Monsters in the Dark, Part 1

Chapter 1

“Alice, are you ready to go?” Ian turned back from scrabbling through trash.

“Yeah…” Alice seemed down, she was looking at the garbage, but she grabbed a food sack. She really didn’t want to see what’s inside.

“What’s wrong?” Ian now grabbed another food sack.

“How could this happen to us humans…” Alice sighed.

“What do you mean?” Ian went over to Alice.

“We used to be at the top of the food chain.. But now after these monsters came, we are stuck searching through trash eating remains of… huh… nevermind,” The thought of what they eat disgusted her.

“Ye – ” Ian was about to say.

“FIND HUMANS.” A robot walked into the alley way.

“Oh no, run!” Ian darted deeper in the alley way.

“I – uh.” Alice walked backwards before running after Ian. After a while of running they bumped into a wall with two boxes stacked on top of each other.

“Get onto the boxes and jump the wall!” Ian yelled at Alice.

“Got it.” Alice climbed the boxes then she jumped on top of the wall. Just as she jumped up the top box fell down. 

“FIND THEM,” The robot said in a robotic voice. It was completely silver.

No!” Alice just realized that the box fell.

“Grab this!” Ian grabbed something out of the pouch and held it out to Alice.

“No, I can pull you up!” Alice rejected the thing in Ian’s hand and grabbed his wrist.

“Listen, I’m the older one. Mom and Dad put me in charge, so take it.” Ian looked back at the robot, which had now grabbed a taser. 

“Fine.” Alice grabbed the thing in Ian’s hand.

“Now, GO!” Ian turned around to face the robot. Zap! Ian fell down. Alice jumped off the other side of the wall, running away with tears rolling down her cheeks. She knew what was going to happen to her brother.


After a while of running, she found a safe spot to hide, which was a hole in a building. Alice then opened her fist to see that the thing Ian gave her was a pocket watch. After a while, she fell asleep. 

Thunk. Thunk. 

“Huh?” Alice looked out of the hole she entered through and saw a robot walk by. It was carrying a sack that seemed to be squirming. Ian might be in there, Alice thought. She snuck out slowly, following the robot. Luckily, the thunking of its metal feet was too loud for it to hear Alice. It eventually stopped at a small dumpster and dropped the bag in. Alice quickly hid behind something as the robot turned around and walked away. She looked back before running for the dumpster-like thing and jumping in. 

“WOAH!” she fell down into a pipe sliding. She fell down onto a table that was the size of four trucks next to each other and two trucks on top of each other. The bag that the robot threw down was next to her. “Hello?” she edged closer to the bag, untying it and then opening it. Two people got out.

“Thanks!” said a boy.

“Hmm.” Alice looked around, not seeing Ian. She looked around, trying to see if there were any more bags, but there weren’t. All of a sudden the door flung open, and a monster walked in. The monster was paper-white skinned and was kind of a much larger and much fatter human. Alice saw it, darting to a side of the table before jumping onto a stool and then onto the floor. The other people followed her. They were running towards a small vent when the monster noticed them and started wobbling towards them. Alice reached the vent, grabbing the bars of the vent door. She tugged at them, trying to rip it off. 

“Quicker!” The boy, who was now behind Alice, yelped.

“Shut up, it’s harder than it looks,” Alice hissed, still trying to rip off the vent door.

“Jeez.” The boy turned back to look at the other person running towards the vent.

“Phew.” The other person who seemed to be an adult got up to them.

“Erg!” Alice kept tugging at the vent door.

“It’s getting closer!” The boy now looked at the monster, who was getting closer and closer.

“There!” Alice finally ripped the vent door off the wall, throwing it away and running in. The boy jumped in after her.

“Woah!” The adult tripped, and the monster grabbed her. 

“NO, MOM!” The boy looked back to who was supposedly his mom being taken by the monster.

“God…” Alice looked back grabbing the boy and tossing him farther in the vent before the other monster’s hand could grab him.

“NOO!” The boy still seemed to be sad.

“Let’s keep going.” Alice pushed past him, continuing forward. They kept walking for a while and the boy seemed to be calming down.

“I’m Jell, by the way.” The boy was trotting behind Alice.

“I’m Alice,” she grunted, continuing forward. After a while, they reached an opening that had a bunch of trash bags and green murky water. “Finally, now we can separate.” Alice jumped down onto a trash bag, not daring to touch the disgusting water.

“But shouldn’t we stick together?” The boy jumped after her.

“No, just leave me alone.” Alice jumped to another trash bag.

“C’mon, I can help!” Jell almost tripped into the water but managed to get to the bag that Alice was on.

“I said no!” Alice turned around, glaring at Jell.

“Jeez.” Jell backed away. 

“Now leave me alone.” Alice looked back. She jumped onto another bag and saw that there were no more bags ahead of her. Alice looked around, noticed a rope and jumped on it, and swung to another bag. She looked back, seeing Jell.

Alice let go of the rope and began walking away. “There,” she said, jumping onto a platform. She walked to a door, busting it open. The room she entered was filled with trash. There were also some monster-sized stairs leading up to another floor. Alice walked towards the stairs. A monster fell through the floor and started groaning like a dead animal before being still. “Yikes.” Alice went back to the stairs trying to get up.

“Woah, what happened to that monster?” Jell entered the room looking at the dead monster. 

Alice ignored Jell and continued up the monster-sized stairs. “Whatever,” she said. Jell also went to the stairs. Alice was almost at the top when she heard a dead animal noise and thumping. When she got up to the second floor, a monster, who looked like all the other monsters except for the fact that he was wearing brown rags, entered the hallway, looking at Alice. All of a sudden, the dead animal noise got louder, and it started running towards her.

“Uh oh,” Alice backed away her foot, almost falling off the stairs.

“What’s wrong?” Jell looked up at Alice.

“MONSTER!” Alice jumped down the stairs.

“Monster? Another one!?” Jell seemed surprised.

“YEAH!” Alice shoved Jell to side running father into the room.

“HEY – !” Jell looked at Alice for a second before he heard a dead animal noise at the top of the stairs. The monster wobbled down the stairs getting ready to grab Jell.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING? COME, RUN!” Alice looked back at Jell who was frozen a bit. Jell snapped back to reality, running after Alice. Right as he ran, the monster tripped slamming onto the ground where Jell just stood. 

“Is it dead?” Jell, who had shorter legs, had a hard time catching up with Alice.

“Nope,” Alice looked up at a pipe jumping onto it trying to climb up.

“How do you know?” Jell jumped after Alice looking back at the monster who was getting up.

“Because I know a lot about monsters. That fall wouldn’t kill it.” Alice continued up.

“Ohhh.” Jell almost slipped off.

“C’mon, faster!” Alice was on a second pipe which was going right to left. 

“I can’t!” Jell was almost there when the monster got up, running towards the pipe.

“It’s coming!” Alice pulled out her hand bending down. Bam! The monster ran head first into the pipe and made a large dent right where Jell was.

“Phew, that was close,” Jell said. He had pulled up before the monster hit the pipe, which now had steam shooting out of it.

“Yeah.” Alice watched as the monster walked backward and then fell to the floor. “Let’s go now,” Alice ran on the second pipe.

“Got it.” Jell started running after Alice. 

“This way.” Alice skidded to a halt opening another vent door. The monster put his hand up before falling down again. 

“Er…” Jell looked at the monster before following Alice. Jell and Alice semi-crouch-ran through the vents. Eventually, she ran into a vent door which broke off and fell down into an alleyway. 

“Wait.” Alice noticed a dark green jacket farther down the alleyway. That was the color jacket Ian had.

“Let’s keep going,” Jell was about to go left, where the vent continued.

“Ian?” Alice jumped down, running through the alleyway filled with small puddles.

“Alice!” Jell jumped after her.

“No, no.” Alice now noticed there was blood on the jacket. She paused, then grabbed the jacket and saw Ian’s name on it.

“Alice?” Jell stretched his arms out.

“HUMANS DETECTED.” Robots entered the alleyway, blocking the exit.

“Oh no!” Jell walked backward. 

“There’s no use, it’s a dead end.” Alice was looking down at the jacket that she now dropped. The robots took out tasers, shooting Alice and Jell.

Chapter 2

“Err…” Jell woke up in a bag that was carrying a random person and Alice. The bag opened and a monster put its hand into the bag, grabbing Alice.

“Woah!” Alice was surprised, she didn’t know there was a monster there.

“Alic – !” The monster closed the bag before Jell could finish his sentence. The monster walked through the door into a monster-sized kitchen with a stone counter. It set Alice down and walked into a different room while making the dead animal noise. She got up, running across the counter. She looked around, saw a vent, busted it open, and ran through it. She ran into a room and saw a teddy with a key in its back.

“Woah…” She began to edge closer but saw a skinny hand with long fingers grab the toy and twist the key. She jumped back. Beautiful music started playing from the teddy bear. Alice peeked the corner and saw a very tall and skinny monster working on what looked like the robots that capture people. After a few minutes, the music stopped, and the monster turned and grabbed the teddy again, twisting the key before returning. Alice looked back at the monster to make sure it was looking away, then she dashed across to the edge of the wood desk and jumped to a large coffee table. She almost fell down but grabbed the coffee table, got up, and ran farther. As she was getting ready to jump to the next table, she was grabbed by the monster. The monster looked at her, tilting its head. 

“LET ME GO!” Alice was shaking and kicking the monster, trying to get out of its grip. The music stopped, but the monster did not turn around to turn the key on the teddy bear. A few seconds passed with the monster looking at Alice. It finally put her down and went to the teddy bear. When the monster looked back at Alice she was already jumping to another table down a hallway. She ran as fast as she could, hearing the monster behind her. She saw a vent and a pile of books leading up to it. Alice was getting ready to turn toward that pile of books when she tripped on a monster-sized needle. She fell off the table into a bucket full of water which tipped over, splashing water everywhere. She got up, dashing away. She didn’t mind about the water, after all, the monster was chasing her. 

Alice looked back. The monster was really agro now, throwing things off tables and whatnot. She noticed a kitchen up ahead. She knew there were vents in all of the monster kitchens. The monster was catching up to her as she entered the kitchen. She ran up a chair that was tilted onto the counter. Then, she jumped on a pepper thing, then jumped into a cupboard, and saw a vent. She climbed up a wooden kitchen knife holder to get to the vent. But when she went to the vent, it knocked over the kitchen knife holder and the knives fell into the monster in the face. The monster hit the floor. She went through the vent without looking back. 

“Great! That monster’s dead, that’s one monster gone,” Alice whispered to herself. She continued forward as quickly as she could, hoping she’d find Jell. Alice stopped walking through the vents and sat down. She put her hand in her pocket and noticed something was missing… The pocket watch Ian gave her was gone. She frantically searched all her pockets but all of them were empty. She lost the last thing that Ian gave her. Alice curled up into a ball wondering why life had become like this. She got up in the morning, at least, what she thought was the morning, as Alice couldn’t see the sky. She continued to crawl through the vents for some time. All of a sudden, she heard heavy footsteps below her and music that sounded familiar, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. A can fell out of her jacket clanging on the metal vent. Alice paused, listening for the heavy footsteps, but she couldn’t hear them anymore. A dead animal noise came from below instead. 

“Oh no,” Alice said. She sped up through the vent. She heard a scraping noise and realized that the place where she just was was gone. At this point, she was running through the vents but whatever was done there was faster, and eventually, the place in front of her was ripped off. The vent she was in started shaking when all of a sudden, the vent floor below her was ripped off. Alice grabbed the edges not wanting to fall off, but the sharp edges cut into Alice’s palms. She looked up, seeing a monster staring right back at her. The monster, which was holding the vent floor she was on, brought her closer. The lower half of its head started opening like a mouth but instead of teeth, it was monster flesh. It grabbed Alice off the piece of the vent with its other hand bringing her closer to its mouth. A noise came from behind the monster. It seemed that a can had fallen, but whatever fell made the monster let go of Alice and turn around. She fell down into a pile of trash. She got up and ran away from the monster as quickly as she could. 

When she looked back she noticed that it was the same monster that she thought had died from the kitchen knives, it even had wounds from where the kitchen knives fell, yet no blood fell out of the wounds. It turned around, howling loudly, and began to chase Alice. She didn’t care about the fact that her hands were bleeding, she only cared that she ran fast enough to get away from the monster. Alice noticed a sewer grate and darted for it. She tried lifting the grate but it was too heavy. She ran back, grabbed a stick and ran back to the sewer grate lifting enough for her to put the stick below it and she slipped through the small gap. Alice grabbed the ladder, going down it and splashing into green water. “Ew!” She jumped to the side so she didn’t have to walk in the green water and shook her boots trying to get the water off. She noticed that the sewer she was in looked like a man-made one, as it was smaller than the monster-made ones and the bricks were more nicely placed. Alice ripped off a bit of her old jacket, tying the pieces to her hand to stop the bleeding. 

She continued forward through the sewer, eventually reaching a stack of rocks that were obviously placed to stop people from going past it. She went to the nearest ladder, pushing a sewer grate up. Alice saw multiple uninhabited buildings with either wide-open or ripped-out-of-the-doorway doors. There were also a few old items lying around like an old backpack which was half decomposed. She looked around seeing a giant stone wall on the outskirts of where the buildings were fewer and fewer. 

At that moment, Alice had an idea. She remembered that the monster that made robots seemed to be angrier when the music wasn’t playing and wondered if breaking or stealing the toy would cause the engineer robot to get mad. Would it kill the other monsters? Alice knew what to do immediately. She would have to go back and find the long, tall monster base. She turned back, hopping through the open sewer manhole. When Alice splashed into the dirty water she looked around trying to remember which way she came from. Eventually, she ran to her left, and when she reached a ladder, she climbed up. Alice stopped for a second, wondering where the tall monster’s place could be. “If the monster was here before it must be near here right?” Alice said out loud while running through the large hallway. 

CRASH. “What was that?” Alice looked around, noticing that a vase had fallen and crashed. A few things smaller than Alice which kinda looked like dirty brown cones ran past the vase. “What the hell is that?!” The cones turned and looked at Alice, and all of the cone people ran away except one. It stared at Alice and slowly walked to Alice. 

The cone said something like “Alice,” but it was muffled and also slightly echoed. 

“Who are you?” Alice backed away running trying to get as much distance from the cone thing. It looked after her for a little then ran after its friends. “Man, that was weird.” Alice kept running then turned a corner seeing a large terribly made wooden door with gears and pipes on it.

“Oh, hey!” A voice came from beside Alice.

“AH!” Alice turned her head quickly seeing Jell was right next to Alice staring at the door. “Wha – Ho – How did you even ge – I’m so confused.” 

“Eh, I had a piece of glass and I cut the bag open… I was scared you were dead,” Jell said.

“Listen, I’m some sort of bad luck. I mean, I ran into a single monster twice, thinking I killed it the first time! Just…. Just go.” Alice turned her head away and ran towards the door.

“Bu – I mean…” Jell just stood there thinking what to say next.

“Nope, just go,” Alice, who was not at the door, looked for a way to open it.

“Hey! Try climbing into that pipe sticking out of the door!” Jell called to Alice.

“Sur – Wait, you should be gone by now! I said I’m bad luck!” Alice jumped to the pipe that Jell was talking about and walked through it. She walked through the pipe until she reached an open area and jumped out to the other side of the door. Alice looked around. She was in a room with one large desk and a stool in front of it and an elevator on the other side of the room. BEEP. The elevator doors opened revealing the tall and skinny monster. It walked into the room without noticing Alice, sat down at the desk, and turned the key to the teddy bear Alice remembered. The monster grabbed a few pieces, screwed them together, and took a metal rod with wires coming out of a ton of holes. The monster placed the rod in a metal box, connecting the wires to the metal. Alice looked around, trying to find a way to distract the monster and get the teddy bear and hide it. She found a tin can on the ground behind the monster then Alice saw a wood twig she ran over grabbed the twig and with all her might threw it at the can. Clank

The monster turned around, looking for what made the noise. It spotted the can and grabbed it with its long, skinny fingers. Alice looked around seeing that the wooden peg holding the table was scratched deeply. She darted for the wooden peg and climbed it by putting her feet in the holes and using her hands to pull herself up. When she was three-quarters up the monster turned around, didn’t notice Alice, and returned to his stool. Once Alice got up, she ran for cover, hiding behind fully made robots that were not turned on or toys, like a toy doll or elephant. As she passed a broken monkey with cymbals it randomly turned on, making the cymbals clash, alerting the engineer monster. 

“AH!” Alice jumped back, hitting a wall. The monster pushed the toy monkey aside upon hearing Alice get jump-scared. She got up, looking at the monster, trying to think where she could run. The monster neared Alice, its hand getting closer. Right before it could get Alice she jumped to the side, pushing an unfinished robot, and ran for the teddy bear that was playing the music. It moved its hand away to try grabbing Alice again she just got to the teddy bear when its hand was trying to get her again. CRACK! The hand grabbed the teddy bear and accidentally crushed it, missing Alice. The monster’s other hand came up and went for Alice. “Oh sh – ” Alice jumped back from the hand and quickly ran away. Alice jumped off the table, landed on a stack of books, and slowly climbed down. When she was nearly down the book that she was on – “OOF!” Alice hit the floor, trying to push the book that was now on her but it was too late. The monster grabbed Alice, its long fingers almost touching below its wrist. “Let me go!” Alice tried grabbing something sharp from her pockets, but they were completely empty. Alice could see that the monster was getting angrier and angrier. 

CLANG! CLANG! All of a sudden a Jolly Chimp, a toy monkey with cymbals, turned on. The monster turned its hand, loosening its grip on Alice. It placed down Alice striding to the monkey grabbing it and ripping it to pieces, the cymbals hitting the floor. Alice took the chance and jumped off the table again heading towards the elevator that was still open. She noticed that there was a lever. Thinking that’s how the elevator turned on, she tried to push a box into the elevator. The monster turned around and saw Alice and rushed towards the elevator. Just in time, Alice pushed the box under the lever and grabbed the handle, pushing the lever down. 

“Phew, that was close – ” The monster had grabbed the elevator doors before they had fully closed. SCREECH! The doors slowly slid open. “Why isn’t the elevator going up?” Then, as if the elevator was listening, it started going up. The monster let go, and the doors slammed shut. 

The doors opened, revealing another room. It had trash bags and a very rotten blue wallpaper. As she walked farther in, she noticed a drawing of a door on one of the walls and a dusty desk with what looked like an old teddy bear. Alice examined the trash bags and noticed more old toys. 

