Revenge of the Ankle Bully

Have you ever heard of the ankle bully? The old people say he stalks all the basketball courts in Harlem looking for easy prey. I even heard Ms. Jerry from the 4th floor saying he was born with the appetite for ankles, she thinks he eats them. Some say he is a myth, a story told to kids at campfires, but actually his name is ZRC which stands for Zahir’s Ridiculous Crossover and he’s from the Bronx. 

It’s 5pm, friends Zee and Kele meet at 135th street off the 2 Train. They are going to play basketball.

“What’s up bro?” Zee asked. “I got your text.”

 “Nothing much,” Kele said, “I was just thinking about going to the park on 145 and Lenox, we always beat those kids.” Zee shook his head. 

“Nah man. We should go to the Cage to get worthy opponents.”

 Cool! Let’s go!

When they got there, they saw a figure making people fall and cameras recording him. Kele is a big man with locks and Zee is a shooting guard that can shoot, dribble, pass, and dunk. Kele is a big man that can dunk and make flashy passes, but can’t shoot or dribble. They walked up and they got a clearer image of the ankle breaker guy and they saw he was light skinned and was about 6’3. He was fast and had a galaxy headband that made people look at the stars when he crossed them and he got into a lot of fights because people’s homies were getting crossed. 

They walked up to the sign up for the tournament and the guard asked,

“Are you guys signing up or spectating?” The friends said they were playing and they put their names on the sign up sheet. After signing up they noticed signs around the park that said “WARNING: The ankle bully is here and you’re going to play against him. When you play him, he will embarrass you and it will be recorded.”

“Yo Zee I can take him I’ll just post him up I see all handle no skill. 

“I know but he could just shoot your eyes out and cross you up without you touching the ball. 

“I know but he’s probably just a fake ankle bully, one of those imposters AMONG US.  

“Let’s just see.”

They went inside the cage and saw all types of people sitting, cheering on bleachers. chairs, etc. It was so loud in there it sounded like if 10 speakers were on blast in one room. Every time someone scored, people started cheering. 

“We got next for the duo tourney.” 

And everyone got hyped and started placing bets because the duo tournament was about to start. The first two teams were these two tall guys versus a tall guy and a point guard.

The first people to score were the tall team because they just kept posting up, but when they lost the ball game they just got flat out embarrassed and they raged, cursing, fighting, throwing balls at people. Someone even pulled out a gun before they were removed. Zee and Kele were up.

They were up against a team with two small forwards and they could both dunk. Looked like one was a park player. The other was a high school prospect that could dunk like he was doing in the warm ups and shoot. He was the real problem. His teammate was a park ball player. They came on the court and started hyping  people up and getting the ball ready for tip off to see who got the ball first, even though it was half court. They tipped it and Kele kinda has hops, but not that much. Their big man, the park player, is a pro dunker so obviously he won. They got the ball and the high school prospect, HP, shot the ball from deep mid range and scored 1-0. They’re going to 10 soon. The dunker got the ball, jumped over Kele, and dunked it. The score was 3-0. For the bonus dunk they had to come back. The dunker went up for a dunk and when Kele went up to get it, he changed his position and tried windmilling it, but Kele head hit the ball with his big head and they got it. Finally, a chance, but of course they knew what to do. Zee got the ball, drove to the basket, went up for the lay then kicked it out to Kele for the drive layup, but instead he went with his weakness and shot the three and missed like always but Zee was there for the rebound. He drove back out, did his little in and out behind the back snatch back and shot it. He almost missed, but Kele tipped it in and it counted as a point for Zee. They got it and Kele threw an oop to Zee and Zee threw it back in the air for a slam dunk. A double oop that gave them extra points and the score was 4 to 3. Kele and Zee were up. Kele wanted to make himself seen because right now he looked kinda dog outta water. So he skyrocketed for a dunk and tried jumping over the dunker, but he flipped over and threw the ball in the air and out of luck, it went in. 

Zee stared at Kele and said,

“That was a horrible shot. If you take that shot again, I will hit you with the 300 Mac truck deluxe ReSpEcTfULLy! Then you’ll really be feeling like a dog straight out of water.”  Kele knew he was wrong and said,

“Sorry, I’m rusty Zee.”

“Yeah okay buddy. Just don’t sell.” They got the ball and Kele went for the easy lay, but the dunker was not having it and he blocked Kele and then passed it out to the HP. He swished the 3 and said “All net.” The game was 5 to 5 and if someone made a half court shot they got five points, full court is automatically a win. The HP scored two easy buckets. One was a dunk, the other a mid range pull up. They were losing 7 to 5. The dunker got the ball at half court and did the iconic Jordan dunk over Kele and he got two points and it was game point with a three or a cool finish. The HP brung the ball up the court and sauced up Kele and put it behind Zee’s back. Then he went for the layup, but Kele blocked it, brought it back, and shot the 3 and it did a swirl around the net and finally went in. The score was 7-9. Zee brought the ball up, did a professor move, and then bounced it off the dunker’s head. He pulled back, shot a half court, and looked away looking like Curry. He made it, but it bounced out and went to the top of the backboard and then went in and everyone went crazy, even his own teammate.

“I told you dont sell! If they come back I’m quitting and I’ll be mad at you.” 

“Sorry I just got overwhelmed and did the wrong thing.”

“This is the game plan. Steal the ball, pass it to me, and I’ll fake shoot and dish it in for the easy dish.”

They got back on the court and took the shot. They missed. Zee got the rebound instead of Kele and passed it out to Kele. Kele took the fake shot and passed it to Zee inside, except Zee was on the outside and he passed to the HP and he took the dunk and started celebrating, but then remembered you have to take the ball out and by that time the friends Kele and Zee were trotting away with a win, waiting for the next round. They watched the round for a little, then went to go get a drink and bumped into a 6’5 guy that was dribbling a ball while walking. He had a neon hoodie with a galaxy headband and was kinda buff, but everyone was backed up because they did not want their ankles broke. Anyone that was near him when he was dribbling was now on the floor in shame or holding their ankle. 

Kele walked up to him and said,

“Hey, you that ankle bully guy?”

“Yeah,” said AB.

“I’m bout to put you on the menu when I pull up to the court and end you.”

“I don’t think so but we’ll see because you don’t know me and I don’t know you. I’ve never had an unknown person challenge me sooo. I crossed up LeBron James, that’s what got him motivated to be the best. I taught LeBron and now you’ll see the resemblance.”

With that, they got on the court and AB and his little sister who was 10 and bad at basketball were on a team while Kele and Zee were on a team. They battled it out and until the last points, it started getting interesting. They were going back and forth, both Kele and Zee glowing blue while AB was glowing red. They made a force field that was so big and their energy was so high that they broke the building around them and then Kele went for the dunk. AB tried to steal it, but tipped the ball instead. Zee caught it, passed it to Kele at three, and Kele spawned the three so hard it made the Splash Brothers look like a desert and he baca with the ocean and the ankle bully started fading away and with every other follower. He passed out and became a normal human and said,

 “Where am I? How’d I get here?”

Twenty-20 Come Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Anti Gravity

California, USA

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

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

“Matt, what’s going on?”

“How the hell would I know?!”

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

Paris, France

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

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

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

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

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


Kyoto, Japan

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

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

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

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

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

Prague, Czech Republic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

5,000 Miles 10,000 Words

Two writers, two sides of the same story. 

Dakota Jones and Eloise Monet were alike in more ways than they would ever know. Despite living across the world from each other, they both had very similar goals and personality traits which prevented them from giving up on what they truly wanted in life

Dakota’s side-

Houston, Texas is where Dakota lived. She was balancing helping her mom pay the lease for their apartment, taking care of her younger siblings, and working as an underpaid diner waitress, all while attending her last year at a university. It seemed as if everyone in her class at college knew what they wanted to do in the future, and she just felt stuck. Stuck in a routine, stuck in her tiny house, stuck in every aspect of her life. She felt as though she worked hard for everything, and somehow it still was never enough. And there was Sal. Her best friend in the entire world, the only person she knew who was there for her in her worst moments. But she knew he would never come close to understanding how exhausting her life was. Late one Tuesday night, Dakota checked her email as she always did. But there she found a lengthy, condescending email from her professor listing some writing programs and job opportunities he strongly encouraged her to try. Most of them looked boring, and like a similar variation of the same, dull class she was taking. But there was one job opportunity for young students like her to become published authors, right in her hometown. But it required a written submission.

Eloise’s side-

Prim, proper, and perfect were how Eloise Monet’s mother wanted her to behave. Straight A’s, the head of every club, and captain of the polo team were what her life mainly consisted of. Since primary school in her native London, her life had been planned for her by her overbearing and over achieving mother. But by now she was used to it, the fits her mom had over a B she once received and the feeling of never really amounting to what her mother wanted her to be. But she kept those feelings hidden. Tomorrow, she started her first day at her mother’s prestigious publishing company in London.

Dakota’s side- 

Dakota wanted the writing position in her hometown. She could pay rent for her own place with that salary, and finally she had something she was motivated to do. Day by day, week by week, she worked on her submission for the job—a story she could showcase at her job interview. Sal read it and said it was her best work of all. Even her mom read it the night before the interview. She felt proud of what she wrote. The next morning, she walked into that glass skyscraper and imagined herself working there: dressing every day like the other people in the office—in fancy clothes, blown out hair, and expensive jewelry. She imagined clicking high-priced heels on the white tiled floors. She was ready. So when she went into the office and presented her story, she didn’t give them a fake smile. She told them exactly why she would be more perfect than anyone for this job. And two weeks later, when she got the letter offering her the job and complimenting her short story, she was practically shaking. 

Eloise’s side- 

Eloise had a deadline. Her first one this month. She had only been writing a few poems and short stories at her mom’s publishing company and her mother was not impressed to say the least. Her mom compared her work to other girls who wrote for her company, and was the opposite of supportive. Eloise needed a killer story to impress her mom, and keep her job since, like her parents, she loved writing. Day by day, week by week, she worked on her story until she had finally crafted one hopefully living up to her mother’s expectations. 

Dakota’s side-

The feeling of doing something right for once, was the best thing for Dakota Jones. It was extremely rare that she felt proud of herself. And about one week later, she found herself walking straight into that skyscraper once again. She arrived on time, attempting to make a good impression. She sat down with one of the CEOs of the company and they discussed her piece. Her inspiration for the story, how she thought of the characters, and if she wrote often. They said that they were looking for a few stories to be in their monthly issue of work by young authors. She felt on top of the world. And the best part is if she kept up the good work of writing stories, she would get the high-paying salary she always dreamed of. Weeks went by and her story was edited, ready for the issue. But she knew the dedication that went into that story, and she knew people would like it . 

Eloise’s side- 

Cheryl Monet liked the story. Her own mom liked the story. This was a first for Eloise. Her whole life she would try to satisfy and prove herself to her mother, but finally after hard work and about three weeks of editing, she did it. Her mom was even proud, she showed it off to colleagues, and Eloise just felt content at last. And at family dinner one night, her mom said she wanted to publish it. The next weeks were hard. From picking cover art to sitting down with editors, and showing people her story. Exposure of her writing was the best thing for a young author, like herself. 

One month later.

After one month of living their greatest lives, something was quickly discovered. 

Dakota’s side- 

When you apply for a job, they didn’t tell Dakota that she was going to be slammed in the news, when you apply for a job, they didn’t tell Dakota that she would be questioned for something illegal done. Waking up on the first day of her story being published, she hoped, she dreamed, she wanted for it to be a perfect day, a day where she finally fit in somewhere. But what occurred was quite the opposite. She received many, many urgent emails to come down to work as soon as possible, so she did just that. She didn’t even have time to change, arriving in gray sweatpants and a stained shirt. She got some stares once in the building, but she did not even know what reason they were for. She opened the door to her boss’s generously sized office. 

“Did you do it?” her boss frustratedly asked. “Did you plagiarize your story, copy it from someone else?”

“No I swear, I would never, I-” Dakota tried to respond reassuringly.

“A similar piece, with your same idea was published just a few days ago, giving it a month to be edited, Dakota it is very, very possible for you to have copied this story. You threatened the reputation of this company greatly, and for that we have to let you go,” her boss said firmly. 

Dakota was not prepared for this. It was not fair. It was not fair at all. She worked all day and night to create that story, how was she losing her job for this. She wanted this position so bad, and now she was fired, on her record too. No. This of all things in her life she was going to fight for. It was her piece. 

“No, you cannot do that. Please I promise you I did not do this. Please reconsider,” Dakota begged.

“You are making this harder on yourself right now, please gather your things,” her boss said for the final time. 

This is the point where this got “bad.” Due to Dakota’s strong belief, knowing it was not her who did this, she was going to fight for what she wanted, literally. Kicking and screaming, Dakota was escorted out by security. Not only would she never EVER get another job in the writing field again for this. She could definitely expect to land another position in that building. She had made a very, very large scene. 

When she got home, she was mad. She yelled at her younger siblings for being a pain to take care of, she screamed at her mom for never doing anything, and she called up Sal, to tell him that he lied, that she had what it took to work at this job. She wanted to cry out of confusion. She wanted to beg, and beg for her job back, But she just couldn’t. And that was the worst part. 

 Eloise side-

Grounded. Punished. Fired. Yelled at. This was only an understatement of what went on in her household that very night. You could just see in her mother’s eyes how disappointed she was. And knowing how proud she was just a few days ago had made it worse.

“You will start a boarding school. And a writing intensive camp, academic program, and a-”

“No, I will be absolutely nothing of the sort. I don’t want this life. I don’t want this life controlled by you where you don’t even listen to me right now. I wanted that job, and you fired me. You saw how happy I was there, and you just, you wouldn’t even hear me out.”

And even at their worst point, where they felt the most defeated, the people who really cared stuck by their side. The people who supported and cared, the mothers, the siblings, the friends, everyone one took a minute to hear the full sides of the story. And although it may seem like it couldn’t, everyone helped to make everything work out just fine. 

The end.

The Better Side


Some people would not know who I was if someone mentioned my name. Or, some people would recognize me (I hope) but I wouldn’t mean anything to them. I feel like I am nothing. And this is the way I have felt all my life. Since day one in kindergarten, I have felt like nobody cared about me and nobody wanted to be friends with me. Today is the first day of high school and I am COMPLETELY TERRIFIED. Not only because I am scared about high school, because I am sure most people are, but I am scared that this year is going to be the same as every other year. And I am going to be looked at the same as I was looked at for the past eight years. A ghost. 

Jordan, who is my brother, drives me to school every morning because his college is right around the corner from school. This is lucky for me because if my brother had to go to college far away, I don’t know what I would do with myself. He is basically my best friend, and because nobody talked to me at my school, I could at least talk to him because he actually understands me. We were parked outside of school and I had my blue backpack on my lap, not wanting to go inside. I knew it would be the same as it always was. I would walk into the hallways and not one person would hug me or say, “Hi Lucy! How was your summer?” Because that’s just how it was. 


Today is the first day of high school and I have been looking forward to this moment my whole life. I feel like high school is thought of as a trainwreck of four years, but I feel like these four years are going to be awesome. My girlfriend, Jessica and I have walked to school together for the past two years. Her house is two houses down from mine and we have been dating since 6th grade. She screams, “Alex!!!” from all the way down the block. I have not seen her all summer because I go to sleepaway camp in Maine and she goes to sleepaway camp in Texas. We began the short walk to school together and Jessica would not stop talking. 

“How was your summer? Mine was great! I made all of these new friends at camp. Did you? I missed you! Not excited for school though. I hope we have the same homeroom! What did you have for breakfast? I had waffles.”

She did not even give me a chance to answer anything! I tried my best by saying, “My summer was good. I made friends at camp. Missed you too. I also hope we have the same homeroom. I had fruit and water.”

That is basically how our relationship goes. She asks and I answer. There is no need for me to ask anything, because she will always make sure it has been said. Once we got inside the doors, I was tackled by all of the boys on the basketball team. 

I would say that I am pretty liked by my whole grade, but I have definitely earned that considering I have tried and tried and tried to just fit in. My family is not the type of family that I would call “normal.” Not one member of my family cares about their reputation or my reputation at all. They are completely EMBARRASSING!!!! Which is why I walk with Jessica to school every morning. 

I couldn’t believe it was finally here, the moment that I have been waiting for all my life. Somehow, I was not at all nervous to walk into homeroom and I don’t understand how some people are.


I’m so nervous to walk into homeroom! I am watching some kids like Alex Brown just walk into that classroom with a handful of friends around him and then there is me. Alex Brown has brown hair and brown eyes and I don’t think he has once had to worry about not having friends. I have had a crush on Alex Brown since the first grade and I bet that he has never heard the name Lucy Goldberg once in his life. If only I had at least one class with him!! Then I could maybe try talking to him. I don’t even know what I am thinking, considering I am me and he’s Alex Brown. We don’t need to talk about how he has a girlfriend. 

My homeroom is room 207 which is of course the longest walk from the entrance. This walk is basically going to be the walk of shame for me considering I know that I am walking to a room that is not going to notice me or care about me. It’s basically just a pointless walk to nowhere. I wish I were homeschooled. That would be waaaaaayyyyyyy easier. I began the long walk to room 207 as I watched all of the friend groups reunite, wishing I were a part of one. One friend is all I need and I don’t even have that. At least I have my brother. I don’t know why I can’t make friends. When someone like Jordan really gets to know me, they will know I don’t become shy at all when I am around them. I think it’s just scary having to make friends. 

As I continue to walk, thoughts rush through my head. What if when I walk into the classroom there will be people that might actually notice me? What if some of these people want to be my friends? I finally get outside of room 207,  I grab my books and take the step in. This was it. The moment I have been dreading my whole life. 


 My homeroom was in room 210, pretty far from the entrance so I was happy once I finally got there. Mr. Goldberg, my teacher, seemed pretty nice, at least as nice as a teacher could get. I somehow recognize the name Goldberg, but I don’t know from where. I sat down at my desk in the front of the room (how fun), but luckily Jake and Connor were next to me. We played the same introduction game that we play every single year. I thought it would stop once we at least got to middle school, but it didn’t. And then high school is here, and we are still playing it! There isn’t even a new kid in my class. I have known these kids since I was 6 years old and you would think I would know their names. 

After homeroom, I went to find my locker. I put my bag inside and took my books for my next class, math. I suck at math and I always have. My parents have tried everything, tutors, study groups, special help from my teachers, literally they once tried teaching me. I just can’t get it. As I grabbed my graph paper notebooks and my pencil case, a girl ran into me. She seemed pretty familiar but I didn’t know her name. “Watch where you’re going!” I said. 

She replied, “Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh I’m so sorry.” 


Math! My favorite class. In math I feel as if the rest of the world doesn’t matter and it is just me, a whiteboard, a pencil, and numbers. I don’t need to worry about being more social or making friends. I was on the way and I was very late. I HATE BEING LATE! So I ran. I was running and bumped into Alex Brown.

“Frick!” I thought to myself. He snapped at me.

“Watch where you’re going!” he said. Even though these were the first words he has ever said to me, I was so happy. He noticed me! He probably already forgot this moment but I will remember it forever. 

I got to math and sat down at my desk which was thankfully in the back. I looked around and to my surprise I saw Alex. I wonder if he likes math. Sadly Alex’s head was facing me so I couldn’t see him fully, and he couldn’t see me. I bet he will never know I am in this class. Math was only the second period of the day and I already had so many thoughts. Would Alex talk to me more this year now that I have a class with him? I really hope my parents aren’t going to flood me with questions about today when I get home. Should I join a sports team? No I should not, I can’t play sports for the life of me. Maybe I will write a book. What will happen if I just start talking to people more? Do I not have friends because I am shy or because nobody wants to be friends with me? 

All of these thoughts were going through my head when I realized that I had to start paying attention, there was already a whole board filled with do-now problems that I did not know how to solve. Shoot. 


Math did not go well. At all. Now I need to meet with my teacher after school and I do not want to. I don’t know why, but it is awkward when I am alone with teachers. 


After math class, I had to go up to our teacher Mrs. Corrine, and ask for a meeting time after school because I “didn’t understand the concept.” She said that I could come but she already had a student coming so we would have to meet the three of us. I was fine with that because it makes it less awkward being alone with a teacher. 

Next I had a free period, where most kids go hang out with their friends or get work done. If I really really really wanted too, I would go over to where some of the girls in my grade were sitting and maybe talk to them, maybe. But, I would rather journal in my notebook. I like making lists and today my list was about what I wanted to accomplish by the end of freshman year.

Lucy’s Bucket List for Freshman Year 🙂

By Lucy Goldberg 😀

  • Get at least one friend
  • Join a team or club of any kind
  • Talk to Alex Brown a lot more
  • During free periods do more than journal
  • Be more confident
  • Matter 


The rest of the day was the usual except for the fact that I knew I had to meet with Mrs. Corrine after school because I can’t do math. Once it was the end of the day, I felt like I was moving in slow motion. I moved as slow as possible, one step every 3 seconds down the hallway to grab my things out of my locker. Mrs. Corrine’s classroom was sadly only two classrooms down from my locker so I wasn’t even that late (sadly). I put my bag around my shoulders and walked inside the classroom, and I saw the girl who ran into me in the hallway. I have never been in a room pretty much alone with either of them before, so this would not be fun. 


WHAT IS HE DOING HERE. I can’t focus when he is around me. I know myself and I know that I am going to only be worried about how I look and if I am doing the problems right, instead of actually paying attention because that’s what I am here for. “Lucy focus. You don’t want to come back a second time and explain to Mrs. Corrine why I had to come back for a second time to re-re-learn it.” I told myself. I have to focus. I have to. 

The hour in this classroom is going by so slowly and Alex doesn’t seem very good at math so that is making it even slower. I glanced up at the clock on the ceiling in front of me. 4:15. 4:18. 4:22. 4:29 and 55 seconds. Finally after the clock hit 4:30, I ran out of the classroom and I regret that decision already. I could have at least been respectful to Mrs. Corrine and even talked to Alex. I need to really get better at talking to other people.

My brother was waiting outside in the car perfectly on schedule like always. I’m not one of those kids who have to wait for their parents to come get me 2 hours late, because I have Jordan. 

“How was school today?” Jordan asked. 

“Okay,” I said. “I had to meet with my teacher after school which is why I am late, sorry.”

“Why? What happened?” he asked. 

“Remember Alex Brown?” 


“Well, he is in my math class and I keep getting distracted and I ended up missing the 

whole math lesson and had to meet with my teacher after school and then, get this. Alex was in my lesson with Mrs. Corrine after school because he doesn’t understand anything,” I told him. 

“I’m so sorry Luc. Just try to focus and know that math is your best subject so don’t let 

anyone else get in the way of that,” Jordan told me. 

The rest of the car ride we listened to music very loudly and drove home without talking to each other, not because we were upset, but maybe because we both had bad days and were sick of talking. 


Luckly, I have basketball tryouts now so I don’t have to go home. Somehow I’m not at all nervous for these tryouts and I think it is because I already got my math meeting over with, which is what I had been dreading all day. I walked into the gym and right away saw Jake and Connor, who are two of my best friends. They are in my homeroom and we have been playing basketball together since forever. Our coach, Coach Wessel, blew his whistle and explained how the tryouts were going to go. I went and changed into my basketball clothes and the tryouts began.

Besides me getting a nosebleed halfway through the tryout because I got hit in the nose with a basketball, I think I played very well.

“The teams will be posted tomorrow via email,” Coach Wessel said. “It is very hard for freshmen to make varsity, so freshmen keep that in mind, but I hope to see most of you on our JV team!” 

Just like that, the tryouts were over and it was time for me to wait for my parents, and it normally takes them two hours, because those are the types of parents that they are. 


The next day at school, it was the same deal, except I had some hope. My main goal for the day was to talk to someone besides a teacher, and talk to them, not because I will run into them like yesterday. I love Tuesdays because there is still room to make the week the way you want it to because it is only the beginning. If you make a mistake on Monday and need to fix it to make your week still amazing, Tuesday is the day to do it. After homeroom, it was again time for math and I was excited. Mrs. Corinne let us choose partners for the in-class problems. I always hate choosing partners because people run to their friends right away and I never have anyone to go to. 

Everyone started scrambling around and trying to follow my goal, I went to the one girl who I recognized that did not have a partner. Her name was Lizzy and we had gone to school together since kindergarten. 

“Hey,” I said. “Want to be partners?” 

“Sure! What’s your name again?” she asked. 


I wasn’t that thrilled that she didn’t know my name, but I was beyond excited that I asked if she wanted to be partners with me and she said yes! I did it. Right when we started to work, Ms. Queller, the head of school, came to our desk and patted me on the shoulder and told me to come to the hallway. Right when I think I am making a friend, this happens, and this NEVER happens. 

“What is it?” I asked.

“Well, honey, your brother has had an accident.” 


It was time to find out what basketball team I made, if I made any of them. I wasn’t expecting varsity, but it would be awesome if I was on it. I saw the list, it was maybe 30 feet away so the names were just a blur. I could see as I was taking steps forward that the list was in a T-chart, one half was JV, one half was varsity. This was all of the high school boys on both teams so I was most definitely on JV. But, what if I was on varsity? I got super close to the list, I closed my eyes and hoped that I was on a team with at least Jake, Connor, or both of them. I opened my eyes and I went straight to the varsity list. I saw Jake and Connor at the top of the list! Now I really hope I am on varsity. I scrolled down with my finger, name after name after name and finally, there I was! I made varsity! Best. Day. Ever. 


“What do you mean, an accident?” I asked Ms. Queller in a concerned tone. 

“He is right now in the hospital with your mom and dad. I can drive you over there now. He was in a pretty severe car crash but that is all I know.” 

So we got in her car and it was a silent car ride. I was completely hysterical. I needed my brother to be okay. I didn’t have anyone else. Without him I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to and have nobody to listen to me. Even worse, I would be picked up from school late! I prayed he would be okay and I tried to stay calm and breathe, but I couldn’t. Once we got to the hospital after 15 minutes in the car with the head of school, I was able to find my parents. Normally, it would be so so so so so awkward being in a car with Ms. Queller, but today, it wasn’t because we both knew it was very important. My mom was crying. My dad was yelling at the nurses to try to get some information out of them because they hadn’t heard anything. Ms. Queller was still there and I was completely clueless. It was chaos. 

After about an hour, a doctor named Dr. Julie came and spoke with my parents and me. She told us, “Jordan has many severe injuries but for right now we think he is going to be alright. He will have to get spinal surgery because he broke a bone in his back and has broken his right leg. As well as this, he is going to be put in a neck cast but for now we don’t think he needs neck surgery. You should all be so thankful that he is still alive. In a few moments, if you would like you may come and see him.” Dr. Julie walked away and we all sat in silence. Silence. It is often a trend with me and with my family, especially Jordan. Silence is what we refer to when we don’t know what to say or when something is hard to process and talk about. It helps me regroup my feelings and be at peace with myself. 


I went to visit Jordan in the hospital room, and I asked if I could go in alone. I took a few deep breaths and slowly walked in to see Jordan lying down on a hospital bed with lots of machinery around him. Jordan’s blond hair was all stuck to his face and he had scrapes and was bleeding everywhere. His blue eyes looked up at me almost as a cry for help. I was scared. I knew he was the same brother he was before this happened, but hospitals really gave me the creeps and I did not like seeing Jordan like this. 

“Jordan?” I asked very quietly to get him to notice me.

“Hey Lucy” he replied in a whisper.

“Um, uhhh, are you going to be okay?”

“I will be completely fine. Don’t be scared about me. I need to sleep though,” he replied. 

I walked out of the room quietly and in shock and ran straight to my parents. I started crying and couldn’t stop. I just sat there, while my parents went into Jordan, and I cried. I feel like waiting rooms hold a lot of different feelings and energies. Sometimes, people find out great news from doctors and scream with joy. Sometimes people are stressed, because they don’t know what is happening to their loved ones. Sometimes they are in severe pain and are waiting in to see the doctor. And sometimes, people are very sad and cry because their loved ones are hurt, like me right now. 

3 months later (Lucy)

For the past three months, I haven’t worried about anything but Jordan. But finally, after three months of recovery, medicine, surgeries, doctors, and hospital rooms, Jordan was completely okay! The day that Jordan got out of the hospital, I walked into the doors of school the same way I did for the past three months when Jordan was in the hospital, but there was something to be happy about. I walked in with better posture and in my head I just felt happier in general. I was sick of not being noticed and this incident with Jordan opened my eyes up more to see that I can change not being noticed. I walked up to the school bulletin board and saw many club and sports teams. One stuck out to me more than any of the others. On a bright blue sheet of paper, it said, “School Soccer Team. No Experience Needed.” Without even thinking about it, I put my name down and when it came time for practice, I went over to the fields. 

For once, I was super excited especially when I saw Lizzy was there as well and she gave me a smile and wave. Practice continued for the rest of the school year and by the end, I had made friends with almost every girl on the team!

Next Year (Alexander)

I already feel like sophomore year is going to be my year. I again saw a sheet of paper on the bulletin board that said our homerooms and I started having deja vu from last year when I walked over to see what basketball team I was on. I found that I was in homeroom 310 so I walked up the stairs to the third floor and found my seat, only to see the girl who I kept running into last year sitting at the desk next to me. 


“Hi!” I said to Alex AS HE SAT NEXT TO ME! 

“Hey,” he replied, being shy.

I thought to myself that this year was going to be way better than last year. I think I found the better side of high school. The side where I actually had friends and I was able to speak to people without being nervous. I finally felt like I wasn’t a ghost. Like I mattered.

The End

The Land of Cards

This is no ordinary deck of cards. What makes it special is that when the cards are put in the correct order, it opens a door to a world of unimaginable magic. A world where you can do whatever you want just by thinking of it. It’s a world where your wildest fantasies can come true. A world where creatures beyond the human scope are everywhere. It is the Land of Cards. And when put in the exact reverse order, it will send you back to The Above. Essentially, the deck of cards acts as a portal between worlds. Currently, the deck is inside a vault in the most prestigious bank in the Land of Cards. There is an offsite secret prison in the Land of Cards. This prison acts as a capture for the worst of villains. One of these evil entities is the Zero of Diamonds (who goes by Zero). He is unknown to just as many people as he is powerful. With the deck of cards, he plans to travel back to The Above and retrieve a very important object. The Zero of Diamonds has a plan where he and the other villains will break out of the prison and steal the Deck of Cards. There is only one man who can stop them: the Ace of Spades (who goes by Ace). He figured out their plan through an underground network that includes the prison. The Ace of Spades is known for being one of the most special cards in the deck. This is also true in the Land of Cards. The Ace of Spades has the contrasting power to the Zero of Diamonds. Zero has all the dark power, but the Ace of Spades has an equal amount of pure power. Ace was a detective and policeman in his old life, but after being shot in the heart, going through many surgeries, and needing a heart transplant from an unknown donor, he gained surreal powers by controlling pure energy. It is not known where Zero accumulated his powers. 

Ace tries to formulate a plan to stop Zero, but he’s too late. Ace looks at the TV.

(Reporter on the News) “This just in! A group of convicts just broke out of maximum-security prison this morning and are on the run. This group includes the Zero of Spades, the Joker Twins, and the Invisible Card.” 

Zero first got captured because he shut down all the power in the Land of Cards with his dark energy and assassinated the King of Hearts. When the power went off, his daughter got into a car crash and died. In a moment of weakness, he gave himself over to the police. The Joker twins, one black and white, one in color, are the best and most deadly bank robbers ever. The went on multiple bank heists killing hundreds of people and accumulating trillions of dollars. The police anticipated their next move and captured them. The Invisible Card, also known as Blank, was with his son and they both got hit by an electrical surge. The son passed away but Blank became invisible. He was previously the Four of Spades. He used his power to kill all the people responsible for his son’s death. He was captured because one of his crimes was witnessed by a nearby policewoman and he was quickly arrested.

“I’m too late,” says Ace. “I have to get to the bank before they do.”

Ace makes his way towards the bank and gets there just in the nick of time. He sees the group of villains coming. They are one mile north and are all in an armored van they stole from the prison.

“Call the police, we are going into full lockdown mode!” yells Ace to the bank manager. 

The bank manager nods, and the cops arrive a few minutes later. 

“Okay. Here is what we need to do. Jack of Clubs, (a natural leader and Captain of the Police Force) you and your team will escort the people to safety! And take me to the vault!” Ace tells the bank manager.

Ace and the bank manager head to the vault. The bank manager does three steps to open the vault. He first enters an 8-digit code that changes every day, then he scans his palm, and lastly scans his eye.

The Deck of Cards sits right in the center of the vault – but there is also something else. Hundreds (maybe thousands) of instruction manuals are scattered around the room. The bank manager is right behind him. He wonders why there are so many instruction manuals. Is something else going on here?

Ace walks inside the vault. He takes a peek at one of the instruction manuals.

Land of Cards Maximum-Security Penitentiary Layout Plans

“Hey, why do you need the plans for the priso…” WHACK! 

Ace wakes up, half-conscious. He cannot see anything, but he feels the distinct crisp of the air. He remembers the feeling from when he was a child, but he does not remember where it’s from. However, he is certain he is still in the Land of Cards. He also feels a bag over his head.

“Whe…Where am I?” asks Ace.

“What’s the order of the cards to get to The Above?” asks a deep voice.

“Who are you? What happened to the bank manager? Is he okay?” replies Ace.

“I’m not going to ask again, so one last time. What is the order?” says the deep voice.

“I don’t know!” responds Ace.

“How did you know it acted as a portal?” says the voice.

“My father told me. He said it was an urban legend and that his grandfather or my great-grandfather used it once and that he found a note with the code but that it disappeared over time.”

Ace feels the bag being removed from his head. He sees Zero, The Joker Twins, a slight silhouette that he assumes is the invisible man, and…

“No, it can’t be… the bank manager?! Why… why would you do this?” says Ace.

“Zero is my brother. You never asked me for my real name. I am the Zero of Clubs. Well, now you know. You can call me… Null.”

“Well, Null, I promise you that I will stop all of you and make sure you guys go right back to prison. You guys don’t even know the combination. Why do you guys even want to go to The Above?”

“Hahaha. I am glad you asked. In The Above, there is this item called The Device. It is locked up in a military base. It will let me alter particles in a time span and allow me to jump to that time. I plan to go back and make sure my daughter doesn’t die,” says Zero.

“Why do the rest of you want to do it?” replies Ace.

“Same reason I am. They all either lost someone or did something they want to undo. We just want to start a new life,” says Zero.

Ace sighs. “Ok, if I help you, you have to promise – I mean really promise – that you won’t commit any more crimes ever again. And if you do, I will come for you and I will not give you another chance,” says Ace.

“We promise,” says everybody else in unison.

“Okay. My great-grandfather had a box of his belongings and left it with me. It should be in a mystic box (an invisible box in a random location of your choosing that can only be opened with a certain phrase of your choosing) downtown. I will get that. You guys try and find some history behind the deck. We’ll meet up at the Sully Bar in 2 hours.”

Everyone nods and heads their separate ways. Ace heads downtown to where his mystic box is. He hid his under the bridge in a local park. 

“To the angel of light!”

A silhouette of a box starts to become more and more distinct until it becomes completely visible. Inside that is a cardboard box with some stuff that belonged to Ace’s great-grandfather. At the top of the box there are some books, a compass, a magazine, and some movie posters that Ace has never heard of. He can’t see what’s under those items. Meanwhile, Zero and his crew are at the library looking for history behind the deck. The library is fairly small. There are approximately 3 other people there not including the librarian.

“Why are we working with Ace on this, Zero? All of us dislike him,” says Blank.

“Don’t worry,” says Zero. “He believed the story I told. Everyone knows you can’t save lives with Time Travel. As soon as we get the time machine, we’re leaving him in The Above and using the machine to go back to early Land of Cards and make it ours. We could be rulers for our whole lives.”

They make a plan of how they are going to leave Ace when they get there and go back to the Land of Cards. About an hour later, everyone meets up at the bar. They are all in the corner booth.

‘What did you guys find?” asks Ace.

“A. O Russel created the deck,” says one of the Joker Twins.

“In 1870,” says the other.

“Did you find anything?” Zero asks. 

“Take a look,” Ace says while bringing out the box he found.

He removes the compass, the books, the magazines, and the movie posters from the top. Underneath is tin tupperware of sorts that’s not much bigger than Ace’s hand. Ace opens the tin box and inside it is a piece of paper. From the slight tears all along the sides to the crumbly way it felt in his hand, Ace can tell it is very old – likely older than his great-grandfather.

To get to the treasure that you seek, use all four directions, and something that makes it unique.

“All four directions…” Zero whispers quietly.

Blank, hearing Zero, says “That must be North, East, South, West.”

“The Compass!” says Ace. “Now what makes it unique?”

“It’s the S,” says Zero. “It’s upside down. All the other letters are facing outward except for the S, which is facing inward.”

“That’s it. Now something on the compass must contain the order,” says one of the Joker twins.

Ace flips the compass upside down. He notices some inscriptions on the back of it. They’re in another language that Ace thinks is ancient or possibly even alien.

“I have a friend who is an archaeologist. I’ll send it to him and see if he can identify it,” Ace tells the group.

[2 Hours Later]

“I got it, I got it, I got it! We got the results back,” Ace says to the rest of the group. “Write this down, the order is A♥, 2♠, 8♦, J♣, 7♠, 9♦, e.t.c.”

“Well Ace, I guess this is goodbye,” says Zero.

“Nah nah nah, I’m coming with you guys and then coming right back,” Ace responds.

“Ok, I guess,” says Zero with a menacing grin on his face.

Zero slowly starts putting the cards in the right order. Five minutes later, he’s almost finished. 

“Last card, 4♣. Put your hand on the deck everyone.”

As everyone has their hands on the deck, Zero puts the last card at the end. Then everything goes white. All they see is a bright light in front of them.

[Apache Junction, Arizona, 2023]

“We’re one mile east according to my research,” says one of the Joker Twins.

“Once we get there, Blank will go in and steal it. It is not highly protected and since you are invisible, it shouldn’t be that hard,” explains Zero.

After walking for some time, they finally get to the base. There are a few armed guards in front of it, but other than that, there’s no outside security. Blank goes in through the side door. Once inside the base, he heads to the corner where The Device is located. He sneakily takes it and exits the base quickly.

Once outside, Zero starts putting the cards in reverse order. Soon, he is only a few cards away. “I’m sorry I have to do this to you again,” he says. 

Ace responds, “Do what?” WHACK!

Zero puts the rest of the cards in order. Zero and his group go back to the Land of Cards while Ace is stuck in The Above. Zero and his group use The Device to travel to the early days of the Land of Cards. It wasn’t as sophisticated, but it was still highly functional. There was an election for who could run for ruler of the land and anybody could run. Using future technology, Zero killed off the other candidates with his powers so he would win by default. He stayed ruler up until his death from old age. In the back of his mind he always felt bad for Ace, but it was too late now. Then, he remembered The Device.

 The End

Why Couldn’t They Just Watch Shrek?

My name is Tate. I’m five years old. I have a big sister named Talia. She’s fourteen years old. Last night, Talia had a sleepover with her friends Ellie and Nat. I like Ellie and Nat. I think they probably like me more than Talia, because she’s boring and mean. I think they probably only had a sleepover with Talia so they could hang out with me.

I decided to be nice to Ellie and Nat. I was going to ask them to stop watching their scary movie with Talia and watch Shrek with me instead. So, I went into Talia’s room.

“Hi, Ellie! Hi, Nat!” I said.

“Go away, Tate,” Talia said. See? I told you Talia was boring and mean.

“What are you watching? Are you watching Shrek?” I asked.

“No. We’re watching this thing about zombies,” Nat said.

“What’s zombies?” I asked.

“It’s like when somebody dies, but then they come back to life. And they’re all bloody and gross and have arms falling off of them and want to eat your brains!” Talia said, trying to scare me.

I snuck a peek at the screen. There was scary music and a hand coming out of the ground.

What I did next was not my proudest moment. I screamed and ran away.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want a zombie to eat my brains. I wanted Mommy and Daddy. But Talia and her friends were still watching scary movies in the living room, and if I went to get Mommy and Daddy, they would see, and Talia would make fun of me.

I decided to scream as loud as I could instead. Mommy and Daddy would run in, and Talia would probably think I was dying. She would be sorry she had been so mean to me.

So I screamed.

Somebody shadowy and big ran into my room fast. It was Daddy. Probably. It was hard to tell.

The big shadowy thing dropped something. The thing was long and thin. It was an arm! Talia had said that zombies had arms falling off of them!

“Tate, honey, are you okay?” That was Daddy’s voice. Daddy had arms falling off of him! Daddy was a zombie!

Then he turned on the light. I was confused for a second, because he still had both arms. I looked at the floor to see what he had dropped. It was a little too long and a little too thin to be an arm. It was the broom that sat on the other side of my door.

“Yes, Daddy, I’m okay,” I said.

“Why did you scream like that?” Daddy asked. “You scared me!”

“No reason,” I said.

“Okay, Tate-bug. Don’t do that again, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, and then I went to sleep.


It is hot. Very hot. I can feel my legs sticking together under the tight, unbearably itchy skirt I bought at a vintage shop for four dollars. I feel beads of sweat in my hairline about to make its grand appearance. The faint rumbling in the distance brings my hope up for a second, when I realize it is the R. The one positive thing about missing the train to the biggest job interview of your life so far in 97 degree weather is the gratifying gust of warm air from the wrong train. I fan myself with my hands, like that’s going to do anything. In that moment I make a decision. I’m taking a cab.

As I walk up to street level the loud sound of honking of New York makes me want to break down and cry. Can you just stop honking for one second? Sometimes I just wish that everything would just freeze. That way I could get to my interview and everything would be fine and dandy. But that’s not how life works.

I stand on the curb and flail my hand rapidly. Thankfully, a cab pulls over. I hop in so fast, you could mistake me for the flash if you squinted. I pull out my black heels and slide them on in replacement of my sneakers. I yell at the driver to take me to my location.

“Broadway and 50th please!” The man gives me a thumbs up.

Once I’m in the car and buckled up I feel a sense of relief. Lucky for me, there is air conditioning and mild traffic, so I’ll probably be there on time. I sit back and take a few breaths. In and out. Ok, game time. I pull out my laptop and open the website for the graphic art company, Art Touch NYC. I watch the company’s introductory video for the 100th time. At this point I basically have the 45 second video memorized. Next, I open YouTube to a video titled “how to ace that interview! Tips from a pro”

I’m about to watch it when I hear a voice coming from the front of the cab. 

“So why so stressed sweetheart?” the man says.

“Job interview,” I say and do that smile that you do to strangers on the street that is also used to signal that you don’t want to make a conversation with the creepy old taxi driver that just called you sweetheart. Gross.

Instead of taking my signal of the fake smile and me starting my job interview video again, he keeps talking.

“What kinda position?” 

“I’m interviewing for a graphic design job. My job will be an assistant client agent. At least that’s what the job title is called. I will basically assist and learn from the head of that branch,” I say in a quick and monotone voice. That was a sort of close ended answer, so I’m really hoping he stops talking and lets me touch up my makeup.

“Is this your first job? I’ve always had a sense for when people are stressed out. Or maybe it’s because your face is all twisted and you are so extremely frustrated with the task of untangling your ear buds,” he says, looking in the rear view mirror. He chuckles. 

There is something sort of therapeutic about his voice, but I was not in the mental state to be having small talk with my taxi driver. 

“I’m Eddie by the way”

“Isabel,” I respond. 

“Oh Isabel! What a beautiful name. You know, that’s my granddaughter’s name. She’s the sweetest girl. I think you would love her. She’s 16.”

“Cool. My younger sister is 16 also. Her name is Rebecca,” I say, almost forgetting about the interview for a moment. “I haven’t seen my family since Christmas.”

“Wow, what a coincidence! I haven’t seen my beautiful girl in a little over a year. Her mother…” he trails off and bows his head. The car pulls to a stop at a red light. “Actually, I have a picture!”

I close my laptop and look at the small picture he pulled out of his wallet. She has black hair and brown eyes. He smiles and carefully outs the picture in his wallet.

I smile. “She looks like a nice girl. What does she like to do?”

“She plays volleyball. I went to one of her junior varsity games a few years ago. She’s really good.” He chuckles and says, “I sound like I’m promoting her.”

I look out the window and stare at my surroundings. The tall building, different shops, hot dog carts, and confused tourists. The hot NYC air has become cool fast wind as the car moves down the street. I stick my head out the window like a dog. 

“I have some advice for you, Isabel. Don’t stress about the little things in life, because you won’t be young, in New York, and following your dreams for the first time forever. Now go get your job!” he says, pulling up to the building. I look at him as I’m unbuckling my seatbelt.

“Thank you.” I take my card out of my wallet. I’m about to swipe when his hand stops me. I smile at him and get out of the car. He drives off. I turn on my heel and open the door into the cold office building. It’s go time.

A Breakfast Call


Friday is always the best, I have art class in school and a longer lunch. Although today it will be devoted to 7th grade geometry. I always study last minute for tests. Breakfast as usual will be cereal. My mom has already left for work and took Katie to kindergarten. I sit at our four seat table that is squished between a staircase and the oven. Our small NYC apartment can only hold us three.

My bag is already standing by the door and my shoes are on. I quickly gulp down the extra milk and am interrupted by a bring bring. The phone never rings. We aren’t very social people. Katie’s birthday party consists of us and her two other friends. Mine are just me and Mia, but we’ve been friends since we were three years old. I bring my hand up to my ear. 

“Hello?” I squeak. My voice is shaky but I don’t know why I’m nervous.

“Ms. Williams?” A deep voice says. “I am from the local police station. Are you the daughter of Sarah Williams?”

“Yes.” My hands start getting clammy. Now I know why my breath is shaky.

“She and Katie got into an accident. They are at the D.C.R Hospital, come immediately.”

I don’t know what I should do but I know for sure that I will be missing art class and our longer lunch. My only solution is to take the subway and I know that will take at least an hour. “Sir, Mr., um, officer, I can be there in an hour minimum?”

“We have to do x-rays now.”

“Oh um… how bad are they hurt?” I say but notice he hung up. My mind starts racing through everything that has happened. How? Why? Where? I run down the street, through the places I have grown up. My strides reach over two steps as I run down the stairs into the train station. As I get into the station I see a train, the R train. Just the one I need. As I run up to it, the door closes in my face and the wind rushes through my hair. The air almost feels damp and I can feel the dirt. 

“20 minutes till the next R train.”

The station is almost empty so I let myself slip down into a ball on the floor. Thankfully the twenty minutes is only 7 and I’m headed in the right direction. I tell myself not to think about what could happen but my mind finds every way to think about it. I wonder if they will get back to normal or how hurt they are. I get off a stop early and decide to run the rest of the way there, telling myself it will be quicker.

They said there was an accident and so there would be traffic. I try not to think who was in that accident. Rain splatters the street and dampens my hair as I run through the crowded streets but I don’t care. Cars zoom past me and I look away, knowing that my sister might never ride in her car seat again.

The one other time I’d been to the hospital was when we were all playing frisbee. I fell and had to get stitches. I cried the whole way there and back. I remembered the same white hallways and plastic chairs. I remembered the smell of medicine and cleaning spray and it whacks me in the face now as I rush through the double doors. Everybody looks so calm but I am scared and way more than nervous. My hands are shaking and clammy. I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“Are you looking for anybody?” a nurse asks me.

“My mom and sister were brought here about two hours ago. I… I need to see them.”

She wraps her arms around me and leads me farther into the white. I am met by another woman dressed in the same white robe. She leads me down a white hallway and stops in front of a white door. It has a paper on it that says “Williams.” I look up at the nurse’s face and she nods towards the door.

Inside is a white bed with white pillows and white walls with a white chair. The doctor greets me and I feel relieved. Katie is in the bed and I don’t want to overwhelm her so I take her 6-year-old hand. Her eyes are closed and she has a tube attached to her wrist. I haven’t noticed that the doctor has been talking to me so I tune in.

“Basically, Katie is going to heal in the next two days.”

“What about my mom?” I cautiously ask.

“Well, she is in a worse state.” He looks down to his clipboard and starts writing again. 

“How bad?” I ask.

He glances up at me through his glasses. I hear him gulp and he turns and walks out of the door. If I wasn’t as shy, I would walk up to him and demand to know. But I just walk back over to Katie and take her hand.

The doctor knows Mom is in a bad state but I just wonder if maybe it could be worse than “a bad state.” As I’m thinking, I notice Katie’s eyes open.

“Katie!” I say. She looks at me through her glazed eyes. Her hair is thrown around her and her lips are dry and scratched. 


“Oh my god, are you okay? Does anything hurt?”

“Mmm. No,” she mumbles. I can tell from her voice that she doesn’t have much in her so I don’t say more just let her drift into sleep. 


I wake up to find the sun screaming at me through the dusty windows, and the walls seeming so much brighter than they were yesterday. A nurse is already writing something down in her notebook and Katie is sitting up in bed with a glass of water in her hand.

“She should be able to leave tonight,” the nurse tells me.

I nod happily but once the nod is over, everything starts to fill my head. Where should we go? Back home? To Dad? We only call him once a month. He doesn’t have a family yet and he does not have a stable life. He leaves where he lives every month or so and his apartment is always bare. Our only other option would be Aunt Suzy, but her crazy house and 7 dogs make it unlivable. 

By three, I’m stuffed with hospital food and apple juice. Katie is finishing up on x-rays and then we can leave. I haven’t seen Mom yet but the nurse tells me she will be here for a long time so I take her out of the picture. I tell Dad to pick us up at three which for him means four. The one thing Mom always tells us is how late he is.

By the time Katie gets out, it’s 3:30. By the time we start getting bored, it’s 4:00.

4:30 comes quickly and 5:00 passes slowly. When 6:00 comes, there’s no hope left. Katie falls asleep on my shoulder and by 7:00, I’m asleep too. I wake up at 4 in the morning to find a car swerving onto the driveway. It is very old and I can see the once black paint has now turned into a mess of scratches. I scramble up and shake Katie until she is up and yelling at me. 

“He’s here!” I tell her and thrust my finger in the direction of the car.

“Oh my god, oh my god!” she screams and runs towards the driveway. 

I pull her away for a second.

“We don’t know what he is going to be like so take it easy and try not to be too beggy or anything,” I say. She looks up at me and gives me her pouty face. But before she can say anything, he comes up to us.

“Hey girls!” he says. Katie distracts him with her cute remarks and endless hugs, which gives me enough time to look over him. His voice is deep and his beard reaches just below his chin. I can tell his jacket has been through a lot and his shoes are one step away from falling apart. His car growls and puffs. 

“Well, I guess we should get going, is this all you have?” He glances at our bags neatly placed by the bench.

“Yep.” Katie squeals and runs over to them. 

“Oh, I got it, sweety,” he says and takes it from her small hand. He tries to grab mine but I quickly clench my fist around it. His eyes meet mine and they are black, and scary.


When we get to his apartment, it is already seven in the morning. Katie and I fall asleep but I wake up as our car shakes as we run over a pothole. I know as soon as I open my eyes that this is the rundown part of town. The houses are missing shingles and lawns are dry. Windows are duck taped together and clothes are put on racks outside to dry. I look up to find Dad with one hand on the wheel and the other one holding a beer. 

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Taking you kids home,” he says. 

“I know this is my fault, but you at least could have tried to help.”

“Honey, I’m doing my best.”

“Well, showing up at four in the morning with a battered car seems like you didn’t try at all,” I yell, but try to keep my voice down. 

Katie starts to stir and I quickly shut my mouth.

“Monrin’,” Dad tells her. She yawns and stretches out her arms. “We’re here guys.”

The car slowly pulls to a stop in front of a ten story building. The once white paint has been chipped off of more than half of the building and the part that is left has now turned to a matted grey and I can tell that it is not right, that some windows are missing. I find Katie’s hand and grasp it. She looks up at me through her big eyes and I know I should have kept her more safe. Dad throws his beer can in the nearest trash. He’s never gonna change is he? Why did I trust him? Why did I think that for once he could be a Dad? Our Dad.

Dear Mockingbird

Dear Mockingbird,

Mockingbirds repeat what people say

I guess this is your way to spend the day

What do you do when there is no sound?

Do you just sit around?

When you mock people are you loud?

Does this make you proud?

Do you sometimes hear the same sound?

Do you repeat it or once again do you just sit around?

I ask myself repeatedly why do you mock

Is this the way you talk?

Flu Shot

My mother drags me, kicking and screaming, down the sidewalk. She is taking me to the doctor to get a flu shot.

“Ellie!” she scolds. “What is wrong with you?!” 

People on the street are giving us very strange looks. I don’t care. My mother pulls on my arm and I try to go in the other direction. I am crying loudly. 

I am deathly afraid of shots. Just thinking about a needle in my arm makes me shudder. 

“I… don’t want… a shot…” I wail, but I am so panicked my words get slurred together and my mother doesn’t understand what I am saying between my uncontrolled sobs.

Suddenly I realize we are right in front of the entrance to the doctor’s office. How did we get here so quickly? My mother opens the door, holding me by the wrist, and we walk in.

My sobs get quieter as I take in the familiar waiting room: colorful chairs and wallpaper, some toys and coloring sheets in the corner, and the receptionist’s desk across from us. I think to myself, can it really be that bad?

The peaceful setting calms and distracts me a little. I pick up a crayon and scribble on a coloring sheet while my mother signs in with the receptionist. I hear her say “flu shot” and I bite my nails nervously, resisting the sudden urge to make a run for the door.

A few minutes go by. A young nurse comes into the room. “Ellie Thomas?” she calls.

I jump when I hear my name. Clutching my mother’s warm hand, I follow the nurse into a narrow hallway out of the waiting area. We enter a smaller room that smells like bleach and sanitizer.

The nurse pulls out an alcohol pad and a syringe. Seeing the needle, I panic and start to sob again.

My mother bends down so she is eye-level with me. “Shhh. Ellie, it’s going to be fine. You can squeeze my hand. Don’t look at the needle.”

It takes me a few tries to find my voice. “I’m scared,” I manage to say. 

“Don’t worry,” she reassures me. “It’ll be over before you know it.”

