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

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

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

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

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

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





Into my heavy, broken heart for everyone to see.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


“Just do it, please.”

“No, give me a reason.”

“Trust me, okay?”


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

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

The Swan

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pointed at her hands. She looked confused. 

“The – the scissors.”

She held them up. “These?” 

“Yes, yes!” 

“What about them?” 

I wrinkled my nose. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I believe you.” 

“Then give me back the scissors!”

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

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

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

“Why?!” I kicked the bench’s leg. 

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

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

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

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

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

“I never got your name.”

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

“Adelaide,” I said. 


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

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

To Be Blocked

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

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

Bat Mitzvah

I remember arriving, and thinking everything looked picture perfect.

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

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

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

I remember being partners with my brother for every game. 

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

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

I remember how happy my 8 year old cousin was.

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

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

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

I remember my dress, black with multicolored sparkles. 

I remember my dress getting glitter everywhere. 

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

I remember my nails, a light lavender color.

I remember my mask, a splotchy rainbow watercolor. 

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

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

I knew I could do it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remember being a lot less nervous than I expected. 

I remember forgetting everything as soon as I finished. 

I remember people spelling my name wrong.

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

I remember taking photos at the photo booth. 

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

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

I remember my dress getting glitter everywhere.

I remember it being so colorful. 

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

I remember the sigh of relief when it was over. 

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

Feeling Colors

Dear Blue

Dear Blue,

I hope you’re doing well.

But recently I heard you are doing quite bad.

I hope to meet today, by the morning bell.

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

Was it Red? Did he tease you again?

Or was it Yellow? Did he boast his intellect?

Did someone visit you at your den?

Please tell me, I have a suspect.

I think it was me!

I told you who I wanted you to be. 

I want you to know: that wasn’t me.

Feel better soon,

Your friend, Maroon.

Dear Maroon

Dear Maroon,

Thanks for checking in.

I hope you don’t think I’m mad.

Or in the loony bin.

When I say I’m not feeling bad. 

The truth is, I ran away from you.

Your constant blabbering of speech.

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

So please, the next time you screech.

Don’t say what you want to be.

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

I want you to know: you aren’t me.

I’m through with you,

See ya, Blue.

Dear Brown

Dear Brown, 

I have no idea what to do. 

The Rainbow Dance is coming up.

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

If they want to take my offer up.

To dance… with me. 

Pink is really cute. 

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

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

So please, help me out.

So I no longer have to strut about,

Worrying about who to ask out.

I’ll promise I’ll pay,

For the advice, Gray.

Dear Gray

Dear Gray,

The choice is obvious.

I don’t mean to be mean.

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

I know exactly why you’d be keen.

I know I would.

The color is just perfect for you.

I promise, I know you should.

So don’t ask either Pink or Blue.

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

No pressure, but I can see,

That you clearly want to be with me.

So stop acting so down,

I’ll see you at the dance, Brown.


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

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

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

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

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

It was… myself.

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

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

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

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

Great, now I had to do cardio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


My world imploded.


The Senseless Request

“I find a pleasing humor in that fruit bowl. And the hanging lantern. And the — what is that vast… thing… over there?”

The juvenile servant rushed to the rich man’s side. “It is the ocean. Quite beautiful, if I may say?” 

The rich man squinted his eyes, then clenched his fists, resisting the impending irritation. “Well, it was not there yesterday.”

“It was, you just did not perceive its presence.” 

The rich man paced back and forth to the patio door, then to the fence overlooking the ravine. He raised a hand to the sky, feeling the breeze of the ocean against his hand. Bringing it down to his eyeline, he furrowed his eyebrows.

“How greedy of it to consume so much land! I do not like it. Have it removed by sun up tomorrow.” 

The servant sighed, then hesitantly nodded, brushing his fingers against the darkening sky. The rich man turned and left for the house without another word. The servant remained, his wide, nervous eyes motionless. He perched on the wooden rail of the fence and dangled his legs off into the ravine. The only thought in his mind was, How will I go about this? Will I be sent home if I do not follow through with his request?

The servant finally gathered the courage to reenter the home. These long hallways are beginning to nauseate me, he thought as he made his way to the dining room. 

The rich man finished his meal, enjoyed the comforting glow of his fireplace, then made his way to a door in the back of his home. As he slept in his palatial bedroom without a single fret, the young servant crept out of his corridor, pulled on a long jacket and fedora, made his way outside to embark on his journey, and alas, found the sun resting beneath the horizon. 

“Ma’am! Good morning. You seem to have overslept.” 

The sun flicked her eyes open. “I never oversleep! Read me the time, please!”

The servant peeked at his watch, and read a bold 11:00 PM. “It is 11:00 AM,” the servant lied.

“Well, thank you very much. I will begin getting ready so as to not set the entire world into a state of panic. Whatever can I do to repay you?” the sun asked, trembling her fingers as she carefully brushed her golden locks. 

“Well, there is one thing. Would it be too much trouble for you to evaporate the Pacific Ocean?” 

The sun tilted her head in confusion as she tugged a yellow sundress over her head and fixed a sunhat on her head.

“There is an odd request, if I’ve ever heard one! But of course, anything for you.”

The sun guided the servant to the horizon door as she busily attached her earrings and jewelry. Thanking him for coming, she rushed up into the sky as swiftly as possible. Better late than never! she blithely thought.

The servant returned to the rich man’s home and let his eyelids drop as he rested on his metal-wired bed. The sun ascended the sky and took her place next to the moon.

“Thank you for covering the sky for me. I seem to have overslept,” the sun said, graciously shaking the moon’s hand.

The moon had a suspicious look in her eyes. “Is it really 6:30 already?” the moon interrogated. 

“11:00! If you can believe that!” the sun blurted.

The very much confused (but naive) moon bowed her head and descended down the sky below the horizon. 

The rich man awoke at 7:14 AM and consumed his usual breakfast of grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. The young servant eagerly stood in the doorway, concealing the thrilled expression on his face. 

“What is it? Why are you staring?” the man demanded crossly. 

“Have you forgotten? Come take a look outside!”

The man pushed his stool back and followed his servant out to the patio.

“The ocean. Where has it gone? What have you done with it?” the man shrieked shrilly.

“You requested its removal. Remember? Do you?” A smile slowly faded away.

“Look at the land it has left! How barren! Where is the life? The joy? Bring it back now!”

“But I cannot… The sun has taken it. I am afraid it will not return.”

As the days flew by and the sun and moon rose at peculiar times, people in the world were split. A message from God? A punishment from Satan? The Earth falling off its axis? Nobody knew why but some chose to pay no attention. The rich man, for one, did not question the sun and the moon. 

The once beautiful, thriving ocean had gone away, and the rich man began to absorb his surroundings and enjoy every charming aspect of it. Although he consumed his nightly tea while the sun still beamed and enjoyed his usual breakfast as the moon patiently shimmered in the sky, the man could not complain. He made it his moral obligation to not question anything. Not to complain, not a single word. Everything is just heavenly. Oh, just heavenly!

“Look at the ivy growing from the trellis! And the flowers growing from the cracks in the dirt! Oh, how I love the way the aged wood of the railing feels against my fingers and how the clement air touches my face ever so gently! Don’t you just love it?” the rich man howled. “Well, now I will not act on my impulses. There is just too much beauty in everything to want to rid anything!”

The servant just nodded, a broken smile pasted across his face.

Dystopian Utopia Chaos

Thousands of years ago, the earth developed and developed with human safety and entertainment as the main goal because people on earth wanted to make it a better place. In their minds, if people were safe and happy, then what could go wrong? The world would be perfect. But unfortunately, by trying to create a utopia, they created a dystopian society, which people eventually realized was boring and nothing was ever happening. So people decided to smash it all, giving up everything for freedom, unpredictability, and overall chaos. But that was 10 years ago, and now everyone is living well, if not safely.

Semkantrigorenem gets up and starts walking around camp, trying to remember everything about himself just in case a stronger blackout comes to him. He is from tribe Shampenk, and he is 26 solstices. He was only 6 solstices when the collapse came. Although he is too young to remember what life was like before the collapse, he can find bits of information about it whenever his tribe wanders somewhere else. From the information he gathers, it seems like it was a very boring place where nothing ever changed and people lived twice as long as normal. Then, Semkantrigorenem remembers that he is trying to make a list and so he continues thinking. After a while, he decides to go back inside where Gem lets him in. He walks toward their main tent and goes in as a discussion on whether or not to raid a smaller tribe nearby rages. 

“They are smaller than us, and we need the supplies,” one side of the argument declares.

“Ok, let’s say we raid them, then people could just raid us as easily,” says the other side.

“But there isn’t even another tribe anywhere between here and the horizon.” 

“But we should at least always be prepared for another attack.” 