“Must’ve been the monster’s old working place,” Alice muttered. She walked over to the drawing of a door as if she expected it to swing open. “Worth a try. I mean if monsters exist, so can magic.” She looked around, trying to see if she didn’t miss anything. She noticed a doorway next to the elevator with wood planks nailed into the wall, covering up most of the doorway. “Wonder why that’s there… I mean it could be that it’s trying to keep me in… Or of course, trying to keep something out!” She shuddered at the thought that something would have scared the monster so much that they had to block it. Alice swung around because she heard something behind her and noticed a doll had fallen down. She started hearing footsteps and turned around back to the doorway. She could barely see a humanoid-like thing that was the size of a monster. It even looked more human than the monster’s shadows that were covering most of it. It was just standing there, lifeless with its right arm stretched out towards the door. 

“I don’t think that was there before… Or was it?” Alice backed away and turned around, searching the room again. Then, there were the footsteps again. Alice twirled around, swearing that the footsteps came from the door. Then she noticed something… the humanoid monster thing was closer to the door. “…M-must be my imagination, right?” Alice was actually starting to get slightly frightened at the fact that something had caught sight of her and that she couldn’t get out. “I can just leave in the elevator.” She turned her head towards the elevator ready to walk towards it then noticed the doors were closed and the button to open it was too high for her. How did I not even notice?! Alice thought. She quickly turned back to the nailed door seeing that the thing had moved a bit closer. “Is it moving when I’m not looking?” She twirled around then turned back to the doorway, noticing it moved again. 

Alice could now see the monster full. It looked much like a mannequin except for a few key factors. Its face was deformed in a horrifying way, the face was smushed, its nose was bent, and its left hand was missing. Alice slowly backed up, hitting a melted teddy bear. She gulped, turned around, and ripped off the teddy bear’s head then quickly turned back and saw that the monster’s right hand was gripped over one of the wood planks, blocking the door. Alice slowly walked towards the elevator, making sure to keep her eyes on the monster. She looked at the elevator and threw the teddy bear’s head towards the button but the sudden noise of wood starting to break scared her, and instead of it hitting the button, it hit the elevator door and fell back. She ran for the head trying not to listen to the wood cracking. Alice once again grabbed the teddy bear’s head and threw it again towards the button, the head hit the button giving a BEEP, and the elevator doors slowly started to open. Alice could see in the corner of her eye that the wood went flying, and she could hear the running of the monster behind her. She ran for the elevator door and once in, quickly turned around and saw that the monster’s hand was extended into the elevator. She slowly backed away and then turned around, jumping onto the box she left under the lever. She pulled the lever down which had apparently moved up after she left the elevator. 

SCREECH. She turned back, noticing that half the monster’s body was already in the elevator. The sound of plastic being crushed came in as the elevator doors crashed into the monster, slowly breaking it. Wait… if I go down, that tall monster will be there, Alice quickly remembered. She jumped off the box running towards the doors. CRUNCH! Alice ran under the monster’s legs before they crashed together and the doors crushed the monster. She looked around, trying to find another way out, then remembered the hallway where the monster came from. Alice turned to look at it. The only light was coming from the room she was in. She turned around, searching through the pile of toys when she found a cat-shaped nightlight that ran on batteries. The glass-shaped cat was cracked and missing pieces. She flicked the small switch at the bottom of it so the light would turn on then she walked towards the hallway. “Why is it so dark down there? I hate the dark.” Alice strode into the hallway, holding the night light in front of her.

To be continued…

Through the Cracks

Once I broke the trust they had 

I regret breaking a pickle jar

I’ve seen others break bonds

I know that others break plates

Watched them try to piece them together again

Imagine they try to piece them together again

I’ll probably break my own heart

I worry I’ll break as many plates someday

They’ll watch as I try to pick the broken pieces back up

They’ll watch as I try to pick my broken self back up

I can’t break glass ceilings

I worry I won’t break down walls

I don’t think I’ll ever need to

I worry now I am expected to

I knowingly broke a friendship

I unwillingly broke the rules

I listened to others and followed them

I watched them leave and couldn’t follow them

I never want to break away

I hope I can break a heart

Where I Am From

I am from the heat of my village

And the blizzard of a New York winter

I can feel my sweat freeze

I am from my grandmothers who were child brides

And the daughter of a woman with a PhD

My family tree is a banyan

With long branches and deep roots in its land 

I am from my ancestors

That don’t speak the same language as me

I am from the land of the “goras” 

Colder than the mountains of Nepal

Where Badi Dadi came from at 13

I am the farthest from my village

That I could ever be

Yet the most at home when I am there

I am from culture shock

And joining the great American melting pot 

Come with your culture

And leave with theirs

That’s the price to pay

For paved roads and clean air

I can talk like them

Dress like them

Even look like them

But I will never be them 

No matter how hard I try

I am from lying to myself


Feeling like a fraud

Not knowing what is my culture and what is theirs

I am from shopping at Khan Market

I can smell the designer perfume 

Street food

And poverty 

The elites escape from a developing country 

Visiting the Mall 

With its shiny western products

On the flawless white models 

Viewed by millions of brown skin Indians 

Walks in Lodi garden 

I can hear the monkeys

Chattering at me

I am from the spoiled little girl 

Who lived five years

And never made her own bed

To the girl who can walk on the streets alone

And my brother’s late-night conversations 

And his gentle protection 

Calms my temper 

Like pouring ice on fire

I am from playing Ludo with Dadi

Getting printouts from Nana

And the hugs from Nani

I am from looking in the mirror and seeing nothing but flaws

Feeling like I am worth nothing at all

I am from my dog nuzzling through my arms and licking away my tears

I can feel my fears vanish

I am from my parents’ determination

To protect me

Help me

And raise me

Higher than I could ever reach on my own

I am from the midnight dreams

And the happy screams

And everything in between

I am where I can go

And everyone I know

I am my family


The first time was when I was eight. I’d been bouncing on the balls of my feet, waiting for my best friend outside in the scorching hot playground, but when she arrived, she told me she wanted a break from me and was going to go play with someone else today. A small tear tugged at the threads of my heart, and a small crack rooted itself in my heart, so I rushed to the bathroom before anyone noticed the crack. With tears streaming down my face, my shaking fingers landed on the hidden button by accident. But when the soft flesh of my fingertips collided with the well-concealed button on the base of my neck, everything was okay. The button took me back four hours before. With those extra four hours, I thought of a solution: I wouldn’t go to school that day. It gave her the break that she needed but spared me from the pain of being told she needed the break. 

Of course, I know restarting doesn’t really change anything, but it at least gave me the option of pretending it never happened. 

The next time was when I was 11. I’d heard through my friend, who heard through her friend, that my friend had told someone that I was an embarrassment to be friends with. The secret made its way through the furtive chain of people until it made it to me. And as those words were whispered back to me, the same way they had been whispered down the chain, a fracture opened in my heart. And surprise! The fracture was in the same place as the one that my eight-year-old self had sewed up sloppily three years earlier. So I ran to the bathroom to sew up the new fracture. I hit the button and got my extra four hours. This time, my solution was a little more direct. I decided if she was going to call me embarrassing, I may as well just do it first. So I walked up to her slowly. I’m really sorry, but I just – I-I-I don’t know if I wanna be so close. I’m going to be honest, you’re a little bit embarrassing to be around, and I think I might need a break from our friendship. The moment the words escaped, there was a slight guilt that blossomed in my chest, but I ignored it. I watched the tears form in her eyes, and she shook her head and ran off. I wondered if maybe she was running to the bathroom to push her own button. 

After that, I started using it more frequently. With each use, I sewed up the same fracture that kept appearing in the same place until my heart was a jumble of threads pulled together sloppily. 

I used it for the 26th time when I was 13. I had been friends with these two girls for three years. We’d made a promise that our friendship was for life. We’d looked each other in the eyes and told each other how much we valued our friendship. It was your typical middle-school, coming-of-age-movie type thing. But obviously, three aren’t best friends. Two are best friends. Three is a pair of best friends and an extra. Apparently, I was the extra. Three months after we had made our pact of friendship, I figured out that they had been having sleepovers together every month. In fact, they had made it a tradition. Another fracture. Off to the bathroom. Better sew it up. Tears streaming down my face. Hair being flung out of the way. Fingers searching for the button. Finger. Button. Finger. Button. Finger. Button? Finger. No button? Finger. No button. 

That was the day the threads tore, and the fracture, no longer contained, etched itself into my heart, a cruel, burning emblem that had seared the words:





Into my heavy, broken heart for everyone to see.


Mr. Murphy was a settling man who lived free of companions, but the fact of the matter is this – he was not lonesome. Lonesomeness in his case was silent and unclassified, but he did play around with his own concepts. He sat on the porch of our shack, drowsy and what seemed to be drunk. 

That day was one of the sweltering, and we usually saw dry days in Texas, where Smurf would either go to sleep, or get drunk trying. Bo had stayed in a tent built with his brother, but he was only a tween, so we didn’t have a clue what to make of him. He had tan-ish skin, and we knew he had been living in the sun his whole life, so he could handle a bit of skin peeling. We lived a couple of miles away from the village because there was a river closer by us. Anyway, Smurf and I moved down to the bar, traveling the somewhat dried-up river. 

“Sand is pasty around here,” Smurf had muttered. “It looks safe for hunting, but I didn’t know what the laws were about around here.” We laid a couple of pebbles on the moist sand. 

“Bo’ll be marked for the land,” I guessed. We called the town Lead, and we called it that because we were on the river that narrowly ‘lead’ up to Miller, a gold mining city where the government had installed the Stoker Dam. There wasn’t much of anything around our place, but I had bet we weren’t gonna try to get out of there. We lived in a shack-like structure, with a rusty iron roof and chunky clay bricks. It was dry inside, and didn’t have anything in it, just a burlap-sack bed and a wooden porch. Anyhow, clumsily striding through the riverside, me and Smurf had gotten to the thicker parts of underbrush, where trees and bushes were blocking our paved-out route. 

“Any chance we can stop by… uh… one of the Mo’s today?” he asked. Smurf called auction houses “Mo’s,” half because he liked the word, and half because we all were used to him using the term.  

“What do you need horses for?” 

“One of the Indian folk in Arizona had sent me a letter, showing us a warrant they were trying to get on our claim,” he uttered, while jumping over a log. At that point we had no clue as to what the Navajo were trying to get our land for, as the plain-skinned guy who sold us the land had not informed us. 

Smurf had looked at my troubled expression quizzically, knowing I wasn’t going down easy on our land. I had gotten so much of our profit into mining everything I could get out of our dry and sandy ground. 

Up until the point me and Smurf got out of the underbush, we were unscathed, but as we were walking into the major square of the town, bits of sand started to hit our face by the wind. I had dragged Smurf on over to the town mostly just for poker to get a bit of money into my hands, but he now seemed up for some games. 

We walked up onto the patio of the new bar, which opened a couple of months ago, just to rest for a minute until someone came into view. The bartender, a guy named Vinnie, stepped out of the locked building all tired looking, but he had clearly gotten a new trim for the time being. I didn’t know if he himself wanted to do anything, but almost as soon as I thought this, he quickly trod over to talk to me and Smurf. 

“The landlords had been after you, ya know?” Vinnie said quickly. 

“Since when have the Indians actually won a case?” Smurf responded as he straightened up in his chair. 

“I don’t know, but you guys better get back to Mexico before anyone whips at your asses.”

I got out of my seat to stretch out and run over to a vendor and get a six-pack to calm down Smurf. I kept my own counsel, but I reckoned Smurf was devising a plan to steal some horses and flee cross-country, or something to do with Bo. I then hurried back across to street to pass a beer to Vinnie and maybe one to Smurf. 

“You boys wanna go back home for the night?” Smurf blurted out. 

“Why would I go? My gran’s got a place in Lead,” Vinnie shot back at him. 

“I guess I’m stressed on the whole of it, but any time wasted is just as bad as any time they have to get closer to us.”

“We should head back to get ready,” I pitched in. 

Vinnie sent us on our way and we took a trail back to the land. I knocked on the steel-plated door, and a couple of seconds later it opened up to reveal the face of a little Indian boy.

“Where abouts you come from?” Smurf asked as we walked into the shack. I had noticed the kid didn’t really want to speak, so we just gave him a cup to play with. We sat for a couple of minutes, until Smurf got up to pour beans into the one little stove we had. We sat for a little longer waiting for it to be prepared, the pan sizzling. 

As Smurf stood up from the bare floor to get bowls for us, we heard a knock at the door. Then there was another knock, and another. But they didn’t stop, loud bangs in the numbness of my brain. 

Wright: The Oil Chain

Chapter 1

Trapped in a hellhole. That is how I felt when I got shipped to a little farm 70 miles away from civilization. While rolling away from my parents’ driveway, my dad yelled, “Have fun at my parents’ house!” 

I swear to God he smirked to himself, knowing the troubles that would soon follow. And they followed sooner than expected.
It should have been a nice, uneventful hour-and-a-half drive. 

It was not. 

Not by anybody’s standards, unless you thought the “standard” was a seven-hour drive, excluding the literal five times we stopped for “gas” or “food” or “water” or “rest.” Why don’t you do all of them at the same time? My grandpa did not move faster than 35 mph on the empty highway we were on the whole time, which had a speed limit of 80 mph! I think Grandpa started a three-hour traffic jam. That is how slow he was. Did I mention that it was a one-lane highway? When we went to a gas station for water – I know! Just water! – Grandpa came back, he got in the seat, and we turned into a huge traffic jam. I mean huge traffic. So, basically, the traffic Grandpa created turned out to be the traffic we were stuck in. Don’t ask me how… No, I know how: even with the car in front of us finally out of view, we had a huge line of cars behind us, inching forward. The only thing stopping them from freedom was a small minivan with somebody too scared to go faster than 20 mph because he did not want to “catch up” with the traffic. That traffic was long gone. You could guess that the people directly behind us were wondering why we were going so slow; eventually, the car behind us went around us by driving in the grass! I think that is illegal.

He parked in the road and got out of his car. We stopped and he told us to speed up, and I looked at my grandpa, just wishing for once he would be “cool.” I could tell he wasn’t. I have been away from cool people for so long. Anything better than my grandpa would be cool to me. Unsurprisingly, Grandpa started talking about his childhood, but I did not expect what he told the guy who stopped us. It sounded personal. It was how his mom (my great-grandmother) once was driving 65 mph on a 50 mph road, and she crashed her car. She was uninjured but traumatized for life. Apparently, it rubbed off on Grandpa, and now he drives slow. Instead of empathy, he responded with a cold, “Shut up, old man.”

To be honest, I was not surprised. He then gave a thumbs up to the car behind us, and then he got in his car and drove off. I do not regret my next actions. When he gave the thumbs up, I knew that hundreds of cars behind us would move around us. So I reached over to my grandpa’s legs and pushed down on one of them. 

Although I was sympathetic to him, I did not want to wait longer than I needed to. The car bolted forward and almost crashed into a fence, and I think I lit a spark in him because soon we were driving steadily at 80 mph. Grandpa was at the wheel, leaving the other cars in the dust. My grandpa must have had some experience with driving fast. My grandma (also known as Jenny) screamed as well. All I will say is that her clothes used to not be brown. 

I think I have told you enough, and around 45 minutes later, we arrived at my grandparents’ farmhouse around ten o’clock at night. And I looked up at what I thought would be a decent barn with a silo for keeping food, and I looked at… nothing.

Yeah. You heard me. Nothing. It was empty. More than empty. It was creepy. Just a few seconds ago, Grandpa was saying it would be big and comfy, and when I looked over at him, he did not have his usual smile. That will happen a lot. 

“So this is the beautiful farm you have been talking about,” I said sarcastically.

Grandpa responded in a sad tone, “But… but it was just here! How could this happen?”

We got our answer pretty quickly. We looked behind us to see a huge pile of wood. I thought I heard a moo from somewhere in the pile, and I put the pieces together pretty quickly.

“Something destroyed the house and moved it to the field over there,” I said matter-of-factly. 

Grandpa sighed. “I knew this was a bad idea, Jenny. You know he has wanted our land for a while now. He probably swooped in when we were not looking.”

Grandma may have known about the scandal, but it was news to me. 

I knew it was a bad time, but I asked, “Why didn’t Grandma stay and watch the farm?”

Grandpa gave me a look that definitely said, Not the time, Robert.

I was about to sit at the edge of the ruins when I heard a far-off rumbling. I looked over, and what I saw in the distance was horrifying. It was an excavator with black and yellow stripes. There was a lot of other machinery in the same style, including a big truck that had a lot of materials, such as metal and brick. House material it was not.

I gave a small glare, and I ran to my grandparents. I shoved them off the road and into a little crevasse in the ruins. Before they asked what I was doing, I covered their mouths while giving the “shush” symbol. They nodded quickly, and Grandpa peeked outside. He looked back at us with a stone face. He said quietly, “We need to stop him.”

“Why don’t you sue him?” I asked quietly.

Grandpa responded in a small voice, “He owns the judges. He owns everything. Well, kind of. He has almost every country’s hands tied.”

“What is his goal?” I asked weakly.

“Nobody knows. He has been taking property all over the country. No… all over the world.”

The bad guy (who I will call Destructo until I learn his name) and the machinery rolled up to what I guess used to be the front porch. I strained my ears to hear anything important, and I realized something. Well, actually, two things. The stakes had gotten a lot higher. This was supposed to be a boring summer at a farm, not a life-or-death situation. The other realization was just as bad. My house could be next. These guys needed to be stopped. I said it was a life or death situation because it likely was. If Destructo was able to have a country’s hands tied, I didn’t doubt that Destructo would kill in an instant. I started to think of my parents, and just then, Grandpa shook me out of my daymares. “Listen!”

I got my wits back and heard Destructo yelling to one of the guys operating the excavator, “That oil won’t dig itself out!”

Suddenly, things started making a lot more sense. I got a sick feeling in my stomach and looked at Grandpa. He looked worse than I felt. Suddenly, I heard Destructo start talking again, this time much softer. All three of us looked at the area where the house used to be and heard, “Durce, we have done this before. I know you don’t like it, but that old gremlin’s family needs to die. We can’t have them getting all suspicious.”

I started to hyperventilate, and the other guy, Durce, responded to Destructo, “When do we go?”

“Not us! I will send somebody else out! I am not going to risk our lives for even the most annoying of people! And for your question, they will be playing a flute in the clouds in less than an hour. They may not open the gate for anybody related to that fool, though.”

I tuned Destructo out. “Call my parents!

Whoever you are, wherever you are, you know that a man can be worried. Especially when their parents are about to die. Grandpa called my parents, and they answered with a slightly slurred, “What the hell was a guy with a revolver doing in the house!?”

A very grim feeling settled in my chest. I tried to keep it down, but the fact that somebody had ordered my parents’ death was pretty uncounterable.

They kept talking. “We are in some guy’s car, driving to your grandparents’ house.”

