Natalie, Luke, and Michelle


There’s a lot that you can buy with a stolen 20 bucks. Especially if your mission is to sneak to CVS from school and see how long it takes until your mom notices you’re missing. Then you get to walk down every aisle. When you have $20, anything is possible. Well, anything that you can do with 20 dollars. But there’s a certain kind of freedom that comes with being on your own with money. I browsed through the aisles, getting whatever caught my eye. Oreos, mallomars, . I spotted the aisle with gum and backpedaled before snatching two packs off the shelves. Ooh, nail polish. You can never have enough nail polish; there are millions of shades that can make or break an outfit. While looking out of the massive glass windows, however, I spied a red Tesla pulling into the parking lot. It was Mom’s car! There was no one in the line at the checkout though.

I awkwardly stumbled over to the checkout. I hope no one saw that. I surreptitiously glanced around. No one in sight except for the bored looking checkout clerk who I think was a senior who had nothing to worry about. His faded shirt didn’t look like it had been washed recently so I tried to breathe through my mouth, but he asked me if I wanted a bag. He would have thought I had some sort of problem if I only nodded, so I had to answer.

“Um, yes,” I answered, trying my best not to seem rude, but really? I had seven items (yes I counted correctly for once; the only math skill I seem to possess) of course I wanted a bag!

While the clerk silently put my items into the white plastic bag, I spied my mom walking into the store with a purposeful stride and an ice cold glare, her stylish fall jacket accentuating her silky auburn hair. I knew that my mom would never make a scene in public, so I raced to think of a way to delay the checkout clerk.

“Hey, um, so how much were the Mallomars?” I asked, purposely drawing out the question.

“Uh… they were $3.99,” came his slightly suspicious answer. I don’t think he got asked many questions in this job, and my question definitely came as a surprise to him.

“And if I were interested in joining the rewards program, would I have to pay for it?” I squinted at his cheap plastic name tag with a barely legible scrawl written on it. “And, Alex, what benefits would I get?” My mother had caught up to me by now and was standing next to me. I could practically feel the anger rolling off her in waves.

Alex was definitely confused now. “Well, you don’t have to pay to sign up, but I’ll need your email and or phone number.” He was speaking in the perfected speech that all store employees probably had memorized. “You will get storewide benefits, and rewards such as discounts on everyday items.”

By now, the hairs on the back of my neck were raised from the furious look my mother was giving me. I think Alex had figured out what was happening, based on the surreptitious glances he was giving my mom’s face.

“Would you like to sign up today, or would you like to hear more about the many benefits of the CVS ExtraCare rewards program?” he asked with a pointed look and a small smirk playing at the corners of his mouth.

“That’s ok, we can get going now,” my mother cut in smoothly with a voice that would seem polite to everyone but me. She whipped out a credit card from her clutch with perfectly manicured nails. Alex fell silent while she inserted the card and waited for it to process, tapping her high heeled boots on the floor obnoxiously loud. The slow machine finally finished, and my mom swirled the pen on the screen for a brief second before snatching up the bag and giving a curt nod to Alex. I hesitantly followed her, pausing only to ogle at the Jolly Ranchers on display near the exit. My mom stalked to the car, skirting around a particularly murky puddle. She unlocked the doors and gracefully settled herself into the leather seat.

I could feel the tension in the air; you could have cut it with a knife. Some awkwardly silent minutes later, I took a break from tapping my nails on the dashboard and shattered the silence.

“So….” I started guiltily.

My mom’s shoulders visibly tensed up, letting me know that I was in for it. We had reached home by now, so I pretended to be preoccupied with untying my laces and putting away my jacket. I silently padded up to the kitchen, plopping down at the island to wait for dinner, my stomach grumbling painfully.


There were fifteen minutes of peace in the house. I could usually be found in my bedroom, slaving away at my homework, but given that no one was home I took the chance to lose myself in some quality TV. Then I heard the garage open. Mom was back with Nat. I hurriedly shut off the screen, and made a mad dash to my bedroom, diving onto the bed and taking a nonchalant pose just as the door to my bedroom swung open to reveal a stressed looking Mom in the doorway.

“Hey, Luke. I got her- she was hiding in CVS,” she said tiredly.

I nodded, sighing inwardly. Natalie was being rebellious. Again. Why did you sneak out again? I think. Do you know how much Mom worries about you? Of course you don’t… you think Mom doesn’t care at all. She does, though. A lot. And you really freak her out when you do stuff like this.

Me, I’m the perfect child. After Dad left us, I kept it together, for Mom’s sake. I did what I was told, I didn’t argue with Mom, and my grades stayed constant. But my sister, didn’t. Her grades started slipping, her focus went onto all the wrong things, and she lost her motivation to do anything important. Mom and Nat have been at one another for the past year. Mom will scream at her for being on her phone too much, and then the next thing you know, they’re yelling about how Natalie is a disgrace to our family. Our broken family. It’s in little pieces, scattered around like glass shards on the street. Natalie’s waiting for Dad to come and pick up the pieces and glue them all together. Mom’s waiting for Natalie to attach herself back to us, and pretend that the bottle is back to normal, ignoring the way cracks that are inching up again and the fact that even the slightest gust of wind will send us into little pieces again, meaner and sharper than before. And me? I’m trying to work out how to put the shards back together, but I don’t want to get cut, but the pieces are oh so sharp, and one slip of my hand and I’ll get blood on me.

Michelle (Natalie and Luke’s mom)

I took out my anger by ripping off my unsuspecting stockings. I stood there in my bedroom, with my fists balled. Dinner had been icy, no one talking. Natalie never even made eye contact with me. Slowly, with every minute that passed without conversation, my heart had broken a little.

I automatically looked over at my dresser, at the framed drawing that filled me with love as I examined it. I gently stroked my fingers over the bright, childish colors of the crayon. Nat and I. My daughter and I.

Nat had drawn it, when she was five. She was sitting in her room, drawing it, not even letting me inside her room for fear that I would see what she was doing. The next day, Mother’s Day, I was awoken by small feet climbing over me. She had a frame grasped in one hand, and a plate of bacon and eggs, perched precariously on the bedside table beside me.

“Hi sweetie!” I had said, while stroking her hair away from her face.

“Hi Mommy!” she replied, so lovingly, so happily. “Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy!” She grinned, brandishing her drawing and suffocating me in a hug. It was me, wearing the red dress that she knew was my favorite (a beautiful red triangle), and her, beaming, hugging me with stick figure arms. Framing it was a baby pink frame, bearing the words ‘I love you’ and a teddy bear on it. I had kept it on my dresser ever since, and every day I looked at it before I left for work, to remind me that I loved my daughter and my daughter loved me. Loves me.

But lately, I had to constantly reassure myself of it. I often found myself questioning the fact, and my suspicions were only confirmed further when we had another argument. I reminded myself that my daughter was downstairs, sitting at the island. Safe. Home. But what did home really mean? Was home a place to relax and feel happy? For any of us? Luke, or Nat, or me, even? I would be kidding myself if I said yes.


My mother walked into the kitchen, and upon seeing me on my phone, immediately snatched it out of my hands.

“Wha..?” I was about to start complaining but I knew better than to fan the flames of an inferno waiting to be unleashed upon me.

“You aren’t getting your phone for two days, young lady. And if you have a problem with that, then maybe you should use your phone to text me your location once in a while!” My mother ended in a furious tone that left no room for argument. But, of course, being me, I found some.

“That’s so unfair! Why can’t I have a little freedom without you having to know where I am all the time?” I cried out, making the situation worse.

My mom’s eyes looked murderous. “I am your mother!” she yelled. “And I have a right to know where you are at all times in order to keep you safe! If you sneak off to CVS then how do I know where you are? There could be a terrorist attack in that building and I would think you are safe at home!”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes but I couldn’t hold back the sarcastic retort that had been circling around in my head.

“Really? Would you really be worried? You don’t even love me.” I challenged vehemently. “I bet you would be glad that your stupid, worthless daughter is dead.”

She glowered at me, but her eyes looked glassy. “How dare you speak to me with that tone? I can’t believe you would think-” her voice wobbled and I couldn’t stay after I said that to her.

I stalked out of the room and slammed my door shut as hard as I possibly could. I curled up on the floor, regretting everything I had just said. Those aren’t words that you could just take back.

My mind kept replaying the way her eyes had looked, when I said that to her.

How could I?

All she had wanted was to know where I was!

One side of my mind tried to convince me that I was justified, and she was being overprotective. But it was fighting a losing battle, as my anger ebbed away and the weight of my words sunk in. I was trembling on the cold floor, with tears running down my face. Trying, trying not to think of my mother doing the same.

Before I could give the topic any more thought, the signature thumping of my younger brother came from outside the door.

“Nat?” came my brother’s voice through the crack at the bottom of the door.

Quickly wiping my face and pasting on a smile, I got up and opened the door to allow him in. With an awkward chuckle, he stepped in and flopped on my beanbag.

“That was…” he trailed off.

“You heard that?” I grimaced. I had forgotten all about Luke in my anger. I was afraid to meet his eyes, knowing they would be frosty and filled with hate. He would never love me again. Not after hearing me say that to Mom.

“They probably heard that in China.” He raised an eyebrow at me. “But they wouldn’t understand anything because they don’t speak English; they speak Chinese!”

I rolled my eyes and laughed a breathy laugh of relief while messing up his hair.

“You know for an eleven-year-old, you’re pretty stupid, Luke.” I grinned at him.

With mock indignation, he turned away from me and buried his face in my throw pillows.

“No!” I shrieked. “You’ll get all your face oil on them!” I yanked them out from under his face.

“Face oil? Really? That’s the best you could come up with?” He laughed and slid to the ground, landing on my plush white rug. “So, anyway, what’s the deal with you and mom?” he asked, turning serious.

Deflecting the question, I squealed instead “OMG, this is one of those rare occasions where you’re serious!”

Pouting at me he went back to his usual goofy state. Phew. I didn’t want to have to talk about that with him. Didn’t want him to think of me as a monster.

“Can you help me with my math homework though? Probability is weird.”

“You must be truly desperate to come to me for help,” I said, imitating Loki, my favorite Marvel character.

“Yes!” He laughed loudly. “Loki is awesome!” He bounded out of the room laughing and cheering all the way.

Giggling, I followed him into his messy room. I nearly tripped over the dirty laundry on the floor, catching myself on a low shelf, which in turn released a torrent of comic books onto the floor.

“Luke!” I howled.

He grimaced. He kicked the comics under the bed with a sheepish grin.

“How is it even physically possible that your room is so filthy?” I exclaimed.

He rolled his eyes and waded through the trash on the floor to what could be considered a desk. Hidden under a mountain of clothes, the custom designed desk was wedged into the corner of his room. On the other side was his bed, heaped with candy wrappers and his homework. I took a flying leap to the bed and I landed on top of him, unleashing a yell of indignation from his lips. I had loaded up on dinner, stress eating, and I probably weighed as much as a baby elephant. Half an hour later, Luke’s homework had been conquered, and I had almost forgotten about the war I waged with my mother. Almost.


My breath trembled as I exhaled. I was in my bedroom- I hadn’t bothered to shut the door, and I could hear everything that was happening in the room next to me. Giggles emitted from Nat’s high pitched voice.

She had probably forgotten about the whole meltdown in the kitchen. I hadn’t, though. Her last words still echoed around my head. I wasn’t sure if this was Natalie being her usual melodramatic self, but the words stung all the same. Was that really what she thought? That I didn’t love her? Had I shown that over the past three years? We certainly had had more disputes than bonding moments… in fact, we had exactly one mother-daughter talk in the past year. Truth be told, Natalie had always been a daddy’s girl. And when he left, to go with a stupid, brainless, bimbo who-

I exhaled sharply to stop myself. I shouldn’t let myself let carried away.

Natalie and her father could always be found together, giggling about something, making something. One week, they had decided to make a treehouse. Natalie had been ten years old, insisting that tree houses were cool. They started building it, and a few weeks later, Natalie had gotten bored. The wood lay, discarded in the tree, the rope ladder dangling uselessly in the wind. Then, the dreaded talk. We sat down both the kids and told them that their lives were about to be flipped upside down. Natalie cried. I heard her, every night, muffled sobs coming from her room. The second I went in there though, she would order me to leave her alone. Luke didn’t talk about anything. He would pretend as if nothing had happened. Every time I had insisted that we talk about it, he had responded with the same answer; “I understand, Mom. You and Dad didn’t get along. It’s okay.” Never being able to get anything out of him, I had slowly given up. Soon after, we became a three-person family. I caught Natalie in the garden, trying to build the treehouse on her own, hauling wood across the yard, drooping under the weight, but I didn’t want to interfere.

Natalie went to her first day of middle school. Luke went into fourth grade. Natalie caused trouble. Luke got amazing grades. Natalie was popular. Luke stayed a role model. And I didn’t think to talk to either of them. Not Natalie, the struggling teenager. Not Luke, the quiet elementary school kid.

Wow. Divorced, and isolated from your children. Not where I envisioned myself to be at this time in my life. With that cheerful thought, I rolled over and tried, unsuccessfully, to fall into the vacancy of sleep.

But I couldn’t help thinking about my kids. Take Luke for example. We had always been closer than Nat and I, going on expeditions to football games and parks together. When the divorce happened, I had spent more time with Nat, trying to pry out feelings and emotions. I had talked to Luke too, of course, but I had never given much thought to the fact that Luke’s answers never seemed realistic. It was always, “Yeah, I understand that,” and “I’m alright, you don’t have to worry about me.” Never answers that we had to talk about at length. And when he saw that I reacted positively to the answers he was feeding me, he realized that those kinds of answers would make me happy. So that’s how he always answered. Trying to please me, not wanting me worried.


I woke up with much difficulty. I lay in bed for a while, listening to the sounds of my mom in the kitchen. The sounds sent a shock through me as I remembered yesterday evening. Heaving myself out of the bed, I began my morning routine slowly. Glancing at the clock as I considered what to wear, my eyes widened in horror. It was 7:25! My bus would be here in less than five minutes! I quickly grabbed an outfit out of my closet, still shoving my arms through the sweater as I ran downstairs. I grabbed a protein bar and yelled a quick goodbye to my mom and Luke, then I slammed the door behind me and speed walked as best as I could with a backpack on to the bus stop.

I arrived just in time, noting the yellow bus turning the corner in the distance. The other kids eyed me, but I was too relieved to worry about them judging me.

It was Monday morning. Most people hated school. I didn’t. Not because I was super smart; I was not, to the despair of my mother. But in school, I was a different person. I was no longer Nat, who was a disappointment to her mom because she wasn’t responsible enough or hard-working enough. I was Natalie Mercier, the most popular girl in school.

My friend’s voice shattered my thoughts, and I came back down to earth in time to hear her say “So then she said no! She said she doesn’t want rejects from the queen bee!” Beth was looking right at me, obviously expecting a reaction.

“Oh my god!” I exclaimed too late.

Beth, not realizing my lack of focus, continued with her rambling talk, trailing off when she noticed me still staring behind her.

She snuck a look over her shoulder and blushed excessively when she saw who it was that I was staring at. A small smirk played at the corner of my lips in anticipation.

“H…hi Ryan!” Beth stuttered, her embarrassment showing on the tips of her ears as she beheld her crush.

“Oh…hey.” Ryan scratched awkwardly at the back of his neck, looking for a way to get out of this conversation.

Deciding against my better nature, I intervened.

“Hey, Ryan!” I exclaimed excitedly.

“Oh hi, Natalie!” He responded with a confused smile. Why was the most popular girl in school talking to him?

“So what are you doing after school today?” I asked, raising a perfectly arched eyebrow.

“Uh, nothing, why?” He asked me hopefully, thinking he knew what was happening.

“Well, Beth’s free too, and she’s been talking about you for a while, so…” I smirked at the disappointed expression on his face, and sashayed off, a crowd of wannabes already swarming around me. They began to talk about mundane, trivial things, not noticing when I zoned out.

Everyone knows me but no one knows me.

No one knows the insecure struggling teenager who goes by the name of an insect. No one knows the girl who only lives with her mom. The girl who was told to go visit her dad every month, but refused, because she wouldn’t swallow her pride. The girl who lost her relationship with her dad, and didn’t try to mend it before it was too late. The girl who doesn’t talk to her dad at all. The girl whose dad left her and now has another kid. The girl who only loves one person in the whole wide world. The girl who doesn’t love her mother, but loves her brother.

No, they know me as the sarcastic, stylish, pretty girl, hated by few, loved by most. And I’m confident. No one tells me what to do. No one can make me feel like the little child I know I am.



Hey. It’s me, Mom. Mama. Mommy. Do you remember when you used to call me that? Seems like a long time ago now. Another lifetime, really. The last time you called me that was when you were eight. You were still in that innocent age where everything is exciting and cool, and you didn’t really care what other people thought. Well, that’s a lie. You’ve always cared about what other people think of you. It’s one of your best and worst qualities. Don’t get mad at me for saying that; hear me out. It definitely makes you a better person. You’re different around others, and you strive to be the best so that others will like you. But sometimes you care too much. And you’ve become such a different person that I feel like I hardly know you anymore.

You think that I don’t care about you except for your grades. You think that all I want from you is a good daughter who also gets a great job and becomes successful in life. That’s true, I do want that for you in life. But I still love you, care about you, want to be there for you. I wish you knew that. I know that I’m not always there. I know that you and Luke have to be there for each other when I’m not. But if we all trusted one another, then we could be a better family, and we could all understand each other better.

Urgh. No. I couldn’t just write a letter for my daughter to try and make up with her. I balled up the letter and tossed it into the garbage. I should just tell her that, to her face. But would it be enough? That was the question. Would this be a solution for all our problems? Would the issue of her father just go away, like that? Would the broken relationships? The icy walls that everyone had put up? No, of course not. We still hadn’t confronted the whole issue together as a family. In fact, I had never really had a serious conversation with Luke about the whole topic. I grimaced inwardly. I hadn’t exactly been the star parent, ever since I became a single parent unit. You would think that it would be easier in some aspects; no other parent to go crying to when the other’s screaming at you, one tyrant- sorry, parent, in charge. Well, no better time than the present, right? I set my shoulders and lifted my chin up high. Today I would talk to my children. Properly.


The front door swung open and I glanced up in time to see my mother enter the room. She looked around and seeing that I was in the living room she smiled at me, before frowning at the TV.

“Luke! I told you no TV on weekdays, until you’ve finished your homework!”

“Sorry, mom,” I said guiltily, not meeting her eyes. My mother was a formidable force when she was angry, and no one wanted to experience that.

Nat walked into the room just then, excitedly exclaiming.

“Luke! I have time now if you want to play that game we were talking about before.” She noticed our mother standing in the doorway and immediately became stone-faced.

“Never mind.” She said with a bitter tone. “I shouldn’t be having any fun; I should only be doing work. Definitely not on a Monday afternoon.”

“Natalie,” Mom sighed exasperatedly. “We are going to have a family meeting at seven, so be ready in fifteen minutes.” Mom turned to leave the room but Natalie interrupted her.

“You mean like how it was before Dad left?” My sister’s voice had lost its meanness, instead it was filled with a sort of sadness and longing. Within seconds, however, she realized that her mask and slipped, and hastily rearranged her face into the stone cold look of anger again.

Mom sucked in a breath. I could tell she was remembering, and it pained her.

“Yes, exactly like how it was before Dad left, Nat,” Then Mom turned away, up the stairs, and into her bedroom.

I looked up at Nat from my position on the soft white couch.

“What do you think it will be about?” I asked her.

She opened her mouth, about to answer, before she realized that she was still fuming at our mother.

“Nothing. I don’t care.” Natalie left the room, leaving me with my thoughts, as usual.

I speculated the cause of the meeting. As Natalie had mentioned, we hadn’t had a family meeting since …the divorce. The separation. The splitting of our world. The disaster that destroyed our family, never letting it be whole again. When for the first time, as a young, sheltered eight-year-old, I had been overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with feelings.

I never shared them of course. Who would I share them with? My father was out of the question. He was gone, living with his girlfriend and his son in a little house in California. My mother, well, my mother was going through a lot. I couldn’t dump this whole load of feelings on her, could I?