Semkantrigorenem ducks his head out of the tent now, knowing that this could take hours, but he is also a bit anxious because he has passed the age of joining raids and helping to defend against them. Although, there have not been any raids recently, so this would be his first time. When he stops thinking about this, he realizes that he has made his way back to his tent and is now standing at the entrance. Suddenly, he can hear a commotion inside. He tenses, pulls a dagger from the folds in his clothes, and carefully makes his way around the tent to the back. He presses his ear against the fabric and can hear someone inside grunt, as well as a lot of crashing sounds. Almost as if someone inside were searching through his tent. Before he can do anything about it, the person inside opens the entrance and dashes out. Semkantrigorenem, quickly but stealthily, dashes out in pursuit. After what seemed like hours of weaving through the tents, the person arrives at the barricades surrounding the temporary camp and starts to scale them. Semkantrigorenem then sees a small bag attached to the shoulders of the thief.

“Oh no you don’t,” mutters Semkantrigorenem. Before the thief can make it half way up the barricade, Semkantrigorenem throws the dagger. It hits the thief on his back, just missing the bag and whatever was inside. The thief recoils in surprise, losing hold on the wall and sliding to the ground. Semkantrigorenem jumps on them and tackles them back to the ground. Unfortunately, they have a dagger and they blindly attempt to stab him, but Semkantrigorenem is stronger than the thief. He grabs the dagger out of the thief’s hand and pulls back the thief’s hood, revealing a small, sickly boy, maybe 20 solstices or so. When he looks in the thief’s bag, he realizes that the only thing in it is food. Then, he blacks out.

Semkantrigorenem blinks and opens his eyes. He looks around and realizes he is in the medicinal tent. He is also bandaged in a few places where the thief may have struck. He tries to sit up, but groans and lies back down. On hearing this, one of the healers comes in. 

“Are you alright?” she asks sweetly. Semkantrigorenem nods and the healer gently applies a cloth of warm water on his head. She then looks at him, most notably where he was bandaged. “If it is not too much trouble, may I ask what happened to you? I saw you in a blackout covered with stab wounds.” Semkantrigorenem sighs and looks at the healer. 

“There was a thief that stole something from me,” he starts, “But it was just a boy carrying food. And then I blacked out.” The healer nods and takes the cloth off his head. “How… How long was I unconscious?” The healer thinks for a moment and looks back at Semkantrigorenem.  

“Three days,” she responds. He stares at her unbelievingly.

“What about the raid? Did the tribe go without me?” he asks quickly.

“Yes, they left last night and have not returned yet,” the healer replies. This is not that surprising to Semkantrigorenem because raids usually take quite a while whenever the tribe has a chance to go on one. The healer gives Semkantrigorenem a brief check-up and informs him that if he drinks a lot of water he will be fine. With that, the healer releases him from the tent and Semkantrigorenem walks outside. But something seems different. He notices there is a sudden decrease of people around the camp. He quickly scolds himself for allowing himself to have another blackout because now they are becoming more and more frequent, and lasting longer and longer. Eventually, I might not even wake up from one, he thinks to himself.

Later that day, he sees a band of people coming towards them from the south and runs out to greet the rest of his camp.

“What happened?” Semkantrigorenem asks. “During the raid.” The group tells him that they had raided it with ease, only suffering one casualty on their side, although a few were wounded.

That night, there is a feast in celebration of the raid and mourning of the lost tribemate Selewitzki Hor. During the celebration, Semkantrigorenem tries a strange drink that makes him feel funny, but it is bitter, and he does not have much. Eventually, he gets so tired and he makes his way back to his tent. It is still a mess from when the thief came, but Semkantrigorenem does not care. He falls on a blanket and falls asleep watching the sun rise.

He wakes up in the middle of the day, still tired and with a sudden headache. It is probably nothing, Semkantrigorenem thinks to himself. I was out late at night and had a weird drink. However, once he goes out, almost everyone else has an even worse headache or is still asleep. He learns that they will be leaving soon and that he should pack up, so that they do not leave without him. So, Semkantrigorenem heads over to his tent and starts to pack up inside. As he is packing, a large but skinny dog comes into his tent and starts sniffing for food. Semkantrigorenem slowly reaches into his pocket and pulls out a hunk of bread. He tears off a piece and throws it to the dog, who hungrily snatches it up and looks expectantly at the remaining bread in his hands. Semkantrigorenem tears up the rest of the chunk and throws it to the dog bit by bit. Once the entire thing is finished, Semkantrigorenem tries to approach the dog.  As he gets closer, the dog sniffs him but immediately then bolts outside, presumably looking for more food. Then, Semkantrigorenem remembers that he is supposed to be packing, and so he continues to pack.

Once he finishes packing and the rest of the camp is ready to move, they decide to stay a little bit longer to have a third meal, and after that they will go. They decide to go northeast because they remember there is a body of water over there to clean and fill their water skins. The rest of the camp is glad to hear this because they are starting to smell and are running low on water. 

Later in the day, everyone helps prepare for the feast again. They start eating, drinking, laughing, and getting ready for the trip. But halfway through the meal, the course is a dog on a large plate, surrounded by different vegetables and spices. Overall, it looks delicious because meat is hard to come by and as such everyone is always grateful for it. Semkantrigorenem realizes that the dog being served here is the same one he had fed a few hours ago. The realization makes him sick, but he does not want to look childish, so he does not complain. He goes up and gets a slice and a few vegetables. Even though he might throw up, he still decides that he will eat a tiny bit to satisfy his hunger and everyone else at the feast. Once he bites into it, he blacks out. 

The end.

Terms and Pronunciation: 

Semkantrigorenem – (sem-can-trig-ore-nem)

Shampenk – (sham-pen-kh)

Gem – (sh-em)

Selewitzki Hor – (sell-eh-wit-ski-hor)

There are two solstices every year

It Might as Well Have Been Winter

The air was cool and the winds were strong. Below me, I could see hues of scarlet and shades of golden, with a handful of orange. Buildings were scattered around, some lights on and some lights off. The sun had barely risen.

It was so frigid outside, it might as well have been winter.

We stood there in silence for a long time, in thick scarves and puffy jackets. 

“Why have you brought me here?” Cersei asked, her voice painted with curiosity. She was in awe of the view, you could see it in the way her eyes glittered as she admired the horizon in front of us.

“I just wanted to talk,” I mumbled.

But really, I didn’t want to talk.

I wanted revenge.

And a tall mountain was the perfect place to take it.

“Talk about what?” she asked. Was she oblivious of everything she’d done to me? Was she completely unaware of the crap I’d put up with all this time?

“Why did you do it?” I asked her flatly. She furrowed her eyebrows and took a deep breath.

“I’m not sure what you mean…” 

I was just about ready to slap her, if that’s what it took to get an answer out of her.

“What do you mean, you don’t know what I mean?! How can you not know what I mean? After everything you’ve done, how can you not know?” I accused, and Cersei gave me a stare that was almost psychotic.

It was like, all of a sudden, the cold air had gotten colder.

“Your money?” she asked, and then she laughed out loud. “It’s all done and over with, why worry now?”

“I will worry now, because it was you who ruined my life! You’ve always ruined my life, Cersei, and I never took note of it!” I exclaimed.

“I want something, I’ll get it, Freya. I don’t think you’re in any place to confront me about what I’ve done. You know how important the money was to me, how desperate I was for it. How can you be so selfish?!” Cersei spat. I inhaled deeply and stood up, Cersei following along.

“You’re right, it is in the past, Cersei! Silly me, I shouldn’t have even brought it up. Let’s enjoy the view,” I said with a smile, and she nodded in satisfaction.

“Good girl.”

I fidgeted with my coat, and looked around quickly.

“I’m queen of the world!” Cersei yelled in joy, and she spun around in front of the view.

This was it.

This was the time.

Do it, Freya.

Do it.

The Medic’s Son

Charles Smith was born in 1898 in Bath, England, and usually went by Charlie. Charlie’s father had died of Tuberculosis by the time Charlie was two. Charlie had very little memory of his father, and although it was an inconvenience to his mother, it never was a terrible inconvenience to Charlie other than his mother taking up whatever extra jobs she could find. Even though she had to work a lot, Mrs. Smith always found time to play with her son and was, overall, a very loving mother.                                                     

Charlie was a very active boy and was always going on adventures around whatever town they were in. He had always wanted to be a knight; rescuing a princess and fighting a dragon all sounded quite fun to him. So by the time The Great War broke out, Charlie had decided that he was going to be a soldier and that was that. The day he turned seventeen, he signed up for the war, and the doctors decided he was in perfect health. 

His mother had admonished the idea and thought that it was very dangerous but could not stop Charlie. 

She knew what wars were like because she had been a medic in the Second Anglo-Boer War and had left Charlie at her mother’s house, and she did not want Charlie to go through a similar experience. She had tried to tell Charlie that she needed him at home to take care of her, but he only responded that he would be home soon enough once he won the war. 

Seeing that he was so optimistic to the point of delusion and that nothing she could say would make any impact whatsoever, she signed up to be a medic, even though it brought back some bad memories, so that she could keep an eye on him. Charlie had no problem with that as he loved his mother dearly and wanted to go to war. He thought she would make a great medic, as she would always clean his wounds when he got hurt on his adventures.