I answered with surprise, “It’s too dangerous!”

The next thing I heard on the phone made me want to cry all over again.


“Mom? Dad?”

The phone beeped, dead. Grandma looked at Grandpa, and said quietly, “We need to go back.”

I added weakly, “Can you speed up a little on the way?” 

And so we went.

Chapter 2                  

For Lennon Wright, it was supposed to be a relaxing, no-kid summer with his wife, Kenya Wright. Their son, Robert Wright, had left an hour earlier in a very grumpy mood.  The second Robert left, the party started. 

“Get the cocktails!” Kenya yelled. 

Around an hour later, the people started flooding in. Soon, there were dozens of noisy, drunk adults dancing where Robert had slept just a few hours earlier, and finally, when the Wrights’ friends left, the real fun began. Spoiler alert: it kind of depends on what you think of when somebody says fun.

The Wrights went to bed in a half-drunk haze for a few hours and woke up to the sound of banging in the kitchen. They felt a little better, but they were still stumbling everywhere and were sleep-deprived.

They quietly walked down the stairs, or should I say fell down them, and they saw a guy they remembered letting into the party. Only this time, the guy was holding a revolver and looking into Robert’s room. Kenya almost screamed, but Lennon held her back. They quietly crept out of the room but found a random black car with the words “Durce&Dereck” on the side and their usual blue Subaru Forester in flames. Lennon said somberly, “I heard a noise earlier but I never would have thought it was this.” 

They both looked at the destroyed car, a single tear rolling down Kenya’s cheek. Lennon looked at the horizon. 

“It’s early. Only two or three. No matter.”

“How could this happen?” Kenya asked nobody in particular, choking on every word. They looked at each other and nodded their heads. 

Lennon said almost excitedly, “I call shotgun!” 

And so they went.

Chapter 3

The next few hours were a blur. On one hand, I wanted to kill this guy. On the other hand, I needed to save my parents, so the first hand would have to wait. The first thing I did once the phone died was simply ask, “How are we getting back with Destructo right in front of us?”

The answer came quickly. Destructo walked inside one of his machines. We crept out of the ruins of the house and into the ditch where Grandma had parked the car – thank God it was not in the open. The next step was scary. We could either have just gunned it and hoped we did not get shot or driven slowly as far as the ditch took us and then gunned it. Yeah, we took the second option. The car slowly crept through the ditch and, to our absolute dismay, a huge tree was poking out of the end of the ditch. I wish we had known this before, though, because we were ready to be gunning it and, surprise, we were already gunning it! Grandpa just missed the tree. I wish we had not. Our car shot directly into an upright log. Who puts their logs there? The log flew through the window and into the roof of the car. Grandpa screamed. 

“You okay?” I asked, with more than a touch of panic.

He was not. Besides the glass flying down from the window, there was not much that could’ve hurt him enough to scream like that. It was loud. Grandpa, now with his head flopping on his shoulder, struggling to stay conscious, squeaked out, “My hand… it hurts.”

I looked up in horror as I saw that the log had jammed his wrist between the open car roof and the log, and a sharp piece of roof was sticking out of his palm. I forgot about the whole car thing, and the car suddenly slowed down by 80%, and this is the worst part: it hit a house. Yeah. A normal farmhouse. And let me tell you, it is not fun to go through the wall of a house with eight year-olds playing hide and seek. Especially when your grandpa is dying. The kids yelled for their mommies and jumped out of the way. We rolled to a halt in what used to be a kitchen. 

Yeah, you could say we destroyed the house. Grandma, Grandpa, and I stepped out of the car. There were four kids and two adults staring at us wide-eyed when this clean-shaven, normal guy with slick hair and striped pajamas broke the silence. 

“Do you need medical aid?” I thought he was talking about Grandpa. Likely. Even so, I looked down. I wish I had not. Red pieces of glass of all shapes and sizes. On my body. My body. The body that had managed to live years without a hint of a scar. I fell to the ground, and let’s just say I took a little nap.

I woke up to see Grandma standing over me, and I saw tears in her eyes. I looked down at myself, and I had scabs all over my body and face. I felt sore but not too hurt. I immediately sat up as I realized that it must have been about Grandpa. I ran the possibilities through my head, and then suddenly a figure stood next to my bed. And I was happy to see… You may have guessed it! Drum roll, please… Grandpa! WHOO! He was alive. With his limbs, hopefully. Annnd no. I craned my head (in pain) to look at his hand and deflated. A stump was in its place. I tearfully said, “I am so, so, so sorry.” I gasped for breath, tears falling from the wrong man’s eyes. “This is all my fault. I did this to you.”

He put on a fake smile. “Robert, it is not your fault. It is just a minor roadblock.”

It barely put my worries at ease, but I cooled down for him.

I asked in a small voice, “How long?”

“Four days.”

I leaped out of my bed.

I felt every one of my cuts reopen, days of healing gone in an instant. I fell to the side of my bed. The pain was just that incredible. But even more incredible was the fact that somewhere out there were my parents. I remembered the call vividly. The call where my parents were in a car and then… it was gone. Everything. The point of life. Family. They might have been out there, dying… or already dead. I grabbed my shirt and stuffed it in my mouth, and slowly got up. I wanted to scream in pain and die, but my mouth was stuffed with cloth, so that helped. I crept up, getting flashbacks to when I was a little kid. Everything was so easy. Life was easy. Grades? Non-existent. Running for my life, being worried about dying at every turn? Not a thing. The one thing I never seemed to be able to do was walk. I took my first step at four. You could say that I was a late bloomer. Honestly, I didn’t “bloom” until a few days ago. Not until… you know what, I’m not going to go back into the horror that happened. To start all of this… well, madness really. I just hoped that I could put this all behind me and have a good story to tell to my kids. If I lived that long.

Okay. I will stop fantasizing. Back to where I was. I was bursting in pain, ready to save my parents. It hurt, but it was worth it. I stood up, and came face to face with… the two people I wanted to see most?

Or should I say, Kenya and Lennon Wright.

And so we go.

Chapter 4

Lennon said almost excitedly, “I call shotgun!” 

“This is not a game, honey.”

“We will see about that,” he responded confidently.

Kenya suddenly gasped. 

“What is it, dear?” Lennon said with more than a hint of fear.

What it was, well… a word. A simple word.

“Robert!” they shouted in unison.

They took off, unlike Lennon’s father, at a “little” over the speed limit. Around thirty minutes later, they saw a normal-looking neighborhood, and they knew they were close. All of a sudden, the car phone rang.

“I will get it,” Lennon said. He fumbled through his pockets and took out his old 2009 phone.

“Five minutes,” Kenya said, without taking her eyes off the road.

She stared intently at the horizon, as if it would get her there faster. Lennon brought the phone to his face and turned on his mad voice. 

“What the hell was a guy with a revolver doing in the house!?” Before Robert could respond, Lennon said, “We are in some guy’s car, driving to your grandparents’ house.”

Over the phone, they heard their son’s voice squeal, “It’s too dangerous!”

Kenya rolled her eyes, ready to butt into the conversation, when – CRASH! Their car seemed to flip over for no reason. The now upside-down car flew into the dirt, crushing the phone. They looked around their bodies, and they were both happy to see they were not badly hurt. Kenya and Lennon slowly limped out of the mystery car and did not like what they saw. It turns out that there was a reason for the car’s demise. A fricken rocket launcher had shot at it! This beast had a smooth, gray surface, for the most part. There seemed to be odd buttons sticking out of the front. All of this, on a CAR!  Kenya and Lennon gaped in wonder. This quickly turned into fear. They quickly recovered from their shock, and well, took cover. Despite how dirty they looked, they had capabilities. They ran to a small ditch and crouched. They looked at the rocket-car pointed at them… on a grassy knoll. 

“I don’t like where this is going,” Kenya said while trying furiously to get any lower. They heard the infamous PUSSHHH as the missile launcher depressurized, and well, fired. BOOM! A little too late, Kenya and Lennon realized that they had not helped the situation by jumping into a hole: they had worsened it. 

“Run!” Lennon yelled.

Lennon seemed to forget they were in a ditch. It served its purpose, though, and they leaped out of the small hole and dove into some dirt as if that would help. Luckily, it did… kind of. The explosion shot both into the air, and both fell right on their knees. Ouch. They quickly recovered, believing that no pain was worse than losing Robert, their sweet Robert.

They looked at each other, movie style, and they seemed to make a connection in their minds. They made expressions on their faces, and the little conversation all seemed to resonate: Rush it. When? How about this: tell me if you like it. One… two… three… GO!!! 

They rushed the huge turret. They heard the creak of the launcher being aimed at Kenya. 

“Under!” Lennon yelled quickly.

They both slipped under the tank-like car and looked out just in time to see dirt erupt from the ground, resulting in a volcano-like shower of dirt. It might sting the face, but nothing more, they thought, forgetting one thing: shockwaves. BOOM! 

A flurry of dirt flew around Lennon and Kenya, and the rocket-car seemed to fly off of them, as easy as picking up a usual morning cup of coffee. Except this was not usual. Also, if the shockwave could throw a car like a doll, what could it do to a person weighing 10 times less? The answer came quickly. They got launched 15, maybe 20 feet.

It is said that 20 feet is around that distance where you can break everything from your leg to even your back or neck. It was all good, though, because they landed on a powerline… with no way down. They felt the ground rumble, and they looked down to see a smoking wreckage a few yards away. They could see a foggy view of somebody getting out.

“Damn. It is always the bald guys,” Lennon said.

A tall, maybe six-foot-three man with a bald head and a long scar on his leg walked around, surveying the damage. Lennon looked at Kenya and sighed. 

“Are you thinking what I am thinking?” Lennon asked.

Kenya responded with a weathered sigh, “I will get the switch.”

Years ago, they had done this in a similar fashion when their skydiving didn’t go as planned. Kenya took her “emergency hatchet” out and started hacking away at the rusty metal, sparks flying in all directions into the never-ending horizon, dawn just striking. The metal, lined with old blue paint marks, long since having been redone, started to crack, and then, all of a sudden, broke off. A sizable chunk of metal flew from the bone of the powerline, and they looked inside. 

“Is it the red or the blue?” Kenya asked. 

“The red, I think,” Lennon said. 

Suddenly, the air seemed to drop in temperature, and they found the dots when they stopped hearing the buzzing sound. Kenya looked herself up and down, wondering if she really was going to do this. 

She was. Lennon picked up the hatchet which Kenya had dropped after cutting the wire and started hacking at the powerline wire. After a few very strong throws, the line was being held by just a thread. Kenya and Lennon grabbed onto the strong wire, and with all their trust in it, jumped. The wire broke, and they flew down at breakneck speed, trying to do anything to get higher for fear of skimming their feet on the ground. They flew back up as momentum took over, and they started flying toward a giant powerline. With no brakes.

Chapter 5: The End Is Near…

“How did you get h – ” I got cut off by my dad.

“We are killing that guy.” A new, hard look was on his face. 

I managed to croak out, “Okay…” before blacking out. 

People act like blacking out makes you fall asleep for years, but really, it is a short thing. Two minutes, maybe three, tops. And that is what happened. But it felt much longer. In my dream, my parents and I were in a tiny rowboat, and, suddenly, the water started rippling. The water started to push upwards, and a man seemed to show up out of nowhere. And he walked on water. 

“God?” I asked. No… It was the opposite of God. It was Destructo. I bolted up, panting. My parents were waiting over me, and I got up almost like a robot. We walked to the parking lot, and they directed me to a big car. Our car? 

“We had a little extra time,” they responded. 

I hugged them. They looked as crude as me, but I still held onto their scent, never letting it go, like a watchdog fiercely protecting their leader. 

“I – ” I started.

“Yeah, yeah. We missed you, too. We love you. But right now, we need to kill that guy,” Lennon said, playfully in an unplayful way.

I smiled. “Yeah, let’s go.” 

I limped into the car and surveyed it. Clean cup holders, an undamaged roof, and leather seats. Mom put the car into second gear, and we were off. Apparently, still too cheap for an automatic. 

After an hour of driving, we reached what used to be my grandparents’ house. They were still there. And more. There were hundreds of people drilling into the ground, and still, we stepped out of the car. We had no plan. We ran to the remains of the house, and we dug a little hole into it. I swear, I could still hear the cows mooing. Mom took out her phone. 

“Mom, don’t you think it would be a little disheartening saying your goodbyes now? Right now?” I asked, with a hint of a smile. 

Kenya replied slyly, “I managed to find all the people who Destructo has taken property from. They always seem to show up on the local news, and I tracked them down from there. While you were recovering from getting glass shattered onto your body, I called them up, and they were just happy to help. They should be coming right about… now.” 

Before I could respond, hundreds of cars simultaneously revved. 

“Here they are,” Kenya said, all jolly. I peeked my head out of the makeshift house. My eyes widened as I saw something that I never would have imagined in a million years. Cars lined up for miles. On the good side. People started stepping out of the cars. I was taken aback by the age groups when I saw babies standing strong next to grandparents holding their ground next to their kids. I walked towards them. They all gave us the same sympathetic grin, and we did the same for them. Somebody a little older than me, maybe 16 years old, stepped up. 

“My name is Gerald, and I am fighting for all of our properties. All of our freedom from this horrible curse brought over us.”

“I, too,” said a middle-aged woman.

“My name is Philip, and I have spent eighty-seven years on planet Earth. The last five have been hell. Because of what Putty has done,” said an old man.

“I, too,” said a different man.

“I, too,” said another.

And then all of a sudden, everyone said in unison, “I, too.”

And we marched forward. (Where? No idea.)

I walked next to my mom. “Any idea what ‘Putty’ means?”

“Nope. Nada. But if I had to guess, I would say Destructo or the whole organization of Destructo.”

“Wow… deep,” I responded a tad too casually.

“What’s up, squirt?”

I sighed. “Why did this have to happen? Why are you here? Wait… how are you here?”

“Well, that is a long one. I guess you have no idea where I am starting from, but we are almost there, so I will keep it short. Your father and I are holding on to a power line, I know, no context, and we are about to hit the metal structure holding it up. You know what I am talking about?”

“Um… I guess?”

“Whatever. Anyway, your father and I are about to hit it when… The line breaks. We flew up, still going towards the structure, and then your father saw something. A handlebar that led to the interior of the structure stuck out below. ‘Over there!’ Lennon yelled. We hoped for the best, and we drove all of our bodies to weight for it. We just catch hold onto the bar, and from there, we shimmy our way down to the ground, not before having a few hundred heart attacks.” Kenya seemed really invested in the story, but she suddenly stopped to look forward. “Almost there, honey. I have to speed up.”

“That is fine. I just want to know the basics,” I responded.

“All right. There was this bald guy, and we wanted to sneak away from him, but we couldn’t. He found us and coincidentally took us to a dungeon a block from the hospital you stayed at. I used my bobby pin to escape.”

“Wow… that was a fast ending but really cra – ” I trailed off. 

I kept staring forward, but I wanted to look down. It seemed crazy. I couldn’t help it. I looked down. There was a step down to a sort of basement with no roof, and it was full of weapons. It was so well covered by all the farmland around, and… and… IT WAS FULL OF WEAPONS, GOD DANG IT! Glocks, C-4, rocket launchers, SMGs, everything! And hundreds of them. We all gathered around, taking what looked cool, acting like we knew how to use it, and we lined up. And we marched.

Chapter 6: Survival of the Fittest is True to Every Extent

No, really. We became the fittest. So we survived. This can be seen in so many different cases. If the weakest wins, then they were actually the fittest. A normal person walks into a wall. They feel incredible pain. But if a person with fried nerves walks into the wall, they feel no pain. All odds were against them, and they still won. Let’s see how.

We marched to the battleground in style. Not expected, but it felt good. We filed into a line behind the house. 

“Ready! Set! Go!” I yelled. We walked into view, guns blazing. 

My grandparents walked next to me and crouched down next to me, and my grandfather shouted over the gunfire, “I need to go! I can’t be here, even though I would love to. My hand is infected!”

I wanted to cry for him, but I stepped forward. 

“Whatever you think is best!”

He left, and we stepped up. We encircled the compound, and, suddenly, some of the drillers who had taken cover ran toward us. With nothing. They got behind our lines and pleaded for mercy. We gave them weapons, and they fought for us. And then we closed in. We walked inside and saw Destructo, and we surrounded him.

We put a rope around his head, and attached ropes on every side. 

Victims grabbed onto any available piece of rope. 

“Three! Two! One! Pull!”

And with that, Destructo died. And nobody shed a tear, as he would have wanted.


I was at home, hundreds of people hovering over me, bright smiles on their faces. It was over. They could have their property back. The monster… the creature that uprooted dozens of families… was dead. I stuffed a cupcake into my mouth, trying to, as most likely everybody was,  forget the pain and suffering that had ensued after the loss of their homes. Mom had combed my hair an hour before and somehow got a fancy suit on me. Grandpa had actually gotten a prosthetic hand after he left the battle. Thank God he did… saved his life. But some of the stolen property was still being run. Durce, well, he was now running the operation much more humanely. No wonder Destructo’s workers turned their backs on him.

I looked around at everybody with great smiles on their faces, filling up with colorful churros – Mom still had kept the recipe secret. She said when my birthday rolled around, she would tell me. She didn’t. I looked at Dad. He was looking around nervously, repeatedly rubbing his hand across his head. “Dad – you ok?”

“Uh… um, yeah, sweety. Just happy everything went well.” 

“Well, me, too,” I responded.

“You should try one of the churros. We bought them extra special!”

I looked at Dad. Bought? Suddenly, hundreds of people fell to the ground. None were moving. And they never moved again. “Dad? Mom?”

They were the only ones standing. They both reached for their faces, and suddenly started peeling their hair off of them. 

“Durce, you said it would be painless!” said a man that I thought was my dad.

“Well, Azerite, you ruined my surprise!” Durce said harshly.

I studied them from head to toe. Definitely bad guys. And I ran.


Penguins are better than people. They are the most loyal animals, staying with their friends forever. When penguins find a partner, they never leave; they are together for life. What if we were all penguins? We would always stick by one another. No being betrayed or being left behind. Never thinking about if a friendship is real or not. Knowing you can trust the people you want. Not having to doubt who’s real or fake. 

When penguins are cold, they huddle together. When we are cold, our first instinct is to put on a jacket. Penguins cuddle together and puff out their feathers to keep warm. They rely on each other for warmth and other aspects of survival. If I needed something as a penguin, I would ask a friend (who I would keep for life) and they would help me. In life people do things independently. If I need a pencil, I look around for a while, check my backpack and then I would ask for help. Penguins aren’t afraid of help. For them, asking for help isn’t an embarrassing thing that shows a lack of knowledge.