I hiccup and my heart gets caught in my throat. I am rooted to the spot with fear.

I feel the sudden cold sensation of the alcohol pad rubbing against my skin. Wondering when the nurse is going to inject my arm, I turn to look, taking shallow, short breaths. 

Big mistake. In slow motion, I see the needle just as it pierces my skin. I let out a strangled noise as I feel a sharp stab of pain. I grip my mother’s hand tightly.

And then it is all over. The nurse sticks a bandage where the needle entered. Blinking, trying to process what just happened, I lift my arm. It feels a little sore, but that’s it.

Smiling, the nurse hands me a lollipop. My mother gives me a hug and says, “You were so brave.” Relieved, I walk out of the door. Everything is a blur. My mother signs us out and we leave the office. I feel the warm sun on my face. I did it. I survived a flu shot. It really wasn’t all that bad.

Happily sucking on my lollipop, I trail behind my mother and we walk home.


Cool and empty breaths

Leave and return

From my once vibrant colored body.

The warmth that once existed

In the transparent liquid that

Flowed through my veins 

Has now come to a halt.

It oozes and drips

From the rigid and deep wounds

That now decorate my lifeless body.

Though not inflicted these unrelenting lashes

Were obtained and accepted.

Inflicted by the creator of all,


Year after year

The sharper the simmering blade

She used Became.

It’s slick, but yet finely sharpened body

Was inserted deeper and deeper as 

Time moved forward.

Tearing deeper into my flesh.

The more the scars grew 

The more my wounds bled.

The more something within

Began to fade away.


As I woke up one Monday morning, I walked down stairs to smell the fresh bacon and pancakes stacked with butter and smothered with syrup on my plate. Mom was always excited to see my face as I noticed what new breakfast she made me that day, and I always smiled. That day I was especially excited because pancakes are my favorite food. 

“What do you think, Claire?” Mom asked as soon as I got down there. 

“Wow this looks amazing, I can’t wait to eat!” 

“Why are you not dressed yet?” Mom yelled.

“Because I wanted to take a peek at this morning’s breakfast,” I said.

“Well go get dressed now before you eat,” Mom scolded. 

So I went upstairs, got dressed, and packed my bag for school. As I was walking to my room, I could see the closed door of my mom’s bedroom and wondered where my dad had gone. Six years ago, he left us for God knows what reason. He could be dead for all I knew. I was only seven years old at the time and he just vanished out of nowhere. But I let it go and moved on with my day. I walked down stairs yet again and smelled the delicious food waiting for me. After I had eaten, I went to school with a very full and happy stomach.

Everyday last week mom had gotten a phone call from my teacher saying how missbehaved I was in class. Mom punished me very often so I’m used to it by now. I wanted to make today, and from now on a non-foolishness day so my mom doesn’t get upset with me, but of course that didn’t happen. I got yelled at for talking in class many times. When I got home, my mom was waiting for me at the kitchen table.

“Claire, you need to stop this, I can’t take it any longer,” Mom said.

“Can’t take what?” I asked.

“Your teacher called me today saying that you were talking a lot in class,” she said, disappointed.

“I’m sorry, I tried to stop interrupting but I kept talking to my friend, it won’t happen again,” I said.

“Go to your room,” my mom said quietly.

I lay in bed thinking about what life would be like if my dad were here. Would I still be having trouble in school?  Would Mom be happier? Back when my dad was still at home, I remembered him and mom making me breakfast every morning and waiting to see my face. He used to tell me stories before I went to bed. One of them I remembered was about a little girl who became a princess. Oh how much I missed my dad, I wish he would be there with me. Mom always cried about dad and how he left, she told me stories about him, but she never smiled when talking about him. I finally stopped dreaming and went to bed.

The next morning I woke up and looked forward to walking down stairs to smell the beautiful breakfast waiting for me. I hurried up and got dressed and ready for school. It was really quiet in the house but I didn’t pay it any attention. I was finally ready so I walked downstairs and didn’t see mom or any breakfast on the table.

I put my bag down and called, “Mom, Mom, Mooom.” 

No response. 

I checked every room on the bottom floor but mom wasn’t there. I went upstairs to her room and saw the closet door open. All of her clothes, gone. All of her shoes, gone. All of her bags and jackets, gone. I went in the bathroom and noticed the same thing. Her makeup bag with all of her makeup, gone. Her toothbrush and toothpaste, gone. Her hairbrush, gone. I was getting confused so I pulled the blanket off her bed and saw a note. As I opened the note I saw a $100 bill in it. The note read—

Dear Claire,

I’m sorry to do it this way, but I can’t take care of you anymore.

The stress of your bad grades, excessive calls from your 

teachers, and your dad gone is getting too much for me. I don’t know 

what to do or what you’re going to do, but I left $100 for food. Maybe 

you could ask one of your friends if you could stay with them for a while. I love you and I’m sorry.

From your mother, 


I cried and screamed as loud as I could. What am I going to do? $100 to live off of? Where did she go? I couldn’t believe it, I don’t know why she would leave or who to live with. I went to school that day without eating any breakfast. When I got to school, everyone asked me what was wrong but I couldn’t tell them. However there was one person who I could tell. Rose was my best friend, I was thinking about asking to stay with her in her huge house and small family. So when I saw her in school, I told her exactly what happened.

“Why would she just leave like that,” Rose asked.

“I have the same question, and more,” I said.

“So do you think I could stay with you for a little before things get worked out,” I ask.

“I will tell my mom and ask her, I am sure we will have space for you,” she replied.

“Thank you so much Rose,” I said while giving her a hug.

It’s been two weeks now and I very much miss my mom. I want the amazing huge breakfasts and for some reason I missed the scoldings that she gave me after school. I feel a little bit better since I am with Rose and her family, but I dont know what’s going to happen. Rose’s mom has been trying to work things out. However, I wish my mom would come back. Nobody at school knows about my mom leaving except for some teachers, and they tried to comfort me but I don’t want it.

It’s Saturday morning and Rose and I are going to a waterpark. Since I had all of my clothes in a big pile on her floor, it was hard to find my bathing suit but I finally got it. It was kind of a long drive but I was relieved when I got there. I could smell the water and all I wanted to do was just run free on the rides. Rose and I were having so much fun and we even met this really cute five-year-old girl.

“Hi, what’s your name?” we asked her.

“Claire,” she said.

“What’s yours?” Claire asked us.

“I’m Claire and that’s Rose,” I said, surprised that we had the same name.

“Are you okay?” Claire asked thinking I’m sick because I’m weirded out.

“I will take you to my daddy and he will make you feel better,” she said. 

She takes my hand and walks me to a man sitting on one of the chairs. Claire tells her dad who we are meanwhile I’m wiping my eyes. When I look up, I look at the man and I am speechless.

“Claire, is that you?” he asked me.

I was in shock so I slowly say, “Dad?”

“Yeah I can’t believe it’s really you,” he said.

Since he left me and mom I am mad. “Where have you been?!!” I yelled.

“Is this your daughter? And why is her name Claire?!” I asked.

“I know you have a lot of questions and I will answer them, sit down,” he said.                                                                                  

Rose took Claire to go play in the water while I talked to my dad. He told me his story for about     20 minutes. So when I was six, my Dad met another woman named Charlotte while he and Mom were still married. He started to love my mom less and less everyday and wanted to marry Charlotte. By the time I was seven, he didn’t love my mom any more. The only reason he waited so long was because he still loved me very much. He didn’t know what to do so he ran away with Charlotte. He got married to her and they had a baby, he missed me so much that he named the baby Claire. He said him and Charlotte are divorced now and that he missed my mom. He wants to move back with me, Claire, my mom, and him. He said we could call Claire “Clara.” I tell him how my mom abandoned me and he tells me how we could reunite. Even though I am mad at him and still confused, I missed him so much that I agree to it. So I tell Rose and her mom what’s happening and thank them. We go home and when we get to our house, I call my mom but she doesn’t answer until the 5th try. I don’t even ask or say anything except, “You have to come home NOW!!” and hang up. We are hoping she comes so we can surprise her. About 2 hours later, we hear a knock on the door and my dad slowly opens it. As surprisingly as she left, she came back. She dropped all of her things and they hugged for like 10 minutes straight. She comes over to me and hugs me until I couldn’t breath. We explain to her what we want to do and she shockingly just agrees. Surprisingly I am not mad at them anymore because our family is united after all (in addition to little Clara).

The Cure


The year is 2055. However, the world is not exactly paradise. First things first, the world is infested with a plague. “The” plague. It started about 10 years ago in St. Louis, Missouri. Some scientists were experimenting with some nuclear material. Let’s just say it didn’t end well. The nuclear tank exploded and it spilled all over. It seeped into the ground, into the rivers, and spread radiation into the air. From there, things got a lot worse. Within a week, we learned that there were serious side effects. They included horrible coughs, weakness, joint failure, heart failure, mental effects including going crazy. For example, many have lost all ability to think for themselves, and the disease has taken over their thought process. Some of the infected decided that it’s easier to die than deal with these effects. Those were only some of the many different side effects terrorizing the world.

Chapter 1

My name is Logan Campbell. I am 16 years old. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota. I grew up worrying about the plague. I remember when I was 6 years old, hearing about it on the news. My younger sister, Olivia, was curled up next to me by the fireplace, crying. A lot of people cried that day.

The plague spread rapidly, infecting more people than any other disease ever had. Many people have died. We all wear masks at all times, unless in an uninfected area. After the plague, things changed. The rules became less and less important, and survival became the most important objective. To live another day. Though I am 16, I already have a job. I work for a steel factory, so I get free food and protection. It isn’t exactly fun, but it’s a good way to live.

I enter the factory, ready for another day of work, just like any normal day. I walk over to get my gear, and start the new day. I stop, and stand still for a moment. Something is wrong. There is no noise coming from the streets. I hear a click. I recognize that sound from tests that the factory sometimes runs. It’s a bomb. 

“Everybody get down!” I yell. 

The building erupts into a fiery explosion.

I hear faint noises. I lift my head. My vision is very fuzzy. “Are you okay, are you alright?” I hear. It is my mother. 

“W-what happened?” I ask. My head hurts a lot. I can’t remember much.

“The factory was bombed by some rebels that have gone crazy. The enforcement police took care of them,” my mom replies. “Are you sure that you’re okay?” 

“Yes,” I say. “How long have I been out?” I feel like it has been a week, but I know that is foolish.

“About a day and a half,” she says. “Do you need anything?” 

“No, I’d just like to rest for a bit.” 

I need to think.

Chapter 2

I sit up, and rub my eyes. What I see doesn’t make sense. I am in some kind of prison cell, all alone. It is entirely made of metal, with a small window that seems to be made of some kind of see-through material. I finally begin to panic. 

How did I get here? Have I done something wrong, I think to myself. 

Before I can come up with an explanation, the metal door slides open. A man in a black suit and tie walks in. He looks very official. 

“Who are you?” I demand. “Where am I?”

“All of these questions will be explained,” says the man. “Just follow me.”

“Why should I follow you, and why can’t you answer my questions right here?” I yell.

“Let me start by telling you my name. I am Aaron Gates. And don’t worry, we have already informed your families about why you are here. I run this organization, that most call ARROW.”

“This is ARROW?” I ask. I have heard of them from the factory. They supposedly are trying to find a place for all of the uninfected to live. Now that I actually know where I am, I think I can at least follow this man.

“Yes, this is ARROW,” Aaron says. “Now please follow me, and I will explain why you are here.”

Chapter 3

I enter a large, dark room. There are 5 chairs set up, and 4 of them are occupied. Aaron leads me to the fifth seat, and then walks to the front of the room. Next to me is a boy with dark brown hair, and glasses. There are 2 girls next to him, and another boy on the far chair. They all look around the same age as me. I look back at Aaron, and he starts talking. 

“There is a reason that we brought the five of you here, and it is very important not just to us, but to the world. You 5 have a special immunity in your brains, that no other living organism has. This causes you to be immune to the Plague.” 

All of us just sit there, stunned. 

Aaron continues. “We have studied you ever since you got your first blood test at the age of 5. When we tested the blood with the Plague disease, only your blood did not react to it. That is why we brought you here. Now you may be wondering why all of you are around the same age. Well, that is because when the Plague broke out, the government put a chip in everyone’s brain, to track your health. The 5 of you got your chip on the same day, in the same place, and only 5 people got their chip there that day.” 

I don’t remember getting my chip. All of the memories before it got erased. Because of this, the government gives you the chip at the age of 4, one year before the blood test. We all still knew how to talk, and how things work, but we had no memories.

The boy next to me speaks. “Why does our chip make us immune to the Plague, then?”

“The chips that you got were broken, and we didn’t know it at the time. The broken chip caused something in your brain to malfunction, and immunity to the Plague was one of the side effects.” 

For the second time in a couple of minutes, we all look stunned.

“I understand all of this, but what exactly are we here for?” I ask.

Aaron smiles. “I was about to get to that part,” he says.

Chapter 4

“Your job is very simple, and it will not require a lot of hard work on your part. We will first take a sample of your blood to study, and hopefully we can find a way to make some kind of a cure. After that, your job here is over.”

“Wow,” I say. “That was a lot less complicated than I thought it would be.”

“Yes indeed. For you, it will not take much effort. Now I think we should get the blood samples sooner rather than later, shall we?” Aaron asks.

Aaron leads us through a long, stainless steel corridor. We eventually reach a small room made entirely out of glass. Aaron opens the door by entering a 4 digit code. He then opens the door and ushers the 5 of us in. He leads us to a bench, where we all take our seats. 

“Now not to worry, the blood samples will not hurt very much. Just stay calm, and it will be over very quickly,” Aaron says. 

He picks up a needle, with the ARROW logo imprinted on it. He then walks in my direction. “Hold out your arm please,” Aaron asks. 

I hold out my arm, and prepare for the needle. I watch it enter my arm, and take my blood along with it. It stings, but doesn’t hurt that badly. Aaron opens a drawer, and pulls out a bandage. He wraps it around my arm over the cut.

After Aaron finishes getting everyone’s blood samples, we are led to our quarters. “You will be given dinner shortly, and when you are done, you can just leave it outside of your rooms. We will come around and collect it. Please try and get some sleep after dinner, and if you need anything, there will be a speaker on your wall. Click on the gray button, and you will be able to directly speak to me,” Aaron says to us. “There will be restrooms in your quarters, and don’t hesitate to ask us for anything. Does anyone have any questions?” 

No one answers. It has been a long day, and I am very tired. I enter my quarters to try and get some sleep.

Chapter 5

I awake to the sound of birds chirping. It is very calm and peaceful here. Nothing seems to be exploding at the moment. I enter the restroom, and see that we have been provided with a toothbrush and toothpaste. I brush my teeth, and then lay back down on the bed. After a few minutes, the intercom makes an announcement. “Breakfast will be served in 10 minutes in the common room. There will be signs there to direct you to it. We have some important news.”  

I walk over to the door. It is a heavy, steel door, and it looks kind of like it belongs on a refrigerator. I swing it open and head to breakfast.

I reach the common room with some difficulty, because it turns out that there are 2 common rooms. Once I get to the correct room, I set down to find a plate of eggs and toast waiting for me. This would be the best breakfast that I have had in awhile. Once everyone gets to the common room, Aaron comes out of his office. 

“This is a very special day for ARROW,” he says, “thanks to the 5 of you, we have successfully developed a cure for the Plague.”

“Are you serious?” one of the girls asks. “That’s amazing!” I think of my family back at home. ARROW actually found a cure! My family, and everyone else, would be safe from all of this pain and suffering.

“It really—” Aaron gets cut off by a rumbling noise. All of the windows in the entire complex shatter. A bunch of people in black uniforms climb in the building. I run away from the wreckage and hide behind a wall. The intruders break into the ARROW laboratory. Half of the workers and immunes are lying on the ground, either dead or unconscious. The other half are hiding like me. I run farther away from the intruders and find a large TV screen. I run as fast as I can and slide behind it. I watch and see the intruders come out of the laboratory. They are holding a syringe with a purple-ish color. 

The cure! They are stealing the cure! I should probably do something to stop them, but there was nothing that I could do about it. The man holding the syringe grabbed onto a rope, and was pulled up and out of the building. The remaining intruders scrambled to all of the walls along the complex, and seemed to be placing something on them. Bombs, I realized. They were placing bombs! I had to leave now. 

I ran as fast as I could, faster than I ever had before, and looked for some place to leave the complex. I found a hole made by one of the bombs and ran at it as fast as I could. I raced along the broken floors, my only focus on making it outside. I raced past bullets and exploding walls and finally made it out of the building. I ran and ran until I couldn’t see the complex. I had to get out of there, or I would be killed. I raced along the forest and sprung out into the cold, winter wind.

32 Degrees


As the sun dipped lower and lower beneath the January horizon beyond the bay, the nightlife of the neighborhood only increased in energy. Bar signs buzzed to life, illuminating the dark colored coats of the pedestrians polluting the sidewalks. Hot dog carts continued to hand out hot pretzels in the cold air and cars sat still in traffic, horns honking and yells escaping from passenger windows. I watched this scene go on from the safety of my warm bedroom. I wasn’t planning on leaving my house anytime soon. At least, not while it was still cold out. I couldn’t even leave by choice, anyway. Although it was a new year, a fresh start, I couldn’t forget what happened in December. What confined me to my house until the end of Christmas break, what confined me to myself.


“Let’s go, Ellie! We don’t have all day!” my brother yelled from the hallway, impatient. 

“Cool it! I’m putting my hat on,” I yelled back. That was a lie. I didn’t even have my coat on, and I wasn’t making an effort to. I stared at it, hanging in my closet. There was no way I was going with Jack. I hated his friends, and I hated sledding. I loved the cold, don’t get me wrong. Snow, wind, all of it. It’s the sledding that bugs me. Too much chance between injury and safety. But Mom said I had to go with Jack, and there’s no arguing with her during her free time. My mind wandered to all the mistaken times I had argued with her during her breaks from the hospital – some funny, some not. 

Ellie! Move it, please!” Jack screeched again, breaking me out of my trance.  I really didn’t feel like having to deal with an angry Mom, so I tugged my coat on and sped out into the hallway, crashing into the wall thanks to my slippery socks. Jack glared at me. 

“Smooth move. Speed it along, Ell, c’mon!” he exclaimed, drumming his fingers on the counter top. As I tied the laces of my boots, I gave him a dirty look. He knew how much his one particular pal, Lionel, annoyed me. The kid doesn’t have an off button, neither for his rapidly moving mouth or rapidly moving body. It never ends with him. But I thought of the steamy hot chocolate that would be waiting for me when we’d return a couple hours later, so I pulled on my gloves and walked out onto the street, a gust of wind hitting my face immediately. 

This is the aspect of the city that I absolutely adore. The scent of honey roasted peanuts, the yelling of crossing guards. As I speed walked to keep up with my overly ecstatic brother, I took the time to look at the city I loved, something I don’t do enough. There’s nothing that would make me want to give it up, ever. Not even the delays of the R train. 


“Lionel, are you kidding me?” I shouted from the bottom of the icy hill. I watched him attempt to shoot snowballs into the trash can, but hitting innocent park-goers instead who whipped around in annoyance. He turned his head, widening his eyes in a Bambi-like way. I couldn’t take this anymore. As soon as we got back home, which didn’t look like it would be anytime soon, I was going to ask Mom to contact poor Lionel’s mother about his ridiculousness. Although, I should phrase it to be more formal if I want any change to happen. 

“Ellie, he’s not doing anything!” Jack shouted back, a grin across his face. 

“Don’t play with me! You can and will get in trouble for this!” I warned, losing my wit. 

Jack’s merry gang erupted into laughter. I rolled my eyes and sat down on a bench. Thankfully, Lionel ceased his firing of snowballs and plopped onto a sled, challenging Jack and the group to a race. I thought nothing of it and continued to look at the scene around me. I was again filled with glee and gratitude to experience this majestic city, this majestic neighborhood. The rose colored awning of my favorite cafe, the green street signs. I became entranced, like with the coat, but loads more happy. I glanced over at the aspiring group of Evel Knievels every so often, still seeing it as innocuous. All good. 


It wasn’t until I heard a voice screech for help, for 911, that I saw the steady stream of red stain the icy snow. I leapt up and sprinted over, concerned. When I really freaked out was when I saw the familiar neon green of Lionel’s hat also soaked crimson, and his body twisted in his sled. I almost fainted, but when I saw Jack’s innocent expression covered in tears, I knew I had to do something. I found the nearest adult and called 911, explaining all I knew. If only I looked closer at the injury would I have known the deep cut in his head, if I only I had been more worried about why Lionel’s hat was more bloody than anything, if only I noticed Jack holding his head up. If only.

The red of the ambulance sirens combined with the red of Lionel’s body, the red of Jack’s coat, the red of the snow. The red of the storefronts across the street only added to the overstimulation of color that made my eyes glaze, barely noticing the urgent calls of the EMTs as they loaded Lionel onto the gurney. They asked for my parent’s number, but I didn’t pay attention. Jack, my little brother, who was two years my junior, who was celebrating his eleventh birthday in a week, had to answer. Guilt washed over me, making everything worse. I sat numbly in the back seat of our car as Mom raced to the hospital, crammed with Jack and his three other friends. I sank into a chair in the waiting room as Lionel’s dad rushed through the door. Everything was red. 


Here I was again, sitting on my bed, staring into the abyss. The only difference was the week that had passed. Yesterday was Jack’s birthday, but it was nothing that he should have received. He unwrapped his presents slow as ever, and broke down crying when he reached for Lionel’s gift wrapped in comic book pages. I sat next to him and rubbed his back, yet no emotions reached me. I was numb. Still. Today was the funeral. I’m surprised I’m allowed to leave the house, especially for such a solemn event that I had assumed an unfortunate role in. I didn’t want raging Mom to reappear, so I swung my closet door open and unhooked the black dress. I slipped it on and walked out into the hallway, no motivation in my step. I couldn’t get the red out of my mind. Everything around me was painted a shade of red. I was intoxicated by guilt, by sadness, by anger. 

The car drive to the church hung with pain in the air. My dad’s knuckles turned a ghostly shade of white as he gripped the steering wheel. My mom had her foot tapping quietly on the carpeted floor of the car, staring out into the gray morning of this day. Jack clutched his stuffed bear from his babyhood. It emerged from the depths of his dresser on only the most difficult days. Once again, guilt drowned me. The amount of times I’ve been told it wasn’t my fault are uncountable, mostly because I don’t agree. Sure, I hadn’t caused him to veer into a pole, sure I hadn’t told them it was time to leave. But I wasn’t watching them. I was too occupied in my own thoughts, in a daze. Selfish. Lonely. Red. 

The funeral service was empty. The pews were filled with elderly relatives of Lionel’s, with adult friends sitting down somberly, quietly crying. The most painful image was the youthful faces, the small bodies in oversized black suits, the glossy cheeks, the downcast eyes. The absence of fidgeting and laughter. The capita was well over 250, but all 250 souls were empty. My family sat with the other families that were friends with Lionel’s near the front. I joined them, but as soon as his brother, a highschool junior, made his way up to the podium, I cleared my throat and excused myself to the bathroom.

I stared into the dusty mirror, my hands leaning on the sink. I was looking at my reflection, but really my mind was tethered to the possibility of the dangerous “what if.” I swore to myself that I wouldn’t let myself slip down that rabbit hole when we first returned home after the hosp- no. I knew deep inside even thinking about the events that really happened would pull me down a dangerous path, so I let my eyes drift to the wooden cross that hung between the pair of mirrors. I touched it softly and stared at it for some time. Even though I didn’t believe in a greater power, I angrily thought, why Lionel? I didn’t appreciate his presence, that’s for sure. But I knew that he was always polite to my parents, that he comforted my brother after the death of his hamster, Carl, and that he always said hi to me, even though I returned it only once in a blue moon. He was a sweet kid, one with a promising future. The universe really messed up on this one. I rapped my knuckles on the wall once, just to see if I still existed in this dimension and that I hadn’t been sucked into a vacuum of cognitive eternity. I splashed cold water on my face, a double check that I was still there, and slowly returned to my seat in the fourth pew. 


As I mentioned earlier, I was sentenced to my room. At first by my parents, because although they don’t blame me for the accident, I was “irresponsible and should’ve had a closer eye watching,” which resulted in a short grounding. That punishment ended a few days ago. Now, my own subconscious kept me inside my four walls. 

Don’t lecture me about closure and moving on, yadayadayada. Yeah, yeah, I know. I still can’t escape the essence of guilt that’s decided to live in me. I want to gain closure, and my parents have told me that Lionel’s family is open to a discussion, but I can’t bring myself to leave my room. And I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried to convince myself that it’s ok. The voice in my head won’t retire its role. Escape is inevitable, but if I get to harbor in my room, the trade off isn’t horrible. 


Someone should tell me more often to not believe myself so strongly. Dad dragged me out of the house this morning to go grocery shopping. He called it father daughter bonding time. I smiled weakly at him, knowing he knows I called his bluff. I mean, I haven’t been attempting to hide my cave-like behaviors from my family. I get it that he knows what I’m doing. I get that he wants to help. 

We left our sweet, cozy home and walked into the gusty January street. Dad started talking about my uncle and how he just got engaged. I nodded along, but kept my eyes down to the sidewalk. I reaaaaally didn’t feel like being outside, especially with the park looming closely. We kept walking, and I noticed my dad stopped chattering. I looked at him, and he looked back and smiled a little smile. 

“Ell, you do know it’s not your fault,” he said, looking right into my eyes. 

I returned his gaze, and for the sake of my kind old dad, I responded.

“Thank you. I know.” Do I? 

He grinned, happy that he got words out of me. Dad then started humming our song. “Higher and Higher,” Eddie Money. It became our thing after he bought a record player and started bringing out his and Mom’s vinyls. He’d play Eddie Money every morning, and this song quickly became ours. I swear, my dad is an evil genius or something. How did he know that one tune would make me giggle?

“Alrighty, Ell. I see that you’re back to your old ways. Chop chop!” He laughed. 

“Spare me, Dad! It’s been a little bit since I’ve left the house,” I shot back jokingly.

We made our way to the co-op that my parents are members of, and the warm air blasted into my face. This was a place that I had ambivalent feelings about. Its location of an old horse stable attracted me, with its brick walls and large floor plan. However, every other family in the neighborhood is a member as well. The general population knows my dad somehow, and I was not in the mood for doing the whole “Wow, you’ve gotten so tall! How’s school? What sports are you playing?” Routine that greets me way too often. It was inevitable, though. Who was I kidding?

We wandered around the close-quartered aisles for a while in a pointless fashion. Another quirk about shopping with Dad: a reliable grocery list is far out of reality. At this point, we’d already encountered a couple of friends, and my cheeks still burned a fiery red. I really was not prepared to talk to people again. But of course I plastered an ingenuine smile and answered every question. It kind of irked me how happy these people were. I mean, of course everyone deserves a happy life, but they hadn’t experienced what I’ve had to. They carried on their days oblivious to the terrifying events I’ve been in. Frankly, it kind of sucks. I made it through, though, and somehow we made it to the checkout without any more interactions with grinning adults. To make up for being grumpy while we walked here, I asked my dad about his brother and his fiancée. He began talking about how he thought they rushed into it too fast, and really, I tried to pay attention. But the store was increasingly stuffy and I was paranoid of more intercepting conversation that became obstacles in my straightforward plan to get back home. So I ended up not listening. However, in my daze, a bright yellow flyer caught my eye, positioned on the community billboard above the cashier’s head. Words like “fairy lights” and “sponge cake” and “silver chairs” floated into my head, but I focused on the poster. It read “Death of a loved one? Hard time coping? Come to our weekly meetings at the 58th Street Public Library for a safe space to talk! Free to the public, all ages welcome!” I scoffed, and my dad turned to look at me as he pulled bills out of his wallet. 

“So you agree that the lace placemats are ludicrous?” he asked.

“What?” I exclaimed, suddenly jolted out of my trance.

“Lace placemats are unoriginal and tacky, don’t you think?” he repeated. 

“Oh! Oh, yes, yes, duh,” I said. 

Sometimes I don’t understand my dad. But that wasn’t on my mind as he handed me tote bags filled with groceries. The neon flyer was swirling around in my head. I find it hard to believe that anyone else in New York has witnessed a kid have blood pouring out of his head. Whatever. The sessions were probably filled with creeps. Not my scene whatsoever. 


Eventually, winter break ended. School was gearing up again. Jack and I went to a K-8 private school on 60th and Third Avenue, and in 6 hours I would be arriving at the front doors at 8:00 am. Guess who still didn’t feel like socializing? You’ve got it right, no doubt. I stared at my ceiling for hours, thinking of scenarios that could happen tomorrow in class. I could be pegged as the murder accomplice, or the pyschopath, or the- I don’t know. But I’m positive that I’ll be outcasted almost immediately. 

I spent the rest of my night thinking and tossing and turning. The terrible Ts. I spent most of my night on my bed, either lying down or sitting up. Whatever it was, I was quiet. 

I walked through the glass revolving doors of the Lincoln School at eight o’clock on the dot the next day. I felt a little better after I thought a ton last night. I didn’t make much progress, but something is better than nothing. I walked into my first period English class, head held up in the most everyday way. My gaze was met by the sympathetic eyes of my friends Georgia and Marley. I returned the gesture with a cocked head and I sat down next to Georgia. 

“Hi?” I said, unzipping my bag.

“Hey, Ellie,” they sung in a pitiful croon.

“How was your break, guys?” I asked neutrally, flipping open my book. Not only are they dramatic, but also tragically transparent. 

They stared at me through doe eyes. After some awkward silence, Marley nudged Georgia’s arm. 

“Stage one, I bet,” he whispered to her, maintaining sad and very weird eye contact with me. 

Georgia nodded, and pulled a pencil out and started drawing a tic-tac-toe grid in her notebook. That invited a wonderful quiet for a few minutes. 

“Wait, what?” Georgia said out of nowhere, dropping her pencil. 

“Oh my god, could you be any more obvious?!” Marley screeched, snapping his body to face her.

“I wouldn’t have to be if you weren’t so vague about stages or whatever!” she retorted, her pale cheeks flushing. 

I interjected before any fights could start. 

“Mar, chill. Georgia, he’s doing a terrible job of saying I’m in stage one of five of grief: denial,” I explained, rolling my eyes.

“Oh, ok. Well, he’s right then,” she responded, satisfied. 

“Thank you. And, Ell, you know that we’re, you know, here for you. That stuff,” Marley said in the most serious way I’ve ever heard. Georgia nodded.

“Thanks. I’m fine, though. Nothing along the lines of denial. Really,” I promised. Don’t get me wrong, I love these two to the ends of the world. But I don’t really think they’re going to be much help, and I don’t really want pity. I don’t really deserve it. 

They simultaneously scoffed. 

“I don’t believe that at all. For real, there’s nothing that you can talk to us about?” Marley pressed on, clasping his hands together. Luckily, Mr. Riley strutted in.

“Morning, class! Hope you’ve quickly transitioned back into the classroom, because we’re starting a new unit!” Mr. Riley announced as he picked up a piece of chalk and set down his messenger bag.

“For Pete’s sake,” Georgia grumbled. “Let us breathe!” 

It was reassuring to see her slide back into her cynical self. 

Mr. Riley ignored her remark. He scribbled the word “pajamas” on the black slate, and turned around to survey the class. “Well?” he prompted.

“TJ Maxx!” yelled out Charlie, a kid sitting in the back of the room. Mr. Riley clasped his hands. 

“Comedy gold there, Char. Any other contenders?” he asked with a grin.

I tentatively raised my hand. Mr Riley nodded, and Marley shook his head. “Denial!” he whisper screamed accusingly, leaning halfway onto my desk. 

“Comfort?” I suggested. Mr. Riley smiled.

“Good, good! Let’s get the ball rolling,” he exclaimed, writing the word “comfort” below “pajamas.” After a couple minutes, the board was filled with words like “childhood” and “warmth.”

“You guys are hitting the nail on the head! Good work. Now, I’ll tell you what I mean by pajamas,” he cheered.

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” was scrawled on the board, and Mr. Riley twirled around. 

Marley raised his hand confidently. “Isn’t this the book about a Nazi kid who becomes besties with a Jew in a concentration camp?”

Mr. Riley nodded. “Pretty much sums it up. With Marley’s summary, what initial thoughts do you have about the book? The central themes, characters?” 

I glanced around the room. I saw some palms go up, and I heard mentions of death. Snippets of pain, sentiment, innocence. I really wish I could get over myself, but – I felt tears pool in my eyes. I hung my head down, and I felt a kid named Matt who sits at the desk next to me poking my shoulder. “You good?” 

I turn to look at him. At that point, all I could think about was why do people ask that stupid question. My lip quivered and I snatched the hall pass. The distance between room 203 and the bathroom has never seemed longer. I shuddered as I slumped against a stall wall in the bathroom. I hugged my knees and sobbed. Minutes, or centuries, pass by as numb thoughts bounce around my brain. I finally heard a heavenly knock at the door. “Ellie?” Mr. Riley’s familiar voice echoed in the tiled room. 

“That’s me,” I respond. 

“Nice one. I know this is kind of a dumb question, but, uh, are you okay?” he asked softly.

I laughed as I stood up. “Sure.” I stared at the black and white speckled wall. 

“Hey, why don’t you come out of that stall?” he suggested. “I can’t really come in there, right?”

I walked out of the pale blue room and kept my head low as I greeted him quietly. 

“Why’d you run out? What happened?” He asked, looking down at me. 

“Can we sit?” I interjected. 

“Yeah, why not,” he agrees. We take a seat, side by side against the lockers. 

“Mr Riley, do-did you know Lionel, in fifth grade?” I start bluntly.

“Oh. Yeah. Is this what is, uh, affecting you?” He said back.

“To put it lightly, sure,” I sneer. “Sorry.”

“Nah, I get it. If you don’t mind my asking, how did you know about it? Or, rather, Lionel?”

“He was a friend of my little brother’s, and um, I was babysitting them, I guess? I mean, not technically, but. Yeah, I was,” I explained in one breath. I heaved a heavy sigh and turned to Mr Riley. He nodded, but didn’t open his mouth and didn’t turn to look at me.

“It was gruesome. Seriously. And I know I didn’t, well, kill him, but I feel like I played a bit too much of a role in his death. And it hurts. So damn bad. I wish I could go back in time,” I continue. Now, Mr Riley turned his head. 

“I don’t talk about this much,” he began, fiddling with the gold band on his ring finger. I instantly get the message. “But a couple years-3 years back,” he went on. “My beautifully perfect wife, Jessie, died in a car crash. She was heading home from her job at a newspaper outlet, doing her dream job. And uh, I was home, making dinner, and then the police showed up on my stoop. Worst day of my life by far.”

A tingling shoots up my spine. I meet his eye. 

“Whoa. That is awful, Mr Riley. I’m really sorry,” I say back, without realizing my hypocrisy in saying that apologetic phrase. In a filing cabinet in the corner of my mind, I have all the memories of people offering a plain “sorry.”

“I just want you to know that I understand how you feel. It’s hard. It is, but you’re not the only one out there who deals with it. I say that because I need you to know I’m here for you,” he concluded.

“Thank you. That means a lot. I’m not anywhere close to being ok about all of this, but I’d like to know how you dealt with…it,” I asked. 

“Loaded question, ha! It took a whole lot. Time, really. But I channeled my depressed energy into things I loved. My friends and family, books, teaching. Things that I had still, and things that made life worth it. It took a hell of a time, don’t be fooled,” Mr Riley replied. “Should we head back to class? I have a strong feeling this book could be a lot of help. Yeah?” He stood up, and reached out a hand. I took it. 


It’s May now. My class finished The Boy in the Striped Pajamas weeks and weeks ago, but I think this is my sixth cycle through it. I ended up using Mr Siney’s advice. To focus on the good in my life. That meant seeing an Eddie Money concert with my dad, and baking with my brother and my mom every Sunday afternoon. I created a PTSD/safe space club with Marley and Georgia, and Mr. Riley eagerly offered to be the club’s advisor. I started helping out at the garden at the park across the street and started walking my neighbor’s dog around the large perimeter of the park. 

And to explain my passion for my new favorite book: the book is about the innocence and boundless passion kids have, and who they are superficially doesn’t matter to their friends. I feel like Lionel seamlessly expressed that claim, that he loved my brother and loved life. The book has nestled into a meaningful place in my life, and time and again will I open its front cover, where I wrote a dedication to Lionel and my loved ones. The duration of this spring has educated me on the values of life, the values of love, and the values of strength. Oh, and I painted my bedroom door cherry red and planted Calypso tulips in my backyard.

A Question – Unanswered – Solved

Chapter 1~That Feeling

I’m feeling uninspired

I look to my favorite quotes

Today was reading…

…and remembering…

…someone might be feeling 

beautiful in literature

Chapter 2~The Beginning

The pounding in my head

The whisper in my soul

I close my eyes

I roll over

Try to fill the empty hole

The door opens

Tam pokes her head in

She says it’s time

That I should get right out of bed

She knows that I’m missing

The sister I loved

Until she died that horrible night

When she was finally pushed too far….

Chapter 3~Cowardly Me

Tam tells me I need practice

To have courage…

…be brave

But how can I

After a girl was brave

And left so much behind


Life goes on

So I turn to the mirror

I take a breath in and I say to myself

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

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

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

I get a questioning look from Tam

But she says no more about it

She hands me my backpack

Opens the door

I walk toward school


My home is out of sight

Then I quickly turn around


Up a tree

I pull out my notebook…

…though it doesn’t look like one

With a yellowing leather outside

Tattered looking pages

It looks more like a box

Chapter 4~Disguised

Disguised as a box

Looking old

Looking real

Though it’s not

Disguised as something to keep feelings in

But really

It’s the perfect way

For me to let them out

Chapter 5 ~Moms

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

The daughter that they wouldn’t be able to save

That’s right my mom is gay

So is my mom…


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

Chapter 6~Messages

I write to my mom, mom, and sister

I write to the family that could’ve been mine

If I stayed with them

I wouldn’t be drowning

In the pain of being abandoned

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

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

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

By Tam, the friend, that still lives today

But I wonder, how much happiness is alive

Chapter 7~The Finding

I write for seconds

For minutes

For hours 


I gather my stuff

I climb down the tree and I think of my life

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

She is my guardian although I’m almost eighteen

I know she is scared with my sudden appearance

She plans to send me away for summer

So she can sort out her life

So now

I will be spending two months in a library

I get home and look for my bff

To finish lying an answer to all of her hopeful questions

I find a note on my bed

After five minutes of frantically searching


Ten minutes of staying calm

It says:

Dear Alex, 

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

Luv ya, 


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

Chapter 8~Betrayal

The car rumbles

It groans

It creaks

It treks along

Without much attention

How can I?

I mean…

I just got abandoned

The third time

In seventeen years

By the one I thought I could trust

Why is it that this happens

So what it is a library

My new home

My old sanctuary

So what she thinks this is best

For me

For her

Don’t I know what’s best

For the person who’s been through more

She said it herself

In the letter she wrote

I guess it is fate

That my high

Is my low

Chapter 9~Arrival

It’s modern

But old

Split in half

Like my soul

It’s brick

But stone

Half and half

Like my heart

It’s warm

But cold


Like my life

My thoughts

My emotions

My feelings

My brain

My body

My soul

My heart


Chapter 10~Getting It Over With

So many things happen so quick

A smile

A wave

A kiss

A hug

A ride

A candy

A book

A movie

Even though we try

And try

We try to make them last

The librarian looks

The assistant stares

I realize

In horror

I said it aloud

The feelings I felt

All out there

Not personal

I know I’m blushing

But I need to know more

I take a deep breath

I walk over

The librarian




Keeps it in

Like she notices


Never noticed before

Almost about

The way I speak

And then try to fix it


And then I see her staring

At my deep eyes

That seem to know all

Just how I imagined my dad’s

Beautiful eyes would look

She answers

The silent question

Somehow passed between us

She is Molly

My director

Of her newest idea

She is teaching


About writing


They will room

In the basement

Of the library



I am alone

I am the only one

She gives me the keys

And walks

Out the door

Chapter 11~The Call

I call Tam

But to tell the truth

I’d rather not talk about what was said

Thanks for understanding

I knew that I could always count

On you

To understand…


Chapter 12~Reflection

I know


Alex Pander

Am scared

I have never spent the night



I dream

Of my chance

My hope

Of feeling





Like the author

I wanted


To be

I feel

A librarian

Will know


I feel


I will ask

I will beg for an answer

For my question

I haven’t figured out

Chapter 13~Dreams


My favorite land

The one where I can escape

I slip away

Like a slug

In the rain

Like a speck

In a river

Like water

In my hand

Like my sister

In my our life

I slip

To a place

Where I




A place

I enter


Is wonderful

I fly

With my sister

In my


Coming home

To my birth


With a hug

Then we



To my moms

For kisses



An encouraging


On the hand

From my sis

I see Tam


Aren’t enough

I wake up

Eyes streaming

Knowing that



Is here

To stay

Chapter 14~Questions

They swirl

Through my head



In a storm

Like water

In a river

Like the fireworks

On Independence Day

So bright


So far

The door


It unlocks

It creaks

The clock stops ticking

And the bird

On the cuckoo clock

Stops singing

As a librarian


Her throne room

You can tell

Her power

In just one finger to her lips

You can see her brain working

In charge of all these books

You know she has the answer

You just don’t know how to ask

I will start with the one

That decides it all

Is she wise

Is it fake

Is it worth asking more

I blurt it out

It’s over


She looks at me closely

I know that she’s won

No matter the question

The answer

The explanation

She knows

Just not the way you expect

She opens her mouth












I am going to make you a poem

I gasp

I shake

No one

Ever has made


A poem

Not even a librarian

She tells me to read

For the day

Which is fine

I take the time

To watch

And learn

My poem blossom

Chapter 15~The Fruit

A letter

Has friends

Twenty five of them


Stuck with them


No room

For any


A word

Is made

Out of letters

Forced to be friends

A chance for friendship

If not


A sentence

Made of words

That were made

Out of letters

A chance for a new life

A new meaning

Sometimes good

Sometimes bad

A punctuation mark

Has it worst of all

Forced to end

In a questioning fashion

An exclaiming one

A boring one

Forced to end

A sentence

In which




Doesn’t believe

And yet

They stay

Until someone

Helps them out

Rearranges everything

Until change is needed again


Change is happening

So life isn’t perfect


If life

Stayed the same

It might be worse

But when things stop changing for a little

You will see

That change was hard

But it is nice to be free

You are

Who you decide

To be

And you are

The person

That believes

In what you


That feels

The way

You feel

That looks

The way

You look

That knows

The things

You know

You are you

You will change

You will stay

But no matter what happens

You will always be you

So accept your life

After all

It’s yours

Chapter 16~Crickets

She reads it aloud

In her soothing voice

It’s soft

It’s calm

Like she’s been through my life

She looks familiar

Like someone that looks like everyone you meet

I ask her about her voice

Tell her that it is beautiful

She laughs a tinkly laugh

And says

That it 

Is silvery




She opens her arms

But I turn away

She walks towards me anyway

Her hug gives me power

Her black curly hair


Like strawberries

And is so soft

Her breath is warm

As it hits my cheek

And when she draws back

I wish I could go on forever

Like if I could feel

That warm




I felt just then

Everything would be


Chapter 17~Is This What It Feels Like?

My world is falling

The punch in my gut

The ocean in my head

The ache in my heart

The swaying on my feet

I fall

She falls

We fall

I’m holding on

She’s holding on

Can’t grasp

Life flashes

Is this

I don’t want to know


So fast







Too much DEATH!!!

I need to see

To know

I fall

My eyes are fluttering

My vision works

But doesn’t

One last


Is this

What it

Feels like

To die?

My eyes shut

And nothing else happens for hours

Dreamless sleep

Just sleep

That is all it is




Everything I needed

After such a life

Chapter 18~How

I wake up

She’s doing it

Reading my favorite book

I wonder how she knew

It’s really called:

The Afterlife And How To Get There

But I prefer to call it:

Where Will I go Next


Of focusing


My favorite book

The room



My attention

Like the sun

On glass

In the middle

Of nothing

The wooden floors

With the soft



Rug that

Captures my


I lie

On a couch


A blanket

So soft

And fuzzy

It’s purple

Like my soul

Is what my sister

Would’ve said

In her beautiful way

That makes me love

The one that

I will never again

Get to hold

Chapter 19~Mine

My angel

My master

My leader

My god

My teacher

My guardian

My librarian

I take this


To take

A look

Of my savior

With the black

Curly hair

That smells

Like strawberry fields

That those bugs wrote

A song about


The fruit

Is forever

Where I

Get taken

To strawberry


She has deep

Brown eyes

Which is uncommon

I guess

Not really

But whenever


Points out

Beautiful eyes

They are a


Dazzling blue

But I like brown

So wise

So calm

She has these pink lips

That are pink



Or lip gloss

Or any of that stuff

I despise

That was pushed

On me

Not so long


She has no nose ring

Like the girls

In my school

When I went there

She wears

A sensible


With flowers

The kinda

Thing you expect

A librarian to wear

She is looking at me

As I look at her

And deep in my heart

I wish that she were mine

Her lips move

And yet I hear

No sound

But in my head

I know

That I am in her home

And yet my heart

Feels like lead

I spend the rest of the day

In and out of sleep

Until I wake up in the morning

To the librarian

Shaking me

Telling me

To wake up

We need to go

I get my stuff

Get in her car

Drive 5 minutes

To the library

Where she tells me

To sit

In her desk


I have been


As the new


And she is leaving now

And to read the note

On the desk

Once she has left

She produces

A suitcase

Out of

The desk

And walks out the door



…i guess…

Chapter 20~Notes

My son, 

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



All along

It was her

The one

I hoped was mine

So lost

Who found me

She betrayed me

I thought I had

Her trust

But now

I know

That she is there

And yet


Like a mockingbird

Stealing others’ songs


If I could ask

If she came back

I would be fine

But now

I just hope

Nobody else hurts me


The Fair Princess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five moons ago:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Put me down!” she protested, struggling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender Inequality Through Time

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

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

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

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

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

Kasulis, Kelly. “The 2,500-Year-Old Roots of Gender Inequality – The Boston Globe.”, The Boston Globe, 4 Mar. 2017,

News, ABC, director. Jennifer Lawrence Opens Up on Hollywood’s Gender Pay Gap. YouTube, YouTube, 14 Oct. 2015,

Phineas, Rueckert. “Benedict Cumberbatch Won’t Take a Role If Female Co-Star Isn’t Paid Equally.” Global Citizen, 14 May 2018,

Phineas, Rueckert. “Emma Stone: Male Co-Stars Have Taken Pay Cuts to Promote Gender Equality.” Global Citizen, 7 July 2017,

Yousafzai, Malala. “Malala’s Story: Malala Fund.” Malala’s Story | Malala Fund,

LA Devotee

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, friends…” Billy timidly replied. 

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” Billy responded. 

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

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

“S-sure,” Billy complied. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you lost the role. Again.” 

Billy sighed. 

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

Billy looked up. 

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

Billy winced. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End…? 


When I ask you to think about a big movie monster, most of you would think of Godzilla. Many of you would think that Godzilla has one two or three movies, but he actually has a huge amount of movies. There are people who think he is from another world, other people think that he is a prehistoric sea creature, more of that later. Now a lot of people would think that all that Godzilla does is kill destroy destroy destroy, but he has a much more deeper history that has become clearer as more movies come out over time.

Godzilla first hit the big screen in 1954 at a height of 50 metres, which is 164 feet. His length was 122 metres, or 400 feet, and he weighed 30,000 tons. Its original name was gojira which is japanese for Godzilla. He remained that height until 1984, when he became 80 metres or 262 feet, and his length was 190 metres or 623 feet, and weighed 50,000 tons. What a lot of people don’t know is that they made a Godzilla vs King Kong movie in 1962. They even made movies where he had a child! There are 33 Godzilla movies and one tv show. They are making a new one in 2019. He remained that height and length, then in 1991, he became 100 metres and stayed that way until 1993. In 1994, they released Burning Godzilla. He was still 100 metres though. Then in 1998, they made a movie called Zilla. He looked like a t-rex except he was 60 metres tall. 

Then in 2000, Godzilla was 55 metres, and in 2001, he was 60 metres. Then in 2001-2003, Godzilla was 55 metres, and in 2004’s Godzilla Final Wars, he was 100 metres. In Godzilla Legendary in 2014, he was a 108 metres and weighed 90,000 tons. In Godzilla Resurgence 2016, Godzilla shin was 118 metres tall weighing 92,000 tons, then in the tv show, (SPOILER ALERT) there were two Godzillas. One of them was named Godzilla filius and was 5 meters tall and weighed 10,000 tons, and the other was named Godzilla earth. He was 300 meters tall and weighed 100,000 tons. He was a little shorter than the Eiffel tower.

Godzilla is such a beast! But there is more to it. All the other kaiju king ghidorah mothra battra rodan so on and so forth come from the same large family tree with way waaaay larger monsters. King Kong is probably from the same family tree. Anyway, all those kaiju are called the titans in Godzilla King of the Monsters. They probably ruled the world before us. There are even caveman drawings of the kaiju, which is evidence of  my point. Most of the kaiju have something special. For example, Godzilla has atomic breath, Rodan has supersonic flight so he destroys buildings under him when he’s flying. The other kaiju are King Ghidorah, Mothra, Battra, and Ebirah. 

Godzilla could have come from another world or he was a sea creature exposed to nuclear waste, but I think it was both. I think he was alien-looking, very different from Godzilla, then his ship crashed, and there was some nuclear waste or some kind of chemical mixture that he was exposed to that made him the all powerful beast …..Godzilla. 

Now a lot of people would think that there is a lot of destruction in his history, but there is actually some peace in it too. I have a very likely theory that Godzilla and the other kaiju ruled their own parts of the world, so there was peace until we came along. We took the world from them so it will be just a matter of time before they take it back.

I think that the kaiju all had their own territory. It was peaceful, but the cave drawings show that they fight sometimes.  And then when the world split up into different continents, Godzilla went to the ocean and King Ghidorah ended up being frozen in a giant block of ice. I have no idea what happened to the rest of them. I think that Godzilla’s part of the world started shifting to form a continent. Godzilla fell into the ocean, and King Ghidorah’s continent shifted. It formed into the Arctic and he was frozen into a huge block of ice.

I think this is important because the new Godzilla movie is coming out. I think it would be important if more people knew about him so when the movie comes out people will be ready.  I think it is important for people to know that he is more than just a monster because there a lot of stereotypes of Godzilla going around. These movies have given more information on him, slowly revealing his past.


My Silent Resistance

“Taz, the psychologist from the adoption agency is here. She’d like to ask you a few questions,” Dad says to me. This happens every year. I run out of my room and into the living room, where I see a tall young woman standing in front of me.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tazu,” she says. I wave shyly in the corner and get out my phone to talk to her.

I am autistic, what most would consider “lower functioning,” and I can’t speak with my mouth parts, so I use a text-to-speech app to communicate. “Pleasure to meet you too. Now what is it that you would like to ask me?”

I pray that even though she now knows I’m non-speaking, she will assume competence and not condescend to me or treat me as subhuman, in a way. That is a stigma that many nonverbal autistics such as I know all too well. That’s why I hate labels like high-functioning and low-functioning: low-functioning means your capabilities are ignored, your humanity brushed aside, and high-functioning means your deficiencies are ignored and you can’t get the support you need; basically either way it sucks, and you often have to go through life alone.

Fortunately, she treats me normally. “All right, first question: are you happy here?” she asks. I nod my head. I am so happy with my dads, though the trauma of my past still haunts me.

“I’m glad to hear that, Tazu. Next question: Do you feel safe here?”

This is a tricky question. It appears to be analyzing two variables: immediate, actual safety and perceived safety. I assume that for this evaluation, what she really wants to know about is actual safety, and I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I feel unsafe with my dads. 

I decide to be honest. “To be honest, occasionally not so much. I mean, my dads treat me well and I feel very safe in their care. But sometimes I get these irrational fears that my dads are secretly planning to turn on me. Or that one of them could do… what my mom did to me. But it’s completely unreasonable. I know they would never do that. So yes, I occasionally worry about my safety, but I know those worries are not rational.”

“Thank you for being honest with me. Final question: my results tell me you’ll be able to hold a job someday. Is that something you are considering?”

I frown and hesitate for a second. “I highly doubt I will ever be able to hold down a job. Who would hire an autistic girl who can’t talk?” 

I walk out of the room, feeling utterly hopeless. My dad sees me and walks over to check on me. “Hi Taz, you look sad. What happened? Did the evaluator talk about anything upsetting?” 

“Yes,” I type. “She thinks I can get a job.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand why that would upset you.”

“I can’t get a job. No one would hire me.”

“What do you mean?” my dad asks. “You’re smart, funny, and a brilliant writer. I’d hire you.”

I roll my eyes. He just doesn’t get it.  According to the latest statistics, 85 percent of autistic adults are unemployed, and for nonverbal people, the statistics are even higher. It is statistically very unlikely that I’d ever be able to hold a job. I’m just thinking realistically and long-term here. 

“You KNOW me, Dad. Employers don’t. They’ll just see a weird, too short girl who can’t talk. Autistics don’t get hired.”

“Sure they do,” my dad replies. “What about Einstein? Newton? Dickinson? Heck, there are even rumors of Hitler being autistic, and look how successful he was! I mean, I’m not saying you should become Hitler, but you get the point.”

“First of all, I don’t want to be associated with Hitler. You do know he KILLED autistics along with countless other people, right? Besides, those were the exceptional people. I’m not exceptional.” 

Dad giggles. “First of all, I don’t promote Hitler. Second of all, you’re exceptional to me”, Dad replies. “But you’re right. Employers don’t know you like I do. I’ll tell you what. There’s an autism resource fair next Sunday. Why don’t we find out what your options are?”

I sigh. “All right, let’s go. But if I don’t like it, you owe me a trip to the ice cream place.”

Dad laughs. “It’s a deal,” he says. 


