Puppies of the Airport

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

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

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

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

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

Motto: Don’t fly during flu season.

Where it all ends

Content Warning: Suicide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes, the undersides of our food would burn.

What will burn this time?

I had yet to find out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Baba was giving up.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

“You’ll be dead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The zombie scowled, taken aback.

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


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

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

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

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

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

“Who are you?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where did you come from?” they ask.

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

“Hold on,” they say.

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

“Where do you live?” they ask me.

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

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

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

“Okay,” I say.

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

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

“Okay,” Lily says.

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

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

“Here you go,” she tells me.

“Okay, thanks,” I say back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Doctor’s Office

*Ring Ring*

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah sure, no problem.”

The next day…

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

“Okay,” I say.

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

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


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

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

“Yeah, okay.”

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

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

“Okay,” I say back to her.

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

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

“Okay,” I say to Dr. Smith.

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” she says.

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

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

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

The Doctor’s Office

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

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

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

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

The next morning…

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

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

“… No, it’s not.”

“Whose is it?”

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

“Where is she now.”

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

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I say to Penny.

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

“Where’s Lily?”

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

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

“Hey, Lily, can I join you?”

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

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


“Can you come inside please?”


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

“What’s up?”

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

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

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

“But… ”

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

“A DNA match… ”

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

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

The Fox and the Forest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter growled again, baring her sharp, white teeth.

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

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

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

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

“Okay, I’ll try!”

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

“Aagh, Penny!” I shrieked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay, Penny?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did I… shout?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The River! Penny, look!”

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

“The Creatures? Why?”

“Because. They need me.”

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

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

“This is an amazing idea.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are we doing here?” Penny demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Come on. We’re counting on you!”

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

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

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

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

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

Toys R Us Ripoff

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Jinky, is that you?” I asked.

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

The Psychic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I’m not making excuses.”

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

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

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

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

She grabbed her least favorite patient, Jen, by the arm and said, “Jen, in your future I see you dying by being thrown off the side of a volcano.”

She picked her up and threw her into the magma. Next, she reached for her patient Madeleine and gave her the same fate as Jen. As she went to grab her last patient, Lola, she felt the ground beneath her rumble, and before she could take another step, the rock she was stepping on had broken into millions of pieces, and she was falling into the volcano. The last thought that crossed her mind as she was getting closer to the end of her life was a vision of her hamsters drinking her herbal tea.

Taking out the Garbage

I yawn and look up at the pool blue ceiling, and then it hits me. No! Today’s the day. The day that I have to take out the garbage. I love garbage. I collect garbage, and I’ve been saving all the garbage I love most! For example, my rainbow tin can with a crab on it that’s from Mexico or my collection of Disney plastic bags. But my mami said that today the garbage is going in the garbage.

I roll over in my bed and cover my head with my fluffy pink blanket my abuela gave me when she visited.

“Nya, get up. It’s the day for you to take all the garbage out,” my mom says with glee.

“No, I won’t,” I grumble. “And for the last time, it’s not garbage. It’s my treasure!”

“Nya, for the last time, you have to take the garbage out, so you can collect more. Wouldn’t it be nice to have new fresh garbage?” my mami says, making an excellent point.

“Yes, yes it would, but this is my precious garbage. How can I just give it away like… trash?” I say.

“Nya Solone Rodrigues, get down here this instant. Or I’ll burn it, and you know I will,” my mami says with satisfaction.

“Fine,” I say and hop up on my too-hard bed and trudge very slowly down the stairs. I’ll do what she wants, but I won’t do it fast. When I get downstairs, my mami has a wide smile on her face and a huge garbage bag in her hand.

I grab the garbage bag and give her my best stink eye. I walk out the door with my mom trailing closely behind, to make sure I don’t hide the bag somewhere and use a decoy like I did last time on garbage day. I walk up to the garbage bag and kiss my garbage knowing this is one of the last times I ever will. My mami opens the blue lid, and without looking, I slowly lift my garbage bag up and kiss it one last time and sling it in.

I immediately start crying. I blubber like a baby as I say, “It’s my garbage.”

My mami, now with sympathy in her eyes, says, “I’m sorry, sweetie, but you know this is the only way.”

“I know,” I whisper. “I know.”

My mami says, “At least you’ll have your memories.”

I exclaim with delight, “You’re right. I’m gonna go make a poem!”

And I write this:

I Remember

A poem by Nya

I remember my lucky rainbow lobster can from Mexico.

I remember the gum wrapper I found on the ground in the shopping mall.

I remember the hippie headband I found soaking wet down at the beach.

I remember the toilet roll I found at the Macy’s department store bathroom.

I remember the little fancy hand napkins I also found at the Macy’s department store bathroom.

I remember the doll head I found in my cousin’s backyard.

I remember how the doll was missing a tooth and had blood all over its head.

I remember my sister’s first pineapple rind.

I remember the tooth I found in the sandbox.

I remember the plastic bottle I found with Dora all over it.

I remember the Elsa and Anna chicken noodle soup can.

Oh trash, oh trash it doesn’t matter if you’re here or in the garbage can. I will always always remember you.

Ancient Eyes

I woke up in a hot sweat. I had heard it again! It was so clear this time, so profound a sensation, I knew it had to be coming from within the room. I bolted upright, shouting at the top of my lungs, “WHAT DO YOU WANT WITH MY BLOODY EYEBROWS, YA GREASY PIG!”

I sat quietly in my room awaiting an answer, when suddenly I heard a low creaking noise coming from the depths of my friend’s basement. My blood went cold as ice as I awaited the coming battle. I could hear heavy footsteps getting closer, closer, when suddenly out of the dark abyss, came a hairy, foul-smelling beast from beyond time!

“What’s the yelling about,” said my roommate Bob.

“Well, for one thing, you need to shower,” I said, wrinkling my nose.

“You had another nightmare, didn’t you,” said Bob.

“Yup,” I replied.

“You have to stop reading Lovecraft before bed,” Bob said with a hint of irritation in his voice.

“I know, I know. It just seems so real to me sometimes.”

“This is the ninth time this month,” Bob complained. “I haven’t gotten a full night’s rest in almost a fortnight.”

I glanced towards the clock. It was exactly 3:33 in the morning, the same time that I had woken up the past couple of weeks.

A pot of tea warmed on the stove as I sat with Bob and discussed how to resolve this problem of mine.

“You could see a therapist about it,” said Bob.

“That’s too expensive,” I replied.

“You could just stay away from anything having to do with the occult for now,” suggested Bob.

“NEVER!” I exclaimed. “And that’s final.”

“How about we just talk about it in the morning,” Bob tiredly replied.

I wandered back to my room in the basement, painfully aware of the cold, dark emptiness of it. I wandered to my bed and hugged my Cthulhu plush. I shut my eyes and tried to go to sleep. No sooner had I shut my eyes than I heard the voice again, so clear, so pungent and robust, and in that moment I knew what I had to do.

Not a bad look, I thought to myself after shaving them off. I had slashed them with such haste that my forehead now had many small wounds upon it (I was never especially good at shaving). Are you happy now, I thought. I heard a resounding, No. I panicked. I ran. I felt my thoughts being scattered across the infinite cosmos. I needed to go somewhere, somewhere where they couldn’t find me! I tripped, skidding across the smooth wood floor and slamming my head against the grand piano in the corner. I could feel myself scattering and flames forming around me and the piano. I looked up and saw nothing more than the great eyebrowed old one looking down on me in shame!

The End… Or is it


Disney Breaking Out (Part One)


Prologue: Before the Time

Holly ordered her sweet peppermint hot chocolate after waiting in the line for way too long. She settled down in her usual spot for the last ten years. The peaceful corner table with quiet music was what she loved about her special time in the cafe. If it were up to Holly, she would spend every moment at her magical reflecting table. Every memory, every moment of happiness, fear, and anger, led up to this one spot.
She began with how it started. In the beginning — she remembered.


Chapter One: The Journey to the True Kingdom

Holly and her parents had been preparing for their home-away-from-home journey for five weeks and counting. Holly packed her red with black polka dot duffle bag to the fullest. She arranged her bow shaped purse perfectly with her dearest belongings. She placed her sixteen stuffed animals against the leather backseat. She fluffed her pink and black skirt, perfected her bow, and hopped in the car next to her many stuffed siblings. Mrs. and Mr. Casco smiled at their daughter as she opened her fairy tale book at the start of driving.

“Ya ready?” Her mom, Daisy, smiled warmly. She too was dressed up, along with Mr. Casco. Christopher, Holly’s hardworking dad, put his honeycomb-shaped key into the car. And without another word, the bright red car with a Mickey and Minnie shape engraved in the windshield drove slowly out of the parking spot. I am sure you can tell the Cascos were huge Disney fans.

Holly didn’t mind the long trip to Disneyland. She, in fact, enjoyed it. She couldn’t wait to get there, though. She daydreamed about the rides and characters and hot cocoa. She loved the Matterhorn, the big, hairy monster with yellow, glowing eyes She remembered the story her dad told her when she was young and scared of him. The monster was Harold, and all of his growling was about the fact that he had no chocolate chip cookies. The story made Holly smile.

Next, she imagined the Nemo ride with the colorful coral and fish moving underwater. She remembered the story her mom had told her about being a “mermaid” and sitting on the rocks under the monorail. Back then, when she was a little girl, the managers of Disneyland had real women dress up as mermaids. Holly wished she could have been a mermaid. Holly, through her Minnie Mouse dress and twinkling brown-golden eyes, almost envied her mom for her childhood in Los Angeles.

Mrs. Casco barely talked about living by Disneyland. Disneyland had always been magical to Holly. How? She never knew how the magic worked. The sensation of lighting the Christmas tree at night and Mickey’s Halloween party made her breathless. Every single Halloween, Holly dressed up as Minnie. In fact, she had just stopped dressing up last year as the original Disney characters because a candy giver called her “sweetie.” Holly smiled at the funny explanation of her true age. She just loved Disney! There wasn’t another thought about it.

If it were up to her, Holly would stay six months at Disneyland. The Cascos were staying only sixteen days. Another reason why Holly brought sixteen of her many Minnies and Mickeys. She would bring one stuffed friend each day. She held her Hawaiian Minnie, Golf Mickey, Fishing Mickey, Christmas Minnie, Valentine’s Day Minnie, Easter Minnie, and Christmas Mickey closer, looking back at her other eight stuffed siblings. She made a list of whom she would bring in on what day in her Minnie notebook.

The car flew by the never-ending plains and farmland. Her dad stopped at a little fruit shed and got a carton of strawberries and other sustenance for the drive. Her brother grabbed several strawberries as if to say to Holly, “And this is for taking up the entire back seat with your stuffed animals!”

Tryvis was Holly’s older brother. He was squished up against the door of the car, and whenever the car turned and the animals slid, he would flick them away. Tryvis, unlike the rest of the family, was not a Disney fan. He smirked at Holly and shoved the juicy berries into his saliva-filled mouth. Holly tried to ignore him.

Tryvis wasn’t looking forward to the “short” trip. Sixteen days! Barely enough time to get everything done!

Why did the Cascos stay so long? Holly’s parents did a really good job at covering it up. Well, Mrs. Casco’s maiden name was Disney. Raymond Arnold Disney was her father.

Holly stretched her legs as she slipped out of the car, four hundred miles away from home. Tryvis whined impatiently as Holly grabbed her stuffed animals. He shut the door behind them. The bright moon shone, and Holly could swear she saw three Mickey Mouse-shaped craters. The Disneyland adventure had begun.

The three Disney fans and one annoyed brother opened the door to the private hotel. Holly jumped onto her bed and arranged her belongings in her room. The room had three Disney-themed bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms. The balcony held exquisite views overlooking the Matterhorn and a couple other rides from three floors up. Holly watched the moon and stars shine down and illuminate the pleasant sight of several people here and there in nighttime Disneyland. The sight was amazing, and while Holly had seen it before, it never ceased to amaze her.

Holly took out her ballerina Minnie and held her out in the wind as if she were dancing. “Not to interrupt — whatever that is… ” Tryvis snarled at her, disguised with the ballerina dancing. “But it is time for a late dinner.” He stalked away.

Neither Holly nor her parents had any idea how Tryvis went wrong. He had been a very happy baby, almost too happy. And then one day, it was as if all his joy had been sucked out of him. That day was when four-year-old Holly started talking about her adventures. Everyone seemed to love the happy girl, and when she told Tryvis her stories, he snarled as she turned away.

Daisy and Christopher, Holly’s parents, set up the pizza and sweet lemonade onto the wooden table. Holly savored the fresh pineapple and olives on the pizza. She couldn’t wait to get on the rides at Disneyland the next morning. You see, it was Holly’s job to test all of the rides early, early in the morning, or deep into the night. Don’t tell me you have never heard of her!

Every time Disney cancels fireworks, it is not because of high winds. It is because Holly needs more ride testing time. Every other week, when the park closes down two hours early, that is all the work of Holly. Every time Holly visits the park, the rides become a little bit safer.


Holly dreamed of pixies, disappearing cats, a bear with a thirst for honey, and an unusual transformation into a frog. Holly’s imagination was magic. Her kindness was her very own magic. And her favorite thing in the world was magic Disneyland.

Whether it was the magical fireworks of Disneyland or it was the sweet Tigger Tails with soft caramel wrapped around chocolate and marshmallow, everyone who left Disneyland came back for more of their favorite things. Everyone wanted to experience the magic of the characters or the creative roller coasters. Everyone wanted to meet a graceful fairy or travel underwater into the colorful world of an orange and white fish and his friends. That morning, when Holly awoke, she spied her brother snoring noisily, a bit of drool slipping down his right cheek. She quickly wrote a note in her neat handwriting to her parents, explaining why she was leaving so early:


My dearest parents,

I am extremely sorry that I am leaving so early. But as you know, duty calls! I am getting a head start on testing all the rides, and if I have time, some restaurants. I do hope you don’t mind, but fifteen days and six and a half hours will go by quickly. And the time is still ticking! I will be back for dinner and find a nice place to eat lunch. I’ll get you a Minnie, Mickey, and Pluto keychain!

Your sweet, loving daughter

P.S. Tell Tryvis that his favorite characters will make their appearance in a couple hours, so tell him to not miss them!


She wrote the last part hastily, hoping that Tryvis would for once enjoy his Disneyland trip. He would sleep forever and just lie in bed, thinking about crazy, disastrous stuff. For Holly, it was the opposite. She wished she could simply live in the Matterhorn in the spiraling “icy” tunnels with Herold. She and Herold could be besties because they both loved chocolate chip cookies! In fact, Herold’s craving for chocolate chip cookies could melt the plastic coating right off of his skin and bring him to the nearest cookie stand.

Holly pressed the note up against her mom and dad’s door. She hoped they wouldn’t worry. She skipped cheerfully down the hall leading to the door of the fancy condo, careful not to awake any other special guests. While walking to the secret entrance into Disneyland, she tripped on a tiny, sticky blue rock. The blue rock was a bit uneven and almost had a furry texture. From the beginning of Holly’s trip, she had felt a feeling of distress and mistakenness. She placed the tiny but sharp rock back on the ground and kicked it playfully down the pathway, unaware of her interference. The bushes shook silently as several pairs of eyes appeared on both sides. Holly continued down the path, but as happy, harmless, and innocent she had been, that record was broken. Holly had changed the natural order of effects without meaning to.

Holly loved, loved Disney. She lived for Disney. She was a Disney. So how come she had done something that the most wanted villain would have done? She had been the worst villain in all time without meaning to be.


“Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad. How are you?” She looked around. Tryvis was in bed, Mom was packing her purse for dinner, and Holly’s dad was checking his watch impatiently by the door. Then, Holly looked at Tryvis. “How were the characters? Which ones did you see? What did they do? Did you tell them that you were descended from the great Raymond Disney? Of course they probably already know because all Disney characters can tell!” She held her fist up high and looked proud to have been descended from a Disney.

“Oh… it was great. They could totally tell that I was a Disney. They wouldn’t keep their hands off of me. I was so busy that I saw all of them.” Holly looked pleased. Then, Tryvis continued, “I was probably way busier than you! The characters even held a parade just for me because I am a Disney.” Holly looked as if she had just seen a unicorn.

“Wow, I wish I could have been there.” Holly’s parents looked confused.

“You dumbo! I was in bed all day thinking about how trusting you are! You’d believe anything and everything. One day, it’s going to get you in trouble no one will be able to get you out of — not even Mickey Mouse!” He smirked.

“So, you didn’t even see any characters. I wrote part of the note just for you… ” Holly squeaked like a tiny mouse at her rude brother. Tryvis ignored her and rolled over in bed. He reached for his bouncy shaped baseball that lit up and turned it thrice in hand, as if debating if he should throw it at someone.

Holly dressed in her nicest clothes. She smiled cheekily at Tryvis, making him scowl harder. His mouth started to get tired of the tight face, so he fell backward into the soft, luxurious pillows, exhausted from doing nothing all day. Holly tried to cram as much in as possible during the Disneyland trip, while Tryvis was just trying to get through the rough days of happiness and magic. Truly, the Casco younger sister and older brother, Holly and Tryvis, were almost exact opposites. Their only similarity was how they both looked out for each other, even if they would never admit it. Tryvis always wanted his sister safe, even if he treated her badly. Because in the very end, they were family.

As Holly and Mr. and Mrs. Casco headed out the door, Holly wondered why her brother wasn’t coming. She felt bad for his somber mood, but it wasn’t her fault. Or was it? On the walk over, Holly skipped and looked overhead at the monorail track and spied several fireworks going off as cheers rose around them. She continued walking over to Blue Bayou while the crowds were gone. The three family members had a good time looking at the Pirates of the Caribbean boats, talking, and eating a scrumptious dinner.

Meanwhile, Tryvis got into some trouble of his own. He had been looking out the porch balcony, one floor up. He was spying on his family as they walked down the boulevard, hand in hand, and wished either he was happy with them or a storm picked them up and brought them to the Arctic where they would freeze to death. He was angry with himself and in despair, for he couldn’t start being all sunshine and rainbows all of a sudden like Holly! Suddenly, a bright, shining light illuminated the dull room. He turned around and tripped on his skateboard, blinded by the light. On the floor, he sat up and pressed his hand against throbbing head. He shook his head in anger and embarrassment. He crept slowly on hands and knees up to his bed and peeked up. He immediately fell backward into his back. Hesitantly, he crawled around to the right of the bed and grabbed the illuminated, rounded, mysterious object. It felt familiar. He could already realize that someone was trying to interact with him through one of his objects. But who was the question, and why this object? Things were getting heavy and mysterious, and with Tryvis’ somber record, who could he ask or cry to for help? Tryvis crouched down, object in hand, and reached open-fingered toward the light source.


Holly checked her Minnie Mouse watch. “Oh my! It is time to go check some more rides! Doodle-dooh!” She skipped off in ambush of fun. On the way there, she got an ice cream sandwich. She opened the wrapper, expecting a regular Mickey shaped cookie, but instead a Mickey with fangs holding a tiny staff appeared before her. She looked confused. “It isn’t Halloween!” she murmured under her breath. After eating a bit of her tart ice cream sandwich, she didn’t think much of the funny shaped Mickey. This was only the start of them taking the glory from Him. I’ll give you a hint. Him is the big boss. The one that everyone knows about — the one that’s all powerful — Him.


Chapter Two: True Disaster Eats Mice Cheese

Hints gathered up and layered upon layer upon layer. Holly took several hours just to try to piece together what was happening to the magic. Babies started crying at Mickey’s touch. Even the snickerdoodle and chocolate cookies were losing their magic. As a result, Holly got up earlier and earlier with each day to come. And on the eighth day, Holly was up by four and going to bed at nine. Every day, she would pace around the area where she found the sticky, blue little rock. “It has to be a sign, or a warning, or even a secret passage!” Holly would whisper to herself.

Not all of this mystery was new or bad to Holly. She enjoyed suspense and trying to figure out what was happening in the magical kingdom. Day after day, guests stopped piling in, and rumor had it the movie makers of Mickey’s Darkta Holiday Cruise, the new movie, had gone dark. Everyone, even Holly’s mom and dad, seemed not to notice how dark Disneyland had become. Holly didn’t have really any real answers until the eighth day of Holly’s trip.

While she was pacing, something extraordinary happened. She slipped on another one of those sticky rocks. She fell on her knees, head facing the floor. She bent down to pick it up, and as she tilted her head upwards, a fur ball made a sneeze. As she opened her eyes… big, black, adorable eyes stared back at her. She fell backwards, again and opened just one eye. Can it be? She hesitantly rubbed the blue alien. Stitch had come for help.


Tryvis continued to hold the bright ball in his left hand.

“Oh, Tryvis! What a handsome boy.” A mysterious, evil voice filed through the room. A voice that just screamed disaster and evil. This voice tried to butter Tryvis up, making her seem to tell her wicked truth. “I can see why your sister is all happy and jolly. She is very sick. She has too much happiness and goodness. The illness makes her a stealer. She stole your happiness! You can’t let her do that!”

Tryvis looked horror-struck. He always wanted the best for his sister, except now, because of the sickness. She was stealing his happiness. At first, he looked scared and worried for his little sister, and then greed and hatred filled his face. He wanted his happiness back! “What do I do?” Tryvis looked determinedly at the little ball.

“Oh! I just knew I could count on you to save us! What a brave, brave, boy! Your sister hasn’t only been stealing your happiness, she has been stealing ours too!” A softer voice made a sad whimper, but then she went on. “Please help us!” A sound of bubbles trickled out of the ball as a purple hand reached out of the ball, signaling an arrangement.

“Do we have a deal?” crackled a purple monster. Tryvis shook the slippery hand without hesitation.

Nearly a mile away, Ursula pressed the “off” button next to her crystal ball as she crackled and sneered and snickered evilly. She had a deal, a deal to make evil back in the movie business. A deal to completely destroy the minion — Tryvis.

Ursula grabbed her shellphone and headed into the poor connection boot. “Guess what, we’re in business.” An evil crow made an obnoxious sound in the background.

“Now, now, Diaval. This time, we’ll praise Chernabog in triumph. We are going to use the boy. He is foolish enough to trust that ocean lizard!” She giggled violently up into the heavens. She wrapped her crippled fingers around the heavy trison bar, waiting for the lightning bolt symbol. She stroked Diaval evilly, holding her staff. Her horns struck up jaggedly, making a fearsome shadow.

The dark witch with dark magic and with a dark plan strode around to the prison bench, waiting. The ugly witch stared at the clock, knowing that the Cascos had been at Disneyland for two days. She revealed her palm, trying to get a burst of evil magic. “Oh, well.” The unique design of her very own prison restrained the witch’s magic. All that she could conjure was a little dusty wind of yellow-green.

“Oh guard! I see a rat! Get it away from me!”

“Well, he might just bite out all of the evil from you. And again, there is too much evil for just one rat to devour.” The Evil One rolled her eyes. “I’m coming… ” He tilted his head almost through the bars, spying for the little rascal. Meanwhile, Diaval scuttled along the ground. The guard clearly wasn’t smart. The dim light didn’t help, along with the black bars. While he was leaning down, the gloomy witch snatched the keys from the guard’s waist. He was so busy looking for the rat that he didn’t even notice her grabbing his keys.

“Oh my! I think it flew up to the ceiling!”

“That’s impossible!” Maleficent quickly unlatched the prison door. She stepped out into the deserted hallway and placed a spell under the guard.

“Nothing happened,” the mysterious witch cited.

“Nothing happened… ” the guard repeated.

“Maleficent is still in prison.”

“Maleficent is still in prison.”

“Good, good — good.” Maleficent smiled evilly.

“Good, good — good.”

“No! Don’t repeat any more!”

“No — don’t — ”

“Ugh. Useless.” The Evil One relatched the door, keys in hand.

The useless guard awoke and said, “I just had the strangest dream!” He shook his head and stood his post again.

Diaval crowded approvingly. Maleficent stroked him and muttered, “Brainless.”


Holly peered expectantly at Stitch, waiting for his quiet response. Holly wiped her brow after seven hours of sleep last night. Her time to sleep went lower and lower, for she was eight days into the trip. Stitch eagerly took Holly’s hand and pulled her close to the first rock. He tried to touch the original rock that Holly had first kicked. An invisible force blocked Snitch’s hand.

Stitch motioned towards Holly’s hand. She picked up the rock carefully. “Wh-what? I don’t understand!” Holly stared at Stitch in the eye, placed his paw in both of her hands, and spoke convincingly. “I am going to figure this out. Whatever evil, whatever is happening here — I will figure it out.” Snitch looked sympathetically at Holly and pulled her over towards a bush. She tried to back away, afraid of what terrors or mishaps she might find. Curiosity always got the best of her.

She pushed back a couple of leaves and found an unrecognizable bear. His red shirt was ripped on the side. His fur and short tail was ruffled. He clutched his broken honey pots — and yet he greeted Holly with some sort of a smile. “Oh, Pooh bear… what happened?”

“Christopher Robin wasn’t able to save me this time,” he said in his poor, soft voice he always had. “She knows that it is out of place. She knows her time has come. You must put it right! And if you don’t — ” Pooh’s eyes grew fearful, yet Holly looked confused.

“Who? What back? How do I do it!” Holly huddled around Pooh, nearly begging for information. Pooh’s face drained of color and held his fist against his forehead, as if an invisible force withheld his speech. Holly, on the edge of her seat for information, looked back at Stitch, but he simply shrugged. It was as if Stitch had completely forgotten the topic that they were talking about. Holly’s eyes went big, and Pooh hung his head.

“It restrains me. I can’t say. I’m not able to! The same reason Stitch couldn’t!” He tried to hint, but his paws formed back into a stressful fist. Holly looked sympathetically at Pooh but disappeared behind the bush, heading back to the hotel.

“Oh, bother.” Pooh was left, hands still holding his head against his ripped red shirt.

Holly made it back for a lunch with her parents, and yet, Tryvis wasn’t at home. He must have run an errand, she guessed. Half an hour later, with mud on his boots, Tryvis appeared, hungry. “Hi, big brother! Whatcha doing for the rest of the day?”

He said nothing, except take off his fancy coat and throw it on the ground. He stepped on it. Muddy boot stains with the imprint of his shoe stuck against the black striped leather.

Tryvis’ little sister made a disgusted face and smoothed her own skirt and blouse gently, as if treasuring every moment of them before Tryvis, too, stepped on her clothes. The family of four ate dinner, none of them knowing what was to come.

That night, the wind blew. It whipped the hairs of people riding roller coasters. Rain poured down. People slipped on the normally beautiful landscape of Downtown Disney. The bright lights streamed across the walkway above on the shops fell, starting a small fire. Minnie’s bow kept on falling off as children went to hug her. And at Goofy’s kitchen, the Mickey Mouse waffles were cold. The bacon was all fat. The characters didn’t go to several tables.

Tryvis seemed to become sicker and sicker with each day. Holly’s parents didn’t notice anything, though. It was as if everything was normal. In fact, Daisy Casco even said something really weird. “Oh, Darling!” she had said as Holly went out the door. “Do be careful of the smoke from the fire! They were just putting it out.” After that, her mom went back to making breakfast for Tryvis. Holly looked shaken. Why isn’t she alarmed that Disneyland might go up in flames? After that, Holly Casco didn’t give it much a thought.

With five days left to test rides, Holly still didn’t figure out the mystery. On day eleven, an unhappy Stitch appeared again. “What do you want now?” she responded impatiently. Stitch looked a little hurt and stared down shyly at his feet. “I’m sorry, it’s just… why can’t you tell me what is going on?”

“Go back to the beginning since it started,” Stitch whispered, almost embarrassed by interrupting Holly’s annoyed behavior.

Holly sat next to Stitch behind a bush. Stitch’s eyes gleamed with a tiny bit of mischief and knowing the answer.

“What started? My trip? My life? Disneyland?” Holly tried to think. When did she first see Stitch? She didn’t see Stitch at all until a few days ago. “I never saw you until a few days ago.” She pointed out what was on her mind.

“But you did see part me. And one of Winnie the Pooh’s favorite artifacts. We combined sci-fi and fantasy.” Stitch had never talked this much, especially to a human. But when good and evil are at risk, including all of the good characters’ lives and popularity, someone must take charge to think and act outside the box.

“Oh my! The rock!” Stitch nodded gleefully, his adorable smile beaming proudly of his hints that no other characters could think of. “That’s why you and Winnie the Pooh came to see me first. The fur was yours, and the sticky mixture was… honey?” Stitch nodded again. “But what do I do with it?” This was when Stitch changed faces, looking troubled. “Well, I think I’ll sleep on it. Clearly, you can’t tell me, so I might dream about it and get answers — I get all of my great ideas from dreaming!”

Stitch nodded, as if saying, “Well, this is a good start. I’ll report to the others! Bye!”

“Bye!” whispered Holly. She checked if the coast was clear and then headed back to the hotel.


As she neared the condo, Maleficent, Ursula, Jafar, and Lady Tremaine posters littered the crowded street. No one seemed to notice the difference. Okay, Holly tried to gather her thoughts. What do I know? It all started with the rock. But what do I do with it is the question. No one seemed to notice the poster change or the difference in the magic. I am not sure if this is good or bad. The park seems to be more crowded every time! Well, I have decided — this isn’t good.

A crowd gathered around something… or someone! Holly tried to peek through the legs of cheery adults, but they wouldn’t budge. “Excuse me,” she whispered. Or at least it sounded like a whisper, because of all the racket the crowd and thing was making. It seemed to be a character. Holly followed the crowd. Along the twisting pathways, the character was taking the fans, Holly looked above at all the crooked trees. That wasn’t correct! Lanterns normally lit the way! Holly whimpered under her breath.

Holly followed the crowd into a clearing. As they circled around her, all Holly could bear to see was the ambiguous shadow. The character was holding a clear glass of water, spinning the drink around in her hand. And Holly ran. She ran as fast as she could. Holly didn’t care who she knocked over — she just had to get out of there! The character that ate all of the Mouse Cheese gleamed with green eyes, crackling behind her smirk. She looked sneakily at Holly’s back. Overhead, a crow spoke annoyingly.

Holly knew it. All of the good characters knew it. The bad characters smiled at it. Change was coming to Happiest Place on Earth — something dark — something bad.


The Memories


Chapter One: The Earthquake

April opened up her dictionary and gasped. “Jackson!” she screamed. Her friends thought it odd to have a pet caterpillar, but it was amusing sometimes. This was not one of those times. “Jackson!!” she screamed, even louder this time. She finally saw him on the corner of the table. “There you are Jackson. How many times have I told you not to eat my dictionary!” She glanced at the dictionary, which was covered in holes. It looked like an expert piece of lace. She wagged her finger in Jackson’s face, knowing that he most likely could not understand her, but she enjoyed it anyway. She set him back down in his tray, which was full of as much foliage as possible. April knew that it was not very comfortable for a caterpillar to live in an apartment, so she tried to make it as luxurious as possible. She frowned at her dictionary, but moved on, and sat back down on her bed. She picked up her book, and flew instantly into a land of danger and suspense. How could Lord Jeffrey marry Grace when they were in two different social classes and their parents forbid it? How dramatic, how unresolved! April knew it was time for dinner, but she had to read another chapter. And that was when the earthquake struck. It heaved the earth from side to side, making it dance like a clumsy ballerina. Books slid off of April’s bolted-in shelves, and she flew out from her bedsheets to hide under her bed. She heard some of the old, unstable complex crumbling elsewhere, but she didn’t dare move from her position. After what seemed like an eternity of worry, it stopped. The ballerina stopped her dance, the earth stopped its heaving. She crept out from under her bed, only to hear her mother tearing through the door.

“Honey, honey, are you okay? Are you hurt? Did anything hurt you?” her mother shouted.

“Yeah, yeah, Mom. I’m fine.” April suddenly remembered Jackson and rushed over to his tray. He was happily munching away on some leaves, oblivious of what disaster had just struck. April let out a breath of relief, only to become worried once again. “Is the rest of the complex okay?” she asked her mother, her voice shaking.