Charlie was made private, was given a gun, taught how to fire it, and was sent off to the trenches.

When Charlie looked around the trenches, he saw that it was not a fairytale. Dirt and mud threatened to overflow the wooden walls; gunshots filled the air; men sat down with weary expressions; blood dripped onto the wooden walls; the sky was a dark grey, even though it was only 3:00; lanterns flickered and shook; and yells pierced the air.

Although Charlie was experiencing horrors, they were nothing compared to the horrors that Mrs. Smith was facing. Bandaged limbs still oozing blood, countless bodies covered with sheets, men begging for death, bombs heard as though they were right outside, and the worry about her son. She would look very closely at every face to make sure that it wasn’t her Charlie. With every gunshot or bomb that she heard, she wondered where Charlie was, and if he was safe.

The next day, Charlie was woken up, or would have been woken up if he had gotten any sleep, by the sound of a bomb crashing nearby. He scrambled out of his bunk and curled up into a ball. 

As soon as he calmed down, he changed back into his smeared uniform and grabbed his gun. As soon as he exited the bunker, he was startled by a large crashing sound called war. He was ordered to go to the wall and “empty his ammo,” or whatever that meant. Charlie started firing into the opposing trench and watched as a soldier fell and did not get back up. A sick feeling filled his gut as he wondered what his mother would say.

His mother, in fact, was charged with being the medic, wandering around the trenches and dragging the bodies back to the bunker. Seeing these horrors and wounds of war made her yearn for news of her son.

Just then, as she gazed out into the patch of light surrounded by smoke which was her sun, a bullet struck her and she dropped to the ground.

She woke up in the very bunker that she was in yesterday, although she felt something was wrong. She looked down and saw that she was bleeding quite heavily from her abdomen. The tray beside her had tongs and a bloody bullet. She could piece together what happened and knew that she didn’t have much longer left. At this moment, she was only thinking of her son, Charlie.

She found a pen and paper lying on the nightstand next to her, for notes on the condition of the patient, and started writing a note to Charlie. 

“My Dearest Charlie,

I am so sorry that I have to leave you in this world all alone. I love you so much, and I hate to leave you. Please try to remain safe, my son. Live your days fully, and enjoy your life, for it ends too shortly. So do not grieve knowing that I am exiting in peace with thoughts of you. Life is too short to be sad. Goodbye, my dearest.



That was how the nurses found her a few hours later, clutching her last words that she had written for someone who she held dear. The nurses took pity on her and sent out that letter to Charlie.

Charlie had just sat down to a game of cards with some of the other fellows when a very tired-looking soldier came up to their table and asked if there was a Charlie Smith among their group. At this, Charlie stood up and replied that he was in fact the boy in question. The man handed him a piece of paper and left the bunker, back out to where the world was tearing itself apart. 

Charlie decided to take the note back to his bunk so he could read the contents in peace. 

As Charlie read his mother’s final words, tears made tracks down his grime-stained face and onto the paper, blotting the page and cleaning his face. He felt numb to the sounds of war. 

His mother, the calming presence that had always kept him safe, was gone, and it was his fault. He had insisted on going to war so he could be like a knight and save some sort of princess and fight monsters. He had been so foolish and childish without any real notion of what the world was like, and he had led his mother to her untimely death which he would pay for for the rest of his life. Charlie started to cry in earnest and buried his head in his pillow and fell asleep.

The next morning, people could sense a visible change in Charlie. He was not the same boy who wanted to rescue princesses and kill dragons; he was a man, in the middle of a war, with no parents, fighting for revenge. 

They stationed him at the wall again, Charlie had a different plan. He and some other men had decided to sprint to the other side to try and kill as many of the Germans as possible and most likely die trying. 

Charlie gave out the signal and they all ran out of the trenches with the other soldiers screaming after them, and charged to the opposing trenches with hate in their eyes. They had gone about three meters when the Germans shot a bomb at them. Charlie had just turned around to see the bomb land near his friends and him before he was blasted back into the bloody grass.

Charlie woke up in the hospital and looked around and only saw crimson flowing from missing limbs as screams of agony mixed with the sounds of gunshots from the trenches filled the air. Charlie looked around at his friends, lying limp with glassy eyes, and watched as the nurses covered them with blankets. Tears ran down his dirty and bloodstained face and dropped onto the grimy cot. Charlie thought of not only his missing legs, but his fellow soldiers, and his beautiful mother who were all gone because of this god-forsaken war. He had been so foolish to do this, he had killed everyone he held dear. His mother and now his friends.

Blood was still oozing out of the bandages that covered the stumps that were now his legs. He knew he would die soon so he just waited for the reaper of death to take him and all of the other lonely souls that were lost because of the war.

When death finally came, as light through the door of the bunker, Charlie saw that it was not a skull figure in a dark hood, but his own loving mother, still wearing her bloodied medic scrubs and her dark brown hair tucked beneath a white cloth, holding out her hand, with a sad smile on her face. Charlie took her hand and she gently carried him away from the war and out of sight.


I woke up to find Otis staring at me.  “Are you ready for your ‘check in’ today?” Otis’ simplistically announced reminder rendered me a little startled, for I had forgotten the events of the day. “Perhaps you will be granted your surgery today,” he pointed out. “Then you’ll be better once again.” 

I was supposed to go to the hospital to have a, what they labeled for the more timid kids, “check in.” On these monthly dates, my school schedule remained unchanged, per usual. The minor difference of where I would go after school was the only change that took place.

“It’s hardly frightening,” I said.

“Shall I go down for breakfast, or are we not hungry this morning?” Otis asked.

“I don’t think I wish to eat this morning, but of course you have the bowl,” I said while pointing towards the golden bowl, which was originally room decor but was now filled with chocolate Easter bunnies that Otis had brought with him and eaten when he did not share a meal with me. He now rummaged through the bowl, looking for the one that first drew his attention. I finished dressing for school while he did this, putting on a pair of light wash jeans. I added a belt I received from my mother yesterday, which was new and just unwrapped from its packaging. Once I slid the belt through the last loop, put on my usual black high top sneakers with penguin socks, brushed my hair, and grabbed my also penguin-themed backpack and lunchbox, I helped Otis get ready for school. I grabbed his black backpack and metallic lunchbox. Today I packed him a chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookie so he wouldn’t squirm under the irresistible want of cookies when they were just laying on the kitchen counter. I could hear them rattling in their foil wrappers, stuck inside the metallic prison. While they rattled, I let the box fall into his backpack, empty except for a chocolate bunny he had grabbed just now, his mustard yellow backup beanie and a folded piece of paper that appeared to be garbage, although this one was folded into a perfect square.

Otis and I left the large brick house and admired the reflective dew placed on the petal of each flower in our front yard. Our gravel path from the house to the sidewalk was wet, and disagreeable weeds were bursting through exposed patches. Gravel was dispersed across our grassy yard, usually of a vibrant green color in the sunlight. Otis didn’t arrive with shoes, and standard pairs don’t come in ovalular shapes. Therefore, Otis now suffered the painful task of trudging barefoot down the path in question. My father was in the car already, prepared for his daily task of driving Otis and me to school. We approached the silver Toyota and could already hear the music my father practically professed love to. While he played his favorite songs, I announced that Otis and I were, as my father liked to say, “buckled up and ready to go,” and we drove off to school.

School days tended to be normal, though the first school day I shared with Otis was of an opposite atmosphere. My teachers and peers had been notified of my penguin friend, or what they referred to as my “situation.” That day I was stared at by all. Even by the group of seven year olds that claimed they didn’t care about any matter except for those relating to them personally. My teacher’s attitudes shifted drastically and were overbearing and tentative, the qualities a worrying mother holds. I sat in the back of the class due to the shyness that emerged whenever I had to sit in the front row of a classroom. The teacher that morning had created a scene while dragging a heavy desk and letting it rest beside mine. This seat had been established as Otis’ seat. Periods of learning were seemingly normal, but the interactions between the beginnings of classes were displeasing. During recess I received countless invitations to partake in lunch and activities with kids who had the word pity clearly written on their eyes and face. I refused the forced offers with a stern, “No thank you.”

 I sat with Otis at a green table adjacent to the sandbox, which I soon hoped to introduce to the penguin. Once I flaunted the magical sandbox to Otis, we quietly gazed at the individual grains of sand, and watched them fall from shovel to bucket. The 40 minutes of time permitted for recess ceased eventually and academics resumed. My father and mother accompanied Otis and me on the car ride home that day. During the meager five minutes we spent waiting for them, he and I sat on an artificial patch of overly green grass, under a weak and small tree, and we stayed silent, but in an enjoyable way.

