TWINS

Characters: 

Dad: 40-41

Mom: 37-38

Julia: 16-17

Lily: 16-17

Macey: 10-11

Rose: 10-11

Cashier: 23

Scene One: High School/Pool – afternoon

We see a giant high school hallway with open lockers, gossiping girls, and boys. 

Macey: Julia! Lily! What have you been doing? You’re supposed to be taking us to swimming.

Julia: What…. are….. you….. thinking??

Macey: Me and Rose need you guys to take us to swimming!

Lily: Ugh! Rose! Macey! I told you not to come here!

Rose: Sorry, we can’t walk to swimming!

Lily: Why not?!?

Macey: I don’t know? Could you walk five miles in those stilettos in the rain?

Julia: Fine, get in the car. But you’re dead meat if we’re late to Zach’s party!

Rose: You guys are gonna be walking everywhere when Mom finds out you two forgot to take us to swimming. She got you that car for a reason.

Lily: Don’t you dare tell mom!

Macey: $25 for each of us – and your dessert tonight.

Lily: Fine!

They arrive at the pool, Rose & Lily disappear into the locker rooms.

Scene Two: Party/fight – late afternoon

We see the party, with drinks and dancing. 

Knock! Pound! Knock! 

Mom: Julia Jasmine Roberts & Lily Morgan Roberts, GET IN THE CAR RIGHT NOW!!!!

Julia: What the heck mom?

Lily: Yeah, you totally embarrassed us!

Mom: Oh, please I’m sure everyone’s parents have done that. But let’s cut to the chase. Do you think you might have forgotten something?

Lily: Tsh, no! 

Mom: Take a guess, how long do you think you have been at this party?

Julia: I don’t know, like an hour? 

Mom: NOT EVEN CLOSE AT ALL! You guys stayed here for FOUR HOURS! And guess what arrived two hours ago, soaking wet, chilled-to-the- bone at my doorstep an hour ago?

Lily: Oh, s**t.

Julia: Dang it!

Mom: You two are grounded. No parties, no car, no hangouts, nothing social, no boys, no phones, and no dessert for a month! Also, tomorrow you have to take care of your sisters because they have to stay home from school. Do you know why? Because they have a serious cold! Also, a little bird told me that you had forgotten to pick them up and drive them to swimming in the first place, so you guys owe me $50 for almost having them miss swimming and me having to pay for a lesson that they didn’t go to!

We see them, arriving at the house, handing in all their electronics. Then, we see Macey & Rose on the couch, watching TV with hot chocolate. Transition to night. 

Scene three: Home/ Morning-late afternoon. 

Julia makes macaroni and cheese, hands it to the girls, washes the dishes, and heads up to her room.

Ring! Ring! 

Macey & Rose: Oh, servant! Where are our cookies?

Julia: Don’t even think about calling me that or I’ll dye them green and poison them!

Rose: And what do you think Mom will think then?

Lily makes the cookies, and glances down at her phone. She starts scrolling, and types something in.  

Lily: Here are your cookies. I’m leaving for Dean’s party. I’ll be back before mom gets home. Don’t even think about telling her. 

Time passes. Lily gets home. Mom comes home, checks on the girls, takes their temperature, and makes dinner.

Rose: Hey, mom! What’s for dinner?

Mom: I thought I’d make your guys’ favorite chicken noodle soup because you aren’t feeling well. Please don’t holler across the house like that, it’s not good for your voice. Your throat is sore enough.

Mom: Lily, darling, will you please come set the table?

Lily: I don’t want to!

Mom: It’s not an option!

We see Lily set the table, and mom is busy in the kitchen. Time passes. 

Mom: Dinner time!

Everybody sits at a rectangular table and starts to eat. 

Macey & Rose: Dinner! Yay!

Lily: Uhh…dinner?

Mom: Why? You guys love this dish too! 

Lily: I’m stuffed.

Mom: How could you be stuffed?

Lily: We had a big lunch, right Julia, right Macey & Rose?

Rose: No, we had macaroni and cheese, you left after Julia made it for us.

Mom: Oh. You left did you? I thought my instructions were very clear. Take care of your sisters, and don’t leave the house. Also, remember you’re grounded.

Macey: Lily told us not to tell you, because she was going to Dean’s party.

Rose: She found out on Instagram, I saw her checking it while she was making our cookies. She also threatened to dye them green and poison them. Also, Julia’s innocent. You should half her groundment, and double Lily’s.

Mom: You know what? That’s a terrific idea! I hereby half Julia’s groundment, and double Lily’s!

We see Lily pull Julia aside and whisper in her ear. 

Lily: How much did you pay them?

Julia: I didn’t.

Lily: Never in a thousand years would they do that. 

Julia: Maybe you’re just jealous that they like me more.

Lily: We both know that’s not true.

Macey: Hey mom, when’s Daddy coming home?

Mom: He won’t be home for another week, remember he’s doing that fashion show in Milan.

Julia: Mom, can we get a cat?

Rose: Yeah!

Macey: Yeah, mom please!

Lily: Please!

Mom: Well, I’ll think about it. We’ll have to talk with your dad about it.

Julia: Why? He’s never around, it’s not like he’ll object when he’s never even here. 

Mom: He’ll be back soon. I’ll tell you what – I’ll talk to him tonight. You girls definitely deserve it though. And I mean my little girls – not my big girls.

We see the girls disappear into their bedrooms, and their mom sits on the couch and calls dad. 

Scene Four: Phone Fight – Night

Mom: Hey honey.

Dad: Hi sweetheart. How are you holding up?

Mom: Good. Listen – the girls wanted to get a cat and I was wondering if you were okay with it.

Dad: (sighs) Well, I think we should. One cat for Julia & Lily, another for Rose & Macey.

Mom: I’m sure they’ll be overjoyed.

Dad: I’m sorry, I just have some much work to do. I have to stay in Milan for a couple more weeks, they want me to do more outfits for their shows.

Mom: George! How long is this going to keep going? First it was days, now its weeks! We need you too! The girls need you! You’ve already been there for a month now, and Macey & Rose are entering middle school soon. Julia & Lily have already started to sneak out to parties. Please come home.

Dad: I know, I’m trying. Stay strong, I love you, bye.

Mom: Bye.

We see mom slam the phone on the counter, and storm away. 

Scene Five: Animal Shelter – Late Morning

It’s morning and we see them walk into a pet shelter. 

Mom: Okay girls, Julia & Lily you guys find a cat that you want, and you have to agree – no bribing! Same with you two.

Rose: Look at this beige one, it’s so cute!

Macey: I like that one too!

Rose & Macey: MOOOOOM! We found one!

Mom: Okay honey! Your sister found one too!

Macey: We got a British Shorthair!

Julia: We got a tuxedo cat!

Lily: We named him Cooper.

Rose: Ours is named Cous-Cous!

Mom: Well, I’m glad you guys are happy.

Macey: What’s wrong mom?

Mom: Your dad’s not coming home for a couple more weeks.

Rose: But mom! Graduation’s in two weeks!

Mom: I know, I know.

Macey & Rose start to cry, and hug their cats. Their crying turns to sobbing, and we see Julia & Lily attempt to calm them down and comfort them, but to no avail. 

Scene six: Graduation day – late morning/ early afternoon

Macey is wearing a white dress with yellow flowers, and Rose is wearing a blue dress with a bow. They look happy, but disappointed because their dad isn’t there. 

Principal: Would the twins Macey & Rose Roberts please come to the stage?

Applause. We see them make a speech, get handed awards, and leave with their sisters & Mother. 

Mom: Rose, honey, I’m so proud of you for winning the best attendance award!

Rose: Thanks, Mom.

Mom: Oh, and my darling Macey won the best grade award! I’m so proud of you both!

Macey: Thanks, mom, it means a lot.

Mom: Both my two girls won awards, and you guys each had better than average attendance & Grades! I wish you could tell how proud I am of you guys!

Rose: Mom, stop. You’re making us blush!

Mom: Oh my gosh.

We see their father enter the room, as they are leaving it. Their mom almost faints. 

Macey: Dad what are you doing here?

Rose: Well, it doesn’t matter you missed it anyway.

Dad: Hey, hey, at least I made it!

Rose: Honestly, we don’t want to talk to you.

Intermission. / ½ way through the movie. 

Scene Seven: Sister talk/ huge fight. – night. 

We see everybody enter the house, and walk up to the rooms for bed. 

Macey: Hey Julia, can we talk to you for a moment.

Julia: Yeah, sure of course.

Rose: We really need our big sister right now.

We see Lily walk past, looking sad, and jealous. Julia, Macey & Rose enter into their room. They sit on the bed. 

Rose: Why is dad always away? He’s never here for us. Him coming here late just reminded us of that feeling. I feel like he’s more of like a close family friend.

Macey: Yeah. He’s never here for our birthdays, or graduations, or concerts, and he’s leaving AGAIN, in the morning. He doesn’t even have time to play a game with us. Let alone, tuck us into bed, kiss us goodnight, or do anything a father should do. He was barely even around when we were little!

Rose: “It sort of hurts deep down. Like a big cut. Like he’s neglecting us. The Kardashian kids get more attention from their dad than we do, and Kanye West is like 100 times more famous!” 

Julia: I know how it feels, before dad was famous he was the best. I remember playing with him when me and Lily were five years old. He wasn’t here for our middle school graduation, and that hurt too. I have on video, when he promised he would be there. But, he never showed up. It broke my heart.

Julia sniffles a little bit and they all form one big hug. The girls join in the crying, and we see Lily standing at the doorway. She comes in and hugs them too. We move downstairs to where mom & dad sit on the couch. Mom sighs. 

Dad: Look Grace, I’m sorry. Hey, at least I tried. But, I get back to Milan tomorrow morning. 

Mom: George that made it worse! If you were going to be late, just don’t come at all!

Dad: Well, now they know that I remembered!

Mom: They don’t care!

Dad: How do you know? 

Mom: Because they’re my kids!

Dad: And, they aren’t mine?

Mom: Barely, you’ve missed so many milestones in their life, it’s like you were barely present. Macey & Rose hardly know you at all.

Dad: Come on, they understand, I’m the money maker in this family, I leave to make money, I leave them so they can have a roof over their head, so they can have toys to play with.

Mom: No, George. No excuses, we’re rich, you don’t have to work! We don’t have to worry about money! If we lost half our money, or even 75% We still wouldn’t have to work! This is about the kids, not you. Why are you so selfish?. They’re growing up without a dad. Did you ever think about how they feel? What impact this might be making on them? Huh? Have ever bought them a birthday present? Or sang happy birthday with me and them and their friends? No! You haven’t! You’ve kissed them through the ipad in Milan, more times than you’ve actually kissed them in real life! What is wrong with you? You could buy them a mansion. You could buy them all the toys in the world, but they wouldn’t care! They wouldn’t care George! Because one theres only one thing they want from you, and you can’t but it.

Dad: Me. They want me.

Mom: Yes George, they want you. Not me, not Lily, not cats, you. They only wanted cats because that means that you would actually talk to them about getting a cat, and actually approve something they want. So you could actually talk to them.

Dad sighs.

Mom: It’s like you don’t even exist.

Dad: I know, I know.

Dad shakes his head. 

Mom: I have one more thing.

Dad: Fine, I’m ready.

Mom: I’m pregnant.

Dad: (groaning) Do they know?

Mom: No, I’m telling them tomorrow. Make a choice, be there for them and this kid, or not be a part of their lives at all. Choose. 

Dad: Are you suggesting a divorce?

Mom: Choose.

Dad: I choose…………

Scene eight: The announcement – morning 

Mom: Girls! Wake up! I have a graduation present for you!

We see mom in a robe, and a small blue bag with yellow tissue paper inside, and a red bow on top. 

Macey & Rose: YAY!!!! WOOHOO! SUMMER! PRESENT! YAY!!!

Mom: Open it!

Julia & Lily come down, to watch the present opening. 

Mom: It’s for you guys too! Come on!

They throw out the tissue paper and look in the bag. Inside is a positive pregnancy test. 

Julia, Lily, Macey, & Rose all gasp. 

Macey & Rose: EEeeeeeeeeee!!!

Julia: Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh!!!!!!!!

Lily: No! 

Mom: Yes!

We see them form a huge hug. 

Mom: I also have some sad news. Your father and I…

Julia: Yes?

Lily: Mom?

Macey: Mommy tell us!

Rose: Yeah mom, come on!

Mom: Your father and I are getting a divorce.

Rose: Mommy, will you have to get a job? What will happen to the car and the house, and our money?

Macey: Mommy, are we gonna be okay? 

Mom: Oh, honey of course we are! We will hire a good lawyer, and he will defend our case. And, if we win, we will get most of the money, the house, & the car.

Lily: Dad never was around anyways.

Julia: Hey mom, do we have to spend time with him in Milan? Do we have to do school in Milan? I don’t want to leave here.

Mom: Oh, no honey. There’s no doubt about it that were staying here. F**k Milan. Sorry girls didn’t mean to cuss.

Rose: It’s okay.

They all hug. 

Mom: Lets get donuts, spend all day in our Pjs and binge watch Glee!

Macey & Rose: Yeah!

Lily: Woohoo!

Julia: Alright! 

Scene nine: Donut shop/home – late morning 

They arrive at the donut shop, wearing their pajamas. Macey & Rose are wearing matching pastel pink, with white & Blue dot pajamas. Lily is wearing a blue night dress, with small white flowers. Julia is wearing a coral sweatshirt & Sea foam sweatpants. Mom is wearing a white nightgown, with a pretty off-white pattern. They enter the shop. In the shop is a whole selection of donuts ranging from rainbow & unicorn to matcha & ube. 

Macey: WOW! Mom, look they have a unicorn one! I’m getting that!

Rose: Mommy! Check it out they have a glazed rainbow one! Can I get that one?

Mom: You guys can each get one donut & one drink.

Lily: That strawberry shortcake one looks goooood!

Julia: I’m gonna get the confetti-cinnamon-sugar one!

Mom: Has everyone decided on which donut & which drink they’re going to get? 

Macey: Yup!

Julia: I know!

Lily: I’ve decided.

Rose: It was a hard choice, but yes!

Mom: Okay, may I please have one unicorn, one glazed rainbow donut, one strawberry shortcake, one confett-cinnamon-sugar, & one match donut please? Also could I have two hot chocolates, one caramel macchiato, one thai iced tea, and one match latte please.

Cashier: That will be $29.75 please.

Mom: Here you go. Now, everyone grab your donut, and your drink. Don’t eat or drink in the car. You know the rules.

They get home and plop on the couch, turn on the tv, and watch & eat. 

Scene Ten: home/ – early afternoon, time passes: About 1 month. 

Time passes, about 1 month. 

Mom: Lily, Julia, come on! We have to be at the court in three hours! It takes two and a half to get there!

Lily: Coming Mom!

Julia: Just putting on my shoes!

Rose: Mom, remind me what we’re supposed to do?

Mom: I left some money on the counter. You can go shopping, bake, cook, or shop for your baby sister.

Macey: $400?!? 

Rose: Awesome! Why couldn’t dad file for a divorce sooner?

Mom: Honey, I filed the divoroce. I asked him to choose us or his job.

Julia: And he chose his job.

Mom: We might be gone a while. Don’t spend it all in one place.

Macey & Rose: Bye mom!

Julia, Lily, & Mom leave the house, and drive away in the car. 

Rose: Where should we go first?

Macey: First we need to get food, I’m starving! 

Scene eleven: The mall. – late afternoon 

We see Macey & Rose walk into the park lot, and look at a sign. 

Rose: OOOOOOOH, they have a Panda Express here!

Macey: Mm, mm, mh, mn, mm!

Transition to Panda Express.

Rose: Can I please have a kids meal with orange chicken & chow mein, a kids meal with Beijing beef and white rice, and two small sodas?

Cashier: Sure, that’ll be $19.50.

Macey: Here you go!

We see them sit at a table, inaudible chatting and eating. They wipe their hands & mouth on napkins, throw their plates away, and walk out the door. 

Macey: Where should we go next?

Rose: I think we should get baby stuff.

Macey: Okay, let’s plan this out. We have $380.50. Let’s use $80.50 at the baby store.

Rose: That brings us to $300, I think we should get some new clothes for ourselves.

Macey: Okay, so let’s say like $50 for each of us?

Rose: Alright, then we’ll have $200, lets get some makeup for ourselves, Mom, Lily, & Julia.

Macey: Okay, so like $75 on makeup?

Rose: Eh, that’s a little much.

Macey: Well, it’s for all five of us.

Rose: Hm, true. That’s $15 for each of us, so it’s $125 left. Let’s give $25 to each of us for toys, and take fifty for each of us, and save it for meals.

Macey: Okay, let’s go! 

Transition to baby store. 

Rose: “All this stuff is so cute!” 

Macey: Lets get some onesies!

Rose: Okay, this set of three onesies is $20! 

Macey: Okay, put it in the shopping cart!

Rose: This is so fun!! Lets get some toys!

Macey: Okay, I got some toys, our total is $50. 

Rose: Okay, binkies and bottles!

Macey: Got them!

Rose: We have $10 dollars left.

Macey: $5 dollars. Because we have to -$5 because of tax.

Rose: I already got a swaddle blanket. 

Macey: Okay, let’s check out.

Cashier: That’ll be $74.67.

Macey & Rose: Oh, my god.

We see them go out, and then come back in, and come out again with a stack of bags.

Rose: Oh my gosh! That was so fun! I can’t wait to do your nails!

Macey: Yeah, the baby stuff we got is so cute!

Time passses. 

Macey: You’re so good at doing nails! I think we should bake a cake for mom! 

Rose: A happy divorce cake?

Macey: No, silly! A happy baby cake! With some divorce aspects.

Rose: You were totally going to do a divorce cake!

Macey: Was not!

Rose: Was too! 

Macey: Okay, fine, you got me. 

They start to bake a cake.

Rose: How should we decorate it?

Macey: Well, we know it’s a girl, so maybe like pink with white dots?

Rose: Sure!

Scene twelve: home/ – evening 

Mom: We’re home!

Macey & Rose: How’d it go??

Lily: We WON!!!!

Macey & Rose: EEEEEE!

Julia: You have to explain to them what we won.

Mom: Well, we got the house, 56% of the money, the car, and most importantly I got you guys, so no Milan. 

Macey & Rose: No Milan! No Milan! No Milan! Yay!

Mom: I thought we could brainstorm baby names tonight. 

Macey, Rose, Lily, & Julia: Okay! 

Mom: I was thinking…….. Isabelle or Ava. 

Macey: I like Ava!

Julia: What about Harper or Evelyn? 

Lily: Nah. I like Ava.

Rose: Yeah, Ava! 

Mom: Okay, Okay. Ava it is.

Scene thirteen: Welcome home! – late morning! Eight months later. 

We see mom enter the room, with bags under her eyes, carrying a baby girl. 

Rose: She’s so cute!

Macey: She looks just like you!

Mom: She looks like all of you guys. 

Lily: She’s adorable!

Julia: I’m so excited! 

Mom: Meet your new baby sister, Ava Lily Roberts. 

Lily: You chose me? As the middle name? Why?

Mom winks at Lily. Ava opens her eyes, makes a gesture with her hand, and they all huddle around her. 

The end. 

A Prisoner to War

There was a prisoner lying on the wet ground, covered in mud from the battlefield so that their uniform was indistinguishable from the surroundings. Standing there in my own uniform, spattered with mud myself as one of the victors preparing for the punishment, I could not even make out the telltale signs that would show that he was from the opposing side. He was a prisoner, I told myself. That was how war worked. Thousands of lives could be lost in one day, one battle, lives that were indistinguishable from one another in the face of death, with all their separate memories and stories blending into one consciousness. War was good versus bad, each side convincing themselves that the others were subhuman and evil, justifying the slaughter and cruelty. But man was a single race, with only petty distinctions of appearance, separated into the categories of nationality and physicality. It was human nature to want to distinguish, I thought, as I saw the lesser officials march up under the gray sky and wrench the pitiful man to his feet. Was he even human in their view, a prisoner who was soaking and half-dead? Was this how they were going to justify his death at their hands? A feeling of horror rose in my chest and crept into every corner of my brain. How could this be routine? What had his life been like before the war? I imagined his wife and children standing in front of their house, waiting for his return that would never come. Did such deaths even mean anything in the grand scope of the war? I watched the proceedings continue with mounting dread. When the gun went off, I felt like I had been shot myself, and although I stood straight and showed no emotion as I marched away, my insides felt like they were melting away from me. I knew that I could not remain as I had been before.

A Loving Banishment

The man had seen many different worlds in his time, and knew a song from all of them. He walked across the mountain peaks singing one of them. He plucked the banjo with the edges of his koi colored hand guard. His hands were weathered, strong, and had the agility of a wild rabbit. He had bright green eyes that looked a little bloodshot. Though he may have seemed a little tired, his smile shined brighter than the light overhead. 

The coins in his pocket clattered against each other. He knew that the shop was only a little ways down the path. The sky was a beautiful seafoam green with clouds that bobbed and weaved through the air. A good place that the man would want to go to again in better circumstances. 

His backpack weighed down his walking. Each mile felt like the man was sinking deeper and deeper into the earth. Pots dangled off the side of the large pack. The small potted tree may have not been a good idea to bring along, but the man worked a while to trim that bonzai. It gave him comfort of some kind while braving each new planet. 

The two moons had their eyes open during the reign of the day. Standing perfectly still in the sky, trying not to be seen by the sun. The man hoped that they enjoyed his music, because he was essentially playing for no one. The sky was his audience and he was the only musician in the world. 

The man’s tune came from several worlds back. One that sang of contentment. The song was a little repetitive, but the way it flowed was beautiful. It felt like a song that a beast that could ride the clouds would hum on its treacherous journey. The man tried to add some spins in his walk to keep his spirits high. How much this worked was up to interpretation. 

His brass shoes kept his walk at a steady pace. Only a few more miles until he got to the home of his next supplier. 

The rocks and sand that adorned the warm mountain tops shifted slightly as a creature burrowed out of them. It was a small gopher. Massive black eyes that looked like goggles strapped to the squat animals face. His brown fur seemed to blend into the rocks surrounding him. The man stopped his march for a second only to look at the little creature. It nodded at the man, and dove back into the earth. It let out a little screech as it did so. 

The man chuckled slightly as he continued on. Trying to move past small roots and boulders, but after a bit of time deciding to just walk over them. His strumming grew louder as his song came to the final chorus. His voice was soft and melancholic, but he expanded it to heartbreaking and intense only for the final verse. The song could have been seen as one talking about how good life is, but with his voice he changed it to missing what was once barely in our grasp. 

The small silver ring on his finger shifted slightly, the pearl now facing the ground. He quickly put his thumb to the end of it and spun it around. It was subconscious at this point. The ring wasn’t exactly designed to fit his finger. The engraving on the inside expressed this as such. 

After around an hour, he got to the broken shack. The dark oak wood had termites decades back. Green mold lined the outside of the wood, sitting like an ornament of its side. The shack was leaning to the side. Resting on the grounds beneath it. The shack, though old, had a malicious aura gently resting in the air around it. A putrid smell gently glided out of it, daring the man to walk inside. Only come to me if you think you can come out alive, young traveler. 

The man took a small breath, placed down his bag on the rocky ground, and walked in. 

The room was duly lit. Dying candles lined the edges of the hut, giving off only the slightest bit of glow. The only other things the room had was a counter and the massive old woman sitting behind it. Her purple robes hid the top half of her face, leaving only a nose and mouth to peer out of the hood. Her broken-in neck and her boney skeleton outlined the side of the cloak. Her leathery skin was pulled across her unnaturally long fingers. Her face seemed to only have a small layer of the skin, making her face unholy in its angularity. Her yellow teeth were crooked and overlapping. She spoke in a small crackly voice to address the comparitally little man. 

“Well hello, young traveler,” the old woman said, leaning forward from her desk. 

“Hi,” the man said curtly. “I’m going to skip the formalities here. I need a couple things. I have over 3000 gold in my pocket, and I’m willing to pay for all of it up front.”

“Gold?” the woman chuckled. She wrapped her fingers on the edge of the counter. “I have gold already.”

She got increasingly closer to the man’s face. 

“I would need something for trade. Something important. Something valuable,” she said, dragging out each word. The man could see her bottom eye lids from how close she was. Her potent breath wafted over him, sending a shiver down his spine. She lowered her head to face the ring hanging off of his finger. 

“I-I’m sure I can get you something,” he said, yanking his hand to a position behind his back. He could feel his heart in his neck.“Just, not that.”

The old woman cackled slowly and leaned back. Her curved spine scraping the wood behind her.

“First, what would you like to buy,” the woman said, her arms motioning to the entire room.

“Um, I heard from a bunch of different people that you can sell me these things,” the man held up a small scrap of paper, his hand shaking as he tried to show her. It read; two marble earrings, a rabbit’s foot, and a box of baby teeth.

The woman laughed a dangerously high pitch howl. 

“I know exactly what you need those things for,” she said, drawing out her words to taunt the man. “Now, why would a young man need to summon an angry spirit.”

“That’s for this young man to deal with,” he said. “Now, what do you need for those things?”

“Let me see your bag. The one you put outside to hide from me,” the old woman said, extending a mangled finger to her wall, as if she could see through the thick oak. 

The man tensed up and quickly walked outside, grabbed his bag, and hurried inside. He plopped his bag on the counter, adrenaline rushed through his body.

The woman took her long, leathery hands and opened the bag up. She smiled and pulled out a little bonsai tree. She rotated the small pot, and eyed it like a predator eyeing its prey.

“This would do ever so nicely,” she said, running her deep purple tongue along her yellow teeth. “Won’t you give it to an old woman?”

“Well…”

“I’m so lonely. So lonely. Living on the tops of mountains. I haven’t had another living creature here in ages. Won’t you please give it to me?”

The man sat still. Trying to think of a way to keep the one thing he really cared about. He needed those components. The woman’s grin grew larger and larger.

“You have a deal,” the man said, extending his hand.

“Good.” The woman put the plant on the side of the counter. She never even looked at the man’s hand. She merely closed her hand and opened it. From where there was nothing, layed a rabbit’s foot, two marble earrings, and a box containing the pearly white teeth of a baby. She gingerly placed the items on the counter, and picked up the plant. She gently placed it under her desk.

She turned to the man.

“Now go,” the woman said. “You only have two more deals you can make with me, child.”

The man grabbed his bag, and slowly walked out of the room. As he opened the door and left the threshold of the house, he ran. Sprinted for around a mile, until he was panting on the side of a mountain. No terrifying house in sight. 

***

The man pulled out red chalk from a pouch from his bag and smeared it along his forefinger. He traced a circle in the air, where the essence and dust of the chalk stayed floating. He made a quick motion with his hand to create the ancient runes he had been using for years. With another cut of his hand, the sigil was complete. It glowed a bright orange and green as colors swirled around the floating chalk marks. 

The mark hovered waiting for the man to step in. He took a deep sigh and jumped into the undulating cloud of magic. The world changed around him. 

Everything went dark for a moment, and he landed in bright blue dirt. This was the world he was accustomed to. The two suns sat in the air. Ornaments that hung in the bright red sky. The blue soil held up the purple sprouts that protrude from its earth. He took a deep breath, taking in the air which he hadn’t felt in lifetimes. 

He ran his hand through his curly orange hair. This place was familiar, in what felt like the worst ways. The ruins of buildings still sat like corpses of a bygone era. The bones of the town he lived in buried into the forgotten earth. The mountains surrounding the town looked on in silent anguish. They had to watch something horrible. 

The valley town laid dead before the man. A horrid painting that he had to bear witness to. Only for one night. That was some form of consolation. 

He pulled out his banjo. The tune he started to pluck on the dragon haired strings was a way to calm him down. It worked like it was supposed to. The tune was a slow melody, very little plucking was needed. Just let the banjo do all of the work. 

The man swallowed a well of spit that started to build up in his dry throat. When he was fully calm, he pulled out his sundial. The lack of shadow present told the man that he had to wait around nine hours until he could finally do the ritual. 

He walked through the alleys of the broken buildings, taking deep breaths while he did so. He kept his head down. Choosing to only look at his feet may make this a little easier. He had to only walk a short distance before he got to the center of town. Burnt cobblestone ground showed the scars of an old design. Celestial beings stretch across the floor, a depiction of the universe being made. Their forges created the galaxies that lined the tapestry of the universe. The fountain that used to know celebrations and good harvests, layed a skeleton of its former self. The burnt marble seemed to cry out in pain as it sat motionless. 

The smell of ash and sulfur flew into the man’s senses. The roaring winds had something to do with that nonsense. He coughed like a seal and almost fell to his knees as the winds carried hazardous material into his lungs. 

He took a seat, still coughing, on the ground. The dead buildings and shops looking down on him. Watching his every movement. He had nine hours. He put his bag in front of him, taking out a small book and a globe. He placed the globe directly in front of him and the book in his lap. For nine hours he practiced the incantation and phrasing of the ritual. The hand motions needed to be perfect, and he needed to be ready for what came after. 

The suns set below the mountain peaks, letting the eye of night flap open. The pale green moon lay patient in the sky. It could see what was about to happen. 

The man placed the altar that weighed down his bag onto the cobblestone ground. The baby teeth, rabbit’s foot, globe, and earrings were held by the small wooden altar. He took a deep breath as he fulfilled the last component needed to begin the ritual. An item from the person being summoned. The man gently laid the wedding ring in front of the altar. 

He brought up his hands, copying the motions he needed to know to complete the final steps of the ritual. He muttered something in an incomprehensible language, bargaining his soul. He completed the ritual, and stood up. His banjo began to morph as he summoned the sword. The strings seemed to disappear and the entire shape changed. The banjo became a long samurai sword of sorts. The curved blade reflected the moon above as it was created. 

The winds stopped for but a moment and picked up again stronger than before, circling around the altar. The man tapped his blade twice against the ground, preparing for battle. 

An ethereal cloak started to form in the sky. It was long and flowing and surrounded a materializing man. He had long hair that reached his shoulders and flowed off his ghostly face. His eyes had the fury of hell behind them. The winds picked up more as the man drew his own blade. A curved jade sword that reached his feet. 

The spirit’s eyes lost a little bit of fury when he noticed who was standing on the ground. 

“Why,” the man said, looking up at his dead husband.

“You know I couldn’t change my nature, Remir,” the ghost said, the fury returning.

“Well by hell did I try,” Remir said, yelling. “We were happy. You were happy. You didn’t need to do all of this!” Remir motioned to the entire town. It’s charred remains didn’t even draw the attention of the swordsman. “You did this on our wedding day, no less,” Remir screamed, tears starting to stream down his face. 

“You wanted to love a demon,” the ghost yelled back. 

“You’re not a demon!” Remir stabbed his sword into the ground. “You’re a man. A man who did some things wrong. You control your nature, dammit!”

The spirit started to float back, putting his sword in a neutral fighting stance. 

Remir did the same, his tears not drying up just yet. “I can’t let you live, Mal,” Remir said lowly. “You just showed how you’ve stayed the same.”

The wind howled its unholy song as the swords began to clash. 

Mal threw up his left arm. A pillar of ghostly fire erupted from the now torn earth. Remir barely dodged this. He spun back to a position where he could actually fight. The ghost charged at Remir now, their ethereal sword cutting the air. Remir only had to shoot his hand in front of his face to block the blow. The sword effortlessly guarded him against the spiritual force trying to impale him. 

Their dance of deadly blades was one to behold. They pushed each other into buildings. Remir had to jump off of the fountain to try to get a good hit on Mal. Stone was broken, steel was shattered, and their blades kept clashing against each other. The wind turned to rain as they continued. The sonata their blades created only made more music to the entire valley. The fight raged on for hours. Each one not getting the upper hand on the other. 

Remir’s blade found a comfortable home in Mal’s ghostly chest. Mal’s breathing sputtered as he fell to the ground. Remir looked at his ethereal husband, and cried. Mal said his final goodbye. An apology, and a smile. As he faded from reality, the objects placed on the altar went with him. Including the ring. The memories faded with the spirit. 

“Fight against monsters, even if they are inside,” Remir read the inscription as he picked up the ring. 

Remir sat in the ground of his old town, not knowing why he was crying. 

Smile and Nod

Georgie’s friend Elliott’s mom, Clarice, opened the door of their large, pastel-blue house and waved at Georgie. She was still in her robe, and her hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun. She looked as if she had just gotten out of bed. She was on the phone, so she pulled it away from her ear slightly and whispered to Georgie,

“Elliott’s in the basement.”

He smiled and nodded, something his mother had taught him to do at his dad’s funeral. Many of the guests were people Georgie didn’t know, so to avoid calling them by the wrong name, he just nodded and smiled sadly. The funeral had been seared into Georgie’s memory, the colors and sounds as vivid as a movie.

The funeral was located in a small town in southern Italy. Georgie’s father had always talked about it – he described it as the most magical place in the world. Georgie’s mother believed it would be where he wanted his funeral to take place. It was also the first time Georgie had been out of the USA. The plane ride had gone by in a blur of sleeping and crying and leaning into his mother’s sleeves which were stained with salty tears. When they arrived in Naples, the taxi ride to the funeral location consisted of mostly the same things as the plane ride, although Georgie distinctly remembered his mom screaming and ripping out grass on the side of the road at one point.

When he and his mother finally arrived at the hotel, his mom had crept into the bed and didn’t get out of it for the entire next day. Georgie felt obliged to stay and watch over her, so he missed out on viewing the beautiful countryside of southern Italy. He had snatched glances at it on the way to the hotel. It truly seemed magical, just like his father had always said. The ocean was bright blue. The rolling hills shone a vibrant green and the cliffs of clay houses reminded Georgie of something from a fairytale. It seemed like a dream compared to the bleak colors of Kansas City and the poverty stricken streets of his neighborhood.

Two days after Georgie and his mother arrived was the day of the funeral. They had been the first ones there, and the bright sun and cloudless sky were starkly different to the midnight black suit that Georgie was wearing and the black lace that adorned his mother’s even darker dress. Guests had trickled in after he and his mother had arrived, their faces somber. 

Then came the casket.

As the dark brown coffin was carried in by his father’s two eldest brothers, a wave of strange anger came over Georgie. How could his father have betrayed him and his mother? he wondered. His eyes welled up with tears and they spilled out in waterfalls of sadness. He gasped for the air that seemed like it was avoiding him. This was the only part of the funeral that was not clear as glass. Georgie thought he remembered shrieking, the ghastly noise making some of the guests jump. He remembered clawing at his head, as if there was some sort of costume over his body and he was really all happy and cheerful underneath. His mother’s arms tried to wrap around him, but he remembers them dropping and his mother’s sobs combined with his screaming drowning out the rest of the world.

Georgie flickered back into reality and noticed that he was standing frozen in the middle of Elliott’s living room, a single tear dripping down his cheek. He wiped it away with the back of his hand and ran down to the basement. He rubbed his eyes once more before meeting up with Elliott and the rest of his friends who were seated at a round, low-to-the-ground table. Elliott was practicing a new handshake with Georgie’s other friend, Jacob, while another friend named Oliver sat at the far side of the table playing on a Nintendo Switch. Georgie tried to pull his face into a smile, despite the memories that had just resurfaced in his mind.

Dear America

Dear America,

We sure have come full circle. 

Even in this day and age, seen as 2020, a year where we really open our eyes to society and see it for what it is, the killing continues, despite all efforts.

Racism strikes again. Another unarmed black man, we all know as George Floyd, died because of a police officer’s racism. A good man minding his own business wiped from the earth from the say of a few men. No. Not men, monsters. Who were they to decide the fate of George Floyd?

And what does the president do about this? Does he try to stop it? No! Instead he supports this. What a surprise. He also said that the New York police:

“must be allowed to do their job!” What demon would allow this?

Police are there to protect, not to attack. To help, and not to hurt. Can just a badge protect someone from being charged with murder? Everything seems upside down in this messed up world of ours.

We can raise awareness from the safety of our homes. Use social media, put signs on your windows, write your feelings down for your family to see even if it is only one person that reads it, or donate to a black lives matter charity (I know I will), and so on. We will forge together to become strong, to create a safe community that respects all, to finally be at peace.

#StepUpAmerica

Stronger together,

Sadie

The Smile of an Idol: Another Story

At our 99th performance in Akihabara, a scout found us. He noticed our performance and approached us for a deal. He invited us to the Akihabara School Idol Company Audition Session. Various school idols from all around the globe will be auditioning for a chance with us, he said. We think you’ll do wonderfully, he said. One condition, he said, only Karin. 

H-huh? What? Has my hearing gone bad or something? I glanced to my side, only to see Karin’s eyes filled with hope and determination. Her eyes were the complete opposite of mine, filled with despair and malice. I looked forward once again, trying to find the trace of a joke on the scout’s face. All I could see was joyful seriousness.

“Wait… REALLY?!” 

Karin started jumping up and down like a bouncy ball. Up and down. She was so animated, I could almost see the sparkles in her eyes. 

“Lynn, this is wonderful! C’mon, let’s go tell Mom!”

I didn’t respond with my usual submissive “alright” or even a simple “okay.” For once in my life, I stayed silent. 

I didn’t even notice that Karin had already left me behind. I was far too busy burning the scout’s business card. I know he gave one to each of us, so it wouldn’t really do anything in the long run, but defiance is defiance. The main lesson I learned from this experience: lighters are surprisingly easy to find on the street. All I had to do was ask some old guy if I could borrow his. He was surprisingly chill about it, but we ended up in a far-too-long conversation about boats. Well, more like he roped me into a far-too-long conversation about boats. 

After burning the scout’s business card, I felt a rush of energy. Is this what defiance feels like? Is this what a rebellion feels like? I never understood what the point of a rebellion was if everything was moderately okay until this point in time. If I were to describe the feeling of rebellion at this point, I would say it’s addicting. Almost like an invisible version of cocaine. And unfortunately, this mental drug has a very long effective time.

That night was the time I had ever not been in the small apartment I shared with my parents and Karin. I left the performance setup in the pouring rain, hoping that it wouldn’t work the next morning. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the despair and malice had consumed me whole. I was somehow drowning in a dream that wasn’t mine to begin with. I never even wanted to be an idol in the first place, it was Karin’s idea, so why was I so angry? I somehow managed to sleep through the pounding rain, even in a dirty city alley. Sometimes crying and kicking makes it easier to fall asleep. It seems like it would be counterintuitive, but somehow it always worked like a charm. 

After a week of the same ol’ defiance, I wandered back home. I was reluctant at first, but I figured I had to. I can’t just keep living off of snacks and cheap coffee. My already-small amount of pocket change was running out, and I wasn’t particularly fond of having to starve in some alleyway. 

I sprinted through the pouring rain for 3 miles until I reached our apartment block. I dashed up the creaking stairs, careful to avoid any loose steps. I was at the doorstep, huffing and puffing, even with all of the dance practice. I shakily pulled my index finger up to the doorbell.  My dread and anxiousness were growing along with the movement of my finger. My shaky finger hovered over the doorbell for at least a minute, hoping that no one would notice me at the door. My finger shakily hovered for a few more seconds before it dropped back down to my side. I can’t do this. But before I could selfishly run away, a third party intervened. The door nearly hit me in the face, the already broken hinges almost snapping off. A fairly short girl who looked about my age answered the door. She had navy blue-dyed, short, choppy hair with long bangs covering her eyebrows. Her eyes were red and puffy, and she looked like she hadn’t slept in days. She looked exactly like Karin, but her mannerisms were completely different than usual. She spoke in a quiet, slightly lethargic voice, 

“… Lynn, that you?”

“…”

It was understandable why she might have had second thoughts on who I was. I mean, I looked quite different than before. My clear, porcelain-like skin was covered with dirt and bruises and my long hair that used to match Karin’s was now messy and uneven.

“Yeah… it’s me-”

Before I could get a chance to finish my sentence, Karin shoved me into a tight embrace. I could feel her tears on my shoulder and my eyes widened. I thought she would’ve wanted nothing to do with me by now. It was a while before I brought myself to reciprocate her embrace. But eventually, I gently brought my hands up and returned her hug. I buried my head into her shoulder and soon, we were both sobbing. By now, all of the neighbors and even my parents were staring at us, but we didn’t care. Neither of us even realized how much we missed each other. 

After what felt like hours of sobbing, we finally parted. Karin smirked at me teasingly. She gently shoved me into the apartment. 

“WHOA!” 

I nearly tripped and fell over the little step next to our apartment door. “Nee-hee-hee! That’s what you get for leaving me for a week!” Karin said playfully. 

“Fine, fine! I deserved that.”

“Damn straight!”

“…”

We were both silent for at least a minute until we both bursted out laughing. 

“Who actually says ‘damn straight’ anymore?!” 

“I dunno! Maybe me!”

We were laughing together as if nothing ever happened. The scout never came, I never ran away, and Karin was the same as ever. She was a loud and annoying sister for sure, but she was my loud and annoying sister. I moved my head up and brushed my long hair out of my face. I looked at Karin.

“What did you do to your hair?”

Her cheeks flushed red and she looked flustered for a second. 

“Oh, uh-”

“Not that I don’t like it! Blue suits you well, and I think you look great with short hair!”

“Oh, thank you! Yeah, I felt like I needed something new, hee-hee.”

“It’s a little choppy, though.”

Karin went from fluster to worried in the blink of an eye. 

“Well, I-”

“… Did you cut your hair with craft scissors?”

“Ummmm… maybe?” Karin shrugged. 

I laughed.

“Of course you did. Good to know that you’re still Karin!”

Her worried expression changed to one of joy and happiness, and we smiled together for the first time in years. A real smile. 

Twenty-20 Come Again

It was 15 years ago when the coronavirus pandemic hit the world. It is now 2035 and the world has almost healed. Most people have returned to work like my mom. I am now almost 18. The vaccine was finally crafted on January 17th, 2021. While it wasn’t available to the general public until February 8th, the world began to return to what my mom says was “normal.” I was only 3 when the virus hit so I don’t remember much from before everything changed. I  don’t remember the virus too well either. The human brain doesn’t start making memories until you’re almost four so I only remembered a few moments from the end. When the vaccine was accessible to most average people all over the world, I remember sitting on the cloud with my family watching the window monitor. The people were dancing and cheering outside embracing their long-awaited freedom. They celebrated all night in the streets, rejoicing over the thought of being free. They thought it was over. They thought that was the end.

I sometimes think of the person who began this tragedy. Did they know they would change the world forever? I often think of people who do things without thinking. I was never like that. I like to think of myself as a person of few actions but many thoughts; always wondering how what I do affects the world around me. Sometimes it’s a blessing and sometimes a curse. 

I find myself stopping my life to think of others. I once was walking across the street which at the time was made of glass of course, and there was a person on their wireless monitor. I saw a car ahead of me skidding on the glass, which is why we now switched to a form of metal. I thought to myself, seamlessly without thinking, of the person ahead that could be killed by the car. I didn’t notice though that the person had already made it safely to the other side. I, on the other hand, was standing directly in the path of the car. I stopped thinking completely as I watched the car get closer and closer. All I could think of was the person walking away wherever they had to go. My brain froze. I stopped. Everything slowed. My sight blurred. Not moving anything. Just standing on the clear glass looking ahead but not at anything. The car progressed until I forced myself away to the side of the road. The car gained control and slowed to a stop about 20 feet ahead of me. The driver was my first thought and I forgot about my near-death experience. 

This was only one example of how my constant thoughts of others and my actions affected my life and almost ended it. Although this instance definitely doesn’t show the blessings of this trait, there are many instances where having constant thoughts is helpful. I won’t go into that right now though. 

From the Corona pandemic, I have memories of being with my mom and dad a lot. These didn’t really mean anything much to me since I loved everything about it. I got to spend all day long annoying my parents and it seemed like there was an excuse for it. They sat on the cloud or at the smart table working all day long or watching the window monitor play the news feed of the pandemic. I remember, even for my young small brain, how exhausting it was to hear about everything going on in the world and not understand why. I never understood how someone started something like this, something that would change the world entirely, and not even care. I can’t even imagine being the person who started the coronavirus. Someone who didn’t think. That was the opposite of everything that I am. This person changed everything. 

I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if that one person made a right turn instead of a left. Or their child got sick and had to be picked up from school. Would the world ever be the same? 

I like to think that the pandemic had a positive effect on the world as well. Whether it did or didn’t, it helps me keep faith in our species and move forward even when I want to stop. I try to think to myself that my dad just stopped. He didn’t give in. He wasn’t taken. He just stopped. He knew what was best because he was a very smart man. I trusted him and his decision any day and I always will. He battled and pushed for over a month and then after we said goodbye, he stopped. They let us say goodbye but they warned us that we could get it too. I think it was one of the best decisions we had ever made. Without it, we would have never seen him go. We had the antibodies which scientists had researched more. They found that the antibodies meant more than most people thought.

When dad stopped, mom had a period of slowed everything. She moved slower, she worked slower, she ate slower. This was worrying for me because losing both of them wasn’t an option. She promised me that everything would be okay and I believed her. This was another good decision by me, but it took me some time to realize it. As always, she was right and we overcame his death together. I, as an only child, took this really hard. This was the loss of the only male figure in my family. Both my grandpas died before I was born and my mom had no siblings. My dad had one sister and she had a baby girl. She never remarried after she divorced her second husband and she was happy the way life was. Her daughter, my cousin, who was 7, was like a sister to me. When we had to quarantine, we did it together. This made everything much easier. We had dance parties every night and sang at the tops of our lungs. Then when dad died these routines shifted. Everyone was just slightly more calm and mournful. Again, I was 3, so it isn’t as clear to me as it could have been but I definitely remember. 

My mom previously worked as an essential worker but she quit once corona began. She was too worried about dad since he had an existing condition. She didn’t want to be the reason that he got sick. Unfortunately, she was too late. Dad had already gotten sick before she quit. We think he got sick from his work since his office stayed open longer than others. After he got sick, he quarantined himself for about 1 week and then went to the hospital. He was there for 3 more weeks before he stopped. 

I still remember the last time I saw him. So weak and pale. Barely moving. Even though it was so long ago, I still remember the strong smell of the hospital room and the beeping of machines around me. The heavy feeling of my steps as I walked out of there, knowing I would never see him again. The warm touch of my mom’s arm around my shoulders as she wept quietly. I could feel it when he stopped. We were home sitting on the cloud which was called a couch back then but I just knew. I felt it inside, like a piece of me just stopped. 

After he passed and mom started a new job working in an office, things started to feel slightly more normal. Although nothing was exactly the same, it began to return to what life was like before. It was really hard for us to go back to normal without dad though. I kept thinking I saw him or thought I heard him. When I would come home from school I would walk through the door thinking of the things I wanted to tell him. I then reminded myself that I couldn’t think like that. 

One day mom and I were sitting on the couch watching the window monitor and the news came on. It showed footage of a police officer kneeling on a man’s neck. They later showed that the man had said “I can’t breathe” but the officer didn’t care. After that, he was pronounced dead and so many people were extremely angry. There were protests all over the country. Some were peaceful and some were not. Burning buildings, robbing stores, trashing police cars. All over the news was people fighting for their rights and the rights of others. I thought to myself every once in a while when I would see these violent acts, what is this doing for our community? This isn’t showing a strong and powerful side. This is going against all the peaceful protests that will change the world and this is getting more and more people arrested. It was infuriating to watch all these innocent people be pushed down by the people who should keep us safe. I tried to think that they were just doing their job but it was so hard when there was so much hate. Between the tear gas and violent officers pushing peaceful protesters around, I couldn’t believe this was the world we had put so much trust into. I couldn’t believe this was the reality of our country and what we did just for our jobs. It was hard to watch just sitting on the couch observing the cruelty around me. 

Whenever we walked outside to go to the store or just to take a walk, all the stores were boarded up with cardboard planks to prevent robberies. I saw one day a store near our house that had been smashed open. Most of the products inside were taken. The glass smashed to bits. Then I saw the people come to replace the planks. That’s what reset my view of our country. Not the smashed glass and stolen objects but the people who came to fix it. Maybe it was just because they were told to but because they came to do it. We were in the middle of a deathly pandemic and these people came to fix the panel on a store. It’s astonishing to me the different types of people in this world. The people who would break the windows and the people who would fix them. This brings me back to myself and the person I am – how I’m sometimes too aware of how my actions affect others. I think back to the person who started the coronavirus and then I think about the people who were protesting for their rights, and the people that were helping others keep their stores safe, and the essential workers who were saving lives. They were thinking like I do every day and were saving our world. I found that really amazing. 

After both violent and peaceful protests, police training was much more selective. They added new tests and questioning to prevent this same tragedy again which helped greatly. There were also new laws forcing police officers to complete this training and current police officers had to be tested again. They made all officers be tested every 5 years like a driver’s license to make sure they still followed all the rules. In the beginning of these new rules, there was an increase in crime since the police spent a lot of their time completing the tests and less time doing their job. Eventually, this evened out and things went back to normal with the police doing what they should do. These laws enforced police officers to not make racist decisions or comments and if they did they would be arrested. Nothing like the George Floyd disaster had happened since and everyone was much happier and felt much safer. 

By 2030 almost everything was back to normal. All restaurants were open and the economy had returned. On public transportation, some people still wore masks and gloves but most people didn’t. People most at risk just stayed inside and their work and food delivery services were adjusted. There were some new laws that helped older people or people at risk stay safe and healthy. Herd immunity took place so most people in small communities had the antibodies. This helped greatly by preventing more cases from spreading. 

Almost everyone had had the antibody test which had become more and more advanced since the outbreak. They were very reliable and scientists had found that you couldn’t get the virus again. The vaccine obviously also helped with this as it was crafted pretty early on. Almost everyone across the world had access to it and got it as soon as possible. There had been some questioning of how reliable it is, but I believed it worked well. Scientists were still working to advance the vaccine more and more so it was even more reliable. 

**

At school, more and more people were telling me that their family members were getting sick. My friend Ella was one of the first people to tell me that her dad got sick and was staying at home. Then my friend Nick, whose mom was sick and staying home. This worried me because what if some other virus was taking over the world again. This was the last thing I need because I can’t lose anyone else important to me. I didn’t tell anyone about this until almost half my class was not there due to some sickness. While my teachers thought this was just the flu since it is flu season, I thought it was something more. I don’t know why but I can just feel it. Something is not right. Not at all. 

I will speak to mom when I get home tonight and I will tell her because now I am getting nervous. The symptoms seem somehow familiar from what I have heard. I did some research after school and looked at all the news broadcasting websites and stations I could find. They said nothing about any new virus which made me feel slightly better. I decided to wait to tell mom because I could tell how stressed she was. She has been working so hard at her new job and I know she is tired. I don’t want to worry her any more than she already is.

She talked to me after dinner today and surprisingly she brought up the sickness that I had been talking about. She said that a lot of people at her work were out sick and she asked me if I had heard anything about it. I was shocked that she had heard about it too. This meant that it was more than just the flu. I went to bed thinking about what this could be. What would happen if this was another pandemic that would ruin our lives all over again? 

It started to come up on the news a few days later and that worried me all over again. I heard that once again it started in Wuhan just like the coronavirus and it is spreading all over Asia once again. Just then as I was watching the news, my eyes blurred. My brain felt like it was spinning in my head. I suddenly thought back to when corona was spreading. I remembered sitting on the couch watching the news. I felt the pain again of seeing so many people die and I remembered the helpless thoughts that I felt so long ago. 

This new virus that was spreading around the world had very similar symptoms to the coronavirus so scientists were working really hard to determine what it was. My school was closed and they forced us inside with curfews and masks wherever we went. They are not exactly sure how this new virus spreads and they don’t know how to control the cases. Unlike corona, this outbreak happened all at once all over the world. It’s like something caused it everywhere all at the same time. This was much worse than corona because there was no way to flatten the curve. Everyone just got sick all at once. I heard on the news of one woman who was in the hospital for 2 weeks before going back home. I also heard of a man in Hong Kong who was in the hospital for 4 weeks before dying but the doctors still don’t know from what. 

It’s now a few weeks later and more and more people are getting sick and the deaths are going up rapidly. Scientists now think this is some form or part of the original coronavirus because the symptoms are really similar. Shortness of breath, exhaustion, cough, etc. This scares me more than anything because knowing that my dad died from this gives it an extra frightening spin. Mom was back working from home and I have been doing robotic school since the first few cases. The reason my school closed so proactively is because so many people were getting sick in school and they had such a fear of it spreading. Since in the beginning, they thought it was just the flu, they were really worried about it already spreading to the grandparents and parents of these kids. Whatever this virus is also strongly affects older people and people with weakened immune systems like corona. I sign onto my robot every day now and I control the robot as it walks to school and sits down at my desk. Then I have headphones and I listen to all my classes which are taught by my teachers also through robots. When corona happened and we all had to be quarantined for almost a year; they hadn’t come up with this technology yet. We had to go on a computer and sign in to a website called zoom. Then we would listen to our classes which our teachers taught through the screen. This has been so much better because I feel like I have a normal routine. I still have to wake up at the same time and it takes the same amount of time for me to get to school as if I was walking. The scientists have also figured out how to make this technology so it doesn’t feel like we are on screen all day. It feels like we are sitting in a normal class. It is really amazing.

Since our new form of school, I have been having the same flashbacks as when we first heard about this new virus. They are becoming more and more frequent. Some are repeated and some new ones every day. They vary from just getting a little dizzy and then having a strange memory and some are violent spinning and my brain is completely transported to a different world. One that I have had many times is whenever I put a mask on I remember the first time I ever had to. I remember my mom forcing it on my face because we had to go into the store. It was right after dad died so we were all really frustrated and I wouldn’t have it. She kept holding on my face and wrapping it around my head. I knew she wasn’t trying to hurt me but I felt it inside. I felt the tightness of the elastic around my head and the pain of the compression on my ears. Every time I put a mask on now I feel that all over again. 

The newest data about this new virus or part of the old virus is that it has something to do with the vaccine that they thought worked so well. They think the vaccine wasn’t tested for the proper length of time before it was given to the public. They didn’t have the time to test if it worked for extended periods of time. They are finding that the people who have already had the virus are much safer than the people who have gotten the vaccine. The antibodies for this virus are seeming to be much stronger than the vaccine they have crafted. This is why herd immunity is extremely important if the world is going to heal. The authorities are encouraging people to go outside and return to normal life unless they are at risk or are sick. They say this is the only way for the world to return to normal.

I really hope my mom goes back to work and starts to go back into a normal routine. She has been so stressed and she needs that sense of knowing what will happen next. It is taking a toll on all of us. Not having a steady routine to wake up to and not knowing what will come next. Living each day to the fullest and trying not to think about tomorrow or the next day to come. We are trying really hard, Mom, Hazel, Ashley, and I. We have been spending more time together and we help each other with the loss of dad still to this day. It means a lot to mom and me to have them there and I think it means a lot to them too. 

We have been trying to spend all the time together that we can and we try to enjoy the moments we have together. We have dinner together every Friday night and we talk about our lives during the past week. I especially have been trying to not take for granted my school experience even though it isn’t ideal. It has been really hard recently with the new adjustments but I try to understand that everyone is trying their very best. Oh, it’s also my birthday today, December 31st. The date Corona started but just 3 years earlier. The day that one person made a choice that changed the world forever. More tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Amber

Cheers or Tears

“Oh my gosh! I can’t believe we’re going here!” Danika squealed as she clutched her twin sister, Tamara’s arm. Tamara smiled and eased out of Danika’s strong grasp.

“This is the place you said you wanted to go if you ran for captain of the cheer squad,” Tamara said as she saw her sister eyeball the luxury restaurant. 

“I know I said that,” Danika said and smiled as she took out her phone to take a selfie. 

“So are you captain?” Tamara asked, waiting to hear if the whole gift was too bizarre. 

Danika just shrugged her off and said, “I will be. There are only two other girls running and they both wear their skirts too long. I just know everyone will vote for me.”

Tamara sighed as she looked at her twin. “So you might not even be captain?” Tamara said, thinking about how she had spent three months worth of allowance money on getting a table at the most famous Chinese restaurant in town. 

“Are you seriously doubting me, Tam? Of course I’m going to be cheer captain. I’m the best one on the team!” Danika gave her twin a snarky glare before rushing out of the taxi to get a better angle to post on her instagram. 

Tamara groaned and hurried out to join her sister. “How about we take a picture together and you can post it on your social media account,” Tamara asked, thinking about how her parents would think it was so cute to have a picture of them together. 

Danika wrinkled her nose with distaste. “Ew, no. My followers would freak if they saw a picture of me and my nerdy sister. It’s best for them to think I came alone. And besides, this lighting makes my face look really good, and your face will just dull it out.” Tamara blushed at her sister’s harsh words, but stepped aside as her sister went up to the sign and took some more pictures.

Tamara walked up to the man up front and said, “We have a reservation, under the last name Holden. Tamara and Danika?” The man nodded and beckoned for them to follow, Danika squealing every other second. They sat down at a fancy round table, with linen cloth and shiny silverware. “I can’t believe you did this all for me! You’re the best, Tam! Of course, second best to me!” Those were possibly the nicest words Danika had ever said to her, minus the forced, “I love you” as a child. Danika immediately started texting her friends, probably bragging and telling them about the restaurant. 

A waiter came by to take their drinks, and Tamara ordered a glass of Diet Pepsi while Danika scoffed and told the waiter to bring her a Shirley Temple and to make it snappy. The waiter scurried off and Tamara shot her sister a warning look, which Danika slyly ignored. When the waiter came back to ask them what they wanted to eat, Tamara looked at Danika. “I have a budget, so don’t go crazy and get anything too expensive.” Danika merely looked at her twin before turning to the waiter and ordered a steak with chow mein and crab. Tamara blinked at her sister, her mouth open. Had Danika not heard anything she had just said?

“I assume we’re sharing?” Tamara said, still gaping at the amount of food her sister had ordered.

Danika scoffed and said, “This is my big night. They announce the result on TV and I just know it will be me. So I’m ordering whatever I like. You can get soup or something, but nothing from me.” Tamara stared at her sister before sighing and ordering simple spring rolls. Then, she sipped her Diet Pepsi as she waited for the food.

The food was so good, though Tamara was still shocked at the amount of food that Danika ate. Afterwards, they sat back and waited for the check. When the waiter came with the check, Danika grabbed her arm, stopping the whimpering waiter.

“Hey miss. Turn on Channel 3! They are announcing the cheer captains for Ridgemont High and I know it will be me. Quick! It’s starting!” The waiter hurried off to oblige Danika’s demands. 

Tamara glared at her sister and said, “That was really rude. You should apologize.” 

Danika laughed and said, “Tam, she’s a waiter. Her whole purpose is to serve us. Besides, someday, that will likely be you, serving my whole cheer squad. If you’re lucky.” 

Tamara just shook her head and looked at the bill. Her eyes practically bulged out of her head. “That’s a lot of zeros,” she whispered to herself. She didn’t know if she could pay for it all. “Hey Dani. Can you help pay for the meal? Your steak and crab cost a lot of money.” 

Danika snorted and grabbed the bill from Tamara’s hand. “How about I make you a deal,” Tamara countered as Danika hastily threw the check back at Tamara’s face. Danika stared at her. “If you become cheer captain, I will give you 20 dollars to go get ice cream at the really expensive French place, Le Creme.” Tamara did not miss how Danika’s eyes glinted when she mentioned her not getting captain, but hurriedly smiled at the mention of Le Creme. “But if you don’t become cheer captain, then you have to pay for dinner and give me 20 dollars to get those jeans I wanted the other day. Do we have a deal?” 

Danika snorted, something very unlike her, and shook Tamara’s outstretched hand. “You should just give me the 20 dollars now, Tam, because I’m practically the captain. Mmm, I can already taste the mint chip ice cream.” Tamara rolled her eyes and turned her attention towards the TV which now was turned on to channel 3. The cameraman was zoomed in on a tall girl with glossy brown hair that was tied into a bun at the top of her head. A beaming reporter stood next to her. 

“HEY!” Danika yelled, causing many people to stare at her with disgust. The same shivering waitress came forward, looking so pale that Tamara almost asked if she was sick. “Turn up the volume! I want everyone to hear when Magnolia announces that I am the new cheer captain!” Danika promptly shoved the quivering waitress towards the TV, almost knocking over a man carrying a tray of soup. Tamara put a hand on Danika’s arm, a warning to stop all her bossiness, but Danika flicked her off and returned to typing furiously on her phone, although her gaze was intent on the screen.

The TV reporter was standing next to who Tamara assumed was Magnolia. She had the microphone pressed to her shivering lips and she forced a smile at the camera through purple lips. “And now, on channel 3, we have here Magnolia Harp, captain of the Ridgemont High cheer squad, though soon to be former. Magnolia, what do you have to say about the runners before you announce who will become cheer captain for Ridgemont High 2020?” The reporter turned to Magnolia, who sent a stunning smile towards the camera, angling her right side to the cameraman, not a hint of shivering shown although she was in her cheer mini skirt and crop top. 

“Well, Wanda, I just want to say that all the runners are very qualified people, but we could only choose one captain. Of course, they may be a downgrade from me, but at least they are the best of the worst.” Magnolia laughed as though she had said something funny and flicked her hair. Tamara noticed how fake she was and how much of a similarity she was to Danika. She turned her head towards Danika to see if she had heard what Magnolia said about being a downgrade, but Danika was picking at her nails and muttering to herself about what a great captain she would be. 

Tamara fixed her attention back to the TV where Magnolia had positioned herself in front of Wanda, the reporter. The restaurant had gone quiet. A lot of people were staring at Danika, as if waiting for her reaction. Tamara turned to her sister, who was looking between the TV and her phone. “What are you doing? They are about to announce who the captain will be. Why are you on your phone?” Tamara asked as she watched her twin’s pink manicured hand type furiously on her phone. 

“I’m sending the cheer squad pictures of the uniform design that will be for the cheer this year. Isn’t it so nice?” Danika shoved the phone in Tamara’s face, but Tamara was too blinded by the pink and glitter to even see the whole uniform.

“Um, Dani, what are you doing? You’re not even captain. Don’t tell me you paid for those already?” Tamara put her hand on her forehead. Danika scoffed and glared at her sister. 

“I’m seriously offended, Tam. For this whole dinner all you’ve been doing is questioning if I’m going to be captain. Let me spell it out for you. Actually, let me cheer it out for you.” To Tamara’s horror, Danika stepped on to the table, dirtying the white cloth with mud prints from her pink heels. Some people gasped and put hands to their chests. Others threw down their napkins and demanded for a bill so they could leave. Tamara jumped up, her fury almost to the point of boiling over. But before the manager could shove her way through the crowd, Danika stomped down on the table hard. Silence rang throughout the once laughing restaurant.

“D-A-N-I-K-A! What does that spell? DANIKA!

I’m your captain, yes I am.

I have spirit, I can dance!

If your skirt goes past your knees

Run so far before I SCREAM!” 

Tamara covered her ears to block out her sister’s ratchet screaming. Many people were hurrying to get out of the building. Danika fluffed her hair and sat down on her seat before the manager made it to their table. She looked furious.

“If you don’t get out of my rest-” Danika silenced her by putting her finger to her lips. The manager gasped, looking shocked.

Tamara looked at her sister who merely shrugged before saying, “Shut up! Magnolia is announcing it now! Oh, and yes, I already paid for twenty pinkalicious uniforms. Thanks for your credit card, Tam.” Tamara angrily glared at the back of Danika’s blonde head as she had turned to face the TV.

Magnolia had taken out an envelope, as if she were announcing the winner of a reality TV show instead of the cheer captain for a small town in Texas. Magnolia beamed at the camera before glancing down at the paper. Whoever’s name was on it didn’t seem to surprise her. “Our runners included Susan Maple, Danika Holden, and Tabitha White. This was a very close race, but one person got the majority of them votes, becoming our next cheer captain. Give it up for SUSAN MAPLE!” The people on the TV started clapping and Magnolia blew a kiss at the screen. 

Tamara slowly turned toward Danika, who had suddenly gone quiet. Everyone who was still in the restaurant turned to see Danika’s reaction. Tamara even heard someone ask if there was popcorn. Danika’s face was white with held back fury. Her mouth contorted into an ugly snarl, and she stood up so abruptly that she knocked over a waiter carrying a bunch of dishes. They all shattered around her and she screamed. Tamara had never seen her sister so mad. People actually started running out of the restaurant, but Tamara knew she couldn’t escape Danika’s wrath.

Danika swung her chair and hit the table, causing their plates and silverware to shatter and fly across the room. Tamara watched as her fork was flung into the fish tank and only barely missed stabbing the cute little goldfish, which now swam to seek refuge under a rock. Danika had tears of bitter anger running down her face, as she turned and stalked towards the door. Tamara couldn’t help but overhear the manager call the police. Within five minutes, Danika was surrounded by cops. Sirens blared and people rushed to the crime scene. Tamara gazed ahead, horrified, as she watched Danika get handcuffed and put into the back of a police car. She was screaming at the top of her lungs. 