“I don’t know, sweetie. I didn’t check yet,” her mom said, confused. April rushed down the stairs and out the door, only to have the color drain from her face. Half of the apartment building was cracked and crumbling, including the apartment next door. April ran back inside to get the key that she had to her best friend Erica’s apartment. She tore back to apartment five, the one next door to hers, and thrust the key into the lock. She frantically opened the door, and instead of seeing the home she practically grew up in, the couch she sat on, the floor she walked on, she saw rubble. Where her memories were made was just rubble. When her mom was at work, when her mom was broken down crying, when her dad left after April was born, Erica and her family were there. But now it was all reduced to rubble. And then she heard a shout.

“Help! I’m stuck!” It sounded like Erica was in tears. She sounded broken, like the building around her.

“I’m coming! I’m right here!” April shouted as she pushed away at the pile of rubble that was surrounding Erica’s voice. She finally saw her friend’s face, a circle of dust broken by streaks of tears.

“April! April. Thank you. I missed you. I just I can’t… ” her speech was broken by a fit of sobs. April sat down next to her and rubbed her back. She stood there for ten minutes or so, just comforting her friend. After all those years of comfort from Erica, the roles were reversed.

“Are you okay? Is anything broken?” April said calmly. Erica didn’t answer. “Is anything broken?” April repeated, lightly tapping her friend on the shoulder. Erica looked up at her, a confused look plastered on her face. “Is anything broken?” April said frantically. Erica just kept looking at April with her confused, worried eyes.

“Oh god, oh god. I’m calling 911,” April said, frightened that her friend could no longer hear her words of comfort. “It’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay,” April whispered, more for herself than for Erica.

The next few hours were a numb blur of flashing lights and loud noises for April. If you talked to April now, she would tell you that the moment everything came into focus was when the doctor walked into the waiting room.

“I’m afraid she has permanent ear damage and will not be able to hear anything from now on,” the doctor said solemnly. Erica’s mom fell down sobbing into Erica’s dad.

April heard a quiet, “If we hadn’t gone out… ” coming from Erica’s mom. April’s mom looked at her, not sad for Erica, but sad for April. April needed to go into the hospital ward. She needed to see Erica. The doctor was so calm about it, like this happens every day to him. How could he be calm about this? Too many dangerous thoughts were floating through April’s head. She started feeling dizzy, like she was inside of another earthquake. Like the earth was dancing another deadly dance. She shrieked, then crashed to the floor. She woke up later, to her mother fanning her face.

“Honey, are you okay? I think we need to get you back home,” her mother said

“No!” April half-shouted. “I need to see Erica!” She felt sick, but she would never leave until she could see Erica.

“I agree. I think you should get some rest,” the doctor said.

That stupid doctor with his stupid serious voice and his stupid ideas, April thought.

“I don’t want to go yet!” April shrieked, like a toddler throwing a tantrum. “I need to see Erica!” She felt her mother and the doctor pulling her toward the car while she flailed dramatically. She suddenly felt dizzy again and fell onto the waiting room couch next to her.

She woke up later to the smell of pancakes wafting into her room from the kitchen. The pancakes floated in, all by themselves, while a plate materialized in front of April. She dug into her pancakes, while a two-foot long Jackson rolled around at her feet. Suddenly, the earth was doing its dark dance again, and she spiraled into darkness. Her mom was in front of her, saying something, shouting something, but April couldn’t hear it. She was trapped in a cage, and she couldn’t get out, she couldn’t get out, until she woke up. But this time, it wasn’t her room.


Chapter Two: The Boxes

She still smelled pancakes, but it was a different room. She saw normal-sized Jackson on his tray, so she wasn’t dreaming anymore, but there was nothing else in her room. It was like a blank slate. “Moooooooooom!” she called. “Why is the room that I am in not my room?”

Her mom walked in, puzzled, until she finally realized what April was asking. “Oh, the complex was too dangerous to stay in, so we’re renting a different apartment for a little bit,” her mom answered calmly.

“How did I get here?” April asked groggily.

“After we came back from the hospital, you were knocked out cold. I think it was just from shock. I just slid you into bed.”

“But what about my stuff?” April asked frantically.

“It’s all in boxes in the living room.” Her mom nodded toward a few boxes marked “April” in the other room. April never realized how little she had until it was all put in boxes. Most of them were books, but a few boxes held sentimental objects, memories. Her first toys, her favorite stuffed animals, her thoughtful pictures. Her life could fit into a few small boxes. April heard a “Bye, sweetie!” and the sound of the apartment door closing. April sat up in her blank white bed and picked up “The Adventures of Lord Jeffrey,” which had been carefully placed on her white bedside table, probably by her mother. She contemplated reading it, but right now, her life was practically a storybook, and she didn’t want to forget her own tragedies. She crept into the kitchen, still wearing her worn-out clothes from yesterday. She took a plate out of the box marked “kitchen” and picked up some pancakes off of a plate her mother had prepared. Next to the plate was a note that read:

Morning Sweetie!

Had to leave early for work, hope you understand. There’s no school today, so you don’t have to worry about the Monday homework load (yay!). Don’t leave the house until I get home, and don’t do anything too mischievous. Enjoy your pancakes!

Love, me

April would have put some whipped cream on her pancakes, but upon inspection of the fridge, all she could put on her pancakes was peanut butter, eggs, or milk. She sat at the pristine breakfast bar and ate in silence. After what had happened, she could only think. She trudged back to her room and sat on the white bed. She was unsure what to do. She didn’t want to do anything, but she was way too bored to do nothing. She got her phone and her speaker from one of the “April” boxes, and proceeded to play melancholy piano music. If someone else did this, April would sarcastically play an imaginary tiny violin while pouting exaggeratedly, but this was different. She was too emotional and too sleepy to play happy music. She thought that maybe she should do something productive and decided close her curtains and take a nap instead. She woke up much later to a tickle on her face.

“Jackson! How many times have I told you not to scare me like that!” She gently pulled the blue caterpillar off of her face and looked at his tray, which was now almost empty. “Oh you’re huuungry. That’s what it is.” She wanted to obey her mother’s instruction not to go outside, so instead she leaned out her window, and picked a few leaves off a few trees on the sidewalk that were planted by the state to “brighten things up a bit.” She placed them neatly on the tray and sat. And thought. Thought about Erica. Thought about the future. Thought about the past.

She never sat and thought this much, but she never finished, because her mom came in with a loud “Honey! I’m home!” April sighed and fell back against her bed. “Honey? Are you here?”

“Yup, I’m in my room that is not my room,” April replied jokingly. Her mom walked in, looking flustered, probably from traffic.

“How was your day?” she asked.

“Good. I slept. And ate. How was work?” April said groggily.

“Okay. Williams got the numbers messed up again, and Higgins is going to be furious… ”

“Typical Williams.”

“So now I have to fix everything and we had to move into a new office because of the earthquake and uuugh, it’s just chaos is what it is.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

“Oh, it’s not your fault, it’s just darn Williams again!”

“That Williams! One day he’s going to be the death of the company!”

“You have no idea who I’m talking about, do you?”


“Well, thanks for the support.”


“Well, I’d better get dinner going… What do you feel like? You’re the real champ.” April’s mom punched her playfully.

“Well, I would love some peanut butter omelettes,” April said sarcastically.
“Oh my gosh, the groceries! I completely forgot… I am so sorry. Do you want takeout? Chinese?”

“Chinese sounds great. I’ll text you my order.” April used to just tell her mom her order, but after getting cow feet soup instead of chicken soup, she thought she should text it instead so her mom would remember.

“Okay, I’ll let you know when it arrives.”

“Thanks, Mom!” April’s mom left the room. April sat. And thought. When can I talk to Erica? was the main topic of this mental conversation with herself. But of course I can’t talk to her because she won’t hear me. But then how can I talk to her? She eventually decided she probably shouldn’t think these thoughts, especially with impending Chinese food. She didn’t want a relapse of her melancholy music moment this morning. So instead she played with Jackson for a while. There is only so much you can do with a caterpillar as a pet, but you can give it different objects, and see how it reacts. Right now, April was experimenting with a piece of hard candy before her mom shouted for her to come get Chinese food. When April walked into the kitchen, she saw candles and fancy napkins thoughtfully laid out on the breakfast bar. Usually, April and her mom ate separately because her mom had work to do, but on rare occasions, like birthdays, they would eat together.

“With all that’s going on, I thought we could eat together,” April’s mom said.

“Yeah yeah, that sounds great,” April said, kind of sad, but kind of happy that this meant less thinking time. They got plates out of the “kitchen” box and piled on chow mein, rice, and kung pao chicken. They sat down and dug in.

“So how long are we going to stay here?” April asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence.

“As long as necessary. We probably won’t be moving back to our old complex because it will take a while to rebuild. And most of it wasn’t earthquake safe anyways, which is why some of it crumbled. Plus, we were really close to the epicenter. Thank god our apartment was okay, though. It’s newer and more up to code,” her mom answered. April could feel all of her childhood memories slip away. All of the movie nights at Erica’s, gone with the rubble. The building could be rebuilt, but April’s memories stayed crumbled and dusty. “This building is far away from most of the damage though, and it is much newer and much more earthquake safe.” April didn’t really care that much about the building. She wanted to know about Erica.

“How’s Erica?” April asked, hoping for good news.

“Good. The communication specialists at the hospital are contemplating giving Erica ASL lessons so she can communicate better, and they were wondering if you want to join,” April’s mom said carefully.

“What’s ASL?” April said, confused and worried.

“American Sign Language. I just know you two are practically joined at the hip, and there is an interpreter, but they thought that maybe you two would want to be able to communicate without someone translating your every thought.”

“Yeah. Sounds great.” April picked at her Chinese food. She felt her eyes tear up, and soon drops of salt water started dripping into her chow mein. “Is Erica gonna get her hearing back?”

“Oh honey. The doctor doesn’t know. For kids her age, it’s hard to tell. And her parents might not able to afford an implant.” Her mom left her position at the breakfast bar to come hug April. “It’s okay.”

“I just want everything to be normal again,” April said, her voice breaking, glad to have her mom by her side again.

“It’s okay. I understand,” her mom said lovingly. April felt a surge of anger. She didn’t understand. She couldn’t understand. Nobody understood. As much as she longed to be with her mom, she shoved her away.

“No you don’t understand! Nobody does!” April stormed off into her room. She sat. And fumed. And thought. And thought. And finally fell asleep.


Chapter Three: The Hospital

The most important night of Erica’s life was all a blur of sirens and people talking in serious voices. If you communicated with her now, she would say that the moment everything came into focus was when she woke up in a hospital bed. Her parents were across from her and hugged her as soon as her eyes opened. “Where’s April? I need to see her,” she said frantically. Or she thought she said. She couldn’t even have the comfort of her own voice. Her parents took out a pen and a pad of paper.

They wrote down, “You can’t see her right now. We are glad you are awake.” It took a while for them to write all of this, and when they finished, Erica started bawling. She looked up to see the doctor suddenly in the room. When did he get there? He stared down at her with a serious face and started making weird motions with his hands. Almost like… sign language?

“What are you doing? I don’t understand. Can you write it down?” He sighed, clearly disappointed that she didn’t understand already, and handed her a wooden clipboard with papers attached to it, and a pen tucked into the top. It read:

Patient: Erica Edelman                      .

Gender: Female            .

Age: 14       .

Town of Origin: Paducah, Kentucky                   .

Diagnosis: Severe hearing loss                                    .

Cause of Diagnosis: Broken eardrum                                .

Status of Diagnosis: Permanent?                .

Medication: None                      .

Potential Operations: Cochlear implant?                  .


It was the first time in Erica’s life that she was speechless. The world seemed like it was spinning around her. She fell into a fit of sobs and then she saw the doctor and her parents speaking. She felt a needle in her arm and fell into a deep sleep. She woke up later to the sound of sirens, again, only this time, it was dark. She was sitting, alone in a field. The sirens grew louder and louder and louder until she fell, like Alice, into the rabbit hole. Curiouser and curiouser, until she woke up. She was alone, in her hospital bed. She saw a vase of roses (her favorite) on a little table beside her. Across from her, there was a cheesy ballon that said “get better monsoon!” and it had little painted-in rain droplets. Sitting on her bedside table, next to her roses, was her teddy bear Max. Part of his ear was coming off, and he had been washed so many times that his fur felt like trodden-down carpet, but he was comforting nonetheless. She picked him up and hugged him as hard as she could, happy that he was here, but unsure of what would come next.


Chapter Four: The Meeting

April was sitting on the bench reading her book, when she saw a girl out of the corner of her eyes, bawling, holding a teddy bear. April was invested in her book, but she wanted to help this girl, so she put her bookmark (a piece of scrap paper) into her book, and nestled it in her arm. She skipped over to this girl, her brown curls bouncing behind her, and knelt down beside her. “Why are you crying?” she asked this little girl.

“I got this new” — gulp — “teddy bear” — gulp — “and I named him Max,” April glanced down at the fluffy teddy bear the girl was holding, “and this girl came over and said he was — he was” — gulp — “stu-hu-hu-pid,” the girl said, her speech broken by her intense bawling.

“Well, sometimes people have different opinions, and we just have to be proud of our opinions, and not let it bother us.”

“I mean, I guess so,” the girl said, finally calming down.

“I’m April, by the way.”

“I’m Erica. Do you think Max is stupid?”

“I think he’s great,” said April.


Chapter Five: The Memories

April had brought the boxes into her room and was almost done unpacking her books. Today was another day off of school, because the school had been damaged by the earthquake as well. Until now, she had been happily sleeping, but she decided she should get some work done. “There,” she said as she placed her last book onto her bookshelves. “It’s finally starting to feel like home.” But now she had to face the boxes that held her memories, her emotions. She was afraid that when she opened her other boxes, it would open her, and she didn’t want to deal with that. But she had to, eventually. She got her scissors and carefully slid them under the tape that separated her and her memories. The first thing she pulled out was an empty mini popcorn box. She had been saving this for ten years, since she and Erica were only four, and she was invited to her first movie night. The popcorn had been warm and buttery and coated with a thin layer of sugar, unlike the microwave popcorn April’s mom had time to make. They sank into the dark green couch and started Kung Fu Panda. The idea was ridiculous, but also hilarious, and they laughed and laughed until their last drop of laughter was spent for the night. When it was finally time for April to leave, she and Erica refused, and they insisted that April stayed for a sleepover. Her mom agreed, and April and Erica spent all night talking. All night. Drop. Tears spattered the red and white stripes of the mini popcorn box. April set it back in its place. She would unwrap her memories another day.


Chapter Six: The Email

A tray was set in front of Erica. It held her favorite food in the whole world: popcorn. It was warm and buttery and coated with a thin layer of sugar, just like her dad made it for movie nights. Next to the popcorn was a tablet. It had “Kentucky Hospital” written on the back, and the screen had a few scratches, but it was intact. She pressed the large “on” button on the side, and the screen lit up. It had a few different large boxes displayed on it, each in a different color. One of the boxes read “games” while another read “communications.” There was a small gray box in the corner which read “email.” Erica clicked on that and was sent to a familiar email screen. The first email she sent was, of course, to April. It read:

To: April

Subject: Hello!


Hello! I hope you are okay. I am having lots of fun at the hospital, in case you are wondering (can you hear my sarcasm?). How’s Jackson? Is he still adorable? I sure hope so 😉

Your friend,

forever and always,



Chapter Seven: The Ice Cream

April picked at her sandwich. It was her favorite, ham and cheese; she thought she might treat herself after the popcorn box incident. She heard a rumble from her stomach region and decided she should probably eat something. She took a bite from her ham and cheese sandwich and decided she wasn’t hungry. She decided that if she didn’t want to eat a ham and cheese sandwich, she probably didn’t want to eat anything. Her mind flitted to ice cream and lingered there for a moment. She opened up the freezer and frowned, as the only kind of ice cream they had was coffee. “Blech,” she whispered to herself. She’d have to go out for ice cream. Her mom was already out, so she texted her. The conversation read:

– Yooooo! Hope you are having a good day. I was just wondering if I could maybe go out to get some ice cream? (Also do you know of any good places around here?)

– Sounds fun! There’s a place down the street called “Cold Stone Creamery” that I’ve heard is great!

– Thanks!

The chocolate ice cream was cold against her tongue and a relief from the heat wave that had hit Kentucky. She had brought her book to the store and had started to read. April heard a plop! as dripping ice cream hit the pages of her book. “Ugh!” she said as she got up to get a napkin. She set her dripping ice cream against her glass of water, to hopefully try to make it stay upright. She saw people start to fill the store as it neared noon, the hottest time of the day. She was struggling to make it to the napkins through all the people, and right when she was about to get to the utensil table, she fell. She felt her nose crash against the floor, but it felt somehow unbroken.

“Oh my god, I’m so, so sorry. Are you okay?” a guy about her age turned to her, apologizing profusely. “I think I might have accidentally tripped you.”

“No, no I’m fine. Is my nose bleeding?” she said, her hand flying to her stinging nose.

“Yeah, here,” the guy said, handing her a napkin.

“Thanks,” she said, turning back to get her ice cream.

“Wait, what’s your name?” the guy said.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. She had a little bit of trouble holding the napkin under her nose while also holding her book and her ice cream, but she managed. She just wanted to leave the store as soon as possible. The door dinged as she left, and she immediately felt a wave of relief wash over her as she started to walk down the street. She saw all sorts of people walking along with her, like dog walkers, business people, and even people her age. She finished her ice cream halfway through her walk and threw away her wrapper into a nearby trash can. She was now finally free to look around! She saw buildings towering to her sides, and she felt intimidated. This was a newer area, so not a lot was affected by the earthquake; everything was still picture perfect. She made the decision to only look at the ground so she would feel better. After what seemed like an eternity of sidewalk, she arrived at “Liberty Point Apartments” and trudged toward her section of building. She turned the key, walked into the apartment, and plopped on the couch. Suddenly, she heard a ding! And she turned to her room, where the sound seemed to come from. She walked to her temporary desk and looked at her computer. She had an email! She opened it and discovered it was from Erica, of all people. April replied:

To: Erica

Subject: Greetings!


Greetings! Jackson is adorable, as always, and I am happy you are enjoying the hospital (sarcastically, of course). Also, my mom mentioned ASL lessons… what are your thoughts on the matter? Send my love to Max.

Your friend,

Forever and always,


Before she sent the email, April turned to look at Jackson, the real star of the email. But the tray was empty. Where could he be now? April thought, not sure what mischief the tiny caterpillar could be up to. It had been a full day since she checked in on him, so he could be long gone by now. Then she remembered, a few months ago, when she first got Jackson, she was scared he would run off, so she put a tracking sticker on him. It was tiny, and wouldn’t disturb him, but it was useful because the caterpillar could travel unusually long distances. She pulled out the little device that tracked the sticker and found he was in a hospital nearby to the apartment! How on earth did he get there? Well, no use dwelling on it now. She grabbed her key to the apartment and set off once again.


Chapter Eight: The Caterpillar

Erica was sitting in her bed, playing one of the little games the tablet provided for her, when she felt a tickle on her face. Erica pressed the “camera” button on her tablet and switched it to selfie mode. She gasped as she saw a chubby blue caterpillar on her face! But this wasn’t any blue caterpillar. Erica could recognize this caterpillar anywhere. “Jackson! How on Earth did you get here?” Erica said. She thought she might as well enjoy his company, if he’s here. She put him on one of her fingers and watched him crawl around for a while. Suddenly, Erica’s door burst open.

“Jackson! If you are disturbing a patient, I’ll… ” April stopped, mid sentence. Standing right in front of April, holding a tiny, blue caterpillar, was Erica. They stood, opened-mouthed, looking at each other. Erica felt tears coming down her face. April rushed over to her. They hugged. And hugged. The wait was over.



Beep! Beep! Beep!

George sat up. He turned off the alarm. He put on his slippers. He walked into the kitchen.

Crack! Sizzle, sizzle, sizzle ssssssssss. George cooked himself an egg.

He poured some orange juice. He ate his breakfast in silence.

“Meow!” George said goodbye to his cat. He opened the door. He walked outside of his apartment. It was a penthouse apartment.

Jingle jingle slam! George closed the door. He locked the door. He went into the elevator. He rode it to the ground floor.

He got a cab.

“Where to?” the cab driver asked.

“Fourth and twenty-ninth,” George replied.

George arrived at his destination. He paid the man six dollars and twenty-nine cents exactly. He got out of the cab.

Beep beep! Woosh! Bum Bum. George heard the sounds of New York City.

He walked into his office building. He rode the elevator to the very top floor. He greeted his secretary. He walked into his office. He sat down. He looked out of his floor to ceiling windows.

He saw the bright energy of New York City and sighed at the life he could have had, and even though he had reached the top, he couldn’t help but want to start a new life, to start from the bottom again, to live the process again, to think new thoughts, to dream new dreams, to change lives for the better, to help in the world, instead of accounting.

Accounting never changed lives for the better.

George got up. He threw everything off of his table. He turned his table over. He ripped off his tie. He started a new life.


Elite Cat Trainer

I used to be a dog person. Dogs were my whole life. I was a professional dog trainer, and not just any professional dog trainer. I was sponsored by Fluffy Friends™ and licensed by the American Dog Corporation. Until… my favorite dog, Betsy Fluffercins (the s is silent), a dog I had raised from birth, betrayed me.

One morning, I woke up to see her wagging tail only to be followed by her jumping up and pooping on my face. Even now, I am not fully recovered from this full-blown betrayal. But back then, I didn’t even want to live at all. I stopped eating, drinking, and doing anything that made me happy. I didn’t deserve to. I had failed as an elite dog trainer.

In my state of depression, I did the worst thing a man like me could do on his laptop. I watched cat videos.

But… what was this feeling? Why were these cat videos making me feel such a way? This… this was the same sensation I felt when I first met The One Who Shall Not Be Named. This was it. This was the thing God put me on this earth to do. I had to become…

The world’s first elite cat trainer.

I felt like I had once before. My drive to live had been restored. As quickly as humanly possible, I sprinted to my car and drove as fast as a Toyota could to the one place where I felt at home. Fluffy Friends™.

I sprinted through the automatic sliding doors, past bunnies, fish, and for the first time in my life, I walked past… the dog section. People gave me confused looks, knowing I was an elite dog trainer. Not anymore, I said to myself. Not anymore. And as I stepped into the cat section, I became a new man.

We locked eyes. A single tear rolled down my face, because I knew… I was in love again. She was gorgeous, a beautiful dotted pattern on her coat, and her lightning blue eyes made her stand out from the other Egyptian Maus. She looked stunning, no, heavenly as she groomed herself with her picture perfect pink tongue. I knew I had to do it, to purchase this majestic creature, I had to step inside… the cat section.

My first step hurt. I felt anguish through my entire body. Everything I’d ever known, gone. But, no matter how much it hurt, I knew she was worth it. My steps were slow and each one was like a stab to the heart, and I was about to turn back when, “Mew.” She mewed for me! At this moment, I swore I wouldn’t fail her, Betsy the Second.

Wait. What was this I saw. A… three-year-old trying to buy my cat! I was hoping it wouldn’t come down to this. I needed a weapon. This three-year-old girl was a fierce one, with nails sharper than daggers. I grabbed the nearest dog leash and used it to lasso the she-devil down. She wasn’t crying from the blood dripping down her face, but the pain of losing the one thing that mattered. Betsy the Second. After the questionable looks from the security guard, I quickly purchased the Egyptian Mau and took her back to my lovely Toyota.

The car drive back was quiet, and I didn’t know why. I tried all my usual tricks to get dogs to like me, but none of them worked! I fed her everything I could think of, from apples to zucchini. I was upset of course, but I assumed it would improve as the day went on. It didn’t. I was really questioning why I bought this cat in the first place. Until one fateful day…

I woke up ready to return Betsy the Second, when out of the corner of my eye, I made out the figure of a fluffy cat coming my way. Oh no! This is exactly how my relationship ended with The One Who Must Not Be Named.

“Just do it,” I yelled. “Just get it over with.” But then… But then… I felt a wet tongue gently stroke my face, and I knew I had made the right choice. Betsy the Second.

Once the ice broke, I found out how wonderful cats can be! They are so affectionate, but when you’re busy, you can spend some time alone without them bothering you. Plus after a week, my mice problem was nonexistent! Now I don’t know what I saw in dogs. While dogs are dumb and clumsy, cats are agile and quick-witted. Betsy the Second seems to understand everything when I talk to her! And because of our deep bond, she can perform marvelous tricks!

For example, I could never train Betsy Fluffercins (remember, silent s) to eat with a knife and fork, and Betsy the Second didn’t even need any training. I also trained her to jump through hoops one inch in diameter, and she has the ability to breathe underwater. (Unfortunately, after many tests, we have figured out that The One Who Shall Not Be Named cannot breathe underwater.)

This is why I think every human should have a cat. They are just as nice as dogs, but can be responsible when you need them to be. I haven’t doubted my decision to get a cat to this day… except for, you know, that one time. I am also proud to say that I am on my way to become the world’s first elite cat trainer. If you want to see her perform, she will be on Saturday Night Live and for the first time will be breathing underwater while going through a fire hoop.


Ham and Cheese


I had just taken BART home from work, the day I met it. Correction: met him. It was hot out, the walk from the station to my house was miserable, and I recall being relieved it was only five minutes. The cars sped by on the road next to me, engines humming loudly. I walked up my driveway, opened the front door, turned off the alarm, and took my shoes off, the usual routine. Then, I grabbed my laundry hamper and hustled down the rickety staircase to the the washing machine in my basement. I opened the machine, dumping my laundry in. As I turned to get my laundry detergent, a flash of color caught my eye. I looked back at my laundry machine and found myself staring right into the eyes of a fish. It was red with tinges of blue on its head and fins. In all, it was about as big as my two fists placed side by side, pretty large for a fish. I didn’t scream, or run away. I just stared open-mouthed. I probably looked like a fish myself. The fish wiggled his way above the surface of my dirty socks, until I could see his entire upper body, as he used his pectoral fins to balance on the rim of the laundry machine. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that fish need water to survive. This fish apparently swam in dirty laundry.

“Ham and cheese,” he said. I stared. “A guy gets mighty hungry when he’s trapped in a laundry machine all day,” he huffed. “Would you please get me some ham and cheese?”

“Ham and cheese,” I repeated idiotically.

“Yes,” he said, “not in a sandwich though, I can’t stand ham and cheese sandwiches. I eat them separately.”

I’m not the questioning type; I do what I’m told. I found shredded mozzarella in my refrigerator and a slice of ham and brought them to the basement. I dropped them into my laundry machine, watching in shocked silence as the fish devoured them both.

“Much better. Thank you,” he said. He leaned over the edge of my machine, peering into my laundry hamper. “Let’s see now, two pairs of jeans, three T-shirts, and a pair of socks. You sure have a lot of socks, you know. There were fifteen pairs in your last load!”


The Room on the Fifth Floor (Part 1)


I flopped onto my bed and screamed into my pillow, “UGHHH!! This is going to be the absolutely worst spring break ever!”

“Caitlyn Allen, do not use that tone in this house.” Mom followed me into my room, raising her voice.

“Can you please, please just leave me alone?” I said quietly. She walked out, taking a deep breath. Mom was a busy lady, being the CEO for the Allen Corporation, and all, so she rarely had the time to go on vacation. I knew I was being difficult, but how could I help it? After all, I was staying at Aunt Mildred’s, the most miserable, uptight lady I’ve ever met. She was my father’s sister and had become more evil when he died two years ago from the deadly car crash — when I was in seventh grade.

Dad was an intelligent chemist, so when he passed, everyone was devastated, especially me.  Seriously, I have had many, many memories with Aunt Mildred — all of which have been unpleasant. For example, there was this time where she made me clip her toenails and rub her feet, and even the time where she made me give her angry, clawing cat,  Kiki, a bath. I lay in bed contemplating my life and how I was going to one day run away from my home, Shelby, Alabama, to maybe somewhere like Hawaii, no, maybe Bora Bora?

Don’t worry, Caitlyn, I mean at least you’ll be able to see Ethan. No, no, no. I haven’t seen him since I was ten years old! It’s been 5 years, he is definitely not going to remember me. Oh well, I have to go anyway.

Mom hollered, “Come on, Caitlyn, we are leaving in half an hour. There will be some traffic, so get packing!” Mom had to catch a flight to Shanghai for a conference and did not trust me to stay home for two weeks by myself after the last time. Let’s just say, last time I may have made the house a mess from the pure joy of freedom I had felt. I threw some shirts, shorts, toothbrush, phone, and other stuff into my purple, plaid backpack and jogged out to the driveway. Mom was waiting in the car, speaking on the phone, as always.

She spoke loudly into her earbuds, “Mildred, hello. Yes, yes. Do not worry. We are on our way…. No, no… Yes. She will be on the best behavior… Okay, bye, bye. ”

She hung up and pointedly looked at me, “Be on your best behavior, Caitlyn. Aunt Mildred is our only family left, so you are going to be — ”

“Mom, I know, I know. Like you always say, ‘be the best, most courteous person that way you’ll go through life without getting hurt.’ You’ve said just about five billion times.” I spoke annoyed at her insensitivity. Mom backed out of the driveway, the car ride to the dreaded Aunt Mildred’s was filled with a grudgeful silence. Aunt Mildred lived in the countryside of Alabama — in the spooky town of Beatrice. Tall, branchy oak trees were abundant there, so much so that very little light could reach the town. Aunt Mildred had the largest house there, from what and for what I do not know.

I was lost in my thoughts until Mom interrupted, me, “Ahem, time to stop dreaming. We are here.” It was now seven o’clock at night, and it was almost pitch black. Caw, caw, caw! The crows here freaked me out, but definitely not as much as the mansion itself. Looking up, I saw the towering, once-white mansion. It was tall, with five floors, and large, with 52 rooms. The paint was peeling and graying, and the yellow, flickering lights did not help with its appearance. It looked unkempt with the ivy vines slowly wounding its weigh up the columns.  Honestly, it looked like no one lived there. That is, until you saw the hot pink Lamborghini and heard the creaking of the stairs only to see a tall, haughty lady walk towards us. Click! Clack! Click! Clack! I lowered my eyes only to see two hot pink stilettos, which had to be at least seven inches tall, approaching me.

Then, they stopped, and I heard her snobby voice, “Now, now, Caitlyn Clarisse Allen. That is no way to greet your auntie, is it now?”

I forced myself to look up and mumbled clenching my fists, “Hello, Aunt Mildred.” She smiled fakely revealing her perfect white teeth, while her jet black hair was pulled back neatly in a bun. She was really, truly an image to be feared. Seriously, how could you not fear a lady in a tight pink pantsuit?

Walking past me, she hollered in a high pitched manner, “Oh, Marilyn! Come give me a hug, deary!”

Mom, who was trying to hide in the car because she was on a “conference call” rolled her eyes and faked a smile. “Mildred! How are you? We’ve missed you,” Mom hollered back.

Aunt Mildred exhaled in an irritated manner, “Come out of your darn BMW!” Mom stepped out, her face heating up. Suddenly, through the bushes, I felt someone or something tap my arm.  I turned around, looking through the leaves and spiderwebs (ew) of the bush, and saw a tan arm coming for me. I gasped, Seriously… I’ve literally been here for two minutes and a zombie is already out to get me. Greeeaaat. I pulled my gaze away from the bush, but curiosity overcame me, and I tiptoed to the other side of the bush. In the distance I could hear Mom and Aunt Mildred faking a polite conversation even though everyone knows that they’ve hated each other ever since Mom got married.

“Hey, is that you Catie? It’s me Ethan!” I heard a deep voice whisper in front of me. I looked up to see him. Is that really him? He looks so much taller and so… different. His skin was olive tan (how it became this tan I’m not sure, I mean come on, there’s like no sun in this town), his brown hair was tousled but somehow looking put together. “Hello? Are you going to respond, or are we just gonna have a staring contest?” he asked with a smirk on his face. I felt my face grow hot and my hands clammed up. I forgot I was staring at him.

“Hey, sorry. I go by Cate now. I remember you,” I said rushedly.

Then, a screeching voice broke up the silence, “Caaaiiitttllllyyyn, young lady! Come into the house now. I know you’re in that Evan boy’s lawn!”