So I didn’t answer her questions. She had asked me if I was doing okay. I always answered, “Yes, of course, I am.” She had talked to me about how life was going to change. About how Dad wasn’t going to be there anymore. About how it was ok to be angry, to be sad. I always answered, “Yes, I understand.”

Now, after watching movies, and reading books, I realize that I should have confronted my feelings. But, there was no way to do that. Sure, my best friend, but what would he know? His parents were getting along great. They were even expecting a baby. He could never relate to me. His family was perfect. His mom would offer us snacks, and then his dad would come home from work, and then they would hug, and the mom would ask the dad how his day was and they were all happy.

Who else could I talk to? Natalie, my sister. I don’t know for sure, why I never talked to her. But, truth be told, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell anyone how I was feeling. I don’t have secretive issues, like Nat, but sharing such a deep, important, personal part of my soul felt… weird. Those are my feelings, thoughts. Why should I share them with anyone? They couldn’t help me by talking. At least I didn’t think so, even though the evidence from movies and books were blaring in my face. But they would never apply to me.

Talking; does it help? Maybe for other people, but not me. I prefer to listen. To listen to other people’s stories, whose stories are more interesting, more exciting, more important. It keeps me safer. I don’t have to worry about people knowing my personal thoughts. Learning about other people, that’s what I like. Not telling people about my life. I would like to think it’s genetic. My mother bottles everything up, rarely talking about her feelings. And Nat is loud and unapologetic, but when it comes to things that matter, she’s secretive and no one can tell what she’s feeling. It’s a recipe for disaster, according to the laws of a family. We’re all supposed to be open with each other.

I read somewhere that family is the most important thing…

Is it really?


My nails dug into the couch, where I sat next to Luke. Family meeting…family meeting. The words haunted me. The last family meeting I attended had left me destroyed. I remember the swirling storm of despair and loneliness and anger, all bottled up inside me, coming out of me in teenage rants and rages. Only at home, of course. At school, I was a cool kid. I talked back to teachers and students, earning respect from almost everyone. I was cool, and everyone envied me. Few know that my parents are divorced, and the topic has rarely come up in conversations among my peers and I. No one at school knows how my home life is. They know I go on expensive vacations, and that’s it. They don’t know how my dad abandoned us, abandoned me. He promised me that he would always be there after I had a nightmare. But he lied. He did leave. And he wreaked a storm on our family.

Mom strode into the room, and I immediately snapped my head down and inspected my socks studiously.

She hesitated for a moment, before opening her mouth to speak.

“Luke, Natalie,” she gazed into our eyes respectively. Me second, of course I thought to myself angrily.

“We need to have a talk. As a family. I know that all three of us are naturally secretive. None of us opened up to each other, when…” she trails off for a moment. “When Dad left. And I know that none of us confronted our feelings, and we didn’t get over it-”

“Get over it?” I interrupted, angry tears springing to my eyes. “What do you mean, get over it?”

“That’s not the right word-” my mother tried in vain to explain to me. But I was on a rant now.

“We can’t get over it! Don’t you get it? Dad left! We’re not the same family we were before! Now we’re just three! We aren’t the same as we were before!”

My mother wasn’t saying a word, she just stared at me with an unreadable expression in her eyes. It seemed, almost…satisfied?

“Do you know how I felt when Dad left? Do you?” my voice dropped down to a shaky whisper. And then I opened my mouth again, and there was no damming the flood of emotions. And five years of feelings came rushing out.


I gaze at my daughter with a mix of admiration and wonder, urging her to go on.

“Why did he leave us, Mom? He said that he would always be there for us, but now he’s gone. He said he would never leave!” Her voice breaks, and my breath catches in my throat with the emotion in her voice.

“How did it make you feel?” I ask, my voice barely above a whisper. My mind flickers back to books I had read on children and divorce, remembering to not make any assumptions about what she’s feeling.

She hesitates, not sure if she could share these emotions. The familiarity of keeping secrets bottled up was a familiar feeling for me. I silently plead with her to answer the question, to release the feelings that she’s kept tucked away for five years.

She blurts out, “Sad.” she looks at me with tears welling up in her eyes.  “So sad. It was like half of my life was gone. I would come back from school, and no one would be waiting there for me. I would come home to an empty house, all alone. Luke was coming back from school, and you were at work. I couldn’t talk to anyone. And I used to go into your bedroom, and just sit there on the bed and cry.”

“Why didn’t you tell me any of this?” I ask gently, not wanting to break the spell.

Her head snaps up and the tears are gone, the only evidence that they were ever there are her puffy eyes.

“You divorced him! It was your fault! If you two had just gotten along, he would have stayed here! We wouldn’t even be having this conversation!”

I’m shocked into silence by the sudden mood change. I blink slowly at my daughter, standing in front of me, trembling with anger and the remnants of sadness. Her fists clench together tightly, the skin a pale white. She suddenly releases them, and her palm is indented with crescent moons.

“We can’t fix this without Dad! If he came back, everything would be sorted! We would all be happy, and we’d be talking and laughing all the time, instead of screaming and crying!”

“Natalie.” I interrupt, with a sudden sharpness in my voice. “Look at me. Dad can’t come back. So we’re going to have to find another way to solve this, without Dad. We can be a family, just the three of us. But to do that, we need to talk about what happened, so that we can put it behind us.” Natalie opens her mouth to interrupt, but I quickly finish my sentence before she can input any more into the conversation. “And go back to talking and laughing and being a family.”

“Yeah, we don’t need Dad to help us!” a voice chimes into the conversation. “We can do this on our own! We need to talk to each other, and help each other move on!” I try my hardest not to stare in shock.

It’s Luke.


I can feel Natalie’s icy cold eyes on me, and they’re daggers of intense hatred and disgust. I’ve never been the receiver of this frosty a glare, seeing it in action on others instead. It’s as terrifying as my mother’s withering look.

I gulp, nervously, before I continue.

“We don’t need to have Dad here to solve this problem. We can do it ourselves. If we all talk about how we feel, then we can help each other!” I quote directly from a book, not meeting my mother’s eyes, not wanting to see her incredulous expression.

“Did…did you get that from one of my books?” she watches me with creased eyebrows.

“Yeah…I used to go read them after…,” I take a harsh intake of breath. “I figured that I should find out all the information on the topic. I’d have a better success rate-”

“Success rate?!” my mother cries. “What do you mean, success rate, Luke? This is life!” I cringe at the harsh words.

“Well…” I stutter. “There was a problem; the divorce, and so I did my research; reading your books.”

“But Luke, that’s not how it works! Didn’t you pay attention to anything that the books said? We need to talk to one another!”

“But will that really help? I mean, what does talking ever do for anyone? Other people can’t help you solve your own problems…your own feelings!” I answer, doubting my logic even as I say it.

To my suprise, it’s Nat who speaks first.

“Luke,” she says, and my head whips around to look at her.

“I understand I’m a little hung up over Dad,” she corrects herself “a lot hung up over him. But, if we all talk about him, and how it wasn’t going to work out, I would get over it a little.” she seems to be talking to herself, realizing the truth of her words.

“When you talk to other people about your problems, you share what seems scary to you with someone else. And, yes, that’s a little terrifying. But…in the long run, it helps. They can help you, teach you. And in general, it just helps you cope with it. Hearing the words come out of your mouth, you realize things.” She finishes her little speech and she seems…lighter somehow. Her shoulders, once slumped, are now set back proudly. A small smile is growing on her face, and I haven’t seen it in so long that it makes me realize the truth in her words.

She’s right. It does help. I can see the evidence right in front of me. Not from a book, not from a movie, but from my sister, and for me, that’s all the proof I need.


As I say the words, it dawns on me that I’m not just spouting nonsense from one of Mom’s books, or one of the stupid assemblies on bullying. What I’m saying is actually true. With this realization, the weight that had been residing on my shoulders, dragging me down everywhere I went, lifted. The black cloud hovering above me lifted too. My lips started to turn upwards, the ghost of a smile playing on my lips.

I meet my mother’s shining eyes, and she’s smiling at me. Her eyes are so full of love, it’s almost radiating out of her. I offer a hopeful smile back in her direction, and her beam widens even more.

My eyes dart over to Luke, gauging his reaction. His face is morphing, from a timid, unsure expression to one of realization, probably mirroring my own.

And he opens his mouth and words come tumbling out, rushing, falling over each other in a mad rush to get out.

“Nat, you’re right. Thank you. For…” he decides to ditch the sappy speech and cut to the chase- what he’s really been feeling, all these years. His words pierce my soul, the meaning behind them, the emotions behind them having been shoved inside a forgotten closet, one no one bothered to check, but if they had it would have led to Narnia.

By the time he’s done, my eyes are wet, and Mom’s long gone; tears rolling freely down her face leaving sticky tracks.

“Luke, sweetheart, why didn’t you ever tell me any of that?” her voice breaks on the word tell, and I feel a tug at my heart.

“I… I didn’t want you to waste your attention on me,” I see my name start to shape on his lips.

“Luke!” my mother cries “It wouldn’t be wasting! Your thoughts deserve and need to be heard. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel otherwise!”

He opens his mouth to respond, no doubt something selfless again, then he hesitates and shuts it. When he speaks again, the word inspires such sadness in me that a lone tear runs down my cheek.


“Yes. Really,” my mother answers, her voice torn between disbelieving heartache, and a joy that I’ve not seen on any of our faces in a long time.

His eyes flicker up to both of us, and a small tentative smile breaks through. I smile back, a genuine one, filled with all the love I have in my heart and a little more than that.

Puppies of the Airport

My name is Pupsie Barns, named after Bucky Barnes and my creator Pupsie San Drought. I am here to tell you about the puppies of the airport. It is based on true events.

Our story starts in Canada. The airport in Canada is called the Canadian Airport. First, you must know that once in the year 3000, a scientist called Pupsie San Drought made the first talking puppy. These pups spoke and communicated just as well as humans, and they are almost completely cruelty free. One day, a huge shipment of these dogs were being shipped from Canada to the US, while hundreds of people in the airport forgot to wipe their tables while they were traveling during the dreaded flu season. Because of this, they all contracted the flu. They brought the disease with them into the airport.

Soon after, the airport staff figured out that they all had the flu, and they shut the place down. But sadly, they couldn’t call for help because my little pister (sister) Pupbecca cut the wire for the Wi-Fi, because hostess Juli turned their right to Wi-Fi down, because after all, they were just pups. Pupbecca thought if she couldn’t have Wi-Fi, no one could have Wi-Fi.

After hearing the humans collapse upstairs, we began to make a plan to save the humans. Maybe, just maybe they will give pups all around the world the right to airport Wi-Fi.

Then I realized just what we should do. We shouldn’t make new phones for them to call help. We should be the phones to call for help. You see, Pupsie San Drought made it so that in times of emergency, we pups may be used as communication devices. So, we called for help with my cousins, uncles, sisters, dads, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephew. Paramedics heard our cry for help and rushed to the airport, and because of our smart thinking, we saved all the humans, therefore giving pups the right to not only use airport Wi-Fi, but restaurant Wi-Fi too.

Motto: Don’t fly during flu season.

when i ran out of thyme

when i ran out of thyme

they should have buried me in lavender

lavender — great swooping fields of it

Girlhood joins me with a simple dress and starry-eyes

she lays down

in the dust

in the dirt

in lavender — great swooping fields of it

we pass the time eating honeysuckle

and resting our rosehips

in the dust

in the dirt

staining our dresses

not our heartbeats

such buttercup crowns,

such strands of mallow in our hair

hanging on our lips —

what broom and borage we played in

till we lost our protea and primrose

and lavender — great swooping fields of it

to sultry red fruit

and roses neath thistle and thorn

Elementary Years

Content Warning: The following content includes symptoms of eating disorders

First grade:

She put on the T-shirt that was on the top of the drawer and threw on the sweatpants that were in the hamper. Bright and happy, excited for the day ahead. She runs down stairs to eat the bacon, eggs, and toast her mom prepared. Leo Matthews called her a nerd at school today, and she happily embraced that word, tucking it in for bed next to her as she read the second book that day.

Second grade:

Her mom promised her she could wear the new dress she bought at the mall last weekend. She put it on, checking all angles of it in the mirror and spun around in it. It was beautiful — a shining yellow, proud and exuberant. She felt like a princess until one of the boys lifted it up, and she felt like a slut. She didn’t know that word yet, but all she knew is that she felt like one.

Third grade:

The glasses the doctor said was a result of all that reading in the dark. She was kind of excited to wear them to school and see what her friend would say. All the greatest writers and brainiacs wore glasses, so why shouldn’t she. Her friend told her she looked dopey, and Leo Matthews called her “four eyes.” Those words cut deeply, and when she tried to throw it out in the trash that night before she went to bed, she could still see the dark shadow of those ugly words haunting her dreams.

Fourth grade:

Finally, finally she would get to redesign her room. She decides on some soft pinks and grays and a gold-rimmed mirror in the middle — perfect for mirror selfies her friend had said. And that same mirror she looked in before swim practice that day, her short bitten fingernails digging into her skin, trying to shove all that fat to the very dark corner in her body. But she lets go, and her skin drops down to where it was before. A floppy T-shirt that is too big for you — that is what her body feels like. She does not eat breakfast that morning. No matter how her mom complains, she insists she is not hungry. She is starving.

Fifth grade:

She has started to take a hairbrush to school. It is an operation — asking the teacher to go to the bathroom to trying to sneak down to her cubby to grab the hairbrush before walking out. She always wets the hairbrush. This makes her hair straighter, so it looks like Lily’s: sleek and shiny. She comes back into the classroom just to hear Ryan say she looks like a wet dog. That night, she cries in the mirror while trying to smooth down her hair until it is soaking and the old mascara she found in her mom’s drawer is dripping down her face.

Sixth grade:

The boys in the grade have started to look at the girls differently. Leela wore a black bra under her white polo, and she had to be pulled over by the teacher. Leela went to the office because she started to cry, but the boys kept laughing. She didn’t know why Leela was crying until the PE teacher called her into her office to talk about wearing bras to school, and she felt like lying on the floor face down. The teacher gave her an extra large sweatshirt to wear in PE so no one would notice; everyone noticed.

Seventh grade:

She tells her best friend that she is fat; the response she gets back is, “I am too.” Her friend is the kind of girl whose ribs pop out when she raises her arms, and she has abs just because she’s that skinny. She bends over the toilet that night and looks down at her belly for the first time and pinches the four rolls of fat that cover the stomach. The next day when she goes to the mall, the saleslady recommends the men’s department because even the biggest size doesn’t fit her. Her mom tells her it is because she is tall, and she swallows this answer, but she is gagging inside.

Eighth grade:

She and her friends have those deep, meaningful talks where they spill all their secrets. But they don’t because they still keep a little of the drink in the glass, the sip that they know they will never share. A story about a friend has spread around, and one of the girls calls her the word that she knew she was in second grade. No one says anything even though they all nod their heads and agree, really screaming at each other inside. They cry and say they are fat, and then they all give a big hug and call each other beautiful. Then they all go home and really cry — their big, ugly, gulping tears that no one has ever seen, and half of those girls stick a finger down their throat.

Where it all ends

Content Warning: Suicide

With the heavy sun of Mozambique beating down upon my bare back, my hand cupped the wilting plant. Colorless leaves begging for water, a luxury we could not provide. Crumbling stem, slowly turning to ash. Moribund, expiring. My frail bones resemble the maize plant all too much. A tear trickles slowly across my thin-cut cheek. I gently move aside the leaves and spot the last maize of the season. There are only a few ears left, small and drooping. I pry them away from the plant and drop them into the woven basket Ma made.

Ma. I vividly remember the angry conversation she had with Baba nearly a fortnight ago, inside our one-roomed mud hut. Before Baba was gone.

I had plastered myself to one cool wall near the doorless entrance, and I often eavesdropped there.

“What will become of us, Baba! All our harvest money is gone! And now you are lazing around at home instead of selling at the market” Ma cried

“We are on our last reserve of maize,” Baba’s voice is clenched, held in, “ I do not have any more maize to sell at the market. Give a break to me, Ma. I am the only one in this house who does any real work.”

My father’s eyes are igniting, like the flames my mother cooks over.

Our food is prepared outdoors by reason of our thatch roof. Normally, we eat the scrawniest plants in our stock. Otherwise, on a day of particularly good sales, my mother will walk to the market and buy ingredients for fufu, a staple food in Africa, as well as cheap collard greens.

Sometimes, the undersides of our food would burn.

What will burn this time?

I had yet to find out.

“You do not have the money to send Debelah to school. You do not have any maize to sell. All you do is drink chibuku and spend our remaining earnings.” Ma spats.

Tears slide into place, blurring my vision of the thin maize stalk before me. Dizziness is overpowering, and my head sways. My throat burns. Dehydration.

A man-made trough lies at the end of this field. Water is collected from there and turns up there from rainfall. But recently, the rain has been sparse, if any at all, throughout our rainy season. I am praying that there is some of that precious liquid left.

The lipless mouths of the cracked earth are sucking me in, pulling at my heels. In desperate need of the refreshment of water. I heave myself forward when I see the through hoping to see the diamondlike liquid. But when I reach, there is simply a thinned out mud. I cup my hands and lift it out, bringing my lips to it and sip.

Hot sludge fills my mouth, and suddenly I am coughing up bile. Body wracking coughs are bringing me to my knees. And then It is not only the thirst, but I am begging myself to stop pulling back memories that want to stay where they are. In the past. Yet I still pull them forward, pressing my lips together, ignoring their jagged edges ripping at my soul. Secrets, pain. Something did truly happen to our harvest money. And it may as well have ruined our lives. And eradicated my father’s.

As I lie here on this hot earth, I will recount what happened that fateful day.

There are three sections to our vast market. While the barriers that separate them were never truly spoken, they are still there. There is the wealthy market, poor market, for people like us, and the swart market -the black market. It is filled with illegal, stolen, goods you can get for cheap. After this years tough times in terms of farming, men began to meet there, respect and dignity forgotten. Including my father.

Mind that we didn’t know much about it, of course. But sometimes he would slip in late at night, like a shadow, with the putrid scent of chibuku lingering around his body. I would never say anything, nor would my mother, even when our food rations would be cut considerably short. And during the day, a aura of defeat surrounded him. He would sling his thin body across our roughly carved wooden chair, and look out at our dying crops. His dark eyes turned blank, and I wondered what was going on with him.

My Baba was giving up.

The days pass. Sometimes he would just stay limp, ignoring everyone, hardly touching his dinner. But at other times, he would lash out like a snake, waiting to bite in the most painful spot possible. I recall clearly his hand swiping across my Ma’s face when she dropped a platter of fufu. Useless, uneducated woman! Can’t you do one job correctly! I remember the tears that dripped from her eyes as she clutched her red cheek.

And then, the secrets got to be too much. Three nights in a row, Baba was gone from the house. On the fourth day, I was working in the fields, a man’s task I still had to do. And that’s when I heard it.

It rippled and echoes across the field. A sound I had never heard before but caused fear’s clawed heart to wrap around my heart. A gunshot. I drop my basket in shock. And I begin to run, following the remains of the echo.

I already know what happened. I can already envision the body collapsing to the ground. Suicide. A word only whispered out of mouths. But Baba… not him, it couldn’t be him. My thoughts and emotions are whirling around.

I am trying to outrun fear itself. I hurtle through the stalks, ignoring how they cut into my arms. But as my feet pound the musty ground, I know one thing for sure. No matter what, I am heading to where it all ends.


Setting: Evening. Sam’s house. There is a front door perpendicular to the audience. There is a bush next to the door. There is also a table inside the house.


Sam: Around 25. Currently dating Amy but wants to break up. Friends with Ryan.

Ryan: Same age. Sam’s friend, currently staying at his house.

Amy: Same age. Currently dating Sam but wants to break up.

Ella: Same age. Amy’s friend.

(Lights up on the inside of the house. We see SAM and RYAN sitting at a table with a computer on it. SAM has his head in his hands and is clearly distraught. RYAN is trying to console him by talking it out.)

RYAN: So hey. You know what I’d do? I’d just say, as calm and gentle as possible, “I’m not sure this is working out, and I think we should break up.”

