field are plowed every second to make space to raise cows that will then make 257 hamburgers, destroying wildlife habitats. Animals take up eight times the amount of space we take up. Also, it takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of grain-fed beef.

So, what can we do to resolve this issue? People can buy grass-fed beef, which is much less harmful to the environment. As mentioned above, they could also reduce their average consumption of three hamburgers a week to two. We don’t have to become vegetarians, but we should certainly cut down on the beef and try to eat other meat instead, such as chicken, pork, and turkey. If people really like burgers, they can eat chicken, pork, or turkey burgers. Plus, why are they called hamburgers if they aren’t made of ham? If everyone were to try to give up beef for other less environmentally damaging meats, it would have a significant impact on the environment.

 

The Fight for Life and School

My mother’s dying and it feels as if I’m going with her. I remember the night she came home with tears in her eyes. She sat all of us down and broke the news to us. She had cancer. My father stared at her with tears and my sister walked away. I stayed there for my mother’s sake. Her seeing Rosie walk away hurt her more than the cancer ever would. The next day we took her to the hospital–all of us but Rosie who refused to look at Mom, let alone be in the same room as her. Ever since then, mom has been in and out of the hospital.

My pen’s ink is just starting to disappear. I shake my pen once more, hoping that it will bear with me and work a little while longer. As soon as I begin the next sentence, the pen gives up. Frustrated and angry, I throw the pen across the room.

The front door opens. I look over and see dad all wet in a tan trench coat. He sets down his black worn out briefcase by the door and leaves his keys on the small table next to the door. He walks through the hallway. As soon as he enters the kitchen, I know he’s had a bad day. I keep to myself and go to pick up my old pen and to get a new one. I sit back down and slouch over my work.

Dad sighs and grips the counter’s edge. He stays there for a moment before turning and walking to the sink. The water gushes and cascades down his hands. He turns off the water and quickly dries his hands on the towel that rests on the oven handle. He returns to his old position at the counter.

“Have you and Rosie eaten yet?” He asks quietly. I look up for a moment from my work. Dad’s not looking at me. He’s looking at the couch that still has mom’s old blanket on it from yesterday. I look back down and don’t say a word.

“All right then. I’m going to go to bed. If you want to visit your mother in the morning, be up by 6:45,” he says before stalking away. Rosie appears from the stairs and slides past dad as he doesn’t move.

“Sure, let’s not talk about the giant elephant in the house,” she says, walking over to the fridge and pulling out the orange juice. I ignore her and continue to work. She takes a sip and stares at me through all that black makeup.

“You haven’t said anything all day. What’s up?” She asks, sitting down on a stool next to me. Her makeup is sloppily done but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. I continue to concentrate. She taps her fingers against the marble. Her silver bracelets clatter with every move she makes. She stares down at her orange juice as if it’s sour.

“I haven’t talked to mom in a year. Dad doesn’t even like to acknowledge that I’m here. I can’t lose you too, Man,” she says. She touches my shoulder delicately like I would break if she put all her weight on me. I take a breath and look at her. She has a tear running down her cheek, making some of her makeup go with it.

“You’re ruining your makeup,” I say. She wipes her tear away and sniffles.

“Screw my makeup. Manon, you can’t disappear. Not now. Okay?” She says. I nod and fiddle around with my pen. Rosie returns to her look of disgust.

“Cool. I’ll see you later,” She says, grabbing her cup and walking away, mumbling something about sensitivity. I turn around on my stool and stare at the living room couch. Just yesterday mom was sitting there, laughing at something on the TV. Today she’s back in the hospital.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I’m up at 6:00 and in the shower by 6:15. I race down the stairs and walk into the kitchen where my laptop and phone sit. I shove them into my bag and grab a banana from the bowl in the middle of the island. I sit down and grab a piece of yellow paper and a pen.

Dad and I have gone to see Mom. We will be back later. Don’t do anything dumb. -Manon

I slide the paper into the middle of the island. Dad walks down the hallway, towards the kitchen. His hair glistens with water. He opens the cabinet and pulls out a mug. He begins to make some coffee.

I look away from him and busy myself with getting everything that I need for today. Today is a big day for mom and me. She has her first day at her new support group and I have to send in my applications for college.

I need to get out of this house. There’s nothing here for me anymore.

Dad takes his mug that has steam coming out and walks towards the front door. He grabs his keys and his briefcase before opening the door. He turns to wait for me.

I sling my bag over my shoulder and walk towards the door. I duck under dad’s arm and he shuts the door behind him. He and I get in the car. The engine turns over and we slowly drive away from the house.

I hold onto Mom’s arm and she holds onto mine. We slowly walk down the halls of the hospital. She’s talking to me about all the nurses and their kids. She gets all the hospital drama gossip. We pass an old man in a wheelchair who waves with a smile at Mom.

“Hi Hank. I’ll see you later for some black jack,” she says. I look at her with a smile.

“I didn’t know you were allowed to gamble here,” I say. Mom turns back her attention to me, rather than where she steps.

“Oh, we’re not. Hank and I love to play so we do,” she says. I laugh and lead her to a door that reads Meeting Center. I slowly put my hand on the door’s handle.

“You ready?” I ask. Mom nods and puts her hand on mine.

“Let’s do this,” she says. I push open the door and hold it for her. She wobbles a little but gets the feeling of walking on her own and makes it to a seat. Everyone looks at her as she sits down. Some of the women here have scarves on their heads, while others have a little bit of fuzzy gray hair, and others have a full head of hair. I look over to Mom’s fuzzy head and compare it to the others.

“Welcome!” A perky woman, with a buzzed haircut says. Mom smiles and looks up. She’s still trying to catch her breath.

“Hello,” Mom breathes. I close the door and walk to the corner where a small chair is.

“Is that your daughter?” The perky woman asks. The woman points to me with a big smile. Mom looks at me and nods.

“Yes. I hope it’s alright that she’s here,” mom says. I can tell she doesn’t like the perky woman. The woman nods and stands up. She walks over to mom and stretches out her hand.

“Monica,” she says. Mom grabs her hand and gently shakes it.

“Lori,” mom says. Monica walks over to me. I quickly put my laptop away and stand up. I grab her hand and firmly shake it.

“Manon,” I say. Monica smiles. She walks back to her seat and sits down. As the minutes pass, a few more people walk in. It seems as if they all are admitted to the hospital. Monica pulls out a clipboard with lined paper. She grabs a pink pen with a cancer sign on it. I pull my laptop back out and begin to work. I only begin to listen to what’s going on around me when Mom starts to speak.

“Hi, my name is Lori and I have breast cancer. I’m not concerned about what is happening to me. Okay, maybe I am a little worried, but I’m more worried about my kids. When I first broke the news to them, which must have been the hardest thing ever, my youngest kid, Rosie, walked away and hasn’t spoken to me since. She won’t even be in the same room as me. I’m more scared about losing my kids than losing my life,” She says. Monica nods and sends me a look. I close my laptop and give mom all her attention. A woman with a scarf around her head speaks up.

“Lori, I understand that your children mean the world to you, but there will be no world for them if you don’t try to get through this. If Rosie–Rosie, correct?” The woman asks. Mom nods and crosses her legs. The woman continues, “If Rosie hasn’t talked to you since then, let her come to you. I’m sure she’s scared and confused. Cancer is something that doesn’t just hurt the person it’s in. It also hurts the people around them. Give her time.” The woman finishes with a nod. A few people nod, agreeing with her. My heart begins to thumpity thump thump and my face feels warm.

“I understand that cancer is a terrible thing, but losing my girls is worse. They are my world so with them, there is nothing more important,” She says.

“I’m Cynthia, by the way. Lori, forget about your kids for one second and think about yourself. This is your time. Use it wisely.” I stand abruptly. The chair screeches back and people look at me. I set my laptop in my bag and grab it.

“Excuse me.” I say and walk out. I slam the door shut behind me and angrily sling my bag over my shoulder.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

My head rests in my hand while my other hand is busy, clicking the mouse. My eyes sting and my head hurts from staring at the computer screen for too long. I stand up and rub my eyes while walking to the kitchen.

I shuffle past a smiling Rosie who is contently staring at her phone. I open the fridge in search for something to fill my grumbling belly. I shut the fridge when Rosie’s shrill, unattractive laugh bursts the silence. I walk back over and stand at her side. I glance at her phone screen and see the name Dylan.

“Who’s Dylan?” I ask. Rosie looks up at me, her smile completely gone now.

“I dont know, who?” She asks with the tiniest hint of a smile. I look at her with an ‘Oh really?’ look.

“The person you’re texting.” I say, pointing to her phone.

“Look Man, I don’t have any time for your dumb games. I am busy writing a school essay.” She says, pointing to her phone. I glance down and see that she has a writing file.

“I’ll leave you to it,” I say. She nods and returns her attention to her phone. I sigh and walk back over to the fridge.

“Did you eat?” I ask, moving things aside to see what there is to eat.

“I thought we had finished our conversation. No. I haven’t,” She says. My chest tightens at her attitude. I pull out the last of the cold slices of pizza. I put a piece in the microwave and wait for the beeps, signaling that it’s done. When the microwave goes off Rosie looks up.

“Did you make me some?” She asks. I pull out my pizza and put it on the counter.

“No Rosie. It’s not my job to babysit you. You want people to make you dinner, you complain to mom,” I say. She looks taken back. I sigh and put my head down. I put a hand to my forehead while the other rests on my hip.

“I didn’t know that was what you thought.” She says. By now her school work is just a memory.

“I don’t. It just came out. I’m really pressured with finding schools and stuff. Plus Mom’s support group didn’t really appeal to me,” I say. Rosie nods. She hops down off the stool and walks over to the fridge. She pulls out the whole pizza box and throws it down next to my small slice. She shoves me to the side and opens the box.

I grab my plate with my food and walk to the kitchen table. I slide into the booth and have my back to the window. It’s now dark out. After a few minutes Rosie joins me. We quietly eat, not talking or looking at each other.

This house is empty with nothing left but a broken family.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m sitting in an uncomfortable hospital chair, facing Mom’s hospital bed. She’s smiling at the TV. I gaze out the window and see my high school just across the street. I sigh and focus on my application for college.

“Is my helping with that holiday thing at the elementary important?” I ask. Mom looks up with a cute little smile.

“Huh?” She asks holding back a little laugh. She took some medicine a while ago. It’s now kind of kicking in.

“Never mind,” I say, writing it down.

“I’m on pills,” she says before returning her attention to the screen.

“I know, mom.” I say. I crack my knuckles and decide to take a walk. I tell mom I’ll be back and if she needs anything press the yellow button next to her bed. She’s half listening, half in her wonder world. I close her door, making sure it doesn’t make any noise as Bert, her grumpy, sleepy, next door neighbor constantly yells at me for “Closing the door too loud.”

I wander down the halls glancing at the different patients. Two kids in wheelchairs zoom down the hall laughing. I smile and watch them turn the corner. Two male nurses and one female nurse runs after them. A big rack of blood flashes by me. I wander down a few more halls until I find myself in front of the doors to the lobby. I push one open just as soon as someone else does. We bump into each other and my chest and stomach and neck begin to burn. The smell of freshly brewed coffee climbs up my nose.

“Oh. I’m so sorry,” I say. I look up to see a boy with disheveled hair and a shocked look on his gorgeous face. He has emerald green eyes with a tiny dash of brown in the middle. He has a spare bottom lip and some stubble climbing on his face.

“No, no, no. I’m so sorry. Oh. Uh…here let me help you,” he says, grabbing my arm and pulling me to the side of the hall. He takes the few napkins he had in his hand and begins to rub my shirt. Bold.

“It’s okay,” he looks up at me for a second before returning to his work. I grab his hand when he begins to rub harder.

“Stop. It’s fine. I’ll get it. I think you’re just making it worse anyways,” I say. He has a horrified look on his face.

“I am so sorry. I already said that,” I think that last part was more for him than me. I stick out my hand.

“Manon,” I say. He hesitantly takes it, shocked at my ‘peace offering.’

“I’m Callum. Nice to meet you, Manon,” he shakes my hand firmly. I don’t judge people on their looks, or their attitude, but more on their handshake. If it’s firm they have a personality and can stand up for themselves and don’t need me or anyone else to do it. If they have a weak handshake they have no backbone, no personality, and I instantly shut down on them. But luckily his handshake was firm.

Just what I need. A little firmness and backbone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’m leading Mom back through the hallways. Tomorrow I won’t be able to because I have to go back to school.

“Second day of your support group,” I say with no emotion. Mom looks at me and stops walking. She pulls at my arm and asks me to take her to the side of the hallway.

“You don’t have to come because I remember the last time wasn’t your favorite,” she says looking me in the eyes.

“It’s just an opinion that people agreed with, Mom. It’s not like it’s true. Right?” I ask. She quickly looks down, but returns her gaze to me.

“Right,” she squeaks. She begins to walk on her own in her pink bunny slippers. I walk to catch up with her and lead her to the room. She sits down in the chair she was in the last time. I stand at the door and watch her sit down to make sure she’s okay. Someone bumps my shoulder with theirs. I turn to my right to see Callum looking back at me.

“Hello,” he says, looking straight ahead with his hands in his pockets.

“Hi,” I whisper back. He looks at me through the corner of his eyes.

“So this is why you’re here,” he says quietly, “Because you’re sick.” He finishes after pausing. I look at him, startled. I grab his shoulder and turn him towards me.

“No. I’m–I’m not. My mom is,” I say, pointing to her. He looks at me with concern, but also a look of relief.

“I’m glad you’re okay and I’m sorry about your mom’s health. My mom’s sick, too,” he says, pointing towards Monica. I look over in the direction he’s pointing to and see her standing talking with a big smile on her face. Callum puts his hand back in his pocket. Monica looks our way with a big smile that only gets bigger when she sees Callum. But when she sees me her smile lessens. I look away and nod my head. I decide to change the subject.

“How was your coffee?” I jokingly say. He smiles.

“It probably tastes a lot better on you.” He says. His eyes fill with fear. I laugh.

“Not like that it’s just the coffee here is already so bad that spilling it on clothing probably made it better,” He says quickly.

“Hey. I like the coffee here!” I say.

“Then Starbucks must be a jackpot.” He says back with an adorable smile. I scoff and smile back. We lock eyes for a moment until Monica tells everyone to sit down. I now just look around and see that a lot of kids and teenagers are here as well. Are they all sick? They all look healthy. Monica claps her hands together.

“Hello everybody. Today we have brought in your children to see how they feel with all of this, and a way for you all to try and work out any tension. Please take a seat next to your parents.” She says, unclasping her hands and motioning for all of us to do as she said, and sit. I give a tight smile to Callum and go sit next to my mom. She grabs my hand, not looking at me. She’s nervous.

Each parent and kid go around and talk, occasionally crying, occasionally laughing, or occasionally not acknowledging each other at all. My mom begins to speak, but I barely listen because I’m thinking about school and homework, and how I’m going to have to make Dad and Rosie dinner, and how I’m going to have to force Rosie to even get near her backpack.

“And how are you during all of this, Manon?” I look up and tuck away my bitten nails.

“Besides the fact that my mom is dying, and my sister won’t talk to her–let alone be in the same room as my mom, and my dad shutting everything out. Feeling, me, Rosie, Mom and her cancer? I’m fine,” I say with a little too much force. Mom looks at me with tears.

“You feel this way?” She asks. I look at her.

“Mom, you’re gone! I’m making dinner, making Rosie do her homework, and making sure Dad doesn’t do anything…to hurt himself and the…and the family.” I barely get the last part out.

“I am not gone! I never will be! You need to talk to me about this!” She yells. She begins to cough. I go to rub her back but she swats my hand away.

“I’m not gone. I can stop coughing myself,” she hisses.

“Then why does it feel like you are gone?” I squeak. My eyes burn and my throat tightens. A lump forms in my throat and I have to try and clear my throat. If I say one word I know I’ll break down into tears. Monica speaks up.

“That’s all our time,” She whispers. I stand up, along with everyone else. Callum stops me before I leave.

“You okay?” He asks. I nod and make awkward hand gestures.

“Yeah,” I squeak, “I have to go.” I rush out the last part before leading mom back to her room in an awkward silence.

 

The Detective, Jack, and the Grand Central Bombing Attack

The bag was just left unattended by the clock in Grand Central for hours…The police should have caught it. But they didn’t. The officers on duty said they just hadn’t noticed it, while dozens of travelers said that they remembered the briefcase being there even hours before the tragedy. The stories just didn’t add up. The date was December 9, 1954. The best detectives of the decade were brought in, but no one understood how the bomb had gone unnoticed. An explosive in the briefcase had killed seven commuters near the clock in the main concourse. Three had been injured, all of whom remained in critical condition in a nearby hospital. Eyewitness accounts described an explosion of sorts. Despite hundreds of witnesses, nobody interviewed seemed to know who had put the bomb under the clock in Grand Central.

 

Jack Thomas, a tall and lanky boy of 23, was an apprentice to Detective Flynn O’Brien. The detective was a big man with no hair, but had an incredibly large moustache. He was known throughout the city as the best detective around, and Jack, a schoolboy, had only been able to get an apprenticeship because their fathers had been friends as boys. Jack was a smart fellow who had what many called a knack for trouble. Talking to people came easy to him; he had spent much of his childhood convincing people that they should allow him to bend the rules. Although he was becoming a more serious with age, his mind worked like a trickster’s and he could always tell when somebody wasn’t telling the truth. When Jack answered Detective O’Brien’s telephone in the late morning on Thursday, he was expecting a call from the detective’s wife, as she always called around that time.

 

11:14 am
Thursday December 9, 1954

42nd Street Precinct

“Hello, you’ve reached the office of Detective Flynn O’Brien, Jack Thomas speaking, how may I help you?”

“Good morning Jack, it’s Mr. O’Connor from Grand Central’s security department.”

“Hello Mr. O’Connor, what can I do for you?”

“Put me on with Mr. O’Brien, please? Something has happened at the station.”

“Yes sir, please hold on one minute.”

 

Jack’s instincts told him that something was very wrong. He packed the detective’s bag of tools and gadgets, and got his boss’ coat ready. Detective O’Brien hung up the phone, snatched his bowler hat off the rack, put on the coat, and told Jack that they had to hurry.

In the taxi, Detective O’Brien filled Jack in on what he knew about the case. When they arrived at the terminal, Jack stared at the main concourse, transfixed by the sheer size of the place. The only noises were whispers of NYPD officers and the wail of ambulance sirens from the emergency vehicles parked on the street. He had been there a dozen times, but this was the first time that he had seen it empty.  He had little time to gaze at the sight, however, for Detective O’Brien nudged him to descend the stairs. Where the famed clock had once stood, rubble, body parts, and cracked marble floor remained.

Jack’s heart began beating twice as fast as normal. What had happened? He wanted to know.

Detective O’Brien walked briskly to where ten police officers were huddled, whispering. Each man stood up straighter and smoothed his tie at the sight of the famed detective. Mr. O’Connor stepped forward and shook Detective O’Brien’s hand. They walked over to the bodies, saying things inaudible from Jack’s distance. He watched, thinking of what the old Jack would have done. The old Jack would’ve marched right up to the bodies and done his own investigation- dropping the detective’s jacket to the floor, checking out the bodies, ruthlessly questioning victims, not taking no for an answer. However, the new Jack held himself to a higher standard. Today’s Jack stood, holding the coat and assuring himself that the detective would ask him for input if he saw fit. Although Jack’s new personality was quite a relief to his mother and father, he missed the the thrill of being a troublemaker. It took every ounce of self-control Jack possessed to stop himself from returning to his old ways as he waited patiently for an order from his boss.

“Jack, take notes on this meeting,” Detective O’Brien instructed.

“Yes, sir,” he replied, reaching into his messenger bag for a notepad and pen. He scribbled away as the two men discussed the situation.

“At exactly 10:42 a.m. today, an explosion took place right here. The victims closest to the bomb were killed within minutes, and three critically injured survivors were rushed to the hospital. Each body that you see here hasn’t been so much as touched since the explosion. We have a list of witnesses and would be happy to show you said list for any questioning you might do. All trains have been stopped and the premise has been cleared. No one remains but the officials you see in this room” said Mr. O’Connor. Little did he know that one very important person still remained on the premise. As Detective O’Brien and Jack left Grand Central, a memory stirred inside the apprentice’s head. The crime scene oddly reminded him of something he had read a few years earlier.

11:25 a.m., Thursday, December 9, 1954

Hiding in the bathrooms, a man named Greg Mallite chuckled as he heard Mr. O’Connor say that no one remained on the premises. Without a sound, George left the men’s room, exited that terminal from the back, and walked onto the sunlit, busy street. He parted his teeth into a sickening smile, and for the first time in ages, he wasn’t frowning. The “Mad Bomber” had just completed his first killing.

 

42nd Street Precinct

5:32 pm

Thursday December 9, 1954

Jack walked out of the detective’s office and on to the street, his warm coat wrapped tightly to keep out the cold. He would normally head back to Connecticut on the train at this time, but Grand Central remained closed. Instead, he walked to the New York Public Library to follow a hunch that had been nagging at him since visiting the crime scene. He asked the librarian where he could find newspaper articles about New York City bombings from the last fifteen years. Jack did this because he remembered reading about similar bombings all over the city when he was still in school. The article from his memory had mentioned that one man was probably responsible for all of the bombings, nicknamed the “Mad Bomber”. Jack had an idea that maybe the Mad Bomber was responsible for this attack.

 

9:03 a.m.,  Friday December 10, 1954

“Good morning, Detective O’Brien,” Jack said cheerfully to his boss on Friday morning.

“‘Morning, Jack. How are you today?”

“Not great, sir, something had been bothering me. It’s about the Grand Central case.”

“Go on.”

“Well,” Jack explained, “when we went to the crime scene yesterday, it really reminded me of something I had read a while back in the newspaper. The crime scene made me think of an article about a man called the Mad Bomber. Last night after I left here, I went to the library and read everything I could about bombs in New York City. I think our case sounds like a feat worthy of the Mad Bomber.

“Tell me more about this guy,” said the detective, intrigued.

“Okay, so, he’s lived in the city for years and has planted dozens of bombs all over! His attacks have only injured, never killed so far, until yesterday. It looks like they were all definitely intended to kill, though. The police have a file on bombings that are related to him, but they don’t know who he is or any other suspect information. Whoever he is, this guy is good, and he’s just finished his first killing. Who knows when and where he will strike next?” said Jack.

“Sorry, kid. I don’t buy it. Mr O’Connor told me that this incident is unlike any he’s ever seen, and I know that the Mad Bomber wrote a note to the police department saying that he was done bombing.”

“But Sir, it all adds up!”

“That’s enough, Jack. The Mad Bomber isn’t responsible for this,” the detective said, quite harshly.

Jack turned around, stung. He had always known that the detective seeked glory, but to ignore basic evidence because his apprentice had come up with a valid theory instead of him? That was too far. Once again, Jack was forced to control himself. Jack struggled to stay silent as he prepared Detective O’Brien’s coffee. The detective knows best. Listen to him. You aren’t the big man around here. No one cares what you think. Just keep it inside.

 

9:13 am

Saturday December 11, 1954

16 Riverside Ave, Fairfield, CT

The ring of the telephone woke Jack up with a start. He sat up and sighed. Who could be calling at 9am on a Saturday? Detective O’Connor. He woke up at 6am each day, even on the weekend.

“Detective O’Connor?”

“Jackie boy! You’ve got it!”

“Got what?”

“The answer to the Grand Central case, of course!”

“You really think it was the Mad Bomber?”

“Definetly! I called a friend of mine in the office, and he told me that the note they received from the Mad Bomber said that he wouldn’t bomb during the war. The war is over and so is that truce. Only problem is, nobody has any idea where he is. Got a solution to that too?”

“I’ll work on it,” Jack replied, laughing.

“See you in the office on Monday, Jack.”

“Okay, goodbye, sir!”

Jack fist pumped the air and rolled over to go back to sleep.

 

8:56 am

Monday December 13, 1954

42nd Street Precinct

“Good Morning to you, Jack. How are you?” Detective O’Brien said to his apprentice as he walked into the office on a particularly cold morning.

“Good morning, Sir! I’m great, thanks! My younger sister Gracie is home for Christmas vacation and I can’t wait to see her over lunch break,” Jack replied.

Both men were particularly cheerful that morning; they were rested and ready to track down the Mad Bomber. However, when the two men sat down and called everyone in their contact list for help, they came up dry. Jack was about ready to give up, but something told him that Detective O’Brien wouldn’t approve of that. When they took the midday break, Jack headed downtown to his favorite sandwich shop to meet Gracie for lunch. While eating his turkey sandwich and orange juice, they conversed. Gracie told Jack about how her first year of college was going, and Jack told Gracie about the case.

“It sounds like your boss was jealous. He drew a blank, and after a few hours you had an entire theory! He probably wished he had come up with it,” Grace said.

“Yeah, I guess. He was really mean about it though! Okay so Gracie, I can’t seem to find out where the Mad Bomber went after the attack, though. We’ve called everyone and nobody knows anything.”

“Excuse me! Who are you and what have you done with Jack Thomas?” Gracie asked, “Just think, where did you always go after performing one of your famous pranks at school?”

“To see it through–follow my victims and watch how they react to it. Oh! The hospital! To see the people who were severely injured! Thanks Gracie, you’re a genius.”

“Anytime, big brother,” she said

“All right Gracie! I gotta go. Love you and see you tonight in Connecticut.”

 

1:56 pm

Monday December 13, 1954

Bellevue Hospital

Jack anxiously climbed the stairs to the Bellevue Hospital. He was visiting the victims of the bomb. He had called the detective before coming, and O’Brien had told him that he could give it a try, and that he would join Jack in a half hour when he was done with lunch.

“Hi I’m Jack Thomas with the NYPD, I’m looking for the beds of the victims of the Grand Central bombing.”

“Rooms 204, 205, and 214. Knock before you enter,” replied the secretary at the welcome desk.

“Thank you!” Jack exclaimed, he had been unsure if they would disclose the room numbers.

 

At room 204, Jack knocked nervously and was told to come in. An old man sat in the bed, hooked up to many machines and surrounded by two nurses. People who looked like his wife and son sat in armchairs near his bed.

“Hello, Sir,” he said, “I’m Jack Thomas from the NYPD. I’ve been told that a victim of the Grand Central bomb is in here?”

“Yes, that damned bomb blew my leg off. Could’ve been worse though, I suppose,” the old man said, with some difficulty.

“Yes darling, you’re the lucky one,” his wife said, “Those poor seven people, dead! And the other two survivors, the nurses say they won’t last a week with those wounds!”

“Is that so?” Jack said.

“Oh yes, dear. A young lad and a middle-aged lady! Both unable to so much as speak,” said the wife.

Jack shuddered.

“Well, I hate to ask you this in a time of trauma, but did you see the bomber? Know anything about him?” Jack inquired.

“Not a thing. All we know is that he is a terrible man. Give him a punch for us, eh, boy?” the old man said.

“That man is going to get whatever he deserves. You can count on me that I’m going to find him.”

 

Jack, significantly more motivated, left Room 204. He was about to go to the office, but decided to stop in the men’s room first to wash his hands. The hospital had made him feel a bit dirty and germ-infested. On the way to the bathroom, Jack passed an enormous cart of blood samples, and it gave him the chills.

He opened the heavy door, and a tall, skinny man was looking at himself in the mirror. He had gray, frizzy hair and electric green eyes. As he looked, he mouthed words to himself, not understandable to Jack. He nodded to the odd man, and went on to wash his hands. The man’s words became louder.

“Kill… Kill… Kill… Must finish… Finish what I started…” He muttered, barely audible to Jack.

HOLY CRUD! Could this man was the bomber? Right here in the bathroom? Plotting to kill the old man… But how to catch him? If I try to arrest him, he may know I am not certified… Let me trap him in here…

Jack slowly left the men’s room, doing his best to stay calm. Inside, though, he was absolutely panicked. He sprinted to the blood samples cart, rolled it to the men’s room, propped it up to stop the bathroom door from opening, and hoped it was heavy enough. Then, he had a decision to make: Go warn the old man, or find a telephone to call the police station. It had sounded as if the old man was safe for a while, so Jack ran to a telephone a few yards away. He dialed the station, and told them he had found the Mad Bomber, that he was in the men’s room on the second floor of the hospital, and plotting to kill the lone surviving victim. Jack then went to the men’s room, and stood against the door so that the Mad Bomber couldn’t escape if he tried. A minute later, Detective O’Brien showed up on the scene. He found Jack and helped hold the door closed, without saying a word.

 

2:27 pm

Monday December 13, 1954

Bellevue Hospital

Five armed NYPD officers showed up on the scene, one handed O’Brien a gun, and the six of them went into the men’s room and arrest the man.

Jack watched as he is put into the police car. One of the officers came up to him and smiled.

“You did a darn good job, son,” he said. “You can be sure everyone in New York will know your name once the press gets wind of this.” And with that, the cars drove away, leaving just Detective O’Brien and Jack in front of the hospital.

“Do you want to go upstairs and tell that old man that you just saved his life?” the detective asked.

“How do you know that?”

“The officers you called told the guys who just left, and they told me.”

“I’ll save him the stress of knowing someone was plotting to kill him,” Jack said.

“That’s my boy,” Detective O’Brien said.

Jack just grinned.

 

Author’s Note

This short story was inspired by George Metesky, better known as the “Mad Bomber”. My character Greg Mallite’s story was influenced by Mr. Metesky’s, but they are not the same. As the author, I changed many details, both small and large. All other characters, including Jack and Detective O’Brien are entirely fictional.

Thanks for reading,

Kitt

The Best Number 2

Part 2

 

Arnold, the main character

Arthur, his brother

Bob, the father

Sara, the mother

The director

The actors (Eric and Steve )

 

Act 6 (On set.  The children are sitting in seats for the audience, and the director is on stage).

 

Director: You two have surpassed Eric.  But only one of you will win.  Both of you are like Michael – lazy, cute, and, well, weird.  Arthur, you are quirky and slightly amusing.  Arnold, you like being the leader and doing everything, and you’re also funny.  But you both should know that the loser is also very-

Arnold & Arthur: GET ON WITH IT!

Eric: And hey, it’s not nice to make fun of me!

Children & Director: GET LOST, ERIC!!!

Director: As I was saying, before I was RUDELY interrupted, only one will win, but both of you are winners anyway.  The person playing Michael, the person who will be staying in California for 5 months each season, and we plan for there to be 13 seasons, is Mr…

 

Act 1 (Same as Act 6).

Arthur!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Arthur: In yo face, brother!!!

Arnold: How’s this possible?

Director: He wowed all of us so much.

Steve: If I may object –

Director: You may not!

Arnold: You may!

Director: Arnold! You may not!

Arnold: Arthur!

Arthur: Arnold!

Steve: Director!  Why didn’t you just ask me?  I thought Arnold rocked the auditions!

Arnold: Thank you!

Eric: I will also have to object –

Everyone else (Steve, Director, Twins): GET LOST, ERIC.

Eric: But I made it!  I did better than those twins.  They’re just fools.  I should be in “Ben & Jake,” much more than the two “ARs!”

Arthur: We repeat: GET LOST!!!

Arnold: Stop talking – it’d do you real good.

Director: Kids, kids, stop fighting. I made up my mind, and I decided Arthur –

Steve: Your decision should be that Arthur should leave. Arnold has displayed real talent. And Eric, go home man, you lost.

Director: The next time I hear a peep from you-

Arnold: I’m leaving.  Thank you for your time.  See you ‘round, big brother.

Arthur: You’ve gotta take me home!

Arnold: No, we don’t!

 

Act 2 (In the car, driving home.  Mom’s at the wheel.  (Fred is the baby).  Arnold is in the car and talks to Steve on his phone).

 

Sara: I ALREADY MISS ARTHUR SO MUCH!!!  MY POOR MUNCHKIN-BABYYYYYYYY!!!!

Bob: You gotta stop that!

Arnold: What’s that, Fred?  You think so, too?

Sara: Stop making fun of me!

Arnold: Arthur ditched me.  He probably used foul-play.  After all, he’s usually dishonest.

Bob: Maybe he just beat you for once.

Arnold: Him, beating me?  I don’t think so.

Bob: Some humility, please!

Arnold: I can’t talk, my phone’s ringing.  What’s this?  Unidentified number?

Bob: Don’t answer it!

Arnold: Hello?

Bob: Great!

Arnold: The director?  He wants to speak to me?  Why, Steve?

Steve: He’s reconsidering letting you play Michael!

Arnold: What does he want from me?  I thought he prefers Arthur?  Can I speak to Arthur?

Steve: No, but you can speak to a very special guest!

Eric: HHHEEELLLOOO!!!  I thought you were dead!

Arnold: Get lost, Eric!

Eric: If you’re still talking to me, I didn’t get what I wished for!  HAHAHAHA!!!!

 

Act 3 (In Eric’s kitchen).

 

Eric: Hello?  Who is this?

Steve: Me, Steve!  The director wants to give you the role of Michael.

Eric: But he REJECTED me!

Steve: Here, you can talk to him.

Director: You’re gonna get the role!  We’ll start the show on Monday, so get some rest!

Eric: Is this just a trick?

Director: We only trick people who are unsmart or unwanted.  But you’re smart and wanted, right?

Eric: I-I-I- G-G-Guess!!

 

Act 4 (In Arnold’s kitchen).

 

Arnold: Steve, are you lying to me?

Steve: No, no. Arthur was really rejected. And you know Eric has and had no chance of getting the role. Speak to the director. Oh, and by the way, come here by Monday.

Arnold: May I speak to Arthur?

Steve: No he’s packing.

Arnold: Tell me why he can’t speak!

Steve: I don’t wanna break your heart, but Arthur’s jealous.  He hates you right now.

Arnold: May I speak to the director?

Steve: Fine.

 

Act 5 (Arthur in California on set where he got the job).

 

Arthur: Steve, may I speak to Arnold?  I really miss him?

Steve: I- I- I-

Director: As a matter of fact, Arnold despises you. So does Eric. They’re both driving here, being escorted by their parents.  

Arthur: I don’t know what to say –

Steve: Jealousy. An evil trait.

Director: Don’t feel bad. You got the role.

Steve: You worked the hardest.

Arthur: Why did you protest when I got the role, Steve?

Steve: I wasn’t thinking straight. But you’re definitely the best.

Director: Get an early start on Monday. That’s when we’re starting the show.

Arthur: How’d you know they’d be coming? Arnold and Eric?

Director: They called us.

Steve: Really horrible of them to do this.

Arthur: Do I deserve to be in this show?

Director and Steve: Of course you do!

 

Act 6 (On set where Arthur was voted).

 

Arnold: What are you doing here, Eric?

Eric: What are you doing here, Arnold?

Arthur: I know what you two are doing here. You came here ‘cuz you hate me.

Arnold: No, I wanted to speak to you, but they didn’t let me!

Eric: They said they reconsidered and I got the role.

Arnold: No, I got the role!

Arthur: I kept the role.  You two are hallucinating.

Arnold: You are, Eric and Arthur.

Eric: Both of you are wrong!

Twins: GET LOST ERIC!

Eric: Hold on, I got it.

Arnold: Stop, they called me!

Steve: We spoke to all of you…

 

YOU DECIDE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!!

The Death of the Party

The party ended long ago

Yet why I’m still here I don’t know

The music of the broken chair

A symphony that spreads, threadbare

 

The red balloons float near the wall

Their strings drift slowly toward the hall

Beneath my thoughts, a wistful broom

The dust around it sweeps the room

 

A candle molds on windowsill

It holds a light that sits too still

Whose slice of cake lies on the floor

Within the shadow of the door

 

I don’t remember who was here

To celebrate throughout the years

I want to stay, although I know

My party ended long ago

The Best

Any word(s) in italics is (are) for emphasis, while any word(s) in bold is (are) louder.

 

Arnold, the main character

Arthur, his brother

Bob, the father

Sara, the mother

The director

The actors (Eric and Steve)

 

Act 1 (In the kids’ room, after lunch. The beds are messy, and who-knows-what is on the floor. Arnold and Arthur are sitting on their beds, watching TV and arguing. The father comes in, and the mother comes in later, too).

 

Bob: What on earth are you watching, Arthur?

Arthur: I don’t know, some stupid show that little Arnold is watching. Probably for 2-year-olds, that’s why it’s age-appropriate for him.

Arnold: First of all, we’re twins. Being 19 seconds earlier does not mean that you are much older than me. And second, this show, “A Time to Think,” is really stupid, I agree. But I want to see what these actors are doing that is so wrong.

Bob: These are the 13-year-olds I have. Sara, I need some help!

Sara: What on – wow, that really does run strong in the family. But what is going on?

Bob: Ask Arthur.

Arnold: Arthur!

Arthur: Arnold!

Arnold: Dad!

Bob: Sara!

Sara: Children, stop fighting! What is this all about?

Arthur: Arnold’s making me watch a stupid show!

Arnold: I wanted to see what the actors are doing that makes them so bad. Maybe it’s their voices, or the characters, or the plot, or the –

Sara & Bob: That’s enough.

Arthur: Yeah, how ‘bout you try acting, let’s see how you fail.

Arnold (to himself): Or succeed.

 

Act 2 (In the kitchen, sitting at the table).

 

Arthur: You’re not considering letting him move, are you? You think he’s gonna be OK away from Minnesota in Hollywood, in CALIFORNIA??

Arnold: I mean, it’s hotter there.

Bob: Too hot for my liking.

Sara (crying): My sweetie-pie can’t leave!! I love him, and he’ll be sick without me!! No, no no!!

Arthur: The sweetie pie you called, “A pain everywhere?” That one? The one who always brags ‘cuz he’s “King Arnold the Great and Powerful Ruler?”

Arnold: Arthur, stop that! I mean, you’re right, but you’re better at yelling and joking around pathetically. And mom, it’ll be OK. I’ve been to sleep-away camp. For two months. In a row.

Bob: What if you don’t land the job?

Arnold: Me, not landing the job? Are you serious? The only thing I have to worry about is coming up with a good stage-name. “Arnold Ricassuss” is not a greatly and widely-loved name. Probably. Just guessing. I know! James Hardy! That’s so cool.

Arthur: You’re not a “James,” or a “Hardy.” You’re BETTER name is “Fishy Fishy Cryie the Second!” Sorry, Dad. The first.

Bob: Arnold, a little humility! Arthur, stop bullying your brother!

Sara: I can’t take it! It’s too much! I’m already crying!!!!!!!
Bob: Come on Sara, it’ll be OK. And Arnold, we haven’t even decided if you’re going yet. And Arthur, go to your room!

Arthur: You can’t just –

Bob: Now!

Arthur: FINE!!!!

 

Act 3 (Everyone’s in the kitchen and later, they move to the garage).

 

Bob: We’ve arrived at a decision! Arnold, get ready to pack to California.

Arthur: And what should I do?

Sara: Stay home and watch the baby.

Arthur: The one who puked in my face? Joe?

Arnold: That’s the one.

Arthur: Shut up.

Arnold: Your wish is my command! Just kidding! HA! I’m going to Hollywood, and you’re not!!!

Arthur: That’s it! I’m coming along. You’re not the only one in the family that’s cocky.

Arnold: Well that’s obvious.

Arthur: Why you little

Bob: Both of you can come. I know what show you should audition for!

Sara & Bob: “Ben and Jake!”

Arthur: Yeah, ‘cuz our dream is to try to get into a great show.

Arnold: And that’s JUST the one!

Arthur: We’ve heard about that. It’s as good as the show Arnold was watching yesterday. But let’s just give it a try.

Sara: There’s only one spot left. Kids from 12-14 can audition!

Arnold: I’m getting in!

Arthur: In your wildest dreams!

Arnold: Which will come true!

Sara: Get the baby. You don’t even know who or what you’re auditioning for. I’ll explain in the car.


Act 4 (In a large minivan, with the father at the wheel).

 

Bob: You’re auditioning for Michael, the third star, after –

Sara & Boys: “BEN AND JAKE!!!!!

Bob: Someone feed the baby!

Arnold: That’s your cue, dear brother.

Arthur: After I get the role, you’ll be taking care of the baby! “Arnold! Go feed the baby!!!!

Arnold: But when I crush your dreams of ever being better than me at anything, I’ll do my trademark victory dance.

Arthur: There’s a reason it’s trademarked! Or a signature move! WHATEVER.

Bob: We have three more hours! Stop bickering, and someone feed the baby!!

 

Act 5 (On set, with cameras and costumes).

 

Director: Well, hello there! My name is – confidential.

Bob: Nice to see you, confidential.

Director: Who here is auditioning for Michael?

Sara: My two munchkins, Arthur and Arnold.

Director: Well, you’re in luck. Only one other kid, Eric, is auditioning. He’s 14. How old are your little munchkins?

Arnold & Arthur: 13.

Director: My best actor, Steve, will help you feel at home.

Steve: Hey.

Director: Best of luck!

 

Act 6 (On set. The children are sitting in seats for the audience, and the director is on stage).

 

Director: You 2 have surpassed Eric. But only one of you will win. Both of you are like Michael – lazy, cute, and, well, weird. Arthur, you are quirky and slightly amusing. Arnold, you like being the leader and doing everything, and you’re also funny. But you both should know that the loser is also very-

Arnold & Arthur: GET ON WITH IT!

Eric: And hey, it’s not nice to make fun of me!

Children & Director: GET LOST, ERIC!!!

Director: As I was saying, before I was RUDELY interrupted, only one will win, but both of you are winners anyway. The person playing Michael, the person who will be staying in California for 5 months each season, and we plan for there to be 13 seasons, is Mr…

Successful Failure

The French restaurant was a perfectly square building, with chipping pink paint and ivy crawling down the side of. It had black wire chairs and tables in the front. Inside the restaurant there were creamy white drapes over the windows and small flickering candles on each of the square tables. Littering the walls were black and white photos of the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Palace of Versailles, and many other significant places in France,  along with pictures of the owner’s smiling family.  The aroma out of the kitchen was delicious and you could practically taste the Bisque, Terrine, or Croque Monsieur being cooked up in the kitchen.

Jason Mallory’s best friend told him he had found the perfect girl for him; Jason was ecstatic. Jason as being 28 was obsessed with finding a wife. He would date anyone who was breathing and was determined to be married before the age of 30.  He was laid back and lived in a small apartment, which he shared with six other guys to pay the rent. He was working as a barista at a small coffee shop on the outskirts of New York City. He wanted to make it big in the world of theater acting but so far was unsuccessful. He would go to three auditions per month, only to get rejected a few weeks later. On Friday nights, he would stay out late at bars watching football games. In fact he would do that any day of the week. The future to him was not anything but what he would do in a few hours, nothing more and nothing less.

Avery Kinsey was a powerhouse, despite what she might look. Petite at 4 ‘11 and icicle thin, Avery had started her own real estate company by the age of 25,  which was nearing one of the most popular real estate companies in New York City. Avery had no time for nonsense. She had things to do and places to be. She would much rather stay single her whole life. If she had too many people in her life, she would have less time to focus on her pride and joy, her real estate company. Despite her opinion, Avery’s only friend , Karen, had set her up on blind date. Karen’s boyfriend’s best friend  was supposedly the man for her. Avery was displeased; she hated when people chose what her next move would be like, but next week Avery had a huge deal and needed a lot of concentration, and Karen would be bothering her all of next week if she did not go on this date tonight.

When Jason arrived at the French restaurant he saw a small woman sitting at a table all by herself. She was wearing lemon-yellow blazer and skirt, and her blonde hair was pulled back into a high bun. Her shoes were pointed at the tips and were fire truck red, which matched her square glasses.

“Avery?” he asked the woman cautiously.

“Yes?” she said impatiently.

“Hello, I’m Jason,” he said, sticking out his hand for her to shake.

Avery shook his hand and then pulled out a small bottle of Purell from her lemon-yellow handbag.  

Offended, Jason sat down across from her.  “Do you think I’m that dirty?” he asked accusingly.

She ignored him. “You’re late.”

“What? So I was five minutes late, what’s the big deal?” Jason spluttered.

“It was unprofessional,” Avery answered, her words clipped.

Jason could feel anger rising up in his chest. “You know what? Let’s start over, pretend nothing happened, and just order.”

“If you say so,” said Avery, she picked up her black leather menu, which was so big it covered her whole entire face until Jason could not see her anymore.

“Hello,” said a waiter, who had come over to the table, “may I interest you in any drinks this evening?”

“Would you like a drink, Avery?” Jason asked her.

“I don’t drink,” she said from behind her menu.

Jason ordered his drink and the waiter came back two minutes later with a water for Avery and Jason’s drink.   

“Are we ready to order?” the waiter asked

“Yup,” Jason replied

“Yup is not proper English,” Avery said from behind her menu.

Ignoring her, Jason ordered foie gras and Avery ordered a French onion soup. The waiter took away their menus, revealing Avery’s face again.

“So what do you like to do?” Avery asked him.

Momentarily stunned that Avery was saying something not critical of him, Jason replied, “I like to play basketball, I work at a coffee shop, and I want to be a theater actor.”

“That’s nice,” Avery said politely.

“What about you?” Jason asked her

“Well, I don’t have much free time, since I’ve started my company, but if I do, I like to run and cook,” she said back. 

“So what do have to do with this big company of yours?” Jason asked her.

“I have to finalize bills, keep everyone in line, all final sales go back to me, I have to employ people, officially sign all of the verification bills when we sell a house, if too many things go wrong with house inspections, I have to fix them, and I have to manage all the income the company gets. I have help, of course, but it’s still a lot.”

“Wow, that is a lot.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Here is some bread as a appetizer,” said the waiter carrying bread basket.

Avery and Jason fell back into silence once again.    

Halfway through their eating, Jason asked, “So, how’d you start a company when you’re so young?”

Avery swallowed. “Well, you have to be clever and quick on your feet. You have to know what you’re talking about. You have to be confident and determined and not let anyone tell you not to do what you think is right.”

Jason nodded. “Okay.”

“Hello, here we have the French onion soup and foie gras,” said the waiter setting down the plates in front of their respective person, “can I get anything else for you today?”

“No, I think we’re okay,” Jason said, “right, Avery?”

Avery nodded her head. “Thank you very much, sir.”

Once the waiter left, Avery took out her Purell bottle again and sanitized her hands, once again.

“Would you like some?” Avery asked Jason.

“Sure,” he responded, noticing the excessive amount of purell that was now on his hands. “So are you kinda a germ-a-phobe?”

“Kinda is not a real word, and the real fear is called mysophobia, and yes,” Avery responded, matter of factly.

“Oh, can’t you relax a little bit? Not be so uptight?” Jason said

“No I can’t. If everything’s not perfect, then a whole list of uncharted outcomes will happen and that can not happen, ever,” Avery said, her voice rising.

“Okay, calm down. Sorry I suggested it,” Jason said, putting his hand up in surrender.

Avery just ate her soup.

“So do you have any siblings?” Jason asked her.

“I’m an only child. You?” she asked.

“I have two older brothers,” he responded.

“Are you close to them?”

“Well, we were really close when we were younger, but one lives in Brazil studying exotic plants, and the other one plays pro hockey, so it’s hard to coordinate time to talk to one another on the phone or go to visit. The only time we’re all together is when we go to the beach with my parents for a week in the summer, but for the last five years, one of us has not been able to make it.”

Avery nodded her head. “What do your parents do?”

“My dad’s a college professor, and my mom is a psychologist. How about you?”

“My parents divorced when I was nine, but they’re both in the real estate business. It runs in the family.”

“So what’s your favorite movie?” Jason asked her, hoping to start some conversation.

“Well, I haven’t really watched many movies since I was 16, but then I really liked action films then,” Avery said

“Action movies?! Wow, I would not consider you to be an action movie type of person!” Jason said, beside himself with disbelief.

“Now, now, that was then, now is the present, and now I hate action movies, but remember you should never judge someone by their first impression,” Avery said lightly.  

“Oh, well, I like action movies and comedies, but adventure is cool, too. I like dramas in plays but not movies, romances are boring, horror is awesome, especially that new movie that came out-” Jason started to ramble

“I can tell you very passionate about films in general,” Avery said, politely interrupting him.

“Yup!” Jason said happily.

“How many times do I have to remind you that yup is not a real word, please stop saying it!” Avery groaned, placing her head in her hands.

“Sorry,” Jason said happily, not sorry at all.

The waiter came back to clear their plates. “Can I interest you folks on a dessert this evening?”

“Would you like to split this tarte tatin, with me, Aves? It looks like an apple tart,” Jason asked her.

“I don’t eat added sugar,” Avery said, her voice flat.

“Oh, course you don’t…could you do a slice of the tarte tatin?” Jason asked the waiter

“Of course, sir,” the waiter said and left.

“Never call me that again,” Avery said, her blue eyes dead serious.

“Call you what?” Jason asked, confused.

“Aves.”

“Okay, sorry, it just kind of slipped out,” Jason responded,

“Promise.”

“Promise what?”

“To never ever as long as you live to call me Aves.”

“I promise to never call you Aves again,” Jason said. “Why can’t I call you that?”

“Because one, it’s unprofessional, Aves sounds like a name for a little girl, not a woman. Two, the name on my birth certificate is Avery, so thats my name and no other name. Three, I hate nicknames with every bone in my body.”

“Oh, okay, good reasons,” Jason said.

The tarte tatin arrived, and Jason ate it while Avery was staring at him, arms crossed.

Once Jason was done, he signaled for the check. Once the waiter brought it over, he proceeded to fill it out.

“No, Jason, here is $12 for my soup,” Avery said

“Okay. Thank you,” Jason responded

Avery did not offer up more money, which Jason thought was fair because she did not order anything other than the soup.

After the check was paid, Jason said to her, “I had a great time with you tonight, Avery.”

“Yes, me too,” Avery responded

Both just wanted to be polite.

In many ways, Jason though that this date was a failure, most of the conversation was forced, Avery and him had nothing in common, and most of Jason’s natural instincts–like saying “yup” and nicknaming people–seemed to annoy Avery. In some ways, though, it was a success. They both got see different people with very different life goals and standing in life currently, and it was sort-of fun for both of them.

As they walked out of the French restaurant, Jason held open the door for her.

“Bye, Avery,” Jason said, “maybe some other time.”

“Yes, maybe,” said Avery, although she highly doubted it.

Jason turned and headed west, and Avery turned and headed east. Neither of them looked back.

Teddy Bear

 

1)

Remember your teddy bear?

The one that was worn around the edges?

You took it everywhere with you

But your arms were too short to hold it off the ground

So its left foot

Dragged on the pavement

 

Remember the tea parties

You used to have with it?

You’d call it Miss Franchez

Or Fran for short

You would sleep with it

Because it fought the monsters

So they wouldn’t hurt you

But maybe the monsters were too big

 

I remember when you went outside to play

It was raining,

But you refused to leave her inside

And when I found her on the

Edge of the highway

 

Her frail body soaked through with water

And one perfect rain drop under

Her button eye your perfect little shoe was

Laying next to

 

I carry her in my purse

So that I remember you

Her one remaining eye is falling out,

And the wool in left leg

Is almost gone

But I keep her anyway

You wouldn’t have thrown

Her out

 

They still haven’t found you

And most people have forgotten

But I still go to the highway

Every night with Fran

And we wait for you to come back

You will come back, right?

 

2)

You used to carry me everywhere

And tell me stories about candy trees

And the dragon at the end of the street

We used to have tea parties

And adventures to the moon

I fought the purple monster under

Your bed

So it couldn’t take your dolly

Remember that?

 

I remember when we went out to play

And the big woman told

You not to bring me because

Because it was raining too hard

But you never left me

You promised you wouldn’t

 

But when the big man grabbed you,

You dropped me on me ground

It was cold there

Why’d you drop me?

You said it was just going to be another adventure

So why’d you leave?

 

But now the the big woman

Carries me around

And I see your face smiling at me

I call out to you

But you never answer

 

She takes me to the highway

Every day

And we wait for you to come back

You will come back, right?

 

3)

I remember all the adventures we had

And your soft wool

Hugging me at night

I remember the tea

You used to help me make

It was orange juice but i always

Told you it was tea

 

Remember the exciting stories

You would tell

About the purple monster under

My bed

But I was never really afraid.

My memories are worn around

The edges

And your button eyes

Stopped looking real

But I still wait

 

Because I know one day

You will find me

Thawing Time

My name is George Applewhite. And I messed up. Big time. The date is May 5th, 2015, and the time is 9:42:34 a.m., and it has been for 32 hours. Why? Because I messed up. Big time. This is how it happened: I was in my lab in the basement, and I was working exceptionally hard on cracking time travel. I finally built a machine that would theoretically do it. It was a 5’ by 10’ by 3’ rectangular prism with many knobs and screens to set the time of the destination. Made of titanium, it looked very impressive. The big test had finally come.

“Come down here, kids,” I called, and two 7-year-olds scampered down the steps and into the lab.

“Hi dad,” Jake and Sarah chirped.

“Wanna see me travel through time?”

They certainly seemed interested.

“Okay kids, this is how it works. Whoever presses this button travels back to the set time, which now is five seconds. So I will appear five seconds before the press of this button, so another me will appear while I am still talking. Ready? Go!” And everything froze.

 

The usually energetic kids were now as still as a stone. I tapped them. No reaction. I shouted and screamed in their ear. Again, no reaction. I went upstairs to my wife. She, too, was frozen, in the middle of making breakfast. No matter how loud I yelled no matter how forcefully I pushed her, she stood still. I had frozen time.