Ethan rolled his eyes, but started to laugh. “Hahaha, I just love that cranky lady — don’t you?”

I responded in absolute disbelief, “Um, nope, not at all. Not one bit.” Ethan laughed and I giggled sprinting back to the mansion before Aunt Mildred could yell at me again.

“Oh, good. You’re back. Let me introduce you to the maid,” Aunt Mildred said as she waved me into the mansion. I stepped into the mansion, and it looked exactly like it was five years ago — same black marble floor with a giant marble staircase leading to the East and West Wing. An extremely freaky statue of what looked like a gargoyle greeted me upon my arrival. On my right was the sitting room. I mean it’s sole purpose was for sitting, but no one actually sat there. Big, plump, velvet chairs surrounded one antique looking wooden table carved with beautiful detail. On my left there was Aunt Mildred’s office. I’ve never been in there, but I’ve seen through the door crack. It was actually nice and bright in there. Very pink, also. A wonderful smell wafted to my nose — mmmm… was that pork chops with mashed potatoes? Yum! I tried walking to the kitchen which was in the back, but Aunt Mildred’s bony hand held onto my shoulder.

“Not so fast, young lady. You must meet Caroline first! Ah, here she comes,” she said in her usual omniscient tone.

A stout elderly lady rushed over in an apron with a feather duster and says in a British accent, “Come, Miss Caitlyn, let me show you to your room. I have put your bag in there already.” She turns around, and her curly gray hair bounces up and down. Hmmm… I definitely do not remember this lady when I was here five years ago. She must be at least a hundred. Wow… just ancient. I climbed the staircase with her, and once we neared the top, we encountered three long hallways. Two of them were brightly lit with magnificent chandeliers, but the other one … well, let’s just say it was creepy as heck! The westernmost hallway was so dark that all you could see was one door, that had a crack of light streaming through the bottom. I peered in further and saw two green orbs of light blinking at me. I gasped in fear and tried to look away.

Caroline must have seen my agape mouth and wide eyes, for she quickly turned me around facing the center hallway and whispered in my ear, “Miss Caitlyn, you are strongly forbidden to go into the West wing. Specifically the fifth floor. Mistress Mildred’s orders.” Her cold voice evoked shivers and made me more drawn to the West wing. Then, she forcefully grabbed my hand, and she dragged me briskly into the center hallway. It took my breath away, and I felt my eyes widen, devouring all that was around me. The walls studded with sparkling gems of all sorts. The color and the sparkle weren’t all though. There were paintings too. Some of flowers, others of trees. I felt a pulling at my chest. Dad loved nature so very much. Suddenly I was no longer in this creepy mansion. I was in Muir Forest with Dad, hiking and having a jubilant time. This day, three years ago, was one of the best days I have ever had. This is what flashbacks have been like for me. I should probably take the meds my therapist prescribed.

“Ahem, Miss Caitlyn, shall we get going?” Caroline said, waking me up from the pleasant day dream.  Turning around, I faced another wall. I felt intrigued. There was a huge black and white photograph that covered the whole wall. I squinted, wait a second… that must be Aunt Mildred when she was just a young girl. One would be ignorant to not recognize the jet black hair and sharp nose of hers. She was smiling, something I have never seen her do. Furthermore, she was holding the hand of a boy shorter than her. It had to be Dad. He looked quite different from when I knew him. Curly brown hair sprouted from his round head, his jovial face smiling, revealing his missing front teeth. I missed him.

Tears threatened to escape, but taking a deep breath, I entered the open door which had always been my room here and was elated to see more beautiful decor. Anyone could have guessed that this had been Aunt Mildred’s childhood room, for it was very pink… but beautiful nonetheless. A delicate, little chandelier hung in the center of the circular room. The light reached out to every wall of the room and filled the room with a magical, golden glow. There was an ornate, white dresser next to a dainty pink closet, filled with small, pink clothing. Facing the entrance there was a white, frilly bed — decorated with lace pillows and a pink, faux fur comforter. My favorite part of this room was the balcony, for its French doors opened out to a porch facing Ethan’s window. His baby blue curtains were closed, but a bright light permeated through. His nicely groomed yard and smaller brick home were neat and homely looking. Definitely the opposite of this creepy mansion.

“I’ll leave you here to get ready for dinner. See you later, Miss Caitlyn.” Caroline waved goodbye without a look back.

“Bye, Caroline. Thank you,” I said, but she was already out the door. Sheesh, all the people that work here are so hostile. Reminds me of the kids back at home at Westwood High. Starting to settle in, I suddenly felt a sense of loneliness. I had no one here, except for Aunt Mildred, but she can’t count. I mean come on, have you even seen that lady? I guess I have Ethan. He could be a good choice for a friend. My thoughts were then interrupted by none else, but the one and only, Aunt Mildred.

“Caitlyn!! Come down already. It’s been an hour! Your food is getting cold and eaten by flies.” Aunt Mildred’s high-pitched voice rang throughout the house. Sure enough, I checked my phone and it was already 7:29. It literally felt like five minutes. Ughhh. I dragged myself out of bed and rushed down the stairs. When I exited, I once again encountered the West Wing. Don’t look. Don’t look, Cate. I couldn’t help it. Peering in, I saw the two green orbs again. I got so close to them that I felt everything slow down, and suddenly I felt nauseous.  My eyes widened in fear and my legs felt stuck in place — I couldn’t move. What was that? This mansion is definitely haunted.

“Miss Caitlyn, are you alright? You have been standing there for quite a while now,” Caroline said in a worried tone as her small hand came to rest on my shoulder.

Ummm… I was only standing there for like 30 seconds!

“Caroline, is th-th-there something in that hallway?” I asked quietly.

Caroline replied, “No, sweetie. Nothing. No one uses it, that’s all.”

I looked at her straight in the eyes, “Honest?”


“Also, Caroline?”


“Could you please call me Cate. It makes me feel less creeped out by everything and everyone here.”

Caroline hesitated at first, not sure what to say.

“Oh, not you! You are probably one of the more normal people here.”

“Why thank you, Cate,” Caroline replied with the first warm smile I’ve seen all day.

Caroline led me to the dining room. Again, I must have forgotten just how truly beautiful the mansion was. The largest, most luminescent chandelier hung from the decorated ceiling. Yes, I know right. How extra! Who even looks at the ceiling? Little pieces of clear jewels hung from the chandelier like beautiful water droplets. In the middle, there was a long, sandalwood dining table, the legs carved with beautiful images of flowers and herbs. There was one lone plate in the middle of the huge table. Nothing else filled the table. I mean, sure. I usually eat my dinner alone anyway, but this was a whole new level of loneliness. There was an irksome silence, for even Caroline had disappeared. Well, I guess it’s just me and the ghost now. The thought still filled me with shivers, but the delicious smell of pork chops made my mouth water. I couldn’t stop wondering where Aunt Mildred was though. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. She’s probably plotting her next evil conquest. Sinking into the deep red velvet chair, I began to dig into the pork chops and mashed potatoes. Just when I was on my last bite of food, there was a rapping on the front door. I rushed to peer through the door hole to see who this mysterious stranger was. It was Ethan! Unlocking the chains to the door, I opened the door and he rushed in, his eyes wild. He was breathing heavily and scrambled to sit on a loveseat.

“Cate… you gotta believe me. I’ve been seeing crazy… things,” Ethan said between breaths.

“What?! I’ve seen enough crazy for one day!” I said exacerbated. “Also, let’s go into the dining room, I’m just finishing up dinner.”

We rushed quietly into the dining room where Ethan sat on the dining chair next to me.

“Mmmmm… that looks good.”

“Yep, it’s pretty amazing.” I replied through bites. “Do you want any?”

Suddenly, Ethan sucked in air, and I tried to see where he was looking. He continued to stare at my plate with his mouth agape. I looked down predicting the worst. Oh. My. God.

I tried to scream, but Ethan covered my mouth with his hand and said, “Shhh… at least it’s not a bad surprise?” On my plate, sitting there, like the pork chops and mashed potatoes had never been there, was a single slice of red velvet cake. It’s cream cheese frosting and moist looking cake beckoned me to eat it, but I couldn’t. After all, it did just appear from thin air.

“Well, what are you waiting for? That is just about the tastiest red velvet cake I’ve ever seen… so if you’re not gonna eat, I am!” Ethan said, clearly not understanding my point of view.

“Um, not to burst your bubble or anything, but it literally came from nowhere. Like magic, poof! Who knows where it has been? Maybe it’s been poisoned,” I said, flabbergasted.

This whole house was strange and there were always new surprises. I didn’t know how to feel about it. I mean, I was a girl who hated surprises. I was a girl who planned by days out meticulously. I was a girl who turned my homework in early. I was a girl that liked to stay in the comfort of her room. I was anything, but spontaneous. The whole situation really freaked me out.

“Where do you think it came from?” I asked, my voice shaking a little.

“Erm… ” Ethan looked around, “I-I don’t know. There’s no one here.”

Ethan paced around the dining table, looking ready to fight at anytime, “This house is freaking me out. Let’s get outta here.”


I nodded, completely overwhelmed, so he pulled on my hand, and we got up. We ran outside. Across the cobbly path with many deadly looking potholes we went, and I was quite surprised that I didn’t die. He stopped once we got to his perfect white, wooden porch lined with succulents. We both collapsed onto the comfy porch swing, our breathing still ragid from sprinting away from that creepy mansion.

“Look! Do you see that? What in the world is that?!” Ethan said with a hint of fear.

He pointed up at the mansion’s roof, and its chimney was truly doing something out of this world. It was spouting out red smoke, that in turn, sprinkled onto the roof in the form of powder.

“I have no idea. I have been in this town for less than a day and suddenly, all these crazy things are happening. And I don’t know why, but this place reminds me of my dad… ” I said on the verge of bursting into tears.

Ethan replied, unsure what to say, “Oh… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to — never mind, let me just fill you in on what’s been happening these few days.”

Sitting on the steps of his porch, he told me that crazy signs have been coming up starting the last two days. Everyday at 8pm, green, yellow, and sometimes red smoke is emitted from the chimney leaving the roof a powdered mess.

“But listen, Cate. It’s not just the fumes that are abnormal. You see, through my parents’ bedroom, I have the perfect view of a dark hallway,” Ethan said on a roll.

“Woah there, Ethan, slow down. The West wing? The dark hallway is the one Aunt Mildred told me not to go in,” I said disbelievingly.

“Yeah, yeah. The West wing. But get this — the hallway has these tiny green light things that fly all the way to the fifth floor. I can’t really see what’s on the fifth floor exactly. All I know is that Ms. Mildred goes in there every so often,” Ethan said, excited to be part of an adventure.

Feeling faint, I whispered, “I saw those while I was walking past the West Wing hallway. It’s near my room. C’mon, we’ve got to go.”

I grabbed Ethan’s hand, pulling him up from the porch, and we started to run back to the mansion. It was getting, cold and my hands and feet felt numb. We pushed through the cold, running along the windy cobbly path. I couldn’t help but shiver, not from just the cold, but also the creepiness of the dark looming trees. Were the cackling crows up there perhaps making fun of us? Running up the cobblestone driveway careful not to twist an ankle, we finally reached the doorway. The only light shining was that of an old lantern emitting an orange light. There was an eerie silence as we stood at the doorway. But suddenly, there was a, boom! Boom! Looking up, we gasped. It was the largest poof of glowing orbs coming out of the chimney I had ever seen. They looked like a colony of fireflies. However, they weren’t the green orbs I saw in the hallway of the West Wing. They were red, orange, and white, looking like some sort of weird fire.

“Oh my god. What in the freaking world,” Ethan whispered, his face white.

“Oh. My — ” I started to say.

Ethan said, “C’mon Cate, we are going to the fifth floor of the West wing,” pulling on my hand.

I held back shivering in fear, “I can’t, I’m sorry.”

He replied surprised, “I thought you wanted to see what was up there!”

I said, in a sorry manner, “We don’t know what’s up there! It could hurt us.”

Then, hearing how crazy I was being, I changed my mind and said, “Actually you know what, let’s do it. It’s just some powder and weird looking fireflies. It can’t do anything to us.”

We tested the front door, crossing our fingers that it was unlocked. Shoot, it’s locked. I knocked on the door. Knock! Knock! A green eye peered down at us through the door’s peephole. Chain dropping, the door creaked open and I dreaded the sight — Aunt Mildred wearing a cucumber face mask with her fuzzy pink robe and slippers.

“Just what do you think you are doing, young lady?” Aunt Mildred spoke sternly almost exploding with disbelief.

“Nothing, nothing at all. We were just taking a walk, Aunt Mildred,” I spoke quietly, not making eye contact. I nudged Ethan who was trying to stifle his laughter at the view of Aunt Mildred.

“No one can hear you, speak up. Whatever, come on in, now,” she said just noticing Ethan.

“Hey there! Ms. M, it’s me Evan!” Ethan spoke jokingly.

A shadow passed on Aunt Mildred’s face, and she forgot about us. She looked at her watch, then back at us squinting her eyes, as if trying to read our minds. She mumbled to herself looking worried — something about cake. She rushed to the dining room, leaving us in a confused state.

“Was it something I said?” Ethan asked just as perplexed as me.

“Oh no, oh no, oh NOOOOO! The cake. The cake. Why is it still here??” Aunt Mildred cried in distress.

She sprinted out, her green face resembling that of a wild ghoul.

“You come here now, Cate. You eat this cake,” she said, chasing us through gritted teeth.

In complete petrification, my feet were glued to the marble floor next to the front door, the wind outside howling at me.

Ethan unlocked me from the trance and shook my shoulders saying, “C’mon. Your Aunt Mildred is going crazy. We gotta escape from here.”

I nodded at him, and together we fled up the stairs, escaping the green ghoul that was Aunt Mildred.

“No! Come back, children. Look, look at this delicious piece of cake. Don’t you just want to eat it?” Aunt Mildred yelled, gaining on us after kicking off the slippers and throwing the plate of cake onto the ground, the plate shattering in a million pieces.

I heard someone shriek. Wait, was it me?

“Shhhhh!! Just keep running,” Ethan said, covering my mouth with his hand.

After what seemed like a hundred steps of stairs, we finally reached the top. My calves were burning in agony, and my muscles begged me to stop running, but instead, out of pure fear, we zoomed into the West wing.

Aunt Mildred was still climbing the stairs, but must have seen us go into the pitch-black hallway and hollered, “Come out of there right this second, Caitlyn Clarisse Allen. You’ll get hurt in there, trust me.”

I didn’t dare look behind me, I shut my eyes tightly and ran side by side with Ethan.

Ethan whispered, “Stop running Caitlyn, open your eyes.”

I cautiously opened my eyes, scared that there might be a monster or worse — Aunt Mildred standing there. Alas, it wasn’t. Thank god. It’s just the stairs up to the ominous on the fifth floor. That was when I noticed more green orbs circling around us, doing all sorts of things. Most of them were busy fluttering around us, curious at the new visitors. Some other ones were creating a long line and were glowing brightly, like they were trying to aid us in getting up the stairs. Almost like we could read each other’s minds, Ethan and I climbed the stairs together simultaneously, but everything felt slower.

We pushed ourselves to go faster, but everything felt slower up here, except Aunt Mildred’s pitter patter of bare feet on marble and the impossible to miss loud panting. How was she so fast while also being extremely out of shape? Thank goodness we were both wearing sneakers and um, normal clothing. Every floor we passed through brought new surprises and clues to the mystery that was the fifth floor — the second floor of the West Wing had cardboard boxes of all sizes, all filled with flasks and powders. The third floor was a huge library, filled to its cavernous ceilings with largely binded textbooks. The fourth floor, however, was the most shocking with a huge family crest resembling a crow with a sash that said ALLEN on it. It was lit with candles with one twin sized bed right next to it — sheets all tossed off the mattress. Well, I mean, it would have been the most weird floor until we reached the fifth floor.

“Wowzers. How amazing.” Ethan breathed out, clearly tired from all the running.

“Wowzers, indeed,” I whispered back.

Suddenly, the most infuriated screech was emitted, “ARGHHHH!! Those little dweebs, they found it — ”

Aunt Mildred was on the last step leading towards the magnificent fifth floor. Ethan and I quickly scurried behind a tall stack of cardboard boxes, not daring to even let out a breath. Thump!

What happened? Ethan peered out from behind the boxes and started to giggle.

I nudged him, warning him, “Shhh… she can hear you. What’s so funny??”

Ethan replied still laughing, “Hahaha, Ms. M has collapsed!”

“What??” I said in complete disbelief.

I, too then cautiously peered from behind the boxes and yep, there she was. Aunt Mildred, completely out of breath, lay there on the steps, not moving, but still alive.  Oh, poor old woman. Is she okay?? No, Cate, don’t think that way. After all, she was the one chasing you!

We were free from her chasing us, finally. We could now take the time to fully absorb our surroundings. The tall, tall ceilings, that made every motion echo. First, the floor led to a long hallway, but then, Ethan and I made it to a pathway leading to a glass room. We observed into the glass room — somehow, there was sunlight in there. Long rows of all sorts of flowers were lined up in neat, colorful rows as bees and even a few hummingbirds zoomed around happily. The room was completely glass, and it emitted some sort of happy glow that the rest of the mansion failed to do. I moved my eyes to the right side and saw — Was that, was that some sort of mad scientist? It was indeed. There was a tall man, wearing a rumpled white lab coat. Underneath his lab coat, he seemed to be wearing a neon orange shirt with words on it that I could not make out. His hair was turning gray, with only wisps of brown hair peeking through.

“Who is that?” Ethan whispered to me in complete awe.

“No idea, must be Aunt Mildred’s scientist servant.”

We could not make out the scientist’s face because it was completely concealed by lab goggles and even a mouth mask to most likely protect him from the dangerous chemicals it looked like he was producing. The stranger stood behind a tall wooden table that was completely filled with flasks of all sorts of colors and plants. They kept letting out powders every so often which the scientist tried to catch with clear plastic hoods.  The scientist himself worked on what looked like some sort of complex machinery that pumped the flowers from the gardens into those flasks.

Suddenly, we almost jumped at the sound of this strange man’s voice, “Mildred? Is that you?”

She moaned, “Yes… the test subjects just escaped from my grasp and escaped.”

Um, test subjects? What! Me? Everything suddenly made sense, but I didn’t dare to make a sound.

He answered in disbelief, “Come on, Mildreddd. You promised that it would work! How could — ”

“Sorry, sorry. I’ll try again in a few minutes,” Mildred replied weakly.

The scientist mumbled to himself in the glass room — undecipherable to all of us. He took off his thick goggles and then, it almost seemed like he could see Ethan and I in the corner of the hallway.

His honey-colored eyes glowed in the bright light and for a second… wait. Was it really him?



He wakes up early that morning. The room is dark, and the sofa is lumpy. He flips the pancakes and chops the strawberries and leaves them on a chipped plate on the wooden table. The shards of porcelain dishes turn the floor into a dangerous mosaic he tiptoes over. He sets a note next to the plate, a plea for forgiveness scribbled on it with a ballpoint pen. She will scan it once and throw in the trash. At least, he thinks to himself, she’ll know he cares.

The BART station is near empty at this time when the sun itself is waking up. It’s a pleasant ride. He passes the minutes by humming to himself in time to the rattling of the train car. From the window, he can see the whole world go by, towns, cities, farms. He exits at the final stop of the line, pushing past the bustle of the everyday working American. Life itself is happening around him. He savors the thought, turning to wave as the BART car rattles away. A few people inside wave back.

He takes the steps two at a time, hopping down them in the way a child would. A few people stop and stare, but he doesn’t mind. The stares are in themselves little compliments. He doesn’t trip on the loose fifth stair. He skips over it, then stops to explain to an amazed little girl how to jump just like him.

The brisk September air fills his lungs as he strolls down the street, dropping quarters into the parking meters as he goes by.

At the bus stop, he sits next to a woman wearing an oversized jacket. They talk for a bit, exchanging puzzle pieces of their lives. She tells him about her son and daughter in college who are on scholarships and don’t know that she was evicted three weeks ago. He tells the woman about his love, what he’s done, and where he’s going. The woman laughs and clamps him on the shoulder. He offers her one hundred dollars in the form of a thick wad of bills, but she declines, pushing the money into his pocket. He is sad to leave when his bus arrives.

He takes the bus up to wine country, where the land is covered in its livelihood in the form of grapes. Up here, the taste of wine is a part of every meal. He doesn’t think he could stand all of the finery that comes with it. He wasn’t born for a life of frills and neither, he thinks, was she. He remembers she had said something about that last night after he had shattered the dishes on the floor.

He wonders if she got the pancakes and the little note she probably refused to read. The bus comes to a creaking stop. He pushes the thoughts out of his head and exits in a hurry, handing the driver a plastic rose he found abandoned on the seat.

The world smells of lavender and dirt and mist. A sagging house waits a a mile down from the bus stop. He skips towards it, singing a radio hit from years ago. A couple he knows through their voices on the phone stands in front of the house. Years of happiness are visible in their every move. Behind the house is a world of violet.

The couple smiles when he gasps. They tell him that this lavender is their life’s work. Every flower holds a memory. Two hundred dollars is payment for five bags. He tells the couple that their love story will be perfect to tell her. Maybe then she’ll be able to remember they have a story of their own. The couple gives him a grateful smile and hands him the bags full of lavender sprigs.

He waits almost an hour for the bus to return. The man next to him doesn’t like to talk much. So, he tells the man about her, painting pictures with his words. The man nearly cries. He gives him a sprig of lavender and holds him until the man’s bus arrives.

Joining him now is a teenage girl, absorbed in her phone who chuckles at seemingly random moments. He watches for a while, until she glances up to see his stare. Flashing him a look of disgust, she returns to the tiny world in her screen. Anger bubbles up within him, a monster he has never learned to control. He takes her phone in his hand and throws it as far as possible. The reflective surface glints in the sunlight before it strikes the ground. The girl looks at him in shock, before dashing away to save her device.

The screen is shattered beyond repair. She screams at him and cradles the lifeless phone as if it was her baby. He listens to her for a few moments before telling the girl about her.

Throughout their years together, she never needed the tiny devices. She never needed a wall dividing her from everything else. She flourished in a world of screens by simply opening her eyes beyond that. He hands the girl two hundred dollar bills when his bus is in sight. He then tosses her a sprig of lavender. She catches it in both hands, studying the flower as if it was the first time she had ever seen such a thing. He picks up his bags and steps onto the bus.

The ride back is bumpier with people packed shoulder to shoulder. He takes a seat next to a snoring man. Across from him, a couple shares a bottle of wine. She might’ve liked that once but not after everything that’s happened. He pushes the thought out of his mind and glances around the bus. A little boy watches him. His five-year-old hands cling to a metal pole. He ducks forward, towards the boy, and offers him a sprig. Lavender is passed from big hands to little ones. He smiles and retreats back to his seat.

By the time it reaches his stop, the bus is teeming with the scent of purple flowers. He hands one to every passenger as he makes his way off. He pauses at the driver’s seat and offers her a sprig with two flowers dangling off of it. She smiles and places it next to the plastic rose. The driver’s eyes remind him of hers. He can’t help but grin.

Walking down the sidewalk, he digs out his last few quarters to save a car about to be ticketed. Several moments later, an anxious driver emerges from the station, perplexed to see she has twenty minutes to spare. The station is near full again, despite it being the quiet time of the day. He hands every person he sees a lavender sprig.

He sits across from a woman wearing a gold studded coat and has one side of her head shaved. He learns about her boyfriend who stole her life savings and how she is going to court now. He gives the woman a much needed hug and tucks one of the remaining lavender sprigs behind her ear. She walks out with her head held high, the purple flowers perfectly complimenting her eyes. The first bag is empty now, but still carries a pleasant scent. He ties it around a pole, hoping everyone can share in a little piece of his adventure. A pleasant voice announces his station, and the train comes to a screeching halt. He makes his way out and watches as it travels downs the tunnels.

The remaining four lavender bags seem to become heavier and heavier as he walks down the long winding road towards his home. The smell of an apologetic guilt is in the air.

He arrives to a depressing barren yard. For the first time today, he feels almost lonely. Then, through the window, he sees her shadow. A pianistic melody flows into his ears.

He plunges his hand into the bag and grabs a handful of flowers. He stoops and goes about planting them into the dirt. Slowly, a tapestry of purple begins to form on the rocky soil. He is soon covered in mud with a distinctive earthy scent. Perhaps, if lavender can grow without any roots, maybe so can their love.

He works for hours into the evening. She never does emerge. The tinkling sound of the piano continues to radiate from the window.

The once barren yard is a field of purple. In his hands, he takes the remaining lavender sprigs and ties them in a bouquet. Ignoring his racing heart, he marches up to the front porch and knocks four times, no more, no less. He waits for a moment, rocking back and forth on his heels. She opens the door and stares at him, as if waiting for him to make the first move in a game of chess. Studying her face for forgiveness, he holds out the bouquet. “I’m sorry.”

She looks at him blankly.

“Did you read my note?”

“It’s in the same place you left my heart.” For a moment, she catches a glimpse of the sea of flowers that has sprouted in her yard. Her eyes fill with wonder and hate, but nothing nearing love.

He turns towards his long day’s work. “I did this all for you.” He stares at her with pleading eyes. “You always loved lavender.”

Her laugh slices through his heart. “And how many flowers did you give away while you were on your little adventure?” She takes a step forward. Sunlight splashes onto her face. Inside, he can see the floor has been cleared of porcelain shards. A familiar lump of guilt forms in his throat. Her feet are bandaged with white cloth. “How much time did you spend running away from me by doing your so-called good deeds?”

She snatches the lavender from his hands, crumpling the flowers he had traveled so many miles to obtain. “You are so perfect.” A bit of saliva lands on his cheek. “All you care about is looking perfect and caring to everyone.” Tears run down her cheeks, forging tiny rivers on the landscape of her skin. “Why do I only matter to you when you feel your heart beginning to break?” The lavender bouquet falls to the ground. “You never noticed that my heart was already in pieces.”


Controlling Fate

My heart beats extra hard as I step onto my bike. The ride to school isn’t that long, but if I take the main road instead of my usual back alleyways, I might be able to stretch the ten minute ride into fifteen. That’s five extra minutes I don’t have to spend taking my math test. Five extra minutes I don’t have to spend watching numbers dance uncontrollably across the page, twirling just out of my grasp. The adrenaline rushes through my legs as I pedal, feeling each bump in the sidewalk, each crack in the cement. I pass the park to my left. It’s hard to see, hidden behind large oak trees on the side of the road, nestled away in this residential area. My head buzzes a little. I’m finding it hard to think. The stress creeps onto the edges of my thoughts, like ivy climbing a stone tower. I try to force it back. Breathe, breathe. I put as much energy as I can into pedaling, harder, faster, stronger. My bike surges forward. For a few seconds, I coast along, flying. The moment ends too soon. I hit the breaks as I approach the stoplight, and once again feel myself sink miserably into thoughts of first period Algebra. As the road to school shrinks, my confidence fades with it. My hands tighten on the handle bars. I observe each groove, feeling their texture against my palm. In another attempt at distraction, I wiggle my toes in my shoes. I like knowing I have control over them. I can make them do what I want. I force them to pedal a bike to my fate at the hands of an Algebra test.


Bakery Blues

Being hardcore is well, hard. I have to party all night and sleep all day and never study to keep up my image. Do you think I want to be doing shots on the weekends? Please, I’d rather be watching the Barbie TV show with my four-year-old sister. But we all have images to keep up. Some more than others. And we all have a breaking point. Mine was earlier today.

It just smelled so good. As if they had baked happiness into those little cakes. I was coming back from my fifth party of the week, starving. Cheap beer in red solo cups doesn’t really count as food. That’s how they got me. The Cupcakery that is. One minute I was cruising down the road in my beat-up convertible, the next I was standing in front of the glass window eyeing a particularly gruesome pink cupcake.

It was perfect: red paper, vanilla cake, creamy pink frosting, and lemon curd guaranteed on the inside. I wanted it more than anything else, but we all have images to keep up. So, I did what any reasonable person would. I bought myself a friggin awesome disguise. Normally, I’d never be caught dead in that hideous, green sweater. It itched worse than the ones my mom knits. Even worse, it clashed with my new hair which was dyed blue with some cheap wash out stuff from the drugstore. It was a lot for a cupcake. But this was the cupcake. You kind of had to be there to get it.

I strolled into the Cupcakery looking like a loser who was way too obsessed with people like me. I flashed the cashier, a middle-aged woman with greasy brown hair and the face of a kindly grandmother twenty years younger, my usual charming smile. “Could I have the gourmet valentine cupcake.” I winked at her and casually leaned against the cash register. “It’s for someone special.”

The cashier stared at me for a moment before pointing to a little sign hanging in front of the display of cupcakes. “We have the right to refuse service to anyone.”

My jaw dropped. The cashier grinned and did a terrible imitation of my casual lean. “Sorry,” she said with a mockingly deep voice. “That special someone’s going to have to wait.”

“How dare you?” I jabbed my finger in her face for emphasis. “Do you know how many girls I’ve made out with because of that casual lean? Eight!” She burst into laughter. “That’s a lot for someone my age!” I sputtered. “You didn’t even do it right, you know? That is my lean!”

The cashier laughed even harder. Her face looked almost pretty if she hadn’t been laughing at me. She grabbed her sides and looked like she was about to pass out from the hilariousness of the situation. When she came to, she had tears rolling down her cheeks. “L-look, kid.” She gasped and wiped at her eyes. “I’m doing you a favor by denying you that cupcake. I mean, you’re practically bulging out of those skinny jeans.”

I glanced down at my ripped black designer skinny jeans. Had I put on weight? I glanced at the cashier and then back down at my jeans. Well, if anyone knew about weighing too much for your outfit, it was her. But I couldn’t have. I was in my prime. I once ate three family sized bags of Doritos and didn’t gain a thing. I looked back up at the cashier, who undoubtedly could see my whole train of thought. She shrugged at me. “Don’t worry, kid. It happens to the best of us. I used to be a size zero but come my seventeenth birthday, my metabolism just couldn’t keep up.”

A choking sound emitted from my throat. “Bu-but I turned seventeen a month ago.” I was beginning to feel faint. Images of myself, fat and alone, flashed through my mind. I was too popular to be lonely. I was too cool to be fat. I had an image to keep up!

The cashier nodded at me in mock sadness. “Looks like you already need to get some bigger jeans to fit your thighs.”

I couldn’t withhold a gasp. Who did this woman think she was? “No!” I yelled, slamming my hand down on the counter. “Give me the cupcake!”

The cashier sighed. “Well, I tried to warn you.” She pressed a few buttons on her register. “That’ll be $10.66.”

There was that choking sound again. I desperately emptied the pockets of my ripped black designer skinny jeans. They could only hold a tiny bit of cash. I dumped the bills on the counter. “I only have five dollars.”

The cashier sighed. And pushed the money back at me. “Well, I guess after all of that, you don’t have enough for that gourmet cupcake. Now move aside, I have other customers to attend to.”

I glanced behind me to see a huge line of people that in my hunger-induced daze, I hadn’t noticed. I was losing it. I was losing my cupcake. But I was hardcore. I don’t lose things.

Am I proud that I stole the cupcake from the Cupcakery? Yes. I think I did a pretty good job for it being my first major crime. Am I proud that the cashier managed to tackle me and sit on me long enough for the police to show up? Perhaps not. But look at me now, in the jail cell, casually leaning against the wall. I’m hardcore like that.


Stand By Me: Part One



Little Miss Misunderstood


Chapter One

Vicki opened her vibrant dark brown eyes and saw black. It was as if she hadn’t opened her eyes at all. She checked with her smooth hands to make sure her eyes really were open. The sensation of nothing was thrilling yet horrifying when only seeing black with no ending.

Suddenly, seeing no end to the darkness, she let out a high-pitched, teeth-curling screech as she spied a swift tunnel stirring in the night. As she stared and shifted around her unfamiliar bedroom, a faint gold outline read 1:27. But as she moved around her room, there was no light again. Just the swirling tunnel ahead of her. The fearsome tunnel shone dark purple, with a thousand fireflies lighting the way for Vicki. Truth is, the current of mystery could carry her down. The bright purple edged her on towards it as if whispering, Do it, or suffer the never ending darkness from now and forever! She got up onto her knees and dove in.

