It was Beth Israel before Mount Sinai took it over she explains as we get off the subway


I watch as she sleeps.

Easy, is the word

that comes to mind.

Is this what she’ll look like

when she dies?

If. Repeating in my head,

like a never ending mantra.

If, if, if, you must remember if.

Something’s in my eye.

Does this hospital have tissues?

The box is blue and marbled.

Focus on that.

Don’t worry, I just have allergies.

She speaks sometimes, but I can’t

liisten. I don’t want to hear

the jumbled nonsense coming out of her

drug filled mouth.

She wakes to complain that

it’s been three hours

since her last dose of


Pick your poison, he laughs.

The window looks out

to a brick wall.

A hand is placed on my shoulder,

reminding me there is only

5 minutes left in visiting hours.


The Sea World Debate

“Pencils down, hand in your tests on my desk,” Ms. Arnold announced.

School was finally over! I felt like yelping with joy! Everything was perfect at that very moment. Though Ms. Arnold’s biology tests were hard, I made sure to impress her. I stayed up late at night, studying hard, and it always paid off. Every time I answered a question, I felt so relieved that I had studied the night before. I felt so devoted to biology, and nature. I don’t want to be self-centered, but I aced all of her tests. I was determined to do well on that important biology final.

After I handed in my test, I dashed into the hallway, sneakers squeaking on the polished tile floor. I swung my unzipped backpack onto my shoulders and rushed up to join my friends.

“Where have you been, Alicia?” my best friend Maria asked me.

“I was saying goodbye to Ms. Arnold,” I said as I grinned.

“Oh, come on, no need to get overexcited.”

Maria is a model student; and even though we are just leaving sixth grade, she’s probably smarter than some of the soon to be eighth graders.  And everyone knows that she is as modest as it is possible to be. I personally think it is absurd how every piece of work she does is perfect.

As I marched out of the doors of our school, I instantly joined the mob of girls swarming just outside the school building.

“That test was actually not that bad,” Emma shrieked, trying to overcome all of the booming noise.

Maybe I wasn’t the only one who loves biology. I silently agreed with Emma.

I scanned the crowd to find Maria. I saw her talking to Jenna. I grabbed her away.

“Let’s go.”

“Where to?” Maria said, looking puzzled.

“Well, Mom told me I had to be home by 4:00.”

“Uh, sure. My dad probably wants to talk about the big test.”

“Okay, great. Awww,” I crooned “Look to your left. There’s a nest of little baby birds! How ADORABLE! I simply looove animals. Especially the little innocent babies!”

We cut through the crowd, dashed down the sidewalk, and ducked into the subway. We swiped our cards, and ran up the steps. Suddenly, a huge wave of tourists, New Yorkers, and other people flooded the stairway.

“Urg, we missed the train!” Maria swore under her breath.

“Well, I guess I better go,” I said. I didn’t want Mom to worry.

And then, we went our separate ways.

When I finally got home, I burst through the door, happy as a lark. Apparently, Mom caught on immediately.

“How was your last day of school, Pumpkin?” she said smothering me in fat, wet kisses.


“I can’t believe you are a seventh grader now!” Mom exclaimed.

“Hey, how was your biology final?”


“Woo hoo! Great job! I have a special surprise for you!”

Usually Mom’s surprises were actually good surprises, like that time when we found out we were moving to the city. And because of this, I started bouncing up and down on the edge of my seat.

“Tomorrow, we leave for San Diego, California, where you are going to see your cousins that you have never met before. They live in Seattle, Washington. It is a really long flight, and we’re staying there for five weeks, so I suggest you start packing now.” She motioned to the doorway. I made my way to my room.

I pulled out my favorite purple duffle bag, and stacked some clothes on my bed. I pulled out a pair of pajamas. A hair brush, some shampoo, body lotion. More toiletries. Blankets. My diary, sketchbook, some pens and pencils and my summer homework. In due course, I was done. I zipped up my stuffed duffel bag, and heaved it out of my room and through my door.

“I’m ready!” I called out.

“Great. Just in time for dinner,” Mom added. Then, Mom started talking a mile a minute. “Okay, so, we have rented a house. It is three floors high. You are sharing the attic bedroom with Sophie and Alex, your cousins. Sophie is 11, and Alex is 13. Your brother Jordan has the little alcove in the hallway, so please, please don’t make fun of him. We have to leave for the airport at 3:oo AM sharp.”

Whoa. that was early. I gobbled down my mashed potatoes and avocado salad and rushed into bed.

“G’night,” I called out to her. I climbed into my bed, and pulled the covers over me. The next thing I knew, Jordan was shaking me awake.

“Time to wake up!” He sneered.

“Wazthisallabout” I muttered.


Okay, now I was awake. I climbed out of bed, pulled my hair back into a ponytail. I basically sleepwalked into the car. It all happened so quickly. We went through the airport, onto the plane, and into San Diego. I fell asleep about three times on the plane, but I was woken up each time due to my stomach gurgling from nasty airport food. I guess some other people were also having stomach troubles for the person three seats behind us puked and it stunk worse than a rotting dumpster in a run down side street. Needless to say I was happy when I got out of the plane. It was already evening when I finally got to meet my cousins.

“Hi! I’m Alex. You are…” Alex’s voice trailed off.

“I’m Alicia.”

“I’m Sophie. I’m 11 years old, I live in Washington state, my favorite food is caramel apples, I’m on my school’s softball team, my favorite color is brown, and I love, love, love alpacas,” Sophie said all in one breeze.

“Er, I’m… Alicia.”

“Okay, cool. That’s such a pretty name. Mom told me that we were going to Sea World aquarium tomorrow. I’m so excited. All of my friends say it’s amazing. I’m so excited to see the whales. Everybody says that they are supposed to be trained,” Alex went on.

“Yeah, I’m pretty excited for it too.” There wasn’t much more for me to say. I turned around and went to our bedroom.

* * *

Soon enough, it was morning. Sunlight streamed out through the window.  I yawned and sat up slowly. I got out of bed and stretched. I threw on a tank-top and a pair of ripped jean shorts. I stepped into my well worn flip-flops and hobbled into the kitchen. I used a rubber band bracelet to pull up my hair into a ponytail and I poured myself a bowl of cereal.

“Who is that?” came a voice from the bedroom.

“Don’t have any breakfast without me!” It was Alex’s voice. I heard a lot of rustling from the big attic bedroom and some noisy footsteps from the stairs. CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMP.

“There you are.” It was Alex. She had an elaborate braid in her hair, and her face was drenched in blush, eyeliner, mascara, and bright pink lipstick.

“Oh, hi,” I mumbled. “Oh! We’re going to Sea World today. I’m so excited!” Alex looked at me like she was encouraging me to go up on stage and play a solo on my flute, so I raised an eyebrow. Alex’s creepy smile suddenly changed into a regular one. Soon enough, Aunt Zella was awake, and so was Mom and Jordan. In the meantime, our family pack would be traveling to Sea World aquarium. Alex, Sophie, Aunt Zella (whose spouse was home sick), Mom, Jordan, and obviously me, all piled into our rented minivan.

VROOM, VROOM, VROOM, went the van’s engine, The piece of junk tottered onto the highway.

We pulled into the parking lot, and all of the adults and children clambered out of the van.

“Okay, let’s have some order here!” came Mom’s voice. “We are going to visit the sea lions first, and then the sea turtles. We will then see the electric eels, and then the sharks. Finally, for the grand finale, we are going to see the big orca show. Kids, I’m sure this will be lots of fun, and Sea World is very educational. If you kids like Sea World enough, we might find time to come back to later on in this vacation. Everyone excited?” There was a long awkward silence. No one was as enthusiastic as Mom, but she continued. “Great!”

Anyway, Alex, Sophie, and I dragged behind the adults, tagging along about 10 feet away. The sea lions were cool, and so were the turtles. I marveled at the electric eels, but Sophie LOVED them.

“They’re the alpacas of the sea,” Sophie awed matter of factly.

If the electric eels were amazing, the sharks were out-of-this-world.

I thought that they were so elegant, gliding across the serene tank.

“I love them,” I managed to make out. Alex was literally pressing her nose to the glass, and Sophie was trying to communicate with one small whale on the extreme right of the tank. When Aunt Zella finally pulled us kids away from the tanks, it was time to go to the orca show.

As Sophie and I were running up ahead to catch up to Mom and Aunt Zella, we realized that Alex wasn’t with us.

I looked behind us, and there was Alex, looking for something. Sophie and I backtracked, and found Alex locating her silver gold compact. Alex searched the ground, and then hollered out, “I found it!”

Right when Alex had stood up, Sophie noticed a mysterious door. The least Alex and I could do was to follow Sophie.

Soon enough, we came to a slowdown. Our threesome hid in an alcove in the hallway as I saw two men carrying a thing wrapped in white.

“That’s an orca whale!” whispered Alex excitedly. We followed the men through another doorway. Then I had to duck through a short, wide door, and then Alex, Sophie, and I hid in a corner draped in shadows in a large room. Though I couldn’t see very well, I could hear the same two men muttering.

“Well, you know Edd, this feisty baby’s gonna take a long time to train. It’s been a long journey from where we captured him, and this babe’s gettin’ really restless. And when I captured him along with the crew, it took a good three hours to pull ‘im away from his family.”

It was terrible! How could these Sea World employees rip whales away from their lives? I’d read in books that orca whales were very intelligent animals, and what the Sea World employees didn’t know is that the orca whales have feelings, too! I tried to whisper all of my thoughts to Sophie, but she was too perplexed.

“This is evil,” Sophie managed to mutter. “Simply evil.”

Then I saw Mr. Edd turn toward our hidey hole. He grinned.

“Hmmm, what do we have here . . . “said Edd. I shrieked.

Sophie, Alex, and I bolted down the hallway, and appeared out of the door we came out of.

“We gotta do something about that!” Alex exclaimed. “How can they torture those poor whales! We gotta, gotta, gotta do something about that.”

“I know,” I muttered, my voice shaking with fear. “But first, we gotta find Mom.”


I headed to the visitor center. Sophie and Alex were tailing me. I ran up to Mom who was running around screaming.

“Oh honey, where were you?” Mom was frantic, her voice quivering. “I couldn’t find you anywhere!”  

“Um, I was doing some stuff. . . er . . . with my fellow cousins. But there is something really serious. These people at Sea World are torturing the poor whales. It’s terrible! I, er, might have followed these evil guys into a room where I overheard them planning to train the poor whale. Oh! It was sooo terrible!” It was hard to explain my feelings toward these whales. If there was only a way to help. I wish.

I glanced over and saw Sophie looking over some pamphlets. She was wide eyed and there was a big smile on her face.

“I know what we have to do.”

* * *

I was back home, sitting on Alex’s bed, along with Alex and Sophie. Though we looked like we were having a reading club meeting, we were actually all huddled over the same little pamphlet. I simply couldn’t believe it. There was a debate tomorrow! Sea World desperately wanted to expand their tank sizes, but animal rights activists had a strong NO. I had told Mom and Dad (who had arrived from the city a couple minutes ago) about the debate, and they had agreed that I could go to the  debate/protest. Aunt Zella also agreed that we were doing a good deed. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow!

* * *

“Are we there yet?” Alex complained.

“Almost!” replied Aunt Zella. In 5 mins, we were there. I was lead into a big, dimly lit room. Then, my family members and I were led into seats by a big, mysterious man in a dark suit. Next, a man started speaking. “Sea World is an excellent place for children to learn about sea life, and to inspire kids to become marine biologists.”

Oh, great. I didn’t know that Sea World had such good argument. But, if everything went well, hopefully Sea World would fall for the last time.

Oh, another man was practically screaming now. His face was completely red, and he was literally exploding with anger.

“Sea World is a terrible place for imprisonment! The poor orca whales have feelings, just like you and me!” Flecks of saliva were flying from the man’s mouth and they were spraying in my face.

“Ikkk!” I muttered under my breath. The spitty man continued.

“The worst part of Sea World is that they breed more whales and those whales are born into misery!

Wow. This debate was kind of too much for me. I kind of tuned out. As I started to nod off, I was shaken awake. It was Alex.

“The debate is over! The judge made the decision! I can’t believe it! The San Diego Sea World is not allowed to capture or breed ANY more orca whales!”

“OMG, OMG, OMG!!! I can’t believe it either! So we won! Well, we kinda did. OMG! I’m so happy!” I couldn’t believe that we actually got our way!

Mom was tapping me on the shoulder.

“Time to go Sweetie Pie,” Mom whispered.  And the big happy family piled into the big black van, and we drove away, cheering down the road.


World Class Heroes (Exerpt)


In the middle of nowhere, there was an old den. In this old den, something very evil was about to be hatched, and only a great group of heroes could stop it.


World Class Heroes: The Big Crossover

Chapter 1

Dr. Dupont was fixing the time machine. He had decided to take a break from using the time machine for a while until he could fully control the effects of time. Until then, Dr. Dupont would focus on other experiments. In his den were some very unique artifacts. What was so unique about the artifacts was that they didn’t yet exist. All of them came from the future. One notable artifact was Dr. Dupont’s Speedster 2000, his signature go kart for Extreme Go Karting. The whole story of his Extreme Go Karting match, as well as his trip to the future, was very complicated. It started when his time machine crashed, and he fell in the future. It had all came down to this: Dr. Dupont desperately needed to fix his time machine. Dr. Dupont went around, making the finishing touches to the time machine.


Chapter 2

Mr. Moore was in the house, taking a look at the broken attic. The attic was the secret room the owner had made. It was very haunted, as there was a secret shadowy figure coming and taking the people who were visiting the house and putting them in a vault. Mr. Moore had been traveling with some friends and he had stumbled upon the house. The owner had let him stay in the house, but as we all know, they discovered that the house was haunted. Mr. Moore had decided he wanted to investigate more and so throughout the months, he had opened up the Horror Investigations Academy. All he needed to do right now was take a rest and not think about what he had realized after the whole mishap. “No crazy horror story can scare me,” he said.


Chapter 3

Detective Sharp was in a big building while Patrick was at home watching TV. He was in no ordinary building; it was the S.P.I.E.S. building, or Secret Police International Espionage Security building. It was the building where the S.P.I.E.S. agents would hang out and get new missions. It was also where they would meet. Detective Sharp had heard that General Alfonzo, the leader at S.P.I.E.S., was having a meeting to discuss a big idea. The General had needed Sharp in the meeting. The building was huge, with labs, scientists, secret agents, computers, tests, and lots of cool technology.

“I would definitely want to work in this place,” said Sharp.

In the meeting room, there were lots of people. Some Sharp had known from the past while others he had not known. One thing was for sure, the place was really loud. Then, everyone was seated down as the General gave a very large speech about his new project.

The General said, “For years we have had terror in the U.S., and in the world. While our soldiers can handle taking out the enemy, it is the sheer idea that we can not take out most enemies on our own, resulting in a large hard battle and hundreds of agents dying. Plus, we need a team to take out the larger unknown threats that happen to this day. That is why I have decided to start Project Crossover. Project Crossover will create a team of heroes to save the world when needed. We will tell you the official list of candidates later. Alright, everyone can leave now.”

Everyone started leaving the building in relief that the General was finished with his speech. Just as Sharp was leaving, General Alfonzo said that he would send an email to all the current contenders, or people who don’t work for S.P.I.E.S. but receive their daily updates and go to their events with the final list of members in Project Crossover. Sharp had lots of time to think about what would happen in Project Crossover.


Chapter 4

While Detective Sharp was leaving the S.P.I.E.S. building, he noticed that it was busy. Inside the S.P.I.E.S. building, there were lots of things going on. There were scientists taking tests, rooms filled with people on computers, security guards guarding the vault of weapons and dangerous items, as well as a large guarded prison filled with some of the most dangerous criminals. All the agents had their own rooms. The cool weapons at S.P.I.E.S included the Laser Blaster 2000, the Light Ray, the Gattling Grinder, as well as The Repulsor. S.P.I.E.S. also had cool cars with lots of guns. There were even flying cars. One agent was called down by General Alfonzo. The agent went down to General Alfonzo’s office. While going to the General’s office, he started hearing weird sounds. He quickly pulled out his gun and turned back. As the agent was walking, he decided to place a security button on the floor. The security button could detect danger from the amount of distance its shockwave caught. As the agent was turning back, he heard the button make the shocking noise. It sounded like a buzz. The agent came and started firing bullets. He could not see anything suspicious. Then, as he was moving toward the button to catch the mysterious person, something hit him. The agent was on the floor, dead, as a circle of blood lay on the floor with his body.


Chapter 5

A medium-sized man walked up to the agent’s dead body. He saw the body and smiled evilly. Then he warped over to an old abandoned den. The den was no ordinary den, as it was the supervillain hideout. All the famous supervillains hung out and they hatched their evil plans in the den. The supervillains started getting cameras and recording equipment. The different supervillains were all in different places. Shape-Shifting Man was in charge of the light, the Time and Space Wizard was using the main camera and the Anti-tective was setting up the computer.

He hacked into the S.P.I.E.S. internet and all the S.P.I.E.S. workers could see the video. What showed up was the supervillains’ leader, Mass Executioner.

Mass Executioner said, “Greetings humans. I have hacked your computers.”

“Cut,” the Time and Space Wizard said. ”Anti-tective hacked the computers.”

“Grrgh,” Mass Executioner said. He said, “Anyway, Anti-tective has hacked your computers. As you can see, I am planning to take over the world with my … my … my … wait, what was the superweapon called again?”

Just saying, we’re live so they can see what embarrassing things you’re doing. Anyway, the weapon was called Ex-Mass Pro. Remember, it’s a parody of X-Mas. You want to anchor your speech,” said Shape-Shifting Man.

“Fine,” Mass Executioner said. He added, “Wait a moment, then I will continue.” After the setup, Mass Executioner went back to his speech. “As you can see, I am planning to take over the world with my Ex-Mass Pro. Now, to end the speech, I will tell you a little story. Not only did I kill one of your soldiers, I also … dang it, I forgot.”

Anti-tective said, “Dang it, the line was ‘I also shut off your power so now you cannot see what evil stuff I am doing.’”

Mass Executioner said, “I also shut off your power so now you cannot see what evil stuff I am doing.”

Then, Anti-tective hacked the computers so that the live stuff was shut off.


Chapter 6

The message that Mass Executioner had delivered made General Alfonzo furious, although some of the workers were laughing at the horrible mistakes that Mass Executioner made.

“We need to set up the team, fast!” he said. General Alfonzo went to his office and then came back a few seconds later with a full list of candidates for Project Crossover. Then, General Alfonzo went to his computer to email the S.P.I.E.S. attendants. Meanwhile, Dr. Dupont, Detective Sharp, and Mr. Moore were all checking their email and found the Project Crossover candidate list. They were really shocked by the official candidates. They were all on the list.

Dr. Dupont wondered how he was going to stop a new threat. All he had was a time machine. But he also had his other inventions, even his Speedster 2000. Dr. Dupont felt like Doctor Who. Mr. Moore thought that his skills as a horror investigator would definitely be the reason why he was on the team. Detective Sharp wasn’t surprised, as he knew that he was a worthy person for this new team. The final member was unknown, as they were only referred to as the Inventor. Dr. Dupont, Detective Sharp, and Mr. Moore were all ready to start their new adventure.


Chapter 7

Detective Sharp was walking over to the S.P.I.E.S. building for the team’s first meeting. As he was driving to the building with Patrick, a crazy maniac was flying in a plane toward a building. Inside the building, Sharp and Patrick made it to General Alfonzo’s office. General Alfonzo said, “Alright, let’s introduce ourselves, then I will tell you the problem and how we will handle it.”

Everyone introduced themselves, then Sharp asked, “Who was the crazy maniac flying in the plane and why is he on the team?“

General Alfonzo replied, “That is the Inventor. He is great at creating inventions and supplies us with the best weapons and gear.”

Sharp replied, “Why does he have a crazy attitude?”

General Alfonzo replied, “Listen up, Sharp, we have to be nice on this team. You shouldn’t judge someone if they’re weird. Besides, he might come in use later. Anyway, yesterday we received a cryptic message from a new threat — the Mass Executioner. He plans to take over the world with the Ex-Mass Pro. We need you all to stop him and his minions. Tomorrow you will break into his satellite station. It is guarded by many robots so use your skills to defeat them.”


Chapter 8

As if time hadn’t passed,  the first day had passed and the heroes were ready for their first mission. General Alfonzo assigned everyone to their roles. He said, “Alright, here’s the plan. Dr. Dupont, you go back in time to a time when the robots left the satellite station. Then, you can go to the computers and delete the data. Sharp and Patrick, you sneak up and take the robots out. The Inventor will take out the aerial guards. And lastly, Mr. Moore will pull out the power.”

The heroes went to their places and started the mission. Dr. Dupont went in his time machine and traveled to Sunday, March sixth. The robots had to go to the evil lair to talk to Mass Executioner. So Dr. Dupont went into stationary mode and deactivated the satellite.

Stationary Mode was a mode that allowed Dr. Dupont to do things that wouldn’t produce an effect that would last forever, but would affect the future. It would only affect the future for a bit. However, if the effect is interfered with, then the interference stays. The reason Dr. Dupont didn’t want to permanently change the hacking was because the robots had lots of satellites that were given to them by Mass Executioner. Therefore, they could easily replace the hacked one.

Once Dr. Dupont hacked the station, Detective Sharp threw a bomb in the smoke pipe. It fell all the way to the wifi connection wires. The wires were in the middle of the station so there would be a big bang. The robots were surprised by the hacking. Then, Detective Sharp activated the bomb and then the station went BOOM!!! The Inventor had flown in the air and shot the aerial guards. The team was starting to leave until, the robots came out of the destroyed station, very angry. The team started to fight. Sharp and Patrick pulled out their revolvers and started shooting the robots. But the bullets were no match for the robot’s armor. Dr. Dupont went back to present day to see the chaos. He quickly grabbed his super sonic laser weapon and deactivated the robots. The inventor went in his plane and started blasting the robots. The robots were weakened and the surviving ones retreated.

The team shook hands, and General Alfonzo came and said, “I am so proud of you all. Keep up the good work.”

Then Detective Sharp said to the Inventor, “You actually did good. I regret saying that you were a crazy maniac. Do you want to be friends?”

The Inventor replied, “Yeah we can be friends.”

The team went to the plane and flew back to S.P.I.E.S.


Chapter 9

Some robots were flying to Mass Executioner’s lair.

The robots said, “Master, some people came and weakened us. Half of our army has been deactivated.”

Mass Executioner came and asked the robots, “Who were they?”

The robots replied, “We don’t know. They were random individuals. There was no team name or anything else.”

Mass Executioner said, “Find these people and their master.”

Meanwhile, Detective Sharp, Mr. Moore, Dr. Dupont, and The Inventor were all hanging out and having coffee. Then, General Alfonzo came and directed the team to a new mission. That mission turned out well. Throughout the next few days, the team was doing successful in their missions. The bad guys were getting weakened and one day, the team defeated a group of robots and retrieved a map of a large castle. The team realized that the old den was a decoy and that the villains had a real secret lair that was very big.

General Alfonzo said, “Tomorrow we will invade the lair and defeat the enemy. The evil lair is hard to navigate so we will split into teams. Everyone get some sleep, okay?”

Detective Sharp said, “We should make a team name.”

The Inventor asked, “What should we name it?”

Dr. Dupont said, “Well, we are all people of the world, we are a class, then we are obviously heroes. We should call ourselves the World Class Heroes.”

Everyone agreed and so the World Class Heroes got some sleep for the big day.


Chapter 10

The heroes woke up and got ready. Sharp was given a better gun instead of the bad revolver. General Alfonzo took the map of the castle and made coordinates to the homeworld of the villains, which was called Otherworldly Prime. Otherworldly Prime was a place which robots had taken over, and it had been turned into a big lair where the robots thrived under Mass Executioner. The S.P.I.E.S plane had to fly for 88 miles an hour and then the portal to Otherworldly Prime would activate.

The reason that the plane had to fly 88 miles an hour was because Otherworldly Prime existed in a place that could only be accessed by super speed. If the plane flew 88 miles an hour, it would fly so fast that it would be too unstable for planet Earth and they would land in Otherworldly Prime. The plane loaded the whole team and General Alfonzo. Then, the plane flew so fast most of the people on board started feeling nauseous. The portal activated and the team, including General Alfonzo, were all in the plane, while it was falling in a big blue hole. The big blue hole was so bright.

Then, after some time, the team made it to Otherworldly Prime. Otherworldly Prime was a space-looking place which had barely any people and barely any inhabitants. The team could see a futuristic castle in the distance. They assumed it was the lair and went over to it. But then, the floor stood up and the team was standing on a big block. The bottom then turned into acid and therefore, the team was stuck. Dr. Dupont found a code device. He quickly unraveled the code and a set of tiles showed up. Detective Sharp used his detective skills and found that a certain number of tiles would hurt the person who stepped on them while another number of tiles would not hurt the person who stepped on them. The Inventor quickly stuck up his foot and attempted to step on the tile.

But then, he took it back. Dr. Dupont studied the tiles with his sonic laser weapon. He determined the correct tiles and directed the team to the correct path. The team was led to another big block. On the big block, there were five sets of laser traps. There were tiles in between them. The Inventor determined that if you stepped on those tiles, the laser traps would activate. The laser traps were blocking the exit to the obstacle. General Alfonzo noticed other paths next to the laser traps. The paths had the key to deactivating the laser traps. General Alfonzo split the team into halves and each half went to each path.

Detective Sharp and the Inventor went on the left path, while Dr. Dupont and Mr. Moore were on the right path. We haven’t been talking about Mr. Moore for a long time. Anyway, Detective Sharp and the Inventor noticed that there was a tunnel with a lever. The lever deactivated the left side of laser Dr. Dupont and Mr. Moore found a code. Dr. Dupont unraveled the code and the right side of laser traps were deactivated.

This time, there was no block that appeared. General Alfonzo used his plane remote to bring the plane to the big block they were standing on. The team hopped in the plane and it flew. General Alfonzo noticed some fighter jets and they engaged in a large dogfight. All the planes were shooting bullets and the team’s plane couldn’t handle it. But they noticed that they were close to the big castle and they didn’t lose hope. The plane shot down the fighter jets and as they were getting close to the big castle. Just then, after going through lots of fighter jets, they had made it. They were standing in front of the entrance of the castle.

To be continued…


Hazel –– The Middle of Nowhere

Sometimes I wish I had a parent. Sometimes I wish I had a place to go, a goal to reach. Sometimes I wish… Enough, my brain scolds itself.

The sun is merciless against my peeling neck, my feet somehow still trudging on. I curse my hair for being blacker than the night sky, attracting more heat than my poor scalp can handle. I bring my bottle to my dry lips, and try to remember the feeling of being refreshed for as long as I can.

I honestly don’t know where I am.

I’m from somewhere called Jackville. What part of the world that’s in, I don’t know. Heck, I don’t care. I walk and walk for what seems forever. My home is everywhere and nowhere. I guess that’s okay.

I squint and see hills and hills of straw-like grass, going on for farther than my eyes can make out. A couple bare trees are in the distance, the sun still glaring down at everything beneath it. A small pond is glittering down a hill, reflecting the bright blue sky. The cracked soil beneath my worn sneakers is a dehydrated beige instead of a rich dark brown.

As I get closer to the pond, I realize the water is rippling slightly. I stop, crouch down, and listen. My eyes scan the pond’s edge through the grass. I need to decide on fight or flight.

Two large ears appear over the golden grass. I nearly missed it. The head pops out, its beady black eyes looking for me. Its fur is slightly more red than the grass, and it has a black back. I sigh.

A jackal.

I recognize this one as a black-backed jackal, smaller than its cousin, the side-striped jackal. Jackals are scavengers, and will feed on small animals and the remains of already eaten animals.

I pick a fight.

I stand up abruptly and roar. With that, the jackal scampers away into the grass. I kneel down at the pond’s edge and cup my hands. The water trickles down my chin and shirt, my lips form a smile. I run my cool hands through my tangled hair, and let the water tickle my toes.

My forearm is submerged in the water, my hand in the gooey muck. I take out a pebble from the pond and throw it as far as I can. Ripples come back to me like an echo.

“Hazel,” Mom said as we threw pebbles into the water. “Every pebble is like friendship and love. You know why?”

“Why?” I asked, letting her embrace me with her warmth. Her dark blonde hair fell over my face, but I didn’t care.

“You see the ripples coming back?”


“Friendship and love radiate, spread, and come back to you.”

“What do you mean?”

She caressed my hair. “My little star, when you give something, there is always a return.”

Only then do I realize that the pond is rippling more and more. My tears are like firecrackers, erupting in the pond, sending ripple after ripple, crashing into each other. That’s what she called me. My little star.

Mom used to say that when you give, there is always a return. I give love to Mom… but she’s too far away to return it.

Water bottle sloshing, lips a little less cracked, I set off from nowhere to nowhere.


Parent Problems

“Mom?” I called into the empty living room. “Mom?”

I peeked in the kitchen. No one. I silently climbed the stairs. The TV was blaring in Mom’s room. I squinted through the crack… I gasped, a little too loudly.

“Shu’ up Malcolm! Are yeh a man or not? This movie isn’ even scary!” a gruff man’s voice scolded. He thought someone elseMalcolmwas the one who gasped. His hair was curly and out of control. His eyes kind of scared me. I felt like I should obey him or he’d punish me. His shirt was stained and he seriously needed to shave. He gave off a strange scentcigarettes. A boy with dark blonde hair mumbled something that I can’t hearI was already running to my room.

“Honey! I wanted to talk to you. Come sit.” Mom patted the space next to her.

“Who is that guy, Mom? What is he doing here?”

“My little star! He’s –– he’s your father, honey.”

My eyes widened. My father? Horror ran through me. I had his hair color and his dark, determined, powerful eyes. But I’d never met him before. I knew there was a reason for it.

“Don’t be scared, please. We were separated, right after we had you and Malcolm.”

“Why? Who’s Mal –– no way! Malcolm’s my brother?!”

“Sorry I didn’t tell you. But we think it’s time we live together again.”

I crumbled at her feet. Live with them? Live with –– with him? No way.

I take out one of the pebbles I collected from the pond and throw it as far as I can. I run after it, stomping through the grass. It’s softer now, less like straw. The soil is not cracked and beige anymore. I take that as a good sign.

But my mind is in the past, and as I retrieve the pebble and throw it again, I feel the same anger, the same surprise and shame, as I did that day I left home. How could that man be my father? But we have the same dangerous eyes and black hair –– only mine is straight, not a curly mess.

I sit at the bottom of a short tree, resting my back against the rough bark. I close my eyes against the sunlight, against the heat, against everything. I wish I could open my eyes and find myself with Mom, no one else. No father. Just Mom and me. I don’t call him Dad. He’s just… not. He’s Father. The distant father. The scary father. Not Dad.

I open my eyes to find myself alone with the grass, dirt, sun, and sky. I sigh. I guess things don’t happen just because I want them to. I stare at the grass and the sky and the dirt and everything there is to look at, which sometimes feels like a lot, and sometimes feels like too little. Sometimes I look at the sky and see how beautiful the clouds are, or I’ll look at the dirt and watch the worms wiggling their way around for hours, or I’ll look at a pond, and throw rocks and watch the ripples.

Other times I feel like the world is boring, and there’s only a blue sky, and brown dirt, and water in a pond. I wonder what normal kids do. They don’t stare at nature for all their life, do they? They don’t have to run away from their parents because they’re scared. It sounds so much more full. A little less scary. But I don’t know if I would rather have that life.

I quickly learned that things don’t happen because you’re hungry, or sad, or dirty. You have to earn it. I was only eleven when I learned that lesson. I was eleven when I left.

Tears spilled everywhere while I screamed for my mom, that I was sorry and I wanted to come home. I was hopelessly lost in the forest, the shadows starting to look creepy. They followed me, and every crunch of a twig under my foot made me jump. A sign was nearby, but it was hard to read. I took out a flashlight.

Why are you here? Go home.

This is Mason’s property.

I gasped. Mason hated when people were on his property. No one had really seen him, but he made it clear he didn’t like visitors. A growl came from my left. I spun around.

“Read the sign, little girl. You are the second to stumble onto my property. The first did not end well.”

I ran. I thought about the sign. Why are you here? it said.

I’m here because my father is back. I’m not going to be with him. That drove my legs farther and farther from home.


Imaginary Friends

The sky, trees, and grass aren’t very good company. They don’t respond to your questions, or give their own opinion. They are just there, growing and reproducing and dying all over again. I live differently. I don’t live to bloom and then die. I live to –– what do I live for?

I have friends, I guess. They just aren’t different people. They’re part of me. They’re imaginary, which I know sounds babyish, but I need them. They’re my support. I only have two, Zoe and Kate. They give me a boost with everything I do.

The trees are everywhere now, not scattered like before. It’s almost a forest. I have shade now,  but at night, shadows still give me the creeps. I’m probably nearing a deciduous forest, because brittle leaves are all over the ground, nearly up to my ankle. I kick through them, thinking about jumping into leaf piles and laughing and not caring that a dog probably peed on the leaves. I wonder if kids my age even do that anymore.

“Thank goodness the sun isn’t showing its face anymore!” Kate said. “My shoulders are sunburned and peeling!”

“Stop grumbling, Kate. We’re all going through that, you know,” Zoe smiled.

“Oh yeah, and I bet we got a whole bunch of vitamin D too. Right, Miss Know-It-All?”

“Oh quiet, you two,” I said, smiling secretly.

I heard a rustling sound. Kate and Zoe froze. The noise was coming nearer.

“Guys, this shouldn’t be something too big if you listen to its footsteps. But there are two, maybe a baby. Either way, if this is a mom, it’ll be pretty protective. It might feel that we’re a threat,” Zoe whispered. I nearly told her to be quiet. She’s your imagination, I told myself, as much as I wished she wasn’t.

A head popped out from a tree. Her ears were perked up, fur a reddish brown. The underside of her tail was white, and I heard Zoe hiss, “A white-tailed deer!” A smaller deer followed by her legs, trotting in the deep pile of leaves. There were circles around the deer’s black eyes, which were bright with interest.

I slowly crouched down by a tree, trying to be as quiet as possible. The mother deer stared at me intently for a very long time. She was wondering if I was a threat. I didn’t move. If I looked scared she’d sense it. So I relaxed into the tree, letting the branch’s shade cover me. They trotted past me, and when I couldn’t hear the deer’s footsteps, I stood up.

Only then do I realize that Kate and Zoe vanished from the beginning. I handled it all by myself.


Full Circle

It’s the next night, all peaceful and quiet, except for the rustling leaves and breeze that flutters my hair. I crawl into my little hut made of twigs and logs. They lean into a tree trunk, making a cone-shaped structure. My rucksack is in one corner, a pile of leaves in the other. That’s my bed tonight. I take out a small blanket and wrap it around myself, just like Mom and I did when we sat out on our porch. I duck under the small entrance of the hut and look up at the moon through the branches.

It’s amazing how far away the moon is. I feel so far away from other people, my mom, my brother. But the moon is so much farther away… doesn’t it feel lonely? Father is so far from my life, but the moon is still farther. Even my distant father. Or am I being distant? Do people think of me the way I think of my father? Does Malcolm think I’m a distant sister?

I shake my head as if to shake away the questions. What does it matter?

The wind picks up, now whipping my hair. I decide to go inside. I make myself as comfortable as I can in my leaf pile, wrap the blanket around me, and close my eyes. I wonder if whenever I walk, I’m getting closer or farther away from home. I’m not really sure what I want.


I wake up with leaves in my face. They smell like fresh soil and sap. The wind has died down, the morning sun peeking through the walls of the hut. It’s smiling at me, as if to say, “Today’s gonna be a good day.” I sit up and bang my head against the side of my shelter. What a start for a good day.


I yawn widely and look into my bag. Today’s breakfast is…


I know you’re thinking, “GROSS!” But, insects are the best thing you can eat in the wilderness. They’re full of protein and easy to find. Plants are faulty because a lot are either not easy to digest or poisonous. I learned that at summer camp.

I sling my rucksack over my shoulder and climb out of the shelter. I learned the hard way to always take my bag or animals get curious about what’s in that hut. The leaves are still, the forest only just waking. All is silent except for an early bird’s call. I kick through the leaves and trace my fingers on the bark. My stomach grumbles, but I tell myself to be patient. This morning’s breakfast might be a little more special…

“Aha!” I exclaim. My fingers find something wet and a little sticky: tree sap. Tree sap is good raw, and isn’t actually that sticky. A lot of it is made of water. Trees give sap when it’s thawing or freezing, and in this case it’s starting to melt. I collect what I can in my container (from home) and mix it with my bugs. Not bad.

I decide to eat and walk on, leaving my shelter. As I munch on my sap-glazed insects, I wonder where I’m going. The woods are getting noisier now. I walk and walk, finally coming across something I haven’t seen in a while. A sign. As I near it, I realize it says,

“Why are you here? Go home.

This is Mason’s property.”

A shiver runs through my spine. All this time, I was going in a circle? I turn around to go the way I came.

Kate jumped out of a bush.

“The Masons? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“No way! I’d rather fight an angry coyote!” Zoe gasped.

Someone growls from behind me.

“My, my little girl. Where have yeh been?”


What Parents Are For

I try not to panic. It’s just a human. No claws, no teeth, no poisonous venom. Just a human. I’ve been through enough to know this person is no harm.

I pick fight over flight. I’m not a little girl anymore.

I spin around and glare with my dark dangerous eyes. “Come out.”

A man with dark, out-of-control hair comes out from a tree. His shirt is stained and filthy, his eyes murderous. He smelled like something vaguely familiarcigarettes.

I gasp. Father.

“So, little girl. How did yeh end up here?” He smiles, showing gray-yellow teeth.

“Don’t call me ‘little girl.’”

“Why not? Yer obviously smaller than me.”

“Parents don’t normally call their children ‘little girl.’”

His eyes widen. He doesn’t look so casual and unconcerned now.

“No way. Hazel?” He whispers. “My little star?”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Why not? Yer mother does. I’m yer dad, yeh know.”

“No. No, you’re not my dad. You’re my father.”

“What’s the difference, again?”

“Dads take care for their children! Dads love their children! Dads give a good example for their children! Dads —– 

“And who says I don’t do all that?” he fires back. “Do you think I don’t love ye? Do you think I wanted to be separated from ye?”

I look at him straight in the eyes. I see his concern, his surprise, his guilt.

“Yeh got my eyes,” he says at last. “Come home. Yer mom’s been waitin’ a year now. Come home.”

Remember me?

I step into my home, not Father’s. It’s exactly the same, like I’m stepping into the past. Except this time, Father’s hand is on my shoulder.

“Hey, Malcolm! Call yer mother. I got someone.”

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“Just do what I say!”

Malcolm peeks into the living room, and his jaw drops.

“Hi, Malcolm. Remember me?”

“Uh… hi. What’s your name again?”

“Hazel. I’m your sister.”

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, my sister. Yeah.”

“Call yer mother already!”

“Mom!” It’s strange that someone other than me calls her ‘Mom.’

Her dark blonde swaying, mom comes in. She looks at Malcolm, then at father, then at me.

“Hazel! Oh my God!” She hugs me so tightly that I can’t breathe. I hug her back, tears spilling down my cheeks.

Sometimes I wish… No. There’s nothing to wish for anymore.

Wish I Was Yours

Chapter 1

“Mom, MOOOMMM!” I yell, but she can’t hear me and she disappears right there in front of me. I wake up, sweat trickling down the side of my face. My mom died when I was young. She just… disappeared out of nowhere when I needed her. I couldn’t sleep for months. I thought about her all the time afterwards. She only died five years ago but it felt like it happened right now.

I ease my way out of bed and read my clock, which says 7:03. I put on the clothes I picked out from yesterday night. I live in an estate, but only because my dad is a duke. But I got sent here to Paris, in a boarding school. I met my roommate yesterday, but she’s with her boyfriend right now. Luckily, it’s a mixed boarding school, with boys and girls. I never really actually had a true love or a serious boyfriend except for Jason.

My mom was my best friend and I didn’t need anything else besides her. I just found out I have a dad anyways. I’ve been living with my gramma in past years before my dad decided to show up out of nowhere and come back into my life. I was popular at my old school but that was because I had a model for a mom and I looked exactly like her. I was proud to look like her, but now when I look at myself it just reminds me of her and it kills me every time. People tell me to accept that she’s gone but I can’t. You just can’t have everything you ever think you’ll need and then lose that most important part of your life. It shouldn’t work like that. Never should it ever work like that.

“Lively, are you here?” Auburn says to me, walking into the room. “I brought you a donut. Hope you like jelly-filled,” she says again.

I look at the donut hungrily and take a huge bite when she hands it to me.

“By the way, when we go down to breakfast my boyfriend and a couple of my friends will be joining us,” Auburn says, quickly jumping out of the shower.

Not knowing and grateful enough to know I’m already making friends, I wait for Auburn to get dressed and together we’re out of the door, down the stairs, and quickly into the dining room. The room is stunning and the wonderful smell in the room lifts my spirits up. I see a hot boy walking towards us. He has navy blue eyes and thick black hair with high cheekbones. At first I think he was walking toward me before I see him reach us and grab Auburn into a deep hug. This must be Sky. No wonder he’d date someone like Auburn, with her beauty and friendliness toward anyone. He finally realizes me standing there and does a double take. He flashes his smile with his dimples and I feel myself turn redder than I’ve ever been.

“Hi, you must be Lively, right?” he says.

I can swear I feel my heart skip a beat, I might as well just faint right here. He is also British, too, so every word he says is seeped in English. As we near the front of the line I turn toward the menu, and everything (I mean everything) is in French, so I try my best to try to figure out what it says. But in the end Sky has to help me. We get to our table, and as soon as we get there, a swarm of girls from unknown places start flirting with Sky, but he easily shakes them off and sits down with the rest of us. This place just seems to get better by the second, and unlike my old life, more interesting too.


Chapter 2

“So, Lively, how do you like our — and now your — school so far?” Auburn asks while she stuffs her face with toast, not caring that Sky is laughing at her.

“It’s really sorta… ” I start to say but not wanting to say the word because it might offend people.

“I know it’s much,” Auburn says, widening her eyes for emphasis.

“Yeah,” I take a bite of my yogurt, the only thing I knew how to order while standing in line.

“I just really miss my old school, and my best friend Katherine, and some other friends as well,” I say, more to myself than Auburn.

“Ooh, who’s the boy you left?” Auburn says with a tease in her voice.

I turn my head to hide my blush, only to find Sky staring at me closely as soon as I say, “His name was Jason. We were starting to get serious, but then I had to leave. He was my only boyfriend I really cared about.” I picture the way he used to smile at me while he was eating a gummy, and his dazzling white teeth would turn all green or blue depending on the color of the gummy. I remembered the way he would bite off the head of the gummy first. He said it would kill it without pain as fast as he could. I start to smile just at the thought, but am abruptly stopped midway when my phone buzzes on the table.

Sky quickly looks at the caller ID and says “Oh, it’s that Jason person.”

My eyes pop wide open. Jason hasn’t called me since we had to say goodbye and finally he called right now. I grab the phone from a slightly dissapointed-looking Sky and a very nosy Auburn.

“Hey beautiful, whatcha doing?” he answers as soon as I pick up.

“Hahaha, very funny. You know I hate when you call me beautiful, handsome,” I say, glancing around, seeing an annoyed look on Sky’s face and Auburn hovering over me trying to listen. Suddenly, Sky grabs the phone from my hand and says:

“Hey, this is Sky, Lively’s super cool awesome new boyfriend. Sorry, but it seems like you’ll have to find another girlfriend. Adios!” and with that he hung up.

“OMG I’ve been waiting for him to call since I left! How could you?” Anger flashed before my eyes before I stormed off without my phone.


Chapter 3

“Lively, LIVELY!” Sky ran after me down the corridor and turned me around with his arm.

“WHAT? Okay, what? You got what you want, I don’t even know you! Just because all the girls throw themselves at you doesn’t mean I’d be pleased at what you said to Jason.” I start crying silently but when Sky tries to touch me I jerk away from him and his face contorts back into an angry face.

“I just didn’t want you to wait for someone when you’re a beautiful girl, you see. Whenever you walk past everyone does stare at you.”

“I don’t need your pity, I can handle myself. Why don’t you go back to your girlfriend? God!” I say but my brain only processes on one word which is that he called me beautiful. I finally notice people staring, and I say quietly so only he can hear me. “Stop acting like you are my boyfriend, you already have someone who is perfect for you. I’m just trying to find the perfect one for me.”

I storm back into the cafeteria, grab my bag, and walk out to my first class. English. The only class where I can make up a new world, new characters, a new life and not have anyone tell me no. As I walk into English I notice I’m the only one in the classroom. Not even the teacher is here. Surprise, surprise! Not like that’s new, I was always one of the straight-A students in my old school anyways.

As people start filing into class, Auburn plonks herself into the chair next to me and Sky sits down right on my other side. Sabrina, who was also sitting at our table with her boyfriend Dylan, sat right on the other side next to Auburn.

“I’m so sorry Lively, I really don’t know what got into Sky. And he will now be your maid waiting on you hand and foot forever. Sky was probably just looking out for you, right SKY?!” Auburn pleads to me while she glares at Sky.

“Yeah, I beg of you,” Sky says in the exact same voice that Auburn had.

I laugh, but finally give in. I mean if you have a cute boy trying to stick up for you — even in the worst possible way — what could you do?

“I hope you guys know I’m holding you to that no matter what,” I tell them with a gleam in my eyes. We all burst out laughing. Even Sabrina, who hasn’t said a thing since I met her, gives a small grin.

As we calm down the teacher walks into the room. He jumps straight into the lesson as he sets his bag onto the floor and sits on the edge of the table.

“What do we learn about ourselves when we write?” the teacher begins.

I relax in my seat, already knowing I’m gonna enjoy this class.


Chapter 4

Before I know it, I make it to dinner in one piece. I found out in all my periods I was with either Sabrina, Sky, or Auburn. I convince Sky with guilt to get my dinner so I don’t have to face the treacherous way of only eating a yogurt again. Once everyone got to our table we all started to eat.

