A Question – Unanswered – Solved

Chapter 1~That Feeling

I’m feeling uninspired

I look to my favorite quotes

Today was reading…

…and remembering…

…someone might be feeling 

beautiful in literature


Chapter 2~The Beginning

The pounding in my head

The whisper in my soul

I close my eyes

I roll over

Try to fill the empty hole

The door opens

Tam pokes her head in

She says it’s time

That I should get right out of bed

She knows that I’m missing

The sister I loved

Until she died that horrible night

When she was finally pushed too far….


Chapter 3~Cowardly Me

Tam tells me I need practice

To have courage…

…be brave

But how can I

After a girl was brave

And left so much behind

Nevertheless

Life goes on

So I turn to the mirror

I take a breath in and I say to myself

“I am Alex Pander, an author-kinda-and life goes on.“

“I am Alex Pander, an author-maybe-and life goes on.”

“I am Alex Pander, an author-YES-and life goes on.”

I get a questioning look from Tam

But she says no more about it

She hands me my backpack

Opens the door

I walk toward school

Until 

My home is out of sight

Then I quickly turn around

Climb

Up a tree

I pull out my notebook…

…though it doesn’t look like one

With a yellowing leather outside

Tattered looking pages

It looks more like a box


Chapter 4~Disguised

Disguised as a box

Looking old

Looking real

Though it’s not

Disguised as something to keep feelings in

But really

It’s the perfect way

For me to let them out


Chapter 5 ~Moms

My mom said I would need saving before she grabbed my mom and jumped after

The daughter that they wouldn’t be able to save

That’s right my mom is gay

So is my mom…

Anyway

I’m adopted from a family I’ll never know


Chapter 6~Messages

I write to my mom, mom, and sister

I write to the family that could’ve been mine

If I stayed with them

I wouldn’t be drowning

In the pain of being abandoned

By the mom and dad that couldn’t afford me and disappeared soon after

By the mom and mom who didn’t stay with me to watch my sister drown

By the sister who was just playing around until playing got her pushed out of life

By Tam, the friend, that still lives today

But I wonder, how much happiness is alive


Chapter 7~The Finding

I write for seconds

For minutes

For hours 

Eventually

I gather my stuff

I climb down the tree and I think of my life

I live with my bestie who is ten years older than me

She is my guardian although I’m almost eighteen

I know she is scared with my sudden appearance

She plans to send me away for summer

So she can sort out her life

So now

I will be spending two months in a library

I get home and look for my bff

To finish lying an answer to all of her hopeful questions

I find a note on my bed

After five minutes of frantically searching

And

Ten minutes of staying calm

It says:

Dear Alex, 

Life has always been hard. When you were 2 months old, your parents gave you up…I supported you. When you were 5, you decided that having two moms was normal, I supported you. When you were 8, you had to deal with all of the girls telling you that you that were weird; you should be obsessed with dolls, make-up, dressup, boys, and all that stereotypical “girl” stuff. Guess what, I supported you! And then, you were 13, you decided you were really a boy, so I supported you. Exactly 9 months ago today, your sister, mom, and mom died. I need to support you, but I need some supporting too. While I love you so much, I have plugged in coordinates to your GPS. They will take you to a library where people are waiting for your arrival. Use your phone to call me when you get there. Pack your bags so that you can stay for two months. There will be laundry. Leave by 6:30. You might be scared, but this is the best for both of us. It is not forever. I am not leaving you, or making you leave me. I want to be better for you, and I need time to do this. It is hard for me too. I will not be there before you leave. Do not wait up. I love you so much!

Luv ya, 

Tam

PS-I called the school so they know not to expect you tomorrow. They say that they weren’t, you haven’t been to school in weeks, maybe even months. They said that they thought you were sick. We will talk about this on the phone later. Keep me posted! 


Chapter 8~Betrayal

The car rumbles

It groans

It creaks

It treks along

Without much attention

How can I?

I mean…

I just got abandoned

The third time

In seventeen years

By the one I thought I could trust

Why is it that this happens

So what it is a library

My new home

My old sanctuary

So what she thinks this is best

For me

For her

Don’t I know what’s best

For the person who’s been through more

She said it herself

In the letter she wrote

I guess it is fate

That my high

Is my low


Chapter 9~Arrival


It’s modern

But old

Split in half

Like my soul

It’s brick

But stone

Half and half

Like my heart

It’s warm

But cold

Undecided

Like my life

My thoughts

My emotions

My feelings

My brain

My body

My soul

My heart

Me


Chapter 10~Getting It Over With

So many things happen so quick

A smile

A wave

A kiss

A hug

A ride

A candy

A book

A movie

Even though we try

And try

We try to make them last

The librarian looks

The assistant stares

I realize

In horror

I said it aloud

The feelings I felt

All out there

Not personal

I know I’m blushing

But I need to know more

I take a deep breath

I walk over

The librarian

Stares

Wonders

Questions

Keeps it in

Like she notices

Something

Never noticed before

Almost about

The way I speak

And then try to fix it

Odd

And then I see her staring

At my deep eyes

That seem to know all

Just how I imagined my dad’s

Beautiful eyes would look

She answers

The silent question

Somehow passed between us

She is Molly

My director

Of her newest idea

She is teaching

Kids

About writing

Again

They will room

In the basement

Of the library

Together

Except

I am alone

I am the only one

She gives me the keys

And walks

Out the door


Chapter 11~The Call

I call Tam

But to tell the truth

I’d rather not talk about what was said

Thanks for understanding

I knew that I could always count

On you

To understand…

….notebook


Chapter 12~Reflection

I know

I

Alex Pander

Am scared

I have never spent the night

Alone

Before

I dream

Of my chance

My hope

Of feeling

Happy

Free

Hopeful

Brave

Like the author

I wanted

Want

To be

I feel

A librarian

Will know

How

I feel

Tomorrow

I will ask

I will beg for an answer

For my question

I haven’t figured out


Chapter 13~Dreams

Dreamland

My favorite land

The one where I can escape

I slip away

Like a slug

In the rain

Like a speck

In a river

Like water

In my hand

Like my sister

In my our life

I slip

To a place

Where I

Can

Be

Me

A place

I enter

Tonight

Is wonderful

I fly

With my sister

In my

Hand

Coming home

To my birth

Parents

With a hug

Then we

Fly

Away

To my moms

For kisses

Finally

With

An encouraging

Squeeze

On the hand

From my sis

I see Tam

Words

Aren’t enough

I wake up

Eyes streaming

Knowing that

Maybe

Change

Is here

To stay


Chapter 14~Questions

They swirl

Through my head

Like

Snow

In a storm

Like water

In a river

Like the fireworks

On Independence Day

So bright

Yet

So far

The door

Clicks

It unlocks

It creaks

The clock stops ticking

And the bird

On the cuckoo clock

Stops singing

As a librarian

Enters

Her throne room

You can tell

Her power

In just one finger to her lips

You can see her brain working

In charge of all these books

You know she has the answer

You just don’t know how to ask

I will start with the one

That decides it all

Is she wise

Is it fake

Is it worth asking more

I blurt it out

It’s over

Done

She looks at me closely

I know that she’s won

No matter the question

The answer

The explanation

She knows

Just not the way you expect

She opens her mouth

Closes

Opens

Closes

Opens

Stutters

Closes

Opens

Breathes

Closes

Opens

Speaks

I am going to make you a poem

I gasp

I shake

No one

Ever has made

Me

A poem

Not even a librarian

She tells me to read

For the day

Which is fine

I take the time

To watch

And learn

My poem blossom


Chapter 15~The Fruit

A letter

Has friends

Twenty five of them

Indeed

Stuck with them

Forever

No room

For any

Change

A word

Is made

Out of letters

Forced to be friends

A chance for friendship

If not

War

A sentence

Made of words

That were made

Out of letters

A chance for a new life

A new meaning

Sometimes good

Sometimes bad

A punctuation mark

Has it worst of all

Forced to end

In a questioning fashion

An exclaiming one

A boring one

Forced to end

A sentence

In which

She

He

They

Doesn’t believe

And yet

They stay

Until someone

Helps them out

Rearranges everything

Until change is needed again

Honey

Change is happening

So life isn’t perfect

But

If life

Stayed the same

It might be worse

But when things stop changing for a little

You will see

That change was hard

But it is nice to be free

You are

Who you decide

To be

And you are

The person

That believes

In what you

Believe

That feels

The way

You feel

That looks

The way

You look

That knows

The things

You know

You are you

You will change

You will stay

But no matter what happens

You will always be you

So accept your life

After all

It’s yours


Chapter 16~Crickets

She reads it aloud

In her soothing voice

It’s soft

It’s calm

Like she’s been through my life

She looks familiar

Like someone that looks like everyone you meet

I ask her about her voice

Tell her that it is beautiful

She laughs a tinkly laugh

And says

That it 

Is silvery

Clear

Light

Pleasant

She opens her arms

But I turn away

She walks towards me anyway

Her hug gives me power

Her black curly hair

Smells

Like strawberries

And is so soft

Her breath is warm

As it hits my cheek

And when she draws back

I wish I could go on forever

Like if I could feel

That warm

Wonderful

Peaceful

Feeling

I felt just then

Everything would be

Okay?


Chapter 17~Is This What It Feels Like?

My world is falling

The punch in my gut

The ocean in my head

The ache in my heart

The swaying on my feet

I fall

She falls

We fall

I’m holding on

She’s holding on

Can’t grasp

Life flashes

Is this

I don’t want to know

Life

So fast

Find

No

Change

Help

Please

Death

Too much DEATH!!!

I need to see

To know

I fall

My eyes are fluttering

My vision works

But doesn’t

One last

Breath

Is this

What it

Feels like

To die?

My eyes shut

And nothing else happens for hours

Dreamless sleep

Just sleep

That is all it is

Peace

Calm

Rest

Everything I needed

After such a life


Chapter 18~How

I wake up

She’s doing it

Reading my favorite book

I wonder how she knew

It’s really called:

The Afterlife And How To Get There

But I prefer to call it:

Where Will I go Next

Instead

Of focusing

On

My favorite book

The room

Surrounding

Catches

My attention

Like the sun

On glass

In the middle

Of nothing

The wooden floors

With the soft

Smooth

Swirling

Rug that

Captures my

Feelings

I lie

On a couch

Under

A blanket

So soft

And fuzzy

It’s purple

Like my soul

Is what my sister

Would’ve said

In her beautiful way

That makes me love

The one that

I will never again

Get to hold


Chapter 19~Mine

My angel

My master

My leader

My god

My teacher

My guardian

My librarian

I take this

Moment

To take

A look

Of my savior

With the black

Curly hair

That smells

Like strawberry fields

That those bugs wrote

A song about

Where

The fruit

Is forever

Where I

Get taken

To strawberry

Fields

She has deep

Brown eyes

Which is uncommon

I guess

Not really

But whenever

Someone

Points out

Beautiful eyes

They are a

Beautiful

Dazzling blue

But I like brown

So wise

So calm

She has these pink lips

That are pink

Without

Lipstick

Or lip gloss

Or any of that stuff

I despise

That was pushed

On me

Not so long

Ago

She has no nose ring

Like the girls

In my school

When I went there

She wears

A sensible

Dress

With flowers

The kinda

Thing you expect

A librarian to wear

She is looking at me

As I look at her

And deep in my heart

I wish that she were mine

Her lips move

And yet I hear

No sound

But in my head

I know

That I am in her home

And yet my heart

Feels like lead

I spend the rest of the day

In and out of sleep

Until I wake up in the morning

To the librarian

Shaking me

Telling me

To wake up

We need to go

I get my stuff

Get in her car

Drive 5 minutes

To the library

Where she tells me

To sit

In her desk

Because

I have been

Hired

As the new

Librarian

And she is leaving now

And to read the note

On the desk

Once she has left

She produces

A suitcase

Out of

The desk

And walks out the door

Gone

Bye…

…i guess…


Chapter 20~Notes

My son, 

I’m sorry I left so soon. I do not deserve you, and yet I recognized you right away. Boy or girl, 17 or 2 months. I am your birth mother. I am an illegal immigrant so I could not keep you. It was too dangerous for both of us, but mostly you. Your father is dead, but I keep moving. You belong here, as a librarian. I will visit often. Son, remember who you are. You will find yourself, just try to keep it with you. I am so very proud of you. Writing is important when you are surrounded by it. Remember that. I love you so much. More than you could imagine. More than I can write, and that’s saying something. Write how much I love you for me. It will show me that you love me.
I love you so much, 

Mommy

What!?!

All along

It was her

The one

I hoped was mine

So lost

Who found me

She betrayed me

I thought I had

Her trust

But now

I know

That she is there

And yet

Untrustworthy

Like a mockingbird

Stealing others’ songs

Maybe

If I could ask

If she came back

I would be fine

But now

I just hope

Nobody else hurts me

Again…


The Negative One – Part One: Subservience

June 10th, year L

Subservience

Natalie

Everyone was being sent to The Next Place, except me: I was being sent to The Better Place. The Better Place accepts one person from every year, the one person who passed. 

 I passed.

I was the ONE.

I had been raised in dome 20076328, with the rest of 20076328, for 13 years. Thirteen years of pure childhood, of learning, laughing, and smiles. But when I turned thirteen, with the rest of 20076328, we had to face the real world. We had struggled and faced fear our whole lives, but we had never done it without each other. The real world outside our little lives within the bubble of dome 20076328 was exciting until we had to face it. Until our bubble popped and we had real struggles and problems that can’t just be solved by themselves. Children have innocence, they grow up with their head in the clouds and no-ones cares, but when they have to face the real world, they’re just lost in the smoke that was once their cloud. There are 50 children in my year, 20076328, and 49 of them were sent to The Next Place. And I thought that I was sent to The Better Place, to live in paradise for eternity. I thought I could keep my bubble, but I was so clueless back then.

 The powerful sound of the bell rings three times: the train to The Next Place is here. I watch as my friends flee the platform rushing to get good seats, and I watch as the rest of 20076328 board the train. The train has cracked paint, and dirty floors, the letters painted across the side are faded, and the windows are too foggy to see through. Why did the rest of 20076328 have to be sent to The Next Place in this old piece of rotting wood? Its flaws are obvious as if screaming in my face, but no one else seems to notice. To them, it just looks like home, and it looks like home to me too, but I only realized now my new home won’t be like this. I will never fall asleep on an old creaky bed with weak springs, I will never eat from dirty dishes again. I will never wear shirts with holes and stains in them ever again. I try to say this with a smile, but my mouth doesn’t budge. As I say these things to myself, I feel like I’m losing my childhood. I don’t know why this is so hard for me; everyone’s going to a new place too. They seem almost eager to let go, but yet I struggle to cope with this new lifestyle I’m headed toward. The loud whistle interrupts my thoughts, and a large cloud of smoke covers the platform, and I go into a coughing fit. When my coughing finally subsides I blow my hair out of my face and look up, the train is gone. 

With a long sigh, I walk to the nearest bench, smooth out my dress, and sit down in the center of the platform that had only just minutes ago been crowded with children. Children I have known my whole life, children I have spent the last 13 years learning and training with. I couldn’t stand to watch the only family I’ve ever known leave on a train without me, maybe the cloud of smoke was shielding me from what was too hard to experience. I like to believe everything happens for a reason; everything has an explanation. Except for this, why do I have to leave 20076328, or better, why do they have to leave me? Now everything is just silent, a sound I’ve never heard. With the rest of 20076328 silence was just an idea, something guardians dreamed of but never got. But now I experience it. 

That all vanishes when the white train comes into sight. The white train that will take me from the only home I’ve ever known. When it pulls up at the platform, the doors open effortlessly; I grab my bag and walk over to the open door. In front of me is a vehicle that will lead me to the perfect world I’ve always dreamed of, but I hesitate to board. I stand there in front of the door, clutching my bag and waiting for something to stop me from going, but nothing does. So I board the train. I walk in and sit down, resting my bag beside me, but the door doesn’t close as if waiting for me to second guess myself, but I don’t. As if reading my mind, the door closes, and the train begins to move. I slouch and gaze out the window and watch as my perfect, flawed, world fades from view. But I have to remind myself I’m going to a better place, The Better Place. I know this is where I’m supposed to go, this is my fate, my life, there’s no changing that. For the rest of my train ride, I try to cope with this new idea of change, this new idea of a destiny in which I have no control of. 

After hours of trying to cope with my thoughts, I finally arrive at dome #1, The Better Place. I look around at my so-called new home. It’s different than I imagined, the surroundings look just like I thought they would. Uniform houses with the same clean white paint job, and symmetrical trees perfectly spaced apart. But something feels off, almost fake. Maybe it is the lack of color or noise. The train pulls to a smooth stop at the empty station, and I stand up slightly dizzy and stumble off the train unaware of where my own feet are. A cold breeze welcomes me, and a shiver runs down my back. I take a deep breath, smooth out my colorful floral dress encased with roses and thorns, and run my fingers through my tangled hair. I smell heliotrope coming from a nearby garden. I look up at the fragrant purple flowers, the most colorful thing in sight. They look so over-saturated surrounded by all these colorless structures. I continue to look around. The rows and rows of clean white houses go on for as far as see. In the distance I see and tall glass building, The Capitol Building. The Capitol Building is the center of everything, in the center of Dome #1, which is the central dome. Only two things are missing here: colors, and flaws. The definition of perfect is different here, at home perfect was anything that made you happy. But here perfect is predictable, perfect is flawless and artificial.  

I hear another train pull up behind me, but I’m too exhausted to look back. I blink my heavy eyelids over my eyes and continue walking. I look in the windows of the identical houses; each one has one person in them, a perfect person. I walk down the silent streets, a sound far too common here, to the main desk. I stumble a little as I walk for I’m not used to such level streets. To prevent myself from falling I look down as I walk. I study each perfectly placed stone on the flat roads and keep an eye on where my feet go as I walk. My eye catches a bright red rose in the distance. I look up and stare at it. It looks perfect, its stem smooth and strong. As I walk closer to it, it looks just as out of place here as I do. It is the color of red wine, the color of beautiful red rubies, it is the color of warmth and comfort. I continue to walk closer to it, caught in a daze caused by its beauty. As I get closer, the rose changes: I notice thorns as sharp as nettles lining the sides. The rose is now the color of blood, of the look of evil flashing in someone’s eyes, it is the color of anger and fear, of loneliness and rejection. The petals appear to wilt right in front of my eyes. I rub my eyes and try to focus them on the rose. Its petals that once appeared soft look hard and crispy. I stare at the rose. A white vehicle rushes by, crushing the rose into the ground. I rush over to the rose; without thinking I gently pick it up and stuff it in the pocket of my dress. I stand back up, blow my thin blond hair out of my face and continue walking to the office. 

Usually, by now, I would have slumped over and began to complain about the long walk, but who is there to complain to? It feels weird, being alone. I was never alone in 20076328, I was always either with my friends or my guardians, Caroline and William Smith. They were a loving couple, and they treated me well; I remember Caroline’s warm smile, her face covered in freckles, I remember William’s kind eyes and his big bear hugs that always made you feel safe. Life was so easy in dome 20076328; you always had a companion, everyone knew you, your life was already set up and planned, you just had to live it. 

When I approach the main office, I once again adjust my dress and pull my hair out of my face. The building is short, long, and blindingly white, like most of the buildings here. In the building, there is a large screen, opposite to the line of people waiting to be let into paradise. I grip the cold doorknob of the entrance and pull it toward me. I forget to look down, and I trip over the stairs. I stumble into the line of people, and I look up at a large screen on the wall. On the screen, there is a man in a white suit. “Welcome, today one person from 10038344, 55787998, 764646, 1000047, 8574444, 3399292, and 20076428 have joined us in our perfect world. Please wait in line for your tests and background checks,” the man on the screen says cheerily. There is something about his voice, something in his smile that makes me never want to leave this place.

“This is my new home,” I say under my breath. And something about that sentence feels right; it feels true. It feels truer than it ever did in dome 20076328. I never fit in at dome 20076328, even when I forced myself to think that, I always knew deep down that it wasn’t true. But here, in dome #1, it feels like my lips were meant to form that sentence. This is where I’m supposed to be, that’s what the universe wants, and the universe is always right. As I stand here in line, I can imagine myself living here. In one of those small white houses with a perfect, well-dressed family, and kind neighbors. One day, I say to myself, one day soon.

When I finally reach the front of the line, a woman with a kind smile greets me. I walk toward her without hesitation and sit down in a chair facing her desk. “What’s your number, please?” she asks me kindly— her voice, clear and calm, and her smile radiant.

“Girl #767960,” I respond.

She nods approvingly and continues. “Name?” she asks

“Natalie Smith,” I reply slowly.

“Natalie Smith, Natalie Smith…” she repeats slowly looking through her large binder.

I put my hands in my pockets nervously. I had forgotten about my rose. I rub my fingers along the petals of the flat rose.

“I’m sorry I don’t see your name here, what dome are you from?” she says in a concerned tone.

“20076328,” I say proudly.

“Alright, your former guardian’s names, please,” she asks.

“Caroline and William Smith,” I reply in a strained voice, my eyes welling up slightly at the thought of them, and where they could be now.

“I’m sorry no-one from 20076328 is listed here. Our system must have made a mistake and sent you here.” She pauses, and I stare at her in awe. My rose crumbles between my fingers. “I can get you on the next train to The Next Place, at 2:30.” She continues typing something into her computer. 

I just sit there, like a dull rock unable to respond. My once iceberg-blue eyes go cloudy as they fill with tears. A silent rainstorm starts in my eyes and drips down my cheeks. My tears fall down my face and drop on to my rose-decorated dress, turning the once colorful roses to dead, dried up weeds. Before I can stop myself, I push my chair away from the table and run. I run out of the check-in office, and down the rows of houses I saw earlier. I’m running, but I don’t know why. I quickly realize the security guards are chasing me, and now I’m just running from them. I thought I finally found where I belong in this bustling universe, I felt a sense of completion and satisfaction, I finally thought I was home. But it is all just an illusion, I will never be truly happy, I never have been. I run because I’m too scared to stop, too afraid to see what they’ll do to me. I can’t stand to be robbed of another chance for a perfect life. Fearful thoughts race through my mind, as I struggle to figure out what to do next. How could I have been so stupid as to think I belonged here, in this perfect world, where I am the farthest thing from perfect? I ask myself, but it’s not me, it’s this universe, this universe that chooses your life for you before you even get a chance to live it. I run like it will make everything go away, I run like I could just run right off this planet, away from this universe. I’ve always been a subservient type of person and I’m not going to start questioning authority now. I wipe away my tears and stop running.  

Berlin

PAUL — 17-year-old who lives in East Berlin. His father’s a politician in the communist party. Almost every Friday and Saturday night, Paul sneaks out to the West Side to party. He has a John Lennon poster, but he doesn’t show it to his dad. 

WALTER — Paul’s best friend, 16.5. They have been friends since first grade. They have always been together and Walter was the one who showed Paul how to sneak over the Berlin wall.

FATHER — Volodymyr Voronovich. He is a minister from the soviet union to East Berlin.

ABENEER —  Abeneer Smith, a former wrestling coach whose best friend was Centurion, a pro wrestler that was coached by Abeneer Smith. He is a kind, loyal person who never gives up on his friends. He is now 69 years old and in prison, for coaching Centurion who beat Ivan Drago, a famous soviet union wrestler. Centurion was shot for beating him, and Abeneer was imprisoned for this. 

SCENE ONE

The year is 1965. John Lennon’s song Imagine is playing softly on the radio of a channel from West Berlin. PAUL has his John Lennon poster above his bed, and PAUL nods his head to the music.

FATHER

Off stage

Paul! I am meeting Erich Honecker who is the Chief of the Communist Party. 

PAUL quickly switches the radio channel to East Berlin propaganda and covers his John Lennon Poster with his Joseph Stalin, my hero poster. The door rattles and his father enters. (The poster of Stalin should be the Pringles man poster that says Joseph Stalin My hero below it)

PAUL 

Hello, father. 

FATHER 

Doing some homework? 

PAUL 

Yes, father.

FATHER

Glancing at the poster

Ahh. One of my favorite posters….May I see some of your notes?

PAUL 

Uhh, uhh… Oh, well, look at the time! You cannot be late for your meeting!

Father

Oh dear, you’re right!

Father runs out of the room. 

WALTER

Through the Walkie Talkie 

Hey Paul. It’s me, Walter. You still have the plans of breaking through the wall?

PAUL holds up the notes he was pretending was homework. 

PAUL

Yeah. I have them right here. I almost got busted by my dad! 

WALTER

If that die-hard communist gets his hands on the plans we are walking corpses.

PAUL

We leave tonight 

WALTER

Got it.

PAUL

I can’t believe I haven’t turned this disgusting propaganda off.

PAUL turns off the radio. 

SCENE TWO  

It is midnight, WALTER is waiting by the weak spot they had planned to break through the wall. WALTER is wearing black and he has a black bandana over his face. PAUL walks up to him with his Nike’s and a red shirt and some jeans. 

PAUL and WALTER

What are you wearing!?

PAUL

We are breaking this spot so we can go to Samuel’s party! Not rob a bank!

WALTER

As you said, we’re breaking in! If something bad happens we will have to go unrecognized!

GUARD

Off stage

Hey!! Who’s there!

GUARD DOG

Growls, barks

Landmine in distance explodes

PAUL

Man, that was close.

WALTER
Yeah, who knew he would step on a landmine

PAUL

If my dad catches me he will kill me! You’re lucky your dad doesn’t care about what you do.

Paul and Walter continue to break through the wall

SCENE THREE

PAUL

 Off stage

Finally home.

Paul re-enters his house. Lights are off. Lights turn on, FATHER in front of him

FATHER

As stern as possible
Where were you?

PAUL 

Uhh… I —

FATHER

It was rhetorical! I know you were in West Berlin, that’s why I brought these two, Andre and Sergey.

Two large officers step forward from O.S.

FATHER

Take him away.

The two guards slap cuffs on him and take him away

SCENE FOUR

PAUL gets dragged into prison

PAUL

Wait! Stop, this is a misunderstanding!

ANDRE

Shut up!

ABENEER

Australian accent

‘Ello there mate!

PAUL

What? Who said that!?

ABENEER

I did, the name’s Abeneer Smith.

PAUL

You mean the Abeneer Smith, the coach of Centurion, who beat Ivan Drago!?

ABENEER

That’s me 

PAUL

Where is Centurion now?

ABENEER

The soviet soldiers shot him after he beat Ivan Drago, the soviet wrestler.

PAUL

What!? He was my favorite wrestler growing up!

ABENEER

Centurion and his other friends, my friends, were all killed. I got put in prison for coaching him.

GUARD

Hey, you filthy rats! Get onto the prison lawn for roll call.

Suddenly the sound of an explosion sounds from the prison. WALTER comes with his friends, guns blazing, and PAUL’s father. They rescue PAUL and get him out.

PAUL

Abeneer, come with us!

PAUL reaches for ABENEER and takes him with him.

CHIEF GUARD

Get them!! 

Guards open fire, but PAUL and the others escape to an underground sewer.

SCENE FIVE

PAUL

Dad? What are you doing

FATHER

Eric Hockener told me to kill anyone caught crossing to West Berlin. When I went to your room because I left my wallet there, I also saw your invitation to Samuel’s party. I knew I couldn’t kill you so instead I sent you to prison and I would break you out later, so I am the chief of the resistance, and here I am now.

PAUL
Wait wha-

WALTER

Welcome to the resistance, Paul.

PAUL

The resistance?

WALTER

After you 

THE END

The Fair Princess

Once, there was a fair princess. People whispered about her, and sang songs in her honor and named their firstborn daughters and sons after her. She was the ruler– of what?

“I was never told, Mama, of what, of what?”

“Sssh, Lucy, you only need to know that she was the ruler. She was lovely and special and important and she was ours.” 

Once, there was a fair princess. They say that when her feet touched the sand, vines grew. They say that she loved her kingdom with the love of a parent for their children. They say she would have died for us. She was never lonely. She had us. We had her.

“But she must have gotten lonely, right Papa?” Lucy inquired, muddy face beaming earnestly up at her father. “I’d get lonely, all alone like she was…” At this, her older brother interjected, face growing red.

