After Hours

The beautiful color of the blue flowers

They must be happy when there are rain showers

They must be happy after hours

But it’s not true their sadness devours

All of their bad thoughts overpower

The flower’s sadness start to tower

But when the morning comes their sadness scours

Then time works its magic, it happens all over again

and the flowers will once again face the sadness tower.

In a Crowded Train


“Maria Jane Wodson, there is a friend I would like you to meet!” Father yelled from downstairs.

As I made my way down the white marble stairs, I saw him. He wore the Nazi uniform, with the red arm band on his left arm, showing off his muscular arms. He looked like he was in his 30s.

Looking at his cold blue eyes caused my hands to tremble on the wood banister. Scared. I was scared, that’s the word. Scared.

Father saw that I had finally got out of my room and exclaimed, “This is my coworker, Kurt. He will be your math tutor for the next month.”

I said a quick, “Hi.”

I made my way past Kurt. Then I felt a cold hand on my shirt. It was Kurt.

Then he whispered in a low voice, “I know people like you, up to no good.”

What did he mean, “people like you.” He let me go, but I still felt his cold hand on my shoulder.

Making my way to my car, I noticed these kids playing around the street playing tag. And they each wore a necklace with the Jewish star. Then I continued observing the kids’ clothing, noticing the same star sewn on their spring vests, their jeans, and shirts. 

But I got in my car, driving to a cafe to meet up with a friend. I saw in front of me that Betty had already found seats. I made my way across the pink tiled floors, past the bar. But I could not stop thinking about why all Jews were sewing the star. I knew Betty was Jewish, but why didn’t she have the star sewn on? We had just started drinking coffee when these Nazis barged in. Grabbed Betty by the arm. And I just stood there in shock. Betty was thrashing and screaming in fear. No, I couldn’t lose her. She has been my best friend since, like, the beginning of time. Now she was gone. My head was spinning in confusion. What was happening. And why. 


After I left the cafe, the only thing I could think about all day were the Nazis. Then all of a sudden, I fell to the floor. Looking below me I saw a yellow rubber duck staring at me with black beady eyes.

“What the heck!!” I said to myself. Why was there a rubber duck. Oh well, never thought that would happen. 

Making my way up the old brick stairs to my home, I felt like a melting marshmallow in the hot sun. I didn’t know if Father was home. So I went upstairs to check his office, but as I made my way closer to the office, I heard men yelling.

You know all Jews must be sent to the camps. Not one can slip past you!”

 What camps? I thought. And why target Jews? 

But then I heard more. “We finally got that stupid Betty. The troops just got her at the coffee shop when she was with my daughter. Get the rest of them. Hitler’s orders!”

It was Father!!! Father was the reason Betty was taken away. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. Was this why the kids were wearing the stars, the Nazis needed to know who were Jews. But what camps.

The Nazis stormed out of the house. I was in the kitchen snacking on some potato chips when one of the men caught my eye.

He had cold emerald eyes, then he said in a loud booming voice, “Alright, men, hurry up. Let’s go.”

I recognized that voice. It was the voice of the first man in the conversation. I must stay away from that man.

One week later… 


I found myself in a crowded train, filled with Jews. Babies crying, kids crying, women and men crying. Why had I gone snooping? Why did I ever start to have feelings for Kurt? Kurt did this to me. I felt the train stop. The Nazis opened up the doors. Then they started pushing people off the train. One Nazi pushed me so hard that I fell.

I looked behind myself and saw Kurt. Kurt, the one who started this whole mess. But he looked at me like I was no one, kicked me, and said, “You stupid girl, get up.”

I wondered if he even noticed me, but then a loud scream interrupted that thought. A Jewish mama was being taken away from her daughter. I ran over to help the child.

I yelled back at the mama, “I will take care of her!!”

The girl yelled back at the mama screaming, “No!!! I need her. I need my mama.”

The girls eyes looked scared, so I said to the girl, “It’s okay. I will take care of you.”

“No, you are not my mama. You will turn me into them, then they will kill me!!”

“Come with me, so we don’t get in trouble and end up like your mama. We must follow the rest of the group.”

“Fine, but promise me they won’t hurt me.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t make any promises, but I will try my best.”

“Are you scared?” the girl asked, shivering.

“Yes, but you must stay strong. Please stay strong.”

The girl and I followed the Nazis through the concentration camp, past lines of Jews heading into dark tunnels. Then all of a sudden I heard bang, bang. I looked over my shoulder and found four dead bodies on the cold brick floor. Then I thought to myself what will become of me.


Hast there e’er been a night filled with such pain?

Dost the setting of the sun bring suffering?

Come fill me up with bitter, cold poison

Come singe my hair and let it scorch my neck

Do to me this for it shall be no worse 

Than what has’t been done, 

Forgotten from thy lips

My name once sweetly sung 

How dareth thee mistake mine own love 

For something to be easily tossed hence

Cowards art those who cannot face the sunrise

And you were born with two closed eyes


I was awoken by the sun’s soft, early morning rays. I’ve always been a light sleeper, which is always a good thing for waking up early to work like I do. With a quick yawn and a stretch, I slid out of bed and laced up my boots again. By the looks of things when I got downstairs, Mother and Father were still asleep. Hunting takes up most of my day if I’m to catch anything, so I grabbed a decent chunk of bread from the kitchen and filled up a waterskin at the well. Lastly, I headed to the shed just outside of the house and retrieved the bow and quiver of arrows from the shelf. The early morning air was cool and the breeze was slight, the sun just beginning to peek over the horizon, leaving the land covered in a golden haze. Today should be a good hunt for me. That is, if I didn’t get too frustrated first. With a last glance at the house, I silently made my way to the nearby woods, bow gripped tightly in my hand. 

Surprisingly, within minutes, I found myself hiding behind some bushes while a deer grazed a few paces away from me. I slowly pulled an arrow from my quiver and nocked it on the bowstring. Before I could pull it back and ready my shot, a twig snapped behind me and scared off the deer. I whirled around to look for the source of the noise, only to be faced with trees, shrubs, and nothing more. I let out a low growl of frustration and stood up. Another twig snapped, this time seemingly closer. Eyes narrowed, I pulled the bowstring taught and aimed towards the sound. I still didn’t see anything, but a feeling of unease had begun to creep into my body.

“Who’s there?” I called, a slight shake to my voice.

I got no answer, which only deepened the sense of dread that had begun to weigh me down. I waited for a few more moments, and lowered my bow. I bit my lip, and quickly moved on, scanning the forest floor for any more tracks. I spent a few more hours following what appeared to be deer tracks, but after a while I realized that I had gotten completely lost.

“Of course… of course I get lost…” I grumbled, kicking a few rocks out of my way. The forest had gotten dark, even though I knew that it couldn’t be any later than noon. I had never been in this part of the woods, and every shape in the undergrowth seemed foreign or threatening. I found myself drawing my bow at the slightest noise. Eventually, I saw the beginnings of a pathway and my hopes shot up. I followed the path like an excited puppy, eager to get out of this wretched forest. The path led to an open mouthed cave, and I could faintly hear voices coming from within. As I made my way to the entrance, I tripped on a rock and fell flat on my face with a small cry. The voices stopped and I scrambled to my feet. 

When I looked up, a tall, thin man was leaning over me. I like to think of myself as rather tall, but this man was a good head higher than I was. His greasy, shoulder-length hair was dark, his eyes even darker, a glimmer of something otherworldly lurking behind his irises. His skin was like ivory, so much so that it seemed nearly translucent. His lips were the only colorful part of him, as if they were stained with wine, or something of the like.

“Well well well. What have we here? A little lost pup?” The man purred. His voice was smooth and slick, dark amusement oozing from every word.

“I won’t deny I’m lost, but I’m not a pup.” I glared and dusted off my trousers. 

The man laughed and turned back towards the cave, where two more men were standing with their arms crossed.

“Well how about we play a little game then?” The man stepped back a few paces, joining the other two at the cave’s mouth.  “Think of it as… a game of hide and seek.”

The three men grinned, in near-perfect unison. The skin on the back of my neck prickled, and I gripped the handle of my bow even tighter.

“I don’t have time for this. If you won’t tell me how to get back to the village of Farnworth, then I’ll be on my way.” My tone grew sharp, masking the fear I felt deep in my core. There was something off about these men. That much was clear.

“Oh but if you win, we’ll even take you right there!” A second man piped up. This man was burlier than the first, muscular even. His golden, curly hair was cropped at his ears, and his blue eyes glittered with the same sick amusement as the first man.

“Yeah, thanks for the offer but I’ll make my way out.” I turned to leave, but suddenly the third man rushed forward with unnatural speed and gripped my shoulder tightly, his sharp nails digging into my flesh. 

“Have it your way then.” The third man was the smallest, but also the most terrifying. His eyes were almost colorless, a dead sort of grey. His hair seemed to be falling out, despite his rather young appearance. If he weren’t standing in front of me and talking, I would have said that he was dead, or close to being in such a state. I swatted his hand away and nocked an arrow.

“I think I will.” I aimed the arrow at the man’s chest with shaking hands.

The three of them burst into laughter.

“You see that Lucien?” The first man called to the third. “He’s shaking!”

Lucien, the man in front of me, merely smiled, revealing a row of rotting teeth with several of the front ones missing. I barely held back a cry as two of those empty holes began to fill in front of my very eyes with long, wickedly sharp fangs.

Those fangs sent a chill down my spine. They belonged to some… creature. A wicked monster my sheltered mind couldn’t begin to comprehend. My eyes grew wide and a wave of cold fear crashed over me, making me shake even more. Even though my legs felt like lead, I turned around as fast as I could and began to run in the opposite direction. I could hear the three men howling with laughter as I bolted, weaving in and out between trees and fallen logs. My heart hammered in my chest, uneven breaths forcing themselves out into the now-frigid air. 

“You really are a curious one.” I yelped as the first man murmured in my ear. He was barely breathing hard, yet he had run up to me quicker than any creature I had ever seen. I screamed and tried to whack him with my bow, but he caught the end of it effortlessly. “What a pathetic little toy.” He grinned, exposing sharp fangs so white and polished I could swear I saw my own reflection within them. 

The man wrenched the bow out of my hand as if he were taking candy from a child. I whimpered and stumbled back, now thrown off balance. I fell to the ground with a grunt, hitting my head on a tree trunk. Pain blossomed at the base of my neck, a pain I’d never really experienced before. Black spots danced almost mockingly at the edges of my vision, teasing and calling me to fall into the world of the unconscious. 

“Well gentlemen, I know we just ate, but we never say no to a free meal, do we?” Lucien snickered, kneeling down in front of me, fangs bared.

“M…meal?!” I stammered out weakly, blinking several times to clear my vision.

“Oh come on, little pup!” The first man giggled. “Judging by your reaction I assume you know what we are!”

“I don’t have a damn clue! Whatever you are, you can’t be real!” I cried, clenching my eyes shut.

A cold hand grabbed my chin, nails digging into my cheeks. 

“I can assure you, we are very real.” 

I grit my teeth and kicked out my leg, hitting one of the men in the chest. My eyes flew open and the other two seemed startled by my kick, so I turned and began running again. My muscles screamed in pain, begging for me to slow down, but the adrenaline coursing through my body pushed me forward. My head throbbed, pounding with each step I took.

Then, I was suddenly tackled from behind and found myself pinned down on the forest floor, my face pressed into the dirt. 

“Rather persistent aren’t you?” The man dug his nails into my back, nails so sharp that they easily tore through my shirt, leaving a line of gouge marks oozing with warm, sticky blood. A strangled cry leapt out of my mouth, muffled by the dirt and leaves. “I usually don’t play with my food but this has been… delightful!”

I could hear the other men approach as well, and I squirmed under the man’s hand. 

“Ah ah! Stay still! It won’t hurt as much if you do, I promise.” One of the men cackled.

Tears were streaming down my face, hot tears born out of a cold fear. I whined as the man pinning me down pulled me upright and tossed me violently into a thorny bush with little effort. I opened my mouth to cry out as the thorns wedged themselves into my skin, but no sound came out. It struck me then and there that this was how I was going to die. At the hands of some strange monsters that I never stood a chance against. 

I wasn’t even able to —

My thoughts were cut short as a firm hand pulled me out of the thorn bush, and a fist smashed into my face. Once, then twice. Then a few times more. I scratched and clawed at whoever was holding me, my eyes swollen shut from the relentless blows. 

My my. This is rather pathetic, a voice chuckled. But this voice was not one of the men beating the life out of me. This voice seemed different, and seemed to come from all around me, not in one specific location. The pain seemed to fade away for a moment, as did the rest of the world. I felt like I was floating in some strange, endless void.

I can help you, you know, the voice thundered again, still without a definite source.

“How? Who are you?” I tried to speak, but my words fell flat against the darkness.

The voice laughed, a heavy boom that resonated throughout my entire body. 

“Hey! Answer me!” I yelled, looking around to find the voice. I felt as if I were on the brink of tears, but my eyes were strangely dry.

Just look at yourself, the voice purred, and the void around me exploded into a vivid scene, and a familiar one at that. I was back in the woods, watching the three strange men hitting and beating a slumped-over figure, seemingly enjoying themselves. But that figure was… me. Yet somehow I was observing this from outside my own body. Poor little thing. How could you ever survive such a ruthless attack?

A shiver ran through my body. I whirled around to see a raven perched on a low-hanging branch, its small, black, beady eyes glittering with amusement.

“What are you!?” I reached out to grab the bird, as if catching it would release me from this strange hallucination. The raven vanished as soon as I touched it.

Rather touchy, aren’t we?

“Stop it! Stop!” I squeezed my eyes shut and cradled my head in my hands. I was overwhelmed, fear and confusion running rampant through my mind, wild and untamed.

I could help you, Jamie.

I choked out a sob, opening one eye to peer at my savagely beaten body. I was covered in blood, blood which the men seemed to be scooping up with their hands and… and drinking. My arms hung at strange angles, bruises covering nearly every inch of exposed skin. There were undoubtedly more under my shredded shirt and pants.

You could destroy them, dear boy. Just say the word. 

Those words seemed to strike a spark, igniting some strange, otherworldly anger that I never imagined that I was capable of. I stood up and opened my eyes. What gave these monsters the right to do such things? To me? To anyone? Could I really destroy them? Punish them with the justice they deserve?

Yes Jamie, you can. The raven was perched on another branch, staring intently into my eyes. I can give you the power to wreak havoc on any of those who stand in your way. Scorch a path of justice, just for you to walk upon.

Well… how could I refuse with my broken body?

How admirable. I am yours to command, Jamie Darkthorn. The raven shot up into the air and dove straight down towards me. I raised my arms to block the bird, but as soon as it just touched my arm, a wave of powerful force exploded out from within me. I was back in my body, but it was no longer broken. The three men were blown back, landing on the ground with sickening crunches. I opened my eyes, only to find my vision changed. The three men, who were scrambling to their feet, now looked dead in every sense of the word. Skin and flesh was just barely holding on to their time-withered bones, eyes hollow and empty. A word bubbled at my lips, forcing itself free.

Vampire.” I growled, my voice laced with some cruel, ancient power. The three vampires hissed and backed away from me. 

“The hell are you?” One of them snarled, fangs slick with blood. My blood. I didn’t respond. I was too busy looking at my hands and arms, which were swathed in a swirling violet light. “Hey we’re talkin’ to you!”

The vampire ran up to me, ready to lunge, but I instinctively grabbed his arm and, with some urging from the raven, I snapped it. Like snapping a twig. My veins felt as if they were on fire, burning with savage rage. 

Rip off their heads. Break their necks, the raven ordered. Otherwise they won’t die.

If I weren’t drunk on this strange, newfound power, I wouldn’t have even considered doing what the raven instructed. But my fingers twitched and itched, begging me to do it. 

A second vampire rushed at me, and I clamped my hands firmly around his neck. My body was moving without my input, guided by the raven. A flash of doubt flickered in the back of my mind and for a second, my grip weakened. I can’t do this. This… this isn’t right!

You want them punished, don’t you? The raven chided.

“I-I do,” I growled, tightening my grip again. The raven pushed and shoved, and I felt bone snap under my fingers. A sickening jolt of nausea lurched in my stomach and I pushed the vampire away. He reeled back, coughing and grasping at his neck. He then fell back onto the forest floor, gasping and panting. After a few moments, the vampire’s movements stilled. His two companions glanced at me with fearful eyes and bolted back towards their cave. I let them go, a cold mixture of guilt and fear crashing like waves on a stormy sea.

What are you doing? The raven didn’t seem angry, but rather puzzled.

“Not like this. I-I’m not a killer.” 

You aren’t. That vampire was dead. As all before it have been. You did not kill it, you just made its death more permanent.

Tears welled up in my eyes, hot and painful. The thrum of power began to fade, and my hands began to shake. A rustling of leaves made me whirl around to find the raven perched on a nearby bush, its head cocked to the side.

“Why… why did you make me do that?” I choked out, backing away from the bird.

It was not what you wanted? The raven ruffled its wings. I apologize.

“Of course it wasn’t what I bloody wanted!” I took a few more steps back, tripping over the vampire’s body. I yelped and scrambled away from it.

You wanted to serve them justice. I assumed that meant by ending their miserable existence.

I shook my head vigorously.

“No! You… you.. Leave me alone!” I screamed, running and stumbling away from the raven and the body. I didn’t know where I was running, or what path I was taking, but I eventually stumbled across a river, nearly falling in. I stopped at the bank, and looked down at my reflection in the water. My eyes were no longer their usual shade of green, but a brilliant violet, shimmering with power and some otherworldly magic. My hair was still tied up, except for a few odd strands. A thick chunk of my bangs had been stripped of all of its color, leaving it pale and silvery. With a startled cry, I splashed the surface of the water, shattering the reflection. 

I am truly sorry if I had alarmed you, Jamie. The raven was on the other side of the riverbank, nonchalant as ever.

I screamed and scrambled back.

“What did you do to me?!”

Nothing. I simply awakened the power you already harboured. The raven flew swiftly over the river’s water and landed in front of me. I will explain all in due time, but I implore that you calm down before I do so.

“Awakened? Power? You’re talking nonsense!” I kicked at the raven, who squawked and flew off a few paces. 

You have just proved my point. You are shaken up, so I will wait until you are calm enough to listen to me.

“I-I’ve gone crazy!” I whimpered, scrambling to my feet and running off in the other direction. My eyes itched and burned, so I reached up to rub them. When my hands fell back to my sides, my vision had changed again. My surroundings were clouded in a violet haze, leaving only a clear path that snaked between the trees and plant life. I shook my head and ignored the chiseled path, as it had to be my mind playing tricks on me. Yet the farther I wandered from the path, the more lost and confused I found myself. I stopped for a moment and glanced at the path. It was illuminated by small wisps of light, almost inviting me to follow them.

I gritted my teeth, debating whether or not I should give in. I eventually did, for I was exhausted and desperate for any way out of this hellish maze. As soon as I stepped foot onto this path, it flickered and glowed softly. I took a second step, then a third. After a few more paces, I broke into a run. The forest became a blur, my eyes clouded with tears once again. Finally, I caught a glimpse of the forest edge. I couldn’t help but let out a sigh and a smile of relief, dragging myself out of the densely wooded hell that I had just spent hours in. 

I had made it out. I could even see our farmhouse just a few yards from where I was standing. Yet I couldn’t find the energy to pull myself over there. I was suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion, and collapsed into the grass.


I’ve found myself wishing for simple things recently. Like wishing for rainy but warm days. Or wishing for time to laugh at nothing with a few good friends. Or wishing to find a shortcut home through the park. Or wishing to sit down and enjoy a good chicken sandwich. Or to find a good song to listen to. Or to write something meaningful. Or to tell the girl that I like that I like her. Or to just be happier.

Senior year is coming to an end. I feel like I’ve done nothing, gone nowhere, been nobody. I’ve gotta do something more with my life than just wait for something exciting to happen. I should be road tripping across the United States or something. My mom says that the US isn’t worth road tripping across. She says that it’s just 7-11s and narrow-minded people. I disagree, and so does my grandfather, Jawahar. Or Jawa, for short. And sure, there are tons of 7-11s and tons of narrow-minded people, but there is a lot more. Jawa and I both believe that we’ve spent too much time in our lives looking at what’s outside our country. We’ve gone to Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America together, but not Antarctica. I would aim to go to Antarctica with him, but neither of us really want to. We want to go on an adventure in the US. 

But that’s a distant dream.

I think a lot of the US smells good. A lot of it smells bad, but a lot of it smells like fresh air and hotel soap. All that good stuff. Or at least it all smells better than the social studies classroom that I was cooped up in while all of these thoughts ran through my brain. Like mice running away from the siren of a fire truck, into their dark nooks and crannies where they wouldn’t be found. Mr. Whitaker had microwaved his fish lunch in the classroom again. It wasn’t pleasant. I was looking out the window and trying to not be reminded of the horrid smell. There were all these crystal-clear raindrops trickling down the windows. They left their imprints for just a minute and then went away like they were never there. And, sure, it was a rainy day like I had wished for. But it wasn’t warm.

The one part that I really enjoyed about social studies was that sitting at the next table over, to my left, was Malaika Melrose. I only knew a few select things about her. I knew that she likes to travel. That she loves the color orange. I knew that she’s Tanzanian because she’s very proud of the fact that her name is from the Tanzanian song, “Malaika.” It means Angel. And that’s a pretty accurate description. I knew that she recently got a scholarship to Pomona for volleyball, because she wore the sweater they sent her like it’s a part of her. Which was hard for her, because her co-captain passed away in a car accident. That’s why she has a tattoo on her arm that says ‘Olivia.’ Except the O is a volleyball. I knew that Daniel Vettel called the tattoo tacky, and Malaika wasn’t having it, so she punched him right across the face. That was probably the highlight of my February. After Olivia died, Malaika had to be strong for the rest of her team, which was exactly what she did. Then they won the championship, which was probably the highlight of my April. And I’m really happy that she got the scholarship because you can walk to Pomona from Pitzer, which is where I’m headed next year.  

When Mr. Whitaker makes the abrupt decision of teaching on the other side of the classroom, I get the chance to look at her without seeming like a creep. Today happened to be one of those days. She tried taking notes for a little while, but then gave up and started doodling in her notebook. Since I wasn’t listening, I thought I might as well have been doing something productive, like she was. Besides, looking at someone like that and pining after them the way I was is a self-destructive tendency. So, I drew an array of half-hearted ghosts on the top of the page. 

I guess Mr. Whitaker noticed this, because he enunciated across the room, “Levi, you ok?” And just like that, with one word, this cloud of silent pensiveness I had surrounded myself with vanished. He said my name with a disappointed tone that I usually only heard from my parents. It hit me like a shard of glass right to my chest. I nodded stiffly in response. He stared for a moment and then returned to his lesson as I opened up to a new page of notes.

As the class came to an end, you could hear the crunch of papers and the stuffing of book bags as people hustled to get out the door. Mr. Whitaker was still droning on about something or the other. Malaika bolted out of the door so quickly that I couldn’t have said anything to her if I wanted to. Not that I would’ve.

I trudged out of the building, into the fading grey light that was splitting through the storm clouds. I made my way through the crowds of bustling children. I could see Malaika just a few crowds ahead of me. She was laughing really hard at something that her friend had said. It was a true and genuine laugh. I hadn’t laughed like that in a while.

I darted away from the crowds and towards the park. As I approached the entrance, I found myself paused in time. I was looking down the winding path into all this greenery. Cherry blossom season had just come to an end, so pink petals were littered along the pavement. I was wavering in between weaving a way through the trees, as a shortcut, or just going right along the main path the way I usually did. If I started a new adventure, where would it take me? In my mind, a memory unfolded of a story Jawa likes to tell. 

“When I came here from India, I was lost. I had no friends and very little money. All hope had been drained from my heart. That’s when I met your grandmother. She was the kindest girl at Columbia. Actually, she was the kindest girl I’d ever met. She introduced me to her friends, who soon became my friends. She and I and our friends would go on adventures. We loved to wander and would often find ourselves lost in the unknown together. Now here’s something to keep in mind, Levi. Wherever we went, we would find a brick wall and put a little something behind it. A little part of ourselves, or a part of our adventure. That’s how we left our mark. Levi, you have to figure out how you will leave your mark.” 

I stood still for a while and thought about this story that Jawa tells whenever he gets the chance. The anthem of the remaining water droplets scurrying off of the leaves and falling to the floor sounded in my ears. How was I going to leave my mark? Eventually, I turned left on the sidewalk, heading towards the subway station, straying away from all previous plans and all previous paths. When I had made my way down into the dingy station, I came to a stop near the wall and pulled out my phone to dial my aunt, Gigi. It rang three times before she picked it up.

“Hi, Levi!” she shouted, “How are you today?”

“Hi, Auntie,” I said, less enthusiastically, “I’m alright.” There was a pause because Gigi doesn’t know what to do when people don’t reciprocate her enthusiasm. I would normally be just as happy to talk to her as she was to me, but today I just wasn’t feeling it. I broke the silence and asked, “Are you at work?”

“Um, yeah, why do you ask?” She was typing something out on her computer as she talked.

“Can I go to your house for a little while? I want to talk to Jawa.” She stopped typing when I said this, focusing entirely on me. The lights in the station flickered a little. The world went ghost-quiet, just for a split second. 

“I mean… yeah, of course. You ok?” 

I replied, “Yeah, yeah I’m fine. It’s just been a while.” 

“Right. You got your key?”


“Alright. See you later.”

“See ya.”  

I didn’t feel like texting my parents and telling them where I was going (they would ask too many questions). When I got down to the platform, I sat on a bench and passed the time by sketching more half-hearted ghosts on a scrap of paper. I was thinking of nothing, which was nice because I rarely get the chance to do that. But this nothingness went away with the whip of wind that came by with the train. As I rose out of my seat and onto the train, I was reminded of how much I dislike the subway. Everyone on the subway is burdened by where they need to be, except for a few who don’t have a place to go. We’re all swallowed in darkness, making it seem like we’ll never see the light again. Plus, it often smells like old cheese and burning garbage, which doesn’t help either. Luckily, Gigi’s house is just two stops away. 

Gigi’s house is the coffee-colored one at the end of the street. It used to be a fire station, so it has a big pole running through the middle of it. She thought it would be fun to keep for her nieces and nephews to play on. Unfortunately, most of us are afraid of heights, including me. 

I came to the corner and unlocked the door with the clack of a rusted keyhole. I entered the building and climbed up the steps towards the top. The draftiness and the sunshine flooded from all different areas, creating an eerie mix of temperature. Nevertheless, I love Gigi’s house. It always smells of its sun-soaked pine floors and basmati rice. 

As I reached the top floor, I saw Jawa for the first time in a long time. There he was, upon the mantelpiece stored away in a shiny silver urn. I constantly avoid going to the top floor when we come to Gigi’s house for dinner, just in fear of seeing him. Seeing him without a smile and a pleasant greeting. Seeing him lifeless. But I had to confront him because I could feel how much I missed him in my bones, and this was all I had. 

So, I closed my eyes, leaned against the mantelpiece, and forced myself to talk: “Hi, Jawa. I know it’s been a while. A long while. And I’m sorry I haven’t come and visited sooner. The family wanted me to, but it’s just that talking to you without you responding is difficult. It’s mainly because I know you’re still here. I just know it, in my gut. But it makes me really mad that you can’t respond.” My voice was breaking a little bit. I felt this sour lump of sadness swelling in my throat. “And I kind of really need a response right now. There’s so much that I need to do. And if you would just respond, you would bring me to do it. You always knew what was right for me.” I paused and opened my eyes, looking up at the urn. “But I know that you can’t give me a response. And I know that I have to do things on my own now.” 

That was when my eyes, blurred with tears, happened to notice something in the reflection of the urn. Gigi kept it so well polished that I could see the brick wall on the roof of the 7-11 across the street. I crouched down by the window, fixating my eyes on the wall. Jawa and his friends, always putting memories behind walls. I wiped away the tears and looked back at the urn. With a smile, I quickly ran into the kitchen and found a ziplock bag. I hurried back to the urn and opened it up. There was already a trowel inside, so I carefully scooped up a bit of his ashes into the bag. I closed the bag, then the urn, and headed straight for the pole, leaving my bag on the upstairs floor. I didn’t care how afraid of heights I was; I spiraled through the air on that pole, all the way down to the first floor. It was like I was afraid the brick wall might be gone in a matter of minutes or something. 

I dashed out the door and across the street and was about to head into the 7-11 when I realized that it’s kind of odd to go into a convenience store with a bag of your grandfather’s ashes in hand. So, I pocketed the bag and opened the door. I was relieved to find that Bayani, a long-time friend of Gigi’s, was working that day.

“Hi, Baya!” I shouted, running past the countertop. He looked startled.

“Hey, Levi, how are you?”

“I’m great. Do-ya-mind-if-I-go-up-to-the-roof-for-a-minute?” I asked the question as if it was one word and didn’t give him the chance to respond. “Thank you!” I called, rushing towards the stockroom.

As I climbed up the first step, I could hear him in the background saying, “You’re welcome?” I made it to the top and climbed through the bulkhead door. The sunlight was immense compared to the fragments from earlier in the day. It washed the red tear imprints right off of my face and it guided me towards the wall. I ran my fingers along the bricks, trying to find a loose one. There was one that shook a little bit to the left as I ran my hand across it. I pulled it out and was about to place the bag of ashes inside when I noticed something. I dropped the brick on the floor at the sight of it. I guess Jawa had already found this wall because there was already something behind the brick. It was two pieces of paper. I pulled out one, in awe, and read it aloud to myself:

I moved to this city out of spontaneity. I knew I wanted to get out of India and that my parents wanted that for me as well. So, my father found me a map of the U.S. at a small souvenir shop in the heart of Delhi. We hung it up against our wall, and I threw a dart at it. It was the luckiest shot in the world, landing right on New York City. So, I went. I got a scholarship to go to Columbia University and met some of the best friends I’ve ever had. Although, I try not to tell them that because their heads are big enough as it is. On this map that my father gave to me, my friends and I have marked all the places in the U.S where we have left treasures like this one. I miss India, but I made enough money in the three years after graduation to get my parents and brother settled in Brooklyn. As I sit on this rooftop, I am reminded of the fact that spontaneity saved my life. A lot of it was hard work and dedication, but it all spawned off of the spontaneity of throwing a dart at a map. So if someone finds this someday, I would like to remind them to bring spontaneity into their lives. You never know where you might end up.

— Jawahar Kadakia

This was it. This was the response Jawa had given me. As my eyes traveled back and forth from the map to the note, everything was clearer. This treasure that he had left was timeless. Jawa’s legacy is timeless. Our family is timeless. I am timeless.

And that’s when I heard a familiar voice. The door of the 7-11 opened below me. I looked downwards at who was entering. There was Malaika, talking to her mom on the phone. Suddenly, I had the best idea. Or the worst idea. I would only know if I went for it. 

I pocketed the map and note and placed the ziplock bag of ashes behind the wall. I slid the brick back in and pressed my forehead against the wall for just a moment. Then, I slipped back through the bulkhead door, into the darkness of the steps. I practically fell down them, back into the 7-11. I hurried along the rubbery floors in search of her and my feet skidded as I came to a halt in front of the Twinkies aisle. There she was, choosing between strawberry and chocolate peanut butter Twinkies. I tried my best to center myself and calmly walked over to her. 

“I would suggest the strawberry,” I said, pointing to the box to her left. She laughed a little.

“Nice,” she said, picking one up. “We have social studies together, right?” I nodded. She continued, “I’m Malaika.”

“Levi,” I said, shaking her hand. I was smiling really obviously, which would’ve been weird if she wasn’t too. “This might weird you out, but can I ask you something sort of spontaneous and probably really impulsive?”

“Go for it,” she replied.

“Over the summer, I’m planning to go on this road trip. You see, my grandfather left this treasure map, and I’m supposed to go to each location and find the stuff he left there.” I unfolded the map and handed it to her. She ran her eyes over it a few times before saying:

“Wow. You must have a pretty cool grandfather.”

“Yeah, I did.” She smiled and handed it back to me.

“Now here’s the weird part,” I said, “How would you feel if I asked you to come with me?” Her jaw practically dropped to the floor. This felt like the perfect example of an awkward silence.

I rambled on, “It’s totally fine if you don’t want to, I just thought I should ask somebody, and y’know you were the first person I saw so–”

“I’ll do it,” she said, cutting me off. 

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah,” she smiled, “Come. Let’s talk.” And with that, I was no longer a half-hearted ghost, lost in a pensive silence.


The empty grey walls and glaring fluorescent lights seemed to soak up time as it passed, slowing down the world. At the front of the room, the teacher clicked through a presentation about the parts of a cell. In the farthest row of desks from the front, a student sat, blatantly ignoring the “take notes” portion of the slide. 

Instead of a long paragraph about the lesson, the page was filled with a series of sketches. The desk next to him began to move steadily closer, and with very little subtlety. 

“What’cha drawing, Fin?” asked the occupant of the desk, trying to get a look at the notebook. 

“Nothing, Roman,” replied Fin, refusing to even look up at the other boy. 

“Come on,” groaned Roman loudly. Fin sighed and held up the notebook. The page was filled with a few drawings. The largest one was of the teacher, Mr. Stuart, and his mind-numbing presentation. 

“You’d better be taking notes!” yelled Mr. Stuart. For a moment, it seemed as though he might begin a lecture about the importance of notes, but then he noticed the time and continued with his slides. “Don’t blame me when you fail the test,” he muttered before beginning again. 

“Why don’t you ever draw anything cool?” asked Roman, dropping back into his seat, somewhat dejected. Fin didn’t even give it a response. 

“Remember, homework is due tomorrow!” screamed Mr. Stuart, finally closing down his computer. Even the blank whiteboard was more interesting and educational than whatever Mr. Stuart crammed into his presentations. 

Then it happened. It finally happened. The blaring, harsh sound of the bell. Fin gently placed his notebook into his open backpack and slung it onto his shoulders. Even though he was in the back of the room, he crossed it and reached the door with incredible speed and ducked out into the hallway. He sprinted down the hall as other students began to file out of their rooms. Fin knew he only had a few moments before everything in the hall was packed with people. He leapt toward his locker, preparing to wait out the crowd. Fin quickly opened the door and stuffed his textbook into the small space. He glanced over his shoulder, checking if he could get out. The main door was completely clogged with students, pushing each other trying to get through the surprisingly narrow door. Fin glanced over at the side door, which was empty. He got up and ran to it. 

Fin stepped out into the cool, fresh air. The sky was filled with clouds and looked like it was going to rain again. The smell of the morning’s rain still hung over everything. It seemed as though it was always raining. 

Fin walked with purpose, expertly navigating through groups of students toward his destination. He walked past several courtyards, flanked by massive buildings. Finally, he passed by the last one and walked behind it. Behind the row of classrooms was a fairly large area. It was covered with grass but had several low walls for seating. It was protected by the shade of the neighboring building and a dense canopy of trees. 

“Hey Fin,” exclaimed a voice. One other person was already relaxing on the benches. Fin tossed his backpack down on the ground next to a spot of wall and sat down. 

“Hey, Cooper,” replied Fin. “How was English?” he asked sarcastically. Cooper laughed. 

“Obviously terrible,” he said, walking over. “How about science?” Fin shook his head sadly. 

“Mr. Stuart tried his hand at a slideshow again,” stated Fin. Cooper placed his hand on Fin’s shoulder.

“I’m truly sorry that happened,” replied Cooper.

“Yeah, hasn’t he figured out technology isn’t his strong suit?” asked a newcomer. They both turned to look. 

“Hey Alex,” said Fin. Alex nodded and walked over. She sat down across from them. “It does seem problematic that the science teacher can barely use a computer.” 

“None of them can use a computer, have you seen Ms. Philips try to send an email?” laughed Alex. “Oh, Fin, you have a sub in English today.”

“Is he any good?” asked Fin. Alex nodded. 

“Yeah. First time that’s ever happened.” She laughed. “He actually understands what he’s teaching, unlike the real teachers.” 

“Hey, where’s Huge?” asked Cooper, interjecting. Alex and Fin looked around, surprised he wasn’t there. 

“Maybe the lunch line is longer than usual?” suggested Fin. 

“Or he had to stay after class,” added Alex. Cooper nodded. After some time, Huge finally did arrive. 

“Stupid lines,” he muttered, taking a seat. “It takes forever to get any food!” The others nodded. “Even on a good day, you don’t have enough time to-” Huge was cut off by the bell. He groaned loudly. 

“See you guys tomorrow,” said Alex, pulling on her backpack. 

“Bye,” replied Cooper, packing up his own bag. They hurried off. Huge begrudgingly placed his lunch in his pack and walked off, still muttering angrily. Fin was the last to leave, and he walked slowly. He was mostly contemplating what to draw in fifth period, but also this substitute teacher who somehow knew what he was talking about. It sounded a little far-fetched, but Alex was never one to exaggerate. 

He strolled down the small hill and yanked open the door to his class. It was about half-full. The teacher was nowhere to be found. Fin sat down in a seat near the back of the room and pulled out his notebook. Students filtered in and took their seats slowly. Once everyone was seated, the teacher appeared. 

The teacher wore a bright, almost lime green dress shirt and a shiny black bow tie. A few students laughed under their breath at his burgundy suit. 

“I am Mr. G,” he said. Instantly, a dozen hands shot up with the same question. Mr. G pointed to one student. 

“What does the G stand for?” she asked. Mr. G sighed.

“Germaine,” he said. A few more snickering laughs could be heard across the room. Mr. Germaine ignored them and began his lesson. He pushed the button, turning on the projector. Loud groans of despair echoed across the room — a slideshow was beginning. Everyone gasped in shock as the first slide appeared. It was well-organized, had pictures, and real information! No one knew how to react to this. The pictures appeared to have been hand-drawn as well. All the students were confused. 

Although impressed, Fin continued to sketch instead of paying attention. The grey lines of his pencil began to form something. It started to take shape into a room with two windows. Then a hardwood table. Chairs. Decorations and food, with incredible detail appearing all over the page. 

Fin looked down at it and nodded with satisfaction and flipped the page. He glanced up at the clock on the wall. Fin decided he had just enough time for another drawing. He didn’t plan this one. He let his hand and the lead create. They created first a rough sketch. Detail slowly crawled into the drawing and the outline quickly became a distinct depiction of a person. It was from behind, preventing the person’s face from being seen. Mr. Germaine took notice of Fin not paying attention and walked over to him. Fin nervously ripped the page of his notebook and stuffed it hastily into his pocket. He flipped to a blank page and swiftly covered it with words somewhat resembling notes. 

Mr. Germaine looked down at Fin, busily scribbling his attempt at notes. Mr. Germaine saw through Fin right away but walked past him anyway. Instead, he grabbed a crumpled piece of paper off the floor and returned to his place at the front of the room. Fin realized there wasn’t enough time for anything else so he turned eyes toward the lesson. He would finish the sketch the next day. 

Again the shrill sound of the bell rang out and the halls were packed. Fin forced his way through toward his next class. It was the only one he was remotely interested in. Fin’s last class of the day, was art class. Unfortunately, his teacher insisted on only using paints. The teacher referred to pencils as “only for tests,” a statement Fin fervently disagreed with. He never used color in any of his drawing, a style the teacher simply couldn’t accept. Fin also preferred a more natural way of drawing, another reason for conflict with art teacher. “Art requires rigid structure!” Fin remembered being told on many occasions. He didn’t, couldn’t understand how anyone could think that. 

