The Orwellian Future of Reproductive Rights 

Abortion is a controversial topic, with its opponents believing that it equates to murder and its proponents believing that it is a basic human right. There are multiple ways to explain why abortion is necessary, but let us start with this: Women die giving birth to children. The whole process of giving birth is extremely intense and puts an intense amount of strain on the women’s body – enough to kill them – making childbirth extremely dangerous. The act of raising a child is long and expensive, especially in America. Hospital visits can cost tens of thousands of dollars, with or without insurance, not to mention the cost of baby supplies. If a ten-year-old girl wanted to adopt a baby, would you let her do it? No, of course not. This (hypothetical) girl does not have the money to take care of it and she knows nothing about taking care of a newborn baby. But what if she was raped and impregnated? Would you make her carry it to term, only so she could face strain on her body that has killed thousands of full grown women since human existence? Would you cram her head with knowledge of raising a child when she will soon face the academic burden of higher education? At what point does this go too far? Not to mention the stigma surrounding young mothers, teenage mothers, and single mothers? What would people think of that ten-year-old mother? There is no reset button, no undo button to save her now. But this could have been prevented, so many months ago, with one of the most controversial medical procedures today: Abortion. 

 With Roe v. Wade overturned last June, many states have immediately turned to taking advantage of the situation, banning several (if not all) forms of abortion, with little to no exception. But what is Roe v. Wade? In 1973, Norma McCorvey, a mother of two, was pregnant with her third child and wanted an abortion. However, she lived in Texas, where abortion was illegal except to save the mother’s life. With her attorneys, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, and under the pseudonym of “Jane Roe,” she won her case over her local district attorney, Henry Wade, stating that Texas’s abortion rules were unconstitutional. Furthermore, in 1973, the Supreme Court issued a decision holding that there is a due “right to privacy,” protecting women’s right to abortion. And so it was, for many years, until last June, when Roe v. Wade was overturned. With many states leaping to take advantage of it, many worry for the future of reproductive rights and compare it to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. From standpoints literary, moral, political, and historical, it is impossible to deny reproductive freedoms for women and other people with uteruses without having unconscionable foundations.  

Passages: 

Offred narrates: “But a chair, sunlight, flowers: these are not to be dismissed. I am alive, I live, I breathe, I put my hand out, unfolded, into the sunlight. Where I am is not a prison but a privilege, as Aunt Lydia said, who was in love with either/or.”

Atwood’s dystopian novel depicts a future America, where inalienable rights are taken away and women are objectified and only hold value through their fertility and spouse, and everyone lives under control of Christian extremists. Throughout the novel, there are many aspects of life that are notably oppressive, such as the restriction of several rights, abilities, and freedoms of women. One important thing to note is the obvious: this is a dystopian novel taking place in the U.S., and that the country was taken over by Christian extremists, transforming the country into a strict and cruel civilization shaped with patriarchy, constantly oppressing any who dare speak out against the society, renaming it Gilead, which is shocking, because no one has ever really written about a country as ‘progressive’ as the U.S. in a sort of Orwellian way. Though the novel doesn’t openly advocate abortion, it advocates reproductive rights by showing how women’s bodies are constantly in control by their male counterparts, doctors, and lawmakers. We see this when the main character, Offred, acts as narrator, guiding the readers through the basic “do’s and don’ts” of living. We learn that abortion, along with other procedures relating to women’s bodily anatomy when it comes to pregnancy is not only illegal and banned, but one could go through severe torture and eventually death just for speaking of it. 

Throughout the novel, you start to see where so many basic rights and abilities such as freedom of speech and the ability to use talk with others are taken away, and it makes you realize the power they hold. One of which is the ability to have and use your own name. As described in the novel, the main character’s name, Offred, used to be June, but it was changed when the country was taken over. Similarly, the woman she works for, Serena Joy, was renamed, with her original name being Pam, along with other female characters in the novel – one starts to see how every female character is renamed, but nothing is changed about the men. Our name is a part of who we are and is often the first thing others know about us. Being able to use one’s own name is important and underestimated. 

Additionally, the right to free speech is especially important and easy to forget about, but its absence in the setting of the novel is especially noticeable. Any word heard against the country, legal system, or society would lead to harsh physical punishment, adding to the sort of dystopian, Orwellian theme. Like our country today, both governments have found ways to ban abortion, and many states have gone out of their way to eliminate abortion in its entirety, severely punishing those who go through or assist the procedure more then those who commit much more drastic crimes such as rape or child molestation. According to the New York Times article, “Inside the Extreme Effort to Punish Women for Abortion,” “Even as those in the anti-abortion movement celebrate their nation-changing Supreme Court victory, there are divisions over where to go next. The most extreme, like Mr. Durbin, want to pursue what they call “abortion abolition,” a move to criminalize abortion from conception as homicide, and hold women who have the procedure responsible — a position that in some states could make those women eligible for the death penalty. That position is at odds with the anti-abortion mainstream, which opposes criminalizing women and focuses on prosecuting providers.” Eligible for the death penalty. What if the abortion was utilized because of the high risk of death to the carrier? There are even those who seek miscarriages to be labeled as murder and punishable. Which is more valuable: the life of an unborn child or the life of a fully grown child and adult? 

With people like Durbin placing such high importance and specified personification on fetuses, some people fight back with the argument that if a fetus were to be valued as much as a grown human, they should also have rights and insurance. In the article “If a fetus is a person, it should get child support, due process and citizenship” from the Washington Post, assistant Professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law Carliss Chatman makes points of what possible rights and events could happen if a fetus was viewed as equal as a person.  For instance, take their statement that “When a state grants full personhood to a fetus, should they not apply equally? For example, should child support start at conception? Every state permits the custodial parent — who has primary physical custody of the child and is primarily responsible for his or her day-to-day care — to receive child support from the noncustodial parent. Since a fetus resides in its mother, and receives all nutrition and care from its mother’s body, the mother should be eligible for child support as soon as the fetus is declared a person —” and “And what about deportation? Can a pregnant immigrant who conceived her child in the United States be expelled? Because doing so would require deporting a U.S. citizen.” Elaborating on the topic of deportation, Chatman points out that if one were to determine the citizenship of a fetus, they would have to look to section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which declares that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” She further points out that the term born was not defined by the writers, and that they must have meant the dictionary definition of the word, of which was “to be brought forth by birth.” One’s birthday is celebrated on the yearly anniversary of their being born, as in the day their mother gave birth to them, not the day they were a fetus. “But in states with abortion bans, born takes on a new meaning. Now legislatures assign an arbitrary time during gestation to indicate when life, personhood and, presumably, the rights that accompany these statuses take hold. This grant of natural personhood at a point before birth brings application of the 14th Amendment into question and may thus give a fetus citizenship rights — but only in those states.” Chatman points out yet another detail overlooked by the Supreme Court in their decision to overturn Roe v. Wade; because of the grant of natural personhood (and presumably, the rights that come with it) that a fetus is given by the lawmakers banning abortion, the application of the 14th Amendment comes under question and may possible allow said fetus to have citizenship. A newborn infant born in the U.S. is granted citizenship, but a fetus? This is something without a conscience; something unaware of its very existence. A line has to be drawn deciding when a person is considered a citizen, a line that doesn’t quite exist and is being exploited by lawmakers. 

With lawmakers and citizens seeking to penalize and label miscarriage as murder (even though miscarriages are not preventable and often happen without warning), there is a strikingly similar tone in The Handmaid’s Tale. In the novel, old women and infertile women are sent to enclosed states where they handle chemical materials without protective gear, allowing them to die due to the amount of radiation they are exposed to, making it a sort of extended death sentence. Those women are called the Unwomen, and it’s not just the old or infertile that are sent there. If a Handmaid miscarries, she has a chance of becoming an Unwoman, forced out and exposed to radiation. Though the novel was published over 35 years ago in 1985, the eerily similar thought process and beliefs of the religious extremists of the antagonists and location in the United States to the Supreme Court’s turnover of Roe v. Wade and its unfolding aftermath today could be seen as a foreshadowing of what’s next to come for abortion rights. In January of 2020, Britteny Poolaw, a then-19-year-old Native American from Oklahoma, arrived at Comanche County Memorial Hospital after suffering a miscarriage at home a little over 4 months into her term. According to the affidavit given by the detective who had interviewed her, Poolaw told the hospital staff that she had recently used marijuana and methamphetamine, which was then added to the list of factors contributing to the cause of miscarriage, a list which also contained congenital abnormality and placental abruption. She was arrested on account of first degree manslaughter and since she couldn’t afford the $20,000 bail, she had waited over a year and a half for her trial, which took place in October of 2021 and lasted one day. According to the local news station at the court, an expert witness had testified that the use of methamphetamine may not have been the main cause of miscarriage, but after debating for less than three hours, the jury found her guilty, and she was sentenced to four years of prison.

It is important to recognize the other contributing factors of the abortion, notable ones which were congenital abnormality and placental abruption. According to the World Health Organization, “An estimated 6% of babies worldwide are born with a congenital anomaly, resulting in hundreds of thousands of associated deaths. However, the true number of cases may be much higher because statistics do not often consider terminated pregnancies and stillbirths.” Some congenital abnormalities include heart defects, neural tube defects, and down syndrome, which can impact those who develop them for their entire life. This means that there was a chance that Poolaw could have given birth to a stillborn infant, or an infant which might have a congenital abnormality such as a heart defect, requiring expensive treatments that could put Poolaw in debt or considerably worse financial position, given that she wasn’t able to pay her bail and that healthcare in the U.S. is considerably expensive. Additionally, placental abruption could cause internal bleeding for the mother, sometimes requiring an early birth or resulting in a miscarriage. Infants born too early would need to be incubated, yet another expensive charge for the parent or parents. Infants born after surviving placental abruption have a higher mortality than ones born without abruption, and the impact of abruption extends far beyond the perinatal period. Even if Poolaw were to give birth, her would-be son would face a series of health issues, requiring costly treatments that would put almost anyone in financial burden. But the detective’s affidavit also stated that “when she found out that she was pregnant she didn’t know if she wanted the baby or not. She said she wasn’t familiar with how or where to get an abortion.” Examining this piece of evidence, one would be able to deduce that Poolaw’s entire ordeal could have been avoided if abortion resources and information were available to her. Reproductive healthcare is extremely important for those pregnant, and when it’s not available, the loss of information or spread of misinformation could seriously damage the mother or the fetus, resulting in an unfair imprisonment or punishment that could have been completely avoidable had the resources been present and available. 

It’s also important to recognize how race, stereotypes, and the stigma surrounding young and/or single mothers plays into the topic of prosecution of women miscarrying or having abortions. According to the NCRC, “Based on the 2015-2019 ACS for American Indian and Alaska Native population, the median income of American Indian and Alaska Native households was $43,825 – slightly higher than the median income of African American households, which was $41,935. The Hispanic household income for that same period was $51,811. Altogether, these numbers are substantially lower than White, non-Hispanic household median income of $68,785. In 2015, the average income on reservations was 68% below the US average, about $17,000.” According to an NBC news article, “A 2013 report by NAPW and Fordham University looked at 413 arrests and forced interventions of pregnant women from 1973 to 2005. The analysis showed that 71 percent were considered low income and 59 percent were women of color, with 52 percent identifying as Black.” Just by looking at the statistics, one could observe that women of color, especially those considered to be of low income, were charged more. It is no secret that people of color are often imprisoned far more often and harshly than their white counterparts. But why are women so harshly punished for actions of nature? A healthy birth can never be guaranteed, but it seems that lawmakers can’t decide on where the line should be drawn between nature and intentional terminated pregnancy. 

But this is not the only problem. Many anti-abortion protestors and lawmakers go on to harass those who are pro-choice or seeking abortion, with anti-abortion protestors rallying outside of abortion clinics, harassing those entering or leaving, and harassing pro-choice activists, sending threatening messages or even death threats. According to NARAL Pro Choice America, between 1977 and 2015, anti-choice protestors carried out over 7,200 acts of violence at abortion providers, including over 40 bombings, 185 arson attacks, and thousands of bioterrorism threats, death threats, and assault. Additionally, over 200,000 acts of disruption were reported, including bomb threats and threatening calls. These are criminal acts, punishable by fines, restraining orders, and prison time, and yet they keep happening. An abortion clinic is just like an emergency room, and it saves lives. To barricade an abortion clinic is like barricading a hospital’s ER. The people seeking or wishing to consult an expert about abortion are in a vulnerable state, and sometimes, it’s a matter of saving their life, or helping their financial situation. Childcare in the U.S. is expensive, and the cost of raising and looking after a child is a large burden, especially for working, single, and/or young mothers. What anti-choice believers don’t understand is the impact of children on people who aren’t them. In an article by WNYC about the heated anti-abortion demonstrations outside of abortion clinics, artist, activist, and volunteer clinic escort Wendi Kent shares her story of abortion and teen pregnancy. In 1993, 13 years old and an eighth grader in Texas, Kent found herself in a dire situation: she was pregnant. She visited her local clinic for information about her options, recognizing abortion as the best one for her. In her interview with WNYC, she states that “When I went in, I kind of expected for this option to be given to me, or for someone to tell me that it was an option, because I didn’t want to have to ask… That actually didn’t happen. They asked me what I wanted to do, and I kind of suddenly said, ‘I think I want to have this baby,’ because I didn’t know what else I was supposed to say.” She had hoped that the options would have been laid out for her, so she could choose abortion without stigma, but it didn’t happen. Several months later, at only 14, she gave birth to a baby girl. Having a child at 14 is extremely difficult, and Kent didn’t feel safe with her daughter at her parents house. She asked her boyfriend’s family to take in her daughter, and Kent left her parent’s home, and wound up on the streets.

What both Kent’s and Poolaw’s story can tell us is that the lack of information, access, and option for abortions is dangerous, and can result in events that lead to homelessness or prison time. Now, with abortion rights no longer protected by the Supreme Court’s decision, the need for these resources are more important than ever. 

Bibliography:

“Anti-Abortion Violence.” NARAL Pro-Choice America, 23 Aug. 2021, https://www.prochoiceamerica.org/issue/anti-abortion-violence/. 

“As Supreme Court Weighs Abortion, Christians Challenge What It Means to Be ‘pro-Life’.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 14 Apr. 2022, https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2022-04-14/abortion-evangelical-christians-republican.

Asante-Muhammad, Dedrick. “Racial Wealth Snapshot: Native Americans ” NCRC.” NCRC, 7 Apr. 2022, https://ncrc.org/racial-wealth-snapshot-native-americans/. 

“Birth Defects.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/birth-defects. 

Blake, John. “They Cite the Same Bible and Evoke the Same Jesus. but These Two Christians Are on Opposite Sides of the Abortion Debate.” CNN, Cable News Network, 25 June 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/06/25/us/abortion-christian-debate-blake-cec/index.html. 

Chatman, Carliss. “Perspective | If a Fetus Is a Person, It Should Get Child Support, Due Process and Citizenship.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 May 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/if-a-fetus-is-a-person-it-should-get-child-support-due-process-and-citizenship/2019/05/17/7280ae30-78ac-11e9-b3f5-5673edf2d127_story.html. 

“Congenital Anomalies.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/health-topics/congenital-anomalies#tab=tab_1. 

Dias, Elizabeth. “Inside the Extreme Effort to Punish Women for Abortion.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 July 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/01/us/abortion-abolitionists.html. 

Goldberg, Michelle. “When a Miscarriage Is Manslaughter.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Oct. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/18/opinion/poolaw-miscarriage.html. 

J.p. “Child Molestation.” NY Crime Defense Lawyer Stephen Bilkis & Associates, https://criminaldefense.1800nynylaw.com/new-york-child-molestation.html. 

Kilgore, Ed. “Do Republicans Really Want to Punish Women for Having Abortions?” Intelligencer, Intelligencer, 29 Sept. 2022, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/09/republicans-punish-women-abortions.html. 

Levinson-King, Robin. “US Women Are Being Jailed for Having Miscarriages.” BBC News, BBC, 12 Nov. 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-59214544. 

“Placental Abruptions.” Publications.aap.org, https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/142/2/e20173915/37549/Placental-Abruption-and-Child-Mortality. 

President, Julia Cusick Vice, et al. “Some States Are Ready to Punish Abortion in a Post-Roe World.” Center for American Progress, 23 Sept. 2022, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/some-states-are-ready-to-punish-abortion-in-a-post-roe-world/. 

“Recent Cases on Violence against Reproductive Health Care Providers.” The United States Department of Justice, 18 Oct. 2022, https://www.justice.gov/crt/recent-cases-violence-against-reproductive-health-care-providers. 

“Respect for Unborn Human Life: The Church’s Constant Teaching.” USCCB, https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/abortion/respect-for-unborn-human-life. 

Robertson, Katie. “Facts Were Sparse on an Abortion Case. but That Didn’t Stop the Attacks.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 July 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/14/business/media/10-year-old-girl-ohio-rape.html. 

“Roe v. Wade.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Sept. 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roe_v._wade. 

“When Healthcare Comes with Harassment: Photographing Abortion Clinic Protests: The Takeaway.” WNYC Studios, 24 Jan. 2018, https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/takeaway/segments/when-healthcare-comes-harassment-photographing-abortion-clinic-protests. 

“Woman Prosecuted for Miscarriage Highlights Racial Disparity in Similar Cases.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 5 Nov. 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/woman-prosecuted-miscarriage-highlights-racial-disparity-simil ar-cases-rcna4583. 

Old Hallows Eve

The spooky season is upon us like a beast upon its prey

Hallows Eve is 18 away

The fall aromas spread across the land each day

Candles burning, witches yearning to take first flight

A croissant dipped in arsenic so enemies beware

Soon costumed children of all ages with take forth into the night

Fairies, ghosts, princesses and pumpkins

Ghouls jump out at you under the flickering candle light

Stranger things have happened on Old Hallows night

I nearly cannot wait, for all the world to be alight, under the pale moonlight

‘Eha

A young woman swam in the sea, suddenly stopping and looking back. Her skin was almost a pure white, and she was watching a deadly scene unfold. She watched the sun sink into the rosy haze of sun setting into the deep blue, clashing with the bright bursting fire not a mile away. If you looked closely, those daunting hazel eyes were brimming with golden tears, spilling over, and increasing by the second, ‘till the pool of water around her was also a shimmering gold, and the angry fire in her eyes was clear, but the overwhelming guilt was even clearer.

As the sun was almost out of view, she called out a deep and mystic call, older than the sea itself. It was a call of utter sorrow, from the aching from the pits of the soul. It was all she could do. There was nothing left.

Less than a week earlier, the young woman, or rather, the young siren, ‘Eha, was in her favorite fishing cove, where she was humming a sweet tune to herself, plucking the tiny bones from the meat of a small coelacanth fish. 

GLUB! ‘Eha turned around and saw a bewildered young, human, woman, looking at her in awe. ‘Eha was in shock. She had never seen a human woman before, only stupid sailor men or her sister sirens. 

Overcoming her earlier bewilderment, ‘Eha grabbed the woman by the shoulders, and swam her up to the surface, where she could talk.

“Who are you and what are you doing in my cove?” ‘Eha asked once they were above water, shaking the woman fiercely.

“I- I- was observing the reef, I’m a marine biologist,” the woman said in response.

‘Eha cocked her head at the new word, to which the woman responded,

“It’s a job, where you observe life underwater, and learn new things that wa-”

‘Eha interrupted her with a snarl. “No! Why are you here in MY cove, looking at ME? Am I being observed?” ‘Eha snapped her jaws menacingly.

“ N-n-no! I was looking at the coral reef around your… cove, and then I saw you… I have never seen one like you… above the water we thought creatures such as you extinct, it’s like… a miracle!” The woman was over her fear now, and in awe. ‘Eha loved it, the attention-loving siren she was. You could see her thinking, and she made a decision in her head.

“I am ‘Eha the siren, and I would not leave you to drown, but you must tell me what man thinks of sirens, and more of this… marine biology. In exchange, I will spare your life, yes?” 

‘Eha’s declaration was more of an announcement and less of a question, but nevertheless, the woman said yes.

“Also… my name is Sophie, just so you know,” the woman said shyly. “Now, where to begin…” Sophie’s voice faded into the distance, telling all sorts of tales, most all of them good to sirens, to please ‘Eha. 

The next couple of days, in between these story sessions, ‘Eha would swim back to her home cove, where the sirens slept, and had feasts, as well as hunting sessions together. 

“…And then, it was said that the Sirens were fated to die if any mortal should hear them sing and live to tell the story. So, once Odysseus passed them unharmed, disheartened by their humbling defeat, the Sirens hurled themselves into the sea and bothered no man ever again!” ‘Eha was telling tales she had heard from Sophie to her sisters in their cove, now explaining the story of Odysseus to them.

“That is untrue and outrageous, that one lowly man might escape us in the first place, and that we might leave for no one ever again! Why do you tell us such foul tales, sister?” Ayca, another siren, complained.

“I-” ‘Eha was shouted over, 

“Now! Tell us another, a good one ‘Eha.” Ayca again interrupted, longing for more of her sister’s tales. ‘Eha’s words spun webs around the sirens, trapping them all in stories of delight, and fear, and the sea. It was as if ‘Eha had placed a spell on them.

Yet, all seemed to be happy and wonderful, but one fateful day, with the oncoming storm darkening the sky with a blanket made of storm clouds, and fog so thick one could barely see through it. But sirens’ eyes were made to see through the deepest ocean depths, so this was a slightly cloudy day to their eyes.

So, ‘Eha waited hours after Sophie would usually come, but her impatient qualities got the best of her. She swam off, in search of Sophie’s ship. She found a huge, lumbering ship, made of some material, harder than wood, unknown to her. The ship had Sophie’s scent on it. She could tell, as a natural born hunter of man. 

Finally, swimming around the sides of the ship, ‘Eha heard Sophie’s voice, and peeked through a porthole.

There was a sailor, and Sophie sitting in the cabin. The sailor had a heavy beard and was noticeably short next to Sophie. The two seemed to be relaxed in the cabin, drinking ale while the rest of the crew scurried up to the deck to help with the oncoming storm. Now, ‘Eha could hear voices clearly, her ears adjusted to the muffled talking.

“BWAHAHAHA, ahh, Sophie, that’s a good one, phew. By the way, how’s your siren friend coming along? I don’t mean to pry, but…” A deep sailor’s voice reached ‘Eha’s ear, with his sentence left unfinished for Sophie to continue. 

“Well, I’m so glad you asked.” Sophie said with a smirk.

“It’s going great. The stupid little fish girl is oblivious, and full of herself, leading me right to it. All part of my plan…” Sophie continued talking, but what was said is unknown, for ‘Eha had heard enough. She swam away in a fury, astounded that Sophie could call her stupid, and full of herself! And, ‘Eha thought, she was most definitely not a ‘fish girl!’

Yet, even being the self-absorbed fish girl ‘Eha was, she forgot about everything else Sophie had said to the sailor man. She spent the rest of the day fuming, as if she had been set on fire.

Coming back to the main cove, ‘Eha told no stories, much to the dismay of her sisters, until Ayca finally convinced her to. After telling a couple of tales, ‘Eha took a break, but was content, and had forgotten about Sophie for a while. 

When dusk had settled, all the sirens swam to the lowest depths of the cove to sleep on the soft sand at the bottom. ‘Eha had laid awake for quite some time, thinking and thinking, until her mind suddenly became clear, seeing a beautifully destructive path of revenge.

She would plant a chøktå in the ship, and watch it all burn.

See, ‘Eha was a fish girl, and very full of herself, but there was one thing Sophie was wrong about. ‘Eha was not stupid. 

‘Eha hatched a plan to set the ship ablaze.

A chøktå was a sort of bomb made by sirens. It was made of shell, with a whisper of the magic of a siren entwined with it. The shell would be placed on a ship, and no matter how far away the siren was who cast the spell on the chøktå, if they said the spell again, the chøktå would burst into siren song, causing all men aboard the ship to jump off, and drown.

Now, this would not work on Sophie, for she was a woman, and a song meant to ensnare men would not do the same for any woman. So ‘Eha decided fire would have to do. ‘Eha would go up the ship one night, and steal a spark from a lantern hanging on the railing of the ship. That same spark would be placed into a beautiful shell in ‘Eha’s cove, and magic would be whispered into its soul.

Soon, ‘Eha had it all figured out. It had been two days, and Sophie didn’t show, so a confrontation upon her next visit was unlikely. 

Coming upon the now moving ship, ‘Eha knew it was now or never. The ship had been stationary the last few days, so now it was most likely going somewhere back wherever it came from.

With the water lapping at the sides of the boat, ‘Eha wriggled up the side, tugging herself up by the crook between the ship and the portholes. Finally, she put her head over the railing, looking out for incoming people. No one was there, so scrambling off and over the railing, ‘Eha placed the shell in a coil of rope, hidden and entangled.

She heard a voice, and as fast as she could, heaved over the railing, and took the dive back down. 

Now in water again, she could feel her tail aching with the relief of touching water again, her scales quickly feeling good as knew, she zipped off to the main cove.

Feeling much better about herself, she smugly shouted, “Gather, sisters. I have another story for you.” The other sirens chirped up, and gathered around.

This time, ‘Eha began to tell a story of her own design, about a princess of sirens, who longed to explore the world of man, but her sisters forbade it. Determined to go through with her plan, she sought out a lone siren, who had been banished years ago for misusing her magic. The story went on, the siren princess fell in love with a sailor man, but he had betrayed her. He pretended to love her, but he lied and married another woman, shunning the siren princess. The siren princess then, for revenge purposes, set fire to the kingdom, while she watched from the water and went back to her sisters, the only ones she could trust.

Done with the story at last, ‘Eha’s sisters looked at her in awe, for this story was more powerful and wonderful than the last ones. ‘Eha truly was a master of words. She assumed they were silent because her story was so great, so she took a deep bow, and her sisters swarmed her. 

That night, she decided, with her confidence built up, she would repeat the spell, and light it up. Sneakily swimming out of the main cove, ‘Eha swam up and about a mile away from the cove and the ship, an equal distance where she could stay unseen by others, but see everything herself. Once there, she took a deep breath, and called out to the shell, starting the countdown.

Little did ‘Eha know, Sophie had also hatched a plan of revenge. Sophie’s real name was Ashley, and Ashley had come leading sailor men to investigate the mysterious disappearance of men in this area. Ashley’s husband, Mark, was a sailor on a ship in the area a couple months ago, where all the men on the ship were found drowned without any signs of struggle.

Ashley had come back for revenge, and thanks to ‘Eha, she was able to track ‘Eha back to her cove. Ashley was planning an ambush on the sirens.

Just as ‘Eha was currently starting the countdown for the fire, Sophie had all her men put earplugs on to protect themselves from the siren songs. Because of the boat above their cove, the sirens next move would be to sing, and kill the potential threats, but since the ship was aware of that, they sprung nets when the sirens swam up, trapping them and tugging them up onto the deck.

Just as the countdown hit four, ‘Eha heard her sister Ayca call out to her for help, and ‘Eha realized that ship had come just over the main cove. Panicking, she swam as fast as she could, as if she was going at the speed of light, but sadly, there was nothing she could do.

Five.

Six.

Seven.

“Help, ‘Eha!” called Ayca.

Eight

Eha was nearing the ship.

Nine.

Ten.

FWOOSH!

The chøktå exploded into flames, propelling ‘Eha backwards. The fire quickly expanded across the ship, and it started sinking slowly, the sirens on the deck shrieking. 

‘Eha tried to push herself over to the boat, but since the explosion slammed ‘Eha back, she was pushed against a rock. Her scales were bloody, and she couldn’t swim, no matter how hard she tried.

And so we return where we started, with ‘Eha bobbing in the sea, watching it all burn, and responding with her call of great sorrow.

The Doubles’ Disaster

Bob was walking in a dark alley when someone came up behind him. He felt that someone was following him, and assumed the worst. He ran away, not daring to look back. It seemed that even though he kept running faster, the follower was still just behind him. What could he do, but look back? There behind him were the unmistakable frown and pocketed overalls of Kate Herentock. He was right to assume the worst, but there was no running now. She was much too close.

“Bob,” she said, “we meet again.” They circled each other, neither daring to make the first strike. The problem, though, was that they were both so scared of the other’s hatred that the circling took hours. Kate had lost the element of surprise, and Bob was terrified. They circled and circled until finally it became day again, and they realized that they couldn’t fight anymore because they would be caught. They both ran off, neither of them saying a word during this exchange since Kate’s first statement. 

Hour later, onlookers stood, shocked. Nobody was sure what to do. The whole world was silent, and in regret. They were not sure if it was good or bad. Kate and Bob looked at each other distrustingly. They looked down. Bob saw a very familiar outline, so he looked up and down at Kate, and below her. The feud had gone on forever, yet he’d never known who it was with. Had he done something good, or bad? He thought of his twin, and now he understood why both Kates wanted to kill him. One was good, and one was bad: just like him and his twin. Except everyone looked at him suspiciously because surely good Bob would not have done this awful thing. Did he do it to Good Kate or Bad Kate? Would he ever prove that he was Good Bob? 

Someone walked up with handcuffs, saying “You have done an atrocity to one of the Goods of the city. We rule you, Bad Bob, and we will capture you.”

In another town, another Bob sat there watching the news of Good Kate’s death. He saw Bad Bob be arrested—or was it good Bob? Who was he? Was he the good one, or the bad one? He decided that he was done with his arguing, and that he would fight the Kates. He had decided that there was no good or bad Bob. It was all Bad Kate’s fault, but she had turned from the dark side, it seemed, after seeing her sister lying on the floor. 

He worked on a new potion. They had always used hatred potions, which he had been so scared of when he’d circled one of the Kates. This time, he put his emotion out into a forgiveness potion that would hopefully do something nobody had before: stop the hatred after it had already inflicted its horror on another. There was another murderer on the loose, spreading hatred everywhere.

In jail, the other Bob thought about what happened. He and his twin had been put against each other from the start by a hatred potion, and manipulation. They each did awful things, and great things in the constant fight against hatred. They both thought there was one Kate. The Kates both thought there was one Bob causing madness. The good Kate thought there was only a bad Bob. The bad Kate thought there was only a good Bob. So they both attacked the Bobs, making the Bobs fight back. This caused many disasters. They also went on rescue missions. Bad Kate’s turned into an avalanche by accident, and everyone thought she was bad. This caused everyone to hate Bad Kate, infecting her with hatred. That’s how she became truly bad: because she was possessed. Another rescue went wrong by the Bob in jail, and Good Kate and the other Bob both succeeded. This caused a massive confusion that spread hatred like a virus, leading to the panic attack that killed Kate. When the Bob in jail saw two Kates, he killed one. But now, two of the few things that could combat the hatred had come: understanding and forgiveness.

Tenderloin’s Six

Chapter 1:

Julian, California, 1875

Fresh hay poked at the inside of Thomas’ butt, as he struggled to put his shoe on. 

“Dang sweet busters, ay Willy how ya do ye ol’ shoe. Coulda taught me?” Thomas asked.

“I teached ya an hour go, ya dinger!” William shot back

“Ya ain’t teached me an hour go, dat’s yesserday!” 

“Watcha sayin’ ya fool?!”

“I sayin’ dat ya can’t do nuttin’!” Thomas yelled, throwing the empty glass bottle on the floor at William.

“Ya chop floppin’ spam tangler!” William said. 

“Hey, look! Some shiny gold!”

“Huh, where?” William said, turning around. Thomas slapped him in the back of the neck and let out a loud laugh.

“You slap danglin’ meat picker!”

“Ya know,” said Thomas. “I want some pie!”

“Yeah, me too!”

“But we ain’t got no gold!” Thomas said.

“Been five year since ol’ Coleman was got gold!” William added.

“Well, why don’t we steal some it ourselves?!” Thomas said. “The Eagle Mine’s got plenny of it!”

Chapter 2: 

“Now dat’s a real dang good plan. First one ya got in a whole dang year!” William responded. 

“Flap it, ya muskrat, I get dat jolly poppin’ idea just four day ago.” Thomas snapped back. 

“Nah, wiz just today when ya flopped dat dang bustin’ idea, ya bootlicker.” said William.

“No, it not!”

“Ye, it is!”

“No, it not!”

“Ye, it is!”

“Shut yer bone box ya filthy muskrat!” 

Some time passed as the friends continued to snap at each other. But now the conversation was on some more important matters. 

“So how we gonna bust into dat Eagle Mine?” William said. 

“Well dat simple! Throw a bunch of bombs inside!”

“Na, dat would just blow up dat rich gold ya meater!” 

“Oh. Den why don’t we just run in and slap ‘em all silly! Then dey all be out cold and we got steal dat gold!”

“Ye let’s do ‘at!”

Chapter 3: 

It was 8 AM on Thursday, July 12th, 1875, and if you happened to be out front of the Eagle Mine in Julian, California, then you would’ve seen two old men, dressed in old ripped clothing. William and Thomas slowly walked up to the front of the mine and stepped inside. It was pretty dark and they didn’t see anyone until a young miner spotted them.

“Where ya keep all ya dang gold, ya gibface?” Thomas yelled to him. 

“Ya’ll don’t look like miners. Watcha doin’ in here?”

“We are miners!” said William rather quickly. 

“Now ya fools shut it with your fimble fambles before I give you a couple blinkers!”

“We just wanna know where ya keep some gold, ya hobbledehoy!” 

The boy looked very surprised by that remark, and feebly punched Thomas square in the face and slapped William. He kept on hitting them until they ran out of the mine, yelling curses.

“Well,” said Thomas, after they got out of the mine. “Guess dat wasn’t a good plan.”

“It sure wasn’t! And it ain’t my fault, ya flop dangler!”

Chapter 4:

“Well,” said William, looking up from the apple pie he had stolen. “If my scientiifick chalky-lashins are co-rect, we need to ‘semble a team for da gold stealin’.”

“Yar, but we might have to flop em’ some of out jolly poppin’ gold.” Thomas said. 

“No, we do not! Alls we’ll gotta do is tell them fools we givin’ em some gold and dey flop der trousers off and we run away wit all dat golds!”

“Dat a poppin idea, now, what bootlickers are we gonna get?” 

“Well, how ‘bout Sunny and the Hornswogglers?” said William.

“Right, but Sunny and the Hornswogglers can’t flop a dangler,” Thomas said. “We need ’em to be able to flop a dangler.” 

“Well let’s go get ‘em and see ya flop bootslappin’ cheap bungle ball!” yelled William.

“Where are dey?”
“Ya know I factually dow no!”

“Let’s check the Hornswoggler Shack, dats der main hideout.”

“Dat’s all the way across town, so how we gonna get der.”

“Well let’s do it ya slap foff-gogglin’ slap wonderin’ meat danglin’ horn bogglin’ belly guzzlin’ sleep chogglin’ bootlickin’ fat bunderin’ foozler!!!”

Chapter 5:

After two and a half hours of walking, they finally reached the Hornswoggler Shack. Sunny and the Hornswogglers were playing cards, which they obviously didn’t know how to play.

“Watcha doin’?” asked Thomas. 

“Playin’ cards,” said one Horswoggler, as he took the deck and threw it up in the air. “I win!” he yelled.

“No, I win!” said another Hornswoggler.

“No!”

“Ye!”

“I wanna play!” Thomas yelled over them.

“Na!” said William. “We gotta get down to bizz nizz!”

“Alriy,” said Sunny. “Woot dar yer bootlickers wunt froym us?”

“We need ya’ll Hornswogglers for dem heist were pullin’,’ ‘ said William. 

“But we don wanna get got,” said Billy the Boy.

“Ya’ll gonna help us and yer gets dat golds!” said Thomas.

“Oooh I want dose golds!” said Jumpin’ Jimmy.

“Fer yer infromattin, I am in charge of dis heist!” said William.

“Ya, but will we ge’ dos golds,” Sunny said. 

“Oh ya’ll will get half of de earnin’s from the hiesteroonies!”

“Fine we’ll take the job,” said Sunny. “But I ain’t doin’ it, and yer only takin’ five of my boys.” 

“Alrightyright, ya slap danglers, dat’s a deal.”

All through the night the boys discussed their heist plans, and they woke up feeling a little dreary. 

Chapter 6:

When the morning light showed upon the Hornswoggler Hut, William and the boys had a heist plan ready. All night they had practiced and practiced until they had all memorized what was supposed to happen. They had the entire day to prepare for the heist. They would leave for the Eagle Mine at 6:00. But first, they had to steal a carriage. Finally, the time came for the heist.

At approximately 7:00 PM, Billy the Boy entered the mine, in mining clothes. William was already there, dressed as a miner. Billy casually walked down close to where the gold was, then he snuck into the gold area, and shoved it into a sack. After William’s signal, he ran out of the mine and passed the sack with gold off to Jumpin’ Jimmy, who quickly switched it with a bag of fake gold and ran behind the mine. 

At this point, people from the mine would be running out, trying to catch the thief. Meanwhile, in front of the mine, Billy was sprinting to the stolen carriage, which had Thomas at the wheel. He tossed the fake bag of gold into the carriage and jumped in. Suddenly, Frankie Choo-Cha and Bootlickin’ Bob screeched into the area in a police carriage, both dressed as police officers. Suddenly, Jumpin’ Jimmy ran out from the area which the other carriage had driven away to, holding the real sack of gold, yelling, “I got the gold! I got it from the thief!” He then threw the sack of gold into the “police carriage” and Bootlickin’ Bob, dressed as a police officer, yelled, “We got the gold and we’re gonna catch them thief real soon!” They drove away, the miners cheering, completely oblivious of what had just happened.

No Emotions

The Sunshine shines on the farm 

The farmer awakes on the alarm 

The birds that chirp, the new crops that were harvested 

The tomatoes and potatoes that got marketed 

The farmer’s emotions disappear

Allowing the new ones to appear 

Which emotions had they been

The ones that were held within, within 

The flowers that bloomed

The people who assumed 

Nothing less or more than last 

Season it was that had just past

The farmer, only one who 

Was indifferent to the new

Amazing new spring’s view 

For the farmer had thought through and through 

For he had no emotions 

For he had no devotions 

To anything but his plants 

His emotions were wrecked as were his pants 

But that all changed over night 

For he had woken up in a fright

What was the emotion he had felt 

For he had never ever felt 

Nothing besides his belt 

That was too small for him 

For he, penniless, lived in hut that was dim

He felt like jumping around 

Up and down on the ground 

For he had no emotions 

For he had no devotions 

The feeling he felt was strong, strong 

He felt like writing a song 

Butterflies in his belly

The girl, her name was Shelly 

As beautiful as the sun

On a sunshiny day that had just begun 

As had his emotions 

For he had never had emotions 

For he had never had devotions 

The Wall

The wall was waking up. Yellow light bounced around in the hexagon, ever so slightly moving faster in the span of a blink, until the middle opened like an eye, casting its piercing light over the entire planet. It was beautiful. Nobody else saw it, nobody else could separate the planet from its creation. Tears drew their first breaths in Azure’s eyes, falling into the void below before their first words were spoken. Azure stood alone at the edge of the world, watching the stars as their world sailed towards the annual death of its people. Pebbles flew into the abyss and twigs crunched as heavy boots approached them.

“Message from our scouts,” said a deep, raspy voice. “It’s for your eyes only, or some nonsense like that.”

Azure sighed and pulled the bundle of gold-plated leaves to their chest. In the light of the wall, it was like a small sun in their hands, each leaf reflecting the brilliant light. As the leaves were opened, the little plant gave its last dying breath, its carbon being put back into the imbalanced atmosphere. Once its shelter was gone, the electric message sparked to life. Aurorin’s face shimmered into existence on the plate of metal. Azure’s heart raced—Aurorin was alive! The sheet began to vibrate in Azure’s hands, the movements forming sounds, then words.

“Azure, this mission is failing. The hunters have been in pursuit for several days, and–”

On the metal sheet, Azure could see Aurorin fall forward, barely managing to send the message before she blacked out from what must have been a hunter’s plasma rifle. The recording suddenly snapped to black with the abruptness of a viper’s strike. This mission had been entirely snuffed out by the Locufortian hunters. Azure left the metal folio on the ground, staring at it for several minutes before their sword went directly through the center. The electronic chip whined as its circuits were maimed. Azure kicked it, sending the whole plate of metal off the edge of the world. Tears welled up in their eyes again, not out of reflex, but out of fear and anger. Azure snuffed out the tears with the back of their hand, marching back to the resistance’s camp. Tents and wooden shelters struggled to escape their terrestrial bindings, rising into the air and only being held down by stakes and vines. As Azure strode into the area, they activated their boots’ magnetic clamps, holding them down despite the erratic gravity. As they threw open the command tent’s flap, everybody stopped talking to look at them. 

“Aurorin, along with the rest of the scouts, is dead or captured. We’ve got little to no information about the Locufortian defenses.” The other commanding officers sat in crushing silence for a moment before Azure spoke again. “We need to go in and save them before the incursion starts! It-” They were interrupted by a younger, lower ranked officer.

“Why?” he asked. “Why do we need to devote our resources to saving the scouts that failed?” The other officers slowly nodded, each bob of a head, Azure’s anger intensified until it reached the breaking point. After years of being held back, it surged forward and grabbed their brain by the steering wheel. 

“You don’t understand! You…imbeciles! This is our best scouting group, and we only have a week to gather information! You all only care about yourselves…I’m going alone if nobody’s coming with me.” Before anybody could respond, Azure grabbed their weapon from where it was hanging on the wall, and stormed off. 

Hours later, with the sun down, the forest was still bright. The wall’s golden glow permeated through every corner of the trees, no matter how dense the thickets were. No chirps or rustles were audible, the snapping of branches under Azure’s feet was the only sound that carried through the seemingly infinite masses of trees. Azure pressed on through the woods, their eyes dancing over every surface, searching for any sign of life, movement, anything that would give away a friend, foe, or even a wild animal in the lush yet desolate forest. A hand grabbed their ankle. Something flew out of a tangle of vines, light flashing off a long silver object in their hand. Before they could even react, Azure was on the ground, somebody’s knees on their arms, a knife at their throat. As their eyes refocused, they saw long scarred fingers, and the necklace they gave away a year ago. They found it was Aurorin on top of them, slowly pulling the blade away from their neck. 

“Oh,” she said. “It’s just you…wait, why are you here?”

“I was trying to find you!” Azure exclaimed. “I thought you had died!”

“Me too.” Aurorin absently felt at the back of her neck, which, as Azure now realized, was burned and mangled. 

“Is that…where he hit you? It’s bad, but…it could have been a lot worse.”

“Yeah, I know. It really doesn’t hurt that much.” The two stood in silence for a moment, staring everywhere but at each other. Finally, Aurorin spoke up. “Everyone else was captured…do you want to see where they are?” 

Azure’s brain seemed to work again, like it hadn’t since Aurorin had jumped out of the shadows. 

“O-of course. That’s why I’m here, after all.” As they began to creep through the jungle, something came to Azure’s mind. “How did you escape capture?” Aurorin turned to face Azure, while still walking in a specific direction. 

“I’m not entirely sure,” she admitted. “When I regained consciousness, the shelter had been destroyed, and I was out in the open. A few minutes later, you walked by, and…” The pair kept walking in silence. Finally, a movement in the leaves uncovered a large facility, showcasing its fountains of oil. A Locufortian building, plated with expensive bright metals and shiny gemstones.  Azure took out their spyglass—they could see people in prisoner’s garb inside.

“This is the place,” Aurorin said. “Let’s head around to the back.” As the two strode around the prison, Azure noticed that there wasn’t a single guard on the premises. Aurorin jauntily walked around the building like she hadn’t noticed. 

“You go on,” Azure yelled, “I’ll keep up.” As Azure stood there, trying to look busy, they felt Aurorin’s gaze on them. She wasn’t moving, just…looking. That’s not Aurorin. She would never just stand around like that. “Hey Aurorin! Over here!” Not-Aurorin sauntered over, a slight smile on her face. Before they knew what they were doing, Azure slammed the flat of their sword into the fake Aurorin’s throat. As she gasped for air, Azure grabbed her neck and pinned her to the ground. “Who are you?” The imposter Aurorin smiled, her face splitting apart. Underneath the now-gone face, a hideous smile was exposed, full of too many teeth.

The deep and unnatural voice seemed to reverberate through the trees, “It really took you this long to realize this? You’re losing your edge.” Rage filled Azure once again, making them slam their hand onto the imposter’s neck. 

“Where’s the real Aurorin?” The shapeshifting…thing laughed even harder, shaking the trees. 

“Dead. You failed, Azure.” Azure’s grip loosened, a numbness spreading throughout their whole body. They were whispering under their breath, not moving.

“I…failed…?” With that, a spear rose from the fake Aurorin’s chest. It touched Azure’s skin, then broke it, sending trickles of blood raining down the point, then the shaft. Azure didn’t feel pain, the spear was simply not strong enough to outmatch the emptiness inside, the void that had been filled by hope, the void that was now empty. As the spear rose higher, in a second that stretched into a year, the welling blood filled their vision, their life. Azure closed their eyes. Some time later—Azure had no idea how long it had been—they struggled to open their eyes, finding themself surrounded by trees, carnivorous plants moving closer to their body. They tried to push themself up, but their hands slipped on the pooled blood, their blood. They released their grip on their sword, which was planted into the lifeless body of…Aurorin. No, not Aurorin, somebody else. Azure looked down and saw the pike driven through their own body, their blood dripping off of the tip. All this time…all this work…and this is what kills me…? Faint footsteps came into their earshot, with yells of…their name? Hands brushed against the underside of their chest, and as a face became visible, the world dissolved into bright golden light. And it was beautiful.

Ish & I

A gentle breeze swept over a small neighborhood in Brooklyn. The sun shined over the New York City skyline, like any other spring day. It started with my little brother toddling around our apartment. 

“Ish, Ish, Ish, Ish.” I don’t know why someone would name their child Ish, but my name was Burtch, and that wasn’t any better.

I rolled out of bed and put on my glasses, and I was off. The house was empty except for me and Ish, which gave me no choice but to take him with me. Home life was never easy. There was always a bill overdue and our electricity wasn’t very stable. There were cracks in the paint, and after my mom left, I hadn’t had a single friend over. You would think that we would be living with another relative, but the only one still alive was my mom’s mom. She lived in California and only visited once a year. She was now too old and frail to travel. Part of me was used to this, but I knew Ish deserved better. 

 I tiptoed out the door and held my hand over Ish’s big mouth. I never grew up like the other kids nearby. My mom had left a while ago, and left me with newborn Ish. She left in the night, didn’t tell us where she was going, and we never knew why. I thought that she would come home one night, but to this day she still hasn’t. Once you opened the front door to our house, your ears were clogged by police sirens and the sound of loud piercing screams from the family next door. When my mom was there, it was always a lot easier to manage.

With Ish and my school bag in my arms I headed outside. Ish tried to run out of my grip, but I knew better than to let him go. I held him tight to my chest, my heart pounding and Ish kicking me with all his might. It had been the same way every morning since the day Ish was born. My pace quickened as I saw what was up ahead. The guys.

Ever since I was Ish’s age they would torment me. Then I had my mom to stand up for me, but now she wasn’t there to fend for us. I dodged the next corner and ran with Ish the rest of the way to school. It didn’t really feel like I could face them alone. I was small, skinny, and pale; they were huge and muscular, always on guard waiting to attack. I dropped Ish off at the preschool center. He gave me a kiss, and with a smile on his face, ran off. Now I had to face the walk to school.

The next few blocks were filled with broken glass, and the smell of smoke wafted through the air. It felt like my every move was being watched. With each step I could hear the faint sound of laughter getting louder and louder.

I walked into the hallway and kids pushed and shoved me as they walked by. I was the weird kid at my school. The one who was in the school band, answered every question right and I thought that was what everyone wanted. My mom always said, “Your education is the most important thing.” I tried to live up to that standard, but I never was good enough. Each time I got a perfect test score it didn’t feel perfect. I was confused, because I didn’t even know what I wanted. I was top of my class, but kids still passed me and looked at me like I was nothing. I was just that kid, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t escape from it.

I walked into classroom 5A with my shoulders hunched and head hanging low. I took my seat next to a small window while Ms. Crow went on about writers’ craft. Once we were dismissed, I went to the library.

 The library had been my second home since I entered middle school. There were shelves full of thousands of books, all categorized and placed in different sections. Scattered around the room there were little reading nooks, and all I wanted to do was stay in there for hours. I scanned each shelf and grabbed as many books as I could carry and went to check them out. There were very few kids who liked the library as much as I did. At the moment it was just me and the librarian, which in some ways made it nicer. It was quiet and there were no kids around to stare and judge me. I curled up on a small chair and picked a book out of my pile. The cover was blank, and I flipped through the pages– only to find a note written with the same neat, cursive handwriting as mine. The same handwriting that I had recognized through all of my childhood.

Run.

My mom left without leaving a note, but if she could bother to just write the word Run, it meant something. A wave of shock overcame me as I looked and realized that this was her handwriting. Just seeing it brought me back to when she would hold my hand and check on me every night to make sure I was okay. I could just feel her presence in the room. I couldn’t see her, but she was there watching me from wherever she was in the world now. My mind raced as I thought of Ish and how he never had a real mother. I was sure that this wasn’t a joke, but I was also sure that she would never leave me, but I was wrong. My breath started slipping, and suddenly someone’s hands were wrapped around my throat. Mr. March, the librarian, was behind the counter and couldn’t see what was going on. I looked up to see just another kid in my class. I wrestled my way out of the clutch on my throat, grabbed the small book and ran. This suddenly didn’t feel like teasing anymore, because it hurt all of me. My insides ached and my face was still purple from the impact of the hands that had just been around me.

I ran, tears dripping down my face, my legs aching and burning but I couldn’t stop running. I knew my mom too well. She didn’t want to leave us, but she felt like she had to. 

 My legs came to a halt and I bent down, panting, my eyes bloodshot red, and it felt like the whole world was spinning at full speed around me. My head felt this strange sensation, and my body was not in my control anymore. I was drifting and drifting away…

I woke up to find myself in a hospital bed. Where’s Ish? And then I saw him. His little smile was gone and he had gone quiet. Three people marched in the room and tried to grab Ish from his seat. 

“Where are you taking him?” I asked, but they ignored me and grabbed Ish tight around his little arms. 

Once he was out of the room he started to cry. Small tears dripped down his face, and now I was the one who had gone quiet.

The pain in my head was now sharper and stronger than before, I was helpless. I had let Ish go and didn’t even put up a fight. It felt like my fault, it was my fault.

Doctors came and went talking, whispering, sometimes even shouting but my ears still rang with the sound of Ish’s screams. I had no options layed out for me and my future. School had got me nowhere but stuck in my own head and I had to just wait. The digital clock in the room kept flashing bright lights and I just had to wait for child services to come and take me next just like Ish.

A figure came into the room. Her face was scared and frigid all at once. She was very thin and her hair was the color of straw, just like my own. Her shoes were torn, and her pants were covered with patches of dirt and grime. Her ears were too big for her head and her mouth was shaped with an almost perfect curve on the upper lip. 

“Run, she said, and then without another word, she gave me the slightest kiss on the cheek and left.

I discreetly slipped out of bed and felt all the blood rush down from my head. The air was still and I was able to take off the IV that had been placed in my arm. In my hospital gown, I tiptoed out of the small room and worked my way through each bustling hospital corridor. Once I had made my way down to the exit, I had to get past a bunch of security. I made my way around a metal detector and went into the large swirling doors. Once I was outside I realized exactly where Ish had gone.

I took off sprinting, jumping past cars going through streets, and then I saw him. Waiting at the bus stop for me. I didn’t care how he had escaped those other people, but he was alone. There was a large cut on his forehead, and when he saw me he came running. I embraced him in my arms, and decided that it was time to tell him the truth. “Ish, I’m sorry, but we can’t stay here much longer.”

“I know Burth Burth, we are not safe here anymore,” Ish replied. 

Ish climbed up onto my back and I ran. I ran past mountains and fields and skyscrapers. We were never going to stop because no one could stop us.

Night creeped up on us and my stomach grumbled. I laid Ish down on a patch of grass and he instantly fell asleep. At the break of dawn I woke Ish up, and we were off again. In the distance I could see a small village, and with Ish now running and the sun shining; my aching hunger was pushed aside by a sense of joy– because Ish was here with me, away from child services, the dangers of Brooklyn, and he was safe.

After another night on the run, the village up ahead was closer than ever. My bare feet followed the path of a wet cobblestone road, and I decided that this was where we would call home for the coming years. Education was important, but not as important as Ish. He was my everything from the day he was born to the day that I die. It would always be Ish and I forever.

The Pawn’s Parry

Chapter 1: The Beginning

Will Ravenswood woke up from a sleep devoid of any dreams with a smile on his face. Not because of anything that was happening that day or because he had a good sleep, but because he smelled something: the sweet scent of frying bacon. He jumped out of bed, dressed himself quickly, jammed on his boots, and ran downstairs so hard he practically flew. He lived in a small house, in a room only a couple feet wide with three beds in it. One was for his grandma, Em. He also had a small drawer, half of which was his, the other half occupied by his adopted sister. Downstairs was slightly bigger, with a couple of small lamps lighting up a kitchen and a table, as well as a door at the end. His grandma, who was standing over their small stove with a frying pan in hand, gave him an eye.

“Don’t stomp around like that!” she said with a scowl on her face. “You’re going to break your neck, or worse, the stairs!”

“Sorry Grandma,” said Will, walking as fast as he could down the rickety old steps. Will was a bright young boy of fifteen, with curly black hair and brown eyes. He was a perfectly average height for his age, but he was abnormally strong, due to his years and years of training to be a soldier in the army. Grandma Em was shorter than Will but she made up for it by being twice as strong as him. She wore a white dress and blue apron at all times and possessed hand wraps that she used to fight things.

“Why do we have bacon? We’ve never had bacon without something special happening,” asked Will. She threw her hands up in the air in anger, somehow not flinging fried pork through the air in the process.

“Do you need me to memorize your schedule for you? It’s your graduation day.” Will’s heart skipped a beat. He had completely forgotten in the night. He went to the Lightbringer School for Pawns, where he was training to be either a Knight, Pawn, or a ROOK (Royal Officer Of the King). The final exam was to decide whether or not he got promoted or stayed a pawn. He was one of the best in his class, but because he moved up two grades, he was worried that he was too young to beat everyone else in the final exam (a giant free-for-all battle between all of the students). His grandma must have seen his worried expression because she took the pan off of the stove and hugged him.

“Oh, don’t worry. There’s a reason you moved up two grades, right? You’ll be fine!” She smiled deviously. “Then, you’ll get a good job and give me a share of the earnings, like your sister did.” Will groaned. His older sister Mira was probably one of the most innovative Bishops (or witches) to ever exist, revolutionizing magic and getting a lot of money from making weird, magic, robot things. She figured out how to make fireballs and plants by combining machines and magic, so he could never hear the end of it from Em. 

“Now, eat your bacon,” she said, pouring a third of the pan’s contents onto Will’s plate. Will picked at his mere thirty-three percent of the pan, and as the stairs creaked, he was severely reminded as to why he could only have that portion. Rogue, his other sister, creaked her way down the stairs and, before sitting down in her chair, grabbed three pieces of bacon and tossed them into her mouth. 

“Good morning, dear,” said Grandma Em, her rough demeanor deteriorating at Rogue’s sudden entrance. 

“Morning, Grandma Em. Morning, Will,” she said, swinging her feet onto the table. Will twisted to do the same, but Grandma Em raised her eyebrow at him, and he sadly twisted back to his normal seat. Not too long ago, at the beginning of the year, when the last blizzard of the spring was raging, Will found the shivering Rogue on a street corner, only about as old as Will and only remembering her name. Will was wary of her suit of stealth pawn armor that she possessed, and her unnaturally purple eyes, but he still brought her home, and his Grandma Em said she could stay for a couple days to recuperate and perhaps remember something. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned to years, until it seemed like she was a real part of the family. Grandma Em still treated her as a guest, however, so Rogue could get away with anything she wanted. She had incredibly pale skin, like she spent all of her time underground, and raven-black hair, which fell down to a little bit below her neck.

“How’d my little brother sleep?” she asked, licking the bacon grease off of her fingers.

“Fine,” Will replied. “How’d my short sister sleep?” he replied, cutting up and finishing a strip of his bacon. Rogue’s face turned slightly red at the nickname. Rogue’s biggest ammunition against Will was the fact that when they used experimental age testing technology to help find out who she was, it said she was forty-two. While this was obviously not true, she still addressed Will as her little brother. Will’s only retort was that she was about a foot underneath the average height of a Pithosian girl, which she was quite embarrassed by. Grandma Em sat down next to Will, and chomped down her bacon with almost as much gusto as Rogue. Suddenly, a miniature owl dove in through the chimney and spread its wings, slowing down to a halt in front of Grandma Em and lying face up on the table, spread eagled, with legs curving outward to form a face-shaped arc. 

“Ah, it’s Mira’s messenger,” she said, putting it up to her ear and plugging her other. Will’s eyes widened.

“Mira’s coming? Today?” Will went back to being terrified for his final exam. Rogue, in contrast, seemed to be very excited for this. 

“Wait, Mira’s coming today? Finally, I get to see her again! We can discuss all the best ways to torment Will!” Grandma Em seemed to not hear that. Three days after Rogue came, Mira graduated and left for Atsbury, the capital. Rogue, however, only needed three days to start treating Mira like family. Rogue looked over at Will’s face and furrowed her brow.

“What’s wrong? I thought you might be sort of happy to see your sister again after…” she counted on her fingers, “What is it, three whole years? Is there something happening today?” Will rung his hands.

“Yeah. Final exams for Lightbringer’s.” He shook his hands. For the first time since he had known her, Rogue almost looked surprised, but she quickly switched back to her aloof personality. 

“Yeesh, sucks for you. Anyway, I’m gonna go stay in my room and have no worries about anything,” she said, but as she headed to the stairs, Grandma Em grabbed the cuff of her shirt. 

