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The

Writers’ Block Anderson High School

An eclectic collection of original creative writings from the students of Anderson High School


The Writers’ Block

2013-2014

The 2013 – 2014 Writers’ Block Anderson High School

Dear Reader, Writing is such a complicated, messy process. After all, we’re not born knowing how to fashion a fantastic phrase, manipulate a magical metaphor, or sling a sublime simile. (Or use alliteration.) Surely you’ve noticed how so few toddlers win Pulitzers or appear on the New York Times’ Best Sellers list? Even among highly talented and moderately well-trained writers such as the adolescents in my classes, ideas are rarely birthed onto paper sounding as mellifluous as a symphony. More often, they emerge as awkwardly as a placenta-covered baby giraffe. And they take a great deal of nurturing— and sometimes basic sanitation—to turn them into the graceful, majestic writings they are capable of becoming. The pieces you are about to read have definitely grown up and begun to sing and soar—or at least circumambulate. It constantly amazes me how the students you’ll read in this magazine can produce such engaging works when it seems they’re almost never working. But perhaps that’s the beauty of the writing process: at its best, it’s a farraginous mixture of painstaking work, excited energy, stress-inducing self-doubt, and inspired play. Here, then, are the concoctions that my Anderson students have made from that mixture; I am so happy to present them to you, dear reader. Please note that this is a high school publication intended for young adults and adults, so some of the word choices, themes, and imagery may not be suitable for younger readers. I’d recommend using some discretion in sharing the contents of our magazine with impressionable young’uns. Thanks to those who have supported and made this collection possible: Jennifer Cabiya, Abby Sledge, Leah Krumholz, and Jack Cloudt; Anderson’s ever-supportive principal, Donna Houser; all the teachers of the Anderson English Department; Crissie Ballard; all Creative Writing students past and present; and many others. Thanks also to you, dear reader, for supporting the efforts of the creative and talented students featured here.

Jason Farr Creative Writing Teacher Anderson High School 8403 Mesa Dr. Austin, TX 78759 jfarr@austinisd.org

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Table of Contents Author Sierra Whitman

Title Creativity

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Sadie Gillespie

Dragon Fire

4

Maddie Chambers

Voodoo Shoes

7

Abigail Anderson

Photograph

10

Leah Krumholz

His Answer

15

Jack Cloudt

Deep Mist

17

Bridgette Douglas

Light

19

Zoe Colaluca

Te Amo: A Poem About True Love

20

Alisha Jones

Together Forever

21

Conner Martin

30 Undeniable Facts From the Edge of the Universe I Bet You Wish You Knew

23

Josh Player

The Angels of the Backwoods

24

Richard Culleton

Another Day at the Office

27

Jay Reed

Father

29

Heather Reed

Step

31

Callie Rocha

Nuisance

33

Sam Rogers

Bright Stars and Attempted Suicide

35

Lexi Romero

My Star

37

Abby Sledge

The Victory Storm

40

Dylan Weaver

The Memoirs of a Time Traveler

45

Kennedy Ketcham

Deep Cut

46

Kathryn Tu

Reality Vs. Fiction

47

Holly Amberboy

Full

48

Alex Anderson

I Did Not Learn a Thing

49

Elin Burgess

A Trip to the Museum

51

Helen Chun

Friends

54

April Blackburn

I Can Dig It

55

Quan Cheaves

I’m Sorry

56

Victoria Brandt

Technical Difficulties

57

Natalee Dunn

Snowflakes

59

Jakoba Forster

Changing Your Fate Is Not As Easy As You Think

59

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A. J. Gonzales

Child In The Sky

62

Michi Heckler

Fixing Dysfunction

63

Bryce Maverick

Darkest Bright

63

Olivia Holder

School of Ghosts (excerpt)

64

Katie Rodriguez

Caloma

64

Madeline Sands

Young Love

68

Felix Schattmann

Shot

69

Jordan Siebert

Letterman

69

Casey Thorsen

The Old Field

72

Catherine Trevino

Prince of the Apes

73

Kayla Williams

Ten-Word Poems

74

Amanda Yager

A Simple Brownie Bite

75

Nayla Zylberberg

How I Write Poetry

75

Joey Huddleston

The Heist

76

May Buzzetti

“Electric” by Urban Decay

81

Juliana Cohen

Will (excerpt)

81

Theresa Foster

The Black Moon Battle

82

Wyatt Weber

In the Crypt

86

Sebastian Benavides

The Door (excerpt)

89

Jennifer Cabiya

Zombies and the Antichrist

89

Let’s Begin…

Creativity By Sierra Whitman Staring at a blank page for hours at a time Pen poised, ink bleeding into the paper Staring into the face of creativity Reaching out for the idea And coming up with…

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Dragon Fire By Sadie Gillespie Screeches, in a range almost too high to hear, split the black night. She ran through the dark village, illuminated only by the flames that blazed and crackled around her. She couldn’t hear; her heart pounded in her ears, and her harsh breathing was drowned out by the roaring of both the dragons, and the dragon fire that consumed the trees and houses. She had been dragged from her bed by the harsh sounds of the dragon bells, mixed in with the ear-splitting cries of the dragons. Dressed already, but not prepared for a raid, Moda deftly laced up her dragon-skin boots as she reviewed in her head the quickest path to the armory. The hut she lived in was the largest in the village, but unfortunately on the outskirts. The village was small, though, and Moda was used to running the length of it from building to building. She was halfway to the armory when she heard someone calling her name. “Moda!” She didn’t recognize the voice, so she kept running. “Moda!” the voice called again. Definitely not her father. Her father never called her anything but Asmoda. Why was she thinking about that now? She upped her pace. “Moda, Thor’s hammer, slow down!” Footsteps sounded, and Meldun appeared in her peripheral. “Moda you’re going the wrong way, dragons are that way.” “You go on, Mel. I need a weapon.” He shoved a double-bladed axe in her hand. “Here. Follow me.” They ran side by side towards the roaring of the dragon fires. As they neared the scene, they heard raspy battle cries of their fellow Viking warriors. The sounds of the battle filled her ears, each different noise blending into the next; swirling around her until it seemed as though the noises wouldn’t stop until her ears burst. She put her back to a scorched stone wall, resting, finding her calm. Moda slowed her breathing, relaxed her muscles, and tuned out every noise but the sound of her own heartbeat. With a fierce scream, she hurled her body towards the nearest firebreathing monster, swinging her axe down and burying it in the thick, scale-covered muscular flank. The dragon threw its head into the air, releasing a cry of pain she couldn’t hear, and turned its glaring eyes on her. The scales around its snout were glowing white-hot like

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embers, reflecting the burning hate in its eyes. Moda stood her ground, tuning all her core muscles to the leap that would take her straight towards the dragon’s face. In the split second that she left the ground, all sounds came rushing back to her; someone was screaming her name. Her full name. It was her father, and there was terror in his guttural voice. Her shadow appeared on the dragon in front of her as a great orange light billowed up from behind. She turned in midair, craning over her shoulder to look at the giant, scaled, blueblack beast that loomed over her, crouched on the wall where she had just sought solace. White flames poured from the creature’s mouth like a water geyser, pooling towards her like smoke almost in slow motion. Time started back up again, and all her training was forgotten. She tumbled through the air, scrabbling for purchase in the dry smoky night, but the flames enveloped her before she hit the ground. Her world became hot and dry, not at all like the cool, humid air that usually filled the island. The flames licked at her skin, caressing, feeling, exploring her body. And then, as soon as it had come, the heat was gone. There was no more feeling, no sound. Gone was the white light of her burning flesh. Now there was nothing. “Do you think she’ll ever wake up?” “Bite your tongue! Not in front of the chief!” “He hasna responded to anyone in days. I dinna think he can hear us.” White light shone behind Asmoda’s eyelids, not unlike the light from the fire. It was warm, wherever she was. No. She couldn’t still be in those flames. She thought it was over! She broke the crusty seal on her eyes and opened them, flinging herself out of the warmth that held her. She landed in a heap on the dirt floor of her section of the one-room house. On her hands and knees, she lifted her head to look around her. She was surrounded by the shocked white faces of the nurses from her village and…her father. “Asmoda…” he whispered the word like the end of a prayer. He was her father, but he looked…old. Somehow, her immortal father, chief of the clan of Drummond Buchlyrie, had withered; his flaming red beard had turned orange with grey, and his fierce brown eyes had drooped, as if the weight of too many nights by her bedside had pulled the skin around them too far down, stretching them until they would not spring back. Asmoda couldn’t figure out why she was unable to stand. She was there on the ground, on her hands and knees like a fool in front of her father and the nurses, yet she could not force herself to put her feet underneath her. Her father came back to himself, and he scooped her up deftly in his arms. That had not changed, she knew; he was still the strongest, most graceful warrior in the village. He slid her back into the bed she had sprung out of and quickly flipped the covers over her lower body, as if protecting her from something. “Father,” she began, “how long have I slept?” “Asmoda,” he said again, “Asmoda you have slept many moons. You…Asmoda, you must stay in bed. You must rest. I know it may be hard for you, my warrior-daughter, but you canna get out of this bed.” “Father, I feel fine! You canna keep me in this bed forever!” She scrambled to the opposite side of the bed and swung her legs over the edge. She put her feet on the ground—and