“This went a lot better than I thought it would. These past couple of hours, I mean,” I say as soon as I’m able to get my mouth away from all the delicious food.

“I know, right? It’s the best. Even if people say this school is so snotty, it has the best educational system ever,” Auburn gushes.

“Of course Auburn would say that, she’s always a teacher’s pet,” Sky says. And while holding back a laugh he imitates everything that Auburn said in a high squeaky voice. As Auburn swats him with her hand we all burst out laughing.

“But seriously Auburn, we still on for tonight though?” Sky says trying to get ahold of his laughing.

“Maybe, if I don’t kill you first,” Auburn says, shaking her fist at him in a playful manner.

“Fine, I’ll buy you a crepe if you forgive me,” Sky says in reply as he shoves another spoonful of food into his mouth.

“ YAY! Fine, I forgive, but only because you’re buying me a crepe. That’s all,” Auburn says and as she gives him a kiss on the cheek.

I look away, not wanting to look at them anymore, but as I turn away I see Sabrina and Dylan making out. I look down at my phone and it vibrates. Finally, a text from Katherine.


Hope you’re having fun 🙂 but I miss you already 🙁

xox- M


I smile at her text and text back.


Not as much fun without you 🙁



Quickly she replies.


Nope I bet you just miss your boyfriend JASON.




I laugh out loud without realizing. I look up since I feel everyone’s eyes looking at me. Well, only Auburn and Sky. I smile sheepishly.

“What? Is something wrong?” I say, still not sure what had happened to make them look at me with such funny faces.

“It’s not that, you just — you seem to really be enjoying your phone more than us,” Auburn says with a little hurt mixed in with her usual cheeriness.

“It’s not that, it’s just that I haven’t seen my best friend since I left and I just really miss her,” I say, not meaning to hurt Auburn. I quickly show her the texts and she smiles — really, really widely.

“Oh, looks like Jason just texted,” Auburn says with her eyebrows going up.

I quickly take me phone back and read the text.


I miss you so much why don’t just leave paris already.

Love, J


I quickly get up from the table, suddenly feeling very happy. I guess I made a loud noise because everyone seems to stare at me. I don’t care. I go to the little corner right beside our small table. A little too close, with very easy access for eavesdropping, but I didn’t notice. I call. I feel like we’ve been talking for five minutes only to see that dinner’s over. I quickly hang up and walk up to our table with a smile that I wasn’t able to wipe off my face, as everyone starts heading out. This would be my first night in Paris, but all I want to do is go to sleep. I say bye to everyone and go up to my room. I fall onto my bed, closing my eyes. When sleep doesn’t come I finally decide to watch my favorite TV show, Pretty Little Liars. And that’s how the next day I find myself asleep in front of the TV and Auburn in her bed.


Chapter 5

Since it’s Saturday there isn’t much to do, especially since I finished all my homework so I could have the whole weekend to myself. Then I remember that I have nothing planned, unlike my old school which I always had this party to attend or that get-together.

“Knock, knock,” I hear Sky say. I wake up Auburn, who is a very deep and late sleeper but in the end I have to open the door. As soon as Sky walks into our room Auburn is awake.

“Sabrina, Dylan, Jace, and I are planning to go to the park today. Would you guys like to join?” Sky says, and sits down on the couch in our room. The way he says Jace’s name is clearly out of annoyance.

“Definitely. What about you, Lively?” Auburn says and she goes over to sit down next to Sky.

“Um, sure. I haven’t seen anything around Paris yet,” I say, a little embarrassed.

“Wait, so you’re saying that you’ve been in Paris for a couple of days now, but you still haven’t seen anything of the campus?” Sky says, looking at me strangely.

“Yeah, but today’s the day, right?” I say, putting on a cheery face.

“YEP, today is the day!” Sky and Auburn say together before they start to kiss.

I walk out of the room and run right into a brick wall — no wait it’s not a brick wall, it’s someone’s body. I step back and there he is. Sky’s twin brother Jace. Funny how Sky never even talked about him at all but immediately I fall head over heels for him. I realize I’m staring and he is too, so we quickly look away and then look back.

“Um, hi, sorry for running into you,” we say in unison before we start blushing.

“I’ll show you to Sky,” I say again, trying to start a conversation, but he’s too busy staring at me to notice.

As we walk into the room Sky turns around and glares at Jace.

“So, Lively, it seems like you meet my twin, Jace,” Sky said, still glaring at Jace, who is staring at me.

“Let’s go downstairs to Sabrina and Dylan so we can go to the park already,” Auburn says, trying to clear the tension.

We all get ready and leave. Sabrina and Dylan are right where they’re supposed to be. We run to the park and as soon as we get there we lay the picnic sheet down and start to dig into the food that Sky generously packed.

“So, Lively, how do you like the school so far?” Jace says, looking at me while he blushes.

“Oh, I really am enjoying myself,” I say while looking down at my sandwich, trying to hide my very own blush.

“Did you talk to Jason?” Sky says to me with a frown on his face.

While glaring at him from underneath my lashes I say, “No he’s been very busy,” while I try very hard not to remember not to remember what Katherine told me this morning on the phone. Jason got a girlfriend — someone who isn’t me. I wasn’t even that surprised or sad even, because even when we talked on the phone he seemed different, sort of like he was obligated to talk to me. Just like the psychiatrist was forced to listen to me cry over my mom, even though I could tell she thought I should’ve gotten over it already.

“EARTH TO LIVELY!” Auburn screams and everyone laughs except for Jace and Sky for some reason.

“I’m just going to go for a walk, I’ll be back soon,” I say quietly as I get up and start walking away.

“I’ll join,” says Jace and he follows me.

I look back and there is Sky, looking at me with the same look he’d given me earlier, sort of like jealousy.

Jace and I walk side by side. The silence was comforting, surprisingly, and it seems like Jace also likes the silence because he doesn’t try to disrupt it. I sit down, tired of walking, and he sits down right next to me. His leg brushes against mine but he leaves it there. That is also surprisingly comfortable.

“I really like you, I mean really like you, Lively,” Jace says as he takes my hand.

“Oh wow, subtle,” I tease before I say, “I really like you too.” Before I think it through I give him a kiss. It is gentle and his lips are soft as flower petals. I pulled away reluctantly, feeling like we had an audience, and there is everyone there staring at us.

“If you guys were going to go make out you could’ve at least given us a heads up,” Auburn teases before everyone starts cracking up. But like always, whenever it has anything to do with me, Sky doesn’t laugh, and this moment is no exception. But I’m not going to let that spoil the day. He can pout all he wants right now and it wouldn’t bother me. Right?


I scratched at my sweater as my eyes darted around the room. My hands twitched to do something, and I decided to twirl my hair, but realized it was weird. I clenched my hands into fists and pushed them into my lap, holding my eyes closed. The world around me, the noise, everything faded. I was the only thing there in that hazy universe I had created.

I planned to keep it that way… this world, this haze, was mine, and only mine. The only thing I could control.  

I was erasing the world, and relied only on myself. That was how I got through, stayed sane, kept going. I narrated my life, pretended I was the main character of  a novel. I hoped people cared about what the character… me… was doing.

To feel the adrenaline and the wonder of someone hanging to the end of their seat wondering what I would do next. To be amazed about what decisions I would make. They would laugh with me about the crappy joke or pun I would make. To understand me… to relate to me.

I was always sucked into books, eating the words, wondering what James, Cather, Ines, an endless amount of characters were doing. Siding with their feelings and dreaming of the day I would meet those fictional characters. To me their world was as real as mine. Who’s to say they weren’t reading a book about me?

I honestly would’ve preferred to be sad, at least that feeling was real. Fake smiling and happiness rubbed off on other people. It made everyone around me happy, and I felt my mother deserved a break… HE was already a handful.

But I’m running out of stories… and I fear what will happen next.   

Broken Wings Way

#1, Broken Wings Way

Celia had always started her days the same way, even after she moved in with Mike. She would wake up at 7:00 and rush to whatever kitchen was in her reach at the time. With eyes that were only half open, Celia would make coffee and sit by an open window, trying to breathe in the dewy air. It was a simple start to the day.

Mike always slept through it, maybe even snored through it. He never saw the way Celia leaned back against the wall, would never know the way her eyes opened, really opened, for the first time every day. If he had seen it, he would have smiled silently, not interrupting her early-morning peace.

When they were both awake, they sat on the patio of their small home. That tradition had only started when they moved into this studio in the lot. Slowly, more houses were built, more people moved in. Many left, but Mike and Celia stayed. They welcomed new families and people. They weren’t the owners, but the leaders, of the little lot. The original fighters.

They thought of it as a refugee camp. They all did. Everyone there came from different wars, different fights, and hid in the little gray huts off of Route 9.

Celia and Mike didn’t work anymore.They cut the grass, went for walks. They brought cookies to the neighboring families, read books. Simple.

They’d both been searching for simple for quite some time.

When they had met each other, their lives were each their own separate chaoses. They told themselves, and soon, each other, that they were happy in the storms of their lives. But soon the gales tore down their houses, and they had to move out.

Move out into this little home, just at the entrance of the quiet Broken Wings Way.

It was Mike’s idea to change the name. “Something more fitting,” he called it. Much better shaped than Flyer’s Road. Celia had been the driving force, though, not stopping at changing the name on the sign, but calling the mayor’s office to get it officially replaced.

And maybe they were kidding themselves, but they could have sworn that this name brought in new patrons, brought in new stories and new tires bumping over the gravel driveway.

‘Broken wings’ was a simpler, easier-to-be-digested term for the marks on their veins that only they saw. Sweet synonyms for the withdrawal and screams they tried to escape by moving into #1, Broken Wings Way.


#2, Broken Wings Way

It always felt like a full-body sigh of relief when he rolled past the street sign and onto the gravel road, a homey crunching filling his ears. As if nothing could reach him past the invisible walls of the little neighborhood.

Cael had not been expecting a community when he first rolled past the then-ominous street sign. He was expecting to be questioned, asked for papers that he could not produce, then reported to the police. It was far, far from his mind to be accepted into their little family.

But he soon realized that he was not the only one missing something. Even something just as trivial as a typed validity of his nation. Some were missing children, families, hope. But those losses came to a collection of small gains; a tire swing hung in front of one of the houses, carpooling to school on misty Monday mornings, a garage sale on a warm Saturday afternoon.

And soon after his easy move (where no papers had been discussed at all), he had found his niche. He had quickly discovered that every person could produce a small part for the community. Cael had always loved to work with his hands. When he was a child, he had built little homes out of wood bricks, feeling a pang of guilt every time he had to take the constructions down to make room for new ideas.

When Mike had posted a flyer about needing a volunteer to repair the window of house #3, Cael didn’t respond for four days. But every time he passed the billboard, he felt a pang of guilt. As if he was letting down the occupants of #3, and the rest of the little alliance that had been so kind to him. He told himself that he needed to stay under the radar, even here. But, finally, he knocked softly on Celia and Mike’s door, and told them that he would fix the window (and install a tire-swing for a coming family with children) happily, as long as no one else had already taken the job.

Celia had invited him in, gave him cups filled with strong coffee, and told him that she had hoped he would take the job, seeing as he had that “lovely” toolbox sitting on his window.

Soon, the flyers didn’t go up on the billboard, and were just slipped under Cael’s door. He picked them up swiftly, a small smile forming after seeing the simple tasks that needed to be completed. They needed him to complete them.

Two years into Cael’s residence in Broken Wings Way, Mike confided that he, of course, knew that Cael was undocumented. He had known since the first time he had met him, how nervous he was every time he was handed another paper. Mike’s breath dripped with the sloppy-warm scent of the peppermint alcohol that was being served at that year’s Christmas party, and Cael knew he wouldn’t have revealed this had it been a normal day.

But Cael was glad they knew, that he didn’t have to keep the secret anymore. Slowly, Cael became a little more talkative, and he smiled at people as he walked on the road, his road.

Things started to feel more relaxed for Cael. He thought, just maybe, Broken Wings Way could be the final building block house, one he did not have to break down or wipe out.


#3, Broken Wings Way

The car had been buckling under the pressure of the bags it was carrying since half way into the drive. It sputtered as it pulled onto the gravel road, almost out of fumes to run on.

Amelia could hear her kids laughing in the back, unaware of what was happening around them. Their toys, though slightly broken and very used, continued playing without pause. Neither child realized that they had finally reached home.

The gravel turned to dirt under the worn tires, and they soon passed the first house of the road. “Broken Wings Way” was painted on a little board next to it. Amelia pulled the car to a stop a little ways down, allowing her head to finally lean against the seat, sighing with relief. Giggles erupted from the back.

She was almost glad the car was breaking down, sputtering as she slowly pulled the keys out of the ignition. Amelia knew she wouldn’t find the money to fix it for months, but perhaps it was for the best that she wouldn’t be able to drive far away from here.

Looking into the mirror of the sun visor, applying more concealer just below her eye where the tender bruise still lay, she reviewed the information that the caretakers of these homes had told her on the phone just last week.

Amelia had to call from a payphone across the street from her children’s school. She didn’t dare call from the phone in her house, and she was afraid he might look at her recent call list on her cell phone.

She spoke to Mike first, his soft-spoken words soothing her ears. He described the community with such care and spoke so excitedly when Amelia talked about her kids, that she decided immediately to move in.

Next, Mike handed the phone over to his wife, who shamelessly asked what it was that Amelia was escaping, explaining that everyone was escaping something in Broken Wings. Hesitantly, Amelia whispered that her kids weren’t safe around her husband. She was embarrassed by the shake in her voice and tears on her bruised cheeks when the woman asked if Amelia was safe herself. After she hung up the phone, she sat next to the payphone and wiped the stream of tears from her eyes.

Soon enough, her older son noticed the car had stopped, and pointed to the tire swing hanging from the tree on the third house down. They threw questions into the front, squirming in their car seats.

Amelia took a deep breath, pushed away the stained mirror, and hopped out of the car, ready to get settled into house #3, Broken Wings Way.


#4, Broken Wings Way

The fourth house was empty. But it had been occupied so fully and so recently that Mike could not bring himself to spread word about a vacancy.

There hadn’t even been time to sweep up the broken glass on the kitchen floor.

Perhaps, it had nothing to do with time at all. Celia told Mike that the energy of the house was too strong, that he was still in there. Mike told his neighbors that he needed to allow the house to rest before they let anyone else fill it up. The neighbors told each other that they didn’t want it active either.

Everyone had known Tim. Everyone knew Tim’s flannels, his soft voice, his stories. The way he quietly turned down drinks at parties. The way he set up those parties so eagerly, always trying to bring the community together.

Mike softly wondered who would organize those parties now.

Everyone knew how Tim had come to need the little corner off the busy road. How he had battled with alcohol for all his life, and could only find escape in this quiet isolation, only leaving Broken Wings for his job as a substitute teacher.

Money had never been the cause of his patronage, and although all the neighbors knew he didn’t have the funds, Tim quickly volunteered to pay for food, for a generator during a particularly harsh storm one winter, for anything he could think of to help the others.

Celia didn’t voice her worries about who would make the community feel so whole if Tim wasn’t there to keep it from cracking down the middle.

No one had seen Tim all day, and they assumed he was at his job, or maybe even visiting a friend, finally branching out instead of closing in.

He’d gotten a call just that morning, from his father, sitting in a hospital waiting room, but his neighbors didn’t know that. His father hadn’t bothered to call before the heart monitor attached to his mother’s slowly heaving chest came to a beeping halt. Tim wondered if he had purposefully been called after her death, because his dad was too ashamed of his own son to let her see him before she died. He concluded that he didn’t care what his father’s intentions were, or even that his mom was gone.

When he twisted the key in the ignition of his car, he told himself he just needed to drive around and cool off, that’s all. When he parked, he told himself that he had enough control to feel the atmosphere of the buzzing bar without feeling the sting of whiskey sliding down his throat.

But by the time he’d downed his third glass, he had nothing left to say to himself at all. He could taste the shame of his parents, of himself, and the chaser to the vodka.

The bar wasn’t far from Broken Wings. He told himself he could drive. He stopped along the way to pick up another few bottles at a dimly lit liquor store. He opened one of them sloppily as he swerved through the night air, not waiting until he got home to start to forget.

Tim couldn’t bring himself to look at the street sign that greeted him as he turned onto the gravel road. He wished he didn’t have to imagine the shame of Celia and Mike if they saw him the next day.

But somewhere, deep in the back of his fogged mind, Tim was aware that there was no tomorrow. At least, for him, anyway.

He pushed open the door, stumbling through the frame. After more poison entered his veins,  he couldn’t remember if it was a bottle or a window that lay broken on the floor. He didn’t want to remember anymore. He didn’t want to think at all.


#5, Broken Wings Way

It was Celia’s turn to drive Layla to school. Layla opened the front door slowly to find Celia holding out a cup, steam rising slowly from the top. Celia admitted that coffee would be bad for a growing girl like Layla, but it might help her for those tests she had today, and she’d just brewed a new type.

Layla smiled, and took the coffee from Celia’s hands. The two of them walked down the steps together, their feet moving in perfect unison.

Layla secretly loved when Celia was the one to drive her. Celia always shared stories from her past, never showing shame for the mistakes she had made.

It had been Celia’s idea, and that, of course made Layla feel more at home with her, as well. When Layla’s parents had driven away into the night, leaving their only daughter behind, Celia asked the neighbors not to call anyone, not yet.

Celia had been through the foster care process, and winced at the word “orphan.” She did not want sweet Layla — who left flowers on her neighbors’ doorsteps and sold lemonade by herself — to go through the same thing.

Mike had, of course, tried to convince Celia to at least call someone anonymously. But she had her ways, and no calls were made. By anyone.

Soon, all the neighbors were in on it; making Layla warm dinners, asking her to stay at their houses. Amelia even hired Layla to babysit her kids, although she had nowhere to go or money to pay, her broken-down car still rotting in the driveway.

They hadn’t wanted Layla to sleep in the house alone, but she argued that she was ten and her parents had left her by her lonesome before. So Celia and Mike waived the rent for her little studio, and organized a chart to share the duty of making her meals.

She hadn’t spoken about her parents before or since. Mike had tried to bring them up, but the blanket of sadness-cloaked-in-numbness that passed over her face told him that she wasn’t ready.

Layla never asked friends to come to her house, but she hadn’t before. She didn’t want to deal with her mother’s drunkenness and the needles spread across the coffee table like magazines. Instead she told her friends that she would rather meet up somewhere or maybe go to their houses. Now, she covered up the fact that nothing was there, no food in the refrigerator, no parents in the bedroom, no empty bottles rolling out from under couches. Nothing there to embarrass her, nothing there at all.

Cael wasn’t sure if he agreed with Celia’s approach. He was often tempted to call Protective Services, the police, someone. But his neighbors had agreed so swiftly and Layla had helped him paint once, so he stayed quiet, volunteering to drive her more than the others did.

They all had quiet reactions, just loud enough for others to hear when they noticed that the car had been gone for far longer than ever before. All of their own experiences and views combined to a mass of new shelterers. But no one could see what Layla was thinking, because although they all checked in on her, asked her how her day was going, she didn’t let anyone close enough to see.

Layla refused to miss them. How illogical it would be — and Layla was always one for logic — to miss the ones that she had wished away after years of hiding when they stumbled in after parties. But she did not want them gone. She did not want to be the one to cause community meetings or to need rides to school.  

Layla hadn’t even cried. Not when she found the bedroom empty and the car gone one morning when she woke up. Not when Celia told her that she could remain in the home at the far corner of the lot. Not even when she got a postcard from Miami, an ironic message of “Wish You Were Here” sprawled across a flowing, photoshopped sunset. With no words on the back.

And on that day, Layla did not want her neighbors to discover the x across her calendar. She was 12, as of just a few hours ago. Layla was quiet on the ride to school, not wanting to bring it up or let the date slip from her lips. And she thought to herself that she had kept the secret well.

Layla floated through the day as she normally did. Her mind was swinging on the tire that hung from house #3. Her fingers traced the crooked hem of the thrift store skirt she had worn, dressing nice for the special day, even if no one knew why.

As she stood outside, waiting for Celia and Mike to pick her up, she wondered if her parents regretted what “today” was, what she was. She told herself they wouldn’t even remember her birthday, much less be conscious enough to feel remorse — stifling the smoky ember of hope before it grew into a fire and her parents could drown it in their watery absence themselves.

Layla was quiet on the ride home, sitting in the back with her bag stuffed between her knees. She noticed a glimmer in Mike’s eye as he looked at her through the rearview mirror. The embers lit in her stomach, but this time it warmed her chilly bones, even as she told herself that Mike always had something to smirk about.

She did her homework as quickly as she could, not admitting that she wanted to make time for the dinner Cael had invited her to.

When she walked in, she found herself feigning surprise at the cheaply cut poster hanging from the window and the homemade cake on the table. She laughed as Amelia’s son asked if he could eat the whole cake.

She had fought back the emotions all night. Layla had been so numb for so long that she didn’t even know what to name the feeling spreading through her bloodstream, like how the alcohol probably spread in her mother’s. She had not expected cakes, or posters or the single card that Celia handed Layla before she left.

We’re so happy that it took this village to raise you, Layla read to herself as she closed the door behind her.

The tears on her cheeks, slipping through her eyes covered by hands, warmed her to spite the nip in the night air.

It took her village, her family to bring the tears that had fogged her vision for almost a year now. To mend the sore bone that kept her from flying, that kept them all from soaring. The quiet community off of Route 9, their refugee camp. Broken Wings Way.

The Show Must Go On

Shuffling through the streets of New York City, along with millions of other people, was Siobhan Greenberg, sporting her long white infinity scarf. Her black boots clanked noisily on the concrete and could even be heard over the honking cars and yelling people. Her long red hair blew majestically behind her, and her hands clutched the sides of her hat. She was only thirteen, but her mother thought it was important that she learned how to get around by herself.

Siobhan rushed along, periodically pushing people out of her way. She was late for rehearsal, and she knew the director, Sam, would bite her ear off. This drove Siobhan on, making her black boots click just a little faster.

Finally, she came across a large, looming building with pillars that rose up high above Siobhan’s head. She ducked and ran inside, dodging people coming out the revolving door around her. She walked swiftly across the  vast lobby, heading towards the rehearsal room, and she stopped at the doors, took a deep breath, and entered quietly.

All of the other actors were already standing around, listened to Sam speak.

“People, this show is in two months! I know that seems like a long time, but it is not! Not for a show! Everyone needs to be here for every rehearsal. If people miss anymore without telling I could take your part away! I have that authority!”

Siobhan slipped quietly into the crowd of her friends, moving her way until she found Yalfonsa. Yalfonsa was born one month too early, and her parents didn’t know what to call her. Her father was very into a science fiction show at the moment called “Yalfonsa’s Adventures,” so that’s what he named his daughter.

“Fonzie, what has Sam been saying?” Siobhan asked, trying to act normal and pretending she had been there all along.

“Nothing much, except the usual ‘I can take away your role!’” Fonzie said, leaning slightly towards Siobhan and wiggling her hands like Sam did. “It’s been a month. It’s way too far into rehearsals for her to take away anyone’s role.”

Siobhan nodded her head in agreement, shifting her gaze up to the stage. People in the art crew were sitting there, painting the scenery. The green paint was sitting in a row at the edge of the stage, and people were periodically standing up, dipping their paintbrush, and sitting back down to paint. Upstairs, behind them, the stage crew was looking through the script for lighting and sound cues.

Sam was still babbling, and she hadn’t noticed Siobhan was late.

Good! she thought. Maybe I won’t get in trouble!

When Sam was finished she surveyed the crowd of actors, and her eyes narrowed when she got to Siobhan. “Siobhan,” she said. “Come here, please.”

With a knot forming quickly in her stomach, Siobhan stepped forward and took a deep breath. Sam took her by the arm and dragged her away from the crowd.

“Siobhan, stop your panting. I didn’t call you over because you were late, which I know you were, by the way.” Sam said, brushing stray locks of brown hair behind her face. “It’s because Josh is missing.”

Sam pulled Siobhan even farther from the group. “Siobhan, I’m telling you because you play Belle. You are literally in every scene with him. That may seem unfair, telling you but not the others, but you are the one who would probably worry most, seeing that there are some scenes with only you and him. Everyone else is so worried about their part in other scenes that they probably won’t notice.” She looked Siobhan in the eye and whispered, “If anyone asks, please tell them that he is on vacation.”

Siobhan looked silently at Sam. What did she expect Siobhan to do? Lie to her friends? Josh played the Beast, but that wouldn’t mean that only Belle would see him missing. Nobody is that self-absorbed.

“Do his parents know where he is?” Siobhan asked, staring up at Sam. She shook her head sadly.

“No idea.”

Siobhan nodded her head vacantly, her eyes glossing over. She turned around and walked back to Fonzie, her head screaming with things to say.

Who would play the beast if Josh never showed up? Does Sam have an understudy for Josh? Where could he be? Where was the last time he was seen? Where did he go? Why did Sam only tell me?  Josh wouldn’t run away, that’s not his personality. So the scariest question of all is — who took him?

* * *

Rehearsal started as usual, with a short warm up. Sam spread everyone in a circle and reminded them, “A perfect circle is where everyone can see everyone’s face and people are evenly spaced!” Siobhan clung to Fonzie, words on the tip of her tongue. She wanted so badly to yell and scream about Josh. It was very unfair of Sam to inflict such a secret upon a child. She shouldn’t have told her at all! With her mouth sealed uncomfortably shut, Siobhan went through rehearsal, blocking scenes five and seven. Without Josh. The most infuriating thing was that Sam was right, nobody noticed he was gone but Siobhan.

Siobhan kept quiet. She had been waiting to do this play for too long to just ruin it. Sam had told her to keep quiet, and there was no reason that she shouldn’t.  

Two days later, on the day that they were studying their monologues, Siobhan noticed that Josh wasn’t the only one not there. The Enchantress, Bella, wasn’t there. Siobhan had become accustomed to her not being there during most rehearsals because she only appeared at the beginning of the show, but today was a day she was supposed to be there. Siobhan got up, disregarding that Monsieur D’arque was in the middle of his monologue, and she walked up to Sam. She looked at Siobhan, and she looked back at Monsieur D’arque, and she took Siobhan by the arm.

“Excuse us for a moment, Jared,” Sam said, walking towards the front of the stage.

“Siobhan, Bella has gone missing too. I don’t know what else to tell you, but with that look in your eye I can tell that you want to hear more.”

“Why won’t you tell the rest of the cast! Why am I the only one noticing!” Siobhan whispered, gesturing to Monsieur D’arque. Sam shook her head.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Siobhan. Don’t tell anyone and read your monologue!” Sam said with authority, and she started walking back to to her chair.

* * *

As each day went by, other people started disappearing. It seemed to be orderly and systematic, two people from the crew one day, two actors another, two people from art crew the next. And slowly Siobhan’s shell started to crack. She started checking behind her every time she left a room, and when she heard noises in the nighttime she would run and lock herself in the closet and wait there, shaking, until morning. Bags started forming under her eyes from no sleep, and she was still always very alert with fear. She called the parents of friends who had gone missing, but there was always something off with the way they talked.  They all didn’t seem particularly bothered with anything that was happening. She loved this play, though. She had been dreaming about being the lead in this play her entire life. There was no way she wouldn’t go to rehearsals.

A week later, when Siobhan was late to rehearsal again, she got on the stage for scene six. She was used to the fact that the Beast wouldn’t be there. The Cutlery was supposed to be there, though, and not a fork or spoon was there, and neither was Cogsworth &  Lumiere. Mrs. Potts wasn’t there, and neither was Chip or any Feather Duster. LeFou wasn’t there, Maurice wasn’t there, Philippe wasn’t there and Monsieur D’arque hadn’t been there since the day when he read his monologue. Nobody seemed to be there but Gaston, who was hiding behind the big black curtain, sliding his feet on the wooden floor because it wasn’t his scene. Sam seemed to notice too, and her eyes gleamed with worry, but she looked back to her script. “Siobhan!” she yelled. “Start the scene!”

“Sam, there’s nobody here,” Siobhan whispered, shuffling her feet. Sam gaped, as if surprised that she noticed, but she kept yelling.

“Then let’s do the scene with Gaston, alright. Scene two, everyone!” There was no reason to announce it to anyone. Only Belle, Gaston, the Wardrobe, and one member of the crew was there. Again, the scariest thing was that even after Siobhan had announced that nobody was there, only Fonzie realized that Siobhan was right. She played the wardrobe, and it was like she was knocked out of a trance. Ignoring Sam’s screaming, Fonzie ran to Siobhan and grasped her hand. She looked into her eyes, clearly just as surprised as Siobhan had been when she realized nobody but Sam and Herself had notice people leaving.

“Siobhan,” Fonzie gasped. “I don’t know why I haven’t noticed before. Everyone’s gone!”

“Fonzie, I know.” Siobhan said, a hint of irritation in her voice. How in the world had she not noticed? Practically no one was there! If they were to put on Beauty and the Beast now, seven eighths of the cast wouldn’t be there! Probably more! Both girls went home that day feeling sick to their stomachs.

* * *

The worst thing happened the next day. Absolutely no one was there except Fonzie and Siobhan, not even Sam. The girls sat at the edge of the stage, trembling and holding each other’s hands. The room seemed to feel colder, and just a little bit darker. The eggshell colored paint looked as if it was peeling off the ceiling and the room smelled of nothing but spiders and cobwebs. They didn’t dare say a thing. They were sure something would come out and grab them, or jump scare them like Five Nights at Freddy’s. Maybe this was all a prank, and maybe the cast was just playing a trick on them, but why would the director, who spent so long everyday lecturing them on how they had no time, waste even a second pulling a stupid prank?

“Siobhan, we should go home. Why should we even be here? The entire cast is gone, even Sam. What use is it to be here?” Fonzie murmermed. Siobhan looked her in the eye and sighed.

“I have been waiting way too long for this. We have to go to rehearsal.”

They started to rehearse. There wasn’t much they could do, but Fonzie put on her costume and so did Siobhan. They tried a scene they were in together, but it was practically no use.

“I’ve gotten no sleep in the past week, Fonzie. My head’s killing me and I’m not sure why this place isn’t shut down yet, but I am sure of something. Whatever that’s taken the entire cast and crew is coming for us next, even if we don’t come to rehearsal. It took Bella when she was sick at home, and I know because I called her when she was sick. The next day, when she wasn’t at rehearsal, I called her. Her mother said she was missing. But do you want to know the even creepier part? Her mother didn’t seem to care. She told me her daughter was missing with a lilt in her voice, and I could sense even through the phone that she was SMILING! Smiling! Who else could make a mother smile about her missing daughter then some sort of monster!” Siobhan yelled, her arms flailing in the air and her voice shrill. Fonzie reeled back, crawling onto her hands and knees. Siobhan sighed and sat down next to her.

“I’m sorry I yelled, but we can’t stay here,” Siobhan said. “If we do, even if we don’t go to rehearsal, something will still get us. The only reason I’m still here is because I love this play. If we leave, we could do this play in some other place”

“Where would we go?” Fonzie whispered, sitting back on the edge of the stage.

“I don’t know,” Siobhan whispered back, scared something in the wall was listening. “Some other country, maybe just another state. If we stay here, that thing is sure to get us.”

“Siobhan, you know I can’t leave. I’ve got family here, and Joey is going to that special school he’s been waiting to go to next year…”

“Fonzie, are you even listening to me? If we stay here that thing will get us! I don’t know how to make it any clearer!”

Fonzie gulped, tracing her fingers on the floor, and Siobhan knew her decision.

“Alright,” Siobhan said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She pulled Fonzie into a hug.

“Yeah, tomorrow,” Fonzie replied, throwing her bag on her shoulder. Siobhan knew she couldn’t leave either. Fonzie was her best friend, and she couldn’t leave without convincing her to go.

* * *

The next day Siobhan sat alone on the edge of the stage by herself. The paint was still peeling, and a sort of hum seemed to be emitting off the stage. Fonzie wasn’t there, Sam wasn’t there, Josh wasn’t there, and neither was anyone else.  She sat with her hands clutching her script, saying the lines quickly with her eyes closed, almost like she was saying a prayer, when the lights shut off and the room went silent.


My Brother’s Shadow

My brother’s shadow was a marshmallow’s toasty crisps of goo. It was the cozy convenience of “younger brother,” the smaller footprints my cleats left in the soil. Sitting on his shoulders as he galloped down the sidewalk, unnoticed as folks whistled at him from all corners of the universe. Alone in the bleachers, but still feeling satisfied because when his muscular body hurdled down the basketball court, I told myself I could never please our parents the way he did. Outgrown t-shirts and underappreciated teddy bears always found their way into my arms because outgrown love was fresh when it wore my brother’s blueberry scent. A constant conversion factor loomed, in which his layups equaled my full-court shots, and despite my efforts, I could never achieve anything applause-worthy.

Suddenly, with the crinkling of the leaves and the fading sound of the basketball bouncing into oblivion, he was gone. With his absence came the lengthening of his shadow as the crowd gradually dissipated. His shadow became the hulking space in the bleacher seats, the empty loneliness which swallowed me whole. The grief was significantly more potent when there was no one to be compared to, when the would-be hand-me downs remained locked in his closet out of respect. Because when a shadow is left by itself there is no light to counteract its misguided ways, and it’s eternally fixed in a darkened spotlight. His shadow morphed into the clumpy, death-black cigarette tar with that distinct, sticky consistency, a texture I knew quite well from my quiet evenings in its seductive company. That inherited teddy bear, accidentally left in a moldy cooler, was submerged under layers of irregular ice cubes. And I can’t help but wonder if a shadow can ever escape itself, or if it’s confined to its own pitiable existence.


Netherlandia (Excerpt)

Chapter One

The smell of tulips wafted through the air of Zuid-Holland. Hedgerows sat in orderly lines around the windmill. The gardener lazily poured water into a funnel. The water sloshed down through a series of pipes, and erupted out of a complex sprinkler system, watering the whole flower bed evenly. The water kept raining down for a couple more seconds before stopping. The gardener paused to admire her handywork before easing herself down onto a bench whose faded paint was beginning to peel away. Suddenly the hedge around the garden started to quiver. The gardener muttered to herself about a trouble making “wasbeer” that had plagued the garden recently. But, before she could reach the hedge, a whistling sound that screeched across the plains burst forth from the orderly shrubbery. Unfortunately she knew what that meant. That was the sound of a Stoompistool ready to fire. She scrambled backwards, trying to warn the chemist that toiled away inside the windmill. But it was too late. Steam rushed from the sprinklers, it felt like it was turning the air to fire. And still the whistling screamed on, now mingled with the screams of the gardener as the burning steam touched her skin. Gray figures stepped out from the hedges. They wore baggy rubber suits to protect against the steam. Strapped on their backs were huge water tanks that fed their Stoompistools. The gardener crawled away from them, her face flushed and boiling like a lobster. All the beautiful tulips around her were withering in the steam’s heat, turning from their previous pastel splendor to charred twigs. The gray figures marched past her – there had to be dozens of them! She noticed that they all sported badges shaped in five-pointed-stars. Each of the star’s points contained a single, glaring eye. The people entered the wind-mill, slamming the door behind them.

Once inside they removed their face-masks. The steam couldn’t harm them in here, and it would disperse in a few moments anyway. In the center of the mill was a chugging, many-geared, wind-powered machine that fueled the various scientific instruments that were placed around the room. Glass tubes, beakers, and jars of mysterious chemicals bubbled in most of them. A staircase wound around the mill’s main gear-shaft. There, on the stairs, stood Petrus Jacobus Kipp. He looked to be in his thirties, with red-brown hair, placed in a messy comb-over. He wore a ruffled suit decorated with a cravat. He had obviously come downstairs to see what the commotion was, he had certainly not expected this.

“Jeetje.” He pouted.

“Kipp!” called the one in front, a mustachioed, dark-skinned man, his hair ruffled from being inside the face-mask. “Hand over the inrichting!”

A chuckle escaped Kipp’s lips, though his face still read nervousness. “Is that what you want? I can’t see why. Unless you want to prepare small volumes of gases.” He looked thoughtful. “Do you?”

“It is of no matter,” the leader growled. “Give it up.” He held out his hand, behind him the others readied their Stoompistools. The scientist backed up slowly, back up the stairs. He only made it a few more steps before he broke the charade and ran. Steam rushed from the Stoompistools in small controlled bursts, totally unlike the screaming cloud in the garden. But the chemist was surprisingly agile, he dodged the worst of the blast, escaping through a hatch in the ceiling.

The leader nodded, signaling for the rest of his troops to follow up the stairs. They reached the hatch without any difficulty. The room they entered was obviously Kipp’s study. Bookshelves lined three walls, the other was made entirely out of glass, which gave an excellent view of the windmill’s giant blades, swooping in and out of sight. Like the story below, this room had a gear-shaft sprouting from the center like an ever-turning wooden pillar. Facing the glass wall was a hard wood desk. Kipp crouched behind the desk, quivering. He now held a Stoompistool of his own, a small, glass model, possibly his own invention. It was a strange one, heated, not by fire, but by a magnifying glass attached to one side. Unfortunately for the chemist, only a few rays of sunlight filtered through the fog of steam that drifted around the windmill.

“Kipp!” shouted the leader. “We don’t want to have to hurt you, so come out from behind the desk and give us your apparatus!”

“Or w-what?” Kipp said, his voice shaky.

“We smoke you out!” The leader said, raising his hand, which now held a handkerchief, embroidered with the same five-pointed star he sported on his badge. Everyone in the room knew that if he dropped it, the steam guns would fire, drowning the desk and the scientist underneath it in a blanket of pain. However, he wouldn’t have to drop it if Kipp came out now. But apparently, Kipp had enough solar power for one good steam-blast. He pulled the trigger and the leader got a face full of boiling steam. While they were stunned he leapt over the desk, trying to escape. But the dark-skinned man wasn’t as fazed as he appeared. He grabbed Kipp and forced him up against the glass wall with so much strength that fracture lines appeared on it. Through the window the leader could see that the steam was dispersing.

“Where… Is… The… Inrichting?” with every word he pounded Kipp farther into the window, causing the cracks to spread farther over the wall.

“I don’t have it,” the chemist groaned, his voice hoarse. “It’s not here; it’s on it’s way to Delft for a patent.”

The leader dropped Kipp to the ground. They walked toward the door, two or three walked backwards so they could fill the room with steam as they left.

The Night Manager

We get a lot of strange folks up here, but nothing like her.

Pleased to meet you. I’m Art Walker, and I’m the night manager here at The Royal Suites hotel. Don’t let the name fool you, there is nothing royal at all about this place. It’s really run down, plus it’s in the middle of nowhere. We have a staff of one day manager, one night manager, one cook, and one housekeeper. And one boss, of course. We have about 100 rooms, but usually we only manage to fill about half. It’s not exactly my (or anyone else’s) dream job, but it pays the bills well enough. And like I said, we get a lot of strange folks up here. She was the strangest of them all.

As cliche as it sounds, it was a dark and stormy night. It was mid-October, and the wind was howling something fierce. She practically stumbled in, and her appearance suggested that she had been walking for many miles in the storm. She wore a flimsy yellow raincoat, and was dragging a black suitcase behind her. She flicked her wet hair out of her eyes, then walked over to my desk.

“How much for a room?” she asked me.

“Fifty bucks,” I said.

“That’s not too bad.”

“Yeah, well, you aren’t paying for much.”

She laughed a little. “You’re a funny guy. What are you doing in a dump like this?”

“Speak for yourself, lady.”

She laughed again. “Touche.”

I handed her the room key. Most hotels nowadays had key cards, but The Royal Suites, in all its quaintness, had never made the switch. “You’re in room 27 on the second floor,” I told her. “Don’t use the soap. It gives people rashes.”

“Good to know,” she said, and without another word, she swept out of the lobby. I could hear her boots all the way up the dingy staircase, and, not for the last time, I wondered what brought her here.


At around 9 o’clock the following night, I saw her leave the building. When she came back an hour later, she was holding two bottles of cheap wine. “Here.” She passed one to me across the desk. “Drink.”

“I can’t drink on the job,” I told her.

“Come on, how many people are there even in this hotel, ten?”

“Twelve.” It was a particularly slow week.

“Right. Drink up.”

“Can you at least tell me your name?”

She paused for a second. “Philomena.”

I unscrewed the cap and took a sip. To tell the truth, I don’t like wine too much. It burns going down my throat. I pulled out the chair next to me behind the desk, and she jumped over the desk and sat down with surprising agility.

“Wow,” I said. “How’d you do that?”

She grinned and said, “Magic.” Then she raised the bottle to her lips, and took a huge gulp of the stuff, and when she swallowed, a trickle of it ran down her chin. She wiped it away with her sleeve. Then she took another gulp.

She carried on in this fashion until half of the bottle was gone. Then she turned to me and asked, “What am I doing here?”

“You tell me,” I said. I hadn’t had that much to drink.

“I mean, I should be on top of the world. I can do things no one else can do, I’m one of the most powerful people in the world, and where am I?” She made a noise in between a laugh and a sob. “Nowhere, USA, drinking away my sorrows.”

“I’m sorry,” I told her. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I felt sorry for her. She sounded so profoundly sad.

“Don’t be,” she told me. “You’re not part of this. You just got caught in the crossfire.”

“Okay,” I said, and she resumed sucking the life out of her bottle. I took another cautious sip.


Without warning, another person busted into the hotel. A rather tall man stood in the lobby, with a long, billowing coat and prematurely gray hair. I hastily hid my bottle, but his eyes didn’t even turn to me. They were fixated on her.

“Philomena,” he spoke her name as if it were something rancid on his tongue. “Still living in the gutter, I see.”

“Marcus,” she spat his name out equally hatefully. “Still going places you have no business being.”

“Oh, come off it, sweetie. You’re dying here. Your whole operation’s dying. You’ll never bring back the old ways. It’s time you just accept it.”

Philomena stood up. “Don’t you dare call me that.”

He grinned. “Or what? What are you going to do?”


She snapped her fingers, and, as if by some invisible force, Marcus was thrown across the room, and hit the wall. He winced in pain, but his eyes still held a malicious glint.

“You can perform all the party tricks you want, sweetie. Still won’t matter. The Crucible will still come for you.”

She slammed him against the wall again. “Or how about you just tell me where The Crucible is so I can find it and destroy it?”

He laughed. “Even if I knew where it was, I’d go to my grave before I told you.” He started to pick himself up.

“I’ll see myself out,” he said. “Have fun drinking away your sorrows with your pal here.” He swept out the door.

“Ugh,” said Philomena. She took another sip of her wine.

I looked at her, questions bubbling in my mind. The first that came out was, “ Who was that guy?”

“Just a grunt,” she said. “Nothing more. Probably sent to see how much of my power I still retain. I’m proud to say they haven’t drained me of all of it yet.”

“How’d you do that?” I asked her. “How’d you slam him against the wall like that?”

“Magic,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, trying to wrap my head around the concept.

“I better get going,” she said. “Now that they know for sure I’m here, there’ll be more.” She grabbed her bottle of wine, and waved her hand in front of my face.

I blinked, confused. “What was that?” She looked at her hand. Then she waved it in front of my face again. “What are you doing? Stop,” I said.

She stomped her foot, almost like a petulant toddler.

“Goddamned Crucible – can’t even do a memory wipe. Ah well. Just try to repress what happened tonight,” she said. “You people are pretty good at that.” She started walking away.

“Were you trying to wipe my memory?” I called after her.

“Don’t take it personally,” she called back.

She was gone the next night when I came back to work. When I asked the day manager about her he said she had left at about 7:30 in the morning. I don’t know where she is now, or really anything. I’m just a night manager, who got caught in the crossfire.

Summer of 2000

Day One

Dear Diary,                                                                                                 

It’s my first day at sleepaway camp, and I really don’t want to go because I know at the end of the first day, all my stuff is going to go missing. My roommates are going to be slobs, and their stuff will be everywhere. This is going to be the most annoying summer ever and I’m really going to dread this. I can’t believe my mom is making me go to this. All my mom can talk about is how I’m going to be more independent, how I’m getting out the house, how my brothers and sisters won’t be there to annoy me, and how I can make new friends. I DON’T WANT TO MAKE NEW FRIENDS!

Okay, I’m calm now. It’s just that my parents are always annoying me about how I’m not a normal teenager and just do me. But guess what guys, that is fine because everyone is different and personally my life is perfect just the way it is.


I’m on my way now in the car. It’s upstate New York, which is pretty far from my home, so I can’t just run away. To be honest, I can try to enjoy this camp if they just give me my own room and I won’t have to worry about a whole lot of problems. Like, instead of worrying about people taking my PERSONAL stuff, I can worry about friends, nasty camp food, you know the normal things kids worry about.

I told my mom about my great idea about getting my own room and guess what she said, Diary? She said, “No.” Can you believe it? And you know what her reasoning was? You’re going to get a kick out of this. She thought having to share a room would help me socialize better. It’s messed up. I guess I have to go back to the drawing board and create a better plan because this one didn’t work.

Maybe I could pretend to be sick! No that wouldn’t work because once I “get better,” they would send me right back to that horrible place. Well that’s it for now I guess. My mom isn’t going to buy any of this. Goodbye world, I’m pulling up to this dreadful camp now. All these people talking too. “Alex this,” and, “Alex that.”

“Oh, Alex, good news! Your bunk-mates already checked in.”

No, is all I’m thinking. I am so not ready for this. My bunk-mates? I thought I was only having one! Ugh! Bye, Diary, I have to go now. I’m going to a hotel with my mom for the first night (Thank god!)  because I’m ”sick,” but tomorrow is another day of trying, so wish me luck.


Day Two

Dear Diary,                                                                                  

Watch this. This is going to get me out of this and my mom is going to fall for it.

Alex: Mom, I don’t want to go.

Mom: Sweetie I know you’re scared but you have to try new things.

Alex: I’m not scared of anything! I actually don’t feel good and if you don’t take me to the doctor, I’ll die!

Mom: Well, we know you’re not going to die, and if you’re not scared, why are you trying to get out of camp?

Alex: Camp is for immature children, Mother. I should be spending my summer getting a job and becoming a responsible kid.

Mom: If you can’t even be responsible enough to go to summer camp for a few weeks, how can you get a job?