Fin forced his hand to cover the canvas in color, first in blue, then red. The teacher always marched around the room while they painted, offering entirely unhelpful criticisms. 

“I see you are finally applying yourself to real art,” the teacher declared, passing by Fin’s desk. Fin suppressed a laugh as he looked at the random pattern of color in front of him.

“Whatever you say,” he muttered once the teacher was safely out of earshot. Fin continued to ‘enhance’ his painting as the clock ticked away, far too slow. At long last, the class ended and Fin sprinted out the door. 

He hurried out the gate and set off toward his house. Fin walked calmly down the grey sidewalk. His eyes swept across the familiar scene. Houses lined the street on both sides. He could describe them from memory. Fin decided to try.

“First the two-story blue, one-story red,” he continued all the way up the street without even opening his eyes. He must’ve walked this route a thousand times. But just because it was familiar didn’t make it boring. Fin found comfort in the same walk, day after day. The routine grounded him. 

The walk wasn’t long and Fin soon found himself at his own front door. It was painted a crisp white. Fin fumbled for the key and inserted it into the lock. 

“Hello!” he shouted, stepping inside. There was no response. Fin glanced out into the driveway and noticed no car. He walked inside and dropped his backpack on the floor. 

Fin dragged the bag up the stairs and tossed it into his room. The room, like the rest of the house, was mostly some shade of blue. The walls were a light, cheerful blue, the ceiling a darker, calm navy. Fin sat down at his desk and his reached into his pocket for the sketch he had started earlier. 

Fin’s eyes widened in surprise as he found his pocket was empty. He quickly searched his other pocket. Then those of his jacket. Finding nothing, he dropped to his knees and ripped his backpack apart in search of the paper. All his looking turned up no results. Fin slumped back down into his chair. 

He wondered why he was so concerned about this sketch. After all, he had lost drawings before. Fin grabbed a new sheet of paper and started to draw. He tried to make his hands recreate the simple elegance of the previous drawing. The attempt failed dramatically. The lines became jagged and hard. Fin angrily forced the paper into a ball and tried one more time. This too, was unable to replicate the initial artwork. 

Fin gave up, tossing both crumpled papers into the trash. He stood up and walked down the stairs. He paced back and forth a few times in the hallway, lost in thought. Eventually he made his way into the kitchen and searched for something to eat. Fin hastily slapped a sandwich together and carried it back up to his room. 

The sandwich dropped onto his desk as Fin sat down again. He stared down at the sandwich. It was made of white bread, and filled with ham and cheese. Fin’s hand grabbed his notebook and he flipped to a new page. Filled with boredom, he began to sketch the square lines that made up the sandwich. Quickly, the lines turned from a square into a perfect likeness of bread. In between, the thinly sliced meat was just larger that the bread, exposing its edges. 

Fin glanced down at the completed drawing with a contented look in his eye. He pushed the notebook to the side and slide the sandwich toward him, taking a large bite. A few moments later, the sandwich had vanished. Fin felt much better after eating. 

“I’ll find it tomorrow,” he decided. Fin rolled his desk chair over to the window and gazed out. The last traces of sunlight vanished before his eyes. Far in the distance, the bottoms of clouds were lit up in a brilliant gold, a final farewell from the sun as it passed to night. Fin dropped the blinds he was holding up and turned on his cell phone. 

The sudden flash was blinding after the calm dusk outside. Fin looked down at the three numbers at the top of the screen. Six forty-two. Fin stared at the number. The screen stared back like a flashlight. Twenty more minutes, thought Fin, clicking the button to put the phone back to sleep. Fin was not excited for the twenty minutes to end. He wished they would pass as slow as the minutes did at school. Instead, they seemed to fly by. After what seemed like only a few seconds, a new light appeared outside. Fin peaked out the window, hoping. 

In the driveway, his father’s car had just pulled to a halt. Its headlights were still illuminating the garage door with shaky beams. The vehicle was incredibly old. Not old in the cool, vintage sense. Old as in old. The engine churned loudly and the paint was not in good condition. The door creaked open and then closed with a metallic clang. A figure walked up to the door and stepped inside. 

“Finley?” a voice called out from downstairs. Fin got up and walked down the stairs. He was greeted by a tall man with a long, light brown overcoat. He pulled the overcoat off and hung it carefully in a hall closet. Underneath, he wore a light grey suit and blue tie. An orange pocket square added a much-needed splash of color.

“Yeah, Dad?” asked Fin, stepping off the stairs. His father looked at him and gestured for him to follow. Fin followed him into the kitchen. His father had removed his suit coat and hung it on a chair. 

“How was school?” he asked, walking over to the fridge. Fin took a seat across from the coat. 

“Good,” he replied. Fin hated talking about his day. Nothing eventful had happened and, if it had, it would be too hard to explain. 

“Good.” Fin’s father stood up and placed a carton of eggs on the counter. Fin looked at it, confused. 

“Eggs,” he asked. His father nodded. “For dinner.” His father nodded again. 

“Son, there is never, and I mean never, a wrong time to eat breakfast food,” stated his father. The look on Fin’s face disagreed. His father tossed the eggs into a pan and put bread in the toaster. Fin shook his head, at a loss for words. 

Once everything was cooking, his father grabbed his own cell phone. A moment later, the sound of violins and cellos erupted from the speakers and filled the room. His father quickly scrambled the eggs and dropped them onto a plate. Seconds later, the sound of toast popping up from the heat interrupted the classical music. 

His father happily hummed along to the music as he assembled the dinner/breakfast. He placed a plate in front of Fin, heaped with eggs and toast. Fin looked at it skeptically. Fin’s father sat down across from him, with his own large plate. 

“So, draw anything today?” he asked. Fin nodded. “Can I see it?” 

“I lost it,” replied Fin. 

“Too bad. I hope you have something by the time I get back next weekend,” his father stated. 

“Yeah, where are you going again?” asked Fin. 

“San Francisco, for work,” he replied. “I wish I wasn’t, but not my call.” His father sighed loudly. 

“This is actually pretty good,” said Fin, staring, shocked, at his eggs. 

“Of course it is, it’s breakfast. Well, I’d better get some sleep before the flight tomorrow. Good night, Finley,” his father said, standing up and carrying his plate to the sink. 

“Night,” replied Fin. His father paused the song and walked out of the kitchen. Fin remained for a while longer, slowly eating his dinner/breakfast. As Fin finished, the house was silent. He glanced at the time again. It was almost eight as he heard the sound of another car outside. 

Fin was in the kitchen, washing his plate when the door opened and his mother walked in. 

“Hey,” he said. 

“Hi, Finley,” she replied, placing her computer bag on the counter. She too wore a long, heavy overcoat. It could easily be mistaken for pure black, but in the light, the shades of green revealed themselves. “How was school?” 

“Good,” Fin replied, in the same disinterested tone as when his father asked. He began making his way toward the stairs.

“Where’s Jerome?” she asked. Fin gestured with his head toward the stairs.

“Dad went to bed,” he replied, walking up the stairs himself. Fin hurried up and into his room. He couldn’t tell if he was tired, or fully awake. He sat down and thought for some time. He quickly decided that he did feel tired and, a few minutes later, was peacefully dreaming in the calm darkness.


Fin awoke to find the sun just beginning to rise. He quickly turned off his alarm, which would have gone off any minute. He struggled out of bed and got dressed. Fin made his way down to the kitchen and poured some milk into a bowl of cereal. He sat quietly eating it and staring at the clock. He finished just in time to grab his backpack and run out the door. 

“Bye!” he shouted, slamming the door behind him. Fin had no time to savor the walk this morning. He ran down the sidewalk as fast as he could. He just managed to slide into his desk as the bell rang. 

“Today we will be continuing our study of the Roman conquest of Gaul!” shouted Ms. Stevens, the history teacher. Fin sighed quietly and began to doodle a few Roman soldiers into his notebook. Although a little rushed, the small warriors were covered in intricate detail. Each of their faces, full of expression. Each of their shields, reflecting the sun. Fin continued to elaborate on the small drawing as the lecture dragged on. He added a few Gallic fighters on the opposite side of the page. Then some forests and woodland. By the end of the class, the entire page was covered in a vast battle among the densely packed trees. 

Fin was forced to pay attention to his math lesson. He couldn’t think of anything to put down on the page. He waited patiently for inspiration as the teacher went on and on about trigonometric functions and their vast importance to everyday life. Finally, the bell rang again and Fin hurried out to where his friends gathered. 

Alex and Cooper were deep in conversation when he arrived. Huge was also there, with food. 

“Short lines today?” Fin asked. Huge laughed and shook his head. 

“No such thing as a short line. I decided to bring food today,” he replied, taking a large bite out of his sandwich. 

“There has to be a way to shorten the lines,” Fin muttered, trying to think of one himself. Huge laughed even louder.

“They try something every year, but it never works. Remember last year, they tried opening a second cafeteria. They both just had giant lines!” declared Huge. “There’s just no way around it.” 

“Plus, the garbage they sell doesn’t even taste good,” added Fin. Huge nodded his agreement. 

“Of course it doesn’t taste good. If it did, the lines would be even longer!” shouted Huge. He was very passionate about lunch lines. 

The short break ended all too quickly and Fin and the others headed off to third period. For Fin, that meant Spanish. Spanish was one of the only classes he enjoyed. Learning a language was fun, even if he wasn’t any good at it. It was the one part of the day that passed too quickly. He wished he could stay there instead of heading off to learn about something boring about biology. 

Fin sat through science, still lacking in inspiration. Tragically, he actually learned something human cells. Strangely, this class also seemed to slip by quickly. 

Even lunch vanished in what seemed like seconds, and Fin found himself once again sitting in his English class. At the front of the room, Mr. Germaine prepared for class. He had replaced yesterday’s outfit with a bright blue suit, purple shirt, and solid red bow tie. 

Another of Mr. Germaine’s flawless slideshows occupied the entirety of the class period. As Fin got up to leave, the teacher was suddenly next to his desk. 

“Finley, stay after class,” Mr. Germaine said. Fin finished packing up his stuff and, as everyone left, walked up to the teacher.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. Mr. Germaine reached into a drawer in his desk and withdrew a piece of paper.

“Nothing’s wrong. Just wondering, is this yours?” asked Mr. Germaine. He unfolded the paper, revealing Fin’s sketch from the day before. 

“Of course not, I would never-” Fin began to protest but Mr. Germaine held up his hand. 

“You aren’t in trouble, in fact, quite the opposite. This drawing is incredible,” stated Mr. Germaine. “It’s some of the best art I’ve ever seen, and my sister owns a gallery.” 

“Really?” asked Fin, surprised. 

“Yeah, I’d like to show it to her if that’s alright, try and get it into the gallery.” added Mr. Germaine. 

“Really?” asked Fin again, even more surprised. Mr. Germaine nodded. “Awesome.”

“You should go though, you’ll be late for your next class,” said Mr. Germaine, pointing at the clock. Fin saw the time and sprinted out. 

As he sat in art class, painting some disgusting colors, he couldn’t take his mind off what had just happened. His art might actually be in a gallery! He walked a little in shock, and couldn’t care less when his art teacher called painting “uninspired” and “boring.” 

Fin raced home after school. As he walked, he stared down at his phone. He quickly typed, “Might get my art into a gallery!!!!!” and sent it into their group’s text chain. Fin got home sat in his room, just thinking. Thinking about what it would be like to get his art into a gallery. About what it would be like to be an artist. A loud buzz broke his daydreaming. “Nice,” Huge had replied. Sometime later, an “Awesome” was received from both Cooper and Alex. 

Fin went to sleep contented and excited for tomorrow. The next day’s classes lasted for the blink of an eye until, once again, he was in English. Fin arrived early to talk to Mr. Germaine, who was waiting for him.

“Ok, so, she loved the drawing but… there were a few problems,” said Mr. Germaine as Fin approached.

“What happened?” he asked, concerned. 

“For one thing, it’s pretty small. Also, it’s on notebook paper,” stated Mr. Germaine. Fin groaned, he hadn’t thought of that. “If you can recreate it, or something close, on better paper, you’re in. Obviously not during my class but… whenever.” 

Fin was completely lost in thought during art class. He never even started painting. Fin made a quick smudge on the canvas as the teacher walked past, but other than that, he was completely disengaged. 

Once again, he sprinted home and searched for some better paper. He could find only one sheet. One chance. He set the paper on his desk and sharpened his best pencil. 

Fin decided he needed to practice first. He grabbed his notebook and pictured that first sketch in his mind. He started to draw. Fin looked down in dismay. The hard lines didn’t even approximate a person. It was a disaster. Fin tried again. Then again. Time after time, the copies fell apart before his eyes. None of them looked at all like the original. Angrily, Fin ripped the papers apart, tossing the tattered scraps into the trash. He took a long, deep breath and grabbed his sheet of paper. This was it. He put the pencil to the page and gave his hand control.

Slowly, the first lines molded long, flowing hair. Then a tiny corner of face. Then a neck and shoulders. Finally, a body appeared and they drawing came together. Gradually, Fin added depth and shadow. It turned from a drawing into a person. He took a step back looking at the finished drawing. It was perfect, yet nothing like the original. Its differences only made it better. 

Fin gently rolled the paper up and wrapped two rubber bands around to hold it in place. Then he set it down by the door, ready for tomorrow. Fin checked the clock and was stunned. He hadn’t realized just how long he had working on the drawings. The clock displayed twelve fifty-two. 

He lay awake, bubbling with excitement, for quite some time. After what could have been an hour, he slipped into dreams about the future. These dreams carried him peacefully till morning. 

Fin could barely stay in his seat the next day. Not a single word said by a teacher stuck in his mind. It was filled with thoughts about his drawing. The classes barely registered in Fin’s mind as they flew past. He couldn’t wait to show Mr. Germaine the drawing. 

He sprinted into the room the moment the bell rang for class. He ran up and rolled the drawing out onto Mr. Germaine’s desk. Mr. Germaine picked it up and looked at it. 

“This is magnificent!” exclaimed Mr. Germaine. “I’m glad you didn’t try to copy the original, this is much better.” Fin laughed a little ruefully, remembering the numerous attempts to do just that.  

“Thank you,” he replied. Mr. Germaine rolled it back up and placed it next to his desk. 

“I’ll take this over after school,” he said. Fin nodded and walked back to his seat. He couldn’t believe this was really happening. His art might hang in a gallery. 

As the class began, Fin began to absently doodle on in his notebook. The seemingly random lines came together and an image appeared. It was a clean, plain, white wall. Hanging on this wall was a rectangular object. On it was a drawing just like the one Fin had given to Mr. Germaine. Fin scribbled a few people around it. Two, both in suits, appeared to be discussing the drawing. Another person was simply marvelling at it in the corner. Fin continued the drawing onto the next page during his next classes. He added more wall and some of his other sketches. Soon, an entire room was covered in his artwork. It was packed with people of all kinds. Some seemed like wealthy collectors. Others were just normal people. The thing they all had in common was their fascinated gaze as they stared at Fin’s drawings. 

Fin spent the next day searching for inspiration for his next gallery-worthy drawing. It wasn’t easy. He was still thinking when he entered Mr. Germaine’s class once again. 

“Good news!” exclaimed Mr. Germaine, walking up to Fin’s desk. Fin looked up in surprise and excitement. “It’s in! It will be hanging tomorrow. Come by sometime in the evening,” said Mr. Germaine, handing Fin a business card for the gallery. It was covered in color and the words were printed over it in black ink. A large, intricate compass was located in the bottom left corner. 

“The Compass,” Fin muttered, reading the words on the card. “By Claudia Germaine.” Beneath the names was a phone number and address. Fin placed the business card in his pocket and, once he got home, typed the name into his computer. He wanted to see what this gallery was like, and what sort of other art it had. 

It had a rustic front and large windows. Its name was in large gold letters. On the website, a large banner heralded the arrival of a new piece in the evening the next day. 

Fin grabbed his phone and sent a message inviting his friends to go with him to the gallery. Within only a few minutes, everyone was in. Fin could barely contain his excitement. 

Fin received hearty congratulations from each of his friends and, later that day, Mr. Germaine. Fin waited at the front gate of the school for his friends to arrive. They came slowly because Alex had to cross the entire campus. 

“How are we going to get there? This address is downtown,” asked Alex. Fin had already thought of this.

“My mom’s gonna take us,” he said, leading the way toward his house. Fin walked with purpose, not engaging the chatter and jokes of the others. 

“Hey, so what’s your drawing of?” asked Cooper as they piled into the car. They could just barely fit. 

“You’ll see,” replied Fin, not wanting to spoil anything. The ride was loud and fun, but also shorter than expected. No traffic blocked the streets and tied up hours of everyone’s time. Fin savored the moment as he climbed out of the car and looked at the gallery. It looked just like the picture. Giant windows and a long, elegant entrance. Fin took a deep breath and pulled the door open. 

It was not all what he expected inside. It didn’t have stainless white walls and fancy people. The walls were a charming exposed brick. Two glass cases with eighteenth century antiques greeted him as he entered. Inside, the gallery didn’t appear to have any sort of theme. Something that looked like a medieval tapestry was next to a piece of modern art. A stained glass chandelier hung from the ceiling, casting confusing, colorful shadows across the room. The building was supposed to be two stories but, instead, the first floor just continued all the way up. A wooden set of stairs and balconies allowed access to the art located higher up on the walls. As he approached, Fin noticed that the simple structure, that seemed to be made mostly of plywood, had a tiny flower carved into each step. The flower on each step was completely unique. 

“You must be Finley!” exclaimed a voice from the back of the room. The voice, and its owner, were like the gallery — not what Fin had expected, but somehow exactly what it should be. The speaker, Claudia, stepped out from behind a desk in the back. Claudia wore glasses the shape of water droplets that were tinted blue. She wore compass earrings made of some sort of crystal. Her dress was painted perfectly and looked just like a sunrise. “It’s so good to meet you!” she added, extending her hand to each of them. 

“Nice to meet you too,” said Fin. He was full of questions about the gallery, but his first was stolen by Alex.

“Why is it called The Compass?” she asked. Claudia smiled.

“Because art helps you navigate the world, just like a compass,” she replied. “Please excuse me for a moment, I have to finish setting up your drawing. But feel free to take a look around, there are some fascinating pieces in here.” Claudia began to climb up the nearest staircase and ascend to the highest level. The four spread out to different corners of the gallery, inspecting the artwork. 

Fin headed towards a pencil drawing similar to something he might draw. It was nothing like his, however. Fin’s drawing was like a photograph in its realism. This was only straight, hard lines and didn’t look much like anything. Even so, you could tell exactly what it was. Where Fin’s drawing was realistic, this drawing seemed like a pile of cubes. But they were both equally recognizable as their subjects, they were both a human. 

Alex found herself in front of the tapestry. It was clearly handmade. Instead of depicting the sort of thing tapestries did, namely knights and battles, it had been woven into a tank and other modern weapons of war. 

Cooper walked up to a row of statues. Each was carved out of marble and was in Roman and Greek style, yet they didn’t show some ancient god or hero. Instead of ancient characters, the statues showed people of history who had been enshrined into American mythology. 

Huge was the only one to climb the stairs and investigate the art high up on the cavernous walls. He came upon a canvas. The background was painted a light, sky blue. Small, puffy clouds dotted the painting. In the center was an airplane, but it was no ordinary airplane. Where the long, rigid wings of an airplane should have been, a pair of soft, light, feather-covered wings were attached. Huge raised an eyebrow, not sure what to make of this. 

“It’s ready!” shouted Claudia from the top of the stairs. All four of them rushed up and climbed up the spiralling stairs until they reached her at the top. They passed by even stranger piece of artwork, but had no time to stop. They ran up and saw Fin’s drawing was positioned at the very top. From the top balcony rose up toward the ceiling. At the point where the straight wall became the diagonal ceiling, Fin’s drawing sat. The small staircase led directly to it. “What do you think?” asked Claudia. 

“It’s… It’s…” Fin stammered. “It’s perfect!” Claudia smiled. Fin stood there for a moment and when he finally descended, found himself in a dreamlike state. Nothing felt quite real, and everything was fuzzy. 

“Goodbye!” yelled Claudia as the four left.

Fin stepped out onto the sidewalk, followed by his friends. The sun was low and the air was growing colder by the second. Fin set a quick pace for them as they walked towards the car. It was cold now, and they all regretted not bringing jackets. Fin couldn’t stop smiling. He radiated joy and excitement. It still hadn’t fully sunk in that his art was in a real gallery. He turned around and glanced back at the open doors of the gallery. A crowd was gathering outside. Gathering to see something he had created. 


Chapter One: A Vision

Sometimes, Adeline wished she could die.

She contemplated this often, wondering how or when it would finally happen. Now, she wasn’t about to take her own life, having been raised with the idea that it was immoral and she’d plummet straight to hell immediately. She just wished that it would happen naturally or someone would finally take notice of her anguish and pierce an arrow straight through her heart. 

She was thinking about this one day as she sat by the windowsill holding a thick, worn out book in her hands. She had read this book a hundred times before and now only held it for its comfort and security. The sound of children’s laughter and shouts filled her ears as she gazed out the window. She had never before laughed as those children did almost daily. 

Her thoughts were interrupted when an angry-looking woman entered the room. Her red, burnt skin was peeling, her tangled hair was nested on top of her head, and smoke was practically fuming from both her nose and ears. Her bloodshot eyes found Adeline, and she opened her mouth, revealing a set of yellow, rotting teeth. 

“Adeline! You good-for-nothing scum! What are you doing sitting around, you lazy pig? The stairs need to be washed and the toilets need to be scrubbed! Come on, get up and get to work!” 

Adeline was used to her shrill screeches and only sighed and replaced her book with a bucket of water and soap. She went out to the stairs and began to scrub. She had almost completed this task when a pair of muddy girls ran up the stairs, the mud on their boots erasing Adeline’s hours of hard work. 


The 4 and 6 year-old girls sheepishly walked out of their room, each trying to cower behind the other. 

“We’re sorry, Addy,” Beatrice said softly. “We just forgot.”

Theresa, being the older one, tried to take most of the responsibility. “It’s my fault, Addy, I made her too excited.”

Adeline only sighed and gave them a reassuring smile. “It’s all right, girls, just try not to do it again. Now go take those boots off before Madame Lestrange catches you.” 

The girls gave her wide, toothless grins and rushed off to their room. 

After Adeline finished her chores, Madame Lestrange walked up to her and shoved a brown basket and coins in her face. “Go buy me five loaves of bread. Hurry up, before all the good ones are sold. You either come back with good bread or don’t bother washing up for supper at all.”

Adeline only rolled her eyes and walked towards the market. 

She often enjoyed going to the market and greeting people. It was a very busy place, filled with different and exciting tastes and smells. She knew most of the vendors and they often sneakily gave her samples or extra loaves of bread. She went most days due to being sent by the orphanage. She lived in an orphanage called ‘Lestrange Home for Girls’ in a small town called Fauxburg. 

“Bonjour, Adeline!” The baker exclaimed when she walked into the bakery. 

“Bonjour, Monsieur Gavroche! Can I have five loaves of bread, please?” She handed him three bronze coins. 

“You got it!” He filled a bag with the five loaves of bread, along with a small, pink pastry for her. 

“Thank you, kind sir!” She waved her goodbye and was just about to exit the shop when a familiar aroma filled her nose. It was a sweet but sticky smell and had a resemblance to the cookies Madame Lestrange ‘secretly’ ate in her room. 

This was different, though. This was different because along with this smell came a vision. Adeline suddenly pictured something in her brain. It was a… woman. A woman with long, brown, wavy hair just like hers. Her eyes were a crystal blue and her teeth were perfectly white and straight. She held a small, brown book in her hands and seemed to be laughing about something. Freckles faintly dotted her face and her dimples creased as her smile widened. This woman was beautiful. Suddenly, the woman’s mouth shaped like an O and she ran to another room. She came back holding a tray of pink and white cookies and set them on the table. That’s where the vision ended.

Adeline had no idea who this woman was.

She spent the rest of the walk to the orphanage thinking about it. Surely, it must be a memory if it’s in my brain, she thought to herself. But how? I have no idea who this woman is. I’ve never seen her before in my life. Could it have been… my mother?

Truth be told, Adeline had no idea who her family was. Madame Lestrange told her she was left at the doorstep of the orphanage by a hooded woman when she was 18 months old. She never wondered what her parents were like or fantasized them coming back into her life. She decided a long time ago that it was a waste of time to think back on the people who had abandoned her and clearly didn’t want her in their lives. 

But still, this vision brought out her curiosity and she wondered if she had any more of these visions stored inside her brain. The woman seemed so free, so happy. So then why’d she give me away? 

She was brought back to reality when she opened the orphanage door only to see Madame Lestrange shouting at a very frightened Beatrice. 

“WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT HAVING THIS DOLL?” She held up a small and dirty doll that had very little hair and was missing an eye. 

“Y-you told me t-throw it a-away.” Beatrice whimpered. 

“That’s right! And what did you do? You held onto it! So now, it has to go into the flames!” She was about to toss the doll into the fireplace when a small, skinny hand grabbed her big, meaty arm. 

“DON’T BURN IT!” Adeline tugged at the doll and tried to pull it from the woman’s hands. “GIVE! IT! BACK!”

“Let go of me, you little wench!” Madame Lestrange flung Adeline to the floor and tossed the doll into the burning flames. “No supper for the both of you! Now go to your room and stay silent!”

Adeline carried Beatrice up the stairs as she sobbed into her shoulder. She laid her down in her bed and stroked her hair as she continued to weep. Theresa noticed what was going on and laid down next to Beatrice and cradled her in her arms.

“She… she b-burned Lally!” She cried. “She burned her!” 

“Shh, shh,” Addy whispered, “She’ll get what she deserves.”
She pulled out the pink cookie the baker gave her from her pocket and the little girls’ eyes widened. She pulled it apart and shared the pieces with the girls. 

“Don’t make any noise or you’ll wake everyone up.” She motioned towards the rest of the orphan girls sleeping in their little cots. 

Beatrice sniffled and finished the rest of her cookie piece. “Night, night Addy,” Both of the girls said. 

“Good night, Betty. Good night, Tessie.” 

Beatrice and Theresa fell asleep at once, their faces peaceful and innocent. Adeline, on the other hand, could not fall asleep. She lay awake all night thinking of a better life. An actual life. Her thoughts kept on coming back to the woman in her vision. Who are you? 

. . . 

One month later, Adeline sat against the windowsill and gazed at the laughing children once again. She was all alone now. Just a week ago, a loving and wonderful couple came to adopt children and fell in love with Beatrice and Theresa immediately. They were adopted and taken into their home. She looked down at the paper dolls they had given her as a farewell gift. Her heart ached, but she was glad the girls had a better future ahead of them. She didn’t cry. She never did. 

Her eyes tore away from the children and rested on the library right next door. Madame Lestrange was away at another town for some errands and wouldn’t be back until nightfall. She decided to go for it.

Five minutes later, she took a step into the quiet and cool library. It was empty, except for a man scribbling furiously behind a desk and the librarian putting a set of books in their places. She inhaled deeply and sighed. She loved the way books smelled. Old, but full of life.

Adeline loved to read. An old librarian, Monsieur Friar, had taught her how to read when she would sneak into the library as a little girl. Monsieur Friar had been like a father figure to her, but died of a stroke three years ago,

Madame Lestrange forbade them from reading, but Adeline secretly taught the girls in the orphanage how to read. They all loved to read and often gushed over how rebellious they felt doing it. Adeline would only laugh and flip the page of her book. Reading was precious to her. It sucked her out of her reality and took her to entirely different worlds. She battled with dragons, saved the princess, bested the knight, built a treehouse, etc. She felt free when she read. She felt alive and like a completely different person. She could pretend that she had a completely different life and was actually beautiful, unlike the raggedy orphan she was, with boring, long brown hair and terrifying grey eyes. She pretended she had beautiful ball gowns instead of the rags she actually wore. 

She walked down the long aisles filled with more books than she could ever count and gazed at them in wonder. She was walking through an old abandoned aisle when she saw a book from the corner of her eye. It looked brand-new and shiny, unlike the rest of the old and dusty books that filled up the library. It had strange, intricate designs on it, like vine branches intertwining and trying to beat each other to the top. She couldn’t help but open it and smell it. It smelled brand-new and fresh. She flipped the pages. This book was a factual one and contained the stories and facts of royal families from all over the world. Addy usually stayed away from nonfiction and factual books and would rather spend her time on fictional, adventurous books. A little disappointed, she was about to put the book back in its place when it flipped to a page and Addy stopped cold. 

It was the woman from her vision. 

She stared at the picture of the woman in her satin robes and the jeweled crown above her head. Same wavy hair. Same wide, lopsided smile. Same crystal blue eyes. 

Adeline gaped at it like a fish and scanned the page for more facts on this woman.

Queen Eponine of Northreign:

Queen Eponine was born in a small village in poverty and lived with her parents and 8 other siblings. When she was 15, Prince Arren stopped by her village and the two of them instantly fell in love. He took her to live with him in his palace at Northreign as his queen. The two continue to reign happily. There were rumours of a child, but nothing is known about their offspring. They keep to themselves when it comes to that matter. 

Adeline dropped the book and the echo resounded with a large thud. 

“SHH!” The librarian popped out of nowhere and put a finger to his lips. He was an old short man with a bald spot on his head and white hair puffed out on either side of it. His nose was sharp and pointy and his skin was wrinkly and spotted. He frowned at Adeline and shushed her once more.

“I’m sorry, Monsieur LeFray, pardon me.” Adeline hastily picked up the book.

“Quiet, girl, people are trying to focus.” He motioned towards the empty library. Not a single soul could be seen. 

“Uh, right. Sorry.” 

Monsieur LeFray began to walk away before he turned around and gave Addy a large smirk. “You know, Northreign is only miles west of here if you’re interested in going, Princess.” 

Adeline’s head snapped towards the man. “What?”

He winked at her and walked away.

“What? Hey! Wait!” She shoved the book into her sack and rushed to catch up with the man, but he was suddenly nowhere to be found. Abigail stared off into the direction he came from. An idea began to form inside her head. 

La Historia de Blaze y Rainstorm

“I don’t want to go!” Rainstorm whined. “Why do I have to go with you to the unknown?! I want to stay home!”

“Rainstorm, shut up and quit crying,” Blaze growled. “This rain is also quite annoying!”

My healing rain, Rainstorm thought in agony, trying to act right. It can heal any kind of wound I want it to.

Blaze led his adoptive brother away from their home. “Listen, Rainy, I’m sorry if I was a jerk in the past…”

“It’s fine,” Rainstorm growled. “I just really want to meet a friend! A true one!”

“I’m your friend,” Blaze murmured comfortingly.

Rainstorm began crying again. “You’re my adoptive brother!”

“Who says we can’t be friends?”

“I meant like a different friend.” Rainstorm walked away to calm himself down. He felt his special healing rain sink into his fur.

“Man!” Blaze followed him. “You cry up a storm when you’re unhappy! No wonder your name is Rainstorm.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Rainstorm grunted. “Tease me all you want. I’ve been teased enough in my life to care less.”

All throughout Rainstorm’s life, he had been bullied. No one liked him because of how useless he was. He couldn’t control his unusual powers, either. Blaze, on the other paw, was a respected cat. He was technically Prince Blaze, but he preferred Blaze.

“Maybe we should check upon Skyline, don’t you think?” Blaze asked. “You were babbling about him shortly after we left. You said he can’t control his grief or something along the lines of that.”

Rainstorm nodded in agreement. “Where do you think we should look for him at?”

“Maybe the river.” Blaze led him over to the nearby river. “Look. Is that him?”

“Yes,” Rainstorm answered.

He peered at the cat in the river. The cat was sinking his claws into something Rainstorm didn’t see.

“Skyline?” Blaze called.

He ran over to meet him, followed swiftly by Rainstorm.

Skyline, well, King Skyline, was the cat who ruled Eastern Rome. He had lost his mother many months ago, and a few months after that had lost his father. He had lost both of his parents due to a sickness. Rainstorm and Blaze were cats who used to live by the river but got kicked out by the ruler Queen Periwinkle because of Rainstorm’s dangerous magic.

“Ugh!” Rainstorm moaned. “Skyline!!!

Skyline looked at them warily. “Yes?”

“You okay?” Rainstorm came to sit beside him.

Skyline shook his head. “Too much has been going on in my life.”

“Like what?” Rainstorm asked curiously.

Skyline flinched. “Oh, by the way, you can call me King Skyline as well if you want… You don’t have to. I’m trying not to think about being a king in this stance…”


“I caught a cold a month ago, and it’s getting worse…” King Skyline burst into a fit of coughing. “I let my daughter Sofia take over as queen until I can get better. My daughters, Sofia and Shadow, look almost exactly the same…”

“Woah, you just changed the topic!” Rainstorm exclaimed. “You never used to do that!”
King Skyline looked away. “I know! I can’t think straight with this cold!” He coughed more.

“Should I heal it?” Rainstorm asked. “I think my healing rain can do the trick.”

Skyline looked at him with watery eyes. “Could you try it then?”

“Sure.” Rainstorm got himself into a meditating position, which was a sitting position with his tail over his paws. He closed his eyes and felt himself calm down. Healing rain oh healing rain, come down to sprinkle us with rain. Terrible summoning job! Great going, Rainy!

Rainstorm felt rain sink into his fur. It worked? But how?

Skyline was still coughing himself off even as the rain sank into his fur.

Blaze nodded at him. “Should I keep the little one warm?”

“I’m not that little!” King Skyline rasped.

“I never said you were little!” Blaze spat.

Rainstorm flattened his ears as Blaze began hurling insults at Skyline and Skyline began talking quickly… 

Rainstorm glared at the sky as the rain stopped coming down. He tried to summon his healing rain again, but nothing came from the sky. He tried again and again until he began feeling frustrated. Work already!

Blaze!!!” Rainstorm bellowed. “Stop it!”

King Skyline was on the ground. His chest was heaving with the effort of talking.

“He’s dead,” Blaze grunted. “Well done, Rainstorm! You killed him.” He narrowed his eyes. “I’m being sarcastic, you murderer!”

Rainstorm flinched. “B-but he’s not dead yet…”

“Just because he isn’t dead ‘yet’ doesn’t mean he won’t die five minutes from now!” Blaze shot back.

Rainstorm knelt beside Skyline and tried to not lose control of his growing emotions. Am I slowly killing him?

“Y-you’re fine!” King Skyline gasped. “Don’t worry… about me.”

Rainstorm itched to give him a hug and hopefully make him feel better, but he knew he’d have to have his permission. “Sky, may I hug you?”

“Ugh, stop!” Skyline wheezed. “Talking to me…”

“Can I hug you or not?”

The sick king nodded. He didn’t say anything else really as Rainstorm hugged him.

“Aww, a couple. I like that.” Blaze took a phone from off the ground and snapped a photo.

“Hey!” King Skyline glared at him. “That’s my device!” He began coughing again.

“Did the rain heal you at all?” Rainstorm asked.

King Skyline nodded. “Slightly. I still feel awful.”

Rainstorm decided to give him a few reassuring licks on the back. “How does that feel?”

“Terrible,” King Skyline moaned in distress.

“Try feeding some of the rain to him,” Blaze suggested out of the blue. “Oh, here’s your device thing.” He gave it back to Skyline, who sniffed it.

“Such an animal,” Rainstorm said to himself. “Animals sniff everything!”

“Yeah,” Blaze agreed. He turned to glare at Skyline. “Animal!!!

King Skyline sighed. “What?!”

“I thought ‘animal’ was sick,” Blaze grunted. “Why are you even responding if you’re sick?”

“Well, I’m not deaf,” King Skyline wheezed.

Rainstorm decided to use his dangerous magic to try to heal Skyline. He reached forward and dug his claws into the king’s fur.

King Skyline looked at him fearfully. “What are you doing?”

“Something,” Rainstorm answered, feeling the magic sinking into the king’s fur. Please work! Please work!

King Skyline let out a scream of surprise. “What…” He suddenly went limp.

“That’s a good thing,” Rainstorm murmured, looking into Blaze’s shocked face. “He’s unconscious, meaning that he’s healing.”

“I’ll carry him home then,” Blaze murmured back. “But the problem is I don’t know where he lives.”

“Just keep him here for now,” Rainstorm said breezily. “And we’ll check in on him in a day.”

“What about his kingdom?” Blaze demanded. “He needs to go back! He’s a king, you dummy!”

“Yeah I know, but what’s more important: sending a sick, unwell king to his kingdom, or waiting until the sick king heals to send him back to his kingdom?”

“I guess the second one,” Blaze said reluctantly.

“Exactly, so let’s just wait here,” Rainstorm growled.


“Where am I?!” a cat who sounded like Skyline wailed.

“Huh?” Rainstorm woke up immediately and found King Skyline whining near a bush. “What’s wrong?”

“I had a nightmare about my kingdom!” King Skyline moaned. “They were all dying, and it was my fault!”

“Okay first off, calm down and second… there’s no such thing as an entire kingdom dying at once.”

“Thanks.” King Skyline curled up in a ball again. “Say, what happened while I was dead or out or whatever you call it?”

“Unconscious. Nothing really happened except for Blaze and I discussing when you’ll go home. We don’t know where you live, so we can’t walk you there.”

“It’s okay. I can go home now.” King Skyline gave Rainstorm a few licks on the face. “Thanks for saving me. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem, but I’m still walking you home to make sure nothing happens to you. Blaze is coming, too. Sky, show us the way.”

Skyline shut his eyes. “They won’t like it. But sure, let’s get this over with.”


“You guys are going to get me in trouble,” King Skyline moaned. “I already got in trouble with my father for losing my crown about half a year ago!”

“Your father is dead,” Rainstorm reminded him. “I know it’s still kind of new to you… and I’m sorry that you had to lose your parents at such a young age.”

King Skyline shut his eyes angrily. “Yeah I know…” He flexed his claws in the grass unhappily.

“Sorry for your loss.” Blaze gave the king a few licks on the cheek. “Rainstorm lost his parents in a dog fight I think.”

Rainstorm glared at him. “Yeah, and them dying ruined my life forever!” he barely managed to keep himself from bawling out loud.

“Wait, what?” King Skyline flickered his ears up in surprise and opened his eyes. “You did? And Blaze, stop kissing me!”

“Sorry, sir. I’m trying to cool you down,” Blaze apologized.

“Nope, you’re embarrassing me.” King Skyline looked at the camp entrance. “There should be a line of soldiers on their way to scout the entrance for intruders.”

“Would you allow your crush to kiss you?” Blaze teased.

King Skyline looked at the ground and shuffled his paws awkwardly. “Depends on who it is.”

Just then, a patrol walked right up to them. They had hostility in their eyes. “What do you think you’re doing?! Catnapping Skyline?!”

Skyline looked the other way. Rainstorm wondered why he was so embarrassed at looking at his own soldiers.

One of them strolled out. Her black fur was rippling along her spine. “Sky, what’s wrong?” She rested her tail on his back.

“N-nothing.” Skyline shook her off. “Go away, Alanna.”

“Who’s Alanna?!” Rainstorm blurted. “Your love?”

Skyline didn’t answer. “This is my goodbye. Thanks, Rainy.” He hugged him tightly, and Rainstorm noticed that he was bawling yet again and was trying to hide it.