I stepped outside. Everyone on the streets was frozen. I walked towards the nearest coffee shop: “Café De Jouissance.” When I went in, the customers were as still as my family. I decided to travel the city to see if everyone was frozen. I traveled on a bike I found, since all the cars were frozen ( I couldn’t drive through them), and biked across the city. Some things looked strange, like a soccer ball suspended in the air at Central Park, and a dog in the middle of grabbing a frisbee. I spent what felt like a day searching around, and no matter where I looked,  the people, pets, and all the living things were frozen. The sun wasn’t setting. What have I done?

I quickly pedaled back home and burst through the door. I was exhausted. After making myself a cup of coffee, I walked into the lab. I needed to build something that will make time continue again, even if it took all of the materials in the world, which I had at my disposal. I tried to find out what was wrong with the machine, and I couldn’t find anything. I decided to make a new machine to unfreeze time. It was almost identical to the first machine, but it didn’t have any screens or knobs: just one red button.  It was made of titanium as well, it was a rectangular prism, and the same size. I labored for untold hours, even though time wasn’t moving. I was about to connect the last wire, but I was so tired I spilled my coffee on it.

 

I cursed, screamed, spat, and no one could hear me. I went back to the machine that froze time, studying it. And then I realized how stupid I was being. I flicked the off switch, and everything went into motion again.

“Dad,” Jake said. “I don’t think it worked.”

I laughed so hard my guts felt like they were going to come out and gave Jake and Sarah a big hug.

“But Daddy,” Sarah said. “Why are you so happy? It didn’t work.”

“I don’t care.”

And I meant it.

 

THE END

Sleepless

Chapter 1

 

The pavement has a few cracks in it that form a face. A type of face that I should be scared of, but I wasn’t. I think it’s a nightmare, which it is. I awoke with the snap of my fingers. I lie boiled in my own sweat. Nightmares don’t give me the best night, but I do have a lot of them. I’m not scared of nightmares. I learned to Lucid, so they just disappear when I think about it.

My friends call me Lucid. It’s a state, that allows me to make my own decisions in the dream state. I trained myself since I have many nightmares. The time was 4:34. I awoke next to Mrs. Penelope and my other dolls. She was my favorite doll! Her thick blonde hair streamed down her body into her pink dress. I hit my head on the soft pillow and went back to sleep. I was in a dream, I was being chased by a dragon breathing his fiery breath.

“I want a flying carpet and the mightiest sword in the dream world!” I ordered.

Now I was on a flying carpet holding a mighty golden sword. I slayed the dra- BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

I awoke to the sound of my alarm clock going off for school. After I got ready for school, I walked down the hardwood floors to the kitchen to eat my morning breakfast. My mother, who had no expression on her face, was getting my daily cereal ready.

“Hel-lo, sweet-ie,” she said in her staticy voice. She knows I love that voice, so her and father always did the robot-like-voice. I sat down at the marble counter and poured milk into the bowl. A little milk spilled, my mother cleaned it up in an instant.

“Woah. That was quick,” I said while combing my long hair.

“You know I like my house nice and clean,” Mother claimed.

My father came into the kitchen wearing his suit, he was holding a briefcase and looked at his watch. He did his static voice:

“I’ll be late for work, bye sweetie, have a good day!” Kissing me on the cheek. I swatted at him to go away as I stuffed the crunchy cereal into my face. I chewed and swallowed. I heard the bus pulled up to my driveway.

“Duty calls! Bye, love you all!” I said jumping out of the chair and grabbing my pink bag.

“Good-bye sweet-ie. Have a nice da-ay.”
I laughed and ran out the front door

“Hey!” my friend Isabelle called. “Hurry up!”

I hopped on the bus and together we sat in the back row. “So I was thinking,” Isabelle said and she went on and on and on. ‘Hooooonk hooooonk.’

“Hey!” Isabelle snapped her fingers in my face. “Lucid dream again? You have to stop doing that. Anyway, let’s ditch school. We have A’s, so can we miss one day? Starbucks day?”

I peeked open one eye. “You mean I have A’s, and you have C’,” I retorted.

“Yeah. Sure. Whatever. Are we going to Starbucks?”

I shrugged, still half in my lucid dream still have out. “I mean,” hoooonk hooooonk, “sure. Starbucks is,”‘hoooooonk, “cool”

Isabelle started giggling “You’re still in you lucid dream. But whatever.”

When I got to school, Isabelle and I walked into the building.

“So when are we ditching?” I asked.

Isabelle looked through her backpack. “I was thinking on…on…before third period.”

I stopped walking. “But today is the history exam!” I continued to walk.

“I know, that’s why I chose third period,” Isabelle said. She looked up from her backpack with a shocked look. “Shoot, I forgot my math homework. Do you think I could do 7th grade calculus before second period?”

“No. Iz. Sounds impossible. You know…because you aren’t me.”

“Oh, ha-ha-ha,” she laughed sarcastically. The bell rang.

“Come on Iz. Before we’re late.”

I turned around to see Robbie Toby. My crush! I have had the biggest crush on him since the third grade! We lived right next each other. His chest was puffed out, wearing his blue tight shirt apped his six-pack. He was captain of the varsity basketball team!

I stuttered. “He-Hey…Ro-b-b-ie.”

He chewed and bit on his lower lip, which drove me absolutely mad.

“Hey girls,” Robbie said. He hurried down the hall, following the other kids to their classes.

“He’s so cute,” I muttered

“Maaaaybe, if you learned to talk to him, it would go somewhere,” Iz said sarcastically.

“Well it’s not my fault! You’re the most confident person I know!” I admitted.

“Don’t worry, Lucie. You’ll work it out.”

Isabelle started to walk forward to first period.

“No I won’t. I’m an idiot. He’d never go out with me.”

“Says the straight A student.”

“I’m book smart. Not street smart.”

We walked to French. We walked along the wall and go to the room: D6.

Robbie sat at the same table as me. Isabelle sat with the weirdest boy in school, Daniel Braxton. The teacher walked in. He was wearing a blue sweater and had a bald spot at the top of his head. He came in holding a briefcase.

“Bonjour!” the teacher said.

“Good morning, Mr. Adrien,” the class repeated.

“False,” Mr. Adrien responded.

Bonjour, Monsieur Adrien,” the class said.

It was French for: Good morning, Mr. Adrien.

I looked over at Isabelle who was copying Daniel’s calculus homework onto her sheet of paper. On the other hand, Daniel was sticking pencils up his nose, his big freckled nose. He was a red-head, and he had tons and tons and tons of freckles!

The time third period arrived, Isabelle’s and my seats were empty, I was in Starbucks with my best friend! Do I feel guilty…yes. I have never ditched a day of school before. One time I had a 101 degrees fever, and I had a huge test! So I stuck my thermometer into icy cold water. But I got in trouble because I got three people sick that day.

“Ma’am, that would be six dollars,” the Starbucks woman said.

I went through my purse and pulled out four dollars. I walked over to Isabelle. “Hey. Can I have two dollars?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

She looked into her purse and pulled out two dollars, and gave it to me. I walked over to the Starbucks women and gave her the two dollars.

“Who should I make out the cup too?” she asked.

I thought for a while, who should I make it out to, my name? Or Lucid?

“Lucid. Lucid Dream,” I told the lady. “Whats your name?”

“Leona. Leona Tylers,” she told me.

“That’s such a lovely name!” I told her.

“Why thank you!”

I left the counter with Isabelle, we had our frappuccinos in both of our hands. We walked outside and as soon we took our first sip, mine fell to the ground and spilled everywhere! I screeched. There I saw on the side of a stop sign. I saw the flier that I never wanted to see again! The flier read: JOIN QUART AND HIS FUNKY CREW AT THE THREE-YEAR-ANNUAL-CIRCUS!

When I was eight years old, I came across that same flier. It was my birthday. I asked my daddy to get me tickets for my birthday. He nodded, and that night we went to the circus. They had everything! Tamers, elephants, acrobats, ropewalkers, and most of all…clowns. My dad then went up to Quart and told him that it was my birthday. Quart announced to the crowd that it was my birthday and told me to get up here. The spotlight then turned to me, shining in my face and having just a twinkle of an eye open. I sat up and then got onto my feet, shaking.

I started to walk down the stairs to the stage of the circus. I walked slowly dreading until I got to the stage.

“Now what would you like for your birthday?” Quart asked me.

I shook in fear. “I-I wou-ld lik-e a um,” I shuddered.

“Come on dear, there most be something!” his clown face scared me.

I ran off the stage and out of the circus, my father following me.

 

I lay in my bed trying to fall asleep. Looking at the top of my bunk bed. But why couldn’t I?

No matter how hard I tried I could not manage to fall asleep. My head on the soft pillow, the covers around me were warming my cold body. It was a cold windy night, the window was open to get a nice breeze inside the warm house.

My teddy bear was tucked in between my pale arms. His name was Mr. Eddy. He protected me during the night so I wouldn’t be scared, but tonight Mr. Eddy didn’t help.

But no matter how comfortable this beautiful room was, I found myself not being able to fall asleep. Why? Why could I not fall asleep? What was the fear swarming my every thought.?

“Think lovely thoughts!” I kept on telling myself. “Lovely thoughts help.” Like flowers blooming in the meadows, or waking up on Christmas morning to run downstairs and open presents!

Nothing would work, I was still scared, in this beautiful room filled with light and joy.

What was I scared of though? Nothing, right? But I just have that deep feeling as if something or someone was watching me.

Finally I gave up on trying to go to sleep and sat up straight on my bed. And I felt a cold wash over me, my eyesight became clear, and everything became spooky right before my eyes. [JUUU DU DU DOOON)

I heard noises coming from my headphones. I must’ve left on a youtube video. I went on my computer, which was on my nightstand. The laptop was slightly open. It was an apple laptop and the apple logo was still glowing. I opened the laptop and the big blue bright screen was shining in my face. I clicked through my files and saw no video playing. Whats going on? I then put on my headphones and I heard:

“I think she hears us,” a creaky voice said.

I took off the headphones and unplugged them. I threw them across the room and they broke.

I jumped out of bed and went to the door. The knob was gold. Not the silver I remembered it to be. When I turned the knob there was a CREEEAK. Then I realized, my door was a push not a turn and pull. [JUUU DU DU DOOOON] I walked over to the window next, and looked outside into the windy night. Street lamps were turned off for the night, the road had no cars, not even a motor was running. Then I realized, cars should have been parked there. My mother’s car. [JUUU DO DO DOOOOON]

Next I went to my bookcase, books always made me feel delightful. So I thought to myself; maybe if I read, I will fall asleep. I reached into the bookcase and looked for my favorite book and saw: No Exit. I found it and opened to the first page. I saw a picture I never noticed before, it was the picture of the clown I’ve seen in a circus before. Its name was Quart. I had nightmares of this clown, it always haunted my dreams until I was eight, I’m now twelve.

The picture started to move as if it was real! The clown did an evil laugh and honked his nose, the clown started to walk around the picture. The clown reached his hand outside of the picture, I was scared. Then it dawned on me: I hate clowns! I dropped the hardcover book on my big toe! I screeched with pain.

I woke up with a gasp and sweat dripping down my face. I looked around. I was in my basement. This….this….was normal. Before….It couldn’t have been. That had to be a dream. I saw on the wall: Isssaaaabellllllllle.

But I realized: That wasn’t my name!

GASPS!

I was now in my kitchen. And Mr. Eddy was there. Made sense. I took Mr. Eddy and Mrs. Penelope everywhere. But where was she? The pots and pans were moving, the kitchen knives spelling out: N-O-T H-E-R-E L-E-O-N-A

Leona wasn’t my name either!

GASPS!

I was back in my room, how did I get here? Its impossible! One thing I knew I was in the kitchen hearing noises and now I’m lying in my bed again. I then heard whispers coming from my top bunk which I was staring at. I removed the covers from my body and started to look for Mr. Eddy, I couldn’t find him. GULP! I then got out of bed and heard the whispers again. (OH DANG) It was the type of whispers you shouldn’t have heard.

I climbed up the ladder to the top bunk and Mr. Eddy was there! He was with my other dolls, Sally, Mrs. Penelope, Drake, and Gother. They were whispering. I then kicked the ladder by accident. All my doll’s necks turned all the way around and stared at me. It was like an owl just with dolls. I then ran to the door, fast! I tried to twist the knob open. It wouldn’t open!

I then awoke. It was in my living room, the TV was on. I must’ve left it by accident, It was on a program that wasn’t running, so that means it was staticy. I grabbed the remote and started to flick through the channels to see if there was anything else on. But it went to the same static channel every time. Channel: 666. [eeeeeeeeeeup]

I then turned off the TV, I turned around and started to walk back up to my room, but then the TV turned back on again. So, I walked back to the living room and tried to turn the TV back off. Blood started to ooze from the TV. How is this possible? I threw down the remote and ran to the staircase again. My dolls were there, they were at the top of the staircase, as if they were a King. They were singing creepy lullabies.

 

“Can’t even shout, can’t even cry. The gentlemen are coming by.

Looking in windows, knocking on doors.

They need to take seven and they might take yours.

Can’t call to mom, can’t say a word,

You’re gonna die screaming but you won’t be heard,” all the dolls sang.

 

I ran the other way to the front door and I tried to open the front door to my house. It wouldn’t open! The dolls started to walk down the stairs.

I awoke back in my sweaty covers. I dripped sweat and fear shook my whole body. I saw a glass of water, I couldn’t resist it. I was so thirsty. I grabbed the water and started chugging it down. When it hit my mouth, it turned into dark oil. I choked and gagged. The oil dripping down my mouth.

“Daaarliiing,” my mother called. “Come ooout.”

“Diiinneeer,” my father called.

Their voices sounded a bit like steam boats. But that didn’t bother me. They were just playing, like old times.

I swung the door open and ran out the hallway, looking for them. “MOM! DAD!”

“Dooownstaaairs,” my mother called. I jumped down the stairs, three at a time.

“Paaastaaa!” my father said.

When I entered the kitchen, I saw my parents. Cooking, no expressions on their faces. “Mom? Dad?”

My father turned around, his face blank, the pot of pasta in his hands. “Sit.”

“ I-I-I,” stuttered, “I’M ALLERGIC TO PASTA!”

“Nooo you aaaren’t,” my mother called.

I looked at the clock: 6:66 a.m.

I screamed and grabbed a pan. “THAT TIME DOESN’T EXIST!”

“Darling. Please eat. You’re so scrawny,” my mother pleaded.

I grabbed a pan. “GO AWAY!” I swung the pan at my father, his head bent at an odd angle. Not human at all. He started switching and sparks flew. “Eat. Eat. Eeeeeeat.” He fell down and never moved again.

My mother’s voice changed to static and so deep filled with pure anger. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE! THAT WAS MY HUSBAND!” Her voice was like metal rubbing against metal.

“Yo-ur’e- You- o-‘re- an-an AUTOMATONS!” I hollered. It all made sense, maybe this is why I don’t have a name [JUUU DUN DUN DUNNNNNN].

I ran back down the steps to the basement, I was so scared. I just cooled myself down saying that I’m in nightmare! I finished running downstairs and saw a rope. The rope was hanging, but something was pulling the weight down of the rope. I moved my eyes down along the strip of rope. Towards the end it had a deep red color of blood stained into the rope. I saw a head through the loop of the rope. I panicked. The girl had a name tag. The name tag read: Isabelle.

So thats what I heard earlier! I then noticed blood dripping. I looked up and saw blood dripping on me, it ran down my face. It was coming from the air vents. I got the stool that was behind the hanging girl. I grabbed the stool and climbed up to the air vent. I removed the air vent and I saw a girl’s head lodged into the air vent. It must have been Leona. Her head was separated from her body, she was stabbed six times. I fell off the stool and I landed on Mr. Eddy. He appeared out of nowhere. I was scared. I looked at the wall and I saw something strange. It was written in the blood of Leona. It had the words: You’re Next. I wasn’t scared because of the message, I was scared because I never owned a teddy bear, because I never bought Mr. Eddy.

 

Every 12-year-old experiences these events. And you’re very much awake.

Second Draft Essay

Kolkata and Columbus Circle have shaped the way I live by teaching me the tools I need to raise myself to become a successful person in the future.  The endless lessons in both India and New York help me develop how to be passionate in what I believe in and never give up. To my family and my second family in my soccer teams and swimming teams in New York. To the stories people tell of Gods and Goddesses in India. These people have taught me how to build a foundation of how to become a well-rounded individual.

Firstly, I would like to talk about the phrases “Be passionate in what you believe in” and “Never give up.” These two phrases represent a value in my life which is grit. Many times I hear this phrase when stuck on a math problem and unable to proceed farther. Usually I would give up after so much frustration. Other times I heard it when I was at young ages I would get mad when I never saw a word and couldn’t read it, but from hearing this phrase from my grandparents in Asia to my parents in America I have understood what it means. After many math and reading incidents I have been  taught me to reach for my full potential and become a golden star. This opened a new personality for me, specifically a gritty one. In India the gritty side of me is always trying to become better, always being bombarded by knowledge by my grandparents and aunts. In New York the gritty side of me is always competing against other individuals in swim races and other teams that I want to beat really badly in soccer games. In both places, though, I will never give up whether I am learning something new or competing when playing sports.

The people who have excellently given me the tools I need for having a marvellous life are my families. I know it’s not a typo, I said families. I have three families. First, my mom, dad, brother, grandparents, and aunts. I have two other families: my swim team and my soccer team. By getting long lectures from my parents and in school about how you should be friendly to one another, and they will like you if you are friendly to them. To the endless “Hi!” with teammates as we learn how to respect and appreciate our differences. All my families have taught me a life lesson: to be friendly and make sure you are warm and welcoming to others. By getting to know one another and learning our weaknesses and strengths. By training hard and working together functioning as well as a utopian society. By never giving up and always respecting each other whether you make mistakes or not. My team families have taught me teamwork.  My grandparents and aunts in India have bombarded me with so much knowledge that I would like to know even more by asking endless questions and receiving endless answer. From my family in India I have discovered the curious side of myself. Whenever my grandparents have given me the knowledge, I was always curious to learn more about the topic. From my parents and teammates I have discovered the welcoming side of myself. Whenever I was doing the exercises about being friendly I realized that I became welcoming. I always welcomed my friends when they came to my house and was friendly to them.

Lastly, the many religious beliefs that I have learned, from my grandparents in India. The beliefs have each opened up another side of me. As I read the many far-fetched tales I start wondering why a character made a decision in the story if he or she knew something was going wrong. Therefore I always asked questions to my grandparents. Some questions were, “Why did the demon in the story put his right hand on his head if he knew he would burn to ashes if he put his right hand anywhere on his body?” They always replied, “Think Yashu.” Their answers always left me at a cliffhanger. After hearing this, so many times I discovered  my intellectual personality, and the side of me that never stopped thinking. It taught me the life lesson: there is always some time for you to grow and learn or become better at anything. It taught me this specifically because every time I started thinking about each story my mind started developing, and my thoughts were taken to a higher level. It showed me that I can become better at anything because each time I showed grit I became better at thinking about the stories.

Throughout these examples I hope you can see how from a little boy, the advice these marvellous people have given me. They each have opened me up to a new side, one that I discovered each time I learned something knew. In conclusion, I am intellectual, gritty, passionate, and have a side that never stops thinking.

School

Blabbering

It’s going on and on

I glance up to see staring

At me

I flip through the pages

Stress

It’s climbing up my throat

The intimidating ringing

I quickly slip out the door as the others crowd out behind me

The numbers are buzzing in my head

I systematically copy them on the board

The ringing

It’s back

Only to remind me of what’s to come at home

The day was a blur

Just like the day before

I think about the continuous tasks to come

Tick

Tick

Tick

I zone back in as the gears slide past one another

Keeping my sanity.

Robin Flew

Robin was the type of 7-year-old,

who fell in love with fire after watching her father light his cigarettes.

Smoke from his burning soul would roam the air that Robin would swim in.

 

She fell in love with the fire’s dance,

and liked the way it burned things,

slowly then almost instantly,

which reminded her of how fragile life is.

 

On the fourth of July,

she hid in her backyard by the swings that she never sat on.

She had stolen her father’s matches and kissed it with her hair,

just to see “what would happen.”

If she would become life.

Burn slowly,

then instantly.

 

She watched her lover the same way it disappeared off her twelve candles.

The same year she disappeared into silence for seven months,

as she watched her mother slowly rot alive.

 

Her teeth were stuck together,

as if her mouth had been sewn shut.

She was a sculpture,

and like falling stone, she cracked.

She broke through the silence once she feared of forgetting how to speak.

 

Four years later,

like trains passing by,

night passed.

And like the child she still was,

Robin climbed on top of her roof every day to feel like a giant in her world.

She learned how to fall in love with the wind,

because she swore it felt like she was underwater.

The thought made her feel infinite.

She’d climb and climb everyday,

until she decided to fall,

just to see if she could still feel.

 

As the globe turned,

and people left,

Robin stayed and met numerous lovers.

she fell in love with a shadow that saved her from her reflection.

Its dark and piercing eyes that peaked through her soul,

felt familiar of a once lost dream.

 

Like smooth skin,

A polished knife laid on her throat.

With sweat, and rivers running through the skife,

she threatened to leave if he ever left.

 

She couldn’t breathe with or without him.

She told him how much he burned her,

slowly,

then almost instantly.

He made her feel stuck at the bottom of the ocean,

and frozen from the smoke that she once swam in.

But like the sun to moon,

he fell.

And like the wind,

Robin flew.

Rebecca GF 8/11

“One, two, three,” I say, grabbing Erin’s hand. We leap off the ledge into the abyss. We plummet fifteen feet down into the water. I am overcome with a giddy feeling of weightlessness but also my body being ripped from its former position.

“Come on, girls, taxi’s waiting,” Erin’s dad jokes. He opens the door of the grey Volvo. “I said that was the last jump.”

Erin and I oblige. I start to head for the car, but someone is calling my name.

“Josie!” Erin yells. “Don’t forget your towel.”

I jog over to her. She’s standing on the outskirts of the quarry, with my towel in her hand, and a smug look on her face.

“What would I possibly do without you?” I ask her.

“Oh, you wouldn’t do anything. You wouldn’t be able to live without me,” Erin walks over to the car, her hips swaying. She looks over her shoulder and grins at me. “C’mon, slowpoke.”

I laugh and join her. I look out the window as we drive. All I see is blurred green, and I hear the whoosh of cars streaming past us.

“Josie, do you want mac and cheese or peanut butter and jelly for lunch?” Erin asks.

I look at her with a raised eyebrow. “Is that even a question?”

She laughs. “Mac and cheese, please!” We say in unison. We smile widely at each other. Erin’s teeth are white and straight, and I see glints of green and gold in her warm brown eyes. I’m distracted by her hair, even wet it’s perfect.

“Do you wanna rent a movie to watch tonight?” I suggest. Erin’s country house has an old TV, so you can only watch videos.

“Absolutely,” Erin replies. “Dad, can we go and get a movie?”

“I suppose so,” her dad says. “After all, we only have two days left.”

I can’t believe we’ve already been here for three days. We have done almost everything you can possibly do on this little island in Maine. Swimming, hiking, eating ice cream, watching movies, going out to dinner, climbing trees, attempting gymnastics in the backyard…

And whenever we have late night conversations before bed, or while enjoying a midnight snack, Erin always mentions boys.

“Oh, Josie, did you see that adorable boy at the quarry today?” or “Ohmygod Channing Tatum is so hot I’m going to die!”

I just nod and say, “I know right?” Even though I couldn’t care less.

No, I didn’t see that adorable boy at the quarry today because I was busy staring at you. Yeah, when we were watching ‘She’s the Man’ I wasn’t looking at Channing Tatum, I was looking at the girls.

Still, I always hope that Erin is hiding her feelings for me with false statements on the attractiveness of dudes. Or maybe she doesn’t even realize she thinks of me like that because of heteronormativity. Yep, it’s definitely our society’s fault.  

“Josie! JOSIE!” Erin startles me. “You were staring off into space. C’mon, we have to pick a movie soon.”

I look around me. I’m renting a movie. Focus. I take a deep breath. Erin is staring at me like I grew an extra head.

“So what are you thinking?” I smile. “Drama, comedy, action…”

“I’m in the mood for more of an action movie,” Erin responds. “Like a thriller!” She has such a serious look on her face, and her arms are spread out wide. I giggle.

“Sounds good!”

We browse the action movies until we find one that we agree on. The Dark Knight.

“I love that movie!” Erin and I say, simultaneously. We laugh because it’s weird how we’re so similar. I sigh. Erin would probably say something about how Christian Bale makes her weak in the knees. I roll my eyes at that thought.

Several hours later, Erin and I are huddled into the corner of the sofa, shoving popcorn into our mouths, as we watch the movie. We watch Heath Ledger as the Joker walk around the fundraiser asking where Harvey Dent is, our eyes wide. We’ve seen The Dark Knight several times, and we turned thirteen a few months ago, but we’re babies when it comes to scary movies.

The Joker is telling another version of how he got his scars, and Erin grabs my arm. I shiver at her touch. I stare at Erin. Her mouth is in a little ‘o.’ I can’t look away from her, but I do. I turn back towards the TV.

The credits are rolling, but I’m not focused on the movie. I’m thinking about what it would be like to kiss Erin. She’s so beautiful. I could look at her forever. Her smiling face, and her soft curves. How does she not realize how gorgeous she is?

“Hey,” she whispers, turning towards me.

“Yeah.”

“Do you have something you want to tell me?”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I respond harshly.

“Woah,” Erin says. “Chill, Josie.”

“I feel like you’re accusing me of something.”

“Hey, look at me,” Erin says soothingly. “I’m not. You seem distracted. I just wanted to see if something was up.”

“You wouldn’t get it.”

“Try me.”

I pause, calculating my response.

“Is it a guy? Do you have a crush on someone? That’s totally normal, you know.”

“No it’s not a guy.”

“Oh, okay. What is it then?”

I take a deep breath. I’m just going to go for it. I don’t want to keep secrets from her. “It’s you.”

“What? What did I do?” Erin seems appalled. She’s getting defensive. Tell her. TELL HER.

“I like you. As more than a friend,” I mumble. Ohmygod I just told her why did I tell her she won’t get it ohmygod I ruined it.

“Oh. Oh my God. Wait seriously?” She looks so confused. Is that a bad sign?

“Yeah, seriously.” I wait. “Um, you’ll probably say no. I, uh, just wanted to see. Do you maybe wanna kiss to see what it’s like?”

“Oh my God. Uh, I don’t know. I never thought of you like that. You’re my best friend. You know that. Um, okay. Ohmygod. Let’s try.”

I can’t believe she agreed to do it. I look at her mouth. We lean in slowly. For a brief second, our lips touch. Hers feel soft and strange. It’s different than I expected. I don’t want it to end. She pulls back.

“Yeah, I don’t. I can’t. I don’t feel anything,” she replies honestly. “I’m not gay. I think I’m straight.”

“I’m sorry. This was a bad idea,” I say quickly. “Let’s just go to bed.”

We brush our teeth and get changed in different rooms. We go to bed without a sound. I try to fall asleep. I move back and forth. Tears well up in my eyes. Why did I do that? I knew it would end up badly. She doesn’t like me like that. No one thinks of me like that. Why can’t I be straight? Why can’t I like guys the way I like girls? Why do I get nervous when I see a pretty girl, but I’ve never felt attracted to a guy?

The last two days are awkward. Erin and I barely talk, especially not about that night. I thought being honest was the right thing to do, but I made everything worse. I don’t know if our friendship will ever be the same. Now we only speak briefly, to the point. We swim without talking, Erin’s dad asks us what we want to eat and then we eat in silence, we don’t watch movies anymore, we just retreat to our rooms and read. I miss her.

Maybe I am straight. I have had crushes on guys if it counts. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t want to date them, and I wasn’t attracted to them physically. That will come with time. I’m only thirteen, after all.

Just because I thought that I was in love with Erin doesn’t mean that I was. We’re just really close friends. I was just thinking about experimenting. I prove it to myself by looking at pictures of hot guys. They are handsome. See! I am straight.

I try to tell Erin. She’s reading Harry Potter on her bed. I cough. She looks up.

“Hey, Erin?” I ask, timidly.

“Yeah?” I don’t know what she’s thinking, but I really want to.

“Remember that night?” She nods. “Well, first, I’m sorry. I made things weird between us. Also, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think I actually like you like that. We’re so close, and you’re so pretty and amazing, but I think I was just wondering. I wanted to experiment. That’s it.”

“Josie,” she responds firmly. “Don’t do this to yourself. I don’t know what it feels like, and I’m sure it’s hard, but don’t ignore your feelings. Your sexual orientation is valid, and no matter what it is, I will always love you. As a friend. And I’m sorry that I don’t feel more than that. I wish I could, but I can’t. And you do. You have to accept that. It will be okay. You’ll find someone. I promise. In fact, you’ll find several someones. There will be girls that love you like you love them. Just not me. Come here.”

Erin opens her beautiful arms. I walk over and give her a squeeze. I bury my head in her shoulder.

“I will always love you,” I admit. “But we will be friends.”

“I’m glad,” she whispers. “I don’t want to lose my best friend.”

“Your lesbian best friend,” I add.

My beautiful straight best friend laughs. “My lesbian best friend.”

Raymond

 

PART 1 – JUNE SIXTH

 

CHAPTER 1 – NEW LAW

 

June 6, 2015. How long ago is that?

 

All I know is the inside of my cell.

Solitary confinement. No words imply more pain to me than those. As you can probably decipher, I am in solitary confinement. I often wonder why I remember what it’s called. I don’t remember anything else. And then, just like that, the first domino was blown over by the wind.

A guard opened my cell door.

“No, I’m not letting you go,” he said like he’d rehearsed it. He then tossed a newspaper into my cell. “New law,” he said, “We must supply you with reading material to ‘connect you to the outside world.’ Read it thoroughly. This is what you get.”

I’m too stunned to say that it was ridiculous that I get one newspaper in my whole life. So I let him leave without giving him a piece of my mind. I decided to look at the paper.

 

The title was in a very confusing font, and I could just barely make it out. “The New York Times,” it read. That name sounded vaguely familiar. Perhaps I had read it before. It was apparently from the day of June 6, 2015.

June 6, 2015. How long ago was that? I made a logical decision. I would read this newspaper all the way through. I started with the front page. A dog, on the street, tied to a pole via his collar. I paid very close attention to this picture. In the background, just barely legible, a street sign read, “Folkshore Road.”

 

“What were you doing at Folkshore Road, Mr. Giere?”

“Where?”

“Folkshore Road, Tarrytown, New York. What were you doing there?”

“What day?”

“January 8th.”

“Impossible. I was on vacation.”

“I don’t see a ticket anywhere. Or any evidence supporting that alibi.”

 

I jolted back into the present. That image of the court is all my memory had. I, of course, was Mr. Raymond Giere. I don’t even remember if I was telling the truth or not. Furthermore, what was I even convicted of? And did I do it? I shook myself from these thoughts, and read the article, which was actually quite fascinating, about dogs being allowed into buildings, and not having to wait outside.

I went to the next picture. It was a picture of a courtroom. I flashed back once again.

 

I was walking into that courtroom. The trial opened. I came before Your Honor, as they said to call him. I remember being scared. Petrified. Wondering what on Earth was going on.

“All rise.”

 

Once again, I snapped back into reality. This led me to believe that I didn’t commit the crime. Wait. I didn’t commit the crime? I was falsely accused!? I had already made up my mind. I would try to make this right.

 

“This courtroom sees the defendant, Raymond Giere, who is being charged with-” – I still don’t remember what – “on the 5th day of the 6th month of June, in the Year of Our Lord, 2015.”

 

I jolted violently back into my cell. I triple-checked. The newspaper was from June 6th. And if the trial happened on June 5, the trial might be in the paper! I scoured the article with the courtroom, but it was about renovations, not the trial, and the most it said about the trial was “A trial was going under way.” I was getting nowhere at near lightspeed.

Think. I told myself. What were you tried for?

 

I had never been able to think logically in this cell, but I found that with the newspaper, it came back to me. How long have I been here for?

I looked through the newspaper for anything about solitary confinement. I finally found something, to do with a speech given in Scotland, abolishing solitary. Anyways, I looked, and thankfully found a transcript of the speech. It said permanent damage is done to the brain within 15 days of solitary. That doesn’t help much. Eventually I found something, tucked away in my memory. Going into solitary confinement, I saw beautiful new steel, bars. Funny. How something so simple as a few rods of steel stood upright can cause so much mental turmoil.

But when I look at them now, they are rusted over. So I figured that I must have been here for a few years. And I was in prison for much longer than that. I estimated 10-15 years. After all, I can’t remember fresh air, and I certainly can’t remember what anyone looks like. Not even me, or not my face anyway. So my crime was severe enough to be put in jail for 10 years. Either a serious theft or a murder. I don’t imagine I would commit murder, but of course, I still could’ve been accused of it. So that or theft. I kept looking through the newspaper. I looked back to the front page picture. I looked closely at the man walking away. He had dropped a receipt. The receipt’s details were not visible, but it seemed to be under the name ‘R. Giere.’

Hold on, I thought, Wasn’t I falsely accused?

And I thought I was. But maybe not. This proved that I was at Folkshore Road.

Wait, I thought, if the newspaper is from June 6th, and the murder was committed in January, than this doesn’t prove anything. No such luck. The caption happened to be credited to ‘Sean Doctor, Tarrytown, NY, January 8th.’

 

“We collected this receipt, Mr, Giere, Marked R. Giere, from January 8th, 2015, a restaurant on Folkshore Road, in Tarrytown, NY.”

 

CHAPTER 2 – HAWAII

 

I came back once again. I guess that was it. I’m a murderer. I guess I deserve to be here. It’s a painful truth, but a painful truth is better than a warm-hearted lie. Or maybe it isn’t. Me and my lame excuse. Vacationing in Hawaii. How dumb of me. How short-sighted. Vacationing in. . . Hawaii. I was in Hawaii! On that very month! But there was no evidence that I was! So I couldn’t have murdered anyone! I was clean after all! But that’s worse. I don’t deserve it.

It’s so simple! I’ll just go to trial again and. . . no, I can’t. You can’t be tried for the same crime twice. It was hopeless.

I refuse to believe that. I will loophole the law just as it loopholed me. In the event that I get the trial again, somehow, I need at least some evidence. But that receipt kept staring me in the face.

How could that receipt even exist? It’s obviously not mine. My father was Daniel, my daughter Annie, my wife Angela, my brothers Thomas and Robert. Robert! R. Giere! That’s it, I can’t believe whatever lawyer I had would’ve been so stupid to not include that! So the receipt is Robert’s. Does that mean he’s the criminal?

It doesn’t matter, I tell myself, You need more evidence right now.

I was right. I did. But I needed to know what I was tried for. I went back to the picture of the courtroom. There was an outside picture, but on the “turn to” pages of the article, there was an inside picture. What do you know, during my trial. Look, there I am. Suddenly, I knew what I was tried for. It was so obvious.

It must’ve been murder, based on the picture. There was no victim, which there would’ve been if it was thievery. But not if it was a murder.

 

So, what was the weapon? It was a gun, as I had assumed. Because I hadn’t looked hard enough up until then. There was a piece. Not on the trial, but on the murder itself. There was a picture of evidence. Among them was the receipt, and a gun. Suddenly, a memory hijacked my mind. The gun was a semi-automatic. I know, quite a way to commit murder. Anyways, I now understood why I was convicted.

I was getting a permit for that exact gun. Normally, there’s one permit for guns in general, but this one was so powerful you needed a separate permit. And, as I also remember, I lost the gun in Hawaii. So, between the 3rd and the 24th of January. So it looks just like I left it at the crime scene. Too much evidence against me, despite the fact that I didn’t murder. . . who was even killed? The article says ‘Dominic Pagano.’

 

Dominic Pagano.

 

CHAPTER 3 – DOMINIC

 

Dominic Pagano, my nemesis. I apologize if that sounds corny.

There are two types of people that I don’t like. People who are bad people, and people who are faking being good people. But I hate the fakers so much more. And Dominic Pagano was just that. But there are plenty of people like that. Dominic’s major flaw was that he worked for me. So why didn’t I just fire him? Did I desperately need him for something? Who else worked for me? What did I even do?

 

You may have figured it out. It took me a few minutes of looking through the paper for something I connected with. I was an actor, of course, not a successful one, and Dominic was my agent. And who was that thanks to? Dominic Pagano. He gave me the movies, but of course, all the ones that had no chance. But he was in league with agents of people like DiCaprio, Hill, Brando, and Cage. So I would be an idiot to fire him. Of course, I’ve never seen any of their movies, but the fact that everyone knows their names is a good sign. So of course I couldn’t fire him. What he had against me, I can’t imagine. But I certainly had a reason to kill him.

 

But, back to the gun. My brother had no such permit, so I suppose that’s why he wasn’t considered for the investigation, and, furthermore, proof he didn’t commit the crime. But, of course, it wasn’t. This was a homemade gun. It looked just like my semi-automatic, but it wasn’t. There’s no cage for the trigger. This was because when building your own gun, the cage is just a waste of metal for something that is not strictly necessary. This was good. I was building up a case. But it was all for nothing if I can’t prove that I was vacationing in Hawaii. The entire case, all of the evidence being even plausible, was based on that proof. And, unfortunately for me, it doesn’t exist.

 

____________________________________________________________________

 

Two more years went by. I read the paper, cover to cover, over and over again. I found nothing else. But I recited the evidence to myself every hour to keep myself from forgetting. But after those two years, the unthinkable happened.

“Another new law,” the guard said, resentfully, “solitary confinement is a thing of the past. Follow me.”

CHAPTER 4 – SIXTY-FOUR THOUSAND, TWO HUNDRED FORTY

 

The guard led me to cell 4, in section C. I laughed. The guard looked at me.

“What’s funny, boy?”

“The cell is C4. Like the explosive.”

“Oh,” he said, and had one chuckle.

While I was contemplating this, he closed the door to my cell. I was still amused by the C4 jail cell, when I realized something in horror.

“THE NEWSPAPER!!” I thought to myself.

 

It was in my old jail cell. I shouted for a guard, and he came.

“Excuse me, sir, but could you get the newspaper from my old cell?”

“Look, now that you’re not in solitary, you have human contact, and the newspaper is not a necessity.”

“Could you please just get the paper?”

“I could get you a different one, if you -”

“It has to be that paper!”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

 

He came back a while later, newspaper in hand. I collapsed.

“Thank you. Thank you so much.”

 

I took this opportunity to assess my surroundings; the cell and anything else I could see. The bars were even more rusted than the ones in my old cell. It was depressing. This cell really screamed depression. There was a single cot, with no bedsheet or pillow. There was a white sink and toilet, each with quite a lot of paint chips. Whenever you opened the seat, or turned on the faucet, a creaking sound could be heard. There was an air vent. The ceiling was absolutely revolting. And finally, I looked outside the cell. Repitition, repitition, repitition. Dozens of cells, and hundreds out of view, that looked exactly like mine, each with people inside them. But most, all of them, were sleeping. And the lights were all out. I figured it must be nighttime. Solitary confinement threw me off of my sleep schedule. The next day, at breakfast, I was elated to see people who I could talk to.

“So who’s the current President?” I asked a man, who looked easy enough to talk to.

“Frank.”

“Frank who?”

“Heath.”

“Frank Heath. Republican?”

“Democrat.”

“I see. What are you?”

“Independant. What about you?”

“I don’t even remember. What year is it?”

“You don’t know the year?”

“Not for sure.”

“Ohh. Were you just let out of solitary?”

“Yeah.”

“I see. Well, it’s 2027.”

“I was right. 12 years.”

“Say, what’s your name?”

“Raymond Giere.”

“Hey, I watched your trial. You could’ve won if your lawyer had turned on his brain. The receipt.”

“Robert Giere. I know. You believed me?”

“I did. The evidence was indisputably against you, but I believed you.”

“You know, I got a newspaper, and it had the murder case in it.”

“What are the odds?”

“1 in 64,240.”

“So, pretty low.”

“Yeah. What’s your name?”

“Michael Johnson. You know, I have friends in the business.”

“What business?”

“Lawyers.”

“No. If I get to a trial, I’m going to be my own lawyer.”

“Well, they could at least get you a trial.”

“Yeah, I would like that.”

“I’ll place a call.”

And then, we all went back to our cell. We met again at dinner time.

 

“Raymond, you said you wanted me to get you a trial, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I placed the call. Even the warden’s cool if it works out. 9:00.”

“Are you serious?”

“I hope you have a case ready. The court wastes no time.”

 

PART 2 – VERDICTION

 

CHAPTER 1 – TIKI MASK

 

I walked through a giant entranceway. If I looked around, I could see a few buildings I recognized. The Capitol Building, the White House, the Washington Monument. My case was in the Supreme Court!

 

I figured I’m being televised. But I can’t see any cameras. And there they were. The nine judges. Or, justices, I think. There was no lawyer beside me.

“All rise,” said a man from the court, “You’ll have to forgive Mr. Giere here, he may not remember the court etiquette, and may come across as rude, but I assure you -”

“Thank you, Mr. Ivanovin,” the man in the large chair, presumably the Supreme Justice said, “I wish to waste no time. The court is now in session. Mr. Giere, I understand you are acting as your own lawyer?”

“Correct,” I reply, respectfully.

“Alright then,” he said, eager to continue.

A lawyer, probably the prosecutor, stepped forward.

 

The trial went on. He presented his evidence, I presented mine.

“Chief Justice Lasser, may I say that his entire case rests upon the fact that he was in Hawaii, yet he has presented no evidence of this?” The prosecution lawyer points out.

I feel around in my pocket. This suit was from my old house, which, oddly enough, was empty when I picked the suit up. In my pocket was a picture. I take it out, and view it privately. My eyes go wide. It’s evidence.

 

It was a picture of me, holding a traditional Hawaiian mask, in Hawaii. Finally, proof! But it came at a price.

The mask was an artifact. And I was nowhere near a museum, so I obviously stole it. So, while this proved I didn’t murder Pagano, it proves I stole an artifact from a Hawaiian museum. I had a tough decision to make. So, I stepped forward.

“Chief Justice Lasser, I would like to present not evidence, but proof, that I was indeed in Hawaii that entire month.” I spoke up, and presented the photograph to the panel of Justices. One spoke up.

“Mr. Giere, how do we know this was that month?” He asked, thinking he’d beaten me.

“You see, sir, that the solar eclipse is ending. Quite good timing for a photograph, actually. And that’s the only solar eclipse we’ve had visible from Hawaii, at that angle, in my entire lifetime. So, yes, it was from that month.”

“So, I think that this evidence is irrefutable,” The justice began.

“I agree.” I replied.

“But it also proves that you stole this thirty thousand dollar hawaiian tiki mask from a museum.”

“But I’m being tried for murder,” I said, confident.

“No, Mr. Giere. You are being given a chance to get out of jail. And I’m afraid your honesty has been your demise. You’re going back to prison.”

 

Total shock. I was sentenced with 10 years. But my personal philosophy has always been that rules were made to be broken.

 

CHAPTER 2 – ESCAPE

I had it all planned out. Not tomorrow night, but tonight. It had to be tonight. And there was a very good reason for it, too. But before I get into that, let me warn you very clearly.

I am going to escape prison, and I will use any means necessary to ensure that it goes well. You will not like the new Raymond Giere, nor will you see the old one. So let me say my goodbye to you now.

It is a new sentence, so I’m not set up yet. When they take me back, I don’t have anything. Not a cellmate, not a uniform, not a single thing I had before. And I mean not one thing. This is very convenient. When the guard comes into my cell to set up my cot, I knock him out, steal his keys, uniform, set up the cot, and lie him down, so you can’t see his face, and they think it’s me. Then, I casually make my escape.

 

It’s nighttime. I’m waiting in my cell, for him to come and set up my cot. And he does. He rolls the frame in, disassembled, and I take a rod and hit him with it, making sure he’s out instantly. I then replace his outfit with mine, and mine with his. I finish setting up the cot, and lie him down, as if he were me. He’ll wake up soon. I unlock the door, keeping my face partially obscured with my hat. And just like that, I’m at the door. I walk out into the fresh air.

 

CHAPTER 3 – THE MOVIES

It surprised me; it didn’t feel as refreshing as I thought it would. I thought it would be just like the movies: I would stretch out my arms and kneel down in the pouring rain and scream with victory, and the rest of the world wouldn’t even exist, and the credits would roll. But instead, I walked away from that horrid place. No dramatic music. No credits. Just me, still walking. It’s not like it is in the movies. And it’s not like it is behind the scenes. You don’t get to leave your character behind in real life.

 

I walk and think for a long time. I think about my family, and where they are, as they weren’t in my house when I got my suit. I think about where I can go, as the police will be after me within a few hours. And I think about the murderer. Why he would do this? A hatred built up inside me.

 

I put finding my family and clearing my name on hold. I needed to find this man. Besides, I feared the worst. I had a bad habit of doing that. I was afraid I might die trying to find this man. And I didn’t want to find my family and then die immediately. A strong feeling built in my gut. Unlike anything I’ve ever felt. You must get this feeling whenever you’re about to die. I knew I probably wouldn’t come out of this alive.

 

PART 3 – NO TIME TO WASTE

 

CHAPTER 1 – MIKE

I decided to walk around the streets. I saw someone in a prison uniform. At first, I thought it was the guard. But it wasn’t. It was Michael, the man who got me the trial. I was about to go up and greet him, when he crested the hill, and I saw that, right behind him was the very guard I replaced myself with. I supposed he was trying to get Michael to spill where I was. Despite my conscience, I hid.

I ran as quickly as I could to the porch of the nearest house, and by sheer horrible luck, they walked into the backyard, so I ducked behind a table. They had a conversation, but I was too distracted to hear it. They both seemed angry. Suddenly, the guard pulled out his pistol and shot Michael.

 

Just like that. There was no slow-mo. He just fell to the ground. I kept myself from shrieking, and watched as the guard, oblivious to my whereabouts, ran off. Once he was out of sight, I ran to my deceased recent friend’s retired body. I heard what I figured was an ambulance siren. In actuality, it was that, and a police siren. The ambulance took him away, and the policeman, with short-ish blonde hair and medium build, apprehended me.

“You’re coming with me. You’re coming to my office,” he said, with a slight stutter. And so, I went.

 

And then we arrived, before I knew it. I was not in handcuffs, to my surprise. He handed me my shirt, which I had used to stop the bleeding, to no avail.

“I believe this is yours,” he said. I nodded, and put it on. “So,” he began, “I just want to ask you a few questions.” I gave no response. “Alright, can you tell me exactly where you were today, just 3 hours ago?” I gave no response. “Alright, can you explain why there was a gun found right next to your feet?” I gave no response. “Sir, are you deaf?”

I smiled. “If only I was,” I responded. This got his temper up.

“Tell me why you killed him!” He said loudly.

“I didn’t kill Mike!” I shouted as he was walking away, having given up.

 

Then, another man, dressed in a suit and a fedora, with brown hair, walked in and sat down.

“I also want to ask you a few questions, but let me start another way,” he said, catching my attention, “I am not going to pretend that you should confess to me because I am a better man than you, because there’s a good chance I’m not. But I will say that you can either keep being stubborn, and get four more people like me, who aren’t as nice, or you can confess and get it over with.”

I have to admit, he was convincing. But I didn’t give in.

“He was my friend,” I said.

“You still could’ve killed him.”

“Well, I didn’t.”

“And why should I believe you? It’s your word against his. ‘Whose?’ You ask? The officer’s. I did this with him too. Well, technically he’s an agent. I didn’t believe him just on his word, and I don’t believe you just based on yours. So confess, or I won’t leave this room.”

“Alright,” I said.

“Alright what?” He said, maintaining calm.

“I killed him,” I lied, and ran like the wind.

 

CHAPTER 2 – DOCTOR

Oh, you’re probably wondering why I lied. Well, it’s not such a hard answer. I wanted out. That guy was intimidating, but more than that, he was so convincing, that I was beginning to worry I would spill the real beans: having broken out of prison. He never got my name. I decided I was making a journey to the library. I went to the newspaper section, and picked up the newspaper for June 6th. I thought that maybe I could figure out who really killed Pagano through this paper.

I looked at the picture of the evidence. There was also a picture of the scene itself. And I looked at the caption. Credited to Sean Doctor. I flipped back to the front page. Sean Doctor. I got to a library computer, and looked up “Raymond Giere murder” and went to images. Every single legitimate image of the scene was credited to Sean Doctor. I think I had found my murderer.

I Googled Sean Doctor. Only one picture came up. It was a man, holding a camera up to his face, like he was taking a picture, and his logo. The camera obscured his face, but he had blond hair. I took note of that. Sean Doctor had blond hair. I started looking around. I searched Sean Doctor on the web, instead of images, and it showed, though it didn’t show any picture, that he was an FBI agent. I logged out, thinking I had a lead. How I would find an FBI agent, I had no idea. But I certainly would try.

And then, as I was rounding the bend, as I predicted, the men who had been interrogating me were catching up to me after my escapes.

But after a closer look, I realized that it wasn’t them. It was the first interrogator, the one with blonde hair, and someone else who I’ve never seen in my life, wearing a vibrant pink jacket. They started chasing me. I ran into someone’s yard, and climbed a tree. They saw me, but had no way of actually getting up to me. But now, they weren’t the same people.

This time, it was the same guy who I didn’t recognize, but with the other interrogator, the one I ran from, in the fedora. That man, in the fedora, ordered the other to kill me and ran. The man whom he ordered, in the pink jacket, started racing up the tree. Eventually, I outpaced him, being the skilled climber that I am, and he fell. I saw him talking to the man in the fedora, who I assumed was his boss. I listened in.

“Did you get it done?” The boss said, aggravated.

“No.” he replied.

“Why?”

“He was quite far into the tree.”

“You had a Glock! You could’ve shot him.”

“Trees have leaves.”

“Which a bullet would easily go through.”

“But they did obscure my vision. It was a risky shot.”

“What is this about? You used to be so reliable.”

“It’s about the fact that I am quitting this stupid mafia, or whatever you want to call it.”

“I don’t think you are,” he said, sternly.

“Watch me.” He got up, and left, walking away. The boss got up, chased him, strangled him, and ran.

 

CHAPTER 3 – REVELATION

As soon as he was gone, I climbed down from the tree and processed all of this. The man who interrogated me was some kind of mafia boss, or something. It was shocking. I decided to settle down, and I went over to a nearby diner. And it was there that I saw the prison squad, looking on the streets, in an attempt to find me. I considered giving myself up. It was a bit too much for me. No. I have to find Sean Doctor first. So I ran. They saw me, though. I ran. Without thinking. I ran. Eventually, I found myself in another diner, though fancier.

I had a strange feeling. Like things were ending. I hoped the feeling was wrong, or misinterpreted. But either way, I decided to calm down. I ordered. It came quickly.

“Coming right up,” someone said. I looked up, and to my horror, it was the mafioso.

“What are you, even?” I said.

“It’s really none of your concern.”

I was terrified. I frantically looked around. I saw, to my relief, the agent, the man with the blonde hair, who had arrested me. He rushed in, and they brawled. They fought, but eventually, the agent came out on top. We shook hands, and were about to talk, when the prison squad rolled in.

“We’re here to reclaim Mr. Giere,” said the prison guard.

“Officer, from what I understand, he was being tried for murder, and you can try him for thievery, but the case has not been filed yet, and the second prison sentence you gave him was unlawful. Now, of course, so was escaping, but I suggest you let him go or he will give you a lawsuit you never thought was possible,” said the agent, quite confidently.

“What makes you an expert?” the guard asked.

He flashed his badge, though I couldn’t see it.

“FBI agent,” he said, and they left, and he put his badge back in his coat pocket before I could read it. We engaged in conversation.

 

“So, what’s your name?” I began.

“I shouldn’t say,” he said.

“What made you so interested in this case?”

“Well, it sort of came to my desk.”

Eventually, I had a thought.

 

“I was convicted,” I said, “Of murder. That was public. But when they let me off, it was private. How did you know?” I asked.

“Files.”

“Impossible. It just happened. They’re pending,” I said, “How did you know I was innocent?”

 

Of course, he didn’t answer because he knew he didn’t need to. I saw his eerie smile, and his short blonde hair, and it was over.

 

I have found Sean Doctor.

 

THE END

 

Patrick Star and Spongebob

Patrick wanted to eat a Krabby Patty at Krusty Krab because he was hungry for lunch there. He went to Squidward the cashier and he asked for a Krabby Patty and Squidward said, “That will be $3.99!”

Patrick got his money out and gave it to the cashier. And then Spongebob cooked the Krabby Patty, gave the Krabby Patty to Patrick, and ate the Krabby Patty. After he finished his Krabby Patty, he left the Krusty Krab and headed home to his rock. He watched TV in his rock home for an hour and after that, he went to Spongebob’s Pineapple home. Spongebob wasn’t home. He was busy working at the Krusty Krab for 12 hours.

After he was done working at the Krusty Krab, Spongebob walked home to his Pineapple. And then he was going to feed Gary the Snail dinner for 10 seconds. After Gary’s dinner, Spongebob went to bed with Gary the Snail.