I stare at my reflection in the mirror. A too-short Japanese/Korean-American teen with long wavy hair and wide eyelashes stares back. 

Fun fact: 15-20% of autistic people are nonspeaking. Another fun fact: only less than 2% of them get jobs. Final fun fact: I am one of those 15-20%. 

It’s really hard to believe, at age sixteen, that I’m still alive. When I was trapped in the misery of my childhood, I never thought I would make it this far. For years I had expected, and later hoped, to die. Then it happened, and for a while I thought I had my wish. But then my dads rescued me and life started to seem worth living. 

Could I have actually died, probably? Died briefly and been reborn? Nah, I don’t think being reborn as the exact same person is a thing. When I was a little girl and hospitalized, no one would tell me what was going on. They didn’t think I’d understand, because then I didn’t have any method of communicating. 

On to much lighter things! I’m going to an autism resource fair! For a future I thought I’d never survive to see! Wow, I’m really bad at changing the subject. Alright, let’s think about cats. And the color purple. Purple cats? 

I put on a purple shirt, one I’ve worn every other day for the past year. Wearing purple makes me happy—so why not be happy every single day? 

I brush my teeth and hair, put on deodorant and chapstick. With my poor motor skills, chapstick is about as good as it gets. Best to play it safe.

I’m all ready! I bounce up and down, read a few poems, and play quiet classical music while my dads are still asleep. 

Dad drives me to the fair when he wakes up. Dad points to a display board advertising a new initiative called “Hiring Neurodiversity.” “See, Tazu, this agency will help you get hired without an interview!” he says excitedly. 

“And how long will that job last once they find out I can’t talk?’

“You don’t know. Don’t assume the worst.” 

Just then, a tall, thin man walks up to us. He has blonde hair, hazel eyes, and a big blue “Autism Speaks” t-shirt with a puzzle piece logo. 

“Hello, sir,” he says to my dad. “Are you finding any helpful resources?’

“Yep, lots of great information,” Dad replies.

For an alternative definition of great. Most of this stuff is for newly diagnosed toddlers. Do they expect us to magically poof out of existence at age 18? 

“I’m so glad to hear that! My name is Jackson and I work for Autism Speaks. We’re working on fundraising and finding a prenatal test and cure for autism. We have a budget chart if you would like to see it. Now who’s this little girl?”

I take a glance at his budget chart. It seems like they make a lot of money, and only 4% of it goes to helping actual autistics. The rest go to research, which I assume means finding a way to wipe us out of the gene pool and preventing us from ever being born. Yeah, so much for Hitler being autistic. Might as well be named Auschwitz for Autism. How is autism “speaking” if you’re trying to eradicate the people who have it in the first place? 

“This is my daughter Tazu.”

“How nice! Can she hear us?”

“Yes,” I promptly reply. I am autistic, not deaf.

“Oh, she types. How… nice,” Jackson replies, looking displeased.

 “Anyhow, Tazu loves to write,” Dad says.

I share a nature poem I have recently wrote with Jackson. 

“You have a very talented child,” he says to Dad. “Autism Speaks is working on an anthology about autism and the strain it has on families. Would she like to write for us?”

Wow. I never dreamed this could happen. Somebody in the real world thinks I’m good and wants to publish my writing. Screw my first assumptions about this group. A eugenicist wouldn’t want to publish my writing. Sure, he has some questionable viewpoints, and he talks about me like I’m not there, but at least he’s offering me opportunities.


Jackson smiles. “A personal story would be great. Something that could reassure and inspire parents of kids with this devastating disorder.”

Wait… parents? Like my mom? I wanted to write for fellow autistic people, not the people who did what they did to me… this isn’t… this doesn’t really…

“She’s tired, isn’t she? I’ll send you an info packet about our next autism support meeting. I think it would be helpful for you both, especially Tazu who needs to understand what parents go through. It’s so hard when your child lacks empathy and love is a one-way street, isn’t it?” 

Wow. Now I REALLY hate him. I try to forget and instead see this as an opportunity to share my voice and combat what seems to be the COMPLETE LACK of actual autistic input in this organization. 

A bit later, Dad drives me to the ice cream place as he promised. “Whew, that was HOT!” he comments. “And the drive here was so long! I’m all worn out for the day.”

“We would have gotten here sooner if you didn’t blab on to EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU MET,” I type. “You’re like a dog sniffing the butts of other dogs.”

I smile. It doesn’t matter that the fair was hot and boring. It doesn’t matter how hurt I was by Jackson wanting to “cure” me of who I am. None of that matters. Because publish publish PUBLISH! 

I turn to my dad for a second. “It’s just—it was a little strange how that man was talking to you about me when I was right there. Also how he’s all into cure and prevention and stuff.”

“Yeah, I didn’t love that either,” he replies. It just felt a bit off.”

“But it’s not important. More important is that I COULD GET FLIPPING PUBLISHED!” 

Dad smiles. “I’m so happy for you too! But to be honest, the way that man talked worried me a bit. Like he didn’t see you as a full person. Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“I think I can handle it.” I reply.

“That’s good.” Dad checks his phone. “Hey, I just got an email from Jackson about the autism group. It’s in two weeks. Do you want to come?”

“Sure,” I say. “I’ve always wanted to meet some more of my fellow Autistics.” 


I pace back and forth, the light shining brightly in my room. I can’t believe I’m going to an autism support group later today. What if they don’t like me? What if they want to get rid of me? But what if they’re really nice? I don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity!

It is 4:30 in the morning. I get up and wake my other dad up, whom I call Pop.

“Hi Taz! You’re up early. What’s up?’

“Hi, soft drink,” I playfully type.

“No, I’m Pop!”

“Hi, champagne. Icky!”

“Your dad and I love that you hate the taste of alcohol.”

“No, icky you!”

Careful, Taz. Insult me too much and I’ll have to disown you!’

My smile fades. The flashbacks from my old past come flurrying into my head, no matter how many times I try to get them out.

“Oh no, Tazu, not for real…” Pop says. “I only meant to tease you like you teased me. Not make you sad. I would never really… do that. Other teens say ‘I hate you’ to their dads. If ‘icky’ is the worst thing you call me, I think I’m good. Plus… you’ve smelled me after going to the gym. Given how stinky I get, I’m lucky YOU still love ME!”

I hug Pop tightly. Of course I will always love my crazy old Pop. 

I fall back asleep. At a fairly more reasonable time in the morning, I do my daily routine and prepare for the group. 

I walk into a large penthouse, filled with mostly adult parents who as far as I can tell are not autistic. Most don’t have kids with them. Some wear blue puzzle-piece t-shirts with slogans like “AUTISM SPEAKS: IT”S TIME TO LISTEN” and “MY CHILD IS PART OF THE EPIDEMIC BUT THE EPIDEMIC IS NOT PART OF MY CHILD!” I only see one kid, a blonde-haired little girl. 

“Ouch! Daddy, get it out! It hurts, it hurts!” the girl screams. 

“Cassandra, just suck it up. It’s just a tag. Don’t bother me,” her dad says. He’s wearing a shirt that says “VAXXED: SOUNDING THE ALARM FOR MY VACCINE INJURED CHILD.” I know how uncomfortable tags scratching against my back can feel. Non-autistics don’t seem to notice, but my dads have always been sensitive. I’d offer to help, but I don’t want to make a bad impression on the group. A young teenager, wearing a sweatshirt that says “Autistic pride worldwide,” escorts the girl to a small room, where I see a bunch of other kids.

Then, the support group starts, and I follow Dad to the group. 

“This group has been lifesaving for me,” the orange-haired mother of the young teenager exclaims with a smile. ‘It’s been a bit tough ever since my daughter first told me she might be autistic. She discovered it through Tumblr or something. We always thought of her as shy, introverted, maybe even a genius. We denied her diagnosis for a while, but she persisted! Now we’re looking for a professional evaluation.”

Another mom speaks up. “How wonderful! We’ve been helping prepare my son for adulthood. Just found out he has moderate to severe developmental delays in regards to self-care. I hadn’t noticed. I love this group too, though the negativity can sometimes overwhelm me, if I’m being honest.”

“I agree. So much focus on the cure and the missing piece of the puzzle. If you asked my daughter, she’d tell you that her autism is a culture, and only a disability because of society.”

My first impression was completely wrong. These supportive parents, listening to their children and their views on being autistic.

“We, um, appreciate your concerns,” Jackson replies. “However, our group is based in Autism Speaks’ mission statement, which is to find treatment, prevention and a possible cure for autism. Also, autism can be soul-crushingly devastating at times, and it’s important not to whitewash it. However, we understand how it is so easy for those of us with… higher-functioning kiddos to forget what it’s like for other parents.”

“Oh, yes, I suppose that’s true,” the second mother says. “Anyways, our son just had a neuropsych and was diagnosed with moderate to severe developmental delays. His motor skills… his disorganization… his ability to do chores… I always thought that he just couldn’t care less about learning to drive, but now there are cognitive problems holding him back!”

I consider this for a moment, then type to give my insights. “Well, when you’re autistic, development is not linear. For example, some people think I can’t understand them because of my ability to speak.” I glance at Jackson for a second giving him an evil eye. “But I’m rather deep thinker and have good cognitive abilities. Dad has tried teaching me how to drive a car, and it usually ends in confusion and sensory overload. So a smart boy who struggles with household tasks is totally normal for autism.”

The two parents nod appreciatively, while the other parents in the group scoff at me. One man turns to his wife and whispers “I don’t believe she really has severe autism. She’s nothing like my child.” 

“Tazu, you’re here to listen, not comment,” Jackson scoffs, then turns to the group and says “self-absorption is a symptom of autism. This is why we must fundraise for a cure.” 

“Anyways, how have everyone’s weeks been?” Jackson redirects the conversation.

“Mine was awesome! My daughter said her first word! Just like a normal child,” one dad says.

“That’s great!” Jackson replies. “She is on her way to functioning like a child without autism.” 

“Horrible. Cassandra made another mess. Paints all over,” the dad of the little girl with the itchy tag says. 

“My daughter used to do that. She said she was going to be an artist. I just told her that if she makes a mess, she cleans it up! I had the most lovely artwork, though,” the mother of the teen girl says.

“Well, you have a very high functioning daughter,” Cassandra’s dad says. “Cassandra’s results could never be called art. It’s just a mess. Cassandra is low functioning. She’ll never fit into society. We’ve been implementing behavioral interventions but I really don’t see the benefits. All the shrieking! And the bizarre motions with her hands! At this point, sure, I don’t expect total compliance, but at this point I’m fed up. This intensive therapy is just not working. I want my money back.” He sighs. “All this because of a measles vaccine.”

I shudder. Intensive therapy….

Four years ago….

Torture. Torment. Terror. Treachery. Nope, when you’re autistic, it’s just treatment. And that’s what I was subjected to, for forty hours a week. A therapist would come over and do drills with me, 6 hours a day, every day. “Touch green.” “Look at me.” “Say ‘I love you’ now.”  “Good girl.” “Do what I say or you’re a bad girl.” “Let’s see if you’ll behave.” 

I didn’t know it then, but there was a word for this: ABA-based behavioral therapy, with aversives, the only scientifically proven treatment for kids like me.

“You need to look at me, Tazu,” the tall, intimidating, slightly overweight therapist Becca, says. Oh no, not this again, I can’t do it. It hurts too much. 

“Do as I say or you’re a bad girl.”

 I immediately look up. It immediately sends my thoughts scattered in a million directions, and it’s almost as if she can read into my soul. My eyes start watering and burning and I can hardly focus. Spears of hot pain rush through my eyes and and and

I look away and start rocking back and forth to calm myself. 

“BAD GIRL!” Becca yells at me, and spanks me. She reaches for her bottle and sprays vinegar into my mouth. I am miserable, but I can’t resist. Being a “bad girl” will only make it worse. 


Intensive therapy. Behavioral intervention. Total compliance.

That’s what Cassandra’s dad wants done to her. The same kind of nightmare I lived. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. 

I can hear Dad’s voice. “Tazu! Tazu, look at me!”

“EYE!” I shout. “No eyes,” Dad says. “No eye contact. Just Dad. You’re with me now. You’re safe.” I hug him tightly. He’s right. Aversive therapy is in the past. If a therapist ever hurt me, my dads would fire them. No more forced eye contact. No more punishments. I’m safe.

“Can you smell my shampoo?” Dad asks.

I reach for my phone. “I also smell your B.O,” I type. 

I hear the voice of the orange-haired mother. “Maybe you guys would like to step out, go to the kids’ room for a minute?”

“I’m fine,” I say. “Jackson said I’m supposed to be, um, learning what parents go through. I can’t do that in the kids’ room.” 

I begin rocking back and forth to put out the internal fire happening in my head.

“That’s the same thing that Cassandra does! Her father lets her do it in public? Negligent! She’ll never go anywhere if she acts this strangely,” Cassandra’s dad says. 

Dad sighs. “Tazu, you might not need a break, but I definitely do. Will you come with me?” 

I nod and follow him to the kids’ room. I can hear Cassandra’s dad in the background. “I don’t know how that man puts up with that daughter,” he says. “If I had a child who didn’t talk and acted like that…”

“That went much worse than I was expecting,” Dad says. “Some of those parents were so judgmental about their kids. I’m so sorry I exposed you to that.”

Just then, the young teenager with the “Autistic Pride” shirt comes up to me. “My name is Stella. What’s your name?”

I reach for my keyboard. “My name is Tazu. I’m 16 years old.”

“Really?” she asks. “You’re so small! I read that anxiety can cause stunted growth in girls. That study wasn’t specific though. It only said ‘girls.’ Like do trans girls count? What about trans guys and non-binary folks? Is it based on gender identity or sex assigned at birth? They really should have specified.”

“Yeah, they should have,” I agree. As a pansexual cis girl, I also dislike cisnormativity. 

“Yeah,” Stella says. “Wait, what were we talking about before?”

“We were discussing the mystery of why I am tiny,” I type.

“Well whatever you are, tiny is cute!”

I blush. “Thank you,” I reply. 

And then a little girl gallops into the room. She has messy blonde hair and blue eyes. She looks about 7 years old, 8 maybe. “I’m Cassandra! Or Casey if you forget.”

“Nice to meet you! This is Tazu, and I’m her dad,” Dad says.

Casey wiggles anxiously. “Are you friends with my dad?”

Not in a million years, Dad silently mouths to me. “No.” 

Casey relaxes. “Why didn’t you stop Tazu from wiggling?”

“Because I think people can wiggle if they want to,” says Dad.

“Wow,” Casey says admiringly. “You’re awesome. Tazu, I got an idea. Can you abobt me too?”

“Do you mean ADOPT you?” Dad says.

“Yeah! Dad wouldn’t mind. He wants to send me away. He thinks I’m annoying. He thinks I’m, um, hurt by a vaccine or something.”

Just then, her dad comes in. “Cassandra! There you are! Sorry about my daughter. She has no sense of boundaries.”

“Oh, okay. Well, see you next week for the next meeting?” Casey asks. 

Yes, it was a bad meeting. Yes, it triggered me. But I can’t help myself. This little girl, mistreated by her father… I can almost see my past self in her.

“Of course I will see you next week,” I say. “We are friends now.”


Casey reluctantly trudges back to her dad’s car as I stare in shock.

Tazu just agreed to go to another meeting.

To return to the place that set her off.

To expose herself to people who could remind her of her past.

How can I protect her? How can I protect her from the PTSD, the nightmares, the distrust of anyone around her?

It took so long to get her to trust us. I don’t want to risk that progress. I take a deep breath. Maybe I’m just being an overprotective father. “Tazu, I get that you feel bad for Casey, but I want you to think about yourself too. You screamed at that meeting. It looked like you had a flashback.”

Tazu nods her head. She gets it.


“I understand,” I type. “Casey’s dad is a jerk, so is that other man, and Jackson didn’t stop them. Plus the fact he thinks autism was caused by vaccines—if I ran a group that alone would be a reason to expel someone. But that’s why we SHOULD be there. To give that girl a bit of light in her life.” 

This is a dilemma. A conundrum.

I like that word, conundrum. If I could talk, which I can’t, I would say the word out loud over and over, just to taste the crispiness of it. 

Jackson walks over. “Hello! Now I know Tazu had unreasonable behavior at the meeting, but I hope she’ll come to next week’s.  It’s good for her to think about her audience and not let her low-functioning autism get in the way.” 

I nod. This seems to make Jackson happy. 

Just then, Stella’s mom enters the room. “So sorry about that meeting,” she says. “That man has an attitude problem. Do you want to come to the beach with us? We’ll be talking about boring grownup stuff like mortgages and parenting, but our daughter Stella will be there.”

I nod. 

I am at the beach with Stella and her best friend, Jeffery, who is also autistic. We have a nice conversation about art, the world, movies, and cat videos, which Stella loves.

Stella and Jeffery are very cute. Especially—especially Stella. I have been noticing… things. “Are you a couple?” I ask. They both start laughing maniacally. “Boys aren’t my type,” Stella says. “And gay girls aren’t my type,” says Jeffery. “We’re best friends.” 

I switch the subject, embarrassed. “Anyways, Jackson from Autism Speaks asked me to contribute an essay—”

Stella and Jeffery exchange a concerned glance at each other.

Later, I work up the nerve to ask Stella out. A grin spreads across her face and she starts rocking excitedly. I assume that’s a yes. A big silence surrounds us until she finally says “I could tell when I first met you that you… swing that way. I may be socially delayed, but I have a very fine-tuned gaydar.”

I laugh. 

A few days later:

Me and Pop walk into a large office, with blue puzzle pieces all over it. Jackson is right there, wanting to discuss my opportunities.

“I’m so glad you guys could make it here,” he says. We discuss the essay. I’m getting paid a lot! “Besides the essay, I’d like to offer you two amazing opportunities. One, my coworker is making a documentary about autism and its effect on families. She invited you to speak for it. Two, a reality TV show would like to interview you.”

“YES YES YES YES YES!” I type. I’m going to be TV famous! Hooray!

“Glad to hear it,” Jackson says. “Your name will bring us so much publicity.”


Hi guys, thanks for reading! I wanted to include a little guide for how to best interact with autistics. Yes, I am Autistic myself, though verbal. 

  1. Respectful language: Most autistic people prefer using “identity first” language (“autistic people” or “autistics”), rather than “people with autism.” This is because autism is integral to our identities and isn’t a disease that can be separate from us. As well, we prefer not to use terms like “suffering” or “struggling” with autism because it’s just who we are, not a burden. As you read the story, pay attention to who uses what language.
  2. Charities: Organizations like Autism Speaks have been criticized for lack of autistic input and negativity. Instead, support organizations like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the National Autistic Society, or the Autism Women’s And Nonbinary Network. Some red flags for a bad charity are: the use of puzzle pieces or the color blue, promotion of a cure, lack of autistic board members, and promotion of abusive or damaging “autism conversion therapies” such as the behavioral treatment Tazu was subjected to. In part two, you will see an example of a good charity.
  3. Help us out socially, but respect our boundaries and don’t force us to socialize. (Yes, disabled people have boundaries too). 
  4. Let us flap, bounce, rock, etc. This is called stimming and it is actually organizing for autistic brains. As well, don’t force us to make eye contact.
  5. Eliminate the word “retarded” from your vocabulary and don’t use “autistic” as an insult.
  6. Always assume that we’re capable: If someone can’t speak, talk to them anyway. Chances are, they’re just as bright as Tazu.
  7. Amplify the voices of actual autistic people.

My Silent Resistance PART 2: 

Pop takes me to a small office to be interviewed for the documentary. I’m so excited! Ready to change the world, influence the national conversation about autism, spread the word to make sure that what happened to me and the abuse Casey is living through doesn’t happen again. I want to save all my fellow autistics, or at least make a difference to some of them. I know it can’t happen in a day, but at least this interview is a good step. It’s support group day today, and I’m thrilled about missing this one, though I was hoping to see Casey again. Jackson gives me a blue puzzle piece shirt to borrow for the interview.

I wait for what feels like an hour, maybe two. I’m so bored! I hide behind a plant and rub my hands against it. I throw off the Autism Speaks shirt. Writing for this company is okay, but I don’t think it quite deserves me publicly advertising it. Just then, a young woman, wearing an Autism Speaks shirt, walks up to me. “Hello, Tazu,” she says in a coo-like voice, as if she’s talking to a puppy. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” 

“Sure, ask away,” I say. 

“When did you learn that you had autism?” she asks. 

“Um, I kinda always knew. I mean, it was kinda obvious. My parents thought I couldn’t hear them, so they talked about it all the time in front of me and how much of a burden it was. They whispered ‘autism’ like it was a dirty word. I was diagnosed early, I think?”

“And how do your parents feel about it?” she asks.

Dads. Focus on dads. “My dads love me for my true authentic autistic self.  They try to accommodate me the best as possible. They take me to respectful therapies that don’t try to change who I am, but make my life easier as an autistic person. The therapies they take me to help maximize me rather than normalize me. Trauma and fear still get in the way sometimes, and I still have occasional meltdowns, but with their support and love, I’ve grown into a somewhat well-accomplished autistic person.” 

Not well-accomplished enough to be able to hold a job outside of an autism organization, though, or even hold myself together in a job that is in one. Not well-accomplished enough to get over the fear, the pain, the flashbacks, the inner ghosts from my old life. 

I sigh. Probably won’t share that with the interviewer. The stereotype is that autistic people have no feelings besides desperation and self-hatred, and I don’t want to give way to that stereotype. 

“Um, we use Person First language here. You’re not ‘autistic’, you’re a person WITH autism. Anyways… what about your REAL parents?”

My… “real” parents….

When I was little, my parents never bothered to teach me to communicate. I was always trying to please them, but it never worked. They never talked to me, but in my dealings with them (or perhaps as they would put it, their dealings with me) I discovered three things.

1. That my parents didn’t like me. They spoke of having another child, a “normal” one, to alleviate their suffering, but also expressed concern that the next kid would also “turn out wrong” (i.e, autistic.) When they did have another kid, they quickly changed their mind and aborted the baby because “imagine how hard her life would be, growing up with a sister like that!”  Whether I got a sibling or not, the point was this: In their eyes, I was a Worst-Case-Scenario, a Tragic Outcome, a Defective Factory Product, a baby they’d have aborted if they only knew what it would become. I was a failure.

2. The reason why I was a Failure, a Not-Quite-Human-Person, and not “normal” like the people I looked up to, was because I “had autism.” No one ever talked directly to me about this (“she’s too incompetent to understand her affliction”) but my parents spit it out in front of me like it was a dirty word.

 “All this because of.. autism.”

“You really should go easier on Tazu. Her defectivity, her…. autism.. she’s not the one who cursed us with it. It was Jesus. Jesus Christ wronged us and made our life hell… made our daughter hell.”

 “Autism prevents my daughter from ever being fully lovable and us from ever gaining our sanity. Why do all these self-righteous social justice warriors tell us it’s a gift, a ‘neurodiversity’, a hidden joy? There is no joy in this child.” 

“I want out of this… autism. I want out of this monster. I want out of this child”. 

I never really knew what “autism” meant, but all I knew was that I had it, it was a monster, and therefore I was a monster, could never be lovable, was a curse from Jesus. When I really came to understand myself was when I later discovered the autistic community online, who were probably the “self-righteous social justice warriors” my parents tried to shield me from. Before I met them I saw the world in two groups: Failures and Normals. When I found this community, my world was changed- more than changed. A whole new world, populated by people like me. (Some of them also said that Autism Speaks was a hate group, and I’m starting to see that from my time here, but… who cares? Probably just a vocal minority). To my parents however, autism was far from a culture. I learned that if I stopped having autism, Mommy and Daddy would like me, and I’d stop being a Failure. I’d become a sacred Normal, like Mommy and Daddy and Becca were. 

3. Because I had autism and was a Failure, I was never safe. Therapists would scream and pin me down and lock me in the dark, all in the name of compliance training, applied behavior analysis (ABA), hard work, “tough love.” People say ABA is like dog training for kids… I couldn’t disagree more. No reasonable dog trainer would treat a dog that way. My mom tortured me too at the therapist’s recommendation. My dad was the more sympathetic one. He was the one who made the comment about autism not being my fault but being Jesus’s fault instead when my mom yelled about how much I had robbed her of. (He was a very devout Christian who also happened to believe being gay was a sin). He was the one who called the police when it happened so I wouldn’t die. He didn’t hurt me or anything, didn’t abuse me, didn’t hit or punish me. He always said “I love the child but hate the autism” while my mom was more like “hate the child because of the autism.” But for all the abuse it caused me, being on the spectrum with parents like mine gave me a unique (dis)advantage.

Non-autistics are always so discreet. There’s a meme I saw on the Internet: a smiling zombie going look at me I’m a neurotypical, I give weird hints about things instead of just telling people! So much confusion, so much fuss over not being rude or offending people, and it’s like, just tell me already! But because my parents assumed I couldn’t understand them, and they hated me so much that they had every intention of being rude to me, they said exactly what they thought of me right to my face. They gave me suggestions for how to make them like me, and I didn’t even have to ask: don’t be so loud, stop those bizarre motions with your hands, start speaking, make eye contact. Because of this direct advice, I lived to appease them: but it never worked. 

My.. real parents….

I want to speak. About my experiences with abuse and self-hatred, about the trauma that came along with living with parents who hated me and my brain, even about it. But something in this woman tells me it’s not safe. I want to speak so badly. Want to resist, but I can only resist through actions, not words. And if my resistance is silent, it’s pretty much useless, right? 

I kick my leg up. “NOOOOOO!” I scream. The fire starts up in my brain again. I’m so ashamed. I’m having a meltdown—on live TV! 

I can hear the interviewer saying “Defiance is a symptom of autism. Individuals afflicted with the condition may have tantrums for no reason. You can see how this must feel for parents.”

How this must feel for parents…. how would my mom feel?

 i hate her i hate her she’s ruining my life

gotta get rid of her we must get rid of her now

burden strain crisis epidemic 

I start crying, then bang my head against the wall as hard as I can to make the pain more physical than emotional (in the background, the interviewer says, “self-injurious behavior is a symptom of autism”). I type “TURN OFF CAMERAS” mid-meltdown, but she doesn’t listen. 

I’ve just proven myself unworthy of dignity. The public is going to see my meltdown and think that’s what autistics look like, all we’re capable of. I’ve let down the community I promised to serve.

To avoid further humiliation, I dash out of the building. (I’m preparing for the interviewer to say, “elopement is a symptom of autism” any minute now.) I text Pop to come get me, and tell him about the interview and what a disaster it was. He texts back, “I’m sorry to hear about what a PITA that woman was. Can you hold on for a few minutes? Still at the support group. Parents are being PITAs there too. I was just about to call them out on it and give an angry speech on how au-some we are before you texted!” (PITA is text talk for pain in the ass). He texts again, “Love you my fellow Autie. Stay strong. I should be there in another hour or so.” (Pop is also on the spectrum, though verbal and neurotypical-passing).

“See you in an hour, champaign!” I text back, completely recovered from the meltdown. 

That gives me an hour to hang out with Jeffrey and Stella. I text them and they meet me next to the Autism Speaks building. 

I tell them about the interview, how annoying that woman was, how she publicly humiliated me and it’s going on a documentary. “Utterly disgusting,” Stella types. “Has she ever even met an autistic person, or is she just going off Autism Doesn’t Speak For Sh*t and a whiny parents complaining group chat?”

We all laugh. 

I start questioning myself. This is the only organization that’s been actively criticized by the people they claim to support. No one says the Cancer Foundation doesn’t speak for them, or the NAACP is a racist hate group. It’s not even just that it’s focused on parents either—no LGBTQ person says Parents and Families of Lesbians And Gays doesn’t speak for them either. If Autism Speaks is so bad, why am I working for them? Because I’m pathetic and can’t survive in any other jobs? Which matters more—selfish survival or giving back to my people, my community? The community that taught me not to hate myself, that helped me realize that I actually was a person worthy of respect, not a Worst-Case-Scenario or Defective Factory Product, the community that raised me since the day my dads took me in—is that really worth losing for a so-called “job” where I won’t even be listened to? 

We go out for ice cream. I try an oddly satisfying new flavor-maple with pieces of bacon in it. We have a nice conversation, and Stella and I plan our date. 

We return to the building, and Pop is there waiting for me, along with Stella’s mom and Jeffrey’s mom. 

“Hey guys!”, Pop says. “Stella’s mom was just telling us about an autism positivity group they go every week and thought you guys might want to tag along. It starts in two hours.”

“I guess it sounds fun,” I type. “I’m a bit skeptical of autism groups now though.”

“Don’t worry,” Stella says. “It’s a different kind of group… a better one. The moderator is autistic along with everyone else. People are free to be and move as they want. There are even free fidget toys! And NOBODY treats us as subnormal, like we’re foreign creatures. No negativity. I promise!” 

“There’s a parent group too,” Stella’s mom says.

“I’m not a big fan of those,” Pop says.

“Ours is different. Mostly autistic parents with autistic kids. No negativity there either. And I can assure you, they’re very dedicated to speaking out against Autism Speaks.”

“I don’t know about it. What do you think, Tazu?”

I consider it for a while. “Sounds AU-some!” I finally type. “Let’s go!”

A few hours later

We walk into a huge, loud building with lots of people. A woman hands me, Stella, Jeffery, and our parents tiny pamphlets. “Welcome to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network!” she says. “Our goal is to empower, accept, embrace, support, and give resources to autistics worldwide. So, are you guys here for the support groups?”

Stella and her mom were right. This seems like a much better type of group already. There is a box of fidget toys, many kids and adults of all ages bouncing and flapping freely, everyone is wearing shirts and pins like “AU-TASTIC” and “GOD CREATED AUTISM TO DECREASE THE ASTONISHINGLY HIGH NUMBER OF BORING PEOPLE ON THIS EARTH,” and there are posters on the wall like “you are welcome here,” and “your brain is not broken.” That noise though! I cover my ears, and the chaotic drilling in my eardrums softens. (It’s not as loud as the Autism Speaks penthouse though. Why is it even called a penthouse? Just sounds like rich people apartments to me. Then again, rich people apartments sounds like an oxymoron.)

“There are noise cancelling headphones in the back if you need them,” the woman calls out. “We try to keep ASAN as sensory-friendly as possible. So sorry about all the noise.”

I get my headphones. The woman escorts us and our parents to our support groups. As I’m following her, I notice a huge drawing. On the top of it, it says, “NeuroQueer: Supporting transgender and gender nonconforming autistic people since the beginning of time.” A thousand people have drawn photos of themselves. 

Transgender Bathroom Policy

Transgender individuals should be able to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, or the bathroom that they are most comfortable using. Many states have policies that a person should use a private facility that matches their biological sex. Many people are uncomfortable with that, and that doesn’t just include transgender individuals.

People who are transgender identify differently than what their biological sex is, and may feel comfortable in using the bathroom that people of their gender identity go to. There is a big difference between biological sex and gender identity. Biological sex is the assigned sex a person was given at birth, and gender identity can correlate with assigned sex at birth, or can differ from it. Numerous transgender students feel discriminated against or self-conscious using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Title IX of the 1965 Civil Rights Act protects transgender people from discrimination because of their sex in schools. It states, “No person in the U.S will be discriminated against because of their sex in an education program.” This applies to when a transgender person goes to a bathroom of their gender identity and people discriminate against them because their sex does not match their gender identity. Therefore, it is illegal to discriminate against transgender people and impose what bathrrom they should go to. 

When there is a policy that all people should go to restrooms that are made for people’s sex at birth, people who are not transgender may feel uncomfortable with a transgender person in the bathroom because they look like the gender they identify as. A person should be comfortable in the bathroom that helps them fit in with people who have the same gender identity as them, even if the transgender person doesn’t totally look like the gender they’re transitioning to yet. Using appropriate bathrooms helps an individual with transitioning. A scientific study was taken by Jody L. Herman, the Williams Institute Manager of Transgender Research, and it was found that 70% of transgender and gender noncomforming respondents experienced issues in gender-specific restrooms in Washington, D.C., with people of color and people who have not medically transitioned yet often faring worse than others. 54% of people reported health effects from trying to avoid public bathrooms such as dehydration, kidney infections, and urinary tract infections. In Doe v. Regional School Unit, the Maine Supreme Court held that a transgender girl had a right to use the women’s restroom at school because her psychological well-being and education depended on her transition. The school, which had denied her access to use the women’s restroom, had treated her differently than other students solely because she was a transgender girl. Discrimination lowers a transgender person’s well-being and health, which affects their self-esteem.

Other than gender-specific bathrooms, there are gender-neutral bathrooms; in other words, unisex. Usually, gender-neutral bathrooms are for any gender and are also beneficial for someone of one gender to help someone with a disability who is a different gender. Nonbinary/gender nonconforming people may feel comfortable using a unisex bathroom, so they don’t feel uncomfortable or face discrimination. Although, not all places have a gender-neutral bathroom, which is problematic for many people. If a state doesn’t allow transgender people to use the bathrooms that align with their gender identity, and that person feels uncomfortable going to the bathroom that includes people of their biological sex, they may be able to use a gender-neutral bathroom. Overall, gender-neutral bathrooms are beneficial for many different people.

It may take a while for all states to allow transgender people to go into the bathroom of their choice, but with enough education on the topic, people’s thoughts may change. The issue that transgender people are discriminated against for using the bathrooms of their gender identity is a worldwide crisis and is a big problem in the world.

Works Cited :

Davis, Masen. “Transgender People Need Safe Restrooms.” HuffPost, 24 June 2019,

Ehrenhalt, Jay. “Trans Rights and Bathroom Access Laws: A History Explained.” Teaching Tolerance, 16 October 2018,

College debt…is it worth it?

What’s full of new experiences, ups your education, and puts millions of kids in debt? College. What started out as a way to receive more knowledge is now leaving over 44 million Americans in debt. This is why so many young Americans are fighting for a different system. Most of the time, college leaves you with debt, and the only way to pay it off is through suspicious student loan organizations. Other times, you can apply for student forgiveness, but the odds are next to none. Others argue that loans can help establish and build your credit score. Here, I will be telling you why you should reconsider before taking out a student loan.

Most days, it’s common for students to take out loans for college, which leaves them in debt. The problem with taking money from the student loan organizations is that some organizations try to scam you. There are numerous lenders that abuse their power, giving little information out to students and scamming them. According to the New York Times, in recent months, the student loan giant Navient, which was spun off from Sallie Mae in 2014 and has retained nearly all of the company’s loan portfolio, has come under fire for aggressive and sloppy loan collection practices, which have led to a set of lawsuit governments filed in January. A specific example is when a woman (Ms. Hardin) who was taking out a loan for college realized that her company never told her that “she had taken out high-risk private loans in pursuit of a low-paying career. But her lender, SLM Corporation, better known as Sallie Mae, knew all of that” (Loans ‘Designed to Fail’: States Say Navient Preyed on NYT, Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, 9/4/17), Ms.Hardin is not the only student who felt like this. Many students feel like student loan organizations are preying on young Americans who are unsure with how much they’re paying.

 College debt should be an easy solution to fix, but sometimes it can get the best of students. Many Americans are now turning to student forgiveness programs. Student loan forgiveness allows the student to postpone the payment as long as they perform a service for the community (public service). If the student also has all the requirements done with, then he or she will be eligible to have the chance to have an income-driven replacement plan. This income replacement plan will help out the monthly student loan payment at a more reasonable price corresponding to the person’s current income situation. Or, if you have been constantly paying on time payment for 20 years, you get the rest of your student loans forgiven completely. The problem with this is that 99.5% of people who applied for public service loan forgiveness have been rejected. According to CNBC News, about 30,000 people applied for student loans forgiveness, but only 96 people got accepted. Instead of wasting your time of trying to be accepted in student forgiveness, many should consider a grant or applying for a scholarship. Your chances are 19%… always better than the less than 1% you get from student loan forgiveness. Grants and scholarships are financial aid that don’t have to be repaid unlike student loans.

While college debt can be damaging and scary for the future of the new generation and millennials, many people argue that student loans are helpful to students who just want an education, and that they help you take education more seriously since it comes at such a high cost. They state student loan forgiveness can also help. Kevin Maler was one of these fortunate 96 people that got accepted. He mentions how lucky he feels being a part of the less than one percent to get accepted. He had to have at least 10 years of on-time payments to qualify. Most people are stunned when they hear this small percentage of people who get accepted. People like Shannon Insler, who also had to deal with student loans, had a different point of view than most. She argued that college was an investment. Even while stating this, she said, “I’d be lying if I said I enjoy paying for my student loans. I’m facing a $50,000 price tag and a 20-year repayment plan. It hurts to think about other things I could do with $50,000.’’ This just goes to prove how the cons outweigh the pros. Other students like Miranda Mariquit already had a scholarship, but chose to use student loans for some extra money. According to Student Loan Hero, Miranda referred to using loans even though she had a scholarship as her biggest mistake, saying that it ruined her cash flow and it made her debt-to-income ratio look sketchy.

In conclusion, if you don’t want to end up like the 70% of college kids who are in debt right now, you should make sure to really consider applying for grants and scholarships. You’ll have a higher chance than working in public service and having 10 years on income payments just to play for a loan forgiveness that only 1% of people get accepted into.


I open my eyes. Fluorescent lights above, voices chattering, desks scraping. I sit on a hard wooden seat while a tall figure looms over me. It waits until the talking ceases, the tables settle, and then it speaks. A low, gravelly voice, sending chills up and down my spine. The voice is shrouded by itself, but not unintelligible. 

“Where is your paper, Wilson?” Here he pauses, and it seems like my math teacher is rising in size. “Taylor? Davis?” 

The kids next to me, also jammed in desks, seem to shrink in their seats as the monster turns to each of us. All the other students have left, leaving three of their peers to face the wrath of this beast. I wonder about those other students. They’ll be at recess now, laughing, playing, knowing that they’re not in trouble and they won’t suffer in the least. I remember when I was one of those kids. Bouncing carefreely out the door, straight As, never in trouble. Of course, that doesn’t appeal to me now. Ever since–

“I announced it three times yesterday,” the voice jolts me back. With a whimper, the kid on my right, Jordan Davis, begins to speak, but is silenced by the creature’s next words. “Three times, Davis. Close your mouth.” The figure turns away in disgust. “You will see me after school. Three thirty. Do. Not. Be. Late.” His words, though not loud, leave our ears ringing as we murmur our consent, rise from our seats, and quietly file out of the room. 

“Bro, Grossman’s a beast!” Prince Taylor, my best friend, says. 

“Yeah man, you don’t mess with the Grossmonster,” I say, punching him back lightly on the shoulder. “I thought Jordie was gonna pee himself!” Prince cracks up, playfully nudging our timid friend on the shoulder. 

“Yeah, yeah.” Jordie’s pale skin flushes, and he brushes his blond hair out of his earth-colored eyes. He used to be a teacher’s pet, but hasn’t fully conformed to our system. 

“Man, you need a haircut!” I say, grinning. 

The kid’s eyes roll again. “At least I don’t look like some military-school dropout!” 

We all laugh at this. Before my mom got depressed, she tried to send me to some hardcore “Academy for Troubled Teens” or something. Prior to leaving, she shaved my head, but then she couldn’t make me leave the house after that. My hair is still growing back, leaving me looking like a small, hazel-eyed Justin Timberlake.  

“After all that trouble, I don’t think I want to endure the lunch monitor screaming at me for no apparent reason,” I say, smirking. “Wanna skip?” 

“Sorry, man, we got English next period, and you know Mrs. Jones calls parents,” Jordie says, and Prince nods.

 “Alright, see you in detention.” I stroll down the hall nonchalantly towards the back entrance of M.S. 13. 

Suddenly, someone comes out of the classroom on my left so quickly that I have no time to react. She plows into me, knocking me to the floor. 

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” I look up from my spot on the floor to see a girl with long, black hair and deep, olive eyes. She’s wearing faded jeans, orange Converse, and a Penn State sweatshirt. “Are you okay?” 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say, embarrassed, hurrying to my feet. I try to step past her outside, but she moves, blocking my only way out. 

“Where are you going?” she asks me suspiciously. 

“I, uh, think I left my water bottle outside.” For some reason, I’m thrown off by this girl’s sharpness. Mostly, the hall monitors let me pass, but she’s different. 

“I think you’re lying.” She says this definitively, no doubts about her statement. 

Relax, D. I think. She’s just another seventh-grade student who probably won’t care too much if I sneak off. After all, it doesn’t affect her in the least. Why should she worry? 

Offering her a lazy smile, I begin to continue past her down the hallway. 

As I’m about to open the door, I hear a whisper. 

“If you do that, I’ll tell Mrs. Jones,” The girl stage-whispers, turning the heads of some students working on laptops in the hallway. 

I sigh. There’s no reason to argue with this girl. What’s the point? I would just get in more trouble. 

D, maybe there’s no point in skipping. You’re broke and will get caught by the security guard anyway. There’s nothing to do without Jordie and Prince, so lay off it. 

I cast the girl a glare, and march off towards the cafeteria. 


“Dude, we thought you had chickened out on skipping or something!” Prince says. “So this girl stops you?”  

“That’s right, man,” I respond. We stop in front of Grossman’s classroom. Jordie knocks, and approximately fifteen slow seconds tick by until the daunting man opens his door. He grins, and leads us to three desks in the middle of the room. “You will sit here in silence for half an hour. If one of you talks, ten minutes will be added to your sentence.” 

Sentence. The last time I heard that word was in a courtroom. My dad stood in the middle, head bowed, hands shackled behind his back. The judge banged his gavel. “Mr. Wilson, you have been sentenced to four years in federal prison for breaking and entering, theft, and the injury of other citizens.” 

Next to me, my mother burst into tears. “Why, Frank, why?” I heard her mumble through her grief. My father’s lawyer, Bill, turned to me. He looked angry. He opened his mouth to speak, but what comes out is Mr. Grossman’s voice. 

“Wilson, if you want to stay, by all means, be my guest. Your friends would be disappointed though, I’m sure.” 

I jerk awake, and look up to see my evil teacher towering above me. I grab my bag and race out the door as fast as my legs can carry me, beating my friends outside by ten whole seconds. We joke around for a couple minutes, but soon we have to go. 

As Jordie, Prince, and I part ways, I sit on a bench in front of the bus stop, staring down at the floor. I hate detention, but I hate my father even more for being in jail and doing all those stupid things. I dig around in my pocket for the unfinished math homework, checking the bus schedule as I pull it out. While I was stuck in detention, the bus came and went, so I have half an hour to wait. Shrugging and checking around for any classmates that may catch me doing work, I begin on the algebraic equations. They’re actually not that boring, and by the time the bus comes, I’m almost finished with the paper. Smiling to myself, I complete the last two problems on the short bus ride to my house. 


When I get home, I find Mom crashed on the couch, bottle of wine more than half empty next to her on the floor. Previous stains are located on other places of the old green rug that Dad gave to Mom when they got married. I don’t bother hiding them under old newspapers anymore, they’ve basically become a part of the shaggy piece of cloth. Mom’s still in her waitress uniform when I cover her with a blanket, the soft corners falling over her sleeping form. Her breath wafts up to me, the alcohol heavy, as I kiss my mother on her pale, overworked cheek. Turning away, I lug my schoolbag down the hallway to my room, not one thing out of place. Everything is tidy and neat, unlike the rest of the apartment. I fall asleep twisted in sheets that offer no comfort to my dreams that night.  

I’m standing in the middle of my math classroom. The Grossmonster is standing there with that annoying girl from the hallway. The teacher sneers. Your father’s in prison? Detention, see me at three thirty. I start to protest, and then I hear laughing. I turn around to find Adam and Jordie laughing their heads off. What happened? I cry out, and suddenly the whole school–Hannah from Biology, Toby from History, Alex from English–they’re all there, surrounding me, laughing their heads off. It’s maniacal laughter, their heads thrown back and fingers pointing. I look down at myself, and realize that I’m not wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants anymore. My outfit has changed drastically. I’m dressed in a gray jumpsuit, no pockets and a number tacked to my chest. The walls of the classroom begin to transform, forming a cell, but my classmates are with me, closing in…

I wake up covered in sweat and shaking. It was just a dream, I tell myself. I get up and shuffle around in complete darkness, my hand shaking as I grope around for my cell phone. It’s 5:24 AM, so I do what I always do after a nightmare–I search up my father’s case. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2010-–Marcus Wilson, with a history of federal offences and warnings, has finally been convicted of theft. The crime occurred earlier this year, when two armed, masked figures stormed a jewelry store and stole two diamond necklaces, one sapphire stone ring, and three pairs of pure gold earrings, three inches in length. One employee was injured in the process, receiving a broken wrist after being roughly shoved into a glass cabinet and falling to the floor. The other workers survived with minor injuries. Marcus Wilson and Anthony Johnson both pled guilty and were sentenced to four years in federal prison. Marcus has a wife and child, and Anthony has no family members that we were able to contact. The suspects and their families were not available for comment. 

I shut off my phone and walk to the living room, where my mother is watching the local news. 

“Morning, Mom,” I say, rubbing the last bits of sleep from my eyes. “You’re feeling better?” 

She gives me a watery smile. “I love you, Dashiell. You are your father’s son…”  Her half-lidded eyes return to the TV, and I nod to please her, now pondering the thought of what my dad was like as a young man. When he wasn’t involved with drugs, gangs, crime… I plop down next to her and put my head in my hands, unable to get the thoughts about my father out of my head.

“Hey Mom, how long has it been since we’ve visited Dad?” I know the answer. The last time we visited, I got really angry at him. We got into a yelling fight, and the visit was canceled early. It’s been over nine months. 

“Honey, I don’t know. Sometimes things go by in a blur, or they drag out slowly…” Her words are beginning to slur, so I take the bottle of wine from her hand and set it aside. We watch TV until I realize I’m going to be late for school. 

“Bye, Mom!” I shove last night’s paper into my schoolbag and run to catch the bus. 

I decide that after school, I’m going to do something that I haven’t done in nine months.


I square my shoulders and walk into my dad’s temporary home. The guards pat me down, I sign some papers, and since I’m thirteen, I don’t need a parent or guardian here with me. The big security guy leads me through the familiar hallways, down the metal stairs, and into the basement, where Block C is located. We pass a couple doors, I read the numbers. J-9873. M-4277. O-3858.  I wonder how all these men got here. What did they do? Do they have families that visit, or do they just waste away in their cells for fifteen years? Are they actually guilty, or were they framed for a crime? I realize all the questions and words buzzing around in my head are making my hands sweat and my mouth dry. I lick my lips and take a deep breath. We stop outside a door that reads W-8309. I know that number very, very well. 

“Wilson, you got a visitor!” The guard yells at the door. I can hear shuffling inside the cell, and there’s an awkward silence. 

“He’s being pretty good. He could be out soon.” The guard continues. I nod, and then two hands are placed gently through the gap in the middle of the door. I stare at my dad’s hands. They look pretty normal, no scabs or scratches. That’s good, I tell myself reassuringly. The guard cuffs Dad’s hands quickly, expertly, and they withdraw. The door is opened. 

My father stands, head down, hands cuffed in front of me. He’s wearing a gray jumpsuit like the one I had in my dream. My father raises his head, and I look him in the eye for the first time in months. His face is hollowed and gaunt, his eyes sunken and his cheekbones quite prominent. 

“Dad?” I ask, my eyes already filling with tears. He’s unable to speak, I see his eyes light up with shock and sadness, and I can’t help but rush to him, hugging, loving, wanting. We stay like that for a long time, until I pull away. 

“You’ve grown so much, Dashiell. I haven’t seen you for such a long time…” He says, voice hoarse. His shaggy brown hair falls into his face, and he wipes it away, along with a stray tear. 

“I’m sorry,” I whisper. 

He looks at me for the longest time. Finally he whispers, “There’s nothing to be sorry for, Dashiell. I should never have gotten involved with Anthony and those guys. I’m sorry for being hard on you. Will you forgive me?” 

Without hesitation, I hug him again. “Yes, yes, yes,” I say. We end up moving to a table inside my father’s cell. He asks about Mom, and I tell him she’s a bit of a mess. He gets up, takes something from under his pillows, and returns. He gives it to me. I examine the bundle. It’s a stack of letters, bound by a piece of twine. 

“I wrote these to your mother,” Dad says softly. “I’ve decided to work on the better me. When I get out of here, I won’t look at the gangs and my old buddies again. I’m going to be a new man, Dashiell. A new man.” He seems delighted with himself, so I smile as well. We chat for a little more, and of course we reach the inevitable subject–school. I spill everything; skipping school, the trouble my friends have got into. When the guard signals that our two hours are almost up, my father takes my hand. 

Looking me in the eye, he says, “Son, you may not be the most well behaved kid at school. Actually, it sounds like you and your buddies are the troublemakers. And it sounds cool at the time, but you’ll start getting into serious trouble. You’re definitely going to regret what you did, and there’ll be consequences. That’s exactly what happened to me, and I beg you not to go down that path. Please, son, choose what’s right and be the better person. Stay away from people who lead you down a dangerous path. Remember, I love you, and your mother loves you too, so please avoid situations that are.” 

He squeezes my hand, and the guard escorts me out of the room. As the door closes, I wave and say just loud enough for him to hear; “I love you too, Dad.”



When D got home, his mom was snoozing on the couch. He gently shook her awake.
“Hey, Mom. I… visited Dad today.” Feeling tired, he left the letters next to her bottle of Bud Light and retired to his room early. When he woke up and strolled down the hall the next day, the smell of eggs and bacon reached his nose. Rubbing his eyes hard, D saw his mother making breakfast in the kitchen, a pile of open letters on the counter. As he got closer, he saw the letters contained his dad’s handwriting. 

“How much bacon, D?” his mother asked. 

D went back to school that day. He walked in with Katie and a smile on his face. Looking the feared math teacher in the eye, he held out a neat, fully completed homework assignment. When Prince started making cat noises during the lesson, D didn’t join in. Jordie and Prince came up to him later that day.

“What’s up with you, man?” Jordie looked concerned, but Prince had a menacing look on his face as he stood defiantly behind Jordie, arms crossed. 

  “I… don’t want to do this anymore. I’m sick of playing around, getting in trouble, and never taking anything seriously. We’ll get into bigger trouble, you know.” 

Both his friends’ expressions hardened. 

“I thought we were real friends, Dashiell,” Prince spat at him. They walked away, wanting nothing to do with him anymore. 

It was sad to watch his old friends ignore him, but Dashiell started hanging out with other kids after that, grades improving as well as his various relationships. 

 A few months after D’s visit, his father went on trial for the last time and the judge let him go. D’s life was finally piecing back together, especially since his father came back. 

The Flower of Night

A sustained shriek rips through the raven-dark air. A young boy emerges from a building, his eyes alight with fear. He takes a step into the night, slowly at first, and then sprints. He reaches the opposite sidewalk and disappears into another building. 

Shoes. Thousands of shoes. In every color, shape, and size. Here, near the street lamp, there’s a pair of black leather pumps, stomping up and down in a frenzy. Across the block, a pair of well-worn, mud-caked hiking shoes performs a tapdance. Over there, down by the red brick townhouse is a collection of neon sneakers. All of them dance around this angry Sun-on-Earth. It cackles and dances and glints. It plays and spreads and reaps the block of its population. 

A young woman clutches her shawl, tears wetting the soft cloth. She is the source of the scream. Her mouth is open, her sound lighting the thousands of ears grouped around the fearsome fire. 

A man in a navy-blue pinstripe suit holds onto his briefcase for his life. His daughter is gone. His watch shines with the reflection. She’s disappeared into the mass, yet to appear. Which mass?

The people scream, but the young boy is deaf. All he knows is that his mother descended into the street thirty minutes ago and he hasn’t had dinner yet. He treads to the floor-length window and screeches a sound he cannot hear.

They lick the street and eat the sidewalk without a moment of consideration. Buildings are devoured in a matter of seconds. It advances. The brave knights who hold the hoses and those too desperate to try to salvage their own lives are the only ones who remain near this beast. It growls and laughs at the few helpless and stupid enough to tease it. It pounces and engulfs them. 

A second sun emerges. It tears the sky heavy with tears into a dreadful begonia. The stars fall, one by one. 

The person in only a purple Peanuts t-shirt advances into the flower, ready to be eaten.

This is a flower of night. It fades and crumples and grays as another one takes its place, ravaging the sky. 

The fire was beautiful. It was the color of wheat in harvest season. It smelled of cinnamon and campfires. It glinted like a million mirrors and faded like a tired firefly. It kissed the earth with passion, love almost. 

No one will remember this. They will remember only the old man who limped and leaned on his old wife. They all limp. Every single one of them limps, whether their limbs be lithe and lean or wizened and broken. They are oldened, every one of them: wrinkles line their faces like old war-paint; their eyes are sunken and flighty. They will remember the picture released in the press, the following day, a lifeless representation of the arid desert lacking everything of the city’s breath. An urban tundra, frozen over, for none to survive.

The flower has faded.

I Don’t Know What To Call This – A Poem

Puncture me, words of bleeding ink.

Rip through my veins, I’m possessed by you, like a puppet on a string. 

You own me in chains. Cold, hard steel. Break me, break my bones. Shatter my spirit of writer’s block. 

I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I’m bad at this. Bad at life. Cut my throat of blood and ice. Rip my spine, use it for your books.

My flesh will be the cover, my blood you will write with. I am a slave, now and forever, to the spirit that is writing. It owns me, and I love it. It hurts me, but I embrace it.

You can call it abuse, but to me it’s just tough love. You can try to fight it, but it latches on, like a snake around your throat, the words burrow into your skin, like spiders, your flesh will crawl and slither, ache to escape, but your mind lusts for it. 

That savagery, that greed, that need to write, fingers a slave to the notebook, the pen, the keyboard. Even my skeleton will write. I am here, a slave to this spirit for a thousand lifetimes.

I can turn to dust, my bones will crack and dry up, my fingers withered, my eye sockets turned long ago to voids of emptiness, but I will keep going. I have to. Because it is all I have left. 

Miriam’s Song

Some time ago, 11 members of the Jewish community were killed,

Shot down, erased from the face of the planet.

Killed by a man whose hatred for those who differ from him outweighed the cost of taking their lives.