SAM: Yeah, but I mean… (his voice trails off for a second) if I break up with her, she gets the TV! (RYAN winces and puts a hand on SAM’s shoulder) At the end of the day, I need to say to myself: “Which is really worse: Staying with Amy, who can maybe not be perfect sometimes, or no Hulu binges ever again?”

RYAN: Okay, fine. So why not just stay with her?

SAM: You wouldn’t understand, Ryan. I need to play it exactly right so that either she breaks up with me, (his face lights up) or…

RYAN: Whatever it is, you’re never going to pay me enough.

SAM: Can you break up with her for me?

RYAN: First of all, what would that even accomplish? And second of all, no way in hell.

SAM: Come on, dude. You don’t even have to be yourself. Just pretend you’re me, talk with her through the door, and I can break up with Amy and suffer no personal introspection whatsoever!

RYAN: But if I pretend to be you, she’ll still get the TV, won’t she?

SAM (pulls out a pen and paper): Nonsense! (begins to write furiously) (starts talking very quickly) If you do the honors of breaking up with her, but still pretend you’re me in the process, that circumvents the Breakup Clause of the 1704 Edict of Cryingbinge, which would normally rule against me. This method of dumping, further established in the 2008 custody case of Lohan v. Everybody, gives the dumper full rights to disputed items, except for a six-month court-ordered supply of Ben & Jerry’s issued to the dumpee. It’s simple legal precedent!

RYAN: How long exactly have you been researching this?

SAM: None of your business. But back to the point. What do you have to lose, bro? You have Hulu.

RYAN: Hold on, couldn’t you just break up with her and then watch TV at my house?

SAM (whiny): But it’s cold out.

RYAN: Jeez… fine. So how do you want me to dump her?

SAM: Well, I’ve thought this through a little bit. See, I prepared a list of classic breakup lines right here. (hands RYAN a piece of paper) Or, if that’s not to your liking, I also wrote a poem about it. (hands a different piece of paper to RYAN) Just read this off and —

RYAN (reading off the piece of paper): “I think we should see other people/You fed my mouse to your pet eagle/You played my friend in naked Twister/Blah blah blah I love your sister.” What is wrong with you, dude?

SAM: What? None of that was false!

RYAN: Are you kidding? If Amy finds out that I’m filling in for you, we’re both dead! You know she’ll post it all on Instagram, don’t you? Her account is literally the Truman Show.

SAM: Ugh, I know… We have to make me sound as good as possible, but still get her to ditch me. (pauses) You’ll do this for me, right? You’re my friend.

RYAN (soft): I’m your friend… (pauses for a few seconds) Eight hundred dollars.

(Lights up on ELLA, who knocks at the door.)

ELLA (pretending to be AMY, and she will use this voice every time she impersonates AMY): Sa-am! Ready for dinner?

SAM (hurried): Oh my god, it’s Amy. Quick, go to the door!

(RYAN rushes to the door.)

RYAN (deliberately high voice, and he will use this voice every time he impersonates SAM): Hey, Amy! Can we just talk… through the door… for a second?

ELLA: Sure! But you don’t have to deepen your voice for me. Keep it how it is!

(RYAN snickers and looks at SAM. SAM looks embarrassed.)

RYAN: Listen, Amy… I just… I don’t think this is working out, and —

ELLA: Oh, that’s okay! (RYAN and SAM both pump their fists) I get that this was pretty unexpected. We can just go out to dinner tomorrow.

(RYAN and SAM both sink down and cover their faces. SAM thumps the table with his fist.)

ELLA: What was that noise?

RYAN: Cat. Cat. That was cat. That was my cat.

ELLA: I know you’re allergic to cats, Dr. Seuss. What’s actually going on?

RYAN: Fine. If you must know, my friend Ryan is here with me. Say hi, Ryan!

SAM (looking up): Mm?

(RYAN gives SAM a hard stare.)

SAM (deep, disguised voice): Well, hello there, … Sam’s girlfriend. I hear that you’re really canoodling the love languages up to the stars with my handsome friend Sam, am I right?

ELLA: What does that even mean?

SAM (pauses for a couple seconds): Song lyrics. Anyway, I know how easy it must have been to fall right in love with my buddy (he draws the name out) Samuel T. Leitbrewski, you feel me?

ELLA: Well, if you’re interested, Ryan, I know this great guy I can set you up with.

(RYAN covers his mouth and tries his best not to burst out laughing. SAM leans his head back and looks distraught.)

RYAN (trying to steer the conversation back on track): So, Amy… I don’t know how to say this, but…

(He takes out SAM’s breakup poem and starts to sweat. His words catch in his throat.)

ELLA: But?

RYAN (starts to talk slowly and nervously): I think we should see your naked mouse… Blah blah blah people love Twister… You played my eagles!

ELLA: Huh?

RYAN: I mean, I think your friend should love naked eagles… (gives up and says the next sentence loudly and quickly) Let’s break up.

ELLA: But, Sam…

RYAN: No, Amy. (takes out SAM’s list of breakup lines) We’ve been together for too long. I think we should see other people. I just need some space. It’s not you, it’s me. I don’t really —

ELLA: Okay, you can stop! I just can’t believe you would do this right when I had just bought us that new Tesla. But I guess —

SAM (forgetting to disguise his voice): Wait… what?

RYAN (whispers): Don’t do it, Sam. Don’t say anyth —

SAM (leaps off his chair): Amy! Forget everything I said! I wa– (RYAN claps his hand around SAM’s mouth) Mmmmph.

RYAN (strained and rushed): I don’t think this is working out and stuff, please leave right now.

ELLA (starts walking towards the bush): Okay. I’m just going to cry into this set piece over here.

RYAN: Okay!

(Lights off RYAN and SAM. ELLA walks up to the bush. AMY, who has been hiding there the whole time, slowly stands up.)

ELLA (normal voice): How am I doing?

AMY: Perfect! They totally think you’re me! Sam’s so predictable, isn’t he? I knew asking him to go out would make him want to stay inside. Honestly, I’m disappointed in him. Can’t even recognize his own girlfriend’s voice? I don’t know how he found out about the naked Twister thing, though. Impressive work on his part.

ELLA: One sec.

(She turns toward the door and makes prolonged, exaggerated crying noises. Then she turns back to AMY.)

ELLA: Okay, where was I? You’ve been recording the whole thing, right?

AMY (holds up a phone): Oh, yes. And once you’ve dumped Sam for me while embarrassing him, this little video goes onto Instagram! (laughs evilly for a few seconds) Also, I’ll get the TV.

ELLA (shrugs): Sounds cool. Just as long as you tag me.

AMY (sinks back behind the bush): All right, then. Let’s do this.

(Lights off ELLA and AMY. SAM and RYAN are back to their seats at the table. SAM is rubbing his mouth.)

SAM: I can’t believe Amy didn’t recognize my own voice!

RYAN: It won’t matter in a few minutes, though, right? I’ll have broken up with her for you, and you can rest easy.

SAM (determined): No. I can’t dump her now. Did you hear what she said? She bought a Tesla for us. I can use a legal loophole to get the TV, but if I ditch her, I’ll never get to use my Tesla!

RYAN: Let me just point out that it’s not your Tes —

SAM: Shut up! I want you to go back to that door, and I want you to get back together with Amy!

RYAN: Fine! I still want my eight hundred dollars, though.

SAM: What eight hundred dollars? We never agreed to a deal, did we? Amy knocked on my door right before I could say yes! (flashes a smug smile at RYAN) Now go repair my relationship while I go to the bathroom.

(Exit SAM. RYAN stares coldly after him for a few seconds. Then, he gets an evil smile on his face and goes back to the door.)

RYAN: Amy?

ELLA (fake sniffle): Sam?

RYAN: Amy, I’ve changed my mind. I… I want to get back together.

ELLA: You do?

AMY (from the bush): Abort mission! Repeat: Abort — (ELLA makes the “one sec” motion with her hand)

RYAN: After I thought for a little, I just realized that in the end, I loved your — you. I loved you.

ELLA: Oh, Sam…

RYAN: I think we need to put this relationship into the next gear. We’ve really got to charge up our relationship, ride down the road of… marriage, in our all-new, smooth, electric… love. Smooth electric love.

ELLA: Are you saying that you only love me because of my Tesla?!

RYAN: Whaaaaaaaat? Of course not, babe. When I look into your eyes, all I see is unlimited possibilities…

ELLA: Aww…

RYAN: Unlimited technological possibilities from the brilliant mind of Elon M —

ELLA: Dammit, Sam! I can’t believe how shallow you are! I bet you can’t name one thing we have in common.

RYAN: A 10-hour-a-day anime obsession?

ELLA (mock shock): You said you were writing your dissertation!

RYAN (quietly): What else can I make up, uhh… (normal volume, to door) Cheating?

ELLA: What?! You are the only one cheating here, Sam, and by God, if you —

(Enter SAM.)

SAM: Yo, Ryan. How’re things going?

RYAN: Well, I think you’ve paid me enough by now.

ELLA: You care less about me than about my Tesla, you watch anime 10 hours a day, and you’re cheating on me? How could you possibly be a worse boyfriend?

RYAN: So, are we down for four kids, or would you prefer five?

ELLA (mock anger): I HATE YOU, SAM!

SAM: Dude, what are you doing?

RYAN: Moral of the story, Sam? You have to pay the shipper. (to door) Hey, are you one of those people who makes a huge deal about (mocking tone) “child support”?

ELLA: That does it, Sam! You open this door right now, or I’m going to break it down for you.

SAM: Dude, do what she says! She takes regular karate and high heel karate.

RYAN: Nope. Sorry, Sam. (to door, but forgets to put his SAM voice on) So do you —

ELLA (forgets to put her AMY voice on): Sam? Your voice sounds kinda weird…

RYAN (no more SAM voice): Wait, you don’t sound…

(A confused RYAN rushes to the door and opens it.)

ELLA (pauses): Ryan?

RYAN: Ella?

ELLA: I think we’ve only talked once, at that party…

RYAN (trying to be smooth): Well, now we’ve talked more than once, right? (turns around and covers his eyes with one hand) God, I’m bad at coming up with one-liners.

ELLA: So… all this time, we’ve just been talking to each other, instead of Sam talking to Amy?

RYAN: Yep. (sarcastically) Aren’t they just perfect together? If they could recognize each other’s voices, they’d be even more perfect.

ELLA (laughs): Hey, maybe we’re just great at imitating our friends! (RYAN laughs) Um, well… Want to get a coffee next week?

RYAN: Sure! I promise I won’t hire a stunt double to meet you, like some people I know…

(SAM and AMY both glower at him. RYAN and ELLA start to walk away together.)

ELLA: So, was any of what you said true?

RYAN: Ehh… Does it matter? Some of it probably was. His dissertation’s on anime, though, so he could have been doing both.

(Exit RYAN and ELLA, leaving SAM and AMY standing awkwardly on opposite sides of the open door.)

SAM: So, was it true, about the Tesla and all?

AMY: Ehh… Does it matter? We’re breaking up anyway.

(AMY pauses to flick a piece of bush out of her hair.)

SAM: Well, okay. But who gets the TV?

AMY: Can you Google it?

SAM: Sure.

(He walks inside and gets his computer off the table. AMY follows him.)

SAM: Okay…

(AMY watches anxiously as SAM makes some nervous keystrokes on the computer.)

SAM: There we go. Let’s see… Okay, it says the TV goes to —

(Lights out.)

Gone with the Sun

Mornings are the most enchanting time of day. Light streams through the windows, hugging my home with its bright tentacles. When the light hits the colorful crystals hanging down from the rainbow maker taped in the kitchen, tiny spurts of color dance into my bedroom like fairies. Waking up to those cheery rainbows always told me that it was going to be a good day. Who knew light could be so deceitful. I slide into my kitchen on the ends of my blue pajama pants still two sizes too big. Mom sits still as a statue at the dining room table. Her lips are a straight line. Slowly, she looks up to meet my gaze, her face pale as if she’s seen a ghost. Mom asks me to sit down, gesturing slightly to the chair across from her. Tears have left her eyes ruby red. I cringe when I hear the slight rasp in her voice. The waves of pain shake our home like an earthquake. My legs are paralyzed with fear. I glance down to see my feet melting into the ground, two candles waiting to be burned. I refuse to be privy to whatever is weighing down my mother’s heart. As long as I stay showered by rainbows in the safety of the kitchen, then nothing has to change.

Somehow I manage to tear my feet from the floorboards and sit down across from my mother at the dining room table. I try to mentally prepare myself for whatever’s coming next, making an internal promise that it cannot be as bad as what I am imagining.

Why do we lie to ourselves?

To my distress, I begin cracking my knuckles, a habit I quit months ago. Tick tock tick tock. The red clock keeps careful count of the tense seconds as we sit in silence. Then my mom begins to speak.

Her words rush around my head as I try to save myself from suffocating under their weight. “There’s been an accident.” I wait for her to tell me everyone’s okay, but those words of sweet reassurance never reach me. Instead I hear a horror story: a man breaking into my aunt’s house with a blade. My aunt running and fighting him off with an axe. A hospital treating her stab wounds.

A cloud ambushes the sun, and the rainbows vanish.

I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping I can block out the truth. This is the nightmare that happens to someone else. Anyone else. It is the story you read in the paper and feel a few moments of remorse before flipping to the next page.

“I am flying out to see her tomorrow.” I nod. “She was so brave.” Another nod. My brain has stopped functioning. Illana helped me climb my first tree when I was just four years old. She stills calls me “Averybear” whenever we visit her. Illana can’t be the person in my mother’s devastating account. Everyone is wrong. They must be. They have to be. I feel the need to sit before I remember that I am already seated. Then I am standing up. In a trance I get dressed, brush my teeth, and continue with my life. But something stopped in that moment. My world is blanketed in a shield of security. But that morning I reached up and realized there is no shield at all, just the endlessly vast universe. We have no protection.


The magician drowsily woke up to a sunbeam shining directly into his eyeballs. Rolling out of his tent, he picked up his wand and conjured a single dollar, then he headed to the dollar store like he did every day.

It was a long walk, and he almost got hit by a car. He walked in the dollar store quietly and picked up a bag of chips. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a group of teenagers watching him and giggling at his purple and white magician spandex. He summoned a flash of blinding demonic light to scare them off; it did the trick. He then walked to the cashier and put the bag of chips on the table.

“That’ll be a dollar,” the cashier said.

“Thanks, Billy,” the magician said, handing him the dollar.

“How do you know my name?” the cashier respond.

“I come here every day. And by the way, that dollar is going to evaporate in an hour,” the magician responded, turning away.


“You won’t remember this,” the magician said finally, waving his wand with a flash of light and exiting.

It’s funny how even magic obeys the laws of thermodynamics. The dollar turns back to air because you can’t get more than what you put in. The magician strutted to his next destination, the side of the highway. There he collected a bag full of rocks while people speeding past gave him weird looks. Every once and awhile, someone would throw a cigar or something out of their window at him. He always responded by cursing them with the eternal wrath of the half-demon half-god Maerceci the Vengeful, who would slowly and painfully devour their souls while tormenting them with their greatest fears. It was the magician’s way of taking out his anger irrationally.

After collecting a sufficient amount of rocks, he headed of to his final destination. With pain in his heart, he saw that his work had been vandalized and destroyed again. His blessing had come with a curse because the devil never gives more than he takes. For 42 years he had been trying to build a house by converting rocks into bricks, but every time he got somewhere, his humble creation was mercilessly destroyed, as was his curse, forever keeping him in his sad and insufficient tent. Holding back a tear, the magician sighed, salvaged what he could from the wreckage, and began rebuilding.

Creation of Earth Parody

I need to create an earth, but what is earth? How do I know what earth is? Who created me? I have lived on this earth long enough. Will I never know who my creator is? I have been living in here for I don’t even know for how long. As a matter of fact, where am I? Wait, how am I writing this? I am hungry. Wait, what? What is food? How do I know that word? I just wake up one day. Day, what’s a day? Okay, forget it. I just wake up one day realizing that I can write and that I know words. I need earth. Wait a second, bloody hell. How did I sleep? Wait, what is sleep? I need earth. C’mon, god, help me create earth. Wait, God. How? What? No, no, no, no. This can’t be. The pressure is on. I need to create this. What is that? That’s earth. Wait, how did I do this. Now how do I get there. Let’s run. Okay, now this is getting scary. How do I know all of these words without learning them. Is there a flash drive in my brain — flash drive, brain, what is that? How do I know this? I need to get there. C’mon now. What is this a bridge? Okay, now this better stop. Yes, now I can get to earth.

After finally making earth…

What is this green thing. It is enormous. Oh, I can climb it. Damn, this earth is big because it is the only one I have been on. Made you laugh, right? Haha. Wow, I say in amusement.

Earth day one…

I am on Earth. I mean, how would I come up with any other names? In the last hours I have been chopping down wood to make a house, and I don’t understand how I got that idea but yeah. I am pretty shabby looking now that Earth had actually started because I really don’t know how to get clothes, so you really don’t want to see what I look like. I hope to find other humans in this huge Earth thing, so maybe they are smarter than myself. When writing this, I saw a human striding toward me.

Is this the end, or is there more???

The 84 Block Journey

I rushed across 2nd Street in a blaze and rapidly approached the stairs leading to the train station. I looked down at my watch, and then realization dawned on me; I was already 15 minutes late for my very first job interview! I scurried down the stairs, careful not to touch the dirty railings, and made my way to the platform. I looked at the bright neon sign above my head that said I had to wait three minutes for my train. Three entire minutes! I couldn’t believe that I had to stand on this dreadful platform and watch the clock slowly tick by. In the meantime, I was wondering how I was going to deliver the news of my tardiness to my annoyed interviewer. While I hoped that they will empathize with me, and even take pity on me, I knew that in the end I would just be wasting their precious time. I started to tap my foot out of worriedness and frantically check my phone. Suddenly, I heard a loud wailing sound, the most beautiful, glorious sound I had ever heard. My train, my savior, had finally arrived!

I turned around and looked at the big sign above my head. As I looked closer I realized that I had been standing on the wrong platform the whole time: the train coming was taking me to Brooklyn, which was nowhere near the interview. In that moment I wanted to bang my head against the unsanitary train walls. How could I have been so blind? In a hurry I sprinted up and down several flights of stairs to my platform, and I looked up at that menacing sign yet again, only to find that the train wasn’t coming for another 10 minutes. I didn’t have the time to wait around for some dumb slow train for a whole ten minutes. Worry filled my body, and I started to break a sweat. I started considering taking a cab instead because the trains had become extremely frustrating, but then realized I only had 10 dollars in my wallet, because I had spent the rest buying pasta, chicken, and fruit for my little sister who was home with the flu. My mother was in Florida working with her tech startup company, Gigawtz, and attending a series of women in coding conferences along with that. I checked my jacket pocket for any more leftover change and to my dismay only found two dimes. I looked back up at that looming shiny sign that read two trains were coming in two minutes, but could only take me to 60th street when I needed to get to 84th. I decided to go with my gut and take the train heading uptown. I subtly speed walked toward the small platform and boarded the train.

The woman’s voice saying “Stand clear of the closing doors, please” seemed to mock me. Her robotic voice irritated me to a point that brought all of my insecurities out of the dark: pinpointing my failure, reminding me of the fact that this wasn’t just any internship. I don’t know why something like that would trigger me so much.

I reminded myself that even if I wasn’t late, the probability of me getting in wasn’t very high. Even though I had taken coding summer courses for years, done coding projects on my own, and visited my mom’s office occasionally, my confidence was at rock bottom. Two of my friends were also very into coding, and one got in because her uncle was the manager of that Microsoft office. My other friend was a coding prodigy and got straight A’s but wasn’t good at public speaking or communication in general and sadly didn’t get the internship. I couldn’t tell how I compared with them, my connections, my public speaking, but either way I knew it wasn’t good.