Yeah, I don’t blame him. As soon as I found out Queen Periwinkle wasn’t my mom, I was bawling for hours. I didn’t even know my parents were long dead. Queen Periwinkle was his adoptive mother, and where he used to live, she was a ruler. She had one or two kittens. One of their names was Blaze, and for some reason Blaze ran away from his mom along with Rainstorm. Rainstorm found himself still twitchy from that experience.

“What about me?!” Blaze demanded. “I helped you, Skylight.”

“Skyline,” Skyline corrected. “Yeah sure.” Blaze hugged him anyway. “Bye, Blaze, nice being around you.” Skyline went to join the others. “Bye!”

“Bye!” Blaze and Rainstorm chorused, going back home the way they came.

I hope King Skyline feels better at home, Rainstorm prayed. Maybe one day he’ll decide to visit us again when he’s settled back in his home.

Bay Area = No Kind Of Grey Area

Winding roads winding away,

Towering skyscrapers scraping today,

Wandering waves riding across the sea.

Skylines are scattered with buildings,


And trees.

Roads are rotten with people,


And fleas.

Drive to hills,

Drive to the bay,

Drive to the city,

Drive, drive away.

In Berkeley,

There’s thrift shops with jeans,

Cool cafes,

And streets filled with teens.

In San Francisco,

There’s always a disco,

There’s always something to do,

Be it walking in the park, or going to the shops.

In Sonoma County, 

The trees are always at a bounty,

You could never be frowny

In Sonoma County.

The Bay Area is

No kind of grey area

For it is the main area

And the greatest yay area.

Yes, it may have its issues,

But we shouldn’t pull out the tissues.

It is the Bay Area.


Chapter 1

RUN FASTER! I tell myself. My legs are throbbing in pain because of the arrow that’s stuck in them. I hear yelling in the back and another arrow flies past me, just missing my head. I look behind me and see a whole tribe of Indians racing behind me with knives and all sorts of dangerous weapons. I see it! The doorway to the next level. Almost there. I jump for the door and make it. I look behind me and everything fades away. I put the golden Idol in the treasure slot and wait for the next level to load.

 I have been in this game for at least five hours. I press the menu button and take off the VR headset (Virtual Reality). I look at my leg to see where I was shot by the arrow, there was a big bruise there. I take off the RE suit (Real Effect), I turn on the newest AI assistant AIA (Artificial Intelligence), and ask for the time.

“It is 5 AM Mr. Lucas. You should start to get ready for school, sir,” she said in her robotic monotone.

I go into my closet and pick up some clothes on the floor. I tell AIA to get my bag and schedule ready. I go to the restroom and set the shower and sink to the right temperature and get ready for school. I get my bag and get onto the bus that has been waiting outside for me. 

I hop on the bus and find my friend Erin. I start telling him all about the game. I show him the bruise and how when I got shot it felt like I was really getting shot. He says it must be a glitch because that only happens in the VR competitions where people compete for money. 

“How do you win the competition?” I ask.

“You have to be the first to complete all 500 levels. It takes a whole week for the competition to finish.”

We get to school and go to our classes. School was slow. I had the usual classes math, English, history, and EI class (electronic intelligence). I get home and get straight back into the game when my mom calls me to come downstairs. I go down and see a man on the couch drinking some wine.

“Lucas, this is Mr. Oscar, he is here to talk to you about your VR gaming.”

“Hello, Lucas. Me and my colleagues have been watching you play and we want to ask you to represent America in the international VR competition with a few other kids.”

I was so shocked I could not talk at all.

“What do I get if I compete?”

“You will have the chance to win 500,000,000 dollars and will also receive an RSVR headset for participating (Razor Speed Virtually Reality).” He must have seen that my mom did not want me to go so he said that I will be monitored by professional doctors so I will be in safe hands. He looked at his watch and he said it was time for him to go. He gave his card and said if I want to compete, call him. 

Chapter 2

Saturday morning was slow, I lay on my bed trying to figure out what had just happened yesterday.

Maybe a bath would help me.

“AIA turn on the bath and set the water to warm.”

“Yes Mr. Lucas setting the bath to warm, would you like bubbles?”

“No thanks AIA.”

I stripped off my clothes and dipped my body in. I sat there for an hour thinking about all of the possibilities of what would happen if I went on the trip. Like if I won it could help me and my mom with rent and I would be able to have the best gear for gaming. I get out of the bathtub, put on my headset, and continue the game that I was playing. I finish the level and lay back down on my bed.


“Yes, Mr. Lucas.”

“Call Mr. Oscar, and tell him I’m going.”

“Are you sure, Mr. Lucas? Your mom will not approve of this.”

“I am sure, AIA.”

I am still packing my bag trying to figure out what to wear. 

“AIA, order new Nike clothes and have them shipped in now!”

“Yes, Mr. Lucas.”

I go over to the PTD (Portable Transporter Device) that I got for Christmas and grab the clothes that I ordered. I finished packing and put on the headset. I had to get ahead of the other people that I am competing against. I put the mode on EC (Extreme Challenge) and started to game. I played all the way until I could no longer stand. I had bruises all over my body and one cut that was dripping with dark red blood.

“AIA, give me the first aid kit.”

I grab the sewing needle inside and sew it back together. 

Three days till I fly out. Mr. Oscar says that he will check in with me tomorrow to go over who I will be competing against and who will be on my team.

The next day, Mr. Oscar came over to pick me up. I grabbed my bag and hopped

in the car. I said bye to my mom as the car pulled away.

“So can you show me the people on my team?”

“Sure, here are some photos.”

I analyzed the photos, two other boys one had a military haircut and had a devilish look on his face. The other one had brown curly hair and freckles all over his face. We stopped at a big building with the words V.R. Corps in big bold letters. 

“Put this on,” Oscar said.

He gave me a silver suit that said AVR team (American Virtual Reality), then we went into the elevator and went up into a big room.

“Stay in here, I will be right back.”

He left the room and came back with the two boys that were on my team.

“These are your teammates, Lucas.”

The boy with the military haircut said that he was Romelo. The boy with the freckles was Lee.

“You have all been chosen to compete and you must work together in order to win, so get to know each other. When you guys are ready, you may start to practice in the hub. 

He points to a room behind us.

“Well, I will leave you boys to it. If you need me, just call me using your suit. I have put a personal AIA in each of your suits.” And after, he left the room.

“Listen up, dweebs, I am going to make this nice and easy. Mess with me and I will make sure that you don’t make it to the competition,” Romelo says with a nasty tone. 

“Now get to practice!”

We enter the hub and put on the RSVR headsets. 

Chapter 3

We complete each level with ease. We finished all of the puzzle challenges with the help of Lee. We finished all of the shooting and physical levels with the help of Romelo. But I was not much help at all. I could tell that they were starting to get annoyed with me because I am not as experienced in VR like them.

“Do you understand how to complete maze levels?” Lee would ask me. 

“Do you know how to aim for the head?” Romelo would ask me.

I could not take this anymore so I left the hub and take a break. I grabbed a cup of coffee, a bag of chips, and turned the TV on.

“AIA, how much time do I have until we fly to Montana for the competition?”

“You have 22 hours and 28 minutes left.”

I put my headset back on and practiced more and more. We are all so tired. Well, with the exception of Lee, who is never hungry or tired. We go to bed and fall into a deep sleep. 

“Hey, loser.” I get out of bed to see Romelo waving me over.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Dude, look at Lee. What a weirdo, he is still in the hub playing and I have been watching him for 9 hours.” 

“What the, is he like some sort of robot or what?”

“Whatever dweeb, I’m going to sleep now. We fly out first thing in the morning.”

On the airplane, Mr. Oscar tells us all about our competition and who to watch out for. He tells us that we will not be able to leave the game so use the restroom before the game starts. We all look at him with a bored face because this is the ninth time he has told us. 

I play some music and fall asleep. I get awoken to the sound of yelling. I see Mr. Oscar yelling at Lee and then clicking his neck with something. I had no idea what it was, but it must have been a comms device cause he started to talk about random stuff. 

“Hey Lee, what was Mr. Oscar yelling to you about?”

“None of your business!”

“Ok, sorry.”

Chapter 4

I looked outside the window to see what Montana looked like because I had heard stories that it was mountains and big lakes and all sorts of wildlife. But it was just buildings, workhouses. We landed and went directly into a limo!

“Damn this is my kind of ride,” Romelo said with an amazed tone.

The limo took us to this warehouse. It was all white inside and the AC (Air Conditioning) was on high, so it was so cold inside. Mr. Oscar took us to a room where he said he would get the other groups. Five minutes later, he came back with two other groups. 

“These are the people you will be competing against. I want to see nice and good sportsmanship, ok. No fighting. I will be back in three hours, I have to get the course set up.”

“You guys are going down, we going to win this and none of you losers will get in my way.”

“Romelo take it easy, this is just a friendly competition, ok?”

We get to our own hub and put on our headset. A voice comes up.

“Game starting in 3, 2, 1…”

The pixels start to form into a jungle. We start the game. We blow through the first 250 levels with ease. As we went through the levels, Romelo and I couldn’t walk anymore. Our legs were full of bruises and cuts and we needed to rest for a little while.

“Lee, stop moving please, we need a break.”

I get up and touch his shoulder. He grabs my arm and throws me to the ground. 

“The weak will die.” 

Just as he says that, he pulls out a gun and shoots Romelo in the head. His particles go away and that was it. Romelo was out of the competition. 

“What the hell, you are such an idiot!!!” 

Lee pointed his gun at me but the game paused and the locks on our headsets released. I took it off and went looking for Romelo. 

“Romelo, where are you?!”

I saw Mr. Oscar and asked him where Romelo was.

“Romelo said that he did not want to compete anymore so we had Lee kill him in the game and we sent him back home.”

Chapter 5

There is no way that Romelo wanted to go home. There has to be more than the eye could see. At night, I will follow Mr. Oscar through the vent to see what is up.

1:30, time to shine. I got out of bed and unscrewed the vent. I hopped in and saw

Mr. Oscar walking towards a room. The vent was so dusty and smelled of decay. I followed the sound of Mr. Oscar’s voice to a room where there were scientists everywhere with clipboards and typing on computers. What is this place?

“Sir, Group 47 is not doing so well, they are all still on level 100 to 110. Only one group has reached the average. And why did you give them an extra day of rest, now the data won’t be fair! Ohh and just to mention, you killed a test subject!” 

“I don’t care! You asked me for test subjects, I give you test subjects. One sees the lab or anything else, they get eliminated. Plus they’re all gonna die either way and we have more test subjects so take a chill pill.”

 What? How is this happening? There’s no way. This can’t be true. How could they kill innocent kids just for some dumb stupid experiment? I have to get out of here.

“Lee (Logitec Experiment Executioner), please come over here. I think that Lucas is onto us. On the next level, kill him and then eliminate the rest. We will bring in the next batch of kids after this is done.”

“Yes, Mr. Oscar.”

“Now go and charge yourself. I can’t have you run out of batteries during the competition.”

“Yes, Mr. Oscar.” 

I started to make my way back to my bed. I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. I always knew that something was up, but they were killing kids! I jumped back onto the bed. 

All of a sudden, I heard footsteps in the front of the door. I quickly pretended to be sleeping.

“I told you he’s fine, he was just sleeping the whole time.”

I peek out from under my pillow to see Mr. Oscar and a scientist at the door.

“Alright, let’s get the game ready for tomorrow. Oh and make the levels for Lucas extra hard. We need to make his death look like an accident.”

“Yes sir.”

Chapter 6

I get out of bed and get ready for the game. I am met by Mr. Oscar and Lee.

“How did you sleep, Lucas?”


“Ok well just want to wish you good luck, you only have 3 levels left.”

“Thanks, I really wish that Romelo was here.”

“I know it’s a shame that he wanted to leave.”

“Yeah, it’s like he was killed.”

“Haha, your sense of humor always seems to get me, Lucas.”

We walk into the hub and put on the headsets. Again, the voice comes up.

“Game starting in 3, 2, 1.”

The pixels load and we are on top of a huge building. We go on to complete the level. We have to get a key that is hanging from a pole that is high up in the sky.

“You climb the pole, I will hold it so you don’t fall,” Lee says with a smirk on his face.

“No it’s fine I think you should climb.” 

“Ok be sure to hold the pole tight.”

He gets onto the pole and grabs the key. I sigh because he wasn’t going to kill me.

We unlock the door to the next level. 

This level is about aim, again someone had to climb up high and hold a board where the teammate has to shoot. I grab the gun and he gets the board. Success! We continue to the next level. 

Last level, we spawn on top of a bridge. We need to get down from the bridge without falling. In order to get down we either climb down a rope that is slippery, or we walk down the rail of the bridge with the wind blowing at us.

“I think that we should go down the rail,” I shout.

The wind is so loud that we can not hear each other. I turn to look at the rail when I see Lee running at me and kick me in the stomach. I stumble back and lose my footing. I grab onto the rail just in time and get back up. He comes running at me again and I dodge him. He almost falls off the bridge but stays on.

“That’s it. I have had enough of this nonsense.”

He pulls out a gun and points it at me. 

“Please, Lee, don’t do this, you don’t have to.”

“I am programmed this way.”

I grab the rope and wrap it around my waist and a metal pole. He shoots but I dodge it. I run at him and we both go plummeting down the bridge. The rope catches me Lee is holding on from my hand.

“I don’t want to let you go.”

“You don’t have to.”

He lets go and his pixels go away. I get off the bridge and leave the game. My locks release and I run out of the hub. Mr. Oscar is waiting for me outside. 

“Congrats, kid. You win.”

“Where are the other competitors?”

“All went home after you won.”

“How could you kill them? You are such a monster.”

“What are you talking about?”

“BS, don’t lie to me. Tell me, why did you kill them!”

“That’s classified, and now that you know, it’s your time as well.”

He pulls out a gun and shoots me in the chest. Blood drips from my chest and mouth.

“I’m sorry, Lucas but this is the only way,” he says with tears and walks away.

I sit there waiting to die, staring at the blank white ceiling, thinking about all the people who died. Then I fall to the ground.


One day later in an airplane

“Hello, sir this is Oscar, postpone the mission.” 

“For what reason?” 

“All test subjects have failed the test. None of them were able to complete the levels.”

“Don’t lie to me, Oscar. I have the data, it’s already been sent to me.”

“Yes, sir… what are you going to do with this data?”

“I can’t tell you that, Oscar.”

“Five years of studying human instincts and killing people and you won’t tell me what you are using it for?”

“This concludes our call. We will talk when we meet when you get home.”

The Crevice

The Shenandoah mountains are the perfect place to hike, especially in the fall. The leaves are my favorite part. They’re wet to the touch today. It rained this morning. My parents didn’t feel like hiking, so I convinced my sister to take me. She only takes me so she can take photos for her Instagram, I think. I don’t mind, though. I just like being here.

The trail is pretty empty today, so I can do my favorite thing without being judged. I think I get judged a lot, picking up rocks like that. My sister tells me to stop; I’m a fifteen-year-old girl, she says. And people give me this funny face, like they feel bad for me. That’s the worst part. The pity. 

I don’t like pity. It’s a way to look down on people by looking nice. It’s just another way to mask the nasty thoughts that are floating around in people’s brains. I have nasty thoughts too. I think that my older sister is a follower and my younger sister is flirty and my mother is too tall and my father is too fat. But I don’t pity them. Nobody deserves that. 

When people see me squatting in the mud like that, digging around for rocks, they sometimes say I’m on “the spectrum”, all loud and stuff, as if I don’t know what it means. I’m not, I don’t think. It’s not like I check.

It’s harder to find rocks today, probably because of all the fallen leaves. I wonder if it’s fun or scary to fall like this. Like a leaf. My older sister, Janet, says I shouldn’t say stuff like this, but I still think it. Thinking is a hobby of mine. Every rock that I pick up makes me think. I spot one in the middle of the trail. It kind of looks like a lowercase “B”. It makes me think about my name.

Benny is a stupid name. I would understand it if my parents had named me Benjamin, but my mother says that it is “simply unsuitable” for a girl. So why is Benny any better? Benny, that’s it. The whole package. 

I remember the first time the name’s irregularity dawned on me. It was the summer before first grade, and we were moving into our new house. The house seemed nice. My parents painted it butter yellow, which I hated, but it had big windows and a cool old attic, so the weird color didn’t bother me so much. The first day we drove into that driveway was just to show us kids the new house. The first thing I noticed was the dog poop right outside the car, but my sister seemed to notice something more interesting. A small apartment building loomed across the alley from the new house, and who should be on the lawn but two boys. While my older sister chattered about the older one and my younger sister whined about having boys for next door neighbors, I focused my attention on the little surprise outside of the door. There was no way I was stepping in it. After we made it into the house without any mishaps, I finally turned my attention to the minor situation at hand: the neighbor boys. There they were, on our front porch. Nobody would dare answer the door. My younger sister, Vienna, three at the time, held her stuffed elephant close. Janet, nine at the time, stuck her nose up and said that they probably had cooties. So there they went, my two sisters, clambering up the stairs to pick out their rooms. 

Gingerly, I opened the door. The boys looked smaller in person, and pretty clean. I couldn’t see any cooties from the doorstep. The younger one was tilting his head so much I thought it might pop off. The older one looked nervous, clutching the container in his hand for dear life. He was, it seems, because he dropped the container on the floor and ran off. 

That left me and the younger one.

His head was still tilted a lot, and he had a curious expression on his face. 

“Careful,” I said matter-of-factly, like my doctor, Dr. Kneeler. “I’m afraid it might pop off.” The idiot didn’t change one thing! 

“What?” He drew out the word. He sounded pretty whiny. I decided to do what needed to be done. His neck still cracks a lot. I guess I shoved it a little hard. 

Mitchell, that’s his name, but I call him Mitch and he calls me Ben and we’re still good friends, despite the whole neck thing. Usually he would collect rocks with me, but he has to go to church today and I don’t. You could say I’m not religious. 

The hunt for rocks is getting tricky, so I decide to just run ahead to the best part of the hike: the summit. The summit is a challenge every time I reach it. I’m not the biggest fan of heights, and rock climbing isn’t my thing. But Mitch and I found a loophole: the pit. In the brown rocks that form the tippy top of the mountain lies a crevice. If you get nice and flexible like Mitch and I did from our circus classes, you can wiggle your way into it. And voila! The perfect hideout. Janet usually stays behind, because she doesn’t like what the big gusts of wind does to her hair, so I run ahead, usually, just like today. Once I reach the rocky surface, I climb towards the crevice nice and slow, because the rain makes the smoother rocks pretty slick. I almost fall off anyway when I see what’s scattered all over the crevice. It glints in the sun. I shriek.

And that’s what starts it all. I like the word ruckus; I’ll use that. That’s what starts all the ruckus. There’s always that something that someone finds that causes all the ruckus. I’ve seen enough movies to know that. But I’m not running away from the ruckus, not today. I always do that, and look where it got me. Today, I’m taking my sister’s LuluLemon tote bag and taking ruckus. A lot of it. 

hi, i’m jojo


On the inside of the house, there’s a huge sectional couch with a couple big chairs across from it. A large chandelier is shining bright light onto the elaborate fabrics on the couch and chairs and reflecting off of the glass coffee table in the middle. In the back of this room is a big, carpeted staircase.

We walk through a hallway into the dining room. Inside is a long table with 14 chairs: six on each side and one on each end. The huge vase of flowers in the middle of the table sits atop a runner.

“It’s awfully well furnished and maintained for an abandoned house,” notices Eriphili. Raphael and Clarice nod in agreement.

The kitchen is adjacent to the dining room and is filled with all sorts of cutlery, plates, glasses, and some lemons hanging out in a bowl by the stove.

“There’s even fresh food,” adds Clarice. “I wonder why it’s so… well… different from the outside.”

“I’m outta here,” decides Loki, running to the door. He tries to pull the door open. 

“Hey, Clarice?” he shouts, his voice slightly quivering.

“Yes?” Clarice yells back.

“You didn’t lock this door, right?”

“No! Why would I be that stupid?”

“Well… I guess we have an issue.” We all run over to the door.

“What’s our issue?” asks Raphael, his face crinkled up with worry.

“Um… see for yourself.” Raphael grabs the door knob and pulls. Nothing happens. I grab onto the doorknob and we both pull. Nothing.

Soon, everyone is pulling on the doorknob as if our lives depended on it, and right now they actually might.

The door still doesn’t open.

Suddenly, a huge voice echoes through the house.

“Ha ha ha! I see you have entered my house!” The voice has a thick German accent and is very high and squeaky.

“Hello? Who are you?” yells Eriphili.

“Oh, just a passing ghost, not much to be concerned about. Endivay, you have 24 hours to find a vay out. If you don’t, vell… let’s just put it zis vay. Sometimes you try your best but you don’t succeed, and zen crazy animatronic killer monkeys come and kill you!”

Chills run up and down my spine and neck, munching away at my bones like animatronic monkeys as I realize what this means: if we don’t find a way out in the next 24 hours, we’ll be killed. Loki grabs Clarice and I can see Raphael and Eriphili tense up.

Raphael seems to be imagining what death is like because his face is turning the color of porcelain and he’s holding a hand at his mouth. His eyes are wide open and I can see the fear glazing them like they’re donuts.

“So… how exactly do we get out?” Eriphili asks, but she gets no response.

“Well, I guess we should go look around,” I suggest. Loki and Clarice start heading towards another room opposite from the dining room and kitchen. The rest of us follow them.

The room seems pretty normal. At least until I notice a small door in the back of the room.

“Hey, people, maybe this door leads to something helpful!” Clarice, Eriphili, Raphael, and Loki run over to where I’m standing and I pry open the door. Inside, there’s a narrow wooden staircase.

I step onto the first stair to check if it’s solid. It is, so I continue up the stairs. Once I reach the top, I am greeted by a wall. I groan. 

Then there’s a random and short flicker of light, revealing a keyhole.

“Hey, people!” I yell down the stairs. “I found some sort of keyhole!” I hear the pounding of feet as everyone runs up the stairs, meeting me at the top.

“Let me see!” whines Eriphili. “I know how to pick locks!” 

“I know how to pick locks,” mocks Loki, being his normal rude self. 

“Shut up,” says Eriphili, pushing past Clarice to the door. Loki kicks her. “Hey! If you touch me one more time, I will slaughter you. Got it?” Eriphili pulls a dagger out of her backpack to prove it.

“Eriphili!” I yell. “Why do you have a dagger?”

“Oh, you never know when you’ll need it.”

“But people don’t just carry around daggers!” protests Raphael.

“I do. Ah… I see. An HYT Chain Key lock… it’s unpickable.”

“Even with your dagger?” scoffs Loki. Eriphili rolls her eyes.

Raphael moans and starts jumping back down the stairs.

“What if we look around the house for the key?” suggests Eriphili. I nod.

“Alright. Let’s split up. Loki and I will go upstairs, Raphael will search this floor, and Kingsley and Eriphili will search the basement,” decides Clarice.

Eriphili and I walk towards the stairs, hoping that they have an opposing stairway that leads to the basement.

I search all around the stairs, but don’t see anything that could potentially lead to a third floor.

“Hey, Kingsley!” yells Clarice from the second floor. “I think I see something that could lead to the basement!”

I run up the stairs to where Clarice is standing, Eriphili right behind me. The second floor is made of a huge carpeted hallway with numerous rooms spread randomly among the floor.

“What is it?” I ask Clarice. She points to a little square outlined with thin black Sharpie. However, the square is on the ceiling. “Well, how are we supposed to reach that?”

“I don’t know,” Clarice replies. 

“What if we try walking up the wall?” suggests Eriphili.

“Do you seriously think that would work?” Clarice snaps back.

“I think it’ll work better than you and your annoying boyfriend sitting around doing nothing this entire time!”

“Don’t say that to her,” yells Loki.

“Hey! People!” I yell.

“It’s not like you or Loki have done anything!” says Eriphili, her voice rising.

“Oh, really? We’re the ones that found the trap door!” protests Clarice.

“You’re also the one who can’t survive a creepy bus driver without crying into Loki’s shoulder!” Loki runs up to Eriphili and prepares to punch her.

“Hey! Loki! Stop! None of you are helping us get anywhere! You’re just wasting time that we need! All your bickering is completely pointless! So shut up and do something! All of you!” I shout. Loki’s face looks sheepish as he wanders away from Eriphili, who is crossing her arms and rolling her eyes. Clarice puts her hands on her hips and I can see her nostrils flaring. 

Eriphili walks over to the wall and presses her hand on it. Then she presses her foot on. She lifts her other foot off the ground and, amazingly, she stays on the wall.

“Woah!” I say, doing the same on a different part of the wall. However, I fall down and land on the hard ground with a THUMP! “Ow!”

“I guess it only works on this part of the wall,” concludes Eriphili. So, once she’s up on the ceiling, I climb up after her. “Now, how do we open up this door?”

“Maybe just try to pull it,” says Clarice. Eriphili rubs her hand along the edge of the square, searching for any sort of notch that she could pull.

“Here,” she says, and then she grabs a little dip in the ceiling and pulls it. The squeaky door flies open. “You first.”

I crawl over to the hole in the ceiling and hoist myself up. It’s like a vent: square and metal. Every movement creates an echo that runs all the way down to the end of the crawl space and back. I start crawling down it and Eriphili tails behind me. Suddenly, I hear a switch flip, and then drop down a hole in the crawl space and keep falling, falling, falling.

I land on a huge pillow-like thing. Lights turn on, going all the way up to the top of the hole where I see Eriphili’s round face. She’s holding her dagger.

“I hope you’re not scared of clowns!” she yells, her mouth in a huge grin that reveals her teeth. They almost look like fangs. Then she cackles and the roof of the hole closes up.

All the walls around me pull backwards, creating a small pit with tunnels going out in every direction. The lights turn multicolored and start shining all around the room. Creepy carnival music starts blasting throughout the room.

“Wait! Eriphili!” I yell, but it’s no use. She’s gone.

The room is about seven feet by seven feet. The crazy-colored lights are making my head hurt a little bit, and the music is not helping. 

This is probably just a joke, I think. I really hope it is, because the aesthetic in this room is really creeping me out.

All of a sudden, I see a figure coming into the room. It has a white cloak, and I can’t really see what else it looks like. Is it an angel?

No, not at all.

The thing that is coming towards me wears a huge white robe and its face looks like Pennywise. It’s clutching a huge dagger in its right hand–no, its left hand. And the dagger is the same as Eriphili’s.

“Hello, Kingsley Caligari! Would you like to play with me? Forever and ever and ever and ever?” I recognize the voice. While the clown is still far away from me, I scan my mind for who it could be. Then I land on someone: Eriphili.

“Um… not really…” I answer.

“Too bad!” yells Eriphili. She leaps towards me and I jump to the side. The knife slices my right pinky finger off. I yelp in pain and dash off to one of the tunnels. Eriphili follows me. Suddenly there’s a clang on one of the other sides of the pit. Eriphili turns and starts walking towards it; I think she thinks that I’m over there.

Then I have a revelation: since the clown is Eriphili, she must be wearing a mask. Therefore, she can’t see, and only relies on her hearing to capture me.

I slowly tiptoe backward into one of the tunnels and Eriphili doesn’t notice.

When I get into the tunnel, I rip off my sweater to try to staunch the bleeding from my finger.

I almost reach the end of the tunnel when I hear clanging like cymbals. I look all around me and see nothing except a figure in the distance.

As it gets closer to me, I see a monkey figure. In its mouth it has huge sharp teeth and blood splattered around its mouth. The eyes are different sizes and the larger one is rolling around in its socket. 

“Oh, no,” I mutter as I notice that the sweater didn’t help, and that the blood is draining out of my finger like a storm drain during a hurricane. I start becoming dizzy and I can’t see straight. I think the monkey is close to me… or is it far? Now there are two. Or maybe I’m just seeing double. 

A white border starts creeping into my vision. It slowly takes over everything except the bloody, satanic face of the monkey.

Then everything goes black. And it stays that way for a while.

The Golden City

Chapter One

“In San Francisco, you’re going to love San Francisco,” my mom said excitedly. “The city is so pretty at night. We’ll be surrounded by water on three sides and a mountain on the fourth. There won’t be snow there, though. I know you’ll miss the snowstorms we have here!”

Pictures swirled across my mind as I imagined bright billboards and flashing lights. The city would be nothing like the small Pennsylvania neighborhood onlooking the Susquehanna in my little corner of the world.

“We’ll make up for it with some of the things you love. Applecrest has a great drama program. And if I do recall, a science program as well! You’ll be thriving,” my mom added cheerfully while making dinner.

“But what about Dad?” I glanced up at her as I sat curled up on the couch. I bundled the edge of a blanket and tucked it close to my chin. I was going to miss my dad, who lived all the way in Lancaster. I’d been visiting him on the weekends since I was nine.

“We’ve already arranged things, Rosie. You’ll spend the fall and a bit of summer break down here with him. We can even schedule activities for you and Chrissie down here. Things will be so perfect.”

But things are already perfect as they are, I thought to myself, pondering everything that would never be the same.

“You know I’m never forgiving you for this, right?” Chrissie huffed, arms crossed as she stared at me sadly. “You’re basically my only friend, Rosie. It’s sad but true. I’ll miss you so much…” Chrissie grabbed my hand and walked sulkily along the sidewalk like a wilting flower. 

I couldn’t console my friend when I needed consoling myself. “I’ll email you. I promise. It’s not like I’ll be making any friends at Applecrest, anyways.”

“Maybe someday, I can come visit you there. The Golden City,” Chrissie exclaimed, saying the name of my new home with pizzazz. “You know what they say. There’s gold in the hills! And the sunsets are warm and golden. And people say that the hills shimmer golden in the summers, too!”

“That’s just a silly nickname. There’s more fog than sun in the city. The water might be pretty, but not prettier than the Susquehanna. There’s a drama program, but I don’t think anyone will like me…”

“Don’t be such a Debbie Downer. Think on the bright side. You’ll get away from this boring place. Wish I was in your shoes.” Chrissie flashed me a smile that seemed pained but hopeful.

I rolled my eyes. Chrissie, of all people, didn’t understand how I was feeling. 

“One of Pennsylvania’s nicknames is Oil State. How pathetic is that? Compare The Golden City to Oil State!”

“Whatever, Chrissie. Since obviously you don’t get it, I’ll go wallow in self-pity by myself.” I stormed off annoyedly in the direction of my house.

“Geez! Well, I’m sad too! I was just trying to make you feel better!” she yelled after me, and I could tell by the quivering of her voice that she was about to cry. 

I ignored her, although my inner conscience was telling me not to keep stalking away. I turned back after a few seconds and saw Chrissie walking home to her neighborhood in the other direction, hanging her head like a gloomy scarecrow.

Chapter Two

Chrissie seemed so miserable and upset that I knew I couldn’t just walk away. I was almost home now, under the canopy of the huge willow tree by the playground connecting our neighborhoods. Chrissie always knew the right thing to say in every situation — maybe I was the problem. Maybe I misinterpreted her because I was so busy feeling bad for myself.

I turned around, speeding up my pace a little to catch up with Chrissie. She was passing through the cul-de-sac leading to her house.

 “Chrissie! Wait up!” I called, running toward her and sliding into the spot on the sidewalk next to her.

Chrissie didn’t seem surprised by me; she just hugged her arms to her chest and continued walking. “What is it, Rosie? Do you want me to talk about how awful San Francisco is? Make you feel better by talking about how amazing Pennsylvania is?”

“Look, Chrissie. I was really mean… I’m sorry. I know you were just trying to help. I’m really going to miss you,” I said, and after a few seconds we both went in for a hug. 

“I’ll miss you too. Too bad you’re leaving tomorrow… I’ll have to cancel the party. I’m not even nearly done decorating quite yet.”

“What party?” I giggled.

“Your going away party, silly,” Chrissie laughed, shoving me playfully in the shoulder. “I’ve been planning it since you told me a week ago.”

I froze, jaw open like a cod fish. Chrissie had planned a party for me? She was the best friend I could ever ask for.

“No way we’re cancelling this party! Let’s get decorating!” I exclaimed as the two of us grinned and headed in the direction of Chrissie’s house.

It was moving day. We had packed up the entire house — all that was left were dust bunnies and yearly height marks on the walls. I had spent some of the morning jumping from box to box, which had resulted in some bent cardboard and my very angry mother.

I sat here at Chrissie’s house, admiring everything we had done — the golden confetti and streamers, the giant map of Pennsylvania, the ice cream cake that read Bon Voyage, Rosie! in shimmering golden letters covered in edible glitter.

Maya, Isabel, Carly, and a few other girls in our grade were here, gathered around the kitchen table as my mom, my dad, and Chrissie’s parents poured sparkling cider into our cups.

After my mom had poured cider into Chrissie’s, she grinned and held her plastic red cup high in the air. “I’d like to propose a toast in honor of my forever best friend, Rosie. Of course I’ll miss her, but I hope she likes San Francisco. And I can’t wait to see her in the fall and the summer.”

“Cheers to The Golden City!” she cheered, then knocked her cup against mine.

“Cheers to The Golden City!” we all shouted, laughing, as we raised our cups in happiness.

Midnight Hour

My mind wanders as I stare out at the constellations on the top deck of The Midnight Hour.

“Leina.” I spin around, half expecting a ghost to be whispering my name through the cool breeze. My mom stands at the edge of the deck beckoning me to go downstairs to my room. Her cool, light brown eyes watch over me closely as I pretend to ignore her. Never once does she use the world sleep. My family doesn’t believe the night ends day, and bedtime has never been an issue for their only daughter. She trusts me to know when my body needs to rest and plans the rest of my day around it, only on nights like this one does she actually care what time my body falls asleep. The calendar has already been laid out for tomorrow. 

I turn to look at my mom. Xandra Morrigan has always been gorgeous, dark black hair, soft tan skin, and curvy hips, as well as being the perfect owner and manager of the large ship I call my home. My mom has never told me where the ship came from or how it came to be hers, though I never viewed it as my place to ask.

“Magdalena,” my mom says, her smile faltering into a slight frown as I rise from my leaning position on the fence guarding the drop into the ocean. I roll my eyes, kissing her cheek before running down the stairs to go to bed. My parents are planning on hosting a masquerade tomorrow, to celebrate my father’s 51st birthday. Even though it is well past midnight, the crew of The Midnight Hour will be preparing and decorating the ship the entire day right up until we dock at Celestia Cove tomorrow evening. We have just over 100 staff with us at the moment, their sleeping quarters are located on the second level of the ship, only above the cargo area, and next to the kitchen. They are usually only with us for a month or so to earn a little extra before returning to their normal residences, though some use their appointment as a free method of travel to get to a particular destination to see relatives, or spend vacation. The third level of the ship is our ballrooms and dining areas. Our small family area is located in the back of this floor, with my parents’ grand master suite right next store. This is where my family and I spend most of our time. Other guest rooms and guest access is on the fourth floor with the main deck right above. 

The outside of our ship is largely uninteresting, with metal covering most of the outside and concrete holding up the decks. No one knows how the ship can support this giant concrete flooring, though no one questions it since this is the way it’s always been. Our ship seems quite large compared to other ships we pass. Our ship is currently around 650 square feet, with additions happening around every 5-10 years. I have had two renovations in my lifetime. Our current capacity is around 1,500 guests depending on the amount of staff staying with us at the moment. This usually allows us to entertain every adult in the island or coastal town we have decided to dock at for the festivities.

The halls are deserted as I make my way through the ship. My room is currently located at the back end in one of our smaller guest rooms, so I can stay away from current festivities, and so I have easy access to both my dress and changing rooms. Fatigue overtakes my body, though not my mind, as I stumble my way through the halls, tripping over my own feet as I run. Despite what I may look like, bloodshot eyes, rumpled hair, ragged fingernails that I am scolded on for chewing everyday, I don’t feel the slightest bit tired because I know I need to do one more thing before climbing into bed. 

Once I reach my door, I creep into my room and flick on the lights. My room illuminates with a pale, white glow dancing off of the sandy-colored walls. My bed sits in the middle of the room right up against the wall to the left of me as I walk in. Its bright, blue-colored bedsheets stand out as virtually the only color besides the starlight casting my light blue rug into what reminds me of Marena’s city lights, my favorite island off of the mainland. As I spin around to face my closet, I catch my reflection in the mirror which hangs over my brown, wooden dresser. I always liked the way I looked at night better, my gray, green-gray eyes are squinted into slits from minimal light, making me feel powerful and deceptive. My short-cut black hair hangs over my eyes jaggedly, wavering as the fan above my head attempts to push it out of my now black-looking eyes. The rest of my face I rarely notice in the frenzy of various maids trying to match dresses with my already complex complexion. I have bright rosy cheeks that stand out against my harsh olive skin tone, with a long, tipped-up, pointy nose to finish. I grin wickedly at the thought of the maids trying to dress me tomorrow now that I have cut off most of my wild hair with a sharp butcher’s knife. I have always preferred the look of shorter hair and I thought it would require less maintenance when either climbing or getting ready for a party. My pointy lips fade into a smirk as I turn to look at my dress selections for the rest of the night.

“White, black, blue, purple,” I mutter the colors of each dress I look at that is currently in my closet. “Red,” I say at last. “That’s what I want.”

The night is cold and windy, though during the summer, the stars that shine off of The Midnight Hour look as brilliant as ever reflected in the midnight blue water below. I find sneaking out onto the lower deck off the side of the kitchen is a good way to calm my anxious spirits before going to bed. Red, I think again as I watch my flowy silk red dress sail over the water, allowing the rest of my body to breathe in the night sky. Red goes well with midnight blue. I laugh as my fingers brush the edge of the water, illuminated only by the moon and the stars. The lower deck is my favorite one to sneak out onto because of its lack of a railing. This gives me the ability to literally hang onto the handrails and allow my feet to dangle above the starlit waters. I yell as loud as I can muster into the wind whipping my face, telling it to carry me away.

“Take me to the place of wind and weeping willows.” I choke my powerful calls into a delicate whisper. “To the places where stars are places I can visit and the moon is the light I use to read and write.” I pause, gasping as though I have said too much, and maybe I have.

Magic has always been a part of this greater world that I have never gotten the chance to be a part of, wishing it were there. I have always known I have it, and it runs through me like a sheepdog would herd its cattle. I feel it now, boiling under my skin, caressing my head and my body until I can’t feel anything else. The wind starts to gush around me, making my hair fly out from my neck. This is my magic, who I am. This is it, I think. I know the wind will carry me to somewhere I want to be, somewhere, where I can live my life. And, it does.


i seek your monsters and your poltergeists

rummage through your closet and 

you go to bed before me

so i can tuck you in

search my soul for doubts and find

so many

i take a broom and

whack the crusted corners of 

infinite attics and sheds

wind up cobwebs and

keep them in my lunchbox

i ask you why you play with fire

you say i am drawn to heat

but i only ever learned to burn


The Tournament

It was August 31st again.

But this year, what seemed like a normal day became the most important one of the year. It was the final day of the Tournament– a day both held up in honor, yet dreaded by all. 

Nobody knew how the competition had been created, but it was a tradition of the community. Every other year, ten random teenagers were selected to compete. Every other year, the competitors tried their hardest. Some years, one participant would make it to the final task. But still, every time, nobody was able to claim the Grand Prize and take over the role of the Magistrate.

Why, you ask?

Nobody made it out alive from the final task.