And as he raised the barrel of his gun, he shot through the 

Maccabees who fought so valiantly to have their right to pray,

He shot through Esther as she saved the Jews from being annihilated,

He shot through Moses as he pushed through the Red Sea towards freedom,

He shot through Elijah as he fought to keep the Jewish religion grounded, 

And he shot through Zelophehad’s daughters as they fought for their human right to live.

His gunshot was heard around the world, ringing in the ears of all people.

And as they fall, we rise up, taking our place and doubling our strength as one people.

We snatch up that gun and throw it behind us, 

We take our timbrels and dance like Miriam,

Because we are the Chosen People, 

The ones who survived.

And survivors are not defeated, pushed down, or shot.

We sing, we shout, for we are done keeping quiet.

Our time of being pushed out is over.

So we talk,

To our friends,

Our family,

And to people who aren’t our friends and family.

We tell them who we are.

First, people. Second, Jewish.

Here to spread the love of those around us,

Not to kill.

Here to help people that don’t have as much as we do,

Not to hurt.

Here to tell people that they are not alone in this big, scary world,

Not to hate.

Because when it’s Rosh Hashana,

I want to eat my apples and honey and taste no sadness,

Just the rich sweetness of the food and my family.

And when it’s finally time for Passover,

I want to dip my herbs in the bitter water and know that it actually signifies hardships of the past,

Not the present.

All the Way

I approach the water

Many times a day.

Sometimes I dip my toe in,

But I never go all the way.

I linger by the coast,

But soon high tides win.

I scurry back up,

Jagged rocks breaking my skin. 

The heat of it burns me,

The cold pushes me away.

But I know when I’m ready,

Nothing will make me stay. 

The waters break roughly,

So I look far out to sea,

Where it sits patiently,

Waiting calmly for me. 

Someday I won’t be scared;

I’ll dive all the way in.

And when they come to find me,

I’ll be nothing but the wind. 

The Heart

As I was walking home, sobbing in the rain, I get a text saying, I’m sorry, I love you, I hope you will be happier than you were with me. I keep crying as I’m walking to the nearest Seven Eleven because I hated Chinese food and right before he dumped me, Dan, brought me to a Chinese restaurant. Even after three years of dating, he still doesn’t know me. But I forget about him, so I walk into the Seven Eleven. 

I start getting slushies and realize that my mascara is all over my face. People at the store are staring, but honestly, who cares? I then buy a bunch of chips. After they kick me out for almost falling asleep on the floor, I walk into the Starbucks attached to the Seven Eleven. I decide to get a venti iced coffee with two shots of espresso. I know, terrible choice, but I personally hate sleeping, and it was already around 3 AM and I need to be at work by 8:45, so I guess I could just deal with it. When I’m done drinking my coffee and eating my cookie dough cake pop, I leave the place. 

As soon as I walk out of the Starbucks, I realize it’s not raining anymore. That kind of cheers me up. I don’t feel like getting an Uber looking like this, so I decide to just walk home. I’m now walking in an alley and I notice it smells so bad. As I’m thinking of what could be in the dumpster right next to me, my stomach starts to churn. But since I’m already grossed out, I might as well text Dan stuff that I’ll probably regret in the morning. 

I start texting him, You don’t deserve anyone you no good heartbreaker. I know, sounds cheesy. Right after I send the text, I hear a sound. It’s quiet but I’m able to hear it. I look around and say, “Is anyone there?” Having a scary movie preference, that is the dumbest thing anyone could ever say. 

So I decide to look around, I then turn back to the dumpster. I was hesitant to lift up the top of it. But I eventually start to hold my breath and open up the dumpster. The smell is repulsive. I want to throw up. As I turn on my flashlight from my phone, I look down and see the most terrifying thing I would ever see in my life. 

It was Dan. He was wrapped up in a black bag, but I could see his face through the clear colored grocery bags. He was so bloody. He looked like he was in a fight then hit really badly. His face had scratches and bruises all over it. His chest was like a lagoon of blood, it was disgusting. I wanted to scream. My ex-boyfriend that I loved endlessly was in a dumpster, dead and soaked in his own blood. I wanted to pull him out to see if he was still alive and able to survive. But I wasn’t stupid. It’s the twenty-first century. People are going to lie, for example. If I’d call the police right about now, what would I say? That I just magically found a dead body in a dumpster that I just happened to be looking through? They’d also find my fingerprints if I checked if he was still alive or pulled him out. So calling someone was not an option at all. But I loved him, but he didn’t love me. I wanted to die. He was so special and kind, except for tonight. 

As I got home, I realized that my apartment door is unlocked and a little open, so I take my taser that I keep in my purse and hold it up. I then walk into my apartment and see that there is blood everywhere. On the walls, on the floor, and on the doors. I cannot believe it. What if this is where Dan died? What if this was something else that didn’t have to do with Dan? As I walk around my apartment, I realize my fridge was open and leaking red liquids. I was terrified of what could lie behind the steel refrigerator door. As I open the door, I see a heart. A bloody, big, red heart. 

I fall on the floor from the shock. I start crying hard, and then have a couple panic attacks. But then I say to myself, what the hell am I supposed to do with this? I can’t call the police because my fingerprints are all over my own house. So I decide to do something crazy, I decide that I would be doing some early spring cleaning. So I put on some sweats, go to Target, get the buy four get 1 free bleach sales. But first, I had to send my boss an email saying that I was sick and couldn’t come to work, so that by morning he’d see my email. Then started scrubbing, scrubbing hard. 

After about six hours of bleaching my house top to bottom, left to right, and side to side, I was so scared of what would happen in the future. Was I supposed to live with this forever? Well I can’t, if you were asking. I honestly want to know who would do such a thing. But before I can think of anything close to that, I have to sleep. I need to rest every part of me that I could think of. Then I start thinking of Dan’s family. He has a sister and two brothers, he has a 5-year-old niece and a cat in his house. He was only twenty-four. He had such a big career in law ahead of him. But then I started wondering who could’ve done it. I start to think of who could possibly have had a grudge against him or even someone who wanted to ruin his career, but that was going to be a hard one because Dan was a famous lawyer for celebrities in LA. After that, I realize that I just can’t sleep. So instead I head to Dan’s house, but I need to prepare for anything. I have an emergency gun and a taser. I also pack a first aid kit just in case I get into an accident. I do realize that I could either be killed or go to jail. 

As I was getting ready to leave for Dan’s house, I remember that I need to make sure that my boss at work knows that I am “sick” and can’t go to work. So I grab my phone from my kitchen counter, check it, and then realize that I have a lot of missed texts and calls. I even have a voicemail in my inbox. So I open my text app. I first see one of my friends from work, Melanie, had texted me, Where are you? So I text back that I was staying home from work today. 

Then I go back to check who else had texted or called me. The text right after Melanie was Dan, and I was anxious to open it. What if the person that did it texted Dan from his phone while he was put in the dumpster to decay? I wasn’t ready, so I just go on to check my voicemail box. And of course, in my voicemails there are possible scam messages, so I go through all of those and block most of them. And after that, I go to check if I have any left, and I have one more. I was thinking I had just missed another scam call, but no, it’s a voicemail from Dan’s phone. I was so scared I could feel my goosebumps spreading everywhere from how scared I was. I know that I was eventually going to have to listen to it, so that time might as well be now. So I carefully open it and put my ear against the speaker. At first, all I can hear are the breaths from someone, then I realize that it’s Dan breathing. It sounds like he was out of breath and running. But what I was about to listen was going to ruin me for life.  

So I’m still listening to the voicemail from Dan, but as I’m closely listening, I hear a guy’s voice come in. He sounds drunk, and I can’t really understand what he’s saying to Dan, which gets me annoyed. But then I hear a door close, so that means the guy either left or someone else is now there. I hear a girl’s voice. It sounds so familiar. It sounds like she was whispering to him or the other guy there. I’m just not sure who the people were. After that, Dan and his “friends” went back and all I could hear was music being blasted and screaming for about an hour in the voicemail. Then I hear the girl whisper again, and I hear Dan and the girl get out or go away from the loud music. I got scared, as if, maybe Dan was cheating on me the night he died. But that wouldn’t matter because we would have already been broken up by that time. As I am still listening, I hear some kind of argument happening. I hear Dan saying, “No stop, I can’t do this anymore, just enough!” As I hear this happening, I quickly understand that whoever Dan was with could’ve been the person who killed him. And that I need to listen very carefully. 

As I’m still listening, I realize that I might’ve known where he went but before I can think, I hear a loud crack and what I thought was a hard fall. I was thinking, the girl that was with Dan at that very moment, or whoever he was arguing with, had hit Dan in the head with something hard. Then waiting for a sound to come up, I hear him say in a vulnerable voice, “Why did you do that to me?” And I hear the girl say, “Because you never loved me.” I then hear a gunshot sound and Dan choking. I was crying so hard. I had just heard the love of my life get shot in the middle of the night. I was disgusted. I wanted to throw up. But I needed to stay strong throughout this experience. 

So I now grab a piece of paper from my bulletin board to write down every girl that I have in record of knowing Dan. I write down some ex-girlfriends, some girls from work, and some friends. After I’m done writing, I put the piece of paper in my bag, lock my door, and leave my apartment. 

As I’m in the taxi to Dan’s house, I start thinking really hard about everything Dan’s ever told me. Maybe there’s a clue on who could’ve done this to him. But I then realize my phone was ringing. I see that it’s Melanie so I pick up. I asked, “Hello?” in a ratchet voice to make her think I was sick. 

She then asks, “Where are you right now?” 

I then panic a little, deciding if I should tell her I’m at home eating soup or if I’m going to the doctor. But as I think about what I’m going to tell her, I start remembering the horrors from last night. At some point I just go with saying, “I’m going to a pharmacy downtown to get medicine.” 

Then she for some reason sounded annoyed, but I just don’t really care right now. She says, “Oh, ok.” She also says in a cute subtle voice, “I can totally bring you soup later when you’re back. I could just let myself in. I still have your keys!”

 And I just tell her to leave them under my door mat after she leaves work. 

But instead of saying, ok, she just says, “Well I’m here right now. I wanted to see how you were feeling.” 

I was kind of confused, but I had to hang up because I needed to pay for the taxi and because I was here at Dan’s house. I was scared of how I would react to see his house, because well, there’re pictures of us together all over it. 

As I walk into the house, I flash back to all the great memories Dan and I had. All the ferris wheel rides, the date nights, the cute cuddling nights at home. Even before we even started dating, I had gotten sick in the middle of a little meetup we had and had to go home. He then showed up at my house with a cute care package that had a teddy bear, chocolates, and a bunch of calming stuff. Going through this is an emotional rollercoaster. I was first in shock, then fearful, then just depressed, and now I’m just a mess. But I really feel like Dan is in the room with me right then and there. It’s hard being there, but I kind of have to. I then start looking around in desks and drawers for any notes or reminders to where or who he could’ve been with. But as I’m skimming each room and piece of paper I can see, I find something weird. 

It looks like some kind of document, at first I was like, Oh that’s just Dan being a lawyer. But as I look through it, I see that there are these confusing notes on it. It looks as if it’s some kind of code. It’s a bunch of numbers. So after waiting and doing nothing for like ten minutes, I finally decide to something productive and search up the numbers of the piece of paper into Google. When I am done writing these literal ten numbers into my phone and messing up the order about five times, I enter it and press search. 

There are only two things that come up, this weird dating website, this website called White pages, and then even more random numbers. After researching on both of them, I decide they are all pointless and aren’t getting me anywhere. So I start thinking, and I realize there are enough digits for it to be a phone number. So as I dial star six seven just in case I don’t know who it is, I dial the rest of the numbers. As it’s ringing, it goes straight to voicemail. And the first thing I feel once I hear the voice of the voicemail is that my heart deflates, my jaw drops from how shocked I am, and I start to cry a little. 

It’s my best friend of two and a half years of work add two years in high school. Melanie. I can hear her voicemail saying, “Hey, it’s Melanie, leave a message.” I was terrified, but there’s no possible way that it was her. She doesn’t even really know Dan. I’ve never even introduced them. My happiness just disintegrates immediately. But the more I think about it, the easier I realize it could’ve been, if she in fact, was the killer. She has the keys to my apartment. And on my little keychain with all my keys. And I told her where I was last night at Starbucks and Seven Eleven. She had everything she could need to kill Dan, or even me! I was terrified and then I realize, someone was at the door. 

I grab my gun ready and loaded, walking slowly down the hall to the front door. My gun is ready to fire, and I have pepper spray in my pocket. I’m ready to go through anything. As I open the door carefully, I see pink hair, Melanie’s hair color. I quickly grab my pepper spray, open the door quickly, and spray her in the eyes. As she screams in pain, I push her to the floor, I take my gun, and say my last four words to her. “Go die in Hell.” Then I point my gun at her, right in her forehead. 

I shoot. 

The last thing I will remember of Melanie and my ex-boyfriend are the blood coming out of their mouths.

3 and a half months later

Now, you all might be asking, what happened? Well, let me tell you. 

After my terrifying experience three months ago, I checked into a mental help bunker, which basically meant I took a break from reality, a couple months of doing therapy and meeting new friends. I started getting sick a lot of the time. I knew in the back of my heart that I was in fact pregnant with Dan’s baby. I was thinking of all the exercises that my therapy had taught me, but I couldn’t resist and just started bawling. So I then checked out of the therapy bunker and went back to the real world. I then had Camille. She looked exactly like Dan. I eventually had to go back to work, but I went to a different place. I also ended up disappearing completely from Dan’s family because I couldn’t bear seeing them. I’m still guilty of that. So yeah, that’s just my life. 

5 years later

“Sweetie! You are going to be late for school, come get your bag, and give mommy a kiss!” I say.

 “Ok, I love you, bye mom!” Camille says as she leaves from the back door. But about five minutes later, she comes back through the back door again saying she missed the bus again. 

In a silly voice, I say, “Ok, I will just drop you off on my way to work. No worries, Milly.” As I’m grabbing my car keys from my kitchen counter, I hear my phone ringing. I was expecting it to be my boss, Larry, asking if I was working today because I had told him before that I might have an opportunity to check out houses near Camille’s new school to move into for a few years. 

But as I check my phone, and it’s an unknown number. I answer and the only thing the person on the other end of the call says is, “Hey.” 

I pause for a minute in silence to realize the heartbreaking realization I had just made. Instead of asking questions, the only words that come out of my mouth are, “Daniel?”


Whales moan to each other, chanting their conversations into the air.

The stunning Azure waves whip the rocks, engulfing them in sea.

Bubbles rise up, expiring at the foamy surface.

At sunrise, the horizon spreads fiery colors over the calm ripples.

As they dive deeper, a chill spreads through their gills.

The teal fades to a deep midnight near the sand.

A vicious tiger shark slithers quietly, lashing its tail.

It seizes a mollusk in its jaws, biting until its prey stops thrashing.

So many creatures, each having a life of their own.

One question remains.

If we can’t see air,

cAn fIsH sEE wAtER?


I walk through the farm, and I don’t feel good

This place is so tedious and dull

All there ever is to see is dirt, dirt, and more dirt

I also spot the occasional hill in the distance

I wish I could see something more interesting like animals

However, this is a crop growing farm

The scent of all these sweet fruits and vegetables begin to make me nauseous

I wish for an AC in this horrible and hot place

I feel so weary in this place

I beg someone to get me out of this place, but alas, there is no one here

I am all alone in this horrible place

The dullness of this farm is horrible

I would rather write a poem about pencils than do this

Even staring at a blank whiteboard is more fun than this

Why am I here, and how did I come here?


My invention was complete. After seven years, my work had paid off. I walked around the lab, admiring the beautiful machine I had created. It was a proton collider. The first invention I had ever succeeded in making. 

“Chloe, Richard, Dylan. Come down and look at my latest project!”

 My lab was the basement of our house, and my wife always warned me not to blow anything up here. She and my two kids ran down the stairs, ecstatic to see my new invention. As soon as they laid their eyes upon the collider, their eyes brightened. 

“WHOA!” my kids shouted as my wife hugged me with tears in her eyes. 

“You’ve done it Daniel!” she said. “For seven years, everybody mocked you. Laughed about you. Now you can laugh at them. Mock them.” I smiled at this. The thought of laughing at everyone who laughed at me was enough to make me laugh.

“Well, let’s see how it works Daddy!” Dylan shouted impatiently. I smiled at him. 

“Of course.” I walked over to the collider and turned it on. It immediately began to hum as thin balls of energy began to form at the two endpieces. They grew and a thin beam shot out, connecting them. As I marveled at my invention, something odd began to happen. It seemed as if something was stuck within the beam. In the middle, there was a bulge that grew at an exponential rate. When it reached the size of a basketball, it stopped growing. I looked at it curiously. Then I realized what it was. It was too late. 

“RUN!” I shouted at my family as the bulge exploded, opening up a black hole the size of a car. 

I grabbed onto the table and shouted again, “RUN!” My wife grabbed my kids and ran to the back of the lab, frantically looking for something to help me. The black hole grew bigger and stronger as the table I was grabbing onto began to slide. 

“DANIEL!” my wife shouted as I let go of the table and grabbed onto the steel pipe. Hot water moved through the pipe, scalding my hand but I held on tight. As I looked at my wife, she stared back at me with determination. She moved closer to me, making sure she didn’t get sucked in by the black hole and reached out her hand. The pipe groaned as the black hole now grew to the size of the room. I looked at her and closed my eyes. Taking a deep breath, I let go of the pipe, just as it exploded and leapt towards my wife’s hand. She looked at me and reached out even further as my fingertips met hers. Then the black hole grew once again as my fingers slid off hers, and I flew through the air towards the blackhole. I stared right at her and shouted over the howling wind, “I love you Chloe!” as everything went black.

I woke up in a field, surrounded by all sorts of miscellaneous items from my lab. I tried to recall what  had just happened. Memories started to flow back into me as I grew more and more frustrated. Yet again, I had failed to create something that worked. As I looked around me, something caught my eye. It was the garden gnome that Dylan had made. That could only mean… Yes. I was in my yard. My house was right in front of me. Perhaps it had all been a dream. Perhaps I had fallen asleep and… 

“DANIEL!” a familiar voice shouted. I turned my head to the voice. It was my wife Chloe. As I stood up to tell her what I had dreamed, I realized she was glaring at me. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked. 

“I told you to never show your face to me or my kids ever again and you have the gall to just show up in my yard and make a mess!”

 I was shocked. Chloe had never spoken so harshly to me before. 

“GET OUT OF MY YARD! NOW!” She shouted as I stared at her. 

“Chloe I just…” 


I looked at her one last time and walked away from the house.

I just kept walking. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. As I passed a supermarket on my right, a man walked out and I immediately recognized who it was. 

“Ryan.” I said through gritted teeth.

 He had been the person who had mocked me for trying to make a proton collider and even sabotaged my attempts in the process of creating it. “Oh Daniel. How are you doing?” 

I was surprised to see he was being so nice to me. Normally, he would be such a jerk but he seemed so different. “Umm.. I’m great.” I turned to walk away but he stopped me. 

“Hey, we’re still on for today’s dinner right. 5:30 at John’s?” 

“Umm.. Yeah I’ll be there” I replied and walked away. I was so confused. Why was everyone so different from how I remembered them?

At 5:30 that night, I walked up to John’s and looked for Ryan. He was sitting at the booth at the far left corner so I headed towards him. He smiled at me and I sat across from him. The waiter came with some bread, so I ripped a piece off the loaf and started to eat. Then, something caught my eye as I choked. The man walking through the door was me.

I stared at him and he stared at me. We just looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Then he looked at Ryan and back at me. He dropped his cup and it shattered on the floor. 

“Umm.. Ryan?” he asked.

 Ryan stopped mid-chew and turned around. When he saw my doppelganger, he too choked on his bread. I tried to piece everything together. Why had everybody seem so different from who they were and why was there a clone of me?

 Then I remembered how I ended up here. Everything started to fit together like a puzzle. 

“Ryan. Other Me. When I tell you this, do not freak out. It might sound crazy but it’s true. Ryan, before when I met you outside the supermarket, I was with my family. I had created a proton collider that opened up a black hole that brought me here. When I got here, my wife acted like she hated me and you acted like we were friends. However, in my ordinary universe, my wife and I love each other and you are my worst enemy. This led me to believe that I was in an alternate universe. One that is the exact opposite of what I live in. That means you are my antimatter.”

Ryan and Other Me stared at me like I was crazy. Then they laughed. “Daniel. I’m sure that you’ve had a long day. Maybe you should just go home and rest for today.” Ryan said. 

Other me looked at him and back to me. “Well, it may be possible. Although proton colliders aren’t supposed to create black holes. If you make a mistake with the wires, it may malfunction to create one. But what kind of universe have you ended up in?” 

I looked at him. “Let’s find out. Other Me. Shake my hand.” I extended my hand to him. As soon as our hands met, pain seared from my hand. Almost like a burning feeling from acid. I quickly retracted my hand and looked at it. The entire layer of skin on my hand had burnt off. “This is what happens when antimatter meets matter.” I said to them.

“Well if this is true, we have to find a way for you to get home,” Ryan said to me. 

“Well let’s establish something. If I have any more physical contact with Other Me, we will both be completely destroyed. No more touching alright?” I looked at Other Me and he nodded. “Okay. I think I have a way for me to get back to my universe. I need to make another proton collider in order to get back home. It’s an extremely risky move and I could theoretically end up in any other universe or possibly even get stuck in the time-space continuum, but it’s the only way. Do any of you have a lab lying around anywhere that I can use?”

Ryan just shook his head but Other Me’s face brightened as he looked at me and asked, “Did you say proton collider? I have a lab with one already made. The problem is where it is…” 

I looked at him excitedly. “Where is it?” 

He hung his head low. “It’s in the basement of Chloe’s house.” 

I looked at him. Just why. Of all places, WHY?! “Oh yeah. What happened with Chloe?” I asked. 

He sat down. “It’s a long story. Let me tell you.”

“When Chloe and I got married, we each had different aspirations. I wanted to be an inventor who created inventions that changed the world. I wanted to travel around the world and enter competitions and constantly keep learning. Chloe wanted to start a family and raise them to do great things. I decided that my dreams could wait and I would help Chloe raise a family. After we had our second kid Dylan, I decided that I would enter a small competition in our state and invent something. When I won first prize, I realized that I had so much talent and I could be an amazing inventor if I had the chance. I decided to go big. Without telling my wife, I bought a plane ticket to Australia to go and compete in the international competition. Surprisingly, I won and although my wife was upset with me for not telling her about it, she was proud. After winning the international competition, my wife thought that was the end of my journey and I should come home to be with my kids, but I wanted to become even greater at inventing. I wanted to solve the world’s greatest mysteries. When my wife heard about this, she and I had an argument. I decided to go my own path while she followed hers. For the next three years, I learned many things about the world and even managed to solve three of the world’s greatest mysteries. Then I found out my son Richard had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I automatically headed home only to find out that he had already died. Heartbroken and clueless what to do next, I tried to go back home, but she closed the doors on me.”

I looked at Other Me. He had gone through so much. “I’m so sorry.” I managed to get out. He looked at me and said 

“We have to find a way to get inside the lab with or without her permission.” 

I nodded my head. “When should we try?”

That night, we all met in front of Chloe’s house. The mess from before had been cleaned up, and all the lights in the house were off. We walked to the front door and Other Me took a key out of his pocket. 

“Don’t tell her I have this,” he told us. “She hasn’t changed the locks on the door since I moved out so I still have access to the house.” He slid the key into the keyhole and turned. With a small click, the door was unlocked. He slowly opened the door and stepped inside. Ryan and I followed, careful not to make any sounds. We walked towards the basement stairs but as we opened the door, Someone turned the corner and stopped in their tracks. It was Dylan. 

He looked at me and then Other Me, and then Ryan and back to me. I could tell he was confused, so I whispered to him, “Dylan, don’t tell your mom we were here. Just go back to sleep and forget any of this happened.” 

He stared at us as if we were crazy so we just closed the door to the basement and walked down the stairs. I looked at Other Me and he looked at me, smiling, with tears in his eyes. “He’s grown so much,” he said to me. “I haven’t seen him in seven years.” 

I smiled at him. ‘Hopefully you can see him again someday,” I said. 

The three of us walked down the stairs, and I looked around the lab. It looked exactly like my old lab. I asked Other Me, “Where’s the proton collider?” He pointed over to the machine covered in a blue sheet. I walked over to the machine and took the sheet off. Then I unscrewed the screws that held a steel plate on. After the steel plate was off, I looked through the wires. Everything was the same as the one I had made except for the ones right on top. They were twisted together, but when I did it, I had tied them together. As I untwisted the wires, I thought about my wife. My kids. I thought about how Other Me had it so hard. Wife hating him, dead child. I almost wanted to give him my place and let him live in my universe. 

After the wires were “fixed”, I walked over to the other side and turned it on. The energy began to flow just as it had before. Then, I heard a loud harsh voice. 


Other Me came out of the shadows. “You’ve got the wrong guy,” he said. “I’m sorry, Chloe. For everything. But we need the lab just for another minute.” 

“No” she replied curtly. “Get out.” 

“Please Chloe,” he pleaded. 

“Well first, why are there two of you?” she asked. 

“Let me explain,” he said. 

I looked back. The bulge had already started to grow. “Guys, I think this is my cue to exit.” I walked over to Ryan and gave him a big hug. I turned to Other Me, and I nodded my head. “Thanks for everything” I said to them as I turned back. The bulge exploded once again as it dragged me in. But this time I was prepared. I closed my eyes and let the blackness overwhelm me. 

I woke up for the third time that day. I looked around and saw the garden gnome. I hoped it wasn’t foreboding as I walked up the steps. I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell. After a couple seconds, the door opened and I saw the love of my life standing in front of me. With tears in her eyes, she threw her arms around me and I wrapped my arms around her, patting her back. I saw Richard and Dylan in the back, so I invited them into our embrace. We hugged for what seemed like forever. Once we had released from our embrace, I smiled at them. “Let me tell you everything.” 

As I walked inside, I heard a crash outside. I turned around and looked out the window. Other Me and Other Chloe were back.


I was awoken by the sun’s soft, early morning rays. I’ve always been a light sleeper, which is always a good thing for waking up early to work like I do. With a quick yawn and a stretch, I slid out of bed and laced up my boots again. By the looks of things when I got downstairs, Mother and Father were still asleep. Hunting takes up most of my day if I’m to catch anything, so I grabbed a decent chunk of bread from the kitchen and filled up a waterskin at the well. Lastly, I headed to the shed just outside of the house and retrieved the bow and quiver of arrows from the shelf. The early morning air was cool and the breeze was slight, the sun just beginning to peek over the horizon, leaving the land covered in a golden haze. Today should be a good hunt for me. That is, if I didn’t get too frustrated first. With a last glance at the house, I silently made my way to the nearby woods, bow gripped tightly in my hand. 

Surprisingly, within minutes, I found myself hiding behind some bushes while a deer grazed a few paces away from me. I slowly pulled an arrow from my quiver and nocked it on the bowstring. Before I could pull it back and ready my shot, a twig snapped behind me and scared off the deer. I whirled around to look for the source of the noise, only to be faced with trees, shrubs, and nothing more. I let out a low growl of frustration and stood up. Another twig snapped, this time seemingly closer. Eyes narrowed, I pulled the bowstring taught and aimed towards the sound. I still didn’t see anything, but a feeling of unease had begun to creep into my body.

“Who’s there?” I called, a slight shake to my voice.

I got no answer, which only deepened the sense of dread that had begun to weigh me down. I waited for a few more moments, and lowered my bow. I bit my lip, and quickly moved on, scanning the forest floor for any more tracks. I spent a few more hours following what appeared to be deer tracks, but after a while I realized that I had gotten completely lost.

“Of course… of course I get lost…” I grumbled, kicking a few rocks out of my way. The forest had gotten dark, even though I knew that it couldn’t be any later than noon. I had never been in this part of the woods, and every shape in the undergrowth seemed foreign or threatening. I found myself drawing my bow at the slightest noise. Eventually, I saw the beginnings of a pathway and my hopes shot up. I followed the path like an excited puppy, eager to get out of this wretched forest. The path led to an open mouthed cave, and I could faintly hear voices coming from within. As I made my way to the entrance, I tripped on a rock and fell flat on my face with a small cry. The voices stopped and I scrambled to my feet. 

When I looked up, a tall, thin man was leaning over me. I like to think of myself as rather tall, but this man was a good head higher than I was. His greasy, shoulder-length hair was dark, his eyes even darker, a glimmer of something otherworldly lurking behind his irises. His skin was like ivory, so much so that it seemed nearly translucent. His lips were the only colorful part of him, as if they were stained with wine, or something of the like.

“Well well well. What have we here? A little lost pup?” The man purred. His voice was smooth and slick, dark amusement oozing from every word.

“I won’t deny I’m lost, but I’m not a pup.” I glared and dusted off my trousers. 

The man laughed and turned back towards the cave, where two more men were standing with their arms crossed.

“Well how about we play a little game then?” The man stepped back a few paces, joining the other two at the cave’s mouth.  “Think of it as… a game of hide and seek.”

The three men grinned, in near-perfect unison. The skin on the back of my neck prickled, and I gripped the handle of my bow even tighter.

“I don’t have time for this. If you won’t tell me how to get back to the village of Farnworth, then I’ll be on my way.” My tone grew sharp, masking the fear I felt deep in my core. There was something off about these men. That much was clear.

“Oh but if you win, we’ll even take you right there!” A second man piped up. This man was burlier than the first, muscular even. His golden, curly hair was cropped at his ears, and his blue eyes glittered with the same sick amusement as the first man.

“Yeah, thanks for the offer but I’ll make my way out.” I turned to leave, but suddenly the third man rushed forward with unnatural speed and gripped my shoulder tightly, his sharp nails digging into my flesh. 

“Have it your way then.” The third man was the smallest, but also the most terrifying. His eyes were almost colorless, a dead sort of grey. His hair seemed to be falling out, despite his rather young appearance. If he weren’t standing in front of me and talking, I would have said that he was dead, or close to being in such a state. I swatted his hand away and nocked an arrow.

“I think I will.” I aimed the arrow at the man’s chest with shaking hands.

The three of them burst into laughter.

“You see that Lucien?” The first man called to the third. “He’s shaking!”

Lucien, the man in front of me, merely smiled, revealing a row of rotting teeth with several of the front ones missing. I barely held back a cry as two of those empty holes began to fill in front of my very eyes with long, wickedly sharp fangs.

Those fangs sent a chill down my spine. They belonged to some… creature. A wicked monster my sheltered mind couldn’t begin to comprehend. My eyes grew wide and a wave of cold fear crashed over me, making me shake even more. Even though my legs felt like lead, I turned around as fast as I could and began to run in the opposite direction. I could hear the three men howling with laughter as I bolted, weaving in and out between trees and fallen logs. My heart hammered in my chest, uneven breaths forcing themselves out into the now-frigid air. 

“You really are a curious one.” I yelped as the first man murmured in my ear. He was barely breathing hard, yet he had run up to me quicker than any creature I had ever seen. I screamed and tried to whack him with my bow, but he caught the end of it effortlessly. “What a pathetic little toy.” He grinned, exposing sharp fangs so white and polished I could swear I saw my own reflection within them. 

The man wrenched the bow out of my hand as if he were taking candy from a child. I whimpered and stumbled back, now thrown off balance. I fell to the ground with a grunt, hitting my head on a tree trunk. Pain blossomed at the base of my neck, a pain I’d never really experienced before. Black spots danced almost mockingly at the edges of my vision, teasing and calling me to fall into the world of the unconscious. 

“Well gentlemen, I know we just ate, but we never say no to a free meal, do we?” Lucien snickered, kneeling down in front of me, fangs bared.

“M…meal?!” I stammered out weakly, blinking several times to clear my vision.

“Oh come on, little pup!” The first man giggled. “Judging by your reaction I assume you know what we are!”

“I don’t have a damn clue! Whatever you are, you can’t be real!” I cried, clenching my eyes shut.

A cold hand grabbed my chin, nails digging into my cheeks. 

“I can assure you, we are very real.” 

I grit my teeth and kicked out my leg, hitting one of the men in the chest. My eyes flew open and the other two seemed startled by my kick, so I turned and began running again. My muscles screamed in pain, begging for me to slow down, but the adrenaline coursing through my body pushed me forward. My head throbbed, pounding with each step I took.

Then, I was suddenly tackled from behind and found myself pinned down on the forest floor, my face pressed into the dirt. 

“Rather persistent aren’t you?” The man dug his nails into my back, nails so sharp that they easily tore through my shirt, leaving a line of gouge marks oozing with warm, sticky blood. A strangled cry leapt out of my mouth, muffled by the dirt and leaves. “I usually don’t play with my food but this has been… delightful!”

I could hear the other men approach as well, and I squirmed under the man’s hand. 

“Ah ah! Stay still! It won’t hurt as much if you do, I promise.” One of the men cackled.

Tears were streaming down my face, hot tears born out of a cold fear. I whined as the man pinning me down pulled me upright and tossed me violently into a thorny bush with little effort. I opened my mouth to cry out as the thorns wedged themselves into my skin, but no sound came out. It struck me then and there that this was how I was going to die. At the hands of some strange monsters that I never stood a chance against. 

I wasn’t even able to —

My thoughts were cut short as a firm hand pulled me out of the thorn bush, and a fist smashed into my face. Once, then twice. Then a few times more. I scratched and clawed at whoever was holding me, my eyes swollen shut from the relentless blows. 

My my. This is rather pathetic, a voice chuckled. But this voice was not one of the men beating the life out of me. This voice seemed different, and seemed to come from all around me, not in one specific location. The pain seemed to fade away for a moment, as did the rest of the world. I felt like I was floating in some strange, endless void.

I can help you, you know, the voice thundered again, still without a definite source.

“How? Who are you?” I tried to speak, but my words fell flat against the darkness.

The voice laughed, a heavy boom that resonated throughout my entire body. 

“Hey! Answer me!” I yelled, looking around to find the voice. I felt as if I were on the brink of tears, but my eyes were strangely dry.

Just look at yourself, the voice purred, and the void around me exploded into a vivid scene, and a familiar one at that. I was back in the woods, watching the three strange men hitting and beating a slumped-over figure, seemingly enjoying themselves. But that figure was… me. Yet somehow I was observing this from outside my own body. Poor little thing. How could you ever survive such a ruthless attack?

A shiver ran through my body. I whirled around to see a raven perched on a low-hanging branch, its small, black, beady eyes glittering with amusement.

“What are you!?” I reached out to grab the bird, as if catching it would release me from this strange hallucination. The raven vanished as soon as I touched it.

Rather touchy, aren’t we?

“Stop it! Stop!” I squeezed my eyes shut and cradled my head in my hands. I was overwhelmed, fear and confusion running rampant through my mind, wild and untamed.

I could help you, Jamie.

I choked out a sob, opening one eye to peer at my savagely beaten body. I was covered in blood, blood which the men seemed to be scooping up with their hands and… and drinking. My arms hung at strange angles, bruises covering nearly every inch of exposed skin. There were undoubtedly more under my shredded shirt and pants.

You could destroy them, dear boy. Just say the word. 

Those words seemed to strike a spark, igniting some strange, otherworldly anger that I never imagined that I was capable of. I stood up and opened my eyes. What gave these monsters the right to do such things? To me? To anyone? Could I really destroy them? Punish them with the justice they deserve?

Yes Jamie, you can. The raven was perched on another branch, staring intently into my eyes. I can give you the power to wreak havoc on any of those who stand in your way. Scorch a path of justice, just for you to walk upon.

Well… how could I refuse with my broken body?

How admirable. I am yours to command, Jamie Darkthorn. The raven shot up into the air and dove straight down towards me. I raised my arms to block the bird, but as soon as it just touched my arm, a wave of powerful force exploded out from within me. I was back in my body, but it was no longer broken. The three men were blown back, landing on the ground with sickening crunches. I opened my eyes, only to find my vision changed. The three men, who were scrambling to their feet, now looked dead in every sense of the word. Skin and flesh was just barely holding on to their time-withered bones, eyes hollow and empty. A word bubbled at my lips, forcing itself free.

Vampire.” I growled, my voice laced with some cruel, ancient power. The three vampires hissed and backed away from me. 

“The hell are you?” One of them snarled, fangs slick with blood. My blood. I didn’t respond. I was too busy looking at my hands and arms, which were swathed in a swirling violet light. “Hey we’re talkin’ to you!”

The vampire ran up to me, ready to lunge, but I instinctively grabbed his arm and, with some urging from the raven, I snapped it. Like snapping a twig. My veins felt as if they were on fire, burning with savage rage. 

Rip off their heads. Break their necks, the raven ordered. Otherwise they won’t die.

If I weren’t drunk on this strange, newfound power, I wouldn’t have even considered doing what the raven instructed. But my fingers twitched and itched, begging me to do it. 

A second vampire rushed at me, and I clamped my hands firmly around his neck. My body was moving without my input, guided by the raven. A flash of doubt flickered in the back of my mind and for a second, my grip weakened. I can’t do this. This… this isn’t right!

You want them punished, don’t you? The raven chided.

“I-I do,” I growled, tightening my grip again. The raven pushed and shoved, and I felt bone snap under my fingers. A sickening jolt of nausea lurched in my stomach and I pushed the vampire away. He reeled back, coughing and grasping at his neck. He then fell back onto the forest floor, gasping and panting. After a few moments, the vampire’s movements stilled. His two companions glanced at me with fearful eyes and bolted back towards their cave. I let them go, a cold mixture of guilt and fear crashing like waves on a stormy sea.

What are you doing? The raven didn’t seem angry, but rather puzzled.

“Not like this. I-I’m not a killer.” 

You aren’t. That vampire was dead. As all before it have been. You did not kill it, you just made its death more permanent.

Tears welled up in my eyes, hot and painful. The thrum of power began to fade, and my hands began to shake. A rustling of leaves made me whirl around to find the raven perched on a nearby bush, its head cocked to the side.

“Why… why did you make me do that?” I choked out, backing away from the bird.

It was not what you wanted? The raven ruffled its wings. I apologize.

“Of course it wasn’t what I bloody wanted!” I took a few more steps back, tripping over the vampire’s body. I yelped and scrambled away from it.

You wanted to serve them justice. I assumed that meant by ending their miserable existence.

I shook my head vigorously.

“No! You… you.. Leave me alone!” I screamed, running and stumbling away from the raven and the body. I didn’t know where I was running, or what path I was taking, but I eventually stumbled across a river, nearly falling in. I stopped at the bank, and looked down at my reflection in the water. My eyes were no longer their usual shade of green, but a brilliant violet, shimmering with power and some otherworldly magic. My hair was still tied up, except for a few odd strands. A thick chunk of my bangs had been stripped of all of its color, leaving it pale and silvery. With a startled cry, I splashed the surface of the water, shattering the reflection. 

I am truly sorry if I had alarmed you, Jamie. The raven was on the other side of the riverbank, nonchalant as ever.

I screamed and scrambled back.

“What did you do to me?!”

Nothing. I simply awakened the power you already harboured. The raven flew swiftly over the river’s water and landed in front of me. I will explain all in due time, but I implore that you calm down before I do so.

“Awakened? Power? You’re talking nonsense!” I kicked at the raven, who squawked and flew off a few paces. 

You have just proved my point. You are shaken up, so I will wait until you are calm enough to listen to me.

“I-I’ve gone crazy!” I whimpered, scrambling to my feet and running off in the other direction. My eyes itched and burned, so I reached up to rub them. When my hands fell back to my sides, my vision had changed again. My surroundings were clouded in a violet haze, leaving only a clear path that snaked between the trees and plant life. I shook my head and ignored the chiseled path, as it had to be my mind playing tricks on me. Yet the farther I wandered from the path, the more lost and confused I found myself. I stopped for a moment and glanced at the path. It was illuminated by small wisps of light, almost inviting me to follow them.

I gritted my teeth, debating whether or not I should give in. I eventually did, for I was exhausted and desperate for any way out of this hellish maze. As soon as I stepped foot onto this path, it flickered and glowed softly. I took a second step, then a third. After a few more paces, I broke into a run. The forest became a blur, my eyes clouded with tears once again. Finally, I caught a glimpse of the forest edge. I couldn’t help but let out a sigh and a smile of relief, dragging myself out of the densely wooded hell that I had just spent hours in. 

I had made it out. I could even see our farmhouse just a few yards from where I was standing. Yet I couldn’t find the energy to pull myself over there. I was suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion, and collapsed into the grass.


I’ve found myself wishing for simple things recently. Like wishing for rainy but warm days. Or wishing for time to laugh at nothing with a few good friends. Or wishing to find a shortcut home through the park. Or wishing to sit down and enjoy a good chicken sandwich. Or to find a good song to listen to. Or to write something meaningful. Or to tell the girl that I like that I like her. Or to just be happier.

Senior year is coming to an end. I feel like I’ve done nothing, gone nowhere, been nobody. I’ve gotta do something more with my life than just wait for something exciting to happen. I should be road tripping across the United States or something. My mom says that the US isn’t worth road tripping across. She says that it’s just 7-11s and narrow-minded people. I disagree, and so does my grandfather, Jawahar. Or Jawa, for short. And sure, there are tons of 7-11s and tons of narrow-minded people, but there is a lot more. Jawa and I both believe that we’ve spent too much time in our lives looking at what’s outside our country. We’ve gone to Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America together, but not Antarctica. I would aim to go to Antarctica with him, but neither of us really want to. We want to go on an adventure in the US. 

But that’s a distant dream.

I think a lot of the US smells good. A lot of it smells bad, but a lot of it smells like fresh air and hotel soap. All that good stuff. Or at least it all smells better than the social studies classroom that I was cooped up in while all of these thoughts ran through my brain. Like mice running away from the siren of a fire truck, into their dark nooks and crannies where they wouldn’t be found. Mr. Whitaker had microwaved his fish lunch in the classroom again. It wasn’t pleasant. I was looking out the window and trying to not be reminded of the horrid smell. There were all these crystal-clear raindrops trickling down the windows. They left their imprints for just a minute and then went away like they were never there. And, sure, it was a rainy day like I had wished for. But it wasn’t warm.

The one part that I really enjoyed about social studies was that sitting at the next table over, to my left, was Malaika Melrose. I only knew a few select things about her. I knew that she likes to travel. That she loves the color orange. I knew that she’s Tanzanian because she’s very proud of the fact that her name is from the Tanzanian song, “Malaika.” It means Angel. And that’s a pretty accurate description. I knew that she recently got a scholarship to Pomona for volleyball, because she wore the sweater they sent her like it’s a part of her. Which was hard for her, because her co-captain passed away in a car accident. That’s why she has a tattoo on her arm that says ‘Olivia.’ Except the O is a volleyball. I knew that Daniel Vettel called the tattoo tacky, and Malaika wasn’t having it, so she punched him right across the face. That was probably the highlight of my February. After Olivia died, Malaika had to be strong for the rest of her team, which was exactly what she did. Then they won the championship, which was probably the highlight of my April. And I’m really happy that she got the scholarship because you can walk to Pomona from Pitzer, which is where I’m headed next year.  

When Mr. Whitaker makes the abrupt decision of teaching on the other side of the classroom, I get the chance to look at her without seeming like a creep. Today happened to be one of those days. She tried taking notes for a little while, but then gave up and started doodling in her notebook. Since I wasn’t listening, I thought I might as well have been doing something productive, like she was. Besides, looking at someone like that and pining after them the way I was is a self-destructive tendency. So, I drew an array of half-hearted ghosts on the top of the page. 

I guess Mr. Whitaker noticed this, because he enunciated across the room, “Levi, you ok?” And just like that, with one word, this cloud of silent pensiveness I had surrounded myself with vanished. He said my name with a disappointed tone that I usually only heard from my parents. It hit me like a shard of glass right to my chest. I nodded stiffly in response. He stared for a moment and then returned to his lesson as I opened up to a new page of notes.

As the class came to an end, you could hear the crunch of papers and the stuffing of book bags as people hustled to get out the door. Mr. Whitaker was still droning on about something or the other. Malaika bolted out of the door so quickly that I couldn’t have said anything to her if I wanted to. Not that I would’ve.

I trudged out of the building, into the fading grey light that was splitting through the storm clouds. I made my way through the crowds of bustling children. I could see Malaika just a few crowds ahead of me. She was laughing really hard at something that her friend had said. It was a true and genuine laugh. I hadn’t laughed like that in a while.

I darted away from the crowds and towards the park. As I approached the entrance, I found myself paused in time. I was looking down the winding path into all this greenery. Cherry blossom season had just come to an end, so pink petals were littered along the pavement. I was wavering in between weaving a way through the trees, as a shortcut, or just going right along the main path the way I usually did. If I started a new adventure, where would it take me? In my mind, a memory unfolded of a story Jawa likes to tell. 

“When I came here from India, I was lost. I had no friends and very little money. All hope had been drained from my heart. That’s when I met your grandmother. She was the kindest girl at Columbia. Actually, she was the kindest girl I’d ever met. She introduced me to her friends, who soon became my friends. She and I and our friends would go on adventures. We loved to wander and would often find ourselves lost in the unknown together. Now here’s something to keep in mind, Levi. Wherever we went, we would find a brick wall and put a little something behind it. A little part of ourselves, or a part of our adventure. That’s how we left our mark. Levi, you have to figure out how you will leave your mark.” 

I stood still for a while and thought about this story that Jawa tells whenever he gets the chance. The anthem of the remaining water droplets scurrying off of the leaves and falling to the floor sounded in my ears. How was I going to leave my mark? Eventually, I turned left on the sidewalk, heading towards the subway station, straying away from all previous plans and all previous paths. When I had made my way down into the dingy station, I came to a stop near the wall and pulled out my phone to dial my aunt, Gigi. It rang three times before she picked it up.

“Hi, Levi!” she shouted, “How are you today?”

“Hi, Auntie,” I said, less enthusiastically, “I’m alright.” There was a pause because Gigi doesn’t know what to do when people don’t reciprocate her enthusiasm. I would normally be just as happy to talk to her as she was to me, but today I just wasn’t feeling it. I broke the silence and asked, “Are you at work?”

“Um, yeah, why do you ask?” She was typing something out on her computer as she talked.

“Can I go to your house for a little while? I want to talk to Jawa.” She stopped typing when I said this, focusing entirely on me. The lights in the station flickered a little. The world went ghost-quiet, just for a split second. 

“I mean… yeah, of course. You ok?” 

I replied, “Yeah, yeah I’m fine. It’s just been a while.” 

“Right. You got your key?”


“Alright. See you later.”

“See ya.”  

I didn’t feel like texting my parents and telling them where I was going (they would ask too many questions). When I got down to the platform, I sat on a bench and passed the time by sketching more half-hearted ghosts on a scrap of paper. I was thinking of nothing, which was nice because I rarely get the chance to do that. But this nothingness went away with the whip of wind that came by with the train. As I rose out of my seat and onto the train, I was reminded of how much I dislike the subway. Everyone on the subway is burdened by where they need to be, except for a few who don’t have a place to go. We’re all swallowed in darkness, making it seem like we’ll never see the light again. Plus, it often smells like old cheese and burning garbage, which doesn’t help either. Luckily, Gigi’s house is just two stops away. 

Gigi’s house is the coffee-colored one at the end of the street. It used to be a fire station, so it has a big pole running through the middle of it. She thought it would be fun to keep for her nieces and nephews to play on. Unfortunately, most of us are afraid of heights, including me. 

I came to the corner and unlocked the door with the clack of a rusted keyhole. I entered the building and climbed up the steps towards the top. The draftiness and the sunshine flooded from all different areas, creating an eerie mix of temperature. Nevertheless, I love Gigi’s house. It always smells of its sun-soaked pine floors and basmati rice. 

As I reached the top floor, I saw Jawa for the first time in a long time. There he was, upon the mantelpiece stored away in a shiny silver urn. I constantly avoid going to the top floor when we come to Gigi’s house for dinner, just in fear of seeing him. Seeing him without a smile and a pleasant greeting. Seeing him lifeless. But I had to confront him because I could feel how much I missed him in my bones, and this was all I had. 

So, I closed my eyes, leaned against the mantelpiece, and forced myself to talk: “Hi, Jawa. I know it’s been a while. A long while. And I’m sorry I haven’t come and visited sooner. The family wanted me to, but it’s just that talking to you without you responding is difficult. It’s mainly because I know you’re still here. I just know it, in my gut. But it makes me really mad that you can’t respond.” My voice was breaking a little bit. I felt this sour lump of sadness swelling in my throat. “And I kind of really need a response right now. There’s so much that I need to do. And if you would just respond, you would bring me to do it. You always knew what was right for me.” I paused and opened my eyes, looking up at the urn. “But I know that you can’t give me a response. And I know that I have to do things on my own now.” 

That was when my eyes, blurred with tears, happened to notice something in the reflection of the urn. Gigi kept it so well polished that I could see the brick wall on the roof of the 7-11 across the street. I crouched down by the window, fixating my eyes on the wall. Jawa and his friends, always putting memories behind walls. I wiped away the tears and looked back at the urn. With a smile, I quickly ran into the kitchen and found a ziplock bag. I hurried back to the urn and opened it up. There was already a trowel inside, so I carefully scooped up a bit of his ashes into the bag. I closed the bag, then the urn, and headed straight for the pole, leaving my bag on the upstairs floor. I didn’t care how afraid of heights I was; I spiraled through the air on that pole, all the way down to the first floor. It was like I was afraid the brick wall might be gone in a matter of minutes or something. 

I dashed out the door and across the street and was about to head into the 7-11 when I realized that it’s kind of odd to go into a convenience store with a bag of your grandfather’s ashes in hand. So, I pocketed the bag and opened the door. I was relieved to find that Bayani, a long-time friend of Gigi’s, was working that day.

“Hi, Baya!” I shouted, running past the countertop. He looked startled.

“Hey, Levi, how are you?”

“I’m great. Do-ya-mind-if-I-go-up-to-the-roof-for-a-minute?” I asked the question as if it was one word and didn’t give him the chance to respond. “Thank you!” I called, rushing towards the stockroom.

As I climbed up the first step, I could hear him in the background saying, “You’re welcome?” I made it to the top and climbed through the bulkhead door. The sunlight was immense compared to the fragments from earlier in the day. It washed the red tear imprints right off of my face and it guided me towards the wall. I ran my fingers along the bricks, trying to find a loose one. There was one that shook a little bit to the left as I ran my hand across it. I pulled it out and was about to place the bag of ashes inside when I noticed something. I dropped the brick on the floor at the sight of it. I guess Jawa had already found this wall because there was already something behind the brick. It was two pieces of paper. I pulled out one, in awe, and read it aloud to myself:

I moved to this city out of spontaneity. I knew I wanted to get out of India and that my parents wanted that for me as well. So, my father found me a map of the U.S. at a small souvenir shop in the heart of Delhi. We hung it up against our wall, and I threw a dart at it. It was the luckiest shot in the world, landing right on New York City. So, I went. I got a scholarship to go to Columbia University and met some of the best friends I’ve ever had. Although, I try not to tell them that because their heads are big enough as it is. On this map that my father gave to me, my friends and I have marked all the places in the U.S where we have left treasures like this one. I miss India, but I made enough money in the three years after graduation to get my parents and brother settled in Brooklyn. As I sit on this rooftop, I am reminded of the fact that spontaneity saved my life. A lot of it was hard work and dedication, but it all spawned off of the spontaneity of throwing a dart at a map. So if someone finds this someday, I would like to remind them to bring spontaneity into their lives. You never know where you might end up.

— Jawahar Kadakia

This was it. This was the response Jawa had given me. As my eyes traveled back and forth from the map to the note, everything was clearer. This treasure that he had left was timeless. Jawa’s legacy is timeless. Our family is timeless. I am timeless.

And that’s when I heard a familiar voice. The door of the 7-11 opened below me. I looked downwards at who was entering. There was Malaika, talking to her mom on the phone. Suddenly, I had the best idea. Or the worst idea. I would only know if I went for it. 

I pocketed the map and note and placed the ziplock bag of ashes behind the wall. I slid the brick back in and pressed my forehead against the wall for just a moment. Then, I slipped back through the bulkhead door, into the darkness of the steps. I practically fell down them, back into the 7-11. I hurried along the rubbery floors in search of her and my feet skidded as I came to a halt in front of the Twinkies aisle. There she was, choosing between strawberry and chocolate peanut butter Twinkies. I tried my best to center myself and calmly walked over to her. 

“I would suggest the strawberry,” I said, pointing to the box to her left. She laughed a little.

“Nice,” she said, picking one up. “We have social studies together, right?” I nodded. She continued, “I’m Malaika.”

“Levi,” I said, shaking her hand. I was smiling really obviously, which would’ve been weird if she wasn’t too. “This might weird you out, but can I ask you something sort of spontaneous and probably really impulsive?”

“Go for it,” she replied.

“Over the summer, I’m planning to go on this road trip. You see, my grandfather left this treasure map, and I’m supposed to go to each location and find the stuff he left there.” I unfolded the map and handed it to her. She ran her eyes over it a few times before saying:

“Wow. You must have a pretty cool grandfather.”

“Yeah, I did.” She smiled and handed it back to me.

“Now here’s the weird part,” I said, “How would you feel if I asked you to come with me?” Her jaw practically dropped to the floor. This felt like the perfect example of an awkward silence.

I rambled on, “It’s totally fine if you don’t want to, I just thought I should ask somebody, and y’know you were the first person I saw so–”

“I’ll do it,” she said, cutting me off. 

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah,” she smiled, “Come. Let’s talk.” And with that, I was no longer a half-hearted ghost, lost in a pensive silence.


i seek your monsters and your poltergeists

rummage through your closet and 

you go to bed before me

so i can tuck you in

search my soul for doubts and find

so many

i take a broom and

whack the crusted corners of 

infinite attics and sheds

wind up cobwebs and

keep them in my lunchbox

i ask you why you play with fire

you say i am drawn to heat

but i only ever learned to burn


The Tournament

It was August 31st again.

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

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

Why, you ask?