I smoothed out my cream-colored blouse and wondered if I chose the right outfit to wear for today. I had been anxious about what outfit to wear for days, and the thought of appearing to be trying too hard or not caring enough scared me nearly half to death. I had chosen a light gray skirt that wasn’t too short or long that took me ages to find. It had been laying at the bottom left corner of my closet alongside my old dolls and my favorite stuffed penguin. That put together penguin with his beautiful tuxedo, top hat, and glossy shoes had been my best friend for years, but now it was dusty, worn out, top hat tattered and broken laying alone at the bottom of my closet.

The conductor’s booming voice on the loudspeaker announced: “We are approaching 48th and Sixth, next stop 53rd!”

53rd! I thought. Surely we can’t be moving that slowly. Sure enough it had been 11 whole minutes stuck on the train.

I looked up from my phone to see a tall, tan woman yapping on her phone, blabbering loudly to her friend: “Ceci, I simply can’t deal! I was supposed to buy the hors d’oeuvres for the party in five mins, but I’m going to be late. What are they going to do without me.” She paused for a few seconds and then dramatically sighed and sadly said, “Ceci, I can’t. This party, they need me.”

She sounded like a conceited war hero, and everyone else stuck on this dreadful train felt the need to slap this girl in the face to get her to stop talking. She finally hung up, and I thought to myself, She’s worried about being late to a party. My life is on the line here. Well, not my entire life, but I mean it would help a ton for college, and it would be a cool experience.

I looked up from my phone to find a nice-looking old man giving me a repulsed glare. He sighed loudly and looked away, leaving me feeling extremely insecure; the people on that train were looking at my self-absorbed self and becoming annoyed with me too. At least I had these kinds of opportunities. I mean, it’s not every day that you could be working at Microsoft. Looking at my preppy little outfit, crossed legs, and stressed face, I probably seemed like I felt above everyone, like getting to this interview was far more important than anything going on in there lives.

The conductor’s booming voice on the loudspeaker broke me out of my trance, and to my relief we made it! Only twenty blocks to go, and then I had to find some way to get a cab really fast and make my way to the interview room. In a hurry I stepped off the train and began to casually run by the multitude of people in my way! I began to notice how slowly everyone was walking, and I just wanted to scream with frustration. Finally I made it out the train station on onto the street. I stepped out on the sidewalk in search for a glorious yellow taxi, my salvation, only to find that about ten other people were waiting for cabs! I decided to walk two or three blocks up to find (hopefully) more cabs and fewer people. After walking three blocks, I came across a cab. I wanted to jump for joy in that moment. Finally something had worked for me! Then I looked behind me and saw a tiny old woman waving her hands in the air frantically, obviously trying to get the cab I was about to get into to. My first instinct was to leave. Who cares about this old woman? This is your job on the line. Go!! But then my more mature instincts kicked in and told me to wait and find out where the old lady has to go, and compare the two circumstances.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said as politely as possible.

“It’s fine, dear,” replied the old woman. “I was just trying to get my poor dog Lulu to the vet. She has come down with a dreadful cold, and I feel terribly for the poor thing.”

Immediately I apologized again to the woman. Dogs were a huge soft spot for me, and I let her take the cab. I can’t say I didn’t regret it at all, but a sick animal is also a time commitment that requires immense attention, just like my sick sister. I continued to wait on the curb and hail taxis and hope and pray a free taxi would come. I looked up at the sky and noticed how perfectly calm it all was. The clouds just seemed to float by gently in an orderly fashion, never colliding or crashing into each other. In that moment, being a cloud sounded like the nicest thing to me: no responsibilities, no stress, freedom and peace. Just as I was about to walk up another block, I saw a gleaming yellow taxi come my way that appeared to be unoccupied! I quickly jumped in and told my driver the address, and we set off. The only thing stopping me now was traffic, which could make my 10 minute trip go on forever. I clenched my hands and knees my nerves on the edge, but to my surprise I arrived at my destination in a matter of minutes.

“Thank you very much,” I said and hopped out the car in a flash.

I looked at my phone to check the building number, and after combing through my texts I finally found it. I looked across the street and saw the building, modern, sleek, and made entirely out of glass. It was one of those really calming yet intimidating buildings, extremely tall but reflecting the blue sky.

I approached the door and stepped into the lobby of the building. This it it, I told myself, everything you hope for in this one interview, everything your mother and father wish for, everything your friends have already. You need this job.

I stopped at the lobby desk and asked, “Do you happen to know what floor the Microsoft intern interviews are taking place?”

The sleep-deprived receptionist gave me the very unenthusiastic answer, “It’s on the 12th floor. Just take the elevator that way.”

I pushed the big golden button and saw that the elevator was on the 12th floor at this moment. Had someone else been doing my interview? Would I lose this opportunity because of my lateness? Suddenly my stomach felt like there was a butterfly parade in it, and as I stepped in the elevator, my knees became shaky. What if they don’t like me? I thought. What if they take one look at me and decide I’m not cut out for this. The fear of failure and judgement crippled me and slowly my emotions collapsed. The big, shiny elevator doors opened, and I timidly stepped out. I felt like a tiny fish setting out into that big blue sea all alone. The floor looked exactly as I expected it to be, unexpected. The walls were bright white and looked incredibly clean, like not a single smudge covered their surface. The floor was also extremely clean, and I could see my own fearful reflection. There were glass doors branded with Microsoft’s colored logo, and without thinking I pushed the heavy doors open with the little strength I had. I looked around, and the first thing I saw was an open room full of desks and focused people typing on computers. They all looked incredibly professional, and I looked down at my outfit with dismay.

“Hello there!” said an enthusiastic voice behind me. “I’m Barbra, and I will be interviewing you today, and please do not worry about being late. We were able to fit someone else in before you.”

Her happiness overwhelmed me and caught me off guard. Her booming voice, like the loudspeaker lady in the train station, was mechanical, giving me the chills. I suddenly processed her words, and a river of emotions flooded my system.

Relief but also fear and anger filled the pit of my stomach, and I half heartedly replied, “So nice to meet you! This is such a cool place.”

Barbra started walking, and I walked behind her, well more like ran; her strides were huge! We approached a room numbered 445, and she closed the door behind me. As I walked in, the first thing my eyes gravitated towards were the giant windows at the back of the room with an amazing view of practically the entire city! I tried to take in the simplistic beauty of the room and sat down in the sleek white chair in front of me. I realized that my overall appearance was quite disheveled; I was covered in sweat, and one of my heels was about to fall completely off. What was I doing here? I thought, Why did I ever think I could work in a collected place like this? I heard the scrape of my chair as I sat in it and saw the shimmer of disappointment in Barbra’s joyous face. Her smile was plastered, her eyes glittered with deceit, her perfectly ironed outfit reeked of her character bluntly lying to my face. As I sat down, Barbra took at a green shiny folder and crossed her arms.

“Now.” She paused. “This place is big and intimidating, but what we are doing for women here is more important than some childish fear and insecurity we all have. The question is: are you willing to conquer that fear and stand up to it or let it take over?”

That question has resonated with me ever since, and I have never forgotten her wise words. It’s like a mini battle of selfish needs and powerful fear, or the importance and realization of what you are doing is not for yourself or anyone in particular. It is for the bettering of society.

I suddenly realized that I had left the stove on, and I ran home to my sister.

Bus Thoughts

The boy I look at every day always sits in the same seat on the bus. The one in the very back and next to the window. He draws flowers in the window when it’s fogged up, like today, and he always moves his head with his music. I haven’t seen him smile once.

I see him only on the bus, never really elsewhere. Occasionally I see him in the neighborhood, but very rarely. He must go to the private school a little further away if he’s still in school because he’s not at mine.

He has red hair and a soft face. His eyes are kind, but there’s an unapproachable aura behind them. Maybe it’s just me.

I’ve made a habit out of staring at him, I realize.

I’m sure it would be worth it to start a conversation with him. I’ve wanted to talk to him for a while now, but I’m too awkward, I think.


I wonder if he’s noticed me staring at him before. I panic. I hope that’s the first time he’s noticed me. I don’t ever remember making eye contact with him.

I still can’t figure out why I’m so attracted to him. I guess everyone has a person too far out of reach for them. I’ve never spoken to him to before. He just looks… perfect.

Maybe I’m overthinking. Teenagers have a tendency to do that.

I, hypocritically, hate it when people stare at me on the bus. But I do it anyway. I like staring at bus boy. What if he stares at me when I look away? He would probably see nothing. I don’t want him to look at me.

For about two months since school started I’ve made up an entire character of bus boy. I don’t know if he’s actually an artist or even if he’s nice. But somehow he seems content, grounded. I bet he’s passionate. Bus Boy, although never smiling, is happy.

He interests me the most — more than the woman with a bad dye job, or the small cluster of seventh graders who complain about their homework, or the loud old women in the back, or the unshaven man who looks really angry all the time, or the other sleep-deprived kids in the neighborhood.

Bus Boy is better than these ordinary people.

He is an artist. I know he’s creative.

His sweater is too big for him. It looks like his grandma knit it, but it works. Over the sweater, he’s wearing a puffy bubble-gum pink jacket. I couldn’t imagine him in jeans and a polo shirt that other guys wear. He looks just right.

But Bus Boy doesn’t care about what other people think of him. His hair is all messy and cute like he doesn’t even need to try. Somehow he looks put together and carefree at the same time.

It feels like my eyes blur out everything around him the way a camera does when it focuses on a subject. I was in a slight trance, forgetting that I was further away from him than it felt like. The same way objects in a mirror are closer than they appear.

The bus didn’t exist anymore. The cluster of seventh graders didn’t exist anymore. Bus Boy was still drawing flowers in the fog, but they looked real.

I start to hear faint whistling. Maybe it’s Bus Boy. Maybe it’s someone else. Bus Boy is moving his head along with the tune.

Suddenly he stops drawing flowers and reaches into his bag. Most would assume he was taking out a notebook or a water bottle, but I become even more enthralled when he takes out a huge swirly carnival lollipop and starts to unwrap it.

The lollipop colors all spin into one red pink color. The flowers start to float, and then they get sucked into the colorful, swirly whirlpool that now encompasses everything. Bus Boy’s face blends into the swirly colors, and it all looks like a Van Gogh painting.

The bus screeches to a stop. As I get out, a cold burst of wind hits my face. The bus drives away leaving me to the cold, no longer warming me up from the vent. I should’ve worn a better jacket.

Night Alone in Mytilene, Lesbos

When the light is gone, when the moon is quivering…

the Pleiades are gathered into a drawstring pouch of white stars,

And Orion is aborning, while the Evening Star

has been calling…

The ground is rainy black soil,

black orchid and black chamomile,

Black sky-song, white star path,

Anactoria, I sleep alone

And my fresh chiffon slides from my chest,

into a pile, on the floor…

The rain won’t stop, sweat drips down my breasts,

Selene pulls the Moon Chariot,   

I pull my words onto the page,

When it’s quiet but for the sound of crickets,

the temples and the agora in the distance,

the Aphrodite on my Cretan urn…

While the heat drones, and the wind whispers,

my stylus rustles against papyrus,

and Anactoria, inside her bedroom,

Calling out to me…

Calling, “Psappha, Psappha, Psappha”

Night — alone in Mytilene, Lesbos,

as I write in my bedroom…

And Anactoria, I sleep alone

The Judge

David slowly walked to school. Dragging his feet along the pavement, he arrived at school as the first bell rang. He dragged himself up the stairs to his locker.

He started to put his books away when he heard those tormenting words, “Hey, David!”

He winced and turned around. The three jerkateers. The school bullies known as Darrall, Michael, and Steven. They had been tormenting him since he started at Berrybrook Middle. You see, David has always been a bit of a know-it-all. But at his new school, they considered him more of a “teacher’s pet.” That had made him a target to bullying. The bullies did the normal routine. Slapped his books out of his hands, spilled water on his pants, etc. After all the normal stuff was done, the bullies were about to leave, when all of a sudden, they saw David’s notebook on the floor.

“Hey, what’s this?” Darrall said as he picked it up.

“No… ” said David as Michael put his hand over his face.

Darrall smirked. “Oh… Smarty Mc. Smarty is doing some extra dork work, eh?”

“Give that back. I can’t have my precious science formulas being held by some dumb mutt like you.”

Darrall, nostrils flaring, took a swing at David’s head. David, fortunately, dodged the punch, but to only receive a kick in the stomach. David curled up in a ball, but no luck. More attacks came quicker and harder and did not end till Principle Quinton came.

“Darrall, Michael, Steven! What is the meaning of this!” They looked over at the principal.

“Come with me!” He grabbed them and dragged them away.

“And Mister Ren, get to class please. If you’re bleeding or bruised, go to the nurse’s office, but you look good to me.” Dave sighed and grabbed his formula book along with his others and dragged himself to class.


In the middle of class though, the principal called him through the intercom to come his office. David blushed and headed out to the hall.

“David,” said Principle Quinton. “Darrall, Michael, and Steven said you started attacking them from the hall, and you started up a fight with them.

David’s mouth dropped. “But, sir, you have to believe me. They’ve been bullying me for months. I bad-mouthed them once, and they started attacking me.”

The principal smiled. “I never said I believed their claim.”

David smirked. “Very true, sir.”

“But,” he said moving his mouth near my ear, “their parents have invested a pretty amount to the building of this building. So I just think we should get along. No more bullying, that I promise. But try not to tell anyone. Let bygones be bygones, eh?”

David’s jaw dropped. “But, sir, they deserve to be punished. I mean, they bully other people too. This is a problem. It needs to be dealt with. It needs a judge.”

Principal Quinton’s little smirk went away. “David, it’s either no punishment for the bullies, or a two-month suspension for you.”

“But why me, sir?”

“Well, as I said, they said you started the fight. I can believe them or leave all of you off the hook. The choice is yours. Take your time to decide.”

David swallowed, and tears came to his eyes. “I trusted you,” he said before he left the room and slammed the door.

I’m going to take that as the better idea!” the principal yelled as David left his office, walking fast, and in tears.


After school that day, David went to archery class. This was his second day, and last week, all they did was go over safety rules and did not have time to try the actual bows. Now, this class, they were going to try shooting some arrows at the targets. After 30 minutes of teaching them how to hold the bow and how to shot the arrows, David had the bow in his hand. He reached down for an arrow and put it on his bow. He took a deep breath and looked at the target. But, in its place, he saw the principal shaking hands and taking money from his bullies’ parents. David’s eyes filled with rage, and he let go of his arrow go. He suddenly saw his arrow flying towards the target and hitting it in the middle. He picked up another arrow.

“Bravo, David. Bra… ”

David turned around and hurled his arrow in the air. It sailed in the air, right into the instructor’s chest. The instructor fell back in the wall, dead. David, surprised, grabbed his bundle of arrows off the floor and ran out the room. No one stopped him. Not even security. They most have been wondering how an arrow thrown lightly by a weak, scrawny 13-year-old made it into a person’s heart 100 feet away.

Early the next day, David came to school and started unpacking his backpack.

“Well, well, well,” said Darrall from behind him. David turned around and was picked up by the neck.

“I never got to finish the fight yesterday. Well, there’s always time now.”

He let David go almost automatically, partly just from the fact David’s Swiss Army knife made his way into his stomach. Darrall dropped to the ground. Yesterday, after the archery incident, David wanted to see if he had some sort of power. He started practicing with the arrows again, but then discovered he could throw any object and aim it at anything. He saw automatically that the other bullies were right behind Darrall, with surprised looks on their faces, and picked up his Swiss Army knife and threw it at the other bullies. It whipped through their bodies. The principal started running down the hall screaming. David sighed.


Thirty minutes later, David came out of the school building with his shirt soaked. After he figured out that he had a special power, he decided that if no one would be his judge, he would be his own. He saw that there were SWAT helicopters coming towards him, screaming at him to surrender. He sighed and threw up his knife once more, only after a bullet clipped him in the neck. On his way to the ground, he thought of how some sharpshooter hit him in the neck right before he threw the knife. He heard the helicopter falling above him and knew he had succeeded. The judge had thrown down his hammer.


“David, are you still with us?” David’s eyes blinked, and he looked up at his archery teacher.

“Well, class, we’re about to start with the bows and arrows. Please feel free to grab some from the bucket.” David realized this is when he had discovered his special power. It had all been a dream. But then, he thought, What if I actually have that special power? What will my path be? Will I follow the same?

The Chronicles of Tulupinia

I was on the mere verge of descending my perfect Tulupinia. I had carefully scavenged a hole in the dirty and moist dirt. The perfect circle, 9’ by 5”. I had been infiltrating the perfect low cal, sugar free, organic, pasteurized water. And for a whole excruciating month, I ate nothing but vegetables and protein to secrete the perfect turd to lay upon my perfect little Tulupinia.

Everything was going as planned. Tulupinia was like a child to me, and she needed to grow as much as a prepubescent teenager. Every day I nurtured her with intense love and care. Some call it creepy, I call it life. Christmas was coming around the corner, and Tulupinia and I were happier than old Blue laying on the porch chewing on a big old catfish head. We decided that we wouldn’t get each other any gifts this year, as I had an obvious advantage over her to get a present. I had a steady job. But I could not resist from getting my Christmas bells ring, so I decided to secretly get Tulupinia a present. I had the perfect idea in mind. The ultra 50000 non GMO fertilizer. Filled with goody richness. And guess what, it is from Japan! So I told Tulupinia that I was going to be gone for a gardener’s convention in Tokyo. At first she didn’t believe me. Typical skeptical Tulupinia. So I came up with something quick and told her that I even had ordered a legitimate businessman suitcase. Tulupinia stood still. She was so hard to read, but I knew she believed me. I’m such a clever liar. I hired a professional gardener, one of my colleagues, to take special care while I was gone. I made sure that he understood the responsibilities and consequences I had given him.

A few minutes before…

“I swear to god if Tulupinia has one less leaf than when I first saw her, I will hunt you and your family down and bury you alive in soil, and not even the good kind.”

I could never let Tulupinia go through what Marijuanita went through. She was the light of my life. Being with her always made me feel so good. Then my neighbor found out about our relationship and called the cops on us. They said it was illegal to obtain marijuana, but is it really illegal to love??? They took her away from me. Forever. But that’s a story for another time.

On the plane to Tokyo, I noticed a magazine in front of me. It was the Garden Gazette. I decided to take a peek. I flipped through the magazine pages to see thousands of flowers. Poor flowers, unacknowledged by their parents, forced into the show business. There was one specifically terrifying photo of a sunflower with a squirrel eating out of its center. The pain it must have gone through! The picture made it seem as if the squirrel was the victim of pesticides, yet people were deaf to the agonizing screams of the poor, now seedless, sunflower. I flipped the page one last time, already bored by looking at these dirtbags (pun intended) and came to see a tulip. Oh my, he looked just like Tulupinia! Although, Tulupinia had kinder eyes. I suddenly saw the ad at the corner of the page. They were selling this exquisite being at the gardener’s convention! What a fortunate stroke of serendipity! Maybe I would get Tulupinia two presents this year. She hasn’t been making many friends lately, and her romantic life isn’t very active if you know what I mean. Yes yes, I know that times have changed. Planned marriages aren’t very in right now. And of course I am quite the feminist, and I believe that all female plants can decide their own future, but I believe Tulupinia will thank me for this. You know, since I became a parent, a lot of things have come into perspective. All I want to do is make Tulupinia flourish and photosynthesize the heck out of life.

After I had finally managed to go to sleep, I woke up to go to the bathroom. I got up to go the bathroom, but some man was asleep, and his dog beneath the seat in front of him was growling at the very sight of him. Why wasn’t that dirty dog underneath the plane. People who treat dogs like humans are stupid. Ugh. I got a flight magazine and started to tap the guy with it. I sucked in my stomach and passed by in front of the guy barely surviving the big snarling teeth from the small white dog. I got to the bathroom and did my business and washed my face and hands. The worst part about going to the bathroom on a plane is the horrid, loud noise the toilet makes when you flush. When I came back from the bathroom I couldn’t go to sleep, and I already finished all of my sleeping pills. I decided to watch something on the little TV in front of me. I watched some Friends. Poor Rachel just found out that she was pregnant with Ross’s baby and didn’t know if she could be a single mom. I could totally relate.

Finally, after 12 hours on the plane, I heard that sweet angelic voice of the Japanese pilot.

“Hello, this is your Captain Sum Tin Wong, and we will be landing shortly. Please fasten your seat belt, and thank you for flying with Crane airlines.”