“Now, young lady,” said Grandma Em, ignoring the fact that she was supposedly forty-two. “I don’t make you do much in this house, because you’re a guest, but since you’re becoming a part of the family, you have to do some things.” Rogue looked horrified at the suggestion of having to do something against her own will. Will pumped his arm under the table.

“L-like what?” she asked, voice trembling. 

“You’re coming with me…” Grandma Em said. Rogue closed her eyes and gulped.

“To Will’s final exam.” Rogue sighed and looked relieved.

“For an hour.” Rogue shrieked and ran up the stairs, quick as a fox. Grandma Em laughed, pinching her nose. 

“What are we going to do with that girl, Will?” Suddenly, a large boom sounded across the town. 

“Oh no,” Grandma Em rolled up her sleeves. “That sounds like trouble. Come on, Will. Help your grandma kill a monster, won’t you?”

Grandma Em was Greenset’s resident monster hunter, a role given to her due to her successes in some war, but recently, Will had become old enough to start fighting monsters with her. This was especially useful because the monster attacks were getting much worse, and thus more dangerous for an old woman like Em to do on her own. Will grabbed his glaive, magic pendant, and armor (haphazardly strapped on in his haste), and then ran outside. The town square of Greenset was usually a very beautiful place, especially in the fall, with a massive statue of a goddess smiling serenely in the center. Many shops lined the square, including Grandma Em’s Vegetable Shop and Uncle Ben’s Butcher, the former’s bitter rival. There were also many gardens and trees lining the square’s edge in the small spaces between the narrowly stuffed shops. 

However, today was a little different. The gardens and trees (not to mention a few stores) were blazing with fire, and the usually quiet and nice goddess statue had the apparent culprit curled around it: a giant, horned snake. Will had seen many snakes in his life. Some green, some blue, and a rare few, red. But he had never seen a snake this color before. He wasn’t sure he had ever seen anything this color before. It was almost like it was the color of pure shadows, a completely, purely, opaque, black-ish purple he had never seen before. It didn’t burn his eyes and it didn’t hurt, but Will still felt like it was something that he was not supposed to look at, something that forced his eyes to avert themselves. It was like staring into an endless, horrifyingly empty void. However, it was still destroying the town, so Will cracked his neck and started to run over to his grandmother. She had seemed to have wrapped her fists with some padded cloth, but otherwise, she was still wearing the same blue dress and white apron that she had on at breakfast. Suddenly, she jumped up into the air, almost eight feet up, and delivered a massive punch to the snake’s head. Will could hear an audible crack as one of the horns of the reptile crashed to the ground. Grandma Em landed, but the serpent had recovered faster than anticipated and it shot out its cranium at the old woman, fangs bared. Will, realizing his grandma would never make it out in time, gripped his magic pendant tightly and ripped it off the chain, smashing it into pieces on the cobblestone streets of Greenset. However, instead of laying there, broken and useless, the shards produced a flash of light, and a horse suddenly appeared underneath Will. He started to flawlessly gallop towards the snake, and just before it injected its deadly venom into the aged body of Grandma Em, Will scooped her up and whisked her to safety. 

“Oh boy, this one’s a bit harder to kill than some others,” said Grandma Em. “It took a direct punch to the head and survived, not to mention almost breaking my fist.” Will shivered at the thought of something that could hurt the great Grandma Em. Suddenly, a shout sounded across the square as Rogue jumped out of her window and sank her rapier into the snake’s neck. However, instead of red blood pouring out, liquid darkness seemed to gush from the wound. It leaked over to a couple of flowers, and its touch seemed to suck the life out of the poor plants. Rogue rode on her blade down the coil of the serpent’s long, thin body and touched down to the ground, unscathed. Will rode his horse up to Rogue, who hopped on behind Grandma Em. 

“Thanks, sweetie,” said Em. “That was pretty good.” Rogue flashed a grin.

“Hey, incredibly fun violence is incredibly fun violence. Now that I’ve come, I think we’ve almost got this thing!” After Rogue said that, the snake shook itself and strained. The shadows around it started to creep towards the serpent, climbing up its tubular torso and filling in the cracks and cuts left by their collective efforts. It ended with a new horn poking out and completely growing back.

“That’s really bad,” said Will, his spirits sinking. But then, a streak of black flew through the air, a staff underneath it. A Bishop, wearing a mask that was said to magnify their power tenfold, looked around in their belt and then held a miniscule, glass bottle into the air. Suddenly, the snake started. It looked distressed. Then, with a great vacuum sound, the entire monster was pulled back, squashed and stretched into a tiny form until it flew into the bottle. The mage quickly corked the container, screwed it tight, and then maneuvered their flying staff through the air down to the ground. They jumped off of the branch and summoned it into their hand with a burst of magic. The cloaked figure threw off their hood and took off their mask, revealing the puffy ponytail, huge, hazel eyes, dragon-head tipped staff, and big, oxidized-copper goggles that Will had known since he was only a little baby. 

“Hey, little bro,” she said. Mira Ravenswood had returned.

Utopia

7 years ago…

My routine is quintessential. Nowadays, the word “perfect” is seen as a thing of the past. The word isn’t given much relevance since there is no perfection in our world. However, I would like to refute that point. The word “perfect” is pertinent to me because it so accurately describes my life. 

My eyes adjust to the luminous rays that fill up my room. I sigh contentedly. I rub my smiling eyes with my pajama sleeves and take a big stretch before I step out from the left side of my bed. I dance around my dreamy space humming the song that has been stuck in my head for the past week. Then, I start my valued morning routine that consists of getting ready in front of the shining vanity mirror, heading down the stairs of the manor to the abundance of fruit pastries prepared, and opening the embellished doors to explore my idealistic city, Utopia.

Utopia was the only place I ever lived. It was everything I could ask for. Homestyle bake shops on every block, fully restocked boutiques on every corner, and cinemas in every neighborhood. All of the citizens radiated a glow—a glow that could only be found in genuinely happy souls. The mayor of the city fulfilled every citizens’ needs and left no room for discontent. There was nothing that I would have thought to change. Absolutely nothing. 

Present day…

My eyes adjusted to the sunlight that beamed through the windows. I opened my eyes and stared at my bedroom ceiling. Another day. I had to drag my legs out of my comforter onto the cold stone floor. I entered my uncomfortably large bathroom to get ready for the day. I walked down the manor stairs into the dining table where the food spread was laid out. After taking a few bites of my toast, I grabbed my stuff and headed out the door. 

As I walked through the streets of Utopia, all I could see were smiles. Every face I saw was bubbling with excitement. The excitement that I contained 7 years ago. The excitement that I couldn’t find in myself anymore. 

As much as I tried to bring up that emotion that filled my soul once, I couldn’t quite dig it up. Utopia wasn’t the idealistic city. As I spent every day following the same routine, I started to find patterns. The cookie shops that were filled with the smell of sugar and buttermilk represented obesity in my society. Though enjoyable, cookies had a negative health effect on most citizens of Utopia. The boutiques that sold the latest gadgets, popular pants, and anything else you could possibly purchase, represented society’s greed. My closet and drawers were filled with things that I had little to no use of. It was when my dresser broke that I realized that I too had been corrupted by material goods. The movie theaters that satisfied the children left no room for actual education, disrupting creativity and a passion for learning. As I walked in the blinding radiant streets of my city, I realized how much it resembled a dystopian community. Oh how I longed for a humble routine. 

I soon arrived at my destination. I gazed up at the pure white, glimmering tower for five seconds, opened the clear intricate door, and entered. I walked across the marble floor with my heels click clacking against the stone. 

“Welcome back Ms. Solace,” the lobbyman called out. I gave him a quick nod and smile before entering the dinging elevator. I pressed the 13 button and I rocketed up the tower. I got out and headed to my office. The second I stepped out, I could hear greetings and laughter. As if excitement and joy were fairies, they surrounded me and filled every corner of the floor, maybe even the whole building. I opened my matte black office door and stepped into my soundproof space. 

I heard three consecutive knocks on the door. 

“Come in.” It was my assistant, she came in with a chai latte and a box of sugar cookies. I concealed my discontent with an illuminated smile and ecstatic thank you. 

“You always know what I need.” I happily responded. 

“Anything for you mayor.” My assistant walked out and gently closed the door behind her. I pushed the refreshments to the top right corner of my desk and opened my laptop. I opened my Gmail to see hundreds of proposals for “improvements.” Utopia had been manipulated with the lack of authority and I was going to resolve this conflict. With my cursor I selected all of the emails and clicked on the trash icon on the top right. The lives of Utopians would forever change. 

Peace

In a hot and loud classroom somewhere in Manhattan

Girl in black stares out the window yearning for peace.

Oblivious teacher in a button-up shirt gestures to an image of the 1960s

Students who never had phones scream about peace.

Boy who only wants to pass this class in the back of the classroom

Mindlessly copies down notes about protests for peace.

Student in a hood, head bent, glancing around every now and then

Holds their phone under the desk, ensuring that they’ll never know peace.

Somebody’s phone, tossed to the bottom of their backpack amongst gum wrappers and quarters

Has burrowed within it, if you know where to look, a passionate rant about peace.

Slightly over budget black car outside, air conditioner whirs and hums

Most likely irreparably damaging the environment but for now bringing peace.

Man whose eyes are not on the road envisions his big break, his retirement savings, his promotion:

His name sitting quietly under a headline proclaiming worldwide peace.

Nearly microscopic ant desperately trying to evade the unforgiving, ever-advancing wheel

Cannot begin to imagine peace.

On a date that maybe exists, so far in the future, my god, so far, 

Maya Wang-Habib’s life might not even change once we have peace.

Family Spirit of Thanksgiving

Cooking fills the table with love. 

Different styles of culture lie on the table. 

The scent of turkey and garlic fill the air.

The smell of food makes me drool.

Rushing waves of voices crash into my ears.

I am like a messenger, giving food to the poor.

I love being thankful. 

Being thankful makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

So does my family. 

The Case for Reading the Old-Fashioned Way

Every time I try to read something online, my eyes start to hurt, advertisements pop up everywhere on the screen, and the device I’m reading on dies. Does this story sound familiar? Has any of that ever happened to you while you were reading on your Kindle or other electronic device? It’s no wonder that 65% of people who took a survey comparing paper books versys electronic books and audio books said that they preferred paper books. Reading physical books is better than using electronic reading websites because physical books cause less strain on the eyes, give you more details, let you actually read the book instead of just listening to it, and get rid of the distractions that book websites encourage.

One of the many reasons real books are better than electronic books is that electronic books can hurt you. Staring at a screen for too long can hurt your eyes. At first, it could just cause your eyes to be dry and for you to see double for a few minutes, but over time it can lead to headaches and eye fatigue. You could even lose your sight by reading an electronic book. The blue light that comes from the screen damages the cells in the retina, which is the part of the eye that sees images and sends them to the brain through the optic nerve. 

Not only can they harm you physically, but ads can pop up on the screen that you may press thinking it is a link to buy something, but in reality, it is a way for people to steal your personal information. With your personal information they could use your money, name, credit cards, gift cards, or even blackmail you into paying them for your entire life. They may also hurt you if you work in a printing or publishing company. If everybody was reading electronic books, the people who made paper books would not have any jobs anymore. This could be financially damaging. After getting fired from their company because they don’t need physical books anymore, publishers can fall behind on payments and enter debt. As of now, printing and publishing companies are safe. Stora Enso’s Jonathan Bakewell, Vice President and Head of Segment Office and Book Papers said “…the market for physical books is set to stay strong, which is good news for our printer and publishing customers” (Vision Source), but in the future this might not be true. All of these terrifying things could take place just because you read an electronic book.

Another reason printed books are better than electronic books is that they lead to a more thorough understanding of the subject matter. For instance, some print books include pictures that are important to the story. If you are reading a book that includes pictures on certain electronic devices, you may not get the pictures with the book and the story will not make sense. For example, I have a series of books about Disney villains. Those books have book jackets with one picture, and the cover itself has a different pciture. Both pictures greatly contribute to the stories, but on electronic books only one picture could be shown. Some book covers also wrap around to the back, and with a physical book you can flip your copy around to see it. With an electronic book, you would have to flip through the whole book to get to the back which wastes time. Some electronic books also won’t include the backs of the books, which will make you confused about why the cover just cuts off. 

Some electronic books have a text-to-speech option that some people will listen to. It is debatable whether this option counts as actually reading. Furthermore, sometimes the built-in voice reading the book to you can be hard to understand, potentially causing readers to miss something important and no longer know what is happening in the book. On some electronic books, you can’t rewind text-to-speech, so you would have to start the book all over again to find out what you missed if you were out of the room for a moment, or a loud noise distracted you from the audoio. In a real book, you could just stop reading for a moment and then continue reading. 

In a study when two groups of children read books, one group with electronic books and the other with paper books, the group that read the paper books recalled the events of the story better. Both groups were given the same amount of time to read the short story and were given the same reading conditions. The people who conducted the study think that the people who read the electronic books were less engaged in the book because their eyes got tired and it took them longer to read the story. They also think that it is harder reading the electronic book because there are less words on each page, so while you’re flipping the page in the middle of a sentence, you forget a little information. Since electronic readers had to flip the page more often, they forgot more information. 

In many photos I found of people reading electronic books next to people reading paper books, I realized that the people reading paper books looked more focused and interested in what they were reading. They were hunched over the paper books, staring at the book as though if they had to stop reading, they would think of nothing else than what would happen next. On the other hand, people reading the electronic books look bored, tired, and uninterested. They look like they are being forced to read their book, rather than reading for pleasure.

The last reason that physical books are better than electronic books is that there are also problems with the electronic devices you are reading on, not just the electronic book. Real books never run out of power and you could read them for years if you keep them in good condition. Even if you get the book wet, you can almost always dry it out. The electronic that you are reading on can run out of power in the middle of your story and leave you wondering what will happen next, and if they get wet, it is likely that the electronics will not work. Electronics, reading apps, books on the apps, upgrades, chargers, cases for the electronics, and all the things you need for the electronic are also way more expensive than physical books. You could save money by just buying the physical book. On some electronics, kids that are supposed to be reading could instead be playing games on the electronics. This is because the electronics are distracting. “For older age groups, physical books have been outselling e-books in areas like human potential and mindfulness,” reads a study commissioned by paper producer Stora Enzo demonstrated (Rowzie). In other words, paper books are less distracting and help with focus.

Some people do prefer electronic books because they don’t want to contribute to cutting down trees. Cutting down trees can hurt the environment and make many species go extinct. Trees help take carbon dioxide out of the air we breathe and put oxygen back in the air. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to breathe, and would therefore die. They don’t think that a paper book is worth those risks. I think that this is in some sense true, but I also think that you can always replant trees. Sometimes you can even plant more than there were before. You can’t always get your eyesight back after you stare at a screen for too long, or your personal information back after you click on an ad for a “game” or “website.” Others think that electronic books are light and easier to carry than a lot of books. The problem with this is that not everybody has access to electronics or can afford them, which means that even though they do have some efficient features, they are not very useful to others.

The advantages of paper books over electronic ones, when added up and compared, are immense. Electronic books can hurt your eyes, hurt you financially, often do not give you as much detail as paper books, and ultimately can fail and break. Therefore, wherever possible, you should strive to read paper books. While paper books do have their faults, they certainly have way fewer than electronic books. I could most definitely name many more problems that electronic books have, but it could take a great number of years to research them and write them all down. I hope that next time you read a book, you choose to read the paper version of the book as opposed to the electronic version.

Bibliography

  • Rowzie, Kathi. Two Sides NA. “New Survey Shows Readers Overwhelmingly Prefer Physical Books.”

https://visionsource.com/blog/print-vs-digital-which-is-better-for-your-eyesight/#:~:text=Studies%20have%20shown%20that%20when,20%2F20%2F20%20rule

Glass Heart

“Give me a song of hope and a world where I can sing it.” – Pauli Murray

Give a glass heart to

Me. say you’ll trade my heart back maybe tomorrow–

A lie too raw like a newly picked scab.

Song structure had always confused me–

Of sweet flowers and

Hope I was born

And songs never felt quite right like

A

World where my heart lives gleefully. I will never stop asking

Where? Where?

I can’t keep searching, stars.

Can you sift it out of the never-ending gem-studded sand of infinity?

Sing a song to help me understand–I won’t, though–that

It isn’t personal, it’s just the wrong world.

Chapter from the ‘Book of Problems #6: Fight Fire With Madness’

It was 11:32 am. Desmond showed up at ‘Milk Kingdom,’ his place of work. It was Saturday, the most perfect day of the week to carry out his plan with no school to keep him back.

Zofia, his coworker, was already there in her cow costume complete with the horns. 

“I got your text.” she said. “I’m a little confused. What’s LONG ENDS. INC?”

“The worst government organization in the history of the universe,” Desmond answered. “So I’m thinking 

we could use that new routine we were working on to distract them. Is that cool?”

“Where’s that Jim guy you were talking about?”

“Oh yeah, he should be here in a bit.”

“He better be compatible.”

“He is kind of…I can’t find the word. He yells a lot. That’s what he did to me and my friends when we tied him up in the theater.”

“Why did you tie him up?”

“Because he broke in.”

“Why did he break into a theater?”

“Because he’s a brother of a director-in-chief at LONG ENDS. INC, he calls himself Gemini. He thought that my friend Imogen had kidnapped a Greek princess, so he kidnapped her to get her to admit that she kidnapped the Greek princess. His best friend then hacked into her personal files and kidnapped my other two friends, Stefan and Ellis.” Desmond wished he could provide a more detailed explanation, but he was in a hurry.

Zofia just stared blankly up at him. “What’s a director-in-chief?”

“It’s what they call a commander-in-chief at LONG ENDS. INC.”

“Why is your life so weird?”

“There’s Jim!” Desmond pointed his finger out the window.

Jim pushed the door open. A little bell dinged as he entered the shop. He held up his phone. “Okay, so I got your text. About the plan…”

He said some words. Not some good ones.

“Bro!” Zofia scolded.

“It was not my plan,” Desmond said, like Jim could read his mind. “It was a mix of Sadie’s, Daisy’s, Finian’s, Magnolia’s, Sharon’s, Jaime’s, Fiona’s, Grace’s, Milo’s, Ilyas’, Lale’s, Zelda’s, Marina’s, some Bryan action here and there…yeah,  I only contributed a little bit. We’re just the distraction.”

“Why do I have to be the distraction? Can’t I just get into the action part of the plan?” Jim asked.

“No, because when your brother sees you, he will be distracted from his work, and be all over you which is exactly what we need. And since he is one of the commanders, or directors, or whatever you call them, everyone else will have to stay behind!” Desmond replied.

“Wait, what do you mean by ‘everyone else’?” Zofia asked.

“LONG ENDS. INC has sixty workers.” Desmond explained. “Those members are divided into five groups. Each group has a leader. That leader is called the ‘director-in-chief.’ All sixty members take their lunch break together.”

Jim shook his head. “Fine. I’m guessing there is more to this distraction?” He made sarcastic jazz hands.

“Wear this.” Zofia threw a black garbage bag at Jim.

He caught it, opened it, took a sniff, took the contents out, and cringed.

“I’m not wearing this.” he said, shaking his head in reluctance.

“Hey, a Moo-Moo’s milk cow costume is nothing to be ashamed of.” said Zofia.

“It’s nothing to be proud of either. It smells like my teenage years.”

“You can complain, or you can help rescue my friends.” said Desmond.

“Is this how you defeated Mildred and Marge?”

“No. We were wearing elephant costumes.”

“Can I ask a question?” Zofia asked.

“Sure.” said Desmond.

“What type of government organization has only sixty members? And what type of government organization has all sixty members go out on a lunch break at the same time?”

“Who cares?” Desmond asked.

“All that matters is that their HQ is empty then.” Jim said, pulling his costume on. “Their lunch break is in ten minutes. They’re probably at ‘Bucket World’ today.”

Jim pointed his fingers to the West. “Let’s roll.”

Zofia raised her hand.

“Yes?” asked Desmond

“Do you want me to bring out my choir group as an extra distraction?”

“We’ll call that plan C.”

“Plan C?”

“We already have a plan B.”

***

All sixty members of LE. INC piled out of the HQ building like raw sewage spilling out of a pipe. As Jim predicted, they all went to Bucket World for lunch, home of the buckets of mac n’ cheese and fried chicken. There were plenty of outdoor seating by the fast food restaurant with metal folding chairs and tables on both sides of the wide sidewalk. All sixty members sat on one of those folding chairs, taking up all the available seats. They were always lucky like that.

In the middle of their meal, Jim, Desmond, and Zofia were hiding behind a car parked at the corner of the street, waiting for the right moment.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to bring my choir group? They can be pretty distracting.” Zofia persisted.

“I think a teenager, a ten year old, and a college student dancing around in cow costumes rapping about milk is distracting enough.” Jim assured her.

“3…2…1! Go, go, go!” Desmond whisper-shouted.

All three cows popped out from behind the car to run to the eating area where the LE. INC members were sitting and struck their opening poses. Jim turned on a boom box. A heavy beat emitted from the speakers, shaking the ground like a heartbeat in a ribcage. That prompted Zofia to start rapping, 

“Moo-Moo’s milk is straight from fiction, it’s a non-alcoholic, drug-free addiction!”

Desmond texted Magnolia:

Dwiththeglasses direct message to MagnoliaWantsPeace: distraction in place. Start picking the lock.”

“Let me hear you scream ‘calcium’!”  Zofia continued with the rap. “Vitamin D!”

Meanwhile, Sadie, Daisy, Finian, Magnolia, Sharon, Jaime, Fiona, Grace, Milo, Ilyas, Lale, Zelda, Marina, and Bryan were waiting in the alley a block away from the LE. INC HQ building, or what they called ‘the loony bird nest’.

“Desmond gave the signal!” Magnolia shouted. “Let’s go!”

Sadie was fastening her harness. “Fiona, you got the rope?”

“Check. And the carabiners, too.” Fiona nodded. “Finian! I need your baseball bat.”

Finian handed it over. “Do not get it dirty.”

“No promises.”

They all ran to the front of the building. Magnolia was about to pick the lock, but Sharon picked up her leg, drew back, and with a running leap, kicked the door. It flew open.

“Lifting those weights really paid off!” she said, rubbing her arms to feel some toned muscle.

“The door was unlocked,” Sadie said.

“Oh. Enable the Blossom phase!” Sharon said in her anime voice.

Everyone rushed inside the building. There were cubicle offices, papers everywhere, and the whole typical corporate office shebang. The lights were off. A single switch controlled all the lights in the building. They didn’t turn them on so they didn’t attract attention.

Fiona and Sadie set up their gear. It was the gear you use when you want to hang from the ceiling to spy on people. Sadie was wearing a rock-climbing harness. Fiona slid a thick rope through a metal ring attached to a part of the harness on Sadie’s back. Sadie, wanting to remain incognito, wore a black t-shirt and black jogger pants to blend in with the shadows on the ceiling. Fiona was wearing a white hoodie and white cargo pants to blend in with the walls she would be leaning against. Fiona secured the rope, rummaged through her backpack, and took out a bow & arrow. She took an archery class last summer, and she hoped her aim was good enough for the plan.

There were various metal bars on the ceiling, all evenly spaced. Enough space to make a shot with an arrow. Jim had told Fiona that those bars were for safety measures. If the ceiling had collapsed, they would fall on the bars first, giving everyone in the building enough time to escape. Fiona tied the rope to the end of the arrow. It was a very long rope. She hoped it was long enough.

She aimed, took a deep breath, and let physics do its job.

The arrow shot up like a rocket, soaring through the bars, ricocheting off the wall, and dived down, hitting Fiona’s target on a wall opposite from where she was standing. Her target was a thin space between the wall and a large filing cabinet.

She reached into her pocket. “Crap!” she snapped her fingers.

“What? asked Sadie.

“I told Sharon to get me the counterweight. Where is it?”

“Right here!” Sharon said, carrying over a cow’s head.

Fiona screamed. So did Sadie.

“Shhhhh! Do you want us to get caught? This is fake,” Sharon said, turning it around and knocking on it. 

It was made of what seemed to be a mix of plastic and cement.

“Is this heavy enough?” Sadie asked.

Sharon dropped it on the floor. “Yeah, pretty sure.”

Fiona bent over to pick it up, but she groaned and grunted as the fake cow head barely moved. 

“I have so many questions.”

“You can ask them if you want,” said Sharon.

“First, where the hell did you get a fake cow head? Second, why the hell do you have a fake cow head? Third, have you been lifting weights or lifting—this? Fourth, why—WHY—does it look so realistic?”

Sharon had tied the end of the rope to the fake cow head securely and set it behind a stack of paper, out of view. She then left to do some other stuff. Fiona shook off her feelings about the cow head and got to work. She walked to the opposite end of the rope, the one that wasn’t tied to a cow head, and pulled it.

It was secure.

She turned to Sadie, gripping the rope. “My life is in your hands, and I just want you to know that I will never let go of this rope.”

“Are you sure you’re strong enough?” Sadie asked. “I mean, I am two years older than you.”

“I can carry my brother with one hand. I can handle you. He’s like, nine years older than me.” 

Sadie knew that this was true. She had seen it with her own eyes.

Fiona backed away and wedged herself in between two filing cabinets. She pulled the rope hard. It was now as tight as a guitar string. The rope was aligned to look like an upside-down ‘V,’ with the corner hanging by a metal bar. Sadie grabbed Finian’s baseball bat, bit the handle, and started to climb up the rope to the metal bar-infested ceiling. She didn’t stop until she reached the top. She grabbed one of the metal bars and took out the baseball bat from the grasp from her teeth. Finian had the most sweaty hands out of all the boys. She gagged thinking about what disease she had just put in her mouth. She was now hanging from the ceiling fifty feet off the floor. If there was any type of attack in the building, she could slide down the rope and hit someone with the baseball bat.

Magnolia, Zelda, and Bryan rushed to the room where Jim had told them to go. They ran down a dim hallway. Every ten steps, there was a different door with an eccentric poster on it. Only one door fit Jim’s description: the one with the poster of a guacamole pun.

‘Guac this way’.

Magnolia read the pun as she turned the door handle. It was unlocked.

“For a government organization headquarters, this building has low security levels.” Zelda stated.

Magnolia pushed the door open. Inside the room, there were three monitors sharing the same keyboard on one side. On the other side was a row of iron bars. Behind those bars was her missing friends: Stefan, Imogen, and Ellis.

“Holy crap! You’re alive!” Magnolia yelled.

“Magnolia?” Imogen shouted in both relief, surprise, and the verge of crying happy tears.

Bryan waved. “I was Tarzan when you were missing!”

“I trapped him with a glass of milk!” Zelda said. “For your cause!” she added.

Ellis rolled his eyes. He missed his little sister’s spunk.

“Bryan! What are you doing here?” asked Imogen. “You should be at home with mom and dad!”

“I came to see you!” Bryan replied. “I thought you would like to feast your eyes upon your hunky brother.” Ellis and Stefan broke out into a laugh. They started rolling around on the floor, clutching their stomachs.

“Sooo…I’m going to pick the lock now.” Magnolia said, holding up a bunch of differently shaped metal strips.

Stefan and Ellis stopped laughing. They got up and started to rapidly nod their heads. “Get us out of this metal prison!”

Magnolia shoved the metal strips inside the lock of the ‘metal prison’s’ door. The art of lock-picking was tedious, and it made a lot of noise. “Did you actually kidnap a Greek Princess?” she asked.

“No!” Stefan, Ellis, and Imogen said in unison.

As Magnolia picked the lock, Daisy and Finian were shuffling through the file cabinets. “I’m sure they keep records of who they take in for questioning.” Daisy said.

“You mean kidnap,” said Finian.

“Yeah. If we can find those records, then we have evidence of a failing government organization. We can take it to court, then LONG ENDS. INC will close down!”

“That would be nice. Or we could burn it to the ground. That would be quicker.”

“Not while Sadie’s hanging from the ceiling.” Daisy pointed out.

Grace, who had a plan of her own, looked around for vents. She found a loose vent cover. She tugged at it until it came off. There was quite a lot of space in the vents, big enough for her. She climbed inside, carrying a pocket knife with her. If anyone tried to do something to her friends, she could pop out of the vent quickly and threaten the attacker with a corkscrew or something. 

Milo saw her. He placed the vent cover to hide her face. Grace was lying on her belly.

“Thanks,” she whispered. “You better find a place to hide.”

Milo didn’t feel the need to hurry. All the lights were off. He could just shut himself in a supply closet at the last minute. Jaime and Ilyas went into a room with a sign on the door that said ‘Director in Chief #5 Office,’ and hid under a desk. Jaime turned on the recording app on his phone. They might be able to get some oral evidence from the man that was the whole reason they were there.

The whole reason their friends got kidnapped.

The whole reason why their lives were in danger.

It all started with one man’s stupid idea that a teenager captured a Greek princess.

A single moment of misused thinking.

All because of this man.

Jaime and Ilyas were fuming under the desk. They wanted revenge on this man as soon as possible.

Lale followed them in and looked down at them. “Guys, I don’t think you’ll get any oral evidence—” she started lecturing.

“I want to shut this place down!” Ilyas said angrily.

“—we need to leave in ten minutes! If we get caught, we’ll end up getting locked in here like our friends!” Lale explained. “Finian and Daisy should have found the right file by now. We can get out of here soon.”

Jaime nodded. He always liked listening to Lale’s powerful reasoning with Ilyas. In the back of Jaime’s brain, he could hear a doorknob being turned. He jumped. 

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Ilyas asked. “C’mon, J, let’s get out of he—” 

But before Ilyas could finish his sentence, something happened that brought fear to everyone’s hearts. The lights switched on. Director-in-Chief #5 entered the building.

Gemini.

Why Nintendo Should Save the 3DS

The Nintendo Switch is having a moment in modern-day gaming. According to GameRant, “It has sold 84.59 million units after just 49 months on the market, making it one of the fastest-selling consoles of all time.” In all the hubbub over the Switch, one could be forgiven for dismissing the 3DS, Nintendo’s previous handheld, as totally outmoded. Although the 3DS might just seem like a similar handheld to its predecessor, the DS, the 3DS was really a technological miracle of its time – one worthy of continued investment from Nintendo. The 3DS is a dual-screen console which natively (meaning: without anything else added on) supports 3D viewing “on” or “off” for most games. This last feature, in particular, was revolutionary because until the invention of the 3DS you needed 3D glasses or a really complicated and bulky system in order to display 3D pictures. That changed with the advent of the 3DS, which crammed this capability into one small portable console. It not only supports the red and blue colors you would see with 3D glasses, but every color on the visible spectrum. Nintendo should continue to invest in gaming compatibility with the 3DS because it has a rich technological legacy, lots of people still enjoy playing on the 3DS, and many others still have not had the chance to try it yet.

Sadly, people are forgetting the importance of the 3DS. Some very memorable games are The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and Pokemon Sun & Moon. As I write, the number of available games for the 3DS/2DS on the official Nintendo website are rapidly decreasing. In the span of about 3 minutes, I saw the 3DS games go from 1,000 down to just 927! Plus, some of these games are just being hidden on their website, for example if you search for Mario 3DS games, only one result comes up. Super Mario Maker and New Super Mario Bros. 2 are still available for purchase, but don’t come up when you search for them. Whereas the Nintendo switch is getting all the fame, with a current total amount of games at 14,051. (At the time of writing)

This number doesn’t even account for all the separate games in the expansion packs, given to you when getting Nintendo switch online and Nintendo switch online + Expansion pack. There are a lot of separate games available from the NES, SNES, N64, and even Sega Genesis! (And now Gameboy and Gameboy Advance as well.) Taking all this into account, the total games for the Nintendo switch are probably around 15 thousand!

Nintendo has its own reasons for shutting down the 3DS, of course. According to Nintendo life, this turn of events “is part of the natural life cycle for any product line as it becomes less used by consumers over time.” Although this statement has some validity, there are many holes in this argument. Sure, less people are using it than at launch, but people like me, people who have never used it, or got it and use it daily, weekly, even just monthly still have reasons to get it and keep it. By shutting down features of the 3DS, people who love playing, or who have never played, will never get to experience the best of the 3DS, only the mess that Nintendo has now left us with. Essentially it takes away the reasons to buy or use the 3DS from the 3DS. According to the same Nintendo life article, “Online play will also still be available ‘for the foreseeable future’ for any titles you already own, past March 2023.” This means that until March of 2023, games that use online multiplayer are still playable. This doesn’t apply to all games though. Games made by Nintendo like Super Mario Maker, New Super Mario Bros. 2,  or anything needing to be connected to Nintendo’s servers and can’t be played anymore (multiplayer or other functions don’t work, single player usually doesn’t rely on Nintendo servers, so it should work fine). Super Mario Maker broke when Nintendo shut down their servers, since the only thing you can do is play levels. You can’t upload levels anymore.

Although the 3DS might just seem like a similar handheld to its predecessor, the DS2, the 3DS was really a technological miracle worthy of continued investment from Nintendo. It supported a variety of games considering its virtual console, support for other DS games, and its own 3DS games. That’s more than 3 different consoles!1 It also supported a variety of different inputs like the microphone, stylus, or the buttons and Circle Pads (the little circles you move around). This provided a great experience for many different game enthusiasts. This gives no surprise on why many 3DS enthusiasts still love playing the 3DS today, yet with the 3DS servers shutting down, they won’t get to play their favorite games or get to share their experience with others. There are many 3DS lovers, ones who have had the 3DS since its release, but this one joined the party 10 years late! Yet they still loved the 3DS,  “There is something inviting about the 3DS, from the small jingle it plays when it turn it on to the little shopping bag that bows to you at the eshop, to unwrapping your downloads like presents- Just navigating through the menu is full of small sights and sounds, and the 3D effect on the upper screen seems to exist simply because it’s neat and kind of magical.”

Yet there are still many people who have not had the chance to try the 3DS yet. With the 3DS servers shutting down, they will never be able to experience the joy that people had when getting their 3DS for the first time. Just look at what Miyamoto (an important figure at Nintendo) says about the 3DS, “The Nintendo 3DS system is sometimes said to just be a ‘Nintendo DS system with higher specs.’ But it’s really much more than that. It’s a game system with an entirely different charm. That’s why, for the customers who purchase it, I want them to fully enjoy the features of this new machine.” Yet a few years later (actually about 13 years later), they are shutting down the eshop, leaving the 3DS essentially useless, with no online multiplayer, no street pass, a very interesting feature of the 3DS, not even the ability to buy digital 3DS games!

You might be thinking, sure people haven’t gotten the chance to play the 3DS, but video games can be harmfully addicting. And you’d be right, according to Wiliam Siu, who used to be a game developer, “The over-the-top experiences and rewards built into video games can stimulate our brains to release dopamine. Dopamine, the powerful ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter, motivates us to seek more of these pleasurable activities.” Although video games can be addictive, if you or your child happen to get an addictive game, then you can either delete it, or you can use the built-in parental controls, which when enabled can limit time on specific games or play time in general. This is shown in Nintendo’s article about 3DS parental controls. The support article notes that, “Parental Controls can be set at any time on Nintendo 3DS family systems. It’s possible to configure these options while setting up the Nintendo 3DS family system for the first time, and then after this point they can be altered via System Settings.”

The 3DS is one of the most technologically advanced hand-helds of its time, and it does not deserve the fate of being forgotten. This phase-out of the 3DS gnaws at me, since I personally never got to play on a 3DS. With Nintendo shutting down the 3DS servers, most of the fun of using a 3DS is fading away as people leave with the servers. It gets rid of what the 3DS lived up to, leaving us only with only a few exclusive features that were built in. This matters to everyone because it means that people who did or didn’t get to experience the amazing features of the 3DS will never get to experience it again. By the 27th of March, 2023, the physical copies of games are going to be the only ones you can buy. Digital games can only be stored on the 3DS for so long. They will reach their expiration dates. These points apply to many other old consoles as well, not just the 3DS. There were many good consoles like the N64, Sega Dreamcast, and PS3 that were very popular in their time that many people would also like to preserve. And soon in the future, this fading out process will apply to the switch, when there will be another more popular console out there, leaving the history it made behind.

Works cited:

Simelane, Smangaliso. “Why Is the Nintendo Switch so Successful?” Game Rant, 14 Jan. 2022, https://gamerant.com/nintendo-switch-success-hardware-versatility-game-sales-pandemic/.

Gray, Kate. “When Does the 3DS and Wii U Eshop Close? Nintendo EShop Closure Guide.” Nintendo Life, Nintendo Life, 27 Mar. 2023, https://www.nintendolife.com/guides/when-does-the-3ds-and-wii-u-eshop-close-nintendo-eshop-closure-guide#:~:text=Here’s%20Nintendo’s%20statement%20on%20the,plenty%20of%20time%20to%20prepare.%22

Hetfeld, Malindy. “Falling in Love with the Nintendo 3DS 10 Years Late.” Eurogamer.net, Eurogamer.net, 27 June 2021, https://www.eurogamer.net/falling-in-love-with-the-nintendo-3ds-ten-years-late

Siu, William. “I Make Video Games. I Won’t Let My Daughters Play Them.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Oct. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/02/opinion/video-game-addiction.html#after-story-ad-2

“Setting Nintendo 3DS Parental Controls.” Nintendo Support, 25 Mar. 2011, https://www.nintendo.co.uk/Support/Parents/Safety/Nintendo-3DS-Parental-Controls/Setting-Nintendo-3DS-Parental-Controls/Setting-Nintendo-3DS-Parental-Controls-907330.html#:~:text=Parental%20Controls%20can%20be%20set,be%20altered%20via%20System%20Settings

Endnotes

1.  An interesting fact is that the 3DS can play two Mario Kart games, namely Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7.

2. Nobody knows what DS stands for, so there are a lot of games that make fun of that.

Flight

Flight is the pounding feeling in my heart when I am onstage, 

about to perform

Flight is the flurry of butterflies in the pit of my stomach when I 

try something new

Flight is the release of the softball as it goes whirling towards 

the batter

Flight is the excitement of my smile as the batter swings and 

misses

Flight is my pencil as it flies across my paper

Flight is the blur of my legs as they run, running faster than ever, 

with my feet pounding on the pavement, my future ahead of me

Blood on the Ice

The landing pod touched down on the barren planet as the crew took their first look at planet C42. “Landing pod to Space Center; We have touched down with no damage. I repeat, we have touched down with no damage,” the captain, Xavier Vanlaere, said into the com. 

London Hill, pilot and navigator, barked orders from her seat. “Do not move until final orders are given. There has been no hull damage currently, but we have lost contact with C42 PS crew 01. We don’t know what we are getting ourselves into, so stay sharp. Their landing pod is 3 clicks north from here, and it is our job to find it. This was a failed mission and there are no presumed survivors. Proceed with caution and level headedness.” Flooding out of the ship, a scout squad armed with the latest high caliber weaponry strode out onto the desolate planet. Ice geysers stood frozen. Wind whipped through the suits of the crew, and frost was already forming around their feet. They felt the cold of course, but they weren’t prepared for what would come next. As they strode in rank and formation toward the signal coming from the landing pod’s radar, none of them knew what to expect, but whatever they did, it wasn’t what awaited them.

As they marched toward the signal, the soldiers took bets with each other, trying to ease the tension that electrified the air. All of them stayed alert though, their halfhearted voices echoing throughout the empty planet. The group rounded a corner and the landing pod came into view. They all halted.

“Son of a bitch,” one of the soldiers swore. 

“Lieutenant Craw, send a squad to scout the ship,” Vanlaere barked. “We will remain here until you deem it safe. Be aware, soldier.”

The soldiers rustled with anticipation, and murmurs arose. None of them quite trusted this empty planet. 

Ten minutes later, Craw sprinted back toward the ship, face red with adrenaline and fear. “Sir!” He held something in his glove. 

Vanlaere snapped straight up. “What is it, Lieutenant?”

Craw reached them. “Captain,” he panted. “I’ve found something.” He dropped what looked like a hard drive into Vanlaere’s outstretched hand. “There’s not much else, sir. But this was in it. There were also test tubes, and it looked like it held some sort of blood.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” 

“Yes, sir.” 

Vanlaere clenched the drive. “Let’s see what really happened to C42 PS crew 01.”

28 YEARS EARLIER

Toby: Mission log, C42-01. We found ourselves here after an unmarked planet showed up on our radar. Landscape appears to be mostly ice. Still unsure about going out of our landing pod, wind speed appears to be far greater than earth’s. Sensors outside the ship read 14.2% O2, unsafe for us. We found a frozen ocean, H2O with an abundance of Sulfate. Still don’t have a good reading on the depths of the ice, Betty was disabled following a gust of wind. One landing pod was busted on impact. We landed almost 4 kilometers from the projected landing zone. Gravity 1.65 Gs, so the suits will be able to handle it. Sea level is -13 meters relative to earth, and the tallest visible peak is 1642.2 meters. This is Toby, engineer, signing off.

Violet: Mission log, C42-02. The landing was rough as part of the landing gear got stuck in the ice. I was tasked with mapping out the new planet with the drone Betty 1.0 but during the first hour of her departure the connection was cut, and when we sent Bella 4.6 to look for Betty, Betty was missing. Since Betty was destroyed we have put off making the map. I also helped Toby with fixing the ship’s landing gear. Tessa and I got into a fight when she wanted me to go outside and I resisted. Man, I really want to go home. I mean, it can’t be as bad as last time.

Sammi: Mission log, C42-03. We have not explored outside of the pod. Birdlike creatures have destroyed Betty, but haven’t done anything to the broken skeleton since then. It appears they attack anything that moves and it is almost impossible to avoid them. Our landing gear broke and we don’t have the parts to fix it. We are stranded now, but the panic hasn’t set in for anybody yet. It’s only a matter of time though. The thermometer outside reads -121.2 C°. Our suits can handle the cold, but we are not sure how to avoid the birds to get to the ice and fish people. Ice geysers streak toward the sky then freeze in a curved position as a result of the hundred kph wind and climate. We have been sent food, and supplies, but command doesn’t have the parts for the landing gear Toby needs to repair the ship. We also need to get samples.

Toby: Mission log, C42-04. Found an instance of C42-C just now. It was chewing through some of the wires. I haven’t seen a specimen this size. Subject resembles a rabbit mixed with a mole, with completely white fur and red eyes. They tunnel around in the snow to avoid the birds and winds. These guys prove how versatile life can be. 

Tessa: Mission log, C42-05. We have made contact with C42. The landing gear is stuck in the ice. This makes quick escape an improbable option. However this provides more time for data and sample collection. Violet has voiced how angry she is with me. I don’t understand it. Whilst trying to fix the ship Toby found a mole-like creature identified as C42-C. They tunnel under the ice and snow to hide from C42-B. This is how we could move without C42-B attacking us. We could use this to get to the C42-A. I need to get my hands on one of the C42-C to get samples. Sammi told me I shouldn’t touch them until we know more. I think she is a fool. We must act on this opportunity or we could lose it. 

Violet: Mission log, C42-06. Toby found a white mole-like creature that tunnels under the snow. Tessa said we could use this to move around without being killed like Betty, and she is going to chase after one of those mole things. I mean, what if the thing scratches her or bites her and she gets infected and it spreads to Sammi and Toby and everyone dies? I also helped Toby with the ship. 

Sammi: Mission log, C42-07. Tessa and I are taking a sample of the ice today. We have found a way to get deep under the ice to take the sample modeling after a new species we have discovered. C42-C looks like a hybrid of a rabbit and mole. It tunnels under the ice with sharp teeth and claws and seems immune to the cold, although it doesn’t have much fur. They are white. Tessa is intrigued but we don’t know its defenses and habits so I’ve told her to stay away from it for now. I’m running low on supplies to treat her if she gets injured. She’s not going to listen to me.

Toby: Mission log, C42-08.  Finally got a clear reading on the ice depths after going through 3 different Bettys. Ice is .54 kilometers deep, and lowest layers are past 12,000 years deep. Did you know the atmosphere here used to be breathable? MRS 01 was destroyed by those damn birds and, oh yeah, none of our measures to bring down instances of C42-B have been successful. They are immortal. Great. On top of that, they attack anything that moves even an inch. I managed to get a signal up to Betty 1.0’s backup camera and found a whole horde of the things. They seem to be riding air currents in a massive loop. Still trying to get that landing gear fixed, can’t take off till we do. This is Toby, engineer, signing off.

Toby: Mission log C42-09. Well, command abandoned us. They said it was “too expensive to keep us alive.” So we have about two weeks till rations run out, and a further three weeks to starve. Of course, we can’t let that happen. The others and I are trying to formulate a plan, but I know it’s gonna be up to me to put that into action. 

Sammi: Mission log, C42-10. Food is dwindling. We have enough to get us through at least a week and a half, after that… 

I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but we have slowly been receiving less and less supplies from Command. Our radars don’t pick up their orbit around C42’s atmosphere. Violet hasn’t been keeping records of our food, so we don’t know when the food started to stop arriving. They’ve given up on us. Toby seems panicked, I think he realizes. It just got a lot more dangerous for us.

Toby: Mission log, C42-11. I think I have a plan to get off this planet once and for all. Command originally sent us some emergency flares, which have since been lost when I outfitted them to a Betty. But I think that If I can make my own flares and get to the top of a mountain, I can get their attention, assuming our orbital AED is still there. I’m planning to take everyone with me in a few weeks. Our food is low, so I should work quickly. I will update you on further progress. This is Toby, engineer, signing off.

Tessa: Mission log, C42-12. We found a way to go under the ice to get to C42-A. We have not had any stable ways to communicate with C42-A. As of now my attempts to understand the language have been nearly impossible. I have discerned that the only way of communicating with them is through pictures. I am attempting to build a C42-A to English dictionary. I have yet to collect the samples of the bioluminescent particles that create the patterns on the C42-A people. They always run away or avoid me when I ask to gather more samples. Perhaps this is a tender issue for them. Whatever it may be, my samples are far more important.

Sammi: Mission log, C42-13. Tessa and I have gone down once before and taken a sample of the ice. She received a gash in her suit and arm on the way up, and after treating her I have no supplies left to treat anyone else. We are going down again today so Tessa may get her water sample. She also wants a blood sample of the Matcian people. I tell her that that will not likely happen. We have found two clans at war with each other. The C42-A, a kind of fish people we named the Matcian people, it appears, have been forced to choose sides. They live and fight under the ice, but never break it. Violet is leaning more and more heavily upon me, because Tessa is emotionally unavailable. Toby is sending Bettys out like sacrificial pigs. I don’t think he’s getting any work done. He knows the safe word and has the strength to crank the lever to pull us back up though. But I have a gut feeling something will go wrong, I just don’t know what. It’s not safe, and I will not insult anyone’s intelligence by saying it is, but I believe we have a chance to get these samples. If everything goes according to plan.  We just need to get off this damn planet.

Violet: Mission log, C42-14. I finished mapping the planet it is really snowy and icy and I am starting to use the stupid AI therapist. It’s supposed to help but I don’t think it is. We discovered a creature that killed Betty 1.0. It’s a giant bird that hunts things that move. Tessa calls them C42-B. I spent most of my time with Sammi then Tessa came in with a gash and for some reason I started to breathe heavily and I don’t even like Tessa. Then the stupid AI said “You are safe. Everything is alright, you are in a safe place.” NO! I am not safe. This planet killed Betty. 

Toby: Mission log, C42-15. Where is my wrench? Damn. Wait this thing is, oh. Okay, I think I finally did it. I finally outfitted the suit with enough oxygen to reach the mountain. I made some flares. I can finally talk to command. Only issue is, there is a stretch of water, meaning I can’t tunnel under the snow most of the way. It will be a run. I could go around, but that is a multi day trip, and I don’t have enough O2. Command can get me out of this planet, they can take me home. Violet has just been yelling at me, don’t think she realizes that if she tries to use the ship we’ll all die. They don’t think that it’s possible to get to the mountain. Don’t they trust their engineer? I’m planning to leave before anyone else. I’ll give you one more log, and then commands picking me up. This is Toby and oh yeah, one more thing. I hid Bella so only I can use her. Nobody else needs to know I’m scouting the mountain. These Matcians have been sacrificing themselves every few days, I don’t think they realize it does nothing. It doesn’t matter. I’ll be gone next week.

Tessa: Mission log, C42-16. My samples are nearly complete. I have yet to collect data from C42-B. Perhaps I should collect samples from C42-B before we return to command. The C42-A people seem to be at their wits end. I will not stop at this point. Sammi tells me I should be more careful to not offend them. My data collection is going swimmingly. Maybe Mother and Father will be proud when I return. 

Toby: Mission log, C42-17. I started picking up poetry for my last few days on the pod. Found some Edgar Alllen Poe from my school days. Forgot I even had these. Might as well read them, I doubt I can ever see them again. I still haven’t told the others. They will just try to “help” me. I no longer need the unwillful cries to stray me from striding to my future. Was that good? Anyways, I don’t think I’ll be going on anymore planetary sweeps after this. 

Toby: Mission log, C42-18. Woe is me, the lords of these lands have abandoned my memes. The breath of Pan has been breathed into me, yet I freeze in this sea of life-stealing cold. I have no will to go on, and I see that my life has none left to give. Those called “command” have left me. I see my path, burned into my mind, yet I hear the screams of the cruel, unforgiving, killing sky-tyrants. They cannot see me as my heartbeat slows. So many great persons have passed this way. I will join the scores of those living in the life after death, floating around the cosmos while my mortal form remains frozen. Free from this frozen hell. Let me rest now. Peace y’all. 

Tessa: Mission log, C42-19. The C42-A has taken me prisoner. I have attempted to take samples from the walls as they seem to be made of some sort of spongelike material I have not yet seen nor identified. The rest of the crew have not contacted me in awhile. The C42-A chitter away whenever they pass by my cell. I wonder if the chitters work as echolocation.

Violet: Mission log, C42-20. Sammi and Tessa are out with the fish people and I’m in my room with my thoughts. Command has stopped talking to me. When I saw Toby’s tool and drone room I thought I saw Rex working in there I got really scared. I talked to the AI therapist. It said that “her mother didn’t care about her” but she DOESN’T HAVE A MOTHER *cries*. AI therapist: “It’s all right to cry…” NO NO NOOOOOO! SMASH! *deep breathing* I threw it. It’s gone. Okay okay okay I should talk to Toby. Hey hello? Toby, are you there? Toby? TOBY please please answer. I-I-I can’t. We can’t be without you. Don’t leave meee! *sobs*. Why did I come here? Why did I let myself come here? I was a great pilot with a good crew that did good missions but then they died and here I am about to die. I don’t want to die.

Tessa: Mission log, C42-21. They are taking me out of my cell and covering me in a firm sticky seafoam like gel. They are drilling through the ice. This seems to cause a large commotion among the people. 

Tessa: Mission log, C42-22. I am done. Goodbye, thank you. Mother, father. 

Sammi: Mission log, C42-23. Toby is dead. I can’t find his body. I don’t know how. Neither does Violet. She refuses to talk about it. Tessa was sacrificed to the Birds. It’s just Violet and me now. Not much else to report on. Still don’t have a lot of food, very little medical supplies. I don’t know. I’m a little bit numb right now. I’ll try to update later. What’s the point, though? Nobody will see this. Our engineer is gone. Our scientist is gone. Our food is almost gone. Everything but the painkillers are gone from the medical cabinet. Time is running out. 

Violet: Mission log, C42-24. Sammi came back from trying to get fish people samples… without Tessa. *sniffle* WE ARE GOING TO DIE HERE. First Toby dies, then Tessa dies by being sacrificed by the fish people to the birds. I got it, I got it. We can leave even if there are parts broken, we can probably still fly and get out of here. Yes. This is going to work, we are going to be out of here and I will never step foot on another hostile planet again! Hah hah, I have figured it all out, no one will die ever again. I’m going to tell Sammi all about this. Sammi Sammi we should just leave. Even though some parts are broken we can still fly. Sammi: “The bird things will probably get the ship if we try to fly away.” Okay we can’t fly away. *cries*

Sammi: Mission log, C42-25. I found his body. He was impaled on an ice geyser. He was my companion. I was stuck with him for almost three months. I feel empty. But not sad. Not lost. All I feel is worried for myself. Should I feel bad? I didn’t know him that well, but… he was my crewmate. I don’t feel anything. It’s like an endless spiral into hell and insanity, and I don’t know a way to fix this. How do I help us? How do I save us?

Sammi: Mission log, C42-26. Violet is unstable. I cannot deal with it. She talks and talks and doesn’t do anything. She asked if I missed anyone. Then she asked if I had a partner. Then it was onto pets. Then it was a monologue on how much she missed her family. Then she explained every aspect of her social life. Next, she launched into every part of her education. Then she started sobbing. I hugged her, and patted her back. I can’t take much more of this. I need to help myself too.

Violet: Mission log, C42-27. So, things have been going well and no one has died. WE CAN’T LEAVE WE ARE GOING TO DIE HERE. I shouldn’t have thrown the AI therapist. At least I have Sammi. Speaking of Sammi, I’m going to talk to Sammi.

Sammi: Mission log, C42-28. I miss Mom, Buddy, and Dad. Damn it, I miss Tessa too. We weren’t family and we didn’t know each other before the trip, but we were stuck on an ice planet together for four months and all Violet does is talk to me. She won’t leave me alone. I don’t have a lot of alone time, but when I do my only thoughts are: Is this worth it?

Sammi: Mission log, C42-29. It’s not. It’s not worth it. Not with my entire crew almost gone. I’m going to try to get the samples of C42-B tonight. For Mom and Dad. I love you.

Sammi: Mission log, C42-30. I’ve used almost the last of my painkillers. They make me forget. I should probably stop but I can’t. I can’t stop.

I just…

can’t…

stop…

Violet: Mission log, C42-31. Sammi died! *cries* She overdosed on pain meds so she wouldn’t have gone crazy. *Ship door opening* *Quiet* Ohhhh I know what I can do, let’s go visit the fish people! Oh you must be the cult. You want me to join you. Rex, everyone! You’re here! I thought you died. I’m so happy. Guess I have to go. *Splash*

Four dead. A small sacrifice in the scale of humanity. And all in the name of science. Military personnel don’t flinch in the face of death, yet knowing the truth of what happens to astronauts who lose contact is more… grim. “Pack up and let’s move out!” barked Hill. “We gotta get this bird off the ground! There is nothing else for us here.” She avoided the eyes of her crew. It felt wrong to leave their memories here, but how else. Their families were dead, as far as any of them knew. There was nothing left. Nothing else to do. As the ship ascended out of the atmosphere, Hill couldn’t help but think about whether their deaths were necessary. 

Watching as the planet’s dying sun rose over the horizon, the dead crew’s landing pod fading into a black dot in the distance, Hill muttered to Vanlaere, “Do you think they had to die?”

“Had to?” He responded. “No; but it’s not up to us, and what’s done is done. Best not to think about it.” He kept his eyes on the horizon, not looking at Hill. Hill glanced behind her, through the film of the atmosphere. She took note of the soldiers behind her doing the same. Her guilt pounded through her with every second the ship got farther from the planet.

The icy planet grew distant, and most of the soldiers turned back. Hill stayed twisted around though, staring out the glass until her eyes glazed and her back ached, yet she stayed. The very least she could do to pay tribute to the four who died. Who no one would remember. And so she looked. The icy, desolate, bare, hostile planet that used to be full of life. The last London Hill and her crew saw of the planet C42 looked almost peaceful, when the harsh winds, and cold climate couldn’t be felt. Peace. She hoped those four crew members had found it.

The End

Or is it…

 Yes. It is.

The Path to School

Fall,

Wheat covered,

Wind whipped,

Dirt and mud,

Stones under foot,

Crunch as you step,

Walk through the dry, dead grass,

The forest

Covered in red and orange hues

And stick figure trees,

Nearly winter now

Over the storm drain,

Cloudy sky,

Off to school with you.

Winter,

Bone chilling cold,

Sky clouded,

Soaked with rain,

Grass dead,

Stumble,

Catch your balance,

Stumble,

Fall,

Mud everywhere,

The forest 

Covered in sticks

Dead vines,

Leaves crumble under foot

Hidden in mounds of snow,

Shiver over to the storm drain,

Can’t wait ‘till spring,

Get out of the cold,

Run to school.

Spring,

Buds,

On the trees,

Bushes bursting with little green leaves,

Color filtering back into the grass,

Hope coming,

Mind clearing,

Sun shining,

Joy blossoming,

Skip down the path,

The forest

Vivid red buds

Dappled light

Peace forming,

Jump by the storm drain,

Grass getting taller, greener,

Buds on the trees,

You are hesitant for school.

Summer,

Last days of cooler air,

Grass is green and tall,

Fall into it,

Roll down the dandelion covered hill,

Trees are green and thick with leaves,

Laughter fills the air,

So much light,

So much joy,

Sun shining, 

The forest

Calm place of shadowed shelter,

Full of cicadas 

Chirping away,

You spring to the storm drain,

Graze the waist-high emerald grass

With your hand,

Softly tuck a flower in your hair,

Touch a perfect green leaf

Put it in your pocket,

It’s the last you’ll feel for hours,

You don’t want to go to school. 

Based on All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury

All Summer in a Day

I dream of a

glistening

burning

radiant

Sun

gold crayon

sunflower

fire on the stove

I feel the

heat

warmth

Of the sun against my skin

I’m 

Spinning

Leaping

dancing

Across the soft ground

Flowers blooming around me

But then I fall

and wake 

from my dream 

and 

deep sleep

I wake up to see the 

pounding

endless

crystal – clear

Rain

An ocean of 

sorrow

despair

misery

A single raindrop

The thunder is

roaring

booming

whooping

Outside

A storm swirling with everlasting rain and thunder

The misty sky so

hazy

foggy

cloudy

The rainshower continues

Wolves: The Other Side Revealed

Wolves have sharp teeth, they growl, they eat meat, and they are natural predators. They are the bad guys in The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf and Seven Young Kids, etc. We, humans, say wolves are vicious monsters just because they eat animals and humans in fairy tales. But there is a whole different side to them that we do not even know. A side where wolves are cautious creatures, caring, and helpful. Wolves are not harmful or threatening animals, because they are no different from humans, and they also help the ecosystem. 