Alex: You don’t have to be responsible to go to summer camp. I’m responsible to get a job.

Mom: Let’s get real, Alex. You don’t do anything at home, but sit in your room and do nothing all day. It’s not healthy. You should be outside playing with friends. That’s what kids do.

Alex: But mom! Having friends is stupid. I don’t need friends, and the outside is yucky. Why would I need to have friends and go outside when my room is awesome?

Mom: Everyone needs friends. You know, I met your godmother, Sandra, when I went to summer camp, and I can’t imagine not having her in my life. You’re going to love it, I promise. Hopefully soon you can find a best friend there and when you have a kid she can become your kid’s godmother!

Alex: Not everyone is like you. How many times do I have to tell you summer camp is not for meeeeee?

Mom: I’ll make you a deal. If you stop complaining and really try to make it work for 24 hours, and you still want to leave, I’ll come pick you up. But you can’t lie and just say it sucks. I really want you to try, Alex. Trust and believe I am one step ahead of you, so I will know if you are not trying.

Alex: Fine, but I won’t enjoy it at all.  

I did it! I thought of another plan. I actually persuaded the “grand master” (Mom) to stay with me. Well, until it backfired.

Oh well, I have a great plan to escape and I planned it excellently. It’s going to work, so as soon as my mom leaves that night, I’m going to escape through the forest. It’s not that big. When we drove to the camp, we drove through the forest on the road and I saw on the other side was a bus stop. I can get on and give a good explanation to the bus driver as to why I’m only 13 and taking a bus. Oh well, I can lie better under pressure.

Anyway, all I need to bring is my diary, my phone, water and food in my backpack. I can always get new clothes. I can’t escape camp by bringing my big suitcase. They would notice, and it would prevent me from moving fast.


I’m out of my room. My roommates kept asking me where I was going, but of course I ignored them. So I’m out. I made it. This is what happens when you don’t interact with anyone. You can easily escape because no one pays attention to you.

Okay, bye, Diary, I’m going to start writing on my iPad Mini. I brought that for navigation because I can’t risk losing my phone out here in the forest even though I’m not scared of anything.


So I’m walking. It’s pretty dark, and I’m not exactly sure of where I am. I’m pretty sure I’m lost, but I see this nice house. It’s night, so I go in. It’s quiet in here, so I guess no one is here. As soon as I’m in the shower I hear the sound of creaking floorboard and people whispering, “Alex.” I’m not really scared. It’s probably the wind.

As soon as I step out of the shower, something grabs me around my neck, covers my mouth and whispers, “Oh, such a pretty girl. What are you doing in the forest at night? You know that’s dangerous right? I suggest you leave tonight, and never come back.”

Of course I think its my older brother pranking me somehow, but you know how I am. I decide not to listen to the person who attacked me and I stay in the house like the BRAVE person I am. But tomorrow morning, I’m going to suck it up and go back to camp, because I definitely don’t want to die, and creepy person, if you are still there, I’m not leaving because I’m scared. I’m leaving because I’m scared I’ll get in trouble with my mom. If she finds out I broke the deal I will NEVER hear the end of it.


Day Three

Dear Diary,                                                                                      

So I’m back on campgrounds and it totally sucks. Everyone is cheery and sitting around talking to each other, painting nails, braiding each other’s hair, or in the lake together. I’m sitting here and taking in this madness and out of nowhere someone taps my shoulder.  I hear an over exaggeratedly voice say, “Hiya kid, what a happy camper you look like. Do you know what bunk you are in? Did you check in yet?” Of course I just rudely brush her off. In my head, I’m just thinking this HAPPY staff member is over excited and reminds me of my little sister. Bright colored shirt, untied shoes, bracelets up and down the whole arm, with a high ponytail to top it.  She just looks crazy. But of course, the HAPPY staff member she is, she continues to follow me so I give in and I tell her, “Hey, HAPPY staff member. I’m Alex. I don’t know what cabin I’m in and I just got here soon…”

“Well, sweetie that’s fine. Lemme help you out. Let me find my handy roster, and see if I can find you. Mhmh Alex Jones?”


“Well, honey, you are in cabin 12 and both of your cabin members have already checked in.”

“Yay… That is awesome. Thank you HAPPY staff member.”

So I go to the cabin and it’s big and nice. The ceilings are high, the walls are clean and painted blue. To be honest, it’s way better than that creepy house. I’m really starting to think my mother was right about me liking this camp. I yell out hello, but no one answers. Thank god they are not here. Some alone time, I’ll write tomorrow, bye.


Day Four

Dear Diary,                                                                                           

I did it! 24 hours! I can finally leave! I can’t wait to text my mom and tell her to get me. I followed all her rules. I tried to participate and everything, but where was she when we made the bet? She said she would pick me up first thing in the morning, and it’s already two. I have been stuck in my bunk room because it’s “BONDING DAY” with your bunks-mates. YAY! Not. So I’m just sitting on my bunk with my phone and then one of my bunk-mates, Ruby, or Kelly, comes up. I honestly don’t remember who, and I could really care less. Anyways, she asks if I want to paint nails with them, and I put on my cheesiest smile and say, “Sure, I’d love to.” I was going to say her name, but I honestly forgot it. Oops my bad. So we are sitting there and the one with the blond hair says, “What color do you want?”

I say over-exaggeratedly, “Glitter pink.”

The one with the red hair says, “OMG! I was so going to use that color! Now we can be twins, YAY!”

On that note, I snatch my hand away and mutter, “Never mind,” and go back to my bunk.

Both of my bunk-mates come running after me and sit on my bed asking, “What’s wrong?”

I yell at them, “Get out of my bunk!”

They jump up and say, “Sheesh. Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed.” As they left I mutter a few choice words to myself. Im sitting here and I just realize my mom isn’t coming to pick me up. She definitely didn’t keep her part of the deal. I’m so upset. I scream into my pillow and throw it at the wall. I guess I really have to rough it out here for a few weeks, but I will come up with a new plan soon enough. Deep down I had a feeling that my mom wasn’t really going to pick me up after all, and she set me so to be honest I’m not that disappointed. But I’ll just keep that in mind next time mom wants to make a deal with me.


Kelly: Hey, Grumpy! Are you ok now?

Alex: Yeah, I guess this is hard for me to do, but I am sssssorry. I didn’t mean to be such a you-know-what. I just got really annoyed by your sunshine and rainbow attitude. I had to take a break, so I guess I’m going to have to get used to this place now and actually try.

Kelly: Well to be honest, I didn’t like this place at first either. Hannah, not exactly my first choice as a roommate, but the days you weren’t here I got used to Hannah. I know she can be extra excited, but you just have to give it a try.

Alex: Ugh, BITE me. This place sucks so much, I can’t.  

Kelly: Well, lunch is coming up next and you can sit with me. So far the only friend is Hannah, and I’m pretty sure she only thinks of me as her bunk-mate.

Alex: Alright, thanks. (I don’t want to admit it, but I’m actually starting to like this place, and I think Kelly is cool.)

Kelly: Come on, girl.  

She grabbed my hand then winked at me. I think I have a new friend, but I wonder what to do about Hannah. I’m not so sure I can take her energy. The level of energy she gives out is just so overwhelming that I wish she could take it down a few notches. Like, I just don’t understand how she wakes up like she’s on cloud nine. I think she lives off of rainbows and unicorns. Ok, I’m done being mean I have to try because I know I am going to be stuck here for a while. Um. Did Kelly just wink at me? My heart is racing. What is going on? Whatever, let’s just go get lunch. Will write when I get back from lunch. Thank god my mom didn’t come to pick me up, I guess.


Day Five

Dear Diary,                                                                                                

Ok, it’s hard to admit, but today was pretty cool. I continued to hang out with Kelly, and we did a lot things together. We went on a hiking trip, we did horseback riding, and we went kayaking. I’m so wiped out. I took a shower and I’m lying down. I’m just thinking honestly, why did I put up such a fight to come? It’s not that bad, and I am away from my annoying family. I think I didn’t want to come because I didn’t want my mom to win. She always gets the last word and she always ends up right. So I just wanted to show her that I won’t enjoy this and why she’d send me here, but it SERIOUSLY backfired because I’m really enjoying my time here. Well, tomorrow  Kelly and I are going to the campfire to make s’mores and get to know each other better. I can’t wait! Write tomorrow.


Day Six

Dear Diary,                                                                                             

Kelly: Come on, Alex! It’s time to go! Hurry up put your shoes on.

Alex: I’m coming hold on.

Hannah: Where are you guys going? (I can’t believe Kelly is talking to her. Ugh, omg, she is so rude, I can’t stand that girl.)

Kelly: We’re going to the campfire. Do you want to come with us? (I know Hannah is going to say no, but it’s worth a try to ask because I really like Alex, but if Hannah doesn’t want to come  that is fine with me.)

Hannah: Nope. I am fine right here.

All don’t know why Kelly would invite her. Thank god she said no. It would’ve been awkward if she said yes.)

Kelly: Okay, come on, Alex, let’s go.  

We go outside. Kelly turns towards me and whispers:

Kelly: Sorry about that.

I don’t bother with whispering.

Alex: It’s fine. So what did you want to talk about?

Kelly: Why do you always try to put up walls when people try to be your friend? Why do you always put people down?

“I DON’T KNOW,” I yell. I silently take it back and apologize. “When I was in eighth grade, I had this best friend named Cara. Or at least I thought she was my best friend. We were so close. We told each other everything, and then on day she approached me and said she never really liked me and she was using me because my mom gave her stuff when we would hang out. She told she only went over to my house to see my older brother. I was so upset that day that I vowed to never have friends anymore. So I built up a wall and promised myself to never let anyone in. That’s why when you guys tried to talk to me that day I just blew. I just… I don’t know, I’m really sorry for that conflict. That was not the real me. I promise you I am really a nice person.”

Wow, Diary, I can’t believe I just opened up to Kelly like that. I was not expecting that to slip out. My face feels wet. Is it raining? Nope, I’m crying. Just great.

Kelly: (Wow, I didn’t know there was another side of Alex. I just thought she was a regular girl with a bad attitude, but now I know that she has pain too. Oh no she’s crying! She needs a hug.)

Alex: (Kelly is hugging me right now. Okay, um, this awkward. I’m going to stop crying now, I don’t like being touched) Okay, enough about me. Let me hear about your life.

Kelly: Well, I live with my aunt in Oakland.

Alex: Oh, thats cool. I live in San Diego, but uh, why do you live with your aunt?

Kelly hesitates. Why is she hesitating?

Kelly: (Should I tell her? I feel like if I tell her, she is going to get weirded out, and not talk me anymore. I don’t want to lose my only friend here.)

I watch her face drop and I feel that I should take back my question, but I feel like if something is up, I want to help her, just like she helped me. I have a little feeling her problem is deeper because her whole mood just changed.

Alex: Sorry. I take that back, you don’t have to answer anymore. I’m sorry if my question upset you.

Kelly: No, it’s cool. Like, I want to answer your question, but I’m nervous that if I tell you, you’re going to freak out. 

Alex: I promise I won’t. Well, I’ll try my hardest.

I listen to Kelly and I stick to my promise.


Day Seven

Dear Diary,                                                                                             

That campfire conversation was very deep. Kelly and I got a lot off our chests. We talked so much and I can’t really tell you what happened or what she said because we promised each other. I just made a friend. I can’t just do that. I would want her to keep my secrets, so sorry, but our bond lead us to be SS4L( Summer Sisters 4 Life). Okay, I’ll write later. I’m just glad I made a friend I can trust. I guess I’m going to have to admit to my mom that this place is actually good for me and I have learned a lot. It helped me make a friend I can trust and share feelings with. I can’t believe I actually made a friend. I think this will make my mom happy. I think I will be ready to admit to her that this place was good for me and that I made a friend. That next time she suggest a camp, I will give it an honest chance and not put up a fight, promise. Will write later, bye.


Day Eight

Dear Diary,                                                                                                  

Hannah: Alex, we need to talk.

Alex: Wow, no hi? Okay sure, let’s talk.

Hannah: What is your plan with Kelly?

Alex: What do you mean? Kelly is my friend.

Hannah: Yeah, okay, sure. You can’t just string her along because… she probably hasn’t told you any of her business so never mind.

Alex: Actually, I know everything. She told me and I’m not stringing her along. I don’t know what you are talking about. She is my friend and I care about her. You are confusing me. What are you talking about?

Hannah: Oh, you’re not… I’m so sorry. Forget it.

Alex: Gay. You know you can say it, and no, I’m not. Hannah, I should be apologizing. I didn’t mean to take your friend away. She just really showed me how to understand friendships, and that I don’t always have to build a wall and keep people out from being my friend. I’m sorry for talking to you like that, it was not fair of me to do. I was hoping, maybe, I could try being your friend again.

Hannah: Um, okay, fine. It’s okay with me. Maybe we could go to the ice cream shack and then go horseback riding. I mean, I guess I did come on a little strong to be your friend. You seemed pretty cool, so I just wanted to try, but now I know to not do that.

Wow, today was a successful day. I made friends with both my bunk-mates. Hannah and I had a nice conversation. She is actually cool when you get to know her. She really doesn’t have a lot of energy when you actually hang out with her. Well on that note, this summer camp was pretty successful. I learned new things, have new hobbies, and I made new friends. I’ll write later. Today is the last day. My mom is picking me up tomorrow, but tonight is a bonfire.


Day Nine

Dear Diary,                                                                                          

Alex: (Wow, that was tough, saying bye to my friends and all, but I had to.) Wow, Mom, did you get lost on your way here when you were supposed to come pick me up after 24 hours, or did you just decide not to come?

Mom: Well sweetie, I was coming to pick you up, but you know, I got lost, so I just turned around and came back home. Either way that doesn’t matter because you made FRIENDS! Friends, Alex. I’m so proud of you.  

Alex: Mom, sorry for doubting you. I really enjoyed myself, but it took some time. It didn’t happen right away. But after a while, I started to enjoy it, and my bunk-mates helped me enjoy it to.

Mom: Well that’s all that matters, Alex. I’m proud of you. You didn’t enjoy it at first, but you stuck with it and then started to enjoy it.

Well that was my interesting summer, and that’s how it went. I’ll write later, bye.


A newspaper, cast carelessly on the ground, sang a tune of despair. It hummed in A minor, sang in subdominant and dominant chords, but always led back to the tonic.

Car Crash in New Hemingway – 2 Dead, 3 Wounded.

The tragedy of May 12, 2002 will forever be remembered by all of us. Claire and Stephen Larkin, aged 35 and 36, as well as their two sons, Enoch and Ansel, aged 4 and 7, were the victims of a drunk driving incident. The driver, Maxwell Gregerson, was driving a red flatbed truck and is currently in critical care. He was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run five minutes prior, but no hard evidence points to this.

Hemingway Police reports that Claire Larkin, the driver, was killed on impact. Stephen and his children were all sitting in the back. The cane Stephen needed after a leg injury he sustained during his time served in the military, pierced Ansel’s upper thigh, and he died from blood loss shortly after. It is unclear as to how Enoch received the number of bruises he did, as the only injury he should have sustained was a broken wrist. Nevertheless, he sustained heavy bruising on his left side. He was conscious when paramedics arrived, and kept asking for his brother.

The rest of the newspaper was torn off, crumpled. It was clenched in Stephen’s hand, who sat against the back of the wooden door. He had drawn up his knees to his chest, and his chest was shuddering. Huge wracking sobs had seized his upper body.

He had to pull himself together. Enoch was coming home in a few minutes. He gripped the new wooden cane the hospital had given him, and heaved himself off the floor. He limped his way over to the bathroom, and stared at the blotchy face that trembled in the mirror. He turned the tap on and allowed cold water to overflow out of his cupped palms for a few minutes.

After washing his face, he pulled out a packet of macaroni and cheese for Enoch. It was his favorite.

And Ansel’s.

He had just poured the cheese powder into the broth of hot milk and noodles when the doorbell rang three times in quick succession. Enoch. He made his way to the door, glad to have a son but dreading the questions to come.

Enoch bounded into the house and straight into his father’s waiting arms. They embraced for a long time, not speaking anything for several minutes. Finally, Enoch piped up. “Hey, Daddy? Where’s Ansel?”

Stephen let loose a small sigh. “Wherever you’d like him to be, Enoch. Always.”


Cold, soothing rain streams down the sides of the little glass hummingbird. The pale blue wings are streaked with tiny rivulets of the ocean.

“There was just so much traveling involved, you know? For these itsy-bitsy little drops to clump. Hey, I bet they come from different places. Just like us, Ansel. Some of them mighta started out in the ocean, and then others were ice on top of the biggest iceberg you can imagine. But now they’re all together. Forced into one. D’you think they care about it very much? Maybe some of them came from the water kings, and you have water princesses and water barons and water scholars. But then you have water peasants and water farmers. Maybe the water nobles don’t care. Maybe they do. Hey, Ansel, what’d you think? Ansel?”


Enoch sits down on the the poorly painted steps inscribed with chalk. The air smells like woodsmoke, and he wears a puffy jacket that makes him feel like a marshmallow.

“Maybe the blue blocks shouldn’t have to only fit on the greenies. Miss Hamel says you can’t twist the blocks so that they just fit onto the red blocks. It’s not fair, Ansel. It’s also not fair that only the girls get to play house. Ansel, what makes the girls better than us? I bet it’s because they get to wear those little braids. The braids must be their secret sign that they’re royalty. I bet they’re secretly queens that run around and… and…

“But being a boy is fun too. You don’t have to wear skirts. I guess. I wonder how they feel. Hey, Ansel, do you think that Daddy will let us try on skirts? He’d probably say no.”


Enoch’s doing addition problems outside now, catching onto the problems easily. He’s not the best, but he’s ahead of the curve by a dash. The air is warm and humid, curling his hair.

“I like math. It’s all the same. I bet it’s the same everywhere, and even aliens do the same math we do. Math is dependable. It’s always there. Apparently, without math, you couldn’t have cakes or birthdays or comfy beds or trampolines! That’s awful. Ansel, not everyone likes math. Sometimes they look at me funny. I tell them that they need math, but they don’t agree. Am I weird? Maybe I’m an alien. I think they do the same math as us.

“Hey Ansel, what if you could do math with more than numbers? I mean, I know that you can add oranges and buttons and stuffed animals, but those have numbers. What if you could add letters to get a ‘superletter?’ Maybe that’s what ‘w’ secretly is. Or if you added time, instead of getting more time, you actually jumped ahead in time. You added two minutes to two minutes, and then you’re automatically four minutes into the future. Or, if you do the subtraction thingy, you subtract a time from a time. What if you could subtract moments in time, Ansel? Imagine how we would be different if we’d never gone to Julian’s birthday party, or if we didn’t drink that one cup of water. It’d be cool, wouldn’t it?

“But I wouldn’t try it, Ansel. I like who I am very much. Even though people thi –– I think I’m an alien for liking math. But who knows, Ansel? Not me.”


Enoch bolts outside the house, slightly out of breath. Sweat trickles down the middle of his spine.

“Hey, Ansel, why is Daddy always so sad when he’s alone? He smiles all the time when I’m with him. Do ya think he’s lonely? Maybe I should go to him now, Ansel, so he’s not lonely. But he’s reading something, I think. The words didn’t look like they do when the computer writes them, but they also don’t look how I write them. They look more like Mrs. Sanese’s writing, ya know? I wanna write like her, with the tall loops.

 “Ansel, I think Daddy was crying. D’you think I should go back? Maybe I should get rid of the book. Ansel, I’ve never seen Daddy cry. I was so scared, Ansel, I –– I still am, Ansel. Daddies are strong and constant and always there. I –– I…”

Enoch’s voice catches, his breath hitches. The cool wind that has been whipping his cheeks blows colder on the tears trickling down his face. He stands up shakily, rubs his eyes, and goes back inside.


Years and inches have grown in similar directions for Enoch. His hair is longer and curlier, but his face is still sprinkled with freckles that sing with innocence. He’s not as lonely anymore, but he still tries to remember to talk to Ansel. Granted, he doesn’t always remember, but he tells himself that nobody’s perfect.

“Daniel says it’s not really a great thing to say. He wants to know why you can’t try, if there’s something wrong with perfection. But Ansel, perfect is a weird word. One person’s perfect might not be someone else’s perfect. Perfect can’t have one distinct meaning for everyone. This older guy, with the purple tee with an eye on it, says that nothing is perfect. It only becomes perfect when you acknowledge its flaws and learn to love it regardless.

“I don’t know, Ansel. The word perfect is used so freely when it’s not a word of levity. It’s not a song to sing lightly, but somehow it is. It ends up going like that for a lot of things, Ansel. I keep seeing people saying hard things in the worstest ways.

“I guess the word used on packets of chocolate can sum it up easily, Ansel. Bittersweet.”


His voice is trembling. It is May 12, 2022. His hands shake, and he stuffs them into his jean pockets, the blue material encasing the melancholy despair he feels. He hasn’t spoken to Ansel in years. He stands alone in front of the tombstone that hasn’t come to haunt him a long time.

“H-Hey, Ansel. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? The doctors said it was natural, my way of dealing with the pain. It still helps. I’ve… missed you.

“I’m thankful for the times we’ve had together, even though you weren’t really there. If you were ever next to me, or grew with me, there’d be so much that would be different. I’d be different. Sometimes, I wonder if that would be for the better.

“But I like who I am. I like that I have an industrial engineering major and a potential job interview soon. I love that I’m a nerd for outer space, and that I have unnecessary knowledge about butterflies. I like that I like spending days with Dad when it’s a little overcast and going for walks. I like that I like colorful organized notes and dimpled smiles and people who laugh while telling jokes. I like that I know the perfect hot chocolate recipe and its Brazilian origins. I’m just a compilation of experiences and I couldn’t be happier.  

“Ansel, I’m planning on proposing to my girlfriend. Her name is Eloise. You’d have liked her. She has emerald eyes and is just amazing in every way. She plays the saxophone, like you used to.”

He smiles, feeling the sense of unease finally slipping off his shoulders. “It’s been fun, Ansel. I’ll see you later, I guess. But not too soon.”

He raises a hand in farewell, and turns and trudges back to his car. He gets into his car, and the little glass hummingbird swings from the mirror as he drives away.


The room was cold. They liked it that way. They used to talk about living in a snowglobe.

“Maybe you should talk to him, Mike.” Sarah’s back was pressed against the thin plaster wall, her knees curled into her chest, her cherry hair tangled beyond hope, her eyes sunken like stones. “Maybe you should hear his side of the story.”

Mike scoffed. His position, perched on the windowsill like an owl, cast his body in faint darkness, until Sarah could only see a black silhouette where pale skin and hazel eyes used to be. He faced the outdoors, nose pressed against the foggy glass, breathing onto the chilled surface and watching little clouds of his dirty exhalations form.

“I’d rather jump out this window,” he muttered, peering at the bustling city street below. There were yellow umbrellas down there. Yellow like the sun, like caution signs, like dead skin. Like her dead skin. “And become a flat little pancake.” He almost laughed, thinking about how the ants below would shriek and crowd around him, wanting to know why he’d done it. Tyson, he would’ve said. Ask him.

“Then go ahead.” Sarah’s voice was biting, venomous. Her eyes widened as soon as the words escaped her lips. She was always the pacifist, but just look at what the world was doing to her.

Mike turned around and she could now see his face. His eyes were sunken, too, and he grimaced. “Harsh, Sarah.”

She looked down at her bare feet, at the way her mangled toes curled on top of one another, making her cracked nails the least of her problems. She usually wore socks, but today, being raw felt comfortable.

“It’s not a bad idea,” she whispered, clenching and unclenching her toes. “It might do some good.”

Mike rolled his neck, then turned back to the window and the lifeless people below. “What, killing myself?” There goes an ambulance, he thought. Someone else is dying. But an ambulance isn’t a hospital, and paramedics can’t do shit. It’s all too slow. They’re probably already dead.

“No!” Sarah was too loud; her ears rung. “Talking to him. He deserves to hear what you have to say.”

Mike scowled. “That son of a bitch deserves nothing.”

The people below were frantic now. The cars were still; the ambulance couldn’t get through. Too slow, too slow, too slow. Mike imagined the line going flat, the steady beep that told him she was gone, piercing through their shrieks like a child’s scream. Then a punch was thrown, and Tyson was knocked to the ground, and Mike’s knuckles were bloody, and she was still gone. All because he was too slow.

But this ambulance didn’t have his sister in it. This was someone else’s doom.

“You can’t ignore him forever.” Sarah pulled her arms around her, goosebumps suddenly prickling her skin. “He didn’t know Jo was gonna take too much. None of us did.”

Mike whipped around now, gripping the edge of the windowsill like a lifeline. Sarah tried to shrink against the wall. Smaller, she thought. She wanted to be smaller.

“He fucking well knew she was going to take too much,” Mike hissed, his heart thumping. “And when she did, he did nothing.” His eyes were red, ablaze like candle flames and fresh blood. Sarah turned away.

“Did you ever think maybe it wasn’t just his fault?” Sarah asked, stroking the wall against her back. The plaster was scratched and flaking. A delicate pastry, like the ones Mike used to buy her when they pretended they lived in a snowglobe. “That maybe we all had something to do with it?”

“Are you saying I killed my sister?” Mike turned back to the window. He pressed his nose against the glass and breathed out, one drawn-out sigh escaping his lips. “That’s pretty fucking screwed up, Sarah.”

“I don’t know. I was just thinking. Maybe we were all just blind.”

“Blind?” Mike watched as the people below bustled through the streets, yellow umbrellas twirling and feet moving faster than cars. The ambulance had turned its siren off. Mike knew what that meant. He looked at the cracked watch on his right wrist. Time of death: 12:01.

“Yeah. Like, we all just kind of ignored her,” Sarah’s words were fast, fast and quiet, like quick breaths in the absence of oxygen. “We knew something was wrong, but you and I just lived in our fucking snowglobe, while Tyson kept her pain going. Until it was too late.”

“And then we were too slow,” Mike whispered. The cars started to move again, and the ambulance with the dead girl disappeared around a corner, heading to the hospital. Next comes the calls, Mike thought. Then the fighting. Then the funeral and the blame and the numbness that falls over a widowed family like a noose. That’s when you know your snowglobe is shattered. That’s when the water starts leaking out, and you suffocate, and there’s nothing you can do but watch and wait and try to breathe.

Mike suddenly turned around, eyes wide. “Why is it so cold?”

Sarah shrugged. “We used to like it this way.”


One day, a man was reading the newspaper when he learned that there was an exhibit in the museum on maximum security. It was displaying a huge bag of gold. He felt the sudden urge to have it.

That night, with his child still at home, he hacked into the security system and broke into the museum. He got all the way to the dinosaur model before there was a loud whirring sound, and the dinosaur’s tail whipped around and created a crack in the wall. Tiny dinosaurs the size of his hand came pouring out of the wall. They bit all over him: his legs, his arms, his head, etc. He was about to give up when his son’s voice crackled through the speaker at his ear. “All clear. The dinosaurs will go away as soon as I tell them to.”

“What are you waiting for? Send them away!”

“I would, but I thought maybe they could be your honor guard. You know, all the DC villains have cool technology or catch phrases. You don’t have anything.”

The frequency of the bites increased. “Don’t be ridiculous! Just call them off!”

The dinosaurs went back into the wall, which automatically healed itself.

The man was so scared that he considered retreating, but then he looked at the brochure again and reconsidered.

He got all the way to the gold before he realized that the gold was surrounded by a huge glass wall and numerous of guards. He explained the situation to his son.

“I knew it! I knew you should have kept those tiny dinosaurs!”

He smiled and took out a small taser. He pointed and pulled the trigger. Every one of the guards writhed on the ground for a moment, then went still.

He stepped over them and made his way to the gold. He grabbed it and felt something in it move.

That’s weird, he thought. After a while, he convinced himself that it was just his imagination. He made his way to the entrance, and then felt it writhe in his hands again. He opened the bag, and to his horror, spiders were crawling out of it. They bit him everywhere, just like the dinosaurs, but this time, he couldn’t see anything. He felt as if they were injecting fire into him, and, with a start, he realized that they were poisonous.

As his life stole away from him, he heard his son say, “Don’t open the bag! Turns out it’s full of spiders! I just realized.” But it was too late. He was gone.

Masara Gets Bullied

Once upon a time, long, long ago, like twenty years ago, there lived a monkey whose name was Masara. Masara was very weak and couldn’t do anything but walk and eat flowers. Since he was so weak, people would pick on him.

One day, he was in the bathroom and five people came to beat him up. Their names were Tom, George, Greg, Peter, and Bob.

Bob grabbed Masara’s tail.

George said, “Oh, hi, little monkey.”

“Slam him into the wall!” Greg said, “No, dump him in the toilet!”

Masara decided that he would never forgive Greg and was going to kick his butt.

Peter said, “Greg, George, Tom, Bob, I don’t want to be a bully with you guys anymore.”

Tom said, “I agree with Peter. I don’t want to be bullies with you guys anymore either. I’m going to go and find a new nice friend.”

Now Masara, Peter, and Tom went to learn karate.

After a year, they were all black belts, and they went to fight Greg. Masara dressed in a huge suit of monkey armor that was dark red with a light on every side that would blind anyone who tried to hit him. After he was dressed, Masara, Peter, and Tom went looking for Greg. They found him near the dumpster behind Burger King, and Masara said to Greg, “Just because you were being mean to me before doesn’t mean you can be mean to me now!” And then he started a little dance and said, “HIYAAA! HOO-OH! HIIIYA!” He started screeching like a monkey (because he was a monkey). That was Tom and Peter’s cue from Master Masara to exercise their karate skills.

Greg started to cry because he was very sad that Masara and his old friends, Tom and Peter, had finally punched him. Greg was trying to punch back, but he was too weak.

Masara punched Greg on the butt and hit Greg so hard he knocked Greg’s pants off. Masara was just that mad. Greg was really, really upset now because Masara had punched his pants off. Greg tried to hit Masara back, but Masara’s karate training had made him too fast and strong for Greg to hit.

Greg got so mad that he couldn’t hurt Masara that he chased after Masara and ran into a wall so hard that he got knocked out. An ambulance came to take him to the hospital, but Masara said, “O00h! Don’t take him! He’s really rude. He almost flushed me down a toilet to send me off into dirty yucky crocodile water under the sewers!”

“We’ll take care of this!” the singing ambulance driver said in opera, and sent Greg to a prison hospital in China to keep him away from the others. In the prison, a blacksmith came and turned Greg into a soda can and then filled him up with a new kind of soda called “The LooLooLa” to give to Masara, Tom, and Peter. The other bullies, George and Bob, were really glad that they had been saved as well from Greg, because Greg had been making them be bullies. They joined Masara, Tom, and Peter to have a soda party.

Masara was so glad that he got to go out with all his new best friends. And it was his birthday, so he got to have LooLooLa soda and a monkey-shaped cake to celebrate.


He’s every toddler on the floor

who looks at you and turns away,

who smirks and laughs and grabs your hair,

‘cuz it’s all he needs to make his day.


But hidden beneath his sunlit face

lies a fear not taught but instilled deep.

Not that of hidden caves and ghostly heights,

but that of blood and loss and death


because no magic can bring back the dead.

No lie can change the past.

No words can erase the pain.

Memories forever last.


The static of a thousand rays

captured in the tear

of a heartbeat,

a silent scream ripping through the swallowed air.


A nightmarish fracture of the jagged gunshot.

Eyes grappling through the sudden bang

of lost light,

a broken black cloud forever expanding, consuming.


The pounding of a vacant heartbeat

drowning in a web of trying lies.

Tangled voices pushing through

the rest of his life blown right by.


We read these stories,

a country restless and upset.

We grieve, we call for change,

then our lives push and we move on.

Hacking into NASA

Around 11:00 p.m., at 1000 Chicken Avenue, Murica, Florida, somebody decided to hack into NASA’s most secret files, the ones that neither the public nor even the workers at NASA knew about. This 14-year-old boy, Aldrin, had been studying how to hack into many different systems since he was four. He wanted to do this because his grandfather mysteriously went missing eight years ago after he visited NASA to check one of their rockets.

Aldrin finally thought he was ready, and started looking for a way in. Apparently NASA had been putting anti-hack softwares, so Aldrin had a hard time getting into NASA. After a while, however, Aldrin finally found a way in. It was very ironic that NASA managed to install an anti-hack software for world-class hackers but didn’t do it for a method that virtually anybody could do. He quickly went into the mainframe, and a screen popped up with a bunch of files. Some folders said, “General Information,” while others said, “Classified Stuff.” There was one unique folder called “Top Secret Files,” and that was that was the one he needed.

He tried to go to the Top Secret files, but his computer immediately went into lockdown, and literally nothing could move. He was not scared because he knew exactly what to do in this situation. He typed into his keyboard, “F4_break_freeze” and clicked enter. His computer immediately opened the Top Secret Files. There was a lot of boring text with long words about “keeping your oath for your country” and other stuff. There were pictures too, but he had to download them because they were so big.

His parents had no idea that he was hacking into NASA. They always thought he had an average mind, but in reality he was smarter than they thought. He tricked them into thinking that every kid easily gets an A plus-plus every time.

His parents did not pay much attention to him because they had time-consuming work, so Aldrin also thought that he would finally get their attention for longer than just five minutes. With these thoughts in his head, he glanced at the clock, and he was surprised that he had spent more than an hour on this, when it only felt like a few minutes. Aldrin left his laptop running because he was too tired to continue, and then he went to sleep.

Aldrin woke up at around 5:30 in the morning to experiment with NASA’s top secret files. The first file he downloaded into his laptop was 8,800 pixels. Since his laptop only held 440 pixels at a time, he had to wait almost a full day for the picture to download entirely. Finally the picture downloaded, so Aldrin opened the file. He saw a chart saying, “Extra Terrestrial Officer Ranks.” In that chart there were a bunch of words that Aldrin did not know. The words sounded like Latin, so he searched up a translator that transferred Latin into English and vice-versa.

Aldrin typed in the name that was on the lowest rank, Vexillum, into Google translate. It showed that Vexillum meant standard. Aldrin thought that he was on o something. Then he typed the highest rank, Vix, and it showed scarce, which is a synonym for rare. He knew he was getting closer to the answer, but not there just yet.

He then typed in Jerry Armstrong, his grandfather’s name, and one result popped up. His arms and legs felt very weak as he moved his cursor to that single result, knowing that this would affect him in a big way. His cursor hovered over Jerry Armstrong, wondering if he should click it. As if in slow motion, Aldrin clicked the name, and it transported him to a page with the NASA background, and the title was, “NASA Offenders.”

As soon as Aldrin started reading, somebody banged on the front door. Aldrin jumped up and ran downstairs to open the door. Without checking who it was, Aldrin opened the door. The next thing he saw was five men holding guns, who were wearing black uniforms with badges that looked like “Δ.” One of them asked, ”Are you Mr. Aldrin Armstrong?”

Fear of getting put into jail for lying, he told the officers yes. Another one said, ”Sorry, sir, but you have to come with us. You hacked into NASA and read the most secret files. You cannot be trusted to be out in the public.”

Aldrin decided that, however stupid it sounded, he would try to knock out these people using his powerful yellow belt skills. Just as he tried a roundhouse kick on one of the security guards, another guard immediately pulled out a taser and electrified him. So much for powerful karate skills.

The last thing Aldrin could remember before passing out was the guards carrying him outside.

A few hours later, Aldrin woke up. He was in a room that was completely white with a NASA logo, and it smelled like disinfectant. It was just a closed-off room to any normal person’s mind, but Aldrin saw NASA’s plan. One wall was a different color white from the rest, and there were little visual holes. He was looking straight at a one-way window, and he knew that there were many people looking right back at him.

A voice boomed from hidden speakers, saying, “Aldrin Armstrong, you have violated America’s laws by hacking into NASA. Why have you done so, and how have you done it? We will give you some time to think of your answer, and then you shall give it to us. If you say something that is impossible, you will be executed.”

All this time Aldrin was thinking, Oh God, what should I say? Should I tell them the truth or some made up baloney?

Then Aldrin saw an air vent leading out of the room. It was near the floor, just about five inches off of it, and it had a NASA design on it. He pretended to go to sleep near the vent, so the people looking at him from the other room would start getting bored watching a boy sleep unsuspiciously near an air vent.

After thirty minutes, when there was no sound coming from the room, Aldrin pulled out a Swiss Army knife, only there for emergencies, and started unscrewing the bolts one by one. He then heard a shout from the other room, and collapsed, hoping that nobody noticed.

He heard footsteps in the room, and something sharp started poking him. After the poker guy was satisfied that Aldrin was asleep, he walked away. Aldrin kept up the act for a few more minutes, and then hurriedly started unscrewing.

He pushed down the air vent, and it fell with a loud thud. Aldrin knew people were looking at him because of it. He quickly climbed into the vent, with the sounds of people’s voices shouting behind him. Alarms started blaring as Aldrin crawled, the sound was deafening.

He saw an opening and started banging on it, hoping that it was weak and would fall easily. As Aldrin predicted, the vent opened after a few more bangs, falling and bringing Aldrin with it, who had no time to move out the way. Aldrin ran down a hallway, following a sign that said, NASA Systems MAIN II. The hallway was completely white, except for the occasional NASA logo.

The hallway went down a few miles, or at least it felt like that. Finally, he reached a huge computer, with the NASA logo bouncing around. Aldrin clicked “enter,” and the computer said to put in the password. Looking around, Aldrin also found a machine glowing beside the huge computer, and it looked like a finger-scanner. Since Aldrin spent most of his time hacking, he went for the computer. He spent a lot of time on trying to hack into the computer, but none of his techniques worked. He tried Ctrl-Shift-Alt-P, but that did not work. He tried P-F7, but that did not work either. His last technique was the old-fashioned “guess the password,” but of course that did not work.

Aldrin was thinking about different ways to hack in, and his eyes suddenly caught the fingerprint machine. He suddenly remembered an old Scooby-Doo episode, where they escaped an electrical cage that only worked on fingerprints. Aldrin found some powder from a battery, also called battery acid. He ripped a piece of his shirt off, and after carefully sprinkling the battery acid onto the finger-scanner, he gently pressed the cotton down. This technique was supposed to trick the scanner into thinking that the intruder was the one with the real fingerprint because the actual person’s fingerprints were still on the scanner if they didn’t clean it.

Suddenly the computer’s screen changed, and a voice said, “Welcome to NASA Systems MAIN II.” Aldrin quickly typed in “Jerry Armstrong” again because he knew that he was running out of time. Only one result popped up, the same one as last time, but this one was a different color. Aldrin clicked the text, expecting the same page again, and that was what he got.

This website looked exactly like the other one, but there was a new tab on it, This tab said, “Whereabouts.” Aldrin again suddenly felt very weak, the weakness starting small but spreading faster each second. He clicked it, and it said, “Offender in NASA Lockdown Area, in Prison 7, Area 51, 7.23 km deep.” Aldrin did not know anything about what these even could mean, but he was so happy he finally knew what he was doing.

Aldrin suddenly heard footsteps getting closer and closer, and heard a deep voice saying, “Check MAIN II, he might be checking the files. You three, go check Prison Seven, he might be freeing his snoopy grandfather.” The footsteps got closer, and Aldrin did not know what to do. Without thinking, he dove behind the huge computer, knocking down the fingerprint machine. The footsteps stopped, and a shadow came into the room. Aldrin held his breath for the longest time he ever had, until his face started turning blue. The footsteps came even closer, inspecting every part of the room the person could. The person picked up the scanner, inspecting if it was broken or not. A loud grunt sounded in the room as the person threw the fingerprint machine back onto the floor, this time the machine breaking into pieces.

Aldrin finally couldn’t hold his breath anymore and took a deep breath. The person suddenly stopped, and the footsteps came closer. A face peered over the huge computer, shock expressed on it. Aldrin could not think at the moment, and the first thing that came to his mind was the worst idea possible.

Aldrin stood up, and seeing that there was nobody else in the room, he jumped up and started punching the person in the face as hard as he could. Surprised but not hurt, the man pulled out his taser, but as he was taking a shot, Aldrin’s completely off-target fist knocked it into a funny angle. Already pulling the trigger, the man looked at where the taser was pointing, but he could not do anything about it. The taser end was pointed straight at him. The man collapsed instantly, and Aldrin could not believe that his amazing technique had worked.

Aldrin knew that the others would soon be looking for him, and he needed to take advantage of the time he had. He took a phone-shaped object and some keys from the unconscious guard, thinking that it was to communicate with the other NASA guards, he typed into it, “He is not in here, I think he escaped from the building.” Plenty of other messages popped up, all of them saying that they were going outside to check.

Aldrin then went onto an app that had the NASA’s logo on it. He searched up “Prison Seven, Area 51, Jerry Armstrong” and a map showed up. A red and blue dot showed up on the screen, and in the key it said “Red Dot = You Are Here, Blue Dot = Location Inserted.” Aldrin started walking towards the blue dot, occasionally checking to see if there was any people in front of him. He was in a tunnel-like area, with ceiling lights every 100 feet or so. Finally, it said he was 5.232 meters away from his grandfather when his eyes left the screen.

Aldrin was expecting many prison cells lined up against the wall, but there was only one. He walked to the front of that cell, his legs feeling very weak and shaky, his heart pounding, and he looked inside. Aldrin saw a crouched person on the floor, a pair of similar blue eyes looking at him. Nobody spoke for what seemed like hours, the silence so loud.

His grandfather shakily got up and walked just like a baby horse would, his legs wobbling and in danger of falling at any time. Finally he reached the iron bars and grabbed them so that he could lean on them for support. Now Aldrin clearly saw every single detail of his grandfather that he did not notice the last time they had met, which had been over eight years ago. His grandfather looked much older, with wrinkles and grey hair. He stood hunched, like a stick that broke but not completely, and definitely much weaker. He was dangerously thin, and Aldrin wondered when the last time he had had a meal was.

He wore a tattered blue button-down shirt and black pants with the knee part completely ripped, as if his grandfather had been dragged while wearing them.

Jerry Armstrong whispered so softly that it was barely audible, “Aldrin, is that you?” His face was bathed in shock and gratitude, because even though this person might not be his grandson, his motive was clearly to rescue him. Aldrin had been imagining this moment for years and thought of exactly what to say, but it seemed as if his voice was not working at the moment. He just stared at his grandfather, slightly nodding.

“Hello, Grandfather, I have come to save you.” His voice seemed to work automatically, Aldrin did not even think about what to say.

Slowly the other parts of his mind started to function, lastly his ability to think. As Aldrin was still in dumb shock, his grandfather hoisted himself up, thinking that he should now look strong for his grandson.

Soon after Aldrin’s mind was running again, he finally thought of the situation at hand. Aldrin pulled out the keys he got from the unconscious security guard and unlocked the prison cell. He still was in amazement that he managed to pull this entire NASA thing off, but he told his grandfather, “We have to get out of here before any guard finds us.” Immediately after Aldrin said that, alarms started blaring.

This time his grandfather said, “How could they have known?” Aldrin, still wondering, looked up at the ceiling, where he saw it littered with all kinds of security cameras, probably so if one person hacked into the cameras, they would not get the full view.

His grandfather also looked up, and a deep scowl crossed his face. It was now Jerry Armstrong’s turn to speak, and he said, “I know an easy way out of here.” Without pausing to see what Aldrin would say, he turned around and approached the side of the wall with the least cameras and what seemed like a faint square of light. Placing his hands on the block, Aldrin’s grandfather pushed, and the faint square of light turned into a secret tunnel, probably forgotten.

As they entered the tunnel, the door behind them slid shut, hopefully not trapping them. Aldrin was now pestering his grandfather with questions, from “Why did NASA lock you up?” to “Do you know my dad?”

His grandfather abruptly stopped, causing Aldrin to slam into him and bounce off. Jerry Armstrong slowly turned around and sighed. “NASA locked me up because I found out something that NASA didn’t want the public to know.”

“And what did you find out?” Aldrin asked.

Jerry Armstrong looked Aldrin straight in the eye and said, “For a while, NASA had alien contact.”

“That’s amazing! Why would Nasa want to keep it a secret?” Aldrin exclaimed.

“Unfortunately NASA thought that the majority of the public would go completely ballistic, so before anybody found out about the incident, all of the aliens were killed,” his grandfather replied with tears in his eyes.

“Yes, but now is not the time to dwell on that matter, since we have to escape.”

A few moments later they came to a dead end, and this time there was no hint of light.

“Now what are we going to do?” asked Aldrin. “It’s not like we could just push through the wall this time.”

“Think again, Aldrin. This wall is an optical illusion. Look closer and you will see what I am talking about.”

Aldrin looked closer and he saw. It looked like a dead end but it was actually a door. It was definitely the most convincing illusion.

His grandfather, clearly annoyed by his grandson’s habit of getting lost in thought, said, “There is no time to lose, mister. Now HUSTLE!”

They both opened the illusionary door, and walked into a huge office. In the middle of everything sat a huge desk, with a nameplate that was too far away for Aldrin to read. They moved closer and saw that the nametag said, “President of NASA, Charles Bolden.”

In the back right corner of the room was a glowing sign that read, “EXIT.”

Yes! Exactly what they needed. They started to move towards the door, but as they passed the desk, flashing red lights and alarms started blaring.

The door in the back right opened and a security guard angrily stomped in. He had a red face and a black eye. Aldrin recognized this officer as the one he had knocked out earlier. They were close enough to read his name tag, and it read, “Charles Bolden.”

The officer yelled loudly, “You have broken into the most secret of NASA bases, and have collected valuable information. You will not be able to leave this facility, in means that may be harmful.”

Aldrin knew that it was only one person, but before he could react, hundreds of soldiers marched into the room, crowding up the exit, and making sure the president of NASA was safe.

“Bring among the co-presidents of NASA, they are the only ones I can trust.”

Two people walked into the room, and Aldrin could not believe his eyes! His own parents walked in confidently, but it all wavered when their eyes caught his. His mother’s eyes reached his for a moment and her expression changed to shock for the tiniest millisecond.

“Reporting for duty, sir,” they said loudly.

The officer said, “I want these criminals to be locked up in Gate Z, where they will be killed.” His mother’s eyes flashed in alarm, but she said nothing. His parents walked up to his grandfather and him, where they turned around and announced, “We will take these fools down to Gate Z, but we do not need any help.”