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gasped. She was barefoot, and the toes of her right foot tickled the ground. But her left leg wouldn’t reach; it stopped below her kneecap. “What…?” “Moda.” It was her father, a bare whisper in the back of her mind. “Moda, I’m so sorry.” “You called me Moda,” she said softly. In what seemed like one motion, her father stood, came to her side of the bed and dropped to his knees, sliding his thick arms around her. “Moda, I know—“ “I’ll never be able to fight again, will I?” She couldn’t tear her eyes from it. Everything was background noise to the twisted and crumpled pink flesh where her leg should have been. They say you can feel a phantom limb after you lose it, that when you aren’t looking, it feels like it’s still there. Moda thought that if she looked long enough at the empty space she could see the sinewy muscles that wrapped around her shin, and the dragon-skin boots that she rarely took off. “Never.” Her father inhaled a ragged breath, but she knew there was nothing anyone could say that she wanted to hear. She pulled herself out of his arms and curled up on her mattress. “Asmoda, please…” When she didn’t look up, her father slid the blankets over her lower body. She heard the wooden frame creak as he stood, and the next time she lifted her head to look around, she was alone. Moda didn’t know how much time had passed since she had woken up. Nurses occasionally passed through the room to leave food, tell her that she needed to eat something, or to take away the untouched plates. But other than that, no one came in, and she didn’t go out. At some point, she awoke—she didn’t know if it was morning or night—to the sound of clanging bells. Dragon bells. For a moment, she froze, and then curled in tighter on herself. The bells didn’t call her anymore. Five minutes went by of Moda listening to the rest of the village rushing to meet the dragon attack, when the door creaked open to reveal Meldun. He looked like he always did: sarcastic smile on his face and a weapon in his hand. He sauntered over to the bed she lay on and dumped a dragon-skin parcel on the bed next to her. “No one has seen you for over a fortnight. Don’t you think it’s time you come and play with the rest of us?” Moda glared up at him, and then pointedly looked away, but he was not to be discouraged. “Surely you can lend a hand! I know you’ve still got both of those, hmm?” “Go away, Mel. You know I can’t fight.” “Yes, yes, it’s clear as day that you’ve given up. Are you just gonna lay in that dirty old bed until death takes you? Know that if your answer is yes, it’ll come sooner than you think.” He paused. “Meaning I’ll kill you myself.” “I understood, Mel, thanks for clarifying.” She gave him her fiercest glare. “See? I knew you still had some fight in you.” He flashed a wicked grin and looked around, as though afraid that someone was going to come in and catch them. “Well, some of us have dragons to battle. Find me.” Moda spluttered with anger. “Find you?” But he was gone. She gaped at the door for a solid minute before her curiosity got the better of her and she picked up the parcel he had left. She ran her hands over the dragon skin. The scales had been removed for other things, but the skin left behind was iridescent and smooth, baked soft but tough by years of holding rumbling

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dragon fire. She pulled the strings open to reveal pages of parchment covered in diagrams. Her mouth fell open and a soft whoosh of air escaped; she didn’t dare to hope. Hours later she was still in the small roofless hut that served as the blacksmith’s and the armory. Drenched in sweat and breathing hard, she sat down on the ground. Her left underarm ached from leaning on a makeshift crutch. Everyone in the village was required to have some small amount of training in the forge, but nowhere near enough to even attempt what she had just done. She didn’t even know if it would work. With the giant tongs, she pulled her creation from the coals and dipped it into the water bucked with a loud hsssssssssss! When the hissing stopped, she pulled it towards her and slid it onto the stump of her leg, roping its straps around her thigh. With a grunt, she pulled herself to her feet. As she stared down at the steel club that ended her leg, a slow grin spread across her face. Time for battle.

Voodoo Shoes By Maddie Chambers “I feel like you think you think you’re funny… And I want you to know, you’re not,” I informed her. “How terribly thoughtful.” “No problem. I mean, what are sisters for?” I sniggered. “If only I could be as funny as you.” She sighed, “or…well, at least as funny as your face,” she giggled. Well, I say giggled. The tone of her laugh matched her insult. “Ouch. This is just becoming cruel and unusual!” “Well, I just want you to know…” she said. “Hey!” I jokingly shoved her, and realized immediately it wasn’t exactly the best idea. “Shit! Not the driver!” The car swerved. Mainly on purpose and for dramatic flair, of course—we both knew I didn’t actually hit her hard enough to do anything. “Okay, but actually. Speaking of cruel and unusual, what was up with the whole computer stalking crap? I mean, that’s weird. And, they chose the worst program ever. It slowed my computer down so much I had to uninstall it…dumbasses,” I complained. Our parents should’ve realized I was much more tech savvy than them, and at least found a more subtle way to say ‘hey, we don’t trust you about most things.’ Or you know, they could have at least made it a family thing and tried to stalk my siblings’ computers too. At least then my siblings and I would be able to bitch about them “as a family.”

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“I mean, it’s fair enough.” She shrugged. “If you live under their roof, you should go with their rules. It’s disrespectful not to,” she said, while staring firmly at the road. I stared past the lights that flashed by, and tried to see into the darkness. I didn’t quite know why she didn’t understand. Talking to her sort of reminded me of drowning. You could try and reason with the water, you could try and explain yourself to it; but in the end, your opinion didn’t really matter. It was unforgiving and harsh and no matter how much you loved it, it could still kill you. “I am obligated, by law, to live with them. And last time I checked, secretly going through my phone and downloading spyware onto my computer is considered pretty disrespectful.” “Okay, I cannot believe you’re still bitter about that. That was ages ago.” “…The computer thing was three months ago.” “Whatever. It’s not like it’s a really big deal,” she muttered as she glanced over at me. “Yeah, to you. Because they only did it to my computer. And left yours alone.” “Well, you deleted it. You really need to get over it already.” “I need to get over the fact our parents don’t trust me for shit?” Annoyance crept over here features, and twisted her face into another person’s. “Yes. You do. Stop acting like you’re the victim here.” “Okay, if they did this to you, what would you do?” I asked. “I don’t have to deal with that. They trust me.” I felt like I was throwing my shoes at her face, screaming at her to wear them. To put them on, see how they fit, to walk around in them. But she kept saying that hers were more comfortable, so she’d just rather not. I didn’t think it was the best life policy for her to have. “Yeah, but what if they didn’t? If they didn’t trust you, and you didn’t know why, what would you do?” I stared at her, willing her to understand. To at least try. “Stop acting like it’s for no reason. You’re not trustworthy. Therefore, you don’t really deserve privacy anyway.” I tried to imagine that the annoyance was why she was being so impossible. I wanted to believe it was just annoyance, instead of ignorance. Instead of favoritism. I wanted to believe she didn’t mean it. I wanted to, but I didn’t. “Seriously? I, as a human being, don’t deserve privacy? Because I’m not trustworthy? What have I ever done?” It felt like a really weird, dark joke. I sort of wanted to leave a creepyass chucky doll in her room, just so she got the feeling. And I wanted her to learn what logic and empathy was. And stop being such a horrible person. However, I knew she wasn’t a horrible person, and excelled in both emotions already—but somehow, when it came to me, they were as absent as her mischievous side. “I don’t know. You go out and lie and party and drink...” “I don’t lie about where I am when I go out. And yeah, you have to drink in order to survive. Dehydration is a serious thing, mi amigo.” “You know what I mean.” “Because I have consumed alcohol a few times before, I don’t deserve privacy?” “Not exactly,” she said. “Okay. Do you believe that everybody deserves privacy, period?” “Yeah, of course. But it’s different when it’s you,” she said casually. “I want you to think about what you’re saying. You do know how screwed up what you’re saying is, right?”