One morning he got up at 7:00am and put on his pants. Spongebob went downstairs and ate a bowl of kelp cereal and got ready to go to work on time at the Krusty Krab. He got ready to cook the Krabby Patties on the grill.

The Customer came up to the cashier and Squidward said to the Customer, “Welcome to the Krusty Krab! May I take your order?”

The Customer said, “I would like to have a Krabby Patty deluxe!”

Squidward said, “That would be $5.99 please?”

The Customer took $5.99 out of his pocket and gave his money to the cashier.  He said, “Thank you! Come again!”

And Spongebob cooked the Krabby Patty deluxe with lettuce, tomato and the cheese. He gave the Krabby Patty deluxe to the Customer and left the Krusty Krab for five minutes!

Mr.Krabs said, “There are a lot of customers at the Krusty Krab ordering some Krabby Patties!”

Plankton was trying to steal the Krabby Patty formula out of the Krusty Krab and Plankton said, “The formula will be mine!” He went to Mr. Krabs’s office and tried to steal the formula out of the safe.

Mr. Krabs saw Plankton trying to steal the Krabby Patty formula and said, “Aha! looks like you’re stealing my Krabby Patty formula! Plankton!” because he was stealing the formula and going back to the Chum Bucket to make Krabby Patties.

Plankton escaped from the Krusty Krab and Mr. Krabs caught Plankton. Mr.Krabs took the Krabby Patty formula away from Plankton and Plankton ran away from the Krusty Krab, back to the Chum Bucket. He failed to steal the Krabby Patty formula and told his Computer wife named Karen.

She told Plankton, “You should try again.”

Because he didn’t get the Krabby Patty secret formula! And he came up with Plan B and tried again for the 1,001th time to steal it again. He tried to spy if Krabs was busy trying to watch Plankton try to steal it again! He spied the door and tiptoed quietly and jumped up to the safe to get the secret formula again out of the safe. He tiptoed back and squeezed through the door and got out of the Krusty Krab. He went back to the Chum Bucket to make the Krabby Patties.

Back at the Krusty Krab, Mr. Krabs was mad because his Krabby Patty Secret formula was gone! Mr. Krabs came up with plan to get the Secret Krabby Patty formula back! and Mr. Krabs called Spongebob and Squidward to come up to his office and they came up with Plan D to steal it back.

That night, Squidward and Spongebob and Mr. Krabs used laser to cut the front back up with a circle. They used a rope and jumped down. Spongebob went first to jump down in the Chum Bucket and second, Squidward went down. Last but not least Mr. Krabss went down last with Spongebob and Squidward.

After that, they tiptoed down and opened the door quietly when they saw Plankton busy looking at Species. Plankton didn’t see them because he was too busy looking at Species.  

Mr. Krabs, Spongebob and Squidward saw the formula on the table and they took it back to the Krusty Krab. But they were too late! Because Plankton said, “Freeze!”

Plankton tried to trap Squidward, Spongebob and Mr. Krabs, but they still they escaped with the formula and went back to the Krusty Krab at 9:50pm. After that Mr. Krabs went home and went to bed. Squidward and Spongebob locked up the Krusty Krab at 10:00pm and they went home and went to bed, too. They were happy and put the formula back in the safe. THE END!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Our Garden

I planted these the first day you touched my heart.

Your presence felt stronger than any other soul that passed me.

I used to kill flowers for them,

because L-O-V-E was doing anything for that person.

But killing flowers,

is killing love.

So I planted these seeds to watch our love grow,

instead of fading like the crinkling leaves of my past mistakes.

I watered them with with my tears,

which you stabbed out of my throat.

You gave it light with your pearls,

And I watched them grow every day.

And every day,

you opened my heart.

The same way I watched the flowers open their wings.

But sun after moon,

your smile began to crinkle,

my heart lost its color,

my throat felt dry and stale,

the way that your mouth tasted whenever I tried to kiss you.

 

My tears began to shower,

as I fell underwater and drowned,

willingly with our dead flowers,

to save myself from your grip.

 

Number One Wish

The first floor was an

interesting place to stay

when everybody

could hear the endless roar

coming from

my mother

and my father.

 

2007,

my maternal grandmother

passed away.

We were next in line to

take her apartment.

 

I was not aware my father

wouldn’t be joining

me

and my mother

in the move.

 

I didn’t know about divorce.

I assumed my dad was

living at my old house,

so we could keep

both of them.

 

I didn’t know what

divorce was

mainly because

in my childhood readings

the princess always found her

prince charming

and there always was

a happy ending and

 

I was six

and I was forced

into family therapy

baffled by the situation

 

Because I didn’t

know why mommy

was crying

and why daddy

was shouting

and why nobody

told me what

was happening.

 

I would talk to my

friends

with two happily married

parents

and I would try

to explain my situation

and they would look

perplexed.

 

Because just like me,

they were seven

year olds who only

knew of the storybook

family.

 

I don’t remember when I learned,

but I remember a series

of conversations

in the fourth grade

that allowed for me

to talk to a friend.

 

“It’s happening,

The divorce.”

By that point I knew.

 

Since then, whenever

someone has asked me

what I wish for

if a genie’s lamp

appeared on my doorstep

or if I were to throw a coin

down a well

 

I would always

silently say

to have my parents

back together again

with ultimate happiness.

 

Because their happiness

would bring family outings

and a sense of normal conversation

when I bring up one of their

names.

 

But as much as I want

for the conversations to occur

and those family outings to happen,

eventually my dad

may find his princess,

and my mother will find

her prince charming.

 

It just won’t be

the storybook family.

 

Now my parents

both have other love

interests,

love interests I may

not be entirely thrilled

with, but

they won’t replace

my biological counterparts.

 

But if they were still together,

havoc would

exist.

Havoc would —

the bickering I heard

when I was young,

would have exponentially

grown worse and

they wouldn’t be happy and

 

Maybe in the future I will have

not one but two mothers

and two fathers.

 

And a set will lie

on the seventh floor

in the apartment we

inherited from my grandmother,

and another will be on

a different first floor

without screams and shouts.

 

So I am changing

my wish.

I thought my original wish

of bringing my parents together

would bring happiness.

But now that I understand

the reasonings for divorce,

I can’t say that it would.

 

I have a wish for my parents:

I want them to be

radiant and joyful.

Newly Independent

Oliver had been in the hospital for 15 days before his wife came to visit him. He had recently been struck by oncoming traffic and flew about 27 feet before he hit the ground and was instantly paralyzed from the waist down. She, his wife, had reason to be upset, but her straight face as she walked through ICU proved otherwise. She didn’t frown or make any gesture that would indicate unhappiness, her neutrality was in fact quite disconcerting. The pale walls, speckled by miniscule black dots surrounded her as she walked through the corridor toward Oliver. Meanwhile, he was sprawled out in bed, blinking once for yes and twice for no, watching television, with the hum of the fan overlapping the voices of all patients in the wing. The screaming, oh the screaming was horrific, and once or twice every four minutes a bleach white stretcher would pass by his room, being pushed with much haste towards emergency care. He would on look and ponder the idea of what had brought each person in, maybe that one was a burn victim in a house fire on the west side, maybe that one was struck by a car as well, possibly.

She reached the main desk of the intensive care wing and proclaimed she was visiting room 163, the attendant replied with a nod and had her sign in before saying, “Down the hall to the right.” He threw up small amounts of water and bile beside him and sighed in exhaustion. He tried again, but with a failure realized he still couldn’t move his legs. He prayed that at least one toe would wiggle as he tried with all his might, but it was a conclusive no. She reached the door of 163 and slowly placed her hand on the brass knob that would open up the rest of her life. This was it, married last month, and already restriction, whether it be this new disability she would have to live with, or her discomfort in understanding that she was not ready for this. She was not ready to live like this, with him, with anyone. She drew back and stood outside the door. He was not ready for this, he was not ready for stability, he in general, was unprepared for everything that was to come. The reason for uneasiness was just unidentifiable to him. He then threw up again, and laid back in his bed staring at the ceiling above and tracing the grids.

She walked in and immediately both pairs of eyes met each other and for a moment became stuck in that position. She walked towards his bed greeting him with a quiet, “Hello, Oliver.” He nodded back in recognition, for his speech was impaired. The doctors believed this was just temporary. She sat in the chair adjacent to the bed and spoke calmly with small breaks, knowing that he had been mentally impaired as well as physically.

“Oliver, I know you can at least partly understand me. Listen, I know how you must feel about my absence. I just couldn’t bare to see you like this, knowing who you were and what you did before the accident.” She paused.

Oliver focused on her face and tried to understand and tried to control his frustration and anger. He gripped the keyboard he had been using to communicate sentences. He didn’t use this regularly because it was still a very tedious task, that just frustrated him even more. She watched as he began typing, his bony fingers resembling ivory spider legs as they stretched and pressed each key. She anxiously waited for a response to her obvious displeasure in being there. He stopped and the atmosphere of the room grew cold and uninviting.

“I wish I had died,” read the small screen sitting across the room. She stared at him for a moment and he stared back. She grew pale with apprehensiveness, as he just stared at her. His eyes moved down to her fingers, no wedding band, he couldn’t remove his. She wanted this moment to be internalized within him, she wanted him to believe there was no life between them anymore. She stood up and walked out of the room and a silent understanding had been achieved. He laid back again grasping at aspirations in his mind that now seemed intangible and unachieveable. She closed the door to 163, and in an instant her life was committed to experience and selfishness. Everything was up in the air, she went back to her car in the garage of the hospital and sat for a moment with the engine on. Her temple pressed on the steering wheel, she bent forward and let the tears falling from her cheek hit her lap. She slowly laid back into the seat, and pictured what will be in the days to come, an empty house, dinners for one, the removal of all things Oliver. She had lived in the same place for what feels like an eternity, four years with Oliver in the same house, mixing CD’s and records, sharing plates and cups, compiling DVDs together. She wondered why Oliver had patronized her so before the accident. She dug her fingernail into the crevice between her thumb and fore finger, and the wound already there from this habit began to bleed. She glanced out of the window, the wedding band laid just a few feet from the car, she couldn’t stand having to endure that experience with it still on. She thought about the rise and settle of the sun, and how the world, although crashing around her, would still be in this constant cycle. She sat for a while and believed she would never move, but eventually she backed out and began to drive towards the exit of the garage. As she moved through this darkness, passing cars and descending towards the bottom level, she expelled all memory of Oliver. The slow passing of minutes as she descended and drove out of the garage became a slow passing of hours as she drove towards any and everything, and the atmosphere of the situation really began to hit. Night had proceeded to envelop the world, and she was now unsure of every decision she had ever made.

She settled for a singular bowl of soup that night, and fell asleep to the faint sound of emptiness, and she wondered whether it was emitting from the lack of people in the house, or the unsettling finalization of a life well wasted.

New Zebraland

Act One

 

Scene 1

 

Daytime, mid-morning. A picturesque mountainside. An all-white sign reading “GHOSTLY LANDING POINT: NEW ZEALAND” sticks out of the ground, covered in pamphlets for various tourist attractions. LIZZIE is lying unconscious on the floor near the sign. MAYA, her identical twin, is floating around near her. They are ghosts. LIZZIE, rubbing her eyes, sits up and sees MAYA.

 

LIZZIE
Ugh.

 

MAYA (laughing)

You sound so stupid! “Ugh.” “Ugh!”

 

LIZZIE

That’s not how I sound!

 

MAYA
“That’s not how I sound!”

 

LIZZIE

Stop!

 

MAYA

“Stop!”

 

LIZZIE reaches out to punch MAYA, but instead her hand appears to go directly through her. MAYA giggles.

 

LIZZIE

How can you be so immature even when we’re dead? I mean, I think we’re dead. It sure seems like we’re dead. How did we end up dead?

 

MAYA (sing-song)

I know something Lizzie doesn’t, I know something Lizzie doesn’t.

 

LIZZIE

Tell me!

 

MAYA

No.

 

LIZZIE

Yes.

 

MAYA

No.

 

LIZZIE

Yes.

 

MAYA

No.

 

LIZZIE

Yes.

 

MAYA

Fine. Remember that Ferris wheel we were riding on?

 

LIZZIE

Sure.

 

MAYA

Something in the inside-y machine bits got overheated and the whole thing exploded! It was super cool.

 

LIZZIE

The Ferris wheel exploded? Why do you remember and I don’t?

 

MAYA
Well, before everything exploded they did an emergency stop and you banged your head on the wall and passed out. Then the lady’s voice came out of the speaker box, and she was like, ‘Remain calm. The internal whatchamacallit is experiencing complete failure. Remain calm as emergency procedures-’ And then before she could finish, BAM! KABLAM! POW! And that’s all I remember.

 

LIZZIE

Yeah, but that still doesn’t explain how we ended up here.

 

MAYA

Okay, so after the explosion we were at this weird waiting room place, and you were still conked out when the mean guy at the desk told me I had to stop stealing the mints and decide what I wanted to do and (mockingly) “Fill out the paperwork for your journey to the afterlife right now, missy, and do it for your little double over there, too.”

 

LIZZIE

Okay…

 

MAYA

Except for they used all these big words I didn’t get on the form to go to the afterlife, so I just wrote “MAYA AND LIZZIE BEST DEAD PEOPLE” on everything and then I drew some zebras and the guy got mad when I brought it to him and he said, “I guess it’s a life of haunting for you girls,” and I was like, “Okay, fine!” and he was like, “Pick a place, then,” and he brought out this globe and I picked the coolest sounding place and then there was all this crazy light stuff and then we were here!

 

LIZZIE

Why didn’t you wake me up?!

 

MAYA

I dunno. You’re boring. You would have told me to stop stealing mints and fill the paperwork out right.

 

LIZZIE
Yeah, I would’ve! You… stupid.

 

MAYA

You’re stupid!

 

LIZZIE

No, you’re stupid!

 

MAYA

Would a stupid person have picked somewhere very cool for us to go?

 

LIZZIE
Maya, where are we?

 

MAYA
Somewhere cool.

 

LIZZIE
Maya, WHERE ARE WE?!

 

MAYA (proudly)

New Zebraland! It’s in Antarctica.

 

LIZZIE

I don’t think it is… And I don’t think that’s a real place.

 

MAYA

It is, they just spelled it wrong on the globe. They forgot the “b” and the “r.” Silly globe people.

 

LIZZIE

Maya, how do we get home from here?

 

MAYA

I dunno. I think it’d be cooler here anyway. But if you really want to, I guess we can try to get back to Mom and Dad. It’ll be an adventure!

 

LIZZIE

Why aren’t they with us? They were in the car-thingy right in front of us on the Ferris wheel.

 

MAYA

I dunno, maybe there’s another office for the old dead people.

 

LIZZIE

How are we going to find them?

 

MAYA

Who cares about the ‘how?’ It’s about the ‘why!’

 

LIZZIE

Why are you so dumb?

 

MAYA

This is going to be an adventure!

 

LIZZIE

You are the dumbest person ever. I can’t believe we are twins.

 

MAYA

Identical twins, even.

 

LIZZIE
Except for I’m much prettier.

 

MAYA

Nuh-uh!

 

LIZZIE

Ya-huh!

 

MAYA

Nuh-uh!

 

LIZZIE

Ya-huh!

 

MAYA

Nuh-uh!

 

LIZZIE

Ya-huh!

 

MAYA

Nuh-uh!

 

LIZZIE

Whatever. I know I’m the smart one, at least.

 

MAYA

Whatever. Let’s find Mom and Dad.

 

LIZZIE (starting to walk offstage)

Okay, whatever.

 

MAYA (whispered)

But I’m still the pretty one.

 

LIZZIE (turning)

What?

 

MAYA

Nothing. Let’s go!

 

Exit MAYA and LIZZIE. End scene.
Scene 2

A pristine white waiting room. In the back, plush armchairs contain 5-10 ghostssleeping, filling out paperwork, or sitting in the corner, shell-shocked, staring at the wall. A bowl of mints and a computer are on the desk. The RECEPTIONIST, sitting behind the desk, looks exhausted. In front of the desk, puzzling over a globe, are MOM and DAD.

 

MOM

Zimbabwe, maybe? Maya always did have a weakness for “z” names.

 

DAD

You know that Lizzie is much too sensible to let Maya pick someplace like Zimbabwe. In fact, with Liz in charge, all of Africa’s probably off the table. Cross out the whole continent.

 

MOM pulls a Sharpie out of her purse and scribbles out the continent of Africa on the globe.

 

RECEPTIONIST (sleepily)

Hey, other people have to, like, use that.

 

MOM (shoving over the bowl of mints)

Shh, sweetie. People are working. Have a mint.

 

DAD

Do you think they could’ve gone to Pluto or some other planet?

 

RECEPTIONIST

Earthly destinations only.

 

MOM

Have another mint, sweetie.

 

MOM shoves the mint into the RECEPTIONIST’s mouth.

 

DAD

Hey, there’s a place in Denmark called Middelfart. (laughs hysterically) Middelfart!

 

MOM

Hmm, circle it. They’ve always had a weakness for fart humor. Maya’s the exact kind of kid who’d choose a place with a funny name, just because it has a funny name.

 

DAD

That’s exactly what I was thinking.

 

MOM

Hmm. What about (she spins the globe and points at a spot in the Midwest United States) Pardeeville, Wisconsin?

 

DAD

There’s so many possibilities for weirdly named places. And with that being our only lead as to what places, there’s a lot to look through. You see anywhere else that looks promising?

 

MOM (to RECEPTIONIST)

Could we possibly see the paperwork our girls filled out?

 

DAD

That’s genius! Yeah, let’s see the paperwork.

 

RECEPTIONIST (sounding slightly annoyed)

What’re the names, again?

 

MOM

Maya and Elizabeth Carson.

 

RECEPTIONIST (opening and looking through file cabinet)

C, C, C-A, Carson. Carson, Laura, Carson, Arthur, Carson, Maya. Here we go.

 

The RECEPTIONIST removes the form from the file and slides it across the desk.

 

RECEPTIONIST

This is everything either of them filled out.

 

RECEPTIONIST takes out an emory board and begins filing her nails.

 

DAD

It just says MAYA AND LIZZIE BEST DEAD PEOPLE on it.

 

MOM (leaning over to see the paper)

And has doodles of weird looking tigers on it.

 

DAD

I’m not sure those are tigers.

 

MOM

Okay, whatever. The real question, where they are, still isn’t anywhere closer to being answered.

 

DAD (folds the paper and pockets it)

I know. But we’ll figure it out.

 

MOM (spinning globe)

Let’s just keep looking. (to RECEPTIONIST) You can help us!

 

RECEPTIONIST (to MOM)

Uh, yeah, sure. (to audience) Thank God my shift is nearly over.

 

MOM and DAD

Shhhhhhhhhhh.

 

RECEPTIONIST rolls her eyes, drops her head into her hands, and promptly falls asleep.

 

MOM

Poor baby.

 

(MOM walks over to the chairs and pulls a pillow away from a chair in the waiting area containing a sleeping ghost. Walking back to the desk, she puts the RECEPTIONIST’s head on the pillow. While she does this, DAD continues to examine the globe. Lights dim and scene ends as RECEPTIONIST sleeps, and parents continue to look at globe, occasionally scribbling on it or speaking with each other inaudibly.)

Scene 3

 

The scenery is identical to that in Scene 1, the New Zealand mountainside, but the lighting is far darker and the sign is gone. It is evening now. MAYA and LIZZIE come onstage, LIZZIE looking tired, but MAYA as bright and happy as ever.

 

LIZZIE

Maya, we’ve been walking for hours, and we don’t know where we’re going, and I think we’ve gone in a circle, or maybe not, ‘cause this whole mountain looks the same, and we have no idea what we’re going to do, and I’m really frustrated and I want Mom and Dad! (takes a deep breath)

 

MAYA

Be positive!

 

LIZZIE

There is nothing to be positive about.

 

MAYA

It’s pretty here! Be positive about that.

 

LIZZIE

No.

 

MAYA

Yes.

 

LIZZIE

No.

 

MAYA

Yes! Why can’t you ever try to have fun? I mean, we’re in a place called New Zebraland, which is probably the capital of fun!

 

LIZZIE

It’s not called New Zebraland, Maya! It’s not anywhere exciting. We’re in the middle of nowhere, and it’s awful and I hate it.

 

(MAYA, looking slightly hurt, stares at LIZZIE. Undeterred, LIZZIE continues.)

 

LIZZIE

I want to go home. I don’t want to be here, I never wanted to be here, but I didn’t get a choice about any of it, because you do everything! You talk for me, and you act like nothing really matters because you think it’ll all turn out okay, but look around. This is not okay.

 

(MAYA looks horrified. She looks around at the scenery, and then back at her sister. As LIZZIE speaks, MAYA appears more and more upset.)

 

MAYA

I just wanted to do something fun!

 

LIZZIE

You just what? What? You just ruin everything! You never think the things you do might affect anyone else, because you only care about yourself. I don’t want to be here, and (venomously) I especially don’t want to be here with you.

 

MAYA

… Fine.

 

LIZZIE (taken aback)

Fine?

 

MAYA

Yeah. Fine. I’ll go.

 

LIZZIE

Go?

 

(Without answering or acknowledging her sister, MAYA turns and walks offstage, LIZZIE calling her name. LIZZIE stands alone on stage, looking miserable, as the lights dim and scene ends.)

Scene 4

 

The waiting room. MOM and DAD are now sleeping. MOM’s head is on the desk, while DAD is awkwardly draped over the scribbled-on globe. The activity behind them, with other ghosts speaking inaudibly with each other or filling out paperwork, remains. However, a different receptionist, RECEPTIONIST 2, now sits behind the desk, looking sulky and annoyed by his job as he appears to be working on a computer. A GHOST timidly approaches the desk.

 

GHOST (shyly, to RECEPTIONIST 2)

Hello, I passed away last night and I’m interested in choosing a place to haunt?

 

RECEPTIONIST 2

Is that a question?

 

GHOST

… No?

 

RECEPTIONIST 2 (rolling his eyes)

Alright then. Just let me get out the globe for you.

 

GHOST (softly)

Um, I think maybe it’s already out? (points to DAD, lying on top of globe)

 

(Not seeing or listening, RECEPTIONIST 2 ducks down and disappears under the desk, apparently searching for the globe.)

 

RECEPTIONIST 2 (muffled)

Where the-(crashing sound)-is that-(crashing sound)-ing globe?

 

GHOST

Sir, I, uh, think it’s right over here?

 

RECEPTIONIST 2

Stupid, useless piece of-

 

GHOST (shouting)

DUDE!

 

(RECEPTIONIST 2 stands abruptly, looking angrily at the GHOST. MOM and DAD also jerk awake, lifting their heads in surprise. The other ghosts waiting all look shocked, now watching the scene unfold.)

 

GHOST (suddenly shy again)

I think the globe is, um, right there? (points to DAD, who is gingerly lifting himself of the globe.)

 

RECEPTIONIST 2 (to GHOST)

Why didn’t you say anything!?

 

GHOST
Um…

 

(RECEPTIONIST 2 sees the scribbles on the globe and starts turning bright red, looking apoplectic. He balls his hands into fists and glares.)

 

DAD

Uh, sorry.

 

RECEPTIONIST 2

What do you think you’re doing?!?!

 

MOM

Uh, we’re trying to guess where our daughters are.

 

DAD (reaching in his pocket, picking up the paper, and handing it to RECEPTIONIST 2)

This is the only clue we have.

 

(RECEPTIONIST 2 picks up the piece of paper and looks it over.)

 

RECEPTIONIST 2

Are your daughters by any chance… identical twins? Curly blonde hair, brown eyes, probably about 10 years old, round faces, button noses, died about a day ago?

 

MOM

Yes! Yes, exactly! So you’ve seen them!?

 

RECEPTIONIST 2

No.

 

DAD

Clearly you have. Why won’t you tell us about what you’ve seen?

 

RECEPTIONIST 2

Because THEY ARE THE WORST! THE! WORST! CHILDREN! EVER!

 

(RECEPTIONIST 2 crumples up the paper and throws it as far away as he can.)

 

MOM

Excuse me?

 

RECEPTIONIST 2

They made an absolute mess of my waiting room, refused to correctly fill out the necessary paperwork, took about half of my mints, yelled about zebras, and getting spirits to a place they’ve never been in their lives is that much more difficult, let me tell you!

 

DAD

Aren’t the mints meant for taking?

 

MOM

That’s the part of the story you’re fixating on?

 

(MOM picks up the balled-up piece of paper and looks at it.)

 

MOM

They’re not tigers that Maya drew, they’re zebras!

 

DAD

We figured it out!

 

MOM

Yes! Let’s go to New Zebraland!

 

DAD

… What exactly is New Zebraland?

 

(Both parents look expectantly at RECEPTIONIST 2.)

 

RECEPTIONIST 2

It’s how the annoying one was convinced you say New Zealand. So, nice job parenting that one.

 

MOM

Can it and send us to New Zebraland!

 

RECEPTIONIST

Whatever gets you out of my office faster. (sliding over a piece of paper) Just sign this and walk through that door.

 

(MOM and DAD sign the paper and run through the exit on one side of the stage.)

 

RECEPTIONIST 2 (sarcastically)

Byeeeeee!

 

While the parents are offstage, the lighting on-stage becomes blindingly bright and flashing. Set is changed while lights blink and flicker wildly to the original mountainside scene, with “GHOSTLY LANDING POINT: NEW ZEALAND” sign now in place. MOM and DAD re-enter.

 

MOM

Whoa! Well, that was… something.

 

DAD (doing a happy dance)

Uh-huh, oh yeah, uh-huh, oh yeah.

 

MOM

What are you doing?

 

DAD

Celebrating. Uh-huh, oh yeah, uh-huh, oh yeah.

 

While DAD dances, LIZZIE runs onstage. and, seeing her father, throws herself at him for a hug.

LIZZIE

Dad! Mom!

 

LIZZIE turns and hugs her mother.

 

MOM

Liz! Sweetie, we’ve missed you!

 

LIZZIE
I’ve missed you too, Mom!

 

DAD

How’d you find us?

 

LIZZIE

Your dancing and Mom’s yelling haven’t gotten any less recognizable since we’ve died.

 

MOM

I WAS NOT YELLING!

 

LIZZIE

Sure.

 

DAD

Wait, where’s your sister?

 

LIZZIE (sullenly)

I dunno.

 

MOM

What do you mean, you don’t know?!

 

LIZZIE

I got really mad at her for bringing us here and I yelled at her and I was mean and then she ran away and I dunno where she is and I feel so bad!

 

LIZZIE wipes a tear away from her face.

 

DAD

We’ll find her!

 

MOM

How? We don’t have any way to tell where she is, do we?

 

LIZZIE

No, but we’ve already gotten into the way Maya’s head works.

 

MOM
What do you mean?

 

LIZZIE

Are there any zebras around here?

 

MOM

I don’t think they’re native to the mountainside.

 

LIZZIE

Then where’s the nearest zoo? That’s where Maya will be, wherever the zebras are.

 

MOM pulls a pamphlet advertising a zoo off the sign and peers through it.

 

MOM

This looks like our most likely bet for where the zebras would be. I just hope you’re right about her being there.

 

LIZZIE

I know my sister too well. This (taking and brandishing the pamphlet) is where she is. I’m positive.

 

DAD

Then let’s go!

 

MOM, DAD, and LIZZIE exit.

Scene 5

 

A crowded zoo. Alive humans wander around throughout the scene, admiring the zebras in their habitat, which is meant to resemble Savannah plains. MAYA sits at the very edge of the stage, looking pensive and staring at the zebras. MOM, DAD, and LIZZIE run onstage, looking around for MAYA. LIZZIE spots her first and runs over, throwing her arms around her sister.

 

LIZZIE

I’m sorry I was mean to you.

 

MAYA
Good. You should be.

 

LIZZIE stares expectantly at MAYA.

 

MAYA

Fiiiiine. I’m sorry too. I should’ve asked you before bringing us here.

 

LIZZIE

Yeah. You should’ve. You stupid.

 

MAYA

You’re stupid.

 

LIZZIE

No, you’re stupid!

 

MAYA (laughing)

No, I’m stupid!

 

LIZZIE

No, I’m stupid!

 

MAYA

Exactly! I’m stupid!

 

LIZZIE

Wait, what?

 

LIZZIE joins in on MAYA’s laughter. MOM and DAD spot them and hurry over. Without speaking, MAYA hugs both of them at once. LIZZIE promptly joins the group hug.

 

Needle In A Haystack

The story of my grandfather retold 70 years later…

A dagger that started a revolution. A boat that ended a war. A gun that shook the world. These acts, of both bravery and cowardice, do not boast of a leader, but those that want to make a difference. The voiceless, that created the most powerful voices. But as time recalls, they were the popular, the majority, the stars – my grandfather was not such.

He was a cruel man who followed old traditions and strict rule. But through the stories from family, he had an alter ego. One who was sympathetic, kind, and whose life was dedicated to serving his country. His story began in Guangzhou, China in a small farming village. Most of the time, his clothing was drenched in a perpetual sweat and his knuckles were skinned raw working the field in the merciless sun. Growing up, he met the love of his life in a small corner market. My grandmother was taught the ways of any typical village girl. She learned how to cook all sorts of traditional dishes. She cleaned the house, served the men, etc. Growing up, she also met the love of her life in a small corner market. They soon wed at the ripe age of 13.

At the age of 16, my grandparents boarded a ship for the land of the free and prepared for the 30 day expedition to come. Looking at this realistically, a cargo ship meant for a personnel of 20 and holding a thousand, we can only fathom what conditions they faced. Urine lining the walls – the smell of feces and disease thickening the air. On day 25 of the perilous trip, there was an obstacle. A rather large obstacle.

 

Bob Hom

 

I awoke to hundreds of other travellers frantically running around diving under beds. Jogging up to the deck, I saw a familiar blue boat docked next to ours. There were two uniformed Coast Guard officers, two on board with flashlights checking every cargo box; slowly, they progressed towards the main basement where we were holed up. I could’ve sworn I was going to be the first 16 year-old to get a heart attack. With the worst agility, I maneuvered my way around the officers to a small group who were stuck in the open. My mind flashed back to the village adjacent to ours when my best friend was in trouble with the police. He had nowhere to go and for three nights we were playing cat and mouse with them. I was interrupted by an abrupt futuristic sound. I looked over the box and saw them talking into a weird black object we now call a walkie-talkie. Suddenly, a voice spoke out of it, “Cargo Ship, Eastbound – be advised.” Abruptly, the white male stopped and whispered to his colored companion. They ran back to their boat where three males stepped out of a hidden door. I sighed with relief and went back to sleep. In the middle of a dream, I had a realization. If the Coast Guard is here, then that means we’re in… I jumped out of the painful bed to see Lady Liberty staring at me, a book in one hand, the candle in the other. Many people had already joined me on deck, but those who hadn’t soon woke up to the droll sound of a dusty horn.

 

Yick Hom

 

Such a stupid ship. No fans. Nothing. What the hell were these people thinking? Letting a thousand people board a ship with a capacity of twenty. I hope we’re almost there. I probably have like a million diseases by now. Gosh, and my hair. My poor hair. It’s all dirty….

Reluctantly, I dragged my bony legs up the stupid, narrow staircase – only to find the most beautiful view of all. Standing 93 meters high, a green colossus stared at me straight in the eyes. We sailed around it to the bustling harbor right out of Chinatown and Little Italy. There to greet us was a young group of Asian men and women, a familiar feeling tingling down my chest.

“Ne ho!” A robust lady struggled to walk up the narrow ramp that connected us. She escorted us all to a unique building that was labeled “Chinese Hotel.” Many Hispanics and Muslims walked to and from each apartment room.

Wow, very culturally in depth, I grimaced. The place was ancient. It looked like something from the History Channel. There were these statues that were coated with dust that would greet you at every corner. One time, I was walking up the stairs while talking to our neighbor and when I looked in front of me, a statue was staring right at me. The room was even worse, believe it or not. I’m pretty sure if we black-lighted the whole room, we would’ve found some very unsettling substances in very common spots. The closet was unusable because they had sealed it up due to a cockroach problem. At night, I barely slept because of the bug problem. The first night we had stayed there, I woke up to find a spider and two cockroaches exploring my body.

 

Bob Hom

 

The same day we arrived in the States, I had a chat with Uncle Sam and he recruited me for the army. But he thought my name was Jonathan Smith and that I was 21. Five days later, I said my farewell to Yick and left to fight front-line in the Korean War. At the base, two men separated the whites from the blacks. I stood in the middle and asked, “I’m not white nor black. I’m yellow, like the sun. Which way do I go?” The man hit me with his gun and I tripped over another soldier. I guess I’m white. The beds were a little more comfy than those on the ship. The smell of *** was overwhelmed by a heavy smoke – that’s when I learned to love cigarettes.

 

Yick Hom

The first month was the worst. Loneliness. It was worse than a million words; because none were spoken. I didn’t have many friends except for the nice corner market lady, but I didn’t even know her name. Hers was the only market that sold premium meat so her customers usually consisted of businessmen passing through. Most of the time, I was hiding out in the back, where dead cows were hung by their feet and fish sprawled out on the rusted floors.

I remember one day in particular. It was a Saturday; like all the rest, boring and lonely. So I decided to take the train to Little Russia, get out of my comfort zone. It turned out to be a quaint little neighborhood, and many of the immigrants struggled to tell me their adventures coming to America. On the way back home, I had to stop in Sheepshead Bay to get some water. At a decrepit supermarket, there were two shady men lurking through the aisles. Slowly, I moved further away from them, not wanting any trouble. Both looked African-American but I wasn’t interested enough to check. Without my knowledge, one inched his way towards one end of the aisle; I ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction. Out of the blue, the other popped up in front of me. I yelled for help, but one of them muffled me with his hand. My body became numb and my heart was about to explode. This hadn’t happened before, so I didn’t know what to do. They kept shouting derogatory slurs, but I could barely understand their rough English when I could barely speak it myself. Right before they knocked me out, they took the money from my pocket. No one found me in the store, and the register guy was too busy protecting his own. Without saying a word, I slowly dragged my legs out the door; I stopped in the doorway, a sudden surge of memories flashing through my head. The stench on the boat, the way my body couldn’t support itself. Everything came rushing through in one brief moment. My body collapsed on the ground and the sheer force of the concrete knocked me out.

Bob Hom

 

Day one on the battlefield was rough. We were hit twice by artillery and a wave of drunken bastards armed with 88’s who didn’t even know how to aim. But when it came down it, when times got tough, and trust me, they were always tough, we had our brothers in arms to lift us back up and keep us going. Semper Fi. Two words that kept me going when times weighed me down and life seemed like a distant reality. We were stationed in a small rural village just outside Pyongyang, where Kim Il-Sung and his forces awaited our arrival. Our small group consisting of less than 100 men were unprepared, unequipped, and had no idea who we were up against. It seemed like a good plan at the time.

Yick Hom

 

The hollowness inside me grew exponentially by the day. The days were more meaningless than Bobby Darin’s songs. I rarely saw any more Japanese in America after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Luckily, I was still growing up in China at the time of the attack and I was only experiencing the aftermath. Oftentimes, people would mistake me for the people who attacked them just years before. Each day, I learned more and more about the real America. There was no more freedom than in China. Propaganda took the form of commercials and communism, laws. And my partner in life wasn’t even there to save me from it.

 

Andrew Yuen

 

For three years, my grandfather had experienced all different levels of pain, from a scratch to multiple gun wounds. Sometimes the pain was so unbearable that he just wanted to end it all. But he fought on for my grandmother, the woman who never lost his faith, nor never gave up hers. It was the pure will of determination that got them both through these hard times.

 

Bob Hom

“Get up, boys!” Sergeant Smith whooped. It was the last day of our three year tour and the war seemed to be dying down. “I’ve some pretty good news,” he walked down the aisles of tents where we all groggily and reluctantly awoke, “The Northerners have decided to sign an Armistice Agreement. Y’all have officially saved this country and ours from those terrorists we call North Koreans. Pack yer bags, cuz we’re all going home!” We all cheered as a military transport aircraft landed in the safe zone. First, the crazies hopped aboard. The ones with PTSD. It was a sad sight, seeing as how they deserved so much better than that. Serving our country for a trip to the psych ward.

I remember my walking past the infirmary and saw several sights that were unspeakable of. Half-dressed soldiers ran around, their bodies positioned in an awkward position as they yelled at the nurses. Others had to be held down at gunpoint until they calmed down.

Then, we slowly marched into our designated spots, ready for what was to come.

 

Yick Hom

 

There was a knock on the door. First time in ages. It’s two in the morning. What can they possibly want from me? I took the bat from the kitchen and slowly opened the door. A handsome man looked at me with weary eyes. At first I couldn’t recognize him with a goatee. Then I realized. It was the love of my life. “I thought you were dead!” I dropped the bat and gave him a bear hug, never wanting to let go.

 

Epilogue

 

Bob lived a very traditional Chinese lifestyle for the next twenty years, never forgetting where he was raised and what brought him to where he was, but never quit the old habits that came with the army. Marlboro ultimately led to his demise and he died from a heart attack, caused by one of the several effects of cigarettes. Although post-traumatic stress changed him into a completely different person, he did not waver in faith to his wife nor his children.

 

Mirage

The slanted facade of nautical disaster, that I only narrowly avoided getting caught up in, didn’t paralyze me with fear, or at least not as severely as it would any listener to my tale: a tale that few are ever able to live to tell. The oddly cloudy sky made everything especially ominous, and being the dramatic person I am, it made everything feel more intense. Call me a thrill-enthusiast of sorts, but I just can’t help but add every aspect of a terrible situation into the sum of a great and horrifying spectacle. It was almost entertaining, in the sincerest way. Despite my excited viewing of the sinking yacht before me, while I did succeed in escaping, it was not with absolute exultance. I considered the whole thing a real inconvenience.

It was hard to tell what caused the ship to expose its ulterior motive of not doing what it was supposed to do. How rebellious, sinking like that. My kind of guy. If I were a boat being trod on day and night by 200 passengers, I’d sink too. It wasn’t any sort of re-enactment of the Titanic since no icebergs were in the area, (I had done my research.) This wasn’t the ship’s first time sailing, and I couldn’t imagine any other reason for the engine to not have been functioning properly. The only other option was that another yacht (with the same ulterior motive; poor troubled soul) collided with it. That was my theory, but I didn’t go around telling people about how I was probably right. In that moment, even I knew it wasn’t necessarily a good time to start bothering people with my nonsense. Everything I ever did was nonsense according to my “loved ones”, even when my nonsense wasn’t all that nonsensical. So I kept to myself as I had been told to do since a very a young age. When the shaking voice of our captain came over the intercom as the bearer of bad news, I didn’t bother looking for my family. As awful as it may sound, the thought of their deaths occurring in mere minutes was refreshing and motivating. If they were, at long last, going to perish, I at least wanted to see what it was like to live life untied from that pole of confinement.

They thought there was something wrong with me from the moment I was born, but I was just smarter than them. Just to help brush off the unsettling paranoia, my mother named me Candi, which is ironic considering nothing about me is sweet. There wasn’t anything wrong with me in terms of mental health. Although looks and speech may be deceiving as time goes on, seasons change, but people don’t. They didn’t change any more than I did as I grew up, and you could maybe say their cruelty rubbed off on me, but I had the last laugh.

Do these twisted thoughts that entertain me make me a bad person? After all, they kept me alive. After all, those who didn’t think in these ways are now dead, i.e. every passenger but me. It was liberating to watch everyone drown, exhaling their last inhales of the sweet air they would never taste again. Like I said, who cares if I’m being obnoxious or sociopathic or any other derogatory adjective? Wish upon me all the plagues you’d like, but I’ll just laugh when I escape them. I guess it’s a disturbing form of confidence, or maybe I am sick after all, but who cares? No one whose opinions I care about is alive to give me that overdue intervention. I don’t think they ever existed.

I soon realized that staring would not sink the ship any faster, so I decided to scope out my surroundings and potential itinerary. I had a cooler in my boat with a couple jugs of water, various dried foods, a flare gun, and other basic survival tools for unanticipated life at sea, and even though it wasn’t what the crew members had intended when packing supplies into all the boats, I had these provisions all to myself.

How did I get a lifeboat all to myself? It was not an act of selfishness, but more serendipity. How did I miraculously find out that the crew members had been lying about the lack of access to the boats? To make a long story short, one drunk bastard of a crew member managed to convince another one to not let people on the lifeboats. They claimed there was something wrong with the descent pulleys, but did I buy it? Of course not. Is that a plea I would normally believe for the sake of my own safety? Probably, but I had a hunch, so I went with it.

They then escorted everyone to the other end of the boat. I stayed behind and pressed an inviting red button. One of the boats began to slide down the side of the ship. I took a deep breath, jumped into it, and watched as more idiots bickered and fought rather than dealt with the situation at hand. My courageous decision to take matters into my own hands turned out to be more practical than staying with any authorized personnels. My skepticism of being in the lifeboat alone knowing I had the chance to save someone only lasted for a short while (I do have some morals, even if they tend to be temporary). But then I realized the horrible life of neglect I’d lived. People had scorned me, shunned me, ridiculed me, and I guess in that moment I was feeling particularly vengeful and vindictive. Now here I was, alive and alone, but feeling no need to fret. For me, it wasn’t a rare occasion to be alone, but this time I was alone and feeling happy rather than knowing I was alone because people hated me. I used this me-time to my advantage and thought of it as a form of meditation. Monks do eternal relaxation crap like this all the time. Maybe I could be a monk. An 18 year-old, white, female monk.

And then I saw a small head floating hilariously against the current. I cocked my head to get a better view of his effortless charade. He seemed relaxed in his strokes. Maybe he would be like me, I thought. Maybe he too was nonchalant and indifferent. He could be my mate; the two of us, floating along the Atlantic, dismissive of our situation, living happily ever after on our raft sharing dark joke after dark joke. I swam closer to him until I could hear his moans of restlessness. It looked like I’d thought wrong and he was just like another one of the scared passengers that drowned. He noticed me before I could paddle away.

“Help!” he sputtered. He was floating around the wreckage of a ship that didn’t look like the one I’d escaped from, but another yacht. I then looked around the corner to see the remains of my own yacht. I was right after all about the reason for the sinking, and it looked like another 199 people died out of 200 on another boat.

I figured I had to help him now, although I really didn’t want to. I steered my small boat closer to him and helped him aboard. He was getting my clothes wet which aggravated me, but it wasn’t like dumping him back in the water would better the situation. He clambered onto the opposite bench and sniffled his way through sentences.

“Th…ank…you…I tho…ugt…I was al…one…I was so…sca..red.”

I cut him off before he could continue. “Keep your mouth shut and catch your breath or I’ll kick you right off.”

He did as I told him with slight aggro towards my attitude. He stayed quiet for a few minutes. It was nice to be able to give orders to someone else and know they had nothing to do but obey. It never worked that way in my house with me in control. I surveyed the area but then I realized there was no point since I barely moved away from the wreckage at all. I guess my boat had gotten a little bit to the right and around but that seemed about it. I was still left to admire the same boring backdrop of two sunken ships, the refracted planks of wood shimmering against the sheets of bluish green and a few bodies were even visible. I winced the tiniest bit and looked down at my fingernails. They were shorter than ever from all the biting. I’d be left practically with nubs by the time I reached land.

By the time we reached land.

*** it, he was still there.

“Are you okay?” He asked. His voice was deep when he wasn’t choking. “You look a little uncomfortable.”

“Me? Uncomfortable?” I was insulted. “I’m fine. Great in fact.”

At this he raised an eyebrow but changed the subject. “Eames. Declan Eames.”

I hesitated at his abruptness. “Just call me Candace.”

“Candace,” he said. “Well, Candace, what is it that’s making you feel so great?”

“You’re surrounded by it,” I laughed. He didn’t bother turning around, or laughing with me. I could tell just from that that this prude would not contribute any additional enjoyment to this situation.

“I’m glad you’re not upset by it,” he said. “After all the accident will be burned into our brains forever, and our brains alone.”

He was glad.

“Oh well,” I said. “So, I don’t suppose you were on the Marigold?”

“No, I was on the Onyx with my wife and kids.” He looked down as if he felt guilty about even saying their names. He scratched the back of his neck and sniffed. “We were on our way back to England. It was the last leg of a long, exhausting trip.”

“I was dragged onto the Marigold by my family. Glad everything backfired.”

I wasn’t sure whether or not my goal was to scare the fellow, but even if it was, it didn’t seem to be working. He examined me with a quizzical yet intrigued eye rather than a horrified one. His arms were crossed and struggling to bend through the damp silk of his jacket, but he looked comfortable. Comfortable with me.

“Are you some kind of doctor?” I asked. “You look all fancy with your jacket and your name tag that I just now noticed. Who are you?”

“‘Who are you,’” he repeated with a laugh. “I’m a pediatrician in Liverpool. I lived with my wife Elise and our daughters, Etta and Eilis.”

“You like the ‘E’ names, don’t you?”

“Elise finds them attractive.”

“Yeah, well, now she’s dead.”

He looked up from his focused gaze and stared at me. Was he horrified that I would say something like that? Angry? Hurt? From the mere minutes we’d been together, I was already finding him hard to understand. I’ve always found it fairly easy to read people. He didn’t seem very put off by my pessimistic comments or overall outlook on life. I wouldn’t say he seemed completely intrigued either. It was possible there was a middle ground I wasn’t seeing.

Changing the subject, he quickly added, “I don’t suppose you’ve touched the water at all, have you?”

“No, I managed to stay dry.”

He reached over the edge of the boat and dipped his hand into the water, suddenly whipping his hand back out and practically drenching me. The upper half of my torso was now damp and the bottom of my face, too. He stared back at me with a stone cold expression.

“How old are you, may I ask?” I said to him.

“I don’t believe that concerns you,” he replied haughtily.

“I thought it was a feminine thing to refrain from revealing your age?” He laughed. “It doesn’t concern me per se. It’s your maturity level that has my interest piqued. You must spend an awful lot of time with children.”

“I’m sitting with you, aren’t I?”

“I’m a legal adult, thank you very much.”

“Are you just in a *** because I splashed you? Are we not allowed to have a little fun?”

“Believe me,” I said, stretching my legs in a very unladylike way. “I’m having the time of my life.”

The day went on. It wasn’t very sunny. It rained for a few minutes which wasn’t pleasant, but then the weak sun took over again. Declan found a notebook at the bottom of the cooler and had a pen clipped to his jacket, so he spent most of his time writing in the notebook which, after three days, was almost half full. I hadn’t really thought of the fact that I was now forced to share my generous ration of food and water with a man I was beginning to despise. Except Declan was hard to despise. I felt like he was hiding something. A psychological problem, maybe. It was hard to know. Anyone would have a problem with my attitude, but he didn’t. He didn’t really make anything of me. I was sure he was flawed in some area that caused him to be so laid back, especially for a child’s doctor. I wanted to know more about him, but he seemed fine to stay not very well acquainted with me.

He would dismiss every conversation starter, and those were things one could not get out of me often. He didn’t seem to understand who he was dealing with here, not that he would, but he would have to learn the newly tied ropes soon. I was Candi from Manchester with her insensitive, despondent, cynical, disheartening words. Why wasn’t he scared of me? Why didn’t he react? I hated being ignored by people who projected innocence that aren’t a member of my family, since those people are the easiest to frighten.

That’s how I could tell he wasn’t innocent.

A week or so went by, and I would always feel a strong urge to undergo some sort of social interaction. Although it was definitely unusual for me to feel something like this, I wanted someone to talk to given our isolated situation, and although it was unusual for me to want something like this, I wanted access to the human, with the ability to talk, comfort and all, sitting across from me. But he was so caught up in that little notebook (that I soon began to wish I’d come across first,) and I was deathly bored. I reflexively pinned a lock of hair behind my ear, shifted my weight, cleared my throat and prepared myself to try again giving him another incentive for interaction.

“What are you writing about, Declan?” I asked, for what it was worth. “You’ve been scribbling in that thing an awful lot lately.” An ‘awful lot’ was an understatement that was clear to both of us.

He looked up as if I’d startled him and stared at me. Maybe it was just me overreacting to his actions since, after all, we hadn’t spoken while making eye contact in days. His eyeballs were unusually prominent as if preparing to eject themselves out of their sockets. His lips were dry, his hair somewhat messy and he was shaking. He was nervous about something. Was it the fact that I was talking to him? Or just our current situation as a whole? I suddenly became concerned for his mental and physical well-being.

Why was I feeling so strongly infatuated with, not Declan, but his mannerisms and responses and overall feelings?

“Oh, just notes I suppose.” He laughed nervously and his eye began twitching. I was becoming a little scared; scared that I was scared of something, and that he was acting strange. I recalled back to a few instances from the past couple of days where he seemed particularly moody or estranged, not that we were well-acquainted at all. I think I felt more acquainted with him than he felt with me.

And given the circumstances and the differences between our personalities, that didn’t seem right.

“What are you noting in partic–”

“Would you like to read them?”

His hand was outstretched to mine before I could reply. Of course I wanted to read his notes and finally find out what had been distracting him all this time. Jesus, why was this so distressing? My concern for him was unrequited, but then again, why would it be? I was rude when we first met. I’m not sorry about it, because that’s just me. He’ll never change me. Neither will this entire predicament.

I grabbed the notebook from him. His feet were tapping the bottom of our raft and he seemed anxious about me reading his notes. Without further ado, I flipped to the first page, from our first day together. I figured this would be a diary of some sort, but it was really a combination of that and a regular field notebook.

He had taken note of the weather conditions, scribbled random messages about how he missed his family and he even wrote a few things about me. Not much, to my dismay, but he did mention me being callous and unrelenting and obdurate and other words I didn’t know the meaning of. I was pretty sure they all had the same related meanings and they were not things you’d want to be called. As I sifted through the pages, the words he wrote became less coherent and his word choices were questionable. As the words got shakier and not as well-constructed, the thoughts became more insane. He said that he’d seen the Onyx sailing through fog up ahead a few times and he was planning to try and get to it.

“Don’t read that part!”

Declan snatched the book out of my hand, looked at the page I was on and then looked at me as if I’d just read his deepest darkest secret.

“I’m…sorry,” I mumbled. “You never specified a stopping point.”

“Well, you’ve reached it.” He slammed the book onto the bench next to him. “I’m taking a nap.”

“Wow, I’m flattered that you felt the need to tell me.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s not like you talk to me at all. I’m surprised you bothered to update me on your schedule.”

“Well, you’re welcome. I didn’t know my actions were a topic that interested you.”

I didn’t quite know either. “I never said they were.”

“I didn’t want to tell you,” he blurted out suddenly.

I stared him. “You didn’t want to tell me what?” He looked down nervously, still twitching. “Declan, come on, we’re stuck on a boat together. Whatever secrets you think you have, you may as well come out with them. After all we probably won’t last another–”

“Will you shut your condescending mouth?”

That got me to shut my condescending mouth. “I’m sorry, do you have a problem?”

“I do have a problem.” He stood up and started pacing, causing our small boat to rock back and forth. It worried me slightly. “The entire time we’ve been stuck here you’ve been expressing your pessimistic, sardonic, wry opinions that frankly I don’t care about.”

“Declan, you’re–”

“We are two completely different people. That’s it. And when the differences between us are this prominent, they shouldn’t be thrown together, but since we’re forcefully stuck on this *** boat, we should at least be aware of the fact that our personalities don’t mesh and try to work with it. Let’s both be a little flexible, shall we?”

He’s trying to change me. “Declan, the boat–”

“And another thing–”

“Declan you’re shaking the boat!” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

He plopped down on the bench which shook the boat even more, but he looked like he wasn’t planning for his crazed rant to stop.

“Declan, if I were you I would stop right there. When I saw you I wanted to row away as quickly as I could. I saved your life despite the fact that I really didn’t care. You better be *** thankful for that.”

“Well, let’s see Candace, if I had saved your life would you have shown any thanks at all?”

He hadn’t used my name since our first day together. “You need to calm down and realize you can’t change people so that your life can be more of a breeze.”

“I’m asking you to be flexible,” he said. “Is that a word in your tiny vocabulary?” He was looking at me with bloodthirsty eyes and I thought he was maybe considering killing me. With what, it was hard to know, but he seemed like the kind of guy to get creative when necessary. I actually started to feel sorry and guilty for putting him through everything. For forcing him to deal with me. But that is not something I have ever felt before. I never care about other people’s needs, but I seemed to for him, and I hated that. Suddenly, his eyes wandered to a spot behind me. His expression dropped and he started shaking again. Not the kind of shaking when you get angry, but the kind of shaking when you have an adrenaline rush. He grabbed his notebook and walked right past me, staring off into the fog up ahead.

He opened his book and started writing without looking. He just stared mindlessly into the fog, but he looked perplexed. He was staring at nothing. He was examining. What was he doing? He was still shaking, too.

“Declan, what was it you said you didn’t want to tell me?”

He didn’t answer me.

“Declan, out with it!”

I was expecting something really important and possibly day-changing but what I heard was somewhat disappointing in its pointlessness.

“I didn’t want to tell you that I saw the Onyx!”

“Declan are you kidding me? The Onyx is gone! Your family is gone! Sit down and get a grip!”

“Look over there if you don’t believe me.”

He pointed to where the fog was. There was nothing there.

“I don’t see anything, Declan–”

“Look!” He put his hand on my shoulder, sending shivers down my spine. His shaking fingers were practically digging holes into my flesh. I was tempted to flick his hand away but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I let my eyes follow his index finger and then I saw it. A ship-like shadow in the distance.