Many people think that penguins can’t fly, but, technically, that is incorrect. Penguins are seen as animals of cuteness, not personality. Penguins are underestimated. Penguins fly underwater. They fly in the way that any other bird would, but they do it underwater. They are seen as a flightless, stupid birds, but they are more. There is more to them than people would expect. If we had that point of view in life, it would be so much easier. People would not judge by first glance. You could be who you want; I could walk outside in yellow pants, and nobody would think of it. People would ask me why I wore those pants and not just assume I have bad clothing. People would be so much better to each other if we were penguins. 

There are four types of Antarctic penguins: Adélie, Chinstrap, Emperor and Gentoo. People really only know about Emperor penguins because they are the most popular. If you go to a zoo you will see Emperor penguins. Chinstrap penguins are smaller and have a black “strap” on their chin. Adélie penguins’ beaks look like Kylie Jenner’s lips. Their beaks are thick and look almost like human lips. They are also the smallest. Gentoo penguins have a half orange beak and white spots above their eyes. People only ever pay attention to Emperor penguins when the other ones are just as good. Adélie and Chinstrap penguins are aggressive but only to protect themselves from predators. Penguins don’t hate each other for small things they say or do; penguins care about survival. 

Gentoo penguins are actually the nicest and the least commonly known. “Gentoo penguin” is fun to say. When words end with “oo,” it makes the word better. Especially when the rest of the word doesn’t start with a stutter letter. I have a stutter that I don’t love. G is not a letter I stutter on. I like Gentoo penguins.

 Penguins are nice to humans, something that even we cannot seem to accomplish. We hate each other so much and that seems natural in our minds. When you see a pigeon on the sidewalk, you kick it away because the bird is not you. When penguins encounter humans, they are extremely nice. Why can’t we be like penguins?  Yeah, sure, we can hate people for their opinions and what they say. And if I’m being honest, I do that exact thing every day. Penguins don’t. They only hate if they are in danger.


They’d been together for six years now. Six years. It still didn’t feel like that long. But today was different. The two weren’t going to the same restaurant for Friday dinner, and they weren’t going out at the same time. The guy had told her beforehand, “Dress nicely,” which made her awfully excited. “Dress nicely” always had more meaning to it. It was always something special. Last time he told her this was when he surprised her with tickets to the concert of her favorite band. Or that time he took her to dinner and gave her a promise ring. He had led her to a new place. The beach. Not that new. But the beach was a very special place for the both of them. It was where they first laid eyes on each other. One special thing about their relationship was that they usually never disagreed except on one thing. How many slices to cut things into. Now, this may seem useless, but, trust me, it isn’t. Every Friday, they alternated between the number of slices they cut the cake into, and today was her choice. She usually chose six. As she was about to cut the cake, he said, “Do eight pieces today.”


“Just do it, please.”

“No, give me a reason.”

“Trust me, okay?”


Then she started cutting. Right as she was slicing the fourth piece of cake, the knife hit something. Metal? She took the piece out and there, in the cake, was a piece of metal. Not any type of metal, though. A ring. An engagement ring. 

That’s when he kneeled on the floor and said, “Will you marry me?”

No Second Chances for Your Love

Chaerin walked down the steps of her house, plugging her earbuds into her phone, and pressed play on her music playlist. She was going to the supermarket to buy food. She walked down the dairy aisle, checking the sell-by dates on each container. She heard footsteps approaching, so she moved closer to the freezer to make room for the person, but instead of walking past her, they stopped. At first, Chaerin thought that they must also be looking for milk, but after a while, she could really feel their gaze burning on the back of her head. She sighed, pausing her music and turning to face the person.

“Sorry, can I help y – “

“I missed you,” the person said, cutting her off. They lifted one hand and reached up to cup her cheek. Chaerin blocked their arm, realizing who she was facing. It was no other than Minwoo, her first “love.” He broke off their relationship, but after Chaerin found someone new, he tried to get back with her, even threatening to hurt her and her new lover. That, along with many other red flags, was the reason why Chaerin started avoiding him.

“Right,” she replied nonchalantly.

“No, really.”

“But we haven’t seen each other since…” Chaerin trailed off.

“Since?” Minwoo asked, feigning confusion.

“You know.” She crossed her arms, lifting her chin, daring him to say otherwise or pretend to be innocent.

“Well…” Minwoo scratched the back of his head, smiling nervously.

“Well.” Chaerin uncrossed her arms, turning around to leave. “It was nice seeing you again. Have a nice day.” She left, without giving Minwoo a chance to reply.

The Swan

These were no ordinary pair of scissors. They were my mother’s sewing scissors. They were gold and delicately molded by some craftsman long ago into the shape of an elegant swan in flight. The swan’s wings curled up the round handles, and the long beak was the razor-sharp blade. My mother’s hands guided the shining bird in and out of the seas of many-colored fabrics. She used these scissors to make the most beautiful dresses anyone had ever seen. She worked so hard. We lived in a tiny, cramped cottage with the bed too close to the stove. My bed used to be covered in half-made dresses and silken ribbons. 

Ivo stole the swan. I was asleep on my too-small bed in the too-small house. My mother was at the market. It was late at night, far too late to be awake when the moon was shining above brighter than any candle. I hated Ivo. He was the butcher’s son and about three years older than me. I’d seen him with blood on his hands. He climbed through the too-small window and stepped with his dirty boots on my mother’s beautiful dresses. I didn’t see him take them – I was too busy watching the dreams in my head. I never could have stopped him anyway – I am small, and he is strong. 

When mother came back to see the little house in disarray, she didn’t cry. I think she wanted to, but she was too proud to let me see. She told me that Ivo wanted to melt down the swan and sell the gold. In the early morning of the next day, I saw her counting the coins left in her desk drawer. I peeked out from under my blankets to see her. She lifted each tiny disk from the drawer and held it into a ray of silvery light. I dreamed about the coins when I fell back asleep. 

My mother spent the next morning sewing faster than I’d ever seen her sew before. She used a dull pair of gray scissors that lacked all the grace of the diving swan. My mother’s hands flew over the fabric as she attached a long red cape to a brown dress. She said it was for a very important, noble lady who lived in the big house by the castle. 

“I am going to play in the pond,” I said as I pulled on my favorite dress. The cloth was soft and worn from use. 

“Be careful. And come back before noon – I need you to hang the laundry,” Mother said, pinning my hair back with a spirally iron clasp. 

“I will.”

The front door creaked open. I ran outside, my boots stomping on the wet, slimy grass. I didn’t run toward the pond, though. Instead, I ran into town. The ground changed from brownish green weeds to hoof-pounded dirt to cobblestone that clomped too much with the many feet landing on it. Men and women in fine clothing walked and chatted in huddles. A couple of girls who looked about my age were weaving in and out of the swarms of adults. They had long, blonde hair the color of wheat and fine red dresses splattered with brown mud. 

No one looked at me, but I kept my head down anyway. I cut through a narrow alley. The stairs were cracked and scratched, and the walls were close enough together that I had to stretch both my arms out to feel the rough stone. The wet smell of horses faded in the alley. 

Soon, I reached the landing where two alleys converged into a cross. I turned to the right. The walls were too far apart now. Only one of my hands could feel as the stone softened to worn wood. The second too-wide alley dumped me out into an open noisy street. Wonderful smells, fresh flowers, baked bread, and expensive spices from far away filled the market street. Too many people had shoved themselves in between the tall brown houses to get a look at the vendors’ wares.

I climbed over a tall stack of crates to avoid a cluster of haggling shoppers. A tall man with arms like twigs and a wrinkly nose yelled something at me, but I didn’t hear a word he said. I leaped off the crates and landed on all fours beside a table piled high with sticky sweet buns and bread braided like hair. I scooted along the wall until the sweet smells of the market were contaminated with the ugly, rotten stink of meat and blood. 

The butcher’s shop was a tiny replica of the castle. It had big wooden doors with round door knockers the size of my head. Its charcoal stone walls stretched up higher than all the others and were crenelated. An alley snaked around on both sides of the mini-castle. I swiveled on my heel into it and away from the chattering crowds. This sidewall of the butcher’s shop was old and crumbling. Spiky vines crawled up the bricks. I counted the windows. There were five in total, three shuttered and two open. The fourth window was the only one that mattered, though. 

A pile of crumbled stone formed a lumpy staircase to the fourth window. I carefully climbed upward, trying to keep my feet from getting trapped in a dark hole. The stones were wobbly, and I felt like I was walking across a tightrope in a windstorm. I’d seen Ivo climb up these rocks before. He made it look so easy. When I reached the windowsill, I peered through a slit in the blinds. The crunching sound they made at my touch was deafening. The small room was empty, as I had expected. Ivo was downstairs in the shop with his father. 

It wasn’t a bedroom like John had told me. He said that the butcher lived in luxury. I had imagined a huge, silk bed with embroidered drapes and velvet-smooth cushions like the fancy ladies in the castle. This was not that. The room was small. The threadbare, gray bed took up most of the space. The nails in the walls looked like they had been crying reddish rust. A white apron hung from the door. There was a stack of clothes in the corner with a book on top. I frowned. 

The scissors weren’t under the bed or the pile of clothes. They hadn’t been hidden behind the apron or under the loose floorboards. I made my search as quiet as possible. I picked up the little book and tucked it under my skirt. He didn’t deserve it. The scissors just weren’t here. I cautiously pushed the door open. Its hinges creaked horribly loud. This room was bigger than Ivo’s, with an animal skin carpet and a big writing desk. A woman sat in a nice chair beside the desk. She looked up from her sewing in surprise, but her expression soon softened to a welcoming smile. A red-brown tunic was draped over her knees. Her face was warm and round, freckles scattered like stars across her cheeks. Her long, dark hair hung loosely around her shoulders. 

“Are you one of Ivo’s friends?” she asked. Probably reading the horror on my face, she tilted her head to the side and a cascade of dark waves followed. 

“Yes…” I stammered. “Uh, no. I mean, yes.” I panicked. I scanned her up and down, looking for signs of anger. Instead, my eyes caught on something that glinted in the dusty light. A delicate, golden, shimmering thing was laced between her fingers. She had used them to snip the thread. The swan. Mother’s swan. Our swan. 

I pointed at her hands. She looked confused. 

“The – the scissors.”

She held them up. “These?” 

“Yes, yes!” 

“What about them?” 

I wrinkled my nose. 

“Ivo took them from our house!” I yelled, smashing my boot into the wooden boards. “He stole them!”

“Ivo?” She tilted her head some more. “He stole them from you?” 

“Yes!” I stomped again. “I came to get them back!” 

“He said he found them on the street, along with some coins in a little embroidered purse,” Ivo’s mother said. She fingered the tunic’s hem. 

“He is a liar!” I crumpled my hands into fists. 

“No. He lied. There is a difference.” Her tone had grown building-stone rough. Her smile straightened out into a disapproving line, cutting lines under her eyes. “Sit.” She motioned to the wooden bench by the hearth. I sat, but only because her face looked like my mother’s face when she was mad. 

“You don’t believe me, do you?” I crossed my arms into a stiff X.

“I believe you.” 

“Then give me back the scissors!”

“I want you to understand what Ivo must have been thinking when he stole.” 

“I don’t want to understand! I hate him!” 

“What he did was wrong, yes, and he will be punished, but I need you to understand why he did it.” 

“Why?!” I kicked the bench’s leg. 

“He was hurting. So he wanted to pass that hurting along to someone else.” She sucked a breath in through her freckled nose. “My mother, his grandmother, died last week. The plague.” I imagined the curved beak masks and the black cloaks and the smell of wounds and the screams from the tents. I winced. “You may have known her only as the flower seller.” I remembered a warm smile and fresh crimson blooms. “She and Ivo were very close. It, of course, hurt me, as well, to see her pass. I believe that Ivo thought the scissors would make me feel better.”

I was chewing on the pink insides of my cheek, tapping my toe on a loose nail.

“I’m – uh, I’m sorry.” I looked only down. The fiery anger was somehow nothing but thick smoke clogging up my throat. 

“Take them all back.” She handed me the swan and the little bag embroidered with sloppy roses from my unsteady needle. The coins inside jingled merrily. I took them back and clutched them tight under my arm. “You can go,” she said, pointing at the door. A little smile had come back over her round face. 

I walked with my head down to the door. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. 

“I never got your name.”

I turned. She had returned to her sewing in the nice chair, with a pair of dim, gray scissors. 

“Adelaide,” I said. 


The little book burned through my skirt with every clunk of boot on stone. I ignored the people chattering and didn’t run my hand along the walls of the alley. I helped my mother hang the laundry, clipping lines to the skinny trees. The book still burned. I put it under my too-small bed and tried to forget it was there. I could feel its smoldering warmth against my back at night. 

Ivo was crying. I ducked back into the market swarms, hiding. I felt the book under my bed burn the little cottage down in a blazing bonfire. It still burns me sometimes, but I don’t want to put it out. It will just sit under the too-small bed in the too-small house. I don’t think I could bear touching it. I want to forget it all.

To Be Blocked

Diving off a racing block into a swimming pool. The anxiety – would I mess up? Would my goggles fall down? Would I publicly humiliate myself in front of my teammates? The swirl of thoughts going through my mind was endless. Water dripped off my back. I glanced behind me to see the other teammates giving me looks of encouragement. Glancing forward again, I saw the clear blue water with tiled lines in the middle of the lane. The clock ticked on as the person before me started heading back across the pool. I had to get ready. I adjusted my goggles onto my eyes and put my hands on the block. My teammate behind me was going to tell me to go so I went at the right moment. 

The dive itself was decent. My goggles luckily didn’t fall down, and I was able to gain some speed to push my team to second place. As my teammates high-fived me when I got out of the pool, I realized something. I wasn’t scared of messing up the dive itself. Well, I was, but the main reason was because I didn’t want to disappoint my teammates. Whenever a team doesn’t win, people want a reason. Someone to blame. I did not want to be that person. I didn’t want that responsibility of not winning to be placed on me. In the end, after the last person swam, we didn’t even win. Which was okay. At least it wasn’t my fault. But even if it was, it couldn’t be that bad, could it? My goggles would fall down. We would lose. No one would talk about the race to my face. They would have talked about it while I was swimming. List all things that I did wrong. Talk about me negatively. And the worst part is, when I came out, they wouldn’t say anything to me. But even if that did happen, I would survive. It would be fine. I would keep practicing and get better at my dive. And I wouldn’t be so nervous knowing the possibilities of what would happen. And it most likely will happen. Sometime in the future, once, if not many times.

Bat Mitzvah

I remember arriving, and thinking everything looked picture perfect.

I remember it was dark, but at the same time very bright. 

I remember demanding that my friends were called by their nicknames. 

I remember when my friend made a weird pose in the photo. 

I remember being partners with my brother for every game. 

I remember my friends running around stealing each other’s phones.

I remember when everybody got a question wrong on trivia, except for my brother and his friends.

I remember how happy my 8 year old cousin was.

I remember the lanterns hanging from the ceiling in all the different colors of the rainbow.

I remember my hair, braided up in a bun with tiny clay flowers sticking out. 

I remember the flowers falling out of my hair all night.

I remember my dress, black with multicolored sparkles. 

I remember my dress getting glitter everywhere. 

I remember my shoes, white sneakers with an ombre rainbow and stars.

I remember my nails, a light lavender color.

I remember my mask, a splotchy rainbow watercolor. 

I remember my makeup, how it matched my features really nicely.

I remember standing there, while everyone watched me, but I wasn’t even nervous because

I knew I could do it. 

I remember being terrified when they lifted me up in the chair.

I remember the sheer shock when my friends threw candy at me. 

I remember the crazy face my 4 year old cousin made during family photos. 

I remember playing games where I had to sit on the floor and how I was trying so hard to keep my dress down.

I remember how good the food tasted, especially the pancakes. 

I remember feeling like a camera was on me at all times. 

I remember being a lot less nervous than I expected. 

I remember forgetting everything as soon as I finished. 

I remember people spelling my name wrong.

I remember there being family members I didn’t even know. 

I remember taking photos at the photo booth. 

I remember me and a couple of my friends getting excited at certain songs. 

I remember my little cousin copying everything I did, including hugging my friend who she had never met before.  

I remember my dress getting glitter everywhere.

I remember it being so colorful. 

I remember my friend’s little siblings standing on the couch and fighting each other. 

I remember the sigh of relief when it was over. 

And of course I remember more than anything, all the things I wish I had done, all the people I didn’t invite, and all the things I wish I hadn’t done.


Editor’s note: This wonderfully creepy story contains violent imagery that may be disturbing to younger readers.

“You guys, I don’t think this is a good idea.” I hate the dark. And the woods. 

“Don’t be so stuck-up, Mae,” Dillan says. “It’s the last week of camp. We’ve got to do something fun before we leave.” 

My friends woke me up in the middle of the night. They told me that one of our camp counselors, Aubrey, had snuck out of our cabin and that we needed to follow her. 

“It’s none of our business. Let’s just stay here,” I told them. Yet they insisted, practically dragging me out of bed. 

“Maybe Mae is right,” Chris says, holding out his flashlight over his feet. 

“Shut up, Chris.” Dillan turns, flashing his light in Chris’ face. 

We spend the next five minutes looking left and right for Aubrey. I’m not sure what they think we’re going to find out. Aubrey plays the guitar and has a peanut allergy. I doubt she has much to hide.

It’s too quiet. We all walk slowly, afraid that if we put too much weight on the ground, it’ll snap beneath us. Suddenly, there’s a squishing noise behind us. We all immediately turn around to face Imani, who’s lifted up her right foot and is gagging. 

“I stepped on something…” she says, covering her mouth. I hear a loud, relieved sigh from Chris. 


We walk for another ten minutes before Imani says she’s getting bored. 

“If we don’t find her in five minutes, we can go back to the campsite. Okay?” Chris says. 

The rest of us nod. Suddenly, there’s a light that starts flickering. 

“You guys…?” I say, beginning to shake. We stop and look around. Chris lets out a loud sigh. 

“It’s just my flashlight. I think it’s dying,” he says. 

Dillan rolls his eyes. “You know what? Let’s just go back to the cabin.” 

I groan.

“Finally,” I say, a smile appearing on my face. We start walking back in the direction of the campsite. It seems like it got even darker outside. In a flash, we hear another squishing noise. I don’t think Imani stepped in something this time.

The hairs on the back of my neck stick up. 

“What was that?” Imani whispers. I let out a shaky breath. 

“Do not say anything,” I utter, barely loud enough to be a whisper. I turn around, slowly. 

“Mae – ” Chris begins. I raise my hand to shut him up. I walk towards the continuous squelching, kneeling down to hide myself behind a bush. 

“Oh my God.” I shoot up almost immediately. “We have to leave right now,” I whisper. 