Nobody made it out alive from the final task.

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

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

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

This year was no different.


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

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

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

He had not seen his family since. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, it all came down to this. 

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

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

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

The crowd’s cheering was overwhelming.

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

Again, tumultuous applause erupted from the audience.

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

The people screamed their agreement.

“Now, we welcome our final competitor!”

The boy’s stomach dropped. 

The doors opened.

And he stepped into the dry dirt of the arena.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I never thought I would say this, but…

I am ready to die. 

Wait, what?

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

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

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

He was suddenly aware of the Magistrate speaking to him. 

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

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

They didn’t know how much he had suffered.

They didn’t realize how wrong the Tournament was.

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

They couldn’t, and they would never.

The crowd held its breath.

He looked at the Magistrate, and nodded silently.

“Then let the final task commence.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The audience were frozen in expressions of shock. 

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

The boy bowed its head in return.

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

He raised his head, and spoke to the monster.

“I don’t want to kill you.”

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

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

The monster seemed to be considering the situation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All around him, people shouted their agreement.

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

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

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

“I have only done what they need. 

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

“I have respected tradition.

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

“Maybe I killed a man destined for glory.

“But I did it for a greater cause –”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I agree!”

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

“She’s a murderer!”

“She should be put to death!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Forgive me.”

And she breathed a last breath. 

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

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

“I forgive you.”

Violet the Explorer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The cows pushed us away from that.” 

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

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

The end ... For now.

Anxious on the Subway

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

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


Pride 1 (Meanings)

lions stick with their groups,

their prides.

what is pride?

well to a lion it is their family.

to a human, it is their self regard.

to me it is both.

pride is my home.

pride is my month.

where i can be unapologetically me.

where you can be unapologetically you

the month where big corporations see you.

maybe for their own benefit,

but you feel seen.

and it feels amazing.

Pride 2 (Sidewalk)


the sign said one o’clock

the policeman said three thirty

the volunteer says thirty minutes more.

it’s been hours since each said anything.

the sidewalk is the worst place to sit;

hard and scratchy.


it better be worth it.

it better be rainbows and love and

warmth and


the storm clouds better stop their threats

of rain and thunder.

empty promises that are made of

high and loud cheers.

and then the drums start. 

and the clouds are an empty threat.

and the cheers give hope.

and the sidewalk is the most cushioned chair.

and it’s rainbows, and love

and warmth and


Pride 3 (Reason)

this is uplifting.

this is community.

these are my people. 

this is my culture.

my history.

this isn’t a choice.

this isn’t a lifestyle.

we ARE obeying love.

we are at home. 

it won’t be destroyed or 

deemed unsafe.

it is our home

Pride 4

the confetti curbs

rainbow pupils all over.

i am in my own.

ADHD 1 (School)

the window is preferred.

not the chalkboard. 

i’m sorry i can’t help myself.

the trees sway so beautifully and 

i hate this.

i hate how my grape flavored focus

melts away and turns bitter.

i hate that 20 i got on the math test.

i hate that i have to work twice as hard.

i hate that i have become my 


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

i hate that i can wield it against people

but then the blade always hits me afterwards.

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

ADHD 2 (Staring Contest)

a staring contest.

you can look into my eyes.

they seem empty, 


but they are not.

right behind them, you’ll find my brain,

it’s thinking a thought a second.

after you blink, i’ll keep staring.

maybe on purpose. 

maybe by mistake.

and then i become me again.

ADHD 3 (Impulse)

my brain’s mantra seems to be

my brain seems to be

back in 2013. 

a fraternity

maybe that’s why i like girls.

he sees one thing and turns it 

into a toy or a joke.

always tugging me along.

dragging me 





when did he take over? 


my mind waltzes ‘round

my hands can’t be held down now

the leg bounce™ begins

Judaism 1 (Reading)


with sharp edges.

cutting your throat

with each ch.

vowels that

you can’t read without.

is it possible

to have dyslexia

in only one language?


knows the tongue.

why doesn’t the torah

have transliteration?

give me another crutch.

but wait… 

what is this?


all of the sharp tones

and letters

are mine.

to keep.

to savor

to love.

Judaism 2 (Bat Mitzvah)

a hummingbird’s heart

beats at 1,260 a


i feel like a hummingbird.

my heart feels like

it is making rounds

around my body.

my throat

then my stomach. 

acting like a bouncy ball.

then i have to stand.

my voice carries.

i am floating.

the bumblebees

on my high heels

buzz up to the flowers on my dress.

a juxtaposition of simple and detailed.

both bought from the same store.

i am in my element.

Judaism 3 (G-d)

a third grader

questioning her 


“why is G-d


portrayed as male?”

she could

ask anything.

always he

never she

or they

if G-d is


then why isn’t 

G-d everyone?

G-d is


sorry talmud.

Judaism 4 (Synagogue)

mosaics of love

a window of stars, flowers

an unused organ.

Music 1 (Singing)

isn’t it



you open your


and you

hear harmony?

a string of sounds.

that make 



is it not wonderful

when you hit all the notes?

like a sixth grade boy

finally reaching the


when he jumps?

isn’t it?

all of it

goes together.

when you can


with yourself.

any song



Music 2 (Listening)

i know you

are fake

over produced

yet i cling to each word

savoring it to remember

for later.

each note.

i am a hoarder

i keep each

and every song 

for my own

i even steal some

from my sister.

little bits and pieces


a new song has been added 

to my repertoire.

a playlist

for everything

for crying

for showering

for everyday 


the notes


through my blood.

who needs


when you have


Music 3 (Childhood)

in the car

a cover


where my mind is.

in the basement

loading songs onto

a cd for a long trip.

peter’s trip cds

that shaped my


songs written

by preschoolers

the cow in the cowboy hat.

something about a ladybug

jack and sarah.

ti esrever dna ti

pilf, nwod gniht ym tup 

sweaters unraveling.

parents understanding

me just enjoying the


the soundtrack to

my girl hood.

fiona apple when we first 

moved to new york.

single ladies when 

i was in preschool.

eminem in fourth grade.

melanie martinez in fifth.

rap in sixth grade.

and everything in seventh.

Music 4

thank you for lessons.

taught me how to dance and sing.

taught me poetry


i am not 



my pale camouflage

hides my thoughts.

my jokes,





hide my thoughts.

always try to fill in the blanks

a madlib.

eloquence isn’t controllable.

not quite sugar spice or

everything nice.

not quit snips snails

or puppy dog tails.

a jew.

riddled with


a pansexuel;

a sacrilege.

a contradiction.

yet everything makes



NYC Subway Reliability Essay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fox, Alison, et al. “Firsthand Accounts of a subway in Shambles.” Am New York, 9 Oct. 2018,

Berger, Paul. “New York City’s subways Are Slow, Crowded and Smelly-Officials Say Part of the Problem Is You.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 21 Sept. 2018,

Matthews, Kayla. “What’s Gone Wrong with New York’s subway System – and How Is MTA Planning to Fix It?” CityMetric, 2018

“The Best New York Attractions.” Time Out New York, Tazi Phillips, 15 Feb. 2019,

“How Many Trains Are on a New York subway Line at Any given Time?” Quora,

“Transit Wireless Celebrates 1 Year of Full MTA System Coverage.” Transit Wireless, 16 Jan. 2018,

“Mobile Internet Data Usage Calculator.”,

Cohen, Elliott D. “The Fear of Losing Control.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 22 May 2011,

Gannon, Devin. “Overcrowding and ‘Dwell Time’ Are Why NYC’s Subway System Is Failing.” 6sqft, 28 June 2017,

“Your Ride Matters.”,

“Introduction to Subway Ridership.”,

Frishberg, Hannah. “A Guide to NYC subway’s Ailing Signal System.” Curbed NY, Curbed NY, 27 Feb. 2019,

“The Economic Cost of Subway Delays.”, 1 Oct. 2017,

Spivack, Caroline. “Signal Delays Snarled Subway Commutes Nearly Every Day in 2018.” Curbed NY, Curbed NY, 14 Jan. 2019,

Staff, Pcac. “The Complicated Progression of CBTC.” PCAC, 13 July 2017,

Krisel, Brendan. “NYC Weekend subway Service Changes May 25-26.” New York City, NY Patch, Patch, 24 May 2019,

Pereira, Sydney. “NYC Weekend subway Service Changes June 1-2.” New York City, NY Patch, Patch, 31 May 2019,

Sampson, Brian, and Brian Sampson. “Got Subway Anger? Aim It at the Unions: Their Contracts Inflate Construction Costs.”, New York Daily News, 7 Apr. 2018,

Someone Like You

I live in area 423, for only Jewish white people. Twenty years ago, the Federal West segregated everyone by religion and race. Each area is surrounded by a gate. If you get caught going past it or being with anyone in another area, you will be punished. Sneaking out last night was one of the worst mistakes I’ve ever made. I’ve snuck out before, but last night, last night was different.

I walked to school every day like usual. My high school is ten blocks away from my home, but today I felt sick to my stomach. It was my last day of junior year. I stopped at Quart Street to wait for Rory, my forever best friend. Rory and I have been inseparable since kindergarten. I can tell her anything and everything on my mind. We walked to school in silence. Neither of us wanted to talk about what happened last night. 

Last night me, Rory, her boyfriend Keith, and his friend Phil went to the gate to celebrate the last night before the last day of school. Everyone goes to the gate to hang out, but mostly to smoke and take drugs. I’d been there before. I snuck out at twelve, careful to keep silent as I opened the window and reached for the rope I had previously tied to my window frame. I walked down the silent streets of 423. Getting caught outside after 8:00 could result in jail time, but in 423, it was easy to sneak around. Rory and Keith were already there and Phil was in the corner smoking some new drug.

“Lena!” Rory jumped up and gave me a hug. I sat down next to her. As soon as I sat down, I heard a rattling sound. I turned around and saw Phil climbing up the gate to area 907. I sat there astonished at his stupidity.

“Get down idiot,” Keith yelled. Phil got to the top of the gate, ducked under the barbed wire, and climbed down the other side. 

“Fuck society,” he yelled and walked away into the darkness. The three of us stood there, shocked, and frozen. We slowly walked towards our homes, knowing if we went after him or reported him, we’d all be doomed. 

So, that’s why Rory and I walked to school in silence. We started to hear the screams of the kids at our school. Every yell, every shout, reminding me about last night. I was so dazed that I hadn’t noticed that Rory stopped. 

“Lena?” Rory said quietly.

“Yeah?” I turned around to face her. Her eyes were red. She must have been crying a lot. “Are you okay?” 

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“Rory, I-I don’t know. I hope he does.”

She looked at me with tears in her eyes. “Okay.” I could tell that my answer wasn’t the answer she was looking for. We walked the rest of the way to school, pushing our sorrows away and putting on our fake smiles. 

I sat down in math class, middle-left side. Mr. Fitzgerald walked in and sat down. The bell rang and Mr. Fitzgerald turned on a movie and went on his phone. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around. There sat the incredibly hot and gorgeous Matt. Matt was on the baseball team and always played the lead in the musical.

“Hey Matt,” I said awkwardly as I faced him, his deep blue eyes staring back at me. 

“Are you okay?” He asked me.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” I responded with my cheesiest grin, my voice only shaking a little bit. 

He lowered his voice. “I know what happened last night.” My heart stopped, my brain froze, and I died a little inside.

“Keith told me,” he said. Of course Keith told him. Matt and Keith told each other everything, at least that’s what Rory told me. Matt and Keith were the male version of me and Rory, except I knew Keith before Rory. I practically set them up.

“Earth to Lena,” Matt’s gentle voice whispered to me. I felt myself come back and I looked at him. “Lena, I’m here for you,” he said and reached for my hand. We sat there speechless for a while. I sat there going through the events of last night. The bell rang and my body jolted. I didn’t even realize that I was still holding onto Matt’s hand. He smiled shyly at me, and I smiled back. We walked out of the room, and I dropped Matt’s hand immediately. Rory was sitting on the floor bawling with a note in her hand. I quickly sat down and gave her a hug. 

“Rory, what’s wrong?” I asked, concerned and worried. She looked at me, her makeup dripping down her face.

 “I-it’s Keith,” she muttered between sobs, “he went to join the rebellion.”

DIY Shopping

Shopping List

1. milk   x

2. cookies  x

3. pony       x

4. paint    x

5. pillow    x

6. unicorn   x

7. book    x

8. camera    x

9. a grape (one singular grape)   x

10. spinning wheel  x

This morning, my personal shopper quit. She said I bought too much stuff and she just couldn’t take it anymore.

I was like, “It’s your job though.” Then she hung up. Now I have to buy everything on the shopping list for tonight’s gala. The first thing on the list is milk. I forget why I needed milk. Oh! I remember because cows and horses are related, I read that in an article. Cows make milk, and so… horses must drink milk, which means ponies must drink milk, and a pony is on my list. 

“I’m so smart,” I said to myself. So I got into an Uber and headed to the grocery store. I went to the dairy fridge and saw so many brands of milk, so I took one of each. Organic Valley, Horizon, Borden, coconut milk, almond milk. I looked at the list and saw cookies after milk. So I went to the snack aisle. Again, too many brands of cookies. I felt overwhelmed. I finally understood The Bachelorette. The cookies were all the guys. I actually know the girl on The Bachelorette right now and she told me what it’s like. This is obviously more stressful though. So I took out my phone and searched up best cookie brand. Nice! was the best one but Fairway doesn’t have it. I kept going down the list and nothing was here, finally I resorted to the last brand on the list, Chips Ahoy. They didn’t even have the original one. They only had chewy. I tossed the chewy cookies into my cart and moved on. I looked through the list and saw that the only thing left that I could get at Fairway involved shoplifting and the risk of jail. I needed a single… grape. I unsuspiciously moonwalked to the fruit aisle, trying not to attract any attention to myself. I began looking at grapes, trying to find the least bruised one. I needed the perfect grape. I discreetly searched the grape packages. 

“Finally!” I shouted out loud. Instead of having one of my many head voices say it for me in my head. Some old people looked at me, 

“Sorry, sorry,” I whispered. I tucked the grape into my pocket while being very sly. I took my cart to the register. I started taking out all the milks, 16 in total. Then I took out the crinkly Chips Ahoy bag. I began to sweat when the lady started to speak. 

“Would you like a cooler bag for an extra four dollars for all your… milk? Or would you like a normal bag for an extra fifty cents or would you like a plastic bag for no extra charge?” 

“C-cooler um bag,” I stuttered. My armpits were getting really sweaty, like that time I met Justin Bieber and he hugged me and then he made a gross face because I was really sweaty. Don’t worry. I’m still a Belieber. She started scanning everything and putting everything in a cooler bag. I handed her my credit card and she slid the card into the machine. Finally it was over. She handed the card back to me and I took the bag. I speed walked to the security alarm and took a deep breath. I stepped across and the beeps began. Beep. Beep. Beep. I stood in place as guards surrounded me. They had mini scanners in their hands and they cornered me. My only exit was the door. I backed up as they closed in on me. Then the automatic doors opened for a cute old lady. That was my exit! I was free. I ran backwards and then spun around so I was running facing forward. I ran to some bushes and called an Uber. After four minutes of waiting, I saw the car stop in front of the grocery store. The guards were busy searching behind cars in the parking lot, so I took a rushed breath and sprinted to the Uber. I opened the car door, breathing heavily and tried acting very calm, “Hi, Danny?”  I said with a breathless voice.

“Yes, Alisha?”


The car began moving and we headed to Home Depot. I said goodbye to Danny and entered the wonderful world of Home Depot. The first thing I saw were toilet seats. Then pipes came into view and then finally big buckets of paint. Why did I have to be so vague on the shopping list? Then it hit me… because I was mean to all my assistants. Maybe that’s why she quit. Rude. I set my shopping bags down and looked through the paint. Pink, blue, orange, red, magenta, maroon, brown, black, grey. I decided to get the grey paint because it’s a neutral color and the gala is called The Grey Life. Everyone has to wear grey so all the decorations pop out. I put the grey paint bucket in the cart and put my shopping bags in there too. I went to the comfort section of home depot. The next thing on the list were pillows. I had a specific pillow in mind despite the vagueness of the list. SmartHome Bedding Super Plush Pillow. It’s my favorite pillow of all time. 

I searched through the shelves and shelves of pillows but there was no sign of my SmartHome Bedding Super Plush Pillows. I resorted to an average pillow with some pink on it. I placed it in the cart and headed to the cash register. The scrawny man scanned the stuff and I went through the boring paying process. I ordered another Uber and checked the list for what was left. I needed a book and a camera. We were heading to Barnes and Noble. We got there and I entered the store. I was slow because of all the bags I was carrying but I pushed through. I took out my phone and took a selfie on the gram. Took a photo of all the bags and put it on my story, #thestruggleisreal.

I was going to get 50 Shades of Grey. A classic, definitely my favorite book of all time. It also went with the theme, just an added bonus. I found it in the romance section. I plopped it in the cart and then I went to the other section of the shop. It was called… other. I looked for one of those pretty polaroid cameras. Thankfully I found a bright pink one. It will really pop. I put it in there. Paid. You know the drill. Except, the sweet old lady who was in Fairway was in the romance section. I saw her when I was leaving and so I hid behind a tall man on the escalator. I ran up with all my strength and suddenly I smelled Shake Shack. The delicious smell of milkshakes and burgers and fries filled my nostrils. My head voices started talking. “Go eat it.”

“No, you have a gala to plan.”

“It smells good. Go. Eat. The. Goddamn. Burger.” 

“No! No! No! No!”

“I shouldn’t. But it tastes so good,” I said. 

“I can’t!!!”

Imagine a lady with a bunch of bags filled with random stuff talking to herself. Now you get it. People started moving away from me. 

I took out my phone once again and called another Uber. The dropoff location was the Apple store on fifth. It was near the horse carriages all the tourists love. The guy dropped me off and I walked across the street to the carriages. I went up to the first guy. He looked like Jack from Mary Poppins. 

“Is your horse for sale?” 


“Can you make it for sale?”


“Do any of these people have ponies?”

“Yes. All the small ones.”

“All the small people or all the small horse looking ponies?”

“You pick.”


“Go away.”

I went to the next guy, “Is this a pony?”


“Can I have it?” 


“You’re just like the last guy.”

“Are you calling me a potato?”

“What? No.”

“All Grumpy Joe eats are potatoes.”

“Is your pony for sale?”


“How much is it?”

“An apology from you.”

“I’m sorry. Ok, can I have the pony now?”

“Make it sincere.”

“I’m so so sorry for calling you a maybe potato.”

“She’s all yours.”

I took the pony’s leash and climbed onto it. “78th and 3rd,” I said. The horse was still. “Move!” I screamed at the horse. People started looking at me. “Can someone help me move this pony?!”

Fast forward to when I finally got the pony to move. I dropped all the stuff at home. The last two things on my list were a spinning wheel and a unicorn. 

“How the heck do I get a unicorn?” I asked myself. I called an Uber and said hi. I took out my trusty mini bat and whacked him in the head. I only knocked him out for a little bit. 

“Sorry.” I mumbled. 

I got out of the car and took out my phone, dialing the number of my trusty car mechanic. I called him over and watched him remove bolts and lift up the car to get the tire. He had another appointment so he rushed off not noticing the Uber driver I had laid on the floor of the car. I got the tire out and left the car in the middle of the empty road. I rolled the tire back to my apartment. Jeff the doorman looked suspicious of the tire but I acted very normal. I said nothing and we made eye contact until the elevator door closed. Like I said, very normal. I hot glued the tire to my pottery wheel. There you go. A DIY spinning wheel.  

The last thing on the list was a unicorn. A majestic, elegant, unicorn. I know! I’ll just go to one of those witch stores. I called a Lyft because Uber isn’t letting me log in. 

The driver came, and he said, “So, you’re one of those people who believe in witches.”

“Nah man, I just need a unicorn.”

“Oh, yeah that makes it normal.”

The rest of the drive was quiet. We finally reached the witch store. I walked into the store and heard the bell ring.

“Hello?” I said, trying to make my voice heard. 

“Whatcha want?” An older woman came into view dressed in leggings and an orange off the shoulder shirt like she just came from an 80’s disco. 

“I need a unicorn.”

She went to the back of the shop. She came back with a stuffed unicorn in her hand. “50 bucks.”

“It’s fake.”

“Since when were unicorns a thing?” 

“Well, I need one.” 

“Go put a horn on a horse.” 

“When have you seen a brown unicorn?”

“Paint it.”

“Good idea.”

I left the shop and went home. When the time was right at the Gala, I would go to the bathroom, dump some paint on the pony, and stick the unicorn horn headband I wore for Halloween last year. 

The shopping list was done. I took a breath of relief. My phone dinged and I checked my phone. The contractor called in sick.

Staggering Impacts of Single-Use Plastic on Human and Environmental Health

Every year, an estimated 182.5 billion plastic straws are used globally. Not only the straws, but also plastic bags and styrofoam cups, create massive amounts of landfill that pollute world oceans and jeopardize the existence of many mammals and sea life in the water. In Canada, there have been major steps made to try and bring the country out of a place of mass pollution and towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. In Justin Trudeau’s statement, he describes the issue of plastic pollution as an issue “we simply cannot ignore”. Following his statement where he aimed to create a community more environmentally aware, Trudeau released the details of a new policy that bans single-use plastic and will be fully enacted before 2021. Trudeau’s confrontation was powerful and brought attention to the plastic crisis. It is also a model for how other countries around the world should be facing the urgency with which they should be recognizing the same issue. Canada’s ban on single-use plastic is critical for other countries to understand and consider implementing since its predicted effect on health concerns related to plastic as well as its potential to decrease plastic’s environmental impact is remarkable. 

Single-use plastic has many more direct impacts on human health than expected and can be surprising for many to hear. Through the life of a single plastic object, there are a few different ways in which the object is harmful. From the production of plastic in a factory, where the gases released from the creation of the material are toxic, to the consumption of foods that are packaged using bisphenol A (BPA), the entire process of both the creation and consumption of plastic is damaging. There have been studies surrounding the many chemical additives used in the production of plastic and the consequences of their presence in the human body on diseases that might form in response. In a study done by the Ecology Center, it was shown that the chemical additives that give plastic products desirable performance properties have negative effects on human health such as disruptions to the endocrine system that cause the growth of cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression and developmental problems in children. The results of studies that show the effects of plastic on human lives can be shocking for those who haven’t previously acknowledged the impact of these products on the health of humans. But the facts of the serious health implications that single-use plastic can have on well-being are much more harsh than the change in lifestyle that can come from removing these plastic objects from our day-to-day lives. While it can be hard to imagine daily life without products such as plastic grocery bags or straws, it is imperative that the health concerns tied to these products are considered. 

Although the concerns relating to human health must be talked about, there are various environmental issues that are also as important and should be mentioned as well. Specifically, one of the main issues with chemically produced plastic is that it can take hundreds, if not thousands, of years to disintegrate. When plastic is disposed of in the ocean and ends up in landfills, it is just staying there and creating islands in the ocean that are made of plastic and not going to decompose since the decomposition rate is so slow. These plastic “islands” appearing in the ocean have serious repercussions for marine life and sea mammals as, many times, these animals confuse plastic pollution for food. Animals like turtles are eating plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish, which is their usual diet. By ingesting these plastics, they suffocate themselves and are dying with a much shorter lifespan than they have been said to have in the past. These larger animals are quickly dying in the wild because of the plastic pollution in the waters. But most of the time, the only time humans are seeing the effects of pollution on wildlife is when the dead animals wash up on a shoreline. However, in addition to the plastic ingestion of larger animals, small sea life such as shrimp and fish are digesting particles called microplastics that are invisible to the naked eye, but can greatly affect human lives as a consequence. In a study done by Debra Lee Magadini at Columbia University’s Earth Observatory Lab, she shows that the microplastics in animals like shrimp are much worse than previously thought. In a single shrimp, she finds that there are hundreds of microplastic particles that clog up the stomach and gut of the individual shrimp. Those same particles would then be ingested by the human consumer of the shrimp and would cause the consumer to ingest the plastic particles. As aforementioned, the consumption of plastics (whether by microplastics or through the digestion of products containing BPA), the human endocrine system, which flushes out toxins from the body, can be seriously damaged. 

There have been countless studies done, articles written, and demonstrations organized that bring to light the many problems with plastic use in the United States and around the world. However, many people tend to block out the information that is being presented to them through these methods of advising the public. The blockade that is created makes it so that the people of societies nationwide aren’t being properly informed and governments aren’t successful at briefing their people. The feeling of urgency that the Canadian government is expressing is quite apparent through their policy making, however, the rest of the world’s response to their change shows the degree to which others realize the power of this ban. Surrounding countries in the Americas as well as Europe admit that there is an issue with plastic, but they don’t seem to understand how massive the negative effects could be of having such harmful materials used on a daily basis. Having plastic be so widely accepted, to the point where it is essentially destroying the world, is an issue that must be solved, but cannot be with the support of only one world nation. 

It is obvious that there is no more time to thoughtlessly consume plastic products and through establishing the ban on single-use plastics, it is clear that the Canadian government understands the importance of acknowledging this complication. The problems pertaining to plastic in oceans and, consequently human bodies worldwide, is an issue that has been lingering and waiting to be talked about. As a major global power, Canada finally took matters into their own hands and created laws that would be curbing the production and use of single-use plastic on Canadian land. Through The fact that Canada is taking initiative and creating a more environmentally friendly mindset for citizens across the country shows the importance of the issue with plastic for Canadians, but also the whole world. There are communities across the globe who understand and urge people around them to recognize the issue, an entire government hoping to bring the information about how bad this crisis really is, is a much larger step towards change in this world. 

Works Cited

BBC. “Canada To Ban Single-Use Plastics As Early As 2021”. 2019. BBC News. Accessed June

18 2019.

Bilefsky, Dan. “Canada Plans To Ban Single-Use Plastics, Joining Growing Global Movement”.

2019. Nytimes.Com. Accessed June 18 2019.

Christensen, Jen. CNN. 2019. “The Amount Of Plastic In The Ocean Is A Lot Worse Than We Thought”. CNN. Accessed June 18 2019.

Ecology Center. “Adverse Health Effects Of Plastics | Ecology Center “. 2019.

Ecologycenter.Org. Accessed June 18 2019.

The Globe and Mail. “Canada’s Single-Use Plastics Ban: What We Know So Far And What You

Can Do To Recycle Better”. 2019. The Globe And Mail. Accessed June 18 2019.

Royte, Elizabeth. “We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life. What About Us?”. 2018. Nationalgeographic.Com. Accessed June 19 2019.

Westcott, Ben. “Canada Plans To Ban ‘Harmful’ Single-Use Plastics By 2021”. CNN. 2019. Accessed June 18 2019.

A New and Improved 2nd Amendment

The constitution is a protective yet society controlling document for the better and worse. The second amendment needs to be revised into a law that applies to our modern world and still protects those who need it. It grants too much freedom and interpretation for firearm owners and others that wish to buy a gun. In 2017 around 40,000 people died from guns and 60% were from suicide (Mervosh, 2018). The states that have the most gun deaths, like Alabama and Texas, (which have over 4,500 gun deaths combined), are the states with some of the loosest regulations (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Every day, one hundred people die from guns, and even more are injured by them (, 2019). This clearly states how disturbed our laws against firearms are throughout all of the fifty states.

The second amendment states that “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” (Nelson, 2018). This means that anyone with an able body can purchase and possess a gun. But the constitution was created many years ago, in the late 1700s, and we are in the 21st century with newer and deadlier weapons. In the late 1700s the people of the United States had recently finished fighting the Revolutionary War. It’s easy to understand why they needed this law. But we live in a modern and civilized world where technologies have advanced immensely and security has improved. There shouldn’t be a need to worry about someone walking into your home, school, or office with a gun and shooting your friends or family. If the second amendment was improved, this would be almost impossible. 

There need to be stronger gun regulations. Any person, twenty one or over, has the right to apply for a background check. The background check needs to be stronger and put within the amendment itself. Most of the states that contain major cities, for example New York and Illinois, have laws against guns and penalties for those who own a gun but fail the test. There are laws in these states that require criminal background checks for all firearms, and there are others that don’t, for instance, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Tennessee. North Carolina and Iowa don’t even keep records of guns purchased (Everytown Gun Law Navigator). One of the main reasons why there is corruption within the gun control system is that the separate state laws are very spread out, and they need to be reformed into one document that applies to all of the states.

The main parts of the second amendment that need to be edited are the following: a well regulated militia. A person that wishes to purchase a gun needs to go through a thorough background check. This involves criminal acts, mental health tests, previous family history, domestic violence, previous jobs, physical health, and a situational, decision-making, diagnostic test. The test may or may not be taken with a lie detector, but that is up to the jurisdiction of the state. This applies to all types of firearms. The “militia” who can apply for a gun must be any person 21 or over, no matter what sex, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or any other identifier.

If this revised version of the Second amendment is put into effect, it is a guarantee that these thousands of deaths will decrease and create a safer environment for ourselves and future generations to come. Gun control is a common discussion topic, but those discussions don’t always involve a solution. Instead of making short term laws or local laws, these new changes are taken right to the source. This will open up new ideas and conversations about not just changing this amendment but our country’s founding document as well. 


“Gun Law Navigator: Compare States.” Everytown Gun Law Navigator. Accessed June 20, 2019.

“Gun Violence in America.” April 11, 2019. Accessed June 20, 2019.

Mervosh, Sarah. “Nearly 40,000 People Died From Guns in U.S. Last Year, Highest in 50 Years.” The New York Times. December 18, 2018. Accessed June 20, 2019.

Nelson, Jeremy. “The Bill of Rights (Amendments 1 – 10).” National Center for Constitutional Studies. January 01, 2018. Accessed June 21, 2019.

“Stats of the States – Firearm Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed June 20, 2019.

Scared of Heights?

Have you ever wondered if you were afraid of heights? Have you ever felt your legs trembling or wanted to crawl on the floor while high up? Do you close your eyes while riding across a bridge with nice scenery? Then you might have acrophobia. An irrational fear of heights, otherwise known as acrophobia, is a common psychological phobia that might negatively affect a person’s life in the future. Although there isn’t a permanent solution, there are many other ways to help cope with it. 

As of now, the majority of earth’s population have had a fear of heights at least once in their lifetime. However, only 1 in 15 people have Acrophobia (Boynton and Swinbourne, 2019). According to research, around 3%-5% of all people on earth have experienced this (Us and Infographics, 2019). According to these numbers, women are twice as likely to have this phobia (Us and Infographics, 2019). Although acrophobia is not that rare, it is important to distinguish the difference between being cautious while high up and actually having this phobia. Based on this information, we can tell that it isn’t a rare/unusual phobia. While in the midst of experiencing acrophobia, some of the symptoms may include: shaking, sweaty palms, feeling terrified or paralyzed, irregular or high heart rates, rapid breathing, and a fear of injury or death. People can also experience symptoms similar to acrophobia such as vertigo, bathmophobia, climacophobia, aerophobia. Vertigo is a spinning sensation in your head which can be simulated by spinning in circles. Bathmophobia is a fear of steep slopes. Similar to bathmophobia, climacophobia is a fear of the act of climbing. And finally aerophobia which is a fear of flying in flying objects such as planes and helicopters. These are some symptoms to help distinguish whether you might have acrophobia. 

There are many symptoms of acrophobia. There are just as many causes. Not only people, but also animals, can experience these symptoms. This is because for all living things, it is natural to have a fear of heights. It is an instinct for all beings to protect yourself from falling. However, some are more extreme than others. This extremity tends to lead to acrophobia. Mainly for people, it can be caused by a response due to a traumatic experience during childhood or someone’s past. It could also be caused by a parent’s nervous reaction to certain heights. Even balancing issues can lead to experiencing acrophobia. However, in some cases, people are born with acrophobia. Scientists have done research in which babies were put at the edge of a simulated cliff with a mother encouraging them to cross to the other side (Us and Infographics, 2019). Most of the babies were born with the natural instinct to avoid falling off of the edge, but some babies were a little more afraid. From this research, we can tell that they had similar reactions to the people who have acrophobia. This shows that acrophobia can happen to any person or animal at any point in their lives. 

Although it’s not easy, and there aren’t any immediate cures, there are many different treatments to help get rid of someone’s acrophobia. Yoga is one of the most common treatments that people use. Practicing yoga can help relax yourself and keep your heart/breathing rate in a steady pattern. Also, learning all you can about acrophobia is very good for you. Acknowledging that you can put yourself in danger and learning what you can do from the internet is helpful. Some people also use prescribed anxiety pills to help calm themselves from panicking while at a high area. In addition to all of the treatments above, others use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which helps with mental health strengthening. Overall, visiting a therapist or a psychologist is very important for someone with acrophobia. It may stay with you for your entire life if not treated at all. These therapists can help you go up to heights at a small rate and provide support if you have a panic attack.                                                           

As the study of acrophobia is further revised, we can see that there are no permanent treatments to the phobia. People around the world have acrophobia and not knowing how to treat it and the dangers of it can lead to life threatening situations. People need to know how to help themselves and acknowledge what is happening to them. This means that there are some everyday strategies to help cope with it. These methods may include therapy, yoga, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Without the proper treatment, it can negatively affect someone’s life. Because acrophobia is made up of a lot of rare phobias, it can also help us learn more about those phobias and find treatments for others too. 


 Kirkpatrick, N. (2019). How To Handle And Overcome Your Fear Of Heights | Betterhelp. [online] Available at:[Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

 Black, R. (2019). Acrophobia (The Fear of Heights): Are You Acrophobic?. [online] – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986. Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019]. 

Fritscher, L. (2019). What to Do If You Suffer From Acrophobia. [online] Verywell Mind. Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019]. (2019). Fear of heights. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

 Us, C. and Infographics, P. (2019). 11 Curious Acrophobia Statistics – HRF. [online] HRF. Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

Boynton, R. and Swinbourne, A. (2019). Health Check: why are some people afraid of heights?. [online] The Conversation. Available at: [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].

Has Basketball Improved Since Its Invention?

Basketball is a great sport no matter how it’s played. However, if you really think that the way it’s played now has been the same forever, you would be very wrong. The game has had a countless number of adjustments in its history. Basketball has changed for the better since its invention. There are many reasons why it has changed for the better. To actually understand these changes, you have to learn the history of the game.

Historians have found that the ancient Aztec people played a game similar to basketball. However, the game as we know it was invented in December of 1881 by a Canadian Physical Education teacher named James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts. He created basketball because the principal of that school wanted him to design a game that the students could play inside on cold days. Basketball was first played with peach buckets and a ball similar to a soccer ball. The game only had thirteen rules. Some rules were very different than rules that we use today. Some rules are also very similar. For example, the most common aspect of basketball today is dribbling. Surprisingly, one rule that was very different was that there was no dribbling in the game. Dribbling was not actually introduced until 1897. Originally, the players could not run when they had possession of the ball. One rule that has existed for basketball’s entire history and has not changed is that the players can pass the ball with either both or one of their hands. All of these changes show that basketball is better now because it gave all players, good or bad, a fair chance. The game is now much more sophisticated. Some could argue that fewer rules are simpler, so the game would be easier, but the game would be too easy then.

Basketball became popular after it spread to New England in 1913. Throughout its history, basketball traveled to many different countries, and many major leagues were started. Some common major leagues are FIBA, which was founded in 1950, and the NBA, which was founded in 1946. FIBA is the major basketball league in Canada and Europe. The NBA is the major basketball league in the United States of America.

This game may sound great, but it also had some bad things about in the past.

One horrible attribute about basketball was that it was heavily segregated in its early years. African Americans were not allowed to play the game. For people who watch basketball, they would know that there are many African American players now. The first African American professional basketball player, Earl Loyd, joined the NBA in 1950. That is one big reason why basketball has changed for the better. 

Many people enjoy basketball and would like to know the background and changes of it. It might teach people that sports were not always great and were very segregated. This essay can teach people about the history of basketball as well as the history of the U.S.A. Basketball is a great sport that everyone should enjoy.

Works Cited

Faurschou, Bran. “The History of Basketball.” The History of Basketball,

Silverman, Steve. “Why Is the Game of Basketball So Popular?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 19 Apr. 2019,

Wikipedia. “History of Basketball.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 May 2019,

The Girl Who Could Not Play

Chapter One: Mornings

It began as something sweet and airy. 

All things begin this way.

It was a jumble of pleasant mornings spent with a friend: two girls with their arms swung around each other making their way from street to street. They strutted at the same pace shoulder to shoulder chatting amongst themselves. They looked like twins with their matching outfits. Each wore a black skirt, cap, and shoes with white stockings and a loose blouse. They were completely oblivious to the world around them; the rolling cars on the cobblestone streets, the pitchmen that came around selling everything from newspapers and cigarettes to bowties and shot glasses, or the  sombre-looking soldiers that lined up in the streets before going to the front.  

Above the hustle and bustle in the streets, the sky had been lit up with a purple glow. Swirls of fuschia and ivory exploding like small candies were pinned to the sky. Someone must have painted the sky by hand.

The two girls were immersed in their own world of fancy.  Around them they saw classrooms instead of cars. Instead of pitchmen offering them trinkets, they recounted stories of boys offering them flowers. And instead of soldiers, they thought of their own division. A youth division just for girls. Donna’s mother insisted on her daughter arriving early to each session. Donna set off just after the crack of dawn each morning with her hair in tight braids and face washed. Donna would meet Alessia on the corner and they would walk together. That was the way it went every morning.

Donna was like a white starched linen. She had two long braids the colour of sour lemons that dropped from her shoulders like ropes. Her complexion was blanched and pearly. It was like someone had come along and white-washed the colour from her face. However she had eyes dark as a starless night that stuck out like lumps of coal stitched on either side of her nose. She was generally a quiet reluctant girl and was lucky to have made such fast friends with Alessia, the exemplary girl. Donna’s friend was conventionally beautiful with heart-shaped lips and bouncy ringlets. She had a throng of admirers who watched her wherever she went.

This particular morning, Alessia was engaged in recounting her a story about the time a boy walked up to her and pulled at one of her ringlets. Donna listened contently. As they passed through the square, Donna glanced at the clock. 

“Alessia we’re late!” She tugged at her friends sleeve. 

“Let’s run!” Alessia exclaimed after swinging around to look at the clock. The girl outstretched her legs and bounded forward. As she sped off, Donna, after a moment of hesitation, set off after her.

They shrieked with laughter as Donna quickly caught up with Alessia. They swatted their arms and clawed at each other, doing whatever they could to slow the other down. Donna was panting relentlessly. Their bodies pierced through the crowd. They were tripping, slipping, and swatting, meanwhile gaining speed. They raced right around the corner. Donna picked up her legs and began bolting forwards. She surpassed Alessia and was dashing up the cobblestone sidewalk. She jumped onto the road, slipping on the morning frost and dodging cars as they came skidding towards her. She knew if anyone had seen her and told her mother that she was running on the street, she would be in trouble. The thought of this both frightened her and enthralled her with amusement. She leapt back onto the sidewalk that spread out in front of her. Her arms swung back and forth. Exhilaration ran through her as wind lashed at her legs and blew at her face. She thrust herself forward. Alessia was calling to her. She twisted her neck to look back, her legs still wheeling forward. Suddenly, her chest fell backwards and her black shoes slid off the ground. Pain shot through the back of her head. And the scene went black.

Chapter Two: The Girl Who Cried on the Main Street

Through the obscurity, Donna could see herself lying there. Her limbs sprawled out over the cobblestones. Her meager figure laid out for the world to see. Her braids coiled around her like a spider’s front legs. Her face twisted in abject terror. Her heart was saddened by her own modest self lying down motionless over the sidewalk. 

As her eyes blinked open, above her Alessia’s ringlets poured downwards onto Donna’s face; her friend had knelt down beside her. Donna could hear phrases in the distance. The words hovered above her.

“What happened?”

“A girl just ran headstrong into Signor Di Napoli!”

“Are you hurt, Signor?”

“No, no, I am fine.”

“What about the girl?”

“Who is she?”

“Is she alright?”

“I think she may be dead!! And it is all my fault!” This last bit was Alessia, who was now sobbing uncontrollably. She grasped Donna’s shoulders and began shaking her. Four hands were placed upon her and Donna was prompted to her feet.

“Are you fine, miss?” This was the voice of old Signor Di Napoli. Five years ago, he moved to Rome from Naples and had started a toy store. All the children in the neighborhood spent their weekends lined up to go into his store. Walking through his store that now stood behind them was like perusing through a book. Metals, porcelain, plastic, gears, springs, fabrics, tinsel, colours, reflections, textures, speaking dolls, and kites line the walls and were scattered on the floor. It was a portal into another world found in the heart of Rome. An emporium of sights and sounds, feelings and imagination. From the walls, tin airplanes were suspended, glinting with light.  Dolls with glass eyes and fountains of shining hair were lined up on shelves peeping down at small girls cruising through the aisle. 

Donna always admired Signor Di Napoli. She wasn’t in love with him. She wanted to be him. She did not want to live in vain. Living with a husband and family in a fancy house with servants for her to boss around was her mother’s dream for her. Donna was opposed to this. She wanted to be a maiden forever and  live in a house with a toyshop on the ground floor and a limited loft up top to sleep and eat in. 

“I am fine Signor Di Napoli!” She grinned, making a quick recovery. “How is the shop going?” she asked eagerly. His face was sombre with a sad smile and a pointy moustache.

“I am afraid the shop is not doing so well at the moment, ragazzina.” He always called her “young girl” instead of her real name. He never thought the name Donna really suited her. 

She glanced over his shoulder to see the wooden sign above the shop doors being lowered by two construction workers.  She opened her mouth to speak but it felt like someone had pushed a stone down her throat. Her chest rose and fell abruptly. All she could squeeze out of her lungs was a gasp like sound. However the heroic Alessia put her words in for her.

“Is the shop closing Signor Di Napoli?” 

“Yes it is, Alessia.” As he looked down at the girls, they could see tears welling in his eyes. Donna was silent. Inside she was screaming. She was clawing at the construction workers and hissing at Signor Napoli for not even giving her one more day to enjoy the store. Outside the morning turned cold and frost nipped at her toes. She stood there feeling like an out-of-place pole made of cold steel.

“Why,” she whispered under her breath. He did not hear her.

“Why?” she said a little louder this time, “Why? Tell me, why?” She hung her head and sunk into a fury of muffled confusion. She had to know why.

“Why didn’t you have a closing sale or something?” Alessia asked.

“I am moving back to Naples. My brother is coming in his car to pick me up this afternoon,” he announced.

“But why?” Alessia tipped her head to the side.

“The toy factories in Italy are being turned into war industries. If I were to keep the store open, there would be no more toys to sell,” Signor Di Napoli said gravely. Donna thought she’d heard him wrong. 

“No toys…” she looked frantically at him. She felt a kind of squeamish discomfort rise within her.

Alessia suddenly remembered the time and clicked her heels. 

“Donna, we are late for our meeting! It’s already started,” she said, pulling at her friend’s arm.

“I think I want to stay for a while, Alessia,” Donna looked longingly at her friend, “but you can go if you want.”

Alessia’s face grew long. Her nose screwed itself up and her lips pressed together. They always walked together; at the mention of walking separately, Alessia’s face twisted and contorted itself in different directions. Anger. Confusion. Embarrassment. Her cheeks turned red and she turned away with an abrupt “fine.”

Donna watched as Alessia’s bouncing ringlets moved farther and farther away. She shifted her gaze over to the store. The boarded up window, the locked doors and the expressionless construction workers aggrieved. Her anguish piqued as the two construction workers lowering the sign lost their hold on it, dropped it, and it came clattering to the ground. The painted sign broke in half. The shattering sound rang in Donna’s ears. Her heart turned to porcelain. She stumbled to the boarded up window. Her hands fell on the plywood boards and she crooked her head to see through the window. The room was submerged in an inky darkness. Donna pressed her forehead against the window. She squinted. She could see the outline of smiling painted faces looking at her with their large circular eyes. They seemed to be both mocking her and silently asking for her help.  She leaned in closer, but a construction worker grabbed her arms, pulling her back. She howled and flung herself in all different directions. She lunged forward and used her legs to pull herself back to the window. The construction worker’s firm arms dragged her in the opposite direction. She was brushed to the side like an unwanted pile of shingles. She and the shop were separated. She fell into Signor Di Napoli’s arms and wailed.

A small crowd had formulated and was watching the girl as she collapsed in the middle of the main street. Tears came pouring down her face and she could not choke them back. Signor Di Napoli was unsure what to do. He tried comforting her, but there was nothing he could say. Donna did not know what she was doing. She was equally surprised as some of the bystanders that were watching her. Why am I crying, she thought. She had not played with toys since she was seven. When she was young, she had a dolly with feather wings and a plastic halo. She called her doll Anna. It was Donna’s prize possession for the first half of her life; she took it everywhere.

When she was eight, she started her training in Piccole Italiane, a youth division dedicated to preparing girls for their future. Her mother thought this very important. In the beginning, Donna cherished the division meetings. She showed so much enthusiasm that she was asked to stand and pose in traditional roman imperial clothing at a rally. She grew so busy with learning the Italian anthem and learning how to cook that she had no time to play with her doll Anna. One day she returned home from a meeting to find that Anna had been sold. She didn’t cry. At the time she just shrugged her shoulders. Now she cried. She was surprised at herself. This was the moment her memory flashed on, like a light switch turning on the electrical lighting in a room. Today she can barely remember what it was like before. From then on she was no longer a young girl with a friend walking down the street. She was the girl who cried on the main street that day.

Chapter Three: Warhood and The Cherry Dress

The remainder of the day passed by slowly. Donna was scolded for being late to the meeting. Before she would have blushed, slouched her shoulders, and trudged guiltily into her place in line for being so late. Today, Donna arrived at the meeting numb with tears and dragging. The useless girl barely showed a sign of consciousness. She didn’t look at the Piccole Italiane instructors when they were speaking to her. Her feet carried her from place to place. Alessia approached Donna asking gently where she had been, but Donna only sighed and wandered off. She silently refused to sing when they sung Giovinezza. She stood there amongst her smiling piers as they sung with their high-pitched voices. Donna remained silent.

“Hail, people of heroes,

Hail, immortal Fatherland,

Your sons were born again

With the faith and the Ideal.

Your warriors’ valour,

Your pioneers’ virtue,

Alighieri’s vision,

Today shines in every heart.”

The sound of the opening verse flooded through her ears. There was an influx of bitterness that arose within her.

Many years ago, a group of men came together to write the lyrics to this song. They thought it would be the best representation of their fascist Italy, a song to define an empire. When Donna first learnt the lyrics, the words were bold and strong, both poetic and to the point, but most of all, the words seemed right. She could remember how her courage would be reborn as she heard this song. Now there was something sickening and plasticky about it, like the smell that emerges from a factory. She winced. 

“Youth, Youth,

Spring of beauty,

In the hardship of life

Your song rings and goes!

And for Benito Mussolini,

And for our beautiful Fatherland,”

Suddenly, she began to remember things from the past she had not noticed or thought odd before. The same year Donna joined the Piccole Italiane division, Mussolini had travelled from city to city across the country to give speeches. He began in Rome. 

Her mother barely left the house, but on this particular day, Donna watched her as she swung a string of pearls around her neck and  slipped into her yellow dress limited to special occasions.

“Is Papa coming back today, Mama?” Donna asked. Her mother shot her a glance.

“No.” Her words were cold as they struck Donna across her face. She flinched. “Now go and get into that new dress I got you, the one with cherries painted on the fabric.”

“Are we going out for lunch? Is that why we are getting dressed up?”


“Are we meeting Papa somewhere?” 

“No, there is no Papa. Now go get dressed. I do not like questioners. It’s forbidden for a child to talk up to her elders in such a matter.”

“But where are we going?”

“In the Italian borders,

Italians have been remade

Mussolini has remade them

For tomorrow’s war,

For labour’s glory,

For peace and for the laurel,

For the shame of those

Who repudiated our Fatherland”

Remade. Repudiated. Tomorrow’s war is now.

Donna and her mother left the house and entered out in public, a place her mother had not stepped into for the longest time. The cherry dress was new and exciting. It was too tight for comfort, but fit her well considering it was secondhand. It was new for Donna, but the world had seen it many times.

They met Alessia and her parents on the corner. Alessia and Donna walked in front as the adults trailed behind. Everybody was out on the streets and people they barely new tilted their hats at the young girls and bid them how do you do. Young Donna must have presumed  that all the people on the streets, including herself and her mother, were making their way to a party of sorts.

“The poets and the artisans,

The lords and the countrymen,

With an Italian’s pride

Swear fealty to Mussolini

No poor neighbourhood exists

That doesn’t send its hordes

That doesn’t unfurl the flags

Of redeeming Fascism”

Thousands of Italians gathered together, jostled into each other. Above them a facade stretched itself out. Donna remember the eager moments she spent admiring everyone’s outfits. They were chained down in patterned skirts, coloured headbands, straw hats, ties, ribbons, and smiles. Donna beamed at the notion that, from up above, the crowd would look like a multicoloured fruit. Then all of a sudden the crowd fell silent. All those yapping mouths hushed to listen. A man dressed in a fleece suit stepped into view through a shallow balcony smoothed onto the facade. One yapping mouth poured it’s words onto the crowd. Donna could hear the words, but she could not understand. 

“Do you know what he is saying?” she leaned in and whispered this question into Alessia’s ears.

“Shh,” she hissed, “I am trying to listen!”

Moments later the crowd erupted. Thousands of voices hurrahing. It was like an explosion. Hats catapulted into the air and couples leaned over and kissed each other. To her side, Alessia was jumping up and down, clapping her hands and sputtering indistinct words of joy. Donna’s mother grabbed her shoulders and kissed her right on the nose. 

“What has happened, Mama?” Donna couldn’t help smiling. “Is Papa coming home?”

“No, bambina, we are at war!” her mother triumphed. She leaned down and kissed Donna again. It was as if they had already won.

After most of the crowd had left to go off to bars for a drink, Alessia suggested that they search the ground for coins. Donna knew she should be getting home, but with her new cherry dress, she wanted to stay outside longer. As they were searching the ground they found a small boy a few years younger than them sprawled out on the ground. His sock was red, drenched with blood that poured from his ankle like water. He had been trampled in the excitement of the coming war. They knew this boy. He lived in their neighborhood. They often saw him at the toy store, but never at church. As Donna thought back on it now, she could not recall seeing him for a while now. He had vanished over the last few months. She was forbidden to talk to him because he had darker features. Dark skin, dark hair, dark eyes, he had it all.  He must have been completely swallowed up by the crowd this time. Or maybe he vanished for a different reason. As the Italians were being remade one by one in the hands of Il Duce, that boy must have been neglected. 

The group stopped singing. The girls’ singing voices ended. The meeting was dismissed and all the girls set off in different directions. Alessia searched the crowd of friends, enemies, and girls for Donna. She glanced down a small alleyway to find her friend crouched down in a gutter, legs pulled towards her chest and eyes forced into her knees. Her shoulders bounced as if she was laughing silently. For the second time that day, Donna cried.

Chapter Four: The Silhouette Wife

Donna was relieved to finally be in bed. Her heart was filled with sour chagrin. She felt betrayed, as though all those smiling people had lied to her. And so had the cherry dress. She wrapped herself in her bedsheets and curled into a ball in the corner of her bed. She felt sick. After a few moments of silence and painful thoughts, the door opened to her room. Donna peered out from behind the blanket to see a yellow glow projected on the floor of her room from the hall. Her mother’s silhouette as she stood in the doorway drew a clear outline of her mother’s figure on the floorboards.

“Are you asleep, Donna?”

“No,” her sickly daughter responded

“You didn’t help with the laundry today. You knew you were supposed to do it today.”

“I know.”

“Well, how do you expect to become a good wife if you decide not to do the laundry whenever you don’t feel like it.” These words were not unfamiliar to Donna.

“What if I don’t want to become a wife?” she spat.

“Well I am afraid, Donna Roma, that you have no choice. A woman’s job is to keep a house, not a seat in Parliament. Do you want to end up on the streets?” Before Donna could answer, the door shut abruptly. Darkness fell back onto the room the same way a thick polluted fog would, the kind of fog you get trapped in and you cannot breath in or find a way out.

A few words about Donna’s mother, Ines Roma:

She was beautiful and lively with rich blonde hair and twinkling blue eyes. She grew up in a respectable middle class family and was brought up in the countryside. She spent her days playing with the other children in the village, climbing fences, drinking spoiled water from wells, and chasing each other across fields of long untamed grass. At nineteen, her father took many day trips to the neighboring villages and farms. At nineteen years old, Ines was dozing in the field behind her house when her father was returning from one of his trips. She was dragged indoors. Before her twentieth birthday, she was married to the wealthy man, Giovanni Roma, who happened to be vacationing in the next village at the time. His father was fast friends with hers and thus a wedding was in order. She went with him back to Rome where his family lived in a grand house made of slabs of marble and chandeliers of shining crystal. During the economic crash of 1929, the Roma family lost all its money and honour. They were forced to live in an overcrowded tenement. After a few years of this meager lifestyle, Giovanni was embarrassed to show his face in the streets and could not bear to look at his wife and newly born baby girl. One morning, he left before the light of day as usual for his newly acquired job as an assistant shoemaker. Ines waited for him at the house. She waited as hours and hours clicked by. When her husband did not return that night, Ines knew that he would never come back to them. In the last few days he was living with her, she neglected him. He stayed curled up in a mound of bedsheets as Donna is now doing and served no purpose. She only gave him small scraps of food, the rest she gave to the baby. She was not a very good wife to him the last few days before he left.

Chapter Five: The Break-ins

First she began with the toy store, then the houses.

The decisions Donna would make in the next few moments of life would change the course of history forever. Wrapped in her bedsheets, she contemplated in the dark. At first it began as a sudden impulse where Donna found herself half awake and half in a dream. She went over the idea multiple times in her head. At first, she laughed at the ridiculous notion. Then she began envisioning herself doing it; that is when it became real. She tossed and turned in bed. She wrenched at her mind and clenched the bedsheets in her fists. She couldn’t shake the concept of her sneaking away at night and breaking into the toy store from her head. It was so daring. It was so exhilarating. But most of all, it was so unlike her. 