It wasn’t really a ship, but for someone as vulnerable as Declan, it could have passed as one. I wanted desperately to believe it was a real ship, and sometimes I would let myself slip into full-belief of its existence, but the part of me that hadn’t lost itself pulled me back up and slapped me across the face.

My first thought was to get us to it and seek help, but my gut was telling me not to for a reason unbeknownst to me. My brain was telling me to steer the boat into the fog and where the ship was, but every time the thought threatened to cross my mind, the side of me that managed to stay sane was vetoing the idea. Was it not a good idea?

But then I realized what was happening. “Declan…”

“My wife, my kids, they’re still alive.”

“Declan, even if that was the Onyx, your family is–”

“It is the Onyx!”

He lifted his arm and before I could figure out what he was going to do, I grabbed his wrist. The muscles in his arm were tense but they softened at my touch.

“Declan, I need you to listen to me.”

“Do you see it too?”

The truth was that I did see it. From what I’d seen of the Onyx, the two ships did look practically similar. The thing was that I didn’t really have the clearest image of the ship in the distance. Whatever Declan saw was probably more defined and visible. Either way, I knew better than to let a hallucination fool me.

“Declan, I see it.” His eye twitched. He had gone absolutely mad. “But you need to listen to me. I know what’s happening to you. You’re having a hallucination. It’s the weather, that’s it. It’s the light and the refraction in the water. It’s creating images that are messing with your head. Whatever you see isn’t actually there.”

“Why should I be listening to you?”

“Because my sanity right now is more reliable than yours and don’t you dare try to convince either of us otherwise.”

He walked to the other end of the boat. “I know you think I’m crazy, Candace.” That was the third time he’d used my name. “I see the way you examine me, and you feel sorry for me. You think I’m just some miserable family man who can’t take care of himself in a harsh situation, but I know exactly what I’m doing.”

“I do not feel sorry for you.” It was kind of true. I did pity him, but I don’t pity people. “Declan, even if it’s the last thing I do, I’m not letting you give into the hallucination. You’re going crazy, and now that you know that that’s what I think of you, I don’t have to hide it. You need to get ahold of yourself.”

“I’m not listening to you! I’m going after the Onyx whether you join me or not!”

I was losing patience very quickly. “Declan, that’s not the god***ed Onyx! Your family is not there! It’s all in your head! How are you gonna feel if and when you get to the ship and realize that I was right and you were wrong?”

He stared me dead in the eye for a good ten seconds. He took off his jacket and threw it at me before spastically diving into the water. My heart stopped.

“Declan!” I screamed. The current was becoming especially strong but he fought it with such determination. I wondered what it could have been like to love my family that much.

He couldn’t leave me. He just couldn’t.

He ignored me. His arms ripped  through the waves and his struggling legs splashed me with water, but this time I didn’t mind. I wasn’t going to let him succumb to the hysteria, but he wasn’t going to let me help him. It was impossible to see this ending well. He was already feet away. I had to think quickly, but no matter how quickly I thought, it was inevitable that he be swept away by the lie-infested current, leading him to a place he wanted desperately to go to, but wasn’t what he thought. And ultimately, he would realize this and go crazier. The idea of freedom was being dangled in front of him as a cruel joke made by the laws of physics. The fact that images like these appear and mess with one’s brain is horrible, and it was the last thing I would ever want.

It was the last thing I would ever want for Declan.

Declan, a man who’d lost his family, a man with obvious struggles, a man I genuinely pitied.

I was too busy over-analyzing to realize that Declan had already reached the deceiving fog. It pained me to watch as he gave in to his own delirium and achieved nothing when he thought he could achieve so much.

It was as if his body melted into the water and rode with the current, like he had been doing this for the past few miles. I think I kept staring in his former direction hours after he left, maybe even days, but time was a myth after you’d been on a lifeboat for this long.

It was weird to be alone after being accompanied for so long. My vocal chords felt like a swamp that had no uses anymore. With no one to talk to, I felt myself going mad, but I was self-aware and looked at it as if I were watching a show. When you’re alone in a compromised situation, it’s easy to create presences that are purely for the maintenance of your sanity, but really, those mere ideas of possible companionship are what drive you crazier.

Declan visits me at least twice a day. He can’t communicate, or stay longer than fifteen seconds, but he comes.

 

Masked and Lost in Thought

Masked

 

Hidden behind a mask

A true master of disguise

No one knows what he looks like

Hair as dark as night

Eyes as blue as sky

Tall and lean

Quick is he

No one knows where he is

No one knows what to do

He is an unstoppable force

Hidden from sight

 

Hidden behind a mask

A true master of disguise

He stalks his prey in the night

Quick as lightning

Swift as air

He is an unstoppable force

Hidden from sight

 

Hidden behind a mask

A true master of disguise

He saved me

The man in the mask

He saved me from drunken men

The master of disguise

Fought for me

He took down eight men

He left without looking at me

 

Hidden behind a mask

A true master of disguise

A hero thought to be a monster

How I hope to see him again

I want to say thank you

My masked hero

You saved my life

 

Lost In Thought 

How long will I live?
When will I die?
Is there a heaven?

Is there hell?

I’m lost in thought

 

Will I pass?

Will I fail?
Is there a god?
Is there a devil?

 I’m lost in thought

 

Are angels real?

Are demons real?

Will I fall in love?
Will my heart break?

I’m lost in thought

 

Do my friends care?

Does my family care?
Does my dog care?

Do my fish care?

I’m lost in thought

 

Why is life so hard?

What happens when you die?

Do we have souls?

Are we reborn?

I’m lost in thought

 

I will die

I will know if there is heaven

If there is hell

I will learn if angels exist

Demons live inside

I will fall in love

My heart will break

I’m lost in thought

 

My friends care

My family cares

My dog cares

My fish care

I care

I’m lost in thought

I’m lost in thought

 

Minds of Empty – Chapter One

Entry 1) Flash Drive

 

An alarm went off at two. This could mean only one thing, someone was in the catacombs.  

Alex was stepping out of his room.

“How’s the guy lasted so long?” Alex asked.

“Different host each time. Whenever he gets shot, or he deems his body unfit, the demon just possess the unlucky person who picks up his flash drive. In other words, he’s still out there.”

“So the only way to kill him is to destroy the flash drive.”

“We aren’t sure if that’d work. He may have copies.”

“So no matter how many times we exorcise him, he’ll crawl right back from Hell.”

Cape Town’s criminals had adapted their drug industry to include cleaners, so much so that Cape Town had become one of the largest cities for what they sold… and these gangs were dangerous. Their leaders knew seemingly everything crime-related. Their underlings swore a pledge giving complete memory control. Slaves were also kidnapped and given fake testimonies. If they ever found out who they were, their memories were erased. The memories were given to their leaders, giving them the knowledge of entire gangs. The police used memory implants as a new technology. In Cape Town, memories were gold.

At 18:54 South African Time, a knock on the door could be heard. It was some a South African cop with a search warrant. Jacqueline was the one to answer it.

“Hello,” the officer greeted her with a thick African accent. “Is Nathan Daniels here?”

“Ya sure,” she said, pulling out her phone. “Give me just a second.”

With this opportunity, she used her phone to signal a lockdown in the facility.

“He’ll be right with you.”

As she walked away, the cop grabbed her arm. “Allow me to accompany you, little girl.”

“I wouldn’t want to take up too much of your time.”

“Oh, nonsense–”

He was cut off by her freeing herself and saying. “I’ll be under a minute.”

As she turned away, the gun concealed in her unzipped jacket became briefly visible.

“You’re not old enough to own one of those,” the cop said slyly.

“Laws can’t stand in the way of survivors.”

As she said this, she pulled out her pistol and pointed it at him.

“…and how long should this hold me off? Hours, days, weeks even. But there’s no chance in where I reside that it’ll stop me,” Jacob said, grabbing her throat, shoving her against a wall, and cutting off her oxygen. “When I’m done with you, you’ll be me, and so will your brother, and Alex, as well as the rest of you rats. There’ll be an army of me!”

“Says the guy who lived in the sewer for three months,” Alex commented. He had his shot gun cocked.

Jacob then released Jacqueline from his clutches and stared directly into the eyes of Alex, uttering, “Why must I make this speech? You simply can’t kill me. I am neither dead nor alive. I merely am and shall continue to be until the end of time.”

“If the whole entire universe is you, who will be around to fear you?” Nathan came in to ask.

“Perhaps I shall let a few unfortunate victims go, after all; wipe their memories clean. But in the meantime, it will bring me great pleasure in seeing my plague wipe out all that can remember.”

“And you start with us? People with no memory?” Alex laughed.

“What challenge will there be once we’re gone? Mob bosses and government officials?” Nathan asked with a hint of sarcasm.

“Good point, let’s mix things up shall we,” responded Jacob, grinning.

“Look pal, you’re not the only one who’s unlikable,” Nathan said, seeing the fear in Jacob’s eyes.

This made Jacob laugh, striking fear into all but Nathan.

“We’ll see about that.”

Jacob then pulled out his revolver and shot Nathan just below the heart.

Life, Death, and Rebirth (excerpt)

I woke up, trying to remember what had happened. It didn’t make any sense, that I had been lying on the ground three weeks ago and couldn’t remember why. I hadn’t been fed in a while. I didn’t recall how long. Every time the sun set, guards came into my cell and tried to get information out of me, and I always told the truth. I told them, I don’t know. Then, I got beaten and locked up again. My sweats and t-shirt were drenched in my blood and covered in dirt. I always thought about asking for a change of clothes, but I didn’t know how to put the clothes on. They looked like pictures in the big textbook (I thought that it was called that) which lay under my bed, ripped up and bloody.

More days passed by. Nothing happened, except for the usual routine. In the morning of what felt like my 50th day in the prison, a boy, who looked a couple years older than me, came in my cell.

“What’s your name?” he asked in a very grim voice.

I was silent. I tried to think. I couldn’t even remember my name. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

The boy looked at the guards, who shook their heads, and then he looked back at me. “Well, why don’t we give you a name, since you can’t remember yours.”

I just stared at him with a blank face.

He stared back. After a while, he spoke. “Why don’t we call you Phoenix?” said the boy. I cringed at the name. He then stood and gestured for me to stand. As I stood up, he nodded towards the door and muttered, “Let’s see how well he runs,” and swung a sword at my arm.

I jumped out of the way, but the sword grazed my shoulder and up my chest. As soon as the sword was out of the way, I sprinted towards the door. There were stairs, and three guys were already coming after me. I started skipping stairs and got out of the cellars.

As I got to the surface, a huge light blinded me, but I kept running. Soon, I got to a river. I started crossing and turned around. Huge groups of men in steel armour–either running or on horseback–were closing in. I hurried across the river and darted into the woods. I kept running, and when the sun finally started setting, I stopped. I found a hiding spot under a huge oak tree. As I sat there, I finally noticed how much the cut I got from the sword hurt. My blood-soaked shirt was turning black from all the blood. It hurt so much that it was hard to breath. I started losing consciousness. Before my vision went black, I saw a figure rushing towards me. It didn’t look like one of the knights, it looked like a regular person.

When I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was the ceiling of a small cottage. Then, I turned my head and found a girl. She looked about 16 years old. She was washing what looked like a piece of cloth. Without looking, she said in a very soft, gentle voice, “Good. You’re awake.”

The gown she wore was slightly ripped but looked perfect with her icy blue eyes. She turned her head and looked at me. She walked over, took a stool, and made me sit up. As I struggled painfully to move, she propped my back up with a gentle hand as the other grabbed a few pillows and put them behind me for me to rest on. She then took a wooden bowl filled with water and put it on the table next to the bed.

She dipped the cloth that she had been washing in the water and put it on my chest where the sword had left a deep gash. I made a rather pathetic sound, but it portrayed the pain I was in.

She rested a hand on my chest next to the gash and whispered, “I know.”  

Her hair fell over shoulders in silky auburn waves. I looked into her soft eyes and didn’t take my eyes off them. It was as if I was being controlled to look into the depths of her eyes. After what felt like at most a few seconds, she got up and took the pot of water, which now looked like a pot of cherry Kool-aid, and went to the sink.

All of a sudden, a surge and images flashed through my mind. One of them was the book I had left in the cell. Another was me standing in front a group of  kids in single tables, there was also an older person with a clipboard. The room was covered with big pieces of paper with men like the ones chasing me. I suddenly started to remember things.

My name is Liam Cadmon Waterfield. I am 16 years old. I live in Manhattan, New York…

The girl turned and looked at me worried.

“I’m fine,” I gasped. Then stood up. As I did, someone broke the door down, and the boy from the cellar who gave me my new name barged in.

“What are you doing with him, Adrienne?” the boy said.

The girl retorted, “ Dillon, doesn’t he look familiar?” Tears started running down Adrienne’s eyes.

Dillon looked at her with eyes that gradually started to soften. “Oh, beloved sister. I know it hurts, but that isn’t him. This is a fugitive!”

“It is! Can’t you see? Cadmon came back!” Adrienne cried. Dillon looked blankly at her. “You loved him like a brother! How could you forget him?” Adrienne screamed and stretched her hand to touch my side. She then started pushing me back towards the bed.

Dillon stared at me with a hint of hatred. He then looked back at Adrienne. He walked forward until he was right in front of Adrienne, who was pressed against me, against the wall. “That, is not Cadmon. He is gone. Cadmon left us, you, for the war. He never came back. Understand? Cadmon isn’t coming back.” Then Dillon looked at me and said, “I want this guy back where he came from.” Dillon gave me a savage look and walked out of the cottage.

Adrienne was sobbing. She turned around, pressed herself against me, and cried into my chest. I didn’t know what to other than wrap my arms around her. She started muttering something that I couldn’t hear. Then the cottage as well as a crying Adrienne started to dissolve. As everything started going black, I heard a voice in my head saying, “Cadmon, come back for me.”

When I woke up, I was in what looked like my old bedroom. I got up, opened the door, went down the stairs, and found my parents sitting at the kitchen table, looking out the window. They didn’t say a word. They both stared into the darkness with teary eyes. I suddenly made the ground creak and the they both turned. They stared at me for ten minutes without budging and then rushed forward and embraced me in a huge bear hug. I normally would have minded, but this was all I needed right now. Both my parents showing affection towards me, something I hadn’t had in a long time.

Mom was crying into my shoulder while Dad was squeezing me tight. I suddenly felt a surge of pain. I cried out, and they both go of me and looked at me with startled expressions. I looked down at the gash that went across my chest. It had opened again. As soon as my parents realized, they panicked.

“Liam, what happened to you?” my mother cried as my dad reached for the phone.

I couldn’t say anything, all I could think about was how much pain I was in. My mother was still trying to talk to me when the paramedics came. My mom reluctantly moved aside while my dad explained that I came home looking like that.

I spent a couple weeks in the hospital and then went back to school. Before I stepped in the doors of the school, I remembered all the beatings I had gotten right where I was standing. Someone bumped into me. I turned and thought I saw Dillon.

He looked at me with disdain and said, “Watch where you’re going, freak.” Then he walked away.

I remembered that I was the history freak of the school. I went into the school, dreading every step I took. I got through the day without having too much trouble. Most of the guys who had bullied me looked at me like they were actually relieved that I had come back.

As I walked to history, I realized that I had a presentation, and I didn’t have my textbook. I walked in the classroom and sat down.

“Ah. Liam. You’re back,” my teacher said.

I just nodded.

“Why don’t you give the presentation that was due almost a month ago?” she said.

I reluctantly stood up and walked to the front of the class. As everyone started sitting down, I stared at a poster which had a guy on it who looked like me, except at the bottom it said, The Great Cadmon. The last person who walked in was a girl. She looked so familiar, but I couldn’t place her. She had beautiful icy blue eyes and shoulder-length silky auburn hair. She looked at me and smiled. It was brief, but there was a connection, I think. I swallowed. As all the students stared at me, I started talking. I mentioned medieval times and how guards were dressed. Then, I went into how prisoners were treated. When I was done, everyone clapped, as usual, and I went shyly back to my seat.

While we were learning about the crusades, someone poked me in the back. I turned and found the girl sitting behind me.

“Hey,” she said, “I loved your presentation. It was pretty cool. Umm… can you tutor me? I just moved here, like, a couple days ago. I didn’t learn the same curriculum.”

I didn’t know what to say. I nodded.

She then smiled and said, “Great! Can I have your number so that I can call you?”

We exchanged numbers, and then the bell rang.

As I was packing up, she whispered, “By the way, my name is Adriana.”

I smiled as she left. It was very rare for a guy like me to get asked to tutor a girl, especially one like her.  I walked out of the classroom feeling proud of myself and saw Adriana with the guy that looked like Dillon. She looked at me and called me over. As I walked over, the guy turned to me.

“This is my twin brother Damon,” she said.

Damon looked at me and nodded his head. “Hey.”

I replied with a, “Hey.”

Damon didn’t seem to like me very much. Later in gym, Damon came up to me as I sat down on the bleachers.

“Hey, why aren’t you playing?” he asked.

I looked up and gestured towards my shoulder, where there a gigantic wrap went across my chest and around my left shoulder.

“Wow. Where did you get that?”

I didn’t know how to explain that. I could have said, “The past you gave it to me. He picked up a sword and swung it at my face,” but I just shrugged. As soon as I did, I had to wince. My shoulder felt like it was being stabbed with a thousand needles. Damon just stood there and stared at me with a blank expression. I looked back at him and started to get up.

Suddenly, he grabbed me by the shoulder and threw me back down into the bleachers. “Look freak, I don’t like you. But since my sister does, I’m going to tell you this: if you ever hurt my sister, you won’t live to see your next day. Understand?”

I was so shocked and full of pain that I couldn’t say anything.

“Do you understand?” Damon yelled.

I opened my mouth to reply, but nothing came out. Everyone was crowding around to see what was going on. There was a wail and, as I turned my head, I saw a glimpse of Adriana pushing her way through the crowd of people. One of the football players pulled Damon off me as another went to help me get up. I was in so much pain that I could barely breathe.

Adriana ran up to me and knelt down next to me. “Are you okay?” she asked. Her voice was quivering and tears were pouring down her already swollen eyes.

I tried to nod, but there was no point in lying. I was not okay. I needed to go to the hospital.

Lost Star

She didn’t look back, she just kept running.

My sister was something different. I could remember from they day I met her in the hospital, her dark brown eyes met mine and I got a tickle in my stomach. Rachel always was looking to be someone different. Mom and Dad had separated when she was in first grade and this was the point in which Rachel’s anger built up. Each year we would pick out our Halloween costumes with our grandma, and Rachel would always run into the aisle and pick out the same Scream Mask and fish net stockings. Grandma would sigh, but didn’t want to get involved in her craziness. In second grade she had a best friend named Sarah, everyday they would run home lock the door and play and laugh for hours. Oh, our sweet little Rachel. As Halloween of third grade came around, Sarah no longer came over, something about “not agreeing on the same costume.” I didn’t see Rachel for a week after that, but the trail of Godiva chocolate wrappers through the hallway gave me the sense she was still there. Amongst Rachel’s differences, she loved me more than anyone in the world. On stormy nights she would nuzzle up against me in my bed and the sound of her breath was more powerful than the racket outside. Whenever Rachel would act up, we would lie on the roof and stare at the stars, hand in hand we would hum her favorite song. At school I would see Rachel alone, after school alone, but that time on the roof we had each other, she wasn’t alone.

Today is Rachel’s first day of highschool year, my junior year. I rush downstairs, eat a bowl of cereal, get dressed and grab my keys. Where was Rachel? I wait by the door, expecting her to be down soon. “Mom, where the heck is Rachel?” I holler. No response, maybe she’s out getting coffee. “Rachel!” I scream up the stairs.

“What…” travels down the stairs in a moan.

“It is the first day of school and you’re sleeping, that’s a great start, stupid.” Just then, Mom walks in the door and she insists I leave and she’ll drive Rachel to school when she’s ready. I was too confused, why did Rachel not care at all, what had gotten into her?

My jaw drops. My head fills with disbelief. This could not be my sister? Who has taken over her? I walk past her, “Rachel?” She’s dressed in black fishnet stockings, a short leather skirt, with black outlining her eyes. It seems as if her Halloween costume has become a reality.

Her earbud slips from her ear. ”Hey Fran,” she says, then drops her head and continues walking. The rest of the day I can’t concentrate, there is no way Mom let her out of the house like that, I remember the day I tried to a short dress to the school dance and Mom totally flipped out. Thank goodness I survived the day without seeing my new sister again.

That night at dinner she’s dressed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, I force myself to speak. “How was your day Rae?”

“Fine.”

“Any good teachers?”

“Yeah they’re chill.”

I finish my chicken and go to wash the dishes, she drops her plate in the sink and I don’t see her till the next morning. Mom is puzzled by our lack of conversation, it bothers me too.

Within a few weeks Rachel makes a new friend, Eden. Just like Sarah they run up the stairs and lock the door, except this girl is different from Sarah. Eden dresses with skulls and black, her ear is filled with earrings and her voice is low and raspy. They must have lost interest in our house because after a couple of weeks they no longer came over. I once caught a glimpse of them slipping behind the fence by school and that night Rachel wasn’t home till after ten. One night it rained, my baby sister didn’t come to lie next to me. I sobbed harder than the rain falling onto our roof, the roof where we would lie and stare at the stars.

I was worried for my sister. What angered me the most was that Mom didn’t seem to care. Was I kidding, Rachel would never care what Mom said. As I laid in bed, without knowing where or who my sister was, I decided I was going to have to talk to her.

I couldn’t spit it out, I stumbled on my words. But the second I saw her dark chocolate eyes, surrounded by that awful ring of black makeup, the words poured out. “Where did my loving, kind, funny sister go.” I waited for a response, she glanced up with nothing to say. “Rachel talk to me, I love you, I care.”

“Am I not allowed to be different because you don’t accept me? Oh pardon me, I’ll just become an exact copy of you, Mrs. Perfect. Just mind your own business anyways, mother,” she rolls her eyes.

This was the first time she had spoken to me like this. I walked away and up into my room. I wanted to be alone, like a star in the hushed night sky, something my sister would actually want to look up to. That night I dreamt of my sister’s personality being stolen from her heart. I woke in a cold sweat.

Breakfast was uncomfortable, I couldn’t dare look at her stinging eyes and obnoxious soul. I no longer cared for who she would become, I gave up. In the halls I would see her and her “gang,” cutting class, laughing, they never made eye contact with me. It still bothered me, but I pretended I didn’t care. Until the day she smelt of drugs.

It was a cool spring day, days like these me and my friend Hannah would meet in the park to study. I came home around five, and Rachel wasn’t home yet. Mom was at court tonight, her and Dad still had conflict over custody. Rachel walked in the door around 8:30, an hour over her weekday curfew. Classic Rachel taking advantage of our family problems. I left her a hamburger on the kitchen table, but the minute she got home she walked straight to her room. Just then I smelt it, the sharp stinging smell of weed.

I ran to her room in a humph. I stared into her eyes, the chocolate eyes that I saw when she was an innocent baby, the ones that often were surrounded by a ring of black and the ones that now are bloodshot. She looked at me sideways. “Leave me alone.”

“What, so you can just smoke in peace?”

She stumbled over the rug and tossed me a plastic bag filled with green leaves. “You need to chill girl, have some,” she had a low tone and slurred her words. I shrieked, ran out the door, slamming it behind me.

Mom walked in, to see me in the hallway crying, without saying a word I pointed towards Rachel’s door. She walked in and I could hear her gasp. Mom never really did anything about it, it’s what we all expected.

I couldn’t take it, my sister was ruining her life. When Rachel was in elementry school I remember when she came home with a 60% on a math test she really worked hard on and she came home and said, “I wish I could just die.” This frightened me, I stirred all that night thinking of my life without my sister. Just like the Halloween costume I felt this too was becoming a reality too. But this time I had to stop it.

Everytime I saw her I would stare in shame. “Your life is crumbling and you won’t listen to me, it’s just stupid and total bull ***.”

“I don’t care what you say, you mean nothing to me, I’m happy and that’s all that matters.”

“Shut the *** up with the excuses, you are killing yourself and I feel like I’m going down with you.”

It felt good to say it, it just came out. She stopped and looked up at me. She heard me that time.

“I’ve gotten into this Fran, I’m not gonna get out.”

“And I tried to stop you…”

“That’s my sister, my perfect, always right sister.”

The next morning she came down the stairs, a backpack slung over her shoulder. She tossed me a note. She didn’t look back she just kept running. I collapsed onto the floor. “If you don’t love me here, I need to find somewhere where I will be loved.” So this was all my fault. The drugs, the goth everything was on me. I got up and tried to run, I fell on the grass. I called Mom, “Mommy she’s gone, Rachel is gone.”

“What do you mean?”

“She ran, she’s gone.”

“Why didn’t you follow her?”

“Why didn’t you get involved in your daughter’s life?” I grabbed my keys and rushed into the car. I searched all over town, Mom left work and was searching also. I called Sarah, Rachel’s old best friend, she told me about who Rachel was hanging out with and where should could possibly be. I thanked her, hung up and began searching for the house’s of her friends.

It was four hours later when we found her. She was hiding at a friends apartment in the town over. When I found her, I was stunned. There she was, my baby sister, the one I thought I would never see again. She looked tired and dirty, I grinned at her, my heart thumped. When we got home Mom hugged her, then she went upstairs.

Ironically, it poured that night. I hear her light feet on the creaky floorboards. I moved to the left side of my bed and she slipped next to me. The sound of her breath put me to sleep, “I love you Rachel.”

“I love you too, Franny,” and then came the tears.

The rain still came down, but the stars were unseen.

Kids’ Political Power

 

Children over the age of twelve are more than capable of doing the things eighteen-year-olds can do. Kids have the same abilities as adults, and their power should not be limited by their age. Some kids are still in school and haven’t gotten their full education yet. However, the knowledge that they did learn is still fresh in their brain. Adora Svitak is a TED talker who gave an inspiring speech on what adults can learn from kids. Kids should be able to hold political power and have more responsibility than they do in the present day.

Children have great ideas and are intelligent enough to have their say on who should be in charge. The president is in charge of the kids too so they should be able to vote too.  Adora Svitak stated in her TED Talk that kids have great ideas and one of the things that that make them kids is their ability to dream. They dream of ending hunger, of no one being homeless, and of no more global warming. Kids, with their big imaginations, could end war if they had that power, and people are doubting them because of their age. That’s the difference between kids’ and adults’ imaginations. Adults think of great ideas and then start thinking “that’s impossible,” or “that costs too much.” The website Mashable lists some kids who did extraordinary things. Seventeen-year-old Nithin Tumma found more effective and less harmful cancer treatments. Fifteen-year-old Jack Andraka found a cheap way to detect pancreatic cancer in its earliest stages. Seventeen-year-old Marian Bechtel went to the White House with her mine-detecting device. These are intelligent children whose ideas go beyond adults’.

Adults may tolerate work better than kids do; however, kids have enough capacity to get the job done. I am a child, and I can sit eight hours on end doing work. I feel if I had the option to have political power, work wouldn’t be a problem for me. Adults may have a longer work capacity than kids do. Kids over twelve are able to get the job done as long as they have breaks. This isn’t an incapability of the kids, it’s just a quick obligation that some kids need. If you look at some of the kids doing their homework after school, they can sit down for hours straight flying through papers; this isn’t anything different from what an adult would do.

Children have leadership skills that adults may never have. Kids just come out of school and their leadership skills are so high from practicing and, well, leading their other students in school. In my school, teachers are constantly encouraging leading which makes it impossible to stand in the shadows. Some great leaders of the younger age are like Ruby Bridges and the thousands of children from the Children’s March who led segregation to an end. The parents of these children didn’t want them to go, didn’t want to march, and still, hundreds of thousands of kids from all over the state came and marched. Kids want to rule, they want to be the leaders of their generation. Adults aren’t letting them take the lead.

Kids are capable of being the next leaders of the world. They are intelligent, can work hard, and can be amazing leaders. Many kids in the world have taken on roles that are outstandingly courageous and get so much done. These kids would make great leaders if only they had the power to lead. Kids all over the world have made a difference.

 

 

  • Adora’s Ted talk

 

http://www.ted.com/talks/adora_svitak?language=en

 

  • Mashable

 

mashable.com/2012/11/30/inspirational-kids-2012/

 

Keys

Keys — Life is Just a String of Keys

My fingers traced along the keys making a slow, soft melody. I don’t really remember what I was playing, something famous, maybe Swan Lake, but that wasn’t important. I remember the cool feeling as I touched the smooth keys. I was wearing a dress I think, something white, white and purple. The whole room smelled of lilacs and my music flowed out of the keys into the eager audience’s ears. It was a good recital, not that it matters, not now. I remember that last note I struck, it was a C#, and the note hung in the air, the piece didn’t seem finished, and it wasn’t supposed to be. There was a bang, a loud bang, but after that there was only silence. They took me to the hospital. I remember the flashing lights, they were red. I remember laying motionless, my hand bloodstream stopped for a moment, wanting to speak, and I could have, but I couldn’t find the courage. Hushed whispers in the hospital. The doctor and my parents talking. And now here. Trying to fall asleep in this plastic covered hospital bed. My hand laying motionless beside me, fingers limp, pale and lifeless. Never to be used again was what I heard the doctor say. Finally, I remembered the writhing pain when the piano cover slammed on my hand, the hand that was once a hand. As a bellybutton is worthless after you’ve been born, my hand is worthless after it’s been crushed.

The room smells of medicine, fake water, acids to put inside people, to help them. No natural cold water, nourishing to the touch. The wallpaper has teddybears on them, creepy teddy bears holding hearts. I don’t like it. There is no music, the place is dead, cold, silent. I’m going home tomorrow. They’ve done as much as they can, they say. They say. How different it will feel to be home, to see the piano I once played sitting there, reminding me on everything i’ve lost. Reminding me of that day, that fateful day.

I wake up to the nurse’s face hovering over mine, smiling  and cooing as if I was a baby. I was awake most of last night, thinking. The nurse grabs a red plastic tray and puts it on my lap. I see a loaf of stale bread, pudding, and some sort of nectary, sticky juice. I push the tray away. The nurse pulls a clementine from behind her back. She speaks, but to me, she doesn’t say a word. I don’t care enough to listen. I just want to go home. I still take the clementine and peel it. It is juicy. I smile at her. I feel like a child who lost their voice.

My parents stayed in a hotel near the hospital. The airport was nearby. They sat on the edge of my bed and told me about how they heard planes whooshing by all night. It’s nice to know that i’m not the only one who barely slept last night. I knew they wanted me to speak, as they looked at me with anxious eyes brimming with hope. I felt so sick, even though I wasn’t. Not talking made everything seem so much worse. But I couldn’t bring myself to speak, I couldn’t.

They took me to the car. When I got up and took a step, it felt wobbly, almost like the legs I was standing on weren’t mine. As I exited the hospital and smelled the fresh air, it felt like I had woken up from a nightmare. It was a cloudy day. The sky was full of gray blotches. As I put one foot into the car, It began to rain. Cold, wet raindrops fell down to the ground, pouring themselves towards everything, like tiny cannonballs. The nurse and the doctor, crouched down trying to stop themselves from getting wet, they all beckoned for me to get into the car. I slowly drew my foot out, and looking up at the sky, I smiled. I smiled, I laughed. I laughed.
It stopped raining. They helped me into the backseat of the car. As we drove away, I rolled open the window and watched as the hospital waved goodbye. My parents didn’t talk for the whole time. I liked the silence. It made it seem less unnatural for me to not talk. As we rolled down Maple Street. Memories began to flood into my mind. Things that I could never do anymore. I could never ride my skateboard, the doctor said it was too much of a risk, no more Friday family bike rides, no more piano. I closed the window and looked straight at the gray seat in front of me. There was no point of looking at something I could never enjoy in the same way. The seat in front of me never changed. Sure, it can be shifted forwards and backwards, but it was something you could always count on to never take you by surprise when you looked at it. Maple Street was full of surprises.

As we pulled into the driveway and my mom accounted that we were home in a bright, cheery voice. I wasn’t as excited as I thought I would be. When I swung open the chestnut wood door and looked inside, everything looked different. I had known before that living at home would never be the same, but looking at the things I had always appreciated in life made me have almost no feeling towards them. I ran into the living room looking for the big black piano that once stood there, but it was gone. A lead weight dropped to the bottom of my stomach and I turned to my parents for explanation. They looked guiltily at each other and told me that they got rid of it. The said that they didn’t want me to see it and be upset about what I had lost. They said that I couldn’t play anymore. They said there was no point.

I remembered. I was 2. It was Christmas. Under the tree was a keyboard- a baby keyboard in a big red ribbon. The first time I ever struck a note was that day. It was a C#. By the time I turned 4, I had memorized the whole keyboard. I could name any note and play it. I played simple songs until I was 5. Symphonies came between 6 and 7. That was when I got a grand piano. Recitals came at 8. Awards. Ribbons. First place. Second. Practicing everyday at age 9. Then one more recital. Still 9. No more piano.

I should have ran upstairs and slammed the door to my room in my parent’s faces, but I only had one hand. So, I slowly walked, step by step up the staircase and into my room. My room had always been painted light purple. I had always told my parents how much I wanted red walls, red, my favorite color. Right now, I couldn’t care in the least what color my walls were. But when I stepped into my room, the walls were painted bright firetruck red. The color of the paint sample I showed my parents every time we went into a hardware store. They had always said, maybe someday. I looked around my red, blushing room and into the white mirror on the wall. I smiled. My room looked like me. I saw in the mirror my red bushy hair, my blue eyes, my freckles, and I saw this beautiful red, and I smiled. Red was the color of love, of life, of fireworks, red sparks flashing in the sky, deep red was the color of everything mixed together to make a murky, lazy mixture of beauty and blood. I was red.

I took a nap. I don’t know how long I slept, I didn’t know what time I fell asleep, but I woke up to a dark window, my arm pulsing in pain under the bandage. On the foot of my bed was a typed note and my old baby keyboard. The note said-

We’re sorry honey

Found this in the garage

Love, Mom and Dad

I felt the keys with my one hand, and the pain stopped in the other. I began to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with one hand. It sounded like an elephant stepping on my keyboard, all the right notes, sounding wrong. The song felt incomplete without the harmony. The melody needs something else. The melody needed the other hand. I wanted to get out of bed and slam the keyboard to the ground, but I couldn’t, not with one hand. I lay back, closed my eyes and they filled with tears. I wanted to wipe them away but I didn’t have enough hands. I fell asleep with dried tears on my face.

When I opened my eyes, my mom was sitting on the right side on the bed, and my dad on the left. They were both looking worried, but relief flashed through their faces when I sat up in bed. I could tell right away what my mom was thinking, thank god she’s not dead. How weak did they think I was! Then I remembered, I was so weak, I couldn’t even pull up the feathery covers from my bed. Helping me out of bed was the hard part, as they could only hold one of my hands. The hospital gave us some chair that can be raised up so I can just scoot into it to get off my bed. As I hopped down to the floor, I smelled eggs and bacon cooking in a pan downstairs. As I sniffed, I glanced at my parents and saw them mouthing to each other. When they noticed me looking at them, they helped me downstairs muttering something to me in muffled voices.

My parents sat me down in a chair and started feeding me. I tried to pull their hands full of spoons away from me, I didn’t want to have to be fed. I can’t be this helpless. I tried to tell them to stop, but I didn’t speak or say a word. They shoved more and more food into my mouth, stuffing me like a turkey. I started pushing with my one hand more violently, they were feeding me too fast. They didn’t get the message. I tried to get up from my chair but they still didn’t understand. It was… it was scary. Scary knowing that my parents could accidentally hurt me. Finally, they understood. I was helped up and I slowly walked into the downstairs bathroom, crying. I felt like a stupid baby. I had to be fed, and cared for, and everyone had to always watch me. I just wanted my life back. So there I sat, in the bathroom crying, making everything feel more babyish than it did already.

Once I lowered the sound of my crying, I heard my parents talking in the kitchen, saying something about how it’s not safe for me to not want to talk, something about taking me to therapy. I took a deep breath, and stepped out of the bathroom. Looking my parents right in the eye, I sat down, and using my one working hand, I spooned the hot eggs into my mouth. My parents stared at me in awe, and I finished up my plate and slowly walked my way upstairs into my room.

My parents barely said anything to me after that all day. I think they were embarrassed for thinking that I was so helpless. I found a way to feed my cat, Barley one-handed. I guess for everything now, I have to find a way. Some things though, are better off left alone. I’m trying to not think about this, but deep inside, I don’t think it’s bad that my parents got rid of my piano. I have to learn to cope without it. Maybe, well maybe. I don’t know. Maybe if I can eat one-handed, I can play one-handed. Really, I know this is not possible. It’s better off left alone.

After my parents said goodnight, I didn’t really go to sleep. I clumsily tried to take a box from under my bed. It took me a minute, but once I pulled it out, I found a way to slide it open and take out my scrapbook. I slid onto the chair and put my foot on the “raise” pedal. After laying in bed comfortably, or semi-comfortably, I used my one hand to turn the first page of the book. There were pictures of the first time I rode my skateboard, when I fell off and broke my leg. There was a picture of me in the hospital, surrounded by flowers and friends, with a laughing smile on my face. There was a picture of everyone signing my cast. I closed the book. Maybe that’s what I needed. I looked so happy in that picture, yet I was injured. Yes, it wasn’t as serious as this, and yes, I was only 6, but I could at least try, try to be happy.

I woke up the next morning with the scrapbook open on my lap, no covers on me. My parents weren’t there. I looked at the alarm clock and saw that the time was 9:00 AM. Something wasn’t right. My parents told me they would wake me up every morning. I crept out of my room and saw my mom sleeping peacefully in their bed, but my dad was gone. I shivered and crept down the staircase slowly, but stopped as I noticed my dad in a red robe standing by the window. I crouched to the ground and watched as my dad turned around. He was smoking a cigarette with a black tip. He dropped it to the ground and grounded it with his foot. He walked over to the computer and hesitantly began to type an email. Closing the computer, he headed towards the staircase. I tried to crouch lower so he wouldn’t see me, but it was too late. He gave me a look that had no definite expression, and saying nothing, he picked me up and carried me back into my room.

I’ve never seen my dad smoke before. I don’t really know what to think. What if…? No, I tell myself, pushing the thought away. I knew I needed something to distract me from life itself. Things were getting way too complicated. My mom slowly walks into my room and sits down next to me on my bed. She is silent and so am I. Then she wraps her arms around me and gives me a tight squeeze for no reason, or for every reason. She holds on tight, and when it seems like she will never let go, she does. She looks at me with a small smile and brushes my red hair away from my eyes. I watch as my mom walks over to my drawer and takes out a red sequined shirt and gold shorts. After helping me put them on, she leaves the room, still smiling in a strange way. She seems to be hinting for me to follow her, so I do. I follow her to the staircase, but then she steps aside allowing me to see… Lulu. Lulu. Lulu the angel. Lulu the perfect doll. Lulu, the girl with the long blonde hair. Lulu the perfect. Lulu the gentle. Lulu the sensitive. Lulu the sincere. Lulu, my best friend. I race down the stairs, while my mom looks at me in horror, worried I will trip and fall. Lulu runs to the bottom of the staircase to meet me, and we awkwardly hug, or at least try.

I wish I was ready, ready to talk, to tell Lulu everything, about my life, my problems, everything I’ve cried about and laughed about since I last saw her. Last saw her… My face changes from daylight to darkness. When I last saw her. At my piano recital. She hands me her rose bouquet, not understanding my change in mood. Red roses. My favorite. I throw them to the ground with my one hand, and run back upstairs. I don’t know what excuses my mom gave for my “rude behavior” to Lulu and her parents. I don’t know what time Lulu left, and I don’t know if she cried- but knowing Lulu, she probably did. I felt guilty right after it. I ran downstairs and clumsily picked up the roses. She had just been trying to be a good friend. I felt like my heart shattered like a stained glass window. I had been so rude… rude to my best friend. A little light bulb popped into my head. I ran into the kitchen where my mom was sitting. She got up right when I ran into the room. I stood and pointed to the fridge, so she opened it for me. I took out butter, flour, apricots, eggs, and milk, and then took grandma’s apricot pie recipe from the recipe box. I think my mom got the point from that. My mom started mixing the pie crust batter. I sighed. There was no way I could help after my accident. Suddenly, my mom handed me a wooden mixing spoon and told me to mix the batter. I looked at her confused. How could I use this with only one hand? My mom looked at me meaningfully and told me to try. I held onto the spoon with my hand and began to swirl the mixture in the bowl. A spark inside my soul lit up as the struggle to mix became easier. Maybe everything would be alright. If I could do this, who knows what else I could do.

Once the pie was done, the whole room smelled of sweet, hot apricots and crispy crust. I took it all in and cracked a hidden smile. My mom said that she would give the pie to Lulu’s mom the next day. The phone ring and my mom answered it. She handed the phone to me. It was Beatriz. Beatriz was my other best friend. She didn’t know about what had happened to me. I now know that Beatriz didn’t know that what she said would hurt me. I wish I could have realized it then. As I answered the phone, I pictured Beatriz sweeping her long black hair behind her shoulders and holding the phone, her nails painted bubblegum pink. Beatriz’s biggest fault had always been not knowing the difference between funny and mean. This wasn’t this time. This time, she would have understood why I hung up, if she had only known. When she started her sentence I knew it would result in disaster. Right after she said in a squealing excited voice that she got into the Juilliard young people’s orchestra. Beatriz was a great piano player too. She applied to the Juilliard young people’s orchestra as the piano player. She didn’t know that I applied too. After she said it, all my anger bubbled up to the top of my stomach and I slammed the phone down. Right after she said the words that took the smile off my face.

I stormed upstairs, my mom looking up at me confused after not hearing what I heard on the phone. So I guess I’m not good enough. I wouldn’t have even gotten in if I could play the piano. Beatriz would have been the piano player in any situation. I locked myself in my room not listening to my parents knocking on the door loudly asking me if I was ok. I was not ok. I began sobbing. I kicked my baby keyboard to the floor stepping on it, crying tears of red lava. All the keys fell out all over the floor, a tangle of white and black rectangles. That’s all they are, just stupid rectangles. Life is just a string of stupid keys. I ripped my piano posters from the walls, sent my trophies crashing to the ground, and threw all my ribbons away.

And then I smiled. All my piano worries and thoughts seemed to whisk away from my head. Not quickly, but slowly. Each thought taking its own time. I had nothing left anymore to remind me of what I used to love. I didn’t need piano anymore, I need something that I could use. I had to stop pretending as if my hand injury had never happened.  I knew it more than ever now. I could never play the piano again. And what surprised me about this was how happy I was. I felt like a burden, a weight came off my shoulders. I realized that I just need to find a way, just like I was for everything else. I had to find something else I could do, there had to be something that did not involve using my hand.

I raced out of my room and down the stairs.

“C#,” I said laughing.

I passed my parents looking at me wide-eyed as I ran by. I’m not really sure if they followed me, I wasn’t looking behind me. All I knew was that I had to try that pie. It was important that I did, after all I can’t bake if I’m bad at it. Something about that moment when my mom handed me the spoon and when I realized that I really could do things with my hand felt really magical. Maybe that’s what I’m looking for, a little magic. I didn’t know if I could be good at baking, if I could ever have a chance, but if I had never tried piano who knows where I would be now? Who knows if I would have realized that life is just a string of keys? There are high notes and low notes, but the most important thing is what you take them as. I’m not perfect, but I’m sure glad. I’m not saying that I wish I had my hand injury in the first place, but it’s the little moments, looking at my scrapbook, seeing my friends happy about things that I wanted, finding secrets I didn’t know about people in my family that really make life up. This is my story, what’s yours?

It Will Be Different Soon

You liked me more when I stood up to others

but less when I stood up to you

and I asked you why I was only allowed to

be strong at certain times

and you said that that’s just the way it is when you’re a girl

and I asked what about when I’m a woman

and you said that maybe it will be different then

 

And now I am older

and sometimes I think that maybe I am a woman now

and maybe now it will different for me

but then I get on the subway

and I have to switch train cars

because a man is yelling out obscenities

and telling me what he is going to put in me and where

and people on the train are telling me to get off

instead of telling him to stop

 

but then I go to the park

and a man shoves me down to the dirt

and sticks his hand down my pants

and I have to run as fast as I can

into the movie theater bathroom two blocks away

panting and feeling dirty outside and in

 

but then I go to school

and teachers like it when I am smart

and boys like it when I am sexy

but I can only choose one

because teachers wouldn’t like my crop tops

and boys wouldn’t like it if I had my nose in a book

 

and right now is the oldest I have ever been

and the youngest I will ever be

and I am reminded every day

that I am not a woman yet

because until the world is different

I will not be a woman

and that I will not be a woman

until the world is different

 

and if I am still a girl

why am I being treated like a piece of meat?

James Potter II and the Lake of Dreams

The story of James Potter II, Harry Potter’s son.

 

Chapter 1

 

“Mr. Potter.”

“Yes?”

“Do you know what you have done?!”

“Um… Well I just blew up the Slytherin commons and now it’s wet, but nothing that big.”

 

That’s me. And I am not HARRY Potter for those of you reading, I am James Potter II, his son. James Potter was my grandfather. It has been great having my dad be the famous Harry Potter. We get to enjoy more little things, such as treacle tarts. The hard part is that our weekends are taken up by Quidditch or signing at Diagon Alley. But before we get to the blown up Slytherin commons room, I need to start where we left off.

 

I’m riding the Hogwarts Express, the same one my dad rode for seven, no, five years. Of course, the Train is a lot older than him, but it became a tourist attraction after the defeat of the Dark Lord. But it is still being used for and to the way to Hogwarts. In my cabin are Teddy Lupin, Victoire Weasley, Frank Longbottom, Rose Weasley and Xavian Lovegood. Of course, these were all my dad’s friends’ children. Weasley, Longbottom, and Lovegood. We were forced to play with each other because our weekends were taken up by them. They each were famous, but since I was Harry’s son, I always got the most attention. Now, let me fast forward to when we got there.

 

When we arrived, we all left our compartments. The train looked like a normal train from the outside, so it could blend in. Platform 9 ¾ was blown up by Indian terrorists. Reconstruction of the Platform had started but not yet finished. From the inside, it was luxurious. Everything was made out of gold. The curtains were made out of gold silk, the walls were solid gold, the flooring was golden tiles, and the seats were made of gold fabric. Hogwarts was the best place I’ve ever been, almost. Nothing compares to home, I mean nothing. You know that feeling you get at home, but you can’t describe it? That’s why I like home. My dad always used to say that Hogwarts was his first real home, but now that Dudley was on his own, his house was way better. We go there every month, this was partially because Dudley didn’t know how to take care of his 6 year old daughter named Juliana, who was, ironically, a witch. (My dad thought this was funny considering their family history). I don’t know why he finds it funny, I don’t bother reading his books about his life. I can learn them from a firsthand account. Not those biased books such as Reeta Skeeter, Rita Skeeter’s own child. Okay, back to topic now. His second home was the Burrow, where he practically spent all breaks. We go there every Christmas, but I personally find it crowded. Not boring, just crowded. It still looks like the old Burrow, but a lot larger. With more money comes more… land. Mrs. Weasley wanted to have a bigger house than the one she lived in. The Burrow has expanded into an eight by nine miles piece of land, which has 72 square miles, FOR A HOUSE.  Then, there was another 166 square miles of mowed grass. With the very extended family, including the Delacours, Potters, Weasleys, Grangers, Hurgelsons, etc. There are about 100 people there on family reunions and 30 people normally. A house, even extending 72 square miles, for a house, looks like it is giving birth with 30 people inside.

 

When we reached Hogwarts, we entered the Great Hall. Professor McGonagall was the new headmistress. She had taken over Dumbledore’s seat.

“The four words of this year are: Sporcle, Gawp, Finnigan, and DUMBLEDORE!!” Everybody cheered at the last word. Everyone knew about how Dumbledore had kept He-who-must-not-be-named. Now he was honored as Order of the Morgan, even higher than Order of the Merlin. All of a sudden, I turned back to the table and gasped. The table was now filled with bowls of mashed potatoes, chicken, and foods I didn’t even recognize. The glasses were filled with pumpkin spice or butterbeer. The mood became festive, and everyone was filling their plates with food.

McGonagall said, ”Don’t try to take any food, our spells will tell us if you try to sneak food out. People always want a little… erm… midnight snack.”

To my left, Frank Longbottom, my friend and a third year said, “Someone will always try to take food out, make sure it isn’t you. Doxies will move in and then destroy your place. Then they have to clean it out and that costs House points and a few Galleons.”

 

I moved around, sitting next to people who had to see the famed James Potter II, Harry’s son. People kept asking me to sit next to them. In the end, I sat next to Teddy, Victoire, Rose, and Darwin. Darwin was my friend, he was a first year (just like me) and he didn’t just like me because of fame. That was one of the downsides of having a famous dad, everyone wanted to be your friend in order to share the fame. He didn’t know that I was famous when we first met. We became best friends, comparing our favorite Magick cards, the best card game around.

 

When we were all finished eating, more food appeared. The desserts included treacle tart, steak and kidney pudding, tripe, and a few more varieties.

“What is this?” I asked, poking at a jelly like dessert that kept jiggling.

“That’s Jumping Jon’s special, broccoli gelly.” answered Darwin. I frown. “Oh, I keep forgetting you’re Wizard-born. Broccoli is a vegetable and jelly is like treacle tart, but with no flavor.”

“Who would eat that? I eat wizard foods.” I asked. Darwin shrugged and took a bite of treacle tart. By the time dessert had finished, 16 people had thrown up, 12 had turned into frogs, and 8 people had been breathing fire (courtesy of Fred and George Weasley’s Joke shop). Of course, the fire set the tables aflame but with a few aguamenti, the fires were easily put out.

 

McGonagall looked unsurprised, she just said, “It’s time for the Sorting!” This stopped all the commotion, except for the burning fires on the Slytherin tables.

Aqua Eructo!” shouted Kunok, the Head of the Slytherin’s, who have become a “civilized bunch” according to his dad. “Now, with no further interruptions, let’s begin the Sorting!”

Everyone burst into cheers, except the first years. Darwin and I just sat there, wondering what House we would be sorted into. We both wanted Gryffindor but we were not sure what we would be Sorted into. The Sorting Hat was on a stool that magically appeared. Everyone waited for the Sorting Hat to start singing, but it didn’t. Talking starts again, all about the same subject: What happened to the Sorting Hat? Rose said, “What happened? Will we be Sorted? What if we can’t? What if we have to leave this year? What if we can’t start? What if we have to start next year?” Leave it to Rose to find the worst case scenario.

“Enough with the what-if’s” I told her.

“Everyone, calm down!” Headmistress McGonagall said. “The Sorting Hat seems to be out of function, we will be Sorting everyone by the old tests!” The whole Hall erupted in groans and mutters.

“Test?!” everyone shouts, but none louder than the first years. McGonagall whacked her table with her wand, which had turned into  a ruler. Everyone quieted down, the smack was magically amplified. “I wish for all non first years to leave the hall, when they are finished testing, you can come back in.”

“What do you think the tests will be like?” I asked Darwin and the rest of the others. They all shrugged. So far, the Sorting Hat had always been enchanted according to Hogwarts, a History.

“A book has failed her for the first time” whispered Teddy.

“Shut up” Rose said but she turned very red in the cheeks.

Instead of a test on a paper, they made an illusion of a situation, and based on how you acted to that situation, they placed you in your House.

“Potter, James” called out Professor Neville. I walked up, with butterflies in my stomach, and almost threw up a few times. But I got there.

Neville got straight to the point, “The test consists of three parts. In each part, you will need to react to the situation. The way you react will determine your House.” His face softened, “Ready? Remember this is not real.” I entered the room.

What I recommend for taking the Hogwarts House test: Don’t. Even when you have a wand and know a few spells, you’re most likely to go crazy. The first part is a real test. Like a write-on-a-scroll test with a timer that explodes if you don’t finish. It just has questions like, “What would do in this situation?” with a video picture on top. Some of them were about saving people, a no brainer. Others were about what flavor of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans you would prefer. I finish, barely. They give you 30 minutes to complete a 340 question test. Thankfully, they let us use Quick-Notes pens, which were related to Quick-Quotes Quills, but they were pens, and they just wrote what you said. So, instead of my hands being sore, my mouth was. They then gave me a break, about two minutes, which I used to drink water.

 

Tips on Part 2 of the test: Don’t even. Even with your wand and knowing a few spells, you’re most likely to go even more crazy. The second part of the House test was a simulation. They made things called semblances, which are actually illusions, made by a spell. This spell was illusio, which creates a semblance of your liking. I remember the time my dad cast one. The spell was hard, so hard my dad went unconscious for a few days. Of course we could have always bought a house elf, but my dad felt as if that was unjust. He had been fighting for elf rights when he was in Hogwarts. Back to the simulation. On my right hand side appeared a girl. On my left hand side appeared a dementor. The girl cried out, but I was paralyzed with fear. Dementors were the worst, after the fall of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Dementors were put back in Azkaban, but not as guards, they were in prison. Now semblances guarded them. My hand shaking, I shouted, “Expecto Patronum!” A weak silver hedgehog appeared, and quickly faded. My dad made me learn how to cast a Patronus because of his problems with them. The dementor sucked the happiness out of both of us. The world turned black, and the only thing I thought was, “Is this real?”