Today my father insisted on playing his music throughout the ten minute journey to school. The roads had small chunks of ice placed on curves and street corners, and most of them were half dirt and sewer water. The view was unpleasant, but the car was warm, filled with music, and smelled of cinnamon and hot chocolate. Otis and I sat in the back of the car on the grey cushion that was home to stains of brown, green, and purple. Now I felt free to talk to either Otis or my father whenever the opportunity pleased me, however I was rarely in a talkative frenzy. On the ride to school today nothing varied in my usual manner, so I thought about the “check in” and possible surgery. I could picture my calendar, existent for only a month, with very few dates marked and holidays yet to be acknowledged. I knew, though, that I had marked this date as the day of surgery, and I trusted the permanence of the black sharpie I used would rub off on my chances of surgery today. My head then manifested certain ideas, such as images of sharp metal tools poking at my brain, like how a curious child would use a stick to poke a dead squirrel. While thoughts of such things were present in my mind, the car had pulled up next to the new strip of sidewalk separating school and vehicles. I felt no rush as I slung my bag onto my back and helped Otis do the same. “Thanks dad,” I blurted out after I had already swung the heavy car door open and, with Otis, stepped onto the ice cold pavement. 

We walked confidently, or maybe it should be described as a walk that didn’t show any signs of fear, for confidently was far too strong and adjective to apply with such ease. I watched the parking lot of the Jones School, which we had now managed to reach, stab Otis’ unarmored feet. I also perceived that his face was still pleased and his current disposition unchanged. I then brought my gaze to the American flag on our school’s rusting pole, thrusted around by a strong and sudden wind. There was no urgent need to describe the school day today, for as I mentioned previously, even on a day involving hospital matters, school remained quite bland and redundant. Even the presentation I looked forward to had been postponed 24 hours. Until Wednesday I would have to wait to give the gift of my eloquent speech, and surely my audience would have to wait for me. For every normally scheduled class, Otis and I took our seats, as each student must do. During recess, Otis and I enjoyed the presence of each other in the sandbox. Previously, Otis had thanked me for the cookies that had been rattling in his lunch box all day, and he finished them both shortly and without creating any crumbs. We had lessons about our universe and solar system during the period assigned to science. I knew that I would never wish to traverse the vast Milky Way but instead wished the teacher knew that not all students have a vocation to be an astronomer or astronaut. Most periods consisted of this same pattern: a lesson taught and aspects of said lesson thought of as useless or uninformed. My criticisms may seem harsh, and they truly are compared to the fact I originally endured each lesson with a fake smile plastered on my face. But to argue in favor of myself, humans evolve, and therefore I have acted knowing that it was a mere repercussion of that piece of information. 

After I saw the silver Toyota emerge from the street corner, I felt apprehensive. Otis placed his wing on my clammy and sweating disaster of a hand while I gazed at the vehicle that could possibly be driving me to my death. If I failed to mention before, the surgery had a high fatality rate and therefore a low percentage of survival. During the time they announced all statistics to my already rotting brain, I hadn’t had the option to save them for later use. While I fretted, a playful pair of siblings were horsing around on their way to their car, their mother joking with her two strong and healthy offsprings. Superstition has no home in my heart, but maybe this meant I was to leave the hospital, surgery accomplished, ready to horse around with Otis (I had no siblings to do so). I was sure that I was just irrational, for I had never seemed so close to insanity than I was then. The Toyota slowly glided into the spot right in front of me, and stopped driving. Otis glanced at my entire body and turned his head down to look straight at my face. I took a step closer to his body, emitting warmth and kindness from its large figure. I wrapped my arms around him as far as they could reach, my fingers never meeting each other, and Otis and I molded into one. I leaned on the supporting figure while he employed his strength to push me towards the open car door. I slid into the backseat with cold feet, in the figurative way while it was also true in literal terms. I let Otis plop, which was the best word to describe the bounce he applied to each move, into the seat beside me. “Hi,” I said, addressing my parents and their phony, drawn on, smiles.

Pediatric wing hospital rooms don’t change. Yes, the peculiarly placed cartoons differ in rooms, but the idea of a stereotypical pink image plastered on one wall and some form of action movie hero or machine on the opposite wall remained the same throughout. It would be strange for any child to announce that they have a fondness for room 310 yet not room 306, due to the fact that each room was an unexciting replica of the other. I sat now in room 316, staring at a much too large image of Batman in the middle of realizing this action was wasteful and frankly dissatisfying. I turned away from the agitating sight, knowing very well I didn’t want to turn the other way just to see another particularly galling image displayed of a perky cartoon princess, who apparently had a dress code that stated they must wear a pink gown on all occasions. You could already see a dilemma had arisen and was now inducing inactivity, therefore I let every part of my anatomy fall into the slightly comfortable hospital bed. I had become accustomed to the features present in each hospital room, so I rolled over, after only being bored for a modest time of five seconds, and seized a long black remote control. I then turned to Otis, sitting in the region of chairs designated for family members of the sick patient, and asked him, “SpongeBob?”

“Whatever you feel suits this situation,” replied a happy, and faintly smiling, Otis. I communicated my wants to the television, hung up next to cobwebs on the corner of the right wall, and it flickered from black to an underwater reality where sponges may speak if they wish. 

I watched SpongeBob for the timelapse of an hour, not including the intrusions and disturbances, which caused me to pause on several occasions. These occurrences were commonly periods of five or 45 delaying minutes, and consisted of obtrusions by my parents or doctors coming in or my departures for various medical tests. Otis, however, always remained seated in the room while I was about and speaking to the adults that currently dictated my life. I attended to his needs while doctors tended to mine. Dr. Roberts would come in and demand my presence, and for me to cease my current activity. I was prepared to do so, but then I would hear Otis utter words such as, “If you leave the show playing while you leave, I will be much obliged.” I would then repeat his words to Dr. Roberts, and he would either agree to the simple request, or on other occasions he might claim he didn’t wish for any energy to be wasted by the continually running television. These moments of argument, obtrusions, and departures plainly summed up every aspect of a “check in.” The only part to ever be frightened of was if your doctor affirmed that the tests showed no progression, meaning that your sickness had worsened. In my experience that day and in the past “check ins,”  the situation in question had never been mine. 

It had been a three hour “check in” that day, most likely due to the fact that I might be rushed into surgery the second I was noticed again, and therefore the tests done on me needed to be extensive and certain about my capability to have the surgery. The night sky was darkening rapidly, and the sun was falling like a large and fiery stress ball from its high point in the sky. The hospital room was almost completely engulfed by darkness, and I was only partially sure that the surgeons had enough light to operate during this dark hour. The sound effects of SpongeBob were likely quite audible to the patients of the rooms near mine, yet I refused to turn down the volume of my distraction. I had pestered my mother about five minutes earlier to fetch some chocolate items and drinks from the vending machine down the eerie looking hall. She would squarely refuse each time I begged.

“Please mom, I’m sure it won’t harshly influence my health!” I had pleaded. My father, a less overbearing parental figure, announced that he would bring me a singular chocolate bar for me to feast on. I didn’t bother to request one for Otis because I knew he always had  a chocolate bunny, or even one in bar form, at hand. My mother accompanied my father on the short journey even though it required only one being, but still I had been left in the dark room with Otis. The flickering TV was the only light shining on our complexions, for none of us took the liberty to turn on one of the lamps on the Ikea nightstand. I had not seen Otis rest yet, but he stood beside me for quite some time, proving his steadfast loyalty. He still stood, unwavering. 

My father and mother returned with a pea sized chocolate almond, a large disappointment compared to my hopes of a king-sized Hershey bar. I scowled at their failure to meet my needs until I noticed three other people making an entrance. One was Dr. Roberts, and it wasn’t a very shocking sight for he came and went as he pleased, but he was accompanied by two other young and quite timid looking doctors. I could now understand that my parents had been bombarded on their way to the vending machine by these doctors, and I could see that they knew further into my future than I did. They had a faltering smile on their tired out faces, and I recoiled from the disgust of the fake happiness they put on display just for my benefit. Otis had backed away into a chair without me noticing his movement, and he sat there now, staring at the scene that unfolded in front of him. 

“Am I having the surgery today?” I asked while quivering, just so I could get the thought out of my head and into the room. I was somewhat annoyed that these grown adults chose not to disclose this information yet, allowing it to be much more awkward for the child in the room.

“You are, Bella, but don’t freak out kiddo,” Dr. Roberts said while attempting to be humorous. He clearly did not know my prior hatred of the degrading word “kiddo,” but I let him continue. 

“We don’t think you’re going to die Bella, I mean we can’t promise life of course,” he continued while I thought, So he’s basically assuring my death. I suppose I was just indignant that he mentioned that he couldn’t promise life to an eight year old girl. Of course she was going to interpret that she was going to die. I hardly listened to what he half told me and half told my parents about the way the surgery would work, and the confusing and unpronounceable medical terms. I now stared back at Otis, noting earlier that he had still been staring at me. He got up, unnoticed by the adults of course, and handed me a chocolate bunny, similar to the time I had first been in his presence. I was in no mood to eat, so I rested the bunny on my nightstand, ready to eat and enjoy it with Otis, post-surgery. For now I let the muffled noises of speaking be mere background noises, and I stared at the TV that was still, now quietly, playing season one episode three of SpongeBob.