The officer obviously trusted his parents so he just slightly nodded his head.

After walking for a few minutes in complete silence his parents turned around sharply and started yelling at him.

“What in the world are you doing here?”

Aldrin said, “I came here to save Grandpa, what are you doing here?”

His parents suddenly became quiet and looked at each other. “Well, see son…,” his father began.

“And what about Grandpa –– why didn’t you tell me about him?” Aldrin continued.

His parents were not even getting a chance to explain themselves. They nervously looked around to see if anybody was watching.

“Are you people even listening to me?” Aldrin yelled.

“Stop it, Aldrin, people are still in this building,” his father shouted.

Aldrin’s mother motioned for him to stay silent as his grandfather looked like he wanted to jump into the argument.

“There is not much time for you, so you are going to do exactly what we tell you to,” his mother hissed.

Aldrin was still in shock about the previous close call that he could not move his mouth even if he tried. “Yes, mom,” Aldrin said, and with that statement the family moved down the hallway, following the signs that said “EXIT.”

Twenty minutes later, after a series of dwindling pathways, Aldrin’s family stood at a door that read, “Exit.”

“What are you guys going to do when the officer realizes that we escaped?” Aldrin asked his parents.

“There is only one thing to do now, and that is bow down to the law and take our punishment,” Aldrin’s dad replied. Aldrin’s mind took a moment to process this information, and when it did he wished he never knew what his dad had meant.

His grandfather thought for a moment before saying, “There is another solution, and this one will keep all of us safe.”

Aldrin’s parents looked at his grandfather before Aldrin said, “Well, you could let us go right now and then hand in your resignation letter, so by law they cannot harm you at all because they would have no proof.”

“Brilliant plan, Aldrin,” his grandfather said. “That was exactly what I was thinking.” His parents looked like they were deep in thought trying to find flaws in this beautiful plan.

“Fine,” his dad said slowly, as if he didn’t like agreeing to a plan that his son made up, “but you know you are grounded for three months after this.”

“Wait, but why didn’t you ever tell me about Grandpa, or that you worked for NASA?” Aldrin asked his unanswered question.

“We didn’t want to tell you because we thought you might blab about it in school,” his dad told him, saying it surprisingly gently.

“Why didn’t you just quit or something,” Aldrin asked, his voice low and barely audible.

“They said that they would kill your grandfather if we quit,” his mother said. “But now, since he’ll escape, they won’t have anybody to kill.”

“Why would they even want Grandpa anyways,” Aldrin asked. “No offense, Grandpa, but why would they want you this badly?”

“NASA did not want him because of his skill,” Aldrin’s dad replied. They kept him because they thought he would tell the public about the information he found.”

“Sorry to interrupt this moment, but we are still being hunted down by one of the world’s most important organizations,” his grandfather said. “We will have a chat about this at home, but now is not the time.”

“Right,” his dad said.

Aldrin’s father swiped a card with the NASA logo on it, and a red light above the door that Aldrin had not noticed turned green. He shoved Aldrin through the door and waited for his grandfather to walk through the door. Without a goodbye, Aldrin’s father threw the car keys to Aldrin and quickly shut the door. Aldrin heard footsteps walk away before turning to his grandfather and handing the keys to him.

The ride back home was extremely quiet, the only sound being that of the radio. There seemed to be many more cop cars roaming the streets today, Aldrin thought as he looked out the window. I wonder why NASA wants my parents so badly that they would use a family member to do it, Aldrin spoke in his mind. Maybe they are some kind of super-smart prodigies that can benefit any company. Nah, if they were really smart than they would have tried to make me that intelligent. What if… THEY’RE ALIENS!?

Great, now I am babbling random stuff that makes no possible sense. Why in the world would my parents, the ones that raised me from birth, be some kinds of aliens? Fighting with NASA might have taken a huge toll on my mind. I should probably go to sleep.

No matter how hard Aldrin tried, he could not manage to sleep. He just kept thinking about different possibilities of why NASA wanted his parents so much.

Finally, Aldrin’s grandfather broke the thoughts by pulling into the driveway of a huge hotel. “We will stop in here for a few weeks and try to get off the radar,” said his grandfather. Aldrin switched on the TV, where the first thing that came up was, “NASA Security Breached?” Aldrin switched the TV off and then decided to go to bed, still thinking about the crazy things that had happened in the last few days.

In the morning, after a long night of laying in bed, Aldrin got out of his bed and went to his computer, thinking about if he should tell on NASA or not. He wondered what he would have done before this crazy adventure versus what he would do now. In the end he decided that he did not want to create any drama for anyone anymore and just live his life.


Three Months Later…

“Aldrin, come down for breakfast,” his dad yelled from the kitchen.

“He looked around his new room, satisfied that it was much bigger than his old room, but still had his old computer. He’d changed his IP address so nobody could track him from previous encounters. His mom and dad announced that they were moving just after they came back from resigning from NASA. Aldrin knew exactly why they were moving though. It was so that they could throw NASA off of their trail. His family had been acting completely normal in the past few months, but Aldrin still had nightmares from NASA.

“Aldrin, hurry up, we’re having pancakes today, and your mom and I still have to go to work.”

“Coming, Dad,” Aldrin replied. His parents seemed to be giving him more attention after the NASA catastrophe, and Aldrin was still getting used to it.

His parents quickly found high-paying jobs as web designers. Luckily they did not keep secrets from him this time and told him exactly what happened at work whenever he felt like listening.

His grandfather had adjusted pretty quickly, considering that he spent over five years in a prison cell with hardly any food and water. His grandfather had eaten a lot when he first came back, and he looked much healthier than he did when Aldrin saw him at NASA’s headquarters.

“Aldrin, come down here right now or I will come up and make you come down,” his father shouted.

Aldrin was glad that he finally got his parents’ respect and attention, and even more glad that they spent more time with him, but he was still nervous that NASA would find him someday.

All these thoughts swirled through his head as he went downstairs, but they were lured away with the amazing smell of warm pancakes with maple syrup.

His grandfather sat on one of the chairs, looking very happy as he munched on his waffles. He stared at the TV, which was showing the daily news. This time it was showing the weather patterns for next week. It said the weather was going to be perfect, all above 70 degrees.

“Good morning guys,” Aldrin said cheerfully. “I am just going to take five piles of pancakes, don’t mind me!”


Meanwhile, at the headquarters of NASA…


“We finally found out where the boy lives,” a general told the back of a man’s seat. “The ex-agents might have thought we couldn’t find them, but we managed to do it.” They changed their address, phone numbers, houses, even all of their IP addresses.

“Excellent job, Marcus,” the president of NASA said as he swiveled his chair. “We will first go for the parents, which will make the boy and his grandfather go crazy. Once the grandfather and the boy come to look for them, we will snap them up and place them in Prison One.”

His mouth curved into an evil smile as he said, “Beware, Aldrin Armstrong, you have messed with the wrong people.”

To be continued… 

When the Clocks Stop (Excerpt)

When silence fills a room, the tick of one clock can be louder than a heartbeat. The steady sound of the seconds passing fills empty air with a melancholy cloud of missing time.

But then, if one clock is a heartbeat, fifty is a thunderclap.

The largest clock was set above the fireplace, its large face counting over the proceedings of the room like some sort of eternal judge, heavy hands rusted and numbers chipped and faded. Its edges were yellowed like paper, and justice squeaked in its spinning gears, friendly and stern.

Below it on the mantle, a much newer clock stood stiffly: white and pristine with dashes circling its face instead of numbers. Its hands were long and narrow, ticking with noisy efficiency, primly aware that it was wound just a bit too tight.

The grandfather clock stood in the corner, solemnly counting the seconds, dust gathering at its feet.

Shining mahogany faces gleamed from the ceiling, twins, ticking faster and faster, competing with each other’s balance of numbers.

Dozens of other clocks lined the walls, varying in shape, size, and color. The ticking rang out from every corner, some quick and desperate, others seeming almost despondent, but all somehow exactly on time, up to the very second.

The man who sat in the center of the room muttered to himself as he dug through a small pile of tools. Secrets whirled about him, brushing against him, begging for his attention, but he waved them away.

His hands never stopped moving, searching through the pile while dragging his fingers agitatedly through his hair. He tapped along to the ticking, still muttering under his breath. He gave a frustrated sigh, and the largest clock whirred questioningly.

“When I was young,” Arkwright informed the clocks, his eyes heavy with the weight of thousands of years, “I wondered why people grew old. Silly thing to do, I thought. Why let time control you?”

It was strange, really, how someone could look so young and so old all at once. Eternity blossomed before his face, dancing before his eyes.

“Old is one thing. Ancient is quite another.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, squeezing his eyes shut and dissolving the illusion.

The twin clocks on the ceiling exchanged worried ticks as he continued, motioning grandly with one arm. “You grow old from too much living. You become ancient from too much time; that’s the secret. Too much time and not enough life to fill it.”

“Timekeeper. You’re rambling again.” He turned to see Eldon standing in the doorway, silhouetted against the light pouring out behind him.

Arkwright arranged his face into an innocent expression. “Am I? I suppose so. Can’t be helped.” He looked ruefully around him at the spare bits and broken bobs scattered on the floor. “Life is relative, my friend. Time plays with fools by being generous.” The prim little clock on the mantle hummed in annoyance. “You would know that, of course.” He fiddled idly with a scrap of metal, turning it over in his long fingers so it shone in the firelight.

Eldon smiled sadly. “Of course.”

“Of course,” Arkwright muttered under his breath, studying the brass scrap, “of course. Nothing is ‘of course.’ Some things are ‘possibly.’ Some things are ‘maybe.’ Nothing is ‘of course.’ Nothing can be that certain, can it? You blink and it’s gone. It never lasts.”

“It just disappears.” Eldon’s voice was sympathetic, almost pitying.

“Disappears? No. Flickers.” The Timekeeper drew out a pair of spectacles, balancing them precariously on his nose. He rubbed the brass with his thumb. “Like a candle.”

Eldon closed the door gently and approached the man sitting on the floor. “A candle?” he asked.

Arkwright resolutely turned his back on Eldon. “A candle,” he agreed, waving a hand vaguely behind him. “You know. Burning down the wick, dripping wax, dancing on the edge of oblivion.” He looked up from the scrap for a second, peering deep into space. “Surviving merely to be extinguished.” The grandfather clock creaked in agreement, its peeling, painted numbers looking sad and lonely.

Eldon picked up a shard of twisted glass which lay on the table and held it up to his eye. “Well,” he said, “if you see it that way.”

Arkwright hesitated, still studying the opposite wall over the top of his spectacles, before adjusting them and returning to the scrap. “Yes, well. There’s no other way for me to see it. I live from my point of view.”

Eldon grinned openly at this response. “As do we all.”

The fire popped and crackled as it burned lower. Arkwright deposited the brass scrap absentmindedly on the floor, picking up a coiled spring. “So. Come to kill me again?” he inquired politely. He asked the question in such a matter-of-fact tone he might have been discussing the weather, but the ticking around them gained a more ominous note, speeding up an infinitesimal amount.

The grin fell from Eldon’s face, and he seemed to age ten years as looked down at his hands, replying finally, “Yes, I’m afraid so.”

“Oh no, not like that!” Eldon looked up in time to see the Timekeeper climb to his feet. “Chin up! If you’re going to kill me, at least be confident about it! You haven’t lost faith in this old game of ours, have you? No.”

Eldon sighed. “If you would stop being so bloody cheerful about it, it might make a difference.” A squat, grey clock near the floor groaned in agreement, and Eldon half-glanced at it.

“Oh! Sorry.” Arkwright tried to arrange his face into something more suited to the situation. “Better?”

“Not really.”

“Mm.” Arkwright bobbed his head distractedly, before straightening up, folding his spectacles and slipping them back into a pocket. “Right. Better get it over with, then. Do you have a plan this time, or are you merely going to ‘wing it,’ as they say?”

“Listen, could you not do that?”


“You know. That.”

The Timekeeper raised an eyebrow. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be a bit more specific.”

“Your whole crazy, cheerful babbling act. What part of ‘kill you’ did you not understand?”

Arkwright, however, was now ignoring him. He had directed his attention instead to a particularly small clock, whose hands looked limp and feeble. Its ticking had slowed, and the seconds were out of step with the others. The noise in the room grew quieter as the Timekeeper put a hand on its face, fingers tracing the tiny numbers gently as he muttered words of encouragement. The clock was small, with a shell-colored rim and innocent numerals circling the edges.

Eldon watched curiously. He had done this time and time again (Ha. he thought weakly, Time and time again. How accurate.) but this was new. New was rare for him these days, but, he justified, that’s the price I pay.

The clock squeaked mournfully, and Eldon noticed that Arkwright’s hands were shaking slightly and he stroked the clock face. Now that’s definitely new.

This was the first time Eldon had seen anything but a smile on the Timekeeper’s face. Worry creased Arkwright’s brow, and every miniscule line on his face grew more pronounced. The firelight played on the bags under his eyes, casting dark shadows over his face.

The ticking of the other clocks was barely more than a whisper as time slowed down. The tiny clock shivered violently, nearly falling out of the wall altogether, but Arkwright held it in place, still muttering under his breath.

As Eldon watched, the Timekeeper pressed a gentle finger against the second hand, stopping it completely. The room was silent in shock, as even the other clocks forgot what they were supposed to be doing.

Arkwright stood slowly, turning to face his other clocks, who hastily resumed ticking. As he returned his gaze to Eldon, his true age seemed to be written all over his young face. His pale eyes were filled with a determined fire: ancient, grief-stricken, and ever so slightly furious. He turned his gaze on Eldon, who took a step back involuntarily, filled with the unmistakable feeling of witnessing the calm before a storm. The Timekeeper spread his arms wide, and said quietly to his killer, “Get it over with. We have work to do.”

Eldon glanced nervously at the other clocks, but they ignored him, concentrating only on counting the silent seconds as they passed. A gunshot echoed through the room, and as the Timekeeper fell, the clocks stopped for the second time that day.




If I could balance on a tightrope,

if my bare toes could grip the sides of the string,

I’d walk over a rain forest.


I used to imagine that the water in these places

couldn’t even reach the ground

because of how close together the leaves are.


I could stand there, the rain

–– usually so strong ––

not even mighty enough

to penetrate the green,

or knock me off my rope.


Maybe I would hear the birds singing

over the loud thunder,

or maybe it would be silent.


Except for the patter of the rain against the leaves,

still trying to reach the ground.


Or perhaps I would stroll across a fire.

I could watch the destruction

and the beauty,

without letting anything reach me,

especially the smoke.


I would be so high up,

my legs stiff and light.

The blaze of the flames might dance

and make shadows on my cheeks,

but it wouldn’t burn my eyes.


I could stare until the embers died away,

and I had to find my next destination.


If I could balance on a tightrope,

I might walk,

overlooking all the people I’d put in front of me.


Then I could say I was simply above them.

Over them.

Then I’d be even,



I would walk over my house.

I would look through the chimney,

and watch my family talk without me.



I like to listen to them speak

and drown in their sentences,

without saying a word.



I hide out,

just like when I was little

and wanted someone to find me.


Or, perhaps,

I would walk through a valley of stars.

I’d look at the moon,

and try to tell Frank Sinatra that no kiss could ever compare

to the white rock spinning before me.


My best friend and

I like to talk about the universe

late at night.


Our legs and minds

entangled with

bodies and fears,


shaky voices asking questions

we know can’t be answered.


If I went further into the open,

I could go back and tell her that

the infinity we were so afraid of

could envelop a person,  


and maybe it wouldn’t feel so far away

from home.


If I could balance on a tightrope,

I would take a rest over a mountain-


I would be tired from all the adventures

I’ve already planned.


Maybe I’d let my feet hang off the side.


Maybe I’d try to touch the peak,

the lightly-oxygenated winds

making me feel dizzy.


I’d watch as the climbers struggled

to find the top,

maybe find something else.


I would giggle,

trying to whisper to them

to merely find a tightrope.


My words would be drowned out,


by the swinging winds.


But my inner-ears

have always been

a little bit off.


I’m not the most stable.



I trip.


And although I’ve never

been afraid of heights,


I can’t see myself


on a tightrope.


No matter how much

  I would like to explore


with a bird’s eye view.


So, I guess I’m stuck here,

my feet on the earth.


Maybe it’ll keep me humble.




White Gown

The first time I saw her, she was in her white gown staring at me in the hospital bed –– not in a bad way, a good way, a way that I never thought anyone would ever look at me. Reading this you probably don’t believe me, but I promise. I promise that she was standing right there at the foot of my bed watching me. I had been in agony, but as she was watching over me I could feel no pain –– not one single hurt. She must have had a magical vibe.

That first time, she turned away from me to see a little girl –– a miniature version of herself –– in a white dress.  She was so… so graceful in every way, delicate. She stroked the girl’s fair hair as she whispered to her. Synchronized looks in my direction, I saw both of their pale blue eyes as they stared into mine.

When they walked away it felt as if they had healed me, so I closed my eyes and tried to imagine it again.

I am Elise Miller. I am nineteenyears old and I have been diagnosed with lung cancer from the asbestos in our old apartment. They told me that I had a fifteen percent chance of living. But ever since my first surgery, I have been semi-okay. After that, my mom and I moved to a small apartment in San Francisco, California.

I am in the hospital again –– my third time this week. She’s back at the foot of my bed, yet this time she has more glow and is trying to speak to me. I listen intently, hearing her soft, faint voice. “Help me, help me, please. I need you.

And then a red coated man comes and takes her hand and carries her away.

I wanted to help her, this magical being who had saved me from my pain.

She doesn’t come back until the next day. But this time when she appears, she is tied up to a chair, in chains, the red coated man walking around her.

“She’s mine,” he says. “Don’t even think of trying to take her back.”  He has a deep, dark voice. It’s easy to sense his evil and mischievousness.

I don’t go to school anymore and it has given me lots of time to think about these characters I have made. I want one wish. That wish is to be able to talk back to these characters. I want to know how they feel, how they think.

I am back in the hospital, this time for testing. When I stare at the end of the bed, that same woman is trapped in a room with no windows, no door. Only a chair, a rope, duct tape tied to her and the red-coated man walking around her.

He’s saying something to her, something like, “I just want to know where he is and why he is doing this so I can stop him.” The red-coated man seems really demanding.

The woman keeps fighting back. “I would never tell you. Over my dead body.”

“Your husband cannot be trusted any longer. If you join me we could take over his power and do good to the world.”

“You will never see me support you, even if our world was turned upside down.”

Then I glimpse another man walking around. He is tall and wears all black. This man is looking for something, and I wonder if he is the man they were talking about. Then the white-gowned woman walks up to him. She is in a panic.

“He is after you,” she says with fear in her voice.

“But he will never find me, because he is not welcome here,” the man says.

She has no response to this, but I can tell she could say millions of things to him.   

When I finally leave the hospital from this round of testing, my mother and I get into a terrible car accident coming out of the parking lot. Everything goes pitch black. I only have a small cut on my arm but my mom has a broken thumb. Back to the hospital we go! This time I’m not the patient –– my mom is, with her broken finger.

A few days later we find out that the guy that crashed into us has been paralyzed from the waist down. He had rammed into the side of our car in great speed trying to cut a red light.   

And then the test results show that the cancer is coming back. I will never be done with hospital visits. I see her every time and become more of a witness to her story. This time, from my bed I see that there is another character. He walks up to the man in black, and looks around. “We need to stop her from her plan.”

“What is this so-called plan?!” I scream in my sleep. “What are you going to do? Don’t kill her, I need her!”

“Elise, are you okay?” my mother asks.

“I am not okay mom, she might die!” I yell at her. My mom runs to the door and I hear her pleading for help as I continue to scream in terror. I hear people rushing to my room and I feel the breeze against me as we rush to another room, the dreadful, terrible, “black hole” of San Francisco: the Emergency Room. Then my vision blurs and my mind is frozen.

When I wake, I instantly see the back of her white gown. But she isn’t just walking away, she is running away. Running down an endless road in the dark, where there are no lights, all the other characters running after her. She has gone into a small alley where she stands behind a gate. The other characters sneak up behind her and take her away.

“I have to go Elise, I’ll see you in the morning.” Is that my mom? I don’t respond because I am too tired.

Her white gown drags across the sidewalk as she walks in her elegant way, handcuffed.

The moon played a part in this story. He glistened his shining light on her gown and grinned. I awake after that, and out my window the moon grins at me. I grin back. As I look at the moon I see someone sitting on top of it. Her white gown crept off the side of the moon. She winks at me and…

Elise was gone too soon. She could not continue on her story, but sometimes we have to accept that some stories just cannot be finished.


I was born into an endless maze,

like the one people drag pencils through.

Dawning a facade of hope each night,

waking to the same walls unmoved.


The thick grey hedges grew tall,

taller each day.

Not a sunlit filter of leaves

but a wall opaque and faint.


Everything an ebbing deception.

A brilliant ray of contrasting white,

the sudden edge of a greying shadow

objects of failing imagination.


Looking to the sky to the soaring birds,

yearning to be but themselves

as the stars ice over darkness

into a blissful escape they delve


and realize


the reason for the dark clouds

raining tears of bitter memory,

is that we live no longer in a maze

but a circle –– of loss, of poverty.


The paths that stray

are clouded with mist,

leading only to pain

still penniless.


The teardrop lets go its final thread

and it sends a ripple across the sky.

The sun cast its response,

shooting a ray wide and high.


Perhaps we claim this flash blinds our narrow minds,

or the mist clouds our earnest sight,

or the rain closes our parochial hearts,

or the darkness forbids our competent height.


Yet all are lies,

but the fault lies not within our sense,

but within our mind

where we refuse to make amends.


Forever in this cornerless circle,

first step they walked, first day they talked

homeless, powerless and jobless,

only hope and love they sought.


A pencil in hand,

a hedge axe on our side,

yet we stand


The Bear Rap

Yesterday, my principal became a pear.

Little did I know that she was friends with a bear!

I saw the pear on the table –– I chewed it up.

The bear came and threw me –– into a cup.

The cup turned out to be a trashcan.

I was thrown into the junkyard, by the Trash Man.

I swam out of the junkyard and saw my mom.

I yelled but she was busy on!

I eventually got out and took a bath.

So when I see that bear

he will, FACE MY WRATH!

The Cruise Ship Catastrophe

It all was fine until an hour ago. On January 27th, 2028, my younger brother, my parents, and I departed from New York City and headed for the Bahamas on the Anthem of the Seas. When I got on board my mind could not decide on what to do. There were many activities to please everybody. There was a zoo, many different restaurants, a spa, 23 pools, 17 water slides, a water park, a hockey rink, a separate skating rink, a basketball court, a baseball field, and a skate park. I felt I was in an alternate universe before reality set in. It was almost too good too be true. The thing that appealed to me most was the hockey rink. There were bleachers and the rink was modeled after the rink of the New York Rangers. Each team could select their own goal horn and uniforms for the game. My parents forced me to stay with my brother so that I could watch him. The only problem was we had conflicting wants; he wanted to explore the zoo and I wanted to play sports and explore the cruise ship. “I want to play sports and you want to explore the zoo, is there anything I can do for you?” I asked my brother.

“I might want to go back, but I might want to go to the zoo.”

I figured out his bargain and jumped at the opportunity. “I have 20 extra dollars. Will that do the job?”

“How did you manage to obtain these $20?”

“We had a short week, so it’s extra lunch money. Remember, we have open campus lunch.”

“You only spent $20 on lunch this week. That’s an all time low.”

“I only spent half of my money this week, honestly and truly.”

“We have ourselves a deal,” he replied.

I took him to our room, plopped him in front of the TV and set off on my own adventure.

I never wanted the day to end, there were so many activities that I could participate in. In the end, my final order was an hour of baseball, an hour of hockey, and then I would retrieve my brother and we could explore the zoo and visit the water park. I found out that we were on a ship with very athletic people. I was the youngest and probably the least skilled of all the people at the field. I was satisfied because they went easy on the worst players, so I had the top stat line of everyone there. I was so caught up in the action I realized that I had spent an extra hour on the baseball diamond. I had to rush to get my brother, so we could get to the zoo. The second I walked into the room my brother was giving me the evil eye. “What took you so long?”

“I got caught up in a baseball game, but now we can go to the zoo.”

“Fine, we should leave now.”

When we got to the zoo, the first thing we saw was the African part of the zoo. My brother marveled at the sights of every animal. A gazelle that could be seen anywhere, in any zoo was special to my brother. Going through the zoo was torture because I had seen all the animals ten trillion times. My brother and I don’t see eye to eye on zoos literally and figuratively. First he is shorter than me so our eyes don’t ever meet unless I’m kneeling. He also finds pleasure in staring at the same animals over and over at every zoo. He accuses me of being a hypocrite because I watch Sportscenter on the weekends over and over again. “Can we leave now?” I ask my brother.

“It will be a good 10 more minutes.”

“Great, another hour of this torture.”

“Why do you dislike zoos?” he asks me.

Fortunately I was prepared for the question. “The reason zoos don’t appeal to me is because they are stuck in captivity. I see no difference between photos and seeing an animal in captivity except that one is moving. Seeing an animal in the wild has a different feeling because it is more special because you are there seeing an animal that is in its home which makes it seem like a one time moment instead of an artificial feeling from captivity.”

“I understand your point, but it is still great to see animals that you might have not seen in the wild.”

“Fine, let’s get this over with.”

I realized my phone was buzzing in my pocket. I picked it up and answered it, my mom was on the other line.

“It’s time for dinner, so you need to wrap up and meet us at the room.”

“Okay, we will be there in 10 minutes.”

I turned off my phone and reported the “bad” news to my brother. We left the zoo and headed back to the room. When we got there our parents were waiting for us. My dad spoke first. “Kids, you have to make the most of your opportunities because this isn’t 2015, this ship moves pretty fast.”

Just then an announcement came over the loudspeaker. “We have hit an iceberg and we are going down. Families should proceed to the exit where a life raft will be taking them to the closest land possible.”

I was scared. It was the Titanic all over again. My brother and I were really scared, but our parents were comforting us. They kept telling us everything would be okay. I could tell from their facial expressions that they were not confident about our chances about getting back to New York City. We rushed to the exit and found that the captain wasn’t lying. There were members of the crew already lifting families into lifeboats. When everyone in my family was safely in the lifeboat I took a sigh of relief. I also made a promise never to go on a cruise ship again. Once we were safely on the lifeboat we were following the lifeboats ahead of us. After what felt like hours we finally reached a block of land that no one could figure out. My family went to explore the island while other people used whatever they salvaged from the wreck to make a makeshift campsite. My first impression of the island was that I could really enjoy this vacation. As we journeyed through the island we came across many fruits like coconuts and bananas. There were also birds, many lizards, and many unexpected inhabitants of the island. We spied on a family of jaguars. The second we saw them my brother understood my hatred for zoos. “You are definitely right about this — zoos take away the special feeling of actually seeing an animal in its natural habitat,” he told me.

“Speaking of natural habitats, why are there jaguars on this island?” I asked.

“We should explore a little bit more and see what other surprises we can find,” my mom chimed in.

We walked around the island but came across nothing special, but then we heard a scream coming from our campsite. “Help,” screamed someone.

We rushed to our campsite and came across something we were not expecting. The jaguars we had seen earlier had cornered our peers from the cruise. Instinctively my dad threw a coconut in the general direction of one of the jaguars. Surprisingly, it greedily chased the coconut. So then my mom, my brother, and I all picked up coconuts and threw them in the general direction of the jaguars. They all chased the coconuts as our peers scrambled to safety. Once they reached the top of the hill where we were standing they all thanked us. My mom suggested we do a head count. After the final count there were 42 people including us. There were 27 adults and 15 kids. After the head count we established a campsite and split up into 3 groups of 14. Each group was assigned a different job. The first group was assigned to build the shelter. The second group had to gather food and try to find fresh water, and finally the third group had the job of making weapons for hunting. I never imagined having jaguar and coconut for dinner. My family and I were in the second group. As long as we get saved I would have bragging rights over all my friends back in New York City. This might not have been my dream vacation, but we have the ability to make a fun vacation and probably get a refund. We could invest that money into a new video game console or an upgrade for my iPhone 5S. For right now I could only dream, but I look forward to a good future. The most depressing part was that there happened to be no cell service on the island, so we couldn’t contact anyone for help.

Even though we had explored the island, we went off again in search of food and a resource that provided fresh water that would not leave a salty taste in our mouths. In 20 minutes we had collected 90 coconuts, 54 bananas, and 28 unidentified fruits. As we went farther into the forest we came across many different surprises. The first surprise was some unexpected inhabitants of this mysterious island. We found pigs, chickens, and goats. I was elated — we could have pork and chicken. The second were crops of vegetables that I would have never willingly ate until today. Then we found an actual cottage. We rushed inside to find the owner. When we went inside I was hit with a rancid smell. I predicted it was a dead body. I wasn’t wrong. The owner was lying on the floor. I was the only one who took this as a blessing. I ran upstairs and started shoveling all of his possessions into a pile. When I went into the kitchen my mom was holding up things I would have never considered as delicacies. She found flour and sugar and bread. After all the supplies were rounded up, we ransacked his crops, and we now had potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes. We knew that with such a large group there was a high chance we would run out fast. When we got to the campsite, we divided up the loot equally. Since I was the one who discovered most of his inedible supplies I kept all the things from the upstairs to myself. I was surprised when the rest of the campsite awarded us the mattress that I had found. We were voted the leaders of the group for our bravery and our discoveries. Once the celebrations were over I realized we had forgot about the pigs, goats, and chickens that I had discovered earlier. I gathered my group from before and we went out to hunt these animals. When we got there we realized we had made a major mistake. The other animals around had gotten to the rest of the farm animals. It was finally night and we were ready to settle in for our first night in the mysterious island. Right before I dozed off I had an idea. I woke up my mom. “Mom, we should take the cabin for ourselves,” I said.

“We shouldn’t go alone. We should take other people who were in our group. We don’t want to be alone in case we get exiled. We don’t want this to be like Lord of the Flies where the numbers are disproportionately unfair to one side.”

We woke up the rest of our group, stole all of the weapons and all of the food. Once we were settled in, we actually had a good shot at surviving. We knew we were outnumbered, but we were athletic and we had the supplies. I created a nefarious plan for the next night that my peers agreed would definitely work. I finally fell asleep and when I woke up everyone was working hard outside.  When I went outside my mom sent me to the other men to hunt. When I finally found them, they had a large amount of dead animals. I had seen the wrath of a tiger on my family vacation to India, but I had never seen a pile of all those exotic animals. I screamed, “What are those?”

One of the men responded, “Your food for the rest of your life.”

“I’m going to eat jaguar for the rest of my life?”

“Shut up, we’re about to get a wolf and her babies,” my brother said.

“Screw you,” I snapped.

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry.”

“I feel kind of stressed, this experience has been really tough on me. Can I talk to you in private?” I asked him.  

When we walked over to the makeshift armory, I selected a wooden spear.

“Whatever you want, make it snappy,” he told me.

“Why am I the one taking charge if I’m only 13?” I asked him.

“You’re not, it’s just that you’ve just gotten lucky a couple of times.”

“Whatever you say, young child,” I said sarcastically.

“We should head back.”

“Ok,” I responded.

As we got back to the other men, I looked through the pile and I realized that we had good food and skilled hunters. They had goats and pigs, but also a tiger and giraffes. I decided to spy on the rest of the people who crash landed on the island. I didn’t want to go alone, so I fetched my brother. As we approached our old campsite we could hear faint voices to our left. I also heard faint voices to my right. We went to the right first. Fourteen people there were setting up a new campsite. On the left there were fourteen more people setting up a campsite. They were all preparing weapons for the war that was potentially coming in the future. I realized we had been spotted. Our cover was compromised. My brother and I had a huge advantage over everyone and we were armed. Everyone else had come nowhere close to finishing their weapons. We made it back way before anyone came close. I said to my brother, “When we get back home remind me to create a video game about our time on this island, this will make a lot of money.”

“True that.”

When we reached the cottage we reported the news to the rest of our group. My mom announced to the rest of the group, “We are extremely well hidden. Thank god for this guy who left us all these pleasantries, but my husband and I have a surprise that will give us an advantage. We found 2 fully loaded rifles, 3 loaded pistols, 1 machine gun, and 15 rounds of ammo. This is going to put us over the top.”

“Let’s catch the other groups by surprise — we should spare no one,” one of the men suggested.

“Advance!” my dad screamed.

We strolled through the bushes with confidence because we had two advantages, weapons and the element of surprise. We started with the machine gun. It totally caught everyone by surprise, we first shot at the people on our left with the machine gun and pistols and the people on our right with the rifles. There was so much blood everywhere, I felt like throwing up. “From everything we’ve been through, this is by far the worst,” I said to my brother while regurgitating my lunch of pork and coconut.

“Don’t worry,” I heard my brother respond.

After I counted 28 casualties, we went in and ransacked their supplies. While we were on the beach I noticed a ship in the distance, it was another Anthem of the Seas ship. I ordered one of the men the shoot one of the rifles in the air. We emptied one magazine, but the ship failed to notice us. We were so close but the ship never came, after our failed attempt we sat down on the blood spattered beach. My mom had the idea of icebreakers so that we could get to know the rest of the group. The two rules were that you had to find someone who was within 3 years of your age and they couldn’t be related to you. I was paired up with another person my age who was very nice. Her name was Sharon and I really liked her. I think I was in love for the first time in my life. My brother was nodding and egging me on. I got to know her a little bit better over the time with this one icebreaker. I found out that we have a lot in common; we both love Law and Order SVU and Chicago PD. I revealed my deepest secret about my opinion of this whole experience.

“I want to be respected at home, so I am using this as a way to earn respect. Honestly, this experience has been stressful and tough and there are just times when I can’t handle it. I want to be viewed as a strong person, but there are times when the reality of what is happening gets to me and I think that this conversation has led me to a place where I can think about the true effect of this experience. It’s like a Law and Order mass shootout, I am here to experience it in the moment. At home when I’m watching an episode of Law and Order I cover my eyes and get scared, but here I’m not alone or in the confinement of my home, I can’t be the weak fragile person I truly am. I want to present myself in the best way possible.”

She said, “I think this is another way for us to bond. I think part of the reason I stayed in the shadows is because this experience has been terrible. It was supposed to be a fun vacation for my parents, my older sister, and I. But I got separated from them and I don’t know where they are. And then as I end up on this island it gets worse and worse, all the blood and gore, I experience on TV but being here, experiencing it, puts it in a whole new dimension. Just when I thought, life couldn’t get any worse I meet you.” She broke down into tears and I did my best to comfort her.

“You can live with us back in the city.”

We were so caught up in the conversation that everyone had switched partners and my mom had switched the game. “I’d like you to meet my brother,” I told her. “We fight a lot, but rely on each other in the darkest of times,” I added on.

As I took her to him I was starting to doubt that I had made the right decision, because he had a lot of information about me. He knew some of my worst secrets and knew a lot about some of the bad things I have done. He repeatedly has caught me live streaming New York Rangers games when I was supposed to be doing homework. He knew things about my life at school that my parents had no idea about. In the end, I ended up going with my original decision and let her meet my younger brother. After all, we had been through a lot. I seriously doubted that he was going to jeopardize the impeccable record I had with my parents. I put my trust in him. If he lost my trust there was a high chance he would never get it back.

My brother was actually very cordial with Sharon. He was very warm and forthcoming. The three of us talked until dinner time and for the first time since arriving on the island, we had a full out feast. We had chicken in a coconut sauce with bananas for dessert. It was a delicious meal for a mysterious island. After dinner, we settled in for the night. All the kids were in the bedroom of the cottage and the adults took the bottom floor of the cottage. There were only 4 kids so we had a substantial amount of space. We agreed on a plan to alternate the mattress and the floor. My brother and I agreed to take the floor the first night. In the middle of the night, I needed to use the bathroom. I took out my flashlight and went through the house to explore and see if there was a bathroom with indoor plumbing. To my surprise, I found it. I was astonished. I wanted to keep this bathroom a secret, but I knew that this was impossible. After I got back I dozed off again and it was morning in a snap.

In the morning the men set out to hunt and the women stayed back to fix up the home. At the time we went out, there were no animals in sight.  It was a fail that left us very upset with ourselves. The island was a very suspicious place. The afternoon was spent playing games and hanging out. I spent time with my brother and Sharon. Being on this island opened up a whole new world for me. In the end I think that I’m starting to enjoy my life on the island.


 It lies on the dusty shelf of the living room

coffee table.

A placeholder

to fill in the empty grey spaces

when guests arrive.

Woven navy cover

dark threads containing

the shy, protruding spine

and fading gold gilded letters:

Atlas of the World.

You’d flip through the thick sections

when there was nothing to do,

and the sky was so heavy,

and the sunlight so strained.

It suffocated your thoughts,

but those pages weren’t like those cheap paperbacks

you’d find, discarded in a bookstore’s pungent corner.

They were almost… alive,

heavy, smooth, warm under your fingertips.

The strong steady blue

punctuated by splashes of blooming land,

rough borders that embrace

like long lost lovers.

You’d turn through those maps

and they would breathe shaky swallows,

rattling the house,

tearing down the rafters,

whispering of places that are waiting,

wild, green, and patient

for you.

This Place Called Home


I come from a place where quarters are

tailored as lustrous silver buttons

strung together with the residue riches

of small town life.

The houses are planted like

impeccable lego ziggurats

with their roots clutching on

for generations too long;

and the children here beam with

straight white pearls

that reflect off the silver linings of

embellished rusty clouds.


Here–the crime rates are as low

as the stress is high

with the nerve picking pressure

of decisions to be made.

Gaping mouths and parched throats,

gasping for four magic words:

fame, money, success, power,

fame, money, success, power.

There is a constant velvet pretense

masking closed plastic doors

and an incessant gloom smothered

with upper class glamour.


Just last week, I saw a girl with depletion

carved on her forearms.

Her eyes

are still sketched in my mind.

And yes,

clean classrooms have taught me

exhaustion in three different languages,

but I’m still more drained than

these tongues will know.

I come from a town known for its

lustrous silver buttons,

but here,

smiles are bought with pennies.


10:00 p.m. I should probably be going to bed.

I turn on my lamp and turn off the main light, plunging myself into bed. I prop my leg up on my nightstand, right in the lamplight. The light illuminates my leg, revealing stout and short hairs. They dance in the light. They sing to me. Pick me, pick me. I lick my lips.

I pluck my tweezer from the drawer on my nightstand. I click it a few times, listening to the clank of metal on metal. Slowly, I bring the tweezer to my leg. I grasp a hair. Pull it out. Savor the delicious spark it creates in my nerves. I crave it. I crave more.

I pull, hair after hair, from my leg. The tweezer does an elaborate dance across my skin, biting my prey and swallowing it. I can feel the little hair vanishing from my leg, pulled up by its roots, like a child picking a flower. I have been waiting all day for this, for the quiet time before bed when I can pull at my luxury, aided by the tweezer.

While picking at my leg, I think about my day. I think about how hard it is to pull with just my nails, with the prying eyes of teachers and classmates. I remember them asking what I was doing, assuming I was peeling my skin, and turning away in disgust. But it’s worth it. Each pull brings a sting that feels like beauty in the form of what most people call pain.

I tire of plucking my right leg and move to my left leg. It feels just as good, just as worth the time. When I finish, I stick my foot on the table and scour it for hairs. I pick at a mound of skin that holds an ingrown hair. It bursts open and the hair leaps out, wriggling around, glad for freedom. I take it. I pull it. The nerves send the feeling to my brain. I do another one.

I do the other foot. The logical part of my head screams for me to drop the tweezers, to turn off the lamp, to lie down and charge up for school tomorrow. I don’t listen. I can’t listen. I don’t care. I climb up my body. Legs again. Thighs. I savor the delicious feast of removing hair.

Next, I do the stubby, prickly hairs in my pubic area. I open my underwear and look down, selecting the thick, black hairs to rip out.

Armpits. Hands. Fingers. I slowly become full from my feast. Slowly.

Upper lip. Nostrils. The tweezers go everywhere I need them to go, sliding out hairs like drawers slide out of cabinets.

I lay the tweezer down. Some hairs stick out of it, but most litter the nightstand and the carpet in between the nightstand and the bed. Still, my body begs for more. It wants the stress-relieving reap of the harvest. But I can’t do more. I need to sleep.

11:00 p.m. I turn off the lamp.

I am ashamed. I could have gone to bed early. I should have. But I chose not to. Instead, I pulled. The logical part of my brain yells at me. I need to control myself. Everyday, I promise myself that next time I will go straight to bed. Everyday, I break that promise.


It seems that I will always be a trichotillomaniac.

Umber (Excerpt)

Chapter One

She walked out of the room, tears still pouring down her face. It was her fault, all her fault, that no one had come back. She had been the one to convince them. She told them it would be an adventure. Then she had backed out; she had been too scared to go. Her brother, her sister, her parents went on while she stayed home awaiting their return. No bodies were ever found.

She had lost everything that day, and now had to turn to the one person she had sworn to never turn to. She despised herself every day for having to turn to him. She hadn’t seen him since her parents had told him to get out of the house. They had shouted at him that he was a traitor and he was no son of theirs. She had been a mere eight-year-old, and had watched the scene through the crack in the door. She watched the feet storm around the small room as if in some strange ethereal dance.


She turned, her tangled black hair whipping and almost hitting him in the face. He took a step back and she gave a small nod in apology.

“You forgot this,” he handed her a crisp white envelope and she tried not to let her fear at this trivial mistake show.

“Thank you.” Her small, but crisp voice rang through the silent hallway. She tried to sound as though she didn’t care, as though she had no feelings. She tried to hide all her emotions, and for a moment, it was as though the crack in her heart that had started when her brother left had broken completely. A moment later it was gone and the man looking at her had to wonder if it had been there at all.

It was as though, for a split second, she actually had traces of humanity left in her. Traces that were otherwise abolished or concealed. Then it was gone, as swiftly as it had come. The shivering man walked back into his office and to the mounds of new, but not entirely unexpected, paperwork that lay before him.

The girl turned and ran her finger over the large scar on her shoulder, then on the smaller ones that dotted both of her arms. A sign of triumph, of success, of bravery. To her, they meant none of that. They were a sign of the cowardice she had shown on one day, and how one small act was all it took to change everything.

She was trying hard to not let the tears show. She wiped them away one more time, adjusted her tank top, and walked through the front doors. She stared at the way people walked away from her. She couldn’t understand why, then she remembered about the large scar that ran in a crescent from eye to lip. It was supposed to show her bravery. She had gotten it from the latest fight and knew it had been broadcasted everywhere. Warrior battles often were. She tried to ignore the stares of gross fascination from linguists, mages, and artisans, as she walked through the heavily populated streets to the train. She pressed her living sector and waited for a purple train to take her away from all the staring eyes and abruptly self-conscious people. Where she was going, no one would look twice at her. She would be just another monotone face in the crowd, and those who did recognize her would know better than to stare.


She turned and saw Dane standing next to her. She shoved the dagger, which had been drawn out of instinct, back into her boot and glared at him. He creased his eyebrows slightly, making the scar that ran across his forehead crease. The center of the scab peeled off, making a drop of blood run down his face.

“You know, if you keep doing that, that wound will never heal,” she responded in a hushed voice. He glared at her before doing it again.

“How’d today go?”


“You mean terrible?”

“Obviously,” she replied sarcastically. Dane was one of three who could detect the fear and anxiety that still traced her voice and he knew instantly why.

“You know, you could have picked another sponsor. I’m sure they’d be lining up to be with you.” Dane’s tone was kind and consoling, but she could sense the hidden bitterness behind those words. He had wanted so badly to be first, he had been born for it. His family had trained him and even at age seven, he had been ranked first even before the ten-year-old recruits.

“Actually, no one else wanted me, thought the battles were all staged.”

“What?” Dane’s voice sounded shocked which barely concealed his savage pleasure at her being turned away.

“He blackmailed them all, I expect, so they’ll have to go with the next best, which just so happens to be you.” Her voice was listless, hopeless, and defeated. A tone no warrior with any pride would ever use. Dane was shocked at the way she gave up. He didn’t know her past. Didn’t know why the girl dreaded being anywhere close to her new sponsor. All he knew was that he could have a chance at beating his best friend.

He stared at her as she responded with a weak nod, then looked out to the dead grass and fallen trees that accompanied every train ride.

The sky was a strange greenish yellow color today. It had changed slightly from the green-grey that it had been for the last few weeks. She stared at it for awhile, watching the swirling clouds and flashing sun. In between two clouds, she could just make out the exploding star in the distance.

She remembered sitting up on the roof with her brother and sister. A single tear slipped out of her eye and dropped onto the floor. Dane looked at her, but didn’t move. He knew better than to move.

She brushed past the others, ignoring their shouts of indignation. She didn’t care what they thought; they all knew she could beat them to an inch of their life if she wanted to.

“Bye then.” Dane’s voice was a forced monotone that she knew all too well.

They are watching us, always, and we can’t help you although we wish we could, was what she forced into her mind, as she fought to keep another wave of tears back.

“Bye,” she said, choked up, then ran back towards her house. She couldn’t believe that she was crying in public. The last time she had done that was when she was eight. When she learned the price of her cowardice.

She sprinted past people, turning one way and another. They all had some marks on them, at least one mark that showed they were warriors. They got their first on the day they were taken from their families. At age eight, a person is deemed whether they are to stay with their family and be trained, or if they are to be ripped away screaming and become a warrior or a chieftain. As a warrior, you are trained rigorously, without rest, to become the perfect soldier, to think of no one. They are human after all, so society accepts they can not be perfect. So, they must only be imperfect with other warriors. No artisans, linguists, mages, and most importantly, no chieftains can see them weak. As for chieftains training, everyone would rather be a warrior, even if it means certain death.

The girl lay on her bed, thinking about her family. They knew something. She had decided that, who had told the government that they knew? The answer came to her lips effortlessly, the person she despised the most, the person she had sworn never to talk to again, the person who was now her sponsor. Him… she couldn’t think about him anymore. She couldn’t go back to who shewho they both used to be.