“TAM! TELL THEM YOU KNOW ME! I’M HER SISTER! STOP! YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME! TAM, IF YOU DON’T TELL THEM, SO HELP ME, I WILL END YOU!”

A police officer with curly white hair stepped towards Tamara. “Ma’am, do you know this young lady?” Tamara stared at the officer before shifting her gaze to her sister. Danika had stopped struggling, and now sat limply in the back seat, glaring at Tamara, her blond hair disheveled and her mouth pulled back into a silent snarl.

“No,” Tamara whispered. Then more confidently, she said, “No. Officer, take her away. She needs help.” The officer nodded before saying something into his walkie talkie. Danika had started thrashing again, screaming Tamara’s name, but Tamara turned her back to her sister.

She called a cab and was whisked off into the night, leaving her sister for her parents to deal with. The next morning, Tamara woke up with a throbbing headache. The events of the night before suddenly rushed back to her and she groaned. She called her mother, and told her she was going to visit Danika at the police station, and possibly take her out. Her mother said that she had talked to the officers, but only Tamara was allowed to take her out. Tamara sighed and started her long journey to the station, scared of what Danika might do once she got out. When she arrived, Tamara signed some papers and showed her ID. Then she was led to a holding cell in which she saw Danika sitting in. Tamara couldn’t help but gasp. Danika looked horrible.

Her normally neat blonde hair was knotted and looked more dirty blonde. Mascara streamed down her cheeks in black lines. Her eyes were puffy and red, her skin was pale. Her clothes looked like they could use one or 500 cleanings. And the smell. Tamara gagged. Danika looked up, her eyes glassy. When they narrowed on Tamara’s face, the depressed look was gone, followed by a low growl. Tamara took a step back, so that Danika couldn’t somehow grab her through the bars. Then Danika let out a low laugh.

“Somehow, even being in this cell for a night, I look better than you,” Danika rasped as she threw her head back and laughed. Tamara’s eyes narrowed to slits as she watched her ungrateful twin trudge back to the bench and lay down. This was it, Tamara thought. Danika has finally broken. Tamara shook her head and asked the officer to hold on opening the cell. She walked up to the bars and calmly said, “You still need to pay for dinner. Also, the jeans I wanted are on sale, so you only have to give me 18 dollars.” Then she nodded to the officer who unlocked the cell.

Danika scowled at Tamara but didn’t make any move to attack her. In fact, she was so calm, smoothing her hair and smiling, that Tamara almost asked if there was a doctor in the station. She warily followed her twin out of the station and started walking home. It was quiet for a while, until she heard a soft noise. Frightened that Danika might be saying or doing something rash, Tamara coughed to get her attention. Danika merely looked at her and plastered on the fakest smile Tamara had ever seen. Danika was humming. This should have been calming, but it unnerved Tamara so much she almost screamed.

When they arrived home, Danika hurriedly went into the restroom and locked herself in. Tamara heard drawers frantically being pulled open and knew that Danika was putting on makeup. Tamara sighed and went back to her room. Her sister was crazy. She knew that her sister not becoming cheer captain was bad, but she didn’t expect all of this. First her sister got arrested and now she was eerily calm. Tamara couldn’t help but blame herself. If she had only waited to take Danika out, then maybe none of this would have happened. She would still have her three months worth of allowance money, a happy stomach, and a mostly normal sister.

She heard the bathroom lock click and then the door being swung open. Tamara hopped to her feet so she could talk to Danika. Danika’s back was to her and she couldn’t see what Danika was looking at on her phone. She hesitated and then touched Danika’s arm. She felt her sister stiffen.

“Dani, what’s wrong? I know what I did yesterday was awful but you are acting weirder than normal.” 

Danika let her blonde head tip back as she rumbled a laugh. “Oh Tam. When will you ever learn? I’m perfectly happy right now. Did you really think I lost becoming cheer captain? It’s only a matter of time before the position is mine.” Tamara watched in horror as her sister applied a thick layer of red lip gloss before blowing an air kiss her way. Then she pranced out the door.

Tamara knew that whatever was going to happen next was bad. What did Danika mean when she said that the cheer captain position would be hers? Did she imagine the whole fight the day before? Tamara quickly looked to see what Danika had been doing while her back was to her. On the coffee table, a 100 dollar bill sat on the table with 18 ones next to it. In Danika’s elegant pink script, the note next to the money said, “To pay for dinner and your jeans. BTW, those jeans don’t really go well with any color but it did look good on you when you tried it on. Xoxo, Danika aka soon to be cheer captain.”

Tamara held the note numbly in her hand. She was shocked. Normal Danika would never pay her back, let alone tell her that her jeans were a nice pick. Crazy Danika would pay her back, tell her that her jeans looked good, and then do something probably illegal. Tamara stared hard at the note, trying to wrap her head around how Danika had written that she would “soon to be cheer captain.” She had said those words earlier.

Didn’t Danika hear Magnolia say that Susan Maple was the cheer captain? Tamara sighed and trudged back up to her room, still insanely confused about the note and Danika’s sudden leave. She climbed into bed and went back to sleep. When she awoke a few hours later, she heard the front door slam shut and Danika’s high pitched squeals.

“Turn on the TV! Channel 3! Hurry! TAM! Come down here!”

Tamara groaned and ran down the stairs, nearly tripping over her own feet. “What?” She asked, although it sounded more like a growl. Danika was smiling so brightly and this time, Tamara could tell it wasn’t fake. 

“Turn on channel 3. Magnolia is making an announcement! Hurry! I don’t have all day! TAMARA! I will not demand you one more time!”

Good, Tamara thought, but she turned on the TV for her lazy twin anyway.

“Why do you even want to hear this announcement? You’re not even cheer captain,” Tamara said, not even remotely interested in seeing her sister throw another temper tantrum like a psycho two year old. Danika rolled her eyes and chuckled and fear gripped Tamara’s heart. This could not be good for anyone on the cheer squad except Danika. “What did you do?” Tamara whispered, too terrified to even say it any louder.

“Just watch,” Danika said and shifted her head back towards the television.

Magnolia stood on TV, next to Wanda and a red headed girl whom Tamara recognized as Susan Maple, the new cheer captain. Susan had twin streaks of mascara running down her face, and in the lighting, her fake tan made her look more orange. Magnolia had an angry scowl twisting her mouth and she kept shooting glares at Susan before smiling at the camera with her dazzling fake princess smile.

“We’re back on channel 3. I’m Wanda, you’re reporter, and today I have for you some very sad news. Magnolia?”

Magnolia practically shoved Wanda out of the way as she stomped forward. 

“Thank you Wanda,” Magnolia started, although Tamara could see the annoyance written clearly on Magnolia’s coal black eyes. “It has been very unfortunate that Susan Maple has decided to step down from her position as cheer captain. Susan, why have you come to make this sad *cough stupid cough* decision?” Susan stepped forward as Magnolia backed away, but not before subtly putting her foot out and tripping the poor girl. Susan stumbled but regained composure as she smoothed out her hair and pulled up her already short skirt higher, so much, that it looked like a belt. Tamara had a gut sinking feeling that Danika was the reason why she had made the quote of quote “sad *cough stupid cough* decision.” 

Susan looked up at the camera and Tamara didn’t know if it was all acting when her clear blue eyes filled with tears. “I have decided to step down from this position because of a secret that would be exposed if I did become cheer captain. Now this secret isn’t that bad or anything but…” Tamara could see the guilt written across the fake tanned girl’s face. This was a bad secret. She turned to see Danika’s smug smile as she leaned back into the reclining couch cushion.

“What did you do?” Tamara hissed, her horror stepping up a notch. Danika ignored her and kept her eyes glued intently to the screen. 

They had missed the rest of Susan’s resignation speech and Magnolia was now smiling back at the camera with her “If you cross my path again, I will end you” smile. Tamara watched Danika warily as she sat forward with anticipation. Magnolia was now smoothing her hair and her mouth was still twisted in her feline smile, though Tamara didn’t miss the shadow of a scowl on her face.

“Since Susan has decided to step down from her position as cheer captain, I have to give the captain position to the runner up. So, Congratulations to—” The TV screen fizzled out and went black and fuzzy. Danika screamed and looked like she was going to pull her hair out.

From upstairs their father yelled, “WiFi’s down throughout town girlies!” 

“SHUT UP!” Danika yelled and started furiously pacing. “Magnolia was just about to announce me captain. I know it. How come God decided now was the perfect time for a blackout?” 

“Maybe because God thinks this whole thing is stupid,” Tamara muttered, her voice barely audible over Danika’s impatient stomping. 

Danika whirled on her and pointed an accusing finger. “This is all your fault! If you hadn’t taken me to that restaurant, none of this would have happened!” Tamara stepped forward, feeling bolder by the second as she watched her sister’s quivering fingered point accusingly at her.

“MY FAULT? You’re such a stuck up snob that no one wants you on the cheer squad? Do you realize that no one voted for you? Susan won and you blackmailed her into stepping down. I bet the person Magnolia was going to announce was that other girl running, Tabitha White. But I don’t know! All you cheer girls are the same! Fake tans, fake personalities, fake smiles, YOU’RE ALL FAKE! Danika, no one WANTS you to be cheer captain!” The moment those words left Tamara’s mouth she stepped back. Danika stepped back, her face blank with shock. Time seemed to stop. The house was deathly quiet.

Then Danika stepped forward and threw the remote control at the TV. It hit the glass screen with a thud and the screen cracked. Then Danika started crying, tears running down her face. “Daddy!” She wailed. “Look what Tamara did!” She pointed a finger at the cracked 500 dollar screen as her father’s feet pounded down the staircase.

“I did not do that!” Tamara yelled, shaking with anger.

Her father’s face was pale with anger as he looked between the girls. “You two have only been yelling at each other all day! Tamara Grace Holden. Come with me this instant!” Tamara gaped and pointed her finger at Danika. “But I didn’t even do it! Danika did it!” Her dad angrily looked between them and yelled, “FINE! I’ll just check the cameras!”

Danika’s face contorted and spat, “What cameras?” Tamara gave her a satisfied smirk.

Their father rubbed a hand down his face with exhaustion. “Danika, what do you have to say for yourself?” Danika gaped and sputtered and she looked between her dad and Tamara. Then she furiously shoved Tamara out of the way and stomped towards her room, the door slamming in her wake. Tamara looked up to see her dad dialing something into his phone.

“Who are you calling?” SHe asked, almost not really wanting to know.

“The Dallas Anger Management Association. Otherwise known as DAMA. I think your sister is going to need it.”

Her father put the phone on speaker as a woman’s voice rang out. “Dallas Anger Management Association, how can I help you?”

Tamara watched her dad’s face and saw many flickers of emotions, one of them being guilt. She knew he was rethinking if this was the right way to go. Tamara put a hand on his arm and gestured towards the glitching TV. Her dad nodded and spoke into the phone,

“Hi, my name is Ethan Holden and I would like to take my daughter to these classes. Her name is Danika Lyla Holden. Age 16. She has had a lot of recent outbursts and temper tantrums that will need some serious help immediately.” Tamara listened as her dad and the lady on the line talked for a couple of minutes before hanging up and turning to Tamara.

“Get your sister. We’re going to the DAMA now.” Tamara couldn;t hide the shock from her face. She had always known her sister had problems when she didn’t get what she wanted but she had never expected it to get this bad. Especially over something so stupid. Like, was Danika going to pride herself when she was 40 over being cheer captain in high school over a team that hadn’t ever won any cheer competitions and was for a school in the middle of nowhere Texas? Then again, Danika prides herself when she does anything that makes her look more superior than others. Her motto was, “I can only be on the top if I have people holding my designer heeled feet from the bottom.”

Tamara had to bribe her sister with money to get her into the car and the whole way Danika was a crying mess. They hadn’t yet told her where they were taking her. Tamara was fidgeting restlessly in the passenger seat as she kept stealing glances at Danika’s wrecked face through the mirror. Danika hadn’t said anything besides demanding to know where they were taking her. Of course, they didn’t answer with the fear that she would open the door and just get out of the car on the freeway. When they finally pulled into the parking lot of DAMA an hour later, Danika looked up and her expression froze.

“Anger Management?” She snarled looking between her sister and her father. “Daddy! You can’t let Tamara manipulate you! I didn’t;t do anything wrong! Please daddy! Let’s go home!” Tamara’s father’s face flashed with sadness and for a brief second, Tamara was scared that her father would pile them back into the car.

But he grabbed Danika by the arm and hauled her out of the car. Danika started thrashing and screaming and soon brought a lot of attention toward themselves. People with white lab coats started running towards them from inside the building as Danika tried to fight off the grip they had on her. She was screaming at the top of her lungs and Tamara had to cover her ears before her eardrums exploded. A man with a while lab coat and frizzy black hair came forward and injected something into Danika’s still flailing arms. For a moment, everything was still. Then Danika’s body went limp and a collective sigh came from the crowd that had formed around them. Tamara couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness as she watched her sister get lifted and carried inside of the building. But she knew it was for a greater good. And she hoped that after a couple months of management, she would have her old twin back.

THE END.

Anti Gravity

California, USA

It was 12:37 AM when I first felt it. I know because as soon as my body was pulled up out of my bed and my nose touched the low ceiling, I looked at the clock on my bedside table. This was my way of mentally collecting details to make this story more believable when I tell my parents. At first, I thought the force pulling me closer and closer to my ceiling was part of some elaborate fever dream, or a cruel prank. So I pinched my arm, and closed my eyes real tight. When I opened them again, I was still floating above my bed, with my covers hanging off of me like a dress I forgot to zip up in the back. I tried to carefully flip my body over, and I looked down at my room from a terrifying new perspective.  

My light pink bed, my tall bookshelf, and my soft, shaggy rug were all still there. Except, they were floating too. My bed and bookshelf were only an inch or two off the ground, but my rug was already on the ceiling right next to my feet. The shock and indifference was just starting to wear off and my breathing had started to quicken when I heard a gasp through the thin walls of my house. Soon, I heard a panicked voice through the same wall. 

“Matt, what’s going on?”

“How the hell would I know?!”

Wow. Typical of them. Even at the strangest times, they were constantly bickering. I bitterly noted that neither of them seemed at all concerned with my safety. I was their only daughter now after all, and this had been a really difficult year for me. They weren’t the only people affected by Sarah’s disappearance. I guess I finally know who was the favorite daughter. I shook myself back to reality and looked at the clock again, trying to figure out why I wasn’t losing my mind, or at least getting a little freaked out like my parents seemed to be. I’m usually a very jumpy, anxious person, but something about floating in the air felt sort of nice. I got to leave all my family and life problems down on land. It was… peaceful.

Paris, France

Me and my little brother Frankie were sitting at the table eating a warm, tasty breakfast of buttery croissants from the bakery under our apartment when the plates and silverware started to levitate over the kitchen table. Before I even noticed, I heard Frankie scream. A plate was hovering right over his head. In a moment of impulse, I jumped over to him and grabbed the plate, saving both my brother’s skull and my grandmother’s china. What I didn’t expect was me not crashing down onto our uncarpeted floor. I just stayed up in the air, and a moment later, Frankie joined me. His little 6-year-old body swam through the air to the tall lamp next to the fridge. After the car crash three years ago, I had been sent back home from college to take care of Frankie. When Mémé left my brother in my care, she gave me three warnings. 

“Take care of him and don’t let him get hurt. Make sure he is well fed, healthy, and goes to school. And, don’t you dare let him touch my furniture.”

So, I air swam my way to Frankie until my body was right next to his, but about twice as long. Then, I grabbed the fridge and put myself right in front of the lamp, blocking him from it. My parents always used to say that I was cool and collected, and they were right on the surface, but inside I was screaming. My baby brother was all I had left, and I didn’t know what was happening. For all I knew, this strange floating could be some sort of dark magic, like the kind that Mémé used to tell me stories about when I was no older than Frankie. Or it could be some kind of chemical reaction that made this happen. I was never a good science student in school, so I wouldn’t be the one to figure this mystery out. I lunged toward Frankie, and he grabbed onto my arm. We swam our way through the thick, buttery smelling air, and made it to the space between our counter and cabinets. A safe shelter. Frankie pulled me close, and I sang him an old French lullaby like my mom used to sing to us when we were little.

Une chanson douce, que me chantait ma maman, en suçant mon pouce, j’écoutais en m’endormant, cette chanson douce, je veux la chanter pour toi, car ta peau est douce…

I looked down at Frankie to ask if he wanted me to keep singing, but he was already fast asleep.

***

Kyoto, Japan

Late afternoon is my favorite time of the day. Business in the restaurant is slowing down after the lunch time rush, and I can take a break from rolling dough and cooking rice to sit by the front window and watch people walk by. People watching is all the more entertaining in such a beautiful city. The telephone wires line the sidewalks, a rustic frame for each street, and a safe place to rest for tired birds. People stroll by the restaurant, taking pictures and pointing. This restaurant has been in my family for over 150 years. The food is well known for being the best in Kyoto. Tourists from all over the world eat here everyday. People come to Japan to sit in these seats and stare out the windows, and yet, I do not want to be here. I want to be studying medicine in America, but I don’t want to leave my father again. He has put his faith and trust in me, and what kind of daughter would I be if I abandoned my family? My thoughts were interrupted from a clash on plates in the kitchen. I walked over to the kitchen, my steps strangely light. I looked down to see that my feet were suspended in the air, bringing me nowhere. My first thought was Jikai. Where could he be? Was he in danger? I grabbed onto chairs and tables, pushing against them to propel myself forward, but accidentally bringing them in the air with me. 

“Where is my husband?!” I screamed. “Someone help me! I need to find him!”

Panic pulsed through my blood. I couldn’t lose him. He was the one thing in Kyoto that made me even remotely happy. What was happening? Why was my body suspended over the ground? I had always wanted to fly, and it had been a recurring dream of mine since I was a child. This didn’t feel like a dream though, I was too scared. This didn’t feel good either. It felt like some kind of involuntary punishment. I cried up at the ceiling.

“What did I do? What did I do to deserve this…” I trailed off, as my voice faded into the echoey walls. 

I curled my body into a ball and let the edges of my skirt dry my eyes. If the world is going to punish me, maybe I should just stop punishing myself.

Prague, Czech Republic

This vacation was supposed to be fun. My parents hauled me and my sister to the airport, and told us that we would be surprised by the “enchanting beauty of this culture-filled city.” Her words, not mine. The flight was a whopping 7 hours, and we arrived at our quaint, smokey smelling hotel, jetlagged and exhausted. In the morning, or what my body thought was the morning, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, and wandered to the little balcony to see if the sun was up. Surprisingly, it was, and I grabbed a book from my suitcase and sat outside. The air was warm, with a chilly breeze that felt almost… ominous. I flipped aimlessly through my book, not fully comprehending the words on the page. I’m used to going on big trips to faraway places, but that doesn’t mean I like it. My dad works for the government, which seems to require uprooting our lives every few years. Prague seems nice, but I don’t want to live here. I closed my book on my lap, and let my eyelids rest over my eyes. My book started to feel lighter and lighter on my lap, and I put my hand over it to make sure it was still there. The book kept rising, and brought my arm with it. My eyes fluttered open, and I jumped off of my chair. I opened the balcony door to yell for my parents, but remembered that I had argued for my own hotel room and my guilty parents had reluctantly given in. My book was still hovering in the air, rising slowly. I hopped up and down to catch it, but after one of two jumps, my feet no longer touched the ground. I grabbed onto the windows and bars of other people’s balconies, screaming for help, and possibly waking up the entirety of Prague. I screamed louder every time my fingers scraped painfully against the bricks of a building. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a window. My hair was unkempt and messy, and my eyes looked bloodshot and crazed. This isn’t the way a wealthy aristocrat’s daughter should look, bullied a voice in the back of my head. I frantically combed my sweaty, knotted hair with my filthy hands, leaving traces of dirt and blood into my golden blonde locks. I made it worse. My body kept floating higher and higher until there were no buildings to hold onto, no windows to look into. As I got closer and closer to the clouds, the air became thinner, and I couldn’t breathe without coughing and hyperventilating. I saw a bird, and a rush of hope went through my body, but it faded just as quickly when I realized that the bird could do nothing for me. I followed the bird with my wet, irritated eyes when I saw them. A group of people, floating just like me, less than a hundred feet away. I made my way through the air towards them, noting that it was a group of teens around my age, I called to them, and a girl with tears in her eyes turned towards me, and smiled, her eyes desperate. She was saying words in Czech that I didn’t understand. 

“What? I only speak English. I’m sorry.”

Her face contorted into disappointment, but a boy next to her spoke to me in fluent English.

“She wants to know if you understand what is happening here. We are all so scared.” 

His accent was thick, but easily understandable for someone who had lived just about everywhere.

“I don’t know either. I’m so scared. I can’t find my family.” 

The boy translated my words to his group, and the girl who had spoken first reached her hand out to me. I hesitated, but grabbed it. They pulled me into their huddle, and we all floated to our deaths together.

Together

For hours, there was a quilt of people floating in the air all around the world, blocking the sun. Policemen in cement shoes set up nets for when everyone eventually, hopefully, came back down to Earth. People were commanded to stay in the enclosed safety of their homes, and turn on the news for updates. After 3 hours of hovering, everyone suddenly came falling back to the ground, the pull of gravity restored. Scientists researched and researched, and came to the unlikely but possible conclusion that it was some kind of chemical fluke that wouldn’t happen again. Religious leaders disagreed with the scientific conclusion, as they sometimes do, and hypothesized that it was some kind of message or sign, reminding people that life is fragile and finite, and even huge problems in someone’s life can seem small in a life or death situation. It is true, that when everyone came back to the Earth, that they had never been happier and more thankful for their family and even their problems, because as hard as being alive is, it is more rewarding than being nothing at all.

Carousel Never Stops Turning

4/16/20

Thirty-four days ago, I left school excited for the time off. Thirty-four days ago, I was oblivious to what was happening in the world, the loved ones that were lost, the dangers of this pandemic. Thirty-four days ago, my life changed forever. Since then, my days have been a cycle of sleeping, eating, going on walks, FaceTiming friends, doing online school, and most of all, watching TV. After watching all sixteen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, one quote, said by Ellis Grey in season two episode five, has really captured how quarantine has felt for me. She said, “But the carousel never stops turning.”

The days go from one pair of sweatpants to the next. Clicking the “next episode” button over, and over again. Walking the same loop in my neighborhood, so I get the one hour of fresh air I need each day. My once too busy life has become a carousel spinning slowly, but never stopping. All I want is to go back to life before the ride slowed down, the carousel ride I once complained about moving too fast. I’m now fully experiencing the meaning of the expression, “the grass is always greener.” I once longed for a slow ride: less work, less drama, what I thought would be easier. But I was wrong; it isn’t easier.

I miss the busy mornings, not wanting to get out of bed and ready for school. Always complaining that it was too early. I miss the loud hallways in between classes, getting jostled around and trying to look over everyone’s heads for where it clears up. I miss the feeling when class was over for the week, hanging around in the hallways after school, dreading the return on Monday. But now, I am ready to return.

It is hard to feel sane now, with this new lifestyle. Thinking back to September, I never in a million years would have thought this would happen. TV characters have replaced people. Google Classroom has replaced teachers. Texting has replaced conversations. There is a new norm, and I am forced to adjust. It’s not easy and I don’t like it, but it’s out of my control. Olaf said it best in Frozen 2: “We’re calling this ‘controlling what you can when things feel out of control.’” I have to focus on the little things I can control, like in what order I’m going to do my classes, or what activity I am going to do next to schedule my day.

Life is a carousel that never stops turning. In these thirty-four days it has slowed down, changing our life. I look forward to the day that it speeds back up again.

We

Blurred lines between walls.

Impenetrable existence.

Hands cracked with soap stains, thoughts of a deadline escaping isolation.

Extending infinitely.

Walls are thick ink, when stepped on, shatter, taking form through unbreathable masks,

Withstanding the divide that already stood.

Differences dissolve, thicken on sides unimaginable. 

We are surrounded by clouds of dust. They gray our vision, stain our straightly cut clothing.

Scarring memories of evolution.

The walls between worlds sprout growth; show similarity. 

Grounding similarity.

Six feet apart, is this what brings us together?

Differences, flaws, all intertwine through a blurred connection.

We are, and always will be, humanity.

A Message

To the present,

There is no doubt this is an unfamiliar and terrible time. It is so easy to be negative about the deaths occurring every second, the sick who cannot be visited by loved ones, and the fact that the world is in a recession. Due to this urgent situation, we must all work together to put an end to this horrific phenomenon. Although staying away from each other is the best way to stop the virus we still must spread hope and positivity, even if it has to be six feet apart, during this hard time. This situation is more serious than I ever could have imagined just a couple of weeks ago, and I am sure many of you feel the same way. Living in a suburb of New York City, a major COVID-19 hotspot, multiple crucial precautions and rules have been set in place to prevent the spread of this pandemic. Through my life drastically changing in just days, I have learned how urgent this situation is becoming. Even though the virus may not be a major concern in your town, at the rate that COVID-19 is spreading, the disease will reach you soon. For instance, my dad works in Russia and just a couple of weeks ago he went to a soccer game in a stadium with around sixty-eight thousand people. My dad was cautious during this game, acknowledging the risks of his situation, yet his friends thought he was a fixated germaphobe since at the time there were very few cases in Russia. However now the entire country is on complete lockdown and anyone who goes out of their house who is not going to the grocery store or pharmacy gets arrested. This shows how quickly the situation can escalate, although it is slightly different in Russia since Putin can make extreme decisions more easily and quickly. The fact that the virus is extremely serious is paralleled in the US. 

To posterity,

When I first learned about COVID-19, I did not think it was going to be a big deal. I heard that schools might be closed for about two weeks and was super excited to get to spend that time with my friends. When some of my family members, particularly my uncle, started to buy extra toilet paper and food in early February, I thought he was crazy. This is going to blow over in a month, I thought, just like the flu comes around every winter. But boy was I wrong. I never could have imagined going to online school every day and being deprived of my last trimester in middle school, let alone the seniors who will most likely not get the experience of graduating that, in some cases, they have waited fourteen years to do. Being in quarantine is unlike anything I have ever experienced. We have to stay inside all day except for the occasional outing during which masks are required. All of the public places like parks and school grounds are closed, except for necessary facilities like grocery stores and pharmacies. Even there, everyone is expected to wear masks and gloves; the aisles are one way so that no one passes by each other and the lines at the registers are marked with tape so that everyone stands away from each other. It truly feels like an altered reality that even our parents have not experienced. This is new ground for everyone and requires adaptation to this temporary new way of life until a vaccine is created, which scientists predict will not be for another eighteen months. Doctors, scientists, and first responders have been true heroes. They have risked their health for ours and are saving many lives without much recognition for it. However, they are very overworked and hospital resources are decreasing. Doctors have to make the heartbreaking decisions, like if a dwindling 80-year-old with lung conditions or a previously healthy 60-year-old with younger kids and grandkids should get the hospital’s last ventilator. Overall, life, as we knew and as you know, is completely altered, completely unfamiliar, and completely unpredictable.

Canceled

Trig functions still echoing in my head from my math test minutes ago, I dashed towards the library and slipped into the school meeting from the back door. I gave our dorm director a lopsided smile, hoping it would compensate for my hoarse gasps and disheveled locks. But his eyes were dark and solemn, a shadow of the man who smiled at every student he passed.

I stiffened. Scanning the library, I felt like a clown who had walked into a funeral. Girls who normally joked and cheered were silent, eyes upturned with uncanny focus. I followed their gaze to our principal, and saw her petite hands shaking.

“In times like this, we will abide by our motto to function in disaster and finish in style.”

Everything suddenly clicked. I tried to claw it out of my mind, hoping that I was just confused. It couldn’t be true. It mustn’t be. Please. But it was too late, like a Jenga tower that had already started to topple.

We were dismissed. Like a river, students flowed out and away. I was the rock in the middle of the current as they parted around me, streaming past, voices laced with sorrow, confusion, anger.

“School’s canceled. It’s all canceled.”

I staggered, leaning on a bookshelf as if it could stop reality from crumbling. The conversations around me tumbled and crashed until they faded, leaving only a dozen or so people in the library. As I lurched towards the exit, I felt as if I was underwater—sounds muffled, limbs light. I stared at the faint stains on the carpet blurring below my shuffling feet. I was looking, but not seeing.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned in surprise, breaking to the surface. It was my freshman neighbor.

“Hey, are you going to be okay? Do you have a place to go?” she asked. I smiled faintly, surprised that someone had reached out, shining a thin beam of light into this storm. I replied and asked her the same question.

“I… I was supposed to go to Connecticut for a spring camp, but it got canceled,” she responded, with a voice that grew meeker as she spoke. She had no plans, and only one night to figure everything out. I felt selfish. I had been worrying about the luggage I needed to pack, the goodbyes I wouldn’t get to say—but at least I had somewhere to go. She was not as lucky, yet she was there to comfort me.

I am not a hugger, but at that moment I wrapped her up, told her it was going to be okay even though I didn’t believe it myself. Before I knew it, she was crying. Then everything I was holding back bubbled to the surface. Friends. Teachers. Roommate. Dorm. Classes. Internships. The simple routines of school life—all gone.

I shattered.

We cried on each other’s shoulders between the double doors of the library, trying to calm ourselves down, until another pair of arms wrapped themselves around us. Her best friend’s. She didn’t say a word as she handed us each a tissue from the Spiderman-themed packet she kept faithfully in the front pocket of her backpack. I smiled despite my tears. Another beam of light.

My two favorite English teachers saw us, and immediately walked over. They asked if we had somewhere to go, whether we were holding up okay. They shared their own feelings, but also words of encouragement: we would get through this together and come out even stronger.

“We’re always here for you if you want to talk.”

My smile grew again despite my tears. They had no obligation to be our therapists, yet they were willing to help unravel the mess of tangled threads I had become. Suddenly I felt like the storm had begun to clear, transforming into a tranquil night.

As I stepped outside the library, the clear blue sky and bright sun starkly contradicted the invisible cloud hanging over the campus. The quad that was usually filled with laughter was now a field of tears, hugs, and goodbyes. It was heartbreaking to see everyone so downtrodden, yet at the same time uplifting to see everyone’s support for each other. I trained my eyes on the brick path, hoping no one would notice my tears, but in the one second I happened to look up, my eyes locked with a classmate’s. Her expression softened in an instant.

“Aww, come here,” she said, arms outstretched. I did. She held me and told me it was going to be okay. I had always known she was friendly, someone that I wanted to know better even though we weren’t close. But on a day like this, no one cared about friend groups or high school circles.

As I continued walking to my dorm, tears slowly drying, I ran into one of my day student friends. She told me if there was anything I needed, she would be happy to help, even offering to let me stay at her house if I had nowhere to go. I almost cried again, this time from appreciation.

As I kept walking, more and more people comforted me with hugs, words, or even just their gaze. It felt like each person was lighting a lantern, its individual glow merging with all the rest to light up my sky and vanquish the darkness.

On the last day of school, the seniors wore white—white like graduation dresses, like new beginnings. In a circle, arms on each other’s shoulders, they cried out in unison. I looked upon the sea of white with wistfulness, but also hope, because I knew it was not just my lanterns flying into the sky, not just the lanterns of hundreds of others at my school. It was millions of people in this state, and billions of others around this world. Luminous, effulgent lights of care, love, community, and unity.

In times of darkness—together—we will shine.

We’re Stronger Together, A Poem

I was out there in a world,

That had no restrictions

To where I could go.

Until this monster arrived,

And it made me feel

Like I’m incarcerated,

That we are all incarcerated.

Nowhere for me to go,

Nothing for me to explore,

But that doesn’t matter,

Because some of us are risking their lives

To combat this.

We should thank them, because

Those who put their lives at stake,

Just to protect us,

Are doing something

That most of us may refuse to do.

Let this be something that inspires our posterity.

We will show that we were strong,

Even during the worst of times.

We’re stronger as a community.

We will get through this.

The more people who work to defeat this,

Then the stronger we will be.

A battle.

We must win this battle,

And defeat this monster,

Because if we work together,

Then we will be able to win,

And victory will be ours.

Peace

There is a new sound in the air,

It’s faint, but regardless it is there,

But what?

A new smell is in the air,

The perfume of the mother 

who has given us health and care,

But who?

There is a new taste in the air,

A refreshingly sweet candy to consume,

Its soothing resolution is colorful against this darkness,

But where?

The first petals of Spring have arrived,

but no one dares to admire their glory,

enveloped in television stories,

But if we listen to our senses

in these times of trouble,

we can find–

Peace.

Here is peace.

A Covid-19 Personal Essay

COVID-19 has been a scourge to our community, nation, and world. It has brought much pain and suffering to millions and in America alone has killed over 40,000 citizens. My own experiences with the shutdown have been difficult to deal with and adjust to like in most other countries around the world. This essay will take a look at how that process affected me and the differences it made in my life.

I am a junior in High School from the state of Ohio, both the aviation and presidents state, and I am fortunate that I live in a region of the state that does not have a lot of people in it. That region is in the Southeastern part of the state, also known as Appalachia. Prior to the closure by COVID-19, my school had experienced closures due to a flu outbreak; and my AP Government class had to cancel their trip to the state Supreme court. Of course both of these events were only harbingers for what was to come. For some reason the early talk about COVID-19 originated in my Hon. Chemistry class in early March. Some days these talks would take up most of the class period with the kids expressing their concern and the teacher working to help reason out my classmates’ fears. Even as this was going on my classmates and I continued to perform our work and assignments as usual. It was on Thursday, March 12 that all of that changed. My parents received alerts on their phones that my school would close for three weeks by issue of the governor, Mike DeWine. The next day, Friday, was a crazy day with all that went on. My AP Government teacher reminded our class that this was going to be remembered in the history books, something I had thought as well. During lunch that day the student body, of which there were only a few hundred, were divided into the cafeteria, gym, and outdoors in groups of 100ish. We were dismissed from school that day with packets and work online, but unsure of what was to come.

Things only got worse after school let out. The original groups of 100 turned to 10 rather quickly. In no time the now well known 6-foot rule came into practice. Governors and the President both had daily briefings about the virus and how they were working to fight it. The Sunday after I was let out of school, March 15, all restaurants in the state were closed and only allowed to accept drive-thru orders. Additionally, the State cancelled their primary election that was supposed to take place Tuesday the 17. This detail was of primary upset to me due to the fact that, in the state of Ohio, if you are 17, but will be 18 by the general election, you are eligible to vote in the primaries. I happened to fit into this category. That night, the 17th of March, I wrote the following reflection on the recent state of things: “This is a rather interestingly boring time right now with the outbreak of COVID-19. I call it interesting because of the entire world’s reaction to it, boring because of how it impacts people. At least three weeks until we go back to school. A time when only ten people are supposed to be in one place at a single time. All of these circumstances only allow so much to be done. I have a good deal of school work to do over break and I will not enjoy it. I was supposed to vote in the primary election too, but it was rescheduled due to the virus. I hope all of this does not go on longer than it has to, because I don’t like it.” Perhaps at the time I was being a little upset at the way things had changed, and to be honest I still am. 

Speaking of the school work that I had to do at the time, it was, and has been, an interesting process. Seeing as I am a student who likes to take challenges, I am enrolled in either all honors or AP classes. Of these classes, as previously mentioned, I received both packets and online work. For the purposes I would like to display here, I will briefly discuss my work in English, though History is my favorite subject. Much of the work that I did online stemmed from a book called Hillbilly Elegy that is based in Appalachia. I would read a certain amount of the book at a time and later record my thoughts on it in an essay format. Doing this and work for my other classes proved to be a challenge for me. Setting times to work and time to play became difficult tasks. Eventually my father stepped in and helped by establishing a more structured work plan that has worked quite well. During this time I also did small work around the house and helped to stain my parents’ porch with help from my brother.

It was announced this past Monday, the 20th of April, that school would be cancelled through the end of the year. This was a rather disheartening, but not surprising, event to me. My teachers had had online chats, but I was looking forward to seeing my classmates again this year. The faculty has informed students that they hope to have events for this year’s seniors, but I do not feel that it will be the same. COVID-19 has taken out much of the excitement involved with the end of the year as well as the summer. As I look to becoming a senior in high school next year I hope that all of the hard work that has been put into defeating this dreaded killer is fruitful and all of us will see a brighter future tomorrow.

The Diaries of Privilege

March 10, 2020: Bergen County Technical Schools closed – possibly the best news of my junior year experience.

I was scheduled to have my tonsils removed March 12. Missing the last two weeks of the marking period due to recovery would not have done any good for my critical junior year GPA. From my point of view, this Coronavirus saved me.

March 11, 2020: Bergen County Technical Schools were still behind on building an online curriculum. 2 days off for students.

I felt that God was answering my prayers: putting an end to a hellish junior year, allowing me to go into surgery stress free. The universe was finally on my side. I went out for burgers with my mom and boyfriend to celebrate our break from school. How inappropriate this celebration was, we had yet to realize.

March 12, 2020: Tonsil removal surgery date. Also the second day of plummeting stocks and President Trump’s European travel ban.

What an easy day it was going to be. Fall asleep with tonsils, wake up with them gone. With no piled-up work to complete after surgery, I knew I was going to be treated like an absolute princess. I was in my maximum state of emotional comfort, with nothing to worry about. I think something was happening with the market or whatever that day too. I saw it on the TV in the waiting room, but I don’t know. My operation, of course, was my priority.

March 17, 2020: Most painful day of the tonsillectomy recovery process. Millions under lockdown in Europe. Thirty seven U.S. states close their public schools. 

I swear I felt like the universe had turned its back on me again. I was in more pain than I could have imagined. I could barely swallow my own saliva, and the pressure in my throat made my ears throb as if I was sitting at the bottom of the ocean. I wish my parents would stop watching the news and pay attention to my pain. I get it, Coronavirus is getting serious, but I’m in pain too.

March 26, 2020: Fully recovered from the tonsillectomy. 3.3 million jobless claims. One-third of the world is living under coronavirus restrictions. New York City is now the epicenter for U.S. coronavirus cases. 

With the pain drawing to an end, I was finally able to enjoy my “Corona-cation.” My introverted self frankly enjoyed the restricted movement. It was so nice to see my parents able to have more quality time together, as well as with the whole family. My friends kept complaining on social media about how staying with their families stressed them out. I wished they would stop taking things for granted.

I loved the company of my bed most. I’d forgotten how nice it was to have a solid eight hours of sleep. I’ve got to switch out my pillows soon though; they’re giving me neck pain. I wonder how the homeless are doing.

I ate all three meals at home now, of course. Was my mom’s cooking always this good? I wonder if those jobless people are finding enough to eat. 

I was living my best life. How could I possibly ask for more? I hoped nothing would change. Is that too ignorant of me to ask for?

April 1, 2020: Neighboring schools start cancelling school events. The U.S. has more confirmed cases than any other country. 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die in the next few weeks.

Junior proms were the main talk of my social media. My friends from neighboring towns were both sad and angry about having wasted money on dresses.

I envisioned the cancellation of my prom in the near future. At least I hadn’t ordered my dress yet. I was so thankful I had nothing to worry about, but I also hoped all those sick people on the news were okay. This Coronavirus thing is starting to be a little scary. Junior prom potentially being cancelled still sucks though. 

April 6, 2020: 1.27 million infected and 69,000 killed worldwide from COVID-19. The U.S. surgeon general said this week would be “the hardest and saddest,” and a “9/11” moment.

I was growing sick of this quarantine lifestyle. Without anywhere to go, anyone to see, anything to do, life was becoming a bland cycle. With all this extra time, I started to complain. All anyone had to talk about was COVID-19 and I was bored of hearing about the same thing. Coronavirus is spreading. Stay at home. Healthcare workers are running out of masks. Hospitals are short on ventilators. The number of unemployed has reached a historic peak. Those vulnerable to domestic abuse have no escape. People are dying. But I’m bored and I have every right to complain.

The sad reality is that it took a global pandemic and the changed lives of millions for me to fully love the many things I take for granted. My ignorant self sought joy through satisfying my greed and selfish desires. I initially chose to overlook the millions of people around the globe who are suffering from COVID-19, whether directly or indirectly. Instead, I chose to reflect on myself, and all the things that I didn’t have. I chose to complain about all that was wrong with my warm home, full refrigerator, comforting bed, internet access, access to education, and my employed and forgiving parents.

Yet still, even during this global pandemic are those who remain discontented, complaining about the things they don’t have. Despite the daily reminder of those who are losing everything to the rapid spread of COVID-19, we choose to seclude ourselves from the tragedies of the real world and look for reasons to justify our discomfort in the midst of all our blessings. We choose to take, we choose to only satisfy ourselves, and we choose to keep the world revolving around us, when really our world is suffering because we choose to spoil ourselves with ignorance.

Carrying On in the Dark and Lonely Hour

Last year, I had many plans. My mom and I had planned to go to Japan sometime during spring break this year, and my excitement was as large as the island nation itself. There would be so many attractions there: sights which cause curiosity to bloom amongst the country’s cherry blossoms; food with delicious scents and tastes that dance into the nose and mouth; and a vibrant culture which awakens even the saddest person with pure felicity. By January, though, COVID-19 had already terrorized multiple countries that included Japan, so my mom was forced to put this destination in the backburner. We thought of other destinations, too—from far-away South America to nearby Boston. But as the demon of a virus spread farther around the globe, one by one these plans were no longer a possibility. Sure, I was sad, but there wasn’t a flood of sorrow in my soul; I still had things I could do around here in my little home in the DMV. Little did I know, however, that COVID-19 would continue to spread its torture across the United States, hurling me into a dust storm of anxiety, sorrow, and insanity.

The reality of this pandemic didn’t hit me until my sister, Jess, made me stay at home. Originally, only my mom and grandma—whose health conditions and ages made them vulnerable to the illness—were forced to stay put, but the fact that I could spread COVID-19 to them forced me to go into lockdown in my own home. I always loved the apartment I lived in since I was born, despite the ice-cold marble floors and germ-infested kitchen that I hated. But the fact that I couldn’t go outside—not even for a simple five-minute walk—soon led my happiness to go into hiding. At some point during isolation, the flood of sorrow that hadn’t been in my body before was now there, and my mind was sinking within it faster than I could say my own name. I couldn’t even bear looking at my beautiful caramel-colored chihuahua, Maisie, who my family and I took home in July 2019. I was with Maisie every single day, and the fact that I was being imprisoned in a jail cell and was falling deeper into sadness made me not love her anymore.

But the sadness wasn’t the worst of this storm. I had anxiety stemming from school pressure long before this pandemic, and the fact that we were trapped in a frightening new era left me in the No-Man’s Land of emotional vulnerability, therefore worsening my condition. The vulnerability came about whenever I heard or thought about the tragedies of this pandemic, such as people dying, hospitals being overwhelmed, and grocery store shelves running empty. That was when the crying fits came. Just the stress of school and hearing pandemic-related things—like not being able to leave the apartment—caused me to shed so many tears, I could have created a raging river in my home. At one point during isolation, I cried once—maybe even twice—a day for a whole week. It was an emotional relief whenever I cried, but at the same time a giant tree breaking from the impact of this storm was at the brink of crushing me. Sometimes, things seemed so hopeless that I considered suicide. The thoughts weren’t new, but the fact that the world was a non-stop raging hurricane just because of a virus made it difficult for me to control myself emotionally, and I believed that the rain would never stop to reveal a beautiful rainbow. And I wasn’t only concerned about my own life. I worried about the people I loved getting COVID-19, such as my mom, who literally saved me from suicide and comforted me in my darkest days; my grandma, who always made me laugh with her Puerto Rican grandma antics and silly jokes; and especially Jess, who’s currently on the front lines caring for COVID-19 patients even as her stress grows exponentially. 

However, as the days went by, the sky began to clear up a bit. Doing things such as listening to music, focusing on personal writing projects—including this essay—and even schoolwork and playing with Maisie (who I’m starting to love again) has brought me some sense of stability. In fact, just cutting out the news from my life has made a huge, positive difference. I am thankful to say that even though I still have my worries, I don’t cry as often now, and the anxiety, sadness, and suicidal thoughts have decreased substantially.

As things continue to improve for me, I have hope for the days ahead. Maybe society will change for the better; love for all will filter the polluted air, and we will appreciate more than ever those who are currently doing so much for us storm-weary people. There will be a day when this virus will reduce to a microscopic minimum, and life will slowly become normal again. I don’t want to give up on life just yet, because I want to be here to experience that day. So until then, I will continue to stay as strong as I can up to the day this storm passes and beyond. And besides, we all have to go through rainy days in life, don’t we?

And You Feel Like a Child

Stay home, they say, stay home.

And you think that they sound

like reprimanding parents,

and you feel like a child

as you look outside your window

and nod.

And you remember, staring beyond the window panes,

how they told you that

the sky was your limit.

But you look up now and see that your sky is the ceiling,

painted white.

Your world has a ceiling,

and your far away plans

become necessities, because your ceiling

is your sky, and Now

becomes engulfing

as you stare

and look

and nod

out your window,

like a child.

A New Normal

Imagine being able to control time and press pause on everything. That’s what life is like now. Sports, school, activites, events, all cancelled, postponed, or done online.

One day we went to school with all of our friends laughing, talking, and then we found out that we wouldn’t be going back until… an undetermined time. At first we thought it would be fun but you never know how good something is until it’s gone. There is so much less interaction without school. Even if it’s not fun at least school is entertaining. Also, although school is online now, it is extremely hard to learn without watching a teacher. We have to work even harder to get our education. It’s also very stressful having to manage everything yourself and step up to the responsibility. 

You would think that being off from school would be fun right? Well, that’s because normally on breaks you get to do fun things. However, our entire state is a ghost town. No going out to eat, bowling, going to movies, or parties. After the first few days, the excitement wears off and it’s just pure boredom. No highs or lows, just a long, long straight line. 

Unfortunately, this outbreak has canceled many different events. Sporting events, concerts, dances, parties. Anything and everything is either postponed or just straight up cancelled! The poor class of 2020 will most likely not get a proper graduation or prom. All sorts of activities that we have been looking forward to for the longest time are all gone.

Households are chaotic. Parents are trying to work from home, while children are doing remote learning. Nevermind how impossible it is to take care of toddlers and babies! Spending time 24/7 with only your family makes you argue with them more often. You might think that working or going to school from home might be easier but it actually comes with a lot of complications.

Resources are almost impossible to find! For some reason toilet paper and hand sanitizer seem to be disappearing from every store. If they’re still in stock, then their price will be absolutely ridiculous. Even getting food for your family is hard because stores are filled with germs but orders online are booked. Plus, if you get an online order you still have to sanitize it once it arrives. Especially less fortunate people who don’t have the money to pay for resources are in a very hard position now more than ever, families who can’t acces food or don’t have the technology for online schooling. 

Thank you to all of the doctors, nurses, and scientists who are helping us find a vaccine for the coronavirus and treat those infected with it. Also, to the essential workers like delivery people, grocery store workers, and many others who are keeping the world running during these times of crisis.

Everyday people like you and me can also do our part to end this soon and go back to normal life. Please, please, please practice social distancing and stay inside if you can! Going out will spread the disease, making this last longer and endangering other people’s lives. Another thing you can do is donate to foundations that support scientists looking to develop a vaccine or donate money to help essential workers. Do your part and we will get through this together!

How to Help the Helpers

Put food into a sack,

That they may lack.

Do it for a nurse, or a med,

Cheese, chocolate, water, or bread.

It matters not,

Whatever you bought,

It need not be a lot,

It is not necessary, 

But it would be a kind thing to do.  

They will appreciate anything,

So, it need not have bling,

Or be fit for a king.

They work day and night,

There is no end in sight,

So, help the helpers!

Be kind,

And keep in mind

How fortunate you are.

There shall not be a doubt

That you are not lucky in every way.

No matter what your story or situation is,

Do not forget to say

Thank you to those who help us,

And discuss the things we are fortunate for more.

Do your part,

And add an item or two to the cart,

for the helpers.

In tough times,

Always remember what is most of significance is that you are kind,

So, help the helpers!

The Future

Our future, it’s uncertain. We’re on a path to self destruction, but almost no one seems to care. Right now, the future of humanity is in a plane with no pilot, dropping out of the sky. Every single passenger can fly the plane, but no one wants to risk unstrapping their seatbelt and walking into the cockpit. That would be dangerous. So when I think of a future, two scenarios come to mind.

In the first scenario, no one stands up, and the plane crashes. It’s a time and place where water is scarce, trees seldom stand, and food is a luxury. Where the once lush Earth is now bleak, barren, and brutally hot. Where our skin gets burned when we step outside, where we need to wear oxygen masks to survive, where everyone is the enemy. Where we go extinct. We’ll look back in anguish and wonder where it all went wrong.

We burned too much fossil fuels. Wouldn’t stop. Bred too much livestock. Wouldn’t stop. Cleared too many trees. Wouldn’t stop. Wasted too much stuff. Wouldn’t stop.

And we’ll think, Why didn’t we do something? Why didn’t we stop when we knew we should’ve? We’ll think, and think, and think some more, our oxygen mask clamped against our red, searing, sweltering face. We’ll think with our stomach rumbling in the background, our tongues cracking, lips chapped. We’ll think and think and think and think, until we can’t think anymore. We’ll probably come up with lots of excuses. Excuses like, it would have been impossible to stop or lots of people would suffer if we tried to do something. This is what we’ll tell our kids, our grandkids. We’ll try to explain to them, try to make them see it from our point of view. But they will never forgive us. Because no excuses will ever excuse the fact that we knowingly did this to ourselves. That we did it, hoping with almost no hope that the data was faulty, that the predictions wouldn’t come true. That the scientists, the activists, that they were wrong, all wrong. But they weren’t.

But there’s another way. We can take off our seatbelts. We can stand up. We can fly the plane, and save ourselves.

When the coronavirus struck, we took action. Schools were closed. Countries locked down. We didn’t pretend it wasn’t real. We searched for solutions. The world united and took action. This kind of leadership, it’s what we need right now. It’s what we need if we want future generations to even have a future.

The coronavirus, it’s awful. Hundreds of thousands have died, and more will certainly follow. But if there’s one positive to this disease, one lesson to be learned, it’s that we can work together to accomplish a common goal, no matter the size. Once we accept this, we can solve our most daunting challenge ever: climate change.

We can do it. The solution, it’s right in front of us. It’s been there for years. We just need to take action. And once we do, it’ll be great. It’ll be historic. Our kids, our grandkids, they’ll listen in awe as we tell them how the great world leaders of the 2020s turned it all around. And then they’ll ask, “but how did you do it?” And we’ll look back and remember how we changed our fate. We’ll tell them all the details.

We burned too much fossil fuels. But we stopped. Bred too much livestock. But we stopped. Cleared too many trees. But we stopped. Wasted too much stuff. But we stopped.

They’ll learn about how we stopped doing what was easy, and started doing what was right. They’ll learn about how we knew that the data wasn’t faulty, that the predictions would come true if nothing changed. They’ll learn about how we stopped hoping that the scientists, the activists, that they were wrong, all wrong. Because they were right.

COVID-19 Through the Eyes of a Teen

COVID-19 was, at first, a dream come true. A whole month home from school! But then, things started to go downhill. The city closed down, slowly. First were the schools, and then went Micheals, AMC theaters, and then, the final blow to New York, Broadway. Broadway is the center of New York. It is a dream that is not even a fantasy that could have been imagined. 

To kids in New York, it begins with the outdoors. To venture outdoors is sometimes a risk not worth taking. Every child needs fresh air, and that necessity now is being snatched away. To be outside could be getting you or someone else sick. Now, kids everywhere are being forced to stay inside, with only a computer and some other activities for comfort. Going outside means exercise, and that is a necessity. A dream come true at the beginning, and then a nightmare at the end. 

Online school as well is disrupting learning. Being on a computer for a long time every day, five days a week is going to hurt children and adults alike. Also, everyone needing the computer is going to strain relationships and cause arguments between children. The arguments will worsen even more as people cannot leave the house and get away from each other. Computers have always been a tool, but now they have become a necessity that is needed in every household in order to function. Computers are a necessity in the world of today and tomorrow, but until the pandemic is over and even afterwards, computers may have a boom in usage in the average American household. Computers have helped, but they also hurt your eyes, and your life. 

Coronavirus may be showing the world a full scale pandemic and how bad the world is getting. This world scale pandemic may destroy half of the world’s population, and plunge the economy into a depression from which we may never recover. The mask and ventilator companies are getting a lot more money, and Walgreens and all other stores that sell necessities are getting a lot more people visiting. Now, the stores have to limit the amount of people inside and have to ensure the safety of their employees. Spiderman sums up the coronavirus effects with this famous quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

COVID-19 has been hurting the world more than helping it. To kids all around the world, they all have to stay at home with limited ways to exercise and get their energy out. COVID-19 has been hurting this planet mentally and physically, and has helped corporations while humbling them by making them help employees and allowing only a few people at a time. The COVID-19 virus may last for one more month to another whole year. The future is uncertain: we don’t know how many people will die, we don’t know what will happen next, and most importantly, we don’t know the effects of COVID-19 on the world. One thing is for certain. There will be a lot of changes to the world hierarchy, whether in schools or in jobs. There will also be a lot of changes to the economy. Everything in this moment is constantly changing, and to the kids of today this will affect the world of tomorrow. On the bright side though, all those kids who have lived through this time will have ideas about how to deal with a pandemic if it does happen in the next generation. 

Beyond the Walls

Stuck in a surreal painting 

Beyond these walls, clocks melting 

Sluggish time, present and future lost

Humility, life lessons at steep cost. 

Desperate for restful sleep 

Beyond these walls, disconnect so deep 

Guilty privilege, food, shelter and more 

Paralyzing fear, parents at work or at the store.

Expect to discover a muse 

Beyond these walls, dashed hopes and deadly news 

There’s no end to this storm 

Still, rush to do, to create, to perform.

Pause, embrace the authentic 

Beyond these walls, not all catastrophic 

Let me be, won’t be fragile for long

Will step up, will be strong.

And So The Sun

It’s been honking all morning

The highway is filled with cars

Of people trying to make it someplace different than where they are

Trying not to be late

But the traffic’s making them wait.

The cars pass by a school

They pass by some stores and shops

They pass by some restaurants and salons

All working non-stop

The day had only begun

And there’s so much to be done

Today’s a morning

Just like any other morning

Of human civilization under the sun.

And so the sun

When looking down

Thought, “What would happen

If things changed around?

The world is just like a sun

That will not set

When will the world

Ever rest?

What if these cars had no place to be?

What if these stores and shops closed

And people were to forced to focus only on the things they really need?

What if people were forced to spend time with themselves?

Forced to reflect and focus on their health?

And I’m not talking about just one town

What if the whole world changed around?

Everyone together

All connected

All going through the same thing

All equally affected.

What if instead of putting them to waste

People appreciated the resources they had?

Not constantly taking for granted

What’s in their grocery bag?

What if all this pollution started declining?

With the highways mostly empty

And fewer planes flying?

What if families were forced to bond

Whether or not they got along?

And the glitter and glamour of a celebrity life

What if you took away all the hype?

And forced everyone to live the same way

Forced to see they’re all alike.

And what if parents watched their kids learn and grow?

Not sending them away each day

But keeping them at home?

What if people were forced to connect

In a place where countries don’t have boundaries

Called ‘the internet.’

What if there was a deeper feeling of unity?

With more people being aware of their communities?

What if people had to redefine

The things that they find fun

Without being able to go to parties and clubs?

What if an extroverted society

Had to find a way to do things more quietly?

Just for a while

What if there was a collective pause?

So the upcoming mornings

Wouldn’t move so fast

And people could reevaluate

The way they were living in the past?”

And so the sun

When looking down

Thought, “What would happen

If things changed around?

Wonder how this would shake things up?”

I guess we’ll find out in a couple of months.

If I Had Known

If I had known that 

when I flipped my roommate off

with a smug smile instead 

of a hug before spring break

that I wouldn’t ever hug her again,

I would’ve told her that I was proud of her

and that she showed me 

the safest place I had ever had

that I had run to her and she kept me loved

and hidden

and learning

I would’ve breathed deeper into the ramen crusted air and her dirty

laundry clad shoulder because the dryer broke three 

days before we left 

to go home 

home? 

was / left / was kicked out of / lost / was robbed of

home.

I would’ve learned to knit with my 

grandmother instead of tugging

on my mom’s sleeve and begging

to leave because I was bored of old, old 

couches and clothes and music and clouds of minds left

in the years before me

memories of wars and people I’ve never known

I would’ve taken

a moment to learn their names to tell

them to the kids I might never have a chance to have

I would’ve written down her red sauce recipe 

even though I never liked it

I would’ve run free and 

breathed.

without a beast taking time from 

seniors,

ours and the kids who

will never get the chance to be 

one again. 

I like to think that

I would’ve.

Who knows.

A Collection of My Quarantine Feelings

My old life wastes away, carried by the same wind that carries the virus that ruined my senior year. I used to run and jump. I felt the deep burn of fatigue run up my legs, punch my thighs, and sit on my chest. I always hated that feeling in the moment. My mind was often unwilling to let my body continue suffering through the symptoms of athletics. In my bed, I can feel myself disintegrating. My mind and body left without exercise, floating into nothingness. My bones slowly lose density as I am untethered in deep space, with nothing to latch on too. The concept of doing bicep curls in my basement disgusts me, as all I want is to slam my chest barbarically, lock eyes with my opponent, and see him find out that I am and will always be better. I know now that that feeling may never return.

The streets are different to me. Barren and fallow, I traverse a ghost town in a car that nobody cares I have now. The lights are always green. My drives aren’t the same. I am late to everything, ask anyone who has known me for more than a year. Whenever I say that I’ll be somewhere in five minutes, they call it the David Five, which usually means closer to fifteen or twenty. That was before. I drive aimlessly now, accelerating out of desire not need. The same traffic lights that caused me irritation once now leave me wanting more. They are boring. They give me what I want. Now I realize that I don’t even want that.

I broke up with my girlfriend over the phone. I cried for the first time since my basketball season ended. I know she cried a lot that week. She was amazing. She was the best friend anyone could ever ask for. Hopefully I can change that was to is soon. Her laugh is unmatched, especially the ugly one. She snorts sometimes if you get her really good. Her nose is slopped like the tips of my skis. Her eyes are like diamonds, her lips are like pillows, and her cheeks look like they are being held up with strings. I am really bad at communication and since the year started I never told her any of this. I don’t know why. I wish it hadn’t burned out. A star that once shone so bright slowly collapses in on itself, leaving nothing but a black abyss behind. I felt like everytime we talked I fell deeper into that abyss. I wish I knew why. We dated for two and a half years and now it’s over.

Silver Linings of Self Quarantine

When people from the US heard about the virus in China, some of us thought it would never spread so worldwide. We looked at it like it was barely our business, yet here Covid 19 is, affecting all our lives. The virus doesn’t discriminate or single out who it infects. No one is immune to the virus. Everyone and anyone could get it, because we are all under the same sky, the same humanity, with the same weaknesses. This pandemic shined a light on the fact that we are so similar. Of course our own souls and personalities are different, but I can see how the way we all spend our quarantine has been very similar.

In quarantine, many teens are doing the same things: scrolling through social media, doing the same TikTok dances, playing Animal Crossing, having the goal to “glow up” before we return back to school (even though we barely have the commitment), and complaining about how bored we are and how there is “nothing to do.”

This quarantine keeps being seen in such a pessimistic view. And I know we can all agree this pandemic is awful and it’s truly terrifying to think about how contagious the virus is and how easy it is to lose a loved one in these times. But there are so many silver linings to our situation. This event is unifying us, we are coming together and talking about things more and more as a worldwide community. We join forces, using so many of our similarities to try to overcome this adversity we all have. 

Many people reacted to the virus, understandably, in panic. Many people started hoarding supplies at home as a comfort mechanism because it made them feel safe. It was like an every man for himself type act. As many of us were able to see the results, that caused more panic because the people who actually did desperately need the supplies weren’t able to get any because everything was bought out by the hoarders. 

The best way to keep everyone safe and healthy is for us to be mindful of others and try to work together because of how limited things are. When we try our best to stay hopeful in these crazy times, it will help us realize the best ways to make the most of our situation.

The little golden pieces I’ve found since this quarantine began are that people are actually calling eachother again. This normal phone call used to seem old fashioned to many, but now we are all communicating and connecting to each other much more freely over the phone with our extra time. Some of the biggest complaints I hear from teens are that you “can’t be with your friends.” I never realized how much everyone relied on each other for happiness until now. But the positive is, you really can be with your friends and family more often now, even if it isn’t physically. If you’re a student, you may have thought it was easier to connect to your friends while at school, but now that you’re home you realize you have all the technology around you. You could have virtual parties and sleepovers every single day if you wanted to, rather than your school telling you when you are and not allowed to speak to your friends.

Along with having more time to connect to friends and family, the quarantine time offers many opportunities for everyone to pursue what they truly care about. Back before anyone knew this type of chaos could happen, I would always complain to my mom that “if I didn’t have to go to school every day, I could get much more important things done at home.” I bet many other kids have said the same things to their parents as well; and I understand school provides a safe environment for everyone to meet, interact, and grow with a schedule and planned activities, but for some very motivated kids, the school shut down feels like an answer to a wish! The situation provides a chance for more challenge, creativity, and strength for more targeted interests. Students have more opportunities to dig deeper into something that they want to learn more about that isn’t strictly math or english. There are many online enrichment platforms that many of us get to have access and be exposed to to learn and grow.

Along with being able to work on yourself during quarantine, you may learn and grow to enjoy some simple “me time.” Quiet alone time is something some people consider extremely lonely. But being alone isn’t always a bad thing, and spending time with yourself can be more refreshing and enriching than partying with friends. The truth is, we will all be forced to find new different ways to enjoy and be happy with ourselves without needing friends directly by our sides. Newfound joys in hobbies will probably be erupting throughout the social distancing phase. I believe everyone will come out of quarantine with a better sense of self.

Everyone can grow and benefit from this time to ourselves and with family. This social distancing time gives everyone more time to organise, reflect, and spend time with themselves and stay connected to everyone they love and care about. We can all also become more thankful for the things we already have and maybe take for granted. Many of us and our family members are lucky enough to be healthy. While stuck inside, many of us get the luxury to have clean water and fresh food, as well as eating together! We should be grateful for whatever we can have. Everyone can find new angles and positive ways to look at this “Coronacation,” as many people call it. Us collaborating is the best way to help us find the lightness in this heavy situation. Although quarantine is meant to separate us, it is really bringing us more together than we thought.

The Small Branches on the Oak Tree

The-Coronavirus began as a sprout in the ground, wriggling its way to sunlight. It began to enlarge, growing big, unwieldy branches. But tucked by the sides of those leaning boughs are thin, unseen twigs. Every branch represents one aspect of change, but those twigs represent the things that have changed that are given barely enough attention. Uncertainty about what “normal life” looks like in the future is one of those twigs.

In just two months, I’m supposed to be packing up half-broken fans, too many batteries, and a green-and-white uniform stained with clay to head to sleep away camp. Camp has always seemed like some faraway, magical castle with golden turrets, but even more so now, just because at camp there’s fresh air and connection to real live people. To think that in two and a half months I could be laughing on the beach at the lake with my friends seems unreal. That’s probably because there is a great chance that it is unreal.

Every day there is constant uncertainty. People are uncertain about where to get food. People are uncertain about their paychecks. People are uncertain about how much longer quarantine could go on for. Some days, my parents suggest that we still go shopping for new camp gadgets, or try and email new campers about what to expect. Other days, they discuss the newly discovered “camp insurance,” a company to help you regain money that was paid for camp. All of a sudden, camp insurance is a necessity. Outrageous, some might say, outrageous to spend seven weeks living in the same room as ten other girls, sharing bathrooms and dining rooms and bunk beds.

I like to think of the two months looming between me and my golden-turreted castle as a rubber band. While the coronavirus persists, the rubber band of time stretches until it’s long and worn, but the second I’m back at school, the rubber band will snap back to normal shape and all of a sudden I’ll be at camp. 

But everyone’s been wondering about whether or not those days will ever seem normal, whether or not the rubber band will go back to shape after being stretched so far and for so long. I’m wondering whether I have seventy days until camp or four hundred thirty-five days.

Uncertainty aside, we all know what we want to happen. Undeniably, we all want life to go back to what it was before. We all wanted to celebrate recent holidays together, and we all want to celebrate upcoming ones together.

We would all be able to hug each other without worrying about infecting our loved ones. We could bring over crackers and appetizers without trying to keep them as clean as possible. Of course, this is what we want to happen. But we’re uncertain. What will probably happen is a virtual July 4th zoom with virtual backgrounds that portray fireworks. 

I saw a post on social media of a teenager predicting how quarantine and the Coronavirus will progress. They said that by June, it should all be cleared up. The post had a decent pile of likes. The main reason for people to like that post is because they agree, right? Or maybe it’s what they all want to happen.