 

I woke up in the hospital wing. I saw on the table next to me get well cards from Darwin, Teddy, Victoire, and Rose. Along with them were a variety of treats. I started eating a Chocolate Frog. That made me feel better. Surprisingly, I wasn’t injured. Only my head hurt. Madame Pomfrey (the other Madame Pomfrey’s Daughter) saw me and said, “Good you’re awake.” She looked uncomfortable. “You….um….. have to go see Professor McGonagall, she needs to tell you your House and what class you’re supposed to be in.” My heart stopped, and then I groaned. I had forgotten that classes started the day after the Sorting.

 

I walked up to the Headmistress’s Office. The gargoyles immediately sprang up and  reveal the hidden staircase. I walk up the stairs and open the door…

Indigo Snow

This story is a fantasy about a solar system with only two planets. One is called Alasia, and the other is called Anesia. In this Universe, some people get magical powers. Everybody, however, has to prove that they are advanced enough to keep their power. They do this by getting the highest, or second highest, score on an exam that they take when they are 13. If you have a power, you get to live on Alasia. It is a much prettier planet with lots of high-paying jobs and good opportunities. Anesia is more like our world. There are some people who have lots of money and live very well, but most people are working-class. Nobody who lives there has a power. The form of government for this world is a monarchy. I hope that you enjoy this excerpt from the story!

 

Ember Wind

You can call me a triple agent.

I started hating Indigo before I even met her. She was basically a five-year-old celebrity. At first, I wanted to be just like her. Rich, famous, cool — but then I learned that it goes to your head. Manipulates your thoughts. Changes your attitude. Makes people always ready to criticize you.

I didn’t want that.

On the first day of school, everybody was surrounding Indigo and her family. They were saying how adorable she was in her little pigtails and bright pink dress. She shot out a little gust of snow and everyone clapped for her.

I was instantly jealous, along with every other student there.

But I knew what needed to be done. My parents told me to befriend her. I went along with it, because I was five so I hadn’t started to think for myself yet.

My parents went up to introduce themselves to her. As I was watching them, my dad pointed at me. Indigo and I made eye contact. I quickly looked away. As my parents come back over to me, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, thinking it was just a parent who had mistaken me as their child. It turned out that it was Indigo.

Indigo introduced herself to me. I was surprised by how intimidated I felt. I knew that she was a person. But when she asked me what my name was, I could barely remember it, let alone say it. I ended up replying so softly it was little more than a breath. Indigo had cocked her head and said, “What?”

I got over being intimidated. I hated the way that she’d said that. It made me feel judged and less than her.

All of my jealousy came out in that moment. I said my name so loudly that she was probably startled, but she didn’t show it. I continued to say that I already knew everything about her and already had a picture that she had autographed, so I had felt no need to come over and meet her.

She stared at me with a peculiar look on her face. “Do you want to come over to my house this weekend?”

The question took me by surprise. But my parents had told me to become friends with her. I rushed off to tell them.

They were both pretty excited for me. I was so happy to make them proud. They also told me to ask about Caprice Winters by working it into a conversation. I nodded. I didn’t actually know what they meant, but I decided to do my best.

After I became close friends with Indigo, my parents explained why they wanted me to be friends with Indigo. It was so that I would become best friends with Caprice, the princess of the Universe.

Most people don’t know this about me, but I have an identical twin sister, Emily. She doesn’t have a power. My family was devastated on the day we turned five. There was a one in a million chance that she wouldn’t get a power, and she was that unlucky millionth person. We didn’t want Emily to have to move away to Anesia.

My parents decided to hide her away. We are a pretty common family, and Emily and I didn’t have other friends, just each other. So, it wasn’t that hard. There is no real authority making sure that everyone without a power moves to Anesia. That’s just the way it’s always been. It’s an expectation, not a requirement. I’m sure that there have been other cases like this.

My parents’ plan was to influence Caprice’s family. Since they were royalty, they could easily bend the rules for my sister. They could give her a stable job here at Alasia that didn’t actually require a power, such as a tutor. It wouldn’t be that hard for them to do. Plus, since they knew it would be hard for Caprice to make friends at school, they figured that she would be very loyal to me and help persuade her parents.

I had to pretend to be friends with Indigo for months before we did anything with Caprice. When the day came, my parents were overjoyed to hear that Caprice’s parents would be there too. My parents couldn’t come, but they had me put on my fanciest dress and told me to be on my best behavior.

“This is our chance, sweetie. Don’t blow it,” they said.

It turned out that we were just having a picnic. Caprice was in a dress much nicer than mine. She was very kind and had the best manners a five-year-old could possibly have.

That’s when I learned how the stuffed animal incident between Caprice and Indigo had really affected them. They obviously hated each other. Caprice was jealous and mad at Indigo, even though on TV Caprice’s apology looked so real.

It ended up getting really complicated. Whenever Indigo and I would talk, Caprice would interrupt Indigo and ask me a question. She completely abandoned all of her polite manners. It was very hard for me as a five-year-old. I didn’t know who to answer, Caprice or Indigo. If I answered Caprice, Indigo would get mad and wouldn’t invite me along to events with the royal family. If I answered Indigo, Caprice would get mad and not help Emily.

Luckily, the parents noticed what was going on. For being such wealthy people, they seemed to care a lot about a middle-class girl who was in an awkward situation. Or maybe they just wanted to uphold their reputation as genuine people.

The queen herself comforted me. It felt like a dream, almost. I never thought that this would ever happen to me. Then she made Caprice apologize to Indigo and me for being rude. She also invited me to come over to their house in a few days since Caprice wanted to spend time with me.

When I told my parents everything that had happened, they gave me a big hug. “You’re such a great twin sister,” they told me. “Emily is so lucky to have you. Now, be sure to be on your best behavior in the palace. And try to enjoy yourself, sweetie.”

I nodded. I was so excited to go to the royal home. They never did tours of it, and only super wealthy people could go in. So, if you managed to get in, there were always people asking you about it. It would be so nice to be the center of attention for once.

I could barely contain my excitement for the next four days. I could hardly pay attention to my level one wind studies class. Luckily, the teacher was used to five-year-olds having off days or weeks. She didn’t really care that much.

Finally, it was the day. My parents drove me over to the castle. We spent about 15 minutes going through security. They took my parents’ ID cards and triple checked that the queen had made the reservation. Eventually, we made it through.

We drove up to a huge parking lot. It wa filled with limousines and parts of the motorcade, but it was easy to find an empty spot.

My parents each took one of my hands as we walked up the front steps. My mom knocked on the front door. A man wearing a tuxedo opened the door. “Right this way,” he said as he directed us down the long hallway.

I looked all around me as I walked through the entrance hall. It felt like being inside of a kaleidoscope. There was glass everywhere, in all of the colors of the rainbow. There were paintings of past kings and queens that I recognized from a history book. As I walked, I could feel the plush carpet tickling my feet through my sandals. It felt like walking on a red cloud. I looked up, and there was a magnificent chandelier, glittering as it caught the multi-colored light coming in through the glass windowpanes.

It was beautiful.

It Was An Odd Beast

“It was an odd beast,” the York family said when their dog came back in the house with a blue looking animal all chewed up. The dog, Cammy, was wagging her tail as if nothing happened. The family did not know what to do, blood was all over the floor from this strange looking beast the dog had chewed up. The family called a specialist, but he said that he had never seen anything like this before. The family cleaned it all up before the dog started chewing it up more. They were a bit scared, especially for the dog, because what if the animal was poisonous? The mother of the family called the vet, even though he probably couldn’t do that much because nobody in Connecticut or the world had ever experienced this animal before.

That night they were all too scared to go to bed. In the middle of the night they heard something outside. They all froze to listen. It sounded like birds chirping, except worse. Finally they looked outside and saw hundreds of the beasts that the dog had chewed up. They were all the size of a duck, but were bright blue in the shape of a frog with teeth. They were so scared because there were hundreds of them. The father asked very nervously, “Where did they all come from?” The little girl and boy, Allie and Sam, did not know. They just hid under the covers in their parents’ room.

Then the mom asked, “Where did the dog go?”

They all said “Oh no!” and headed downstairs to see if he was in his bed, but he was not there! They were so scared. Then the father looked out the window and saw the weird looking beasts all huddling around something that looked brown and white!

The dad screamed, “That’s our dog!”

The mother looked confused and said, “What are you talking about?”

The dad, almost speechless, just pointed out of the window to show her the beasts crowding the dog.

The mom said, “What should we do!? We need to keep the kids inside before they see the dog because they will start crying.”

“I need to go get him,” said the father.

He grabbed a kitchen knife and slowly opened the door.

“Be careful honey!” said the mother.

“I will,” said the father.

As he stepped outside, the beasts looked straight at him and all ran away except for one that headed straight towards him, as if he were about to bite on to him, but as he saw the knife heading towards him he ran away toward the group. The dog was finally free, but his hair was all messed up from the beasts biting him. He was shaking and looked out into the distance where the beasts had run off to. The father picked him up to go inside. The mother was shocked, and thankful nobody was hurt. The mother didn’t even recognize the dog because of his fur that was all tangled and wet from the beasts’ mouths. The stayed up all night with the dog to make sure he was ok, but he fell asleep and so did they eventually.

The next morning the dog looked so bad and dirty that they took her to the groomer. The groomer was shocked, but said, “She’ll look good when it’s done.”

Harry, the Guy who Took Being Ironic into an (Ironic) Art Form

 

Chapter 1: The Irony Begins

Harry sat in his room in Portland, ironically watching Shrek the Third and ironically listening to In the Aeroplane over the Sea. On his wall ironically hung posters depicting Nicolas Cage. In his wardrobe, ironically, were flannel shirts, tapered pants, and beanies. Harry was, ironically, a freelance writer. Harry flipped open his ironic Macbook and began to ironically type a rant on an Internet message board about how In the Aeroplane over the Sea was terrible. He was, ironically, typing in Comic Sans. Shrek the Third and In the Aeroplane over the Sea still ironically playing, he began to ironically read Homestuck on the Internet, his fingers ironically in the WASD position.

As In the Aeroplane over the Sea reached its close, Harry walked over to his ironic vinyl record player and, ironically, began to play his ironic bootleg of the John Cena theme song. Literally half of the limited space in his ironically minimalistic apartment was taken up by his ironic vinyl collection.
Sometimes, Harry ironically wished he was bald, so that even his name would be ironic. He ironically decided to shave his head. He walked into his cramped bathroom and opened up the medicine cabinet, removing his ironic straight razor and some shaving cream. I don’t know exactly how you shave because I’m only twelve years old, but anyway Harry shaved his head. Unfortunately, he ended up with a lot of cuts on his head. Rapidly losing blood, he ironically called for an UberX because he was an ironic freelance writer and couldn’t afford a car. He had passed out the second he got into the car, but not before making an ironic comment about how it was fifteen minutes late.

After stepping out of the Uber at the hospital, he was hit by an ambulance. He passed out again, but not before appreciating the irony of the situation.

He woke up in an ICU, after which the nurse revealed he had been in a coma for three weeks, during which they had performed extensive surgery. The nurse showed him what he now looked like in the mirror. Harry screamed, but not because of the permanent, brutal scarring on his head.

He had forgotten his ironic beanie.

He used his ironic made-up style of martial arts to ironically throw the nurse out of the window and escape the room. He was only on the ground floor, so the nurse climbed back through the window and chased after Harry. How ironic.

After escaping the building and wincing in pain from his recent surgery from which he had not yet recovered, he ironically stole a smart car and floored the gas pedal. He had to get to his ironic beanie before it was too late. He ironically looked down and noticed that he was wearing a hospital gown. He wasn’t even wearing his ironic flannel shirt! Now he really had to get to his apartment. At least his ironic lensless glasses and curly mustache were intact.

While ironically driving on a road that wound through a forest, a deer jumped in front of the ironic smart car. Regretting that he had to take a life, but ironically determined to reclaim his ironic clothing, he ironically kept driving.

Harry woke up on the side of the road in the burning debris of the smart car. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the deer run away unharmed. He ironically resolved to ironically hate poorly constructed smart cars for the rest of his life. Still determined to reach his apartment, he ironically ran down the road until the soles of his ironic bowling shoes wore out and he stepped on a rusty nail, contracting tetanus.

At least he had made it out of the forest. Now he was within about a mile of his shabby apartment, which was only maybe a half step up from his parents’ basement, in which he had ironically lived only the previous year. Ironically flagging down another UberX, he gave the driver the directions to his apartment.

After stumbling into his apartment, he immediately and ironically put on his beanie and flannel shirt. He almost felt the power surging through his body.

Which wasn’t actually power, but spasms resulting from his tetanus.

Ironically, Harry fell to the floor unconscious.

Waking up in the hospital for the second time in one day, he was immediately put back to sleep by the same nurse he had thrown out the window. Before falling back into unconsciousness, Harry had just enough time to be amused by the irony of the situation.

When he woke up again, Harry was alone in the room. He thought about how ironic it was that he had been knocked out five times and counting in the space of just three weeks. He noticed a small speaker with an iPod connected to it. Ironically, Harry began to play Death Cab for Cutie. As Harry ironically looked out the window, he noticed a speck in the sky. Squinting through his ironic lensless glasses, he noticed that the speck was getting steadily larger. Harry didn’t have the time to appreciate any irony to be found in the situation, because that speck was an atom bomb, ironically launched by the Russian government.

Chapter 2: The Electric Boogaloo (Too Ironic to Live, Too Ironic to Die)

When Harry woke up again, it was in a tangled pile of metal that used to be the hospital bed. Ironically gazing into the distance, he saw a slowly rising mushroom cloud against a red-orange sky. Heh, red sky and Russians. Ironic.

So, he ironically thought, I guess Fallout is real. If that truly was the case, he would need some bottle caps. His alcoholic neighbor Dave would surely have those in abundance. Ironically heading to his apartment, he met a few lucky survivors, alive but irradiated. They passed a rumor among themselves that what was left of the US government was initiating secret emergency plan W.E.E.A.B.O.O., which involved asking the Japanese government for help. How ironic, thought Harry ironically, while ironically wondering what “W.E.E.A.B.O.O.” stood for. Sounds like something out of a Marvel movie. Ironically piecing it together through snippets of conversation, he learned that “W.E.E.A.B.O.O.” stood for absolutely nothing but a few government strategists thought it would be funny. Now that’s ironic.

He kept walking through the ruins of Portland, seeing dead hipsters everywhere, ironically worrying that he would encounter some kind of mutated monster. After reaching the place his apartment building used to be, he ironically observed that it had been torn out of its foundation and had landed some four blocks away. Thankfully, the dumpsters were still where he ironically remembered them to be. He started ironically digging through the trash until he had what he ironically felt was a sufficient number of bottle caps, around five hundred. Boy, was Dave’s alcoholism a livesaver.

He ironically looked up just in time to notice another atom bomb. Quickly (and ironically) jumping through The Waffle Window, he miraculously and very ironically survived yet again, but not after being knocked unconscious for, what, like, the seventh time? If Harry was conscious enough, he would probably appreciate the irony.

After waking up yet again, this time in the wreckage of The Waffle Window. He ironically set off to find a group of survivors he could stay with. After finding a group of about ten people, he attempted to buy food with his bottle caps, but nobody wanted them because nobody had played Fallout and they all thought he was weird.

After walking through the ruins of Portland for another few hours, failing to find any more groups of survivors, Harry ironically realized that after being knocked out seven times, he had probably contracted some kind of brain damage by now, not to mention his tetanus and probable irradiation. To take his mind off of his impending doom, he ironically wondered if the US government was in any way still intact, and, if so, were they initiating operation W.E.E.A.B.O.O.?

All this and more on the next episode of Dragon Ball Z,” ironically thought Harry, with a slight and ironic grin.

The group eventually (and ironically, thanks to Harry) decided that they would need to find shelter. They decided to split up in a small area and call to the others if they found anything. Ironically, Harry began to walk around and look for suitable shelter, ironically looking up just in time to see a falling i-beam.

Ha, got you for a second there. Bet you thought Harry was gonna get knocked out again. Well, you’re wrong.

Ironically grateful that he had dodged the falling i-beam, he ironically noticed that it had fallen from a mostly intact two-floor rowhouse. The front door had been torn apart by the explosion, so he walked through to see if it could house the group. He walked upstairs to ironically check out the second floor, when, ironically, he walked onto a part of the floor made unstable by the blast and fell through into the ground floor, falling on his head and ironically knocking himself out for the eighth time in three weeks.

He woke up just in time to hear that one of the survivors was calling the rest of the group over. He ironically rushed over and learned that he had found shelter in the form of a mostly intact McDonald’s. Ironically disgusted to have to stay in someplace so mainstream, he wanted to refuse, but, ironically, realized there was no other choice. He walked in through the doors and decided to see if he could scavenge a McFlurry. No matter how mainstream it was, Harry could always enjoy a McFlurry. It was one of the few things he enjoyed unironically, besides the act of being ironic itself. Ah, irony.

His fellow survivors claimed there wasn’t enough room in the McDonald’s, so they made Harry sleep on the roof. Harry began to ironically reflect. He wondered if it was his constant irony that made others alienate and dislike him.

Nah, he ironically thought, that couldn’t possibly be it.

Careful not to cut yourself on your edginess there, Harry.

Ironically, it wasn’t his edginess that was hurting him, but really his brain damage, steadily worsening tetanus, and now almost definite irradiation. Now if he could just find a way to be ironic about that. Then it hit him. He could be really ironic…by not being ironic at all. By deviating from his old personality, even he himself could be ironic!

It was brilliant. Even more brilliant than his ironic experimental ambient noise band, Injected Marmalade and the Instant Pity. No, wait, thought Harry. I have to stop being ironic. As he slowly fell into an unironic sleep, he resolved to be unironic for the rest of his life.

And then immediately forgot about it in the morning.

Chapter 3: F  E  E  L    T  H  E    V  A  P  O  R

Harry woke to the sound of incredibly loud vaporwave music. Marveling at how ironic that was, he set out to find the source. Being half-asleep, however, he forgot he was on the roof and fell off, knocking himself out. Again. When he woke up, the music was still playing. He decided to find the source, assuming it was a group of survivors. He also elected to abandon his group in favor of whoever was playing the vaporwave, because, whoever they were, they were probably a lot more ironic.

Oddly, he managed to pin down the location of the music’s source within the space of about one block, but it took him an hour or so to find where it was precisely. He finally found it within a very ironic restaurant, which he recognized. It was one of those places with an incredibly tiny menu and no custom orders. Good sign. Whoever was camped out here was maybe even more ironic than he was. He turned a corner and saw someone hunched over an iPod, hooked up to an absurdly (and ironically) large speaker.

“Hello?” Harry asked the person, carefully and a little nervously. The person’s neck turned around so fast Harry could swear he heard it crack. He immediately realized the person looked exactly like him. This “fake” Harry let out a piercing scream and the room went dark.

Harry wanted to panic but couldn’t speak. Then, suddenly, a flash of color appeared around him, and he felt like he was flying. Weird faces he didn’t recognize appeared and disappeared all around him, and suddenly, he was in space, flying around and through planets, into and out of galaxies, until he reached the end of the universe. All of a sudden, the vaporwave music started playing again, and the infinite stars and planets of space slowly faded away.

He was in the hospital bed. The nurse, after knocking him out, had given him twice the normal dose of sedative drugs. He had only just woken up. It took him a few moments to process his surroundings. He looked out the window. No atom bomb, no post-apocalyptic wasteland. The vaporwave was coming from the small Bluetooth speaker next to his bed, subliminally affecting his dream.

It was then that he finally remembered what he was thinking on the roof of the McDonald’s in his dream. He had been ironic for so long that he was too predictable. By doing something extremely unpredictable, he could be the most ironic man in the world. And the only truly unpredictable thing he could do was to stop being ironic.

By being unironic, he could be even more ironic.

And in truth, he had already begun. Notice how I haven’t written the word “ironic” as much in the past few paragraphs. He just didn’t know it yet. Lying in the hospital bed there, he resolved to buy some normal clothes and burn his flannel shirts and tapered pants. He resolved to at least reduce the size of his vinyl collection. To stop pretending he enjoys professional wrestling. To stop typing in Comic Sans. To stop watching Shrek. To stop using obscure Internet message boards. To maybe even move out of Portland.

To become unironic.

And by doing that, he achieved his goal of becoming the most ironic person in the world.

EPILOGUE

And then Harry died of anemia because his blood wasn’t iron-y enough. *Ba dum tss*

Flower Poem

A mirror stood in a dark, cold room

and displayed the image of a wilted flower.

Its petals gray and worn,

its stem weak and limp.

As the minutes passed,

it lost the little color it had,

and lost the little structure it had.

In front of the mirror stood a young, vibrant, firm flower

who looked at its reflection in dismay.

Although the flower was young and vibrant,

within seconds, it turned gray and crumbled.

There lay a dead, wilted flower,

with nothing to blame but a mirror.

What remained of the flower laid on the cold, hard floor,

and the mirror stood in the cold, dark room.

Dreams and Silence

The moon awakens to my feet

Who gently part the weaving wheat

Ahead, the shattered light of trees

Their branches seem to tug at me

 

No longer can I glimpse the glow

Of rooftop white with blowing snow

And here, the moon knives through the night

The leaves like puppets in the light

 

My shoes they stop where pastures end

And ghostly grove meets riverbend

Beyond, there’s only dreams and snow

And silence

Evanescence

I have often found that

serendipity

is fleeting

(or perhaps even false).

One might say they have stumbled upon a little oasis

dotted with flowers and interspersed with

birdsongs

but even then can

mundane cacophony be heard,

(i.e., cars and people),

and those are all significantly louder than a

serene wind.

They were probably looking for it, anyway,

which ruins the sentiment.

it’s deciduous,

ephemeral,

false.

 

I once went to try and find something

serendipitous

(which contradicts the very nature of it all, but –

no matter)

and I couldn’t find it by listening to the birds

or gazing upon the trees —

they’re everywhere.

but I did find a sock,

draped neatly over a tree branch.

and it was frayed and sordid,

but I most certainly did not expect it to be there.

and perhaps it was not too beautiful,

but it gave off an essence of tranquility,

of mystery,

that someone was there once before me.

 

once, I saw a contest, run by the dictionary

and it was to take a picture that defined a word.

and so someone submitted one and it was a little flower,

growing in concrete and they called it:

serendipity

and if I’d taken a picture of a ragged sock in a tree

and defined it like so

I doubt I would have won anything

but still,

I found a tattered sock,

placed in a tree,

and called it serendipitous.

 

It was surely unexpected.

 

Dogtags

No one ever asked where he got them. No one ever questioned why Aiken Ross wore a pair of dog tags on a chain around his neck. They were perfectly normal, as far as tags go. Silver-finished, slightly scuffed, tarnished around the edges. Normal… but not quite, since the tags were perfectly smooth, bearing no name or address, no hints of his past. It was as if he’d dreamed them into existence.

Laken used to stare at those tags for hours. Well, not hours, but to her hyperactive mind, each minute was a century. She was always bugging Aiken for answers, pacing alongside him with that tantalizing smirk, pulling his hair, poking his cheeks. At age nine, she already knew where she was going, yet Aiken refused to address what little authority she possessed. This just made her try harder.

“So where’d you get those tags from?”

“Not important, Lakes.”

“Aw, c’mon…tell me.”

“No.”

“Tell me.”

“Rosseau. You never give up, do you?”

“Ha, you wish.”

“You really wanna know?”

“With every bone in my body, Ross.”

“Fine.” And he’d throw her over his shoulder while she cackled madly, cursing him out while trying to kick him in the stomach.

True love, right?

Laken rubbed the tags between her fingers, remembering. After being pressed against Aiken’s chest for hours, the metal was still warm, as if it had its own heartbeat. “Hey, Aik?”
She sat on his chest, legs folded like the well-mannered girl she most certainly was not. Aiken pretended to ignore the eighty pounds of insanity leaving a child-size dent in his ribcage. “What’s up?”

Upon hearing his voice, Laken glanced down at him with a peculiar little smile. “Am I hurting you? Good,” she said without giving him time to answer. “When am I gonna get your tags?”

“How about… never.”

Laken rolled her eyes. “Dude, I’m serious.” She reached for the necklace again. “Are you gonna–”

“Stop,” he said sternly, swatting her hand away. Actually, it was more of a smack than a swat. But that validation only encouraged Laken more; she stuck out her tongue and continued to grab for them.

“Let me have them!”

“Not gonna happen!” Aiken shouted, rolling onto his stomach. Laken squealed and tried to squirm away. “Give up now?”

It almost seemed cruel to treat a kid like that. But Laken was tough. Aiken always said she’d grow up to be fearless, just as he’d intended. Then nothing in the world could hurt her.

In the end, Aiken got what she wanted. And Laken did too.

She was the one to slide the necklace over Aiken’s head, then hold it in the air like a prize. She was the one, with that same *** smirk, to slip it onto her own neck, declaring herself king. The new ruler. The guardian angel. And she didn’t cry once.

Now, Laken fingers the tags as they knock against her collarbone, wishing she were as numb as she used to be. She’ll never admit it, but at the moment, crying doesn’t seem so bad.

Domino

Objects are triggers that fire guns down memory lane and into our hearts, reminding us who we are and why we are here today. Most people look at an old watch or an elegant necklace owned by an ancestor and weep with melancholy. Others will look at pictures of their childhood, still innocent of the evils in the world, and feel the happiness surge through their body. What would I do with these priceless objects? Find out if they are worth anything and sell them to my sister to make a profit. I don’t have many things that trigger vivid memories of a war scene or childhood; maybe a few stuffed animals that piece together parts of my earlier years. But there is one thing that brings back a flood of joy, sadness and all of the other feelings from the movie Inside Out: a doormat of a chicken. The bold colors on the feathers of red, yellow and blue are slowly fading due to dirty shoes, stains from drinks and age. But every time I leave the house, the doormat picture of a calm chicken reminds me of a pet chicken named Domino. Like falling dominoes, she tumbled her way into my heart and pushed me through a wild adventure.

It was the end of another Northeastern winter with Jack Frost taking a summer break from his annoying position to bite my nose. The spring of 2013 was cold, not as cold as this year’s winter, but enough to keep my parents complaining about moving somewhere warmer.

However, an unexpected guest warmed our hearts: Domino. She was a small ball of fluff, arriving at our doorstep in a cardboard box. A month before Domino’s arrival, my best friend Jonathan went to a chick festival. At the celebration, farmers gave out spring chicks while bundled up in down jackets. Jonathan waited in line with 50 degree weather and received ten chirping babies, ready to explore their new world.

But the new world welcomed baby chicks’ harshly with cold temperatures and voracious predators. After two weeks, four chicks died to the cold. However, Jonathan was happy with six adorable chicks running around their pen. Coincidentally, I was having a sleepover when another five chicks died. It was 7:00 a.m. and Jonathan and I woke up to the sound of shrieking squawks.This alarmed Jonathan as he went to wake up his grumpy dad, who wondered if whatever happened was more important than his beauty sleep.

However, the moment Jonathan’s dad saw the chick pen, he knew he could sacrifice his beauty sleep for more wrinkles and gray hairs. Some fox had discovered a surplus of yellow protein snacks, leaving a pile of blood in Jonathan’s chick pen. The fox must have been hungry because four chicks were missing. In addition, another chick tried to escape under a crack of the house, but suffocated himself in the process. So, if the human race knows how to subtract, they’d know that there was only one chick left: Domino.

The chick pen’s puddles of blood and stench of death signaled for Jonathan’s parents to make a decision. It was a rather quiet breakfast as everyone felt remorse for the dead chicks.

Jonathan and I were chewing on our pancakes while Jonathan’s parents were thinking about their options for Domino. But before they considered making the chicken a dish on the dinner table, I said something that would change my life forever. “Can Domino stay at my house?”

So Jonathan and his parents decided it would be better for his chick to stay at my house. Usually, my parents would forbid any other animal other than my family to live on our property. But Domino was the exception; she brought poop and nostalgia to our backyard. My Dad and my Grandma remembered living in China with crazy chickens running across the village, and they thought they could handle one more. Back then, my Grandma and Dad lived in a poor village and there were no chicken coops being built. Domino still ended up driving my dad crazy; he pecked at the new lawn seeds my dad planted. No wonder our lawn had patches of dirt that summer. However, it was my sister and I who took care of Domino, so my parents weren’t the ones getting gray hairs from chicken poop or clawed grass.

My sister, Joyce, fell in love with Domino the moment she saw the tiny creature. At the time, she was 8 and any pet, no matter how weird, was the best present ever. Every day, Joyce would take Domino out of his “pen” (a fence) and allow him to run around in the yard. She would give Domino food when he was hungry and listened to my Grandma’s instructions on how to take care of chickens. All of that time paid off, and after two weeks, Domino liked my sister the best. I was extremely jealous, because my siblings and I would always fight over favorites. But I couldn’t do anything about it because if I tried to pick up Domino, she would squawk, try to fly away and claw me. After one month, Domino was becoming a big chicken. And just as parents talk about their children, my sister remembers Domino as a fast growing animal. “They grow up too fast!” my sister would say.

Despite being a chicken, Domino is extremely smart. She knows who is who and forbids anyone from picking her up besides my sister.

When my sister comes home, she runs towards her and squawks happily. And when I approach Domino, she gets extremely defensive unless I have food in my hand. But Domino was getting older and roaming farther afield and she needed a safer place to stay. My Grandma was going to stay with my cousins’ for a while and she could keep an eye on him. It was safer at my cousins house because they didn’t have a forest surrounding their home, so there was no chance of a fox prowling around for a snack.

After two months at my cousins’ house, Domino came back home. My sister was overjoyed, but not for long. After a few days of setting up Domino’s home, the chicken died. The problem was we put him near the fans outside the house that control the air conditioning. So when we turned on the thermostat, the fans outside made a loud noise, and Domino was frightened. She panicked too much and stuck her head through the fence, choking herself to death. My sister saw what happened and was trying to get our attention, but none of us were listening. After 20 minutes of screaming, my sister dragged my grandma outside to see what was happening. It was too late. Domino was gone.

That day was one of the saddest days for my sister. Being eight years old, the death of a pet closer than a dog was heartbreaking. She cried non-stop during the burial of Domino and the remembrance of the best chicken ever. She was our Domino, the only pet chicken in the county. The worst part was that the day Domino died was the day she was about to lay her first egg.

In my lifetime, I’ve always had problems with pets. From smelly hamsters to boring fish, my history of pets have always ended badly. But Domino was different. Domino became a special part of our family, using her feet to dig into our hearts. To this day, we have a placemat at our door of a chicken. For Domino.

Dian’s Misadventures

Dian groaned at the florescent lighting, a small, black puff writhing from the awakening from his dream, which had starred a peculiar adventure with a pigeon. They had munched New York hotdogs, snuck into an art gallery, and were smack in the middle of a Daring Escape from an evil animal shelter owner. But as Dian groggily blinked his cerulean eyes, it was clear to him that he was still at Manhattan Kittens, in his little clear box, with his boring, uneventful siblings, the Grey Tom kitten and the Dark Striped Female kitten. They were up to their usual time-passing, lying down and playing with their toys: a battered plush mouse that jangled and a few inches of some maroon yarn. It kept them content, but Dian longed for some excitement. Perhaps there was a pigeon waiting outside the window? Maybe he had sat there for weeks, months, waiting for him? Perhaps it had watched him for a while, saw that he was different from the others, and had forever longed to get to know him? Dian knew, of course, that there was none, but it was disappointing nonetheless to glance out the window and see the sidewalk barren of any potential companion.

“Hey, you. What are you looking out that window for? It never changes,” inquired Dark Striped kitten.

“Nor does anything here,” Dian replied dolefully.

“And you can call me Dian.” Dark Striped looked at him as if he had asked her to refer to him as Twinkleton Bluebottom Ceculous The Third.

“Why?” she queried, puzzled.

“We’ll all get proper names when we’re adopted,” Dark Striped stated it as if being adopted was having dinner arrive.

“But when I was younger–” Dian declared. “When I was like an hour old, someone picked me up by my scruff and said that I was dark as obsidian”

“Are you sure? And even if that story happened, so what? That doesn’t mean Dian is your name.” Dark Striped was stubborn that way. She was perfectly satisfied with lazing around, playing with jingling toy mice, but always had to be correct and practical about things like this. There was no  “Maybe there is something odd and mysterious out there,” or “We should go exploring!” for Dian’s sister.

“What’s obsidian?” Grey Tom had just awoken from his morning nap, his plump belly sprawled across the bedding like a grey, furry puddle.

“I-I think it’s some kind of rock. Someone once came in here with something around their neck that had a shiny rock on it, and someone asked if it was obsidian.” As Dian said this he began to ponder his namesake. Sure, there was the one occasion with the shiny rock, but were there people named Obsidian? Other cats? Dian sighed as he gazed aimlessly out the foggy window. Raindrops dripped down the window, as Dian watched the umbrella-holding New Yorkers, dashing from here to there, all having somewhere to go. Something to do. At that moment, Dian’s ears pricked up, as the bell that hung above the door jangled. At the kitten sticker adorned door stood a tall, thin man in a scruffed leather jacket.

“Um, hello, would you by any chance have a terrier-sized blue sparkly dress I could borrow?” The stranger’s odd request had not gone unnoticed, for the volunteer at the register looked as if he had asked if anyone had seen a ghost named Joseph holding gardening shears.

“Sir, we mostly cater to cats here, and I don’t believe we sell any clothing items for pets.”

Dian was intrigued by the curious stranger, and couldn’t keep a straight face while watching the conversation.

“I see…” The odd guest pursed his lips in thought. “How about a bow?”

The woman at the register gave a look of shock mingled with hidden laughter.The curious kitten was watching the comical event with wide eyes and open ears. As the volunteer told him that there were in fact no sparkly garments of any kind for sale at Manhattan Kittens, the peculiar man nodded and rushed out. Dian was surprised, to say the least, for anyone who came into Manhattan Kittens was almost always a young child and a parent, or if they came alone, an orderly-looking woman. Never had he seen anyone with messy hair, a jacket that looked as if it had been given to an angry Persian cat, wild eyes, and a request of a dress for a terrier. What even was a terrier? As Dian wondered this, he noticed a tall figure who seemed to be talking to a small dog out the window. An excited and curious Dian craned his neck to see that it was Terrier Dress Man. He was pacing, worriedly, and talked, seemingly, to the small dog. Dian wished badly to hear what he was saying, and pressed his ear to the glass of his box.

More people came in Manhattan Kittens, some with children. Dian didn’t get ecstatic like the other kittens, he was wise enough to know that he wasn’t cute and playful enough to be wanted by children, and not graceful and elegant enough for older adults to want him. It usually didn’t bother him, but lately he began to wonder what would happen to him. Was he doomed to stay in the clear box forever? Would he be kitten-napped by some villain to be stroked on his lap in an evil lair? But Dian didn’t have time to worry about that, he had to think of a plan to do something drastic, something big, something adventurous.

Okay, so after I start to meow and whine, somebody is bound to come to the box. Dark Stripes and Grey Tom will be deep in their pre afternoon rest nap, so they won’t be a bother. After a volunteer picks me up and tries to see the problem, I leap out and make a dash for the door.

Dian knew it was risky, he knew it was dangerous, but he knew it was the only way he would ever get out of the clear box. He found himself becoming a bit downcast at the thought of leaving Manhattan Kittens forever. Finally, Dian had mustered up all the courage in his little heart, and began to meow. Not those little, cutesy mews that other kittens give, loud, screeching yowls that everyone in Manhattan Kittens found quite bothersome. A volunteer quickly rushed over, and grabbed Dian by his dark fluffy scruff. Dian hadn’t been held by a person ever since he was given his name. He could feel the rough fabric used to make the Manhattan Kittens tee, the psychedelic sky blue of the shirt and the yellow letters reading MANHATTAN KITTENS giving him a mild headache.

He quickly tried to squirm out of the volunteers arms, and glanced out the window to see Terrier Dress Man still pacing and jabbering on to the unsuspecting dog. The volunteer began to scold Dian, and placed him back in the box, closing the lid. Dian let out a frustrated cry, and pouted around the box.

“Why can’t they realize I need to leave?” Dian began to let out his anger on a sleepy Grey Tom. “It’s like they can’t even think of anything other than themselves!” The mild throbbing in Dian’s head started to feel less like a quiet bell and more like a person with a hammer had taken up residence in his head. He really felt like sulking and having a good long rant, but he so badly wanted to escape. Just then, he heard a mew followed by an awww. He looked around and saw a small, fluffy, dark grey kitten being held by a little girl. The kitten buried its little head in her jacket, as the girl gave a pleading look at her mother, who let out an exasperated sigh and asked a nearby volunteer, “How much is he?” The girl left the store wearing a grin and carrying a kitten. Normally Dian wouldn’t have taken much notice of this; it was really quite a common sight at Manhattan Kittens. But this gave him an idea.

As soon as the next child came in, Dian started up his act. He began to snuggle into the bedding, and as the child came closer, he began to mew and paw at the glass. The child was instantly drawn to Dian’s box, but much to Dark Stripe’s surprise, she had come for Dian.

“Oh he’s so cute!” The girl then opened the box and grabbed Dian, despite the quite clear “WANT TO HOLD A KITTEN? ASK A VOLUNTEER” sticker on the lid.

“Daddy Daddy! I want this one!” The child ran up to a distinguished-looking man, holding a very frazzled Dian.

That one?” The father looked at Dian as if his daughter had chosen a worm for a pet. “But there are so many other nicer, purebred kittens.”

“No!” the girl pouted. “This one!” The father reluctantly agreed, and the girl twirled out of Manhattan Kittens holding a black fluff of kitten. Dian saw in the next door bakery window a familiar, messy haired acquaintance. He couldn’t help feeling the tiniest bit guilty wriggling out of his self entitled owner’s arms, and dashing to Pain Incroyable. After all, they had paid for him. But as Dian found himself underneath Terrier Dress’s table, he didn’t regret his decision one bit.

“I’m honestly not sure what to do, Travis! We’re going to need that dress if we want to compete in the Prettiest Pup Pageant and win the $200 prize!” Terrier Dress sighed at the little dog nestled in his jacket pocket.

“Felix, I know you need to pay back your grandmother but maybe you could take her advice? You know, about getting organized, dressing well, and getting, you know, a job?” Travis rolled his eyes at his oblivious owner. “And it’s not that I’m absolutely thrilled at the prospect of dressing up in a glittery dress and bow so that we can pay our rent, but maybe it’s time to live like a normal person and stop trying to make it as a graphic designer. Let’s face it, nobody wants Courier New on their business cards!”

“Um, I don’t think he can hear you.” Dian had decided to try and talk to Travis to see if he could find out more about Terrier Dress — sorry — Felix.

“You got that right” Travis snorted. “Wait a minute–”

“Hi! I’m Dian and I just escaped from that kitten place your owner was just in.”

Travis was a mix between baffled and enraged at this. “Well, what are you doing here?! How long have you been there?”

“Shush, Travis!” Felix said as he flicked his pet’s ear.

Dian whispered “Look, I know it sounds weird but I got this spoiled kid to adopt me to get here!” Dian had not thought the dog would be so skeptical, but as he said his story out loud, Dian realized he sounded insane.

“But why here? To us?”

“Well, you see, I was always kind of bored and lonely in the kitten shop, my siblings were no fun and I had to spend all of my time in this little clear box.”

“So?” Travis seemed puzzled. “Isn’t that what all kittens do? Just wait to be adopted?”

“But I didn’t want to wait in there forever just to be adopted and lie around in some person’s house.” Dian tried very hard to whisper but to still get his point across. “I’m not really like other kittens. And well, you and Felix kinda seemed like the opposite of boring and lonely, and–”

“You want to tag along with me and Felix for a while?” Travis seemed to understand. “Well, you seem like a good cat, but Felix is kind of in a phase right now–”

At that moment, Felix finally noticed the little runaway under the table.

“Well hello there little cat!” Felix picked up Dian and plopped him on his lap. “You must be lost. But you don’t have a tag or anything.” Felix looked at Dian thoughtfully. “I guess you’ll have to stick with us for now” Felix lifted Dian onto his shoulder. “Don’t worry little guy, we’ll get a cage thingy for you.” Travis watched with dismay.

“Are you crazy? You can’t afford to buy pizza toppings! Nevermind have a cat!” Travis gazed up at Felix. “And besides! You already have a pet.”

“Well, come on, we gotta go see if anyone has a dress for a terrier.” Felix’s face lit up. “Wait a minute! We’ll use you, kitten! We can get a dog costume for you! We’ll decorate it as best we can.”

The next few hours were spent clinging onto Felix’s shoulder while they went from costume store to costume store trying to find a dog costume that would fit Dian. There was quite a bit of confusion between Felix and an employee at Kool Kostumes 4 U. They were greeted quite cheerily.

“Hey! I’m Kimberly. Welcome to Kool Kostumes! What can I do for you?”

“Hello. I’m Felix, and we’d like a dog costume.”

“Sure, I can get’cha a dog costume! How old is the kid?”

“If it was for a kid, I would have asked for a kid costume. This costume is for a kitten.”

Now Kimberly was confused. She tilted her head to one side, her curly strawberry blonde hair falling down her shoulder.

“Um… I’m sorry sir, I thought you wanted a dog costume for a child. Not a dog costume for a cat.”

Felix scoffed at this. “Well, by the establishment’s name I assumed I would be provided with a cool costume for me! And the costume I would like is a dog costume for a cat!”

After this, Kimberly told Felix that she was sorry sir, she couldn’t help him, but that the next time they went to Kool Kostumes they’d be given a coupon for a whole $5 dollars off their next purchase! (As long as it was over $45 of course)

Now, as Dian gripped onto Felix’s jacket shoulder while he asked an elderly woman on the sidewalk if she knew of any stores that sold costumes for cats, Dian wondered if he had made the right decision. Had anyone at Manhattan Kittens missed him? Did his siblings care? Did someone walk in minutes after his Daring Escape, asking for a black fluffy kitten with a wish for adventure? Dian grimly remembered that he had never had to worry about anything happening to him in his little clear box. Out in the Big Bad City, there were fast cars, noise, yelling, not to mention he was trusting his little kitten life to a man and dog he had only met hours before.

Dian’s woes were loudly interrupted however, as the elderly woman exclaimed excitedly, “Oh yes! I know a lovely shop that has little outfits for cats on the East Side! It’s called Claire’s Costumes for Cats and Kittens. Here, I’ll give you the address… I’m sure whatever you get will look wonderful on your little cat.” The woman patted Dian’s head, leaving a scowling Travis peeking out of the jacket pocket.

After Felix hopped out of the cab, having paid only $10 of his cab fare, Dian gazed up at the shop in front of them. It had a lilac-colored oval sign, trimmed with a pink lacy pattern. On the lilac oval read,

Claire’s Costumes for Cats and Kittens.

The first C was adorned with a belled kitty collar, and the K with two cat ears and whiskers.

Travis muttered something about how this was no place for Felix, seeing as this looked a very expensive shop, and how they wouldn’t have had to come here if it weren’t for that nuisance of a cat.

“Hello?” Felix said as he opened the door and a little bell jangled, painfully reminding Dian of Manhattan Kittens.

“May I help you?” A young woman in a pale yellow dress with a minimal cat face on it looked at the three of them curiously. Of course, she only knew of Felix and Dian, Travis had buried himself in the jacket pocket, as even he could tell this shop was not welcoming to dogs.

As Dian glanced about he saw that that Claire’s Costumes for Cats and Kittens was just as dainty as the sign. The walls were the same shade of spring lavender, little cat-sized dresses and costumes embellished the walls. Some glittering blues and greens, some silky violet, and one or two that were certainly unsuitable for cats.

“Yes well, I would like a costume for this kitten here.” Felix held out Dian.

“Ah, then you’d like to go to the Kitten Section. Come with me.”

She lead Felix to some lilac shelves that contained garments similar to those in the front of the store, but slightly smaller and more shiny. As she pointed out the right shelves to go to, Dian noticed her long, sharp, sky blue glittery nails that almost look like cat’s claws themselves.

“And of course here we have the shiny, sparkly dresses, if you want her to really stand out, and–”

“Actually,” Felix interrupted patiently. “He is a male cat, I believe.”

“Alright then, there are some tuxedos over there, but our specialty here really is dresses and bows, so if you’re entering a pageant or competition, I’d really buy one of those.”

“Alright, we’ll buy one of those sparkly bows then, and could you tell me where the costumes are? Like, for Halloween?”

As Glitter Nails helped Felix chose a costume that would fit Dian, Travis had a good chuckle inside the jacket pocket.

“Imagine! You’ll have to wear a dog costume! And a bow!”  

Dian took no notice of this, he was far too concerned with what would happen after the pageant. Surely Felix would get tired of him? And Travis wouldn’t blink an eye to see Dian go. Would he have to live on the streets as a stray? Would he have to beg for bread crumbs just to survive? Would he ever find a home? A friend? Or would be be lonely forever?

Felix interrupted Dian’s worries with a flourish, holding up a hanger with a spotted dog costume. It looked a bit big for Dian, but Felix was so ecstatic that Dian didn’t protest when he asked Glitter Nails where he should pay for it. At this moment, however, when everything was looking fine, Travis had had enough of being crammed on the jacket pocket and peeked his complaint filled head out.

He gasped, thirsty for air, “Honestly Felix! What were you thinking? A closed pocket is no place to keep a pet! I could have suffocated! You–”

Glitter nails let out a shriek at Travis’s sudden appearance. “You brought a dog?! This is a place for cats and their owners! Not for filthy dogs!”

Frazzled Felix was more concerned about his purchases than the store’s policies. “Okay… so should I just leave the cash at the counter…?”

Glitter Nails was not amused at this. “Out! You and your pets!”

Felix simply stood, dumbfounded for a moment, before quickly grabbing the costume and bow, and dashing out the door (Don’t worry, he still left his crumpled $32 at the counter).

Felix has made his own Daring Escape, thought Dian as Felix jumped out of their hastily paid for cab and calmly strolled into Central Park.

“Well, at least we got your costume, kitten!” Felix pointed out cheerily.

“Yeah, and all it cost was going to that awful shop, getting kicked out, getting yelled at, and $32!” Travis scolded.

“You know, kitten, we should give you a name.” Felix looked at Dian, thoughtfully. “You know, I can’t just keep calling you Kitten, seeing as you’ll probably be hanging around for a while.”

“My name is Dian!” the little kitten meowed, eagerly. Dian was frustrated when all Felix did was look at him, confused. Right, he can’t hear me, Dian thought, irritated. He would have to show Felix who he was.

“How about… Shadow?” Dian huffed at the suggestion.

“Alright…Raven? Midnight? Asher?” Dian turned his head at all three.

Felix leaned back on the park bench, sighing. “How about Onyx? Phantom? Obsidian?”

Dian joyfully nodded his head. “Yes! That’s it!”

Travis scoffed, “I wish you had found this name giving ability sooner! Maybe I would have a name like Buster or Mahogany.”

“Obsidian it is!” exclaimed Felix proudly.

“Sometimes I wonder where you came from, Obsidian.”

As Felix wondered this, fear shot down Dian’s spine. Is he going to find out I’m a runaway? Will he return me? Dian’s mind whirled.

“Well, wherever you came from, you couldn’t have been that happy there. I reckon you’d have tried to back by now if you were!” He took another bite of his hot dog, the mustard dripping down the napkin onto his wrist. “Its ‘kay, Obsidian. I kinda ran away, too. No one really got me when I was younger, including my family. So as soon as I could leave, I rushed outta there and tried to get some work as a graphic designer.”

Dian gazed at him, amazed at how similar they were.

“Well, it’ll be getting dark soon, so we’d better get going if we want to get to the pageant on time.”

Dian wriggled into the dog costume as Felix stuck the sparkly blue bow on. “I’ve registered you as Dancing Curls, my favorite font, just so you know, Obsidian.”

Dian was starting to get a bit worried about this pageant, seeing as he couldn’t see a thing out of the dog costume’s tiny eye windows. And weren’t the judges observant enough to see that he wasn’t a real dog? Why couldn’t he be more stubborn and complaining like Travis?

“Aaaand now we have Dancing Curls, and her owner, Felix,” an unenthusiastic but booming voice said as an excited Felix ushered Dian on stage.

“Good luck!” hiss-whispered Travis.

“Hello, ladies and gentleman! This is Dancing Curls, my purebred… Schwartz..ing…ton…hound. Yup! And tonight we are going to show you some tricks. Dancing, jump.”

Felix held out a hoop that seemed to have appeared out of thin air. Dian did as he was told though, and attempted a jump. As he lept up, he could feel the costume about to rip, and made a tumble-ish, fall-ish landing. All he could do was thank his lucky stars that it was dark, and that the judges didn’t seem to be paying attention all that much. There might be a chance they don’t notice the costume! The audience wasn’t a problem, it was a bored crowd of about 20 people sitting on uncomfortable chairs.

“Um… Dancing! Dance!” Dian tried his best, getting up on his hind legs and attempting to dance about. But his little kitten legs were short, not like a dog’s. And Dian sort of succeeded. He just looked a bit funny. Like a dachshund trying to get a treat from a giraffe. A few audience members chuckled, which had to have counted for something.

“Alrighty then, Dancing, paw.” This Dian could do effortlessly. He lifted up his paw, and high-fived Felix. But as he did, he heard a dreaded rrrrripp, and looked down to see a tuft of soft black fur among his polyester costume fuzz. Felix noticed this as well.

“And that’s all, folks!” Felix briskly picked up Dian, and rushed backstage. “I don’t think they noticed,” Felix comforted.

Dian felt ashamed. He had let Felix down. He knew it.

“Aww… it’s okay, buddy. You did it! You went up on stage, and you did it. Not flawlessly, but you still did it. And trust me, sometimes, that’s okay.”

“Hey, cat,” Travis said, turning to Dian. “You’ve helped Felix today more than I ever could. You did a huge favor for him, and you barely knew him! Do you think I’d have danced around in a costume and bow? No siree.”

Dian was about to reply when Felix called for him, “Dancing! C’mere!”

Dian ran as fast as he could to the stage, next to Felix.  

“And the first place winner is…”  the booming voice paused, dramatically. “Cecelia Holiday, and her corgi, Fluffers.”

A euphoric blonde woman holding a little dog shook hands with Booming Voice and took the golden trophy and a giant check.

“The second place winner is… Lucy Brighten, and her dalmatian, Hero.”

As Lucy took her silver trophy and her check, Dian couldn’t help feeling disappointed. He knew he wasn’t the best, but these things always ended with the Good Guys winning, right? Even though they didn’t know a thing about the other contestants and technically they cheated but…

“And the third place winner is… Felix Silversmith and his Schwartzington, Dancing Curls?”

Dian was just as confused as booming voice. But Felix was just off the wall. His eyes brightened as he was given the smallest bronze trophy, and the smallest check that read $210.

“Thank you, thank you!” he beamed, proud as punch, as Booming Voice led him off the stage onto the grass.

Travis rushed towards them. “You did it!”

Felix unzipped the dog costume, leaving nothing but a very thankful Dian.

“Thanks a bunch, Obsidian,” Felix said as he embraced Dian tightly.

“You know,” he said, holding Dian up. “We oughta find a shorter name for you. How about Dian?”

Dave Is Just a Small Town Boy Living in a Lonely World

The tale of Jeff the llama and Dave the human, the two greatest super heroes ever. Based on a true story.

 

Dave is just small town boy living in a lonely world. Dave is just 12, but he works at his dad’s llama farm. One day a llama went loose. Dave followed, the llama led Dave to a weird cave with glowing crystals just like the cave from the movie Chronicle but NOT THE SAME ONE because copyright infringement. As Dave and the llama walk down the cave, the liquid inside the crystals start to move in like a whirlpool sort of motion. The llama touches the crystal and the crystal turns red. All of a sudden, there is a bang and the llama and Dave fall asleep but not like people in Chronicle because our movie is better. Dave wakes up at the same as the llama, Dave is shocked when the llama actually spoke.

“Ah, my head is killing me,” the llama said.

Dave said, ”You just spoke, actually spoke.”

Llama said, “You can understand me?”

“Si,” Dave replied. “But you’re a llama.”

“I have a name, you know,” said the llama. “Llamas have names, we’re actually a very advanced race, now I have an idea, lets get out of the cave.”

Dave said, “You said had a name, what is the name?”

“My name is Canton Everit Delware the 3rd but you can call me Jeff.”

Dave said, “How can you be talking right now?”

Jeff said, “I don’t know, maybe you’re speaking llama right now.”

“What? Of course I am not, llamas don’t have a language, they just have an assortment of baahs.”

As the least qualified super heroes make their journey (pun not intended to the beginning), they did not notice the gaping hole right in front of them. They continue to walk forward and fall. Llama starts to fly and picks up Dave and they fly out of the hole.

Dave said, “You can fly?!”

Llama said “I can’t fly.”

Dave said, “So then what are you doing right now, falling in style, come on be smart.”

Llama said, “I must show the colony my power.”

Dave said, “Can I come.”

As the two heroes walk into the secret underground colony of the Llamas, they see a huge statue of LL Cool J.

“Why is there a statue of LL Cool J?” Dave said.