She jumped up abruptly and the unsturdy building shook with her. Below, she heard the sounds of startled warriors jumping to their feet as well. She had shown so much weakness that, had she not been the best fighter in Umber, she would have been eradicated. Glancing in the mirror, she stood shocked at her face, it was white with streaks of red showing where her red tears had fallen.

Her eyes were a bloodshot blue, and her black hair was lying knotted and messy but almost perfectly straight. With her blood red lips she looked like a vampire. Letting out a soft laugh at the thought of vampires, she grabbed her washing basin. Her face returned to its usual pale white and her eyes were already shifting back to its dark swirling purple.

She stared into her own eyes and felt as though she was being transported to another place. A place where she would be safe. A place where she could be happy. A place where she could do whatever she wanted. The thought of safety was so comforting that she started smiling. Then she realized it was all fake. She was not safe. They saw everything, heard everything, knew what everyone was thinking. The illusion of safety was all it ever would be, an illusion. Even her closest friends couldn’t be trusted. They had all been trained with one instinct burned into every sinew of every muscle, of every cell, of every bone in their bodies survival of the fittest.

She walked out, sword swinging menacingly on her hip and watched as warriors nodded to her, acknowledging her record time to return to unfeeling. It was a bit of a game between them, who could recover the fastest after a weakening. She smirked to herself, she had beat her own record by 13 minutes.

“Warriors!” They all turned as one to see a mage standing in the center of the commons. It was a grassy field where the warriors practiced in their free time. A mage had set up an enchantment where anyone who died on the field would resurrect a few minutes later. She grinned faintly to herself, this would be interesting.

“At the end of this week, we are starting the Tournament.”

Murmurs of excitement rippled throughout the commons. The Tournament happens once every four years. During the Tournament warriors take longer to come back the more they are killed during the games. If you are killed too many times, you never come back. It removes the weakest, leaving only the strongest alive.

The girl smirked and snorted softly to herself. She planned to win to prove she wasn’t weak, to prove the death of her family made her stronger, not weaker. To prove that she was stronger than who she used to be.

A D-i-s-s-i-p-a-t-i-n-g Sting

I was climbing in my favorite tree when I heard a ruffle in the bushes. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew there was trouble. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I remained in the tree for two hours until I knew what vicious predator was in the haunted shrubs. It was probably a sabertooth cat, or at least, something like that. I wasn’t sure, but whatever it was, it wanted me. I looked around and saw everything that I was so familiar with. The tree with a white birch trunk, the neon orange berry that had been sitting there for so long. I listened to the babbling river about 300 feet south. I could never find a place quiet enough to listen to water in Philly.

As soon as I had gotten home, I grabbed my bicycle, dropped off my backpack, and headed straight to the woods. I couldn’t take another second in the house. Yesterday, my parents decided to throw away all of my childhood photos, toys, clothes, and everything that I had ever made or constructed when I was a kid. There was one photo that they disposed of that I loved more than any other: the one of my parents and I laughing with each other in the baseball game. But they threw it all in the trash. Instead of my precious childhood bedroom, my parents prioritized a storage room that would most likely go unused.

The river was the only thing that kept me from losing my sanity. The river was the one thing that I could always count on to be there. It put me at ease and was why I kept on going back day after day, week after week.

If I didn’t have that one small stream, I don’t know what I would do. I smelled an aroma that I could never smell in the city. The fragrance of moist dew made me know that I was safe and stress free. Even though I had so much on my plate in terms of school and my family, I liked to go to this one spot in the forest and relax.

But as I felt the rough bark of the maple that I was leaning against, I sensed the ruffling again. A shock went straight through my body as if I had been electrocuted. First my arms began to become stiff, then my legs, and then I froze. Why did it have to be now that I couldn’t move? For all I know, it could be on me right now and injecting poison into my body. After what felt like hours, my arms and legs started to feel fine again and I scampered right down the tree as soon as I could.

This meant one thing that I didn’t want to have to do: go back to my house and my parents. Normally, I would stay in the forest until it got dark after my parents had already left to go to their dumb jobs at the bar. I guess I would just try to avoid them and study for the spelling bee. It’s not like they would come anyways. I took my bike, and rode home intentionally slowly. When I got home I started to sprint up the stairs to my room. My dad stopped me and snapped at me saying, “Hey kid — ”  

I stopped him. “Leroy, my name is Leroy.”

He continued, “Your mother thinks that I should not take full ownership of the bar, but I disagree.” I had already stopped paying attention. I noticed that my mom had also stopped taking him seriously. She knew that whatever she said, her husband would have had some disagreeing retort. He continued, “Life’s about taking risks. I want to do what I want, but she’s holding me back!” He went on to ramble for another five minutes, but I didn’t listen. After about three more minutes of dispute and loud bickering, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Listen! Both of you have a point, but solve it on your own,” I yelled as I walked away. My dad shot me a cold look of disappointment, which nearly made me tear up. Why did they have to do it? They couldn’t just be like any other parents that I know and get along. They couldn’t go on any trips or vacations, couldn’t go on bike rides, couldn’t go to any of my spelling bees, couldn’t even get me a gift for my birthday. Well actually they got me an “Ericksen’s Bar” baseball hat that was 80 percent off on a dusty shelf in right above the bathroom sign. To me that classifies more as a gift with air quotes.

I spent the day at school feeling agitated, wondering if my parents would ever get along like normal. Normal. It seems so simple, but it’s not. At least for my parents. Whatever. I searched for the sting on my body, although, to be honest, I forgot where it was. I knew it was there, I just couldn’t seem to find it. All of a sudden it came back to me, I felt a small pinch in my arm. I said out loud, “Ow.” I don’t really know why, it just felt sorta good to say it out loud. The next moment, my mom came inside the room and asked me if I was alright. That took me for a surprise. I muttered to her, “Yeah, I’m fine,” even though I wasn’t. Later that night, while I was surfing my dictionary, I kept wondering why my mom showed concern. It could have been for something dumb like maybe to one-up my dad, but whatever it was, I actually enjoyed it.

The next day, something even weirder happened. I was about to walk to school, but she stopped me. She asked me “Leroy, why don’t you come to a couple doctor  appointments  with me and show the doctor your injury?” She didn’t even know what it was, but I accepted nevertheless. Is this what it felt like to have a mother that cared? If so, it seemed like I could get used to it. Apparently, she had made two appointments already which I was willing to skip school to go to.

“Mom, why are you so caring all of a sudden?”

“No reason,” she muttered. I saw her look down in shame. I knew there was a reason, but I didn’t feel like asking her any more questions. I felt the stinging once again. I winced in pain. My mom held me as if I was about to faint. She asked, “Are you alright Leroy?” I nodded a bit nervously.

For the next two weeks everything seemed to fall into place. My mom actually asked me about my homework and made sure that I got it done. She also picked me up from school instead of going home on the filthy bus. I insisted I didn’t need her to do it, but she did not cease, and it felt great. Even my dad, the most stoic person I knew, the person who reads science books every night, had a conversation with me. He actually seemed to enjoy talking to me.

“Hey son.” Son, I found that name delightful. “Do you need any help with your homework?” I thought about my science homework, I didn’t need much help, but I took advantage of the opportunity and let him help me. We worked on physics, and believe it or not, he actually gave me some helpful information.

I asked, “Dad, you know a lot about science and you’re obviously interested in it, why don’t you become a scientist or even a science teacher?”

“Oh, that dream was exterminated as soon as your mom got pregnant.”

I was shocked and decided it was not right to ask him anything more.

“Okay,” I murmured, “I think that I understand the science now, thanks.”

He trudged away. Although I did feel bad, the conversation was an eye-opening discussion and my dad actually talked to me about something besides the dirty bar.

I couldn’t help but follow my dad to his room and stand outside the door. I heard a loud bang on the table and then muttering. My mom, overhearing the anger, tried to placate him. She mentioned, “Karl, I know you have aspired to be a scientist for a long time but now that Leroy is in our lives you must focus on him.” I felt honored in a way. I had never heard my parents speak about me that way. I went back to my room pleasantly. They had finally treated me with value, but this “special treatment” had only lasted about a week so far, I doubted it would carry on.

Finally the day of the Philadelphia spelling bee had arrived. It felt as though there was ice in my veins. I couldn’t wait. Weeks of training had led to this one moment. I saw the crowd, all 30 of them, anticipating the success of their own children. My parents were actually there. I had barely even mentioned the spelling bee to them before, but they showed up, and I couldn’t be more energized. They were even holding each other’s hands as if they were nervous for me. Everyone was practicing spelling as if it would help them. I saw parents holding up flashcards to test their kid’s spelling.  There was a buzz in the air as everyone came to their seats. Chills ran down my back as I approached the lectern. The first word the moderator gave to me was claustrophobia. I spelled out C-L-A-U-S-T-R-O-P-H-O-B-I-A. I heard the noise of approval from the moderator’s table. I felt very relieved. That serene peace of the river ramble flashed in my head and I was ready. All of a sudden, the thought of the stinging and pain came back to me, but this time I was over it, I didn’t let it bother me. I went up to give my next answer. The word was “conservative.” I spelled it wrong but that didn’t matter, I still received applause from my parents. That was all I needed, that was all I wanted.

Save Me For I Am Amazing

Dear Great One, a.k.a. the one who brought me into existence… using a wonderful ballpoint pen,

I regret to “inform” you that I fear I am to die soon, but as the writer of my tale, my dear, you knew that already. I implore you to reconsider my upcoming demise. After all, you gave me a family to love and cherish, despite my obvious abandonment issues. I know that I have been fortunate the last two years of my life, what with overcoming my obvious abandonment issues and finding people who love me and will continue to love me as much as I love them. Ahhhh, I remember the days when the unrequited love I felt was a daily occurrence. Thanks to you it ‘twas not to be. And I know I should not be pestering you with my problem, DEATH, but really DEATH.

We both are aware of your disorganized persona, but we also are both led to believe you need to be organized because you are afraid of the messy world. Due to our, shall we say, looming abandonment issues. One last thing before I list all the reasons why you shouldn’t kill me, because I fear you won’t be convinced and then I will DIE without my last question having been answered. I will die with my last question just a whisper in the night. My last question is… did you give me abandonment issues because of yours? Because that would be a truly horrible fate for me just because of your trifles in life. Without further ado,

My list:

  1. I am a good listener.
  2. I am sarcastic. Amusingly so.
  3. I am not rude to anyone but you.
  4. I have abandonment issues, so take pity on a kind soul.
  5. I have shown others what little love there is in my heart.
  6. I am observant.
  7. I am the first character you ever loved to write about and created a happily ever after for.


The Person You Love To Hate


Post Scriptum: your readers love me more than you so they will abandon you and add to your abandonment issues.


Dear Declan (pronounced the clan),

I noticed that you didn’t include your actual name in your letter. I regret to “inform” you, even though you already knew this, I detest your ambiguity. I can see you laughing right now because we both know you are just a figment of my imagination, yet I am talking to you. That doesn’t make me crazy… right? Okay, now I am officially insane. You go off your meds for one day. And now you are shaking your head and laughing. STOP! You are displaying an utter disregard for my feelings on the subject of my craziness. Now, I see you shaking your head amusedly at my mumblings.

You got me sidetracked. The point of me taking time out of my busy day of book signings, meet and greets, and meetings about a movie deal — might I add, to show you the time I don’t have for you — was to address your inquiries as to your death. So, I am going to kill you off. I guess I am sorry to see you go, but think of all the buzz. Buzz like the swarm of bees that are going to kill you. Buzz sparked by the inevitable distress of my — sorry — your fans. The fangirls will write alternate endings,  freak out, and blog or whatever else their kind does. My — sorry again — your fans will not abandon me due to your death because that would mean abandoning you. You are me after all, but only a small part. That is how I know that you are currently going on and on about how I make you feel insecure about your worth. Also, your list was bothersome because you didn’t list any reasons. Author to author your argument was weak and not very put together. I assume that your sub par writing stems from writing in an idyllic world where your writing is not critiqued and scrutinized down to the use of a comma in the 52nd sentence of your 5th book. Also, you are a man, that probably helps matters.

I might as well answer your last question. I am so glad I get to say that because I was never going to get a break from your nagging. I did not give you abandonment issues because of my own, so stop being so dramatic. Woman up!

In conclusion, watch out for the buzzing in your ears.



The Woman Warning You About the Bees


My dear, one last thing before you can’t hear me anymore: don’t EVER address me as my dear, it is condescending.

The Telephone Wants to Retire


She is tired of sending wired hugs

she no longer wants to hear tearful goodbyes

and screaming hurts her electronic ears

She has already learned the code of voices

the nervous giggles of first date calls

the half hungover messages to work

and the infamous breakup over a call


new generations of little girls and boys

say they prefer text anyways

they hate the sounds of their own voice

She now knows the difference between

a sister and a roommate and a cousin once removed

the obvious contrasts of

mother and a mom and beloved mommy

and she knows if the news is good or bad

just by how they say hello.


Numb Until Now

Nothing seemed real.

T.V. shows didn’t matter. Holidays seemed fake. Happiness seemed unobtainable. There were those joyful moments, they were tiny, but still there.

I fell.

I fell hard.

I fell into my head, into the deepest part of my mind, for a long time it passed in a blur. It lasted the entirety of sixth grade, and left me in a tough position. I can’t remember that year. It was nothing. Memories didn’t stick. I just remember that feeling, the crippling feeling of nothing. Just numbness. I had lost my brother, and myself. I lost them to other people, substances, and materials; I was not good enough for them. I don’t think anything was.

If you asked anyone, they would say I was happy or always laughing. No one saw, and no one asked. I don’t blame them. I didn’t realize I was such a good actor.

Those who did,

I lied to.

My mind would scream help, but my tongue would tie and say, “I’m fine.”

Fine became my favorite word. I walked a long and lonely road. I folded up and only walked by myself. It was dark and lonely and I was always prodded with thoughts… dark thoughts.

“Are you sure people will like that?” They would ask, judgmental eyes sizing me up.

“Yeah, I like it,” I would answer.

“All the more reason to change,” they would snicker back.

They always won. They didn’t care. Their goal was to hurt me. At first I believed they couldn’t be stopped and no one would help to stop them. They would judge my jokes, how I talk and dress. I’ve built a fence, big enough to keep them out. Although, they find a way in. They do come back. They climb up my brain and stick their sharp fangs into my mind and begin to suck the hope, happiness, and confidence I had found. Now I have defenders, people I trust, and myself. When I ask them questions the always give me a positive answer.

“Is that okay?” I would ask, waiting for them to beat me down.

“Of course. That’s great,” they would answer.

It was a new attitude. Something I was trying, and I decided that those monsters that came back were worth fighting. That sickening feeling they gave me didn’t have to be permanent. The girl who felt lost and sad, who needed someone but that one person was gone, didn’t have to be me.

That person came back.

My brother had come back, as well as his new girlfriend. With them they brought the monsters.

They came back telling me I had lost my brother to yet another thing. I built a relationship with that girl and she also gave me those positive words.

“Jemma, it’s perfect.” She would smile.

The monsters were shocked; they didn’t believe I had broken my shell and grown. There I was suddenly, armed with a sword and shield ready to fend for myself. The monsters fled and I was given more confidence. Now I walk the road with my new attitude and my new tools.

I’m ready to take on the world.


Blue sky, black birds, and fresh warm air. I stand up in the crazing atmosphere and find myself standing in the center of technicolor. Why am I here? And where is ‘here’? Now snow is twinkling from the beautiful clear sky. This must be a dream. I have to wake myself up from this crazy and obnoxious dream. I have to get out of my bed and go to school before my mom kills me. But, I can’t wake up. So I pinch myself. Harder. Stronger. Nothing happens. Pain doesn’t even exist. From a distance, I see a person coming towards me. I can see that it’s a girl based on her long, silky, and beautiful brunette hair. She is wearing a white gown. Miles apart from her, I can see a tall man with another woman, holding each other’s hands. I can see their bare feet and their ghostly, pale-white skin. What a peaceful dream. Maybe it would be better if I don’t wake up. Suddenly, the girl wearing the white gown approaches my right side and quietly whispers, “This is real, this isn’t real, this is real….”


“So Marina, why did Dr. Kepler write this love poem based on his vision of photography instead of the first woman he met?” Mr.West asks me, carefully. I am in English class. Did I really just fall asleep — so long that I had a dream? What a shame.

“Um… because — uh… oh photography… yeah because umm…” I never struggle to answer questions — especially in English — where my focus is so strong that I get straight A’s all the way. I can feel everyone’s eyes and faces on me like bees stinging on my skin.

I never want to or even think of disappointing Mr.West. He is the best teacher. In fact, he is more than just a teacher to me. He is the reason I bother to get up and go to school. His hysterical sense of humor always brightens my day.

“Well… Marina, would you like give it another try?” He looks at me — I can tell he is worried. I am worried too.

“Yeah — I uh… I think — ’’

“Looks like you lost track of our reading session. Why?” he shrugs and forces himself to grin. “It seems a little too boring for you?” he teases.

I hear a laugh coming from behind me. Gossip from fangirls and skinny cheerleaders; I’m screwed.

“Mr. West… I — I didn’t mean to — ”

“Atta girl, take a joke now will you? And save those daydreams for later.” He winks at me and then walks away in silence, a sign of tranquility but also disgrace.

“Anyone else like to give it a try?”

“Me! Mr. West, I would love to correct Ms. Marina with her sweet dreams,” Stella Maxwell says. Of course she would be the one to correct someone like me at this moment with that filthy attitude.

“Alright Stella to the max, let’s see what you’ve got.” Did Mr. West seriously just call her “Stella to the max”? Or is he just messing around? I hope he’s not getting flirty with her the way she always sends blossoms to him.

“Thank you, Mr. West. Dr. Kepler didn’t intend to write this poem based on photography, but instead to theorize the retrospective of life and death in order to visualize his past life as well as human reincarnation, shown, in general, from the hidden messages in such photos, especially those from the 1800s.”

“Good, Stella! I don’t think there is any other better way to put that in a sentence. Nice job.” He patted her on shoulder.

Oh, I wish this was still a dream.


I walk into the girl’s bathroom. Swearing with middle-finger drawings and other gang symbols on the wall, an ugly scent, and thank god — empty stalls! No one would have to hear my irritable, god-made, yellow-nurtured liquid flowing in between my legs.

“You can’t carry that shit around!” a girl yells as she slams the door to the bathroom. Great. An angry cat fight. “And you can’t be in here!” Is she talking to me?

“Why you gotta be like that?” a guy’s voice. Arrogant. I quickly try to grab toilet paper until I feel emptiness; the little white leftover spots are all that is sticking on to the finished roll of cardboard. I just close my eyes and cross my fingers, hoping for teleportation to exist.

“You carrying that around is going to get you kicked out of school for good.”

I hold my breath and pray that they don’t notice my bright pink ugly shoes that my blind step-grandmother bought me last week. I appreciate her affection toward me, even though I’m not her real granddaughter, but I hate all the things that she buys me (especially since she thinks of me as her ‘little princess’). I feel the sweat of hopelessness all over my body. I close my eyes tighter, as if I’m ready to die. They are arguing like crazy and I assume he’s carrying a gun. I barely listen to the conversation — all I can really hear is the two calling each other names like stupid little kids.

“Put that thing down, you asshole!”

“Don’t you ever try to tell me what to do. Do you think I’m scared to blow this whole stupid school up, huh? ‘Cause that’s what I’ma do if you don’t shut the hell up!”

“YOU STUPID SCHOOL TERROR — ” The girl stops talking; the guy has covered his hand over her mouth so she won’t talk back. The moment I hear a gunshot is a moment of such extreme hatred and anger that all I can do was disappear.


Green grass. I look around and remember that I’ve been here before, not so long ago. I’m right; the light blue sky and the aroma of crisp morning air — I am dreaming again. How-how am I dreaming? The last thing I remember is sitting on the toilet in one of the stalls in the girls bathroom. Did I get too tired and bored from their conversations? No, that can’t possibly be the reason — I was in this same dream 15 minutes ago in English class. Nothing makes sense now and this can’t just be a ‘dream.’ It feels so realistic: the birds — I even hear the birds chirping peacefully, the babies crying for food. I start to walk toward the chirping sounds and touch the tall grass, feeling comfort at last. I close my eyes, knowing this is a good time for me to feel restful and free. Maybe the only time. My body moves through space with grace and wonder until —

I fall down, not knowing what bumped me. I lie all the way down and I still don’t feel pain so I wait. I wait until I can wake up again but this time sitting on the toilet, my pants not on yet and listening to the cat fuss. But I don’t wake up. I still sense the fresh air, the warm comfort around me, and the sound of birds chirping remains. I open my eyes. I’m lying on the tall green grass and suddenly feel pain.

Somewhere on my body hurts so much, it’s as if a tiger just tore me in half. I touch my face and feel a slight bump on my forehead. I see a dark brown, rough plank of wood standing on its own, from about a mile away. Is that what caused the pain? I get a closer look and realize how stupid and insipid my observation and thoughts were — a plank of wood can’t just stand on its own; it’s obviously a tree. As I walk closer to the tree, step by step, I feel something strange and bumpy from beneath my feet. I look down and see the hard roots of the tree sticking out heavily like green veins popping out on a person’s skin, especially when they work out like a monster. It looks scary, though it is better than witnessing someone get shot and feeling helpless. (Is that what I saw? Or what I heard? Or what I felt?)

Then I see the bright green leaves hanging on like clothes to the naked branches, making the whole thing look like a tree. The naked branches somewhat remind me of myself while the green leaves represent hope that surrounds me. I wonder what happens when the wind blows off all the leaves — will I then be left hopeless? I feel the roughness of the branches and remember all the sorrow and despair I went through in the past when one car accident left my whole family behind except for me.

I step back as the memories invade my body and soul. Why didn’t I die in peace with my family? Why did I make that attempt to escape? I regret every second of that moment even if my parents wouldn’t feel the same way, since they would probably want me alive. But maybe being alive isn’t the solution to everything.

I go back to the chirping sounds and see a bird fly off from its nest. The bird is as black as the midnight sky, and reminds me of the girl in the white gown I saw in my other dream. It flies around in circles above me, and I wonder why it’s dancing around at the same spot repeatedly. I walk away from the spot to see if it’ll still stay at the same place. It follows me and then flies off about a half mile away. It stops again and seems as if it’s waiting for me to walk towards the same spot. I think I get it now; the bird is leading to my waking life.

Next thing I know, crispy bacon is all I smell.


I wake up. Not in the bathroom, but in my room — on my bed. My alarm is still on, making loud drum sounds. 6:00 a.m., Saturday, March 18th. Gosh, why did I set my alarm clock to six in the morning on a weekend?

“Marina, are you awake yet? I made you some good old bacon!” That’s where the crispy scent came from. Wait, did my step grandmother just say she made bacon? Oh no, I’m going to die — we’re all going to die!

“Gran, are you crazy?!” I hear her footsteps on the stairs and by my door. I sit up in bed and look down to see that I am wearing a white gown. I don’t have time to think about it. “You don’t have any eyes — Gran, you’re blind!” Gran pushes open my door. “Can you see me — are you okay? Did you forget your memory — do you have Alzheimer’s — ?” What am I doing? I can’t say that to an 80-year-old woman! Gosh, am I crazy? “Gran I — I’m sorry — ”

She is holding a plate of bacon in her hand. “You know I learned it from the Maple Store down the road. You know there’s a club there every Thursday for blind people to learn the basic things normal people can do, you silly goose. I got the hang of it and now I can turn on the stove, the T.V., and even go to the bathroom by myself, just like the good old days.” She laughs and passes me the plate of burnt bacon.

“Thanks Granny. My, it looks delicious! I can’t wait to dive into this plate — should I pretend to be a dog and eat it with my bare hands for your humor, Ms. I-Know-How-to-Do-Everything?” I give an exaggerated voice, hoping for her to catch that.

“Huh? Oh, right, I’m sorry, the fork — I know I put it here somewhere….” She starts to pat her apron.

“Gran!” Suddenly, I smell something really intense and bad — something like smoke or fire. I lurch out of bed and run down the stairs and the kitchen is on fire.

“Gran — Gran, hurry up — get outside!” The fire spreads across the kitchen rapidly and is now blocking the front door. I run back up the stairs to get her.

“Gran — watch out!”


“Like a fire spreading its flames, life and death has its own frame.” Mr. West? Was that the last sentence of the poem? Wait — what happened to the fire — and Granny?

“As you guys can see from the poetic and passionate flow in his poem, Dr. Kepler had a high interest in photography for a specific reason.” He looks at me and I know what is coming after that.

“So Marina, why did Dr. Kepler write this love poem based on his vision of photography instead of the first woman he met?” This time, I’m lucky. I don’t have to feel stings on my skin, nor worry about disappointing Mr. West.

“Of course, Dr. Kepler didn’t intend to write this poem based on photography but instead to theorize the retrospective of life and death in order to visualize his past life — and oh as well as human reincarnation, in general, from the hidden messages and secrets in such photos, and especially those from the 1800s.”

“Wow, that — I don’t think — ” Mr. West starts.

“I know, there is no other better way to put that in a formal sentence, thank you,” I finish his sentence. Mr. West stares at me for a moment with a strange look on his face that is both amused and shocked.

“Wha — how — ? I mean, yes, that was amazing! Good — good Marina, great job.” He pats me on the shoulder, the same way he did to Stella before. This really makes me feel like a superhero or simply a cool smartass. I can see Stella’s surprised face too as she turns around.

I have to go to the bathroom again. Just as I did before. As I walk out the door, the fire alarm starts pounding through the hallways and I cover my ears. This did not happen before, did it?

“Everyone get out, now!” Mr. West yells. “Hurry, there’s no time for yapping, get your butts out of here!”

“Hey! Marina, you don’t really have time to go to the bathroom,” Mr. West says.

“I’ll be quick, I promise!” I say as I slip in.  

I walk into the girls bathroom for the second time. The third stall was where I hid out before — listening to a fight held by both a girl and a guy I still don’t know. Of course, this time I did my business quickly, but then I found myself morbidly waiting in the stall to see if they would come. But no one came. Was it the fire drill? Could that have altered reality? I sneak out the bathroom door and find an empty hallway, but I smell smoke and run out of the closest exit, panting, running — I can’t see — is everyone across the street?

My legs don’t know what’s good for them and start crossing the street — I see the car coming but I can’t move — my stupid legs crumple from the impact.


Snowy evening. My parents pull the car up to the curb in front of the high school — the music is still at its highest volume. I am wearing a beautiful white gown that shines through the dark.

“So how was it?” my dad asks as I open the door to the back seat. “Why did you want to leave so early?”

“Did you have fun?” says a voice so faint and surreal. My mom looks at me with those hazel eyes, concerned by my expression.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” I can’t speak — I’m finally seeing my parents for the first time since that accident and now I know what’s going to happen in a few minutes or so. Or is everything going to be different, is this a second chance?

“Nothing. I-I’m okay, I’m fine. It was fun. I’m just tired. Thank you for coming to get me.” I don’t know what to do. What if I just drive and let my parents sit in the back seat? “Can I drive?”

“Oh honey, it’s dark and icy — I don’t think it’s a good idea,” my dad said. Or should I just tell them everything? Will they even believe a word I say?

Maybe it’s better if I don’t tell them — maybe something will change. I look out the window and see snow falling more heavily, the darkness roaring like thunder, and our car is the only light visible.

“I bought something for you.” My mom reaches her hand into the backseat next to me, searching for the thing she had bought me, the thing that will ultimately take them away from me.

I should tell them that I don’t need whatever it is, but I have a morbid curiosity as “it” has been destroyed in the accident. Things will change, won’t they? All I need to do is to stop my father from reaching back.

“You bought it, but I picked it out. Picking the right thing is important, you know,” my dad  says, as happy and cheerful as he has ever been. His smile shows so much affection; it just tears me up to think that this might be the last smile I can ever see in my whole life — not just any smile, but a smile from my dad.

“Haha, that’s absolutely right,” my mother says, still reaching and knocking things on the floor. “Your father is pretty good at picking the style of the outfit. Wonder why he didn’t become a fashion designer.”

“Nah,” Dad responds quickly. “Besides if I did, I probably would have never met you.” They are still so in love.

Should I offer to get “it” for them? What is “it”? I realize that they have just told me — “it” must have been as insignificant as an article of clothing.

“Honey, where’d you hide it?” My mom must have kept it in a secret place to surprise me. Dad can never keep a secret.

“It’s just right around in the left side corner inside the — ”

Before I can stop him, Dad’s hand is reaching around his seat. “Oh, I found it!” As soon as Dad finds it, he loses it, hits a patch of ice, and loses control of the wheel. Nothing has changed, nothing can change. Everything is in slow motion — literally. There, I see a truck coming closer and closer — every second — to our car. Is this a test or a choice that I have to make? No, it can’t be — saving my parents is not an option, it is an automatic response. But I can’t do anything to save them — it is already too late.  

“Jump out of the car!” my dad screams. My door is unlocked and before, I had jumped out and saved my own life. I now know that my parents can’t jump out — their doors are locked. I won’t leave them again, just in case I can do something. But what can I do? It is already almost too late. Or maybe I shouldn’t — maybe I should just stay here with them. That would make the three of us die instead of only two, but at the same time it will allow me to see and stay with my parents forever. The truck is about a foot away from touching our car. I just wait and feel the impact of the aggressive onslaught of metal. This is and will be the best and final choice in my life. My parents will be able to share smiles and funny stories again, just like the old times. They can also give me the present once we are back together. Or maybe this — this death that we are sharing — is the real present….


Nothing. No tall green grass, no birds, and no trees. Just plain nothing — nothing except a girl and two other people. There I see the girl wearing a white gown coming towards me, closer every step. On the opposite side I see the beautiful and innocent eyes of a man and woman coming towards the girl. When they reach each other, the three hold each other’s hands — so tight — almost like glue.


The last time I looked at the clock it was 9:21 p.m. I got ready for bed so early because tomorrow is my first day at high school. I’m not prepared. My best friend in the whole world is going. Just me and him from the same school that I know. I’ve known him since the first day of kindergarten. His name is Aaron White, which is ironic because he’s black but his great-great grandmother is white. The first day of kindergarten, I was sitting on the carpet with about five other children. He came in and threw a tantrum because he didn’t want to leave his parents. They left and came back about 20 minutes later. There were now about seven kids on the carpet. He came back with food in his hand and put it in his cubby. He seemed calmer this time around. He came and sat next to me and I moved over. He then moved closer again and again and again and I kept moving over until I was off the carpet. Ever since that day we’ve been best friends. Sometimes in the summer for a month his parents take us to Europe and we spend all summer together.

I can’t see the time on the clock but I see the red light shining on my side table. My room is brighter than usual. Ever since the day care across the street had installed new lighting, it shines right into my room. I thought my curtains were dark enough to keep out any light from the outside world. Then I feel tiny feet on my legs. When I look down I see a white figure with a tail. I realize it is my cat and he didn’t leave my room. That means that when he’s ready, he’ll wake me up to open the door for him.

Every night I reflect on my day and try to think about every second of my day. I always try to imagine myself the next day and what everyone looks like and how they act. I can’t do that tonight for some reason. Maybe it’s because I didn’t do anything today because I realized it’s my last day to actually relax and have a day to myself. Doing nothing was pretty amazing because I didn’t really have a worry about high school, not knowing it was so close.

I don’t realize that I fell asleep until my alarm clock goes off at six this morning. I then hear the shower come on and then sizzling of some sort, maybe food. I hear my mom say, “Have a great day Ellie. Tell Aaron and his mom hello.”

I hear my heavy feet clomping down the steps. I don’t come to all my senses until I slam Aaron’s mom car door, they watch him.

“Good Morning Ellie. Are you ready?” Aaron asks me.

I take a deep breath and nod my head yes. When we arrive there are some students lined up wearing the school sweater and smiling at us. They all repeat, “Hi, welcome, how are you, please step to the right, there are numbers on the desks representing your grade, have a nice day!”  

As you walk in there are four desks lined up next to each other with two people sitting at each desk. Each desk has a number on it.

“I think we’re supposed to go to that desk,” Aaron points at a desk with the number nine. Aaron’s mom follows close behind us. I think it is kind of weird because I haven’t had a parent chaperone since sixth grade. There are a lot of other moms too, so we aren’t embarrassed.  

“I can’t stay or else I’ll be late for work. Ellie’s mom will pick you guys up after school. Have a good day!” Aaron’s mom kisses us both and runs out the door.

We walk up to the desk that has the number nine.

“Name?” A lady with a big smile says to me.

“Ellie Kogan.”

She goes to her clipboard, looks for my name, moves right, and checks my name off. She then hands me a paper with my schedule on it. Aaron walks next to me. Again students line up and say, “Please go straight ahead and take a seat in the auditorium.”

There are students lined up showing us to seats. We’re in the third to last row. It starts about eight minutes after we find our seats.

“Welcome students to…” a tall, slender, white man, with a full head of black and gray hair, starts. That’s when I stop listening. I realize that the people in the front are the ones leaning forward in their seats trying to catch every word this man was saying. The two rows on the sides are half listening, on their phones, whispering to each other, listening and eating. A couple rows in front of us, kids are talking, laughing, passing notes and joking around. Basically, they all act the same except the first couple rows. I guess those are the freshmen and we’re supposed to be up there. The kids in the first row are either wearing dresses, or jeans with nice shirts and cardigans. The kids on the side and the back are wearing nothing special. Aaron’s wearing jeans with a white shirt with his open sweater. I am wearing black jeans with my Vans that matches my sweater. Then it is back to reality. A kid turns around, he looked as if he’s a senior because he’s joking around while the man is talking.

“Hi!” a boy says with dark skin, perfect white teeth and deep dimples. I smiled, my way of saying hi back.


“Freshman,” I say with a smile.

“Shouldn’t you be up there,” he says pointing to the front of the auditorium.

“Is that where the freshmen sit?”

“Yeah! But you look comfortable where you are.”

“I am,” I say again with another smile. “Are you a senior?”

“Funny! Sophomore.” He smiles at me.

Aaron hands me a paper with staff names and pictures next to it. The man talking turns out to be the principal.

“Is this your brother?” He asks looking at Aaron.

“No.” I turn my head toward Aaron and smile. “This is my best friend Aaron.”

“Oh, hi!”

I know Aaron is listening but he doesn’t look at me or the boy I was talking to. “Hi,” Aaron says softly.

“He’s really shy.” I clarify.

“I can tell,” he smiles, which made Aaron blush, “I’m Prosper.”

“Pardon?” I said, not hearing him clearly.

“My name is Prosper.”

“Really? Sorry, but I’ve never heard a name like that.”

“Yeah I’m unique.”

“Ha! I’m Ellie.”

“Oh, do you know who you have for homeroom?”

“Umm,” I say, shuffling papers, “Mr. Hendrix. I also have him for science.”

“Wow!” he said, raising his eyebrows.

“Wow what?”

“Just do your homework and don’t talk in his class and you should be fine.” He closed the sentence with a wink.

“… thank you and have a nice day!” the principal says and walks away.

Wow, I talked to him the entire time! I wonder if Aaron was listening at all to the person on the stage or paying attention to my conversation with my new friend. I’m guessing!


Aaron’s schedule is pretty similar to mine. Only two classes we aren’t together, and I have advanced math classes with the upper grades. Fortunately, we do have the same lunch period, which is nice because I know it’s hard for him to make friends by himself. There are seven periods in the school day. Lunch for us is at 1:00. The worst part about having lunch is that this is the only time we have to share with the tenth grade. Which is bad, because tenth graders think that they’re better than everyone else. Which isn’t true, because seniors are better. The day is going exactly how I thought it would go. Every class we did an “icebreaker” activity, where we play small educational games to learn everyone’s names. After this we did pre-assessments, the bell rang, and off to the next class it was.

The class before lunch Aaron and I don’t have together so we decided we would meet up in front of homeroom and make our way down the stairs just like some of the high schoolers. Since we are in high school the teacher doesn’t take us down. We have to go down two flights of stairs. The stairs aren’t like they were in middle school. We had to line up in two straight lines and walk down quietly. Now everyone runs down, skips steps, screams, jumps, and I’m pretty sure those are the tenth graders. The rails are black, the steps are black, and the floor is black. On every floor there are big glass windows through which you can see into New York City.

Once we get to the cafeteria I notice that there are kids who jump on the school line, ones who starve themselves, and the ones who bring lunch. The tables are different from middle school. They’re round and white with eight red chairs surrounding them. If you didn’t make it to the table right on time you would have to go sit somewhere else, which was maybe the worst thing that could happen. We sat toward the back where we weren’t noticed but we weren’t invisible.

That’s when I see Prosper. I know Aaron doesn’t like him very much just by the look of his face. Not that I don’t like Prosper. I just don’t want Aaron to feel like I am neglecting him, so I sit so Prosper can’t see my face.

“How was your day so far?” I ask Aaron.

“Good, I got homework from almost every class. The teachers were fairly nice but I think it’s just because it’s the first day. I want to see how they act when ––. ” Then he rolls his eyes and starts to eat.

“What happened?”

That’s when Prosper pulls up a chair and sits next to me.

“Hey. How was your first day?” he says with that bright smile he gave me this morning.

I peep at Aaron and see his head down. “It was great,” I respond. “Everyone was really nice. The teachers of course had to give homework, but everything aside from that was good.”

“That’s great! Aaron, how was your day?”

“Fine,” Aaron says with his head still facing downward.

“Okay, that’s good,” Prosper says, twisting his mouth to the side.

Prosper and I have a mini conversation about our summer. Then one of his friends calls him, so he tells me he will see me later and tells Aaron bye. As soon as he leaves, Aaron’s head lifts back up. I stare at him and he stares back.

“What!?” he says, still staring at me.

“What’s your problem?”

“What do you mean?” he says, raising his eyebrows.

“Whenever Prosper’s around, you get quiet and ignore us. Do you not like him?”

“It’s not that. It’s just weird having someone new that’s closer to you than me.” I am confused and Aaron can tell. “Like, we’ve always had friends that we met together. Not just you and then me.”

I have no response to what he just told me. I think Aaron’s jealous. I can’t tell him that. He would deny it right away and feel like I am trying to make him jealous.

Oh.” The rest of lunch is quiet. I don’t know what we can talk about at this weird moment.

Last period goes by fast. I meet Aaron at the corner. I am a little late because I was talking to Prosper. He wanted to walk with me but I told him I was in a rush and Aaron was waiting with my mom. I told Prosper bye and I’d see him tomorrow.

Aaron and I wait in silence for my mom to pick us up. She asks a lot of questions when we are going to drop Aaron off and we answer them. When we get home she knows something is wrong. She is watching me in an uncomfortable way, so I watch her back.

“Anything else happen that we didn’t discuss in the car?” she said, cutting up cucumbers.

“Well…” I tell her everything that happened –– how Prosper and I met, and how Aaron acted and what he said at lunch, and what I thought about but didn’t say to him –– by the time I finish we are eating.

“That’s normal high school drama. It never gets easier. Aaron should accept the fact that he’s in a new environment with new people with different behaviors. But you shouldn’t forget who your friend is. I understand why Aaron would react this way. I mean, you guys are like this,” she says crossing her fingers, “and it’s hard for Aaron to make friends, so he may not feel comfortable with new people. I’m not saying to not hang out with your new friend but make sure Aaron feels included with this relationship you’ve formed with someone new.”

Again I am speechless, I am in shock. I’m not sure Aaron feels this way but he probably does. I’ll talk to him tomorrow for sure and hopefully he understands and we can work this issue out.


The next day Aaron and his mom are downstairs waiting for me. I feel nervous but I am determined to fix this right away. We get to school a lot faster than yesterday. When we get out of the car Aaron doesn’t even say bye to his mom. I wave goodbye to her and run to catch up to Aaron.

“Hey, what’s your problem?” I say trying to walk at his pace.

“Nothing,” he says, walking faster with his head down. That’s when I see Prosper but he doesn’t see me yet and this is my time to talk before he comes and interrupts.

I pull his shoulder toward me and he rolls his eyes and looks at me. His face has a mean attitude that I am used to, and I know how to deal with it already.

“I know what’s wrong with you.”

He rolls his eyes again. “Nothing is wrong with me.”

I see Prosper turn around talking to someone but doesn’t see me yet.

“I know it’s hard coming to a new school where everyone has their own personality and not everyone wants to hang out with people who hang out with other people.”

He looks at me confused and I realize I am making no sense.

I start again, “I know that you’ll make friends that you might not want to hang out with me and I’ll make friends that don’t want to hang out with you. It’s like a test of friendship because we can’t let anyone come between us. Not matter how hard they try because if you have a tight bond that can’t be broken like ours, that shows how much we care about each other. So if I don’t show it or can’t just remind me who my best friend is and how much he means to me, because he means the world.” I am just in time because Prosper starts walking toward me. Aaron starts to hug me and I hug him back.

“Hey,” Prosper says with his bright white smile.

“Hello,” I say as Aaron and I broke up our hug.

“Hi.”And that is when Aaron gives his smile.

Then I realize that this will be the best four years of my life.

kek’d (Excerpt)

George Matthews was the seventh richest man in the world, and therefore, was effectively one of the most powerful men as well. However, he looked decidedly powerless, as he lay in bed with tubes and wires connected to his limbs and head. Thank God no one knew, though. Thank God no one had seen the real George Matthews, only the double who had stood in for him since 2000. Right after the car accident that had landed him in the hospital bed, he kept in his 70,000-square-foot mansion. Only his house staff and his maid, Cynthia, knew about his strange sickness. And it was strange; draining his energy as it made him more restless. He stayed in his room all day, without the energy to walk or even to get out of bed and dress himself.

Cynthia also knew, though, about the doctors who had come to see him about his sickness. The doctors who had told him that vitamins and exercise, as well as two or three operations, would most likely cure him. She knew about the accusations George had made: the doctors were frauds, they didn’t know a virus from a plague. He believed he had an incurable ailment, but she knew it was just a disease he made up in his head after the accident that he just couldn’t let go of. She thought about telling him this, but she knew she was being paid, in part, for her belief, or at least feigned belief, in his imaginary illness. George’s family had deserted him when they realized that he wouldn’t die quick enough for them to make good use of the money they would inherit, so she also felt pity for the deserted old man. This deadly mixture of pity and money convinced her not to quit.  

Months later, Cynthia was awoken in the middle of the night by a servant. “The master needs you. Come immediately.” Cynthia dressed herself and rushed upstairs to George’s bedroom, her one-size-too-big slippers brushing against the carpeted floor of the stairs. She imagined what could have happened: Did George die?

To be continued…

Kanye West

A tattered “Vote for Kanye” poster hung on the window of a decrepit development. Bullet holes were scattered around the poster, and black permanent marker graffiti outlined a swastika beneath his headshot.

“So this is what it has come to, huh?” a white-bearded man croaked. “The so called Age of Rapnazis.”

Before I could respond, a shrill beep sounded through the nearest loudspeaker.

Yo, yo, check it, yo. I eat it like dinner. You see this stuff I gotta deal with from these beginners? Wait, what? We’re recording? Oh! This is the president speaking. I just wanted to share a short, fire lyric from my song. We’ll buy a lot of clothes when we don’t really need ‘em. Things we buy to cover what’s inside. BEEP.

“Well, I guess it’s his attempt at initiating a neo-N.W.A.-based country. It’s been three terms and West still hasn’t been able to pull it off.”

“That’s why I voted for Eminem. He wouldn’t try some arbitrary stunts like such. But, y’know, Detroit would probably be the new capital.”

“His cult of rapper-nazis is growing by the hour. All these formerly-outlawed items were mostly smuggled in by the imbe — The Lordwest Majesty Himself,” I stuttered as I spotted a burly pro-Kanye voter. Various types of gun-tattoos decorated his bare barrel-chest, complementing the gang seals on each of his protruding biceps. “‘Ey ya’ll.” he growled.

Whitebeard and I genuflected in an instant, gesturing the gang crest with our fingers.

“I guess you know who I be then?” A glob of saliva landed on my knee.

“Secretary of State, MC Vanity. Why do you roam these parts?” wheezed Whitebeard. He did not lift his head, but peripherally, I spotted a grin creep up his countenance.

“You will not,” his unauthentic Jamaican tongue twisted and strangled these simple words. “You will not…

“Taking some time to process, Mr. Secretary?” the old man said under his breath.

Chuckling, I whispered back, “Maybe he got so caught up in faking his accent that his brain stopped.”

“Ask me such confidential questions! Anyway, I’m here to do the daily check-up. Aight my brothas, recite the first 30 pages of the N.W.A. Bible. Otherwise, you’ll have to come with me.” Glancing at me, the geezer ran his index through his messy beard, and furrowed his brow. Suddenly, he bore a confused smile. “No, no. You must have mistaken us for citizens! We are simply visiting from Canada. O Canada, our home and — ”

“All right, I get it. But it’s a continental law to have memorized the history of the Book of Rap, y’know, with the Drake election and all. Starting with Tupac, go, old man.” He looked at me with true dubiety.

“Mister, I think I’ll take this one. Tupac started the Book of Rap. Er… ” Ever since the election, even the history books had been altered. It is strongly believed by the anti-N.W.A. party that Eminem finished the Book of Rap. However, that response would by no means be accepted by this MC.

“I’m sorry, but the truth is that Eminem finished the book. And Kanye, well, Kanye. You see, the thing about Kanye is that… he lied by infringing on copyright, and then he claimed that he wrote it. That’s illegal.” Before he could speak, I started again.

“Hang on. Endure the sass and absorb my point of information. Kanye is a scandal artist, and paid off major media networks to shut up about it.” Whitebeard licked his lips, silently applauding the defiant decision that could result in a permanent incarceration. As I smirked, he mumbled that it was not just praise — no, it was a eulogy.

Under Which Condition Do I Work the Best?

Motivation helps people gets things done. Procrastination is when a person waits to do something, sometimes because of laziness. I procrastinate in school, sometimes with assignments. The questions I will be answering in this essay are: what assignments would I most likely procrastinate doing? Under which conditions do I get motivated? Am I more likely to procrastinate when I have a deadline, or when I have no deadline?