First, wolves are not dangerous animals because they are careful and do not want to find trouble. They try to avoid people when they can. According to DBBW, they have no interest in hurting a human, unless the human attacks first. Wolves rarely make contact with humans, and even if they do, most times they don’t do anything and just watch. They are curious, but staying away from wolves is still suggested. Wolves do not feel comfortable around strangers, but are not a huge threat to people according to Wolf Awareness. Some people think wolves are harmful and threatening because they hunt our livestock, but weather and disease kill a lot more livestock. Wolves only hunt 0.04% of livestock. The rest is all weather and disease. Wolves fear and avoid people, so there is no reason for us to fear them or think that they are vicious monsters. 

Second, wolves are not hostile animals because they are no different from humans. Sure they look, sound, and eat differently, but on the inside we are the same. Humans have families that they care for. We have different personalities and feelings that make us unique. Humans want to have happy lives with their family and friends. That is the same with wolves. Jim and Jamie Dutcher researched wolves for 30 years. They did this by setting up a camp and living with wolves. They saw that wolves were just like humans. They have families called packs. Every member of the pack cares for each other and the pups. They stand up for each other, and help if one is injured. A wolf rarely passes a family member without rubbing against them or sharing eye contact. Every so often the fearful one gets jumped on by its pack members and it looks like it’s getting bullied, but that’s just their version of teasing one another in a friendly manner. Time passes, and the fearful one is back to a happy wolf. Each member also has a personality that makes them unique. Some are brave, some are fearful, and some are playful. Wolves like to play and have fun with their pack members. If a family member dies, then the whole pack’s behavior changes to a sad, quiet one for weeks. Wolves have feelings that they express. They want to live happily with their pack, just like us. Jim and Jamie Dutcher saw all this while living with a wolf pack. Some people think wolves are threatening and harmful because they hunt and eat other animals. Well, guess what? So do we. Humans hunt and eat meat too. We actually hunt a lot more animals than wolves, so there’s no reason to think wolves are menacing and aggressive. They’re just like us. They’re animals with families and feelings. 

Lastly, wolves help the ecosystem. When wolves hunt, they usually hunt sick, weak animals because they would be an easier target. The wolves hunt the animals with diseases and infections before the disease or infection can spread to animals and humans, resulting in an ecosystem with healthy animals. For example, if there’s a weak moose with a disease, the wolves would hunt that moose so the disease can’t spread to other animals and humans. The wolves help create healthy ecosystems because the spreading of disease and infections is prevented by them.  Wolves aren’t vicious monsters because they create healthy ecosystems and prevent diseases from spreading.  In conclusion, wolves are not harmful, threatening animals at all. They’re cautious and afraid of humans. Yet, they are just like humans. They have families that they care for, and have feelings that they show. They are caring and loving. Wolves help ecosystems by preventing diseases from spreading and making other animals and humans sick. The fairy tales that claim wolves are bad and evil creatures are wrong. But right now humans are believing false information about wolves. Humans are hunting wolves, thinking they are harmful and threatening to humans, when they are the exact opposite. Humans kill nearly 10,000 wolves each year, and that’s only in a few states. But wolves haven’t even killed a human in the last century, according to International Wolf Center. Without wolves, forests will become unhealthy from disease. Trees will get sick, and won’t be able to take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Trees capture 30% of the carbon dioxide emitted, which equals 7.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the reason climate change is happening. Wolves keep our forests healthy, and the forests keep the earth healthy. Without wolves, climate change will become a bigger problem than it already is. It is estimated that in 2040, global temperatures will become so high that by then no living organism could live, according to Our Planet. Right now, several countries in Europe have broken records for the highest temperatures, reaching over 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius). We need wolves to keep our forests healthy so that our forests can live and help climate change. Wolves depend on our future. We humans need to stop thinking that wolves are threatening and harmful, and see what they actually do. Humans need to know that wolves are important to the world. You can help wolves by telling your friends and family about how they are so important to the world, you can write a letter to your government, adopt a wolf pup, and you can donate to Wolf Awareness, Living with Wolves, International Wolf Center, or other associations. Now you know that there is a different side to wolves. They are not harmful or threatening, they are caring and helpful creatures.

Loki the Anti-Hero: The God of Mischief with a Good Side

Loki is widely considered to be one of the greatest villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Yes, it’s true, Loki tried to conquer both Earth and Asgard and also fought the Avengers. However, it would be a mistake to see these deeds as villainy. He must be regarded, instead, as the god of mischief. Loki mainly likes to trick people, almost as a prank and likes to cause trouble, picking up fights, etc. Thor, his brother, often made the mistake of trusting Loki and was stabbed in the back many, many times. The key to understanding Loki’s character is to regard him not as an antagonist, but as more of an anti-hero. An anti-hero is similar to a protagonist but lacks the traits in a typical hero. They aren’t equal to a protagonist or a villain, but somewhere in between. Loki fits the profile of an anti-hero because it wasn’t his entire fault for his crimes. He also sacrificed himself for Thor, and cares a lot for his brother. Furthermore, in all of these actions, Loki demonstrates the capacity for personal growth and redemption befitting an anti-hero. 

Most of Loki’s crimes are purely the protagonists’ fault for trusting Loki. Namely when Thor was still a suspect in SHIELD, Loki visited Thor to tell him that his father, Odin (king of the Asgardians), had died. Loki went even further with the lie to tell Thor that he was to be king now and their mother had forbidden Thor’s return. If Thor hadn’t believed Loki, the events that followed probably would not have happened. For example, when Thor escaped out of SHIELD, he stayed put on Earth, mourning for his father and thinking that he is not worthy to return to Asgard. Thor finally realizes that it was all a lie when Sif, one of his friends, tells him the truth. Thor says to Sif in a bitter tone, “You know I can’t go home. My father is dead because of me, and I must remain in exile.” Sif replies, confused, “Thor, your father still lives.” (Thor). Again, if not for Sif, Thor would’ve stayed on Earth probably for a considerable amount of time. If Thor hadn’t believed Loki, he would have made his way back to Asgard as quickly as he can. 

Let’s not forget that Loki sacrificed himself for Thor when Thanos attacked their ship. This one scene ultimately labels Loki as an anti-hero rather than a villain. Loki definitely despised Thanos, one of the main antagonists in the MCU. Shockingly, Loki once teamed up with Thanos when Loki wanted to conquer Earth. The Other (Thanos’ personal servant) once told Thanos reassuringly, “He [Loki] is ready to lead, and our force, our Chitauri, will follow. The world will be his, the universe will be yours. And the humans, what can they do, but burn?” (The Avengers). This reveals that Thanos and Loki were working together. But despite this, in the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War, Loki tried to kill Thanos with daggers in both hands. Even Loki’s last words to Thanos was, “You will never be a god.” (Avengers: Infinity War), which supports even more that Loki hates Thanos. Loki unfortunately stole the Tesseract, a blue glowing cube that protects the space stone and Thanos obtained it. However, Loki’s sacrifice spared Thor, which led to the saving of Earth. 

Even though Loki loves to trick Thor as often as he breathes, Thor and Loki obviously care for each other, even if their intentions are different. It was even Thor that helped Loki make better choices. Loki fought alongside Thor in Thor: The Dark World, Thor: Ragnorak and in Avengers: Infinity War.  Believe it or not, Thor was the one that gave Loki a second chance in Thor: The Dark World, as he was rotting in jail after he tried to invade Earth. Thor said to Loki, “I know you seek vengeance as much as I do. You help me escape Asgard, and I will grant it to you. Vengeance. And afterward, this cell.” Loki then said “You must be truly desperate to come to me for help. What makes you think you can trust me?” Thor replied “…You should know that when we fought each other in the past, I did so with a glimmer of hope that my brother was still in there somewhere. That hope no longer exists to protect you. You betray me, and I will kill you.” Loki says “Hm. When do we start?” Loki annoys Thor and tricks him playfully on their mission as per usual, but he shows his care through the movie by fighting loyally at Thor’s side. Undoubtedly, Loki loves Thor as a brother, and though they sometimes have disagreements, their brotherly relationship will never falter. 


Sources:

https://collider.com/loki-and-thors-brotherly-moments/
https://theportalist.com/loki-quotes-from-the-mcu
https://www.shmoop.com/study-guides/movie/thor-movie/quotes/exile
https://time.com/5544534/marvel-tesseract/
https://www.cbr.com/loki-heroic-dubious-acts/
https://the-take.com/watch/why-have-television-audiences-fallen-so-hard-for-the-anti-hero
https://marvelcinematicuniverse.fandom.com/wiki/Thanos/Quote
https://marvelcinematicuniverse.fandom.com/wiki/Attack_on_Jotunheim
https://www.denofgeek.com
https://www.google.com/search?q=loki+&tbm=isch&ved=2ahUKE
https://www.google.com/search?q=loki+and+thanos&tbm=isch&ved=2ahUKE
https://www.google.com/search?q=loki+and+his+brother+fighting+together&tbm=isch&ved=

Revenge Awoken

“The Old Ones are awakening, it’s time. Humanity will finally rue the day that it stoked the fires of our destruction. Come my fallen kin, the realm of land is ours to play.”

I had waited seventeen years for this moment.

I was raised to be the woman I am now.

I was born to be her.

Humans kill those who they cannot control. And now we shall kill them.

Ten generations of my family sacrificing their lives have led to this. The fate of our species’ kind rests on my shoulders. And I am ready.

I lean over my ancestors’ graves, swirling a drop of human blood with a drop of mine. For one of the few times in my life, I am above ground. I am surrounded by all our supporters, chanting the phrase from our Necronomicon.

The drop of blood falls. I step back from the tomb and drop my pendant into the dirt, crushing it with the heel of my foot, and recite the chant.

“Rise, my ancestors, the Old Ones have awoken! Come, and let us regain what is ours! Rise, my ancestors, let us seek revenge on thou who hast wronged us!” I shout into the night.

“Is it true?” our followers whisper. “Are they back? For good?”

“We do not know yet,” I announce, “but — we know one thing for certain. They’re here, and they will destroy those who wronged us!”

For centuries we were banished under the surface of the earth, as close to the Underworld as one can get. In both a literal and metaphorical sense. But this is the time to strike. We were knocked down and buried underground for long enough. Now, we rise.

“The humans have brutally murdered our kind! It is time for our revenge. A thousand years have passed and the Old Ones have risen again! They will help us in our quest for blood!”

My life is destroying humans. I was born for this. My parents strategically picked this time out. They trained me for this. Since I was a newborn. I’ve mastered the arts of killing and necromancy.

I am ready for this moment.

I have to be. It’s my only choice.

Otherwise, I’d be letting down my family and everything they’ve stood for. Thus, destroying what they’ve worked on for millennia.

I have to do this.

I have to sacrifice myself, the way so many others have.

The razor-sharp knife is gleaming. It is heated by the fire.

I cut a gash along my palm and press the bleeding flesh to the ground.

The pain and the blood loss are making me dizzy. Stars dance through my vision, my soul screams like a banshee wronged.

But I have learned to ignore pain. I grit my teeth, clenching my other, non-bleeding fist so hard my knuckles turn white and crescent moons appear in my palm.

Recently, my hands have been covered in scars. Some from the cutting. Some from the clenching of my fists.

But I have to do this.

Slowly I draw my hand up from the ground. The wound is full of dirt, and a pool of red is seeping into the soil where my palm was.

“Bring me the alcohol!” I bark.

A follower quickly rushes up. I’m not sure if this is the rubbing alcohol for cuts or my followers’ drinking supplies. I pour it over the cut and resist the urge to scream.

But I don’t feel pain. Pain is a weakness. I can’t be weak.

I wipe my hand on the side of my robes, adding another scarlet stain to the soiled, bloodied robe.

Gripping the Necronomicon with my non-injured hand, I begin to chant.

“Rise, my ancestors, the Old Ones have awoken! Come, and let us regain what is ours! Rise, my ancestors, let us seek revenge on thou who hast wronged us!”

“It’s time,” I hiss. Shadows pour from my throat, twisting in the moonlight. Souls in the form of white, wispy shadow-creatures emerge from their lairs.

“Daughter of the Darkness,” one of them bows to me.

“Lady of the Night.”

“Necromancer. Witch. Savior.”

“Thank you, my ancestors,” I say, sweeping into a low bow. “How may I serve you?”

“Dost thou remember thy promise?” one says. This is the biggest, most humanoid one. “Dost thou remember what thou hath sworn to uphold?”

“Of course,” I say. “Once the Old Ones have awoken, revive you, and you shall present the Old Ones with Necronomicon. Reclaim our land and take over the world. Do to the humans what they have done to us.” I hand my ancestors the Necronomicon after hugging it one last time to my chest. For all my seventeen years, the Necronomicon was my life. To most, it looked like any ancient, leather-bound book, but for me, it was special. I traced my fingers along the face emblazoned on the cover, mouth stretched open in a cry of agony, eyes lolling in slightly different directions. The face of the cursed soul trapped inside the Necronomicon. Shadorath himself, Ruler of the Old Ones.

I told myself that my ancestors had done just as much work as I had, worked with the Necronomicon twice as long, but my heart felt emptier with the Necronomicon gone. But I didn’t cry. I never cried. Crying was a sign of weakness. Someone like me can’t be weak.

“I thank you. Thou art not any little girl. Thou art our savior. Now that we have returned, we shall overthrow the Old Ones.”

“Of course. What shall I do?”

“Do what thou normally would before resurrecting us. Thy father, when he joined us, told us that thou were most talented at the art of Necromancy.”

I hid any emotion I felt at my ancestors, who I revived, doing everything, and I, staying here for necromancy. Like they said: I was their “savior.” I was one of the best necromancers, particularly with the Necronomicon, in several hundred years. So why did they leave me behind?

Well, they were right about one thing. I was not any obedient little girl. I was going to get revenge on the humans too, whether they liked it or not.

They can’t kill me. I died a long time ago. Seventeen years have passed since a little girl died and a necromancer was born.

My room underground is as well furnished as a damp cave can guess. Sconces for torches line the wall, and a luxurious bed graces the back wall. It’s not homely, but it’s home.

I stare grimly at the cold stone beneath my feet. “Goodbye,” I whisper to the air, a trace of the smell of mildew and smoke dancing in the cave. I gather my spell books and my notes on dark magic. What else would I need?

Wrapping myself in my long black cloak, I leave my room for what might be forever.

I unroll my map, yellowed by time. The nearest human civilization is around five miles away. I’ll walk there, and then slaughter them all.

When I was an innocent child, before I knew the ways of the world, I wondered why we wanted to kill humans. Now I know and do so without question.

One thousand years ago, humans brutally murdered us during a peace treaty between our kinds. They took over what was deemed our territory, and destroyed our villages, men, women, and even children. All just because we were born with dark magic. Of the few that survived were my ancestors, who created a new life underground. Ever since we’ve been planning revenge on the humans. Me, my ancestors, and everyone else. 

My footsteps are silent on the snow-crusted ground of the cold, empty night. Stars, normally sparkling flecks of light resisting the dark pull of the night have faded behind looming clouds. An ominous warning that the new age of darkness shall begin. 

My eyes gleam like liquid silver as I read the map. I am there. Redwood’s small, cozy village is a homely hearth in a haunted palace. But tonight, the fire shall be extinguished.

To conjure enough dark magic to kill the entire village, the price I’ll need to pay shall be more than blood. I shall need to pay part of my soul.

It’s easier to sacrifice parts of your soul when they’re in objects, like the pendant I crushed for the ritual. But when you care about something so much you would sacrifice your soul for it, you can do it.

You know part of your soul is gone when you feel the feeling of something draining out of you, your strongest emotions losing their edge, your heart hardening. Every day, I would take a tiny piece of my soul and transfer it to the pendant. It was adorned with a depiction of Shadorath, for it’s him you trade your soul for dark magic. When I crushed the pendant during the ritual, Shadorath took it and revived my ancestors. But if I lose the entirety of my soul, I can never be revived.

But I’d rather be gone than my life’s work.

I stand in the middle of the village, a shadow among the many, silhouetted by torchlight. I let the darkness gather upon me, seeping into my flesh, my blood. But before I kill them all, I want them awake, so they can feel themselves die, see that we’re back, we’re ready to do to the humans what they have done to us. So I scream, letting all of my anguish and stress, anger and sadness, fill the night air. Some lock their doors and windows, and some fling them open and rush out. I turn to them and smile malevolently.

“Hello, humans. We are back. You’ve killed us for long enough. Now we strike back.” My voice is devoid of emotion. It’s just facts. My smile turns sad. And I release everything that’s been holding me down. Shadows seethe and lunge, turn and twist. They rapidly emerge, pouring from every direction. Children sob and wail. Adults run, focusing their energy on escaping and not screaming. I see one woman making a gesture of prayer before jumping out her bedroom window, a newborn baby grasped tightly in her arms. I hear the snap of her neck once she hits the bottom and the baby’s cries. I smile to myself. Shadorath will make sure she does not get a happy afterlife.

No one can escape. No one can run from their shadows forever. They will all die. I watch the humans drop like flies around me. Certain all of them are dead, I turn away.

And then I hear it. The baby. It’s still alive. I turn around, ready to dispose of it. I draw my knife from my pocket ready to slit its throat. But I can’t. It’s just a baby, it can’t hurt anyone, a voice in the back of my mind tells me. That’s not what the humans were thinking when they killed us, I think back. But you’re better than them, says the voice.

Now I see why my ancestors didn’t want me on the quest. I’m weak. Mercy is weakness. But I can’t do it. Be better than them, the voice presses. Slowly I put the knife back. I could just leave it to die. That would be a slower death anyways. But—-no, I can’t. It goes against everything I’ve sworn to uphold, but I have to. I gently scoop the baby up and rock it to quiet its crying. The baby smiles a huge, toothless grin at me, babbling happily.

“Cora,” I murmur. That is the name stitched upon the baby’s blanket. It fits her perfectly. In our language, it means “heart”. “Cora LeTanith.” LeTanith is my last name. It sounds perfect on her. But what do I do? I can’t just bring her along while I murder everyone, can I? I’ll have to go back. My heart sinks. The next village is almost eight miles from here. If I go back, it’ll be five miles there, five miles back to here, and then another eight miles to the next village. That’s eight versus eighteen. And I can’t do that in one night.

Out of ideas, I decide to sleep on it. I enter the house and tuck the baby in her cradle, giving her a bottle of milk to feed on, and I sleep in her mother’s bed.

The mother that I killed, I think. My stomach turns and I chew on my lip, tossing and turning. I killed everyone. Just-just slaughtered them all. A few humans killed us a thousand years ago. This is proving we’re no better than them. But what will Father—I mean, my ancestors feel when they hear what I’m thinking? They would hate me. I’m failing to uphold my promise. How could I do such a thing?

I try to fall asleep, but I can’t bring myself to. What would Father think of me if he was here? I’m glad that Father completely sacrificed his soul before he died—wait, did I just think that? How could I? Father raised me. He shaped me into who I am today.

But is that a good thing? The voice in the back of my head asks. You just sacrificed your soul to kill a bunch of people who did nothing wrong.

I bury my head in the pillow, the weight of what I’d done digging deep into my back. Tears dampen the pillow and I taste the salt. What have I done? Showing mercy? Feeling guilty? Crying, for Shadorath’s sake?

Suddenly a high, sharp scream fills the air. It’s Cora. I rush over to her cradle and scoop her up. Her wails stop as I gently rock her in my arms. I slowly lay down in my bed, still hugging her. Her weight against my chest, the warmth of her breath, and the steady beat of her heart lull me to sleep.

I wake with an idea. “How would you like to live in a nice family in the next village?” I coo to her.

Cora babbles happily.

“Alright. Let’s go.”

I walk outside, her in my arms to find my ancestors. Crowing gleefully at the demolished village. I quickly duck back inside the house, but not before one of them sees me.

“Isobel!” a man barks, ghost face twirling in malice. “So. Thou decided to follow us.”

“Actually, I was here first, so it’s more accurate to say you followed me.” As soon as it comes out of my mouth, I know it’s the wrong thing to say. Turning sharply on my heel, I flee.

“Not so fast,” the ghost man says, floating up in front of me. “Where art thou going? And what art thou doing with that baby?”

I spat in his face. “Shadows, come to me,” I roar. I feel my soul slowly draining out as Cora and I are brought to the next village.

But there is no better. “Witch!” a man screams, running from me. I smirk at his fear. I’m not even a witch. I just possess dark magic.

I float above the village square, elevated by a pedestal built of shadows. “Villagers, I mean no harm. I have found this baby alone, parentless, in a town nearby. I am wondering if any of you would adopt this poor orphan.

I hold out Cora to the villagers. She squeals in happiness.

“We don’t want anything you touched, witch,” the same man said. “Now leave us!”

I scowl. Just when I think humans may not be all too bad after all, they prove me wrong. “If that’s how it’s going to be…” I leap off the pedestal gracefully, landing gently on the ground. The pedestal stretches out shadowy hands, grabbing the man and tying him up in the shadow tentacles.

“Who wants it next?” I sneer.

The entire village is dead silent, pierced by the man’s agonized screams.

I flick my wrist and the shadows drop him to the ground. “Do not tell me no again,” I declare to the townspeople, already leaving.

And then all of a sudden, I am surrounded by townspeople with pitchforks and kitchen knives. “You almost killed my father,” the shaky voice of a boy no older than me announces. The ring of humans grows tighter around me. Everywhere I turn, there is a blade aimed at my face.

How could I let this happen? How could I be so careless to just let them threaten me? I try to call the shadows, but they seem to have abandoned me.

Cora is crying, and I bring her close to my chest. She hugs me tightly with her tiny hands.

“Spare Cora,” I demand to the villagers. “Burn me. Drown me. Do whatever. But spare the girl. She’s just a baby.”

The boy snorts. “No.”

Suddenly a young man runs up. “This is the same girl who destroyed the last village!”

The villagers gasp and glare in harmony. “Kill her! Kill her!” They chant.

“How would you know that?” I demand. “The only survivor of that was little Cora.”

“Cora and my uncle,” says the young man. “He died moments after we found him. You killed him.”

“And now, we shall kill you.”

The villagers move forwards and stab me to death. I collapse with a smile on my face. Now. Now it’s fair. They killed us. We killed them. And now they kill me.

“Hello, Father,” I whisper. “I’m back.”

The last thing I see before I go home is Cora screaming. Running.

But one can never run from revenge.

Revenge is Best Served Cold

May 4th, 12:02 AM, 2022: S Flowers

S moved through the crowd, saying “excuse me,” and “sorry,” as she passed by different relatives. She found her mother wearing an all black dress next to her father who was wearing an all black tux. She sidled up next to them, and her mother hugged her close, tears streaming down her face. S let out a sigh of relief. Even though she hadn’t really known Mae Flowers, her great aunt that had died recently in a freak accident, it was still terrifying. What if that happened to one of her parents? (Don’t remember it.) 

“Are you okay?” S asked. Her mother knew Aunt Mae well, one of the only ones in the family. It must have been hard for her (knowing what her daughter had done). 

Her father put a hand on her mother’s shoulder, answering for her, “Your mother just needs some time.”

S nodded. “Should I go?” she questioned. Her father gave a curt nod before walking off. 

S sighed. It was always like this. Every year since S could talk, there had been a funeral in the Flower family. She turned and walked back through the sea of black clothing, spotting a girl under the shade of a maple tree, distant from everyone else. Might as well try to meet someone new. She thought, walking over to the girl. As she walked over she studied the new figure. She was wearing a tight black velvet dress, and next to her was a dog. 

“Hey!” S shouted, waving her hand at the girl. She looked up, realized S was talking to her, and quickly looked back down at the ground, trying to ignore S. Wow, rude much? S thought, squaring her shoulders and confidently walking over to the girl. The dog looked up at her, and its tail started to wag. S ignored it, although it would be fun to draw later. She took a mental picture. She was good at remembering things. It was what made her such a good artist: she could remember every shape that she wanted to. 

“Not much of a talker, huh?” S asked nonchalantly. 

The girl ignored her. “Fine,” she sighed, walking away again. 

She looked back over to where her mother and father had been standing. She couldn’t see them. Panic started to set in. Where are they? Where are they? Where- No. Don’t start spiraling. Not again. Never again. They just went to calm down. They’re fine. Don’t start again. She tugged at the edge of her hoodie, calming herself down until no traces of panic could be seen. Taking a deep breath, she looked over to the coffin where Aunt Mae’s body was. She smiled, today was a new day for S Flowers. 

April 7th, 1:03 AM: S Flowers

S snuck through the house, cheap knife in hand. This is a horrible idea. Her brain shouted at her, but she didn’t care. She needed to do this. Her father had recently been fired, and her mother was a public school teacher. They couldn’t survive without this money. She took a deep breath and quietly opened the door to her great aunt’s bedroom. She swallowed. She had to make this look like an accident. The knife wouldn’t work. She dug through her pockets and pulled out the strychnine bottle. She looked for the cup of water her mother said Aunt Mae always had by her bed, and poured the whole thing in. It was clear, and she really only needed a small amount, but this ensured that Aunt Mae would die. She had to. 

S turned to leave when she heard Aunt Mae waking up. “Child?” Aunt Mae asked, still groggy from sleep. S froze. “Has my time finally come?” 

S felt a tear slip down her cheek. God, she was a horrible person. “H-how did you know?” She asked, turning back to face her great aunt. Aunt Mae had the drink in her hand. Why is she drinking it if she knows? S asked herself. The thought was not filled with horror, more of a sense of relief. 

“I knew this day would come as soon as you were born, child.” Oh. “Will it be quick?” Aunt Mae asked. S just nodded, a mix of emotions stealing her voice. 

“It’s best if you leave, child.” Aunt Mae said to her. S regained her voice at that moment. 

“W-will you still take it?” S’s head was telling her that she was horrible, terrible, what was wrong with her?? Aunt Mae didn’t even flinch, just nodded. S whispered out a final “I’m sorry,” as she turned to leave. 

The last words out of her great aunt’s mouth were: “Take care, S. You’ve dug two graves for us, my dear.” S shuddered, a feeling of ice sliding down her spine as she walked away; she could hear the cup being set down, and knew what had just happened. Great Aunt Mae Flowers was dead.

Bad Things Come in Threes: Chapter One

Nora

I stare at myself in Tricia’s mirror. I shouldn’t be here, in her bathroom. She hates when I mess with her things. I feel so awkward in this black dress she made me put on. It’s snug with wide skirts and made of velvet. I run the comb through my light blond hair. I remember telling me how when I was a baby, Tricia thought I was albino and was freaking out. When they divorced I thought I would die being stuck with her. I’m positive the only reason I’m still here to tell the story is Nino, my Maltese dog. Dad got him for me before the divorce. I’ve never seen him since (Dad, not Nino); he died less than a year later and Tricia refuses to tell me how. 

“Nora!! What’s taking you so long? Come down here this instant!” A sharp voice from down the steps startles me out of my daydreams. That would be Tricia. She’s technically my Mother but the word couldn’t suit anyone less. She doesn’t have a mothering bone in all of her 207 bones. (She loves to brag about how she was born with an extra one.) Taking one last glance to make sure everything is in order, I scurry down the staircase and into the hall. Tricia awaits me on the Persian carpet by the front door. She surveys me with one eye and I fight the urge to squirm under her hard gaze. Finally she nods curtly, picks up her purse, and walks out the door. I follow behind her. Outside, the twilight air is frosty and I hug my Dad’s old jacket close to me on our way to the Sedan. Of course, I sit in the back, alone with my thoughts. Not that Tricia would have wanted me anywhere near the front anyway. It’s a long way to Flower, WV so we’ve started early in the morning. Does anyone understand silence? How it can be awkward and stiff, but yet bring beautiful peace? 

Usually, in my experience, silence is best. I would never lay my problems down on Tricia. For one thing, she is a large portion of my problems, but even if she wasn’t, she isn’t an understanding woman, especially not to me, and she’d probably make things worse. Sometimes purposefully. Anyway, since Dad left, or I guess, I left him, there hasn’t been anyone to talk to. Dad understood my need for silence, but Tricia took him away from me. At least he’s away from her too now. But usually, even when you’re talking to a really nice person, whenever you try to talk to them they jump in, asking you a bunch of questions and steering the conversation the way they want it to go. When that happens I feel like one little drop in their rushing river of conversation, being carried along without any choice. I hate it. So I remain silent. It’s easier without the possibility. 

* * *

I open my eyes to see sunlight streaming through the windows of the car. I feel hot and the air is stuffy. I rub my eyes and look around to see… no one

Sophie Levine lives in Bethesda, Maryland with her family. When not writing and reading, she loves hanging out with her brother and making memories together. (He is currently learning to swim!) She specifically enjoys writing poetry, realistic fiction, and essays. Sophie gives credit to her Writopia group, Nora will later meet characters from Caitlyn Levitan’s story and Nora’s story evolves from a group idea. 

Crescendo: A Teenager’s Experience With Music

My left hand played with the hem of my dress clothes as I followed the stream of middle schoolers further backstage. We were all dressed similarly, with the boys wearing tuxedos and ties and the girls wearing fancy dresses. There was a buzz of excitement in the air. People were nervously talking to the people beside them, anticipating the concert that was to come. I looked at my clarinet that had accompanied me so faithfully throughout this journey, took a deep breath, and then walked onto the stage. 

I was at the 2023 California All State Music Education Conference, and the past few days had passed in a blur. Despite being in the lower band of two for middle school, I was elated when I had gotten in, and I was even more joyful when I arrived at the site we would be rehearsing in. The sheer number of musicians that I would be rooming with, eating breakfast with, and most importantly, rehearsing hard with over the next few days, was astounding. In our school band, we had only seven clarinetists; in this one, we had thirty two! 

Throughout the four days, we had quickly acclimated to the rehearsals and had gotten to know each other better. Our conductor, a white-haired lady who continued to have a burning passion for music to this day, was especially nice when working with us. I hoped to continue enjoying and playing music to that age as well, even if I couldn’t do so professionally. We had practiced together for hours, fine-tuning every aspect of our performance, and this was the moment when we would show the results of our work to everybody. 

The Saroyan Theater looked huge from the stage. Seats stretched from the stage until they almost disappeared into the darkness, and if that wasn’t enough, there was a balcony as well. Standing on the brightly lit stage, looking towards the sea of tiger moms clamoring to catch a glimpse of their child, I felt like I was a gladiator in the Roman Empire, cornered and afraid, instead of a musician about to perform a piece. The many concerts that I had watched from the back simply hadn’t given me preparation for what was to come, but I had to dutifully continue forwards, following the person in front of me. 

Finding my seat and sitting down, I adjusted the music stand a few times and then put my sleek black folder onto it, taking out the music in concert order. We would start off with “In the Center Ring,” a thrilling rendition of a circus performance, and then continue on to “Kvetchers,” a comedic musical march filled with jokes. After that was “Rippling Watercolors,” a more sentimental and slow piece, and then we would finish off with “Tudor Sketches,” three short movements depicting life in England during the Elizabethan period. I really enjoyed the variety of the pieces and how they made me play outside of my comfort zone. Although we had rehearsed these pieces many times and I had practiced for months beforehand, I couldn’t help but feel nervous at the thought of performing these pieces in front of everyone here. But after our conductor stepped on stage and patted my back before heading to the podium, I started feeling excited for what was to come. 

After the applause had subsided, our conductor lifted her hands, and “In the Center Ring” started off quickly with a bang. I felt thrilled as I played my way through the quick runs that I had practiced. When the entire band quieted down and the clarinets could be heard playing a repeating phrase, I was entirely captivated by the music. Then the chaotic section repeated, and we had a solo by a tall, yellow-haired clarinetist and a young flutist. As they seemingly talked to each other with their anxious playing of a tightrope scene, the notes floating in the air and backed by the quiet and serene “safety net” of the accompaniment, I started thinking about what had brought me on this musical journey. 

My experience with music had started when I was still quite small, perhaps when I was two or three years old. My mom loved playing the “Baby and Music” tapes and I would spend hours in front of the TV, watching as colors and images danced across the screen. But back then, I seemed more interested in the visual aspect than the music, and treated the sounds more as a background. Later on, when I was five, my mom bought a keyboard and eventually, a piano, and she would take me to lessons every week. It seemed a bit tiring and frustrating that I didn’t choose to do any of this but still had to go through with it. I remember that I would watch the toy basket eagerly throughout the lesson, deciding which one to pick when it was over. Music and piano was like a means to an end, and being impatient, I asked my mom many times in the car rides to and from the lessons why I had to play piano. It just didn’t appeal to me at all. I didn’t understand why pressing some notes on a keyboard in the right sequence was so important. I think that if my friend wasn’t there with me, I might not have continued playing. 

But throughout the years, as I grew older and switched between teachers, I realized that sometimes music wasn’t just about playing the right notes at the right times, that maybe there was something more to it. I began to learn the theory behind it, dissecting chords and naming intervals. I took many mock theory tests and played more difficult pieces that involved increased cooperation and coordination among the two hands. I learned about body movement, balance, phrasing, articulation, and dynamics. But most importantly, I learned that music was all about putting your own emotions and feelings into your playing. I learned to think about the composers and their thoughts as they wrote those pieces. And I learned, after struggling with music and piano for years and almost quitting many times, to enjoy the feeling of liberation it gave me when I was playing soulful, tragic pieces by Chopin and Liszt and cheerful, light pieces by Bach and Mozart. 

I was brought back to the present by the ending of the solo. It peacefully quieted down, and anticipation could be felt as it turned into silence. Then, with a crash, we were off again! The piece went through several more twists and turns and even featured a police whistle before culminating in a chaotic fanfare. 

Next was “Kvetchers.” I positioned my clarinet while sneakily taking out a purple slide whistle that I had bought a few days earlier. As we started playing, I quickly put down my clarinet and picked up my slide whistle. The suspense grew as we got closer and closer to our arranged time, and then a few fellow slide whistlers and I blew hard into our instruments, making a shrill glissando that sounded both comical and piercing. Proud of a job well done, we quickly put down our slide whistles and continued playing. 

Our experimentation with this piece had started the day we went to a showcase event and had come back to the rehearsal hall with slide whistles. The shrill sounds could be heard everywhere across the room as we played laughably bad renditions of songs, including an attempt at the Chinese National Anthem and the Titanic theme. Upon hearing this, our conductor told us about an idea she had: we could employ them in “Kvetchers” at a particular section. After multiple failed attempts, we almost scratched the idea, but it finally prevailed, and we ended up doing it on stage. This taught me a lot about thinking of music as an active act of experimentation; that improvements and improvisations could be added to the pieces that I previously thought were only supposed to be played by strictly adhering to the sheet music. I had thought that the composers’ will was final, but it turned out that playing music, even with a concert band instead of a jazz band, was more fluid and creative than I thought. 

We finished up the piece and took out our music for the next piece, “Rippling Watercolors,” a more reflective and emotional piece. But before that, our conductor told all of us who learned how to play our instruments during the pandemic to stand. 

The pandemic was a hard time for us all, and for people learning instruments during the time, it was extremely troublesome. From learning fingerings online to learning embouchures for wind instruments (a French word for the shape a mouth is supposed to make when blowing through an instrument), it might have even seemed impossible to start learning. But through these times, we persevered, and finally made it to where we are today. As I learned through a mix of in-person and online, I couldn’t even fathom how hard it was to learn completely through a screen, essentially self-learning with a video guide. Through this, I felt even more admiration for some of my fellow musicians currently standing.  They were deprived of good conditions in which to learn music, and yet their love for it made them continue. This really showed me how music can bring out the best in people and motivate them to try their hardest. 

And then we started playing. The piece started out slowly with the clarinet section. We breathed in slowly and played as one, and the woody timbre of the notes, when combined, made almost a shimmering, watery sound. The low notes resonated through the concert hall as everybody watched in silence. Then, it picked up, with more and more instruments joining in, making the sound louder but not any less delicate. Finally, it built up into a grand, sweeping melody by the brass, expressing the composer’s love and hope for his children. Then, it sank down, ending with the wistful, held out notes of the clarinets again. 

This beautiful piece featuring the clarinet made me think some more about why and how I chose to play this instrument. The clarinet is a very versatile instrument, being able to play almost four octaves and featured in both jazz and classical music. That and its great timbre appealed to me when I was looking through videos of instruments in the sixth grade when my brother was going to start learning the cello. Unlike those earlier days of attempting to learn how to play the piano, this time, I was really happy to be learning a new instrument. I think this really represents my growth as a musician; the fact that I chose the clarinet myself really shows that I started loving music for what it was. And although this time I still struggled with learning how to play, I chose to keep going and never thought of stopping. In fifth grade, I didn’t fill in band class on my elective form for middle school despite my parents trying their best to convince me, but in seventh grade, I decided to try out for the advanced band of our school, and made it in through the help of my teacher. And although I was last chair in our school band in the beginning of the year, through practicing our school pieces and the pieces my teacher assigned me, and through much mentoring and hard work, I ascended the ranks to eventually become section leader. Through this experience, I learned that practice and hard work paid off greatly, not only in music but in life as well. 

Finally, it was time for our last piece, “Tudor Sketches.” This was our longest and most complicated piece, sporting three parts, each about a different scene in Elizabethan life, from Hampton Court to meeting the Queen to hunting. It featured many of the older instruments such as double reeds, and, oddly, the saxophone as well. “Hampton Court” was regal yet exciting, “Old Queen Bess” was more stately and slow, and “Hunting at Chobham” was lively and full of excitement. Playing these three movements was a lot like being an actor. One moment it would be majestic and the next moment it would be playful. The song picked up its pace as we got through “Hampton Court,” but it slowed down once again to the solemn, awe-filled notes of “Old Queen Bess.” And finally, we were down to the final stretch in the joyful “Hunting at Chobham.” Everybody could feel the joy at having everything they had done until this day pay off. I played, feeling the unity in playing as a group, hearing every instrument at once and also how the seemingly disjoint parts interwove and connected with each other to form the melody that was presented to the audience. Playing in a group was simply unlike anything else. Everything was connected in a way that was awe-inspiring. And playing clarinet allowed me to be a part of the group, working together towards a common goal. In one way, playing in a band was a lot like playing soccer; we passed the ball to each other and worked together to create a stunning finish. And then, we finally ended the piece in a grand, sweeping finale. The audience was silent for a moment, and then we stood up together and bowed to their loud applause. 

After the concert, as I slowly stepped out of the hall and into the bright daylight awaiting me, I could see that my musical journey, which had begun more than ten years ago in front of the TV, was still far from over. From ignoring music, to feeling indifferent about it, to despising it and then finally learning to love it, I had come a long way from these earliest days. I have played pieces more complex than my two-year-old self could have imagined and have learned the joys of the camaraderie felt in playing with a group. Playing music has made me a more motivated and committed person in the things I do. And yet, I know that I still have a long way to go, and much more to learn about the seemingly simple, yet complex art of making noises into melodies known as music. 

In Light Blue

Like a songbird with a broken wing

Who cannot fly but only sing

Like a songbird with a broken wing

Who cannot fly but only sing

Who sings in hope but stops in vain

For all that the songbird has known is pain

But when shadows creep through the night

The songbird is shown glowing starlight

Hope and love he once again sings for

The songbird knows he is alone no more


What is worth

If you don’t understand

How you are valued

If some say they hate 

And others say they love

How can you see the truth

If you ignore that

Both can coexist


Some people claim to know you best

Better than you know yourself

Yet you show them a single side

And simply hide all of the rest

They claim to know the the way you walk

The secrets behind the words you talk

The thoughts that flash behind your eyes

Yet every one of those is lies

To tell the truth or tell a lie

To walk through fires or sleep and cry

To fall in love and stay safe in pain

To forget and wait in vain

They claim to see the things you hide

The parts of you that don’t see light

The secret thoughts and drooping dreams

The water drops through wilting seams

When all breaks loose and you are out

They realize and start to doubt

They ask and ask about why you lied

But all your trust for them has died

Just for a Selfie

Henri really hadn’t meant to mess up the old castle’s drawbridge. How was he supposed to have known that it would collapse and trap them inside? 

“That moat is 6 feet deep and 6 feet across around the entire castle,” hissed Sarai, the other tourist who had lagged behind the rest of the group, “and you collapsed the only viable exit, since neither of us can swim. Plus, we’re probably going to get sued for destruction of private property now!”

“Mmkay. You do realize that if we don’t stop arguing and leave here soon, there will be no light for us to search with? This is an old castle, and the only light we have right now is from the windows,” Henri pointed out, making his way towards the stairs that lead to the main bedroom. Surprisingly, he didn’t hear any footsteps from behind him. In fact, the footsteps seemed to be going further away. He turned around and saw Sarai walking down the stairs to the servants quarters. 

“What are you doing?” he yelled, his voice echoing through the stone hallway.

“Logically desecrating the servants quarters to make a raft,” Sarai replied, not even bothering to look back at him. “If you could just remove the curtains upstairs, we could probably escape. Besides, if they ask why we did this, we just blame the tour guide company. There was a clause that said that signing this meant that if we were missing without communication directly after an event, the guide would return to the last location they saw us.”

“You read the terms and conditions on the papers they gave us?” 

“You didn’t? And hurry up,” she turned to face him. “The rope isn’t going to fly down the stairs.” Henri sighed and walked up to the first staircase window. The curtains were surprisingly flimsy, but looked like they would be a good rope when twisted. Henri was so engrossed in removing the curtains and trying to escape that he didn’t notice the small pling of a recording ending. Nor did he think to check his phone for cell signal, since the carrier he used didn’t work in that location. 

Sarai smirked. Playing the role of victim was far too easy when Henri was so gullible. She’d recorded him ripping the curtains and managed to get a picture of Henri holding the lever as well. All she’d have to do now was send the recording and photo to the tourists group chat. It was easy really, and a foolproof method to turn the full blame on Henri. He had collapsed the drawbridge, after all, and Sarai wasn’t willing to pay the price for his stupidity. She hit the send button, and then slipped her phone into her purse. 

“It’s getting late,” said Henri in a surprisingly loud voice. He was standing at the top of the stairs, looking at the small pile of wooden doors that Sarai had pulled off to make it seem like she was actually doing something. 

“Really?” Sarai responded, injecting her voice with false surprise. “I hadn’t noticed. I was having some trouble removing doors from their hinges downstairs.” Henri frowned and threw some curtains that were tied into a makeshift rope near the three wooden cabinet doors.

“Couldn’t you have done anything more?” he complained, watching the sunset through the window.

“Are you complaining? You’re the one who got us into this mess! I don’t even know you, but you literally decided that leaning on an old lever for a selfie was a wonderful idea! You don’t get more stupid than that!” 

“Stupid?!? I am an up and coming social media influencer! Everyone who follows me knows I’m on a trip to Europe and that photo would have been perfect! We just got to Spain, and of course everyone would want to see this old castle if I’m in it! I couldn’t let them down and lose most of the following I’ve just gained!”

“You’re so self centered that you couldn’t see it was an idiotic idea! And now you’ve dragged me, the unfortunate other tourist who lagged behind to see the tapestries, into your mess!” Sarai yelled, yanking out her phone and showing him the screen. “You see this! I sent the other tourists, and the tour guide evidence.”

“Evidence of what?” asked Henri, his voice calm and cold all of a sudden. Slowly he began to approach Sarai, reaching for her phone.

“Evidence of you destroying this place,” she hissed, pulling the phone back. “And it’s already sent, so you can’t do anything about it.”

“What? How dare you?” Henri hissed. “Give that to me. Now.” Sarai’s eyes widened with shock as she started backing down the stairs.

“How about no?” she said, her voice barely louder than a whisper. “I am not getting incriminated for your crimes, nor am I becoming the victim of your next one.”

“And I am not losing my entire career-” Henri began, only to be cut off by Sarai.

“Your career? You call taking photos and putting them on social media a career? You literally only have 10,000 follows! You aren’t that famous, just a normal influencer who thinks he’s super famous,” Sarai muttered bitterly, being careful not to fall as she stepped down the stairs backward. Before Henri could respond, the ping of a notification came from Sarai’s phone. 

Almost instantly, Henri lunged for the phone as Sarai pulled away and turned on the screen. 

“We’re sending the police. Hang tight,” Sarai read aloud, relief flooding her eyes. “You’re done for.”

“If I’m going down, I’m taking you with me!” yelled Henry, grabbing a wood panel from the top of the stairs and hurling it at Sarai. 

“Crap,” Sarai whispered. She started running down the cold stone stairs, hoping to outrun Henri. Catching her foot on a ledge, she tripped and her knee slammed against the stone landing with a resounding thud. “No, no, no, no…”

“I heard that! Come out; there’s no escaping now!” Henri said in a disturbingly sing-song voice. It was as if the thought of losing his so-called “career” had driven him mad. Taking shallow, quiet breaths, Sarai began to scoot across the landing and toward the empty doorframe near her. Grabbing the hinges, she pulled herself up and began hobbling into the hall. She’d barely made it to the cellar stairs when a figure appeared at the start of the hallway. Yanking open the cellar door, Sarai pulled the ladder out of the room. 

Henri smirked, staring at the woman crouched near the cellar door. She’d set up her own trap. Slowly, he crept up to her, stretching his hands out. 

Sarai tried her best to keep her breathing even, as if she hadn’t noticed trouble. Henri’s shadow covered her like an inky nightmare, blocking out the sun’s dying rays. She sat right at the edge of the cellar hatch; Henri’s arms were outstretched, ready to push her in. 

“Like I’d let you win,” Sarai hissed, yanking Henri’s leg out from under him and shoving him into the cellar. She slid the ladder through the handle, and crawled unsteadily to the wall. A smeared trail of blood traced her path on that floor and she switched on her phone, breathing normally once more. The sound of now audible police sirens mixed with Henri’s screams, but Sarai hadn’t been more at peace in the last hour. 

When the police finally came, Henri was arrested. It turned out that he was a criminal named Tauren Lakst in the States who had run a relatively famous vlogging channel. After evidence was found that he murdered his neighbor, his following dropped (who would, after all, follow a murderer) and he ended up on the run. He then killed the actual Henri Widener who’d owned the Instagram account @henri_awesome_travels and stole his place in the tourist trip. 

“I’ll get back at you, witch,” Henri, or well Tauren, spat, as the police dragged him away.

“Sure you will,” said Sarai dryly. “We all know that you’re only salty that you snapped and got caught faster. Eventually, someone would have found Henri’s body.” Tauren only bared his teeth at her like a rabid animal, before the police pulled him away. 

“That… was certainly an interesting vacation. I sure am glad I’m a British doctor. The states have a lot of murderers and so do the police,” muttered Sarai, hobbling out of the castle. There wasn’t an ambulance, but the police had two cars and could take her to the local hospital. Sarai was fairly sure her knee wasn’t broken, but after all that happened… eh. Small mercies, I suppose. Sarai looked at the window, watching the dying rays of the sun fade away.

Spud the Spud

Spud the spud was an ordinary spud. He did spud things like play in the mud. Spud was the spuddiest spud one could be, doing the spuddiest things, like climbing a tree. One day Spud, (the spuddiest spud), invited his friends to play in the mud. Spud was excited, his friends full of glee, and the spuddiest of them went ahead and climbed a tree. That was Spud of course, the spuddiest of all, but when he tried to climb the tree, Spud the spud did fall. He landed on a tall, yet oddly small wall, and Spud the spud’s friends all gasped in awe. The bravery, the heroism, that Spud had possessed, they didn’t want him to end up like the rest, so they climbed up the wall, first aid kit and all, and checked on Spud the spud, after his fall. Spud was doing fine, so they slid down a vine, back to the safety of the ground. Spud looked around, and sat on a mound, pondering if his spudly wisdom was sound. Spud eventually knew that you’ve just gotta be you, you don’t have to show off or make others impressed. His friends were so great, really, the best. So from that day Spud decided to just appreciate what he had, instead of worrying a ton that his friends would be mad. 

The Satoria Program

Chapter One        

The wild lands of Cordoba, Spain

April’s pencil shattered. She was an excellent pencil breaker. She groaned and grabbed another one from her bag. Her history teacher gave her a look. Scattered around the sand colored classroom‘s floor were dead pencil carcasses. Yikes. 

         “Nice,” whispered Brooke.

         “It’s not a laughing matter.” Brooke laughed, and April rolled her eyes. Brooke was her best friend. At least in Spain she was. A couple of months ago April had moved from Baltimore to Spain because her Spanish professor father had come to study in Cordoba. So here she was in her international school. She sighed and turned back to her work. 

“Do you want to go to the La Mezquita Cathedral for a picnic during lunch break?” 

Asked Teresa. She was a native Spanish speaker but her English was really quite good. Since the students were encouraged to speak their second language out of class, April was her perfect English speaker; though nobody really spoke their second language out of class except for the English-speaking kids who didn’t have much choice if they wanted to have friends. 

“Sure.” Smiled April. “Oh, sorry, Si.” 

“¡Tu español está mejorando!“

“Merci beaucoup!” Said April, bowing. 

Something that April had to get used to was the very different schedule of Spain v.s. the U.S. In Spain, school ran from nine AM to five PM with a two hour break between one and three, so you could leave school during that time to eat lunch. Since it was only November, she was still getting used to this. Tereza led April up to the Cathedral. Outside on a picnic blanket sat Nour, Gala, Rosa, and Brooke. They looked very peaceful. 

“¡Holaaaa!” 

“¡Hola!” Brooke was from Switzerland and spoke English, French, and Spanish fluently, but the rest besides Tereza spoke little to no English. It was a fun lunch, but it felt like a hundred degrees out, even though it was November. Rosa had brought a frisbee and the girls decided to start a game, passing and chasing after it. The plaza around the Cathedral was blocked off by tan walls, but nonetheless April managed to throw the frisbee over them. 

“BRO!” Shouted Brooke. 

“¡Haha, búscalo!” said Nour. 

“Vamos. Geet.” Getting the frisbee was a shameful fate. The frisbee had gone over the west wall so she headed that way. She came out of the plaza onto the street and checked along the wall. Hmm, it wasn’t there. She walked along the street and looked all around– still nothing. She noticed a little wooden area up the street. It was odd that she’d never noticed it before; they ate lunch here a lot. Maybe the frisbee was up there. 

For some reason her hair stood on end as she entered the woods. 

“Ow!” she shouted. A small thorn bush had poked her. She rubbed her leg. Then she noticed something neon a little ways into the woods. It had to be the frisbee! She ran up to it. Perfect, a frisbee! But it wasn’t Nour’s frisbee. It was another frisbee. What a coincidence, she thought. Well, the frisbee could still be here; in fact, she saw something up to the left. It was a bit of an effort to pull it out of the tree it was stuck in. What… It was another frisbee. She looked around. More frisbees surrounded her! And there were balls too. Was that a whole bike? A skateboard? What was going on? Nah this is too trippy, thought April as she grabbed one of the frisbees and ran for it. Once she got out onto the street she ran straight to the plaza. 

She saw her friends chatting. “Gente!” 

“Tomó un lar-” Nour was cut off by April.

“I was in the forest next to that street on the west and I saw like five hundred frisbees and like balls and bikes and skateboards! They were everywhere! But I couldn’t find yours!” April was too weirded out to speak Spanish. 

“What?” Gala asked “ No entiendo.”

Brooke raised an eyebrow. “ There’s no forest on that street. Cordoba is like a desert, there aren’t any forests. Maybe it was a mirage.” 

“Um, no.” April said “ Because how would I still be holding-” She lifted up her hand to find nothing in it. “ What? But-but…” 

Nour sighed. 

“No frisbee!” They were all raising their eyebrows  at her. Even Rosa, who had no idea what she was talking about, looked doubtful. 

“I think you need to lie down.” Said Tereza. 

“¡Español por favor!” Said Gala. 

“Lo siento. Creo que Abril debe tomar una siesta.” 

“¿Qué?” 

The voices of her friends trailed off. Was April going crazy? Nour took her hand and led her inside.

“You really should go to the nurse, Abril– I mean, April.” Saadet, who sat next to April in Spanish, said as she tapped her on the shoulder. “You look really ill. “

“I am really ill.” April felt like throwing up. She raised her hand. 

“Abril?” Her Spanish teacher asked. 

“¿Puedo ir a la enfermería?”

“Sí.” 

As soon as April was out of the classroom she barfed in the trashcan in the hallway.

“Yuck…” 

On the way home April was burning up. Her parents didn’t have a car and relied on public transportation, so walking home was pretty painful. She called her parents letting them know she would be home soon. It was only a ten minute trip. When she got home her parents set her down in bed tenderly with an ice pack on her forehead. 

“Okay, you should just lie down for a while,” Her mom said. 

“Okay…” She trailed off.

The next morning April was still sick. 

And the morning after that.

Finally relief came. “Dad? I feel better…” 

“Really? May I take your temperature?” Her father said.

“Sure.” 

“Oh good, your fever has broken. Let’s keep you home today just in case.”

“Coolio.” 

April lay back down. While she was sick she’d had some weird fever dreams: flashing lights, maps of mysterious places, and a heck of a lot of frisbees. Her phone buzzed. 

“hola cuando vuelvas a la escuela? “ Read a text from Nour. 

“mañana” April texted back. 

“:)”

She thought for a bit while she peered up at the ceiling. I really need to find the frisbee woods. I need to know I’m not crazy. I need to know. I remember the plaza, and where it was on the west wall. There was only one day left of school this week, so she needed to take advantage of it. 

On Friday she packed some extra stuff in her bag. She planned to go to the woods before school so she woke up early.  She had 45 minutes to explore the woods.  

“Why the rush?” Her brother asked. 

“Gotta meet with my teacher because I missed stuff.” Nigel raised his thick eyebrows at her. She rolled her eyes. “Bye.” 

“Bye.” 

The Cathedral’s plaza was just a little out of the way to school. She stood right at the doorway to the beautiful cathedral and found the west wall, heading out the entrance onto the street and–

Nothing. It was just a street branching onto another street. No, that’s not…right. April was not crazy. But if nothing was there… She felt defeated. Then she had an idea. She grabbed a ball that was in her bag and ran back into the plaza, tripping a little but too distracted to care. She looked around, found the west wall, and threw her ball at it. After a few failed tries, she finally got it over the wall. Then she grabbed her bag and went to the western street. Was that-? Yes! The forest was there! What was going on? A forest that only appears when you throw a ball or frisbee? Now she was worried. Was she going crazy or was this…magic? No, that would be crazy, she comforted herself. But she still approached the forest nervously. She was glad there weren’t people around to see her. Her hair stood on end again as she entered the forest. She saw several balls and frisbees, and this time she saw more objects and noticed that the forest went on for a long long time. An abnormally long time. Cordoba has an average temperature in November of 65˚ which, when combined with the lack of water, meant there wasn’t much forest. Something was in the air. It was gold, almost like dust, and it smelled like vanilla.  

“Ow!” Shouted April as she tripped and fell flat on her face. A piece of gold dust settled on her hand. It looked like a piece of gold leaf but it moved through the air like it was moving through water. She saw an odd glow in the distance. She walked towards it, careful not to trip again. She pushed aside a bush and…

It was… a small female figure about five inches tall with long golden hair that fanned out across the forest like fog. She had tan skin and was wearing a short white dress with no sleeves. A long train of white followed her. Her eyes were closed, but she was standing up. No…not standing, floating. Suddenly her eyes opened and stared right into April’s. She floated higher and came to eye level with April, who felt like she couldn’t breathe. What was happening?

“Hello. My name is Cayetana.” April rubbed her eyes. Did it just…speak? 

“H-Hello…?” April whispered slowly. 

“We’ve got a lot to talk about…” Said…Cayetana? 

“Um…can I get back to this meeting? I’m available next week.” 

Cayetena looked majestically worried. “What?” 

“I don’t think I’m really ready to discuss my impending descent into madness. Could we talk at 5:30 later today perhaps?” 

“Um…okay..?” Cayetana said, looking confused. 

“Great, bye!”

April skidadelled out of the woods. She could not handle that right now – she just ran to her school, not looking back. Did she really just postpone her meeting with a faery to after school? She’d have to tell Brooke about it and make her come with her. She couldn’t do it by herself. 

  “Brooke!!” April collided with her friend. 

“April!!!!!!! You’re back!!?” 

April had almost forgotten she had been sick. “Yeah, yeah, anyways come with me!” 

“Huh? What is it?” 

April grabbed Brooke’s pale hand and ran along the corridor to the bathroom. Thank goodness there was no one in there to eavesdrop. “Okay, Brooke, this is going to sound a little crazy but… do you remember when I lost that Frisbee and I told you about that forest?”

“You mean that one you hallucinated because you were sick?”

“No! I mean, well yes, but I went back this morning!” 

Brooke put a finger over her lips. “Shh, you’re safe now.“ 

April smacked her hand away. “No! I went back and I saw a faery!” 

“A faery?” Brooke asked. “I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t be at school today if you’re not feeling well.” 

“Fine.” April was getting tired of explaining. It would be easier to show her. “ Come with me after school to go see it.” 

Brooke sighed. “Well, alright. I’m just worried about you. Seeing things is not a good sign, April.” 

“I’m not seeing things, Brooke! You’ll see after school.” 

They walked to class in annoyed silence.  “Bye,” April muttered.

“Bye,” said Brooke.

April’s leg was bouncing up and down at top speed all day. She was so impatient to get out of school and go to the woods that she barely focused on her class. 

Aya, a kid in April’s Spanish program whispered from behind her. “Why were you gone so long?” 

April felt even more anxious since the intensive Spanish for non-Spanish speakers class meant she couldn’t leave for lunch on Fridays. She still had hours to wait.

“I was kidnapped by faeries,” April replied, seriously. Aya laughed. 

It was almost 5 o’clock. And…the bell rang. April grabbed her stuff and headed towards the door. 

“April, come stay with me!” Said Mr. Jimenez, calling for April, who rolled her eyes in the other direction and then turned to smile at him. “We should go through your missing work–” 

“Can we please do it at a later time? I have something urgent at home.” 