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“It’s not messed up, it’s logic. They trust me because I don’t do anything I shouldn’t. And you do.” “You are literally using the same logic that was used to justify the Holocaust. It’s okay because it’s you.” “You’re being completely overdramatic. This isn’t the Holocaust.” “Okay, fair point. I was trying to be dramatic, though. Stop ruining my analogy,” I chided. I stared out toward the approaching house, and we drifted off into silence. I sent her a text later that night. Hey, come to the basement. – S. Okay? - M. The basement was blacked out, with voodoo props scattered about. Okay, yes, I realize that is ridiculously creepy, but this is New Orleans, and it’s the weirdest way I could figure out to get my point across. And, it allowed me to act absolutely crazy. Pretty much, it was a ridiculously fun idea. For me. Not as much for my sister—the whole idea revolved around freaking her out. Which, given her quite gullible nature, wouldn’t be entirely too difficult. A creak danced through the basement, and then I heard her walking down the stairs. She fumbled around and tried to switch on the light; but, of course, it didn’t work. Instead, many candles I had set around the room suddenly whooshed to life. “Why, hello,” I said with a dark smile. “What are you even doing?” “I thought it was time to introduce you to the darker side. Are you ready?” I started walking around her, the bottom of my black dress dragging as I poured dark sand around us in a circle. As I walked into the light, she gasped. “What did you…?” I grinned, and knew that my tribal makeup contorted to make it look even stranger. “That’s probably not what you should be asking,” I cooed as I finished the circle. I saw her eyes widen as I dragged a knife from my belt, and slashed it across my palm. I looked her straight in the eyes as I dropped to my knees and began scrawling symbols on the ground in my blood—well, what she thought was my blood. It was pretty dark, so she couldn’t tell I hadn’t really cut myself, and didn’t see the red ink I had rubbed on my hands before. “What…are you going to do?” “Switch us. Think hard, love. Do you want to be me?” I picked up a snake, and slowly cut down its belly as the blood ran down my arms (It wasn’t actually a live snake, and the blood was fake. Jeesh. I’m not actually mental). She stared, confusion clouding her features. And then the clouds passed. “Oh,” she said. I walked towards her, holding my hand out dramatically as I murmured in tongues. I swayed from side to side, and looked up at the sky as my eyes rolled back. I snapped back and stared at her as silence enveloped us. She stared back. I hissed, and the fire jumped up from the

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dark sand around us, then faded to a dark glow. I could see in her eyes that she believed me. Barely, but she did. I stepped out of my sandals, wrote a symbol on each, and then held them out. “Take it.” She looked at my hand, and the red symbol on my palm, then at the symbols on my shoes. “Walk in my shoes.” Then she looked up at me, and her face fell. “NO… No, I don’t want to be you, and they treat you differently, and I know it’s unfair; I just liked that they chose to be fair to me,” she cried out. “I’m so sorry.” I immediately dropped the façade. “It’s cool. Glad you get it,” I said with a goofy grin. I walked over and plugged in the lamp. Without the dark, it all looked much less impressive. I saw the fear leave her eyes, and defensiveness take its place. “And I’m only saying that because I thought about it before, not because this did anything for me. Clearly this was bullshit.” “Sure. Yeah, you definitely knew it was fake.” “I did…but, out of curiosity, how did you do the candle thing? And the blood? And what even is the black dust?” “I’ll tell you some of my secrets,” I laughed. “What are sisters for? But only a few. A magician never reveals all their tricks. Lunch?” “God, yes. Just say there won’t be any random voodoo going on.” “No promises. Besides, I think this voodoo priest look is really working for me.” She gave me a strange look. “I mean, I wouldn’t recommend it, but… I also wouldn’t recommend your normal face.” “Shut up!”

Photograph By Abigail Anderson Walter Grace had a system. At sixty-seven, he woke up every morning at exactly eight a.m., heaved his aging body from the comfort of the sheets and slowly made his bed. After taking a quick shower and brushing his dentures he would make his way down stairs. At seven thirty he took his vitamins and heart pills, swallowing each with a mouthful of black coffee, fed Percy, and made himself breakfast: an egg, a piece of toast, and two strips of bacon. After this he would read the newspaper, walk Percy around the cul-de-sac, and then make his way home to sit in front of his typewriter for hours and wait for inspiration. After giving up, he would watch television for a time, walk the dog once more as evening set in, make himself a simple dinner, then pull back the sheets on his perfectly made bed and settle in for another night’s sleep. This had been his life for longer than he cared to mention. This routine was what he liked, what he wanted. So when a knock on the door interrupted his morning of black coffee and heart pills, Walter Grace was more than a little perturbed. “Hold on,” he called, setting down his cup and lumbering to the door. “I’m coming, I’m coming.”

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He opened the front door, careful to keep the screen closed, and looked down into the face of a young woman. A girl with dark hair and familiar blue eyes gazed up at him. “Can I help you?” he grumbled, annoyed. “I’m not buying any cookies, kid.” “I’m not here to sell cookies.” The girl spoke carefully, with just a hint of a southern accent. “I’m looking for Walter Grace.” “Ok, you’ve got him. Make it quick, kid. My coffee is getting cold.” She glared at him; on her sweet face the expression looked strange. “I’m not a kid! I’m seventeen years old! And I drove all the way from Midnight, Mississippi, to find you, so you could at least let me inside!” “I don’t have time for this—” He began to shut the door. The girl pulled open the screen and thrust an arm in front of the door, just blocking it from closing with a heavy old book. “Wait! I read your book!” That made him stop. Sure enough, in her hands was the only book he’d managed publish under his own name: Our Last Summer. Walter opened the door a crack. “Let me get this straight,” he looked out at the determined teenager. “You drove halfway across the country for that old thing?” “Not exactly.” She reached into the backpack that was slung over her shoulder and pulled out two old of pieces of paper. “I came here for her.” Walter released his grip on the door, letting it slide back open as he gently took the photographs from the girl. They were both old polaroids, the first of two teenagers lying on the grass, laughing with their arms around each other. The second was of the same two teens, this time the boy wore a military uniform and the girl had tear stained cheeks. They were kissing as they stood in front of what looked like a bus, clutched in one last desperate embrace. “Who are you?” Walter glanced at her, recognizing the gleam in her pretty blue eyes. “My name is Georgia Montgomery; that woman in the pictures is my great aunt, June. And that boy? I drove from Midnight, Mississippi, to Oregon because I think that boy is you.” Walter pushed the screen open before he turned and headed back to the kitchen, when Georgia remained in the doorway he looked back and inclined his head. “Come on in, then.” Georgia Ann Montgomery sat awkwardly on the old wooden kitchen chair, crossing and uncrossing her legs while Walter grumbled beside the coffee maker. She wasn’t

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sure what to do with herself as the old man stared angrily into his coffee cup. “Cold,” he mumbled and tossed his coffee into the sink “I’ll have to make a new batch.” “Uh...” Georgia tried to begin, but with a sharp look from the grumpy old man, she fell silent. Suddenly, Georgia became unsure of whether or not this man could have at any point in what seemed like a fairly miserable life been the handsome and gentle man she had imagined Walter to be. When she had found the photo in the hope chest upstairs, she’d spent countless hours lying in her bed imagining what he’d be like. She pictured a kind man, with blue eyes that crinkled when he smiled and a blindingly white smile. He’d tell her of the love he shared with Aunt June, one that had been tragically split up by a vile war, his eyes would well up with just a hint of tears and he’d take her hands in his and smile, thanking her for this memory. “Well?” Walter asked gruffly. Georgia looked up, pulled from her daze by his brisk tone and icy gaze. Well, she’d at least been right about the eyes, the same shade as a robin’s egg in spring; however, it didn’t look like this man had smiled a day in his life, and he purposely avoided the sight of the photos all together, having pushed them back at her. “I’m sorry?” “Coffee? I had to make a new batch anyway.” “Yes.” She accepted the mug he pushed towards her and scooped a few spoonfuls of sugar into it. “So kid, where’d you find those? And how did you find me?” Walter nodded to the photographs, still not looking directly at them. “Not a kid,” she reminded him. “And that’s a pretty long story.” “Hmmph,” he snorted. “Already screwed up my schedule, so go ahead.” “A year ago,” Georgia added cream from the container that sat on the table, “I was given a genealogy assignment in school. Mom said a lot of Aunt June’s old things were in our attic, so I went up and found an old trunk. There were a lot of photos, but these were pressed between the pages of a book. Your book. Or at least I think it’s your book. The picture on the book jacket was of the same man as in the pictures, but he looked so…” “Old?” “Different.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I read the book, researched you, and wrote a pretty decent paper. Got a B+. ” “Good for you.” Walter’s tone implied that he couldn’t have cared less. “Then this summer I decided to find you. I called your old publishing company, your agent, and finally after a little harassment they gave me your address. So here you are; I found you.” “And why,” he sighed, massaging his temples, “did you go and do a thing like that?” Georgia looked down at her cup, staring into its murky depth and frowned, she opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed it. How could she say it? If she said it then it would be true, then it would be real. Finally she looked back up at Walter, tears in her eyes: “Aunt June died.” He blinked, his mouth went dry. Finally without a word, he reached over and picked up the pictures and looked at June. His June. “I know you wrote the book about her. You loved her. I know she thought you’d died, until she found your book. I know all of the when, where, and how. But what I don’t know is the why.”