Every year, the monster-like bird countered each challenger with success. 

It was a horrible tradition, really, forcing adolescents into a nearly impossible tournament in which they would likely suffer a gruesome death. And for as long as the people knew, nobody had ever been able enough to take the crown from the monster’s head to deliver it to the Magistrate.

But tradition was tradition. The people respected tradition, perhaps even more than morality. And so, the cycle repeated, and every year, ten innocent children were killed. 

This year was no different.


Dressed in ceremonial robes, the boy stared out at the vast crowd that lay in front of him, a massive sea of people that seemed impossibly large. How had he gotten here? He was one of thousands of teenagers in the community, yet he had been selected to die. 

Of course, he had been reminded that this was not a selection for death, but rather a selection for eternal glory and honor. Yeah, sure. It wasn’t as if you were being selected for a competition in which none of the participants made it out alive. 

He scanned the audience, looking for a familiar face. Perhaps his mother and father were watching. But he doubted it, remembering how his mother had fallen into hysteria after he had been chosen. His father would not look him in the eye. 

He had not seen his family since. 

Neither had he seen his friends. They’d simply gave him a pitying look, and moved on with their lives. As if he had never even existed. 

And so, estranged from his family, he’d left his small village for the capital. 

Isn’t it cruel, he’d thought. That this is the first and last time I will ever see something else than my tiny village? 

At the orientation, the competition’s judges had told the Ten that they might be the first to succeed, but they all knew better. Faced with death, they solemnly told their tearful families goodbye, and faced their challenges.

One by one, their lives were taken, until one was left. The boy. He wasn’t even sure how he escaped himself. Perhaps it was luck? Maybe the judges had decided to create easier tasks for him. But a small, hopeful part of him thought that he was more skilled than the rest, that he took a different approach than the others, one that was better. 

Yet he told himself that this wasn’t the case. He didn’t want to hope. It would just make his demise even worse.

The assembly was nearly over. He looked down as the Head Judge finished his speech, the people cheering him on. The sea of faces disappeared into the stadium as he watched, flanked by armed guards. There was no point in trying to escape. It would only prolong his suffering.

The judges said a few words to him, but he didn’t bother listening. What was the point, anyway? Death was only a few moments away. Mere words of encouragement made no difference. 

Now, there was no more time to ponder. Death was coming, and there was no point avoiding it. 

The boy knew what would happen. He was no fool. He had watched the task unfold seven times in his sixteen years. He had been chosen. He had faced countless tasks. He had come within an inch of death. He had watched all the others die before his eyes. 

And now, it all came down to this. 

It was all so simple and obvious. He was to be mauled to death by the monster, just as the many who had struggled before him. Yet a desperate glimmer of hope remained in him. He tried to push the feeling down, tears coming to his eyes for the very first time since the Tournament began. 

He was brought to the side entrance of the arena as the Magistrate spoke to her people and listened quietly.

“Residents of our glorious nation, we are here to witness the final task of the Tournament!”

The crowd’s cheering was overwhelming.

“This last task is the most difficult, and it only sees fit that our last remaining competitor will see it finished!”

Again, tumultuous applause erupted from the audience.

“Our champion will face his foe, a great monster that has served as our obstacle for many centuries. Today, he will take the crown from its head and deliver it to me. Only then will he become the Champion of the Tournament. He will win our eternal respect!” 

The people screamed their agreement.

“Now, we welcome our final competitor!”

The boy’s stomach dropped. 

The doors opened.

And he stepped into the dry dirt of the arena.

In that moment, he couldn’t hear. He couldn’t smell. He couldn’t see. His senses seemed to be numbed, and his mind wandered in a panic. 

I know that death is coming. I can see it. Taste it. Feel it. Smell it. I can even hear it. From the moment my feet touched the dirt of the arena, I knew it was the end. I guess I had it coming. I’m nothing but a useless teenager, ready to be fed to the monster.

Nobody has ever made it past the final task. Why did I ever think I was different? Why did I ever think I might be the only one to escape the grasps of death? I was always normal, at least I was until I was chosen to participate in this sadistic tournament. 

I was so stupid. Stupid for not realizing how cruel this tournament is. Stupid for being proud of being selected. Stupid for only seeing the flaws of our tradition now, when I am about to die. For fifteen years I watched innocent children die in front of my eyes, and not once did I question the Tournament. Not even after I watched my fellow competitors die in front of my own eyes. 

But I know it’s all too late now. Too late to turn back, to do what is right. To run away from this. Now, it’s only me and death. 

It’s a strangely funny thing, death. What comes after? What does it feel like? Is it really the end? Hah. I used to wonder about these things, but I never imagined I would be in the situation I am in now. 

I never thought I would say this, but…

I am ready to die. 

Wait, what?

Disbelief flooded his body as he realized what he had accepted.

But it was true, wasn’t it? He knew there was no turning back. He knew there was no way he could defeat the monster. And so, he’d accepted what was surely coming. 

Suddenly, he could hear again. Smell, see, even taste the dirt that had swirled up in the air. 

He was suddenly aware of the Magistrate speaking to him. 

“Our champion– are you ready to face your enemy?”

He looked up, at the thousands of people who knew nothing.

They didn’t know how much he had suffered.

They didn’t realize how wrong the Tournament was.

They didn’t realize that the Magistrate’s rule was cruel, and wrong.

They couldn’t, and they would never.

The crowd held its breath.

He looked at the Magistrate, and nodded silently.

“Then let the final task commence.”

With the grinding of gears, the doors facing him opened. 

At first, there was nothing. But then, a terrible, otherworldly scream came from the tunnel, and the monster hurtled into the arena.

It was a disturbing sight, to say the least. The monster stood forty feet tall, an unrealistic height for what looked like a normal black raven you might see on the streets. 

But it wasn’t just an oversized raven. The boy could see the differences. It had talons and a beak of steel, as sharp as knives. Its eyes were alight in fiery rage. Its feathers were enough to slice a human’s skin. 

And upon its head was a crown, made of gold and encrusted in jewels. It sparkled in the sunlight, entrancing everyone in the silent arena. 

The boy did not move, but simply stared at the monster. 

The monster stared back and slowly made its way over to the boy, towering over his figure, tiny in comparison. 

The boy stared into the monster’s eyes, and saw more than fury. He saw pain. He could only imagine the cruelty it must have faced. 

And he did something that no other finalist had ever done. He kneeled to the monster. 

The audience were frozen in expressions of shock. 

Surprised, it tracked back a few yards, and stared even harder at the boy. 

The boy bowed its head in return.

The monster returned, as if interested to see what the boy would do next. 

He raised his head, and spoke to the monster.

“I don’t want to kill you.”

The bird tilted its head. The boy wondered if it understood what he was saying. 

“I just need that thing on your head,” he whispered, still unmoving. He didn’t know what was making him stay still, but the monster had not yet tried to hurt him. He hoped his plan was working. He might have been ready to die, but he wasn’t going down without at least one try.

The monster seemed to be considering the situation.

“Neither of us want this. If you let me take your crown, you will never have to kill another creature again. You won’t have to spend your whole life trapped inside the dungeons. 

But if you refuse, I won’t resist. I’m ready to die.”

He gazed up, into the monster’s face, and looked it directly in the eye. It simply stared back. Neither could look away.

Abruptly, after what seemed like hours of breathless anticipation, the bird broke its gaze and stepped away. The audience groaned in disappointment– it had been very long since someone had come this close to becoming a champion– and the boy’s head dropped. Everyone was confident they knew what was coming next– surely, the boy would die.

Nobody expected the monster to do what it did. It lowered its head to the ground, as if beckoning the boy to take the crown. 

At first, he did not move. Had it really been that easy to finish the task? He doubted that this would be the end of the Tournament. But, tentatively, he stood up, and slowly walked towards the monster. And so he lifted the crown from its head. 

The audience roared in applause. The boy glanced up at the top box, where the Magistrate sat. She, too, was clapping, but seemed to be straining a smile. She stood.

“Now, if you succeed in delivering the crown to me,” she paused, struggling. “You will become… the Magistrate and the first known champion of the Tournament.” She gave a sour smile again and sat down.

The boy looked back at the monster– no, the bird. It seemed wrong to call it a monster now. It had understood his words and helped him– in many ways, it was no less a monster than the Magistrate…

Suddenly compelled to speak, the boy looked up at the audience. Little by little, the applause and shouting died down, leaving the stadium silent for him to speak.

“Brothers and sisters, the time is now. For so many centuries we have lived under the cruel rule of tradition. Our own Magistrate, who claims to only want the best for us, allows for these traditions to continue. Open your eyes. Every other year, ten innocent teenagers are killed for tradition. But what good is tradition if it only causes suffering and pain?”

Clearly, nobody had been expecting this. The people began to mumble and whisper amongst themselves. Many shook their heads in disapproval and some rose from their seats.

The Magistrate stood, clearly outraged. “You dare to criticize my rule? You are not fit to be our Magistrate.”

All around him, people shouted their agreement.

The boy took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. “Yes, I dare to criticize your rule. What proof do we have that you have helped our nation thrive or made it better in any way? Yes, you have stuck to tradition. But by doing so, you have permitted the deaths of innocent children.”

Fueled by anger, the Magistrate ran to the banister of her balcony box and began to shout down at the boy. 

“Nobody can dare say that I have done anything wrong for as long as I have ruled. I have held up the rules of our ancestors. I have respected tradition– so much that I have let children die for it. I have fed the wants of our people. 

“I have only done what they need. 

“So here, in front of my very eyes, stands a boy who dares to take my place. He dares to steal my power. Who is he, to take this away from me? I can see the thirst in his eyes. I can see that he is another one– a revolutionary– who will dare to change our traditions. Dare to defy the rules of our ancestors. He will destroy our people. He will destroy our nation. 

“I have respected tradition.

“But he values what his own ideals say are better above tradition.

“Maybe I killed a man destined for glory.

“But I did it for a greater cause –”

She stopped unexpectedly, as if suddenly realizing what she had said. A dark red flush began to rise up from her neck.

The people were frozen in their seats, as if unsure whether or not to believe what they had just heard. The boy was the first to act.

“Did I hear you right, Magistrate? You killed the rightful Magistrate?”

The Magistrate spluttered and tried to speak. “I, I–”

“Go on. I’m sure we would all be happy to hear what you want to say.” At this point, the boy had lost any sense of the respectful tone he had carefully used to speak to her.

The Magistrate’s mouth hung open like a gaping fish for a moment, but then, she closed it, swallowed, and began to speak, first in a wobbly tone.

“I — I am not the rightful Magistrate. But you have to understand.

“We all thirst for power. It is something we all want, whether you let it be known to everyone, or it resides in you subconsciously. Who can blame me for my own thirst for power?

“Traditionally, a Magistrate is a hereditary role. But I am not a descendant of the man who came before me. Yes, he did have a descendant. But he was cruel, ignorant, disobedient to tradition. 

“So was I wrong to take him out? Was I wrong, to kill him? Was I wrong, to ensure that our nation would be safe, in better hands than a man insufficient to rule his people? Was I wrong, to kill a man who would dare to change our traditions? Was I wrong, to long for something that everyone thirsts for?

“Yes, I killed him. I pretended that I was the daughter of the Magistrate. I pretended that my ‘brother’ had died of secret illness. I hid my secret from everybody, even the people I claim to be so loyal to. But does it really matter now? The rightful Magistrate’s body lays decaying in his grave.

“If you were in my own place, would you not do the same?”

The boy countered her almost immediately. “No, I would not do the same. Why? Because I am not a murderer responsible for the deaths of children and the rightful Magistrate!”

The whole time this shouting match had been taking place, the people had been muttering among each other, unsure of whether to take the side of the Magistrate or the boy. But now, one girl spoke.

“I refuse,” she said. “To be ruled by a murderer,” she added boldly.

The boy jerked his head in her direction and recognized her as one of his friends– well, one of the friends who had abandoned him. But still, he was grateful to her for standing up to the Magistrate.
Sparked by her words, others began to stand up to speak.

“I agree!”

“The boy is more fit to be our Magistrate!”

“She’s a murderer!”

“She should be put to death!”

The Magistrate was paling quickly. “I only did it for our good– we were a better people because of my actions–”

“Lies!” The boy was angry now. “You claim that you have made us a better people, yet you have changed nothing. You have blindly forced us all to follow the sadistic traditions of our society. You haven’t changed a thing. And you are trying to cover up the fact that you murdered a man with the fact that you have apparently made us a ‘better people?’ What a pathetic excuse.”

Nearly all the people had risen from their seats now, and were chanting loudly, obviously furious with the Magistrate. “Put her to death!” they screamed together. 

The boy strode up to where the Magistrate was hanging over the balcony. She looked as if she was shivering slightly in fear.

“You can admit your defeat now, Magistrate, and we will see fit that you are punished with justice. But if you still refuse to admit that you are responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people, your own people– who are no longer so loyal to you– can decide your punishment,” he spoke confidently. 

Everyone was unified against the Magistrate now, chanting and jeering. Even her guards had abandoned their duty. All seemed lost for her now.

Something strange seemed to flash behind the Magistrate’s eyes. Her mouth twitched. Her shoulders slumped. All emotion seemed to have left her body. “You will never take me,” she whispered, her voice trembling.

The boy knew what was coming. “Don’t do it,” he urged her. “It’s not worth it.”

The Magistrate stared into the boy’s eyes and wildly scanned the crowds of the people who had abandoned her. 

What happened next seemed to be in slow motion. The Magistrate stepped over the railing and fell. She hit the ground, her body sprawled awkwardly in the dust. She no longer looked like a hero or a villain. She was no more than an old woman who had forgotten what it meant to truly live. 

Just before her eyes glazed over, wispy words seemed to float from her mouth, into the air, so quiet that only the boy could hear.

“Forgive me.”

And she breathed a last breath. 

All was silent in the stunned stadium. Nobody dared to speak, to cheer, to mourn. The jeering crowds were silent, unable to jeer. The Magistrate had taken her own life just to escape the shame of her actions. It was all over, but not in the way that anybody had wished.

The boy bent down sadly and answered her, though he knew she could hear no longer.

“I forgive you.”

Violet the Explorer

Once, a long, long time ago, there was a small meadow on a large continent which was protected by a tall mountain range. This meadow had just a little short grass, as the rest had been eaten by cows. In this meadow, there was a small cow named Violet. All the cows were very sad because there was not enough grass in their meadow, and no way past the mountain range. However, just across a fast river, there was a large, green meadow. In this meadow, there was large, green grass and no more cows. 

Then, almost like magic, she found a small, rickety bridge. Violet carefully crossed first, followed by the other cows, and made it to the meadow. Unfortunately, in a month, the cows had eaten all of the grass there and were always in the sun without the protection of the mountains. Then, they saw that the grass on their old side was much greener. Thinking about the many years in the small meadow, Violet attempted to cross the bridge again, but it broke, dropping them down into the river. She floated down the river, unable to return.

Meanwhile, a way down the river, Violet was trying to swim back to the other cows, but the current pulled her along and all their energy had to be put into floating. Using all of the remaining energy she had, Violet finally got up to the riverbank and lay there, coughing. Soon afterwards, a small black sheep ran up, poking the strange cow with their hoof. She groaned in pain. Not knowing what to do, the sheep dragged her back to their house.

When Violet woke up, the sheep came over and said, “Are you all right? I found you by the river. I’m Coal.”

“Violet,” was all she could muster to say. 

After about a week, Violet had regained most of her energy, and was able to walk and speak. She really wished she could go back to her meadow, but there was no way except the river and the mountains. She knew she would have to take one. 

She decided after going through the strong river current that she would try to climb the mountains. She brought some grass for the road and a blanket for warmth. Leaving the cozy house of the sheep, Violet knew she would have a hard journey ahead, but she felt ready. She set off to the base of the mountain. 

After about an hour of hiking, she arrived at the base of the mountain. Looking up, she could see it looming, breaking the clouds above. She had no idea what to think, or how she would ever reach the top. She put two hooves on the mountain and tried to pull herself up, but fell. Then she saw a path which cut through the mountain. She decided to walk that way instead.

After a while, when she had gotten a little in, a wolf jumped in front of her. She turned, but there were more behind her, and next to her… She was surrounded! One of the wolves approached, growling. 

“I am the head of this pack… You have trespassed on our land. Now you pay the price…” He growled. 

“I-I’m sorry… I didn’t know this was yours, I just had to pass the mountains…” She shivered under the eyes of the pack. 

“Well, do you have anything that could… persuade us?” His eyes glinted.

“There’s a river down the road, you all seem thirsty…”  

“The cows pushed us away from that.” 

“I do have this blanket…” She pushed the blanket toward him.

The wolves took the blanket and nimbly jumped back up to the ledges on the mountain. Violet, taking her chance, ran toward the end of the mountains. When she emerged from the end of the pathway, she was back in her meadow! And there she stayed, happily, with plenty of grass. Eventually, she and the other cows built a bridge, a sturdy one, which they could cross back and forth. 

The end ... For now.

The Tales of Frog Royalty







Frog Prince enters room where Frog King is sitting

FROG PRINCE: Father Frog, you called?

FROG KING: Yes, my dear youngest froggy. It seems now is the time to take action against Sir Evil Wizard Flytrap, or as we know him- S.E.W.F.

Frog Prince nods confidently

FROG KING: S.E.W.F. has just sent another lightning-tornado towards our small village, and if we take another hit…

FROG PRINCE: What will happen?

FROG KING: We will be forced to relocate.

Frog Prince gasps


FROG KING: Indeed. However, my son, if you look on the bright side, relocation doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

FROG PRINCE: I think it rather does, Father Frog, Sister and I would hate it!

FROG KING: Not for you, child, for me!

FROG PRINCE: What are you talking about?!

FROG KING: Well, I’ve been thinking. I’m pretty old, aren’t I? Eight years old tomorrow! Since your sister is the heir to the throne, I was hoping you could tell her that I’m retiring for me.

FROG PRINCE: Why do I have to tell her? She expected you to retire in at least another year, and she hates surprises! This will likely make her furious! And you know how Sister is when she is angry…

FROG KING: Of course I know, in fact, you got lucky! You were only a tadpole when she was in her most angry phase! And since I’m leaving you two here while I move to Froglandia-

FROG PRINCE: (in a whiny voice) But IIIII want to leave, too!!!

FROG KING: Hush, quit acting like a tadpole, Tad! As I was saying, since I’m leaving for Froglandia and starting a much more peaceful part of my life, I should be more easygoing. Starting with having you deliver the news to your sister.

Frog Prince rolls his eyes

FROG PRINCE: Wow, thank you, Father.

FROG KING: You’re welcome. Another easygoing thing I’ve decided to do as my final act as Frog King is befriend S.E.W.F., it seems fitting, since I was the only royal frog he ever disliked.

FROG PRINCE: You said it was my great-grandfather who accidentally lost S.E.W.F.’s crazy grandmother!

FROG KING: Did I? Well, no, I just didn’t look him in the eye when shaking his leaf…

FROG PRINCE: Father!!!

FROG KING: You can’t blame me, I was distracted by some nearby flies!

FROG PRINCE: That is not at all an excuse, but let me get this straight. You’re going to leave Sister and I to rule our small village and deal with your problems, while you go have flies with our sworn enemy?

FROG KING: Oh, no no no, young frog!

Frog Prince releases a big breath

FROG PRINCE: Oh, that’s good!

FROG KING: Actually, I’ve had it arranged for you to meet with S.E.W.F. this evening!

FROG PRINCE: You’ve GOT to be kiddi-

Frog King checks his imaginary watch

FROG KING: Oh, would you look at the time?! I’ve got to go catch a llama before it’s too late!

FROG PRINCE: Where are you going?!

FROG KING: Didn’t I already tell you? Froglandia!

Frog King rushes out of the room, leaving Frog Prince.

FROG PRINCE: Oh my toad.


Frog Prince is waiting outside of Frog Princess’s home and knocks on the door

FROG PRINCE: Sister? Lily? *knocks on door again* Lily Patty???

Frog Princess opens the door and looks surprised to see Frog Prince

FROG PRINCESS: Why are you here?

FROG PRINCE: I missed you too!!!

Frog Princess sighs

FROG PRINCESS: Seriously, Tad, what’s going on?

Frog Prince looks nervous

FROG PRINCE: Just warning you, It’s not my fault.

FROG PRINCESS: What isn’t your fault?

Frog Prince takes a deep breath

FROG PRINCE: Father left for Froglandia just now and he’s retiring and he’s sending me to have flies with S.E.W.F. this evening and you’re Queen Frog now and I don’t know what to do!!!

FROG PRINCESS: Woah. That would be crazy.


FROG PRINCESS: It would be. I know this is a prank, Brother Frog.

FROG PRINCE: I WISH. Father just left on a llama!

Frog Princess crosses her arms over her chest

FROG PRINCESS: Really? That’s hard to believe. I thought they permanently refused service to him after he spilled flies on the llama he was riding on.

FROG PRINCE: I guess he’s hoping to get lucky and find a llama that hasn’t heard of him? And hey, that incident was your fault for not screwing the thermos holding the flies the whole way…

Frog Princess glares at Frog Prince and takes a deep breath

FROG PRINCESS: Don’t you blame this on me, mister, S.E.W.F. attacked again today, I have had enough things going wrong today, you-

Frog Prince steps back cautiously

FROG PRINCE: Woah, woah, woah, calm down! Now is not the time to unleash your sisterly rage on me. What is it, 4 in the afternoon? We should be preparing for our meeting with S.E.W.F.!

FROG PRINCESS: Our meeting?

FROG PRINCE: Oh, um, right, I was hoping you would consider coming with me…?

FROG PRINCESS: Ugh! You are so lucky I was raised a good frog.


Frog Prince and Frog Princess have just arrived at S.E.W.F.’s house

Both look nervous

FROG PRINCESS: G-g-good day, Sir F-Flytrap.

S.E.W.F.: What brings you two here? Are enemies supposed to hang out?

FROG PRINCE: We, er, came to create peace between our species. Sir.

S.E.W.F.: That seems quite boring. And relatively impossible. No wonder you are Prince Tadpole, you are thinking like a child.

FROG PRINCE: That’s not very nice. And what makes peace impossible?

S.E.W.F.: Well, peace has to be agreed upon, and as I said, it’s really quite boring. Why would I agree to something as boring as peace?

FROG PRINCESS: We brought you flies, if it helps…

S.E.W.F.’s eyes light up with excitement

S.E.W.F.: Oh! That would help… where did you get these flies?

FROG PRINCE: The swamp.

FROG PRINCESS: They’re very fresh!

S.E.W.F. claps his leaves excitedly

S.E.W.F.: Ooh, I haven’t had swamp flies in a long, long time…

FROG PRINCESS: Well, you won’t have them for an even longer time if you keep attacking our village, Sir Flytrap.

S.E.W.F. ponders this for a moment

S.E.W.F.: I suppose you’re right. Let’s sit and discuss this while eating these delicious flies.

They all sit

S.E.W.F.: Peace would be quite a new concept for me. Would you mind going over what it entitles?

FROG PRINCE: Well, you would probably have to agree to have your name shortened.

S.E.W.F.: How come?

FROG PRINCE: Sir Wizard Flytrap is a lot more peaceful-sounding than Sir Evil Wizard Flytrap, wouldn’t you agree?

S.E.W.F.: Well, I suppose. Ok, from now on I will be known as Sir Wizard Flytrap, or S.W.F., but pronounced just like S.E.W.F.

FROG PRINCESS: Marvelous! Another thing peace would mean would be that you would stop sending lightning-tornadoes towards our small village, and us frogs would stop hogging all of the flies.

S.W.F.: You’ve been hogging the flies?! No wonder my meals have been ending quicker!

FROG PRINCESS: Is that not why you’ve attacked us in the past?

FROG PRINCE: Oh, right, I forgot to tell you, it’s actually Father’s fault. Father didn’t look Sir Flytrap here in the eye when shaking his leaf.

Frog Princess gasps and S.W.F nods sorrowfully

S.W.F.: Yes, the number one rule of both Frog Etiquette and Flytrap Etiquette. I was deeply offended.

FROG PRINCE: Obviously.

Frog Princess glares at Frog Prince

FROG PRINCESS: Anyone would have been offended. I deeply apologize, Sir Flytrap, for my father’s mistakes, but you met him. He was always a bit of a ditzy frog, you know, and his actions were in no way intended as an offense.

S.W.F. nods and chews on a fly

S.W.F.: I see your point. He definitely was a bit ditzy. So, if we advance with this peace thing, you frogs will leave more flies for flytraps and I won’t send lightning-tornadoes at your village.


S.W.F.: But that’s not fair. I had to change my name too, and you guys only did one thing.

FROG PRINCE: That’s true. How about we have weekly flies together, since you seem to be enjoying our flies quite a bit?

S.W.F.: That’s alright with me.

FROG PRINCESS: Perfect! We should be getting home now, turns out I have to plan my coronation.

S.W.F. raises his eyebrows questioningly

S.W.F.: Oh?

FROG PRINCESS: Did I not mention that my father has just retired and fled- sorry, traveled- to Froglandia?

S.W.F.: Interesting. I might want to join him soon.

FROG PRINCE: Well, let’s shake on this treaty and start planning.

The frogs shake S.W.F.’s leaf, making sure to look him in the eyes, and head back to their now-safe village.

Anxious on the Subway

I am underground. It looks like there are rats hanging from the ceiling. It smells like pee. I feel like someone’s carving a pit in my stomach because my mom is sick. There’s a person staring at me. And when I get off, he is following me. He is white. He looks like he’s up to no good. He looks like he wants to injure someone. He has his hand in his coat pocket. When I get off, he starts to follow me. I run to my mom’s hospital. And I tell the security guards that there is someone following me. The security guard is a big white guy, and he sounds like he’s French or something. 

He says, “We will not let this man in.” Then I go to the desk, so I can check in to see my mom. I see my mom, and she looks the same as she did before, when she wasn’t sick. Beautiful.


Pride 1 (Meanings)

lions stick with their groups,

their prides.

what is pride?

well to a lion it is their family.

to a human, it is their self regard.

to me it is both.

pride is my home.

pride is my month.

where i can be unapologetically me.

where you can be unapologetically you

the month where big corporations see you.

maybe for their own benefit,

but you feel seen.

and it feels amazing.

Pride 2 (Sidewalk)


the sign said one o’clock

the policeman said three thirty

the volunteer says thirty minutes more.

it’s been hours since each said anything.

the sidewalk is the worst place to sit;

hard and scratchy.


it better be worth it.

it better be rainbows and love and

warmth and


the storm clouds better stop their threats

of rain and thunder.

empty promises that are made of

high and loud cheers.

and then the drums start. 

and the clouds are an empty threat.

and the cheers give hope.

and the sidewalk is the most cushioned chair.

and it’s rainbows, and love

and warmth and


Pride 3 (Reason)

this is uplifting.

this is community.

these are my people. 

this is my culture.

my history.

this isn’t a choice.

this isn’t a lifestyle.

we ARE obeying love.

we are at home. 

it won’t be destroyed or 

deemed unsafe.

it is our home

Pride 4

the confetti curbs

rainbow pupils all over.

i am in my own.

ADHD 1 (School)

the window is preferred.

not the chalkboard. 

i’m sorry i can’t help myself.

the trees sway so beautifully and 

i hate this.

i hate how my grape flavored focus

melts away and turns bitter.

i hate that 20 i got on the math test.

i hate that i have to work twice as hard.

i hate that i have become my 


i hate that it’s i’ve turned it into an excuse.

i hate that i can wield it against people

but then the blade always hits me afterwards.

i hate that i hate something that i can’t change. 

ADHD 2 (Staring Contest)

a staring contest.

you can look into my eyes.

they seem empty, 


but they are not.

right behind them, you’ll find my brain,

it’s thinking a thought a second.

after you blink, i’ll keep staring.

maybe on purpose. 

maybe by mistake.

and then i become me again.

ADHD 3 (Impulse)

my brain’s mantra seems to be

my brain seems to be

back in 2013. 

a fraternity

maybe that’s why i like girls.

he sees one thing and turns it 

into a toy or a joke.

always tugging me along.

dragging me 





when did he take over? 


my mind waltzes ‘round

my hands can’t be held down now

the leg bounce™ begins

Judaism 1 (Reading)


with sharp edges.

cutting your throat

with each ch.

vowels that

you can’t read without.

is it possible

to have dyslexia

in only one language?


knows the tongue.

why doesn’t the torah

have transliteration?

give me another crutch.

but wait… 

what is this?


all of the sharp tones

and letters

are mine.

to keep.

to savor

to love.

Judaism 2 (Bat Mitzvah)

a hummingbird’s heart

beats at 1,260 a


i feel like a hummingbird.

my heart feels like

it is making rounds

around my body.

my throat

then my stomach. 

acting like a bouncy ball.

then i have to stand.

my voice carries.

i am floating.

the bumblebees

on my high heels

buzz up to the flowers on my dress.

a juxtaposition of simple and detailed.

both bought from the same store.

i am in my element.

Judaism 3 (G-d)

a third grader

questioning her 


“why is G-d


portrayed as male?”

she could

ask anything.

always he

never she

or they

if G-d is


then why isn’t 

G-d everyone?

G-d is


sorry talmud.

Judaism 4 (Synagogue)

mosaics of love

a window of stars, flowers

an unused organ.

Music 1 (Singing)

isn’t it



you open your


and you

hear harmony?

a string of sounds.

that make 



is it not wonderful

when you hit all the notes?

like a sixth grade boy

finally reaching the


when he jumps?

isn’t it?

all of it

goes together.

when you can


with yourself.

any song



Music 2 (Listening)

i know you

are fake

over produced

yet i cling to each word

savoring it to remember

for later.

each note.

i am a hoarder

i keep each

and every song 

for my own

i even steal some

from my sister.

little bits and pieces


a new song has been added 

to my repertoire.

a playlist

for everything

for crying

for showering

for everyday 


the notes


through my blood.

who needs


when you have


Music 3 (Childhood)

in the car

a cover


where my mind is.

in the basement

loading songs onto

a cd for a long trip.

peter’s trip cds

that shaped my


songs written

by preschoolers

the cow in the cowboy hat.

something about a ladybug

jack and sarah.

ti esrever dna ti

pilf, nwod gniht ym tup 

sweaters unraveling.

parents understanding

me just enjoying the


the soundtrack to

my girl hood.

fiona apple when we first 

moved to new york.

single ladies when 

i was in preschool.

eminem in fourth grade.

melanie martinez in fifth.

rap in sixth grade.

and everything in seventh.

Music 4

thank you for lessons.

taught me how to dance and sing.

taught me poetry


i am not 



my pale camouflage

hides my thoughts.

my jokes,





hide my thoughts.

always try to fill in the blanks

a madlib.

eloquence isn’t controllable.

not quite sugar spice or

everything nice.

not quit snips snails

or puppy dog tails.

a jew.

riddled with


a pansexuel;

a sacrilege.

a contradiction.

yet everything makes



The Forest

The large pack weighed heavily on the traveler. He leaned on his walking stick with every step. He considered, for a moment, slinging it over the saddle of his horse. This thought was instantly abandoned as the horse was moving even slower. The traveler glanced up at the sky, the sun was low, but not quite low enough to stop. He ignored this. 

“Might as well rest here, eh Charlie?” said the traveler, addressing his horse. The horse answered by lying down on the soft grass. “Guess that’s settled,” muttered the traveler. He slung his own pack off his shoulder and let it drop to the ground. He made his way over to the horse and slowly dragged the items out of its saddle. Charlie took a few bites of grass and the traveler rummaged through the large sack. He withdrew a rather unappetizing looking piece of bread and a waterskin. He reluctantly took a little of each and then laid down in the soft grasses, looking up at the darkening sky. “Ol’ Dawson is getting too old for this,” he said, Charlie continued to munch on the nearby plants.

The sun rose and Dawson, occasionally irritable in the mornings, struggled to his feet. Groaning, he pulled the pack back up onto his shoulders and reloaded the saddle.

“Come on, Charlie,” he said with a heavy sigh, and began to walk. The horse obediently fell in line behind him. “You know, we’ll be reaching the Forest in a few days.” The remark was nonchalant but mentioning such a place made Dawson instinctively shudder and look over his shoulder. There was nothing there of course, only the plodding horse. The horse felt it too. It took several minutes of the bright sunshine to remove the grim shadow of those words.

The day moved its way along; Dawson humming a little now and then. However, the calm mood turned sour when Dawson saw the sun sinking behind a dark mass of trees. As soon as Dawson stopped, Charlie was laying on the ground. Dawson rolled his eyes and sifted through his many bags until he found his map. On it was clearly marked the road on which he stood, and the Forest. He did a few mental calculations.

“Sorry, Charlie. We won’t make it in time if don’t head into the… there tonight,” said Dawson.

The look on the horse’s face was something akin to “make me.”

“Don’t be like that, Charlie,” said Dawson, shaking his head, although he was just as nervous. Dawson pulled an apple out of his pocket and held it in front of Charlie’s face. The horse raised an eyebrow. Dawson began to walk slowly away and Charlie, who was rather sick of grass, begrudgingly got up and followed. Dawson held out his hand and Charlie eagerly crunched the apple. Dawson laughed and led the way toward his greatest fear.

The creeping darkness and the ominous trees forced Dawson to relive the countless tales and fabled horrors of the Forest. He couldn’t help but wonder if he too, would one day become a cautionary tale for avoiding these grim woods.

The sun quickly vanished and, as the sky grew darker, Dawson had to nearly drag Charlie toward the Forest. Finally, once a thin canopy of leaves formed above their heads, Charlie seemed to get more comfortable. The trees were spread out, with one every ten feet or so, but their trunks scowled down at the travelers. The meandering breeze, which outside had seemed so calming, became a gruesome hiss of foreboding. Dawson slowed his pace until he was walking beside the horse. He reached into one of the saddlebags and fished blindly around, his eyes glued to the surrounding trees.

Finally, his fingers found the item they sought and his fist tightened around it. He pulled out a fat shortsword. Its steel blade seemed the only thing not a dull shade of gray or a terrifying hue of black and green. Its hilt was of a sturdy wood and the handle was wrapped in a worn, gray leather. Feeling this weapon in his hand, Dawson felt a good bit more confident.

A few notes of song whistled out of Dawson’s lips and seemed to shatter everything around them with their noise.

Charlie’s large eyes bore into Dawson, a frightened look saying something between “Ssssh!!!” and “are you trying to get us killed?” Dawson took the message and fell silent. The threatening trees on every side lurked like massive beasts, ready to pounce on the man who broke their tranquil rest. Dawson kept his hand on the hilt of his sword. Against the terrifying and ominous power that was the Forest, the sword felt like glorified kitchen knife in his hands.

Dawson nearly jumped out of his skin when Charlie accelerated and sped past him, tearing the lead from Dawson’s hand. Dawson drew his weapon and whirled around to face a possible enemy. He saw nothing on the dark path behind him but his own footprints. When he turned back, he saw Charlie, standing in a small circle of moonlight. The three trees grouped around the spot seemed different. Their bark was a gentle brown and their leaves a cheery green. The moonlight seemed almost golden. Dawson’s nature drew him to suspicion immediately.

“Psst! Charlie, get out’a the light” said Dawson in a sharp whisper. The horse glanced at him but, instead of obeying, sat down. Dawson shook his head and crept closer to where the horse lay. Dawson drew another apple from one of the many sacks he had slung over his shoulders. Charlie looked at him sniffed the air a few times, but didn’t budge.

“Charlie, get over here,” Dawson muttered, a little louder. He turned to face the vicious trees behind him, aiming his sword as if to fight them off. He felt drawn to the spot and unconsciously began to walk backward. Charlie nodded his approval, but Dawson didn’t even notice; his eyes scanned the trees. Dawson felt something solid on his back. He turned around. Startled, he found himself in the center of the moonlit patch of forest. It felt like a different land. A sense of warmth and safety filled him; the sword fell from his hand and hit the crisp green grass.

“Suppose we can rest here for the night…” said Dawson, putting his back to one of the soft, welcoming trees and sinking to the ground. Charlie was already dozing off. Dawson felt sleep creeping up and, with a final burst of energy, rolled the apple Charlie’s direction. His eyes shut and he was deep in the restful, calm darkness within a second.

Dawson sat bolt upright. His hands reached out, desperately searching the ground for his weapon. He grabbed it and put his back against the tree. As the fog cleared from his mind and eyes, he remembered the events of the past night. A few pieces of apple core sat on the ground near Charlie. Dawson looked up through the gap in the trees above and saw the blue sky. He sighed relief and pulled his pack back on. Charlie seemed reluctant to leave the safety of the sunlight but obliged Dawson’s pleadings. They stretched their legs as they walked, expelling every trace of sleepiness.

“Shouldn’t have doubted you, Charlie,” said Dawson. He felt well rested and was setting a rather quick pace for the two of them. 

Charlie’s eyes seemed to say, “Have I ever led you astray?” 

Dawson shook his. “That you haven’t,” he said.

After about an hour of marching through the trees, which seemed barely more receptive to company than in the dead of night, Dawson stopped. A short distance ahead, the road was cut in half by a stream. Something was off about the water. Not its pitch black color that seemed typical of the forest, but its silence. The water was rushing down at a great speed but made no sound at all.

Arching over the icy waters was a bridge. Like the water, it appeared normal at first glance. Its floor was made of wood planks and it had a handrail. However, the wood had rotted to its core. Dawson motioned for Charlie to stay put. Charlie, not being especially fond of water in general, was happy to comply. Dawson thrust the pack off his back and moved carefully toward the bridge. He tapped a few planks with his walking stick, testing their strength. They seemed sturdy enough. As Dawson inspected the bridge closer, he noticed something about the wood.

“They must’ve cut down a few of these trees to make this bridge” he commented under his breath. Looking around, Dawson noticed a few tree stumps near the bank of the stream. As if in revenge, he also saw roots from nearby trees uprooting and undermining the bridge on both sides. The thick, study roots must have been all that was keeping the bridge together. Bright green vines twisted in and out of the rotted holes in the bridge. Dawson, semi-confident that the bridge could hold him, retrieved his pack.

He walked forward to the edge of the wood beams. Cautiously, Dawson placed his foot on the wood. It groaned in protest but held firm. As he walked, Dawson couldn’t help looking down into the black water. He thought he saw something move between the currents. A streamlined shape, its outline somehow even darker that the waters surrounding it. Dawson shuddered, considering what evil sort of creature would enjoy these waters. These thoughts escorted Dawson the rest of the way across. He gratefully put his feet down on solid ground, took the pack off and leaned it against the nearest tree. Dawson, careful to avoid extra weight, dropped his sword down next to the pack. Slowly, he made his way back across the bridge.

Charlie was waiting patiently on the other side of the stream. He had watched Dawson cross the bridge and was beginning to realize that he would have to make the crossing as well. Once Dawson returned, he pulled several bags off Charlie and carried them back across, stacking them with his first load.

“It’ll be easier for you to cross without all these bags,” said Dawson, removing the last load. “Follow me,” he added. Charlie got up and picked his way up onto the bridge. Dawson was checking the contents of this pack. Halfway across the bridge, Dawson heard something. He whirled around at the sound of wood cracking behind him.

As Dawson turned, he saw splinters of wood explode from the bridge and boards go collapsing into the black waters. The entire bridge began to crumble. Charlie had completely vanished. Dawson was paralyzed. He looked behind him at the pile of goods and packages that held in them the keys to his future and down toward the water. The forest decided for him. The board on which he stood snapped and Dawson went tumbling into the ice cold water.