“You must never say that, child!” Her older brother admonished, glaring at her, “No, she did not get lonely. She lived in a palace made of diamonds and glass and she was never, never wanting for anything else.” Lucy whimpered.

“Didn’t she have emeralds?” A mud-splattered girl had wandered over. She was a few moons older than Lucy and had recently gone to see the Princess. Jealousy burned in Lucy’s heart– she wanted to see the Princess too.

“No, she did not have emeralds– she would never wear anything so vulgar!” Lucy’s mother snapped, glaring at the girl. “She wore robes of the finest blue. Almost the color of the ocean. I can still see it today…” And she trailed off, lost in her memories of the fair Princess.

Once there was a fair princess, and she issued a decree: when each child turned twelve, they would go and have an audience with the fair Princess. After all, she wanted to know more about her people. And when a child had reached twelve moons, they were deemed suitable to go and see the fair Princess.

“Don’t worry,” her Papa told her, stroking her dusty hair with his calloused hand. “Soon, you will see the fair Princess; in one hour, she will change your life, Lucy. You will love her like we do.”  Lucy looked around. All of the townsfolk were smiling, remembering their time with her.

Even though they wore nothing other than rags, even though children died every year of the Black Plague that brought families to their knees, the fair Princess could make everything alright with a simple smile. They never needed to worry, her parents told Lucy. They had the fair Princess. 

“What if she leaves?” Lucy had asked once, when she was still a tyke and did not know any better. “What if the fair Princess leaves?” This had resulted in a stinging slap from some of the other tykes, and soon they had jumped on her, punching and kicking. If her mother had not happened to have come by and seen the scrum, or heard the cries of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” from the village elders, her youngest would have easily been killed. Later, she had learned that it was considered sacrilege to insult the Princess in any way. Lucy didn’t, and still didn’t, understand why, but the memory of being turned on by the other tykes was more than enough to keep her from doing it again. She shifted on the hard ground as an ugly scene of five moons ago came to her mind. 

Five moons ago:

“Once there was a Princess! A fair one! And she was lonely!” A wild-eyed young woman stood in the middle of the square, shouting lies– or so Lucy had thought. Her father clamped his hands over her ears– her mother got up and started toward the young woman, looking worried. People crept from their cottages and stared, some calling for the Guard. “She was lonely because you bastards”– and here she used a very rude word, one that Lucy hadn’t heard before and didn’t care to hear again– “drained the flipping life from her! You let her die! You took and took and took and even when she had nothing to give!” The color drained from the faces of the townspeople. But then, before Lucy could consider what this stranger was screaming about, they heard the pounding of horse hooves. The Guard had arrived, splendid in gold and red. The woman had stopped yelling. Instead, she turned to face them and very quietly said: “I’m right. And you know it. And soon everyone will know it, and it will be your fault.”  

Lucy’s parents grabbed her and hustled her away, just as a high-pitched scream echoed through the air. She turned toward the square, and the young woman was lying on her side, dark hair spread out across the ground and blood leaking from her body. Lucy screamed. 

“Papa, what did they do to her? What did they do?” She was shaking, eyes tightly shut. She could still see that pool of blood in her mind’s eye, growing larger.

Her father’s hands were trembling as they walked past the Guard. “Nothing, Lucy, nothing, she’s just sleeping, she’s fine.”

As they walked past the horsemen, a Guard reached out and grabbed Lucy’s arm. Not hard, but enough to make her flinch. She showed off her yellow teeth as she grinned at the terrified girl. “Don’t worry, little one; the Princess will wake her up.”

Lucy felt puzzled. Why had she thought of that now? It was only a memory. And the Princess had woken the woman up, The Guard had taken the sleeping stranger to the castle, and the Princess had healed her– no, had woken her up. The woman hadn’t been hurt. She hadn’t needed to be healed. Still, something pulled at the back of her mind. If that stranger was asleep, then why didn’t she wake up quicker? Didn’t she scream? With a shrug, she pushed those disturbing thoughts away. 

“Lucy! Lucy, where are you?” her brother called, glancing around. “Come child, in one hour you will meet the fair Princess–we need to get you ready!” Lucy got up, covered in red dust, and slowly began to make her way towards her cottage, glancing back at the town square. It smelled of blood.

“Now, Lucy, what do we say when we meet the fair Princess?” Her mother quizzed her as her father pulled a brush through her hair. It was customary for villagers to look their best when meeting the fair Princess, and that included brushing, bathing, and smiling. Lucy currently wore the finest red frock that her family owned. However, it had rather inconvenient holes at the knees; she hoped the Princess wouldn’t notice.

Absentmindedly, she responded. “O fair Princess, I kneel before you in all of your glory. Tell me your tale. I will listen.”

“Very good!” her father praised, now rummaging with something in a small velvet bag. “This is for you, Lucy.” He pulled a golden chain from the bag, holding it up to catch the light. “My father gave it to me when I went to go greet the fair Princess, and his mother gave it to him, and so on and so forth.”

Lucy’s jaw fell open. “But why didn’t you give it to Elder Brother? He’s older than me…” Her voice trailed off as he placed the chain around her neck.

“Ah, well, trinkets like these are for ones who deserve it…” she waited for him to continue, but he did not, instead calling her mother and brother forth to look. “Come, you two! Doesn’t she look ready?” 

“You look lovely,” Elder Brother said, but there was a hint of jealousy in his eyes, and he looked away quickly. “I especially like that chain.” She felt suddenly nervous, but did not know why.

“Are you ready?” her mother questioned, moving some of her daughter’s hair out of her face. “I’m happy for you. Meeting the fair Princess will… you will love her. And Eldest Son is right; that chain looks very fetching on you, child.”

“The carriage is here!” Elder Brother was standing by the window, staring out at the red and gold carriage. Two women jumped down and began walking toward the house. “This is it,” he breathed, turning to look at Lucy. “Ready?”

Lucy could not respond, so she simply nodded, eyes wide. “Thank… thank you,” she stuttered, looking around the room. “I…”

Three harsh knocks on the door cut her off. “We are here for the child,” someone called through the door. Suddenly, Lucy’s brother swept her up in a sudden, fierce hug.

“Put me down!” she protested, struggling.

“Don’t look at her face,” he hissed in her ear, so quietly that she barely heard him. And all of a sudden, Lucy’s family was all grins and nods and bows as the Guard walked in, questioning them about her. 

“Is this really the girl? She looks small for her age,” one Guardswoman said, glancing over at Lucy.

“She has always been small, Your Grace,” Lucy’s father put in. “Her brother was small too, if you remember.”

The Guardswoman glared. “Oh yes. Do I ever remember. Hopefully this one will be a little more… compliant.”

“She will, Your Grace,” her mother said, lightly pushing Lucy towards the Guardswomen. Then, turning to Lucy, with a sudden urgency in her voice. “Do exactly as they tell you, and everything will be all right.”

“Hold out your hands, love,” a Guardswoman said, kneeling next to the girl. “This part will be a little… unpleasant, but I promise it won’t hurt for long.” Lucy trembled, but did so. She watched as they wrapped iron chains around both wrists, giving her no room to lift her hands and chafing terribly.

“Chains?” Elder Brother put in, a look of horror on his face. “She is only twelve moons…” His voice trailed off as all of the Guardswomen turned to look at him. 

“Be silent,” the first one spat, towering over him. “Or it’ll be more than just your brat of a sister chained, and, trust me, you won’t be going to visit the fair Princess.” He shrank back against the moldering wall, and she turned to the others. “Get her in the carriage. Now. We’ve wasted too much time on these rats posing for people.”

Two Guardswomen grabbed Lucy by the arms and forcefully lifted her. She didn’t struggle. They sat her down, not removing the chains, and tied another one across her lap. She peeked out the window and saw that half of the town had come out, and that they all wore the same expressions– not ones of pride or joy, but absolute, destroyed horror. Hot tears slipped down her cheeks, and she did not know why. Looking down at the chains that bound her hands, she noted that there were red stains on them, and that her wrists were bleeding as well. A Guardswoman glanced back at her.

“Don’t worry, dear. You’re lucky you’re wearing a red frock– no blood will show.” Lucy bent her head. 

“Thank you, your Grace. You and the fair Princess always know what is best for me.”

The Guardswoman chuckled softly, leaning back against the plush, red leather seat. “Good girl.”

Once, there was a fair Princess. And each year, she summoned children to her castle to meet her. And each year, those children returned, talking about the fair Princess– how good and kind and lovely she was. But one day, a boy did not. He disrespected the throne. He was punished. Hopefully, his sister will be better. We have waited a long time for a girl like her.

Lucy did not know how long it had been since she had been shoved into the carriage. The sky was darkening, and she was so thirsty. She sat uncomfortably on the seats, whole body bouncing each time the carriage bumped. Over a pothole, she assumed. The carriage stopped, and she was suddenly thrown forward, painfully, the chain around her waist pulling her back.

“Get up.” She did, knees and wrists bleeding. A Guardswoman leaned over to unbuckle the chain from around her waist, and half nudged, half pushed her out of the carriage. She stood, looking around herself. About twenty Guardswomen ringed her, all with the same expressions of disdain. And… arrows. They had arrows. A memory pierced Lucy’s mind– of the young woman lying on her back, eyes empty and blank. They killed her. They killed her! They lied, they lied! She gagged.

“Are we sure this is the girl? She’s awfully…” 

“This is the girl. I’ll have no arguments about it. We’ve waited a long time for a street rat like her.”  Lucy curled her lip at the now all-too-familiar insult, but said nothing. The Guardswoman who had threatened her brother walked up, inspecting Lucy. “Move, you little urchin. The fair Princess don’t have all day and neither do I.”

Lucy stumbled forward, biting her lip. I will not cry. I will not let them get the satisfaction of seeing me cry. She lifted her chin, looking at all of them. “Where am I to go exactly? Will the fair Princess come to get me, may her name be praised evermore?”

“No, you hedge-born idiot,” the Guardswoman jeered, raising one arm to point at the drawbridge that loomed behind them. “You are to go there. You are to talk to the fair Princess. You are not to run away. Do as we tell you.”

The drawbridge was dark and ominous– dark water moved slowly under it, as small silver fish flopped belly-up, eyes blank. The Guardswomen shuffled behind her, occasionally kicking her shins to try to make her walk at a faster rate. As they entered the castle, shadows loomed and rats scurried across the floor, picking at the overturned plates of food. The floor was sticky– with what? She didn’t know. 

“Walk down that hallway and knock on the door.” The Guardswoman pointed down a long dark hallway, the gold braid on her uniform gleaming amid the disrepair. What do you get out of this? Lucy wondered, staring up at her strangely blank face. What do you want from me? I don’t have anything to give! Leaning towards her, the Guardswoman unhooked the chains on her wrists.

“Move. Are you deaf?” She did, starting to walk toward the tunnel. As she turned back, the Guardswomen were gone, swallowed up by the darkness. She fought the urge to run. I will not die here today. I swear on every god I know that I will not die here today. As she turned on her heel, the chain around her neck became warm and began to glow faintly. She didn’t notice.

Once, there was a fair Princess. And she was loved by everyone– by her people, who taught their children how to look up to her and adore her, and who taught their children’s children. But the fair Princess was lonely. She did not want to be loved anymore. Children loved her, and she could talk to them, and feel less lonely for a time. But then… one night she left. Her people could do without her, she thought. She would go somewhere where she could be… herself. And not the fair Princess.

Oh, how wrong she was. The same night, the same night that she ran, they caught her. She protested. She would not, she could not stay, she had nothing left to give. So– they killed her, saying that if in life she could not stay, then in death she would. 

They bound her spirit to them. And she searched for the girl or boy who would free her at long last, who would let her go from her decaying body. They had always brought her girls and boys, but the girls and boys all loved her, and could not or would not help her. There had been a boy. Once. But he had been taken by the Guardswomen before he could free her. And as her body mouldered, her kingdom fell into disrepair. The girl is my last hope. I need her. 

Lucy leaned forward and knocked on the door. It was a large, slime-covered door, but no one answered. With a huff, she leaned forward and opened it. Her first thought was that the drapes needed to be opened; the room was much, much too dark. She took a step into the room, noting that jewels littered the floor. A massive gold throne was in the middle with something or someone on it.

“O fair Princess?” she called, taking a step closer to the throne. “I have come. Tell me your tale.” The room was oppressively silent. What should I do? As lightly as a rabbit, she bounded to the throne and leaned over the fair Princess. She bit back a horrified scream, reeling away. Because the Princess was a skeleton. She was dressed in a tattered, blue gown that had what looked like bloodstains on it. Golden chains bound her hands and knees, and a circlet hung off her head. Her body had been entirely stripped of flesh. Lucy had never wanted to run more than she did in that moment. 

“Help me,” a voice rasped as Lucy turned for the door. “Please. Help me.” Although the fair Princess’s mouth did not move, Lucy knew that it was her voice, which was strangely comforting. Almost like her father’s, when he prepared to tell her a story. So Lucy did not run. Instead she walked toward the throne and placed her hand on the fair Princess’s forehead, almost as if to check for a fever.

“…You asked my brother to help you, didn’t you?” she whispered, strangely not feeling frightened. 

“Yes. And he would have. But the Guard took him away, and I have been trapped here for two agonizing years until you came.” Lucy nodded. That was just like Eldest Brother; always trying to help.

“I… I don’t know what I can do,” she murmured, not taking her eyes off the fair Princess. “I don’t know if I can help you.”

The fair Princess seemed to raise a skeletal hand to point at Lucy’s neck, where the golden chain had suddenly gotten much, much warmer. “Yes. You do, lass. Like father, like daughter, I see.” Lucy blinked.

“You want this? It’s just a useless trinket…” The chain was now burning her neck and she tugged at it fruitlessly, pain mingling with surprise.

“Would it be burning like that if it was useless? Nothing is useless, lass.” The fair Princess straightened suddenly, eyes on the door.

“Girl!” The voices of the Guardwomen could suddenly be heard, along with the clomping of their heavy boots. “Girl!”

Make haste, Lucy!” the fair Princess spat, watching Lucy struggle with the chain. Lucy tugged at it harder, and it slipped off her neck, glowing gently in her hand.

The door burst open. Several very angry-looking Guardswomen stood in the door, gaping first at Lucy, who clutched the chain tighter, and then at the fair Princess, who had pushed herself up into a sitting position. “Put the chain down,” one spat, taking a step toward her. “Put it down. Now.” In one quick movement, Lucy swung the chain around the fair Princess’s neck. The biggest of them started toward her. And from that moment on, Lucy remembered

                                            Nothing. 

Lucy got up. Her dress was soaked in blood and she hoped it wasn’t hers. She turned to look at the throne from where she’d been bodily thrown across the room. There was no-one on it, only the golden chains trailing off of it.

“O fair Princess?” she whispered, limping across the room as agony stabbed through her leg. “Reveal yourself?” No answer. A hand touched her shoulder, and she flinched, whipping around. The fair Princess was standing next to her, no longer a skeleton. She was every bit as lovely as she had been before.

“Lucy.” Lucy blinked at her, noticing for the first time that the Princess appeared to be melting away, into the sunbeam that she stood in. She smiled at Lucy kindly, draping something around her neck. “Thank you.” 

“Where– the Guardswomen?” Lucy’s hand went to her chain again. 

“Gone. Go home, lass. I never got to.”

Lucy dipped her head. “Where will you go?” 

The fair Princess’s shoulders shook for a moment before she grinned at Lucy, responding. “Wherever I please.”

Once, there was a fair Princess. And she was lonely. But her kingdom could not bear to let her go, so they bound her to an iron throne. And she waited for over one hundred moons. One moon, the right girl came; and this girl was steadfast and true, and this girl freed her. And the fair Princess was no longer lonely. Eventually, the right girl led us into prosperity, and she told us the story of the fair Princess, and that she was lonely. And so we will tell the story of Lucy, our flawed girl and queen to our children. And they will tell it to their children’s children. This is the way it has always been and the way it will always be.


Art School

Ten days. Ten days of having a fire burn through my brain as my teachers go through course expectations and how you’d get a detention if you were late three or more times in a quarter (I really don’t want one). And then there were the early quizzes and the English in-class writings, and, and—

(Breathe, Frances. You’re trying to make art here.)

It’s Friday night, and even though I begged my mom that I shouldn’t, I’m leaving my giant pile of homework for Saturday so that I can “do fun things to calm down my head.” The problem is, how can I calm down my head if I’m a junior now? After all, juniors have much more responsibility than sophomores and freshmen. Maybe the seniors, too. But I did want to calm down my head, though. I’m tired of all the headaches, nausea, and rushed breathing that I’ve been having since I graduated middle school, when not even my good grades could guide me through this anxious new life called high school. I just want serenity to drown my mental fire until it’s nothing but pure smoke. 

So here I am, sitting in front of my desk, desperately trying to keep the Saturday homework shut out from my brain as I think up what to draw. Maybe I could do my dog, Pippin, who’s been so loyal to me in trying to keep me sane all these years. Maybe I could do the sunset that’s sitting outside my window, the pinks and blues swirling together like a peaceful melody trying to calm down all the pain I’ve been going through. With a careful look at the beautiful sky, the small 5% of happiness in my body is flying in all sorts of directions, telling me that this is what I should draw. Yes! This sunset is the way to true peace!

I take a picture of my new peacemaker for reference, and that’s when I begin to create. As the tips of my colored pencils touch the paper, my extremely small happiness grows so big, my brain lights up not in a fire of fear, but in shiny rays declaring to the world, “Frances has found something to feel good about! She’s in her happy territory!” 

And it’s true. I am in my happy territory. Never in three years have I begun to feel so normal. Maybe if I keep fixing and coloring my sunset, all my problems will wash away into the sea and never come back to haunt me again.

***

I don’t understand why happiness can’t last forever. How can something so beautiful run away from you and be so reluctant to come back home?

It’s already Saturday, and my giant pile of homework is awaiting me on my desk, and I bet you that in just seconds it’ll be ready to tear me apart. But I have my first physics test on Monday that I can’t avoid, and so I have to start studying for that.

It’s when I try to get my index cards from my desk drawers that the fire returns again, this time consuming my stomach until there’s ash inside. And then as I begin writing flashcards, the fire heads up my esophagus and up to my head, roaring in a mighty fury, “You’re a failure! With that head of yours, you’ll never be a success! Hope you’re okay with a D on that test!”

And from the ashes come the nausea. I race to the bathroom, tears and screams just about ready to shoot out of my body. I throw up leftover breakfast into the toilet and flush it down, thankful that some of the pain is out of my system. However, the rest of the pain that’s still there throws me to the ground, and my head spirals and spirals like a rollercoaster until I can’t gain a sense of what’s going on.

It is my mom who eventually finds me. “Sit up, Frankie girl,” she coos to me, wrapping me in a soothing embrace that I wish to stay in forever. Safety wraps me in its warm, soft blanket. “It’s okay. Cry,” it whispers to me. And so I do. 

“Momma, momma,” I whimper, “I’m a failure. I’m gonna fail.”

“Absolutely not,” my mom replies. “Over the years, every single teacher has told me that despite all you’ve been through, you’ve been doing so great in school. You’re definitely not going to fail.”

“But what if I do?” That’s when the tears fall faster and faster like a mighty river. “Then I can’t leave eleventh grade. I’m gonna be trapped here forever.” 

My lungs can sense this fear, too, and they start moving up and down in a frenzy of fear. 

“I need you to take a break, Frances,” my mom continues, stroking my soft hair. “Until your brain calms down. In the meantime, I’ll go make you some chamomile tea.”

I head over to my bed, my overwhelmed body sinking into a sea of pillows and bedsheets. I’m just done. Why does the world have to pile itself onto me when I’m only sixteen and still technically a child? Just that alone makes me want to cry in a dark hole and never come out.

As I’m beginning to adjust myself under the covers, I can see my sunset sitting on the floor next to my backpack, calling my name. “Frances. Come, come. Remember me? I make you feel better.”

“I’m deeply sorry, dear friend,” I explain to my picture, “but I just feel too terrible to get out of bed. I mean, I’ve just had a panic attack for crying out loud!”

“Trust me, Frances. You need to do something to get yourself out of that awful state of yours.”

I think for a little while. I remember all the joy that was exploding in my body as I was scribbling those brilliant colors on the page and how peaceful I felt. How…okay I was.

“Alright, then, Sweet Sunset. I’ll try.”

Slowly, I rise from my bed, and as the sunshine outside encourages me to keep going, my body begins to recover from the wave of anxiety it went through. I zombie walk to my desk and sit down in my chair, the cool wood relaxing my body even further. As I continue coloring, the happiness immediately returns, shouting a quick hello as it walks through the mental door. 

My sunset and I start up a conversation as I continue with my art journey, and that’s when it starts with the questions. “Why are you so scared all the time?”

I sigh. I really don’t want to go through this, but my sunset’s a close friend of mine, so why not? I slowly begin my story.

“Well, I wasn’t always like this. I had friends, I was doing art all the time, and I was just a happy kid. But like, with high school coming, I started freaking out over it. I shooed my friends away and hid myself from the world. I mean, this anxiety came to me naturally, that’s all.”

My sunset brightens in a spark of curiosity. “Are you sure?” it asks. “You look really bad to me. There’s got to be more to this.” 

Oh God. I really don’t want to go further with this. I take a deep sigh, my stomach bubbling up. “Well one day, my dad died in a car accident.” That’s when the tears start flowing out of my eyes. “It was awful when he died. He helped me cope with going into middle school. I try to remember him by sketching his face into my sketchbook. But I just doesn’t look right. It hurts so bad when you can’t remember someone you love.”

“I bet. You loved him very much. When did this emotional stuff start coming?”

I dry my tears until my face is a hot, sticky desert. “Well, soon after he died I became really depressed, and I was even more anxious when ninth grade began. The worst part is, no one except my mom knows about this stuff, because I worry that everyone’ll make fun of me. Like, I do pretty good in school, but it’s really hard when you have to push yourself through all your problems to be successful.”

My sunset appears to darken, feeling pity for what I’ve been through. That’s when it decides to give me an idea. “What if,” it begins, “I can help you be happy in school?”

What? Happy? In school? This doesn’t make sense! How can I be happy when I’ve got so much happening in my life?

“I know. This sounds really weird. But you’re happy with me, right? What if you bring that happiness into your school day? It’s important for the sake of your well-being, Frances. Maybe it can help you with that terrible fear of yours.”

Well, I’ve always wanted to be happy, and my pain has prevented me from doing so. And with happiness comes peace, too, doesn’t it?

Wait a minute, no. What am I thinking? There’s no way I can be happy in school! I’ve got tests and essays and other things going on in my life! There’s so many things to do and so little time to do it! 

“No. No,” I say. “It’ll never work. I’m scared almost every day to the point where I can’t think straight! I can never be happy!”

“Don’t fall for the negativity, Frances! That’s what anxiety does to you! But if you’re positive, it can benefit you exponentially!”

I can feel my sunset reaching for my hand, trying for my trust. “I don’t know, Sweet Sunset,” I mumble. “It might never work.”

“Just believe me, Frances,” my sunset responds. “Let’s just try it. It could work.”

I sit and think for a while. Well, I have been doing well so far this year, and it’s only September. And I do want to be happy. Maybe, just maybe, this could work.

I tell my sunset of my approval for the plan. It lights up in a neon rainbow and reassures me once again that everything will go well. 

***

I begin my Monday morning rising from my bed, letting the warm sunshine sprinkle onto my face. “Good morning, beautiful sun,” I whisper. “Thank you for making such a gorgeous day.”

I get dressed, fix my hair and brush my teeth with beams of light shining in my brain, further telling me that this day will be absolutely great. And who knows? Maybe this will be a great day! I’ll ace that physics test and continue to bring my can-do attitude throughout the rest of this year!

I continue on through the yellow brick road of felicity as I eat my breakfast and hug my mother goodbye (she looks really surprised with my new disposition) as I grab my backpack and head out the door, greeting the day with a radiant smile that shines onto the whole world.

I skip to my bus stop in glee, where other kids just look at me and then move on with their lives. I don’t really care, though, as I wasn’t always the popular kid. In fact, I’m glad I’m not the popular kid, because I don’t want all my classmates to see me fall apart—

(Frances. You’re supposed to be positive here. Just calm down. Look! The bus is here!)

Once the doors to the bright yellow vehicle open, I’m the first one to head on and quietly say good morning to the driver before sitting in my seat. While we head on our way to school, I try my very best to ignore the screaming and the chitter-chatter that normally pierces my brain. Then I look at the sky, which looks exactly like my beloved drawing, bringing me to a state of serenity. “Thank you,” I tell it.

***

I walk into class like I’m a physics major, ready to put my pencil onto the test and write down everything from my brain. Nothing much happens during these five minutes as I sit down and breathe, except Kelsey from nearby asks me for a pencil, which I give to her.

And then the big moment happens. Mrs. Shaw begins to hand out the test to every kid in the classroom. I sit up straight in my desk, reassuring myself that I studied basically day and night for this, so what could go wrong?

Before I realize it, it is my turn to get the test. I write my name in my typical curlicue handwriting and head straight for the questions. 

The first portion of the test is a fill in the blank. My mind suddenly freezes at the very first question. “When the mass of an object doubles, the kinetic energy also…”

What in the world is the answer? Does it double? Triple?

I tell myself to calm down and let my brain come up with the answer. I eventually realize that kinetic energy doubles and bubble in the answer.

Then the next question asks me what happens to kinetic energy as an object goes up a hill. Doesn’t it increase since the object needs more energy to go up? No, no, no!

(Frances, just skip it and come back.)

But then the third question is even worse. “Although kinetic energy has been known to exist before 1849, who first came up with the actual term?”

No. No. No. 

Kelvin? Newton? Darwin? (Wait, Darwin wasn’t a physicist!)

And suddenly, the hurried breathing comes back. This—this—this doesn’t make sense! I studied so much! Why is this happening to me? I’m supposed to be acing this! 

My mind starts running in circles, and it takes only seconds before it struggles to breathe, too. And then Mrs. Shaw sees that something is obviously wrong with me and walks over to my seat.

No. No one can see me like this. Absolutely no one.

“Frances?” Mrs. Shaw asks soothingly. “Are you okay? Why don’t you take a quick breather and come back?”

I don’t respond with a single word. I slowly rise from my seat and walk out the classroom door. I sit against the wall and breathe heavily, hot tears ready to fall out of my eyes. 

“Why now?” I mumble. “I’m supposed to be okay. This happiness thing is all a big lie.”

I feel just at the peak of crying, yet I remind myself not to because that will only get in the way of my success (Will I be successful?). Once I calm myself down, I head back into class to continue the test. 

But things don’t continue as swimmingly as I wanted them to be. Each question is only a jumbled mystery in my brain that I can’t unravel, and although I try my hardest to answer them, I can see my success on this test ready to collapse.

Right as the bell rings, I hand in my poorly done assessment. I walk out of class wishing I didn’t have to go to English, even though it’s one of my favorites. The hallways and the kids around me are all nothing but a sea of blacks and grays, and all I want right now is to run outside and just ignore everything around me. 

***

It is 3:15 when I storm through the front door, completely ignoring my chef mother who’s making snacks in the kitchen. “Hey, sweetie!” she calls enthusiastically. “How’d it go?”

I don’t want to talk to her. Not now, not ever. I just can’t bear to remember the failure I was today, sitting at my desk barely unable to come up with a good answer.

I race up the stairs to my room, where I flop onto my bed and sob so harshly that the sunshine outside my window can’t bring me out of my despair. 

Can I drop out of school? I don’t want to go back there ever again! Heck, can I stay in my own house forever? Or maybe I can run away into the woods and live amongst the creatures so that I don’t have to encounter this evil world. Maybe—maybe—

I can’t. Stop. Breathing. That’s when the screams, the headaches, and the nausea come. I spin around in circles which leaves my head in a frenzy. No. No. I’ll never graduate. NEVER.

And then without thinking, I head to my desk.

Failure.

I stare at my wondrous friend, Sweet Sunset, who tells me to not fret and that he’ll come help me.

You’ll never be happy. Not in school, not EVER.

Maybe my brain is right. Nothing will make me happy. After all, everything is changing. I’m not a little girl anymore. I’m sixteen years old and am two years away from graduating high school and heading off into the real, terrifying world. If I ever graduate.