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“‘Why’ what, kid?” He put the photos down, not looking at her. “Why didn’t you come back?” “That,” he sighed “is also a long story.” --June 15, 1966-June Montgomery watched the vibrant Indian sunset fade in the distance, she smiled and squeezed Walter’s hand and readjusted her head on his chest. “Tell me again,” she giggled. “About?” “The poem...” “What poem?” Walter stared stoically into the fading sun. “You know.” She nudged him. “The one about love.” “It’s in book, you know.” He smirked down at her. “You could just read it yourself.” “What would the point of that be, when I could just have you tell me?” He sighed and she beamed, knowing she had won. “My heart to you is given: Oh, do give yours to me; We'll lock them up together, And throw away the key.” They sat in silence as the stars began to shine, and in the summer night’s cool breeze, June sat up and looked down at the face of her boyfriend. His stoic, brooding eyes and the determined set of his frowning mouth. June reached down and touched his temple and smiled. “I love you, Walter.” “I know.” His frown disappeared, and he kissed her hand. He wouldn’t say it back, but it didn’t bother June. She knew from the gentle way he held her hand, like a fragile bird with a broken wing, that he felt the same and that was enough for her. --November 20, 1966-Two days past her eighteenth birthday, June held on desperately to Walter’s hand as they waited for the bus that would take him to base training, and then to Vietnam. When he’d gotten the letter, it had felt as if the world were ending, like it would simply crumble around her, toppling down and crushing her with the weight of all she had built, all she had wanted. “We could run, you know?” she whispered, squeezing his fingers. “We could just get away, go to Canada.” “No, we couldn’t.” Walter stood as the bus approached. “It’d be easy, we could go today. Right now even.” She felt the tears, threatening to rush from her eyes, as she stood with him. “I couldn’t do that. Not to my family, and not to you.” He stared straight ahead, looking so harsh now with his chestnut curls buzzed off.

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“It wouldn’t matter to me, just as long as we could be together,” June begged, reaching out to him, pulling him away with all her strength. “Even in death, as like as it was you who buried me.” For the first time in days, Walter turned to looked directly at her. His gaze was cold but behind it she could see the kindness, the tenderness of who he was. “Don’t be a fool, June!” He ordered harshly. Then he pulled her to him, crushing her in his arms for what he knew was their last moment together. “Don’t cry, please don’t cry,” he whispered in his gentlest voice. “ I love you, June.” She was shocked into silence: had he really said it? Then as quickly as it happened, it was over, and Walter picked up his bag and boarded the bus, leaving June standing frozen behind him. As the doors closed and the bus hummed to life, she came to. “W-wait,” she whispered, and then it was a cry as she began to chase the bus. “WAIT!” But even as she picked up speed, the bus was already out of reach. Gone. --June 16, 2013-“So, you left?” Georgia asked. “Yes. And I never wrote, never called.” “And when the war was over?” “I came back, just once.” “What happened?” she asked, already knowing this story didn’t end well. “She was engaged to another man. Looked happy enough.” “So that was it?” Georgia gaped at him. “You didn’t even try?” “Yep.” “You, just GAVE UP?” “I did.” Walter shrugged. “Sorry kid, but that’s the truth.” Georgia stood, shoving the book across the table, knocking her cup of coffee down. Walter said nothing. “Coward,” she spat and stomped to the door. He didn’t try to stop her. Because the truth was, she was right. From his window, he watched as the kid pulled away in a junky old VW beetle, down the street and gone. He looked down at Percy who gazed back at him with his sad, old brown eyes. “Want to go for a walk, old boy?”

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His Answer By Leah Krumholz I drew his sheet to my cheek, cradling it in my hands to trap the heat against my face. The crisp fabric crinkled in my grasp, but I liked the sound. It reminded me of the pages of a new book that had yet to be explored. "You smell like…warmth," I murmured, inhaling softly. “Funny. I didn’t know that was a scent.” Even though darkness masked his face, I knew he was smiling. It wasn’t just speculation either. It was pure knowing. The air seemed to mold around his mood. It always did. Whenever he got angry, the tension became a tangible weight pressing down on me, something painful and smothering. But whenever he was happy, it seemed to soften, become thinner. Fragile, even, like fate itself wasn’t sure how long his contentment would last. Now he was smiling, but it was a playful smile, not one of understanding. Even if he asked what I meant, I didn’t think he would understand my answer. He was a doctor. He didn’t have a writer’s mind. Confident and straightforward, he had no room for the endless maze of metaphors that resounded in my head. He was practical, a realist, while I saw life through a blurred vision. It seemed simple to me, though. He smelled like warmth. Like familiarity. It was the same feeling of lying on your couch late at night when you were young, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, the lights dimmed, the fireplace alight with flames, your head on your mother’s lap as she sat stroking your hair while you desperately fought the urge to sleep. It was the feeling of being home, of smelling cinnamon candlesticks during Christmas-time and sitting around the coffee table playing a game of monopoly with your family, no one caring that it probably wouldn’t end. It was your older brother scolding you for acting like a baby during a thunderstorm, even though he let you hold his hand anyway. It was walking down the street on a cold winter day with the person you cared about the most, your gloved hands entwined with his, him brushing his fingers against your frozen cheek, a rekindled fire burning in your chest, not fully understanding what it was, but not wanting the feeling to disappear. It was the all-encasing kind of warmth where you knew you’d always be safe. I flipped over on my side so that I was facing him, letting the fabric slip from between my fingers. Seized by sudden impulse, I snatched it back up, warding away the cold that had begun to creep up my skin. Something made me want to hold on to it. Something in my mind told me that if I let go, I would lose him. But that was ridiculous, because he was right here. Next to me. Like he always was. His fingers gently grazed my face, causing me to shiver at his unexpected touch. “You’re awfully quiet tonight.” “Just thinking,” I mumbled. “About what?” As he pulled me closer to him, the sheet slipped from my hands again. This time, I let it go. He didn’t hold me like this often. The closeness made him uncomfortable, like he was afraid of becoming too attached. He wasn’t like me; he wasn’t clingy. He was independent, invulnerable. Distant. He didn’t need anyone standing beside him, while I was nothing more than a broken writer longing for a comfort that words alone couldn’t provide. So being in his arms, with my head resting against his chest, was enough to ease my restless insecurities. Ease, but not get rid of completely.

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Yet, I’d be more than content lying beside him every night. What if he didn’t feel the same? We’d known each other since we were kids. We’d been dating for three years. What if he suddenly decided that he was bored of me and wanted to see other people? He stroked my hair every few seconds, as if to reassure me that he was still there. “I love you,” I said. He’d heard these words before, but they came tumbling out of my mouth anyway, almost desperately. Part of me wondered how many more chances I would get to say them again. I felt his lips curve into a smile against my forehead. “I know. Want to know how I know?” He pulled away from me to turn on his bedside lamp. As he propped himself up on his elbow, I caught a playful glint in his eyes. I grinned, giggling, and in that instant, we were children again, with him teasing me, and me playing dutifully along, before there was such a thing as divorce. Before I knew how much it was possible to lose. “Okay. How?” I waited as he paused for a second. “Because I do too.” I laughed. “You narcissistic bastard.” He pulled me into a kiss, his hand cupping my chin. I felt my cheeks burning even after he pulled away. “Not what I meant, love,” he said. I sucked in a deep breath, attempting to regain my composure. “Ya’ know, the cute little British accent bit—it won’t work on me.” He recoiled in mock horror. “No? Then what shall I woo you with, milady?” I brought a finger to my chin, looking up at the ceiling in pretend wonder. A thought tugged at my mind, and I returned my gaze to him, barely suppressing a laugh. “How about a ring?” I mused. By his fearful reaction, one would think I’d asked him to jump off a bridge. My face crumpled, tears building in my eyes. His expression said enough. He didn’t want me after all. I was just temporary, a whim—nothing more than a way to pass the time. I’d seen it before—one day, you’re someone’s everything, and the next, you’re erased from their mind altogether. Then, as if by magic, a smile crept upon his face when he said, “As you wish.”

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Deep Mist By Jack Cloudt The rusted tracks seemed to go on forever, twisting like a serpent through the perpetual, snow-covered forest. Gravel crunched under foot, as the smell of the burning cottage behind them chased their noses. In one arm, Winter carried a diary, the only item she’d rescued from the fire. In her other arm, she carried her sleeping little sister, Spring. Winter kept her eyes forward, her face blank and emotionless, as she limped away from the cottage, and along the train track. At last they were free. From the ashes of the cottage, their new life would be sprung. A yawn sang from Spring’s mouth, and she rubbed her sleep-deprived eyes as she woke up. Finding herself in her sister’s arms, rather than her bed, she looked up at Winter confused. “Where are we going?” Winter kept her eyes forward. “I don’t know.” “Where’s Da—?” “—At the house.” As Spring turned to see the cottage, Winter hurriedly faced her away from the bonfire. She didn’t have to see that. “Why are you bleeding?” Winter looked down at Spring, then at her own leg, where Spring was staring. A large gash stretched down the length of her thigh to her knee. Before, she hadn’t noticed it, but now, she could feel the sparks start to go off each time she put her foot down. She gritted her teeth against the pain, determined to maintain her mask of calm for her sister. “I got scratched.” “Did Daddy get mad at you again?” Winter felt a stone drop in her chest when she heard that name. By now, the track had twisted and thick trees hid the burning cottage. Winter put Spring down, and kneeled before her, placing her hands on her sister’s shoulders. “I told you not to call him that.” “Daddy?” “The Man.” “But he’s our daddy.” “No, he’s not!” Winter yelled, forgetting for a moment that Spring was too little to understand. She continued, gently. “He isn’t our daddy. A daddy is the person who tucks you into bed each night, and kisses you on the cheek, and makes you hot cocoa when it gets cold outside. That man was not your daddy, and he wasn’t mine.” Spring stared at Winter, confused. “Don’t you remember?” Winter asked. “Don’t you remember who your real daddy is?” Spring’s bright green eyes were distant, as if trying to remember a dream. She nodded slowly. Winter smiled. “Tell me about him.”