He struggled to take a breath before his head was engulfed into the darkness. A few seconds later Dawson returned, sputtering, to the surface. As his head came up, not a ripple disturbed the horrifying tranquility of the water. Dawson spit as he broke the surface. The water had filled his mouth as he crashed into the depths. It tasted rotten and sickening.

Dawson looked around but his eyes couldn’t penetrate the inky darkness that was the river. With sudden terror, he realized that the remains of the bridge were no longer in sight. He found himself being whisked along by the currents in a nearly imperceptible way. The water remained quiet and even.

Dawson tried to think. He had a small pack on his shoulders; with luck it had a little food and water. He attempted to catch onto a branch and lift himself free of the river. His fist wrapped around the wood. For a second, he was still as the water sped around him. Dawson heard a creaking sound. As the branch snapped from the tree, Dawson’s body was hurled head-first into the water. Dawson struggled against the rushing water, desperately searching for a precious breath of air; he felt something touch his leg.

It was even colder than the water. The icy touch forced its way through Dawson’s heavy boot. Dawson instinctively jerked his leg in the opposite direction. He reached down to where his sword was sheathed. Fear clutched Dawson’s heart as he remembered that the sword, along with the rest of the supplies, were on the other side of the bridge.

“It’s probably nothing,” muttered Dawson, stabilizing himself. Then he felt the same cold clutch his ankle and it yanked him upstream. Dawson snatched a heavy root hanging over the river and held on with all his might. The cold seemed enraged by this struggle and began to pull harder. Dawson, in a burst of luck, felt his boot begin to loosen. He started to crawl up the root, attempting to loosen the boot. It was almost impossible to resist the creature, let alone move.

Dawson shivered as the boot slipped off his foot and the water hit his skin. He forced himself up the root and struggled up onto a patch of land. Dawson sighed and peered down at the water. He recognized the black shape he had seen from the bridge swimming with lightning speed up the river. Dawson decided that his best chance was to follow the river. It was his only hope of navigating out of the forest and, hopefully, to Charlie. He cast a last look back up the river to where the heap of goods and supplies sat on the other side of the bridge. Dawson cleared his head and steeled himself for the journey ahead.

He began to pick his way as well as he could through the dense and angry trees. Dawson unslung the pack and looked inside. There were a few soggy pieces of bread and an intact waterskin for supplies. He sighed and continued to move forward. The tree roots shot up from the ground; even the forest grasses were knotted and tangled. Every low-hanging vine was an invitation to trip and send Dawson spiralling back into the icy waters of the river.

Dawson climbed along the trees. He was moving blindly through the forest, his only hope being that the river led to the outside world. After what seemed like days of hard hiking through treacherous and uneven ground, churned up by the powerful roots, Dawson found himself in front of a massive, rocky hill. He saw it vanish among the forest canopy.

“Might as well have a look ‘round,” mumbled Dawson as he began to climb. As his feet struggled against the steep and gravelly side of the hill, Dawson remembered his old walking stick. It had vanished somewhere at the bottom of the stream along with his sword but it would have made a helpful addition to the climb. The jagged group of stones cut at Dawson’s bare foot, making every step that much more difficult. The rock became steeper with every step Dawson took. Not long into the climb and Dawson felt as though he was making his way up a solid wall of rock. Dawson nearly lost his balance when he felt something touch the back of his neck. It felt like sandpaper against his skin. Dawson turned as far as he could to look behind and found himself among the tree branches. Dark green leaves repelled any sunlight that might have been shining above. Dawson noticed another one of those bright patches of golden light a little distance from the river. He climbed further, forcing the heavy branches and sharp leaves out of his way and moved higher and higher. The higher he climbed, the less rough the leaves became. Near the top, they even felt soft. Finally, as his hand pushed a large leaf out of the way, a warm feeling hit his skin. A flood of sunlight and morning air hit Dawson’s senses. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, feeling the glow of the sun and air that didn’t smell of damp leaves. Dawson looked behind him and saw the massive, twisted form of the forest stretch out behind him as far as the eye could see. In front, there were still a few feet of rock to ascend. Dawson reached his hand up and felt a sturdy stone to grab onto. Using this, he pulled himself up to the rough plateau.

With a gasp of joy, Dawson saw the forest seem to melt away before him. The tightly packed trees separated and turned into a wide, grassy plain. In time, the plain met with the blue sky and calming light of day. A few other trees remained, spread far across the plain. Far in the distance, a few pillars of smoke heralded a settlement. Dawson dropped to his knees. He had no idea if there was any sort of civilization in this direction. He breathed a sigh of relief. As Dawson looked, he noticed the black waters of the fearsome forest stream soften into a shimmering river, snaking across the countryside. Dawson yearned to reach this freedom and hurried down the other side of the mountain.

The short distance he had to walk still inside the confines of the ferocious trees had no effect on Dawson’s new and joyful attitude. He walked at a quick pace, ignoring the scowling faces of the towering wooden figures. As he made his way through the forest, the trees began to thin. It happened slowly at first, but one by one the trees began to get further apart. Their powerful roots, causing upheavals in the ground, became less frequent. Their thick canopy was no longer strong enough to hold back the sunlight.

Then, at long last, the trees fell away and Dawson was standing in the plain. It felt strange, not being surrounded at all times by the frowning trees. Dawson found himself starving, and not in the mood for the soggy bread that was left in his pack. He looked around and spotted a few orbs of red lying beneath one of the remaining trees that dotted the landscape.

Dawson broke into a run as he sped toward the tree. As he got closer, his jaw dropped. His swift run began to slow until Dawson was just standing still. Sitting lazily under the tree surrounded by the remains of a few apples, was a horse. Dawson looked at the horse’s eyes, which seemed to say, “You could have just stayed in the river, it would have been faster.” 

“Good to see you too, Charlie,” said Dawson.

NYC Subway Reliability Essay

Reliability within a transit system is always inconsistent. One can never predict with absolute certainty how congested traffic is, which route is quickest to your destination, and the overall travel time from Point A to Point B. But what can be altered is communication and improved infrastructure. In New York City, riders expect their subway commute to be the overall shortest of travel times, if all goes well. It is expected that when one leaves their house, walks to their station, waits a couple of minutes for their train, gets off their first train and onto the second, and exits at their destined station, that it will all be a seamless experience. A Time Out article written in February 2019 expressed that the two best tourist attractions in New York City are the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. If one were to look on Google Maps, they would find that on a weekday at ten in the morning, it would take around 30 to travel between these destinations by subway. One would have to walk one block to the Herald Square Station, wait for a choice of four trains departing within a span of seven minutes, get off at the Washington Square station after three to four minutes in transit, wait an additional five minutes for the next train, get off six minutes later at Fulton Street, and walk three blocks to the on-ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge. From door to door, this would take approximately 25 minutes, if a commuter could walk a block per two minutes and everything in the subway lined up perfectly. However, this rarely happens. The New York Times gathered in March of last year that weekday trains arrived early, on time, or as late as five minutes only 58.1% of the time. If each line has about twenty seven trains operating on the line at one time, excluding shuttles, that means that only about six of ten trains are considered by the MTA to be “on time.” By going more in depth, one can find out what can be done to improve the reliability of the United States’ largest subway system.

An easier change that can be made in the grand scheme of improving the subway’s reliability is the installation of WiFi in the system’s 472 stations, as well as encouraging train dispatchers to announce the status of the lines they are monitoring. Transit Wireless observed that the MTA celebrated the one year anniversary of installing WiFi to all of its 279 underground stations on January 16th 2018. While the installation of WiFi is still being worked on for the other 193 stations, the existing system has helped riders keep up to date on the status of their subway lines without the use of cellular data. When using Google Maps with Verizon’s 2GB cellular data plan, one is limited to 34 consecutive hours of usage before their charges go up. For commuters who deal with frequent delays and service disruptions, this data can be easily eaten up when included with regular data usage. The MTA’s service disruptions can cause Verizon users to pay excessive fees. By installing WiFi in each and every station, commuters’ phone plans stay intact, as do their wallets.

However, all commuters can appreciate train dispatchers providing station announcements when service is disrupted. The New York Times analyzed that delays have more than tripled in the span of five years, from 20,000 delays in 2012 to 67,450 in 2017. By encouraging dispatchers to make simple announcements such as, “(N) train service has been suspended due to a sick passenger in Astoria,” riders can be made more up to date on the current status of their commute. According to Psychology Today, “one of the most prevalent fears people have is that of losing control” (Cohen, 2011).  If riders can focus more on their alternative routes, instead of worrying about the unknowingness of when their train will arrive, the system will be more reliable for communicating with passengers when service changes arise.

A constant problem of the subway’s reliability is how long a train is dwelling in the station. Six Square Feet reports that “the system is designed for trains to spend only thirty seconds at each station before departing. However, in busy stations like Grand Central, the wait times constantly exceed this limit” (Gannon, 2017). The MTA has begun to address this problem by adding Platform Controllers at a few high ridership stations, who are primarily hired to assist train crews in maintaining the scheduled movements of trains. They are able to do so by reminding riders to step aside to allow people to alight, to step all the way into the train car so everyone can board, and not to congregate by one doorway. They also improve safety by alerting customers when the train is ready to leave, and by flashing a light at the train conductor, they assure them that it is safe to close the doors. With everyone following their instructions, trains reduce their dwell time in the station, leading to fewer delays in the system. What is shocking is how sparsely located Platform Controllers are in the system, only assisting at 11 stations according to the MTA. With ridership and delays increasing, Platform Controllers are a quick fix to both of these issues. Stations that could primarily benefit from platform assistance would be Herald Square, Penn Station (all lines), Columbus Circle, and Fulton Street. These stations all rank in the top ten for highest ridership, yet conductors do not receive any platform assistance. While there would be additional cost in adding extra controllers, the benefits of having fewer delays, which can cost the MTA as much as $389 million annually, far outweigh this con. In a city as big as New York, one delay can turn into one big catastrophe.

While the examples above have provided quicker fixes to reliability, the main issue with the system is its signaling system. This, along with better construction management, will help fix many of the system’s issues with reliability. Curbed NY reports that the current signaling system, known as block signaling, is:

A manually operated method that has been used since the subway’s inception. Subways have blocks, each typically some 1,000 feet long. Fixed-block signals are visible from subway platforms, and the information they provide to train operators are based on the location of the most recent train to have passed—this is known as a moving block system. But this method is imprecise, and because of the age of the signals, subway personnel do not actually know the exact location of the subway cars using block signaling. Much of the current system was installed from the 1930s to the 1960s, and requires custom replacement parts to be made in-house because the machinery is so outdated.

To summarize, this quote demonstrates that a majority of the subway’s signaling is ancient, and trains are spaced out by how many signals they pass in a certain period of time. If another train is too close to the signal where a train just passed, the signal will appear red, delaying that train. This system is also very inefficient, as spacing is higher than what the demand requires at peak hours. 

To make the subway more reliable, this ancient system must be replaced. The MTA has begun the transition to Communication Based Train Control (CBTC). CBTC refers to automatic, computer based signaling. This leads to MTA personnel knowing the exact location of trains, and also decreases the space between trains. This system was fully integrated onto the L line in April of 2012 and the 7 Line in November of 2018. The system is far more durable, leading to fewer breakdowns. Curbed NY clarifies, “Weekday rush hour commutes were marred by signal problems 92% of the time in 2018.” By expediting the process of CBTC, riders will be on time more frequently and the MTA will have larger profits. The 7 Line, which operates from Times Square, Manhattan to Flushing in Queens, has seen on-time performances increase from 56% in March 2018 to 91% in March 2019. With the modernization of signals, trains during peak times have increased from 25 to 29 trains per hour, the Sunnyside Post reports. The article then continues, mentioning that the “MTA said that the L Train and the 7 have the best performance in the system” (Sunnyside Post, 2018). By expanding CBTC to other lines, such as what the MTA has been doing to the E, F, M and R lines in Queens, consistency of train service will become more reliable. To increase the implementation of CBTC, more funding will be needed.

When lines are closed for a myriad of reasons, better use of time for construction will also help improve reliability within the system. Trains are frequently and erratically out of service on weekends and overnight hours. Riders are told this is “because of construction.” For instance this year, J Train service was suspended from Broadway Junction to Jamaica Center on Memorial Day Weekend. The following weekend, service was suspended from Crescent Street (halfway between Junction and Jamaica) to Jamaica Center. This is evidence of poor construction management from the MTA as the replacement of bending rails, breaking signals, and decaying stations could not be expected to be completed in a weekend. The Daily News supports this conclusion by discovering that the “MTA budgeted 900 workers for a job that apparently needed only around 700. Those unneeded 200 workers were pocketing an absurdly high rate of around $1,000 per day” (Samspon, 2018). This all adds up to extra taxpayer money, higher union worker salaries, and less money for crucial mass transit repairs. It can be theorized that working on an eight mile stretch of the J line in one weekend was not feasible as construction costs were too high. This shows poor construction management as more of the line was closed than was necessary This is supported by the fact that the following weekend, parts of the same line were still closed. To better repair crucial infrastructure within the subway system, union contracts for NYC subway workers need to be reviewed and lowered so construction work can be faster, more efficient and cost less money.

In short, the NYC subway can improve its reliability by making alternative routes clearer for time conscious riders, hiring more Platform Controllers for high ridership stations, better managing the time allocated for construction by revising union contracts, and expediting the installation of Communication Based Train Control. In recent years, there have been proposals to improve the system, such as hiring new representatives with fresh ideas. Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan involves improving the subway by introducing CBTC to more lines and introducing longer line closures. With more organized management, the subway has also seen more renovated stations, newer subway cars, and improved infrastructure. However, it is not enough to keep the system functioning for eight million New Yorkers. With stations as old as 115 years old, more action needs to be taken to keep the New York City subway system thriving. New York is the biggest city in the United States, with almost twice the metro area of Los Angeles. With a city this big, it can take as long as two hours to travel from one end to the other in a car. With the subway, it could take one hour, or three. Cities depend on reliable transportation to grow and expand. Without it, the city cannot sustain its populace needs, leading to a more troubling future with a worsened economy. The New York City subway should be thriving. As of now, it’s merely surviving.


Fox, Alison, et al. “Firsthand Accounts of a subway in Shambles.” Am New York, 9 Oct. 2018,

Berger, Paul. “New York City’s subways Are Slow, Crowded and Smelly-Officials Say Part of the Problem Is You.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 21 Sept. 2018,

Matthews, Kayla. “What’s Gone Wrong with New York’s subway System – and How Is MTA Planning to Fix It?” CityMetric, 2018

“The Best New York Attractions.” Time Out New York, Tazi Phillips, 15 Feb. 2019,

“How Many Trains Are on a New York subway Line at Any given Time?” Quora,

“Transit Wireless Celebrates 1 Year of Full MTA System Coverage.” Transit Wireless, 16 Jan. 2018,

“Mobile Internet Data Usage Calculator.”,

Cohen, Elliott D. “The Fear of Losing Control.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 22 May 2011,

Gannon, Devin. “Overcrowding and ‘Dwell Time’ Are Why NYC’s Subway System Is Failing.” 6sqft, 28 June 2017,

“Your Ride Matters.”,

“Introduction to Subway Ridership.”,

Frishberg, Hannah. “A Guide to NYC subway’s Ailing Signal System.” Curbed NY, Curbed NY, 27 Feb. 2019,

“The Economic Cost of Subway Delays.”, 1 Oct. 2017,

Spivack, Caroline. “Signal Delays Snarled Subway Commutes Nearly Every Day in 2018.” Curbed NY, Curbed NY, 14 Jan. 2019,

Staff, Pcac. “The Complicated Progression of CBTC.” PCAC, 13 July 2017,

Krisel, Brendan. “NYC Weekend subway Service Changes May 25-26.” New York City, NY Patch, Patch, 24 May 2019,

Pereira, Sydney. “NYC Weekend subway Service Changes June 1-2.” New York City, NY Patch, Patch, 31 May 2019,

Sampson, Brian, and Brian Sampson. “Got Subway Anger? Aim It at the Unions: Their Contracts Inflate Construction Costs.”, New York Daily News, 7 Apr. 2018,


Chapter One

Crunch. Twig winced at the sound of his footsteps. He was used to being silent, and the distinct crackle of the leaves beneath his foot was a new sound. This was because he was walking. Twig usually ran, and when Twig ran, he flew. This came in handy for hunting, a skill required for living in the forest. Although Twig did not especially enjoy killing his brothers for food, it was necessary to survive.

At the sound of a rustle, Twig crouched, ears perked up and eyes searching. He hid behind a bush, watching carefully. There it was again. Twig craned his neck and saw the rabbit. He slowly stood, placing one lanky leg in front of the other. Suddenly, he pounced, and the rabbit lay lifelessly on the ground. 

Twig had a way of doing things, a way of getting things done. He smiled to himself, comforted by the thought, and slung the dead rabbit over his shoulder. He then took two rocks, violently struck them together, and happily watched the sparks appear. Eventually, a fire billowed up from a pile of branches and dead leaves, and Twig threw the rabbit in, watching the flames lick its fur and roast it.

Stomp. Twig turned his head. He knew that sound. It was the sound of violence, the sound of gunshots, the sound of fear and misunderstanding. It was the sound of humans. He bolted, not bothering to put out the fire and take the rabbit. As Twig sprinted, he heard the gruff voices of hunters echoing in the distance.

“A fire!” one shouted. “Someone was here.”

“Nevermind, just continue. We aren’t detectives. We’re hunters. Now let’s get a move on.”

Twig stopped. Hunter, he thought. He didn’t have the word for what he felt, but the image of the fire he had roasted the rabbit in flared up in his mind. He stowed “hunter” away with “human” in the back of his brain. Twig had been collecting words over the years, and his vocabulary was growing. He had gathered words like “gun,” “kill,” “stag,” “dinner,” “idiot,” and “twig,” the name he had picked for himself without knowledge of its meaning. Twig didn’t know what idiot meant either, but he liked the sound of it.

Twig knew he was somewhat human, but he didn’t like to think of himself that way. Afterall, humans did terrible things like abandon their children in the woods with nothing but a small parcel of food and a threadbare blanket and kill animals for entertainment. He did not know much, but he did know that he would never ever go back to his life with his parents, where he would surely live in a dismal grey box with a little clear square as his only way to see the outside world. No, Twig was perfectly fine here in the forest, with rabbits and deer and owls for company. He wanted to stay, and if he could outrun a bear, he could certainly outrun a human.

In the distance, the sun was setting and casting a fiery glow. Twig used the sun and sky as a clock. He knew that even if he had a real one, he wouldn’t be able to understand the confusing numbers he often heard hunters shouting back and forth to their companions. 

Twig lay out a heap of dead leaves on the forest floor and settled into the pile under the protection of a large tree. His dinner was gone, and most of the forest creatures were nestled into their hideaways by now, so Twig reluctantly accepted his grumbling stomach and fell asleep under the pale light of the stars.

Chapter Two

Twig was awake at the crack of dawn the next morning to find breakfast. Although he did not have a mirror, he knew he was getting thinner, because his ribs were visible through his stomach. He scampered up the tree he had slept under and crouched at the top, turning in a circle slowly and scanning the scene below. 

Empty again, but wait… there it was! A streak of white against the greens and browns of the forest floor. It was running fast, and in a flash, Twig was out of the tree and chasing the rabbit. Leaping over logs, splashing through ponds, swinging on low branches, the young boy was only human in appearance. But the rabbit was like lightning, for he had animal blood. The wild chase abruptly ended when Twig realized that he would not catch the rabbit, and he sat back in defeat. Suddenly, he realized why everything was so difficult. He was a boy, not an animal, a boy with no place to go. He felt his eyes grow wet, and a single tear rolled down his cheek.

Why, he thought miserably, doesn’t anybody want me? My parents don’t want me, the forest doesn’t want me. My whole life I’ve wanted to belong, but I don’t seem to anywhere. I’m a fake– a boy pretending to be an animal to fit in. That’s what I am, a fake! A lonely fake. Of course, Twig thought all of this with his emotions, instead of the correct words.

Suddenly, he stood, fists clenched and palms sweaty. Twig began to walk swiftly, and his brusque pace gradually turned into a run. Hot tears streamed down his face, and the wind whipped his long, ungroomed hair around, but Twig didn’t care. He ran and ran until his feet were sore and his back ached, but still he didn’t stop. Twig ran until the sun had melted into the horizon, and stars began to peek through the black blanket of sky. As a cloud drifted across the sliver of moon, Twig finally stopped. It was too dark to see anything, so he lay beneath the endless sky and cried himself to sleep.

Chapter Three

When Twig woke the next morning, he heard voices chattering and laughing. Something growled like a starved bear, and someone else yelled out a word angrily that cracked like a falling branch. Ladies shrieked, dogs barked, and wheels crunched on a gravel road. Twig curiously peeked around a tree, and almost toppled over in surprise.

Before him, was a long road, with buildings and carriages and people. So many humans! Twig had never seen so many in one place before. He longed to touch the colorful hats that delicately perched on the ladies’ heads, and the gleaming gold watches clasped around the men’s wrists. The road was half carriages, half automobiles, and Twig jumped back in surprise at the loud angry sound they made. Was there a hungry bear hidden inside? 

This place is strange, thought Twig, but he stopped all questioning when a delicious scent wafted through the air. He turned towards a stand full of rainbow scoops on brown triangles.

“Ice cream, ice cream,” a man was calling out. “Cold fresh ice cream!”

Twig didn’t know what ice or cream was, but the colors were so vivid and appealing that he was up and running in seconds flat. Twig sprinted towards the stand and right into the middle of the street. A horse whinnied and a shining black automobile screeched to a halt. Another horse with a coat of caramel began to act up, and soon he was galloping down the street and neighing noisily.

“Hey, come back here you lousy beast!” screamed a man, shaking his fist furiously. He turned to Twig. “You vile, disgusting little child. How dare you scare my horse! You just wait till your mother finds out about this!”

Twig stared at the man blankly. Then, he lifted a finger to point at the man and said weakly, “idiot.”

There was a moment of tense silence as the man’s sweaty face grew a deep shade of purple. “What did you just call me?” he roared.

“Idiot,” he repeated, this time with more confidence. Twig did not know why the man was so angry, but he decided it was not worth losing time and ice cream over, so he walked away, leaving the man sputtering behind him.

Chapter Four

The refined ladies and gentleman looked down in horror at the small, dirty, half naked boy walking confidently through the streets. On the outside, Twig remained calm, but on the inside, he was petrified. The truth was, Twig would’ve given anything to return to his home in the forest, but he knew he didn’t belong there. Although it was painful to think about, Twig wondered if he could fit in here, in the big city full of ice cream and horses and screaming men. It would have seemed completely out of the question just two days ago, but Twig was changing, and so were the possibilities.

“Excuse me little boy, are you lost?” asked a lady. She was short and round, with a feathered hat and a skirt so enormous Twig wondered what she was hiding in it. “Are you lost?” she repeated.

“Lost,” said Twig flatly. “I am lost.”

The lady looked oddly at Twig. “Well uh… my name is Ms. Thompson. What is your name, little boy?”


“And what on earth are you doing here without a guardian and dressed in nothing but an animal skin loincloth?

Twig looked down at the cloth tied around his waist. He hesitated, but remembered that Ms. Thompson was the only person who had shown him kindness. So he told her everything, from his abandonment to his arriving in the city. Surprisingly, there was not much to tell, but nonetheless, Ms. Thompson stood there gaping and wide-eyed.

Finally she said, “Well… Twig, why don’t you come with me to my house and we can get you all cleaned up. And for goodness sakes, when did you last take a bath?”

Twig just shook his head.

Ms. Thompson copied the gesture, this time in exasperation. And mumbling to herself about how unhygienic children were, she rushed ahead, Twig following close behind.

When they arrived at Ms. Thompson’s house, Twig gasped. It was very different from his pile of leaves at home. The house was bright white and guarded by sturdy pillars. A staircase lead to the ornately carved entrance, and Twig found himself eagerly running up the marble steps. Inside, the mansion was even more breathtaking. The carpet was plush, the curtains were scarlet, vases of exquisite flowers were placed on every surface, and a glittering chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling. It sparkled and glistened, and Twig couldn’t tear his eyes away.

“Stars,” he said softly, remembering how brightly the stars had shone in the forest.

Ms. Thompson smiled. “Now then, let’s get you into the bathtub. You’re stinking up the place.”

Twig didn’t like the sound of bathtub, so he decided to show Ms. Thompson he was perfectly capable of cleaning himself. He lifted his arm to his mouth and began licking the grime and dirt away.

Ms. Thompson shrieked. “Stop doing that at once! If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were an animal!”

I thought I was one too, thought Twig as he let his arm drop to his side. Although he was surprised by Ms. Thompson’s sudden outburst, her tone softened when she said, “My daughter will see to it that you are clean and well fed.”

Suddenly, she yelled, “My darling little girl!” in a tone so squeaky and high-pitched Twig fought the urge to cover his ears. 

When he looked up, a lovely woman was gliding down the tall, winding staircase. Her skin was so translucent, it looked as if it was made of starlight, and Twig wanted to leap into her arms and be buried in the folds of her satin skirts. She smiled warmly at him and spoke in a gentle voice, lightly laced with an English accent. 

After Ms. Thompson told her Twig’s story, a look of worry came over her face. “And you haven’t offered him anything to eat, Mother? It’s as if you’ve never had guests before! You poor thing, you must be starved. Here, try this.” The beautiful woman handed Twig a little pink circle with a strawberry in the middle. Twig bit into it, and was flooded with its sweetness. He immediately scarfed down the rest.

The woman smiled again and held out her dainty hand. “Come along now, you must be washed and groomed.”

Twig obligingly followed her up the staircase and to a white tiled room. In the middle of the room, was a polished white tub, with little silver bars and various bottles of pastel, good smelling stuff.

“You may call me Ms. Lily. What is your name?” asked the woman.

Twig looked down at his feet, ashamed of his dirty face and odd name. “Twig,” he said softly. 

To his surprise, Ms. Lily giggled gleefully. “What a wonderful name!” she said. “And what a wonderful little boy you are!” Twig felt his cheeks grow hot and he kept his eyes glued to the ground. This perfect woman had called him wonderful.

Ms. Lily turned one of the bars, and at once a waterfall gushed out. Twig jumped back, then cautiously peeked over the side of the tub, expecting to see little red fish darting around in the clear water. But instead, all he saw was the bottom of the tub. What was this magical place, where fresh water appeared every time you turned a handle?

Ms. Lily interrupted his thoughts by ordering him to undress and step into the bathtub. Twig did this too with much caution, but when the warm water pooled around him, and the lavender scented shampoo bubbled and frothed, Twig closed his eyes and melted into the water. He was instructed to wash himself with the soap, (the little white square) and scrub his hair with shampoo and conditioner, (the bottles of pale yellow and green). Twig took the soap and breathed in its scent. It smelled like the wild berries he had eaten in the forest. He longed to taste their tangy sweetness again, so he took a big bite of the soap. He immediately spit it out, disgusted. It did not taste like berries. Why was everything so confusing here?

When Twig finished bathing and was dried, Ms. Lily ducked into something called a closet, and Twig began to worry when she didn’t reappear. Finally, she came out, holding a pair of navy pants and a matching blazer. 

“We’ll need to buy you a bow tie for this,” she said matter of factly, and Twig nodded along although he had no idea what a bow tie was. He took the clothing, and following Ms. Lily’s directions, tugged on the pants, fumbled with the buttons on the shirt, and slipped on the blazer. The clothes felt itchy and stiff against his skin, but even worse were the black shoes. They were tight and squeezed his toes all together. How would he run in these? 

But he was rewarded for all of his discomfort when he stepped out and saw Ms. Lily. Tears came into her eyes as she said, “Oh my, you look just like him. Both so handsome…”

Twig tilted his head in confusion.

“Oh, he was my brother. He died of pneumonia three years ago. It’s nothing really. You mustn’t concern yourself with it.” But despite her comforting words, Ms. Lily continued her weeping. 

Twig walked to her, and slowly put his arms around her. For a moment, there was a break in her tears as she rested her hand on his cheek. Twig closed his eyes and felt her cool skin. Tears trickled down his cheeks as he remembered all he had lost. But then he remembered all he had gained, and he wrapped himself tighter around Ms. Lily. She stroked his cheek lovingly. 

“My beautiful boy,” she said softly. “My beautiful, beautiful boy…”

Chapter Five

Finally. Twig was needed. He was loved. He belonged. He really, truly, belonged. It had been almost a year since he had first arrived in the city, and already Twig was adapting to its strange ways. True, he started out eating meals by putting his face into the plate and eating the food like an animal. But eventually, he learned to use silverware. He learned to do all kinds of wonderful things, like cook and dance and sing and play baseball. He even started attending school and talking in full sentences. But perhaps the most wonderful thing of all, was when he learned to read and write.

Twig loved books. He gobbled them up for hours at a time, and he learned from them too. In time, he became intelligent and witty and quick-minded, and when he learned the alphabet, he wrote. He wrote stories of far off lands with witches and dragons and imprisoned princesses and knights in shining armor.

He wrote stories of little boys who were abandoned and lonely, but they were always found and welcomed with open arms in the end. Twig wrote and wrote, and people read his stories. They read them, and they sent in letters, and Twig kept writing, and he knew that one day, he would share his stories with the whole world.

Now, he lived with Ms. Lily and Ms. Thompson in their grand mansion, and he never asked for a single thing. That was, until one day, when he awoke with the feeling that something was missing. Twig went downstairs, and found Ms. Lily and Ms. Thompson chatting. Ms. Lily held a cup of steaming tea, and slowly sipped it as Ms. Thompson talked.

“Twig!” she said with a start. “You’re up early.”

He nodded. “I… I want to go back to the forest.”

Ms. Lily felt her eyes well up with tears, dreading the worst. “What?”

Twig realized his mistake. “Just for a visit,” he added hastily.

Ms. Lily wiped her tears away. “Of course. We leave this afternoon.”

And they did. Twig clutched a trunk and watched the bustling people and buildings fly by as they rode to the edge of the city. 

When they arrived, Twig slowly stepped out of the carriage. He watched a rabbit scamper by, and remembered the day, now so long ago that he had realized he was human, not animal. He took in the sturdy tree trunks dappled by the late afternoon sun, and how the scent of maple seemed to linger everywhere. He breathed in the fresh, pure scent of pine needles, and looked up at the clear blue sky peeking through the tops of the trees.

“Hello again,” said Twig.

Pulling Me Back Under

Everything was quiet.

Everything was still. The hands of the clock shifted letting out a sharp ringing sound alerting everything that it was now three am. The sound echoed throughout the empty house, shaking its walls. Everything stopped, everything stayed still as if it were afraid to breathe. As if it were afraid to scream. Nothing moved as I felt that nothing would, yet I couldn’t help feeling like something would happen. Like something was there watching me, waiting for me to move, breath, or scream. I felt the chills crawl up my spine and into my shoulders. I felt caged in my body, imprisoned, not able to break free. I was standing there still alone in the empty house waiting. Waiting for something to happen, waiting to see it breathe. Still I felt there was something behind me, something about to jump and release me from this trance where I’m stuck, waiting. The clock chimed again. However, when I turned to look it was three am again. The sound chimed another time again. I felt something reach into the depths of my soul, something I had never felt before. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t open my lips. They felt like stone pressed closed not able to move. The clock chimed again. Everything went black. It was as if it were a blink that my eyes had never opened from.

I woke up in my bed dazed and confused. I could not recall whether my dream was a fragment of my imagination or if it was a reality. I could smell the savory smell of bacon coming from the kitchen. I felt chills all over my body. I began to sit up as I rubbed my head, I felt a bump on the back of it. I stood up and walked to the kitchen. I stopped. I was stunned. There she was, cooking bacon. Her soft black hair draping down to her lower back. Her smooth pale skin. She looked so peaceful. She was so quiet. I tried to say something, anything, but my lips were sealed. My legs wouldn’t move, or rather they couldn’t move. She turned around. Her face was so pale and long. She was wearing her white nightgown with the lace hem. It was her favorite. She started walking over to me. Her eyes were white and empty, it felt almost as though you could stare at them for hours and see nothing but emptiness. She touched my face with her long, cold, boney hand. She just stared at me as though she was longing to be there in the moment. She then opened her mouth. I could see her blackened teeth. She reeked of rotting, I felt my nose hairs curl up. She let out a blood curdling scream, and then it all went black. I woke up with my hands grasping my chest. I could hear my heart pounding. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe and I was gasping for air. Finally I realised it was all just a bad dream. 

I looked over at my wooden nightstand to see our wedding photo sitting there. It was just there, like it was calling for me to come home. I thought I put all of my memories of her away. I saw the time on my alarm clock, three am. I wasn’t sure if all of this was a long series of dreams and I am finally awake, or whether I was just stuck in a trance, a paralysis, never to be woken again. It still reeked of rotting. I got up and decided to take a shower to try and calm down. 

I turned the water on and let it run until I saw the steam start to pour out of the curtains, and float up to the ceiling. I stepped into the shower and the water was ice cold. There was steam, but the water was cold. Is this another dream? I thought. I got out to wait for the water to warm up. I looked in the mirror and realised I hadn’t shaved my beard. The mirror started to fog up. I opened it and reached for my shaving cream. I started rubbing it into my beard. I looked down and saw my razor in my hand. It just appeared there, like it was meant to be there. I began to bring the blade to my beard, and watch the hairs fall into the sink. One after the other, as if it were long black rain. I got back into the shower to wash the remaining shaving cream and hairs off. The water was finally warm. Maybe this wasn’t a dream and I was awake again. The water felt good on my skin. All of a sudden the water felt thick and heavy. I looked down to see a thick heavy pool of water. Somehow the water had filled the shower up. I ripped open the curtain to try and get out. The bathroom was still covered in water. It kept rising up and up. I reached for the door trying to escape but it was locked shut. My head was touching the ceiling. Soon I was submerged. I tried to wake up, but I couldn’t. I felt the air run out in my lungs. I turned to see her floating there. She was so beautiful, her hair and nightgown floating up like she was an ethereal creature. Darkness started to close in on me. I felt her soft lips press against mine. I woke up again.

There was a pool of sweat around me. I looked at my alarm and saw it was three am again. This couldn’t be another dream. Why was this happening to me? I got up, grabbed my coat off the foot of my bed, and left my apartment building. The sky was pitch black. There were no stars because they were hiding behind the clouds. The wind swept up the fallen leaves and moved them around through the air as though they were dancing. The streetlamps were flickering and newspapers tumbled around on the ground. I started to walk on the sidewalk. No one was out. I was walking along an empty road filled with abandoned secrets. I started walking along the river. I kept smelling the smell of rotting. Where was it coming from? Was she there? Was she following me? I wasn’t sure. I kept walking faster, scared to look behind me.

There was a tunnel that led to the bridge above the river. I ran to the tunnel, hoping the smell of rotting would not follow me, and she wouldn’t be there. The smell only followed me. I could feel a stream of tears flow out of my eyes and hit my shoulders. The tears felt cold, almost refreshing. I finally reached the bridge and saw blue and red lights flashing up ahead. I thought maybe they could help me. The air felt cooler up here, like a ghost had just walked through your body. The lights kept getting brighter the closer you got to them. My legs felt as though they couldn’t go on much further. My chest hurt and my head was spinning. I finally reached the blue and red lights. They were all gathering towards the right side of the bridge, looking over. There was a big gap in the guardrail. I felt the chills all over my body again. It felt strange this time, almost as though something bad was about to happen. I walked up to them. They all looked sad, however there seemed to be a sort of calmness surrounding them. 

I asked them what had happened. They just stared blankly into the water. One of them asked what had happened, and another one responded that some insane man drove off of the bridge. They then got into their cars and began to drive away. I saw the blue and red lights fade into the distance and then they were gone. I walked across the bridge to the other side, hoping someone over there would help me escape this demon of mine. By the time I reached the town on the other side of the bridge, it was five am. I searched and searched to find someone, anyone who could release me from this pain. As I walked along the sidewalk I heard a bell from behind me. Then I felt something hard hit my head. I turned around to see that there was a boy delivering newspapers on a bicycle. The boy fell over, and I went to go help him up. He looked straight at me, but kept ignoring me. I could tell he did not want my help. 

Once he finally got a hold of it he got up. He hopped on his bicycle and rode away. Now alone I stood there in the dark, in the cold, wondering, waiting. Trying to piece it all together. Maybe I might wake up this time, maybe if I tried hard enough I could go home. I walked over to where the newspaper hit my head. I picked it up and began to read. The chills filled my body again. I felt her. I knew she was near. Why wouldn’t she go away? Why wouldn’t she stop? Tears started to pour out of my eyes and on to the paper. One after the other, weighing the paper down, smearing the ink. Scared for my life, standing there waiting to wake up, wondering how I could wake up, I felt her hand press against my back the way it used to, however it was not the same. It was different. Colder, sadder, lonelier. I felt all of her pain of being alone, all the sadness, all the cold. I continued to read, hoping she would go away. I felt her hand move up to my shoulder, as it fit perfectly into place. It was like we were a puzzle, and all the pieces fit perfectly. I read and read hoping to wake up. The tears kept flowing. The fear kept growing. I stopped. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t speak. My tears stopped running down my cheeks. I didn’t move. The chills were now rapid, crawling all over my body as if they were a nest of ants covering you completely. I turned around to see her, standing there so peacefully. She looked at me and asked if I was ready to go home. I realised I had been running from the truth, and did not remember or know it. The newspaper read: man dead. Drove his car off the bridge into the river. Screaming that he couldn’t live without, his wife. There was a picture of the man. His pale body, his black beard, his lost face. I realised why the boy and the police officers ignored me, why she was here, why the blue and red lights couldn’t help me, why there was a bump on my head.

Everything went dark. Everything was still. Everything stopped, everything stayed still as if it were afraid to breathe. As if it were afraid to scream. Nothing moved as I felt that nothing would. 

Everything was quiet.

Between Four Walls

She, the girl, stands facing sideways towards the mirror, talking fast to distract from the movements she makes, twisting her waist from left to right, her eyes quietly seeking out every imperfection. The mirror is the great enemy. The mirror is the battle. Why does she look so much… doesn’t she know what it reflects by now? Why must one stand for so long looking at a mirror that only reflects what truly is. Or is it possible that one can stand so long looking at the same thing until finally, they forget what the reflection appeared to show in the first place?

What is perfection? Why does everyone want it? It seems much like fog. One is always too far to reach it, but able to get close enough not to abandon it. It is an ever lasting search for satisfaction. Everybody knows they will never find it, but still they continue to look. Maybe they keep looking because if they stop they’ll be faced with the fact that they were looking in the wrong place all along. Or maybe they keep looking because they want to win the battle so much they sacrifice themselves in the process. Maybe.   


A plate unfinished. Peas 60 calories, chicken 150 calories, mashed potatoes 300 calories, with butter 75 calories. Total: 585 calories. Too many. Because if I eat this, the person I like won’t notice me and the dress I like won’t fit me and the friends I talk to everyday will stop talking to me and then I’ll be left with nothing to like about myself. So I’ll eat the peas and half the chicken and pretend I had a really big lunch which was actually just an apple and hide the fact that I want to finish the plate and eat three scoops of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate ice cream which I know is in the freezer. But I can’t because if I do then I’ll have nothing left to like about myself. So I’ll go back to my room and lock the door to return to the mirror. And then it will be just the mirror and myself. I strip naked and count every bone I can see, ribs, collar, and shoulders. This reflection I see, how come it doesn’t please me? I eat less, I workout more, but still I can’t see beauty. Why? 