I give up. I can’t do this no longer.

Do it, Frances. Do it.

I pick up my sunset from my desk. “You idiot!” I sob. “You never did anything for me! Look at me! I’m a mess! I’M A MIGHTY AWFUL MESS, LET ME TELL YOU!”

I hear footsteps racing through the hall, and I bet that it’s my mom. But before she or anyone can stop me…

I begin to tear my creation apart. I rip it into shreds, little bits of ugly snowflakes hastily falling to the ground.

My mom races through the door and yells at me to stop. “No! No!” I yell back. “I’m a mess! I’m a mess!”

And then before I know it, all the snow is laying on my bedroom floor, every pink and blue hue a sad nothing. 

I stand there, shocked and horrified at what I’ve done. Me, a messy, broken failure. I can barely do anything but stare at my bedroom clock. It’s 3:18. How could something so terrible happen in such a short time?

My mom wraps me in a hug and tells me that everything’s okay. But it’s not. 

The regret seeps into me, black tar trying desperately to poison my body. And it works. I feel so much shame, so many terrible feelings. 

What did I do? What did I do? What did I do?

***

Almost every single person I know waits anxiously until Friday, when they can choose whether or not to study that day (most likely the latter) and just be a teenager again. Not me, or at least throughout this week. I can’t help but look out at the sky and remember what a horrible fool I am for the mess I made that terrible Monday. Every class and every lunch period involves me sitting in my seat, my eyes staring at a bottomless nothing as the world flies by without me. And whenever I do have time, I hide in the bathroom stall and sink my head down, my heavy brain letting the tears flow until my eyes become a sorrowful, gloomy desert.

Today is the day everyone was waiting for, but I don’t care. I’m sitting alone as I normally do at my typical lunch table when I hear footsteps around me. “Hey, Frances.” 

It’s Kelsey. Oh God. I can’t have her see me like this.

“You okay? Can I sit with you?”

I can’t bear having Kelsey’s kindness bear down on me when I’m such an awful mess. I reply sharply, “Leave me alone.”

Kelsey doesn’t budge. She sits right down anyway, putting her loving hand on top of my shoulder. “You sure? You seem really depressed.”

That’s it. I had enough. 

I throw Kelsey’s hand off my shoulder like it’s a cloth toy and look at her straight in the eye with a face just like the devil. “CAN’T YOU SEE, KELSEY?!” I scream. “I’M A MESS! A HORRIBLE MESS! CAN’T YOU JUST RESPECT THAT?!”

Kelsey appears stunned by my sudden meltdown. “You’re right,” she whimpers. “I’m sorry.” As she stands up to leave, a salty sea of tears begin to form in her eyes.

But just when I’m finally alone again, even more footsteps begin to come up behind me. “Frances? You want to talk?”

That voice sounds so familiar, yet it’s a voice I really don’t want to hear. I turn around and see our school counselor, Mrs. Pugh. But why do I need to talk? All I want is to be alone! Why doesn’t anyone get that?

“I don’t want to,” I reply stiffly.

“You sure? I’m pretty sure Kelsey felt bad by what you said. Maybe we can talk about how you feel.”

“Why do I need to talk about how I feel? She didn’t get that I had to be alone! I had to tell her! I’m a sick monster, after all!”

“Well, whenever you’re ready, my door’s always open. Just try to think about your actions for a bit.”

And once again, I’m finally alone. Thank God for that, because I don’t need help from anybody! Not Mrs. Pugh, not Kelsey, NOBODY! They can’t help me to be okay! I will never be okay! 

After all, if I can’t find happiness, then why do I need help to seek it?

***

It’s already 3:00, and all I want is to sink into my bed and never get up. 

That’s exactly what I do when I sulk up the stairs and into my bedroom. The sunshine is brighter than ever, yet I don’t bother to give a quick hello to it. Then, when I pass by my desk, I notice something recognizable: a pile of my torn-up artwork—my broken regrets—sitting right next to a note from my mom:

Just in case you wanted to keep it. It’s still beautiful to me.

Love you, Frankie girl.

Mom <3

Who cares? It’s nothing but a shredded mess now, so what can I do about it? All my happiness is smaller than a microbe. 

I head over to my bed and hide under the covers, my black and gray world getting even darker. My brain becomes a thirty-five pound weight, and a raincloud of sorrow ties me up like it’s kidnapping me. It hurts so much to even stare at a wall. When the pain becomes too much, I close my eyes.

But just as I am in the midst of my extreme melancholy, I hear a whisper so tiny not even a person with perfect hearing could listen to it. “Frances. Frances…”

I open my eyes at the sudden recognizing of my dead friend. “Sweet Sunset?” I mumble, just at the point of crying. “You’re still alive?”

“Well, not exactly,” my torn-up sunset responds. “But I can still talk to you, which is still really important. But why are you there? What’s wrong?”

And that’s when I lose it, crying without any end in sight. When I do eventually calm down, I tell it all my regrets and all the horrible events that happened to me since then. 

“Poor girl,” says my sunset in a voice with a melancholy almost as big as mine. “I wish you weren’t so miserable. But even though you can’t change the past, you can always make things better in the present. With that in mind, Frances, you can find happiness.”

“What? But how?” I croak, confused by what I just heard. “I’ve tried, and I failed. I’ll just live and die unhappy, I guess.”

“No, you won’t. Come. Get out of bed and walk over to me.”

I do exactly what I am told to do, even though I am 1,000% sure that I probably shouldn’t be listening to my spirit friend. Has he gone mad? I don’t think he even knows what he’s saying! Happiness doesn’t exist for me anymore!

But here I am, at my desk. Here we go…

“So, what do you want me to do?” I ask.

“Take me and go make something beautiful.”

My confusion becomes so big that it squeezes my brain really hard and latches on to it. I’m still pretty sad, and with a heavy brain, how can you make something beautiful? 

But at the same time, some of the depression has dissipated to the point where there’s some space for trying again, so why not?

I pick up two pieces from my beloved sunset, and as my mind spirals with possible ideas, my depression disintegrates even further to the point where it’s basically nothing.

And then, like a miracle happens, I have an idea. 

I search through my closet for empty hangers I don’t need and take a white one. Then I rush over to my art station in the right corner and picked out some yarn, tape, and my pink scissors. There. Now I have everything I need.

I head over to my desk and begin creating. I snip shapes and tape things onto yarn and hang those yarn pieces onto my hanger. I even smile and giggle while I do so (Isn’t that funny?). And then I finally have a yarn-paper waterfall full of yellow-orange suns, pink hearts, and blue moons. I even added some colored ribbon to it, adding a bright rainbow to my glorious creation. 

I hang my piece onto my closet door and step back to look at my work. And to be honest to you, I’ve never seen anything more beautiful in my entire life. It reminds me of a child’s mind, filled with color and life and silly childish nonsense. And then memories of my happy childhood start running up to me and begging for my attention. I used to keep them away, as I wasn’t the happy kid I used to be. But I think now I can let them in my brain, and so I do.

Wow. Why do I feel so…so…happy

My mom opens the door to my room, and I tell her to be careful. “Why so?” she asks.

I point to my beautiful work on the wall. She gasps as if she’s looking at an Alexander Calder piece, only more innocent than innovative. “Oh, I’m so proud of you, Frankie girl,” she exclaims, hugging me in an embrace that feels like warm joy. “How were you able to do this?”

“Just…creativity,” I respond. And then I suddenly find myself crying tears of joy. It’s so weird, yet I don’t care. “Momma, I want to be happy.” I whisper. “In fact, I will be happy. I’ll try.”

My mom hugs me even tighter, probably as a thank you for what I just said. “That’s all I ever wanted to hear for years,” she replies.

***

I go to Mrs. Pugh first thing after school Monday. She gives me a warm, loving smile when I go into her office, which welcomes me rather than stabbing me. I sit and talk about all the issues I’ve had ever since the end of eighth grade and how it was wrong for me to scream at Kelsey on Friday. At the end of it all I cry softly to her, “I think I need help.”

Then I sob harder, my regret for hiding my emotions stinging me to the point where I can’t move my body. Mrs. Pugh touches my shoulders and says, “Thank you for sharing that with me, Frances. It must have been so hard for you to talk about your pain, but I’m glad you did. That way I can help you get better.”

Is this what hope looks like? If so, I’m pretty sure I just found it, and I’ve never felt happier.

Mrs. Pugh tells me that she can meet with me Fridays after school from now on, and I happily accept the request. I walk out of her office brighter than I ever felt, hopeful that my terrible emotions can dissipate to a smoky nothingness.

And just as I am about to walk out of school, I see someone familiar by the trophy display: Kelsey. Normally my terrified brain would force me to run out of the building and never look back, but maybe this time I should say something to her. I walk up to her, and when Kelsey turns around and sees me, her face appears stunned at my presence.

“I know, I know,” I begin, “I probably shouldn’t be here right now. But I have to say this. I’m so, so sorry, Kelsey. I really am. Things were going on with me, and that probably made me all stupid. But I would never hurt you, and I feel really bad for that.”

Kelsey gives me the same loving smile she always gives to people like me. “It’s okay,” she replies warmly. “I understand that you may have been having a rough time. But no matter how I feel, I still forgive you. We all have our rough days. Hey, wanna share phone numbers? Maybe we can hang out sometime this weekend!”

Wow. Never in three years has someone been so nice to me like that. It feels so wonderful to be loved. I say yes immediately, and we both decide to meet for smoothies on Sunday.

***

So many beautiful things have happened these past eleven days. I feel my soul being lifted to substantial heights, and believe me, it’s quite a beautiful thing to feel. I’m no longer a bird desperate to hide in its cage, but a bird who’s really to fly in the sky. I don’t know how the rest of junior year will be, but I know for sure that when a challenge comes, I’ll take it on with might rather than hiding in the darkness.

Speaking of sky, I should probably say something to a very special someone for my sunny disposition. As I walk out of school, I can tell that my sunset can hear me loud and clear. 

“Thank you, Sweet Sunset,” I say out loud without a care in the world. “Thank you for teaching me.”

The End 🙂


Gender Inequality Through Time

Gender inequality has always been a problem. From ancient China to recent years, there have been a lot of cases. They reveal how society thought throughout the centuries, and showed how it hasn’t really changed much. Although many people have been fighting to give women more rights, a lot of people still believe that men are more important than women, or that they deserve more than women. A lot of the time, women are given jobs requiring them to clean up for other people and they either get lower wages or, even worse, they don’t even get any payment for what they had done. 

China has a long history of gender inequality. A lot of families kept having kids until one of them would finally be a boy. This whole process was to carry on their family name. They also wanted the boys to be able to work for the family. During the Bronze age, when agriculture was becoming a necessity in order to keep the family alive, most people at that time needed boys to do the work and hard labor, while the girls would stay at home to do chores. According to an article by Kelly Kasulis titled “The 2500-year-old roots of gender inequality,” diets in ancient China were the same between the two genders until the Bronze Age. This was when domestic animals and new crops were introduced in China. Girls were given wheat and other basic crops, while men could eat meat and more nutritious foods. Scientists were also able to show that men were treated better than women when they dug up graves from the Bronze age. Men were buried with more riches, and the skeleton of the women were notably shorter compared to the ones in the Neolithic ages. This shows that women were given less nutrition during this period, resulting in shorter skeletons and weaker bone structures because of the lack of nutrition from a young age. On the other hand, the men had a balanced diet, which shows the gender inequality during that time period. Even as our world becomes more and more advanced, giving more opportunities to people, there still have been many times where women were not given an equal chance as men. 

Malala Yousafzai is a well-known female education activist. She was born on July 12, 1997. As a girl in Pakistan, her parents knew that she would never be looked at the way a boy would be. Malala’s father, knowing that she wouldn’t have as many chances to experience what a boy could, was determined to give her the life every girl in Pakistan longed for. As a girl, Malala wouldn’t be allowed to receive an education, and no matter how secretive someone is when it comes to giving a girl an education, the Taliban would find out eventually. When the Taliban took over Swat Valley, Malala was unable to continue with her education, and her father’s school was forced to close down. At the age of 11, Malala’s chance of education was ripped away from her, but thereafter, she continued to speak out on behalf of the girls who couldn’t go to school. Malala had said that during the process “this made [her] me a target” (Yousafzai, Malala). Malala was shot on the left side of her head by the Taliban in October 2012, but luckily, she had survived the attack. This event did not prevent her from reaching her goal of giving girls at least 12 years of education, and she continues to speak out for girls around the world. Not only do girls at school have to face this treatment, but women in the film industry have spoken out on the unfair treatment. 

There have also been many incidents where women were being treated unequally in the workplace. Many women have been given lower wages compared to men, even though they had been working the same amount of time. A lot of the time, men would be given a promotion even if the women were better choices for the job. A lot of actresses have been paid less despite having a role of the same importance as a man. In 2015, Jennifer Lawrence opened up about the gender pay gap, “I didn’t get mad at SONY, I got mad at myself” (Lawrence, Jennifer), noting how she had let herself and her hard work get taken advantage of. In 2016, statistics were given that proved what Jennifer Lawrence had said was true. Dwayne Johnson, the top grossing actor in 2016, earned $64 million, while the top grossing actress, Jennifer Lawrence, only earned $46 million. In 2017, the sum of the wages of the top 10 actresses was $200 million, while the top 10 actors had a sum of $450 million. These statistics given by Phineas Rueckert in an article on Global Citizen titled “Emma Stone: Male Co-Stars Have Taken Pay Cuts to Promote Gender Equality” shows how much females are underpaid in the movie industry. In 2018, Benedict Cumberbatch declared that he won’t take a role if his female co-stars aren’t getting an equal pay. This step towards gender equality is very useful, because as a successful actor, many filmmakers would want to hire him, and with this demand, they most likely would give women an equal wage considering how they need to please their audience, and earn money. In addition, some of Emma Stone’s male co-workers have taken pay cuts in order to prevent gender inequality from becoming a worsening problem. This is also a very important step towards correcting gender inequality, because once filmmakers realise the threats from the male actors, they would begin to consider how important it is to give women an equal chance in the industry. 

Gender inequality won’t stop if men don’t start joining in the fight. No matter how many women join forces and spread awareness on this topic, nobody will listen. People will only think that women are asking for too much. But if they get a point of view of a male co-worker, family member, or friend, they will begin to understand the role women play in their lives. And with luck, people will realise that women do in fact work as hard as men, and that they deserve to have the same treatment as men. With more girls who are educated, more people would know how important women are to the world. With more men helping this happen, people wouldn’t take advantage that women don’t have as much of a voice, and would begin to make a difference for all the girls and women in the world. 

Kasulis, Kelly. “The 2,500-Year-Old Roots of Gender Inequality – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 4 Mar. 2017, www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2017/03/04/the-year-old-roots-gender-inequality/7zE60rjYuOAHjFB8hEBq1N/story.html.

News, ABC, director. Jennifer Lawrence Opens Up on Hollywood’s Gender Pay Gap. YouTube, YouTube, 14 Oct. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kniAmk5jd8.

Phineas, Rueckert. “Benedict Cumberbatch Won’t Take a Role If Female Co-Star Isn’t Paid Equally.” Global Citizen, 14 May 2018, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/benedict-cumberbatch-gender-wage-gap/.

Phineas, Rueckert. “Emma Stone: Male Co-Stars Have Taken Pay Cuts to Promote Gender Equality.” Global Citizen, 7 July 2017, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/emma-stone-gender-pay-gap-battle-of-the-sexes/.

Yousafzai, Malala. “Malala’s Story: Malala Fund.” Malala’s Story | Malala Fund, www.malala.org/malalas-story.


LA Devotee

A city doesn’t need the sun. Humanity has made so many artificial lights that some might call the one provided by Mother Nature obsolete. Now, the sun gave the living many benefits. But forces were at play all across the world. And beyond. The living were on their way out. A city doesn’t need a sun, and when these forces finally reached their claws up from the mists from which they were concealed, they planned to grab and extinguish the sun. 

                                                                ***

On a dark and stormy night in Hollywood, there was an actor named Billy Hart. He sat in his room and cried, for his dreams were falling apart. He just couldn’t keep a role. No matter how hard he tried, he was fired from every one of them. Did he just suck? Was he really that bad? To make matters worse, he knew that his sponsors wanted results. He got a lot of money from them, and they wanted something in return. Something he couldn’t give. As the clock ticked, ticked, ticked, his dread grew and grew. He supposed there was no reason for them to call, but he knew they would. 

Tick, tick, tick, tick. He wondered what time it was. How long had he just been a miserable mess on the floor? He didn’t know if he wanted a break from all of this by fainting, or for the sun to finally reveal itself. It was a dark and stormy night, and he hated that. He wanted more lights than that from the street and the electric sky. 

Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! Billy jerked his head upwards, looking at the most expensive thing he owned in his apartment: a grandfather clock. He bought it just to feel fancy, one of the few times he could afford it. He had a particularly good part then, and as much as he loved that role, the movie went through production hell and never got released. The clock had been a manifestation of failure in his eyes since, and now it had released a new feeling: dread. The pendulum seemed to move to him with every Bong! like a swinging executioner’s axe. This symbol of fatalism seemed to mesmerize Billy, holding him still. He starred in silent terror for what felt like centuries. 

Midnight.

When the clock finished its ghastly wail, there was a moment of silence. Billy let himself breathe for a moment. Then, the phone rang. It was a much quieter sound, a small little dingle-ingle-ing instead of the thunderous Bong!s, yet they too were foreboding. The phone rattled in its receiver, like a small, scared, trapped animal. Or perhaps more like an undead mummy in its tomb. Like one you’d see in the movies, of course. Mummies did not move. 

It continued to rattle and squeal. Billy was terrified of the confrontation that laid on the other end, and it was not one he wanted to embark on. Yet, he could not stop himself. Both hands trembling, he used one hand to pick up the phone and bring it to his ear, and the other to press the button and then weakly and ineffectively wipe the tears from his eyes. 

“Heh heh heh…” said the voice on the other end. “If it ain’t Billy the Kid!” 

It was exactly who Billy feared it would be. His sponsors. 

“Uh…” Billy nervously began. “Hey, Gianluca…”

“Billy, my fella, I told ya you can just call me Gi! We’re friends ain’t we?” 

“Yeah, friends…” Billy timidly replied. 

With much more enthusiasm, Gianluca responded, “I thought so! Heh heh…” 

Now came the moment Billy was anxious about. “Uh… Gi… there’s… something I gotta tell ya.”

 Gianluca interrupted him. “Ya don’t have to be the bearer of bad news, kid, I already know.” 

Tears began to return to Billy’s eyes. “Gi, I’m trying my hardest, honest! I’m so sorry, man! I really want to pay you back! Heck, I’ll cut out my… other purchases too…” He looked back to the ground, where some leftover white dust was lazily laid out. 

“Nah, I know how you fellas are. Ya don’t gotta stop,” Gianluca responded with what might have been sympathy. He then muttered, perhaps not intended to be caught on the call and heard, “Besides, we’d lose a bit of money if you’d stop…” Gianluca returned to speaking at a normal volume. “Well, Billy, these matters are complicated. I think we gotta talk it out in person.” 

“Oh,” Billy responded. 

“So I should stop at your office when tomorrow?” 

“Actually,” Gianluca replied. “I’m in your neighborhood right now. Can I come on over?” 

“S-sure,” Billy complied. 

“Thanks kid,” Gianluca said in delight. “I’ll be over in five seconds.” He then added, “Heh. Count it, even.” He hung up.

Billy was confused, and slowly put the phone down. The last statement was sarcastic, right? Just a bit of humor that Gi was known for. And yet, Billy found himself counting. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. On “five,” lightning struck and thunder crashed. Billy felt a shadow loom over him. A second of silence, and there was a tap on his window pane. Heart pounding, Billy slowly turned his head to face the window. 

And there he was. Standing in the window, hundreds of feet above the concrete, was Gianluca Hayden. The mouth of Yellow Crown Enterprises, holding a black umbrella, wearing a black trench coat and a black fedora, with a red tie and a white handkerchief in his breast pocket, and a gleaming smile on his face. It was the mouth of Billy Hart’s sponsor. He stood on the tips of his toes on the window sill, and below him were hundreds of feet of nothing until you hit the ground. Behind him, blinding light flashed on a sheet of dark grey. 

With a tip of his hat, Gianluca said, “Good Evenin’ Billy!”

Billy was too terrified to speak. He always knew that the Yellow Crown was not the most trustworthy organization. And he knew that his “buddy” Gi was a bit… eccentric. But what was happening now was too bizarre to explain or deduce. It was otherworldly. 

Billy felt his muscles moving without desire. He slowly began to stand and with his arms out like a zombie from the movies, made his way towards the window. Gianluca held out a single hand, and Billy stopped in place. Then, Gianluca turned his hand swiftly and without explanation, the windows unlocked themselves from the inside and slowly opened. Gianluca gracefully walked into Billy’s apartment, closing his umbrella as he did and flicking his hand again once he was inside, causing the window to close once more, though it remained unlocked. 

“Sorry if I brought any of the rain in, Billy.” Gianluca casually began. “Hey, thanks for letting me come over at such a late hour. I think I work best at this time, actually. The boys and I consider ourselves to be a couple of night owls, ya know?” Making his way to the other room, he exclaimed, “Anyway, let’s talk business.” 

Billy followed, slowly, silently, and still in shock.

Gianluca made himself at home on Billy’s couch. Billy finally worked up the courage to ask something, though it was certainly not the question that was the most important in his mind, for he was too shocked and scared to ask it. “So… you wanna drink?” 

“Heh, nah,” Gianluca politely replied. “I have a… specific preference with my drinks. I plan on catching some of that later tonight, so I’m good at the moment. But thanks for the offer! So how about you get yourself something to drink and I can return ya with another one, eh?” 

Billy did as he was told. Perhaps after a night of misery, dread, and crack, caffeine was not the best choice, but Billy wasn’t known for making good choices, especially on a night like tonight, when nothing made sense and stress was at an all time high. How was this happening? Was he even awake? Was he still high and did he imagine Gi in the window? Did Gi just come through the door? It hurt Billy’s head to think about it. 

Returning with a cup of coffee, Billy sat next to his enigmatic agent. 

“So,” Gianluca began. “Let’s lay down the facts.” 

Billy nervously nodded, taking a sip at his coffee, hoping it would ease his nerves. 

“So you lost the role. Again.” 

Billy sighed. 

“This is fine,” Gianluca assured him. “Really, it is. A minor setback. I can set ya up with another one real quick, trust me.” 

Billy looked up. 

“However, ya still don’t have enough money to pay us what ya owe us. In any capacity.” 

Billy winced. 

“This, too, is okay. Billy, my man, the Yellow Crown is a flexible organization. When we can’t get money, we find more creative and manageable ways to create mutual benefits between us and our clients.” He quickly flashed a smile at Billy. 

For a second, Billy thought he saw sharper teeth in Gianluca’s mouth, but he quickly dismissed this. “What were you thinking?” Billy finally responded.

 “Well,” began Gianluca. “First of all, we might need ya to do a few more… favors for us? Don’t ask me what they are, because nobody knows yet. We’ll reach ya when we need ya. Does that sound good, kid?”

 “Well, if I have no other way to repay you…” Billy warily agreed. 

“That’s the spirit kid!” Gianluca encouraged, slapping him on the back as friends are for some reason known to do. Billy was startled, but he felt he wasn’t in a position to question anything Gi did. 

“But there’s one more thing we gotta do for this bargain.” Gianluca continued. “If you’re gonna help us out on a few more projects, and we’re gonna continue supporting you, you’re gonna need to make a few… lifestyle changes. And I’ll help you out, don’t worry. So you okay with that?”

 Billy was really unsure. He honestly wanted to say no. But he knew where his resources were coming from. If he wasn’t being supplied money or job opportunities from these people, his dreams would fall apart and he’d go broke in no time. He’d have to get a worse job or die on the streets. Probably both. He’d either have to settle later in a much more embarrassing way, or now, in the hands of a successful, albeit shady, organization. 

Billy did not notice, but as Gianluca began speaking again, he subtly flicked his hand. Billy did not see this either, but it caused all the windows in the room to silently unlock and open. Mist began pouring into the room, unaware to Billy. 

“Besides,” coaxed Gianluca. “It’d really improve your life. You’d probably start cleanin’ up your act, doin’ a lot more. It seems all the stress of this whole mess has made you age quicker than you should. We could help ya feel younger. So what d’ya say?” 

Billy sighed. “Sure, Gi. Whatever you think is best.”

“Ha ha, great!” Gianluca exclaimed. “We can start right now, actually. Just let me do something first.” Gianluca turned so he was facing away from Billy. He closed his eyes and put his hands together, and began to mumble to himself. “Thank ya, Lord, for lettin’ me have this one. I promise I won’t fail you.” 

Billy finally began to notice the mist in his apartment, how his couch was now adrift on a thick ocean of it. Everything seemed to have become grayscale. Like so many of the oddities of the foreboding night, Billy was incapable of asking about it. Once again, he responded with the wrong inquiry. “Uh, Gi. Ya prayin’ to God?” 

Gianluca was completely silent for a moment. He slowly began to lower his hand, and then tilted his head up and cackled. He actually cackled. He then slowly turned his head to Billy, opened his eyes, and said quietly, calmly, and maliciously, “Not by a long shot.”

He then pounced at Billy like a predator in the wild. Billy quickly turned his eyes towards the face of his suddenly violent agent and “friend.” The last thing Billy saw before going under was that he was right with his earlier thought; his teeth really were quite sharp. 

Billy felt Gianluca’s teeth pierce the skin of his neck. Billy couldn’t move away as Gianluca held him still with superhuman strength. Billy felt the worst, most excruciating pain he had ever felt in his entire life, of which was soon to end, for exactly 13 seconds, but he could not scream. His bodily functions stopped before his consciousness left. That went alongside his blood. And for a brief moment, the actor Billy Hart was dead and gone. 

Gianluca removed his mouth from Billy’s neck. He took the handkerchief out of his breast pocket and made it match the color of his tie. Then, he knocked Billy off of the couch and onto the floor. His corpse splashed in the surrounding ocean and the mist flew up around him as it briefly parted, before it cascaded back down and covered him. He was now but a dark blot in it. But Gianluca knew what came next. Though he knew he’d risk dirtying the couch, Gianluca stood up, looking down on the corpse of Billy. It began to squirm and writhe. Billy was not awake for what happened next, but he sure as hell did move. 

A loud sound came from below the misty sea. It sounded like a cross between a roar, squawk, a screech, and a moan. Then, the corpse of Billy began to rise, quivering. He was completely changed. All the pigment had left his skin, and he was white as paper. His eyes had already been bloodshot from the stress, but it seemed the blood vessels had all exploded, as they were now completely red and pupil-less. The point of his ears had grown very long, and they seemed no longer able to support their own weight. Every bone in his body could be seen through his skin, including each individual piece of his spine in his hunched back. He seemed to curl himself. His teeth were now similar to that of a prehistoric saber-toothed tiger. His fingers had grown into long claws, which tightly gripped the floor. The tips of his shoulders somehow lengthened into long, bony pillars covered with stretched skin. Growling, Billy turned his tilted head towards Gianluca, and looked at him with a look of pure, concentrated, uninhibited rage and hunger. He barked at Gianluca as he pounced, prepared to rip him to shreds.

Billy was never able to, however, because Gianluca was prepared. He bounced up from the couch and levitated in place, and then twisted his hand once more. The mist rose up and twirled around Billy in midair, and even though mist was in most circumstances not physical, it restrained him. He squirmed in it and howled louder than before. 

A voice spoke in Gianluca’s head. “Is it done?” It said with a thick Russian accent, almost as though it were a thought in his head.

 Gianluca knew better, of course. “Yes, my lord,” he responded aloud. “The neonate is secure. Another to your all-powerful army of the undead, Lord of Darkness, Czar of Malice. I return to you now.” He gave a quick bow in Billy’s direction, though certainly not intended for him. Then, he raised his other hand, and the mist rose and became ever thicker. Now, nothing could be seen in the apartment, for even the two dark blots quickly faded. 

From within the mist, Gianluca could be heard: “Billy Hart, you are invited to the manor of Count Gregor, lord of the vampires, master necromancer, bane of all that’s holy!” 