The first thing I want to focus on is having a deadline for an assignment. Some people say they work better with a deadline because it pushes them to work, and it motivates them. I personally have gone through a time when deadlines motivated me, but currently that puts me under stress. And when I’m stressed out, I’m really not in a good mood for anything, except doing what’s due. Even though I’m to do the assignment, I don’t feel my best.

When I don’t have a due date, I tend to procrastinate whatever’s due. I have done this before, and it hasn’t gone well. I don’t like to procrastinate. It’s only avoiding whatever is due, but for some reason I still procrastinate. But when I finish, it feels like a truck just got lifted off my shoulders. Either way, with a deadline or not, I still often get stressed out.

I am used to deadlines, like homework, when everything is due on a specific day. I usually don’t get stressed out when doing homework, because that is an everyday thing for me which I’ve gotten used to. It’s the big projects that I get in school that I usually procrastinate on. I usually have to set smaller goals for myself so I don’t delay doing my work.

I have to play piano every day. Sometimes I don’t do a good job, other times I do, and sometimes I do great. But I usually do my best only when I am motivated. Some things that motivate me are parties. I love parties. When I know there is a party, I do well.

There are some conditions, like when there is something that I look forward to, under which I get motivated, and there are some others conditions, like when I am in a bad mood or when I’m feeling lazy, that cause me to procrastinate. Overall, either way, and despite the stress, I prefer having a deadline.

The Writing on the Altar

Minegamer225 stared at his creation. He had been on his computer for months on end, but he finally finished it: an 8-bit redstone computer (redstone is basically a wire).  After a few minutes of staring at it, he pulled a small stick from his inventory and placed it next to him by a trail of redstone. Minegamer pulled the stick towards him and the trail of redstone lit up with a warm, inviting glow. He looked up at the computer screen, waiting for the “booting up” message. After a couple long minutes he sighed and walked away. While he was walking, he didn’t see the strip of redstone in front of him and WHAM! He was thrown to the floor by the electric power of the wire. He stood up, dazed from the fall.

When he regained consciousness he kicked the wire as hard as he could and watched as it went flying. He was so angry, he didn’t realize that the wire was heading in the direction of the computer. At the last second he realized where the wire was going to land. He flinched as it crashed somewhere in the circuit boards. Suddenly the computer flickered to life and the rebooting message popped up on screen. Minegamer’s body filled with excitement as he jumped up in the air and started dancing.

But his joy was extinguished as the computer started sparking and sizzling. Minegamer jumped behind a block at the right time, because just afterward the computer exploded. Blocks started raining from the sky, but he dodged them with ease. He was so upset that months of work were RUINED!!! When the block rain was over he crawled through the rubble to the computer core. He reached out and grabbed the computer chip. He sadly looked at the fried circuit and frowned. “I JUST GIVE UP!!” he said as he smashed the circuit against a rock. He watched as the pieces went flying in different directions. Then he got up and walked out of the rubble pile towards his house. When he reached his house he shoved the door open and stepped inside. At once, his cat, Mittens, started following him and meowing for her food. When Minegamer plopped down on the couch, Mittens jumped onto his lap and started purring affectionately. “Aww, thanks mittens,” Minegamer said appreciatively. Then he got up and walked over to the kitchen. “Here you go, Mittens,” Minegamer said as he gave Mittens a bowl of food. Minegamer watched as Mittens hungrily devoured her food. When she had finished her food, she trotted over to the couch and curled up in the corner, waiting for Minegamer to sit down. Minegamer looked at Mittens and smiled. Then he realized that he was starving!!   

He looked in his kitchen chest for some food and found three potatoes. He placed them in the furnace to bake while he got some butter. When the potatoes were done, he spread the butter on top and then joined Mittens on the couch. When he sat down, Mittens crawled up on Minegamer’s lap and looked up at him with sad eyes. Minegamer understood what she meant. “I miss him too,” Minegamer said. After sitting down for a few minutes, he got up to get some cookies for Mittens and him to munch on. “Do you think about him much?” asked Minegamer.

“Meow,” replied Mittens. Minegamer also understood what this meow meant. This time it was a reassuring kind of meow.

“I remember our last moments with him….”


Eight years ago…

“Minegamer, do you have any string?”   

“Yes, Brine. It is downstairs, in my storeroom.”

“Thanks buddy.” he said, going downstairs.


Two Hours Later…

“Minegamer, I have a present for you!” he called faintly.  

“Be there in a minute.” Minegamer came down the stairs.

“Okay, I’m here,” Minegamer said excitedly.

“Here is your present,” he said, while handing Minegamer a chest. When Minegamer opened the lid he gasped.


“Thanks, but without you, I would be a Noob,” Brine answered.

“Come Brine, let’s try out my new bow!!” Minegamer said as he raced out the door.

Minegamer notched an arrow, pulled back the string and released. As soon as he released the arrow its tip burst into flame. It flew out of their vision and hit the middle of the dam, 300 blocks away.

“Hey, Minegamer, do you hear that noise?” asked Brine.

“Yeah, what is that?” responded Minegamer. The both turned and saw the wall of water thundering towards them. “GET TO DA CHOPPA!!” yelled Minegamer. They hurried to their helicopter and put it in ignition. Minegamer was about to fly away when he remembered something…. “MITTENS!!” Minegamer screamed.

Mittens was still in their house!! “I’ll get her!” Brine bravely stated. He unbuckled his restraints. He ran down, kicked open the doors, scooped up mittens and ran upstairs. The wave was feet from the roof. Minegamer was already in the sky with the rope ladder hanging down for Brine to grab. Brine popped out of the trap door and Minegamer was filled with relief. Brine looked at the helicopter, then at the wave. He looked back at the helicopter, took Mittens in one hand, and punted him up into Minegamer’s hands. His eyes locked with Minegamer’s, and he smiled. Then he was swept away by the wave. When the flood was over, Minegamer landed his chopper in the watery remains of his house and frantically searched for his chum.

After 15 minutes he tripped on a loose root. Angry, he turned around to kick it when he realized it was not a root, but a bow, an enchanted bow!! BRINE’S PRESENT!! He carefully caressed the bow and sobbed…


Minegamer stroked Mittens a few times, then he realized how thirsty he was, and went to get some water. He searched around in his cabinet for a bottle of water. “Ah, here it is!” he exclaimed as he downed it. “Oohh, I don’t feel so good,” stated Minegamer. He picked up the bottle and looked at the label. “That’s not water!! It’s a hunger potion!!!”

Minegamer heard mittens meow and turned to go pet her when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a shiny, red apple outside. He slid open the door and walked towards the tree, with Mittens trotting along behind him. He climbed up the tree to grab the apple when the tree came loose and fell.

Minegamer popped out of the leafy canopy and took a bite out of the apple. His hunger went back up to full. He looked around and realized Mittens was nowhere to be seen!!! Then, he heard a faint mewing coming from a nearby cave. “I’m coming, Mittens!!” Minegamer bravely said. He drew his sword and raced toward the cave. When he reached it he followed the sound of Mittens’ meowing until he was around the corner from the sound. He jumped around the corner, preparing to attack, when he heard a frightened child’s voice.

“P-p-please don’t hu-u-rt me.”

Minegamer put down his sword and saw a shaking villager child stroking Mittens. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Are you lost? You should be in your village,” Minegamer asked.

“M-m-my village w-was destroyed b-b-by a big wave,” the child said. “M-my name is P-pablo.”

“Well, Pablo, you can live with me!” Minegamer said. “Let’s g-” Minegamer was interrupted by a faint glow at the end of the tunnel. “Stay here,” Minegamer said. He turned the corner and saw a glowing compass on top of an altar. He walked up and saw some strange writing on the altar, the galactic alphabet, a language only minecrafters could read. It said: To Minegamer: If you are reading this, follow this compass to these coordinates; 45-y  754-x  35-z.

“This can only mean one thing… BRINE IS STILL ALIVE.”


To Be Continued…

The Caramel Underdogs

There are so many things that remind him of you. Just so many. Too many. Like Kleenex and ironic hair ties and giraffe statues and italics and Jewish holidays and metaphors and Bulls-Eyes caramel creams. Especially the caramels. His heart rips a little bit every time he sees a Goetze’s Bulls-Eyes caramel cream because Goetze’s were your favorite. And his heart is completely torn now because he still buys those Bulls-Eyes caramel creams, the Goetze’s if he dares, because it reminds him of you and it cuts deep into his heart, and that’s why he likes them. It’s a habit of his, those caramels. Because of you. You made him fall in love with those Bulls-Eyes caramel creams the way you made him fall in love with you. Softly and truly. You truly did love him at one point. And every time he buys those Bulls-Eyes caramels he smiles and swings his arms and puts a cute little bounce in his step. That’s what you called it. A cute little bounce. It was the bounce he did when he was with you. So he does that little half-smile and arm-swinging and cute-bouncy-step while imagining your hand in his. Your bright eyes on him. Your teeth separating the caramel part from the cream part of the Goetze’s Bulls-Eyes caramel cream, which was the same way he ate it. Was and is. He still loves you and you know he does. You forget it though, because it has been so long since you broke his heart. You can tell, though, how much he misses you, because when you see him in class at college the air is thick between you and he doesn’t wave, but he stares, a pleading stare that has words behind it. Why’d you leave? Was it me? Us? You? Does that matter? Will you ever come back?

Will you?

And does it matter? Because he has started to encase his heart in a wall, a wall

that will keep out any more people who love him because he doesn’t want someone breaking him again.

It’s a bit like the caramel coating around the cream in the Goetze’s Bulls-Eyes caramels. He loves them so much that he is becoming one himself. Caramel walls around the creamy sugar center, his soft heart, if there are any pieces left, his soft heart, so vulnerable and gullible. But see, you can fix him. The wall is made of caramel and if you try, you can bite through it and find the creamy loving center. But you have to do it soon, because you feel it –– he’s missing you so, so much, so much it’s hurting him almost more than when you broke his heart, and if this keeps on those caramel walls will turn to stone. And you can’t stomach stone. It’s much harder to chip away at the stone for so many years. You loved (love?) him and cared (care?) for him and missed (miss?) him when he went out late to perform at pubs. Why can’t that be again? You and him, you are two pieces of a puzzle that make up both your lives and you fit. Perfectly. Without you there will always be a puzzle piece missing from his life and no matter how long he looks under tables and chairs he won’t be able to find you. And you won’t be able to find him unless you choose to take him back. The air is thick when you see him in school again, and nothing’s right, and it’s awkward air, stale air, air that he is avoiding breathing in because he knows you are breathing it too. But it clears when you stare back at him and acknowledge him, smiling, and catch him in the hallway after class and slip your hand in his, hearing it click into place because your hands always just fit perfectly in one another’s, and say I’m sorry, can you forgive me? Ever? And even when he says I don’t know if I ever can, you know that means yes because you loved him so much, knew him so well. Or maybe it’s because you still love him so much. Know him so well. Just like your caramels.

The Ten Sailors


There once was a grand old man

who was trying to get a tan.

He was having a great day

sailing away

until he fell down and drowned.


There now was a new sailor,

his name was Taylor.

He lived on a floating trailer.

He was eating bark

when he got bit by a huge shark.


There now was a new sailor.

His name was Dan.

He was friends with the grand old man

and was trying to get a tan.

He was eating poison pie

while looking at the sky,

then he realized he was about to die.


There now was a new sailor.

His name was Peter.

He was a big reader,

but when someone stole a book

and threw it in the ocean,

he took a hook and fished for the book.

But when he hooked a dolphin he fell in

and grabbed its fin and was never to be found again.


There now was a new sailor.

His name was Andy.

He loved candy.

When he ate a lot his teeth would rot,

a dentist would would come in handy

But since no one cared

he died from despair

and now there is no Andy.


There now was a new sailor.

His name was Tom.

He was mad at his mom.

His mom got sick and threw a rock at his favorite brother Nick.

The rock missed and hit Tom’s fist

and broke all his bones.


There now was a new sailor.

His name was Bob.

He got a job as a sailor.

He was having a great day sailing away hitting the nae nae.

He hit the whip and cracked his lip.


There now was a new sailor.

His name was Jack.

He was born in a sack.

He was having a great day sailing away

Until a bale of hay hit his back

He fell down and never came back.


There now was a new sailor.

His name was Noah.

He loved to eat only one type of nut.

He also had a big butt

He died from choking on a nut.


There once was a man named Chuck.

He lived on a floating duck.

He was rowing all day

Working away

Until he passed away.


Anyone else want to become a sailor?

judas is crying now

 the old me was exuberant

she was small and confident

her cheeks shone yellow like the sun

she could jump on flowers

use the petals as landing pads

and if she stepped on a worm

she shrugged her shoulders and kept running


that old me died in an explosion that burned bright in the night

the flames billowed like sheets hung out to dry, caressed by the wind

i couldn’t tell you why or where it was

but i could hear the boom of timbers breaking

i could feel the stirring in my soul of a simple melody gone gravely wrong

i could feel a piece i had no idea existed fall out of my chest and splinter on the pavement with an almost musical melancholy sigh


i was called to the funeral, and i wore a yellow dress

to commemorate the color of her cheeks


i realized my mistake when i saw that

everyone else was wrapped in black and frowning at me


after the services someone pulled out a radio

rusted with blue nostalgia

they put on her favorite song and asked me if i would dance to it

for i looked just like her


i tried to match the steps but

the music got faster and the dancing more twisted my foot struck the edge

of the radio i hopped in pain the radio stopped and

i fell and they kept frowning and

i started crying and holding my foot and wishing

for something

wishing to be something

that wasn’t her

all i felt was one word ringing through the pathways of my body as if i was standing

on a huge bell




Summer Break


When your chains are on for long enough

They start to become part of your body.

When you shed the chains,

It is like losing a part of you,

And you are free.


But the knowledge that one day

The chains will return

Seizes your liberty.

The pseudo-carte blanche

Put in place by a totalitarian regime

Takes control of its subjects

In the most vicious of ways.


With no second option to turn to,

We, the victims, turn to our moments of indulgence

To liberate us from the constraints that bind us

To an entity that has no mercy,

Gives no purpose,

And only takes.


The only thing we have to lose is our shackles.


Mama sips her morning tea from the kitchen counter, the strength diluted by her fading smile and tense, constricted muscles. Her skirt, drenched in a deep black and frayed from continuous wearings, skims the hardwood floors. It dances in a steady motion, at the morning breeze’s will rather than her own.

I beat my hands in a consistent rhythm, matching my mother’s dress and shutting my eyes until I’m soaked in a vast swarm of people.

Mama’s laugh echoes off the cliffs of the beach, and she’s dancing again. Spinning and twirling as the drums beat on and the swarm’s melody erupts into a harmonious climax. And they’re at the center of it all. Mama and Papa pulled tightly together, the passion infused in the cores of their eyes. Anna and I stand on the edge of the circle, clapping and shifting to the pace of a movement much bigger than us. Yet, when I turn to peek at the joy in Mama’s eyes, I feel Anna’s hand clutch my arm, and I’m abruptly snatched from the depths of the moment.

“Lizzy?” she calls, and her big blue eyes fill the void of the newfound silence.

“I’m fine,” I retort. I don’t intend to convey such a boiling frustration. Lately it just spills out of me in spasms and streaks, directed at the easiest prey. With Anna, I feel a force that consumes me. I’m standing on a tipping iceberg and the bitter grasp of death compels me to lash out. Mama stares straight at the cracked, uncleaned cup in front of her instead of coming to Anna’s defense as I secretly wish she would. Anna’s pained face adds to my dread, to the pulse of my drained body. I lay down on the dirt-ridden floor, the one that used to be so pretty with its black, well-maintained tiles, arms sprawled, and my sister comes to tap me.

“Why isn’t Mama eatin’?” she inquires, the gap between her two front teeth prominently exposed.

“She’s not hungry,” I dryly respond.

“But she wasn’t hungry yesterday,” she persists.

I pause and inhale. “Well, maybe she’s not feeling right.”

“Then we should call Grandma and Grandpa. They could help her. Give her some medicine or somethin’…”

“NO!” I shout, my stubborn resistance ricocheting off Anna’s droopy ginger pigtails and compiling in wrinkles underneath the rims of her eyes. “What’ll they do? Save her? Make our tummies full or her mug empty?”

Anna’s pursed lips and angular bones jut into my eleven-year-old conscience. Mama’s position on the opposite side of the counter with the tattered, discounted yellow curtains swaying behind her, stands in a stark contrast. I conclude that my baby sister certainly won’t feed herself.

“Alright,” I relent, assuming that something to chew on is better than an empty stomach, even when the tears make the food salty. Maybe if she eats, I reason, she’ll forget for a while. “How ‘bout I fetch you a nice blueberry Eggo?”

“Leggo my Eggo!” she eagerly replies, captivated by a fresh sense of delight.

I stroll over to the pristine refrigerator, wrapping my hands around the stainless steel of the handles. I freeze before the cold hits me: drawing me in — the vibrant letters, plastered to the fridge with magnets purchased from the local ninety-nine cent store. Falling to my knees, I reach out to trace the mariposa-wing orange “C” with my dirt-stained fingertips. I run them down in trickles, inching over the curve, reaching the sharp ends. And all at once I feel the crisp corners of his jaw. The way it felt that clear spring morning when Anna and I tackled him in bed, reminding him of his thirty-fourth birthday. How he hadn’t shaved, and his beard covered his chin in sporadic prickles, jostling when he creased his cheeks to smile. And the way Mama threw her head way back in a careless thrust, and spoke in a serious manner to remind us of our place and break from the bouts of teasing.

“Birthdays come and go,” she announced, firm and easy. “Remember the little things, and try not to grow big-headed like your daddy.”

Then came the “U,” yellow like the sunrise, and just as slow moving. Just when it made you suppose it had got the best of you, you were left dumbfounded by its unforeseeable comeback.

“U” was the uncontrollable undulations of Papa’s hair in the summertime. Like when we all went on down to the state fair in Georgia, and Anna was scared to go on Thunder Mountain. Me, being the bigger sister, I tried convincing her to come along. But, no sir, she stayed huddled right there with Mama, eating a big old stick of cotton candy as Daddy and I waited in line. And his huge brown curls tossed and turned on the drops, but he stayed laughing up a storm, me howling right with him.

When it was all over and we rolled up into the station he pulled my ear over to his mouth and whispered, “Now listen, I wanna tell ya something. You are brave. You are one piece of wonderful work, more like your daddy and your granddaddy than you’ll ever know. And don’t let any folks ever tell you otherwise.”

I savored his words, sweeter than any cotton candy I’d ever tasted. I kept that little secret tucked among my eyelashes as I shuddered and hesitantly dragged my fingertips towards the terrifying “R.”

“R” was the dreaded letter. It was the one that appeared suddenly and out of the blue: the relentless rage and mutated genes that exploded out of Daddy the Cotton Candy Machine. “R” was when Daddy never showed up at the Thanksgiving concert, or to pick us up at the bus stop after school that day. “R” was coming home by ourselves to Mommy’s sobs and Daddy’s massive bellows, screaming about things only he understood. For the hatred that seized him, and for the protectiveness that made Mama muster “Go stay in the closet until I call for you. Like hide-and-seek!” between broken cries that failed to sound like counting.

For the peeking out of a crack in the closet and the way I covered Anna’s eyes to be the brave one just like Papa told me. And for what happened next: for the image that would become stained in my memory, but not in Anna’s. For his blow, which came like an avalanche in slow motion, striking Mama in a thunderbolt tinged with pity. And for my tongue, bitten and swollen from when I ordered tears back to the deepest depths of my throat.

For the constant “sorry’s” and “forgive me’s” and Mama’s late-night phone calls. To the fake smiles, prepared meals, and empty wallets, drained without a penny to spare. To the day she agreed to stay — for us, not her. For when our dinners started to have conversations, and she stopped having to use scarves to cover the bruise. And all went back to normal. “R” as in “revered,” when Daddy was a strong man in a house of forgetful girls.

Santa came. Leaves fell. A thin layer of ice emerged on the roads. And Mama picked us up from school. “T” as in tangled tendencies, tangled tactics, and tangled terms. Mommy unlocking the front door. Put down the scarf. Scream. Run. Collapse.

Protect Anna. Go to Mama. Look away.

Papa was there, but he was distant. Far away. Dead with a bullet in his head. Gun down. Man down. Curls drenched in a coat of thick, drying blood. Ambulances can’t help the deceased.

The note said Daddy loved us very much, but that he couldn’t go on any longer feeling like a stranger in his own body. I wondered how much he could’ve loved us, leaving a black casket and sighing old ladies as our last image of him, and not roller coasters and birthdays. After all, he never did reach thirty-five.

Anna forgets. They say it’s ‘cause it’s too painful to remember. I can’t cover her eyes forever. But I want to shield Mama’s. She can’t un-see. But maybe she can stop staring and start living. Instead, she sips her tea. It is spring again. I open the fridge, and grab the Eggos.

His Eyes Through a Window

The newborn child

opened his eyes

and blinked into the sunlight of the coming dawn.

The open window breathed in fresh air

and he did too,

taking in oxygen for the first time.


the tiny blue eyes of the child

found the curtains covering the glass

and the crack of light they let through.

His crystal eyes caught a glimpse of the outside world,

a world filled with natural beauty,

a world that sang with joy from the perfect chaos of nature.

The birds could be heard by the tiny one,

birds that just wanted to fly, fly,

higher than the sun

and the stars.

The people wished the same,

the ones the child could watch,

pacing up and down the lawns.

But they argued with one another,

and cried for one another,

and embraced one another.

They fought and fought,

watching the shadows play on the faces of the rest

and the tears run down from their eyes,

a silent warning

of any coming storm.

The bright sun was darkened by a cloud,

and the child’s face was concealed in darkness.

When the rain fell,

he watched the raindrops hit the window

and fall to the dusty sill,

darkening his world.

The people outside shifted,

their decisions focused on themselves, using their coats

to shield the raindrops from their already

tear-stained faces.

As he watched,

the lightning flashed a warning to the child,

and the thunder clapped along.


the tiny newborn turned away

and instead rested his eyes on his mother;

he saw the tired woman

who sat across from him on the grey sheets,

her blonde head framed

by the whitewashed walls.

She looked back at her child with a mixture of contempt

and love.

Confused, he searched for a father

to hold him

when the mother could not.

But the only man in the room was an old doctor

with greying hair

and stitches in his old coat

that had been ripped and torn

too many times.

He held the boy up,

and so the child saw the fatigue in his dark face,

the pity in his eyes.

They were grey,

stormy like the clouds

conversing outside his window.

The child was sorrowful,

disappointed in the lack of color in this dusty room

with too many bookshelves.

He heard his mother speak,

her voice softer

than the fierce demeanor that she breathed.

She blinked once,


asking for the child

without words

but with actions.

The doctor obeyed, walking, almost flying

to her with the grace of an eagle.

The child felt movement,

felt himself soar over the obstacles in his path,

his reward being the outstretched arms

of his mother that seemed too cold.

The quiet young woman

leaned over her baby,

allowing her thin blonde hair

to tickle his soft skin.

She whispered in his tiny ear. The sounds,

though incomprehensible to him,

were soothing.

Her voice washed over the small body

and he relaxed,

his tiny blue fist unclenching.

The doctor, too old and tired to help,

looked on with the eyes of a man

who has gone through too much pain.

The mother,

like so many,

let her tears fall, and the dark water

fell from her clouded eyes

to his bright ones.

The tiny,


unwanted child in her cold arms

looked out the grey window,


for the last time,

closed his



I smile at the nice lady holding up the two lollipops.

“Which one do you want?”

I take both.

The first day of school is the most important day of school because you have to make a good first impression on the people around you, and your teacher because the teacher is the most important person in that classroom except for yourself so, go in there and have some fun because that’s what you need to do. What in the hell do I do with this wooden stick in my hands.

After all of the words and letters and numbers and letters and names and places I go and I leave and I go out into the sun. Gotta get that vitamin D, imperative for bone and overall growth and bone marrow and growth of bone marrow.

I go and have some fun, because that’s how it works.

I look up and see a bear. I scream and yell but nothing happens. People around me are laughing at a joke so I start laughing too. We all start laughing harder, and it’s ok because the bear took off its head and it’s also laughing. What was the joke guys, I bet it was really funny because y’all are laughing so hard, and I really want to hear it please…?

Because after all. We all need something to calm our nerves.

We all start typing away, writing a paper or article or essay so we can pass this course and graduate from college and graduate from graduate school and get a nice and cushy job and retire in southern France with vines all over the walls. I print out my paper to my professor’s watch, where he can then access it manually or have the ScanMan™ grade it along with the others. The professor gives me a small, sad smile as I run out of lecture hall and into the sunlight.


After all. We all need a release from our bodies once in awhile.


Where did the time go?  After all these years, all I have is a giant stuffed bear that says “Go Big Reds!” emblazoned on the top its forehead and it’s looking at me funny and oh sorry but I have to go and go color in circles with sticks.

I stand at the door of the researcher and he looks at me in pity and fear and worry and surprise and hope and sorrow. I smile winningly at him but the muscles in my face hurt so I stop and then the jackhammer in my chest breaks through and it’s okay though because I am the first.

But really. It’s okay. I’m okay.

He asks me if I want to call someone because he has to.

I smile.

I sit.

I close my eyes and take the lollipops and throw them onto the ground because all of the words make sense.

I won’t be the last.

The Girl With No Name

She wakes up and realizes that she is lying on the side of a road in a city. She doesn’t know which one. She pushes herself off the ground and onto her bare feet. The girl feels her head, which is covered with tangled, thick black hair. Her eyes glance around as she looks at the tall buildings around her small self. The girl then realizes her olive skin is covered with dirt. She wears a pair of baggy jeans that don’t belong to her and a red tee with the words “Susie’s Cafe” on it.

The girl has no memories of what had happened that put her in this place. All she remembers are the basic things like how to breathe, how to tie her shoelaces, how to read and write, and how to walk and talk. But she doesn’t remember her family or friends or if she has any at all. She doesn’t know where she’s from or where or when she was born. She doesn’t even remember her name.

The girl walks a few blocks and wonders where the cafe on her shirt is. Overwhelmed by all the confusion that faces her right now, she decides to ask someone to help her. She walks into the nearest building, which is a coffee shop, and walks over to the counter. But before she can reach it, a waiter accidentally pours a steaming cup of hot coffee on the girl. With a burning sensation on her torso, she screams in pain. The waiter apologizes to her and offers her a clean napkin to wipe off the scorching coffee on her tee. The liquid slowly falls down onto her bare feet. So the boy brings her to the restroom and helps her clean herself.

“I’m so sorry, miss,” the boy says to her as she splashes water onto her face.

“It’s okay,” she says.

“What can I do to repay you?” he asks her generously.

“I need directions. I’m kind of lost,” she says.

“No problem,” he says. “Where do you need to go?” He puts the coffee soaked napkins in the nearest trash can.

“Susie’s Cafe,” she says. The girl takes a deep breath and is afraid to ask the next question that rambles in her mind. “I also need to know where I am?” 

The boy looks at her like she is a loon but he answers her question anyway. “You’re in Carrie’s Coffeehouse.”

“I mean what city?” she asks, afraid he might run away because of the unknown girl’s cluelessness.

“Oh honey, you’re in New York City,” he says, “If you want a more specific answer, you’re in Manhattan.”

All she says is, “Huh.”

“I figure you’re lost and all, but are you alright? Like, do you know where exactly you are going?” he asks.

“No I don’t,” the girl with no name says. “I don’t know anything about myself. I don’t know how I got here or why and I don’t remember if I have any family or friends. I don’t even know my own goddamn name.”

“Oh my god,” he says. “Let me show you the way to Susie’s.”

“Thank you so much, sir,” the girl says.

“I’m twenty-one, don’t call me ‘sir,’” the boy says. “My name is Vic, and my shift is almost over so I can take you to Susie’s right now.” He takes a deep breath. “There’s also an available apartment right across the hall from mine. It’s yours if you want.”

“But I don’t have any money.”

“I’ll pay for everything,” Vic says with a sweet and welcoming smile.

The girl is very delighted at the news of her being sheltered, but she is hesitant of Vic. She thinks of the fact that Vic might be a serial killer or an ax murderer. But she’s in desperate need of finding a place to stay so she decides to ignore those possibilities. The girl nods her head to Vic and they go off on their way to find Susie’s Cafe.

They find the cafe in no time. At the counter, she meets Susie, an old woman with graying hair and a scary look on her face. The girl asks Susie if she knows anything about her. Susie tells them that the girl will have to come back in a year to learn the truth.

Naturally, the girl is upset, but she goes off with Vic.


A year later, the girl and Vic are now much closer, best friends, even. They arrive at the cafe once again to see Susie about her old life.

“Come into the alley with me, children,” she says. They followed her into the alley.  “I’ll tell you about your past, Honey,” Susie begins.

“Okay, tell me already,” she says impatiently.

“But on one condition,” Susie says.

“Which is?”

“I get to kill him.” She points Vic with her wrinkly finger.

Vic and the girl exchange a look. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I need my food, Honey,” Susie says with a rasp in her sickening voice. “You see sweeties, I’m a Vorago. One who needs humans to live. I prey on the weak, but strong-hearted. There are not many of those in this world.” She gave them an uneasy smile.

The girl puts her arm in front of Vic and says, “Never.”

“Fine, it’s your choice.” Susie stood there, and suddenly the petite, elderly woman grows fangs, like a vampire, and her face turns more wrinkly than before. Behind her back, Susie holds a knife. She runs towards Vic and attempts to stab him anyway. But before Susie can reach him, the girl grabs the knife from her hand and runs it into Susie instead. Her scream is ear-splitting. Her old body is lit on fire by a mysterious force and she burns to ashes right in front of them.

The girl hugs Vic and says, “I will never let anyone hurt you.”

He hugs her back and says, “Same here.”

She lets go of him and wipes some stray tears off of her cheek. “I guess I will never know who I really am.”

“You already know who you are,” Vic says to her. “You don’t need your past to make your future. Your future is what you make of it right now in the present.”

“But I don’t even have a name,” she says letting a tear fall from her eye.

“I can give you one.”

“Really?” she asks as she and Vic make their way out of the alley and onto the sidewalk. “What are you thinking of?”

“I was thinking you could take my last name, Madison.”

“I like that,” she says. “What about the first name?”

“Well everybody calls you Honey, so why not?”

“I love it!” she says. Honey leans over to Vic and gives him a kiss on the cheek. “My name is Honey Madison.”

So the girl who had no name a year ago and didn’t even know who she was, is now with a name and living across the hall from her best friend-turned-boyfriend, Vic Madison. But don’t worry, Honey eventually learned about her past by meeting someone from her past. So for now, the girl with no name is no more.


One year later…

She walks down the New York City street as if it is a normal day. She holds hands with her boyfriend, Vic, and glances over to him once in awhile thinking to herself how lucky she is to have him. His caramel-colored hair is being whipped around by the wind and the sunlight shining in his big brown eyes. It fills Honey with more joy than anyone could ever imagine.

Many people pass by them, big, small, short, tall and they all seem normal. But there is one woman who stands out. Her long, curly, strawberry blonde hair bounces up and down while the sunlight gracefully dances along her snow white skin. She wears a big smile on her face. Her pearly white teeth sparkle while her rosy red lips are shaped like a heart. Her outfit consists of a simple long-sleeve black tee with tight leather pants, black combat boots, and a black heart-shaped purse slung across her shoulder. The woman’s brown eyes linger over to Honey and Vic. She stops in her place and begins to quickly walk over to them.

Honey and Vic keep walking while trying to ignore the woman, making no eye contact with her. But something doesn’t feel right. The blonde woman seems very familiar to her. There’s something different about this girl that strikes her. She can hear the clicking of the woman’s heels plopping up and down. Honey grips Vic’s hand a bit tighter, showing fear. The woman gets closer. It seems like she is running now. Honey wonders who this woman is and what she wants.

“Mara!” the woman shouts over the roar of the trains above them. Honey and Vic continue walking as if the woman had never said anything. The trains are gone and again the woman shouts, “Mara!”

Honey begins to slow down but Vic keeps going at the same rate. “Stop,” she whispers to him as she stands still in the middle of the sidewalk. Vic, a foot ahead of her, looks back at her confused.

“Honey, come on,” he says hoarsely.

She just shakes her head and whips around, standing face to face with the woman. The woman stops in awe, trying to catch her breath. Vic walks over to the two women, bewildered by what’s happening. Honey stares at the girl, feeling a strange sense of familiarity.

The blonde woman smiles a bit and throws her arms around Honey. For some reason, she hugs her back. The woman releases her from her grasp and smiles again. A single tear slithers down her face, smearing her mascara. Both Honey and Vic are muddled. Honey shows no sign of emotion as she stares at the awestruck woman.

“What’s wrong?” the woman questions. Honey notices her English accent now that she’s talking to her. Her deep brown eyes were filled with mystery and something else that Honey couldn’t put her finger on.

“I don’t know,” she answers quietly, but loud enough so the woman could hear. “Do I know you?”

The woman looks hurt. Her eyes sadden and her shoulders, which were once high with excitement, fall. Her smile turns into a frown. Honey knows this is her imagination, but she thinks she can hear a heart beating quickly. A heartbeat that is not her own.

“What tricks are you playing on me this time?” the woman asks with annoyance in her voice.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I don’t know who you are.”

The woman doesn’t look confused at all. She just looks sad and worried. Thoughts race through Honey’s head. Does this woman hold the answers to her past? How, in all of New York City, does she find the woman that knew her before she became Honey Madison, two years exactly after she woke up in that  alley?

“Do you remember anything about yourself?” the woman asks. Honey shakes her head. “Do you even know your name?” She shakes her head again. The woman sighs. “Do you know who I am?” She shakes her head. The woman closes her eyes in frustration.

“What have you been calling yourself for the past two years, then?” she asks.

“Honey Madison, and this is Vic.”

“Well, that’s stupid,” she says with grin.

“Hey,” Vic pipes up. “I happened to think that is a wonderful and very creative name.”

The woman turns, scans him, and says, “I’m going to assume that you came up with it, then.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Vic questions, offended.

She lifts her brows and grins. “If her name is so stupid, then may I ask what yours is?” Vic asks annoyed.

“Cass Blackwood,” the woman says. There’s something in that name that wants to spark a fire in her mind. Vic doesn’t say a word. Cass rolls her eyes and faces Honey again.

“I know you don’t have any idea who I am, but trust me,” Cass kindly says. “I will restore your memories and get you back where you truly belong.”

“And where’s that?” Honey asks.

Cass wraps her long white fingers around Honey’s skinny wrists and whispers, “Home.”

Cass, Honey, and Vic agree to meet at Carrie’s Coffeehouse at seven that night. Vic isn’t too happy about meeting with a stranger from his girlfriend’s past. He wonders if her past is something that will make her leave him. He doesn’t want that to happen, so he tries to talk Honey out of meeting with Cass tonight.

“What if she’s just a con artist trying to take your money?” Vic asks Honey in her apartment later that day.

“What money?” Honey fires back. “Vic, I’m a waitress working at a crappy cafe. I don’t think Cass wants to rob a girl who can barely afford a nice dress.”

“I just have a bad feeling about her,” he says nervously.

She sighs. “Vic, you have to trust me on this. Cass Blackwood is from my past. I don’t know how, I can just feel it.”


“I don’t know,” she softly says, “but you have to trust me.” She grins, throws on her dark purple jacket and leaves.

Vic wonders. She doesn’t know what she’s getting into.

Honey arrives at the coffeehouse in a matter of minutes. She walks through the front door and spots Cass reading a book. Cass notices Honey and ushers her over to her table. Honey is nervous, but, still in doubt, saunters over to Cass. She plasters a fake smile on her face. Cass smiles back and pulls a chair out for her. Honey sits down. Cass picks up a glass of water and puts it up to her mouth.

“First things first,” Honey begins, “you’d better not be a serial killer or some kind of con artist or my boyfriend will find you and make you pay.”

Cass spits out the water in her mouth and laughs. “Funny.”

“I wasn’t trying to be,” she admits.

Cass puts the glass down and wipes her mouth on her sleeve. “That Madison boy is your boyfriend?” Honey nods. “No offense, but that boy is not going to make me pay.”

“He’s stronger than he looks,” Honey defends.

“Well,” Cass says, “so am I.”

Honey scans Cass. She’s tall, taller than Honey, but frail-looking. She has skinny arms and legs, and, honestly, she looks fifteen.

“What did you mean,” Honey begins, changing the subject, “when you said you can restore my memories?”

Cass takes a deep breath. “Well, I can’t do it myself. I don’t have that kind of power, but I have friends that can.”

“Then take me to them,” she demands.

“Slow down,” Cass says. “First, we have to prove that you’re worth restoring.”

“Worth restoring?” Honey asks. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Witches and Warlocks can be picky when it comes to favors,” Cass explains. “They only want to work with ‘pure’ customers. I’ve already been deemed pure by the Warlocks’ Council.” She pulls up her sleeve, revealing a burn that looks like a W with a vertical line straight down the middle.

“Warlocks? Witches?” Honey asks, baffled. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh,” she begins, “you really don’t know anything about the Immortal World.”

“I’m sorry, but you’re mad,” Honey says. She gets up from her chair and starts to walk away, leaving Cass behind.

But when Honey arrives outside, the world is frozen. Not winter frozen, or the Disney film, but frozen in time. Moving cars stop in the middle of traffic. Birds stand still overhead, wings spread out. People with one foot in the air, trapped in conversation, glued to their phones. Honey is the only one still moving.

A hand grasps her shoulder. She gasps, and spins around. Cass stands there staring at her.

“What did you do?” she asks, muddled. “More importantly, how did you do that? And don’t say ‘magic.’”

She huffs. “I’m part an order of half-human, half-demon warriors that fight to protect mortals from evil. Personally, I am half-Gorgon from my mother’s side. Instead of turning people into stone, I can freeze the Mortal World in time,” she explains. “Got a problem with that?”

She stays silent.

“I thought so,” Cass says.

“So you’re half-demon?” she asks.

“Yeah,” Cass says. “And so are you.”


“There are things you need to know,” she says. “But I can’t explain everything right now.” Her voice rises. “The entire Mortal World is frozen, and I can hear footsteps coming here. Fast.”

“What do we do?” Honey asks, as the sound of footsteps grows louder.

“What I always do,” she says. “Run.”

Cass unfreezes the Mortal World, and they run as fast as they can through the streets of Brooklyn. Honey’s heart races as her feet pound against the pavement, and she takes short, quick breaths to stabilize her jittery body. Cass is much faster than her, and it pains Honey to run faster than she has ever before. Cass makes a turn into an alley, and Honey follows her, not knowing what she’s doing. She pulls out a phone, dials a number, and puts it up to her ear.

“Monroe?” she says into the speaker. “Yeah, it’s me, Cass. I found Mara. Yes, I’m sure it’s her. There’s someone following us. I need backup. Come with the Idrises. Yes, immediately.”

Cass ends the call, and looks down the street. She gasps. She runs towards the end of the alley, and sprints up a wobbly, rusty ladder. As she approaches the top, she yells something that Honey assumes it’s an invitation to hurry up. Honey runs and hops onto the ladder. She climbs as fast as she can, but Cass is much quicker than her. Honey pulls herself onto the roof of the building and sees Cass looking up, not down like Honey would assume she would.

“What are you looking at?” she asks. Suddenly, a roaring sound of flapping pervades her ears. “Cass, what is that sound?”

“Backup,” she says.

Honey looks at the sky and sees four creatures flying towards them. As they approach closer, she recognizes the flying beings as horses. Horses with wings. The four black stallions flap their large, long, dark wings up and down, and it looks like they’re carrying people: two young women and two young men. The horses land gracefully on the roof of the building. They hop off and tie their reins on an antenna sticking out from the brick. The riders’ eyes widen when they see Honey. She wonders why they’re staring at her, but she just walks over to Cass.

“Why are they staring at me?” she asks.

“They’re surprised to see you,” she says as she leads Honey over to them.

As they approach them, Honey grows nervous. They look at her as though they’ve known her forever. She has an uneasy, familiar feeling about these people. She then notices they carry swords in their scabbards except for one of the women, she carries no weapon. The short woman with no weapon has short dark hair cut to her neck, flawless alabaster skin, deep brown eyes, and wears dark jeans, a black tank top, and a red leather jacket.

Cass points to the woman and says, “This is Brielle Idris.” She points to the other woman, who has long dark purple hair, tied in a ponytail, alabaster skin, hazel eyes, and wears almost the same thing as Brielle, but has a black leather jacket and blue jeans. Cass directs her hand to the shorter man with shaggy blond hair, brown eyes, alabaster skin, and wears ripped jeans, and a t-shirt. “These are the Idris twins, Garvin and Lilith.” Then Cass nods to the muscular man with the scars running down his face, who wears black jeans, a navy t-shirt, and combat boots with dark hair, dark skin, and brown eyes. “And this Kellen Monroe.”

Lilith is the one who speaks first. “Where have you been for the last two years?”

“I believe that a demon might’ve stolen her memories,” Cass says. “She doesn’t know any of us or anything of the Immortal World.”

“Dammit,” Garvin mumbles.

“Are you all like Cass?” Honey innocently asks.

“Everyone, except for Brielle,” Monroe says. “She’s a Witch.”

“Oh,” is all she can say.

“We can’t deal with this right now,” Cass says. “There’s a group of Voragines coming up the street right now, and I bet by all six of our demon blood and the pegasi, that they can smell us and will come up here. So I suggest we be prepared.” She takes a deep breath. “Arm Mara with a sword, and be ready.”

Garvin, Lilith, and Monroe pull their swords from their scabbards and raise them in a defensive position. Monroe tosses Cass another sword from his second scabbard, and she catches it. Garvin walks over to Honey and holds out a silver sword.

“Take this,” he says to her. “You will know what to do.” He smiles and places the sword in her hands. Honey can feel something when his skin touch hers, another spark of fire, but she still cannot find the substance that lights it.

“What’s my name? My real name?” she asks him, looking into his eyes.

“Your name is Mara Blackwood,” Garvin says. “You’re like me, a Champion of the Immortal World.”

“Blackwood?” she asks. “Like Cass?”

“She didn’t tell you?” he asks. “She’s your sister.”

Honey’s mind races, but she knows that this isn’t the time to take all of this in. All she knows is that she needs to help these people defend themselves from Voragines, the bloodsucking monsters that tried to kill Vic and her a year ago. These last two years are all she remembers. She wonders what life she must have had back when she was Mara Blackwood. Whoever she was, she is not that girl anymore. Through the deprivation of her memories, she has been reborn. Honey holds the silver sword in her hands, a sword engraved with beautiful symbols. She wonders if they mean something special to someone. She can feel the power in her dainty hands. The power coursing through her blood.

She knows now who she is, who she will always be.

She looks up at Garvin and sees him staring at her. She gives him a smile of reassurance and grasps the sword in her hands. She raises the sword up between her and Garvin.

“I don’t know who you are, Garvin,” she begins. “I might’ve long ago, but not anymore. I have many questions, but little answers. I do not need them right now because I know what I am, what I will always be: a warrior.”

She lowers the sword and walks away. She approaches the others and raises her sword like they do. Cass looks over to her.

“Are you ready?” she asks.

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

About two dozen Voragines scale the building, their sharp teeth snarling and their razor-edged nails digging into the brick. They are pale beings with murderous eyes. Her muscles tighten and her heart beat quickens. She tightens her grip on the sword as they grow closer. She backs away from the edge. Cass and the others stay where they are, ready for battle. But she thinks she can defend herself by standing back.

Lilith swings her bronze sword and slices off the head of an ugly Vorago. Her stomach twists at the sight of the headless body, the severed head, and the sprayed blood all over. She wonders how no one on the streets can see the horror above their heads. Monroe impales another and it falls to the ground. In Brielle’s hands, a ball of fire forms, growing bigger and bigger. She throws it at a Vorago, and its body is consumed by the flames. He burns and plummets to the Earth. Cass slashes a Vorago, and Garvin slits another’s throat.

Strangely, she has no trouble believing that this chaos is her world.

Another Vorago sprints towards the girl and snarls his teeth at her. She raises her sword, and swings the blade straight through his heart. He falls to the ground. Blood spills everywhere. It feels so natural, the killing of demons. Her heartbeat quickens and the blood in her veins boils. Another attacks her, and she slices off its head. Energy rushes down her spine, an odd place where power would emerge. She slashes one Vorago, two Voragines, three Voragines. It’s so easy.

After so many Voragines dead, the warriors finally stop and lower their weapons. All eyes turn to the girl. Her clothes are covered in blood, her hair thrown all about because of fighting, and her body weakening right in front of them. She trudges over to the edge and looks down. The people keep walking. They don’t even notice the battle that roared above them moments ago.

Tears burn in her eyes and her knees buckle. If Cass is right, she is demon, but she is also human. That bit of human lingering in her body, her soul, keeping her bound to this Earth, this world.

Suddenly, the others are yelling at her, warning her. They’re telling her to turn around. She spins as quickly as she can, but it’s too late. The last growling Vorago is running toward her at what it seems like light speed. He pushes her, and it knocks her off the roof.

It’s very slow actually, contrary to what most people might think falling to your own death feels like. The wind rushes against her face, flapping her hair and her blood-sprayed clothes. There’s a scream, multiple actually, coming from above. She spreads her arms out like a bird and shuts her eyes. She is prepared to face the Grim Reaper. She doesn’t know why, but death feels natural, normal even.

There is another burst of energy emerging from her spine. She doesn’t know what it is, but she knows that there is something familiar about the power. A great pain spikes out from her back, and she opens her eyes. Instead of plummeting straight to her death, she swoops back up into the air, miraculously. She doesn’t know what is happening. It’s as if her weight disintegrates and she becomes as light as a feather. The wind gusts against her body. The buildings pass by her in a split second as she heads towards the sky.

She’s rising like the break of dawn, and the Earth is bowing down to her.

She stops and rises above every building in New York. She looks down and sees the roof she fell off of. Cass and the others are staring at her as if she is an impossibility. But their stares tell her everything that she needs to know. They aren’t goggling at her. They are gaping at what’s on her back.

Glorious, pure, white-feathered wings sprout from her spine and sprawl out like a newborn bird ready to take flight. They flap back and forth gracefully, but powerfully. Her breathing grows harder and her heart leaps into her throat. She kicks her legs in the air, trying to fly back to the roof. It doesn’t do much good.