Shortly after the time spent talking over the surgery, I was to prepare for the event itself. If I am to speak candidly, I had still not quite accepted the fact that I would soon be the dead squirrel poked by a stick, but I supposed at least the poker knew what they were doing. The two young doctors did not seem like highly competent surgeons. They were both much too clumsy, and shuffled reluctantly to my side. They began a painful and maddening process so I could go into surgery shortly. I felt like the turkey on Thanksgiving day, being prepped and touched by others. I was handled and medicated, and grabbed and poked, and I was stared at by my blood relations, and by my penguin friend. A rather embarrassing thing for them to do in this scenario. My mother and father stared and yelled lines of what they thought of as encouragement. If you compared them and Otis, Otis would seem quiet and bad tempered. However he was quite the opposite. My parents constantly repeated things such as, “It’s ok honey!” and, “You got this, it will be alright,” but Otis knew to sympathize, not encourage, and to do so whenever I flinched or quivered. He would then say cooly, “I understand it’s frightening.” I wished for him to embrace me once again, but he hadn’t the chance for I was now being lifted, similar to the first scene in the Lion King movie, by the three doctors in the room. I strained my neck to glance back at the TV which no one had turned off. I didn’t wish to lose my spot in the show. While I did so, Dr. Roberts practically let me fall onto a new and uncomfortably hard cot. My parents dared not to hold back their tears, and they looked as if they were already mourning my death. Otis stood unharmed by any trauma, and he just stared with sympathy as they rolled me away from him. 

“Bye,” I whispered to Otis, hoping to make it out of the surgery to see him once again. I then turned to the humans who created me. Our loving family, I could tell, would likely not be complete without me to look after. “I love you both very much,” I cooed, calming my parents down instead of the opposite. I had now officially been rolled out of my hospital room, and I felt dizzy while I stared down at the moving nauseating green tiles of a long hall. I tried to look back, to see Otis, to hear the ending credits of SpongeBob, to see how dark the room had gotten, to eat the chocolate almond, to hug a penguin. I was slipping away from the friend that cared about me the most, and I nearly screamed. The doctors pacing in front of me burst open a set of double doors, the same dramatic way they did it in TV shows. My parents were pushed back, not allowed to go any further into the sterilized room where my mind would be opened up to the world. I hoped my thoughts of contempt against the doctors stealing me from Otis would not escape in my weak moment and reach their ears. I eagerly wished to see if Otis was there, right next to my parents, wishing me luck. I was quite indignant at that moment and wanted to yell at the doctors, but instead I was instructed to count back from ten, “nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three…” I trailed off. That is all I remember.

I was extremely warm. My mind immediately asked the question if I was being eaten up by a raging fire or being burned by a dying out candle. To find the answer I had to see what was happening to my body. That’s why I opened my eyes. Contrary to my predictions, I was under three layers of heavy blankets, and I felt like the bottom layer of a piece of lasagna. I wasn’t sure what to do with my limbs, and I felt uncoordinated as I tried to move and failed in the process. My legs had been immobilized from the pressure of these blankets, and my tongue had never been so dry, and my eyes never so heavy. I tried to open my eyes, to rest them on the world, without using my fingers to prevent my eyelids from falling and hiding my sight. I gazed around as long as my exhaustion would permit. I let myself feel numb and morose for yet another moment, until my slow-moving mind undertook the reality of the situation. I was briefly paralized by the shock surging through my now profusely sweating body. I was alive, and from what I could tell, I was also healthy. I had the inclination to burst from my restraining sheets, but It was doubtless that there was certain medical equipment attached to my body. I imagined I had survived my brain being removed and then placed again in my head. To be frank, I knew that was most likely not the case. However, I could still claim I had survived a surgery, counting on the fact I wasn’t dreaming of life in this current moment. My face now swelled with pride. I was beaming, a fact I knew without needing a mirror. I soon thought of not myself but my loved ones. I could let myself relax now that I could keep the promise I made of eating that final chocolate bunny with Otis. I gave myself the courage to finally cease the resting of my limbs and to move around. I suppose I had been quiet while I pondered my mortality, for I now noticed my mother and father sitting in a chair, simply staring at their brown shoes. The awkward moment refused to pass, therefore leaving me to start a conversation. “Hi,” I croaked with my raspy voice. 

As basic and cheesy as it sounds, my parents looked as if they had seen a ghost in their presence instead of their once sickly child. My mother had a thing for the dramatics, and her reaction proved this statement far better than I could. She choked on tears as they rapidly streamed down her face, and she contorted her face during this period of carrying out and what I thought of as a celebration. My father simply swallowed, in a very exaggerated way, and tapped his foot repeatedly on the tiles beneath him. Shortly after I spoke, my parents both tightened their arms around my fragile and weak waist. I flinched for a moment before I enjoyed their loving embrace of affection. I too hugged them with the best of my ability, for my hands were too small and their bodies too large. We sat for moments of tranquility, until my mother felt the need to explain the fact that I was still alive. 

“The surgery went great!” she boasted, “You’ve gone from a pale ghoul to my lovely daughter.” Yes, that was a truly kind sentiment for my mother to speak, however no tears rose to my tired eyes just yet. After the strong feelings of reunitement subsided, I longed to meet Otis once again. I hadn’t been able to scan the room for the presence of the perpetually quiet penguin. I did so now, and returned with frustrating results. Otis did not appear to be in the white hospital room currently, an odd occurrence for the clingy penguin. 

“Do you happen to know Otis’ location?” I asked my euphoric mother. She bit her lip as if it wasn’t obvious for me to take that as a sign of worry. “Mom,” I said flatly and quite frustratingly. I thrashed around my bedding for some time until I was able to free my puny arms. I panted like a dog in hot weather after my draining struggle. Next I looked on the fragile nightstand for the Easter bunny chocolate I had left behind, part of my promise to Otis. I threw my head from side to side,with my eyes now wide open but still glazed over. I looked at each parent as they avoided my gaze. “Is this the same room I had before?” I quickly spat. They took quite a while to submit a valid response, but my mother answered with the short word, “Yes.”  

“Did they throw away the chocolate by chance?” I asked with the hope I could still indulge in eating. My father chose to chime in this time, with another one syllable, depleting word.

“No,” He murmured. 

I meditated for minutes trying to figure out how the chocolate did not sit before me and where Otis might be. During this exasperating period, Dr. Roberts chose to make his entrance. Poorly timed, but crucial. He entered with a lively attitude and did a strange and horribly executed dance on his way towards my bed. 

“There’s my number one patient!” he squealed like a schoolgirl. “How are you feeling today Bella? I’m sure your parents announced that we removed all tumors and you should be strong and healthy in no time.”

“I’m feeling fine Dr. Roberts,” I replied, contradicting his happy demeanour with my sullen one. “Yes, I have been notified about my current state of being.”

He then proceeded to flip through what I have identified as my chart, ask a few more questions, and speak to my emotional parents. They, like most times, left the room during this conversation. They all soon re-entered, coming back to my side clearly not as high-spirited as they were a mere one minute ago. 

“What?” I said in an angry tone, but with a slight quiver in my voice. 

“We were just wondering if Otis has interacted with you this morning,” Dr. Roberts said, addressing me, yet looking at my parents. He most likely intended the question to be smooth and calm. This dear doctor failed in that case. He scratched his head and couldn’t keep his sight in one direction for more than a moment. 

“I haven’t seen him yet,” I answered quite indignantly towards my nervous doctor. Dr. Roberts apparently felt no need to respond to my snappy remark, and he tripped towards the wide-open door. My parents took whatever signal he had made, and sat next to me. I wished they hadn’t. For the bed was too small for a group of three. 

“Bella, we’re really sorry…” my mother began but could not complete. She had unplugged whatever was keeping the dam together, and the tears appeared once again. 

“Honey,” my dad cooed, taking over for my saddening mother. I felt the redness in my cheeks, and from my current state of feeling I could tell they were the same shade as a ripe tomato. My nose soon became a peach-like color, and rain from my fading blue eyes watered the peach and tomatoes. “We don’t think Otis is here, anymore.” my dad finally finished. I watched as my statuesque father let rain onto his face as well. It was surely a rainy day for the Court family. I was no idiot, and I could easily put two and two together. I would not protest Otis’ disappearance. I would not argue with my father and mother, for I had no case. Calm, collected, accepting. These words did not describe my presence. The drizzling rain turned into a flood, and the dam was crushed into pieces. I forced my hand to reach the nightstand. My uncut nails yelled while they were pushed into the chipping paint, and they tried to grasp the form of an abandoned bunny. My beady eyes saw no presence of a black backpack and metallic lunchbox, no beanie left in the hallway, and no penguin asking for SpongeBob. My parents backed away, and now they really saw a ghost in me. I screamed for my neighbors to hear, for them to feel my pain. I thrashed around, pulling my hair, until the loudspeaker announced my room number. Blackness. 

I was Bella Court. Today I turned nine, and my mother bought me red wallpaper.