Soon, the mist let up, and left through the windows where it came from. And not a soul remained in the apartment of Billy Hart, starving artist.     

The End…? 


Across the Galaxy

Ava

I can’t believe we were so close to Earth! It doesn’t seem real. After all this fighting and escaping and loss we were finally going to make it. I closed my eyes taking a deep breath, waiting for the pod to say, “Landing now,” or “You have arrived.” I looked to Arin and she was staring out the window. I felt sweat drip down my neck. I started to fan myself all of sudden feeling a bit hot. Soon beads of sweat started to pour down my forehead. My head started to throb from the heat. It was getting hot and my face felt on fire. I held Arin’s hand scared for what could happen next. My whole body was hot and it felt like I was getting lowered onto flames. Something wrong was happening.

Arin

This is the moment I have been waiting for for days. Should I believe that it’s happening? Sometimes when you want something for so long or so badly when it actually happens you have no idea how to react. Almost seems too good to be true. Until… it was too good to be true. We squeezed our hands together. My forehead starts dripping with nervous sweat. We were getting hot, like slowly walking near a bonfire. Ava mentions the escape pod might be burning up. I squeezed my eyes tight, I felt like we were so close. Why does this have to happen? We worked so hard it’s not fair. A tear rolled down my cheek. 

“ Oh no,”  I said under my breath.

Ava 

I got up from the seat in the escape pod and looked out the window flames that were engulfing the windowsill. There was a crash and I jumped back as the window burst shattering glass all over the floor. I slowly stepped back seeing the flames spread throughout the inner wall of the pod.

“WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! EVACUATE! EVACUATE!” the escape pod was blaring red lights but there was nothing to do. We had to wait as the flames crept to us like a wolf hunting its prey. I practically felt the flames leaping at my face, I started to cry my eyes wide as the bright orange flames surrounded my body. Suddenly I lurched forward as I felt a falling motion. We were moving fast and me and Arin hit the wall as we spiralled out of control. I closed my eyes wishing this was all done, that this feeling would go away. Then there was a crash, a big thud. I hit the side of the pod then tumbled out feeling the cool pavement, A dark screen fielded my vision and then everything went black. 

Arin

I gradually opened my eyelids. My head felt like it was just hit with a long metal pole. As I slowly tuned in to my surroundings and focused my eyes, I  saw that I was finally not on the toxic planet of Niburus. We have no chains no bandages, we were free. It was getting dark, I expect almost 9:00pm, the sky was grey and a storm might be coming. There were many old abandoned buildings. My knees were scraped from the cracked road. I saw Ava out cold on the pavement. I limped over to her body. This was the closest I have ever been to death, and I have had a gun held up to my head. I felt like my bones were holding on by a thread burning up side my body. I used the last bit of energy and strength to wake Ava up, “Please don’t be dead,” I repeated in my head. I can’t lose someone else.

“A-a-Ava..” I stuttered. I shook her, my muscles tensing up. She coughed and rolled over. 

“Arin, are… you ok?” she whispered. I used all my might to wrap my arms around her scarred body. I gave her a warm embrace after life was almost snatched from us. Sometimes you don’t realize what you have until you lose it, or almost lose it. I just realized how much I needed and cherished Ava. What would’ve happened if we didn’t make it?

Ava

I woke up, my head pounding. I looked up and saw Arin. She had a long cut on the side of her face dripping with blood next to her ear. She had a worried look on her face. As I rolled over coughing up some blood I crawled onto the concrete. I tried to stand up but my ankles gave in and I fell back to the ground. I looked at my cut arms and saw goosebumps rise. It was chilly out and the wind snapped at my face.

“Arin… we need to find shelter,” I said, then coughed again. I looked around then saw a sign made of wood and it was slightly tilted to the side, it said, “WELCOME TO THE TOWN OF SIER!”

Arin

I agreed with Ava, we needed to find shelter. I looked around, THERE!

“Ava, I see an old shed next to that brick building.” I  pointed out.

“Arin I’m not sure I can make it all the way there, my body is aching,” Ava groaned.

“It’s ok I will be right here to help you.” I lifted Ava’s limp arm over my shoulder and we hopped to the other side of the street. The wind was tugging on our hair, and the grey clouds were passing over our heads giving me chills up and down my body. Once we got over to the shed, we sat down on the rough wooden floor. First we needed sleep so we can rest before we decide what to do. I took off the sweaters me and Ava tied around our waist and balled them up for pillows. Ava’s skin looked pale and she had  bloody deep wounds. She looked terrible. I could tell she was trying to keep her eyes open.

“Sleep,” I whispered into Ava’s ear. As Ava dozed off I looked around the shed. I rubbed my hand against the creaky hardwood floor. There was a cracked window, a broken sliding barn door, three hay bails in the corner… A-are those bodies?

Ava

I heard Arin gasp and slowly tap my shoulder, I abruptly sat up. Suddenly the pain came shooting back into my body. I squinted to see in the dark shed but I could make out three figures walking towards us. I tried to shuffle backwards but my ankles still hurt so bad. I sat there waiting for whatever was coming towards us. There was a crack in the roof overtop of us, the moonlight shone down lighting up our face. I heard some toads croaking and the chirping of crickets. I waited as the figures came closer to the light, I waited for them to finally reveal themselves. I looked down as I saw a grey converse enter the pool of light and then the whole person, a raggedy boy with a buzzcut and cold grey eyes. He had dirt and scars all over him and was wearing a navy green T-shirt and dirty beige Khakis. Behind him was a girl. She had long black hair close to her waist, her skin was a light tan color and she had black trimmed glasses. She walked up next to the boy and I saw her jean shorts and yellow tank top. Standing next to the girl was a boy holding her hand. He had golden hair and blue eyes on the side of his arms was a blue tint as well as on his knees. He was wearing a blue shirt and sports shorts. They stared straight at me and Arin, their eyes looked scared.

Arin

“Ava, get behind me.” I stammered, staring back at the three kids.

“So clearly your name is Ava, hi I’m Rose, And you are?” The long black haired girl said as she looked at me.

“How do I know to trust you?” I scowled at her.

“I’m Liam and looking at you it doesn’t seem you just strolled in here, where are you from?” The blond hair boy said.

“Why would I tell you? You are nothing more than three strangers,” I said still sceptical.

“We got kidnapped by aliens, though I don’t expect you to believe us,” said Ava.

“I was kidnapped by them too,” Liam said, sighing, “They even put there serum in me.”

“Why aren’t you one of them then?” I asked. 

“It didn’t work fully.” Liam said staring at the ground.

“Ok, so you’re Liam, you’re Rose, I’m Arin and this is Ava, then who are you?” I stared at the hidden boy in the shadows.

“My name is Hunter.” We were all awkwardly standing in the light of the shed all connected in one way but still complete strangers.

Ava

“Come here, we have some makeshift beds over there,” Liam said pointing to the corner with the hay bales. Me and Arin walked over to the hay bales and saw a bunch of straw piled to make multiple beds. There were trash bags that seemed to be stuffed with grass which were used as pillows and a bunch of old clothes and rags tied together to make multiple blankets. Next to the bed was an old bag which seemed to be filled up with different foods. 

“Ok, you and Arin can share that bed me and Liam will share that bed and Hunter can sleep in that one,” Rose said.

“I guess they’re dating or something,” I whispered to Arin.

Arin

Me and Ava climbed into the pokey hay bed, And I can say that those pillows were not the comfiest pillows I have slept on. I heard Liam whisper, “Night babe.” 

Hunter slowly drifted off to sleep, the moonlight gradually disappeared. The wind was getting softer but the air was getting colder. I took a deep breath and waited for Ava to close her eyes, then I rolled over and released all my stress. 

I was sitting in a cold metal chair. My wrists dripping with blood, bound tight with rope. I was looking down at Ava lying on the floor with Master Malden hunched over her. He was pressing a hot iron rod on her throat, melting her like a marshmallow. She let out a blood curdling scream. 

“Arin, HELP. It hurts so bad…” Her voice was losing power. I tried to break free from the rope but it just burned my wrists causing them to bleed more. I tried to move out of my chair but nothing was working. I-I was trying. Then I heard Ava give a hopeless breath and then, she laid there motionless. 

I shot up in the hay bed panting, I was breaking out in a cold sweat coming down my forehead. It was a nightmare.

Ava

I woke up feeling good, that was the first time in a while that I had had a decent sleep in awhile. I sat up and stretched my arms. As I turned around, I saw Hunter looking in the bag for some food. He took out an old bagel as well as some nuts. He started to take bites of the bagel leaning against one of the hay bales. He looked up and saw me staring at him. He quickly looked back down at his food. I shook Arin awake and she looked up at me groaning. 

“What time is it?” She said rolling back around to go  to bed again. 

“Time for you to get up! Come on, let’s get some food.” I said trying to turn her back around. I got up and walked over to the bag and looked through looking for some food. I grabbed a slice of bread and some salami. I walked back to me and Arin’s bed and gave her some of the bread and salami. 

Finally after everyone ate, we all went outside of the shed. I still ached a bit and was kind of sore but I was able to walk outside, and the fresh air felt nice. 

“So what are we going to do…” I said. 

“Hey Ava remember all the other kids, you know there all going to be turned aliens right?” Arin said.

“And…” I said looking at Arin seeing what she was getting to.

“You want to just leave them there,” Arin said staring straight into my eyes.

I looked at her trying to see if she was joking or not. She wasn’t.

“Arin do you really want to do this, you want to go back and save them?”

“Ava, it’s almost our duty to do this if we could escape then we must be able to help them escape.”

“Well then how are we going to get there? The only way back is that escape pod and it’s really broken,” I said as we all looked over to the broken escape pod which was crashed in the middle of the road. 

“I mean if we tried we would probably be able to fix it or at least make it flyable, maybe there’s stuff inside the ship,” Rose said. I forgot that they were all there and didn’t even think about if they wanted to come or not. Hunter nodded next to Rose. I turned back to Arin.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I said to Arin.

“Yes,” She said. I turned to Rose, Liam, and Hunter.

“I’m in,” Rose said.

“Me too,” Hunter mumbled.

I turned to Liam, he was staring at the ground.

“I know you don’t want to do this because of what they did to you but…”

“Um, I don’t know guys I just… well I just don’t know, I’ll wait to see if you guys can actually fix that escape pod.” 

We all walked over to the ship and started to try and see how we could fix it. Rose was already starting to fix things, she seemed pretty smart and Hunter was listening to her and started reattaching wires. I turned around and saw Liam pacing back and forth looking nervous. Rose noticed Liam and went over to him and started talking, walking off in a hurry. 

Arin 

While we were all preparing the ship, I saw Rose and Liam walked off. He was yelling about going back to planet Niburus. Suddenly horror struck me. Liam was turning into an alien. A transformation that felt like burning metal piercing your skin. He was bending over seething with pain. Liam fell to the ground, skinning his now bright blue knee’s on the street. His head pounding and melting. He opened his teary salty eyes, seeing his skin bleeding profusely, slowly turning blue. Liam’s eyes were bulging out of his skull. He screamed as loud as he could, “Make it stop, MAKE IT STOP!” He couldn’t hear himself over the buzzing noise, feeling like it was bursting his eardrums. 

Liam didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t make it stop, he didn’t know how to. The pain was like nothing he had felt before. 

“Liam, you’re okay, you’ve got this. You are the strongest person I know. Fight it!” Rose screamed, but still muffled by the buzzing. Liam could see through his blurry vision Rose was sobbing. “Liam LOOK AT ME!” Her voice was trailing away as Liam wanted to tell Rose nothing could make it better.

“Rose, let me help!” I said running over to them.

“No! Let me handle this. I’m his girlfriend, I’m the one that’s supposed to be here for him.” She demands.

“Rose, st-stop, stop trying.. AHH UGG!” he suddenly screamed with a shock of pain

“Liam I will fix it, trust me.”

“Rose help me.”

“ I-I don’t know how, but I’m with you.” Rose was losing hope. “Just hold on to my hand, focus on this moment.” 

Liam took Rose’s hand and held on tight. He looked at her in the eye, and took a deep breath. The pain will go away, she said. She told him to wait. He waited, waited for Rose. He didn’t know why he felt the need to wait, I mean it wasn’t going away. But he couldn’t leave—he couldn’t leave Rose. For the first time in a while, he broke the tough screen he had been hiding behind and cried so hard his eyes couldn’t cry anymore. And all Rose said it’s ok.

Ava

Everyday we woke up, everyday we worked more and more on the pod, everyday we went to bed hoping that the next day would be the day where we would finally finish the escape pod, and everyday Liam got more and more anxious of the day to come. 

I went in the straw bed which wasn’t as uncomfortable as before. I laid awake, Rose said that we would be done with the escape pod by tomorrow. I was so nervous, I just couldn’t sleep. What if it didn’t work, or what if we don’t make it and we get lost in space? I wondered what Liam is going to do. I knew how much he doesn’t want to go but maybe he’ll still come, and how are we going to actually save all the children? I forced my eyes closed and waited as the sleep came over me and I finally fell asleep.

Arin

The next morning, we all woke up full of adrenalin. Today was the day, we were going to rescue all those innocent kids. You could feel the emotion in the air. We ate breakfast without a word, silently, slowly, nervous tension began crawling through my body. I tensed up and started breathing rapidly, my heart was pounding. Ava put her hand on my back, she knew I was panicking.  

“It’ll be ok, we are safe, and soon those other kids will be too. We are doing the right thing and we are right behind you.” Ava reassured me. We walked out to the escape pod and we all got in. The sky was clear and spotless, not one cloud to be seen. Me and Ava sat in the two front seats controlling the pod, and Hunter, Liam, and Rose sat in the three back seats. Me and Ava squeezed our hand tight together. Rose was leaning her head on Liam’s shoulder, I could tell Liam was choking back tears. Hunter was looking out the window gagging and coughing, he said he has motion sickness. I pressed one button and that was it “Taking lift off, destination planet Nibirus.”

Ava

I closed my eyes, hoping this would work. I felt nervous but a bit excited. I clicked the button that said “Lift Off.” We waited a second and we heard the sound of the escape pod turn on and then we shot up into the morning sky. The escape pod had left the ground. I closed my eyes as Arin reached forward to press the “Superspeed” button. I held the chair tight and waited until I felt the jolt forward, and then we were off. A minute later, I opened my eyes and saw the darkness around me. There were bright stars and when I turned around, I could see Earth behind us, it looked like a marble slowly shrinking away. I turned to see Liam and Rose cuddling and Hunter was standing next to the window. He almost looked like he was gagging.

“Hunter, are you ok?” I said. 

“Umm yeah just a little bit *gag* motion sick.” He said then turned and stumbled to the bathroom. I looked in front of me and gasped as I saw the planet of Nibirus approaching. We started to slow down as the surface of the planet became more and more clear. The engine started to decelerate we landed softly on the grass of Nibirus.

Arin

One small jerk and we were there. Memories and flashbacks began racing across my mind. Mia, my parents, that little girl behind tortured. Well, this is why we were here, I guess. To save those poor children. We headed straight to the entrance, I whipped out the card that I used a couple weeks ago to escape the building. I locked the door of the escape pod. We ducked over to the door and I swiped my card. Right away, there were two guards. Me and Hunter broke out in a fight. Two minutes later, both guards were down on the ground and I had a bloody nose. Meanwhile Ava, Rose, and Liam were on their way to the kids. Me and Hunter were trying too catch up to them, some more guards at our heels. We only had one key and over 100 children, and barely any time. 

Ava

We ran into the lab. There were tons of children and each one looked depressed and cold. Some of them were crying, and some of them were beating on the walls or trying to figure a way out.

“Hey! How did you get out? that’s not fair!” A girl with short straight hair and a gap in her teeth. All the kids turned towards us there faces surprised.

“Shhh they’ll come back,” Liam said.

“Who?” The same girl said.

“The aliens, they’re going to turn you into them you’ll-you’ll turn into an alien… like me,” Liam said as he showed them the said of his arms which were both a light blue color. All the kids gasped as the saw Liam’s arms. 

“Well how are you going to get us out?” asked a little girl with pigtails and two pink bows.

“With this!” I said as I pulled out the access card. I then began unlocking each cage and more and more kids came out hugging each other, and some crying.

“Now what do we do?” a little boy with brown hair asked.

“Well we need to escape, follow me,” Rose said motioning towards the exit.

Arin

As we were running to the others, six guards came at once. 

“I got these three you get the other ones!” I shouted at Hunter.

I kicked and punched and ran and jumped. Both sides weren’t giving up. A guard punched me in the gut and kicked my face, blood all over the floor. Hunter’s leg was dripping with thick blood. Me and Hunter went back to back and did one move and took 4 out at once. Only two left. I kicked one’s ankle and punched his nose one out, one to go. I looked behind me and saw Hunter finish the last one off. We gave one celebratory high five and ran straight to the cages where the rest were. On the way there we ran into Ava, Rose, and Liam. They were running back with a bunch of kids behind them. 

“To the escape pods!” Liam directed.  

Ava

We burst out of the door and ran towards the market. I turned behind me and saw all the kids running. There were kids of all ages, and we all flooded the streets of Nibirus. Aliens jumped back as kids came near them. I smiled. We were going to make it. Then I stopped, I turned around as I saw Master Maldens personal soldiers were chasing after us. 

“Everyone hurry, were almost to the path and then we can get to the escape pods!” I yelled. We hurried up and made it to the path, the path where Mia died. I held tears back as I remembered when Mia died in the acid, wait that’s it! We have to push the soldiers into the acid. The big doors were ahead of us, we just needed to make it there, then we’d be safe, but no. More soldiers came running through the doors. I stopped frozen.

“Every one on the count of three push them in the acid!” I said loud enough for everyone to hear but not the soldiers.

“ONE,” I yelled.

“TWO,” Arin yelled.

“THREE,” Rose said.

All the kids pushed the soldiers in front of them over into the acid. They began to burn in it and we kept running. Finally we made it to the doors. 

Arin

We all burst through the door.

“I have been in this situation here before…” I said under my breath.

“This time we are safe” Ava whispered grabbing me by the hand. We split up everyone in different escape pods. Me and Ava watched everyone safely get inside the pods and wished Liam, Rose and Hunter good luck. They were leading all the escape pods back to earth. Me and Ava will be the tail of the pack, making sure no one will get left behind. As we were getting into our last escape pod, we heard a cold, harsh voice we recognized. Master Malden was leaning on the wall one leg up like a highschool boy on a locker. He was there the whole time. 

“Go ahead, escape I will give you guys a head start,” Master Malden said with a smirk.

“What? Why aren’t you stopping us?” I replied.

“I’m giving you an advantage, I would take it if I were you.” He was slowly walking toward us.

 “Three, two.” He was counting. Me and Ava quickly go into the escape pod. We closed the door.

“ONE!” We were off.

Ava

I pressed the “Lift Off” button and sped forward, I looked forward. We were all the way in the back to make sure nothing happened to the other pods. We kept going then I heard a blast, I turned to look behind me. A big ship was behind us, I squinted my eyes and saw standing right in the center window was Malden, and the ship, it was shooting, AT US! We kept going and they kept missing but were getting closer. We got closer and closer. The Earth approaching, as well as Maldens ship. I clicked the “Boost All” button. All the escape pods burst forward, we all burst into the atmosphere. The escape pods were getting faster and faster because of the Earth’s gravity. We were so close I could see our shed, we were finally going to make it.

Arin

We were so close. Now was the time, I was shaking. Me and Ava saw everyone else we rescued standing on the ground below us ready for war, weapons, formation, and everything. We quickly approached them and landed on the ground. Goosebumps were rising on my lims. I have never been more nervous for anything. Not even this morning when we were setting free the kids. We rushed to the front of the blob of people. We had the taller ones in the front, shorter in the back. All of us carried weapons we stole from the aliens. Me, Ava, Rose, Hunter, and Liam all hugged as this might be the last time we could hug. Liam kissed Rose on the cheek and shared a warm loving hug (I held back throwing up). Tears were running down all of our cheeks. My eyes were red. This could be goodbye. If this is the end, all we got to, at least we got this far. I had a hole in my stomach, and knew it could only be filled if we won this battle. I was fired up, as determined as a fox about to pounce on a rabbit. We won’t run away, we hide, we will stand here, we won’t move for anything. We saw a big black ship coming straight for us. It was time to fight.


The Septic Eye

Hey my name is Shuji and this is my excellent story about how I got the Septic Eye.

Bye mom, I hope you rest in peace. I am going off to college, I hope I make you proud. I am at my mother’s grave, crying like a wimp. (Well of course I am, it’s my mother. Don’t judge me readers you are not Judge Judy.)

 I walk away with a glum look on my face, sluggish as an obese man that just ran the Iron Man. I pull out my phone and there is a weird Icon on the screen. I look around and think, why is this happening to me? It happens every week, but this time it said we have been watching you for the longest time, I think you are ready.  The confusion on my face then was obvious. A damp white cloth is slapped on my face. Chloroform! THEY WERE TRYING TO CAPTURE ME! I squirmed and tousled but they still got me. You see I’m a strong boy, but not as strong as that beast of a human that had me in his grasp. I got in a truck and I heard movement. 

The leader (Pewdiepie) took off the mask and said, “Welcome to S.H.O. Business.”

“What’s that?” I said with a smirk on my face, trying not to laugh.

“It’s not funny, S.H.O. Sacred Hero Organisation. This is what we do when we aren’t posting videos, we save the world.” 

“Ha HA HA HA HA HA HA. You’re funny”

“Anyways we recruited you because you work out, do parkour, are very smart, and are really good at shooting.”

“But what about college? And my dad is gonna die without me, you can’t take me. I am flattered but I can’t do this”

“Who said you had a choice? Guys knock him out!”

 After that 2 weeks of training blindly of what’s going

“Hey guys!”  I say happily, now that I am finished.

“Hey.” Sean said, “And welcome come to the S.H.O., the Sacred Hero Organisation.” 

“I thought your name was Jack?” I say with confusion.

“No that’s just my user name, Jacksepticeye, it is a very common mistake to make.” 

As I look around I see things that you would see in a movie. Like a supercomputer, images of the world and a weird picture with a floating eye that looks like a Septiceye named Sam. My thinking becomes corrupt and my mind is like a black whole taking away my memories and I feel my conscious walking into the darkest part of my mind. I feel a hand grasping my shoulder and it’s Sean, but he has no eyes, a bleeding mouth and a slit throat. I close my eyes and I’m back into reality. I notice the whole time that the team was shouting my name behind me.

“Shuji! Shuji! Shuji!” They all scream. 

“Get out of there it’s all fake, stop looking!” Markiplier says with a loud voice.

I need to not look at that. But, I think that is what we are looking for so how am I going to do this. Wait I see someone else, who is that? IS THAT?! H2O DELIRIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wait he has a hockey mask on in real life? And no one still hasn’t seen his face except CaRtOoNz? Why don’t people just try to take it off. That’s insane. What should I do? I should probably ask for our mission because we are all standing awkwardly.

“Hey Sean when is our mission?”

“Uhh, I think they are going to brief us right now.”

“Good morning all you bros!” Pewdiepie says to all of us.

“Our mission, it is very dangerous. We are going to to retrieve the SepticEye Sam!”

Everyone shouts with joy and and screams from the tops of their lungs. I do do the same. 

“Yeah, woooh, wahhhhhhh!!!!” I scream with the others.

“Shuji, Sean and Mark you guys are going to do this ultimate mission. Guys celebrate them, give them energy, they can do this, come on!!!!”

“YEAHHHH WOOO AHHHHH!!!” Everyone screams. “YOU CAN DO THIS!!!!”

I smile with joy, like a boy that just found his lost cat from 3 years ago. I actually feel like I can do this. Well no I can’t, but they don’t know that. All they know is that I am ready. I am not going to disappoint them even though I am scared. Probably when I get there I won’t be like a dog in a thunderstorm. 

“So Sean where are the weapons?”

“RIght here, but I don’t need them because of my power.”

“WHAT?! You have powers?”

“Yeah everyone does Mark won’t need them either. You’ll probably develop them later this week.”

“Wait what? What powers?”

“I don’t know Pewdipie said that you need to see something for you to unlock your powers.”

“Uhh.. I am so confused.”

“It doesn’t matter right now we need to focus on the mission, we can ask when we get back.”

“What? You started the convo…”

“SHHHHHHHH let’s go,” Sean says interrupting me.

I get into the hyper car and zoom off. My stomach drops to the bottom of my abdomen like an anvil falling onto an animated character. I’m surprised because we get to the location super fast. It is a weird lab place. (Cliche isn’t it readers? Spoiler, my friend Sean welp he….) I was right, now I don’t feel as unprepared. I have my 2 guns, a Scorpion, and my TMP. I’m ready to defeat these evil guards with these hollow points. Bullets flying, green magic and some fire. I roll into cover. 

“Shuji cover my back I am standing up.”

“Okay Mark let’s do this!”

We are back to back shooting. Headshot. Headshot. Headshot. We are destroying but where is Sean his magic is not flying through the hair. I only see fire in the hair from Mark. Wait he has a gun to his head. Oh no, what do I do. 

I whisper to mark, “They have Sean, what do we do?

“Just follow my lead,” Mark says confidently.

He walks up to the giant muscular guard with his guns in his hands.

“PUT YOUR GUN DOWN OR I WILL SHOOT!”

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! No.”

Boom. Sean’s brain blows out into pieces. His brains drop onto the ground and are covered in blood. His body drops and eyes turn black.

The guy who got shot him is the guy from my vision. Bop Bop Bop. Mark shoots angrily at the guard’s head and burns his body to ash. People are dead. Everyone here is dead, OMG, what the hell!

“Shuji go in side there are no more guards but security. DO IT NOW!”

“OK,” I say with a worried voice.

I walk into the lab almost throwing up because of all the blood around me. I see the eye. And walk towards it like a moth to a light, walking through the lasers for the mounted guns while dodging consciously. I am at the tube and, my mind, it’s, it’s in Darkness again. I see things that I don’t want to see. I see death itself. The matted black plague in my mind grows stronger taking away what is good and replacing it with evil. 

The eye says, “Death awaits others, have fun.” (Ohhh reader, I love this part. Read carefully.)

This is what I do. I have fun. Breaking the glass I take the eye from the tube and use my knife to gouge out my eye. With the eye in my hand I slice it. Slice it more and more with anger with blood coming out of my eye socket like a blood waterfall gushing with craziness. As I replace this disgusting eye with the Septic Eye, I feel this power and it’s great. I feel it pulsing through my veins and into my hands. It’s like all I need to do is Kill. I need the KILL! Just KILL! I jump out of the building breaking through the roof and find the car. I see Mark. I think that he is now my new victim. It’s time. Time to let the world know who is king!

Fatal Feelings

The sun can’t make my happiness go away

Shoot that star 

You’re trying to ruin my day

You are not equivalent to my race

Stop trying to change my broken face

I can kill myself

But I’ll do it slowly

My smile is there but fading shortly

Figure out how you wanna write your story

You will never put that pen down

You look at me with raging glory

Fights, fights, fights

Is all we know

And all we ever get into

Is your fake smile and tokens for you.

You are mine

But I can see into you

The blue I saw earlier is 

Spreading through you.

I am suicidal.

Sell me, use me, I am the cycle.


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

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/.

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.

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.


Midnight Hour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hiraeth


i seek your monsters and your poltergeists

rummage through your closet and 

you go to bed before me

so i can tuck you in

search my soul for doubts and find

so many

i take a broom and

whack the crusted corners of 

infinite attics and sheds

wind up cobwebs and

keep them in my lunchbox

i ask you why you play with fire

you say i am drawn to heat

but i only ever learned to burn

quietly


The Tournament

It was August 31st again.

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

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

Why, you ask?

Nobody made it out alive from the final task.

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

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

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

This year was no different.

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

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

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

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

He had not seen his family since. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, it all came down to this. 

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

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

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

The crowd’s cheering was overwhelming.

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

Again, tumultuous applause erupted from the audience.

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

The people screamed their agreement.

“Now, we welcome our final competitor!”

The boy’s stomach dropped. 

The doors opened.

And he stepped into the dry dirt of the arena.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I never thought I would say this, but…

I am ready to die. 