After getting out of the airport, I arrived at my three star hotel. Personally, I thought it was very underrated. These towels actually dried you instead of getting you wet compared to home. I couldn’t wait to tell Tulupinia about my wild adventures. The next morning I got all trim and proper and made my way to the gardener’s convention. The moment I stepped through those glorious, sketchy underground doors, I finally felt at home. The location was magnificent. I had never seen such a — big basement. To my surprise, there were 50 people. What a turnout! I immediately saw the bright logo for the Ultra 5000 non GMO fertilizer standing on proud stand. Once I had acquired the best Christmas gift of all time, I made my way to the adoption center. I entered to see magnificent colors and healthy flourishing stems. And then I made eye to petal contact with the one. The hot stud from the ad. I went over to his pot and looked closely at the description. Florencio Tulust was his name, originating from the spicy side of Argentina. All I read was hot, single, and ready to mingle! I signed off the papers of adoption and Florencio Tulust’s freedom. I thought that my time at Tokyo would be prolonged, yet I was too excited and eager to go back home to Tulupinia that I decided to come home early. On the way back home, I could not stop myself from ranting on about how life was back where Tulupinia lived and what future Florence (he lets me call him that now) and Tulupinia will have. He was such a good listener.

On the taxi back home, I started to spiff Florence up. He looked particularly dehydrated, but I made it work. I added a nice red bow for that additional wow factor.

I couldn’t wait to see the look on Tulupinia’s greenery when I showed her my multiple surprises. When the taxi driver, Anass Rahammar, finally stopped the car, I opened the window to smell the familiars of home

Ahhhhh, mother nature’s fertilizer!”

“That will be $19.57 please”

“You know what, Anass, I’ll do you one better.”

I gave him my priceless, one of kind tomato seed.

“Take care of this one, she’s a biter.”

He looked like he was mad, yet he calmly and peacefully told me to get the hell out of his car.

With great excitement, I skipped unto my pavement opening my door with one jolly swing.

“Honey, I’m home!!!”

Surprisingly enough, there was no response.

“I gently put Florence down on the counter and made my way to the garden in my backyard. I opened the sliding doors only to reveal my greatest nightmare.

“Tulupinia! What in the name of mother nature and all that is green are you doing?! I wanted to come home early to surprise you, and this is the thanks I get?!”

I found Tulupinia, high and mighty, tangled by the stem of another plant, a male one to be exact. And not just any plant. No no no no, a weed! And to top it all off, as I took a closer look, I saw seeds growing on Tulupinia’s flowers!

“Tulupinina, what has become of you?! Who is this? Are those seeds or dew drops? Tell me now, young girl. What is going on here?”

Before it was too late, I noticed that my voice had risen to the highest of altitudes. Tulupinia stared at me without saying a word, out of astonishment of course.

“Don’t you start that silent treatment with me, young lady!”

It had started to rain, which only made my anger increase, along with the volume of my voice.

“This ends now!”

I went into the kitchen with a fit of rage and came back to the garden with a set of gardener pliers. The wind was getting stronger now and the rain more than ever.

“You’ve left me no other choice!”

I started to grab at the maleficent boy’s stem and started to pull at the ground. Tulupinia threw herself onto him as if thrown by the wind, as if she was begging for me to stop. But it was too late to stop. Weed was gone.

“There we go, Tulupinia. Everything is better now. No need to be upset. And you’ll be so excited by what I’ve brought you from Tokyo!”

“Why aren’t you saying anything, my dearest Tulupinia. It was all for the better.” I reached out for her, when all of a sudden, I got pricked by one of her thorns.

“What has gotten into you, Tulupinia?”

I once again reached out to her, yet this time one of her thorns gashed through my whole palm, leaving a stinging gash.

“That’s enough!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. I was in rage. “You don’t deserve me or Florence!”

I looked like a monster in the rain, hovering over my frightened child. But my anger was too hard to control. I yanked Tulupinia out of the ground, leaving some of her roots to die. I grabbed her leaves and started plucking one by one, each more painful than the other. I could almost hear her screams thrusting away with the wind. When I had finally regained consciousness from my blinding rage, it was too late. I was at the last petal of Tulupinia’s poor shriveled body. It was then that I finally heard the pounding at the door. The police, something about a disturbance call. By then they were already breaking the door open with guns at hand. I saved the last petal of Tulupinia that would ever remained and saved it in pocket. I looked at her small body, drained of life.

I pulled her close to me and whispered, “I’m sorry.” I gently kissed her, feeling her rough thorns cut through my soft lips. After that, everything went dark.

It was dark and cold, all alone. Seedless. “What have I done?! No no no no no. Bad Hank!”

I heard my voice echo back at me in the jail cell —

“Oh, shut up, Hank. What do you know.”

It was as if the echo was talking back at me. I started pulling my knotted hair out, a similar action I had done before. The great, sinful crime. Plucking.

“She deserved it, you know.”

“Who said that?” Looking at the walls with the broken mirror, I saw something. Pieces of a broken man. A murderer. I reached into my pocket and smelled the increasingly brown leaf in my hand.

“What have I done, Tulupinia.” Just then, the guard passed by with my food and a thick newspaper.

“Lookee there, you’re on the front page”

The newspaper read, Teenage Girl savagely murdered and quartilized by kidnapper, a former attendee to the institution for the insane.

My Last Goodbye

It’s a fifteen hour flight to South Africa

A journey across the Earth my family embarks upon once every two years

I press my face to the glass of the coveted window seat

A place I scored after lengthy negotiations with my sister

The oval window is a portal to the rest of the world,

reminding me just how insignificant we are

Oceans and islands soar beneath us as I plug into my third movie of the day

The end of this eternal ride has left me wondering where all of the time has gone

It’s a two hour drive to Johannesburg

I have never been able to stay awake the entire duration

I don’t see the gorgeous sunset spread across the sky

A sea of ruby reds, vibrant yellows, and cotton candy pinks

I don’t see the last rays of sun slip off the rocky sidewalk

As darkness consumes the night

When I awaken thousands of stars shower the sky

Like drops of glittering rain that never reach the Earth

New York City does not have stars like these

Twenty minutes of waiting for them to text us to come over to their house

Later we play bridge in the dining room

I pretend to understand the endless rules and meticulous strategy

So that I can keep my blue folding chair around the deck table

In the kitchen I learn to bake challah with Aunt Joanne

The overwhelming scent of yeast shocks my nose with its powerful aroma

My fingers knead through the sticky, elastic dough

Even though one side is as burnt as the scorching pavement

that sits beneath the African sun

I pretend that I remembered to flip the loaves after thirty minutes in the oven

So much pretending

Pretending I don’t understand everything that is going on around me

Soon I’m running from Alphie, the ferociously persistent little dog

Secreting pearls of gleaming sweat in the malicious heat

And shivering in the icy pool that bites your toes and fingers if you overstay your welcome

All simple, All familiar

But then it’s talking in hushed voices about renowned hospitals

New surgeries

And ovarian cancer

It’s Aunt Joanne being too tired, so tired

Too tired for chemo

Too weak

Some words hold more meaning than I can even comprehend

Rocks around a volcano are hollow

Formed by scorching hot magma

Natives used to think they were just unbelievably light

Legend tells that taking one of the rocks is bad luck

The word cancer is unbelievably heavy

It is the quintessence of bad luck

This one word has the power to weigh everything down

Slowing the world to its own pace, forcing accommodations

We try our very best to avoid the heavy word

To not let it crush us like ants underfoot

One word is on the tip of everyone’s tongue yet rarely do we dare breathe a word of it

But before we know it, it’s time to say goodbye

Goodbyes seem so simple

Yet there is something so personal about them

I give my goodbyes everyday

To my friends

To my teachers

To my parents and sister

To the sun when she goes to sleep each night, urging me to do the same

Sometimes I say goodbye forever

To my friends at camp when I know that our adventures together have come to an end

To my cat when she decided to never to wake up from her nap on my parents bed

And to all those dreams I have let go of

But it never quite feels as final as it should

When one chapter of your life snaps shut

The final curtain

We allow ourselves to believe that we might keep in touch

We might revisit that plan we started

We might be able to go back to that moment in time where we let go

Now Joanne is giving me a gentle hug and telling us to have a safe flight home

I’m saying that I love her and that I hope she wins her next bridge game

I know this is goodbye forever

It doesn’t feel big enough

It doesn’t feel special enough

It doesn’t feel worthy of being the last words that are ever imparted

from her soul unto mine

But just like that and it’s over

I want to say that when she dies I am going to miss her so much

and cry until I’m all out of tears

But I can’t say that

I want to ask if she is really ever going to get better

But I can’t ask that

I want to lock myself in a room and not leave

Because it feels like I’m leaving her behind

But know I can’t do that

I want to beg her to stay strong for two more years

Until I am back to bake challah and learn the rules of bridge

But that is not fair to anyone

Before I know it, I’m driving out of the gate

Past the Acacia trees that sway in the breeze like the swings at Pierpont playground

Past the little inn where we stayed because the house is overflowed with relatives

All waiting to say their own goodbyes

My heart tries to trick itself into believing otherwise

But my mind knows the truth

I’ve said goodbye forever

The Dream Sixteen

Today is the day of my 16th birthday party. It all started out as a normal day. I was just taking my birthday party outfit out of my closet. I’ve been waiting for this party since forever. All my friends will be there. I just can’t wait.

This party will probably be the best party I’ve ever had. My guests are just starting to walk in. “Hey, Aspen,” my friend Jordyn says. “Are you excited for your party?”

“Yep,” I say. We decide to hang out at the snack table for a few minutes.

“So who did you invite,” Jordyn says.

“I invited you, Taylor, Peyton, Ashley, Amari, Jackson, Jamie, Lila, and a lot of other people.”

“Sounds like you have a big guest list. Are you sure that you’ll have enough food? Did you invite a lot of the boys?”

“Yeah. My mom said that the caterer is bringing more than enough food. So I can only hope that they don’t eat it all.”

“Did you invite anyone else?” Jordyn asks.

“Yeah. I invited Adonis, Marcus, Lexi — ”

“Wait, you invited Lexi?”

“Yeah,” I say. “What’s wrong with that?”

“You know that if you invite Lexi that Tori will come. And you know how Tori is,” Jordyn says.

“Just because her twin sister is mean doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t be invited to parties too. I genuinely like Lexi. And you have to admit she is really cool.”

“Yeah, she is really nice. I feel so bad for her though. She’s stick with a twin sister that’s so mean. I wonder if she’s really mean to her.”

“I know,” I say.

I know that if I had a twin sister that I would want her to be nice to everyone, including me. I honestly feel so sorry for her. At that moment, a large group of my friends arrive. My older sister, Ashanti, just brought them into the party room. The theme of my party is lights out. It’s a major dance party with neon lights. Everyone gets a glow bracelet or glow necklace when they walk in.

My mom, Aunt Chantelle, and Ashanti helped me come up with the theme of my party. Ashanti and Aunt Chantelle helped me plan where my party would be. We rented out a country club ballroom and decorated it to look like a dance club. There are flashing strobe lights everywhere, and there is also a disco ball. The lights are bouncing off the walls. Music is going. You can actually feel the beat of the music.There are white, shiny marble floors. The lights are reflecting off the floor. Different color balloons and confetti are all over the floor. There’s a long white table on the right side of the room with different finger foods on them. There are little sandwiches, cakes, fruits, and punch on the table. In the left corner of the room, the DJ is getting ready to play music. It’s kind of awkward right now because nobody is here yet. But once the party gets started, it will be a whole lot of fun. People won’t be able to help dancing and having fun.

“Hey, Aspen,” they all say.

“Hey, guys,” I say.

Ashanti shows them the table where they can put my gifts. I can’t believe this is finally happening. A few minutes later, more of my friends come in. A little while after that, more of my friends come in. After about 20 minutes, everyone is there. The party was just about to start when all of a sudden Tori and her friends, Marcy and Samara, walk in. Right behind her are Lexi and Denise. Everyone stops to look at Tori and her friends. There is complete silence, and I feel completely awkward. Now I’m starting to understand what Jordyn said.

“Happy birthday, Aspen. Great party,” Tori says with a smirk. Marcy and Samara start laughing maliciously.

I’m really starting to regret inviting Lexi. But at the same time, it’s not Lexi’s fault that her sister is extremely mean. Hopefully Tori doesn’t try to make a scene and humiliate me at my own party. That would be awful. But then again, I invited some of the boys. I know she definitely wouldn’t want to embarrass herself in front of them. She already knows what a laughingstock she would be if she did that. She should know because she’s already embarrassed plenty of people before.

“Thanks, Tori,” I say. “The party will start shortly.”

Suddenly, the music starts. People start coming out onto the dance floor. The lights come up. The disco ball starts to spin and reflect its lights. Everyone has glow sticks. Music is playing. Everyone is dancing, but I just can’t make myself join in. I wander off into the hallway to go to the bathroom. Just as I get ready to open the door, my sister Ashanti comes out of the bathroom.

“Is everything okay? You look a little worried.”

“I guess I’m okay.”

“Isn’t that Tori?” she says.

“Yeah,” I say.

“What is she doing here. The last thing we need is someone to ruin your sweet 16. It’s the most memorable party of your life so far. Do I need to go and say something to her?”

“No,” I say. “The last thing I need is for someone to upset her. That would just give her more reason to try to humiliate me. You understand right?”

“Yeah. I get it. You remember Andrea, right?”


“She was like a Lexi to me when I was 16. She always tried to do whatever she could to humiliate someone.”

“Your point being?”

“Don’t let one person ruin your party. Look around. All these people came here to celebrate you. They all came because they care about you. They’re not concerned about Lexi and what she could do to them.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.”

“Anyway, these people came to celebrate you. Now go have fun at your party. I’ll peek around now and then to make sure that everything is okay. If Tori tries to even start to make a scene, I’ll take care of her. Don’t worry about anything.”

“Thanks,” I say. We give each other a hug. I go into the bathroom to check my reflection one last time. Then I decide that it’s time for me to go back to the party.

The party is going great. The music is loud. A rap song has just ended, and a dance song has come on. I’m able to feel the beat of this song. Everybody is dancing. Everyone is having fun. I decide to start dancing. I start to lose my worries in the song. Suddenly, I notice that the party is actually going great. Maybe it’s just me being paranoid. I mean, a party is supposed to be calm, right? But something doesn’t feel right to me. I see Jordyn standing by the food table getting some punch. I pull her aside. We leave the party and go into the hallway.

“Jordyn, have you seen Tori?” I ask.

“No, not recently. The last place I saw her was over by the food table. Why? Is something wrong?”

“No. It’s just that the party seems normal.”

“What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that what a party is supposed to be?”

“Yeah, it is. But it’s still weird that Tori is here. You don’t think she’s going to try to ruin something, do you?”

“I sure hope not. I’m pretty sure that you got some really cool presents. My present is so pretty that you’ll never want to leave it alone.”

“Can you tell me what it is?”

“Nope. That would ruin the surprise. I want your breath to be taken away when you open my present.”

This sounds so much like Jordyn. She’s such a caring, sweet, and kind person. But you don’t want to get on her bad side. It’s really scary. But all in all, Jordyn is one of the kindest people I have ever met.

“Okay. I guess I can wait.”

“Now come on. Quit worrying, and have fun at your party.”


I can’t believe I’m saying this, but my party is going great. I’m enjoying myself and so is everyone else. But I still have this sneaking suspicion that Tori will do something. I decide to push this thought to the back of my mind. This is my party, and I’m going to celebrate.

I walk over to the food table. Everything looks fine. Nothing seems suspicious. My presents seem to be safe. Suddenly, I hear a rustling noise over by the DJ. Then I hear something drop right near the table where my presents are. I wonder what’s going on. I hope Tori isn’t trying to ruin anything. I have a really bad feeling about this. I decide to go over to the DJ.

“Excuse me, sir. Have you seen anybody come over this way recently?” I ask.

“Nope. I haven’t. Sorry.”

“Thanks anyway,” I say.

Well, the DJ seems to have not seen anything or anyone come over there. So I wonder what that noise could have been. Now the worst thoughts are starting to come to mind. What if an animal wandered into my party and is going through my presents? What if one of Tori’s friends is going through my presents? What if Tori paid someone to go through my presents and ruin my party? Or worst of all, what if Tori herself is going to do something so mean that it’ll cause me to start crying at my own party?

“Come on, Aspen,” I say to myself. “You need to get yourself together and stop assuming that the worst is always going to happen.”

Eventually, I talk myself into walking over to where the rustling noise came from. As I grow closer to the table where my presents are, the noise grows louder. The noise keeps growing louder and louder and louder. I can’t take this suspense anymore. I decide to finally see what’s making this noise.

As I walk around the table where my presents are, I find Tori going through my presents. I stand behind the table frozen with fear. I’m brought to tears. I can’t help not crying. There’s presents everywhere. There’s pink, purple, red, and a lot of other colors of tissue paper all over the floor. Some gift bags are strewn all over the floor.

“This present is okay. Uh, what is this present? Who would ever want this as a present? This is so lame. People can really do better with presents these days,” Tori says. Marcy and Samara are with her.

“Why would anybody want this as a present? It’s so dorky,” Marcy says. She’s waving a gift bag in the air.

“Honestly, I don’t know. But then again, these presents are for Aspen. Why wouldn’t you expect them to be lame. She’s really, really lame.”

“I know. But still, anybody could give her a better present. I kind of feel bad for her,” Marcy says.

“Why should you? Obviously, a lame person deserves lame gifts. Aspen is a completely lame person.”

“I still can’t believe that you were friends with her when you were younger,” Samara says.

“Really, I don’t even know either. I guess we all made mistakes when we were younger,” Tori says.

“You certainly did, Tori. I really can’t understand why you were ever even friends with her either,” Marcy says.

I can’t take this anymore. I shouldn’t have to listen to this anymore. I decide to come out from behind the table.

“I can’t believe you, Tori. How could you do this to me?” I say in disbelief.

“Well, if it isn’t Ms. Crybaby. What’s wrong? Did someone steal your blanket?” Tori says sarcastically.

Now everyone has turned to stare at the table where my presents are. The music has been turned down some. Everyone starts laughing at what Tori just said.

“For your information, I’m not a crybaby, and I don’t have a blanket. What are you doing over here in my presents anyway?” I say with an attitude. My hands are on my hips.

“I just came to check and make sure that your presents were okay. I wouldn’t want you to receive any horrible presents. But lucky for you, they’re all horrible presents.”

“That’s exactly why they aren’t yours. Now how about you do yourself a favor and get away from my presents,” I say.

“I don’t think so. You can’t tell me what to do. Marcy, what do you think about this present? Isn’t it so stupid?” Tori asks sarcastically as she looks into a gift bag.

“It’s so stupid. Why would anyone want to own such a stupid gift? Would you want to own it, Samara?” Marcy asked.

“Leave me out of this,” Samara says.

“Why? What’s wrong? Do you think it’s good enough for you? Marcy says sarcastically.

Everyone starts laughing. The boys are making “ooohhh” noises.

“No,” Samara says.

“Then what’s your problem?” Marcy says.

“My problem is you. You and Tori are always picking on innocent people that have done absolutely nothing to you. I’m tired of being around people like you who always put people down.”

“So let me get this straight. You’re trying to stand up for Aspen, Samara?” Tori says.

“Yes, I am. I’m so sick and tired of being around cruel people like you and Marcy. Aspen has always been nothing but nice to you, and yet you still treat her horribly,” Samara says with boldness.

There’s a long period of silence in the party room. Even the music stops. Everyone is staring over at where Tori, Marcy, Samara, and I are.

“Well, you know what, Samara? I can’t be friends with people like you. People who think its okay to be friends with losers.”

I’m tired of hearing all of this. It’s getting on my last nerve. I can’t take it anymore.

“Guess what, Tori,” I say. “I’m not a loser, and you can stop talking about me.”

“And she’s right,” Jordyn says. “We all know that the whole reason why you even came to this party was to ruin Aspen’s great party. Well, guess what, you failed to accomplish your goal.”