While staying airborne, thoughts crashed into each other one by one. She was running against the currents of sand on a desert peak, now climbing up a steep cliff. Soon, she was leaping through the jungle or swimming in the deepest ocean. All thrilling, making her imagination set sail. But while coming to her last stop of motions, she face-planted into a big sea monster and felt a huge bruise form on her head. She stared down, barely able to see her hands, and touched her forehead lightly. “Ouch!” she cried out. She slipped over to one of her drawers to find a flashlight.

As it turned out, Victoria had climbed up her bunk bed ladder, running through her piles of neatly stacked stuffed animals, swung on the boards of her bed, and slid on her stomach through the stuffed animals that she had just knocked over, and bumped her head into her beanbag.

Vicki squirmed repeatedly on her beanbag, scared of the thought of going to school in the morning. Victoria or “Vicki” was adopted by her parents. Vicki smiled, imagining the many times when her mom would tell her how they had chosen her. When your mom gives birth to you, they are stuck with you. But if you are adopted, they chose you. Vicki liked to think that the word “chose” had a better ring to it than being stuck with something. Victoria tried to remember the comfortable feeling when she sat down in her mother’s lap as the story rang with truth out of her mom’s mouth. This story was the one thought, the one inspiration, that she had once been wanted.

Vicki’s dad knew she was different. Everyone knew that she was different. Her dad was just the one to say it to her face. Finally, he was fed up and left. No one really knows what happened to him after he left the house. The car was left there. His phone was left there. And most sadly, so was his family.

Ever since preschool, Vicki was homeschooled. Ever since preschool, everywhere she went, people knew that Vicki Saunders was different.


Vicki went to her first day of preschool very happy. New friends, new teachers, and new experiences awaited. That is if the teacher hadn’t greeted her the way she had…

“Now, Vicki. Say pleases and thank-yous! Make a good first impression. I will pick you up at three,” Mrs. Saunders said, straightening Victoria’s collar.

Vicki stared at the hands on the clock for a moment. “In seven hours, you mean.”

“Yes… wait… where have you learned to read a clock?” Vicki smiled mischievously at her.

“At the library.” Victoria smiled innocently.

“Well, okay, you little mathematician! Go ahead, and have a fun day. Blend in, but stand out, okay?”

“But isn’t that physically impossible? Not mentally but physically?” Mrs. Saunders ignored her. Victoria skipped in. Vicki’s eyes went big when she saw what the class was doing. The girls were dressing curly-haired Barbies up in bright pink. The boys were crashing race cars into each other, chipping the cheap paint. She skipped over to the boys, on the path to the teacher’s desk where she sat.

“You know,” she piped, “it would be better to buy metal race cars with real paint, instead of plastic cars. Besides, the result is atrocious with what you are doing to those cars!” The boys complained, dumbfounded that a girl was talking to a boy, especially with such big words. “Maybe hold the car like this instead.” She took the car and found a thicker part of the car. “There!”

“Ewww!! A girl touched something of a boy’s! Awww!” the girls moaned. “The new girl now has boy cooties!” Vicki rolled her eyes at the immaturity of the other children.

“You know,” she said to the closest girl before reaching the desk, “this building really needs some earthquake resistant tools. Like that bookshelf really needs that heaviest stuff on it. I would recommend talking to the boss! And look, please just hear me out.” The girl gave her a bored look. “I haven’t seen any cross braces or a mass damper here. Now, mass dampers and cross braces are expensive, but you need to start somewhere!” The girl gave her another rude look. “I am done with my advice, okay! Geesh!” She continued past the impudent girl and to the teacher’s desk.

Her desk had a huge, blue sheet of paper wrapped around it reading, “Mrs. Morton.” She had a tight brown bun wrapped around the top of her head. Her desk had different apples scattered everywhere and friendly notes scribbled down on colors. Black was Vicki’s favorite color. She liked the darkness. It was the stars, actually, that made her feel like she had friends. When every one of them sparkled and winked down at her, she felt at home with the darkness and light scattered here and there.

She thought of herself as a star. The darkness was the majority of the world. The normal people. But the stars were special. The stars were unique with different interests and hobbies. It wasn’t bad to be a star…

She continued to the teacher’s desk and cleared her throat. The teacher was apparently hard of hearing or needed new glasses, neither good, because she didn’t hear or see the little preschooler. Victoria cleared her threat again, holding the paper out to her new teacher.

“Hi, my name is Victoria Saunders. I love to write, read, engineer, garden, and research new biography and history matters found from ancient or biblical times. I also love to research the most recent illnesses so that I can stay healthy! I live at 1253, Morton Drive, 90773. I am four years old and know my mom’s, dad’s, brother’s, and the police’s phone numbers. Would you like me to recite them?” Victoria asked. Instead, she received another dumbfounded look of the smarts. “You know, Mrs. Morton, you are the third person to give me that look today… what’s it mean?”

Mrs. Morton said nothing and took hold of Vicki’s neatly written biography of herself. Vicki sat down by a cubby of cold, crinkly, old mats and dug her nose into her most recent book series, Disaster.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Saunders, Vicki’s mom, peeked her nose into the brightly decorated room. She had just witnessessed her daughter pointing out how to improve the quality of toy cars. So much for fitting in… she thought. Vicki’s mom hesitantly spied her daughter reading her book in the corner. She felt envious of the other girls and boys getting along and playing with each other. “Normal” was not a word known by Mrs. Saunders.

Mrs. Saunders sighed and decided to let Vicki travel through her day on her own. Right as she left the door, Mrs. Morton gave Vicki back her paper. It had a 100% on it. “Have you ever tried fifth grade?” she asked.

Vicki smiled gleefully. My first test! A 100%! What a way to start the — But she wasn’t able to finish her thought because she didn’t see any other girls or boys get a good grade or even a grade at all, now that she thought of it.

She leaned over to the closest girl and asked, “What did you get?” Vicki held her paper up proudly to the girl.

“The normal kids didn’t do it, ya dodo. Normal kids play Barbies!” She held her pink dressed Barbie with bright blonde hair up proudly. Then, she added, “Just like normal kids don’t read.” Vicki looked at her quizzically. “Now, can you please help me put Barbie’s skirt on her? She looks bad without it.” She pointed to the book. Vicki was on the verge of tears. The girl tried so hard to get the Barbie into the skirt that it ripped, like Vicki’s heart.

Soon enough, recess or “outside time” occurred, and Vicki grabbed her book. Mrs. Morton eyed her warily. As the class lined up into a mob, Vicki stood quietly waiting for the teacher to lead the class outside. The fact that a preschooler would rather read a book than go run around was hard to imagine.

As the class headed out the doorway, Vicki trailed behind, admiring the author that wrote her thick book. She longed to have friends like the girls in her book. She longed to be normal and to be wanted.

Outside, the girls played a game called, “Girls chase the boys,” and Vicki again rolled her eyes at their immaturity. She read her book. She loved to read because when she read, it was as if she was a character, diving into the disasters and bravely fighting crime.

Soon, recess was over, and Vicki got up to leave, but a big group of girls surrounded her in a chant. “Vicki the fifth grader! Vicki the fifth grader! The new girl is an overachiever — what a weirdo.” Then, they started again until it was too hard to bear. Then, Vicki did the one thing that she knew she could and would do best. She ran, book tight against her chest. Mrs. Morton ran after her. Now, Mrs. Morton, not being the most fit, more like stumbled quickly after her.

Vicki was very small for the age of four. Mrs. Morton chased after her, and right when Vicki was about to leave campus, she saw her teacher, sweat dripping down her forehead and hands out in ambush. Young Vicki instead rounded a corner so that she wouldn’t be running right in the open. She squeezed past a garbage bin and hid there. Mrs Morton, seeing no Vicki, counted to five. “If you don’t come out right now, you get a time-out.” Now, normally that would have worked, but Vicki, being no ordinary child and knowing that adults just said that and didn’t mean it if they couldn’t see you, stayed hidden, giggling like mad.

Mrs. Morton left, assuming that Vicki had found a way back to the classroom. Vicki stayed there for a while until she got hungry. She then got up and hurried to the lunch tables where her class was. “I won! No one could find me!”

All the little girls went up in a mad chorus: “Well you never said to,” “I secretly knew where you were!” “You can’t trick me,” “Ya, me definitely know!” “You are just sayin’ that!”

On and on and on it went until Mrs. Morton yelled, “Enough!” and everyone sat down angrily. Vicki, by herself, sat at a lonely table farthest from any insults able to be thrown at her.

It was clear that the other children had their groups. There was one fivesome braiding hair. The others with knotted hair picked at their nails, and the boys all just kind of blobbed together playing “ruff” or “tackle.” Then, there was Vicki. Poor Vicki! She wasn’t a girly girl. She didn’t like to get all rough and play sports. She didn’t like to play tackle. She was just different. Just different… she liked to write, study, and she even learned to read the newspaper at a very young age. She even explained some topics, including science and biology, to her brother a month ago when deciding on which middle school he should attend.

She enjoyed being as smart as the teacher. She didn’t know it at this young age, but she shouldn’t know things that would get you into a private middle school on an academic scholarship. It worried her neighbors. It worried her mother. But most of all, it worried her father.

After they finished lunch and the mumble of Vicki’s unusual attraction to reading and medicine were discussed by all, Mrs. Morton led the children back to the door and into the classroom. Vicki trailed behind, not wanting to draw too much attention to herself.

Now, this entire day that Vicki has been in preschool has been a fragment of Vicki’s recap of what happened many years ago. And yet, it felt like yesterday. This was another unusual fact about her: her memory. It is one thing to remember only the treacherous times of childhood, but to remember anything and everything…

After lunch, the class laid down on the moldy, flat mats. Vicki stood there stuttering, “Do we have to lay down?” Mrs. Morton nodded impatiently. “Really?!”

Yes, you must, Miss Victoria,” the teacher drawled.

“Victoria or Vicki is fine. I don’t like being called “Miss.” It sounds too proper. Besides I am not a teacher.”

Mrs. Morton cleared her throat angrily. “Vicki, enough of being a smart aleck! I have had enough of you being an overachiever!”

“But… but… ” Vicki looked on the verge of tears. “I read about an illness!” She whined, “I don’t want to get it. You get it by sharing breathing areas! We could also get influenza!” Then, she piped in a high-pitched, squeaky voice, “More commonly known as the flu!”

“Fine,” said the teacher, grudgingly. “But you must at least sit on it. You don’t have to lie down. Okay?” Vicki stumbled over to the mat and scrunched her nose of the putrid smell and germs that the mat carried. She sat with her back straight and nothing but her shorts and legs touching the mat. “I will now read you a story. A little girl — ”

“Why not boys? Why do the stories always have to be girls?” a boy named Leo piped,  annoyingly.

“I wasn’t the one to write this book!” the teacher said. “Anyway… a girl hopped down the road and found a place to build her house. She got her hammer out and went to work. Cluck cluck cluck went the hammer against the wood.”

She flipped the first page. “What sound did the hammer make?” Blank faces stared up at her. Vicki knew the answer but thought the book so stupid it wasn’t worth her voice. The teacher skipped the question and went on to the next page. “She got some paint. Swoosh swoosh swoosh went the brush against the fresh wood. What sound did the paint brush make?” She waited a couple moments. “Anyone?”

She sighed and continued, “Then the little girl found more wood and built the roof. Clunk clunk clunk the hammer went. What sound did the hammer make?” She looked directly at Vicki. “Not even you, Victoria?

Vicki sighed. “First of all, this is a waste of my time. This book is so babyish! I miss my mystery novels. I have a question. When do we start our literature and book reports? Probably never at this rate… ” She took a deep breath and continued, “And besides! A hammer doesn’t even make that sound! It makes more like a boom, boom, boom!”

“Are you done yet?” Tamara, the leader of the sassy girls, said impatiently. Out of all of the girls, she was the most mature, which was saying something, because none of them were mature. She wore her hair in long braids that went to her lower back. She also had a bright pink headband. Her shirt said, “Not sassy just have some sass.” “Besides, Vicki,” she teased when she said Vicki’s name, “no one wants you here. You are too smart for your own good.”

The teacher continued, “Then they lived happily ever after!” Ugh! What about the hardships?

But one of the girls thought of hardships… “Wait,” Lily said, a girl not much better than Tamara. “What about the prince. A prince must take her to the castle!” All of the girls started to giggle.

“Ummm… ” the teacher groped. “Nevermind. Let me just get this over with.” The teacher quickly read the rest of the story, “Then, a deer came and kissed the girl on the cheek.”

“No deer!” Vicki shrieked. “Deers carry ticks. Ticks carry Lyme disease. If you have Lyme disease too long… ” Eyes glared at Vicki, signaling her enough.

That was Vicki’s breaking point. She was tired of little stories filled with nonsense and questions that no one knew the answers to. She wanted to be rid of the teasing and the putrid smelling mats. She was done with all the old Barbie dolls overflowing in the bin. She was done. She wanted to go home to where she was loved by her whole family well, at least she thought she was.

Vicki hid behind the trash can for a couple hours until the sun started to set. She knew it was just moments till her mom would pick her up, so she crouched behind a bush. Her long jeans got muddy. Her hands poked with seeds and whatever else fell from the sky. Her cheeks were streaked with tears, and her eyes were puffy from crying. She had no idea how long she was there and got the idea that her teacher, Mrs. Morton, and the sassy girl, Tamara, wouldn’t be looking for her. They were probably glad she was missing. Seconds passed, then minutes, until she heard her mom call for her. “Vicki, are you there? I heard about what happened today. I won’t make you go to school ever again until college if you want… ”

“Ever?” A tiny voice that belonged to Vicki asked, behind the bushes.

“Ever. Until you want to, of course.”

Vicki got out from the bushes and took her hand. Her mom had a worried expression on her face. When they got home, Vicki realized that she had let her mom down. I didn’t fit in! she thought. I failed my mom! What is wrong with me? She ripped different facts about medicine and biology out of her journal She cursed how foolish she was to have written a big biography about herself. “All I wanted was for people to like me!” she moaned and growled at her bedroom.

She didn’t talk during dinner about her improvements she made on her hypothesis about volcanoes and the magma plume. She also didn’t share how her horrible day at school went. Her father looked scared of her the entire time. She cried before going to bed. She moaned in her restless sleep. She heard her mom go to bed late that night, probably trying to figure out what to do with their overachieving daughter. Vicki hated herself for who she was.

While sleeping, she felt a cool breeze brush on her. She woke up with her window open. My mom probably wanted me to have some fresh air, she thought. That morning, she woke up, still in her bad mood. She got out of bed and poured her Lucky Charms. Every bag, Vicki wished for the prize inside. This prize just isn’t made for abnormal people. She wept even more for the strange girl she was becoming. “I can’t stop my brain!” she murmured repeatedly to herself. None of it made a difference.

She knew that she would never, ever, ever want to go back to preschool. Or what she called, the lazy game. Vicki deserved better. A place where talent can be seen. A place where she isn’t blowing the other kids’ minds with her speech and smarts. She realized this as she awoke, staring at the white ceiling. That was when she noticed the empiness beside her…

After finishing her unsuccessful hunt for a prize in her cereal, her mom walked to the doorway, tears streaked repeatedly down her cheeks.

“What is it, Mother?”

Her mom shook her head, long, dark hair with blonde tips swaying.

Her dad was gone.


Up and Back Again


Dedicated to Izzy, Sophia, Sammie, and Rachel Barclay who helped me along my wonderful and winding journey of writing

Twelve-year-old Andrea opened her eyes groggily and looked at her bedside clock. 8:15! Andrea screamed in her head. She was supposed to be at school, Harker Middle, fifteen minutes ago. She quickly got changed into her blue and tan uniform, then swept her light brown hair back into a ponytail. Andrea grabbed her backpack and shoved her binder inside, then looked around her blue painted room at her bed, dresser, cabinets, and desk to see if there was anything else she needed. Andrea quickly grabbed her pencil case, then sprinted downstairs.

“Mom! Dad!” Andrea yelled. “I’m late! You guys didn’t wake me up.” No one answered. “Hello?” Andrea said again as she approached the table. A note was there.

Dearest Andrea,

I’m sorry we had to leave without telling you. Your mother hit the floor, and the doctors do not yet know what happened. This was at 5:00. I hope you are fine. I’m letting you skip school today. I just left the hospital to write this note. Now, I must hurry back. Don’t you worry, Andrea. Your mother will be fine. She’s as strong as you. I will be back at 9:00 to tell you the news.

Be strong,


Andrea sucked in a breath and dropped her backpack. She read over the note again, not believing her eyes. She picked up the note and squeezed it so hard that it crumpled under her hands. Then, Andrea threw the note back onto the table and imagined her mom having a heart attack or a stroke — or worse.

Andrea felt lightheaded and gripped a wooden chair. She looked around the room, at the wooden table in the middle of the room, the stove and fridge in the front, and some cabinets in the corner. They started to blur. She shook her head and walked into the next room to take a seat on the comfy, tan couches. Andrea put her feet on a dark oak coffee table in front of her and turned on the TV. Just forty more minutes until Dad comes home, Andrea told herself. Only forty minutes until I hear about Mom.

Time slipped away as Andrea half-heartedly watched her favorite movie, Wonder. Finally, she heard the door rattle.

“Dad!” Andrea shouted. Her dad burst into the room panting and brushing New York snow off of his coat.

“Dad! Dad! What happened?” Andrea asked, tugging on his sleeve.

“The doctors said that they haven’t seen anything like it. They said it couldn’t have been of natural causes, which is scary. I don’t know what it would be of. Anyways, I was not awake to see what happened. All I know is that no one entered this house all night.”

“Really?” Andrea said, worried. “Is she okay?”

“I don’t know, Andrea. I don’t know,” her dad said, pinching the bridge of his nose. Andrea hugged him.

“We have to head back to the hospital now. Put your coat, boots, and gloves on.”

Andrea nodded, a tear slipping down her face.

In the car, Andrea twiddled her thumbs and bit her lip. Mom… I wish I knew if you were okay. Please be okay. Please let her be okay.

Her dad, Mr. Wilson, gripped the steering wheel hard, turning his knuckles white. He drove into the driveway of the hospital and parked.

Soon, Andrea and her dad were in the waiting room.

“Mr. Wilson?” a voice called. Andrea’s dad stood up and walked into a room where a blonde lady was calling. Andrea followed. The lady shut the door behind them and motioned for them to sit down into comfy, blue chairs.

Sitting in one herself behind a wood desk, the lady spoke.

“Hello, Mr. Wilson. I’m Victoria. As the doctors have informed you, this was not from a natural cause. We looked over your wife and saw that something happened around her head. There was some type of dispositioning of her brain cells, and right now, it’s going to be very hard to fix this. I am very sorry. As you can probably figure out, her brain has stopped working. Therefore, the doctors put her in hospice. She will make it a few hours.” Andrea couldn’t imagine living without her mom. She burst into tears and buried her face in her father’s shoulder. Mr. Wilson let tears fall freely down his face. Victoria left the room, and Andrea wailed and squeezed her father.

Andrea and her father knelt down before Andrea’s mother and said their hearts out. Andrea told her mom about all the good times they’d had together — about how much she loved her. Her mother couldn’t hear them or anything, but Andrea spoke anyway, with tears soaking her neck. Mr. Wilson whispered in Mrs. Wilson’s ear for a long time.

Andrea was there holding Mrs. Wilson’s hand as her mother moved on to a better place. The next few months were rough. Mr. Wilson was not the same. He was never as happy as before. He didn’t laugh or smile like he used to.

Andrea and her dad lived differently. Andrea started to cook, do the laundry, and help out around the house. Her father was helpful also, but not as joyful as usual.

Finally, on Andrea’s thirteenth birthday, the doctors had a present for her. Andrea and her father drove to the hospital. They were taken into a room with many images on the projector and spewing across a table.

“I’m Victoria. You might remember me,” the familiar lady stated. “After your mother’s death, the doctors found something surprising. And it wasn’t in her brain. A long time ago, your mother tore her arm. When a doctor gave her surgery, a very bad virus was inserted in her. Well, it wasn’t very bad at the time. That morning when she lost consciousness, a virus trigger was released into the house that never should have been. That means,” Victoria paused, “I think it was someone who was either with the doctor at the time, or it was the doctor himself. I do not know why they would pick that time though to set off such a deadly trigger. And, how could they release it into your house?”

Andrea and Mr. Wilson shook their heads in disgust.

“What’s a virus trigger?” Andrea asked.

“Well, we’re not sure, but it might be an invisible gas or something that makes the virus become harmful. But the question still remains — why? And how?”

“We don’t know. We really don’t know.”

Mr. Wilson got up to leave, but Andrea stayed sitting in the chair. “Who was it? Who was it?” she asked.

“We don’t know yet, which is embarrassing on our part because we have no record of your mom’s surgery. Maybe it was lost, or worse, destroyed by the doctor because he didn’t want anyone to see.”

“Don’t you know about the surgery though? Like… when was it? Can’t you ask the doctors?”

“Andrea! It’s time to go,” Mr. Wilson leapt in. He grabbed Andrea’s arm and pulled her out of the room.

“Dad!” Andrea said in the hallway. “I want to know what happened! I bet she knows some information — what if we can even figure out what happened ourselves?”

Andrea’s dad shook his head, and they walked out of the waiting room.

“Now, Andrea, these doctors are very experienced. They know much better than we.”

Andrea mumbled under her breath as her dad led her out of the building, into the car, and all the way back home.

Andrea went back to school in the next month. The doctors were still figuring out what had happened, and Andrea was asking as many questions as she could. So much that her dad at one point left her in the waiting room. (He soon noted that that wasn’t such a great idea.)

Andrea walked into the school building crowded with kids. She was looking for one person — Harper. Harper was her only friend that wouldn’t tease her about her horrible grades.

Finally, Andrea found her in an upstairs hallway and told her about her mom. Harper gasped as they walked into their homeroom.

“Andrea! That’s horrible! I don’t know what I’d do if that happened to me,” Harper exclaimed.

“It’s okay. It’s really not a big deal,” Andrea lied straight to her friend’s face. Harper raised her eyebrow knowing that it was a huge deal but didn’t say anything.

Andrea and Harper sat down at their desks next to each other.

“Oh no,” Andrea whispered as her teacher, Ms. Addison, walked over.

“Andrea, I’m very, very sorry. I heard from your father. I’ll excuse you from all your missing work, okay? But I need you to work hard,” Ms. Addison bent down and whispered to Andrea, “Because of your grades, all right?” Ms. Addison gave Andrea a knowing look, then walked back to the front of the class to teach. Andrea shook her head looking down, knowing that she had F’s in every class except for art. Painting was the only thing she ever cared about. Harper understood, because she liked art just the same. However, Harper was also very smart and got A’s all the time. Andrea’s only ‘A’ was in art.

“‘A’ for Art!” Andrea used to say to her parents when they received her report card. Of course, they were never very happy.

Andrea shoved the subject of her parents away and finally heard her teacher dismiss them for first period.

“Finally,” Andrea muttered under her breath, making Harper elbow her. “What? I hate school. I just can’t wait for art!”

“Andrea, you need to get better grades! Your par — ” Harper caught herself and took a sharp breath. Andrea sighed and shrugged.

“I guess,” she said, walking quicker to math.

The rest of the day flew by in a breeze, Andrea not paying attention to math, science, or history. Finally, it was time for art. Andrea burst into the art room with Harper and filled her lungs with the familiar smell of paint and wood.

“Oh! Andrea! I totally forgot to tell you. We have a new art teacher. Meet Mrs. Grace. Mrs. Grace, this is Andrea,” Harper explained. Andrea stood horror-struck. A new teacher?! But she loved Miss Alia! She plastered a fake smile on her face and shook hands with Mrs. Grace.

“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Grace! Very nice. What happened to Miss Alia?”

“Oh. Well. She moved on to a better job that was more important than her students.” Mrs. Grace rolled her eyes. Andrea stood with a disgusted look on her face. She went to her seat and quietly sat down.

That day at art was awkward and quiet. No one talked or laughed like they used to.

Finally, it was the end of class, and Andrea was walking out the door.

“Andrea! Can I come hang out tonight?” Harper asked.

“Harper, remember? My mom? My dad can’t handle us right now,” Andrea said. Suddenly, she heard Mrs. Grace swivel around in her chair to face her.

“Mrs. Grace?” Andrea asked, turning around to face her teacher.

“Andrea — are you? Andrea Wilson?” Mrs. Grace declared. Andrea nodded. Just then, the classroom walkie-talkie on the teacher’s desk called Andrea’s name to go home.

“Sorry Mrs. Grace, but I gotta go,” Andrea said, eager to get away from her new art teacher.

“Andrea, wait!” Mrs. Grace said, getting up from her seat. But Andrea had already strolled out of the doorway and down the hall.

Andrea left school with a straight face. A new teacher, bad grades, more homework — could it get any worse? She walked down the road, seeing her small house in the distance.

That night at home, she was greeted with a surprise.

“Andrea, dear! Want to come watch TV with me?” her father asked. Andrea walked over to the couch, surprised that her father was in such a good mood because personally, she wasn’t. She sat down on the couch and started looking at the big football players thundering across the field. They were almost to the end zone. The player finally made it and threw the football on the ground with celebration.

“TOUCHDOWN!!!” Andrea’s father screamed. He scrambled to his feet and gave Andrea a high-five. She half-heartedly high-fived him back.

“Andrea, dear? Why the long face?” He asked, knowingly.

“How — how are you so happy right now?!” Andrea asked, losing it. “Nothing is going right today! Nothing ever goes right! How come all of a sudden you are happy?”

“Do you want to know? It’s because I realized that there is no point in getting sad anymore. What happened will not change. Like, don’t cry over spilt milk. It already happened. So you fix it. And since we cannot fix her death, the best way to mend our hurt is to smile and say, what has happened has happened, and I might as well be happy.”

Andrea stood dumbfounded at her father’s words.

Impressive coming from him, she thought. Then she smiled, and slowly, it made sense. He was right. No matter what happened, it was no use getting mad over.

As her father smiled back, Andrea forgot about her mother. About school. About all her worries. Andrea let her father wrap her in a big bear hug.

However, the next morning Andrea woke up from a nightmare about her mom. She sighed and got dressed for school. As Andrea walked down the stairs to make her breakfast, she already smelled the scent of waffles wafting from the kitchen. She looked over the railing and saw her father flipping waffles on the waffle iron. Andrea laughed to herself, knowing that she usually had to wake her dad up in the morning because he always slept in.

Mr. Wilson motioned for Andrea to hurry and come down the stairs. Andrea did and saw a big plate of strawberry and syrup covered waffles waiting for her. She grinned and gave her dad a big hug.

After eating her scrumptious breakfast, she kissed her dad goodbye and walked to school. Andrea entered the building to find Harper waiting for her there.

“Hi, Harper.” Andrea smiled.

“Andrea! Mrs. Grace wants to talk to you,” Harper replied. Andrea frowned and crossed her arms.

She walked up the stairs to the art room. She no longer enjoyed the wood and paint smell.
“Ah! Andrea. Harper told you right?” Mrs. Grace said, pacing around the room.

“Yeah,” Andrea said, standing by the door.

“Come sit, come sit,” Mrs. Grace commanded, pulling out a chair from one of the art tables. She moved it in front of her, and Andrea sat down, uncomfortable. Mrs. Grace hesitated, then kept pacing the room.

“Why did you want me?” Andrea asked, getting impatient. Mrs. Grace finally pulled up a chair and sat down in front of Andrea.

“Andrea, don’t get too worked up, but, I know something about your mother.”

Andrea’s eyes widened, and she gripped the sides of her chair.

“What?” she whispered.

“I was the doctor’s assistant,” Mrs. Grace said. Andrea’s face started to twist into anger.

“Now, before you get all mad, let me explain. That doctor, Doctor Richard, gave me the

file on your mom’s surgery along with a note.” Mrs. Grace took an unsealed envelope out of her pocket and handed it to Andrea. Andrea’s hands trembled as she took it. Suddenly, they trembled in anger.

“Why didn’t you report him?! How could you keep quiet?!” Andrea yelled. Mrs. Grace shook her head. Andrea glared at Mrs. Grace, then looked up at the clock.

“It’s first period. See you,” Andrea turned to walk out of the room. Mrs. Grace pushed her seat back and got up.

“Read the note!” Mrs. Grace yelled after Andrea.

Andrea sat down at study hall, fingering the note. This class, third period, was the only one she did not have with Harper. Finally, Andrea gathered up the courage to open the envelope. She raised the flap and reached inside — she felt a small piece of paper in the envelope and pulled it out. She unfolded it and read:


I am terribly sorry. I have lost the surgery file. If you are mad, I don’t blame you. But here, I have the note from Doctor Richard. Please understand.

There was a second note in the envelope too — the note that Doctor Richard wrote. Andrea hesitated to look at it. This note would change reality. She looked around the room at everyone studying quietly. Then, she unfolded the other note:

Lynna Grace,

This is for your eyes only. When Zaria Wilson tore her arm, I did surgery on her. You are my most trusted friend. This is a secret between you me, and if you ever see the Wilsons, them too. I am quitting my job as a doctor. It is no use anymore. But anyway, I was operating on Zaria when I found a virus in her arm through her bloodwork. It was deadly. I knew she would die soon, so I did the only thing I could. I tried to remove it, but I couldn’t. Instead, I damaged the virus so that it would only grow back on a certain day and kill her. By now, I’m sure that it has grown back, but I am long gone in a different part of the country. I pray for her family.

Your friend,

Dakota Richard

Andrea read the note twice and stood up in her chair. The teacher looked at her.

“Are you okay?! You look awfully pale,” the teacher commented.

“I — I’m not feeling so well,” Andrea replied.

“Why don’t you go lie down in the office, hon,” the teacher said, worried. Andrea nodded, packed up her stuff, and headed out of the classroom and down to the office.

The office called her dad, and he came and picked her up.

In the car, Andrea burst into tears from all this pressure about her mom. Her dad comforted her and said they would talk at home. Finally, they arrived at the house and sat at the dinner table.

“So, dear Andrea, what is bothering you?” Mr. Wilson asked. Andrea didn’t need to talk. She just handed the note to her father. Mr. Wilson read the note over, his face getting more and more ghost-like at every word. Finally, he finished reading and looked up at Andrea, his mouth in a tight, white line. He just looked at the paper, then at Andrea, then back at the paper again. Finally, after a lot of looking back and forth, Mr. Wilson pushed his chair back and stood up. He motioned for Andrea to follow him. They both got into the car and drove to the hospital in silence. Finally, they arrived and walked to the waiting room.

“Mr. Wilson? Andrea?” the familiar voice of Victoria called. Andrea and her father walked into Victoria’s office.

“So, what is this emergency meeting about?” Victoria asked.

“It’s about this,” Andrea said, handing the envelope to Victoria. “Mrs. Grace is my art teacher at school now.”

Victoria opened the envelope, took out the letter, and read silently. Her eyes grew wide, and she looked up at Mr. Wilson and Andrea. Andrea nodded. Victoria was lost for words, but she waved at them to leave. She had all the information she needed, and Andrea was finally feeling accomplished.

The next day, Victoria scheduled another appointment with Andrea and Mr. Wilson. The group of three sat together in Victoria’s office.

“Mr. Wilson, we’ve found the location of Dakota Richard. He’s in Rhode Island. We’ve been trying to contact him to pay you guys for not telling us anything. He’s paying a lot of money — some for this hospital and some for you.” Victoria looked really annoyed at Dr. Richard.

“No, no, no, no, no, no. He did a good deed for Zaria. Without him, Zaria would have died way before this. Please. We don’t want his money,” Mr. Wilson stated. Victoria looked like she wanted to say something, but she kept quiet.

“All right then,” Victoria said. “I guess now we don’t have any more to do with this. Thank you so much for all your help.” She got up and tucked her chair in behind her desk. She dismissed Andrea and her father.

Andrea skipped out of the hospital, content.