Wait, what?

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

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

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

He was suddenly aware of the Magistrate speaking to him. 

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

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

They didn’t know how much he had suffered.

They didn’t realize how wrong the Tournament was.

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

They couldn’t, and they would never.

The crowd held its breath.

He looked at the Magistrate, and nodded silently.

“Then let the final task commence.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The audience were frozen in expressions of shock. 

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

The boy bowed its head in return.

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

He raised his head, and spoke to the monster.

“I don’t want to kill you.”

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

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

The monster seemed to be considering the situation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All around him, people shouted their agreement.

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

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

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

“I have only done what they need. 

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

“I have respected tradition.

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

“Maybe I killed a man destined for glory.

“But I did it for a greater cause –”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I agree!”

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

“She’s a murderer!”

“She should be put to death!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Forgive me.”

And she breathed a last breath. 

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

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

“I forgive you.”

Violet the Explorer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The cows pushed us away from that.” 

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

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

The end ... For now.


The Tales of Frog Royalty

LIST OF CHARACTERS:

FROG KING

FROG PRINCE/TADPOLE

FROG PRINCESS/LILY PATTY

SIR EVIL WIZARD FLYTRAP/S.E.W.F.


ACT I: THE FROG KING’S RETIREMENT

Frog Prince enters room where Frog King is sitting

FROG PRINCE: Father Frog, you called?

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

Frog Prince nods confidently

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

FROG PRINCE: What will happen?

FROG KING: We will be forced to relocate.

Frog Prince gasps

FROG PRINCE: No!!!

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

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

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

FROG PRINCE: What are you talking about?!

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

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

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

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

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

Frog Prince rolls his eyes

FROG PRINCE: Wow, thank you, Father.

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

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

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

FROG PRINCE: Father!!!

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

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

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

Frog Prince releases a big breath

FROG PRINCE: Oh, that’s good!

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

FROG PRINCE: You’ve GOT to be kiddi-

Frog King checks his imaginary watch

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

FROG PRINCE: Where are you going?!

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

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

FROG PRINCE: Oh my toad.

ACT II: THE PRINCE TELLS THE PRINCESS

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

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

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

FROG PRINCESS: Why are you here?

FROG PRINCE: I missed you too!!!

Frog Princess sighs

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

Frog Prince looks nervous

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

FROG PRINCESS: What isn’t your fault?

Frog Prince takes a deep breath

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

FROG PRINCESS: Woah. That would be crazy.

FROG PRINCE: It is!!!

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

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

Frog Princess crosses her arms over her chest

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

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

Frog Princess glares at Frog Prince and takes a deep breath

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

Frog Prince steps back cautiously

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

FROG PRINCESS: Our meeting?

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

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

ACT III: FLIES WITH S.E.W.F.

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

Both look nervous

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

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

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

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

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

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

FROG PRINCESS: We brought you flies, if it helps…

S.E.W.F.’s eyes light up with excitement

S.E.W.F.: Oh! That would help… where did you get these flies?

FROG PRINCE: The swamp.

FROG PRINCESS: They’re very fresh!

S.E.W.F. claps his leaves excitedly

S.E.W.F.: Ooh, I haven’t had swamp flies in a long, long time…

FROG PRINCESS: Well, you won’t have them for an even longer time if you keep attacking our village, Sir Flytrap.

S.E.W.F. ponders this for a moment

S.E.W.F.: I suppose you’re right. Let’s sit and discuss this while eating these delicious flies.

They all sit

S.E.W.F.: Peace would be quite a new concept for me. Would you mind going over what it entitles?

FROG PRINCE: Well, you would probably have to agree to have your name shortened.

S.E.W.F.: How come?

FROG PRINCE: Sir Wizard Flytrap is a lot more peaceful-sounding than Sir Evil Wizard Flytrap, wouldn’t you agree?

S.E.W.F.: Well, I suppose. Ok, from now on I will be known as Sir Wizard Flytrap, or S.W.F., but pronounced just like S.E.W.F.

FROG PRINCESS: Marvelous! Another thing peace would mean would be that you would stop sending lightning-tornadoes towards our small village, and us frogs would stop hogging all of the flies.

S.W.F.: You’ve been hogging the flies?! No wonder my meals have been ending quicker!

FROG PRINCESS: Is that not why you’ve attacked us in the past?

FROG PRINCE: Oh, right, I forgot to tell you, it’s actually Father’s fault. Father didn’t look Sir Flytrap here in the eye when shaking his leaf.

Frog Princess gasps and S.W.F nods sorrowfully

S.W.F.: Yes, the number one rule of both Frog Etiquette and Flytrap Etiquette. I was deeply offended.

FROG PRINCE: Obviously.

Frog Princess glares at Frog Prince

FROG PRINCESS: Anyone would have been offended. I deeply apologize, Sir Flytrap, for my father’s mistakes, but you met him. He was always a bit of a ditzy frog, you know, and his actions were in no way intended as an offense.

S.W.F. nods and chews on a fly

S.W.F.: I see your point. He definitely was a bit ditzy. So, if we advance with this peace thing, you frogs will leave more flies for flytraps and I won’t send lightning-tornadoes at your village.

FROG PRINCESS: Correct.

S.W.F.: But that’s not fair. I had to change my name too, and you guys only did one thing.

FROG PRINCE: That’s true. How about we have weekly flies together, since you seem to be enjoying our flies quite a bit?

S.W.F.: That’s alright with me.

FROG PRINCESS: Perfect! We should be getting home now, turns out I have to plan my coronation.

S.W.F. raises his eyebrows questioningly

S.W.F.: Oh?

FROG PRINCESS: Did I not mention that my father has just retired and fled- sorry, traveled- to Froglandia?

S.W.F.: Interesting. I might want to join him soon.

FROG PRINCE: Well, let’s shake on this treaty and start planning.

The frogs shake S.W.F.’s leaf, making sure to look him in the eyes, and head back to their now-safe village.


Anxious on the Subway

I am underground. It looks like there are rats hanging from the ceiling. It smells like pee. I feel like someone’s carving a pit in my stomach because my mom is sick. There’s a person staring at me. And when I get off, he is following me. He is white. He looks like he’s up to no good. He looks like he wants to injure someone. He has his hand in his coat pocket. When I get off, he starts to follow me. I run to my mom’s hospital. And I tell the security guards that there is someone following me. The security guard is a big white guy, and he sounds like he’s French or something. 

He says, “We will not let this man in.” Then I go to the desk, so I can check in to see my mom. I see my mom, and she looks the same as she did before, when she wasn’t sick. Beautiful.


Identity

Pride 1 (Meanings)

lions stick with their groups,

their prides.

what is pride?

well to a lion it is their family.

to a human, it is their self regard.

to me it is both.

pride is my home.

pride is my month.

where i can be unapologetically me.

where you can be unapologetically you

the month where big corporations see you.

maybe for their own benefit,

but you feel seen.

and it feels amazing.

Pride 2 (Sidewalk)

waiting.

the sign said one o’clock

the policeman said three thirty

the volunteer says thirty minutes more.

it’s been hours since each said anything.

the sidewalk is the worst place to sit;

hard and scratchy.

waiting.

it better be worth it.

it better be rainbows and love and

warmth and

happiness.

the storm clouds better stop their threats

of rain and thunder.

empty promises that are made of

high and loud cheers.

and then the drums start. 

and the clouds are an empty threat.

and the cheers give hope.

and the sidewalk is the most cushioned chair.

and it’s rainbows, and love

and warmth and

happiness.

Pride 3 (Reason)

this is uplifting.

this is community.

these are my people. 

this is my culture.

my history.

this isn’t a choice.

this isn’t a lifestyle.

we ARE obeying love.

we are at home. 

it won’t be destroyed or 

deemed unsafe.

it is our home

Pride 4

the confetti curbs

rainbow pupils all over.

i am in my own.

ADHD 1 (School)

the window is preferred.

not the chalkboard. 

i’m sorry i can’t help myself.

the trees sway so beautifully and 

i hate this.

i hate how my grape flavored focus

melts away and turns bitter.

i hate that 20 i got on the math test.

i hate that i have to work twice as hard.

i hate that i have become my 

disorder.

i hate that it’s i’ve turned it into an excuse.

i hate that i can wield it against people

but then the blade always hits me afterwards.

i hate that i hate something that i can’t change. 

ADHD 2 (Staring Contest)

a staring contest.

you can look into my eyes.

they seem empty, 

soulless. 

but they are not.

right behind them, you’ll find my brain,

it’s thinking a thought a second.

after you blink, i’ll keep staring.

maybe on purpose. 

maybe by mistake.

and then i become me again.

ADHD 3 (Impulse)

my brain’s mantra seems to be
YOLO.

my brain seems to be

back in 2013. 

a fraternity

boy.
maybe that’s why i like girls.

he sees one thing and turns it 

into a toy or a joke.

always tugging me along.

dragging me 

left,

right

Up

down

when did he take over? 

ADHD 4

my mind waltzes ‘round

my hands can’t be held down now

the leg bounce™ begins

Judaism 1 (Reading)

letters

with sharp edges.

cutting your throat

with each ch.

vowels that

you can’t read without.

is it possible

to have dyslexia

in only one language?

everybody

knows the tongue.

why doesn’t the torah

have transliteration?

give me another crutch.

but wait… 

what is this?

memory?

all of the sharp tones

and letters

are mine.

to keep.

to savor

to love.

Judaism 2 (Bat Mitzvah)

a hummingbird’s heart

beats at 1,260 a

minute.

i feel like a hummingbird.

my heart feels like

it is making rounds

around my body.

my throat

then my stomach. 

acting like a bouncy ball.

then i have to stand.

my voice carries.

i am floating.

the bumblebees

on my high heels

buzz up to the flowers on my dress.

a juxtaposition of simple and detailed.

both bought from the same store.

i am in my element.

Judaism 3 (G-d)

a third grader

questioning her 

rabbi.

“why is G-d

always

portrayed as male?”

she could

ask anything.

always he

never she

or they

if G-d is

everywhere

then why isn’t 

G-d everyone?

G-d is

non-bianary.

sorry talmud.

Judaism 4 (Synagogue)

mosaics of love

a window of stars, flowers

an unused organ.

Music 1 (Singing)

isn’t it

euphoric

when

you open your

mouth

and you

hear harmony?

a string of sounds.

that make 

perfect

sense?

is it not wonderful

when you hit all the notes?

like a sixth grade boy

finally reaching the

doorframe

when he jumps?

isn’t it?

all of it

goes together.

when you can

harmonize

with yourself.

any song

sounds

beautiful.

Music 2 (Listening)

i know you

are fake

over produced

yet i cling to each word

savoring it to remember

for later.

each note.

i am a hoarder

i keep each

and every song 

for my own

i even steal some

from my sister.

little bits and pieces

shazam!

a new song has been added 

to my repertoire.

a playlist

for everything

for crying

for showering

for everyday 

commutes.

the notes

run 

through my blood.

who needs

cells

when you have

music?

Music 3 (Childhood)

in the car

a cover

asking

where my mind is.

in the basement

loading songs onto

a cd for a long trip.

peter’s trip cds

that shaped my

childhood.

songs written

by preschoolers

the cow in the cowboy hat.

something about a ladybug

jack and sarah.

ti esrever dna ti

pilf, nwod gniht ym tup 

sweaters unraveling.

parents understanding

me just enjoying the

songs.

the soundtrack to

my girl hood.

fiona apple when we first 

moved to new york.

single ladies when 

i was in preschool.

eminem in fourth grade.

melanie martinez in fifth.

rap in sixth grade.

and everything in seventh.

Music 4

thank you for lessons.

taught me how to dance and sing.

taught me poetry

Identity

i am not 

always

identifiable.

my pale camouflage

hides my thoughts.

my jokes,

hijinks,

ums,

and

pauses,

hide my thoughts.

always try to fill in the blanks

a madlib.

eloquence isn’t controllable.

not quite sugar spice or

everything nice.

not quit snips snails

or puppy dog tails.

a jew.

riddled with

ADHD.

a pansexuel;

a sacrilege.

a contradiction.

yet everything makes

perfect 

sense.

The Forest

The large pack weighed heavily on the traveler. He leaned on his walking stick with every step. He considered, for a moment, slinging it over the saddle of his horse. This thought was instantly abandoned as the horse was moving even slower. The traveler glanced up at the sky, the sun was low, but not quite low enough to stop. He ignored this. 

“Might as well rest here, eh Charlie?” said the traveler, addressing his horse. The horse answered by lying down on the soft grass. “Guess that’s settled,” muttered the traveler. He slung his own pack off his shoulder and let it drop to the ground. He made his way over to the horse and slowly dragged the items out of its saddle. Charlie took a few bites of grass and the traveler rummaged through the large sack. He withdrew a rather unappetizing looking piece of bread and a waterskin. He reluctantly took a little of each and then laid down in the soft grasses, looking up at the darkening sky. “Ol’ Dawson is getting too old for this,” he said, Charlie continued to munch on the nearby plants.

The sun rose and Dawson, occasionally irritable in the mornings, struggled to his feet. Groaning, he pulled the pack back up onto his shoulders and reloaded the saddle.

“Come on, Charlie,” he said with a heavy sigh, and began to walk. The horse obediently fell in line behind him. “You know, we’ll be reaching the Forest in a few days.” The remark was nonchalant but mentioning such a place made Dawson instinctively shudder and look over his shoulder. There was nothing there of course, only the plodding horse. The horse felt it too. It took several minutes of the bright sunshine to remove the grim shadow of those words.

The day moved its way along; Dawson humming a little now and then. However, the calm mood turned sour when Dawson saw the sun sinking behind a dark mass of trees. As soon as Dawson stopped, Charlie was laying on the ground. Dawson rolled his eyes and sifted through his many bags until he found his map. On it was clearly marked the road on which he stood, and the Forest. He did a few mental calculations.

“Sorry, Charlie. We won’t make it in time if don’t head into the… there tonight,” said Dawson.

The look on the horse’s face was something akin to “make me.”

“Don’t be like that, Charlie,” said Dawson, shaking his head, although he was just as nervous. Dawson pulled an apple out of his pocket and held it in front of Charlie’s face. The horse raised an eyebrow. Dawson began to walk slowly away and Charlie, who was rather sick of grass, begrudgingly got up and followed. Dawson held out his hand and Charlie eagerly crunched the apple. Dawson laughed and led the way toward his greatest fear.

The creeping darkness and the ominous trees forced Dawson to relive the countless tales and fabled horrors of the Forest. He couldn’t help but wonder if he too, would one day become a cautionary tale for avoiding these grim woods.

The sun quickly vanished and, as the sky grew darker, Dawson had to nearly drag Charlie toward the Forest. Finally, once a thin canopy of leaves formed above their heads, Charlie seemed to get more comfortable. The trees were spread out, with one every ten feet or so, but their trunks scowled down at the travelers. The meandering breeze, which outside had seemed so calming, became a gruesome hiss of foreboding. Dawson slowed his pace until he was walking beside the horse. He reached into one of the saddlebags and fished blindly around, his eyes glued to the surrounding trees.

Finally, his fingers found the item they sought and his fist tightened around it. He pulled out a fat shortsword. Its steel blade seemed the only thing not a dull shade of gray or a terrifying hue of black and green. Its hilt was of a sturdy wood and the handle was wrapped in a worn, gray leather. Feeling this weapon in his hand, Dawson felt a good bit more confident.

A few notes of song whistled out of Dawson’s lips and seemed to shatter everything around them with their noise.

Charlie’s large eyes bore into Dawson, a frightened look saying something between “Ssssh!!!” and “are you trying to get us killed?” Dawson took the message and fell silent. The threatening trees on every side lurked like massive beasts, ready to pounce on the man who broke their tranquil rest. Dawson kept his hand on the hilt of his sword. Against the terrifying and ominous power that was the Forest, the sword felt like glorified kitchen knife in his hands.

Dawson nearly jumped out of his skin when Charlie accelerated and sped past him, tearing the lead from Dawson’s hand. Dawson drew his weapon and whirled around to face a possible enemy. He saw nothing on the dark path behind him but his own footprints. When he turned back, he saw Charlie, standing in a small circle of moonlight. The three trees grouped around the spot seemed different. Their bark was a gentle brown and their leaves a cheery green. The moonlight seemed almost golden. Dawson’s nature drew him to suspicion immediately.

“Psst! Charlie, get out’a the light” said Dawson in a sharp whisper. The horse glanced at him but, instead of obeying, sat down. Dawson shook his head and crept closer to where the horse lay. Dawson drew another apple from one of the many sacks he had slung over his shoulders. Charlie looked at him sniffed the air a few times, but didn’t budge.

“Charlie, get over here,” Dawson muttered, a little louder. He turned to face the vicious trees behind him, aiming his sword as if to fight them off. He felt drawn to the spot and unconsciously began to walk backward. Charlie nodded his approval, but Dawson didn’t even notice; his eyes scanned the trees. Dawson felt something solid on his back. He turned around. Startled, he found himself in the center of the moonlit patch of forest. It felt like a different land. A sense of warmth and safety filled him; the sword fell from his hand and hit the crisp green grass.

“Suppose we can rest here for the night…” said Dawson, putting his back to one of the soft, welcoming trees and sinking to the ground. Charlie was already dozing off. Dawson felt sleep creeping up and, with a final burst of energy, rolled the apple Charlie’s direction. His eyes shut and he was deep in the restful, calm darkness within a second.

Dawson sat bolt upright. His hands reached out, desperately searching the ground for his weapon. He grabbed it and put his back against the tree. As the fog cleared from his mind and eyes, he remembered the events of the past night. A few pieces of apple core sat on the ground near Charlie. Dawson looked up through the gap in the trees above and saw the blue sky. He sighed relief and pulled his pack back on. Charlie seemed reluctant to leave the safety of the sunlight but obliged Dawson’s pleadings. They stretched their legs as they walked, expelling every trace of sleepiness.

“Shouldn’t have doubted you, Charlie,” said Dawson. He felt well rested and was setting a rather quick pace for the two of them. 

Charlie’s eyes seemed to say, “Have I ever led you astray?” 

Dawson shook his. “That you haven’t,” he said.

After about an hour of marching through the trees, which seemed barely more receptive to company than in the dead of night, Dawson stopped. A short distance ahead, the road was cut in half by a stream. Something was off about the water. Not its pitch black color that seemed typical of the forest, but its silence. The water was rushing down at a great speed but made no sound at all.

Arching over the icy waters was a bridge. Like the water, it appeared normal at first glance. Its floor was made of wood planks and it had a handrail. However, the wood had rotted to its core. Dawson motioned for Charlie to stay put. Charlie, not being especially fond of water in general, was happy to comply. Dawson thrust the pack off his back and moved carefully toward the bridge. He tapped a few planks with his walking stick, testing their strength. They seemed sturdy enough. As Dawson inspected the bridge closer, he noticed something about the wood.

“They must’ve cut down a few of these trees to make this bridge” he commented under his breath. Looking around, Dawson noticed a few tree stumps near the bank of the stream. As if in revenge, he also saw roots from nearby trees uprooting and undermining the bridge on both sides. The thick, study roots must have been all that was keeping the bridge together. Bright green vines twisted in and out of the rotted holes in the bridge. Dawson, semi-confident that the bridge could hold him, retrieved his pack.

He walked forward to the edge of the wood beams. Cautiously, Dawson placed his foot on the wood. It groaned in protest but held firm. As he walked, Dawson couldn’t help looking down into the black water. He thought he saw something move between the currents. A streamlined shape, its outline somehow even darker that the waters surrounding it. Dawson shuddered, considering what evil sort of creature would enjoy these waters. These thoughts escorted Dawson the rest of the way across. He gratefully put his feet down on solid ground, took the pack off and leaned it against the nearest tree. Dawson, careful to avoid extra weight, dropped his sword down next to the pack. Slowly, he made his way back across the bridge.

Charlie was waiting patiently on the other side of the stream. He had watched Dawson cross the bridge and was beginning to realize that he would have to make the crossing as well. Once Dawson returned, he pulled several bags off Charlie and carried them back across, stacking them with his first load.

“It’ll be easier for you to cross without all these bags,” said Dawson, removing the last load. “Follow me,” he added. Charlie got up and picked his way up onto the bridge. Dawson was checking the contents of this pack. Halfway across the bridge, Dawson heard something. He whirled around at the sound of wood cracking behind him.

As Dawson turned, he saw splinters of wood explode from the bridge and boards go collapsing into the black waters. The entire bridge began to crumble. Charlie had completely vanished. Dawson was paralyzed. He looked behind him at the pile of goods and packages that held in them the keys to his future and down toward the water. The forest decided for him. The board on which he stood snapped and Dawson went tumbling into the ice cold water.

He struggled to take a breath before his head was engulfed into the darkness. A few seconds later Dawson returned, sputtering, to the surface. As his head came up, not a ripple disturbed the horrifying tranquility of the water. Dawson spit as he broke the surface. The water had filled his mouth as he crashed into the depths. It tasted rotten and sickening.

Dawson looked around but his eyes couldn’t penetrate the inky darkness that was the river. With sudden terror, he realized that the remains of the bridge were no longer in sight. He found himself being whisked along by the currents in a nearly imperceptible way. The water remained quiet and even.

Dawson tried to think. He had a small pack on his shoulders; with luck it had a little food and water. He attempted to catch onto a branch and lift himself free of the river. His fist wrapped around the wood. For a second, he was still as the water sped around him. Dawson heard a creaking sound. As the branch snapped from the tree, Dawson’s body was hurled head-first into the water. Dawson struggled against the rushing water, desperately searching for a precious breath of air; he felt something touch his leg.

It was even colder than the water. The icy touch forced its way through Dawson’s heavy boot. Dawson instinctively jerked his leg in the opposite direction. He reached down to where his sword was sheathed. Fear clutched Dawson’s heart as he remembered that the sword, along with the rest of the supplies, were on the other side of the bridge.

“It’s probably nothing,” muttered Dawson, stabilizing himself. Then he felt the same cold clutch his ankle and it yanked him upstream. Dawson snatched a heavy root hanging over the river and held on with all his might. The cold seemed enraged by this struggle and began to pull harder. Dawson, in a burst of luck, felt his boot begin to loosen. He started to crawl up the root, attempting to loosen the boot. It was almost impossible to resist the creature, let alone move.

Dawson shivered as the boot slipped off his foot and the water hit his skin. He forced himself up the root and struggled up onto a patch of land. Dawson sighed and peered down at the water. He recognized the black shape he had seen from the bridge swimming with lightning speed up the river. Dawson decided that his best chance was to follow the river. It was his only hope of navigating out of the forest and, hopefully, to Charlie. He cast a last look back up the river to where the heap of goods and supplies sat on the other side of the bridge. Dawson cleared his head and steeled himself for the journey ahead.

He began to pick his way as well as he could through the dense and angry trees. Dawson unslung the pack and looked inside. There were a few soggy pieces of bread and an intact waterskin for supplies. He sighed and continued to move forward. The tree roots shot up from the ground; even the forest grasses were knotted and tangled. Every low-hanging vine was an invitation to trip and send Dawson spiralling back into the icy waters of the river.

Dawson climbed along the trees. He was moving blindly through the forest, his only hope being that the river led to the outside world. After what seemed like days of hard hiking through treacherous and uneven ground, churned up by the powerful roots, Dawson found himself in front of a massive, rocky hill. He saw it vanish among the forest canopy.

“Might as well have a look ‘round,” mumbled Dawson as he began to climb. As his feet struggled against the steep and gravelly side of the hill, Dawson remembered his old walking stick. It had vanished somewhere at the bottom of the stream along with his sword but it would have made a helpful addition to the climb. The jagged group of stones cut at Dawson’s bare foot, making every step that much more difficult. The rock became steeper with every step Dawson took. Not long into the climb and Dawson felt as though he was making his way up a solid wall of rock. Dawson nearly lost his balance when he felt something touch the back of his neck. It felt like sandpaper against his skin. Dawson turned as far as he could to look behind and found himself among the tree branches. Dark green leaves repelled any sunlight that might have been shining above. Dawson noticed another one of those bright patches of golden light a little distance from the river. He climbed further, forcing the heavy branches and sharp leaves out of his way and moved higher and higher. The higher he climbed, the less rough the leaves became. Near the top, they even felt soft. Finally, as his hand pushed a large leaf out of the way, a warm feeling hit his skin. A flood of sunlight and morning air hit Dawson’s senses. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, feeling the glow of the sun and air that didn’t smell of damp leaves. Dawson looked behind him and saw the massive, twisted form of the forest stretch out behind him as far as the eye could see. In front, there were still a few feet of rock to ascend. Dawson reached his hand up and felt a sturdy stone to grab onto. Using this, he pulled himself up to the rough plateau.

With a gasp of joy, Dawson saw the forest seem to melt away before him. The tightly packed trees separated and turned into a wide, grassy plain. In time, the plain met with the blue sky and calming light of day. A few other trees remained, spread far across the plain. Far in the distance, a few pillars of smoke heralded a settlement. Dawson dropped to his knees. He had no idea if there was any sort of civilization in this direction. He breathed a sigh of relief. As Dawson looked, he noticed the black waters of the fearsome forest stream soften into a shimmering river, snaking across the countryside. Dawson yearned to reach this freedom and hurried down the other side of the mountain.

The short distance he had to walk still inside the confines of the ferocious trees had no effect on Dawson’s new and joyful attitude. He walked at a quick pace, ignoring the scowling faces of the towering wooden figures. As he made his way through the forest, the trees began to thin. It happened slowly at first, but one by one the trees began to get further apart. Their powerful roots, causing upheavals in the ground, became less frequent. Their thick canopy was no longer strong enough to hold back the sunlight.

Then, at long last, the trees fell away and Dawson was standing in the plain. It felt strange, not being surrounded at all times by the frowning trees. Dawson found himself starving, and not in the mood for the soggy bread that was left in his pack. He looked around and spotted a few orbs of red lying beneath one of the remaining trees that dotted the landscape.

Dawson broke into a run as he sped toward the tree. As he got closer, his jaw dropped. His swift run began to slow until Dawson was just standing still. Sitting lazily under the tree surrounded by the remains of a few apples, was a horse. Dawson looked at the horse’s eyes, which seemed to say, “You could have just stayed in the river, it would have been faster.” 

“Good to see you too, Charlie,” said Dawson.


NYC Subway Reliability Essay

Reliability within a transit system is always inconsistent. One can never predict with absolute certainty how congested traffic is, which route is quickest to your destination, and the overall travel time from Point A to Point B. But what can be altered is communication and improved infrastructure. In New York City, riders expect their subway commute to be the overall shortest of travel times, if all goes well. It is expected that when one leaves their house, walks to their station, waits a couple of minutes for their train, gets off their first train and onto the second, and exits at their destined station, that it will all be a seamless experience. A Time Out article written in February 2019 expressed that the two best tourist attractions in New York City are the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. If one were to look on Google Maps, they would find that on a weekday at ten in the morning, it would take around 30 to travel between these destinations by subway. One would have to walk one block to the Herald Square Station, wait for a choice of four trains departing within a span of seven minutes, get off at the Washington Square station after three to four minutes in transit, wait an additional five minutes for the next train, get off six minutes later at Fulton Street, and walk three blocks to the on-ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge. From door to door, this would take approximately 25 minutes, if a commuter could walk a block per two minutes and everything in the subway lined up perfectly. However, this rarely happens. The New York Times gathered in March of last year that weekday trains arrived early, on time, or as late as five minutes only 58.1% of the time. If each line has about twenty seven trains operating on the line at one time, excluding shuttles, that means that only about six of ten trains are considered by the MTA to be “on time.” By going more in depth, one can find out what can be done to improve the reliability of the United States’ largest subway system.

An easier change that can be made in the grand scheme of improving the subway’s reliability is the installation of WiFi in the system’s 472 stations, as well as encouraging train dispatchers to announce the status of the lines they are monitoring. Transit Wireless observed that the MTA celebrated the one year anniversary of installing WiFi to all of its 279 underground stations on January 16th 2018. While the installation of WiFi is still being worked on for the other 193 stations, the existing system has helped riders keep up to date on the status of their subway lines without the use of cellular data. When using Google Maps with Verizon’s 2GB cellular data plan, one is limited to 34 consecutive hours of usage before their charges go up. For commuters who deal with frequent delays and service disruptions, this data can be easily eaten up when included with regular data usage. The MTA’s service disruptions can cause Verizon users to pay excessive fees. By installing WiFi in each and every station, commuters’ phone plans stay intact, as do their wallets.