“I don’t understand why you would do such a thing, Tori,” Lexi says. “It’s Aspen’s party, and this has absolutely nothing to do with you. Why don’t you just leave?!”

“Because I don’t want to,” Tori snaps. “Look, Samara. Here’s the thing. If you want to be friends with us, then you have to not be friends with Aspen, and if you want to be her friend, then we won’t be your friends.”

Everyone is staring intently at Samara. For some reason, the DJ is playing action music.

“So what’s your choice, Samara?”

“I choose Aspen. I don’t want to be remembered as the mean girl like you and Marcy.”

“Very well then. You made your choice. I hope it was worth it to lose your only friends that you have,” Tori says sarcastically.

“Why are you doing this?” Marcy asked sincerely.

“Because I’m ready to move on and be around actually nice people,” Samara says.

“Whatever, Samara. Come on, Marcy, let’s leave this lame party. We’ve got better places to be,” Tori says.

“Tori, Marcy, do you need an escort out?” Ashanti says.

“No thanks. I’m good,” Tori says.

“No thanks,” Marcy says.

They both storm out of the party.

Finally, they’re gone. The music has been turned back up. Everyone has resumed dancing and having a good time. The strobe lights have come back on. Samara is still here all by herself.

“You okay?” I ask.

“Not really. It feels kind of weird to not be around Marcy and Tori,” Samara says.

“Its okay. It must’ve felt really weird to actually stand up to Tori for once.”

“Yeah, I know. But it eventually had to be done.”

“That was really brave,” I say.


“Look, I know that we’ve started off on the wrong foot, but I’m willing to start over and be friends if that’s okay with you,” I say.

“Sure. I mean, I haven’t been exactly nice to you either.”

“So friends?”

“Friends,” Samara says.

“I’m so proud of you,” Ashanti says.

“For what?”

“Standing up to Tori. You really are growing up.”


If there’s one thing that I’ve learned after tonight, it’s that people may actually come to surprise you in the end.

The Old Man

There was a man. The man was lonely, sad, and old, so he went into the forest to die. He wandered for hours, dwelling on old memories, until he came across a cottage in the woods. The man thought that the cottage would be a good place to die. He entered the cottage to find a toy makers kit, sitting on a desk. The old man had always loved toys and had made them for a living. He decided to die doing what he loved, so he sat down at the desk and started to inspect the tools. He opened the toymakers chest and was startled to see that the tools in the chest were extremely old, but in amazing quality. He had never seen such good tools and was happy to have access to such grand instruments, so he got to work quickly. Hours passed, a storm of creativity flowing through the man.

In the morning he awoke to see a massive amount of toys all around him. There were dolls, and toy soldiers, teddy bears, and a few rocking horses. He was happy and content to see his efforts and was shocked and surprised to see that his creations were moving around and repairing the broken down cottage. He jumped up in surprise, and they all turned to look at him. The toys grew giant smiles and began to run over to him. The man, terrified, stumbled over the chair and fell to the ground as the toys swarmed him. He screamed, until he realized that the toys were hugging him.

He sputtered out, “W-what? What’s going on? What’s happening?”

A clown walked out from behind the mass of toys. “Why, you made us of course! Can’t we be happy to greet our creator?”

The old man rose, startled, and proclaimed, “What? But how are you alive?! I know I made you, but how are you living?”

The clown shrugged, unconcerned. “Does it really matter? We are, and you made us. Now we can play with people!”

The old man was concerned, but also overjoyed that his life had come to something after all. He was a nobody, with a job nobody paid attention to and a boring life with no family or friends. He was so excited to show everybody what he had created, he didn’t notice that the clown began to smile behind his back. He gathered all of the toys up and marched them into town. A crowd of people gathered by the commotion, and he began handing out all the toys there were. The toys went gleefully, as their only aspiration was to play with children. Finally, all the toys but the clown were given out, and there was only one child without a toy, the mayor’s daughter.

The clown walked over and picked her up, who laughed gleefully. “Are you my new owner? O boy, I can’t wait to play with you! Let’s go!”

And they ran off. The old man was very happy to have done something good in his life and walked back to the cabin to spend the night.

In the morning he woke, stretched, and got dressed. When he walked outside, however, he saw smoke, rising in the distance. He grew worried and decided to go check it out. He made his way back to town, and when he got there, all hell had broke loose. There were fires everywhere, mangled bodies strewn like neglected dolls, and a massive demonic ferris wheel in the middle of town, with screams eminiting from it. The toys were all laughing with glee, chasing people, torturing people, and the clown was the worst of all. He was on top of the ferris wheel, with a terrified girl crying near him.

Are you having fun, darling? I know I am! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

At this point, the old man was absolutely petrified. He had no words to describe the horror that lay before him. As he stared, he had a sudden realization. Everything he made did the exact opposite it was supposed too. Things made to entertain, tortured. Things made to comfort, terrified. He ran to the cabin as fast as he could. Meanwhile…

The mayor ran, terrified, away from the center of town and the laughing clown. He ducked behind a nearby wall to catch his breath and peeked around the corner to get his boundaries and immediately pulled his head back. There was a teddy bear a couple feet away, tearing up a corpse. His heart pounded in his chest, and he held his breath and listened. A couple minutes later, the teddy bear walked away, and the mayor tried not to look at the body as he made his escape. He ran and ran, never stopping until he reached the next town down the road. He collapsed at the town gate, and when he came to it, he told his story. His story about an insane toymaker and a devil banding together to cause chaos spread like wildfire, and centuries later, would develop into a fairy tale to scare children.

Now then, back to the old man. He ran as fast as his legs could carry him, all the while hearing the devilish carnival music behind him. He slammed open the cottage door and scrambled inside. He shut the door and sat down on the bed to catch his breath. He began to realize what he had done and cried himself to sleep.

When he woke up, he felt determined to fix his mistake. He picked himself up and walked over to the desk and its cursed tools. He sat down and put his head in his hands. He began to think of ways to fix this with what he had at his disposal and if he could fix it at all. He thought and thought, until an idea struck him. If the toys he created did everything in their power to do the opposite of what they were supposed to, then what if he made a toy that was intentionally bad? If he needed something that disobeyed and hurt others, then a dummy would do the trick, wouldn’t it? He began to craft his masterpiece, making it as scary as he could possibly be, giving it knives and weapons a plenty. When it was done, it sat motionless.

He gave his first order. “Y-you m-may speak. A-and move on y-your own will if you will c-cause no harm to o-others by doing so.”

To his surprise, the dummy immediately sat up and jumped off the table.

“I thought you’d neva ask. I been conscience eva since you started packing me with weapons, ya hear. Now, what can I do for ya?”

The old man was quite startled at his abruptness, but he got over his surprise quickly. “I, uh,” he began, but the dummy interrupted him.

“Wait wait, lemme guess. Youse did something youse regrete with the doohickies that made me, and ya want me to clean up your mess? No problem, lead the way.”

The dummy jumped off the table and made his way to the door. The old man was very confused and concerned, but followed the dummy outside. The dummy was waiting for him, and the old man began walking towards the town. He turned around when he noticed that the dummy wasn’t following him and asked why he wasn’t following him.

“Well, I forgot ta mention dis before, but if ya want me ta do anything, ya gotta give me veeery specific instructions, so get on dat, would ya pal?”

The old man walked back over to the dummy and began to speak out his specific instructions.

“You are going to destroy everything that I have made and make sure that they stay dead. If any escape, you will hunt them to the end of the earth. You must never intentionally hurt a human being, and you will come back to me when you are done with these instructions.”

The dummy nodded once and took off towards the town like a flash. The old man watched him disappear back into the forest and walked back into the cabin, where he promptly hanged himself. Well, onto the next main character.

The dummy ran the forest with unending stamina and broke through the forest with a flying leap. He landed heavily and looked around. He saw a platoon of wooden soldiers heading his way and sprinted towards them. They turned to look at him and got into a firing line of maniacal smiles. He jumped right into their midst, with a knife in hand, and turned into a whirlwind of carnage. Body parts flew everywhere, and before long, he stood along in a pile of firewood. He took a breath and turned his attention to the ferris wheel and the clown. For some reason, the dummy could feel the clowns eyes on him, and started to head in that direction. Before long, he had reached the base of the ferris wheel and stared up at the tower of torture before him. He waited for the perfect moment, then jumped onto the closest compartment.

In a matter of seconds he was at the top, directly confronting the clown. “So then, you da boss, huh?” the dummy remarked. “I gotta say, I was expecting someone taller.”

The clown continued to sneer at him and said, “While I appreciate the sense of humor you’ve got, it seems a little misplaced! I’m the clown! I should be making the jokes! Meanwhile, I’ve got something to laugh about!” He pointed at the sniveling pile of flesh at his feet and promptly kicked the girl off of the ferris wheel and watched her plumet.

The dummy sprinted towards the clown, seeing that he was distracted, and pulled out a wooden club with nails on the tip. He slammed it with all his strength into the back of the clowns head, and to his surprise the head went flying! However, to the dummy’s surprise, the head bounced back on a spring and slammed him across the face. The dummy flew across the top of the ferris wheel, and the clown was on top of him in a flash.

“I got plenty more tricks in store than that! You’re gonna have to try a lot harder than that to kill me!”

The clown pulled out a scythe from seemingly nowhere and swung it at the dummy’s head. The dummy barely had enough time to pull out a hammer to block and swiftly counter attacked. The clown jumped back, but not before dropping a jack-in-the-box on his chest. The music played very quickly, and the dummy was blown over the edge of the ferris wheel.

He hit the ground with a thud and immediately got back up. The clown had jumped down after him, and he pulled out a massive club and took up a fighting stance. The clown hit the ground with a sproing and immediately ran towards the dummy, his scythe at the ready. When the clown was within the dummy’s range, the dummy swung with all his might, but the clown jumped over and sliced of the dummy’s head. The head flew from the body, landing several feet away. The body slumped over, all signs of life gone.

The clown let out a laugh. “HA! Is that all you got? To think that the one thing I was a little worried about would be this easily defeated!”

He walked over to the head and picked it up to gloat. To his surprise, the head said, You’re not da only one wit tricks! as the dummy’s body impaled him with a broadsword. The clown sputtered and went limp, falling off to the ground.

The dummy walked over and picked up his head and screwed it back on.

“Dat’ll teach him. All I gotta do now is ta take out da remaining small fry, and I can meet up wit da old man again.”

Unknown to him, the other toys were watching the fight, and when the clown was defeated, the toys were surprised that the clown lost. Half of the toys wanted to run and spread out. The other half of the toys wanted to band together to defeat the dummy. They decided that the toys that wanted to band together to defeat the dummy would buy time for the other toys to get away. Meanwhile, the dummy was retrieving his greatsword from the dummy’s body. He had just gotten the sword free when the toys pounced, catching him off guard. He was exhausted from his fight with the clown and put up little resistance. He took out the majority of the toys before they subdued him, and before long, he was on the floor defeated. The clown had given the toys a protocol to follow if they defeated him, and they followed it to the letter. The dummy was immobilized and tossed into a box, and then buried the box underground. After his escape was impossible, the toys all scattered around the world, their one adversary trapped, for centuries to come.



The necromancer fiddled with his knife, running his fingers along its edge. The ocean surrounded him absolutely, and land was nowhere to be seen. The sun beat down on him and his boat, gleaming off his knife. Sometimes, the necromancer stared directly at the sun for extended periods of time just to relieve his boredom. He contemplated whether to start another wood carving project. So far he’d made three birds, four dogs, and five Angelas (his wife). He decided to start one more, going through his bag and finding a block of wood. When he carved, he seemed to become one with his environment, the rocking of his raft, the splashing of the ocean, the gleam of the sun. Thoughts of the plane crash seemed to fade away. Just as he was about to start his project, his peace was rudely interrupted.

“You’ll never finish it,” it said. Turning around, the necromancer saw its face, rotting in the sun, tattered clothes, and greenish gray skin, his companion zombie.

“You’ll be dead.”

“How do you know?” the necromancer replied defiantly.

“You ran out of water days ago, and you’ve been out at sea for weeks hoping you’ll miraculously end up on land and get back to Angela, but it’s game over.”

“I’m a necromancer. I’ll figure something out. In the meantime, just leave me alone and let me carve.” To this, the zombie simply leaned back in the raft, staring intently at the empty sea.

“Necromancers don’t exist,” the zombie replied. “They’re fantasy.”

“What! How could you say that!” the necromancer protested “You’re living, or rather dead proof that they do!” The zombie turned his head to the necromancer and stared him, dead in the eyes.

“I’m not dead or alive. I’m just a fantasy, a figment of your imagination.”

“No! You’re real. You must be real. I’m looking at you with my own eyes!” the necromancer countered, a definitive panic in his voice.

“Think about it for once! How am I in your boat one minute and the next you’re alone at sea! What, do I jump in and out of the boat to swim?!” The necromancer opened his mouth to argue, only to close it again without saying a word.

“That’s right! There’s no logical explanation for my existence. You’re just going mad. You’ve convinced yourself you’re a necromancer, and now you’re going to die without a shred of sanity.”

“I’ve been a necromancer all my life. I know who I am!” the necromancer screamed.

“Tell me then, when your mother died, why did you not resurrect her?! Did you not love her, or were you simply not able?!” The necromancer looked away, his hands shaking.

“If I were calling the shots, I’d make my amends, take that knife, run across my throat, and die with a little honor!”

“JUST SHUT UP AND LET ME BE!” the necromancer screamed, turning away.

The zombie scowled, taken aback.

“Fine,” it muttered spitefully. “But think about what I said.” When the necromancer looked up, the zombie was gone, and he was left alone at sea. The necromancer picked up his knife slowly, hands shaking. In it he saw a reflection. The reflection of a starved and unrecognizable man, a man with tattered clothes and jutting cheekbones, a man without a life worth living.


I am running down the street, panting, and I turn around to look behind me, but don’t see the giant hole right in front of me.

“Ahhhh,” I yell as I fall into the hole.

It looks like a series of tunnels. But it’s not dirt. It’s stone? They are super fancy with engravings in them, so I start to follow along them to see if there is another exit, because clearly I can’t go back the other way.

After what feels like a half an hour of walking I see a slight, rosey-ish glow in my vision of the tunnel. I run towards it, and there’s a staircase. It leads to the basement of a house from what it seems. I walk up the stairs, and I walk into what looks like a basement or a cellar of some sort. I don’t know what this is. It might be a house? I walk up the stairs, and I slowly open the door. I walk into the kitchen, and I’m wondering where I am and whose house this is. From the looks of it, it doesn’t look like a small house.

All of a sudden, a girl walks into the kitchen. She looks a few years younger than me.

“Who are you?” she asks.

“My name is Rose,” I reply. “Something mysterious happened, and I don’t know where I am. Where are your parents?”

“They are out here on the terrace,” she says. “Come on, I’ll take you to them.”

She grabs my hand and skips all the way to the terrace where her parents are. While I’m walking through the house, I notice it’s so beautiful, with marble floors in some parts and a grand staircase leading up to the second level. We step out onto the terrace, and her parents are sitting on lounge chairs talking and drinking lemonade.

The little girl says to her parents, “Mom, Dad, this girl showed up in our kitchen.”

“Um, Lily honey, can you go inside please?” they say.

The little girl whose actual name is Lily skips inside and up the stairs and out of sight.

“Where did you come from?” they ask.

“I fell into a hole, and there was a tunnel with a faint glow at the end, so I followed it, and I ended up here.”

“Hold on,” they say.

They started whispering to each other, and I only caught a few words like, Who is she? What should we do?

“Where do you live?” they ask me.

“Well, I was a runaway, so I didn’t really have one place,” I told them.

I kept quiet, not because I didn’t want to tell them, but because I couldn’t remember all of it.

“Okay, go inside, and Lily will show you a spare room until we get this figured out,” they say.

“Okay,” I say.

“Lily!” they shout to Lily who’s prancing around inside.

“Honey, can you show Rose a spare guest bedroom?”

“Okay,” Lily says.

“You can stay in one of our many guest bedrooms until we figure this out?”

I follow Lily inside, where she leads me up the grand staircase to a guest bedroom that is very extravagant with lots of fancy things.

“Here you go,” she tells me.

“Okay, thanks,” I say back.

I sit down on the giant bed and think of why I got here. I was taken from my family when I was little and kept for many years there, at that house. I finally escaped from the house and have been a runaway ever since.

And that leads to now, falling into a hole and ending up here. Wow. I think to myself how it has been rough for the last couple of years. Maybe this nice family can help me.

I am so tired I lay down on the bed, and the soft, comfortable comforter lulls me into a deep sleep.

While I am sleeping, Lily’s parents come up to make sure I was situated.

“Rose seems like such a nice girl, but who is she?” they ask each other, but I don’t hear them because I am still fast asleep.

I wake up the next morning in the soft, comfortable bed and sit up. I can’t believe all that has happened to me. And I can’t believe I ended up here.

I walk into the kitchen, and Lily says hi to me. Lily’s parents say good morning to me also.

“Oh no, what happened to your arm?” Lily’s mom says suddenly to me, as she noticed I am clutching my arm.

My arm had a long deep cut on the side of my arm that was starting to turn blue, black, and purple. I must have not have seen it yesterday because I was wearing a jacket.

“When I fell into the hole I must scraped it on a nail that was sticking out as I fell,” I say to Lily’s parents.

“Well, we must take you to the doctor and make sure it wasn’t a rusty nail and that you have your tetanus shots updated,” they say to me.

“Oh no, that’s not necessary. It doesn’t hurt that much,” I say to them even though it did hurt, a lot.

“No no no, we must. When we find your family, we must return you with a good arm.”

I knew in my heart that they would never find my family though. I didn’t even know who they were.

“Okay, I will call Dr. Smith to schedule an appointment with her,” Lily’s mom says to her dad.

The Doctor’s Office

*Ring Ring*

Dr. Smith answers the phone, “Hello, this is Dr. Smith. How can I help you?”

“Hi, Judy. This is Penny from the Robinsons.”

“Oh, hi, Penny. It’s nice to talk to you again. How can I help you?”

“Well, this girl showed up in our secret tunnels, you know the ones that were the old maid quarters, and we have no idea who she is. She also has a giant cut on her arm that she says was cut on a nail.”

“Can you make sure she has her shots updated, and while you’re at it, will you take some blood and see if you can find out where she is from and who her family is?”

“Yeah sure, no problem.”

The next day…

“Rose, come on. We’re going to take you to Dr. Smith to make sure you arm is alright,” Penny says to me.

“Okay,” I say.

We get in the car and drive to Dr. Smith’s office, where she is waiting for us in the waiting area.

“Hi, Rose. My name is Dr. Smith. Let’s go to a room and make sure your arm is alright.


We walk to a room, and Dr. Smith checks out my scraped up arm. She looks it over and then rolls over to the computer on her little wheely chair.

“Okay, Rose it looks like it’s just a very deep cut, but I’m going to have to take some blood so I can make sure it wasn’t infected since you don’t have your tetanus shots, correct?”

“Yeah, okay.”

I know I don’t have my tetanus shots updated since I’ve been on the run since I escaped.

“Okay, this is only going to hurt a little bit, okay?” Dr. Smith says to me.

“Okay,” I say back to her.

She takes a little needle out of the cabinet, and it only hurts a tiny bit.

“Okay, I will get the results back in a few days, but until then I’ll wrap your arm up so nothing gets in it.”

“Okay,” I say to Dr. Smith.

“Okay, thanks, Judy. See you later,” Penny says to Dr. Smith.

I really hope I don’t have anything wrong, so I don’t cause this nice family any more trouble.

We pull into the driveway, and once again I’m astonished of the view of house from the outside. When we get inside, I want to lay down since I just got some blood taken, so I’m very tired.

“I’m going to lay down,” I say to Penny.

“Okay,” she says.

I walk up the stairs and start walking towards the room I am staying in, when a spark of light catches my attention from one of the rooms over a few. I want to check it out to see what it is, so I walk over to it and peek inside.

It’s a beautiful mint colored room that has a light reflector on the window that makes rainbows dance across the room. I think to myself, Oh, this is probably Lily’s room or a playroom for her.