The wood in our houses is weary of being knocked, and our fingers weary of being crossed. There’s not much we can do except hope that what happens is what we want to happen, and to stay away from the rest of the world.

We’re not supposed to go near anyone. We’re not supposed to enter public spaces without a mask. Kids aren’t even supposed to enter anywhere except their homes. The people of New York State have been quarantined for about four weeks now. It’s hard to remember what “normal” is.

Before now, normal for most kids would be going to the bus and heading off to school, going over to a friend’s house, doing homework, coming home to a family dinner. Is that how we picture normal now, though?

Because kids have been missing out on interactions outside of our families, we can only imagine the future being filled with interactions like hugging and high-fiving. Back to the rubber-band question—it’s improbable that the future holds these things. I will have, and maybe others will have, developed a need to restrain ourselves from going too close to other people or using public objects or facilities. Chances are that the second we get out of quarantine, we’ll be nervous to hug and constantly hold hands. Avoiding another outbreak will be crucial. 

Few people notice this, so it is a small branch tucked between two larger boughs of “normal life” and “human interaction.” The end of quarantine might not be what we expect it to be.

Quarantine makes us think about the uncertain future. It gives us many minutes a day to dwell on what we wish would happen. It activates our brains to exaggerate what the past was- and place that exaggeration into the future.

Will life ever be back to “normal”? Will what we want to happen come to life? Will we be able to immediately see our friends and distant family?

These twigs, these questions, will continue to grow in number and size. They will wave around quietly on the oak tree, waiting until the day we learn the answers. 

Waiting for a Bounce

You spend your whole life running. You barely pay attention to the honking horns, the blaring sirens. That’s all white noise to you. You don’t observe your surroundings. Your morning commute on the bus? If someone asked you who was the man in the fedora who always sneezed every time the bus stopped, you wouldn’t be able to tell them anything. You didn’t even know that man existed… you were too busy looking at your phone, or stressing about what school would bring, trying to make it before the first bell. You never noticed anything. Life was a speeding train with no intention of stopping.

And then, suddenly, someone pulled the brakes. Stores were closing, school closed indefinitely. Your family packs up and moves you all out to your house in the country, away from the only city you’ve called home.

At first, it’s not that bad. You can actually hear the birds outside, cheeping. You were never able to hear them before. At night, you don’t hear the horns honking, the ambulances blaring. Every night is a peaceful one, the only sound being the wind outside and the clock ticking in your room. The air is cleaner, and for once your nose isn’t always assaulted with the memorable smells of piss and car exhaust. 

You get to spend more time with your family, which was hard to do with your life moving so fast. You’re even learning how to drive (you haven’t broken anything, thank God). 

Then one night, snuggled in a blanket on the couch with your family, you see this movie. It’s one of those romantic ones with those big dramatic kissing scenes, like when the main character seizes their love interest by the waist and passionately kisses them on the top of a building. There’s music, the wind is pulling at their hair, the camera is going around them, a swoon-worthy scene in every aspect. Anyways, as you’re watching one of these scenes (this time the kiss happens in the middle of a staircase, not on top of a building), you wonder what it feels like to be kissed like that or kissed at all, because you, at the ripe age of 17, have never been kissed before. 

And with that realization comes a sinking feeling in your stomach, because, when public health safety precautions dictate you must social distance and stay six feet away from everyone, it may be awhile before you, a virgin in terms of kissing, will be kissed, and that really depresses you, for whatever reason.

Kissing is such a small concern, and you know that, but this realization becomes a catalyst, and suddenly, you realize you miss so many other things.

You miss your favorite bakery that sells the best croissants ever.

You miss being able to easily hug people.

You miss your friends. You miss seeing them in person, instead of through the grainy images of FaceTime, or Zoom, or whatever you use, depending on the type of phone your friend has.

You miss a city where the lights are never off, where there’s always something open at 2:00am in the morning, and though you are rarely out and about at that hour, the knowledge of that always comforted you when you would fall asleep at night, the neon lights of distant buildings shining through your bedroom window.

You miss your home.

You miss your life.

You do a lot of missing these days.

You miss the anticipation you felt before your summer program was cancelled. You miss a world before a pandemic, and just to comfort yourself, you watch anything filmed before the pandemic. You feel an ache in your chest of seeing people freely interacting, of people not subconsciously keeping more than an arms’ length radius from each other. You miss a world where people weren’t scared to touch… or at least, not more than they should be.

Quarantine makes you awfully philosophical. It is in one of these philosophical hazes, you stroll down a dirt path outside your house, the spring air rushing through your hair. It’s a reminder of how lucky you are: you still get to go outside. You close your eyes, taking in the scents of trees, of flowers, of wet dirt (it had just rained). Your house is by the sea, so the air has a slight tang that only salt and brine can bring. 

As you are taking all this in, you open your eyes, and stare at the tops of the trees, the distant blue strip of ocean hovering in the distance. And thoughts start meandering into your head, slow and lazy like maple syrup. 

You wonder when all this will end, if there is an end.

You wonder when people will stop dying.

You wonder if all of us are somehow dying, not just the very sick. It’s a very morbid thought. You give yourself time to work through why on earth you would think such a thing. 

You wonder if a small part of someone dies when they lose a loved one. 

You wonder if the life you’re living right now, lacking all the little and big things that make life wonderful, is a life at all.

You wonder if that’s at the core of every issue arising from the pandemic. Loss. You turn the word over and over in your head. In the afternoon sunlight, on that dirt path, you turn, ready to head home, when an epiphany comes to you. And it catches you completely by surprise.

You say the epiphany, not out loud, but in your head, over and over and over like the ringtone of your phone. Do you want to know what you thought at that moment? I’ll tell you.

You thought that the reason why everyone is slowly dying because of this pandemic, is because everyone has lost something.

And you wondered when everyone would begin to get something back instead.

Hello Coronavirus

Hello Coronavirus.

I see you over there in China.

Lotta crazy stuff you’re doing.

Well, have fun.

Oh shoot. You’re in America.

I’m actually surprised you made it this far.

I guess I’ll have to take you more seriously

The government has ordered us all to stay home till you leave.

Shouldn’t take long.

What? You’ve conquered New York City?

The infection rate is still climbing?

Morgues are overflowing!

Edward’s entire family is infected!

COVID-19, You’re scaring me!

How do I comprehend this chaos?

Sensei, COVID. If I were to die tomorrow,

What would I gain?

What would I lose?

Pandemics and Poker

It’s hard enough to play at the table of global powers.

Already keeping what’s most valuable to oneself 

Defended by distance. 

Then the chips go down.

Separation becomes isolation

The few feet of space now a void of unknown.

Within this solitude we think about what we keep

Instead of what we lose:

Our partners in the game.

We play to bolster our agendas

But we don’t win with empty seats.

Separate, Together

Raging through communities

A small, microscopic being

Sends full-grown humans into hiding –

What power it holds

Something we must control

Controlling us

We are overworked

Overtired, overburdened 

Underpaid

Jobless, helpless, foodless 

Doubtful 

Lucky families like mine

View lockdown as an adventure

We say we see when we don’t

Our nation divided

But look closer: 

For the overworked, recognition

For the jobless, hope

For the lucky, gratitude

For everyone 

Solidarity.

Separate, together.

Step into another’s shoes

Even if the shoes seem too small.

Perhaps the distance that keeps us apart

Will finally unite us.

Your Voice

In the dismal darkness, there is

someone drifting among floating

papers. Staring above.

Hoping for a light. Hoping for someone to

pull them out. Out of the darkness and into

the light.

Suddenly, a light illuminates the stars,

shining through the darkness.

And a voice says, “Write. Make your voice be

heard. Pull yourself out of the darkness and into

the light so you can walk towards a brighter future.”

So he writes about the stars and about the

wings of freedom shining through the murky

darkness so he can rise into the light.

Silver Linings

I am quarantined with my mom, my dad, and my triplet little sisters. Sounds a bit chaotic, doesn’t it? Two adults and four girls stuck all day in a not very big house. I used to think the universe was plotting against me by giving me triplet younger sisters. Why me? The odds of triplets are about 1 in 9000 and I was the one who ended up being their older sister. But although I haven’t always realized it, my sisters were the best thing that ever happened to me. Over the past few years, I forgot how lucky I was to be that 1 in 9000. It took being quarantined with them to make me realize once again how lucky I am to have them. Sometimes it takes going through hard times to realize how lucky you are. If the pandemic and staying home have taught me one thing, it’s that nothing is all bad. Everything has a silver lining. Although I lost some things when we were quarantined and my day to day life was put on hold, I gained so much more. I’ve gotten to spend more time with my family and now have a deeper appreciation for family and for sisterhood. With my sisters, I could never be alone, even in isolation.

When we were in elementary school, my sisters and I were inseparable. We went to the same school, and sometimes they would escape the kindergarteners’ area and sneak over to the big play structure so they could play with me and my friends. Every day I was in charge of walking them home from school. They were wanderers, so I would tell them to get in a line, hold hands, and follow me. It was like I was the mother goose and they were my little chicklings. When we got home, we would play pretend school. I would set up a fake classroom with our dolls and our chalkboard and pretend to be their teacher. We also had a play kitchen my grandpa made us out of wood. We would bake fake cakes and have pretend tea parties. We drew flowers and fairies with chalk on the sidewalk in front of our house.  We played hide and seek and we played games in our backyard.

But then we got older. One day we no longer went to the same school. I went off to middle school and left them behind. Every day I went to school and then after school I would go to soccer practice and do homework. I no longer walked my sisters home from school. We no longer played together after school. We no longer had tea parties or drew with chalk on the sidewalk in front of our house. With every day, with every month, with every year that passed by, our lives grew further and further apart. As my sisters grew into annoying tweens, I began to see my triplet sisters as more of a curse than a blessing. 

So when the quarantine began, I dreaded the coming months. I saw staying at home with just my parents and my sisters as a nightmare. But it turned out to not be such a nightmare, despite the things that were canceled and everything I lost, I gained so much. We gained a stronger sense of family togetherness. Spending this past month with my sisters has made me realize how lucky I am to have them. Often family and sisterhood are things that are just taken for granted, and with our busy lives, we often don’t stop to enjoy and appreciate these things. 

Now that our schools are closed, I feel like we’re little kids playing school once again. Every day I teach them math and help them with their homework, I am their pretend teacher once again. We bake often, this time for real, not in our wooden play kitchen. We make cakes and muffins and we even made ice cream. We play soccer in our backyard. We have picnics that remind me of the pretend tea parties we would have as small children. 

When you’re in quarantine, everyday life is more simple, the days seem to sort of just blend together. To many, that might sound like a bad and boring way of life. And I saw it that way at first, too. But then I realized that with my sisters, even quarantine has its bright sides. Even the plainest of days are fun with them. My new day to day life is much different than it was before, but I’ve found happiness and joy within this new way of life. I feel like a little kid again. My days are filled with pretend school, baking, tea parties, picnics, playing games, painting the sidewalk with chalk, laying in the grass, and long walks. This life is plain and child-like, yes, but happy nonetheless. You can find joy in even the worst situations. 

I’m not going to say our quarantine is all sunsets and daisies. My sisters and I have our fights. Fights that usually end up in sixteen flailing arms and legs and some bruises. Always about the stupidest things like who gets the last scoop of ice cream left in the bin. There’s no doubt about it; my triplet sisters are triple the chaos. But I have learned to love the chaos. And in the end, despite our conflicts, they will always be there for me and I will always be there for them. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my sisters, and I couldn’t survive quarantine, or the rest of my life, without them. 

Beautiful Fragility

The world surged into surreality just as I turned fifteen. On March 12th, the stay-at-home order was put in place; five days prior, I’d been straightening my hair, meticulously glossing my lips, and ready to celebrate with my closest friends. I had an inkling of what was to come, thanks to my father’s mathematical predictions. I’d chosen to ignore it and have one relaxed evening, burying myself in the petty issues that come with being a teenage girl. So when the events began to unravel so quickly and suddenly, the threat of global havoc finally making itself clear in my muddled mind, it was hard to comprehend.

Looking back, week one’s events are hazy. I was happy that school canceled, as there were local cases and the thought of being around that many people began to terrify me. Other than that, I followed the news, lounged on the couch, and attempted to cook. I relished waking up late. It’s nice to think of it as a break, a relaxed suspension as those in charge scramble to fix this drastic change. As the days dragged on, the redundancy eventually got to me. My screwed-up sleep schedule and loud surroundings didn’t help either.

I decided to read and write, two activities I barely got to do when school is in session, yet even that got boring. I wanted to find some new talents, but it turns out baking isn’t for me. The cake—more like ‘unintentional incense’—sucked. I was reminded of my birthday party and the huge dessert we’d shared. We had been stupidly happy, bracing for the storm but not really. It was more like ‘I see that big wave, but I’m comfortably relaxing on my beach towel,’ and we moved on. My panic worsened, and I didn’t want to bombard my mother with these feelings, for she’s more paranoid than me.

To lessen my anxiousness, I stopped tuning into CNN. So when I eventually checked the data, I was surprised to see how 700,000 cases jumped to 1,000,000 in just three days. Then Boris Johnson was diagnosed—not a surprise, considering he did brag about shaking hands with COVID-19 patients—and any security I felt shattered. I’m not sure why; I barely know anything about him, just that he’s the Prime Minister of England. I suppose the invisible lines in my mind—those who are safe and those who aren’t—blurred. 

I tried to be prudent when I was younger, parroting the words of Carl Sagan: “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe. . .” Yet it’s just begun to resonate with me. We are not invincible; not as a nation, not as a planet. We go about our lives, ignoring the threat when it’s China, relaxing when it hasn’t reached our state, and then feeling shocked when it’s right in front of us. It takes one respiratory illness to flip the world upside down; any normalcy we’ve ever known put aside for the time being.

Of course, our knowledge will pull through. Science will pull through, vaccines and hydroxychloroquine and whatnot. Still, our vulnerability began to frighten me; who is really in charge? Who’s our protector, from viruses like COVID-19 or any other mass destructors? I could not find solace in spirituality, so I thought of my grandmother, who, if she had not passed away last November, would be confined to the house and writing poetry. She would’ve penned something personal, as I am right now. Perhaps everybody has philosophical tendencies during a pandemic.

So I broadened my mind. I centered my late-night thoughts not just around my concurrent experiences, but also around health-care employees and grocers and those deemed essential workers. Around the millions who have found themselves jobless in the midst of this unprecedented confusion. And of course, around the truly vulnerable ones to this virus: people with compromised immune systems, whether it be due to age or illness.

When I thought of them, the randomness of my privilege was clear in my mind. I’m lucky to stay at home with my family, for there are many that cannot. While my situation is extremely different from many people’s, we have all been thrust into this together. Our fragility is universal, and the connection is both frightening and beautiful. We are each other’s protectors. 

To honor those who are risking their lives for us every day, I’ll continue to stay home. And I’ll continue to find beauty in the fragility, as Carl Sagan also said: “For small creatures such as we, the vastness is only bearable through love.” I believe that. 

I’ll also continue to bake. I have time to master the art.

What I Hope I Sound Like Through a Gramophone

it was a time of prosperity

in heart and in gold

my neighbor had just bought a new cat

that didn’t like to eat cat food

         the irony did not slither past me

we shared an ice cream, by the shore

and then i found that i much preferred

your presence only in pictures

         and i used to chat every week on the phone

with a raspberry plate at my hip

and the words seemed to come easily

water off a duck’s back, i shake my head

         i preferred to build my bridges out of marble

the only problem was

that it made all of my guest’s feet cold

and it’s listlessness, it’s unfocused, it’s unforgiving

in this lighting

         the ugliest become lily of the valley

it’s become an unheard-of desire

to have a better valve of color between my creators

i take some hope, i must confess, from all of the cinema

i’ve devoured

         and the romanticism is infectious and surreal

in the capturing of the twitch of the man’s lips

against the bare oak of the outside tree

but i hold my tongue, i close my eyes

         one more night of silence won’t harm anyone

least of all my ailing suitors, who moved in to the floor below me

to retire into a stream of green

and allow myself to affect you

i don’t hope for much

         but i would be content to know that a piece of me

has situated itself as one of the many ribbons

in your soul.

Letter to a Future Generation

There were a lot of ways to look at the pandemic. It was every introvert’s dream come true and every extrovert’s worst nightmare. Kids were out of school all day long, while parents and hard-working adults were losing their jobs (and their minds, too). Sports were cancelled, prom, too, not to mention school plays and even graduation. I was in my eighth grade year, graduating middle school-seems so small and mundane now, but it felt huge then. 

First we were told to bring all our school supplies home during break, just in case. Then we were quarantined, then one week of distance learning, then two. Eventually there were cancelled plans and plane rides to France. Not to mention our final year together, gone. It felt like it was ripped away from us, like these experiences were now just gone. It felt like they had vanished in a blink of an eye. 

At first no one was worried; in fact, we were making fun of it, calling it anything from boomer remover to WWIII –  it was our only way of coping. We were coping with the idea that maybe our entire childhood and the people we love could be taken away from us in a way we couldn’t control. Taken away from us in a way that felt like five seconds fading away uncontrollably. Who knew what would happen? “Maybe we will be back to school and our regular lives next week.” or “What if this virus takes away our next two years?” or “What if this is how I die?” Every possible scenario was running through our minds, both good and bad. None of us knew what to expect. 

At least we spent more time with our family. At least we learned from home. At least we had next season. At least now we have time to watch that one tv show. But it wasn’t enough. 2020 was supposed to be our year – how could it have gotten so bad so soon? And I was only affected by quarantine and social distancing, I can’t imagine what it was like for those who had the virus.

We were scared for our lives. Would my trip to the grocery store be the moment when I start the end of my life? We had no idea what was to come. With all the misinformation spread through news, what were we to believe? Would it be gone by April? June? August? We were lucky enough to survive. The death levels rose, and our global confidence sank. It felt like a scene out of a movie. It didn’t feel real. 

Eventually reality set back in. A cure was found, ironically from a bat. Everything was back to normal, but still everything had changed. We as a planet were more conscious of our actions, and tried hard to not eat any more bats. At the end of the day, we cured ourselves. Not to be the devil’s advocate, but there was some good that came out of the virus. We grew stronger and steadier. And we did it together. 

Light in the Darkness

To some, darkness is exploding,

to others, fear is closing in,

to many, sickness is taking hold,

and to all, life is changing. 

But there’s more than chaos here. 

We can find laughter in the silence,

light in the darkness, 

smiles through the tears,  

and beauty in the ashes. 

There is an opportunity before us,

and we can use this time to change. 

To change our outlook,

to change our priorities,

and to realize the peace of simplicity. 

For some, laughter is breaking through, 

for others, lights are illuminating the darkness,

for many, smiles are shining through tears,

and for all, beauty is being discovered.

How COVID-19 Has Affected My Life: A Reflection on How It’s Going

Over the last month, I’ve been under a stay at home order, as has much of the rest of the world. There have been bad times along with the good ones, and I just want to share briefly how it has been for me as a kid, cooped up in the same house as my family day after day.

There are pros and cons. While my family has always emphasized time together, we are spending more time together now than ever, largely due to the fact that there are no extracurricular activities. I am a dancer, and that used to take up a large part of my afternoon and evening, five days a week. My older brother also does his fair share of extracurriculars (saxophone, tennis, piano). But now, as we are not allowed to go anywhere or be near anyone not in our family, our days are much more open, allowing more family time. 

Because of this new routine (or rather, lack of it), we have started to take daily walks. The trail behind our house is closed, about which we are all very sad. It has multiple loops that can mean a very long walk, and the trail is full of Dark-eyed Juncos, Black Phoebes, and White-tailed Kites, along with cotton-tail rabbits and jackrabbits, plentiful deer, and small rodents among the beautiful wildflowers and plants. I have always looked forward to taking a walk with the wind blowing in my hair and having fresh air fill my lungs, and it was such a shame to go up to the gate to the trail only to find it locked. It made me realize what a blessing the trail truly is.

However, we have managed to craft a route that is about four miles long, just by going along the streets behind our house. It is not the same as going along the trail, but seeing people’s nice yards that have been landscaped with a mix of pebbles, bark, various succulents, and other native plants blooming is a welcome sight from a computer screen and desk. The streets extend very far behind our house, and when you get to the top of some streets you can see all of the San Francisco Bay, from sparkling blue waters to the bright lights of cities across the bay. Somewhat surprisingly, the streets are steeper than the trail, giving our legs a nice challenge. One of the best things about our walks is that we have many meaningful conversations. For example, we talk about board games and how school is going, and my brother often has lengthy conversations about a board game he likes, called X-Wing (it is based on Star Wars). My older brother also sometimes skateboards along, providing entertainment and a change of scenery from our normal walks with mishaps from everything to falling off his skateboard to near collisions with lampposts.

These walks are now becoming a necessity. Being on a screen doing work all day is never someone’s idea of fun, and when you have four people in the same house on screens all day every day, that is not good news. We take walks to clear our minds and refresh them, and it helps very much.

A negative change that has occurred in my life is the greatly increased amount of time I am spending on a screen. My family never had many screens in our lives before the pandemic, so being on screens for remote learning/teaching/working is newer and our minds get easily tired, as well as our eyes. School was never focused on screens. But now, if I have to do something like a worksheet, I’ll upload it to a digital app and write on it with my Apple Pencil instead of doing it with pencil on paper. Tests are on the computer. Work is on the computer.  Everything, it seems, is on the computer. There is just so much screen time, and it has caused me to be crabbier than usual because I am not used to it. I used to have next to no time at all on a screen. Now, I can be on a screen for hours at a time. I’m not very happy about that turn of events, and neither is anyone else in my family, as they too suffer from this change.

I grew up without a TV in my house, and I have always relied on books as my main source of entertainment. I still do now, even though my family just recently got a television, and we use it about once a week for a movie or an episode of Fawlty Towers. Because I have not had screens in my life, I am simply not accustomed to being on a screen so much. It is just not part of my daily life as it is with a lot of kids across the world. I do not play video games, either. 

Another thing that relates to screens are the constant Zoom meetings. I have different teachers for every class, and each of those teachers meets with me three to five times a week. Some meetings can be highly productive and useful, while others prove to be a waste of time. If it weren’t for the class meets on Zoom, I could get my school work done much earlier. I don’t want to have a habit that takes me to Zoom as a default mode of communication right now, and I feel that my school has not thought about this fact. 

I am glad, however, to have the privilege of staying home comfortably, with good food every day, a comfortable bed, and enough resources to still be learning at home. While there are things I’d like to have changed, I’m still grateful that I lead a relatively normal life in these times. There are countless more things that I could complain about or praise, but that would take a lot of pages. 

Every day, I wish that the Coronavirus will end. Of course, I know that it won’t be granted, but each day I put out a little bit of my hope that this crisis will not be continuing much longer. I am hopeful as well as disappointed. I think about the ways that my life has changed. And then I realize, “You know, maybe this isn’t so bad after all.”

Thoughts and Conceptions: COVID 19

Chaos and history. 

There is perhaps no other incident, in my little bubble of a life, that I suppose will be so feverishly illustrated in the scripts, texts, or future chronicles. 

“A Global Pandemic Hits the 21st Century, Leaving Metropolises Bare” 

How exactly are we living in these ensuing stories? How are we internalizing, how are we struggling to live through a virus as our archenemy? From the suburbs to urban centers, who are the people being affected by this invasion? In essence, all of us are. We’re facing this as both a current issue and one that seemingly shifts in 24-hour cycles, an infiltrator that we can not see but we surely know is there. Perhaps that’s the scariest part of it all. There is no face, but some abstract micro-rendition that’s hard to comprehend.

Many of my fellow Gen-Zers have not lived to see such a virus, let alone one that halts the gears in the machine of everyday life. I find that anecdotes can be a pleasing way to not only comfort but connect, especially in a time where we’re separated by self instated 6-foot bubbles. So let me delve a bit into my rather ordinary experience.

My community is located about an hour’s train ride from New York City, the current epicenter of the nation’s panic. Fortunately, it doesn’t feel like the outskirts of a warzone, but that doesn’t cover the fact of how terrifying this conflict is. We have growing deaths, ill-equipped soldiers, and faulty information. My aunt, who works at a rather large regional hospital has been pulled from her normal sector and into the danger zone, doing her best, but seemingly without our best. We have major discrepancies that will forever cause ripples and changes once these shadows pass. 

Furthermore, I find there are a myriad of questions that I have for not only our leadership but the public. Why has x happened when we had y? Or why has x happened when we thought we had y? How do we fix the supposed safety nets that may have existed but did not function? Being that, as I write this piece, COVID-19 remains in a whirl, I have yet to review and see this issue with hindsight. I know, like such other turbulences, there will be consequential modifications to our systems. Our lives may not be the status quo we have known prior. While this is partly a natural phenomenon, it is one of the most colossal cultural and systematic rattlers that I have ever lived through. 

In the beginning, my emotions seemed much rawer, but possibly as the result of coping, I’ve found myself subconsciously rationalizing reality. Never did I think within weeks, swaths of the world would be sheltered into their own corners, nor did I expect a headline breaking pandemic in the first place. Intuition tells me that I’ll be more shocked after the most severe side effects subdue and I can examine these events without present interference. I remain hopeful that a net positive will be created out of a seemingly overwhelming austere situation. Either way, no matter how equipped or ready we are, the ride has begun. 

A scary and monumental episode in human experience, our stories, set to unwrap at a price we do not yet know. 

Waiting for the Dawn

The world is holding its breath,

Stiller than e’er before

We’re all waiting,

Waiting for something

Like the breath before dawn

When e’en birds stop their chatter

Hushed, they wait in silence

Waiting for the sun

I’ll join them in their vigil

Waiting for the dawn

Praying for this night to end

Needing to move on

A Teenager Living Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Novel Coronavirus has definitely affected many of us in negative ways, but it’s also affected the world in many positive ways. I have been limited to staying inside all day and working on schoolwork. As an introvert, this is my dream scenario, where I’m ordered to stay inside and listen to music while I relax, without repercussions. After a while it may seem boring, but I like to think optimistically during these uncertain times. The Coronavirus is enough to worry about, so it’s best if we take this newfound time and do something productive with it.

For the first time since summer, I am finally able to get enough rest every night and start the day refreshed. This is an underrated benefit because students are finally allowed to get enough rest every night without being sleep deprived. Many students throughout the school year are always tired and groggy in the mornings after getting six hours of sleep. Another huge benefit for students is that they’re in the comfort of their home. This allows students to perform at a high level while being safe and relaxed. During this time, I have found more time to discover interests and personality traits I hadn’t known before. For example, I decided to take a certified personality assessment to figure out more about myself. It was an eye-opening experience because I found out I had the rarest personality type out of all the sixteen personalities. I was classified as an INFJ which stands for Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging. The results were no surprise to me but it was interesting to finally know what personality I identified with. 

Throughout the COVID-19 break, I was able to discover part of my identity because I finally had time to sit down and look at my computer. Another positive to take out of this pandemic is that I now have all day to prepare for the college process. This includes studying for the SAT and ACT, writing college essays, and reviewing colleges to visit. As a junior, I feel relieved to have days committed to doing all of these processes. During the school year, I felt bombarded with countless assignments that were just there to fill up my time. This would ultimately take away precious time for doing more important things. Many days, I would have no motivation to look into these colleges and their requirements because of dreadfully boring days at school. Now, I’m able to review several colleges that I have interest in and start preparing for the college process.

Obviously, COVID-19 has taken a major toll on many of our daily lives. It has affected millions in the United States by making them file for unemployment. We currently have the highest death toll recorded but that should not break down our spirit. Many people around the world are working collectively as a whole to find a vaccine to this terrible virus. I think we should highlight the efforts being made to help return our world to normalcy. Furthermore, students around the world are being given a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we need to take this situation and turn it into a positive. Soon enough, we will be preparing for the next pandemic and I think it’s time Millennials and Generation Z take initiative for the future. It’s time for us to restructure Earth to better suit future generations to come. This is our chance to impact the future for the better and I cannot wait until the day we see how we positively affected the generations that will come after us.

5,000 Miles 10,000 Words

Two writers, two sides of the same story. 

Dakota Jones and Eloise Monet were alike in more ways than they would ever know. Despite living across the world from each other, they both had very similar goals and personality traits which prevented them from giving up on what they truly wanted in life

Dakota’s side-

Houston, Texas is where Dakota lived. She was balancing helping her mom pay the lease for their apartment, taking care of her younger siblings, and working as an underpaid diner waitress, all while attending her last year at a university. It seemed as if everyone in her class at college knew what they wanted to do in the future, and she just felt stuck. Stuck in a routine, stuck in her tiny house, stuck in every aspect of her life. She felt as though she worked hard for everything, and somehow it still was never enough. And there was Sal. Her best friend in the entire world, the only person she knew who was there for her in her worst moments. But she knew he would never come close to understanding how exhausting her life was. Late one Tuesday night, Dakota checked her email as she always did. But there she found a lengthy, condescending email from her professor listing some writing programs and job opportunities he strongly encouraged her to try. Most of them looked boring, and like a similar variation of the same, dull class she was taking. But there was one job opportunity for young students like her to become published authors, right in her hometown. But it required a written submission.

Eloise’s side-

Prim, proper, and perfect were how Eloise Monet’s mother wanted her to behave. Straight A’s, the head of every club, and captain of the polo team were what her life mainly consisted of. Since primary school in her native London, her life had been planned for her by her overbearing and over achieving mother. But by now she was used to it, the fits her mom had over a B she once received and the feeling of never really amounting to what her mother wanted her to be. But she kept those feelings hidden. Tomorrow, she started her first day at her mother’s prestigious publishing company in London.

Dakota’s side- 

Dakota wanted the writing position in her hometown. She could pay rent for her own place with that salary, and finally she had something she was motivated to do. Day by day, week by week, she worked on her submission for the job—a story she could showcase at her job interview. Sal read it and said it was her best work of all. Even her mom read it the night before the interview. She felt proud of what she wrote. The next morning, she walked into that glass skyscraper and imagined herself working there: dressing every day like the other people in the office—in fancy clothes, blown out hair, and expensive jewelry. She imagined clicking high-priced heels on the white tiled floors. She was ready. So when she went into the office and presented her story, she didn’t give them a fake smile. She told them exactly why she would be more perfect than anyone for this job. And two weeks later, when she got the letter offering her the job and complimenting her short story, she was practically shaking. 

Eloise’s side- 

Eloise had a deadline. Her first one this month. She had only been writing a few poems and short stories at her mom’s publishing company and her mother was not impressed to say the least. Her mom compared her work to other girls who wrote for her company, and was the opposite of supportive. Eloise needed a killer story to impress her mom, and keep her job since, like her parents, she loved writing. Day by day, week by week, she worked on her story until she had finally crafted one hopefully living up to her mother’s expectations. 

Dakota’s side-

The feeling of doing something right for once, was the best thing for Dakota Jones. It was extremely rare that she felt proud of herself. And about one week later, she found herself walking straight into that skyscraper once again. She arrived on time, attempting to make a good impression. She sat down with one of the CEOs of the company and they discussed her piece. Her inspiration for the story, how she thought of the characters, and if she wrote often. They said that they were looking for a few stories to be in their monthly issue of work by young authors. She felt on top of the world. And the best part is if she kept up the good work of writing stories, she would get the high-paying salary she always dreamed of. Weeks went by and her story was edited, ready for the issue. But she knew the dedication that went into that story, and she knew people would like it . 

Eloise’s side- 

Cheryl Monet liked the story. Her own mom liked the story. This was a first for Eloise. Her whole life she would try to satisfy and prove herself to her mother, but finally after hard work and about three weeks of editing, she did it. Her mom was even proud, she showed it off to colleagues, and Eloise just felt content at last. And at family dinner one night, her mom said she wanted to publish it. The next weeks were hard. From picking cover art to sitting down with editors, and showing people her story. Exposure of her writing was the best thing for a young author, like herself. 

One month later.

After one month of living their greatest lives, something was quickly discovered. 

Dakota’s side- 

When you apply for a job, they didn’t tell Dakota that she was going to be slammed in the news, when you apply for a job, they didn’t tell Dakota that she would be questioned for something illegal done. Waking up on the first day of her story being published, she hoped, she dreamed, she wanted for it to be a perfect day, a day where she finally fit in somewhere. But what occurred was quite the opposite. She received many, many urgent emails to come down to work as soon as possible, so she did just that. She didn’t even have time to change, arriving in gray sweatpants and a stained shirt. She got some stares once in the building, but she did not even know what reason they were for. She opened the door to her boss’s generously sized office. 

“Did you do it?” her boss frustratedly asked. “Did you plagiarize your story, copy it from someone else?”

“No I swear, I would never, I-” Dakota tried to respond reassuringly.

“A similar piece, with your same idea was published just a few days ago, giving it a month to be edited, Dakota it is very, very possible for you to have copied this story. You threatened the reputation of this company greatly, and for that we have to let you go,” her boss said firmly. 

Dakota was not prepared for this. It was not fair. It was not fair at all. She worked all day and night to create that story, how was she losing her job for this. She wanted this position so bad, and now she was fired, on her record too. No. This of all things in her life she was going to fight for. It was her piece. 

“No, you cannot do that. Please I promise you I did not do this. Please reconsider,” Dakota begged.

“You are making this harder on yourself right now, please gather your things,” her boss said for the final time. 

This is the point where this got “bad.” Due to Dakota’s strong belief, knowing it was not her who did this, she was going to fight for what she wanted, literally. Kicking and screaming, Dakota was escorted out by security. Not only would she never EVER get another job in the writing field again for this. She could definitely expect to land another position in that building. She had made a very, very large scene. 

When she got home, she was mad. She yelled at her younger siblings for being a pain to take care of, she screamed at her mom for never doing anything, and she called up Sal, to tell him that he lied, that she had what it took to work at this job. She wanted to cry out of confusion. She wanted to beg, and beg for her job back, But she just couldn’t. And that was the worst part. 

 Eloise side-

Grounded. Punished. Fired. Yelled at. This was only an understatement of what went on in her household that very night. You could just see in her mother’s eyes how disappointed she was. And knowing how proud she was just a few days ago had made it worse.

“You will start a boarding school. And a writing intensive camp, academic program, and a-”

“No, I will be absolutely nothing of the sort. I don’t want this life. I don’t want this life controlled by you where you don’t even listen to me right now. I wanted that job, and you fired me. You saw how happy I was there, and you just, you wouldn’t even hear me out.”

And even at their worst point, where they felt the most defeated, the people who really cared stuck by their side. The people who supported and cared, the mothers, the siblings, the friends, everyone one took a minute to hear the full sides of the story. And although it may seem like it couldn’t, everyone helped to make everything work out just fine. 

The end.

The Better Side

Lucy

Some people would not know who I was if someone mentioned my name. Or, some people would recognize me (I hope) but I wouldn’t mean anything to them. I feel like I am nothing. And this is the way I have felt all my life. Since day one in kindergarten, I have felt like nobody cared about me and nobody wanted to be friends with me. Today is the first day of high school and I am COMPLETELY TERRIFIED. Not only because I am scared about high school, because I am sure most people are, but I am scared that this year is going to be the same as every other year. And I am going to be looked at the same as I was looked at for the past eight years. A ghost. 

Jordan, who is my brother, drives me to school every morning because his college is right around the corner from school. This is lucky for me because if my brother had to go to college far away, I don’t know what I would do with myself. He is basically my best friend, and because nobody talked to me at my school, I could at least talk to him because he actually understands me. We were parked outside of school and I had my blue backpack on my lap, not wanting to go inside. I knew it would be the same as it always was. I would walk into the hallways and not one person would hug me or say, “Hi Lucy! How was your summer?” Because that’s just how it was. 

Alexander

Today is the first day of high school and I have been looking forward to this moment my whole life. I feel like high school is thought of as a trainwreck of four years, but I feel like these four years are going to be awesome. My girlfriend, Jessica and I have walked to school together for the past two years. Her house is two houses down from mine and we have been dating since 6th grade. She screams, “Alex!!!” from all the way down the block. I have not seen her all summer because I go to sleepaway camp in Maine and she goes to sleepaway camp in Texas. We began the short walk to school together and Jessica would not stop talking. 

“How was your summer? Mine was great! I made all of these new friends at camp. Did you? I missed you! Not excited for school though. I hope we have the same homeroom! What did you have for breakfast? I had waffles.”

She did not even give me a chance to answer anything! I tried my best by saying, “My summer was good. I made friends at camp. Missed you too. I also hope we have the same homeroom. I had fruit and water.”

That is basically how our relationship goes. She asks and I answer. There is no need for me to ask anything, because she will always make sure it has been said. Once we got inside the doors, I was tackled by all of the boys on the basketball team. 

I would say that I am pretty liked by my whole grade, but I have definitely earned that considering I have tried and tried and tried to just fit in. My family is not the type of family that I would call “normal.” Not one member of my family cares about their reputation or my reputation at all. They are completely EMBARRASSING!!!! Which is why I walk with Jessica to school every morning. 

I couldn’t believe it was finally here, the moment that I have been waiting for all my life. Somehow, I was not at all nervous to walk into homeroom and I don’t understand how some people are.

Lucy

I’m so nervous to walk into homeroom! I am watching some kids like Alex Brown just walk into that classroom with a handful of friends around him and then there is me. Alex Brown has brown hair and brown eyes and I don’t think he has once had to worry about not having friends. I have had a crush on Alex Brown since the first grade and I bet that he has never heard the name Lucy Goldberg once in his life. If only I had at least one class with him!! Then I could maybe try talking to him. I don’t even know what I am thinking, considering I am me and he’s Alex Brown. We don’t need to talk about how he has a girlfriend. 

My homeroom is room 207 which is of course the longest walk from the entrance. This walk is basically going to be the walk of shame for me considering I know that I am walking to a room that is not going to notice me or care about me. It’s basically just a pointless walk to nowhere. I wish I were homeschooled. That would be waaaaaayyyyyyy easier. I began the long walk to room 207 as I watched all of the friend groups reunite, wishing I were a part of one. One friend is all I need and I don’t even have that. At least I have my brother. I don’t know why I can’t make friends. When someone like Jordan really gets to know me, they will know I don’t become shy at all when I am around them. I think it’s just scary having to make friends. 

As I continue to walk, thoughts rush through my head. What if when I walk into the classroom there will be people that might actually notice me? What if some of these people want to be my friends? I finally get outside of room 207,  I grab my books and take the step in. This was it. The moment I have been dreading my whole life. 

Alexander

 My homeroom was in room 210, pretty far from the entrance so I was happy once I finally got there. Mr. Goldberg, my teacher, seemed pretty nice, at least as nice as a teacher could get. I somehow recognize the name Goldberg, but I don’t know from where. I sat down at my desk in the front of the room (how fun), but luckily Jake and Connor were next to me. We played the same introduction game that we play every single year. I thought it would stop once we at least got to middle school, but it didn’t. And then high school is here, and we are still playing it! There isn’t even a new kid in my class. I have known these kids since I was 6 years old and you would think I would know their names. 

After homeroom, I went to find my locker. I put my bag inside and took my books for my next class, math. I suck at math and I always have. My parents have tried everything, tutors, study groups, special help from my teachers, literally they once tried teaching me. I just can’t get it. As I grabbed my graph paper notebooks and my pencil case, a girl ran into me. She seemed pretty familiar but I didn’t know her name. “Watch where you’re going!” I said. 

She replied, “Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh I’m so sorry.” 

Lucy

Math! My favorite class. In math I feel as if the rest of the world doesn’t matter and it is just me, a whiteboard, a pencil, and numbers. I don’t need to worry about being more social or making friends. I was on the way and I was very late. I HATE BEING LATE! So I ran. I was running and bumped into Alex Brown.

“Frick!” I thought to myself. He snapped at me.

“Watch where you’re going!” he said. Even though these were the first words he has ever said to me, I was so happy. He noticed me! He probably already forgot this moment but I will remember it forever. 

I got to math and sat down at my desk which was thankfully in the back. I looked around and to my surprise I saw Alex. I wonder if he likes math. Sadly Alex’s head was facing me so I couldn’t see him fully, and he couldn’t see me. I bet he will never know I am in this class. Math was only the second period of the day and I already had so many thoughts. Would Alex talk to me more this year now that I have a class with him? I really hope my parents aren’t going to flood me with questions about today when I get home. Should I join a sports team? No I should not, I can’t play sports for the life of me. Maybe I will write a book. What will happen if I just start talking to people more? Do I not have friends because I am shy or because nobody wants to be friends with me? 

All of these thoughts were going through my head when I realized that I had to start paying attention, there was already a whole board filled with do-now problems that I did not know how to solve. Shoot. 

Alexander

Math did not go well. At all. Now I need to meet with my teacher after school and I do not want to. I don’t know why, but it is awkward when I am alone with teachers. 

Lucy

After math class, I had to go up to our teacher Mrs. Corrine, and ask for a meeting time after school because I “didn’t understand the concept.” She said that I could come but she already had a student coming so we would have to meet the three of us. I was fine with that because it makes it less awkward being alone with a teacher. 

Next I had a free period, where most kids go hang out with their friends or get work done. If I really really really wanted too, I would go over to where some of the girls in my grade were sitting and maybe talk to them, maybe. But, I would rather journal in my notebook. I like making lists and today my list was about what I wanted to accomplish by the end of freshman year.

Lucy’s Bucket List for Freshman Year 🙂

By Lucy Goldberg 😀

  • Get at least one friend
  • Join a team or club of any kind
  • Talk to Alex Brown a lot more
  • During free periods do more than journal
  • Be more confident
  • Matter 

Alexander

The rest of the day was the usual except for the fact that I knew I had to meet with Mrs. Corrine after school because I can’t do math. Once it was the end of the day, I felt like I was moving in slow motion. I moved as slow as possible, one step every 3 seconds down the hallway to grab my things out of my locker. Mrs. Corrine’s classroom was sadly only two classrooms down from my locker so I wasn’t even that late (sadly). I put my bag around my shoulders and walked inside the classroom, and I saw the girl who ran into me in the hallway. I have never been in a room pretty much alone with either of them before, so this would not be fun. 

Lucy

WHAT IS HE DOING HERE. I can’t focus when he is around me. I know myself and I know that I am going to only be worried about how I look and if I am doing the problems right, instead of actually paying attention because that’s what I am here for. “Lucy focus. You don’t want to come back a second time and explain to Mrs. Corrine why I had to come back for a second time to re-re-learn it.” I told myself. I have to focus. I have to. 

The hour in this classroom is going by so slowly and Alex doesn’t seem very good at math so that is making it even slower. I glanced up at the clock on the ceiling in front of me. 4:15. 4:18. 4:22. 4:29 and 55 seconds. Finally after the clock hit 4:30, I ran out of the classroom and I regret that decision already. I could have at least been respectful to Mrs. Corrine and even talked to Alex. I need to really get better at talking to other people.

My brother was waiting outside in the car perfectly on schedule like always. I’m not one of those kids who have to wait for their parents to come get me 2 hours late, because I have Jordan. 

“How was school today?” Jordan asked. 

“Okay,” I said. “I had to meet with my teacher after school which is why I am late, sorry.”

“Why? What happened?” he asked. 

“Remember Alex Brown?” 

“Yeah.”

“Well, he is in my math class and I keep getting distracted and I ended up missing the 

whole math lesson and had to meet with my teacher after school and then, get this. Alex was in my lesson with Mrs. Corrine after school because he doesn’t understand anything,” I told him. 

“I’m so sorry Luc. Just try to focus and know that math is your best subject so don’t let 

anyone else get in the way of that,” Jordan told me. 

The rest of the car ride we listened to music very loudly and drove home without talking to each other, not because we were upset, but maybe because we both had bad days and were sick of talking. 

Alexander

Luckly, I have basketball tryouts now so I don’t have to go home. Somehow I’m not at all nervous for these tryouts and I think it is because I already got my math meeting over with, which is what I had been dreading all day. I walked into the gym and right away saw Jake and Connor, who are two of my best friends. They are in my homeroom and we have been playing basketball together since forever. Our coach, Coach Wessel, blew his whistle and explained how the tryouts were going to go. I went and changed into my basketball clothes and the tryouts began.

Besides me getting a nosebleed halfway through the tryout because I got hit in the nose with a basketball, I think I played very well.

“The teams will be posted tomorrow via email,” Coach Wessel said. “It is very hard for freshmen to make varsity, so freshmen keep that in mind, but I hope to see most of you on our JV team!” 

Just like that, the tryouts were over and it was time for me to wait for my parents, and it normally takes them two hours, because those are the types of parents that they are. 

Lucy

The next day at school, it was the same deal, except I had some hope. My main goal for the day was to talk to someone besides a teacher, and talk to them, not because I will run into them like yesterday. I love Tuesdays because there is still room to make the week the way you want it to because it is only the beginning. If you make a mistake on Monday and need to fix it to make your week still amazing, Tuesday is the day to do it. After homeroom, it was again time for math and I was excited. Mrs. Corinne let us choose partners for the in-class problems. I always hate choosing partners because people run to their friends right away and I never have anyone to go to. 

Everyone started scrambling around and trying to follow my goal, I went to the one girl who I recognized that did not have a partner. Her name was Lizzy and we had gone to school together since kindergarten. 

“Hey,” I said. “Want to be partners?” 

“Sure! What’s your name again?” she asked. 

“Lucy.” 

I wasn’t that thrilled that she didn’t know my name, but I was beyond excited that I asked if she wanted to be partners with me and she said yes! I did it. Right when we started to work, Ms. Queller, the head of school, came to our desk and patted me on the shoulder and told me to come to the hallway. Right when I think I am making a friend, this happens, and this NEVER happens. 

“What is it?” I asked.

“Well, honey, your brother has had an accident.” 

Alexander

It was time to find out what basketball team I made, if I made any of them. I wasn’t expecting varsity, but it would be awesome if I was on it. I saw the list, it was maybe 30 feet away so the names were just a blur. I could see as I was taking steps forward that the list was in a T-chart, one half was JV, one half was varsity. This was all of the high school boys on both teams so I was most definitely on JV. But, what if I was on varsity? I got super close to the list, I closed my eyes and hoped that I was on a team with at least Jake, Connor, or both of them. I opened my eyes and I went straight to the varsity list. I saw Jake and Connor at the top of the list! Now I really hope I am on varsity. I scrolled down with my finger, name after name after name and finally, there I was! I made varsity! Best. Day. Ever. 

Lucy

“What do you mean, an accident?” I asked Ms. Queller in a concerned tone. 

“He is right now in the hospital with your mom and dad. I can drive you over there now. He was in a pretty severe car crash but that is all I know.” 

So we got in her car and it was a silent car ride. I was completely hysterical. I needed my brother to be okay. I didn’t have anyone else. Without him I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to and have nobody to listen to me. Even worse, I would be picked up from school late! I prayed he would be okay and I tried to stay calm and breathe, but I couldn’t. Once we got to the hospital after 15 minutes in the car with the head of school, I was able to find my parents. Normally, it would be so so so so so awkward being in a car with Ms. Queller, but today, it wasn’t because we both knew it was very important. My mom was crying. My dad was yelling at the nurses to try to get some information out of them because they hadn’t heard anything. Ms. Queller was still there and I was completely clueless. It was chaos. 

After about an hour, a doctor named Dr. Julie came and spoke with my parents and me. She told us, “Jordan has many severe injuries but for right now we think he is going to be alright. He will have to get spinal surgery because he broke a bone in his back and has broken his right leg. As well as this, he is going to be put in a neck cast but for now we don’t think he needs neck surgery. You should all be so thankful that he is still alive. In a few moments, if you would like you may come and see him.” Dr. Julie walked away and we all sat in silence. Silence. It is often a trend with me and with my family, especially Jordan. Silence is what we refer to when we don’t know what to say or when something is hard to process and talk about. It helps me regroup my feelings and be at peace with myself. 

Lucy

I went to visit Jordan in the hospital room, and I asked if I could go in alone. I took a few deep breaths and slowly walked in to see Jordan lying down on a hospital bed with lots of machinery around him. Jordan’s blond hair was all stuck to his face and he had scrapes and was bleeding everywhere. His blue eyes looked up at me almost as a cry for help. I was scared. I knew he was the same brother he was before this happened, but hospitals really gave me the creeps and I did not like seeing Jordan like this. 

“Jordan?” I asked very quietly to get him to notice me.

“Hey Lucy” he replied in a whisper.

“Um, uhhh, are you going to be okay?”

“I will be completely fine. Don’t be scared about me. I need to sleep though,” he replied. 

I walked out of the room quietly and in shock and ran straight to my parents. I started crying and couldn’t stop. I just sat there, while my parents went into Jordan, and I cried. I feel like waiting rooms hold a lot of different feelings and energies. Sometimes, people find out great news from doctors and scream with joy. Sometimes people are stressed, because they don’t know what is happening to their loved ones. Sometimes they are in severe pain and are waiting in to see the doctor. And sometimes, people are very sad and cry because their loved ones are hurt, like me right now. 

3 months later (Lucy)

For the past three months, I haven’t worried about anything but Jordan. But finally, after three months of recovery, medicine, surgeries, doctors, and hospital rooms, Jordan was completely okay! The day that Jordan got out of the hospital, I walked into the doors of school the same way I did for the past three months when Jordan was in the hospital, but there was something to be happy about. I walked in with better posture and in my head I just felt happier in general. I was sick of not being noticed and this incident with Jordan opened my eyes up more to see that I can change not being noticed. I walked up to the school bulletin board and saw many club and sports teams. One stuck out to me more than any of the others. On a bright blue sheet of paper, it said, “School Soccer Team. No Experience Needed.” Without even thinking about it, I put my name down and when it came time for practice, I went over to the fields. 

For once, I was super excited especially when I saw Lizzy was there as well and she gave me a smile and wave. Practice continued for the rest of the school year and by the end, I had made friends with almost every girl on the team!

Next Year (Alexander)

I already feel like sophomore year is going to be my year. I again saw a sheet of paper on the bulletin board that said our homerooms and I started having deja vu from last year when I walked over to see what basketball team I was on. I found that I was in homeroom 310 so I walked up the stairs to the third floor and found my seat, only to see the girl who I kept running into last year sitting at the desk next to me. 

Lucy

“Hi!” I said to Alex AS HE SAT NEXT TO ME! 

“Hey,” he replied, being shy.

I thought to myself that this year was going to be way better than last year. I think I found the better side of high school. The side where I actually had friends and I was able to speak to people without being nervous. I finally felt like I wasn’t a ghost. Like I mattered.

The End

The Land of Cards

This is no ordinary deck of cards. What makes it special is that when the cards are put in the correct order, it opens a door to a world of unimaginable magic. A world where you can do whatever you want just by thinking of it. It’s a world where your wildest fantasies can come true. A world where creatures beyond the human scope are everywhere. It is the Land of Cards. And when put in the exact reverse order, it will send you back to The Above. Essentially, the deck of cards acts as a portal between worlds. Currently, the deck is inside a vault in the most prestigious bank in the Land of Cards. There is an offsite secret prison in the Land of Cards. This prison acts as a capture for the worst of villains. One of these evil entities is the Zero of Diamonds (who goes by Zero). He is unknown to just as many people as he is powerful. With the deck of cards, he plans to travel back to The Above and retrieve a very important object. The Zero of Diamonds has a plan where he and the other villains will break out of the prison and steal the Deck of Cards. There is only one man who can stop them: the Ace of Spades (who goes by Ace). He figured out their plan through an underground network that includes the prison. The Ace of Spades is known for being one of the most special cards in the deck. This is also true in the Land of Cards. The Ace of Spades has the contrasting power to the Zero of Diamonds. Zero has all the dark power, but the Ace of Spades has an equal amount of pure power. Ace was a detective and policeman in his old life, but after being shot in the heart, going through many surgeries, and needing a heart transplant from an unknown donor, he gained surreal powers by controlling pure energy. It is not known where Zero accumulated his powers. 

Ace tries to formulate a plan to stop Zero, but he’s too late. Ace looks at the TV.

(Reporter on the News) “This just in! A group of convicts just broke out of maximum-security prison this morning and are on the run. This group includes the Zero of Spades, the Joker Twins, and the Invisible Card.” 

Zero first got captured because he shut down all the power in the Land of Cards with his dark energy and assassinated the King of Hearts. When the power went off, his daughter got into a car crash and died. In a moment of weakness, he gave himself over to the police. The Joker twins, one black and white, one in color, are the best and most deadly bank robbers ever. The went on multiple bank heists killing hundreds of people and accumulating trillions of dollars. The police anticipated their next move and captured them. The Invisible Card, also known as Blank, was with his son and they both got hit by an electrical surge. The son passed away but Blank became invisible. He was previously the Four of Spades. He used his power to kill all the people responsible for his son’s death. He was captured because one of his crimes was witnessed by a nearby policewoman and he was quickly arrested.

“I’m too late,” says Ace. “I have to get to the bank before they do.”

Ace makes his way towards the bank and gets there just in the nick of time. He sees the group of villains coming. They are one mile north and are all in an armored van they stole from the prison.

“Call the police, we are going into full lockdown mode!” yells Ace to the bank manager. 

The bank manager nods, and the cops arrive a few minutes later. 

“Okay. Here is what we need to do. Jack of Clubs, (a natural leader and Captain of the Police Force) you and your team will escort the people to safety! And take me to the vault!” Ace tells the bank manager.

Ace and the bank manager head to the vault. The bank manager does three steps to open the vault. He first enters an 8-digit code that changes every day, then he scans his palm, and lastly scans his eye.

The Deck of Cards sits right in the center of the vault – but there is also something else. Hundreds (maybe thousands) of instruction manuals are scattered around the room. The bank manager is right behind him. He wonders why there are so many instruction manuals. Is something else going on here?

Ace walks inside the vault. He takes a peek at one of the instruction manuals.

Land of Cards Maximum-Security Penitentiary Layout Plans

“Hey, why do you need the plans for the priso…” WHACK! 

Ace wakes up, half-conscious. He cannot see anything, but he feels the distinct crisp of the air. He remembers the feeling from when he was a child, but he does not remember where it’s from. However, he is certain he is still in the Land of Cards. He also feels a bag over his head.

“Whe…Where am I?” asks Ace.

“What’s the order of the cards to get to The Above?” asks a deep voice.

“Who are you? What happened to the bank manager? Is he okay?” replies Ace.

“I’m not going to ask again, so one last time. What is the order?” says the deep voice.

“I don’t know!” responds Ace.

“How did you know it acted as a portal?” says the voice.

“My father told me. He said it was an urban legend and that his grandfather or my great-grandfather used it once and that he found a note with the code but that it disappeared over time.”

Ace feels the bag being removed from his head. He sees Zero, The Joker Twins, a slight silhouette that he assumes is the invisible man, and…

“No, it can’t be… the bank manager?! Why… why would you do this?” says Ace.

“Zero is my brother. You never asked me for my real name. I am the Zero of Clubs. Well, now you know. You can call me… Null.”

“Well, Null, I promise you that I will stop all of you and make sure you guys go right back to prison. You guys don’t even know the combination. Why do you guys even want to go to The Above?”

“Hahaha. I am glad you asked. In The Above, there is this item called The Device. It is locked up in a military base. It will let me alter particles in a time span and allow me to jump to that time. I plan to go back and make sure my daughter doesn’t die,” says Zero.

“Why do the rest of you want to do it?” replies Ace.

“Same reason I am. They all either lost someone or did something they want to undo. We just want to start a new life,” says Zero.

Ace sighs. “Ok, if I help you, you have to promise – I mean really promise – that you won’t commit any more crimes ever again. And if you do, I will come for you and I will not give you another chance,” says Ace.

“We promise,” says everybody else in unison.

“Okay. My great-grandfather had a box of his belongings and left it with me. It should be in a mystic box (an invisible box in a random location of your choosing that can only be opened with a certain phrase of your choosing) downtown. I will get that. You guys try and find some history behind the deck. We’ll meet up at the Sully Bar in 2 hours.”

Everyone nods and heads their separate ways. Ace heads downtown to where his mystic box is. He hid his under the bridge in a local park. 

“To the angel of light!”

A silhouette of a box starts to become more and more distinct until it becomes completely visible. Inside that is a cardboard box with some stuff that belonged to Ace’s great-grandfather. At the top of the box there are some books, a compass, a magazine, and some movie posters that Ace has never heard of. He can’t see what’s under those items. Meanwhile, Zero and his crew are at the library looking for history behind the deck. The library is fairly small. There are approximately 3 other people there not including the librarian.

“Why are we working with Ace on this, Zero? All of us dislike him,” says Blank.

“Don’t worry,” says Zero. “He believed the story I told. Everyone knows you can’t save lives with Time Travel. As soon as we get the time machine, we’re leaving him in The Above and using the machine to go back to early Land of Cards and make it ours. We could be rulers for our whole lives.”

They make a plan of how they are going to leave Ace when they get there and go back to the Land of Cards. About an hour later, everyone meets up at the bar. They are all in the corner booth.

‘What did you guys find?” asks Ace.

“A. O Russel created the deck,” says one of the Joker Twins.

“In 1870,” says the other.

“Did you find anything?” Zero asks. 

“Take a look,” Ace says while bringing out the box he found.

He removes the compass, the books, the magazines, and the movie posters from the top. Underneath is tin tupperware of sorts that’s not much bigger than Ace’s hand. Ace opens the tin box and inside it is a piece of paper. From the slight tears all along the sides to the crumbly way it felt in his hand, Ace can tell it is very old – likely older than his great-grandfather.

To get to the treasure that you seek, use all four directions, and something that makes it unique.

“All four directions…” Zero whispers quietly.

Blank, hearing Zero, says “That must be North, East, South, West.”

“The Compass!” says Ace. “Now what makes it unique?”

“It’s the S,” says Zero. “It’s upside down. All the other letters are facing outward except for the S, which is facing inward.”

“That’s it. Now something on the compass must contain the order,” says one of the Joker twins.

Ace flips the compass upside down. He notices some inscriptions on the back of it. They’re in another language that Ace thinks is ancient or possibly even alien.

“I have a friend who is an archaeologist. I’ll send it to him and see if he can identify it,” Ace tells the group.

[2 Hours Later]

“I got it, I got it, I got it! We got the results back,” Ace says to the rest of the group. “Write this down, the order is A♥, 2♠, 8♦, J♣, 7♠, 9♦, e.t.c.”

“Well Ace, I guess this is goodbye,” says Zero.

“Nah nah nah, I’m coming with you guys and then coming right back,” Ace responds.

“Ok, I guess,” says Zero with a menacing grin on his face.

Zero slowly starts putting the cards in the right order. Five minutes later, he’s almost finished. 

“Last card, 4♣. Put your hand on the deck everyone.”

As everyone has their hands on the deck, Zero puts the last card at the end. Then everything goes white. All they see is a bright light in front of them.

[Apache Junction, Arizona, 2023]

“We’re one mile east according to my research,” says one of the Joker Twins.

“Once we get there, Blank will go in and steal it. It is not highly protected and since you are invisible, it shouldn’t be that hard,” explains Zero.

After walking for some time, they finally get to the base. There are a few armed guards in front of it, but other than that, there’s no outside security. Blank goes in through the side door. Once inside the base, he heads to the corner where The Device is located. He sneakily takes it and exits the base quickly.

Once outside, Zero starts putting the cards in reverse order. Soon, he is only a few cards away. “I’m sorry I have to do this to you again,” he says. 

Ace responds, “Do what?” WHACK!

Zero puts the rest of the cards in order. Zero and his group go back to the Land of Cards while Ace is stuck in The Above. Zero and his group use The Device to travel to the early days of the Land of Cards. It wasn’t as sophisticated, but it was still highly functional. There was an election for who could run for ruler of the land and anybody could run. Using future technology, Zero killed off the other candidates with his powers so he would win by default. He stayed ruler up until his death from old age. In the back of his mind he always felt bad for Ace, but it was too late now. Then, he remembered The Device.

 The End

Uncomfortable Situations

My parents didn’t allow me to travel anywhere on my own until the day I turned sixteen. They said it was too dangerous for someone as unaware as I was, always with headphones on or watching a championship match. I have always had soccer. My parents didn’t even think I really cared about my social life until I wanted one. I guess I always put sports first, and my parents thought that was enough. The people I met at soccer when I was younger were never usually my age, and if they were, their personalities were usually a lot more competitive than mine. When I started playing with kids who actually cared about the sport, I found that having a life outside of activities might be moderately important. That’s saying a lot. I even had to force myself to stop mentioning football as soccer, because no one here ever says that. It’s only when you watch American commentary day in and day out that the word becomes ingrained in your head, just as tourists can get into some embarrassing situations by referring to pants when clothes shopping. Currently, I am walking along the streets near my house, clogged up blocks crowded with people. This city is full of shopping malls with sports stores, where high top sneakers are the hub for people spending money they don’t have, and girls practically getting drunk on new styles of lipstick.

My friend invited me to her boyfriend’s eighteenth birthday party in a bar within the heart of the city. My guess is that I look quite dysfunctional, no makeup, messy bun, Barcelona jersey (No it does not have the name Messi on the back), dirty white sneakers, and jeans. I’ve never been to this particular bar before, but no one ever cares if I’m not old enough to enter, as long as I don’t start a fight. I smile crookedly as I walk, sitting in the opposite corner of the room to my supposed friends. I take the time to watch as Kika Littlebrook is whispering to Maggie Stilton about this cute boy’s outfit (which I have to admit, is pretty cool). I see them pointing, and that’s enough to tell me about their petty conversations. What really catches my attention, however, is their mouths hovering over each other’s ears, talking to one another about how ugly the girl is that he took to the party. I don’t even need to hear what they are saying to see it in their eyes, to watch their expression grow all sharp and soft at the same time as he looks over his shoulder and winks. Art Jacobs is his name, I remember he was the first person to publicly kiss a girl in eighth grade. Ophelia Janson sits across the table from Magnus Reid. Staring at her nails as he starts talking about rugby statistics compared to football. The only reason she even came was because he invited her. The only reason he was invited was because he’s good at sports. What I’ve figured out is how that somehow ups the level of status of the person hosting this party.

“Viki.” Evelyn McNair is rolling her eyes at me from across the room, smirking as I slump over.

“Hey Ev.” Evelyn has gone to school with me practically since I could walk. We were even on the same soccer team for a while, before I got too good for her on-field dramatics. It’s her boyfriend’s birthday today, Romy James. He somehow rented out an entire bar for the occasion. God only knows the strings this guy’s parents pulled. He is also a Barcelona fan, though I don’t think he has watched a women’s soccer game in his life. I even had a crush on the jerk in fifth grade, though he made it known that that was never going to work out. He’s the type of boy that’s just dating Evelyn because of her pretty little sister, mind you Angelina’s only fourteen.

“Viktoria!” He yells, pulling me into a tight, mostly uncomfortable hug. My watch starts buzzing, telling me I have an hour to be out of this bar, and done with the whole thing. Romy’s hugs always make me feel like I should run away, that something is just wrong with the way he holds you. His arms always squeeze a bit too tight and his hands grip the top of your pants, no matter how low waisted they are. Tonight his breath smells distinctly of alcohol, his eyes glossy and his shirt color sweaty against my forehead.

“Don’t hug her like that!” Evelyn scolds. I feel Romy’s grip loosening, moving around to hug Evelyn from the back. “I’m your girlfriend, not her.” The way she says the sentence makes me tense all over again. It’s not even like Evelyn cares about my own well being. It was different when we were little, apparently, she would stand up for me. I didn’t usually even talk to her, let alone care what she thought. I guess she just felt obliged to be a nice person, though I never needed her help. When I got older, I signed with a semi-pro soccer team in the area. In a few years, I hope to play internationally. If not a dynamic personality, at least I have that.

“Ev!” Romy practically drags Evelyn out of the barstool she is sitting on. “My birthday, my choice of who to dance with!” Evelyn’s face goes from slightly uncomfortable, to genuinely excited. I hate watching her like this. Everything that defines her had now turned into the devil’s opinion of her naive soul. She twirls and dips, spinning into dizzying circles not bothered by the way Romy greedily stares at her silver necklace, or little sister when Evelyn is anywhere but a party setting.

As the night drags on further, the dancing gets more and more uncomfortable to watch. Romy has now set up his own girlfriend with another guy. Surprisingly, he doesn’t look like he’s had many drinks, standing by the barstool fidgeting with his car keys. I see him pulling up Barcelona statistics on his phone. The bright blue background of the screen flashing the familiar colors into his eyes. By the time the watch on my alarm sounds, I am the only one not dancing who is still sober. The smells of smoke and alcohol numbs all feelings in my nose. The familiar buzz of my phone vibrating makes me want to scream. I just wasted an hour of my time, in a place I hated, with people I don’t even like, for something I felt obliged to attend. Why did I feel I needed to attend? I honestly think that I just wanted someone to see that I cared. I really don’t care. I only cared about the kid who thought about other people other than herself and that stupid, immoral disaster of a boyfriend. I care about having friends who actually are nice to others, and not just me because I seem to help them out in some way. She’s the girl who plays soccer, she’s the girl with a high GPA. My emotions feel like they are about to go on overload like they sometimes do when I have an exam I haven’t studied for at 1:00 am on test day.