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“Well,” Spring closed her eyes tight, trying hard to remember, “he used to take me and Mommy to the ranch, and he’d let me ride our horse, Blizzard. And every Sunday after church, he’d take us to the park to have a picnic.” When Spring opened her large eyes, they had tears in them. “The same park where the Man took me.” Spring buried her face into Winter’s shoulder, her wails echoing through the silent forest. Winter held her, knowing what she was feeling. They had both fought long to forget the memories of their true families, and accept the Man as their father. Deep down, Spring had known it wasn’t true. Lying just made it easier. Winter, on the other hand, was never successful in tricking herself into believing that the Man who violated her and beat Spring and her, then claimed to be their father, could ever be her daddy. Maybe the psycho did believe he loved them like daughters. Yet, from the moment the Man snatched her in the forest and locked her in his cottage, never allowing her to see sunlight again, she hated him with every muscle in her body. Every time he threw her to the ground, or when he forcefully took her innocence and told her he loved her, she fantasized about the wounds she would someday give to him. At last, she now had. Winter was only ever thankful toward him for two things: the diary he had given her, and the sister he had given her in Spring. It was Spring who was the reason Winter fought the urge day and night to slash her own neck open. It was Spring who she knew still had a long life ahead of her. A chance to be happy again and forget about the Man and the cottage. When Spring ran out of tears, Winter sat down on the dried leaves and placed her sister in her lap. “Would you read me one of your stories?” Spring asked. “Sure.” Winter opened her diary and turned to the most recent page. She read the passage silently to herself, then, softly her voice carried the words on the air. “There once was a little girl who lived near the woods. During the day she’d skip through the forest, and pick daisies for her mom. One day, the little girl came home early from her adventure. Before she could walk through the door of her house, she could hear her mommy yelling at Daddy. ‘You loved her, didn’t you?’ Mommy was yelling. ‘You betrayed both me and our daughter!’ Out of the door ran mommy, deep into the forest. The little girl followed, not knowing what was wrong. Finally, she came to a deep, rushing river. ‘Stay away from the river, you’re not a good swimmer,’ her daddy would always say. Still, in the water, she saw her mommy, floating like a rose petal. Her mommy’s cold, bone-white finger beckoned her to the water. ‘Come bring Mommy the daisies you got her!’ said Mother, gasping for breath. ‘Mommy, I can’t swim!’ the girl replied. ‘It’s ok,’ promised Mommy, ‘Mommy can’t either. We don’t need to be able to swim to race to the bottom.’ Together they sank to the murky depths, only the girl’s daisies left floating on the surface, as they were swallowed by the abyss.” Winter closed the diary and set it down, then looked at Spring. “What do you think?” Spring looked up at her, her eyes questioning. “Why do you always write sad endings?” “Because I write realistically.” “Aren’t there any happy endings?” Spring asked. Winter thought hard. “Not that I know of.” Spring rose to her feet, and Winter followed. They started walking along the train track again. The tracks came to a long bridge that spanned the length of a wide river. Deep mist hid the land that lay on the other side of the bridge. All Winter knew was that once they made the crossing, the cottage would finally be behind them forever. “Can you write a happy ending for once?” Spring asked suddenly.

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Winter looked down at the girl she called her sister, then at the diary in her hands. Stepping onto the bridge, she looked over the edge, and with one powerful throw, she flung the diary over the edge. A distant echo was the only sound in the forest. As they crossed the bridge, Winter turned to Spring. “Yeah. We can create our own happy ending now.”

Light By Bridgette Douglas For as long as I can remember I’ve always been pointed out by fellow family members for being so “Light” This is in reference to my skin tone and all my mannerisms My mother and aunt aren’t exactly “dark” But compare them to me, and there is an extremely visible difference This by default has made me an easy target Not only in my family, but also in the black community in general They assume that because the skin on the back of my hand is “lighter” than theirs That I think more highly of myself And that I’m more likely to be accepted by other races Because I’m “less intimidating” But what’s the use in being welcomed by other races when you’re not even accepted By your own?

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Te Amo: A Poem About True Love By Zoe Colaluca In you, I see a best friend A great listener. Sometimes, You don’t respond, But I know it’s just because You’re thinking. Te Amo. In you, I see The world. All the places we could go, The people we could see. Te Amo. In you, I see Knowledge. I learn new things from you Every day. You represent the ways Of the future. Te Amo. For in you, I see myself. A reflection You are my other half. Te Amo. I would even dare to say You were Made For me. Te Amo, Computer.

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Together Forever By Alisha Jones As Mason woke up that morning, the bright sunlight was shining through the floor length window in her bedroom. She woke up refreshed and relaxed. Today marks four months before all of her dreams will come true. In exactly four months she will be marrying the man of her dreams. Since getting engaged, her life has become hectic: planning the ceremony, finding a band, and, of course, wedding dress shopping. It’s crucial that she works hard every day. Today is the most fun out of all of those hard working days. Today is when she and her fiancé, Spencer, will document their devotion to each other in the form of pictures. Today is when they will take the engagement pictures that everyone will see. Today is also the day that Mason’s happily-ever-after dreams will all be shattered. Mason stepped out of bed and walked straight to her most prized possession as the moment, her coffee pot, flipped the on switch, and started to page through wedding magazines while she waited. As she sat down at the kitchen table, her doorbell rang. She got up, secured her robe, and peeked through the peep hole to see who could possibly be at her door this early in the morning. Her face lit up when she realized it was Spencer coming by with his clothing options to get her opinion on what to wear, just like she had wanted him to do. She relaxed as she opened the door. “I’m so happy to see you! I didn’t even remember that I had told you to come by this morning.” Spencer smiled at her, knowing even though she seemed like she had everything together, she forgot all about the little things. “Well, here I am. I brought a lot of clothes for you to pick from, too.” “I already have my dress picked out so we can just pick whatever matches the best!” she replied. “Okay, …what else do we need to do before we head out to meet the photographer?” Spencer asked a bit reluctantly. He knew that since he asked, Mason would put him to work all morning while she got ready to go. He had already showered and eaten while Mason still stood in her robe, with her hair in a messy braid from sleeping with it that way. “The first thing that needs to happen is I need to go shower! I’m not even close to ready yet, so you can come look at my dress, and pick out which of your clothes will go with them best. Then, if you wouldn’t mind cleaning up a bit while I get ready and maybe making me some breakfast for after my shower, that would be fantastic!” She gave him a quick kiss before grabbing her coffee and running up the stairs to get in the shower. He looked after her, watching her bound up the stairs. “I knew I shouldn’t have asked,” he muttered as he began to walk up the stairs. They left an hour later to meet the photographer in the location Mason had hand-picked for these pictures two months earlier: the woods behind Spencer’s parents’ house where Spencer and Mason had had their first date 5 years earlier. Arriving early to the spot where they had told the photographer to meet them at exactly 12:30 p.m., they began to unpack their things and sat in the car, waiting. At 1:00 p.m. they were beginning to lose hope and started to pack everything back up, when they heard a blood-curdling scream. “What was that?” Mason yelled and grabbed hold of Spencer. “It was probably nothing; maybe it’s some kids playing down at the river like we used to. I’ll go look, and you stay here, okay?” Spencer said over his shoulder as he began to walk away.

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Mason got in the car and locked the door, trying to calm herself down, hoping Spencer was right that it was just some kids playing in the river down the hill from the woods. After about 10 minutes she started to get even more worried. Just as she was about to get out of the car to go look for Spencer, she saw him walking up the hill. She got out of the car and began to run to him, but as she got closer, she realized he wasn’t alone. There was a man covered in blood walking behind Spencer telling him to keep walking while holding a gun to the back of his head. “Spence, what’s going on?” Mason said quietly when they got closer. Spencer replied in a rushed tone, “Nothing, everything is completely okay. Don’t worry Mase, we’re gonna be fine. This gentleman just wants to talk to us.” “Well that’s not completely true, is it Spencer?” The man spoke in a deep raspy voice. “I’m gonna need your car as well.” “Okay you can have it, take anything you want. Just please don’t hurt him,” Mason said to the man, but she was looking straight at Spencer’s eyes. She looked at the man taking in his appearance. When she got to his face she gasped at the sight of a large scar running from his eye lid to his bottom lip. “What, you don’t like it? I think it makes me more interesting, but I guess I could see how it would frighten you, since I am about to kill your sweetheart here. If you’re lucky, I’ll leave you alive, but I’m not so sure about that yet, especially since you just gasped at my scar. That hurt my feelings, Mase.” “Please don’t hurt us. I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to react that way. It’s not ugly, I promise,” Mason said to him in a shaky voice. “Well, I think it’s time you said good bye to each other, cause at least one of you is about to die. You see, Spencer here walked down to that river right as I was killing two people who owed me money, so you see they deserved to die and now so does he. I’m really sorry that you had to see me do that, Spencer. You seem like a nice guy, and I’m truly sorry for this,” the man said. A gun shot went off and Mason screamed as Spencer fell to the ground, lifeless. She screamed at the man, “You didn’t let us say goodbye!” Tears burst from her eyes as she rushed over to Spencer’s motionless body. “Oh, whoops. I totally forgot, that’s my bad. Well you can say goodbye now, I guess. But don’t worry so much—you’re about to be together forever.” Mason held Spencer’s body and whispered her goodbye to him, not paying attention to the man getting closer to her. She wasn’t aware of his body movements until she felt the gun hit her, hard, right on her temple. She fell limply over her fiancé’s body, passed out. The man walked around her body and fired one single bullet into her skull, leaving her to bleed out.