I’ll ask Penny about it later after I get some sleep. When I’m back in my room, I lay down, and my eyelids quiver as I fall into a deep sleep…

The Doctor’s Office

“Okay, let’s see what we can find out about Rose from her results and make sure she is okay,” I say to myself.

As I scroll down through the results, it looks like her arm is alright which is good. She will just need to bandage and watch it.

I look for any traces in her DNA which will help us find her family or any of her relatives.

Okay, blood type, blah, blah, blah. This is weird. “What is this?” I ask myself. Okay, DNA and genes. Wait, what?! O-M-G…

The next morning…

I wake up in the morning as the sun shines brightly into the window and walk down the stairs into the kitchen.

“Hey, Penny, is that mint blue room upstairs Lily’s?”

“… No, it’s not.”

“Whose is it?”

“It was our other daughter’s room. Her name was Aguamarine, or for short, Agua.”

“Where is she now.”

“She was taken from us at a very young age, so we don’t know. We searched high and low, but we never could find her,” she added.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I say to Penny.

She just looked sad, so I brought something else up.

“Where’s Lily?”

“Outside, you can join her if you want.”

I walk outside to see Lily jumping on a trampoline up and down.

“Hey, Lily, can I join you?”

“Sure!” she says to me in a high voice.

I climb up the ladder and join her. I feel like a bird soaring through the clouds as I jump higher and higher. I feel like I could jump right to the moon. A few hours later, after a few games of tag, Penny yells from inside the house.


“Can you come inside please?”


I skip inside, my stomach still fluttering from jumping on the trampoline.

“What’s up?”

Penny and Sam (Lily’s dad) are standing inside next to Dr. Smith.

“Dr. Smith is here with the test results about your arm, Rose,” Penny says to me.

“So the results came back, and your arm is doing just fine. You will just need to wrap it and make sure to take care of it,” Dr. Smith says to me.

“But… ”

“While I was looking through your DNA results, a thing popped up on my computer, and I thought it was one of my other clients, but when I clicked on it, it wasn’t. It was from you.”

“A DNA match… ”

“You are the missing daughter of Penny and Sam… ”

I don’t know what to say. I feel like I’m about to faint. I can’t get anything to come out of my mouth. I can’t believe this just happened…

The Fox and the Forest

It all started with my cousin, Penny. She woke me up before the sun had risen, begging me to go hunting with her.

“Felicity, please come with me… Nobody else is up yet, and you know that I don’t like going out and about in the forest alone. Especially when it’s dark out,” Penny groaned. She pawed at me playfully.

“Penny, I really don’t want to go hunting right now.” I glanced at my aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and parents. They were all still asleep. Unlike most foxes, my family lived and hunted in a pack. We were unique in that way. Anyway, the Den was cozy and warm, and I didn’t want to go out into the cold morning air.

Penny was relentless, though. After a while, I gave in. We walked to the entrance of the Den. The birds had just started their morning songs, and the sun was slowly starting to rise. I sniffed the air, which smelled like rain and flowers.

We walked in peaceful silence. When we got to the River, Penny found a worm and dangled it in front of my snout. I devoured it and dug around in the mud to find one for her. We had played this game since we were able to hunt. Soon, the sun was up, and our stomachs were full.

That’s when the storm arrived. I had sensed it when I woke up, but I had pushed it away, thinking it was nothing. A cloud blocked the sunlight. I looked up and noticed that it was dark gray, a sign that the storm would be big and really wet.

“Penny — ” I was cut off by a loud crack of thunder and a flash of lightning. A big, fat raindrop landed on my nose, and the rain started coming down hard. Penny and I scampered under the trees, hoping for shelter from the rain, but the trees were no help. The rain still leaked through the thick leaves.

“Grrr… ” I heard my least favorite sound: the growl of a wolf. I spun around and saw the leader of the wolves that lived in the forest, Winter. She was a huge wolf, with whitish-gray fur and gleaming, black eyes. Winter and her pack were horrible, any fox’s enemy.

Winter growled again, baring her sharp, white teeth.

“Felicity, run!” Penny howled. We ran in the opposite direction of Winter, towards the River. The River was now quickly flowing and sharp rocks jutted out of the water. Winter raced after us.

“Penny, we’ll have to try to jump across the River!” I shouted over the roar of the storm.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to!” Penny yelled back.

“You’ll have to try! I’ll go after you! Don’t worry, I believe in you!” Penny looked at the River with uncertainty and back at me.

“Okay, I’ll try!”

Penny took a running start. Then, she leaped gracefully into the air, but she didn’t leap far enough. Her paw grazed a rock and threw her off course. She fell into the River with a loud splash.

“Aagh, Penny!” I shrieked.

“What are you going to do now, fox?” Winter growled.

“I’m going to go after her,” I replied.

I jumped into the River. It was cold and disgusting. I hated water. I saw a flash of orangish-red fur and tried to propel myself through the water towards it. A log came passing by me, and I dug my claws into it so that I wouldn’t have to swim in the raging water. When I pulled myself out of the water, my head hit something. Then everything went black.

I opened my eyes and found myself resting on the forest floor. I had a sharp pain on my forehead, and my paws ached.

“Felicity! You’re awake!” I heard a familiar voice. I turned and saw my favorite fox in the whole entire forest, Penny. Her fur was dirty and matted, and I figured that I probably looked the same. I stood up unsteadily and looked around. We were in a part of the forest that I had never been to. The trees were taller and darker, the ground was a lot rockier, and there were a lot more spiky bushes. I was lying on a tiny patch of brownish moss.

“Penny, where are we?” I asked. My voice was a little raspy.

“I think we might be in the Dark Forest. It sure looks like it, from what Grandfather told us,” Penny said.

Our grandfather was a traveling fox. He traveled to many forests, and he would always come back and tell us what he had seen. He had once told us about the Dark Forest, the place that the River had taken us. He had said that it was particularly unpleasant and not a place for a fox to live. Apparently there were “things too terrible to speak of” in the Dark Forest.

“We’re in the Dark Forest?!” I shrieked.

“Shush… You don’t want to yell in this forest. The Creatures will awake, whatever they are. Remember how Grandfather said that they come out when the sun goes behind the horizon? We have to get back before then,” Penny said.

“Oh, sweet Mother of Rabbits. How are we gonna get back?” I looked up. The sun was already high in the sky. “We will have to find some sort of shelter before the sun is gone.”

We began running in the direction that seemed like the direction of home. I was running a lot faster than Penny, who looked quite tired. And hungry. I slowed down, so she could catch up with me. She looked at me wearily.

“You okay, Penny?” I asked.

“Yes, I’m fine. Just a little tired. I’m not used to running this fast and this far,” she replied, panting. After a while, we stopped running, attempting and failing to find food.

The clouds in the sky started to turn pink and purple. My heart raced. The sky was turning darker and darker every second. I guessed that we only had a small amount of time left of daylight. Then, there was no light left.

“Oh my — ” I never heard what Penny was going to say. There was a terrible noise, like a sick eagle being eaten by a growling wolf. Penny edged closer to me. Then, we saw the first Creature of the night. It was almost indescribable. The dark made it hard to make out exactly what the Creature looked like, but I could partially see it. It had the yellowest teeth; gleaming, red eyes; horribleness; pain; and the worst things imaginable. The level of sound increased, telling me that more Creatures were coming close. We couldn’t see them completely, but I had a good idea of what they could do to a fox. It was like the Creature could bring back the worst memories and take away all happiness. It was the worst thing I had ever experienced in my whole life.

“Run!” I cried. But Penny was frozen with fear, whimpering. I nudged her, and she didn’t move. She slumped against me. More Creatures emerged from the depths of the forest. We were completely surrounded. It seemed like there was no way out.

Unexpectedly, Penny straightened up and shouted, “Felicity! There’s a gap right there! Hurry!” She ran off, and I followed her. The Creatures swiped at us, but we squeezed through the gap and darted into the forest.

We ran and ran and ran for the second time that day. It was completely dark, and we couldn’t see a thing; the dense leaves overhead blocked out all the light from the moon and the stars. I bumped into a tree once or twice, which slowed us down a lot.

Eventually, we couldn’t run anymore, so we tried to find a safe place to sleep. Penny suggested just sleeping up a tree, but that made no sense since foxes can’t climb trees. I guess she was just delirious from all the running that we had been doing and all the stuff we had been through. We walked for a little bit until we found a dark cave that looked calm and deserted.

“This might be okay,” I said. I peered inside to get a better view of the interior. The walls were nice and smooth. There were a few dead leaves that looked damp and a few fuzzy lumps that I assumed were dead mice. “Penny, there are mice! We could eat them!”

“Yeah,” Penny said. We lunged for the mice and gulped them down. They were really lean, and they seemed as though they had been malnourished when they were alive. They tasted weird and sour; they were nothing like the delicious worms and rabbits of my forest.

Bellies only halfway full, we curled up in the unfamiliar place and tried to fall asleep. Penny was a fast fall-asleeper, but not me. I had never slept away from home.

I adjusted my position so many times, but the cave wasn’t the same as the Den. I then realized that I was lying on a sharp rock. I pawed at it, trying to get it out of the way without waking Penny. It bounced away with a loud clatter.

Only partially satisfied, I lay on my side and fell into a deep, uneasy sleep, full of weird dreams.

I was walking happily through the forest. I hummed an old fox melody that had been passed on for generations. All of a sudden, the sky blackened. I was surrounded by things that looked like Creatures mixed with wolves. Then Penny was flying above me shouting misleading directions at me. Then she turned into Winter, the leader of the wolves. Winter-Penny came down and stared at me menacingly. She bared her teeth and growled.

I woke up with a start. It had all been a horrible dream. Penny was already wide awake.

“You okay, Felicity? You were moaning and groaning in your sleep. And kind of shouting.”

“What did I… shout?”

“You were saying things about Winter and how she was attacking you. Well, the sun is up, so let’s go attempt and probably fail to find food.”

I laughed at this, even though it wasn’t a laughing matter. It just seemed crazy how my cousin and I were stuck in a creepy forest when just yesterday we had been joking around about worms. Penny frowned at me.

“Felicity, this isn’t a joke. We need to find our way home. But first, we’ve got to find the River,” she said, glaring at me. I was surprised. I’m usually the one who thinks logically and stays on task. Penny just goofs off most of the time. It was like we had switched roles.

“Well, okay then. Let’s go find food and then the River. Or find food by the River. I don’t know,” I said. Penny stopped glaring, but she still seemed a little stiff and distant. I wondered why. Maybe because I laughed? But Penny was not usually upset by things as small as that. I thought about that as we looked for food.

I dug around in the mud. Mud, mud, rocks, mud. Nothing but mud. Out of the blue, I glimpsed something pinkish and wriggling. Slowly, it came into view. “Penny, look! A worm!” I turned around. Penny was facing the trees, just sitting there. “Penny? You okay?” I walked over to her and pawed at her back.

She turned around and looked at me like it was her first time seeing me. Her eyes looked blank. Then, she bared her teeth and growled. She pounced, and I scurried backwards. It was terrifying. Penny had never acted like this, ever, even during our worst disagreements.

“Penny! It’s me… Felicity… ” Penny’s eyes looked full and normal again. But that encounter scared me. “I found a worm.” I split the worm in half and gave the bigger half to Penny. I had the idea that she had acted weirdly because of the lack of food.

I started to walk in the direction that I thought we had come in the night before. Penny followed me. Soon, she was acting mostly like herself, but she was a lot quieter. I finally gathered up the courage to ask her what happened earlier.

“Penny, what happened earlier? When you went kind of crazy. You know, you pounced and growled. At me,” I said cautiously. Penny looked confused.

“Wha — Oh, yeah. Sorry that I was rude about your dream,” Penny said. I looked at her weirdly. But before I could say anything else about it, I saw something shiny. There was a gushing sound, and I realized that it was the River.

“The River! Penny, look!”

“Yay. Awesome. I have to stay here, though. For the greater good of the Creatures,” Penny mumbled. It sounded like she was reciting a story, like it wasn’t actually real. My heart skipped a beat.

“The Creatures? Why?”

“Because. They need me.”

Something was very wrong. Penny, wanting to stay with the Creatures? She was obviously possessed or hypnotized or something like that. Grandfather had said that if one got too close to a Creature, they would never be the same. Unless they got help from someone unreachable for a fox. The Wise Old Owl, who lived up in a tree right next to the Den, and foxes can’t climb trees (obviously). The Wise Old Owl knew all the secrets of the whole world, even the human secrets and the wolf secrets. But she would only share the secrets if you were in critical need and even then, only if you paid. And she never, ever comes onto the ground.

Suddenly, an idea popped into my head. “Penny, where the river leads, the Creatures will be there. Remember? We’ve lived with the Creatures all of our lives. They are… um, our family.” Penny’s curse must have made her really unintelligent or willing to do anything that had to do with Creatures, because she nodded with excitement and grinned.

“This is an amazing idea.”

I started walking in the opposite direction from the river, but Penny’s voice interrupted my thoughts. It was still vague, and it still sounded hypnotized. “This place seems familiar in my memories of the Creatures. Are we close to them?”

This place did indeed seem familiar. Right at the edge of the Dark Forest, there were fox paw prints and a big patch of moss. It was the place where Penny had woken me up on our first day in the Dark Forest. There was that tree… and those rocks… and… a Creature? My heart leapt, and I bit back a yell. What was it doing in the daylight?

“Oh Creature, I am your humble servant.” Penny bowed down to the Creature and motioned for me to do the same. I wanted to give her a disgusted look, but I had to play along. Reluctantly, I bowed down next to her.

The Creature made me feel horrible, but its power seemed weaker this time. I held all of my feelings inside and tried to avoid gazing at its ugliness. It was huge, with twelve spiky legs and many teeth. It stood on all of its twelve legs, and it had one pair of gruesome pincers. Its small amount of fur was greasy and greenish-gray. It looked like it was sweating goo, and it was drooling reddish brown saliva. It was pure evil.

I gritted my teeth and said, “I am… totally your humble servant, Creature.” It was the exact opposite of what I wanted to say. Penny looked at me proudly.

Without a warning, the Creature jumped and tried to attack Penny. Penny just stood there, willing to do anything for any Creature. I acted quickly, pushing her away just in time. “Penny, we need to go! This isn’t a Creature, it’s something disguised as a Creature!” I lied. Penny looked shocked. She looked like she might be sick for a moment, then she bared her teeth and growled menacingly.

“Grr… You imposter!” She got ready to attack, but I nudged her towards the river.

“We are wasting time, Penny. We need to get home. This won’t solve anything.”

Penny let my words sink in for a second, then she let me lead her away. The Creature trailed slowly behind us, leaving an icky green sludge behind it. It was really weird how it wasn’t attacking us. It was like the lion that Grandfather had told me that he had seen once, stalking its prey before attacking.

I kept looking over my shoulder. Every time I looked, it was still there, but it never showed any signs of attacking It was really quite bizarre. Maybe, a thought occurred to me, it can’t attack during the day, and that’s why it only comes out at night. That is probably why it is so weak right now and creepily following us.

Gradually, things became more and more familiar. Less and less evil-looking. I finally saw a place the Mama had taken me and my sisters and brothers a lot when we were cubs. It was an hour’s walk from the Den, so we had to be close. I was worried, though. The Creature was still following us, and I didn’t want to lead it to my family.

I decided to do something dangerous. I tried to find a place, any place, where a dead tree had fallen over the river. The storm had knocked over a tall, skinny tree, so I hopped up onto it. It wobbled and swayed when Penny jumped up behind me. We crossed safely, but somehow the Creature did too, even though the branch would probably be too weak to support its weight, and it had no wings. This was part of my plan, though.

After a little while, we passed the Den. I looked at it longingly. I just couldn’t stand seeing it and not stepping inside. Unable to stand it, I told Penny to wait outside a little ways away from the Den. She did as she was told, with only the Creatures and the “Imposter” on her mind.

The Den smelled great. Like home. I was home. “Mama! Papa!” I called through the dark tunnel that led to the main room of our den.

“Felicity? Is that you? Where have you been?” Mama’s voice rang throughout the tunnel. I picked up my pace and found her and Papa and most of the family in the room. Everyone’s eyes lit up at the sight of me, but they noticed quickly that Penny wasn’t there. Because of that, most of their smiles faded and turned into confused looks.

My Aunt and Uncle both asked at the same time, “Where is Penny?”

So I told them the whole story, of how we wound up in the Dark Forest to seeing the Creatures to Penny being cursed to the Creature following us home. They looked more and more concerned every second. “So what’s happening now? Why are you here if you haven’t broken the curse?” my annoying little cousin Liza whined. But I couldn’t blame her. Penny was her sister, after all. “Do you even know how to break the curse?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. We have to do is talk to the Wise Old Owl. She knows everything, and she might be able to break the curse.” I felt like I was giving some sort of speech because everyone nodded and listened to me with thoughtfulness. Before, nobody took me seriously, and nobody listened to me.

We shared ideas of how to get the Wise Old Owl to come down. My brother even suggested pretending that the forest was on fire and her tree was burning up, but then we realized the she would know whether or not the forest was burning since she knows everything.

Finally, we decided on a boring, basic idea. It was to catch a fish and offer to give it to her if she gave us the information we needed. But we planned to do that after leading the Creature away from the Den. I knew just the place to lead it to. The Wolf Den. My family agreed that we should do that. Papa insisted on doing it by himself, but Mama refused.

“Either we all go, except for the little ones, or none of us go. That’s the way it is. We have to stick together,” she declared.

So we set off. The Wolf Den wasn’t too far; it was a short walk. My Aunt stayed home to look after the little fox cubs and the rest of us filed out of the Den one by one. We all walked over to Penny, who was still standing many steps away from the Den. “Penny, these foxes are our friends. They’ll… um, help us get home,” I said nervously.

Penny just nodded and kept looking at the “Imposter” angrily. Papa and Mama led the way to the Wolf Den, having been there many times to make deals. My Uncle and Aunt were close behind them, and everyone else was in between them. I was in the rear so that I could keep an eye on Penny. The Creature was behind us, still leaving a trail of green sludge.

After a short time, we reached Wolf Territory. The wolves had made a huge borderline out of fallen branches and pinecones. There were two muscular-looking wolves standing guard. One snapped at us, ready to attack.

“We… We have a gift for the wolf pack,” Papa said.

“What’s that thing in the back?” said one wolf. “The ugly thingy.”

“The gift, obviously. Can’t you wolves see?” Papa said. He was getting worked up and tense, which wasn’t part of the plan. Mama nudged him, and he calmed down slightly.

“Okay, we’ll take the gift. You can bring it to the entrance of our den and leave it there.” They let us pass, and we marched to the entrance of their den. Our loud marching alerted Winter and her sons and daughters that we were coming, and they met us next to the entrance of their home.

“What are all of you foxes doing here?” Winter’s oldest son, Orvar, grumbled. He glared menacingly at us.

Mama said calmly, “We’re here to deliver a gift. If you look behind us, it’s right there. See?” Winter’s eyes shifted from Mama to the Creature that was standing right behind me. “It will protect you. We have found it, and now we are giving it to you as a peace offering.”

Winter and her children stared at it for a few moments. Then they bared their teeth and smiled evilly. “Okay then. Give it to us and never return! You foxes are banished from our land! You were banished years ago!” Winter said. Everyone tensed, ready to fight the wolves. But we didn’t have to. The sky did it for us.

I looked up and noticed that my plan had worked. The sky was turning dark purple, and there were bright little dots scattered around up high. My family realized this, and we slowly backed away. This aggravated all the wolves.

“Where are you stupid savages going?” Winter’s daughter, Callisto, said. We said nothing and let the Creature do its job. It started running towards the wolves. Winter’s face was full of terror and so were Callisto’s and Orvar’s and all the other wolves’. But before I could see their terrible fate, Mama and Papa led our pack back into the woods, away from all the chaos.

When we were safe in Fox Territory, we rejoiced. We whooped and barked and howled, nuzzling each other and licking each other affectionately. I was only reminded of the Wise Old Owl when I saw Penny looking out of place among the others, standing on the sidelines with that blank look on her face.

“Hey, Penny. You okay?” I asked her with gentleness.

“I want to go home. I want to be reunited with our family, our real family. These foxes. are not the same as the Creatures. Take me to them. You have to,” Penny ordered. I could tell that she was restless and I sighed.