 “Viki!” Evelyn yells at me when I start walking into the cold night air. The dark night wind flushes the redness and embarrassment into my face. I almost forgot I even heard her. “Viki!” Evelyn continues to run towards me, telling me things that were never true. She says that I hate her and that’s the reason I’m leaving.

“I don’t hate you!” I yell back through the bar door because I really don’t hate her. I just don’t want to deal with her. I don’t want to watch her melt further and further into someone she never was. I’m not due home for another hour, I just decided an hour was enough time not to seem like a bad friend. It wasn’t even her birthday party anyways, just some guy who pretends to love her.

“Viki!”

What do you want!” I snap. I feel my hair whip around into my face, making my mouth fill with strange, distasteful bile. 

“Whoa, hold on there.” Romy looks plain. I never thought I would use that description of any person living in my city, but Romy, of all people, looks plain. His usual cocky expressive features have flattened into a straight line. His leather jacket has been taken off revealing a plain white t-shirt and jeans, and his previously gelled hair has been pushed down into a wet mop.

“S-sorry,” I don’t really know what else to say. I mean, I did yell at the wrong person, but even he knows he deserved it.

“You leaving already?”

“Yeah,” I say, my back facing his bland outfit. I have no idea where I want to walk, all I know is that I have to look convincing for him to let me be.

“Mind if I walk with you?” Leave it to eighteen-year-old boys to not understand anything relating to body language.

“Actually, yes.”

“Well, too bad.” I grind my teeth to stop me from hitting him squarely in the jaw. We walk in silence for a minute or so. I try to lose him, walking into large, crowded groups of people and slinking into hidden alleys. Romy’s never been a threat to my existence. I can handle him if I need too, that’s not my issue. What I really am nervous about is the fact that it’s always the girl’s issue when she hits a guy, even if he could be tried for stalking me. That’s the only reason I’m running right now. Well, that and the fact that I need a good reputation for anything I want to try when I get older. I even try climbing an emergency ladder. I feel my phone bounce in my zipped pocket as I climb. If I need it, my phone has a GPS as well as numerous calling mechanisms. No, this is not one of those stories where I suddenly have no WiFi. I have a data plan anyway. I finish climbing the ladder to an abandoned fourth story window, and sure enough, he’s right behind me. The cool night air makes my cheeks pink with cold, and red with annoyance. I sit down on the fence ledge, to make sure he doesn’t even get near me. My fists are clenched like claws across the outside metal bars. I don’t have a fear of heights.

“What is wrong with you!” I stop, frustration clouding my eyes with anger. I really just want to leave. Why won’t he let me leave? “You of all people, have decided to follow me, an antisocial, slightly reckless person, who would have given anything not to even be invited to your eighteenth birthday party!”

“Why did you even come?”

“I-”

“Just stop talking. I know you, and you are going to start a sentence right now, that is not going to end for a solid thirty seconds, yet will still have no clear reasoning.” I wasn’t very good at words in the first place. This has just turned my tongue upside down in my mouth. It does not help matters when I suddenly realized that I am sitting on the ledge of a fire escape ladder, with a four-story drop below me, and a creepy guy in front of me.

“I guess I wasn’t as smart as I thought when I sat on a fence that is there for a reason, with a freaky dude in front of me who just chased me up a ladder.”

He smirks.

“Wipe that stupid smile off your stupid face or I will forcefully push you off this stupid balcony.”

“No.”

“Then get out of my space!” I practically leap off of the fence to land right in front of him, making him stumble backward and grip the railing.

“I have nowhere to go either Viki. No place important anyways.”

“Either! I just attended your birthday party. You just left to follow me out of your birthday party. Apparently no one has decided to care enough to search for you at your birthday party. WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE AT-”

“Viki, I get it. But think about it, do you really have anywhere to go? Do you really want to go home by yourself?”

I bite my lip to stop myself from yelling again. I don’t know why I yelled. I don’t usually unless I get into fights with my parents. It’s hard to know what to say to that. I was planning on texting my parents that I was going to walk around for a bit after maybe doing some math homework. Nah, there was no way I was ever going to do homework. Or maybe… I’ve never been the person to plan out what I am going to do. I know what I don’t want and that’s that. But right now, it doesn’t matter. I don’t understand enough about my own head right now to determine what I want. All I know is that I don’t want to know if I care or if I don’t.

“Why did you leave your party? I mean, I understand why I left but you-”

“I wasn’t enjoying it.”

My mouth forms a million questions all at once.

“Stop. Don’t ask me anything. I know what I look like and what vibe I give off and what my girlfriend loves me for, and what my friends care about. I’m not stupid.”

I raise my eyebrows. He has to know what he sounds like, some intelect who has just robbed a bank with no getaway car. Better yet, a forward by the name of Lionel Messi who thinks he’s the best player in the world when Lieke Martens exists.“You sure about that?”

His face looks solemn. A sad smile stretching across his face. I feel no pity whatsoever.

“You still haven’t answered my question. Forget that question! Why did you start chasing a girl out of your birthday party when you already have a girlfriend? Why did you make your girlfriend dance with Jackson Quinn?”

“I didn’t want to deal with it.”

“Okay Romy James. You have-”

“Okay fine! I don’t know what I’m doing here! I just wanted to talk to someone who I thought would understand.”

I don’t really know what he means by that. I know there is a lot I understand about the world in my own way, that most people really don’t get. I understand what it means to hurt, to cry, to feel deeply. I know what it means to live, and to feel failure wash away like a hurricane. There are no particular experiences that have even hinted to why I can comprehend the things I do at my age, it’s just who I am, and who I will be for my entire lifetime. I know who I am but for some reason, who I am doesn’t always feel right, and what I do with my time doesn’t always feel worthwhile.

“Okay,” I count to ten before speaking again, a trick from my third grade teacher who noticed I was good with words, but had so much to say it came out all at once. “Let’s start with the first part of your comments. What are we doing here?”

“I don’t really know, that’s why I asked you.” I was asking Romy to try and process his emotional outburst, but his brain seems to be running like a mouse on a hamster wheel.

“I’ll answer first and then we’ll see if you can follow the example.” I take a deep breath and make sure he is making eye contact before I begin. “On a basic level, I came here to run away from you. I wasn’t worried originally about heights, as I have no fear of heights. But, I realized when I climbed up here that maybe it wasn’t the best idea as you seem quite misogynistic, and similar to a stalker, not to mention your ability to shove me off the roof.”

“As I told you before, I know what people think of me.”

“One, you really don’t. And two, no interjections while the instructor is speaking please. Why do I have no fear of heights though? Why do I crave high places? I don’t like people a whole lot Romy, I hope your little brain would at least know that. I guess to me, it’s easier to try and understand others better, than for anyone else to understand me. High places allow me to escape, observe others, and feel at one with the world and city around me.” I make sure my expression challenges him to have a follow up.

“Well that was a mouthful.” He pauses uncertainly, biting his nails. “This isn’t going to come out the way my brain wants it to. Okay, I know that at least to you I’m a jerk. I was horrible to you in fifth grade, I made fun of you loads as we were growing up, and I just chased you out of my own party. Why you though? I guess you intrigue me in some ways. You always just seem so solitary, and… figured out. I know this is going to sound stupid but you always seem to have your head filled with thoughts of the future while for me, it hangs over like a black cloud ready to soak my present day body to the bone.”

I nod, looking him in the eye to make sure he understands I listened. The city noise rattles in the background of our conversation. I can still hear the bars and concert hubs down the street. It is always busy here, though the music of it is ringing in my ears no matter where I go. “I don’t think you need to understand everything yet. You don’t have to have it all planned out.”

“But I feel like I do. You know you do. You’re that girl who has it all, smart, sports phenom, pretty, and doesn’t need anyone aside from herself.”

“I guess I do, but what about after sports? After all of my passions have been lived out?”

“Then you’ll find new ones. That’s just who you are.”

I smile, and automatically feel embarrassed about it. “I am pretty distinct, aren’t I?” I look at him for a moment, and wonder how this weird, oddly sentimental, guy is having this sort of conversation with me. Me, Viktoria de Leon, the girl with shoulder length, dyed blonde hair and dark roots. The girl who looks like she has her life figured out and quite frankly does, in a different sense.

“It’s not so much figuring out your life, and more what you love. Figure out what you are passionate about, what makes you happy.” I can tell he is thinking about something only he knows after I stop talking. His face is diving into the deep late night light, to ponder my words. “For me, it’s different. I know what I love and what makes me happy, though I need to learn to love myself.” The words come out more of a whisper to me than anyone else. I don’t even think he’s listening anymore, staring out at the street lamps and down the block to the bar. I say it because I need to say it to someone. I need to have my words make sense to me in their own right. 

We waited there for a minute or so, looking out at the blocks and feeling the night air across the back of our necks, enjoying the sounds of other people shouting, and other kids drinking the night away.

“I should go. You have pointed out to me numerous times throughout this conversation how strange I am for leaving my own party.”

“My opinion still stands.” I don’t leave my seat on the railing as Romy climbs down the ladders and onto the street.

“I like your Martens jersey!” He shouts from the ground. I let myself chuckle and wave back before hopping off the railing to take a seat on the floor and look through the metal bars. I have a feeling those are the last nice things he will say to me in a long while. It’s not like he’ll ever be mean again after this, but we are different people. It is more likely he will tell me nothing at all. We live different lives, and he has different friends and interests than I do. That’s just how it is, and I know it’s how it will always be. I do know one thing we have in common however, and that is our ability to persevere and grow along with the coming nights.

Loose Brick

On the last Saturday of August,

an ambulance sirened past Valley Forge.

Your red Toyota was our caboose.

The cyclists who found me, squashed,

waved and went on.

Above me, a clean-shaven man in white smiled. 

He told me I was brave. 

Your electric toothbrush 

vanished from Mom’s medicine cabinet.

My kitsch cast was claustrophobic with sharpie.

The maple trees out my window turned red.

How did the Continental soldiers survive

six months of wind whipped backs?

Were chalk blue fingers

suffering as usual?

Maybe if there was no Days Inn

no road trip  no grasshopper girl

no garden wall  no loose brick     

no tumble   no pavement  

no falling   no crumple

no left arm, cracked in two

maybe you would have stayed.

Why Couldn’t They Just Watch Shrek?

My name is Tate. I’m five years old. I have a big sister named Talia. She’s fourteen years old. Last night, Talia had a sleepover with her friends Ellie and Nat. I like Ellie and Nat. I think they probably like me more than Talia, because she’s boring and mean. I think they probably only had a sleepover with Talia so they could hang out with me.

I decided to be nice to Ellie and Nat. I was going to ask them to stop watching their scary movie with Talia and watch Shrek with me instead. So, I went into Talia’s room.

“Hi, Ellie! Hi, Nat!” I said.

“Go away, Tate,” Talia said. See? I told you Talia was boring and mean.

“What are you watching? Are you watching Shrek?” I asked.

“No. We’re watching this thing about zombies,” Nat said.

“What’s zombies?” I asked.

“It’s like when somebody dies, but then they come back to life. And they’re all bloody and gross and have arms falling off of them and want to eat your brains!” Talia said, trying to scare me.

I snuck a peek at the screen. There was scary music and a hand coming out of the ground.

What I did next was not my proudest moment. I screamed and ran away.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want a zombie to eat my brains. I wanted Mommy and Daddy. But Talia and her friends were still watching scary movies in the living room, and if I went to get Mommy and Daddy, they would see, and Talia would make fun of me.

I decided to scream as loud as I could instead. Mommy and Daddy would run in, and Talia would probably think I was dying. She would be sorry she had been so mean to me.

So I screamed.

Somebody shadowy and big ran into my room fast. It was Daddy. Probably. It was hard to tell.

The big shadowy thing dropped something. The thing was long and thin. It was an arm! Talia had said that zombies had arms falling off of them!

“Tate, honey, are you okay?” That was Daddy’s voice. Daddy had arms falling off of him! Daddy was a zombie!

Then he turned on the light. I was confused for a second, because he still had both arms. I looked at the floor to see what he had dropped. It was a little too long and a little too thin to be an arm. It was the broom that sat on the other side of my door.

“Yes, Daddy, I’m okay,” I said.

“Why did you scream like that?” Daddy asked. “You scared me!”

“No reason,” I said.

“Okay, Tate-bug. Don’t do that again, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, and then I went to sleep.

The Temple of the Lost

The sun beat down on Francis’ back as he slashed through the underbrush with his machete. He moved silent as a mouse, as enemies and predators could be anywhere.

Derrick rolled down the small hill they had scaled, crushing the contents of his pack and various undiscovered species of small mammals. He screamed, but finally came to a stop at the bottom, covered in dirt and plant bits. 

Francis pulled him out of the dirt and brushed him off. Derrick had become somewhat of a challenge in the adventuring archaeology community. Members would be challenged to bring this imbecile of a man on an important journey. Rumor has it that multiple career-making discoveries had been foiled by the sheer stupidity of this man. Francis, however, was the best of the best, and he thought he could handle him. Now he was unsure, having actually spent time with the man.

“You fool!” Francis hissed. “We are nearing the temple of the lost! There could be traps and dangerous animals anywhere! Do you even know why we’re here?”

“I really don’t and I am just fine with that.” 

Francis rubbed his temples and let out the sigh of a man who was on the verge of collapse.

“We are here to retrieve the docunlitous contigous berry. Rumor has it that one of the last few berries is in the temple– ”

A spark of intelligence lit up in Derrick’s eyes like a tiny match behind seven layers of lead.

“I remember now! The dornkus berry! It makes you not get all wrinkly and stuff!”

“Actually it halts your aging — ahh, close enough. Just stay quiet!”

For the first time on the six-month expedition, Derrick moved quietly and stealthily. Francis was amazed that this creature was capable of this, but he had other things to focus on. 

The temple rose above them. It was around twenty feet tall. Smaller than Francis had hoped, but as long as it held his prize, it could be four feet tall for all he cared.

“Who could have made such a temple?” Francis wondered aloud.

“Jo mama.”

“Shut up Derrick! This is serious.”

Francis handed Derrick his pack and rolled up his sleeves.

“I will disable any traps inside. Wait here.”

Francis returned several hours later with considerably more cuts, bruises, and spider bites than before.

“You look like crap!” Derrick remarked.

“Let’s just go inside.”

The pair nervously trudged across the hallway, finally reaching a golden case at the end of the room. Francis carefully opened the case to reveal a small purple berry. Rather unremarkable, if you didn’t know it’s history.

Francis stared at it in almost-holy reverence as Derrick plucked it out of the jar and accidentally squished it between his oafish fingers. He watched as it dripped onto the ground.

Francis stood in shock for two breaths.

Then his face contorted into a mask of anger, his body trembling in rage as he let out a primal shout. Months of putting up with this man’s unending stupidity, his mockery of the work Francis considered so sacred, and his stupid quips and ruining of equipment just ended in the destruction of what Francis had been searching for his entire life. This man… THIS MAN would pay.

He leapt across the room, his hands contorting into fists as he began a furious assault on this oaf. His fists fell like meteors and his scream was deafening, assaulting the man in his soul and his body. He screamed and screamed and screamed, until some hours later both of the men collapsed, the tension between the duo exhausted. They fell asleep, both dreading what would come in the morning.

Taxi!

It is hot. Very hot. I can feel my legs sticking together under the tight, unbearably itchy skirt I bought at a vintage shop for four dollars. I feel beads of sweat in my hairline about to make its grand appearance. The faint rumbling in the distance brings my hope up for a second, when I realize it is the R. The one positive thing about missing the train to the biggest job interview of your life so far in 97 degree weather is the gratifying gust of warm air from the wrong train. I fan myself with my hands, like that’s going to do anything. In that moment I make a decision. I’m taking a cab.

As I walk up to street level the loud sound of honking of New York makes me want to break down and cry. Can you just stop honking for one second? Sometimes I just wish that everything would just freeze. That way I could get to my interview and everything would be fine and dandy. But that’s not how life works.

I stand on the curb and flail my hand rapidly. Thankfully, a cab pulls over. I hop in so fast, you could mistake me for the flash if you squinted. I pull out my black heels and slide them on in replacement of my sneakers. I yell at the driver to take me to my location.

“Broadway and 50th please!” The man gives me a thumbs up.

Once I’m in the car and buckled up I feel a sense of relief. Lucky for me, there is air conditioning and mild traffic, so I’ll probably be there on time. I sit back and take a few breaths. In and out. Ok, game time. I pull out my laptop and open the website for the graphic art company, Art Touch NYC. I watch the company’s introductory video for the 100th time. At this point I basically have the 45 second video memorized. Next, I open YouTube to a video titled “how to ace that interview! Tips from a pro”

I’m about to watch it when I hear a voice coming from the front of the cab. 

“So why so stressed sweetheart?” the man says.

“Job interview,” I say and do that smile that you do to strangers on the street that is also used to signal that you don’t want to make a conversation with the creepy old taxi driver that just called you sweetheart. Gross.

Instead of taking my signal of the fake smile and me starting my job interview video again, he keeps talking.

“What kinda position?” 

“I’m interviewing for a graphic design job. My job will be an assistant client agent. At least that’s what the job title is called. I will basically assist and learn from the head of that branch,” I say in a quick and monotone voice. That was a sort of close ended answer, so I’m really hoping he stops talking and lets me touch up my makeup.

“Is this your first job? I’ve always had a sense for when people are stressed out. Or maybe it’s because your face is all twisted and you are so extremely frustrated with the task of untangling your ear buds,” he says, looking in the rear view mirror. He chuckles. 

There is something sort of therapeutic about his voice, but I was not in the mental state to be having small talk with my taxi driver. 

“I’m Eddie by the way”

“Isabel,” I respond. 

“Oh Isabel! What a beautiful name. You know, that’s my granddaughter’s name. She’s the sweetest girl. I think you would love her. She’s 16.”

“Cool. My younger sister is 16 also. Her name is Rebecca,” I say, almost forgetting about the interview for a moment. “I haven’t seen my family since Christmas.”

“Wow, what a coincidence! I haven’t seen my beautiful girl in a little over a year. Her mother…” he trails off and bows his head. The car pulls to a stop at a red light. “Actually, I have a picture!”

I close my laptop and look at the small picture he pulled out of his wallet. She has black hair and brown eyes. He smiles and carefully outs the picture in his wallet.

I smile. “She looks like a nice girl. What does she like to do?”

“She plays volleyball. I went to one of her junior varsity games a few years ago. She’s really good.” He chuckles and says, “I sound like I’m promoting her.”

I look out the window and stare at my surroundings. The tall building, different shops, hot dog carts, and confused tourists. The hot NYC air has become cool fast wind as the car moves down the street. I stick my head out the window like a dog. 

“I have some advice for you, Isabel. Don’t stress about the little things in life, because you won’t be young, in New York, and following your dreams for the first time forever. Now go get your job!” he says, pulling up to the building. I look at him as I’m unbuckling my seatbelt.

“Thank you.” I take my card out of my wallet. I’m about to swipe when his hand stops me. I smile at him and get out of the car. He drives off. I turn on my heel and open the door into the cold office building. It’s go time.

A Breakfast Call

1.

Friday is always the best, I have art class in school and a longer lunch. Although today it will be devoted to 7th grade geometry. I always study last minute for tests. Breakfast as usual will be cereal. My mom has already left for work and took Katie to kindergarten. I sit at our four seat table that is squished between a staircase and the oven. Our small NYC apartment can only hold us three.

My bag is already standing by the door and my shoes are on. I quickly gulp down the extra milk and am interrupted by a bring bring. The phone never rings. We aren’t very social people. Katie’s birthday party consists of us and her two other friends. Mine are just me and Mia, but we’ve been friends since we were three years old. I bring my hand up to my ear. 

“Hello?” I squeak. My voice is shaky but I don’t know why I’m nervous.

“Ms. Williams?” A deep voice says. “I am from the local police station. Are you the daughter of Sarah Williams?”

“Yes.” My hands start getting clammy. Now I know why my breath is shaky.

“She and Katie got into an accident. They are at the D.C.R Hospital, come immediately.”

I don’t know what I should do but I know for sure that I will be missing art class and our longer lunch. My only solution is to take the subway and I know that will take at least an hour. “Sir, Mr., um, officer, I can be there in an hour minimum?”

“We have to do x-rays now.”

“Oh um… how bad are they hurt?” I say but notice he hung up. My mind starts racing through everything that has happened. How? Why? Where? I run down the street, through the places I have grown up. My strides reach over two steps as I run down the stairs into the train station. As I get into the station I see a train, the R train. Just the one I need. As I run up to it, the door closes in my face and the wind rushes through my hair. The air almost feels damp and I can feel the dirt. 

“20 minutes till the next R train.”

The station is almost empty so I let myself slip down into a ball on the floor. Thankfully the twenty minutes is only 7 and I’m headed in the right direction. I tell myself not to think about what could happen but my mind finds every way to think about it. I wonder if they will get back to normal or how hurt they are. I get off a stop early and decide to run the rest of the way there, telling myself it will be quicker.

They said there was an accident and so there would be traffic. I try not to think who was in that accident. Rain splatters the street and dampens my hair as I run through the crowded streets but I don’t care. Cars zoom past me and I look away, knowing that my sister might never ride in her car seat again.

The one other time I’d been to the hospital was when we were all playing frisbee. I fell and had to get stitches. I cried the whole way there and back. I remembered the same white hallways and plastic chairs. I remembered the smell of medicine and cleaning spray and it whacks me in the face now as I rush through the double doors. Everybody looks so calm but I am scared and way more than nervous. My hands are shaking and clammy. I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Are you looking for anybody?” a nurse asks me.

“My mom and sister were brought here about two hours ago. I… I need to see them.”

She wraps her arms around me and leads me farther into the white. I am met by another woman dressed in the same white robe. She leads me down a white hallway and stops in front of a white door. It has a paper on it that says “Williams.” I look up at the nurse’s face and she nods towards the door.

Inside is a white bed with white pillows and white walls with a white chair. The doctor greets me and I feel relieved. Katie is in the bed and I don’t want to overwhelm her so I take her 6-year-old hand. Her eyes are closed and she has a tube attached to her wrist. I haven’t noticed that the doctor has been talking to me so I tune in.

“Basically, Katie is going to heal in the next two days.”

“What about my mom?” I cautiously ask.

“Well, she is in a worse state.” He looks down to his clipboard and starts writing again. 

“How bad?” I ask.

He glances up at me through his glasses. I hear him gulp and he turns and walks out of the door. If I wasn’t as shy, I would walk up to him and demand to know. But I just walk back over to Katie and take her hand.

The doctor knows Mom is in a bad state but I just wonder if maybe it could be worse than “a bad state.” As I’m thinking, I notice Katie’s eyes open.

“Katie!” I say. She looks at me through her glazed eyes. Her hair is thrown around her and her lips are dry and scratched. 

“Ella?”

“Oh my god, are you okay? Does anything hurt?”

“Mmm. No,” she mumbles. I can tell from her voice that she doesn’t have much in her so I don’t say more just let her drift into sleep. 

2.

I wake up to find the sun screaming at me through the dusty windows, and the walls seeming so much brighter than they were yesterday. A nurse is already writing something down in her notebook and Katie is sitting up in bed with a glass of water in her hand.

“She should be able to leave tonight,” the nurse tells me.

I nod happily but once the nod is over, everything starts to fill my head. Where should we go? Back home? To Dad? We only call him once a month. He doesn’t have a family yet and he does not have a stable life. He leaves where he lives every month or so and his apartment is always bare. Our only other option would be Aunt Suzy, but her crazy house and 7 dogs make it unlivable. 

By three, I’m stuffed with hospital food and apple juice. Katie is finishing up on x-rays and then we can leave. I haven’t seen Mom yet but the nurse tells me she will be here for a long time so I take her out of the picture. I tell Dad to pick us up at three which for him means four. The one thing Mom always tells us is how late he is.

By the time Katie gets out, it’s 3:30. By the time we start getting bored, it’s 4:00.

4:30 comes quickly and 5:00 passes slowly. When 6:00 comes, there’s no hope left. Katie falls asleep on my shoulder and by 7:00, I’m asleep too. I wake up at 4 in the morning to find a car swerving onto the driveway. It is very old and I can see the once black paint has now turned into a mess of scratches. I scramble up and shake Katie until she is up and yelling at me. 

“He’s here!” I tell her and thrust my finger in the direction of the car.

“Oh my god, oh my god!” she screams and runs towards the driveway. 

I pull her away for a second.

“We don’t know what he is going to be like so take it easy and try not to be too beggy or anything,” I say. She looks up at me and gives me her pouty face. But before she can say anything, he comes up to us.

“Hey girls!” he says. Katie distracts him with her cute remarks and endless hugs, which gives me enough time to look over him. His voice is deep and his beard reaches just below his chin. I can tell his jacket has been through a lot and his shoes are one step away from falling apart. His car growls and puffs. 

“Well, I guess we should get going, is this all you have?” He glances at our bags neatly placed by the bench.

“Yep.” Katie squeals and runs over to them. 

“Oh, I got it, sweety,” he says and takes it from her small hand. He tries to grab mine but I quickly clench my fist around it. His eyes meet mine and they are black, and scary.

3.

When we get to his apartment, it is already seven in the morning. Katie and I fall asleep but I wake up as our car shakes as we run over a pothole. I know as soon as I open my eyes that this is the rundown part of town. The houses are missing shingles and lawns are dry. Windows are duck taped together and clothes are put on racks outside to dry. I look up to find Dad with one hand on the wheel and the other one holding a beer. 

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Taking you kids home,” he says. 

“I know this is my fault, but you at least could have tried to help.”

“Honey, I’m doing my best.”

“Well, showing up at four in the morning with a battered car seems like you didn’t try at all,” I yell, but try to keep my voice down. 

Katie starts to stir and I quickly shut my mouth.

“Monrin’,” Dad tells her. She yawns and stretches out her arms. “We’re here guys.”

The car slowly pulls to a stop in front of a ten story building. The once white paint has been chipped off of more than half of the building and the part that is left has now turned to a matted grey and I can tell that it is not right, that some windows are missing. I find Katie’s hand and grasp it. She looks up at me through her big eyes and I know I should have kept her more safe. Dad throws his beer can in the nearest trash. He’s never gonna change is he? Why did I trust him? Why did I think that for once he could be a Dad? Our Dad.

Godzilla

When I ask you to think about a big movie monster, most of you would think of Godzilla. Many of you would think that Godzilla has one two or three movies, but he actually has a huge amount of movies. There are people who think he is from another world, other people think that he is a prehistoric sea creature, more of that later. Now a lot of people would think that all that Godzilla does is kill destroy destroy destroy, but he has a much more deeper history that has become clearer as more movies come out over time.

Godzilla first hit the big screen in 1954 at a height of 50 metres, which is 164 feet. His length was 122 metres, or 400 feet, and he weighed 30,000 tons. Its original name was gojira which is japanese for Godzilla. He remained that height until 1984, when he became 80 metres or 262 feet, and his length was 190 metres or 623 feet, and weighed 50,000 tons. What a lot of people don’t know is that they made a Godzilla vs King Kong movie in 1962. They even made movies where he had a child! There are 33 Godzilla movies and one tv show. They are making a new one in 2019. He remained that height and length, then in 1991, he became 100 metres and stayed that way until 1993. In 1994, they released Burning Godzilla. He was still 100 metres though. Then in 1998, they made a movie called Zilla. He looked like a t-rex except he was 60 metres tall. 

Then in 2000, Godzilla was 55 metres, and in 2001, he was 60 metres. Then in 2001-2003, Godzilla was 55 metres, and in 2004’s Godzilla Final Wars, he was 100 metres. In Godzilla Legendary in 2014, he was a 108 metres and weighed 90,000 tons. In Godzilla Resurgence 2016, Godzilla shin was 118 metres tall weighing 92,000 tons, then in the tv show, (SPOILER ALERT) there were two Godzillas. One of them was named Godzilla filius and was 5 meters tall and weighed 10,000 tons, and the other was named Godzilla earth. He was 300 meters tall and weighed 100,000 tons. He was a little shorter than the Eiffel tower.

Godzilla is such a beast! But there is more to it. All the other kaiju king ghidorah mothra battra rodan so on and so forth come from the same large family tree with way waaaay larger monsters. King Kong is probably from the same family tree. Anyway, all those kaiju are called the titans in Godzilla King of the Monsters. They probably ruled the world before us. There are even caveman drawings of the kaiju, which is evidence of  my point. Most of the kaiju have something special. For example, Godzilla has atomic breath, Rodan has supersonic flight so he destroys buildings under him when he’s flying. The other kaiju are King Ghidorah, Mothra, Battra, and Ebirah. 

Godzilla could have come from another world or he was a sea creature exposed to nuclear waste, but I think it was both. I think he was alien-looking, very different from Godzilla, then his ship crashed, and there was some nuclear waste or some kind of chemical mixture that he was exposed to that made him the all powerful beast …..Godzilla. 

Now a lot of people would think that there is a lot of destruction in his history, but there is actually some peace in it too. I have a very likely theory that Godzilla and the other kaiju ruled their own parts of the world, so there was peace until we came along. We took the world from them so it will be just a matter of time before they take it back.

I think that the kaiju all had their own territory. It was peaceful, but the cave drawings show that they fight sometimes.  And then when the world split up into different continents, Godzilla went to the ocean and King Ghidorah ended up being frozen in a giant block of ice. I have no idea what happened to the rest of them. I think that Godzilla’s part of the world started shifting to form a continent. Godzilla fell into the ocean, and King Ghidorah’s continent shifted. It formed into the Arctic and he was frozen into a huge block of ice.

I think this is important because the new Godzilla movie is coming out. I think it would be important if more people knew about him so when the movie comes out people will be ready.  I think it is important for people to know that he is more than just a monster because there a lot of stereotypes of Godzilla going around. These movies have given more information on him, slowly revealing his past.

SOURCES

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbFILj44OX0


Eggward: The Hatchening

Chapter 1

How do you join a cult? Do you need a resume or something? How do you write a resume? These are all things that Greg was thinking. Greg had always had a gaping hole in his life and maybe temporarily joining a cult could help. Greg had an unlikable personality. Shoot, I’m late for work, Greg thought. He got up from his computer and walked over to the door. He walked down the long hallway and pressed “LOBBY” on the elevator. 

When he arrived at the lobby he stumbled out of the elevator door. Some kids pointed at him and giggled. Greg glared at them and they ran away laughing. 

Greg walked to his car. He loved his 2010 PT Cruiser. It was an awful car but it was his prized possession. Greg opened his door then drove off. 

When Greg arrived at his call center, he took off his coat and draped it on his chair. Greg looked at his clipboard which had all the phone numbers that he had to call by the end of the day. Having a clipboard seemed kind of useless considering he had a desk. He put on his headset and made his first call. He dialed the numbers on his sheet. “Hello Sir, how would you like to lose ten pounds in less than five minutes.” *beeeeep* Most of the time, people don’t even    answer the phone, so this was a good way to start the day. Greg was vexed by this. He went to his boss to complain about how no one would listen to him and ask how he could improve his telemarketing skills. Telemarketing is an artform. But his boss wasn’t in his office. That’s weird, Greg thought, his boss was never late. Greg went back to his desk and made more calls. His boss didn’t even come to work that day, he was probably just sick. 

The next day his boss still wasn’t there. 

When Greg got home, he plopped down on his couch and tuned his tv to the news. “15 people have gone missing in the past few days.” All of a sudden the TV volume went silent. Greg stood up to see if he was sitting on the remote, but no, the remote was on the coffee table. Greg blinked, but when he opened his eyes, it was still all black. His room started to smell like dead animals. He couldn’t think clearly, he was panicking, screaming for help… Greg fell on the floor, banged his head on something, then was out cold. 

Chapter 2

Greg woke up. Greg was in a dark, moist room that smelled of roadkill. He heard a chant that kept repeating itself but he couldn’t quite make out what it said. Greg was still a little dizzy from when he was hit in the head. When he tried to get up, his wrists burned. There was an old rope tying him to the chair. The more he struggled, the tighter it got. The chanting got louder and louder. 

A man wearing a dark hood came up to Greg. “Greg.” the voice boomed.

“What do you want from me?” Greg pleaded. “ you have the wrong guy” cried Greg.

“Do you want to see him again?” the voice said.

“I don’t know who you are talking about” Greg cried

“Your Father” boomed the voice

Greg’s father died many years ago when Greg was only 8. 

“My father died years ago in a car crash when I was a boy.”

“He is here” 

Greg was crying

“Where is he then?” Greg cried sarcastically. Another man in a hood came up to Greg. He pulled off his hood. It was Greg’s father.

Chapter 3

Greg’s eyes started watering, he didn’t know what to say. “I-I-how could you?” Greg stuttered. “You ruined my life!” 

“I think you two have a lot to catch up on so uh… im just gonna… ya know, he he leave…” awkwardly said the other guy in the hood as he slowly backed away.

 “What is this place.” demanded Greg. 

“we are the Men of the Night” 

“That’s a stupid name.”

“This is why I never loved you. You ruin everything son” Now you can see why greg has an unlikable personality. 

“Can I leave now?”

“No.”

“Ok.” Suddenly, Greg felt a sharp pain in his neck. Greg felt woozy. Everything went black. “Sleep sleep my child” Greg’s dad whispered into Greg’s ear as he lightly stroked his head. 

Chapter 4

Greg was woken up by the same chant that he had heard earlier, only this time, he could hear it. Ohmah Eggward, Ohmah Eggward, Ohmah Eggward, Ohmah Eggward, Ohmah Eggward. He was tied to another chair. In front of him was one bath tub with the water turned on. The bath tub was full of blood, in the tub, was only one, single, rubber duck. The duck’s beady blue eyes stared into Greg’s. To the left of the bathtub, a pile of marshmallows. The bathtub started to overflow. The marshmallows were now soggy and wet. Greg was sad, not because he knew this was the place he would die, but because some perfectly good marshmallows gone to waste. But no, this was not the place he would die. Greg kept struggling. He twisted his hands, ignoring the extreme pain he felt from the rope on his wrist. His wrist started bleeding. It hurt so badly. But eventually the rope snapped. He was free! He ran around wherever he was frantically trying to find a door or window. He ran around a corner and crashed into someone. It was his father. Greg scrambled up and sprinted in the opposite direction.

“You can’t ruuuuuun,” called Greg’s father. Greg ignored him.

Greg saw a boarded up window. The wood was old, and could break easily. He didn’t hesitate. He jumped into the boards and luckily they broke. He fell down one story on to the ground right in front of the front door. He landed face first. He started crawling away. The front door the building opened. Out came 15 people all dressed in robes but none of them wore the hood. He didn’t recognize any of them. He took a closer look. Greg’s boss was one of them. Some of them dual wielded knives. Two of them carried ropes. All of a sudden, the building started shaking.

“He is here,” all of them whispered. The building started shaking more and more. The front wall of the building crumbled. Inside, was a giant turtle.

“Its Eggward,” whispered Greg’s father

The Dark World

Editor’s Note: Content Warning for Violence and Suicide.

My name is Rex. It is currently 1948, or I am led to believe that by Stalin. I am the best looking person in the Soviet Union. This landed me in a stinky jail cell with my sister and both my parents dead. You see, with my black hair and midnight blue eyes, I got another boy at my school in a rich family jealous of me, so he got his parents to throw me into this cell with my twin sister, Hazel, who has icy blue eyes and blond hair. We plan to make it out of jail. Every day we collect the grease from our bacon, take all the olive oil from our salad, and I sell my poetry to all the other prisoners for their olive oil. My most recent poem is,

I Am Sad, 

Now I Am Glad,

Life Is Bad,

Now I Am Sad. 

Everyone takes my poems super emotionally. Today, I am going to the lunch room again. One of the other prisoners, Mr. Forkle, an old wrinkly guy, gives me a piece of chocolate.

“Thank you,” I say.

I walk a few feet.

“Hey, Rex,” says Jimm, a huge obese guy at another table.

Hazel is sitting next to him. I nod at her, and she passes a note to big Jimm.

He looks at me after reading it and says, “Sorry… I, I can’t.”

I make my way to the largest man in the room, who just so happens to be guarded by five guards, so I talk to the guards and convince them to go and eat their food.

“Hey, Hektor.”

He looks down and says go away. I hand him the note big Jimm denied.

He reads it, and then he gets very quiet and says, “Yes, I will help you get out. Just give me the go.”

I respond, “Thank you.”

The next day, I put all the oil in a jar and shout. I hear the sound of metal ripping, then the tower in the room falls over. I know Hektor did it. He created a distraction. I burn the jar with oil, and I blow a hole in the wall. Hazel and I jump out and run towards the woods, and then the sound of bombs going off and bullets come from behind us. Hazel cries and shouts. I cover her mouth and run. Then we hear shouts from cops. 

“Where are Tam and Sophie?” I ask. 

“Running for the woods.”

Then there is gun fire, and next to me, a bullet hits the ground. I sprint to the woods, and once I get to the woods, I see a car with a key in it. I jump in. On the wheel it says Bugatti, and Sophie jumps in on the other side. I am shivering, and Hazel is sweating. I hit the speed pedal, and in a moment, the car goes from parked to 200 miles per hour. I am tearing through the woods, and dust is flying. Then bombs blow on either side of the car, and a buzzing sound comes from above us.

“Shit,” Hazel whispers.

Then she looks back and sees a machine gun.

Hazel

I look back and see a machine gun.

I shout, “Rex, open the sunroof!”

The small Bugatti window scrolls open. I stick the heavy machine gun out the roof and aim and pull the trigger. Ka-boom is the only way I could describe the fate of one of those five helicopters. Then Rex seeds up the car, and the machine gun misses its aim. I only meant to take down one helicopter. Well, let’s say there were none after that. I feel cold. This is my first time with a gun. Then Rex closes the sunroof, and I sit down, and five minutes later, we show up in a new town, where Tam slows down and parks. On the street in front of us there is bad traffic, so we get out and we ask someone passing by, who looks just like Mr. Forkle.

“Where are we?”

They respond saying Stalingrad. Then I ask why there is so much traffic, and they say Stalin is visiting the city, and Rex asks where he is, and they say in the Capitol Building, and then I say thank you. Then Rex says to me let’s murder him, and I say no stop being so violent then I think if we murder him we will have temporary border laws that make life easier, so we can get out so I say okay yes, lets roll. 

Once we get the car to the Capitol Building, we get out the gun, and Tam blows the crap out of the building. We jump back in the car, and Rex hits the speed pedal, and like a drag racer, drives to the highway. He drives as fast as he can towards the border of the Soviet Union.

Rex

When we reach the border, I let Hazel drive while I shoot all the guards. Then I get out and pick up their smaller guns. The lighting strikes a nearby tree, so I run to the car, and on the way, boom, all I can feel is heat. Then the world goes black.

Hazel

I run out, pick up Rex’s limp body, and drag it into the car. I am crying and shivering and sweating at the same time. I feel his pulse, and it is there but fading, so I drive to the nearest hospital where the doctors start to work right away. One of the doctors looks oddly like Mr. Forkle. Rex’s normally beautiful face is pale and messed up. The nurse brings me to the waiting room where I take a nap. Five hours later, the nurse calls me up. They are going to wake up Rex, and the nurse wants me to be there. They wake him up, and immediately I know something is wrong.

Rex 

My eyes fly open, and immediately I hear talking, all the doctors saying what they have to do next and Hazel saying something is wrong.

“Stop shouting,” I whisper.

Then Hazel shouts is he okay, but her lips are not moving.

All the doctors start talking but more quietly, and for the first time I see them talking with their lips.

Then I say, “Hazel, help.”

She gives me a sad glare, and I hear her say I wish I could, but her lips are not moving. Then I rage. I have had enough shouting.

Stop!” 

Then they stop moving their lips, but the other voice gets louder to the point where they are all saying, “Is he sane?”

Then I play cool and say I am fine and can I go now, so Hazel takes me to the car, and she sits behind the wheel, and all I can hear is her thoughts. Then it hits me. I can read minds. I tell Hazel.

Then she says, “Tell me what I am thinking.”

And I say, “Are you sane?”

And she says I got it. I then think of poetry and now I look around and can almost see the world in a whole new way now. I can feel what I see as a poet, right then I hear gunfire and I shout “drive” but it is too late. Her body jerks up, then she goes limp, and there is blood pouring out of her on to the floor. I immediately grab the machine gun and shoot at the other man with a gun. Then I aim the gun at my head and pull the trigger, and the gun clicks, and I realize, damn it is out of ammo, and I grab one of the smaller guns and pull the trigger, and then I feel blood pouring down my forehead but no pain. Then I see the gun is a water gun, and then I grab one of the larger AK-15s and pull that trigger and hold it down. Then I feel many sharp pains just pouring into my brain, and then a red liquid pours into my eyes and then the world goes black and I stop breathing.

The Mess at Home

Prologue

Skyline, who was a current king remembered when he was a little kitten, when his father, King Storm would play videogames in the bathroom and blast the camp with the noise. It was kinda funny as well as inappropriate to King Skyline when he thought about it. Or he’d watch The Lion King and sing along to the songs…

King Skyline was dreaming about the time when Storm called a meeting…

“Cats of Eastern Rome!” Sky’s father announced. “I have a special announcement. I’m going to be a mighty king when I get older!!”

“What?” one of the soldiers, whose name was Thunder, asked. “Your majesty, you are a king!”

“Yeah I know. But in The Lion King, Simba sings, “I just can’t wait to be King!!!’”

“You should really grow up,” Thunder muttered. “Kitten.”

Skyline was sitting beside his sister Violet. Violet was staring intently into her father’s eyes. Skyline, on the other paw, felt miserable.

Skyline’s and Violet’s mother Saltwater was instructed by King Storm to watch their kittens so that they wouldn’t goof off at the meeting.

“Whoop!” Storm squealed. “I think I broke a sweat!”

Thunder let out a grunt of laughter. “Isn’t there a meeting?”

“Yep,” King Storm answered. “The meeting of Sky and Violet’s apprenticeship. Come on up kitties!”

Violet rushed up, but Skyline felt his fur prickling at the thought of being watched. His sister, Violet, was usually excited to be announced in front of all the watching soldiers, but Skyline, on the other paw, would rather be deep in a hole than in front of everyone.

“Go on, Skyline.” Saltwater gave her son a few licks behind the ears. “You can do it. I believe in you sweety.”

Skyline stood on his hind legs and nuzzled her. I don’t want to leave your side!

“Presenting: Skyline’s and Violet’s apprenticeship!” Storm continued. “Hey, what’s the holdup, Salty?”

“Sky’s being shy again,” Saltwater answered honestly. “Kinda funny eh?”

Storm shook his head. “Remember when I was too shy to even leave my parent’s side? That wasn’t funny. Just come up here with him if that makes him feel any better.”

It probably won’t, Skyline thought. I can’t do this! He covered his eyes with his paws. It’s too scary!

Saltwater picked him up by the scruff and carried him to his sister. “Here you are, Sky.” She set him down beside Violet.

“Shy pants,” Violet teased.

Skyline ignored her and looked up at his father. “W-what’s happening?”

“Your promotion,” the King answered. “Thunder, since you’re one of my trusted friends, I trust you to show Skyline the way of the soldier. Well done, Prince Skyline.”

Thunder looked at King Storm in shock. “What?”
“You heard me, lazy! Get up!” King Storm playfully commanded. “Nah, I’m joking. Just stay where you are.”

“No, I’m coming.” Thunder wearly dragged himself up beside the King. “I’ll do the honor.”

“I’m honored,” King Storm purred. “Honolulu?! You up for training Violet to be your successor?”

“Definitely!” The healer, Honolulu stretched herself out. “I’ll do it.”

“Good,” King Storm murmured. “I’m trusting you with my gifted daughter. Don’t let anything happen to her.”

“You can count on me!” Honolulu vowed.

Chapter One

King Skyline jolted himself awake. No! Father and mother are gone! He turned over and wept into his pillow, feeling like a kitten.

“Skyline! Come out and have breakfast with us!” one of Skyline’s soldiers called.

Many have died over the years, including Honolulu, leaving Violet as a lone healer. King Skyline’s soldiers were now: Alanna, who was his mate, Sofia, who was his daughter (aka the next cat in line for the throne), Shadow, who was Sofia’s sister, Thunder, who was still barely alive along with his mate, Glittery, and these new cats that Skyline had never heard of that just joined the other day, named Rosa and Specter.

“King Skyline!” Alanna called again. “Breakfast is ready!”

King Skyline wearly dragged himself out of bed, remembering to groom his silvery fur. He had the exact same silvery fur and blue eyes as his mother did and his sister, Violet, was the spitting image of their father Storm, with sleek black fur and blue eyes.

“Don’t make me come in there and drag you!” Alanna growled. “We don’t have all day! Sofia and Shadow are itching to play with you!”

If only I could wrestle with my father again, King Skyline thought miserably. I’d give all I have for that. He had watched The Lion King the other night to remind him of his father, but he ended up crying the entire time. I’m not doing that again! Never would I ever cry in front of the soldiers!

Alanna was suddenly right beside him. “What’s the matter with you?”

“Still grieving,” King Skyline said with a sigh. “It’s so hard to lose my mom and then my dad less than a year later.” His mother had died from a deadly disease, then it passed to King Storm, who was forced to retire because of it. Luckily he had gotten better, but he left to go somewhere to heal so Violet wouldn’t catch it. He survived there for a little while, but then he died because it got worse and worse until he was dead all together. One of the cats there was named Aldwyn and brought him the devastating news that his father was dead.

Alanna gave him a few licks on the cheek. “Have you forgotten about being a king?”

King Skyline shook his head. He made announcements like a king would normally do, but sometimes he got stage fright and would freeze in place with his fur sticking all over the place. Alanna and Violet would carry him to the royal tent (which was where he slept) immediately, before he could faint. One time he actually did faint. It was his first announcement when he became King and found out when his father passed away. He had tried speaking to the soldiers but he just got so scared that he froze. Everyone stared at him but then after a few minutes, he just fainted. King Skyline knew he would never forget that moment.

Alanna murmured the lyrics to Hakuna Matata in his ear.

King Skyline joined in. King Skyline went under the bed, trying to control his grief. My father used to sing that song in the shower. Even though it was gross, I loved it. I would listen every day when Thunder trained me to listen to my ears and what I was hearing from them.

“I just can’t wait to be King!” Alanna murmured. “Remember that one?”

King Skyline growled, coming out from under the bed and beginning to dance to the words. “I remember humming that to myself when I was little. I was too shy to sing that aloud. Geezus man, father would sing that song better than I could.”

“Aww shucks, Sky. You have a great voice,” Alanna purred. “Well, I’ve never seen a king of beasts with quite so little hair.”

King Skyline sang the song and demonstrated a long meow, trying to make it into a roar.

“Aww, you’re a kitten,” Alanna purred. “You can’t even roar.”

“Aww stop!” King Skyline headbutted her affectionately. “I’m a lion and I’m trying to roar!” He tried to roar, but it came out as a strangled kitten meow.

“Haha,” Alanna teased. “Lion cub. Can’t even roar.”

“I’m a cat.” King Skyline was beginning to forget about being a king, which he was enjoying. The sooner I forget about my grief, the happier I’ll feel.

“Do you like The Lion King because your father did?” Alanna asked quietly.

Skyline winced. “Uh, I like it because it best describes my life. Simba’s adorable!”

“Cuter than Sofia and Shadow?” Alanna pressed.

“Stop! I don’t like comparing Sofia and Shadow to Simba.” King Skyline threw his paws over his head.

“Get your crown on, lazy. We need to make sure Sofia and Shadow don’t get into trouble.”

“I lost it remember?” King Skyline looked at her miserably. “Oh and I still want to try to roar like Simba!” He tried once again to roar but it came out as a small kitten meow.

“Sky, stop showing off,” Alanna growled, “it’s time to be serious now. I know you want to forget your grief, but that’s not how life works. You still will have a trickle of memories with your parents no matter what. Are you sure you want to forget about them?”

King Skyline looked at his paws. “I don’t know anymore!” He stormed out of the tent and into the clearing where everyone was waiting for him. He could hear their tummies growling. We took that long singing?

“Daddy!” Shadow immediately hugged her dad. “What took so long? Were you moping and doping with mother?”

“We were singing,” King Skyline murmured. He felt a rush of love towards his daughter. “Where’s Sofia?”

“Staring at us as if we’re outta place,” Shadow answered. She let him go and went off to eat.

Sofia stared at her sister as she went. “Father, you’re late again.” Sofia was a distant cat from everyone, the opposite of her sister who befriended about everyone. Sofia was sometimes a hissy and mean cat, but most of the time she was a distant and shy cat. Skyline was also distant and shy when he was little and he still was that way now.

“Yeah I know.” King Skyline looked at her pretty sleek fur. Sofia and Shadow were both black cats with yellow eyes which was unusual because neither Skyline nor Alanna (not even Violet) had yellow eyes. Skyline had blue eyes, so did Violet, and Alanna had green eyes.

“Why so glum?” Sofia asked absentmindedly, meaning she didn’t care for an answer or care in general.

King Skyline didn’t answer. He didn’t want Sofia knowing that he was so attached to his parents even though he was too shy to come out of the bushes. His sister on the other paw would seize that opportunity to make King Storm and Saltwater purr so hard that they’d cry. Skyline, when he was little, used to get so frustrated that he’d go to his bed and cry. Thunder would reassure him that Violet would eventually have to go back to training. He would also advise him to be less shy if he wanted to beat his sister to their parents.

“Well I’m going to hang out by myself!” Sofia told her father in a high pitched voice. “Oh and I can’t wait to be queen.”

Oh boy. Not this again. What a mess ever since the thing that father used to always watch got out into the soldier’s thoughts. Everyone’s been saying, “I just can’t wait to be King!” or “I just can’t wait to be Queen!” but the problem with the song is that if someone says that aloud that means that they just can’t wait for the King to die because he sucks or “I just can’t wait for the Queen to die because she’s trash!” It’s just so mean! I should totally ban this! “Sofia…”

“What?!” Sofia backed away into the bushes with her ears flat. “Oh yeah, you’re the King. I should’ve kept quiet.” Sofia had taken over the throne for a couple of days because of Sky’s recent sickness. It had been so deadly that he had to retire for a short amount of time. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as King Storm’s sickness.

Just then Shadow raced back. “Hi!”

Sofia glared at her sister, but she quickly went into the bush to hide.

“Father, do you still like The Lion King?” Shadow asked.

“Yep for sure!” King Skyline felt this hollow feeling in his belly when he remembered watching it with his father on his first birthday. Saltwater had been away on vacation, but Storm was still enjoyable to watch the movie with.

“Do you like being king?” Shadow chattered. “I think you should be quite lucky because you make the decisions and boss everyone around. You also get to have your way.”

That’s true, King Skyline silently agreed, but if I could get my way, my way would be to have mom and dad to myself and have Violet be too busy to check in upon them.

Just then Violet passed by. “King Skyline, you have work to do. Stop sitting there like an apprentice who doesn’t know what he’s doing!”

“Stop bullying him all the time!” Shadow spat. “That isn’t very nice at all!”

King Skyline had to admire his daughter’s defense for him. It’s like she’s one of the guards for Simba in The Lion King, except that she’s my own cute little mini guard.

Violet looked at Shadow with affection in her eyes. “You should be lucky to have your daughter in your defense. You should never take anything for granted no matter what.” She walked out of the camp to probably restock the camp’s medicine, like she always did.

Siblings, King Skyline thought in disgust, always attempting to ruin their sibling’s life! Luckily Shadow and Sofia don’t do that to each other, yet. Though I think Shadow’s embarrassing to Sofia. I can see it in her eyes when Shadow goes up to random cats and talks to them, how Sofia looks away and races off.

“Skyline!” Alanna growled. “Eat something or you’ll be starving for the rest of today!”

King Skyline wearly picked at a piece of meat.

“Come on!” Alanna moaned. “You’re going to be cranky!”

King Skyline ignored her and went back to the royal tent. He went under his bed and thought of how his parents used to tell him mysterious stories. If only father would’ve met my kittens. He could’ve taught me the stories that would suit them.

“King Skyline, you would if you search their mind. Don’t be afraid of being a mind reader.”

“King Storm?” King Skyline tried to blink the emotion out of his eyes. “H-how are you here? How’s heaven?”

“I found out your taste in stories from reading your thoughts about your imaginative characters. Remember those imaginary characters you used to have?”  King Storm asked, completely ignoring him.

King Skyline winced. He suddenly remembered his character whose name was Asteroid. He was a mighty lion Skyline made up when he was a tiny kitten. He had almost forgotten about his imaginary friend. I love you Asteroid. I’d make you real if I could.

“Enough of that Sky. Now you should find out what Sofia and Shadow really like so you can tell them a story.”

“B-but I can’t tell stories!” King Skyline wailed in distress. “I-”

“There is no such thing as ‘I can’t’ my little wildebeest.”

“When will I be less miserable?” King Skyline moaned.

“You call singing and playing with Alanna miserable? Come on son, is having a mate and kittens miserable to you?!”

King Skyline looked at his matress unhappily. “I meant not having you and mom is miserable.”

“And if you die now, you might miss out if one of your kittens has kittens in a few years, if they do decide to have them. Are you sure you want to die now?”

“Can you make me die?”

There was silence. “Daddy?” King Skyline clenched his teeth together. “Dad!?”

There was still no answer. He’s gone! Skyline felt frustration course through him. He went onto his bed and buried his face in his pillow. And I just blew the conversation when I asked if he could make me die!

Alanna unexpectedly came in. “Sky?”

King Skyline didn’t bother answering.

“Your majesty.” Alanna bowed to him. “I’m sorry if I forced you out of your tent. You seemed so happy when we were singing the songs from The Lion King together.”

The King finally looked at her and saw her kneeling down. Awkward. “Rise.”

Alanna stood up. “Thanks. I was very uncomfortable.”

I’m uncomfortable too. Maybe I should’ve left you like that so you could see how I feel. Nope, not gonna work. I can already see that idea going horribly wrong.

“Shadow wants you to tell a story to her,” Alanna confessed uncomfortably. “I thought you could tell her one.”

“What does she want one about?” King Skyline asked. I want her thought to be private. I’m sorry Dad, but I just can’t invade my daughter’s mind. Maybe it was easier for you to read my mind than it is for me to think about reading Sofia’s or Shadow’s. He half expected an answer, but there was none. It was as if his father didn’t come down from heaven to visit him.

“Did you ever have any imaginary characters?” Alanna asked.

“Yes.” King Skyline suddenly felt all the memories of his kitty life flowing back to him. “Asteroid, who’s a powerful lion! He was a hero! He saved everyone’s lives!”

“Now that sounds like the movie Hercules,” Alanna growled.

“He’s a lion!” King Skyline spat. “My favorite!” he began purring as he imagined Asteroid saving someone’s life. “And his companion Belkie who’s a mighty tiger!”

“King Skyline!” Alanna gasped. “You’re being such a…”

“Such a what?!” King Skyline growled.

“No wait. I was thinking. Tell a story about Belkie and Asteroid and make them do what Shadow wants.”

“I don’t know,” King Skyline began, “I’m trying to keep them a secret.”

“Just tell them a story. They’ll never know you looked up to them your entire life.”

King Skyline remembered Belkie murmuring to him when his father died to take his place with honor just like Simba took Mufasa’s place in the movie The Lion King with honor even though he didn’t want to. Same with me. I didn’t want to become King either.

“Who do you like more? Belkie or Asteroid?” Alanna asked curiously.

King Skyline flinched. He had always thought of Belkie as a companion and Asteroid as a hero. He had always liked lions because they looked so beautiful with their mane versus tigers, who looked scary to him. When his mother used to tell him about tigers, he would hide behind her and cry. He loved it when she comforted him. Violet, on the other paw, would tease Skyline of how scared he used to be. She had said something like “tigers aren’t real, scaredy cat!”

“Skyline?” Alanna murmured. “Did I get too far?”

King Skyline shook his head. “No.” Why must I mention who I like more? I’ve never thought of this before at all in my kitty life or adult life!

“Are you sure?” Alanna pressed.

Skyline sighed. Please stop!

“Sky, I think we should have a one on one meeting,” Alanna hissed. “What do you say?”

King Skyline didn’t like meetings really. “Can it wait or is it important?”

“It’s important!”

Chapter Two

“So you want to talk about the time when I left because of my sickness?” King Skyline asked uncomfortably.

“Yes,” Alanna answered.

“What’s up then?” King Skyline got himself comfortable.

“Did you find your crown? It’s important that kings have their crowns.”

“No! Why? It isn’t that important! At least I survived!” King Skyline growled. No! I meant to say when I nearly “drowned.” I lost my crown in the river. I was peacefully walking to stretch in the sunlight when I tripped over a root and fell into the river. There he had nearly drowned, but Alanna rescued him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t go back and get his crown because it was too deep in the river. “Is that what we’re talking about?”

“No.”

“Then what are we talking about?”

“I want to talk to you about the mess we have here. We need to fix it. Cats have been dying here because they caught your sickness before you left. We only started noticing it after you left.” Alanna looked the other way.

“So what do you want me to do?” King Skyline asked, feeling useless.

“I want you to try to keep yourself healthy and not go off exploring everywhere anymore.”

King Skyline felt a surge of anger. He had always liked exploring beyond the camp, ever since he was little. The reason why was because he knew one day he’d be King so he wanted to get to know the world outside of the camp better. He’d heard that past kings were too busy ruling to get to know the world beyond the camp so when they would just peek at it, they would lose themselves. They had to literally wail to get everyone’s attention and they’d have to search for their king who had stupidly lost himself somewhere. It had actually happened to King Storm, but only once.

And I lost my father’s beautiful crown, King Skyline thought sadly. It was all my fault for not paying attention to my surroundings! I’ve lost almost everything he owned besides his silly spa bath he never used. King Skyline glared at the bathroom where his father would just soak his fur in mud. Totally eww! Who wants to get their beautiful fur messed up?!

“King Skyline, our home has been a mess since you left,” Alanna growled. “We’ve lost almost all our soldiers, if you haven’t noticed!”

King Skyline felt a jolt of realization. “So that’s why I only saw four soldiers outside?!”

“No! There’s still very few left. Here, I’ll give you the names: Thunder, Glittery, me, you, Sofia, Shadow, Rosa, and Specter.”

“What?! So Starlight, Sunlight and Atlantis… died?”

“Yep.” Starlight and Sunlight had been pretty annoying soldiers. They had been assigned to permanent guard duty because they were so annoying. Atlantis was Thunder’s sister who mostly stuck to herself.

“Who’s guarding the camp then?!” King Skyline demanded.

“You tell me. You’re the King.”

“And you might be Queen one day!” King Skyline snapped, “that is if I die and Sofia and Shadow aren’t old enough… ”

“Storm took over when he was ten months old so I don’t want to hear it,” Alanna interrupted.

King Skyline continued, ignoring the interruption, “or if I decide to bring marriage back and marry you, which ain’t happening!”

Alanna let out a purr of amusement. “If you take your shyness down a notch, anything could happen. You have crazy ideas in your mind, your majesty.”

How does she know everything about me? Can she sense it? The King shook himself out. She can’t even read minds! But she does know me a little too well.

“Sorry Sky, I didn’t know that unsettled you.” Alanna shifted her weight from paw to paw.

“Just stop talking for a sec,” Skyline murmured. “I need time to think over what you said about the shortage of soldiers. We could fall apart less than two years after Western Rome fell apart.” The current soldiers all lived and have lived in Eastern Rome which was where King Skyline and his soldiers had lived for countless years. Western Rome had crumbled because the leader of Eastern Rome before King Storm who was Queen Annabella led her soldiers into a battle which had startled Western Rome so much that they lost. Though King Storm told his son that his parents, who would be Violet’s and King Skyline’s grandparents, had been killed in that very battle. King Storm never told his son nor daughter the names of his parents though.

“I really am sorry,” Alanna repeated. “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. But then again, it’s just us. No one else is here.”

“Sofia likes to overhear conversations,” King Skyline hissed. “Remember when she talked loudly to us saying, ‘why do you have to leave? You can just have your sister heal you!’? It really did scare me ,Alanna.”

“You get scared easily,” Alanna said simply. “By the way, never underestimate our daughters. Sofia may be shy and all, but she knows more than she should.”

“What do you mean?” King Skyline felt fear make his fur stick up. “She should be minding her own business.”

“That’s what’s expected of her. But no, she intrudes on a lot of things. For example, I told you that we might have a date late last night and Sofia told the soldiers to keep us in the camp so we couldn’t go outside the camp and hang out one on one,” Alanna growled. “Remember how much I yelled at her that night and how much you were clawing up your bed?”

“Yeah.” King Skyline had liked the satisfaction of blaming his problems on his bed by clawing it as well as hissing at it.

“Shadow isn’t nosy though for some reason,” Alanna said uneasily. “Well she doesn’t make it obvious if she does overhear our conversations.”

“She doesn’t!” Skyline blurted. “She gives us our space.”

“How do you know?!”

“I uh… ” Well I didn’t find it in her mind, but she doesn’t ask us any suspicious questions and the soldiers don’t say anything. But I could be wrong and she could be overhearing our conversations.

“Exactly!” Alanna growled. “You don’t know for sure, unless you ask her.”

“Nope! I ain’t doing this!” King Skyline said immediately.

“I never said you had to ask her. I don’t know if I want to ask her either. I think it’s best if we just-” Alanna began.

Just then Shadow darted in. “Sofia’s spying on you guys!” she gasped. “I came to warn you to keep your voices down!”

“Did you overhear our conversation?” Alanna growled.

“No!” Shadow gasped. “I’m always honest.”

“I believe her,” Skyline said quietly.

“Oh Skyline! You must think before speaking!”

The King ignored her. “Shadow, can you tell Sofia to mind her own business?”

“I told her to leave you guys alone, but she hissed at me!” Shadow wailed. “What should I do?”

King Skyline felt uncomfortable. “Alanna, can you ask her?”

“She won’t listen to me either. Maybe she would obey if you asked her yourself. After all, you are the King.”
King Skyline nodded and tracked his daughter by her scent. Asteroid, if you were real, what would you say?

He heard a hiss coming from behind a statue of the first king who was King Rome. No one really liked him because he was a spoiled brat but someone was probably forced to build that statue of him.

“Oh hi father, I didn’t know you were here.” Sofia came out of hiding. “I just thought I heard voices.”

“That was mine and your mother’s,” King Skyline growled. “I’ve come to find you to ask you something.”

“What is it?” Sofia asked, “and I’m not going anywhere near Shadow.”

King Skyline ignored the last part of what she said. “Can you stop spying on me and your mother?”

“B-but, I like knowing your plans-” Sofia began.

“Do I have to post guards just because you won’t give me and your mother alone time?” King Skyline pressed. I don’t even have enough soldiers to do this! Sofia, you better not be difficult!

Sofia shook her head. She looked at her paws in shame. “Sorry.”

“Good. If I hear anything about you spying on us, then I’ll have to post guards. Understood?”

“Yes father.” Sofia left the royal tent miserably.

Is this the power of a lion? King Skyline wondered as he went back over to join Alanna, and having a tiger companion?

“Well done Skyline. You’ve become a great king in my place.”  King Storm’s voice surprised him.

King Skyline looked around, but didn’t spot him. “Was it Asteroid and Belkie?”

King Skyline could’ve sworn he heard his father purring with amusement but he wasn’t sure. “No son, it was all you. Those silly made up characters had nothing to do with you putting a stop to your daughter spying on your’s and Alanna’s conversation.”

Skyline brightened. But we have a shortage of soldiers. He felt his happiness fade.

“Be patient. More will come over the years.”

“What do you mean by that?” King Skyline asked, feeling startled.

There was no answer yet again. Darn!

“Who are you talking to?” Alanna asked.

King Skyline prefered not to say anything. “One of my imaginary characters.”

Alanna let out a purr of amusement. “Which one?”

“Asteroid.”

“Did he help you at all?”

“Not really. He’s too proud, just like Scar is from The Lion King.”

“So Asteroid’s a villain?”

“Not exactly,” King Skyline said uncomfortably. “Well maybe in middle.”

“And what is Belkie?”

“Asteroid’s girlfriend.”

“Is she on the good side or the bad side?”

“Same as Asteroid.”

“So they’re both evil and not evil at the same time?”

King Skyline let out an impatient sigh. “Were you even listening to me?”

“You keep talking too fast that it’s impossible to actually catch anything you say.”

King Skyline gave her a weird look. “That makes no sense. You would’ve heard if they were neither on the good nor the bad side.”

“Okay, I was joking. I was just clarifying it to make sure I was picturing the right thing.”

King Skyline and Alanna both purred at the joke. “Neat,” King Skyline commented.

“That’s all you’re going to say?”

“Why? You want me to say more?”