“LL Cool J is the creator of the llamas and he is also the best character in NCIS,” Jeff replied.

Dave said, “LL cool J was not the creator of llamas.”

“Think about it, haven’t you ever wondered why there are two l’s in llama,” Jeff replied.

As they were walking, Dave sneezed really hard and lasers came out of his eyes and cut the statue in half. “I can shoot lasers! OUT MY EYES!” Dave said.

“Apparently you can, now it’s time to run.”

“Wait, you can fly!”

“Oh…yeah, BYE,” Jeff said as flies away.

Dave said, “Wait come back, take me with you.”

“I do what I want,” Jeff.

Dave said, “Please help me, plus llamas should help humans, we are a more advanced race.”

“I am a flying llama that likes human TV shows, speaks English and I have another super power later on,” said Jeff.

“How do you know you have another super power?” said Dave.

“The narrator told me,” Jeff said.

”I’ll make the narrator tell what the super power is if you get me out of here,” Dave. The two worst heroes in the universe fly out of danger, well that’s it, they flew out of danger that’s it nothing more nothing less. I know you were expecting something witty but I ran out, wait here I can search something up hold. No, nope, nuh, ah yes finally, ok you ready alright, here it goes, yo mama so fat, when she sits around the house she sits around the house. We’re…we’re really scraping at the bottom of the barrel.

Jeff said, “Dave, since you destroyed the statue of LL Cool J, every single llama in the universe is after you and me so there is only one place we be safe in, that is Hotel California,”

said Dave. “This will be living it up in the Hotel California, what a lovely place, what a lovely place, such a lovely place, such a lovely…”

Shhhhhhh, we already talked about this copyright infringement. Dave and Jeff said together, “Thanks narrator, also thanks custom ink.”

When the heroes walked into their room, they found an expired credit card but the heroes thought that the credit card was perfectly fine. They use the card and wasted all their money on nothing. Without any money, Dave and Jeff go on welfare. All of there friends hated them for taking advantage of a government program.

“Do you think it’s wrong to be on welfare when there are other people that need welfare more than us,” said Jeff.

Dave said, “Hey, we’re super heroes.”

 

Cucumber Gardens

There was a little boy lying in the cucumber garden. He was naked, joints stitched with black sewing thread like a rag doll, and his bald head lolled to the side. As he smiled at Lottie, there was a chunk of cucumber wedged in between his yellow teeth.

Lottie stood above him, squinting in the bright sunlight, her hands on the hips of her blue pinafore. It would be tea-time soon, and she would have to return to the parlor, or Mother would start to worry.

“Hello,” he fumbled with the words as he looked up at her, eyes flat and dark as tar. “Who are you?”

“I’m Lottie. I live here.” She pointed at the sprawling mansion in front of them.

“So do I,” he replied.

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Do not!” Lottie yelled. “Do not, you stupid liar!” She kicked some dirt into his mouth and watched him sputter and cough, before running off.

When she reached the door she turned back to look and see if he was still there, but he was gone, leaving behind trampled flowers and fallen cucumbers.

***

At teatime she didn’t mention the boy to Mother, only sat and drank her tea, and didn’t even complain when it burned her tongue. She folded her napkin on her lap and didn’t let her elbows touch the table, and still, a praising smile never graced Mother’s lips. Her brow was furrowed as she continuously kept tucking strands of her dark hair behind her ear.

“What’s wrong, Mother?” Lottie asked as she shoveled some blueberry tart on her china plate.

Mother dabbed at her sweaty forehead with a handkerchief. “Nothing, darling. Do you mind if you finish up by yourself? I need to go attend to some business.”

Lottie agreed, because seeing Mother so angry made her very anxious, and Mother kissed her on the forehead with her cold, stiff lips.

Lottie resumed eating while kicking the family cat, Dolly. She would toss Dolly pieces of tart, and kick her in the ribs when she tried to eat it. After a while she grew bored and started aimlessly walking around the manor, dragging her sticky hands across the wallpaper, the wooden planks creaking under her bare toes. When she was crossing the second floor foyer, she heard a noise.

She looked up. The attic door was ajar. Carrying Dolly under one of her arms, she pushed open the door and started to climb up the narrow stairs. The attic wasn’t somewhere she usually liked to play. It was dark and dusty, filled with broken toys and canned foods, old sweaters made by long lost relatives that Lottie would never wear, and animal skins from her father’s hunting escapades.

She coughed and waved away a cloud of dust, glancing around the sun-soaked room.The boy was sitting on a milk crate, his knees tucked under his chin. His grimy fingers were deep in a can of corn.

“You again,” she said. “You need to stay away.”

“But this is my home.” He gestured around at the attic, filled with stacks of old newspapers, mothballs and threadbare blankets. His wrists were covered in deep, bloody welts, the pale flesh of his skin torn to pieces. Lottie grimaced in disgust.

“What’s your name?” She took a step closer, and as she did, a wave of a sour stench hit her. Acrid and sharp, rotting flesh and rubbing alcohol.

“I have none,” he said simply.

Lottie laughed. “That’s just silly. You must have a name – everyone does!”

“Not me.”

Lottie sat on the crate next to him, pinching her nose. “Where did you come from?”

“Here.” He picked up Dolly, who squirmed and hissed at him. “Pretty cat.”

“Don’t touch her, she’s mine.” Lottie tugged at Dolly. The boy’s grip grew tighter, and the cat yowled. “Let go of her!”

With a easy snap, Dolly hung limp in the boy’s hand. Tears sprung to Lottie’s eyes. “You stupid, stupid boy! Look what you’ve done now!” Wiping her cheeks, she grabbed the cat from him. “You stay away from here, and if I see you again, I’ll tell mother!”

“No,” he said, grabbing her arm. She recoiled at his touch, his grip harsh and stronger than one of a usual eight-year-old boy. His fingernails dug into her flesh, ragged and yellow. “You can’t let them know I’m here. Please, Lottie.”

Lottie didn’t know how this boy knew her name, and didn’t like it one bit. “Go away! I hate you!” She ran off, slamming the door behind her, cradling Dolly in her arms. Once she was back downstairs, she allowed herself to cry, blubbering and stroking the cat’s patchy gray fur.

***

When Mother and Father returned home, it was late, and Lottie was still sobbing. She hadn’t eaten supper, and this made her especially more sad, and her cheeks were streaked with tears. Mother wiped away her tears and asked what was wrong. Lottie told her everything, embellishing where she felt was necessary, her words garbled and weepy.

Mother gave her a tissue to wipe her tears, and she and Father went into the kitchen to fix her tea and toast.

She hid at the kitchen doorway, watching them talk in hushed voices as she ate her meal. Lottie couldn’t hear them but both looked angry. Mother’s lip was trembling. Father slammed his fist against the kitchen island, and Mother started to cry.

Their voices grew louder and louder until they were screaming, unintelligible words that Lottie couldn’t understand. “You built it, it’s your responsibility!” Mother poked her manicured finger into Father’s chest. “You told me, you told me you got rid of it!”

“Are you blaming me for this thing you created?”

“It was going to be perfect!” Her voice was raw, and she let out a final wail before Father slapped her across the face. Lottie coughed on a chunk of toast and Mother glanced over, blood trickling down her forehead. She sent her up to her bedroom to get washed up and in bed, her eyes wide and wild as a trapped animal.

When Mother came to tuck her into bed, Lottie asked her about what would happen to the boy. “Get some rest,” was all that Mother said.

“What’s going to happen?” Lottie asked. Mother just barely kissed Lottie on the forehead, her lips ghosting over Lottie’s skin, and flitted out the door. Lottie didn’t fall asleep, dripping with cold sweat, and a few hours past midnight she heard the downstairs door open. She crept to the window and opened it slightly.

Mother stood in the front yard, dressed in her nightgown and rainboots, holding a rifle. Father held the boy by the scruff of his neck. He had been beaten badly, bruised and battered, with cuts on his body,

Lottie was too far away to hear what they were saying, but Mother didn’t look as angry as she did before. She appeared more purposeful, determined. She brought the gun to the boy’s forehead as he screamed and pleaded, his hands flailing wildly. Just as her finger pulled the trigger, he shoved the gun so it was in Mother’s direction, hitting her in the arm.

Mother wailed in pain as she collapsed to the ground. Lottie raced out of the room and ran downstairs, to see Father cradling Mother in the groomed green grass. In the distance, she saw the boy, running blindly.

After a moment, Lottie grabbed the gun, the metal cool against her hands. She chased after him. “Lottie,” Father called. “Lottie, come back!”

The boy turned around for a brief second, saw her chasing him, and ran faster. He was much quicker than Lottie with his lanky limbs and long strides, but he was getting tired. They passed the sculpture garden and the swimming pool, and when they reached the gate, he was wheezing.

As Lottie ventured towards him, he held out his hands, bloody and soiled black. “Lottie,” he said. “Lottie.” She pointed the gun, her hands quivering.

“I don’t know you!”

“I was supposed to be you. I was supposed to be better.”

The gunshot rang out so loud Lottie had to cover her ears. She fell to the ground, shutting her eyes tightly as red splattered her. Mother scooped her up and Father stroked her hair, whispering that it was going to be alright. “We love you so much, princess,” Father said to her. “We love you so much.” And they kept murmuring that to her on the way back to the house, that they loved her so much, more than life itself, and that she did so well, and eventually Lottie drifted off to sleep.

The next morning when Lottie woke up, Mother told her that Father would be home soon, and that later they would all go and buy a new cat. “Any kind you’d like,” Mother said, readjusting the makeshift bandage around her arm. She still wore her nightgown, the front covered in dried blood.

Mother took her down to the cucumber gardens. Next to the trellis was a little sapling on a mound of freshly dug dirt. “So we can grow apples,” Mother explained. “We can make apple pie and tart, and you can climb the branches and play.” Lottie smiled and squeezed her Mother’s trembling hand. A strand of black thread lay tangled in the grass.

 

Homophones

In my hands the blue teapot has a weight.

I can imagine where it lived in the old house

Where my grandma had to wait.

 

The dark walls rough as bark

Underneath my fingers.

Outside, I hear the guard dog bark.

 

In the courtyard, the beat

Of some hopping game my cousins play.

In the kitchen, strange cooking roots that look like beets.

 

I can tell my uncle’s coming from his gait.

He walks past and farther in,

Behind him the creak of the garden gate.

 

He stands by the family altar

All our names written in a book

Over years the pages hardly alter.

 

The drying laundry seems

Like ghosts

The wind crying over mended seams.

 

My mother speaking how she was taught

In her broken mother tongue

Waiting for her next word, the air grows taut.

 

Next to strange family, I palm

Their home made dumplings

And feel this round, blue teapot in my palms.

Cookie Cutters and Green Aliens

 

“Daddy, what are those lights in the sky?” said Daphne, a five-year-old.

“They’re probably just spotlights from the movie theater,” her father said distractedly. It was late and Daphne was always asking so many questions.

“But I’ve never seen lights like that before,” she thought aloud as four lights zipped through the sky.

Her father, Will Jackson, walked over to the large bay window where Daphne was sitting. “There must be a movie premier,” he said. He tried to brush away his thoughts that the lights looked an awful lot like all those UFOs he’d seen on X-Files. There were four lights in a square shape that were moving in together and back out to a square. They had a silvery tinge in the cloudy night.

“Go to bed now,” Will said, looking at his phone. He was trying to figure if there was, for some reason, a movie premier in University Park, Maryland. There was not, he soon realized, a movie premier. Then what could they be! he thought. Maybe they’re searchlights, he tried to reassure himself. But then he took a look at the weird pyramid shaped house at the end of the street. He’d never been inside and the people who lived there never seemed to come out of the house.

 

“Amets, we have a problem,” said a little green man up inside one of the UFOs.

“What is it Placide?” groaned a very annoyed middle-aged lieutenant.

“We can’t seem to find the landing strip. There are so many small green patches and all these ‘houses’ look exactly the same,” Placide’s brow was furrowed and the architectural decisions of human beings confused him greatly.

“Those ‘small green patches’ are called lawns and it’s the only pyramid shaped house in the whole state how can you not find it?” Amets yawned, she was tired of the aliens obscure ways. “At least I’m retiring next month,” she mumbled to herself. Amets was human, but when she was a young girl she had been abducted by aliens. They persuaded her to help them with their journeys to earth. She trained with the young aliens at the ASA, Alien Spaceship Academy. She moved her way up in rank over the years and was now a lieutenant.

“I told you before that I am 212 and my eyesight is not very good anymore,” barked Placide while Amets snapped back to reality. ”Sometimes you forget that I raised and you should be thankful. You would have never been a lieutenant if it weren’t for me,” Placide said sternly.

“Uggggghhhh. Leokadia Hildr beam them down,” Amets didn’t feel like listening to Placide’s lectures right now. “Sometimes you forget that you would have never raised me if you hadn’t taken me away when I younger,” she said sarcastically.

“Right on it sir!” came the squeaky little voice of Leokadia Hildr. She was still training at the academy and was a little too enthusiastic for the lieutenant.

“Wait till the sky is clear,” came the annoyed voice of Lieutenant Amets Van Ballegooijen.

 

 

Daphne dreamed about the lights in the sky that night. She dreamed that the lights were spaceships and there were aliens inside. She flew the spaceship with help from the aliens. Then the spaceship crashed on the top of the pyramid shaped house and giant snakes started slithering out of the house. Then she woke up and ran out of her room. She hurled herself down the stairs as fast as she could and went out to see if the lights were still there. The lights were headed to the pyramid house at the end of the block! She clambered back upstairs to her parents room to tell them about the lights. “Mom! Dad! The lights are going to the triangle house down the street!”

“Shhh! Daphne I can assure you they’re just spotlights,” her mom whispered.

“No, come look! Their going to the house!” Daphne said excitedly.

“Alright I’ll come see,” said her mother entirely sure that her daughter was just having strange dreams but she knew that Daphne would never go back to sleep unless she went down to look at these lights. “See I told y-,” she stopped mid-sentence for there really were lights in the sky heading straight for the pyramid house at the end of the street. “Maybe I should go see if everything’s okay at that house,” said her mom, Heather.

“Mommy I want to come too!” Daphne almost screamed. She was so excited to figure out what was going on. “I saw it first!” she thought to herself.

“No, no Daphne. Go back to sleep,” Daphne was already snoring on the couch by the time she finished her sentence.

 

Where is the giant squid mucus Amets? I travel 8,000 light years to see the human I raised from when she was four years old and you don’t even buy me edible food,” said Amets’s alien stepmonster, Mahvash.

“They don’t sell that kind of food on earth Mahvash,” Amets said, exasperated.

“Where did I leave my things? I can’t seem to find anything these days with my terrible eyesight,” muttered Placide.

“Right here Placide. Geez, you guys have aged since I last saw you,” Amets said, amazed at how old her stepparents were getting.

Ding! Dong! “I’ll answer the door!” squealed Leokadia Hildr.

“No I got it,” groaned Amets. “Remember Leo, aliens never answer the door.”

“Yes sir!” Leokadia Hildr was constantly hyper.

“Hello? Can I help you?” said an irritated Lieutenant Van Ballegooijen. She was looking at a middle-aged woman with dyed blonde hair, hot pink nail polish, and a cheap spray tan.

“Hi! I’m Heather Jackson. I live right next door. I’m sorry to bother you so early in the morning but I saw some strange light headed toward your house. I was wonder-,” she stopped mid sentence when she saw a figure in the background that seemed to be green. It appeared to have a really pointed chin and large eyes, also pointy. Its head was much wider than its body. And then there was another one, but this one had on eyeshadow and curlers in its bright blue hair. And there seemed to be one more, this one much smaller with its green hair in two pigtails. “Pardon my asking but what are those green creatures?” said Heather, sounding quite confused.

“Oh! Well, um. You see…” Amets was at a loss of what to say. The aliens were supposed to stay out of sight!

“You are feeling sleepy, very sleepy. Abba gooji blavah. There you go Lieutenant! She’ll never remember this at all!” said Leokadia Hildr, very excited to be able to help.

Heather was completely unprepared to be hypnotized and so she immediately keeled over on the floor. She was in a sleep state while they fixed her memory. They played the memory on a screen and changed it to seem normal.

“Wow,” said a stunned Lieutenant Van Ballegooijen. “That was actually really helpful. I think you earned yourself a Brigadier position.”

“Really?! Thanks Lieutenant!” Leokadia Hildr was over the moon.

“You’re very welcome.” Amets even seemed to have a little grin on her face.

“Alright. Alright. Enough mushy gushiness. Let’s wake up this human now before anything starts to look too strange. Where is she though? I can’t see a thing!” Placide hated it when things got sappy.

 

Heather didn’t know what was happening. It seemed like she was still in the pyramid house and the green creatures were crowding around her. But her senses were off so she couldn’t tell what was really happening. Everything looked fuzzy and she felt like she was deaf.

And then she woke up. She was back in her own room and she didn’t know what had happened. She remembered walking to the pyramid house. Then she talked to a woman who said she hadn’t seen the lights and everything was fine. Then she had walked home. But something about that memory felt wrong. “Oh well,” thought Heather. “It was three in the morning.”

 

The Jacksons and the aliens never interacted again. The Jacksons lived their normal, cookie cutter lives and never thought twice about the people in the pyramid house again. The aliens went back home to their own planet and Leokadia Hildr became a Brigadier Lieutenant. Amets retired in Maryland and was very happy there. Placide finally agreed to get contact lenses and can see very well now. And Daphne grew up and became an astronaut. She no longer has to dream about flying spaceships.

Commencement

Meryl sat at the end of the bed with her feet stretched out towards the carpet covered floor. George was reading a newspaper article in his same monotonous tone that had grown long on Meryl, but she loved it with all her heart. The air was sweet and thin with the smell of petunias and irony that cracked like a whip on a race horse’s calf. Meryl just sat and George just read and the slight hum of their bleach white fan glared over top of both of them. George stopped, and with angst and anxiousness all the like stared at Meryl. He set his newspaper down.

Meryl, Ive got something I want to tell you,George exclaimed while raising his paper thin hand to to adjust his night cap. Meryl, Ive got something to say and I dont want you to speak, just listen. Ive been reading the obituary, and Im seventy-four now. I will never understand those things, honor the dead by posting their worst picture in the paper. I mean for Christs sakes I can see right through their beady little eyes into their soul and there’s nothing in there but memories of their youth and beauty. Meryl, I want to say I love you and I have never been stingy with this phrase, when it comes to anytime of day or condition Im in. Meryl, I love you.

She rocked in anticipation of something unknown and it disturbed George to the fullest extent.

Meryl, say whatchadoinshakinlike that.His question came with no reply, but her uneasiness died down and her neck craned towards the ground, focusing on every dust particle within her line of sight. George gazed at her protruding spine and traced it with his gaze down to where her nightgown was no longer taut enough for it to show through. But with this pause came more words from George, he spoke with a sweet refrain

Meryl, Ill love you till the day I die, which is practically Tuesday. Yaknow I’ve never felt this way for someone, for this long, ever, and I juswont be able to bear leaving you, you’re the love of my life.His voice trembled with the thought of death, although he invited immensely, knowing it would take him away from his diminishing conscious, that was now only taken over with bits and pieces of memories and miniscule ideas. The atmosphere of the room depleted as Meryl began to shake vigorously again and havoc began to ensue, but peace was still noticeable in every form. She shook and shook, and George could only stare with a blank face, his physical body froze in an attempt to conceal his emotions. She stopped and turned towards him, her face was pale and drooped with every wrinkle, and he noticed the contours that now receded into her sad lonely structure, she once was beautiful.

George, Ill love you till the day I die, and that’s practically now.Her face drew slowly cold and she dropped once more to the bed, just as she had when they made love and the heavens sung their song of tranquility and infatuation. George picked up the newspaper with haste and scrolled with his eyes down to the left corner of the page he had been reading.

Meryl Smith: Dead at 78. Her epitaph shall read Death was beauty upon arrival and then swiftly took me from all I had ever known.’

Castle

My mind is a castle made of silver and gold, sprinkled with gems.

There are no gates, no drawbridges, and everyone gets in.

But someone thinks it is funny, to act like a friend as they burn down my castle, destroy my paintings.

 

My mind is now a tower made of diamonds. But now there are walls and gates to keep traitors out. But some people slip in unnoticed. They become friends, allies, but when I give my heart to them, they take a mallet and shatter it.

 

My mind is now a dungeon surrounded by guards and walls. My heart has been fixed now, almost. Because something is missing. Something that I keep under lock and key. In a room with a door draped by chains. The room keeps something that brings only pain. Trust.

Bridge

BRIDGE: A Profile

Scales of tarmac,

riddled with fabrication.

Look! Listen!

Color explodes at a turn,

spindly emerald arms

grasp the industrial monument.

 

A New York Conversation.

Conical personality,

arched with pride.

A web of followers,

thirsty suspending wires,

justifying its foundation.

It is better than you.

Swagger than you.

Connecting hipsters

and businessmen,

 

Callous tourists

from Scandinavia stop and stare.

The first! The best!

Ashamed siblings gasp from afar,

a jaunty character,

a knowledgeable past.

It does not fall

no matter how many elephants

walk across it.

 

BRIDGE: GAP

A bridge between two worlds

above regretful waters

ideas that didn’t make it

friends who left me

swept under the bridge.

 

A bird

one wing white,

the other black

one religion, one god

interpreted differently.

 

A bridge, the agreement

looms overhead.

 

One side,

a red hot passionate place

an era of appreciative nods was over

whoops and cheers were the new best thing.

 

The only kings that reign

rule with a guitar

and don’t care about crowns…

 

Five thoughts away

over passionate purple flagstones

a realm of culture ends.

A new road painted

by the left side of my brain…

 

Here it can add up.

A cherry blossom adorns a mahogany windowsill,

overlooking cerulean skies and turquoise oceans.

Both sides of the equations, equal.

Hospitals filled with cheers, no stillborns.

 

A bridge hangs above both.

A constant in both worlds.

Each side builds their half,

we were confused

when the ends did not meet–

some knew they wouldn’t.

 

Enter at your risk.

Try not to get wrapped up

in the spider webs.

Try not to drown

in the pools of abandoned construction equipment.

 

A ghost project.

A retired idea.

The dove laments–

No Hope. No Hope.

 

Then you decide to jump

the gap, the irregularity

where the project was thrown away.

 

I need to.

I leap the gap in my bridge everyday.

 

BRIDGE: Burning

 

By the light of the burning bridge

a new one is made

 

Two people

can part ways

over a coffee

an unsaid connection was broken between them

 

As they tiptoe apart

disappointed  into the summer sun

they see the rest of the world for the first time

it’s been a long winter.

 

A lover’s bridge burns spectacularly

a dramatic, yet melancholy explosion

it ends quickly, the night enveloped in darkness once more .

 

Two friends

a passionate argument,

a disagreement, too strong a tension

for the bonds of friendship to uphold.

 

Disgusted letdowns.

Growing up and out of this,

growing pains and stretch marks

until something snaps.

 

A friend’s bridge glows an electric blue

and makes no sound as it falls,

dying visions of elementary school,

bus buddies forever…

 

Disappointment lightly dusts the river

where the bridge once stood.

 

Sometimes a bridge has to burn

unnecessarily…

 

Nothing went wrong.

Every minute with you

was full of understanding and horror movies.

marine biologists together

living on opposite sides

of the seas.

 

I will stand on a beach

in San Francisco  

 

And know that on the other side of this big river,

you are reading books in French

and playing soccer.

 

I will stand on a beach

and I will feel the cool ash

of our burned bridge,

between my toes.

Book Review for Sand Dollar Summer

This book review is about a fiction book called Sand Dollar Summer. I read this book because the blurb sounded interesting and because I had nothing else to read. I thought that this book was definitely more interesting than I imagined it to be. I liked this book because I was able to feel empathy for all of the characters and because I liked the suspenseful ending.

This story is about a girl named Lise with a little brother named Free. They have an awesome life until their mom gets into a car accident. Her doctor says that it would be good to get a change in scenery, so they move to Fiddle Beach for a while. Lise hates it there because there is nothing to do, but her mom wants to stay. Lise meets a man across the island named Ben and they become good friends. Ben is an old man and one of the kids that she meets calls him crazy. There is a huge storm and Lise wants to see if Ben wants to come to the storm shelter to save him…

I liked this book because I felt empathy for the characters. I was able to do this because the author was very descriptive and detailed about how they were feeling. I was always able to really get how they were feeling. I could also really understand what they were sensing. As an example, at the end of the story there is a huge hurricane and Lise wants to save her friend Ben from the storm and ends up in the water trying to get back to shore. She is then saved by her mom’s friend who is driving them to the shelter. The author really describes how Lise is feeling, like how she is scared of the water and I wanted her to be ok. Another example of the author’s good emotional descriptions is that the author was very detailed about Lise’s fear of the ocean and how she is nervous about all the creatures in it.

“I looked out at the miles and miles of nothing but water-moving, churning water-and I realized there could be anything out there, anything at all. Where I could see the bottom, there might be a piece of glass or a sharp shell hidden under the sand waiting to slice my soft feet, and where I couldn’t see the bottom, who knows? … And there was always the pull, the pull of the tide that sucked the sand from beneath you grain by grain, trying to suck you with it.”

 

This quote shows how scary it can be for Lise to be surrounded by ocean. The author also really showed the feelings of all the characters. Even though Free didn’t talk, I was still really able to understand what he was feeling.

Another thing that that I liked about this book was that it had a very suspenseful ending. I don’t want to give anything away. I thought that the ending was very suspenseful and it left me on the edge of my seat. I didn’t want to put the book down. One of the major parts that was really sad was when someone died and an animal died too. Many lives were in danger.

I definitely recommend this book because it is very good with explaining everything and I think that it is very kid friendly. I think that some kids will really relate to this story. I would give this book a five star rating.

Alone

There I was, standing, all alone…

It all started a month ago, June 18, 2014.

I was with my friend, Lexi White. We went to go see Maze Runner. We were standing in line for popcorn and candy, and I saw my ex, Hunter. Lexi hates my ex because we all used to hang out then when Hunter and I started to date she became the third wheel. When Lexi and I got in the theatre we got the PERFECT seats, we always try to get to the movies early.  We sat down and started talking and laughing and then Hunter and his best friend Devin sat right next to us. It went SILENT: you could hear a pin drop. After five minutes I got up and went to the bathroom, I slapped on some perfume, threw on a little lip gloss, and a little bit of breath spray.  It’s not like I miss him, but I still want to look good.  

I ran back to my seat and started talking to Lexi. It started getting awkward when I put my hand in the wrong popcorn bucket and Hunter and I touched hands. The movie started and we all got quiet, once the maze doors closed I got scared and Hunter tried to hold my hand. Once the Grevers got loose and started attacking in the glade Hunter put his arm around me and I snuggled in. After the movie Hunter and I hugged then he left and Lexi and I went to the mall, she started talking to me about what happened in the theatre and seemed pretty mad.

“How’s Hunter?”

“I don’t know, good I guess, why?”

“Just figured you knew.”

“Why?”

“Cause your little snuggle sesh. If you still liked him you could’ve just told me.”

“Why are you getting mad at me?”

“Because I don’t want to be the third wheel again! You’re my best friend and when you were dating Hunter we didn’t hang out, you were always busy with him. I don’t want you guys to start dating again.”

“Well I’m sorry but this isn’t your decision to make. Has it ever occurred to you that it’s not always about you?! It doesn’t matter that you don’t like him, cause I like him, and I’m the one that’s gonna date him, no matter if you like it or not!”

She left the mall and I had to find a way to get home. I was planning on taking the A train home. I went and sat in the Starbucks across the street then I ran into Hunter.

“Where’s Lexi?”

“She left.”

“Why?”

“She got upset with me cause she doesn’t want us dating.”

“We’re dating?”

“I mean we snuggled while watching a movie. It was kind of a date.”

“Yea. Um… Girlfriend.” Trying to move onto another topic.

“Hey where’s Devin?”

“He left, didn’t feel good. Since it’s just you and me, and now we are dating, why don’t I buy you a coffee and have our first official date.”

“I’d like that.”

That night was amazing. We walked in Times Square taking pictures and stuff, it was SO romantic. After that he drove me home, and walked me to my door. My parents were watching T.V.

“Why aren’t you at Lexi’s?” my mom said.

“Um… She didn’t feel good.”

“Then how did you get home?” My dad asked

“I took a train.”

“Cool, well if you want dinner it is on the stove so it should be ready around ten fifteen.”

I went up to my room and texted Lexi, she kept reading and not answering to any of my messages. Finally I ate dinner, my mom and dad asked me how the movie was, I said good. Tonight the dinner table felt super quiet, as if there was a lot of tension, and I KNEW it wasn’t just cause I got home earlier than I was suppose tod. I asked if anything happened, and they were very mellow and said things like “Nothings wrong, nothing at all.” Then would smile.

“How’s Lexi?” my mom asked.

“Fine…why?”

“Just wondering.”

“Your phone went off with a notification, she read your message. What were you talking about?” my dad asked.

“Um…school work, math, you know…stuff like that. Why?”

“I was just asking.” Both my parents smiled.

The next morning it was a cool Saturday morning, I put on my favorite brown saddle jacket and black heel ankle boots and headed outside. I went on a little walk to the swings where I was gonna meet Hunter, I got there a bit early and I saw one of my other ex boyfriends, Ben. He has brown hair with golden highlights, in a manly way, the PERFECT biceps, and has such a great personality. We’re now friends and we sat on the swings and talked, I hadn’t seen him since we broke up last year. He had to run to meet his family for breakfast, and we texted a lot after that moment. Hunter and I were talking about how we are both going to college next year and how our colleges are both only half an hour away so we can visit on weekends. Through out the week we would pass by each other in the hall and meet after school. Lexi still wouldn’t talk to me, till one day.

“Why won’t you talk to me?!” I blurted out in science class.

“You already know, I don’t like your boyfriend.”

“Is there something else?”

“No…”

“Really?”

“Well… There is but, I can’t say it.”

“Why not?”

“I just can’t.”

“What is it!”

“Me and Hunter kissed the night you broke up!”

After that I was the one that couldn’t talk to her. I didn’t talk to Hunter either.

Friday night the door rang and it was Ben, he had a bunch of movies and kettle corn.

“How are you?” he asked.

“Good, why?”

“I heard you’re fighting with Lexi.”

“Yea, it’s because-”

“I know why.”

“How who’s talking-”

“No one’s talking about it, I kinda overheard you and Lexi.”

“Oh.”

“I think he should’ve told you.”

“Yea. It would’ve been good information.”

We started to watch a whole bunch of comedies and took pictures and posted on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and twitter. The next morning I got a text from Hunter asking about my movie session with Ben, and I fired right back with him and Lexi’s hook up. He backed away and started apologizing and things started getting complicated real fast.

Lexi still didn’t talk to me, and I could do nothing to fix it. Ben wasn’t talking to me cause he thought we were a thing and then I got back together with Hunter. Then Lexi and Ben wanted to get back at me by telling Hunter I hooked up with Isaac and even Hunter wouldn’t talk to me.

After a month I went from popular to loser, everyone thought I was a slut and all my friends stopped talking to me, I ate outside on a bench for lunch and I had NO one to talk to. That night I got a call on the home phone from the ambulance: my parents had gotten in a big car accident. I had to hop onto the train and run five blocks to the accident. They had to spend the night in the hospital.

I had to go to school early in the morning to get one the school bus. During  English class Mr. Smith got a note from our vice principal, I was to report to the office. What had I done?! I’m pretty sure I did nothing! I was told my parents wanted me at the hospital. Mr. Brown, our principal told me he hoped my parents were okay. I hopped on the bus and went straight to my parents room, the doctor told me I had an hour before they… will… pass. I couldn’t believe it. We had a long talk, my mom on my right in a bed, and my dad on my left in his hospital bed. After we talked about their will my mother and father faded fast, tears running down my face and my heart beating slower. I couldn’t believe it, they were gone, and this time, for real. My heart was alive but my soul was gone, or was my soul alive and my heart was gone? Who knows, but I know a part of me was gone.

I had to stay at my house alone because I need to clear out my house to sell it. After a week everything was alright, but my “friends’ wouldn’t even talk to me, the friends knew would be there for my one hundred percent. I started going through my parents stuff. In my moms desk I found a folder that was titled “Birth Certificates and Growing Up.” I opened it up, pages upon pages of paperwork and pictures of me as a child. I found a small envelope in big letters “Baby Pictures.” It was me and a girl in the hospital, about thirty pictures, and eighteen of me and this other baby girl, until the nineteenth one, it was just pictures of me throughout my toddler years. I went through one more envelope titled “Elenore and Elena,” I was wondering who Elena was. Once again pages upon pages of pictures, then I came across paperwork in a large binder clip, the last four pages were information about Lexi. It was like a note written to my mother.

Dear Kayla,

Your daughter Lexi White is doing really great with her adoptive family, but she is having trouble at home. Her parents are fighting every night and it’s affecting her school work, other than that everything is great. From Kerry.

I had a sister. My best friend is my sister. I needed to tell her, but she wouldn’t believe me. I have to bring this stuff to school tomorrow and show her. The next day at the end of school I walked up to her and said straight out,

“We’re sisters.” She obviously didn’t believe me. After I showed her the papers she finally believed me.

“Wow. We’re sisters… I can’t believe it, I knew something was special about our friendship.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry about everything,” I said.

“You know, sisters would listen to each other, and take each other’s advice, especially about boys.”

“Are you serious?! We are sisters, I’m trying to say sorry and you won’t forgive me, sisters forgive each other.”

“If you were really my sister you would have taken my advice.”

“And look who mom kept!”

Everyone heard me and Lexi ran out crying, I ran after her, she wouldn’t turn around. My only thing left of my family is Lexi, and she’s gone. Now I’m the most HATED person at Belleview High, and I don’t have anyone to go to. Now I know, the part of me that was missing was my sister, my other half. Now I know why my parents were so quiet. June 18th, 2014. There I was, standing, all alone…

An Excerpt from an Untitled Novel

Chapter 1

As Susan approached the mail chute, she played back his words in her head. Do not go anywhere near the fifth floor. The strange man in front of the seemingly abandoned building had not been clear when he warned her. Despite her questions, he refused to explain the dangers of the fifth floor, which only made her more curious to find out what was lurking there. Her intentions were never to put herself in danger, but she could not imagine what could possibly go wrong if she simply stepped inside to take a look for herself. Worst case scenario: I’ll scream, she thought, and someone should be able to hear me. True, there aren’t many people around here, especially as it’s 2 a.m. in Brooklyn, but someone ought to be passing by. That old man, for instance. Susan recalled the man’s words again, but it was too late now. She was already on the fifth floor, slowly walking towards the mail chute which had an odd, almost tangible aura around it. The man could’ve just been a lunatic, she thought, an escaped asylum patient. But she couldn’t deny that she felt something strange and different when the ancient staircase led her to the fifth floor. As she suspected, the building was abandoned; in fact, it was completely bare. All except for the single mail chute.

Susan was now close enough to notice an aged envelope lying there, and grabbed it to discover what it contained. Was this why the man warned me? Is there something in this letter I shouldn’t know about? she wondered, but tried to get the thought out of her head; he was insane, after all. The front of the envelope only contained a capital T written in indigo ink, with smudges on the side. With growing interest, Susan grabbed the envelope, attempting to open it, but before she could, an intense pain from her fingers began to distribute to the rest of her body. Wincing in pain, she cowered, suddenly realizing that her legs somehow looked smaller. With her hand before her eyes, she gasped as she watched each finger slowly shrink. By the time her mind could wrap around what was happening, she was already a miniscule fraction of her once tall and wide frame. Susan became just small enough to fit into the mail chute.

In spite of her better judgment, she sprung up high like a flea into the chute, and soared through its winding tunnels. The faster she fell, the weaker she felt. Her orientation was almost non existent, as she could no longer tell whether she was falling face down, sideways, or not at all. This is just my imagination. I’m at home. In my bedroom. Sleeping. This is just my imagination. This is just my imagination. But no matter how hard Susan tried to convince herself, she knew that the unexplainable events of the day were real. It was only two hours ago that I found John dead. It was only two hours ago that I ran from the house, heading nowhere. It was only an hour ago that I stumbled upon this place. It was only a minute ago that I made the mistake.

Bend after bend, tunnel after tunnel, Susan fell onto a concrete surface. I can feel that barbeque chicken pizza coming back up, she thought as she was overwhelmed by vertigo. Once the dizziness began to fade, she got on her knees and stood up, trying to figure out her surroundings. What she first thought was a regular road, was actually a thick piece of paper. What she first thought to be flowers or trees, were actually multi-colored ink marks. Some were sky blue, others navy; some grassy green, others dark forest. Squinting her eyes, they appeared as letters written in calligraphy. Her first instinct was to laugh; this could not possibly be what she thought it was.

“Watch out!” a deep voice echoed behind her. Susan spun around, only to come face to face with a horse black as coal. “Would you watch where you’re going, Miss? Some of us are in a hurry!” a man perched on top of the horse bellowed, his face turning the shade of a tomato. “And please do yourself a favor and put some clothes on!” What does he mean? I’m wearing a dress. The dress I wore to the dance. The dance I went to with John. Once he passed, it struck her that she was in the middle of a papyrus road. Old fashioned carriages pulled by the finest horses she had ever seen were passing by; the horses almost looking two dimensional like paper cut outs. Still, they galloped forward, obviously not restricted by their unusual form. She crossed onto what she assumed was a sidewalk, with its lightweight paper curbs and risen platforms. The individuals strolling along were not exactly the typical New Yorkers she was used to seeing on a daily basis. The girls who wore short shorts, the guys who wore baseball jerseys. These people were different; their clothes, their manner, their features. Susan had never seen such long, elaborate gowns, or such elegant, colorful hats. Not one of them had their ankles bare, or their back slumped. Each lady that passed looked more superior than the last. The men, likewise, looked like they had just come out of a Jane Austen novel. Mr. Darcy’s were surrounding her like tourists in Manhattan. Monocles, top hats, and waistcoats were all she could see; and she could not look away.

Again, she laughed, attracting attention from the 18th century-like crowd. This is some joke. Some sick, horrible joke. This day didn’t happen. It didn’t.

“Ow!” Susan’s thoughts were interrupted as a heap of sheets fell down on her, knocking her out of place.

“There’s no place for prostitutes in this town!” she heard a thick cockney accent from above. Susan glanced up at the paper houses, but the owner’s voice had disappeared. Without a second thought, she wrapped herself in one of the lace sheets, creating a makeshift ankle length skirt, to cover up the short mint green dress she had worn earlier this evening. John had loved it. She recalled the way he made her spin around in it, watching as the tulle fabric danced around her. It seemed like the start to a memorable night. And yes, it was memorable, but not in the way she would have ever wanted.

“My, you seem to be quite lost,” a pale faced lady said, looking her up and down as if she were a dirty peasant. Well, I sure must look that way to her.

“Uhh- Well, yes, I am. I’m really lost, actually. Could you, um, tell me where I am?”

“Certainly, my dear. You are on Quill Lane, right across from the park,” the woman replied.

“Yeah, but,” Susan paused, not quite sure how to ask the question. “Which country am I in? Or is country not the right term? Which land am I in?”

“Which land? What do you mean, child? There is but one, and this is it. Triarta,” the woman seemed caught off guard, thinking she must be talking to someone suffering from amnesia. “Poor child, you must come with me. You’ll be better soon, and when you are-”

“Triarta. With a T?” Susan interrupted.

“Why, how else would you spell it?”

It makes sense now. Susan thought back to the envelope she saw. A single, indigo T written across. The entrance to this country, this land, this world. Triarta.

All Right

The world was bleeding.

As far as the eye could see there was a barren wasteland.

Nothing.

Blood soaked the acrid ground leaving a macabre work of art, and bodies-

Oh god, are those people?

They laid on the ground, cold lifeless eyes staring up into the scorching sun. Choking down a wave of nausea, she ran to them. Carrion birds pecked at their eyes, leaving large red gaping holes.

Oh god, it can’t be.

“Go away!” the little girl shouted at the birds, their beaks red with blood. Her voice was raw, it scraped against her throat painfully, as if she had swallowed sand.

Please, please oh no.

Rolling a body over, the stench making her stomach churn, she prayed.

Please don’t be her, please.

The man’s face was scraped raw by sand, blood stained his beard, which was long and unkempt, hung in thick strands past his chest. Blood dribbled slowly from the corner of his mouth, which was twisted in a grimace of agony. He had taken many wounds before collapsing in the burning sun.

Thank god.

No, no, what was she thinking!

Tasting blood.

Tearing at her hair.

The smell, oh god, no.

He’s dead.

She must be, too.

“SHUT UP!” the little girl shrieked, holding her head in her hands, hot tears ran down her face as she stared up into the unrelenting sun.

A warm hand landed on her shoulder.

She’s alive!

Bloody and bruised but alive.

“Sis.”

A smile, a strange awkward attempt of a smile crossed her sister’s lips. Heavy racking sobs shook the little girls small frame as she clung onto the older girl.

“I’m here, now,” her sister said, hugging her.

And at that moment, despite all the chaos and despair, the little girl knew that everything would be all right.

All Kinds of Wonderful

In a hole in the wall there lived a mailman. It was a damp, dusty hole, a small apartment full of dirty dishes and ripped shoulder bags and a musty smell. The mailman was not only a mailman. At least, he strived to be more. Everyone else seemed to be so many things: a brother, a daughter, an athlete, a musician, a lover, an adventurer… But Frank was just a mailman.

Every morning, Frank would turn off his alarm, roll out of bed, slowly button his starched blue uniform, grab a PopTart, and dash off to work. And work was where Frank’s life began. There was nothing in this world that made him happier than carrying letters, packages, and catalogues to the homes of suburban families. It gave his life meaning to know that each silver-haired businessman and young craft-blogger wife would receive each and every advertisement and private-school tuition bill on time. That was who lived in those fancy houses and tended those manicured lawns, wasn’t it? Frank never really paid attention to the people who left him Christmas checks in their mailslots. He didn’t even really pay attention to the mail he delivered. All that mattered to Frank the Mailman was the address on each envelope and the number on each door. He lived life door to door, satisfying his hunger for achievable goals with delivery after delivery and paycheck after paycheck. Frank’s rhythm of living had never been disrupted, and never would be for as long as corporate monoliths continued to send forests-worth of catalogues and fund drives to potential customers around the country. Or so he believed, until one fateful day in the dead of winter.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Besides the occasional aggressive dog scratching on a locked door or unsalted, unshoveled walkway post-snowstorm, Frank had never really had difficulty getting mail to each door. Today’s challenge was entirely unfamiliar to the determined young mailman. Never before had he ever faced an obstacle so… impenetrable. As he arrived at the door of the first house on the street, Frank found himself at a loss. He had not the slightest inkling of what to do: the mailslot was boarded shut. Who boarded their mailslot shut? Were they trying to give their friendly neighborhood mail carrier an existential crisis? Frank turned away from the door and took a deep breath. Clearly the owner of this Craftsman-style, painfully beige home did not want to receive any mail (though Frank could not begin to fathom why). But he had a job to do.

“Screw the homeowner,” Frank muttered softly. “I am delivering this mail and that is that.” He slowly raised his fist to the door, freezing in place without making contact. The young mailman took three slow, deep breaths and knocked. Three times, he knocked, boney knuckles striking glossy beige paint over dense wood. No response. Frank waited a full minute before knocking again. BANG… tat-tat. He let out the breath he had been holding as the sound of footsteps began deep within the house. The door creaked slowly open.

Frank’s heart stopped as the most beautiful face he had ever seen appeared in the doorway. The face looked down at him from inside the house.

“How can I help you?” Frank blinked as the man in front of him spoke.

“I… have your mail, your mail slot’s boarded shut?” He stuttered over his words as he struggled to breathe in the presence of an almost inhuman beauty. Frank had never really noticed people’s faces before. Other people had just never really interested him. But this man– well, this man was something special. His green eyes shown wide with fear, and his thin, delicate lips were pressed tightly and nervously together. He took one deep breath before speaking to the mailman.

“I don’t want any mail. It’s always either ads or people.” Frank thought for a second before answering.

“I delivered mail to this house yesterday. Did you just move in?” The handsome stranger nodded slowly.

“The houses are farther apart here. Less neighborly. Please take your mail and go,” he turned away and closed the door.

Frank, not wanting to contribute to the furrow of the green-eyed man’s brow, did as he was told. But as he continued on his route that day, he could not keep his mind off the gorgeous, paranoidly detached young man in the beige house.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Another day, another truck full of mail, and Frank was eager to get to delivering it all. But as he arrived at the first house on his route, he remembered yesterday’s excitement. The beautiful stranger’s mailslot remained boarded shut. Frank froze in indecision as he pondered what action to take, torn between fulfilling the man’s desire to be left alone and completing his set task. And, though he would never admit it (especially to himself), Frank really did want to look into those wide green eyes just one more time. There was something about them. Something new and unfamiliar and overwhelming that drew Frank in and would not let him turn away. His decision was made– Frank climbed intrepidly up the stairs from the road to the man’s front porch.

This time he did not hesitate. He knocked three times, sharply and quickly: rat-tat-tat. And again. Frank was just about to rap on the door for the third time when he heard the soft sound of the man’s feet padding up to the door. It creaked open.

“I said I don’t want any mail,” the man said, promptly swinging the door shut–

“Wait!” Frank blurted, pushing the door slightly open again. “It’s just mail!” The man tried to slam the door in Frank’s face, but the mailman stubbornly held it open.

“I’ll call the police if you don’t le–”

“I’m Frank,” he interrupted the stranger’s threat.

Raising an eyebrow in confusion, the man responded, “Aaron.” It occurred to Frank that Aaron’s confusion was not directed at him, but within. Aaron did not know why he answered. Neither did Frank know why he had asked.

“Aaron,” he repeated softly. The name felt strangely comfortable on his tongue. “Why are you so afraid, Aaron?” Frank surprised himself by inquiring.

Aaron’s green eyes widened with shock. “Please leave. You’re my mailman. Goodbye, Frank.”

“Aaron! Wait!” Frank put out his hand to stop the door as Aaron began to close it yet again. As Frank looked past the door and into the house, he saw his beautiful stranger standing in a room like in one of his catalogues that he delivers every day. The room just within the doorway was a living room, filled with neatly-stacked books and impeccably-folded blankets. But there were no pictures. No Christmas cards. No evidence of a human life. In a way, it reminded Frank of his own living room. He had no pictures either. He received holiday cards from his parents and his sister’s family every year, but he just threw them out. Frank was anything but sentimental. Looking into Aaron’s house, it occurred to him that maybe this other man was afraid of connecting with people, rather than simply uncaring.

Frank was shaken out of his introspective daze by a loud ringing from within the house.

“Are you gonna get that?” he said to Aaron.

“No. It’s either a telemarketer or someone I used to know.”

Frank sighed. Turning around and leaving Aaron forever was certainly not an option anymore.

“What do you want, Frank? I don’t want your mail. I told you. Please just leave me alone.”

“I…” Frank paused. What did he want, really?” And before he knew what he was saying, Frank had done the unthinkable. “I want to take you on a date.”

Aaron stared at him, his face expressing the same shock that Frank felt. “Wh… wha– mm… Friday at 6:30,” Aaron stuttered, and slammed the door.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Frank had not been on a date since high school. He actually had just never really desired one. The whole world seemed to be focused on dating and love and all that, but Frank was never really interested, which would concern him if it were not for the fact that nobody interested him, ever, except Aaron. Frank had only met him three days ago, and already he was feeling something completely new to him.

He danced nervously on the curb outside his car, hesitant to approach Aaron’s house for non-mail purposes. Nothing in Frank’s life was ever for non-mail purposes. But he knew that the apprehension he was feeling was nothing compared to Aaron’s utter terror. Frank took a deep breath and walked to the door.

Three slow, nervous knocks later, Frank was looking into Aaron’s eyes for the third time. The taller man was dressed in a crisp blue button-down and grey khaki pants. He had clearly put effort into his appearance.

Frank smiled. “Ready?” Aaron grimaced.

“I don’t know, Frank, I’m not sure I want to do this… I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m sorry.” He turned to close the door, but Frank blocked it. This seemed to be becoming a pattern. How odd it was for Frank to be the one encouraging interaction. His place was usually Aaron’s, the one closing the door on someone who only wanted to connect. But Frank closed doors out of apathy. Aaron closed doors out of fear.

“Aaron. We don’t have to go anywhere fancy if you don’t want. I just… I’ve never wanted to do this, whatever this is, with anyone else, and now that there’s you, and you’re afraid, and I don’t know why, I just can’t turn away. And I don’t think you can either. You set the date, and I’m getting the feeling that’s not really your thing.” He paused for breath. Frank had not used his voice for anything this important in his life. Nothing had ever felt so important. Aaron stared at him for a while before answering.

“Okay,” he said softly. “Okay. Let’s go.” Aaron stepped over the threshold and locked the door behind him. Frank noted his key in his hand. Aaron’s change of heart must have occurred the moment Frank knocked on his door. The two men walked together to Frank’s car and got in. They spent the ride in tense silence.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Frank stared at the glass in his hand, spinning the ice around with his straw. What had he been thinking? Here they were, Aaron telling him about his interests and his family, and Frank had nothing to say. He had no interests. He never talked to his family when it was not required. All he really cared about was delivering mail. So he just kept asking Aaron questions, which made the other man extremely nervous.

“Frank? Why do you need to know so much about me?” Frank swallowed.

“I don’t, I’m just interested. Maybe. I don’t know, I’ve never really been interested before.” He looked across the shiny, beat-up wood table into Aaron’s deep green eyes as he admitted this.

“Frank. I don’t know if this is such a good idea. What if you hurt me? What if I hurt you?” Aaron spoke with urgency. “I mean, someone’s going to get hurt. It always happens. It’s inevitable, Frank, the world hurts.” Frank nodded. It made sense that the man who boarded his mailslot shut felt that the world was out to get him. But Frank couldn’t really relate.

“You know, I don’t think it does. The world is just kind of there. Why bother doing anything other than survive? I deliver mail to buy food to eat food to live. It doesn’t have to hurt.”

“But that sounds so boring,” Aaron responded. “I mean, if all there is is survival, why would you even want that?” It was a good point, Frank thought. He had never really thought living was an option. Life, and life only, is compulsory.

“Well, it’s better to not care than to be so scared of getting hurt, isn’t it? At least I can live.”

“But can you? Do you?” Aaron asked. This question was one he had asked himself often. Frank, though, had never felt the need. But now it had been asked. And it needed an answer.

“No.” Frank was suddenly struck by a sense of possibility. Things could change for him. Things needed to change. Frank had never seen value in caring, but now he saw the opportunity for all kinds of wonderful in human connection. He saw potential for joy he had never thought to desire. And across the table, looking into his eyes, Frank had a sense that Aaron was feeling a similar sensation. Here he was, feeling something beautiful, and seeing potential for more than just pain. The fear was still there, still just as strong, but the hope he felt was overpowering. In a rare moment of bravery, Aaron leaned across the table and pressed his lips against Frank’s.

Frank forgot how to breathe. This was something new, something he never wanted to forget. In the moment before Aaron pulled away, Frank caught himself thinking,

You know, maybe there’s more to life than mail.

A Void In My Life

An anomaly in my life has and will continue to forever shift the dynamic of my childhood. That is the lack of a father figure in my household. Especially as a male, not having a father that I can talk to about sensitive topics in a male’s life is extremely challenging. This becomes even harder when I see families and children with the exact thing that I lack in my life. What hurts me even more is that they don’t even seem to realize that having a father or somebody that you can talk to in your life is a blessing.

This abnormality was very hard for me to comprehend in my younger ages. I have learned to embrace it as opposed to hate it. I realized that I am blessed beyond imagination to have the family that I have. My mother, my grandmother, my sister, my brother, my puppy, and my grandfather who truly does fill this void in my life and much much beyond.

The absence of a father in my life is ultimately depressing, but what describes the dynamic of my household and my upbringing is the resilience that my family and I share in response to this dearth. This is the value that has really guided my life. The belief that a situation that is depressing or unfortunate, can be turned into great strength.

 

A Princely Price

 

Part 1: The Gift

Laughter twinkled from every corner of the room. Glasses were clinked, and stories were swapped. A small knot of adoring visitors clustered around a small crib, in which a tiny baby lay, asleep, oblivious to the celebration in his honor. One of the partygoers reached into the crib to scratch the baby’s head, and when she did, the baby awoke and laughed a tinkling little laugh. All the guests smiled and congratulated the queen on such a healthy beautiful baby.

A moment later, a herald cleared his throat from the corner and announced in a loud, booming voice, “The fairy Tatiana has come to bestow upon his Royal Majesty Prince Phillip his birth gift. Welcome, Tatiana of the Eastern Glade!” There was polite applause as a tall fairy clad in sweeping blue robes swept into the room. Her wings, protruding from holes cut from her robes, were a deep, glittering, azure, and their ends almost brushed the marbled floor. She glanced smiling around the room and made her way slowly over to the crib.

When she reached it, Tatiana paused for a moment, then turned to Queen Arabella, the prince’s mother, and said, “Your baby is beautiful, and healthy, and so I need not give him those gifts. Instead,” she said, turning back to the crib, “I give him the gift of persuasion. May he be a gifted a speaker with a quick tongue and a ready reason. May his words always hold true with those around him. This gift, I give to you, Prince Phillip of Helgana.” Tatiana then opened her palm above the baby’s head and a shower of dazzling stars rained down upon the infant.