Drifting Apart

The only place where I felt truly safe was at the beach. If it was raining, it didn’t matter. There’s a blizzard, you say? Then we would still go to the beach. I know it’s odd, but my grandma and I, ever since I was a child, had always gone there when we needed to talk, I mean really talk. But today was different, I knew that after I told Grandma what I had done, she wouldn’t love me the same.

“Grandma, can I ask you something?” I asked, trembling.

She looked worried, as she should have been. “A-anything, Jessica. What’s the matter?”

“Well, there isn’t any easy way to say this, but I might have done something to betray Sam’s trust.”

Samantha was my best friend, we’d known each other since nursery school and we had never gotten in a fight, ever. After my parents got divorced, I started spending a lot of my time with my grandma. She really understood me, in a way that no one else did. 

She really had to think about this. “Samantha, your friend from nursery school?”

“Yes, she asked me to keep a secret and I told the teacher. She doesn’t know, though.”

“What — what was the… nevermind. Well, you have to tell her at some point. If you tell her what you did, at least she will know. If you don’t tell her and she finds out one way or another, it won’t go down well, trust me.” 

She was suspicious, I understood why, but I wasn’t going to tell her the secret, it wasn’t any of her business.

“But I’ve known her all my life,” I said, sighing. I knew she was right, but I still didn’t want to face the truth. I held on to my hat, the wind was aggressive this afternoon. It was as if the wind were trying to tell me something. Sam was my best friend. If she found out that I had lied to her, I might not have a best friend anymore.

“It’ll be ok, I promise. If you ever want to talk about anything, I’m here, sweetheart.”

“I know.” 

That night, I couldn’t sleep, although my eyes were heavy and I was all snug in my bed. What if Sam hates me, what if she never wants to talk to me again? No. I have to tell her, just like Grandma said, she will find out one way or another. All the secret was was that she had copied off someone’s paper during our geometry quiz. That’s no big deal… right? My mind was racing, I couldn’t stop shaking. I heard my heart beating, I thought there was a chance that it would jump out of my chest. The palms of my hands were sweating, I tried to wipe the sweat off on my pants but the sweat somehow just kept crawling back to my fingertips. 

Maybe about one hour later, I somehow drifted off to sleep. 

Buzz, buzz. My alarm went off. Ugh, time for school. My eighth grade teacher, Ms. Summer, was so sweet and cared for everyone and I say this truthfully, the only reason I told Ms. Summer Sam’s secret was because I knew Sam was beyond capable of doing the test all by herself. Without cheating.

Mom dropped me off at school that morning and when I arrived, I saw her. She was looking so happy, which only made me feel worse. How could I tell her what I’ve done. It will ruin her day. 

“Heeeey, Sam,” I said awkwardly, as if I had never talked to her before in my life.

“Hi! What’s up, you seem a bit… tense.”

“Hehe, do I?” What was that, Jessica, “Do I?” Ugh.

She looked confused. “Um, yeah, you do. I know you pretty darn well, what’s up?”
“The sky?” Jessica, are you serious right now? Just come clean, you’ll feel better.

“Fine then, don’t tell me.” She huffed off in a hurry.

Well, I might have just missed my only chance to tell her what happened, no big deal… no big deal.

We got to our first period class, and of course, our assigned seats were right next to each other, great, just what I needed. 

“Good morning, class!” Ms. Summer said, almost singing the words.

“Good morning, Ms. Summer,” the class chanted back to her.

I nudged Sam. “Can we talk after class?”

She didn’t answer. Her eyes didn’t even move off of the chalkboard.

“Sam?” Ms. Summer asked as she came closer to our table. “Can I see you for a minute? Privately,” she said, looking directly at me, almost through me.

My heartbeat quickened instantaneously, I started to pant. I couldn’t see clearly, my head was pounding. What was she telling Sam? Was she going to tell her what I had done? Was she going to hate me?

Only a couple of seconds later, the door opened, and I was suddenly very confused. Sam was smiling like she had just won the lottery. What had Ms. Summer said? I wanted to ask her but that would be impolite. I looked over at Ms. Summer, and she smiled and gave me a wink. I was almost frustrated now, I didn’t know what had happened in the hallway, I probably still had to tell Sam that I told her secret. This was a complete disaster. 

After school ended, I walked over to my best friend and I gave her a look saying, “We need to talk.” She nodded her head silently, and we sat down at a bench near the school’s entrance. 

“I need to tell you something and I don’t want you to get mad, can you promise me?” I pleaded.

She giggled.  “Well, when you put it that way, I can’t promise anything!”

I sighed. “Fine. I-I-I don’t like what you’re wearing today.”

You could imagine what happened next, she was confused, I was confused, and then we both went home wondering what had just happened!

When I got home, I plopped myself on the couch, propped my elbows on the edge of my legs, and my hands covered my face. The tears burned my eyes, I couldn’t tell if it was sad or angry tears. Maybe it was a bit of both.

I was currently living with my mom in this small apartment in Ohio, so there wasn’t really any way I could hide from her.

“Honey, what’s wrong? I know a sad face when I see one.” She looked at me and gave me a sad smile.

I wiped my tears off my face with the back of my sleeve. “It’s a long story.”

“Well it’s only 4:00. I’ve got time.”

“I want to talk to Grandma.”

She looked disappointed. “Oh, ok, I can drive you to the beach if you want.”

I texted Grandma, and I’m not kidding, within 15 seconds, she responded! I met her at the beach, it was windy again but I didn’t mind.

“Hey, sweetheart. What’s bugging you?” She gave me an empathetic smile.

I stared blankly at the ocean, the waves crashing against the golden sand. 

I told her how Ms. Summer took Sam out into the hallway and she came back to the classroom smiling. And I told her that I hadn’t told Sam yet. And that I didn’t know why I had so much trouble telling her.

She looked disappointed, but not at me, at what I had done. “Maybe if you tell me what the secret was, I can understand the situation better.”

I knew I was going to have to tell her at some point, I just didn’t want to. I thought that was a perfectly good reason not to tell her, I just didn’t want to. But I knew that wasn’t really an option so I took a deep breath, “She cheated during a geometry quiz. I told the teacher because I knew she was very capable of doing the test without looking at someone’s paper.” In my head, it just sounded like a jumble of words, but I could tell that Grandma understood. The truth was I actually felt a lot better saying it out loud. Maybe it wasn’t too late to tell Sam what had really happened.

“Oh.” She looked like she had been expecting something worse. “That isn’t so bad, is it?”

“No, but if I tell her the truth, I’m afraid she isn’t going to want to be my friend anymore.” I blinked at least a dozen times in a row to stop the tears from escaping.

She looked perplexed. “Are you sure this is about being afraid of not having a friend? I think that maybe you’re afraid that you’re not going to have as tight a bond as you have had your entire life.”

Those were true words of wisdom that I had never actually thought about before until now. Maybe she was right. Maybe we would still be friends, but would it be the same?

“I don’t know.”

“And you have the right not to know. But we will figure it out, Jess. I know we will. Your mom said that she’ll be here in a bit. Do you want me to stay here with you until she gets here?”

“No, it’s ok. You can go. I’ll see you later.”

“Ok, good luck.” She walked towards the parking lot near the beach and she was soon out of sight.

I gave a shy smile to myself. I have a secret. Sam copied off my geometry quiz. I could have stopped her, but I didn’t. I’m the one to blame. I told the teacher because I wanted to get back at her. I wanted to get back at her because she had been avoiding me for the longest time. I know I should have talked to her but our relationship doesn’t really work like that. I wanted to tell her the whole story but she would have wanted to hurt me. I mean if I was her and she had done that to me and then she told me everything she had done all at once, I wouldn’t know what to say. Or feel. I was also worried about how Ms. Summer had taken Sam out into the hallway, I didn’t know what she was saying. I thought she was revealing my secret. I shouldn’t have told her. I shouldn’t have told anyone. I was angry and I wanted revenge. I didn’t think about what I was doing until after I did it. I am going to tell Sam about this.

That night, I tried extra hard to let my mind relax. For the longest time, I’d had trouble falling asleep. It isn’t the slightest bit fun because being tired and not being able to sleep are one of the most frustrating things ever. 

When I woke up the next morning, I realized that Grandma was the only person I actually trusted. It was quite a sad thought so I didn’t spend much time thinking about it or else I would have started bawling. I ate my breakfast cereal so slowly it became soggy and mushy, disgusting! My mom drove me to school as always because her job was never in the morning as an interior designer. 

“Have a great day, sweetie!” She blew me an air kiss from the car window and I, unenthusiastically, pretended to catch it.

I felt like a nobody, knowing that the only person I had to talk to was my grandma. That’s pretty pathetic, if you ask me! I had a huge unsolved problem, no friends except for Sam. The only problem with being friends with her at the moment was that we were on no speaking terms. I wouldn’t exactly call that a friend… 

When it was math class, I decided I needed to have a talk with Ms. Summer, I mean, she was a big factor in my anxiety right now.

I sat down next to Sam and I gave her the biggest smile I could possibly give without looking like I was up to something.

“Good morning, class,” Ms. Summer said, partially sitting on her desk.