Then, she realizes that the power isn’t in her legs, it’s her wings. An impossible saying in her mind. She pushes the energy from her feet to her spine. She screams in agony trying to bring herself to the force the vitality to take her home. Her blood boils and her heart feels like it is on fire. She shuts her eyes and pushes her wings. She can feel the world still shifting beneath her feet. She can feel herself advancing, but does not know where.

She opens her eyes and can see herself growing closer to them. She grins and pushes herself closer towards the roof. She kicks until the soles of her shoes touch the brick. Cass and Garvin reach out to bring her in, and once she firmly planted on the roof, the wings are sucked into her back. She reaches over to touch it and feels the holes in her clothes from the winged birth. Still such a strange phrase. “Her wings.”

Cass embraces her and smacks her lips on her forehead. She hugs her sister back and laughs.

“Are you okay?” Cass asks.

“Not completely,” she says as she releases Cass. “But when I get my memory back, I’m sure it’ll be alright.”

“I can help with that,” Brielle pipes up. “When we arrive at the Bureau, I can concoct a memory recovery potion, but we have to stop off at the Council first to have you deemed pure.”

“What’s the Bureau?” she asks.

“Champions’ base of operations,” Monroe says. “It’s where we eat, sleep, and plan missions.” He pauses. “Now we know what your mother is, Mara.”

“An angel?” she asks.

Monroe nods. “A rarity among Champions. Angels don’t spend much time in the Mortal World, and most of them believe anything with human blood is a disgrace. But I guess your father must’ve been something special.”

“I wish I knew,” she mumbles.

“It’s going to be alright, Mara,” Cass says.

The girl looks up to the sky, and wonders. Wonders what will be her fate. Wonders who she was, who she is, who she will be. She was once the girl with no name. A girl who woke up in an alley, and was found by a boy she truly loves, and he loves her back the same way. Someone who didn’t know anything about the real world, the cruel and unforgiving world. She is, and always will be, the girl who flew, flew in the sky with the wings of an angel. She was once the girl dying on the Earth, but now she is the girl in the sky, so very much alive.


I am stuck, in the oddest sense of the word. I know exactly where I am, and know I will never get out. I am on the inside. It’s the only way to describe where I am. The alternate inside. The unofficial prison of hell. Twenty thousand miniature mechanics stimulating complete and total isolation. It’s basically a never ending prison cell. Separated only by doorframes (no doors) are the three rooms: the bedroom, the bathroom and the waiting room. You eat, think, confess, write, whatever you want to do in the waiting room. It’s just a white couch and a white coffee table in a white space with a white ceiling and white floors – everything is white here.


The food slot closes, jolting me out of my daydream. The food is a bowl of oatmeal, just the palest of grey-browns. There is never anything else. It is actually very comfortable in here, but in a redundant way. There is nothing to do, only a notepad of pure white paper and a white ballpoint pen that flows with grey ink, barely a color at all. In fact, it has been proven that people released are almost color-blind because of the whiteness. The only color is my uncovered hands, but even those look white under the fluorescent lighting. Everything is made to be monotone, boring, so precise that you will forget any wrong you did, or think it was a dream. As I said, the perfect prison. And the brilliant thing is that you can keep up to ten people in the same room and none of them will acknowledge or see the others in their simulation. Thirty if you strap them down. You can keep people in here for centuries after they die, and they will still live inside the simulation. The genius behind this must be evil. Ha, thinking like I’ve been here years already. I am best friends with the person who made this. Her kindness was unmatched in all the years I’ve lived. And I can’t even blame it all on her, either. I was the engineer.

A Lesson Learned

Ethan walked into his house and took off his backpack. He ran upstairs to his room, only to see his parents standing in front of his door.

“What’s going on?” Ethan asked.

“You and I both know what’s going on,” his dad answered.

“And what’s that?” Ethan said, trying to act innocent.

“You know… your graffiti that you left on the school wall,” his mom said. “Ethan, this is the 16th time this has happened. The police came over and told us. We’re very disappointed in you. As your punishment, you are grounded for life.”

Ethan stared at them, pushed his parents out of the way and slammed the door shut, then quickly locked it. His parents pounded on the door for a few minutes while occasionally yelling. Eventually it stopped. Ethan started gathering his clothes and put them in a small suitcase.

“I’m obviously a disappointment to them. They probably don’t even want me,”  Ethan muttered to himself. When he was done packing his clothes, he went to the kitchen and grabbed sandwich supplies and stuffed them in his backpack. When night came, he grabbed his backpack and suitcase and quietly walked downstairs. The stairs creaked as he walked down them. When he arrived at the front door he slowly opened it, stepped outside, then closed it.  

He sprinted down the sidewalk, dragging his suitcase behind him. He turned the corner of the street and headed toward the forest. The trees loomed over him, casting a dark shadow. He sprinted toward the center, crunching leaves and snapping twigs. He slowed down and sat for a break.

He heard rustling and he turned around. Behind him was a map taped to a tree. He grabbed it and opened it. It showed a strange world with four giant land masses at each direction. He pressed his finger against the map and instantly disappeared.

He reappeared in a desert. The sun was very dim and his eyes took some time to readjust. He glanced around. There was little life except some cacti and the occasional rats. His head throbbed with questions. He looked at his hands. He just realized that he was still holding the map. His backpack had also disappeared. He laid the map across a flat rock and pressed his finger on the map, waiting to be teleported. Nothing happened. He panicked. He started rushing around trying to find help, but it seemed like the desert continued forever.  Why am I here??? I was just in a forest and now I’m suddenly in a desert?  he thought.

He finally stopped to take a break. Behind him he heard a rustling sound. He whirled around to see what it was. It was just a raven. In its beak was a scroll. He jumped at the raven to get it, but the raven would just teleport a short distance away.  Eventually he got so frustrated that he picked up a rock and chucked it at the raven. It hit the bird, and the bird slumped over. He picked up the scroll. He opened it.

Inside, it read, Hello child. I know you want a way out of this endless desert and only I have the answers. To get the answer you must first complete two tasks for me. If you succeed then go to this same spot and you’ll get your reward. Here are the tasks I wish for you to do for me. First you must find the oasis. There will be a door. On both sides of the door will be a panel full of numbers. You must type each number within 1 second of each other. Here is the passcode you must type in, 1 (left), 6 (right), 4 (left), 9 (right) and 2 (left). Each time you fail you will be incapacitated with great pain.

For your second task, you will climb up a mountain. At the top are two doorways. Each doorway leads to twice as many doorways there has been before. When you step in the doorway on the left a sheet will appear having the answers to the doorway on the right. But if you leave the sheet will temporarily disappear until you step back in. Everything I told you also applies to the doorway on the right except it contains the answers to the doorway to the left. If you step in the wrong doorway you also will be incapacitated with great pain and will have to restart. Only one of you has to go through the last door to complete it. When you complete a task, you will earn food and water to keep yourself alive. From: The One Who Watches.

Ethan rolled it up and put it in his pocket. Ethan looked up at the sky and shouted, “This is impossible! How am I supposed to do this alone?”

Suddenly another scroll dropped from the sky and landed near him. He picked it up and unravelled it. Inside it read, I will be sending another child who is also stuck in this desert like you to help.

Ethan then dropped this scroll and looked around. It seemed like there was no help coming toward him. He turned around and suddenly another kid was there standing face to face with him. Ethan backed up. The kid was tall with impatient green eyes and messy hair. Ethan jumped back in surprise.

“Are you the help the scroll sent for me?” Ethan asked.

“I guess,” the kid said, “My name’s Michael, but call me Mike. Yours?”
“I’m Ethan,” Ethan replied. “Why are you here?”

“I ran away from home to a forest. Found a compass. As soon as I touched it, I got teleported here,” Mike said.

“Same. Except I found a map instead of compass,” Ethan replied.

“Well Ethan, let’s get started then.”

“But… where do we go?”

“Ethan use your brain. You’re holding a map.”

“Oh, right.” Ethan hadn’t even realized that he was still clenching the map in his hand.

Ethan grabbed his map. It showed the same land masses he saw in the forest. The biggest one was covered in sand, so Ethan assumed that he and Mike were there. Mike leaned in to get a look at the map. On the map it showed little symbols. There was a raven, a mountain and a lake with trees.

“So. We’re at the raven, right?” Ethan asked.

Mike grunted, “Think so. I saw a raven flying by who gave me my scroll.”

Mike snatched the map out of Ethan’s hands and held up his compass. “We need to go north,” he announced. Mike rushed forward while Ethan lumbered behind. Eventually they found the oasis. It seemed so out of place. A pool of water and some palm trees in an ocean of sand. Ethan’s stomach grumbled. Ethan looked around. “Do we have any food?”

“No, but the scroll said that if we complete a task we will earn food. Can’t you read?” Mike answered.

“Let’s do it, then!” Ethan said. He ran toward the door, eager to get his meal. Ethan tripped on a rock and fell face first into the sand. He wiped his face and stumbled and fell in the pond. Mike stood behind and laughed as Ethan climbed out. Ethan just turned around and tried to ignore Mike laughing at him. He took out his scroll and looked at the passcode then at the door looming in front of him. The door was at least ten feet tall and six feet wide.

He pressed the first number then rushed to the other side. Suddenly he dropped. He felt like molten lead was being poured on him. He wailed in agony. His vision became blurred. Then everything went dark. He woke up with Mike staring at his face.

“You okay?” Mike asked.

Does it look like I’m okay?  Ethan wanted to say, but it hurt too much to talk, so he managed a weak nod. Mike grabbed his arm and heaved him upright. Ethan leaned against Mike for support.

Mike said, “What were you thinking, trying to finish the first task by yourself? You must be really stupid or brave to attempt that.”

“I wanted a meal,” Ethan said as his stomach grumbled.

“If you waited until I was there we could’ve done it in no time.”

“Okay, let’s do it now.”

Ethan stood on the left side while Mike stood on the right. Mike brought his own scroll out and glanced between the number panel and the passcode.

Ethan held up his own scroll and said, “Ready?”

Mike nodded, “Ready.”

Ethan pressed the first button. Then Mike glanced over and pressed the next button. They continued until the last button had been pushed. The door hissed. Mike and Ethan stepped back. The door continued sliding open. Ethan stared into the doorframe. Inside was just white. A glowing white that shone light. Then two horses appeared. They had saddles and reins. The horses walked out the door then the door slowly closed.

Ethan said, “Is this our food? Are we supposed to eat the horses?”

Mike rolled his eyes, “Shouldn’t we check the saddlebags first?”

“Oh right… yeah,” Ethan muttered.

Ethan walked up to the horse. The horse seemed friendly and didn’t seem to mind Ethan rummaging through the saddlebag. Ethan pulled out a hamburger, a backpack, and a note. The note read, I heard people like eating these… hamburgers, so that’s what I decided to give you. Return this crown to me after you’re done with your second task.

Ethan opened the backpack. Inside was a crown. He slung the backpack over his shoulder and put the note in his pocket. He quickly gobbled down the burger. The hamburger tasted like cardboard, but Ethan was too hungry to complain. Mike also got a note and hamburger in the other horse’s saddlebag. He put the note back in the saddlebag and ate the hamburger. Once he finished he said, “Well, let’s go complete the second task now.”

Ethan nodded. Mike jumped on to a horse and turned around. “Why did you run away?” he asked.

Ethan sighed and said, “I’m a graffiti artist and I sprayed the school building. My parents found out and don’t love me anymore, so I ran away.” Mike nodded and spurred the horse kicking sand in Ethan’s face. Ethan wiped away the sand and jumped onto his horse and rode after Mike.

Once Ethan caught up with with Mike he said, “Wait, where are we going? Shouldn’t we check the map?”

Mike grabbed the map from Ethan’s pocket and looked at his compass. Then looked at the map. “We’re going the right way,” he informed him. “Follow me, so you won’t get lost ‘cause I know you will.”

Ethan muttered an insult under his breath while Mike forged ahead. Eventually when they arrived at the mountain they realized that it was surrounded by water, meaning that they had to abandon their horses and swim across. The water was very deep and dangerous and sharp, jagged rocks jutted out from the water.

“How do we get across?” Ethan asked.

“I don’t know,” Mike said.

“Do we search around for a way across?” Ethan suggested.


Mike and Ethan walked around the perimeter of the island and found two small wooden canoes. Inside each canoe was a note that read, Good luck surviving.

“Wow. What a helpful note,” Ethan said sarcastically.

“Well, let’s get to it,” Mike said.

They climbed into their canoes and pushed themselves into the water. Immediately Mike propelled forward, toward a sharp, jagged rock. Ethan pushed forward with his paddle and when Mike’s canoe was in reach he grabbed it before Mike crashed.

“Thanks,” Mike said.

“No problem. Without you I would be stuck here forever,” Ethan said.

Ethan and Mike continued struggling towards the island until they finally hit land. They climbed out and looked around.

“Now we climb the mountain, right?” Ethan said.


Mike and Ethan headed towards the mountain looming over them. Soon Mike and Ethan got separated because the mountain was surrounded by thick vegetation.

“Mike, where are you?” Ethan yelled.

“I don’t know, where are you?” Mike yelled back.

Ethan thought, Wow really helpful Mike. Thanks. Ethan looked up trying to see where the mountain was but his vision was blocked by the canopy of the trees. He decided to follow his instincts and continue moving forward. Eventually night fell and Ethan  was still lost. I wonder how my parents are. They probably don’t ever miss me.  They are probably celebrating my disappearance.  Shadows were cast upon the ground. Ethan decided to give it a break and continue when morning came. He lay down on the ground and prepared for sleep, but then he heard rustling. He sat up and looked around. Suddenly a figure burst out of the bushes. Ethan jumped back and started backing up until he realized that the figure was Mike.

“There you are!” Mike said.

“How did you know where to find me?” Ethan asked.

“I heard some noise, so I headed toward the sound.”

“It’s too dark to see. We should wait until morning,” Ethan said.

Ethan and Mike lay down on the ground and slept. Ethan woke up to Mike shaking him repeatedly.

“C’mon. Let’s go,” Mike said.

“Why do we need to leave so early?”

“I just got a note that said that  if we don’t finish this in the next day we’ll be stuck here forever.” Mike said.

Ethan got up quickly and said to Mike, “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

They walked up through the forest until they got to the base of the mountain. Ethan hadn’t realized just how steep it was. Mike searched for a handhold and heaved himself up. Ethan followed. They made progress going up the mountain. Then Ethan grabbed a loose rock and fell. His fall was stopped by Mike who quickly grabbed his shirt and pulled him back up. They found a ledge and rested.

“Thanks for saving me,” Ethan said.

“No problem. You saved me before,” Mike said.

They sat down until they started climbing again. Ethan’s muscles ached as they approached the summit. Mike stood up and pulled Ethan up. The two doors were at the middle.

“I’ll take the left side and you take the right, okay?” Ethan said.

Mike nodded. They headed towards the doors. Ethan opened his door and saw a sheet of paper. It read, Second door (from left to right).

Mike shouted at Ethan, “Go to the first door!”

Ethan shouted back, “Left to right, right?”

Mike replied, “Yep.”

Ethan then said, “Second door from left to right.”

They continued until Ethan came across a trick. On his paper it said the door from right to left. Ethan hadn’t realized this until he heard Mike scream in pain.

“MIKE!” Ethan shouted.

“Yeah?” Mike said weakly.

“What happened?”

“I got teleported outside.”

“I came across a trick. It said right to left even though all the other ones said left to right. I’m coming back, ok?”

“No, don’t,” Mike said. “You’re on the last door. Just pick one and hope for the best.”

Ethan wanted to disagree, but they were running out of time. He walked up to the 17th door out of the 34 doors and braced himself. Instantly he was teleported outside. Instead of feeling great pain, a door appeared with a backpack and a note. He picked up the backpack. Inside was a scepter and more burgers. The note read, Please return the scepter and the crown to me. You know where to find me. Ethan gave the backpack to Mike and said, “So now we go back to the desert?”

“I guess,” Mike said, “but shouldn’t we eat first?”

Ethan hadn’t realized how hungry he was until now. He grabbed a burger and ate it. The burger tasted just as bland as the last one.

Mike put the backpack on and walked through the door. Ethan followed behind him. They appeared at the desert. They followed the map and compass and reached the raven symbol. There was nothing around. Suddenly a doorway materialized out of the air and a hooded figure stepped out.

“You have completed both tasks I sent you to do. Now to return home you must return my items,” the hooded figure said.

Ethan presented the crown and Mike gave the hooded figure the scepter.

“Very good children. Now I will tell you why I sent you here.”

“You sent us here?”

“Yes I did. I did to help you children learn how to work with others. Both of you hated working with others so I grouped you together so that you would learn your lesson. You are now free to go.”

Ethan spent some time taking this in. Wow. Was I really like this?  Well at least I’m a better person now.  Then he said, “Bye, Mike.”

Mike smiled, “Bye.”

They walked through the door and were teleported away. Ethan appeared in the forest holding the map in his hand. He left it where he found it and ran home. The door flew open and his mom yelled, “Where were you! You were gone for two days. We were worried.” Ethan stared at her. She looked like she might burst into tears.

“Worried? I thought you didn’t care about me anymore.”

“Ethan. Even though we were mad at you, that doesn’t mean we don’t care about you.”

“But why did you ground me for life?”

“Maybe we were a little too harsh,” his mom admitted. “I think you deserve a second chance, Ethan. As long as you try to be nicer and stay out of trouble.”

“Okay, Mom.”

“Where did you go?”

He reflected on everything that had happened. Maybe it wasn’t just a random occurrence.  Maybe  I deserved this.  He smiled. “I just got lost.”

Winter Fashion


I stand. Strong. Waiting for the demon.

The demon that fights for greed.

He stomps. Angry. Waiting to destroy

family. Family that fights for love.

He arrives.

Its demon comes out and tries to break our love.

Love between my love.

Love between my life.


My love I cared for when nature gave her to me.

The one I carried through the rain.

The one I carried through life.

Last night.

Deep asleep.

Not knowing the future.

Not knowing tomorrow.

Knowing demons are there.

But never knowing tomorrow.


She awoke from my fur.

Stomach growling.

Not from demons. From hunger.

The demon’s servant obeys its master,

Shutting its rusted jaw on my love’s feet.

Broken bones.






No way to leave

she tries to struggle free.

I stand. She can do nothing but watch

Watch as I try

to protect



A screech behind me. I snap

back to the present.

I cannot leave.

Or the demons will come

and she will be alone.

Alone with her blood. Her tears

to lick her wounds.

I look behind.

My beautiful love.

Covered with red and fear.


It comes in close.

The smell of blood

lingering in the air.

The smell of our dead

brothers hanging on its shoulders.

Its demons blow me aside.

Red consumes me


It looks down on my love with angry eyes.

Angry with hate that comes from greed.

Angry with nothing to be angry about.

Angry for nothing my love has done.

The demon devours her eyes.

Her beautiful eyes.

Red consumes her whole.


I watch.

I scream.

I die.

Weeping as my love goes by.

My innocent love.

She has done nothing wrong.

But no, loving and living and breathing is wrong.

My love is gone,

To be dragged along to a place of no hope

Her beautiful face

Bouncing along the broken path

That leads to a place of death


And I can do nothing.

But watch and hope.


Hope the demon will bring her back.

Back by my side.

So we can run like we used to.

So we can kiss like we used to.

So we can laugh like we used to.

So we can howl and smile and play

Like we used to.


My broken heart

A product of my false dreams

Of her ever returning to me


A year later I meet my love

the same way she met God.

Except no one stood for me.

No one licked my tears away

As I had done for my love

The demons had already taken those

That would have stood for me.

That would have cried with me.

That would have kissed me until it came.

give and take


 I take

3 hard candies in my hand and

slip them out of their plastic shells.

I pop each one into my mouth

with a quick movement,

So no one can see what I’ve done.


I take

pictures of leaves and flowers and hands

and then delete them.

I hide them so well

That they’re never found,

And I shake my head when

People see my camera

And ask if I take any good pictures.


I take


And warp them until they’re

All I can hold onto.

Subtle, teasing comments

That shouldn’t mean anything.


I take

Tests and lose my sanity

For 44 minutes.  


I give

hesitant hugs and lemon drops with smiles that taste just as sour.   


I give

Averted glances and

Tired, trembling high fives.   


I’ve given

until my hands are so empty and raw that they hurt too much to take.


I can’t take from others

Because I know how hard it is to give.   

We’re still kids with

Sticky fingers,

Stuck to rapacity and red life savers.  


I take

books and fall asleep with them so the pages are crumpled where I finished reading.


I take

water and let it slip through the cracks between each finger,

Long showers that lull

My environmentalist mind to sleep.   


I take

Deep breaths

Between giggles or sobs ––

It makes no difference.   


I take

a dictionary and shake it hard

so the words have new meanings.   


I take


I take

my friends’ hands when we walk through cemeteries

because it’s scary and cold,

But their fingers aren’t.   


I take

Minutes to myself.  

Sunday mornings where I lay under a snowy white mountain of blankets,

The sun creeping in through my window;

I take

her in with open arms.  


I take for myself,

From myself.  


I take

3 hard candies

And rip them out of their plastic shells,

So everyone knows that I’m here

And ready to take.


R(un)ning Away

My face is damp. I can’t feel my throat. I sluggishly walk to the water left over from yesterday, and moisten my lips with a few drops. I quickly run back to the floor, worried that Father will wake up and slap me for using the scarce water we have. I start covering my bony body with my blanket but then see the morning sun streaming through the twigs. Time to start my chores. I take the big bucket from the kitchen, put on my sandals, and start walking down the dusty path to the river. I’ve been walking down this path for seven years and I’ve never had the urge to run away, find a new life, a new beginning. Father and Mother would never let me leave, for fear of what is over the trash-piled mountains, but I don’t.

As I calm Baji in my arms I look in her deep green eyes, look at her scarred face, and she smiles at me. Should I take her with me? Should I free her from the chains of life? After all, she will end up like me, with no future, no money. No, I can’t. She’ll be too much of a burden. I put her back down on my blanket and take one last look at our house (if it even is one) and embark on my journey for a new life.

“Where are you going?” Mother screams.

“I’m going to Arva’s house to play with her,” I lie.

“She’s not there, she got sent off.”

“Oh, then I’ll go, um, get some more water.”

I rush out the door before my tears wash my dirty face. Poor Arva. I never thought her parents would be so cruel to send her off. She’ll get treated like an animal. Her poor little body will be ripped in half.

I run. Run for her, run for me. I can’t risk my parents sending me off.

I’ve been walking for a day now, my feet are as dirty as the ground, and I smell like the garbage that surrounds me. Finally, some trees! I take the big dirty blanket from under my feet and bring it over to the tree. The shade envelops my dark skin to make it even darker and I collapse onto the blanket.

The hard wind strikes my body and I pull the blanket to cover myself. Something’s there, like an anchor. I dismiss it and try pulling the other side. It takes me just a second to realize my clothes are off my body and a coarse hand is stroking it. I quickly turn back around lying face to face with a scarred one-eyed old man. “Stop moving, darling, the fun hasn’t even started.”

I stand up, still processing the abuse I’ve just experienced. I grab a piece of metal just an inch away from me and hit the old man with all my might. I see blood streaming down his neck and know he is dead. I immediately start praying and ask god for my forgiveness. I walk and watch the sun reflect on my piece of metal. I know that I’ll be needing it now.

The metal scrapes me every now and then but I dismiss it. The only thing on my mind is water, I know that if I don’t get it soon I’ll be too weak to walk. I need to get a job, make money, get food. I’m about to turn around, end this adventure, and go back to my boring hut but I see a sign. Asarganj it says in bright red with an arrow pointing to the right. Asarganj is where mother’s from! Maybe I’ll find aunty, she won’t tell on me, she never liked mother anyway.

Asarganj, this is where mother grew up. Dusty streets, shady people, the smell of dead bodies. Beggars, dogs, the sound of gambling, and there it is the legendary Dream House where prostitutes bathe in gold. Only the best of the best serve there, they come in poor and come out queens, but their minds are scarred forever. I can’t resist. It won’t hurt to go inside and take a quick look. This is a place of magic. I touch the cold gold metal on the door and rush in.

Scarves, mist, sound everywhere. I push the scarves away, already feeling like a queen, and find myself standing next to men bidding on women. “100,” “150,” “200,” “300,” “Sold.”

“What’s happening here?” I ask a nice-looking man.

“I’ll take her for ten.”

Everyone laughs.

The next thing I know a woman so covered in makeup you’d think she’s a doll touches my shoulder. “Honey, you seem hungry and tired. Come with me,” she says.

I’m so hungry by now I don’t care if they’ll kill me, so I follow her. We walk into a room with wooden tables and chairs filled with more dolls. All the women look at me.

“Kindra, who’s this?” one of them asks.

“She’s hungry, we’ll talk later.”

“Honey, take some bread with your soup,” Kindra says.

“What were those men doing?” I ask.

“Oh, just playing a game. Are you done?” I nod my head. “Follow me.” I follow Kindra through the sea of dolls and we go inside a room. The room smells of incense with a big lumpy bed adorned with scarves.

“Who’s this? You know I’m busy,” says a woman, so thin I can see her heart.

“She came in. What should I do with her?”

“Girl, why did you come here?”

“I wanted to see if the legends are true,” I say.

“Oh, they are. Would you like to work here?” the skeleton woman says.

“Marji, she’s just a little girl.” Kindra stares at Marji as if communicating with her telepathically.

“We need a greeter, don’t we?”

“Yes, miss.”

“So, do you want the job?”

“How much would you pay me?” I ask.

“A greedy one we have. Ten each day.”

That’s more than I’ve ever seen. “I’ll take it.”

“Good. Kindra, go dress her up.”

The bony woman then turns around and vanishes into another room.

“Come on, we don’t have all day,” says Kindra. We walk past multiple rooms with weird noises seeping out. “You know, you’re lucky. Fathers send girls over here a few years older than you and make them work here for as long as they like. Of course, the fathers get the money and Marji gets half. She doesn’t like that it happens but she’ll lose all her money if she doesn’t.” We walk into a room with many women transforming into dolls. They paint their faces with vibrant colors and attach feathers to their hair. “Come here,” Kindra says. I sit down on a velvet chair and let the dolls make me into one of them. A crisp blue is put on my eyes and a mash of purple and red put on my lips. They then undress me and put me in a glittery sari. I turn to look at my new self. All my life I’ve been told to hide, be invisible, but now no one can miss me, everyone must see me. I’ll be the sun goddess in the pool of dark, I’ll be the only flower in the garden. All the dolls are looking at me, laughing. “Yes, you’re beautiful. Let’s go. You’ve got work to do.”

“Come to the Dream House, where your dreams will become reality.” That’s my phrase. Kindra says to say it every 20 seconds, so I do. “Come to the Dream House, where your dreams will become reality.”

My first customer. A man approaches me in a nice white shirt and immediately examines my demeanor, as if he’s hiring me for a job. “What are you doing here young lady?”

“I work here.”

“Well, you can come work for me, I give 20.”

“What would I do?”

“Have fun.”

“Get out of here, Bakul,” screams Kindra.

The man grins with familiarity and says, “You wanna work for me too?”

“No. Now leave, before I call Marji.”

“See you tomorrow,” he says.

“He comes here every day, takes girls and doesn’t let them leave,” Kindra says to me.

“Thank you,” I say.

“For what?

“Warning me.”

“Get back to work.”


“Good work today. It´s only your second day and you’re a pro. Here’s your money. Now let’s eat,” says Kindra. We walk back through the hallways and Kindra brings me to a room. “Wake up at 6:00 to start again. Good night.”

I open the door to my room and see it’s not just my room. Three girls around my age are sitting on the floor eating. I look at the brownish broth with a little fish head popping out. “I’m Ashmira,” I say.

“Here’s your food. I’m Bindi.” Bindi’s face, like all the others, is covered with makeup, but it’s covering something. Bruises and a black eye.

“That’s what happens when you resist,” she says.

“Who did it?” I ask.

“He did,” Bindi points to the bed. Bindi stares me down with envy and confusion.

“You’re lucky. You get a choice. I don’t.”

“What do you mean?” Then I remember what Kindra told me –– her father sent her.

“My family needed money, we had no house, no food, nothing. They sent me here when I was eight and when they got what they needed, that wasn’t enough. They wanted more. They now have servants and banquets and I get nothing. All I get is bruises. I finally got sick of this life and decided to rebel, but that didn’t work. They lock this room all night, so don’t think you’re getting out.”

A cold rush of insecurity runs through my veins. Mother and Father could’ve sent me off but they didn’t, even if they were going to starve. They did everything for me.

“But I don’t work for my family.”

“I know, but do you think they care? They have more power than you. It was a mistake coming here.”

I look closely at her to make sure she’s not exaggerating. What if she’s right? What if I’m going to become a slave?

“It’s all a trick,” I say.

Bindi´s eyes glitter with satisfaction and delight.

“Exactly. They lure you in with niceness, but when you start working, there’s no going back.”

“What do we do?”

“I’m glad you asked. Have you seen that man that comes every day?”

“Yes. Kindra says he enslaves girls.”

“She’s lying, she only says that to make you stay here, not go with him.”

Is she crazy! Who would go with a complete stranger to a foreign place?

“So you want to go with him?”


“But what if he kills you, doesn’t give you food?”

“It’s better than here.”

I then realize I can argue with her no more and that she would risk her life to get out of this place.

“When are you going?”

“Whenever you decide. You’re the only one who gets to talk to him. Get more information. But hurry up, we can’t stand another day here”

Nobody talks, we all just go to bed. We don’t bother taking our makeup off, or getting undressed.


“So you’ll pay us 20?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says.

“What if we want to leave?”

He pauses for a moment trying to figure out the right words to answer my question with.

“Then you can, but I don’t think you’d want to.”

“What exactly would we do?”

“I told you yesterday, have fun, but you’ll see for yourself if you come.”

“When can you take us?”

“Any day, just be ready when I come.”

“Why does Kindra say you enslave girls?.”

“I don’t, she just says that because she worked for me once, we didn’t get along. I have to go.”

He walks away, looking at his gold rings not paying attention to where he walks.


“He told me Kindra worked for him,” I say.

“I knew it.”

Bindi squints her eyes and looks at me as though she just solved a murder mystery.

“Why did she leave?”

“Who knows? Maybe too little pay, or boredom.”

“He said we can leave any day. We don’t even have to tell him in advance.”


“Doesn’t this seem a little too good to be true? 20 a day and no restrictions.”

“Some people are just rich, Ashmira.”

“We need to find out more before we go.”

“Why? Do you know how much it hurts to have men pushed up your body whenever they want?”

I see the pain in her eyes and I know that if I refuse her stare will kill me.

“I’m sorry. We can go tomorrow.”

Should I go with them? I’m getting paid a good amount and no one is enslaving me, at least I don’t think they are. What if this man abuses us and feeds us poison? No, I should believe the people who have been here the longest, like Bindi. And what if she’s right?


“Run, get into the truck!” he screams.

Bindi sees the sun and starts crying. “Fresh air.”

“Hurry up.”

We all scramble into the truck and immediately start going. I look at the Dream House and realize the legends aren’t true, they’re just advertisements. I see Kindra run outside and she’s also crying. Why is she crying? Is he going to kill us? She curses at the man and quickly calls someone. The police? No, they can’t come to the Dream House, they’ll arrest her not him.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

He looks back at me and shows me he’s the king of this truck.

“Stop asking questions.”

We situate ourselves strategically so that we can run away if we have to. I then realize that the two other girls aren’t here and that they ran back to the Dream House at the last minute.


¨Okay, get out,” he says.

We walk out to face a big muddy path with a forest surrounding us.

“The car won’t go through so we have to walk.”

He starts to walk so we follow. After three hours we finally come upon a big grand house, or should I say castle? Bindi and I hug each other in disbelief and both of us start sobbing. I then see something through a window. Five girls are putting on makeup, their doll makeup. The mysterious man displays a wide grin. It occurs to me that Bindi was wrong, Kindra was right and I’m trapped. I realize that no matter where I go or where I work I will never be free. I realize that even though my family had close to nothing they still loved me. I realize that I had freedom and now I don’t.

The Story of Autumn


Bouncing piles of leaves radiate riveting reds and yellows.

Orange sunlight seems a little less bright than the thousands of leaves around you.


With the cool wind tickling your neck, it feels like you could stay here forever,

prancing in the forest of your backyard, seeming so much bigger now that it’s full.


Strangely, a small brown leaf with crinkled edges sits in a small clearing as if on purpose.

You dismiss the event as the fun of the season continues to invade your mind.


As you plan to make a leaf pile, a work of childish creation, the brown leaf sits at the edge of your vision. You put it at the top. Quite strange, how sending it to its imminent toppling seems to be a nice gesture.


Unfortunately, as many have said, everything comes to an end.


As the brisk air sharpens, reds and yellows turn to dirty browns.


Standing outside, you try to cram in the last bit of fun on one of the sunnier mornings,

but nothing has the right color or quality, and your efforts turn into a depressing way to start the day.


Reluctantly helping along, you and your family put the leaves in bags, tossing everything away,

just reminding you further that this incredible season is coming to an end.


A process taking minutes stretches to hours in your mind

as each and every leaf becomes a tidbit of sadness building inside you.


You can almost feel the fall wind being sucked away by the same vacuum

that seemed to suck away the spirit of the season.


As your family finishes up, one leaf remains. A small brown leaf with crinkled edges.

As a crystal of white lands on it and melts on its surface, you know his time is over.

Rosadel Infinitum, 71


Finally. After three years of being the only one free, finally. She seems willing. How willing, though, is what I am going to test right now.

“Do you trust me?” I start, like I’ve started with the other twenty.

“No. But I trust that you like me. And I trust that you would be a valuable friend, and a terrifying enemy. So, if you are asking a favor, yes, I trust you to not stab me in the back.”

She is the tenth to understand the question.

“Do you trust, in any way, that I would never break the law?”

“At all? No. But more than you needed to? Never.”

Perfect. Should I show her now? No. She would be scared, more than she should be. But I must ask her. I am the only one left to ask her. We need to. I need to. My hand comes out of my pocket, slowly. She has never seen it for more than a second, but now I purposely slow my movements. Purposely letting her see the red blisters covering the sides of my twisted hand.

“You have one of the last few cures.”

She does not balk, but watches, transfixed by my hand. The one that has thrown so many knives now that I cannot remember who they hit.

“I do.”

She doesn’t back down. Stubborn. Like I am. Was. Am. I don’t know. She is confused by my pause.

“What of it?”

“You could take it, become more powerful than me. You could take my knives and rule the streets that I have taken. You could let me become just another victim of the plague. Or you could give it to me, and we could be unstoppable.”

Her fingers, in her left pocket, touch the syringe. She is thinking. Looking at my outstretched hand, half the palm twisted upwards by disease that has ruined my family. Is ruining. Has ruined. I don’t know. She is thinking, I presume, about the power she holds over me. The power I gave her over me. She takes it out. Looks at the drug that reminds me of red mercury liquid in its steel and glass package. She injects my hand. The pain starts to dissipate.


I need to know. What power does she want from me that is greater than ruling the streets of this metropolis’ underground?

“You are a formidable enemy now. Not only could you have killed me in seconds WITHOUT the cure, you could have then gotten it from someone else. I trust you as a partner, but the moment that ends, I do not trust you as a friend.”

She’s learned me well in these two weeks.




The room we share is in disrepair. I bought it from an underground retailer, like she did her home. But her home is dead. Mine isn’t. I’m not sure why she didn’t get the cure herself. She doesn’t seem the kind to want an ally in this cruel line of work. She seems like the one that sleeps only when surrounded by barbed wire. We are polar opposites in style, also. She is one to throw, hitting every one of her targets in the back of the neck as if she were mere inches away. I am one for poison and venom. Both are silent, but neither of our styles gives off a scream. She is in her head, never seeing anything but possibilities and traps. I am the one that is able to figure out how to get out of any of these traps. I am the one that will walk right into one to create chaos. She is the sniper, I am the liar. Maybe that’s why she wanted to work with me. I wouldn’t know.

One thing that I’ve gathered from her stance is that she has siblings. You can always tell when somebody has siblings by the way they stand, trying to take up room so that the other people can’t. Some call me obsessive over details. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessive, just overtly aware. I know to duck when somebody is throwing a knife. That is survival, not obsession. There is a difference for me. Sometimes, when she thinks I’m not listening, she’ll speak strange sounds, like another language. Just below a whisper, so I wouldn’t normally be able to hear. Almost the way you would expect a rock to speak, grating, harsh, and clipped, but then morphing into water’s speak, soft, lulling, and continuous. Like she’s speaking to the entire earth, except that it ends as suddenly as it began.

She notices me in the room. She notices everything in the room: the window, the walls, the two beds, the old rotting bookcase in the corner of our one room apartment, and the sky outside the window. She looks at it as if she has never seen the sun, and is blinded by its beauty. She speaks with a serpentine accent, almost as if she is stuck on the s’s of the English language. She takes breaths between letters in words. Like she’s from somewhere else, somewhere where nobody has been before.

It’s one o’clock when we get home. Neither of us seems to be tired. Me noticing, her thinking. Her eyes, large on her face, her hair, short, cut so that it is almost like feathers, mottled and brown. But one cannot describe her as owlish. She seems to be trying to portray herself that way, but nobody would think of it. Once every so often, she looks directly at me. Looks directly into me, that’s what it feels like. We are both sitting cross legged on our beds. She is next to the wall, I the window. Her body is never completely still: a finger tapping, a bang being brushed away, a leg bouncing, as though if she stilled she would die. We have both given up pretending to sleep.

I check my watch. Half an hour has passed. She gets up to explore the other parts of the room, looking behind the curtains that serve as walls, the only thing that makes it count as a three room apartment. Her head is constantly cocked to the right. She rolls it occasionally, for no apparent reason. It is late. I will pretend to sleep some more. I rarely actually sleep. I wouldn’t want to miss something that might mean the difference between life and death. However, one can close their eyes and keep watch as effectively. I close my eyes and curl up, my feet against my edge of the wall, both my ears listening for every sound. The vibrations from the wall show she’s done with her inspection, and is heading back. She sees me, and lays in her bed. Her back is to the wall. I hear her rustle a bit, then lay. I continue to pretend to sleep. She sits up and looks at me. She waits a moment. She calls my name softly. I don’t respond. She hesitates, but then she begins to speak in the other language. It is a string of unintelligible sounds. I pick out something confusing from the jumble of sounds.

“Ane cuegra, sepafe popere- Sevaa’adu.”

That word – it wasn’t a word. I puzzle over it till dawn. The word she said, it was almost exactly her name.



I know that tomorrow I must fulfill my promise to my family. How I will do this, I don’t know. I can tell that Firna does not trust me. She was awake when I said my prayers last night. She shifted at one of the parts that I added. I hope she did not understand it. The night was long, but the morning is peaceful. When I woke she was almost asleep. She is too scared to sleep. That I can tell. Always ready to flee, like an animal that fears it is being hunted. It is ten past 7 a.m. on her watch when I am woken by the light.

The sun was shining a brilliant saffron when it rose and slowly developed to white. Firna doesn’t notice this. She doesn’t wake, and I don’t wake her. I find dry water jugs and empty paper bags in the cabinet of what she calls “the kitchen,” but is more of a section of wall with cabinets and a rice boiler that is half broken. There are also three dented teapots. The first is labeled P, the second V, the third T. She is suddenly standing beside me, picking up the pot labeled T, dumping oatmeal and water in the boiler, and at the same time telling me that I should never drink out of the other two teapots. she busily fills the teapot, and stacks it on the boiler where the lid is supposed to go. She turns it on. Minutes pass, and the kettle shrieks. She jumps and turns off the boiler, takes the teapot off, and steam comes out of the boiler.

“Oat mush and tea made at the same time means less things to clean,” she explains. I don’t understand that logic, but I’ve never actually made food.

We eat in silence. She stares at me the entire time. I stare back. If either of us is disturbed by this, neither shows it. At some point, she stands. We walk down the over-crowded halls of the apartment building, ignoring the people around us. I am still puzzling over how to introduce my reasoning for the alliance, when she beats me to it.

“Your sibling.”

I’m not even sure how she knows I’m going to say something about the people I came here with, but I’m not going to debate it now that the topic is up.

“She isn’t my sibling, but yes.”

“Whatever they are to you, you want them out.”

She seems to be reading my mind. How does she know this much about me? Does she speak the language? I try a test.

You know this because of my people’s history?”

She doesn’t respond to my muttered question. She doesn’t know Quixeu.

“How do you know about me?”

“You don’t hide, Sevaa’ane. You don’t hide anything at all, not from me.”

I pretend to look dismayed, as if she might have found something important.

“Stop acting. I know you didn’t hide anything physical.”

So she reads people. That explains it.

“So what if I want them out? How does it benefit you?”

I am blunt, to take her guard down.

“No direct benefits of course, but you will be more willing to not kill me.”

She is smart. Doesn’t trust me worth a feather-weight. I wouldn’t trust me worth a featherweight either.

“You know where they are?”

I am asking, not for any real reason. I am curious. She is more a mystery to me than I will ever be to her.

“She would be where you were. Hospital on 56th?” So she can’t read everything about me. Just the obvious ticks.

“On 78th.”

“The prisoner hospital?”

“What makes you think I’m not a prisoner?”

“What makes me think you’re honorable enough to not kill me when I’m sleeping?”

“You didn’t sleep. Not last night. You listened to my prayers. Why?”

She looks at me, searching. I realize that I had reverted to speaking Quixeu. Shoot.

“I don’t know you well enough to know whether I should be scared of you, or laugh.”

Her response is both reassuring and terrifying.

“If you knew me, I would kill you.”

“I don’t know you?”

“You know Sevaa’ane.”

“I know that you are not Sevaa’ane.”

“I am. Just not how you might think.”

“And if I knew how you were Sevaa’ane, I would die.”

She understands some part of me now. I think. “Yes. If you know me, you die. But I don’t kill you.” She laughs now, throws her head back and laughs at my statement.

“A riddle to answer an answer. We are insane!”

“Do you think I’m a prisoner?”

“No. I think you are a girl.”


“I think you might have been, at some point. I don’t know, Sevaa’ane. Whoever you are, you probably got on somebody’s nerves, and they got you arrested.”

“If I was a prisoner?”

“You are not in jail now. You probably went to the prisoner’s hospital because the other one didn’t want foreigners.”

She has hit much too close to the truth for me to be comfortable. But no matter – she is helping me get my only true relation out of her cage. If she is letting me do this, I shouldn’t care how close to the truth she gets. But I do care. We aren’t going to go back. We shouldn’t have to go back. I realize I should say something to break the silence.

“Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For everything you have done with me. For everything we might do later. And I’m sorry if you never know my name.”

“You don’t need a true name to be a person. If I always call you Sevaa’ane, you will still be the same person.”

“We are insane.”

“Yes, we are.”

I look at Firna, so small, and yet so stubbornly strong. I like her. She is like I was. Am. I hope I am.

“Stop giving me the ‘older sister look’ and let’s just do this already!”

Yep. Exactly like I was.



The walk is short. Sevaa’ane seems lighter now. She’s probably been trying to get the cure for her family for years now. I don’t know if I’d hold out that long. I probably would. If my family wasn’t dead already, I mean. And if I wasn’t, you know, one of the only people with enough influence, power, and manipulation to own four cures. I don’t think anybody has enough hold over people to own five. Scratch that, I HOPE nobody has that kind of power. It is a short walk to the 78th street hospital/prison that has been here since before the plague. I think it’s the only non-profit hospital that has stayed relatively open. I can tell why just from the outside. The place is creepier than hell. Sevaa’ane walks to the gate. I have given her two of the syringes, under her coat. She smiles at me, and walks through the rusted metal bars. She looks back at me, a sly smile on her face.

“You gonna come, or do you want to wait?”

I shudder a bit, and she smiles brighter.

“It’s fine, I was joking. I wouldn’t force anybody in here.”

She goes up to the second set of doors, which are not only rusted, but thick and massive as well. She lugs one open, then has gone in without a glance back.

I lean on the chalky crumbling brick pillar by the gates. I know this might take a while, so I sit on the ground next to one. I pull out the notebook I bought and try to sketch a few of the pigeons on the sidewalk. Oh well, at least I have something to do.



The inside is just as I remembered it. I was alone in my “room” when I was here, but I know she won’t be. She’ll be with my dad. I bite my tongue as the smell of the place hits me again; rust and blood covered up by cleaning product is a hard smell to forget. Nobody is at the desk, but I sign in anyway. Only three people have come since my sister and I checked in eight years ago. One came two days before I checked out: my father. I search the walls for any indicator of where they might be. I know the plague quarantines are to the left-most hallway. But they should be healed by now, so I look past that one. The right-most is labeled “staff.” The middle hallway’s sign is tarred and graffitied over, but I as I trace my hand over it, I can feel engraved words spelling “recovery rooms.” I follow the painted over walls down to the doors. There are two, with the little windows hanging broken in the thick cement doors. Only now am I tall enough to look through them.

The first room is empty except for the remnants of a beer bottle. The second holds three huddled shadows, covered with blankets. I cautiously try the doorknob. It is unlocked. I open the door after quite a bit of effort and a few choice words. The first two shrouds have huddled towards each other, and it occurs to me that the smaller one is two children. The third person just sits, their back to the wall. I crouch down.

“Father?” I call, not in the language we were later forced to speak in, but the Quixeu we spoke in our house, when we cursed the bad TV and the metal springs in our beds. The first two shades draw back at the different-ness of my voice. Though I am cured, the rasp will never leave me, I suppose.

“Father? Derma?”

The third makes a slight noise in response. A groan? He speaks louder, again, looks up at me. I crouch down. The floor is covered with gravel and soot. It stains my fingers black, like his. He speaks, Quixeu like me. My father.


“Don’t call me that.”


“Where’s Derma?”

“I thought you left.”

“I did. Where’s Derma. Where’s my cousin?”

“Why did you come back?”

“Where’s Derma? I came back for Derma.”

“I don’t know. How did you know I was here?”

“I didn’t come for you. You are beyond my compassion. Tell me where my cousin is.”