The next week at school, Andrea came home and jumped into her father’s arms.

“Father! Father! I aced my math test!” And Mr. Wilson smiled so big that his mouth hurt.

So, that’s how it was for the the Wilsons. Happy. Andrea went on to high school, having been on the Honor Roll twice.

Andrea and her father lived in that same house for the rest of their lives, no longer grieving over Mrs. Wilson, but thinking that she would be more happy if they were happy. Those were the words the Wilsons lived by.

Happy plus a Sad does not equal another Happy. But Andrea, dear, if we are happy, then your mother will be, too.



Andrea relaxed in the backseat of her dad’s white van, wanting to know how long it would be until they got to the beach. The sun shined brightly up above — it was almost noon. She looked over to her father, bouncing around to the music while driving. She smiled, knowing that everything was all right now. Then, she looked to the passenger’s seat where her grandma sat with perfect posture. Andrea’s grandma was an uptight woman, always yapping about something. Her grey-streaked hair was neatly pulled back into a bun. Andrea never saw a time where her grandma was not wearing a sweater, like a turtleneck, bell sleeve, or even a choker sweater. She was always wearing something like that!

“How much longer, Daddy?” Andrea asked for the fifth time.

“Not too much longer, dear,” Mr. Wilson answered back.

“You said that last time,” Andrea groaned, slouching down, but with a small smile on her face.

“Now, Andrea! You sit up like a lady! That’s how your Grampa Joe hurt his back,” Grandma stated. Andrea rolled her eyes with a smirk and sat up straight.

“Now, what do you say?” Grandma asked.

“Yes, Grandma,” Andrea strained.

“Good. And look! What a way to kill the time! We’ve arrived.”

Mr. Wilson pulled over into a busy parking lot.

“We’re here, we’re here,” he sang to himself, turning off the music. The family got out of the car and stepped onto the sandy road.

“What a lovely day!” Andrea’s dad stated, making Grandma glare at him.

“Now, now, you know the sun’s UV rays could hurt you. Put on some sunscreen!”

“We’ve already put on two layers like you told us to,” Andrea laughed. Grandma grumbled under her breath, adding another layer of sunscreen herself, even though her skin was already ghostly white.

“Andrea! Be careful getting that basket out of the trunk! You’ve probably already strained your back enough for a week! Don’t let me see you slouching one more time today, young lady or I’ll — ” Grandma stopped herself and looked around. She had announced this loudly, like she wanted everyone in the parking lot to stare at her. She again went back to grumbling, and the onlookers went back to their own business.

Finally, after a lot of Grandma’s comments, Andrea, Mr. Wilson, and Grandma made it down onto the sandy beach. Andrea immediately raced for the water, collecting seashells that the waves brought in. Mr. Wilson and Grandma set up a beach towel and the umbrella. Grandma stayed under the umbrella reading a book called Safety in the Cruel World. Mr. Wilson sat watching Andrea running around chasing seagulls. He had tried to get Grandma out of the Safety Zone before, but it didn’t work.

Finally, he called Andrea to come eat lunch with them. They all sat together on the red and white checkered mat, under the blue umbrella. The blue umbrella was under the scorching sun, and the scorching sun was under the white angels. Among the white angels was Andrea’s mother, looking down and smiling at the small family eating, Grandma not even reading her book.



Music echoes against the cold wooden walls of the old room, each note emphasizing how silent and still everything else is. Old books, stacked unevenly on the shelves, are coated in a thick layer of dust, and papers are strewn across the floor. It is 2073, and it has been years since anyone has stepped foot inside. The music comes from a tape recorder, plugged into the wall, perpetually playing the same three notes again and again. It is the only sound aside from the the buzzing of the bees outside. The drapes flutter with each gust of wind through the shattered glass window, and all that can be seen is a deserted wasteland with no human in sight. It is a fragmented version of what once was, a memory only held in the minds of the children, now adults, who once inhabited the playground outside.

Far away, a man stumbles through the dry, desolate desert all alone. Upon his skinny body cling tattered cargo pants, scattered with holes and loose threads. An equally worn long sleeve shirt hangs loosely on him, size extra large, when he is now a small. He was once known as Jeremy, but the name has long since slipped from his memory along with thoughts of his family and his home. He is the shell of the person he once was. As he climbs hill after hill of sand, his tattered leather bag slips off of his skeletal shoulders, forcing him to stop and adjust it over and over again. He can’t risk losing it, for it holds every single thing that he owns. His bag is slowly getting lighter with each passing day. It is becoming easier to carry, yet a reminder of how close he may be to death.

Memories of the past months slowly begin to infiltrate his thoughts and weigh down on his body and mind. He is reminded of the struggle to continue moving through the desert in the past weeks, as well as years ago, a time of joy, but also one that is on the brink of slipping from his memory. His daughter peaks out of his cloudy memory more often than anyone else. His wife less so, since he has had many more months to adjust to this loss.

Crap, he thinks to himself, pulled away from his thoughts as he suddenly realizes that something is wrong. Looking himself up and down, he finally notices the disappearance of the comforting thumping of his bag swaying against his back. Crap, he thinks again, realizing that he must now retrace his steps and climb the hill he just descended to find his bag. He scurries up, forcing himself to ignore the sand slipping under his feet, scattering across his face and into his eyes.

One hundred miles away, at the site of the old room, the ground suddenly begins to shake with the force of a 40 elephant stampede. One hundred miles from the room, the ground once again begins to shake. The man steadies himself, one hand against the sliding sand dune, and the other slowly losing its clutch on his bag and possession, eventually dropping them to the ground once again. The shaking comes as no surprise to the man, who has had to deal with these daily earthquakes for months now, but it is no less irritating. As the ground rapidly shakes beneath him and the earth seems to flip upside down, his feet slip out from under him, and he slides face first down the mound of sand. His chin stings as he comes to a stop at the bottom of the sand dune, then his eyes and hands as he returns from his stunned state to recognize the pain from the sand. His eyes fill with tears, and he wipes them away with a swift swipe of his hand, embarrassed, even though there is no one to see him cry. As a final droplet cascades down his cheek, making a river-like indent in the folds of his filthy face, his bag comes crashing down from the top of the hill to his feet. The earthquake slowly comes to an end, and the man checks his belongings. Nothing is broken, and he continues on.

Two months pass. The man has walked tirelessly in uneven circles, unaware that he is going nowhere. He has survived by drinking from wells in abandoned villages and sleeping in the empty houses. The water is bitter, and the beds are rusting and coated in dust, but they offer a diversion from the never-ending sand and sun. He never stays long, for he needs to continue on through the rolling hills of sand that never cease to scorch his feet with each step. It has been three weeks since he has come across any evidence of abandoned human civilization, and before that it had been two weeks. He is exceedingly aware that the towns are becoming farther and farther apart and that his strength is dwindling. His steps become smaller and smaller with each hour that he walks. He stumbles along, eyes half closed, legs giving out.

It is close to noon and already he is growing too tired to keep his eyes open. He knows that he is safe to do this because the landscape never changes, and as long as he continues walking he will be fine. He is almost at the point of sleepwalking, and his feet have a mind of their own.

The end was coming. There was a delusion across the earth that there was still a chance, still hope. Only those who could wrap their heads around it were preparing, and the rest were already as good as dead. The man had grabbed his daughter when he heard the news, shoved their belongings into their 1990’s SUV, and laid his daugher across the backseat, covering her in a blanket. Shoot, he thought, as he was pulling out of the driveway. He knew his daughter would be devastated if he forgot her favorite blanket. He rushed into the backyard where he knew that her blanket was laying and grabbed her off the grass, muddying his hands. The man rushed back to the car, the countdown to apocalypse almost visible, like an hourglass, in his mind. Without really thinking, he jumps back into his car, places the blanket carefully on the front seat next to him, and zooms out of the driveway. He needs the extra time to make it out of the city before the traffic builds.

Two hours later, with his daughter still asleep in the backseat, he arrives at the outskirts of town. They are almost safe. His brother has offered them a spot in his apocalypse shelter, and they are almost there. He turns around for the first time to shake his daughter awake, but is greeted by an empty space with a blanket strewn across. He is frozen with shock. His eyes are locked on the leather seat, and his hands slip from the wheel. The next thing he knows the car smashes into a tree, and he is thrown back by his airbag. The man can’t begin to understand what happened; his daughter is gone, and his car is wrecked. He is left with a blank feeling of terror as darkness encloses around him, leaving the man standing, out of breath, on the side of the road, his smoking car offering the sole glow of light as the stars begin to rip through the blackness above.

While the man stands terrified in the road, his daughter is scrunched in the bathroom corner of their house, crying. She is alone and afraid. Her father is nowhere to be found, and her house is full of her monsters. Two hours ago she had woken up in the car, her father gone. He had been grabbing her blanket, and the night stars had been shining down on her through the windows. She had slipped out the door and gone back into her house to see what was happening. As the front door swung closed behind the girl, her dad, unbeknownst to her, ran back up the driveway and turned the car on, forgetting to check the backseat again, driving away.

Suddenly, the man is jolted from his memory and pulled back into the desert. His body bashes against a hard, rough wooden surface, and his eyes snap open as he comes to an abrupt stop, waking him from his sleepy state. A little wooden room greets the man, almost welcoming him inside with a hard wooden hug. One note, then another meet his ears, beating down on him with the pounding of the past. The song that he once recognized feels distant, but the meaning is something he has never forgotten. The notes drift through the air, emitted in all directions from a tape recorder plugged into the wall to the left of the door, on the inside of the cozy room. Ivy covers the exterior, but a golden, rust-free handle is visible, peeking nervously through the vines. The man reaches out a shaky hand, grasps the handle, and turns it, pulling it towards him with a suddenly energized intensity.

He rushes inside, eager to escape the brutal sun. Once he is safely inside, he removes his bag, dropping it to the floor just next to his feet, and looks around. Old books, stacked unevenly on the shelves, are coated in a thick layer of dust, and papers are strewn across the floor. The drapes flutter with each gust of wind through the shattered glass window, and all that can be seen through them is the deserted wasteland that the man knows so well. The man spins around, searching for the source of the music. In the corner of the room, he sees a tape recorder with a cord twisted up and plugged into an outlet in the wall. Gasping, he holds his breath, unable to breathe because of the surprise.

The man learned long ago that electricity was no longer usable; outlets had stopped working after the asteroid. He reaches forward and yanks the cord out from the wall, but instead of ending immediately, the music falters and then continues playing louder than before. Surprised, he shakes the box and turns it around. He finds a panel on one side of the box that is screwed shut. He spots the lid of a bean can, slipped under the table and laying on the ground. Bending it in half, accidentally drawing blood with the sharp jagged edge he has fashioned into a knife, the man cuts a little door in the plastic music box and carefully lifts up the panel. The man nervously peeks inside and sees the last thing he expects, a tiny, pink music box, topped with a ballerina moving mechanically, yet rhythmically to the music.

“How could this be possible.” He gasps. The music box inside is undoubtedly what he thinks it is: his daughter’s. And he finally recalls why he had recognized the song.

He shrivels with sadness, sinking to the floor, shoulders squished against the wall, sobbing. He doesn’t know what to think of this. His mind races, jumping frantically from one laughable idea to another ill-conceived notion. As his thoughts jumble together into one, he forces himself to believe that the music box must be a coincidence, but he cannot force himself to ignore the voice in the back of his head, whispering his daughter’s name, telling him that the music box is hers.

Hours later he lies, shivering on the floor, overtaken by a restless sleep. Even as he dreams, he feels a presence. A shadow. Suddenly, he is shaken from his rest by the sound of soft tears. He can almost see his daughter shuffling through the books on the bookshelf, tears falling across the pages as she flips through the book her dad had once read to her. He has a sudden urge to comfort the girl, his daughter, but is left with an empty feeling when he remembers that no one is there. He runs to the books, noticing a select few which have somehow shed their dust not too long before. He knocks the pile down, searching through the books for one in particular, the one he had seen in his dream. One catches his eye, the bright fluorescent colors and glossy paper cover reminding him of the many nights that he sat reading to his daughter. He flips through the pages, but then tells himself that he is silly to even let his mind be plagued with this thought.

He puts the book back down, yelling internally at himself for allowing his optimism to get to him. He becomes angry, angry at himself and angry at the room for playing tricks on him. He shouts out loud, projecting his feelings into every corner of the building, yet his emotions continue to flood his body. He punches the table once, twice, three times, continuously, endlessly, expelling his rage for what happened to his daughter and to himself. He spots the books he had strewn across the table earlier and pushes them aside, onto the floor. Then, he crumbles into a ball on the floor besides the table, sobbing.

Through his tears he looks around, colors blending together from the salty water filling his eyes. The books covering the floor catch his eye and before he can stop himself, he is on his knees weeding through the pages. His tears scatter like rain across the pages, but he cannot ignore the dried tears among them that are undeniably from an earlier time. It is not till minutes later that the truth actually sinks in. He ignores all reason, his mind clouded with hope: his daughter must have been here, there is no other possibility.


Stormx4 Part I

Julia skipped happily down the stairs into the kitchen. She was wearing flamingo pajamas. The pants were completely covered with rainbow flamingos. The shirt consisted of a pink flamingo, the yellow sun, and it said, “Summertime is the best time.” Summer is getting close, but it’s not here yet. Her mom was on the phone again. Her mom had been on her phone for weeks, checking her texts, calling someone, or answering a call. Julia had been thinking about it forever and was determined to figure out the answer, and when Julia is determined to do something, it will be done.

“Good morning, Mom!” she said with a smile. Her mom ignored her and shooed Julia away with a motion of her hand. Julia did not listen because she was upset that her mother was ignoring her. “Mother!!! Mom!!! Mama!!! MUM!! MOM!!!” she yelled.

“Um, sorry. Excuse me for a second,” Julia’s mother said. Her mother put her hand over the phone speaker. “Julia, enough with this behavior of yours. I am on the phone with someone,” she whispered loudly.

“With who?!” Julia said.

“Someone important. Now go watch TV,” she replied.

“But I want breakfast!” Julia complained.

“No, Julia! Make it yourself! Do not be so dependant!” her mom responded sternly.

“Why can’t you just make it?” she pleaded.

“I told you! I’m on the phone!” her mom replied.

“But Mom! I don’t want to make it myself! I do that every morning!” Julia moaned.

“Then you can live without it. Now go watch TV,” her mom answered.

“I don’t want to,” she said as she crossed her arms and pouted.

“I do not care if you want to or not! I am on the phone, so go!” her mom hollered. Julia stomped to the living room which was right in front of the kitchen.

“Sorry about that, my… dog was acting up again,” Julia’s mother continued with her call. “So what were you saying?”

“Dog? I am not a dog, right? She gone crazy?” Julia mumbled to herself.

Her dad marched in the room. “Hey, Julie!” he said. “You ready for school today?” he asked.

“Dad, do I look like a dog to you?” Julia questioned.

Her dad looked concerned. “Um, no? Should you?”

“I knew it, and also there is no school today. It’s Sunday,” Julia mumbled. There is something weird going on, and I am going to figure out what exactly that is, Julia thought.

Her dad rolled his eyes and laughed a little. “I gotta go to work. Make sure you wake up your brother for his baseball game, so he has enough time to get ready. Also, did you see outside there is a moving van. I guess someone finally moved into the house next door. Too bad that old couple had to move. They were such great neighbors,” he said.

Julia paid no attention to him. She had worse things to worry about. “Okay. Sure, Dad.” She snuck up the stairs and sat in the room filled with her old toys. She pretended to be reading a book.

Julia then realized her mom was in the shower. This was her chance to figure out what was really going on. Julia’s mom typically takes a thirty minute shower, so that was how long Julia had to figure out this mystery.

She tiptoed into her parents room and grabbed her mom’s phone. She opened up the text messages. There was a number, 408-487-9863. Julia ran to her room and grabbed her phone. On her notes, she put the same number.

Mystery person: 408-487-9863

Julia opened up her mom’s text messages. At the very top, it said that she had received 40 text messages from that number. She clicked on the number, and at that very moment the doorbell rang.

Julia jumped in fear. The shower sound stopped. Her mom’s footsteps got closer and closer. Julia panicked and ran behind her mom’s bed.

Her mom cracked open the door. “Julia!” she called.

“Yeah!” Julia answered back, not realizing that she was trying to hide from her mother.

“What are you doing back there?” she asked.

“Uumm… I lost my phone. Yeah. I was looking for it, um, under the beds?” she replied.

“Okay. Can you get the door, and also hand me my phone, please,” she said.

Julia grabbed her phone and handed it to her mom who was wrapped in a towel. Her mom quickly shut the door. Julia sighed and turned away.

“And Julia!” her mom called from the shower. “Be polite.” Julia rolled her eyes and walked to the door. She doesn’t need to tell me to be polite. I am very polite. She’ll see. I will make her proud, Julia thought.

Julia opened the door. In front of her was a family of four. “Hello. We are your new neighbors! It is very nice to meet you. I am Esther, and this is Richard. These are our two lovely children, Michael and Ella. May we meet your family?” the woman asked.

“Um, just give me a sec please. Um, you can wait right outside, please. Thank you,” Julia answered. She slammed the door in their faces.

She ran up the stairs to her mom. “MOM!!! We have new neighbors! They want to meet you!!” Julia yelled loudly, so the family knew she was trying.

“I don’t have time right now, sweetie. I am preparing for a very important meeting. Bring your father,” she said back. Her mom was switching from outfit to outfit, trying to look her best for the meeting. She still had the dark blue towel wrapped around her hair on top of her head.

“Don’t you know he went to work?” Julia questioned.

“Alright then, bring your brother… Did you or your father wake him up for his baseball game?” she asked.

Julia stressfully put her hand on top of her head and pulled her dark brown hair. “Oh my gosh. I knew I was forgetting something!!!”

She ran to her brother’s room a few feet away and slammed open the door, smashing one of his newly built Legos. “WAKE UP! WAKE UP!!! YOU ARE GOING TO MISS YOUR BASEBALL GAME!!!” she screamed.

“Julia, I just built that!” her brother angrily complained.

“Well, I’m sorry, but it is not my fault you left it by the door! Now get up to go to your baseball game!” Julia yelled. Julia and her brother, Sam, are very close in age. She is eleven, and Sam is eight.

“But I don’t want to go!” he yelled.

“SAM! GET UP!” Julia hollered, infuriated by her brother’s refusal to listen to her.

“Why are you so mean?” He pouted.

“I am not!” Julia answered. “C’mon, Sam. Why don’t you want to go to your baseball game?”

“Because,” he replied.

“Because why?” Julia asked.

“Because, because.” Julia noticed that Sam seemed really upset, and she felt sorry for him. She hugged him and sat on the foot of his bed.

“HELLO!!! ANYBODY THERE?!” the neighbors yelled.

“Oh my gosh. The neighbors. I totally forgot!!! SO SORRY! BE THERE IN A MINUTE!!!” Julia responded.

“C’mon, Sam. We gotta go meet the new neighbors,” Julia prompted.

“Okay,” Sam said. She dragged Sam down the stairs, and once they got to the door, she smashed it open as fast as she could. The family waited impatiently outside the door.

The father stared at his watch and straightened his red tie. The mother perfected the ruffles of her tight purple dress. She fanned herself with her elegant paper fan that was covered with all sorts of patterns. Her two twins stared at each other. It was easy to figure out the resemblance between all of them. The mom and her children had golden blond hair. The father had brown hair, but the two kids had his same pointy nose. And of course, they were all so perfect.

“So sorry. My mom is preparing for a meeting, and my dad is at work,” Julia said, ashamed.

“But you can meet me!” Sam added optimistically.

“Okay, no problem. We’d love to meet you, little one. What is your name?” the woman asked.

“Sam,” he answered.

“Oh Sam, we are delighted to meet you,” Esther said with a smile. The two kids beamed at Julia and Sam. Her mother ran down the stairs.

“Oh, um… hello, Chandlers. Pleasure to um… meet you here. Why exactly are you here?” Julia’s mom asked. Julia was shocked that her mother already knew these people.

“It almost seems like you don’t want us here, Leena. We are the new neighbors. Would it be alright if your children came over for a while?” Esther asked politely. Julia was very upset with this. She always hated being in other people’s houses if it was not her best friend’s house.

“Um, no, sorry. He has a baseball game to get to,” Julia’s mom answered quickly.

“No, no. We insist,” Richard assured. The two parents glared at Mrs. Wood. Mrs. Wood was intimidated by them.

“Um, sure. I’m sure it would be fine to be a little late. Why don’t you two go upstairs and get dressed,” she said.

Sam and Julia nodded obediently even though they had no idea what was going on. The two ran up the stairs and into their rooms.

“Why don’t you two go in the house. We’ll meet you there, okay?” Richard said to his children.

“Okay!” they answered.

“Why are you really here?” Leena questioned.

“Oh well, I wanted to get a head start on it. My children already passed. Will yours?” Esther responded. She stopped waving her fan and micheviously grinned at Leena.

They glared at each other. “Give me a second please,” Leena hissed. She held her hand to her chest, trying her hardest not to break Esther’s nose with her fist. She walked to the phone to call her husband, Noah.

Julia and Sam came running down the stairs. “C’mon, little ones. Let’s go!” Esther called in a kind, high-pitched voice.

Now, Julia wore a plain purple short sleeve shirt with jeans. Her dark brown hair was in a neat side braid. Sam wore a dark blue jacket with a neon orange Adidas symbol on the front. His sweatshirt covered his black shirt. There was a Minecraft creeper surrounded by TNTs. He wore his orange shorts that were loose and really big on him, but he liked them that way. His hair was still messy because he hated to fix it. The only time he ever did his hair was when his friend, Bella, came over.

The two siblings held hands and walked with their neighbors to their house, where Michael and his twin sister Ella waited patiently.

Julia and Sam walked through the small door and into their neighbor’s small town home.

“Alright, Julia and Sam Wood. We are going to ask you a few questions today,” Richard said.

“Why?” Sam replied politely.

“Well, we are doctors, and your mother asked us to make sure you are doing okay because she is so busy she does not have time to take you to the doctor’s office. Let’s go upstairs,” Esther said.

Michael and Ella sat in their living room and watched them all walk up the stairs. The twins both knew exactly what was going on, but Julia and Sam were completely unaware.

“So, Julia and Sam, how old are you both?” Esther asked.

“I am eleven, and my brother is eight,” Julia answered respectfully.

“It seems you Sam, are very smart. You have all A+’s and one A. Julia you have…” Richard stated.

Julia cut him off, “How do you know that?”

“One A, three A-’s, two B+’s, and one A+,” Richard continued. “It seems you have decent grades, but will they be enough? That is the question.” Esther elbowed her clueless husband. He understood exactly why.

“We…” Esther sighed. “Your mother told us about you. She is so proud of you.” Julia nodded. “So, back to the questions. Have either of you ever been in a pressured situation? Such as bullies, natural disasters, death of a close friend or relative,” Esther added.

“Uh, we have been in a 2.3 earthquake,” Julia replied.

“I have been bullied,” Sam said quietly. Julia gasped in shock. Her brother is usually an open book and tells her everything.

“Sam! Why didn’t you tell me?!” Julia exclaimed.

“I didn’t think it mattered that much. I didn’t really think you cared,” he whispered.

“Of course I care, Sam. I’m your sister, and I always care about what happens to you,” Julia said sympathetically. “Now, who was doing it?”

“This cantankerous, unscrupulous, utterly malicious bully named Darius,” Sam mumbled. Julia stared at her little brother. She had no idea he knew his vocabulary so well. It must have been because he had been reading so much. Sam had always been an amazing reader and could read pretty much any book, unless he felt like it was boring.

“Um, okay. That was lovely, but let’s continue,” Richard prompted. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I want to be a scientist. What do you wanna be, Sam?” Julia answered.

“I wanna be… I wanna be a scientist, so I can work with Julia!” he stated. He stood up on the small brown couch and bounced up and down with excitement. He imagined it, him sitting with Julia solving math problems that would indicate when the Earth’s rotation would stop. She would have a purple lab coat, and he would have an orange one. They would solve it together and then laugh, realizing how simple their mistakes were before.

“Good heavens!” Esther squealed. “Do not bounce on the couch! Were you raised in a barn?!” She covered her mouth with her hand and fanned herself with her detailed paper fan once again. Sam quickly sat back down next to Julia across from the other small brown couch where their doctors and neighbors sat. Little did they know, the Chandlers were neither doctors nor their new neighbors. They were something far more important.

“I think that is enough questions, answers, and impersonating jackrabbits for today, children. Off you go,” Esther said, annoyed. Julia and Sam stood up and left the room. Richard got up from his seat and closed the door behind them.

“You can’t say stuff like that, Richard. You’ll give us away. It is a hard secret to keep. It may feel like you should warn people, but it is for the best that no one knows what is to be left of this world when the storm occurs. We will stop it. We just can’t tell anyone. The only people who will be aware of this are the few chosen engineers and scientists,” Esther whispered to her husband.

“But I don’t get why we cannot allow the real scientists and engineers to handle this,” Richard replied quietly.

“Because, Richard. The new generation of children has spent more time around technology. We have a much better chance using them. Besides, it will be quicker,” Esther answered.

Julia and Sam walked down their stairs and started to open the door. “Hey, guys. How did it go?” Michael asked. The two twins still sat in the same spot on the beige couch in front of the TV. Ella paused the horror movie that they were watching. It made sense because they were both twelve.

“How did what go?” Sam replied.

Ella looked around to make sure no one was listening. “The test?” she whispered.

“What test?” Julia asked.

“You really do know nothing,” Michael continued. “They, our parents, are part of a secret organization known as STORMx4. It stands for Support, Technological, Official, Rescuing Machine. The name in general means a storm that is combining four different types of natural disasters, a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, and tsunami. It will be a worldwide storm, and it will wipe out half of the planet. So STORMx4 is trying to bring together the smartest kids on the planet and use them to build a machine that will prevent this.

“So we could get picked?” Sam questioned. It was hard for Julia and Sam to process it all, that their worlds would blow up, unless a few kids could save it.

“Yes, that’s what we have heard,” Ella responded.

“Well, we have to warn the police officers and the firemen. And our parents,” Julia said stressfully.

“You can’t. We aren’t even supposed to know. You have to promise that you won’t tell anyone, not even your family,” Michael said quickly.

Sam looked up at Julia. They both really wanted to warn their parents, so that they could get to safety.

“Okay,” Sam sighed. The kids all heard footsteps coming from upstairs.

They all looked at each other. If Esther and Richard figured out that they were still there, the Chandler parents would for sure suspect something. Julia and Sam crawled swiftly and quietly to the door.

Julia twisted the door handle and then opened the door. Thankfully, their previous neighbors hated squeaky doors and had the door fixed. So if you opened the door, you could still hear the sound of a bee buzzing outside and pollinating the nearby flowers.

She cautiously closed it behind her. Sam and Julia ran back to their home. Their dad came home as quick as possible when he heard that his children could be chosen to rescue the world.

Noah and Leena held hands and leaned against their counter in the white kitchen. Noah rubbed Leena’s hand as she sobbed. Julia and Sam walked through the door.

“Is everything okay?” Julia asked. Their parents just came over and hugged them.

“Yes. Are you okay?” their father said concerningly.

“Yeah. Why?” Sam replied. Their parents looked at each other. “What?” Sam added.

“Well, there is a storm coming, and — ” their father had a lot more to say, but he was disrupted.

“Yeah, we know. It is a huge storm, and it will wipe out half the planet. We also heard that they are testing kids to see who will qualify to help build a machine to stop it,” Julia interrupted.

Both parents were shocked that their children already knew about this. “Our friends told us!” Sam said enthusiastically.

“Okay. Well, that is why I have been on the phone so much. I have been talking to the Chandlers,” Leena added. She looked down at her feet and clenched her husband’s hand. She leaned her head against his shoulder.

“And that’s why I have been so busy. STORMx4 has been contacting us. They believe they have discovered some potential inventors. The thing is, you just tested. They have seen your grades and know precisely what you struggle with. Our neighbors are the employees in charge of testing and watching you. They have been spectating you for a few days, so we have heard. Anyways, we are sorry for not telling you kids,” Noah said.

“It’s okay, Dad, but have people been stalking us?!” Sam continued. “Are they secret spy agents?!”

“Sure, Sam,” Leena laughed. The Woods all laughed together, just like they used to. Unfortunately, it may have been the last time the Woods would do something together, as a family.

A few days later, two white envelopes arrived. The days had been long and hard, but the Wood family tried to make the most of it. They played board games and spent time as a family. Now, came the moment of truth. Would the family be split up? Or would they stay together? No one knew.

Julia and Sam couldn’t bear to open it up in front of their parents. If they did make it, how would they tell them?

The two sat in Julia’s room. It was comforting in there. A pink light shone down on her fluffy purple pillows that covered her cozy blue bed sheets. Her queen size bed was overflowing with stuffed animals. Some were red, some orange, pink, blue, purple, green, magenta, rainbow.

She and Sam sat criss-cross-applesauce on her fuzzy purple rug near her bed. “We’re gonna open it on three, okay?” Julia said, looking at Sam. She tried her hardest to stay calm but couldn’t help but breathe a little fast.

“One,” Julia counted. “Two.”

“Three,” Sam added. The two siblings opened their envelopes and inside was a note. The note in Julia’s envelope read:

Dear Julia Wood,

I am sure you may not have been aware, but we have been watching you. We have been trying to figure out if you qualify for building a machine that could save the world.

We are sad to tell you, that unfortunately, you did not test at the right skill level. We are very sorry and hope you have future opportunities.

Please do not tell anyone about this message. This is a private organization.

Thank you,


Julia jumped up and down. She was so happy that she was not required to leave her family.

“Eeeeeeehhh!!!” she squealed.

Sam stared horror-struck at his letter. “What’s… What’s wrong Sam?” Julia asked.

“I — I — I.” He took in a shaky deep breath. “I qualified.” Julia stopped jumping and looked at her brother.

“No. There must have been some mistake. You must have read it wrong.” She snatched the note right out of his hands.

“Dear Sam Wood,” Julia read. “I am sure you may not have been aware… Blah. Blah. Blah. We are proud, and honored to notify you… ” She copped her mouth with her hand. “That you have qualified for this project. You are our youngest inventor and because our inventor closest to your age is a teen, the writing will not be so simple. You may bring one maximum person with you. Your grades and ability to catch on to things quickly are the reason you were chosen for this project. Please report to the STORMx4 organization, 98670, Main Street, Santa Clara, CA, with all of your belongings and clothes that you will need for the next few months. Congratulations,” Julia mumbled. She slouched down onto her bed. She was in denial. Her little brother, Sam, would leave her for a few months.

“I can’t do it,” he said. Julia didn’t reply. She just sat on her blue bed covers and stared at the note. Sam got up and ripped the envelope in half. He threw it on the ground and ran out Julia’s door. His parents were talking about how they would handle it if their kids did have to leave, when Sam pushed past them to reach the front door.

He opened it and ran to the park that was in the back of his small town home area. No one ever came there, so it was a great place to hide.

He ran to the farthest back corner, where a strong tall oak tree stood. He reached for the branch that was in front of him and pulled himself up. Tears streamed down his face as he climbed the tall tree. He pulled himself up to the next branch and stood on a small one below him because his arms weren’t that strong.

The branch supporting his foot snapped. He gasped. He clenched the thick branch tight. He held onto one side, and his body hung off the opposite side.

He had climbed this tree before, and the same thing had happened. But, that time he was with Julia. He broke his leg, but he was also only allowed to climb to the third brach up, which was pretty much ten feet off the ground. Now, he was two stories high.

He kicked his legs and pulled himself up farther with his arms. He swung his leg up and thankfully, it landed on the life support branch. He hugged the branch with his legs and arms.

I think that is enough climbing for today, Sam thought. He warily pushed himself up, so he sat normally. He held on with his right hand to a thinner branch close above him.

He still could not process the fact that he would leave his family behind. He knew that he would be trying to save, not just his family, but his friend’s families and their friend’s families. The point is, he would have one chance to try and save millions of people.