This time, I didn’t say good morning back, because it wasn’t a good morning at all.

Ms. Summer, quiet as a mouse, crept up to our table, again! Are you kidding me, this seriously can’t be happening.

“Ms. Davis.” 

My head perked up, she had never said my last name before.

“Yes, Ms. Summer.”

“Can I see you in the hallway please?” She didn’t look mad, she just didn’t look like her usual bright and cheerful self.

I nodded.

“What is up with you, Jessica? You’ve been acting very strange lately. First, you tell me that Sam cheated and then you don’t say good morning. I don’t want to even start to talk about the grades you’ve been receiving from my class. Could you explain to me why all of this happened, just out of nowhere?”

“Um, sure. You know, Sam and I have been friends forever and lately she’s been avoiding me so I wanted to get back at her, she cheated on my test.” I sighed, I couldn’t take it back now, “I could have told her not to but I didn’t. I told you because I wanted to get her in trouble. I know it seems really bad but I had good intentions.”

She covered her mouth with her hand. “Those don’t seem like good intentions, Jessica.”

“I know. I knew she could do the test without cheating so I told on her.”

“Then which one is it? You let her cheat on purpose or you told me because you knew she could do the test without cheating?”

“Take a guess.”

She looked really disappointed in me. I’ve never seen a teacher look this way before.

“Let’s go back into the classroom, shall we?”

“One more thing, Ms. Summer.” She turned around intrigued by my words, “I know it’s none of my business but what exactly did you tell Sam yesterday that made her so happy?”

She giggled. “You’re right, it isn’t any of your business at all. But I will tell you that I won’t tell your little secret, you have something special, kiddo. Don’t let this one time get the best of you. Everyone has a downfall at some point, you’re lucky that you have a friend as good as Sam.”

“But then why does she keep ignoring me?”

She looked like she knew something that I didn’t. “Try talking to her again, see what happens. If it doesn’t go as planned, I’m here. Okay?”
I looked down at my feet. “Okay. I’m sorry for everything.”

She didn’t say anything after that, I was kind of hoping that she would have told me what had happened in the hallway, but I still had hope that Sam and I would continue our friendship.

That afternoon, while I was working on my math homework, a lightbulb went off in my mind. I suddenly had a brilliant thought and I didn’t know why I had never thought about it before. It was so simple, yet it made so much sense. I could still be friends with Sam, but friends drift apart and then new people come into our lives. Maybe someone new would come into my life. I’m not saying I wanted to get rid of Sam, I’m just saying, maybe I could make some new friends. I felt so smart, but not because I was doing math homework, because I was actually making sense to myself. 

“Hi, Sam, I know we haven’t been speaking much but — no, that doesn’t sound right.” I kept trying to write my little “I’m sorry” speech, but I couldn’t get it to sound right. 

“Hi, Sam, I have something big to tell you. No, that’s a little obvious.” I sighed, I’m never going to be able to do this. But I have to. Just stick to the plan and you’ll be fine.

When I got to school, I was confident, but when I saw Sam, my confidence level went down a few notches. You’ve got this, you can do it.

“Hi, Sam, can we please talk?”

She shrugged.

I took that as a yes. “First of all I want to say I’m sorry. I’ve been a really bad friend lately and I need to tell you the whole story. This time you can get mad, you probably will get mad. I completely understand if you do.” Get to the point, Jessica. “First of all, when you copied off my math test, I didn’t tell you not to and I told Ms. Summer about it. I did it without thinking, I wanted to get you in trouble. Only because you had been avoiding me and I was mad at you.” 

And then I told her about how I was so nervous when Ms. Summer took her out into the hallway. After I finished speaking, she looked shocked. 

She gulped. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this sooner? I would have explained myself.”

“Well, I hope it’s not too late. Can you explain yourself now?” 

“First of all, there was a flood in my house and we had to move out this week, of course, all of our stuff was damaged so we didn’t really have anything to move in with. That is what Ms. Summer was talking to me about, she was offering my family some new clothes and bed sheets and stuff like that.”

How had I not known about this? “I’m so, so sorry. I had no idea. I would have done the same, I still can.”

“My parents said I shouldn’t tell any of my friends about it because they didn’t want you to be worried. I think you’re worried now, so I think that was a good call. I’ve been avoiding you because I wanted to tell you about it so badly but I couldn’t. I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t be the one apologizing. You actually had a good reason for doing what you did. I didn’t. I want to still be friends with you of course but… maybe we could take a break from each other for a little while?”

“That sounds good.”

“And one last thing, we need to promise each other that if we make new friends, we won’t be too jealous,” I said even though I didn’t think I would be making new friends very soon. But it was nice to know that Sam was there if I needed someone. I didn’t only have Grandma now, I had Samantha as well.

I wanted to go to the beach one last time this week, but I couldn’t go by myself.

“Grandma, can I ask you something?” I asked, grinning.

She smiled. “Anything, Jessica. What’s the matter?”

Here I was, sitting calmly on the warm sand next to my favorite person in the entire world, at the only place where I felt truly safe. I was having one of many heart-to-hearts with my grandma, she really understood me, in a way that no one else did. My rosey cheeks were warm to the touch and my eyes were a hazel brown with a hint of blue from the waves that I was watching in the distance. I have known Samantha since nursery school, I thought quietly to myself, but that won’t stop me from making new friends. I stared into my grandma’s beautiful eyes, wanting every single inch of me to be exactly like her when I grew up. 


As I looked out the window, the 6 train was getting close to my stop, 77th street, with the usual EEEEE OOOOO sound. Getting off the train always made my heart race because I thought of it as the “critical moment.” In order to be ready to go to the main world, I looked at myself in the mosaic-built number: 77, and smoothened my hair down. Next, I gently tucked in my shirt, so that the coffee stain was not visible, and again flattened my messy, morning hair. “Decent,” I whispered under my breath, and walked up the subway stairs onto the sidewalk. Walking on 77th street always feels like paradise. As I look into the stores’ windows, I see shiny coats, bright-colored lipsticks, pants with big fancy logos, and many other flashy, Upper East Side items. I always dreamed of having a fancy wardrobe, I would be a whole different person, I would feel different, but as I walked closer and looked inside the window my jaw dropped. 

“$203.99 for a pair of shoes?” my inner voice exclaimed.

Looking at my watch, I realized that it is already 8:15, school started in 5 minutes and I had 6 more blocks to walk! I rushed up East End Avenue and ran as fast as I could possibly run, not letting anything around me make me stop. In the corner of my eye, I saw a big black van, it did a sharp turn my way. Looking up, I saw a red street light, my vision started to blur and blood started rushing to my brain, I suddenly lost control of my body and didn’t know where I was. “Probably will be marked late,” I thought.

I woke up to a loud beeping noise, it hurt my ears, so I tried getting up, but I couldn’t, because I couldn’t feel a single part of my left rib cage. I looked around.

“Where am I?” I called out. 

Managing to turn my head, I saw my mother and father sitting on a bench next to me. I had never seen them like this before. Mom’s face was swollen up and her eyes were red, like they were when grandma had died. Dad was holding mom’s hand, and as manly as he was, I also saw a worried look on his face.

“There’s been an accident, Kiki. Are you feeling alright?” said my dad in a soft and gentle voice.

“Thank God you woke up!” exclaimed mom, crossing her hands over her chest.

Suddenly, I started remembering: the black van, the red light, the shoes, East End Avenue. It was as if the puzzle pieces were somehow coming together to create a picture, a memory. I  laid back down onto the pillows. The pain in my side started to grow again. Through the glass door, I saw a man in blue scrubs and a white doctor’s jacket. He seemed very busy and sleepy, but once he opened the door into my room, he put a bright smile on his face.

“Kiara, how are you feeling?” inquired the doctor.

“Fine,” I answered as energetically as I could.

“You did great in the rib cage repair surgery this morning! The nurse will check on you again tonight, but it looks like you can be discharged soon!”

Surgery!? Ribcage repair!? I suddenly felt trapped. 

Get me out of here! I yelled inside my head, knowing that if I actually yelled, I would probably be brought to the psych wing of Lenox Hill instead of being discharged. Again, I started to feel weak, and giving up on my thoughts and worries, I closed my eyes. 

It was a normal morning, I was sitting in the kitchen biting into my morning toast (slightly hot with melty butter). 

“Time to get going, Kiki!” said my mother, sitting down at the kitchen table, putting down my jacket and my backpack on the chair next to me.

“I’m not 6 anymore, but thanks, Mom,” I responded, picking up my bag and jacket. 

Like always, I walked on the dirty, gum-covered sidewalk of 34th street and entered the smelly, underground world in which I traveled every day to get to school. There I sat, thinking about nothing at all because, well, it was the morning and I am NOT a morning person. When I arrived at 77th Street,  I quickly looked into the numbers, checking out how I looked today. I was my usual morning self, my curly hair poofing out of my head, my eyes still sleepy. I quickly fixed that up and began trotting to the place I was intending to go.

I opened the heavy, early 20th century doors of my school, entering the massive building embellished by a green sign, Chapin.