“Oh, of course.” 

“Thank you so much, so sorry!” I hope my parents don’t find out about that one. 

Brooke was waiting outside the door. “That took you a while.” 

“Yeah, I got held up. Let’s go!” April almost forgot her backpack in her rush to get out of the school. She ran down the stairs while Brooke laughed. 

“Are you unironically skipping?” She said.

“You got a problem with that, fool?” April honestly just wanted to go as fast as possible. 

“Can you please explain to me where we’re going and how and why?” Brooke asked.

“It’s hard to explain, you’ll see.” She swung through the ivory pillars into the Plaza de Mezquita, then led Brooke to the middle of it. 

“What…?” Brooke asked. 

“You’ll see.” April threw the ball at the west wall and it soared over the top. Hole in one. 

“Hey, is that my ball-?” 

“It doesn’t matter!” April savagely yanked Brooke over to the west entrance of the Plaza. “Ah yes! Here it is.” April caught sight of the forest a second before Brooke, who looked over her shoulder. 

  “What…” Brooke’s eyes were as big as dinner plates. And no, not Tapas like a salad bowl. Full dinner plates – and you can quote me on that one. The forest was there. Brooke was very interested in plants and as she looked at it, she saw plants that should not have been growing in Cordoba. Plants that shouldn’t even be grown anywhere in Spain. And plants that should not be growing together. And plants that shouldn’t be growing at all. There is no way that was a Sitka Spruce, an Alaskian mega tree, growing next to a Plumeria Plant which was grown mainly in Hawaii.  And…

“April…” 

“Yes?” 

           “April, that flower right there, is a Cooksonia, the first Vascular plant we know about.”

“Oh, cool,” said April causally.

          “No April. Not cool. That plant went extinct 25 Million years ago. “

“Wait, I don’t understand…” 

  “Yeah, me either,” said Brooke. As an avid plant lover she was very confused. “April, I know you said this before, but there is something going on with these woods.”

  “See, I’m not crazy!” April laughed. 

Brooke looked down at her hands. “Am I…on drugs?”

“What, no! Are- No!” 

Brooke looked worried. “ Let’s just go,” Said April.

“No, April, stop. We’re not going into the creepy woods that aren’t always there.”

“I’ve already been in, it’s fine.“ 

April ran in and Brooke hesitantly followed her. She grabbed a Cooksonia plant on the way in and put it in her backpack. They were both in the woods now. Frisbees and small playable things suddenly emerged from the brush as they walked. 

“Whoa, you weren’t kidding about these frisbees.” 

“Yeah. I definitely was not.” April stopped. “ This is where I saw Cayetana.” 

“Do you mean Cayenne? I thought that it was grown mainly in East Africa. I didn’t know it was this far north!!” 

“No, not Cayenne! Cayetana, the faery!” 

“Wait WHAT? Kanye??” 

“It’s actually Ye. Get it right Brooke. “ April looked like Brooke should have known what she was talking about. “Y’know, that faery I told you about.” 

“Yeah, I did not believe you.”

“Hey!” Said April sadly.

“Would you have believed me if I told you I saw a fairy in mysterious fake woods that most certainly do NOT exist?” 

“Ok, fine, that’s fair.”

“Anyways, did you talk to this faery?”

“Yes, it told me its name. And it asked to talk to me.”

“Wasn’t it already talking to you?” Brooke interjected. “ Also isn’t “it” a little insulting?” 

“It- I mean she wanted to talk to me about magic, I think.” 

“And so did you?” 

“No, I told her I was free at 5:30.”

“WHAT?! You blew off a magical Cayenne faery to go to school?!”

“I didn’t want to have to deal with that!” April looked upset. “ It was too much for one poor little 14 year old to handle. Yikes!” 

“Well, what time is it?”

“5:28” So close, yet so far. 

“Um… “ Said Brooke. “What is that?” April whirled around. What was that? A small purple glow was radiating from the brush a little ways away. April ran to the spot to find a small…portal? Hole? Purple hole? It was very small, big enough for a faery to fit through but not much else. 

“April…what is that?” Said Brooke, her hand shaking. Suddenly something came out of the portal. Brooke jumped back and grabbed April covering her mouth. April objected but Brooke pulled her behind a bush. 

“What did you do that for?” 

“We don’t know what that thing is!” Exclaimed Brooke who looked frightened and worried. 

“It’s a faery! What can it do!” 

“Well lemme tell you something it can do: hear you! Shut up!” Brooke covered her mouth again. Then they heard another voice.

  “Ugh, where are they?” Said a disgruntled voice. 

“They’re here. Behind that bush.” Said a calm and deep voice. Brooke and April looked at eachother, eyes wide. “Come over here, you two. There’s nothing to be scared of.” 

“That sounds very suspicious,” said Brooke. 

April rolled her eyes and stood up. “Hi there!” 

“April!” Yelled Brooke. “ We’re being subtle.” 

“By hiding behind a bush?”

“Yes.” They both looked around and then at the two figures floating in the air in front of them.

 “Wow,” Said Brooke. 

The first one had tan freckle-covered skin, and the most fabulous hair. It looked like her head was on fire. She was wearing a short orange and red dress with a large fiery skirt that fanned around her. She had two wings on her back which looked like stained glass. They seemed to be decorated with an animation of her fighting a fire-breathing dragon. The wings barely moved, but somehow were always moving. 

“Oh my god,” said Brooke. 

The other one was the complete opposite. Her long blue hair looked like a cascading waterfall which dripped to the ground. Her skin was smooth and dark. She was wearing what seemed to be a blue romper which looked like a blue leaf with veins, but sparkled with large water droplets. It had a belt which looked like a rain cloud. Her wings were also stained glass with water droplets animated.

“Hello there?” She asked. “My name is Dew.”

“Hi, Dew.” 

“We’ve got a lot to talk about.”

Monsters in the Dark, Part 1

Chapter 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ye – ” Ian was about to say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No!” Alice just realized that the box fell.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Thunk. Thunk. 

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

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

“Thanks!” said a boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jeez.” Jell backed away. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“MONSTER!” Alice jumped down the stairs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ohhh.” Jell almost slipped off.

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

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

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

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

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

“Got it.” Jell started running after Alice. 

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

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

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

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

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

“Alice!” Jell jumped after her.

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

“Alice?” Jell stretched his arms out.

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

“Oh no!” Jell walked backward. 

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

Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Where I Am From

I am from the heat of my village

And the blizzard of a New York winter

I can feel my sweat freeze

I am from my grandmothers who were child brides

And the daughter of a woman with a PhD

My family tree is a banyan

With long branches and deep roots in its land 

I am from my ancestors

That don’t speak the same language as me

I am from the land of the “goras” 

Colder than the mountains of Nepal

Where Badi Dadi came from at 13

I am the farthest from my village

That I could ever be

Yet the most at home when I am there

I am from culture shock

And joining the great American melting pot 

Come with your culture

And leave with theirs

That’s the price to pay

For paved roads and clean air

I can talk like them

Dress like them

Even look like them

But I will never be them 

No matter how hard I try

I am from lying to myself

Inside

Feeling like a fraud

Not knowing what is my culture and what is theirs

I am from shopping at Khan Market

I can smell the designer perfume 

Street food

And poverty 

The elites escape from a developing country 

Visiting the Mall 

With its shiny western products

On the flawless white models 

Viewed by millions of brown skin Indians 

Walks in Lodi garden 

I can hear the monkeys

Chattering at me

I am from the spoiled little girl 

Who lived five years

And never made her own bed

To the girl who can walk on the streets alone

And my brother’s late-night conversations 

And his gentle protection 

Calms my temper 

Like pouring ice on fire

I am from playing Ludo with Dadi

Getting printouts from Nana

And the hugs from Nani

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

Feeling like I am worth nothing at all

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

I can feel my fears vanish

I am from my parents’ determination

To protect me

Help me

And raise me

Higher than I could ever reach on my own

I am from the midnight dreams

And the happy screams

And everything in between

I am where I can go

And everyone I know

I am my family

Wright: The Oil Chain

Chapter 1

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

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

It was not. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is his goal?” I asked weakly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I tuned Destructo out. “Call my parents!

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

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

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

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

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

CRASH! 

“Mom? Dad?”

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

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

And so we went.

Chapter 2                  

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

“Get the cocktails!” Kenya yelled. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lennon said almost excitedly, “I call shotgun!” 

And so they went.

Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I asked in a small voice, “How long?”

“Four days.”

I leaped out of my bed.

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

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

Or should I say, Kenya and Lennon Wright.

And so we go.

Chapter 4

Lennon said almost excitedly, “I call shotgun!” 

“This is not a game, honey.”

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

Kenya suddenly gasped. 

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

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

“Robert!” they shouted in unison.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Run!” Lennon yelled.

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

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

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

“Under!” Lennon yelled quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The red, I think,” Lennon said. 

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

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

Chapter 5: The End Is Near…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I – ” I started.

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

I smiled. “Yeah, let’s go.” 

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

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

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

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

Before I could respond, hundreds of cars simultaneously revved. 

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

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

“I, too,” said a middle-aged woman.

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

“I, too,” said a different man.

“I, too,” said another.

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s up, squirt?”

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

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

“Um… I guess?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whatever you think is best!”

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

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

Victims grabbed onto any available piece of rope. 

“Three! Two! One! Pull!”

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

THE END

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

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

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

“Well, me, too,” I responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Settling

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you need horses for?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Second Chances for Your Love

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

“Sorry, can I help y – “

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

“Right,” she replied nonchalantly.

“No, really.”

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

“Since?” Minwoo asked, feigning confusion.

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

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

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

Aubrey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

I groan.

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

The hairs on the back of my neck stick up. 

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

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

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

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

“Why? What is it?” Dillan asks. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aubrey was stabbed

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

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

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

Just Like Clockwork

Anita didn’t gain consciousness until the inventor’s Abilene was already gone; crippled with grief, the inventor took to improving his clocks. He worked day and night. Anita saw glimpses of the dusty old room, littered with scraps of metal where he worked. She heard stories about Abilene, the inventor’s late wife, and as time went on, Anita took on the personality of Abilene. The inventor made Anita on his honeymoon. On the inside of her lid was a piece of glass webbed with cracks. It showed an image of a young man and woman in a loving embrace in front of the Eiffel Tower. When Abilene died, the inventor, who once explored the seven seas and could never stay in one place, shut himself up in his house at the top of the hill, away from civilization, away from the past. He told himself every day that it was for the best, and eventually, he believed it. He forgot about the things he loved.

Anita set out to change him, make him happier, just like Abilene did. She started out by whispering to the inventor while he slept. He thought he had finally found a way to talk to Abilene, and he was ecstatic. She told the inventor stories about him and Abilene, stories that he once told her as she was being built. She had made a connection. Anita carried on and got the inventor to send a message down to the docks to buy tickets on the next ship. He was going back to Paris. Anita had seen the picture of the couple every day, and she knew that she had to see the Eiffel Tower, and so did he. So the next morning as they left the house, she felt relieved she had accomplished her first mission; she was going to see the places Abilene cared about, the places the inventor cared about.

When they got aboard the ship, it was a whole new world. One full of chaos, yelling, and many people. Anita wasn’t used to so many people — the only sound she had heard for the past eleven years was the ticking. The inventor made his way to a beautiful stateroom, and there was a large porthole that looked out on Nantucket. As the ship slowly pulled away from the coast, a feeling in the bottom of Anita’s gears started to grow. It was nervousness. She had never felt this before, but she liked it. It was new, refreshing compared to the boredom she had felt so far. The ship was far from the coast now, and Anita turned her attention to the inventor. He unpacked one of his bags, and to Anita’s dismay, it was full of metal scraps. Not a stitch of clothing. He had buried himself too deep in his work. Anita took this on as her next stage in the mission: the inventor needed compassion, other people, although this could wait until France.

The boat was lush with life. A whole new social scene that Anita had to become a part of. But while at the beginning it was magical and beautiful, the boat became a mess. After four days on the sea, it became wet and smelly. Children screamed with glee and ran about the deck as frantic parents ran after them and sailors skidded and jumped out of the children’s path. People were less enchanted by the sea as they were at the beginning of the journey. To make matters worse, the only view Anita got anymore from the porthole was people constantly leaning over the side of the boat, so green you could see it in their ears. Anita longed for the rose gardens back at home, the peacefulness of just her and the clocks. It was lonely, but it was controlled. But she made up her mind, there was no going back.

Meanwhile the inventor was still tinkering with scraps of metal. He didn’t know what to do with himself; he had Abilene talking to him back at home, but ever since he had gotten on the ship, he hadn’t heard a peep. What if he was going crazy?! He couldn’t go back to France, it would be too painful. As the boat finally moored on the docks of France, Anita and the inventor stepped off the ship with completely different feelings from each other. Anita was ecstatic but her nervousness was growing, while the inventor was plotting, plotting a way to go home. He had had enough of traveling and ghosts.

They were ushered off the boat and onto the mainland, where the inventor called for a carriage. The carriage was pulled by two beautiful black horses, and Anita was mesmerized. The horses’ coats were shiny and smooth. If Anita’s hands could come off her face, she would stroke them. But the inventor was unimpressed; he just climbed into the carriage and told them to go to the Hotel de Crillon. When Anita saw the horses, she was taken aback, so you can imagine how she was when she saw the Eiffel Tower. The glass on her face fogged up, and the cracks spread, almost impairing her vision. The inventor winced and looked down at his hand where a shred of glass had pricked him, and where Anita lay.

She tried to hold back her feelings, but she was too proud of herself. The tears in the inventor’s eyes told her enough, and as the carriage turned around the corner away from the Eiffel Tower, she sighed. But when Anita opened her eyes, she almost screamed. The inventor was looking at her, really looking at her. He had heard her. Anita went stiff and started to pray under her breath, and the inventor’s eyes widened. He knew it, he was going mad. Anita fumbled over her words, trying to explain herself, getting louder and louder. The chauffeur turned around and asked the inventor who he was talking to. The inventor’s ears went red and he quickly cast his head down.

“Pull over,” the inventor grumbled, “now.” Once the inventor was out and the carriage had left once more to take his luggage to the hotel, he turned back to her. “You can talk.”
For the first time in her life, the chatterbox clock was silent, but not for long. “You can hear me?” Anita’s breath got caught in her gears, making her voice sound deep and gruff.

“Yes, apparently everyone can. I’m guessing you’re the Abilene impersonator. That is why we are here in France. But I don’t understand why or how. Let’s go somewhere private.” They moved across the plaza and into the shade of a tree out of earshot and sight from people walking by.

“I am sorry for tricking you. Your life is just so sad, all your friends left you when you moved up the hill, and you just talk to your clocks, and they don’t talk back. Plus, you used to have an interesting life full of adventure. Yes, I know you are grieving, but you need to get back into the world… ” Anita stopped rambling on when she noticed the inventor’s face. He looked sad, embarrassed. She couldn’t have felt more terrible about herself.

“I have a life,” the inventor said quietly. “I talked to the milkman just last week. Plus, I didn’t know the clocks could hear me. There is nothing for me to do. My only plan of what to do when I got older was derailed when she died.” His words slowly died off, and he looked into the distance, blinking, trying to get rid of his tears. Neither of them expected the trip to go this way, and it was very unsettling. An awkward silence fell upon them, and they just walked. The inventor held Anita by her chain instead of her base like usual, and she tried to stay as still as possible. Finally, after a couple of minutes that felt like hours, they arrived at the hotel.

The Hotel de Crillon was rich with history, and the life around it was still lively and diverse. Even though it was everything Anita had ever dreamed of, she couldn’t help but feel detached from the whole experience. Like she was watching it from afar. The walk to the hotel confused Anita, made her question who she actually was and if this was what she wanted. She wasn’t Abilene, she couldn’t mend the inventor, make him happy, give him purpose. But without Abilene and her mission, who was she?

Meanwhile, the inventor was having his own midlife crisis. He couldn’t help but feel tricked, but he felt like he had been deceived. The whole charade made him feel like Abilene was there again, helping him, but he knew it was fake. The feelings that he buried alongside Abilene rose to the surface — grief, loss, love. He couldn’t give up the opportunity to get closure, to forgive, forget, and move on. As Anita lost her sense of self, the inventor found his, and as he strode out of the hotel room for the first time in eleven years, he didn’t feel lost.

Anita sat on the dresser, forgotten. The inventor had left her there. She tried to think on the bright side. She had made him happy, he had to forgive her sooner or later. Anita’s day was slow, agonizingly slow; the only interesting thing that had happened all day was the luggage being brought up. Anita tried not to worry about the inventor, but when he walked through the door, she felt more emotions than she ever had before. First she felt relief, but anger burst through her before she could even stop herself.

“Where were you?” she screamed. The inventor slowly turned around with a small bag in his hand.

“Buying some accessories, would you like to see?” He slowly pulled out a bracelet and turned it to face Anita. “It’s a wrist watch, they are new in fashion. I needed an upgrade, my old watch was… faulty.”
Anita was furious. She hadn’t changed, he just started to pay attention, and he was going to replace her. The inventor just chuckled to himself and slowly walked towards Anita. He slowly picked her up and dropped her in the hotel trash.

“I have a life, unlike you, and I intend on living it without you,” he said, stalking back to his bed and strapping the monstrosity he called a “watch” on his wrist. Anita tried to stay awake and watch the inventor to make sure he wouldn’t leave again, but once again a new feeling crept up on her: tiredness.

Anita missed the days where she was simply Anita, when she couldn’t feel, couldn’t get hurt. When Anita finally woke up, she was all alone, just as she had suspected and prophesized. Someone knocked on the door, and Anita’s gears skipped a notch.

“Room service!” A maid around the same age as the inventor walked into the room cautiously and looked around. When she was positive no one was home, she quickly made the bed and grabbed the trashcan where Anita lay. The maid looked into the basket and saw Anita and took her out carefully, holding Anita so she wouldn’t get cut by the cracked glass. Anita saw her chance and took it.

“Hello! I’m Anita, and I need your help. Who are you?” The maid screamed and flung Anita across the room. As Anita collided into the wall, she felt the remaining glass shatter and fall off in pieces. “Well, that was rude.”

“Oh my gosh! I am so sorry.” The maid ran over and knelt down to hold Anita. “What are you?” She slowly turned Anita over and opened the lid. Glass sand fell out onto her apron, but she was more taken by the image on Anita’s lid. “Frederic?”

“Who? Do you mean the inventor? Do you know him? Can you take me to him? He is probably at the Eiffel Tower, please… ” Anita was stumbling, words were pouring off her tongue faster than she could think of them. The maid didn’t respond; she just gathered her skirts and pocketed Anita and walked out the room, shutting the door behind her. Together, they practically ran to the Eiffel Tower. They crossed across the Seine, and eventually they arrived.

The inventor wasn’t that hard to spot. He sat on a bench staring at a sketchpad, a charcoal pencil held limply in his hand like an extension of his hand. He was so completely lost in his art that when the maid ran up to him, he didn’t notice. The maid tapped him on the shoulder and when he looked up, recognition flooded his eyes.

“Jeanne.” He quickly stood up, and his papers slowly fell to the ground. He was so caught up in the moment, a flash from the past. Anita, on the other hand, wasn’t as taken by the moment. While she was happy about the inventor, she was fixated by the sketches that lay on the dusty road. They pictured a beautiful statue with her arm raised above her head holding a torch. The inventor had sketched a name at the top of the paper: Lady Liberty. Anita longed for it. She always knew there was more meant for her, she was destined for something more, this was it.

Fredric and Jeanne sat on the bench, hands clasped together as they reminisced about when they were young. When they were in their teens, they fell in love, but it didn’t work out. The inventor fell right back in love. The hole that had eaten away at his heart was filled. He felt complete, truly happy.

***

After a couple years of traveling the world with Jeanne, the inventor proposed, and they moved back to Nantucket where they lived out the rest of their lives as key members of the community, happily in love. Anita got her wish and was built into the Statue of Liberty, where she welcomed people from all over the world into America, and even as hundreds of years passed, she remained a key symbol of freedom and opportunity. As for me, I remained where I had been since the beginning of the story, and where I would stay forever, part of something bigger, no longer the Abilene of this story. But I will always love him, which is why I have been watching my dear husband fall in love, and the impersonator who I can’t help but feel indebted to for making the love of my life happy once more.

Half Bloods and the Time Traveling Pen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End.

Hatred

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twelve years have passed. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackson Opus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26-23. The Thunders had triumphed.

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

***

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

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

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

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

“You are feeling very content.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Dr. Mako.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Merian: The Butterfly Woman

“Art and nature shall always be wrestling until they eventually conquer one another so that the victory is the same stroke and line: that which is conquered, conquers at the same time.” – Maria Merian

“Where do the silk moths come from?” and “Where do the caterpillars go after they are in their pupae?” were questions that people had to ask themselves in the seventeenth century, because the answers to these hadn’t been discovered, yet. One woman answered those questions just by using her artwork, at a time when nobody thought women could do so.  Her name was Maria Merian, and she not only changed science, but she changed the way I want to be in the world.

Maria Merian was born in seventeenth century Germany and was fascinated with two things, bugs and art. Her father was a printer and publisher and her stepfather was an artist, so he helped her build her skills. Later on in her life, she made several books that changed the way people looked at science, such as Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium. She figured out these concepts at an early age. Imagine a young girl figuring out how the life cycle of a caterpillar works when nobody else knew about this! Of course, there were some theories, but they were very wrong. Some didn’t even include the butterflies or moths!

When you are very young, you learn about the life cycle of a caterpillar. Maria helped us figure that out. In many of  her paintings, she shows how the cycle begins with the eggs and it ends with a moth or a butterfly. According to the Atlantic, she would say things in her journal like, the pupae looks like a “date pit.” You would think that she would make these discoveries in her later life, but no! As a child, she figured them out. Maria kept the caterpillars she collected for her stepfather’s art. She kept the silkworm in a box and watched them grow and drew every little thing that she saw during the process. She did this all at a time when women couldn’t use certain papers, paints, or other important materials and on top of that, she could have been seen as a witch. Maria also left a marriage at a time when women weren’t to do that. But these stereotypes didn’t stop her.

In the seventeenth century, women weren’t allowed to leave a marriage. She rebelled against what was “proper.” I think that is amazing. She also came up with a good paint that women could actually use! I think it is unbelievable that women couldn’t use something as simple as a piece of paper, or glob of paint! Now we live in a world where anyone can do anything, but we still have a lot of work to do because some groups of people aren’t as equal as others. Back to Maria. First she gave some big questions some big answers, only as a child, and then she started to become more and more of a great female role model. That is incredible! 

That is very encouraging. It makes me feel like I can do anything even though I am not an adult! She must have had a lot of patience, for she waited and waited for these caterpillars to grow into beautiful little butterflies. Since there would be no photography until almost 200 years after, she couldn’t just take pictures of the bugs. Just imagine sitting and waiting for something to happen, and then having to draw an intricate drawing of it very quickly. She had to sit and draw every little detail! It makes me stop and think about how much we take our technology for granted.

I am very thankful for what she did. Even though not many people know much about her, she made a big difference in our world. I would like to be like her. Her life story inspires me to want to use my creativity to change the world. I hope to use my work to speak up about equal rights for everyone, because, like I said before, even if the Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, some people are treated unfairly! Even in a time where there is advanced technology and brave activists, I feel like I can make a difference. Like Maria, I might not be recognized for the change that I am determined to make, but if I can do something, I will know that I have done good. 

I think that people should learn more about her because she is a great role model. If she can inspire one person, I think she could inspire the world!  Imagine living in a world where people use their talents and differences to make the world a better place. That would be great. We need more people like her! We can accomplish this by not letting stereotypes get into our heads and by always having our creative minds with us. We can also conduct our own projects and draw, write, or make music about them. Maria Merian inspires me to want to make a change and I hope others feel the same way!

Bibliography-

  • Sidman, Joyce. The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
  • Wulf, Andrea. “The Woman Who Made Science Beautiful.” The Atlantic, 2 Aug. 2016. The Atlantic, www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/01/the-woman-who-made-science-beautiful/424620/. Accessed 23 July 2020.
  • Campetella, Florencia. “The Butterfly Woman.” Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecolog. Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, www.mpg.de/12708225/maria-sibylla-merian. Accessed 23 July 2020.

TWINS

Characters: 

Dad: 40-41

Mom: 37-38

Julia: 16-17

Lily: 16-17

Macey: 10-11

Rose: 10-11

Cashier: 23

Scene One: High School/Pool – afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lily: Why not?!?

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

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

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

Lily: Don’t you dare tell mom!

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

Lily: Fine!

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

Scene Two: Party/fight – late afternoon

We see the party, with drinks and dancing. 

Knock! Pound! Knock! 

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

Julia: What the heck mom?

Lily: Yeah, you totally embarrassed us!

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

Lily: Tsh, no! 

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

Julia: I don’t know, like an hour? 

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

Lily: Oh, s**t.

Julia: Dang it!

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

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

Scene three: Home/ Morning-late afternoon. 

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

Ring! Ring! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rose: Hey, mom! What’s for dinner?

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

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

Lily: I don’t want to!

Mom: It’s not an option!

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

Mom: Dinner time!

Everybody sits at a rectangular table and starts to eat. 

Macey & Rose: Dinner! Yay!

Lily: Uhh…dinner?

Mom: Why? You guys love this dish too! 

Lily: I’m stuffed.

Mom: How could you be stuffed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lily: How much did you pay them?

Julia: I didn’t.

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

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

Lily: We both know that’s not true.

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

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

Julia: Mom, can we get a cat?

Rose: Yeah!

Macey: Yeah, mom please!

Lily: Please!

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

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

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

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

Scene Four: Phone Fight – Night

Mom: Hey honey.

Dad: Hi sweetheart. How are you holding up?

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

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

Mom: I’m sure they’ll be overjoyed.

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

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

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

Mom: Bye.

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

Scene Five: Animal Shelter – Late Morning

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

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

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

Macey: I like that one too!

Rose & Macey: MOOOOOM! We found one!

Mom: Okay honey! Your sister found one too!

Macey: We got a British Shorthair!

Julia: We got a tuxedo cat!

Lily: We named him Cooper.

Rose: Ours is named Cous-Cous!

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

Macey: What’s wrong mom?

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

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

Mom: I know, I know.

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

Scene six: Graduation day – late morning/ early afternoon

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

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

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

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

Rose: Thanks, Mom.

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

Macey: Thanks, mom, it means a lot.

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

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

Mom: Oh my gosh.

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

Macey: Dad what are you doing here?

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

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

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

Intermission. / ½ way through the movie. 

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

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

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

Julia: Yeah, sure of course.

Rose: We really need our big sister right now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dad: Well, now they know that I remembered!

Mom: They don’t care!

Dad: How do you know? 

Mom: Because they’re my kids!

Dad: And, they aren’t mine?

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

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

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

Dad: Me. They want me.

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

Dad sighs.

Mom: It’s like you don’t even exist.

Dad: I know, I know.

Dad shakes his head. 

Mom: I have one more thing.

Dad: Fine, I’m ready.

Mom: I’m pregnant.

Dad: (groaning) Do they know?

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

Dad: Are you suggesting a divorce?

Mom: Choose.

Dad: I choose…………

Scene eight: The announcement – morning 

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

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

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

Mom: Open it!

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

Mom: It’s for you guys too! Come on!

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

Julia, Lily, Macey, & Rose all gasp. 

Macey & Rose: EEeeeeeeeeee!!!

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

Lily: No! 

Mom: Yes!

We see them form a huge hug. 

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

Julia: Yes?

Lily: Mom?

Macey: Mommy tell us!

Rose: Yeah mom, come on!

Mom: Your father and I are getting a divorce.

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

Macey: Mommy, are we gonna be okay? 

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

Lily: Dad never was around anyways.

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

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

Rose: It’s okay.

They all hug. 

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

Macey & Rose: Yeah!

Lily: Woohoo!

Julia: Alright! 

Scene nine: Donut shop/home – late morning 

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

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

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

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

Lily: That strawberry shortcake one looks goooood!

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

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

Macey: Yup!

Julia: I know!

Lily: I’ve decided.

Rose: It was a hard choice, but yes!

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

Cashier: That will be $29.75 please.

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

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

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

Time passes, about 1 month. 

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

Lily: Coming Mom!

Julia: Just putting on my shoes!

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

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

Macey: $400?!? 

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

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

Julia: And he chose his job.

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

Macey & Rose: Bye mom!

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

Rose: Where should we go first?

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

Scene eleven: The mall. – late afternoon 

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

Rose: OOOOOOOH, they have a Panda Express here!

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

Transition to Panda Express.

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

Cashier: Sure, that’ll be $19.50.

Macey: Here you go!

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

Macey: Where should we go next?

Rose: I think we should get baby stuff.

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

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

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

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

Macey: Okay, so like $75 on makeup?

Rose: Eh, that’s a little much.

Macey: Well, it’s for all five of us.

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

Macey: Okay, let’s go! 

Transition to baby store. 

Rose: “All this stuff is so cute!” 

Macey: Lets get some onesies!

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

Macey: Okay, put it in the shopping cart!

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

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

Rose: Okay, binkies and bottles!

Macey: Got them!

Rose: We have $10 dollars left.

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

Rose: I already got a swaddle blanket. 

Macey: Okay, let’s check out.

Cashier: That’ll be $74.67.

Macey & Rose: Oh, my god.

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

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

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

Time passses. 

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

Rose: A happy divorce cake?

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

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

Macey: Was not!

Rose: Was too! 

Macey: Okay, fine, you got me. 

They start to bake a cake.

Rose: How should we decorate it?

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

Rose: Sure!

Scene twelve: home/ – evening 

Mom: We’re home!

Macey & Rose: How’d it go??

Lily: We WON!!!!

Macey & Rose: EEEEEE!

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

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

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

Mom: I thought we could brainstorm baby names tonight. 

Macey, Rose, Lily, & Julia: Okay! 

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

Macey: I like Ava!

Julia: What about Harper or Evelyn? 

Lily: Nah. I like Ava.

Rose: Yeah, Ava! 

Mom: Okay, Okay. Ava it is.

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

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

Rose: She’s so cute!

Macey: She looks just like you!

Mom: She looks like all of you guys. 

Lily: She’s adorable!

Julia: I’m so excited! 

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

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

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

The end. 

Dear America

Dear America,

We sure have come full circle. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

#StepUpAmerica

Stronger together,

Sadie

Carousel Never Stops Turning

4/16/20

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

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

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

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

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

We

Blurred lines between walls.

Impenetrable existence.

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

Extending infinitely.

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

Withstanding the divide that already stood.

Differences dissolve, thicken on sides unimaginable. 

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

Scarring memories of evolution.

The walls between worlds sprout growth; show similarity. 

Grounding similarity.

Six feet apart, is this what brings us together?

Differences, flaws, all intertwine through a blurred connection.

We are, and always will be, humanity.

A Message

To the present,

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

To posterity,

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

A New Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Help the Helpers

Put food into a sack,

That they may lack.

Do it for a nurse, or a med,

Cheese, chocolate, water, or bread.

It matters not,

Whatever you bought,

It need not be a lot,

It is not necessary, 

But it would be a kind thing to do.  

They will appreciate anything,

So, it need not have bling,

Or be fit for a king.

They work day and night,

There is no end in sight,

So, help the helpers!

Be kind,

And keep in mind

How fortunate you are.

There shall not be a doubt

That you are not lucky in every way.

No matter what your story or situation is,

Do not forget to say

Thank you to those who help us,

And discuss the things we are fortunate for more.

Do your part,

And add an item or two to the cart,

for the helpers.

In tough times,

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

So, help the helpers!

The Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-19 Through the Eyes of a Teen

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

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

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

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

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

Silver Linings of Self Quarantine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Small Branches on the Oak Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemics and Poker

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

Already keeping what’s most valuable to oneself 

Defended by distance. 

Then the chips go down.

Separation becomes isolation

The few feet of space now a void of unknown.

Within this solitude we think about what we keep

Instead of what we lose:

Our partners in the game.

We play to bolster our agendas

But we don’t win with empty seats.

Separate, Together

Raging through communities

A small, microscopic being

Sends full-grown humans into hiding –

What power it holds

Something we must control

Controlling us

We are overworked

Overtired, overburdened 

Underpaid

Jobless, helpless, foodless 

Doubtful 

Lucky families like mine

View lockdown as an adventure

We say we see when we don’t

Our nation divided

But look closer: 

For the overworked, recognition

For the jobless, hope

For the lucky, gratitude

For everyone 

Solidarity.

Separate, together.

Step into another’s shoes

Even if the shoes seem too small.

Perhaps the distance that keeps us apart

Will finally unite us.

Letter to a Future Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

5,000 Miles 10,000 Words

Two writers, two sides of the same story. 

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

Dakota’s side-

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

Eloise’s side-

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

Dakota’s side- 

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

Eloise’s side- 

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

Dakota’s side-

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

Eloise’s side- 

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

One month later.

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

Dakota’s side- 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Eloise side-

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

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

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

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

The end.

The Better Side

Lucy

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

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

Alexander

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lucy

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

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

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

Alexander

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

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

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

Lucy

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander

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

Lucy

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

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

Lucy’s Bucket List for Freshman Year 🙂

By Lucy Goldberg 😀

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

Alexander

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

Lucy

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

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

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

“How was school today?” Jordan asked. 

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

“Why? What happened?” he asked. 

“Remember Alex Brown?” 

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

Alexander

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

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

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

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

Lucy

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

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

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

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

“Lucy.” 

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

“What is it?” I asked.

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

Alexander

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

Lucy

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

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

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

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

Lucy

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

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

“Hey Lucy” he replied in a whisper.

“Um, uhhh, are you going to be okay?”

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

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

3 months later (Lucy)

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

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

Next Year (Alexander)

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

Lucy

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

“Hey,” he replied, being shy.

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

The End

The Land of Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land of Cards Maximum-Security Penitentiary Layout Plans

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

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

“Whe…Where am I?” asks Ace.

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

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

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

“I don’t know!” responds Ace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We promise,” says everybody else in unison.

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

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

“To the angel of light!”

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

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

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

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

‘What did you guys find?” asks Ace.

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

“In 1870,” says the other.

“Did you find anything?” Zero asks. 

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

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

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

“All four directions…” Zero whispers quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2 Hours Later]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Apache Junction, Arizona, 2023]

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

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

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

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

Ace responds, “Do what?” WHACK!

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

 The End

Uncomfortable Situations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Viki!”

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

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

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

“You leaving already?”

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

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

“Actually, yes.”

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

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

“Why did you even come?”

“I-”

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

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

He smirks.

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wasn’t enjoying it.”

My mouth forms a million questions all at once.

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t want to deal with it.”

“Okay Romy James. You have-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loose Brick

On the last Saturday of August,

an ambulance sirened past Valley Forge.

Your red Toyota was our caboose.

The cyclists who found me, squashed,

waved and went on.

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

He told me I was brave. 

Your electric toothbrush 

vanished from Mom’s medicine cabinet.

My kitsch cast was claustrophobic with sharpie.

The maple trees out my window turned red.

How did the Continental soldiers survive

six months of wind whipped backs?

Were chalk blue fingers

suffering as usual?

Maybe if there was no Days Inn

no road trip  no grasshopper girl

no garden wall  no loose brick     

no tumble   no pavement  

no falling   no crumple

no left arm, cracked in two

maybe you would have stayed.

Why Couldn’t They Just Watch Shrek?

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

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

“Hi, Ellie! Hi, Nat!” I said.

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

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

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

“What’s zombies?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

So I screamed.

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Daddy, I’m okay,” I said.

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

“No reason,” I said.

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

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

The Temple of the Lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jo mama.”

“Shut up Derrick! This is serious.”

Francis handed Derrick his pack and rolled up his sleeves.

“I will disable any traps inside. Wait here.”

Francis returned several hours later with considerably more cuts, bruises, and spider bites than before.

“You look like crap!” Derrick remarked.

“Let’s just go inside.”

The pair nervously trudged across the hallway, finally reaching a golden case at the end of the room. Francis carefully opened the case to reveal a small purple berry. Rather unremarkable, if you didn’t know it’s history.

Francis stared at it in almost-holy reverence as Derrick plucked it out of the jar and accidentally squished it between his oafish fingers. He watched as it dripped onto the ground.

Francis stood in shock for two breaths.

Then his face contorted into a mask of anger, his body trembling in rage as he let out a primal shout. Months of putting up with this man’s unending stupidity, his mockery of the work Francis considered so sacred, and his stupid quips and ruining of equipment just ended in the destruction of what Francis had been searching for his entire life. This man… THIS MAN would pay.

He leapt across the room, his hands contorting into fists as he began a furious assault on this oaf. His fists fell like meteors and his scream was deafening, assaulting the man in his soul and his body. He screamed and screamed and screamed, until some hours later both of the men collapsed, the tension between the duo exhausted. They fell asleep, both dreading what would come in the morning.

Taxi!

It is hot. Very hot. I can feel my legs sticking together under the tight, unbearably itchy skirt I bought at a vintage shop for four dollars. I feel beads of sweat in my hairline about to make its grand appearance. The faint rumbling in the distance brings my hope up for a second, when I realize it is the R. The one positive thing about missing the train to the biggest job interview of your life so far in 97 degree weather is the gratifying gust of warm air from the wrong train. I fan myself with my hands, like that’s going to do anything. In that moment I make a decision. I’m taking a cab.

As I walk up to street level the loud sound of honking of New York makes me want to break down and cry. Can you just stop honking for one second? Sometimes I just wish that everything would just freeze. That way I could get to my interview and everything would be fine and dandy. But that’s not how life works.

I stand on the curb and flail my hand rapidly. Thankfully, a cab pulls over. I hop in so fast, you could mistake me for the flash if you squinted. I pull out my black heels and slide them on in replacement of my sneakers. I yell at the driver to take me to my location.

“Broadway and 50th please!” The man gives me a thumbs up.

Once I’m in the car and buckled up I feel a sense of relief. Lucky for me, there is air conditioning and mild traffic, so I’ll probably be there on time. I sit back and take a few breaths. In and out. Ok, game time. I pull out my laptop and open the website for the graphic art company, Art Touch NYC. I watch the company’s introductory video for the 100th time. At this point I basically have the 45 second video memorized. Next, I open YouTube to a video titled “how to ace that interview! Tips from a pro”

I’m about to watch it when I hear a voice coming from the front of the cab. 

“So why so stressed sweetheart?” the man says.

“Job interview,” I say and do that smile that you do to strangers on the street that is also used to signal that you don’t want to make a conversation with the creepy old taxi driver that just called you sweetheart. Gross.

Instead of taking my signal of the fake smile and me starting my job interview video again, he keeps talking.

“What kinda position?” 

“I’m interviewing for a graphic design job. My job will be an assistant client agent. At least that’s what the job title is called. I will basically assist and learn from the head of that branch,” I say in a quick and monotone voice. That was a sort of close ended answer, so I’m really hoping he stops talking and lets me touch up my makeup.

“Is this your first job? I’ve always had a sense for when people are stressed out. Or maybe it’s because your face is all twisted and you are so extremely frustrated with the task of untangling your ear buds,” he says, looking in the rear view mirror. He chuckles. 

There is something sort of therapeutic about his voice, but I was not in the mental state to be having small talk with my taxi driver. 

“I’m Eddie by the way”

“Isabel,” I respond. 

“Oh Isabel! What a beautiful name. You know, that’s my granddaughter’s name. She’s the sweetest girl. I think you would love her. She’s 16.”

“Cool. My younger sister is 16 also. Her name is Rebecca,” I say, almost forgetting about the interview for a moment. “I haven’t seen my family since Christmas.”

“Wow, what a coincidence! I haven’t seen my beautiful girl in a little over a year. Her mother…” he trails off and bows his head. The car pulls to a stop at a red light. “Actually, I have a picture!”

I close my laptop and look at the small picture he pulled out of his wallet. She has black hair and brown eyes. He smiles and carefully outs the picture in his wallet.

I smile. “She looks like a nice girl. What does she like to do?”

“She plays volleyball. I went to one of her junior varsity games a few years ago. She’s really good.” He chuckles and says, “I sound like I’m promoting her.”

I look out the window and stare at my surroundings. The tall building, different shops, hot dog carts, and confused tourists. The hot NYC air has become cool fast wind as the car moves down the street. I stick my head out the window like a dog. 

“I have some advice for you, Isabel. Don’t stress about the little things in life, because you won’t be young, in New York, and following your dreams for the first time forever. Now go get your job!” he says, pulling up to the building. I look at him as I’m unbuckling my seatbelt.

“Thank you.” I take my card out of my wallet. I’m about to swipe when his hand stops me. I smile at him and get out of the car. He drives off. I turn on my heel and open the door into the cold office building. It’s go time.

A Breakfast Call

1.

Friday is always the best, I have art class in school and a longer lunch. Although today it will be devoted to 7th grade geometry. I always study last minute for tests. Breakfast as usual will be cereal. My mom has already left for work and took Katie to kindergarten. I sit at our four seat table that is squished between a staircase and the oven. Our small NYC apartment can only hold us three.

My bag is already standing by the door and my shoes are on. I quickly gulp down the extra milk and am interrupted by a bring bring. The phone never rings. We aren’t very social people. Katie’s birthday party consists of us and her two other friends. Mine are just me and Mia, but we’ve been friends since we were three years old. I bring my hand up to my ear. 

“Hello?” I squeak. My voice is shaky but I don’t know why I’m nervous.

“Ms. Williams?” A deep voice says. “I am from the local police station. Are you the daughter of Sarah Williams?”

“Yes.” My hands start getting clammy. Now I know why my breath is shaky.

“She and Katie got into an accident. They are at the D.C.R Hospital, come immediately.”

I don’t know what I should do but I know for sure that I will be missing art class and our longer lunch. My only solution is to take the subway and I know that will take at least an hour. “Sir, Mr., um, officer, I can be there in an hour minimum?”

“We have to do x-rays now.”

“Oh um… how bad are they hurt?” I say but notice he hung up. My mind starts racing through everything that has happened. How? Why? Where? I run down the street, through the places I have grown up. My strides reach over two steps as I run down the stairs into the train station. As I get into the station I see a train, the R train. Just the one I need. As I run up to it, the door closes in my face and the wind rushes through my hair. The air almost feels damp and I can feel the dirt. 

“20 minutes till the next R train.”

The station is almost empty so I let myself slip down into a ball on the floor. Thankfully the twenty minutes is only 7 and I’m headed in the right direction. I tell myself not to think about what could happen but my mind finds every way to think about it. I wonder if they will get back to normal or how hurt they are. I get off a stop early and decide to run the rest of the way there, telling myself it will be quicker.

They said there was an accident and so there would be traffic. I try not to think who was in that accident. Rain splatters the street and dampens my hair as I run through the crowded streets but I don’t care. Cars zoom past me and I look away, knowing that my sister might never ride in her car seat again.

The one other time I’d been to the hospital was when we were all playing frisbee. I fell and had to get stitches. I cried the whole way there and back. I remembered the same white hallways and plastic chairs. I remembered the smell of medicine and cleaning spray and it whacks me in the face now as I rush through the double doors. Everybody looks so calm but I am scared and way more than nervous. My hands are shaking and clammy. I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Are you looking for anybody?” a nurse asks me.

“My mom and sister were brought here about two hours ago. I… I need to see them.”

She wraps her arms around me and leads me farther into the white. I am met by another woman dressed in the same white robe. She leads me down a white hallway and stops in front of a white door. It has a paper on it that says “Williams.” I look up at the nurse’s face and she nods towards the door.

Inside is a white bed with white pillows and white walls with a white chair. The doctor greets me and I feel relieved. Katie is in the bed and I don’t want to overwhelm her so I take her 6-year-old hand. Her eyes are closed and she has a tube attached to her wrist. I haven’t noticed that the doctor has been talking to me so I tune in.

“Basically, Katie is going to heal in the next two days.”

“What about my mom?” I cautiously ask.

“Well, she is in a worse state.” He looks down to his clipboard and starts writing again. 

“How bad?” I ask.

He glances up at me through his glasses. I hear him gulp and he turns and walks out of the door. If I wasn’t as shy, I would walk up to him and demand to know. But I just walk back over to Katie and take her hand.

The doctor knows Mom is in a bad state but I just wonder if maybe it could be worse than “a bad state.” As I’m thinking, I notice Katie’s eyes open.

“Katie!” I say. She looks at me through her glazed eyes. Her hair is thrown around her and her lips are dry and scratched. 

“Ella?”

“Oh my god, are you okay? Does anything hurt?”

“Mmm. No,” she mumbles. I can tell from her voice that she doesn’t have much in her so I don’t say more just let her drift into sleep. 

2.

I wake up to find the sun screaming at me through the dusty windows, and the walls seeming so much brighter than they were yesterday. A nurse is already writing something down in her notebook and Katie is sitting up in bed with a glass of water in her hand.

“She should be able to leave tonight,” the nurse tells me.

I nod happily but once the nod is over, everything starts to fill my head. Where should we go? Back home? To Dad? We only call him once a month. He doesn’t have a family yet and he does not have a stable life. He leaves where he lives every month or so and his apartment is always bare. Our only other option would be Aunt Suzy, but her crazy house and 7 dogs make it unlivable. 

By three, I’m stuffed with hospital food and apple juice. Katie is finishing up on x-rays and then we can leave. I haven’t seen Mom yet but the nurse tells me she will be here for a long time so I take her out of the picture. I tell Dad to pick us up at three which for him means four. The one thing Mom always tells us is how late he is.

By the time Katie gets out, it’s 3:30. By the time we start getting bored, it’s 4:00.

4:30 comes quickly and 5:00 passes slowly. When 6:00 comes, there’s no hope left. Katie falls asleep on my shoulder and by 7:00, I’m asleep too. I wake up at 4 in the morning to find a car swerving onto the driveway. It is very old and I can see the once black paint has now turned into a mess of scratches. I scramble up and shake Katie until she is up and yelling at me. 

“He’s here!” I tell her and thrust my finger in the direction of the car.

“Oh my god, oh my god!” she screams and runs towards the driveway. 

I pull her away for a second.

“We don’t know what he is going to be like so take it easy and try not to be too beggy or anything,” I say. She looks up at me and gives me her pouty face. But before she can say anything, he comes up to us.

“Hey girls!” he says. Katie distracts him with her cute remarks and endless hugs, which gives me enough time to look over him. His voice is deep and his beard reaches just below his chin. I can tell his jacket has been through a lot and his shoes are one step away from falling apart. His car growls and puffs. 

“Well, I guess we should get going, is this all you have?” He glances at our bags neatly placed by the bench.

“Yep.” Katie squeals and runs over to them. 

“Oh, I got it, sweety,” he says and takes it from her small hand. He tries to grab mine but I quickly clench my fist around it. His eyes meet mine and they are black, and scary.

3.

When we get to his apartment, it is already seven in the morning. Katie and I fall asleep but I wake up as our car shakes as we run over a pothole. I know as soon as I open my eyes that this is the rundown part of town. The houses are missing shingles and lawns are dry. Windows are duck taped together and clothes are put on racks outside to dry. I look up to find Dad with one hand on the wheel and the other one holding a beer. 

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Taking you kids home,” he says. 

“I know this is my fault, but you at least could have tried to help.”

“Honey, I’m doing my best.”

“Well, showing up at four in the morning with a battered car seems like you didn’t try at all,” I yell, but try to keep my voice down. 

Katie starts to stir and I quickly shut my mouth.

“Monrin’,” Dad tells her. She yawns and stretches out her arms. “We’re here guys.”

The car slowly pulls to a stop in front of a ten story building. The once white paint has been chipped off of more than half of the building and the part that is left has now turned to a matted grey and I can tell that it is not right, that some windows are missing. I find Katie’s hand and grasp it. She looks up at me through her big eyes and I know I should have kept her more safe. Dad throws his beer can in the nearest trash. He’s never gonna change is he? Why did I trust him? Why did I think that for once he could be a Dad? Our Dad.

I Didn’t Mean to Kill Her

I didn’t mean to kill her…. Tuesday, October 8th, 1963. I woke up that day with a sharp pain in my head. The night before, me and the “gang” hung out. I probably fell or something. Suddenly panic ran through me: I remembered. 

It was now five A.M. I sat up in bed and jumped out. I landed with a thud. I had forgotten I was on a top bunk. I got up then tiptoed to the bathroom. I took my “things” and hid them where they wouldn’t find them. Then I tiptoed back to the beds. As I started to climb up the ladder, I felt someone’s hand on me, then I winced. Emely grabbed my night shirt and pushed me to the ground. I blink away tears. 

She said, “They’re coming soon, be ready and alert. And remember they’re like wolves; if they see a weak link they’ll come for you.” Emely said.

“I know, thanks.” I said.

I sat on the floor for a second, then got up to wash my face again. My lip had started to bleed when I hit the concrete. When I came out, Emely had gotten dressed, and she was sitting against the wall. Emely… I liked to think of her as family. Although we had just met, I felt a bond to her. Then she motioned for me to come over. After all, I was new to all of this.

“You should’ve figured this out by now.” She took a pause.

“When you wake up, wash your face, then come and sit on the wall, no blankets covering you. Just you.” Emely said.

“Sorry. Since I’m new here I just thought that–” I was cut off
“Shh,” Emely said

Then I realized why Emely cut me off. Loud footsteps were coming closer and closer to our door. Then I heard something like a bat hit the door. I flinched then closed my eyes. Emely punched my shoulder. I opened them and saw four large and angry looking people standing right in front of me. I didn’t know what to do. Luckily I didn’t have to do anything, except for cooperate.

“Stand UP!” one of the men said.

So I did. They went into my bunk bed and looked around. Then in Emely’s. I didn’t mind, just as long as they didn’t find the picture. As I expected, they didn’t find it. They left after looking around, and threatening us. Now I know why parents always warn you about not committing crimes, and it’s because of prison. I’ve only been in prison for eighty days, and I’ll be here eighty more years. If I survive, and if I behave. I’m just lucky I didn’t get the death penalty. 

It was only two weeks ago when it happened. Cecelia and I killed Natalie. We had been planning for weeks. Natalie was a drug dealer, we had been buying. She had told us that if we stopped buying, she would tell. I was young then, naive. I hadn’t known that her mother was the chief of police. She was the perfect child in her mom’s eyes, whatever anybody said about her that wasn’t amazing was a lie. 

Cecilia and I snuck into Natalie’s house through her bedroom window. We had tape, a rope, and a knife. Cecilia tied her up, and I taped her mouth shut. I took the blade and touched it to her chest, then her eyes opened. I winced as I saw her mouth try to open but it couldn’t, and instead a slow tear dripped from her eye. I couldn’t deal with watching her suffer. I lifted up the blade and brought it back down to her chest. I felt the blade break through her skin, I saw the blood rush out of her body, I saw the last tear she would ever shed, I saw her eyes shut for the last time.

30 years later…

I realize what I did then was wrong. I will now be paying the price for my actions. 

I waved to the man at the desk behind the glass, he didn’t wave back. I looked down, then I sat in the chair. BZZZZZ 

Emely was let out of prison five years after I had come. We said our goodbyes, she had said that she would write to me everyday, but less and less often the letters came. Cecilia had been killed in a stabbing twenty years after we had gotten to the prison. And finally my one prized possession, my picture, was confiscated. It was a picture of my sister, Katherine. She understood me, and she loved me. Unfortunately the police found my picture in a surprise inspection. 

A Story About a Boy Named Oliver

Oliver was always bored. Oliver was always alone. Oliver was twelve. He went to a public middle school. Oliver never got outstandingly good grades, but never got outstandingly bad ones. Oliver was not outstandingly tall, short, fat, skinny, fast, slow, strong, or weak. To put it simply, Oliver was very average. 

As I mentioned before, Oliver was always alone. He was always alone, but never lonely. Oliver liked being alone. He liked thinking, reading, and watching movies. Oliver went to school one day. That school day was very average, very predictable. Oliver went home from school on that said day, finished homework, finished a book, and went to sleep. This said day was almost every single day for Oliver, minus the weekends. (For almost every weekend Oliver would wake up, watch movies, read, and think along with having meals in between, if you were wondering.) 

One day, Oliver went home to his average house, went upstairs to his average room, only to find a very unaverage thing. That very unaverage thing was a thirty-seven year old man named Jack.

“I am thirty-seven years old and my name is Jack. It is a pleasure to meet you, eleven year old Oliver,” said Jack.

“Hello thirty-seven year old Jack,” said Oliver, “Might I ask how you know my name and age?” he asked.

“I know your name and age simply to tell you that the world is going to end in exactly five minutes and thirty-six seconds, and I want to take you to an alternate dimension to save you.”

“What an odd person,” thought Oliver.

“So how are you going to bring me to this alternate dimension?” Oliver inquired.

Jack pulled out a strange contraption out of a fanny pack that Oliver had not noticed.

“Just press this green button,” Jack instructed, “But not the blue or red button. Never push the yellow button, and only press the orange button on alternating Thursdays and the thirty-first of January.”

Oliver was going to push the green button, but he tripped and pushed the blue button, instantly killing both Oliver and Jack.

“Now look what you’ve done!” exclaimed Jack.

Jack and Oliver were in what seemed to be an endless plane of wheat fields.

“Where are we?” said Oliver.

“Well the afterlife, of course!”

Oliver considered himself an atheist, so he was surprised that the after-life existed.

“So where is God?” asked Oliver

“What is that?” responded Jack.

“It is something people think exist,” said Oliver.

“Well then they’re wrong.” said Jack.

“Are you sure?” questioned Oliver.

Jack stopped and thought about Oliver’s question for a moment before responding with a simple, “No.”

“Jack?”

“Oliver?”

“Didn’t you say that the world was going to end today?”

Jack checked his watch.

“In exactly thirteen point forty-six seconds,” said Jack matter-of-factly.

Exactly thirteen point forty-six seconds after Jack said that, seven point eight billion people along with billions of animals and other organisms spawned into the afterlife. Exactly two point four seconds after the world ended, Jack started to walk off in the midst of the confusion. 

“Where are you going?” asked Oliver, catching up with Jack.

“Well, I’m off to see if this God character is real,” said Jack as if Oliver were to take that for granted.

“Would you mind if I tagged along?”

“Nobody is stopping or forcing you to do anything at all,” said Jack.

And that is where a frightfully unaverage adventure began.

Jack and Oliver walked for about three months, and had grown quite used to each other. The three months they had spent together were very uneventful and dull with little to no conversation—not anything Oliver wasn’t used to. One slightly less uneventful day Jack and Oliver stumbled upon a grand fortress consisting of several gargantuous medieval-style castles surrounded by awesome cobblestone walls that they should have been able to see kilometers away, yet still seemed to appear out of nothingness into somethingness. Oliver would have been flabbergasted but nothing seemed to startle him any longer. Jack and Oliver went to the walls and the entrance of the kingdom to find a doorbell. Oliver rang the doorbell and the gate swung open crashing into Jack and Oliver. When the two got up they were almost surprised to find a muscular child, not much older than Oliver opening the gate.

“Salutations,” said the child, “I am Steven.”

“Why are you so young but so…” began Oliver

“Muscular?” suggested Jack.

“I’ve gotten this body from hundreds of years of training. I do not age because I’m dead, but I can still get stronger,” said Steven, in a seemingly offended tone of voice.

“May we come in?” said Jack

“Absolutely not!” exclaimed Steven.

“Why not?” asked Oliver.

Steven remained silent, staring at Oliver.

“Fine!” Steven shouted, letting Oliver and Jack in.

“What an odd person,” thought Oliver followed by a feeling of deja vu.

Inside the wall, there was an entrance to the first castle. Oliver was about to ring the doorbell to the gate when it swung forward, crashing into Oliver and Jack. Behind the door was another Steven.

“But you were just…” Oliver began.

“I am Steven’s twice-removed great uncle,” said Steven’s twice-removed great uncle.

“But you’re so young!” exclaimed Jack, “And you look exactly the same as Steven.”

“I jumped off a bridge when I was eight, and then my sister went on to marry somebody, and Steven-having been born four months prior to my sister’s wedding became my twice-removed grandnephew,” said Steven’s twice-removed great uncle.

There was a brief moment of silence before Jack and Oliver abruptly dashed into the castle. The castle itself was filled with a grand, rich town with beautiful buildings, awesome towers, and gorgeous citizens.

“Welcome to the Kingdom of Solitude and Ending!” exclaimed Steven’s twice-removed great uncle.

“What a terrible name for such a beautiful town!” thought Oliver.

But as he walked into the town, he could see people’s eyes, filled with boredom and nothingness. He and Jack walked around asking for somebody who knew about any God character for hours on end until one depressed sounding lady suggested asking the King of Solitude, Benjamin The Conqueror.

“Well where do you find this Benjamin guy?” inquired Jack.

The woman simply pointed up.

Oliver could never have explained what happened in the entirety of his death, he could never quite grasp it, but he saw colors that were impossible to see, sounds that were impossible to hear, smelling smells that were impossible to smell, feeling sensations that were impossible to experience. But it was almost like it didn’t happen at all, because after that Oliver still couldn’t quite grasp how he felt, saw, heard, or smelled anything that had happened, but this is all irrelevant, because at this point in the story Jack and Oliver were sitting in front of Benjamin the Conqueror who was currently explaining that he would accompany the two on their way to God.

“There are two paths to get to God. The Road To Imminent Doom, Danger, and Death, or the Everlasting Road.” said Benjamin, “The latter option takes infinite time to travel across to reach God whereas the first option will lead to imminent death to reach God.”

“Both sound equally as terrible and impossible as one another,” remarked Jack.

“Nothing is neither possible nor impossible nowadays,” replied the king dreamily.

“I choose the first option,” said Oliver abruptly.

Jack and Benjamin looked at Oliver surprised.

“Fine by me,” said Jack after a brief pause.

“Ditto,” seconded Benjamin the Conqueror. 

And so the trio went out of the fortress, down to the Road of Imminent Doom, Danger, and Death, in search for a mysterious religious figure named God.