Sam pulled a paper airplane out of his pocket that he had made that morning. He stared at it. No more paper airplane making. No more friends. No more Mom. No more Dad. But worst of all, no more Julia, Sam thought. Sam had always been close with his mom and dad, but he was always the closest with Julia.

Whenever Sam felt like his world was going to end, Julia was there. He recalled that once he did terribly in a baseball game. It was a playoff game. If they lost, they would get second. If they won, they would gain first place in the league. The game was nearly tied, five to six. It was the last inning, the seventh inning. His team was one point behind, and they had two outs. It was up to him to keep them in and get a homerun for his team. One of his players was on the third base. All he needed to do was a single good hit, and he would win his team the game. It was his last pitch. The ball flew, and he missed it.

When he finished, he started crying and said it was all his fault. Julia comforted him and said, “If your players would have gotten more homeruns, then you could have been in the lead. It’s not only your fault. When a team loses, it is because of the whole team, not one player.”

But when he goes to STORMx4, Julia won’t be there to comfort him.

Sam stared at the sun, sinking beneath the horizon. The sky was a bright pink mixed with orange. Clouds were scattered. Sam sighed. He was always very outdoorsy. He would miss coming here. It’s a beautiful view, and it is really easy to think on that branch. Sam put his dark blue hood over his messy brown hair.

He lifted the paper plane up and threw it into the air. The plane flew through the sky, like a dandelion wish. Sam dreamed of being a paper plane and being free. He wouldn’t have to help STORMx4 because he would be busy soaring through the cool, crisp air.

He wiped away a few of the tears that were on his face. Should I go? Didn’t the note say I could take one person with me who could understand complicated words? Julia is good at that. Plus, she is good at math, the one subject I have an A in, she has her one A+. But, would it be okay with her if I pulled her away from her family, our family? Sam thought.

Sam climbed down from his thinking space and headed back home. He opened the door and walked in. His parents ran to the door.

“Oh, Sam. We are so sorry,” his mother cried. “Julia told us what happened.”

“Yes, Sam. We are really sorry,” his dad added. They hugged their son tight.

“Where is Julia, anyways?” Sam asked.

“Her room. Why?” his mother said, as she wiped her tears with a tissue.

“Just wondering. I’m gonna go talk to her,” Sam replied.

“Okay, sweetie,” Leena answered. Sam ran to and up the stairs. He walked across the playroom to Julia’s room. Sam lightly knocked on the door and cracked it open. His sister was on her bed, staring at the ceiling and cuddling her teddy bear stuffed animal. It used to be her favorite stuffed animal and her best friend. She would tell that stuffed animal everything, until Sam. Now, she can just tell Sam, but not this time.

“Julia… ” Sam said hesitantly.

“Sam, shouldn’t you be packing?” she asked, still staring at the ceiling. Her hands rested on her stomach and she crossed her ankles.

“The note says… ” Sam grabbed the crumpled note from the floor. “Since the closest inventor in age is a teen, you may bring one maximum person with you. So, I was thinking…”

Julia popped her head up. She hated to admit it, but she really wanted to go with Sam. And she was a little upset that he got picked and not her. She thought her grades were pretty good.

Sam continued, “Maybe, since you have one A+ in math and I have one A in math, you could… Maybe.”

Julia looked at him. Her, leave her family? She loved Sam, but she also loved her friends and her parents. They would be devastated. But, if she helps, her brother would not be alone. She could help save the world! Julia always wanted to be a superhero. This was pretty similar!

Julia was upset that STORMx4 would choose her little brother and not her. But, she wasn’t going to miss her chance to prove to them that they made a mistake, and they should have chosen her.

“I’ll do it, Sam. I’ll go with you,” Julia answered, after a little thinking.

“Well, let’s get packing,” Sam replied. He was sad to leave his parents. But, he was ecstatic that he would stay with his sister, his favorite person in the world. He couldn’t help but smile a little as he walked to his room, knowing that he would not be alone.

To be continued…


The Permanence of Plastic

It is unlikely that anybody would like to live in a world in which there are no birds chirping and no fish swimming. We do not stop to notice the lizards, trees, and snails that are around us every day, but once we lose them, it will be glaringly obvious. This bleak picture is not one from a dystopian novel; it is our very realistic future. A world devoid of all life besides humans is quite alarmingly exactly where human civilization is headed. The risk of extinction for most animal species only increases with time, because of our careless ways. While oceans make up 71% of Earth’s surface, they are in critical condition (Oceanic Institute). Plagued by an unconcealed yet ignored monster — trash, our oceans are declining in purity. Already there are enormous islands of garbage in the middle of our oceans, and we are not far from a total trash takeover destroying all ocean life. With a yearly rate of eight million tons being dumped into oceans, plastic pollution is no doubt an enemy to marine life (National Geographic).

Though garbage exists in some form in nearly every stretch of sea, there are five major locations on Earth where trash gathers and gets trapped in a cycle that prevents it from moving elsewhere. These locations, called ocean gyres, are also described as “trash vortexes” because they trap marine debris and never allow it to flow out to shore. Ocean gyres form because of the Coriolis Effect, which causes systems of circulating currents in the ocean. Trash is sucked into these currents. Any litter on beaches or trash flushed down toilets is very likely to end up in a trash vortex because these vortexes suck in all debris, especially miniscule materials. These large, dense “black holes” of trash are extremely harmful to every species of marine life.

Much of the garbage in these trash vortexes is plastic litter. Ever since plastic has come into existence, there have been people who improperly dispose of it. Since its invention in 1907, plastic has changed our lives and has become an integral part of our daily use because of its durability and cost effectiveness. However, it is also true that while we continue to enjoy the power and benefits of plastic, we have not carried out the responsibility that comes with this power, namely, proper disposal of this non-biodegradable material. Lack of awareness of the harmful impacts of improper plastic disposal and careless human nature are two key factors that plague our oceans, which are now clouded with plastic that has been collecting in them for over a century. Usually, the debris is simply tossed out onto the ground rather than being placed in a garbage bin or recycling bin. This human disregard for the environment causes a ripple effect in which the plastic floats out into the ocean and stays there forever. Because plastic is not biodegradable, it simply breaks into smaller pieces as its exposure to sunlight increases, meaning it will never truly disappear from the ocean. Plastic fragments can become as small as sesame seeds, at which point they become microplastics. Microplastics are not just the result of littered plastic; they can also get into the ocean in other ways, such as being washed out of synthetic clothing. Marcus Eriksen, a co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, an organization dedicated to reducing plastic pollution, describes marine microplastics as a “plastic smog throughout the world’s oceans” (Marine Plastic Bulletin).

Another enemy to marine life is the microbead. Beauty companies emit sizable amounts of microplastics into the ocean through exfoliating scrubs. The miniscule beads in these scrubs are made of plastic, and when washed down the drain, they have the same effect on ocean life that disintegrating microplastics have. Many animals mistake microbeads for fish eggs and choke when they try to swallow them. Like microbeads, other plastic items bear close resemblance to prey for many ocean creatures. For example, after balloons get torn apart, they look very similar to jellyfish. Similarly, plastic bags can resemble kelp. Both balloons and plastic bags often strangle animals or cause them to choke. Another reason many animals eat plastic is because it smells like food. This most commonly affects seabirds, which eat krill. Krill consume algae, which, as they decompose, emit a sulfuric odor known as dimethyl sulfide (National Geographic). This smell allows seabirds to find krill. Lots of algae collect on floating plastic, so when seabirds catch a whiff of the sulfuric odor, they feed on that plastic, thinking it is krill. For this reason, over 90% of seabirds have plastic fragments in their stomachs (Plastic Oceans).

There are numerous species that are affected by plastic pollution in the ocean and the associated statistics are alarming. In fact, about one hundred thousand marine animals and one million seabirds are found dead from plastic or plastic entanglement each year! (Ocean Crusaders). Additionally, there are two hundred areas on Earth, called dead zones, that are so polluted that life can no longer exist there. Not all of these areas are underwater, however. Dead zones exist on land, and pristine environments are slowly becoming polluted as well. During my recent visit to Yellowstone National Park, one of the most pure and untouched places in the world, I witnessed a coyote at a distance attempting to eat a plastic water bottle. It seemed as though the coyote was trying to get to the water that remained in the bottle, but once it managed to get the lid off and all the water spilled out, it kept chewing on the bottle, perhaps thinking it was something edible. This went on for about twenty minutes as the onlookers were gazing at the scene with concern, wondering what the animal would do. From the relentless pursuit of the animal, it was clear that it could have choked to death had it not finally dropped the bottle in fear when a woman gingerly walked her way towards the animal to scare it away for its own safety. This incident represents just one example of how harmful human carelessness can be to other living creatures that are going about their ways of life in pristine wilderness. It also indicates that plastic pollution is everywhere, even plaguing the most untainted places on the planet.

Plastic in oceans has unexpected results, including those that display themselves on land. Increased plastic in oceans results in decreased ecosystem stability. The effects of plastic material in the ocean are also seen on land, as an unstable underwater ecosystem will have effects on food chains in oceans as well as on land. There are also more discernable effects, such as the fact that the sheer amount of plastic in oceans is extremely threatening to marine life. According to the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic mass in the world’s oceans than that of fish. This will be a turning point, because it is likely that the rate of environmental destruction will accelerate greatly after the fact. There will be a decline in biodiversity so animals that help humans progress in various ways will start to die out. For example, sea lions, seals, and narwhals all help scientists track climate change. Plastic in the ocean is a considerable threat to these species, so their numbers would dwindle greatly. With the loss of these creatures and others, it would become extremely difficult to track climate change, making it more prevalent in every region of the world. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would increase, which would harm the earth in numerous ways such as by causing longer droughts and wildfires.


As more and more plastic is dumped into the ocean, our lives on land will become more polluted as well, because plastic pollution hurts humans as well as marine life. Plastic litter floating in ocean water absorbs toxic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyl and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, which have both been proven to cause cancer. Plastic in oceans will also alter the food chain, and the impacts of this can be drastic to humans. The food chain is arranged in “ripples,” meaning those that are immediately affected do not suffer as much as the later affected species, which are humans in this case. For example, if one species of amphibians goes extinct because of excess plastic pollution in their habitat, their predators, largemouth bass, will be affected. Humans, who feed on the bass, will be impacted even more negatively. This is just one possible food chain. Many food chains come together to make a food web, and the harmful effects to humans are vastly amplified at this point.

The fact that there will be more plastic mass in the world’s oceans than fish mass is dangerous in a more transparent way — the plastic could kill almost all of the fish. Although it is true that there are far more marine species than fish living in our oceans, fish do make up a large amount of ocean life. Additionally, rather than comforting ourselves with the fact that fish are not the only living beings in the ocean, we humans would be in a much better position collectively if we try to initiate efforts to reduce plastic in the ocean. This mission is extremely challenging, however, because much of the plastics in the ocean cannot be effectively removed since the materials have broken into microplastics and escape the grasp of nets. This is why many efforts to remove plastic from oceans do not make a significant difference.

Although efforts to remove plastic are not remarkably effective, the dilemma of plastic in the oceans can be combatted. The best way to do so is to prevent plastic from entering oceans, sewage systems, rivers, lakes, etc. The most effective ways to prevent plastic from ending up in oceans involve people making minor changes, such as recycling or terminating their use of single-use plastics. Avoiding microbead products is effective, as microbead concentration in oceans is increasing rapidly. This can be done by exfoliating with a towel if necessary or by using natural exfoliants such as baking soda or oatmeal. Not purchasing bottled water is another fantastic way to decrease a person’s own plastic consumption and eventually contribute less to overall emission. An unknown contributor to plastic in the oceans is anything that is wrapped individually. Buying in bulk means far less plastic that could end up in the water, and this is also cheaper. Finally, supporting plastic bans and organizations addressing plastic pollution can help greatly. In my hometown, one very effective change has been made to try to lower our town’s plastic output. Grocery stores now charge customers at the checkout line for plastic bags that they request to hold their items in. This has had a great impact, as many people now bring their own reusable bags, such as tote bags, when shopping. Community effort, such as spreading the word about potential detrimental impact, is an essential part of ending plastic pollution in our oceans. Efforts to reduce one’s personal plastic output into the oceans are not particularly difficult, yet they are almost never done. People need to become aware of the fact that every single individual’s actions are meaningful. Placing more recycling bins around neighborhoods and encouraging and educating people about recycling can make a massive difference.

Plastic in the ocean is an issue that will begin to affect us in even more negative ways unless we actively work against it now by reducing our own plastic outputs. Once in the ocean, plastic makes a permanent home for itself there. Humans owe it to flora and fauna to help restore Earth’s balance, which our plastic pollution has distorted. Additionally, all species, including humans, are affected by the broad range of negative impacts caused by plastic pollution in oceans. With the earth’s current population at 7.6 billion and a projected growth of 29% by 2050, at which point it will reach 9.8 billion, the amount of plastic consumption and output into the oceans will only increase exponentially if we humans do not recognize and fight this issue (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs). Let us take action to make a significant difference that can preserve our planet’s splendor and beauty. Let us join together to make efforts to stop dumping plastic into our oceans. As David Attenborough, naturalist and broadcaster says, “There is no away — because plastic is so permanent and so indestructible. When you cast it into the ocean, it doesn’t go away” (Plastic Oceans). We are at a point where the oceans are in a critical condition; they can be saved or lost forever. The carelessness of our ways will come back to haunt us when our ocean life is lost, but our garbage remains.


The Absence of Hope

The stars were punch-outs in the blackness above her, sometimes it hurt to think about space. She could think herself out of the earth, through the blue ring of atmosphere and even further beyond, looking down. If she willed it, it was possible for her to imagine herself growing more distant, shrinking, fading into… what? She stopped there, unable to visualize anything more. She returned to the night now, wet grass and a slight frostiness. The flowers were curled into themselves, huddled and chilly, hugging themselves closer. She was damp but decided not to care. She fell back into the cool foliage, choosing to embrace the discomfort. She wished she had someone to share this with. Someone as young and idealistic as she was, right at this very moment. She ached for someone perfect, knowing she was alone. She let herself drift away to think crazy, hopeless thoughts.The stars blinked and remained steady. Now she was only empty and abandoned, the romanticism faded but lingered at her edges. She felt she could cry, or maybe she would laugh instead. Moonlight played in the shadows. She sat up and felt the pressing moisture on the fabric at her back. She wanted companionship, love, a hand to hold, a mind that would absorb her thoughts just as she meant them, spin them with poetry and return them to her. The moment of such youthful, breathtaking, painful joy faded into dim and threadbare sadness. She pushed herself off the grass and began to walk ponderingly towards home.

He could hear music as he lay there in the meadow. He opened his arms and spread out, looking up. He liked knowing he was alone there, far away, he could think silly things but make them beautiful in his head. He loved nighttime in this way, he could be isolated but alive. He felt like there was a chasm in his chest filled with inexplicable elation, he was flying as he lay smiling in the dark. He soared. All the same, he was aware that he wanted someone else here. They could laugh loudly in this place. Recklessly, without abandon. He could see him and that someone else falling into each other, down, laughing, laughing, warm together in the great, wide openness. The music played on. Violins, maybe a flute. Pretty music that dwindled and then surged with his thoughts. He closed his eyes and fell back into himself. His eyes opened, he was opaque again, no longer dreaming. He sat and regarded the world at large for a moment before lifting himself up and cementing himself back into reality.

Carefree. Brimming with wonder. Life was serious now, but she could still appreciate beauty as she always had. It was her superpower. She could endlessly enjoy small things: the smell of home, a petal, sunlight through tall trees. She was an adult, though still young. She had escaped bitterness thus far and probably always would. People around her moved in generic patterns, only partially awake and still sleepy. There was sunlight and people, faint sounds of cars and friendship and leaves rustling halfheartedly. The world was bright and still miraculous but in a solid way. There were no more uncertain fairies brushing by in the twilight, no longer any bursting flashes of happiness to be found lying exultantly in the weeds. She wished now for those things, but there were concrete tasks to be completed, responsibilities to assume.

Sometimes he still heard music, internal snatches when he least expected them. He had grown and matured, but some of his innocence remained. His life was busy and cluttered, like his mind. Some of the poetry had drained from his thoughts. He thought now in prose, at least most often. He had a job and a small, constraining office that looked out on the ocean. It was a cubicle, but his mind often strayed beyond its thin, gritty walls. He was a “real man,” but he frequently felt still like the teenager who had worshiped the beauty in sunlight and the fire of dusk. He was someone who loved old books and read them in big, drafty libraries with muted light fraught with dust dripping through the windows. Even in groups he felt isolated. He didn’t fit with other people. Rarely did he have the time to explore new worlds from the comfort of a large chair.

The air was thin and frozen. Time felt like something silly, but also pressing, as she made her way down the side of the empty highway. The grass crunched pleasingly under her feet, but she wasn’t only a forlorn daydreamer anymore. Mundane things like treadmills and shoelaces and orange juice were a part of her. She could fold back into past buoyant thoughts easily, but in her day-to-day existence she did not. She was still young, not bitter, but she had a yearning for something that was always out of reach. She wore sweatpants and ate tabbouleh salad in the lunchroom, and her imagination livened the monotony of office work in a small town. When she sat at noon every day with her plastic fork and the muddy snow melting outdoors, she would imagine herself away to a forest or on top of a mountain looking into the sea. Everything in her mind glistened with impossible beauty and a faint, sad knowledge that none of it would ever be as splendid and untainted. She knew people thought of her as distant and aloof. She was. She wanted more, more of something. Was she pretentious for feeling this way? She didn’t know. Some days, she still hiked far away from everyone and watched the sun set in the cold. She was happy then but lonely. She had phony friends, but she knew they were fake. It was mutual. She had never found anyone who shared the glory and the grandeur of her inner self. Someone who could understand the flashes of joy she derived from lying alone in a garden or staring out a window at the rain. Life happened, and she lived inside herself.

She noticed only because the sun was dimming. She loved the sun because she could count on it and because it was beautiful. Her sunrises were paler, faded. She thought it was just her imagination waning at first, but then it grew whiter and increasingly washed out. News reached her little office on the outskirts of the world a few hours after it had become cause for panic elsewhere. She heard and put down her plastic fork. Solemn, resigned. It made a small sound on the folding table. She stared and then sat silent as the chaos surged, until they told her she needed to leave to get in line.

The line was much less than that, a messy horde. In corners, people huddled trying to believe it wasn’t true. In town halls all over the world, in schools and parking lots and community centers people gathered. All around them rose the clear bubbles they waited to board, huge, perfectly round, life-preserving prisons. Apparently they’d known for years and had been working out this system. He was angry at first, then frightened, and finally indifferent. It was probably better this way, he reflected, the horror of not knowing was put off until the final moments. It was now more than ever he wished he had someone to care so much about. Someone to comfort and to comfort him, someone to climb into the future with, whatever it looked like.

Now it was haphazard. An escape method was available, it was there to take or leave. Push the green button and theoretically you were safe. People all around him found each other and latched on. They needed to feel that they would not be forgotten. Sparks flew and buttons were pressed. Momentous decisions were made perhaps without thought, but there wasn’t time. Often, choices were unexpected. Familial ties that had worn thin, fraying over the years, snapped suddenly with the shutting of the doors. Heartbreak spilled and tore through millions, chasms opened where before there had been love, trust, kindness. He stood straight, and they paired him with a woman from nearby he’d never met. Strange, how someone could live one neighborhood over, and he didn’t recognize her face. There were only enough bubbles if everyone had two or more people. This was it, and he was oddly emotionless. The doors closed, and her hand came down on the button. The bubble clicked and rose into darkness. They were alone but together, and he pressed his face up against the side. The end.

Except, of course, it wasn’t. As they lifted away, she was silent. The earth grew fainter, and the pain inside her swelled. The world, her world, with its breezes and smooth stones, its flower petals and warm sand that could stick between your toes. She missed rivers already and forests and beaches, mountains and the jungles she had never seen. It all looked so tiny to her. She felt tiny, miniscule. Why bother to build a bubble. She couldn’t possibly live without snowy mornings or the sound of raindrops falling on wet leaves. The smell of a lake in nighttime or the feeling she had sitting high up in a tree. But living she was, inexplicably. It didn’t feel real anymore, but it was. The world drifted from view and she realized now that she was crying. Space unfolded itself before her and now she was in the midst of something she had imagined forever. It was nothing like she’d thought, but it fulfilled all her wildest dreams. Everything was bigger, actual, so much less abstract. She cried in earnest now, guttural sobs that racked her body and propelled her to the curved floor. It fit her body perfectly but the unresponsive glass beneath her could never compare to dirt, or grass, or sand, or layers of decomposed forest. It was artificial, nonliving forever.



She pulled herself to her feet, and they stood side by side, looking out. She imagined their silhouettes. There was light inside but outside only obscurity. She didn’t know how, it emanated, not piercing their surroundings at all, simply existing. The bubble shone dully in its own glow. She thought of what was going on out there, in space, that there was so much she was unaware of. She thought of what had happened somewhere in the distance, she no longer knew where, and then she decided to stop thinking.

They stood until they broke, and then he cried while she comforted until she couldn’t not cry anymore. Then he held her until they were sobbing together as one. They sat and drowned in common grief, mourning their lostness and the absence of hope that they both felt so sharply. Up here, they were so detached, so incredibly isolated, but now they also had each other, they were two people who so completely shared the same experience.

For days, there had been a glow from some eerie distant world, their own but no more. They were here now, and that was behind them. The glow seemed to settle into itself then, to subside and taper before it melted out of sight completely. Like a puppy getting ready for bed, the waning sunlight began brighter and gradually its energy drooped until it had vanished calmly and they were left in darkness. There was still a pale and cloudy light that radiated from inside the bubble. They were deserted now.

The reality set in. It was hazy at first, surreal. Then the awareness hit them, but still they remained in their own misty worlds of isolation and forgotten dreams. Did survival truly matter any more? What was the point of continuing to endure living if you could only meander through darkness full to brimming with stories to tell no one would ever hear.

They decided together without speaking that they would simply live until they couldn’t. They didn’t ration or conserve. Somehow they were able to breathe. They didn’t cry anymore. They didn’t talk. Once she opened her mouth as is if to say something, but it closed after a split second of heavy expectation, and she retreated once more into her own mind. Hours later, or days or a year or a lifetime, a fragment of a poem stumbled across his lips. It was accidental, a mistake from another existence, but it was a rock thrown into water. After the poem, there was quiet. She stared.



“Do you?”

“No! Yes!”


“I’m so.”

“I know.”

“Are you?”

She nodded.

“I’m glad.”

“It’s beautiful up here. Sad. I’d always imagined it would look like, well, not quite like this.”

“I understand.”

“You do?”

“It’s real up here, not a dream. I can’t — think myself down.”

Something from outside grazed the bubble. She took his hand, and they stood together, like on their first day. The glass of the pond trembled and broke, and then the two of them struggled to retain the air to make their thoughts into language. Words tumbled into sentences that were strung together like precious beads on a necklace into paragraphs and then pages. Words upon words that crowded into and on top of one another. The ink of broken silence blurred as they twisted sound into meaning from where before was only stillness. They shouted sometimes because they could, and then they whispered until they couldn’t articulate words. It was a release, an explosion. A torrent of suppressed emotion that had been kept hidden for no reason at all. But here it was, here they were. Trapped, but free nonetheless. They talked first of the past, of what they had left behind, what they missed, and what they hadn’t realized was important. Of people and places and the indescribable indistinct quality of clouds. Once, he sang. She clapped, and the sound of her hands against one another in the midst of infinity was at once intimidating but independently perfect. They discussed poetry, art, literature, elite, and perhaps supercilious forms of enjoyment before they spoke of simple joys one had encountered like little buried treasures in the past world. Something new surfaced in the bubble now, a small bit of happiness had dripped its way into being. With this later followed companionship, affection, tenderness, and eventually love which was expressed and then explored as the two of them glided silent between the stars. It was just what she had hoped in an entirely unexpected setting.

Finally, there was someone on the other end of his thoughts. As a teenager, when he’d lain smiling in a moonlit meadow, he had taken himself seriously. Later, but still so far away from the present he had reflected, slightly chagrined but still faithful. It was funny to him that now in this situation, so strange and unlike any place he’d ever envisioned, somewhere where his life chances were so slim and escape could not be considered he could be so gloriously happy. The pieces of his own individual puzzle seemed to fit into place even if the smooth, outside edges would never be configured. He’d always been told to put the corners together first and then fill in the center, but here he could break the rules recklessly. The whole puzzle might never be complete, but he had some parts connected and the section of the image he could see now was almost too brilliant already.

It felt like she could fly, like the bubble had opened, and she could spiral through space. That was the problem. She wanted to skyrocket, to leap and bound through a wide open space. But they were shut in here, closed off, stale. The worst was that it would never be any different. They would stay like this for as long as forever lasted. She wanted room to dance, room to spread out her soul knowing her emotions could reach into faraway places before she herself could get there. At the very least, she needed to feel that the possibility of change, or variety or escape was remotely a possibility. But here she was, surrounded by nothingness. Sounds echoed in the bubble, but she wished that when she dropped something, the outside would be affected too. She hated that her surroundings were so cold and oblivious, so impassive and untouchable. She had wanted children in her time spent on Earth, but that was just another door this new life had closed for her with the pressing of a button. She had wanted kids, so she could raise them in the past world, she could teach them how to tell wildflowers apart and how to skip stones. How to appreciate butterflies or the smell of the forest or the sound of other people’s happiness. It was unthinkable, bringing someone new into this settled existence of blank space and numbing insignificance. She needed at least a glimmer of a potentially different reality. But that candle had burned down long ago and was stiff with congealed wax. Up here, there were no matches with which to relight it and no way to get any more. What she truly wanted was hope, and hope was gone.

Still, they were not jaded. Love made them buoyant, but they knew a change was necessary if they were to retain their sanity. Then again, why was that such a concern? A decision was reached after endless discussion. They turned it over and over as they continued to float through eternity. After a while, it seemed the only option.

It took days, weeks maybe. Measures of time were unimportant now, the concept of the Earth’s revolution around the sun had vanished with both of those celestial bodies themselves. It was risky, but was it riskier than the hasty decision they had made before, idealistic, uninformed, naive. It was dangerous, irrational, enormously stupid. They cut a hole. Plastic sawdust piled at the floor. They took turns sawing at it with whatever small tools they could find. The absurdity of the risk elated them with its being so absolutely out of the ordinary. They had found human connection in each other, but the expansiveness of life had disappeared. This ridiculous alternative terrified them with how singularly enticing it was.

Her turn was the last. They had cut a rectangular groove in the thick plastic so deep that if moderate force were applied to it, it would give way. She shook him by the shoulder, gently, but with an urgency that was simultaneously meaningless and present. He came awake slowly.

“Now. It’s ready.”

This registered. He blinked the sleep away. It took him a moment to remember where he was, even after so many instances just like this. They walked to the rounded wall. She looked at him. There was half a smile on her lips, but her eyes were wet. He looked back, and his throat felt stiff with helplessness, resignation, regret, love, anticipation, anguish. Flutes played tremendously in his head, the violins reached a panicked crescendo. The space outside seemed to pulsate with everything pent-up that could never happen. Together they pushed the worthless piece of plastic into the extreme. It fell noiselessly into the void, pathetically flimsy in the depths of the universe. He had always thought that in books, when people’s lives flashed before their eyes, it was just fantasized wordplay, but he could see now all the nights in the cold, the people he had known, the characters he had resonated with, and the dreams he had cherished. She nodded, and they gripped hands as they flung themselves wordlessly into the outside. There was a sigh — of relief, elation, gladness, pain, or sorrow and then they were gone, forgotten. The black dust and the stars rose up to greet them. The open bubble still bobbed through the boundlessness, not above where they had fallen but simply somewhere in relation to them. The existence of everything continued as it had, and with a plunge into the unknown, two people who had lived so vividly were instantaneously erased. Somewhere a star exploded and elsewhere a planet turned on its axis, slowly, methodically, spinning unceasingly over and over itself, unnoticed and undisturbed.


The Colors of the World


Hair so willowy, light, and attenuated

Like freshly spun buoyant thread constructed from fragile gossamer strands

As golden as the phosphorescent, glimmering sun

Eyes effulgently piercing almost as if they were lightning

Colored cerulean like a flowing ocean that’s deep enough to swim in

An effortlessly beautiful, captivating dream that keeps you afloat on a cloudless sky in midwinter

Skin as white as the velvety snow atop faintly visible mountains that kiss the sun on the horizon

It’s unmistakably yet naturally different from me


A scarlet waterfall descends in a charming tumble of tight, wiry, crimson and carmine ringlets

Fluctuating bouncy coils are luxurious, vibrant, and mesmerizing

Catching the glow of the early morning light, it gleams like a conflagrant blaze

Unable to be extinguished

Tenderly and gently eyes peer out,

Alluring yet mysterious

Dancing about, gracefully and swiftly flashing with passion and euphoria

As chartreuse as the flourishing grass

The green you would expect to find in the snow when it’s winter and spring is nearing

Pale skin, chalky and washed out, dotted with vivacious freckles like the stars in the night’s sky

It’s unmistakably yet naturally different from me


An avalanche of auburn, mahogany, and cinnamon topples down

Creating a surreal illusion of leaves blowing in the light autumn breeze

And when the wind does blow, it tousles it into long flowing waves of tawny russet

As bright and uncommon as an old, rusted, copper penny

Eyes carried a storm inside them,

Cloudy, murky, smoky silver

Lit by the flames of both anger and love

The color of a polished piece of metal with refined, glossy swirls of ebony and cobalt

Skin was like a piquant creamy biscuit

It carried flecks of tan covered by luminous gold

It’s unmistakably yet naturally different from me


I look out and black blocks my vision

Cascading over my shoulders in a smooth, silky drop

As dark as the polished charcoal keys on my grand piano

Melted chestnut adorns my vast almond shaped eyes,

Soft and warm like the chocolate chips on a fresh oven baked cookie

Like hot chocolate, on a cold, rainy day, which engulfs you in safety and assurance

A shade of ginger skin peeks out from the curtain of onyx

And a flurry of strands rush backwards as I tuck it behind my ear

My skin is an ashen bronze, the color of a new teddy bear that reminds you of sweet memories

This time, it is finally me


Gazing about, I see society like an indisputable and auroral rainbow

So diverse, vivid, colorful, chromatic and unique

Ravishing combinations meet my wonder seeking eyes

In a whirlwind of different hues


This divergent world is a gift

Wrapped in radiating wrapping paper

Inside is an entrancing spell of love and difference

This is what I see everyday

Because this is our contemporary and coeval world

Where everyone is beautiful

No matter their colors


Pieces of Myself


I am not made of gloriously pristine lavenders

Or resplendent, snowy daisies

Not even cherry blossoms with petals as softs as the summer rain

I am made of roses,

Filled with sweet passion yet rough around the edges

With thorns that are always read to prick

Because I am undefined an fiercely wild in an unimaginable way


I am not made of dainty ballet slippers

Or exquisitely high platform heels

Not even graceful and elegant sandals

I am made of Converse,

Stylish, contemporary, chic, and versatile yet simple nevertheless

With a rigid and durable demeanor

Because I am artsy and angelic in a warrior-like way


I am not made of ethereal butterflies

Or bunnies that are fragile and vulnerable

Not even adorable, meek lambs, which are flawlessly white

I am made of cheetahs,

Strong, electrically agile and swift yet spirited and charming

With eyes amber like the glossy, captivating sun right before it sets

Because I am fiery and zealous in a phenomenal way


I am not made of florid dollhouses

Or delicate, cuddly teddy bears

Not even tea parties with ceramic mugs and mini chocolate muffins

I am made of crayons,

Colorful and jubilant yet able to melt in the torridity

With different tones and rare shades

Because I am mystifying and exotic in a whimsical way


I am not made of pretty and perfect lies

Or things that someone else wants me to be

Not even the basic things that society expects

I am made of originality

I am who I want to be no matter the challenges

I will be who I want to be no matter what they say

Because these are the pieces of myself


Song Of The Isthmus



The ship docked on the sandy shores.

Waves lapping at its barnacled belly

the anchor digging deep into the earth.

Hundreds swarmed the grounds,

scouring for fresh water.