The guests waited expectantly in hushed silence. Nothing happened. Tatiana broke the awkward silence in an imperious voice, “His gift pertains to speech, and as such, it will not take effect until the child can talk. I believe, for a child of his capabilities, that that would take approximately two-”

“Tatiana,” The Queen Arabella interrupted, “I think you’ve done enough here. Might I have a private word?” The queen’s face was ashen, for she alone had realized what her son’s birth gift would truly mean when he grew up.

Tatiana strolled casually after Arabella as she led the fairy to a small antechamber off the hall. When they were both inside it, Queen Arabella asked, “Do you mean to tell me that my son will be able to control anyone he wishes to with his voice alone?”

“Naturally, Your Grace.”

The Queen moaned, “What have you done, Tatiana? As soon as he finds out the extent of his gift, there will be no one who can control him. He will be king someday, assuming someone doesn’t kill him first, can you imagine that? My birth gift was resourcefulness, my sister’s compassion, why couldn’t you have given him a gift like that? Can you imagine a ruler whose word is literally law? There is a reason fairies aren’t supposed to give children all-powerful birth gifts! A monarch that has too much obvious power is in more danger than a monarch with none. Do you know how angry the people will be if he misuses his gift? There will be uprisings, rebellions, plots, and murders! By blessing my son you have cursed my kingdom!”

“Calm yourself, Your Grace. If you raise the child well, your kingdom will have nothing to fear.”

“I cannot control who he will be, Tatiana! Yes I can love him, and raise him well, but in the end, it is his own heart that will decide the course of his rule.”

Tatiana sighed, “Very well, Your Majesty. I think I can devise a loophole.” She closed her eyes and concentrated, “One moment… yes, I think I have it. You know, of course, that there can only be one of each birth gift alive at any given point?” The Queen nodded.

“That’s not entirely true,” continued Tatiana. “Fairies are not the only ones who can give birth gifts. Gnomes give them too, though never to royals, and to only a few, select commoners. If, somewhere in the world, a child gifted with persuasion met Phillip, and one of them tried to use their gift upon the other, and one resisted, one of the gifts would break in the struggle. If Phillip’s broke, then the void normally filled with persuasiveness would steal some of the birth gift of the other, and vice versa if the other’s broke. Either way, Phillip’s gift is substantially reduced and completely harmless. He probably couldn’t even convince you to give him a box of candy. And voila! You have your happily every after.”

Arabella did not look so happy. “That’s a lot of ‘ifs’, Tatiana.”

“It’s the best I can do, Your Majesty. There may not even be need for the loophole.”

“Let us pray that there won’t be. Farewell, Tatiana. Give my greetings to your brother.”

“Farewell, Your Grace. Good luck with that boy of yours. I’m sure he’ll turn out to be a splendid young fellow.” With these words she swept out of the room as gracefully as she had come, and at that moment, thirty-six miles away, a baby named Carrie Anna Felton was being granted the gift of persuasion by a kindly old gnome.

Part 2: The Journey

Eleven Years and Three Months Later…

Carrie awoke with a start, clutching her blankets and staring wide-eyed out her window. Wolves circled the house, drawn by the gnome sleeping in the adjacent bedroom. Gnomes often came to stay, as her father worked with them often for business, and every time one stayed for the night, frustrated wolf howls kept her awake. Breathe, Carrie, she thought to herself, Just breathe and it’ll be over before you know it. They’ll leave before dawn, Carrie, they always do.

Within an hour, the wolves gave up and left, and Carrie fell asleep shortly after. She awoke with the sun, and went downstairs to find only the gnome awake, happily humming as he made flapjacks and eggs for breakfast.

“Why hello, sleepyhead! You’re normally up an hour before this!” exclaimed the gnome cheerily.

“The wolves kept me awake last night.”

“Ah, yes. Sorry about that. My magic must be getting stronger!” He laughed, letting a few gold sparks dance merrily off his fingers.

Carrie smiled, unable, as always, to be sad or tired in the gnome’s presence. “Must you leave today, Mookmack? Mother’s making mushroom soup tonight, your favorite.”

“I admit it sounds tempting, mi mookadi,” said the gnome, using Carrie’s gnomish nickname, “but I must be up at the palace tomorrow. Queen Arabella has requested my presence and it would not do to upset a royal.”

“Why’d she summon you?” asked Carrie curiously.

“She’s asked me to do a Telling. Apparently she’s worried about her son’s birth gift, and wants to know if it’ll cause any trouble. Persuasion, same as yours, mi mookadi,” Mookmack said, ruffling Carrie’s hair fondly. For once, Carrie did not smile back. Instead, she stared hard at her plate and made no response.

“Ah, forgive me, I had forgotten you abhorred your birth gift so. You know, not many commoners get birth gifts. If my cousin, Zookam, hadn’t been so fond of you, you wouldn’t have a birth gift at all. Besides, I’d venture to guess you’ve never manipulated anyone with it?”

Carrie shook her head. Though she didn’t say so, she hadn’t used her gift since she was four, and had no intention of using it in the near future.

Mookmack smiled, satisfied, “Gnome gifts are always more down-to-earth than fairies’ are. I’ve always said fairies shouldn’t be trusted to give out gifts; they’re much too prone to arrogance and hunger for power, not something you want in a royal.” Mookmack tossed the last flapjacks onto a plate and placed it on the table, where three other plates sat steaming. “Everything’s ready for breakfast, mi mookadi, go wake your parents, and tell them I didn’t add mushrooms to this batch of pancakes.”

An hour later, the plates were cleaned and put away, and Carrie, her parents, and Mookmack sat at the table, chatting about Mookmack’s journey to the palace.

“Be careful on the roads, and keep an eye out for brigands, I’ve heard there’s a swarm of relatively intelligent pixies who’ve taken to thievery,” said Carrie’s mother, Kathryn.

Mookmack laughed heartily. “Don’t worry, this gnome’s got a few tricks up his sleeve that no thief on earth has seen before.”

“All the same, you might travel faster if you didn’t have to worry about safety. You sure you don’t want to take one of the dogs?” Carrie’s mother asked, concerned.

“No, no. I don’t get along well with dogs, no canine breed seems to get along with gnomes, but,” he said slowly, “I was thinking that maybe, if she wanted to, Carrie could come along with me.”

There was a rather startled silence at the table.

“Well… I suppose so… what d’you think, Carrie?” asked Carrie’s father tentatively.

“I-I’d love to, Mookmack… but it’s just… the farthest I’ve been from home is to the meadow to take the dogs for a run.”

Mookmack reached out and squeezed her hand fondly. “You’ve got good, gnomish instincts, mi mookadi; you stick where you belong, but sometimes it’s good to get out and see the world, so that when you get come, you appreciate it all the more. Besides, I’ll be with you the whole time, and when we get home, you’ll have something extra special exiting to tell all your friends. What’d you say?”

Carrie thought for a moment, then said, “I think I would like to very much, Mookmack. What should I pack?”

Three hours later, Mookmack and Carrie sat upon the back of an old mule, Carrie in the front and Mookmack behind, and along the ten-hour ride, they told stories and jokes and riddles, and though Carrie thoroughly enjoyed the gnome’s company, she was glad to dismount the mule and approach the castle gates.

Part 3: The End

“Your Majesty, Queen Arabella of Helgana, may I present you with the gnome Mookmack Zinzendorf of the Southern Tunnels, and Carrie Anna Felton of Farwick!” called the herald in a loud, clear voice as Carrie and Mookmack entered the throne room.

Carrie could not help but gape. Her whole house could have fit in half the room alone, and her eyes had never witnessed such an incredible display of color. Banners hung on poles high above her head, and portraits lined the walls along the hall. Then there was the queen herself. She was clad in a deep purple gown with a crown that glittered as though stars gleamed through the diamonds adorning it.

Mookmack led Carrie to the front of the hall, directly before the queen.

“Your Grace, the gnomes send their fondest wishes of your health and happiness.” Mookmack did not bow, but touched his heart, eyes and nose with one hand, and extended it towards her, palm up, as was gnomish custom.

“Greetings, Mookmack. You do not know how grateful I am for you to have come. I thank you.” She returned the gnomish gesture of heart, eyes and nose, and then turned to Carrie. “I did not realize you intended to bring along a child, Mookmack, though of course she is more than welcome if she journeys in your company.”

Carrie bowed respectfully, “Your Majesty.”

The queen smiled. “You look the same age as my son. Speaking of which, Mookmack, I am assuming, by your presence here, that you are willing to do a Telling for my son?”

Mookmack nodded. “I am, but I must warn you, Your Majesty, his future may be murky; I cannot guarantee a successful Reading.”

“I understand that, but I do not feel that I have any choice. He’s getting more dangerous by the day.”

“How do you mean, Your Majesty?”

Queen Arabella sighed, “He is becoming obsessed with testing his gift, controlling everyone around him with his voice. It’s become so bad we’ve had to lock him in a tower and keep practically no one around him.”

“Is that really necessary, Your Majesty? Do you know how many stories there are of children turning into angry, dangerous adults because they’re bitter about injustice as a child?”

“I assure you it’s necessary, Mookmack. The other day he used his gift to make a stable-hand jump into the moat just because he’d forgotten to feed Phillip’s favorite horse breakfast. It took three hours to fish him out, and the poor lad is recovering in the infirmary and is likely to be there for another two weeks.”

“I see your point. Lead on.”

The three of them walked out of the throne room and climbed up a steep, spiraling, cold, stone staircase. They walked down a long corridor, then down a small flight of steps, then down another corridor, and when they reached a thick, wooden door, the queen finally signaled them to stop.

“The prince is inside. I know your magic will protect you from his words, but all the same, be careful. When you have completed the Telling, come back out here and tell me what you found. Carrie and I will wait here until then.”

Mookmack disappeared inside the room, closing the door firmly behind him. They could hear nothing through the sturdy, wooden door, and it felt like an eternity, though in reality it was only five minutes, until Mookmack came back outside.

“Your son’s future is difficult to perceive,” he said solemnly. “There are two clear paths he could take, though there could be countless others that I was simply unable to see.

“The first is quite simple. He would continue on the path he is on now, and become a destructive and tyrannical king. He would die and his child would take over, etcetera, etcetera.

“The second path is more complicated. And it involves Carrie.”

Carrie looked up, startled. “What?”

The gnome looked gravely up at the queen, “I happen to know how to break a fairy’s birth gift, and though it doesn’t happen very often, I believe we could manage it- if you would allow it, of course.”

The queen nodded. “Continue.”

“I don’t know whether you realize, but Carrie’s birth gift is persuasion.” Mookmack took a breath to continue, but was interrupted by the queen.

“Do you mean…” She trailed off, then bent close to Mookmack’s ear and began whispering urgently to him. Carrie couldn’t catch what they were saying, though she tried to. After a few moment of this, Queen Arabella straightened up and said, “Carrie, I would very much like you to go into the room, and when Phillip tries to control you with his voice, as he undoubtedly will, you are to resist. Resist with every fiber of your being. If you successfully resist him his gift will be broken. Then we can give him a less dangerous gift, perhaps, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

“What if I fail? What if I’m not strong enough? Would my gift break?” asked Carrie in a small voice.

Mookmack put a hand on Carrie’s shoulder and said quietly, “Only you have the power to fix this, only you can save Phillip, and by extension, the kingdom, from this disaster. Please, Carrie, I ask you as your friend, do this for Helgana.”

“I’d like you to know, Carrie,” said the queen in a tense voice, “that I do not say this often, but… I need your help.”

Carrie looked up at both faces, and felt rather flattered, though she knew it was because of her birth gift, and not because of her. “Um… okay. I’ll try.”

Queen Arabella beamed, and Mookmack smiled proudly, “That’s my little gnomeling!”

Carrie couldn’t help but smile as she pushed the door open and let it close with a dull thud behind her.

The prince sat reading in a chair in the corner, and barely glanced up when Carrie came in. “Oh, yes, you. Please take away my tea things. I found I wasn’t very hungry today.”

Carrie stared at him, not moving. It took the prince a moment to realize that Carrie wasn’t following his order. “What are you doing? Take the tray away!”

Carrie still didn’t move. The prince sighed impatiently, “Why must I always ask three times for something to be done? Very well, if I must, I must.” He set down his book and locked eyes with Carrie. When he spoke, his words were layered with what seemed like hundreds of different tones and pitches, yet all synchronized into one, perfectly balanced voice. “Take the tray downstairs.” He said, “Take it to the kitchen. When you have completed that…” Philip trailed off for a moment, thinking, then smiled craftily, and said, “When you have done that, hand in your resignation. The royal palace does not need disobedient maids like you. That is all. Go.”

The prince picked up his book again and resumed reading. Carrie still didn’t move. She knew he had used his gift, or tried to, and though it had taken very little effort to resist, she also knew Philip was perfectly capable of turning the power up, so to speak, as she had learned from personal experience.

Her prediction came true within moments. Philip looked up once again from his reading and this time, looked annoyed, “You’re either exceedingly stupid, or you have a stronger will than most I’ve met. Now, let’s try again.” Philip locked eyes with Carrie and repeated his words, only this time his voice seemed layered with thousands of different tones, not just hundreds. Carrie stared back, feeling the magic flow from his voice into her mind, telling her to bring the tea tray downstairs, but somewhere in the back of her brain, a different voice awoke. A voice that said no. Even as Philip’s gift urged her to bend to his will, her gift made her hold her ground.

When Philip increased his power for the fourth time, Carrie could feel the pressure building in her head and could see sparks dancing along the line that connected their eyes. Philip stood, and then collapsed back into the chair, still pushing magic at Carrie. Carrie felt as though a chair to collapse into would have been nice. She felt her gift pulling energy from the rest of her body as magic from her gift began to dry up.

Sweat began pouring down Philip’s face, and Carrie could feel the same on hers. On the line where their magic clashed now danced fire instead of sparks, a growing, hungry fire. It started in the middle of the line and ate its way towards Carrie’s and Philip’s faces. It reaches Carrie’s first. She watched it approach, not daring to give in and break the connection, but the pain she had expected didn’t come. Instead the edges of her vision began to grow dark as her magic fed off the last of her energy to fight off Philip’s. It was too much. She didn’t have the strength to maintain the connection. Her vision was flickering. I can’t do it. I’ve failed. Forgive me, Mookmack. I tried.

The next second the fire exploded. It consumed everything. Carrie couldn’t tell where her body ended and the fire began. The only thing she could feel was the thin line of magic still somehow connecting Philip’s gift to hers. And then, somewhere in her sub-consciousness, she felt something snap. She couldn’t tell if it was the connection, Philip’s gift, or what was left of hers. She found she couldn’t muster the strength to care… and then everything faded and her vision went black.

Voices. Not manipulative voices. Not hungry, angry voices. Just voices. Carrie opened her eyes and stared up at a deep purple ceiling speckled with silver stars. She rolled over onto her side and found herself looking at Mookmack. He was smiling. “Well done, mi mookadi.”

“Mookmack…what happened?”

“You destroyed the prince’s birth gift. I’m afraid you accidentally destroyed your own gift as well, but no matter, I can replace it. How would you feel about maybe strength, determination?”

Carrie thought for a moment before deciding, “That sounds wonderful, Mookmack.”

Mookmack beamed, “I’ll do it when we get home.”

At that moment the queen entered what Carrie now realized was the infirmary. Arabella wasted no time getting down to business. “I trust Mookmack has filled you in sufficiently?” Carrie nodded. “Well then,” continued the queen, “I’ve been thinking about how to replace Philip’s gift. I was thinking maybe patience or courage, but I’m not sure. I was just wondering what you thought.”

Carrie knew instantly what to say, “Understanding. He’s been making everyone else see his point of view for so long he should see theirs now. It might make him more accepting about losing his old gift.”

Arabella smiled. “I agree. Farewell, Carrie Anna Fulton. You are welcome here any time you wish. I’m sure my son will find the humility to thank you one day. I can do so for him now.” The queen bowed slightly in farewell. “Have a safe journey home, and don’t forget to visit. When you get older there’ll be a job waiting for you here. I promise. Just… wait a year or two before you do; my son is a very stubborn fellow.”

Carrie smiled back, “Thank you, Your Majesty.” But in her heart, Carrie knew where she belonged, and it wasn’t in the palace. Mookmack seemed to know what she was thinking and as the queen swept out, he whispered in her ear, “You have good instincts, mi mookadi, good instincts.”

A Cut On My Finger

I wrote a poem about a cut that I got on my finger

because it didn’t hurt

and I thought it was strange

the line of red

lulling out.

I put my finger in my mouth

and let the sweet rust

spread across my tongue

as a coat

of armor

and it still didn’t hurt-

that cut on my finger

so thin like the paper that made it

a double edged blade

made of sweet

of not caring for pain anymore

In that moment I had an immunity

That couldn’t be felt

and couldn’t be seen

I wrote a poem about a cut

that I got on my finger

because I thought it was strange

that I didn’t hurt anymore.

1 to 10

Tossing turning thinking

revision remind rethink rewind reword

and reword

and rework

and swallow and don’t forget to breathe.

Don’t forget to breathe

don’t forget to breathe.

Watch your breathing

and don’t let it spiral

and don’t puff your breathing.

Focus on your heart go 123456789

123456789.

89

789

5689

679.

and one again

it always goes back to one

and square one

base one to homerun

I am ruled by the one.

Number one and

number one and

number one no wait…

two

two  (?)

two is for searching for wishing and lurking

never getting it right.

two is is is the absolute  worst

I Hate two.

two is too long  ..  it runs &  it bleeds & it bleeds and it bleeds out.

two is the cause of my fear

of all thoughts

of that dreaded second place

and second tier

and a benched life I have created  for myself.

and now

three.

three seems redundant

three because two wasn’t enough.

three to satisfy

three to be silenced

and three to hide

to hide behind.

three so there can be someone to shine

three to have a winner

and three so I can lose.

Four is the ‘All American Family’

four takes the focus off me.

it puts it all on him

Four is for splitting

dividing and quitting

and breaking up

Four was the fan favorite and the only thing to ever be exploited.

Four was a perfect storm.

Four for remembering I never really had the attention on me.

Four because I always wanted the attention on me and attracted negative attention when it didn’t               happen.

234

34

34

fi-

I need FIVE

five is the perfect half point and the place it all makes sense again

234 fi- 789

fi- 6789

1234 fi- 789

789

789

Four nervous breaths

and three rushed pants

and two distressed parents

one long night

and still no five.

FIVE 678

23456789

8989

89

89

89.

TEN

racing chasing

feet pacing

hearts beating

And 10

ten again

Ten fingers reaching up towards my ceiling and clenching down against my throat.

Ten white lies rushing into my ears

ten salted tears streaming down my face

not symmetrically though

7 on my left

2 on my right

and one left again

Wrong.

Just be even.

Why doesn’t mom understand

If my tears couldn’t be even how could I expect anything out of my life.

Even I didn’t really understand that.

234567

765432

2 7 2 7 2 7

I just understood that I was on a spectrum

I was a two

And I HATE  two.

123

123

1234

678910

And finally ~five.

swallow and don’t forget to breathe

Don’t forget to breathe

don’t forget to breathe

Watch your breathing

And try to stop the spiral

dont scare your ch

A Cat in the Chamomile

The boy’s pictures lift from the page, the black cat and the girl standing on the bluffs are no longer trapped in his perilous paper. The cat is curled around her shoulders observing the rise and fall of the tide against the rocky edge of the bluffs. Fear of the rocks, and the cold water prevent the cat from taking a no doubt foolish leap of faith into the foamy waters lapping up against the sharp cliff. However, the cat’s human couch holds no such fears, and now that she is a tangible being she has nothing left to lose. She is nothing but a miniscule girl standing at the edge of a teacup, the cat on her shoulders so small you have to squint to see him. By some miracle, the tea in the cup is moving of its own accord, crashing brown waves of steeping Chamomile against its porcelain walls. The boy stares intently at his little monsters, waiting to see the girl jump into his boiling hot breakfast. The cat can sense something, a shift in her footing or a slight bend of the knees as if to tell the cat she’s preparing and he should either stay along for the ride or hop off now. She jumps and the cat is digging his claws into the girl’s shoulders trying not to let himself go flying in the air, because being separated from the girl in an ocean of tea is far worse than being forced into the murky brown waters in the first place.

The boy takes no notice of the sacrifice either of them have made because he is busy creating a new image to bring to life. This time, he paints with vibrant colors, because the pencil gray of the cat and girl was too bleak.

Center stage in his colorful masterpiece is a fountain, and all around it are children playing and parents talking, men and women selling things on the cobblestoned street corners fading into the edges of the paper. The children are reaching their arms into the fountain trying to grab at pennies that have been tossed in for luck, they’ve rolled up their sleeves and lie flat on the edge of the marble fountain. Their parents are walking around chatting, and wheeling their little ones about in push chairs. Those selling goods around the square are bargaining with men and women trying to get what they desire for a price they think to be more suitable. All of these things are in beautiful colors, shades made meticulously over time by someone who cares deeply about having just the right shade of green or lavender. The grass sprouting from cracks in the bricks, the water spouting out of the fountain in graceful arcs, the pennies glimmering under the water, all of these things are beautifully crafted by someone who knows the painting is more than a painting. The boy makes a final mark and sits back in the couch, he smacks the pillow and a cloud of dust rises from the green velvet, in the dust the scene takes place, as each mite moves in the sunlight coming from the windows the people in the square are going about their business as if there’s nothing out of the ordinary happening in their little town, parents are scolding their children and making them throw the pennies back into the water and salesmen are shouting at irritating bargainers, bothering them with their constant need for a lower price than what’s been offered. The iridescent dust floating through the air is colored beautifully by reflections of the different shades coating the room. The boy leans back in the couch and watches as the people he has created play out their every-day lives for him, it’s like a movie to him, he sits and watches, silently observing as they go about their regular business. At the door he hears a knock and he’s standing up on the couch in a flash, waving his hands around in the air trying to make his images dissipate into nothing more than dust again.

 

——————————

 

When his mother entered the room the boy was standing on the couch waving his arms about like a madman. Because she was unsure what he was attempting to do, she didn’t notice the dust particles stretching apart and dissolving, the faces of the townspeople turning into what they used to be — dust.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Leo?” his mother asked, stomping into the room, “the neighbors will think you’re insane.” She walked to the curtains, pulling them closed, the dust only visible in the light streaming in from the windows was gone in a flash and the boy was left standing on the couch staring into the air with a blank expression. “For god’s sake Leo, get off the furniture!” she shouted walking across the room to fluff the pillows on the couch, “you shouldn’t even be in your father’s study, you know how angry he gets when he sees that things have been moved around in here.”

“Sorry,” Leo said, tromping out of the room in a daze. With a lack of things to do, he decided to go back to his room. In the back of his closet Leo kept a collection of drawings. They weren’t any good though because most of them were just boring sceneries; the people in his pictures liked to run away. Leo wasn’t upset that they wanted to run away, he often felt the same way he imagined they did.

From his room the garden looked shady and relaxing, and from the garden his room looked luxurious and better than how he remembered it. He ended up going back and forth between his room and the garden a few times before deciding to stay in the garden, because he was far too tired to go back up the stairs another time.

Dusty pieces of chalk were lying unused on the pavement that wrapped its way around the garden. Leo sorted through bits of chalk trying to find a blue piece but the only colors he could find were white and yellow, and obviously yellow was too happy of a color for his current inspiration, so he left the chalk on the floor and promptly began to sketch the outline of a woman. She was trapped under the concrete. He drew her furled brow and clenching fists, her face twisting into a silent scream. The grainy pieces of chalk moved about on the pavement and told him the woman’s story. She pounded on the ground beneath him and the boy took a step back, afraid that he might of made his newest creation a bit too life sized for his taste. When the concrete gave in to the woman’s fists she exploded into the air leaving Leo a stunned chalk covered mess. He could only imagine what the neighbors would think; purely for his mother’s benefit he hoped the shade that slid from the tree boughs had covered his chalk colored mess in the garden.

The first time Leo drew the woman was in the garden. He was ten and he wasn’t aware that it would be more than just another drawing to hide away in the back of his closet. He kept drawing her, over and over again on every scrap of paper he could find, and each time he drew her she changed a bit, sometimes she would be too tired to break out of her little scrap of notebook paper altogether and Leo would wake up the next morning to see that she was gone, maybe she had slipped off the corner, or maybe some time during the night she had broken free of her paper walls. Leo started drawing her just to see the different ways she could escape. After a while, he began to choose his favorite ways in which she managed to free herself. There was the time that the tiny piece of paper she was trapped in managed to fold itself into an origami person and ran off his desk only to find death waiting for her in his trash bin; that happened when he was eleven. There was also the time that he drew her on a napkin he got from a breakfast diner and she ripped open the flimsy tissue paper holding her back; unfortunately the waitress was responsible for her demise that time, the glass flattening the small girl made of ink, when Leo was only fourteen. At the age of sixteen he drew her in the margin of his sheet music and she sailed away on an eighth note, she stood on the F sharp and clung to the stem gazing towards the edge of the page and just like that she sailed off the corner of his paper and into oblivion.

As Leo began to realize that he couldn’t paint or draw as a profession he started exploring other things that he thought he may enjoy. He was terrible at dancing, in the course of his first lesson he managed to break three toes, and wedge multiple shards of a mirror into his left knee. After dance, he tried to immerse himself in the art of cooking, but he seemed to overcook everything he touched and sometimes, if the mood was just right, set a couple of things on fire. However, it wasn’t his decision when his mother banned him from the kitchen after he broke her favorite mixing bowl, burnt a vintage dish towel and accidentally melted a pair of scissors with a plastic orange cover on the handles oo the top of their stove. After cooking was soccer, you’d think that after he tried dancing he would know better than to try something physically demanding, but no, by some miracle he believed that he would be fantastic at it. Not the case. In fact, during his first game he ran into the goal and had a purple bump on his forehead for a week. Shortly after he tried soccer was the first time he picked up a cello. His first turning point was when he felt the chords produced by bow on string resonate through his body. After that, he started taking lessons regularly and auditioned for summer conservatories and started going to a performing arts school when he was sixteen.

He knew that playing the cello wasn’t something out of the ordinary like drawing a picture that comes to life. He knew that playing the cello wouldn’t get him poked and prodded in weird labs far from home. Besides, what if it wasn’t real, what if he was just crazy? If he was crazy he didn’t want to know, he didn’t want his whole world to crumble around him like the people in his paintings worlds had disintegrated.

 

——————————

 

I leaned over the curving piece of wood and put my pen to the page. I began to draw the woman again. She was standing on my eighth note with her arms wrapped around the stem, she was gazing across the page at all the other notes clustered in their individual little groups, each bar told a story like the stories my pictures told. I felt like she was trying to read this foreign language that presented itself in dots and lines strewn about over an unrecognizable grid.

She was lost I suppose; she was always trying to escape the piece of paper that she was confined to one way or another. She started to lean down on the note and she pushed her makeshift sailboat off into the waters of music ahead. She was drifting across the lines letting a nonexistent wind carry her and her precious eighth note ever closer to the edge of my page. Her tangled hair was blowing behind her as she drifted off the paper, she tumbled onto the stand and started running until she leaped off and fell surprisingly gracefully to the ground. She spent a short time living life out of her paper because she was promptly stomped on by a violinist who was quite unaware of the fact they’d ended a life. If you could even call what she had a life. All that was left was a black puddle of ink, that slowly seeped into the carpet, leaving what would no doubt be a permanent stain.

As Olivia settled back into her seat she made the casual remark, “there’s supposed to be an eighth note there,” and carefully penciled in one of her own making. If I had attempted what seemed so trivial and basic to her my eighth note probably would have lifted off the page and exploded, leaving ink all over my papers. There was an eighth note there, and now it was gone, because of what I drew, but does that really make it real? Am I just seeing things?

——————————

 

He started playing the cello when he was fourteen. It was a foreign idea to him at first, he thought it would probably be another thing that he could add to his list of failed hobbies. It didn’t come naturally to translate the notes into sounds and the sounds into emotions. He grew to understand the language these sounds spoke and he enjoyed it more and more as he continued to play. There was something about the instrument that intrigued him, but he could never understand what.

 

——————————

 

I’m still not used the the way I have to sit. It hurts my legs to be in such a weird position for so long and my back starts to ache. I’ve been lugging that cello around on my back to and from school but now that it’s getting hotter I get tired more easily. I get home late from practice and I haven’t been drawing lately, but I can’t decide if that’s a good or bad thing.

Even though sometimes playing the cello hurts and carrying it around is tiring, I think that I’m starting to like it, and at least I’m not as bad at this as I was at cooking. I mean I wish I could draw, but my drawings aren’t for other people, they’re for me. Mainly because I think other people would think I’m weird, and if they don’t think I’m weird they’ll probably think that I’m insane. Maybe I am, I keep drawing the same thing over and over, like I’m addicted to making that one image. Crazy people are the people who do the same thing over and over again thinking that there will be a different outcome each time, but there isn’t because every time that I draw her, she leaves.

I feel like the woman is tormenting me, following me wherever I go, making me draw her, but I’m probably the one tormenting her. I keep trapping her, and she has to get out over and over again, maybe I should draw something else for a while. Let her rest, let her not be trapped for a bit. I have a strange need to draw her, though. I don’t understand why, I think it’s because I need to reassure myself that she can get out, that she can leave whenever she wants. Sometimes I want her to stay, not because I get lonely; I have friends, but I want her to stay because I never get to finish drawing her before she leaves. That’s why I keep drawing her, because she isn’t finished. I’m not done drawing her, she’s not complete. Yet, she never is- she always leaves before I get a chance to finish her. Does that still make me crazy? I’m not expecting her to change every time I draw her, and I’m not expecting her to stay, I’m trying to finish drawing her, because I never have, not in the garden not on any scrap of paper I’ve ever put her on.

 

——————————

I’m not going to draw her here again, I can’t. It was too close this time, she’s real. Olivia saw the missing note, she may as well have seen her jumping off the paper. I can draw something else, I should draw something else. I need to draw something else. Rain will cleanse it, it’ll cleanse the paper. Like she was never there. Olivia’s gone, I should do it now, the worst that can happen is that a sink faucet will start leaking.

I turn the packet over to the back page. I start drawing the rain dripping from the top of the page in rounded furious drops racing towards the bottom of the paper. That’s when we start hearing it. Thundering drops of rain smashing against the rooftop, the drops on the paper start vanishing and the rain gets lighter, the alarmingly loud drops of rain against the roof settle into a light pittering.

“I didn’t know it was supposed to rain today,” Olivia says, sitting down again and lifting her cello from the floor.

“It wasn’t,” I reply, opening the packet back to the correct page and leaning it against the stand.

The rest of our rehearsal is by most means ordinary. I don’t like drawing in public, somehow it makes me feel vulnerable.

 

——————————

 

I need to find a way to finish her. If she leaves again I can’t finish her. She’s always found a way to escape, and I need to paint her somewhere she can’t leave.

The piles of empty scenes painted on used papers could be her new prison. Could she be trapped in this new environment?

I’m looking through pieces of paper that hold memories of past paintings trying to find a place for her, a place where she can’t leave. There are the bluffs which she would probably find a way out of and the valley with a winding river where she could easily sail her way downstream and into the real world, where I would never be able to catch her. To her there is always a way out of the paper, she always finds new ways to escape the pages that I put her in, I shouldn’t put her on paper this time, I need to find a new stage for her. What if I were to paint her on the mirror. Could she break it?

I begin to plaster her image to the glass, and I can’t help but see myself in her now that I’m drawing her over my own image. She isn’t moving as much as she usually does, she’s just looking, she’s trying to find a way out of the mirror. It’s like she can see herself for the first time. Come to think of it, she’s probably never had the luxury of looking in a mirror, I wonder what it feels like to look at it from the inside, can she see me. Maybe she doesn’t know that I’m painting her this time, maybe that’s why she isn’t trying to escape, she doesn’t know that she has to.

At least it gives me the opportunity to finish painting her. I’ve given her more detail than ever before. Her eyes are more blue, her face looks more real, her freckles and the curve of her nose are more complete than they ever have been. I didn’t even know that she had freckles before, but now she’s done, her eyes her mouth her hair, all of it is perfectly finished, exactly the way that I never knew it could be.

 

——————————

I’ve always had to find my way out of the paper I’m stuck in or the floor I’m under because the stupid boy that paints me can’t let well enough alone, but now I’m not trapped in some gloomy place. I can’t see the boy any more, and I hope that means that he isn’t here. I can see so much now, the things I could never see from inside my paper. I can see people. Just one person, she moves the same way that I do. Slow and careful, watchful, I’m always watching, watching for an exit, any way out of the paper. I can’t see any way to leave this place though, and while at first it was excitingly new, and beautiful now it seems like a carefully designed prison. One that I can’t find my way out of. Every time I approach a visible edge or any sort of empty space the girl follows me, making sure to keep a careful eye on me and stick close.

 

I think that she’s starting to realize where she is. She keeps coming closer and farther to the face of the mirror staring intently into the open space between her and the glass. All I can do is wait to see if she can escape this time like she did all the other times she’s run from my pages. I sit watching her from my bed seeing if she’ll slip out of the glass surrounding her. What she does is always unexpected though so I’m not completely sure what she’ll do, I never am.

I feel as if the glass is far more fragile than she is as she poses more of a threat to the mirror than I, or the mirror does to her. She knows that the glass can be broken, and now she’s preparing, her fingertips spread on the floor, she’s bending as close to the ground as she can, leaning forward resting her weight on her fingertips ready to fling herself towards the glass. When she does begin to run she is fast, rushing towards her only exit in sight, and the glass is breaking leaving shards of the mirror on the floor and paint puddled on the ground marking the loose sheets of paper that were left empty by the others who had escaped the way she did.

 

——————————

He hasn’t drawn since the woman escaped his mirror. He picked up all the pieces of glass and cleaned up the splattered paint, he put the empty papers back in his closet and he left all his supplies there too.

He doesn’t seem sad or angry. He was satisfied to have finally finished the painting, and even though the woman escaped again, he was glad. Because he knew that she couldn’t stay trapped in his mirror forever, but he was at a loss, he had no motivation to draw something new. He was done drawing the woman for now, maybe forever. He didn’t know what else there was to draw because for so long now the woman was the only thing that he drew. He was stuck.

The summer heat seemed to swallow him whole and he didn’t know how to keep drawing now that something he had been working on for years was finished, but had disappeared like all his other work. It wasn’t sad so much as it was disappointing. He wanted to be able to keep the things he’d made, but they had minds of their own and didn’t want to be trapped in his papers, and he understood why, but he still missed them.

——————————

 

After that, I was nothing more than paint soaking into floorboards and once the boy finally found the courage to come anywhere near me, all he did was wipe me away, cleaning up the mess that he’d made, or was it a mess that I’d made. It’s so confusing here. It was more confusing in the mirror though. I think that’s what it’s called. A mirror.

It’s been so long since the last time that he painted me and it’s something of a relief not having to break out of so many prisons anymore. Each one was more challenging and confusing than the last. Even though part of me is glad that he doesn’t draw or paint me anymore I always feel on edge, because I know that eventually he may paint me again, but I’m not worried about that, I always have that nagging thought in the back of my head though.

The place where I am now is nice, it’s where all the people from his drawings go. It’s a town in a valley; there’s a river weaving it’s way through the town and there are little gondolas with soft cushions in them that you can ride downstream to the next town over. At night, the men and women sailing the gondolas hang lanterns from the boats and they cast shadows into the glittering water hugging the curving edge of the boat. There is a fountain in the square and the children throw in their pennies for luck, there’s a market set up lining the edges of the cobblestone square in the center of the town. Extending around the town are small cottages and grand Victorian houses, modern buildings and ancient crumbling monuments, it’s a mish mash of imagination of older times, and twenty first century architecture. The streets wind in confusing pathways where there is no definitive left or right, there’s straight-ish, left-ish, and right-ish, with the occasional left-ish straight, or straight-ish right.

The people here have their quirks but they’re nice and they seem to get along pretty well. I’m normal here, not invisible to the ignorant people who flatten me with glasses of water or accidentally step on me. I’m normal here because these things have happened to the others too. I live with a girl who fell into a tea cup and disappeared, she’s been looking for her cat ever since, but she suspects the worse. I try not to think about where the cat might be if not here. Then again maybe he’s on a gondola or sneaking into one of the old houses down the street. If not I hope that he’s okay.

I’m not sure if the boy’s going to draw me again and I hope he doesn’t because I want to stay here, I’ve visited before but never for as long as this because he would always draw me again, what bothered me is that every time he drew me I was a little different, sometimes I would come back and people would ask me where my freckles came from or how my hair had changed color. Most people don’t change once they get here, the children typically stay children and the adults typically stay adults, once people are drawn and they end up here, if they aren’t drawn again they don’t leave, and they stay the same, I was one of the few people who changed. Sometimes people would get painted again and they would come back very slightly different, maybe their teeth were a little straighter or their hair was a little longer, but every time I came back I had noticeably changed and it was never a bad thing but eventually it became frustrating, when I could never get used to my own reflection.  

 

——————————

 

Lydia found her cat yesterday, he had been following people home trying to get food from them. She saw him trying to sneak into a gondola and managed to grab him before they left the dock. I don’t particularly understand her need for the cat but I like him, he makes funny noises when he’s prowling through the house.

There was never anything else with me in the paintings, I was always alone, sometimes there were other things on the page but never other people, or animals, no pets for me to bring home after escaping the pages.

I think that I’ve found a final home though, it’s one of the slightly newer houses the boy had drawn, lots of tall windows that filled whole walls, I’d never been in a house with so much light. Lydia and I have been getting along well, she was my first friend here. She works at the dock welcoming new people from the boys drawings and helping them settle in, we’ve assumed that we’re about the same age, whatever that may be. None of us know our exact ages, there are the children, the adults, the people somewhere between being children and adults, and there are the old people. Most of my other friends are the older people. They’re nicer than the little ones and they don’t make as much fuss about things, or at least most of them don’t. I met many of them at the market in the square, they sell things like antiques or vegetables, Marlene even sells wine that she’s been aging in her cellar ever since she arrived in this town.

I’ve been considering catching a gondola and taking a ride upstream to see what the other towns are like. We live in one of the farthest towns out but in the center there is a large city. That is where all the things he painted from the real world went, most of them are tall buildings he painted or drew as ways to practice perspective. The others are just more modern things and people, the farther you get from the city the older things become. In our town there aren’t many things that work electronically, but in the city everything works with a system of wires. Our town has older houses and even a cathedral he painted from a picture taken in France. It has stained glass windows and towers above all the other buildings in our town. The only thing is we don’t really have a religion here, we know who made us and we wouldn’t worship him in any way. Not to say that we hate him, because we don’t, but most of the people here just don’t really see him as someone worth worshiping. However, I definitely don’t consider him to be a friend, after all he’s the reason why I could never stay here for very long, and I resent him for it.

 

Josh

I like being alone because it’s the opposite of being with people. I’m only in my thirties, and I’m already completely exhausted with human relations. I live for the moment where I get to go home from my job, from the long, tedious day of labor. Not that the labor itself is so bad, but I can’t stand the humiliation of it. The people. Just today at work, I was reminded of all my ex-friends who are more successful than me when I saw a group of fancy consultants wearing ties walking down the street. And there I was, collecting trash from their houses. I hate that I have to do that.

Every Thursday, I start in the south neighborhoods. The poor ones. You would think their trash would be the worst, but actually, the rich people’s is sometimes more disgusting. Not saying it’s fun in the south, though. It’s not. I’ve just become numb to the whole process at this point. Nothing changes, especially not in the projects. When I reach a new neighborhood, I jump off the truck, run down the street as fast as I can, and have to manually pick up every single bag of trash these people leave out. I used to think about it a lot more, you know. I used to wonder what was in the slimy white bags. I wondered what these people ate, how much they slept, what their families were like. I used to look at their houses, look at the scenery. Now I don’t wonder. It’s just trash, and their houses are all run-down anyway.

Once I’ve made it all the way down the street, I have to haul the bags back to the truck. Then, my partner in the truck has to help me load them in the back. My partner’s always the same. Joe. We don’t talk much, but there’s an understanding there. He’s a big guy, bigger than me with more muscle. I’m a little more pudgy, to be perfectly honest. Joe’s married with kids, but we don’t talk about it. I’m not either of those things. He knows this. Our communication is nonverbal. It’s like, he throws the bags in there for me, and then I sort them out, putting the big ones on the bottom and the smaller ones on the top, optimizing the space.

We make our way up north. I can see the colors getting clearer, more flowers popping up, you know the way you always do when you get into a “nicer” area. It’s like some kind of eternal fog has been lifted and the blue sky is back in sight. But somehow, it’s not comforting. The rich people are arrogant. They always give me pointed stares from the street, and I have to look away. I’ve never lived in a rich area. Where I live isn’t extremely poor either, it’s somewhere in the middle. I’ve always lived in areas like that- not beautiful, but not horribly maintained. Not big houses, but not tiny ones either.

Once I get into rich neighborhoods, it’s the same thing as the poor ones. But like I said, their trash is different. Not the actual content, but how they take care of it. They’re lazy, because everything is handed to them on a silver platter. They never tie the bags up all the way, so I have to push wrappers and tissues and apple cores in the bag. My hands always get nasty. I carry around some sanitizer back in the truck, just because I hate the smells that linger on me. These streets have less houses per street, because they’re more spread apart. So there are usually less bags to carry, thankfully. But in the end, it still takes just as long. Joe sits in the truck, waiting. He plays with his hands a lot, but doesn’t do anything of substance. What is there to do?

At the end of the route, we drive the truck back to the city department depot. It’s the same every day. I have a fuller route on Thursdays, but I do other jobs for the rest of the week. Refuel other trucks, plan alternate routes in case of bad weather, supervise other workers. I’m somewhat of a senior, as is Joe. We’ve been working here for ten years. There’s so much shame in it, in these jobs. I would be lying if I said I was proud of what I do. But I am committed. There’s a difference.

I wanted to be a schoolteacher. I liked kids. A lot more than adults, for that matter. I’d never liked adults, but “teacher” seemed like a good profession where I wouldn’t have to deal with them that much. I applied to two public schools in the area. Application denied. Couldn’t be a teacher. I gave up. Don’t know why. I just lost hope. After that, I waited tables for a couple years. I hated it. Way too much interaction, people stepping all over me, entitlement. “This isn’t what I asked for. I wanted the mashed potatoes, not the sweet ones.” Who raised these people, I grudgingly thought to myself. I needed something more solitary.

Garbage collecting it was. I had always been pretty strong, and I was able to manage the routes. I didn’t think it would be the time of my life, but little did I know how it would depress me. I’ve lost contact with all my friends from college. It’s not like I ever had many. I had a lot of anger issues in college. I was very impulsive. Made bad choices. I only had two or three real friends. One of them is a consultant now, one is a lawyer, and one is some kind of business associate. They’ve all done better than I have, by the normal standards of success. We kept in touch the first few years after college, but after that, it just stopped. I still once in a while get Christmas cards from one of them, Rob. He’s married and has a beautiful family. It hurts to see. Christmas cards always do. They’re just reminders that everyone else has figured it out, and I’m just here. I mean, I do have a steady job. That’s something. And I boat. That’s the one thing I truly love. I love the water. I boat, sometimes fish, I swim too. On the weekends. The water is comforting, because it’s so otherworldly. A place where not everything is hot and sweaty and dirty. Dealing with trash collecting, dirty is unfortunately my normal.

Is there anything else important? My parents are both alive, still married, whether it’s happily or not I don’t know. I talk to them sometimes, but not that much. I was never very close with my parents. I never fought with them either, but I just never connected with them on much. If that’s not horrible to say. I was always close with my siblings, though. I loved my little brother. He was kind of a quiet kid, and had trouble standing up for himself. I remembered one instance when I was in 7th grade. He would have been in third. Some kid called him a retard because he was having trouble with multiplication or something. Stuart came home sobbing. He was so sensitive. The next day, I hunted that kid down after both of our schools were finished for the day. That was where all my anger issues, my dislike of people began. How could anyone be mean to my small, kind, mousy brother? I didn’t understand it.

Nowadays, Stuart’s learned to stand up for himself. He’s still a pretty non-confrontational guy. He gets along with everyone. I wish I was like that. I guess I get along with the guys at work, but there’s been a couple times in the last few years where I’ve just had these fits of rage. Like there was a time when I beat someone up in a McDonald’s parking lot. Another time, I told someone else who was boating at the same time as myself to shut up for no apparent reason. But the worst of it all, and I mean the worst, was when I yelled at a homeless guy on the street and ended up in the hospital. Let me backtrack.

It was a hot, hot summer. Very humid outside, the kind of summer where you can’t escape the sun’s glare. A week before, I’d been boating and holding my sunglasses in my hand. I’d fumbled a bit and they’d fallen straight into the ripples of the water. Gone. Now I had no shield.

Besides going down to the water, I’d been trying to stay inside as much as possible this summer. I much preferred the cool air coming from the AC vent to the air outside. But I hadn’t been to the grocery store in a month, and my various staple foods (tomatoes, tortilla chips, et cetera) were growing rotten and stale. I decided I would make a very quick round downtown and then return. I wouldn’t dally there. I’d been in a bad, brooding mood all week. Some new, too-talkative trash collectors had gone on the wrong route, deposited the wrong trash in the wrong place, and wreaked havoc on the entire system. This had happened more than once. I managed to keep myself together, but something was bubbling at the surface.

I walked out of my house into the scorching sun and felt its rays beat directly on me. I shuddered and headed straight into my car. I always hated driving downtown, and today was no exception. People were so disrespectful. When I saw them throwing trash down on the ground, letting bottles and cans loose from their hands, I felt a sting in my chest. I have to clean that up. I’m their maid. I have to work for these people. I told myself to breathe, not to lash out.

I had made it all the way to the grocery store when I opened my car door to an interesting sight. A seemingly homeless, blonde man wearing a cap and long pants (despite it being summer) was begging passersby for money. Typical. I didn’t know why I had no sympathy. Was I a psychopath? I didn’t have much time to ponder this before I got out of my car and thrust myself into total disaster.

“Excuse me? Do you have any spare change?” His tone was far from polite, I felt. I didn’t want to give him any money.

“No, not right now,” I said gruffly and began to walk away. Most homeless people would leave it at that, you’d think. But he was ruthless.

“Please. I’m really hungry and I just want to eat something.”

That’s when I felt myself tip. Into unknown territory. It’s like a monster took over my body and my hands and my mind and I wasn’t me anymore. I couldn’t have been responsible for what happened next. I won’t hold myself responsible for it.

“Shut up!” the monster screamed.

“I can’t stand desperate people like you begging people like me for money. I don’t have time right now. Leave me alone.”

The eyes of the homeless blonde guy, who I later learned was named Henry, widened like a deer in the headlights. I was about to briskly walk away and into the grocery store to fulfill my actual purpose of being downtown when some random decided to add insult to injury. He approached me with a confrontational expression on his face.

“Dude,” he said. I stood still, waiting for the punch line. “Don’t be such a jerk,” he said to me.

“Come on. That guy is homeless. Seriously, just give him some money.”

First of all, why couldn’t this man just mind his own business? Second…I never formulated a second.

That’s when a blinding light flashed in front of my eyes. My palms were sweating. It felt like I was above my body, like I was watching myself. Watching this monster. His fist outstretched. He punched the man straight in the gut. The man doubled over. I felt myself return back to my body. I was nauseous.

I woke up in a bright white room very suddenly. Jolted alive. Tied down to a chair with an oxygen checker on my arm. No one in sight. What happened to me? I felt chills all throughout my body, and an anxious feeling as though I was crawling out of my own skin. A nurse came in. Oh. I was in a hospital. Wait- why?

“Excuse me? Can someone please tell me what’s going on?” Her seemingly once-warm brown eyes looked tired, tired of this work. I didn’t blame her.

“Look, I’m just the nurse. I need to get the doctor that was working with you in.” I breathed in and out a few times before responding.

“Okay,” I finally mustered. I felt slightly calmer now that there was someone coming.

A few minutes later, a male doctor with short brown hair and a white coat approached the chair.

“You woke up,” he said. I nodded.

“I guess I did. Look, I really want to know what’s going on.” He looked down at a paper next to him. My records? Notes about whatever was happening?

“It seems that earlier this evening you got into a fight. All we here know is that you punched someone and they punched you. You both passed out and were checked in to the ER in ambulances at about 6 o’clock. I can’t tell you anything else about the other man involved, for confidentiality purposes. All I know is that now you’re awake, we need to get you all checked out and make sure you’re fine.”

It was exactly one hour from when Dr. Malfour said that and when a new nurse came in to poke and prod me. I was pretty sure I was fine, and they seemed to think so too, considering they gave multiple other patients priority. Which was okay with me.

I will never forget how it felt in that emergency room. I have never liked hospitals. They make me tense and put me on edge. But they can also be places of inner revelations, of thinking about things you’ve never thought before.

I had none of my belongings with me in the ER. I never even bought my groceries. Thinking was all there was to do.

Why did I punch that man? The simple answer was, I lost my temper. I lost my temper and I wasn’t thinking and I wasn’t myself. That was crystal clear, because the normal me couldn’t have done this. The normal me got mad and lashed out, but couldn’t have punched a stranger on the street.

The deeper question to ask myself: why was I so angry?

Once when I was in seventh grade, I was sitting in my newly-painted blue room, lying on my bed. Listening to music. I recall it was classic rock, though I can’t remember the artist or the song. It was October, and I remember the paint smell and the crisp smell of the air from outside my bedroom window blending together to create a distinct fragrance. I was peaceful.

My inner calm was abruptly interrupted by the front door opening and shutting. Stuart was home.

My little brother annoyed me as all little brothers (and sisters, for that matter) can, but I was protective of my sibling and loved him very much. I still remember him running up to my room, thrusting the door open. His little voice trying to speak but being interrupted by tears.

“Josh. G-g-guess what happened today? Seventh period?” My attention was all on him now.

“What happened? Stuart, come on. Tell me.” He gulped out the story. That a kid had called him retarded because he had had trouble with some timed multiplication game the teacher had made them play to help them learn. My brother didn’t like the pressure of being timed, or any pressure at all, and was known for caving. I shook my head in distress.

“What did your teacher do about it, Stew? Did she get that kid in trouble?” I felt my fists ball up. I needed justice to have been served. But somehow, I knew it wouldn’t have been.

“B-b-barely. She made him sit outside for a few minutes, that was it. He barely got yelled at.” The vision in my mind of my brother’s blue eyes and puppy-dog expression was as clear to me in the emergency room as if it had happened the day before. The camera lens in my mind zoomed in on his face, in and in and in until finally, he disappeared.

This was the first time I ever felt this anger. My heart beating out of my chest, my fists squeezing over themselves.

Right as my brain was circling around, a new nurse came back into the room. She tested my blood, and performed a quick physical examination on me which included checking for injuries. In all the quantifiable ways, I was fine. “You’re fine,” the cheery redhead chirped.

They chalked this episode up to my “mental health.” Very vague. They recommended that I go to therapy for my anger. Screw that, I thought, my introspective self from moments before almost completely vanishing into the distance. I left the hospital and walked back to where my car was. I could go back to work the next day. And I did. As far as I was concerned, this experience could be water under the bridge.

I told Joe what happened the next day. I’m not sure why I did. I didn’t really think we were friends, but at the same time, we were partners. We were picking up trash from a new neighborhood on the west side of town. It was a very quaint area. The people somehow all seemed small and insignificant. The way I liked them. They seemed like the type who would mind their own business. There was something that calmed me about the place, how it was pretty but not perfect. I felt at ease, dangling my feet below me.

“I punched a guy yesterday,” I blurted as we were about to go into another neighborhood. Joe looked at me, looked back down at the trash, and chuckled. I almost completely regretted telling him right there and then.

“What’s funny?” I said indignantly.

“Sorry, Josh. I didn’t know what to say. It’s just that I’ve known you for so long, and I just knew that you…I can just see you doing that. So what the hell happened?” Despite his less-than-comforting words, I felt that Joe genuinely wanted to know, and I wouldn’t deprive him of information at this point.

“So there was this homeless guy. Asking me for money when I got out of the car to go to the store. He was bugging me a lot. I said no, I wouldn’t give him money. Some jerk basically comes up and tells me to give him the money, and I just kind of lost it. I punched him, he punched me, we both passed out for a while, we went to the hospital. I got out last night, I guess.”

Joe nodded. “I see.” That’s all he said. I think he already felt he overstepped his boundaries by saying that he expected this of me. Which, in my opinion, he did. But maybe I would have appreciated more than just “I see” in response. I didn’t know. This was the relationship between me and Joe, men of few words and even fewer rampant emotions. At least, ones we would openly talk about.

The next day was the weekend. Saturday, my day off. Days off were usually not a big deal because it didn’t matter to me whether I was working or not. It wasn’t like being at home was so freeing.

But that day, I decided to take my boat out on the water. It was a windy, cool but very pleasant summer day and a perfect day for sailing. I drove up to where it was parked at Capan’s Island, a mere forty-five minutes from my house. The most powerful and transformative forty-five minutes to have ever existed. Because when they were over, the blue sea laid out in front of my eyes was better than any land dwelling could ever be. That was just what I thought, what I think, what I’ll always think. No humans can survive underwater.