“Why? What is it?” Dillan asks. 

I shake my head in response, a tear slipping down my cheek. Dillan shoves me aside, peeking behind the bush. More tears escape my eyes. He doesn’t say anything, but I can tell I’m not the only one who sees it, because Dillan starts breathing heavily. 

Next thing I know, I’m crying hysterically. I shove my hand against my mouth to stop myself from making noise. 

“Aubrey…” Dillan says, facing the rest of us. He’s crying, too. “Do any of you have your phones?” 

Chris and Imani haven’t seen what we saw, so they are visibly confused, but they check their pockets anyway. 

“No,” Imani says. Chris shakes his head, too. 

I need to calm down. I squeeze my eyes shut, but no matter – I can’t get the image of her limp body out of my head. Her blonde hair was bright red as she lay in a pool of her own blood.

Aubrey was stabbed

“She needs help,” I say quietly. “Someone call for help!” I yell, snapping to my senses. 

There we were. Four teenagers standing before their dead camp counselor, screaming for help. 

Let’s just say this is not how I would spend my summer.

Feeling Colors

Dear Blue

Dear Blue,

I hope you’re doing well.

But recently I heard you are doing quite bad.

I hope to meet today, by the morning bell.

So you can explain to me why you are feeling so sad.

Was it Red? Did he tease you again?

Or was it Yellow? Did he boast his intellect?

Did someone visit you at your den?

Please tell me, I have a suspect.

I think it was me!

I told you who I wanted you to be. 

I want you to know: that wasn’t me.

Feel better soon,

Your friend, Maroon.

Dear Maroon

Dear Maroon,

Thanks for checking in.

I hope you don’t think I’m mad.

Or in the loony bin.

When I say I’m not feeling bad. 

The truth is, I ran away from you.

Your constant blabbering of speech.

You say so many things I know aren’t true. 

So please, the next time you screech.

Don’t say what you want to be.

Because I’m really tired of you pretending to be like me.

I want you to know: you aren’t me.

I’m through with you,

See ya, Blue.

Dear Brown

Dear Brown, 

I have no idea what to do. 

The Rainbow Dance is coming up.

And I don’t know if I should ask Pink or Blue?

If they want to take my offer up.

To dance… with me. 

Pink is really cute. 

But Blue is beautiful as far as the eye can see.

It’s like two sides of my brain are in dispute.

So please, help me out.

So I no longer have to strut about,

Worrying about who to ask out.

I’ll promise I’ll pay,

For the advice, Gray.

Dear Gray

Dear Gray,

The choice is obvious.

I don’t mean to be mean.

But I’m just saying, you’re kind of oblivious.

I know exactly why you’d be keen.

I know I would.

The color is just perfect for you.

I promise, I know you should.

So don’t ask either Pink or Blue.

I’d very much like it if you asked me.

No pressure, but I can see,

That you clearly want to be with me.

So stop acting so down,

I’ll see you at the dance, Brown.


The world had progressed to develop many great things in technology — the self-writing pen, light-weight bulletproof clothing now available in regular day fashion, food production from oxygen, and now this: your very own “fear in a box” — an internet sensation so big, its producer, Mike Hentalburg, had overcome even Jeffrey Bezos. It was advertised only by influencers with the biggest follower counts. I heard they didn’t even get paid — it was all for the chance with the box. 

The box, I guess, was a way to identify your biggest fear, so you could later face and eliminate it. Apparently you just entered this kind of… void where you see it? I don’t know, I wasn’t really interested in all this stuff. Not until one day, when one of them showed up at my door.

I guess I had somehow signed myself up for some sort of giveaway, at least that’s what all the people with the cameras said. I didn’t know what to do with it. Did I really want to use this? How could there be so much in a normal-looking box? The packaging was kind of rough too. 

The thing is, I lived alone — no close friends, just neighbors. No coworkers too. I worked for myself. An introverted little writer, with no friends or immediate family. Seems sad. Well, I liked it, but it didn’t solve the problem of what I should do with this box.

Hmm. Might as well then, right? Could be fun, who knows. I opened the box, and I looked up to see my biggest obstacle. 

It was… myself.

“What? You have got to be kidding me. This is so cliche,” I groaned. 

“Who, me? Oh, I’m not your biggest obstacle,” Myself said with certainty. “That is.” Myself pointed somewhere else. I turned to see what he was pointing at, and I saw… a speck of light in the distance.

“So my biggest obstacle is a little bit of light off to nowhere?” I asked mockingly. Was this a joke? I thought I was going to find out my biggest obstacle, for it only to be a far-off light.

“Oh, no. That’s not it. It’s just really far away,” stated Myself, suddenly intensely eating yogurt. “Mmm, cherry.” He then looked at me in a what-are-you-still-doing-here type of way.

Great, now I had to do cardio.

I started running, wanting to make this quick. I had to stop a few times (chronic back pain).

I finally made it to the light. Why was this so hard?

“I have no idea,” Myself said, calm as always, answering my inner question (I guess he was myself). I still jumped back what seemed forty feet. Great, more running. This time Myself came along with me. “I didn’t mean to scare you like that. To be fair, I also dropped my yogurt from your reaction…” I kept running, ignoring Myself. I needed to find out what this light was.

As I got within fifteen feet of it, I had to go closer because I didn’t bring my glasses. At two feet, I started to make out what it was. I slowed to a light jog. 

“A computer?” I whispered to myself. “What?” I looked back at Myself, and he was looking back at me with the same lightly confused expression, eating what seemed to be a banana yogurt. 

I went to open the laptop a little more. I then squinted as the light from the laptop tried to blind me. Forcing myself, I reached for the brightness button. Thankfully with just one click it adjusted perfectly. 

“It’s just… a Google Doc,” I mumbled to myself, and I guess also to Myself. I looked closer — it only had one word. “And it’s the only tab or anything,” I added. Huh.

“It’s only the word ‘to,’” Myself said to me over my shoulder, intrigued. I furrowed my brow. “‘To’ as in T-O.” I looked at the keyboard and found the pad. 

“How can the word ‘to’ be your—I mean, our greatest obstacle?” I slowly moved the cursor towards the “to.” “How — wait.” I clicked the end of the “to.” “Wait, wait!” And I went to press the space button. “WAIT, NO!” 


My world imploded.


Dear Little Ladybug

Editor’s Note: Content warning — Suicide


Dear little ladybug, 

By the time you read this, I will be gone. I didn’t mean to leave you. I love you, but I won’t be coming back.




Friend was always going to go this way. I mean, if she was going to go at all. At least she had left a note. She probably wasn’t going to leave one, but then maybe she thought of me, and maybe that tempted her to write one more thing.

But not suicide? When I found this note taped to my window as I woke up this morning, I thought the worst had happened. I mean, as soon as I had read it, I ran the ten blocks down to her house as fast as my legs would carry me. My short curls flew behind me, and I nearly fell on my face running up the four crooked steps to her door. I had run up those steps my whole life, and I’m sure I have tripped over those rotting boards countless times. But this time, it felt like it wasn’t me. Like I was out of my own body. Almost like I was watching a stranger run up the steps to her friend’s house, just to find that she had killed herself.

Robson came to the door, as usual. He appeared in his normal disheveled state. His hair was in its state of permanent messiness and his tank top was untucked from his dirty jeans. He probably had just woken up. I knew I hadn’t woken him up, because if I had by knocking on the door, he sure as hell wouldn’t have gotten out of bed for that. But he would have recognized by now how I knocked on the door, and he usually didn’t answer the door for anyone else other than me and Friend.

He took a drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke in my face. Ugh. I didn’t check the time before I ran out of the house, but I knew it was too early in the morning to be smoking that shit. 

“What are you wearing?” he asked, as he looked me up and down with an expression of amusement on his face. 

I must have been a sight. I wanted to get over to Friend’s house as soon as I could, so I didn’t even change. I was still wearing my feathery nightdress, and I had squashed my feet into my rain boots that were lying next to my bed on the floor. I was wearing an old jacket that had actually been Robson’s at one point, but eventually wound up with me when Friend didn’t want it anymore. 

“Is Tuesday awake?” I asked impatiently. 

“You know she wakes up at the crack of dawn. That little shit made such a racket going out the back I’m surprised it didn’t wake you up.” 

That’s when I realized how she had left. She didn’t want anyone to know, so she didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. It was probably just our secret. Friend and I had a lot of secrets that were just for us, and I knew when Friend wanted to have a secret kept. Didn’t mean I ever knew why, though. 

“Sorry, umm,” I fumbled, trying to come up with a lie. The thoughts and questions swirling around in my head weren’t letting any coherent sentences come out of my mouth. “I just wanted to give this back to her.” I took off my jacket and handed it to him. 

“I haven’t seen this thing in a while,” he said almost wistfully. “Why are you giving it back?” 

“I just thought she might want it.” My little lie was coming apart. 

“What’s actually happening, bug?” he tilted his head and looked at me. Not too many people called me “bug.” He was one of the few. As far as he was concerned, that was my actual name. I mean, he knew my given name. But he never used it. 

“Just take the jacket.”

He rolled his eyes, took a drag from his cigarette, and closed the door. I shakily sat down on the steps, even though they were still wet from last night’s rain. Where did she go? My mind continued spinning. She didn’t tell anyone, she just left. We had both gone through our fair share in life, but what in her finally snapped? What made her go? But I knew one thing. Tuesday Adelson didn’t kill herself. She couldn’t have.  


I walked back up the street to my house, slowly. Stepping in all the puddles I saw. It had started to rain lightly, wetting my face and hair. The early morning sunshine cast its light onto my bare, freckled arms. It was raining, but it wasn’t overcast. That was my favorite weather. Sun showers. No one was outside yet except for one or two cars driving down the street.

I tried to clear my mind, but how could I? How could I calm my thoughts when every spot on those streets had times spent with Friend? Times spent with Tuesday. Now that she was gone, all the memories of her were flooding my head all at once. I mean, it would have been one thing for me to have just found out that she had left. Robson probably would have come to tell me or asked me if I knew where she was. But it was just that she left a note. She confirmed it herself that she wouldn’t come back. And I was the only one who knew. It hurt a little more this way. A lot of things had hurt both of us, and it was all good and well for her to run away from it. But then she left me with it. Damn her.

I stopped walking and looked down at the small handprints on the sidewalk. This was where I first met Friend. I walked by these handprints every day, but I never stopped to think about the past. To go back in time. It was raining harder now, but I still sat down on the wet sidewalk in front of the hollow hand prints. My hands were so much bigger than those prints were. I couldn’t remember life before Tuesday, but I remembered the day I met her so vividly. 

I think I must have been four or five. It was raining just like it was now. The sun was out, but it was pouring. I remember running out the back door of my house. This part is a bit more hazy, almost like a dream. I mean, you would probably think you were dreaming if you found your older sister hanging in the basement. I didn’t know what was happening — I was only four, after all. I just remember being scared. And running out into the crying sun. I hid behind a big tree where I sat for hours in the rain. I didn’t cry. I just watched the little ladybugs march along in the wet grass. They didn’t care about the rain. They were just enjoying the golden glow before the sun was going to set. I was sitting there for so long. They must have thought I was a part of the grass and the trees and the flowers littered around my feet. If I had stayed there forever, flowers might start to grow and blossom up through my skin. And the grass would grow up, entangling with my arms and legs, rooting me to the ground. And I would have remained a little girl, frozen in time and in the earth. I may have stayed there forever.

If it weren’t for Tuesday. I remember hearing yelling coming from a block or two down. And then I saw her. She was spinning around in the middle of the road with flowers and grass tangled in her hair. But she kept looking back over her shoulder at where the yelling was coming from. Almost like she was trying to ignore it or hide from it somehow. She kept getting closer and closer to me, when all of a sudden, she tripped and fell on the grass. I watched as she slowly picked herself up and looked at her hands. I finally decided to pipe up. 

“Are you okay?” I asked in my timid voice. 

She jumped at the sound of my voice. I think I had startled her. But she took a moment to carefully look at me. 

“Why are you hiding?” 

I didn’t really fully realize I was hiding until she asked me that. I didn’t know how to answer that question, so I just shrugged my shoulders. She looked at me a little longer, so I looked at her. I remember first noticing her golden hair glowing in the light and her hazel green eyes that have not aged with time, even today. You can still see a child’s soul in those green eyes now. Then I remember she reached out her hand, the hand that was scraped and bloody from her fall. I took it, and she pulled me out of the shadow of the tree. I still had ladybugs crawling on my arms, and by now the rain had stopped, but I was still soaked to the skin. 

“Little, little ladybugs,” Tuesday started singing lightly to herself. “Little lady…” 

She sort of trailed off there. She was in a daze. Being four, I didn’t really think there was anything unusual about her behavior. Kids were supposed to play and act like they’re in a dream. I couldn’t believe I even remembered this much about meeting Tuesday, but the whole memory still felt like a hazy dream anyway. We sat there for a little while in silence, just being in each other’s company. Watching her golden hair, watching the ladybugs on my hands, seeing the scrapes on hers, watching the sun sink further into the sky. The day my sister killed herself was beautiful. Maybe that’s why it felt like a dream. Eventually Tuesday broke the silence. 

“Come with me.” 

She stood up and walked over to the sidewalk and sat down on the edge of the grass. I stood up, feeling the ladybugs fly off me when I stood. I sat down next to her and looked at her, waiting for her to say something, which she eventually did. 

“If you put your hands on the sidewalk, they’ll stay there forever.” 

The sidewalk in front of us had just been filled in. The cement was still wet. I remember putting our small, little hands out on the sun-kissed sidewalk. The wet cement felt weird, but we just sat there together. Sitting in silence as we made our mark on our block. The blood on her little hands mixed with the wet cement. We would never stop to look at those handprints. But they were always there. I don’t remember much of anything else about that day or the days after. I don’t remember the funeral; I don’t remember my mom’s endless tears; I don’t remember meeting my dad at that funeral; I don’t remember when my grandmother sank into her own grief. I know it all happened. I just simply don’t remember. All I remember is walking back into the house, shaking from the cold of the rain. I remember my mom wrapping her arms around my little body and crying into me, as if she were a child. I just remember saying in my little baby voice, “I found a friend.” 

And now where is she? How will I find her again? 

Mission Ten

In a world of 7.8 billion people, 5 nonillion germs exist. And many are yet to be discovered. And one was eradicated due to the brave actions of I. Cannabreeve and Jack Hesber. Or so they thought. A year ago they had died trying to subdue a disease; no one knew what, but half a year later they had revived, throwing a mysterious orb to one side. But now, they were all going to be destroyed. Destroyed!

“Doomsday in 10 days, 10 hours, and 10 minutes,” the loudspeaker in the town square announced, causing the 101st flurry of panic that day. 

“Nooooo! Doomsday is one minute closer now!” 

“God save us!” 

“Mummy, I’m scared!” 

Half of the population was at home. No one went to work now. People were buying as much food as they could so they could hunker down at home and eat and play as much as they could before they died, due to a recent collision of the Andromeda Galaxy with a new galaxy called Poseidon TTR-67. This had caused a massive speed-up in the speed of the Andromeda Galaxy, making it at least a billion times faster than before, causing it to arrive 3499999996.5 years ahead of scientists’ original predictions. What was worse was that, due to the massive speed-up, the humongous black hole at the centre had somehow been thrown to one side. It was a bit like a ball on a string that has been swung around a lot of times (centrifugal force). The only thing was that IT WAS THROWN TO THE SIDE THAT IS FACING EARTH. Scientists had predicted that the solar system, along with Earth, would enter its event horizon in ten days, and they had set up a loudspeaker in every city to let the world know. 

I. Cannabreeve, after his revival, trained to be a kung fu master and he had an awful lot of chi, an important life force, and determination in him, causing him to reach that position in 3 years. Meanwhile, Jack Hesber dreamt of E.A.R.T.H. (Earth Anonymous Risk Team Help force) again. “You and I. Cannabreeve have to go through the black hole and collect all ten of The Objects and use them to save the world. You will also need ten other people to help you. Their names are Planeton Block, IT specialist, Adventurista Hey, ex-pilot, Spacerista Hey (twins), writer, Andromedarren Collide, clothing manufacturer, Saverbo Earth, paper manufacturer, Blacn Hole, theoretical physicist, Vacuumeta Travel, astronomer, Hugo Weight, 3-time weight-lifting world champion, Timadeto Ishiguto, watch-maker and horologist, and Drawstuff Air, world-famous artist. You will need objects to collect objects. You may have the dust blower. I shall give you the ability to wish for anything and it will come true. But beware, you cannot use it more than three times, so use it wisely. Now go. You will find them in the town square. When the day comes, the twelve of you must jump into the black hole (called Quiescent) willingly with no doubts or you shall be spaghettified (meaning that when you jump into a black hole, you will be stretched out until you pop) and killed. This is Mission TEN. Now go.” 

Jack Hesber woke up to find that it was already morning. He rushed out of bed and hurriedly dashed to the town square. There, he found I. Cannabreeve standing next to a bunch of people, one that looked humongous and three that just looked plain weak. “Huh. Took you a long time. This E.A.T.E.R. thingummy just told us to go to the town square and whaddayaknow, boom! The huge dude just bumped into me, and after that we fell flat on the face and these bros just fell onto us! Is that crazy or what?” 

“It is E.A.R.T.H.!” one of the weak people corrected, looking exasperated. 

“Jumping into a black hole, eh? To not be spaghettified, and instead get teleported away, there is only one explanation. That black hole must be a wormhole, but that exit can only be accessed by tremendous energy! Which is magic! Yes! To have so many people dreaming of the same thing is already a miracle, and to open the wormhole in the black hole, it must be magic! After all, magic is just science we don’t understand yet! Maybe it is just another form of energy!” 

“Oh yes, I concur, but maybe they don’t need that much energy. If your hypothesis is correct, then magic is a form of energy. The E.A.R.T.H. council might just have to draw energy from the black hole! Quiescent has plenty to spare. It is 100 times bigger than the sun, far bigger than Sagittarius A*, and the amount of Hawking radiation and leaked energy must be amazing!” two of the weak people suggested, looking dead brainy. 

“We don’t even know each other’s names! Wait, we do, but we don’t know who is who. So, can we get that straightened out first?” Jack cut in, slightly annoyed that the only thing he understood from Blacn and Vaccumeta’s lecture was that this black hole was very big. 

One by one they introduced themselves. I. Cannabreeve’s self-introduction was the most exaggerated; he made sure the whole town square could hear him. “I am Inston Cannabreeve, kung fu master!” He paused for added effect, waiting for the applause that never came, so he continued, convinced that they were secretly impressed, “And we, the I. Cannabreeve team, shall jump into Quiescent 5 days from now!” 