I step on the scale that I long to see all day. But I have to be quick because if my parents saw me I know they’d be concerned. The numbers on the scale start to form, until I see they have gone done. What a relief, because now I can be sure that all my hard work was not for nothing, and a smile starts to form on my face, and I think to myself of how very good I feel. I wish I could share this with someone. My dad calls me downstairs to finish up the dishes so I cover my body with a baggy sweatshirt so no one can see what is actually underneath. So no one can see the truth.


Control. She needs it. She thrives on it. Because when her life is falling apart the only thing she has left to dominate is herself. That’s why she’s protecting a secret that is slowly killing her. Even though she knows it will hurt people. Even though it hurts herself. So she keeps fighting the enemy and the battle. But what is the battle now? For the mirror is only a reflection of what truly is. There is no one battle, there is no one reason for all the bad things. If there were, it would all be much simpler as there would only be one thing to get rid of. The mirror, the plate, the scale. . . all the battles that need to be fought to achieve beauty and perfection. That’s what she, the girl, keeps telling herself.

“I ‘ll be perfect and then I’ll be okay.”

“I’ll be beautiful and then I’ll be okay.”

But she tried and still she is not okay. Because perfection is like fog, easy to get lost in and never to be reached, and the search for beauty has always been in the wrong place, never to be found. Is it possible the greatest battles were always herself? All along was she her own enemy? After all a mirror only reflects what truly is.


I am tired of looking at the mirror for every imperfection, and I am tired of the scale going up and down, and I am tired of only eating a quarter of my plate. I am tired of hurting everyone including myself. And I’m tired of forgetting everything that once mattered to me. So I will return to my mirror. The battle that I don’t even remember starting in the first place… CRACK

 Suddenly I see thick warm blood beginning to trickle down my knuckles. Sharp pain shooting through my fist which is pressing against the ice cold mirror. I released my hand from the mirror and slowly started to open up my fingers one by one, each one more painful than the last. My hand is shaking in the end, now covered in blood, a deep crimson red. My wrist ached with a rush of pain coursing through my arm. What is this reflection I see now? Who is this person staring back at me? I can see myself, thin body, only enough skin to cover the bones sticking out of me, but only, this time I look, I am covered by a million cracks, running down my face in every direction. Lines running through my left ribs and chest. But more noticeably a large crack cutting down straight through my face. And finally I can see myself, stuck in this webbed mirror. Stuck in this idea of perfection. Is this who I am? Is this my reflection? After all, a mirror only shows what truly is.

Messages in the Wind

I walked into the kitchen and plopped my school bag on the table. After the chilly walk home from school, the vegetable soup heating on the stove smelled delightful.

“Hi Mom!” 

“Hi Emma,” she said unenthusiastically. 

Then I heard my mom’s phone ringing on the counter. I looked down. The name Johnny popped up on the screen. My mom rushed to her phone to pick up it up. She looked at me with a why-are-you-staring-at-my-phone look. I returned the look with a confused stare, grabbed my bag, then walked upstairs and into my dad’s office. Who could Johnny be?

“Hi Dad,” I said. “I’ll be in my room, ok?” 

My dad sat in front of his desktop, lost in thought. “Hi sweetie, how was your day?” he said, looking up.

“It was fine-” Ding! I looked down at the phone on his desk. Johnny. Again. So my dad knew this Johnny guy too? I didn’t have time to see what the message said, because my dad snatched the phone and shooed me away. 

“Shouldn’t you be doing homework?” 

My parents were acting so weirdly these days. I decided to ignore it for now and go up to my room. Maybe Johnny was just an old friend of theirs. 

I made my way to my desk in front of the big window facing the sea. It’s my favorite place to relax. The window gives me a nice view of our small neighborhood and the Scottish beaches of the Isle of Mull. I opened it to let in the fresh ocean air. 

I took my worksheet out of my folder. Great. Conjugation. My favorite. I sighed. J’aurais, tu aurais, il, elle, on aur-” Suddenly, a flutter outside my window caught my eye and I saw a paper airplane fall into the garden. I opened the window farther and tried to find where the plane had come from, but there was no sign of anybody except my dog, Tanzie, playing in the water with my older brother Mike. He was visiting from his first year of university and he wouldn’t throw a paper airplane at my window. I knew I should finish my conjugations, but I felt intrigued—and a little bit bored with french—and decided to go get the plane. I wandered down to the garden and found it in a flower bed.

When I picked it up, I saw it was made from part of a map. Why a map? It looked a lot like my neighborhood, and I could see something that looked like directions. I climbed the stairs back up to my room where I spread the plane out and unfolded it on my desk. Someone had indeed made the plane out of a map, the kind you find in guidebooks, but I couldn’t find any other information and the directions went off the page. It was interesting, but it wasn’t going to help me with my French so I went back to my conjugation.

But later, during the night, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. I had so many questions: Where did the map come from? Would I ever get the other part of the map? Also, who was Johnny? And why were my parents acting so oddly all of a sudden? All those questions exhausted me and I finally fell asleep. 

The next day, my parents behaved as if nothing weird was happening. 

“Good morning Honey!” said my dad, setting a bottle of maple syrup on the rough pine farm table.“I made you french toast. I love that yellow dress!”

“Hey Little Sis!” said Mike, scratching Tanzie’s neck as he sat in his usual spot across from mine.

“Morning, thanks,” I said, sitting down. Not sure if I was thanking Dad for the french toast, the complement, or both. I ate my French toast then walked to our small local middle school. It was a normal school day; maths, english, music, French, and P.E. 

That afternoon, I planned on going to play with Tanzie, my border collie after finishing my homework. After thirty minutes of solving algebraic equations, I saw another flicker in the corner of my vision. My heart beat faster – could it be another map? I rushed down to the garden and grabbed the paper airplane and unfolded it. Another part of the same map! I ran back up to my room and tried to put the two pieces of map together: They fit! But the map was still incomplete. The directions still ran off the page.

Every day that week, I looked forward to coming home from school and getting more and more pieces of the map. After five days, I finally put the final pieces together, I noticed something odd at the bottom of the last piece of the map. I looked more closely and was shocked to find a signature: Johnny. “Oh. My. Goodness.” I murmured. “How..? What…?” I needed to talk to my parents. They couldn’t hide things from me anymore.

I walked into the living room, where Dad read his newspaper and Mom and Mike watched a cooking show on TV. “Mom, Dad, Mike, I think we need to talk.” We gathered around the dining room table. My parents looked worried and my brother just looked confused. 

“I’ve noticed some weird behavior from you, Mom and Dad,” I began. “First of all, the name Johnny keeps popping up on your phones. And then there’s this.”

 I spread the taped-together map out on the coffee table in front of the sofa and pointed to the signature. Their worried expressions told me they had been expecting whatever this was, but weren’t ready. “Can you please tell me who this Johnny guy is, and why he’s been sending me these parts of a map?” 

My parents exchanged looks and muttered something to each other. 

“Hello? Can you answer me please?!” 

They quickly looked back at me, and my mom said “Oh Honey, we’re all sorry. We think you should find that out yourself by following that map.” 

“Wait. ‘we’re all’?! Are you saying Mike knows what this is this about? And why are you sorry?” I felt nearly ready to explode—confused, shocked, and enraged all at once. 

“Calm down!” My dad said, defensively. Yes, he knew. “Fine, I’ll explain: Before- ” 

My mom cut him off. “Stop! No. We need to let Johnny explain. It’s his story.” 

“Fine. If you won’t tell me, I’ll go figure it out myself.” I snatched the map off the table, grabbed my coat off the hook by the door and stomped out slamming the door behind me. 

I followed the directions and it brought me to the market. I saw a boy, maybe twenty years old, who looked a lot like Mike, standing apart from the small crowd shopping for fresh seafood at the stalls. He seemed to be looking for somebody and when he spotted me and walked carefully over, as if he didn’t want to frighten me.

“Emma? Is that you?”

 I felt confused. “Who are you!?” 

He ignored my question. “I see you got my airplanes” 

“Who are you?!!” I repeated, louder now. 

“My name is Johnny. I’m your brother.” 

I stood, shocked and speechless.

“Let’s sit down on that bench and I’ll explain everything.”

“A few years before our father met your mom, he met a woman called Rose. She got pregnant with me, and when I was born, Rose left our father. She took me with her and we never saw him again. Then our father met your mom and had you and Mike, but my mother never told me I had a sister and brother.” He sighed sadly.

“When I turned thirteen, my mom had to leave me for the military and my grandma took me in, but she died six months later. It was quite a shock for me and it left me scarred. Social workers took me to an orphanage in Harris. My mother never came back and no families adopted me. When I turned eighteen, they let me leave and I got a job at a public library. A friend agreed to let me sleep at his house.” 

What a terrible story, I thought. How could he go through all of that with only one friend?

“But how did you know about my family?” I asked, not wanting to hurt his feelings—he was already scarred for life.

“I started doing research because I wanted to find my father. I got a lot of help from friends and co-workers, but it took me two years. When I found him—last week—I got extremely excited and I called him. He didn’t believe it. He told your mom and your brother, but apparently not you.”

“Wasn’t Mom shocked or furious?” I asked, confused.

“She knew about me when she met our dad, but it was shocking to learn I wanted to come back. It took some persuading but she agreed.” 

“Oh,” I said, still not having all the answers I wanted. “But why did you send me those paper airplanes with the map?”

“Your parents didn’t want to tell you because they felt embarrassed that they hadn’t mentioned anything earlier. We agreed to let you figure it out by yourself and I must say, it was a pretty bad idea.” He chuckled. “I hope you’ll forgive us.”

I stammered. “I…I forgive you.” 

We walked home in silence, thoughts swirling around in my head. Why hadn’t I sensed I had a long lost sibling before? Did my parents know his mom left him? Why had they told Mike and not me? All these thoughts had distracted me and soon we were already home. We entered the living room and my family came to hug us.

“We’re so, so sorry,” said Mom

“Guys, it’s all good,” I said, comforting them.

“Let’s make dinner,” said my dad, “as a family.”

We all agreed and Johnny and I helped Mike make pasta bolognese while mom and dad set the table. We told funny stories and got really close with Johnny. 

“One, two, three—”


At Easter holidays, my whole family had decided to go to Edinburgh to celebrate our reunion. We sat beside Edinburgh Castle, beaming at the camera and we probably looked like the happiest family in the city, because we were! My family felt complete and we all had decided that we wouldn’t keep secrets anymore. I never wanted this moment to end. I looked up and saw Johnny, smiling at me, mouthing, “thank you.”

Normar at Dawn

He left early morning, before the sun had even thought of rising. He took the bag he packed last night and was gone. The squeaky stairs and door were a ghost of a sound to the rest of us as we slept soundly. He said he didn’t want us to see him leave, that it would be easier for everybody. Or that’s what he wrote on the little scrap of paper he left behind. I disagree. I grab the other letter he left, the one with my name written on it in blue ink, and quietly leave the house.

I run as fast as my legs can take me down to the port, dodging crates of fish and clams that are being carted up from the fishing boats. They ooze a salty smell that I have grown up surrounded by, that everyone here has. I weave my way between merchants, whose carts are piled high with barrels of seafood, bags full of salt, and piles of sail cloth and rope. They will leave Normar at sun set. 

Precious few outsiders stay in Normar for long; there is nothing for them here. Job opportunities are few and far between. Most of us are sailors and fishermen, at sea all day from dawn to dusk, sometimes longer. The rest are traders, weavers, shipwrights, glass blowers. Our town is one built around the sea: there are no cobblers, for leather will only be ruined by the water; no silversmiths, for the metal will simply tarnish. Those who are born here though, often stay for a lifetime, for generations. Sons and daughters learning their trades as they watch their parents perform them. 

But Normar is no place for artists, for writers or scientists. Many townspeople would have hired my brother, for his deft hands or sharp eyes, but he didn’t want to spend his life here. It made sense; of course Normar is no place for an artist like him. His creativity is wasted here. So he’s on a boat, preparing to go somewhere new, to London, then maybe even Paris. He’ll probably never return.

The bell on the dock begins to clang adding to the cacophony of the streets. I turn sharply, towards the sound. It signals ten minutes to the next ship’s departure, my brother’s departure. I, like all the other people of Normar, know the sound by heart. I can tell you when it signals an arrival, a departure, or simply the time of day. Some things you learn by living. 

I stand at the edge of town center, on the brink of complete chaos. There are vendors who sell their products out of the bottom floors of their homes, pushing out farther into the street than they have a right to. Donkey carts positioned at opposing angles, making it difficult to get through. I dive in head first, side stepping children playing tag, ducking through conversations, and dodging the brooms and canes of men and women fending off the hordes of hungry seagulls. The air is filled with shouting, disgruntled neighbors and competing merchants. They are accompanied by a clatter of wood and metal. I step out of the chaos, not entirely unscathed, but in relatively good shape. I check my pockets quickly to make sure that his letter wasn’t stolen.

I hear someone shout my name and I wave a friendly hello, still walking quickly towards the seashore. I step onto a side street and a crash sounds from a few yards away. I quickly pivot towards the source and see a few of my father’s friends, Steve and Martin, I think their names are, struggling to keep a stack of barrels from toppling over.

“Maria!” one of them shouts. “A little help here?”

“Sure thing.”

Quickly, I rush over and take the barrel from him. It is heavier than I am expecting, and he and I both lower it to the ground while he balances another. As the men work, I steady the foundation, ensuring that none of us are crushed beneath the barrels. Judging from their weight, I guess they are full of lobster, so I work with caution. I definitely wouldn’t want to set these little sea devils loose. When we are finally finished, Martin and Steve wave a goodbye as I continue towards the dock. 

My earlier walk is now a run, racing the sun, even though I should have plenty of time. But when I reach the dock, I slow down and when I reach the post, where there is supposed to be a rope tied, mooring the ship to land, I come to a full stop. I see the boat already much too far from port, the sails out and full of wind, blowing him away from me.

 He said it would be easier like this. How can a single envelope be easier? With its messy white seal and chicken scratch writing. It’s not better. Two pieces of paper aren’t better. A letter telling me how much he cared about me, and I know it’s selfish but I can’t help but think that if he really cared he would have stayed. Sailors bustle around, continuing their work as I unfold the other leaf of paper. It’s a portrait of both of us, his arm over my shoulder. We look so close, and for a moment I forget how far apart we really are.

The Last Robbery


In the small town of Memphis, Tennessee, where the crime rate was high, two robbers simultaneously spotted their next job. 

Paz was slim and worked behind the scenes. She sat on the dirty curb next to a busy street. Traffic screamed in her ears while she scanned a newspaper article. Her face lit up as she found the house waiting to be robbed. A grin spread across her face, and her eyes widened.

Dave was a tall and stocky man. He was very clumsy, which was not a favorable trait for a robber, but he still got away with it. He drank warm coffee from Starbucks in his apartment. He bit his lip when he set eyes on the article. His face dropped as he started the plan.

Lurking in the shadows, a greater evil held the newspaper with a gleam in his eyes.



I sit in my musty apartment, planning my next robbery (and figuring out how to pay rent this month). I know that my neighbors, the Henkins, will leave to go to Hawaii this afternoon. My stomach tingles and I twist my thumbs every time I steal from someone. I’ll spy on the house before I go in.

I go over and decide that they’re gone after a wait in the yellow and green shrubs that seem to trail on forever. I walk around the house, through the gate and into the backyard. My lock picking will take a while, and I don’t want anyone getting suspicious. I figure the other neighbors will be easily convinced that I’m taking care of the Henkins’ lizards. 

I slowly open the kitchen door in the back of the Henkin’s house. The guilt is already creeping around the house with me. I know it’s only a trick on the neighbors, but I do wind up checking on Dexter and Kiwi, the family’s lizards.

“Hi, Dexter! Hi, Kiwi! Do you miss your family? Oooh, yes, you do, yes you do- o,” I say in a baby voice to them.

Acting out Dexter’s rough, made-up voice, I say, “The telephones aren’t working!”

“Oh, Dexter, I might be able to fix those, right after I rob your house okay!” I respond in my normal voice. I chuckle and move away from the terrarium the lizards are kept in. 

I poke my head further into the kitchen, pushing back the thought that I have to do this quickly. A smile slowly spreads across my face every time I enter the Henkins’ house. The kitchen, like the rest of the house, is clean and organized. There are two candles in copper candle holders sitting the same exact distance away from the clear vase in the center of the table. Purple, blue, pink, and yellow flowers spring up from the rim of the vase, growing off of the table, slithering on the ground, and wrapping around my feet like snakes. I blink and rub my eyes and the flowers turn back to normal. Turning around to the living room and leaving the flourishing flowers behind twists my smile into a slight frown, but I have the willpower to leave.

The Henkin’s living room holds a long, curved, brown couch. An oval blue rug lays on the oak floors beside a small glass coffee table.

As I explore the living room, I stumble into the office and gag as the bitter smell of the fresh cleaning supplies drifts up to my nose and races around my head, making my stomach churn. I lift my dark red shirt over my nose and mouth. I trip over a neat stack of books with torn covers of all colors as I walk towards the leather chair in the middle of the room. Sitting on the shining desk are forty-five, eight-inch tall rag dolls of the U.S. presidents. The first one in the row is George Washington; the last is Donald Trump. They all stare my way with their beady button eyes. As I think back to being here six months ago at the house party when they moved in across the street, more guilt swallows me like a wave, swarms me like wasps. Six months ago the books were not on the floor. The spot on the desk which Trump now fills was empty. The bigger white rug that was in the living room has now been replaced with the oval one.

The steps quietly creak as I tiptoe up the stairs and meet the biggest window in the house. The stars have been hidden in the black night outside. I’m so caught up in the exploration of the house that I don’t immediately recognize the sound of the door clicking open.


Dave ran into the nearest closet he could find, in the room of Emma Henkin, the smallest daughter in the Henkin family. The panic that had been following him flooded under the door of the closet, and soaked him with sweat. Was there an actual pet sitter or housekeeper there to check on the house? Would he be caught after everything that he had gone through? He had money once, when he was only six years old, but when his parents died, a storm of dust had ripped them and their fortune away from him. He needed this job. He couldn’t be arrested.


Earlier that day, Paz was at a sketchy restaurant, impatiently waiting for her small salad to be delivered to the window booth she inhabited almost every Wednesday and Saturday. Turning her head to face the window made her nose wrinkle and lips curl up. The window had been smashed in and there was a sheen of dirt coating the cracks.

“Excuse me ma’am, excuse me? Your order is here,” the waitress said in a sing-songy voice. 

Paz snatched the salad and turned away, rolling her eyes. She was not a sing-songy person. She looked down at the pathetic pile of greens and dressing. She rose up from the booth, her legs sticking to the vinyl material of the booth as she stood, lifting the plastic tray of the salad with her. She took slow, long, paces to the black trash can in the corner, which was sitting on the dusty floor. Her eyes scanned the contents of the bin, and her nose wrinkled again.



I push open the creaky blue rimmed door and an evil grin is plastered onto my face as I think about my plans for tonight. I creep around the neighborhood until I reach the house of today’s victims, and push through the gate and to the door.

I begin to take out my lock picking equipment and turn the door handle. It’s not locked. My eyes widen and my face becomes a little more pale. I think about whether I should rob the house or not. I’ve never been wrong before when it comes to telling if a house is rob-able or not. I decide to go in, preparing myself to face anyone inside. 

All of the lights are off, and the house was left clean. I straighten out and silently laugh at myself. I begin to forage through the cabinets and drawers in the kitchen, bending down to reach compartments closer to the white tile on the floors. I have my mind set on finding the house’s pearl. I shift my attention to the living room, ducking as I pass the large windows. There are two bookshelves in the one corner of the room, and a rocking armchair in another. One bookshelf is shorter than the other, and I carefully shove books, big and small, away, as I search the smaller one on my knees. Not there. I stand on my tiptoes and start from the top of the lofty bookshelf. I finish searching the top shelf, the two shelves in the middle, then the bottom shelf. Not there. I fling the cushion off of the armchair, causing it to rock faster. 

I’m about to storm up the stairs, but I soon regain the knowledge that I have to be fast and quiet. Softly, landing my feet on the stairs ahead of them, I go up the stairs. One. Two. Three … Ten. Eleven. Twelve! I quickly duck down in front of the biggest chunk of glass I’ve ever seen in a house.

What a terrible place for something of such value! I think to myself as I feel around the wooden floors. I search the bathroom, the master bedroom. I look everywhere. The shower, nightstands, and dressers. Under the bed, over the bed, and in the closet. Nowhere to be found. The only rooms left in the house are the kids’ bedrooms. Guessing on what the doors of the bedrooms look like, the family has a young girl, and a teenage boy. One door is covered with messy doodles of princesses finding their princes. The other door has a printed out “Keep Out” sign, held on by a measly piece of tape in the top right corner. The cool draft of the AC had caused the sign to tilt, hanging off the door. I quietly cackle as I disregard the sign, entering the boy’s room.

The smell of dirty socks makes me dizzy as soon as I open the door. My stomach swirls, but I proceed on into the room anyways. After poking my head in the closet, reaching my hands into piles of sweaty clothes, and moving around dandruff covered pillows, I still haven’t found the famous item.

My last destination is the little girl’s room. My shoulder’s slump as I pointlessly push open the door. Why would an item of such value be hidden in a foolish, senseless little girl’s room? I think to myself.

I open the closet door and my face lights up as I stare in disbelief at the valuable treasure. I’m still in disbelief, but this time, as I shift my focus a few inches up at the hand grasping the small painting. 

As soon as I recover from the shock, I grasp the baton at my waist and manage to mumble a threat to him.

“This street is my turf,” I say, my voice shaking.

The man looks up at me, meeting my eyes with a confident glare. The traces of confidence in his eyes disappear as he backs up and stumbles over the angry bird figurines in the large closet. I stifle a laugh, wanting him to know that I take my job seriously.

“I’m sorry, are you robbing this house?” he asks.

I answer him with a yes and note the awkwardness of the situation, not knowing what to do next. Should I grab the painting and run?

He speaks again before I can take action, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you should be proud of robbing houses.”

I’m about to say that I’m not, but I realize two things. One, I called the street “my turf.” Two, I am proud of being a quality robber.

“Why shouldn’t I?” I ask in a judgy tone.

“Well it’s just not very nice of you to rob houses.” he responds.

“Excuse me? You’re doing it too!”

“I take no pleasure in it.”

“Why? Being mean and mischievous is awesome!”

“At our age, it’s really not. We should be caring for our community. It’s a little irresponsible of you to think that being mean is a good thing.” I don’t get this guy. He takes the same thing I’m after and then tells me I’m being malicious. Sure it’s mean. Sure, being mean isn’t cool, but he stole it before I did! I love sneaking around, and all of those people who have regular lives are just pathetic.

Memories of the orphanage flash in my head as I see more doodles of the family in the girl’s room. Memories of the trouble I made. Memories of the people who came and left, taking a friend of mine every time. But never me.

This family has something that I never had in me. They love each other. They have lives that are worth saving, and I’m interfering with those lives.


At this moment, another force of evil lurks in the backyard. He wears dark jeans, and a hunter green colored cotton T-shirt. He paces the patio after realizing that the door was yet again, left unlocked. He silently creeps closer to the muffled voices up the stairs and turns the door handle without a sound. He is now thinking sinister thoughts while positioned behind Dave and Paz, who still do not know that he is in the house with them.



I begin to walk out of the closet, but the woman reaches out and stops me. I know she won’t leave until she gets the painting. I freeze up as I turn. My eyes widen and my jaw slightly drops. My face is pale. Beyond her is a taller man who stares directly down at me with a blank expression. He slowly reaches a gloved hand out, expecting me to hand over the painting. He wears a black glove on one hand and nothing on the other. A large hat shades out most of his face, but I can still see his eyes and mouth clearly enough to know that he is made up of pure evil. His eyebrows curve and he glares at me. His eyes hold no shine, like there’s nothing in there, but a black heart.

I tap the woman’s shoulder and point to the man, my mouth still hanging open. She surprises me, and glares right back at him, but his expression doesn’t change and he doesn’t seem the least bit intimidated. 

The woman reaches for her baton as we reach a silent agreement. She takes a step towards the man and swings her baton towards him. He lifts the gloved hand, blocking it from touching his head. I leap forward in an attempt to tackle him, but again, his hand reaches up and pushes me onto the floor. The woman and I meet eyes. We nod, and spring forward, pouncing on the man and taking him down to the ground. The hard floors knock him unconscious and we use our socks and a few ropes from Emma’s closet to tie him up.

“By the way, I’m Paz,” the woman says.

“I’m Dave.”

We leave the house and carry the criminal to her car, opening the door and shoving him in. Paz gets in the driver’s seat and I get in the passenger seat, but the moment we turn around, he’s gone. We look around, but he’s nowhere to be found.

We pinky swear to never steal again.


5 years later…

Dave and Paz sit at the outdoor mesh table reading the news. A criminal named Randy Bluett had recently been caught. They exchange glances and grin, their eyes gleaming. Dave had taken the wallet of the criminal they had encountered on their last robbery five years ago. Some of the name had been scratched out, but he could read “Randy Bluett”. Dave drinks a latte and Paz drinks black coffee. Dave pays and Paz gets up and heads to work after saying goodbye to Dave. Paz now works as an author. Most of her stories are about robbers who have great adventures. Dave works as a fortune cookie writer. He gives great fortunes to bad people. It will get better . . . after you learn your lesson. Dave and Paz are the only people who know about their pasts. Besides the Henkins . . .

Someone Like You

I live in area 423, for only Jewish white people. Twenty years ago, the Federal West segregated everyone by religion and race. Each area is surrounded by a gate. If you get caught going past it or being with anyone in another area, you will be punished. Sneaking out last night was one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made. I’ve snuck out before, but last night, last night was different.

I walked to school every day like usual. My high school is ten blocks away from my home, but today I felt sick to my stomach. It was my last day of junior year. I stopped at Quart Street to wait for Rory, my forever best friend. Rory and I have been inseparable since kindergarten. I can tell her anything and everything on my mind. We walked to school in silence. Neither of us wanted to talk about what happened last night. 

Last night me, Rory, her boyfriend Keith, and his friend Phil went to the gate to celebrate the last night before the last day of school. Everyone goes to the gate to hang out, but mostly to smoke and take drugs. I’d been there before. I snuck out at twelve, careful to keep silent as I opened the window and reached for the rope I had previously tied to my window frame. I walked down the silent streets of 423. Getting caught outside after 8:00 could result in jail time, but in 423, it was easy to sneak around. Rory and Keith were already there and Phil was in the corner smoking some new drug.

“Lena!” Rory jumped up and gave me a hug. I sat down next to her. As soon as I sat down, I heard a rattling sound. I turned around and saw Phil climbing up the gate to area 907. I sat there astonished at his stupidity.

“Get down idiot,” Keith yelled. Phil got to the top of the gate, ducked under the barbed wire, and climbed down the other side. 

“Fuck society,” he yelled and walked away into the darkness. The three of us stood there, shocked, and frozen. We slowly walked towards our homes, knowing if we went after him or reported him, we’d all be doomed. 

So, that’s why Rory and I walked to school in silence. We started to hear the screams of the kids at our school. Every yell, every shout, reminding me about last night. I was so dazed that I hadn’t noticed that Rory stopped. 

“Lena?” Rory said quietly.

“Yeah?” I turned around to face her. Her eyes were red. She must have been crying a lot. “Are you okay?” 

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“Rory, I-I don’t know. I hope he does.”

She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “Okay.” I could tell that my answer wasn’t the answer she was looking for. We walked the rest of the way to school, pushing our sorrows away and putting on our fake smiles. 

I sat down in math class, middle-left side. Mr. Fitzgerald walked in and sat down. The bell rang and Mr. Fitzgerald turned on a movie and went on his phone. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around. There sat the incredibly hot and gorgeous Matt. Matt was on the baseball team and always played the lead in the musical.

“Hey Matt,” I said awkwardly as I faced him, his deep blue eyes staring back at me. 

“Are you okay?” He asked me.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” I responded with my cheesiest grin, my voice only shaking a little bit. 

He lowered his voice. “I know what happened last night.” My heart stopped, my brain froze, and I died a little inside.

“Keith told me,” he said. Of course Keith told him. Matt and Keith told each other everything, at least that’s what Rory told me. Matt and Keith were the male version of me and Rory, except I knew Keith before Rory. I practically set them up.

“Earth to Lena,” Matt’s gentle voice whispered to me. I felt myself come back and I looked at him. “Lena, I’m here for you,” he said and reached for my hand. We sat there speechless for a while. I sat there going through the events of last night. The bell rang and my body jolted. I didn’t even realize that I was still holding onto Matt’s hand. He smiled shyly at me, and I smiled back. We walked out of the room, and I dropped Matt’s hand immediately. Rory was sitting on the floor bawling with a note in her hand. I quickly sat down and gave her a hug. 

“Rory, what’s wrong?” I asked, concerned and worried. She looked at me, her makeup dripping down her face.

 “I-it’s Keith,” she muttered between sobs, “he went to join the rebellion.”

DIY Shopping

Shopping List

1. milk   x

2. cookies  x

3. pony       x

4. paint    x

5. pillow    x

6. unicorn   x

7. book    x

8. camera    x

9. a grape (one singular grape)   x

10. spinning wheel  x

This morning, my personal shopper quit. She said I bought too much stuff and she just couldn’t take it anymore.

I was like, “It’s your job though.” Then she hung up. Now I have to buy everything on the shopping list for tonight’s gala. The first thing on the list is milk. I forget why I needed milk. Oh! I remember because cows and horses are related, I read that in an article. Cows make milk, and so… horses must drink milk, which means ponies must drink milk, and a pony is on my list. 

“I’m so smart,” I said to myself. So I got into an Uber and headed to the grocery store. I went to the dairy fridge and saw so many brands of milk, so I took one of each. Organic Valley, Horizon, Borden, coconut milk, almond milk. I looked at the list and saw cookies after milk. So I went to the snack aisle. Again, too many brands of cookies. I felt overwhelmed. I finally understood The Bachelorette. The cookies were all the guys. I actually know the girl on The Bachelorette right now and she told me what it’s like. This is obviously more stressful though. So I took out my phone and searched up best cookie brand. Nice! was the best one but Fairway doesn’t have it. I kept going down the list and nothing was here, finally I resorted to the last brand on the list, Chips Ahoy. They didn’t even have the original one. They only had chewy. I tossed the chewy cookies into my cart and moved on. I looked through the list and saw that the only thing left that I could get at Fairway involved shoplifting and the risk of jail. I needed a single… grape. I unsuspiciously moonwalked to the fruit aisle, trying not to attract any attention to myself. I began looking at grapes, trying to find the least bruised one. I needed the perfect grape. I discreetly searched the grape packages. 

“Finally!” I shouted out loud. Instead of having one of my many head voices say it for me in my head. Some old people looked at me, 

“Sorry, sorry,” I whispered. I tucked the grape into my pocket while being very sly. I took my cart to the register. I started taking out all the milks, 16 in total. Then I took out the crinkly Chips Ahoy bag. I began to sweat when the lady started to speak. 

“Would you like a cooler bag for an extra four dollars for all your… milk? Or would you like a normal bag for an extra fifty cents or would you like a plastic bag for no extra charge?” 

“C-cooler um bag,” I stuttered. My armpits were getting really sweaty, like that time I met Justin Bieber and he hugged me and then he made a gross face because I was really sweaty. Don’t worry. I’m still a Belieber. She started scanning everything and putting everything in a cooler bag. I handed her my credit card and she slid the card into the machine. Finally it was over. She handed the card back to me and I took the bag. I speed walked to the security alarm and took a deep breath. I stepped across and the beeps began. Beep. Beep. Beep. I stood in place as guards surrounded me. They had mini scanners in their hands and they cornered me. My only exit was the door. I backed up as they closed in on me. Then the automatic doors opened for a cute old lady. That was my exit! I was free. I ran backwards and then spun around so I was running facing forward. I ran to some bushes and called an Uber. After four minutes of waiting, I saw the car stop in front of the grocery store. The guards were busy searching behind cars in the parking lot, so I took a rushed breath and sprinted to the Uber. I opened the car door, breathing heavily and tried acting very calm, “Hi, Danny?”  I said with a breathless voice.

“Yes, Alisha?”


The car began moving and we headed to Home Depot. I said goodbye to Danny and entered the wonderful world of Home Depot. The first thing I saw were toilet seats. Then pipes came into view and then finally big buckets of paint. Why did I have to be so vague on the shopping list? Then it hit me… because I was mean to all my assistants. Maybe that’s why she quit. Rude. I set my shopping bags down and looked through the paint. Pink, blue, orange, red, magenta, maroon, brown, black, grey. I decided to get the grey paint because it’s a neutral color and the gala is called The Grey Life. Everyone has to wear grey so all the decorations pop out. I put the grey paint bucket in the cart and put my shopping bags in there too. I went to the comfort section of home depot. The next thing on the list were pillows. I had a specific pillow in mind despite the vagueness of the list. SmartHome Bedding Super Plush Pillow. It’s my favorite pillow of all time. 

I searched through the shelves and shelves of pillows but there was no sign of my SmartHome Bedding Super Plush Pillows. I resorted to an average pillow with some pink on it. I placed it in the cart and headed to the cash register. The scrawny man scanned the stuff and I went through the boring paying process. I ordered another Uber and checked the list for what was left. I needed a book and a camera. We were heading to Barnes and Noble. We got there and I entered the store. I was slow because of all the bags I was carrying but I pushed through. I took out my phone and took a selfie on the gram. Took a photo of all the bags and put it on my story, #thestruggleisreal.

I was going to get 50 Shades of Grey. A classic, definitely my favorite book of all time. It also went with the theme, just an added bonus. I found it in the romance section. I plopped it in the cart and then I went to the other section of the shop. It was called… other. I looked for one of those pretty polaroid cameras. Thankfully I found a bright pink one. It will really pop. I put it in there. Paid. You know the drill. Except, the sweet old lady who was in Fairway was in the romance section. I saw her when I was leaving and so I hid behind a tall man on the escalator. I ran up with all my strength and suddenly I smelled Shake Shack. The delicious smell of milkshakes and burgers and fries filled my nostrils. My head voices started talking. “Go eat it.”

“No, you have a gala to plan.”

“It smells good. Go. Eat. The. Goddamn. Burger.” 

“No! No! No! No!”

“I shouldn’t. But it tastes so good,” I said. 

“I can’t!!!”

Imagine a lady with a bunch of bags filled with random stuff talking to herself. Now you get it. People started moving away from me. 

I took out my phone once again and called another Uber. The dropoff location was the Apple store on fifth. It was near the horse carriages all the tourists love. The guy dropped me off and I walked across the street to the carriages. I went up to the first guy. He looked like Jack from Mary Poppins. 

“Is your horse for sale?” 


“Can you make it for sale?”


“Do any of these people have ponies?”

“Yes. All the small ones.”

“All the small people or all the small horse looking ponies?”

“You pick.”


“Go away.”

I went to the next guy, “Is this a pony?”


“Can I have it?” 


“You’re just like the last guy.”

“Are you calling me a potato?”

“What? No.”

“All Grumpy Joe eats are potatoes.”

“Is your pony for sale?”


“How much is it?”

“An apology from you.”

“I’m sorry. Ok, can I have the pony now?”

“Make it sincere.”

“I’m so so sorry for calling you a maybe potato.”

“She’s all yours.”

I took the pony’s leash and climbed onto it. “78th and 3rd,” I said. The horse was still. “Move!” I screamed at the horse. People started looking at me. “Can someone help me move this pony?!”

Fast forward to when I finally got the pony to move. I dropped all the stuff at home. The last two things on my list were a spinning wheel and a unicorn. 

“How the heck do I get a unicorn?” I asked myself. I called an Uber and said hi. I took out my trusty mini bat and whacked him in the head. I only knocked him out for a little bit. 

“Sorry.” I mumbled. 

I got out of the car and took out my phone, dialing the number of my trusty car mechanic. I called him over and watched him remove bolts and lift up the car to get the tire. He had another appointment so he rushed off not noticing the Uber driver I had laid on the floor of the car. I got the tire out and left the car in the middle of the empty road. I rolled the tire back to my apartment. Jeff the doorman looked suspicious of the tire but I acted very normal. I said nothing and we made eye contact until the elevator door closed. Like I said, very normal. I hot glued the tire to my pottery wheel. There you go. A DIY spinning wheel.  

The last thing on the list was a unicorn. A majestic, elegant, unicorn. I know! I’ll just go to one of those witch stores. I called a Lyft because Uber isn’t letting me log in. 

The driver came, and he said, “So, you’re one of those people who believe in witches.”

“Nah man, I just need a unicorn.”

“Oh, yeah that makes it normal.”

The rest of the drive was quiet. We finally reached the witch store. I walked into the store and heard the bell ring.

“Hello?” I said, trying to make my voice heard. 

“Whatcha want?” An older woman came into view dressed in leggings and an orange off the shoulder shirt like she just came from an 80’s disco. 

“I need a unicorn.”

She went to the back of the shop. She came back with a stuffed unicorn in her hand. “50 bucks.”

“It’s fake.”

“Since when were unicorns a thing?” 

“Well, I need one.” 

“Go put a horn on a horse.” 

“When have you seen a brown unicorn?”

“Paint it.”

“Good idea.”

I left the shop and went home. When the time was right at the Gala, I would go to the bathroom, dump some paint on the pony, and stick the unicorn horn headband I wore for Halloween last year. 

The shopping list was done. I took a breath of relief. My phone dinged and I checked my phone. The contractor called in sick.

Staggering Impacts of Single-Use Plastic on Human and Environmental Health

Every year, an estimated 182.5 billion plastic straws are used globally. Not only the straws, but also plastic bags and styrofoam cups, create massive amounts of landfill that pollute world oceans and jeopardize the existence of many mammals and sea life in the water. In Canada, there have been major steps made to try and bring the country out of a place of mass pollution and towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. In Justin Trudeau’s statement, he describes the issue of plastic pollution as an issue “we simply cannot ignore”. Following his statement where he aimed to create a community more environmentally aware, Trudeau released the details of a new policy that bans single-use plastic and will be fully enacted before 2021. Trudeau’s confrontation was powerful and brought attention to the plastic crisis. It is also a model for how other countries around the world should be facing the urgency with which they should be recognizing the same issue. Canada’s ban on single-use plastic is critical for other countries to understand and consider implementing since its predicted effect on health concerns related to plastic as well as its potential to decrease plastic’s environmental impact is remarkable. 