However, all commuters can appreciate train dispatchers providing station announcements when service is disrupted. The New York Times analyzed that delays have more than tripled in the span of five years, from 20,000 delays in 2012 to 67,450 in 2017. By encouraging dispatchers to make simple announcements such as, “(N) train service has been suspended due to a sick passenger in Astoria,” riders can be made more up to date on the current status of their commute. According to Psychology Today, “one of the most prevalent fears people have is that of losing control” (Cohen, 2011).  If riders can focus more on their alternative routes, instead of worrying about the unknowingness of when their train will arrive, the system will be more reliable for communicating with passengers when service changes arise.

A constant problem of the subway’s reliability is how long a train is dwelling in the station. Six Square Feet reports that “the system is designed for trains to spend only thirty seconds at each station before departing. However, in busy stations like Grand Central, the wait times constantly exceed this limit” (Gannon, 2017). The MTA has begun to address this problem by adding Platform Controllers at a few high ridership stations, who are primarily hired to assist train crews in maintaining the scheduled movements of trains. They are able to do so by reminding riders to step aside to allow people to alight, to step all the way into the train car so everyone can board, and not to congregate by one doorway. They also improve safety by alerting customers when the train is ready to leave, and by flashing a light at the train conductor, they assure them that it is safe to close the doors. With everyone following their instructions, trains reduce their dwell time in the station, leading to fewer delays in the system. What is shocking is how sparsely located Platform Controllers are in the system, only assisting at 11 stations according to the MTA. With ridership and delays increasing, Platform Controllers are a quick fix to both of these issues. Stations that could primarily benefit from platform assistance would be Herald Square, Penn Station (all lines), Columbus Circle, and Fulton Street. These stations all rank in the top ten for highest ridership, yet conductors do not receive any platform assistance. While there would be additional cost in adding extra controllers, the benefits of having fewer delays, which can cost the MTA as much as $389 million annually, far outweigh this con. In a city as big as New York, one delay can turn into one big catastrophe.

While the examples above have provided quicker fixes to reliability, the main issue with the system is its signaling system. This, along with better construction management, will help fix many of the system’s issues with reliability. Curbed NY reports that the current signaling system, known as block signaling, is:

A manually operated method that has been used since the subway’s inception. Subways have blocks, each typically some 1,000 feet long. Fixed-block signals are visible from subway platforms, and the information they provide to train operators are based on the location of the most recent train to have passed—this is known as a moving block system. But this method is imprecise, and because of the age of the signals, subway personnel do not actually know the exact location of the subway cars using block signaling. Much of the current system was installed from the 1930s to the 1960s, and requires custom replacement parts to be made in-house because the machinery is so outdated.

To summarize, this quote demonstrates that a majority of the subway’s signaling is ancient, and trains are spaced out by how many signals they pass in a certain period of time. If another train is too close to the signal where a train just passed, the signal will appear red, delaying that train. This system is also very inefficient, as spacing is higher than what the demand requires at peak hours. 

To make the subway more reliable, this ancient system must be replaced. The MTA has begun the transition to Communication Based Train Control (CBTC). CBTC refers to automatic, computer based signaling. This leads to MTA personnel knowing the exact location of trains, and also decreases the space between trains. This system was fully integrated onto the L line in April of 2012 and the 7 Line in November of 2018. The system is far more durable, leading to fewer breakdowns. Curbed NY clarifies, “Weekday rush hour commutes were marred by signal problems 92% of the time in 2018.” By expediting the process of CBTC, riders will be on time more frequently and the MTA will have larger profits. The 7 Line, which operates from Times Square, Manhattan to Flushing in Queens, has seen on-time performances increase from 56% in March 2018 to 91% in March 2019. With the modernization of signals, trains during peak times have increased from 25 to 29 trains per hour, the Sunnyside Post reports. The article then continues, mentioning that the “MTA said that the L Train and the 7 have the best performance in the system” (Sunnyside Post, 2018). By expanding CBTC to other lines, such as what the MTA has been doing to the E, F, M and R lines in Queens, consistency of train service will become more reliable. To increase the implementation of CBTC, more funding will be needed.

When lines are closed for a myriad of reasons, better use of time for construction will also help improve reliability within the system. Trains are frequently and erratically out of service on weekends and overnight hours. Riders are told this is “because of construction.” For instance this year, J Train service was suspended from Broadway Junction to Jamaica Center on Memorial Day Weekend. The following weekend, service was suspended from Crescent Street (halfway between Junction and Jamaica) to Jamaica Center. This is evidence of poor construction management from the MTA as the replacement of bending rails, breaking signals, and decaying stations could not be expected to be completed in a weekend. The Daily News supports this conclusion by discovering that the “MTA budgeted 900 workers for a job that apparently needed only around 700. Those unneeded 200 workers were pocketing an absurdly high rate of around $1,000 per day” (Samspon, 2018). This all adds up to extra taxpayer money, higher union worker salaries, and less money for crucial mass transit repairs. It can be theorized that working on an eight mile stretch of the J line in one weekend was not feasible as construction costs were too high. This shows poor construction management as more of the line was closed than was necessary This is supported by the fact that the following weekend, parts of the same line were still closed. To better repair crucial infrastructure within the subway system, union contracts for NYC subway workers need to be reviewed and lowered so construction work can be faster, more efficient and cost less money.

In short, the NYC subway can improve its reliability by making alternative routes clearer for time conscious riders, hiring more Platform Controllers for high ridership stations, better managing the time allocated for construction by revising union contracts, and expediting the installation of Communication Based Train Control. In recent years, there have been proposals to improve the system, such as hiring new representatives with fresh ideas. Andy Byford’s Fast Forward plan involves improving the subway by introducing CBTC to more lines and introducing longer line closures. With more organized management, the subway has also seen more renovated stations, newer subway cars, and improved infrastructure. However, it is not enough to keep the system functioning for eight million New Yorkers. With stations as old as 115 years old, more action needs to be taken to keep the New York City subway system thriving. New York is the biggest city in the United States, with almost twice the metro area of Los Angeles. With a city this big, it can take as long as two hours to travel from one end to the other in a car. With the subway, it could take one hour, or three. Cities depend on reliable transportation to grow and expand. Without it, the city cannot sustain its populace needs, leading to a more troubling future with a worsened economy. The New York City subway should be thriving. As of now, it’s merely surviving.

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Twig

Chapter One

Crunch. Twig winced at the sound of his footsteps. He was used to being silent, and the distinct crackle of the leaves beneath his foot was a new sound. This was because he was walking. Twig usually ran, and when Twig ran, he flew. This came in handy for hunting, a skill required for living in the forest. Although Twig did not especially enjoy killing his brothers for food, it was necessary to survive.

At the sound of a rustle, Twig crouched, ears perked up and eyes searching. He hid behind a bush, watching carefully. There it was again. Twig craned his neck and saw the rabbit. He slowly stood, placing one lanky leg in front of the other. Suddenly, he pounced, and the rabbit lay lifelessly on the ground. 

Twig had a way of doing things, a way of getting things done. He smiled to himself, comforted by the thought, and slung the dead rabbit over his shoulder. He then took two rocks, violently struck them together, and happily watched the sparks appear. Eventually, a fire billowed up from a pile of branches and dead leaves, and Twig threw the rabbit in, watching the flames lick its fur and roast it.

Stomp. Twig turned his head. He knew that sound. It was the sound of violence, the sound of gunshots, the sound of fear and misunderstanding. It was the sound of humans. He bolted, not bothering to put out the fire and take the rabbit. As Twig sprinted, he heard the gruff voices of hunters echoing in the distance.

“A fire!” one shouted. “Someone was here.”

“Nevermind, just continue. We aren’t detectives. We’re hunters. Now let’s get a move on.”

Twig stopped. Hunter, he thought. He didn’t have the word for what he felt, but the image of the fire he had roasted the rabbit in flared up in his mind. He stowed “hunter” away with “human” in the back of his brain. Twig had been collecting words over the years, and his vocabulary was growing. He had gathered words like “gun,” “kill,” “stag,” “dinner,” “idiot,” and “twig,” the name he had picked for himself without knowledge of its meaning. Twig didn’t know what idiot meant either, but he liked the sound of it.

Twig knew he was somewhat human, but he didn’t like to think of himself that way. Afterall, humans did terrible things like abandon their children in the woods with nothing but a small parcel of food and a threadbare blanket and kill animals for entertainment. He did not know much, but he did know that he would never ever go back to his life with his parents, where he would surely live in a dismal grey box with a little clear square as his only way to see the outside world. No, Twig was perfectly fine here in the forest, with rabbits and deer and owls for company. He wanted to stay, and if he could outrun a bear, he could certainly outrun a human.

In the distance, the sun was setting and casting a fiery glow. Twig used the sun and sky as a clock. He knew that even if he had a real one, he wouldn’t be able to understand the confusing numbers he often heard hunters shouting back and forth to their companions. 

Twig lay out a heap of dead leaves on the forest floor and settled into the pile under the protection of a large tree. His dinner was gone, and most of the forest creatures were nestled into their hideaways by now, so Twig reluctantly accepted his grumbling stomach and fell asleep under the pale light of the stars.


Chapter Two

Twig was awake at the crack of dawn the next morning to find breakfast. Although he did not have a mirror, he knew he was getting thinner, because his ribs were visible through his stomach. He scampered up the tree he had slept under and crouched at the top, turning in a circle slowly and scanning the scene below. 

Empty again, but wait… there it was! A streak of white against the greens and browns of the forest floor. It was running fast, and in a flash, Twig was out of the tree and chasing the rabbit. Leaping over logs, splashing through ponds, swinging on low branches, the young boy was only human in appearance. But the rabbit was like lightning, for he had animal blood. The wild chase abruptly ended when Twig realized that he would not catch the rabbit, and he sat back in defeat. Suddenly, he realized why everything was so difficult. He was a boy, not an animal, a boy with no place to go. He felt his eyes grow wet, and a single tear rolled down his cheek.

Why, he thought miserably, doesn’t anybody want me? My parents don’t want me, the forest doesn’t want me. My whole life I’ve wanted to belong, but I don’t seem to anywhere. I’m a fake– a boy pretending to be an animal to fit in. That’s what I am, a fake! A lonely fake. Of course, Twig thought all of this with his emotions, instead of the correct words.

Suddenly, he stood, fists clenched and palms sweaty. Twig began to walk swiftly, and his brusque pace gradually turned into a run. Hot tears streamed down his face, and the wind whipped his long, ungroomed hair around, but Twig didn’t care. He ran and ran until his feet were sore and his back ached, but still he didn’t stop. Twig ran until the sun had melted into the horizon, and stars began to peek through the black blanket of sky. As a cloud drifted across the sliver of moon, Twig finally stopped. It was too dark to see anything, so he lay beneath the endless sky and cried himself to sleep.

Chapter Three

When Twig woke the next morning, he heard voices chattering and laughing. Something growled like a starved bear, and someone else yelled out a word angrily that cracked like a falling branch. Ladies shrieked, dogs barked, and wheels crunched on a gravel road. Twig curiously peeked around a tree, and almost toppled over in surprise.

Before him, was a long road, with buildings and carriages and people. So many humans! Twig had never seen so many in one place before. He longed to touch the colorful hats that delicately perched on the ladies’ heads, and the gleaming gold watches clasped around the men’s wrists. The road was half carriages, half automobiles, and Twig jumped back in surprise at the loud angry sound they made. Was there a hungry bear hidden inside? 

This place is strange, thought Twig, but he stopped all questioning when a delicious scent wafted through the air. He turned towards a stand full of rainbow scoops on brown triangles.

“Ice cream, ice cream,” a man was calling out. “Cold fresh ice cream!”

Twig didn’t know what ice or cream was, but the colors were so vivid and appealing that he was up and running in seconds flat. Twig sprinted towards the stand and right into the middle of the street. A horse whinnied and a shining black automobile screeched to a halt. Another horse with a coat of caramel began to act up, and soon he was galloping down the street and neighing noisily.

“Hey, come back here you lousy beast!” screamed a man, shaking his fist furiously. He turned to Twig. “You vile, disgusting little child. How dare you scare my horse! You just wait till your mother finds out about this!”

Twig stared at the man blankly. Then, he lifted a finger to point at the man and said weakly, “idiot.”

There was a moment of tense silence as the man’s sweaty face grew a deep shade of purple. “What did you just call me?” he roared.

“Idiot,” he repeated, this time with more confidence. Twig did not know why the man was so angry, but he decided it was not worth losing time and ice cream over, so he walked away, leaving the man sputtering behind him.

Chapter Four

The refined ladies and gentleman looked down in horror at the small, dirty, half naked boy walking confidently through the streets. On the outside, Twig remained calm, but on the inside, he was petrified. The truth was, Twig would’ve given anything to return to his home in the forest, but he knew he didn’t belong there. Although it was painful to think about, Twig wondered if he could fit in here, in the big city full of ice cream and horses and screaming men. It would have seemed completely out of the question just two days ago, but Twig was changing, and so were the possibilities.

“Excuse me little boy, are you lost?” asked a lady. She was short and round, with a feathered hat and a skirt so enormous Twig wondered what she was hiding in it. “Are you lost?” she repeated.

“Lost,” said Twig flatly. “I am lost.”

The lady looked oddly at Twig. “Well uh… my name is Ms. Thompson. What is your name, little boy?”

“Twig.”

“And what on earth are you doing here without a guardian and dressed in nothing but an animal skin loincloth?

Twig looked down at the cloth tied around his waist. He hesitated, but remembered that Ms. Thompson was the only person who had shown him kindness. So he told her everything, from his abandonment to his arriving in the city. Surprisingly, there was not much to tell, but nonetheless, Ms. Thompson stood there gaping and wide-eyed.

Finally she said, “Well… Twig, why don’t you come with me to my house and we can get you all cleaned up. And for goodness sakes, when did you last take a bath?”

Twig just shook his head.

Ms. Thompson copied the gesture, this time in exasperation. And mumbling to herself about how unhygienic children were, she rushed ahead, Twig following close behind.

When they arrived at Ms. Thompson’s house, Twig gasped. It was very different from his pile of leaves at home. The house was bright white and guarded by sturdy pillars. A staircase lead to the ornately carved entrance, and Twig found himself eagerly running up the marble steps. Inside, the mansion was even more breathtaking. The carpet was plush, the curtains were scarlet, vases of exquisite flowers were placed on every surface, and a glittering chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling. It sparkled and glistened, and Twig couldn’t tear his eyes away.

“Stars,” he said softly, remembering how brightly the stars had shone in the forest.

Ms. Thompson smiled. “Now then, let’s get you into the bathtub. You’re stinking up the place.”

Twig didn’t like the sound of bathtub, so he decided to show Ms. Thompson he was perfectly capable of cleaning himself. He lifted his arm to his mouth and began licking the grime and dirt away.

Ms. Thompson shrieked. “Stop doing that at once! If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were an animal!”

I thought I was one too, thought Twig as he let his arm drop to his side. Although he was surprised by Ms. Thompson’s sudden outburst, her tone softened when she said, “My daughter will see to it that you are clean and well fed.”

Suddenly, she yelled, “My darling little girl!” in a tone so squeaky and high-pitched Twig fought the urge to cover his ears. 

When he looked up, a lovely woman was gliding down the tall, winding staircase. Her skin was so translucent, it looked as if it was made of starlight, and Twig wanted to leap into her arms and be buried in the folds of her satin skirts. She smiled warmly at him and spoke in a gentle voice, lightly laced with an English accent. 

After Ms. Thompson told her Twig’s story, a look of worry came over her face. “And you haven’t offered him anything to eat, Mother? It’s as if you’ve never had guests before! You poor thing, you must be starved. Here, try this.” The beautiful woman handed Twig a little pink circle with a strawberry in the middle. Twig bit into it, and was flooded with its sweetness. He immediately scarfed down the rest.

The woman smiled again and held out her dainty hand. “Come along now, you must be washed and groomed.”

Twig obligingly followed her up the staircase and to a white tiled room. In the middle of the room, was a polished white tub, with little silver bars and various bottles of pastel, good smelling stuff.

“You may call me Ms. Lily. What is your name?” asked the woman.

Twig looked down at his feet, ashamed of his dirty face and odd name. “Twig,” he said softly. 

To his surprise, Ms. Lily giggled gleefully. “What a wonderful name!” she said. “And what a wonderful little boy you are!” Twig felt his cheeks grow hot and he kept his eyes glued to the ground. This perfect woman had called him wonderful.

Ms. Lily turned one of the bars, and at once a waterfall gushed out. Twig jumped back, then cautiously peeked over the side of the tub, expecting to see little red fish darting around in the clear water. But instead, all he saw was the bottom of the tub. What was this magical place, where fresh water appeared every time you turned a handle?

Ms. Lily interrupted his thoughts by ordering him to undress and step into the bathtub. Twig did this too with much caution, but when the warm water pooled around him, and the lavender scented shampoo bubbled and frothed, Twig closed his eyes and melted into the water. He was instructed to wash himself with the soap, (the little white square) and scrub his hair with shampoo and conditioner, (the bottles of pale yellow and green). Twig took the soap and breathed in its scent. It smelled like the wild berries he had eaten in the forest. He longed to taste their tangy sweetness again, so he took a big bite of the soap. He immediately spit it out, disgusted. It did not taste like berries. Why was everything so confusing here?

When Twig finished bathing and was dried, Ms. Lily ducked into something called a closet, and Twig began to worry when she didn’t reappear. Finally, she came out, holding a pair of navy pants and a matching blazer. 

“We’ll need to buy you a bow tie for this,” she said matter of factly, and Twig nodded along although he had no idea what a bow tie was. He took the clothing, and following Ms. Lily’s directions, tugged on the pants, fumbled with the buttons on the shirt, and slipped on the blazer. The clothes felt itchy and stiff against his skin, but even worse were the black shoes. They were tight and squeezed his toes all together. How would he run in these? 

But he was rewarded for all of his discomfort when he stepped out and saw Ms. Lily. Tears came into her eyes as she said, “Oh my, you look just like him. Both so handsome…”

Twig tilted his head in confusion.

“Oh, he was my brother. He died of pneumonia three years ago. It’s nothing really. You mustn’t concern yourself with it.” But despite her comforting words, Ms. Lily continued her weeping. 

Twig walked to her, and slowly put his arms around her. For a moment, there was a break in her tears as she rested her hand on his cheek. Twig closed his eyes and felt her cool skin. Tears trickled down his cheeks as he remembered all he had lost. But then he remembered all he had gained, and he wrapped himself tighter around Ms. Lily. She stroked his cheek lovingly. 

“My beautiful boy,” she said softly. “My beautiful, beautiful boy…”

Chapter Five

Finally. Twig was needed. He was loved. He belonged. He really, truly, belonged. It had been almost a year since he had first arrived in the city, and already Twig was adapting to its strange ways. True, he started out eating meals by putting his face into the plate and eating the food like an animal. But eventually, he learned to use silverware. He learned to do all kinds of wonderful things, like cook and dance and sing and play baseball. He even started attending school and talking in full sentences. But perhaps the most wonderful thing of all, was when he learned to read and write.

Twig loved books. He gobbled them up for hours at a time, and he learned from them too. In time, he became intelligent and witty and quick-minded, and when he learned the alphabet, he wrote. He wrote stories of far off lands with witches and dragons and imprisoned princesses and knights in shining armor.

He wrote stories of little boys who were abandoned and lonely, but they were always found and welcomed with open arms in the end. Twig wrote and wrote, and people read his stories. They read them, and they sent in letters, and Twig kept writing, and he knew that one day, he would share his stories with the whole world.

Now, he lived with Ms. Lily and Ms. Thompson in their grand mansion, and he never asked for a single thing. That was, until one day, when he awoke with the feeling that something was missing. Twig went downstairs, and found Ms. Lily and Ms. Thompson chatting. Ms. Lily held a cup of steaming tea, and slowly sipped it as Ms. Thompson talked.

“Twig!” she said with a start. “You’re up early.”

He nodded. “I… I want to go back to the forest.”

Ms. Lily felt her eyes well up with tears, dreading the worst. “What?”

Twig realized his mistake. “Just for a visit,” he added hastily.

Ms. Lily wiped her tears away. “Of course. We leave this afternoon.”

And they did. Twig clutched a trunk and watched the bustling people and buildings fly by as they rode to the edge of the city. 

When they arrived, Twig slowly stepped out of the carriage. He watched a rabbit scamper by, and remembered the day, now so long ago that he had realized he was human, not animal. He took in the sturdy tree trunks dappled by the late afternoon sun, and how the scent of maple seemed to linger everywhere. He breathed in the fresh, pure scent of pine needles, and looked up at the clear blue sky peeking through the tops of the trees.

“Hello again,” said Twig.

Pulling Me Back Under

Everything was quiet.

Everything was still. The hands of the clock shifted letting out a sharp ringing sound alerting everything that it was now three am. The sound echoed throughout the empty house, shaking its walls. Everything stopped, everything stayed still as if it were afraid to breathe. As if it were afraid to scream. Nothing moved as I felt that nothing would, yet I couldn’t help feeling like something would happen. Like something was there watching me, waiting for me to move, breath, or scream. I felt the chills crawl up my spine and into my shoulders. I felt caged in my body, imprisoned, not able to break free. I was standing there still alone in the empty house waiting. Waiting for something to happen, waiting to see it breathe. Still I felt there was something behind me, something about to jump and release me from this trance where I’m stuck, waiting. The clock chimed again. However, when I turned to look it was three am again. The sound chimed another time again. I felt something reach into the depths of my soul, something I had never felt before. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t open my lips. They felt like stone pressed closed not able to move. The clock chimed again. Everything went black. It was as if it were a blink that my eyes had never opened from.

I woke up in my bed dazed and confused. I could not recall whether my dream was a fragment of my imagination or if it was a reality. I could smell the savory smell of bacon coming from the kitchen. I felt chills all over my body. I began to sit up as I rubbed my head, I felt a bump on the back of it. I stood up and walked to the kitchen. I stopped. I was stunned. There she was, cooking bacon. Her soft black hair draping down to her lower back. Her smooth pale skin. She looked so peaceful. She was so quiet. I tried to say something, anything, but my lips were sealed. My legs wouldn’t move, or rather they couldn’t move. She turned around. Her face was so pale and long. She was wearing her white nightgown with the lace hem. It was her favorite. She started walking over to me. Her eyes were white and empty, it felt almost as though you could stare at them for hours and see nothing but emptiness. She touched my face with her long, cold, boney hand. She just stared at me as though she was longing to be there in the moment. She then opened her mouth. I could see her blackened teeth. She reeked of rotting, I felt my nose hairs curl up. She let out a blood curdling scream, and then it all went black. I woke up with my hands grasping my chest. I could hear my heart pounding. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe and I was gasping for air. Finally I realised it was all just a bad dream. 

I looked over at my wooden nightstand to see our wedding photo sitting there. It was just there, like it was calling for me to come home. I thought I put all of my memories of her away. I saw the time on my alarm clock, three am. I wasn’t sure if all of this was a long series of dreams and I am finally awake, or whether I was just stuck in a trance, a paralysis, never to be woken again. It still reeked of rotting. I got up and decided to take a shower to try and calm down. 

I turned the water on and let it run until I saw the steam start to pour out of the curtains, and float up to the ceiling. I stepped into the shower and the water was ice cold. There was steam, but the water was cold. Is this another dream? I thought. I got out to wait for the water to warm up. I looked in the mirror and realised I hadn’t shaved my beard. The mirror started to fog up. I opened it and reached for my shaving cream. I started rubbing it into my beard. I looked down and saw my razor in my hand. It just appeared there, like it was meant to be there. I began to bring the blade to my beard, and watch the hairs fall into the sink. One after the other, as if it were long black rain. I got back into the shower to wash the remaining shaving cream and hairs off. The water was finally warm. Maybe this wasn’t a dream and I was awake again. The water felt good on my skin. All of a sudden the water felt thick and heavy. I looked down to see a thick heavy pool of water. Somehow the water had filled the shower up. I ripped open the curtain to try and get out. The bathroom was still covered in water. It kept rising up and up. I reached for the door trying to escape but it was locked shut. My head was touching the ceiling. Soon I was submerged. I tried to wake up, but I couldn’t. I felt the air run out in my lungs. I turned to see her floating there. She was so beautiful, her hair and nightgown floating up like she was an ethereal creature. Darkness started to close in on me. I felt her soft lips press against mine. I woke up again.

There was a pool of sweat around me. I looked at my alarm and saw it was three am again. This couldn’t be another dream. Why was this happening to me? I got up, grabbed my coat off the foot of my bed, and left my apartment building. The sky was pitch black. There were no stars because they were hiding behind the clouds. The wind swept up the fallen leaves and moved them around through the air as though they were dancing. The streetlamps were flickering and newspapers tumbled around on the ground. I started to walk on the sidewalk. No one was out. I was walking along an empty road filled with abandoned secrets. I started walking along the river. I kept smelling the smell of rotting. Where was it coming from? Was she there? Was she following me? I wasn’t sure. I kept walking faster, scared to look behind me.

There was a tunnel that led to the bridge above the river. I ran to the tunnel, hoping the smell of rotting would not follow me, and she wouldn’t be there. The smell only followed me. I could feel a stream of tears flow out of my eyes and hit my shoulders. The tears felt cold, almost refreshing. I finally reached the bridge and saw blue and red lights flashing up ahead. I thought maybe they could help me. The air felt cooler up here, like a ghost had just walked through your body. The lights kept getting brighter the closer you got to them. My legs felt as though they couldn’t go on much further. My chest hurt and my head was spinning. I finally reached the blue and red lights. They were all gathering towards the right side of the bridge, looking over. There was a big gap in the guardrail. I felt the chills all over my body again. It felt strange this time, almost as though something bad was about to happen. I walked up to them. They all looked sad, however there seemed to be a sort of calmness surrounding them. 

I asked them what had happened. They just stared blankly into the water. One of them asked what had happened, and another one responded that some insane man drove off of the bridge. They then got into their cars and began to drive away. I saw the blue and red lights fade into the distance and then they were gone. I walked across the bridge to the other side, hoping someone over there would help me escape this demon of mine. By the time I reached the town on the other side of the bridge, it was five am. I searched and searched to find someone, anyone who could release me from this pain. As I walked along the sidewalk I heard a bell from behind me. Then I felt something hard hit my head. I turned around to see that there was a boy delivering newspapers on a bicycle. The boy fell over, and I went to go help him up. He looked straight at me, but kept ignoring me. I could tell he did not want my help. 

Once he finally got a hold of it he got up. He hopped on his bicycle and rode away. Now alone I stood there in the dark, in the cold, wondering, waiting. Trying to piece it all together. Maybe I might wake up this time, maybe if I tried hard enough I could go home. I walked over to where the newspaper hit my head. I picked it up and began to read. The chills filled my body again. I felt her. I knew she was near. Why wouldn’t she go away? Why wouldn’t she stop? Tears started to pour out of my eyes and on to the paper. One after the other, weighing the paper down, smearing the ink. Scared for my life, standing there waiting to wake up, wondering how I could wake up, I felt her hand press against my back the way it used to, however it was not the same. It was different. Colder, sadder, lonelier. I felt all of her pain of being alone, all the sadness, all the cold. I continued to read, hoping she would go away. I felt her hand move up to my shoulder, as it fit perfectly into place. It was like we were a puzzle, and all the pieces fit perfectly. I read and read hoping to wake up. The tears kept flowing. The fear kept growing. I stopped. I didn’t breathe. I didn’t speak. My tears stopped running down my cheeks. I didn’t move. The chills were now rapid, crawling all over my body as if they were a nest of ants covering you completely. I turned around to see her, standing there so peacefully. She looked at me and asked if I was ready to go home. I realised I had been running from the truth, and did not remember or know it. The newspaper read: man dead. Drove his car off the bridge into the river. Screaming that he couldn’t live without, his wife. There was a picture of the man. His pale body, his black beard, his lost face. I realised why the boy and the police officers ignored me, why she was here, why the blue and red lights couldn’t help me, why there was a bump on my head.