“Not if you feel uncomfortable…”

“Oh I’m getting you for this!” King Skyline playfully launched himself on top of her and the two cats rolled around wrestling for at least five minutes.

Alanna finally untangled herself from her mate. “Man you’re heavy!”

“You are too!” King Skyline retorted.

“Well, since I’m tired I’m going to take a water break. Care to join me?”

“Count me in!” Together they dashed to the river to take a drink of water.

My Silent Resistance

“Taz, the psychologist from the adoption agency is here. She’d like to ask you a few questions,” Dad says to me. This happens every year. I run out of my room and into the living room, where I see a tall young woman standing in front of me.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tazu,” she says. I wave shyly in the corner and get out my phone to talk to her.

I am autistic, what most would consider “lower functioning,” and I can’t speak with my mouth parts, so I use a text-to-speech app to communicate. “Pleasure to meet you too. Now what is it that you would like to ask me?”

I pray that even though she now knows I’m non-speaking, she will assume competence and not condescend to me or treat me as subhuman, in a way. That is a stigma that many nonverbal autistics such as I know all too well. That’s why I hate labels like high-functioning and low-functioning: low-functioning means your capabilities are ignored, your humanity brushed aside, and high-functioning means your deficiencies are ignored and you can’t get the support you need; basically either way it sucks, and you often have to go through life alone.

Fortunately, she treats me normally. “All right, first question: are you happy here?” she asks. I nod my head. I am so happy with my dads, though the trauma of my past still haunts me.

“I’m glad to hear that, Tazu. Next question: Do you feel safe here?”

This is a tricky question. It appears to be analyzing two variables: immediate, actual safety and perceived safety. I assume that for this evaluation, what she really wants to know about is actual safety, and I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I feel unsafe with my dads. 

I decide to be honest. “To be honest, occasionally not so much. I mean, my dads treat me well and I feel very safe in their care. But sometimes I get these irrational fears that my dads are secretly planning to turn on me. Or that one of them could do… what my mom did to me. But it’s completely unreasonable. I know they would never do that. So yes, I occasionally worry about my safety, but I know those worries are not rational.”

“Thank you for being honest with me. Final question: my results tell me you’ll be able to hold a job someday. Is that something you are considering?”

I frown and hesitate for a second. “I highly doubt I will ever be able to hold down a job. Who would hire an autistic girl who can’t talk?” 

I walk out of the room, feeling utterly hopeless. My dad sees me and walks over to check on me. “Hi Taz, you look sad. What happened? Did the evaluator talk about anything upsetting?” 

“Yes,” I type. “She thinks I can get a job.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand why that would upset you.”

“I can’t get a job. No one would hire me.”

“What do you mean?” my dad asks. “You’re smart, funny, and a brilliant writer. I’d hire you.”

I roll my eyes. He just doesn’t get it.  According to the latest statistics, 85 percent of autistic adults are unemployed, and for nonverbal people, the statistics are even higher. It is statistically very unlikely that I’d ever be able to hold a job. I’m just thinking realistically and long-term here. 

“You KNOW me, Dad. Employers don’t. They’ll just see a weird, too short girl who can’t talk. Autistics don’t get hired.”

“Sure they do,” my dad replies. “What about Einstein? Newton? Dickinson? Heck, there are even rumors of Hitler being autistic, and look how successful he was! I mean, I’m not saying you should become Hitler, but you get the point.”

“First of all, I don’t want to be associated with Hitler. You do know he KILLED autistics along with countless other people, right? Besides, those were the exceptional people. I’m not exceptional.” 

Dad giggles. “First of all, I don’t promote Hitler. Second of all, you’re exceptional to me”, Dad replies. “But you’re right. Employers don’t know you like I do. I’ll tell you what. There’s an autism resource fair next Sunday. Why don’t we find out what your options are?”

I sigh. “All right, let’s go. But if I don’t like it, you owe me a trip to the ice cream place.”

Dad laughs. “It’s a deal,” he says. 

ONE WEEK LATER

I stare at my reflection in the mirror. A too-short Japanese/Korean-American teen with long wavy hair and wide eyelashes stares back. 

Fun fact: 15-20% of autistic people are nonspeaking. Another fun fact: only less than 2% of them get jobs. Final fun fact: I am one of those 15-20%. 

It’s really hard to believe, at age sixteen, that I’m still alive. When I was trapped in the misery of my childhood, I never thought I would make it this far. For years I had expected, and later hoped, to die. Then it happened, and for a while I thought I had my wish. But then my dads rescued me and life started to seem worth living. 

Could I have actually died, probably? Died briefly and been reborn? Nah, I don’t think being reborn as the exact same person is a thing. When I was a little girl and hospitalized, no one would tell me what was going on. They didn’t think I’d understand, because then I didn’t have any method of communicating. 

On to much lighter things! I’m going to an autism resource fair! For a future I thought I’d never survive to see! Wow, I’m really bad at changing the subject. Alright, let’s think about cats. And the color purple. Purple cats? 

I put on a purple shirt, one I’ve worn every other day for the past year. Wearing purple makes me happy—so why not be happy every single day? 

I brush my teeth and hair, put on deodorant and chapstick. With my poor motor skills, chapstick is about as good as it gets. Best to play it safe.

I’m all ready! I bounce up and down, read a few poems, and play quiet classical music while my dads are still asleep. 

Dad drives me to the fair when he wakes up. Dad points to a display board advertising a new initiative called “Hiring Neurodiversity.” “See, Tazu, this agency will help you get hired without an interview!” he says excitedly. 

“And how long will that job last once they find out I can’t talk?’

“You don’t know. Don’t assume the worst.” 

Just then, a tall, thin man walks up to us. He has blonde hair, hazel eyes, and a big blue “Autism Speaks” t-shirt with a puzzle piece logo. 

“Hello, sir,” he says to my dad. “Are you finding any helpful resources?’

“Yep, lots of great information,” Dad replies.

For an alternative definition of great. Most of this stuff is for newly diagnosed toddlers. Do they expect us to magically poof out of existence at age 18? 

“I’m so glad to hear that! My name is Jackson and I work for Autism Speaks. We’re working on fundraising and finding a prenatal test and cure for autism. We have a budget chart if you would like to see it. Now who’s this little girl?”

I take a glance at his budget chart. It seems like they make a lot of money, and only 4% of it goes to helping actual autistics. The rest go to research, which I assume means finding a way to wipe us out of the gene pool and preventing us from ever being born. Yeah, so much for Hitler being autistic. Might as well be named Auschwitz for Autism. How is autism “speaking” if you’re trying to eradicate the people who have it in the first place? 

“This is my daughter Tazu.”

“How nice! Can she hear us?”

“Yes,” I promptly reply. I am autistic, not deaf.

“Oh, she types. How… nice,” Jackson replies, looking displeased.

 “Anyhow, Tazu loves to write,” Dad says.

I share a nature poem I have recently wrote with Jackson. 

“You have a very talented child,” he says to Dad. “Autism Speaks is working on an anthology about autism and the strain it has on families. Would she like to write for us?”

Wow. I never dreamed this could happen. Somebody in the real world thinks I’m good and wants to publish my writing. Screw my first assumptions about this group. A eugenicist wouldn’t want to publish my writing. Sure, he has some questionable viewpoints, and he talks about me like I’m not there, but at least he’s offering me opportunities.

“YESYESYESYES!” I type. 

Jackson smiles. “A personal story would be great. Something that could reassure and inspire parents of kids with this devastating disorder.”

Wait… parents? Like my mom? I wanted to write for fellow autistic people, not the people who did what they did to me… this isn’t… this doesn’t really…

“She’s tired, isn’t she? I’ll send you an info packet about our next autism support meeting. I think it would be helpful for you both, especially Tazu who needs to understand what parents go through. It’s so hard when your child lacks empathy and love is a one-way street, isn’t it?” 

Wow. Now I REALLY hate him. I try to forget and instead see this as an opportunity to share my voice and combat what seems to be the COMPLETE LACK of actual autistic input in this organization. 

A bit later, Dad drives me to the ice cream place as he promised. “Whew, that was HOT!” he comments. “And the drive here was so long! I’m all worn out for the day.”

“We would have gotten here sooner if you didn’t blab on to EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU MET,” I type. “You’re like a dog sniffing the butts of other dogs.”

I smile. It doesn’t matter that the fair was hot and boring. It doesn’t matter how hurt I was by Jackson wanting to “cure” me of who I am. None of that matters. Because publish publish PUBLISH! 

I turn to my dad for a second. “It’s just—it was a little strange how that man was talking to you about me when I was right there. Also how he’s all into cure and prevention and stuff.”

“Yeah, I didn’t love that either,” he replies. It just felt a bit off.”

“But it’s not important. More important is that I COULD GET FLIPPING PUBLISHED!” 

Dad smiles. “I’m so happy for you too! But to be honest, the way that man talked worried me a bit. Like he didn’t see you as a full person. Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“I think I can handle it.” I reply.

“That’s good.” Dad checks his phone. “Hey, I just got an email from Jackson about the autism group. It’s in two weeks. Do you want to come?”

“Sure,” I say. “I’ve always wanted to meet some more of my fellow Autistics.” 

                                                  …..

I pace back and forth, the light shining brightly in my room. I can’t believe I’m going to an autism support group later today. What if they don’t like me? What if they want to get rid of me? But what if they’re really nice? I don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity!

It is 4:30 in the morning. I get up and wake my other dad up, whom I call Pop.

“Hi Taz! You’re up early. What’s up?’

“Hi, soft drink,” I playfully type.

“No, I’m Pop!”

“Hi, champagne. Icky!”

“Your dad and I love that you hate the taste of alcohol.”

“No, icky you!”

Careful, Taz. Insult me too much and I’ll have to disown you!’

My smile fades. The flashbacks from my old past come flurrying into my head, no matter how many times I try to get them out.

“Oh no, Tazu, not for real…” Pop says. “I only meant to tease you like you teased me. Not make you sad. I would never really… do that. Other teens say ‘I hate you’ to their dads. If ‘icky’ is the worst thing you call me, I think I’m good. Plus… you’ve smelled me after going to the gym. Given how stinky I get, I’m lucky YOU still love ME!”

I hug Pop tightly. Of course I will always love my crazy old Pop. 

I fall back asleep. At a fairly more reasonable time in the morning, I do my daily routine and prepare for the group. 

I walk into a large penthouse, filled with mostly adult parents who as far as I can tell are not autistic. Most don’t have kids with them. Some wear blue puzzle-piece t-shirts with slogans like “AUTISM SPEAKS: IT”S TIME TO LISTEN” and “MY CHILD IS PART OF THE EPIDEMIC BUT THE EPIDEMIC IS NOT PART OF MY CHILD!” I only see one kid, a blonde-haired little girl. 

“Ouch! Daddy, get it out! It hurts, it hurts!” the girl screams. 

“Cassandra, just suck it up. It’s just a tag. Don’t bother me,” her dad says. He’s wearing a shirt that says “VAXXED: SOUNDING THE ALARM FOR MY VACCINE INJURED CHILD.” I know how uncomfortable tags scratching against my back can feel. Non-autistics don’t seem to notice, but my dads have always been sensitive. I’d offer to help, but I don’t want to make a bad impression on the group. A young teenager, wearing a sweatshirt that says “Autistic pride worldwide,” escorts the girl to a small room, where I see a bunch of other kids.

Then, the support group starts, and I follow Dad to the group. 

“This group has been lifesaving for me,” the orange-haired mother of the young teenager exclaims with a smile. ‘It’s been a bit tough ever since my daughter first told me she might be autistic. She discovered it through Tumblr or something. We always thought of her as shy, introverted, maybe even a genius. We denied her diagnosis for a while, but she persisted! Now we’re looking for a professional evaluation.”

Another mom speaks up. “How wonderful! We’ve been helping prepare my son for adulthood. Just found out he has moderate to severe developmental delays in regards to self-care. I hadn’t noticed. I love this group too, though the negativity can sometimes overwhelm me, if I’m being honest.”

“I agree. So much focus on the cure and the missing piece of the puzzle. If you asked my daughter, she’d tell you that her autism is a culture, and only a disability because of society.”

My first impression was completely wrong. These supportive parents, listening to their children and their views on being autistic.

“We, um, appreciate your concerns,” Jackson replies. “However, our group is based in Autism Speaks’ mission statement, which is to find treatment, prevention and a possible cure for autism. Also, autism can be soul-crushingly devastating at times, and it’s important not to whitewash it. However, we understand how it is so easy for those of us with… higher-functioning kiddos to forget what it’s like for other parents.”

“Oh, yes, I suppose that’s true,” the second mother says. “Anyways, our son just had a neuropsych and was diagnosed with moderate to severe developmental delays. His motor skills… his disorganization… his ability to do chores… I always thought that he just couldn’t care less about learning to drive, but now there are cognitive problems holding him back!”

I consider this for a moment, then type to give my insights. “Well, when you’re autistic, development is not linear. For example, some people think I can’t understand them because of my ability to speak.” I glance at Jackson for a second giving him an evil eye. “But I’m rather deep thinker and have good cognitive abilities. Dad has tried teaching me how to drive a car, and it usually ends in confusion and sensory overload. So a smart boy who struggles with household tasks is totally normal for autism.”

The two parents nod appreciatively, while the other parents in the group scoff at me. One man turns to his wife and whispers “I don’t believe she really has severe autism. She’s nothing like my child.” 

“Tazu, you’re here to listen, not comment,” Jackson scoffs, then turns to the group and says “self-absorption is a symptom of autism. This is why we must fundraise for a cure.” 

“Anyways, how have everyone’s weeks been?” Jackson redirects the conversation.

“Mine was awesome! My daughter said her first word! Just like a normal child,” one dad says.

“That’s great!” Jackson replies. “She is on her way to functioning like a child without autism.” 

“Horrible. Cassandra made another mess. Paints all over,” the dad of the little girl with the itchy tag says. 

“My daughter used to do that. She said she was going to be an artist. I just told her that if she makes a mess, she cleans it up! I had the most lovely artwork, though,” the mother of the teen girl says.

“Well, you have a very high functioning daughter,” Cassandra’s dad says. “Cassandra’s results could never be called art. It’s just a mess. Cassandra is low functioning. She’ll never fit into society. We’ve been implementing behavioral interventions but I really don’t see the benefits. All the shrieking! And the bizarre motions with her hands! At this point, sure, I don’t expect total compliance, but at this point I’m fed up. This intensive therapy is just not working. I want my money back.” He sighs. “All this because of a measles vaccine.”

I shudder. Intensive therapy….

Four years ago….

Torture. Torment. Terror. Treachery. Nope, when you’re autistic, it’s just treatment. And that’s what I was subjected to, for forty hours a week. A therapist would come over and do drills with me, 6 hours a day, every day. “Touch green.” “Look at me.” “Say ‘I love you’ now.”  “Good girl.” “Do what I say or you’re a bad girl.” “Let’s see if you’ll behave.” 

I didn’t know it then, but there was a word for this: ABA-based behavioral therapy, with aversives, the only scientifically proven treatment for kids like me.

“You need to look at me, Tazu,” the tall, intimidating, slightly overweight therapist Becca, says. Oh no, not this again, I can’t do it. It hurts too much. 

“Do as I say or you’re a bad girl.”

 I immediately look up. It immediately sends my thoughts scattered in a million directions, and it’s almost as if she can read into my soul. My eyes start watering and burning and I can hardly focus. Spears of hot pain rush through my eyes and and and

I look away and start rocking back and forth to calm myself. 

“BAD GIRL!” Becca yells at me, and spanks me. She reaches for her bottle and sprays vinegar into my mouth. I am miserable, but I can’t resist. Being a “bad girl” will only make it worse. 

                                                       …..

Intensive therapy. Behavioral intervention. Total compliance.

That’s what Cassandra’s dad wants done to her. The same kind of nightmare I lived. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. 

I can hear Dad’s voice. “Tazu! Tazu, look at me!”

“EYE!” I shout. “No eyes,” Dad says. “No eye contact. Just Dad. You’re with me now. You’re safe.” I hug him tightly. He’s right. Aversive therapy is in the past. If a therapist ever hurt me, my dads would fire them. No more forced eye contact. No more punishments. I’m safe.

“Can you smell my shampoo?” Dad asks.

I reach for my phone. “I also smell your B.O,” I type. 

I hear the voice of the orange-haired mother. “Maybe you guys would like to step out, go to the kids’ room for a minute?”

“I’m fine,” I say. “Jackson said I’m supposed to be, um, learning what parents go through. I can’t do that in the kids’ room.” 

I begin rocking back and forth to put out the internal fire happening in my head.

“That’s the same thing that Cassandra does! Her father lets her do it in public? Negligent! She’ll never go anywhere if she acts this strangely,” Cassandra’s dad says. 

Dad sighs. “Tazu, you might not need a break, but I definitely do. Will you come with me?” 

I nod and follow him to the kids’ room. I can hear Cassandra’s dad in the background. “I don’t know how that man puts up with that daughter,” he says. “If I had a child who didn’t talk and acted like that…”

“That went much worse than I was expecting,” Dad says. “Some of those parents were so judgmental about their kids. I’m so sorry I exposed you to that.”

Just then, the young teenager with the “Autistic Pride” shirt comes up to me. “My name is Stella. What’s your name?”

I reach for my keyboard. “My name is Tazu. I’m 16 years old.”

“Really?” she asks. “You’re so small! I read that anxiety can cause stunted growth in girls. That study wasn’t specific though. It only said ‘girls.’ Like do trans girls count? What about trans guys and non-binary folks? Is it based on gender identity or sex assigned at birth? They really should have specified.”

“Yeah, they should have,” I agree. As a pansexual cis girl, I also dislike cisnormativity. 

“Yeah,” Stella says. “Wait, what were we talking about before?”

“We were discussing the mystery of why I am tiny,” I type.

“Well whatever you are, tiny is cute!”

I blush. “Thank you,” I reply. 

And then a little girl gallops into the room. She has messy blonde hair and blue eyes. She looks about 7 years old, 8 maybe. “I’m Cassandra! Or Casey if you forget.”

“Nice to meet you! This is Tazu, and I’m her dad,” Dad says.

Casey wiggles anxiously. “Are you friends with my dad?”

Not in a million years, Dad silently mouths to me. “No.” 

Casey relaxes. “Why didn’t you stop Tazu from wiggling?”

“Because I think people can wiggle if they want to,” says Dad.

“Wow,” Casey says admiringly. “You’re awesome. Tazu, I got an idea. Can you abobt me too?”

“Do you mean ADOPT you?” Dad says.

“Yeah! Dad wouldn’t mind. He wants to send me away. He thinks I’m annoying. He thinks I’m, um, hurt by a vaccine or something.”

Just then, her dad comes in. “Cassandra! There you are! Sorry about my daughter. She has no sense of boundaries.”

“Oh, okay. Well, see you next week for the next meeting?” Casey asks. 

Yes, it was a bad meeting. Yes, it triggered me. But I can’t help myself. This little girl, mistreated by her father… I can almost see my past self in her.

“Of course I will see you next week,” I say. “We are friends now.”

DAD POV

Casey reluctantly trudges back to her dad’s car as I stare in shock.

Tazu just agreed to go to another meeting.

To return to the place that set her off.

To expose herself to people who could remind her of her past.

How can I protect her? How can I protect her from the PTSD, the nightmares, the distrust of anyone around her?

It took so long to get her to trust us. I don’t want to risk that progress. I take a deep breath. Maybe I’m just being an overprotective father. “Tazu, I get that you feel bad for Casey, but I want you to think about yourself too. You screamed at that meeting. It looked like you had a flashback.”

Tazu nods her head. She gets it.

TAZU POV

“I understand,” I type. “Casey’s dad is a jerk, so is that other man, and Jackson didn’t stop them. Plus the fact he thinks autism was caused by vaccines—if I ran a group that alone would be a reason to expel someone. But that’s why we SHOULD be there. To give that girl a bit of light in her life.” 

This is a dilemma. A conundrum.

I like that word, conundrum. If I could talk, which I can’t, I would say the word out loud over and over, just to taste the crispiness of it. 

Jackson walks over. “Hello! Now I know Tazu had unreasonable behavior at the meeting, but I hope she’ll come to next week’s.  It’s good for her to think about her audience and not let her low-functioning autism get in the way.” 

I nod. This seems to make Jackson happy. 

Just then, Stella’s mom enters the room. “So sorry about that meeting,” she says. “That man has an attitude problem. Do you want to come to the beach with us? We’ll be talking about boring grownup stuff like mortgages and parenting, but our daughter Stella will be there.”

I nod. 

I am at the beach with Stella and her best friend, Jeffery, who is also autistic. We have a nice conversation about art, the world, movies, and cat videos, which Stella loves.

Stella and Jeffery are very cute. Especially—especially Stella. I have been noticing… things. “Are you a couple?” I ask. They both start laughing maniacally. “Boys aren’t my type,” Stella says. “And gay girls aren’t my type,” says Jeffery. “We’re best friends.” 

I switch the subject, embarrassed. “Anyways, Jackson from Autism Speaks asked me to contribute an essay—”

Stella and Jeffery exchange a concerned glance at each other.

Later, I work up the nerve to ask Stella out. A grin spreads across her face and she starts rocking excitedly. I assume that’s a yes. A big silence surrounds us until she finally says “I could tell when I first met you that you… swing that way. I may be socially delayed, but I have a very fine-tuned gaydar.”

I laugh. 

A few days later:

Me and Pop walk into a large office, with blue puzzle pieces all over it. Jackson is right there, wanting to discuss my opportunities.

“I’m so glad you guys could make it here,” he says. We discuss the essay. I’m getting paid a lot! “Besides the essay, I’d like to offer you two amazing opportunities. One, my coworker is making a documentary about autism and its effect on families. She invited you to speak for it. Two, a reality TV show would like to interview you.”

“YES YES YES YES YES!” I type. I’m going to be TV famous! Hooray!

“Glad to hear it,” Jackson says. “Your name will bring us so much publicity.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

Hi guys, thanks for reading! I wanted to include a little guide for how to best interact with autistics. Yes, I am Autistic myself, though verbal. 

  1. Respectful language: Most autistic people prefer using “identity first” language (“autistic people” or “autistics”), rather than “people with autism.” This is because autism is integral to our identities and isn’t a disease that can be separate from us. As well, we prefer not to use terms like “suffering” or “struggling” with autism because it’s just who we are, not a burden. As you read the story, pay attention to who uses what language.
  2. Charities: Organizations like Autism Speaks have been criticized for lack of autistic input and negativity. Instead, support organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the National Autistic Society, or the Autism Women’s And Nonbinary Network. Some red flags for a bad charity are: the use of puzzle pieces or the color blue, promotion of a cure, lack of autistic board members, and promotion of abusive or damaging “autism conversion therapies” such as the behavioral treatment Tazu was subjected to. In part two, you will see an example of a good charity.
  3. Help us out socially, but respect our boundaries and don’t force us to socialize. (Yes, disabled people have boundaries too). 
  4. Let us flap, bounce, rock, etc. This is called stimming and it is actually organizing for autistic brains. As well, don’t force us to make eye contact.
  5. Eliminate the word “retarded” from your vocabulary and don’t use “autistic” as an insult.
  6. Always assume that we’re capable: If someone can’t speak, talk to them anyway. Chances are, they’re just as bright as Tazu.
  7. Amplify the voices of actual autistic people.

My Silent Resistance PART 2: 

Pop takes me to a small office to be interviewed for the documentary. I’m so excited! Ready to change the world, influence the national conversation about autism, spread the word to make sure that what happened to me and the abuse Casey is living through doesn’t happen again. I want to save all my fellow autistics, or at least make a difference to some of them. I know it can’t happen in a day, but at least this interview is a good step. It’s support group day today, and I’m thrilled about missing this one, though I was hoping to see Casey again. Jackson gives me a blue puzzle piece shirt to borrow for the interview.

I wait for what feels like an hour, maybe two. I’m so bored! I hide behind a plant and rub my hands against it. I throw off the Autism Speaks shirt. Writing for this company is okay, but I don’t think it quite deserves me publicly advertising it. Just then, a young woman, wearing an Autism Speaks shirt, walks up to me. “Hello, Tazu,” she says in a coo-like voice, as if she’s talking to a puppy. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” 

“Sure, ask away,” I say. 

“When did you learn that you had autism?” she asks. 

“Um, I kinda always knew. I mean, it was kinda obvious. My parents thought I couldn’t hear them, so they talked about it all the time in front of me and how much of a burden it was. They whispered ‘autism’ like it was a dirty word. I was diagnosed early, I think?”

“And how do your parents feel about it?” she asks.

Dads. Focus on dads. “My dads love me for my true authentic autistic self.  They try to accommodate me the best as possible. They take me to respectful therapies that don’t try to change who I am, but make my life easier as an autistic person. The therapies they take me to help maximize me rather than normalize me. Trauma and fear still get in the way sometimes, and I still have occasional meltdowns, but with their support and love, I’ve grown into a somewhat well-accomplished autistic person.” 

Not well-accomplished enough to be able to hold a job outside of an autism organization, though, or even hold myself together in a job that is in one. Not well-accomplished enough to get over the fear, the pain, the flashbacks, the inner ghosts from my old life. 

I sigh. Probably won’t share that with the interviewer. The stereotype is that autistic people have no feelings besides desperation and self-hatred, and I don’t want to give way to that stereotype. 

“Um, we use Person First language here. You’re not ‘autistic’, you’re a person WITH autism. Anyways… what about your REAL parents?”

My… “real” parents….

When I was little, my parents never bothered to teach me to communicate. I was always trying to please them, but it never worked. They never talked to me, but in my dealings with them (or perhaps as they would put it, their dealings with me) I discovered three things.

1. That my parents didn’t like me. They spoke of having another child, a “normal” one, to alleviate their suffering, but also expressed concern that the next kid would also “turn out wrong” (i.e, autistic.) When they did have another kid, they quickly changed their mind and aborted the baby because “imagine how hard her life would be, growing up with a sister like that!”  Whether I got a sibling or not, the point was this: In their eyes, I was a Worst-Case-Scenario, a Tragic Outcome, a Defective Factory Product, a baby they’d have aborted if they only knew what it would become. I was a failure.

2. The reason why I was a Failure, a Not-Quite-Human-Person, and not “normal” like the people I looked up to, was because I “had autism.” No one ever talked directly to me about this (“she’s too incompetent to understand her affliction”) but my parents spit it out in front of me like it was a dirty word.

 “All this because of.. autism.”
 

“You really should go easier on Tazu. Her defectivity, her…. autism.. she’s not the one who cursed us with it. It was Jesus. Jesus Christ wronged us and made our life hell… made our daughter hell.”

 “Autism prevents my daughter from ever being fully lovable and us from ever gaining our sanity. Why do all these self-righteous social justice warriors tell us it’s a gift, a ‘neurodiversity’, a hidden joy? There is no joy in this child.” 

“I want out of this… autism. I want out of this monster. I want out of this child”. 

I never really knew what “autism” meant, but all I knew was that I had it, it was a monster, and therefore I was a monster, could never be lovable, was a curse from Jesus. When I really came to understand myself was when I later discovered the autistic community online, who were probably the “self-righteous social justice warriors” my parents tried to shield me from. Before I met them I saw the world in two groups: Failures and Normals. When I found this community, my world was changed- more than changed. A whole new world, populated by people like me. (Some of them also said that Autism Speaks was a hate group, and I’m starting to see that from my time here, but… who cares? Probably just a vocal minority). To my parents however, autism was far from a culture. I learned that if I stopped having autism, Mommy and Daddy would like me, and I’d stop being a Failure. I’d become a sacred Normal, like Mommy and Daddy and Becca were. 

3. Because I had autism and was a Failure, I was never safe. Therapists would scream and pin me down and lock me in the dark, all in the name of compliance training, applied behavior analysis (ABA), hard work, “tough love.” People say ABA is like dog training for kids… I couldn’t disagree more. No reasonable dog trainer would treat a dog that way. My mom tortured me too at the therapist’s recommendation. My dad was the more sympathetic one. He was the one who made the comment about autism not being my fault but being Jesus’s fault instead when my mom yelled about how much I had robbed her of. (He was a very devout Christian who also happened to believe being gay was a sin). He was the one who called the police when it happened so I wouldn’t die. He didn’t hurt me or anything, didn’t abuse me, didn’t hit or punish me. He always said “I love the child but hate the autism” while my mom was more like “hate the child because of the autism.” But for all the abuse it caused me, being on the spectrum with parents like mine gave me a unique (dis)advantage.

Non-autistics are always so discreet. There’s a meme I saw on the Internet: a smiling zombie going look at me I’m a neurotypical, I give weird hints about things instead of just telling people! So much confusion, so much fuss over not being rude or offending people, and it’s like, just tell me already! But because my parents assumed I couldn’t understand them, and they hated me so much that they had every intention of being rude to me, they said exactly what they thought of me right to my face. They gave me suggestions for how to make them like me, and I didn’t even have to ask: don’t be so loud, stop those bizarre motions with your hands, start speaking, make eye contact. Because of this direct advice, I lived to appease them: but it never worked. 

My.. real parents….

I want to speak. About my experiences with abuse and self-hatred, about the trauma that came along with living with parents who hated me and my brain, even about it. But something in this woman tells me it’s not safe. I want to speak so badly. Want to resist, but I can only resist through actions, not words. And if my resistance is silent, it’s pretty much useless, right? 

I kick my leg up. “NOOOOOO!” I scream. The fire starts up in my brain again. I’m so ashamed. I’m having a meltdown—on live TV! 

I can hear the interviewer saying “Defiance is a symptom of autism. Individuals afflicted with the condition may have tantrums for no reason. You can see how this must feel for parents.”

How this must feel for parents…. how would my mom feel?

 i hate her i hate her she’s ruining my life

gotta get rid of her we must get rid of her now

burden strain crisis epidemic 

I start crying, then bang my head against the wall as hard as I can to make the pain more physical than emotional (in the background, the interviewer says, “self-injurious behavior is a symptom of autism”). I type “TURN OFF CAMERAS” mid-meltdown, but she doesn’t listen. 

I’ve just proven myself unworthy of dignity. The public is going to see my meltdown and think that’s what autistics look like, all we’re capable of. I’ve let down the community I promised to serve.

To avoid further humiliation, I dash out of the building. (I’m preparing for the interviewer to say, “elopement is a symptom of autism” any minute now.) I text Pop to come get me, and tell him about the interview and what a disaster it was. He texts back, “I’m sorry to hear about what a PITA that woman was. Can you hold on for a few minutes? Still at the support group. Parents are being PITAs there too. I was just about to call them out on it and give an angry speech on how au-some we are before you texted!” (PITA is text talk for pain in the ass). He texts again, “Love you my fellow Autie. Stay strong. I should be there in another hour or so.” (Pop is also on the spectrum, though verbal and neurotypical-passing).

“See you in an hour, champaign!” I text back, completely recovered from the meltdown. 

That gives me an hour to hang out with Jeffrey and Stella. I text them and they meet me next to the Autism Speaks building. 

I tell them about the interview, how annoying that woman was, how she publicly humiliated me and it’s going on a documentary. “Utterly disgusting,” Stella types. “Has she ever even met an autistic person, or is she just going off Autism Doesn’t Speak For Sh*t and a whiny parents complaining group chat?”

We all laugh. 

I start questioning myself. This is the only organization that’s been actively criticized by the people they claim to support. No one says the Cancer Foundation doesn’t speak for them, or the NAACP is a racist hate group. It’s not even just that it’s focused on parents either—no LGBTQ person says Parents and Families of Lesbians And Gays doesn’t speak for them either. If Autism Speaks is so bad, why am I working for them? Because I’m pathetic and can’t survive in any other jobs? Which matters more—selfish survival or giving back to my people, my community? The community that taught me not to hate myself, that helped me realize that I actually was a person worthy of respect, not a Worst-Case-Scenario or Defective Factory Product, the community that raised me since the day my dads took me in—is that really worth losing for a so-called “job” where I won’t even be listened to? 

We go out for ice cream. I try an oddly satisfying new flavor-maple with pieces of bacon in it. We have a nice conversation, and Stella and I plan our date. 

We return to the building, and Pop is there waiting for me, along with Stella’s mom and Jeffrey’s mom. 

“Hey guys!”, Pop says. “Stella’s mom was just telling us about an autism positivity group they go every week and thought you guys might want to tag along. It starts in two hours.”

“I guess it sounds fun,” I type. “I’m a bit skeptical of autism groups now though.”

“Don’t worry,” Stella says. “It’s a different kind of group… a better one. The moderator is autistic along with everyone else. People are free to be and move as they want. There are even free fidget toys! And NOBODY treats us as subnormal, like we’re foreign creatures. No negativity. I promise!” 

“There’s a parent group too,” Stella’s mom says.

“I’m not a big fan of those,” Pop says.

“Ours is different. Mostly autistic parents with autistic kids. No negativity there either. And I can assure you, they’re very dedicated to speaking out against Autism Speaks.”

“I don’t know about it. What do you think, Tazu?”

I consider it for a while. “Sounds AU-some!” I finally type. “Let’s go!”

A few hours later

We walk into a huge, loud building with lots of people. A woman hands me, Stella, Jeffery, and our parents tiny pamphlets. “Welcome to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network!” she says. “Our goal is to empower, accept, embrace, support, and give resources to autistics worldwide. So, are you guys here for the support groups?”

Stella and her mom were right. This seems like a much better type of group already. There is a box of fidget toys, many kids and adults of all ages bouncing and flapping freely, everyone is wearing shirts and pins like “AU-TASTIC” and “GOD CREATED AUTISM TO DECREASE THE ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER OF BORING PEOPLE ON THIS EARTH,” and there are posters on the wall like “you are welcome here,” and “your brain is not broken.” That noise though! I cover my ears, and the chaotic drilling in my eardrums softens. (It’s not as loud as the Autism Speaks penthouse though. Why is it even called a penthouse? Just sounds like rich people apartments to me. Then again, rich people apartments sounds like an oxymoron.)

“There are noise cancelling headphones in the back if you need them,” the woman calls out. “We try to keep ASAN as sensory-friendly as possible. So sorry about all the noise.”

I get my headphones. The woman escorts us and our parents to our support groups. As I’m following her, I notice a huge drawing. On the top of it, it says, “NeuroQueer: Supporting transgender and gender nonconforming autistic people since the beginning of time.” A thousand people have drawn photos of themselves. 

Transgender Bathroom Policy

Transgender individuals should be able to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, or the bathroom that they are most comfortable using. Many states have policies that a person should use a private facility that matches their biological sex. Many people are uncomfortable with that, and that doesn’t just include transgender individuals.

People who are transgender identify differently than what their biological sex is, and may feel comfortable in using the bathroom that people of their gender identity go to. There is a big difference between biological sex and gender identity. Biological sex is the assigned sex a person was given at birth, and gender identity can correlate with assigned sex at birth, or can differ from it. Numerous transgender students feel discriminated against or self-conscious using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Title IX of the 1965 Civil Rights Act protects transgender people from discrimination because of their sex in schools. It states, “No person in the U.S will be discriminated against because of their sex in an education program.” This applies to when a transgender person goes to a bathroom of their gender identity and people discriminate against them because their sex does not match their gender identity. Therefore, it is illegal to discriminate against transgender people and impose what bathrrom they should go to. 

When there is a policy that all people should go to restrooms that are made for people’s sex at birth, people who are not transgender may feel uncomfortable with a transgender person in the bathroom because they look like the gender they identify as. A person should be comfortable in the bathroom that helps them fit in with people who have the same gender identity as them, even if the transgender person doesn’t totally look like the gender they’re transitioning to yet. Using appropriate bathrooms helps an individual with transitioning. A scientific study was taken by Jody L. Herman, the Williams Institute Manager of Transgender Research, and it was found that 70% of transgender and gender noncomforming respondents experienced issues in gender-specific restrooms in Washington, D.C., with people of color and people who have not medically transitioned yet often faring worse than others. 54% of people reported health effects from trying to avoid public bathrooms such as dehydration, kidney infections, and urinary tract infections. In Doe v. Regional School Unit, the Maine Supreme Court held that a transgender girl had a right to use the women’s restroom at school because her psychological well-being and education depended on her transition. The school, which had denied her access to use the women’s restroom, had treated her differently than other students solely because she was a transgender girl. Discrimination lowers a transgender person’s well-being and health, which affects their self-esteem.

Other than gender-specific bathrooms, there are gender-neutral bathrooms; in other words, unisex. Usually, gender-neutral bathrooms are for any gender and are also beneficial for someone of one gender to help someone with a disability who is a different gender. Nonbinary/gender nonconforming people may feel comfortable using a unisex bathroom, so they don’t feel uncomfortable or face discrimination. Although, not all places have a gender-neutral bathroom, which is problematic for many people. If a state doesn’t allow transgender people to use the bathrooms that align with their gender identity, and that person feels uncomfortable going to the bathroom that includes people of their biological sex, they may be able to use a gender-neutral bathroom. Overall, gender-neutral bathrooms are beneficial for many different people.

It may take a while for all states to allow transgender people to go into the bathroom of their choice, but with enough education on the topic, people’s thoughts may change. The issue that transgender people are discriminated against for using the bathrooms of their gender identity is a worldwide crisis and is a big problem in the world.

Works Cited :

Davis, Masen. “Transgender People Need Safe Restrooms.” HuffPost, 24 June 2019, www.huffpost.com/entry/transgender-people-need-safe-restrooms_b_3492067

Ehrenhalt, Jay. “Trans Rights and Bathroom Access Laws: A History Explained.” Teaching Tolerance, 16 October 2018, https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/transgender-bathroom-laws-history

College debt…is it worth it?

What’s full of new experiences, ups your education, and puts millions of kids in debt? College. What started out as a way to receive more knowledge is now leaving over 44 million Americans in debt. This is why so many young Americans are fighting for a different system. Most of the time, college leaves you with debt, and the only way to pay it off is through suspicious student loan organizations. Other times, you can apply for student forgiveness, but the odds are next to none. Others argue that loans can help establish and build your credit score. Here, I will be telling you why you should reconsider before taking out a student loan.

Most days, it’s common for students to take out loans for college, which leaves them in debt. The problem with taking money from the student loan organizations is that some organizations try to scam you. There are numerous lenders that abuse their power, giving little information out to students and scamming them. According to the New York Times, in recent months, the student loan giant Navient, which was spun off from Sallie Mae in 2014 and has retained nearly all of the company’s loan portfolio, has come under fire for aggressive and sloppy loan collection practices, which have led to a set of lawsuit governments filed in January. A specific example is when a woman (Ms. Hardin) who was taking out a loan for college realized that her company never told her that “she had taken out high-risk private loans in pursuit of a low-paying career. But her lender, SLM Corporation, better known as Sallie Mae, knew all of that” (Loans ‘Designed to Fail’: States Say Navient Preyed on NYT, Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, 9/4/17), Ms.Hardin is not the only student who felt like this. Many students feel like student loan organizations are preying on young Americans who are unsure with how much they’re paying.

 College debt should be an easy solution to fix, but sometimes it can get the best of students. Many Americans are now turning to student forgiveness programs. Student loan forgiveness allows the student to postpone the payment as long as they perform a service for the community (public service). If the student also has all the requirements done with, then he or she will be eligible to have the chance to have an income-driven replacement plan. This income replacement plan will help out the monthly student loan payment at a more reasonable price corresponding to the person’s current income situation. Or, if you have been constantly paying on time payment for 20 years, you get the rest of your student loans forgiven completely. The problem with this is that 99.5% of people who applied for public service loan forgiveness have been rejected. According to CNBC News, about 30,000 people applied for student loans forgiveness, but only 96 people got accepted. Instead of wasting your time of trying to be accepted in student forgiveness, many should consider a grant or applying for a scholarship. Your chances are 19%… always better than the less than 1% you get from student loan forgiveness. Grants and scholarships are financial aid that don’t have to be repaid unlike student loans.

While college debt can be damaging and scary for the future of the new generation and millennials, many people argue that student loans are helpful to students who just want an education, and that they help you take education more seriously since it comes at such a high cost. They state student loan forgiveness can also help. Kevin Maler was one of these fortunate 96 people that got accepted. He mentions how lucky he feels being a part of the less than one percent to get accepted. He had to have at least 10 years of on-time payments to qualify. Most people are stunned when they hear this small percentage of people who get accepted. People like Shannon Insler, who also had to deal with student loans, had a different point of view than most. She argued that college was an investment. Even while stating this, she said, “I’d be lying if I said I enjoy paying for my student loans. I’m facing a $50,000 price tag and a 20-year repayment plan. It hurts to think about other things I could do with $50,000.’’ This just goes to prove how the cons outweigh the pros. Other students like Miranda Mariquit already had a scholarship, but chose to use student loans for some extra money. According to Student Loan Hero, Miranda referred to using loans even though she had a scholarship as her biggest mistake, saying that it ruined her cash flow and it made her debt-to-income ratio look sketchy.

In conclusion, if you don’t want to end up like the 70% of college kids who are in debt right now, you should make sure to really consider applying for grants and scholarships. You’ll have a higher chance than working in public service and having 10 years on income payments just to play for a loan forgiveness that only 1% of people get accepted into.

https://www.npr.org/2019/07/18/739451168/i-m-drowning-those-hit-hardest-by-student-loan-debt-never-finished-college

https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/predatory-student-loans?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3

https://loans.usnews.com/what-is-a-predatory-loan

https://www.thenation.com/article/who-is-most-affected-by-student-debt-women/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/oracle/2019/08/27/how-a-geek-dad-is-helping-his-daughter-manage-her-diabetes/#31cfb273eb2a

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/student-loan-relief-for-public-servants-many-apply-few-are-accepted/

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/21/the-education-department-data-shows-how-rare-loan-forgiveness-is.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2019/01/03/student-loan-forgiveness-data/#734b760268d0

Sentenced

I open my eyes. Fluorescent lights above, voices chattering, desks scraping. I sit on a hard wooden seat while a tall figure looms over me. It waits until the talking ceases, the tables settle, and then it speaks. A low, gravelly voice, sending chills up and down my spine. The voice is shrouded by itself, but not unintelligible. 

“Where is your paper, Wilson?” Here he pauses, and it seems like my math teacher is rising in size. “Taylor? Davis?” 

The kids next to me, also jammed in desks, seem to shrink in their seats as the monster turns to each of us. All the other students have left, leaving three of their peers to face the wrath of this beast. I wonder about those other students. They’ll be at recess now, laughing, playing, knowing that they’re not in trouble and they won’t suffer in the least. I remember when I was one of those kids. Bouncing carefreely out the door, straight As, never in trouble. Of course, that doesn’t appeal to me now. Ever since–

“I announced it three times yesterday,” the voice jolts me back. With a whimper, the kid on my right, Jordan Davis, begins to speak, but is silenced by the creature’s next words. “Three times, Davis. Close your mouth.” The figure turns away in disgust. “You will see me after school. Three thirty. Do. Not. Be. Late.” His words, though not loud, leave our ears ringing as we murmur our consent, rise from our seats, and quietly file out of the room. 

“Bro, Grossman’s a beast!” Prince Taylor, my best friend, says. 

“Yeah man, you don’t mess with the Grossmonster,” I say, punching him back lightly on the shoulder. “I thought Jordie was gonna pee himself!” Prince cracks up, playfully nudging our timid friend on the shoulder. 

“Yeah, yeah.” Jordie’s pale skin flushes, and he brushes his blond hair out of his earth-colored eyes. He used to be a teacher’s pet, but hasn’t fully conformed to our system. 

“Man, you need a haircut!” I say, grinning. 

The kid’s eyes roll again. “At least I don’t look like some military-school dropout!” 

We all laugh at this. Before my mom got depressed, she tried to send me to some hardcore “Academy for Troubled Teens” or something. Prior to leaving, she shaved my head, but then she couldn’t make me leave the house after that. My hair is still growing back, leaving me looking like a small, hazel-eyed Justin Timberlake.  

“After all that trouble, I don’t think I want to endure the lunch monitor screaming at me for no apparent reason,” I say, smirking. “Wanna skip?” 

“Sorry, man, we got English next period, and you know Mrs. Jones calls parents,” Jordie says, and Prince nods.

 “Alright, see you in detention.” I stroll down the hall nonchalantly towards the back entrance of M.S. 13. 

Suddenly, someone comes out of the classroom on my left so quickly that I have no time to react. She plows into me, knocking me to the floor. 

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” I look up from my spot on the floor to see a girl with long, black hair and deep, olive eyes. She’s wearing faded jeans, orange Converse, and a Penn State sweatshirt. “Are you okay?” 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say, embarrassed, hurrying to my feet. I try to step past her outside, but she moves, blocking my only way out. 

“Where are you going?” she asks me suspiciously. 

“I, uh, think I left my water bottle outside.” For some reason, I’m thrown off by this girl’s sharpness. Mostly, the hall monitors let me pass, but she’s different. 

“I think you’re lying.” She says this definitively, no doubts about her statement. 

Relax, D. I think. She’s just another seventh-grade student who probably won’t care too much if I sneak off. After all, it doesn’t affect her in the least. Why should she worry? 

Offering her a lazy smile, I begin to continue past her down the hallway. 

As I’m about to open the door, I hear a whisper. 

“If you do that, I’ll tell Mrs. Jones,” The girl stage-whispers, turning the heads of some students working on laptops in the hallway. 

I sigh. There’s no reason to argue with this girl. What’s the point? I would just get in more trouble. 

D, maybe there’s no point in skipping. You’re broke and will get caught by the security guard anyway. There’s nothing to do without Jordie and Prince, so lay off it. 

I cast the girl a glare, and march off towards the cafeteria. 

******************************************************************************

“Dude, we thought you had chickened out on skipping or something!” Prince says. “So this girl stops you?”  

“That’s right, man,” I respond. We stop in front of Grossman’s classroom. Jordie knocks, and approximately fifteen slow seconds tick by until the daunting man opens his door. He grins, and leads us to three desks in the middle of the room. “You will sit here in silence for half an hour. If one of you talks, ten minutes will be added to your sentence.” 

Sentence. The last time I heard that word was in a courtroom. My dad stood in the middle, head bowed, hands shackled behind his back. The judge banged his gavel. “Mr. Wilson, you have been sentenced to four years in federal prison for breaking and entering, theft, and the injury of other citizens.” 

Next to me, my mother burst into tears. “Why, Frank, why?” I heard her mumble through her grief. My father’s lawyer, Bill, turned to me. He looked angry. He opened his mouth to speak, but what comes out is Mr. Grossman’s voice. 

“Wilson, if you want to stay, by all means, be my guest. Your friends would be disappointed though, I’m sure.” 

I jerk awake, and look up to see my evil teacher towering above me. I grab my bag and race out the door as fast as my legs can carry me, beating my friends outside by ten whole seconds. We joke around for a couple minutes, but soon we have to go. 

As Jordie, Prince, and I part ways, I sit on a bench in front of the bus stop, staring down at the floor. I hate detention, but I hate my father even more for being in jail and doing all those stupid things. I dig around in my pocket for the unfinished math homework, checking the bus schedule as I pull it out. While I was stuck in detention, the bus came and went, so I have half an hour to wait. Shrugging and checking around for any classmates that may catch me doing work, I begin on the algebraic equations. They’re actually not that boring, and by the time the bus comes, I’m almost finished with the paper. Smiling to myself, I complete the last two problems on the short bus ride to my house. 

******************************************************************************

When I get home, I find Mom crashed on the couch, bottle of wine more than half empty next to her on the floor. Previous stains are located on other places of the old green rug that Dad gave to Mom when they got married. I don’t bother hiding them under old newspapers anymore, they’ve basically become a part of the shaggy piece of cloth. Mom’s still in her waitress uniform when I cover her with a blanket, the soft corners falling over her sleeping form. Her breath wafts up to me, the alcohol heavy, as I kiss my mother on her pale, overworked cheek. Turning away, I lug my schoolbag down the hallway to my room, not one thing out of place. Everything is tidy and neat, unlike the rest of the apartment. I fall asleep twisted in sheets that offer no comfort to my dreams that night.  

I’m standing in the middle of my math classroom. The Grossmonster is standing there with that annoying girl from the hallway. The teacher sneers. Your father’s in prison? Detention, see me at three thirty. I start to protest, and then I hear laughing. I turn around to find Adam and Jordie laughing their heads off. What happened? I cry out, and suddenly the whole school–Hannah from Biology, Toby from History, Alex from English–they’re all there, surrounding me, laughing their heads off. It’s maniacal laughter, their heads thrown back and fingers pointing. I look down at myself, and realize that I’m not wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants anymore. My outfit has changed drastically. I’m dressed in a gray jumpsuit, no pockets and a number tacked to my chest. The walls of the classroom begin to transform, forming a cell, but my classmates are with me, closing in…

I wake up covered in sweat and shaking. It was just a dream, I tell myself. I get up and shuffle around in complete darkness, my hand shaking as I grope around for my cell phone. It’s 5:24 AM, so I do what I always do after a nightmare–I search up my father’s case. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2010-–Marcus Wilson, with a history of federal offences and warnings, has finally been convicted of theft. The crime occurred earlier this year, when two armed, masked figures stormed a jewelry store and stole two diamond necklaces, one sapphire stone ring, and three pairs of pure gold earrings, three inches in length. One employee was injured in the process, receiving a broken wrist after being roughly shoved into a glass cabinet and falling to the floor. The other workers survived with minor injuries. Marcus Wilson and Anthony Johnson both pled guilty and were sentenced to four years in federal prison. Marcus has a wife and child, and Anthony has no family members that we were able to contact. The suspects and their families were not available for comment. 

I shut off my phone and walk to the living room, where my mother is watching the local news. 

“Morning, Mom,” I say, rubbing the last bits of sleep from my eyes. “You’re feeling better?” 

She gives me a watery smile. “I love you, Dashiell. You are your father’s son…”  Her half-lidded eyes return to the TV, and I nod to please her, now pondering the thought of what my dad was like as a young man. When he wasn’t involved with drugs, gangs, crime… I plop down next to her and put my head in my hands, unable to get the thoughts about my father out of my head.

“Hey Mom, how long has it been since we’ve visited Dad?” I know the answer. The last time we visited, I got really angry at him. We got into a yelling fight, and the visit was canceled early. It’s been over nine months. 

“Honey, I don’t know. Sometimes things go by in a blur, or they drag out slowly…” Her words are beginning to slur, so I take the bottle of wine from her hand and set it aside. We watch TV until I realize I’m going to be late for school. 

“Bye, Mom!” I shove last night’s paper into my schoolbag and run to catch the bus. 

I decide that after school, I’m going to do something that I haven’t done in nine months.

******************************************************************************

I square my shoulders and walk into my dad’s temporary home. The guards pat me down, I sign some papers, and since I’m thirteen, I don’t need a parent or guardian here with me. The big security guy leads me through the familiar hallways, down the metal stairs, and into the basement, where Block C is located. We pass a couple doors, I read the numbers. J-9873. M-4277. O-3858.  I wonder how all these men got here. What did they do? Do they have families that visit, or do they just waste away in their cells for fifteen years? Are they actually guilty, or were they framed for a crime? I realize all the questions and words buzzing around in my head are making my hands sweat and my mouth dry. I lick my lips and take a deep breath. We stop outside a door that reads W-8309. I know that number very, very well. 

“Wilson, you got a visitor!” The guard yells at the door. I can hear shuffling inside the cell, and there’s an awkward silence. 

“He’s being pretty good. He could be out soon.” The guard continues. I nod, and then two hands are placed gently through the gap in the middle of the door. I stare at my dad’s hands. They look pretty normal, no scabs or scratches. That’s good, I tell myself reassuringly. The guard cuffs Dad’s hands quickly, expertly, and they withdraw. The door is opened. 

My father stands, head down, hands cuffed in front of me. He’s wearing a gray jumpsuit like the one I had in my dream. My father raises his head, and I look him in the eye for the first time in months. His face is hollowed and gaunt, his eyes sunken and his cheekbones quite prominent. 

“Dad?” I ask, my eyes already filling with tears. He’s unable to speak, I see his eyes light up with shock and sadness, and I can’t help but rush to him, hugging, loving, wanting. We stay like that for a long time, until I pull away. 

“You’ve grown so much, Dashiell. I haven’t seen you for such a long time…” He says, voice hoarse. His shaggy brown hair falls into his face, and he wipes it away, along with a stray tear. 

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. 

He looks at me for the longest time. Finally he whispers, “There’s nothing to be sorry for, Dashiell. I should never have gotten involved with Anthony and those guys. I’m sorry for being hard on you. Will you forgive me?” 

Without hesitation, I hug him again. “Yes, yes, yes,” I say. We end up moving to a table inside my father’s cell. He asks about Mom, and I tell him she’s a bit of a mess. He gets up, takes something from under his pillows, and returns. He gives it to me. I examine the bundle. It’s a stack of letters, bound by a piece of twine. 

“I wrote these to your mother,” Dad says softly. “I’ve decided to work on the better me. When I get out of here, I won’t look at the gangs and my old buddies again. I’m going to be a new man, Dashiell. A new man.” He seems delighted with himself, so I smile as well. We chat for a little more, and of course we reach the inevitable subject–school. I spill everything; skipping school, the trouble my friends have got into. When the guard signals that our two hours are almost up, my father takes my hand. 

Looking me in the eye, he says, “Son, you may not be the most well behaved kid at school. Actually, it sounds like you and your buddies are the troublemakers. And it sounds cool at the time, but you’ll start getting into serious trouble. You’re definitely going to regret what you did, and there’ll be consequences. That’s exactly what happened to me, and I beg you not to go down that path. Please, son, choose what’s right and be the better person. Stay away from people who lead you down a dangerous path. Remember, I love you, and your mother loves you too, so please avoid situations that are.” 

He squeezes my hand, and the guard escorts me out of the room. As the door closes, I wave and say just loud enough for him to hear; “I love you too, Dad.”

******************************************************************************

Epilogue

When D got home, his mom was snoozing on the couch. He gently shook her awake.
“Hey, Mom. I… visited Dad today.” Feeling tired, he left the letters next to her bottle of Bud Light and retired to his room early. When he woke up and strolled down the hall the next day, the smell of eggs and bacon reached his nose. Rubbing his eyes hard, D saw his mother making breakfast in the kitchen, a pile of open letters on the counter. As he got closer, he saw the letters contained his dad’s handwriting. 

“How much bacon, D?” his mother asked. 

D went back to school that day. He walked in with Katie and a smile on his face. Looking the feared math teacher in the eye, he held out a neat, fully completed homework assignment. When Prince started making cat noises during the lesson, D didn’t join in. Jordie and Prince came up to him later that day.

“What’s up with you, man?” Jordie looked concerned, but Prince had a menacing look on his face as he stood defiantly behind Jordie, arms crossed. 

  “I… don’t want to do this anymore. I’m sick of playing around, getting in trouble, and never taking anything seriously. We’ll get into bigger trouble, you know.” 

Both his friends’ expressions hardened. 

“I thought we were real friends, Dashiell,” Prince spat at him. They walked away, wanting nothing to do with him anymore. 

It was sad to watch his old friends ignore him, but Dashiell started hanging out with other kids after that, grades improving as well as his various relationships. 

 A few months after D’s visit, his father went on trial for the last time and the judge let him go. D’s life was finally piecing back together, especially since his father came back. 


The Flower of Night

A sustained shriek rips through the raven-dark air. A young boy emerges from a building, his eyes alight with fear. He takes a step into the night, slowly at first, and then sprints. He reaches the opposite sidewalk and disappears into another building. 

Shoes. Thousands of shoes. In every color, shape, and size. Here, near the street lamp, there’s a pair of black leather pumps, stomping up and down in a frenzy. Across the block, a pair of well-worn, mud-caked hiking shoes performs a tapdance. Over there, down by the red brick townhouse is a collection of neon sneakers. All of them dance around this angry Sun-on-Earth. It cackles and dances and glints. It plays and spreads and reaps the block of its population. 

A young woman clutches her shawl, tears wetting the soft cloth. She is the source of the scream. Her mouth is open, her sound lighting the thousands of ears grouped around the fearsome fire. 

A man in a navy-blue pinstripe suit holds onto his briefcase for his life. His daughter is gone. His watch shines with the reflection. She’s disappeared into the mass, yet to appear. Which mass?

The people scream, but the young boy is deaf. All he knows is that his mother descended into the street thirty minutes ago and he hasn’t had dinner yet. He treads to the floor-length window and screeches a sound he cannot hear.

They lick the street and eat the sidewalk without a moment of consideration. Buildings are devoured in a matter of seconds. It advances. The brave knights who hold the hoses and those too desperate to try to salvage their own lives are the only ones who remain near this beast. It growls and laughs at the few helpless and stupid enough to tease it. It pounces and engulfs them. 

A second sun emerges. It tears the sky heavy with tears into a dreadful begonia. The stars fall, one by one. 

The person in only a purple Peanuts t-shirt advances into the flower, ready to be eaten.

This is a flower of night. It fades and crumples and grays as another one takes its place, ravaging the sky. 

The fire was beautiful. It was the color of wheat in harvest season. It smelled of cinnamon and campfires. It glinted like a million mirrors and faded like a tired firefly. It kissed the earth with passion, love almost. 

No one will remember this. They will remember only the old man who limped and leaned on his old wife. They all limp. Every single one of them limps, whether their limbs be lithe and lean or wizened and broken. They are oldened, every one of them: wrinkles line their faces like old war-paint; their eyes are sunken and flighty. They will remember the picture released in the press, the following day, a lifeless representation of the arid desert lacking everything of the city’s breath. An urban tundra, frozen over, for none to survive.

The flower has faded.


I Don’t Know What To Call This – A Poem

Puncture me, words of bleeding ink.

Rip through my veins, I’m possessed by you, like a puppet on a string. 

You own me in chains. Cold, hard steel. Break me, break my bones. Shatter my spirit of writer’s block. 

I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I’m bad at this. Bad at life. Cut my throat of blood and ice. Rip my spine, use it for your books.

My flesh will be the cover, my blood you will write with. I am a slave, now and forever, to the spirit that is writing. It owns me, and I love it. It hurts me, but I embrace it.

You can call it abuse, but to me it’s just tough love. You can try to fight it, but it latches on, like a snake around your throat, the words burrow into your skin, like spiders, your flesh will crawl and slither, ache to escape, but your mind lusts for it. 

That savagery, that greed, that need to write, fingers a slave to the notebook, the pen, the keyboard. Even my skeleton will write. I am here, a slave to this spirit for a thousand lifetimes.

I can turn to dust, my bones will crack and dry up, my fingers withered, my eye sockets turned long ago to voids of emptiness, but I will keep going. I have to. Because it is all I have left. 


Miriam’s Song

Some time ago, 11 members of the Jewish community were killed,

Shot down, erased from the face of the planet.

Killed by a man whose hatred for those who differ from him outweighed the cost of taking their lives.

And as he raised the barrel of his gun, he shot through the 

Maccabees who fought so valiantly to have their right to pray,

He shot through Esther as she saved the Jews from being annihilated,

He shot through Moses as he pushed through the Red Sea towards freedom,

He shot through Elijah as he fought to keep the Jewish religion grounded, 

And he shot through Zelophehad’s daughters as they fought for their human right to live.

His gunshot was heard around the world, ringing in the ears of all people.

And as they fall, we rise up, taking our place and doubling our strength as one people.

We snatch up that gun and throw it behind us, 

We take our timbrels and dance like Miriam,

Because we are the Chosen People, 

The ones who survived.

And survivors are not defeated, pushed down, or shot.

We sing, we shout, for we are done keeping quiet.

Our time of being pushed out is over.

So we talk,

To our friends,

Our family,

And to people who aren’t our friends and family.

We tell them who we are.

First, people. Second, Jewish.

Here to spread the love of those around us,

Not to kill.

Here to help people that don’t have as much as we do,

Not to hurt.

Here to tell people that they are not alone in this big, scary world,

Not to hate.

Because when it’s Rosh Hashana,

I want to eat my apples and honey and taste no sadness,

Just the rich sweetness of the food and my family.

And when it’s finally time for Passover,

I want to dip my herbs in the bitter water and know that it actually signifies hardships of the past,

Not the present.


Timmy’s Golf Club

“And then he said, ‘I’m bloodthirsty!’ Haha!” said the vampire comedian. 

Timmy shook his head. He slowly walked out of the auditorium filled with fans of these alien vampire comedians who had descended from God-knows-where and had taken over the comedy industry, forcing Timmy, a pure-blood human, out of his job as a full-time stand-up comedian. Timmy knew the world was ending. He could smell it in the air. 

On his way home, he ducked into an alley that was a shortcut. He saw a black cloak sweep around a corner. He smelled dried blood. Something glinted in a corner of the alley. At first glance, it looked like a fancy golf club. Then as he got closer, he realized it had spikes on it. This could kill a person with a flick of his wrist. As his hand touched it and picked it up, a thought echoed through his mind. I’m going to kill them, he thought. Every last one of them

The very next night, he crouched in a corner of an alley, waiting. He saw a dark cloak, the telltale sign of a vampire. He leaped on the blurry shape with golf club in hand. Timmy stood and looked at the heap on the ground. He had done it! Timmy had gotten his first kill, and he was proud of himself. The smell of death and blood surrounded him, and it smelled good. There was blood oozing out of the vampire’s face, and his ribs were exposed. His blood was pooling on the ground, and his clothes were drenched in blood. All over the town of Ithaca, New York, the first sanctuary to vampires, the white snow was starting to turn red.

John Miller

The policeman was doing his nightly patrol when he came across the body. John Miller noticed many things about the body, but the thing that really stood out to him was the golf club-like print across the dead man’s face. He immediately brought it back to the forensic research team, who determined that the man had been dead for over a day, and also confirmed that he was, in fact, a vampire, who were no different than immigrants and had every right to Ithaca. They also found fingerprints that led them to one man: Timmy Hawkins. 

Timmy

The police came to his house and arrested him at 4:30 AM on Saturday morning for the murder of one innocent vampire. He knew what he did was horrible, but vampires were ending the world slowly but surely by sucking people’s blood until it ran dry. Timmy’s job wasn’t done. There were 49 vampires left.

“No! NO! LET ME GO!!!” Timmy screamed at the police arresting him. They thought he was crazy, but he wasn’t. The police must have forgotten how many people died because of vampires. The total death count was 39. And how many vampires had been murdered? One! This was unjust! Timmy got put in a cell with a man named Jarell. As Timmy was thrown into the cell by the guards, Jarell looked at him.

“What’d you do?” Jarell asked. 

“Murdered a vampire. How ‘bout you?”

“Nothing. I did nothing. I was arrested for murder as well, but I commited no crime. I was framed. I’ve had many people pass through this room, but they’ve all gone after a short time. How, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you how to escape too. But for a price. Gimme your cookie today at lunch. Then I’ll show you how to get out of this place.”

“Sure!” said Timmy.

That night, Jarell looked down the hallway for guards. 

“Climb on my shoulders,” he said to Timmy.

“Um…” Timmy was hesitant. 

“Just do it!” Jarell burst out. Timmy jumped onto Jarell’s shoulders and pulled out a vent from the ceiling. He climbed through the ventilation pipes and found another opening, which was on the side of the building. This was the only way out. Timmy would have to risk it. He climbed down the building and landed on the soft ground. 

He went home, only to find his golf club had been confiscated. He would have to improvise. He went to his local sports store and bought a golf club. Then he went to the hardware store and bought some barbed wire, nails, and a hammer, and continued his rampage.

There was one left. One vampire left to kill, the kingpin of all vampires. He lived in an underground lair with the best security in the world and was surrounded by bodyguards at all times. Timmy’s first stop was the gun store. When he looked at the aisles and aisles of guns, he chose five. An RPG, two waist pistols, a shotgun, and a laser blaster. With all this and his golf club, he was ready to fight Trankio, the head vampire.

 He then proceeded to look for the undisclosed location of Trankio’s vampire lair. He looked in the train tracks, but there was no hideout. He looked in various basements. He even looked in the bottom of trash cans. He was tired and dirty, so he stopped in the bathroom of a Subway sandwich shop to wash up, and when he leaned back on a certain part of the wall, it opened up to reveal a long set of spiral stairs. He quickly pulled out his guns and golf club, and tucked them into the proper holsters. He was ready. As he walked down the stairs, he tripped on a wire. The last thing Timmy Hawkins felt was a bullet go through his brain.

John Miller

As John lay in bed, he looked out the window and saw Ithaca falling apart. The streets were drenched with blood. Corpses lay in the abandoned square, and there were only a couple people left. Everyone was wrong, including him. Vampires needed to die. He heard his bedroom door open, and then everything went black.

News Anchor

“Today, the vampires have declared Ithaca theirs. They have killed over 500, and we have found out there are almost a thousand vampires living in Trankio’s lair,” said the news anchor. 

“Police have shifted their view about vampires from ‘Welcome to Ithaca!’ to ‘Definitely not welcome in Ithaca!’ They are trying to arrest all the vampires and have even brought the military in. Ahh! My neck! My neck!” 