It took about four days until the three reached the road, and about another week until they reached living (if you can really use that word anymore) beings. It was an old merchant. The merchant was sold out. Out of the Road of Imminent Doom, Danger, and Death, out of the afterlife, out of anything really, as long as you brought the Out to God. 

“So God is real?” cried Oliver.

“No, not to my knowledge,” said the merchant, “But others would disagree, claiming he’s just down the road,” said the merchant, gesturing to the seemingly never-ending road, “Others have and will always disagree.” He sighed.

“Well could we purchase an Out?” said Jack.

“Sadly, I’ve sold out. I’m just on my way to replenish my stock,” replied the merchant.

“Well how long will it take for you to return?” asked Benjamin.

“It could take up to infinite years,” said the merchant.

Unfortunately, the three did not have infinite years to spare. So they continued down the Road of Imminent Doom, Danger, and Death. Along the way, Benjamin the Conqueror decided to tell the story of the Road, the Kingdom, and God.

“When I was alive, in a time before records, I had conquered land from Vrehnguard to as far away as Blaqtek and Garn’s Sea.”

Oliver didn’t seem to recognize any of these places, but continued to listen as he had nothing much better to do walking down a road that led to imminent death in search of God. 

“Nothing stood before me besides terminal illnesses which ended my life twenty-three years into my rule. After I passed, I joined fallen brothers and comrades, rebuilding my kingdom, Aapq. Time passed. The living kingdom fell, and the citizens came to join the kingdom, spreading sadness and despair. People began shutting themselves off from the outside world, they began, with lack of a better word, stopping. I forget how it happened, but the kingdom’s name became what you know it as now-the Kingdom of Solitude and Ending. People began seeking what the Kingdom once was. A semi-small group went on a search for God. Eventually, the party split into two groups. One of the groups was almost entirely driven to death, while the second one got lost in Infinity, giving birth to the Road of Imminent Doom, Danger, and Death and the Everlasting Road.”

“That reminds me…” began Benjamin,  “Oh well, would you look at that! A motel!”

There was indeed a motel. The motel was named Imagination, Oliver imagined. The three walked into the motel, and a man welcomed them in.

“Welcome to the motel, Imagination,” Oliver imagined the man exclaimed.

Oliver imagined that a series of events unfolded that led up to him getting a room for the night to himself. Oliver couldn’t fall asleep. He got off and wandered throughout the motel getting lost in Imagination. He began to picture lions with several heads, gods with two faces, infinite money, inumerous wonders. Oliver finally wandered so much that he found that he was in a new land. It was tiresome to walk through, he could barely stand it. It was almost as if all the dopamine was drained from his brain. There was blackness, numbers, facts, letters that Oliver couldn’t place together. He wanted to, he needed to break free. But he didn’t know what to break free from. He couldn’t kill himself. He didn’t want to kill himself, but he didn’t know what else to do. He collapsed onto the floor. He was crying. He didn’t know why. There was no point to crying. No point in doing anything. But he still wanted to find God. He didn’t know how it would turn out. Oliver didn’t care. He wanted to see how it would turn out, and if he didn’t like it, he was going to be doomed and die anyways. Dopamine returning to Oliver’s brain, he found himself back in his motel room. It was late morning already.

When he went back into the lobby, he saw Jack.

“Where’s Benjamin?” Oliver imagined he said.

“Oh, he killed himself,” Oliver imagined Jack replied.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

So the duo continued on their perilous journey.

Walking down the road, Jack and Oliver found a very interesting part of it. Various animals were running about the street, selling numerous drugs with absurd names, and Oliver found himself in a manfight. Chickens and dogs betting on which human would kill the other. Seeing this, Oliver tried to escape, but it was futile. Jack and Oliver were thrown into a cage by two large, muscular dogs. The two were about to fight when the chicken police ran into the facility, shooting down all the chickens and dogs. None escaped. Jack and Oliver were released.

“What brings you to the road of Imminent Doom Danger and Death this fine, fine day?” inquired the chief police chicken.

“God,” said Jack.

“Oh… You’re one of those ones.” said the chicken chief.

“Gabriel!” the chicken man shouted.

An insane looking, ragged old man that was a chicken stumbled up to them.

“God!” he squabbled, “God! This way! God!”

“No,” said Jack, repulsed by the disgusting chicken man, “I’m not sure if I believe in God, I just want to see if he exists.”

“Ohhhh, well you shoulda just said that to begin with!” exclaimed the chicken man chief police, “Come right along with me! My name’s Robert, by the way. Nice to meetcha,” he said charismatically, holding out his wing.

“My name’s Jack,” said Jack, shaking Robert’s wing.

“And I’m Oliver.”

Robert brought the two to a police car.

“My police car goes infinitely fast, so we can arrive at the end of the road in infinitely minimal time,” explained Robert.

Oliver, not knowing what else to say, simply said, “Okay.”

And then they were there.

At the end of the road there was a man. The man lead them through infinity and back, reaching the stars, reaching Heaven, coming back to Earth, finally back to the realm of the dead. And then there was God. An old man, completely still, completely silent.

“Are you God?” asked Jack in awe.

The man turned to Jack, who repeated his question.

“I don’t know.” said the old man.

“Does God exist?” asked Oliver.

“I’m not sure.”

“Who are you?” asked Robert.

“I—” but the old man couldn’t finish the sentence, for he collapsed onto the ground, dead.

“I still don’t understand how people die in the afterlife,” remarked Jack, four point sixty-seven seconds before Robert, Oliver, and himself died of abrupt heart attacks.

Best Friends Wait What!!!

Ludovico Cordara’s POV 

It is the year 2034 and it is a rainy Sunday night in my Chicago penthouse on the top of the Sears Tower. I wake up and do my usual 20 pushups and I run on my treadmill. Then my kind maid cooks me imported and sweet Belgian waffles. As always, I am super hungry so I eat 3 entire waffles. Eventually, I am done eating and I go to my room and I pick my fanciest suit because today is a super important day. Today is the day where I graduate from Harvard Law School where I am a graduate with two S.J.D.’s 

I am incredibly proud of myself. My parents are there and they surprise me with a courtside game of the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs. It looks like a copy of Super Bowl LIV. 

Nick Bosa’s POV

It is a super bright day and the rays of the sun are blazing through my window. I wake up and run to take a boiling hot bath because I have an incredibly momentous game coming up. The Super Bowl. I am super agitated, but at the same time, I am calmer than ever. After my bath, I go to my kitchen where a fantastic breakfast is prepared. It is composed of a bowl of organic fruit from my garden, a bowl of raw oats, and 7 scrambled eggs. I divulge it all in a matter of 20 minutes. After that, I meet with my parents and we go to watch a movie at my parents’ private movie theater. The movie is about this astute lawyer named Ludovico Cordara. It tells us all about his background and how he graduated from Harvard and in all the photos, we see 49ers merch, which makes me feel good. After the movie, I go to Levi Stadium with the coach and my teammates and we started stretching and practicing. We need to practice because in a week, I will be playing the most important game of my life.

Ludovico Cordara POV

I go back to my house and I can’t wait to go into my Anti-Gravity room in my basement. As soon as we get there, we put on helmets and a specialized platinum suit. I’ve done it before, but most of my friends haven’t and I remember my first time doing it and it felt like being awake while sleeping. It’s such a fantastic and weird experience that I don’t even know how to describe it. I invite all my friends and we have an intense game of dodgeball. I am so electrified that I finally get to play with all my friends. Afterwards, we go and relax in my pool. Then I go with my very best friend Guglielmo and we have a lot of fun watching a movie. The movie we watch is called Bad Boys. It is hilarious. Will Smith, who is one of my close friends, comes over and we have a classic battle of ping pong. I am exhausted after our thrilling game which was, unfortunately, a debacle in my aspects. Eventually, I go into my heated water bed which feels like you’re riding waves without ever getting wet and being so close to the sun as you could grab it without ever being hot. It is the perfect combination of sleeping.

Nick Bosa POV

As soon as I get to Levi Stadium, Coach yells at me and tells me to run 5 suicides. 

I reply, “ Coach, I’ll run 10. I need to be ready for our game.”

Coach says “That is exactly why you are my captain and this team’s leader.” 

After 3 hours of practicing, I go to the weight room and I start doing my daily exercise which is composed of 20 pushups and 30 situps plus 30 bench presses. After practice, we all go into freezing cold and glacial cold tub. After we have cooled down, we relax and take a soothing hot tub and massage. Finally, it’s about 7;00 and the team and I go out to dinner at a famous steakhouse in San Francisco called Strip Steak. The steak there is more than fantastic, just tasting it gives you a rapturous feeling in your body. After the fantastic day, I’m still a bit sad because no matter how much I love football, I just feel like I have a different calling. Well anyway, I go on my customized German mattress. 

Ludovico Cordara POV

I finally wake up and I instantly go to the kitchen and grab a banana and run to take a shower. My alarm didn’t work and I am late for work, and listen to this, I’m defending the freakin’ president. This might be the biggest cause of my life. I can’t believe that there is no time to take a shower. I put my clothes on in a hurry and my maid is cooking me breakfast really quickly. The breakfast today is a buttermilk pancake with no butter and some diced strawberries on top. I drive my Lamborghini as fast as I can, and by the time I arrive, I’m too late and the president is really mad at me. I decided I’m tired of being a lawyer. I go to meet my friends from the 49ers and we talk about the game strategy over sushi. I ordered a spectacular green dragon roll and a plate of Japanese Chirashi which was amazing. Afterwards, I go back on my super fast car and all of a sudden, a dim light bulb crashes into me and I am knocked out.

Nick Bosa POV

I wake up at 6 and I run to my massage place where my doctor is giving me a soothing and relaxing back massage before my big game. My whole body feels like a temple, I am hyped. Afterwards, I go to practice and my coach tells me I might not be able to play in the big game. I am desperate when I hear the news and I decide to run out of practice and drive all the way to my house, but while I am driving, my car stops and a truck rams into me.

I am unconscious.

Ludovico Cordara POV (really Nick Bosa)

I wake up and for some reason, I am 6 ft 4 inches and I am extremely buff and strong. I go look in a mirror and I am freaking Nick Bosa. The doctor comes to check on me and I notice that it is an impostor because the doctor’s eyes are blinking, his heartbeat is very high, and his pulses are sweating, and I might add the fact that he has a gun in his hand. My body starts panicking and I run at him and I tackle him in a way that I could have never dreamed of.

I am finally dismissed from the hospital and I go to a gym to see how strong I am. It turns out I can bench press 524 pounds. Afterwards, I open my phone and I call my massager and tell him if he can give me a message because my back is swollen. I am starting to enjoy being super strong and fast. Unfortunately, I now live in San Francisco instead of Chicago.

Nick Bosa POV (really Ludovico Cordara)

As soon as I wake up, everyone is asking me if I’m okay. And I have never seen this many people care for me. And then the doctor comes in and says, “Sir Mr. Cordara, how are you?” I freak out because I just realized that I am super rich and super smart. I command the doctors in a slightly volatile voice and tell them to release me at once, the doctor does so. I go into the garage where I see my Lamborghini and I think, “oh hell ya.” I drive super fast and as soon as I get to my house, the press is right outside. I don’t know what to do until 15 super buff security guards come and save me and clear the way to my building. When I enter, the 7 maids 9 cooks 4 butlers, 3 coaches, and 6 personal trainers, all tell me “How may we help you, Mr. Cordara?”

Nick Bosa POV

Since I am now in San Francisco, I decided to go to a famous steak house called 5a Steak House Lounge. The steak is freshly made from the rugged mountains of Kobe beef in Japan. As soon as you taste the amazing meat, it would melt in your mouth like a snowman in summer. Then the intense sapor of the steak gets to your brain’s neurons and instantaneously attacks your taste buds and gives you a sweet aroma of juicy and croquet taste. Afterwards, I ask for a gold plated chirashi with salmon imported from the smooth beaches of the rugged coastline of Japan. The gold is found in the harsh and poor mines of the caves in Kenya. Afterwards, I call my driver and tell him to drive me home.

Ludovico Cordara POV

Seeing all these people makes me feel anxious. I normally see this many people at a game, but not at my house. All these people greet me super politely and they are awkwardly kind. It almost feels as if I were dreaming. Well anyway, I’ve decided I’m going to sleep. As soon as I enter my room, the butler says, “Mr.Cordara, would you like a Swedish massage on your back and relaxing Shiatsu on your shoulders and neck?” 

The massage is so invigorating and invitational that after the session is over, I ask for more. The massage is so relaxing that I almost fall asleep. He gently massages back and forward on my spirit gate on the inside of my wrist and cracks my back like an experienced chiropractor. He cracks every single rib and soothes it later with a great massage. Eventually comes supper and my chefs have prepared an assortment of food composed of fruits, vegetables, sushi, steak, burritos, and many more tasty goods. I devour it all instantaneously and I’m still hungry. It’s like my chef read my mind and makes me a brand new plate of lasagna, which eventually quenches my hunger for the next week.

Nick Bosa POV

It’s finally a bright summer day and I have decided that I’m going bowling with Coach to talk about our game plan. When he comes, we decide that we run Tampa 2 cover 1 robber press. Which refers to the defensive line piercing through the middle, the cornerbacks playing man, and the safeties on the zone. The linebackers alternate depending on if they are running a slot option or simply RB FB Tight End blocks. Coach and I eventually go to meet the rest of the team and he says, “Run 30 suicides.”

I stop and complain, “30, are you crazy?”

He looks at me in a befuddled fashion, and exclaims, “What the hell, Cap! I thought you liked running.” But since I am not actually athletic, I am deadass exhausted after only 3. I tell Coach I just have a sore stomach.

Ludovico Cordara POV

When I wake up, I have a severe stomach ache. It is so weird. I’m assuming it’s from the ton of lasagna from yesterday, but I’ve never had a bad reaction to lasagna so I’m a bit befuddled. Well, who cares. I have a court case today and I’m working for $500 an hour. Which is a lot. I am super afraid I will mess up. If I win this case, then that means that the law firm will be entitled to my name. Which means I will make over $700 million dollars a year. If I get all this money, then I can retire and just be the rich owner who doesn’t do anything but can still relax, which is my main mission. It’s time the case is about to begin. As soon as it starts, I instantly get contradicted and don’t know what to say. I’m panicking. My client looks at me with fear. I freak out and say something smart but off-topic. The opposite lawyer who has been my archenemy since we were kids is against me, he knows my every move, and well if I was Ludovico Cordara, then I could have known his every thought. I’m in a bad position so I slam my head against the table. And everything is black.

Nick Bosa POV

The referee blows the whistle and it’s the defense’s time to shine. I call a hike, and I sprint but get knocked out at the first play.

Ludovico Cordara (OG)

I wake up from my brain trauma and I see I am back to being myself. I am so happy that I yell let’s go. Then I look around me and I see that the court case hasn’t started yet. I am extremely relieved. As soon as my opponent comes in and so does the judge, we begin the debate. The debate is over after 5 minutes. I already defended my client successfully and the judge’s official decree was “not guilty.” I am so soothed.

Nick Bosa OG

I wake up and hear, “Hike, hike!” I follow my instincts and charge through. I force a fumble. Every single play, I force a sack except for the last play where I get razored to the ground and I am in extreme pain. We have already won the game. But unfortunately, the doctor said I tore my ACL which will take 6 months to heal. I eventually go with my buddy Ludovico Cordara and we go to the Los Angeles 49ers house and we chill in the jacuzzi. As we are relaxing, we see Guglielmo Cordara and Deforest Buckner, my old companion, arguing. We are so tired we are about to sleep in the hot tub. And the last thing we hear is, “ I WISH I WERE YOU.”

THE END

Floof

The following is not a true story, but it includes murder and cannibalism. Reader discretion is advised.

(It is horror as well as comedy. There will be funny parts throughout the story in hopes to cheer you up. This also takes place in the 1800s, which will be useful information to know. It’s also really weird. Like, really, really, really weird. If you don’t condone weirdness, don’t read this.)

My dearest Theodore,

I am afraid I will not be able to complete the task. I have recently been cursed. Do not worry, I have not been harmed. This may sound weird, but every knife I slice with now screams “FLOOF!” I know that floof is not a word, but it may be in many years, as it seems that the witch who has cursed me may be a time traveler. I know those are fake, and science fiction, but this witch was not dressed in black, as most are supposed to be. She had small, blinking machines surrounding her. When I saw her, she had almost flickered into existence. The fact that she managed to curse me is proof in itself. I have reason to believe she was a time traveler, as I have just explained, but that is beside the point.

I cannot complete the task due to this. I am afraid you will not receive your meal on the twenty-first, as you have specified. I will find someone else to finish the task, and swear them to secrecy. They shall send the meat to me, and I will give it to you in person. They shall think I am the one asking for this, and I shall pay them myself, do not worry. No suspicion will ever be pointed at you, all will go towards me. You will get it as soon as possible, but that will not be tomorrow, or the twenty-first, I am afraid. I love you, as always. Give my baby Mary my hugs and kisses, and tell her it was from me, her dearest, Elizabeth Johnson. I have the honor to be your obedient servant.

E. Johnson, 1800

That was the letter Elizabeth sent to Theodore on December 19, 1800. It was sent the day before, at 11 o’clock precisely. It arrived at his house at 3 o’clock. Theodore’s response was simple, sent at 4 o’clock.

Elizabeth,

Get it to me on the twenty-third at latest, or you will be next.

T. Wilson, 1800

Elizabeth was rushing when she received the message (8 o’clock). It was the 21st already! Who would she hire?! Looking up, the witch flickered into existence once again.

“You…” Elizabeth glared. “Get away, cruel beast!”

“Deal with it…” That was all the witch said before leaving the poor woman.

“Deal with it? That must mean I might go through with my project and succeed! Thank you, mysterious witch!”

A letter was immediately sent to Theodore, of course.

My dearest Theodore,

I am letting you know that the meat may be ready today. I will try not to disrupt anyone. My neighbor, Ryan Robbins, will be assisting me, as you might say, in my project. The witch visited me again, and said, I quote, “deal with it” so I shall. You may get your wish earlier than recently thought. The wedding will happen tomorrow, and I shall enjoy it. I love you, as always, and am awaiting living with you. Tell Mary I send her warm wishes. I have the honor to be your obedient servant.

E. Johnson, 1800

Theodore received the letter, and a slight smile snuck into his eyes, though his mouth stayed firm. He erased it once Mary started crying, and burned the letter, just like the rest. No one could know the undergoing process.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth was knocking on Ryan’s door. Her foot was impatiently tapping, waiting for him to come out. His house was huge, and he only lived with his parents (Yeah, he still lived with his parents at the age of 35. I know, right?), so he was the perfect person—not too old, not too young, and an easy victim, despite the noise. No one seemed to be home. She decided to wait until nighttime.

At home, Elizabeth was reading. Well, trying to. At least the book she was reading was on cannibalism, right? But she was too nervous to focus. She thought it would be easy, at least for the person she loved most, but her heart started racing. She closed the book, and the title flashed in her eyes—Fables, Ancient and Modern. She was so out of it. The book wasn’t even on cannibalism! She decided to change into a black dress, to be ready for later. Sighing, she looked out at the sun. It had hardly been an hour, the sun just peeking into her window. She wanted to visit Theodore and Mary, she really did, but she knew he would be mad to see her.

I can imagine it now, she thought to herself. “You should be ashamed of yourself! You aren’t providing the food for your fiance like you should be! Where is the ‘Ryan Robbins’ you talked about? He should be ‘assisting’ you right this very second! Leave!”

She saw her fiance’s quartz complexion, baby Mary’s slightly darker skin behind, pointing at her olive self. The dimly lit room, so much detail as to the rain drizzling out the thin glass window. Elizabeth felt a tear slide down her cheek, followed by more. How real this was, she realized. Did she really love him?

“No.” A voice said.

Elizabeth’s head snapped up, “Who was that?”

“Just the ‘witch.’ You don’t love him, but you’ll do ‘it’ for him anyway. Yes, before you ask any questions, I can read your mind. Yes, I am a witch. Yes, I am a time traveler. Yes, I know what you’re going through because I’ve gone through it before. Yes, the exact same thing including killing someone for cannibalism. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I want to help you so you don’t make the same mistake.”

“Who?” Elizabeth wiped her tears away, embarrassed.

“I’m sorry, what?” The witch stepped closer.

“Who did you do it for, who did you kill, who are you?”

“I did it for my wife, I killed Ryan Robbins (a different one), and I’m Rayne.”

“You had a wife and you’re a girl?”
“There’s a thing called gay, you only like your gender. I’m gay. Well, technically pansexual, but I won’t get into that. I’m also non-binary, so not in the gender binary, aka not male or female. Anyway, back to you. No matter what I say, you’re still gonna do it. So come talk to me after. I’ll be here when you get upset.” Rayne put her hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder.

“Were you cursed with floof?” Elizabeth sniffed, and Rayne stifled a laugh.

“Yes. Someone centuries ahead of me did the same thing. It almost stopped me, but… well, I thought like you, but slower. I hesitated more. And the messages were faster. Like, automatic. But, pretty much the same. I thought it would work better on you, but it didn’t. I’ll have to change my tactic.” Rayne sighed, and opened her mouth to continue, but Elizabeth interrupted.

“Sorry to interrupt, but… who was your wife?” Elizabeth started to feel more confident.

“Her name was Rose. She wasn’t as harsh, and she just wanted to kill him, not eat him, but it was a big mistake. On both of our parts. Yes, he died, and no, neither of us got in trouble. But she’s probably talking to your husband right now. She’s asking him to stop, like I’m asking you. It’s our job now.”

“I’m doing it. Like you said, I’m still killing Ryan. I… I think I love Theodore, so I’m going through with it. If I’m going to, I have to go now. The sun has almost set, and I need to strike, no matter the floof.” Elizabeth stood up, slipping a small dagger up her sleeve.

Almost immediately after she did so, she heard a knock on her door. A man stood there, looking tired. He handed her a pamphlet, and spotted Rayne in the back. He explained that he was openly campaigning, and gave a summary of the pamphlet. Leaving, he said, “It’s 1800, ladies, tell your husbands, ‘vote for Burr!’”

Elizabeth, walking behind him, shouted, “No, thanks! I don’t care how approachable others say you are, Theodore’s going to vote for Jefferson!”

“Lady, then, tell your husband!” Aaron Burr turned around.

“I’m not a lady! There’s a thing called non-binary in the future! Where people decide to not be male or female!” Rayne shouted, trying to act angry while stifling a laugh.

“Good riddance,” Elizabeth muttered under her breath, knocking on the door of Ryan’s house (well, technically his dad’s house, but same thing. He would inherit it, anyway. That is, if he wasn’t a total failure in life. He was, though, so his dad would probably give it to literally anyone but him…). Anyway, no one answered, as Elizabeth had suspected. His parents were out, and she could tell because their carriage was gone. Locks didn’t exist in the 1800s, as some of you readers might know, and you might just say to yourself, “robbers are gonna get caught, so they’re safe anyway,” but, unluckily for Ryan, that wasn’t the case. Elizabeth opened the door, and calmly walked inside. She was wearing the black dress, one she had from her mother’s funeral. It was tight fitted, but still the best thing she had to sneak around the house. Her frilly dresses would definitely not work, with all the bright colors and sound. Anyway, she walked in, and immediately blew out all the lamps in sight. She couldn’t be seen by Ryan, otherwise he would… scream for the nearest house? There weren’t any for miles, so, he wouldn’t really do anything. But Theodore told her that he likes the taste better when they were taken by surprise, and she wanted the best for her love.

She crept up the stairs, where she heard Ryan snoring loudly. It was so loud, it covered up all the creaks as she climbed up the steps slowly. She reached his door, which was already open, luckily for her. Walking in, she saw he was turned away from her, his short brown hair in a mess, although it was super short except for the top (Elizabeth couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be a super short mohawk, or just was supposed to look really weird).

Good, she thought, and tiptoed closer, pulling her knife (pronounced ka-neef-ay) out of her sleeve. She somehow heard the rustle over his noise, so she thought her senses were on high alert. But then she realized that his snoring had not only quieted, but changed in sound. Was he smart enough to know she was there? Elizabeth didn’t think so, but she wanted to be careful anyway.

She crept up to his bed. He was covered in silk. It would be such a shame to ruin this, she thought, but it was too late to turn back. Besides, she couldn’t not do it just for silk. Her life was on the line! She smacked herself in the head. Why had she not told Rayne that? Rayne would have understood better if she had! Ugh! And then she almost smacked herself again. Ryan was staring at her and her knife (still pronounced ka-neef-ay), eyes wide.

“WHO THE F*** ARE YOU‽” He screamed. Loudly. Like, really loudly, louder than his real and fake snore combined.

“You were supposed to not know I was here! Ugh. Can you turn around and pretend like I’m not here? I’ll wait until you’re asleep. Or until your parents are coming back. You need to be taken by surprise!” Elizabeth said, in a rush. I mean, what was she supposed to say?

“WHAT THE F***!!! NO!!! ARE YOU STUPID!!!”

“Look who’s talking,” Elizabeth muttered under her breath.

“What did you just say?” Ryan was suddenly angry, but in a different way than before. His voice was (somehow) really deep, and his face was all squished up. It looked uglier than before, which seemed impossible to Elizabeth (and me).

“You are 35, and still living with your parents. You must be stupid. Also, why are you cursing? It isn’t proper.” Elizabeth kept going with insults. She had just remembered that Theodore could never tell the difference between a surprised meal or an angry one.

“Cursing isn’t proper? You’re coming to kill me, and you’re telling me that cursing isn’t proper?” Ryan smirked with disbelief, even while he was about to be killed. He’s crazy, right?

“Well, I’m not saying killing is proper, because it isn’t, but cursing isn’t either. Anyway, I’m going to kill you now. Also, I didn’t think it was possible for you to be uglier, but with your face all scrunched up like that, I was clearly wrong.” Elizabeth pointed at his face in a disgusted manner, and walked towards him, knife (ka-neef-ay) pointing towards his chest.

Ryan got really, really angry at that, and jumped at Elizabeth. He was obviously stupid, because he forgot about the knife (ka-neef-ay), and jumped right onto it. Needless to say, not only was he angry, but he was also taken by surprise, making Ryan taste the best for Theodore. The knife (ka-neef-ay) also said “FLOOF!!!”

Ryan saw her smile as he died, and said, “I have the honor to be your obedient servant… R dot Rob—” through gritted teeth, but his voice died off as he did. It was to annoy her, because he knew how many letters she sent (a lot, most to Theodore, and some to Theodosia, her friend), and thought it would annoy her, but it just made her smile more.

Bowing, Elizabeth sang to him (like the way it’s sung in Hamilton) “I have the honor to be your obedient servant! E dot John.” Elizabeth only said the first syllable of her last name to match Ryan, and because it sounded better. She cut him up quickly, forgetting about Rayne entirely. The knife (still ka-neef-ay) sounded not like a lot of loud floofs, but like “F-F-Fl-Floo-F-F-Floo…” because it was getting interrupted.

She wrapped him up in the sheets quickly, ignoring the silk. She tied the top, and brought the bloody pieces over to her house. Rayne was waiting there, along with who Elizabeth assumed was Rose, and Theodore. Rose had long, blonde, curly hair, and was wearing the same sort of gadgets as Rayne.

“You already did it?” Theodore asked, stepping forward.

“Yeah, you a**hole. Here’s your ‘food,’ you monster.” Elizabeth stopped smiling, and threw Ryan’s remains at Theodore.

“I shouldn’t have done it. I—”

“You what? You love me? You want the best for me? You shouldn’t have f***ing threatened me?! Well, guess what? You can get out of my f***ing house, turn yourself into the police, and leave me alone! Give me Mary, too! Or did she die?!” Elizabeth threw up her hands, flooded with emotion.

“Yes. She’s de—”

“Of course! You took everything away from me for your stupid ‘meat!’ I don’t want to see you ever again! Get out of my house! Now!”

Theodore turned away, and started towards the door. “I’m sorry…” He whispered.

“I don’t f***ing care! Get the f*** out! And take the rest of Ryan with you, too, you cannibal!” As Theodore left, Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief.

“You didn’t have to do that…” Rose whispered.

“I did. And I did it because of you two. Thank you.” Elizabeth turned towards Rose and Rayne.

“I’m sorry this happened to you,” Rayne stepped towards Elizabeth.

“I am, too. Theodore was more messed up than me!” Rose said, making everyone smile, even if just a bit.

“Goodbye,” Rayne said.

“See you on the other side,” Elizabeth replied, and with that, Rose and Rayne flickered out of existence.

Do I Really Have to Play Soccer?

“Do I really have to play soccer?” I asked Dad. 

Dad started, “No—”

I couldn’t hear the rest of his words because of Mom’s shouting.

“Yes, absolutely,” Mom cut in. “It’s necessary for your health. You haven’t done anything athletic in years! You’re even having trouble picking up your laptop! If you don’t play soccer, what else are you going to do?”

I thought, sleeping, or reading, or doing anything else rather than play a sport! I still vividly remember baseball, and then said, “I’ll figure it out later. Anything is better than soccer! Remember my first game?”

Thoughts of the game flooded my mind…

It was three weeks ago and my team was on the field, in the middle of our first soccer game. Except for me. And my attention.

I was thinking, honestly, I wish I could be sleeping instead of sitting here in this stuffy uniform with all of these shin guards and stuff—

Wham! Someone from the other team ran straight into me, sending my skinny body soaring through the air and landing on the grassy earth with a thud. Looking back in retrospect, I think I might have flown eight or nine feet through the air.

Well, now I know why I need the shin guards, I realized. I can’t believe I’m playing soccer. Maybe if I fail, my parents will think I’m too bad at soccer to keep playing.

I heard the piercing shrill of a whistle being blown.

“Are you okay, son?” the referee asked.

I looked at the ref and slowly realized that he actually wanted me to answer.

“Yup, I’m all right,” I quickly muttered.

I gathered my dignity and stood up, painstakingly slowly. The ref looked around, then blew the whistle right in my ear, giving me more injury than the guy who plowed through me, and the game resumed. The splitting headache and hearing loss didn’t help things either.

Within a minute, I had the same guy who had floored me earlier bearing down on me with the ball at his feet.

He was coming closer. Time seemed to stop. I was so close I could see his bloodshot eyes, counting the viens. What did George Washington or whoever say? Something about the whites of his eyes. Unfortunately, there were no whites in his eyes to look at.

I had to make a decision. I could feel the flabby muscles in my body tense up and…

No way in heck was I standing in the way of that guy! I dove out of the way and the guy went on to score easily on the goal.

I heard a voice say, “Everyone makes mistakes. I’m sure you’ll improve.”

I was snapped out of the past, back into the middle of the conversation.

Dad commented, “I don’t know. He seemed pretty bad—” Mom cut him off with a glare sharper than daggers.

Dad revised his life goals and stammered, “Oh, you can definitely improve.”

I glumly said, “I don’t think there can be much improvement in that area.”

Mom suggested, “Failure is necessary for improvement. You’ve just got to grit it out.” Inwardly, I rolled my eyes. How many times has my mom said this? A hundred? Two hundred? No, at least a thousand times. Grit, failure is good, success, yada yada yada…boring!

I asked, “Uh huh, sure I can. Just like football and basketball and baseball and lacrosse and—”

Mom sternly informed me, “You only had to quit because you got injured. You were on the cup of improvement. I know it!”

Dad said, “On the bright side, you get along well with the other players on the team.”

The memories of the practice after the game seeped into my consciousness…

I stepped out onto the field, where my team was awaiting the instructor for criticism. The team was sitting around in a circle, just sitting and chatting. I inwardly cringed, ready for the upcoming constant bombardment of complaints and angry comments. What I was met with surprised me.

I stepped out onto the field. The entire team simultaneously stood up. This in itself was weird, but wait! It gets weirder! Instead of being bombarded with negative comments, all of my teammates actually crowded around me, giving me encouragement like “You’ll get ‘em next time!” or “Nice try!”

I was so confused. Instead of acting like, I don’t know, rational people, they were being super nice for no reason! I was just standing there confused until the coach blew his whistle in everyone’s ear and I faded back into reality…

I say, “Not really. They were just being nice because I had failed. They won’t be so nice next time.”

Mom says, “I believe that with just a little more time, you can improve!”

Dad glances at Mom with a skeptical expression and I roll my eyes.

I say, “Sure, Mom. I can definitely improve, especially after the Incident.” I exaggerate the last few words and Mom sighs.

The Incident’s memories revived themselves in my mind…

It was the next soccer game and everyone had encouraged me to do better next time. The game was in full play and I really wasn’t paying much attention. To me, everyone was just running around, chasing a ball on the other side of the field—

“Hey! They’re about to score! What are you doing!” the coach screamed at the team.

I blinked and realized the other team was bearing down on me, reminiscent of the last game. They had somehow gotten halfway across the field!

As I scrambled into position, a teammate to my right yelled, “Here’s your change Dillan! We believe in you!”

I thought, just don’t screw it up. Anything but that.

I sprinted towards the ball, hoping I wouldn’t trip over it.

There was someone dribbling the ball towards the goal and apparently I was doing a good job because he stopped and started to move in a weird, squiggly way after seeing me. Having learned from soccer practice, I moved along with him in the exact same way. I was putting up a great fight and then I saw an opening.

I saw the ball.

I kicked the ball.

And guess where it went? Into my own goal. Whoops.

A stern voice pulled me back into reality.

Mom conceded, “Alright, I admit that was bad, but failure is a way to improve from mistakes. Failure leads to improvement, which leads to success!”

I looked over Mom’s shoulder to see Dad, sitting there, with a spaced look in his eyes. I said, “I really don’t think I can improve. I mean, I scored in my own goal! Right, Dad?” I stress to Dad.

Dad snapped his head up and said, “Yeah! Yeah! Whatever he said!”

Mom sighed and glared at Dad, but then, grudgingly, said the words that I had been straining to hear for weeks, “You don’t have to play soccer anymore.”

Inwardly, I cheered. Finally! I won an argument with my mom! She just says, “Because I told you so,” I thought. I wonder what else I can quit next? Maybe gym class? Extra math? Or… how about piano lessons!

The Day the Moon Fell

It was Friday, May 13th, 2017. The day the moon fell.

I woke up in a cold sweat. Something seemed different. Not better, not worse, just different, quieter. And I didn’t know why. I wouldn’t know why until later, much later.

I got up out of bed and got dressed. That’s when I realized it was darker than it usually was at 6:00 in the morning. There was a strip of light beaming across the corner of my room. It was bright and shaped like a banana and looked like I could jump into it and fall into a pit of nothing.

I put on my NASA t-shirt and some jeans. It was time to start my day or, little did I know, my night.

I went downstairs and sat down at the kitchen table. Normally, Mom makes breakfast for my younger sister and me, but that day she wasn’t downstairs. My sister, Sky, wasn’t up either. Neither was Dad.

I suddenly got really confused, why was no one awake? Did their alarms not go off? Or maybe mine went off early? I looked at the grandfather clock we had in the corner of our dining room. Nope, it was definitely 6:00. Something was wrong.

I went back upstairs and knocked on my parents’ bedroom door. No answer. I slowly turned the knob and crept in, being sure not to make any of the floorboards creak.

My parents were still asleep, but my Mom’s phone alarm wasn’t going off, almost as if she had turned it off. But my mother’s never done that, my mother never will do that. What was going on? I tiptoed over to the bed, once again being sure not to make any noise. That’s when I looked over to where my dad usually sleeps, but nothing was there. My dad was gone.

I started to panic. Maybe he had something to do with the fact that my mom’s alarm never went off. Or why it was so dark outside. No, he couldn’t have done that. Only fairies and wizards and demons do that. And everybody knows, fairies, wizards, and demons don’t exist. Little did I know, I was wrong, very wrong.

“Mom! Mom, wake up!” I yelled as I shook my mother left and right. She was definitely alive, her pulse was racing as if she was really scared. But she was asleep.

“Please, Dad’s in trouble!” She didn’t move a muscle. My mother was normally a really light sleeper. Maybe she was really tired, I thought. Maybe she got home late last night or something. No, no, something was definitely wrong.

I ran into Sky’s room and saw her asleep in her toddler-bed we put together a few weeks ago. She loved that thing. 

“Sky,” I whispered. Whenever someone would yell, Sky would cover her ears and scrunch her eyes and dance around in a circle until they stopped. And with everything that was going on, I was not in the mood for one of her tantrums. But if I had known I would never hear her yell again, I would have done it in a heartbeat.

“Sky, wake up!” I said again, this time a little louder. “Please, Sky, you’re the only one left!”

Nothing happened.

I started to panic even more. My mother and sister weren’t awake, my dad was nowhere to be found, and for some reason everything had changed.

I looked back at the clock. I read somewhere that if you think you are dreaming and you look at a clock twice, the clock time should have significantly changed. But no, it was still 6:00 am. It never crossed my mind that it was still 6:00 am.

I looked around a little, trying to find something, anything, that could help me out a little. Even a spider would have been nice. But no, all the spiders that hung out in my sister’s room were standing still next to their webs.

I finally decided to look outside, hoping someone or something was there that could explain everything. I was not prepared for what I was about to see.

Cats were stopped short. Drunk college kids were standing in the middle of the sidewalk, and a plane was still in the sky. The moon was the only thing that looked normal, twinkling as it usually did, and slowly moving west. The sun hadn’t come up yet. No wonder it was so dark.

I turned away from the window and ran back downstairs, not knowing what to do next. Maybe I could run to the neighbors’ house like my parents always taught me to do “if there was ever to be an emergency.” I was pretty sure this counted as an emergency.

I turned the doorknob to go outside, half expecting it to be bright and sunny, the flowers to be blooming, and the birds to be chirping. Little did I know, I would never see a flower bloom or a bird chirp again. But, like I guessed, it was still dark and all the flowers were doing was standing stick-straight up.

I ran outside and pounded on my neighbors’ door, getting more and more worried. What if no one answered? What if it was just me? Maybe I was going crazy? Maybe I had died and this was the afterlife? I asked myself these questions every time I knocked on another neighbor’s door, just trying to get some answers. I wish I had known that one of those answers turned out to be true.

Eventually, I got to the end of Pickleberry Lane and had to take a breather. It all seemed so, what’s the word, unreal. Everything was frozen, and not frozen like snowy frozen. Frozen

I looked up at the moon. You know that feeling? The one where you just need company even though you don’t want anyone to talk to you, but just their presence makes you feel better? It was like that, except with the moon. It gave me comfort. It was the only thing that had stayed the same throughout all this chaos. I wish I had thought about that more, because if I did maybe I wouldn’t be where I am now.

I walked back home in silence. Literal silence. Nothing was making noise, not even the factory on the other side of town that keeps everyone up at night. Not even the crickets or the wind. But I swore I could hear the moon moving. No, that wasn’t possible. Oh, but it was. It definitely was. 

Suddenly, somewhere within the silence, I heard a scream. It was faint, but it was there.

“Hello?” the voice screeched. “Anybody? Please?” She had an accent, British, I think. I didn’t know what I should do. Should I yell back? What if, somehow, I was dreaming and I ended up yelling in my sleep? Sky would never let me hear the end of that. It could help, though. And so I yelled back.

“Hello?” I screamed as loud as I could. “You still there?”

“Yes, I’m still here,” the voice said, this time a little softer. “What’s your name?”

Jackson. Jackson was my name. But I thought twice about telling her. I mean, I knew nothing about this person. Maybe she was some sort of creep, trying to kill me? Or maybe she was my unconscious, trying to lead me in the right path.

“Jackson,” I yelled, lifting myself up onto my tip-toes. “What’s yours?”

“I’m Luna,” she yelled. “Do you know what’s going on?”

“No,” I said. “Where are you? Maybe we could meet somewhere?” It would have been nice to finally see another person, even if I didn’t know her.

“Bloomsbury,” she said. “Where should we meet?”

Bloomsbury? I’d never heard of it. Maybe it was in the rich part of town or something. There was nothing that could prepare me for what she was about to say.

“Which part of Massachusetts is Bloomsbury in?” I yelled. “I’m in Cambridge.”

“Massachusetts? Bloomsbury’s in London.”

London? So this girl, Luna, is telling me I’m hearing voices from London? 

“How am I hearing you?” I asked.

“They think time has frozen,” Luna said, sounding sad. “They say since all the noise is gone, there isn’t any noise to drown us out.”

“They?” I asked. I was so confused. “Who’s they?”

I wish I had known those would be my last words, because if I did, I would have said literally anything else.

“They’re-”

I heard a thump. Luna must have heard it too, because she suddenly went silent.

I looked up and saw the moon coming closer and closer, like it was falling to the ground.

“Jackson?” Luna yelled. “Jackson, I just want you to know…”

And then it went black.

So, if you’re reading this, please, if anything seems out of the ordinary, tell someone. Anyone. Before it’s too late. Or you could end up where I am now, with them.

Kind regards, 

Jackson

I put down my pencil and went to sleep.

I woke up in a cold sweat. Something seemed different. Not better, not worse, just different. Quieter. And I didn’t know why. I wouldn’t know why until later, much later.

Dear Mockingbird

Dear Mockingbird,

Mockingbirds repeat what people say

I guess this is your way to spend the day

What do you do when there is no sound?

Do you just sit around?

When you mock people are you loud?

Does this make you proud?

Do you sometimes hear the same sound?

Do you repeat it or once again do you just sit around?

I ask myself repeatedly why do you mock

Is this the way you talk?

Flu Shot

My mother drags me, kicking and screaming, down the sidewalk. She is taking me to the doctor to get a flu shot.

“Ellie!” she scolds. “What is wrong with you?!” 

People on the street are giving us very strange looks. I don’t care. My mother pulls on my arm and I try to go in the other direction. I am crying loudly. 

I am deathly afraid of shots. Just thinking about a needle in my arm makes me shudder. 

“I… don’t want… a shot…” I wail, but I am so panicked my words get slurred together and my mother doesn’t understand what I am saying between my uncontrolled sobs.

Suddenly I realize we are right in front of the entrance to the doctor’s office. How did we get here so quickly? My mother opens the door, holding me by the wrist, and we walk in.

My sobs get quieter as I take in the familiar waiting room: colorful chairs and wallpaper, some toys and coloring sheets in the corner, and the receptionist’s desk across from us. I think to myself, can it really be that bad?

The peaceful setting calms and distracts me a little. I pick up a crayon and scribble on a coloring sheet while my mother signs in with the receptionist. I hear her say “flu shot” and I bite my nails nervously, resisting the sudden urge to make a run for the door.

A few minutes go by. A young nurse comes into the room. “Ellie Thomas?” she calls.

I jump when I hear my name. Clutching my mother’s warm hand, I follow the nurse into a narrow hallway out of the waiting area. We enter a smaller room that smells like bleach and sanitizer.

The nurse pulls out an alcohol pad and a syringe. Seeing the needle, I panic and start to sob again.

My mother bends down so she is eye-level with me. “Shhh. Ellie, it’s going to be fine. You can squeeze my hand. Don’t look at the needle.”

It takes me a few tries to find my voice. “I’m scared,” I manage to say. 

“Don’t worry,” she reassures me. “It’ll be over before you know it.”

I hiccup and my heart gets caught in my throat. I am rooted to the spot with fear.

I feel the sudden cold sensation of the alcohol pad rubbing against my skin. Wondering when the nurse is going to inject my arm, I turn to look, taking shallow, short breaths. 

Big mistake. In slow motion, I see the needle just as it pierces my skin. I let out a strangled noise as I feel a sharp stab of pain. I grip my mother’s hand tightly.

And then it is all over. The nurse sticks a bandage where the needle entered. Blinking, trying to process what just happened, I lift my arm. It feels a little sore, but that’s it.

Smiling, the nurse hands me a lollipop. My mother gives me a hug and says, “You were so brave.” Relieved, I walk out of the door. Everything is a blur. My mother signs us out and we leave the office. I feel the warm sun on my face. I did it. I survived a flu shot. It really wasn’t all that bad.

Happily sucking on my lollipop, I trail behind my mother and we walk home.

The House At the Edge of the World

Waffles. 

Of the many words she had learned over the years—and there had been manythis one was by far, her favorite. 

Waffles. 

There were only three books in her home. She didn’t know where they had come from. Like everything in The Place, they had no origin story. They just were. She knew them by heart. 

One: a dictionary.

Two: a volume of poetry.

Three: a cookbook. 

Each word came with a memory. A splash of color, a peal of laughter. Voices. They filled her head. This one coated her tongue with buttery sweetness.  

She loved these words. They were her future and past. They were her life. But they were also her windows to another life. Another place.  

A place called Minnesota. 

She didn’t know where it was. She only knew the name—and that it had to be better than The Place. She had learned it from her books, as she learned everything. They had taught her the language she could never speak. 

Minnesota. She loved how it sounded in her head. She could imagine herself saying it to someone else. Not the rocks that lined the path that wrapped around her house, though she had come to appreciate their company. Another person.  

If she was even a person herself. 

Her house was surrounded by dry, empty land, stretching for miles and miles in every direction. The sky above was a pale, sickly yellow, empty of clouds and breezes, with no sounds anywhere but the sound of her own movements. Sometimes, on days when she could no longer simply sit and stare at the same place on the wall for hours, she would run, away from her house and her books and her rocks. She would run until her feet ached and her breathing came in short, ragged gasps, never slowing down. But always, at the very moment she could run no longer and was suddenly longing for her small, quiet home, it would appear, sitting on the horizon like a dog waiting loyally for his owner. When this happened, she would scream, no noise escaping her mouth, scream silently until she could scream no longer. There was never any response.   

Soon, she stopped running altogether. 

Then came the day when, much like before, she could not take the quiet any longer. She burst outside, landing hard on her hands and knees on the dusty earth. Ignoring the stinging pain, she glared at the dull landscape surrounding her. She wanted to leave—wanted it more than she ever had, her whole life. Her whole existence. 

Ocean. That was what she needed. An ocean. She would leave—sailing away, on a boat. But there was no ocean to be found—just an endless, empty plain staring back at her. Ocean. The word danced in front of her, glimmering in the light. Just out of reach. She stabbed her fingers into the earth, carving it again and again.  Her hands ached, her fingertips stung, but she would not stop. She couldn’t. She wished for it to appear, to seep into her shoes, and wash away the dusty landscape, deep and cold and…

Wet. 

Her fingertips were wet. 

Slowly she looked up, as a sudden salty breeze blew the hair away from her face. Seagulls cried as she stared at the wide ocean, waves lapping over her feet. They washed the words that she had written on the ground away. The ground under her feet had turned into a sandy beach. The water had appeared so suddenly, it had seemed to come out of the desert itself. 

A slow smile spread across her face.  

She left that same day.  

Had anyone visited her home later—had it been possible for anyone to—they would have found everything in the exact place it had always been. Nothing seemed to have changed.  

Except for one thing.  

This thing was a rock. The nineteenth rock from her house, to be precise. For when the ocean appeared, the memories had come back. Not all of them—but enough.  

The rock had been moved out of the perfect arrangement of the pathway, and underneath it, there was a small hole. It was empty, but it had not always been. There were three things underneath it when the girl first uncovered it: a compass, a map, and a plane ticket.  

To Minnesota.   

The slow lapping of the water was what entered her mind first. Then the feeling spread to her fingers and the rough wooden planks beneath her returned. Her eyes cracked open, filtering in the bright sunlight… Then she remembered where she was and sat straight up with a start.  

It was her third day at sea.  

The landscape remained empty.  

Nothing around but sky, sea and boat.  

She gazed around the small raft, as it drifting on the slow, lapping waves. She had found it on the beach the day she left—just lying there, as if it were waiting for her. She had felt excited then, but now… she just felt bored.  

What was the point of the ocean, then? What was the point of the compass, the map, the ticket, if she was just going to float around on the silent sea? Was it all just a cruel joke? Was she going to wake up one morning in her house, with the ocean having completely disappeared?  

But just as she pondered these awful thoughts, something did change. For a while, she had decided that the scene would stay forever the same—the sea had other ideas.  

She had just enough time to open her mouth in horror at the towering wave before it crashed over her head and pulled her under.   

Darkness.  

That was all there was, everywhere.  

Darkness.  

She tried to suck air into her lungs but couldn’t. She couldn’t move. She panicked as she began losing consciousness… Then daylight flared up everywhere and she found herself sitting on a metal chair in a completely alien world.  

Sliding to the ground on her knees, she took a long, shuddering breath. Had the wave brought her onto an island? She hadn’t seen any land anywhere, but that was the only possible explanation for what had just happened. Trying to take in her surroundings, she slowly got to her feet and then immediately fell back onto the chair as the words from her books returned, crashing into her harder than the wave. Then suddenly, her vision cleared and she could see where she was for the first time.  

The chair she was sitting on was positioned near a glass table on the sidewalk outside a small restaurant. Cars sped by on the street, and people rushed past, talking and laughing. She had never seen anything like it before, but she recalled the words she had collected and slowly relaxed. She had made it.  

Just then, a tap on her shoulder made her jump. She spun around to the young waiter standing behind her. He shrank back at her hostile expression, and remembering to be polite, she searched her brain for what to do next. Stop glaring! Smile! Judging from his wide-eyed expression, she had not been incredibly successful.  

“Can I help you, ma’am?” he said quietly, looking like he was seriously regretting his choice of profession. Had she really been scowling that hard? Talking to other people was going to be tough.  

“You have been sitting here for over an hour,” the man said slowly, as if she were a wild animal that could bite his head off at any moment. “You have not touched your food.”

What?

“I—” she started, then immediately stopped. Her mouth dropped open, her face mirroring the waiter’s, who had taken a step back. But she could consider this turn of events later—she had no interest in explaining why she had never spoken a word before in her life. Act casual!  

“I just got here,” she told the man, forcing the unnatural words out of her mouth. “I came from the ocean.  Didn’t you see the—” The word wave died in her throat as she turned to gesture indignantly at the very solid, very dry, very decidedly-not-ocean landscape behind her. A choking gasp came out of her mouth, utterly terrifying the waiter, who gave an incredibly high-pitched squeaking noise and rushed back into the safety of the crowded cafe, nearly knocking over a pair of customers holding trays piled with food.  

The girl began to piece together the situation. She didn’t need to find an airport. She was already there. Minnesota. Sure enough, as she felt around inside the pocket of her coat—her completely dry coat, she was just now realizing. She could tell that her ticket was gone. As for the details—how no one had seen her appear out of nowhere at a random table in the cafe, why the waiter had been convinced that she had been sitting there for so long—she had no idea. But she didn’t really care. Not anymore.  

She sat down on the hard metal chair, running her fingers over the swirling design cut into the back. Staring cautiously at the contents of a plate that had apparently been sitting in front of her for at least an hour now, she attempted to mimic the careful way the surrounding customers held their utensils. When that didn’t work, she looked around twice and then tore off a piece of the waffle and stuffed it in her mouth. It was the first time she had ever eaten food, and although it was cold—and slightly dry—it still tasted better than it had in her books. In fact, everything here was better than it was in her books. Or at least, more. More bright, more loud—more alive.  

As she contemplated these things, in her chair as the entire world flew past as if late for an incredibly important meeting, she thought of the house that she had left. She had never—not for a moment—expected to miss it, and really, she still didn’t. But in some strange way, she felt a little prick of sadness at leaving it behind. She shouldn’t, she knew, and tried to remind herself, but some part of her knew that in leaving the house, she was leaving her peaceful, solitary life. There was, as unlikely as it seemed and as harshly as she would have denied it just a few days ago, a certain comfort in having only rocks for company. A comfort that, she now realized, she would never have again. Not in her whole life.  

Then again—this place had waffles. And what could compete with that?!

The sadness left. In its place, utter excitement set in. She wanted to do something now. Something like—going to every single place that sold waffles in the city!

She was going to have so much fun.  

“Where did you come from?”

She turned around, surprised by the voice. It was slightly high-pitched, like that of a young child. Sure enough, the owner of the voice was a small boy—he couldn’t have been more than eight years old—giving her a stern and slightly incredulous look from underneath a dirty baseball cap. He pulled the hat off, revealing a head of bright red hair and freckles that stood out against his pale face. He frowned at her silence. 

“Well? I know everyone who lives on this block –everyone-” He stretched his arms out for emphasis. “-but I don’t know you.”  

“I moved here.  From… “ She couldn’t think of an answer fast enough. He jumped on her pause. “See? You couldn’t even think of a good lie! You need to come up with one before anyone asks you! Whenever I want to break a rule—” he stopped, rethinking his sentence. “Never mind. That isn’t important. I just want to know where you came here from.”

The girl considered her next words. She could make up something fast, right now—but no, she couldn’t think of anything, and besides, the boy had already shown that he could see through any lie she would tell him. The only option would be to tell him the truth.  

Only… what was the truth? That she had lived in a house by herself for who knows how long before an ocean had appeared and she had sailed away and ended up here?

“I don’t know,” she said.  

The boy’s frown deepened.  “You don’t know?! What do you mean, you don’t know? Is that even possible?”

She struggled for words to explain it. “I’m sorry. It’s just… it’s been a weird day.”  What day in her life hadn’t been a bit out of the ordinary? Still, this one was by far the strangest.  

Surprisingly, the boy’s frown had turned into a slightly thoughtful look at these words. “I guess I understand that. Sometimes I have weird days too. One time, we were out of orange juice for breakfast. Breakfast just isn’t the same without orange juice.”  

“That’s… Okay. You know what? Sure. It was like that,” she replied. She didn’t want to have to explain that it was more like the orange juice had jumped out of the refrigerator, done a little dance, turned into a racoon in a cowboy hat, and disappeared.  Also, why was she thinking in orange juice metaphors all of a sudden?  “Those… orange-juice-less days, not much you can do about them.”

“Well, I don’t think that’s true,” said the boy. “You could buy orange juice.”

“But… Wait, what are we even talking about? Do you even care about the answer to your question, or not?”

“Umm…”

“Never mind,” she said, sensing another long conversation about unrelated things approaching.  

“You don’t need to tell me,” the boy said anyway. Before she could ask why they were having this conversation in the first place, he went on. “Some days, there just aren’t a lot of things going your way.”

“Actually, I think the problem this time is that too many things are going my way.”

“You mean… you’re happy that you’re out of orange—it was a joke! Sorry!” 

She glared at him.

 “But… I don’t really understand. Why is that a problem?”

“I guess I just don’t really know what to do now.” After doing virtually nothing her entire life, that was probably going to be a challenge. “Or where to go.” Really, until now, she hadn’t even considered this small problem. Where was she going to live?  

“Oh,”  said the boy. “I assumed you were going to your house.”

“My… what? Sorry?”

“Your house. Seriously, you’ve lived here for at least a week. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten where your house is.” He made a grand gesture toward a small purple house with a red door, which looked like it had been shoved between the two much bigger buildings beside it. 

“Uh—right. My house.” From her position on the street, she could see the doorknob. It’s probably locked, she realized. Her heart sank. “Hey, actually, what’s your name?”

“Daniel.” He said it almost like a question.  

“Daniel, you don’t happen to know where the spare key for the door is, do you? I… forgot.”

“Under the plant on the left,” he said abruptly, then turned slightly pink. “I… I kind of… sorry,” he mumbled under his breath.  

“That’s okay,” she said. She would have to change the hiding spot pretty soon, she noted. “Thanks.”

“Yeah. And…about your problem. I think that, maybe… you just need to find something you love doing. Like a hobby, I guess. It might help.”

“You might actually be right about that,” she replied. “Well, goodbye. I—” She turned around to thank him again, but he was gone. Completely. Almost as if he had been a figment of her imagination.  

The house was dark and sparsely decorated when she pushed the door open. There was a bathroom, a kitchen, and a bedroom through doorways visible from the living room, which was at the end of the short hallway she had entered through. It was furnished with a few antique-looking dressers and cabinets, a shiny wooden table, and an old purple sofa. The walls were covered with peeling wallpaper, a thin carpet lay underneath her feet, and a loud dripping from the kitchen sink echoed through the air. But there was somehow, underneath the creaking wooden floor, a distinctly happy feel to the atmosphere.  

She loved it immediately.  

It would take some time to get settled in, she knew. Many things needed to be bought or replaced. The light switch in the hallway would not turn on. The only thing on the kitchen counter was a wooden spoon. There was nothing, not even a bar of soap, in the bathroom. But she looked at the large wooden grandfather clock, and knew that it would all have to wait until morning. It was time to go to sleep.  

The sun, streaming through the gaps in the curtains, was what woke her. For a moment, she thought that she was back at sea, but it was blankets, not wooden boards, beneath her fingers. She lay there for a minute, and then got out of bed and turned on the lights. She had a lot to do.  

But first, she needed breakfast.  

The store on the corner of the street had nearly everything, so she took the money she found in the dresser and bought a wide variety of supplies. She dumped it on the kitchen table.  Potato chips, hot sauce, three bars of chocolate… orange juice. Okay, back to the store. This time, she got slightly more useful things. Pulling out a recipe book she had found, she gathered her ingredients. After fifteen minutes, she had made a stack of slightly burnt and lopsided pancakes.  

She tried them.  

They were…odd.  

“Oh well,” she told the kitchen sink. “Good first try, right?”

It dripped in what she thought seemed like an agreeable way.  

“I’ll try again tomorrow,” she informed it. Then she left to buy soap.  

Many years later, the city had changed. The cafe was gone, as were many other shops and houses. But some things were the same. The grocery store, the post office, and a little purple house.  

Inside the house lived an old woman. For a long time, she had worked at the most popular restaurant in town, so nearly everyone knew her, even now when she no longer went there every day. The smallest children called her Grandmother, the figure most of the town now saw her as, and in response she would laugh and tell them that she wasn’t that old. But she had never told anyone how old she actually was, or her real name. So whenever anyone saw her, in one of the shops or walking down the street, they settled for giving her a friendly wave.  