Single-use plastic has many more direct impacts on human health than expected and can be surprising for many to hear. Through the life of a single plastic object, there are a few different ways in which the object is harmful. From the production of plastic in a factory, where the gases released from the creation of the material are toxic, to the consumption of foods that are packaged using bisphenol A (BPA), the entire process of both the creation and consumption of plastic is damaging. There have been studies surrounding the many chemical additives used in the production of plastic and the consequences of their presence in the human body on diseases that might form in response. In a study done by the Ecology Center, it was shown that the chemical additives that give plastic products desirable performance properties have negative effects on human health such as disruptions to the endocrine system that cause the growth of cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression and developmental problems in children. The results of studies that show the effects of plastic on human lives can be shocking for those who haven’t previously acknowledged the impact of these products on the health of humans. But the facts of the serious health implications that single-use plastic can have on well-being are much more harsh than the change in lifestyle that can come from removing these plastic objects from our day-to-day lives. While it can be hard to imagine daily life without products such as plastic grocery bags or straws, it is imperative that the health concerns tied to these products are considered. 

Although the concerns relating to human health must be talked about, there are various environmental issues that are also as important and should be mentioned as well. Specifically, one of the main issues with chemically produced plastic is that it can take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to disintegrate. When plastic is disposed of in the ocean and ends up in landfills, it is just staying there and creating islands in the ocean that are made of plastic and not going to decompose since the decomposition rate is so slow. These plastic “islands” appearing in the ocean have serious repercussions for marine life and sea mammals as, many times, these animals confuse plastic pollution for food. Animals like turtles are eating plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish, which is their usual diet. By ingesting these plastics, they suffocate themselves and are dying with a much shorter lifespan than they have been said to have in the past. These larger animals are quickly dying in the wild because of the plastic pollution in the waters. But most of the time, the only time humans are seeing the effects of pollution on wildlife is when the dead animals wash up on a shoreline. However, in addition to the plastic ingestion of larger animals, small sea life such as shrimp and fish are digesting particles called microplastics that are invisible to the naked eye, but can greatly affect human lives as a consequence. In a study done by Debra Lee Magadini at Columbia University’s Earth Observatory Lab, she shows that the microplastics in animals like shrimp are much worse than previously thought. In a single shrimp, she finds that there are hundreds of microplastic particles that clog up the stomach and gut of the individual shrimp. Those same particles would then be ingested by the human consumer of the shrimp and would cause the consumer to ingest the plastic particles. As aforementioned, the consumption of plastics (whether by microplastics or through the digestion of products containing BPA), the human endocrine system, which flushes out toxins from the body, can be seriously damaged. 

There have been countless studies done, articles written, and demonstrations organized that bring to light the many problems with plastic use in the United States and around the world. However, many people tend to block out the information that is being presented to them through these methods of advising the public. The blockade that is created makes it so that the people of societies nationwide aren’t being properly informed and governments aren’t successful at briefing their people. The feeling of urgency that the Canadian government is expressing is quite apparent through their policy making, however, the rest of the world’s response to their change shows the degree to which others realize the power of this ban. Surrounding countries in the Americas as well as Europe admit that there is an issue with plastic, but they don’t seem to understand how massive the negative effects could be of having such harmful materials used on a daily basis. Having plastic be so widely accepted, to the point where it is essentially destroying the world, is an issue that must be solved, but cannot be with the support of only one world nation. 

It is obvious that there is no more time to thoughtlessly consume plastic products and through establishing the ban on single-use plastics, it is clear that the Canadian government understands the importance of acknowledging this complication. The problems pertaining to plastic in oceans and, consequently human bodies worldwide, is an issue that has been lingering and waiting to be talked about. As a major global power, Canada finally took matters into their own hands and created laws that would be curbing the production and use of single-use plastic on Canadian land. Through The fact that Canada is taking initiative and creating a more environmentally friendly mindset for citizens across the country shows the importance of the issue with plastic for Canadians, but also the whole world. There are communities across the globe who understand and urge people around them to recognize the issue, an entire government hoping to bring the information about how bad this crisis really is, is a much larger step towards change in this world. 

Works Cited

BBC. “Canada To Ban Single-Use Plastics As Early As 2021”. 2019. BBC News. Accessed June

18 2019.

Bilefsky, Dan. “Canada Plans To Ban Single-Use Plastics, Joining Growing Global Movement”.

2019. Nytimes.Com. Accessed June 18 2019.

Christensen, Jen. CNN. 2019. “The Amount Of Plastic In The Ocean Is A Lot Worse Than We Thought”. CNN. Accessed June 18 2019.

Ecology Center. “Adverse Health Effects Of Plastics | Ecology Center “. 2019.

Ecologycenter.Org. Accessed June 18 2019.

The Globe and Mail. “Canada’s Single-Use Plastics Ban: What We Know So Far And What You

Can Do To Recycle Better”. 2019. The Globe And Mail. Accessed June 18 2019.

Royte, Elizabeth. “We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life. What About Us?”. 2018. Nationalgeographic.Com. Accessed June 19 2019.

Westcott, Ben. “Canada Plans To Ban ‘Harmful’ Single-Use Plastics By 2021”. CNN. 2019. Accessed June 18 2019.

A New and Improved 2nd Amendment

The constitution is a protective yet society controlling document for the better and worse. The second amendment needs to be revised into a law that applies to our modern world and still protects those who need it. It grants too much freedom and interpretation for firearm owners and others that wish to buy a gun. In 2017 around 40,000 people died from guns and 60% were from suicide (Mervosh, 2018). The states that have the most gun deaths, like Alabama and Texas, (which have over 4,500 gun deaths combined), are the states with some of the loosest regulations (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Every day, one hundred people die from guns, and even more are injured by them (, 2019). This clearly states how disturbed our laws against firearms are throughout all of the fifty states.

The second amendment states that “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” (Nelson, 2018). This means that anyone with an able body can purchase and possess a gun. But the constitution was created many years ago, in the late 1700s, and we are in the 21st century with newer and deadlier weapons. In the late 1700s the people of the United States had recently finished fighting the Revolutionary War. It’s easy to understand why they needed this law. But we live in a modern and civilized world where technologies have advanced immensely and security has improved. There shouldn’t be a need to worry about someone walking into your home, school, or office with a gun and shooting your friends or family. If the second amendment was improved, this would be almost impossible. 

There need to be stronger gun regulations. Any person, twenty one or over, has the right to apply for a background check. The background check needs to be stronger and put within the amendment itself. Most of the states that contain major cities, for example New York and Illinois, have laws against guns and penalties for those who own a gun but fail the test. There are laws in these states that require criminal background checks for all firearms, and there are others that don’t, for instance, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Tennessee. North Carolina and Iowa don’t even keep records of guns purchased (Everytown Gun Law Navigator). One of the main reasons why there is corruption within the gun control system is that the separate state laws are very spread out, and they need to be reformed into one document that applies to all of the states.

The main parts of the second amendment that need to be edited are the following: a well regulated militia. A person that wishes to purchase a gun needs to go through a thorough background check. This involves criminal acts, mental health tests, previous family history, domestic violence, previous jobs, physical health, and a situational, decision-making, diagnostic test. The test may or may not be taken with a lie detector, but that is up to the jurisdiction of the state. This applies to all types of firearms. The “militia” who can apply for a gun must be any person 21 or over, no matter what sex, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or any other identifier.

If this revised version of the Second amendment is put into effect, it is a guarantee that these thousands of deaths will decrease and create a safer environment for ourselves and future generations to come. Gun control is a common discussion topic, but those discussions don’t always involve a solution. Instead of making short term laws or local laws, these new changes are taken right to the source. This will open up new ideas and conversations about not just changing this amendment but our country’s founding document as well. 


“Gun Law Navigator: Compare States.” Everytown Gun Law Navigator. Accessed June 20, 2019.

“Gun Violence in America.” April 11, 2019. Accessed June 20, 2019.

Mervosh, Sarah. “Nearly 40,000 People Died From Guns in U.S. Last Year, Highest in 50 Years.” The New York Times. December 18, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2019.

Nelson, Jeremy. “The Bill of Rights (Amendments 1 – 10).” National Center for Constitutional Studies. January 01, 2018. Accessed June 21, 2019.

“Stats of the States – Firearm Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed June 20, 2019.

Scared of Heights?

Have you ever wondered if you were afraid of heights? Have you ever felt your legs trembling or wanted to crawl on the floor while high up? Do you close your eyes while riding across a bridge with nice scenery? Then you might have acrophobia. An irrational fear of heights, otherwise known as acrophobia, is a common psychological phobia that might negatively affect a person’s life in the future. Although there isn’t a permanent solution, there are many other ways to help cope with it. 

As of now, the majority of earth’s population have had a fear of heights at least once in their lifetime. However, only 1 in 15 people have Acrophobia (Boynton and Swinbourne, 2019). According to research, around 3%-5% of all people on earth have experienced this (Us and Infographics, 2019). According to these numbers, women are twice as likely to have this phobia (Us and Infographics, 2019). Although acrophobia is not that rare, it is important to distinguish the difference between being cautious while high up and actually having this phobia. Based on this information, we can tell that it isn’t a rare/unusual phobia. While in the midst of experiencing acrophobia, some of the symptoms may include: shaking, sweaty palms, feeling terrified or paralyzed, irregular or high heart rates, rapid breathing, and a fear of injury or death. People can also experience symptoms similar to acrophobia such as vertigo, bathmophobia, climacophobia, aerophobia. Vertigo is a spinning sensation in your head which can be simulated by spinning in circles. Bathmophobia is a fear of steep slopes. Similar to bathmophobia, climacophobia is a fear of the act of climbing. And finally aerophobia which is a fear of flying in flying objects such as planes and helicopters. These are some symptoms to help distinguish whether you might have acrophobia. 

There are many symptoms of acrophobia. There are just as many causes. Not only people, but also animals, can experience these symptoms. This is because for all living things, it is natural to have a fear of heights. It is an instinct for all beings to protect yourself from falling. However, some are more extreme than others. This extremity tends to lead to acrophobia. Mainly for people, it can be caused by a response due to a traumatic experience during childhood or someone’s past. It could also be caused by a parent’s nervous reaction to certain heights. Even balancing issues can lead to experiencing acrophobia. However, in some cases, people are born with acrophobia. Scientists have done research in which babies were put at the edge of a simulated cliff with a mother encouraging them to cross to the other side (Us and Infographics, 2019). Most of the babies were born with the natural instinct to avoid falling off of the edge, but some babies were a little more afraid. From this research, we can tell that they had similar reactions to the people who have acrophobia. This shows that acrophobia can happen to any person or animal at any point in their lives. 

Although it’s not easy, and there aren’t any immediate cures, there are many different treatments to help get rid of someone’s acrophobia. Yoga is one of the most common treatments that people use. Practicing yoga can help relax yourself and keep your heart/breathing rate in a steady pattern. Also, learning all you can about acrophobia is very good for you. Acknowledging that you can put yourself in danger and learning what you can do from the internet is helpful. Some people also use prescribed anxiety pills to help calm themselves from panicking while at a high area. In addition to all of the treatments above, others use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which helps with mental health strengthening. Overall, visiting a therapist or a psychologist is very important for someone with acrophobia. It may stay with you for your entire life if not treated at all. These therapists can help you go up to heights at a small rate and provide support if you have a panic attack.                                                           

As the study of acrophobia is further revised, we can see that there are no permanent treatments to the phobia. People around the world have acrophobia and not knowing how to treat it and the dangers of it can lead to life threatening situations. People need to know how to help themselves and acknowledge what is happening to them. This means that there are some everyday strategies to help cope with it. These methods may include therapy, yoga, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Without the proper treatment, it can negatively affect someone’s life. Because acrophobia is made up of a lot of rare phobias, it can also help us learn more about those phobias and find treatments for others too. 


 Kirkpatrick, N. (2019). How To Handle And Overcome Your Fear Of Heights | Betterhelp. [online] Available at:[Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

 Black, R. (2019). Acrophobia (The Fear of Heights): Are You Acrophobic?. [online] – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986. Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019]. 

Fritscher, L. (2019). What to Do If You Suffer From Acrophobia. [online] Verywell Mind. Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019]. (2019). Fear of heights. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

 Us, C. and Infographics, P. (2019). 11 Curious Acrophobia Statistics – HRF. [online] HRF. Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

Boynton, R. and Swinbourne, A. (2019). Health Check: why are some people afraid of heights?. [online] The Conversation. Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

Has Basketball Improved Since Its Invention?

Basketball is a great sport no matter how it’s played. However, if you really think that the way it’s played now has been the same forever, you would be very wrong. The game has had a countless number of adjustments in its history. Basketball has changed for the better since its invention. There are many reasons why it has changed for the better. To actually understand these changes, you have to learn the history of the game.

Historians have found that the ancient Aztec people played a game similar to basketball. However, the game as we know it was invented in December of 1881 by a Canadian Physical Education teacher named James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts. He created basketball because the principal of that school wanted him to design a game that the students could play inside on cold days. Basketball was first played with peach buckets and a ball similar to a soccer ball. The game only had thirteen rules. Some rules were very different than rules that we use today. Some rules are also very similar. For example, the most common aspect of basketball today is dribbling. Surprisingly, one rule that was very different was that there was no dribbling in the game. Dribbling was not actually introduced until 1897. Originally, the players could not run when they had possession of the ball. One rule that has existed for basketball’s entire history and has not changed is that the players can pass the ball with either both or one of their hands. All of these changes show that basketball is better now because it gave all players, good or bad, a fair chance. The game is now much more sophisticated. Some could argue that fewer rules are simpler, so the game would be easier, but the game would be too easy then.

Basketball became popular after it spread to New England in 1913. Throughout its history, basketball traveled to many different countries, and many major leagues were started. Some common major leagues are FIBA, which was founded in 1950, and the NBA, which was founded in 1946. FIBA is the major basketball league in Canada and Europe. The NBA is the major basketball league in the United States of America.

This game may sound great, but it also had some bad things about in the past.

One horrible attribute about basketball was that it was heavily segregated in its early years. African Americans were not allowed to play the game. For people who watch basketball, they would know that there are many African American players now. The first African American professional basketball player, Earl Loyd, joined the NBA in 1950. That is one big reason why basketball has changed for the better. 

Many people enjoy basketball and would like to know the background and changes of it. It might teach people that sports were not always great and were very segregated. This essay can teach people about the history of basketball as well as the history of the U.S.A. Basketball is a great sport that everyone should enjoy.

Works Cited

Faurschou, Bran. “The History of Basketball.” The History of Basketball,

Silverman, Steve. “Why Is the Game of Basketball So Popular?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 19 Apr. 2019,

Wikipedia. “History of Basketball.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 May 2019,

The Girl Who Could Not Play

Chapter One: Mornings

It began as something sweet and airy. 

All things begin this way.

It was a jumble of pleasant mornings spent with a friend: two girls with their arms swung around each other making their way from street to street. They strutted at the same pace shoulder to shoulder chatting amongst themselves. They looked like twins with their matching outfits. Each wore a black skirt, cap, and shoes with white stockings and a loose blouse. They were completely oblivious to the world around them; the rolling cars on the cobblestone streets, the pitchmen that came around selling everything from newspapers and cigarettes to bowties and shot glasses, or the  sombre-looking soldiers that lined up in the streets before going to the front.  

Above the hustle and bustle in the streets, the sky had been lit up with a purple glow. Swirls of fuschia and ivory exploding like small candies were pinned to the sky. Someone must have painted the sky by hand.

The two girls were immersed in their own world of fancy.  Around them they saw classrooms instead of cars. Instead of pitchmen offering them trinkets, they recounted stories of boys offering them flowers. And instead of soldiers, they thought of their own division. A youth division just for girls. Donna’s mother insisted on her daughter arriving early to each session. Donna set off just after the crack of dawn each morning with her hair in tight braids and face washed. Donna would meet Alessia on the corner and they would walk together. That was the way it went every morning.

Donna was like a white starched linen. She had two long braids the colour of sour lemons that dropped from her shoulders like ropes. Her complexion was blanched and pearly. It was like someone had come along and white-washed the colour from her face. However she had eyes dark as a starless night that stuck out like lumps of coal stitched on either side of her nose. She was generally a quiet reluctant girl and was lucky to have made such fast friends with Alessia, the exemplary girl. Donna’s friend was conventionally beautiful with heart-shaped lips and bouncy ringlets. She had a throng of admirers who watched her wherever she went.

This particular morning, Alessia was engaged in recounting her a story about the time a boy walked up to her and pulled at one of her ringlets. Donna listened contently. As they passed through the square, Donna glanced at the clock. 

“Alessia we’re late!” She tugged at her friends sleeve. 

“Let’s run!” Alessia exclaimed after swinging around to look at the clock. The girl outstretched her legs and bounded forward. As she sped off, Donna, after a moment of hesitation, set off after her.

They shrieked with laughter as Donna quickly caught up with Alessia. They swatted their arms and clawed at each other, doing whatever they could to slow the other down. Donna was panting relentlessly. Their bodies pierced through the crowd. They were tripping, slipping, and swatting, meanwhile gaining speed. They raced right around the corner. Donna picked up her legs and began bolting forwards. She surpassed Alessia and was dashing up the cobblestone sidewalk. She jumped onto the road, slipping on the morning frost and dodging cars as they came skidding towards her. She knew if anyone had seen her and told her mother that she was running on the street, she would be in trouble. The thought of this both frightened her and enthralled her with amusement. She leapt back onto the sidewalk that spread out in front of her. Her arms swung back and forth. Exhilaration ran through her as wind lashed at her legs and blew at her face. She thrust herself forward. Alessia was calling to her. She twisted her neck to look back, her legs still wheeling forward. Suddenly, her chest fell backwards and her black shoes slid off the ground. Pain shot through the back of her head. And the scene went black.

Chapter Two: The Girl Who Cried on the Main Street

Through the obscurity, Donna could see herself lying there. Her limbs sprawled out over the cobblestones. Her meager figure laid out for the world to see. Her braids coiled around her like a spider’s front legs. Her face twisted in abject terror. Her heart was saddened by her own modest self lying down motionless over the sidewalk. 

As her eyes blinked open, above her Alessia’s ringlets poured downwards onto Donna’s face; her friend had knelt down beside her. Donna could hear phrases in the distance. The words hovered above her.

“What happened?”

“A girl just ran headstrong into Signor Di Napoli!”

“Are you hurt, Signor?”

“No, no, I am fine.”

“What about the girl?”

“Who is she?”

“Is she alright?”

“I think she may be dead!! And it is all my fault!” This last bit was Alessia, who was now sobbing uncontrollably. She grasped Donna’s shoulders and began shaking her. Four hands were placed upon her and Donna was prompted to her feet.

“Are you fine, miss?” This was the voice of old Signor Di Napoli. Five years ago, he moved to Rome from Naples and had started a toy store. All the children in the neighborhood spent their weekends lined up to go into his store. Walking through his store that now stood behind them was like perusing through a book. Metals, porcelain, plastic, gears, springs, fabrics, tinsel, colours, reflections, textures, speaking dolls, and kites line the walls and were scattered on the floor. It was a portal into another world found in the heart of Rome. An emporium of sights and sounds, feelings and imagination. From the walls, tin airplanes were suspended, glinting with light.  Dolls with glass eyes and fountains of shining hair were lined up on shelves peeping down at small girls cruising through the aisle. 

Donna always admired Signor Di Napoli. She wasn’t in love with him. She wanted to be him. She did not want to live in vain. Living with a husband and family in a fancy house with servants for her to boss around was her mother’s dream for her. Donna was opposed to this. She wanted to be a maiden forever and  live in a house with a toyshop on the ground floor and a limited loft up top to sleep and eat in. 

“I am fine Signor Di Napoli!” She grinned, making a quick recovery. “How is the shop going?” she asked eagerly. His face was sombre with a sad smile and a pointy moustache.

“I am afraid the shop is not doing so well at the moment, ragazzina.” He always called her “young girl” instead of her real name. He never thought the name Donna really suited her. 

She glanced over his shoulder to see the wooden sign above the shop doors being lowered by two construction workers.  She opened her mouth to speak but it felt like someone had pushed a stone down her throat. Her chest rose and fell abruptly. All she could squeeze out of her lungs was a gasp like sound. However the heroic Alessia put her words in for her.

“Is the shop closing Signor Di Napoli?” 

“Yes it is, Alessia.” As he looked down at the girls, they could see tears welling in his eyes. Donna was silent. Inside she was screaming. She was clawing at the construction workers and hissing at Signor Napoli for not even giving her one more day to enjoy the store. Outside the morning turned cold and frost nipped at her toes. She stood there feeling like an out-of-place pole made of cold steel.

“Why,” she whispered under her breath. He did not hear her.

“Why?” she said a little louder this time, “Why? Tell me, why?” She hung her head and sunk into a fury of muffled confusion. She had to know why.

“Why didn’t you have a closing sale or something?” Alessia asked.

“I am moving back to Naples. My brother is coming in his car to pick me up this afternoon,” he announced.

“But why?” Alessia tipped her head to the side.

“The toy factories in Italy are being turned into war industries. If I were to keep the store open, there would be no more toys to sell,” Signor Di Napoli said gravely. Donna thought she’d heard him wrong. 

“No toys…” she looked frantically at him. She felt a kind of squeamish discomfort rise within her.

Alessia suddenly remembered the time and clicked her heels. 

“Donna, we are late for our meeting! It’s already started,” she said, pulling at her friend’s arm.

“I think I want to stay for a while, Alessia,” Donna looked longingly at her friend, “but you can go if you want.”

Alessia’s face grew long. Her nose screwed itself up and her lips pressed together. They always walked together; at the mention of walking separately, Alessia’s face twisted and contorted itself in different directions. Anger. Confusion. Embarrassment. Her cheeks turned red and she turned away with an abrupt “fine.”

Donna watched as Alessia’s bouncing ringlets moved farther and farther away. She shifted her gaze over to the store. The boarded up window, the locked doors and the expressionless construction workers aggrieved. Her anguish piqued as the two construction workers lowering the sign lost their hold on it, dropped it, and it came clattering to the ground. The painted sign broke in half. The shattering sound rang in Donna’s ears. Her heart turned to porcelain. She stumbled to the boarded up window. Her hands fell on the plywood boards and she crooked her head to see through the window. The room was submerged in an inky darkness. Donna pressed her forehead against the window. She squinted. She could see the outline of smiling painted faces looking at her with their large circular eyes. They seemed to be both mocking her and silently asking for her help.  She leaned in closer, but a construction worker grabbed her arms, pulling her back. She howled and flung herself in all different directions. She lunged forward and used her legs to pull herself back to the window. The construction worker’s firm arms dragged her in the opposite direction. She was brushed to the side like an unwanted pile of shingles. She and the shop were separated. She fell into Signor Di Napoli’s arms and wailed.

A small crowd had formulated and was watching the girl as she collapsed in the middle of the main street. Tears came pouring down her face and she could not choke them back. Signor Di Napoli was unsure what to do. He tried comforting her, but there was nothing he could say. Donna did not know what she was doing. She was equally surprised as some of the bystanders that were watching her. Why am I crying, she thought. She had not played with toys since she was seven. When she was young, she had a dolly with feather wings and a plastic halo. She called her doll Anna. It was Donna’s prize possession for the first half of her life; she took it everywhere.

When she was eight, she started her training in Piccole Italiane, a youth division dedicated to preparing girls for their future. Her mother thought this very important. In the beginning, Donna cherished the division meetings. She showed so much enthusiasm that she was asked to stand and pose in traditional roman imperial clothing at a rally. She grew so busy with learning the Italian anthem and learning how to cook that she had no time to play with her doll Anna. One day she returned home from a meeting to find that Anna had been sold. She didn’t cry. At the time she just shrugged her shoulders. Now she cried. She was surprised at herself. This was the moment her memory flashed on, like a light switch turning on the electrical lighting in a room. Today she can barely remember what it was like before. From then on she was no longer a young girl with a friend walking down the street. She was the girl who cried on the main street that day.

Chapter Three: Warhood and The Cherry Dress

The remainder of the day passed by slowly. Donna was scolded for being late to the meeting. Before she would have blushed, slouched her shoulders, and trudged guiltily into her place in line for being so late. Today, Donna arrived at the meeting numb with tears and dragging. The useless girl barely showed a sign of consciousness. She didn’t look at the Piccole Italiane instructors when they were speaking to her. Her feet carried her from place to place. Alessia approached Donna asking gently where she had been, but Donna only sighed and wandered off. She silently refused to sing when they sung Giovinezza. She stood there amongst her smiling piers as they sung with their high-pitched voices. Donna remained silent.

“Hail, people of heroes,

Hail, immortal Fatherland,

Your sons were born again

With the faith and the Ideal.

Your warriors’ valour,

Your pioneers’ virtue,

Alighieri’s vision,

Today shines in every heart.”

The sound of the opening verse flooded through her ears. There was an influx of bitterness that arose within her.

Many years ago, a group of men came together to write the lyrics to this song. They thought it would be the best representation of their fascist Italy, a song to define an empire. When Donna first learnt the lyrics, the words were bold and strong, both poetic and to the point, but most of all, the words seemed right. She could remember how her courage would be reborn as she heard this song. Now there was something sickening and plasticky about it, like the smell that emerges from a factory. She winced. 

“Youth, Youth,

Spring of beauty,

In the hardship of life

Your song rings and goes!

And for Benito Mussolini,

And for our beautiful Fatherland,”

Suddenly, she began to remember things from the past she had not noticed or thought odd before. The same year Donna joined the Piccole Italiane division, Mussolini had travelled from city to city across the country to give speeches. He began in Rome. 

Her mother barely left the house, but on this particular day, Donna watched her as she swung a string of pearls around her neck and  slipped into her yellow dress limited to special occasions.

“Is Papa coming back today, Mama?” Donna asked. Her mother shot her a glance.

“No.” Her words were cold as they struck Donna across her face. She flinched. “Now go and get into that new dress I got you, the one with cherries painted on the fabric.”

“Are we going out for lunch? Is that why we are getting dressed up?”


“Are we meeting Papa somewhere?” 

“No, there is no Papa. Now go get dressed. I do not like questioners. It’s forbidden for a child to talk up to her elders in such a matter.”

“But where are we going?”

“In the Italian borders,

Italians have been remade

Mussolini has remade them

For tomorrow’s war,

For labour’s glory,

For peace and for the laurel,

For the shame of those

Who repudiated our Fatherland”

Remade. Repudiated. Tomorrow’s war is now.

Donna and her mother left the house and entered out in public, a place her mother had not stepped into for the longest time. The cherry dress was new and exciting. It was too tight for comfort, but fit her well considering it was secondhand. It was new for Donna, but the world had seen it many times.

They met Alessia and her parents on the corner. Alessia and Donna walked in front as the adults trailed behind. Everybody was out on the streets and people they barely new tilted their hats at the young girls and bid them how do you do. Young Donna must have presumed  that all the people on the streets, including herself and her mother, were making their way to a party of sorts.

“The poets and the artisans,

The lords and the countrymen,

With an Italian’s pride

Swear fealty to Mussolini

No poor neighbourhood exists

That doesn’t send its hordes

That doesn’t unfurl the flags

Of redeeming Fascism”

Thousands of Italians gathered together, jostled into each other. Above them a facade stretched itself out. Donna remember the eager moments she spent admiring everyone’s outfits. They were chained down in patterned skirts, coloured headbands, straw hats, ties, ribbons, and smiles. Donna beamed at the notion that, from up above, the crowd would look like a multicoloured fruit. Then all of a sudden the crowd fell silent. All those yapping mouths hushed to listen. A man dressed in a fleece suit stepped into view through a shallow balcony smoothed onto the facade. One yapping mouth poured it’s words onto the crowd. Donna could hear the words, but she could not understand. 

“Do you know what he is saying?” she leaned in and whispered this question into Alessia’s ears.

“Shh,” she hissed, “I am trying to listen!”

Moments later the crowd erupted. Thousands of voices hurrahing. It was like an explosion. Hats catapulted into the air and couples leaned over and kissed each other. To her side, Alessia was jumping up and down, clapping her hands and sputtering indistinct words of joy. Donna’s mother grabbed her shoulders and kissed her right on the nose. 

“What has happened, Mama?” Donna couldn’t help smiling. “Is Papa coming home?”

“No, bambina, we are at war!” her mother triumphed. She leaned down and kissed Donna again. It was as if they had already won.

After most of the crowd had left to go off to bars for a drink, Alessia suggested that they search the ground for coins. Donna knew she should be getting home, but with her new cherry dress, she wanted to stay outside longer. As they were searching the ground they found a small boy a few years younger than them sprawled out on the ground. His sock was red, drenched with blood that poured from his ankle like water. He had been trampled in the excitement of the coming war. They knew this boy. He lived in their neighborhood. They often saw him at the toy store, but never at church. As Donna thought back on it now, she could not recall seeing him for a while now. He had vanished over the last few months. She was forbidden to talk to him because he had darker features. Dark skin, dark hair, dark eyes, he had it all.  He must have been completely swallowed up by the crowd this time. Or maybe he vanished for a different reason. As the Italians were being remade one by one in the hands of Il Duce, that boy must have been neglected. 

The group stopped singing. The girls’ singing voices ended. The meeting was dismissed and all the girls set off in different directions. Alessia searched the crowd of friends, enemies, and girls for Donna. She glanced down a small alleyway to find her friend crouched down in a gutter, legs pulled towards her chest and eyes forced into her knees. Her shoulders bounced as if she was laughing silently. For the second time that day, Donna cried.

Chapter Four: The Silhouette Wife

Donna was relieved to finally be in bed. Her heart was filled with sour chagrin. She felt betrayed, as though all those smiling people had lied to her. And so had the cherry dress. She wrapped herself in her bedsheets and curled into a ball in the corner of her bed. She felt sick. After a few moments of silence and painful thoughts, the door opened to her room. Donna peered out from behind the blanket to see a yellow glow projected on the floor of her room from the hall. Her mother’s silhouette as she stood in the doorway drew a clear outline of her mother’s figure on the floorboards.

“Are you asleep, Donna?”

“No,” her sickly daughter responded

“You didn’t help with the laundry today. You knew you were supposed to do it today.”

“I know.”

“Well, how do you expect to become a good wife if you decide not to do the laundry whenever you don’t feel like it.” These words were not unfamiliar to Donna.

“What if I don’t want to become a wife?” she spat.

“Well I am afraid, Donna Roma, that you have no choice. A woman’s job is to keep a house, not a seat in Parliament. Do you want to end up on the streets?” Before Donna could answer, the door shut abruptly. Darkness fell back onto the room the same way a thick polluted fog would, the kind of fog you get trapped in and you cannot breath in or find a way out.

A few words about Donna’s mother, Ines Roma:

She was beautiful and lively with rich blonde hair and twinkling blue eyes. She grew up in a respectable middle class family and was brought up in the countryside. She spent her days playing with the other children in the village, climbing fences, drinking spoiled water from wells, and chasing each other across fields of long untamed grass. At nineteen, her father took many day trips to the neighboring villages and farms. At nineteen years old, Ines was dozing in the field behind her house when her father was returning from one of his trips. She was dragged indoors. Before her twentieth birthday, she was married to the wealthy man, Giovanni Roma, who happened to be vacationing in the next village at the time. His father was fast friends with hers and thus a wedding was in order. She went with him back to Rome where his family lived in a grand house made of slabs of marble and chandeliers of shining crystal. During the economic crash of 1929, the Roma family lost all its money and honour. They were forced to live in an overcrowded tenement. After a few years of this meager lifestyle, Giovanni was embarrassed to show his face in the streets and could not bear to look at his wife and newly born baby girl. One morning, he left before the light of day as usual for his newly acquired job as an assistant shoemaker. Ines waited for him at the house. She waited as hours and hours clicked by. When her husband did not return that night, Ines knew that he would never come back to them. In the last few days he was living with her, she neglected him. He stayed curled up in a mound of bedsheets as Donna is now doing and served no purpose. She only gave him small scraps of food, the rest she gave to the baby. She was not a very good wife to him the last few days before he left.

Chapter Five: The Break-ins

First she began with the toy store, then the houses.

The decisions Donna would make in the next few moments of life would change the course of history forever. Wrapped in her bedsheets, she contemplated in the dark. At first it began as a sudden impulse where Donna found herself half awake and half in a dream. She went over the idea multiple times in her head. At first, she laughed at the ridiculous notion. Then she began envisioning herself doing it; that is when it became real. She tossed and turned in bed. She wrenched at her mind and clenched the bedsheets in her fists. She couldn’t shake the concept of her sneaking away at night and breaking into the toy store from her head. It was so daring. It was so exhilarating. But most of all, it was so unlike her. 

How could she be sure of anything anymore? She pushed herself from the bed. Donna threw on her robe made of purple fabric with yellow stitching. She positioned it onto her back and tied the belt. It fit like a glove. War was no longer just soldiers that line up in the street; war meant lives both lost and living. It meant the life of Alessia, the spritely girl living a few houses down. It meant the life of Signor Di Napoli, the man now probably fast asleep in Naples. It meant the life of her mother. It meant the life of her father, wherever it he is now. It meant the life of the little Jewish boy with the bloody ankle. It meant the absence of toys in her neighborhood.

She thrust open her window. A brown sac swung over her shoulder, she carefully sat on the sill. She turned around and shoved her toes down the gap between the open window and the wood plank she was sitting on. She gathered air into her lungs and pushed her legs out into the dry night air. She gave herself little time for reluctance and she slid herself out the window! Donna felt her newly exposed body hover in midair. As she felt the air spin around her, she swatted her arms and caught hold of a brick that was slightly jutting out of the wall. Taken aback with amazement, she stayed clinging to the wall a while longer. Eventually, she succeeded in crawling down the wall like a spider. Her feet dropped onto the cobblestones and she rubbed her hands together to get all the chalk from the brick of them. She blew into her hands to warm them and she ventured off into the darkness. The darkness was comforting. The constellations watched Donna as she moved about the city. The darkness was going to let one girl shine.

Most nights, the people in Rome are forced to flee into a bomb shelter. But tonight was much more gentle. It humbled her. It was as if the war was put on pause for her most beautiful action.

The walk to the store was enjoyable. Donna smiled for the stars that blessed her eyes. She smiled for the cool breeze that stroked her hair. She smiled for her warmth all bundled up in her robe. She smiled in hot anticipation.

The store itself was tedious. She approached the boarded up door and latched handle to size up the amount of force it would take to break the plywood. After attempting to do just that for several minutes, she had tried several different tactics: pulling, punching and wrenching. She slid her hand behind the plywood until her palm touched the cold refreshing glass. She used the small muscles located in her fingers to tap on the door and she heard the hinges squeak weakly as the door pushed open. The girl lowered herself to the ground and slithered under the plywood. She sucked in her stomach so she could fit.  Using the sleeve of her robe, Donna wiped beads of sweat that came trickling down the side of her face. Her breathing grew heavy. Her sense of feverishness heightened. The air in her lungs thickened until it was dense enough to cut with a knife. She kept reminding herself to quicken her pace; she pushed herself to be faster. Her stomach still glued to the floor, she pulled herself deeper into the toy store. Faster. She arrived at her first pile of toys. Faster. Then she worked her way into the second. Faster. She worked tirelessly for half an hour until she could marvel at her filled brown sac. In it lay dolls that opened and closed their eyes depending on how you held them, toy vehicles, some with real tiny engines, wind-up toys in the shape of mice drumming away at very festive looking drums. Donna had even climbed up onto the top of a low shelf and untied a red old fashioned toy airplane from the ceiling and a green and red kite along with it. You can only imagine the trouble Donna had fitting the bag underneath the plywood. But it would all be worth it.

She escaped back into the night like a common criminal, the sac like a boulder she herself had laid across her back. She gazed upwards to watch the sky as it slowly began to shift and become lighter. She wished fervently that no one would see her and she ducked away into the shadows of buildings. Unlike a common criminal, Donna was not quite done. If she were to stop now her whole plan would be failed.

She encircled the first house several times before seeing the open window leading into a boy’s nursery. The window felt as though it was left open especially for her to climb into. She hoisted herself in and was now standing gingerly in the middle of a small boy’s room. From the thermometer left on the bedside table and the medicine bottle that rested in all its plumpness on top of the bureau, Donna could deduce that this boy was ill. Donna removed the multicoloured kite from the sac and slipped it in next to him beneath the bed sheet. She searched the room for a pen and paper. Once she had found some she wrote:

When you get better, go out to the beach and fly this kite.


Donna paused for a second. She brought the tip of the pen to her lips. 

The boy’s eyes blinked open. Donna began shuffling towards the window afraid that the boy would scream in terror and attract the attention of his parents into the room. After a few silent moments of staring at each other, she noticed that the boy wasn’t in the least bit surprised to see her.

“Are you La Befana?” he inquired. La Befana is the friendly witch that brings children toys in Italian Culture.


“Then why did you give me this kite?”

Donna was about to hiss and tell the boy off for asking too many questions, but instead she shrugged her shoulders

“What is your name then, if you aren’t La Befana?”

Donna shrugged her shoulders again.

“Are you the bogeyman then, come to take me away?!” 


“Are you death herself come to fetch my corpse away? Am I dead?!” For a young boy he had quite a vivid, but dark imagination.


Quickly Donna scribbled her name on the paper:

The Toygiver.

It seemed to fit her.

“What is that paper?”

“It is far too late for a boy your age to be up.” Donna sighed. “Now get comfortable in bed and I will sing to you if you like.”

“Alright.” The boy nestled in bed with his new kite; he was grinning ear to ear. Donna pulled a stool by his bed, sat, and sang until her mouth was dry and the boy had slipped into a blissful sleep. She left his room through the window, not forgetting to leave a note on the table. She visited ten other houses that night. The sky was red like a pitted cherry when she stumbled back to her house. Her mother was waiting outside, shivering in her robe both of chill and anxiety. 

“Where have you been, Donna?” her mother cried out when her daughter came into view. “I was about to have a heart attack!”

“You were?” Donna said gently.

Before her mother could answer, she was engulfed in a warm hug. Donna went over her new name over and over again in her mind. The Toygiver. The Toygiver. Toygiver. Donna would continue to do this nighttime ritual for years to come. She did it all the way until the end. The end of the war. The Toygiver. The Toygiver. Toygiver.


Chapter One

“Grande iced coffee with almond milk, two pumps of caramel, and one and a half pumps of hazelnut. Thank you.”


“No,” I shuttered. It was too early to have decaffeinated coffee. I needed to have coffee. Last night had gone too late and too long. God, last night was awful and now I was tired, annoyed, and majorly hungover. Coffee would help with that. Maya always said I drank too much coffee. Everyone always said I was addicted, but I was really trying to stop drinking so much caffeine. It’s just, what else am I supposed to do? At this point in the argument, Maya would say I could sleep, then I would laugh, she would roll her eyes, and I would leave with full intentions of going to Denny’s, getting on line, smiling at Ralph and getting my drink. They always had it ready and ice cold. But of course today of all days, there was a new barista. Molly, I read. Next time I would make sure I got a barista that knew what they were doing. 

“Anything else, um, what’s your name?” Molly asked.

“Lexi and, um, yes.” Then I looked at the clock and then at Molly. This was her first day and I could tell. She looked like a deer in headlights, staring down each customer like they were her enemy. No, I didn’t have time for Molly to under or overcook my bun and I didn’t need to be any later than I already was. 

“I mean no,” I told Molly just as she was about to add more to my order. “I’m good,” I said as I gave her my rewards card. She took it like it was a space rock from Mars. She looked it up and down trying to figure out what this strange object was. 

“Never mind I’ll just pay with cash.” I took back my rewards card and gave her exact change in case she didn’t know how to open the cash register. 

“Thank you,” she said. For a moment I thought she was going to come out from behind the cash register and hug me, but she just stared. I smiled and went to go get my coffee.