Those were the last words the news anchor said before vampires took over the TV station, and the rest of the world with it.

The Gauntlet

Ryan Collins was your average thirteen year old kid in the year 2045. He spent his entire weekends playing on the Portal, a virtual reality simulation. On the Portal, you could do anything from playing virtual laser tag, to virtual NASCAR driving. 

It is November 3rd, and the Gauntlet is 1 week away. The Gauntlet is a competition in the Portal. All of the greatest players of the Portal are selected by an A.I. to enter the Gauntlet. The competitors are placed in a maze, and they all have to survive until the end. The Gauntlet ends when all of the players virtual avatars, except for the winner, have been killed by the maze, or killed by other players. Eliminating another player doesn’t give you any perks except for confidence, which is key in the Gauntlet. Of course, if you die in the portal, you don’t actually die in the real world, but it still sucks. The prize for winning the Gauntlet is not only winning fifty million, but eternal fame across the globe.

Ryan was great at the Portal, and he was really hoping to be picked for the Gauntlet. The gamers that are entering the Gauntlet will be chosen today. In fact, they were starting right now. Ryan hurried over to his TV, and listened for the names. “There will be 50 people entering the Gauntlet,” the guy on the news said, “please listen for your name.” about 30 names were said before the news anchor said, “Ryan Collins.” Ryan’s mouth dropped, he would get a chance to compete! 

Ryan was about to run over to his parents, but then he remembered they were on vacation in a place called Collark, what used to be called Hawhii. Ryan’s parents both had big jobs at the Portal. Ryan lived in a huge house and was mostly alone, since he was an only child. Ryan texted his parents, and his friend Michael. Michael instantly wrote back. “I know, I was watching! That’s so cool! I really hope you win.”

Gauntlet Day

The day had finally come. Ryan put on his senso gloves, his chest sensor, and his VR goggles. When he logged into the Portal, he was instantly put into a waiting room with all the other players. He looked in a mirror at his avatar that he had personally designed. His avatar was a normal human body with camo pants and a sweatshirt, but his avatar’s head was a head of a monster from a really old movie called Godzilla. It was from the 2010’s. The head looked like a T-rex head with purple armor. 

When he looked around at the competition, everyone seemed uneasy. Nobody was even talking to each other. Some gamers were pacing, some were sitting, and some were staring off into nothingness. After about thirty minutes, an automated voice spoke into the waiting room. It said, “all players, please choose two weapons for your survival.” A wide selection of weapons hovered on Ryan’s screen. He chose a plasma blaster and a standard sniper rifle. Once he was equipped with the weapons his avatar disappeared, and when it reappeared, he was in the maze.

The first thing that Ryan did was find a hiding spot where no one would find him. His strategy was to wait for a while and watch until there were less people left. If anyone came, Ryan could take them out without them even seeing. 

A couple minutes later, he heard the sounds of battle echoing through the maze. The voice from the waiting room said, “two competitors have been eliminated. There are forty-eight players remaining.” Just then, two competitors came into Ryan’s view. He quickly ducked behind a wall to hide. He was breathing heavily back in his rig at home. He readied his blaster and took aim at the two avatars. He fired three shots at the avatars. Only one of them hit and eliminated one of the players. “One competitor eliminated,” the voice said, “forty-seven players remaining.” The other player had an RPG and he fired it at Ryan, and destroyed the wall Ryan was hiding behind. Ryan turned and ran, In no particular direction except for away from his attacker.

After minutes of running Ryan finally stopped and looked behind him. No one was in sight. The voice said, “forty-one players remaining. In the real world it was 6:57 p.m. and the Gauntlet ended at 7:00 p.m. It would resume at 7:00 a.m. the next day, with everyone just where they left off. The screen faded and Ryan took off his gear. It was a decent day for Ryan, since he was still in the game and 18% of the competition had been eliminated. 

Day 2

Ryan woke up the next morning, brushed his teeth, ate breakfast, and logged into his portal account. It was 6:58 a.m. and in two minutes, The Gauntlet would resume. Ryan stretched for about a minute, and then his screen transported him just where he left off in the maze.

After an hour of waiting and watching, Ryan heard the voice say, “eight competitors have been eliminated, thirty-three players remaining.” Ryan had made to the last thirty-three players. He was expecting to be eliminated sooner, especially after his attack on day one of the Gauntlet. Ryan made his way towards where he thought he heard the sounds of battle. He was planning on watching everything play out until he could comfortably fight. Then Ryan saw an avatar walking by. He quietly pulled out his sniper, and fired. He hit him! Ryan had gotten his second elimination! “Thirty-two players left,” Said the voice. Ryan quickly climbed up to a perch where nobody would notice him, looked through the scope of the sniper, and surveyed the area. Nobody came into sight for about forty-five minutes. Then another avatar came into view, but this time the avatar saw Ryan and fired at him. None of the shots hit but one whistled right by his left ear. Ryan fired back at the avatar. None of the shots hit, but Ryan still had the high ground, so he fired another round at the avatar, and the shots hit. Ryan now had three eliminations. The voice said, “thirty players left.” Another player must have been eliminated. Ryan was on a roll. Then he heard the grinding of metal. The maze was closing in! Ryan jumped down from his perch and ran for his life. “Twenty-seven players remaining,” the voice said. The maze must have killed three players. Then spikes rained down from the ceiling. Ryan barely dodged the first round, but then he tripped on an uneven bit of floor. This was actually very lucky, since if he tripped any further, his avatar would have been impaled by a spike. Ryan got up and looked behind him, to see a raging fire chasing him. He once again ran for his life as the fire came closer and closer. It finally stopped after a few minutes of running, just as Ryan ran out of breath. The voice made its usual announcement. “Nine competitors have been eliminated. Eighteen players remaining.” Only eighteen players left, Ryan thought to himself. The maze is really starting to hate me. Ryan sat down in a tunnel and rested for a bit. By the time he woke up, it was 4:36 p.m. Still a while before the Gauntlet ended for today. With all of the excitement of today, Ryan had forgotten about how thirsty he was. He couldn’t risk getting a drink in the real world, just in case someone came. Ryan would have to forget about his thirst for a while, as he set out to go hunting for any unsuspecting avatars. He walked for about thirty-five minutes this way and that until he found a big red illuminated X on the wall. In Ryan’s mind, this could have meant some kind of treasure, or it could have meant danger. Apparently, the maze picked danger as the X shot out a laser, and Ryan barely dodged it like Neo dodging a bullet from a really old movie called the Matrix. Not only did the maze hate Ryan, but Ryan was really starting to hate the maze. The Gauntlet was so much harder than Ryan could have ever imagined.

Jack Miller

Jack Miller was a fifteen year old kid from St. Paul, Minnesota. He was chosen to enter the Gauntlet, and now he is still in with eighteen players remaining. Now seventeen according to the bodiless voice. Jack was really excited to have gotten this far in the contest, and he was currently planning on buying a twenty million dollar home in Beverly Hills if he won. Jack was also really proud of his avatar, which was a tiger head and tiger claws for hands, and the avatar wore a black and orange striped Under Armour shirt. It looked really cool, and a bit frightening if you heard it roar.

Jack decided to go exploring, maybe get his first elimination. It would be pretty cool if Jack could get an elimination in the Gauntlet. Maybe he could even place top ten, or even, just possibly win the entire Gauntlet. A couple of minutes later, Jack heard footsteps, and prepared for a fight.

Ryan Collins

Ryan was walking along the maze when he heard a blast. He quickly jumped out of the way to see an avatar with a tiger head. Tiger head fired again, but badly missed. Ryan jumped up to get the high ground, but tiger head grenaded the area around Ryan and sent him against the wall. Ryan picked up his blaster and fired at tiger head, who dodged it, fired at Ryan, And nearly missed him. Ryan saw his opportunity as tiger head reloaded, shot, and hit tiger head in the arm. This wasn’t enough to eliminate Mr. tiger, but he was certainly at low health. Ryan advanced towards tiger head, but tiger head fired and hit Ryan in the leg. Now they were both at low health, and if either one of them got hit, they were out. Ryan charged at tiger head, slid to dodge his shot, and fired and hit tiger head, finally eliminating him. 

After that close encounter with tiger head, Ryan checked the time. Thirty minutes until the Gauntlet ends for the day. Then, he saw three players walking together. They were teaming! Ryan quickly calculated two options, run, or take on all three of them on at once. He chose the first and ran once again for his virtual life. By the time he had lost the teamers, the day was just about over which he was glad about, but he was sure he would have to encounter the teamers again.

When Ryan finished taking off his gear, he texted his parents, who still ignored him. His parents had never been there for Ryan, so he texted Michael about his adventures. Ryan said, “I made it to the final eighteen players! I fought with this tiger head guy and just barely eliminated him.” 

Michael wrote back, “cool. I wonder how many people will be left by the end of tomorrow?” 

Ryan replied, “we’ll see.” Ryan tried to call his parents again, but they still didn’t pick up. Ryan was rarely with his parents. They were always at work, or on vacation, or just any place that wasn’t home. Ryan took care of himself all the time. Tomorrow is Monday, but Ryan can skip school because of the Gauntlet. This wasn’t technically a law, but Ryan decided it for himself. He ate a bad frozen pizza for dinner, and figured that he should probably get some sleep, considering the big day ahead of him.

Jack Miller

Jack learned one thing after he was eliminated from the Gauntlet. It sucked. When he was in the Gauntlet, he was so confident that he could get really far into the contest, and then the next thing you know, you get eliminated. Jack kind of hoped that the player that eliminated him won, just because if he won, he would at least have been eliminated by the winner. 

Day 3

When Ryan woke the next morning, he knew what was coming. Today was day three of the Gauntlet, and the teamers were coming for Ryan. Deep down, Ryan knew that the only way he could survive against the teamers was to outsmart them, and that was what he was going to do. 

When Ryan logged into the game, he was transported to the spot he left off at as usual, and began his plan to beat the teamers. But to do that, Ryan needed a decoy, and he knew just how to do it. Ryan climbed up the maze walls to a viewing deck, which looked a little out of place in an illuminated stone corridor. Now he could take his plan into action. He could barely see the teamers through his scope. He picked up a grenade launcher off the floor from a competitor that had previously been eliminated, and fired past the teamers. Then, he quickly pulled out his sniper, took aim and sniped the grenade. He missed. So much suspense, and he missed. He tried again, although his moment of triumph had been ruined. He fired the grenade again, then pulled out his sniper, and finally hit the grenade. This set off an explosion right in front of the teamers. Now Ryan could attack them from behind. Ryan reloaded his sniper and eliminated all three of the teamers with perfect headshots now that they were distracted.  The voice said, “three competitors eliminated, fourteen players remaining.” In the first day of the Gauntlet, Ryan had not been a dangerous player, merely practice for the others. But now, Ryan actually had a shot at winning this thing. Sadly, the maze continued its streak of dislike towards Ryan, as it once again started closing in. This time, instead of fire, the maze chose to send a virtual avalanche to chase down Ryan. Ryan ran away from the avalanche for about five minutes until it finally subsided. Ryan could now see the other side of the maze. That meant one thing, more players to deal with.

Ryan fired his plasma blaster at the opposing players. He counted about five in sight, but there were definitely others hiding somewhere or other. The shot missed but a player hiding behind another avatar eliminated him. Thirteen players left. He picked up a minigun off the floor from the player that just got eliminated, and he rapidly fired it into the direction of the other players, and eliminated one. Then, he used the same tactic he used to beat the teamers. He threw the minigun near an opposing player, and fired at making a huge explosion that eliminated two players. Eight players left, now that two others just got grenaded. 

The maze started closing in again. Now, the players had to fight on the run. Ryan avoided the main battle as he ran towards a wall far enough away from the edges of the maze so that he wouldn’t have to worry about the maze closing in. Five players left now! The look on Ryan’s face said it all

 He pulled out his sniper and looked through the scope, but everyone was moving so much, that Ryan couldn’t get a clean shot off. He took out his blaster and decided to eyeball it. Ryan fired at one of the remaining avatars and hit her in the shoulder, but it didn’t eliminate her. He fired again at her, but the shot missed. Now that he had her attention, she didn’t notice how another avatar was firing at her. “Three players left,” the voice said.

 The maze was so small now that Ryan could easily see the other end. Ryan fired again at both of the remaining avatars. One of the avatars hid behind a wall, and one fired back. His shots were amazingly accurate. Ryan ducked behind a wall to avoid the avatars shots. The avatar switched to targeting the other avatar, and after five shots, the player being targeted was eliminated. It was the final two people! For about two minutes, Ryan and the other avatar traded shots. The other avatar was really good. All of the shots from the avatar were alarmingly accurate. Ryan couldn’t do anything about it. If he came out of his hiding place, the other avatar would have easily eliminated him. 

The next two minutes were a bit uneventful, as neither avatar wanted to give up their position. Then, Ryan heard a whirring sound, and the next thing he knew, a pillar of lava shot right at the place Ryan was previously standing. This forced both Ryan and the other avatar to move, which made the both exposed to each others shots. Ryan could only get two shots off before the ground started crumbling. Random chunks of the ground were now missing.  Ryan was running away from a crumbling piece of floor until he slipped. He nearly fell through the hole in the ground, but at the last second, he grabbed the edge, and hung there, trying to pull himself up. A flare of terror erupted in his chest. He finally found the strength within him and pulled himself up. The other avatar seemed to be having similar troubles. Ryan could have just ended the contest right then and there, but he didn’t want to win like that. He waited for the other avatar to get up before Ryan started firing at him. The ground had at least stopped moving, and Ryan could tell that someone was about to be eliminated.

Jack Miller

As Jack watched the final two competitors fight on TV, he felt jealousy like he had never felt before.The feeling that the person you are watching on TV could have been you, but wasn’t, was indescribable. Jack knew that he maybe could have gotten this far, if he had just been more careful. It was devastating watching the final two players of the competition that he was in. Jack couldn’t bare it. He turned the TV off. He would watch the news about who won the Gauntlet later. He would do anything for another chance to compete,

Ryan Collins

Ryan dodged three shots before going on the offensive. He took his time for his next shots. He looked, fired, and boom. It was over. Ryan had won the Gauntlet. Ryan’s avatar was lifted up and up until he was looking from above upon the maze that he had just conquered. The voice spoke for the final time. “Congratulations! You have won the Gauntlet. This is an incredible feat, and your name will go down in the history books. Do you accept the prize of fifty million dollars?” 

“I do,” Ryan replied.

“Very well,” the voice said. “You now have fifty million dollars in your bank account,”

“Thank you,” Ryan said.

The Next Day

It was a good twenty-three hours until Ryan woke up. He was exhausted. Michael had been waiting for him. “Dude, you won!” Michael exclaimed.

“I guess I did.” Ryan replied.

“What are you gonna do with the money?” Michael asked.

“I think I have an idea,” Ryan answered.

Five Years Later

After Ryan turned eighteen, and was able to move into his new home, (without his parents.) The first thing he did was make an announcement on the very same news channel that he first heard his name on for the Gauntlet.

 “Five years ago,” he said. “I heard my name on this channel, informing me that I would participate in the Gauntlet. Little did I know, I would end up winning it. Many great things have happened to me since then, and I would like for many more people to feel the way in which I did. Because I loved the Gauntlet so much, I will be personally running and funding the Gauntlet II.”

The Gauntlet Will Return…


Guinea Pigs

“Guinea pigs are perfectly suited for the urban household…” (Aarti R). Guinea pigs are a species of rodent that has been domesticated for pet uses. According to many people, they are very loyal and cuddly (Hess). Guinea pigs have an interesting history, and are perfectly suited to an urban domestic lifestyle (Aarti R).

Guinea pigs originated in South America, where they normally live in the wild (Aarti R). Most people breed them for food, or give them as gifts (Aarti R). But in Peru, they have a festival where they dress guinea pigs in clothes, and hold contests for the fastest, biggest, and cutest. Later, they are fried and eaten (Kaushik). Their history is rich, but even in this festival, guinea pigs are appreciated.

In addition, guinea pigs are also easy to take care of pets for city children (Hess). They are very hardy and less fragile than rabbits or other animals. They are also medium-sized rodents, not too big, but not extremely small. Guinea pigs come in many colors and their size ranges from 10-15 inches (Aarti R). Also, their cages have to be 7.5 sq. ft, but this could be easily put underneath a desk or table. They can purr and make chittering noises, but only if you are with them. Guinea pigs in the wild are nocturnal, but in a human household they are diurnal (Aarti R).

Finally, guinea pigs are very sociable animals that love their owners and help them with their mental health. Most guinea pigs are shy at first, but once they recognize their owner, can develop a fierce loyalty for them (Hess). Once they know their owners, they will squeal when they see you. Also, when you open the refrigerator, they will turn towards the fridge in case treats are on the way (Hess). When you pet them, they will purr. Also, guinea pigs offer health benefits as well. When you own a pet, your blood pressure goes down and stress is reduced (Reader’s Digest). This is important for kids who have to take important tests. These are some of the benefits of having a pet.

In conclusion, guinea pigs are pets with a long history. Pets for a city life are very hard to find. If a snake escapes, it can freak out the neighbors. A dog will whine when you leave, and smaller animals like chinchillas will get scared when you get close to them. Guinea pigs fit the bill perfectly and are some of the most loyal urban pets on the planet.

“5 Surprising Health Benefits of Owning a Pet.” Reader’s Digest, 2019, www.readersdigest.ca/home-garden/pets/5-surprising-health-benefits-owning-pet/.

DVM, Laurie Hess. “10 Reasons Why Guinea Pigs Make Great Pets.” Hess, 20 Mar. 2014, www.Vetsreet.com/our-pet-experts/10-reasons-why-guinea-pigs-make-great-pets?page=1.

Kaushik. “Unexpected Turn of Events at The Guinea Pig Festival.” Amusing Planet, Amusing Planet, 2010, www.amusingplanet.com/2010/06/unexpected-turn-of-events-at-guinea-pig.html.

R, Aarti. “Incredibly Stunning Facts About Guinea Pigs.” PetPonder, PetPonder, 20 Apr. 2018, petponder.com/guinea-pig-facts.

A Wind Filled Island

None of us had ever seen, wait no, imagined what was happening that frigid day in October. The sky went from a golden sunrise to a seemingly clear, cloudless blue, and then suddenly it went dark. Every time the lighting came, the sky would resemble a beaten-up face.  Purpled with bruises. 

After a few hours, the thunder began to ring in our ears, bringing us to our knees, sobbing as we saw our world ripped out from beneath us… and above us, and from every which way, as the wind blew like a ferocious lion. But somehow, the ocean that completely surrounded our little spit of land was like a fox. It would slyly run around, jumping up when you never would have expected. 

15-foot giants crashing down every few minutes. But it wasn’t the size that terrified us. It was that they never seemed to want to stop. They weren’t frequent. No, quite the opposite. When we thought they’d come, they didn’t, and when they did, they rattled us, like a plain hurricane would rip away palm trees on some Hawaiian island. Ha! A Hawaiian island sounds nice right now. 

It seems funny that I would like a Hawaiian island after growing up loving Auklet. The pine trees that used to grow in clusters along the sand and tall grasses. The small seabirds that the island was named after several hundred years ago. The days when you could truly feel a steaming summer air turn into the crisp autumn breeze that all the old locals would notice when you walked by.  “It’s a breezy ‘un, isn’t it?” they’d call out. 

But everything quickly changed. The trees would be no more, as well as the grass, until only the ground was left, but turned upon itself, so the golden carpet we’d once walked on became a ravaged landscape of dirt and rocks. And the only talk of a breeze for the next few months was the whistling wind itself that came without the shelter of the trees. But the wind wasn’t just whistling during the storm. It was screaming. The grey-shingled cottages shuddered and shivered, but they wouldn’t give in, not yet at least. The docks that stretched from the sandy beaches were gone before you knew they were there. After a few hours, the mid-island houses turned to beachfront, and the beachfront turned to dark, bottomless ocean. At a certain point, in the middle of the storm, it turned sunny.  

It was like some sort of surreal form of torture, for as we islanders looked up from our shivering shelters, we saw the destruction that the storm had given our home. This, however, was not the worst of it. The true torture was when the lights turned off again, and we were engulfed into the crippling winds.

***

When I walked out from the tattered wooden structure, I felt like rushing back in. 

But I knew I couldn’t. Although it seemed like there was nothing left on the island, I could hear the faint calls for help from beneath the rocks and sand. I began to pick out the voices of my childhood friends and even the kind shop clerk, George. “Is there anyone up there?” he voiced shakily.  

I rushed over to the few planks, still showing above the ground and began to dig frantically.  Suddenly, the ground fell beneath me, and I found myself lying next to George, his arms around his children. 

“Fin!” he cried. “Help us!” I climbed out from the planks and George lifted out his two little girls. He climbed out with shaking limbs and immediately asked, “Where are the rest?” 

George had always been like the father of our island. He always brought the locals together when we needed each other. I didn’t respond, but quickly ran up to the next pile of grey cedar planks and dug until the local doctor, Maria, climbed out. George let out a sigh of relief as he saw the doctor. 

“We can’t waste any more time,” he said as he dropped down over a third ripped-down home and began digging until his fingernails were hanging on by strings. It took six more hours, but eventually we had found about three-quarters of the entire island. Of course, this was only about 35 people, but it brought some of us a sense of relief. George had sadly found the old hermit lying under the few planks that constituted his shack, without a pulse. He was surprisingly unscathed, but no one was asking questions. He had little connection to the rest of the islanders, but his death still brought much grief. Many who lived outside of town were still searching for family members, but most everyone was eventually accounted for. All except the island’s blacksmith, Conan. He and George had grown up together, and had been on Auklet longer than anyone else that was still living.  

“We can’t jus’ leave ‘im out there!” Abbot, a friend of my father said.

Many of the older locals were worried about Conan, but George calmed them and said we would continue the search tomorrow.  

As George walked away, into the darkness that surrounded us all, I saw the look of sorrow in his eyes.  

No one slept that night.  On top of the trauma we’d just experienced, we hadn’t eaten in over 36 hours. The schoolteacher, Keeley, took it upon herself to entertain the children with stories of fire-breathing dragons, princesses, and knights in shining armor. As she spoke, magical worlds began to form. Fairy tales and mystery lurked in her voice, and my mind wandered into the past. 

A question I frequently asked myself pushed its way to the front of my thoughts: How did we get here? Most people who grew up here didn’t quite care about history.  People from Auklet live in the moment.  

‘The past is no more, the future ‘an’t be known, but the present is what we should live by.’  Everyone who went to school here knows that quote. And everyone lives by it. That is, everyone except me. I’ve always been one to wonder about the past. My father used to tell me off for asking about the island. 

“It’s our home, and we love it. Why should we linger in what it used to be?” I can still hear his deep voice. And I can still remember when his voice faded away. 

It was such a sunny day for what had happened. As soon as Maria had walked in, her expression turned to grief. He wasn’t dead yet, but by looking at Maria, it felt like he was. He’d had what Maria called a stroke. He tried to say goodbye, but his voice had already gone. When he tried to reach out, he found he could only move his right arm. By sundown, he was dead. I’m an only child, and my mother died in childbirth, but I had a very large family to grieve beside. Everyone on Auklet is family. No matter what happens, we stay together. When my father died, everyone was in front of the house in under ten minutes.  

That night, it felt the same. Although we were grieving for our island, we were together, so we felt safe.

Only now did I realize how truly exhausted I was. My eyes felt like lead weights, and my limbs were like jelly. My brain felt like it had melted away, and my hearing shut down. But somehow, I didn’t fall asleep. I couldn’t. However much I wanted to, my body refused to fall asleep. It was a strange feeling. I soon began to feel a sort of anger. Although I probably had much reason to feel this way, I couldn’t trace my anger to anything directly. I simply was irritated. This irritation made me feel limp, like I couldn’t exert anymore energy, until, at a certain point, I just stared up at the sky and watched as the stars moved away, and the majestic bluish black of outer space quickly lightened, and the grey of dawn shone through. 

By the time the sky had returned to its usual bright, cloudless blue, everyone was walking around, asking what they could do to help. In the past hour or two, George had begun instructing people in the building of a shelter from the remaining planks of their houses. I walked over to a group of old locals who were talking quickly and nervously.

“We ‘ave to go now before it’s too late!” one said.

“We’ll gather a search party,” said another.                                                                                                  

I saw George walking over, a grim look on his face. They were talking about Conan.

“What’s all the trouble fellas?” George asked.

“We have to go back for ‘im, George,” the baker said in a calm voice.

I don’t know what made me do it. I hardly knew Conan. Maybe it was the mystery of it.  Whatever it was, I stepped into the circle of locals and voiced two words:

“I’ll go.”

***

George had taken me aside as soon as I said this. Searching for Conan wasn’t a dangerous task, but at the same time, Conan was like a symbol of the unknown. He was quite a mysterious person.

“You have to understand, Fin. Conan might be gone.”

“But he might be alive! We’re family. We simply can’t jus’ leave him to die.”

George looked at me long and hard. Then he simply nodded, and walked away.

Splash

Splashing 

Playing

Sitting

Thinking

The ocean

My haven

I come here to breathe

To live

It’s like I’m 

Holding my breath

All day

Waiting 

For the moment

I can gulp salty air

And be reborn

My connection with

The waves

Tugs at me

Pulling me 

Through the day

Until I’m back

Sitting on sandy shore

Wind tossing my hair

Water lapping my feet

Salt spraying my face

I come here to think

Something about this place

Calms me

Eerily soothes me

No one else 

Comes to my beach

They say

The waves are too tall

Like big walls 

You can’t get past

They say

The fog is too thick

Like a mask

To their vision

They say

No one will come here

Yet I do

Day after day

I come here

For what?

Who knows

Maybe 

To get away

From Mom

Sitting at home

Smiling

Pretending 

Dad didn’t abandon us

All alone

With no clue

Where he is

Maybe I come

To forget

Forget about

Hannah

My best friend

Now my enemy

To forget

How she left me

Just like

Everyone else

Or maybe

Maybe I just come

Out of habit

Longing for the tranquility 

It brings me

Telling myself

It would be lonely

Without me

But really

I’m the one

Who gets lonely

And needs the ocean


Mrs. Reynolds Waits

Mrs. Reynolds sat on the edge of her seat, shoes bouncing on the floor. She looked up at the brown wall clock, eager to check the time, but in a moment she remembered the old thing hadn’t worked properly since the Reverend had come in last Tuesday for tea. The wild gesticulations which always peppered his conversation resulted in the clock being drenched within a quarter of an hour.

So Mrs. Reynolds got up quickly from the tattered armchair and made her way into the dining room, where she’d left the golden watch chain ever since dear old Mr. Reynolds had passed on. That is, she attempted to move quickly, but so withered and creaky were her bones that it took approximately the same amount of time for her to move from room to room as a turtle might take to walk a few yards. 

In her attempt at haste, Mrs. Reynolds’ distracted mind nearly forgot to take the fabric and needle with her as she went to check the time. But she had left the room so many times now throughout the day that it was becoming second nature to take her work with her. After all, it could hardly be left behind—she’d been sewing the new dress for nearly a week and what with all the embroidery she had planned, but not yet begun, it was likely to be a full fortnight before little Elizabeth received the gift.

Mrs. Reynolds could feel her heart beat faster as she crossed the threshold, maintaining a steady turtle’s pace. She snatched up the watch chain from the table and let out a disappointed sigh, as she had already done twenty times that morning. 

Two hours now… two hours… 

The old woman had been waiting nearly half a century for this day, and now that it had come at last she could hardly dare to believe it. She was all aflutter, feeling as she used to when she was just twenty, and would wait impatiently for Mr. Reynolds each night out on the doorstep. The moment could not come soon enough. 

So compelled was she by the thought of what was to come that it wasn’t until she noticed small red droplets forming on her finger that Mrs. Reynolds realized she had poked herself with the sewing needle. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so distracted by something as to do that—it must have been thirty, no, forty years ago now. So Mrs. Reynolds made her way back to the dining room and wrapped her finger with a thin strip of gauze before returning to her needle and thread, though her hand shook so much with anticipation of checking the time once more that the gauze ended up an inch away from where the puncture had been made. But Mrs. Reynolds did not mind; she could think of one thing only—what was to happen in two hours’ time. She rushed (or rather, tried to rush) back to the table and gathered up the watch chain as quickly as her fingers could wrap around it—only two minutes had passed.

Less than two hours now… less than two hours…

Mrs. Reynolds knew she could not contain herself much longer. Back in the drawing room, she set down dear Elizabeth’s dress, for she would only ruin it if she continued on in this state. She sat on the edge of the chair once more, shoes bouncing on the floor and fingers tapping on the arm.


i remember

i remember my grandparents house

i remember that there was a wall there before it got knocked down 

i remember that the kitchen looked different

i remember the smell of cigarette smoke

i remember climbing the big tree outside

i remember moving 

i remember the new smells 

i remember no more trees

i remember cigarette smoke everywhere

i remember the two chairs

i remember one with towels on it

i remember bowls of ice with lipstick stains

i remember two twin beds pushed together

i remember sleeping on the floor

i remember waking up early

i remember mcdonald’s breakfast

i remember hash browns

i remember the single cigar in the backseat

i remember the hugs

i remember being dropped off

i remember taking it all for granted

i remember leaving without saying goodbye

i remember not giving hugs

i remember not saying that i loved them

i remember christmas

i remember waiting for family

i remember hospitals

i don’t remember the night before

i don’t remember the next morning, i made that up in my mind

i don’t remember my feelings

i don’t remember christmas

i don’t remember anything

i don’t remember my birthday

i don’t remember one of the chairs leaving

i don’t remember the cigarette smoke smell getting worse

i don’t remember more ice

i don’t remember the twin beds being pushed apart

i don’t remember beeping

i don’t remember the second bed being covered in stuff

i don’t remember anything

i want to remember when it got worse

i want to remember so i could have changed the future

i want to remember memories

i want to remember things i don’t

i want to remember so i could have done something

i want to remember when the cigarette smell got worse

i want to remember when the twin beds got pushed apart

i want to remember beeping

i want to remember selling the scooter

i want to remember christmas

i want to remember my birthday

i want to remember more ice

i want to remember the end

i remember the end

i remember the beeping

i remember the tubes

i remember clearing off the beds

i remember selling clothes

i remember airing out the smoke

i remember getting rid of ice and popsicles and lipstick

i remember the end


Surrealist’s Summer

Shaking off the flower crown you made when life was new

and alien.

I’m fighting to win your time.

For now you’re so sweet but

When will you be sour?

I’m aching for nostalgia

So I down a bottle of pepto-bismol

The monk shoos me from the cloister.

I look up how to be quirky on WikiHow. 

At the boardwalk

I bored my third cousin with descriptions

Of when the beach was still relatively wild.

He tilts his head and says “so silly”

We’ll stay a while to watch the sunset.

Justin and I are matching in baby blue

(my skirt, his shirt)

He’s left his things in my apartment. 

Do you hear that ringing too?

No?

I’m so sure it’s not in my head.

Is there a church nearby? I look on my paper map.

The man shakes his head.

Sorry, no Calvinists allowed.

I see a list:

Flowers

Fresh Bread

Televised Junkies

I wonder which does not belong.

The tourist in front of me is wearing my same shoes.

I follow her around the block, as excited as a three-year-old discovering finger paints.

I would take a picture but I left my phone at Claudia’s apartment

She’s probably been calling it to let me know.

Her summer specialty is fruit salad with kiwi and lime.

In Prospect Park the sky turned purple like a bruise. 

I run into a boy and he says shall we dance?

I laugh and put down my mountain dew. We waltz. 

He asks me who I am and what I’m doing later this week — I say I’m going to Cleveland and my name is Mary Sue (positively untrue)

Someone left carnations on the front step of a walkup.

I get an itch to board the New Jersey-bound-train but instead

Take several transfers to the B line, then take seven stops to figure out all the ads.

I look at every passerby hoping and dreading that it’s you. 

“Hey, can I take your picture?” I glance up. 

“Sorry, I didn’t know you were talking to me.” 

His camera snaps “perfect, honey” and I wonder how it came out, 

and if everything is this simple.

The lady behind me in line orders an açaí bowl with shrimp. 

I duck into a side street to tell my friend to hurry, 

my açaí bowl is melting. 

Till she comes I hide behind my newspaper. 

I think about the people dreaming about living in the city.

Look! A duck on the platform.

I keep trying to help him find the exit 

but he seems content — I guess I’d be too.

So I leave him alone. He has a newfound foreign glow.

I wanted to go to the Japanese gardens today 

but I ended up biking across Manhattan bridge.

On the G Line a man preaches about y2k.

I look back at him and feel a familiar tingle in my eye.

My throat tightens and I wish I knew why

I think about people who have had their wrist cut off for a fool’s gold watch.

In industrial Brooklyn I read a book about St. Marks Place

And then about Syria before the war.

Someone approaches me but no, I’m not interested

I want to eat avocado tacos in the restaurant with the picnic tables out in the back.

You have to ask specially to sit there.

Bother me later.

My newest friend is my camp counselor from three years ago. 

He recognized me but I needed a reintroduction.

He’s headed to a costume party and asks if I want to come.

We promise to keep in touch but it’s likely I’ll forget.

Someone’s blocking the traffic on third avenue. 

He’s wearing a mask I recognize from Venetian Carnevale and fiercely protecting his box of pizza. 

A woman turns up her nose as she walks by with pink-wrapped succulents. 

I quickly text a promise that I’ll be there in 12 minutes. 

A little girl is selling garlands in the park

I buy one for the sake of it.

When she grins at me I see the holes in her teeth.

I’ll have a word with her dentist and book an appointment for next Thursday.

Do I have time to talk about the water crisis?

Not now, but I leave my postal code. 

I have to go recite Tartuffe aloud on the M Train. 

It doesn’t help.

What would I name a boat?

What about, Second happiest day of your life is the day you buy your boat.

But then I’d be Tartuffe. And what about the water crisis?

Sorry I gotta get home.


All the Way

I approach the water

Many times a day.

Sometimes I dip my toe in,

But I never go all the way.


I linger by the coast,

But soon high tides win.

I scurry back up,

Jagged rocks breaking my skin. 


The heat of it burns me,

The cold pushes me away.

But I know when I’m ready,

Nothing will make me stay. 


The waters break roughly,

So I look far out to sea,

Where it sits patiently,

Waiting calmly for me. 


Someday I won’t be scared;

I’ll dive all the way in.

And when they come to find me,

I’ll be nothing but the wind. 


The Cottage in the Woods

It was a seemingly ordinary day at Camp Lemon, but not for Emilya Collins. Emilya was simply hiking along the Yellow Trail like everyone else, except for the fact that she wasn’t engaging in meaningless chatter like everyone else. No, Emilya was a loner, and she wanted to stay that way. She also had dirty blond hair that she always kept in a tight bun at the back of her neck, and was only four foot eight.

The group halted when the counselors up front did so. At this point, in time and space, the group of middle-aged (by camp standards) campers on the Yellow Trail were supposed to meet the younger campers, by the way of the intersection of the Green Trail and the Yellow Trail, but the younger campers and the Green Trail had seemingly disappeared. 

Since the counselors couldn’t investigate just by themselves, (since that would mean leaving the campers alone) two of the counselors said that they would stay behind on the trail with anyone who wanted to, and two others would take students who wanted to explore (aka look for the younger campers, their counselors, and the Green Trail). Since Emilya preferred small groups to large ones (but she liked to be alone above all), and since less people wanted to “explore,” Emilya joined that group.

Twenty or so minutes after the “explore” group started “exploring,” Emilya got bored. When she thought the coast was clear, she set out to re-find and explore the cute and mysterious cottage she saw around five minutes back. 

Just as Emilya was escaping, she heard a most annoying phrase.

“Halt!” It was Claire Oderr-Clemens, the biggest bully in Camp Lemon. Even the head counselor was scared of her (only because the mad scientist Dr. Oderr-Clemens-Shakespeare-Rowling-Silverstein was her mother, and she threatened that her “explosion-causing mother will hear about this!”) Both mother and daughter were known for blowing things up. When they arrived at Camp Lemon, they planted an explosive in the Nurse’s office that didn’t blow up because, as Claire said, “I just want to scare people.”

Dr Oderr-Clemens-Shakespeare-Rowling-Silverstein threatened to actually blow up the nurse’s office if they expelled Claire.

“What does your uncivilized person want from me?” Emilya grandly replied. Claire got rather red in the face.

“Want to leave with Emily,” grunted Marsha Balonrey, the strongest person in the entirety of Camp Lemon. Due to the threat of Marsha, Emilya warily let them find/explore the house with her.

The walk to the house was peppered with Claire criticizing Emilya’s literary tastes, and Marsha pointing everything out.

However, soon they reached the mysterious cottage. It was small, but probably appeared bigger on the inside, with cute woodwork. It was the sort of place Emilya might want to live herself one day. 

When the rebels approached the cottage, some sort of forcefield froze the bullies in their positions, but they were surprised by the forcefield, so they were stuck in rather ridiculous poses. However, this did not affect Emilya, so she walked on through. 

Emilya adored the tiny little cottage, everything from the Gothic arches, to the fascinating books, and the cauldron on table, until she saw the old hag putting ingredients in aforementioned cauldron. Then Emilya was scared out of her wits.

“Emilya, I know what you want,” the hag croaked. “I know what you need.”

“Who-who are you?” the usually eloquently-tongued Emilya stammered.

“I am Cerona,” the hag answered, “and I can help you, Emilya. I can have an Asgardian spirit eat your enemies for breakfast. I can summon a Linckenlay poltergeist to drive them insane. I can do that Emilya, and so much more. Just say the word.” 

The always-quick Emilya replied, “That’s absolutely ridiculous simply because you never said what the word is. If you’re going to enchant people at least do it right.” The hag looked indignant.

“Little girl, have you any idea of what I can do? The things I know?” Emilya yawned. She looked and sounded bored.

“No. Please enlighten me.” The hag looked even angrier.

“I can send the Earth out of its orbit and into space! I can kill you with the snap of my fingers! You, little girl, need to learn about respect for your God!”

Emilya still looked bored. “I don’t care,” she casually announced. “If you could kill me with the snap of your fingers, you would have already. What do you want?” 

The witch was growing in size, and was slowly getting younger until she was a 25 year-old with her black hair in a bun, and was wearing extravagant, yet simple silken purple robes. She had red-hot, fiery anger in her eyes, and magic in her fingertips. She was all-powerful, and wanted everyone to know it.

“I am sick and tired of your comments, little girl. I had a reasonable price for you: in exchange for me fixing your problems, you would be my assistant for twenty years.” 

Emilya was still unimpressed. “You should be aware that indentured servitude is currently illegal in the United States of America. And hidden prices are common, but frowned upon…”

 Cerona literally had fire in her eyes.  While colors were flying out of her fingers, she chanted an incantation: “Hanf hivobe avilf. Levwe libh vall.”

Now Emilya looked impressed—and terrified. Cerona knew real spells! In her haste, she grabbed the enchantress’ cauldron and oar. Cerona looked frightened.

“Not so powerful now, hag,” Emilya snarkily said. Cerona now looked more angry than scared.

“I am no mere hag, little girl! Give me the cauldron and oar if you know what’s good for you!” 

Emilya now looked rather cocky, with a strange little spark in her eyes. “I don’t answer to hags! All my fear and ignorance was false!” ahe said as colors flew out of her fingers. “I know how magic works! You can only use your cauldron for ‘little’ magic, like making a hiking trail and a dozen people disappear, or for aiding big magic. Spells can only be used to aid big magic, but you can only use spells if you’re powerful enough. You’re a Felleli enchantress,” she said as she donned a scarlet, velvety cape. “The angrier you are, the more power you have. I was getting you angry for a reason, for I am the almighty in the sky, I am the power above, I am your Goddess, and now, with your hard work done, I shall rule the world.”


The Tale of Lillian Becket

Chapter One: The Beginning

Aug 8

My story is a hard one to tell. Most would say to start at the beginning, but isn’t that the least important part? My beginning starts with my parents, who have a tangled history, a history woven with lies and secrets.

My name is Lillian Becket. When I was born, I was far from expected. They called me a blessing, a very surprising blessing. My parents work some secretive job I know very little about. What I do know is ever since I could toddle, only one of them would be around at a time. Often, the dinner table is only half full and food lays cold and untouched. I have my suspicions, but most of them are unrealistic hopes that stir in the safety of darkness and twilight. Whenever I question their absence, I am met only with anger.

I have friends, some as fake as the plastic wind-up toys that sit on my desk. I do have two who understand me, and have for years. Their names are Maya and Dylan. They found me swinging from the old squeaky playground set, after a brutal round of taunting and teasing. Maya, with her kind blue eyes and hip length hair is the one who wraps her arms around me and tells me it is okay to cry until my eyes dry of tears and my heart is satisfied. 

Kyle, with his deep dark eyes and his tight curly hair listens to me and assures me that it will all work out in the end, and that the sadness lingering in my eyes will soon wash away like footprints in the sand.

 We live near the sea. The only place I feel truly safe is sitting by the shore. Salty wind whistling through my tangled hair. That is where I sit now, trying to explain my story in the lined paper of this jet black notebook. Besides the coast, my other safe place is my journal. I can explain myself without interruptions and judgements. So please, don’t ask questions, don’t wonder, just bear with me as I try my best to tell my story. 

So, now that you know a little bit about me, I can begin the middle. 

The middle began on a day much like this one. Clear sky, breeze whistling through the palm trees that line the outskirts of town. When I wake in the morning, nothing seems odd about the way the books are lined straight and ordinary on their bookshelf and the way the clouds dance across the sun. But in the air, a scent lingers, of blood and roses, sweet. Gruesomely sweet. Humidly sweet. And slowly my nostrils flare, registering the discomfort in the air, but dismissing it as quickly as it came.

Like any normal morning, I stretch my arms in wide circles, feeling the soreness sleep has brought to my shoulders.

I have always been a morning person, in that serene time between dawn and when people actually begin to stir.

Tiptoeing down the ice cold stairs, I listen for my mom, or my dad. Per usual, neither are present. I am almost positive that Dad went on an early morning run down the beach, just like every morning. Who knows where Mom is?
I head into the kitchen and grab a bowl and the box of honey cheerios. Filling it with cereal and milk, I turn towards the living room. I sink into the couch, bowl balanced unsteadily on my knee.

I slurp my cereal while the TV blares. The images and light mix together, searing my eyes. The smell of dusty light is embedded into my couch, along with the slightly sour smell of my mothers perfume. I take a long deep breath and turn as my phone lets out a high pitched chirp. Picking it up, I see a text from Maya and a response from Dylan.

I click on our group chat and see that Maya has asked to see if one of us will help her pick out a dress for some event she has to go to for her dad’s demanding job. Hearing her complain about spending time with her parents makes me want to scream, but she is my best friend, and I don’t want to be alone all of today.

I respond with a short, “Yes,” and turn back to my show. 

After ten short minutes, barely halfway through the show, I hear a knock on my door and open it to find both Maya and Dylan on my doorstep. I reluctantly let them into the house and stomp upstairs to pull a gray sweatshirt over my shoulders and shove the hood over my head. I want to give off the don’t-talk-to-me vibe.

Dylan gives me the side eye as we scamper to the car and I decide that I will tolerate them, and try to cheer up. In shotgun, I crank up the music and play the part of DJ. In between flipping through songs, I stare, expressionless, out the car window. Maya and Dylan make chit chat until they cut off the music and, from the backseat, Dylan turns to face me. He looks at me and I know something is on his mind, but before he can tell me, we pull into the mall parking lot. I shoot Dylan a glance, but read nothing from his expression. 

As we walk, I can feel the pavement, hot underneath my flip-flops. We enter the mall and the cool air conditioning and the smell of new products envelops me. I’m slightly overwhelmed, always have been when going to malls. I wish I could communicate this to my friends who are mall enthusiasts. I turn to glance at them and Maya is staring at me with an expectancy in her eyes. Did I miss something?

“Well?” Maya questions.

“Huh?”

“I asked if you want anything?” She sounds exasperated. This happens to me a lot, just spacing out in the middle of a conversation.

I shake my head, a definite no. Even if I did want something, I don’t think I have the strength to ask my parents for money right now.

“Hey Lillian, are you OK?” Dylan questions.

“Yup, just tired,” I reply. I’m not lying, I’m tired of being here and of these parentless nights.

After two hours of trying dresses on, both Dylan and I are completely out of steam and hungry for greasy fast food. We end up dragging Maya out of Macy’s with a light blue, strapless dress.

We drive to the closest Five Guys and buy paper bags of salty, hot fries and fountain cold soft drinks. Grease soaks through the bottom of the white paper bags and cold condensation lingers on my fingers. We run to the car and gobble fry after fry, slurp our drinks, and enjoy each others company.


Bear Mountain

Picture this: a hot and sweaty day. When I say sweaty I don’t mean I went on a run sweaty. I mean I officially became redder than a tomato. I’m a city girl. So, you might be wondering why a city girl is going to a hiking camp. A normal answer is because I want to explore the life outdoors and disconnect from all the technology. But not me. I’m certainly not a hiker. Nothing could change that. The only reason why I’m going to a hiking camp this year is because this is my fourth year, and the previous years at my camp didn’t have a lot of hiking. Being myself, I thought, It’s just hiking, what’s the worst that could happen? Boy, was I wrong.

I’m about to begin the fifth hike. This hike is not like a normal hike where it’s, “Oh look, I got a sunburn and a tick bite.” It’s more like bring enough water in order to see the sun shining tomorrow. I have no clue how I could survive this long. The other hikes were crazy hard!

For the first time, my counselor said, “This hike is so easy.”

I started to believe her, but then I looked up, expecting to see a clear view of the sky. But, then a gigantic mountain emerged, and I glanced to the right and a sign appeared that said: Welcome to Bear Mountain. All of a sudden, I started having doubts. For instance, when am I going to see civilization again? 

The hike just started. It got so bad to the point that the group was a half an hour ahead of me, and three counselors had to help me up each step. So then I thought, Nothing could get worse from here. Luckily, two other kids were with me. However, one of them was my arch nemesis. If things couldn’t get worse. But, this year we became friendlierish. And for the other kid, we didn’t know each other well. As we were walking, we stumbled against a rock that had a chain. Somehow that was the easiest rock which was not slippery at all — while there were much more dangerous and harder rocks. My friends and I were trying to survive. Not only was the hike physically draining, so too emotionally as well. Not only was I on the hardest hike of my life but an emotional rollercoaster too. I felt really bad for the counselors, but they were actually very encouraging. Maybe it’s because they were getting their paycheck in two days… Yup, you just heard me, folks! My camp decided to take us on a disgusting, dirty, and — in my opinion — a dangerous hike before we have packing day.

Packing day is when we pack up our abnormally nauseating clothes and other luggage that is completely destroyed, dump them in our trunks, and leave a nice “I’m back” present to campers parents. Not only is it horrific laundry, but it’s seven hours of laundry time. No exaggeration! And, this is just for one month! Imagine two months.

Just in case something happened to me, I already wrote a letter to my mom before: 

Dear Mom,

Thank you so much for everything! I love you, and I’ll never complain about being bored again! 

Love,

Miri

All of a sudden, my counselors said, “Miri, why don’t you try to lead the hike.”

I was so sure that they were joking, I was cracking up. But, they were serious all right. So for a couple of minutes, I led the hike (and people wondered why the hike took more time for us). Three hours later, we finally reached the top! All there was were plums and cookies. What a great way to give us energy! Wow, I feel like I should get an award for this #mostlikelytonotsurvivethehike. Not only is Bear Mountain known for hiking but also its tower, which was not as bad. Since my so-called acquaintance and I were the only people there, we walked up the tower. For every step I took, I thought Wow, what a great workout I’m getting! Right before the last step to the top, my ‘friend’ slipped and twisted her ankle. I felt mixed emotions. On the one hand, it was funny because what are the odds of walking up a crazy big hill and falling down on a stair and what goes around comes around, aka Karma. However, I also felt bad because — what a pain in the neck. 

After, I helped her down the staircase step by step. When we got back down, there was a van with a counselor. However, the counselor said there’s not enough room in the van. To picture this, think it’s like going to the school nurse with a headache and she/he gives you a bandage and says, “put it on your stomach.” We have all been in the situation before and know how that works out.

Anyways, when we got back down, we thought that the hike was over. My counselors started to crack up. They said you only did the hike halfway. All we have is just downhill. Oh, I knew this hike was going to be downhill since the beginning.

Thank goodness downhill was so much easier! Maybe it’s because I officially became a hiker. Or, it’s because I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. Either way, I still have a story to tell. When I finished the hike, I heard a couple of kids complaining. I thought we should have a party together. We would call it the pity party. Instead, they were complaining that they “didn’t get enough exercise from the mountain.” Later, I found out they were serious when they went on a run. 

Two days later, I finally arrived home! The second I got home, I ran into my shower, and then I ate a multigrain bagel with cream cheese, aka a normal lunch. Because a lunch for my camp was potato chips, and breakfast was muffins. Last but not least chicken nuggets were a snack. Although I enjoyed most of camp, I was happy to be home. From my personal camp experience, not only did I learn survival skills but to appreciate home. I know this is going to sound cheesy, but this is what I learned from the hikes: First, you can become closer and friendlier to a person who you were once not on great terms with, and life can be a rollercoaster at times. Sometimes you can be on the top and go straight to the bottom. When we are at the bottom, it can still be very difficult to climb up the ‘steep hill.’ But, when we go in, we must have a positive attitude. A positive attitude can make a huge impact on the whole situation. And vice versa. Whatever our experience is, it’s part of a bigger picture.

The End

Pollution Problems

People need to stop pollution now more than ever. Pollution has always been a problem before humans learned of its existence. Pollution has affected various animals species, air, water, and even health and will continue to affect all of this in time. If this keeps up humans will be heavily affected by all the pollution. Pollution was always a problem and we should have stopped it when it first became a threat. It has become even worse now and we need to stop it, and if we don’t our future will be full of extinct species, health issues, and lack of food.

Pollution has existed and has not been dealt with properly, and now the world has to stop it more then ever. Many scientists proposed that companies should cut back on creating pollutants. Even though many people have acknowledged its existence, it wasn’t until 1948 when giant smog covered a city in Pennsylvania that many people and scientists started getting worried about what pollution will do. It started when a “Severe industrial air pollution created a deadly smog that asphyxiated 20 people in Donora, Pennsylvania, and made 7,000 more sick” (History.com). Though not many were worried about pollution and what it may do, this instance definitely brought light to this rising problem. Overall, pollution has always been a problem and has caused nefarious occurrences since 1948, such as oil tanker explosions spreading oil in water.

Pollution has been massively increased by coal usage and dumping trash into bodies of water and will continue to become a bigger threat in the future. The sky and the water are being heavily affected. Water pollution is rapidly increasing thanks to trash, bottles, and wastewater being dumped back into bodies of water. Only 1% of the world’s water is safe for humans, so people need to preserve it at all costs. Scientists have noted “without action, the challenges will only increase by 2050, when global demand for freshwater is expected to be one-third greater than it is now” (nrdc.ord). Without out freshwater humans cannot survive, and in order to keep that humans need to stop throwing trash and wastewater in water environment. Humans need water to live, and just like humans need water, humans need air to breathe. Polluted air is a big source of sickness such as, “(including asthma and changes in lung function), cardiovascular diseases, adverse pregnancy outcomes (such as preterm birth), and even death” (Niehs.nih.gov). It’s not just air and water that is getting affected by pollution, many more things like food are getting damaged.

If pollution continues into the future, many dangers that scientists predicted will be true. Many scientists say that human extinction will arrive sooner than expected. It was proven that many diseases will come from pollution in the future, which will lead to animal extinction, and finally, it will start to suffocate humans. According Future Effects of Pollution by Ciele Edwards, “pollution is the primary cause of the extinction of various species of butterflies and other insects in Great Britain. Although pollution poses a threat to creatures on land, aquatic creatures may face an even greater danger” (Sciencing.com). Many land animals will be harmed but some sea species will even go extinct, because pollution affects everything aquatic animals need to live. In the future, however, this will happen to land animals too, since trees, plants, and food will be scarce. If the need for fresh water increases, many people will be left with nothing since the water will be polluted. Therefore, the future is at stake because of pollution and humans need to stop it before this happens.

Overall we need to stop pollution now more than ever. Before, pollution was already doing major damage to life and the planet. Now, it is devastating and humans need to band together to stop it. If humans continue to cause pollution, the future will have devastation things in store for all life. Therefore, pollution needed to be stopped when it started affecting life, because it is bad now. It is a primary need to stop it and, if we don’t, the future will be missing a lot of life and humans will be sick and lose food and water.

Works cited

  1. Editors, History.com. “Water and Air Pollution.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 6 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/natural-disasters-and-environment/water-and-air-pollution.

2.   Edwards, Ciele. “Future Effects of Pollution.” Sciencing, 3 July 2019, sciencing.com/future-effects-of-pollution-5690014.html.

3.  “Air Pollution.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/air-pollution/index.cfm.
4.  Denchak, Melissa. “Water Pollution: Everything You Need to Know.” NRDC, 22 July 2019, www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know.

Socialization: Why is it important?

Why is socialization important? Socialization is important because it helps us set standards and keeps us mentally healthy. Socialization is the action or activity of mixing socially with others. Solitary confinement has shown us what being away from other human beings does to us. It causes depression and many other illnesses. When we socialize, it helps us set rules for how we expect each other to conduct ourselves. We set norms to make sure we operate efficiently, and that only happens when we socialize. Whenever we socialize, it makes us happy; it helps us expand our general knowledge on what is going on. It is important to socialize, not only to avoid what happens when we don’t, but to make us happy. When we don’t socialize, we often miss out on some really memorable moments and can lose our connections with people.

Socializing is important because it helps us understand certain norms of our behavior and also lets us exchange information. Many of our proudest moments as a civilization would not have been achievable if we did not socialize and coordinate what we wanted to achieve. In many public spaces, there are rules to follow, and they need to be communicated with us in order to maintain civility. “Don’t shout fire in a crowded theater” (Justice Holmes) is a norm and expectation on how we are to act. This makes us safer and ensures that we maintain productivity. Everything around us was built by people, and that took an incredible amount of talking and communicating. That is a crucial part of achieving these things. We would not know how to act or what the goal of said situation is if it were not communicated to us. 

Socialization is important because it keeps us mentally healthy. Not only does socialization help us move forward as a society, it makes us happy, usually. When we don’t socialize for long periods of time, we can experience all of the following as a symptom. Poor self-esteem, depression, loss of reality, increased tumor risk, body chills, decreased ability to learn, decreased sense of empathy, inflammation, shorter life span, increased risk of dementia and reduced resilience, as stated in Bustle. As provided by Medical News Today Office, “Many colleagues have stated their friends have helped them destress and put things in perspective” (Medical News Today Office). The people around you often act as an anchor. They help you move through life and without them, you would be in a very different place right now. Even if they don’t help you, they keep away the detrimental effects of not socializing, brought on by solitary confinement.

Solitary confinement is a form of prison built to protect inmates from others or a way to separate inmates from the grasps of society. According to a 2017 Department of Justice report,  “The BOP (Federal Bureau of Prisons) houses mentally ill patients in solitary for years at a time, despite evidence that this can be psychologically harmful.” The purpose of solitary confinement is to let inmates think and reflect without having temptations and thoughts from society to disrupt. Consequently, there are many detrimental side effects to this punishment. Lack of even seeing other humans can be very negative and have life-changing impacts. As John McCain, someone who was imprisoned in 1968 in the Vietnam war and a first hand witness to solitary confinement, once stated, “As far as this business of solitary confinement goes, the most important thing for survival is communication with someone, even if it’s only a wave or a wink, a tap on the wall, or to have a guy put his thumb up. It makes all the difference.” There is no guidance in solitary confinement and you are left in a very small space, with very high security to make sure you never escape. You cannot talk to anyone else and are only allowed to for one hour a day depending on the prison. Solitary confinement shows how not socializing can affect you, it is clearly bad due to it being for high-risk inmates. It has many detrimental effects and that shows us that not socializing is really bad for you. However, people have started to take notice of this and two new organizations have been formed, both dedicated to helping people in solitary confinement. They organize people and help them send letters to inmates in solitary confinement to try and make them as stable and happy as possible while being imprisoned. Overall, solitary confinement is proof of how destructive isolation from other people can be.

Socialization is important because it helps us maximize our productivity by setting norms, exchanging information and putting goals in place. Socialization is also important because it makes us happy and that is good for us. It also wards off mental and in some cases, physical health issues. Solitary confinement is a type of prison to help put people back on the right path by isolating them from the expectations of society. That is directly related to this topic given they are forbidden to socialize. In conclusion, socialization maximizes our efficiency, makes us happy, and has many detrimental consequences when we don’t do it. 

Citations:

Baum, Isadora, and Chc. “How Your Body Can React To Chronic Isolation.” Bustle, Bustle, 12 June 2019, www.bustle.com/articles/196816-11-things-that-can-happen-to-your-mind-body-if-you-dont-socialize-for-a.

“JustBreatheMag.com > Top 9 Benefits of Socializing.” JustBreathe, 5 Feb. 2019, justbreathemag.com/life/holistic-lifestyle/9-benefits-of-socializing/.

Meisenzahl, Mary. “Mary Meisenzahl.” The Wellesley News –, 17 Apr. 2019, thewellesleynews.com/2019/04/17/solitary-confinement-is-torture-and-whistleblowers-dont-belong-in-prison-free-chelsea-manning/.

“Socialization Processes in the Family: Social and Emotional Development.” Annual Reviews, www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.psych.121208.131650.

“To Socialize or Not? That Is the Question.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/quiet-the-power-introverts/201103/socialize-or-not-is-the-question.

“Top 10 Reasons Why Socializing Is Very Important.” Listovative, 4 Mar. 2019, listovative.com/top-10-reasons-why-socializing-is-very-important/.

“Why Do People Need to Socialize?” Reference, IAC Publishing, www.reference.com/world-view/people-need-socialize-1457c057f8ba5569.

“Black & Pink.” Black & Pink, www.blackandpink.org/.

Doppelt, Jack. “Black and Pink: Concerns over Solitary Confinement and Other Justice Issues for LGBTQ Inmates.” Social Justice News Nexus, 2 Aug. 2016, sjnnchicago.medill.northwestern.edu/blog/2015/12/23/black-and-pink-concerns-over-solitary-confinement-and-other-justice-issues-for-lgbtq-inmates/.

“Lifelines to Solitary.” Solitary Watch, 19 June 2019, solitarywatch.org/about-lifelines/“Solitary Confinement.” Penal Reform International, www.penalreform.org/priorities/prison-conditions/key-facts/solitary-confinement/.

The McDonald Murder

The little door bell rang as I stepped into the Mcdonald’s office. The cold air rushed in to meet the toasty warm fire under the chimney as I, Billie Clement, hoped to work at this delicious fast food restaurant. The waiting room was surprisingly empty for a job interview, except for one man reading a newspaper. The man didn’t look up as I walked in, he probably didn’t care either. I sat down in one of the chairs and waited for the interview to begin. Right when I sat down though, a woman walked out of the waiting room. I didn’t see her face to tell if she got the job, but who cares? This is my day. Another man walked out of the room and told me to walk right in. As I sat in a comfy leather chair I handed the man my resume:

Name, Billie Clement Age, 26

Sex, male

Professional experience, I can heat my food up in the microwave

While the man looked over my resume carefully with a couple nods, he put the paper down, folded his hands, and looked at me with tired eyes.

“Congrats Billie, you got the job,” he said to me.

Finally, I thought to myself as I walked out of the room and closed the door, I didn’t mess up! But as I was walking out, the man with the newspaper wasn’t there. Then, I heard a shrill scream from the room. I quickly ran back to the room. The window was shattered, I looked to the desk and saw the interviewer, with a knife in his bloody back, and a note that read: SEE YOU MONDAY! 

It’s Monday, the day that I feared and was excited about because, duh, first day of work! As I walked the tiring 2 blocks to Mcdonalds, I could make out the shape of the giant letter M on top of the giant Mcdonalds building. In front of the building was the statue of the mascot, the one and only Ronald Mcdonald the clown. As I was walking I thought about who could’ve killed the interviewer, I mean, who has anything against someone that could give you a job? Oh, now I see why. Only a couple minutes later I arrive at Mcdonalds. “It’s strange that there’s cars parked, but the lights are off,” I mutter to myself. I unlock the doors with the key that the interviewer gave me, and walked inside. I go to turn on the lights, but I can’t find it, so I head to the store next to the restaurant and buy a flashlight and some batteries. I head back inside Mcdonald’s and turn on the flashlight. The sight scares me, people are scattered everywhere, cops and citizens. “Maybe there was a fight?” I say to no one, but how can a fight end with no winner? And also, where’s the Ronald Mcdonald mascot? Right when I think that, water starts to drip on my shoulder, and as I look up, Ronald is on the ceiling, except it’s not Ronald. His teeth are sharp and dripping gooey alienish saliva. 

His hands and feet are claws. The alien Ronald he has red all over his body, and I don’t think that’s from the ketchup dispenser in the corner. He tries to jump on me and I try to reach the door but he pulls me backward. He starts walking towards me as I cover my eyes and brace for my death. But then, just as I can feel his warm, sticky breath in front of me, I hear the sound of someone being whacked in the head with something metallic, and then a body falls to the floor. I uncover my eyes and there’s a Mcdonald’s employee standing over the monster with a frying pan in his hands. He looks at me with his frightened eyes. He tells me, almost in a whisper, ”Run.”

I didn’t really hear him that well because I was halfway out the door at the time. I slam the door shut. And run, almost in a sprint, back home.

I slam the door open and rush to the phone, 911, call the police they can fix this. I think. The cops pick up the phone and ask me what my emergency is. 

”There’s this, um, like, KILLER CLOWN, RONALD MCDONALD IS. A. KILLER. CLOWN.” I think I might have been too over panicked. Naaah, I don’t think so.

”Sir can you speak more clearly please?” The cop says to me. 

I scream into the phone with anger, “Speak clearly?! A lot of innocent people were just killed. And it was almost me too! By a monster-like, killing, psychopath clown at Mcdonalds!” 

“Sir I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, but will send over a couple people to check the place out,” the cop says in an annoyed tone, like this happens all the time. 

“No you’re going to need more than a couple, send the whole place. Thirty people just died and you’re acting like this is bullshit!” 

“Fine sir, if it makes you happy we’ll send everyone over,” she says to me. I’m about to say thank you but she hangs up. 

“Maybe I’ll just go to bed,” I mutter under my breath. I trudge upstairs and collapse in my little bed. “It will all be over tomorrow.” I say to myself. The next day I try calling the police hq. No one answers. “Hmm, maybe they’re still at Mcdonalds.” I say aloud, so I run over to McDonald’s but not before I make sure to take a pocket knife just in case. 

As I walk up and press my face against the door to see if anyone’s there, I see a bunch of dead cops and the clown bending over and looks like he’s eating something. Just then I get a call on my phone from my friend. “Shit,” I say to myself. I try to turn off the ringer but I guess the clown already heard it, because the next moment, the clown is right at the door, his mouth covered in blood, but it’s not his. I try to scream but no words come out. I run away from the door and try to call someone, anyone that can help me kill this thing, or else there’s no way of stopping it. 

I yelp a gun store and see that it’s not far away, I run over there, and buy a little revolver and some ammo for it. Then I run back to Mcdonald’s and open the door, the monster is nowhere to be seen so I turn on a flashlight, holding it in one hand and the revolver in the other. I walk down the hallway shining the flashlight in every room, and when I come across one room, my blood turns cold. There’s someone standing up in the kitchen not moving. I run over him and ask in a whisper, “What are you doing? Hello?” He doesn’t answer or try to shake his shoulder but he falls over, like he was propped up. Just then I heard a clang of something falling on the floor. 

I crouch just in time as the clown walks into the room, grinning ear to ear with his red-stained teeth. He pokes each pan and pot that’s hanging on the wall like he’s toying with me, wanting me to be afraid. I jump out of my hiding spot and try to shoot him, but the bullet bounces off one of the pans and hits the ceiling. The clown runs to the right and I manage to shoot him in the arm. He screeches like scratching a fork on a plate. My ears are bleeding from the noise. He runs towards me.

“Bad move Ronald,” I yell to him and lay the finishing blow right as he pierces me with his long fingers in the stomach. I point the gun under his chin, and pull the trigger, then I black out from tiredness. 

I wake myself up and stand on my wobbly legs, I walk over to Ronald and see his shirt covering a letter, I tear the shirt off him and tattooed in black is written: TEST SUBJECT NO.0.

Agent: So, that’s why you came here Mr. Clement?

Bobby: Yes, I thought you guys at the government could give me some answers about this thing.

Agent: Oh yes Mr. Clement, but the thing is you won’t be coming home for a long time.

Bobby: Wait, what?

Agent: Kill mode.