Every Saturday morning, she would get up and go to the place where she had worked for so long, and order the same thing—waffles and a cup of tea. She would watch the pigeons and the occasional dove roaming the sidewalk, pecking at the crumbs tossed to them by toddlers and their parents. She would watch people walking past on the sidewalk, lights coming on and doors opening and closing in the surrounding houses, clouds moving across the sky and the sun slowly rising. If you saw her, sitting at her table and watching, you would notice several things. One, that she had a kind smile and knew the names of most of the people that passed. Two, most of the people that passed knew her. You could also tell what her favorite color was—her coat, boots, and purse all matched her house.  

But the most obvious thing about her—the one that people usually noticed first—was that she seemed happy.   


Abandoned

As I woke up one Monday morning, I walked down stairs to smell the fresh bacon and pancakes stacked with butter and smothered with syrup on my plate. Mom was always excited to see my face as I noticed what new breakfast she made me that day, and I always smiled. That day I was especially excited because pancakes are my favorite food. 

“What do you think, Claire?” Mom asked as soon as I got down there. 

“Wow this looks amazing, I can’t wait to eat!” 

“Why are you not dressed yet?” Mom yelled.

“Because I wanted to take a peek at this morning’s breakfast,” I said.

“Well go get dressed now before you eat,” Mom scolded. 

So I went upstairs, got dressed, and packed my bag for school. As I was walking to my room, I could see the closed door of my mom’s bedroom and wondered where my dad had gone. Six years ago, he left us for God knows what reason. He could be dead for all I knew. I was only seven years old at the time and he just vanished out of nowhere. But I let it go and moved on with my day. I walked down stairs yet again and smelled the delicious food waiting for me. After I had eaten, I went to school with a very full and happy stomach.

Everyday last week mom had gotten a phone call from my teacher saying how missbehaved I was in class. Mom punished me very often so I’m used to it by now. I wanted to make today, and from now on a non-foolishness day so my mom doesn’t get upset with me, but of course that didn’t happen. I got yelled at for talking in class many times. When I got home, my mom was waiting for me at the kitchen table.

“Claire, you need to stop this, I can’t take it any longer,” Mom said.

“Can’t take what?” I asked.

“Your teacher called me today saying that you were talking a lot in class,” she said, disappointed.

“I’m sorry, I tried to stop interrupting but I kept talking to my friend, it won’t happen again,” I said.

“Go to your room,” my mom said quietly.

I lay in bed thinking about what life would be like if my dad were here. Would I still be having trouble in school?  Would Mom be happier? Back when my dad was still at home, I remembered him and mom making me breakfast every morning and waiting to see my face. He used to tell me stories before I went to bed. One of them I remembered was about a little girl who became a princess. Oh how much I missed my dad, I wish he would be there with me. Mom always cried about dad and how he left, she told me stories about him, but she never smiled when talking about him. I finally stopped dreaming and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up and looked forward to walking down stairs to smell the beautiful breakfast waiting for me. I hurried up and got dressed and ready for school. It was really quiet in the house but I didn’t pay it any attention. I was finally ready so I walked downstairs and didn’t see mom or any breakfast on the table.

I put my bag down and called, “Mom, Mom, Mooom.” 

No response. 

I checked every room on the bottom floor but mom wasn’t there. I went upstairs to her room and saw the closet door open. All of her clothes, gone. All of her shoes, gone. All of her bags and jackets, gone. I went in the bathroom and noticed the same thing. Her makeup bag with all of her makeup, gone. Her toothbrush and toothpaste, gone. Her hairbrush, gone. I was getting confused so I pulled the blanket off her bed and saw a note. As I opened the note I saw a $100 bill in it. The note read—

Dear Claire,

I’m sorry to do it this way, but I can’t take care of you anymore.

The stress of your bad grades, excessive calls from your 

teachers, and your dad gone is getting too much for me. I don’t know 

what to do or what you’re going to do, but I left $100 for food. Maybe 

you could ask one of your friends if you could stay with them for a while. I love you and I’m sorry.

From your mother, 

Grace.

I cried and screamed as loud as I could. What am I going to do? $100 to live off of? Where did she go? I couldn’t believe it, I don’t know why she would leave or who to live with. I went to school that day without eating any breakfast. When I got to school, everyone asked me what was wrong but I couldn’t tell them. However there was one person who I could tell. Rose was my best friend, I was thinking about asking to stay with her in her huge house and small family. So when I saw her in school, I told her exactly what happened.

“Why would she just leave like that,” Rose asked.

“I have the same question, and more,” I said.

“So do you think I could stay with you for a little before things get worked out,” I ask.

“I will tell my mom and ask her, I am sure we will have space for you,” she replied.

“Thank you so much Rose,” I said while giving her a hug.

It’s been two weeks now and I very much miss my mom. I want the amazing huge breakfasts and for some reason I missed the scoldings that she gave me after school. I feel a little bit better since I am with Rose and her family, but I dont know what’s going to happen. Rose’s mom has been trying to work things out. However, I wish my mom would come back. Nobody at school knows about my mom leaving except for some teachers, and they tried to comfort me but I don’t want it.

It’s Saturday morning and Rose and I are going to a waterpark. Since I had all of my clothes in a big pile on her floor, it was hard to find my bathing suit but I finally got it. It was kind of a long drive but I was relieved when I got there. I could smell the water and all I wanted to do was just run free on the rides. Rose and I were having so much fun and we even met this really cute five-year-old girl.

“Hi, what’s your name?” we asked her.

“Claire,” she said.

“What’s yours?” Claire asked us.

“I’m Claire and that’s Rose,” I said, surprised that we had the same name.

“Are you okay?” Claire asked thinking I’m sick because I’m weirded out.

“I will take you to my daddy and he will make you feel better,” she said. 

She takes my hand and walks me to a man sitting on one of the chairs. Claire tells her dad who we are meanwhile I’m wiping my eyes. When I look up, I look at the man and I am speechless.

“Claire, is that you?” he asked me.

I was in shock so I slowly say, “Dad?”

“Yeah I can’t believe it’s really you,” he said.

Since he left me and mom I am mad. “Where have you been?!!” I yelled.

“Is this your daughter? And why is her name Claire?!” I asked.

“I know you have a lot of questions and I will answer them, sit down,” he said.                                                                                  

Rose took Claire to go play in the water while I talked to my dad. He told me his story for about     20 minutes. So when I was six, my Dad met another woman named Charlotte while he and Mom were still married. He started to love my mom less and less everyday and wanted to marry Charlotte. By the time I was seven, he didn’t love my mom any more. The only reason he waited so long was because he still loved me very much. He didn’t know what to do so he ran away with Charlotte. He got married to her and they had a baby, he missed me so much that he named the baby Claire. He said him and Charlotte are divorced now and that he missed my mom. He wants to move back with me, Claire, my mom, and him. He said we could call Claire “Clara.” I tell him how my mom abandoned me and he tells me how we could reunite. Even though I am mad at him and still confused, I missed him so much that I agree to it. So I tell Rose and her mom what’s happening and thank them. We go home and when we get to our house, I call my mom but she doesn’t answer until the 5th try. I don’t even ask or say anything except, “You have to come home NOW!!” and hang up. We are hoping she comes so we can surprise her. About 2 hours later, we hear a knock on the door and my dad slowly opens it. As surprisingly as she left, she came back. She dropped all of her things and they hugged for like 10 minutes straight. She comes over to me and hugs me until I couldn’t breath. We explain to her what we want to do and she shockingly just agrees. Surprisingly I am not mad at them anymore because our family is united after all (in addition to little Clara).

The Cure

Prologue

The year is 2055. However, the world is not exactly paradise. First things first, the world is infested with a plague. “The” plague. It started about 10 years ago in St. Louis, Missouri. Some scientists were experimenting with some nuclear material. Let’s just say it didn’t end well. The nuclear tank exploded and it spilled all over. It seeped into the ground, into the rivers, and spread radiation into the air. From there, things got a lot worse. Within a week, we learned that there were serious side effects. They included horrible coughs, weakness, joint failure, heart failure, mental effects including going crazy. For example, many have lost all ability to think for themselves, and the disease has taken over their thought process. Some of the infected decided that it’s easier to die than deal with these effects. Those were only some of the many different side effects terrorizing the world.

Chapter 1

My name is Logan Campbell. I am 16 years old. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota. I grew up worrying about the plague. I remember when I was 6 years old, hearing about it on the news. My younger sister, Olivia, was curled up next to me by the fireplace, crying. A lot of people cried that day.

The plague spread rapidly, infecting more people than any other disease ever had. Many people have died. We all wear masks at all times, unless in an uninfected area. After the plague, things changed. The rules became less and less important, and survival became the most important objective. To live another day. Though I am 16, I already have a job. I work for a steel factory, so I get free food and protection. It isn’t exactly fun, but it’s a good way to live.

I enter the factory, ready for another day of work, just like any normal day. I walk over to get my gear, and start the new day. I stop, and stand still for a moment. Something is wrong. There is no noise coming from the streets. I hear a click. I recognize that sound from tests that the factory sometimes runs. It’s a bomb. 

“Everybody get down!” I yell. 

The building erupts into a fiery explosion.

I hear faint noises. I lift my head. My vision is very fuzzy. “Are you okay, are you alright?” I hear. It is my mother. 

“W-what happened?” I ask. My head hurts a lot. I can’t remember much.

“The factory was bombed by some rebels that have gone crazy. The enforcement police took care of them,” my mom replies. “Are you sure that you’re okay?” 

“Yes,” I say. “How long have I been out?” I feel like it has been a week, but I know that is foolish.

“About a day and a half,” she says. “Do you need anything?” 

“No, I’d just like to rest for a bit.” 

I need to think.

Chapter 2

I sit up, and rub my eyes. What I see doesn’t make sense. I am in some kind of prison cell, all alone. It is entirely made of metal, with a small window that seems to be made of some kind of see-through material. I finally begin to panic. 

How did I get here? Have I done something wrong, I think to myself. 

Before I can come up with an explanation, the metal door slides open. A man in a black suit and tie walks in. He looks very official. 

“Who are you?” I demand. “Where am I?”

“All of these questions will be explained,” says the man. “Just follow me.”

“Why should I follow you, and why can’t you answer my questions right here?” I yell.

“Let me start by telling you my name. I am Aaron Gates. And don’t worry, we have already informed your families about why you are here. I run this organization, that most call ARROW.”

“This is ARROW?” I ask. I have heard of them from the factory. They supposedly are trying to find a place for all of the uninfected to live. Now that I actually know where I am, I think I can at least follow this man.

“Yes, this is ARROW,” Aaron says. “Now please follow me, and I will explain why you are here.”

Chapter 3

I enter a large, dark room. There are 5 chairs set up, and 4 of them are occupied. Aaron leads me to the fifth seat, and then walks to the front of the room. Next to me is a boy with dark brown hair, and glasses. There are 2 girls next to him, and another boy on the far chair. They all look around the same age as me. I look back at Aaron, and he starts talking. 

“There is a reason that we brought the five of you here, and it is very important not just to us, but to the world. You 5 have a special immunity in your brains, that no other living organism has. This causes you to be immune to the Plague.” 

All of us just sit there, stunned. 

Aaron continues. “We have studied you ever since you got your first blood test at the age of 5. When we tested the blood with the Plague disease, only your blood did not react to it. That is why we brought you here. Now you may be wondering why all of you are around the same age. Well, that is because when the Plague broke out, the government put a chip in everyone’s brain, to track your health. The 5 of you got your chip on the same day, in the same place, and only 5 people got their chip there that day.” 

I don’t remember getting my chip. All of the memories before it got erased. Because of this, the government gives you the chip at the age of 4, one year before the blood test. We all still knew how to talk, and how things work, but we had no memories.

The boy next to me speaks. “Why does our chip make us immune to the Plague, then?”

“The chips that you got were broken, and we didn’t know it at the time. The broken chip caused something in your brain to malfunction, and immunity to the Plague was one of the side effects.” 

For the second time in a couple of minutes, we all look stunned.

“I understand all of this, but what exactly are we here for?” I ask.

Aaron smiles. “I was about to get to that part,” he says.

Chapter 4

“Your job is very simple, and it will not require a lot of hard work on your part. We will first take a sample of your blood to study, and hopefully we can find a way to make some kind of a cure. After that, your job here is over.”

“Wow,” I say. “That was a lot less complicated than I thought it would be.”

“Yes indeed. For you, it will not take much effort. Now I think we should get the blood samples sooner rather than later, shall we?” Aaron asks.

Aaron leads us through a long, stainless steel corridor. We eventually reach a small room made entirely out of glass. Aaron opens the door by entering a 4 digit code. He then opens the door and ushers the 5 of us in. He leads us to a bench, where we all take our seats. 

“Now not to worry, the blood samples will not hurt very much. Just stay calm, and it will be over very quickly,” Aaron says. 

He picks up a needle, with the ARROW logo imprinted on it. He then walks in my direction. “Hold out your arm please,” Aaron asks. 

I hold out my arm, and prepare for the needle. I watch it enter my arm, and take my blood along with it. It stings, but doesn’t hurt that badly. Aaron opens a drawer, and pulls out a bandage. He wraps it around my arm over the cut.

After Aaron finishes getting everyone’s blood samples, we are led to our quarters. “You will be given dinner shortly, and when you are done, you can just leave it outside of your rooms. We will come around and collect it. Please try and get some sleep after dinner, and if you need anything, there will be a speaker on your wall. Click on the gray button, and you will be able to directly speak to me,” Aaron says to us. “There will be restrooms in your quarters, and don’t hesitate to ask us for anything. Does anyone have any questions?” 

No one answers. It has been a long day, and I am very tired. I enter my quarters to try and get some sleep.

Chapter 5

I awake to the sound of birds chirping. It is very calm and peaceful here. Nothing seems to be exploding at the moment. I enter the restroom, and see that we have been provided with a toothbrush and toothpaste. I brush my teeth, and then lay back down on the bed. After a few minutes, the intercom makes an announcement. “Breakfast will be served in 10 minutes in the common room. There will be signs there to direct you to it. We have some important news.”  

I walk over to the door. It is a heavy, steel door, and it looks kind of like it belongs on a refrigerator. I swing it open and head to breakfast.

I reach the common room with some difficulty, because it turns out that there are 2 common rooms. Once I get to the correct room, I set down to find a plate of eggs and toast waiting for me. This would be the best breakfast that I have had in awhile. Once everyone gets to the common room, Aaron comes out of his office. 

“This is a very special day for ARROW,” he says, “thanks to the 5 of you, we have successfully developed a cure for the Plague.”

“Are you serious?” one of the girls asks. “That’s amazing!” I think of my family back at home. ARROW actually found a cure! My family, and everyone else, would be safe from all of this pain and suffering.

“It really—” Aaron gets cut off by a rumbling noise. All of the windows in the entire complex shatter. A bunch of people in black uniforms climb in the building. I run away from the wreckage and hide behind a wall. The intruders break into the ARROW laboratory. Half of the workers and immunes are lying on the ground, either dead or unconscious. The other half are hiding like me. I run farther away from the intruders and find a large TV screen. I run as fast as I can and slide behind it. I watch and see the intruders come out of the laboratory. They are holding a syringe with a purple-ish color. 

The cure! They are stealing the cure! I should probably do something to stop them, but there was nothing that I could do about it. The man holding the syringe grabbed onto a rope, and was pulled up and out of the building. The remaining intruders scrambled to all of the walls along the complex, and seemed to be placing something on them. Bombs, I realized. They were placing bombs! I had to leave now. 

I ran as fast as I could, faster than I ever had before, and looked for some place to leave the complex. I found a hole made by one of the bombs and ran at it as fast as I could. I raced along the broken floors, my only focus on making it outside. I raced past bullets and exploding walls and finally made it out of the building. I ran and ran until I couldn’t see the complex. I had to get out of there, or I would be killed. I raced along the forest and sprung out into the cold, winter wind.

32 Degrees

3

As the sun dipped lower and lower beneath the January horizon beyond the bay, the nightlife of the neighborhood only increased in energy. Bar signs buzzed to life, illuminating the dark colored coats of the pedestrians polluting the sidewalks. Hot dog carts continued to hand out hot pretzels in the cold air and cars sat still in traffic, horns honking and yells escaping from passenger windows. I watched this scene go on from the safety of my warm bedroom. I wasn’t planning on leaving my house anytime soon. At least, not while it was still cold out. I couldn’t even leave by choice, anyway. Although it was a new year, a fresh start, I couldn’t forget what happened in December. What confined me to my house until the end of Christmas break, what confined me to myself.

/

“Let’s go, Ellie! We don’t have all day!” my brother yelled from the hallway, impatient. 

“Cool it! I’m putting my hat on,” I yelled back. That was a lie. I didn’t even have my coat on, and I wasn’t making an effort to. I stared at it, hanging in my closet. There was no way I was going with Jack. I hated his friends, and I hated sledding. I loved the cold, don’t get me wrong. Snow, wind, all of it. It’s the sledding that bugs me. Too much chance between injury and safety. But Mom said I had to go with Jack, and there’s no arguing with her during her free time. My mind wandered to all the mistaken times I had argued with her during her breaks from the hospital – some funny, some not. 

Ellie! Move it, please!” Jack screeched again, breaking me out of my trance.  I really didn’t feel like having to deal with an angry Mom, so I tugged my coat on and sped out into the hallway, crashing into the wall thanks to my slippery socks. Jack glared at me. 

“Smooth move. Speed it along, Ell, c’mon!” he exclaimed, drumming his fingers on the counter top. As I tied the laces of my boots, I gave him a dirty look. He knew how much his one particular pal, Lionel, annoyed me. The kid doesn’t have an off button, neither for his rapidly moving mouth or rapidly moving body. It never ends with him. But I thought of the steamy hot chocolate that would be waiting for me when we’d return a couple hours later, so I pulled on my gloves and walked out onto the street, a gust of wind hitting my face immediately. 

This is the aspect of the city that I absolutely adore. The scent of honey roasted peanuts, the yelling of crossing guards. As I speed walked to keep up with my overly ecstatic brother, I took the time to look at the city I loved, something I don’t do enough. There’s nothing that would make me want to give it up, ever. Not even the delays of the R train. 

/

“Lionel, are you kidding me?” I shouted from the bottom of the icy hill. I watched him attempt to shoot snowballs into the trash can, but hitting innocent park-goers instead who whipped around in annoyance. He turned his head, widening his eyes in a Bambi-like way. I couldn’t take this anymore. As soon as we got back home, which didn’t look like it would be anytime soon, I was going to ask Mom to contact poor Lionel’s mother about his ridiculousness. Although, I should phrase it to be more formal if I want any change to happen. 

“Ellie, he’s not doing anything!” Jack shouted back, a grin across his face. 

“Don’t play with me! You can and will get in trouble for this!” I warned, losing my wit. 

Jack’s merry gang erupted into laughter. I rolled my eyes and sat down on a bench. Thankfully, Lionel ceased his firing of snowballs and plopped onto a sled, challenging Jack and the group to a race. I thought nothing of it and continued to look at the scene around me. I was again filled with glee and gratitude to experience this majestic city, this majestic neighborhood. The rose colored awning of my favorite cafe, the green street signs. I became entranced, like with the coat, but loads more happy. I glanced over at the aspiring group of Evel Knievels every so often, still seeing it as innocuous. All good. 

/

It wasn’t until I heard a voice screech for help, for 911, that I saw the steady stream of red stain the icy snow. I leapt up and sprinted over, concerned. When I really freaked out was when I saw the familiar neon green of Lionel’s hat also soaked crimson, and his body twisted in his sled. I almost fainted, but when I saw Jack’s innocent expression covered in tears, I knew I had to do something. I found the nearest adult and called 911, explaining all I knew. If only I looked closer at the injury would I have known the deep cut in his head, if I only I had been more worried about why Lionel’s hat was more bloody than anything, if only I noticed Jack holding his head up. If only.

The red of the ambulance sirens combined with the red of Lionel’s body, the red of Jack’s coat, the red of the snow. The red of the storefronts across the street only added to the overstimulation of color that made my eyes glaze, barely noticing the urgent calls of the EMTs as they loaded Lionel onto the gurney. They asked for my parent’s number, but I didn’t pay attention. Jack, my little brother, who was two years my junior, who was celebrating his eleventh birthday in a week, had to answer. Guilt washed over me, making everything worse. I sat numbly in the back seat of our car as Mom raced to the hospital, crammed with Jack and his three other friends. I sank into a chair in the waiting room as Lionel’s dad rushed through the door. Everything was red. 

/

Here I was again, sitting on my bed, staring into the abyss. The only difference was the week that had passed. Yesterday was Jack’s birthday, but it was nothing that he should have received. He unwrapped his presents slow as ever, and broke down crying when he reached for Lionel’s gift wrapped in comic book pages. I sat next to him and rubbed his back, yet no emotions reached me. I was numb. Still. Today was the funeral. I’m surprised I’m allowed to leave the house, especially for such a solemn event that I had assumed an unfortunate role in. I didn’t want raging Mom to reappear, so I swung my closet door open and unhooked the black dress. I slipped it on and walked out into the hallway, no motivation in my step. I couldn’t get the red out of my mind. Everything around me was painted a shade of red. I was intoxicated by guilt, by sadness, by anger. 

The car drive to the church hung with pain in the air. My dad’s knuckles turned a ghostly shade of white as he gripped the steering wheel. My mom had her foot tapping quietly on the carpeted floor of the car, staring out into the gray morning of this day. Jack clutched his stuffed bear from his babyhood. It emerged from the depths of his dresser on only the most difficult days. Once again, guilt drowned me. The amount of times I’ve been told it wasn’t my fault are uncountable, mostly because I don’t agree. Sure, I hadn’t caused him to veer into a pole, sure I hadn’t told them it was time to leave. But I wasn’t watching them. I was too occupied in my own thoughts, in a daze. Selfish. Lonely. Red. 

The funeral service was empty. The pews were filled with elderly relatives of Lionel’s, with adult friends sitting down somberly, quietly crying. The most painful image was the youthful faces, the small bodies in oversized black suits, the glossy cheeks, the downcast eyes. The absence of fidgeting and laughter. The capita was well over 250, but all 250 souls were empty. My family sat with the other families that were friends with Lionel’s near the front. I joined them, but as soon as his brother, a highschool junior, made his way up to the podium, I cleared my throat and excused myself to the bathroom.

I stared into the dusty mirror, my hands leaning on the sink. I was looking at my reflection, but really my mind was tethered to the possibility of the dangerous “what if.” I swore to myself that I wouldn’t let myself slip down that rabbit hole when we first returned home after the hosp- no. I knew deep inside even thinking about the events that really happened would pull me down a dangerous path, so I let my eyes drift to the wooden cross that hung between the pair of mirrors. I touched it softly and stared at it for some time. Even though I didn’t believe in a greater power, I angrily thought, why Lionel? I didn’t appreciate his presence, that’s for sure. But I knew that he was always polite to my parents, that he comforted my brother after the death of his hamster, Carl, and that he always said hi to me, even though I returned it only once in a blue moon. He was a sweet kid, one with a promising future. The universe really messed up on this one. I rapped my knuckles on the wall once, just to see if I still existed in this dimension and that I hadn’t been sucked into a vacuum of cognitive eternity. I splashed cold water on my face, a double check that I was still there, and slowly returned to my seat in the fourth pew. 

/

As I mentioned earlier, I was sentenced to my room. At first by my parents, because although they don’t blame me for the accident, I was “irresponsible and should’ve had a closer eye watching,” which resulted in a short grounding. That punishment ended a few days ago. Now, my own subconscious kept me inside my four walls. 

Don’t lecture me about closure and moving on, yadayadayada. Yeah, yeah, I know. I still can’t escape the essence of guilt that’s decided to live in me. I want to gain closure, and my parents have told me that Lionel’s family is open to a discussion, but I can’t bring myself to leave my room. And I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried to convince myself that it’s ok. The voice in my head won’t retire its role. Escape is inevitable, but if I get to harbor in my room, the trade off isn’t horrible. 

/

Someone should tell me more often to not believe myself so strongly. Dad dragged me out of the house this morning to go grocery shopping. He called it father daughter bonding time. I smiled weakly at him, knowing he knows I called his bluff. I mean, I haven’t been attempting to hide my cave-like behaviors from my family. I get it that he knows what I’m doing. I get that he wants to help. 

We left our sweet, cozy home and walked into the gusty January street. Dad started talking about my uncle and how he just got engaged. I nodded along, but kept my eyes down to the sidewalk. I reaaaaally didn’t feel like being outside, especially with the park looming closely. We kept walking, and I noticed my dad stopped chattering. I looked at him, and he looked back and smiled a little smile. 

“Ell, you do know it’s not your fault,” he said, looking right into my eyes. 

I returned his gaze, and for the sake of my kind old dad, I responded.

“Thank you. I know.” Do I? 

He grinned, happy that he got words out of me. Dad then started humming our song. “Higher and Higher,” Eddie Money. It became our thing after he bought a record player and started bringing out his and Mom’s vinyls. He’d play Eddie Money every morning, and this song quickly became ours. I swear, my dad is an evil genius or something. How did he know that one tune would make me giggle?

“Alrighty, Ell. I see that you’re back to your old ways. Chop chop!” He laughed. 

“Spare me, Dad! It’s been a little bit since I’ve left the house,” I shot back jokingly.

We made our way to the co-op that my parents are members of, and the warm air blasted into my face. This was a place that I had ambivalent feelings about. Its location of an old horse stable attracted me, with its brick walls and large floor plan. However, every other family in the neighborhood is a member as well. The general population knows my dad somehow, and I was not in the mood for doing the whole “Wow, you’ve gotten so tall! How’s school? What sports are you playing?” Routine that greets me way too often. It was inevitable, though. Who was I kidding?

We wandered around the close-quartered aisles for a while in a pointless fashion. Another quirk about shopping with Dad: a reliable grocery list is far out of reality. At this point, we’d already encountered a couple of friends, and my cheeks still burned a fiery red. I really was not prepared to talk to people again. But of course I plastered an ingenuine smile and answered every question. It kind of irked me how happy these people were. I mean, of course everyone deserves a happy life, but they hadn’t experienced what I’ve had to. They carried on their days oblivious to the terrifying events I’ve been in. Frankly, it kind of sucks. I made it through, though, and somehow we made it to the checkout without any more interactions with grinning adults. To make up for being grumpy while we walked here, I asked my dad about his brother and his fiancée. He began talking about how he thought they rushed into it too fast, and really, I tried to pay attention. But the store was increasingly stuffy and I was paranoid of more intercepting conversation that became obstacles in my straightforward plan to get back home. So I ended up not listening. However, in my daze, a bright yellow flyer caught my eye, positioned on the community billboard above the cashier’s head. Words like “fairy lights” and “sponge cake” and “silver chairs” floated into my head, but I focused on the poster. It read “Death of a loved one? Hard time coping? Come to our weekly meetings at the 58th Street Public Library for a safe space to talk! Free to the public, all ages welcome!” I scoffed, and my dad turned to look at me as he pulled bills out of his wallet. 

“So you agree that the lace placemats are ludicrous?” he asked.

“What?” I exclaimed, suddenly jolted out of my trance.

“Lace placemats are unoriginal and tacky, don’t you think?” he repeated. 

“Oh! Oh, yes, yes, duh,” I said. 

Sometimes I don’t understand my dad. But that wasn’t on my mind as he handed me tote bags filled with groceries. The neon flyer was swirling around in my head. I find it hard to believe that anyone else in New York has witnessed a kid have blood pouring out of his head. Whatever. The sessions were probably filled with creeps. Not my scene whatsoever. 

/

Eventually, winter break ended. School was gearing up again. Jack and I went to a K-8 private school on 60th and Third Avenue, and in 6 hours I would be arriving at the front doors at 8:00 am. Guess who still didn’t feel like socializing? You’ve got it right, no doubt. I stared at my ceiling for hours, thinking of scenarios that could happen tomorrow in class. I could be pegged as the murder accomplice, or the pyschopath, or the- I don’t know. But I’m positive that I’ll be outcasted almost immediately. 

I spent the rest of my night thinking and tossing and turning. The terrible Ts. I spent most of my night on my bed, either lying down or sitting up. Whatever it was, I was quiet. 

I walked through the glass revolving doors of the Lincoln School at eight o’clock on the dot the next day. I felt a little better after I thought a ton last night. I didn’t make much progress, but something is better than nothing. I walked into my first period English class, head held up in the most everyday way. My gaze was met by the sympathetic eyes of my friends Georgia and Marley. I returned the gesture with a cocked head and I sat down next to Georgia. 

“Hi?” I said, unzipping my bag.

“Hey, Ellie,” they sung in a pitiful croon.

“How was your break, guys?” I asked neutrally, flipping open my book. Not only are they dramatic, but also tragically transparent. 

They stared at me through doe eyes. After some awkward silence, Marley nudged Georgia’s arm. 

“Stage one, I bet,” he whispered to her, maintaining sad and very weird eye contact with me. 

Georgia nodded, and pulled a pencil out and started drawing a tic-tac-toe grid in her notebook. That invited a wonderful quiet for a few minutes. 

“Wait, what?” Georgia said out of nowhere, dropping her pencil. 

“Oh my god, could you be any more obvious?!” Marley screeched, snapping his body to face her.

“I wouldn’t have to be if you weren’t so vague about stages or whatever!” she retorted, her pale cheeks flushing. 

I interjected before any fights could start. 

“Mar, chill. Georgia, he’s doing a terrible job of saying I’m in stage one of five of grief: denial,” I explained, rolling my eyes.

“Oh, ok. Well, he’s right then,” she responded, satisfied. 

“Thank you. And, Ell, you know that we’re, you know, here for you. That stuff,” Marley said in the most serious way I’ve ever heard. Georgia nodded.

“Thanks. I’m fine, though. Nothing along the lines of denial. Really,” I promised. Don’t get me wrong, I love these two to the ends of the world. But I don’t really think they’re going to be much help, and I don’t really want pity. I don’t really deserve it. 

They simultaneously scoffed. 

“I don’t believe that at all. For real, there’s nothing that you can talk to us about?” Marley pressed on, clasping his hands together. Luckily, Mr. Riley strutted in.

“Morning, class! Hope you’ve quickly transitioned back into the classroom, because we’re starting a new unit!” Mr. Riley announced as he picked up a piece of chalk and set down his messenger bag.

“For Pete’s sake,” Georgia grumbled. “Let us breathe!” 

It was reassuring to see her slide back into her cynical self. 

Mr. Riley ignored her remark. He scribbled the word “pajamas” on the black slate, and turned around to survey the class. “Well?” he prompted.

“TJ Maxx!” yelled out Charlie, a kid sitting in the back of the room. Mr. Riley clasped his hands. 

“Comedy gold there, Char. Any other contenders?” he asked with a grin.

I tentatively raised my hand. Mr Riley nodded, and Marley shook his head. “Denial!” he whisper screamed accusingly, leaning halfway onto my desk. 

“Comfort?” I suggested. Mr. Riley smiled.

“Good, good! Let’s get the ball rolling,” he exclaimed, writing the word “comfort” below “pajamas.” After a couple minutes, the board was filled with words like “childhood” and “warmth.”

“You guys are hitting the nail on the head! Good work. Now, I’ll tell you what I mean by pajamas,” he cheered.

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” was scrawled on the board, and Mr. Riley twirled around. 

Marley raised his hand confidently. “Isn’t this the book about a Nazi kid who becomes besties with a Jew in a concentration camp?”

Mr. Riley nodded. “Pretty much sums it up. With Marley’s summary, what initial thoughts do you have about the book? The central themes, characters?” 

I glanced around the room. I saw some palms go up, and I heard mentions of death. Snippets of pain, sentiment, innocence. I really wish I could get over myself, but – I felt tears pool in my eyes. I hung my head down, and I felt a kid named Matt who sits at the desk next to me poking my shoulder. “You good?” 

I turn to look at him. At that point, all I could think about was why do people ask that stupid question. My lip quivered and I snatched the hall pass. The distance between room 203 and the bathroom has never seemed longer. I shuddered as I slumped against a stall wall in the bathroom. I hugged my knees and sobbed. Minutes, or centuries, pass by as numb thoughts bounce around my brain. I finally heard a heavenly knock at the door. “Ellie?” Mr. Riley’s familiar voice echoed in the tiled room. 

“That’s me,” I respond. 

“Nice one. I know this is kind of a dumb question, but, uh, are you okay?” he asked softly.

I laughed as I stood up. “Sure.” I stared at the black and white speckled wall. 

“Hey, why don’t you come out of that stall?” he suggested. “I can’t really come in there, right?”

I walked out of the pale blue room and kept my head low as I greeted him quietly. 

“Why’d you run out? What happened?” He asked, looking down at me. 

“Can we sit?” I interjected. 

“Yeah, why not,” he agrees. We take a seat, side by side against the lockers. 

“Mr Riley, do-did you know Lionel, in fifth grade?” I start bluntly.

“Oh. Yeah. Is this what is, uh, affecting you?” He said back.

“To put it lightly, sure,” I sneer. “Sorry.”

“Nah, I get it. If you don’t mind my asking, how did you know about it? Or, rather, Lionel?”

“He was a friend of my little brother’s, and um, I was babysitting them, I guess? I mean, not technically, but. Yeah, I was,” I explained in one breath. I heaved a heavy sigh and turned to Mr Riley. He nodded, but didn’t open his mouth and didn’t turn to look at me.

“It was gruesome. Seriously. And I know I didn’t, well, kill him, but I feel like I played a bit too much of a role in his death. And it hurts. So damn bad. I wish I could go back in time,” I continue. Now, Mr Riley turned his head. 

“I don’t talk about this much,” he began, fiddling with the gold band on his ring finger. I instantly get the message. “But a couple years-3 years back,” he went on. “My beautifully perfect wife, Jessie, died in a car crash. She was heading home from her job at a newspaper outlet, doing her dream job. And uh, I was home, making dinner, and then the police showed up on my stoop. Worst day of my life by far.”

A tingling shoots up my spine. I meet his eye. 

“Whoa. That is awful, Mr Riley. I’m really sorry,” I say back, without realizing my hypocrisy in saying that apologetic phrase. In a filing cabinet in the corner of my mind, I have all the memories of people offering a plain “sorry.”

“I just want you to know that I understand how you feel. It’s hard. It is, but you’re not the only one out there who deals with it. I say that because I need you to know I’m here for you,” he concluded.

“Thank you. That means a lot. I’m not anywhere close to being ok about all of this, but I’d like to know how you dealt with…it,” I asked. 

“Loaded question, ha! It took a whole lot. Time, really. But I channeled my depressed energy into things I loved. My friends and family, books, teaching. Things that I had still, and things that made life worth it. It took a hell of a time, don’t be fooled,” Mr Riley replied. “Should we head back to class? I have a strong feeling this book could be a lot of help. Yeah?” He stood up, and reached out a hand. I took it. 

/

It’s May now. My class finished The Boy in the Striped Pajamas weeks and weeks ago, but I think this is my sixth cycle through it. I ended up using Mr Siney’s advice. To focus on the good in my life. That meant seeing an Eddie Money concert with my dad, and baking with my brother and my mom every Sunday afternoon. I created a PTSD/safe space club with Marley and Georgia, and Mr. Riley eagerly offered to be the club’s advisor. I started helping out at the garden at the park across the street and started walking my neighbor’s dog around the large perimeter of the park. 

And to explain my passion for my new favorite book: the book is about the innocence and boundless passion kids have, and who they are superficially doesn’t matter to their friends. I feel like Lionel seamlessly expressed that claim, that he loved my brother and loved life. The book has nestled into a meaningful place in my life, and time and again will I open its front cover, where I wrote a dedication to Lionel and my loved ones. The duration of this spring has educated me on the values of life, the values of love, and the values of strength. Oh, and I painted my bedroom door cherry red and planted Calypso tulips in my backyard.

The Beast

Something was in my room. The wardrobe doors opened and out it came. I froze as the huffing noises grew close. The beast was taller than a bear; its head scraped the ceiling as it walked even closer. I took a deep breath trying to calm myself, only to choke on the horrible odor. I closed my eyes, squinting hard while pinching myself making sure what I was seeing was real. I opened my eyes and there it was, now standing directly over me. Tears slid down my face. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My dad was home. 


The Monster

The beast’s most striking feature was its sunset orange fur, like flames licking at the sky. The color flickered as it sped past my face. I stepped back, slipping on a cold puddle of gray liquid and falling onto the cold stone floor. The creature, which I am temporarily referring to as a midset, took my fall as an opportunity, pouncing on me and placing its large, circular foot on my chest. 

The midset arched its back, spikes shooting out of the yellow-red hair that extended throughout its body. I wondered if that was to threaten me, or perhaps a hostile indicator that it was preparing to attack. 

There was nothing particularly frightening about its features. It had a long, drawn out nose that resembled something between an elephant’s trunk and an aardvark’s snout. It sniffed at my shirt, giving me a better view of its beady blue eyes, like buttons stitched onto orange fabric. Its pupils were miniscule, and I surely wouldn’t have noticed them if they hadn’t been a sickly, swamp-like green. 

I observed this in about two seconds, shrieking all the while. Startled, the beast jumped up, it’s stomach glinting in the dim moonlight that seeped in from what seemed to be nowhere. It seemed to shimmer, glittering in a way that a cat’s fur would not. Similar to how glass could reflect light. 

The midset pawed the ground, its four stubby legs seeming like they should collapse under the weight of its body. Its heart-shaped nostrils widened, and it let out a scream that perfectly mimicked mine, albeit ten times louder. I writhed on the floor, whimpering, adding to the amplified sound of my agony. 

It bounded towards me, and I jumped to the side, catching only a glimpse of its small tail, sphered, like a bunny’s. It spun to face me with uncanny grace, and my screaming once again filled the cave, louder still. My ears must have been bleeding as I crumpled to the ground. The beast approached me slowly, and I couldn’t tell if it had stopped the horrid sound or if I’d gone deaf. 

In that moment, while I could not hear, I noticed strange things about the midset. It had human ears atop its head, acting like flat horns. They were the only things not covered in that orange fur, and yet, as I watched, that orange fur wasn’t so orange anymore. It deepened to a sudden crimson, then a passionate blue, spotted white. Finally, it turned midnight black, its eyes an ominous lavender. 

Those captivating purple eyes were the last thing I saw of it as the midset disappeared, melting into the cave walls. 


A Question – Unanswered – Solved

Chapter 1~That Feeling

I’m feeling uninspired

I look to my favorite quotes

Today was reading…

…and remembering…

…someone might be feeling 

beautiful in literature


Chapter 2~The Beginning

The pounding in my head

The whisper in my soul

I close my eyes

I roll over

Try to fill the empty hole

The door opens

Tam pokes her head in

She says it’s time

That I should get right out of bed

She knows that I’m missing

The sister I loved

Until she died that horrible night

When she was finally pushed too far….


Chapter 3~Cowardly Me

Tam tells me I need practice

To have courage…

…be brave

But how can I

After a girl was brave

And left so much behind

Nevertheless

Life goes on

So I turn to the mirror

I take a breath in and I say to myself

“I am Alex Pander, an author-kinda-and life goes on.“

“I am Alex Pander, an author-maybe-and life goes on.”

“I am Alex Pander, an author-YES-and life goes on.”

I get a questioning look from Tam

But she says no more about it

She hands me my backpack

Opens the door

I walk toward school

Until 

My home is out of sight

Then I quickly turn around

Climb

Up a tree

I pull out my notebook…

…though it doesn’t look like one

With a yellowing leather outside

Tattered looking pages

It looks more like a box


Chapter 4~Disguised

Disguised as a box

Looking old

Looking real

Though it’s not

Disguised as something to keep feelings in

But really

It’s the perfect way

For me to let them out


Chapter 5 ~Moms

My mom said I would need saving before she grabbed my mom and jumped after

The daughter that they wouldn’t be able to save

That’s right my mom is gay

So is my mom…

Anyway

I’m adopted from a family I’ll never know


Chapter 6~Messages

I write to my mom, mom, and sister

I write to the family that could’ve been mine

If I stayed with them

I wouldn’t be drowning

In the pain of being abandoned

By the mom and dad that couldn’t afford me and disappeared soon after

By the mom and mom who didn’t stay with me to watch my sister drown

By the sister who was just playing around until playing got her pushed out of life

By Tam, the friend, that still lives today

But I wonder, how much happiness is alive


Chapter 7~The Finding

I write for seconds

For minutes

For hours 

Eventually

I gather my stuff

I climb down the tree and I think of my life

I live with my bestie who is ten years older than me

She is my guardian although I’m almost eighteen

I know she is scared with my sudden appearance

She plans to send me away for summer

So she can sort out her life

So now

I will be spending two months in a library

I get home and look for my bff

To finish lying an answer to all of her hopeful questions

I find a note on my bed

After five minutes of frantically searching

And

Ten minutes of staying calm

It says:

Dear Alex, 

Life has always been hard. When you were 2 months old, your parents gave you up…I supported you. When you were 5, you decided that having two moms was normal, I supported you. When you were 8, you had to deal with all of the girls telling you that you that were weird; you should be obsessed with dolls, make-up, dressup, boys, and all that stereotypical “girl” stuff. Guess what, I supported you! And then, you were 13, you decided you were really a boy, so I supported you. Exactly 9 months ago today, your sister, mom, and mom died. I need to support you, but I need some supporting too. While I love you so much, I have plugged in coordinates to your GPS. They will take you to a library where people are waiting for your arrival. Use your phone to call me when you get there. Pack your bags so that you can stay for two months. There will be laundry. Leave by 6:30. You might be scared, but this is the best for both of us. It is not forever. I am not leaving you, or making you leave me. I want to be better for you, and I need time to do this. It is hard for me too. I will not be there before you leave. Do not wait up. I love you so much!

Luv ya, 

Tam

PS-I called the school so they know not to expect you tomorrow. They say that they weren’t, you haven’t been to school in weeks, maybe even months. They said that they thought you were sick. We will talk about this on the phone later. Keep me posted! 


Chapter 8~Betrayal

The car rumbles

It groans

It creaks

It treks along

Without much attention

How can I?

I mean…

I just got abandoned

The third time

In seventeen years

By the one I thought I could trust

Why is it that this happens

So what it is a library

My new home

My old sanctuary

So what she thinks this is best

For me

For her

Don’t I know what’s best

For the person who’s been through more

She said it herself

In the letter she wrote

I guess it is fate

That my high

Is my low


Chapter 9~Arrival


It’s modern

But old

Split in half

Like my soul

It’s brick

But stone

Half and half

Like my heart

It’s warm

But cold

Undecided

Like my life

My thoughts

My emotions

My feelings

My brain

My body

My soul

My heart

Me


Chapter 10~Getting It Over With

So many things happen so quick

A smile

A wave

A kiss

A hug

A ride

A candy

A book

A movie

Even though we try

And try

We try to make them last

The librarian looks

The assistant stares

I realize

In horror

I said it aloud

The feelings I felt

All out there

Not personal

I know I’m blushing

But I need to know more

I take a deep breath

I walk over

The librarian

Stares

Wonders

Questions

Keeps it in

Like she notices

Something

Never noticed before

Almost about

The way I speak

And then try to fix it

Odd

And then I see her staring

At my deep eyes

That seem to know all

Just how I imagined my dad’s

Beautiful eyes would look

She answers

The silent question

Somehow passed between us

She is Molly

My director

Of her newest idea

She is teaching

Kids

About writing

Again

They will room

In the basement

Of the library

Together

Except

I am alone

I am the only one

She gives me the keys

And walks

Out the door


Chapter 11~The Call

I call Tam

But to tell the truth

I’d rather not talk about what was said

Thanks for understanding

I knew that I could always count

On you

To understand…

….notebook


Chapter 12~Reflection

I know

I

Alex Pander

Am scared

I have never spent the night

Alone

Before

I dream

Of my chance

My hope

Of feeling

Happy

Free

Hopeful

Brave

Like the author

I wanted

Want

To be

I feel

A librarian

Will know

How

I feel

Tomorrow

I will ask

I will beg for an answer

For my question

I haven’t figured out


Chapter 13~Dreams

Dreamland

My favorite land

The one where I can escape

I slip away

Like a slug

In the rain

Like a speck

In a river

Like water

In my hand

Like my sister

In my our life

I slip

To a place

Where I

Can

Be

Me

A place

I enter

Tonight

Is wonderful

I fly

With my sister

In my

Hand

Coming home

To my birth

Parents

With a hug

Then we

Fly

Away

To my moms

For kisses

Finally

With

An encouraging

Squeeze

On the hand

From my sis

I see Tam

Words

Aren’t enough

I wake up

Eyes streaming

Knowing that

Maybe

Change

Is here

To stay


Chapter 14~Questions

They swirl

Through my head

Like

Snow

In a storm

Like water

In a river

Like the fireworks

On Independence Day

So bright

Yet

So far

The door

Clicks

It unlocks

It creaks

The clock stops ticking

And the bird

On the cuckoo clock

Stops singing

As a librarian

Enters

Her throne room

You can tell

Her power

In just one finger to her lips

You can see her brain working

In charge of all these books

You know she has the answer

You just don’t know how to ask

I will start with the one

That decides it all

Is she wise

Is it fake

Is it worth asking more

I blurt it out

It’s over

Done

She looks at me closely

I know that she’s won

No matter the question

The answer

The explanation

She knows

Just not the way you expect

She opens her mouth

Closes

Opens

Closes

Opens

Stutters

Closes

Opens

Breathes

Closes

Opens

Speaks

I am going to make you a poem

I gasp

I shake

No one

Ever has made

Me

A poem

Not even a librarian

She tells me to read

For the day

Which is fine

I take the time

To watch

And learn

My poem blossom


Chapter 15~The Fruit

A letter

Has friends

Twenty five of them

Indeed

Stuck with them

Forever

No room

For any

Change

A word

Is made

Out of letters

Forced to be friends

A chance for friendship

If not

War

A sentence

Made of words

That were made

Out of letters

A chance for a new life

A new meaning

Sometimes good

Sometimes bad

A punctuation mark

Has it worst of all

Forced to end

In a questioning fashion

An exclaiming one

A boring one

Forced to end

A sentence

In which

She

He

They

Doesn’t believe

And yet

They stay

Until someone

Helps them out

Rearranges everything

Until change is needed again

Honey

Change is happening

So life isn’t perfect

But

If life

Stayed the same

It might be worse

But when things stop changing for a little

You will see

That change was hard

But it is nice to be free

You are

Who you decide

To be

And you are

The person

That believes

In what you

Believe

That feels

The way

You feel

That looks

The way

You look

That knows

The things

You know

You are you

You will change

You will stay

But no matter what happens

You will always be you

So accept your life

After all

It’s yours


Chapter 16~Crickets

She reads it aloud

In her soothing voice

It’s soft

It’s calm

Like she’s been through my life

She looks familiar

Like someone that looks like everyone you meet

I ask her about her voice

Tell her that it is beautiful

She laughs a tinkly laugh

And says

That it 

Is silvery

Clear

Light

Pleasant

She opens her arms

But I turn away

She walks towards me anyway

Her hug gives me power

Her black curly hair

Smells

Like strawberries

And is so soft

Her breath is warm

As it hits my cheek

And when she draws back

I wish I could go on forever

Like if I could feel

That warm

Wonderful

Peaceful

Feeling

I felt just then

Everything would be

Okay?


Chapter 17~Is This What It Feels Like?

My world is falling

The punch in my gut

The ocean in my head

The ache in my heart

The swaying on my feet

I fall

She falls

We fall

I’m holding on

She’s holding on

Can’t grasp

Life flashes

Is this

I don’t want to know

Life

So fast

Find

No

Change

Help

Please

Death

Too much DEATH!!!

I need to see

To know

I fall

My eyes are fluttering

My vision works

But doesn’t

One last

Breath

Is this

What it

Feels like

To die?

My eyes shut

And nothing else happens for hours

Dreamless sleep

Just sleep

That is all it is

Peace

Calm

Rest

Everything I needed

After such a life


Chapter 18~How

I wake up

She’s doing it

Reading my favorite book

I wonder how she knew

It’s really called:

The Afterlife And How To Get There

But I prefer to call it:

Where Will I go Next

Instead

Of focusing

On

My favorite book

The room

Surrounding

Catches

My attention

Like the sun

On glass

In the middle

Of nothing

The wooden floors

With the soft

Smooth

Swirling

Rug that

Captures my

Feelings

I lie

On a couch

Under

A blanket

So soft

And fuzzy

It’s purple

Like my soul

Is what my sister

Would’ve said

In her beautiful way

That makes me love

The one that

I will never again

Get to hold


Chapter 19~Mine

My angel

My master

My leader

My god

My teacher

My guardian

My librarian

I take this

Moment

To take

A look

Of my savior

With the black

Curly hair

That smells

Like strawberry fields

That those bugs wrote

A song about

Where

The fruit

Is forever

Where I

Get taken

To strawberry

Fields

She has deep

Brown eyes

Which is uncommon

I guess

Not really

But whenever

Someone

Points out

Beautiful eyes

They are a

Beautiful

Dazzling blue

But I like brown

So wise

So calm

She has these pink lips

That are pink

Without

Lipstick

Or lip gloss

Or any of that stuff

I despise

That was pushed

On me

Not so long

Ago

She has no nose ring

Like the girls

In my school

When I went there

She wears

A sensible

Dress

With flowers

The kinda

Thing you expect

A librarian to wear

She is looking at me

As I look at her

And deep in my heart

I wish that she were mine

Her lips move

And yet I hear

No sound

But in my head

I know

That I am in her home

And yet my heart

Feels like lead

I spend the rest of the day

In and out of sleep

Until I wake up in the morning

To the librarian

Shaking me

Telling me

To wake up

We need to go

I get my stuff

Get in her car

Drive 5 minutes

To the library

Where she tells me

To sit

In her desk

Because

I have been

Hired

As the new

Librarian

And she is leaving now

And to read the note

On the desk

Once she has left

She produces

A suitcase

Out of

The desk

And walks out the door

Gone

Bye…

…i guess…


Chapter 20~Notes

My son, 

I’m sorry I left so soon. I do not deserve you, and yet I recognized you right away. Boy or girl, 17 or 2 months. I am your birth mother. I am an illegal immigrant so I could not keep you. It was too dangerous for both of us, but mostly you. Your father is dead, but I keep moving. You belong here, as a librarian. I will visit often. Son, remember who you are. You will find yourself, just try to keep it with you. I am so very proud of you. Writing is important when you are surrounded by it. Remember that. I love you so much. More than you could imagine. More than I can write, and that’s saying something. Write how much I love you for me. It will show me that you love me.
I love you so much, 

Mommy

What!?!

All along

It was her

The one

I hoped was mine

So lost

Who found me

She betrayed me

I thought I had

Her trust

But now

I know

That she is there

And yet

Untrustworthy

Like a mockingbird

Stealing others’ songs

Maybe

If I could ask

If she came back

I would be fine

But now

I just hope

Nobody else hurts me

Again…


Gender Inequality Through Time

Gender inequality has always been a problem. From ancient China to recent years, there have been a lot of cases. They reveal how society thought throughout the centuries, and showed how it hasn’t really changed much. Although many people have been fighting to give women more rights, a lot of people still believe that men are more important than women, or that they deserve more than women. A lot of the time, women are given jobs requiring them to clean up for other people and they either get lower wages or, even worse, they don’t even get any payment for what they had done. 

China has a long history of gender inequality. A lot of families kept having kids until one of them would finally be a boy. This whole process was to carry on their family name. They also wanted the boys to be able to work for the family. During the Bronze age, when agriculture was becoming a necessity in order to keep the family alive, most people at that time needed boys to do the work and hard labor, while the girls would stay at home to do chores. According to an article by Kelly Kasulis titled “The 2500-year-old roots of gender inequality,” diets in ancient China were the same between the two genders until the Bronze Age. This was when domestic animals and new crops were introduced in China. Girls were given wheat and other basic crops, while men could eat meat and more nutritious foods. Scientists were also able to show that men were treated better than women when they dug up graves from the Bronze age. Men were buried with more riches, and the skeleton of the women were notably shorter compared to the ones in the Neolithic ages. This shows that women were given less nutrition during this period, resulting in shorter skeletons and weaker bone structures because of the lack of nutrition from a young age. On the other hand, the men had a balanced diet, which shows the gender inequality during that time period. Even as our world becomes more and more advanced, giving more opportunities to people, there still have been many times where women were not given an equal chance as men. 

Malala Yousafzai is a well-known female education activist. She was born on July 12, 1997. As a girl in Pakistan, her parents knew that she would never be looked at the way a boy would be. Malala’s father, knowing that she wouldn’t have as many chances to experience what a boy could, was determined to give her the life every girl in Pakistan longed for. As a girl, Malala wouldn’t be allowed to receive an education, and no matter how secretive someone is when it comes to giving a girl an education, the Taliban would find out eventually. When the Taliban took over Swat Valley, Malala was unable to continue with her education, and her father’s school was forced to close down. At the age of 11, Malala’s chance of education was ripped away from her, but thereafter, she continued to speak out on behalf of the girls who couldn’t go to school. Malala had said that during the process “this made [her] me a target” (Yousafzai, Malala). Malala was shot on the left side of her head by the Taliban in October 2012, but luckily, she had survived the attack. This event did not prevent her from reaching her goal of giving girls at least 12 years of education, and she continues to speak out for girls around the world. Not only do girls at school have to face this treatment, but women in the film industry have spoken out on the unfair treatment. 

There have also been many incidents where women were being treated unequally in the workplace. Many women have been given lower wages compared to men, even though they had been working the same amount of time. A lot of the time, men would be given a promotion even if the women were better choices for the job. A lot of actresses have been paid less despite having a role of the same importance as a man. In 2015, Jennifer Lawrence opened up about the gender pay gap, “I didn’t get mad at SONY, I got mad at myself” (Lawrence, Jennifer), noting how she had let herself and her hard work get taken advantage of. In 2016, statistics were given that proved what Jennifer Lawrence had said was true. Dwayne Johnson, the top grossing actor in 2016, earned $64 million, while the top grossing actress, Jennifer Lawrence, only earned $46 million. In 2017, the sum of the wages of the top 10 actresses was $200 million, while the top 10 actors had a sum of $450 million. These statistics given by Phineas Rueckert in an article on Global Citizen titled “Emma Stone: Male Co-Stars Have Taken Pay Cuts to Promote Gender Equality” shows how much females are underpaid in the movie industry. In 2018, Benedict Cumberbatch declared that he won’t take a role if his female co-stars aren’t getting an equal pay. This step towards gender equality is very useful, because as a successful actor, many filmmakers would want to hire him, and with this demand, they most likely would give women an equal wage considering how they need to please their audience, and earn money. In addition, some of Emma Stone’s male co-workers have taken pay cuts in order to prevent gender inequality from becoming a worsening problem. This is also a very important step towards correcting gender inequality, because once filmmakers realise the threats from the male actors, they would begin to consider how important it is to give women an equal chance in the industry. 

Gender inequality won’t stop if men don’t start joining in the fight. No matter how many women join forces and spread awareness on this topic, nobody will listen. People will only think that women are asking for too much. But if they get a point of view of a male co-worker, family member, or friend, they will begin to understand the role women play in their lives. And with luck, people will realise that women do in fact work as hard as men, and that they deserve to have the same treatment as men. With more girls who are educated, more people would know how important women are to the world. With more men helping this happen, people wouldn’t take advantage that women don’t have as much of a voice, and would begin to make a difference for all the girls and women in the world. 

Kasulis, Kelly. “The 2,500-Year-Old Roots of Gender Inequality – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 4 Mar. 2017, www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2017/03/04/the-year-old-roots-gender-inequality/7zE60rjYuOAHjFB8hEBq1N/story.html.

News, ABC, director. Jennifer Lawrence Opens Up on Hollywood’s Gender Pay Gap. YouTube, YouTube, 14 Oct. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kniAmk5jd8.

Phineas, Rueckert. “Benedict Cumberbatch Won’t Take a Role If Female Co-Star Isn’t Paid Equally.” Global Citizen, 14 May 2018, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/benedict-cumberbatch-gender-wage-gap/.

Phineas, Rueckert. “Emma Stone: Male Co-Stars Have Taken Pay Cuts to Promote Gender Equality.” Global Citizen, 7 July 2017, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/emma-stone-gender-pay-gap-battle-of-the-sexes/.

Yousafzai, Malala. “Malala’s Story: Malala Fund.” Malala’s Story | Malala Fund, www.malala.org/malalas-story.


Across the Galaxy

Ava

I can’t believe we were so close to Earth! It doesn’t seem real. After all this fighting and escaping and loss we were finally going to make it. I closed my eyes taking a deep breath, waiting for the pod to say, “Landing now,” or “You have arrived.” I looked to Arin and she was staring out the window. I felt sweat drip down my neck. I started to fan myself all of sudden feeling a bit hot. Soon beads of sweat started to pour down my forehead. My head started to throb from the heat. It was getting hot and my face felt on fire. I held Arin’s hand scared for what could happen next. My whole body was hot and it felt like I was getting lowered onto flames. Something wrong was happening.

Arin

This is the moment I have been waiting for for days. Should I believe that it’s happening? Sometimes when you want something for so long or so badly when it actually happens you have no idea how to react. Almost seems too good to be true. Until… it was too good to be true. We squeezed our hands together. My forehead starts dripping with nervous sweat. We were getting hot, like slowly walking near a bonfire. Ava mentions the escape pod might be burning up. I squeezed my eyes tight, I felt like we were so close. Why does this have to happen? We worked so hard it’s not fair. A tear rolled down my cheek. 

“ Oh no,”  I said under my breath.

Ava 

I got up from the seat in the escape pod and looked out the window flames that were engulfing the windowsill. There was a crash and I jumped back as the window burst shattering glass all over the floor. I slowly stepped back seeing the flames spread throughout the inner wall of the pod.

“WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! EVACUATE! EVACUATE!” the escape pod was blaring red lights but there was nothing to do. We had to wait as the flames crept to us like a wolf hunting its prey. I practically felt the flames leaping at my face, I started to cry my eyes wide as the bright orange flames surrounded my body. Suddenly I lurched forward as I felt a falling motion. We were moving fast and me and Arin hit the wall as we spiralled out of control. I closed my eyes wishing this was all done, that this feeling would go away. Then there was a crash, a big thud. I hit the side of the pod then tumbled out feeling the cool pavement, A dark screen fielded my vision and then everything went black. 