They readily gulped it down.

With quenched sighs,

the cheerful banter crescendoed from a buzz to a roar.

For gold awaited them in California,

if they could survive the bouts of scurvy that ravaged the crew,

if they could make it ‘round the horn.

A miner drifted astray.

He stumbled upon an old man,

a cloaked figure,

a shadow,

a deserted soul.

His bony finger pointed deep into the lush abyss.

Raspily whispered “do not undertake the long trip,

cross the isthmus and catch the following ship.”

Gripping his sluice box ever so tightly,

his knuckles whitened at the sight of the darkening jungle,

until he reminded himself of the wealth that awaited him.

He pushed forward.

Feet sinking into the murky bottom as he held in his gasps,

for willowy whispers transfigured from hums to

restless voices warning him to turn back.

Starting from beneath, they rose up until they enveloped his entire body.

He killed the warnings with one swift motion to his ears.

Thoughts of California’s luxuries raced through his panicked mind.

He pushed forward.

Vines silently coiled around his leg.

Reaching to brush them off, they snaked up his arm as

hundreds more slithered down the trees.

Thorny bodies pierced his flesh,

with agonizing screams, the miner was dragged to the ground.

Layer after layer they entwined him.

And it was now that they started to squeeze.

The pain in his chest grew with the lengthening gap between each ragged breath.

A fire was lit.

Starting in his lungs,

it ravaged his chest cavity and the flames attacked his throat.

His face was painted with terror for standing above him was a motionless figure.

Crouching down, the familiar raspy voice hissed

Was the gold worth it?

The old man’s mouth curled into a sneer as he lifted his tattered hood.

The vines had taken over, hijacked his mind, he was one of them.

Now the miner saw through his watery lenses:

corpses, those around him who had let avarice steal their last breath.

Consumed by his guilt,

straining for a single gasp,

the flames slithered up into his skull…

And turned to ice.


gasoline sickness


and they told stories, too, of gasoline sickness,

the bloodshot eyes and ragged breaths,
the sleepless nights and sleepwalking days,
how they were homesick/homesick/seasick/homesick,

the unsteady children riding unsteady waves into an unsteady future,
the ground and the capitol walls always
seconds away from breaking,

how they had gone from sanitized news to desensitized people,
from sanitary streets to desensitized passerby.

how they built the walls around them,
they brought the hated to them
with their unwillingness to believe
and unwillingness to change,

poisoning the bodies of some,
with lead and bullets and dirt,
and poisoning the minds of others,
with ignorance and neglect and hurt,

how this world had so much and was still yet so empty.

how a few hard workers,
a few believers,
a few who see how it should be

cannot push past the fragile gasoline outline of a world
where empty houses and galas take place
while people starve to death right outside.

for you cannot push away your conscience
(as much as you may try)
and the sickness,
the empty, numbing, kerosene and matches,

will burn you from the bottom up.





the type of tiredness that settles behind your eyes and doesn’t leave.

the type of quiet that twists your gut and unsettles your mind.

the type of moments that make you wish for an alternate reality.


it’s not dark out, yet.

the sun hasn’t fallen asleep.

the sunset is colorless.


your world is monochrome,

your life colored by shades of grey,

blurring, blurring, indistinguishable.


your emotions faded and wrung out to dry,

worn through by the people who came before,

hand me downs that don’t quite fit right,

and the person in the mirror is not yourself.


perpetual dusk, perpetual dawn,

unreached potential and unused opportunities,

the feeling when the curtain is lifted

and the magic wasn’t real all along.


the sidewalk is endless.

the buildings are identical.

your eyes never near the horizon.

the pedestrians are like ghosts,

whispering in languages long since forgotten.


you are tired.

you’re just so, so tired,

and the darkness wins.


sometimes the colors come back.

sometimes the grey fades to black.



the darkness whispers.

quiet, steady tones,

to the rhythm of your heartbeat.


your mind is blank and racing.


the nothingness gets stronger, more overpowering,

drowning out your thoughts

and ideas

and hopes

and dreams



nothing nothing

nothing nothing nothing


the void so loud you might as well be screaming

but your face is blank and your eyes are blank,

easily masked and easily masqueraded,

false emotions replicated through sounds and words,

everything exactly as empty as you.


you’re gone.


not a blank canvas, not a new start,

not the pure, pale white of literary symbolism,

swallowed by the type of endless grey that numbs your soul and your feet and your words.


so fill it-

fill it with books and music and art and work and friends

and anything you can get your hands on

because everything fades.


blank, empty, fading.



the crowd is muffled and the colours are muted.

you can’t quite recall how many people are outside, or how you found your way home.

you can’t quite recall whether this is your home, your bed, your life.

maybe that’s the point.


maybe every now and then you have to hit mute on life and listen to the white noise,

the background static otherwise drowned out by your everyday living,


it’s almost peaceful, this lack of emotion.

you could stay there forever.

forever- forever’s a long time, you tell yourself,

but it doesn’t seem worth it to get up,

much less to go outside.


so you compromise and sit.

and you wait.


time ticks by

as you wish for the colors to come back.



i watch the colors swirl down the drain.

the neons and the pastels and the brights,

the shades that made the streets lively and the city interesting,



all that is left is shades of grey

and the constant beat of rain.


in time with my racing heart.


there is a simplicity to be found

in a world devoid of colour,

where all that’s left if shapes and silhouettes and essence.

a shadow of another world, maybe,

but there is beauty to be found in this reflection.


i see myself staring plainly back at me.

i see the potential in each colorless house,

i see what could be and what once was.


i am one with the rain,

i blend in with the shades of grey.


beautiful. simple. honest.


All the World Poetry Collection


Lovestruck Fan

His hair is flawless; his eyes are perfect,

His music: my very inspiration,

His dreamy face is another aspect,

Singing to me in each situation,

But lighting up a smile on the faces,

Of countless devoted, adoring fan,

Does not equal knowing his embraces,

Alas, for him, I would fly to Japan,

Because it pains my heart to love and yearn,

So unattainable; yet I persist,

For someone who will not love in return,

Or know me, nor that I even exist,

For his blood type does lie in the B+ zone,

But — oh dear, I cannot recall my own.


A Single Red Rose

I am a rose,

Curled up within,

Hidden among leaves,

Frightened of the light;

For the light means

Growing up

And I am scared.

Of growing older

And abandoning

All that I know.

But I realize that

Eventually I will have to

Unfurl my petals,

And venture into the unknown,

Even if that means

Accepting a simple, glass vase.


All the World

I am from Menlo Park, California.

Inside my house live many countries.

I am from cups of steaming Darjeeling tea.

I am from tangy, chocolaty Jaffa cakes.

I am from boxes and boxes of Cadbury fingers and eggs.

I am from a piping hot tray of Shepherd’s pie.

I am from colorful, vibrant Indian saris on every occasion.

I am from the scent of masala, turmeric, and cardamom.

I am from having a loving, supportive family.

From my father telling me to “work hard.”

And my mother telling me to “share the love.”

I am from bright candles on the Festival of Lights.

I am from tying bracelets on my brother’s wrist for Raakhi.

I am from blazing bonfires, Bhangra dances, and peanut shells.

I am from gold mines in Tanzania.

I am from rainy and chilly London.

I am from the mountains of the Himalayas.

I am from soldiers and warriors.

I am from poets, lawyers, and businessmen.

I am from the Sikh religion.

I am from my long, flowing hair.

I am from migrations all over the world.

I am the evening sky bursting with every color.

I am all the world,

Churned and blended into one.


The Golden Disk

I remember the day they discovered the time capsule.

They first described it as a white, bowl-shaped contraption containing a golden disk. We didn’t know what it was and where it came from. Scientists studied the disk and eventually determined how to operate it. And then the sounds started playing: unfamiliar rhythms and tunes. We couldn’t identify what the sounds were or what they were trying to tell us. Then we decoded images revealing a species that could have resembled us — but with smaller eyes and heads and bigger mouths and ears.

I think the images of the species were what really frightened us. For so long, we had thought we were the only advanced civilization out there.

I was only a baby when the time capsule was discovered, but I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had grown up watching the revolution unfold among us. Soon it felt like everybody was picking a side. Either, you were on the side that chose to ignore the golden disk, or you were on the side that wished to do something about it.



My mother’s voice runs through my head, interrupting my thoughts.

Please come down and eat.

I put down my touchpad and stroll into the kitchen.

Good morning. My mom smiles at me, communicating her thoughts telepathically. A plate of food sits on the table, and I gratefully oblige.

My father walks into the room. Hello Cosma. Journaling again, I see.

I finish eating, and Jamaya approaches, handing me my bag. Jamaya is our robot; every household on Merona has one. She cleans our home, cooks our food and does our laundry.

Jamaya hands me my vitapills. The history books tell us that in ancient times, sickness and disease used to be a main cause of quietus. Now, these two little pills I take each day protect me from every virus and illness on the planet.

I swallow my pills and leave for class.

At school, I meet up with my friends Palia and Rasha. The recent violence and riots on the streets have led many parents to keep their children home from school.

Cosma, did you listen to the news this morning? Rasha glances at me worriedly.

What is it? I reply.

There was an uprising on the other side of Merona. President Loyola warned that the revolution has reached an unprecedented peak.

I catch sight of a boy sitting under a tree. His name is Arkin, and there has been a rumor going around that he is one of the regressives. The regressives still practice religion. President Loyola outlawed religion decades ago. He said it held us back from innovation. I’ve never conversed with Arkin, but I’ve heard the rumors.

Rasha nudges me.

Isn’t he strange? What is he still doing here? He should be at home lighting candles and worshipping statues.

Rasha smirks, and I smile.

After school, my friends and I gather in Palia’s den and start working on our history reports.

There is something satisfying about enjoying the company of my classmates, and I feel grateful that my parents haven’t removed me from school.

After a while, Palia speaks.

I have something to show you.

Her tone sounds serious, and Rasha and I glance at her with concern.

Palia pulls up her touchpad and reads something. Her pupils turn red, and I know that she is using the neuroplayer to generate energy.

I look around for whatever information she has produced. But, I don’t see anything. Then, I hear it: a slowly rising crescendo of sound. I stare at Palia in surprise.

The sound gets louder, and then it recedes. I don’t know how to explain it, but I can feel something tugging at my heart. The sound is satisfying, and it somehow makes me feel happy.

What is it? Rasha asks. I know she can feel it too.

It’s from the golden disk.

I turn to Palia in shock.

My dad’s friend obtained a copy of it. We’re not the only ones who have heard it. Many in the arts world have heard it too.

What is it? I question.

It’s called music.

Music. The word seems strange and unfamiliar. Yet, there’s a part of me that longs to hear more.

The sound changes. It is no longer lilting; now, it is fast and turbulent.

Isn’t it incredible?

Palia, you could be in serious trouble if anybody finds out about this, Rasha says. Palia’s expression changes suddenly.

I know.

We listen to the music until it is time to head home.

Be careful, I tell Palia as I leave.

Two houses away from home, I notice the federal guards. There are dozens of them patrolling residential streets, their dark outfits discernable in the light sky. My pulse quickens as I wonder what they are doing here. One of them approaches me.

What are you doing out?

I’m on my way home.

President Loyola has issued a curfew because of the uprisings. Nobody is allowed out after 49:00.

I scan my brain for the time, only then realizing how late it is.

As I hurry home, the street lamps seem brighter than usual.

The next day in class, everyone is discussing the curfew. I notice that there are even less students here today; we are down to eleven. In history class, the teacher shows the daily announcements. President Loyola stands in front of a podium.

Citizens of Merona, I am urging you to be safe. We are arresting more and more rebels each day. The announcements cut to an image of protesters in front of the Grand Palace. Rasha rolls her eyes, bored. President Loyola reappears.

It has come to my attention that there has been a breach in security. Classified information regarding the golden disk has been stolen and leaked. The golden disk has been deemed a hoax, instituted by rebels to cause turmoil. President Loyola sighs dramatically. The only way we will get past this is if we trust each other. The announcements end, and the class erupts into fearful conversation.

A classmate named Domini scoffs, How could the rebels have planted something like this?

Others agree. How can they dismiss the golden disk like that?

It is no secret that most of my classmates have parents employed in the arts, and we recognize the fallacies in President Loyola’s statements.

I glance out the window and notice federal guards outside the school gates. I feel safe voicing my beliefs within the walls of the classroom, but outside many of us worry about saying the wrong thing for fear of putting ourselves in danger.

For many years, President Loyola was a savior. He created jobs and maintained peace among the different groups in our planet. But, the time capsule changed everything.

I spy Arkin in the corner of the classroom scrolling through his touchpad, and I can’t help wondering what he thinks of all this.

Class, please calm down. Let us continue with today’s lesson. Even our teacher looks troubled. As she begins the lesson, I wonder how many students will be at school tomorrow.

Upon arriving home, I find my father hurriedly shoving clothes and belongings into a bag. My mother sits next to him.

Father, what is going on?

Cosma, I hoped that you would be at your friend’s house.

I stare at my father, concerned by the serious expression on his face. I know that his highly secretive job in the Department of Space Research has involved contact with the golden disk.

I have to leave. I may be gone for a long time. It’s for the best. Your mother will take care of you.

Why? What has happened? I am confused. Is this about the golden disk?

My father’s face turns pale.

I’ve heard it, I tell him.

Cosma, you cannot tell anyone about that. He sighs. I made a mistake. The government plans to destroy the golden disk. I made a copy of it, and now they are after me. It’s not safe for me here anymore. I have to go into hiding. Please don’t worry about me.

I stand there, not knowing what to say. My father finishes packing and before I know it, he is gone.

The door shuts firmly behind him, and I look at my mother and Jamaya. Our family is a lot smaller without my father.

My mother tries to comfort me.

Time passes, and our classroom dwindles down to six. Domini doesn’t come back.

One day, I am alone working on my touchpad when I receive an anonymous message instructing me to go to the flypod racks. The message is mysterious, and I am intrigued.

I stand by the racks, and an instant later, Arkin approaches me.

Hello. Can I talk to you? He scans the empty school grounds anxiously. I can’t help feeling a little apprehensive. I am surprised he still attends school.

I know where your father is. I can take you to see him. You can trust me. We must travel by flypod.

I am bewildered and don’t understand what connection Arkin could have with my father. But, the earnest expression on Arkin’s face reassures me.

Arkin unlocks his flypod; it is orange with blue stripes. He hands me a helmet. A moment later, we are in the air heading south. Arkin is a safe pilot, and I get the feeling that he takes this specific route often.

The traffic is light, but I notice that there are more government patrol flypods than usual.

Arkin checks his right mirror, and I notice his expression change suddenly.

What’s wrong?

I think we’re being followed, Arkin responds.

I look over my shoulder, and there is a white government flypod trailing us.

Please pull over. The patrol agent signals from his flypod.

Hang on, Arkin warns me.

Before I realize what is happening, the flypod dips abruptly and starts to rapidly descend.

What are you doing? Pull over! I scream. Arkin ignores me, and the flypod plummets even lower. We are flying too low for safety. I can see into the windows of buildings. Arkin, you’re going to get us killed! My heart is beating fast, and my fingers grip the seatbelt tightly.

The government flypod doesn’t drop to follow us.

Soon, we are flying above an uninhabited part of Merona. Below us, I can see dense forests and grassy hills.

Arkin, where are we going? I cannot see any other flypods in the sky.

We’re almost there, I promise.

We land in a grassy field at the bottom of a hill.

Arkin fastens his flypod to a tree and covers it with foliage until it is no longer visible. I glance at the sky; it will be dark soon.

Our feet crunch heavily in the grass as we climb the hill.

We both look up at the sky as it explodes into a fiery red and orange. The sunset looks even more beautiful at an elevation. We stand still, awed by the sight.

Arkin, can you tell me what is going on?

I am not prepared for what Arkin tells me. My father has been hiding out here with other dissidents, building an apparatus to send a signal back to the civilization that sent us the golden disk.

Above us, the darkening sky is already sparkling with emerging stars. The crescent moons are tinged with a saffron haze.

Do you think they are doing the right thing? I ask.

I do not believe that we are alone. The spirit that lives in you and me is the same spirit that lights the sky. The civilization that sent us the golden disk reached out to us for a reason, and we must respond. We are all dust of the same creation.

I ponder Arkin’s words. I had never thought about my life that way. I realize that Arkin comes from a traditional way of life that now seems quaint and old-fashioned to most of us on Merona. But, his words are strangely reassuring and somehow bring meaning to what is going on.

Arkin tilts his head skyward and closes his eyes. His face is calm and serene, and a stillness hangs over him.

Is he praying? I wonder. I have no experience with prayer and stand silently.

Then unexpectedly, a memory of the sounds from the golden disk fills my mind, a plaintive music stirring in me an intense longing for something indefinable.

Arkin opens his eyes and takes my hand.


We arrive, and I am astonished by what I see.

The apparatus is positioned on the hilltop, obscured by a canopy of trees.

A small group is gathered. I don’t know how to describe the object; it is magnificent and resembles a giant metal dish.

Welcome, Cosma.

I know without looking that it is my father.

His arms envelop me, and I rest my head on his shoulder. I didn’t know if I would see my father again, and I instantly feel safe and happy.

I am sorry that I left, but I hope you understand.

And I do. I know it will take time to catch up with my father, but I respect him for his dedication to what I now know is right and necessary.

Somebody presses a button, and an antenna unravels from the apparatus.

It is decided that the signal will carry cryptic words from the golden disk itself, an acknowledgement to the other civilization that their message was received.

I know that we are doing the right thing for Merona.

Even before the revolution, there had always been something missing in our lives. We have accomplished so much, but something has been lost over time. I hope that one day we will find it again.

In the face of the revolution, I am stronger than ever, and I feel a profound respect for the unknown that for so long I had been taught to disregard. I admire Arkin for keeping his faith, and I feel I have been changed in some way.

I smile, content to watch the cosmos from afar.


On the other side of the universe, Dr. Peterson yawned sleepily and sat up in his chair. He had accidently fallen asleep monitoring the radio dish. The scientist rubbed his eyes and peered groggily at the screen.

It was only the slightest difference: the parabolic pattern fluctuated unsteadily, and the waves stretched wider.

After decades of working in astronomy, Dr. Peterson knew the unvarying pattern of the radio waves by heart. And, he knew exactly what anomaly he was looking for.

His hands shaking, Dr. Peterson rushed to input the data. He waited for the analysis from the machine. The screen came alive with the words.

Per aspera ad astra.

Dr. Peterson stood frozen in place for a long time. It seemed almost incomprehensible. Then, he thought of the Voyager Spacecraft launched back in 1977 carrying the Golden Record.

“My god,” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “They’ve responded.”


Heart Flames

The cold, dry air blew through the forest. The trees swayed from side to side, occasionally dropping twigs or leaves on the hastily built campsite. The concoction of the sounds from the day quietly dissolved into the thin, night air. The only noise in the whole forest was the sound of the fire crackling and the wrinkling of the piece of paper I clutched tightly in my hand. The sparks from the flame were almost as bright as the stars in the night sky.

I quickly scanned the paper, stopping over certain phrases. I traced the picture on the paper with my finger as I looked at the fire. The girl was only seven or eight and had innocent, sky blue eyes. Her blonde hair was tied back in two, thin braids. She was clutching her left elbow, obviously not feeling comfortable, but her gentle, half-moon smile was the most enticing feature on her fair-skinned, gentle face. I examined the words written over her head, and my eyebrows went up. The paper read: Wanted: Brynn Cooper. For theft and embezzlement.

Jason walked over and sat down next to me on the log. He took one look at the picture and burst out into laughter.

Spinning around, I gave him a nasty look. “What do you think is funny about any of this?”

Jason ran his hand through his cherry red hair and smiled. “At least no one is going to recognize you.”

I couldn’t help but smirk. “They should’ve used an older picture,” I giggled. “Nobody is going to believe a little kid did all that.”

“Of course they won’t, you’re almost fourteen,” Jason got up, “and you had better hair when you were seven.”

“Hey!” I smacked his arm playfully. “At least it’s better than your Wanted picture.”

He rolled his forest green eyes. “Welcome to the club.” He threw on a red sweatshirt with stains and holes. He turned around towards the shelter we built out of sticks and mud. “Hey Brynn, are you comin’?”

I glanced back at him. “Nah, I’m gonna stay out here.”

Shrugging, he climbed back into the entrance

I faced the fire, watching the flame fall and rise. The thick, smoky scent and sudden, red flares were comforting in the dry, cold forest. Looking at the paper, I felt a sudden pang of sadness. Control your emotions Brynn, I chided myself, don’t go wishing things that will never happen.

Sighing, I tossed the wrinkled, half torn paper into the flame and got up to leave just as something caught my eye. In the flame, I saw a faint image. I took a little step closer and immediately stepped back. It was a face. A very familiar face. The same face I would see if I looked in a mirror or a puddle. Nervously, I padded closer. Yes, it was definitely that face, but she was different. Her blonde hair was neatly combed back instead of flying all over her face. Her blue eyes weren’t glazed from exhaustion, they shone bright and carefree. Her clothes were clean clothes, not dirty and speckled with dust.

Who are you, I silently demanded. She didn’t respond, but she started laughing. I felt my face grow warm. Don’t mock me, I glared at the face in the fire. She laughed, and I saw another familiar face emerge.

Her eyes were sky blue, but in contrast, her curly, dark hair was as brown as fudge. Her light body was wrapped in a sleek, dark red dress that complemented her figure. Even seven years later, I could reach deep into my memory and remember her laugh.

“Momma?” I gasped. I inched forward so close that I could touch her face. I never saw her so happy. All those years that I had stayed in that miserable house, she was always crying or yelling, one or the other. Smirking, she hugged my reflection close to her chest.

I felt my eyes dampen. I was faintly aware of a tear silently streaming down my face, but I didn’t wipe it away.

Control your emotions. Control the flames of desire.

Control the flames inside of you.

The two figures turned as the flames shivered. I saw a masculine face emerge, with a carefully trimmed mustache and an almost bald head. He had chocolate brown eyes and his eyebrows were raised almost as high as mine were. I didn’t know what to think. Horrifying images of that drunken man swinging a chair at the lights, smearing mud all over the house, keeping me tucked in a closet for hours. My father had changed.

They looked so happy, they laughed and hugged each other. In reality, that never would have happened. Kissing Momma on the cheek, Dad hugged me tight. I felt tears pouring out of my eyes as I lifted my finger to touch. It was so dangerous but so close. I shouldn’t be wanting things that would lead to disappointment. A life full of disappointment.

How do you control the flames inside of you? How do you control something that you want so much?

Slowly, carefully, I brought my finger up to the flames. The fire licked my fingers playfully, as if inviting me in.

Stop. Stop. Stop. Control the flames. Don’t do it.

I wanted it so bad. I can’t control my emotions. I can’t control the flames. I can’t stop wishing for a life that was gone.

Inching forward, carefully…

SPLASH! Water drops sprayed onto my eyelids. Blinking, I watched the steam rise into the air. Feeling a cold hand jerk me backwards, I spun around. “Jason! What are you doing?”

“Saving your life. Thank me later.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“No. What’s wrong with you?” Jason looked at me quizzically. “You were gonna stick your whole head in there.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“What were you doing?”

Shuffling my feet, I looked down. “Okay, this is gonna be weird. But I saw my whole family — honestly! I did! Don’t give me that look,” I glared. “But they were all so happy and — ”


“I wanted to join them. They were all so caring and kind — Jason! What’s the matter?”

Cold eyes stared down at me. Jason crossed his arms, and his mouth was drawn into a snarl. “Never say that you want something,” he growled, “that is impossible to get.”

Jason’s gaze hardened. “Silly expectations and worthless aspirations leads to disappointment,” he murmured softly. “You and I know that better than anyone. You have to control your emotions. Control your emotions. Control the flames of your heart’s desires.”

Control the flames of your heart’s desires.



The doorbell jingled as a woman and her daughter entered the cafe. They did not look at all alike.

The daughter was short and chubby and seemed to waddle instead of walk; the mother was tall and lanky, each angle from chin to elbow sharpened to a point. The woman wore a close-lipped, businesslike smile as she strode up to the counter. A pair of metal-framed glasses balanced precariously on her sharp cheekbones, the lenses immaculately clear. The girl followed behind, close enough to tread on her mother’s heels.

“How can I help you this morning, miss?”

“One black coffee please,” the woman replied curtly, without a single glance at the menu. She had already pulled out her wallet when she noticed that the girl had pressed her face up against the glass case of pastries, mesmerized by the colors. The woman’s pale cheeks flushed suddenly and furiously, as if she had been slapped, “…and a pastry,” she added. She smiled somewhat embarrassingly, thin lips peeling back to reveal sharp teeth.

“Sure thing, miss. Which would you like?”

“You heard her, darling. Which one would you like?” The woman bent down to be at the same height as her daughter. “Do you want,” she squinted through her glasses at the menu, “a slice of cake, or a cookie? Or perhaps a brownie?” “Darling?”

The girl turned her head and stared up at her mother with big, blank eyes, then turned back to the glass case. The woman noted with a little shudder that the girl had already left several hazy, smudged handprints on the glass. With a sigh, the woman straightened herself and gave the cashier a terse smile. “A piece of cake, please.”

“That’ll be $4.89, miss.”

The woman exchanged glossy credit card for a paper bag and cup, warily eyeing the spots of grease already forming on the brown paper. She took a step back from the counter, carrying the bag, when she nearly tripped over her daughter, who had been silently standing close behind her. As the mother regained her balance, her daughter only stared at her silently with big eyes. The thin eyebrows of the mother suddenly twitched as something flashed across her eyes, quick as lightning. She pressed the bag firmly into the girl’s hands. “Darling, please, stand a bit further from me. You always get in my way.”



A dark-haired Girl with pale, lifeless eyes, no older than seventeen, but with a countenance hardened beyond her years arrived here around six months ago with no expectations and no purpose. Fate had steered her path in a single direction: one blackened by tragedy; soiled by betrayal; eased only by cynicism and shabby expectations.

“Here” was a massive room; yet, for all its spaciousness, no furnishings filled the void of white walls and stark, faintly marbled floors. The sole breach in the room’s sterility was a striking set of doors, centered to the front wall. Though the room was clearly designed with a sharp, contemporary eye, the doors had an incongruous, traditional style — an elaborate ornamentation of unfurling metal skillfully placed over the seeded, glass windows and an outer arch composed of four, curved panes that added grandeur while directing soft light throughout the room. Copper knobs plated with metal motifs adorned each door, their intricacy undoubtedly attracting the eagle-eyed attention of both architectural connoisseurs and everyday onlookers. Within the room, the elaborate doors were most distinct for the aura they radiated — one of welcome and warmth; the feeling of sunshine on a harsh winter’s day.

A hazy image of an impressive manor materialized in the Girl’s mind. She had once stayed there. With smooth, stucco walls, a tiled roof the color of sunset-lit desert sand, and rich, wooden features highlighted by warm, ambient lighting, the mansion held an immense appeal. Its interior, though a motley of different styles, was just as stunning. Three occupants had shared this manor with her: a dutiful father, a nurturing mother, and a sweet son. The Girl paused her mulling briefly, realizing that it had become a household of two.

It was the mother who had picked the Girl up. She found the Girl abandoned in a musty, cramped storage area filled with various, unwanted things — old mannequins, costumes, bizarre-looking kitchen contraptions. The Girl vividly remembered the man who had shoved her there — she had coined him the nickname “Pattern Man” because he always paired revolting articles of clothing. Once, he wore a hideous flamingo tie, a gray and white checked shirt, a houndstooth double-breasted blazer, and matching houndstooth pants. He was eccentric, yet quick to judge others by appearance: a complete hypocrite. After one look, he had deemed the Girl “weird” and hid her in the storage box. Not that the Girl cared; rather, she was glad to be shielded from his hideous outfits, and amused by his arbitrary judgement of her. Many people were usually startled by the Girl — they felt her jarring gaze penetrated their souls. The mother was a rare exception; upon seeing the Girl, she clapped her hands with delight and immediately brought the Girl to the manor.

The mother was a young, beautiful woman with clear, blue eyes and silky, auburn hair; however, creases had begun lining the corners of her mouth — she was overspending her smiles for her family’s sake. The father loved his wife, the mother, for far more than her looks, but the Girl quickly learned that the mother was his second priority at best.

Their son, still young, was only six years, but quite clever. Upon first sight of the Girl, he was startled, and said, “she’s like an ‘Elf on the Shelf,’ but not happy… always watching, and not necessarily in a good way.” The mother chastised her son, and told him that the Girl must have a story — one that explained her demeanor.

The Girl had grown slightly fond of the mother; she thought that the mother understood her and was ready to listen to her story. However, the Girl lacked the myopia to believe such innocent happiness would persist in her future and the household’s.

Within a few years of the Girl’s arrival, the mother, possessed by some potent force, bolted away from the household, taking an impressive sum of money and her beloved’s inky black Mercedes. She had shamelessly discarded her family to quench an avarice for freedom, and splendor within that freedom.

After the mother left, the father had furiously expunged the manor of everything she cherished, including the Girl. He disposed of it all on the manor lawn.

The Girl had nowhere to go after she was cast out. Occasionally, she would glimpse snapshots of the fragmented household’s affairs: the cruel way in which the father blamed the son for the mother’s madness, the broken way in which the son developed during his most critical years, the destructive way in which abandonment had slashed unhealed scars on both the father and the son. It was an unfortunate, but expected, reaction.

The Girl languished for longer than she could remember, sitting on the browning manor lawn. Each day, despite varying weather conditions, was no different to her — except one gloomy afternoon when violent rustling from the unkempt palms caught the Girl’s ears. It continued until suddenly, out leapt a scraggly man. The man was wearing a grimy newsboy cap and various layers of sack-like clothing, their colors indistinguishable due to filth. He scampered to the pile of discarded things near the Girl and ruffled through, pocketing several fistfuls of jewelry.

“Well, yer an interesting thing, aren’t ye?” the man gleefully grinned to himself after finally noticing the Girl. He grabbed her and darted away from the household. The Girl tried to quell her rising curiosity about the scraggly man and what he wanted with her. He had beady, black eyes, a mousy, chin-length tangle of hair, and large ears. Perhaps he would be a good listener. The Girl’s optimism quickly extinguished as she realized reality could never possess a person trustworthy enough to listen to her tale. Each person she had met had been spoiled by vices; even this man was a criminal, for he had both trespassed the property and stolen items of considerable value from its grounds.

The scraggly man ran for days, resting periodically, until he reached a bustling market mishmash of colorful pop up tents and weathered stalls. The Girl felt a repulsive surge in her throat from the commotion of hawking vendors and the unabashed haggling of crowds. Unperturbed, the man wove through the swarm and halted at his desired stall.

“It’s been long, my friend!” The stallkeeper greeted the scraggly man with a tilt of his black-banded fedora.

“I foun’ some goodies that might interes’ you!” responded the scraggly man, eager to lay out the ransacked items. As he unknotted a fist-sized bundle from which gem-laden jewelry spilled, the Girl glanced at the stallkeeper, expecting to witness a detestable, cunning downplay of his enthusiasm. Instead, she traced the stallkeeper’s line of sight directly to herself.

“I’ll take the lot for five thousand dollars,” the stallkeeper hurriedly proposed.

“Tha’ won’ do. I got ‘sepnces, you know? Throw in an extra fif’een hun’red and you got yourself a deal.”

“Fine,” The stallkeeper was uncharacteristically anxious to settle a price; he employed none of the typical merchant beguilement. He shoved a mass of twine-bound bills at the scraggly man, who, after swiftly squirreling it away under his newsboy cap, disappeared into the mob. Turning towards the Girl, the stallkeeper began surveying her with raking eyes, hoping his boss would consider her a valuable find. His boss was a museum patron who naturally took an affinity to pretty and peculiar things. She’s really got a piercing look about her, the stallkeeper thought. She’d, at the very least, interest my Boss.

The stallkeeper took long strides to his car, and placed the Girl and his briefcase in the backseat. Here I go, yet again, thought the Girl. How tiresome! Fate has cursed me to ceaselessly be circulating, searching for a worthy person to listen to my tale; searching to no avail.