“Fine. We leave at… dawn, okay? Dawn.”

Penny nodded firmly. I told Mama and Papa that we were leaving at dawn for the Wise Old Owl’s tree. Mama agreed and said that it would only be me, her, Papa and Penny. She said that the more foxes we brought along, the less likely the Wise Old Owl would be to accept our plea. She also said to call the owl Ms. Kokka because she would never respond if we called her “Wise Old Owl.”

I woke up to Mama and Papa pawing at me. Penny was standing behind them, looking as vacant and cursed as ever. Mama caught a salmon from the river as payment for Ms. Kokka’s services. Then we started off toward the Wise Old Owl’s — Ms. Kokka’s — oak tree.

“Felicity, are you sure we can trust these foxes?” Penny whispered. She looked scared.

“Of course. I’ve known Mama and — er, these foxes for a while. They’re taking us to the Wise Ol– I mean, the Creatures now. Woah.” We had arrived. The oak tree was ginormous. I could barely see the sky because there were so many leaves. Close to those leaves was a big, hollow hole. I caught a glimpse of a yellow beak.

“What are we doing here?” Penny demanded.

“We just have to do an errand. Then, we’ll take you two to your home,” Mama said without missing a beat. She was amazing at pretending. “Oh, Ms. Kokkaaaaaaa!

The owl flew onto the closest branch near her nest and glared down at us. “What do you want, you idiotic, foolish, imprudent foxes?” Ms. Kokka’s voice was old and grumbly. She obviously hated her job, but the whole forest depended on her.

“We need your help! One of our dearest friends has been cursed! By creepy beasts that live in the Dark Forest!” Mama yelled.

“Surely you know there’s a price, after barking up my tree so many times,” Ms. Kokka said.

“Of course, Ms. Kokka. We don’t have much to offer you, except for a freshly caught salmon from the river. We hope you accept it in return for reversing the curse on our dear friend.”

“Well… ” My heartbeat quickened. “Since you went through all that trouble to get me a minuscule, infinitesimal salmon, I’ll help you. I’ll break the curse, but you must come up here.” The owl smirked. “I do not feel like flying down on such a hot, sweltering day.”

It wasn’t hot at all. Ms. Kokka clearly just wanted some entertainment. But I was willing to do almost anything to get my cousin back to normal. “Let’s do it.” Mama was determined, too. And so was Papa. He was already making his way over to the tree. Penny decided to stay on the forest floor (which was probably for the best, because once we got to the top, we could tell Ms. Kokka who was really cursed — Penny, not some dear friend).

I started to climb the tree. No, I started to scratch at the tree. It was impossible to get a grip on the bark. I inched my way up to the closest branch, which I hurled myself onto to catch my breath. Mama and Papa emerged a minute later, gasping and panting. They were older and larger, so this would be way harder for them than it was for me. We slowly made our way up the tree, which was amazing. We were probably the first foxes in history who had ever climbed a tree. Wherever I stopped for breath, Mama and Papa stopped too.

Climbing was excruciating. I had always envied squirrels and raccoons, but now I was glad that I didn’t have to climb trees. The sun inched its way up along with me and Mama and Papa. By the time we were halfway up in the tree, the sun was halfway in the sky. The leaves of the oak tree blocked out its bright rays, but I still felt like I was burning up. My mouth was parched. I felt like I hadn’t eaten in five days. When I got up to that despicable owl’s lair, I would tell her just how evil she was. But she’s helping us make Penny normal again, I reminded myself.

Finally, just as the sky was turning purple, we reached the horrible Ms. Kokka’s nest. It looked disappointingly normal. I had thought that she would have human tools and creations (like those weird glowing things that humans tap and they talk to spirits), but it just had a bunch of sticks and hay. There was a golden circle with markings on it, but that was the only special thing in there.

“Ms. — Ms. Kokka?” I asked. The old owl emerged from the shadows.

“Yes? Oh, my, You’re actually here? I thought you would never be able to do it,” Ms. Kokka said.

“We climbed your tree. Now, please break the curse on my cousin. Please. She’s the fox down there. She got cursed by the Creatures, and now she thinks she’s one of them. We really need your help. Please.”

“Well, I haven’t done magic in many years.”

“Come on. We’re counting on you!”

Ms. Kokka nodded mysteriously. Then she started chanting in a weird language. Purple dust with gold flecks in it started flying around her. Her eyes started glowing yellow, and she rose up without even flapping her wings.

The purple dust drifted down the tree. It swirled around Penny. Her eyes widened as her paws lifted off the ground. The blankness left her eyes and her shoulders relaxed. Ms. Kokka brought the dust back up the tree, and then it swirled around Mama, Papa, and me. It brought us down to the ground, right next to Penny, who rushed to me and nuzzled me.

“Felicity! I can’t believe that happened! Oh, sweet Mother of Rabbits! I’m so glad that I’m okay! And that time with the Creatures was insane! Mother of Rabbits! Wow!”

We made our way back to the Den. The whole family embraced us and smothered Penny with nuzzles and licks.

Later, Penny and I vowed, under the light of the fireflies, that we would never let anything bad happen to each other ever again.

Toys R Us Ripoff

When I was three, my parents went to a Toys R Us store, seeking to get me the best birthday present I would ever get. They could have went to any Toys R Us store and picked any present, but no, they picked a robotic dog, a robotic dog that would change everything… Duh duh duhhhhh!

When they brought it home and I opened it, I was overcome with joy. I had always wanted a dog! (Even though it was a robot, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference.) I begged my parents to help me turn it on, and when they did, my happiness slipped away. It didn’t turn on. It just sat there glitching, while I sat there crying. My parents took the dog into our closet, never to be seen again. Or at least that’s how I wish it went.

Because of those events, my family and I became cat people!!! We got five (alive) cats named Marmalade, Marble, Salty, BB, and Jinky. One day after I had come home from school, I realized I forgot to check on the cats. I raced up the stairs and into our cat room. I pushed by the doorway to count my cats.

“Okay, there’s Marbles’s here so is Jinky, BB, and Salty. Great, all four,” I said. Then, I stopped. “Don’t I have five cats.” I looked around. “Marmalade? Marmalade, where are you?”

I looked around my whole house, but there was no Marmalade.

Suddenly, I heard beeping behind me, while I was checking my parents’ bedroom. I spun around quickly, but there was nothing there. Over the next couple days, I did everything to find Marmalade, from missing posters to screaming “Marmalade” everywhere I went, which got me a lot of weird looks because most people thought I was screaming for jam. But things got weirder. Every other day, a cat would go missing, bringing more posters and more pain and more of those weird beeping sounds.


On the last day, I raced home from school. Only one cat was left, Jinky, my favorite. I ran up stairs as fast as one could, and I pulled the cat door open. It was empty. Jinky was gone. My heart froze. This can’t be happening. Then suddenly, I started to hear the beeping noise getting louder and louder, interrupting me from my thoughts. I looked to both of my sides, What is that?

“Jinky, is that you?” I asked.

Then I saw it. My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach. Our closet was open. I slowly turned around, and there was my robo dog… very much alive.

The Psychic

The psychic lived in an old house on the end of a deserted street. Her house was 200 years old and was situated on a volcano. She never left her house, and she only drank herbal tea. She believed that drinking herbal tea would make her live longer, so she drank 20 cups of it a day.

After the death of her husband, Mike, she had gotten 60 hamsters to console her and to keep her company. Many people who lived in the village below her thought she was weird, but at least she had three patients that came to see her every day. Jen, Madeleine, and Lola had been her best friends and patients since the age of five, and they spent all of their free time together.

On the psychic’s birthday, a beautiful, sunny day in November, the three patients decided to plan a party for the psychic. They were going to bring her on a hike to the top of the volcano for a beautiful picnic. Once the psychic found out about their plan, she was furious they had planned something for her. She had always spent her birthdays with her 60 hamsters and 40 cups of herbal tea. This was the one time she had to be alone with her prized possessions and not with her friends that literally spent every hour of the day with her. She couldn’t go up to her best friends and only patients and tell them that she didn’t want to go to her party, so instead she just kept her mouth shut.

At the top of the volcano, after two tortuous hours of loud screaming and singing had gone by, the psychic said to her patients, “Ladies, ladies, listen up. I am very grateful that you have planned all of this for me, but something doesn’t feel right… We should go back. I am getting a vision of my hamsters drinking all of my herbal tea.”

“Nonsense!!” Jen said. “This is our chance to do something nice for you. Forget about your tea and your hamsters for once.”

“Please,” she begged. “Oh wait,” she said, “I also just remembered today is the day of the month when I must clean the hamsters’ cage. I have to get back immediately!”

“Come on, Nadia,” Madeleine said, “stop making excuses.”

“But I’m not making excuses.”

“You need to spend some time away from that old, smelly house of yours. You barely go outside. You only drink herbal tea, and you wonder why people think you’re weird.”

Nadia just stood there shocked. No one had ever dared to insult her love for her tea. Her friends had just crossed a line. That was it. Nadia had finally lost her temper. Her face became as red as a tomato and her eyes as dark as the night. She was determined to save the loves of her life!

All of a sudden, clouds came out of nowhere and covered the sun, leaving the sky gloomy and gray. The three girls felt a rumbling beneath their feet, and a giant cloud of smoke rose from the peak of the volcano. This massive gust of wind threw them off of their feet. As they stood up, they found Nadia facing them with explosions of lava surrounding her.

As she spoke, her voice cracked at the beginning of every sentence, and her voice had become much deeper.

She grabbed her least favorite patient, Jen, by the arm and said, “Jen, in your future I see you dying by being thrown off the side of a volcano.”

She picked her up and threw her into the magma. Next, she reached for her patient Madeleine and gave her the same fate as Jen. As she went to grab her last patient, Lola, she felt the ground beneath her rumble, and before she could take another step, the rock she was stepping on had broken into millions of pieces, and she was falling into the volcano. The last thought that crossed her mind as she was getting closer to the end of her life was a vision of her hamsters drinking her herbal tea.

Taking out the Garbage

I yawn and look up at the pool blue ceiling, and then it hits me. No! Today’s the day. The day that I have to take out the garbage. I love garbage. I collect garbage, and I’ve been saving all the garbage I love most! For example, my rainbow tin can with a crab on it that’s from Mexico or my collection of Disney plastic bags. But my mami said that today the garbage is going in the garbage.

I roll over in my bed and cover my head with my fluffy pink blanket my abuela gave me when she visited.

“Nya, get up. It’s the day for you to take all the garbage out,” my mom says with glee.

“No, I won’t,” I grumble. “And for the last time, it’s not garbage. It’s my treasure!”

“Nya, for the last time, you have to take the garbage out, so you can collect more. Wouldn’t it be nice to have new fresh garbage?” my mami says, making an excellent point.

“Yes, yes it would, but this is my precious garbage. How can I just give it away like… trash?” I say.

“Nya Solone Rodrigues, get down here this instant. Or I’ll burn it, and you know I will,” my mami says with satisfaction.

“Fine,” I say and hop up on my too-hard bed and trudge very slowly down the stairs. I’ll do what she wants, but I won’t do it fast. When I get downstairs, my mami has a wide smile on her face and a huge garbage bag in her hand.

I grab the garbage bag and give her my best stink eye. I walk out the door with my mom trailing closely behind, to make sure I don’t hide the bag somewhere and use a decoy like I did last time on garbage day. I walk up to the garbage bag and kiss my garbage knowing this is one of the last times I ever will. My mami opens the blue lid, and without looking, I slowly lift my garbage bag up and kiss it one last time and sling it in.

I immediately start crying. I blubber like a baby as I say, “It’s my garbage.”

My mami, now with sympathy in her eyes, says, “I’m sorry, sweetie, but you know this is the only way.”

“I know,” I whisper. “I know.”

My mami says, “At least you’ll have your memories.”

I exclaim with delight, “You’re right. I’m gonna go make a poem!”

And I write this:

I Remember

A poem by Nya

I remember my lucky rainbow lobster can from Mexico.

I remember the gum wrapper I found on the ground in the shopping mall.

I remember the hippie headband I found soaking wet down at the beach.

I remember the toilet roll I found at the Macy’s department store bathroom.

I remember the little fancy hand napkins I also found at the Macy’s department store bathroom.

I remember the doll head I found in my cousin’s backyard.

I remember how the doll was missing a tooth and had blood all over its head.

I remember my sister’s first pineapple rind.

I remember the tooth I found in the sandbox.

I remember the plastic bottle I found with Dora all over it.

I remember the Elsa and Anna chicken noodle soup can.

Oh trash, oh trash it doesn’t matter if you’re here or in the garbage can. I will always always remember you.

Pencil Sharpener Dream Dilemma

Part One:

“Guess what!” Kevun exclaimed.

“What?” his sister Patricia said.

“Last night I had a dream that a pencil sharpener was trying to kill me!” Kevun said.

“For Christ’s sake, Kevun, why do you keep having such horrible dreams?” asked Patricia.

Kevun thought for a moment. “Maybe… it was because this kid. He’s a big bad bully, and his name is Dylun. He threatened me yesterday that he was going to kill me with a pencil sharpener!”

“I wonder how he thought he was going to kill you with a freaking pencil sharpener?!” said Patricia.

At breakfast, Kevun decided that he was going to ask Dylun how he had planned to kill him with a damn pencil sharpener. Kevun left for school earlier than usual because he knew that Dylun always loved to play basketball before school started.

So, when Kevun met up with Dylun, Kevun asked, “Remember yesterday how you said that you were going to kill me with a pencil sharpener.”

“Yeah, I still will kill you with that,” Dylun said as he made a 3-pointer.

“So, how do you plan to kill me?”

“Why would I tell you that?” said Dylun as he laughed.

Kevun raged with anger! Kevun was actually pretty strong. “Yo, you want to fight?!” Kevun shouted.

“Oh yeah, game on,” Dylun challenged back.

Kevun and Dylun had never been friends. They were always arguing and fighting, and Dylun had always bullied Kevun. They were both pretty even when they fought, but finally Dylun slipped, and Kevun grabbed a hold of his neck.

“Aha, gotcha.”

“Get me out of this.” Dylun barely could get those words out.

“Tell me how you intended to kill me with that pencil sharpener, and I’ll let you go,” Kevun demanded.

“Okay fine, I intended to use the sharp part of it to cut your neck and yeah, okay, now let me go!” Dylun yelled.

“Thanks.” Kevun scrambled away and ran straight to Mr. Littleton’s office (the principal) to tell him what Dylun had planned on doing. Back in the gym, Dylun was recovering from being choked…

Part Two:

In the end, both of the boys’ parents were called over to the school immediately. They had agreed that Kevun would get an after school detention, and Dylun would get two weeks suspension, during which he had to go to the hospital for mental help, and after that he would get an after school detention too. After all the punishments were over, things still weren’t that great between the two. Disputes were common between the two. One day, Dylun woke up and told his parents that he had a dream about a pencil killing him.

He explained to his parents what happened in the dream and then said, “Wait a moment, I know why I had this dream. The other day this kid Kevun threatened to kill me with a pencil.”

Dylun was lying of course, for Kevun would never do such a thing. Dylun ran off to school with his parents chasing after him. He was no match for his parents. So, when Dylun came to school, he acted as if it was a normal school day. He did this so when his parents called up the school, the school would say that he is acting perfectly normal, and that is exactly what happened. When school was over, Dylun saw that Kevun was standing alone waiting for his friend. Dylun ran up to Kevun and jumped onto and over Kevun’s shoulders. This totally caught Kevun by surprise. Immediately, Dylun engaged with Kevun, and quickly they were fiercely fighting each other.

Soon enough, a crowd had gathered around and was chanting, “FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!”

Even one kid started Instagram live-ing the scene. At the end, bystanders from the street broke up the fight and called up the school. It was talked over and agreed upon that Dylun would be expelled from the school, and Kevun would get a suspension. Kevun’s parents had decided that this wasn’t the right school for him and that he would go to a new school. In Kevun’s new school, he felt safer and had already made new friends. Kevun was still beaten up with scars from yesterday’s fight.

The Power Within (Part One)

One day in the middle of February, my dad, a genius scientist acknowledged by everyone across the world, made a machine to stop his fear because late at night he sees ghosts. These ghosts look like everyday people, but they have reflective, transparent skin and draped clothes that make them look creepy. So after making this machine, he loses his fear of ghosts, but it doesn’t work at the time. But two days later during the solar eclipse, I am skateboarding near the machine, when all of a sudden I am flying with my skateboard. And me being educated about my dad’s study of science, I assume since my dad’s invention is sun powered, it might have been the solar eclipse that caused me to have ghost-like powers. But maybe the gap between ghosts and humans is too great. But at the moment, I feel above everyone. I feel the breeze in the air and see the sun emerge from the solar eclipse. But wait, does that mean that I might fall? So I then go home with my flying abilities, and in addition, I learn I can fly without the skateboard. I make it home just in time to see the solar eclipse end. During dinner, I ask my dad if it is possible to fly.

He says, “Son, if you want to fly, we can make you a jetpack. If you want to soar, we’ll make you a hoverboard. Whatever you want.” As a side note, he says, “Kids these days and their crazy ideas.”

Then I go to sleep, confused on what I should do for the next day.

0800 Hours (Eastern Standard Time)

The Awakening

I wake up, and it’s five minutes till school. If I’m late, my dad said he wouldn’t get me my new isotopes, so I use my machinery to get on my clothes, brush my teeth, and stuff like that. Then with my new powers, I zoom off to school just in time to make it. I feel numb from the tingling and coldness of my special machine. Now it’s one minute. I use my hoverboard to zoom to school and make it with seconds to spare and dash into my seat. The teacher then starts her occasional speech about polynomials, and in my boredom I decide to doze off. When I wake up, the effect takes place immediately. When I wake up, someone throws a piece of chalk at my head, and inches away from my head it zooms back towards them. It shortstops a centimeter away from them, then drops to the floor. Everyone looks at me, and I realize I am a psychic. I get ready to call 911, then I decide to call my best friend Jelani, a kid who I went to school with. He is one of the greatest minds in psychology in the whole entire world. He tells me there is one person in the world that has had a case like mine. Dylan. I think, Wow, we were great friends in elementary school. I had heard that his parents partnered with my parents many, many times. I ask if I can see him, and they say that’s fine but try to keep it brief because he has been going through some emotionally challenging times. I walk into his room and see his room half sloppy on the gaming side and half clean on the nerd side of his room.

I say, “Wow, this looks really good,” and he responds by saying, “Well, when I game I feel free from the world,” which I totally get because I game only when I feel comfortable and when I can get into a proper mental state, like meditating but with more action.

I decide to use a calm approach to get him to talk about his powers, and I ask, “How cool would it be if we had our own powers like superheroes.”

And he responds by saying, “I don’t know. There’s bound to be some ups and downs of having superpowers.” I stare because of what he just said.

I see him thinking about how while playing around in his parents’ creativity ray, he earned the power to change reality as we know it.

I then say, “Your power is really cool,” and he responds with, “Are you really Jayden Tolliver?”

I tell him about how he stuck up for me. Then, I tell him about my powers. He tells me that he can’t change anything that might affect me, like making my parents the second smartest people in the world. I then tell him about how I gained my powers and how I found out he actually had powers.

The Agreement (00:00 hours)

At midnight, we agree to discuss our new powers since his mom thinks he is going through puberty, so we think his parents might think we are acting crazy. So we decide we would play one of our favorite games together and use our private chat to discuss what we would do henceforth.

Then around the middle, I find out from Jelani that my friend Noah also has a new ability, and I am laughing at that, so I just have to say to Dylan, “And so the plot thickens… ”

The plot thickens…

I get to my house where my secret hideout is located. I tell him no one in the world knows where it is, and we start to walk in the house. It is then I notice the door is unlocked, and the case that holds the spare key is gone. We walk into the house to find it ransacked. Luckily, my door’s special lock is still engaged. Then we notice the note. It says, If you want your parents back, you will have to give us your ability. Then I realize the only way they could have known all this. Jelani betrayed me. He is the only person alive who knows this fact besides Noah, who was with me the whole time.

To be continued…