He was met with people shouting, “No! You will be killed! Early! It is better to die later than to die early! What are you thinking?” 

“But we won’t get killed!” I. Cannabreeve argued, looking confused. I. Cannnabreeve might have become a kung fu master, but he definitely had not gained any common sense. Jack had enough sense to cover I. Cannabreeve’s mouth before he leaked out anything else, but it was still too late. 

There was one person in the crowd who had heard that they would not be killed, and he happened to be very power hungry, by the name of Hack Ohm, who was extremely good at electronics. He thought, I’ll jump in with them, and then infect them with the disease, and then go out again, and make the people think that only I can survive a black hole! And then they will all want to learn how to survive a black hole and I’ll tell them something made up and they will kill themselves. I am going to die in ten days anyway. At least I should live out my last five days as the king of the world. Oh, this is such a great plan. I’m surprised by my own genius!

However, Hack Ohm had a few associates, whom he could not help but boast to. “Yes, I am clever, aren’t I?” Hack Ohm finally concluded his long-winded explanation with what he thought was flair, but was actually the throw of a toothpick into a bin, missing, and then flying back at him. He assured them, “Don’t worry, I’ll give you a fair share of the loot once I am done with them. OW! That hurts!” he said as the toothpick struck home in his thin arm. And one of them thought that maybe, just maybe, he could finally overthrow Hack Ohm after working for him for 10 years. 

5 days later, Jack met up with the others in spacesuits that Vaccumeta had managed to “borrow” from his lab, and, ignoring the cries of the people, they braced themselves and jumped, only to disappointingly land on the ground again. “Wait, how are we going to get there?” 

“Let me try!” I. Cannabreeve shouted, rolling up his sleeves, not in the least undaunted. He grabbed a nearby stick and took a few steps backward and took a running leap, sticking the stick into the ground with the expertise of a pole vaulter, but chickening out just as he was about to fly, and ended up standing on one leg at the top of the pole, looking much more like a kung fu master now. Adventurista could not help but give the stick a little nudge, attempting to make I. Cannabreeve fall, but I. Cannabreeve’s training had not gone to waste, thank god, and he leapt onto the nearby roof 8 metres away. 

Timadeta suggested, “Maybe you are supposed to use one of the wishes now?” 

Jack thought, Ok, here goes. Please teleport us to the event horizon of the black hole with all our things, like the stick and the dust blower and the spacesuits

Sure enough, the next instant, they were floating in the vast world of endless space. But, in their excitement, they did not realise that they had two stowaways. At the last moment, Hack Ohm had put a finger on Jack’s spacesuit, and Plane Mitchell had put his thumb on Hack Ohm’s spacesuit, and they were all teleported to space along with the others. But since Plane Mitchell was attached to Hack Ohm instead of directly to Jack, the connection was weaker and the teleportation caused a huge strain on his body and caused a cell mutation that turned him into a flying expert and a very, very arrogant person. 

A minute later, Spacerista started to feel a bit stretched out, and he looked down and screamed. “AAAAAH! I’m spaghetti!”  However, the radio transmitter was affected too and all the others heard was “Ha! I spat greatly!” The others were starting to feel the strain too. Slowly, they started to get taller and taller. Drawstuff was now two metres tall… 2.5 metres… 3 metres… 5 metres… but just as they were about to go “pop!” there was a brilliant flash of light and then they shrunk back to their original size and the black hole, like the mouth of a monster, rushed up to swallow them. They rushed through the endless black tunnel and then suddenly a brilliant flash of colour struck each of them like lightning, and they felt squeezed, so tight they could not breathe… and they were out! 

They were wearing their normal clothes again and the stick was lying on the ground. Thump! Boom! They heard the rustle of a bush and a little elk made of licorice emerged, eating the gumball berries growing on a candy cane bush. Seizing this chance, Hack and Plane made a plan and split up. Hack had realized they had no way to go back so they had to develop a new plan. Which meant splitting up.

“Whoa!” Andromedarren exclaimed in surprise. Blacn and Vaccumeta had already got out their scientific equipment that they had snuck into a rucksack and were analyzing all the things they could. 

“This world’s atmosphere is similar to Earth. Oh, if we make it out alive, I am definitely going to bring a sample of the dirt back!” Vaccumeta exclaimed. 

Saverbo and Planeton rushed around exploring. “Look! Hamburger trees! Grass fries! Pizza flowers! Chip leaves! Baguette twigs! Sandwich bushes!” 

Jack joined them and gorged everything in sight. Every plant was different and every bite was delicious. When he was thirsty, he would go to a nearby stream and drink the soda water that ran through, hoping to catch some barbecued fish to go along with it. The lamb and beef were easier to catch. They were made of lamb chops and steak and barbeque, each one hot and flavorful. Chickens and turkeys were grilled to perfection. The others naturally could not resist that and they all stopped what they were doing and scoffed all they could.

They slowly lost all memory of why they were here and how they got here. Only when they were full did I. Cannabreeve say, “Eh? I wonder how we got here. Eh, who cares, I don’t want to le — AAAA! We are late! OH MY GOD WE FORGOT TO COLLECT THE OBJECTS!” 

This got them all to their feet. They immediately stepped on the gas and started packing. Before they left, everybody made sure to stuff their bags with every food they could. They walked forwards, hoping that it would take them somewhere. After a while, it started raining fried rice. 

They entered a thick forest, filled with vines of pasta and noodles and tree trunks made of the cleanest water you had seen. They stood up by themselves instead of sploshing around, and if you punched it, you would get quite a shock as you found that your hand hurt all over and that nothing had happened to the tree. However, if you put your lips to it and sucked, the water would just enter your mouth and the tree would gradually get smaller as you drank more water.

There was a light in front and they rushed to it, but stopped in their tracks when something black rushed around them, so fast it kicked up a huge wind and blew them to their feet. A grim reaper rose from the darkness. It had 2 arms, no head and no legs. It was wearing a cloak and the hood floated as if there was a head. Its arms were wrapped in a broken chain, and a lantern glowed ominously on the cloak. It removed the huge scythe from its back and floated closer to the gang. I. Cannabreeve was not scared and took a step forward, contrary to the rest of the team. 

“You wanna fight, huh?” I. Cannabreeve taunted. He did a right heel kick but the grim reaper opened a wormhole and teleported away. The grim reaper struck out with the scythe from behind, and I. Cannabreeve ducked just in time. He plucked out a surprisingly strong pasta vine, looped it around the scythe and pulled hard. The scythe flew out of the grim reaper’s hand and into I. Cannabreeve’s outstretched arms. However, the grim reaper raised 2 fingers and the scythe caught fire without burning down. It flew around, controlled by the reaper, trying to hit I. Cannabreeve. The reaper decided to take a smarter approach. The scythe flew to the group huddled into a corner, making them huddle even closer to one another. I. Cannabreeve gave a loud cry and half-commanded, half-begged, “Hey, don’t kill them! Kill me instead! You can take my soul! I don’t care as long as you don’t hurt them!“ 

But the reaper did not relent. The scythe went on a merciless journey to the necks of Jack and the rest. 

Saverbo took a deep breath and stepped forward. “If you are going to kill us, kill me first.” 

Suddenly, a hand reached out and grabbed Saverbo. The hulking figure of Hugo appeared from the back of the group. “Me! I am not good at studies, I can’t help with anything.” 

The rest of the group echoed a chorus of “me”s and suddenly the scythe stopped in midswing. 

“You have passed,” the reaper said. 

It stepped back to reveal a large pile of gleaming objects. When they got closer to it, the dust blower also started glowing. Suddenly, the objects stopped glowing. Two figures emerged from the trees, snatched up two objects and hightailed it out. 

“Hey!” I. Cannabreeve yelled, chasing them, jumping from branch to branch. He was gaining ground slowly, but suddenly the forest got denser and he lost sight of them. He returned to the others and forlornly told them that they had escaped. They grabbed all the objects so nobody could take them. 

“Well, at least we got most of it.” Andromedarren said, trying to brighten up the atmosphere. They thanked the reaper and continued on their way. An hour later, I. Cannabreeve, Hugo, Adventurista, and Jack were dragging Blacn, Andromedarren, Drawstuff, Timadeta, Vacuumeta, Planeton, Spacerista, and Saverbo out of the forest. Once they got out, those who were not on the ground already fell onto the ground with a dull thud. The leaves of the forest shook as the wind blew through them, as if mocking them for being so weak. After ten minutes, Timadeta got up. He stretched and announced that he was all refreshed. 

Adventurista snorted, “You should be! You were the first to faint! We had to drag you 34742 steps!” 

“You were counting?” Blacn said in surprise. 

“Welp! Let’s get on our way!” I. Cannabreeve said. He jumped up to his feet but his bag was loose and fell off his shoulders, spilling out the contents. 

“Hey, shouldn’t we see what they do first so we can use them later?” Saverbo suggested.

So they sat on the floor again and started poking around with the objects. 

“These are pretty normal things, ” Hugo observed. 

“Hey, this lamp operates without electricity!” Blacn said. Jack half-expected him to dig out a microscope and examine the lamp but he didn’t. “Eh, you get used to it,” Blacn added, as if reading his mind. Blacn pointed it at the ground and disappointedly said, “That’s all?” 

But a few seconds later, he was proved wrong. The ground suddenly shook, and the circle of light turned into a large hole with the forest and them in it. They all let out gasps and peered into the hole. As they did, the duplicates of themselves did the same. 

“Let’s go in!” I. Cannabreeve said adventurously. They packed up their things and looked at their duplicates pack up their things. Planeton put a stick in and watched it slowly drop. Suddenly, there was a whoosh and a tunnel of purple light that just slowly floated about. Then, they heard a stick drop behind them, and turned around to find that it was the exact stick that Planeton had used. There was the hole of purple light floating in the air. Blacn was so shocked that he accidentally turned off the lamp, and at the same time the hole disappeared with a pop. 

“A wormhole!” Vacuumeta exclaimed. 

Next they tried closing the wormhole while the stick was still inside. The hole disappeared and the stick was gone. They opened the wormhole again, and the stick was still inside. They found some words carved onto the lamp. 

“What does it say?” Jack curiously asked. 

“Dunno. It’s all Greek to me,” Andromedarren replied. 

“That’s because it is Greek!” exclaimed Spacerista as he finally recognised the strange text. 

“You know how to read it?” everyone asked in surprise. He explained that he had learnt it when he went to university as it was in Greece. 

“The long one is ‘i trýpa den tha katastrépsei poté ton idioktíti,’ the hole will never destroy the owner. The second one is ‘o chrónos eínai ousiastikós,’ time is of the essence. Hey!  I know what they mean! The hole will never kill the owner if the owner goes into it, so that means there must be a time limit, which is why there is the second one! But how long is the time limit?” To figure it out, they sent Jack in with the stick and also the lamp as an extra precaution. He jumped into the hole and closed it.

Jack looked around and saw the purple tunnel. The moment the wormhole was closed, he felt a tingling sensation, and a black hole appeared at the end. He felt himself being pulled to it against his will. The stick and lamp were floating around, slowly being attracted to the black hole. He snatched them up and told the lamp, “My friends and I are the owners. My friends and I are the owners and I’d like to keep my stuff, thank you very much.” 

The lamp glowed as it processed the new information. When it was done, it emitted a hum and the pull on Jack and the stick disappeared. Jack slowly counted the seconds, noticing that there was also a tuft of grass, presumably from the first wormhole in the ground. Jack asked the lamp, “Hey, how do you destroy stuff? Can the owners go into the black hole and go out?” 

The lamp glowed, humming and aahing as if it were thinking very hard about it. Then, as if answering his question, Jack saw the tuft of grass get sucked into the black hole, and the lamp emitted a blast of light that formed a word. See? And then, Jack felt that he was being sucked into the black hole. Before he could react, he was inside it, and grass floated in the empty black space before him. For something called a black hole, the interior was relatively bright, since the black hole had absorbed so much light, and even looked comfy. He arranged the grass and found that they stuck together and actually joined up as if they were being magically welded together, which they were. He lay down on his new bed of grass and rested. He thought, Time to go out. Suddenly, a black door popped into existence, and upon opening it, he realized that it led to the tunnel. Another see? popped up from the lamp. He decided to tell the others and opened a wormhole to his friends. 

He climbed out and reported, “It’s super safe, as long as you are the owner. Anyway, you can keep stuff inside forever, as long as you tell the lamp that you want it. By the way, I have something to show you. Come on in!” They hesitantly packed their things and clambered into the hole. “These are my friends and they are owners too. And keep their stuff,” Jack told the lamp, and then addressed the rest of them. “Alright guys, swim to the black hole at the end. That’s how your stuff gets destroyed if you don’t claim it.” 

He led them to the black hole and they stopped, apprehension etched on their faces. Jack assured them that it was safe and led them in. They were very amazed, judging by the fact that their mouths hung down so big that someone could have stuffed a whole egg in with space to spare. I. Cannabreeve recovered the fastest. 

“All right gang! This is a world class boot hole, 5 star, 100 out of 100, the best of the best, the super, the ultimate, the great, the excellent, the superior, the numero uno, the superb, the rad, the tip-top, the up to snuff, the prime, the first-rate, the primo, the premium, the big shot, the big cheese, the platinum choice, the first-class, the sans pareil, the — ” I. Cannabreeve had to cut out his dictionary lecture as he had run out of breath, his face already purple from the effort, and they could have sworn that his head was one round bigger. 

They figured out the rest of the objects were relatively straightforward: the book let you jump into books. The shirt turned the wearer invisible. The unbreakable paper made the stuff you wrote on it appear next to you. The mini drawer and pouch let you put anything into it and it would never run out of space, and as long as you carried the pouch with you, anything you needed that was in the drawer would appear in the pouch. The clock let the person who owned it control time. The pen allowed the owner to draw in midair and the drawing would immediately turn solid. Slowly, under I. Cannabreeve’s fanatic command, 12 beds, 12 recliners, a huge sofa, a wireless WiFi producer and everything you would find in a house appeared in the special area of the black hole. In short, the black hole turned into their house. I. Cannabreeve had even gone to include an Olympic-size pool complete with a water park and wave pool and an ice skating rink. 

Slowly they exited the boot hole hotel and opened a wormhole to “wherever the people who took the objects are.” They emerged behind a bush, and cries of pain and gunshots rang out. They peeked out and saw one of the people who had taken the objects shoot the other with a PKM machine gun. Hack Ohm was killed, and the computer that he had was thrown to the side by an arrogant Plane. He threw the gun into the air and it suddenly turned into a full sized deadly looking spaceship with 20 nuclear thrusters, an on-board nuclear generator, a backup fan generator, and ten missile tubes, and it seemed to be the type of spaceship that had many weapons on board. Saverbo saw his nametag, and informed them that he was called Plane. After he boarded the spaceship, they opened a wormhole to the computer, but instead of hole in the air, it was a hole in the ground, and the computer fell into their waiting arms. The objects glowed again — could they sense that victory was near, could they sense that they only had one last sibling to reunite with? 

They formed a plan. Planeton would stay behind with the computer and hack the spaceship’s onboard computers, making the doors open. Then, the rest of them would rush in and defeat Plane and get the last object.  They jumped out of the wormhole, and the doors of the spaceship opened. Plane was sitting in the cockpit, desperately trying to close the doors, but he was locked out of the system. The others first used the clock and stopped time, and they used the paper and wrote “a really strong rope that nothing can untie or break.” Then, they tied up Plane, and I. Cannabreeve took advantage of the fact that Plane could not move and slapped him as many times as he could, saying, “That will teach you not to mess with us!” 

Then they shrunk down the plane to object size and claimed ownership of it. They started time again, and carried Plane around like a trophy. They grabbed the objects and brought them together. 

They emitted a brilliant flash of golden light and then disappeared. 

“So…that’s it? That’s it?! We did all this just for them to evaporate?” But no sooner had he finished his sentence than they were teleported back to Earth, everything was normal and the Andromeda Galaxy was far away, and no one else remembered what had happened.

The End.

Half Bloods and the Time Traveling Pen

“Catch him!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. My fellow ninjas and I jumped from house to house to catch a villain that is my best friend! His name is Tom, and he used to be in the V.S.C. We used to work together very well.

I think I will introduce myself first. My name is Jerry, and my animal is a wolf. Now, you might be wondering about a lot of things, like why I have an animal and what the V.S.C. is. Take it easy. I will be answering the questions. So, every member in the Villain Slayer Corps (aka. V.S.C.) is a ninja and has an animal and its power. Scientists inject the animal’s blood into our body first. After that, he will seal the blood inside our body, and we can even talk to the animal spirit inside. We can also use the power of the animal, and the spirit can go out of our body and fight along with us.

I also have to tell you about the Ten Sages, which are ten animals that are the strongest among all the animals. The owners of those animals can unleash the energy sage mode. Only when you are really angry will you be able to unleash the energy sage mode. Now, I will tell you my animal’s power. Wolf-White Flame Power, Mist Power, Ice Power, and Power Claws. My animal is in the Ten Sages. After saying so much, now I would like to take you back to catch the villain — my best friend, Tom.

It started to rain, which made it hard to see where Tom was going. Tom became a villain because his parents were accidentally killed by the V.S.C., so he hated the V.S.C., and then he quit. He was so angry with how life treated him, he started to do bad things with his powers. His power is Black Panther-Power Claws and Dark Fire Power. His animals are also in the Ten Sages.

After a long time of chasing and fighting on the roof of houses, Tom was nowhere to be seen. We went back to V.S.C. HQ and declared that we failed the mission. When I got back home, I took out a pen, but it was no ordinary pen. It could time travel! I thought I should go back in time to stop the V.S.C. from killing Tom’s parents. With any luck, history would be changed, and then he would not be a villain.

Just when I was about to enter the black hole produced by the pen to go back in time, my neck was strangled with one hand, and I fell on the floor half conscious, half unconscious. I saw Tom standing in my room. He was the one that had strangled me!

Tom picked up the pen and said joyfully, “Thanks for the pen, Jerry! The V.S.C. members can never catch me! Bye, Jerry!” I went into a coma and did not know what happened later.

When I woke up the next day, I was lying on the floor. I quickly got up and thought about what had happened the night before. Tom took the pen! I wanted to find Tom quickly, but I remembered that I was only able to go out at night, and I had to act like a normal person during the day.

After a long time of waiting, it was finally nighttime. I went to V.S.C. HQ and gathered all the Sage of Ten Path owners. Then, we set out to find Tom. Before finding him, I had to locate where he was, so I used one of my skills that I never introduced you guys to. Spatial Awareness! This helps me to find the person I want to find in an instant. “Jump!” All of us jumped. We saw a big claw-shaped mark on the pavement where we had been standing. “I am going to kill him!” He destroyed my favorite pavement, which is owned by the HQ!