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30 Undeniable Facts From the Edge of the Universe I Bet You Wish You Knew (Cover to a future autobiography) By Conner Martin I can tell you two things: I can tell you why you’re picking up this book, and I can tell you why I know better than you why you’re picking up this book. The third thing I can tell you is that I can tell you many things, which is what you think is the reason you’re picking up this book. So let me amend myself: I can tell you three things. Or… I can tell you more than three things, I promise. I promise that in this book you will find more than three things. So: I, Conner Martin, Prophet, Shamanic Healer, and Belligerent Itinerant, can tell you very many things, and three additional items in addendum to all those which are contained herein (though not compelled to remain within) the tome that now rests between your clammy graspy-bits. But why do I believe you, O Malnourished One? Why do I, somewhere deep inside, instinctively know that I can trust you, be-speckled in mud and model airplane glue though you are? An excellent question, little one! And your first lesson, before even opening this book, begins right now: sometimes, the best questions are answered with silence.… Isn’t that better? I should know; I spent thirty years of my life yelling questions at people. I spent another thirty staring vacantly! That’s sixty years of experience you can’t deny! What did I do with the other twelve, you ask? You may know better than I. While I assure you I don’t remember a single moment, I’m fairly certain those were the twelve years I spent on the trending ‘fungal diet.’ These are also the years in which I gained my shamanic powers. Do not question the relationship of the two; just close your eyes. Now open the book. Now begin turning the pages. Yes. You are now learning. Now open your eyes. That was your first sample of my worldly knowledge that you too can possess for only $59.99, with your pre-order and purchase of 30 Undeniable Facts From the Edge of the Universe I Bet You Wish You Knew. Remove your credit card. Savor the moment. Prepare for a Journey. Praise for 30 Undeniable Facts… “Conner Martin really has his life figured out. If you want to spend your days making bank, catching the hot babes, and some other third thing, you’ll buy this book immediately!” —Elise Martin “He did what? He said I said what? My brother is crazy. Stay the hell away from him.” —Elise Martin

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The Angels of the Backwoods Josh Player As Ryan rode his bike down the trodden down road of the backcountry, he thought to himself how lucky he had been. Tennessee wasn’t the worst place for a mission, better than where Tommy had been sent. The Ukraine was probably a lot colder than the deserts of southern Utah. Then again, he probably wouldn’t have to bike down a beat-up road to try to convert some crazy old man who lived in the middle of nowhere. Still, it was beautiful: the golden-leaved trees had engulfed him by now, and watching them sway in the wind gave Ryan a sort of peace. Surely this must be a work of God, Ryan thought to himself, but the thought was interrupted when the bike came to a sudden stop, and his body flew out of his seat. He landed right on his elbow and skidded across the dirt a few inches until he rested under one of the large golden trees. “Da—” Ryan was barely able to stop himself from swearing. It was a sin to swear on your mission— everybody knew that. He had a large gash in his right arm that was bleeding like crazy, and he felt like he might have fractured something, too. Well, he was too close to back out now, so he picked himself up and put himself on his bike. He’d have to ride one-handed from here, but that was no problem for Ryan; he was the best cyclist in the county. After all, that’s why Nicholas had sent him out here. If anyone could bike 30 miles out to the middle of nowhere, it was Ryan. And just as he had finished his thought, he saw it: a little log cabin surrounded by the gold trees, just like Nicholas had told him. Ryan stopped his bike and put it up against a nice big tree right next to the cabin. He unzipped his backpack and took his shiny copy of The Book of Mormon. He made sure not to get any blood on it as he walked to the door and gave it a knock. He could hear some moving around inside, but it sounded confused, like it didn’t know what to do, so he gave the door another good knocking and heard a satisfying “Just a minute.” Ryan did just what Nicholas had told him: stand up straight, hold the book in front of you, and give a nice big smile. And just as he opened the door he recited his greeting: “Hello, sir! Today I would like to talk to you about the Church of the Latter Day Saints!” And for whatever reason, the man just stared at him in shock. Although this was Ryan’s first house and he didn’t really know what to expect, he certainly hadn’t expected to get a look of shock. After a bit of an awkward pause the man asked, “Are you alright there?” Ryan gave the man a quizzical look but then looked down to find that his nice white button up shirt was now drenched in blood. “Oh, my goodness!” Ryan exclaimed. “I’m very sorry, sir. I had a bit of a bike accident just up the road; why, I had no idea it had gotten this bad.” “Well, from the look of all that blood, I’m surprised that you’re still standing,” he said. “Why don’t you come inside, and we can see what we can do about your wound.” He gestured for Ryan to come inside and began to walk to his kitchen, but Ryan did not follow. “Well, are you deaf? I said come in here so that we can get to fixin’ those wounds.” Ryan thought and then stuttered out, “Well…uh…Sir, you see… I’m on my mission and I’m really only supposed to be…uh—”

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He answered Ryan before he could finish his sentence, “I see, I see. Well, how about you come in, I’ll tend to your wounds, and then you can tell all about this Church of the Latter Day Saints that you were goin’ on about.” Ryan thought for a moment and then shrugged and said, “Well, I suppose that’s fine with me.” He walked inside, and it was about as much as one could expect from such a small cabin. There were two leather chairs and a bearskin rug facing the fireplace, which was burning a couple of logs. There was a small kitchen with a 1980s style oven and fridge with a small counter next to it. And the only other room was bedroom with a small bathroom that had only a toilet and a shower. The old man had been rummaging through and cabinet in the kitchen and finally pulled out a med kit. “Alright, let’s get started. You go ahead and sit in that leather chair there. Be sure you take off your shirt first, though,” he said. “Uhhh…” The thought of taking off his shirt in front of this man that he didn’t even know made Ryan feel a bit awkward and sinful. “Oh, just do it. I just don’t want you to get any blood on the leather,” he explained at the look of the boy’s face. Ryan begrudgingly took off his shirt and sat in the chair next to the man by the fireplace. “What’s your name, boy?” “Ryan. And yours?” he answered. “Clive Woodrow. It’s nice to meet you, Ryan. Now do you think you’ve broken anything in there?” he asked. “It felt like that before, but I don’t think so anymore. What are you gonna do?” he answered. “Well, I think that if nothin’s broken then I’ll just go ahead and stitch it up.” He began to pull out his needle and thread as he talked. “Now, I believe that you were gonna tell me about your church if I remember correctly?” he asked. “Oh, why, of course, sir! The Church of the Latter Day Saints! Or as it’s more commonly known, the Mormon Church, founded by Joseph Smith in 1860 and later spread by Brigham Young is the fastest growing church in the world. We believe that Jesus is our savior and that God loves us. We are a tight knit community that love and help each other in times of need, including the elderly such as yourself. So, what do you say? Would you like to become a member of our ever growing community?” Ryan asked. Mr. Woodrow didn’t even look up once Ryan had finished his speech; he just focused on stitching his arm. “Ahem.” Ryan still got no reply. “Sir?” “Hmm?” he replied. “Well, uh, did you hear me? Would you like to join?” Ryan asked again. “Oh, no. I’ll have to reject the offer, but thank you, anyway,” Mr. Woodrow answered. “Oh, come on, sir. Surely you’re lookin’ to join a church, are you not?” Ryan asked. “I don’t believe in God, Ryan. Haven’t since I left ‘Nam,” he answered calmly. Ryan stood up in shock, “D-don’t believe in God? What do you mean, you don’t believe in God? What do you believe in then, huh? You gotta follow some sort of moral code.” “Boy! Don’t stand up like that! You’ll rip your stitches out, you idiot. Now sit on back down so we can finish,” he snapped. “Tell me what you believe and then maybe I’ll sit down,” Ryan said snarkily.