“She went to the other room. I don’t know. Please, Rosa…”

“There is no one in the other room. I came to get my cousin. Where is she?”

“Rosa, I didn’t mean to. I thought we would be better…”

“I came for Derma. Where is she?”

“She’s gone. I don’t know. The other room.”

“What room?”

“Let me explain why I did it! Let me explain to you what happened!”

“You are beyond my compassion. I’ll ask you one last time. Where is my cousin?”

“Gone. I don’t know. The other room.”

“What room?”

He points, his hands shaking with age and cold, to the door.

“I don’t understand.”

“She went into that room. They took her.”

They took her. But they couldn’t have. No. No, no, no. They would have taken Father, not Derma. Not Derma.

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not. Rosa…”

“DON’T! I’m not Rosa anymore! I am not your daughter anymore!”


“You said it yourself.You said that night to choose my fate. I am not your Rosa anymore.”

I rock back on my heels.

“One last chance. One last chance to have me back. Tell me where Derma is.”

“She’s gone.”


“I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

“You had a chance to ask? You had a chance to save her?”

“No, you don’t understand! You’re a child, Rosa…”


I stand. He looks up at me, pleading. I look back, and deny him.

“I’m so sorry. I did everything I could.”

“You did everything wrong.”

“We were safe.”

I wish I could feel any emotion other than hatred for this man. Honestly, I can’t anymore. Not since what happened.

“Are we safe now? Is everyone safe and sound and happy just like you thought we would be? Look at us! You’re locked freezing in a prison room, Derma’s gone, and I can’t muster enough compassion to get you out! Is that what you wanted?”

“I never said we would be happy. I only said we would be safe.”

“Safe. You injected me with the freaking PLAGUE for God’s sake! That’s SAFE?!”

“No. That’s necessity.”

“Screw you. I don’t know who you are, but you aren’t my father.”

I kick his arm against the wall. He moans, but makes no moves to stop me.The other bundles have scooted against the opposite wall. I can see they are scared. I slowly walk over to the bigger bundle, who I assume is the mother of the child in the smaller. A slight whimper escapes her. I take out the two cures from my bag. Place it at her feet. She looks at me, shocked. I smile slightly.

“For your family.”

She nods her head in gratitude, too confused to acknowledge it at the moment.

I open the door and walk out. In the freezing air, all I can think of are the words my father said, echoing in my skull like a rude taunt. Derma’s gone. That was necessity. Derma’s gone. Didn’t ask.

I sign out at the desk like I did eight years ago. I didn’t come out alone like I did eight years ago. But this time Firna is waiting for me. She sees me, and runs to embrace me. I gently shrug her off.

“Let’s go.”

She doesn’t need any more explanation than that. We walk home in silence.



As soon as we get home, Sevaa’ane starts to speak. Without regard that I’m in the room, she rants, screams in the other language. After a second I hear that it doesn’t seem to be one language. But as soon as I start to recognize one language, she switches, sometimes halfway in between words. But soon it settles into a rhythm of sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard.

“M’paer, paer ro t’vie hermater. T’ete ah hermater ieh m’yoje. Derma, Derma m’hermater…”

She’s staring at the wall, sitting cross-legged now. Suddenly something clicks. Those words. They must be words. I write down the sounds.

M’hermater. Rebincaret. Paer. Wait. Paer. I know that word. I learned that word. Isn’t that…?

I duck from under her gaze. She blinks. I walk slowly backwards, making sure she’s still unaware of me. I run out. I know this language. Some of it at least. In some coffee shop, a high-end one, one pricey enough to still have working wifi. I download a translator for Quixeu. How did I not know that? Enable the microphones I installed in my bedroom. The rant slowly loads into a story that I didn’t know could exist.


On the translator in her phone

I remember you were smiling the night before, you can still smile can’t you, and you were laughing. I forget what you were laughing about. Was it something I said? Something we shared?

I’ve changed my name like you said we should. I said no, but now I get why you said that. It’s jarring at first, to have a number instead of a name. But I needed to. For you. I’m calling myself your number now. I remember that your birthday was one day after mine, the seventy-first day of the year. Mine was seventy, and you were always so jealous that I was only 293 days older than you and would get the duties of the older sibling.

Oh, Derma. Where are you now, what are you now?

I tried, tried to get you out of there.

I wish I knew what happened to you. No. Scratch that.

I wish I didn’t.

I wish…


Rosa, March 15, 2186, Kingdom of Agayirhet, formerly known as Colony D53 in Bolivia

Father is standing next to our stepmother. She is smiling serenely, but Father looks straight ahead. Why won’t he acknowledge me, his only family now? What does he see in the crowd that is more interesting than his daughter in chains? I feel tears trying to pull themselves out of my eyes, but I dig my nails into my wrist to keep them from coming out. Derma is next to me. She can’t see that this is hopeless. Her hand reaches mine. She slips something into it. It is a knife. I look at her. She looks at me, and then nods to our stepmother. Why couldn’t our government turn out to be a republic? Why are we criminals? Father led the rebellion. Why are we dying? I look at the knife in my hand. Kill the Queen? Sure, why not. Only one more account of treason for my thirteen years of life.

I run through what could happen, and what we’ll need to do. Derma and I will get branded. After that, we will be taken to the jail. But before we are branded, I will kill Stepmother, and Derma will get Father. After we escape we will catch the illegal train in half an hour, and hide in one of the cars like the treacherous people we are. We will go from here to Nuevo Sucre, and from Nuevo Sucre to La Paz, and from La Paz to New York City. I can fight for a living, and Derma will forage the streets. Father will stay home, because he’ll be recognized as a rebel. We will go forth with the plan as if it wasn’t the most ridiculously flawed thing we ever imagined. We will get out. I stare daggers at the cameras that will televise a mandatory screening of our branding. They will see we are stronger. We will escape. I suppose you could call us rebels as well. But not by choice, really.

Stepmother is stepping up to the microphone so that she can announce the punishment. Father stands a few feet back from her, his eyes glazed over like they always are now. I still cannot believe he will not acknowledge us at all. Maybe he’s drugged? Maybe he just doesn’t care? I don’t really want to know. They reveal the torture table, and I crane my neck to see the burning steel shapes. But I don’t see any branding irons at all. All I see are syringes. What? I am not as good as Derma at speaking the new language that has been forced on us, but I see her pale. I squeeze her hand, trying to tell her that we’ll be alright. But her chains are yanked, and we are ripped apart. She screams. Screams my name, not in Quixeu that we usually speak, but in English.


She is dragged before the table, where she collapses and begins to sob at Father’s feet. He doesn’t look at her, acknowledge her. Stepmother calls serenely for Derma to choose something. I don’t understand. We were to be branded, me first and then Derma. What is happening? They unshackle her arms, and she sobs louder.

“Here, would it help you if your sister chose first?”

Stepmother cruelly chides her. Anger builds in me. How dare she condescend to her; How dare she insult Derma. I walk to the table. I refuse to be pulled. Derma tugs at the sleeve of my tunic, trying to tell me something without speech. I delay with her for a second, and an understanding passes between us. She will run, and I will fight.

Counting down the seconds until I can get a good shot with my knife, I walk steadily to the table. On it are three choices. A syringe with contents that look like the consistency of half-dried tar but is a metallic copper. The other syringe is blood-red and the consistency of mud. Next to the two of them is a loaded gun. I cannot tell what the syringes contain, but I know the gun means sure death. You cannot survive a shot to the head, but you can survive a disease. My hand wavers over the syringes.

Derma grabs at my shoulder, pulling me back before my hand can settle. She is doing something I didn’t think to do. As she cries, she talks, not to me but to the cameras that are focused on me. She talks in English, displaying the unfairness of our situation to every other person in Agayirhet. She begins to scream. As she thrashes, her hand barely brushes the copper syringe. A guard pulls her back and Father blankly injects the copper sludge into her arm in a matter of seconds. The moment it is finished, she stops crying, as if the tears were a faucet of water. Her eyes glaze over. Her back straightens. Her entire being shifts into a not- quite-human form. She stands stiff and still, saluting to Stepmother.

“There, that wasn’t that hard, was it, honey?”

As Stepmother leans in to taunt Derma, I take my chance and throw. It pierces her under the chin perfectly. She falls from the balcony, shrieking. I try to pull Derma away, but she doesn’t move. She continues to salute to the atrocious sight of the twisted woman tumbling from a height. Father stares blank-eyed. I try to get him to move, but he doesn’t. Both their eyes are like glass, seeing nothing in front of them.

“Derma, wake up! Come on, we have to get out of here! Derma! Father! Anyone!”

A guard shouts for me to be held back. Derma practically jumps into my arms, trying to pin me down. I suddenly realize what the syringe was: Soldier solution. I’ve heard people say how the wires take over your brain, killing you, but I didn’t think to believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. But Father, something breaks in him. He grabs the other syringe and forces it into my throwing hand. The pain is immediate. It is such a stark, harsh feeling that I almost collapse because of it. But I have to carry Derma.

So I grab the gun. It is loaded, and by the weight I would guess I have about ten shots. I carry Derma over one shoulder, point the gun with the other. I aim for the guard shouting orders. I miss and he ducks down. Father is chasing me through the streets towards the train. I can’t really jump, not with the weight of Derma and the near crippling feeling shooting through my body. The train is about to leave, just as I arrive. I toss Derma in first, and her leg hits hard, breaking. I wince. I didn’t mean to. Derma is trying to struggle up, trying to obey the orders to hold me still. Father is almost next to me as I haul myself in. The train begins to move before my legs are even fully in the car. Derma clutches me, her eyes blank. Father is clawing at the train-car behind mine, trying to reach me, to tell me something. I turn away. Clutching Derma so she doesn’t fall out of the car, I huddle into the straw that layers the floor.

The other people stare at me, their eyes processing the two strange girls holding onto each other, one with dead eyes, the other with a loaded gun. They are scared. I am not. I feel as dead as Derma looks. Holding the gun for dear life, I fall asleep. This is not how it was supposed to end. This is not how we are supposed to leave. This is not how… I am asleep and dreaming of injustice before we even get outside of Bolivia, and don’t wake until we’ve crossed the border to America.



I crawl into bed and put my sheets on.

“Good night Shimmer,” I murmur to my dog.

My eyes close and I drift to sleep.

A few hours later I open them and it’s still night.

It should have been morning by now.


I look outside to a strange sight.





I jump out of bed and run outside.

The moon lands in the stream

near my house causing it to glow

a sparkly moonlight.

The light goes down the stream

past other houses. I run by the side

of the stream to see how far it goes.

It starts heading towards a waterfall.

As it goes down

the waterfall,

lt starts to sparkle more!

The waterfall leads to the ocean.

The moonlight starts filling the ocean.

I sit by the water and reach

a finger out to touch it.

As I touch it, my skin starts

to glow the bright moonlight.

I glow more and more

and start flying toward the sky.


The next thing I know,

I am in bed again,

looking out the window

and the moon is back in the sky.


I think it was just a dream,

but it’s hard to know for sure


My skin is still slightly glowing.

birds singing


the birds sang your song best when I first fell into you

When you first tickled my palm

On those warm july mornings


the serum of their melody

like cough syrup

dwindling down the cavity of my chasm

–– oh!

what a hymn!

the climax of something

of everything

of the in between

of the organ as the keys quake my small steeple

Slicing away at the foundation

I thank god

For his divine intervention that brought your song to me

as I scratch at your hand

trying to get used to the elevation


the birds sighed your stolen song most begrudgingly right after you left

To kiss another’s cheek

On those icy December mornings

like Satan himself

whispering velvet into my ear about how you’re not here

licking mocks of your blessings on my wrist

–– ah!

it’s blasphemy

the kiss of sweet sacrilege

molten saliva dripping down my jaw

all around me is black

except for your old tee shirt ––

as my stars

–– but you’re lightyears away with a galaxy named after a different sun


the birds still sing your beaten-up song

When she broke your heart

And you flew back to me

But I grew tired of hearing it

My Body Is a Temple

 My body is a temple

Anyone may walk

Through my propylaia

Who needs to pray.

I lay brick upon brick

On top of my

Concaving shoulders:

Being their Atlas.

My columns bear

The weight of their troubles;

I am crumbling

But I still stand.


My body is a temple.

I am stagnant.

I serve others

But receive nothing

In return.

Not because it

Isn’t offered

But because I

Am my own Caryatids.


My body is a temple.

I am given thanks

But sometimes taken

For granted.

Everyone’s names

Have been carved

Into my skin:

A permanent reminder

Of who I buttressed.

No stone quite fits

The piece of me they removed.


My body is a temple.

Extroversion is mixed

In my mortar.

Human interaction is

What holds me together.


My body is a temple.

I am ever-changing

My presence in their life

My cellas hold unique meanings

to each individual.


My body is a temple.

Though vandalized,

Every mark left behind

On my frieze tells a story

and helps me grow.

My own experiences

Improve my ability to aid.


My body is a temple

And I feel blessed everyday.

Angst Declassified: Teen Survival Guide

So, you just turned 15, and like many other teen girls out there, you feel sad. Misunderstood. Like a bialy on a plate of bagels. You feel like you might be depressed but you don’t want to say anything because, well, you saw what happened to the last girl who said anything. Logically, you have one question: How do I hide this? Look no further! By following these simple steps, you can shame your sadness into that dark, decrepit part of your brain we like to call The Subconscious.

Step 1: Add “lol” to the end of every sharp utterance to seem cool, casual, and unaffected, kind of like a comatose cucumber. For example, the phrase “I wanna die” becomes so much funnier as “I wanna die, lol.” If you can laugh at sadness, perhaps you can distance yourself from it.

Step 2: Take mental health days, but hide them under the pseudonyms of obscure illnesses with multisyllabic Latin names. You don’t come to work because you have a touch of “situs inversus” and you miss your AP biology final because your “lymphatic filariasis” is acting up. Everyone will extend thinly veiled sympathy towards you. You’ll mistake their platitudes for care and start showing up for life again.

Step 3: Exonerate your worries through a fad diet. Juice cleanses are the most effective, but the Paleo diet has had moderate success when coupled with binge drinking. Busy your mind with how many calories are in 8.5 ounces of distilled carrot juice and drown your fears in unfiltered antibiotics. Side effects include hallucinations and extreme irritability, but you’ll be 7 pounds lighter and unburdened of heavy demons.

Step 4: Get a boyfriend. Break up with him. Get another boyfriend. Break up with that one, too. Repeat the process until all the people-shaped holes in your heart are plastered over with the memory of you having the upper hand.

Step 5: Buy yourself really extravagant gifts like hoverboards, commissioned busts of worthless dignitaries, and tickets to shows you’ve never heard of and think sound pretentious anyway. Take yourself on the worst dates. Spoil yourself until you’re a rotten peach. Yes, things are not the key to happiness. But they’re so damn fun, aren’t they?

Step 6: Bleach your hair and then dye it red, or blue, or any color but brown for Christ’s sake. Watching your hair turn into limp, rainbow-colored straws guarantees weeks of enough nail-biting excitement that you’ll stop writing cryptic tweets. Then, in the aftermath, you’ll be too be preoccupied with covering up your bald spots that maybe, just maybe, you won’t wonder if he still likes you.

Step 7: Find yourself a good corset, one with lace and enough underwire to compress your sadness until it whittles down into nothing. A 25-inch waist can’t possibly bear the weight of an existential crisis. Why do you think models always look (emaciated) and happy? Their bone structure isn’t conducive to depression.

Step 8: Develop an online alias with a sexy name like Eliza, Brandy, or Candi. Give her a rom-com profession, such as artisanal baker or heiress to Dad’s paper clip throne. Then, proceed to catfish as many guys as possible. This will give you tons of practice at lying. You’ll be doing a lot of that soon.

Step 9: Take your coffee black and when people ask why, tell them, “It’s because it matches my soul.” They’ll mistake this as a cry for help and maybe it is. There’s nothing more polarizing than an unsweetened existence or a person who’s too “real” for artificial sugar. These people will ask concerned questions about your life and your feelings and you. You’ll probably like this whole being the center of the galaxy kind of thing. Perhaps it will center you.

Step 10: Hit things, not people. Punch pillows, smash trophies, and burn pictures. Turn every worldly possession you have into scraps of abstract art. Nothing matters when it’s in pieces. Nothing matters, anyway. We’re all just projections floating on a sphere in space. Money is just a man-made concept. So is time. The sooner you realize all of this, the less sad you’ll feel because feelings don’t matter, obviously.

Step 11:  Yell a lot. Text in all caps. Shout in libraries. Scream in movie theaters. Loud sounds are cathartic. That’s why wolves never stop howling, I think.

Step 12: When all else fails, take these meds: Prozac. Klonopin. Xanax. Robitussin. Advil Extra Strength. Dry swallow them until your throat feels scratchy and your stomach is bloated with cure-alls. Your brain won’t know what direction is up, but it won’t know what direction is down either. This isn’t quite sadness or melancholy. It’s a new feeling: confusion. You’re going to love it. It’s less blissful than ignorance but it does a good enough job distracting Depression and Loneliness. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to think.



As I watch

The cattails blowing

in the wind

It begins to rain

Perfect drops

Falling from the sky

Each one

As luminous as a pearl


on the leaves

the water

the grass

Each drop


Down each leaf

Akin to a glass bead

And as I watch


to see more


For the cold



On my skin.


I want so



Much more.

But now

It’s gone.

Arilla and Endar

Arilla had always been a writer, but always struggled with finding an inspiration. Going to the local coffee shop certainly helped with her creativity, but sometimes it just wasn’t enough. She had thought about using the strange, lilac colored man as her muse, but she could never work up the courage to ask him for his consent.

For two entire years, the man would be at the coffee shop every time Arilla went. At first, she was slightly concerned about it, but eventually realized it must have just been a major coincidence. She knew the man wasn’t stalking her or anything like that, because she had never seen anyone who remotely looked like him outside of the shop. She wondered (only a few times when she was sleep deprived) if she could be stalking him, but once she got coffee into her system, ridiculous thoughts like that were banished from her mind. Once Arilla was done being paranoid, she realized that there were a few other regulars that she saw all the time, so she knew it wasn’t all that odd for both her and the lilac man to inhabit the shop every morning. Even after she knew she had nothing to be afraid of or nervous about, she still felt weird about asking the man, a stranger, to be her muse for a new character. It wasn’t a question that people knew how to answer. Probably because it had never been asked before. Arilla certainly didn’t want to ask that of a random stranger.

Arilla knew nothing about the man, other than the fact that his skin was lilac and his hair was dark. But, because of how much the question and her lack of inspiration tormented her, she began to discreetly observe the little things about him. Not like a stalker would do, Arilla told herself, but like what a journalist or other writers would do. Her observations made it clear that he was an artist. He constantly had charcoal and ink smudged hands as well as paint-stained clothes. Arilla also determined that his eyes were a light grey color, which complimented his black, almost blue, hair quite nicely. In no time at all, she learned many things about him, all of which translated well into a written character. Of course, there were still gaping holes in the knowledge she had of him, so she decided to finally act. Her decision took up to a full month, but that’s neither here nor there.

Her nerves ate away at her as she got up from her seat and made her way toward his table. Unfortunately, that made her unfocused, which lead to her crashing into the very same man she had wanted to talk to. This meant that not only was she more embarrassed than she would have been, but coffee splashed all over her, and the papers that the man must have been holding littered the floor.

They both muttered curses and attempted to help each other. Arilla leaned down to pick up the man’s scattered mess, and he reached over to a vacant table to grab some napkins for Arilla’s own mess.

“I am so sorry!” Arilla’s face burned bright. “I was actually walking to your booth to talk to you, but I was nervous because what I want to say to you is really strange, and it might weird you out-” The man’s chuckling interrupted Arilla’s rambling.

“It’s alright,” he handed her the napkins. “I actually wanted to talk to you, too.”

Arilla reddened even more. “Um, here are your… sketches?” She tried to peer at the stack of paper she was holding before handing them over.

“Thanks,” the man smiled, trying to obscure them from her view.

“Is that me?” She gasped, pointing to the top sheet of paper.

“Well… they kind of all are,” He winced. “You’ve been my muse recently, which is weird, I know.”

“Wow, they’re amazing,” Her eyes widened in awe. “But what’s really weird is that you’ve been a muse to me, but as a character. I’m a writer, not an artist.”

“Oh,” he laughed. “Surely I’m not that interesting.”

“No, you very much are,” Arilla assured him. “But, a character that interesting needs a name.”

“I think Endar suits him,” He held out his hand.

Arilla shook it. “You know, I think that’s an amazing name for him.”

“I’ll need the author’s name, so I can be sure I’m buying the right book,” Endar grinned.

“Hmm, I believe it might just be Arilla.”

“Well, Arilla, it’s great to finally put a name to the face I’ve seen on a regular basis for two years. It’s funny, but I did once think you were stalking me with how much I saw you.”


Express Yourself

Rain In My Head


All drizzling down,

Each falling fast,

Collecting on the ground,

Forming clear droplets of water,


Gray covering the sky,

Dullness filling the air,


Just wishing it would end,

The thunder holding me back,

Compacted and shaking is what I am,

My mind without empty space,

My tears float down,

The darkness once within,

And now without,


So please, go away,

This day of black luster,

And as it does,

Clear the droplets from my mind.



A System Within


Nothing much does he look,

But in his mind,

His spirit has been poked then swallowed,


He is one of the simples,

One who portrays a deepening vision in every letter,


His eyes do linger,

Staring at the words is what he did,

But they lack the description of scribbles,

They display his inner mind,

The mind who desperately yearns to heal,

The one who is floating in black,


His eyes resemble the opposite,

A playful day,

Is nothing more than a dying soul,


So he writes,

Not of his sorrowful expressions,

But for what he hopes,

What he wishes.




Is it really something on which we dwell?

Or is it thoughts with which we comply?

What a twisted mind ponders?


Can colors change with hate?

The brightness of a shining day,

To the dullness of an empty night,


The missing pieces of a neglected heart,

All lost in hatred,


Life continues on with every golden rain storm,

And hatred is the black of the sun,


A barrier that blocks,

It tightly dismisses dreams,


So forever forget,

The meaning of an untruthful word,


And discover the door to the beautiful world,


In Search Of

 you find it

at the bottom of a beer can.


as cold metal pokes at your knuckles.

fingers grasp

at the paint-chipped edges:

red lead.

it’s a throw-away toy,

the kind you find

in a cereal box

or at your next orthodontist appointment.


this rubix cube-shaped puzzle calls itself.

you don’t have instructions

and brain teasers are for the cerebral.

who needs a mind

when you’ve got hands like a roman emperor?

you throw away the plaything,

buy another 40 ounce,

and chuckle while your friends mock

your disappointment

when there’s no reward

for guzzling tinted nothing.


you find it next

in the voice of a millennial

you’ve been fucking

for the past month.

she talks about her old friend,


while you wrap a loose arm

around her waist.

the gods paint a psychedelic watercolor

on your window.

she misses Purpose more

than she’ll ever want you.

misses her petite hand

pulling her in a northward direction,

towards infinity,

while you blather

about the improbabilities of quantum physics.

you don’t mind.

tell her to keep your shirt.

pay for her cab.

wonder if stalking her is synonymous

with stalking Purpose.


you find it later

in the aura of a nightclub.

it’s the dark blue light

that makes everything enticing.

it’s the sweat on your brow

from trying not to think about

the implications of being twenty eight

and here on a wednesday.

mostly, it’s the name of the new dj,


who spins all your favorite tracks.

he adds a new bassline.

it thumps louder than the hum

you’re used to.

demands attention.

you think it’s a calling

but you’re not sure for what.

you have all that you want, right?

hands that can build

an entire army

and a home.

you leave the club

and amble directionless.


you find it last

in the timbre

of your alcoholics anonymous’ mantra.

it falls in between the platitudes

you know are placebos

but work

like ground up adderall.

it squeaks its way into your morning jog,

helps you count the steps

away from the unemployment office

and into your new cubicle.

it’s small

but you like the sound

your fingers make when they tap the keyboard.

it’s an awful lot like



“Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

This is the last day I’ll hear these words. I get cuffed and then the cage door opens. I feel familiar hands on my shoulders, though they are lighter than normal. I’m led through the hallway I’ve walked down since 10 years ago, because they still don’t trust me – nobody does. I say goodbye to my closest friends but am only allowed to for 10 seconds each. Before I am walked into a little room, the officers behind me squeeze my shoulders extra hard, a way of showing affection. They leave and the door locks, like always.

On the table sits a cup of water and a single piece of bread, what I asked for yesterday. I take the water and stand up with it, getting accustomed to this new way of life I’ll only be living for 30 minutes. I try to enjoy this freedom, though limited. I close my eyes and try to imagine the road where my house is: the endless road where there is nothing on either side but air. I try, but I can’t forget the locked door behind me. I cry. I don’t know if they are tears of grief or tears of relief, but it doesn’t matter, because there is nothing I can do about my fate. An officer comes in and nods his head. I stand up and look down at my feet, and notice that the water I was holding is on the ground and the cup smashed in my hands. I drop the cup to the ground to accompany the water and then slide my feet to accompany the floor.

Once I pass the door frame I am back in their territory and the hand is on my shoulder. Now I don’t mind the hand on my shoulder, because I want someone to guide me and someone to help me. The hand lets go and I am in another room. There is a long rope, a stage, and two men. They motion me too come over and I do. The rope is tied around my neck as if I’m their pet and we’re just going on a walk. I look around to loosen the grip. One speaker and one camera. The camera will make sure nothing goes wrong and the speaker will prove my guilt.

Now the hands are not only on my shoulders but on my hips, and I am being slowly pushed off the stage. I’m pushed and pushed until one leg is off, then the other. I’m hanging, flying in my life and in my death. I close my eyes and think of that road, the road that I’ll return to in a few seconds. My eyes open. There is a muffling sound coming from the speaker. It then screams, “Wait, he’s innocent!” Those are the last words I hear.

One Year Later

They haven’t spoken since the unspeakable happened, and here they are again.

The one with the darker hair and luminescent hazel eyes calls first. His voice is a little gravelly, and there’s an unmistakable tightness in his throat that he tries his best not to let out. They mumble to each other awkwardly, trying to create small talk. The man with the amber eyes and reddish hair is doing alright. He’s two years into his engineering program, and he lives in the city now. He mutters a lame joke about engineers and railroads, and the man with the eyes of a pond that’s still and reflects the trees that tower above laughs. It’s a soft, lilting laugh that hasn’t changed at all, and the man with eyes of fire feels his heart twist into knots. He proposes coffee, and the man with the eyes the color of light flowing through an emerald stained glass window almost drops the phone, but agrees. They set up a time and date and hang up simultaneously. The man with the eyes of a phoenix ablaze counts down from three, just like they used to, and he can hear the smile in the man with the apple green eyes flecked with goldenrod as he whispers a goodbye. The man with the eyes of burning foliage in fall slides down against the kitchen counter and onto the cool tile floor, the groceries he was bringing in forgotten.


A day later, they meet at the arranged shop. The man with the amber eyes can’t help but marvel at how much his old… colleague has grown in the last year. His darkened hair has grown a little longer, down to his chin. He wears a bright green flannel and dark jeans. He’s filled out into the shirt, the man with the amber eyes notes.

The man with the hazel eyes is too busy studying the ground to notice his… partner standing near him. His eyes analyze the tile patterns, and to keep his mind from wandering, he tries to count the number of tiles on the floor in the room. He hears the man with the amber eyes say um, and he’s so startled that the first words he says face to face to someone for whom he once spent nights sobbing into his hands, sitting on his bed next to the bloodied bathtub of his nightmares, are the following: 

“Three hundred and eighty six.”

The man with the hazel eyes ducks his head back down, a warm rose blush spreading over his cheeks. He thinks he’s really messed it up now, mumbling an apology that was mainly composed of ums and sorrys rather than anything else. But the man with hints of muted scarlet in his eyes just lets a quiet chuckle –– more a giggle than anything else –– pulls out the metal stool and heaves himself onto the cool, shining seat. He allows his eyes to make contact with his former ally, the only person he could have ever trusted in that darkened abyss of cynical laughter and unreciprocated deals. He remembers flickering lights and desperately grasping at the man with the hazel eyes’s hand, sweaty and terrified of the occurrences outside of the closet they were concealed in.

He blinks his eyes, startled from his unpleasant reverie when the man sitting across from him says his name for what could have been the first or fiftieth time. They make eye contact, and the man with the hazel eyes allows himself a smile. He asks again, “Do you still take your coffee black?”

“I allow myself a Splenda once in awhile. Do you still hate the taste of coffee?”

“You’d think a year in medical school would have taught me something, but no.”

“Don’t tell me you got hot chocolate. Please.”

Their drinks arrive, and the man with the hazel eyes curls his fingers around the mug and draws it near. The black sharpie has his name horrifically spelled wrong, but has an unmistakable HC scrawled onto the side. He grins. “Guilty as charged. So, uh, how’s Aveline?”

“She’s doing better. In a few weeks, she’s going to college.”

“Really? Which one?”

“You wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me.” The man with the hazel eyes lifts his steaming drink to his lips. The gentle taste of chocolate floods his mouth, and he tips his head back, savoring the flavor.

“In a few weeks, she’s flying out to Cornell.”

The man with the hazel eyes almost chokes on his drink. He leans forwards, eyes wide and an uncontrollable smile on his face. “Really?”

“Yeah. When we got the letter, she almost cried. I gave her a high five at first, being a cool older brother, but

“You started crying too.”

The man with the amber eyes points a finger gun at his companion. “Bingo.”

The man with the hazel eyes tips back in his chair, still smiling. “Aveline. Cornell. That’s incredible, Ezra. Who’d’ve thought?”

“After the… incident, Sanjay, I wasn’t sure. But she made it. She sure did.”

Ezra knew he would be the one who would bring it up. He had paced in front of his mirror, coaching himself on lines to practice, things that would pale before the elephant in the room. But the beast had reared its head and released the damn word. Incident.

Sanjay let his eyes meet the floor, partially relieved that the source of the tension had been meet, and partially terrified for the same reason. His throat tightens, phrases echoing around his brain with no route for escape. He analyzes the pattern of the tiles this time, if the mortar between forms parallel lines. He briefly considers pulling out a protractor to determine if a pair of angles is supplementary, but Ezra speaks up again, his voice soft.

“I, uh, got out of therapy a few days ago.”

Silence. A few moments of background babble fills the space that their conversation before had left vacant, but then Sanjay picks it up. “My last week’s coming up, but to be perfectly honest I doubt I’m ready for it.”

“I’ve taken up piano again. It helps in that you don’t always need to let your mind wander, ya know? Sometimes I immerse myself in a –– oh, I don’t know –– some Chopin sonata, and all I really have to think about is the progression, the dynamics, the flow. But other times, I can let my hands go across the keys and think. It’s weird. Sometimes I just stare into the hallway adjacent to the piano, and when I played in Aveline’s house, my head just drifted to where the hallway would be. There’s a sort of liberation with some pieces it’s called a rubato. Essentially, the tempo ebbs and flows, going faster at some points and slowing down at others. I just… oh, I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“I’ve, uh, gone on for too lo

“Nonsense.” Hazel eyes become rust again. We’ve mastered the art of awkward eye contact, Ezra muses.

Awkward eye contact when they first saw each other in the coffee shop. Awkward eye contact when they first met outside the inferno, the blaze that took down the hotel single handedly. Awkward eye contact when neither of them knew how to proceed, which door to knock on first with the scent of old house lingering in the air. Awkward side eye when listening to something they realized too late they shouldn’t have, awkward eye contact when the woman who was in front of them had a breakdown, calling for someone neither of them knew but recognized from a headstone. Awkward eye contact that led to so many things –– gentle, bright laughter to stinging tears brimming in bloodshot eyes. Damp sweaty hands entwining, sprinting away from something unknown but emitting waves of terror.


Ezra tried to talk, but there was something stuck in his throat. Something made of angst, something birthed from trauma, something that he felt when he woke up from the nightmares and something that has shaped who he was, something that made him stand out from the person he once was.

Sanjay let his hand settle over Ezra’s. Hazel eyes met amber eyes. Eyes the color of rust, the color of dried blood, eyes that glistened with tears, eyes that had seen the unspeakable met eyes of a mix of colors, of muted green and caramel, eyes that crinkled at the sides when he smiled and eyes that couldn’t process certain stimuli but were forced to eventually.

Ezra cleared his throat. He dropped his gaze from his old friend, someone who could’ve been more than a friend, but too much had settled between them. They hadn’t spoken, and while they both regretted the radio silence, it was most likely for the best. They had too much emotion, too much raw unfiltered grief and a single day that scarred their minds forever. They had nightmare fuel to keep them in the terrors of the atmosphere, but slowly, slowly, they began to fall back down. And by now, they were halfway down to a comforting, familiar Earth.

They hadn’t spoken since the unspeakable happened, yet there they were again.

The Legendary Magician

The old woman reached for the letter opener with a bony hand. Cutting open the envelope, she found a yellowed piece of paper:


A long time ago, in western Europe, there lived a man, myth, and legend who was simply known as the Miracle Worker. His abilities stunned the world as he pulled off many astonishing crimes, such as a string of robberies, and somehow the assassination of the leader of an army of mercenaries. However, the man became a legend when he  stole every pound of gold from the corrupt Kingdom’s treasury and vanished without a trace. Nobody knew him, except for me, and today I will tell you this man’s story from the beginning to the end.


Magiano was a boy who could never keep out of trouble. He stayed alive in the once-known kingdom of Shoto by stealing food and water, and begging in the streets. Sometimes, as practice, he would steal the swords out of the sheaths of the passing soldiers in the street.

As time went on and the boy grew older, he was introduced to the world of gambling. He caught on very quickly to how the games worked and, after watching over some experienced players for some time, he worked up the confidence to try and win a game of cards using his stash of stolen money in order to bet. To further ensure his win, he had an extra set of cards hidden up his sleeve.  

As it turns out, he was naturally lucky, along with his quick hands, to pull the cards he needed. With his abilities, quick hands, and craftiness of a cheating gambler, it was no wonder he caught the eye of Sergio, an older magician who later became his mentor. The mentor believed that he had similar beginnings as Magiano, and eventually they became great friends. By age 15, Magiano began training under his new mentor, and by 16, he mastered the act of magic. At 17, Magiano performed a trick in which he levitated six audience members from the crowd onto the roof of the venue, earning him the reputation of the greatest magician of all time, to the joy of his mentor.


Now, I know you’re asking: how did the Miracle Worker turn from a performer to a thief, killer, and ghost? Well, you will find the answer to that question through a girl by the name of Casey. She was beautiful, with long dark hair and a smile that could evaporate the bitterness from a person’s soul.

She and Magiano met when he spotted her in a crowded square one afternoon, browsing the sweet selection of roses the vendor was selling. For the first time in his life, Magiano had experienced love. It is one of the most incredible love stories to date, in my opinion, because in order to impress her, he walked up to her with a closed palm and blew a kiss in her direction. She had a confused look until she realized that after he had blown the kiss, he opened the palm of his hand and a bright red rose emerged from seemingly nothing.

They soon continued to date each other until they were married a year later at the age of 20. We all know the feeling that comes with young love, and how it lightens the soul and brings joy to our hearts. That was what Magiano felt, but sadly fate decided strike the proverbial spear of tragedy straight through his heart.

During this time there was a rebellion raging throughout the kingdom. It was a rebellion against a violent and unfair king who had just raised taxes to half a pound of gold per person, and triggered a building tension in the working class of Shoto’s civilians. Alas, while on an outing at their favorite restaurant, Magiano and his wife were caught in the middle of the most violent protest in the history of the kingdom.

“Down with the king!” someone shouted.

Magiano turned to see the door being busted down by the broken body of a man who had been trampled under the great mass of rioters.

“R-run,” the man managed to whisper before he collapsed onto the floor of the restaurant. Magiano grabbed his wife and swiftly led her out the door by her hand.

He managed to keep himself and his wife safe from the hail of arrows and projectiles raining on the mob of people in the strangest way. Nobody knows if it was luck or magic, but every time an arrow seemed like it would kill either of them, the arrow would miss or get blown off course by the wind or some other force.

By the time Magiano and his wife reached the end of the crowd, the path which they had run through was the only spot not covered in arrows or dead bodies. They kept running until they thought they were a good distance away from the action. Thinking they were safe, Magiano relaxed and looked over to his wife just in time to see a stray arrow pierce its way through her heart. Catching her as she fell, he had no time to say any last words before realizing she was dead.

After this happened, some say that a part of him, the good part of him, died with her, and what do you get when the peaceful side is gone?

You get the boy who lost everything, you get a fighter, and, lastly, you get the dark side of the Miracle Worker.

After that day he abandoned his practice and show altogether and gave ownership to his mentor. He then disappeared, never to be seen for a few months. Some say he moved to a foreign land where his wife had been born, and others say he threw himself off a cliff overlooking the sea.


Yet what the public did not know was that Magiano was not one to give up. After his wife’s death, Magiano emerged as one of the greatest criminal masterminds of his time. He went back to his old ways of stealing anything he could get his hands on. However, unlike his 12-year-old self, he went beyond stealing and even became a master of murder.

It first started with a bad business deal with the leader of a notorious street gang known as the League. The gang dealt in assassinations, drug trafficking, and the forced “protection” of establishments at certain prices. During the months after his wife’s death, Magiano had gotten into making deals with this gang in order to sustain himself with proper income, and was constantly scamming them with fake drugs and other forged products.

It eventually got to the point when the leader of the gang decided he was fed up with Magiano hindering his business. He began threatening Magiano and directing his gang to harass the citizens of the Kingdom in the hopes of drawing Magiano out of the shadows.

Soon, the crime rates of Shoto were shooting through the roof, with an estimated 80 percent chance of being mugged in the streets. All this, just for Magiano to turn himself in to the gang and allow himself to be punished. Instead, two weeks after the increase in crime, the king’s police found the leader of the League lying on his living room floor, dead. On his body was a note reading, “The king claims peace yet uses this man’s gang to collect money for his ‘perfect kingdom.’”

People still say to this day that Magiano achieved the perfect murder – no evidence, no witnesses, and no sign of any sort of struggle. It was as if the gang leader had just laid down and fallen asleep. I would later ask Magiano how he did it, and he would repeat the phrase you hear most magicians say: “A good magician doesn’t reveal his secrets.”

Besides not having to deal with the gang members constantly in the streets, Magiano became somewhat of an urban hero. The public attempted to identify him by many absurd names, but eventually decided to settle on the Miracle Worker. And so, out of a violent and tragic background, the legend was born. From that day forward, more and more of the king’s corrupt supporters fell to this mysterious embodiment of death.

It was months after the day of his first murder before the Miracle Worker struck again. This time, he killed the head protector of the Kingdom’s treasury. The protector was a trusted and good friend of the king, and was mourned throughout the king’s castle after his body was found slumped over on the king’s throne with the words, “Throne of lies” written in blood across the floor. Due to this, the king decided to increase the security of his castle with the addition of more soldiers and a very experienced head guard of the soldiers watching the vault at all times. With such high security and experienced guards, the king thought no one would ever dare try to set foot in the castle, let alone steal all of the money. Despite the logic of this statement, the man had forgotten that Magiano was someone who had defied reason time and again.

This replacement occurred during the week that the king was sent a message with an open challenge from the Miracle Worker himself. The message read,

“Meet me out in the central square if you want to know what I am going to do next. Bring your guards if you want. You won’t catch me.Max.” (You may be wondering about the name change, but I will get to this later.)

The king’s face paled at this, but thankfully, nobody was around to see it. He quickly called every guard in the castle with him and set off to the square.

The king arrived at the square and looked around for a familiar face. He eventually found it when he saw the Magician appear to materialize out of the crowd and into the square.

“Oh my god,” the king whispered to himself. It can’t be, he thought.  He should be dead. There is no way a mere boy could survive on these streets.

After spending so much time on this planet, I have become very good at reading people’s emotions through their faces. In the king, I saw anger, fear, and, to my surprise, a small sign of remorse.

It was the standoff of the century: the infamous Miracle Worker standing face to face with a corrupt king and his army of guards. It was an extremely surreal encounter with both of the men staring each other down. I’m actually pretty convinced I saw tears in both of the men’s eyes, but considering their reputation, they did a good job of hiding whatever emotions wanted to escape.

However, the one thing people did notice was the slight physical similarity. Despite being much more heavyset and shorter than Magiano, the king seemed to have similarly colored eyes. This is much more of a big deal than you might think, because the king’s stood out for their rose-like tint, and Magiano’s seemed to posses that same red color. Yet, in the king’s face, I saw something thought to be impossible: guilt.

The king finally spoke. “Whoever you are, I don’t care for your reputation.” The stony-faced king continued,“You are still a criminal who has committed many crimes against me and the citizens of our nation, and for that you shall be arrested and hanged!”

People cried out and a tremor spread throughout the crowd. I was tempted to walk away as I sensed the tension spreading through the masses, but I had to make sure Magiano would be okay, even though I knew he would be. Suddenly, a voice came from underneath that dark hood, and the Miracle Worker spoke.

“And what have you done? You force people from their homes, steal their money with absurdly high taxes to fund your own personal projects, and to top it all off you work with organized crime bosses to get what you want.”

He then lifted his head so his face was visible and said, “If it were up to me and the rest of the people you rule with such an iron fist, you would have been executed for your crimes the day you clawed your way into royalty.”

Magiano spoke softly, yet his voice projected across the entire square.

“You know who I am, and you see what I have become. You created your own demons, and I am going to make sure you regret everything you have ever done. Also, thanks for the money.”

And with that, he vanished into the crowd as quickly as he appeared. The king stood puzzled, until another realization finally dawned on him.

“Hurry!” he shouted to his guards. “GET BACK TO THE TREASURY!”

As he and his royal guard retreated to the treasury, a low yet powerful noise could be heard from the mob that had been watching.


It was the start of a revolution.


I’m sure you have already figured out that by the time that the guards managed to get back to the unprotected vault, every single ounce of gold was gone. In its place was another note. The message on it read,

I will never forgive you for what you have done, and now I have been given the revenge I have waited so long for. I will not kill you, I will no longer bother you, but I’m afraid you have literally just paid for all the pain you have caused me.

Signed, the Royal Prince


That was the last the public saw of the Miracle Worker, but not me. He came to me the night after the great heist for a last talk together before he disappeared for the last time.

I had just finished leading some soldiers away who were hunting for Magiano when he came to see me. I heard my back window open and there he was, still in his magician’s costume with a black hood and cape.

“You’ve been causing some trouble,” I said casually.

“Thought you were done with those fancy disappearing acts,” he replied to me in a stoic voice.

“Yeah, well, I had to make an exception for that man. We both know that he is one politically corrupt animal.”

We then sat down and I began my last conversation with my old friend.

It’s almost as if he was making some sort of confession to me. He told me about how he was so torn apart by the death of his wife, and that key motivating reason for him to go after the king. As he spoke of this, I noticed how the emotionless shield which he usually wore began to fade as he discussed the past events. As he began to speak of his murder of the gang leader, I had to stop him and mention how the way he pulled off those tricks was incredible, even to me, so I asked him.

“So, my boy, how did you pull it off? How did you steal all that gold? In such a short time as well!”

Once again, with a devious smile on his face, he replied with a familiar phrase,

“I’m a good magician, and good magicians never reveal their secrets.”

As he was about to stand up to leave, I had to ask him one more thing. “I noticed the king’s reaction when he saw you.”

Magiano’s hands that were usually steady had begun tapping a fast rhythm on the table beside him.

“It was almost as if he were seeing a ghost!”

I then took a deep breath and stated the last fact which I was sure connected Magiano to the king, “You also have those same, distinct, red eyes.”

After looking at the floor for what seemed like an eternity, Magiano finally whispered, “Yes, you would be correct to assume he is my father.”

“Then why are you not the prince?” I exclaimed.

I would have jumped out of my seat as I said this, but my age prevented any sort of sudden movements. “This whole damn country would have been in much better hands with someone like you in control!”

He once again looked down to the floor. “I was good. Too good for my own sake, I guess,” he said, taking his hands away from the table.

“I had been stealing things practically since I was able to walk. Then came the day when I thought I would be able to get away with stealing one of my father’s personal robes for a homeless man I had spotted outside the castle. As you can expect…” He sighed. “I was caught and swiftly brought to my father, and we all know his attitude toward the people.

“Well, to him, I guess I wasn’t any different, and I was banned from the castle.”

Magiano then closed his eyes, and, with a broken voice, said, “I remember he last said to me, ‘You like homeless men, boy? Then why don’t you become one!’ and with that, he threw me out.” Opening his eyes he continued, “After that, I decided I couldn’t bear to keep the name Max which he had given to me, so I went by Magiano instead.”

I sat there with a grave face, one of sympathy and understanding. We were both silent for a while until he stood up at last and whispered, “Goodbye, my friend.”

With that he, he glided across the room and slid out the back window without a trace. I got up and prepared to go back to my bedroom until I noticed something on the carpet, in the spot that Magiano had been hanging his head. There was a single tear stain, one of satisfaction and grim revenge. When I saw that, tears welled up in my eyes and I cried the hardest I had ever cried in my 87 years on this planet.

I’m not going to lie, it took me a very long time to get over Magiano’s disappearance. I knew the boy would be something special, yet he was a candle meant to burn brightly, but shortly. I know you have experienced enough sadness in your own lives, so I will spare you from the burden of my own.  

Allow me to explain what happened after Magiano’s disappearance. Soon after the loss of the nation’s treasury, the king eventually went bankrupt and was overthrown. During the debates about how to run the kingdom, a single cloaked figure apparently ushered one of the political heads into a room to have a private discussion. It was after this discussion with the mysterious figure that he suggested the country be run as a democratic republic.

Now, enough about the old news. Let’s get to the point of why I wrote this letter. You may be asking what happened to the money he stole from the king. Well I’ll tell you, he left half of it for me first of all. At least he still cared about an old man such as myself, who was practically a father to the boy. However, he has left the other half for you. Go to his wife’s tomb and dig under the tree next to her gravestone. There you will find Magiano’s last wishes along with the gold which he left for you. Magiano and I send our regards.


To: The Family of Casey

Signed, Sergio (Mentor of the Miracle Worker)