How could she be sure of anything anymore? She pushed herself from the bed. Donna threw on her robe made of purple fabric with yellow stitching. She positioned it onto her back and tied the belt. It fit like a glove. War was no longer just soldiers that line up in the street; war meant lives both lost and living. It meant the life of Alessia, the spritely girl living a few houses down. It meant the life of Signor Di Napoli, the man now probably fast asleep in Naples. It meant the life of her mother. It meant the life of her father, wherever it he is now. It meant the life of the little Jewish boy with the bloody ankle. It meant the absence of toys in her neighborhood.

She thrust open her window. A brown sac swung over her shoulder, she carefully sat on the sill. She turned around and shoved her toes down the gap between the open window and the wood plank she was sitting on. She gathered air into her lungs and pushed her legs out into the dry night air. She gave herself little time for reluctance and she slid herself out the window! Donna felt her newly exposed body hover in midair. As she felt the air spin around her, she swatted her arms and caught hold of a brick that was slightly jutting out of the wall. Taken aback with amazement, she stayed clinging to the wall a while longer. Eventually, she succeeded in crawling down the wall like a spider. Her feet dropped onto the cobblestones and she rubbed her hands together to get all the chalk from the brick of them. She blew into her hands to warm them and she ventured off into the darkness. The darkness was comforting. The constellations watched Donna as she moved about the city. The darkness was going to let one girl shine.

Most nights, the people in Rome are forced to flee into a bomb shelter. But tonight was much more gentle. It humbled her. It was as if the war was put on pause for her most beautiful action.

The walk to the store was enjoyable. Donna smiled for the stars that blessed her eyes. She smiled for the cool breeze that stroked her hair. She smiled for her warmth all bundled up in her robe. She smiled in hot anticipation.

The store itself was tedious. She approached the boarded up door and latched handle to size up the amount of force it would take to break the plywood. After attempting to do just that for several minutes, she had tried several different tactics: pulling, punching and wrenching. She slid her hand behind the plywood until her palm touched the cold refreshing glass. She used the small muscles located in her fingers to tap on the door and she heard the hinges squeak weakly as the door pushed open. The girl lowered herself to the ground and slithered under the plywood. She sucked in her stomach so she could fit.  Using the sleeve of her robe, Donna wiped beads of sweat that came trickling down the side of her face. Her breathing grew heavy. Her sense of feverishness heightened. The air in her lungs thickened until it was dense enough to cut with a knife. She kept reminding herself to quicken her pace; she pushed herself to be faster. Her stomach still glued to the floor, she pulled herself deeper into the toy store. Faster. She arrived at her first pile of toys. Faster. Then she worked her way into the second. Faster. She worked tirelessly for half an hour until she could marvel at her filled brown sac. In it lay dolls that opened and closed their eyes depending on how you held them, toy vehicles, some with real tiny engines, wind-up toys in the shape of mice drumming away at very festive looking drums. Donna had even climbed up onto the top of a low shelf and untied a red old fashioned toy airplane from the ceiling and a green and red kite along with it. You can only imagine the trouble Donna had fitting the bag underneath the plywood. But it would all be worth it.

She escaped back into the night like a common criminal, the sac like a boulder she herself had laid across her back. She gazed upwards to watch the sky as it slowly began to shift and become lighter. She wished fervently that no one would see her and she ducked away into the shadows of buildings. Unlike a common criminal, Donna was not quite done. If she were to stop now her whole plan would be failed.

She encircled the first house several times before seeing the open window leading into a boy’s nursery. The window felt as though it was left open especially for her to climb into. She hoisted herself in and was now standing gingerly in the middle of a small boy’s room. From the thermometer left on the bedside table and the medicine bottle that rested in all its plumpness on top of the bureau, Donna could deduce that this boy was ill. Donna removed the multicoloured kite from the sac and slipped it in next to him beneath the bed sheet. She searched the room for a pen and paper. Once she had found some she wrote:

When you get better, go out to the beach and fly this kite.


Donna paused for a second. She brought the tip of the pen to her lips. 

The boy’s eyes blinked open. Donna began shuffling towards the window afraid that the boy would scream in terror and attract the attention of his parents into the room. After a few silent moments of staring at each other, she noticed that the boy wasn’t in the least bit surprised to see her.

“Are you La Befana?” he inquired. La Befana is the friendly witch that brings children toys in Italian Culture.


“Then why did you give me this kite?”

Donna was about to hiss and tell the boy off for asking too many questions, but instead she shrugged her shoulders

“What is your name then, if you aren’t La Befana?”

Donna shrugged her shoulders again.

“Are you the bogeyman then, come to take me away?!” 


“Are you death herself come to fetch my corpse away? Am I dead?!” For a young boy he had quite a vivid, but dark imagination.


Quickly Donna scribbled her name on the paper:

The Toygiver.

It seemed to fit her.

“What is that paper?”

“It is far too late for a boy your age to be up.” Donna sighed. “Now get comfortable in bed and I will sing to you if you like.”

“Alright.” The boy nestled in bed with his new kite; he was grinning ear to ear. Donna pulled a stool by his bed, sat, and sang until her mouth was dry and the boy had slipped into a blissful sleep. She left his room through the window, not forgetting to leave a note on the table. She visited ten other houses that night. The sky was red like a pitted cherry when she stumbled back to her house. Her mother was waiting outside, shivering in her robe both of chill and anxiety. 

“Where have you been, Donna?” her mother cried out when her daughter came into view. “I was about to have a heart attack!”

“You were?” Donna said gently.

Before her mother could answer, she was engulfed in a warm hug. Donna went over her new name over and over again in her mind. The Toygiver. The Toygiver. Toygiver. Donna would continue to do this nighttime ritual for years to come. She did it all the way until the end. The end of the war. The Toygiver. The Toygiver. Toygiver.


Chapter One

“Grande iced coffee with almond milk, two pumps of caramel, and one and a half pumps of hazelnut. Thank you.”


“No,” I shuttered. It was too early to have decaffeinated coffee. I needed to have coffee. Last night had gone too late and too long. God, last night was awful and now I was tired, annoyed, and majorly hungover. Coffee would help with that. Maya always said I drank too much coffee. Everyone always said I was addicted, but I was really trying to stop drinking so much caffeine. It’s just, what else am I supposed to do? At this point in the argument, Maya would say I could sleep, then I would laugh, she would roll her eyes, and I would leave with full intentions of going to Denny’s, getting on line, smiling at Ralph and getting my drink. They always had it ready and ice cold. But of course today of all days, there was a new barista. Molly, I read. Next time I would make sure I got a barista that knew what they were doing. 

“Anything else, um, what’s your name?” Molly asked.

“Lexi and, um, yes.” Then I looked at the clock and then at Molly. This was her first day and I could tell. She looked like a deer in headlights, staring down each customer like they were her enemy. No, I didn’t have time for Molly to under or overcook my bun and I didn’t need to be any later than I already was. 

“I mean no,” I told Molly just as she was about to add more to my order. “I’m good,” I said as I gave her my rewards card. She took it like it was a space rock from Mars. She looked it up and down trying to figure out what this strange object was. 

“Never mind I’ll just pay with cash.” I took back my rewards card and gave her exact change in case she didn’t know how to open the cash register. 

“Thank you,” she said. For a moment I thought she was going to come out from behind the cash register and hug me, but she just stared. I smiled and went to go get my coffee.

“Nice name,” Molly shouted. The bribery was strong in this one. 

Now all I had to do was run to the open call and hope and pray I would get the role. Fortunately, when I checked my phone I saw that the open call was only five minutes away. Unfortunately, I only had two. I ran all the way there and was still late. When I went inside, the director handed me a packet and told me to sit down. I knew as soon as I saw the character description that I wasn’t even going to try. Shame, the girl at first seemed good. It said her name was Ashley and she was twenty one. That was fine and good. The only problem was that Ashley was struggling with an addiction to alcohol. I had never had an addiction. I didn’t want to offend anyone by portraying someone wrong. I stood up and walked over to the director. I was two steps away before I realized I was without my Denny’s cup. I needed something to get me through this. I ran back to my chair, grabbed my cup, and went back over. 

“Hello sir.” I smiled. I knew I could do this I talked to directors all the time. “I was wondering if I could talk to you about my role.”

“Call me Carl.” Carl. Of course his name was Carl. “Yes, Ashley. She’s a beautiful character.” I took another sip of my coffee. The taste swam around in my mouth making me feel the heat of a Costa Rican sun or feel the drum of a lost island. The smell was enough to make you happy, but the taste was amazing.

“Yes but it’s just-” Suddenly a wave of caramel splashed the top of my mouth. Something was off. I took another sip searching for the hazelnut that would always balance of the slightly salty caramel, but I couldn’t find even a trace of it. I took another sip and another, but the caramel once again overwhelmed my taste buds. It must have showed on my face because Carl was staring at me like I was a freak.

“I’m sorry, it’s just, I don’t know if I can play her.” I tried to recover.

At this point, if I messed up, the ice and coolness of my drink would calm me down, but instead the coffee seemed to grow hotter. 

“Listen, I understand that she seems like someone completely different, but just see if you can find some similarities. I’m sorry—are you okay?” No, I wasn’t. My mouth was just flooded with a nutty taste. Oh my god, is that nutmeg? Who mixes up hazelnut and nutmeg? This was the most disgusting coffee I had ever had and apparently it showed.

“I’m sorry. It’s just my barista messed up my order and it’s literally disgusting and it isn’t ice cold and just blegh.” When I looked up at Carl, he was laughing. 

“What’s so funny?”

“It’s just, it seems like you have a bit of an addiction of your own.” How dare he. How dare this man insult me like this. It wasn’t my fault Molly messed up my order and it wasn’t my fault Carl was being rude. 

“I’m usually like this it’s just something was off and I didn’t know what it was. It turns out my barista used nutmeg instead of hazelnut and I’m just having a bad day.”

“So I see you’re a coffee snob—” My jaw dropped. “—and a little bit of a drama queen.”

“I am not a coffee snob.” My face was getting red and my jaw was practically hitting the floor. “And I am not a drama queen. I just like to be in control of what goes into my mouth. If it’s trash, I don’t like it, which is probably why I don’t like this character!” As soon as I said that, I wanted to take it back. “No, no, no. That’s not what I meant. I just meant-”

“Ms. Brown,” said Carl, “I think you should leave.”

“No, sir, please.” I took another sip of my coffee, knowing and dreading what would happen next.

“Out.” Carl smiled and reached out a hand for my Denny’s cup. “And close the door on your way out.” I bit my lip to stop the tears and slowly walked out the door. I almost left that audition feeling sad until I heard Carl spitting out my drink exclaiming how disgusting and gross it was. Maybe it was the complete over dosage of caramel. Maybe it was the absence of hazelnut and the nutmeg sinking into every delicious coffee bean. Maybe it was even the coffee itself. Maybe Molly had messed it up like she had this entire day and this entire audition. But all of those seemed fine compared to the giant flem god that I spat in my coffee. Who was a drama queen now?

Chapter Two

“How did it go?” asked Maya. She was making coffee, decaf no doubt. 

“Not well,” I told her. “The director was just awful and my coffee was just awful. There was this horrible barista, Molly. She mixed up hazelnut and nutmeg. Like who does that?” I fell onto the couch, sinking into the fluffy Target pillows.

“Well,” Maya said as she jumped onto the couch next to me. “Maybe it wasn’t all Molly’s fault.”

“Yeah maybe I actually just told her nutmeg instead of hazelnut.” I rolled my eyes. I would never mess up my order. 

“Well yeah,” Maya said, “I mean I do it all the time.” I rolled my eyes, but then Maya smiled and I had to forgive her.

“I redecorated the apartment.” I looked around. Maya tended to do this very frequently. This week’s (possibly day’s) theme was blue. She had added blue beach paintings, which she was making when I left, to the walls. Then she had gotten a new rug for the living room and some new vases and accessories for around the house. Yeah, it looked good, but I wish she could just stick with something. I told her I really liked the peach one she did three weeks ago, but she said it was too princessy. I took a peak in her room and saw she had completely redone her room to. It was slowly closing in on itself with the layers and layers of paint she would use to cover the last stage of herself. The Maya she was showing today was vintage Maya. She was wearing old Levi’s overalls and an old MTV tee that she no doubt got from a thrift store or yard sale. This ensemble was accompanied by her old ass Converse and a ripped up Newsies cap. Maya would change into a different person every week, throwing away her life before this new style. Sometimes I would like Maya and sometimes I would hate her. I didn’t like emo Maya. I really didn’t like preppy Maya. Sometimes she would ask me what my favorite Maya was and then I would say, “My favorite Maya is just Maya.” Then she would laugh, even though it wasn’t a joke. But today vintage Maya would just be out of it and cool. I was fine with that, but I wished I could spend my time with the Maya I knew when I moved in with her. But who knows maybe that was another version of Maya that I didn’t know. To go with this new Maya, she had painted her room a brown-ish mustard. Her record player and typewriter were out and she was using her orange sheets and she had switched out her Chanel poster for a display of her records. Maya was starting over once again, creating herself again. Soon she would drop all her preppy friends and she would start hanging out with hipsters at coffee shops. 

“So do you like it?” She seemed kind of eager to hear what I had to say.

I wanted to say, “you should just keep it normal and stop changing it,” but instead I said, 

“I love it. Definitely your best form yet.”

“Well,” she said. Then she smiled and I realized I was looking at the same Maya. Her toothy grin made me so happy so I went with it. 

“Yes.” I tried to replicate her smile but I just came out looking like a bunny.

“Maybe we could redo your room.” She flung open my room before I could stop her. I would go into detail describing my room, but it’s pretty basic. It’s all white, but not in a cute way. It looks like an asylum except for the occasional splotch of coffee spill. I still loved it, but Maya, well, Maya thought it could be improved. 

“I mean.” Maya paused. Even Maya, who comes up with new room designs every week, couldn’t think of a way to salvage my room. “We could-”

“We could close the door of my room and never open it again,” I suggested, but before I could execute my plan, Maya stepped into my room. I couldn’t leave her to her own devices in there so I followed her in. I was truly beyond the point of no return.

“Well we can start by getting you some new sheets.” Oh brother this was going to be awful, but, hey, I was in Maya’s hands now. When I looked back at Maya she was spacing out.

“Maya,” I said. Nothing. “Maya!” I basically screamed. Suddenly Maya’s face lit up. “What?” I asked.

“I know what we’re doing for your room.”

“What?” If she made my room like a six year old’s I was going to kill her.

“Coffee,” she said smiling.


“Oh my god, stop saying what. Your room is going to be brown, white, and green, like a Denny’s cup. Also we’re going to have cute coffee art and a desk and finally your room isn’t going to look like you live in a mental institution.” 

“Great. You do that.” I went to go get some Cinnamon Toast Crunch and, you guessed it, coffee. 

“Come on,” Maya begged.

“No,” I said. I had no intention of letting Maya touch my room.

“Why not?”


“Because what?”

“Fine. Do it.”


“This is why. Once you do it once, you’re just gonna do it over and over and over until I’ll have no room because the paint is going to kill me with it’s fumes.”

“I won’t do that.”

“Fine, go. Go make over my room.”

“Eeeee!” Maya squealed. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

I was going to regret this, but before I could tell her to stop, she was out the door. I slipped into my room and opened my computer. I opened up my Gmail and waited. I stared at the screen, waiting for an email, an open call, an audition, something. I needed to start pulling my weight or else, well, or else Maya might not want to house me anymore. No, that couldn’t happen. It wasn’t Friday, but I started the send anyway. First, I would need coffee. I walked out to the kitchen, bringing my cereal with me. I mixed it and sipped it and I suddenly knew everything was going to be okay. I started the first email and finished the second, third, and sixth. I sent the third and the second, but held on to the sixth. I wanted to see what Maya thought. Then I waited… and waited… and waited. And then an email popped up. I clicked on it and it was from Carl. It read: 

Dear Lexi,

Although you were a bit rude I want to give you another chance. I feel you can really embody this character. Come tomorrow at nine. Sharp.

Chapter Three

I’ll skip the pleasantries and just say this show was amazing. Except for one day. One day, I was walking back from a particularly bad rehearsal and Maya told me to sit down.

“I have a surprise,” she said. She seemed a bit too happy. “Come with me.”

“Ok,” I said. She led me to my room. 

“Now open.” My jaw dropped. My room was white with a band of brown around it. In the middle of my new room was a huge circle with the Denny’s logo on it and that logo ended up morphing into my head board. Around my room was more disgusting green and coffee art. If you couldn’t tell, I hated it. 

“What did you do to my room?” I screamed.

“Nothing, I just made it better.” Maya seemed hurt, but I didn’t care.

“That was my room and now I’m literally living in a coffee cup.”

“Yeah, that was the idea.”

“Well, I hate it.”

“I was just trying to help.” Maya started to cry.

“Wow, Maya,” I said sarcastically, “and I thought with so many different personalities you weren’t able to even have feelings.” At this point I was crying too. But not sad crying, angry crying.

“I just wanted to help you.”

“Well Maya, you didn’t.”

“What is wrong with you? I thought we were friends. Friends do things like this with each other.”

“Really? I don’t know, Maya. Are we friends? Or am I friends with Preppy Maya, Hippie Maya, Mean Girl Maya, or, god forbid, Emo Maya? There are just so many of you I don’t know. Are we friends?”

“I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

“You don’t know who I am? Try figuring yourself out first.” 

“Don’t go there, Lex.”

“Oh, I’ll go there Maya.” Now I was mad. “You don’t know who you are. You always say you change your look for fashion, but that’s not true. The truth is you keep changing because you think one day someone might actually like you. But guess what Maya? If you just keep never truly opening up, no one can love you. No one.”

“Out,” Maya mustered through tears. So I did. I packed up my stuff and left for a cheap motel. The next day, I was still in shock, but I still went to Denny’s and got my coffee.

Molly gave me the cup and said, “I made it specially for you.”

When I opened the lid, I saw something I’ll never forget. A huge fly was swimming around in my foam. Before I could think, I texted the food and drink health department and demanded for Molly to be fired. Then I sent a picture of my drink.

I left for my last rehearsal. At the end we all hugged and high-fived and said we couldn’t wait for Sunday. It was Friday and I couldn’t wait.

I went home, well, I went to my motel and I texted Maya. I said I was sorry. She left me on read. I pulled an all nighter sipping the gross motel coffee from the lobby. When I went outside the next day, I saw something. I didn’t believe it. I saw an abandoned building that used to house the Denny’s coffee shop. I went up to the window still seeing the painted walls of green, white, and brown. The chairs were turned up just like they were yesterday only now the doors would never open. I touched the brass door handles and pulled slightly. The door opened until a chain stopped it. The opening was just big enough to slip inside. I did. Then I smelled the coffee. I looked outside to the world I used to be in and then to myself inside a now abandoned coffee shop. My hair was messy and my eyes were cakey from putting on too much concealer.

I still remembered that fateful day when I went to get my coffee and met Molly. That day I thought I was mad at her, but I didn’t know about how much she could really destroy. As I walked around this haunted house, I saw a flyer. I walked over to it, examining the bold red letters that spelled “D-A-N-G-E-R.” Right below it, it read “dangerous health conditions.” Then my eyes got fuzzy and I heard the drop of a single tear on the ground. This was my fault. 

“So.” I turned around and saw Molly in the doorway. “Was it worth it getting me fired?”

“No,” I said, “I’m so sorry.”

“Yeah, well, here.” She handed me a coffee cup.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“Crush it,” she said. So I did. 

“Done.” She looked at the cup. It was completely destroyed, the green band now bent.

“Now say ‘I’m sorry’,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I told the cup. It stayed the same. Destroyed. “Nothing happened,” I told her.

“Exactly.” She slipped through the door and didn’t look back. I walked sluggishly back to the motel, making each step slower than the last. When I finally got there, I went up the stairs, not even stopping to think to myself how hard it was. When I opened my door, I saw that Maya had texted me back. She said it wasn’t OK. I lay on my bed thinking of Ralph and Molly and even Denny. They were all out of work and were probably struggling. Especially Molly. I thought about what she said. Even though I knew she was right, I still wrote each and every person I hurt an apology email. No one wrote back. I closed my eyes and thought of everything and finally I slept. I slept and slept not being woken up by coffee or Maya or anything. I slept through the opening lines of alcoholic Ashley. I slept through Carl screaming and asking anyone if they knew where I was. I slept through eighteen text messages from Maya telling me to wake up. I slept through Denny’s getting sold to Starbucks. And the Sunday I had wished and dreamed about for my whole life came and went.



Hello. I’m the narrator and I only have the one paragraph for the introduction so let me get some things straight. First of all, this is totally made up and you should not try this at home. Second of all, I really don’t have anything else to say except get ready for lots of humorous and crazy things to happen so let’s hope you didn’t skip this.

Chapter One: Inky Depths 

Hey it’s the narrator again and I’m back to tell you the story. So, this story begins at the home of an artist name Jeff Jones who had this pen and was drawing. He was always drawing horror and he loved horror and this new pen he just got was special and Jeff did not know that. So he drew a portal sucking a house into this world, then he felt this tight pull on him and he saw a portal. He quickly wrote a message that said:

Free me from the portal.

The pen is the mightiest weapon you have.

It creates anything you need to use.

Use it well.

-Your dad,


Later that day, Bobby came home from school to find ink everywhere and a message covered in ink. He was able to make it out and it read:

Free   from portal the   is the mightiest weapon you         creates 

Anything     need us t we l

-Your   ad


Bobby decided to recreate the drawing that he saw that was ripped and then it happened. He saw an inky black portal open and it sucked him in.

Chapter Two: Inky World

When Bobby woke up, he saw he was in a cage and in front of him were two knights. Then one said, “Second one today, guess we better feed him to the ink hound”. Bobby knew this was not good so he drew on the wall a tommy gun and then he started to pull on the wall. After that, he got his tommy gun and he knew this was his only hope. He saw bright lights and on the floor were the two knights. The cage had broken open and then he saw the knights melt into ink and then everything went black…

When he woke up, he was on the floor, and looking down at him was a monster that looked like he had taken a bath in ink and never wiped it off. The monster had one eye and you could tell the other eye was submerged in ink. He had a creepy smile and spoke in a raspy voice “these inky depths, they are evil and you can’t get out. Beware of the wolf known as Billy he makes sure that no one escapes. He has two accomplices. One’s a spider and one’s a lion. Neither are… oh no I have said too much, run!”

As Bobby ran away, he heard a scream and ripping and chewing. Bobby ran and ran till he saw someone in front of him that looked like a man from Jeff’s drawings. So Bobby ran more and more until he couldn’t even stand up so he drew a car. As he drove the world around him got darker. Then he fell and the world around him changed. 

Chapter Three: Wolves, Spiders, and Lions

When Bobby hit the ground, he was tired. So he ate his favorite food: tofu and pea soup. As he ate, Bobby felt so refreshed that he could fight. Then he heard a howling and a wolf came with a lion and a spider next to it. Bobby walked back and then he felt the cold stone hit his back. Bobby knew this was the end and then he tried to draw a line, but he was so scared that it was not even straight. So he closed his eyes and let the monsters eat him.

He felt the cold drool of the wolf on him. The ground rumbled and broke open. Then everyone fell through. He drew in the air hoping a trampoline would come out and then it went black…

Bobby woke up seeing the ink rising and then Bobby saw a door. He ran towards it just in time to get inside before the ink covered everything around it. Everything was submerged in ink and he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see his dad covered in ink. Before they could talk the ceiling cracked and little by little ink started to flood in.

As Bobby and Jeff ran for their lives, Bobby felt a sharp pain in his arm and he saw the wolf had bitten him. He ran and the wolf ran after him and then the ink broke through the ceiling and killed the wolf. As Bobby ran, the ink started to catch up to him and then he felt his heart stop pumping and his blood started to leak out from his body and then…

Chapter Four: Dead Or Alive

Hey, it’s the narrator again and I have to tell you that this next chapter is really weird and you should definitely not read it. But then this won’t make sense. You know what just ignore me.  

When Bobby woke up he was still dead but he was also alive, probably because he drew a heart on himself (yes, this worked for some dumb reason).  And he had lost his dad again. Then he saw foot steps, so he followed them. He followed them for hours until he found a place covered in ink. He did what his gut feeling had told him to do: draw a portal.

He felt himself getting pulled on, and then everything went black.

Chapter Five: New Ink City

When Bobby came out, he saw a huge building with big letters on it that said: “get yourself inked.” Then, Bobby realized that someone or something must have escaped the ink world. Then it hit him, literally and figuratively. His dad’s creations must have gotten out and one of his dads creations knocked him out which was the fourth time he got knocked out. When he woke up, he was in a cage with pipes that was starting to pump ink into it. He drew a huge cork and plugged the pipes knowing that he had enough time to draw a key and unlock it. Then one of the corks burst and then the other one. He was starting to drown so he worked more quickly and then he opened the cage. He fell down and knew he was gonna die but no one was there, then the door burst open.

He saw a guard there who then fell down.

There was a man who said, “The legendary Bobby Jones, the man who started this and has to end this.”

Bobby was confused and asked, “One, who are you? Two, where is my dad?”

The man replied by saying, “One I’m a rebel. Two, your dad died 4 years ago. You and your dad disappeared 10 years ago. He came back in 6 years then died; you came back now so help us.” 

“No!” Bobby yelled.

“Ugh,” said the guy. Then Bobby got knocked out again.

When Bobby woke up, he was surrounded by many people and they were all screaming questions at him. So he drew a minigun and held it up to them and said, “Listen up you guys. You have no weapons or ammo so let me make you some guns with infinite ammo. Trust me: if one of you betrays me then the last thing you will hear is bangbangbangbangbangbangbangbang. And trust me, you don’t want it to end that way. So who’s with me?”

Everyone looked at each other for a little bit and then started chanting and bringing whatever they could to help create weapons for them. Some asked for swords others asked for guns and some asked for helicopters which was weird, but Bobby had seen weirder. After many hours of creating weapons everyone was ready.

Chapter Six: Blood And Ink

The army of men and women charged towards inky people, all with swords and guns. As Bobby and his army charged, many people fell dead from swords, but so did the ink people. Then, everyone heard a rumble. 

Bobby ran while yelling, “Take cover!” but it was too late. Everyone was turned into ink so Bobby took his minigun and shot until it looked like the floor was ink. Then no one was left; just him. He went to confront the leader and then he heard a rumble and the ground broke.

He woke up in the ink world again with many portals around him. He knew only one would lead to where he needed to go. So he looked at them until he found one that mentally spoke to him and he went in it and woke up in his house and his father was talking to him and saying, “Shh, shh. Everything is alright”.

“What happened with the ink?” 

“I will tell you later” said Bobby’s dad and then Bobby went to sleep. 

Chapter Seven: Clean Up

When Bobby woke up his dad said, “Many of the ink things got out; it’s time we erase our work because they are evil.”

“But why can’t we just draw something to do it for us,” asked Bobby, “because that’s just making things worse than they already are and right now they are worse than the Devil himself.”

“Ok,” said Bobby’s dad.

When they got outside, the first thing they saw was an inky black killer clown and Bobby drew an eraser and waved it at the killer clown until it was nothing but a drop of ink and then it was nothing. As Bobby and his dad, Jeff, walked, a monster came down and ripped the pen in half and Bobby and Jeff had no more weapons

Chapter Eight: Just Flesh

With only fists and their surroundings, Jeff and Bobby were outnumbered by many ink things. Then Jeff realized something: these were his creations so all he had to do was get rid of himself. So he went up to the creatures and yelled “take me and kill me!”

The leader which was the lion from the ink world said, “We will keep you, but not kill you.” And they took him away.

As Bobby ran, he could not keep up with the monsters that took him away and slowly he stopped. He looked up and saw this monster running away to the White House (yes, Bobby lives in Washington D.C.) and he knew they would keep him hostage. So he ran towards them, fighting the will to give up until he finally got to the White House where he could confront the monsters that were still alive from the destruction of the ink world.

Chapter Nine: Ink to Flesh

Finally, when Bobby got to the White House it was more of a black house and the American flag was just a black flag. It really looked like you took the white house and dumped a bucket of ink on it. Nonetheless, Bobby went in. As he walked, the men guarding it stepped away cautiously as they knew the pens powers, but did not know that the pen was broken. 

After he got to the oval office, where his father was being held captive, the Lion sat there and looked out the window and said, “This place is amazing, full of color and no way to get out. All you have to worry about is dying, but not in my world”. Then the Lion turned around and attacked Bobby.

As Bobby got bitten by the Lion he yelled, “Wait, wait, wait!” And the Lion stopped. Bobby said, “If you give me one of your teeth, I won’t stop you at ALL”. The Lion was mentaly blinded by having the whole world so the Lion gladly ripped off one of his teeth and handed to Bobby. As he ran away to take over the world Bobby ran to his dad.

When Bobby got to his dad, his dad did not look at Bobby and said, “Kill me, Bobby.”

And Bobby said,“No, I refuse.”

Quickly, Jeff grabbed the Lion toothed and said, “I love you Bobby,” and thrust it into his chest and all the ink melted away and then the white house was white again. He then took the Lion tooth and walked away.

Chapter Ten: Fist Fight

As Bobby walked out of the white house, he saw a six monsters: a dragon, the Lion, a stick figure, a skeleton, a vampire, and a cowboy. As all the monsters ran at him, he picked up a sharp piece of concrete and ran at the them. He cut the cowboy from the chest up. Then he took another piece and threw it at the dragon and hit him directly in the face, falling down and exploding into ink. Then he took the stick figure and stabbed the vampire in the mouth,and the vampire fell down dead. The stick figure was also dead. Then he took the skeleton and stuffed it down the Lion’s mouth then the Lion fell limp.

Then all the monsters melted away, except for the Lion who charged at Bobby screaming, “You killed everything I had!”

Bobby replied yelling, “I had to kill my only family member.” And then he stabbed the Lion with the lion tooth he had in his pocket and got up and walked away.


As Bobby walked home, he was covered in ink and wished he could talk to someone about what just happened with his father dying. When he got home, he opened the door, but the door just fell down. So he went in the living room, which was the room were he got sucked into the portal. The room was the same, but as he explored, everything was covered with ink so he started to clean. 

When he went to clean the bathroom, he saw himself. If anything, he looked like an ink person, so he just kept cleaning and told himself that he would take a shower soon. After he had cleaned the house and taken a shower, he got his dad’s body and put it in a coffin that had his most important drawing on it. The drawing was Bobby fighting a dragon. Then he closed the inky black coffin and walked out of his dad’s room into the living room to watch some TV.

The End?

The Shattered Syringe

Editor’s Note: Content Warning for Drug Use

As the luck in the packs does not change, Michael sits in his chair trying to stay enthused so that his chat does not know how much that measly eighty two rated card affected his bank account. The packs begin to get slightly better, and then go right back down in their regular slope. Michael decides that he has had enough for today. He ends his stream with no warning to his thirteen fans, leaving them confused as to why they got only seven and a half hours of streaming today.

Opening the fridge to the repulsive stench of spoiled milk and half-eaten canned tomato soup, he asks himself if he should just quit streaming and get what his family calls “a real job.” With half a Campbell’s soup in hand, he walks over to his monitor to see if there are any job openings nearby. The only available positions near him seem to be quite tragic: a cashier at the rundown Sunoco gas station or a waiter at Bertucci’s thirteen miles away. Both pay the same, $7.25 an hour, the Texas minimum wage. The long bike ride is worse than the cigarette smell that the gas station has, leaving Michael with only the interview left to complete. Calling it a night, Michael falls asleep to the three am Houston traffic.

The next day, with his best sweatshirt on, Michael walks into the gas station looking for a job. After the interview, Michael is confident that he has secured the job and decides that he deserves to treat himself for going out to the gas station instead of wasting away in his room playing FIFA on camera until he is ready to punch a hole in his wall. He buys himself a box of Pop-Tarts and a beer, the treat he deserves after this successful day. On his walk back home, he notices a bar and decides to go in. After all, he deserves it.

The next morning, he wakes up with a severe headache and a voice message on his phone. He opens the message. It’s the manager of the gas station. He didn’t get the job. The taste in his mouth turns bitter with rage. He needs that job. He grudgingly unlocks his computer and begins to stream. As a starting point he puts in $100 into today’s packs, the remnants of what’s left over in his bank account. Finally, after an hour and a half of no luck, he gets a walkout. As he walks across the stream, he hears a noise coming from his computer. Someone had donated two dollars. Not much, but it’s a start. Pack after pack, his luck seems to be shifting, getting slightly better and better players every time. After another forty five minutes, he gets the flash of light, indicating a good pack. Crossing his fingers, Michael watches as an icon walks out of the pack and does that little animated celebration everyone was waiting for. Maradona. Michael watches his stream go crazy, numbers rising from thirteen to twenty to thirty six viewers. Someone donates $15. Slowly but surely, Michael is making his money back. For the first time in his FIFA career, which is also his only ever career, Michael has gone positive at the end of the stream, actually gaining three dollars.

As Michael contemplates what to do tomorrow on his next stream, he begins to smell smoke. He wanders around, searching for the source of the scent, until he eventually stumbles into the kitchen where he notices that the oven is still on. In the oven are Michael’s, now charred, attempt at cookies that he was going to treat himself with. Panicking, Michael throws the cookies out of the oven and tries to put the fire out. The severity of the situation does not occur to Michael until he hears a knock on his door. He sprints out to open it, and one of his neighbors is there with a fire extinguisher.

After an alarming ten minutes, his neighbor finally leaves him alone with just a very dark patch left on his floor. Only now noticing that the fire alarms are going off, Michael uses the anger that is pent up inside of him and uses a crowbar to knock the fire alarm out. With some peace and quiet now flowing through the house, Michael walks toward his bed. Looking down at his bed, Michael begins to bawl. Tears rolling down his cheeks, his shoulders tremble.

The next morning, Michael walks down the street looking for any money making opportunity, even asking kids running a lemonade stand if they need a hand. As he walks past the CVS, he decides that clearly this won’t work. On the walk back to his house, he decides to take a shortcut, leading him through the back alleys of Houston.

A man stands in the middle of the alley on the way to Michael’s flat, almost as if he is another roadblock in Michael’s life. Michael contemplates what to do, whether to speak to him or not. Deciding that he has hit rock bottom, Michael decides to just say hi to the strange man. 

“Hello,” Michael says politely to the stranger.

The man looks up at him and gives him a size up. He looks up and down, as if surveying if Michael is a threat.

“Hey, I have something you want,” he replies with a hoarse voice.

Michael begins to wonder what it is that he has. Money? A job opening? Some luck?

“And what is it that I want?” Michael asks, genuinely curious, but also a little nervous for what he is going to hear.

“Heroin,” he replies.

The word bounces around in Michael’s mind as if it is a skipping stone going across a pond. Michael’s immediate reaction is obviously to reject it and walk away, but the more he thinks about it, the more the idea seems to be a good one.

“I don’t have money on me,” Michael finally responds to the stranger.

Hoping that that might be the end of it, he begins to walk away.

“Don’t worry, first dose is always free,” the stranger responds, knowing that this first dose would lead to another and another and another.

“Sure, why not?” Michael responds, somewhat knowing that he shouldn’t be doing it anyway. “How do I take it? Do I like snort it or something?”

“No, I have a spare syringe for you. Don’t worry about it,” the stranger responds, reaching into his back pocket. “I guess this will scare you if you’re an anti-vaxxer.”

“Just give me the damn syringe,” Michael responds, just wanting to get it over with.

He grabs the syringe, already filled with a dose, and looks for his radial artery. Being a med school drop-out, he knows how to get an artery to bulge out. He cuts the circulation going into his right arm and then injects the grimy syringe into his bloodstream. 

There is not much immediate pain, just like a normal vaccine or blood test, and Michael does not feel any different with heroin as without.

Thirty minutes later, and a calm passes over Michael. It is as if his troubles in life just disappear, and all of a sudden he is just peaceful. Unfortunately for Michael, this only lasts for about 45 minutes. Now Michael is back to normal, except for one thing. He has this strange cramp in his jaw. Not much to worry about. It should leave in a day or two, Michael says to himself. 

A day passes by, and Michael has gone to see the stranger another time to get another dose, this one not quite as cheap. The jaw cramp has yet to leave, but that isn’t too much of a problem. Instead he now has these continuous muscle cramps that come and go but are mostly just annoying. He ignores the symptoms, not wanting to realize what he knows they are. The days pass by, and he continues to make a few dollars here and there on stream, mostly looking forward to when he could afford his next dosage.

A week later, he finally could afford a small dosage. This starts to become routine, meet up with the man, whose name turns out to be Theo, get the dose, go home, and enjoy.

“Hey, Theo,” Michael says as he walks closer to joy.

“Michael,” Theo responds, not looking up.

He is wearing an OffWhite sweatshirt and Fear of God jeans. Theo is a dealer, and because of that, lives quite fruitfully off of the money he makes, just with the bad part of being constantly scared of getting caught.

“So, can I have it,” Michael asks, handing over the $50.

That is all that he has made over the last week and was going to pay for a bit of his rent.

“Sure, whatever you want,” Theo hands it over, once again, in quite an unclean syringe.

Michael thinks about just wiping it down, but that seems like a lot of effort for such a small benefit.

“Thank you, man. I’ll see you soon.”

Michael walks away, trying not to let the excitement show, so Theo doesn’t think he is a complete junkie.

 As the days roll by, Michael seems to be getting more headaches and is having trouble swallowing. And a month later, he goes to see Theo again, this time for a bigger dose. 

As Michael walks towards Theo, he takes the money out of his back pocket, $150, the most he ever made off of streaming. Theo is there waiting. Michael is becoming his best customer, and he could see that that wouldn’t change anytime soon.

Michael is about to hand the money over when his muscles suddenly stiffen and he loses consciousness. Michael falls to the ground and begins to convulse. White foam comes out of his mouth, and his eyes roll back in his head. Theo panics and sprints away with the money. He leaves a syringe next to Michael.

Weeks go by, and a stench begins to come from the alley behind Alonzo’s Pizzaria. Finally, a customer decides to go and see what is producing this horrid odor. It is a surprise indeed. The flies buzzing in and out of the man’s nose and mouth is enough for a scream to crawl out of the former customer’s mouth. He is glued to his spot, looking at a man sprawled across the asphalt with open eyes, but no pupils.

As police come onto the scene and bring the body back for an autopsy, it is clear that he has died because of untreated tetanus. As the police swarm the scene like the bugs across Michael’s body, they find something. A single shattered syringe.

My Mom

Hi, I’m Skylark Lalak. I live in Cleveland and really want to find my mother. When I was three years old, my mother ran away. This I remember because, if I want to remember something, I can remember it. It is kind of sad to think that she would run away. Now that I am sixteen, I would like to know more about where my mother is and find her. I also would like to know more about why she ran away.

I have a sister named Maya, who has Leukemia. Leukemia is a type of cancer. I am worried if I leave I will never see her again. My dad wants to help my sister but they don’t realize how much it is impacting my life. 

The thing is I have to take care of my sister because my father works till 8pm every night. The main thing that I have to do is make dinner and clean the dishes. Luckily, I can go to school. My sister can’t go to school because then she will get even more sick, considering all the germs. It is really hard to make friends at a time like this, but luckily I have a friend named Chloe. Chloe is a nice, caring person who helps me with my sister by checking on my sister while I do my homework. If only my dad would take some time off of work for my sister. Last night I was telling my dad how I felt about all of this. He said it was so we could pay for everything. 

Back to trying to find my mother. I decided that tonight I would ask my dad about my mom and why we never speak of her. First I needed to go to school, check on my sister, do homework, then wait for my dad. My dad gets home around 8:30 pm and sits down on the couch and I notice something is wrong so I call 911. I notice that my dad is limping and his foot is swelling. We go to the ambulance and after some tests, they find out my dad has a broken foot. He will not tell me how he broke it. Uh oh. I need an adult I can trust. Now I really need my mom. I can only trust my mom and the doctors. I just talked with the doctors and they say they will call whenever something happens. So I’m off. But I need to tell my dad and ask him a few questions.

I go up to my dad and ask, “Dad can you tell me anything about Mom?”

“No,” he says.

“Why not?” I ask, trying to beg him.

“Because,” he answers. 

“You sure?” I try one last time.

There is silence then finally, “Fine, just ask her yourself,” he says as he goes on my phone and dials a number. I go in my room and answer the phone.

“Hi Mom,” I say.

“Hi,” she says. It feels great to hear her voice. It has been a long time since I heard her voice. It makes me feel sad and happy at the same time. Her voice is kind of soft like the harmony of angels.

“Where are you mom? No one will tell me anything. And why did you run away from dad, Maya and I?” I feel bad that people don’t tell me anything.

“I will give you a hint and tell you the rest when you come and find me. Here is your hint… I am at the hottest continent in the world. The country I am in is called something that has a few Os in it,” she answers. I think that this is a very strange answer. Now after I finish this call I have to solve the riddle.

“Mom, if you don’t know, dad has a broken foot and Maya has Leukemia,” I say in grief because it is sad to say that my whole family is falling apart.

“Sadly I know that these things are happening right now. I know these things because your father calls everyday. Gotta go ,bye,” she says.

“Bye,” I say and hang up. I think I just need to figure out that riddle and then I will tell my dad that I am going to wherever the riddle takes me. I head over to my desk and figure out the riddle. I have always been great at riddles and I love them. This is how I figured it out…

First, you figure out what the hottest continent: Africa (if you don’t know look it up.)

Second, you know that a few means around three, and there are three o’s so…

The answer is Morocco.

So now I need to tell my dad.

“Hey Dad,” I say as I head over to the couch.

“Hi honey,” he says.

He looks tired so I tell him, “Dad, let me tell you something. Then you’ll try to sleep.”

“Ok, what do you want?” he says.

“Can I go to Morocco to save Mom?” I ask, crossing my fingers.

“No,” he answers.

“Dad, why not? I am helping Maya, you and myself. Please.”

“But you may get hurt,” he says.

“Dad, I won’t get hurt. Can you stop being overprotective?”

“I don’t want everyone in this family to be hurt.”

“Then let me go. I will always be hurt without my mom. Just so you know the doctors are taking care of Maya.”

“Go, but try not to get hurt.”

“Sure.” Yes, I am going to Morocco and saving my mom. Now I need to get a ticket. I look at my phone, and I see that there is a flight tomorrow at 2 pm to Morocco. When I turned sixteen, my dad gave me a wallet that had a credit card. I will go then. I am lucky that it is the weekend tomorrow. Wait for one second. Tomorrow is Chloe’s birthday. I will ask if we can do something for her birthday in the morning before noon.

A few minutes later…

Yes! She replied and said that I could come over now and have a birthday sleepover. I told her I’d be there in a little bit. So, off I am to the bookstore to get Chloe a book. I decided to grab something Harry Potter. I am now trying to find the Ravenclaw notebook. Our favorite house. We like Ravenclaw because they are smart and so are we. Found it. Now I pay and we are off to Chloe’s 17th birthday party. She is a few months older than me. 

I get there and I give the present to Chloe and say, “Are you looking forward to being seventeen? I am sorry that I could not be here for your actual party.”

“It is fine, I know how much you want your mom and your family to be safe at home,” she says, and we start the sleepover. To sum it all up, we ate pizza and popcorn, she loved my present, we watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and we played Just Dance. Now the party is done. I am surprised that I had a good time. Like, I have to go home to grab my stuff and head to the airport, forgetting my passport. Don’t worry about that.

A few hours later…

I am on the plane to Morocco. It is a long plane ride so I will watch some movies. I also will listen to Grace Vanderwaal. She is my favorite singer. I’ve been on a plane many times before. The plane has 3 rows. 

15 hours and 25 minutes later…  

It was a long plane ride, but finally I am here, in Morocco. Now let me call my mom.

“Hey mom I figured out that you meant Morocco and I am in Morocco right now. Where are you?” I tell her.

Good job,” she said. “You did it. Come outside. I go outside and see that there is a limo. The guy asks me if I have any luggage and I realize that I forgot my luggage. I go inside and get my luggage and go back to the car. I’ll listen to more Grace Vanderwaal. When we get to wherever we should get to. I see a house with a backyard that seems like it is close to a lion territory. I walk  in and see the person I’ve wanted to see basically my whole life,

“Mom,” I say as I run up to her.

“Finally, I can see you and talk to you in person. Sit on the couch and I will tell you what you want to know,” she says. “What would you like to know?”

“I have many questions. First question, Why do you leave Maya, Dad, and I?”

“Ok, the answer to that is one night I got an email that the lions need some help to stay alive, and since I love animals, I thought that I could maybe help.”

“Ok, next question, why do you never call me or Maya?” I ask.

“Because your dad wants us to surprise your sister on her birthday. So can you please stay here for a little while? You will have to be homeschooled, sorry. I didn’t call you because we wanted you to want to come here.”

“I guess,” I said. I was unable to answer this question because I would like to be with my mom, but also want to be with my other family and friends. So I guess that I will be hanging out around lions for a month or two.


It has been a couple of months and I am on my way to my sister to surprise her. For some reason, we are heading to the house instead of the hospital. Does this mean what I think it means? It does! My sister overcame leukemia!! I am so happy and excited. My life is finally normal. My sister is a normal kid, who can do normal things. My mom is back. And my dad has his foot back. That is all the time I have, bye.

Eye of the End (The Second Vision and The Third Vision)

Editor’s Note: The First Vision in The Eye of the End was published in the Spring 2018 issue of the (parenthetical). This is a continuation of that story.

The Second Vision

All alone, far away from any contact that might help me. It’s been days since I’ve seen Lucas’s smile. No humans know anything about this place. The place is bright and gives me chills.  Some random extension dimension with mirrors that isn’t home. I feel different than my usual self. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like I’m not myself anymore. I made a friend, and I risked my life for humanity, but in that process, I also got so much hate. My life was a constant reminder that I would never get treated the same.

The bullying that happened in my past was as painful as getting your head stabbed with an axe. I specifically remember Bob. He was a mean one, Mr. Bob. The mean popular kid was always creating trouble, but Bob was just on another level. His real name was Affreux, but he was commonly known as Bully Bob (BB). 

Screech, Screech, Screech. The creaky steps of the klutzy school. Recess is present, and all kids are running after the spinning checkered like a ball. Soon BB approaches the scared, scrawny Megre. Before Lucas came, he was the only person who would at least smile at me. 

His face would enlighten hope throughout me. BB picks up little Megre and shakes him up and down like a girl to the melody of Édith Piaf. Lucas’s shoes clang on the ground while he moves towards the bully. Peu and Gros try to stop Lucas from his daring mission. Knowing the consequences, Lucas runs toward BB and punches him in the hard, sturdy, and extremely sweaty back.

“You’re going to pay for that you little insect,” exclaimed Bob.

Peu and Gros come running towards me. What did I do? Do they think I was part of an attack? Or do they expect me to fight alongside with Lucas? Was I being picked on because of my third eye? Were they after me because of my love for Lucas and Megre? Questions aside, I had to deal with them. I was bickering to myself on how to prevent the abuse. With one idea in my mind, I ran with it, literally. Running towards these pests was the only option I had. If I had stayed in the back, they would’ve cornered me and made me into Hollandaise sauce. If I would have run the other way, they’d cooperate and chase me down like the alarm escape scene from Rififi. Jules Dassin is an amazing director, and I’ve seen all of his movies.

My feet lifted off the ground and dashing north shows a shocked and slightly terrified look on Peu and Gros’s faces, but the chase is still on. I dodge the students in the way and jump over the hurdles like a horse in a race. I’ve caught a few sights of the daring acts of horses leaping as fast as a bullet. Four meters away from them and I still don’t know how I’ll get passed them. I think and slide. I am under them, and I make it through the thighs of Gros. I felt like I was in a stunt movie as I glide through under. Peu looks behind him and sees me. I wink at him with a sign of awesomeness. I look in front, seeing BB. Seeing my competition, I’ll crush that piece of — thud. I fall to the ground, making me injured and vulnerable. Gros and Peu start to thrash me. I catch glances with Lucas. We are in pain but have the energy to do one thing … smirk at each other.

The Third Vision

I feel something rushing through my feet as if it’s a snake rolling up my spine. As it reaches the most top strand of my hair, I feel unwanted energy through my body. Slowly, my feet lift off the solid ground, and before you know it, I am flying. But my flying is not like normal flying because I can’t move at my own will like birds. That thought reminds me of a poem that Lucas told me.

As a Blackbird flies,

A Rooster will crow.

As a Chicken pecks,

A Duck will Quack.

How to kill a Mockingjay was the title,

But Why would you kill a Mockingjay was the question.

The birds are like Humans, 

Stupid and Weird.
I am still stuck in the Mirror Dimension, reciting all the poems that Lucas taught me while drifting in the air. Not knowing how to get out of this world, I fall asleep in the peaceful realm midair. I wake up tired, and I find out that I am no longer floating but dangling on the ceiling from a glass chandelier. My face turns upside down, and my pupils make me feel dizzy. I feel like I want to cry, but the tears just don’t roll from my eye. As the string that pulls me together swings, I slip out like soap. I dive out of the chandelier while looking in the mirror and seeing my face with a blank expression, as the disappointment on my face sinks into my soul. Blood.

March 17th

The trickee has become the trickster

Running around with crushed hearts in hand

You can’t break a heart that is broken 

Playing games 

Foolish games

Power grows like vines 

Slips from my mouth on the third-month fourteenth day

Wishing I used force a few months before

But weak me

Little me

Never knew anything

I laugh in pity 

If only you knew how childish you were being

‘Cause this is fun

Words are shaken

Thoughts mistaken 

Stories are always told differently 

And they will turn you into a memory 

Learn to laugh in the face of that monster under your bed 

Learn to love your bare face

The taste of mistake on the lips

Dripped in the taste of regret 

You will never fully get over it 

Learn to show it who’s, boss

Don’t let it ever smile

‘Cause that’s when you know you’ve fully lost

People will call you weak 

And you will stare them in the face,

You will think have they even brushed their teeth that day

Wonder if their hands are in fists

Turning white losing blood as you stare them in the eyes

You notice the scar above their eye

Realize they too have once lost a fight

More questions appear in your head

Why this?

Why now?

How is this supposed to end?

Remember we were all little kids once

Blowing Dandelions fluff off stems

But Danny went off and was a liar

Big lies escape from the smallest mouths

And the biggest lies sting your skin like lemon juice

And you finally realize you might never get over it 

But that doesn’t stop you from trying

And more lies slip from mouths

Whispers whirl around your head, the words repeat and repeat again and again

And you’re stuck sinking in your thoughts

Is this the end?

And if it is the end

Did I do enough?


when you think of monsters you think of long claws have three heads

hiding under your bed ready to attack

but some people’s monsters don’t have long claws hide in your closet or have big fangs some people’s monsters is fear of not passing the test

not achieving your goals upsetting people letting them down

thinking you have it but you don’t 

or feeling regret being alone seeing death

doing nothing when you think you could have done something  

feeling something is going to happen

being in the wrong place at the wrong time

being made fun of how you look 

getting your lunch money stolen and not saying nothing

wanting to do something but you can’t 

feeling left out feeling guilty

when people see your face and they sit somewhere else 

or feeling misjudged on the action you did 

not having someone to talk to being blamed for something you did not do 

being embarrassed or wanting something 

a pet flying or running away 

or the feeling that you forget something but you realize at the last moment

doing an action that you think is good but someone sees it differently or as a bad way

losing family or a friend

not being loved or doing something unintentionally

so the monster that has long claws or has three heads are actually your fear but just disguised as a scary or mysterious creature that pops out in your dream it is your fear


“frank? frank!

my entire life, summed up into two short words, written in sharpie against my white bedroom walls.

i think that’s what they hate the most. the shortness, the stillness of it. the ink that dried too quickly and the words that were missing too many letters. the blood that rushed to my head and the gravity that pulled the marker away from me, onto the ground.

i’m sorry.

they’re angry with me, even if they pretend that they aren’t. maybe they wish i had more to say, more of an apology than just the words:

i’m sorry.

when i think about it now, i have more to say. i could’ve written pages and pages about it, explaining why i did what i did. but sometimes things are better when they’re simpler. sometimes i don’t need the whole world to try and analyze my mind. 

the only reason why i make so many mistakes is so that the skeletons in my closet won’t be lonely. but i didn’t tell them this, won’t tell them this. instead, all i left behind was a measly i’m sorry. it’s better than nothing, i guess.

still, they hate me. i know that they do. but i can’t really blame them. i hate me, too.

i felt like a jellyfish that day, or a ghost. something that you can’t hold on to. i couldn’t even hold on to myself.


i spent two weeks in the hospital last month. four days were for me, in a stiff white bed with no company but the ceiling and the tubes and the nurse who poured me orange juice every morning. the remaining ten days were for my dad, sitting beside him in a plastic fold-up chair, listening to his even breathing as he climbed over the edge of life. he died surrounded by what he loved most, the woman he pretended that he could still call his wife and half-empty cans of beer.

he was a nice person, i think. he was just good at not being himself.

he’s in a better place now. and if you ever want to talk about it… if you ever need me, just know that i’m here. i’m here for you. we’re here for you. you’re not alone. 

it’s going to be okay.

it probably is going to be okay, but i wish it could be more than that. i wish that things would be how they used to be. i wish that things could be summed up more than just “okay” and “i’m sorry.”

the last night as a patient in the hospital was the worst. i shared a room with a six-year-old girl. she talked a lot, mostly to herself but also to me. she told me about the pet rats in her bedroom who chewed holes into the sunlit yellow paint that coated the walls and died. some nights, she’d crawl over to my side of the room and just cry, but i never said anything when she did. that was the worst part about being upset — people just wouldn’t leave you alone. i couldn’t tell what she was thinking. maybe it’s better off that way.  

monday, 1:37am. i wish that i had learned her name.

my dad died on a thursday at half past twelve with so much alcohol in his veins that they couldn’t tell how much of it was blood and how much of it was whiskey. i wasn’t there that night like i was all the other nights, like i was that monday thirty-seven minutes after one in the morning. i wasn’t there as he faded into nothing, silent as ever, no one noticing that he was truly gone until my mother turned over to give him a glass of water and didn’t even hear a whimper of protest in return.

he was half dead when they first found him on that day, face down in a puddle of unrecognizable fluids. they spent ten days trying to revive him, wasting their energy on a man who was too far gone to even care. 

i don’t miss him, and yet i wish that he was still here. ryan doesn’t believe me. she thinks that i do miss him, somewhere inside, and maybe she’s right. but maybe she’s wrong.

ryan visited me twice when i was there. she brought a plant with her the first time, a small cactus she named albert that had allegedly lived for fifteen years, but no one really believed her about that, especially because after a few days of living on my windowsill, albert was no longer looking very healthy.

it’s fine. everything’s fine.


there is no air here. i can’t tell if it’s actually as stuffy as i think it is — maybe it’s just all the flowers lined up against the wall, little goodbyes and sorry’s but mostly just dying flowers of what they think is sympathy.

goodbyes to a dead man. how ironic. shouldn’t he be the one saying goodbye?

people are staring, but no one says anything. maybe they feel as out of place as i do. maybe they’re pretending just for me.

my mom leans over towards me. she doesn’t reach for my hand, but i feel her breath, warm and sticky on my neck as she says, “are you okay?”

i nod. 

the breath moves away like it had never been there at all. i don’t look up. i don’t look anywhere. time keeps moving, moving on and moving away and i am still, not still enough to not be noticed, but still enough to fade into the background. 

there is no air here, and yet the atmosphere still smells of who he used to be and the dust that floats by me but not in the way i want it to. and everything is so quiet, their words tiptoeing around me, but it still feels too loud and i know this only because my head feels like it’s going to explode. 

it doesn’t.

my mom hovers over my shoulder again, pressing fingers into my palms and words into my ears but really all it is is noise.