Arin

I gradually opened my eyelids. My head felt like it was just hit with a long metal pole. As I slowly tuned in to my surroundings and focused my eyes, I  saw that I was finally not on the toxic planet of Niburus. We have no chains no bandages, we were free. It was getting dark, I expect almost 9:00pm, the sky was grey and a storm might be coming. There were many old abandoned buildings. My knees were scraped from the cracked road. I saw Ava out cold on the pavement. I limped over to her body. This was the closest I have ever been to death, and I have had a gun held up to my head. I felt like my bones were holding on by a thread burning up side my body. I used the last bit of energy and strength to wake Ava up, “Please don’t be dead,” I repeated in my head. I can’t lose someone else.

“A-a-Ava..” I stuttered. I shook her, my muscles tensing up. She coughed and rolled over. 

“Arin, are… you ok?” she whispered. I used all my might to wrap my arms around her scarred body. I gave her a warm embrace after life was almost snatched from us. Sometimes you don’t realize what you have until you lose it, or almost lose it. I just realized how much I needed and cherished Ava. What would’ve happened if we didn’t make it?

Ava

I woke up, my head pounding. I looked up and saw Arin. She had a long cut on the side of her face dripping with blood next to her ear. She had a worried look on her face. As I rolled over coughing up some blood I crawled onto the concrete. I tried to stand up but my ankles gave in and I fell back to the ground. I looked at my cut arms and saw goosebumps rise. It was chilly out and the wind snapped at my face.

“Arin… we need to find shelter,” I said, then coughed again. I looked around then saw a sign made of wood and it was slightly tilted to the side, it said, “WELCOME TO THE TOWN OF SIER!”

Arin

I agreed with Ava, we needed to find shelter. I looked around, THERE!

“Ava, I see an old shed next to that brick building.” I  pointed out.

“Arin I’m not sure I can make it all the way there, my body is aching,” Ava groaned.

“It’s ok I will be right here to help you.” I lifted Ava’s limp arm over my shoulder and we hopped to the other side of the street. The wind was tugging on our hair, and the grey clouds were passing over our heads giving me chills up and down my body. Once we got over to the shed, we sat down on the rough wooden floor. First we needed sleep so we can rest before we decide what to do. I took off the sweaters me and Ava tied around our waist and balled them up for pillows. Ava’s skin looked pale and she had  bloody deep wounds. She looked terrible. I could tell she was trying to keep her eyes open.

“Sleep,” I whispered into Ava’s ear. As Ava dozed off I looked around the shed. I rubbed my hand against the creaky hardwood floor. There was a cracked window, a broken sliding barn door, three hay bails in the corner… A-are those bodies?

Ava

I heard Arin gasp and slowly tap my shoulder, I abruptly sat up. Suddenly the pain came shooting back into my body. I squinted to see in the dark shed but I could make out three figures walking towards us. I tried to shuffle backwards but my ankles still hurt so bad. I sat there waiting for whatever was coming towards us. There was a crack in the roof overtop of us, the moonlight shone down lighting up our face. I heard some toads croaking and the chirping of crickets. I waited as the figures came closer to the light, I waited for them to finally reveal themselves. I looked down as I saw a grey converse enter the pool of light and then the whole person, a raggedy boy with a buzzcut and cold grey eyes. He had dirt and scars all over him and was wearing a navy green T-shirt and dirty beige Khakis. Behind him was a girl. She had long black hair close to her waist, her skin was a light tan color and she had black trimmed glasses. She walked up next to the boy and I saw her jean shorts and yellow tank top. Standing next to the girl was a boy holding her hand. He had golden hair and blue eyes on the side of his arms was a blue tint as well as on his knees. He was wearing a blue shirt and sports shorts. They stared straight at me and Arin, their eyes looked scared.

Arin

“Ava, get behind me.” I stammered, staring back at the three kids.

“So clearly your name is Ava, hi I’m Rose, And you are?” The long black haired girl said as she looked at me.

“How do I know to trust you?” I scowled at her.

“I’m Liam and looking at you it doesn’t seem you just strolled in here, where are you from?” The blond hair boy said.

“Why would I tell you? You are nothing more than three strangers,” I said still sceptical.

“We got kidnapped by aliens, though I don’t expect you to believe us,” said Ava.

“I was kidnapped by them too,” Liam said, sighing, “They even put there serum in me.”

“Why aren’t you one of them then?” I asked. 

“It didn’t work fully.” Liam said staring at the ground.

“Ok, so you’re Liam, you’re Rose, I’m Arin and this is Ava, then who are you?” I stared at the hidden boy in the shadows.

“My name is Hunter.” We were all awkwardly standing in the light of the shed all connected in one way but still complete strangers.

Ava

“Come here, we have some makeshift beds over there,” Liam said pointing to the corner with the hay bales. Me and Arin walked over to the hay bales and saw a bunch of straw piled to make multiple beds. There were trash bags that seemed to be stuffed with grass which were used as pillows and a bunch of old clothes and rags tied together to make multiple blankets. Next to the bed was an old bag which seemed to be filled up with different foods. 

“Ok, you and Arin can share that bed me and Liam will share that bed and Hunter can sleep in that one,” Rose said.

“I guess they’re dating or something,” I whispered to Arin.

Arin

Me and Ava climbed into the pokey hay bed, And I can say that those pillows were not the comfiest pillows I have slept on. I heard Liam whisper, “Night babe.” 

Hunter slowly drifted off to sleep, the moonlight gradually disappeared. The wind was getting softer but the air was getting colder. I took a deep breath and waited for Ava to close her eyes, then I rolled over and released all my stress. 

I was sitting in a cold metal chair. My wrists dripping with blood, bound tight with rope. I was looking down at Ava lying on the floor with Master Malden hunched over her. He was pressing a hot iron rod on her throat, melting her like a marshmallow. She let out a blood curdling scream. 

“Arin, HELP. It hurts so bad…” Her voice was losing power. I tried to break free from the rope but it just burned my wrists causing them to bleed more. I tried to move out of my chair but nothing was working. I-I was trying. Then I heard Ava give a hopeless breath and then, she laid there motionless. 

I shot up in the hay bed panting, I was breaking out in a cold sweat coming down my forehead. It was a nightmare.

Ava

I woke up feeling good, that was the first time in a while that I had had a decent sleep in awhile. I sat up and stretched my arms. As I turned around, I saw Hunter looking in the bag for some food. He took out an old bagel as well as some nuts. He started to take bites of the bagel leaning against one of the hay bales. He looked up and saw me staring at him. He quickly looked back down at his food. I shook Arin awake and she looked up at me groaning. 

“What time is it?” She said rolling back around to go  to bed again. 

“Time for you to get up! Come on, let’s get some food.” I said trying to turn her back around. I got up and walked over to the bag and looked through looking for some food. I grabbed a slice of bread and some salami. I walked back to me and Arin’s bed and gave her some of the bread and salami. 

Finally after everyone ate, we all went outside of the shed. I still ached a bit and was kind of sore but I was able to walk outside, and the fresh air felt nice. 

“So what are we going to do…” I said. 

“Hey Ava remember all the other kids, you know there all going to be turned aliens right?” Arin said.

“And…” I said looking at Arin seeing what she was getting to.

“You want to just leave them there,” Arin said staring straight into my eyes.

I looked at her trying to see if she was joking or not. She wasn’t.

“Arin do you really want to do this, you want to go back and save them?”

“Ava, it’s almost our duty to do this if we could escape then we must be able to help them escape.”

“Well then how are we going to get there? The only way back is that escape pod and it’s really broken,” I said as we all looked over to the broken escape pod which was crashed in the middle of the road. 

“I mean if we tried we would probably be able to fix it or at least make it flyable, maybe there’s stuff inside the ship,” Rose said. I forgot that they were all there and didn’t even think about if they wanted to come or not. Hunter nodded next to Rose. I turned back to Arin.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I said to Arin.

“Yes,” She said. I turned to Rose, Liam, and Hunter.

“I’m in,” Rose said.

“Me too,” Hunter mumbled.

I turned to Liam, he was staring at the ground.

“I know you don’t want to do this because of what they did to you but…”

“Um, I don’t know guys I just… well I just don’t know, I’ll wait to see if you guys can actually fix that escape pod.” 

We all walked over to the ship and started to try and see how we could fix it. Rose was already starting to fix things, she seemed pretty smart and Hunter was listening to her and started reattaching wires. I turned around and saw Liam pacing back and forth looking nervous. Rose noticed Liam and went over to him and started talking, walking off in a hurry. 

Arin 

While we were all preparing the ship, I saw Rose and Liam walked off. He was yelling about going back to planet Niburus. Suddenly horror struck me. Liam was turning into an alien. A transformation that felt like burning metal piercing your skin. He was bending over seething with pain. Liam fell to the ground, skinning his now bright blue knee’s on the street. His head pounding and melting. He opened his teary salty eyes, seeing his skin bleeding profusely, slowly turning blue. Liam’s eyes were bulging out of his skull. He screamed as loud as he could, “Make it stop, MAKE IT STOP!” He couldn’t hear himself over the buzzing noise, feeling like it was bursting his eardrums. 

Liam didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t make it stop, he didn’t know how to. The pain was like nothing he had felt before. 

“Liam, you’re okay, you’ve got this. You are the strongest person I know. Fight it!” Rose screamed, but still muffled by the buzzing. Liam could see through his blurry vision Rose was sobbing. “Liam LOOK AT ME!” Her voice was trailing away as Liam wanted to tell Rose nothing could make it better.

“Rose, let me help!” I said running over to them.

“No! Let me handle this. I’m his girlfriend, I’m the one that’s supposed to be here for him.” She demands.

“Rose, st-stop, stop trying.. AHH UGG!” he suddenly screamed with a shock of pain

“Liam I will fix it, trust me.”

“Rose help me.”

“ I-I don’t know how, but I’m with you.” Rose was losing hope. “Just hold on to my hand, focus on this moment.” 

Liam took Rose’s hand and held on tight. He looked at her in the eye, and took a deep breath. The pain will go away, she said. She told him to wait. He waited, waited for Rose. He didn’t know why he felt the need to wait, I mean it wasn’t going away. But he couldn’t leave—he couldn’t leave Rose. For the first time in a while, he broke the tough screen he had been hiding behind and cried so hard his eyes couldn’t cry anymore. And all Rose said it’s ok.

Ava

Everyday we woke up, everyday we worked more and more on the pod, everyday we went to bed hoping that the next day would be the day where we would finally finish the escape pod, and everyday Liam got more and more anxious of the day to come. 

I went in the straw bed which wasn’t as uncomfortable as before. I laid awake, Rose said that we would be done with the escape pod by tomorrow. I was so nervous, I just couldn’t sleep. What if it didn’t work, or what if we don’t make it and we get lost in space? I wondered what Liam is going to do. I knew how much he doesn’t want to go but maybe he’ll still come, and how are we going to actually save all the children? I forced my eyes closed and waited as the sleep came over me and I finally fell asleep.

Arin

The next morning, we all woke up full of adrenalin. Today was the day, we were going to rescue all those innocent kids. You could feel the emotion in the air. We ate breakfast without a word, silently, slowly, nervous tension began crawling through my body. I tensed up and started breathing rapidly, my heart was pounding. Ava put her hand on my back, she knew I was panicking.  

“It’ll be ok, we are safe, and soon those other kids will be too. We are doing the right thing and we are right behind you.” Ava reassured me. We walked out to the escape pod and we all got in. The sky was clear and spotless, not one cloud to be seen. Me and Ava sat in the two front seats controlling the pod, and Hunter, Liam, and Rose sat in the three back seats. Me and Ava squeezed our hand tight together. Rose was leaning her head on Liam’s shoulder, I could tell Liam was choking back tears. Hunter was looking out the window gagging and coughing, he said he has motion sickness. I pressed one button and that was it “Taking lift off, destination planet Nibirus.”

Ava

I closed my eyes, hoping this would work. I felt nervous but a bit excited. I clicked the button that said “Lift Off.” We waited a second and we heard the sound of the escape pod turn on and then we shot up into the morning sky. The escape pod had left the ground. I closed my eyes as Arin reached forward to press the “Superspeed” button. I held the chair tight and waited until I felt the jolt forward, and then we were off. A minute later, I opened my eyes and saw the darkness around me. There were bright stars and when I turned around, I could see Earth behind us, it looked like a marble slowly shrinking away. I turned to see Liam and Rose cuddling and Hunter was standing next to the window. He almost looked like he was gagging.

“Hunter, are you ok?” I said. 

“Umm yeah just a little bit *gag* motion sick.” He said then turned and stumbled to the bathroom. I looked in front of me and gasped as I saw the planet of Nibirus approaching. We started to slow down as the surface of the planet became more and more clear. The engine started to decelerate we landed softly on the grass of Nibirus.

Arin

One small jerk and we were there. Memories and flashbacks began racing across my mind. Mia, my parents, that little girl behind tortured. Well, this is why we were here, I guess. To save those poor children. We headed straight to the entrance, I whipped out the card that I used a couple weeks ago to escape the building. I locked the door of the escape pod. We ducked over to the door and I swiped my card. Right away, there were two guards. Me and Hunter broke out in a fight. Two minutes later, both guards were down on the ground and I had a bloody nose. Meanwhile Ava, Rose, and Liam were on their way to the kids. Me and Hunter were trying too catch up to them, some more guards at our heels. We only had one key and over 100 children, and barely any time. 

Ava

We ran into the lab. There were tons of children and each one looked depressed and cold. Some of them were crying, and some of them were beating on the walls or trying to figure a way out.

“Hey! How did you get out? that’s not fair!” A girl with short straight hair and a gap in her teeth. All the kids turned towards us there faces surprised.

“Shhh they’ll come back,” Liam said.

“Who?” The same girl said.

“The aliens, they’re going to turn you into them you’ll-you’ll turn into an alien… like me,” Liam said as he showed them the said of his arms which were both a light blue color. All the kids gasped as the saw Liam’s arms. 

“Well how are you going to get us out?” asked a little girl with pigtails and two pink bows.

“With this!” I said as I pulled out the access card. I then began unlocking each cage and more and more kids came out hugging each other, and some crying.

“Now what do we do?” a little boy with brown hair asked.

“Well we need to escape, follow me,” Rose said motioning towards the exit.

Arin

As we were running to the others, six guards came at once. 

“I got these three you get the other ones!” I shouted at Hunter.

I kicked and punched and ran and jumped. Both sides weren’t giving up. A guard punched me in the gut and kicked my face, blood all over the floor. Hunter’s leg was dripping with thick blood. Me and Hunter went back to back and did one move and took 4 out at once. Only two left. I kicked one’s ankle and punched his nose one out, one to go. I looked behind me and saw Hunter finish the last one off. We gave one celebratory high five and ran straight to the cages where the rest were. On the way there we ran into Ava, Rose, and Liam. They were running back with a bunch of kids behind them. 

“To the escape pods!” Liam directed.  

Ava

We burst out of the door and ran towards the market. I turned behind me and saw all the kids running. There were kids of all ages, and we all flooded the streets of Nibirus. Aliens jumped back as kids came near them. I smiled. We were going to make it. Then I stopped, I turned around as I saw Master Maldens personal soldiers were chasing after us. 

“Everyone hurry, were almost to the path and then we can get to the escape pods!” I yelled. We hurried up and made it to the path, the path where Mia died. I held tears back as I remembered when Mia died in the acid, wait that’s it! We have to push the soldiers into the acid. The big doors were ahead of us, we just needed to make it there, then we’d be safe, but no. More soldiers came running through the doors. I stopped frozen.

“Every one on the count of three push them in the acid!” I said loud enough for everyone to hear but not the soldiers.

“ONE,” I yelled.

“TWO,” Arin yelled.

“THREE,” Rose said.

All the kids pushed the soldiers in front of them over into the acid. They began to burn in it and we kept running. Finally we made it to the doors. 

Arin

We all burst through the door.

“I have been in this situation here before…” I said under my breath.

“This time we are safe” Ava whispered grabbing me by the hand. We split up everyone in different escape pods. Me and Ava watched everyone safely get inside the pods and wished Liam, Rose and Hunter good luck. They were leading all the escape pods back to earth. Me and Ava will be the tail of the pack, making sure no one will get left behind. As we were getting into our last escape pod, we heard a cold, harsh voice we recognized. Master Malden was leaning on the wall one leg up like a highschool boy on a locker. He was there the whole time. 

“Go ahead, escape I will give you guys a head start,” Master Malden said with a smirk.

“What? Why aren’t you stopping us?” I replied.

“I’m giving you an advantage, I would take it if I were you.” He was slowly walking toward us.

 “Three, two.” He was counting. Me and Ava quickly go into the escape pod. We closed the door.

“ONE!” We were off.

Ava

I pressed the “Lift Off” button and sped forward, I looked forward. We were all the way in the back to make sure nothing happened to the other pods. We kept going then I heard a blast, I turned to look behind me. A big ship was behind us, I squinted my eyes and saw standing right in the center window was Malden, and the ship, it was shooting, AT US! We kept going and they kept missing but were getting closer. We got closer and closer. The Earth approaching, as well as Maldens ship. I clicked the “Boost All” button. All the escape pods burst forward, we all burst into the atmosphere. The escape pods were getting faster and faster because of the Earth’s gravity. We were so close I could see our shed, we were finally going to make it.

Arin

We were so close. Now was the time, I was shaking. Me and Ava saw everyone else we rescued standing on the ground below us ready for war, weapons, formation, and everything. We quickly approached them and landed on the ground. Goosebumps were rising on my lims. I have never been more nervous for anything. Not even this morning when we were setting free the kids. We rushed to the front of the blob of people. We had the taller ones in the front, shorter in the back. All of us carried weapons we stole from the aliens. Me, Ava, Rose, Hunter, and Liam all hugged as this might be the last time we could hug. Liam kissed Rose on the cheek and shared a warm loving hug (I held back throwing up). Tears were running down all of our cheeks. My eyes were red. This could be goodbye. If this is the end, all we got to, at least we got this far. I had a hole in my stomach, and knew it could only be filled if we won this battle. I was fired up, as determined as a fox about to pounce on a rabbit. We won’t run away, we hide, we will stand here, we won’t move for anything. We saw a big black ship coming straight for us. It was time to fight.


The Septic Eye

Hey my name is Shuji and this is my excellent story about how I got the Septic Eye.

Bye mom, I hope you rest in peace. I am going off to college, I hope I make you proud. I am at my mother’s grave, crying like a wimp. (Well of course I am, it’s my mother. Don’t judge me readers you are not Judge Judy.)

 I walk away with a glum look on my face, sluggish as an obese man that just ran the Iron Man. I pull out my phone and there is a weird Icon on the screen. I look around and think, why is this happening to me? It happens every week, but this time it said we have been watching you for the longest time, I think you are ready.  The confusion on my face then was obvious. A damp white cloth is slapped on my face. Chloroform! THEY WERE TRYING TO CAPTURE ME! I squirmed and tousled but they still got me. You see I’m a strong boy, but not as strong as that beast of a human that had me in his grasp. I got in a truck and I heard movement. 

The leader (Pewdiepie) took off the mask and said, “Welcome to S.H.O. Business.”

“What’s that?” I said with a smirk on my face, trying not to laugh.

“It’s not funny, S.H.O. Sacred Hero Organisation. This is what we do when we aren’t posting videos, we save the world.” 

“Ha HA HA HA HA HA HA. You’re funny”

“Anyways we recruited you because you work out, do parkour, are very smart, and are really good at shooting.”

“But what about college? And my dad is gonna die without me, you can’t take me. I am flattered but I can’t do this”

“Who said you had a choice? Guys knock him out!”

 After that 2 weeks of training blindly of what’s going

“Hey guys!”  I say happily, now that I am finished.

“Hey.” Sean said, “And welcome come to the S.H.O., the Sacred Hero Organisation.” 

“I thought your name was Jack?” I say with confusion.

“No that’s just my user name, Jacksepticeye, it is a very common mistake to make.” 

As I look around I see things that you would see in a movie. Like a supercomputer, images of the world and a weird picture with a floating eye that looks like a Septiceye named Sam. My thinking becomes corrupt and my mind is like a black whole taking away my memories and I feel my conscious walking into the darkest part of my mind. I feel a hand grasping my shoulder and it’s Sean, but he has no eyes, a bleeding mouth and a slit throat. I close my eyes and I’m back into reality. I notice the whole time that the team was shouting my name behind me.

“Shuji! Shuji! Shuji!” They all scream. 

“Get out of there it’s all fake, stop looking!” Markiplier says with a loud voice.

I need to not look at that. But, I think that is what we are looking for so how am I going to do this. Wait I see someone else, who is that? IS THAT?! H2O DELIRIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!! Wait he has a hockey mask on in real life? And no one still hasn’t seen his face except CaRtOoNz? Why don’t people just try to take it off. That’s insane. What should I do? I should probably ask for our mission because we are all standing awkwardly.

“Hey Sean when is our mission?”

“Uhh, I think they are going to brief us right now.”

“Good morning all you bros!” Pewdiepie says to all of us.

“Our mission, it is very dangerous. We are going to to retrieve the SepticEye Sam!”

Everyone shouts with joy and and screams from the tops of their lungs. I do do the same. 

“Yeah, woooh, wahhhhhhh!!!!” I scream with the others.

“Shuji, Sean and Mark you guys are going to do this ultimate mission. Guys celebrate them, give them energy, they can do this, come on!!!!”

“YEAHHHH WOOO AHHHHH!!!” Everyone screams. “YOU CAN DO THIS!!!!”

I smile with joy, like a boy that just found his lost cat from 3 years ago. I actually feel like I can do this. Well no I can’t, but they don’t know that. All they know is that I am ready. I am not going to disappoint them even though I am scared. Probably when I get there I won’t be like a dog in a thunderstorm. 

“So Sean where are the weapons?”

“RIght here, but I don’t need them because of my power.”

“WHAT?! You have powers?”

“Yeah everyone does Mark won’t need them either. You’ll probably develop them later this week.”

“Wait what? What powers?”

“I don’t know Pewdipie said that you need to see something for you to unlock your powers.”

“Uhh.. I am so confused.”

“It doesn’t matter right now we need to focus on the mission, we can ask when we get back.”

“What? You started the convo…”

“SHHHHHHHH let’s go,” Sean says interrupting me.

I get into the hyper car and zoom off. My stomach drops to the bottom of my abdomen like an anvil falling onto an animated character. I’m surprised because we get to the location super fast. It is a weird lab place. (Cliche isn’t it readers? Spoiler, my friend Sean welp he….) I was right, now I don’t feel as unprepared. I have my 2 guns, a Scorpion, and my TMP. I’m ready to defeat these evil guards with these hollow points. Bullets flying, green magic and some fire. I roll into cover. 

“Shuji cover my back I am standing up.”

“Okay Mark let’s do this!”

We are back to back shooting. Headshot. Headshot. Headshot. We are destroying but where is Sean his magic is not flying through the hair. I only see fire in the hair from Mark. Wait he has a gun to his head. Oh no, what do I do. 

I whisper to mark, “They have Sean, what do we do?

“Just follow my lead,” Mark says confidently.

He walks up to the giant muscular guard with his guns in his hands.

“PUT YOUR GUN DOWN OR I WILL SHOOT!”

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! No.”

Boom. Sean’s brain blows out into pieces. His brains drop onto the ground and are covered in blood. His body drops and eyes turn black.

The guy who got shot him is the guy from my vision. Bop Bop Bop. Mark shoots angrily at the guard’s head and burns his body to ash. People are dead. Everyone here is dead, OMG, what the hell!

“Shuji go in side there are no more guards but security. DO IT NOW!”

“OK,” I say with a worried voice.

I walk into the lab almost throwing up because of all the blood around me. I see the eye. And walk towards it like a moth to a light, walking through the lasers for the mounted guns while dodging consciously. I am at the tube and, my mind, it’s, it’s in Darkness again. I see things that I don’t want to see. I see death itself. The matted black plague in my mind grows stronger taking away what is good and replacing it with evil. 

The eye says, “Death awaits others, have fun.” (Ohhh reader, I love this part. Read carefully.)

This is what I do. I have fun. Breaking the glass I take the eye from the tube and use my knife to gouge out my eye. With the eye in my hand I slice it. Slice it more and more with anger with blood coming out of my eye socket like a blood waterfall gushing with craziness. As I replace this disgusting eye with the Septic Eye, I feel this power and it’s great. I feel it pulsing through my veins and into my hands. It’s like all I need to do is Kill. I need the KILL! Just KILL! I jump out of the building breaking through the roof and find the car. I see Mark. I think that he is now my new victim. It’s time. Time to let the world know who is king!

Godzilla

When I ask you to think about a big movie monster, most of you would think of Godzilla. Many of you would think that Godzilla has one two or three movies, but he actually has a huge amount of movies. There are people who think he is from another world, other people think that he is a prehistoric sea creature, more of that later. Now a lot of people would think that all that Godzilla does is kill destroy destroy destroy, but he has a much more deeper history that has become clearer as more movies come out over time.

Godzilla first hit the big screen in 1954 at a height of 50 metres, which is 164 feet. His length was 122 metres, or 400 feet, and he weighed 30,000 tons. Its original name was gojira which is japanese for Godzilla. He remained that height until 1984, when he became 80 metres or 262 feet, and his length was 190 metres or 623 feet, and weighed 50,000 tons. What a lot of people don’t know is that they made a Godzilla vs King Kong movie in 1962. They even made movies where he had a child! There are 33 Godzilla movies and one tv show. They are making a new one in 2019. He remained that height and length, then in 1991, he became 100 metres and stayed that way until 1993. In 1994, they released Burning Godzilla. He was still 100 metres though. Then in 1998, they made a movie called Zilla. He looked like a t-rex except he was 60 metres tall. 

Then in 2000, Godzilla was 55 metres, and in 2001, he was 60 metres. Then in 2001-2003, Godzilla was 55 metres, and in 2004’s Godzilla Final Wars, he was 100 metres. In Godzilla Legendary in 2014, he was a 108 metres and weighed 90,000 tons. In Godzilla Resurgence 2016, Godzilla shin was 118 metres tall weighing 92,000 tons, then in the tv show, (SPOILER ALERT) there were two Godzillas. One of them was named Godzilla filius and was 5 meters tall and weighed 10,000 tons, and the other was named Godzilla earth. He was 300 meters tall and weighed 100,000 tons. He was a little shorter than the Eiffel tower.

Godzilla is such a beast! But there is more to it. All the other kaiju king ghidorah mothra battra rodan so on and so forth come from the same large family tree with way waaaay larger monsters. King Kong is probably from the same family tree. Anyway, all those kaiju are called the titans in Godzilla King of the Monsters. They probably ruled the world before us. There are even caveman drawings of the kaiju, which is evidence of  my point. Most of the kaiju have something special. For example, Godzilla has atomic breath, Rodan has supersonic flight so he destroys buildings under him when he’s flying. The other kaiju are King Ghidorah, Mothra, Battra, and Ebirah. 

Godzilla could have come from another world or he was a sea creature exposed to nuclear waste, but I think it was both. I think he was alien-looking, very different from Godzilla, then his ship crashed, and there was some nuclear waste or some kind of chemical mixture that he was exposed to that made him the all powerful beast …..Godzilla. 

Now a lot of people would think that there is a lot of destruction in his history, but there is actually some peace in it too. I have a very likely theory that Godzilla and the other kaiju ruled their own parts of the world, so there was peace until we came along. We took the world from them so it will be just a matter of time before they take it back.

I think that the kaiju all had their own territory. It was peaceful, but the cave drawings show that they fight sometimes.  And then when the world split up into different continents, Godzilla went to the ocean and King Ghidorah ended up being frozen in a giant block of ice. I have no idea what happened to the rest of them. I think that Godzilla’s part of the world started shifting to form a continent. Godzilla fell into the ocean, and King Ghidorah’s continent shifted. It formed into the Arctic and he was frozen into a huge block of ice.

I think this is important because the new Godzilla movie is coming out. I think it would be important if more people knew about him so when the movie comes out people will be ready.  I think it is important for people to know that he is more than just a monster because there a lot of stereotypes of Godzilla going around. These movies have given more information on him, slowly revealing his past.

SOURCES

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbFILj44OX0


My Silent Resistance

“Taz, the psychologist from the adoption agency is here. She’d like to ask you a few questions,” Dad says to me. This happens every year. I run out of my room and into the living room, where I see a tall young woman standing in front of me.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tazu,” she says. I wave shyly in the corner and get out my phone to talk to her.

I am autistic, what most would consider “lower functioning,” and I can’t speak with my mouth parts, so I use a text-to-speech app to communicate. “Pleasure to meet you too. Now what is it that you would like to ask me?”

I pray that even though she now knows I’m non-speaking, she will assume competence and not condescend to me or treat me as subhuman, in a way. That is a stigma that many nonverbal autistics such as I know all too well. That’s why I hate labels like high-functioning and low-functioning: low-functioning means your capabilities are ignored, your humanity brushed aside, and high-functioning means your deficiencies are ignored and you can’t get the support you need; basically either way it sucks, and you often have to go through life alone.

Fortunately, she treats me normally. “All right, first question: are you happy here?” she asks. I nod my head. I am so happy with my dads, though the trauma of my past still haunts me.

“I’m glad to hear that, Tazu. Next question: Do you feel safe here?”

This is a tricky question. It appears to be analyzing two variables: immediate, actual safety and perceived safety. I assume that for this evaluation, what she really wants to know about is actual safety, and I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I feel unsafe with my dads. 

I decide to be honest. “To be honest, occasionally not so much. I mean, my dads treat me well and I feel very safe in their care. But sometimes I get these irrational fears that my dads are secretly planning to turn on me. Or that one of them could do… what my mom did to me. But it’s completely unreasonable. I know they would never do that. So yes, I occasionally worry about my safety, but I know those worries are not rational.”

“Thank you for being honest with me. Final question: my results tell me you’ll be able to hold a job someday. Is that something you are considering?”

I frown and hesitate for a second. “I highly doubt I will ever be able to hold down a job. Who would hire an autistic girl who can’t talk?” 

I walk out of the room, feeling utterly hopeless. My dad sees me and walks over to check on me. “Hi Taz, you look sad. What happened? Did the evaluator talk about anything upsetting?” 

“Yes,” I type. “She thinks I can get a job.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand why that would upset you.”

“I can’t get a job. No one would hire me.”

“What do you mean?” my dad asks. “You’re smart, funny, and a brilliant writer. I’d hire you.”

I roll my eyes. He just doesn’t get it.  According to the latest statistics, 85 percent of autistic adults are unemployed, and for nonverbal people, the statistics are even higher. It is statistically very unlikely that I’d ever be able to hold a job. I’m just thinking realistically and long-term here. 

“You KNOW me, Dad. Employers don’t. They’ll just see a weird, too short girl who can’t talk. Autistics don’t get hired.”

“Sure they do,” my dad replies. “What about Einstein? Newton? Dickinson? Heck, there are even rumors of Hitler being autistic, and look how successful he was! I mean, I’m not saying you should become Hitler, but you get the point.”

“First of all, I don’t want to be associated with Hitler. You do know he KILLED autistics along with countless other people, right? Besides, those were the exceptional people. I’m not exceptional.” 

Dad giggles. “First of all, I don’t promote Hitler. Second of all, you’re exceptional to me”, Dad replies. “But you’re right. Employers don’t know you like I do. I’ll tell you what. There’s an autism resource fair next Sunday. Why don’t we find out what your options are?”

I sigh. “All right, let’s go. But if I don’t like it, you owe me a trip to the ice cream place.”

Dad laughs. “It’s a deal,” he says. 

ONE WEEK LATER

I stare at my reflection in the mirror. A too-short Japanese/Korean-American teen with long wavy hair and wide eyelashes stares back. 

Fun fact: 15-20% of autistic people are nonspeaking. Another fun fact: only less than 2% of them get jobs. Final fun fact: I am one of those 15-20%. 

It’s really hard to believe, at age sixteen, that I’m still alive. When I was trapped in the misery of my childhood, I never thought I would make it this far. For years I had expected, and later hoped, to die. Then it happened, and for a while I thought I had my wish. But then my dads rescued me and life started to seem worth living. 

Could I have actually died, probably? Died briefly and been reborn? Nah, I don’t think being reborn as the exact same person is a thing. When I was a little girl and hospitalized, no one would tell me what was going on. They didn’t think I’d understand, because then I didn’t have any method of communicating. 

On to much lighter things! I’m going to an autism resource fair! For a future I thought I’d never survive to see! Wow, I’m really bad at changing the subject. Alright, let’s think about cats. And the color purple. Purple cats? 

I put on a purple shirt, one I’ve worn every other day for the past year. Wearing purple makes me happy—so why not be happy every single day? 

I brush my teeth and hair, put on deodorant and chapstick. With my poor motor skills, chapstick is about as good as it gets. Best to play it safe.

I’m all ready! I bounce up and down, read a few poems, and play quiet classical music while my dads are still asleep. 

Dad drives me to the fair when he wakes up. Dad points to a display board advertising a new initiative called “Hiring Neurodiversity.” “See, Tazu, this agency will help you get hired without an interview!” he says excitedly. 

“And how long will that job last once they find out I can’t talk?’

“You don’t know. Don’t assume the worst.” 

Just then, a tall, thin man walks up to us. He has blonde hair, hazel eyes, and a big blue “Autism Speaks” t-shirt with a puzzle piece logo. 

“Hello, sir,” he says to my dad. “Are you finding any helpful resources?’

“Yep, lots of great information,” Dad replies.

For an alternative definition of great. Most of this stuff is for newly diagnosed toddlers. Do they expect us to magically poof out of existence at age 18? 

“I’m so glad to hear that! My name is Jackson and I work for Autism Speaks. We’re working on fundraising and finding a prenatal test and cure for autism. We have a budget chart if you would like to see it. Now who’s this little girl?”

I take a glance at his budget chart. It seems like they make a lot of money, and only 4% of it goes to helping actual autistics. The rest go to research, which I assume means finding a way to wipe us out of the gene pool and preventing us from ever being born. Yeah, so much for Hitler being autistic. Might as well be named Auschwitz for Autism. How is autism “speaking” if you’re trying to eradicate the people who have it in the first place? 

“This is my daughter Tazu.”

“How nice! Can she hear us?”

“Yes,” I promptly reply. I am autistic, not deaf.

“Oh, she types. How… nice,” Jackson replies, looking displeased.

 “Anyhow, Tazu loves to write,” Dad says.

I share a nature poem I have recently wrote with Jackson. 

“You have a very talented child,” he says to Dad. “Autism Speaks is working on an anthology about autism and the strain it has on families. Would she like to write for us?”

Wow. I never dreamed this could happen. Somebody in the real world thinks I’m good and wants to publish my writing. Screw my first assumptions about this group. A eugenicist wouldn’t want to publish my writing. Sure, he has some questionable viewpoints, and he talks about me like I’m not there, but at least he’s offering me opportunities.

“YESYESYESYES!” I type. 

Jackson smiles. “A personal story would be great. Something that could reassure and inspire parents of kids with this devastating disorder.”

Wait… parents? Like my mom? I wanted to write for fellow autistic people, not the people who did what they did to me… this isn’t… this doesn’t really…

“She’s tired, isn’t she? I’ll send you an info packet about our next autism support meeting. I think it would be helpful for you both, especially Tazu who needs to understand what parents go through. It’s so hard when your child lacks empathy and love is a one-way street, isn’t it?” 

Wow. Now I REALLY hate him. I try to forget and instead see this as an opportunity to share my voice and combat what seems to be the COMPLETE LACK of actual autistic input in this organization. 

A bit later, Dad drives me to the ice cream place as he promised. “Whew, that was HOT!” he comments. “And the drive here was so long! I’m all worn out for the day.”

“We would have gotten here sooner if you didn’t blab on to EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU MET,” I type. “You’re like a dog sniffing the butts of other dogs.”

I smile. It doesn’t matter that the fair was hot and boring. It doesn’t matter how hurt I was by Jackson wanting to “cure” me of who I am. None of that matters. Because publish publish PUBLISH! 

I turn to my dad for a second. “It’s just—it was a little strange how that man was talking to you about me when I was right there. Also how he’s all into cure and prevention and stuff.”

“Yeah, I didn’t love that either,” he replies. It just felt a bit off.”

“But it’s not important. More important is that I COULD GET FLIPPING PUBLISHED!” 

Dad smiles. “I’m so happy for you too! But to be honest, the way that man talked worried me a bit. Like he didn’t see you as a full person. Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“I think I can handle it.” I reply.

“That’s good.” Dad checks his phone. “Hey, I just got an email from Jackson about the autism group. It’s in two weeks. Do you want to come?”

“Sure,” I say. “I’ve always wanted to meet some more of my fellow Autistics.” 

                                                  …..

I pace back and forth, the light shining brightly in my room. I can’t believe I’m going to an autism support group later today. What if they don’t like me? What if they want to get rid of me? But what if they’re really nice? I don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity!

It is 4:30 in the morning. I get up and wake my other dad up, whom I call Pop.

“Hi Taz! You’re up early. What’s up?’

“Hi, soft drink,” I playfully type.

“No, I’m Pop!”

“Hi, champagne. Icky!”

“Your dad and I love that you hate the taste of alcohol.”

“No, icky you!”

Careful, Taz. Insult me too much and I’ll have to disown you!’

My smile fades. The flashbacks from my old past come flurrying into my head, no matter how many times I try to get them out.

“Oh no, Tazu, not for real…” Pop says. “I only meant to tease you like you teased me. Not make you sad. I would never really… do that. Other teens say ‘I hate you’ to their dads. If ‘icky’ is the worst thing you call me, I think I’m good. Plus… you’ve smelled me after going to the gym. Given how stinky I get, I’m lucky YOU still love ME!”

I hug Pop tightly. Of course I will always love my crazy old Pop. 

I fall back asleep. At a fairly more reasonable time in the morning, I do my daily routine and prepare for the group. 

I walk into a large penthouse, filled with mostly adult parents who as far as I can tell are not autistic. Most don’t have kids with them. Some wear blue puzzle-piece t-shirts with slogans like “AUTISM SPEAKS: IT”S TIME TO LISTEN” and “MY CHILD IS PART OF THE EPIDEMIC BUT THE EPIDEMIC IS NOT PART OF MY CHILD!” I only see one kid, a blonde-haired little girl. 

“Ouch! Daddy, get it out! It hurts, it hurts!” the girl screams. 

“Cassandra, just suck it up. It’s just a tag. Don’t bother me,” her dad says. He’s wearing a shirt that says “VAXXED: SOUNDING THE ALARM FOR MY VACCINE INJURED CHILD.” I know how uncomfortable tags scratching against my back can feel. Non-autistics don’t seem to notice, but my dads have always been sensitive. I’d offer to help, but I don’t want to make a bad impression on the group. A young teenager, wearing a sweatshirt that says “Autistic pride worldwide,” escorts the girl to a small room, where I see a bunch of other kids.

Then, the support group starts, and I follow Dad to the group. 

“This group has been lifesaving for me,” the orange-haired mother of the young teenager exclaims with a smile. ‘It’s been a bit tough ever since my daughter first told me she might be autistic. She discovered it through Tumblr or something. We always thought of her as shy, introverted, maybe even a genius. We denied her diagnosis for a while, but she persisted! Now we’re looking for a professional evaluation.”

Another mom speaks up. “How wonderful! We’ve been helping prepare my son for adulthood. Just found out he has moderate to severe developmental delays in regards to self-care. I hadn’t noticed. I love this group too, though the negativity can sometimes overwhelm me, if I’m being honest.”

“I agree. So much focus on the cure and the missing piece of the puzzle. If you asked my daughter, she’d tell you that her autism is a culture, and only a disability because of society.”

My first impression was completely wrong. These supportive parents, listening to their children and their views on being autistic.

“We, um, appreciate your concerns,” Jackson replies. “However, our group is based in Autism Speaks’ mission statement, which is to find treatment, prevention and a possible cure for autism. Also, autism can be soul-crushingly devastating at times, and it’s important not to whitewash it. However, we understand how it is so easy for those of us with… higher-functioning kiddos to forget what it’s like for other parents.”

“Oh, yes, I suppose that’s true,” the second mother says. “Anyways, our son just had a neuropsych and was diagnosed with moderate to severe developmental delays. His motor skills… his disorganization… his ability to do chores… I always thought that he just couldn’t care less about learning to drive, but now there are cognitive problems holding him back!”

I consider this for a moment, then type to give my insights. “Well, when you’re autistic, development is not linear. For example, some people think I can’t understand them because of my ability to speak.” I glance at Jackson for a second giving him an evil eye. “But I’m rather deep thinker and have good cognitive abilities. Dad has tried teaching me how to drive a car, and it usually ends in confusion and sensory overload. So a smart boy who struggles with household tasks is totally normal for autism.”

The two parents nod appreciatively, while the other parents in the group scoff at me. One man turns to his wife and whispers “I don’t believe she really has severe autism. She’s nothing like my child.” 

“Tazu, you’re here to listen, not comment,” Jackson scoffs, then turns to the group and says “self-absorption is a symptom of autism. This is why we must fundraise for a cure.” 

“Anyways, how have everyone’s weeks been?” Jackson redirects the conversation.

“Mine was awesome! My daughter said her first word! Just like a normal child,” one dad says.

“That’s great!” Jackson replies. “She is on her way to functioning like a child without autism.” 

“Horrible. Cassandra made another mess. Paints all over,” the dad of the little girl with the itchy tag says. 

“My daughter used to do that. She said she was going to be an artist. I just told her that if she makes a mess, she cleans it up! I had the most lovely artwork, though,” the mother of the teen girl says.

“Well, you have a very high functioning daughter,” Cassandra’s dad says. “Cassandra’s results could never be called art. It’s just a mess. Cassandra is low functioning. She’ll never fit into society. We’ve been implementing behavioral interventions but I really don’t see the benefits. All the shrieking! And the bizarre motions with her hands! At this point, sure, I don’t expect total compliance, but at this point I’m fed up. This intensive therapy is just not working. I want my money back.” He sighs. “All this because of a measles vaccine.”

I shudder. Intensive therapy….

Four years ago….

Torture. Torment. Terror. Treachery. Nope, when you’re autistic, it’s just treatment. And that’s what I was subjected to, for forty hours a week. A therapist would come over and do drills with me, 6 hours a day, every day. “Touch green.” “Look at me.” “Say ‘I love you’ now.”  “Good girl.” “Do what I say or you’re a bad girl.” “Let’s see if you’ll behave.” 

I didn’t know it then, but there was a word for this: ABA-based behavioral therapy, with aversives, the only scientifically proven treatment for kids like me.

“You need to look at me, Tazu,” the tall, intimidating, slightly overweight therapist Becca, says. Oh no, not this again, I can’t do it. It hurts too much. 

“Do as I say or you’re a bad girl.”

 I immediately look up. It immediately sends my thoughts scattered in a million directions, and it’s almost as if she can read into my soul. My eyes start watering and burning and I can hardly focus. Spears of hot pain rush through my eyes and and and

I look away and start rocking back and forth to calm myself. 

“BAD GIRL!” Becca yells at me, and spanks me. She reaches for her bottle and sprays vinegar into my mouth. I am miserable, but I can’t resist. Being a “bad girl” will only make it worse. 

                                                       …..

Intensive therapy. Behavioral intervention. Total compliance.

That’s what Cassandra’s dad wants done to her. The same kind of nightmare I lived. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. 

I can hear Dad’s voice. “Tazu! Tazu, look at me!”

“EYE!” I shout. “No eyes,” Dad says. “No eye contact. Just Dad. You’re with me now. You’re safe.” I hug him tightly. He’s right. Aversive therapy is in the past. If a therapist ever hurt me, my dads would fire them. No more forced eye contact. No more punishments. I’m safe.

“Can you smell my shampoo?” Dad asks.

I reach for my phone. “I also smell your B.O,” I type. 

I hear the voice of the orange-haired mother. “Maybe you guys would like to step out, go to the kids’ room for a minute?”

“I’m fine,” I say. “Jackson said I’m supposed to be, um, learning what parents go through. I can’t do that in the kids’ room.” 

I begin rocking back and forth to put out the internal fire happening in my head.

“That’s the same thing that Cassandra does! Her father lets her do it in public? Negligent! She’ll never go anywhere if she acts this strangely,” Cassandra’s dad says. 

Dad sighs. “Tazu, you might not need a break, but I definitely do. Will you come with me?” 

I nod and follow him to the kids’ room. I can hear Cassandra’s dad in the background. “I don’t know how that man puts up with that daughter,” he says. “If I had a child who didn’t talk and acted like that…”

“That went much worse than I was expecting,” Dad says. “Some of those parents were so judgmental about their kids. I’m so sorry I exposed you to that.”

Just then, the young teenager with the “Autistic Pride” shirt comes up to me. “My name is Stella. What’s your name?”

I reach for my keyboard. “My name is Tazu. I’m 16 years old.”

“Really?” she asks. “You’re so small! I read that anxiety can cause stunted growth in girls. That study wasn’t specific though. It only said ‘girls.’ Like do trans girls count? What about trans guys and non-binary folks? Is it based on gender identity or sex assigned at birth? They really should have specified.”

“Yeah, they should have,” I agree. As a pansexual cis girl, I also dislike cisnormativity. 

“Yeah,” Stella says. “Wait, what were we talking about before?”

“We were discussing the mystery of why I am tiny,” I type.

“Well whatever you are, tiny is cute!”

I blush. “Thank you,” I reply. 

And then a little girl gallops into the room. She has messy blonde hair and blue eyes. She looks about 7 years old, 8 maybe. “I’m Cassandra! Or Casey if you forget.”

“Nice to meet you! This is Tazu, and I’m her dad,” Dad says.

Casey wiggles anxiously. “Are you friends with my dad?”

Not in a million years, Dad silently mouths to me. “No.” 

Casey relaxes. “Why didn’t you stop Tazu from wiggling?”

“Because I think people can wiggle if they want to,” says Dad.

“Wow,” Casey says admiringly. “You’re awesome. Tazu, I got an idea. Can you abobt me too?”

“Do you mean ADOPT you?” Dad says.

“Yeah! Dad wouldn’t mind. He wants to send me away. He thinks I’m annoying. He thinks I’m, um, hurt by a vaccine or something.”

Just then, her dad comes in. “Cassandra! There you are! Sorry about my daughter. She has no sense of boundaries.”

“Oh, okay. Well, see you next week for the next meeting?” Casey asks. 

Yes, it was a bad meeting. Yes, it triggered me. But I can’t help myself. This little girl, mistreated by her father… I can almost see my past self in her.

“Of course I will see you next week,” I say. “We are friends now.”

DAD POV

Casey reluctantly trudges back to her dad’s car as I stare in shock.

Tazu just agreed to go to another meeting.

To return to the place that set her off.

To expose herself to people who could remind her of her past.

How can I protect her? How can I protect her from the PTSD, the nightmares, the distrust of anyone around her?

It took so long to get her to trust us. I don’t want to risk that progress. I take a deep breath. Maybe I’m just being an overprotective father. “Tazu, I get that you feel bad for Casey, but I want you to think about yourself too. You screamed at that meeting. It looked like you had a flashback.”

Tazu nods her head. She gets it.

TAZU POV

“I understand,” I type. “Casey’s dad is a jerk, so is that other man, and Jackson didn’t stop them. Plus the fact he thinks autism was caused by vaccines—if I ran a group that alone would be a reason to expel someone. But that’s why we SHOULD be there. To give that girl a bit of light in her life.” 

This is a dilemma. A conundrum.

I like that word, conundrum. If I could talk, which I can’t, I would say the word out loud over and over, just to taste the crispiness of it. 

Jackson walks over. “Hello! Now I know Tazu had unreasonable behavior at the meeting, but I hope she’ll come to next week’s.  It’s good for her to think about her audience and not let her low-functioning autism get in the way.” 

I nod. This seems to make Jackson happy. 

Just then, Stella’s mom enters the room. “So sorry about that meeting,” she says. “That man has an attitude problem. Do you want to come to the beach with us? We’ll be talking about boring grownup stuff like mortgages and parenting, but our daughter Stella will be there.”

I nod. 

I am at the beach with Stella and her best friend, Jeffery, who is also autistic. We have a nice conversation about art, the world, movies, and cat videos, which Stella loves.

Stella and Jeffery are very cute. Especially—especially Stella. I have been noticing… things. “Are you a couple?” I ask. They both start laughing maniacally. “Boys aren’t my type,” Stella says. “And gay girls aren’t my type,” says Jeffery. “We’re best friends.” 

I switch the subject, embarrassed. “Anyways, Jackson from Autism Speaks asked me to contribute an essay—”

Stella and Jeffery exchange a concerned glance at each other.

Later, I work up the nerve to ask Stella out. A grin spreads across her face and she starts rocking excitedly. I assume that’s a yes. A big silence surrounds us until she finally says “I could tell when I first met you that you… swing that way. I may be socially delayed, but I have a very fine-tuned gaydar.”

I laugh. 

A few days later:

Me and Pop walk into a large office, with blue puzzle pieces all over it. Jackson is right there, wanting to discuss my opportunities.

“I’m so glad you guys could make it here,” he says. We discuss the essay. I’m getting paid a lot! “Besides the essay, I’d like to offer you two amazing opportunities. One, my coworker is making a documentary about autism and its effect on families. She invited you to speak for it. Two, a reality TV show would like to interview you.”

“YES YES YES YES YES!” I type. I’m going to be TV famous! Hooray!

“Glad to hear it,” Jackson says. “Your name will bring us so much publicity.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

Hi guys, thanks for reading! I wanted to include a little guide for how to best interact with autistics. Yes, I am Autistic myself, though verbal. 

  1. Respectful language: Most autistic people prefer using “identity first” language (“autistic people” or “autistics”), rather than “people with autism.” This is because autism is integral to our identities and isn’t a disease that can be separate from us. As well, we prefer not to use terms like “suffering” or “struggling” with autism because it’s just who we are, not a burden. As you read the story, pay attention to who uses what language.
  2. Charities: Organizations like Autism Speaks have been criticized for lack of autistic input and negativity. Instead, support organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the National Autistic Society, or the Autism Women’s And Nonbinary Network. Some red flags for a bad charity are: the use of puzzle pieces or the color blue, promotion of a cure, lack of autistic board members, and promotion of abusive or damaging “autism conversion therapies” such as the behavioral treatment Tazu was subjected to. In part two, you will see an example of a good charity.
  3. Help us out socially, but respect our boundaries and don’t force us to socialize. (Yes, disabled people have boundaries too). 
  4. Let us flap, bounce, rock, etc. This is called stimming and it is actually organizing for autistic brains. As well, don’t force us to make eye contact.
  5. Eliminate the word “retarded” from your vocabulary and don’t use “autistic” as an insult.
  6. Always assume that we’re capable: If someone can’t speak, talk to them anyway. Chances are, they’re just as bright as Tazu.
  7. Amplify the voices of actual autistic people.

My Silent Resistance PART 2: 

Pop takes me to a small office to be interviewed for the documentary. I’m so excited! Ready to change the world, influence the national conversation about autism, spread the word to make sure that what happened to me and the abuse Casey is living through doesn’t happen again. I want to save all my fellow autistics, or at least make a difference to some of them. I know it can’t happen in a day, but at least this interview is a good step. It’s support group day today, and I’m thrilled about missing this one, though I was hoping to see Casey again. Jackson gives me a blue puzzle piece shirt to borrow for the interview.

I wait for what feels like an hour, maybe two. I’m so bored! I hide behind a plant and rub my hands against it. I throw off the Autism Speaks shirt. Writing for this company is okay, but I don’t think it quite deserves me publicly advertising it. Just then, a young woman, wearing an Autism Speaks shirt, walks up to me. “Hello, Tazu,” she says in a coo-like voice, as if she’s talking to a puppy. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” 

“Sure, ask away,” I say. 

“When did you learn that you had autism?” she asks. 

“Um, I kinda always knew. I mean, it was kinda obvious. My parents thought I couldn’t hear them, so they talked about it all the time in front of me and how much of a burden it was. They whispered ‘autism’ like it was a dirty word. I was diagnosed early, I think?”

“And how do your parents feel about it?” she asks.

Dads. Focus on dads. “My dads love me for my true authentic autistic self.  They try to accommodate me the best as possible. They take me to respectful therapies that don’t try to change who I am, but make my life easier as an autistic person. The therapies they take me to help maximize me rather than normalize me. Trauma and fear still get in the way sometimes, and I still have occasional meltdowns, but with their support and love, I’ve grown into a somewhat well-accomplished autistic person.” 

Not well-accomplished enough to be able to hold a job outside of an autism organization, though, or even hold myself together in a job that is in one. Not well-accomplished enough to get over the fear, the pain, the flashbacks, the inner ghosts from my old life. 

I sigh. Probably won’t share that with the interviewer. The stereotype is that autistic people have no feelings besides desperation and self-hatred, and I don’t want to give way to that stereotype. 

“Um, we use Person First language here. You’re not ‘autistic’, you’re a person WITH autism. Anyways… what about your REAL parents?”

My… “real” parents….

When I was little, my parents never bothered to teach me to communicate. I was always trying to please them, but it never worked. They never talked to me, but in my dealings with them (or perhaps as they would put it, their dealings with me) I discovered three things.

1. That my parents didn’t like me. They spoke of having another child, a “normal” one, to alleviate their suffering, but also expressed concern that the next kid would also “turn out wrong” (i.e, autistic.) When they did have another kid, they quickly changed their mind and aborted the baby because “imagine how hard her life would be, growing up with a sister like that!”  Whether I got a sibling or not, the point was this: In their eyes, I was a Worst-Case-Scenario, a Tragic Outcome, a Defective Factory Product, a baby they’d have aborted if they only knew what it would become. I was a failure.

2. The reason why I was a Failure, a Not-Quite-Human-Person, and not “normal” like the people I looked up to, was because I “had autism.” No one ever talked directly to me about this (“she’s too incompetent to understand her affliction”) but my parents spit it out in front of me like it was a dirty word.

 “All this because of.. autism.”
 

“You really should go easier on Tazu. Her defectivity, her…. autism.. she’s not the one who cursed us with it. It was Jesus. Jesus Christ wronged us and made our life hell… made our daughter hell.”

 “Autism prevents my daughter from ever being fully lovable and us from ever gaining our sanity. Why do all these self-righteous social justice warriors tell us it’s a gift, a ‘neurodiversity’, a hidden joy? There is no joy in this child.” 

“I want out of this… autism. I want out of this monster. I want out of this child”. 

I never really knew what “autism” meant, but all I knew was that I had it, it was a monster, and therefore I was a monster, could never be lovable, was a curse from Jesus. When I really came to understand myself was when I later discovered the autistic community online, who were probably the “self-righteous social justice warriors” my parents tried to shield me from. Before I met them I saw the world in two groups: Failures and Normals. When I found this community, my world was changed- more than changed. A whole new world, populated by people like me. (Some of them also said that Autism Speaks was a hate group, and I’m starting to see that from my time here, but… who cares? Probably just a vocal minority). To my parents however, autism was far from a culture. I learned that if I stopped having autism, Mommy and Daddy would like me, and I’d stop being a Failure. I’d become a sacred Normal, like Mommy and Daddy and Becca were. 

3. Because I had autism and was a Failure, I was never safe. Therapists would scream and pin me down and lock me in the dark, all in the name of compliance training, applied behavior analysis (ABA), hard work, “tough love.” People say ABA is like dog training for kids… I couldn’t disagree more. No reasonable dog trainer would treat a dog that way. My mom tortured me too at the therapist’s recommendation. My dad was the more sympathetic one. He was the one who made the comment about autism not being my fault but being Jesus’s fault instead when my mom yelled about how much I had robbed her of. (He was a very devout Christian who also happened to believe being gay was a sin). He was the one who called the police when it happened so I wouldn’t die. He didn’t hurt me or anything, didn’t abuse me, didn’t hit or punish me. He always said “I love the child but hate the autism” while my mom was more like “hate the child because of the autism.” But for all the abuse it caused me, being on the spectrum with parents like mine gave me a unique (dis)advantage.

Non-autistics are always so discreet. There’s a meme I saw on the Internet: a smiling zombie going look at me I’m a neurotypical, I give weird hints about things instead of just telling people! So much confusion, so much fuss over not being rude or offending people, and it’s like, just tell me already! But because my parents assumed I couldn’t understand them, and they hated me so much that they had every intention of being rude to me, they said exactly what they thought of me right to my face. They gave me suggestions for how to make them like me, and I didn’t even have to ask: don’t be so loud, stop those bizarre motions with your hands, start speaking, make eye contact. Because of this direct advice, I lived to appease them: but it never worked. 

My.. real parents….

I want to speak. About my experiences with abuse and self-hatred, about the trauma that came along with living with parents who hated me and my brain, even about it. But something in this woman tells me it’s not safe. I want to speak so badly. Want to resist, but I can only resist through actions, not words. And if my resistance is silent, it’s pretty much useless, right? 

I kick my leg up. “NOOOOOO!” I scream. The fire starts up in my brain again. I’m so ashamed. I’m having a meltdown—on live TV! 

I can hear the interviewer saying “Defiance is a symptom of autism. Individuals afflicted with the condition may have tantrums for no reason. You can see how this must feel for parents.”

How this must feel for parents…. how would my mom feel?

 i hate her i hate her she’s ruining my life

gotta get rid of her we must get rid of her now

burden strain crisis epidemic 

I start crying, then bang my head against the wall as hard as I can to make the pain more physical than emotional (in the background, the interviewer says, “self-injurious behavior is a symptom of autism”). I type “TURN OFF CAMERAS” mid-meltdown, but she doesn’t listen. 