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“Well…” he thought for moment, “there might be something doin something, but there sure ain’t no God. As far as some sorta moral code, well, I just call it as I see it.” “Call it as you see it?” Ryan asked. “Call it as I see it,” Mr. Woodrow reassured. “Well… Well, how does someone even get to stop believin’ in God, huh? How does somethin’ like that happen?” Ryan asked. “Boy…where are you from?” he asked. “Millfield, Utah. Don’t see what that has to do to anything, though. Now answer my question!” Ryan said. “Well…I was a medic, you see, and I just saw so many horrible injuries and deaths I just decided that there can’t be a God who would let all that happen,” he answered flatly. “Simple as that?” Ryan asked. “Simple as that.” Ryan sat back down, and Mr. Woodrow went back to stitching his arm. After a long silence, he had finished. He had done an expert job; the stiches were perfectly in line going down Ryan’s arm and the ripped skin was perfectly realigned. “Well, looks like you’re good to go,” Mr. Woodrow said as he put his thread back in the kit. “You said you believed there was something,” Ryan said. “Just what do you think that something is?” Mr. Woodrow took a look at the clock. It read 9:39. “Follow me,” he said. “Why?” Ryan asked. “Just trust me,” he said. Ryan followed him outside, and they walked down into the golden trees. As they walked in deeper, Ryan began to notice tiny lights, and the deeper they went, the more there were. Finally, they entered a clearing, and there where hundreds and thousands of lights floating everywhere. “Oh my God…” Ryan said. “Yup,” Mr. Woodrow replied. “Wh-what are they?” asked Ryan. “Fireflies,” he answered, “there are thousands this time of year.” “Fireflies…You know, I never thought they were real,” Ryan said. “What?” Mr. Woodrow asked, half laughing. “I never thought they were real. I’ve seen ‘em in cartoons and stuff, but I always thought they were like a mythical creature. There’s nothing like these in Southern Utah.” “S’pose you don’t get any there. Their beauty is almost unbelievable, ain’t it?” Mr. Woodrow replied. “You bet, they’re the most holy things I’ve ever seen. They’re like Angels.” Ryan said. “Heh…That’s one way to put it,” he said. “They’re the Angels of the Backwoods. The holiest place on earth. At least that’s what I believe.”

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Another Day at the Office Richard Culleton Matt Yo, officer. Ima tell you how it all went down. It was a pretty casual day at work, I guess. No one gets too wild at the firm, especially on Tuesdays; our boss is super strict on the Tuesdays for some reason. There was this one dude though, Franz, in the cubicle across from me, he was lookin mad sketch all morning. Anyways, during my lunch break I went out behind the dumpsters to slam a few joints with my man Charles. Charles is like this 80 year old bro that has lung cancer or somethin, I dunno. Sometimes I call him Heisenberg, but he doesn’t think it’s funny. So we get back and this dude Franz is still sketchin, like eyes darting around the room every 2 seconds and constantly checking under his desk, sketchin. I mean this guy was noided like no other. I see my boss bring Franz into his office for a hot minute. This gives Charles enough time to call me over and show me some vids of him taking bumps off of hookers. Let me tell you man, Charles was crazy. The dude’s 80sum’n with lung cancer so alle does is drugs cause he knows there isn’t much time left. Anyways we hear the boss coming back so my boy Charles slips me some Oxy’s and I get back to my cubical. Then some weird stuff goes down. This man, this grownass man sprints into the office butt-naked with a water gun filled up with what seemed to be orange juice. He’s runnin all over the place shooting OJ like it’s his job at people’s heads yelling Latin or whatever. Now Franz is obviously terrified, he starts shaking and hides under his desk while whispering what sounded like the last chapter to Twilight: Breaking Dawn, but hell if I know. Then the Oxy’s started comin on a bit too quick so I ran to the bathroom. I tripped over a wire in the middle of the office on the way there so I slammed into Pam’s cubicle and vomited on her computer. Man, she looked pissed. Just as she was about to slap me that crazy naked dude vaulted from my cubicle to hers and got her clean in the mouth with a shot of orange juice. Funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Now Pam breaks down crying for some reason and I feel myself cruising at a brisk 20 mph on my way to a beautiful climax of Oxycontin and cannabliss. I see Franz crawl out from under his cubicle with the goddamn Quran on his head protecting himself from some sweet OJ if ya asked me. Charles is taking out his video camera, laughing his ass off at what’s happening in the office. The naked guy finally takes control of Franz, throws the Quran behind him, hitting Pam in her domepiece, and then puts the squirt gun half full of orange juice in Franz’s mouth. He then yells “VITAMIN C, BIOTCH” and shoots the entire thing of orange juice into Franz’s mouth. I saw tears. Security eventually got a hold of him and booted the naked guy out. It was primo.

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Charles Matt and I were having a chat around the dumpsters smoking cigarettes earlier that day. But I gave Matt a joint filled with Oregano to mess with him. Matt acts like he gets high and I get a laugh out of it. We get back into the office and Matt starts eyeballing this young man by the name of Franz in the cubicle across from him. Franz is my neighbor and often helps me around the house; I can’t do much because I’m still healing from my knee surgery, and he’s such a nice lad. But for some reason today, Franz is acting somewhat suspicious. It wasn’t anything too serious, but he kept looking around like he had the spooks. I noticed the boss lead him into his office and it looked like they were going to be talking for quite a while. Matt ran over, and I showed him a picture of my newborn granddaughter and gave him a few mints because he had oregano-breath. Then the most peculiar thing happens, this nude chap runs into the office wielding a squirt gun. For whatever reason, it was filled with cranberry juice. The man was extremely hairy as well, and that didn’t make it any better. He starts taking aim at Pam from the other side of the room, all the while Matt is running around like a bloody idiot and poor Franz is hiding under his desk in fear. I remain in my seat because I can tell the naked assailant is not after me, and watching this fiasco was quite entertaining. The employees are running around in a fit, and Pam gets shot in the mouth with cranberry juice. Then I see Franz crawling out from under his desk with the Quran on top of his head. Now why he had the Quran on top of his head, I haven’t a clue, but it was actually protecting his noggin from cranberry juice. Right as the security guards walk in, I see the naked man tackle Franz. Franz looks horrified and begs for mercy, but alas the cranberry juice took him. The man was yelling in tongues of some sort, I caught a bit of French maybe, but nothing else; soon after he was carried away and we were told to go home. Franz I knew today was the day. It had to be, it was inescapable. It was my 25th birthday, and it had been prophesied that on this day I would be taken away to the Second World by an ancient guardian sent by my creators. So I drank a bottle and a half of Robitussin and headed to work. I get to the office awaiting my imminent doom, but I see nothing. Charles the monk and his dog Matt are at their usual stations feeding information to the great screen. So ignorant they are of the ceremony that will fall upon this office. I get into my production cube and pretend to file my “tax returns” as they call it; I scan the area to see nothing of danger so I work until the great feeding. The numbers on the wall line up and everyone steps away from their mechanical boxes to go eat. I depart on a mission to gather the materials I will need for my transcendent journey. Pam had a book on vampires, I took it for safety. Amongst other belongings in the production cubes, I find an ancient scripture from the dark times. Its language is unreadable with my current eyes so I put it in my back pocket. A ringing pierces my very being and I watch the crowd of mindusers walk back into the system. I must hide the stolen items back in my cube. Moments later I hear my the noise of my title. The Egyptian president wants my attention, so I walk into his plane of existence and hope for the best. Despite the robbery I had just committed, the president wanted to reassign me to a higher position. Finally, I would leave the production cubes and their victims to see a new world of glass windows. Sadly though, I declined due to my nearing departure into the Second World. Then it happened. I watched it happen over and over again until I realized I could fast forward the DVD player. The president revealed to me his true identity, he shed his false

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projection and showed me the ancient guardian beneath him. I ran—that’s all I could do. I ran back to my production cube to gather my supplies. The guardian pulled out his weapon, a gun filled with apple-nectar (my greatest weakness) and started shooting at me. I quickly opened the guide on vampires in hopes that the guardian was part vampire so I may have had a chance of defeating him. Frantically I skipped to the final excerpt and read quietly, so as not to arouse any suspicion. I heard screams as others were hit with apple lasers. Matt the dog ran around the office in fear until he reached the safety of Pam’s production cube. My vampire murdering texts weren’t doing anything, so I took out the ancient scripture and put it over my head. I suddenly turned invisible; I had no idea that a language could have such cloaking capabilities. I did the inchworm out of my cube in hopes of escape. There was terror all around me as the ancient guardian wreaked havoc upon the nonbelievers. There was a drone, a loud mechanical drone, I knew I was spotted. The holy book flew from my cranium, and the gun was pointed right at my face. The ceremony started. The ancient guardian gave his speech and shot me with his laser pistol. But just as he spoke the final words to send me into the Second World, a band of robots seized him and executed the guardian on the spot. I was saved. The Boss Seriously, this stuff happens every day. I don’t know why we have to talk about it again. It’s a prison for the mentally insane. Three inmates just got really worked up about the beverage choices in the cafeteria and got into a bit of a fight. We have them in different cells now. And yeah, I was naked. What of it?