Robot: Kill mode activated.

Bobby: No, no, no, there’s got to be a mistake I-

BLAM!

To be continued.


The Cheese Thief

Pedro the Sombrero Snake was a snake from Sombrero, the capital planet of the Sombrero Galaxy Union. At first, he would seem to be your average Sombrero citizen. He was a snake, the native species of the planet, ate cheese, the food of choice, and he always, always wore his sombrero.

Back when he was little, Pedro the Sombrerito Snakito was very close to his grandfather, José the Sombreroto Snakoto. Every night, José would tell Pedro stories, before tucking him into his little blanket burrito for bed. 

It didn’t happen suddenly, but, for most of the time that Pedro the Sombrerito Snakito was growing up, there was less and less cheese to go around. Pedro, having heard so many stories of Sombrero valor, decided that he would be the one to solve the problem. The moment he turned two, and became Pedro the Sombrero Snake, he was ready to go, and find a big supply of cheese. The day after his birthday, he got his Sombrero Space Helmet, and was off.

He had heard rumors of a huge stash of cheese in the Milky Way, so he decided to take a trip there. The first few planets that he ran into had no cheese, so he was considering searching elsewhere when he saw this little blue planet. The planet itself was uninteresting, but he saw what appeared to be a huge ball of cheese peeking around it. Suddenly reinspired, he quickly slithered over towards it. 

When he got close enough to see it clearly, he was overjoyed. It was a miracle! Suddenly, he was approached by a small spacecraft. A window opened up, and somebody pulled him in. One of his assailants held him in place while the other closed up the window, and steered back down. One of the creatures turned around, and Pedro finally got a good look at it. They both had disproportionately big, green onion shaped heads with gigantic eyes, and wore bright yellow uniforms with a cheese emblem on them. The one holding him had a gigantic grin, and the other had a very small, wispy mustache.

The one with the mustache spoke. “Who are you? Why are you here?”

Pedro responded, “I’m Pedro the Sombrero Snake. Why did you stop me?”

The one holding him said, “You are trespassing on Cheese Fiend lands. We are Clidney and Goyd, the moon men currently in charge of patrolling this quadrant. You’re under arrest, so we’re going to take you down to our highest security prison.”

Pedro felt all hope leave him. How could he possibly escape a high security prison? His doom was upon him, and he could feel it closing in. Apparently, the moon men could too. They were quickly arriving on the surface, where there was a whole crowd of moon men standing on either side of an empty street, as if they were waiting for a parade to pass by. At the top of the street, there was a huge, imposing building, helpfully labeled as “Jail.”

Clidney and Goyd landed the ship in the middle of the street, and pulled Pedro off. Slowly, they pulled him up the silent street, towards the jail. With every step they took, Clidney and Goyd said, “Doom.”

With every “Doom,” the mob took one step closer to Pedro.

Sixty-seven “Doom”s later, Pedro, Clidney, and Goyd were at the front door of the jail. The mob was so close that, if he had arms, Pedro could have reached out to either side and touched them. Clidney opened up the door, and Goyd ushered him in. Through the window, Pedro could see the mob going back to where they had been before he’d arrived.

They escorted him down thirteen flights of stairs, to a common jail cell. After daring him to escape, Clidney and Goyd walked away, leaving Pedro to his fate.

Once left in the cell, Pedro collapsed onto the floor, miserable. He would close his eyes and pretend he was home, if snakes could blink. He sat there, bemoaning his fate for another forty-two minutes, before suddenly stopping. His hour of dramatics was over. He was ready to escape.

He slithered up to the bars, and examined them. They were four inches thick, made of cold-rolled steel. He stuck his head around to see the other side before realizing: he was a thin snake. He could just slither through the bars and leave, so he did. He just slithered through the halls, up the thirteen flights of stairs, and out the door. 

None of the moon men were looking at him, so he looked around. A lot of moon men were wearing the yellow Cheese Fiend uniforms. He made sure to avoid them as he snuck out of the square. He already knew what his next mission was—steal a huge mound of cheese, and slither away.

Pedro had no idea where he was going, so he just wandered around, until he came across another building, labeled as “Cheese Mine Headquarters.” Seeing as it had the word “cheese” in its name, Pedro decided that he should go in. 

One window was open, so he snuck in through it. There seemed to be a Cheese Fiend meeting in progress, so he decided to stay put, and listen in. There was a panel of Cheese Fiend leaders, facing a currently empty stage. As Pedro watched, a white unicorn climbed up, and stood in the middle of the stage, facing the panel. Ten spotlights suddenly swiveled to shine on her, and the light bouncing off her bright turquoise horn nearly blinded him, so he looked away.

Once he deemed it safe to look back, the lights were controlled, and the unicorn was just starting her speech. “Hello, Cheese Fiend Leaders. Welcome to the Cheese Mine Headquarters. I’m Cynthia, the new director. The new cheese mining initiative has been incredibly successful, and we have had to expand the Cheese Warehouses to fit it all in. With the amount of cheese to process, we have decided to eliminate our current shipping process, in favor of a newer, better one. We will build small ships, which we will then cover with enormous balls of cheese, to be flown out to our buyers. In fact, we already have one built, ready to send out. The rest will be finished shortly.”

The Cheese Fiend Leaders all clapped. Pedro would have done the same, if he could have. Cynthia the unicorn had just given him a really good idea. When she left the building, Pedro sneakily followed her.

She led him right to the Cheese Warehouse, where he finally got to see what he’d been looking for all along: a huge ball of cheese. There were fifteen Cheese Fiends guarding the front of it, where the pilot would get in.

Pedro knew he had to get that cheese, but also had enough self-preservation to not launch a one-snake assault on fifteen enemies. He decided that, instead of hijacking the cheese on the ground, he’d do it out in space.
As the entire ship was covered in a huge ball of cheese, Pedro ate himself in, and settled in to wait. A few hours later, the Cheese Ship started to move. He looked out through his entrance hole, and saw that they were just leaving the surface. He waited until they had passed all of the perimeter guards before eating his way into the cockpit. There was a pilot in there, but Pedro managed to open the hatch, and throw him out, where he would soon be found and rescued by Clidney and Goyd. 

With the pilot gone, Pedro had complete control of the Cheese Shop. He immediately changed course, heading for the Sombrero Galaxy. It took him a while, but he brought the cheese safely back to Sombrero, where he was hailed as a hero, and ate his fill of delicious moon cheese.

With his new taste for adventure, Pedro soon set off on many great adventures through space. Soon, any Cheeser would tremble with fear at the sight of a long, snaky shadow, or even the mention of Pedro the Sombrero Snake.


Grayforce

“Hey, who’s Rose?” Cam asked. Amina looked up from her phone at Cam, seatbelt unbuckled and craning his neck from the backseat to peer over her shoulder. She giggled and turned off her phone with one hand, swatting her cousin away with the other.

“Cameron, sit your behind down and put your seatbelt on,” Amina’s mom said, eyes never leaving the road. “I know you know better.”

Amina stifled another laugh and pushed her round glasses up.

Cam hung his head, sliding back into his seat. “Sorry, Auntie E.” Amina listened to the click of his seatbelt as her mom turned the radio’s volume down.

“Why’d you turn it down?” Amina asked. “What were they talking about?”

Mrs. Jackson sighed. “Some members of Catch 88 robbed a restaurant in the next county over.” She shook her head and muttered something under her breath. “I’m not interested in hearing that right now.”

“It would be so awesome to actually meet Catch 88,” Cam said. Mrs. Jackson’s eyebrows shot up and Amina gasped in mock horror. “If they turned to the good side,” he quickly added. 

“Buuut,” he said, twisting his wrist, “I’m more interested in whoever Rose is.” 

Amina tried to keep a hold of her phone, but the pull of Cam’s telekinesis was too much for her. Her smart phone slipped clean out of her dark brown fingers, past her cornrows, and into Cam’s lap.

“Ugh, I think you’ve gotten too good at doing that,” Amina grumbled. Sometimes, she wished that she had mind manipulation like Cameron and Deterge, the wicked queen supreme of the criminal three-person posse Catch 88. Other times, she was grateful for her own gift, no matter how bothersome it could be every now and then. 

“Yeah, no thanks to our training classes.” Cam deftly unlocked Amina’s phone and went straight to messages. “Like, how the heck’s a genealogy project going to help us hone our abilities?”

“Genealogy project?” Mrs. Jackson asked, turning into the bursting mall parking lot. 

“I’ve got a genealogy project due next week,” Amina said, adjusting her glasses again. “And you know what would help? Maybe some more info on Aunt Deandra? I’ve got plenty of info on dad’s side of the family, but-”

“Nope,” Mrs. Jackson said as she turned the car into a teeny parking space and yanked out the keys. 

Amina sighed. She hated going behind her mother’s back, but the family tree part of the project she was supposed to present to her homeschool cooperative super training class was going to look pretty weird if she didn’t have any information about her mom’s side of the family. What she was about to do… well, it was the only way to get the details she needed. Besides, maybe she’d be able to figure out what had gone wrong between her Aunt Deandra and her mom  – and maybe even fix it.

Amina watched her mom get out of the car. It seemed like she was moving through water- couldn’t she hurry up? She was really trying to go about this without abusing her ability, but her mom was making it so hard. If her mom didn’t always somehow know when she was trying to dig through her mind, Amina would’ve probably jumped right in without hesitation.

“Are you planning on getting out of the car sometime this year?” Cam asked, poking her in the back.

Amina rolled her eyes. “Very funny, Cameron Lesley.”

Cam’s eyebrows scrunched closer together, making Amina’s cousin look like he’d glued a furry caterpillar to his forehead. “No, but really. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine!” Amina said, grabbing his arm and jogging to catch up to her mom. “Come on!” Excitement jiggled in her stomach alongside the guilt and unspoken worry she’d swallowed down.

As they walked towards the mall’s entrance on a fading crosswalk, Mrs. Jackson rattled off a list of rules. Practical ones like no talking to strangers, no using their abilities, etc. She seemed to be mostly preaching to Cam who grinned the entire lecture. Ironic that this time around, Cam would be playing the role of angel child. Well, hopefully. Cam could always tease a smile out of her, but Amina knew he was also thoroughly capable of turning heads for all the wrong reasons at all the wrong times.

“I’ll text you when I’m on my way back, alright?” Mrs. Jackson said, capping off the speech with a kiss on Amina’s cheek. “Be safe.”

 Amina nodded, then watched, toes itching to get moving as her mother strolled a bit further down the massive hallway sooo slowly. Finally- finally!-  Mrs. Jackson disappeared around the corner, probably on her way to get her nails done.

As soon as Mrs. Jackson was out of Amina’s line of sight, Amina turned to Cam, eyes still glued to the coffee shop window that faced the mall interior.

“Okay,” she said, trying to keep the giddiness out of her voice. “You stay here and keep watch for my mom. If she comes back, just… I don’t know, distract her, I guess.”

Cam nodded. “Should I pretend to choke on my mint latte?”

“Ugh, Cam, no,” Amina said. “And give me back my phone. Please.”

Cam handed her phone back to her. “So when will I be meeting this ‘Rose’ ?”

Amina shrugged. “Rose is my debate class partner. I put her name down so it would look like I was texting a friend instead of my aunt.”

“Alrighty then.” Cam paused. “Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, I applaud your planning, this really is phenomenal, but what if she-”

“It’ll be great,” Amina said. “She’s my aunt. I should be close as close to my mom’s family as I am with my dad’s.”

Cam nodded. “ ‘Cause if you weren’t we wouldn’t be buddies, would we? If anything goes down, though, remember, she’s your family, not mine. I’ll come in there and,” he mimed clocking someone in the head with a bat.

Amina began walking towards the shop. “Sure you will,” she said over her shoulder. 

“Haha, you think I’m playing!” she heard him call after her.

Amina entered the coffee shop and scanned the large yellow-colored space. There were plenty of people, but Amina knew she was looking for a woman in a gray sweatshirt and jeans. That was what her Aunt Deandra said she’d be wearing over instant messaging. Amina had wondered if her mother was secretly in contact with her aunt, as she’d found a box full of Aunt-Deandra related stuff, including a conveniently current phone number, under her mother’s bed after FBI worthy snooping.

The strong smell of coffee undiluted by sugar curled inside of her nose. How could people actually drink this stuff? Soft chatter, occasionally broken by the sound of awkwardly loud laughter, provided some nice white noise. Amina forced herself to relax.

After a minute of searching, her eyes landed on the gray sweatshirt. The woman, her Aunt Deandra, was sitting alone at a booth in the far corner of the restaurant. Her hood was up and the sweatshirt was enormous, hanging off her body. Her auntie looked cozy. Amina liked cozy.

 She adjusted her glasses and strode over, clutching her phone. As she slid into the booth, she grinned. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

The woman, whose face had been obscured by the hood until now, looked up. To Amina’s delight, she shared her mom’s high cheekbones, rounded nose, and nearly black eyes. “Oh, we’ve met before. You were just a baby.”

Amina opened her mouth to say something else, but Aunt Deandra interrupted with, “Is Estelle around?”

Amina shook her head. “Well, see, I have a family tree project due for my training class, and it wouldn’t have felt right if you weren’t part of it. Estelle, er Mom, just dropped me off to meet with you…” 

Amina let her voice trail off, hoping her Aunt Deandra would put the pieces together herself.

“It doesn’t seem like Estelle to send you here alone to meet up with me,” Aunt Deandra said, rubbing her neck. “Is she nearby?”

Amina squirmed. Aunt Deandra sounded… almost panicked. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. Amina wasn’t sure what she’d been expecting, but obviously, this wasn’t it. She could still fix everything, though. “Mom doesn’t know. I wanted to surprise her when you joined the family again.”

Aunt Deandra’s carefully waxed eyebrows furrowed before she laughed. “Of course. Just like your mom to say that I left the family.”

“Excuse me?” Amina asked. She glanced at the coffee shop entrance doors, where Cam was casually browsing on his phone. No Mom in sight.

“Did she tell you that I left the family?” Aunt Deandra asked. “That I didn’t want to be involved in her life anymore?”

Amina snapped her focus back to her aunt. “Kinda, yeah. She never talks much about you.” Sometimes, when her dad was working late and she and her mom were cleaning up the kitchen together, her mother’s lips would loosen from exhaustion and a good meal. Those were the nights she experienced her aunt in snippets and stories.

“That makes sense. It’s a shame you had to contact me without her knowledge.” Her aunt grinned with beautiful gleaming teeth. “A girl should know her auntie, right?”

Amina nodded eagerly. “Yeah, that’s why I’m here.” She quickly added, “Oh, and the family project, too.”

Aunt Deandra laughed. “Right. You thirsty, baby?”

Amina nodded. She had almost forgotten they were in the coffee shop! For one sparkling moment, she and her aunt had been laughing together.

As soon as Aunt Deandra returned with the iced lemonade Amina had requested, and a mango smoothie for herself, Amina pushed her glasses up, saying, “Can I start with the questions?”

“Sure,” Aunt Deandra said before taking a sip from her smoothie. 

“Well, why did you leave the family?” Amina asked.

Aunt Deandra’s smile evaporated. “I didn’t leave. I was forced out because I decided to do whatever it took to get the ability training I needed.”

Amina tried to hide her excitement at hearing that she, her dad, and Cam weren’t the only supers in her family. “You’re a super?”

Aunt Deandra nodded. “You didn’t just get it from your father’s side of the family.”

Wait…

Amina readjusted her glasses. “Uh… how do you know I’m a super?”

Aunt Deandra sipped her drink before looking around the coffee shop. “You know, you’re something extraordinary, Amina. What if I told you that there is a group of very, well, special people who used to be just like you? Being kept from the real way their abilities worked.”

Amina gripped her drink. This was starting to feel wrong, like she’d been tricked. She knew she hadn’t; she’d sought her aunt out and she’d arranged the meeting, but… her stomach was doing a funky flip-flop, I’m-not-happy dance with improvised choreography.

“What if I could introduce you to these very special people? They, in a way, know you already. Do you want to know them?” Deandra continued, stopping every now and then to take a sip from her drink and pull her hood tighter around her face. Her movements were so measured, so… practiced.

The warning lights flashed full force in the back of Amina’s mind. She shouldn’t be meeting strangers, but… they were her aunt’s friends… and her aunt wasn’t a stranger. Right?

Amina’s phone pinged. She ignored it. “Um, who are these people?”

Aunt Deandra swallowed. “I shouldn’t say.” She gestured towards a man in a black suit, his nose inches away from his cellphone. “We don’t know who’s listening.”

Amina knew that she shouldn’t use her ability in public. It wasn’t quite illegal but if she removed her ever present glasses now, the coffee shop-goers would get panicky. People didn’t like to be reminded that supernaturals lived among them no matter how commonplace abilities were. Then again, she didn’t normally meet up with mysterious estranged aunties, so, slowly, she slipped her glasses off.

She blinked as her eyes, uninhibited by her glasses’ vision modification lenses, swept over her Aunt Deandra. Her vision wasn’t as clear now, but she could see much more than her eyes alone could tell her. Any warmth she might have harbored towards her aunt drained right out of her chest.

Aunt Deandra sighed. “You know who I am now, don’t you?”

Amina clutched her phone to her chest and struggled to slide out of her seat. “I… I should go-”

“Amina, wait,” Aunt Deandra said, her voice still low and relaxed. “Don’t make me-”

“No, no, I have to go. This is wrong, I shouldn’t, you’re-” Amina’s words tumbled all over themselves.

Aunt Deandra snapped her fingers right as Amina slid out of the booth.

The yellow of the walls began to swirl. The people stretched like multi-colored spaghetti.

Amina tried to move, but her legs were lead and her tongue suddenly felt glued to the roof of her mouth. Of course, she thought. Short-term reality warping

“You’re Hypatia,” Amina breathed. Her voice sounded like she’d gone on a helium breathing spree and tied her tongue in triple knots.

Aunt Deandra nodded. “I am. Listen to me. Your mother isn’t going to get you the help you need to properly use your abilities. Only Catch 88 can do that. My parents refused to send Estelle and me to a proper super-learning institution, and-”

“How is Catch 88 a proper learning institution?” Amina asked, her voice climbing octaves as the temperature in her cheeks rose. “You guys mug people and rob banks and do… do bad people stuff!” What, did her aunt think she was stupid? And she’d mentioned her mom being denied the opportunity to go to the training school- what the heck was that about? Her mom had the supernatural abilities of a soda can!

Aunt Deandra frowned. “I’m not involved in most of the criminal activity. But you’d be surprised what Deterge and Clepsydra, despite their lawless lifestyles, can do for you.” She paused, then added, “It’s only going to get worse. You can’t control what your mind wants to see, can you?”

Amina didn’t want to answer, but her face must have betrayed her, because her aunt continued with, “Those glasses you wear in order to suppress your psychometry are only going to help your abilities strengthen. Eventually, they won’t work. Your mind will build up a resistance to the medication due to constant use. Matter of fact… I bet you’ve even seen into someone with the glasses on once or twice.”

Amina felt like cold fingers were doing the Irish jig on her neck and arms. Her aunt was right. It had only happened once or twice… but it had happened. That was how she’d learned that back-of-the-room Bailey in her SAT prep class had been late to class that one day because his bike had broken down, and that her dad secretly wanted to grow a beard. Harmless things. For now.

The yellow swirls shrank back into their normal form. The coffee shop reformed around them as people shrunk back to normal size. Her aunt’s reality manipulation ended. No one seemed to notice that reality had just been stretched out, stopped, and then smooshed back together by the invisible hands her aunt’s mind.

“Whoa,” Amina breathed as chilled air rushed through her lungs and the sounds of people around them returned.

“Imagine. You wouldn’t have to wear those glasses to control your psychometry.” Aunt Deandra- Hypatia– said. Her voice sounded far away and bluesy, like it belonged in the middle of a sultry jazz song playing from down the street. “You would be able to filter out whose information you want to know and whose you don’t at will.”

Amina was about to say that she’d think about it- then make a run for it- when Cam slunk over to their booth. Amina forced herself not to announce her aunt’s super identity. 

“Sorry to interrupt, Amina’s mystery aunt! Amina, your mom just texted me. She’s coming since you haven’t been answering your phone. We should go meet her outside so she won’t see,” he gestured with his hand towards Aunt Deandra.

Amina sucked in a quick breath. “Okay.” She looked at her aunt. “Is there somewhere I can meet up with you when I make the decision?” She wouldn’t join her wacko aunt in becoming a criminal, but she sure would be making all the right phone calls to the local authorities as soon as it was safe. Right? Criminals hurt people and enjoyed it. She pressed her clammy palms to the legs of her jeans.

Aunt Deandra shook her head as she looked over her shoulder. “You can’t get back into contact with me. It’s not safe.” She glanced at Cam, then back at Amina. “Choose.”

Cam snapped a finger in front of Amina’s face. Amina jumped.

With a flick of his wrist, Amina’s phone shot into Cam’s waiting palm. “Amina, let’s go.” He waved the phone a few inches from her nose. It pinged once, twice, then three times as her phone showed her the notification for missed calls and (probably ranty) text messages. 

Amina turned back to Deandra, trying hard to erase mental images of her mom, hands on her hips, give her the talking to of a lifetime for teaming up with a gang of super thugs. It wasn’t for real! She would go with her aunt and then call the police. They’d find Deandra that way.

But Deandra wasn’t looking at her anymore. She was scowling. Her eyes were fixed on a spot behind Amina’s head. Amina froze, sure that her mother was standing right behind her. She slowly turned, breathing deeply. In. Out. In. Ou-

Cam’s mouth fell open. He looked like he might drop dead on the spot. 

“Let’s make this quick. Hypatia, where’s my money at?”

Amina’s eyes finally landed on the person behind her. 

Deterge was even taller than she looked on television. Her short black hair framed her white mask. A bulky looking white and gray bodysuit concealed the rest of her body. It looked like she’d never been to fashion school and had designed it herself. 

Amina shivered. She’d studied Deterge for her current events class, but she’d never encountered any textbook information on Deterge having temperature manipulation abilities. Despite that, Amina felt cold radiating directly from the super. She was an unregistered super, so for all anyone knew, she could turn her eyes fifty million different shades of violet and see into the future with them in addition to her infamous telekinesis. If she could see into the future and was able to anticipate police raids, maybe that was why she never got caught. 

Deterge repeated her question. “Where’s my money?”

Aunt Deandra stood up. “I don’t have it. I have something better.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Amina could see people diving under their booths and tables, pulling out their phones, and snapping photos with flash. A baby cried.

Deterge crossed her arms. “Even after all the extensions I’ve given you? Pathetic… but not unexpected. I thought this might happen. This actually works out nicely.” She turned to her ‘audience.’ “What I’m about to do to this woman is nothing compared to what I’ll do to any government official who dares try to suppress us. Catch 88 will not stand for the suppression of our gifts, and we will bend-”

Aunt Deandra crossed her arms, too. “I’d forgotten how much of a drama queen you are. Are you going to accept my offer or not?”

“No,” Deterge snapped. “Give me the money.”

Under normal circumstances, Amina knew Cam would be live streaming this super-exchange via his mom’s Facebook profile. Instead, his eyes looked glazed as he gaped at the criminal super in white.

Aunt Deandra’s mouth opened and closed without a single sound, kind of like a fish’s.  “I don’t-”

Deterge snapped her fingers. Every drink sitting idly on a restaurant table exploded. A spray of ice-cold lemonade hit Amina’s right cheek and eye. People screamed.

“Now, you and I both know that I would like to blow you up just like I did those beverages. But I won’t since Catch 88 needs more than one competent member. So, if you don’t give me the money right here, I’ll have no choice but to do the next best thing.” Deterge said this like she was talking to an inattentive preschooler. 

“Which is?” Aunt Deandra asked.

Deterge turned to Cam. “Who is this?”

“He’s not involved,” Aunt Deandra said, rolling her eyes.

“Then he’s perfect,” Deterge said. She slid out of the booth from behind Amina and grabbed Cam’s wrist. “I know you know him.”

“I don’t,” Deandra protested, although she didn’t seem all that determined to save him. 

Amina screamed, “She doesn’t! Cam doesn’t have anything to do with Aun- Hypatia, she doesn’t know him.”

Deterge paused. She chuckled. “Did you say aunt?”

Aunt Deandra swore. She glared at Amina with the kind of look that seems to turn your insides to stone. 

Amina shrunk back from her aunt. “I’m sorry, I didn’t-”

“Oh, don’t apologize. I met you here because you have a chance to help your auntie out,” Aunt Deandra said. She looked back to Deterge. “What if I let you train Amina? You can let the kid go, I’ll have half the money by Saturday in return.”

Amina could not make her mouth move. 

Deterge tilted her head. “I don’t know… how long would she train with me?”

“Train? She doesn’t have to train.” Aunt Deandra said breathlessly. “You said you were raising an army. Amina’s your first soldier.”

“W-what?” Cam squeaked, not even bothering to struggle against Deterge.

Deterge shook her head and laughed. “Not gonna work, I’m afraid. Now, if you don’t have the money-”

“She can see into people’s minds, Alice.” Aunt Deandra said. Deterge flinched, probably at the use of her real name. “Where else are you going to find a natural-born spy? I am giving her to you.”

“I didn’t agree to that,” Amina heard herself saying.

Deterge grabbed Cam’s curly hair. “You’ll agree if you want him to live.”

“You wouldn’t kill a child,” Aunt Deandra snarled. “You haven’t reached that level of stupidity.”

“Haven’t I?” Deterge threw Cameron across the room. He went flying, hitting a nearby chair, landing limbs akimbo on top of it. He was very, very still. The man under the table next to the chair yelped and scrambled away. 

Amina screamed, heat pushing up into her chest and face. It felt like someone was holding her underwater. She was breathing, but whatever she was taking in wasn’t keeping her alive.

Her mind kept shoving Deterge’s stats in her face over and over and over. Then, she realized that though Deterge had the power to end everyone in the coffee house, and maybe the mall, Amina now had her real name and age and everything. Plus, something was brewing deep in her gut. Would she be able to use it?

She heard Deterge swear colorfully and hit the floor.

For once, her psychometry wasn’t just a bunch of nobody-cares facts that threw themselves at her in a flurry of color and sound. Everything was black and white, purpose stark. Her mind was an arrow, already locked on bullseye- a deep black tunnel leading into what looked like color. It knew where to pierce the skull and allow her inner eye to peer through. She could feel her mind scanning through Deterge’s, scraping through memories like they were file cabinets. 

Amina imagined her mind had arms and that Deterge- Alice Jennings, actually- had file cabinets for memories. She used her mind arms to rip a cabinet straight out of the shelving. 

She heard faint screaming in the distance, and for a moment, her arms weakened, and she could feel Alice/Deterge fighting against her.

Amina dug deeper, punching through the soft gray folds of Alice’s mind and pushing through the tunnel. She was swimming deeper into a clear pool of some kind of juice- ew, she thought, ignore that– deeper and further until she touched on a flaming red file cabinet. Her motions were slowed by the surrounding juice, but her arms still worked through it, grabbing hold of the filing cabinet and yanking. Someone was pulling in the opposite direction. Amina knew she couldn’t win and her stomach begged for her to stop. It rolled and flopped. She ignored it and examined the cabinet, holding on to it like it was the last morsel of food on earth.

Names, memories, all kinds of bits and bobs floated in the cabinet. Her mind’s hands pulled at the random objects. They crackled under her touch. Hearing them crinkle felt good.

John Jennings. Johnnie. Melanie Jennings. Little Mellie, Jennifer Jennings, Little Je-

“Stop!” she heard someone screech.

Amina blinked. The cabinet scraped against her hands before falling away. Her mind screamed in pain as it was ripped from Deterge’s. Searing heat danced along her forehead and temples.

She stumbled back, the world spinning around her in circles and ovals and craziness. Something warm leaped up from her chest and into her throat, filling her with a sour, gushy feeling. Her cheeks were furnaces on the verge of overheating.

Her vision, which she hadn’t realized had been missing until now, cleared. No matter how many times she swallowed, the gushy feeling in her throat wouldn’t subside.

Deterge writhed on the floor. She wasn’t covered in blood, or even scratched. Her hands clawed at her mask, scalp, and hair, trying to reach for something she couldn’t touch. Amina’s mom lay next to Deterge, groaning. When had her mom gotten there?

“Johnnie!” Deterge wailed. “Johnnie, I’m sorry!”

Amina stepped back. She had to get away. She had to get away from what she’d done.

The people who’d hidden themselves away under the coffee tables began to emerge as Deterge slowly stopped squirming. A few darted out of the open door, dragging crying toddlers and children behind them.

“Is she dead?” someone called out. 

She’s dead, she’s dead, her brain screeched. Amina’s hands shook. Did the people know she’d killed Alice? Had she killed Alice?

Arms wrapped around Amina from behind. Her aunt was saying something to her. 

“How did you do that?”

Amina shook her head. She didn’t want the credit. She didn’t want this. “Make it go back,” she whispered.

“What?” her aunt asked. “Make what?”

“Time! Make it go back, I can’t, I have to fix it and you have to do it because I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Alice! Make it go back!”

“I can’t,” her Aunt Deandra said. “But listen to me, Amina. You could make a lot of money using that gift of yours. If you did what I think you did, you-”

“No!” Amina screamed. Her mom. She needed her mom. Her mom would be able to wash this away, hold her tight and away from the world. “Let me go, I want my mom!”

The only signs her mother showed of hearing her was lifting her head. Her dark curls obscured her face.

Aunt Deandra’s voice sliced into Amina’s ear. “Forget about your mother, Amina. You and I, we can get your friend the help he needs and then train you. You have a gift, something so wonderful that you have to learn to use it properly. You can’t go on having a normal life with powers like yours.”

“You’re not my mom! I want my mom now!” she yelled. She stomped down on her Aunt Deandra’s foot. Hypatia, momentarily surprised, released her. Amina ran towards her mother, sneakers gripping and releasing the floor over and over.

Mrs. Jackson raised a hand. “D-Deterge might come back to her senses, honey. Stay where you are.”

Amina obeyed, eyeing Deterge. 

Then she remembered her cousin. She couldn’t just stand there.

She rushed over to Cameron, who was moaning and rolling around.

“Everyone put your hands where we can see them!”

Amina’s stomach dropped. Police threw open the coffee shop’s double doors and clambered in, shouting directions as their hands traced their gun holsters. 

Amina raised her hands high over her head, craning her neck over her shoulder to see Detege being apprehended. Her Aunt Deandra gave her one last look even as police surrounded her before pressing her palms together. Space folded in on itself, swallowing Aunt Deandra before popping back into place.

She didn’t care. Let her aunt warp away like she’d done nothing for now. Amina was going to find her. She knew what her aunt looked like, sounded like. It would only be a matter of when, not if, she and the police captured her. 

“Amina,” Cam groaned. “Amina, what’s… what’s going on?” 

Amina focused on Cam. Her mind immediately jumped into his, gathering facts she already knew. That had always happened without her glasses. But now, her mind was hungry to slice and tear Cam’s memories like they were gray putty erasers. That…that was new.

“Just- just relax,” Amina said, more to herself than to him.

Amina must have been making her I-can’t-see squint face, because Cam scrunched up his face and snapped his fingers.

Amina’s glasses knocked straight against her face and landed on Cam’s chest. Cam groaned. “You’re welcome,” he croaked. He hesitated before asking, “Your… your aunt? Where is she?” He tried to sit up, eyes darting around the coffee shop.

“I’ll find her,” Amina vowed, feeling silly with her hands still up in the air.

But first, she would train. She would petition her parents to send her to the National Training Institution, and if they refused, she’d run away somehow.  However it happened, she needed to get her powers in line before she destroyed somebody’s mind the way she had Deterge’s. She needed to rein in whatever in her had felt good as she crinkled Alice’s memories into badly burnt and churned pain.


The Dark Room

The cold, empty, dark room. That’s where I am. The room is pitch black, I can’t see myself or anything around me. I don’t even know if my eyes are opened or closed, it’s all just dark. I need to slide my bare palms along the cold, rough surface of the walls and floors to recognize what’s around me, the skin on my knees becoming sore and scraped. Every few minutes I crawl on my hands and knees, feeling to see if something, anything changed. Just in case something appears. There are areas of the wall that change textures, from rough to smooth or dry to damp, but there are always no entrances or exits. I’ve tried calling for someone, banging on the walls, screaming for help, sobbing. But I’m trapped. Trapped in the dark room.

Everything’s quiet apart from my movement and breathing, my beating heart, and shallow breaths. It’s so silent here. I hardly remember anything before this. I remember a life, people around me. I remember sadness. A never-ending river of sadness, despair, and hopelessness. I remember tall walls, barred windows, and paper clothes. I remember eyes, everywhere, watching me. And now there’s just the dark room. A maze with only four walls. I’m scared that if I make it out of the dark room, I’ll go back to that place. Filled with locked doors and judgeful stares. Lies and constant eyes. Staring. Always.

I hear voices calling from all sides. All the time. Crying, screaming, yelling. Sometimes angry, sometimes sad, but they’re always scared. They mask their tones but, underneath, they’re scared. High-pitched, confused voices. Scared teenagers hiding it all in anger. All just teenagers’ words, calling out from the darkness. Sometimes I wonder if they’re mine, but then a furious shout sounds. The voice of a gruff man, commanding, angry. I know that’s not my voice. 

I don’t know what I sound like. My voice disappears into the walls, echoing in the abyss that hides beyond, mixing like a chorus with the rest of them. But I know what the dark room sounds like. I hear noises. Scratching on the walls. Sometimes quiet and soft, other times loud and desperate. But I can’t remember whether or not it was me. I can’t remember why my nails are chipped and broken, sore cracks in them that sting when touched, and bleeding, the feeling of the liquid trickling down my fingertips. Everyday, I move my hands against the cold surface and find the grooves in the walls and floor. But sometimes they’re gone. Replaced by a smooth, flat wall. Still, I know that I hurt the dark room. I know that I made it angry.

I try to claw through the dark room, but whenever I do I hear someone crying. Calling my name between sobs. I’m unsure if its below, above, or next to me. I’m not sure if it’s me. I’m only sure of the dark room.

I’m safe in the dark room. I listen to the yelling, banging, screaming, and crying on the other side of the wall, but I’m safe from them. I’m in the dark room. Whenever I feel along the walls I only feel the cold smoothness of the dark room. There’s no one else. There’s nothing else. There is only the dark room. There is only the metal walls that echo with the pain of others. The metal floor that feels damp with my tears.

No one can hear me when I’m in the dark room. Only the dark room can. No one can see me when I’m in the dark room. Only the dark room can. Only the dark room knows I’m here. The dark room with its cushioned walls and cushioned floor. Its metal door and little window. The dark room where people wait outside. Screaming, yelling, shouting, crying. Some angry, some sad, all scared. But the dark room is where we hide. The dark room is where we scream. The dark room is where we yell. The dark room is where we shout. The dark room is where we cry. The dark room is where we’re angry. The dark room is where we’re sad. The dark room is where we’re scared. The dark room is where we’ll die.


The Heart

As I was walking home, sobbing in the rain, I get a text saying, I’m sorry, I love you, I hope you will be happier than you were with me. I keep crying as I’m walking to the nearest Seven Eleven because I hated Chinese food and right before he dumped me, Dan, brought me to a Chinese restaurant. Even after three years of dating, he still doesn’t know me. But I forget about him, so I walk into the Seven Eleven. 

I start getting slushies and realize that my mascara is all over my face. People at the store are staring, but honestly, who cares? I then buy a bunch of chips. After they kick me out for almost falling asleep on the floor, I walk into the Starbucks attached to the Seven Eleven. I decide to get a venti iced coffee with two shots of espresso. I know, terrible choice, but I personally hate sleeping, and it was already around 3 AM and I need to be at work by 8:45, so I guess I could just deal with it. When I’m done drinking my coffee and eating my cookie dough cake pop, I leave the place. 

As soon as I walk out of the Starbucks, I realize it’s not raining anymore. That kind of cheers me up. I don’t feel like getting an Uber looking like this, so I decide to just walk home. I’m now walking in an alley and I notice it smells so bad. As I’m thinking of what could be in the dumpster right next to me, my stomach starts to churn. But since I’m already grossed out, I might as well text Dan stuff that I’ll probably regret in the morning. 

I start texting him, You don’t deserve anyone you no good heartbreaker. I know, sounds cheesy. Right after I send the text, I hear a sound. It’s quiet but I’m able to hear it. I look around and say, “Is anyone there?” Having a scary movie preference, that is the dumbest thing anyone could ever say. 

So I decide to look around, I then turn back to the dumpster. I was hesitant to lift up the top of it. But I eventually start to hold my breath and open up the dumpster. The smell is repulsive. I want to throw up. As I turn on my flashlight from my phone, I look down and see the most terrifying thing I would ever see in my life. 

It was Dan. He was wrapped up in a black bag, but I could see his face through the clear colored grocery bags. He was so bloody. He looked like he was in a fight then hit really badly. His face had scratches and bruises all over it. His chest was like a lagoon of blood, it was disgusting. I wanted to scream. My ex-boyfriend that I loved endlessly was in a dumpster, dead and soaked in his own blood. I wanted to pull him out to see if he was still alive and able to survive. But I wasn’t stupid. It’s the twenty-first century. People are going to lie, for example. If I’d call the police right about now, what would I say? That I just magically found a dead body in a dumpster that I just happened to be looking through? They’d also find my fingerprints if I checked if he was still alive or pulled him out. So calling someone was not an option at all. But I loved him, but he didn’t love me. I wanted to die. He was so special and kind, except for tonight. 

As I got home, I realized that my apartment door is unlocked and a little open, so I take my taser that I keep in my purse and hold it up. I then walk into my apartment and see that there is blood everywhere. On the walls, on the floor, and on the doors. I cannot believe it. What if this is where Dan died? What if this was something else that didn’t have to do with Dan? As I walk around my apartment, I realize my fridge was open and leaking red liquids. I was terrified of what could lie behind the steel refrigerator door. As I open the door, I see a heart. A bloody, big, red heart. 

I fall on the floor from the shock. I start crying hard, and then have a couple panic attacks. But then I say to myself, what the hell am I supposed to do with this? I can’t call the police because my fingerprints are all over my own house. So I decide to do something crazy, I decide that I would be doing some early spring cleaning. So I put on some sweats, go to Target, get the buy four get 1 free bleach sales. But first, I had to send my boss an email saying that I was sick and couldn’t come to work, so that by morning he’d see my email. Then started scrubbing, scrubbing hard. 

After about six hours of bleaching my house top to bottom, left to right, and side to side, I was so scared of what would happen in the future. Was I supposed to live with this forever? Well I can’t, if you were asking. I honestly want to know who would do such a thing. But before I can think of anything close to that, I have to sleep. I need to rest every part of me that I could think of. Then I start thinking of Dan’s family. He has a sister and two brothers, he has a 5-year-old niece and a cat in his house. He was only twenty-four. He had such a big career in law ahead of him. But then I started wondering who could’ve done it. I start to think of who could possibly have had a grudge against him or even someone who wanted to ruin his career, but that was going to be a hard one because Dan was a famous lawyer for celebrities in LA. After that, I realize that I just can’t sleep. So instead I head to Dan’s house, but I need to prepare for anything. I have an emergency gun and a taser. I also pack a first aid kit just in case I get into an accident. I do realize that I could either be killed or go to jail. 

As I was getting ready to leave for Dan’s house, I remember that I need to make sure that my boss at work knows that I am “sick” and can’t go to work. So I grab my phone from my kitchen counter, check it, and then realize that I have a lot of missed texts and calls. I even have a voicemail in my inbox. So I open my text app. I first see one of my friends from work, Melanie, had texted me, Where are you? So I text back that I was staying home from work today. 

Then I go back to check who else had texted or called me. The text right after Melanie was Dan, and I was anxious to open it. What if the person that did it texted Dan from his phone while he was put in the dumpster to decay? I wasn’t ready, so I just go on to check my voicemail box. And of course, in my voicemails there are possible scam messages, so I go through all of those and block most of them. And after that, I go to check if I have any left, and I have one more. I was thinking I had just missed another scam call, but no, it’s a voicemail from Dan’s phone. I was so scared I could feel my goosebumps spreading everywhere from how scared I was. I know that I was eventually going to have to listen to it, so that time might as well be now. So I carefully open it and put my ear against the speaker. At first, all I can hear are the breaths from someone, then I realize that it’s Dan breathing. It sounds like he was out of breath and running. But what I was about to listen was going to ruin me for life.  

So I’m still listening to the voicemail from Dan, but as I’m closely listening, I hear a guy’s voice come in. He sounds drunk, and I can’t really understand what he’s saying to Dan, which gets me annoyed. But then I hear a door close, so that means the guy either left or someone else is now there. I hear a girl’s voice. It sounds so familiar. It sounds like she was whispering to him or the other guy there. I’m just not sure who the people were. After that, Dan and his “friends” went back and all I could hear was music being blasted and screaming for about an hour in the voicemail. Then I hear the girl whisper again, and I hear Dan and the girl get out or go away from the loud music. I got scared, as if, maybe Dan was cheating on me the night he died. But that wouldn’t matter because we would have already been broken up by that time. As I am still listening, I hear some kind of argument happening. I hear Dan saying, “No stop, I can’t do this anymore, just enough!” As I hear this happening, I quickly understand that whoever Dan was with could’ve been the person who killed him. And that I need to listen very carefully. 

As I’m still listening, I realize that I might’ve known where he went but before I can think, I hear a loud crack and what I thought was a hard fall. I was thinking, the girl that was with Dan at that very moment, or whoever he was arguing with, had hit Dan in the head with something hard. Then waiting for a sound to come up, I hear him say in a vulnerable voice, “Why did you do that to me?” And I hear the girl say, “Because you never loved me.” I then hear a gunshot sound and Dan choking. I was crying so hard. I had just heard the love of my life get shot in the middle of the night. I was disgusted. I wanted to throw up. But I needed to stay strong throughout this experience. 

So I now grab a piece of paper from my bulletin board to write down every girl that I have in record of knowing Dan. I write down some ex-girlfriends, some girls from work, and some friends. After I’m done writing, I put the piece of paper in my bag, lock my door, and leave my apartment. 

As I’m in the taxi to Dan’s house, I start thinking really hard about everything Dan’s ever told me. Maybe there’s a clue on who could’ve done this to him. But I then realize my phone was ringing. I see that it’s Melanie so I pick up. I asked, “Hello?” in a ratchet voice to make her think I was sick. 

She then asks, “Where are you right now?” 

I then panic a little, deciding if I should tell her I’m at home eating soup or if I’m going to the doctor. But as I think about what I’m going to tell her, I start remembering the horrors from last night. At some point I just go with saying, “I’m going to a pharmacy downtown to get medicine.” 

Then she for some reason sounded annoyed, but I just don’t really care right now. She says, “Oh, ok.” She also says in a cute subtle voice, “I can totally bring you soup later when you’re back. I could just let myself in. I still have your keys!”

 And I just tell her to leave them under my door mat after she leaves work. 

But instead of saying, ok, she just says, “Well I’m here right now. I wanted to see how you were feeling.” 

I was kind of confused, but I had to hang up because I needed to pay for the taxi and because I was here at Dan’s house. I was scared of how I would react to see his house, because well, there’re pictures of us together all over it. 

As I walk into the house, I flash back to all the great memories Dan and I had. All the ferris wheel rides, the date nights, the cute cuddling nights at home. Even before we even started dating, I had gotten sick in the middle of a little meetup we had and had to go home. He then showed up at my house with a cute care package that had a teddy bear, chocolates, and a bunch of calming stuff. Going through this is an emotional rollercoaster. I was first in shock, then fearful, then just depressed, and now I’m just a mess. But I really feel like Dan is in the room with me right then and there. It’s hard being there, but I kind of have to. I then start looking around in desks and drawers for any notes or reminders to where or who he could’ve been with. But as I’m skimming each room and piece of paper I can see, I find something weird. 

It looks like some kind of document, at first I was like, Oh that’s just Dan being a lawyer. But as I look through it, I see that there are these confusing notes on it. It looks as if it’s some kind of code. It’s a bunch of numbers. So after waiting and doing nothing for like ten minutes, I finally decide to something productive and search up the numbers of the piece of paper into Google. When I am done writing these literal ten numbers into my phone and messing up the order about five times, I enter it and press search. 

There are only two things that come up, this weird dating website, this website called White pages, and then even more random numbers. After researching on both of them, I decide they are all pointless and aren’t getting me anywhere. So I start thinking, and I realize there are enough digits for it to be a phone number. So as I dial star six seven just in case I don’t know who it is, I dial the rest of the numbers. As it’s ringing, it goes straight to voicemail. And the first thing I feel once I hear the voice of the voicemail is that my heart deflates, my jaw drops from how shocked I am, and I start to cry a little. 

It’s my best friend of two and a half years of work add two years in high school. Melanie. I can hear her voicemail saying, “Hey, it’s Melanie, leave a message.” I was terrified, but there’s no possible way that it was her. She doesn’t even really know Dan. I’ve never even introduced them. My happiness just disintegrates immediately. But the more I think about it, the easier I realize it could’ve been, if she in fact, was the killer. She has the keys to my apartment. And on my little keychain with all my keys. And I told her where I was last night at Starbucks and Seven Eleven. She had everything she could need to kill Dan, or even me! I was terrified and then I realize, someone was at the door. 

I grab my gun ready and loaded, walking slowly down the hall to the front door. My gun is ready to fire, and I have pepper spray in my pocket. I’m ready to go through anything. As I open the door carefully, I see pink hair, Melanie’s hair color. I quickly grab my pepper spray, open the door quickly, and spray her in the eyes. As she screams in pain, I push her to the floor, I take my gun, and say my last four words to her. “Go die in Hell.” Then I point my gun at her, right in her forehead. 

I shoot. 

The last thing I will remember of Melanie and my ex-boyfriend are the blood coming out of their mouths.

3 and a half months later

Now, you all might be asking, what happened? Well, let me tell you. 

After my terrifying experience three months ago, I checked into a mental help bunker, which basically meant I took a break from reality, a couple months of doing therapy and meeting new friends. I started getting sick a lot of the time. I knew in the back of my heart that I was in fact pregnant with Dan’s baby. I was thinking of all the exercises that my therapy had taught me, but I couldn’t resist and just started bawling. So I then checked out of the therapy bunker and went back to the real world. I then had Camille. She looked exactly like Dan. I eventually had to go back to work, but I went to a different place. I also ended up disappearing completely from Dan’s family because I couldn’t bear seeing them. I’m still guilty of that. So yeah, that’s just my life. 


5 years later

“Sweetie! You are going to be late for school, come get your bag, and give mommy a kiss!” I say.

 “Ok, I love you, bye mom!” Camille says as she leaves from the back door. But about five minutes later, she comes back through the back door again saying she missed the bus again. 

In a silly voice, I say, “Ok, I will just drop you off on my way to work. No worries, Milly.” As I’m grabbing my car keys from my kitchen counter, I hear my phone ringing. I was expecting it to be my boss, Larry, asking if I was working today because I had told him before that I might have an opportunity to check out houses near Camille’s new school to move into for a few years. 

But as I check my phone, and it’s an unknown number. I answer and the only thing the person on the other end of the call says is, “Hey.” 

I pause for a minute in silence to realize the heartbreaking realization I had just made. Instead of asking questions, the only words that come out of my mouth are, “Daniel?”

Sea

Whales moan to each other, chanting their conversations into the air.

The stunning Azure waves whip the rocks, engulfing them in sea.

Bubbles rise up, expiring at the foamy surface.

At sunrise, the horizon spreads fiery colors over the calm ripples.

As they dive deeper, a chill spreads through their gills.

The teal fades to a deep midnight near the sand.

A vicious tiger shark slithers quietly, lashing its tail.

It seizes a mollusk in its jaws, biting until its prey stops thrashing.

So many creatures, each having a life of their own.

One question remains.

If we can’t see air,

cAn fIsH sEE wAtER?


Bored

I walk through the farm, and I don’t feel good

This place is so tedious and dull

All there ever is to see is dirt, dirt, and more dirt

I also spot the occasional hill in the distance

I wish I could see something more interesting like animals

However, this is a crop growing farm

The scent of all these sweet fruits and vegetables begin to make me nauseous

I wish for an AC in this horrible and hot place

I feel so weary in this place

I beg someone to get me out of this place, but alas, there is no one here

I am all alone in this horrible place

The dullness of this farm is horrible

I would rather write a poem about pencils than do this

Even staring at a blank whiteboard is more fun than this

Why am I here, and how did I come here?


Where the Sun Goes

The ground shakes as I step out of my house.

Not again! I think, sighing and sitting down on the porch. We are supposed to sit down at every Switch. No one questions this law. No one knows what happens when you don’t sit down.

“It’s not fair,” I whisper to myself as I close my eyes. The ground shakes harder and harder, the wind blows faster and faster, then the feared cold enters the air and chills my bones.

I open my heavy eyes and look up at the moon. No one knows where it comes from.

Across the street, my best friend Lara is sitting on her porch like me. “Lara,” I call.

“Oh, hi, Hannah,” she says.

I cross the street, checking for cars. It’s hard in the darkness. Everything from Day is now black and cold, like someone comes around every Switch and paints the world black, then takes off the paint when it turns to Day. Lara and I feel the same way about Night. We love the warmth and brightness of Day, spending all our free time frolicking together in the sunshine. Night is when a lot of people regularly sleep, when they don’t have to work or go to school. Nobody wants to be outside now.

“The Day was only six hours long,” I complain. “Night is so stupid.”

“Yeah. And now we have to go to school during Night.”

I like school, even though a lot of kids don’t. We have to go every 28 hours, for four hours at a time. Sometimes a Switch occurs during school, but that doesn’t matter because school is lighted during Night. Occasionally the electricity goes out, and then we’re in trouble.

Lara stands up and walks inside her house. I follow. We go to her room and stay there for a few hours, chatting and playing.

After five hours of doing nothing with Lara, our phones buzz simultaneously. It’s the signal for school. “Ugh,” she mutters. 

I run out before she does, bursting out onto the dark street and running freely. We always run to school, because we live pretty far from it. Lara soon catches up with me as we dash through the darkness. 

We arrive. We’re in Level 5 now, and our teacher is Mr. Chase. He doesn’t like questions that much—he usually shuts them down and doesn’t answer them. But something’s been burning in the back of my mind all Night.

“Mr. Chase,” I say, coming toward him in the thankfully bright classroom. “I was wondering something. Where does the moon come from?”

“The moon?”

“Where does the moon come from?” I repeat.

“Hannah, how do you suppose we would answer that question?”

I blink, thrown back. “No one’s even tried?”

“We can’t travel into space, Hannah. We would be destroyed by Switches. We’re never going to find out anything about the moon.”

“But… but—”

“No one knows where the sun goes during Night. We never will. Now go back to your seat.”


After school, still during Night, Lara meets me outside.

“I’ve been wondering the same thing.”

“About the moon?”

“Yeah. If we want it to go away, we need to figure out where it comes from. And where the sun goes.”

We stand still, gazing at the eerie circle in the starry sky, bathed in its mystery. This is a mystery we can solve. Mr. Chase is wrong.

And what causes Switches? And why can’t we fly up, up into space? And what are the sun and moon made of?

“These are questions we could answer,” I say confidently.

“Yes!” Lara cries. “We’ll be the first people to ever know. We could build bird wings for ourselves and fly up during Night, reach the moon, then follow it through the Switch.”

I laugh. “Why would we stay with the moon if our goal is to be in Day? We should do that during Day so we could meet the sun and stay with it eternally. And we’d be famous.”

Even though it’s not possible, I really, really want to believe it is.

“What if there’s a way to stay in Day without going to the sun? What about—” Lara suddenly stops and looks at me, eyes wide and hopeful. “We could stand up during a Switch! We don’t know what happens when you do that. Maybe you go to an alternate universe where it’s always Day.”

“That would be fun,” I agree, thinking of infinite sunlight, warmth, and joy.

“We should do that as soon as possible. When the next Day is over, we should stand and see what happens.”

“Yeah!” I exclaim.


The Night is long, fifteen hours. The longest Night ever was twenty-five hours, but that was a long time ago, before I was born. Switches were less common then. I wake up as the ground stops shaking and I suddenly see red under my eyelids. That means light! Day! I throw off the blanket and run outside. A perfectly childish thing to do, but I never get tired of it. I’m only ten years old, still little and curious and excitable.

I find Lara, who runs outside like me when it turns to Day. We walk down the street, happily looking all around us. We get to the house of our friend Addie. She goes with us to the pool, where we have tons of fun jumping and diving and playing. Six hours of that flies by like nothing.

We walk back to Addie’s house and eat a meal with her parents. Lara keeps flashing me looks. After the meal is done, I go to her and whisper, “What is it?”

She only says, “Are you ready?”

I almost ask what I’m supposed to be ready for, but then I remember our plan. We’re going to stand during the next Switch! At any point during the next ten hours, we could be flung into an alternate world. I can’t wait to see what we discover, but I’m scared too. Lara doesn’t look scared.

After two hours of watching movies with Addie, we feel it. The shaking.

“Let’s go!” Lara shouts, bolting up and pulling me with her. We stand in the middle of the room and clutch each other, closing our eyes, the ground shaking and the wind howling.

But Addie wasn’t in on the plan. “What are you DOING?!” she cries. “Why are you standing?”

She grabs us and pulls us back down onto the couch. My heart lurches.

Lara is angry. I know without looking. “No! No! Addie—”

“Too late,” I sigh. The shaking has died down.

Lara explodes. “Addie! We had a plan! You ruined it! Now it’s Night and we wanted to be in Day!”

“You shouldn’t stand during a Switch,” Addie replies quietly, looking away. “I didn’t want you to get hurt.”

“We’re going,” Lara sneers, dragging me out into the Night.

“That was stupid,” I say as we leave Addie’s house.

“Oh my gosh! Addie’s so annoying.”

Lately, I feel Lara’s gotten more self-absorbed and bossy. Sometimes, she seems much older than me.

“I guess we have to do it after the next Day. Let’s remember to be away from people that might deter us.”

“Right.” Good luck with that, I think. How are we supposed to know when to stay away from people when Switches are completely and utterly random?


I’m exhausted so I collapse on my bed as soon as I get home. I sleep deeply. Again, I am woken by a Switch. I don’t know how long the Night was. My mind still hazy, I stand up while the ground shakes. This is what Lara said to do, right? Yeah. Good. I find it impossible to keep my balance while my head swirls and the wind moans even in my room, so I grope around for my bed, which I lean on. The ground shakes more. My eyes are shut tight. I want to open them but can’t. Next time, I tell myself.

Then the shaking stops.

I didn’t realize I’m hyperventilating. I flop down on my bed out of exhaustion, trying to catch my breath. Too late—something builds in my throat, and I vomit on the floor.

Ewww! is my first thought. I can smell the revolting vomit, and I don’t want to see what it looks like. Then I wonder what that tells me about my brave decision to stand. Where am I? What did that do to me?

I pry my eyes open and gasp. My heart sinks.

Didn’t I just leave Night? Why is it still dark? Why has nothing changed?

I realize something awful. I attempted on the wrong Switch! I was supposed to do it on a Day to Night Switch! NOT NIGHT TO DAY! Now I’m stuck in Night. And we wanted to stay in DAY!

“Aaaaarghhhhh!” I scream, bursting into tears. What have I done? I curl up into a ball, crying. I’m so dumb. I should have been aware of what I was doing.

I slowly feel my way to the light switch near my door and turn it on. It doesn’t work. Huh? I try again, same result.

“Uh, Mom?” I call out. “What’s wrong with the light?”

I am met with the most bone-chilling silence I have ever heard. I can almost feel ghosts around me. My already weak stomach drops as I turn and find even more silence. My heart is beating like crazy. This isn’t real. This is a dream. It’s not possible to be in two Nights in a row. I am hallucinating.

And no one’s here. Terrified, I dash into the empty kitchen. My parents aren’t here and I can tell without looking.

Then it all makes sense.

By standing during a Switch, you resist flipping from Night to Day. You stay in whichever one you were in, while everyone else sits and is Switched to the other side. Now the electricity’s in Day, like everyone else, and I’m alone.

And I’ve made an important discovery, too. Lara will be happy to know how to stay in Day. It’s just as easy as staying in Night!

But will I ever see her again? Shoot. I’m on the opposite pattern… but at the end of this Night, I can stand again and be in the same Night as them. I hope that works.

I still can’t see. I feel my way to the front door and open it. Still black outside. I sit on the porch and run my hand over the chilly railing. I shiver, but don’t go inside to get a jacket. The moon is in the same place as before, still eerie with its dark patches and strangely bright glow. I can only see the moon and the stars without electricity.

It’s beautiful, something inside me says.

What? Beautiful? Night? I’ve always hated Night. The black sky is scary, not beautiful. It’s the sun that’s beautiful, with its light and warmth. The moon isn’t warm.

I blink and suddenly it’s like I’m seeing the sun instead of the moon. It looks like a reminder of… hope. A perfect round circle, glowing and white against the infinitely dark sky. For the first time, I see light flowing from it. Then I look away and am startled to see a bird hopping along the sidewalk. I can see it only by the moon’s light. Wow. I didn’t know it was possible to see in the dark.

Do I have magical powers? Or are these just some of the things no one’s discovered yet?

It seems weird that nobody’s seen this soft light from the moon. We’re so wrapped up in using electricity to make it as much like Day as possible. We have never seen this side of Night. We’ve never appreciated its own beauty.

“What is my problem?” I whisper. “I like the moon now.”

I would have never imagined this happening.

I watch the neighborhood for a long time, amazed at how it slowly transforms. Now I can make out the houses across the street. I can see more birds, not chirping, but hopping around and flying. What do they do during Switches? Do they also have to sit? Well, clearly not, because these birds are here in this opposite world with me. They are probably in the air during the Switches and they must constantly stay in Night or Day instead of Switching.

They’ve been doing it all along! And people have never noticed. We have been so ignorant of obvious clues to secrets Mr. Chase said were impossible to know. I’m the first person to know this. I am the first! I could report this to the world and be famous!


I’ve spent so long alone in Night, it’s like I’m in a world between Night and Day. I can see. Fully. It’s almost as clear as Day, both inside and outside.

And there’s not much reason to hate this Night. I’ve gotten used to the cold in the past several hours. The Night air feels weirdly good against my arms and face. I marvel at a vast display of black and gray and white, making the familiar houses and trees and sidewalk look totally new and alien.

It’s quite beautiful. I’ve almost stopped worrying about getting back to Day.

I wonder if it’s been 28 hours since school. I still want to go, even if no one’s there. Who knows? My phone doesn’t work, and it won’t buzz when it’s time to go. So I run outside and go to school, not needing the lights anymore.

I didn’t do the homework from last time, so I get my folder from under my seat and start working. It’s math, which is not too hard but takes a long time. I finally finish. Then I glance up at the whiteboard, which is updated for the coming lesson and shows a reading comprehension assignment. I go to the teacher’s desk and sift through the papers to find the one on the board. I take one back to my desk.

Then the ground shakes.

A Switch! A Switch? What do I do? Stand? Sit?

“Stand,” I say out loud. “Everyone is going to Night, so I can meet them by standing.” I’ve developed a habit of talking to myself a lot.

So I stand, remembering the nausea last time and gripping onto my desk. The shaking finally stops, and I don’t feel as bad as before.

Then the light comes. It’s so bright and blinding that I cover my eyes and cry out, “Oh!”

“What—HANNAH!”

My mouth falls open as I look again and see people. My class! Including—

“Hannah! Where did you come from?” Lara exclaims, running to me.

I’m so stunned I just stutter.

“You disappeared! Where did you go?”

I instantly regret something, probably my decision to stand the first time. “I got lost,” I murmur.

“Where?”

I sigh and sink into my chair. “I’ll tell you later.”


I dread meeting Lara after school. She’s likely going to be mad at me. But wait—wasn’t she going to stand during the last Switch? Why is she here in Night?

Oh. Because people were around and they stopped her.

I’m walking away, but Lara catches me. “Hey. Where were you before the Switch?”

I groan. “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, fine. On the last Night to Day Switch, I made a mistake and I stood.”

Lara blinks at me. “On a Night to Day Switch? You know we want to stay in Day, not Night.”

“Lara, I just said I made a mistake! I stayed in Night on accident!”

“You stayed in Night. Jeez, that’s dumb.”

I groan again, louder, trying to annoy her.

“What was it like?”

“It was just any other Night,” I said, “but I was alone and there was no electricity.”

“No electricity?”

“Yup. At first I couldn’t see, but after a while in pitch-black darkness I could actually see stuff.”

“That’s impossible. You could see in Night?”

“Can you let me talk? Yes, I could see in Night. And I discovered something. The moon actually casts light like the sun.” Lara opens her mouth but closes it, remembering not to interrupt. “And by the end of the Night, I could see fully. Like, every little detail. It was so pretty. We all use electricity at Night and we never see the natural beauty! You should try it sometime.”

Lara stares at me. “Beauty?”

“Yeah. Beauty. You’ve never seen it.”

“I’ve never met anyone who loves Night before.”

I sigh. “No one’s truly seen Night.”

“Shut up, okay, Hannah? We’ve been in Night for half of our lives. We’ve all seen Night.”

“You’ve never—”

It’s useless. I should have known. Nobody will understand anything from my surreal Night alone. I walk away from Lara.

From behind, I hear Addie’s voice. “What happened?” she asks.

“She likes Night. She says you can see without electricity,” Lara says, and I can hear her disdain for me embedded into her voice.

The last time we were together, she was ranting about how annoying Addie was to me. Now the exact opposite is happening.

Addie laughs. “Really?”

“Do you believe that? I think it’s garbage. She said she—” Lara gasps. “Wait, Hannah, what did you do to stay in Night?”

I turn around. Lara is smirking at me. Uh-oh. 

“I stood up during the Switch,” I blurt out.

“Good. Did it hurt?”

“Yes. I blew around in space for hours before finally returning to Earth, and I almost died.”

Lara sees through my sarcasm. “Good,” she says again.

I roll my eyes and walk away. If she doesn’t want to believe it, good for her. I’ll find someone else.


When I walk into class the following Night, I’m startled to discover Lara and Addie missing.

“Where are Lara and Addie?” I ask the boy who sits next to me.

He shrugs. “Didn’t notice they were gone.”

“Night girl!”

One of my classmates is standing on his desk, pointing at me. “What?” I retort. Does he know about what I saw during Night?

“So you like Night, right? You have superpowers, right?”

I stay quiet and look back at him.

“You said it’s possible to see in Night.”

“Would you guys just let this go?” I shout. “If you don’t want to believe me, don’t believe me! Just turn off the lights and go outside and see for yourself!”

“Hannah,” comes Mr. Chase’s warning voice.

I sulk and sit back in my seat.

“Night girl,” the kid teases again.


I walk the outskirts of my town alone, looking at the moon. It feels much colder and darker than the Night I was alone. I’m sure if I did this for hours I would be more comfortable.

The Switch comes, the end to a twelve-hour Night. Reluctantly, I sit on the cool concrete, which will be hot from the sun in a minute. I quickly make a decision to keep my eyes open this time. I focus on the moon. It stays calm as the earth shakes. My eyes really want to close, but I manage to keep them peeled. Then as the chaos reaches maximum, the whole world is suddenly bathed in light. There is no transition, no in-between. The sun is exactly where the moon was.

In the distance, I see two girls walking together. They weren’t there before. I squint at them and see who they are: Lara and Addie! Now I’m sure of what they did. They took my inadvertent suggestion of standing during the Switch and they stayed in Day like I stayed in Night. I hope they enjoyed it.

Nine hours later and I am alone again, on the burning-hot streets, excitedly anticipating the Switch. When it comes, I grin and leap up into the air, my eyes wide open. I float. I do not feel the shaking, but I feel the wind. I fly through the air, laughing, squinting at the sun.

The wind stops, but the adrenaline flow is still there. I breathe hard when I hit the ground. Nothing has changed. That was the funnest Switch I’ve ever had.

And now I have my answer. I know where the sun goes.


I’ve never realized how different Day and Night are. I mean, I know they’re different and so does everyone, but after staying in both Night and Day three times in a row, the two worlds feel so alien to each other.

I still like Night. It’s definitely prettier than Day, I know. That doesn’t mean I have to hate Day. I love sunshine. It’s not one or the other. It’s not a choice. I don’t have to be sulky half of the time. From now on, I will do whatever I want during Switches, regardless of where everyone else is, and stay wherever I want.

I see figures way down the street, near my house, and I run to catch up.


“Nowhere,” I say to the only other people that are in this Day with me.

“What?! How is that possible?”

“Parallel universes,” I explain. “The Switch is Switching us to the opposite universe. We live in two worlds—Night and Day. When we stand we do not Switch universes. Sitting is the only way to Switch.”

Lara gapes at Addie, who looks at me, not understanding.

“A Switch is just an occasional opportunity to go to the opposite world. That’s all it is.”