I’ve just proven myself unworthy of dignity. The public is going to see my meltdown and think that’s what autistics look like, all we’re capable of. I’ve let down the community I promised to serve.

To avoid further humiliation, I dash out of the building. (I’m preparing for the interviewer to say, “elopement is a symptom of autism” any minute now.) I text Pop to come get me, and tell him about the interview and what a disaster it was. He texts back, “I’m sorry to hear about what a PITA that woman was. Can you hold on for a few minutes? Still at the support group. Parents are being PITAs there too. I was just about to call them out on it and give an angry speech on how au-some we are before you texted!” (PITA is text talk for pain in the ass). He texts again, “Love you my fellow Autie. Stay strong. I should be there in another hour or so.” (Pop is also on the spectrum, though verbal and neurotypical-passing).

“See you in an hour, champaign!” I text back, completely recovered from the meltdown. 

That gives me an hour to hang out with Jeffrey and Stella. I text them and they meet me next to the Autism Speaks building. 

I tell them about the interview, how annoying that woman was, how she publicly humiliated me and it’s going on a documentary. “Utterly disgusting,” Stella types. “Has she ever even met an autistic person, or is she just going off Autism Doesn’t Speak For Sh*t and a whiny parents complaining group chat?”

We all laugh. 

I start questioning myself. This is the only organization that’s been actively criticized by the people they claim to support. No one says the Cancer Foundation doesn’t speak for them, or the NAACP is a racist hate group. It’s not even just that it’s focused on parents either—no LGBTQ person says Parents and Families of Lesbians And Gays doesn’t speak for them either. If Autism Speaks is so bad, why am I working for them? Because I’m pathetic and can’t survive in any other jobs? Which matters more—selfish survival or giving back to my people, my community? The community that taught me not to hate myself, that helped me realize that I actually was a person worthy of respect, not a Worst-Case-Scenario or Defective Factory Product, the community that raised me since the day my dads took me in—is that really worth losing for a so-called “job” where I won’t even be listened to? 

We go out for ice cream. I try an oddly satisfying new flavor-maple with pieces of bacon in it. We have a nice conversation, and Stella and I plan our date. 

We return to the building, and Pop is there waiting for me, along with Stella’s mom and Jeffrey’s mom. 

“Hey guys!”, Pop says. “Stella’s mom was just telling us about an autism positivity group they go every week and thought you guys might want to tag along. It starts in two hours.”

“I guess it sounds fun,” I type. “I’m a bit skeptical of autism groups now though.”

“Don’t worry,” Stella says. “It’s a different kind of group… a better one. The moderator is autistic along with everyone else. People are free to be and move as they want. There are even free fidget toys! And NOBODY treats us as subnormal, like we’re foreign creatures. No negativity. I promise!” 

“There’s a parent group too,” Stella’s mom says.

“I’m not a big fan of those,” Pop says.

“Ours is different. Mostly autistic parents with autistic kids. No negativity there either. And I can assure you, they’re very dedicated to speaking out against Autism Speaks.”

“I don’t know about it. What do you think, Tazu?”

I consider it for a while. “Sounds AU-some!” I finally type. “Let’s go!”

A few hours later

We walk into a huge, loud building with lots of people. A woman hands me, Stella, Jeffery, and our parents tiny pamphlets. “Welcome to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network!” she says. “Our goal is to empower, accept, embrace, support, and give resources to autistics worldwide. So, are you guys here for the support groups?”

Stella and her mom were right. This seems like a much better type of group already. There is a box of fidget toys, many kids and adults of all ages bouncing and flapping freely, everyone is wearing shirts and pins like “AU-TASTIC” and “GOD CREATED AUTISM TO DECREASE THE ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER OF BORING PEOPLE ON THIS EARTH,” and there are posters on the wall like “you are welcome here,” and “your brain is not broken.” That noise though! I cover my ears, and the chaotic drilling in my eardrums softens. (It’s not as loud as the Autism Speaks penthouse though. Why is it even called a penthouse? Just sounds like rich people apartments to me. Then again, rich people apartments sounds like an oxymoron.)

“There are noise cancelling headphones in the back if you need them,” the woman calls out. “We try to keep ASAN as sensory-friendly as possible. So sorry about all the noise.”

I get my headphones. The woman escorts us and our parents to our support groups. As I’m following her, I notice a huge drawing. On the top of it, it says, “NeuroQueer: Supporting transgender and gender nonconforming autistic people since the beginning of time.” A thousand people have drawn photos of themselves. 

Transgender Bathroom Policy

Transgender individuals should be able to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, or the bathroom that they are most comfortable using. Many states have policies that a person should use a private facility that matches their biological sex. Many people are uncomfortable with that, and that doesn’t just include transgender individuals.

People who are transgender identify differently than what their biological sex is, and may feel comfortable in using the bathroom that people of their gender identity go to. There is a big difference between biological sex and gender identity. Biological sex is the assigned sex a person was given at birth, and gender identity can correlate with assigned sex at birth, or can differ from it. Numerous transgender students feel discriminated against or self-conscious using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Title IX of the 1965 Civil Rights Act protects transgender people from discrimination because of their sex in schools. It states, “No person in the U.S will be discriminated against because of their sex in an education program.” This applies to when a transgender person goes to a bathroom of their gender identity and people discriminate against them because their sex does not match their gender identity. Therefore, it is illegal to discriminate against transgender people and impose what bathrrom they should go to. 

When there is a policy that all people should go to restrooms that are made for people’s sex at birth, people who are not transgender may feel uncomfortable with a transgender person in the bathroom because they look like the gender they identify as. A person should be comfortable in the bathroom that helps them fit in with people who have the same gender identity as them, even if the transgender person doesn’t totally look like the gender they’re transitioning to yet. Using appropriate bathrooms helps an individual with transitioning. A scientific study was taken by Jody L. Herman, the Williams Institute Manager of Transgender Research, and it was found that 70% of transgender and gender noncomforming respondents experienced issues in gender-specific restrooms in Washington, D.C., with people of color and people who have not medically transitioned yet often faring worse than others. 54% of people reported health effects from trying to avoid public bathrooms such as dehydration, kidney infections, and urinary tract infections. In Doe v. Regional School Unit, the Maine Supreme Court held that a transgender girl had a right to use the women’s restroom at school because her psychological well-being and education depended on her transition. The school, which had denied her access to use the women’s restroom, had treated her differently than other students solely because she was a transgender girl. Discrimination lowers a transgender person’s well-being and health, which affects their self-esteem.

Other than gender-specific bathrooms, there are gender-neutral bathrooms; in other words, unisex. Usually, gender-neutral bathrooms are for any gender and are also beneficial for someone of one gender to help someone with a disability who is a different gender. Nonbinary/gender nonconforming people may feel comfortable using a unisex bathroom, so they don’t feel uncomfortable or face discrimination. Although, not all places have a gender-neutral bathroom, which is problematic for many people. If a state doesn’t allow transgender people to use the bathrooms that align with their gender identity, and that person feels uncomfortable going to the bathroom that includes people of their biological sex, they may be able to use a gender-neutral bathroom. Overall, gender-neutral bathrooms are beneficial for many different people.

It may take a while for all states to allow transgender people to go into the bathroom of their choice, but with enough education on the topic, people’s thoughts may change. The issue that transgender people are discriminated against for using the bathrooms of their gender identity is a worldwide crisis and is a big problem in the world.

Works Cited :

Davis, Masen. “Transgender People Need Safe Restrooms.” HuffPost, 24 June 2019, www.huffpost.com/entry/transgender-people-need-safe-restrooms_b_3492067

Ehrenhalt, Jay. “Trans Rights and Bathroom Access Laws: A History Explained.” Teaching Tolerance, 16 October 2018, https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/transgender-bathroom-laws-history

Sentenced

I open my eyes. Fluorescent lights above, voices chattering, desks scraping. I sit on a hard wooden seat while a tall figure looms over me. It waits until the talking ceases, the tables settle, and then it speaks. A low, gravelly voice, sending chills up and down my spine. The voice is shrouded by itself, but not unintelligible. 

“Where is your paper, Wilson?” Here he pauses, and it seems like my math teacher is rising in size. “Taylor? Davis?” 

The kids next to me, also jammed in desks, seem to shrink in their seats as the monster turns to each of us. All the other students have left, leaving three of their peers to face the wrath of this beast. I wonder about those other students. They’ll be at recess now, laughing, playing, knowing that they’re not in trouble and they won’t suffer in the least. I remember when I was one of those kids. Bouncing carefreely out the door, straight As, never in trouble. Of course, that doesn’t appeal to me now. Ever since–

“I announced it three times yesterday,” the voice jolts me back. With a whimper, the kid on my right, Jordan Davis, begins to speak, but is silenced by the creature’s next words. “Three times, Davis. Close your mouth.” The figure turns away in disgust. “You will see me after school. Three thirty. Do. Not. Be. Late.” His words, though not loud, leave our ears ringing as we murmur our consent, rise from our seats, and quietly file out of the room. 

“Bro, Grossman’s a beast!” Prince Taylor, my best friend, says. 

“Yeah man, you don’t mess with the Grossmonster,” I say, punching him back lightly on the shoulder. “I thought Jordie was gonna pee himself!” Prince cracks up, playfully nudging our timid friend on the shoulder. 

“Yeah, yeah.” Jordie’s pale skin flushes, and he brushes his blond hair out of his earth-colored eyes. He used to be a teacher’s pet, but hasn’t fully conformed to our system. 

“Man, you need a haircut!” I say, grinning. 

The kid’s eyes roll again. “At least I don’t look like some military-school dropout!” 

We all laugh at this. Before my mom got depressed, she tried to send me to some hardcore “Academy for Troubled Teens” or something. Prior to leaving, she shaved my head, but then she couldn’t make me leave the house after that. My hair is still growing back, leaving me looking like a small, hazel-eyed Justin Timberlake.  

“After all that trouble, I don’t think I want to endure the lunch monitor screaming at me for no apparent reason,” I say, smirking. “Wanna skip?” 

“Sorry, man, we got English next period, and you know Mrs. Jones calls parents,” Jordie says, and Prince nods.

 “Alright, see you in detention.” I stroll down the hall nonchalantly towards the back entrance of M.S. 13. 

Suddenly, someone comes out of the classroom on my left so quickly that I have no time to react. She plows into me, knocking me to the floor. 

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” I look up from my spot on the floor to see a girl with long, black hair and deep, olive eyes. She’s wearing faded jeans, orange Converse, and a Penn State sweatshirt. “Are you okay?” 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say, embarrassed, hurrying to my feet. I try to step past her outside, but she moves, blocking my only way out. 

“Where are you going?” she asks me suspiciously. 

“I, uh, think I left my water bottle outside.” For some reason, I’m thrown off by this girl’s sharpness. Mostly, the hall monitors let me pass, but she’s different. 

“I think you’re lying.” She says this definitively, no doubts about her statement. 

Relax, D. I think. She’s just another seventh-grade student who probably won’t care too much if I sneak off. After all, it doesn’t affect her in the least. Why should she worry? 

Offering her a lazy smile, I begin to continue past her down the hallway. 

As I’m about to open the door, I hear a whisper. 

“If you do that, I’ll tell Mrs. Jones,” The girl stage-whispers, turning the heads of some students working on laptops in the hallway. 

I sigh. There’s no reason to argue with this girl. What’s the point? I would just get in more trouble. 

D, maybe there’s no point in skipping. You’re broke and will get caught by the security guard anyway. There’s nothing to do without Jordie and Prince, so lay off it. 

I cast the girl a glare, and march off towards the cafeteria. 

******************************************************************************

“Dude, we thought you had chickened out on skipping or something!” Prince says. “So this girl stops you?”  

“That’s right, man,” I respond. We stop in front of Grossman’s classroom. Jordie knocks, and approximately fifteen slow seconds tick by until the daunting man opens his door. He grins, and leads us to three desks in the middle of the room. “You will sit here in silence for half an hour. If one of you talks, ten minutes will be added to your sentence.” 

Sentence. The last time I heard that word was in a courtroom. My dad stood in the middle, head bowed, hands shackled behind his back. The judge banged his gavel. “Mr. Wilson, you have been sentenced to four years in federal prison for breaking and entering, theft, and the injury of other citizens.” 

Next to me, my mother burst into tears. “Why, Frank, why?” I heard her mumble through her grief. My father’s lawyer, Bill, turned to me. He looked angry. He opened his mouth to speak, but what comes out is Mr. Grossman’s voice. 

“Wilson, if you want to stay, by all means, be my guest. Your friends would be disappointed though, I’m sure.” 

I jerk awake, and look up to see my evil teacher towering above me. I grab my bag and race out the door as fast as my legs can carry me, beating my friends outside by ten whole seconds. We joke around for a couple minutes, but soon we have to go. 

As Jordie, Prince, and I part ways, I sit on a bench in front of the bus stop, staring down at the floor. I hate detention, but I hate my father even more for being in jail and doing all those stupid things. I dig around in my pocket for the unfinished math homework, checking the bus schedule as I pull it out. While I was stuck in detention, the bus came and went, so I have half an hour to wait. Shrugging and checking around for any classmates that may catch me doing work, I begin on the algebraic equations. They’re actually not that boring, and by the time the bus comes, I’m almost finished with the paper. Smiling to myself, I complete the last two problems on the short bus ride to my house. 

******************************************************************************

When I get home, I find Mom crashed on the couch, bottle of wine more than half empty next to her on the floor. Previous stains are located on other places of the old green rug that Dad gave to Mom when they got married. I don’t bother hiding them under old newspapers anymore, they’ve basically become a part of the shaggy piece of cloth. Mom’s still in her waitress uniform when I cover her with a blanket, the soft corners falling over her sleeping form. Her breath wafts up to me, the alcohol heavy, as I kiss my mother on her pale, overworked cheek. Turning away, I lug my schoolbag down the hallway to my room, not one thing out of place. Everything is tidy and neat, unlike the rest of the apartment. I fall asleep twisted in sheets that offer no comfort to my dreams that night.  

I’m standing in the middle of my math classroom. The Grossmonster is standing there with that annoying girl from the hallway. The teacher sneers. Your father’s in prison? Detention, see me at three thirty. I start to protest, and then I hear laughing. I turn around to find Adam and Jordie laughing their heads off. What happened? I cry out, and suddenly the whole school–Hannah from Biology, Toby from History, Alex from English–they’re all there, surrounding me, laughing their heads off. It’s maniacal laughter, their heads thrown back and fingers pointing. I look down at myself, and realize that I’m not wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants anymore. My outfit has changed drastically. I’m dressed in a gray jumpsuit, no pockets and a number tacked to my chest. The walls of the classroom begin to transform, forming a cell, but my classmates are with me, closing in…

I wake up covered in sweat and shaking. It was just a dream, I tell myself. I get up and shuffle around in complete darkness, my hand shaking as I grope around for my cell phone. It’s 5:24 AM, so I do what I always do after a nightmare–I search up my father’s case. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2010-–Marcus Wilson, with a history of federal offences and warnings, has finally been convicted of theft. The crime occurred earlier this year, when two armed, masked figures stormed a jewelry store and stole two diamond necklaces, one sapphire stone ring, and three pairs of pure gold earrings, three inches in length. One employee was injured in the process, receiving a broken wrist after being roughly shoved into a glass cabinet and falling to the floor. The other workers survived with minor injuries. Marcus Wilson and Anthony Johnson both pled guilty and were sentenced to four years in federal prison. Marcus has a wife and child, and Anthony has no family members that we were able to contact. The suspects and their families were not available for comment. 

I shut off my phone and walk to the living room, where my mother is watching the local news. 

“Morning, Mom,” I say, rubbing the last bits of sleep from my eyes. “You’re feeling better?” 

She gives me a watery smile. “I love you, Dashiell. You are your father’s son…”  Her half-lidded eyes return to the TV, and I nod to please her, now pondering the thought of what my dad was like as a young man. When he wasn’t involved with drugs, gangs, crime… I plop down next to her and put my head in my hands, unable to get the thoughts about my father out of my head.

“Hey Mom, how long has it been since we’ve visited Dad?” I know the answer. The last time we visited, I got really angry at him. We got into a yelling fight, and the visit was canceled early. It’s been over nine months. 

“Honey, I don’t know. Sometimes things go by in a blur, or they drag out slowly…” Her words are beginning to slur, so I take the bottle of wine from her hand and set it aside. We watch TV until I realize I’m going to be late for school. 

“Bye, Mom!” I shove last night’s paper into my schoolbag and run to catch the bus. 

I decide that after school, I’m going to do something that I haven’t done in nine months.

******************************************************************************

I square my shoulders and walk into my dad’s temporary home. The guards pat me down, I sign some papers, and since I’m thirteen, I don’t need a parent or guardian here with me. The big security guy leads me through the familiar hallways, down the metal stairs, and into the basement, where Block C is located. We pass a couple doors, I read the numbers. J-9873. M-4277. O-3858.  I wonder how all these men got here. What did they do? Do they have families that visit, or do they just waste away in their cells for fifteen years? Are they actually guilty, or were they framed for a crime? I realize all the questions and words buzzing around in my head are making my hands sweat and my mouth dry. I lick my lips and take a deep breath. We stop outside a door that reads W-8309. I know that number very, very well. 

“Wilson, you got a visitor!” The guard yells at the door. I can hear shuffling inside the cell, and there’s an awkward silence. 

“He’s being pretty good. He could be out soon.” The guard continues. I nod, and then two hands are placed gently through the gap in the middle of the door. I stare at my dad’s hands. They look pretty normal, no scabs or scratches. That’s good, I tell myself reassuringly. The guard cuffs Dad’s hands quickly, expertly, and they withdraw. The door is opened. 

My father stands, head down, hands cuffed in front of me. He’s wearing a gray jumpsuit like the one I had in my dream. My father raises his head, and I look him in the eye for the first time in months. His face is hollowed and gaunt, his eyes sunken and his cheekbones quite prominent. 

“Dad?” I ask, my eyes already filling with tears. He’s unable to speak, I see his eyes light up with shock and sadness, and I can’t help but rush to him, hugging, loving, wanting. We stay like that for a long time, until I pull away. 

“You’ve grown so much, Dashiell. I haven’t seen you for such a long time…” He says, voice hoarse. His shaggy brown hair falls into his face, and he wipes it away, along with a stray tear. 

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. 

He looks at me for the longest time. Finally he whispers, “There’s nothing to be sorry for, Dashiell. I should never have gotten involved with Anthony and those guys. I’m sorry for being hard on you. Will you forgive me?” 

Without hesitation, I hug him again. “Yes, yes, yes,” I say. We end up moving to a table inside my father’s cell. He asks about Mom, and I tell him she’s a bit of a mess. He gets up, takes something from under his pillows, and returns. He gives it to me. I examine the bundle. It’s a stack of letters, bound by a piece of twine. 

“I wrote these to your mother,” Dad says softly. “I’ve decided to work on the better me. When I get out of here, I won’t look at the gangs and my old buddies again. I’m going to be a new man, Dashiell. A new man.” He seems delighted with himself, so I smile as well. We chat for a little more, and of course we reach the inevitable subject–school. I spill everything; skipping school, the trouble my friends have got into. When the guard signals that our two hours are almost up, my father takes my hand. 

Looking me in the eye, he says, “Son, you may not be the most well behaved kid at school. Actually, it sounds like you and your buddies are the troublemakers. And it sounds cool at the time, but you’ll start getting into serious trouble. You’re definitely going to regret what you did, and there’ll be consequences. That’s exactly what happened to me, and I beg you not to go down that path. Please, son, choose what’s right and be the better person. Stay away from people who lead you down a dangerous path. Remember, I love you, and your mother loves you too, so please avoid situations that are.” 

He squeezes my hand, and the guard escorts me out of the room. As the door closes, I wave and say just loud enough for him to hear; “I love you too, Dad.”

******************************************************************************

Epilogue

When D got home, his mom was snoozing on the couch. He gently shook her awake.
“Hey, Mom. I… visited Dad today.” Feeling tired, he left the letters next to her bottle of Bud Light and retired to his room early. When he woke up and strolled down the hall the next day, the smell of eggs and bacon reached his nose. Rubbing his eyes hard, D saw his mother making breakfast in the kitchen, a pile of open letters on the counter. As he got closer, he saw the letters contained his dad’s handwriting. 

“How much bacon, D?” his mother asked. 

D went back to school that day. He walked in with Katie and a smile on his face. Looking the feared math teacher in the eye, he held out a neat, fully completed homework assignment. When Prince started making cat noises during the lesson, D didn’t join in. Jordie and Prince came up to him later that day.

“What’s up with you, man?” Jordie looked concerned, but Prince had a menacing look on his face as he stood defiantly behind Jordie, arms crossed. 

  “I… don’t want to do this anymore. I’m sick of playing around, getting in trouble, and never taking anything seriously. We’ll get into bigger trouble, you know.” 

Both his friends’ expressions hardened. 

“I thought we were real friends, Dashiell,” Prince spat at him. They walked away, wanting nothing to do with him anymore. 

It was sad to watch his old friends ignore him, but Dashiell started hanging out with other kids after that, grades improving as well as his various relationships. 

 A few months after D’s visit, his father went on trial for the last time and the judge let him go. D’s life was finally piecing back together, especially since his father came back. 


The Flower of Night

A sustained shriek rips through the raven-dark air. A young boy emerges from a building, his eyes alight with fear. He takes a step into the night, slowly at first, and then sprints. He reaches the opposite sidewalk and disappears into another building. 

Shoes. Thousands of shoes. In every color, shape, and size. Here, near the street lamp, there’s a pair of black leather pumps, stomping up and down in a frenzy. Across the block, a pair of well-worn, mud-caked hiking shoes performs a tapdance. Over there, down by the red brick townhouse is a collection of neon sneakers. All of them dance around this angry Sun-on-Earth. It cackles and dances and glints. It plays and spreads and reaps the block of its population. 

A young woman clutches her shawl, tears wetting the soft cloth. She is the source of the scream. Her mouth is open, her sound lighting the thousands of ears grouped around the fearsome fire. 

A man in a navy-blue pinstripe suit holds onto his briefcase for his life. His daughter is gone. His watch shines with the reflection. She’s disappeared into the mass, yet to appear. Which mass?

The people scream, but the young boy is deaf. All he knows is that his mother descended into the street thirty minutes ago and he hasn’t had dinner yet. He treads to the floor-length window and screeches a sound he cannot hear.

They lick the street and eat the sidewalk without a moment of consideration. Buildings are devoured in a matter of seconds. It advances. The brave knights who hold the hoses and those too desperate to try to salvage their own lives are the only ones who remain near this beast. It growls and laughs at the few helpless and stupid enough to tease it. It pounces and engulfs them. 

A second sun emerges. It tears the sky heavy with tears into a dreadful begonia. The stars fall, one by one. 

The person in only a purple Peanuts t-shirt advances into the flower, ready to be eaten.

This is a flower of night. It fades and crumples and grays as another one takes its place, ravaging the sky. 

The fire was beautiful. It was the color of wheat in harvest season. It smelled of cinnamon and campfires. It glinted like a million mirrors and faded like a tired firefly. It kissed the earth with passion, love almost. 

No one will remember this. They will remember only the old man who limped and leaned on his old wife. They all limp. Every single one of them limps, whether their limbs be lithe and lean or wizened and broken. They are oldened, every one of them: wrinkles line their faces like old war-paint; their eyes are sunken and flighty. They will remember the picture released in the press, the following day, a lifeless representation of the arid desert lacking everything of the city’s breath. An urban tundra, frozen over, for none to survive.

The flower has faded.


Miriam’s Song

Some time ago, 11 members of the Jewish community were killed,

Shot down, erased from the face of the planet.

Killed by a man whose hatred for those who differ from him outweighed the cost of taking their lives.

And as he raised the barrel of his gun, he shot through the 

Maccabees who fought so valiantly to have their right to pray,

He shot through Esther as she saved the Jews from being annihilated,

He shot through Moses as he pushed through the Red Sea towards freedom,

He shot through Elijah as he fought to keep the Jewish religion grounded, 

And he shot through Zelophehad’s daughters as they fought for their human right to live.

His gunshot was heard around the world, ringing in the ears of all people.

And as they fall, we rise up, taking our place and doubling our strength as one people.

We snatch up that gun and throw it behind us, 

We take our timbrels and dance like Miriam,

Because we are the Chosen People, 

The ones who survived.

And survivors are not defeated, pushed down, or shot.

We sing, we shout, for we are done keeping quiet.

Our time of being pushed out is over.

So we talk,

To our friends,

Our family,

And to people who aren’t our friends and family.

We tell them who we are.

First, people. Second, Jewish.

Here to spread the love of those around us,

Not to kill.

Here to help people that don’t have as much as we do,

Not to hurt.

Here to tell people that they are not alone in this big, scary world,

Not to hate.

Because when it’s Rosh Hashana,

I want to eat my apples and honey and taste no sadness,

Just the rich sweetness of the food and my family.

And when it’s finally time for Passover,

I want to dip my herbs in the bitter water and know that it actually signifies hardships of the past,

Not the present.


The Cottage in the Woods

It was a seemingly ordinary day at Camp Lemon, but not for Emilya Collins. Emilya was simply hiking along the Yellow Trail like everyone else, except for the fact that she wasn’t engaging in meaningless chatter like everyone else. No, Emilya was a loner, and she wanted to stay that way. She also had dirty blond hair that she always kept in a tight bun at the back of her neck, and was only four foot eight.

The group halted when the counselors up front did so. At this point, in time and space, the group of middle-aged (by camp standards) campers on the Yellow Trail were supposed to meet the younger campers, by the way of the intersection of the Green Trail and the Yellow Trail, but the younger campers and the Green Trail had seemingly disappeared. 

Since the counselors couldn’t investigate just by themselves, (since that would mean leaving the campers alone) two of the counselors said that they would stay behind on the trail with anyone who wanted to, and two others would take students who wanted to explore (aka look for the younger campers, their counselors, and the Green Trail). Since Emilya preferred small groups to large ones (but she liked to be alone above all), and since less people wanted to “explore,” Emilya joined that group.

Twenty or so minutes after the “explore” group started “exploring,” Emilya got bored. When she thought the coast was clear, she set out to re-find and explore the cute and mysterious cottage she saw around five minutes back. 

Just as Emilya was escaping, she heard a most annoying phrase.

“Halt!” It was Claire Oderr-Clemens, the biggest bully in Camp Lemon. Even the head counselor was scared of her (only because the mad scientist Dr. Oderr-Clemens-Shakespeare-Rowling-Silverstein was her mother, and she threatened that her “explosion-causing mother will hear about this!”) Both mother and daughter were known for blowing things up. When they arrived at Camp Lemon, they planted an explosive in the Nurse’s office that didn’t blow up because, as Claire said, “I just want to scare people.”

Dr Oderr-Clemens-Shakespeare-Rowling-Silverstein threatened to actually blow up the nurse’s office if they expelled Claire.

“What does your uncivilized person want from me?” Emilya grandly replied. Claire got rather red in the face.

“Want to leave with Emily,” grunted Marsha Balonrey, the strongest person in the entirety of Camp Lemon. Due to the threat of Marsha, Emilya warily let them find/explore the house with her.

The walk to the house was peppered with Claire criticizing Emilya’s literary tastes, and Marsha pointing everything out.

However, soon they reached the mysterious cottage. It was small, but probably appeared bigger on the inside, with cute woodwork. It was the sort of place Emilya might want to live herself one day. 

When the rebels approached the cottage, some sort of forcefield froze the bullies in their positions, but they were surprised by the forcefield, so they were stuck in rather ridiculous poses. However, this did not affect Emilya, so she walked on through. 

Emilya adored the tiny little cottage, everything from the Gothic arches, to the fascinating books, and the cauldron on table, until she saw the old hag putting ingredients in aforementioned cauldron. Then Emilya was scared out of her wits.

“Emilya, I know what you want,” the hag croaked. “I know what you need.”

“Who-who are you?” the usually eloquently-tongued Emilya stammered.

“I am Cerona,” the hag answered, “and I can help you, Emilya. I can have an Asgardian spirit eat your enemies for breakfast. I can summon a Linckenlay poltergeist to drive them insane. I can do that Emilya, and so much more. Just say the word.” 

The always-quick Emilya replied, “That’s absolutely ridiculous simply because you never said what the word is. If you’re going to enchant people at least do it right.” The hag looked indignant.

“Little girl, have you any idea of what I can do? The things I know?” Emilya yawned. She looked and sounded bored.

“No. Please enlighten me.” The hag looked even angrier.

“I can send the Earth out of its orbit and into space! I can kill you with the snap of my fingers! You, little girl, need to learn about respect for your God!”

Emilya still looked bored. “I don’t care,” she casually announced. “If you could kill me with the snap of your fingers, you would have already. What do you want?” 

The witch was growing in size, and was slowly getting younger until she was a 25 year-old with her black hair in a bun, and was wearing extravagant, yet simple silken purple robes. She had red-hot, fiery anger in her eyes, and magic in her fingertips. She was all-powerful, and wanted everyone to know it.

“I am sick and tired of your comments, little girl. I had a reasonable price for you: in exchange for me fixing your problems, you would be my assistant for twenty years.” 

Emilya was still unimpressed. “You should be aware that indentured servitude is currently illegal in the United States of America. And hidden prices are common, but frowned upon…”

 Cerona literally had fire in her eyes.  While colors were flying out of her fingers, she chanted an incantation: “Hanf hivobe avilf. Levwe libh vall.”

Now Emilya looked impressed—and terrified. Cerona knew real spells! In her haste, she grabbed the enchantress’ cauldron and oar. Cerona looked frightened.

“Not so powerful now, hag,” Emilya snarkily said. Cerona now looked more angry than scared.

“I am no mere hag, little girl! Give me the cauldron and oar if you know what’s good for you!” 

Emilya now looked rather cocky, with a strange little spark in her eyes. “I don’t answer to hags! All my fear and ignorance was false!” ahe said as colors flew out of her fingers. “I know how magic works! You can only use your cauldron for ‘little’ magic, like making a hiking trail and a dozen people disappear, or for aiding big magic. Spells can only be used to aid big magic, but you can only use spells if you’re powerful enough. You’re a Felleli enchantress,” she said as she donned a scarlet, velvety cape. “The angrier you are, the more power you have. I was getting you angry for a reason, for I am the almighty in the sky, I am the power above, I am your Goddess, and now, with your hard work done, I shall rule the world.”


The Tale of Lillian Becket

Chapter One: The Beginning

Aug 8

My story is a hard one to tell. Most would say to start at the beginning, but isn’t that the least important part? My beginning starts with my parents, who have a tangled history, a history woven with lies and secrets.

My name is Lillian Becket. When I was born, I was far from expected. They called me a blessing, a very surprising blessing. My parents work some secretive job I know very little about. What I do know is ever since I could toddle, only one of them would be around at a time. Often, the dinner table is only half full and food lays cold and untouched. I have my suspicions, but most of them are unrealistic hopes that stir in the safety of darkness and twilight. Whenever I question their absence, I am met only with anger.

I have friends, some as fake as the plastic wind-up toys that sit on my desk. I do have two who understand me, and have for years. Their names are Maya and Dylan. They found me swinging from the old squeaky playground set, after a brutal round of taunting and teasing. Maya, with her kind blue eyes and hip length hair is the one who wraps her arms around me and tells me it is okay to cry until my eyes dry of tears and my heart is satisfied. 

Kyle, with his deep dark eyes and his tight curly hair listens to me and assures me that it will all work out in the end, and that the sadness lingering in my eyes will soon wash away like footprints in the sand.

 We live near the sea. The only place I feel truly safe is sitting by the shore. Salty wind whistling through my tangled hair. That is where I sit now, trying to explain my story in the lined paper of this jet black notebook. Besides the coast, my other safe place is my journal. I can explain myself without interruptions and judgements. So please, don’t ask questions, don’t wonder, just bear with me as I try my best to tell my story. 

So, now that you know a little bit about me, I can begin the middle. 

The middle began on a day much like this one. Clear sky, breeze whistling through the palm trees that line the outskirts of town. When I wake in the morning, nothing seems odd about the way the books are lined straight and ordinary on their bookshelf and the way the clouds dance across the sun. But in the air, a scent lingers, of blood and roses, sweet. Gruesomely sweet. Humidly sweet. And slowly my nostrils flare, registering the discomfort in the air, but dismissing it as quickly as it came.

Like any normal morning, I stretch my arms in wide circles, feeling the soreness sleep has brought to my shoulders.

I have always been a morning person, in that serene time between dawn and when people actually begin to stir.

Tiptoeing down the ice cold stairs, I listen for my mom, or my dad. Per usual, neither are present. I am almost positive that Dad went on an early morning run down the beach, just like every morning. Who knows where Mom is?
I head into the kitchen and grab a bowl and the box of honey cheerios. Filling it with cereal and milk, I turn towards the living room. I sink into the couch, bowl balanced unsteadily on my knee.

I slurp my cereal while the TV blares. The images and light mix together, searing my eyes. The smell of dusty light is embedded into my couch, along with the slightly sour smell of my mothers perfume. I take a long deep breath and turn as my phone lets out a high pitched chirp. Picking it up, I see a text from Maya and a response from Dylan.

I click on our group chat and see that Maya has asked to see if one of us will help her pick out a dress for some event she has to go to for her dad’s demanding job. Hearing her complain about spending time with her parents makes me want to scream, but she is my best friend, and I don’t want to be alone all of today.

I respond with a short, “Yes,” and turn back to my show. 

After ten short minutes, barely halfway through the show, I hear a knock on my door and open it to find both Maya and Dylan on my doorstep. I reluctantly let them into the house and stomp upstairs to pull a gray sweatshirt over my shoulders and shove the hood over my head. I want to give off the don’t-talk-to-me vibe.

Dylan gives me the side eye as we scamper to the car and I decide that I will tolerate them, and try to cheer up. In shotgun, I crank up the music and play the part of DJ. In between flipping through songs, I stare, expressionless, out the car window. Maya and Dylan make chit chat until they cut off the music and, from the backseat, Dylan turns to face me. He looks at me and I know something is on his mind, but before he can tell me, we pull into the mall parking lot. I shoot Dylan a glance, but read nothing from his expression. 

As we walk, I can feel the pavement, hot underneath my flip-flops. We enter the mall and the cool air conditioning and the smell of new products envelops me. I’m slightly overwhelmed, always have been when going to malls. I wish I could communicate this to my friends who are mall enthusiasts. I turn to glance at them and Maya is staring at me with an expectancy in her eyes. Did I miss something?

“Well?” Maya questions.

“Huh?”

“I asked if you want anything?” She sounds exasperated. This happens to me a lot, just spacing out in the middle of a conversation.

I shake my head, a definite no. Even if I did want something, I don’t think I have the strength to ask my parents for money right now.

“Hey Lillian, are you OK?” Dylan questions.

“Yup, just tired,” I reply. I’m not lying, I’m tired of being here and of these parentless nights.

After two hours of trying dresses on, both Dylan and I are completely out of steam and hungry for greasy fast food. We end up dragging Maya out of Macy’s with a light blue, strapless dress.

We drive to the closest Five Guys and buy paper bags of salty, hot fries and fountain cold soft drinks. Grease soaks through the bottom of the white paper bags and cold condensation lingers on my fingers. We run to the car and gobble fry after fry, slurp our drinks, and enjoy each others company.


The McDonald Murder

The little door bell rang as I stepped into the Mcdonald’s office. The cold air rushed in to meet the toasty warm fire under the chimney as I, Billie Clement, hoped to work at this delicious fast food restaurant. The waiting room was surprisingly empty for a job interview, except for one man reading a newspaper. The man didn’t look up as I walked in, he probably didn’t care either. I sat down in one of the chairs and waited for the interview to begin. Right when I sat down though, a woman walked out of the waiting room. I didn’t see her face to tell if she got the job, but who cares? This is my day. Another man walked out of the room and told me to walk right in. As I sat in a comfy leather chair I handed the man my resume:

Name, Billie Clement Age, 26

Sex, male

Professional experience, I can heat my food up in the microwave

While the man looked over my resume carefully with a couple nods, he put the paper down, folded his hands, and looked at me with tired eyes.

“Congrats Billie, you got the job,” he said to me.

Finally, I thought to myself as I walked out of the room and closed the door, I didn’t mess up! But as I was walking out, the man with the newspaper wasn’t there. Then, I heard a shrill scream from the room. I quickly ran back to the room. The window was shattered, I looked to the desk and saw the interviewer, with a knife in his bloody back, and a note that read: SEE YOU MONDAY! 

It’s Monday, the day that I feared and was excited about because, duh, first day of work! As I walked the tiring 2 blocks to Mcdonalds, I could make out the shape of the giant letter M on top of the giant Mcdonalds building. In front of the building was the statue of the mascot, the one and only Ronald Mcdonald the clown. As I was walking I thought about who could’ve killed the interviewer, I mean, who has anything against someone that could give you a job? Oh, now I see why. Only a couple minutes later I arrive at Mcdonalds. “It’s strange that there’s cars parked, but the lights are off,” I mutter to myself. I unlock the doors with the key that the interviewer gave me, and walked inside. I go to turn on the lights, but I can’t find it, so I head to the store next to the restaurant and buy a flashlight and some batteries. I head back inside Mcdonald’s and turn on the flashlight. The sight scares me, people are scattered everywhere, cops and citizens. “Maybe there was a fight?” I say to no one, but how can a fight end with no winner? And also, where’s the Ronald Mcdonald mascot? Right when I think that, water starts to drip on my shoulder, and as I look up, Ronald is on the ceiling, except it’s not Ronald. His teeth are sharp and dripping gooey alienish saliva. 

His hands and feet are claws. The alien Ronald he has red all over his body, and I don’t think that’s from the ketchup dispenser in the corner. He tries to jump on me and I try to reach the door but he pulls me backward. He starts walking towards me as I cover my eyes and brace for my death. But then, just as I can feel his warm, sticky breath in front of me, I hear the sound of someone being whacked in the head with something metallic, and then a body falls to the floor. I uncover my eyes and there’s a Mcdonald’s employee standing over the monster with a frying pan in his hands. He looks at me with his frightened eyes. He tells me, almost in a whisper, ”Run.”

I didn’t really hear him that well because I was halfway out the door at the time. I slam the door shut. And run, almost in a sprint, back home.

I slam the door open and rush to the phone, 911, call the police they can fix this. I think. The cops pick up the phone and ask me what my emergency is. 

”There’s this, um, like, KILLER CLOWN, RONALD MCDONALD IS. A. KILLER. CLOWN.” I think I might have been too over panicked. Naaah, I don’t think so.

”Sir can you speak more clearly please?” The cop says to me. 

I scream into the phone with anger, “Speak clearly?! A lot of innocent people were just killed. And it was almost me too! By a monster-like, killing, psychopath clown at Mcdonalds!” 

“Sir I don’t think there’s anything to worry about, but will send over a couple people to check the place out,” the cop says in an annoyed tone, like this happens all the time. 

“No you’re going to need more than a couple, send the whole place. Thirty people just died and you’re acting like this is bullshit!” 

“Fine sir, if it makes you happy we’ll send everyone over,” she says to me. I’m about to say thank you but she hangs up. 

“Maybe I’ll just go to bed,” I mutter under my breath. I trudge upstairs and collapse in my little bed. “It will all be over tomorrow.” I say to myself. The next day I try calling the police hq. No one answers. “Hmm, maybe they’re still at Mcdonalds.” I say aloud, so I run over to McDonald’s but not before I make sure to take a pocket knife just in case. 

As I walk up and press my face against the door to see if anyone’s there, I see a bunch of dead cops and the clown bending over and looks like he’s eating something. Just then I get a call on my phone from my friend. “Shit,” I say to myself. I try to turn off the ringer but I guess the clown already heard it, because the next moment, the clown is right at the door, his mouth covered in blood, but it’s not his. I try to scream but no words come out. I run away from the door and try to call someone, anyone that can help me kill this thing, or else there’s no way of stopping it. 

I yelp a gun store and see that it’s not far away, I run over there, and buy a little revolver and some ammo for it. Then I run back to Mcdonald’s and open the door, the monster is nowhere to be seen so I turn on a flashlight, holding it in one hand and the revolver in the other. I walk down the hallway shining the flashlight in every room, and when I come across one room, my blood turns cold. There’s someone standing up in the kitchen not moving. I run over him and ask in a whisper, “What are you doing? Hello?” He doesn’t answer or try to shake his shoulder but he falls over, like he was propped up. Just then I heard a clang of something falling on the floor. 

I crouch just in time as the clown walks into the room, grinning ear to ear with his red-stained teeth. He pokes each pan and pot that’s hanging on the wall like he’s toying with me, wanting me to be afraid. I jump out of my hiding spot and try to shoot him, but the bullet bounces off one of the pans and hits the ceiling. The clown runs to the right and I manage to shoot him in the arm. He screeches like scratching a fork on a plate. My ears are bleeding from the noise. He runs towards me.

“Bad move Ronald,” I yell to him and lay the finishing blow right as he pierces me with his long fingers in the stomach. I point the gun under his chin, and pull the trigger, then I black out from tiredness. 

I wake myself up and stand on my wobbly legs, I walk over to Ronald and see his shirt covering a letter, I tear the shirt off him and tattooed in black is written: TEST SUBJECT NO.0.

Agent: So, that’s why you came here Mr. Clement?

Bobby: Yes, I thought you guys at the government could give me some answers about this thing.

Agent: Oh yes Mr. Clement, but the thing is you won’t be coming home for a long time.

Bobby: Wait, what?

Agent: Kill mode.

Robot: Kill mode activated.

Bobby: No, no, no, there’s got to be a mistake I-

BLAM!

To be continued.


The Dark Room

The cold, empty, dark room. That’s where I am. The room is pitch black, I can’t see myself or anything around me. I don’t even know if my eyes are opened or closed, it’s all just dark. I need to slide my bare palms along the cold, rough surface of the walls and floors to recognize what’s around me, the skin on my knees becoming sore and scraped. Every few minutes I crawl on my hands and knees, feeling to see if something, anything changed. Just in case something appears. There are areas of the wall that change textures, from rough to smooth or dry to damp, but there are always no entrances or exits. I’ve tried calling for someone, banging on the walls, screaming for help, sobbing. But I’m trapped. Trapped in the dark room.

Everything’s quiet apart from my movement and breathing, my beating heart, and shallow breaths. It’s so silent here. I hardly remember anything before this. I remember a life, people around me. I remember sadness. A never-ending river of sadness, despair, and hopelessness. I remember tall walls, barred windows, and paper clothes. I remember eyes, everywhere, watching me. And now there’s just the dark room. A maze with only four walls. I’m scared that if I make it out of the dark room, I’ll go back to that place. Filled with locked doors and judgeful stares. Lies and constant eyes. Staring. Always.

I hear voices calling from all sides. All the time. Crying, screaming, yelling. Sometimes angry, sometimes sad, but they’re always scared. They mask their tones but, underneath, they’re scared. High-pitched, confused voices. Scared teenagers hiding it all in anger. All just teenagers’ words, calling out from the darkness. Sometimes I wonder if they’re mine, but then a furious shout sounds. The voice of a gruff man, commanding, angry. I know that’s not my voice. 

I don’t know what I sound like. My voice disappears into the walls, echoing in the abyss that hides beyond, mixing like a chorus with the rest of them. But I know what the dark room sounds like. I hear noises. Scratching on the walls. Sometimes quiet and soft, other times loud and desperate. But I can’t remember whether or not it was me. I can’t remember why my nails are chipped and broken, sore cracks in them that sting when touched, and bleeding, the feeling of the liquid trickling down my fingertips. Everyday, I move my hands against the cold surface and find the grooves in the walls and floor. But sometimes they’re gone. Replaced by a smooth, flat wall. Still, I know that I hurt the dark room. I know that I made it angry.

I try to claw through the dark room, but whenever I do I hear someone crying. Calling my name between sobs. I’m unsure if its below, above, or next to me. I’m not sure if it’s me. I’m only sure of the dark room.

I’m safe in the dark room. I listen to the yelling, banging, screaming, and crying on the other side of the wall, but I’m safe from them. I’m in the dark room. Whenever I feel along the walls I only feel the cold smoothness of the dark room. There’s no one else. There’s nothing else. There is only the dark room. There is only the metal walls that echo with the pain of others. The metal floor that feels damp with my tears.

No one can hear me when I’m in the dark room. Only the dark room can. No one can see me when I’m in the dark room. Only the dark room can. Only the dark room knows I’m here. The dark room with its cushioned walls and cushioned floor. Its metal door and little window. The dark room where people wait outside. Screaming, yelling, shouting, crying. Some angry, some sad, all scared. But the dark room is where we hide. The dark room is where we scream. The dark room is where we yell. The dark room is where we shout. The dark room is where we cry. The dark room is where we’re angry. The dark room is where we’re sad. The dark room is where we’re scared. The dark room is where we’ll die.


The Heart

As I was walking home, sobbing in the rain, I get a text saying, I’m sorry, I love you, I hope you will be happier than you were with me. I keep crying as I’m walking to the nearest Seven Eleven because I hated Chinese food and right before he dumped me, Dan, brought me to a Chinese restaurant. Even after three years of dating, he still doesn’t know me. But I forget about him, so I walk into the Seven Eleven. 

I start getting slushies and realize that my mascara is all over my face. People at the store are staring, but honestly, who cares? I then buy a bunch of chips. After they kick me out for almost falling asleep on the floor, I walk into the Starbucks attached to the Seven Eleven. I decide to get a venti iced coffee with two shots of espresso. I know, terrible choice, but I personally hate sleeping, and it was already around 3 AM and I need to be at work by 8:45, so I guess I could just deal with it. When I’m done drinking my coffee and eating my cookie dough cake pop, I leave the place. 

As soon as I walk out of the Starbucks, I realize it’s not raining anymore. That kind of cheers me up. I don’t feel like getting an Uber looking like this, so I decide to just walk home. I’m now walking in an alley and I notice it smells so bad. As I’m thinking of what could be in the dumpster right next to me, my stomach starts to churn. But since I’m already grossed out, I might as well text Dan stuff that I’ll probably regret in the morning. 

I start texting him, You don’t deserve anyone you no good heartbreaker. I know, sounds cheesy. Right after I send the text, I hear a sound. It’s quiet but I’m able to hear it. I look around and say, “Is anyone there?” Having a scary movie preference, that is the dumbest thing anyone could ever say. 

So I decide to look around, I then turn back to the dumpster. I was hesitant to lift up the top of it. But I eventually start to hold my breath and open up the dumpster. The smell is repulsive. I want to throw up. As I turn on my flashlight from my phone, I look down and see the most terrifying thing I would ever see in my life. 

It was Dan. He was wrapped up in a black bag, but I could see his face through the clear colored grocery bags. He was so bloody. He looked like he was in a fight then hit really badly. His face had scratches and bruises all over it. His chest was like a lagoon of blood, it was disgusting. I wanted to scream. My ex-boyfriend that I loved endlessly was in a dumpster, dead and soaked in his own blood. I wanted to pull him out to see if he was still alive and able to survive. But I wasn’t stupid. It’s the twenty-first century. People are going to lie, for example. If I’d call the police right about now, what would I say? That I just magically found a dead body in a dumpster that I just happened to be looking through? They’d also find my fingerprints if I checked if he was still alive or pulled him out. So calling someone was not an option at all. But I loved him, but he didn’t love me. I wanted to die. He was so special and kind, except for tonight. 

As I got home, I realized that my apartment door is unlocked and a little open, so I take my taser that I keep in my purse and hold it up. I then walk into my apartment and see that there is blood everywhere. On the walls, on the floor, and on the doors. I cannot believe it. What if this is where Dan died? What if this was something else that didn’t have to do with Dan? As I walk around my apartment, I realize my fridge was open and leaking red liquids. I was terrified of what could lie behind the steel refrigerator door. As I open the door, I see a heart. A bloody, big, red heart. 

I fall on the floor from the shock. I start crying hard, and then have a couple panic attacks. But then I say to myself, what the hell am I supposed to do with this? I can’t call the police because my fingerprints are all over my own house. So I decide to do something crazy, I decide that I would be doing some early spring cleaning. So I put on some sweats, go to Target, get the buy four get 1 free bleach sales. But first, I had to send my boss an email saying that I was sick and couldn’t come to work, so that by morning he’d see my email. Then started scrubbing, scrubbing hard. 

After about six hours of bleaching my house top to bottom, left to right, and side to side, I was so scared of what would happen in the future. Was I supposed to live with this forever? Well I can’t, if you were asking. I honestly want to know who would do such a thing. But before I can think of anything close to that, I have to sleep. I need to rest every part of me that I could think of. Then I start thinking of Dan’s family. He has a sister and two brothers, he has a 5-year-old niece and a cat in his house. He was only twenty-four. He had such a big career in law ahead of him. But then I started wondering who could’ve done it. I start to think of who could possibly have had a grudge against him or even someone who wanted to ruin his career, but that was going to be a hard one because Dan was a famous lawyer for celebrities in LA. After that, I realize that I just can’t sleep. So instead I head to Dan’s house, but I need to prepare for anything. I have an emergency gun and a taser. I also pack a first aid kit just in case I get into an accident. I do realize that I could either be killed or go to jail. 

As I was getting ready to leave for Dan’s house, I remember that I need to make sure that my boss at work knows that I am “sick” and can’t go to work. So I grab my phone from my kitchen counter, check it, and then realize that I have a lot of missed texts and calls. I even have a voicemail in my inbox. So I open my text app. I first see one of my friends from work, Melanie, had texted me, Where are you? So I text back that I was staying home from work today. 

Then I go back to check who else had texted or called me. The text right after Melanie was Dan, and I was anxious to open it. What if the person that did it texted Dan from his phone while he was put in the dumpster to decay? I wasn’t ready, so I just go on to check my voicemail box. And of course, in my voicemails there are possible scam messages, so I go through all of those and block most of them. And after that, I go to check if I have any left, and I have one more. I was thinking I had just missed another scam call, but no, it’s a voicemail from Dan’s phone. I was so scared I could feel my goosebumps spreading everywhere from how scared I was. I know that I was eventually going to have to listen to it, so that time might as well be now. So I carefully open it and put my ear against the speaker. At first, all I can hear are the breaths from someone, then I realize that it’s Dan breathing. It sounds like he was out of breath and running. But what I was about to listen was going to ruin me for life.  

So I’m still listening to the voicemail from Dan, but as I’m closely listening, I hear a guy’s voice come in. He sounds drunk, and I can’t really understand what he’s saying to Dan, which gets me annoyed. But then I hear a door close, so that means the guy either left or someone else is now there. I hear a girl’s voice. It sounds so familiar. It sounds like she was whispering to him or the other guy there. I’m just not sure who the people were. After that, Dan and his “friends” went back and all I could hear was music being blasted and screaming for about an hour in the voicemail. Then I hear the girl whisper again, and I hear Dan and the girl get out or go away from the loud music. I got scared, as if, maybe Dan was cheating on me the night he died. But that wouldn’t matter because we would have already been broken up by that time. As I am still listening, I hear some kind of argument happening. I hear Dan saying, “No stop, I can’t do this anymore, just enough!” As I hear this happening, I quickly understand that whoever Dan was with could’ve been the person who killed him. And that I need to listen very carefully. 

As I’m still listening, I realize that I might’ve known where he went but before I can think, I hear a loud crack and what I thought was a hard fall. I was thinking, the girl that was with Dan at that very moment, or whoever he was arguing with, had hit Dan in the head with something hard. Then waiting for a sound to come up, I hear him say in a vulnerable voice, “Why did you do that to me?” And I hear the girl say, “Because you never loved me.” I then hear a gunshot sound and Dan choking. I was crying so hard. I had just heard the love of my life get shot in the middle of the night. I was disgusted. I wanted to throw up. But I needed to stay strong throughout this experience. 

So I now grab a piece of paper from my bulletin board to write down every girl that I have in record of knowing Dan. I write down some ex-girlfriends, some girls from work, and some friends. After I’m done writing, I put the piece of paper in my bag, lock my door, and leave my apartment. 

As I’m in the taxi to Dan’s house, I start thinking really hard about everything Dan’s ever told me. Maybe there’s a clue on who could’ve done this to him. But I then realize my phone was ringing. I see that it’s Melanie so I pick up. I asked, “Hello?” in a ratchet voice to make her think I was sick. 

She then asks, “Where are you right now?” 

I then panic a little, deciding if I should tell her I’m at home eating soup or if I’m going to the doctor. But as I think about what I’m going to tell her, I start remembering the horrors from last night. At some point I just go with saying, “I’m going to a pharmacy downtown to get medicine.” 

Then she for some reason sounded annoyed, but I just don’t really care right now. She says, “Oh, ok.” She also says in a cute subtle voice, “I can totally bring you soup later when you’re back. I could just let myself in. I still have your keys!”

 And I just tell her to leave them under my door mat after she leaves work. 

But instead of saying, ok, she just says, “Well I’m here right now. I wanted to see how you were feeling.” 

I was kind of confused, but I had to hang up because I needed to pay for the taxi and because I was here at Dan’s house. I was scared of how I would react to see his house, because well, there’re pictures of us together all over it. 

As I walk into the house, I flash back to all the great memories Dan and I had. All the ferris wheel rides, the date nights, the cute cuddling nights at home. Even before we even started dating, I had gotten sick in the middle of a little meetup we had and had to go home. He then showed up at my house with a cute care package that had a teddy bear, chocolates, and a bunch of calming stuff. Going through this is an emotional rollercoaster. I was first in shock, then fearful, then just depressed, and now I’m just a mess. But I really feel like Dan is in the room with me right then and there. It’s hard being there, but I kind of have to. I then start looking around in desks and drawers for any notes or reminders to where or who he could’ve been with. But as I’m skimming each room and piece of paper I can see, I find something weird. 

It looks like some kind of document, at first I was like, Oh that’s just Dan being a lawyer. But as I look through it, I see that there are these confusing notes on it. It looks as if it’s some kind of code. It’s a bunch of numbers. So after waiting and doing nothing for like ten minutes, I finally decide to something productive and search up the numbers of the piece of paper into Google. When I am done writing these literal ten numbers into my phone and messing up the order about five times, I enter it and press search. 

There are only two things that come up, this weird dating website, this website called White pages, and then even more random numbers. After researching on both of them, I decide they are all pointless and aren’t getting me anywhere. So I start thinking, and I realize there are enough digits for it to be a phone number. So as I dial star six seven just in case I don’t know who it is, I dial the rest of the numbers. As it’s ringing, it goes straight to voicemail. And the first thing I feel once I hear the voice of the voicemail is that my heart deflates, my jaw drops from how shocked I am, and I start to cry a little. 

It’s my best friend of two and a half years of work add two years in high school. Melanie. I can hear her voicemail saying, “Hey, it’s Melanie, leave a message.” I was terrified, but there’s no possible way that it was her. She doesn’t even really know Dan. I’ve never even introduced them. My happiness just disintegrates immediately. But the more I think about it, the easier I realize it could’ve been, if she in fact, was the killer. She has the keys to my apartment. And on my little keychain with all my keys. And I told her where I was last night at Starbucks and Seven Eleven. She had everything she could need to kill Dan, or even me! I was terrified and then I realize, someone was at the door. 

I grab my gun ready and loaded, walking slowly down the hall to the front door. My gun is ready to fire, and I have pepper spray in my pocket. I’m ready to go through anything. As I open the door carefully, I see pink hair, Melanie’s hair color. I quickly grab my pepper spray, open the door quickly, and spray her in the eyes. As she screams in pain, I push her to the floor, I take my gun, and say my last four words to her. “Go die in Hell.” Then I point my gun at her, right in her forehead. 

I shoot. 

The last thing I will remember of Melanie and my ex-boyfriend are the blood coming out of their mouths.

3 and a half months later

Now, you all might be asking, what happened? Well, let me tell you. 

After my terrifying experience three months ago, I checked into a mental help bunker, which basically meant I took a break from reality, a couple months of doing therapy and meeting new friends. I started getting sick a lot of the time. I knew in the back of my heart that I was in fact pregnant with Dan’s baby. I was thinking of all the exercises that my therapy had taught me, but I couldn’t resist and just started bawling. So I then checked out of the therapy bunker and went back to the real world. I then had Camille. She looked exactly like Dan. I eventually had to go back to work, but I went to a different place. I also ended up disappearing completely from Dan’s family because I couldn’t bear seeing them. I’m still guilty of that. So yeah, that’s just my life. 


5 years later

“Sweetie! You are going to be late for school, come get your bag, and give mommy a kiss!” I say.

 “Ok, I love you, bye mom!” Camille says as she leaves from the back door. But about five minutes later, she comes back through the back door again saying she missed the bus again. 

In a silly voice, I say, “Ok, I will just drop you off on my way to work. No worries, Milly.” As I’m grabbing my car keys from my kitchen counter, I hear my phone ringing. I was expecting it to be my boss, Larry, asking if I was working today because I had told him before that I might have an opportunity to check out houses near Camille’s new school to move into for a few years. 

But as I check my phone, and it’s an unknown number. I answer and the only thing the person on the other end of the call says is, “Hey.” 

I pause for a minute in silence to realize the heartbreaking realization I had just made. Instead of asking questions, the only words that come out of my mouth are, “Daniel?”

Sea

Whales moan to each other, chanting their conversations into the air.

The stunning Azure waves whip the rocks, engulfing them in sea.

Bubbles rise up, expiring at the foamy surface.

At sunrise, the horizon spreads fiery colors over the calm ripples.

As they dive deeper, a chill spreads through their gills.

The teal fades to a deep midnight near the sand.

A vicious tiger shark slithers quietly, lashing its tail.

It seizes a mollusk in its jaws, biting until its prey stops thrashing.

So many creatures, each having a life of their own.

One question remains.

If we can’t see air,

cAn fIsH sEE wAtER?


Where the Sun Goes

The ground shakes as I step out of my house.

Not again! I think, sighing and sitting down on the porch. We are supposed to sit down at every Switch. No one questions this law. No one knows what happens when you don’t sit down.

“It