“are you okay?” she asks again. this time i turn to face her. “frank?”

“yeah.” something crawls up into my throat and pulls down at my flesh, down my neck and my spine and my wrists. it’s racing up and down my chest and down into my stomach, and i feel like i might throw up. everything is glued to me. the hair on my forehead, the shirt on my back, and the rows and rows of eyes watching me, waiting to see what the dead man’s son has to say about his decaying body.

i cough into my sleeve, the cloth warm over my chin. another layer of fear.

“frank, are you sick? you’re not getting sick, are you?” she reaches up to my face and presses a palm to my forehead, pulling away after a few moments of prodding. “you feel sweaty,” she says. 

“it’s hot here,” i tell her. “it’s too hot here. and stuffy.”

“maybe you are getting sick,” my mother contemplates to herself, reaching up to my skin again. she looks worried. i didn’t mean to make her worried. “but you feel okay… ”

“because i am.”

her eyebrows curl up and form little creases on her face. “you’re pale,” she tells me anxiously. “maybe you should go lie down somewhere.” she digs into her pockets and pulls out a pack of napkins, our alternative to regular tissues when i was kid. i cough into halloween, into rainbow birthday cake, into christmas and pearly black new year’s balloons and sparkly fourth of july. i shove the crumpled up celebratory paper deep into the pocket of my jacket.

“is ryan here?” i ask, searching through the sea of people for a tiny head of green. “did you see her?”

“uh, no, i don’t think so.” she shoves the words out of her mouth quickly to reassure me, and then shoves me forward a bit along with them. i wobble towards the back of the room near the door and into a cheap plastic chair. “you should rest, until she gets here at least.”

“you’ll wake me up when — ”

“yes, yes, okay? i’ll wake you up when she’s here, now go.”

i go. what else can i do?

she wanders off to talk to who i assume are relatives. i recognize a few of them but most i don’t. even from here, i don’t need to hear what they are saying to know what they are telling her. one of them looks familiar, an old woman with bracelets that sing like cymbals as they tangle themselves around her wrists, and this one leans forward to enclose my mother in a hug.

she barely knows him. she barely knew him. why does she get to care? why can’t i?

they’re always asking, and i never tell.

how are you feeling, frank? after what happened… ”

nothing. i feel nothing.

“i’m doing okay.”

i feel less than this woman with a face that looks a bit like everyone else’s, a woman who had probably had only spoken to my father once in her life. and still she brought flowers. and still she feels bad.

she feels bad.

i feel nauseous.

suddenly i can’t sit still anymore, and it’s like the bats that have been breeding in my stomach have blossomed and burst out and i can hear nothing and everything all at once.

i shift out of my seat and slip out the door where no flowers wilt, no chairs are stacked, and most importantly, no people are huddled. the air feels cool on my skin for a moment until another wave of heat crashes against me, and i realize that i’m shaking. i move back to steady myself against the building. it helps just as much as i expect it to, which is not at all. my head is still spinning.

no one is here. no one is watching. usually that would make me feel better, but right now it isn’t.

breathe, i tell myself. an ant crawls up against the back of my arm. breathe.

i’m going to throw up. i know i am. i know i am, breathe, breathe — 

“frank?” a voice calls from behind me. i turn around for a moment to see a head of green and brown hair, scan all the way down to her feet with curly shoelaces, the ones that match mine.

and there it is. it all pours out of me, more bats and more stomach acid, and even though i knew it was coming, it still takes me by surprise.

“oh, frank.” she edges towards me slowly. no touching, no touching. she knows this already. of course ryan knows. “hey,” she says. “it’s alright.”

“not really.” i cough out more bats. then, i wipe my mouth with the napkins in my jacket pocket. the party poppers and confetti and balloons are ruined.

“can i… ?” ryan questions, and i nod, so she pulls my hand into hers and we tumble into the grass. there are ants crawling all over us, swarming us, or at least it feels like that. i ask her if she feels them, if she feels them all over us, suffocating us, and she shakes her head in return.

“nope,” ryan says. “no ants. just us. just you and me.”

“oh.” i take a deep breath, but it doesn’t seem to sink in. “good. that’s good. i like it better like that.”

“me too.”

i am floating on this twin sized mattress, on this bed of grass, and i am listening to the water. i am just an accessory. i am just a footnote to someone else’s happiness. maybe that’s all i’ve ever wanted. maybe that’s all i’ll ever get.

it is/was/will be. and that is enough.

“are you okay now?”

i think before i answer. “i, um, i guess so.” i’m breathing again. the bare minimum but it still counts. ryan tells me so. we listen to our breaths for a few more moments before she speaks again.

“do you want to go in?” she asks, pointing to the door behind us. 

no. i don’t want to see him.

no. “okay.”


the hospital again. it smells the same and looks the same, but this time it feels different. there is no commotion outside in the hall, where my dad is still half alive. there is no nurse with orange juice, no roommates. nothing. it is quiet and for the first time, i wish that it wasn’t.

i look up at ceiling where there is no fan spinning like the one in my bedroom. instead, there is a spider, and the way its legs move reminds me of a fan a bit, or maybe everything reminds me of everything. maybe i just want to go home.

i do.

i wonder if anyone will come visit me this time. i wonder if anyone will bother at all to go down to the pharmacy across the street where they sell those pink balloons with the bears on them, where they used to sell holiday napkins except now they don’t anymore. i wonder if my mom is at home and if she’s thinking about me at all. if ryan’s thinking about me at all. i wish for a moment that she didn’t know about what happened, about what i did.

the door squeaks open, and something jumps up in my chest as a woman in a white coat pushes her way in, and i know that my eyes are traveling down to her shoes, looking for laces that curl but they aren’t there. this isn’t who i want it to be.

The Price of Freedom (Chapter One)


“Where did you say that they’ve spotted these things again?”

“The biggest places,” Elizabeth Brunswick began, rolling her eyes. She started to type on one of the bigger computers, so that images of cities showed on the large screen. She pushed her hair back from her face and began to name the cities. “New York City, Phoenix, Philadelphia… the list goes on and on… ”

A few of the people in the room who were sitting in the other computers turned to look. Viola and Elizabeth glanced at the people who were peeking; they turned back to their work at the computers. 

 Viola Lodge rubbed her forehead with her fingers. She wasn’t pretty, to get that straight. She wasn’t all that skinny, and she had a blemished complexion from having acne as a child and wrinkles were forming on her face. And, even though she was still young, she did nothing to stop them.

But, she wasn’t ugly either.

Viola Lodge was Viola Lodge. Distant, but down to earth. Delicate, but, yet, strong. Discrete, and up-front. No one could figure out what she was, or try to get her to change so that she could be easier to understand. No one wanted to anyway.

“And,” she began, sighing, “are all the 911 calls from different places?” Viola wished that the answer would be ‘no.’ But, her gut feeling — which was never wrong — told her that she wouldn’t not get the answer she wanted. 

Elizabeth Brunswick shook her head. “Sorry to say, Ms. Vice President,” she started in false respect, “But they’re all from different places, a different city.” That was all Viola wanted to hear, but Elizabeth kept talking, as she usually did. “And more are coming in by the minute, but we haven’t checked since the original calls.”

“And how many original calls were there exactly?” Viola rolled her eyes as she spoke. She hoped that she wasn’t sounding frightened. Not frightened in front of Elizabeth Brunswick, out of all people. To be honest with herself, she was scared out of her mind.

All the computer workers wrinkled their faces, some even closed their eyes, as they cringed. Maybe they thought that they could scrunch themselves up so much they would turn to nothing, and wouldn’t have to deal with the looming problem. 

 Elizabeth Brunswick bit her lip just before mustering out the words: “There were 20 original 911 calls.” She fumbled with her hands. “But there must be hundreds now… some might be from new places.” 

“Twenty!” Viola screeched, losing all her cool. 

“Make that 21.”

 The door swung open, and it smashed loudly against the wall. All the heads in the room turned to look as President Richard Werrington entered. Everyone but Viola rose and saluted him.

“Way to make an entrance… ” Elizabeth Brunswick muttered sarcastically. Soft enough that only Viola could hear. Viola shot her a death-glare to shut her up. Though, inside, Viola agreed with her. She just wasn’t willing to admit it.

 “What do you mean?” She asked hastily, waking up to him. She tried not to show it, but her eyes began to water and her heart beat rapidly. She had to crane her neck to look up to Richard, who stood at 6’3”. 

“I don’t recall you telling me that you’re blind, Ms. Vice President,” Richard Werrington started. He took off the white gloves that he was wearing and shoved them into his pocket. “Have you even bothered to look outside? One of those… things — ” he gestured at the screen — “is right outside.”

“Well, that’s news,” Elizabeth Brunswick said nervously.

Even though her voice shook, she held herself high and kept her chin up. Elizabeth Brunswick didn’t brand herself as a woman who got scared easily. She wouldn’t let it fear overcome her now. Even in a situation such as the one before them.

Richard pushed back his wavy, dark-blond hair. “You!” He said, turning and pointing to one of the workers. “Call Mr. Irving and arrange for an Air Force 1 jet to be ready for take-off. I’m getting out of here.”

“Yessir,” the employee said quickly. 

“Mr. President,” Viola scolded. “This is no time for your usual crap! We don’t even know what these things are!” She turned back to the screen that now displayed the different glowing lights. “I mean, they could be comets… rocket ships… even meteorites — ”

 “Bombs,” Richard said flatly. 

“I’m sorry, what?” Elizabeth Brunswick cut in. She scoffed slightly, but she didn’t seem to intend to make the sound she did. Some of the computer workers looked up anxiously. “Did you just say, bombs?” 

“Yes, bombs, Miss Secretary,” Richard stated. “And if you’ve got one ounce of sense in you, you would issue a national emergency and get out of here as fast as you can.” 

“How do we know that they’re bombs?” Viola asked. She scrolled on the computer, and it zoomed in on the light, having to adjust to the new zoom. “We can’t be sure, and who would possibly want to attack us.”

“North Korea… for one.” Richard began, counting on his fingers. “Then there’s China… Russia… ” He paused for a second and crossed his arms. “To be honest, we’ve pissed off so many countries it could be anyone.”

“Richard James Werrington!” Viola screeched. “If you really think that this is a national emergency — then you shouldn’t be fooling around like this! Every day it’s the same damn thing –”

 “Mr. President… ” Elizabeth Brunswick’s voice was oddly feeble. She was standing next to one of the workers at their computer. Her face was paler than it usually was, and her purple veins were visible in her highly exposed neck and arms. That was another thing Viola wasn’t fond off… 

 She gulped and turned to Viola and Richard. Her eyes were wide, but her back straight. “I… I… um… I think that you might just be right… ” she said so horsley, it was almost a whisper.

 Richard and Viola both heard her, even though her voice was soft. They still couldn’t comprehend what she had just said. Even Richard, who had suspected it, was praying on the fact that he might be wrong. Now that was thrown out the window.

“I’m sorry… what?!” Viola said. Her voice started off as low as Elizabeth’s, but it slowly rose higher. The “what” was so loud that it shook the entire room. Viola had that effect on people, but she also had that effect on rooms, apparently. 

“President Werrington is right,” Elizabeth spoke again. Her words were like thin ice, but much colder. “It’s a bomb, and I’m damn sure it is… From my days in the military… ” Her face suddenly went red, and her breathing quickened. She looked like she was about to pass out. 

“We have to get out of here… ” She managed to get out the words as she stumbled her way from the computer. She pushed to the two of them and ran to the trash can by the door. She proceeded to throw up; she was done being strong. 

 Richard and Viola advanced towards the computer. The nervous, fumbling, shaking employee was zooming in on the image of the light. The entire room was filled with nervous mumbling and the sound of Elizabeth vomiting. 

“Put that one the screen,”  Richard instructed carefully. The words came out slower than he thought they would. He punted to the screen, and everyone in the room seemed to lean towards it to see the image. 

 The image appeared on the screen, and the man behind the computer began to zoom in. As it came closer, the ball of light took on a definitive shape. 

 Richard adjusted his glasses, although he didn’t need to. He could see it quite clearly. Elizabeth, still shaking, walked up to between Richard and Viola. She lifted her head to look up, as much as she didn’t want to.

Elizabeth turned her head slightly and sighed. 

Richard turned to the rest of the group, and flopped his arms to his side. He sighed and let out an exasperated laugh. “Crap,” he said, still chuckling. “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap… ”

This didn’t exactly strike Viola as unusual — Richard was well-known to her as one to laugh when he was nervous. But, whether she was used to it and whether she was bothered by it were two extremely different things.

She had known Richard since they were children. They had lived in the same estate and been friends from elementary school all the way to law school. They flocked to each other because they had the same goal in life — they were the only two children in St. Peter’s Catholic Academy who had wanted to become the president.

But only one of them has achieved that goal.

Steaming with anger — she wasn’t usually wrong — Viola walked up to the front of the room, in front of the screen. “We’re going to issue a national emergency, people!” she yelled. She began to walk up the isles, observing the people. “A national emergency!”

 The lights dimmed and red lights in the ceiling and in the hallway began to flash. The room turned to absolute chaos, with people running and Viola shouting instructions. It suddenly felt strangely hot. 

“Get to the helicopters! Get to the base! You know where to go! Take your laptops! We’ll operate from there!” She commanded, picking up a grey briefcase. All the people began to run. “Get yourselves out of here!”

 Elizabeth Brunswick had gained back her usual air of mightiness and was new walking up to Viola. “I’m going to need Secretary Greene and Secretary Xin,” she said sternly. “I’m almost certain they’re with Ortega at a meeting — you might as well get him too.”

Viola crossed her arms and spat back, “I don’t take orders from the likes of you.” Viola wasn’t fond of Elizabeth. She didn’t like how she always showed up in designer dresses and heels. She believed that work wasn’t a place to dress up like a model to go to.

Elizabeth scowled. The feeling was mutual.

“Fine,” she spat. “I’ll go there myself.” She stalked off towards the door, her red heels clicking so loudly that it nearly drove Viola insane.  

“Richard!” She now turned to him, addressing him by his first name. Richard Werrington turned to her, looking lost in all the hustle and bustle. It was clear that he was a little claustrophobic. “You need to get Madeline and Anthony! Get to the jet. That employee already placed a call. It should be ready for you.”

  Richard paused and stopped to process what she had said. He suddenly gained the face of someone that had just been hit on the head with a frying pan. Richard began to run towards the doorway at full speed. His arms didn’t seem to know what they were doing.

Although he ran fast, Viola ran faster. She grabbed his sleeve before he was ever able to get to the doorway and held out the briefcase. She opened it with a click, to reveal a panel of buttons. 

“You know, Ms. Vice President,” Richard said frankly, catching his breath. He slammed his hand down upon one of the buttons with such force it nearly fell out of Viola’s hands. “Usually I like pressing red buttons.”

Before I Forget

I think of the rumors I hear about her. They get whispered around the school. I hear the mumbles of questions wondering what exactly happened to Liv. I’m beginning to wonder what exactly is true. How can the rumors I hear be about the same girl I used to know? 

Let me tell you what I remember. I first talked to Liv in the courtyard at school reading a book on some time period I can’t remember. I was drawn to go up to her. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was because she sat alone, with the remains of temporary tattoos up her left arm. 

“So you like history?” I said awkwardly. 

“A little.” Her eyes squinted, looking up at me and the sun.

“Here.” She moved her bag. “Come sit next to me.” 

That’s how it all began. We had gone to school together for years, but we were just classmates. She was the friendly girl I found intimidating.

I recall that day her nails being painted eggshell blue. Her third finger torn up with a ring that sat at its base. It was faux bronze, with flakes of paint chipped off of it.

Her stories always included farfetched realities, and she told them with exaggerated hand gestures, to help make her point. Each one left me wondering if what she told me was true. I learned about her and the secrets she held inside about the people who acted differently in a different light. 

“I trust you,” she told me.

If only I knew what that meant.

Liv was the type of girl every boy fell in love with. She was far from perfect, and not like other girls. I never tried to resent Liv for this. It wasn’t something she caused. However, the memories are replaying on why exactly boys were in love with Liv constantly. Liv had long blond hair, and her personality seemed unnerved by people’s comments, a polar opposite from mine. 

As I think back to the first day we met, the feeling of the black plastic table burning the bottom of my thighs is brought back, but it was easy to ignore the pain when talking to Liv. 

“Everyone wants to believe they’re a good person.” She played with the skin of her middle finger some more. “It’s too hard for them to hear there’s a chance they have hurt someone.” I continued to look at her as her hair hid part of her face.

For someone who I didn’t know for long, it became hard for me to think of days passing without her. We spent time together laughing with each other in the front seat of her car, ignoring all the pain that occurred in our lives. I enjoyed that our friendship wasn’t a typical one where we complained about who had it worst. Instead, we would joke around about our lives and laugh about how much we wanted to die, because it used to be true, but now it was just a silly remark we’d make. 

She told me about the boy she’d been seeing. Some days I lived through all the secrets and adventures she lived. 

Our phone calls would last for hours, but it usually ended with her telling me about how she planned to sneak out of her house to go somewhere. I would typically tell her I was getting tired and hang up the phone, but each morning there was a text telling me about the past night’s adventures.

I knew clearly that I didn’t know everything about her.

I would go to pick up her phone, but before I knew it she would snatch it away. She lived a life of secrets, thinking it would be more fun.

It was summer time when I went to my first party with Liv. We walked into a room of classmates and strangers. Dave was there. He was the boy Liv had been seeing, but she’d clearly stated it wasn’t love. 

Liv drank enough for four people her size. She danced and giggled, wearing high heels I knew she’d complain about in the morning. I stood in the corner with water in my cup as I watched her enchant the whole room. She talked to boys, being flirty, but this was nothing new. But perhaps when I saw one of the boys hands got down to the hem of her skirt it caused me to step in.

“We should head home!” I screamed over the music.

“Come on, lad, few more minutes. Do you like that? Lad, I sound like an Irish man.” Her head tilted back, laughing. 

“I’m going home,” I said.

“What a buzzkill. Fine, let’s go then.” She aimed for the door. However, her direction changed when Dave stepped in, I knew I would be leaving without her. 

I don’t believe Dave caused the problems that occurred. It was an inevitable sequence of circumstances that prevailed. 

Liv had created a world in her head. She didn’t let me be a part of it, but she made me feel as if I could be. 

Six months later from that day we first me outside in the courtyard, it was Memorial Day weekend when I got the phone call. I had been away with my family. Liv whispered through the phone things had gotten out of hand and she wasn’t exactly getting better. This was her goodbye to me. 

 I sat on the floor confused, wondering what had changed. Liv was the most outgoing girl yet too shy to say what was wrong, the one who hid away, the one who broke her own heart. The girl I knew for six short months. 

Perhaps people can change quickly, in the blink of an eye, become someone new you can meet again. Maybe I’m wrong.

All I know now is that I want to remember her before I forget. Ingrain the memory of the late Saturdays and Sunday early afternoons we spent together.

I don’t want to forget that she taught me to live, but, in the end, I couldn’t help her. 

I want to remember the Liv I knew.

I want to reminisce about it before I forget.

The Silent House

Chapter One: The Questioning

There is a moment of silence, and, of course, there is a silent tension in the room. It seems to cling to the air, just like death would cling to a person. Slowly eating its way out, from the inside.

“Are you ready to start?” There is silence in response. Everyone seems to hold their breath as if something unexpected would happen. “Ahem, okay, first question… ” Michael glares at her from across the table, his handcuffs digging into his bare skin.

“What was your weapon of murder?” The reporter hurriedly grabs her pen and awaits a response.

“Excuse me?” Michael asks, with a clear hint of irritation in his voice. “What do you mean ‘weapon of murder?!’” The reporter nervously looks around, shifting uncomfortably in the dusty, gray prison chair.

“There was no weapon of murder. This is a waste of time. I’m telling you. I did not kill my girlfriend.” Michael looks at the reporter. Her beady eyes eat up all the information hungrily. She scribbles madly in her notepad, leaving Michael only to his thoughts.

The reporter stares at him intensely, as if there is something there that she is missing from him, as if she is trying to crack a code. She then licks her lips and says through a smile, “Yet, you mention the death of your girlfriend… I didn’t ask about that. I simply sai — ” 

Michael, all of a sudden furious all over again, stands up abruptly and swiftly. The anger in his eyes makes the reporter’s heart beat at an alarming rate. “Riddle me this! Why?! Why do you think I would kill my own gi — ” He couldn’t finish, feeling the tears swell up in his eyes. Remembering that night… that horrible dreadful night.

He takes a breath and starts again, “Why would I kill her… she was the love of my life… ”

The reporter smiles, her inside info, is no match for him, or so she thinks. “Well… Michael, isn’t it true that even before her death she accused you of cheating… ” Michael’s jaw drops as the color drains from his face, “… and even after her death, didn’t you have an affair with another woman?”

Michael’s heart stops. The only thing on his mind right now is Sadie. There’s no way she could have been involved. Not after what she’s gone through, and not after what they’ve gone through together. 

Michael looks over to the guard standing by the doorway and mouths him something. “I don’t have to be here doing this right now. In fact, I’m not doing this right now. Your stupid newspaper is the least of my concerns.” Michael gets up and walks over to the guard, who leads him out of the small room, leaving only the dumbfounded reporter and her little notepad to sit on the ugly, little, gray chair.

Chapter 2: March. 23. 2006

Michael’s feet pedal hard, and sweat is running down his forehead. He pedals like a madman, as if he is riding off anger. But the look on his face says otherwise, as he turns the corner to Julie’s house.

He chuckles to himself, ready to see the look on her face when she sees what he’s done for her.

The house Julie lives in is a small yellow one. Comparing it to a Florida home would be silly, but it’s not tiny. The smallness of the home is more cozy than uninviting. The familiar tiling of the roof is a burgundy colour, and the small rounded windows make the house look bigger than it is.

Michael dashes to the door, almost forgetting his purpose of coming. He sprints back to the little basket in his bike quickly, seizing the present he has, and runs up to the doorbell. But after hearing silence in response, he remembers that the Walsh’s doorbell is broken.

Remembering this, he starts knocking crazily, until he sees through the side glass that someone is coming. Julie’s mom appears at the door suddenly, wearing nothing but a tight satin dress. 

“Michael.” They look at each other like two snakes would.

“Mrs. Walsh.” 

“What a surprise to see you here… ”

Not knowing what to say, Michael responds with, “You too… ”

After realizing what he said, he’s saved by, “Claudia! Who’s at the door!?” He can hear Mr. Walsh now yelling from the living room.

“Nobody of importance, dear! No reason to come over he — ”

Too late. Mr. Walsh is already standing in front of Michael, smiling ear to ear as if they’re old buds at a reunion.

“Michael, son! How long has it been? C’mere!” He grabs Michael and puts him in a headlock and starts noogying him hard. Michael laughs along with him, trying to hide his real pain.

“Not long enough, sir! Just visiting because it is a special day for Julie after all.”

Mr. Walsh pats Michael on the head gently and says, “Boy, didn’t I tell you to call me Dave? It’s only appropriate… ” Michael looks up at Mrs. Walsh, “… Come on in. I won’t take no for an answer!”

Michael, now smirking, looks directly at her while saying, “Will do… Dave.”

“That’s the spirit, son!” He chuckles and leads him into the bright home.

The walls are decorated with all types of green decorations and a sign that reads, ‘Happy 17th Birthday Jules!’ Michael also spots a family portrait of the Walsh’s on the wall. And it’s the only picture they have with Julia in it.

She looks about 12 in it, her hair a brown-black with a tinge of orange that lays on her shoulders in neat sections. The unique thing is that it’s naturally straight. Her blue eyes complement her dark skin, and her full lips are apart, revealing a set of pearly teeth. Next to her is her little sister, who is a baby in this (one to two years old) who looks a lot like her, except her straight hair is gone, and replaced with gorgeous curls, which complement her round face. And instead of wearing regular clothes, she’s dressed up in a frilly baby dress, with a tutu, and fancy little socks that come out of her white shoes.

Michael smiles at the photo without realizing, studying every detail, as it dawns on him that Julia was just as pretty when she was a child. But he’s snapped back into reality, realizing that Dave’s been talking to him the whole time. “And then I said, well, buddy! Then you shouldn’t have eaten it if it made noises!” He bursts out laughing, so Michael laughs along, completely unaware of the joke’s purpose.

But their laughing stops as they both hear, “No! No! No! I’m telling Mom!! Mom! Mom, where are you!! I want a dress like Julia’s!

Michael looks over at Dave, startled by all the yelling, who takes a sip of his coffee and sighs. “Trouble in paradise… ” He takes another sip of the coffee and winces. “Strong stuff.. want some?”

Michael turns down the coffee politely, but doesn’t bother hiding the disgust in his voice. 

Thump, thump, thump…  They both turn to where the sound is coming from, and it’s all three of them.

Zelda is first with a salty expression on her face that tells Michael she never did get that dress she was so hopelessly yelling for. Next is Claudia, but Michael isn’t exactly looking at her. He is looking at the elegant swan that is coming down after her. Julia finally… He sits there for moments breathlessly, as she approaches him.

“So? Aren’t you going to say anything? Or at least hand me my gifts?” She bats her eyelashes at him. Zelda stares at the lovestruck two angrily.

“Mommy, first Julia gets to wear a pretty dress, and she gets a Prince Charming! That’s just not fair!” She pouts and looks up at Claudia, who lifts her into her arms and kisses her forehead. 

“Don’t be upset, Zelda,” she tells her, reassuringly. “You always have a chance to find your Prince Charming. You just haven’t found yours yet.” She sets her down, takes her hand, and they head for the living room.

Julia looks at the two men, mouths gaping. “Well if you don’t say anything, Michael, than I’m sure Daddy will.” She looks over at her father who takes another sip of his coffee.

Putting one hand over hers, he says, “The only thing that I have to say is, look at my little girl all grown up!” As he pulls her into a tight hug, he nuzzles his face in her hair. As he lets her go, he turns to Michael and says, “Stop drooling, Prince Charming, have her back by curfew, say… 10:30… 11, max. And no funny business.” He glares at Michael, only leaving him to do nothing but gulp. “Just kidding! Have fun, kids!”

Julia and Michael look at each other anxiously and force a chuckle.

“Let’s go, babe!” Julia starts pulling Michael off the little kitchen chair, but before she can, he brings her in and plants a big kiss on her. She grabs his face, and they make out. It feels as though both are flying, he pulls on her hair gently and groans. She pulls out.

“What? Too much?” Michael says, and the expression he wears is one of hurt.

Letting her hair finally go, he retreats in shame. She slides her hand into his and leans against his warm chest. Feeling his heartbeat is calming, and it makes her feel safe.

“It was perfect. There’s nothing in the world that could have ruined that… ” She looks up at him, smiling. Michael suddenly gets that flying feeling again, as he intensely stares into her deep blue eyes. He feels like they’re a pool he can jump right into, head on, and never get enough breath out of.

“Oh, Julie, by the way… Happy Birthday!”

He pulls out a little box wrapped in bright green wrapping paper, the little bow is scraggly, and wonky, the wrapping is horrible and there’s tape everywhere, but Julia beams as though she’s just won the lottery. 

She takes the little bow and undoes it. The bright green wrapping paper comes off next, and soon she’s left with a small, velvet-covered box. She stares at the box with such immense intensity, that Michael looks down at the box, and at her, worriedly. The truth is she already knows what’s in the box.

“Why don’t you just ope — ” He gets cut off to Julia jumping on him. She squeezes him tight enough for it to be a chokehold.

“You remembered… ” she whispers into his ear. “You remembered the beautiful butterfly brooch we saw at the store… the thrift store. It’s just so… ” She sighs deeply and turns to him. “Breathtaking… ”

Of course he remembered. He could never forget. Her reaction to the brooch is priceless, and although it seems like an old, rusty, little brooch, she saw something in it, and so did he. He saw her in it. The little butterfly moving in fast motions, graceful, and a deep blue, just like her eyes who at the moment were dancing with glee.

“C’mon let’s go! Quick!” Michael grabs her by the arm, and they fly out the door.

Julia laughs heartily, “Where are we headed to?”

He stops. He looks down at her and suddenly scoops her into his arms, into a warm embrace. He smiles and looks down at her. “It’s a surprise… This is your second present! And I’m sure you’ll like it, but I reckon we’re going to have to take a ride to my house, to get my dad’s car first.”

Julia runs a hand through her short hair as Michael looks up at her. And for the first time that day, he really looks at her.

Julia’s short hair stands up behind her, the slight orange tone in it intensifies as she steps into the light. Although her relatively wide eyes make her look awake, you can see the bags she tries covering, with poorly applied concealer. Her lips, round and plump, are in a straight line, not moving from their position. Her little green dress makes the blue color in her eyes sparkle, and her perfume stinks of death as she gets on the bike with Michael.

Chapter Three: Gun Powder and Dynamite

  As Michael and Julia pull up to his house on his bicycle, Julia gets a good look at his house. 

A small gray duplex, the lawn clearly hasn’t been mowed in a while. The trash is in a heap at the entrance. The overgrown vines do little to benefit the small space. As they pull up into the garage, Julia gets off first, making sure to steady the bike so it doesn’t topple over. Julia is fascinated by the odd smell and the uncleanliness. Although this isn’t the first time she’s seen his house, it is the worst state she’s seen it in.

As Julia eagerly approaches the doorbell, Michael stops her. “Wait! Stop! Hold up!”

Julia stops dead in her tracks, and turns around to see an out-of-breath Michael, running towards her at full speed.

“What?! What is it?! Michael, are you okay?!” She holds him by the shoulders, peering at him.

He sighs deeply and looks her in the eyes.

“He… my dad, he’s been… um… laid off…”

He looks behind Julia, away into the distance wearily. She looks up at him confused, and concerned.

“Well, I mean… so? Why do you care so much?”

Michael looks at her, not bothering to hide how disgusted he is at her. Julia stares at him slowly, still confused.

“He’s my father,” Michael, now furious, yells at Julia, oblivious to the fact that he’s standing right in front of the open window. “Of course I care! I don’t want him to turn into a good-for-nothing bum! And I want him to find a job… ” Voice now quivering, he continues, “He is an unemployed 53-year-old man… and when Mom died it was so hard on him. He turned to drinking as an escape, like most do. And he just completely fell apart… and I don’t want him to turn into that again.”

Looking now straight at Julia, he puts the back of his hand on her cheek. Softly rubbing up and down. 

Julia smiles into his hand, her mind racing, and heart pumping. She nods silently, and rings the doorbell. Michael looks at her and smiles, thinking to himself, How lucky I am to have someone like her… 

The door stands, not budging. The paint is chipping at the sides, and the bolts are ready to pop out any second. They stand there for what feels like ages, finally hearing a loud groan, followed by slow shuffling. Soon, a man stands at the doorway, beer in hand. His stomach slightly exposed, spilling out of his pajama pants. He looked disheveled, fresh stubble covering the lower part of his chin. Hair graying in patches, the other parts of his hair are a fawn-ish colour. His hair lay in messy curls all across his head. His eyes are a deep chocolate brown, and the bags under them not any lighter. He has small dark freckles splattered across his whole face. Julia takes a deep breath, stepping forward.

“Mr. Greene, Hello… it’s Julia.”

There is a pause as he studies her. After moments of examination, he smiles.

“Please, call me Robert. Michael hasn’t mentioned you before.”

Michael looks at Julia in shame. Turning back to his father, he says, “Actually I have, you just might be too drunk to remember.”

Michael marches past him, pushing him out of the way, leaving Julia to stand outside with Robert. He stands there smiling, his eyes hungry at the sight of her.

Beckoning her inside, he asks, “Would you like to see my gun collection?”

Eyes sparkling, he smiles at her, leading her into the room where the guns are kept.

“What about Michael? Won’t he be — ”

He cuts her off, waving his hand, “Nonsense. Don’t let some silly boy stop you.”

They walk through the minuscule hallway. Cracks in the bare walls make Julia shudder. She thinks of her small, nicely furnished home. This place is such a wreck compared to it. No wonder Michael is worried about his father. 

They stop in front of a small door… Well, Robert stops. Julia just follows him. 

Robert suddenly starts feeling around in his pants for something. Finally, his hand dives into one of the pockets, returning with a single key, which he uses to unlock the heavy-metal hard duty lock, that’s on the old door. He pushes the door open, sending a cloud of dust out. Julia scrambles back, waving off the dust as if there was a fly. Robert steps in first, leaving her to do nothing but follow. 

“One sec… just got to find the light switch.”

He coughs loudly from somewhere in the room; Julia hears little scrambling sounds shortly after. Stepping back, she feels a pinch on her right butt cheek. Startled by this, she cautiously starts backing away. Suddenly the light turns on. Robert smiles a toothy grin, still holding the light switch in the back of the room.

“Fou — ” he coughs… hard. It sounds as if though his lungs will give out any minute. His face red, he lifts his head back up and says, “Ahem, sorry about that. I meant to say found it.”

Julia shudders in relief, but in the back of her mind she can only think about what she felt in the dark. There’s a tension that follows.

Robert must feel it too because he says, “So… if you look right here you can see a 49.367 gun, a classic… ”

Julia quickly gets distracted by something in the corner of the crowded room. She walks over, and sees a little crate standing on the corner. On it is a pocket knife, and what seems to be a little figurine of a year ballerina. Part of it carved out and the other part of it is smooth. 

“That was supposed to be a present for Donna… ”

Julia turns around to see Robert looking at her. But he isn’t exactly looking at her. His eyes are there, but he actually seems very distant. Suddenly he turns back to the guns as if nothing happened. Julia walks up behind him, peering over his shoulder.

“Who-who’s Donna?” she asks, sounding genuinely curious.

Not turning back to even face her, Robert says, “She is — was… my wife. She was a ballerina, and so I assumed it was only appropriate… ” He chuckles. “She had, um… she was very fond of small things. So I decided to carve her a little ballerina… but she’s gone now, so I… I’m not going to bother finishing.”

Julia sympathizes with him, putting one hand on his shoulder.

Julia turns his face to hers; Robert looks at the ground. Julia notices the wetness under his eyes. She lifts his chin up. His eyes meet hers.

“Listen… death is a natural thing. The sooner you learn to get over it, the sooner it’s easier for you. And plus just because she’s gone… doesn’t mean that you should grieve. You should celebrate her moving onto the other life.” Julia’s surprised at her own response. Still looking her directly in the eyes, Robert moves back, forcing Julia onto the counter behind her. He leans against her so close, that she feels his breath on her chest. Afraid to make any sudden moves, Julia sits still, awaiting his next move. Robert’s hand goes up slowly, as he touches her cheek gently. He closes his eyes, leaning closer and closer to Julia until — 

Julia!” Michael comes into the room, completely unaware of what he was about to see.

Julia gets off the counter as quickly as she got on. Terror in her eyes. Michael stands at the doorway, confused and disgusted, more so than when he came home.

“Aherm… ” His father walks out the room, pushing Michael to the side.

Robert’s hand is up at his nose, making it look like he is thinking hard about something. Sprinting over to Julia, Michael wears a worried expression. 

“What the fuck was that? Why were you two literally inches from each other… ”

Michael looks like he’s about to blow a fuse, which is a realistic outcome considering his extremely short temper. Julie’s eyes widen, and her mind races, and she quickly tries to come up with an excuse, or at least manage words. Would the truth be better? Or a believable lie? Either way, she is in for it with Michael.

“Listen, Michael… ” She slowly hops back onto the counter, and sits, just looking down at her fingers. “He… he just needed some closure… He just lost Don — his wife. And he just got fired! I was just trying to help… ” She looks up at Michael, hoping to see the tiniest bit of sympathy and understanding in his eyes. But the expected reaction came. 

“What were you thinking?! Why do you… ” He puts his head into his hands. Julia could hear him trying to calm himself, as he took a deep breath. Looking at Julia is unbearable for him, especially in the moment, but he loves her. Making one mistake doesn’t change who she is, and he won’t let a bump in the road mess up their relationship. While Julia is anticipating an answer, Michael finally looks up.

“Can we just… forget about this?” Julia vigorously nods, as Michael laughs a hearty laugh. “Okay. Okay. You know your mistake, and I want to just forget this… Let me just take you to your birthday place.” Smiling at her, Michael feels a warm glow inside of himself seeing her smile in response. 

As Julia gets off the counter top, Michael takes a long look around the room, before shutting the lights off. He shudders, thinking about how he can only be in the room with the thing he hates most for one person… Julia. Remembering the reason the room was on a lock, the only thing that scares him more than opening up is guns. Guns scare him. As he grabs the keys to his dad’s old pickup truck, he thinks about his dad… He would kill him.

Chapter Four: T.O.D

  The car ride is tense, but as soon as Michael turns on the radio, Julia’s just jamming out to Adele. Michael can’t sing for anything, but when he hears Julia sing, it’s like the gateway to heaven is opening up. He turns it up extra loud, looking over to the passenger’s seat, hoping to get a glimpse of his dearest singing her heart out.

Julia knows Michael is looking at her while she sings, but it’s nothing new. She knows she’s a great singer, and she knows Michael himself would agree. She smiles to herself knowingly, as Michael watches her sing “Rolling In the Deep.”

“I love Adele.”

Michael looks at her. “Huh?” 

“I said, I love Adele… ”

Michael turns down the volume a bit, just as it goes to an ad.

“She’s so powerful, you know? Like there isn’t a single thing that holds her back. If she started an alliance, or even a cult… I think I’d join… ”

Michael laughs at her little joke. Minding the road ahead of him, making sure to drive carefully.

By now it is late, and the moon is out. The rectangular window of the dashboard has fluorescent numbers that read, 9:25. They aren’t late… yet. Julia’s dad said to have her back by 11:00, max. They’d still have plenty of time, and Julia would be able to enjoy her surprise.

Michael starts driving faster, eventually arriving at the woods. Julia looks around, confused. She was waiting for a surprise for so long, and all she gets is to see some boring old woods?!

Baffled, Julia starts complaining to Michael. “Is this really my surprise. Don’t take it the wrong way. It’s very… beautiful? I was just hoping for something… more.”

Michael looks over at Julia. She has been complaining about it nonstop for 20 minutes, and kept asking him if they’re there yet. Of course they weren’t there yet, but Michael wasn’t about to ruin his surprise for her just yet. So he gets out of the car silently, leaving Julia to do nothing but follow… Again.

“C’mon, Michael, I don’t want to be walking around for half an hour!” She sighs and frustradely looks at Michael, who still isn’t talking.

Seeing as Michael hasn’t cracked yet, she sighs heavily and trails behind him. Finally she walks in front of him and faces him. She stops and scowls. How can he make her go through all this? It’s terrible, it’s evil, it’s — 

“Beautiful… ” Julia breathes out the words.

Michael spins her around to face the marvelous waterfall that’s hiding just between two tall trees. She steps out to look closer. He makes his way behind her, slowing with every step. They both stand there marvelling at the beauty, mostly Julia. Michael has been here many times before. It’s where he went when his mother was first diagnosed with tuberculosis. And the first place she went after they buried her body.

The Beginning of the End

Chapter One

In the beginning there was peace in the world, everyone was getting along, and there was no violence.

Yet one day, an outbreak broke out. A woman named Susan Walker thought that she found the cure for cancer.

For a few weeks it was working. Then the people started feeling the symptoms of the cure. People reported headaches and nausea.

Then people started feeling weakness and tiredness. When they slept, they woke up, but not as the same person.

Yes, Susan Walker found a cure for cancer, but by doing so she caused half of the human population to turn into bloodsucking zombies.

This is where our character comes in. Her name was Rachel. Rachel’s mother had cancer. When she heard that there was a cure, she dashed over to the hospital and got the cure, but soon the same thing that was happening to everyone else happened to her. First headaches and nausea, then weakness and tiredness, then becoming a zombie. For Rachel this was the beginning of the end.

Chapter Two

Rachel was only 17 when it happened. When her mother turned into a zombie, her heart shattered into a million pieces.  

Rachel had suicidal thoughts because, without her mother, she had nothing to live for. 

She knew she was nothing without her mother. The government ordered a quarantine over the island, and they left the survivors.

She knew that if she was going to survive she needed to find other survivors like herself. She had a few friends, and they all had a walkie. That way they could communicate. There were three, including herself. Only one picked up the walkie. Her name was Hope. They had planned to meet up at their normal meetup spot. When she got there, she heard Hope shout. By the time she got there, it was too late. Hope was gone.

Chapter Three

Rachel felt empty inside. Everyone and everything she ever loved was gone. She felt like there was no reason in living anymore. She thought that if she died she would be reunited with the people she loved. That’s when she went outside to a crowd of zombies and was about to let them eat her alive. Slowly but surely they kept on getting closer and closer. Who knew dying would take this long. Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore. She ran as fast as she could. As she ran, she thought, what was she thinking. When she finally got far enough away, she bent down and caught her breath. When she stopped, she knew that the people she loved wouldn’t want her to die. She knew that if she were to survive, she would need a base of operations and a good supply of food and water. And she also knew that it was impossible that she was the only survivor, but her main priority was to make a base of operations. 

She got started on the base. She thought that her base should be a tree house because zombies can’t climb, so she would be safe. She also had the food situation down. She could just make a farm. The only problem she had was the water supply, but she would come up with something. When she finally finished the base of operations, she started on the farm. But that was the dangerous part, because that was where the zombies were. Before she got to making the farm, she had some metal left over from the base, so she built a fence around the farm. When she finished the fence, she felt she had enough to start the farm, but to have a farm you would need to have water to water the plants. So she would need to find a good amount of water. She knew that there were gallons of water at the store, but the store would be crawling with zombies, so she needed weaponry, and her uncle owned a gun store. His name was Uncle Sam, so she could just go there and get some guns and maybe her uncle might be alive when she got there. She decided to take an automatic gun and some side arms, maybe a Mac-11 would do. She decided to take a FN SCAR-H and a Mac-11. Just when she was about to leave, she heard rustling.

She looked and said, “Uncle Sam?”

Something slowly started to come into vision. Then she saw a man’s outline. Rachel screamed with joy.

Uncle Sam!

But when she saw his face, she realized he was just like the rest. She knew what she had to do. She raised the gun and took three shots. The walk back to her base was quieter than usual.

Life and Why We Live It: An Essay On Reality

What is death? To some, it is an ultimate end. They believe there is nothing more. Others believe in some sort of afterlife. This afterlife is usually perceived as in the sky, or underground. Sometimes, it uses two locations. Some believe death is nothing but a new beginning. They believe they will be reborn as something else, depending on their life. But if some know that there is another life, or some sort of better afterlife, why do they want to live? What is the driving force that makes us want to continue? 

People love experiences. An unforgettable experience is not what helps, though. It is the pursuit of those experiences that is important. Which would help one continue more: going skydiving, or wanting to go skydiving? Once one has the experience, they will need something new to chase. One also can’t want something and then not take it when they have the chance. If they actually wanted to do it, it would make them feel scared. If they didn’t really want it, this would force them to think more about what keeps them going. When a goal is completed, the person will need a new goal that is going to keep them going. This goal can be anything, from making the perfect pastry to committing the perfect crime. However, these goals are temporary. After some time, the goal will be completed. Then, one will need a new driving force.

Another thing that can keep one alive is a hobby. Just doing something can help you love life. First, you have to love it. Then, one has to do it at least once a day, with a structure. If one can do it at any time of day, that person will inevitably not do it at least once. This is the road to collapse. One time leads to two times and before you know it you’re only doing your hobby once a week. One main thing this plan needs to succeed is the constant enactment of this force. Consistency is the key to success. Also, this has to be a good hobby. It can’t be something bad for you, because you will eventually realize this and stop to think about it. If you continue, then you will always second-guess the reason you’re living. If you decide to stop, you will need a new hobby. You must make sure your hobby is here to stay. If your hobby turns out to be a fad, you will be forced to like something that is uncool. Imagine making your hobby Pokémon Go when that was a thing. In three months, you would be an outcast for liking a bad game.

Another lifeline could be love. I would strongly advise against this, because love isn’t always forever. People break up, and then where will you be? Also, loving someone, and being consumed by that love, can make one seem clingy. This will lead to even less success. But say it works. You get married and live happily ever after… not. Half of all marriages end in divorce. Having loving someone be the only thing you do and then having that love crushed would be soul-crushing. Also, say in your pursuit of love you do something wrong. If your views of love are twisted enough, you can be committing sexual harassment. Even if everything works, eventually your spouse dies. Imagine having the person you care about most die and tell me you still think love is a good idea. Too many things can go wrong and are known to go wrong. Humans are just too unpredictable. Find a Plan B.

There is one more paradigm toward life: hatred. One can be sustained by the ultimate dislike of others. First, your hatred must be absolute and ultimate. Second, your hatred must have a target. I would suggest a small, focused target, like a person. However, a larger hatred for an ideal can also work. Some would prefer a larger target, because there are more things to hate. I prefer a specific thing, because acting on that hatred can be more satisfying. Either way, hatred is considered wrong. Your whole life plan may be put into question. You will also question it, which is never good. Hatred does provide a very strong motivation to continue, but that motivation may be found evil. While you may not think this, others will. This makes hatred not the best motivator. Goals and hobbies are much better, but you are better off hating than loving.

Each of the above plans to motivate life has its own merits, but they are best when combined. Having a good hobby that also offers goals can be truly rewarding. Hating someone can be a hobby if you do it every day. Your goal could even be to put down another because of your hatred. Love used in conjunction with other plans can provide results ranging from having a bad time to getting arrested, but one can still love. The love just has to be separate. Love can be extremely motivating if you also have a hobby to fall back on. Using multiple plans is important, so one has a backup plan. It can soften the blow of loss. Each plan has individual merit, but each one shines even brighter when combined with the rest. Making a motivation plan can be motivating in and of itself. This is the final step toward excellence. Wanting to want can be just as good as wanting. It is the ultimate goal, because it is constantly being achieved and reset. In conclusion, life will continued to be lived, but each person chooses why they live it.

Incoming Red Giant

What happens when you die?

Will we live forever?

Will we be immortal?

Why do we die?

Incoming, incoming… 

(This whole story is written from a narrator’s point of view on the city crisis when a red giant is coming.)

Beep Beep Beep. That is all that was heard around the one mile radius of NASA headquarters in Houston. This robot voice was saying, incoming. Incoming. Red giant incoming. This was in the middle of the night, so the sleepy janitors in NASA’s hallway suddenly woke up. The janitors here only knew rocket science, so they didn’t really know what a red giant was, so all they did was run. They ran as fast as they possibly could to go outside to see what was happening. Every man and woman was outside and looking at the sky, trying to find the red giant. Indeed, very high up, opposite of the sun, they saw a little red dot getting bigger by the minute. All of the NASA control center freaks who experienced Apollo 11 hurried back to their study and discussed how to stop this massive thing from hitting Earth. One said that they should send a rocket that would blast the thing to pieces. That idea was quickly turned down, for Neil Armstrong shouted, “that wouldn’t do a thing to the red giant.” 

After all, the one who suggested blasting it was a janitor that snuck into the room and skipped his rocket science class. Michael Collins scurried into the room and said, “we can send a rocket that will have a nuclear bomb and a bunch of explosives in it.”

So everyone agreed and got to work. The red giant was outside of Earth’s atmosphere, so if a nuclear bomb went off outside of the atmosphere, it wouldn’t affect Earth. The Buzz Aldrin was quickly at work, figuring out how much time there was left until the red giant hit Earth and how far away it was

30 hours, 48 minutes, 29 seconds, 120 miles away

The top engineers at NASA ran to take a shot of coffee and quickly went to work building a nuclear bomb/rocket and putting a ton of explosives in the rocket. The rocket wasn’t going to get to the red giant too quickly. It was going to be going the speed of an airplane because of how heavy the load would be and how little time they would have to build this. 

22 hours, 56 minutes, 38 seconds, 100 miles away

By the morning, the engineers were finished with the rocket and were starting to make another one because they thought one rocket wouldn’t be enough. The first one was being towed to the launch site. The launch would happen in half an hour

Blast off rocket number one

Once the rocket was ready to launch, a crowd had gathered around, and a 15 minute countdown had begun. When it was time for blast off, the engine stuttered for a moment, and the crowd oohed and ahhed. Once it was about ten feet in the air, the rocket dropped back down, but suddenly a really loud blast caused the rocket to start ascending toward its target. The rocket was ascending at the speed of an airplane, which caused the crowd to worry. In a few minutes, the rocket was the size of the red giant, a small dot.

20 hours, 13 minutes, 01 seconds, 90 miles away

Everyone who witnessed the take off of the rocket was now about to witness the rocket crash into the red giant. A few moments later, you could hear NASA’s loudspeaker telling the crowd that the red giant was unharmed. Half an hour after the news, you were able to see the next rocket being towed to the launch site. 

Blast off rocket number two

A larger crowd had gathered this time, because these people’s lives depended on NASA’s decision. But, right before the 15 minute countdown was about to start, every human being in the USA saw that far to the east there were a whole bunch of smaller rockets being set off into space, and, soon enough, the people at NASA were able to see this rocket trajectory, and it looked like it was heading for the red giant. In a matter of minutes, others at NASA were able to see the launch site of these rockets… It was the USS Armstrong. The USS Armstrong was known for its rockets that, in times of war, could launch little rockets that went so high enemy ships wouldn’t be able to see them in warfare. NASA was quickly trying to contact the USS Armstrong. Soon enough, they got in contact with the ship’s captain, and the captain explained to NASA that the USS Armstrong heard that NASA was sending rockets to the red giant, so they thought that they could too. Maybe more than one rocket at once would be enough to knock it back. So the countdown started, and before you knew it, the rockets were all about five minutes away from their targets. Once the rockets hit the red giant, there was more of an impact. Many tiny pieces were seen coming off of the rockets.

“This is progress, people, this is progress,” shouted a voice from the NASA loudspeaker.

By now, NASA was preparing a third rocket. The USS Armstrong was also planning to send more rockets, which were going to be in sync with NASA’s rocket. Soon enough, the third rocket was already at the launch site, and the countdown started. Sixty… fifty-nine… ten… night… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… one… blast off. The rocket made a roaring sound, and to the spectators it sounded like the loudest launch. Off to the west they also saw a bright red light that looked like another rocket. They realized that this was a nuclear rocket going off in Japan. Quickly enough, the Japanese airspace was contacting NASA, saying that they hacked into NASA’s countdown and launched their nuclear rocket at the same time. So now they had three different sources of rockets.

And on and on this went, both countries and warships sending up rockets until the red giant entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

10 hours, 21 minutes, 43 seconds, red giant entered Earth’s atmosphere

Now, all over the world, TV stations and radio stations were given instructions by NASA to teach their viewers and listeners how to build small rockets and launch them. So, all over the world, elders, newborns, people in wheelchairs, and people in the emergency room were all building rockets. This was life or death here. The surgeons who were doing life or death surgeries equipped the patients with the right supplies to build rockets. All of these rockets would be the size of those rockets that you would make for a science fair project. They made all of the rockets sync up to NASA’s control center, so they would all launch at the same time. Once all the rockets in the world were launched, the whole world looked up in astonishment. Half an hour later, they saw many millions of pieces coming from the red giant. But there was still one big rock, bigger than all the other ones.

6 hours, 43 minutes, 09 seconds, red giant 30 miles away

By now, the only person with an idea was the astronaut from NASA’s latest mission on Mars, Martian 22. His name was Sir Isaac Newton. He had come up with a miraculous idea, but it may have been the only chance the world had. NASA and all the world countries had sent out alerts to every electronic device telling people to turn on their blow dryers and fans which would hold up the rocks from the Red Giant. NASA would provide 3,000 mile extension cords to all cities, towns, and farms, so they could all keep the blow dryers going. And if the people didn’t do what they said, they hacked the blow dryer and fan companies. Once the rocks were hovering all about 10 feet in the air, a bunch of Robotic Concordes with huge trash cans would come around and collect all of the rocks. And NASA didn’t have to worry about the oceans, because all oceans were dead, for they all died out because of starvation. For this was happening in the 29th century.

30 minutes, 1 mile away

Now all of these things could be easily seen from the naked eye, and the Earth was now at about 200 degrees. This might be scary for you, but it was pretty normal for people living in the 29th century. All the world could do was wait and watch

Red giant 1,000 feet away

You’re probably thinking, why are countries that are opposite North America helping? Well, it was because the aftermath of all of this would wipe out the whole Earth, even though it was mostly going to hit North and South America.