“Really?” Addie breathes.

“Yeah. We never go anywhere. The wind is a portal.”

“Whoa, Hannah, that’s creepy,” Lara comments, looking a bit freaked.

“What? I can show you at the next Switch.”

“Yeah,” Addie says, “show us.”

So a few hours later, when the ground shakes, we leap into the air and glide. Lara and Addie are shocked speechless at the freedom of flight in the wind. Eventually it dies down and we are softly lowered back to the ground.

“That was amazing,” Lara whispers.

“Yeah, that was really great.” Addie looks up at the sun, which has been there for many hours now. I see a few people in the distance, meaning we’re back in the normal pattern.

“Do you see why?” I say, like I’m a teacher and they’re students.

“Yeah, it makes sense,” Lara says. “Hey! Let’s tell Mr. Chase! We can finally prove him wrong.”

Lara sure shifts trust easily. Just a few Switches ago, she was sneering at me and saying I had stupid ideas. I hope this trust stays, because when she’s a good friend, she’s a really good friend.

“We can report this to the world and be famous,” I say jokingly.

Addie laughs. “Totally.”

So we walk down the street together, arms linked. We see people coming out of their houses, people who just came from Night and are going into the sunlight again. I have been in sunlight for so long it’s hard to remember what my Night alone was like.

And now it’s like my appreciation for Night doesn’t matter anymore, because I’ve made an important discovery and I’m going to be famous. 


The Tail of Turtle Beach

Rose could be the richest girl alive and still be unsatisfied. She was named Rose for the beauty of the name, but her personality is the opposite. She’s thorny and rude and envies everything else anything has that she doesn’t. Feeling the sand between her toes and the breeze on her face, she doesn’t enjoy or appreciate the nature, she just wants the ocean all to herself along with the blue sky and the clouds. Taking whatever she wants, Rose doesn’t like it at all when someone says no. And a lot of the times, like when she is at a specific place and can’t have everything there that is nice, she gets mad. And no one wants to be on the bad side of Rose.

Having been brought up thinking her selfish and jealous attitude was okay, Rose had most of the things she wanted. Whatever she wished for was handed to her. But some things, she just couldn’t have, and those things she either fought about or left it alone. If she believed she could take it, she would. If she knew she couldn’t, she might just look the other way at something better. 

But Rose was brought up in this place, walking by it every day, feeling the breeze and inhaling the salt… she loved this place, but never once was she able to get it. Her peace was always interrupted by giggling girls or tiny children kicking sand all over her. Rose wanted this public place to be hers and only hers. She usually wanted pretty objects, or expensive objects, things that would make people envious of her for once. But this was the only place where Rose felt like her true self, and it tortured her every day that she couldn’t have it. 

Rose was even more tortured when she saw someone walking in a cute bathing suit or in pretty sandals, maybe she was even jealous of a watch or a phone she didn’t have. It could be old torn up shoes that she didn’t have. If she didn’t have it, she wanted it. And when Rose wants something of yours, she usually gets it. And that’s where Rose stands now, walking to the cold ocean and dipping her toe in, envious of even the fish who own the ocean. 

The only thing Rose wanted more than this place was to be the fish that own the ocean. Rose loved oceans, the vast uncertainty of the darkness, one that is only known to the fish that live underneath. Rose wanted more than anything to be swimming among the sharks and the dolphins, to swim in the ocean with a big family by your side. When Rose was in the ocean, it was like she for once, stopped wanting everything in the world. It was like she already had it.

To feel like this every day, Rose wanted this place. She wanted to own it, she wanted to swim with the dolphins and the fish and have a family of her own. This was the one thing that she wanted the most, the one thing that made her happy. The one thing that if she had, she would stop wanting other things. 

Some people wanted Rose to have it, not because she was their friend (because she didn’t have friends) but because if she had it, she would stop stealing their things. Rose was the neighborhood robber, but nobody ever busted her because she was only 8 years old. Other people didn’t want her to have the ocean, because they liked this place too and didn’t believe that any 8-year-old should own the ocean, not even Rose.

Rose’s father had been fighting the law for a very long time to try to get Rose to be the owner of the whole place, but he hadn’t been successful. Or at least not yet. He still tries to fight, trying to get Rose whatever she wanted in exchange for her not bothering him when he was working. That was the unspoken rule. Rose asked for something, he gave it to her, and she would let him work in peace.

Not only did her town know her from her constant small robberies of their things, but they also knew her because of her very successful parents. Rose’s mother was constantly annoyed with her daughter. She never bought into Rose’s acts. If Rose was bothering her when she was trying to work, then Rose would pay the punishment.

Rose’s mother was hoping that his was just a phase, and that soon Rose would just stop being so spoiled and jealous of everything that passed by her. Even Rose’s mother fought for the beach, so that Rose would be quiet and live the normal life of an 8-year-old. But everyone knew that Rose was not normal, and therefore she could not live a normal life.

Rose would go to aquariums and start talking to the starfish and the seahorses, ignoring the odd looks people gave her. Rose honestly thought that she could communicate with the sea animals. And the sea animals really did like her. 

Rose usually broke everything. Her parents refused to get her any kind of animal in fear that soon they would have a dead dog or cat on their hands. But Rose took such good care of the little creatures.

She would even walk the 15 minutes to the town’s Sea World and feed the dolphins that would play in shows. Sometimes the caretakers would let her go in the water like they do, because of how well the show animals responded to her. They thought it was a miracle that when the creatures disobeyed them, the little 8-year-old would hop in the water and immediately do what they couldn’t. They even called her the miracle caretaker, and that made her very happy. 

The thing Rose loved most was when they brought in a new sick animal. The town’s Sea World only brought in sick animals, and when they were all better and revived, they would perform at least three shows and then get released into the ocean. Rose hated to see the animals leave, but occasionally when she was in the ocean, she felt their presence and it made her feel better.

Today, Rose saw a little sea lion being pulled into the room by a net. When Rose tried to come up to it, the owner waved her away.

“Not today, Rose. This is a serious matter. I would suggest going home now,” he mumbled, stepping over her feet and through the door to where the little sea lion was squealing.

“No, I don’t want to go home. I want to see the little sea lion. What happened to it?” Rose asked, standing on her tippy toes to see through the little window on the door.

“We’ll call your father when the sea lion is all better. It’s time to go home now,” he says, leaving her alone in the room. Rose could feel the hairs stand up on her arms as she scrunched up her face in anger, and then stomped out of the room.

Rose stomped all the way home, making it known to people that she was very angry and that they shouldn’t dare address her when she was mad. Just then she saw a boy, her classmate, walking with something she wanted all for herself. The newest and coolest skateboard. Rose had learned to skateboard months ago, and this boy had been bragging and bragging about how he and his sister are getting the new skateboard. She turned around and started following him and his braggy comments to his friends.

She followed him all the way to his house, as each of his friends one by one left to go back to their houses. She ducked behind the bushes and watched as he opened the door and left to go all the way up to his room. She then saw him through the window of his room, putting the skateboard down and leaving for the kitchen. She snuck in through the door quickly, tiptoeing up the stairs. She heard the cling of his glass from the kitchen, and then him pouring the water. She heard footsteps coming from where he was. She quickly popped open the window, and then escaped through where the door was. She safely waited behind the bush until the sky grew dark and the lights of his parents’ cars pulled up in the driveway.

When all the lights were off, she climbed up the tree next to the wall leading to his room, and jumped from the tree to the little ledge. She crawled through the open window, sneakily grabbing the skateboard from next to his nightstand. In the place of his skateboard, she took out the ribbon her mom put in her hair from the morning and left it. She didn’t like those bright red ribbons anyways, except for the fact that it made her stick out. She crawled back through the window and down the tree.

When Rose got home with her new skateboard, she snuck up the stairs, only to see her mother standing there in front of her room.

“And where have you been?” she asked, crossing her arms. 

Rose didn’t answer.

“Your knees are scraped, your ribbon has fallen out of your hair, and you are certainly very dirty. We also got a call from the owner of the town’s Sea World saying that the little sea otter or whatever is done,” she says, leaving out the fact that she has a new skateboard in her arms. 

“It’s a sea LION, and I want to go to bed now,” she lied, slipping behind her mother and into her room.

“Wait! Where did your ribbon fall?” she yelled out to Rose.

“It fell next to Bobby Carson’s night stand when I stole his skateboard.” She giggled, locking her bedroom door so her mother couldn’t get in. She heard her mother huff and then leave down the stairs, probably to call Bobby’s parents. 

She hid her new skateboard in the secret cabinet in her closet hidden by the racks of hideous dresses she never wore. She set it down in the big cabinet, along with a few other expensive things she didn’t want her parents to take back, and also along with the boxes of bright red ribbons she kept to lay down in place of her stolen objects. Just so that the owner could feel her wrath, and just so that they could feel the same jealousy as her.

The next morning, Rose hopped back to the aquarium to see the little sea lion. This time the caretaker did not shoo her away, but instead invited her in with a concerned look on his face.

“Rose, the sea lion seems to have hurt its tail when swimming near the rocks, and now that we have mended the cuts, it has turned into a stubborn little thing. It won’t listen to any of the directions I give her,” he says, rubbing his chin. 

Rose smiles deviously. “Well first, I believe the sea lion is demanding a treat,” she says, pointing to the bucket of tiny fish that gave off the worst smell.

“I’ve tried that, the sea lion still won’t go,” he says, giving the sea lion a little fish and then pointing a certain way.

“Well if the sea lion is anything like me, you have to give the fish after the direction,” she says, hopping in the water and grabbing a little fish.

She holds the fish up over the sea lion, but before it can eat it, she points to a certain direction. The sea lion goes the same way as she points, and then comes back to eat the little fish. 

“It’s all about the bargaining. You can’t just give the food to the sea lion, it has to have some kind of motivation,” she says matter-of-factly, petting the baby sea lion. It wiggles its whiskers, and then wiggles out of her grip to stare intently at the bucket of food.

“When will it be ready to leave?” Rose asks, a bit saddened at the thought of the baby not getting to experience the feel of the ocean.

“Ready to leave? She hasn’t even done her first showing yet! And it will take a while for her to be all healed, we don’t want her stitches to open up,” he says. The baby sea lion swims up next to her and starts barking, happy to have gotten food.

“What’s her name? Can I get her toys? How long can I stay for?” Rose asks.

“Sea lion #3, no, and not that long,” he says. Rose’s shoulders slump.

“Well, that’s a horrible name,” she says, annoyed.

“We don’t name our animals and we definitely don’t get too close to them,” he warns.

“Well, I’m going to name her… Keeva. It means gentle, if you didn’t know,” Rose says, smiling. She pets the sea lion again, not fearing the sharp teeth she has when she opens her mouth. The sea lion flips over on its back, and then again on its stomach.

“I’m going to get Keeva toys. I will be back,” Rose says, stomping triumphantly out of the town’s sea world. 

Rose passes Turtle Beach, the beach she loves so much. The beach where turtles come up on the shore and sit in the sun. The beach Rose hopes Keeva will be let in to someday when she is healed and has done her three showings. 

Rose crosses over the bridge and walks the 10 minutes to the pet store. 

“For the 17th time Rose, your mother has already told me that you cannot get a pet from here, no matter the amount of money you bring in,” the owner, Mr. Burkles, mumbles.

“I’m not here to get a pet. I’m here for toys for Keeva,” Rose says.

“What’s a Keeva?” he asks, uninterested.

“Keeva is my new sea lion they are keeping in the town’s Sea World,” she replies.

“Alright kid, sea lion toys are in the back to the right next to the toys for tigers,” Mr. Burkles says sarcastically. 

“I’ll just get dog toys,” Rose huffs angrily.

She grabs a big, purple plastic ball with plastic spikes on it that squeaks. She also grabs a few plastic ducks, a rubber black ball, a stuffed animal sea lion, and two new buckets for her own fish bucket, and a bucket to hold the toys. She walks right past the cashier and out the door.

“Hey! You have to pay for that!” Mr. Burkles yells.

“Put it on my tab,” Rose says.

“What tab?” he asks, running after her.

“I’ll ask my dad for one later and send it to you,” she says, running away with the stolen dog toys. 

“HEY!” he yells after her, then gives up and returns back to the store, picking up the phone to call her dad and ask about a tab. 

Rose runs all the way back to the SW and to Keeva, throwing in the purple ball. She then jumps into the water with Keeva, playing around with the ball. Keeva jumps really high to catch the ball.

“Wow! How did you get her to do that?” a different caretaker asks her. He walks up talking to the caretaker who cares for show dolphin #15, a girl named Annabelle. 

“How did I do what?” Rose asks.

“How did you get a beginner sea lion to jump after a ball? Especially that high?” Annabelle asks, leaning down to take the ball from Keeva’s mouth.

“I didn’t do anything, Keeva is just special!” Rose says, proud of Keeva’s abilities. Annabelle throws the ball up, and it splats in the water.

“I’m pretty sure Keeva only listens to me right now, since I’m the one who has spent the most time with her,” Rose says smugly.

“Maybe we could teach her some tricks right now, instead of waiting,” the other caretaker, James says.

“I could try. Can I try? PLEAAAAAAAASE?” Rose begs.

“Well, since she only seems to listen to you right now I guess you could,” James says. 

“YAY!!!” Rose yells.

Rose picks up a fish and moves her fingers in a circular motion, the motion for spin.

“No, no, no. She can’t do that yet. It will hurt her tail. Try just a simple jump,” Annabelle says. Rose does a swift movement pointing upward, and Keeva follows.

“That’s just crazy, we’ve never had such a smart sea lion,” James says.

“Yes, I know. And she’s MY sea lion,” Rose brags. Keeva comes up to her and takes the fish out of her hands, then coming up and rubbing against her side.

“Let me play with her a little longer, please?” Rose begs.

 Annabelle nods. “Ok. But we want a chance to teach her a few more things. If this goes right, she might be ready for her first showing in less than a month!” Annabelle says. 

“And then I can take her to Turtle Beach???” Rose asks, excited. 

“Yes, and then you can take her to Turtle Beach,” Annabelle responds. 

Later that night when Rose comes home for dinner, her mother again asks her where she’s been.

“Why is your dress so wet and dirty? Where have you been? Why has your ribbon fallen o-” her mother stops and looks at the bright red ribbon that is still tied in her hair. Her eyes widen.

“Your ribbon hasn’t fallen off. What did you steal?” she asks.

“Nothing. I stole nothing,” Rose says, awed with herself. “Oh well, I still have time for that tomorrow. I can do it after I train Keeva with Annabelle and James!” Rose says, excited. 

“Who is Keeva?” she asks.

“Keeva is my new sea lion,” Rose says.

“Right…” her mother whispers to herself. 

*      * *

Rose hops down to the town’s Sea World once again. It’s been 4 weeks since Keeva came in, and her progress is going very well. They even think she might be able to show soon. For many sea lions, it takes around a full year to train them, show them, and for them to heal properly in the progress. But there is one problem. Keeva only ever listens to Rose.

Since the town’s Sea World has been needing her all this time, she comes back straight from school to hop in the water and play with Keeva. That way she can also help train her. One of the times, the owner actually asked Rose to stop coming, so that Keeva could learn to train with the caretakers, but Keeva just sat there and swam, and listened to none of them. 

Because of this small dilemma, the only way Keeva can train is if Rose comes and does it. And because of this, Rose has stopped stealing everyone’s things. And the only reason why Rose is helping them train Keeva, instead of spending all of her time playing with Keeva, is because once Keeva is done with her showings, Rose can take her to Turtle Beach. And that is what Rose really wants. 

“Rose! You’re here! We have great news! Keeva is going to be doing her very first showing this weekend!” Annabelle says excitedly.

“This weekend??? But she hasn’t learned to listen to you. She only listens to me,” Rose says, concerned. As surprising as it is, she doesn’t want Annabelle to be laughed at.

“Which brings me to my final point… maybe you can do her first showing?” Annabelle offers. Rose’s eyes widen and her smile brightens.

“REALLY??” she asks, excited.

“I asked my boss and he says yes, as long as I’m there to supervise you,” Annabelle says. Rose’s eyes brighten.

“But don’t get too excited, you’re only doing the first showing. After that we’re going to start training Keeva to listen to us instead.” James walks in. He pats Keeva’s head, but she pulls away. 

He sighs. “She just doesn’t seem to like us,” he says, frustrated.

“Maybe you should try and play with her more often. How many times do you play with her compared to training her?” Rose asks, arms crossed.

“We don’t have time to play with her,” James says.

“Get ready, because you might have to go into the water this weekend when she is showing,” Annabelle says.

Rose’s stomach flutters as she walks up to the big pool that holds Keeva. The audience is filling up the benches in front of her, and she realizes that this is way more people than Rose thought there would be. 

“Are you ready?” Annabelle asks from behind her. Rose nods. Everyone is here because of the new baby sea lion who learned quicker than any other sea lion.

“You remember the hand motions, right?” James asks. Rose nods.

“I’m pretty sure, yes,” Rose says, nervous.

“You’ll be fine.” Annabelle comforts her. Rose nods as the audience quiets down. Rose hops in the water, and people lean in, in confusion, as to why 8-year-old Rose is in the water where the caretaker is supposed to be. 

“WE NOW INTRODUCE, KEEVA THE SEA LION AND ROSE, HER TRAINER!” Annabelle yells loudly. People murmur when they hear that Rose is Keeva’s trainer.

Rose takes a deep breath and pats Keeva’s back. She swipes her fingers up in the air, and Keeva follows. Rose feels better now that she knows Keeva will listen. She twists in the air and flips as Rose taught her. Rose then does a few more tricks she was supposed to, and then gets out of the water. People gasp, and Rose turns around to look what they’re looking at. Keeva is hopping out of the water with her, because sea lions can stand up on the ground. 

“Did you train her to do that?” James whispers. Rose shakes her head. She goes back over to push Keeva back in the water, but Keeva just sits there cuddling against her leg.

The audience claps and laughs, thinking it’s all part of the show. Rose picks Keeva up and tries to put her in the water, but Keeva keeps coming out. The audience laughs again, and soon Rose is laughing too. James picks Keeva up and brings her back to her pool. Rose bows and walks away from the clapping audience. 

It’s Rose’s birthday today, but no one seems to notice because of all the buzz going on about Keeva’s third showing. It’s been a year since her first showing, and when Rose led the second showing too, people started calling her the “Animal Whisperer.” Keeva’s second showing had the most audience the town’s Sea World had ever seen. 

For once in her life, Rose doesn’t really care that no one, but Annabelle wished her a happy birthday. Even her parents seemed to forget, now that their daughter is known for something good and not terrible. It even seems like they’re more interested in her now that she’s become a good girl, and not the little robber that she used to be. 

At first, Rose didn’t notice that she had stopped stealing. She didn’t even notice that she had become a nice person. She was just occupied with Keeva because she was happy. Now that Keeva is going to be finished with her third showing, Rose can finally take her to Turtle Beach. Occasionally Rose will find herself wanting something that someone has, but mostly she just wants her parents to pay attention to her.

With all of this, Rose’s parents are definitely paying more attention to her. It may not be because they love her, and it may not be because she’s their daughter, but any attention is better than none. 

On the way to Keeva’s showing, Rose stops by Turtle Beach to smell the salty air and feel the sand between her toes, and for once she starts appreciating it. She can’t wait to bring Keeva here, because as much time as Keeva may have spent near another beach or wherever she came from, Rose wants Keeva to have the best beach experience. 

“Good morning, Mr. Burkles!” Rose yells on her way to the show.

“Good morning, Rose!” he calls out. 

Rose walks into the showing area where the collection of people have formed near the benches. Practically the whole town is here, and even though it’s a small town, there are quite a few people who live here. When Rose walks in, the whole area seems to arrupt in cheer. Rose notices a few men here who she hadn’t met yet. Maybe they are new to town? They are the only ones not cheering. 

Rose hops into the water. Keeva greets her with a bark and snuggling into her hip. Rose giggles, and the audience quiets down as Rose starts doing advanced tricks and Keeva follows. The audience starts to settle in and watch contently. Again, Rose’s eye catches the odd new men standing in the stands. They watch Keeva’s every movement, and Rose feels a sense of pride in Keeva’s skill. Maybe she might invite the new men to watch Rose go in the water of Turtle Beach with Keeva and the whole crew. 

People cheer as the mysterious “animal whisperer” gets out of the water to do the finale. Rose moves along the water and Keeva follows like she was trained, and then before hitting the water, she lifts herself from the surface of the water and moves her tail back and forth, then does a full flip and swims the other way. This is a very advanced move.

When the show is over, Rose goes to greet the mysterious men. She comes across them shaking hands with the owner of the town’s Sea World. I guess the owner beat her to it. When the mysterious men look over to her, they smile wide.

“Well if it isn’t the ‘animal whisperer’ herself. You trained Sea Lion #3 very well. Thank you for allowing me to take her,” one of them says.

“Her name is Keeva, and what do you mean take her? Are we taking her to Turtle Beach now?” Rose asks, hopeful. The man looks over to the owner in confusion.

“You didn’t tell her?” he asks.

“Tell me what?” Rose asks, her old demanding voice coming back.

“Keeva is going to a facility in New Orleans for a few years to be trained by professionals,” the owner says.

“WHAT? A few YEARS? But I thought all she had to do was 3 showings!” Rose exclaims, her blood boiling.

“Well, Keeva is very special, and she is our star sea lion and our main profit. We thought it would be good if we give Keeva over for a little while,” the owner explains very carefully as if Rose were a 3-year-old.

“Don’t worry, she’ll be back in about 9 years,” the man says casually.

“NINE YEARS??? I’ll be gone from here by then! Keeva will be done with half her life. She won’t even remember me!” Rose says, crying now. Her voice gets very demanding.

“Actually, sea lions can remember up to 10 years, so she will remember you fine,” he says.

“Well, Keeva only listens to me. You won’t be able to train her at all, so you should pick a different sea lion, and let me do my work.” Rose stomps the ground.

“We have other ways of training her, and you aren’t even a licensed trainer, so no I cannot ‘just let you do your work,’” the evil man says. 

“Rose, you should say your goodbyes now,” Annabelle says from behind her.

“NO!” Rose refused, running over back to Keeva. A few caretakers picked Keeva up and started hauling her into a truck.

“NO!” Rose protested. Keeva let out a whine, trying to get back to Rose.

“It isn’t your sea lion Rose, it has only been a year,” the owner says from behind her. 

Rose runs up to Keeva. “Then why does she only listen to me?” Rose protested, her arms crossed. 

“She’s just had bad training,” the owner says. 

Rose goes over and pets Keeva’s back. Rose has had many years of practicing when trying to get something, but this time was different. This time, her tears were real and she couldn’t turn away to try to get something better, or different, because nothing came even close to getting better than Keeva. Keeva had changed her because no one ever loved Rose, not even her parents, and Rose was never capable of loving anything before Keeva. And now they were trying to rip the one thing in life that ever loved Rose out of her hands, and they were succeeding. And this time there was nothing she could do to stop it. All she could do was watch as the truck drove away with Keeva in it, whining to get back. 

Rose was never the same after that. The memory haunted her for years, and all she could think of was how it was all her fault. Maybe if Rose had just stayed away from Keeva, they wouldn’t have to send her away for special training. Maybe if Rose had tried hard enough, the truck would stop and let Keeva go. But that never happened. And just like how Keeva came, she was suddenly gone. 

People whispered about Rose, about how she had changed from being a little kid robber to being an “animal whisperer”, and how every time a new sea lion came in, Rose would watch from the gates and remember how Keeva had come, wounded and afraid to then first meet Rose. People whispered about Rose’s sudden change of heart, from a demanding jealous little girl to a genuinely nice person. 

But for a while Rose, lost her voice, her opinion. She didn’t participate in much of anything. She became a good student and a good girl, only to always be rejected by her parents and haunted by the traumatic experience of Keeva’s absence in her life. Rose stayed away from most people, her once confident and demanding personality just gone with one memory.

Rose eventually got over Keeva, never really forgetting her, but instead remembering how Keeva changed and saved her. Eventually Rose moved on from all her fears and found her voice again. She went off to study marine biology and to work with sea animals. 

When 10 years passed by, Rose came back to her small town to see if Keeva had come back to her. Rose walked all the way back to where she was taken away from the one thing she ever brought herself to love. 

“Is Sea Lion #3 back?” Rose asked for the millionth time like she had over the years. The owner’s son, the one who had taken over after the real owner died, didn’t recognize her when she asked him. No one from her town did.

“She is, and she’s still sick,” he mumbled.

“Sick? What happened?” Rose asked, opening the gate. Her heart leaped with the idea that she would get to see Keeva again.

“She caught a disease. Only has a little time left to live,” he says. Rose’s heart sinks, and for the second time, she feels like she’s being ripped away from a part of her.

“I want to see her,” Rose demands. He takes her back to Keeva’s pool.

When Rose sees Keeva, she knows that it’s her. Even in her dying moments, she still has the sparkle and energetic spirit lying in her eyes. When Keeva looks at her, looks up from where she’s slowly swimming, she doesn’t recognize Rose. That is until Rose takes out the purple ball she had taken with her when Keeva went away. Keeva recognized the ball right away, and when she realized who Rose was, she howled with happiness and seemed to get her energy back. Rose got in the pool and pet Keeva’s back.

“Let me take her,” Rose says.

“You can’t do that,” The owner’s son says, looking at her weirdly.

“Why? She’s dying isn’t she? Let me take her. In her last moments,” she says. 

He shakes his head and scoffs, leaving the room. Rose picks Keeva’s heavy and dying body up. I guess it’s time for one more steal.

“Hey, you can’t do that. Hey!” he yells after her as Rose walks through the gate and to her destination. The owner’s son tries to come after her, but seems to give up. Rose should’ve known from the beginning how terrible this town was.

Rose floats in the salty, warm water of Turtle Beach under the rays of the sun with Keeva. She moves her legs and arms in the smooth water, watching Keeva happily swim in the water that should’ve been her home 10 years ago. Rose’s eyes are puffy from the tears that are falling down her cheeks, and her brown hair flies in the wind like it did so long ago. Rose thinks about all the ways Keeva saved her; from the world and herself. She thinks of all the amazing memories she will never forget, and how much she loved and will always love Keeva. In Keeva’s last moments, in Rose’s last moments with Keeva, they live the moments in peace together. 

They won.


Welcome to the Labyrinth

Chapter 1

Basil had only been in town for a few weeks and was told he wasn’t the most observant fellow, but even he knew that the Dagrun Library was something special to the people of Lindita. While most teenagers would be playing on their phones during the breaks between classes, those in Lindita always seemed to have a book in their hands. Crowds moved in and out of the towering library at nearly any time of day, chatting about one thing or another about what they had read or learned there. Which was why Basil was so excited to finally go.

His parents didn’t let him leave the house outside of school while boxes still filled his room, so Basil reluctantly unpacked and finished the job yesterday, finally letting him find out what all the hype was about.

When he asked some of his classmates about the library, their answers were often vague, as if the place itself had some sort of feeling that no one could explain. They had told Basil about the three librarians who lived in the building, each helpful and charming in their own way. Ji apparently knew the location of every book in the library, but would point you to his brother’s, Kalpana, direction when you gave an unclear description. The last one, Ezra, seemed to pop up whenever you needed him, whether for directions to the restroom or a specific section of the library.

Basil’s best friend, Mina, waited for him at the front door of the Dagrun Library, her hazel eyes sparkling with their usual mischievous twinkle. When she learned that Basil hadn’t been to the library yet, Mina told him she couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when he walked in. She also said that if he was lying to her, there would be hell to pay. “And hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” Mina quoted that day.

“Took you long enough,” Mina said, slapping him a high five after he made his way up to the tall, wooden doors.

“Did there have to be so many stairs?” Basil joked half-heartedly, trying to ignore the pain in his chest. He hadn’t done much exercise during the summer, preferring online and strategy games to repetitive swimming or running that got boring after two seconds. His flushed brown cheeks and resistant lungs were making him regret it.

Mina rolled her eyes and tucked a stray red hair behind her ear. “You got eight minutes on the mile; you’re not fooling anybody.”

“It’s not an A,” Basil muttered.

“It’s better than my D,” Mina retorted, swinging her legs while she sat on an iron railing. She sighed. “Why do I have to be so bad at running?”

“You’ve got A’s in everything else, Mina, don’t sell yourself short,” Basil said, then gestured to the doors. “So, are we going to go in or what?”

Her eyes brightened. “Right!” 

She grabbed his hand and practically dragged him along while Basil stumbled after her. Mina grabbed the brass handle and smiled her slightly off-putting, devious smile at him.

“Ready?” she asked and Basil nodded, pushing stray black hairs from his face.

Mina pulled open the door. “Welcome to the Library!”

When Basil stepped inside, it was as if he had entered another world infused with old pages and polished wood. The floor was made of sleek wooden planks, and Basil’s vision was filled with what seemed to be hundreds of dark wooden bookshelves stocked with books of any size or shape, all arranged like a miniature labyrinth. He could also see two spiraling staircases leading up to another level of the library lined with even more stories.

Mina skipped up to him with a grin. “What d’ya think?”

“It’s big,” Basil said, still staring at the gigantic sight in front of him.

“Well, duh, what else?”

“Really big,” Basil added, just to annoy her.

Mina punched him in the shoulder and scowled. “Shut up!”

“But then you’ll never know what I think…” Basil said in a soft, sing-song voice.

“So help me, there will be a funeral tomorrow,” Mina said.

“It’s really great, Mina,” Basil said finally. “I can see why you like it so much…it’s just it.”

Mina’s face softened as she gazed around the room, people weaving in and out of the maze of shelves. “Yeah.”

“Anyways, where do you want to go first?” Mina asked. “This starting area is mostly nonfiction texts, but there’s a kids’ room, teen fantasy, teen sci-fi-”

“Teen fantasy sounds nice. I’ve been looking for the third book in the Goldfyre series, but couldn’t find it in my old library.”

“You probably will here, then, but before we go, I should probably show you the directory,” Mina said. “Wouldn’t want you getting lost now, would we?”

Mina led Basil down the central aisle to a low wooden table that went up to Basil’s waist. However, atop the table was an assembled building mirroring the outside of the Dagrun Library.

Mina lifted off the roof of the building as well as the top two floors, putting them to the side. She pointed to where they were now on the first floor.

“We’re here,” Mina said, then traced her finger through the bookcases to the left side, where a set of wooden steps were placed on the 3-D map. Her other hand picked up the second floor while her finger went into it and directly to the right, where two tiny words were burned into the wood. Mina picked up a magnifying glass tied to the table and put it over the words.

Mina read them aloud, “Teen Fantasy. You got the route?”

“Yeah,” Basil replied, though he still felt unsure.

“Okay, I’m going to head to the bathroom, then,” Mina said, waving goodbye as she disappeared into the maze of bookcases.

Basil looked down at the map once more. “So through here, then a right, forward, then left, and then you reach the staircase,” Basil muttered as he traced the path. “Right, forward, left, staircase, right,” Basil repeated, before an odd pattern caught his eye. On each of the floors, there were certain alcoves in the maze where the bookcases formed a spiraling circle.

On the first floor, there was one alcove where Basil currently stood by the map, but on the second there were two: teen fantasy and teen science fiction on opposite sides of the floor. The third floor had three: kid’s fiction, kid’s nonfiction, and the event room. “That’s cool,” Basil said as he admired the architecture.

After repeating the directions one more time aloud, Basil headed into the maze. He reached the stairs with little effort and made his way to the Teen Fantasy alcove, surprised when he saw Mina already there, reading the third Goldfyre book: Bluemyst.

Mina looked up from the book and grinned. “Did you really remember the directions?”

“Did you really go to the bathroom?” Basil retorted.

“Touché, but you’re deflecting, which means no, you didn’t.”

“I did, I just confirmed it with the map again. Also, did you realize the cool design of this place?”

“You mean the spirals? Yeah, pretty much everyone does. It adds a cool kind of flair to the library and makes a great reading nook.”

She gestured around to the four others reading novels in the alcove.

“Also, I found the book,” Mina said and held out the Bluemyst novel. “We can check it out at the desk, but first I really do need to use the restroom.”

They both made their way down the stairs and Basil realized something, but Mina was already skipping away. He jogged after her, but she seemed to have disappeared.

“Mina…I don’t know where the check-out desk is,” Basil grumbled. He turned around and nearly slammed into another bookcase.

Basil looked around at the corridor he was in and gritted his teeth.

“Great! Now, I’m lost,” Basil muttered, still clutching the Bluemyst book in his right arm and holding Mina’s library card in his left.

“Do you need some help?” another voice said, making Basil flinch.

He turned around and saw the face of a friendly young man. He had red hair, left long and wild, as well as kind green eyes.

“My name is Ezra,” the man greeted. “I’m a librarian here.”

“Oh!” Basil said. “Yes, I would like some help. Do you know where the check-out desk is?”

“Of course, I’ll take you there.” Ezra began walking away and Basil was quick to move after him, not wanting to lose the man like he had Mina.

“Here we are,” Ezra said after a few moments. Basil stepped into an open row filled with self-checkout desks and a lone, well-kept counter manned by a person who looked like Ezra’s twin.

Ezra led Basil up to the counter, and while Basil would still call the man Ezra’s twin, it was very apparent that they were different in nature.

The man at the counter had his red hair cut short and gelled back and his emerald eyes were more calculating than kind. He wore a blue necktie and a black polo shirt, as opposed to the simple white t-shirt and jeans of Ezra.

“Ji!” Ezra said, “We have a newcomer looking to check out a book.”

“How does he have a library card, then?” Ji asked, narrowing his eyes. “You need to find the desk to get one.”

Basil flushed. “Uh, it’s my best friend, Mina’s, sir.”

“Oh! Mina!” Ezra said excitedly and even Ji’s stern mask seemed to soften at the name.

“You guys know her?” Basil asked, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“She has been a long patron of this library, and we tend to know most of the people in Lindita anyways,” Ji explained, taking the book and library card.

“Are you guys twins?” Basil asked as Ji scanned both of the items.

Ji and Ezra both glanced at each other. The former had a hint of a smirk, while Ezra shook his head.

“Triplets, actually,” Ji said, returning the book and card to Basil. “Our brother, Kalpana, is another librarian, but he usually sticks to the top two floors.”

“I knew you guys were all librarians, but I didn’t think you were related,” Basil said.

“Looks like you found them,” Mina said with a smile as she walked up to Basil. “Hey, guys.”

“It’s nice to see you again, Mina,” Ji said, inclining his head respectfully.

“Hi, Mina,” Ezra said with a casual wave.

Mina returned Ezra’s gesture before turning to Basil. “You finished checking out the book, but I’m guessing you got lost because Ezra’s here.”

Basil sighed. “You really enjoy embarrassing me, don’t you?”

“Best friend privileges. You could do the same if you ever manage to find anything on me.”

“Can I check your trash bin for bodies?”

“They’ve already been shipped to the dump, you’ll never find them now!”

“Both of you, keep your voices down,” Ji chastised.

“Sorry,” the kids whispered.

“Anyways, I think we need to head home,” Mina said.

“Have a good afternoon, you two,” Ezra said as they both headed for the exit.

When they both were outside, Basil asked, “When did you meet them? They seem to be good friends with you.”

Mina grimaced. “It’s a long story, and not a fun one either. They helped me in a rough spot, that’s it.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Mina said with a small smile, heading to her own home a few houses down. “I’m fine, Basil.”

… 

Basil kicked his shoes under the bench in the doorway and rolled onto the couch, reading the blurb on the back of the Bluemyst book:

“Quara and her dragon, Euranta, have discovered the location of the fourth jewel within the Grootvapor Swamp, home to the mysterious Bluemyst tribe. Some of the tribe welcomes them, but others don’t seem so agreeable. When the duo and their friends find a hidden tunnel network deep below the Bluemyst camp filled with captive dragons, they learn that the tribe may not be all that they seem…”

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Basil groaned and got up from the couch.

“I’m coming!” Basil said as he unlocked the door. Mina stared back at him, fidgeting with her clothes.

“What’s got you so nervous?” Basil asked.

“The library’s closing!” Mina blurted out, her arms splayed out as if to emphasize the point.

“Yeah? Isn’t that normal?” Sure, the lights had always been on when Basil looked, but he doubted that the library closing was a sign of alarm.

“No, it’s not! The library only closes once a year, and that happened over a month ago!” Mina looked seriously distressed. “Even then, the doors were never locked!”

“If they’re never locked, then that means we can ask the librarians what all the fuss is about,” Basil said.

Mina winced and rubbed her arm. “Yeah, but nobody goes in when the lights are off.”

“What? Some kind of ghost story?” Basil joked.

“Let me just show you,” Mina said and pulled Basil towards her house.

Within a few minutes, they entered her room. It was moderately tidy with some books and papers spread out haphazardly over her desk along with a few candy wrappers and an empty water bottle. The walls were painted a pale blue, and a dark brown shelf sat in the corner next to her dresser. The shelf had all sorts of small knick knacks on the front and top, but behind those items were a collection of books.

Mina pulled out three novels in the middle shelf, revealing a thin, peeling paperback with the faded title, “Unknown History of the Dagrun Library”.

“It was hidden behind the staff desk and wasn’t registered in the catalogue,” Mina said.

“So you stole it?”

“Shh, no, I borrowed it. I’m going to give it back. I just wanted to copy it at school first.”

“Doesn’t that damage the book?”

Mina waved it off. “That doesn’t matter. What matters is the stories in here.”

She fingered through the book before showing it to Basil. There was a picture of a kid, maybe nine years old, with a dark blue baseball cap and an orange shirt.

“Uther Mayson,” Mina said, “went missing fifty years ago here in Lindita on a night the Dagrun Library was closed. Several of his friends said that he ‘wanted to go read a book’.”

She flipped to another page, this time depicting a middle-aged woman wearing a polka-dotted dress and white gloves like you would see in an old movie.

“Erica Blaise was a newcomer in town meeting with her sister, Jessamine Blaise. She checked out a book and returned it when the library had its lights off, then she was found mauled in the forest.”

“Okay, this is getting creepy now,” Basil said.

“One more thing!” Mina seemed to be getting more excited the more she shared, her hazel eyes gleaming and a wide grin on her face.

Finally, Mina flipped to the back of the book. The photo was in black and white with a yellowish tint. A small signature at the bottom read, “Dagrun Library, 1887.” In the photo were three figures, each in different clothes but all identical.

“You’re kidding,” Basil whispered.

Mina nodded. “That’s the librarians, also known as the Dagrard family.”

“Okay, maybe we shouldn’t go into the creepy disappearance library with an immortal host of librarians,” Basil said nervously.

“No! This means we have to go!” Mina exclaimed. “We could find out what happened to the others. Besides, the librarians wouldn’t hurt us, I promise!”

“Maybe not, but still a woman got mauled to death! What kind of stuff is even in there?”

“Books!” Mina said, then froze. “Oh my goodness, books.”

“What do you mean books?” Basil asked.

“Stories, characters, books! The Library can make them come to life, like in Night at the Museum!”

“Oh, no. No, no, no, no,” Basil said, wagging his finger at her. “That’s crazy talk. Awesome talk,” Basil admitted, “but crazy talk.”

“You mean like immortal librarians or magically mauled women?” Mina retorted.

“The photo’s kind of fuzzy, maybe they are just related to the current librarians. And the woman could have been attacked; she was found in the woods, for goodness sake!” Basil said.

“Then there’s nothing to fear. It was your idea, Basil,” Mina said, crossing her arms.

Basil threw his hands up. “Ugh! You’re so stubborn. Can’t you see this is a bad idea? I was an idiot because I didn’t know about any of this, but you did!”

“I’m going to go, no matter what,” Mina declared, then focused her gaze on Basil. “What I want to know is if you are going to help so we have twice the chance, or you are going to leave me to die.”

Basil stayed silent for a few moments.

“I’ll go,” Basil said.

What neither of them noticed were the hazel eyes watching them from outside the room.


Antimatter

My invention was complete. After seven years, my work had paid off. I walked around the lab, admiring the beautiful machine I had created. It was a proton collider. The first invention I had ever succeeded in making. 

“Chloe, Richard, Dylan. Come down and look at my latest project!”

 My lab was the basement of our house, and my wife always warned me not to blow anything up here. She and my two kids ran down the stairs, ecstatic to see my new invention. As soon as they laid their eyes upon the collider, their eyes brightened. 

“WHOA!” my kids shouted as my wife hugged me with tears in her eyes. 

“You’ve done it Daniel!” she said. “For seven years, everybody mocked you. Laughed about you. Now you can laugh at them. Mock them.” I smiled at this. The thought of laughing at everyone who laughed at me was enough to make me laugh.

“Well, let’s see how it works Daddy!” Dylan shouted impatiently. I smiled at him. 

“Of course.” I walked over to the collider and turned it on. It immediately began to hum as thin balls of energy began to form at the two endpieces. They grew and a thin beam shot out, connecting them. As I marveled at my invention, something odd began to happen. It seemed as if something was stuck within the beam. In the middle, there was a bulge that grew at an exponential rate. When it reached the size of a basketball, it stopped growing. I looked at it curiously. Then I realized what it was. It was too late. 

“RUN!” I shouted at my family as the bulge exploded, opening up a black hole the size of a car. 

I grabbed onto the table and shouted again, “RUN!” My wife grabbed my kids and ran to the back of the lab, frantically looking for something to help me. The black hole grew bigger and stronger as the table I was grabbing onto began to slide. 

“DANIEL!” my wife shouted as I let go of the table and grabbed onto the steel pipe. Hot water moved through the pipe, scalding my hand but I held on tight. As I looked at my wife, she stared back at me with determination. She moved closer to me, making sure she didn’t get sucked in by the black hole and reached out her hand. The pipe groaned as the black hole now grew to the size of the room. I looked at her and closed my eyes. Taking a deep breath, I let go of the pipe, just as it exploded and leapt towards my wife’s hand. She looked at me and reached out even further as my fingertips met hers. Then the black hole grew once again as my fingers slid off hers, and I flew through the air towards the blackhole. I stared right at her and shouted over the howling wind, “I love you Chloe!” as everything went black.

I woke up in a field, surrounded by all sorts of miscellaneous items from my lab. I tried to recall what  had just happened. Memories started to flow back into me as I grew more and more frustrated. Yet again, I had failed to create something that worked. As I looked around me, something caught my eye. It was the garden gnome that Dylan had made. That could only mean… Yes. I was in my yard. My house was right in front of me. Perhaps it had all been a dream. Perhaps I had fallen asleep and… 

“DANIEL!” a familiar voice shouted. I turned my head to the voice. It was my wife Chloe. As I stood up to tell her what I had dreamed, I realized she was glaring at me. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked. 

“I told you to never show your face to me or my kids ever again and you have the gall to just show up in my yard and make a mess!”

 I was shocked. Chloe had never spoken so harshly to me before. 

“GET OUT OF MY YARD! NOW!” She shouted as I stared at her. 

“Chloe I just…” 

“GET OUT BEFORE I CALL THE POLICE!” 

I looked at her one last time and walked away from the house.

I just kept walking. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. As I passed a supermarket on my right, a man walked out and I immediately recognized who it was. 

“Ryan.” I said through gritted teeth.

 He had been the person who had mocked me for trying to make a proton collider and even sabotaged my attempts in the process of creating it. “Oh Daniel. How are you doing?” 

I was surprised to see he was being so nice to me. Normally, he would be such a jerk but he seemed so different. “Umm.. I’m great.” I turned to walk away but he stopped me. 

“Hey, we’re still on for today’s dinner right. 5:30 at John’s?” 

“Umm.. Yeah I’ll be there” I replied and walked away. I was so confused. Why was everyone so different from how I remembered them?

At 5:30 that night, I walked up to John’s and looked for Ryan. He was sitting at the booth at the far left corner so I headed towards him. He smiled at me and I sat across from him. The waiter came with some bread, so I ripped a piece off the loaf and started to eat. Then, something caught my eye as I choked. The man walking through the door was me.

I stared at him and he stared at me. We just looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Then he looked at Ryan and back at me. He dropped his cup and it shattered on the floor. 

“Umm.. Ryan?” he asked.

 Ryan stopped mid-chew and turned around. When he saw my doppelganger, he too choked on his bread. I tried to piece everything together. Why had everybody seem so different from who they were and why was there a clone of me?

 Then I remembered how I ended up here. Everything started to fit together like a puzzle. 

“Ryan. Other Me. When I tell you this, do not freak out. It might sound crazy but it’s true. Ryan, before when I met you outside the supermarket, I was with my family. I had created a proton collider that opened up a black hole that brought me here. When I got here, my wife acted like she hated me and you acted like we were friends. However, in my ordinary universe, my wife and I love each other and you are my worst enemy. This led me to believe that I was in an alternate universe. One that is the exact opposite of what I live in. That means you are my antimatter.”

Ryan and Other Me stared at me like I was crazy. Then they laughed. “Daniel. I’m sure that you’ve had a long day. Maybe you should just go home and rest for today.” Ryan said. 

Other me looked at him and back to me. “Well, it may be possible. Although proton colliders aren’t supposed to create black holes. If you make a mistake with the wires, it may malfunction to create one. But what kind of universe have you ended up in?” 

I looked at him. “Let’s find out. Other Me. Shake my hand.” I extended my hand to him. As soon as our hands met, pain seared from my hand. Almost like a burning feeling from acid. I quickly retracted my hand and looked at it. The entire layer of skin on my hand had burnt off. “This is what happens when antimatter meets matter.” I said to them.

“Well if this is true, we have to find a way for you to get home,” Ryan said to me. 

“Well let’s establish something. If I have any more physical contact with Other Me, we will both be completely destroyed. No more touching alright?” I looked at Other Me and he nodded. “Okay. I think I have a way for me to get back to my universe. I need to make another proton collider in order to get back home. It’s an extremely risky move and I could theoretically end up in any other universe or possibly even get stuck in the time-space continuum, but it’s the only way. Do any of you have a lab lying around anywhere that I can use?”

Ryan just shook his head but Other Me’s face brightened as he looked at me and asked, “Did you say proton collider? I have a lab with one already made. The problem is where it is…” 

I looked at him excitedly. “Where is it?” 

He hung his head low. “It’s in the basement of Chloe’s house.” 

I looked at him. Just why. Of all places, WHY?! “Oh yeah. What happened with Chloe?” I asked. 

He sat down. “It’s a long story. Let me tell you.”

“When Chloe and I got married, we each had different aspirations. I wanted to be an inventor who created inventions that changed the world. I wanted to travel around the world and enter competitions and constantly keep learning. Chloe wanted to start a family and raise them to do great things. I decided that my dreams could wait and I would help Chloe raise a family. After we had our second kid Dylan, I decided that I would enter a small competition in our state and invent something. When I won first prize, I realized that I had so much talent and I could be an amazing inventor if I had the chance. I decided to go big. Without telling my wife, I bought a plane ticket to Australia to go and compete in the international competition. Surprisingly, I won and although my wife was upset with me for not telling her about it, she was proud. After winning the international competition, my wife thought that was the end of my journey and I should come home to be with my kids, but I wanted to become even greater at inventing. I wanted to solve the world’s greatest mysteries. When my wife heard about this, she and I had an argument. I decided to go my own path while she followed hers. For the next three years, I learned many things about the world and even managed to solve three of the world’s greatest mysteries. Then I found out my son Richard had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I automatically headed home only to find out that he had already died. Heartbroken and clueless what to do next, I tried to go back home, but she closed the doors on me.”

I looked at Other Me. He had gone through so much. “I’m so sorry.” I managed to get out. He looked at me and said 

“We have to find a way to get inside the lab with or without her permission.” 

I nodded my head. “When should we try?”

That night, we all met in front of Chloe’s house. The mess from before had been cleaned up, and all the lights in the house were off. We walked to the front door and Other Me took a key out of his pocket. 

“Don’t tell her I have this,” he told us. “She hasn’t changed the locks on the door since I moved out so I still have access to the house.” He slid the key into the keyhole and turned. With a small click, the door was unlocked. He slowly opened the door and stepped inside. Ryan and I followed, careful not to make any sounds. We walked towards the basement stairs but as we opened the door, Someone turned the corner and stopped in their tracks. It was Dylan. 

He looked at me and then Other Me, and then Ryan and back to me. I could tell he was confused, so I whispered to him, “Dylan, don’t tell your mom we were here. Just go back to sleep and forget any of this happened.” 

He stared at us as if we were crazy so we just closed the door to the basement and walked down the stairs. I looked at Other Me and he looked at me, smiling, with tears in his eyes. “He’s grown so much,” he said to me. “I haven’t seen him in seven years.” 

I smiled at him. ‘Hopefully you can see him again someday,” I said. 

The three of us walked down the stairs, and I looked around the lab. It looked exactly like my old lab. I asked Other Me, “Where’s the proton collider?” He pointed over to the machine covered in a blue sheet. I walked over to the machine and took the sheet off. Then I unscrewed the screws that held a steel plate on. After the steel plate was off, I looked through the wires. Everything was the same as the one I had made except for the ones right on top. They were twisted together, but when I did it, I had tied them together. As I untwisted the wires, I thought about my wife. My kids. I thought about how Other Me had it so hard. Wife hating him, dead child. I almost wanted to give him my place and let him live in my universe. 

After the wires were “fixed”, I walked over to the other side and turned it on. The energy began to flow just as it had before. Then, I heard a loud harsh voice. 

“DAAAAAANIEEEEEL!!! HOW DARE YOU COME INTO MY HOUSE WITH YOUR FRIENDS AFTER WHAT YOU DID BEFORE! WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!” Chloe was at the back of the lab glaring at me. 

Other Me came out of the shadows. “You’ve got the wrong guy,” he said. “I’m sorry, Chloe. For everything. But we need the lab just for another minute.” 

“No” she replied curtly. “Get out.” 

“Please Chloe,” he pleaded. 

“Well first, why are there two of you?” she asked. 

“Let me explain,” he said. 

I looked back. The bulge had already started to grow. “Guys, I think this is my cue to exit.” I walked over to Ryan and gave him a big hug. I turned to Other Me, and I nodded my head. “Thanks for everything” I said to them as I turned back. The bulge exploded once again as it dragged me in. But this time I was prepared. I closed my eyes and let the blackness overwhelm me. 

I woke up for the third time that day. I looked around and saw the garden gnome. I hoped it wasn’t foreboding as I walked up the steps. I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. After a couple seconds, the door opened and I saw the love of my life standing in front of me. With tears in her eyes, she threw her arms around me and I wrapped my arms around her, patting her back. I saw Richard and Dylan in the back, so I invited them into our embrace. We hugged for what seemed like forever. Once we had released from our embrace, I smiled at them. “Let me tell you everything.” 

As I walked inside, I heard a crash outside. I turned around and looked out the window. Other Me and Other Chloe were back.


Godel’s Guide to Breaking Everything

Introduction

Two people walk down the street in two opposite directions. They are going two separate ways, and will never see each other again. 

Enter C stage left, move centerstage, keep walking

Enter M stage right, move centerstage 

C “bumps,” M drops phone

M: Oh!

C: Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going, I—

M: No, my phone!

C: Ooh, I can pay for that, it looks pretty broken. Here. I’ll go with you to get it fixed. 

M: Right now? 

C: Yeah. Why not? 

M: Well, I got a patient who I need to attend to before she gets hungry. 

C: Other nurses will take care of your patient. You can call in sick!

M: Well, I haven’t had a vacation for a while… you know, the earthquake?

M: Wait. How did you know I was a nurse? 

C: Well. You said that you had to feed a patient; doctors wouldn’t do that, they would be doing surgeries, and stuff like that. Also, when you dropped your bag (and your phone clattered out), a box of surgical masks fell out of your bag. I’m also assuming you’re going to night school? 

M: Wha? How…

C: Dark circles. Concealer can’t cover everything, honey. 

C: Now we got to go to get your screen fixed. 

Act 1

Waiting in the phone shop

C: So… do you want to talk about something? 

M: No. You’ve been super kind, but I think it would be best if we didn’t talk. 

C: So. You want to talk about nothing. 

M: Yes? 

C: Well, nothing is a thing.

M: No, nothing is black. Nothing is no-thing. 

C: Black is a thing, and no thing is the opposite of a thing, therefore, must be no-thing.

M: Oh my gosh, you’re right!

C: It’s called Godel’s Theorem. For example, take the statement, “This statement is a lie.” The liar’s paradox. The real statement behind this is, “This statement is unprovable.” How can you prove this statement? Or, really, ANY statement? For example, 1 plus 1 is just, 2. How do you know it is, though? 

M: Because, well… it’s just… well…

C: Yeah.

M: Can I have your number? 

C: Your phone’s done. 

M: How can we keep talking? 

C: I’ll call you.  

C exits stage right

M stays on set, curtain drops

Act 2

Soon after while lying on set, M receives a call… 

M: Blocked caller ID? That’s funny… hello? 

C: Hey.

M: Who are you? 

C: I’m just the CEO of a company. I just uncovered too much about Godel. It’s fine though. Sorry about the blocked caller. 

M: I was expecting you to call like, three weeks ago! It’s been a month since I broke my phone. 

C: Sorry, but I am a CEO. I have a job. 

M: Ugh. I don’t have time for this. I have to get to school. 

C: I’ll call you. 

M: (disconnects) Not if I call you first. 

C: (on the other end, M not hearing them) Dina? Look up where- wait. What’s their name? 

Act 3

One day later while M is at work, M calls C

C: Hello? 

M: No, no hello, I’m not wasting time having you or your pettiness stand in my way. You can hang up, but you won’t. Explain what’s happening. Right. Now. 

C: Look up Godel. 

C hangs up.

M: Hello? Hello? 

C calls back.

C: Dinner. Sandy’s. You’re free. 

M: No. Luigi’s. What’s your name again? 

C hangs up.

At dinner (at Sandy’s)

C: Wow. You dressed up!

M: And you didn’t? Anyway. I can’t even think about anything without going crazy, thinking  about the ways it’s wrong. I looked up Godel, but it only said that he commited a slow and painful suicide, and was a professor. 

C: Ok, I’ll explain it to you, and look up his theories. 

C: Now. Think of a rubber duck. How do you know it’s real?

M: Well… you can feel it, and you can see it. Sometimes you can smell it. 

C: Yes but you feel with your nerves, and you taste with your tastebuds, and you smell with tiny hairs in your nose, and all three of those are somewhat of a reaction from your brain. It could be your brain malfunctioning, and you’re actually eating dark matter.  

M: You’re saying everything could very well be a figment of our imagination? 

C: That’s up to you. 

C: I also ordered us a s’mores to go. I’ve found it’s best to cope with some soft, gooey marshmallow. 

M: How do you cope? 

C: I don’t. This is the first time I ever shared that with anybody. 

M: Well, glad you’re coping with me. 

C smiles. 

C: Goodnight. 

M: I’ve got to get to class.


Later 

: My mind is as sharp as an emerald, but as blunt as a dead body. 

: Wait how can you tell someone is even dead? 

: Don’t. I’ve thought about it… 

: All this time. I’ve never even thought about this before…

: Just once or twice. 

: To test. 

: I know how. 

: So do I

: Just twice. 

: Some idiot scum that no ones going to miss… 

Even later

News: “Twenty eight people have been suspected dead, over the past few weeks, no connection between them. Nobody knows where this person will strike next, but we do know this makes them the highest ranking american serial…”

:Why?

: Because. I had to, before you did. 

: we agreed on two. 

: …g

Goodbye, C. 

: Goodbye. 

Epilogue

Charlotte was driving to her second mansion. When she got there, somebody was standing where she was supposed to. 

Maya? I thought. We ran to each other and shared a familiar kiss. How… why… “They think it was me so I said I was going on vacation.” 

“They won’t look here because we have no connection, they would never suspect us of being friends, and they would never guess we’re more.”

fin


Loyalty

Loyalty

Is T   h e r   e

For you 

For your friends

She will follow you

If you wish 

Loyalty

With modest overalls  

And dirt blond hair

Cascading down her face

Loyalty 

Loyalty is T   h e r e


When you tell a secret

She keeps it 

When you spill the tea

She will always see

If you’re 

Sad

Sick

Hurt

Happy

Unaware

Loyalty

Loyalty is T   h e r e


If you can’t hold it in

You can confide within

Those kind green eyes and each warm freckle

So maybe just a speckle

Of love will shine through

From the both of you

Loyalty 

Loyalty is T   h e r e


Maybe if 

You catch a whiff

Of rumors dark and twisted

If you ever tear up a slight amount

You can always

Bury your head 

Into the bed 

Of friendship necklaces

Too many to count

Loyalty

Loyalty is T   h e r e


From the furthest corner

Of her satchel worner

Out comes a shiny gift 

Your birthday

With a Hallmark holiday

Card insignia on the back

She smiles and 

Gives it to you

Inked doodles on her hand

Loyalty 

Loyalty is T   h e r e


She is there for you 

Through and through

Thick and thin

She doesn’t choose

In a clash of cliques

She’s on her side

Your side 

No side

Loyalty 

Loyalty is T   h e r e

Poem # 3

Blue eyes lost in emerald,

Its edges soft, but not dulled,

Glossed over, her mind becomes lulled,

Blue eyes lost in emerald.


Oceans collide with romantic magenta skies,

Everlasting pinks weave with clouds’ loose ties,

The moon will soon shine, and purplish reds will die,

Oceans collide with romantic magenta skies.


Hearts of gold dazzle depths of teal,

Rosy tones warm their cold metal feel,

Invincible love that no one would dare steal,

Hearts of gold dazzle depths of teal.


Orange velvet stained with royal ink,

Amber threads soaked in a pen’s drink,

Beautiful blues bleed in a blink,

Orange velvet stained with royal ink.


Sapphire salty waters hold reflections of yellow,

Goldens and sunnies, warming bodies of mellow,

Sounds of a wave’s wake and a bird’s bellow,

Sapphire salty waters hold reflections of yellow.


Small moments catch uninspired eyes,

Some details only noticed by the wise,

Beautiful worlds live in disguise,

Small moments catch uninspired eyes.


My Past

His family was lying to him about his father, about his old ways. It’s put him toe to toe with his family, why is that? Is it about the money, the cars, the shoes? No, it can’t be about the money. Oh I know exactly what it is about. [PAUSE] It is about the son of the only thing that was there for him, which is his mom. He loved his dad so much, but his dad did it to his body. If he went to a party and thought his son would not find out about it, but now he’s dead so the son can only cry about it every day when no one’s looking. Crying is like being a punk about it, that’s what people on the street say. The boy didn’t believe it at first when he came in the room on a Saturday in June and his mom was crying and said, “Your father passed away.” So he laughed. [PAUSE] The body had been found that Thursday. He said he didn’t believe it, and he didn’t believe it until he was standing beside his mother in front of the casket. He didn’t want to cry in that moment or break down. He went outside and played with his cousins. [PAUSE] Now the son has to move on, but doesn’t want to because he loved his dad with rap battle fire. He wanted to spit flames, he 87654687 got ready to spit flames, he wanted the crowd to jump up, laugh, and scream. [PAUSE]  They burned his dad down to ashes, like crumbs of bread moldy on the ground. [PAUSE] Now he doesn’t want to lose his mom, so he’s got to respect his mom with all his heart. Staying away from her is like burning himself down into ember. [PAUSE, look at audience] They lied about his father.


After Hours

The beautiful color of the blue flowers

They must be happy when there are rain showers

They must be happy after hours

But it’s not true their sadness devours


All of their bad thoughts overpower

The flower’s sadness start to tower

But when the morning comes their sadness scours

Then time works its magic, it happens all over again

and the flowers will once again face the sadness tower.


In a Crowded Train

WHAT’S GOING ON

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

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

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

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

I said a quick, “Hi.”

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

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

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

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

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

FINDING OUT THE TRUTH

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

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

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

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

 What camps? I thought. And why target Jews? 

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

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

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

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

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

One week later… 

THE TRAIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tonight

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

Dost the setting of the sun bring suffering?

Come fill me up with bitter, cold poison

Come singe my hair and let it scorch my neck

Do to me this for it shall be no worse 

Than what has’t been done, 

Forgotten from thy lips

My name once sweetly sung 

How dareth thee mistake mine own love 

For something to be easily tossed hence

Cowards art those who cannot face the sunrise

And you were born with two closed eyes


Darkthorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The three of them burst into laughter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t even able to —

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rather touchy, aren’t we?

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

I could help you, Jamie.

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

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

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

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

Well… how could I refuse with my broken body?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not like this. I-I’m not a killer.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head vigorously.

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

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

I screamed and scrambled back.

“What did you do to me?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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


Timeless

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

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

But that’s a distant dream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I mean… yeah, of course. You ok?” 

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

“Right. You got your key?”

“Yep.”

“Alright. See you later.”

“See ya.”  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Levi, how are you?”

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

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

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

— Jawahar Kadakia

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go for it,” she replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait, really?”

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


Sketches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I lost it,” replied Fin. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey,” he said. 

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really?” asked Fin, surprised. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What happened?” he asked, concerned. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Goodbye!” yelled Claudia as the four left.

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


Adeline

Chapter One: A Vision

Sometimes, Adeline wished she could die.

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

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

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

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

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

“BEATRICE! THERESA! WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT RUNNING UP THE STAIRS WITH YOUR BOOTS ON?” Adeline called up to the girls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adeline only rolled her eyes and walked towards the market. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adeline had no idea who this woman was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . 

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was the woman from her vision. 

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

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

Queen Eponine of Northreign:

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh, right. Sorry.” 

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

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

He winked at her and walked away.

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


La Historia de Blaze y Rainstorm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who says we can’t be friends?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Rainstorm answered.

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

“Skyline?” Blaze called.

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

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

“Ugh!” Rainstorm moaned. “Skyline!!!

Skyline looked at them warily. “Yes?”

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

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

“Like what?” Rainstorm asked curiously.

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I hug you or not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Terrible,” King Skyline moaned in distress.

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

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

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

King Skyline sighed. “What?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Bay Area = No Kind Of Grey Area

Winding roads winding away,

Towering skyscrapers scraping today,

Wandering waves riding across the sea.


Skylines are scattered with buildings,

Hills,

And trees.


Roads are rotten with people,

Cars,

And fleas.


Drive to hills,

Drive to the bay,

Drive to the city,

Drive, drive away.


In Berkeley,

There’s thrift shops with jeans,

Cool cafes,

And streets filled with teens.


In San Francisco,

There’s always a disco,

There’s always something to do,

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


In Sonoma County, 

The trees are always at a bounty,

You could never be frowny

In Sonoma County.


The Bay Area is

No kind of grey area

For it is the main area

And the greatest yay area.

Yes, it may have its issues,

But we shouldn’t pull out the tissues.

It is the Bay Area.


Glitch

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was so shocked I could not talk at all.

“What do I get if I compete?”

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

Chapter 2

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

Maybe a bath would help me.

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

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

“No thanks AIA.”

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

“AIA.”

“Yes, Mr. Lucas.”

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

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

“I am sure, AIA.”

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

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

“Yes, Mr. Lucas.”

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

“AIA, give me the first aid kit.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure, here are some photos.”

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

“Put this on,” Oscar said.

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

“Stay in here, I will be right back.”

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

“These are your teammates, Lucas.”

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

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

He points to a room behind us.

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

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

“Now get to practice!”

We enter the hub and put on the RSVR headsets. 

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

“You have 22 hours and 28 minutes left.”

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

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

“What is it?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“None of your business!”

“Ok, sorry.”

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Game starting in 3, 2, 1…”

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

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

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

“The weak will die.” 

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

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

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

“Romelo, where are you?!”

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

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

Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Mr. Oscar.”

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

“Yes, Mr. Oscar.” 

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes sir.”

Chapter 6

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

“How did you sleep, Lucas?”

“Fine.”

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

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

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

“Yeah, it’s like he was killed.”

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

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

“Game starting in 3, 2, 1.”

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

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

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

“Ok be sure to hold the pole tight.”

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

We unlock the door to the next level. 

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

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

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

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

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

He pulls out a gun and points it at me. 

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

“I am programmed this way.”

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

“I don’t want to let you go.”

“You don’t have to.”

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

“Congrats, kid. You win.”

“Where are the other competitors?”

“All went home after you won.”

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

“What are you talking about?”

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

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

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

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

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

***

One day later in an airplane

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

“For what reason?” 

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

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

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

“I can’t tell you that, Oscar.”

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

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


The Crevice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That left me and the younger one.

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

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

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

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

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

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


hi, i’m jojo

CHAPTER II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes?” Clarice yells back.

“You didn’t lock this door, right?”

“No! Why would I be that stupid?”

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

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

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

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

The door still doesn’t open.

Suddenly, a huge voice echoes through the house.

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

“Hello? Who are you?” yells Eriphili.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raphael moans and starts jumping back down the stairs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know,” Clarice replies. 

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

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

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

“Don’t say that to her,” yells Loki.

“Hey! People!” I yell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, not at all.

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

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

“Um… not really…” I answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Golden City

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What party?” I giggled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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