I saw Tom using his power claws, but we were also not weak. Jimmy, who has the power of Gorilla-Power Fists and Rock Power, used his power fists and punched where Tom was at, but Tom moved too fast. We formed a circle to see 360 degrees to find Tom. Ben suddenly saw Tom, and Ben used his power. Ben has the power of Cheetah-Lightning Power, and Speed and Power Claws.

“LIGHTNING POWER! FIRST FORM, ELECTRIC ARROW!” As Ben pointed two fingers at Tom, Ben’s two fingers formed a ball of electricity, and an arrow-like electricity beam shot out and traveled at a blinding speed. When the arrow was about to hit Tom, “DARK FIREPOWER! FOURTH FORM, FIREWALL!” Ben shouted.

The lightning arrow was rebounded back to us! We quickly jumped up, but before we could react — “DARK FIREPOWER! THIRD FORM! FIREBALL” — balls of flames charged at a blinding speed towards us. 

Just when the ball of fire was about to hit us, Chris, who has the power of Polar Bear-Ice Release, Water Release, and Power Palms, said, “WATER POWER, FOURTH FORM, WATER JET!” A jet of water shot out of Chris’s hand and put out the fireballs. We continued to fight against Tom with all our might.

George, who has the power of Rhino-Shield Power and Horn Power, shot out horns which made Tom jump up into the air. Bob — who has the power of Crocodile-Teeth Power and Water Power — and John — who has the power of Shark-Teeth Power and Water Power — shot out sharp teeth at him.

Tom shouted out, “Do not underestimate me! Firewall!” He used the same move this time again, and the teeth rebounded at use, but what he did not know was that while he was using the firewall, Ben was using his speed skill. He sneaked up to Tom’s back and kicked him to the ground.

Jayden, who has the power of Eagle-Feather Power and Air Power, exclaimed, “AIR POWER, FIFTH FORM, CYCLONE!”

As Tom was pushed back to Ben, Ben said, “LIGHTNING POWER, FINAL FORM! DANCE OF THE THUNDERGOD!” Dragon heads started to appear on Ben’s hands, and lightning appeared on the dragon head.

BOOM! Tom was hit by the dragon heads with so much force that Tom made a hole on the ground when he crashed into it. Steven, who has the power of Snake-Venom Release, Poison Gas Release, and Teeth Release, released poison gas at Tom while he was flying onto the floor.

Just when we thought that Tom was dead, Tom jumped out and hit the ground with his dark flame ball. It felt like an earthquake, and the ground started to crack, with a black aura appearing out of the cracks on the ground. “This is a new move I made with Black Panther. Hope you enjoy it!” he said. The dark flame started to erupt from the cracks.

Chris and I put both of our hands on the ground, and we both shouted, “ICE POWER! SIXTH FORM! Freeze!” The ground turned into ice, flames erupted out of the cracks, and heavy smoke appeared. In the smoke, I saw Tom running away. I ran through the smoke, but it was too late. Tom had gotten away with the pen.

The End.


There was this cube. This specific cube that almost ended the universe. Well, if it could destroy the whole mighty universe, it was no ordinary cube. Believe me, not ordinary. You may ask, who was the owner? Here’s the thing, it didn’t have any. Maybe it did, but the owner did not know it. It was just an ordinary Rubix cube to normal people. See, I said normal people, so, there were, of course, not-normal humans. One really specific one was Johnny, Johnny the “King.” He was feared by not only humans but half the universe, the half that was still not conquered by him. He had learned dark magic. The ability to breathe a type of gas was one of the powers. Another was to hate. He hated all human beings, infecting all living things, even though he himself was a human. He was already the master of half the universe, but he wasn’t satisfied, not nearly satisfied. Not nearly. 

Learning that the cube was the key to his success, the King charged into the owner’s house and snatched the cube. Holding up a cube for a moment, nothing happened. Nothing. Just as Johnny started to believe he had gone after the wrong cube, the cube shook. It shook. Believe me, it really shook. Now, if the “King” of the universe couldn’t hold it, nobody could. The cube rose rapidly towards the sun. Nearing the horizon, it glowed. Without warning, it opened up what looked like eyes and spit out a laser ray. With a horrible-looking hole in the middle of the Earth, Johnny laughed. He laughed like a savage man. He was laughing at his own home. Floating towards the cube, it landed comfortably in his strong hands. Johnny had dark power. Really, really dark power. After he ran away from Earth, he was the faithful student of a powerful wizard — an alien. When I say faithful, he was really faithful. He stayed until his Sensei’s death. Actually, he caused the death, however without an ounce of remorse in his heart. Just because of a trivial matter, he killed his teacher. This was Johnny, the King, and the mad, savage man. With a single tap on the cube, the Earth exploded, exploding into nothing. However, before he could react, a sudden streak of light blinded him. Floating in the middle of the debris of the destroyed planet was a man, a tall bulky man with milky white blazing eyes. Hands on fire, feet frozen, mouth spitting venom, eyes shooting lightning. This was the human brother of the cube. Although similar, the brother was weaker, much weaker than the cube. The only advantage he had now was that he had a heart, a real one. 

This man, the only survivor, wanted, yearned for revenge. He yearned for it. Johnny had destroyed all, all of his loved ones, his friends, even his children. His home, the home he loved the most, was also reduced to nothing but dust. He could not accept seeing Johnny taking another half of the universe. With the determination of love, he set off with a fatal mission of taking down Johnny the King, the King…

Standing, still staring right at Johnny, both men were still, but their hearts thumped furiously, however, for different reasons. If you thought they were going to fight right there and then, well, you are wrong. Now, the man who lived, named Cooper, was smart. Not like normal smart, but overpowering smart. The genius cells speeding around in his huge brain, he decided to hide first, then fight. Johnny was already starting towards him. One step at a time, the radiation of the cube became stronger and stronger. With a silent snap, Cooper disappeared into thin air, leaving Johnny looking wild, twitching his head, eyes swirling around, searching for the man who lived. Well, of course, it was to no avail. The cube had already fallen deadly silent, not moving, not making a noise. Neither did it glow nor send out heat waves. It was just like an ordinary cube, waiting for someone smart enough to turn it vigorously to its original 6 brilliant colours. 

Letting out a loud groan, Johnny flew away with a heavy heart. Without speaking to that mysterious man, he knew. He had a weird feeling that he was an enemy — not a normal enemy like the rest of the universe but an enemy that he needed to put up a fight to conquer. He sat on his jewel throne, face ashen, hand still gripping the Rubix cube like it was his life string. Well, as you can see, it was kind of like his life string. 

Meanwhile, at the very corner of the universe, Cooper landed soundlessly onto a planet, not a centimeter touched by Johnny. Don’t ask me how I know, ask Cooper. He had all the power you could want. He would know how I know that it wasn’t touched yet. Yet. Snapping his finger once more, Cooper was nothing. Nothing as in “invisible.” Not only invisible but also “untouchable.” He was just air, floating around the place. 

It was like a futuristic world with all the cool technology. It was a small world, very small indeed — it was the size of the moon. (Well, don’t ask me how I know how big Earth 01 was. I told you Cooper was the brother of the magic cube.) Walking around, minding their own business, were human-like beings, maybe real humans. Looking just like everyone else, nobody noticed him. Of course, nobody could — he was invisible and “untouchable.”

 Eyes zooming around the place, Cooper noticed something, something worth talking about. It was an alien world after all; everything was strange, even fascinating. The buildings were tiny but big. Let me explain. The building seemed only two times taller than Cooper himself. Once he stepped in, it turned out to be the biggest shopping mall he had ever seen. With each store as big as a land property’s total area, there were at least thousands of shops. Looking straight, Cooper could not see the end. Better still, that small world seemed to be money-free. The natives took things and left, without even going to the cashier. There wasn’t even a cashier. Basically, it was just like a buffet without the expensive prices. Well, maybe then there would be no thieves. Sure enough, there were plenty of buffets, and of course with no price. Piling in a long neat row were billions and billions of different foods, all looking better than the ones on Earth. Well, even a superhuman could not resist this. Mouth watering like a fountain, he teleported from place to place, snatching up things, gulping down delicious food, even sometimes stopping to visit the casino.

After all these surprises and shocks, the death of the world started to slip out of his mind. Bit by bit, piece by piece, they started to disappear, disappear into thin air. With another gulp of food, one bit was gone. With another new piece of clothing on, one piece was gone. Soon enough, only a tiny, mini section of the scene and memory was left. Fatigue started growing into his bones. Exhaustion loomed over him. Eyelids starting to droop, Cooper finally, finally decided to teleport out of the massive shopping mall. The moment his feet touched the cold damp ground, a weird, dreadful, painful feeling smashed into him, giving him a vigorous shiver. Eyes looking around blankly, the little segment of memory burned in his brain. 

“Cooper Grandsir! There you are enjoying yourself while the universe’s fate is at risk! It’s fate is in your hands! In your hands! You better start training, yes?! You need to kill Johnny. Kill him. Kill him! Kill him! Kill him! Your children died, you can still save them. Your friends died, you still can bring them back. Your wife died, do you not want to serve justice?!” A shrill voice screamed, really screamed the life out of Cooper. With that, he fell to the ground, of course soundless, falling into a deep coma.

Magical things happened. Still laying there, unconscious, the little piece of memory started to grow. It glowed golden light, filling up his whole head. It was a memory, right, so it should replay the past. Like a film, every moment Cooper spent with his three dearest sons was shown before his eyes. Before Cooper even knew he had the power, he was a free man. Playing with his sons every day, laughing and cackling. Next came his wife. Every night he spent his free time watching movies with her. Every morning, he woke up extra early to finish all the household chores before rushing to work just to save his beloved wife’s energy. 

Next came his two best friends, always driving to work together, always buying lunch for each other, always, always lending out a helping hand to each other in times of need. His life was packed full of love, fun, excitement, until — there was always this until, always — until he acknowledged his powers. His luck was not bad. He learned his powers at the exact moment the Earth exploded, just enough to get him out of the debris safe and sound. 

Now, you are probably shouting at this paper, screaming why I am still talking about Cooper. Where’s Johnny? Now, I am going to hop right into the opposite end of the universe now. Come on, stop grabbing your hand, fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. 

Ability to teleport is one thing; riding on a pegasus, flying seven times faster than light is another thing. Now, even if you couldn’t really see the horse in motion, let me tell you, it was extraordinarily beautiful, more beautiful than you can imagine. You can guess that ugly King was riding on that glorious pony, trying his best to look more handsome. It was quite a ride, quite a ride. Now, he didn’t have seat belts, not like you guys, so he was thrown off plenty of times. Screaming at the top of his lungs, arms flailing like jelly sticks, he was like a huge block of dirt striking across the cosmos; whenever you thought it was going to crash, boom, something would catch him, throw him straight back onto the whining pegasus’s back. Wait, how are you supposed to see all this? He was faster than light. No, no, no, you know what, you all just picture this scene in your mind. Now that was Johnny’s one little activity to spend his time. Fun? 

The rest of the day was filled with this kind of activity, this kind… Did he give food to his people? Nope. Did he follow the rules? No. Did he try to rule the planets that were his? No. Did he go around doing crazy stuff and try to get himself killed? Yes. Only on some days, some days as in once a month, he would do something useful — not useful to others, but really essential to him. Battle. 

No, he didn’t charge into battle like a mental person, no; he sat, eating McDonald’s on a chair, shouting at his army through a huge speaker. A huge one. Not only was it huge, but the voice that came out of it was even more gigantic. That itself would kill half the enemy. Now, you are going to ask, how did his army not die? Easy, they all were robots — no eyes, no brain, no heart. Only a pair of ears and the ability to fight was installed into the human-like robots. Now their ears wouldn’t break, at least not that easily. I must say, Johnny’s method was pretty impressive, able to conjure, destroy ten planets at the same moment.  

But there was something that always bothered Johnny. Every time before battle, a deep wild voice would warn him in his ears.

“Johnny, be careful, stop and think. Do you really think killing so many aliens is fun? Stop your war and return back to your Sensei. Come on, Johnny.” The voice sounded dangerously like the Sensei that Johnny had murdered. Most importantly, after asking all his generals, Johnny confirmed that only he could hear that annoying instructing voice. Even before he set his heart on the magic cube, the voice alerted him to think twice. But, of course, he didn’t listen to a thing the scary voice said. Shaking his head vigorously, Johnny screamed in his head to ask the voice to leave. Every time was similar. However, every time, it just got more serious and harder to get rid of. This was the sole thing that kept Johnny from perfectly killing all the aliens.

Now, where was the cube? Of course in his clumsy hands, glowing, showing off, duh. One special occasion, when he got a bit tired of spectating aliens’ heads, getting brutally chopped off, or getting run through by a shotgun, he just gave the glorious cube a little shake. As silent as nothing, another hundred planets were gone. Let me stop for a moment because you guys probably have questions again. Right? Why did Johnny destroy the planets? I thought he wanted to take over the world and be king? Is that your question? Now, I forgot to tell you that his cube, the cube again, already sucked all the jewels to his gloomy castle. So now that he was rich, why would he want the useless planets? He only left behind the beautiful ones. That’s it. That was Johnny. Basically a planet killer. 

Riding his winged horse, Johnny shuddered. At that precise moment, he became an absolute genius. The brain cells swam around the head faster than he was flying, having 0.00001-second meetings here and there, discussing an idea, an absolute genius idea: to take over the world in less than 1 hour. Good thinking, right? Good idea, right? It would totally work, right? To him, an absolute yes. To you, I hope it’s a yes. If now you are thinking no, and your name is Johnny, switch your brain right now, this very instance. Go! Now the rest of you, please, please keep your pure brain with you.  

After rewarding himself with another ten hours of speed flying, he was tired, alright. Throwing himself onto his sofa, he called for his generals. All of them came in unison, speaking in unison, taking action in unison. 

“Master, how can we help?” Imagine ten similar voices speaking in an enclosed toilet, that’s how Johnny liked it. Weird? Do I still need to answer that question?! 

“Destroy any planet at will. Destroy everything in one hour. Go. If you fail me, well, we have plenty of hungry Johnnys here, they will love to eat you.” With that, the echoes of steps rang in the room, but of course still at the same frequency, at the same time. None of the generals dare to defy the King, not even showing the slightest displeasure. 

Still in his room, Johnny switched on the television. Itching with eagerness, Johnny was twitching and spinning on the cushions, waiting to watch his favorite movie: chopping off aliens’ heads. Fist clenching and unclenching, he tried to suppress his thirst. Finally, with a deafening bang, the great battle began. Robots charged into the cities, catching the aliens by surprise. Chopping off every head that came into vision, even ten at a time, the army advanced. One by one, the planets fell. One by one, the planets disappeared. One by one, the universe was becoming Johnny’s. Laughing his stomach out was Johnny on his sofa, tearing up (of joy, not any other reason) at the scene of innocent aliens screaming halfway.

That was a huge break from Cooper. Let’s go back to Cooper, shall we?

Gliding through the universe as a group of mist, he visited every planet that was still active, still alive, not destroyed by… him. You know who “him” is. Every planet was different, very different. Some were small, others were big. Some were inhabited by robots, others inhabited by aliens. Some were glorious, developed, others rundown, rural. So on and so forth. However, there was one similarity, just one single factor: all were quiet, all were dead-like. Anxiety hung in the air. Guns, lasers, bombs, rockets were lined up every few kilometers. All planets, no matter good or bad, small or big, poor or rich, were preparing for battle. 

After at least half an hour of gliding, inspecting all the depressing planets, Cooper reached his home. His long-lost home. His favourite home. His only home. Looking at the unknown debris, floating around pointlessly. Just as he wanted to reach out and feel the leftovers of his home, with a dangerous flash, a knife swung towards Cooper’s neck to cut cleanly through it. Head sliding off his shoulders, Cooper froze for a split second, then as quickly as the knife came, he dissipated into nothing. 

With a sharp, uncertain breath, Cooper lifted his head slowly, eyes still fixed on the orb. Letting out a second shaky breath, he was in deep thought, cells spinning faster than Johnny was flying.  

“It seems this will be a really tough century. This student is a bit of trouble.” Exclaiming to himself, Cooper paced around the room, eyes focused on the ceiling, hands behind his back. Even the greatest wizard was having trouble handling this boy called Johnny. 

Twelve years have passed. 

His shabby clothes flagging behind him, Cooper journeyed towards Johnny’s comfortable sofa. Entering “Mr. King’s” house rudely, he passed right through the still blaring television, always screaming painful dreadful shouts of terror. 

“Sensei? I thought you were dead. I killed you. You should be in hell!” With eyes three times larger than usual, Johnny exclaimed, still lying on his leather sofa. 

“Allow me to trespass upon your hospitality for a while more. I came here for just one thing. Please listen to me. It is crucial to you, and only you. Listen up Johnny.” Without stopping to wait for a response, Cooper continued rambling in his deep, dangerous tone. “Do you remember the curse you placed on everybody? Anyone who spills blood will die a pitiful death. I am sorry, and grateful at the same time, that you have accidentally placed it on yourself too. And I daresay you have not only spilt one person’s blood but millions. Now Johnny, I will give you one more chance to stop all you are doing and come back with me. You will be a great leader, respected by all, if you allow me to purify your heart. The curse still can be lifted. This is your final chance. Do you realise every time you wanted to start a war, a voice would ring in your head? The voice was mine. I was a teacher, and now a guide, in the future even a partner. I always wanted to guide you back to the right path. But it seems that I have failed to do so. Even I cannot do so. This is your terminal, ultimate chance to clean your heart. Please, Johnny. I promise you you would be more respected, more loved and more happy, more powerful than this present state. I will give you one ending minute.”  

Sneering at his long-ago teacher, Johnny kicked the stool nearby, shooting straight up, coming to the same height as his Sensei. 

“You really think I would listen to all your rubbish. I hate the human world. They never treated me well. So why should I be good to them? You are no longer my teacher, just like you said. I am the king of the universe. Nobody gives me advice. Vacancy is sweet, indeed. All my hate is helping me. I will conjure the world before you even leave here — that is, if you even ever set foot out in the open again.” These words trailed out from Johnny’s mouth like a snake, smooth but surely venomous. Drawing out a blazing silver sword, he got ready to strike. 

“Let me say one last word before you leave; the world you have been destroying was a fake one that I created just for you. I hoped and expected you to change, to return to the good side. You would be a great help to humankind, to all living things in the real universe. Now you have missed your last chance, you will disappear. I am sincerely sorry for not being able to help you more. Johnny, always remember this. Your hatred has overwhelmed you. Never let the hatred control, always control it. That was our very first lesson together. I hope you will remember…” Tears started pouring from his shriveled eyes as Johnny started to fade, so did the rest of the universe. With a bellow, Johnny disappeared, swallowed by his own curse, wasting his whole life, his powerful magic on destroying the fake universe, totally conjured by the hatred to mankind.