“Nice name,” Molly shouted. The bribery was strong in this one. 

Now all I had to do was run to the open call and hope and pray I would get the role. Fortunately, when I checked my phone I saw that the open call was only five minutes away. Unfortunately, I only had two. I ran all the way there and was still late. When I went inside, the director handed me a packet and told me to sit down. I knew as soon as I saw the character description that I wasn’t even going to try. Shame, the girl at first seemed good. It said her name was Ashley and she was twenty one. That was fine and good. The only problem was that Ashley was struggling with an addiction to alcohol. I had never had an addiction. I didn’t want to offend anyone by portraying someone wrong. I stood up and walked over to the director. I was two steps away before I realized I was without my Denny’s cup. I needed something to get me through this. I ran back to my chair, grabbed my cup, and went back over. 

“Hello sir.” I smiled. I knew I could do this I talked to directors all the time. “I was wondering if I could talk to you about my role.”

“Call me Carl.” Carl. Of course his name was Carl. “Yes, Ashley. She’s a beautiful character.” I took another sip of my coffee. The taste swam around in my mouth making me feel the heat of a Costa Rican sun or feel the drum of a lost island. The smell was enough to make you happy, but the taste was amazing.

“Yes but it’s just-” Suddenly a wave of caramel splashed the top of my mouth. Something was off. I took another sip searching for the hazelnut that would always balance of the slightly salty caramel, but I couldn’t find even a trace of it. I took another sip and another, but the caramel once again overwhelmed my taste buds. It must have showed on my face because Carl was staring at me like I was a freak.

“I’m sorry, it’s just, I don’t know if I can play her.” I tried to recover.

At this point, if I messed up, the ice and coolness of my drink would calm me down, but instead the coffee seemed to grow hotter. 

“Listen, I understand that she seems like someone completely different, but just see if you can find some similarities. I’m sorry—are you okay?” No, I wasn’t. My mouth was just flooded with a nutty taste. Oh my god, is that nutmeg? Who mixes up hazelnut and nutmeg? This was the most disgusting coffee I had ever had and apparently it showed.

“I’m sorry. It’s just my barista messed up my order and it’s literally disgusting and it isn’t ice cold and just blegh.” When I looked up at Carl, he was laughing. 

“What’s so funny?”

“It’s just, it seems like you have a bit of an addiction of your own.” How dare he. How dare this man insult me like this. It wasn’t my fault Molly messed up my order and it wasn’t my fault Carl was being rude. 

“I’m usually like this it’s just something was off and I didn’t know what it was. It turns out my barista used nutmeg instead of hazelnut and I’m just having a bad day.”

“So I see you’re a coffee snob—” My jaw dropped. “—and a little bit of a drama queen.”

“I am not a coffee snob.” My face was getting red and my jaw was practically hitting the floor. “And I am not a drama queen. I just like to be in control of what goes into my mouth. If it’s trash, I don’t like it, which is probably why I don’t like this character!” As soon as I said that, I wanted to take it back. “No, no, no. That’s not what I meant. I just meant-”

“Ms. Brown,” said Carl, “I think you should leave.”

“No, sir, please.” I took another sip of my coffee, knowing and dreading what would happen next.

“Out.” Carl smiled and reached out a hand for my Denny’s cup. “And close the door on your way out.” I bit my lip to stop the tears and slowly walked out the door. I almost left that audition feeling sad until I heard Carl spitting out my drink exclaiming how disgusting and gross it was. Maybe it was the complete over dosage of caramel. Maybe it was the absence of hazelnut and the nutmeg sinking into every delicious coffee bean. Maybe it was even the coffee itself. Maybe Molly had messed it up like she had this entire day and this entire audition. But all of those seemed fine compared to the giant flem god that I spat in my coffee. Who was a drama queen now?

Chapter Two

“How did it go?” asked Maya. She was making coffee, decaf no doubt. 

“Not well,” I told her. “The director was just awful and my coffee was just awful. There was this horrible barista, Molly. She mixed up hazelnut and nutmeg. Like who does that?” I fell onto the couch, sinking into the fluffy Target pillows.

“Well,” Maya said as she jumped onto the couch next to me. “Maybe it wasn’t all Molly’s fault.”

“Yeah maybe I actually just told her nutmeg instead of hazelnut.” I rolled my eyes. I would never mess up my order. 

“Well yeah,” Maya said, “I mean I do it all the time.” I rolled my eyes, but then Maya smiled and I had to forgive her.

“I redecorated the apartment.” I looked around. Maya tended to do this very frequently. This week’s (possibly day’s) theme was blue. She had added blue beach paintings, which she was making when I left, to the walls. Then she had gotten a new rug for the living room and some new vases and accessories for around the house. Yeah, it looked good, but I wish she could just stick with something. I told her I really liked the peach one she did three weeks ago, but she said it was too princessy. I took a peak in her room and saw she had completely redone her room to. It was slowly closing in on itself with the layers and layers of paint she would use to cover the last stage of herself. The Maya she was showing today was vintage Maya. She was wearing old Levi’s overalls and an old MTV tee that she no doubt got from a thrift store or yard sale. This ensemble was accompanied by her old ass Converse and a ripped up Newsies cap. Maya would change into a different person every week, throwing away her life before this new style. Sometimes I would like Maya and sometimes I would hate her. I didn’t like emo Maya. I really didn’t like preppy Maya. Sometimes she would ask me what my favorite Maya was and then I would say, “My favorite Maya is just Maya.” Then she would laugh, even though it wasn’t a joke. But today vintage Maya would just be out of it and cool. I was fine with that, but I wished I could spend my time with the Maya I knew when I moved in with her. But who knows maybe that was another version of Maya that I didn’t know. To go with this new Maya, she had painted her room a brown-ish mustard. Her record player and typewriter were out and she was using her orange sheets and she had switched out her Chanel poster for a display of her records. Maya was starting over once again, creating herself again. Soon she would drop all her preppy friends and she would start hanging out with hipsters at coffee shops. 

“So do you like it?” She seemed kind of eager to hear what I had to say.

I wanted to say, “you should just keep it normal and stop changing it,” but instead I said, 

“I love it. Definitely your best form yet.”

“Well,” she said. Then she smiled and I realized I was looking at the same Maya. Her toothy grin made me so happy so I went with it. 

“Yes.” I tried to replicate her smile but I just came out looking like a bunny.

“Maybe we could redo your room.” She flung open my room before I could stop her. I would go into detail describing my room, but it’s pretty basic. It’s all white, but not in a cute way. It looks like an asylum except for the occasional splotch of coffee spill. I still loved it, but Maya, well, Maya thought it could be improved. 

“I mean.” Maya paused. Even Maya, who comes up with new room designs every week, couldn’t think of a way to salvage my room. “We could-”

“We could close the door of my room and never open it again,” I suggested, but before I could execute my plan, Maya stepped into my room. I couldn’t leave her to her own devices in there so I followed her in. I was truly beyond the point of no return.

“Well we can start by getting you some new sheets.” Oh brother this was going to be awful, but, hey, I was in Maya’s hands now. When I looked back at Maya she was spacing out.

“Maya,” I said. Nothing. “Maya!” I basically screamed. Suddenly Maya’s face lit up. “What?” I asked.

“I know what we’re doing for your room.”

“What?” If she made my room like a six year old’s I was going to kill her.

“Coffee,” she said smiling.


“Oh my god, stop saying what. Your room is going to be brown, white, and green, like a Denny’s cup. Also we’re going to have cute coffee art and a desk and finally your room isn’t going to look like you live in a mental institution.” 

“Great. You do that.” I went to go get some Cinnamon Toast Crunch and, you guessed it, coffee. 

“Come on,” Maya begged.

“No,” I said. I had no intention of letting Maya touch my room.

“Why not?”


“Because what?”

“Fine. Do it.”


“This is why. Once you do it once, you’re just gonna do it over and over and over until I’ll have no room because the paint is going to kill me with it’s fumes.”

“I won’t do that.”

“Fine, go. Go make over my room.”

“Eeeee!” Maya squealed. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

I was going to regret this, but before I could tell her to stop, she was out the door. I slipped into my room and opened my computer. I opened up my Gmail and waited. I stared at the screen, waiting for an email, an open call, an audition, something. I needed to start pulling my weight or else, well, or else Maya might not want to house me anymore. No, that couldn’t happen. It wasn’t Friday, but I started the send anyway. First, I would need coffee. I walked out to the kitchen, bringing my cereal with me. I mixed it and sipped it and I suddenly knew everything was going to be okay. I started the first email and finished the second, third, and sixth. I sent the third and the second, but held on to the sixth. I wanted to see what Maya thought. Then I waited… and waited… and waited. And then an email popped up. I clicked on it and it was from Carl. It read: 

Dear Lexi,

Although you were a bit rude I want to give you another chance. I feel you can really embody this character. Come tomorrow at nine. Sharp.

Chapter Three

I’ll skip the pleasantries and just say this show was amazing. Except for one day. One day, I was walking back from a particularly bad rehearsal and Maya told me to sit down.

“I have a surprise,” she said. She seemed a bit too happy. “Come with me.”

“Ok,” I said. She led me to my room. 

“Now open.” My jaw dropped. My room was white with a band of brown around it. In the middle of my new room was a huge circle with the Denny’s logo on it and that logo ended up morphing into my head board. Around my room was more disgusting green and coffee art. If you couldn’t tell, I hated it. 

“What did you do to my room?” I screamed.

“Nothing, I just made it better.” Maya seemed hurt, but I didn’t care.

“That was my room and now I’m literally living in a coffee cup.”

“Yeah, that was the idea.”

“Well, I hate it.”

“I was just trying to help.” Maya started to cry.

“Wow, Maya,” I said sarcastically, “and I thought with so many different personalities you weren’t able to even have feelings.” At this point I was crying too. But not sad crying, angry crying.

“I just wanted to help you.”

“Well Maya, you didn’t.”

“What is wrong with you? I thought we were friends. Friends do things like this with each other.”

“Really? I don’t know, Maya. Are we friends? Or am I friends with Preppy Maya, Hippie Maya, Mean Girl Maya, or, god forbid, Emo Maya? There are just so many of you I don’t know. Are we friends?”

“I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

“You don’t know who I am? Try figuring yourself out first.” 

“Don’t go there, Lex.”

“Oh, I’ll go there Maya.” Now I was mad. “You don’t know who you are. You always say you change your look for fashion, but that’s not true. The truth is you keep changing because you think one day someone might actually like you. But guess what Maya? If you just keep never truly opening up, no one can love you. No one.”

“Out,” Maya mustered through tears. So I did. I packed up my stuff and left for a cheap motel. The next day, I was still in shock, but I still went to Denny’s and got my coffee.

Molly gave me the cup and said, “I made it specially for you.”

When I opened the lid, I saw something I’ll never forget. A huge fly was swimming around in my foam. Before I could think, I texted the food and drink health department and demanded for Molly to be fired. Then I sent a picture of my drink.

I left for my last rehearsal. At the end we all hugged and high-fived and said we couldn’t wait for Sunday. It was Friday and I couldn’t wait.

I went home, well, I went to my motel and I texted Maya. I said I was sorry. She left me on read. I pulled an all nighter sipping the gross motel coffee from the lobby. When I went outside the next day, I saw something. I didn’t believe it. I saw an abandoned building that used to house the Denny’s coffee shop. I went up to the window still seeing the painted walls of green, white, and brown. The chairs were turned up just like they were yesterday only now the doors would never open. I touched the brass door handles and pulled slightly. The door opened until a chain stopped it. The opening was just big enough to slip inside. I did. Then I smelled the coffee. I looked outside to the world I used to be in and then to myself inside a now abandoned coffee shop. My hair was messy and my eyes were cakey from putting on too much concealer.

I still remembered that fateful day when I went to get my coffee and met Molly. That day I thought I was mad at her, but I didn’t know about how much she could really destroy. As I walked around this haunted house, I saw a flyer. I walked over to it, examining the bold red letters that spelled “D-A-N-G-E-R.” Right below it, it read “dangerous health conditions.” Then my eyes got fuzzy and I heard the drop of a single tear on the ground. This was my fault. 

“So.” I turned around and saw Molly in the doorway. “Was it worth it getting me fired?”

“No,” I said, “I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, well, here.” She handed me a coffee cup.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“Crush it,” she said. So I did. 

“Done.” She looked at the cup. It was completely destroyed, the green band now bent.

“Now say ‘I’m sorry’,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I told the cup. It stayed the same. Destroyed. “Nothing happened,” I told her.

“Exactly.” She slipped through the door and didn’t look back. I walked sluggishly back to the motel, making each step slower than the last. When I finally got there, I went up the stairs, not even stopping to think to myself how hard it was. When I opened my door, I saw that Maya had texted me back. She said it wasn’t OK. I lay on my bed thinking of Ralph and Molly and even Denny. They were all out of work and were probably struggling. Especially Molly. I thought about what she said. Even though I knew she was right, I still wrote each and every person I hurt an apology email. No one wrote back. I closed my eyes and thought of everything and finally I slept. I slept and slept not being woken up by coffee or Maya or anything. I slept through the opening lines of alcoholic Ashley. I slept through Carl screaming and asking anyone if they knew where I was. I slept through eighteen text messages from Maya telling me to wake up. I slept through Denny’s getting sold to Starbucks. And the Sunday I had wished and dreamed about for my whole life came and went.



Hello. I’m the narrator and I only have the one paragraph for the introduction so let me get some things straight. First of all, this is totally made up and you should not try this at home. Second of all, I really don’t have anything else to say except get ready for lots of humorous and crazy things to happen so let’s hope you didn’t skip this.

Chapter One: Inky Depths 

Hey it’s the narrator again and I’m back to tell you the story. So, this story begins at the home of an artist name Jeff Jones who had this pen and was drawing. He was always drawing horror and he loved horror and this new pen he just got was special and Jeff did not know that. So he drew a portal sucking a house into this world, then he felt this tight pull on him and he saw a portal. He quickly wrote a message that said:

Free me from the portal.

The pen is the mightiest weapon you have.

It creates anything you need to use.

Use it well.

-Your dad,


Later that day, Bobby came home from school to find ink everywhere and a message covered in ink. He was able to make it out and it read:

Free   from portal the   is the mightiest weapon you         creates 

Anything     need us t we l

-Your   ad


Bobby decided to recreate the drawing that he saw that was ripped and then it happened. He saw an inky black portal open and it sucked him in.

Chapter Two: Inky World

When Bobby woke up, he saw he was in a cage and in front of him were two knights. Then one said, “Second one today, guess we better feed him to the ink hound”. Bobby knew this was not good so he drew on the wall a tommy gun and then he started to pull on the wall. After that, he got his tommy gun and he knew this was his only hope. He saw bright lights and on the floor were the two knights. The cage had broken open and then he saw the knights melt into ink and then everything went black…

When he woke up, he was on the floor, and looking down at him was a monster that looked like he had taken a bath in ink and never wiped it off. The monster had one eye and you could tell the other eye was submerged in ink. He had a creepy smile and spoke in a raspy voice “these inky depths, they are evil and you can’t get out. Beware of the wolf known as Billy he makes sure that no one escapes. He has two accomplices. One’s a spider and one’s a lion. Neither are… oh no I have said too much, run!”

As Bobby ran away, he heard a scream and ripping and chewing. Bobby ran and ran till he saw someone in front of him that looked like a man from Jeff’s drawings. So Bobby ran more and more until he couldn’t even stand up so he drew a car. As he drove the world around him got darker. Then he fell and the world around him changed. 

Chapter Three: Wolves, Spiders, and Lions

When Bobby hit the ground, he was tired. So he ate his favorite food: tofu and pea soup. As he ate, Bobby felt so refreshed that he could fight. Then he heard a howling and a wolf came with a lion and a spider next to it. Bobby walked back and then he felt the cold stone hit his back. Bobby knew this was the end and then he tried to draw a line, but he was so scared that it was not even straight. So he closed his eyes and let the monsters eat him.

He felt the cold drool of the wolf on him. The ground rumbled and broke open. Then everyone fell through. He drew in the air hoping a trampoline would come out and then it went black…

Bobby woke up seeing the ink rising and then Bobby saw a door. He ran towards it just in time to get inside before the ink covered everything around it. Everything was submerged in ink and he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see his dad covered in ink. Before they could talk the ceiling cracked and little by little ink started to flood in.

As Bobby and Jeff ran for their lives, Bobby felt a sharp pain in his arm and he saw the wolf had bitten him. He ran and the wolf ran after him and then the ink broke through the ceiling and killed the wolf. As Bobby ran, the ink started to catch up to him and then he felt his heart stop pumping and his blood started to leak out from his body and then…

Chapter Four: Dead Or Alive

Hey, it’s the narrator again and I have to tell you that this next chapter is really weird and you should definitely not read it. But then this won’t make sense. You know what just ignore me.  

When Bobby woke up he was still dead but he was also alive, probably because he drew a heart on himself (yes, this worked for some dumb reason).  And he had lost his dad again. Then he saw foot steps, so he followed them. He followed them for hours until he found a place covered in ink. He did what his gut feeling had told him to do: draw a portal.

He felt himself getting pulled on, and then everything went black.

Chapter Five: New Ink City

When Bobby came out, he saw a huge building with big letters on it that said: “get yourself inked.” Then, Bobby realized that someone or something must have escaped the ink world. Then it hit him, literally and figuratively. His dad’s creations must have gotten out and one of his dads creations knocked him out which was the fourth time he got knocked out. When he woke up, he was in a cage with pipes that was starting to pump ink into it. He drew a huge cork and plugged the pipes knowing that he had enough time to draw a key and unlock it. Then one of the corks burst and then the other one. He was starting to drown so he worked more quickly and then he opened the cage. He fell down and knew he was gonna die but no one was there, then the door burst open.

He saw a guard there who then fell down.

There was a man who said, “The legendary Bobby Jones, the man who started this and has to end this.”

Bobby was confused and asked, “One, who are you? Two, where is my dad?”

The man replied by saying, “One I’m a rebel. Two, your dad died 4 years ago. You and your dad disappeared 10 years ago. He came back in 6 years then died; you came back now so help us.” 

“No!” Bobby yelled.

“Ugh,” said the guy. Then Bobby got knocked out again.

When Bobby woke up, he was surrounded by many people and they were all screaming questions at him. So he drew a minigun and held it up to them and said, “Listen up you guys. You have no weapons or ammo so let me make you some guns with infinite ammo. Trust me: if one of you betrays me then the last thing you will hear is bangbangbangbangbangbangbangbang. And trust me, you don’t want it to end that way. So who’s with me?”

Everyone looked at each other for a little bit and then started chanting and bringing whatever they could to help create weapons for them. Some asked for swords others asked for guns and some asked for helicopters which was weird, but Bobby had seen weirder. After many hours of creating weapons everyone was ready.

Chapter Six: Blood And Ink

The army of men and women charged towards inky people, all with swords and guns. As Bobby and his army charged, many people fell dead from swords, but so did the ink people. Then, everyone heard a rumble. 

Bobby ran while yelling, “Take cover!” but it was too late. Everyone was turned into ink so Bobby took his minigun and shot until it looked like the floor was ink. Then no one was left; just him. He went to confront the leader and then he heard a rumble and the ground broke.

He woke up in the ink world again with many portals around him. He knew only one would lead to where he needed to go. So he looked at them until he found one that mentally spoke to him and he went in it and woke up in his house and his father was talking to him and saying, “Shh, shh. Everything is alright”.

“What happened with the ink?” 

“I will tell you later” said Bobby’s dad and then Bobby went to sleep. 

Chapter Seven: Clean Up

When Bobby woke up his dad said, “Many of the ink things got out; it’s time we erase our work because they are evil.”

“But why can’t we just draw something to do it for us,” asked Bobby, “because that’s just making things worse than they already are and right now they are worse than the Devil himself.”

“Ok,” said Bobby’s dad.

When they got outside, the first thing they saw was an inky black killer clown and Bobby drew an eraser and waved it at the killer clown until it was nothing but a drop of ink and then it was nothing. As Bobby and his dad, Jeff, walked, a monster came down and ripped the pen in half and Bobby and Jeff had no more weapons

Chapter Eight: Just Flesh

With only fists and their surroundings, Jeff and Bobby were outnumbered by many ink things. Then Jeff realized something: these were his creations so all he had to do was get rid of himself. So he went up to the creatures and yelled “take me and kill me!”

The leader which was the lion from the ink world said, “We will keep you, but not kill you.” And they took him away.

As Bobby ran, he could not keep up with the monsters that took him away and slowly he stopped. He looked up and saw this monster running away to the White House (yes, Bobby lives in Washington D.C.) and he knew they would keep him hostage. So he ran towards them, fighting the will to give up until he finally got to the White House where he could confront the monsters that were still alive from the destruction of the ink world.

Chapter Nine: Ink to Flesh

Finally, when Bobby got to the White House it was more of a black house and the American flag was just a black flag. It really looked like you took the white house and dumped a bucket of ink on it. Nonetheless, Bobby went in. As he walked, the men guarding it stepped away cautiously as they knew the pens powers, but did not know that the pen was broken. 

After he got to the oval office, where his father was being held captive, the Lion sat there and looked out the window and said, “This place is amazing, full of color and no way to get out. All you have to worry about is dying, but not in my world”. Then the Lion turned around and attacked Bobby.

As Bobby got bitten by the Lion he yelled, “Wait, wait, wait!” And the Lion stopped. Bobby said, “If you give me one of your teeth, I won’t stop you at ALL”. The Lion was mentaly blinded by having the whole world so the Lion gladly ripped off one of his teeth and handed to Bobby. As he ran away to take over the world Bobby ran to his dad.

When Bobby got to his dad, his dad did not look at Bobby and said, “Kill me, Bobby.”

And Bobby said,“No, I refuse.”

Quickly, Jeff grabbed the Lion toothed and said, “I love you Bobby,” and thrust it into his chest and all the ink melted away and then the white house was white again. He then took the Lion tooth and walked away.

Chapter Ten: Fist Fight

As Bobby walked out of the white house, he saw a six monsters: a dragon, the Lion, a stick figure, a skeleton, a vampire, and a cowboy. As all the monsters ran at him, he picked up a sharp piece of concrete and ran at the them. He cut the cowboy from the chest up. Then he took another piece and threw it at the dragon and hit him directly in the face, falling down and exploding into ink. Then he took the stick figure and stabbed the vampire in the mouth,and the vampire fell down dead. The stick figure was also dead. Then he took the skeleton and stuffed it down the Lion’s mouth then the Lion fell limp.

Then all the monsters melted away, except for the Lion who charged at Bobby screaming, “You killed everything I had!”

Bobby replied yelling, “I had to kill my only family member.” And then he stabbed the Lion with the lion tooth he had in his pocket and got up and walked away.


As Bobby walked home, he was covered in ink and wished he could talk to someone about what just happened with his father dying. When he got home, he opened the door, but the door just fell down. So he went in the living room, which was the room were he got sucked into the portal. The room was the same, but as he explored, everything was covered with ink so he started to clean. 

When he went to clean the bathroom, he saw himself. If anything, he looked like an ink person, so he just kept cleaning and told himself that he would take a shower soon. After he had cleaned the house and taken a shower, he got his dad’s body and put it in a coffin that had his most important drawing on it. The drawing was Bobby fighting a dragon. Then he closed the inky black coffin and walked out of his dad’s room into the living room to watch some TV.

The End?

The Shattered Syringe

Editor’s Note: Content Warning for Drug Use

As the luck in the packs does not change, Michael sits in his chair trying to stay enthused so that his chat does not know how much that measly eighty two rated card affected his bank account. The packs begin to get slightly better, and then go right back down in their regular slope. Michael decides that he has had enough for today. He ends his stream with no warning to his thirteen fans, leaving them confused as to why they got only seven and a half hours of streaming today.

Opening the fridge to the repulsive stench of spoiled milk and half-eaten canned tomato soup, he asks himself if he should just quit streaming and get what his family calls “a real job.” With half a Campbell’s soup in hand, he walks over to his monitor to see if there are any job openings nearby. The only available positions near him seem to be quite tragic: a cashier at the rundown Sunoco gas station or a waiter at Bertucci’s thirteen miles away. Both pay the same, $7.25 an hour, the Texas minimum wage. The long bike ride is worse than the cigarette smell that the gas station has, leaving Michael with only the interview left to complete. Calling it a night, Michael falls asleep to the three am Houston traffic.

The next day, with his best sweatshirt on, Michael walks into the gas station looking for a job. After the interview, Michael is confident that he has secured the job and decides that he deserves to treat himself for going out to the gas station instead of wasting away in his room playing FIFA on camera until he is ready to punch a hole in his wall. He buys himself a box of Pop-Tarts and a beer, the treat he deserves after this successful day. On his walk back home, he notices a bar and decides to go in. After all, he deserves it.

The next morning, he wakes up with a severe headache and a voice message on his phone. He opens the message. It’s the manager of the gas station. He didn’t get the job. The taste in his mouth turns bitter with rage. He needs that job. He grudgingly unlocks his computer and begins to stream. As a starting point he puts in $100 into today’s packs, the remnants of what’s left over in his bank account. Finally, after an hour and a half of no luck, he gets a walkout. As he walks across the stream, he hears a noise coming from his computer. Someone had donated two dollars. Not much, but it’s a start. Pack after pack, his luck seems to be shifting, getting slightly better and better players every time. After another forty five minutes, he gets the flash of light, indicating a good pack. Crossing his fingers, Michael watches as an icon walks out of the pack and does that little animated celebration everyone was waiting for. Maradona. Michael watches his stream go crazy, numbers rising from thirteen to twenty to thirty six viewers. Someone donates $15. Slowly but surely, Michael is making his money back. For the first time in his FIFA career, which is also his only ever career, Michael has gone positive at the end of the stream, actually gaining three dollars.

As Michael contemplates what to do tomorrow on his next stream, he begins to smell smoke. He wanders around, searching for the source of the scent, until he eventually stumbles into the kitchen where he notices that the oven is still on. In the oven are Michael’s, now charred, attempt at cookies that he was going to treat himself with. Panicking, Michael throws the cookies out of the oven and tries to put the fire out. The severity of the situation does not occur to Michael until he hears a knock on his door. He sprints out to open it, and one of his neighbors is there with a fire extinguisher.

After an alarming ten minutes, his neighbor finally leaves him alone with just a very dark patch left on his floor. Only now noticing that the fire alarms are going off, Michael uses the anger that is pent up inside of him and uses a crowbar to knock the fire alarm out. With some peace and quiet now flowing through the house, Michael walks toward his bed. Looking down at his bed, Michael begins to bawl. Tears rolling down his cheeks, his shoulders tremble.

The next morning, Michael walks down the street looking for any money making opportunity, even asking kids running a lemonade stand if they need a hand. As he walks past the CVS, he decides that clearly this won’t work. On the walk back to his house, he decides to take a shortcut, leading him through the back alleys of Houston.

A man stands in the middle of the alley on the way to Michael’s flat, almost as if he is another roadblock in Michael’s life. Michael contemplates what to do, whether to speak to him or not. Deciding that he has hit rock bottom, Michael decides to just say hi to the strange man. 

“Hello,” Michael says politely to the stranger.

The man looks up at him and gives him a size up. He looks up and down, as if surveying if Michael is a threat.

“Hey, I have something you want,” he replies with a hoarse voice.

Michael begins to wonder what it is that he has. Money? A job opening? Some luck?

“And what is it that I want?” Michael asks, genuinely curious, but also a little nervous for what he is going to hear.

“Heroin,” he replies.

The word bounces around in Michael’s mind as if it is a skipping stone going across a pond. Michael’s immediate reaction is obviously to reject it and walk away, but the more he thinks about it, the more the idea seems to be a good one.

“I don’t have money on me,” Michael finally responds to the stranger.

Hoping that that might be the end of it, he begins to walk away.

“Don’t worry, first dose is always free,” the stranger responds, knowing that this first dose would lead to another and another and another.

“Sure, why not?” Michael responds, somewhat knowing that he shouldn’t be doing it anyway. “How do I take it? Do I like snort it or something?”

“No, I have a spare syringe for you. Don’t worry about it,” the stranger responds, reaching into his back pocket. “I guess this will scare you if you’re an anti-vaxxer.”

“Just give me the damn syringe,” Michael responds, just wanting to get it over with.

He grabs the syringe, already filled with a dose, and looks for his radial artery. Being a med school drop-out, he knows how to get an artery to bulge out. He cuts the circulation going into his right arm and then injects the grimy syringe into his bloodstream. 

There is not much immediate pain, just like a normal vaccine or blood test, and Michael does not feel any different with heroin as without.

Thirty minutes later, and a calm passes over Michael. It is as if his troubles in life just disappear, and all of a sudden he is just peaceful. Unfortunately for Michael, this only lasts for about 45 minutes. Now Michael is back to normal, except for one thing. He has this strange cramp in his jaw. Not much to worry about. It should leave in a day or two, Michael says to himself. 

A day passes by, and Michael has gone to see the stranger another time to get another dose, this one not quite as cheap. The jaw cramp has yet to leave, but that isn’t too much of a problem. Instead he now has these continuous muscle cramps that come and go but are mostly just annoying. He ignores the symptoms, not wanting to realize what he knows they are. The days pass by, and he continues to make a few dollars here and there on stream, mostly looking forward to when he could afford his next dosage.

A week later, he finally could afford a small dosage. This starts to become routine, meet up with the man, whose name turns out to be Theo, get the dose, go home, and enjoy.

“Hey, Theo,” Michael says as he walks closer to joy.

“Michael,” Theo responds, not looking up.

He is wearing an OffWhite sweatshirt and Fear of God jeans. Theo is a dealer, and because of that, lives quite fruitfully off of the money he makes, just with the bad part of being constantly scared of getting caught.

“So, can I have it,” Michael asks, handing over the $50.

That is all that he has made over the last week and was going to pay for a bit of his rent.

“Sure, whatever you want,” Theo hands it over, once again, in quite an unclean syringe.

Michael thinks about just wiping it down, but that seems like a lot of effort for such a small benefit.

“Thank you, man. I’ll see you soon.”

Michael walks away, trying not to let the excitement show, so Theo doesn’t think he is a complete junkie.

 As the days roll by, Michael seems to be getting more headaches and is having trouble swallowing. And a month later, he goes to see Theo again, this time for a bigger dose. 

As Michael walks towards Theo, he takes the money out of his back pocket, $150, the most he ever made off of streaming. Theo is there waiting. Michael is becoming his best customer, and he could see that that wouldn’t change anytime soon.

Michael is about to hand the money over when his muscles suddenly stiffen and he loses consciousness. Michael falls to the ground and begins to convulse. White foam comes out of his mouth, and his eyes roll back in his head. Theo panics and sprints away with the money. He leaves a syringe next to Michael.

Weeks go by, and a stench begins to come from the alley behind Alonzo’s Pizzaria. Finally, a customer decides to go and see what is producing this horrid odor. It is a surprise indeed. The flies buzzing in and out of the man’s nose and mouth is enough for a scream to crawl out of the former customer’s mouth. He is glued to his spot, looking at a man sprawled across the asphalt with open eyes, but no pupils.

As police come onto the scene and bring the body back for an autopsy, it is clear that he has died because of untreated tetanus. As the police swarm the scene like the bugs across Michael’s body, they find something. A single shattered syringe.

My Mom

Hi, I’m Skylark Lalak. I live in Cleveland and really want to find my mother. When I was three years old, my mother ran away. This I remember because, if I want to remember something, I can remember it. It is kind of sad to think that she would run away. Now that I am sixteen, I would like to know more about where my mother is and find her. I also would like to know more about why she ran away.

I have a sister named Maya, who has Leukemia. Leukemia is a type of cancer. I am worried if I leave I will never see her again. My dad wants to help my sister but they don’t realize how much it is impacting my life. 

The thing is I have to take care of my sister because my father works till 8pm every night. The main thing that I have to do is make dinner and clean the dishes. Luckily, I can go to school. My sister can’t go to school because then she will get even more sick, considering all the germs. It is really hard to make friends at a time like this, but luckily I have a friend named Chloe. Chloe is a nice, caring person who helps me with my sister by checking on my sister while I do my homework. If only my dad would take some time off of work for my sister. Last night I was telling my dad how I felt about all of this. He said it was so we could pay for everything. 

Back to trying to find my mother. I decided that tonight I would ask my dad about my mom and why we never speak of her. First I needed to go to school, check on my sister, do homework, then wait for my dad. My dad gets home around 8:30 pm and sits down on the couch and I notice something is wrong so I call 911. I notice that my dad is limping and his foot is swelling. We go to the ambulance and after some tests, they find out my dad has a broken foot. He will not tell me how he broke it. Uh oh. I need an adult I can trust. Now I really need my mom. I can only trust my mom and the doctors. I just talked with the doctors and they say they will call whenever something happens. So I’m off. But I need to tell my dad and ask him a few questions.

I go up to my dad and ask, “Dad can you tell me anything about Mom?”

“No,” he says.

“Why not?” I ask, trying to beg him.

“Because,” he answers. 

“You sure?” I try one last time.

There is silence then finally, “Fine, just ask her yourself,” he says as he goes on my phone and dials a number. I go in my room and answer the phone.

“Hi Mom,” I say.

“Hi,” she says. It feels great to hear her voice. It has been a long time since I heard her voice. It makes me feel sad and happy at the same time. Her voice is kind of soft like the harmony of angels.

“Where are you mom? No one will tell me anything. And why did you run away from dad, Maya and I?” I feel bad that people don’t tell me anything.

“I will give you a hint and tell you the rest when you come and find me. Here is your hint… I am at the hottest continent in the world. The country I am in is called something that has a few Os in it,” she answers. I think that this is a very strange answer. Now after I finish this call I have to solve the riddle.

“Mom, if you don’t know, dad has a broken foot and Maya has Leukemia,” I say in grief because it is sad to say that my whole family is falling apart.

“Sadly I know that these things are happening right now. I know these things because your father calls everyday. Gotta go ,bye,” she says.

“Bye,” I say and hang up. I think I just need to figure out that riddle and then I will tell my dad that I am going to wherever the riddle takes me. I head over to my desk and figure out the riddle. I have always been great at riddles and I love them. This is how I figured it out…

First, you figure out what the hottest continent: Africa (if you don’t know look it up.)

Second, you know that a few means around three, and there are three o’s so…

The answer is Morocco.

So now I need to tell my dad.

“Hey Dad,” I say as I head over to the couch.

“Hi honey,” he says.

He looks tired so I tell him, “Dad, let me tell you something. Then you’ll try to sleep.”

“Ok, what do you want?” he says.

“Can I go to Morocco to save Mom?” I ask, crossing my fingers.

“No,” he answers.

“Dad, why not? I am helping Maya, you and myself. Please.”

“But you may get hurt,” he says.

“Dad, I won’t get hurt. Can you stop being overprotective?”

“I don’t want everyone in this family to be hurt.”

“Then let me go. I will always be hurt without my mom. Just so you know the doctors are taking care of Maya.”

“Go, but try not to get hurt.”

“Sure.” Yes, I am going to Morocco and saving my mom. Now I need to get a ticket. I look at my phone, and I see that there is a flight tomorrow at 2 pm to Morocco. When I turned sixteen, my dad gave me a wallet that had a credit card. I will go then. I am lucky that it is the weekend tomorrow. Wait for one second. Tomorrow is Chloe’s birthday. I will ask if we can do something for her birthday in the morning before noon.

A few minutes later…

Yes! She replied and said that I could come over now and have a birthday sleepover. I told her I’d be there in a little bit. So, off I am to the bookstore to get Chloe a book. I decided to grab something Harry Potter. I am now trying to find the Ravenclaw notebook. Our favorite house. We like Ravenclaw because they are smart and so are we. Found it. Now I pay and we are off to Chloe’s 17th birthday party. She is a few months older than me. 

I get there and I give the present to Chloe and say, “Are you looking forward to being seventeen? I am sorry that I could not be here for your actual party.”

“It is fine, I know how much you want your mom and your family to be safe at home,” she says, and we start the sleepover. To sum it all up, we ate pizza and popcorn, she loved my present, we watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and we played Just Dance. Now the party is done. I am surprised that I had a good time. Like, I have to go home to grab my stuff and head to the airport, forgetting my passport. Don’t worry about that.

A few hours later…

I am on the plane to Morocco. It is a long plane ride so I will watch some movies. I also will listen to Grace Vanderwaal. She is my favorite singer. I’ve been on a plane many times before. The plane has 3 rows. 

15 hours and 25 minutes later…  

It was a long plane ride, but finally I am here, in Morocco. Now let me call my mom.

“Hey mom I figured out that you meant Morocco and I am in Morocco right now. Where are you?” I tell her.

Good job,” she said. “You did it. Come outside. I go outside and see that there is a limo. The guy asks me if I have any luggage and I realize that I forgot my luggage. I go inside and get my luggage and go back to the car. I’ll listen to more Grace Vanderwaal. When we get to wherever we should get to. I see a house with a backyard that seems like it is close to a lion territory. I walk  in and see the person I’ve wanted to see basically my whole life,

“Mom,” I say as I run up to her.

“Finally, I can see you and talk to you in person. Sit on the couch and I will tell you what you want to know,” she says. “What would you like to know?”

“I have many questions. First question, Why do you leave Maya, Dad, and I?”

“Ok, the answer to that is one night I got an email that the lions need some help to stay alive, and since I love animals, I thought that I could maybe help.”

“Ok, next question, why do you never call me or Maya?” I ask.

“Because your dad wants us to surprise your sister on her birthday. So can you please stay here for a little while? You will have to be homeschooled, sorry. I didn’t call you because we wanted you to want to come here.”

“I guess,” I said. I was unable to answer this question because I would like to be with my mom, but also want to be with my other family and friends. So I guess that I will be hanging out around lions for a month or two.


It has been a couple of months and I am on my way to my sister to surprise her. For some reason, we are heading to the house instead of the hospital. Does this mean what I think it means? It does! My sister overcame leukemia!! I am so happy and excited. My life is finally normal. My sister is a normal kid, who can do normal things. My mom is back. And my dad has his foot back. That is all the time I have, bye.


Every day, I just see a boy staring back at me. I see most everything he does, and not all of it is pleasant to watch. I’m a goldfish, and this boy decided to name me Bananas. What kind of name is that? Especially for a fish. 

I have a pretty nice life though. I just swim around in my tank and wait for this boy to feed me. At least I’m not getting flushed down a toilet.

As I swim around, I question, “Why does this boy have me in his room? Why does he need me?”

And I’m still not quite sure of the answer. All I do is swim in this tank. Is it really that entertaining for this boy? 

This boy, I think his name is Sam. His hair is brown and he has green eyes. He’s fairly pale and tall. Well, I guess every human is tall compared to me. I’m not sure what this boy does. Sometimes I see him on a device with cords coming out of his ears, and he nods his head or dances. Sometimes he sings while he stares at me. I’ve seen other boys come in here. I’ve even seen girls in here too. I’ve seen this boy Sam cry. I do not understand why he cries. I do not understand what he has to be sad about. All I know is that he comes over and looks at me, salt water pouring down his face, and I cannot help him.

I’m useless. Maybe the boy cries because he feels useless. Maybe I make him feel as if I needed him. Maybe that’s why the boy has me in his room. Maybe that’s why he wants me, because I need him, and it’s encouraging to know that someone or something needs you.