Sailing comes easily to me. Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been fascinated by the way the wind could move things just the right way. How it wasn’t another person who made my boat work, just me and the forces of nature surrounding me.

I have just turned ten years old.
My father and I don’t communicate very much. It’s always cordial, but he doesn’t make an effort, and I’m only ten and don’t know how I can. The ways he shows his love for his firstborn son are limited, the number one being “presents on my birthday.” Normally, I don’t care much for presents. New clothes, new toys. Sometimes, I don’t even end up using them. “Thanks, Dad,” I always say, and give my dad a hug whether I like my presents or not.
It’s my birthday again. My dad tells me that his present is a “special trip,” to occur the next day, and says no more than that. In the morning, he takes me down to the beach in Quay, a beach town two hours from our house. We go there sometimes as a whole family, but I’ve never gone with my dad alone. I am thrilled when he asks me, though. Thrilled and shocked. Dad wants to hang out with me? Just me?

We fill the ride with my father’s classical music blaring from the speaker, the windows down and the salty beach breeze getting more and more noticeable as we near Quay. We have a cooler, two towels, and goggles for me. I will swim. He won’t. He’ll read the paper on the sand. This I know. Today is unusual already, but not unusual enough for my dad to swim.

I’m wrong. My dad doesn’t swim, but today is more unusual and magical than any other day in my life so far. As we walk onto the boardwalk, my dad walks me over to one of the lifeguards on duty. The one who’s not sitting in the chair. This lifeguard’s job is to walk up and down the beach and make sure everything’s going smoothly, collect tokens, and answer questions. When there are any. The beach is usually a pretty question-free place, lucky for him, but today, my dad and I approach him. “Hi, do you know where the sailing class for nine-to-twelve year olds is?” my dad says.

The lifeguard motions to a group of kids sitting in a circle next to the sailboats on the sand. There is a blonde-haired man with toned muscles and an athletic build standing next to them. His arms are crossed. “Head over there.” My dad nods thank you and we walk away. I’m tugging at my dad’s sleeve, begging that he tells me what is happening, but he won’t. He knows that I wouldn’t agree to sailing with other kids if I had any choice. He also knows I love sailboats.

When I was five years old, we came down here and I saw a group just like this. The big kids. On sailboats, on the water. I still remember marveling at how free they were. They can do anything. They go anywhere. I told my dad, “One day, I’m going to be big and I’m going to sail on the water and I’m going to be special.”

I don’t think my dad paid attention to me when I said I wanted to sail, to propel myself over the limitless lake. But here I am, walking up to these exact sailing lessons. The instructor’s name is Logan. The kids, I don’t remember. They’re all fine people, but the social part of the experience is and will always be lost on me. Which is fine, because what I get from it is so much more important. I’ll never forget the feeling when they finally let me sail. It is worth all the time spent explaining how it works, going over the safety procedures. Once I am on the water, it is clear I am a natural.

I still am. I spent my whole Saturday that day on the water, until it grew late and dark. I then parked my boat, which I got two years after my first sailing lesson. I sat down and watched the sky. I hadn’t seen any stars there for years, so there was nothing to look at. I drive home and go to sleep. The next day, it isn’t my day off anymore. Weeks pass without incident.

I haven’t been on the boat since then. I tell myself it’s because of time. But even I know that of all the things I’m missing, time isn’t one. I could make time.

I tell myself it’s because of winter coming. Which is true. But I’ve been making excuses to not go to the water since midsummer. It’s like I get something out of making myself miserable.

I don’t like summer either, but winter is by far the worst season. When I begin to see evergreen Christmas trees crop up in the neighborhood, when I see wreaths placed carefully on doors, that’s when I know it’s “failure season.” The season where the timeline of everything comes into picture, where I see that everyone else is moving smoothly through the maze of life. “Married.” “Kids.” “New Job.” I have never sent a Christmas card. I don’t do much on Christmas, unless Stuart asks me to celebrate with his family. He knows I don’t like to, so maybe he won’t this year.

It is finally spring. I’m sitting on the dock near my parked sailboat, feet in the warm water. The buoy calmly floats on the low tide, canoes and motorboats alike laid out on the sand behind me. The sun’s shimmer begins to dim as it sets in the west. I’m staring into the waves below, everything else sliding away from my thoughts. I hear a rustling, imagining it to be leaves from the trees on the street, and then realize that I’m wrong. It’s nothing but a white trash bag, floating on the surface of the current.

Forever

Often the worst news comes right when you’re least expecting it, like how great people always die right in the prime of their lives. Harry Houdini, the amazing magician, claimed he could take a hit to the stomach and survive. A man decided to prove it, and punched him in the stomach before Houdini had even prepared for the blow. He was suffering from appendicitis at the time, and was just about to go on one of his spectacular shows. After the man hit him many times in his already weakened stomach, Harry continued on with several of his shows even with a ruptured appendix and a high fever. He died soon afterward. It was unfair, but that’s how life works.

My bad news came like a blow to the stomach during my second year in middle school. I had been playing basketball in the dim, hot gym that reeked of sweat from games fought and won, when a sharp pain stabbed the side of my knee. My leg buckled from underneath me, but I caught myself and continued on, shooting basket after basket and dodging the opposing team. A few minutes later, the sharp pain started up again, but I ignored it and kept on playing, despite my slight limp. The soft whoosh of a basketball flying through the net calmed me down, and I soon forgot about the strange pain I had felt.

 

My mother called out to me from the living room, “How was your day, honey?” I slammed the door shut behind me.

“It was fine,” I shouted back.

“Are you sure? Is anyone hurting you? Are your teachers okay?”

I rolled my eyes at the usual string of concerned questions. “Yes, I’m sure.” I ran up the stairs and into my room before my mother could ask me anything else, and flopped down onto my bed. And all of a sudden, the odd discomfort came back to my knee, causing me to wince and curl up into a ball on my bedsheets. The pain faded away after about ten minutes, and I bent over to inspect the spot. It seemed a bit swollen, as if someone had punched it and  it was now bruised. I thought back to my day in school.

Maybe I had bumped into something, or maybe during gym I… my thoughts trailed off as I remembered gym class. There, the pain had happened to me too. I rolled over on my stomach and stared at the wall in front of me. The wallpaper was adorned with golden swirls, and matching white and gold furniture sat around me. I pushed myself off of the bed and walked over to my desk, where I sat down and pulled out my backpack to start homework. But even as I tried to calculate math problems and write essays, my mind kept wandering back to what ifs, and maybes. I couldn’t concentrate. Sighing, I put everything away.

“A break might help,” I muttered to myself. So saying, I promptly collapsed onto my bed once again. Soon enough, the wall became the ceiling and the ceiling became the sky and everything was nothing at all.

 

“Stephanie? Stephanie! Dinner’s ready!” My mother’s harsh voice interrupted my sleep, grating against my mind, and I jolted awake. Ever since I was little, she has always been there, watching my every move and aggravating me enough to almost always spark an argument.

“I-I’m coming!” I shouted back, blinking rapidly to clear my head. I rushed to the staircase and ran down, leaping down two steps at a time. I abruptly grasped the side handlebar to steady myself, as a wave of pain radiated out from my knee. I wrinkled my forehead in concern, but decided to ignore it, as the soreness had already partially dissipated. By the time I got downstairs, the round table in the center of the kitchen was already set and heaping with every food imaginable–typical of my mother. My father was sitting placidly, his short black hair sticking up in various directions.

“Come, sit,” he called to me. Seeing the grimace on my face, he asked, “Is everything alright?”

“Oh, everything’s okay,” I answered, trying to hide the look on my face. I didn’t want to worry my father, who was always so sympathetic and kind to me.

“Okay, just checking. Why don’t you come sit while we wait for your mother to join us?” he suggested. I nodded and began to sit down, when the ache in my knee started up yet again. I gasped and fell to the ground, hugging my knees to myself.

What is this? Why does it keep happening to me? I thought, frustrated. And why isn’t it going away? Before, the hurt had gone away quickly, and I had forgotten about it as soon as it went away. Now, the ache was staying for longer and longer, and it felt as if it was coming from my bone, pushing up towards the surface like a swimmer desperate for air. Except the swimmer was determined to hurt me, so it punched every inch of flesh it could reach along the way.

“Stephanie! Steph! Steph?” My dad clumsily pushed back his chair and hurried over to my vulnerable form, huddled on the kitchen floor. “What happened? Answer me!”

“I-I’m alright, Dad. I just-” My eyes squeezed shut again and I inhaled sharply as the tortuous agony began again.

“Sarah!” At the urgent tone of my father’s voice, my mother ran into the kitchen, her hazel eyes widening and her lipstick-ringed mouth puckered up in a small circle. Everyone was moving, but all I felt was fear. Fear of what was happening to me, fear that maybe I had done something wrong in my life and now I was going to die young. All at once, I felt my head spinning and before I knew it, I had passed out.

 

“What monkey put left?”

“For now, you should table her rest.”

“We diagnosed her, and…”

Gradually, my vision cleared and the gibberish I thought the doctors were saying turned into comprehensible sentences.

“She’s awake! Oh, Steph…” My mother’s face was a mess of tears and troubled creases. She burst into tears and ran out of the room. Just her dramatic exit made me want to roll my eyes and sigh impatiently at her, like I do almost every day. After another couple minutes with nurses nervously glancing around at the beeping machines and the sterile, blindingly white room, one of them stepped forward.

“Stephanie, I’m afraid to tell you that — I’m really sorry — you have osteosarcoma,” she said quietly.

I tilted my head and cleared my throat, already feeling sick with worry. “Sorry, what was that?”

“Bone cancer.”

I closed my eyes. This is what it is. This is what I came here for. This is what all the pain was for. I understood, and I started to cry. Silently, each of the nurses exited the room. I wanted to shout to them, to ask them not to leave me. But no sound came out of my mouth, and so I placed my head back on my tear-soaked pillow and closed my eyes again, one final tear leaking out and staining my cheek.

 

After that final teardrop, I didn’t cry again. I had shed all of my tears, and now I couldn’t cry anymore. I still couldn’t accept the fact that I had cancer, so I tried to block the thought out of my head. I lived without living, nodded when my doctor told me something, ate when they told me to eat, and slept when there was nothing else to do. And yet that stabbing pain was constantly there, haunting me and reminding me that I had a fatal disease and that I could never get away from it. I never played the sports I used to adore playing anymore, and never spoke to any of my friends anymore. Apart from the occasional get-well card, I was cut off from the world I used to live in. Now my friends were replaced with adults wearing masks and long coats, my usually busy life and many hobbies replaced with constantly sleeping on a narrow, firm cot. I didn’t pay attention to anything, and my normally vivid mind became dull and never interested.  My parents occasionally visited me, and whenever I saw them I would beg them to stay, never leave me again, and to stay with me because I was afraid. That was the only feeling I felt anymore. And every night, when I fell asleep, I slept longer and longer, yet my sleep became lighter and more restless. Slowly, I was slipping away from the world.

 

One of the only other vivid memories I had was here at the hospital, a couple weeks after I had first arrived. I had been staring aimlessly at the ceiling, when a nurse tapped on my door, cracked it open, and snuck into the room. Gently closing the door behind her, she approached my bed and peered at me over her rectangular glasses perched on the tip of her nose.

“Stephanie?”

“Hmm?”

“It appears that you are to receive chemotherapy?” The statement, worded like a question, took me by surprise. My overbearing mother must have requested the medication for me, and I shook my head angrily. Chemotherapy seemed like something only cancer patients had. Even though I knew I had cancer, it didn’t seem like it was real. It felt like I was living a dream, or someone else’s life, someone who just happened to have cancer.

“Your treatment is to start tomorrow morning, and…” the nurse mumbled something under her breath and shot me a look full of pity, then quickly left the room. Four hours afterward, the same word echoed through my head: chemotherapy, chemotherapy, Chemotherapy, CHemotherapy, CHEMotherapy, CHEMOTHErapy, CHEMOTHERAPY, CHEMOTHERAPY, until it enveloped my mind and was all that I could think about. Nothing made sense anymore.

 

The doctor who came to inject something into my veins was gentle and kind. This treatment made me lose my hair, lose my appetite, and lose my mind. It made my cancer feel better, but it made me feel worse.

I heard from whispered discussions nurses held outside my door that other cancer patients could go home between treatments, and that they had caught my cancer too late. I didn’t understand them. I didn’t understand anyone. I could hear what they were saying, but I didn’t comprehend it; I was too afraid, and tired, and just dead to the world.

 

I don’t want to live anymore. Life is too hard. Life is not worth living. This was what I repeated to myself, over and over until I was numb, every time the shock of what I was going through hit me again.

 

“Steph, how are you doing?” My mom entered the room, dark shadows circling her bloodshot eyes.

“Just go away.”

“Why are you always so angry at me? I try my best to be a good mother, and I don’t even know what to do anymore.”

“A good mother? A GOOD MOTHER? WHAT GOOD MOTHER DOESN’T LET HER OWN CHILD GO ANYWHERE WITHOUT GOING CRAZY AND INTERROGATING HER? AND BY THE WAY, THIS CANCER? IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT.” In a fit of uncontrolled and unreasonable rage, I screamed at her and was startled to see tears slipping out of the corners of her eyes.

“I’m sorry, honey.” She turned and stepped out of my room, her head down and cheeks flushed.

“No, I’m sorry.” I whispered as I watched her back retreat from my view.

 

Later that night, I heard a nurse discussing my situation with my doctor.

“The light is gone from her eyes.”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll make it through. Chemo makes some people like that.”

“Some people go through depression? Are you sure? I heard her talking in her sleep the other night, and it didn’t sound too good.”

“Patients always go through a period of time when they just feel down all the time, but she’ll get over it.”

“Whatever you say, Doctor…”

 

I feel dead.

 

“How’s the chemo going?”

“Great! She’s responding really well.”

“I can tell when you lie. You smile with all of your teeth, your eyes get bigger, your-”

“Alright, alright, I lied.”

“And?”

“The cancer is gone, but so is she.”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s virtually dead. She doesn’t feel the need to live. When you don’t have the motivation, you don’t live. She doesn’t have the will to live.”

 

I want to die. What is the reason of living anymore?

 

A scene, a scene from long ago, from when I was still happy, developed in my mind.

 

“Now, for our MVP… Stephanie K!” Applause filled the hot gym as I, a girl with brown, curly hair and shining eyes, stepped forward to receive my award. “Steph has helped out our team so many times, and she is truly a player that we- and I’m speaking for the entire team- appreciate and value.” The coach smiled kindly at me. I grasped the trophy in my small hands and triumphantly held it over my head, beaming from ear to ear.

From that moment on, I knew what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be a pop singer, or a veterinarian, like other kids in my class. I wanted to be a basketball player.

My mother, a woman who was always anxiously hovering over her only child, saw that the award that now stood on our kitchen counter was a boost of confidence to me. The award helped me realize what I loved doing, and that I was good at it. It was part of what shaped me into the optimistic and athletic girl I became.

 

Footsteps.

 

But I still don’t want to live.

 

A gentle touch on my shoulder.

 

I can’t live.

 

A warm hand stroking my face.

 

I won’t live.

 

“I love you, Steph.

Do you love me too?”

My mother.

 

I love you too, Mom.

“I- I love you too, Mom.”

A gentle whisper, then a final sigh. The world became black.

Forever.

Simple

Warning: There are several moments of intense language in this narrative. If “potty-mouth” is an issue for you, simply exit the novel.

Ch 1.

Beginning of Seventh Grade

 

I glance at her. Then quickly swap my focus. For her to catch me staring at her is a risk I would not want to take. But god was she pretty. I can’t even match a word to her beauty, her personality, just…her.

She is gorgeous, obviously. Determined, powerful, deceiving. Anyone would love her positives or negatives. She’s smart, creative, funny, honest, sweet, compelling, dangerous, yes I said dangerous, tough, stubborn, independent, and a warrior. She literally was perfect, it’s like someone gave me the best Christmas present ever! But she is more than a gift. She’s a goddess. I honestly could describe her and talk about her all day.

Sure, you might say my affection for her is somewhat a cliché of normal everyday youth love, but to me, I feel like I know her more than anyone. That she is that meaningful to me. She is the most cherished book in my two-book library. That is to say she is the only book I really care for besides my own mother, which inhabits the life of the other book. But other books can be written. The library will never end. New books will come. But for now, the libraries bestseller is her.

But to add on to the youth-love cliché, she doesn’t seem the least bit attracted to me. Way to crush hope, right? So here I am, sprinting to a nonexistent finish line in a 26 mile marathon, hopelessly yearning for love and attention for a 14-year-old middleschool girl. What’s my chance in finishing the race? You’ll find out why it’s nearly impossible.

 

Ch. 2

Sixth Grade: November

 

Her name is Hailey. Like the comet. I remember clearly now when I first met her. It was in sixth grade and both of our schools were performing a play together. The play was going to be performed on the second floor in a middle auditorium. This middle school would be the school I would be going to in my future years.

The auditorium was big, yes, but the acoustics were terrible. Every sound you spoke or did created an echo. The auditorium was also quite dark and lacked color. I am sure a person like Halley would love to tear the place down and just spend hours redecorating.

During a small pre-rehearsal before we had to perform, which was held in the school gym, adjacent to the auditorium, two of our actors got into a fight.

One of my cl***mates smirked at the opposing one, “Hey, make sure to not *** up your lines like your pathetic school always does.”

“Hey, shut up man,” said the other boy, “you don’t have to downgrade us just because we’re better than you.”

He smiled. “Screw you.”

“Sorry, I don’t wanna.”

“Homo.”

“*** face!”

“Ugly fag!”

“Wow,” I thought, “quite a vocabulary for sixth graders.”

Five seconds later is when the kicking started.

“What are they doing?” I mutter.

Let me describe what happens out here in the safari. You can see the older male on top of the more infantile hyena. They constantly yap at each other, foul comments and disgusting insults. This is one strategy the modern hyena uses to infuriate its prey, causing it to waste more energy on trying to dominate the other male. Back to reality. Fists flying, spit, blood. Jesus, could they just stop fighting?! I yell in my head.

The boys were not stopping. This was so ridiculous! Over a little competition. More and more people tried to break it up, but the more they tried the worse it got. James was trying to be neutral, but he joined the fight once someone insulted his dead sister. Ouch. Elika got kicked by accident, which got her mad. I don’t wanna say what happened after that. Why aren’t there any chaperones around? I tried to ignore it and study my lines on last time.

Seven minutes. I glanced over at my “friends” who continued to clash. It was more verbal now. At least they stopped hitting each other. A lot of people were a part of it now. Guess I was the one who looked like the wimp trying to stay out of that mess.

“Well if you hadn’t said that you were better than I am, I wouldn’t have said anything to you!”

“So? You didn’t have to say those things about my mom and my school!”

“And you didn’t have to say that my sister deserved to be dead!”

“WELL DIDN’T SHE OVERDOSE ON THOSE DRUGS?!”

“SHUT UP!”

“YOU SHUT UP.”

Ugh, why do sixth graders have such an immature set of vocabulary? If they keep on yelling like that, my migraine will arrive sooner than later. Which reminds me, five minutes.

I plug my ears. I know it won’t help that much but– Hey, it was actually working! There wasn’t that much noise! Unless…

I lifted my head up from the sheets. There, like a guardian angel, Hailey was between the two quarrelling boys.

“Listen,” she said. “This is a spark for bad habits. You wanna get into being dumb***es who are always looking for fights, be my guest, but in five minutes we are about to go on stage and work together to perform a stupid play.” Four minutes. “Sure, it might not be meaningful to you, but it is to others. So stop being selfish dicks and stop fighting.”

I smiled. This girl was tough. I liked that.

Everyone sat down.

I looked at her. She seemed satisfied. One minute. I got up and began to walk over to her. 30 seconds. I got closer. 15 seconds.

“Hi, um, I just wanted to say–”

“Alright! Get ready to go on stage!” yelled our professor, appearing out of nowhere. Seriously? Out of all times, the teacher comes now?

She got up and left me standing there awkwardly. I straightened my costume and got in line with the rest of my peers.

After that, we didn’t see each other at all. I honestly forgot about her for some time. What she looked like. How she sounded. I’m guessing that we both grew. That was until I saw her during sixth grade. One second.

 

Ch 3.

Sixth Grade: January

 

Love. What an overly important word. I feel like love isn’t a good enough word for what it means.

“I’m in love,” says a person. Wow, great accomplishment. I totally understand your feelings. Why can’t the word ‘love’ be a different word? Why can’t the definition of love mean ignite? Like, “I ignite you.” No, that’s terrible. Maybe, “I am in destiny.” Yeah, see? Why can’t you switch destiny and love’s meanings? People do say that love is your destiny, so why can’t destiny be your love?

I am Hailey’s destiny. I don’t know. No, I am. Do I love her? Yes. No. Maybe. Yes. Totally. Ughhhh! Puberty is hard! Oh, uh, too much information… Sorry. Anyways. I like her, and I think that she likes me. I mean, that’s what happened in sixth grade. We were young, yes, but I think it actually meant something. I am positive it did.

 

“Hi! I’m Jake,” I said.

“Hey, I remember you!” she replies.

“Yeah! I um, really think that you are pretty!”

“Aw! That is so flattering! I think you are cute too!”

“Well do you want to go out?”

“Sure do!”

 

Flash forward 15 years. Wedding bells ring in the distance. Hah, if it were only that simple. It’s not simple. It’s hard. Deep breath. I walked over to her. She was sitting by herself with her pencil pouch by her side, a sheet of paper in her hand, filled with sketches of inanimate objects like vases.

“So, you like to draw, right?” I stare at her, she made the first move. ***, I wasn’t expecting that.

“Yeah, I do,” I responded, “But, I don’t think I’m as good as you.”

Let me tell you. Hailey Spires can draw better than Claude Monet. If you don’t know him, look it up. Honestly he is amazing, but Hailey, that is someone worth noticing.

“Thanks,” she smiles.

“You like wolves, huh?” I ask her. Her binder and other papers inside her journal is filled with drawings of animals, specifically wolves.

“Yeah, I feel like they are powerful animals, you know? Always modest, intelligent. In charge.” She looks at me. I look at her.

“You know, one time, I was in my Uncle’s backyard and I saw three wolves. A mama and her two cubs. They were beautiful. A pearl gray color, you know?”

She smiles again, wider this time. “Wow,” she looks back down at her paper.

“You know what would be cool? If we could form our own pack, just like the wolves.”

“Yeah, that would be cool!”

“We could create our own characters!” she said, taking out clean, crisp sheets of paper to begin sketching. “What do you want your name to be?” she asked me.

“Umm.” I thought. What is a cool name that will woo her with my creativity?

“Riptide,” I answered. “In Greek it translates to Anaklusmos. You can call me either or.”

She laughed, “I think I’ll just call you Rip.”

“Fine by me!” I exclaim.

This was the beginning of our friendship. I felt like we were really connecting.

 

I had many cl***es with Hailey. Every cl*** we would sit next to each other, unless the cl*** had ***igned seats. We would always try to talk. We had fun, we did. Our “pack” grew. We actually did follow that idea. We drew characters of each of our friends who joined. We created cl***es, maps, we established bases and territories, so on and so on. It was fun, we liked each other the more we hung out. Our favorite cl*** was art. We got to talk with each other, one on one. We also got to draw and paint, which is what we loved to do. I liked Hailey. I’m sure you already knew that, but I did. I just hoped she did too.

 

Sixth and seventh grade flew by. Soon we would be in the eighth grade, and boy is that where it gets interesting.

 

Ch. 4

Eighth Grade: January/March

 

I don’t know…I guess he’s cute? I mean, the first time I saw him I thought he was an utter nerd! It was probably his dad’s doings. The first day of school his dad had him dressed in uniform. But it was hilarious! He had his shirt tucked in, poindexter gl***es, tight khaki shorts, gelled down hair, and a blue lunchbox. I don’t think anyone could help from laughing. We were kids. Weird, immature kids…But instantly, after walking in, he untucked his shirt, ruffled his hair, removed his gl***es and inserted contacts, and then… Sorry I’m traIling off too much.

Anyways, he was a new person. Different. He can change. You don’t know who he can be. Some days, he would be so poetic and dreamy, some days, kind and sweet, interesting and brave. Other days, an utter jerk. Who you wish would just buzz off. Is this a good thing? Yes and no. It’s sort of a rhetorical question for me at least.

Now, you may be asking, “Well, tell us if you like him! Because he has told us what he feels about you. Go on! Spill the beans!”

Ugh, I don’t want to. I mean, it is obvious. We are both friends. He was literally the first person I talked to when I came to this school, well, first person who I didn’t really actually know already.

He was a popular boy I think… Everyone talked about how silly, smart and cool he was. I just never noticed it for myself. I guess I was shy… *** it. There I go again, trailing off. I need to stop, seriously, it is not a good way to think. Alright, enough about me and my thoughts. Let’s talk about me and my feelings

 

“Hey Hailey. How was your weekend?” Third month of school, and he’s been acting weird. Not weird, just… Nasty. I look up at him. He stares at me with a dumb look on his face. “What?” he asks. I look back down at my paper. He needs to get out of my face before I begin to kick. “Hey, I have a funny joke, wanna hear it?” he says, nudging me. Oh god, if it is another one of those perverted jokes, I swear to god I–

“Why are men like spiders?”

I stare.

“Because whenever they are on the web their hands get sticky!” he laughs, snorting.

I get up and move, close to the teachers desk. He looks at me like I’m a different person. It’s because I am. “Hailey!” he yells.

“Quiet down, Duffles!” The teacher hisses.

He glares at me, then at her. He walks over to me. Stop. I’m about to blow up, please stop just don’t say anything, please– “What is up with you?! Aren’t we friends?” he examines me, bewildered.

I take a deep breath. “Jake Duffles, get the *** away from me.” I close my eyes. I can sense that he is still there. “GET THE *** AWAY FROM ME!” I scream. Bad idea. I bet you all the kids in the cl*** were staring at me.

“Wow, is she having a breakdown?”

“***, she needs to chill.”

“What is up with her?”

Great. I hate attention. I don’t like people. Leave me alone. I storm out of the cl***. I need to vent. Now.

The lock in the stall clicks.

I sob. I hate him! He is just a pervert! He no longer is that person who is kind and nice and smart! He is just one of those people who just needs to be ignored. I don’t know! He is a bad kind of different. He is so immature. He is not attractive anymore. I liked him when he cared more. Now he just hangs out with douchebags and talks about sex.

I feel like I’m dead.

I’ve been dealing with things.

He is one of them.

I don’t love him.

He doesn’t understand.

I don’t anymore.

But I still want to.

But I don’t think he knows.

I’m like another person.

Torn between the two.

My mother is dying.

I’m dying.

From the pressure.

I can’t take it.

Who am I?

I cry some more. My face feels puffy. I wipe the tears. My head tucks in between my upright legs, perfectly comforted between the two. I sigh. I lift my head and look up at the clock. I’ve been here for an hour. It feels like minutes. I flush the toilet. I don’t know why, I didn’t even go to the bathroom. I sob one last time, just to get the last remains out.

I can’t be with him anymore. He is a distraction. He will ruin me. I can’t like him. I don’t know why. I just can’t. I want to, but I can’t. Ugh! Why does life have to be so difficult? I flush the toilet again. I flushed it for a reason. I’m flushing away something. I’m flushing his memory away.

 

Ch. 5

Eighth Grade: March

 

What is up with her? I can’t believe she’s acting this way. WHAT DID I DO TO UPSET HER?

 

Ch. 6

Eighth Grade: March

 

She didn’t talk to me for most of eighth grade. We never talked. I tried to. It didn’t work. She would always flip me off when I tried to approach her, she would never answer me, she wouldn’t look at me.

I think she hates me even more just because I’m so persistent in figuring out why she hates me. Here is a list of ideas on why I think she is upset with me:

  • I am immature, but I don’t change or realize it.
  • I am annoying, because I constantly ask why she hates me.
  • She knows I like her.
  • I have very few ideas of what the problem actually is.

One day, we are required to reenact a segment of the text we are reading. The teacher partners me up with Hailey. I grin. She shows no emotion.

“So,” I begin.

“No.” She ends the conversation.

“Okay, so you are going to act like a bitch. Oh wait, you have been this whole year,” I say.

She doesn’t raise her voice. “This is exactly the reason.” She studies her script.

“Exactly what? I didn’t do anything,” I retort.

She sighs and looks at me. “I don’t like you right now, Jacob.” Wow. She has never called me Jacob before. “So why don’t we just do the work, and leave me the *** alone.”

I look at her like she is a piece of ***. “Well, I’m feeling ***ty too.” I lean back. No response.

“My mom is in the hospital. She has appendicitis, and, she could die,” I finished. This was true. She was in the hospital except she wasn’t going to die. Hailey set her paper down. She turned her head towards me. I look at her beautiful lips, her perfect eyes, sharply figured so that you would just get lost in them…

“Listen, there are kids out there whose mothers are actually dying in a hospital. So stop being that guy, and leave me alone.” She turned her head, and stared with her perfect eyes down at her paper, lips pursed. Anger welled up inside of me. My heart raced. Why was this situation so unexplainably hard? It made no sense! It was like trying to prove the theory of evolution. I want to fix this! I want us to be normal again!

I got up. Left her alone. I approached the teacher’s desk. “Hi Ms. Henry, can I request another partner? It’s not working out so well over here.” I glance at Hailey. She pays no attention, but I know she can hear.

“Aw, what’s wrong Duffles? The love of your life ain’t doin’ so well?” she tilted her head. I swear this bitch is about to get a dent in her face.

“Just, can you give me a new partner?” I plead.

“Sure! Switch with Bless and Carlos.” She points to the two boys. Thankfully, Bless was my friend. I needed to get distracted from the train wreck I probably created. I have so many bricks on my back right now, and I can’t unload them.

 

I get home that day and I just drop my stuff and head to my room. I trudged up the stairs, my footsteps echoing up each flight. I began to think, and soon those thoughts formed into words. Those words became reality.

“Why is she doing this? She is so immature. You know, why do I even care? This is middle school. But she’s everything to me. She is my true inspiration for life. I just don’t know how to fix any of this. I don’t love anyone else like that. She is so stubborn. If she could just tell me. Please just tell me.” Those words soon became tears. Those tears became memories. Those tears became reality.

 

“Ms. Diakite?” I knock.

“Come in, honey,” she responds. I open the door and drop my books on the floor. “What seems to be the issue, Duffles?” She crosses her arms and leans back in her chair. “Well, lay it on me.”

“I like a girl,” I say

She laughs, “Can you be more specific?”

“Someone in the eighth grade?” I reply.

“Which girl, boo?”

I mutter, “Hailey Spires.”

“Aww! That’s cute! She like you back?”

“That’s why I’m here.”

 

Intercom: Hailey Spires, please report to Ms. Diakite’s office. Hailey Spires report to Ms. Diakite’s office.

 

It’s only minutes until she arrives. Our eyes met, and she gave me a quick, “What the hell am I doing here?” look. She sat down. Next to me.

Ms. Diakite begins, “Hailey, the reason I called you into this office was because Mr. Duffles here, feels like there is a disruption in your relationship. Is that correct?”

Hailey looks at me. “Yes,” she says.

Wow. She answered truthfully. At least I think that answer is the truth.

“Did you know that Mr. Duffles here, likes you?” Ms. Diakite asks.

Hailey blushes. Jake: 1, Hailey: 0

“No,” she answers. I look at her, she looks at me.

“Well he is telling me that y’all two haven’t been very friendly with each other lately, now have y’all?” Ms. Diakite continues.

“No.”

“Would you care to tell me why?” questions Ms. Diakite.

I look at her. She looks at me, staring me directly in the eye and says, “It’s a long story.”

“Okay,” Ms. Diakite waves her hand in the air, hoping Hailey would’ve told her more, “Well, I know middle school is a hard time and everything, but, you gotta learn to make peace with one another, instead of…letting the war go on.”

That was a weird analogy, but also very correct.

Hailey nods. I do too.

“Alright,” Ms. Diakite concludes, “if you two promise me that you will make amends with each other, I’ll let y’all two go. Okay?”

I turn towards Hailey, “Sorry for whatever I did.”

She looks at me with pure disgust. “We’ll talk later,” she mouths.

“I’m sorry too,” she adds.

“Alrighty then!” Ms. Diakite says. “Just keep on being friendly with each other, and the problem will be solved! You are dismissed.”

Hailey is the first to leave.

I soon follow.

 

Ch. 7

Eighth Grade: April

 

He doesn’t know. He doesn’t even realize what he has done. I cannot believe him. I need to talk to him. He’s just a butthurt brat. I have no more feelings. This is the last time.

I see him in the hallway. I approach him. He doesn’t notice me. “Hey,” I say sternly.

“Oh! Hey Hailey! You scared me!” He lets out a little laugh.

“Enough ***,” I slice him down. All of a sudden, it seems like he is broken. He realizes nothing is fixed. He realizes that we are still in the same situation.

“Look, I cannot believe that you called me in there. You don’t even know the reason why we are like this!” I roll my eyes.

“Y-yeah I do,” he stutters.

“What is it then?” I press forward.

“I have been acting like a pervert?” he answers, unsure.

“See? You don’t even really know the true reason.” I fold my arms. Does he have amnesia? Did he get hit in the head? Why doesn’t he remember?

“Hailey, I don’t understand…” He trails off.

“That’s right,” I retort, “you don’t understand.”

He looks down at the ground. Are those…tears?

I still have no sympathy.

“Do you want to know why I’m upset with you?” I raise my tone.

“Yes,” he says quietly.

“The video.”

 

Ch. 8

Eighth Grade: May

 

***. I completely forgot about the video. Ohmygosh I am so stupid.

 

Ch. 9

Eighth Grade: Memories

Sometime in February, Hailey was hosting a sleepover/party for her belated birthday. This was when Hailey and I were still really good friends. Me among many of my friends were invited. Us being boys were only allowed to stay at her house until dinnertime. There were about seven people there. Hailey, Xian, Jaelen, Sifan, Maina, Nimai and me. We arrived at Hailey’s house around 4:30 and knocked on the door. Barks and shuffles came from within the small cosy cottage, and we were soon greeted by a very cheerful dog, and a very annoyed brother. “Oh, hey Hailey,” said Damian, her brother. He stepped aside, unlocked the door and let us in. Immediately, I felt sharp claws and a wet tongue drag across my face. I screamed. Everyone laughed. “Reesy!” Hailey purred. The peanut butter and chocolate colored dog came bounding towards her with full determination to give her a big wet kiss. “I love you, I love you, I love you!” Hailey coaxed, patting the dog and squeezing it which great intensity. I smiled. I love it when owners and dogs bond together. It’s just a feeling of joy, you know? We sat down and instantly turned on the T.V. and started to chat. It’s something kids do nowadays. They multitask, whether it is watching television and having a conversation at the same time, or listening to music while studying. So, yeah. Anyways, we were just talking and…”I’m going to go upstairs and change into my jammies. Anyone care to join me? Sorry let me rephrase that, any girls want to join me?” Hailey proposed. “Sure!” Sifan bounced up and grabbed her change of clothes. Xian, Mina and Jalen followed Hailey and Sifan upstairs. I was left with Nimay, sitting awkwardly with each other. “Hey Duffles, I have an idea!” Nimay leaned forward. “Yeah what is it?” I said while playing with my phone. “Well, it’s more of a dare.”

I creep up the stairs, with Mina’s phone in my right hand. I can’t help from laughing. This will be a hilarious prank! Fifth step, sixth step, seventh step, eighth step.

I walk slowly up to their door, hearing their laughter on the other side. I begin to record. The only footage it was picking up was the door and the muffled sound of their conversation. I step close. *CREAK*! “Crap!” I saw as the floorboard releases its moan. That was close. I step closer to the door. I slip the phone underneath the door crack. I look at the screen and all I see is the ceiling. All of a sudden I hear footsteps. Coming towards the door. I panic. I run. All I hear behind me are the girls voices.

“Oh my god! Don’t say that!”

“I am so excited for tonight!”

“Do you like my pjs?”

Good. They didn’t catch me. But then the thought raced through my head. What the hell did I just do? Did I just eavesdrop and try to film my friends… While they were changing?! What was I thinking? What if they find out! They will totally get the wrong idea. I wasn’t thinking at all. No thoughts were going through my head at the time. And I had no idea what the consequences would be.

I left early that day, for two reasons. One it was my brother’s birthday party and I had to get home and change to go out to dinner. Second was guilt, but it really wasn’t.

 

Ch. 10

Eighth Grade: May

 

He’s online trying to text me. I don’t want to text him. What he did was gross. I can’t believe he never thought that we would be offended by it. He keeps on texting. I’m so irritated I just decide to reply.

Me: What.

Him: Hi, look I’m sorry about that video. I was stupid and I wasn’t thinking. It was stupid and I’m here to apologize. But you need to learn to get over this. You have to forgive.

Me: (pause five seconds) How dare you.

Him: What?

Me: Do you realize what you have done? You invaded our privacy. There was a risk of taping us naked. And now you apologize, only four months after the incident, and then you bring it back to yourself by saying that I should forgive you and that I need to get over this. Well guess what Jacob Duffles. *** YOU. *** you because you have no right to be forgiven and no right to have done what you did. We wouldn’t be in this situation if you hadn’t have pulled that maneuver.

Him: No, you are causing this because you won’t learn to move one and forget stupid crap like this. Guys do this all the time. I’m growing up and you will too if you learn to accept people’s apologies. No one will like you if you don’t learn to do this.

Me: Just look over what you just texted me and think of the bull*** you just wrote to me.

Him: I didn’t do anything! You are so selfish! You just need to understand how to move on with life! I can’t believe you are doing this. I said I am sorry so you need to forgive me.

HAILEY SPIRES HAS LOGGED OFF.

 

Ch. 11

Eighth Grade: May

I see her outside of school. “Hailey!” I yell. She turns around and walks in the opposite direction.

“Look, I’m sorry for saying that stupid stuff–” I begin.

“Sorry doesn’t cut it,” she says her back facing me.

“I like you Hailey, I don’t want to end it this way.” I solemnly reach out for her shoulder to turn her around.

“Don’t touch me! I can’t like someone who lies! Who forgets! I can’t trust you!” she yells. I meet her eyes. I hope she sees how sorry I am.

“Hailey–”

“Leave me alone.”

She runs away from me. I can’t reach her.

 

Ch. 12

Eighth Grade: June

 

I glance at the casket. I wish she would have just never forgiven me. I wish I never talked to her. I wish I never met her. Then she would have crossed the street. She would have not been caught up in another reality. She would have focused on something else! She shouldn’t care about me that much! She cares about me too much! She should have looked both ways. She should have looked one way. Not at me but at the road. But she was looking the wrong way. She was looking at me.

 

The Written Sea

He walked with a heavy step through the grove of trees. Tall and stately, Alistair felt small beneath their looming branches. It was 9:57 and a Saturday, which meant the rain was due any second. Alistair looked up and his eyes were met with an ominous sky. He reached into his bag and pulled out a black umbrella, which he unfurled only a second before the ghostlike clouds let loose a torrent storm.

By ten o’ clock, Alistair had quickly woven his way through the small town and arrived at the post office. He stood underneath the red awning, his suit soaked through with the rain, and shook his head like a dog, attempting to rid himself of the water. He gazed out upon the abandoned street, pausing to look at the dark storefronts and the empty tables of the cafe. It was too early for most to be out and the rain had scared away the rest. As Alistair turned back towards the door, he saw the figure of a young woman darting behind a car, her turquoise dress flashing like scales. The rain has tricked you once again, he thought, and slicked back his dark brown hair. He swung open the door of the post office, the bells singing his arrival.

Alistair strode in and watched Bertha’s head snap up, like a dog who smelled fresh meat. She gave him a huge smile and laid her long red nails on her desk.

“Hello, Alistair.” She twirled a large, orange ringlet around one of her fingers and her smile somehow grew.

Alistair approached the desk nervously and gave Bertha a weak smile in return. “Good morning, Bertha.”

The post office was small and brightly lit, a pleasant little place, but Alistair couldn’t help but detest this Saturday morning routine. This was mostly due to Bertha and her intrusive nature.

“Now, what can I do for you today?” she said, batting her huge, green eyes, and leaning towards him. She looked as if she was about to devour him, a feat Alistair wouldn’t put past her.

“Just wondering if you’ve received my letter yet,” Alistair said shyly.

Bertha’s smile dissolved, a rather ugly expression left in its place. She stood up, curling her lip, and turned away from Alistair to examine the many tiny boxes that lined the back wall of the post office.

She turned around again and plopped back into her desk chair. “Nope, nothing. Again.”

Alistair peered behind her. “Doesn’t look like you checked too carefully, though. Perhaps another try?” he said hopefully.

Bertha gave him a murderous expression. She stood up, her long skirt unfurling like the wings of a fury. “Alistair. You have come in here every Saturday and every Saturday, I hope you have come to finally ask me out.”

Alistair weakly pointed behind Bertha. “My- my letter,” he stuttered, but Bertha ignored him.

“But no. You come every Saturday just to see if your letter has finally come from France, and every Saturday, I tell you, no!”

Alistair sighed and looked down at his palms.

“She hasn’t written to you, Alistair! She was lost at sea, remember? There is no letter coming!” Bertha started to pace back and forth behind the mail counter, papers fluttering wherever she stepped. “You are twenty five and you can’t wait for her forever!” She turned back to face him, her eyes flashing. “You must let her go, Alistair!”

Bertha sat down again, let out a long sigh, and began sorting through a box of letters. The door swung open, and in hobbled a rain-soaked Mr. Peterson.

“What’s all this racket I’m hearing?” he said, furrowing his brow and combing his fingers through his large mustache. He walked past Alistair and joined Bertha behind the desk. She stood, flustered, and Alistair was struck with amusement at the sight of a short and stout Mr. Peterson staring up at Bertha with a vexed expression. “Why are you yelling at a customer, Bertha?”

Bertha looked down at the floor with an insolent countenance. “Sorry, father,” she muttered.

Mr. Peterson shook his head. “Alistair, we are so sorry for this little inconvenience.”

Alistair smiled and shook his head. “No trouble at all. I suppose she’s right.”

Bertha turned to her father with a victorious smile. “See?” she shrieked. “I was just trying to help!”

Alistair noticed he had been standing awkwardly in the same spot for almost ten minutes and quietly began to exit.

“Bertha!” yelled Mr. Peterson. “You try to help everyone that comes in here! And most don’t find it quite as helpful!”

Alistair swung the door closed behind him, muffling Bertha’s cries of protest. The rain had stopped and the sky had morphed into a light gray. As Alistair walked down the street, he saw shopkeepers beginning to open up, and mothers pushing babies in strollers. Children chased each other around on the sidewalk and men sat at cafe tables, opening the front pages of their newspapers leisurely. Their days have just began, Alistair thought to himself, and mine have already ended.

Alistair strolled around aimlessly, before realising he had gone in a complete circle. The town of Whittlesbury was a small one, impossible to get lost in. But that meant it was also impossible to find anything new, and Alistair found that he was bored and without a destination.

“Alistair!” Alistair whirled around to see Timothy running at him. “Long time, no see,” he said with a grin, and engulfed Alistair in a hug.

“Hello, Timothy,” said Alistair, extracting himself from the embrace carefully, then smiling back at Timothy. “I wonder, do you have any room for a man in search of some breakfast?”

“Do I?” said Timothy, gesturing at his empty restaurant. “Hope you’re in the mood for pizza!” he called over his shoulder, as he ran back into the small restaurant.

Alistair grimaced and sat down at one of the red outdoor tables. Tim’s Pizza was usually deserted, as no one in town seemed to like Italian food. However, this had never discouraged Timothy, who was always dreaming up new kinds of pizza.

Alistair watched Timothy prepare his meal, using his mermaid shaped tap to fill a glass of beer. Fifteen minutes later, he ran out with a huge tray. “I hope you’ll enjoy my new delicacy, chicken barbecue pizza!” Alistair looked at the giant pizza, and highly doubted he would. Timothy pulled out the chair across from Alistair and sat down. “So, how’s Mr. Alistair?”

“Fine, thank you very much.” Alistair took a small slice of chicken barbecue pizza and cautiously took a bite. It was extremely spicy, and Alistair quickly took a gulp of his water, hoping he didn’t seem rude.

But Timothy appeared not to have noticed. “Well, I found a rather nice girl,” said Timothy looking at Alistair cautiously.

“I’m very happy for you,” said Alistair distractedly, attempting, in vain, to cut his slice with his dull butter knife.

“Well, she’s not for me,” said Timothy carefully. “She’s for you, old buddy.”

Alistair looked up at Timothy, his silverware clattering onto his plate. “Timothy.”

Timothy ran his hands through his black hair warily. “I thought it was a nice idea, Alistair. You haven’t been the same since the boat crash, and I just thought it might be a nice idea-”

“Please leave me alone,” said Alistair, looking morosely down at his breakfast.

“I’m sorry, Alistair, I just thought-”

“Please go.” Timothy got up quietly and walked back into Tim’s Pizza. Alistair got up, left some money on the small table, and walked away. As he crossed the street, he couldn’t help but regret the entire encounter.

Alistair shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers, his head bent over in thought as he made his back to his home. As he walked through the grove for the second time that day, he felt truly lost. The trees seemed to reach for him and he walked cautiously, carefully avoiding the skeletal branches.

Alistair’s house was located in a secluded clearing only minutes from the center of Whittlesbury. It was small and white, and constantly being pounded by the rain. As he climbed up the rickety steps that led to his chipped, red front door, he considered the thought that his little cottage may have become a little worse for wear. He turned the key in the rusty lock, and threw open the door.

The inside of the cottage was no better than the outside. As he walked to the kitchen, Alistair remembered the days when his house had to be spotless. But as he studied his empty refrigerator and his kitchen table, which was covered in newspaper clippings, he realized this was an idea of the old Alistair. He grabbed a box of cereal from the shelf and made his way to his study.

“Never, ever comin’ home again,” crooned a woman’s voice from the living room. “Because it’s filled with you.”

Alistair always left the radio on, but he didn’t ever listen to the songs. As he sat down in his large, leather chair, he remembered the days when every song that played the radio was happy. These days, they all seemed so sad.

“Okay, Alistair,” he said, as a ways of encouragement. “Let’s get this done.” He sifted through a large pile of papers that sat haphazardly on his cluttered desk. He was co-editor of the Whittlesbury Times, but he found no joy in the articles sent to his house. For the third time that month, Alistair quickly picked a few articles to be published, solely based on their titles. He slid them into an envelope and leaned back in his chair.

“Someone used to care,” sang a man soulfully. “Nobody cares anymore.”

His office was covered in photographs, some in frames, others in stacks on his bookcase, on his desk, and all over his tapestry-like rug. Alistair loved to take photographs, until about a year ago, when he smashed  his camera to bits on his asphalt driveway. But he couldn’t bear to get rid of all of his pictures.

His older photographs were of the ocean, mostly. When he had first moved to Whittlesbury, Alistair would go out sailing everyday, taking pictures of the sea, but he quickly found out that this couldn’t make you any money. He had been forced to also take pictures of families around town to retain a steady income.

About a year after this, the pictures began to change. No longer did they depict the ocean from Alistair’s boat. Instead, they portrayed a woman. With short auburn hair and turquoise eyes, she seemed to glow, even while being photographed in the pouring rain. Most of the pictures were of her, picnicking in a long yellow dress, or covered in paint, focused on a colorful canvas. Alistair still had some of her paintings, collecting dust in his attic. Alistair loved all of his pictures, especially the one in which she stuck her head in a large cutout of a mermaid at the town fair.

Alistair was only in one photograph. It was framed on his desk, portraying both of them. She wore a long white gown, with her hair in loose curls. Alistair wore a white suit.

The sky had turned to a calm gray by the time Alistair threw open the heavy curtains. It was about three in the afternoon and the sun peeked out warily behind wispy clouds. Alistair couldn’t hear the melodies wafting from the radio anymore, the sweet songs morphing into a dull roar. As he sorted through the piles of photographs, sitting on the hardwood floor, he had the distinct feeling that one picture was missing. The sky began to darken as Alistair looked for the missing photograph among the thousands spread across his study. Finding a large, sealed cardboard box, he reached into his pocket to retrieve his swiss army knife, hoping that maybe he had found the location of the photograph. He pulled out his wallet hurriedly, taking out his money and various papers in his haste. But while searching for the blade, he found his photograph.

Stuffed in the back pocket of his wallet, beginning to fade with time, it was Alistair’s last photograph. A girl stood in a green, spotted bathing suit, watching the sea from the deck of Alistair’s boat. On the back was written “Honeymoon to France, 1958.” It had been a sunny day in the middle of June, about a year ago. Alistair could hear crashing of waves and laughter, smell the sea salt and the suntan lotion. He watched as the boat collided with a group of large, craggy rocks. He flailed helplessly in the water, holding his photograph above the frenzied waters. As he searched for a woman, all he could see was the white foam collecting above the water and the flash of a turquoise tail.

When the rescue boat pulled him out of the freezing waves, Alistair stood shivering on the deck, his photograph clutched in his left hand.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said a man in a red jacket. “We were unable to find your wife.”

 

Later, Alistair walked alone at the docks. He waded through the waves, his loafers in one hand. The smell of sea salt surrounded him, as did the immenseness of the great ocean. He closed his eyes, envisioning the small steamer making its way through the vast waters. In his mind’s eye, he saw the boat sink into the green-blue. He remembered an old story about mermaids who made their homes in sunken ships on the ocean floor. Alistair watched the sunset turn the ripples to golden rings, and hoped that some lost things could be found again.

The Hospital

There are Always two Sides to a Story

 

The hospital rooms had a strong scent of something similar to rotten eggs and the white beds were now stained red. Instead of separate rooms, blue-white curtains hung in an attempt for people not to see or hear each other, however everything could be heard. The tiled floor, not cleaned in around months, now had moss growing in the cracks. The hospital was some sort of a hell hole.

On the last floor of the hospital, floor six, all the yellow light bulbs had burned out years ago. The darkness made it an ideal living space for many bats. When it was late at night you could hear bats flying and making noises. In the hospital warehouse rats lay dead after eating different medicine not made for them. If the hospital weren’t a hospital, it could have been a zoo instead.

***

It all began 20 years ago, when an outbreak began. The sickness Julgaray 323, otherwise known as Jul, had spread over the entire city of  Lodsonville  and had affected almost every citizen imaginable. The small hospital just wasn’t enough to take care of the more than a thousand patients. In a matter of days everyone began opening houses and schools for aid, until the present day the school remained a hospital, the only one left.

After the year which killed hundreds, survivors left the hospital and moved as far as possible from the city with fear that the disease would come back for revenge. From old Mrs. Mcclusky to young John, everyone fled to different cities around the world looking for peace, except for one special woman. Her name? Josephine. Josephine Moriarty. Age 75.

As new people started coming into the town, Christmas changed, sports tournaments changed, everything changed except for Mrs. Moriarty. Since the day she got ill she stopped talking or moving, she seemed like some sort of creepy old statue. Sitting by the hospital window all day was her hobby, and it creeped most nurses out, therefore no one ever entered her room. She was the only reason the hospital hadn’t closed years ago like it was meant to. The rules stated: As long as there is a patient in the hospital, it may not be shut down.

If you looked at the hospital from the outside, it seemed abandoned, a big piece of concrete, just there, for no use whatsoever. It might have sounded rude, but the citizens of the town could not wait for Mrs. Moriarty’s death so that the building could be demolished and remain as part of the city’s past. Everyone was too scared to enter or even touch her; no one knew anything about her or about her past. There was something so mysterious about her, but no one was ever able to discover it.

All that the citizens wanted was to know what had kept a woman locked up for so many years how could she be living a life that was so empty? How did she spend night and day sitting by the window? No love, no laughs, no nothing, but she was still there every single day. It was like some  mystery no detective could ever solve, or a disease no doctor could ever cure.

 

The cabinet that once held all the patients’ documents now was rusty and falling apart, barely holding itself together. As it was being opened you could hear loud creaks and cracks, as if it were haunted or something. There were no papers in the drawers except one, Mrs. Moriarty’s,  but her folder was basically empty, unusual for hospital files. As if she never even got sick. It was as if she had bribed her way into the hospital with no actual reason to be there. Everything about her was so strange. What could have kept her here after all these years?

***

When your dad was the mayor of Lodsonville it was predictable that your house was more like a mansion. 12 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, 3 kitchens, 4 living areas, 2 pools, 3 jacuzzis, that sort of thing. Anyone that rich was obviously living a fantastic life that everyone envied.

As Karlie made her way up the Starbucks line she kept thinking of what drink to get: Cool Lime Starbucks Refresher, Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino, Cinnamon Dolce Latte, Iced Caffè Mocha. The pick of the drink seemed like the hardest decision that no servant or butler took for her. It was the only time she really got to think for herself.

“I want a Golden Ginger Ale Fizzio,” said Karlie.

“A Fizzio?” replied the barista.

“Yes, a Fizzio.”

There were so many options in Starbucks, so many different types that would look so good in her Instagram feed, however Karlie chose otherwise.

“Why a different pick today?” asked Julia, her main maid.

At first, Karlie wanted to answer honestly. I hate that everything I do has to build a better image of myself. Yes, I may have long golden curls and my eyes may be water blue; yes, I may