“Hi, Kiki,” said my friend Lili, greeting me in the lobby.

“Hey,”  I responded, stepping closer to Lili and walking up the stairs to the 5th floor with her. As usual, it was torture, because we weren’t allowed to take the elevator, and it was even worse in the morning, I was never up for this physical challenge. As we entered the 5th floor I saw the usual group of girls talking by their lockers, in other words, my friends. We smiled at each other, because even though it was morning, we were always glad to see each other.

“Where did you get that shirt? It’s super cute,” asked my friend, Sammy.

“Well, sorry, I don’t reveal my secrets,” replied Lili, making all of us laugh.

I lifted my head from the laughter and was ready to go to class. I looked around to say bye to my friends, and to my surprise, saw Sammy making a weird face. She was looking somewhere near me and seeming as if she just ate the grossest thing in the world.

“Ewww, Kiki, what is that on your shirt!” she exclaimed, pointing down to my waist.

Shoot! I completely forgot about my stain! What was I thinking?!

“Ewww,” agreed Lilly.

The other girls joined in and laughed, pointing at me as if I were a circus animal.

I wished that I disappeared. How was I not paying attention in the subway?! 

Suddenly, my vision started to blur and I saw the black van, the red light…

I woke up breathing hard and sweating. I still heard their “ewws” echoing in my head.

“Is everything alright, honey?” asked my mom gently, leaning towards my hospital bed and touching my hand as she would always do when there is something going on. 

I was not in the mood for talking, but I was glad that there was someone to comfort me after the nightmare. The thoughts of it still couldn’t come out of my head though. I couldn’t bear that feeling of shock, of being scared of nothing, when there were actual things to worry about. The pain in my side was like sticking a knife in my body every time I took a breath. I tried to take shorter breaths, but that only made it hurt more. 

As the doctor planned before, the nurse came in and checked on me.

“How is everything going?” asked the nurse politely, leaning over my hospital bed.

“She has been in a lot of pain,” replied my father, worrisomely.

The nurse gently touched the area around my left lung. I grunted from the pain. It was as if there were a million guns in there, shooting me.

“Don’t worry, everything will be fine, I will just quickly get Dr. Firn, who was on your case from the very beginning,” the kind nurse assured us.

Dr. Firn came into my room and examined me yet another time. After a while of feeling different spots, and asking me where it hurt, it seemed as if something was on his mind.

“Kiara, unfortunately, I have to tell you that there was a complication from the surgery. Since you had a severe rib injury, now you have developed pulmonary contusion,” said the doctor, informing my parents and me. He seemed very nervous and unhappy to break us the news. The clipboard he was holding was shaking the slightest bit and he began to bite his lip. I always thought being a doctor was hard. How hard is it to tell your patient that something is terribly wrong with them, that they are going to die?

I cried out, but that caused me a lot of pain. “There is no way this is happening to me,” I thought, “this is all a dream.”  But unfortunately, this was nothing like a dream, it was reality, I had a pulmonary contusion. What on Earth even is that? Beside me, Mom was on the verge of crying. I knew she didn’t want me to see her weak, to see her in pain too, but she couldn’t help but let some tears out.

“I know this is very hard to hear,” said Dr. Firn compassionately. “Since Kiara’s condition is basically a bruise in her left lung, right now, all we will do is wait for it to heal, and in the worst-case scenario, use a ventilator if she is short of breath,” he informed us.

“About when will it heal, doctor?” inquired my dad in a slightly shaky voice.

“It depends on how the process will go, but your daughter will probably recover in 5-7 days,” he replied, handing me a bright red lollipop. I know the doctor was trying to make me feel better, but, I’m sorry, that was the least I needed right then, especially with this lung thing I had. 

I felt like an animal in this hospital, all I did was sleep, grunt, listen, and eat nothing but strawberry flavored Jell-O. My parents always wanted me to be a good student, to be wise academically, and in life, right then I felt like I was doing the opposite. I felt useless! I understand now why everyone was feeling so bad for me, maybe I should have even felt bad for myself.

At the hospital, time seemed to pass very fast. My theory is that if all you do is eat Jell-O, take painkillers, and sleep, time is nonexistent: no worries, just lying down in a stupid hospital bed. 

5 days later, a different nurse came in. This time she was not so smiley and gentle, but after examining my lung, she concluded that I could be discharged. Even though I still had some pains in my side from time to time, I still wanted to end my long visit at this zoo. I could finally go back to normal! Go back to the place I was raised in, the place I belong!

Riding home from Lenox Hill gave me extreme deja vu. It seemed as if I had already been on that specific train, and sat in that specific seat. I was creeped out by how visually it reminded me of somewhere I’ve definitely been, and the spooky part was that I didn’t know if I actually had been there.

When I entered my apartment, I could already smell the scent of spices and carpets. Even though it usually didn’t occur to me as the best smell in the whole world, right now it was what made me happy.

“Kiara, since we know there has been a lot going on, your father and I have bought you a surprise,” said my mom, taking my hand and bringing me into the living room. What could it be? I thought to myself. I was intrigued, but knowing that my parents usually get me lame stuff like books and pencil cases, I didn’t keep my hopes too high.

On the couch in the living room, lay a box. It was neatly packed and lined with a fancy red rope.

“Thanks, Mom and Dad! You really didn’t have to do that,” I thanked them before opening the box. They smiled, and I was glad that I made them happy. I gently untied the rope and opened the box. My breath stopped. Inside lay something I didn’t expect at all, the reason for my injuries. I couldn’t stand on my feet anymore, and collapsed onto the couch. “The shoes,” I whispered.

A Loving Banishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She got increasingly closer to the man’s face. 

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

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

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

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

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

The woman laughed a dangerously high pitch howl. 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

She turned to the man.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smile and Nod

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

“Elliott’s in the basement.”

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

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

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

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

Then came the casket.

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

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

Twenty-20 Come Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Cheers or Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m your captain, yes I am.

I have spirit, I can dance!

If your skirt goes past your knees

Run so far before I SCREAM!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Anti Gravity

California, USA

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

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

“Matt, what’s going on?”

“How the hell would I know?!”

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

Paris, France

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

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

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

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

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


Kyoto, Japan

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

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

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

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

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

Prague, Czech Republic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Natalie, Luke, and Michelle


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So….” I started guiltily.

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


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

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

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

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

Michelle (Natalie and Luke’s mom)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could I?

All she had wanted was to know where I was!

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

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

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

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

“That was…” he trailed off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Luke!” I howled.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“Oh my god!” I exclaimed too late.

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

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

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

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

Deciding against my better nature, I intervened.

“Hey, Ryan!” I exclaimed excitedly.

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

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

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

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

Everyone knows me but no one knows me.

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

Nat walked into the room just then, excitedly exclaiming.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I read somewhere that family is the most important thing…

Is it really?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Luke.


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

I gulp, nervously, before I continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Adventures of Rusty and Runty

When two sailors of the open seas

Come forth to a ruler of fortune and keys

Whence spews forth a prince who wears gold

Who has weak bones and a fragile mold

Together they sail for the deepest caves

Darkest corners

And an interesting enclave

Together two fight

A creature of snarl and bite

Then as they draw their pistols

And fire bullets by the fistfuls

The creature grabs one in rage

With the deadliness of a bacteriophage (i was desperate)

But together they fight hard

Fending off the creature

By Playing the cannon card

When the ship is impaled by a needle

On the island of the lethal

They take the rest on foot

Soon to be shook

By a monster of fear and terror

When Saved by the bearers

Of skull masks and spears

And an evil agenda

Stored between their ears

When taken to the rooms

Of their kidnappers of doom

They must speak their way out

Rather than slash and shout

And here one shines and shows

Who once did nothing but crow

Of discomforts and complaints

With terrible temper

And little constraint

With overwhelming speed

And a deadly steed

They made their escape

things escalate

They steal a new boat

And cut someone’s throat

Sailing away to the seas

In order to find

the lands of grass and trees

The Diary of Evil Chicken Dude

Today, the craziest thing happened. It seemed like an ordinary day, but it wasn’t. I went to the kitchen like I do every day and waited for my mom to make me a hard boiled egg. But when she grabbed the egg, she dropped into a big pot of moldy stew. But I ate the egg anyways.

Soon, I noticed I was pooping out eggs and suddenly craved corn seeds. Then out of nowhere, I grew a beak and feathers. I turned into a human-sized chicken, then I started to do evil mean tricks and pranks. I then came to the conclusion that all my mean tricks and pranks started because of the mean old mold. I went to see the M.O.L.D. doctor for villains, and he told me my theory was true, and the M.O.L.D. doctor also said he’d ask his friends if I could join M.O.L.D..

I started my new life living alone being an evil chicken. Finally, the evil villains of M.O.L.D., which stands for mean, old, lazy dudes, called me, and now I am robbing banks and living a life of crime. I am no longer accepted at my parents’ farm since I robbed my parents of all their chickens, to make mold egg stew. I live at the M.O.L.D. headquarters and bunk with a giant lemon named Pablo.