Everything went dark. Everything was still. Everything stopped, everything stayed still as if it were afraid to breathe. As if it were afraid to scream. Nothing moved as I felt that nothing would. 

Everything was quiet.


Between Four Walls

She, the girl, stands facing sideways towards the mirror, talking fast to distract from the movements she makes, twisting her waist from left to right, her eyes quietly seeking out every imperfection. The mirror is the great enemy. The mirror is the battle. Why does she look so much… doesn’t she know what it reflects by now? Why must one stand for so long looking at a mirror that only reflects what truly is. Or is it possible that one can stand so long looking at the same thing until finally, they forget what the reflection appeared to show in the first place?

What is perfection? Why does everyone want it? It seems much like fog. One is always too far to reach it, but able to get close enough not to abandon it. It is an ever lasting search for satisfaction. Everybody knows they will never find it, but still they continue to look. Maybe they keep looking because if they stop they’ll be faced with the fact that they were looking in the wrong place all along. Or maybe they keep looking because they want to win the battle so much they sacrifice themselves in the process. Maybe.   

***

A plate unfinished. Peas 60 calories, chicken 150 calories, mashed potatoes 300 calories, with butter 75 calories. Total: 585 calories. Too many. Because if I eat this, the person I like won’t notice me and the dress I like won’t fit me and the friends I talk to everyday will stop talking to me and then I’ll be left with nothing to like about myself. So I’ll eat the peas and half the chicken and pretend I had a really big lunch which was actually just an apple and hide the fact that I want to finish the plate and eat three scoops of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate ice cream which I know is in the freezer. But I can’t because if I do then I’ll have nothing left to like about myself. So I’ll go back to my room and lock the door to return to the mirror. And then it will be just the mirror and myself. I strip naked and count every bone I can see, ribs, collar, and shoulders. This reflection I see, how come it doesn’t please me? I eat less, I workout more, but still I can’t see beauty. Why? 

I step on the scale that I long to see all day. But I have to be quick because if my parents saw me I know they’d be concerned. The numbers on the scale start to form, until I see they have gone done. What a relief, because now I can be sure that all my hard work was not for nothing, and a smile starts to form on my face, and I think to myself of how very good I feel. I wish I could share this with someone. My dad calls me downstairs to finish up the dishes so I cover my body with a baggy sweatshirt so no one can see what is actually underneath. So no one can see the truth.

***

Control. She needs it. She thrives on it. Because when her life is falling apart the only thing she has left to dominate is herself. That’s why she’s protecting a secret that is slowly killing her. Even though she knows it will hurt people. Even though it hurts herself. So she keeps fighting the enemy and the battle. But what is the battle now? For the mirror is only a reflection of what truly is. There is no one battle, there is no one reason for all the bad things. If there were, it would all be much simpler as there would only be one thing to get rid of. The mirror, the plate, the scale. . . all the battles that need to be fought to achieve beauty and perfection. That’s what she, the girl, keeps telling herself.

“I ‘ll be perfect and then I’ll be okay.”

“I’ll be beautiful and then I’ll be okay.”

But she tried and still she is not okay. Because perfection is like fog, easy to get lost in and never to be reached, and the search for beauty has always been in the wrong place, never to be found. Is it possible the greatest battles were always herself? All along was she her own enemy? After all a mirror only reflects what truly is.

*** 

I am tired of looking at the mirror for every imperfection, and I am tired of the scale going up and down, and I am tired of only eating a quarter of my plate. I am tired of hurting everyone including myself. And I’m tired of forgetting everything that once mattered to me. So I will return to my mirror. The battle that I don’t even remember starting in the first place… CRACK

 Suddenly I see thick warm blood beginning to trickle down my knuckles. Sharp pain shooting through my fist which is pressing against the ice cold mirror. I released my hand from the mirror and slowly started to open up my fingers one by one, each one more painful than the last. My hand is shaking in the end, now covered in blood, a deep crimson red. My wrist ached with a rush of pain coursing through my arm. What is this reflection I see now? Who is this person staring back at me? I can see myself, thin body, only enough skin to cover the bones sticking out of me, but only, this time I look, I am covered by a million cracks, running down my face in every direction. Lines running through my left ribs and chest. But more noticeably a large crack cutting down straight through my face. And finally I can see myself, stuck in this webbed mirror. Stuck in this idea of perfection. Is this who I am? Is this my reflection? After all, a mirror only shows what truly is.


Messages in the Wind

I walked into the kitchen and plopped my school bag on the table. After the chilly walk home from school, the vegetable soup heating on the stove smelled delightful.

“Hi Mom!” 

“Hi Emma,” she said unenthusiastically. 

Then I heard my mom’s phone ringing on the counter. I looked down. The name Johnny popped up on the screen. My mom rushed to her phone to pick up it up. She looked at me with a why-are-you-staring-at-my-phone look. I returned the look with a confused stare, grabbed my bag, then walked upstairs and into my dad’s office. Who could Johnny be?

“Hi Dad,” I said. “I’ll be in my room, ok?” 

My dad sat in front of his desktop, lost in thought. “Hi sweetie, how was your day?” he said, looking up.

“It was fine-” Ding! I looked down at the phone on his desk. Johnny. Again. So my dad knew this Johnny guy too? I didn’t have time to see what the message said, because my dad snatched the phone and shooed me away. 

“Shouldn’t you be doing homework?” 

My parents were acting so weirdly these days. I decided to ignore it for now and go up to my room. Maybe Johnny was just an old friend of theirs. 

I made my way to my desk in front of the big window facing the sea. It’s my favorite place to relax. The window gives me a nice view of our small neighborhood and the Scottish beaches of the Isle of Mull. I opened it to let in the fresh ocean air. 

I took my worksheet out of my folder. Great. Conjugation. My favorite. I sighed. J’aurais, tu aurais, il, elle, on aur-” Suddenly, a flutter outside my window caught my eye and I saw a paper airplane fall into the garden. I opened the window farther and tried to find where the plane had come from, but there was no sign of anybody except my dog, Tanzie, playing in the water with my older brother Mike. He was visiting from his first year of university and he wouldn’t throw a paper airplane at my window. I knew I should finish my conjugations, but I felt intrigued—and a little bit bored with french—and decided to go get the plane. I wandered down to the garden and found it in a flower bed.

When I picked it up, I saw it was made from part of a map. Why a map? It looked a lot like my neighborhood, and I could see something that looked like directions. I climbed the stairs back up to my room where I spread the plane out and unfolded it on my desk. Someone had indeed made the plane out of a map, the kind you find in guidebooks, but I couldn’t find any other information and the directions went off the page. It was interesting, but it wasn’t going to help me with my French so I went back to my conjugation.

But later, during the night, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. I had so many questions: Where did the map come from? Would I ever get the other part of the map? Also, who was Johnny? And why were my parents acting so oddly all of a sudden? All those questions exhausted me and I finally fell asleep. 

The next day, my parents behaved as if nothing weird was happening. 

“Good morning Honey!” said my dad, setting a bottle of maple syrup on the rough pine farm table.“I made you french toast. I love that yellow dress!”

“Hey Little Sis!” said Mike, scratching Tanzie’s neck as he sat in his usual spot across from mine.

“Morning, thanks,” I said, sitting down. Not sure if I was thanking Dad for the french toast, the complement, or both. I ate my French toast then walked to our small local middle school. It was a normal school day; maths, english, music, French, and P.E. 

That afternoon, I planned on going to play with Tanzie, my border collie after finishing my homework. After thirty minutes of solving algebraic equations, I saw another flicker in the corner of my vision. My heart beat faster – could it be another map? I rushed down to the garden and grabbed the paper airplane and unfolded it. Another part of the same map! I ran back up to my room and tried to put the two pieces of map together: They fit! But the map was still incomplete. The directions still ran off the page.

Every day that week, I looked forward to coming home from school and getting more and more pieces of the map. After five days, I finally put the final pieces together, I noticed something odd at the bottom of the last piece of the map. I looked more closely and was shocked to find a signature: Johnny. “Oh. My. Goodness.” I murmured. “How..? What…?” I needed to talk to my parents. They couldn’t hide things from me anymore.

I walked into the living room, where Dad read his newspaper and Mom and Mike watched a cooking show on TV. “Mom, Dad, Mike, I think we need to talk.” We gathered around the dining room table. My parents looked worried and my brother just looked confused. 

“I’ve noticed some weird behavior from you, Mom and Dad,” I began. “First of all, the name Johnny keeps popping up on your phones. And then there’s this.”

 I spread the taped-together map out on the coffee table in front of the sofa and pointed to the signature. Their worried expressions told me they had been expecting whatever this was, but weren’t ready. “Can you please tell me who this Johnny guy is, and why he’s been sending me these parts of a map?” 

My parents exchanged looks and muttered something to each other. 

“Hello? Can you answer me please?!” 

They quickly looked back at me, and my mom said “Oh Honey, we’re all sorry. We think you should find that out yourself by following that map.” 

“Wait. ‘we’re all’?! Are you saying Mike knows what this is this about? And why are you sorry?” I felt nearly ready to explode—confused, shocked, and enraged all at once. 

“Calm down!” My dad said, defensively. Yes, he knew. “Fine, I’ll explain: Before- ” 

My mom cut him off. “Stop! No. We need to let Johnny explain. It’s his story.” 

“Fine. If you won’t tell me, I’ll go figure it out myself.” I snatched the map off the table, grabbed my coat off the hook by the door and stomped out slamming the door behind me. 

I followed the directions and it brought me to the market. I saw a boy, maybe twenty years old, who looked a lot like Mike, standing apart from the small crowd shopping for fresh seafood at the stalls. He seemed to be looking for somebody and when he spotted me and walked carefully over, as if he didn’t want to frighten me.

“Emma? Is that you?”

 I felt confused. “Who are you!?” 

He ignored my question. “I see you got my airplanes” 

“Who are you?!!” I repeated, louder now. 

“My name is Johnny. I’m your brother.” 

I stood, shocked and speechless.

“Let’s sit down on that bench and I’ll explain everything.”

“A few years before our father met your mom, he met a woman called Rose. She got pregnant with me, and when I was born, Rose left our father. She took me with her and we never saw him again. Then our father met your mom and had you and Mike, but my mother never told me I had a sister and brother.” He sighed sadly.

“When I turned thirteen, my mom had to leave me for the military and my grandma took me in, but she died six months later. It was quite a shock for me and it left me scarred. Social workers took me to an orphanage in Harris. My mother never came back and no families adopted me. When I turned eighteen, they let me leave and I got a job at a public library. A friend agreed to let me sleep at his house.” 

What a terrible story, I thought. How could he go through all of that with only one friend?

“But how did you know about my family?” I asked, not wanting to hurt his feelings—he was already scarred for life.

“I started doing research because I wanted to find my father. I got a lot of help from friends and co-workers, but it took me two years. When I found him—last week—I got extremely excited and I called him. He didn’t believe it. He told your mom and your brother, but apparently not you.”

“Wasn’t Mom shocked or furious?” I asked, confused.

“She knew about me when she met our dad, but it was shocking to learn I wanted to come back. It took some persuading but she agreed.” 

“Oh,” I said, still not having all the answers I wanted. “But why did you send me those paper airplanes with the map?”

“Your parents didn’t want to tell you because they felt embarrassed that they hadn’t mentioned anything earlier. We agreed to let you figure it out by yourself and I must say, it was a pretty bad idea.” He chuckled. “I hope you’ll forgive us.”

I stammered. “I…I forgive you.” 

We walked home in silence, thoughts swirling around in my head. Why hadn’t I sensed I had a long lost sibling before? Did my parents know his mom left him? Why had they told Mike and not me? All these thoughts had distracted me and soon we were already home. We entered the living room and my family came to hug us.

“We’re so, so sorry,” said Mom

“Guys, it’s all good,” I said, comforting them.

“Let’s make dinner,” said my dad, “as a family.”

We all agreed and Johnny and I helped Mike make pasta bolognese while mom and dad set the table. We told funny stories and got really close with Johnny. 

“One, two, three—”

“Cheese!”

At Easter holidays, my whole family had decided to go to Edinburgh to celebrate our reunion. We sat beside Edinburgh Castle, beaming at the camera and we probably looked like the happiest family in the city, because we were! My family felt complete and we all had decided that we wouldn’t keep secrets anymore. I never wanted this moment to end. I looked up and saw Johnny, smiling at me, mouthing, “thank you.”


Normar at Dawn

He left early morning, before the sun had even thought of rising. He took the bag he packed last night and was gone. The squeaky stairs and door were a ghost of a sound to the rest of us as we slept soundly. He said he didn’t want us to see him leave, that it would be easier for everybody. Or that’s what he wrote on the little scrap of paper he left behind. I disagree. I grab the other letter he left, the one with my name written on it in blue ink, and quietly leave the house.

I run as fast as my legs can take me down to the port, dodging crates of fish and clams that are being carted up from the fishing boats. They ooze a salty smell that I have grown up surrounded by, that everyone here has. I weave my way between merchants, whose carts are piled high with barrels of seafood, bags full of salt, and piles of sail cloth and rope. They will leave Normar at sun set. 

Precious few outsiders stay in Normar for long; there is nothing for them here. Job opportunities are few and far between. Most of us are sailors and fishermen, at sea all day from dawn to dusk, sometimes longer. The rest are traders, weavers, shipwrights, glass blowers. Our town is one built around the sea: there are no cobblers, for leather will only be ruined by the water; no silversmiths, for the metal will simply tarnish. Those who are born here though, often stay for a lifetime, for generations. Sons and daughters learning their trades as they watch their parents perform them. 

But Normar is no place for artists, for writers or scientists. Many townspeople would have hired my brother, for his deft hands or sharp eyes, but he didn’t want to spend his life here. It made sense; of course Normar is no place for an artist like him. His creativity is wasted here. So he’s on a boat, preparing to go somewhere new, to London, then maybe even Paris. He’ll probably never return.

The bell on the dock begins to clang adding to the cacophony of the streets. I turn sharply, towards the sound. It signals ten minutes to the next ship’s departure, my brother’s departure. I, like all the other people of Normar, know the sound by heart. I can tell you when it signals an arrival, a departure, or simply the time of day. Some things you learn by living. 

I stand at the edge of town center, on the brink of complete chaos. There are vendors who sell their products out of the bottom floors of their homes, pushing out farther into the street than they have a right to. Donkey carts positioned at opposing angles, making it difficult to get through. I dive in head first, side stepping children playing tag, ducking through conversations, and dodging the brooms and canes of men and women fending off the hordes of hungry seagulls. The air is filled with shouting, disgruntled neighbors and competing merchants. They are accompanied by a clatter of wood and metal. I step out of the chaos, not entirely unscathed, but in relatively good shape. I check my pockets quickly to make sure that his letter wasn’t stolen.

I hear someone shout my name and I wave a friendly hello, still walking quickly towards the seashore. I step onto a side street and a crash sounds from a few yards away. I quickly pivot towards the source and see a few of my father’s friends, Steve and Martin, I think their names are, struggling to keep a stack of barrels from toppling over.

“Maria!” one of them shouts. “A little help here?”

“Sure thing.”

Quickly, I rush over and take the barrel from him. It is heavier than I am expecting, and he and I both lower it to the ground while he balances another. As the men work, I steady the foundation, ensuring that none of us are crushed beneath the barrels. Judging from their weight, I guess they are full of lobster, so I work with caution. I definitely wouldn’t want to set these little sea devils loose. When we are finally finished, Martin and Steve wave a goodbye as I continue towards the dock. 

My earlier walk is now a run, racing the sun, even though I should have plenty of time. But when I reach the dock, I slow down and when I reach the post, where there is supposed to be a rope tied, mooring the ship to land, I come to a full stop. I see the boat already much too far from port, the sails out and full of wind, blowing him away from me.

 He said it would be easier like this. How can a single envelope be easier? With its messy white seal and chicken scratch writing. It’s not better. Two pieces of paper aren’t better. A letter telling me how much he cared about me, and I know it’s selfish but I can’t help but think that if he really cared he would have stayed. Sailors bustle around, continuing their work as I unfold the other leaf of paper. It’s a portrait of both of us, his arm over my shoulder. We look so close, and for a moment I forget how far apart we really are.


The Last Robbery

Prologue

In the small town of Memphis, Tennessee, where the crime rate was high, two robbers simultaneously spotted their next job. 

Paz was slim and worked behind the scenes. She sat on the dirty curb next to a busy street. Traffic screamed in her ears while she scanned a newspaper article. Her face lit up as she found the house waiting to be robbed. A grin spread across her face, and her eyes widened.

Dave was a tall and stocky man. He was very clumsy, which was not a favorable trait for a robber, but he still got away with it. He drank warm coffee from Starbucks in his apartment. He bit his lip when he set eyes on the article. His face dropped as he started the plan.

Lurking in the shadows, a greater evil held the newspaper with a gleam in his eyes.

***

Dave

I sit in my musty apartment, planning my next robbery (and figuring out how to pay rent this month). I know that my neighbors, the Henkins, will leave to go to Hawaii this afternoon. My stomach tingles and I twist my thumbs every time I steal from someone. I’ll spy on the house before I go in.

I go over and decide that they’re gone after a wait in the yellow and green shrubs that seem to trail on forever. I walk around the house, through the gate and into the backyard. My lock picking will take a while, and I don’t want anyone getting suspicious. I figure the other neighbors will be easily convinced that I’m taking care of the Henkins’ lizards. 

I slowly open the kitchen door in the back of the Henkin’s house. The guilt is already creeping around the house with me. I know it’s only a trick on the neighbors, but I do wind up checking on Dexter and Kiwi, the family’s lizards.

“Hi, Dexter! Hi, Kiwi! Do you miss your family? Oooh, yes, you do, yes you do- o,” I say in a baby voice to them.

Acting out Dexter’s rough, made-up voice, I say, “The telephones aren’t working!”

“Oh, Dexter, I might be able to fix those, right after I rob your house okay!” I respond in my normal voice. I chuckle and move away from the terrarium the lizards are kept in. 

I poke my head further into the kitchen, pushing back the thought that I have to do this quickly. A smile slowly spreads across my face every time I enter the Henkins’ house. The kitchen, like the rest of the house, is clean and organized. There are two candles in copper candle holders sitting the same exact distance away from the clear vase in the center of the table. Purple, blue, pink, and yellow flowers spring up from the rim of the vase, growing off of the table, slithering on the ground, and wrapping around my feet like snakes. I blink and rub my eyes and the flowers turn back to normal. Turning around to the living room and leaving the flourishing flowers behind twists my smile into a slight frown, but I have the willpower to leave.

The Henkin’s living room holds a long, curved, brown couch. An oval blue rug lays on the oak floors beside a small glass coffee table.

As I explore the living room, I stumble into the office and gag as the bitter smell of the fresh cleaning supplies drifts up to my nose and races around my head, making my stomach churn. I lift my dark red shirt over my nose and mouth. I trip over a neat stack of books with torn covers of all colors as I walk towards the leather chair in the middle of the room. Sitting on the shining desk are forty-five, eight-inch tall rag dolls of the U.S. presidents. The first one in the row is George Washington; the last is Donald Trump. They all stare my way with their beady button eyes. As I think back to being here six months ago at the house party when they moved in across the street, more guilt swallows me like a wave, swarms me like wasps. Six months ago the books were not on the floor. The spot on the desk which Trump now fills was empty. The bigger white rug that was in the living room has now been replaced with the oval one.

The steps quietly creak as I tiptoe up the stairs and meet the biggest window in the house. The stars have been hidden in the black night outside. I’m so caught up in the exploration of the house that I don’t immediately recognize the sound of the door clicking open.

***

Dave ran into the nearest closet he could find, in the room of Emma Henkin, the smallest daughter in the Henkin family. The panic that had been following him flooded under the door of the closet, and soaked him with sweat. Was there an actual pet sitter or housekeeper there to check on the house? Would he be caught after everything that he had gone through? He had money once, when he was only six years old, but when his parents died, a storm of dust had ripped them and their fortune away from him. He needed this job. He couldn’t be arrested.

***

Earlier that day, Paz was at a sketchy restaurant, impatiently waiting for her small salad to be delivered to the window booth she inhabited almost every Wednesday and Saturday. Turning her head to face the window made her nose wrinkle and lips curl up. The window had been smashed in and there was a sheen of dirt coating the cracks.

“Excuse me ma’am, excuse me? Your order is here,” the waitress said in a sing-songy voice. 

Paz snatched the salad and turned away, rolling her eyes. She was not a sing-songy person. She looked down at the pathetic pile of greens and dressing. She rose up from the booth, her legs sticking to the vinyl material of the booth as she stood, lifting the plastic tray of the salad with her. She took slow, long, paces to the black trash can in the corner, which was sitting on the dusty floor. Her eyes scanned the contents of the bin, and her nose wrinkled again.

***

Paz

I push open the creaky blue rimmed door and an evil grin is plastered onto my face as I think about my plans for tonight. I creep around the neighborhood until I reach the house of today’s victims, and push through the gate and to the door.

I begin to take out my lock picking equipment and turn the door handle. It’s not locked. My eyes widen and my face becomes a little more pale. I think about whether I should rob the house or not. I’ve never been wrong before when it comes to telling if a house is rob-able or not. I decide to go in, preparing myself to face anyone inside. 

All of the lights are off, and the house was left clean. I straighten out and silently laugh at myself. I begin to forage through the cabinets and drawers in the kitchen, bending down to reach compartments closer to the white tile on the floors. I have my mind set on finding the house’s pearl. I shift my attention to the living room, ducking as I pass the large windows. There are two bookshelves in the one corner of the room, and a rocking armchair in another. One bookshelf is shorter than the other, and I carefully shove books, big and small, away, as I search the smaller one on my knees. Not there. I stand on my tiptoes and start from the top of the lofty bookshelf. I finish searching the top shelf, the two shelves in the middle, then the bottom shelf. Not there. I fling the cushion off of the armchair, causing it to rock faster. 

I’m about to storm up the stairs, but I soon regain the knowledge that I have to be fast and quiet. Softly, landing my feet on the stairs ahead of them, I go up the stairs. One. Two. Three … Ten. Eleven. Twelve! I quickly duck down in front of the biggest chunk of glass I’ve ever seen in a house.

What a terrible place for something of such value! I think to myself as I feel around the wooden floors. I search the bathroom, the master bedroom. I look everywhere. The shower, nightstands, and dressers. Under the bed, over the bed, and in the closet. Nowhere to be found. The only rooms left in the house are the kids’ bedrooms. Guessing on what the doors of the bedrooms look like, the family has a young girl, and a teenage boy. One door is covered with messy doodles of princesses finding their princes. The other door has a printed out “Keep Out” sign, held on by a measly piece of tape in the top right corner. The cool draft of the AC had caused the sign to tilt, hanging off the door. I quietly cackle as I disregard the sign, entering the boy’s room.

The smell of dirty socks makes me dizzy as soon as I open the door. My stomach swirls, but I proceed on into the room anyways. After poking my head in the closet, reaching my hands into piles of sweaty clothes, and moving around dandruff covered pillows, I still haven’t found the famous item.

My last destination is the little girl’s room. My shoulder’s slump as I pointlessly push open the door. Why would an item of such value be hidden in a foolish, senseless little girl’s room? I think to myself.

I open the closet door and my face lights up as I stare in disbelief at the valuable treasure. I’m still in disbelief, but this time, as I shift my focus a few inches up at the hand grasping the small painting. 

As soon as I recover from the shock, I grasp the baton at my waist and manage to mumble a threat to him.

“This street is my turf,” I say, my voice shaking.

The man looks up at me, meeting my eyes with a confident glare. The traces of confidence in his eyes disappear as he backs up and stumbles over the angry bird figurines in the large closet. I stifle a laugh, wanting him to know that I take my job seriously.

“I’m sorry, are you robbing this house?” he asks.

I answer him with a yes and note the awkwardness of the situation, not knowing what to do next. Should I grab the painting and run?

He speaks again before I can take action, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you should be proud of robbing houses.”

I’m about to say that I’m not, but I realize two things. One, I called the street “my turf.” Two, I am proud of being a quality robber.

“Why shouldn’t I?” I ask in a judgy tone.

“Well it’s just not very nice of you to rob houses.” he responds.

“Excuse me? You’re doing it too!”

“I take no pleasure in it.”

“Why? Being mean and mischievous is awesome!”

“At our age, it’s really not. We should be caring for our community. It’s a little irresponsible of you to think that being mean is a good thing.” I don’t get this guy. He takes the same thing I’m after and then tells me I’m being malicious. Sure it’s mean. Sure, being mean isn’t cool, but he stole it before I did! I love sneaking around, and all of those people who have regular lives are just pathetic.

Memories of the orphanage flash in my head as I see more doodles of the family in the girl’s room. Memories of the trouble I made. Memories of the people who came and left, taking a friend of mine every time. But never me.

This family has something that I never had in me. They love each other. They have lives that are worth saving, and I’m interfering with those lives.

***

At this moment, another force of evil lurks in the backyard. He wears dark jeans, and a hunter green colored cotton T-shirt. He paces the patio after realizing that the door was yet again, left unlocked. He silently creeps closer to the muffled voices up the stairs and turns the door handle without a sound. He is now thinking sinister thoughts while positioned behind Dave and Paz, who still do not know that he is in the house with them.

***

Dave

I begin to walk out of the closet, but the woman reaches out and stops me. I know she won’t leave until she gets the painting. I freeze up as I turn. My eyes widen and my jaw slightly drops. My face is pale. Beyond her is a taller man who stares directly down at me with a blank expression. He slowly reaches a gloved hand out, expecting me to hand over the painting. He wears a black glove on one hand and nothing on the other. A large hat shades out most of his face, but I can still see his eyes and mouth clearly enough to know that he is made up of pure evil. His eyebrows curve and he glares at me. His eyes hold no shine, like there’s nothing in there, but a black heart.

I tap the woman’s shoulder and point to the man, my mouth still hanging open. She surprises me, and glares right back at him, but his expression doesn’t change and he doesn’t seem the least bit intimidated. 

The woman reaches for her baton as we reach a silent agreement. She takes a step towards the man and swings her baton towards him. He lifts the gloved hand, blocking it from touching his head. I leap forward in an attempt to tackle him, but again, his hand reaches up and pushes me onto the floor. The woman and I meet eyes. We nod, and spring forward, pouncing on the man and taking him down to the ground. The hard floors knock him unconscious and we use our socks and a few ropes from Emma’s closet to tie him up.

“By the way, I’m Paz,” the woman says.

“I’m Dave.”

We leave the house and carry the criminal to her car, opening the door and shoving him in. Paz gets in the driver’s seat and I get in the passenger seat, but the moment we turn around, he’s gone. We look around, but he’s nowhere to be found.

We pinky swear to never steal again.

***

5 years later…

Dave and Paz sit at the outdoor mesh table reading the news. A criminal named Randy Bluett had recently been caught. They exchange glances and grin, their eyes gleaming. Dave had taken the wallet of the criminal they had encountered on their last robbery five years ago. Some of the name had been scratched out, but he could read “Randy Bluett”. Dave drinks a latte and Paz drinks black coffee. Dave pays and Paz gets up and heads to work after saying goodbye to Dave. Paz now works as an author. Most of her stories are about robbers who have great adventures. Dave works as a fortune cookie writer. He gives great fortunes to bad people. It will get better . . . after you learn your lesson. Dave and Paz are the only people who know about their pasts. Besides the Henkins . . .


Someone Like You

I live in area 423, for only Jewish white people. Twenty years ago, the Federal West segregated everyone by religion and race. Each area is surrounded by a gate. If you get caught going past it or being with anyone in another area, you will be punished. Sneaking out last night was one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made. I’ve snuck out before, but last night, last night was different.

I walked to school every day like usual. My high school is ten blocks away from my home, but today I felt sick to my stomach. It was my last day of junior year. I stopped at Quart Street to wait for Rory, my forever best friend. Rory and I have been inseparable since kindergarten. I can tell her anything and everything on my mind. We walked to school in silence. Neither of us wanted to talk about what happened last night. 