Old man Steve Jobs walked out his front yard, and he saw a bunch of iPad sized rocks plunging toward Earth. He just woke up from a five-day coma, so he didn’t really know what was going on, and he just started yelling at his kids and all of their kids for not informing him about what had happened, so we just thought that all the iPads he ever made were now going to waste. The reason he stopped screaming is that (you will never believe this, but keep reading) all of the “iPads” hovered above Earth, and soon enough, they were collected and put into the dead ocean. But the sad thing was Steve quickly went into another five-day coma.

At the same time as Steve Jobs was experiencing those traumatic things, a little boy was thinking this:

Twelve-year-old Caleb Brokerstein was thinking about death in his room. He was thinking how he wouldn’t want to die along with all the other people in the world. All his childhood death had haunted Caleb. He had always wondered, what happens when he dies? Can we ever be immortal? Why do we die? And now all these thoughts were racing through his mind. Until the thought struck that he was going to die.

When that thought occurred to him, he ran out the house screaming, “I don’t want to die, ‘cause if I do I will never be reborn again!”

These were the precise thoughts that were running through his mind and coming out of his mouth. After a minute of all of this screaming, he looked up at the sky and saw that the particles were all hovering 10 feet above the ground.

When he realized this, Caleb retraced his steps and ran screaming, “We are alive!

The End


Heather sat in the corner of her room, hearing the fire crackle. Around her, near her, behind her, in front of her… 

Inside her.

The purple walls of her rooms seemed to envelop her, consume her, as her breathing hitched.

She hugged herself tighter. She couldn’t be, right? No, there was no way. No way. No way. She was a fire elemental, right? Of course right. Her dad is a fire elemental, her mom was (at least she assumes she was), her whole family was, for as long as she could trace.

So why hadn’t she developed some fire-related power yet? Why? All the other kids had. She had to as well.

She thought back to her mom. 

Something inside her heart stung like a fresh wound. Her mom had disappeared right after she was born, run off to somewhere. Her dad couldn’t join her yet, but he always promised Heather that it was soon. They’d be rejoined soon.

Heather had a question burning inside. Literally.

She pulled herself up, pulling open her window and sliding out and onto the ground outside. 

In the Fire Side, everything was red. Or brown. Fire crackled at her feet as she softly tread over burned ground. She had to get there.

Get to the middle.

She was silent when she finally got there, looking up at the almost-impenetrable glass that separated the designated areas for each element. She stared right at the water zone.

She wished she could step right through and escape.

A drop of water escaped her fingertips, sizzling and steaming on the burning ground. 

She was a public danger.

She was a water elemental. Everything in her life started to softly click together. 

She was a water elemental. She was a water elemental. She was a water elemental.

She was a child.

She was lost, confused, and a scared-for-her-own-safety child.

And most importantly, if she got caught as a water elemental, she could die.

Heather wasn’t really scared though.

She was excited.


I ran through the forest, feeling the tickly grass on my paws. I felt weightless, speeding toward a tiny, unknowing squirrel in the roots of a tree. I was moving quickly, but I made sure to tread lightly and quietly so as not to alert the squirrel. As I got closer, I slowed down and crouched. The squirrel was still nibbling at its nut, completely unaware of the danger it was in. And then I sprang. My claws sunk into the squirrel’s flesh, and I took the first delicious bite. I ate hungrily, happily tearing into the squirrel. I supposed it had felt pain when I killed it, but I didn’t care. It was just prey. 

One day something different happened. I was crawling slowly toward a mouse, careful not to make any noise, when I heard the sound of beating wings, and a loud screech. I looked up, and I saw a gigantic eagle, with a wingspan so big it made my blood freeze. I screamed so loud I thought I scared off every animal in the forest. I tried to run, but it was too late. The huge golden eagle picked me up effortlessly and carried me high into the sky, ignoring my terrified squeals. Agony filled my bones as the eagle’s claws tore into me, slowly killing me. I wailed in pain, but if anyone heard, they didn’t care enough to help.


I ate hungrily, happily tearing into the cat. I supposed it had felt pain when I killed it, but I didn’t care. It was just prey.


An angle of the sun’s embrace

Shining in the thunder’s wake

Golden curls rain down your face

Seafoam eyes bring hearts to race

Pale hands open aches

Leaving scratches, bruises, brakes

Even though the halo’s there

A shadow crosses your plastered stare 

Heaven knows you stand too tall

You too perfect for it all

No one knows your flesh and bone

Hidden by your lies in tow

Marching with the devils row by row

You fool the world

Show it through a great curved lens

Cause them all to lose all sense

A delicate flower with leaves so fine

Hiding those thorns just under the line

And if someone moves

Just makes a step

You shoot your gaze

Bringing on the lazy haze

Don’t let them spot

Don’t get too close

You have a halo so sharp it burns

And everything just turns and turns

Until all is left but not the same

The halo shares its wavy ways

Daze runs off its golden rays

Tricked and frazzled it had to stay

But free at last

It falls away

The halo’s gone

Nowhere to stay

And leaves the world too far away

Where halos float until their days

To take their place 

Opposing evil

Even though the halo’s there 

It lives around in everywhere

An open heart beckons its wake

Raining down in shiny swirls

The halo trusts the tiny pearl

Leaving cold ones out to die


I Am Still Alone:

She thinks she knows 

He thinks he understands 

Yet I am still alone 

“Everyone has experienced that”

“Trust me it is normal” 

They say and walk away 

They say they love 

It is said that they care 

I remain alone. 

In the dark corner of my mind I remain

They say 

“I’m always here”

But there is no one

I see no one 

I’m a supernova about to explode away from all celestial objects in the universe 

What they say is a lie

So I will be alone

I will be with the only person who understands

I will be with somebody true

It is good I am still alone


Almost reaching the top then the bar gets higher

It continues to grow in an uncontrollable rate

The fail to reach enough makes me start over

Vicious cycles attack me

So close but I never can accomplish

Then all the way back down again I fall

Fall back into the necessities of the world

I watch from down below seeing all the people reach the top

They eye me with pity

But no one can help assist me up

I drag myself lower and lower

I dream of an overflow, to be more than needed

Enough and more

Yet I stay behind what I continuously hope to surpass

Never full, never more

Nothing ever there to fill it up

They Don’t Know: 

Innocence but you take every burden

You love but keep the unconditional loneliness that you are brought up with

Giants step on the speck of dust that you made yourself to be

You know of your rightfulness, however power drowns inside you

You see through yourself in the midst of your reflection

You hate then love it

It has been beautiful, it has been astonishingly horrible

No one sees the beauty though

No one ever has

The ugliness underneath beams through even with your rightfulness

Limited time keeps them blinded

You aren’t worth the dread of patience

They don’t intend on discovering your beauty

Dirty Laundry

Dirty Laundry

The chore that everyone suffers.

From the first sweaty shirts,

To the old droopy socks,

Till the time when it’s full

the smell of Pandora’s box.

To the time 

When you take it out 

And put it in the sack

To the time 

You take it down the stairs

To try not to drop

To take it across the street 

And make sure you didn’t 

Leave the detergent 

Or you have to go back 

To put it in 

The machine 

When the Pandora smell 

Comes back 

To the time 

When you realize 

You lost your droopy sock 

When you first open 

The detergent 

The opposite smell 

of the Pandora’s box 

To when you close the lid 

And you turn the machine on 

To the time 

You need to wait 

And hope it comes out right 

To take it out of the machine 

To the time you need to organize 

The fresh socks 

And the shirt and the pants

To fold them all up

To take it back home

Then put it into your child’s cabinet

And let them use it

And make the suffering process

Start all over

Each week

Trees of Albuquerque

I had been watching birds since the age of nine. Owls, finches, herons, and song sparrows were my favorite. The variety in species and function in the finches were fascinating, but what really caught my eye, or in this case my ear, were the song sparrows, the way their notes flowed into each other in complete harmony, going from do to re to mi to fa in beautiful consistency. The song sparrows were my favorite birds to observe, as their action of singing sounded so simple as a word but so magical as a sound. But the song sparrows didn’t last. By the time I was 25, my days of listening to sweet harmony were over, as a new power plant opened up, and with its smoke and ash and cracks and pops, it drew all the birds away. I learned by that time I wasn’t a bird watcher. I just liked the sound of song sparrows. Yeah, there were other birds I looked at, but who doesn’t think some birds look nice? This migration plunged me into sadness. I would never hear that beautiful flow or that consistent harmony ever again. I tried everything to recreate that sweet sound, every stroke of the hand or a blow of the horn or on an instrument, every audio recording, but none could replicate it, not exactly.

At this treacherous time I had come across an old nest with a peculiar egg in it. I thought to myself I might as well try to hatch the little thing. Its shell was so thin that it could be crushed by a flea. I took it in praying it would be a song sparrow, praying that I would hear those sweet symphonies again. It had been two weeks in the incubator. Even with its warm light at a nice 72 degrees, there were no cracks. Four weeks in the incubator with its steamy air, no cracks. I had given up. I had decided that I would follow the song sparrows even though I had lived in my town all my life, but I couldn’t take being apart from the harmony. I decided to crack open the egg and make a good breakfast with it, if it wouldn’t give me a song sparrow. Right before it hit my bowl to crack, I heard a noise. It was a perfectly consistent flow from do to re with a harmony unreplaceable. It was the voice of a song sparrow with its tranquility. I canceled every flight, unpacked every bag, and put back every plate because I was staying. The egg then continued to crack over the next three days. I had a song sparrow. I wasn’t going to use this bird just for its beautiful voice but also to show the power plant what its emissions were doing to the area. It was my duty to these sweet birds that were forced to leave. I had readied my case towards the court of how the power plant was driving away wildlife. When presented towards the court, it looked like a one way street with me going the wrong direction. The defendants argued that shutting down the plant now wouldn’t save the birds and there was no point. But I still had to try. I then gave my most persuasive point. I let the court hear the sweet symphony and melodies of the song sparrow even though it wasn’t allowed. I let them hear the beautiful flow from note to note, hoping it would be enough. It wasn’t. The power plant company had a better argument and a better lawyer. It was sad. My song sparrow was sad. I had used it, and now it wanted to be free. So I let the bird go, and with it I let my fight go. There was nothing I could do to stop it except let it free to the trees of Albuquerque.


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


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

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

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

Ella: Same age. Amy’s friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAM: Can you break up with her for me?

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

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

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

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

RYAN: How long exactly have you been researching this?

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

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

SAM (whiny): But it’s cold out.

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

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

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

SAM: What? None of that was false!

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

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

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

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

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

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

(RYAN rushes to the door.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELLA: What was that noise?

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

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

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

SAM (looking up): Mm?

(RYAN gives SAM a hard stare.)

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

ELLA: What does that even mean?

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

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

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

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

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

ELLA: But?

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

ELLA: Huh?

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

ELLA: But, Sam…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RYAN: Okay!

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

ELLA (normal voice): How am I doing?

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

ELLA: One sec.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RYAN: Amy?

ELLA (fake sniffle): Sam?

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

ELLA: You do?

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

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

ELLA: Oh, Sam…

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

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

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

ELLA: Aww…

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Enter SAM.)

SAM: Yo, Ryan. How’re things going?

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

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

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

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

SAM: Dude, what are you doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELLA (pauses): Ryan?

RYAN: Ella?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMY: Can you Google it?

SAM: Sure.

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

SAM: Okay…

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

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

(Lights out.)

Gone with the Sun

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

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

Why do we lie to ourselves?

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

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

A cloud ambushes the sun, and the rainbows vanish.

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

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

Creation of Earth Parody

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

After finally making earth…

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

Earth day one…

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

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

The 84 Block Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bus Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Bus Boy is better than these ordinary people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Judge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

David smirked. “Very true, sir.”

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

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

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

“But why me, sir?”

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

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

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


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

“Bravo, David. Bra… ”

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

The Chronicles of Tulupinia

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

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

A few minutes before…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahhhhh, mother nature’s fertilizer!”

“That will be $19.57 please”

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

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

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

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

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

“Honey, I’m home!!!”

Surprisingly enough, there was no response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This ends now!”

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

“You’ve left me no other choice!”

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

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

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

“What has gotten into you, Tulupinia?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She deserved it, you know.”

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

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

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

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

My Last Goodbye

It’s a fifteen hour flight to South Africa

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

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

A place I scored after lengthy negotiations with my sister

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

reminding me just how insignificant we are

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

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

It’s a two hour drive to Johannesburg

I have never been able to stay awake the entire duration

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

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

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

As darkness consumes the night

When I awaken thousands of stars shower the sky

Like drops of glittering rain that never reach the Earth

New York City does not have stars like these

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

Later we play bridge in the dining room

I pretend to understand the endless rules and meticulous strategy

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

In the kitchen I learn to bake challah with Aunt Joanne

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

My fingers knead through the sticky, elastic dough

Even though one side is as burnt as the scorching pavement

that sits beneath the African sun

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

So much pretending

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

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

Secreting pearls of gleaming sweat in the malicious heat

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

All simple, All familiar

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

New surgeries

And ovarian cancer

It’s Aunt Joanne being too tired, so tired

Too tired for chemo

Too weak

Some words hold more meaning than I can even comprehend

Rocks around a volcano are hollow

Formed by scorching hot magma

Natives used to think they were just unbelievably light

Legend tells that taking one of the rocks is bad luck

The word cancer is unbelievably heavy

It is the quintessence of bad luck

This one word has the power to weigh everything down

Slowing the world to its own pace, forcing accommodations

We try our very best to avoid the heavy word

To not let it crush us like ants underfoot

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

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

Goodbyes seem so simple

Yet there is something so personal about them

I give my goodbyes everyday

To my friends

To my teachers

To my parents and sister

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

Sometimes I say goodbye forever

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

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

And to all those dreams I have let go of

But it never quite feels as final as it should

When one chapter of your life snaps shut

The final curtain

We allow ourselves to believe that we might keep in touch

We might revisit that plan we started

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

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

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

I know this is goodbye forever

It doesn’t feel big enough

It doesn’t feel special enough

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

from her soul unto mine

But just like that and it’s over

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

and cry until I’m all out of tears

But I can’t say that

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

But I can’t ask that

I want to lock myself in a room and not leave

Because it feels like I’m leaving her behind

But know I can’t do that

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

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

But that is not fair to anyone

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

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

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

All waiting to say their own goodbyes

My heart tries to trick itself into believing otherwise

But my mind knows the truth

I’ve said goodbye forever

The Old Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pencil Sharpener Dream Dilemma

Part One:

“Guess what!” Kevun exclaimed.

“What?” his sister Patricia said.

“Last night I had a dream that a pencil sharpener was trying to kill me!” Kevun said.

“For Christ’s sake, Kevun, why do you keep having such horrible dreams?” asked Patricia.

Kevun thought for a moment. “Maybe… it was because this kid. He’s a big bad bully, and his name is Dylun. He threatened me yesterday that he was going to kill me with a pencil sharpener!”

“I wonder how he thought he was going to kill you with a freaking pencil sharpener?!” said Patricia.

At breakfast, Kevun decided that he was going to ask Dylun how he had planned to kill him with a damn pencil sharpener. Kevun left for school earlier than usual because he knew that Dylun always loved to play basketball before school started.

So, when Kevun met up with Dylun, Kevun asked, “Remember yesterday how you said that you were going to kill me with a pencil sharpener.”

“Yeah, I still will kill you with that,” Dylun said as he made a 3-pointer.

“So, how do you plan to kill me?”

“Why would I tell you that?” said Dylun as he laughed.

Kevun raged with anger! Kevun was actually pretty strong. “Yo, you want to fight?!” Kevun shouted.

“Oh yeah, game on,” Dylun challenged back.

Kevun and Dylun had never been friends. They were always arguing and fighting, and Dylun had always bullied Kevun. They were both pretty even when they fought, but finally Dylun slipped, and Kevun grabbed a hold of his neck.

“Aha, gotcha.”

“Get me out of this.” Dylun barely could get those words out.

“Tell me how you intended to kill me with that pencil sharpener, and I’ll let you go,” Kevun demanded.

“Okay fine, I intended to use the sharp part of it to cut your neck and yeah, okay, now let me go!” Dylun yelled.

“Thanks.” Kevun scrambled away and ran straight to Mr. Littleton’s office (the principal) to tell him what Dylun had planned on doing. Back in the gym, Dylun was recovering from being choked…

Part Two:

In the end, both of the boys’ parents were called over to the school immediately. They had agreed that Kevun would get an after school detention, and Dylun would get two weeks suspension, during which he had to go to the hospital for mental help, and after that he would get an after school detention too. After all the punishments were over, things still weren’t that great between the two. Disputes were common between the two. One day, Dylun woke up and told his parents that he had a dream about a pencil killing him.

He explained to his parents what happened in the dream and then said, “Wait a moment, I know why I had this dream. The other day this kid Kevun threatened to kill me with a pencil.”

Dylun was lying of course, for Kevun would never do such a thing. Dylun ran off to school with his parents chasing after him. He was no match for his parents. So, when Dylun came to school, he acted as if it was a normal school day. He did this so when his parents called up the school, the school would say that he is acting perfectly normal, and that is exactly what happened. When school was over, Dylun saw that Kevun was standing alone waiting for his friend. Dylun ran up to Kevun and jumped onto and over Kevun’s shoulders. This totally caught Kevun by surprise. Immediately, Dylun engaged with Kevun, and quickly they were fiercely fighting each other.

Soon enough, a crowd had gathered around and was chanting, “FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!”

Even one kid started Instagram live-ing the scene. At the end, bystanders from the street broke up the fight and called up the school. It was talked over and agreed upon that Dylun would be expelled from the school, and Kevun would get a suspension. Kevun’s parents had decided that this wasn’t the right school for him and that he would go to a new school. In Kevun’s new school, he felt safer and had already made new friends. Kevun was still beaten up with scars from yesterday’s fight.

The Power Within (Part One)

One day in the middle of February, my dad, a genius scientist acknowledged by everyone across the world, made a machine to stop his fear because late at night he sees ghosts. These ghosts look like everyday people, but they have reflective, transparent skin and draped clothes that make them look creepy. So after making this machine, he loses his fear of ghosts, but it doesn’t work at the time. But two days later during the solar eclipse, I am skateboarding near the machine, when all of a sudden I am flying with my skateboard. And me being educated about my dad’s study of science, I assume since my dad’s invention is sun powered, it might have been the solar eclipse that caused me to have ghost-like powers. But maybe the gap between ghosts and humans is too great. But at the moment, I feel above everyone. I feel the breeze in the air and see the sun emerge from the solar eclipse. But wait, does that mean that I might fall? So I then go home with my flying abilities, and in addition, I learn I can fly without the skateboard. I make it home just in time to see the solar eclipse end. During dinner, I ask my dad if it is possible to fly.

He says, “Son, if you want to fly, we can make you a jetpack. If you want to soar, we’ll make you a hoverboard. Whatever you want.” As a side note, he says, “Kids these days and their crazy ideas.”

Then I go to sleep, confused on what I should do for the next day.

0800 Hours (Eastern Standard Time)

The Awakening

I wake up, and it’s five minutes till school. If I’m late, my dad said he wouldn’t get me my new isotopes, so I use my machinery to get on my clothes, brush my teeth, and stuff like that. Then with my new powers, I zoom off to school just in time to make it. I feel numb from the tingling and coldness of my special machine. Now it’s one minute. I use my hoverboard to zoom to school and make it with seconds to spare and dash into my seat. The teacher then starts her occasional speech about polynomials, and in my boredom I decide to doze off. When I wake up, the effect takes place immediately. When I wake up, someone throws a piece of chalk at my head, and inches away from my head it zooms back towards them. It shortstops a centimeter away from them, then drops to the floor. Everyone looks at me, and I realize I am a psychic. I get ready to call 911, then I decide to call my best friend Jelani, a kid who I went to school with. He is one of the greatest minds in psychology in the whole entire world. He tells me there is one person in the world that has had a case like mine. Dylan. I think, Wow, we were great friends in elementary school. I had heard that his parents partnered with my parents many, many times. I ask if I can see him, and they say that’s fine but try to keep it brief because he has been going through some emotionally challenging times. I walk into his room and see his room half sloppy on the gaming side and half clean on the nerd side of his room.

I say, “Wow, this looks really good,” and he responds by saying, “Well, when I game I feel free from the world,” which I totally get because I game only when I feel comfortable and when I can get into a proper mental state, like meditating but with more action.

I decide to use a calm approach to get him to talk about his powers, and I ask, “How cool would it be if we had our own powers like superheroes.”

And he responds by saying, “I don’t know. There’s bound to be some ups and downs of having superpowers.” I stare because of what he just said.

I see him thinking about how while playing around in his parents’ creativity ray, he earned the power to change reality as we know it.

I then say, “Your power is really cool,” and he responds with, “Are you really Jayden Tolliver?”

I tell him about how he stuck up for me. Then, I tell him about my powers. He tells me that he can’t change anything that might affect me, like making my parents the second smartest people in the world. I then tell him about how I gained my powers and how I found out he actually had powers.

The Agreement (00:00 hours)

At midnight, we agree to discuss our new powers since his mom thinks he is going through puberty, so we think his parents might think we are acting crazy. So we decide we would play one of our favorite games together and use our private chat to discuss what we would do henceforth.

Then around the middle, I find out from Jelani that my friend Noah also has a new ability, and I am laughing at that, so I just have to say to Dylan, “And so the plot thickens… ”

The plot thickens…

I get to my house where my secret hideout is located. I tell him no one in the world knows where it is, and we start to walk in the house. It is then I notice the door is unlocked, and the case that holds the spare key is gone. We walk into the house to find it ransacked. Luckily, my door’s special lock is still engaged. Then we notice the note. It says, If you want your parents back, you will have to give us your ability. Then I realize the only way they could have known all this. Jelani betrayed me. He is the only person alive who knows this fact besides Noah, who was with me the whole time.

To be continued…

Danger in Life and Death




The camera focuses on a lady (Ivy), arms outstretched, holding onto a support beam. She’s high up in the air and on the outer edge of the bridge. She looks around 17 years old, and she’s crying. Looking down at the water that is at least 200 feet below her. The currents are strong. Car horns honk in alarm and warning behind her. All sound around her fades except for her heartbeat.


We can jump together Ivy. It’ll be so real. All the pain you’ve gone through, all of the suffering, it’ll disappear. It’ll subside. All you have to do is…

Ivy’s head snaps up from the water as a man in a black leather jacket and long hanging dark hair comes climbing towards her cautiously but fast. He’s yelling at her to stop, to not jump. Ivy looks back to the water, tears still streaming down her face.


You can do it, Ivy! We can do it. You just have to trust me.

Ivy slowly loosens her grip on the support beam.


Your family doesn’t love you. No one understands you like I do. We can be together in peace and harmony once you jump.

Ivy shakes her head


But, I’ll die.


But is death really punishment when life was hell on Earth?

Ivy finally looks up at the skyline stretched out on both ends of the bridge, closing in together on the horizon. The view is beautiful. She opens her arms and closes her eyes shut tight, releasing the beam, the man is still climbing towards her. She stands still for a moment, but then gravity gets the best of the situation. One last tear falls down Ivy’s cheek, and then she’s falling.

The wind whipping her face, the tears stinging her eyes. But Ivy… her face has no regret whatsoever. She’s ready for death. But then, suddenly, she’s suspended in air. She looks up at what has held her back, and the man is holding her up. He saved her. She looks up at him.

The Man

We can’t let you die. Not just yet, anyways.

SCENE TWO – One month earlier

Ivy pushes the door to her room open. Sleep is still lingering on her face. It’s late at night, but she must have woken up from one of those nightmares she keeps having. She shuffles down the long carpeted hallway and drags herself by a closed door, only stopping there for a second. Listening. There is a shuffling sound behind the door but Ivy walks on to go down the stairs.

On the other side of the door, a woman stands hunched over a desk. We can’t see her face, but she’s sad. You can tell from everything about her. From the way she holds herself to the way a tear drops onto the wooden desk. A picture frame shows the picture of a man, a women, and Ivy. It’s the family. She’s about to pick it up when the phone rings in the room. She walks over towards it and hesitates a second as she looks at the unknown caller id, but then picks it up. Cradling it next to her face.

“Hello? Who is this?”

Someone on the other end begins to speak

“Hi, I was a friend of David’s. I think you might need my help.”

“With what may I ask?”

A quizzical look crosses her face, and then understanding, and then disbelief. Before the man can speak, she cuts in.

“Wait, are you Walter?”

“Yes that’s me.”

“Oh, David talked about you quite a bit.”

“Yes, we were co-workers.”

She waits for a second before answering.

“Do you want to come over sometime, we can talk then.”

“Oh, so you know why I’m calling.”

“Yes, but I don’t want to have this conversation now. I can’t help but feel that this is not the right time or place.”

There’s a pause.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Is it too soon? I understand if you’d like to mourn for a bit longer before we have this conversation.”

She looks startled. But then shakes her head.

“No, I just don’t think that our conversation is only being heard between us two right now.”

“I see. Then, in that case, I feel no need to continue if I’ll see you sometime soon.”

“Yes, what about noon on saturday. I should be free then?”

“Okay. Goodbye. I have to go now. See you then.”

“Bye now.”

She hangs up and fumbles to put the phone back on its stand before rushing toward the door. She swings it open suddenly and looks both ways down the hallway. As if she’s searching for someone. She relaxes for a split second before a sound of something clattering comes from downstairs. She rushes down the stairs and into the kitchen only to see Ivy picking up a spoon from the floor. She’s standing on the other side of the island. The woman puts on a smile, and Ivy returns it.

“Hello Ivy. Why are you up at this time?”

Ivy tilts the milk carton in her hand over a mug on the counter and lets the milk pour into the cup.

“Nightmare, again.”

“Oh, I told you how to get rid of those.” The woman nods with disapproval.

“Yes, I know.” Ivy stops pouring the milk and closes the cap on the carton.

“Once your done, you’ll go back to sleep? The milk should help.”

“Probably.” Ivy thinks for a second while she turns to put the milk in the fridge. “What were you doing in dad’s room, mom? I thought you never go in there.”

The mom’s face is tense. She frowns slightly. But then looks at Ivy and smiles.

“Oh, nothing, just a business call.”

“This late?” Ivy questions, grabbing her mug in both of her hands as if she were cradling a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter day.

“Yes, this late.” The mother states matter of factly. “Now, I’m going to bed. Make sure you get some rest.”


The mom slowly climbs up the stairs.

“Goodnight, Ivy.”

And she disappears upstairs, Ivy sips from her cup just as an alert dings on her phone face down beside her on the counter. She puts down the milk and grabs her phone. As she reads whatever it is that she got, she smiles. Then, without even letting her mother know, she grabs her coat and shoves on her shoes and creeps out the front door with her phone in hand. The cold mid-night wind whips against Ivy’s face so she tries to keep her head down. Across the street, houses identical to hers are shown in a nice row. She takes a left off of her front lawn and hurries down the street. Upon arriving to the next corner, she takes another left to reveal a busy avenue. People bustle about and car horns honk. But she isn’t out there long because about two or three doors in, she turns and enters a diner. It’s quiet inside, music playing through old speakers in the ceiling. Only a few people are inside talking amongst themselves. She walks up to the bar and sits beside a boy who’s slumped over his phone. A hat over his head. She taps his shoulder.

“Hey,” Ivy says, almost in a whisper.

The boy looks up. He’s maybe 15-16 and some sort of mustache is already forming on his upper lip. When he smiles, wrinkles form around his eyes.

“Hey, Ivy!” he says.

She takes off her coat and puts it next to her.

“So, what’s the emergency?” she says casually.

“Oh, nothing really. I just couldn’t sleep,” he stutters. Ivy looks at him quizzically.

“Me neither, but I know that’s not it. What’s up?” she pushes.

The boy sighs, but looks around before starting to talk. For the first time, he looks really scared.

“Something happened last night, Ivy. And I really just don’t know what to do.”

“What?” Ivy asks. Her eyes lighting up in curiosity.

“This man, he showed up at my doorstep. He rang the bell but no one answered because we were all asleep. My sister was out at a party and my parents were away.”

“So, it was just you?”

He nods.

“So what happened?”

“I swear, I don’t know this guy. I never gave him a key or anything. But he got in my house and woke me up.”

“What?” Ivy screams.

“Keep it down, Ivy,” the boy hisses.

Ivy ducks her head and continues in a yell/whisper.

“But that’s breaking and entering. Do you know how scary that is? You’re lucky you’re still alive. Do you want me to call my mom, file a police report?” she hisses right back.

“Yes, yes. I know. But I think you’ll want to know what he said to me right after that.” He takes a big breath. Inhale, exhale. “He said I had to bring him to Ivy Dun. He said he’d kill my family and anyone I care about just to get to you. He said I’d better cooperate, it’s your life or my family’s. And he looked like he meant it. That’s what scares me.”

Ivy frowns, in deep thought.

“Do you remember what he looks like, Logan?”

Logan shakes his head no. But then he says something more.

“He said his name was José. Does that spark anything? Any memory, anything?”

“No, why?” Ivy asks.

“Well, he said that you once knew a José. You never paid much attention to him, but you knew him. And now he intends on getting back into your life because it’s life or death.”

“No, I don’t know a José.”

“You sure?”

Yes! I’m sure.” Ivy is back to whisper/yelling again. But calms down after taking a deep breath. “So, what are you going to do?”

Logan gives her a sad and knowing look.

“Ivy.” He’s trying to reason with her. Make her see his way. “You know I love you, but it’s family over anything. I need them. I can’t put them in any danger.”

“And you think that this whole situation is doing exactly that don’t you?” Ivy says, finally understanding with a sad look on her face. And even a hint of betrayal.

“I have to tell him everything I know about you,” he says. “There’s nothing else I can do.” He sighs.

“There’s always another way.”

He shakes his head vigorously. “Not one that won’t put anyone in danger.”

Just as Ivy is about to respond, her mom bursts through the diner door. A mad look on her face. She’s furious.

Ivy! You better give me a good explanation for why in the world you are up here at this time of night!” Everyone turns their heads towards the mom.

The owner who was previously behind the counter working with a waiter turns towards the mom.

“Oh! Mayor Dun! What a lovely surprise. No one expected to see you here at this time of night! Would you like something, on the house of course.” The owner says with fake delight.

Mayor Dun looks at the owner but doesn’t even acknowledge that he said something. She storms over to her daughter. Ivy looks at Logan with a worried expression.

“I’m sorry mom, it was urgent,” Ivy pleads.

“Urgent enough for you to not even let your mom know? You know what could’ve happened to you out here alone at this time of night?”

Ivy looks down in embarrassment. Everyone in the entire diner is watching the scene play out. It’s not every day that the mayor comes in and starts yelling at her daughter. Ivy’s mom focuses her attention at Logan who suddenly seems to have shrunk in his seat.

“And you, young man, you should know better than to even ask my daughter to come out at this time of night,” she says

“How’d you know he even asked me? How’d you know it wasn’t my idea?” Ivy intervenes.

“Well, was it?” Ivy’s mom huffs.

Ivy shakes her head no, slowly. And then her mom starts tugging her towards the door to leave.

“And shave that dirt off your lip too if you want to be seen in public with my daughter!” the mayor announces at Logan over her shoulder.

Logan absently rubs his little mustache just as Ivy and her mom leave.

The mayor drags her daughter down the street by her arm.

“Damn it, Ivy! I don’t even want to know what you were doing there. I just want an apology!”

“Sorry.” Lauren lets go of Ivy’s arm slowly and waits a second in silence.

“But it would be nice if you at least had one good reason.” The mom huffs. Ivy pauses.

“Well, I don’t, Lauren… I don’t.” She sighs.

“Either way, I never want to see you doing that again.” They’ve turned the corner now and are approaching their house again.

“I don’t know if you’ll have to,” Ivy whispers.

Lauren glances at her daughter but says nothing, she just digs in her pocket and retrieves her keys. Then she opens the door with the keys and steps into the house. The light is still on, the shoes next to the door are strewn around obviously because Lauren left in a rush. Hair rollers are in a little pile on the dining room table and a robe is hanging over a chair.

“The things I do for you Ivy, the things I do… ” Lauren says to herself and then slowly walks up the stairs. Leaving a tired-looking Ivy standing in front of the door. Ivy turns around to close the door but sees a dark figure rushing behind her house to the left when she does.

“What?” Ivy says, startled.

She rushes out the door and turns on her lawn to get a better look around to the back of her house. She sees nothing but the small downwards hill of a backyard behind her house. Yet, she still squints her eyes and cranes her neck to stare into the darkness. After a long moment, she gives up and walks back into the house. Shutting the door behind her and locking it. After slipping off her shoes, she walks upstairs and goes into her bedroom. Not even caring that she never even changed out of her now dirty pajamas, she hops into the bed and pulls the covers all the way up to her chin. She stares at the ceiling for a while. It’s then that she hears someone ring on her doorbell downstairs. She makes to get out of bed until she hears her mother opening and closing her bedroom door in the next room. She hears the sounds of footsteps shuffling down the stairs and her mother opening the door. The conversation is heard in muffled tones from downstairs.

“Hello. And just who are you?” Lauren says.

A man’s voice is heard.

“Greetings, my name is José and I have a few questions for you.”

Ivy’s eyes widen in her bed.

Scene Out

Bad American Food

There was once a diner on the highway. It was small and dinky, but charming in that old time sense. It invoked a 50’s style aesthetic, with a shiny metallic roof and dim neon signs announcing to the world that it is, in fact, open. The food was bad, no doubt about it. But the people were nice, and the music wasn’t too intrusive, and anyway no one would stay here for very long. After all, it was on the highway. The owner, Johnny Smith, would always say he was gonna start up a new place, up on the 88. He never did though. Barely had enough to scrap this place together, he’d always reasoned.

There once was a Chinese restaurant, in a city far away from the highway. It was never successful, but it made enough to stay afloat. With a red awning covered with yellow Chinese characters, and English ones underneath, it did little to separate itself from anyone else in Chinatown. The food wasn’t particularly special here either, but no one could really tell. After all, did Americans really understand Chinese food? It was named Wang’s, but the owner was named Luo Jinping. He’d always say that a Chinese restaurant needed to be pronounceable by Americans to be successful. Some days, he would look across the street from his home above the restaurant and gaze out at the masses of people crowding the sidewalk, and he’d pray that at least one of them would find him.

There was once a pizza place, deep in suburbia. It was called “Empire Pizza,” and its gimmick was that it was vaguely modeled after the Empire State Building. Inside were all sorts of New York inspired props and scenery. The kids loved it. Day after day they poured in, ordering pizza, ice cream, pasta, meatballs, and Empire’s signature “Deluxe 5th Avenue Sundae Supreme.” The food itself was, of course, nothing to write home about. Parents only came here because how else would they get their kids to shut up about it? The owner, Jim Evans, liked to greet customers on weekends. Every time he saw a parent and their children walk in, he felt a little pang of regret in his heart.

There once was a wildly successful fast food chain, which sold overcooked burgers and obscenely salty French fries. They were called Sally’s Fries, and their mascot was a little blond girl holding a spatula. Sally was the founder’s daughter. Allegedly, she had made those very first fries all on her own, and her daddy made a business out of selling them. Of course, Sally never did make those fries, and she always resented her father for making her into a marketing tool. Though she objected countless times, her face eventually became a very lucrative one. Her father always regretted estranging her, but hey, at least he made some money off of it.

I was once very hungry, so I searched for restaurants on Google Maps. On the highway was a small diner, in the city was a Chinese place, in the suburbs was a pizzeria, and in two places near me was a fast food outlet.

But they all were below four stars, so I passed and opened Seamless instead.

Secrets That Lie Beyond the Front Door

Chapter One

“Looks can be deceiving.”

I wipe my eyes as I close the door behind me. Walking down this uneven dirt road brings back memories of when she used to skip down a sunny road with the cherubic face of a child wedged in her arms. As I keep walking towards the yellow school bus, I think about the time when I refused to go on the bus without my mother right by my side. As I walk on the bus, the whispering automatically stops. I hear kids making fun of my clothing. The hand-me-downs I wear still smell of her perfume, Chanel Coco Mademoiselle. So many years later and these are the kind of memories that still haunt me. I don’t dare say a word to the “popular kids,” so I won’t end up on the floor of the schoolyard. Not that it would be any different from the floor in my bedroom.

It all started ten years ago, on Friday the thirteenth, the afternoon my mother died. I was eight years old when I heard the gunshots that caused my mother to lay on her deathbed. My “dad” wouldn’t even speak to me for the next week. When I asked him where to put all of mom’s clothes, he threw the glass he was drinking from at the wall nearest to my head. Even to this day, if I say the name Dana, he flinches.

This morning, I was sitting on the white plush chair in my room asking my dad if I could wear mom’s dress for my eighteenth birthday. He slid the chair from under me which made me land on the somewhat fluffy rug. The next thing I knew, I had a black and blue mark on my forehead when I heard the school bus halt to a stop.

Eventually, lunchtime came, and I texted Syd and told her to come to the library (our daily meeting spot). I opened my pale purple JanSport backpack and took out my book. As I was opening to page 134, Syd walked in saying, “How surprising, Laila has her head stuck in a book.”

“Shhhhh. I am in the middle of someone getting saved from drowning.”

I took out my PB&J from my sparkly purple, black, and blue lunch bag. As she sat down, she pulled out a white and blue striped box saying happy birthday in pink letters.

“Thanks,” I said, as I pushed the gift box to the side to make more room for my book.

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

“In a second. The girl just got saved by her prince charming (cliche), but she is still unconscious.”

“Still waiting.”


As I was opening the gift, I saw black and rose gold pieces of clothing peek out of the box. First, I took out two rose gold rompers with the shoulders cut out. Then, I took out a black dress with a halter at the top.

”I wanted to ask you what happened to your forehead.”

“Oh, that. Um, I was hit with a softball… ”

“You don’t even play softball.”

“You know… um… the bus gets crazy sometimes.”

Okayyy. Anyways, I wanted to take you to a movie for your birthday.”

“Sure. What time?”

“Five sharp. I’ll meet you outside the AMC on 109th street. Okay?”

“See you then.”

The bell rings…

In break, on the phone.

“Hey, Dad. I’m going to study in the library after school.”

“You need to be home by eight and no later, or you’re going to regret it.”

“K. Bye.”

Hangs up the phone…

I’m not going to get caught. It’s fine. I’m totally fine.

After school…

“Hey. Do you want to eat something quick before the movie?”

“Sure. We have a lot of time on our hands.”

“What? Why?”

“I forgot to buy the second ticket. Then, the tickets sold out. So… now we are going at 7:30 instead of 6.”

“Okay. I don’t think that’s a problem.”

A few hours later…

“So what movie are we going to see”

“It’s called, Life Is Like Riding a Bike on Fire.

“What is it about?”

“It’s about this girl that has this crush, and he doesn’t treat her right, so she breaks up with him. Kind of a cliche, but I heard it’s good. Let’s go in. It’s going to start any minute.”

Entering the room…

“Oh my gosh. WHO IS THAT.”


“The guy next to my seat.”

“Oh. That’s Michael from our school. He’s in our grade. He’s just not in any of our classes. He’s one of my brother’s best friends. He’s like a brother to me.”

We sit down…

“Hey, I’m Laila.”

“I’m Michael. I’ve seen you around school.”

“So… did you come here with anyone.”

“No. My friends ditched me. Hey, Squid.”

“Haha. Very funny, Michelle.”

I almost forgot that Syd was next to me. It was like it was just me and him in this moment.

“Ahem. Look I know you guys are vibing, but I’m here too.”

I didn’t even hear Syd. I was just focused on his perfectly shaped, tan face. His deep blue eyes pierced into my skull. Is it bad that I was just staring at his lips. Oh my gosh. I totally forgot I was supposed to be at home right now. Have you ever felt like your heart was melting all because of someone’s gaze.

“I could kiss him right now.”

Oh my gosh. I said that out loud to his face. I just got to keep my cool. I can tell he likes confidence. All he did was smirk. He knew I said that by accident.

“I have to go now. Maybe I’ll see you later.”

I was liking this new confidence of mine. Maybe a new wardrobe would suit this new attitude. After all, I did have enough money from the job I worked at in the mall.

“Come on, Syd. Let’s go.”

I gave Michael a shy smile to go.

“Hey. I need to tell you something,” said Syd.


“Please stop crushing on Michael. He’ll just break your heart, and he’s like a brother to me, so it’s really weird. K?

“I’ll try.”

“Is that a promise.”


The Case of the Missing Gem

This piece is inspired by the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Conan Arthur Doyle

Chapter One

One day, Sherlock Jr. (Lock) got a text from Watson Jr. (Watts) telling him to come 31st Avenue. Lock rushed out and called a cab. When the cab arrived, Lock told the driver his address, and the cab sped off. When he arrived, Watts told him that the British Museum in London was robbed from the biggest diamond in the world.

The security guards recognized the detectives and waved them over. They walked over and asked the guards, “When did this happen?”

The security told them that it happened this morning. Lock asked the guards if he could go to the room where the diamond was held to do some investigating. When they got to the room, the glass cap that was previously covering the diamond was on the floor, and the diamond was gone. The room was cold but bright, and there were some windows. Watts and Lock looked around the room for fingerprints and clues. There was no one else in the room except for some guards. They found there was a green hat in the corner of the room with the letter M on it. Lock instantly knew that this hat belonged to Moriarty, Sherlock’s (Lock’s dad’s) enemy and also London’s most wanted criminal. He must have left it behind when he was escaping. They came out of the room and told the guards what Lock had found. Then, they walked out to continue their search.

They wanted to track down Moriarty to find the diamond and figure out what he was planning to do with it.

Chapter Two

Lock and Watts walked around the big museum building, looking for ways Moriarty could have escaped without being noticed. They looked around for two hours, but they found nothing. Every corner of the building was clueless.

“He must be one of the world’s greatest criminals to get away like that,” said Lock. “No wonder Dad had so much trouble catching him.”

“Moriarty could have jumped out of a window and ziplined across to some other building.”

After their discussion, Lock and Watts went to a nice cafe where they could get some coffee and discuss the case.

Chapter Three

After their coffee, the detectives went home to get some sleep. The next day, Lock and Watts went out to the nearby buildings to see if Moriarty had ziplined in and out of the museum building. The first building they checked had no signs of Moriarty, but the second house had a broken window which the criminal must have done. The detectives asked the house owners about the broken window, and they said it was not there two days ago, which is when the robbery had happened. Lock looked around and found a piece of some wire under the windowsill with the name 23rd Street Wire Company. Finding this, Lock showed it to Watts. The detectives said thank you to the house owners and walked out.

Chapter Four

The detectives headed towards 23rd Street on their motorcycles to investigate the building. From their past cases, the criminals always used the building of a company of something they’re using or wearing. When they got to the big brown building, it was as dark as night. They looked through the windows. They saw part of a big room where they expected the wire was made, and there was no one there. They entered the building. It was cold and dark. They walked through the hallway and looked through into every room. They got to the stairwell and walked up to the second floor and saw a light.

Chapter Five

The detectives walked towards the bright light. They snuck up to the corner to get a glimpse of who or what was there. At a large, brown, wooden desk sat a fat man with the same hat they found at the museum.

“This guy must be Moriarty. Quick, let’s get out of here before he notices,” Lock whispered to Watts.

“Yeah, we’ll notify the police too,” Watts answered. Suddenly, the man on the desk got up and walked towards them. The detectives ran towards the stairs.

Chapter Six

Dashing down the stairs onto the ground floor, Moriarty was gaining up on them. Luckily, the detectives got onto their motorcycles, and they got away. They rode towards the police station.

When they got to the police station, the detectives told the police to hurry up and follow them before Moriarty could get away. They sped off with five police cars following. Lock told them to circle the building and hide until Moriarty would come out. The detectives waited outside with the police. They waited for one long, cold winter hour.

Chapter Seven

Everyone was starting to fall asleep standing against their cars and motorcycles, when suddenly they heard a scuffling noise. The detectives rose to their feet where they could see the same fat man was walking out with that green M hat. The detectives gestured to the police to wait until he was closer, so they could capture him without him running away. They waited a minute or two. Moriarty started walking their direction. Watts whispered to Lock that the diamond he stole might be in his green backpack.

When the criminal got closer, the police officer said through his blow horn, “Police. Stand still. Don’t move.”

The criminal tried running the other direction when two more police cars came in and circled him. Finally, Moriarty dropped his bag and put his hands up. The officer walked up to him and put handcuffs on his hands. In several minutes, they were cruising down the street towards the police station.

Lock said cheerfully, “Another case well solved.”

The next morning, Moriarty was sent to court.

“Why did you steal the diamond?” asked the judge.

“I wanted to become a better person and sell it to some rich guy and give the money to charity,” answered Moriarty. “But if you want, you could put me in jail. I was just trying to make the world a better place.”

“Okay, I believe you, but you will still go to jail for a year, and if we catch you doing something wrong, you will go to jail for the rest of your life.”

The end

After one year in jail, Moriarty became a really nice and good person and donated a lot of money to charity.

The detectives continued solving mysteries.

The actual end.

A Mother Knows Best

“What about George National High School?” asked my mom. I immediately felt my chest tighten. You had to take an admissions test and have a perfect GPA to get into George National High School. And I didn’t have the best GPA. It had its flaws, but I knew very well that I couldn’t disagree with my mother, so I had to put George National High School as one of my options. “Love, why don’t you say what you think about it? I’m just suggesting a school.”

“I don’t want to go to that school, but I don’t know why I would say that because you never take into consideration anything that I say,” I answered.

Mother ignored me and kept flipping through the big, fat book that named all the high schools that my social studies teacher gave me at the beginning of the eighth grade year. I left Mom alone in the living room and headed to my bedroom. I grabbed my laptop from my nightstand and opened it to the application page. The application started in two days, so I still had time to pick the last two schools that I needed for the list, without Mother’s “suggestions” or “recommendations.” Mother had other visions for my future: she wanted me to go to a boarding school or a private school, then have a career that was in the science or medical field. I, on the other hand, had plans to go to a good high school that was in the city and then… just let fate make my choice. Of course, I couldn’t tell this to my mother. She would argue with me and say she knew what was best for my future. But that fact was counterfeit. How could she know what was best when I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with my future?

“Dalilia?” asked Mother. I immediately closed my laptop and opened up the nearest book. “Where are you?”

“Ma, I’m in my room,” I yelled back. A few minutes later, my mother entered my room with a cup of milk and tea in her hand.

“Would you look at that… you’re back to reading,” said Mother.

“What do you mean? I always read.”

“Yeah, but you are doing it because you want to, not because I told you to… ”

“Alright… ”Another lie, but I didn’t want to argue with her. Mother had seen me read in the cafe right next to my school many times before. I kept reading while my mom placed the milk and tea on my nightstand, on top of my history notebook. Right on top of it. I felt like she forgot that tea is liquid, and the notebook had my notes for my history final.

“So, what are you reading?” she asked, tentatively.

Call Me By Your Name by — ”

“Andre Aciman,” she finished.

“Yup, that’s the one… ”

“Dalilia, you are always reading that book! Try being more diverse… ”

“I really like the book — ” I stopped myself before my mother could give me the death stare. “I will, Ma. Do you have any recommendations?”

“Try Milk and Honey,” she responded, then left my bedroom. That conversation was so unnecessary, but now I had a book recommendation. I went back to the application website and saw that some high schools allowed you to apply early. I looked at the screen and contemplated the choice I was about to make. I had always been a good child and taken my mother’s recommendations, but now something was making me rebel against my mother. I trembled as I clicked the blue apply button next to my top four choices and then watched the computer load and accept my selections. I immediately felt a wave of catharsis and sent a text informing my counselor.

Dalilia, you know your first choice was Dule Jet High School, right? she texted back.

I told her yes and the reason why I picked the school (for the puppy shelter after school program). She then sent me a picture of the school’s graduation percentage rate and the safety rate. Only 34 percent of the students had graduated in four years, and only six percent of the students felt safe in the school. This meant that the high school’s seats were not filled, and I suddenly experienced a rush of stress as I realized that it was official: I would definitely be going to this school. I threw my head face-down onto the pillow and screamed into it: College was never going to happen now. My counselor called me right in the middle of my breakdown.

“Dalilia, you might not get into the high school, maybe… ” she said. It was clear that she was trying to find a scenario in which I wouldn’t be accepted into the school, and it was also clear that she couldn’t find one. A huge sob came out of my mouth. “W-Wait, um. You could always apply to a boarding school or a private school. I believe you are smart enough to get into one… ”

I stopped crying for a good second. If I did apply for a boarding or private school, then I would have to tell my mom that I needed to take a test to be accepted. A test that I hadn’t studied for because I didn’t have time, and I’d wanted to rebel and — and — and… I broke down again.

“Ms. Sar, I’m going to have to tell my mom,” I said, between sobs. Ms. Sar stayed quiet as she listened to me weep.

“Our mothers tell us what to do for a reason, Dalilia. It’s because at the end of the day, they want us to become someone who is respected and valued. Even if your mom annoys you and punishes you, she does this so that you won’t make mistakes that affect you in the future. A mother knows best, so right now you should go talk to her about this. It’s not good to be keeping lies from her.”

I thanked Ms. Sar and hung up. I headed to the bathroom, washed my face, and dried it. Knowing my mother, she would punish me or maybe even scream at me, but you couldn’t always assume the worst. I headed downstairs and found my mother sitting on the kitchen island on her laptop. She had her glasses on and her favorite coffee mug that I gave her for her work promotion gift. I sat next to my mother and took a deep sigh.

“Ma — ”

“I know, you don’t need to tell me.”

“Wait, what? You know about the high school — ”

“Yup, I keep tabs on your computer and your phone and your Netflix account.” Yeah, talk about privacy. “And I’m proud of you for being honest and coming to me to tell me about your naive choice.” Mother’s eyes were still on the laptop screen, and surprisingly she was being very nonchalant about this whole situation. I stayed quiet while she kept typing on her laptop.

“I plan on applying to a boarding school,” I quietly added. Mother had no reactions and kept typing on her laptop. A few seconds later, she stopped and took a sip of her coffee, then looked at her laptop again.

“Dalilia, I feel like you’re mature enough to make your own choices about your next steps, but right now I’m thinking about sending you to the church school that your uncle has recommended since you were in fourth grade,” Mother responded. I opened my mouth, but she kept on talking. “Don’t answer me right now. Why don’t you go and think about it — go outside and get some fresh air or something.” I really needed it, so I didn’t bother to argue with her.

As soon as I stepped outside, the smell of my neighbor’s Smeraldo flowers hit me. I hadn’t been outside for so long that I’d forgotten about the Smeraldo flower and the placid winds that made the chimes on my window move and tinkle. I remembered my neighbor telling me that the meaning of this flower was, “the truth untold.” Fun facts, huh. My mother coughed and interrupted my contemplative moment. I came rushing back to reality and thought of my mom, the woman who I respected most. I admired her yet abhorred her for making me abhor myself. I admired the fact that someone could be powerful enough to make someone else hate themselves: a power of hers that I both hated and revered.

I texted my Aunt Pam who was like another mother to me, but I never told this to my mom because I knew she would get jealous. Aunt Pam was in her 20’s and had her hair cut short last November because she strongly believed at the time that women who cut their hair wanted to change their life. She was still stuck in the 90s, since she wore mom jeans and a wide shirt with a finishing touch of a dark red matte lipstick. Personally, I loved this aesthetic look unlike my mother who thought that Aunt Pam needed to “wake up.”

Aunt Pam texted back, inviting me over since she heard about my choice. In the family, when you did something wrong, all your family members know about it, no matter where they were. I could call a family member who lived overseas, and they would know about my choice too. I headed over to Aunt’s Pam house, a couple blocks away. As soon as I entered her house, the smell of cinnamon rolls hit me, which brought memories of when I stayed over at hers when Mother was away.

“Oof — ” I said as I body tossed myself onto the couch. “I hope I don’t get food poisoning, don’t need any more problems.” Aunt Pam came out of nowhere, sat next to me, and kissed my forehead.

“Ha, you know you want them, but I don’t plan on giving them to you until you tell me what’s up,” she responded. I let out a stressed sigh as my response.

“I know that Ma is surely applying for the nearby boarding school, even though she said that I should go to that obtuse school all the way in Boston with a Nun. So, I guess that at the end of the day, she does design my future… ” The house was quiet, making it feel like even Aunt Pam was experiencing the same epiphany I was going through.

“That how it goes, boo. Your mother kept you in her stomach for nine months and had to grow through vomiting, urination, and other worse things — just to bring you into this world. She knows you the best, even though you claim to not know yourself… ” Aunt Pam stood up and headed back into the kitchen.

“So, Boston it is,” I responded. Aunt Pam nodded. That is how I made my decision. I didn’t have to think about it —


“Wait — so you made a choice to come here in a matter of seconds?

Dalilia nods and pats her roommate’s head. The roommate is a freshman and comes into the room, complaining that she could have thought twice before picking a horrible high school that her mother didn’t allow. It was sort of similar to Dalilia’s story, so she sat down at 5 am on a school night and told her freshman roommate the story as a way to console her. Plus, Dalilia also thought it was a great icebreaker.

“Well, I’m going to sleep,” said Dalilia. The freshman pouts and has a tiny tantrum. After the tantrum is over, the room stays silent. So silent that you can hear the birds talking to each other and the leaves fighting each other and if the sun could make a sound, you would hear it too. The freshman looks at her hands and lets out a tinkling giggle. “Hm?”

“By the way, how do you remember the story so vividly?”

Dalilia laughs and thinks for a moment. “Some things are just so important that it’s impossible to forget them.”

People say that they created mothers because God couldn’t be everywhere, but Dalilia didn’t believe this. However, that doesn’t mean that she forgot about it. Dalilia had finally decided to come to her senses when she graduated high school with honors in all classes and got into one of the best colleges in the country, thanks to her mother’s screaming when Dalilia wanted to give up, the tight hugs when girls were being rude, and the inspirational texts in the middle of the day. Since then, Dalilia figured out that she would always need her mother — no matter what age she was, no matter how mad she was at her.

The End