A gentle creaking echoed around the massive room, bringing the Girl back from her memories to the present. Light splayed across the marble floors as the imposing, wooden doors began opening. In all the time the Girl had spent in this room, never had the doors opened. Her curiosity was aroused. A man holding a large key ring emerged first from the doors, followed by a steady stream of people.

Aline was excited for today. Her grand-papa was taking her to a wonderful place — the new museum. Visiting museums, especially art museums, was Aline’s favorite activity. She eagerly got dressed for the day’s outing, testing different outfits before settling on a flowy, white dress and sandals. Grabbing her blue, leather knapsack, she rushed to the apartment’s front door, anticipating the arrival of her grandfather. Disappointed by a bare hallway, she called out to her mother, “When is grand-papa coming? I can’t bear to wait any longer!”

“Any minute now, dear,” her mother patiently replied.

Aline flopped on her bed and sighed, her mind teeming with thoughts. The newscast mentioned the museum’s first exhibit a lot. Perhaps it’s an enormous sculpture? Or a fresco? That would be impressive!

Though the front door knocker was nearly inaudible from Aline’s room, she caught its tapping and ran to greet her grandfather, a slight old man. He embraced her in a firm, loving hug. After kissing her mother goodbye, Aline cheerily clasped her grand-papa’s arm and set off to the museum: a mere fifteen minute walk, but to her, an eon had lapsed before they finally arrived. She skipped up the wide steps, ready to enter the museum.

“Grand-papa, look at those magnificent doors! And those doorknobs! How interesting they are, with all those beautiful patterns in the metal… come on, hurry, Grand-papa!”

The old man chuckled at his granddaughter’s enthusiasm and shuffled up the marble steps to meet her. Together, they entered the museum and into a massive, bleak room.

“How strange. The sign announces that this room holds the first exhibit, but there isn’t anything to be seen! Oh! What’s over there?” Aline bounded to the left wall of the large room, her grandfather struggling to match her pace. On the extensive wall hung a lone painting, no larger than the L’Innocence print that hung near Aline’s bedroom. The plaque beneath read: Exhibit 1- Cecilia.

“Aline, I’ll be waiting for you at the next exhibit. There seems to be some fantastic sculptures there,” her grandfather called.

Aline hardly heard him; she was too intently focused on the piece before her.

“So, I suppose you’re Cecilia.” Aline gestured to the painting. “Cecilia, you look a little disdained and sad. I wonder what happened to you… ”

The Girl recovered from the surprise of the doors opening. By now, several hundreds of people had stared expectantly at her — all of whom seemed either disappointed or puzzled. Now, before her was a dainty girl. She wore an airy, white dress that complimented her soft features.

The Girl had a premonition that this child — Aline, was it? — was one who could listen to her story; she seemed unsullied and attentive. For the first time in ages, the Girl spoke.

Aline’s eyes widened. She heard a voice in her mind, faint at first, but now distinct. Was it — could it be — “Cecilia?” Aline asked out loud, astonished.

“Indeed, child. That is my given name. Now, be silent and listen closely — I have a story to tell you. I am now a painting; however, I once was alive — I grew up with a family and partook in typical activities as you do now. My parents were wealthy bourgeoisie and the subject of jealousy among my father’s siblings.

It was a stormy night. I was of nine years and was having trouble sleeping — thunder scared me. My mama went downstairs to our kitchen to heat honey-milk for me, while my papa read me tales from story books beside my bed. He chose to read Little Red Cap — cruelly befitting — until I fell asleep to the soothing sound. A few hours later, agonized sob-screams awoke me. I cradled my pink, velveteen teddy in my arms, clutching it for comfort as my small frame trembled with fear. The shrieks continued, interspersed with unintelligible words; some I could make out as protests — “NO… STOP!”

The voice was unmistakably that of my mother’s. With my heart pounding, teddy clutched to my chest, I padded over to my parent’s room — peering through the door, which was slightly ajar, I witnessed the most gruesome sight. I was petrified with fear.

In the bedroom glinted a blood-spattered dagger, wielded by my father’s own brother — my uncle. My eye followed the dripping dagger down to the ground, where my papa had been sliced at the throat. Near him — kneeling in his blood — and wracked by sobs was my mama. She was trying to reason with my uncle.

My uncle opened up my papa’s dresser, knowing that he kept a gun there — a gun my papa would never use on family. He slunk over to my mother. Steadily looking into her eyes, he raised the gun to her forehead. My mama had discerned I was near; her last words were addressed to me: “Cecilia, forgive this. Do not hold a grudge against others.” Her advice failed to register.

I ran away from the door, ran away from the house, ran leaving everything I loved, until I reached town. Dawn was just breaking. I sat on the front steps of a dreary looking bakery and wrapped my arms around my legs, trying to keep warm. But the cold still stung me. And so did the tears.

Fortunately, I was able to fall asleep for several hours, awaking to a jangle of keys and the words of “Who do we have here?” from a plump, middle-aged woman. I couldn’t trust her — couldn’t trust anyone, but of no other option, I followed her in. She asked about my parents. I said nothing, only shook my head. She patted my back, went next door, and came back after some time.

“My neighbor has agreed to take you in. He is a phenomenal artist and a man who I trust very much. Follow me next door.” I followed her to the neighbor’s loft-home. It was a single, large room flooded with papers and art supplies and paintings in various stages. There were scant furnishings — not much more than a bed, a work table, and a sofa.

The artist himself was a queer-looking man; he had narrowed eyes and a thin, black moustache. I stayed with him for three years, and over those years I grew increasingly suspicious of him. Something about his paintings seemed odd; as if the subjects were trapped… one that particularly disturbed me was of a frog. It had bulging eyes and four limbs spread so far apart it looked like it was undergoing an invisible quartering.

New paintings always appeared in the mornings; I never saw the artist painting in my presence. One night, after feigning sleep, I attempted to watch the artist. He had prepared his paints, his canvas — this one was about a poster size — but wasn’t painting anything. He suddenly turned on his heel and beckoned for me to come. He knew I had been watching. I walked slowly, terrified.

“Cecilia, it’s your turn to be painted.” He motioned to a stool. “Even though you never trusted me, I know you experienced betrayal. And I know that will forever influence you in shunning any person you deem flawed. Cecilia my dear, you may not understand this now, but every person has their imperfections. I cannot allow you to walk in a world for which you are not ready.” He repositioned me against the canvas. I became a rag-doll from fear, limp to his intent.

“Now, now, I’m not going to hurt you. Sit up straight, dear.” With a wicked grin, he began murmuring some nonsensical chants.

I awoke from a hazy stupor. Was it a nightmare? I tried to leave the artist’s eerie house by running to the front door. I couldn’t move. I tried again, in vain. Nearby, the artist sadistically watched.

“Now Cecilia dearie, I’m sure you’ve realized you cannot move. You may wonder why: O-ho-ho — it’s because you have become my newest masterpiece! You have been turned from a human to a painting! You cannot speak, except by telepathy. You will age and grow in the frame of my masterpiece. I’m doing you a favor; you can now observe the unscrupulousness of humankind without experiencing its hostility,” he chortled.

So, Aline, that is my story. For the past several years, I aged in the frame of this two-dimensional painting and was passed among people — a mother, a vagrant, a stallkeeper, and countless others: and not one of them was virtuous. They all had vices; they were unfit listeners — how could they understand the magnitude of human evils? How could they understand the betrayal I experienced? But, finally, I met you.

You may go now, child. Your innocence was my outlet for my emotion; now that I have exposed your mind to human treachery and worldly horrors, there is little you can do for me.”

Cecilia’s voice faded from Aline’s mind. Aline looked up at her, a newfound melancholy dimming her once-bright face. Pressing her eyes closed, Aline slowly breathed in and exhaled. With renewed fortitude, she met Cecilia’s despondent gaze and vowed never to become like her. Aline would choose to see the light in others; to forgive the darkness they might hold. After all, people are multifaceted: they have their strengths and their shortcomings, but in the end, it all constitutes their dimensionality: making them real and human — in a way a painting could never be.


World Sweeps Coal into Dustbin of History

It’s a humid day, reminiscent of so many others in Bangladesh, as Aarashi hops on the truck that will take him to the coal mine where he has toiled in obscurity most of his adult life. He enters the claustrophobic tunnel, like he has nearly every morning for twenty-six years, and is instantly swallowed by darkness. The mindless, repetitive motions of coal mining begin anew.

The earth doesn’t give up its treasure easily. Wresting the coal from its grasp is grueling, backbreaking work, but it feeds Aarashi’s wife and three sons, boys probably destined (some might say “doomed”) to one day follow their father into the mine. Aside from agriculture, Barapukuria Coal Mining Co. is the only source of employment within miles. The company has an economic stranglehold on the neighboring village where most workers live, but it’s a relationship both sides value as indispensable to their survival.

This day, though, news that threatens the symbiotic union circulates through the shaft. Aarashi hears his name echo through the damp bowels of the earth, and recognizes the voice as that of Nayaab, a co-worker, who bears unwelcome tidings: the government of Bangladesh is scaling back its use of coal in favor of renewable energy. Every miner in the labyrinth of tunnels feels personally threatened by the announcement, which parades under the banner of “progress.”

Although renewable energy has obvious advantages and is used to various extents around the world, coal miners — especially in poor countries like Bangladesh — are often left unemployed by the new competition. The plight of Aarashi, Nayaab, and their co-workers is but one example of the economic hardship that befalls miners when they are displaced by “green” technology, which topples old pillars of support and sometimes leaves human suffering in its wake.

Yet renewable energy seeks to avert an even greater tragedy that looms in the form of global warming. Carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures rose at their highest rates in recorded history over the last century, triggering frequent weather extremes and the extinction of certain species. Currently, fossil fuels represent the world’s main source of electricity, accounting for sixty-seven percent of total power generation.

Coal, however, is an environmental scourge. Its fumes pollute the atmosphere when burned to generate electricity, a process blamed for thirteen thousand deaths in the U.S. alone each year. An increase in renewable forms of energy will result in cleaner electrical production, reducing the demand for fossil fuels like coal. These new energy sources, which release less harmful emissions into the atmosphere, will slow down global warming and stem the increase of air-related diseases like cancer and other lung ailments.

The introduction of cleaner energy might leave Aarashi and Nayaab unemployed, but it could prevent their early deaths. Lung disease, often contracted by working long hours in the dusty underground, is an occupational hazard faced by miners worldwide. At first blush, this new technology might seem like a curse to miners, but it could prove providential to their health and welfare.

Renewables not only help the environment, in the long-term they benefit the economy and the impoverished people they initially displace. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are created to research, build, and operate renewable energy sources, putting many of the newly unemployed back to work with additional training. The new “green” jobs have the potential to lift employees out of poverty, turn them into contributing members of society, and put an end to the bleak generational cycle of sons following their fathers into the mines. College, once deemed financially off-limits to the children of miners, suddenly beckons as a possibility.

In addition, renewable energy holds the promise of supplying electricity to every home on the planet. Fully fifteen percent of the global population now lacks access to electricity. Fossil fuel prices are rising, and the cost is prohibitive for many families. People are dying of starvation because they are unable to preserve their food without electricity. Renewable energy offers new hope to this vast underclass, including Aarashi and Nayaab.

In the final analysis, we are all citizens of this world, its borders now blurred by technology and mutual threats. As such, we share an obligation to provide for our common welfare, to educate our children, and to protect the environment. Duty demands that we answer the clarion call of renewable energy, both for ourselves and succeeding generations.

Yet the United States, under President Donald Trump, is perhaps the biggest obstacle to reversing the effects of climate change. When the leaders of one hundred countries gather in Paris on Dec. 12 to intensify the fight against global warming, Trump will be conspicuous by his absence. The American president has rejected the Paris Agreement, negotiated in the French capital in 2015 to drastically curtail carbon emissions. Even war-torn Syria has pledged to join the accord.

Trump, however, has retreated to the isolationist policies of “America first,” leaving the world looking to France’s newly-elected president, Emmanuel Macron, as the de facto leader on climate change. Trump has embraced right-wing orthodoxies on the environment, and has already taken steps to revive America’s flagging coal industry, with the support of Republicans in Congress, especially those who represent Appalachia.

The U.S, president, less than a year into his first term, has indicated he intends to reverse his predecessor’s climate change policies, increase fracking for oil and gas, and lift current restrictions on coal mining. If Aarashi and Nayaab are bent on continuing their hazardous work, and find themselves unemployed under the more progressive policies of Bangladesh, they might find jobs in this country. U.S. coal mining and production actually ticked up this year.

But most analysts agree that the coal mining industry cannot ward off market forces, led by cheap natural gas, that have been building for years. Paradoxically, the Trump administration is revving up oil and gas exploration on federal lands, an intervention that has roiled conservationists and accelerated the decline of gas prices.

There are 643 million acres of federal land in the U.S., an area more than six times the size of California. Critics say this latest exploitation of natural resources threatens an iconic part of the country — and the western states’ identity. Even now, the Interior Department is drawing up plans to reduce wilderness and historic areas currently protected as national monuments, creating more opportunities for profit.

Trump has also vowed to remove roadblocks to energy projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, and promised to lift restrictions on coal mining and drilling for oil and natural gas. The president has already signed legislation that quashes the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, a regulation that protected waterways from coal mining waste, enacted during the waning days of the Barack Obama administration.

“Neither a wise nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him,” asserted Dwight D. Eisenhower, former U.S. president and the leader of Allied Forces during World War II.

Of all the problems confronting this world, climate change is the most global. The task of converting to renewable energy should be a common effort, since bequeathing a habitable planet to our children hangs in the balance. Yet in the U.S., the coal industry exudes confidence for the first time in years as the nation abdicates its leadership role in the pursuit of profit.


Soul-carved (Excerpt)

“If any one of you ladies stole my gods-damn peppermints, I’m going to give your spellbooks to the gods-damn witch hunters!” The tired voice of Tallulah Hemmings — the strangest young witch in all of everywhere, as her biased mentor put itrang out across the deck of what looked to be an oddly shaped pirate ship, tumbling its way across the waves with an eccentric grace.

Her cutlass swung through the air, a nightmare of ruin and sturdy metal, as a witch of tides sheathed her sword post-practice.

Waves crashed over the ship’s sun-bright hull as it cut its course through the sea, the daydream light washing across the invisible sizzle of magic that spread its warm, salt spray across the deck of the ship.

Tallulah leaned back against the rail, her form a plain sketch of pencil and ink, and awaited her crewmates. Around Tallulah, magic rippled, invisible to all but the few who understood the crackling feeling of harnessed something that swirled around this entire ship in waves almost as thick as the water that carried it.

Another ship neared, one Tallulah had been watching for the past couple of hours as it had approached to scope out the witches’ own craft. A black sail adorned with a carefully woven skull-and-crossbones snapped in the wind high above the arriving ship’s deck, which gleamed with seawater against the sun of the clear day. Tallulah cocked her head to the side, the golden beads strung into her dark braids catching in the breeze as it passed a hand through her hair.

Pirates. There would be trouble soon, then.

Finally, Tallulah thought. She’d been listening to the first mate’s off-key rendition of an old war ditty for the past four days and could use a little bit of battle.

In her hand, a daisy bloomed idly under the care of its furious bearer, its petals stretching out too quickly through the air. Tallulah grimaced down at it, her face contorting around unremarkable features made for lying, and tossed the daisy as far across the deck as she could manage. Her eyes, the lines around them smile-worn from her years adrift, turned toward the sound of heavy boots on the deck as the ship’s botanist appeared from below.

Duchess Duchess Walters, the ship’s widowed gardener, had been named by her unfortunately status-obsessed mother before going out and finding herself a Duke, which had landed her in this predicament. Now, the woman herself — twenty-three and a childless widow after the War of Four, a disaster that had ended several years ago after sweeping across many realms of the larger universe, the Estate — clomped onto the deck with an easy smile.

“Sorry,” she said, though she didn’t sound as if she meant it. “You know how Katie gets about sweets.”

Duchess leaned against the rail and took the packet of seeds Tallulah had been holding, pouring them into her palm and watching as the petals spread out against her fingers in a reaction to her murmured spell.

“If you could get some water up here, that would be much appreciated,” she said, though it sounded more like an order to the lower-ranked Tallulah. “Once the pirates come at us, all their cargo’s gonna be in the sea and getting that out of it won’t be worth the effort.”

“Right,” Tallulah replied, snapping out her hands over the rail and letting them rest high above the waves. Tallulah concentrated, let magic flow through the little mark that had been etched on her shoulder many years back, and watched as many, many, many gallons of water floated up, up, up, over her head as the salt washed out of them and the ebullient water turned clear as glass. The weight didn’t crush her, but Tallulah let air hiss between her teeth as she distributed the water into ten empty barrels near the hatch to the cabin.

“They’re headed over,” she said, and a wisp appeared at her side. Tallulah turned to watch Nerina, the ship’s guardian spirit. The girl had appeared as the manifestation of the Soleil, the witches’ ship, as such spirits sometimes did when a ship had a surplus of magical residue. Tallulah had eventually grown accustomed to the disconcerting feeling of being able to see the girl only out of the corner of her eye.

Nerina, a freckled spirit, had a face that was quiet, too old, and shimmering with all the unpredictable beauty of the ocean itself. Her hair — pure white, though she never looked older than fourteen years of age — tangled in the wind behind her as Tallulah turned to face the spirit (or at least turned to face her as much as it was possible to face something that wasn’t technically corporeal).

“Neri,” Tallulah greeted her. “They’re going to attack?”

“They only see three people on board,” Nerina replied, her voice stuck in the space between sound and feeling. “Of course they are.”

“How many?”

Nerina dropped out of reality for a second before reappearing, her form buzzing as quickly as a hummingbird’s wings. “A couple dozen. No magic — at least, none that can’t be solved with seawater.”

Duchess tossed a daisy overboard, and the trio watched as it plummeted into the grey-green waves, the white foam swirling around it as the pale flower disappeared beneath the surface.

“Let’s smoke some pirate bastards,” she declared, tucking the empty packet of daisy seeds away. “Up for a competition?”

“If I take the ship down, I get my peppermints back,” Tallulah announced. “If you win, I’ll take over kitchen duty for the next three nights.”

“Deal.” They shook on it, magic zinging from palm to palm to seal the terms, and the trio stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they watched the pirate ship rumble over the waves to meet them.

Tallulah let them get close enough to almost bump into the starboard side of the finely-polished witch ship. But she knew the captain would be angry when she awoke from her midday nap if even a scratch had appeared on the hull of the Soleil, so Tallulah held out a hand at shoulder height and let a wall of water strike up, smashing timbers before the pirates could slam into the boat.

Witches… the pirates should have paid closer attention, because even though the Sol’s witches didn’t advertise, there were warning signs. Perhaps the ghostlike girl who flickered on the deck, or the garden that inexplicably grew across the wooden planks, or maybe even the pointy hat Duchess had donned for the sake of propriety.

Tallulah had never put on a pointy hat, propriety be damned.

“Neri,” Duchess warned as the ship broke unsteadily through the wall of water.

The spirit shrugged and spun in a tight circle, her pale hair fanning out around her like a dancer’s gown as she turned and turned and turned, a barefoot ballerina on the polished wooden planks of the Sol’s deck. Around the pirate ship, a whirlpool opened up, swirling into existence as sailors clutched the rails and a hoarse captain shouted orders.

Finally, finally, he noticed the pointy hat.

Ah, uniforms. They got one into and out of situations, blending in and standing out. People saw the uniform, not the face.

For witches, that wasn’t always an advantage.

The pirate ship, huge and hulking compared to the smaller but flashier Sol, collapsed onto its side as Neri fluttered out of existence, her daily minor miracle spent and her energy as drained as she would let it be. A wave, giant and white-tipped, crashed across the deck, washing pirates overboard as Tallulah’s gaze settled upon the thing she most hated to see: prisoners.

“Duchess,” she warned, hand drifting toward her cutlass as the pirate ship began to sink beneath the waves, wood melting into the perpetual ebb and flow of the ocean’s power.

Her friend winced and closed her eyes, muttering one of her chants under her breath as something began to glow in the heart of the sinking ship. The mainmast of the pirate ship lit aflame, a bit of it already under water, hellfire burning across it regardless of the ocean waves that tried to douse the flames.

“Damn,” Duchess cursed.

“You owe me my gods-damn peppermints,” Tallulah replied, double-knotting the laces on her thick, leather boots and hopping nimbly onto the railing. “But since Neri’s technically the one who sank it…”

Her friend grinned and tapped four fingers to her forehead, a mockery of the military salute the witches’ employers used. “Go be a hero.”

Tallulah replied with a variety of increasingly colourful words about exactly what she thought of heroism, but the ocean wind whipped her voice from her mouth as she plummeted to the ocean and the hellfire that burned underneath the water. The sea neared her, hard as asphalt from such a height, and Tallulah let the marks across her body roar with the magic in her veins.

She dropped to a mast, though not the one that Duchess had accidently lit with eternally burning fire, and felt her boots slide across the slick wood. A struggling pirate, toothy and desperate, latched a hand missing a thumb around her ankle. A skull and crossed red roses — the mark of a witch hunter — burned on the back of his hand; many pirates had such people on board because one could never be too prepared when it came to avoiding witches.

“Please,” he said.

“I hate that word,” she replied.

She couldn’t tell whether the water on his face was the ocean or his tears, but he whispered, “Please.”

“You’re really not helping your case,” she replied and glanced over to a raft that huddled against the hull of the pirate ship. He’d live, even if he didn’t really deserve to.

So Tallulah shook her leg free from his grasp and jumped, higher than a human could have, as a mark on the side of her neck tingled and sent the breeze to carry her over to the prisoners tied to the rail. As she flew — though it couldn’t really be called flying by any means, even if that was the best term for it — Tallulah produced the cutlass from her belt, a sword she polished too much that she now swung back as the ocean slicked her face with its spray, and the prisoners began to dip beneath the surface.

They had been tied with the sturdy rope Tallulah knew firsthand was used by pirates, the group of bedraggled people uncomfortable and panicking as wave after wave of unforgiving ocean washed across their faces.

Tallulah landed on the rail above them, slicing her blade through the rope with minimal effort, and then waited for the prisoners to disband. Beneath her feet, the metal rail slipped against the soles of her boots and suddenly Tallulah felt herself falling down, down, down as her stomach dropped with her to the surf.

And then a wave pulled the prisoners up, up, up, buoying the men and women she had saved to the deck of the Sol as Duchess exerted control over the ocean and pulled the sodden group to the sun-warmed wood of the deck.

The witch floated after them, doused with seawater from the wave, and landed on the railing.

Tallulah coughed, her well of magic barely depleted, and leaned an arm on the mainmast of the Sol as the pirate ship disappeared beneath the waves, several overcrowded rafts floating across the sea aimlessly as their angry occupants cursed the Sol and its witches.

“Get them belowdecks,” Duchess declared, though the request hadn’t been addressed to the sopping Tallulah. Nerina appeared, worn as old cotton, and she smiled as she took a man by the elbow and pulled him away, followed by the dazed crowd of sea-soaked prisoners.

“Ugh,” Tallulah announced.

“You’re getting clumsy,” Duchess replied, her voice singsong but almost stern underneath.

Tallulah just glared. “I’m tired, not clumsy.” At her side, an orchid bloomed, pink and white spreading through the flower as the scent reached her nose and blocked out the ocean breeze with its heady sweetness.

“Perhaps, perhaps. You still have a weakness for prisoners, though. And you were practically merciless with that pirate.” Tallulah detected an ounce of pride in Duchess’s tone, the small lift of the chin and settling on one hip that hinted at her satisfaction at a job well done.

“I’ve got my own reasons for hating people who take prisoners,” Tallulah reminded her, voice lighter than her meaning was meant to be. “And is saving lives all that wrong?”

“We’re witches,” Duchess declared, her warm tone booming across the deck. “By the laws of nature, much of what we do is wrong. Those prisoners should have died today, along with the pirates, and our boat should have been at least badly wounded. But the prisoners lived and most of the pirates did, too, and we’re fine.”

“Tempting nature to kill us before we can even find the witch hunters,” Tallulah bit out through a light chuckle. “I’m liking this already.”

“You always loved beating the odds.”

The magic that swirled around the boat brightened a bit, shimmering into almost-existence like a ghost reluctant to be seen. From high above dropped a bird, some brand of loud ocean thing, but it shifted and landed on human legs as it hurtled to the deck. A woman, blonde and dark-eyed, stood from her crouch, leaning back against the rail next to Tallulah and Duchess. She had a face hardened by bitterness and time, but she smiled a greeting to her protégé, Tallulah, before leaning her head back to glare at the sun as if it had done something to personally offend her.

“Hey, Katie,” Tallulah greeted her. “What’s up?”

“Good job with the pirates,” her mentor replied. “Those Evergrove idiots couldn’t even do that, but you’ve got the control.”

“They’re not idiots,” Tallulah retorted, but her voice had weakened over the years she’d spent pushing her point with Katie. Evergrove Academy, a school that favoured the magically gifted, was loosely considered the ship’s employers and even more loosely considered their friends.

The school trained people with magic, most of whom were unlike this boat’s witches in everything except species. Those with magic had been split into two categories long ago: those with calibers and those without them.

Calibers, or special, specific abilities (like water manipulation, telekinesis, or controlling life itself), allowed people to make the magic a part of them — one that was like an extra limb — without training, without spells and with minimal effort to bring it out.

The disadvantage, of course, was that their magic concentrated so strongly on their calibers that all other magic they learned was weaker, therefore, Evergrove students trained their calibers instead of the whole other well of magic they could have been drawing from.

The witches of the Sol fit into the second category of magic users. Like the others, they had magic passed down to them by their ancestors, but they lacked the concentrated calibers others had and therefore required years of practice and training to even begin working with the magic in their blood. The greater variety of spells they could use, however, often felt as if it made up for that natural disadvantage.

Often, but not always.

Tallulah leaned her elbows on the rail again, her gaze hardening on the horizon, where a city had begun to bloom as quick as the daisies Duchess has been nursing for the past few minutes.

“Where to next? You never tell us, Katie.”

“I think it’s supposed to be a surprise,” Duchess replied for the silent, apathetic navigator Katie, seating herself precariously on the bow. “Rips in the sea make it more convenient, I guess, to switch between the realms. Thank gods we didn’t land in a desert realm or something again — it’s lucky the oceans tend to blur together. But I’m not sure where we are yet.”

The rips, small sections of space that had been warped to accommodate realm-to-realm travel, were most common out on the open sea, which was why Katie preferred sailing between the group’s various locations.

“I’m betting on Saltstone City,” Duchess said. “I know the captain wants to go home.”

“Evallia,” replied a conspicuously soft voice from the doorway. The sound of the highest heels that could be gotten away with among practical witches on a ship echoed across the wood, the pale blue hair of Jax, the ship’s medic emerging from the shadows of inside. “I’ll put five on it.”

“Five on Saltstone,” Duchess replied, twining the daisy’s stem between her fingers as it grew larger than she had intended, a mammoth of verdant green, swollen white, and yellow pollen.

“Five on Sora,” Tallulah interjected carelessly. “Have you ladies been noticing the slightly strange colour of the waves and the direction they’re flowing? Sora’s distinctive that way.”

Katie whapped her on the back, the frowning curve of her face proud as a lioness. “That’s it.”

“So they spotted witch hunters in Sora?”

“Our sources rarely lie,” Jax reminded her. “And I’d like to think that Katie knows what she’s doing, Tallie.”

“Don’t call her that,” Katie chastised. “It doesn’t sound witchy enough.”

“Would you prefer for me to call her Lulu?”

Katie snorted, trailing a hand across a vine that curled around the ship’s wheel and watching as tiny purple flowers budded and then bloomed along the stem, condensation beading across a chilly glass of water.

“She’s just jealous because she’s called Katie,” said Duchess, swatting Katie’s hand away from the vine. “I don’t think any number of occult charms or pointy hats would make her feel like a real witch.”

“We’re on what’s basically a pirate ship that we’ve turned into a floating garden, and we sail from realm to realm, keeping wars from breaking out,” Katie replied. “I don’t have to have a cool name.”

“We’re not pirates,” Jax said, her soft voice slightly sharper. Her eyes didn’t exactly rest on Tallulah as she said it, but they flicked close enough for her friend to know the words were meant to be a reassurance for Tallulah and a warning for Katie.

“Of course not,” Katie bit back, slinging her legs over the rail as she balanced high above the water. “We just take the loot from bad guys, right? Because selling flowers and petty tricks can’t sustain seven ladies and their…covert endeavours. So we’re heroes now?”

Tallulah winced and leaned back over the rail, far away enough from her companions to warrant worry that she’d fall overboard. A wind — her favourite element of all four, even though she was technically a sailor — buoyed her up, up, up, and away from the crew of the Sol.

“I’ll be back soon,” she announced, but the wind whipped away her words as it whisked her high above the mainmast and through the sea-stained winds.


Cotton Candy Skies

Reach up, up, to the cotton candy skies. To the heavens of pink, of white, and of gray, to the spun-sugar taste of a spring’s lovely day. The fire’s smoke twists into skeins of dark air, but the blue sky’s cobwebs knot into pale hair. Sunlight and moonlight and light of all hues, quiet in violet and in all types of blues. Cotton candy and whiskey, starlight and wine, the ghost of the sea and the sharp air’s bright shine.

Under the clouds, under the woven dreams and the needlepoint stars, people glance at lights of their own. They watch their stories, their phones, themselves, and they watch each other, the reflections of themselves they find, no matter how distant those refractions may be, but they don’t reach up. They reach out, weave webs of their own, the sky’s blooming clouds taken on loan. The mist of the winter, backed by the starlight of the heavens, and the recollections of summer as they weave through June and August and July, bright as fruit from a summer-grown tree.

The beauty of the thing, the idea of silence and of peace, is the faint reminder of souls, of the blood that flows in our veins and the dreams that light the backs of our eyes, the pale, iridescent memories of what we once were or what we could be.

What we could be, as a people. What we might be.

What we are is too dull, after all, isn’t it? Because what we are is a now, not the sweet nostalgia or heady regret of yesterday and not the bright promise or terrible inkling of tomorrow. Now is now, the forgotten heavens above our heads, not the cotton candy clouds of an idea not yet formed or the torrential rain of a memory pummelling the backs of our minds. Now is a tomorrow brought to life, a yesterday that is just being born, a reminder that living is no more than blood and neurons, and no less than something more.

Those spun-sugar heavens are meant for tomorrows, so reach out, out, and up to them, until cotton candy skies become the melted sugar of a sweet today.





an indian pakistani sestina


August, 1947. The British divide Colonial India into two independent countries, Muslim Pakistan

and Hindu India, inciting the largest and bloodiest mass migration in human history.


One nation, torn apart

by cartographic line

and the thunder of fifteen million footfalls.

Bodies pile and neighbors leave

for a chance to live.

That history, I am its future.


The fated future.

Like cells, doomed to split apart

tearing people, taking lives

like each human had a dotted line

across their heart, “cut here” and leave

unaware of the destruction, of the fall-


-out, the cleanup, the spilled blood which falls

from my veins as I watch from the future

unable to scream or leave

like the little boy hiding, watching his parents diced apart

with swords, closing his eyes and mouth and running across the line

with only a bloody teddy bear, to live.


He prays for his parents in the religion that took their lives.

It doesn’t matter which faith; both fall

under the same nation, divided by a false line.

False, because fifteen million people needed to run to have a future

and refugees pulled apart

doors of trains only to find hundreds of dead bodies, murdered trying to leave.


On the tree of Hindustan, I am the leaves.

The massacre gave way to life

as my parents, on the fiftieth anniversary of partition, vowed “till death do us part.”

My blood is the innocent blood that fell

on both sides; the animosity of the past only a haunting memory in the future

where I straddle the line.


I am half-Indian Hindu, half-Pakistani Muslim; my family line

proves there is hope, if you believe

in miracles, I am one, I am the future.

Each day I live

is a day closer to the fall

of the forces tearing my nation apart.


It’s time to take apart this line.

Make this wall of wills fall to the ground, and leave.

As long as I live, I am the future.