Jackson Opus

Jack sat hunched miserably against the morning wind, which threatened to blow his cap off. He pulled his cap lower, hiding his dark orange eyes. “Who can compete in a basketball competition at seven in the morning?” he grumbled unhappily.

I can, Jackson Dopus.” Benjamin Todds, from the opposing team — Black Panthers — stalked up to Jack and sneered. “Why can’t you? Oh, I just forgot! You guys are weaklings and absolute losers!” Smirking, Benjamin leaned his burly form closer and stared Jack in the eye, saying softly, “Want to know why? Because of you, Dopus.”

Jack glared at him with a molten gaze, feeling his ever-changing eyes turn from orange to deep angry violet, and seethed, “My name is Jackson Opus. And maybe this time around the Thunders will win. We train hard, at least, unlike the Black Panthers, who only rely on size for advantage. I would love to see your face when your team loses!”

Until then, Jack had not realised that Benjamin’s beady eyes had clouded over and a melancholy look had settled on his face. Jack, squirming uncomfortably, pulled his cap down again and growled, “Go away.” Surprisingly, Benjamin did just that. Jack mused over this strange exchange. Why didn’t he continue to taunt Jack as he had always done before every basketball competition? And why did people have that faraway look in their eyes whenever Jack had a conversation with them?

“Opus! Warm up!” His pondering was rudely interrupted by Coach Sean’s impatient bark. Everyone from the Thunders had arrived and Coach Sean, as usual, started bossing them around, yelling orders and regarding them with a disapproving gaze. Perhaps Coach wished he had a better, tougher team to handle, Jack thought. And who could blame him? The entire population of Greenhill Middle School (and probably other schools too) knew that the Thunders had not won a single competition in two years. Not since the Black Panthers came, anyway.

Jack jogged over to join his teammates. However, coach Sean, arms akimbo, stood blocking his way. “Hey kiddo, what do you think you’re doing with that damn cap on? Take. It. Off,” he said commandingly when Jack was about to put up a protest. Jack sighed and took his cap off, making sure to keep his eyes averted to the ground. It was embarrassing being so different. Why couldn’t his eyes keep the same colour like everyone else? Then he wouldn’t need to wear a cap all the time just so others wouldn’t see his eyes. He could try to reason with his teachers, but arguing with the ill-tempered basketball coach? No thank you. Not at all. 

After the warm-up, the two teams went up to the court. The spectators cheered a little. Jack looked over at the spectator stand and spotted his parents. Both of them had smiley-frowny hybrid smiles on their faces. Jack grimaced. The Thunders must have looked puny compared to the burly forms on the other team. It should be the Puny Prey against the Black Panthers. They could probably squash the Thunders with their little pinkie fingers.

In two shakes of a lamb’s tail, it was game on. As always, the Black Panthers managed to score first. The cheering in the stands got louder. The coaches got louder. The thumping of Jack’s heart got louder. His desperation grew too. The score was currently 6-0, in favour of the Black Panthers. Was there even a point in competing? 

The ball bounced from one of the opposing team’s hands and into Benjamin’s. Benjamin, usually the most aggressive player on the court, took the ball in his hands and turned slowly around to shoot it into the hoop. But his movements were almost toddler-like, as if this was the first time he was trying out basketball and was unsure if he would be able to score successfully. Confusion swept like a wave among the spectators, who had noticed him as well. The moment the ball left Benjamin’s hands, Jack knew it was never going to make it. The ball flew in a graceful arc then suddenly dropped onto the ground, missing the net by more than a foot. The Black Panthers’ coach started yelling colourful language at Benjamin, face turning red and purple from the effort. But the match must go on.

During the most intense part of the game, Jack noticed that Benjamin seemed to be avoiding the ball. He was certainly not like his normal self. And where was his aggressiveness? He was playing like a newborn kitten compared to the rest of his Black Panther’s teammates. Recalling the strange exchange before the match, Jack wondered queasily if it was anything to do with him. Or perhaps Benjamin was feeling nervous? Unlikely. The game continued and was nearly reaching the end. Only less than a minute left.

The score was 23-24, in favour of the Thunders.

A loud “ahh” was heard when the Thunders received two penalties. Two, Jack thought bitterly. We were almost winning. Almost! We really need a sharper referee. The opposing team would never miss a free throw. Unless by some chance, the thrower was…? In a twist of fate, the coach did choose Benjamin. Protests were made but the coach stood his ground, reasoning that “my big boy was a little nervous during this match, ain’t got no nothing to worry about.” Jack felt the corner of his lips turning upwards.

Benjamin lumbered onto the court and held the ball stiffly to his chest. He threw the ball, but it was almost as if the ball threw him. He landed on his face and the ball landed a few feet away from him. The crowd booed. The coach grew purple again. The Thunders all did a little victory dance. Benjamin did it in a similar fashion on the second throw. The Black Panthers spewed expletives at everyone and anyone. However, the numbers on the scoreboard didn’t change and would never lie.

26-23. The Thunders had triumphed.

When the spectators and players were filing out, Benjamin walked up to Jack and scowled fiercely, then said monotonously, “This is how my face would look like when my team loses.” He turned and walked away. Jack stared, utterly confused and perplexed, not to mention pretty freaked out as well.


At the feast Coach Sean had prepared, everyone was having a great time. Except for Jack. He sat in the corner of Coach Sean’s yard, munching on a slice of pizza that tasted like sand. This wasn’t a fair game. Something’s up with Benjamin, and I think I may be the cause. It was not an honourable victory. Something had been nudging at the back of his mind since the match. Jack couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but it was something important. Just out of reach yet very close. A memory? Then an avalanche of scenes bombarded his head. A split-second decision which he had made, running onto the road while a bus was driving towards him. The immense relief he had felt when the bus didn’t run over him. A tingling sensation when Jack made eye contact with the bus driver to tell him to drive faster in order for him and his best friend, Tommy, to reach school on time. And the mad charge-through-the-red-lights and don’t-stop-at-any-other-stop drive the driver had given that allowed him and Tommy to reach school on time. Was there something wrong with Jack? Why did things go haywire in his presence, yet allow him to achieve a miracle that was seemingly impossible?

Just at this moment, his shoulder was encased in an iron grip. A narrow man’s face loomed into view: a sharp, long nose, a tuft of jet-black hair, black suit, black shoes, a pale complexion, and finally, piercing frosty blue eyes that bored into his. Jack was so startled that he dropped his slice of pizza onto the grass. Who is he? Why is he here? What does he want with me? Why… Before he could think much further, he felt a familiar tingling sensation from the back of his eyes. The strange man’s eyes were focused on his own. Jack suddenly felt a surge of anger. What right did a stranger have to come in the middle of a celebration to mess with him? He glared right back at the man, feeling his eyes turn from calm green (his usual eye colour) to nervous dark orange, then to stormy grey, and finally, to angry deep violet. He was about to give this weirdo a piece of his mind when the man said in a calm and reassuring voice, “You are very calm and relaxed.” I am not calm or relaxed! How can I be… But the man’s voice was so convincing, so strong and powerful. Jack’s mind numbed. Of course, I’m calm and relaxed. Of course. Wait, why? I still don’t know who this stranger is…

“I am your friend, and you feel happy with me.”

Jack frowned. No! He is not my friend! A stranger only… Right?

“You are feeling very content.” 

Hmm, I am content. Why am I trying to fight with him? He is my friend, isn’t he? Or is he? 

Suddenly, the strange man closed his eyes. Jack lurched out of his trance-like state, gasping and panting for air like a drowning man. The man opened one eye and introduced himself to a very disoriented Jack. “I’m Dr. Mako, founder of the Institute of Hypnotism. I have devoted my whole life to building the Institute. Today, I came here especially to tell you that these skills are those that you possess.” Dr. Mako smiled very slightly and pointed a sharp finger at Jack’s face. “Yes. You. In fact, you come from one of the greatest Bender bloodlines. The Opuses. There weren’t any Benders in this family line for a few centuries due to some unexplainable medical or otherwise natural complications. You are more powerful than you realise. It is a great honour for me to have a match with you just now. And, of course, you would be welcomed into the Institute. There, instructors — or me, to be exact — would hone your skills in hypnotism. Then, once you are powerful enough, we will put that skill to good use. How does that sound?” Totally bewildered by the information overload, Jack stared blankly at the psycho in front of him. Seriously? Hypnotism? What was this self-proclaimed “Doctor” talking about? Did he know that Hypnotism doesn’t exist? He probably just escaped from a mental hospital. Jack chuckled at his own joke. And this “Doctor” even went as far as saying that he, Jackson Opus, came from a great line of Benders (whatever that was)! Jack didn’t want to sound rude, of course, but he had to say something.

“Umm, Dr. Mako, I think you found the wrong person. That man over there,” Jack gestured in the direction of a random stranger walking his dog, “is probably the person you are looking for. I am certain…” Before he could finish, Jack already realised that he himself was indeed the very person “Dr. Mako” was looking for. Because, why else would “Dr. Mako” know his name? And surname. 

Dr. Mako, who seemed to have read his mind, said smoothly, “No worries, Jackson, I know this may sound wild and made-up to you, but it is true. My fellow employees and I myself have searched high and low for decades for a single Bender in the Opus family. You would receive the utmost respect from us, the Benders at the Institute, without a doubt. And I would personally make sure you do not undergo any stress during your training sessions.”

Jack bit his lip. Maybe Dr. Mako was really mentally ill. He might have just heard someone call him his full name just now. No way was there an “Institute of Hypnotism.” No way was there a search for an Opus. No way. Nuh-uh. Nada.

But, Dr. Mako, having seen Jack’s expression, heaved a sigh and said, almost exasperated, “Well, how do you explain what happened just now? When I tried Bending you, you almost gave in. In other words, you were almost hypnotised by me. I understand this must be very hard for you to accept, so what about going home and asking your father about your ancestry? Jackson, I am sure there are some hidden facts you do not know yet. I’ve kept an eye open and, just like you, witnessed the strange happenings. They were simply a result of Bending some people unintentionally. So, yes. When you have found out more about your family line, come to 5th Avenue 110th Street, and there, you will not miss my magnificent Institute. I would issue someone to see to that.” 

Dr. Mako, who had a habit of communicating in large chunks of authoritative speech, regarded Jack expectantly. Jack, once again flustered by information overload, said, “What?” 

Dr. Mako exhaled deeply and walked away, handing Jack a business card at the last minute, and said, “We also need to work on your hearing skills, I’m afraid.” 

Jack surveyed the business card. Fancy Chopin Script font was printed all over the small 3.5 inches by 2 inches piece of paper. Surprisingly, the name was simply Dr. Mako, without a first name nor a middle name. The description read “Dr. Mako has devoted his whole life to the making of the unparalleled Institute. This world-class academy has educated many generations of young people and taught them the moral ways to handle their special skills.” How old is he? Many generations of young people? That must have been decades. Does that mean that by the time the Institute was established, Dr. Mako was already after me? He said his employees and he himself searched for decades. Was the Institute founded for the sake of trying to find this very member of the Opus family? It was a creepy notion for sure, sending chills down Jack’s spine. This whole business sounded more like an unhealthy obsession. Jack didn’t want anything to do with hawk-like Dr. Mako. But he was intrigued by his ancestry. He could actually hypnotise people? This thought was so outlandish that it was impossible to believe, but what if it was true? That must be why Benjamin and that bus driver had acted so weirdly. There was only one way to find out. He walked purposefully toward home, in the meantime forgetting to inform the partying basketball team that he was leaving.


“Well, Son, I’m not sure why you ask, but,” Jack’s father cleared his throat and pursed his lips, “you see, my parents were, uh, very… persuasive people. Extremely eloquent and convincing. They could make you think white was black if they wanted to.” Jack narrowed his eyes. It did sound like his father knew something but wasn’t comfortable talking about it. And I wonder why. Jack took a deep breath and recounted what happened, from the strange incidents to the run-in with the mysterious Dr. Mako. Jack’s father listened, eyes growing wide, lips twitching intermittently. Jack handed him the business card as well.

After Jack had finished, his father said threadily, “I don’t have it, and I thought you would be spared the hokey-pokey too.” 

Just at this moment, Jack’s mother entered the living room and announced sternly, “Jack, it’s past your bedtime. Although your team won, it’s no excuse to break the household rules. To bed. Now.” Jack stood up slowly and made his way to his room, but not before narrowing his eyes at his father, a warning to not tell his mother.

The next morning, as Jack plodded down the stairs, overly-cheerful voices echoed down the hallway. Curious, he hid behind the wall that separated the dining room and hall and peered into the dining room from behind the wall. A horrifyingly ghastly sight met his sleep-blurred eyes. The black suit, the black hair, the black shoes, the sharp, long nose, the pale, vampire-like complexion, and finally, the very same piercing blue eyes that had once stared ominously into his.

Dr. Mako.

What is he doing here?! It is creepy how he knows so much about me. My name and surname. The strange happenings that he would never know of unless he was there himself. The place I would be after the basketball match. And now, intruding into my home? Jack looked on in dismay as his mother said, unusually friendly and with a magazine-cover smile, “It’s really nice to meet you Dr. Mako. I’m so glad you were able to make it today. Yesterday, Jack came home with your business card and told his father a little about you and your Institute. I think it’s a good idea if he can attend classes there since, you know, these special skills would really come in handy if he, uh, knows how to use them! We live close to 5th avenue, so I’m sure Jack can make it on time after school!” So, Jack’s father told his mother. And Dr. Mako was not intruding. 

“My parents actually invited him. Why? Why? Why? Mom and Dad, don’t you realise how much Dr. Mako is like a stalker? And I don’t want to have anything to do with hypnotism or his dreadful Institute on 5th street or whatnot,” Jack moaned miserably as he tiptoed back to his room, hands covering his ears. He hated it when his parents made decisions for him without notifying him first. But nothing, absolutely nothing, was stopping them when they had made up their minds. Well, since a stubborn streak did run in the Opus family, maybe Jack also had a trick or two up his sleeve.

Soon enough, Jack’s mother climbed up the stairs to Jack’s room, only to see him sleeping peacefully. Or so she thought. She “woke” him up and nagged at him to hurry up. Jack pretended to be groggy and washed and changed, then cautiously proceeded down to the dining room for breakfast. Was Dr. Mako still there? Fortunately, he had already left. While Jack was eating his breakfast, consisting of stale commercial orange juice and over-cooked bacon, his parents sat themselves down at the table. Jack noted with annoyance that they looked almost… relieved. Then, a fake smile that his mother always used when she wanted to tell him something that she believed was good news but knew he would not like was plastered onto her face. Jack called that particular smile “Falsehood in Childhood of poor Jack” (FCJ). That being said, his mother had many different smiles that she used on different occasions, some of them more deceiving than the others. However, this time around, Jack knew what was coming up. And he was not the most eager about it.

“Well, honey, we have a little surprise for you this morning! Guess what?” 

Jack looked at his mother vacantly while he counted to three silently in his head and continued stuffing dry bacon into his mouth, mumbling, “I don’t want to know.”

The FCJ smile on Jack’s mother’s face wavered a little. However, if she was feeling sorry for Jack, she did not show it. “So, last night, your dad told me about Dr. Mako and how you had hypnotism skills! It is really amazing! I’m sure you would find useful purposes for it! So that’s why we decided to sign you up for The Institute’s classes with Dr. Mako!” She then flashed a thumbs up and grinned, showcasing her two rows of perfect white teeth. Jack cringed inwardly at his mother’s forced cheeriness. She knew he hated it. Jack thought, Step one, Plan A. 

He took his time eating one of the two pieces of bacon left on his plate, put down his fork and knife, wiped his mouth on a napkin, and said pitifully, “Maybe you signed me up ’cause both of you think I’m just a burden in the house.” Jack’s mom’s smile disappeared and was replaced by an exasperated frown.

“Jack, you are old enough to know that that’s not the reason. I know you hate enrichment classes of any sort, but maybe it’s time for you to grow up and face the world. It’s good to acquire skills, and you cannot always shy away from what you do not like.” Jack’s mother glared at her husband, who sat leaning weakly against the table, not taking any sides in the argument.

“Or maybe it’s because you all think I’m too dumb and don’t have any skills.” Jack said mournfully, standing up and pushing the plate with a single piece of untouched bacon as far as he could toward the other end of the table. Jack’s father gulped and looked ready to run away. His mother, on the other hand, glared at Jack and bit her lip, as if trying to figure out another way to torture him as a punishment for disagreeing. She said firmly in a tone that did not allow for protests, “We invited Dr. Mako over this morning and have already arranged your lessons at the Institute for you. You should be grateful. Dr. Mako devoted his whole life to the making of the unparalleled Institute. This world-class Institute has educated many generations of young people and taught them the moral ways to handle their special skills. Be a little more appreciative, Jackson. We signed you up for your own good. Go to your room. You still have homework to do.” Jack pondered what his mother said. Did she just recite word for word what the business card read?

He pretended to walk towards the stairs, defeated and utterly flattened by his mother’s perfectly “logical” argument. When he was sure his mother was not looking at him but was still within earshot, he said, “Well, what does Mom know? I signed up for my school’s Photography Club to pick up some skills like she advised me to. But all I received was a tongue lashing and another program at the Institute. I suppose it is useless trying to please her, or Dad, for that matter. All I ever will be to them is a skill-less and useless son.” Jack was sure his mother heard him loud and clear. He really hoped Plan A worked, or he would have to turn to Plan B, which might not work and should only be tried as a last resort. Then, he purposely stormed up the stairs to his room and slammed the door shut. For even better effects, he switched on his computer and found a video on YouTube: a 15-minute long audio track of someone sobbing. Jack made sure that the audio on the computer was turned all the way up and clicked play. Jack’s mother would now know that Jack was very upset indeed! 

At the other end of the house, Jack’s father lay slumped on the couch, listening to Jack’s “cries.” His son really was upset. But it was for his own good! Couldn’t he see? Dr. Mako’s Institute of Hypnotism was definitely the most elite one in the whole country! And sending him there wasn’t even cheap. The Bentley dealership Jack’s father worked at was not faring very well recently, and that resulted in a pay cut. However, sending Jack there certainly was not a mistake. Dr. Mako must be a great instructor!

After the 15 minutes long audio track, Jack was surprised that neither of his parents came to comfort him or at least reason with him. His mother might be out of the question since she was always stubborn as a mule, but what about his father? He was always a bit softer than Mom! What’s wrong with him today? He would usually give in to whatever my choice is after seeing that I’m upset. He was about as soft as mom was strict.