Last night me, Rory, her boyfriend Keith, and his friend Phil went to the gate to celebrate the last night before the last day of school. Everyone goes to the gate to hang out, but mostly to smoke and take drugs. I’d been there before. I snuck out at twelve, careful to keep silent as I opened the window and reached for the rope I had previously tied to my window frame. I walked down the silent streets of 423. Getting caught outside after 8:00 could result in jail time, but in 423, it was easy to sneak around. Rory and Keith were already there and Phil was in the corner smoking some new drug.

“Lena!” Rory jumped up and gave me a hug. I sat down next to her. As soon as I sat down, I heard a rattling sound. I turned around and saw Phil climbing up the gate to area 907. I sat there astonished at his stupidity.

“Get down idiot,” Keith yelled. Phil got to the top of the gate, ducked under the barbed wire, and climbed down the other side. 

“Fuck society,” he yelled and walked away into the darkness. The three of us stood there, shocked, and frozen. We slowly walked towards our homes, knowing if we went after him or reported him, we’d all be doomed. 

So, that’s why Rory and I walked to school in silence. We started to hear the screams of the kids at our school. Every yell, every shout, reminding me about last night. I was so dazed that I hadn’t noticed that Rory stopped. 

“Lena?” Rory said quietly.

“Yeah?” I turned around to face her. Her eyes were red. She must have been crying a lot. “Are you okay?” 

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“Rory, I-I don’t know. I hope he does.”

She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “Okay.” I could tell that my answer wasn’t the answer she was looking for. We walked the rest of the way to school, pushing our sorrows away and putting on our fake smiles. 

I sat down in math class, middle-left side. Mr. Fitzgerald walked in and sat down. The bell rang and Mr. Fitzgerald turned on a movie and went on his phone. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around. There sat the incredibly hot and gorgeous Matt. Matt was on the baseball team and always played the lead in the musical.

“Hey Matt,” I said awkwardly as I faced him, his deep blue eyes staring back at me. 

“Are you okay?” He asked me.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” I responded with my cheesiest grin, my voice only shaking a little bit. 

He lowered his voice. “I know what happened last night.” My heart stopped, my brain froze, and I died a little inside.

“Keith told me,” he said. Of course Keith told him. Matt and Keith told each other everything, at least that’s what Rory told me. Matt and Keith were the male version of me and Rory, except I knew Keith before Rory. I practically set them up.

“Earth to Lena,” Matt’s gentle voice whispered to me. I felt myself come back and I looked at him. “Lena, I’m here for you,” he said and reached for my hand. We sat there speechless for a while. I sat there going through the events of last night. The bell rang and my body jolted. I didn’t even realize that I was still holding onto Matt’s hand. He smiled shyly at me, and I smiled back. We walked out of the room, and I dropped Matt’s hand immediately. Rory was sitting on the floor bawling with a note in her hand. I quickly sat down and gave her a hug. 

“Rory, what’s wrong?” I asked, concerned and worried. She looked at me, her makeup dripping down her face.

 “I-it’s Keith,” she muttered between sobs, “he went to join the rebellion.”


DIY Shopping


Shopping List

1. milk   x

2. cookies  x

3. pony       x

4. paint    x

5. pillow    x

6. unicorn   x

7. book    x

8. camera    x

9. a grape (one singular grape)   x

10. spinning wheel  x

This morning, my personal shopper quit. She said I bought too much stuff and she just couldn’t take it anymore.

I was like, “It’s your job though.” Then she hung up. Now I have to buy everything on the shopping list for tonight’s gala. The first thing on the list is milk. I forget why I needed milk. Oh! I remember because cows and horses are related, I read that in an article. Cows make milk, and so… horses must drink milk, which means ponies must drink milk, and a pony is on my list. 

“I’m so smart,” I said to myself. So I got into an Uber and headed to the grocery store. I went to the dairy fridge and saw so many brands of milk, so I took one of each. Organic Valley, Horizon, Borden, coconut milk, almond milk. I looked at the list and saw cookies after milk. So I went to the snack aisle. Again, too many brands of cookies. I felt overwhelmed. I finally understood The Bachelorette. The cookies were all the guys. I actually know the girl on The Bachelorette right now and she told me what it’s like. This is obviously more stressful though. So I took out my phone and searched up best cookie brand. Nice! was the best one but Fairway doesn’t have it. I kept going down the list and nothing was here, finally I resorted to the last brand on the list, Chips Ahoy. They didn’t even have the original one. They only had chewy. I tossed the chewy cookies into my cart and moved on. I looked through the list and saw that the only thing left that I could get at Fairway involved shoplifting and the risk of jail. I needed a single… grape. I unsuspiciously moonwalked to the fruit aisle, trying not to attract any attention to myself. I began looking at grapes, trying to find the least bruised one. I needed the perfect grape. I discreetly searched the grape packages. 

“Finally!” I shouted out loud. Instead of having one of my many head voices say it for me in my head. Some old people looked at me, 

“Sorry, sorry,” I whispered. I tucked the grape into my pocket while being very sly. I took my cart to the register. I started taking out all the milks, 16 in total. Then I took out the crinkly Chips Ahoy bag. I began to sweat when the lady started to speak. 

“Would you like a cooler bag for an extra four dollars for all your… milk? Or would you like a normal bag for an extra fifty cents or would you like a plastic bag for no extra charge?” 

“C-cooler um bag,” I stuttered. My armpits were getting really sweaty, like that time I met Justin Bieber and he hugged me and then he made a gross face because I was really sweaty. Don’t worry. I’m still a Belieber. She started scanning everything and putting everything in a cooler bag. I handed her my credit card and she slid the card into the machine. Finally it was over. She handed the card back to me and I took the bag. I speed walked to the security alarm and took a deep breath. I stepped across and the beeps began. Beep. Beep. Beep. I stood in place as guards surrounded me. They had mini scanners in their hands and they cornered me. My only exit was the door. I backed up as they closed in on me. Then the automatic doors opened for a cute old lady. That was my exit! I was free. I ran backwards and then spun around so I was running facing forward. I ran to some bushes and called an Uber. After four minutes of waiting, I saw the car stop in front of the grocery store. The guards were busy searching behind cars in the parking lot, so I took a rushed breath and sprinted to the Uber. I opened the car door, breathing heavily and tried acting very calm, “Hi, Danny?”  I said with a breathless voice.

“Yes, Alisha?”

“Yup.” 

The car began moving and we headed to Home Depot. I said goodbye to Danny and entered the wonderful world of Home Depot. The first thing I saw were toilet seats. Then pipes came into view and then finally big buckets of paint. Why did I have to be so vague on the shopping list? Then it hit me… because I was mean to all my assistants. Maybe that’s why she quit. Rude. I set my shopping bags down and looked through the paint. Pink, blue, orange, red, magenta, maroon, brown, black, grey. I decided to get the grey paint because it’s a neutral color and the gala is called The Grey Life. Everyone has to wear grey so all the decorations pop out. I put the grey paint bucket in the cart and put my shopping bags in there too. I went to the comfort section of home depot. The next thing on the list were pillows. I had a specific pillow in mind despite the vagueness of the list. SmartHome Bedding Super Plush Pillow. It’s my favorite pillow of all time. 

I searched through the shelves and shelves of pillows but there was no sign of my SmartHome Bedding Super Plush Pillows. I resorted to an average pillow with some pink on it. I placed it in the cart and headed to the cash register. The scrawny man scanned the stuff and I went through the boring paying process. I ordered another Uber and checked the list for what was left. I needed a book and a camera. We were heading to Barnes and Noble. We got there and I entered the store. I was slow because of all the bags I was carrying but I pushed through. I took out my phone and took a selfie on the gram. Took a photo of all the bags and put it on my story, #thestruggleisreal.

I was going to get 50 Shades of Grey. A classic, definitely my favorite book of all time. It also went with the theme, just an added bonus. I found it in the romance section. I plopped it in the cart and then I went to the other section of the shop. It was called… other. I looked for one of those pretty polaroid cameras. Thankfully I found a bright pink one. It will really pop. I put it in there. Paid. You know the drill. Except, the sweet old lady who was in Fairway was in the romance section. I saw her when I was leaving and so I hid behind a tall man on the escalator. I ran up with all my strength and suddenly I smelled Shake Shack. The delicious smell of milkshakes and burgers and fries filled my nostrils. My head voices started talking. “Go eat it.”

“No, you have a gala to plan.”

“It smells good. Go. Eat. The. Goddamn. Burger.” 

“No! No! No! No!”

“I shouldn’t. But it tastes so good,” I said. 

“I can’t!!!”

Imagine a lady with a bunch of bags filled with random stuff talking to herself. Now you get it. People started moving away from me. 

I took out my phone once again and called another Uber. The dropoff location was the Apple store on fifth. It was near the horse carriages all the tourists love. The guy dropped me off and I walked across the street to the carriages. I went up to the first guy. He looked like Jack from Mary Poppins. 

“Is your horse for sale?” 

“No.”

“Can you make it for sale?”

“No.”

“Do any of these people have ponies?”

“Yes. All the small ones.”

“All the small people or all the small horse looking ponies?”

“You pick.”

“What?”

“Go away.”

I went to the next guy, “Is this a pony?”

“Yup.”

“Can I have it?” 

“No.”

“You’re just like the last guy.”

“Are you calling me a potato?”

“What? No.”

“All Grumpy Joe eats are potatoes.”

“Is your pony for sale?”

“Maybe.”

“How much is it?”

“An apology from you.”

“I’m sorry. Ok, can I have the pony now?”

“Make it sincere.”

“I’m so so sorry for calling you a maybe potato.”

“She’s all yours.”

I took the pony’s leash and climbed onto it. “78th and 3rd,” I said. The horse was still. “Move!” I screamed at the horse. People started looking at me. “Can someone help me move this pony?!”

Fast forward to when I finally got the pony to move. I dropped all the stuff at home. The last two things on my list were a spinning wheel and a unicorn. 

“How the heck do I get a unicorn?” I asked myself. I called an Uber and said hi. I took out my trusty mini bat and whacked him in the head. I only knocked him out for a little bit. 

“Sorry.” I mumbled. 

I got out of the car and took out my phone, dialing the number of my trusty car mechanic. I called him over and watched him remove bolts and lift up the car to get the tire. He had another appointment so he rushed off not noticing the Uber driver I had laid on the floor of the car. I got the tire out and left the car in the middle of the empty road. I rolled the tire back to my apartment. Jeff the doorman looked suspicious of the tire but I acted very normal. I said nothing and we made eye contact until the elevator door closed. Like I said, very normal. I hot glued the tire to my pottery wheel. There you go. A DIY spinning wheel.  

The last thing on the list was a unicorn. A majestic, elegant, unicorn. I know! I’ll just go to one of those witch stores. I called a Lyft because Uber isn’t letting me log in. 

The driver came, and he said, “So, you’re one of those people who believe in witches.”

“Nah man, I just need a unicorn.”

“Oh, yeah that makes it normal.”

The rest of the drive was quiet. We finally reached the witch store. I walked into the store and heard the bell ring.

“Hello?” I said, trying to make my voice heard. 

“Whatcha want?” An older woman came into view dressed in leggings and an orange off the shoulder shirt like she just came from an 80’s disco. 

“I need a unicorn.”

She went to the back of the shop. She came back with a stuffed unicorn in her hand. “50 bucks.”

“It’s fake.”

“Since when were unicorns a thing?” 

“Well, I need one.” 

“Go put a horn on a horse.” 

“When have you seen a brown unicorn?”

“Paint it.”

“Good idea.”

I left the shop and went home. When the time was right at the Gala, I would go to the bathroom, dump some paint on the pony, and stick the unicorn horn headband I wore for Halloween last year. 

The shopping list was done. I took a breath of relief. My phone dinged and I checked my phone. The contractor called in sick.


Staggering Impacts of Single-Use Plastic on Human and Environmental Health

Every year, an estimated 182.5 billion plastic straws are used globally. Not only the straws, but also plastic bags and styrofoam cups, create massive amounts of landfill that pollute world oceans and jeopardize the existence of many mammals and sea life in the water. In Canada, there have been major steps made to try and bring the country out of a place of mass pollution and towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. In Justin Trudeau’s statement, he describes the issue of plastic pollution as an issue “we simply cannot ignore”. Following his statement where he aimed to create a community more environmentally aware, Trudeau released the details of a new policy that bans single-use plastic and will be fully enacted before 2021. Trudeau’s confrontation was powerful and brought attention to the plastic crisis. It is also a model for how other countries around the world should be facing the urgency with which they should be recognizing the same issue. Canada’s ban on single-use plastic is critical for other countries to understand and consider implementing since its predicted effect on health concerns related to plastic as well as its potential to decrease plastic’s environmental impact is remarkable. 

Single-use plastic has many more direct impacts on human health than expected and can be surprising for many to hear. Through the life of a single plastic object, there are a few different ways in which the object is harmful. From the production of plastic in a factory, where the gases released from the creation of the material are toxic, to the consumption of foods that are packaged using bisphenol A (BPA), the entire process of both the creation and consumption of plastic is damaging. There have been studies surrounding the many chemical additives used in the production of plastic and the consequences of their presence in the human body on diseases that might form in response. In a study done by the Ecology Center, it was shown that the chemical additives that give plastic products desirable performance properties have negative effects on human health such as disruptions to the endocrine system that cause the growth of cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression and developmental problems in children. The results of studies that show the effects of plastic on human lives can be shocking for those who haven’t previously acknowledged the impact of these products on the health of humans. But the facts of the serious health implications that single-use plastic can have on well-being are much more harsh than the change in lifestyle that can come from removing these plastic objects from our day-to-day lives. While it can be hard to imagine daily life without products such as plastic grocery bags or straws, it is imperative that the health concerns tied to these products are considered. 

Although the concerns relating to human health must be talked about, there are various environmental issues that are also as important and should be mentioned as well. Specifically, one of the main issues with chemically produced plastic is that it can take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to disintegrate. When plastic is disposed of in the ocean and ends up in landfills, it is just staying there and creating islands in the ocean that are made of plastic and not going to decompose since the decomposition rate is so slow. These plastic “islands” appearing in the ocean have serious repercussions for marine life and sea mammals as, many times, these animals confuse plastic pollution for food. Animals like turtles are eating plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish, which is their usual diet. By ingesting these plastics, they suffocate themselves and are dying with a much shorter lifespan than they have been said to have in the past. These larger animals are quickly dying in the wild because of the plastic pollution in the waters. But most of the time, the only time humans are seeing the effects of pollution on wildlife is when the dead animals wash up on a shoreline. However, in addition to the plastic ingestion of larger animals, small sea life such as shrimp and fish are digesting particles called microplastics that are invisible to the naked eye, but can greatly affect human lives as a consequence. In a study done by Debra Lee Magadini at Columbia University’s Earth Observatory Lab, she shows that the microplastics in animals like shrimp are much worse than previously thought. In a single shrimp, she finds that there are hundreds of microplastic particles that clog up the stomach and gut of the individual shrimp. Those same particles would then be ingested by the human consumer of the shrimp and would cause the consumer to ingest the plastic particles. As aforementioned, the consumption of plastics (whether by microplastics or through the digestion of products containing BPA), the human endocrine system, which flushes out toxins from the body, can be seriously damaged. 

There have been countless studies done, articles written, and demonstrations organized that bring to light the many problems with plastic use in the United States and around the world. However, many people tend to block out the information that is being presented to them through these methods of advising the public. The blockade that is created makes it so that the people of societies nationwide aren’t being properly informed and governments aren’t successful at briefing their people. The feeling of urgency that the Canadian government is expressing is quite apparent through their policy making, however, the rest of the world’s response to their change shows the degree to which others realize the power of this ban. Surrounding countries in the Americas as well as Europe admit that there is an issue with plastic, but they don’t seem to understand how massive the negative effects could be of having such harmful materials used on a daily basis. Having plastic be so widely accepted, to the point where it is essentially destroying the world, is an issue that must be solved, but cannot be with the support of only one world nation. 

It is obvious that there is no more time to thoughtlessly consume plastic products and through establishing the ban on single-use plastics, it is clear that the Canadian government understands the importance of acknowledging this complication. The problems pertaining to plastic in oceans and, consequently human bodies worldwide, is an issue that has been lingering and waiting to be talked about. As a major global power, Canada finally took matters into their own hands and created laws that would be curbing the production and use of single-use plastic on Canadian land. Through The fact that Canada is taking initiative and creating a more environmentally friendly mindset for citizens across the country shows the importance of the issue with plastic for Canadians, but also the whole world. There are communities across the globe who understand and urge people around them to recognize the issue, an entire government hoping to bring the information about how bad this crisis really is, is a much larger step towards change in this world. 

Works Cited

BBC. “Canada To Ban Single-Use Plastics As Early As 2021”. 2019. BBC News. Accessed June

18 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-48477087

Bilefsky, Dan. “Canada Plans To Ban Single-Use Plastics, Joining Growing Global Movement”.

2019. Nytimes.Com. Accessed June 18 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/10/world/canada/single-use-plastic-ban.html.

Christensen, Jen. CNN. 2019. “The Amount Of Plastic In The Ocean Is A Lot Worse Than We Thought”. CNN. Accessed June 18 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/16/health/ocean-plastic-study-scn/index.html.

Ecology Center. “Adverse Health Effects Of Plastics | Ecology Center “. 2019.

Ecologycenter.Org. Accessed June 18 2019. https://ecologycenter.org/factsheets/adverse-health-effects-of-plastics/.

The Globe and Mail. “Canada’s Single-Use Plastics Ban: What We Know So Far And What You

Can Do To Recycle Better”. 2019. The Globe And Mail. Accessed June 18 2019. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-canadas-single-use-plastics-ban-what-we-know-so-far-and-what-you-can/.

Royte, Elizabeth. “We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life. What About Us?”. 2018. Nationalgeographic.Com. Accessed June 19 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-health-pollution-ste-microplastics/#close

Westcott, Ben. “Canada Plans To Ban ‘Harmful’ Single-Use Plastics By 2021”. CNN. 2019. Accessed June 18 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/10/americas/canada-single-use-plastics-intl-hnk/index.html.

A New and Improved 2nd Amendment

The constitution is a protective yet society controlling document for the better and worse. The second amendment needs to be revised into a law that applies to our modern world and still protects those who need it. It grants too much freedom and interpretation for firearm owners and others that wish to buy a gun. In 2017 around 40,000 people died from guns and 60% were from suicide (Mervosh, 2018). The states that have the most gun deaths, like Alabama and Texas, (which have over 4,500 gun deaths combined), are the states with some of the loosest regulations (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Every day, one hundred people die from guns, and even more are injured by them (EverytownResearch.org, 2019). This clearly states how disturbed our laws against firearms are throughout all of the fifty states.

The second amendment states that “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” (Nelson, 2018). This means that anyone with an able body can purchase and possess a gun. But the constitution was created many years ago, in the late 1700s, and we are in the 21st century with newer and deadlier weapons. In the late 1700s the people of the United States had recently finished fighting the Revolutionary War. It’s easy to understand why they needed this law. But we live in a modern and civilized world where technologies have advanced immensely and security has improved. There shouldn’t be a need to worry about someone walking into your home, school, or office with a gun and shooting your friends or family. If the second amendment was improved, this would be almost impossible. 

There need to be stronger gun regulations. Any person, twenty one or over, has the right to apply for a background check. The background check needs to be stronger and put within the amendment itself. Most of the states that contain major cities, for example New York and Illinois, have laws against guns and penalties for those who own a gun but fail the test. There are laws in these states that require criminal background checks for all firearms, and there are others that don’t, for instance, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Tennessee. North Carolina and Iowa don’t even keep records of guns purchased (Everytown Gun Law Navigator). One of the main reasons why there is corruption within the gun control system is that the separate state laws are very spread out, and they need to be reformed into one document that applies to all of the states.

The main parts of the second amendment that need to be edited are the following: a well regulated militia. A person that wishes to purchase a gun needs to go through a thorough background check. This involves criminal acts, mental health tests, previous family history, domestic violence, previous jobs, physical health, and a situational, decision-making, diagnostic test. The test may or may not be taken with a lie detector, but that is up to the jurisdiction of the state. This applies to all types of firearms. The “militia” who can apply for a gun must be any person 21 or over, no matter what sex, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or any other identifier.

If this revised version of the Second amendment is put into effect, it is a guarantee that these thousands of deaths will decrease and create a safer environment for ourselves and future generations to come. Gun control is a common discussion topic, but those discussions don’t always involve a solution. Instead of making short term laws or local laws, these new changes are taken right to the source. This will open up new ideas and conversations about not just changing this amendment but our country’s founding document as well. 

CITATIONS: 

“Gun Law Navigator: Compare States.” Everytown Gun Law Navigator. Accessed June 20, 2019. https://everytownresearch.org/navigator/states.html?dataset=background_checks&states=IL-NY-PA.

“Gun Violence in America.” EverytownResearch.org. April 11, 2019. Accessed June 20, 2019. https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-america/.

Mervosh, Sarah. “Nearly 40,000 People Died From Guns in U.S. Last Year, Highest in 50 Years.” The New York Times. December 18, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/18/us/gun-deaths.html.

Nelson, Jeremy. “The Bill of Rights (Amendments 1 – 10).” National Center for Constitutional Studies. January 01, 2018. Accessed June 21, 2019. https://nccs.net/blogs/americas-founding-documents/bill-of-rights-amendments-1-10.

“Stats of the States – Firearm Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed June 20, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/sosmap/firearm_mortality/firearm.htm


Scared of Heights?

Have you ever wondered if you were afraid of heights? Have you ever felt your legs trembling or wanted to crawl on the floor while high up? Do you close your eyes while riding across a bridge with nice scenery? Then you might have acrophobia. An irrational fear of heights, otherwise known as acrophobia, is a common psychological phobia that might negatively affect a person’s life in the future. Although there isn’t a permanent solution, there are many other ways to help cope with it. 

As of now, the majority of earth’s population have had a fear of heights at least once in their lifetime. However, only 1 in 15 people have Acrophobia (Boynton and Swinbourne, 2019). According to research, around 3%-5% of all people on earth have experienced this (Us and Infographics, 2019). According to these numbers, women are twice as likely to have this phobia (Us and Infographics, 2019). Although acrophobia is not that rare, it is important to distinguish the difference between being cautious while high up and actually having this phobia. Based on this information, we can tell that it isn’t a rare/unusual phobia. While in the midst of experiencing acrophobia, some of the symptoms may include: shaking, sweaty palms, feeling terrified or paralyzed, irregular or high heart rates, rapid breathing, and a fear of injury or death. People can also experience symptoms similar to acrophobia such as vertigo, bathmophobia, climacophobia, aerophobia. Vertigo is a spinning sensation in your head which can be simulated by spinning in circles. Bathmophobia is a fear of steep slopes. Similar to bathmophobia, climacophobia is a fear of the act of climbing. And finally aerophobia which is a fear of flying in flying objects such as planes and helicopters. These are some symptoms to help distinguish whether you might have acrophobia. 

There are many symptoms of acrophobia. There are just as many causes. Not only people, but also animals, can experience these symptoms. This is because for all living things, it is natural to have a fear of heights. It is an instinct for all beings to protect yourself from falling. However, some are more extreme than others. This extremity tends to lead to acrophobia. Mainly for people, it can be caused by a response due to a traumatic experience during childhood or someone’s past. It could also be caused by a parent’s nervous reaction to certain heights. Even balancing issues can lead to experiencing acrophobia. However, in some cases, people are born with acrophobia. Scientists have done research in which babies were put at the edge of a simulated cliff with a mother encouraging them to cross to the other side (Us and Infographics, 2019). Most of the babies were born with the natural instinct to avoid falling off of the edge, but some babies were a little more afraid. From this research, we can tell that they had similar reactions to the people who have acrophobia. This shows that acrophobia can happen to any person or animal at any point in their lives. 

Although it’s not easy, and there aren’t any immediate cures, there are many different treatments to help get rid of someone’s acrophobia. Yoga is one of the most common treatments that people use. Practicing yoga can help relax yourself and keep your heart/breathing rate in a steady pattern. Also, learning all you can about acrophobia is very good for you. Acknowledging that you can put yourself in danger and learning what you can do from the internet is helpful. Some people also use prescribed anxiety pills to help calm themselves from panicking while at a high area. In addition to all of the treatments above, others use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which helps with mental health strengthening. Overall, visiting a therapist or a psychologist is very important for someone with acrophobia. It may stay with you for your entire life if not treated at all. These therapists can help you go up to heights at a small rate and provide support if you have a panic attack.                                                           

As the study of acrophobia is further revised, we can see that there are no permanent treatments to the phobia. People around the world have acrophobia and not knowing how to treat it and the dangers of it can lead to life threatening situations. People need to know how to help themselves and acknowledge what is happening to them. This means that there are some everyday strategies to help cope with it. These methods may include therapy, yoga, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Without the proper treatment, it can negatively affect someone’s life. Because acrophobia is made up of a lot of rare phobias, it can also help us learn more about those phobias and find treatments for others too. 

Bibliography

 Kirkpatrick, N. (2019). How To Handle And Overcome Your Fear Of Heights | Betterhelp. [online] Betterhelp.com. Available at: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/phobias/how-to-handle-and-overcome-your-fear-of-heights/[Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

 Black, R. (2019). Acrophobia (The Fear of Heights): Are You Acrophobic?. [online] PsyCom.net – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986. Available at: https://www.psycom.net/acrophobia-fear-of-heights/ [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019]. 

Fritscher, L. (2019). What to Do If You Suffer From Acrophobia. [online] Verywell Mind. Available at: https://www.verywellmind.com/acrophobia-fear-of-heights-2671677 [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

 Planet-science.com. (2019). Fear of heights. [online] Available at: http://www.planet-science.com/categories/over-11s/human-body/2011/02/fear-of-heights.aspx [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

 Us, C. and Infographics, P. (2019). 11 Curious Acrophobia Statistics – HRF. [online] HRF. Available at: https://healthresearchfunding.org/acrophobia-statistics/ [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

Boynton, R. and Swinbourne, A. (2019). Health Check: why are some people afraid of heights?. [online] The Conversation. Available at: http://theconversation.com/health-check-why-are-some-people-afraid-of-heights-82893 [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].


Has Basketball Improved Since Its Invention?

Basketball is a great sport no matter how it’s played. However, if you really think that the way it’s played now has been the same forever, you would be very wrong. The game has had a countless number of adjustments in its history. Basketball has changed for the better since its invention. There are many reasons why it has changed for the better. To actually understand these changes, you have to learn the history of the game.

Historians have found that the ancient Aztec people played a game similar to basketball. However, the game as we know it was invented in December of 1881 by a Canadian Physical Education teacher named James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts. He created basketball because the principal of that school wanted him to design a game that the students could play inside on cold days. Basketball was first played with peach buckets and a ball similar to a soccer ball. The game only had thirteen rules. Some rules were very different than rules that we use today. Some rules are also very similar. For example, the most common aspect of basketball today is dribbling. Surprisingly, one rule that was very different was that there was no dribbling in the game. Dribbling was not actually introduced until 1897. Originally, the players could not run when they had possession of the ball. One rule that has existed for basketball’s entire history and has not changed is that the players can pass the ball with either both or one of their hands. All of these changes show that basketball is better now because it gave all players, good or bad, a fair chance. The game is now much more sophisticated. Some could argue that fewer rules are simpler, so the game would be easier, but the game would be too easy then.

Basketball became popular after it spread to New England in 1913. Throughout its history, basketball traveled to many different countries, and many major leagues were started. Some common major leagues are FIBA, which was founded in 1950, and the NBA, which was founded in 1946. FIBA is the major basketball league in Canada and Europe. The NBA is the major basketball league in the United States of America.

This game may sound great, but it also had some bad things about in the past.

One horrible attribute about basketball was that it was heavily segregated in its early years. African Americans were not allowed to play the game. For people who watch basketball, they would know that there are many African American players now. The first African American professional basketball player, Earl Loyd, joined the NBA in 1950. That is one big reason why basketball has changed for the better. 

Many people enjoy basketball and would like to know the background and changes of it. It might teach people that sports were not always great and were very segregated. This essay can teach people about the history of basketball as well as the history of