Father By Jay Reed Sullivan stepped through the back door and out onto the porch. Based on how high the sun had risen, he guessed it was around nine in the morning. The outline of São Paulo in the distance was obscured by smog, and he could smell the rich scent of grilled meat rising up from one of the many nearby shanties. He nursed a coffee, black with no sugar. As he gazed out at the city, a loud crashing sound broke him from his meditation, causing him to spill coffee on his chest and swear loudly. Alex ran out from behind a nearby shack, waving a wooden board like a sword and wearing a metal bucket on his head. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Sullivan loudly exclaimed, furiously pawing at his shirt, trying to get the coffee out, but to no avail. “Playing pirate,” Alex said nonchalantly. His dusty, bare feet skirted around the rusty debris littering the ground, well-accustomed to the dangerous conditions of street life. He swung his board in a wide arc, until it was stopped short by Sullivan’s hand, which roughly yanked it from Alex’s grasp. He threw it over a nearby wall where it presumably landed on someone, based on the swearing in Portuguese that immediately followed. “Knock it off,” Sullivan commanded, and after a pause, “empty ‘em. Show me.” “But—” Alex interjected, unwilling to part with his illegitimately earned belongings. “Now.” Lowering his head, Alex emptied the pockets of his dirty shorts, exposing around 140 reals and a small baggie of some very brown-looking weed.

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Sullivan took them from his hands, looking at the drugs for no more than a second before tossing them over the same wall as before. The reals were a different story. “Not too bad for the shanties,” he proclaimed, a slightly impressed look across his face. “Obrigado,” Alex said with a small smile across his face. “There was this mano, he was like this—” and he imitated a walk that may have been that of a rather portly man, “and he was dressed well. Like an American or a rich man. He does not know where he should stay, eh?” “Clearly,” Sullivan said. “Why don’t you come inside for some café? You’ve earned it.” He held the door open while Alex quicky darted indoors. “Don’t get on the furniture yet, you’re filth—oh, son of a bitch,” he sighed. Alex had removed a lampshade and was wearing it over his head, goose stepping. “Here, there’s a bathroom upstairs. At least rinse your feet off so you don’t track dirt all over the floor,” Sullivan said, reaching over and removing the lampshade with a motion that was directly opposite to his gruff tone. Alex hastily ran up the stairs, tracking dirt all over the floor. Sullivan watched him disappear, then began to unbutton his shirt, hoping the coffee hadn’t ruined it. Walking into an adjacent room, he opened a closet and began to pick out a clean one, dropping the stained shirt into a hamper. For all the frustration Alex put him through, it was a wonder Sullivan put up with him. They had met about 6 months ago. Alex had been mauled by a stray dog, and Sullivan had found him, bleeding badly in an alleyway. He didn’t know what had prompted him to help the boy; Sullivan was no saint, and more than once he had been in similar situations, always ignoring the one in need. But this was different. Sullivan had felt compelled to help the kid, a simple street urchin of eight, and had carried him back to his home. Without his care, Alex surely would have died in that alley. Maybe it was foolishness, or maybe it was some innate desire to act benevolently for once, but whatever the reason, Sullivan was sympathetic to the boy. Maybe this is what being a father feels like, Sullivan thought, then dismissed the idea. Fathers don’t encourage their sons to pickpocket; that being said, Sullivan’s own father had led a crime syndicate smuggling cocaine out of Columbia. Calling it a poor environment to raise a child would be an understatement. A muffled thud sounded from upstairs, then a quick patter of feet. Alex raced back downstairs, hurriedly towing an old red backpack. “Look what I found!” he said, the words almost tumbling out of his mouth. He waved the backpack around excitedly, like he had won the lottery and he had in his hands the winning ticket, instead of a bag. Sullivan raised an eyebrow. He opened his mouth to speak, then stopped. Unsure of what to say, he just watched as Alex pranced around the couch. His mouth finally began working. “That’s my nephew’s school bag. He left it here a few years ago. What’s so—” Then he realized. He had almost asked what was so special about the bag, when he figured out the simple truth: Alex had never gone to school. Proper education, and anything related to it, was entirely foreign to him. “Imagine how many things I could fit in here!” he said excitedly, opening the top zipper and peering

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inside. “I bet I could fit fifty wallets! And fifty cell phones! What do you think, Sullivan?” Sullivan didn’t answer for some time. He raised his hand to scratch at his beard, seemingly deep in thought. “Yes, at least. You could carry a good amount of goods in there.” “None of the other kids have backpacks, they can’t afford them,” Alex said. Then after a pause, “can I have it? I’ll use it to get three times more than I already give you!” Alex eagerly waited for a reply, almost bouncing up and down in excitement. Finally Sullivan spoke, his words unexpectedly soft. “Alex, how would you feel about school?” he asked, a slight smile growing on his face. “You mean, if I went? I don’t know. I have never been.” He glanced up at Sullivan, a puzzled look on his face. “Why?” “Because...I don’t know. But I feel it’s the right thing to do.” He motioned towards the front door, then began to walk. Opening the door, he turned around to see Alex still in the living room, unmoving, the backpack dangling limply from his hand. “Why are you doing this?” Alex asked slowly, his face a mask of nervousness. “Alex, I—” he stopped, then after a time, “I’m doing this because I don’t want to repeat history. I don’t want to be like my own father.” Alex walked forward, looking up at Sullivan with the wide eyes of a child. “Come,” Sullivan said. And so they went.

Step By Heather Reed Step. Step. Step. Monitor. Step, step, step. Okay, breathe. You’re okay. It’s okay. Check again. Keep walking. I had to tell myself these kinds of affirmations all the time. South Africa was flooded with land mines at one time…and you just never know. My sergeant thought this area was clear. We thought it was clean. We thought it was safe and clear and okay. We thought that until we were so shocked that we couldn’t think anymore. Seeing a man blow apart does that to you, ya know? It makes ya stop thinking. You stop putting emotion into your job, and you just do it. James and I weren’t even that close. We shared some jokes, and when his girlfriend sent over some nudes for James’ enjoyment, he would let me sneak a peek. I had never really told anybody, but he knew I was alone. James had a way of knowing things…just never the right things, or the things that really mattered. Those kinds of things would be the ones that killed him. There was a girl, maybe fifty yards away. She had been caught in the crossfire from the gunfight of two rival gangs. Our platoon didn’t have an assignment that day, so we were on civilian protection. She had taken a shot to the arm and suffered a nasty fall. She was so small. So delicate and rough together: the kind of delicacy that living in a place like this harbors, but the roughness that survival requires. She was lying in the grass. The green against the dark chocolate of her skin was heartbreakingly pure, like she was meant to be in the grass, but the blood saturated the picture and ushered reality in. The mission was real simple: get in, get the girl, get out…and avoid landmines. Some of the mines were older than the baby-faced boys stepping over them.

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We tried not to let the job affect our lives too much, but it’s not easy. Nothing about life is easy, really, anymore. The days all run together. Every broken face tries to heal the others they encounter in your memory. Some faces stick out, the ones you saved, but more so are the ones you lost. That might be the hardest part, knowing how many peoples’ lives you let fall through the crack in-between your fingers…but really, you start to hate yourself when you excuse the deserved guilt, because it’s “part of the job” or because you “can’t save them all.” You hate the fact that all of your faults are filled with loss and glazed with ignorance. Anyway, the girl. I see her. God, she’s so close. I just want to scoop her up. She’s out—I mean, she’s asleep. Her chest is still fluctuating each time her lungs fill with air. She’s breathing. I should check again. These land mines should be gone by now, they should all be too old to work, but they still take lives each day. Like the devil himself planted them, like he already knows whose life he’s reaping. The detector beeps once: negative. A few more steps. I crouch down and get my first real look at the girl. Her body is rough; she took a hard fall, and the ground didn’t show her much mercy. Her head is nestled in the grass. There’s dirt in her hair, and her skin is scratched. She has big beautiful eyelashes that rest on the apples of her cheeks. It’s hot outside, but she isn’t sweating. I almost don’t want to move her. I don’t want to rescue her from this bliss she’s suspended in. But that’s the job. I arrange my arms so that one will catch in the crook of her legs, and the other will hold the weight of her head. I just want her to be safe. From behind me, I hear a voice. My commander. He says that we haven’t checked the ground. Her ground. I hate that we haven’t found a mine for…well, a lot of steps. I can’t pick her up yet. I remove my arms. I stand back up and pull out the metal detector. Every muscle in my body tenses as I wave it over her body. Two beeps: positive. Damn. I just, you’ve got to be kidding. Maybe it was a false positive. I wave it over her a thousand times. There are so many freakin’ beeps I just want to throw this metal piece of shit across to field and hope to an empty God that it blows this shithole to pieces. I kneel back down to her. I can’t save her. I can’t do anything. I’m so tired of this feeling of empty anguish and heart-breaking inability to do jack shit that’s actually worthwhile. What happens when she wakes up? When she stands up and blows this whole field back to the rocky hole in the ground it once was? I don’t think. I bend down. I turn around and look at the Commander. I see him running. When I can’t see him anymore, I bend over and kiss her forehead. I turn my eyes to a God I pray is full of grace and hope for the heavens. I pick her up, and we go together.

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Nuisance By Callie Rocha After the bell rang signaling the end of first period, Nathan made a beeline from Physics to Sociology. Was this because he loved Sociology and couldn’t wait to learn more about the ways of human interaction and how it has evolved over the span of the last century? Not exactly. Instead it had to do with a girl, but not just any girl, of course! It had to do with a girl named Haiden, who in his eyes was a goddess among mortals, with her smooth bronze skin and luscious brown hair, her appearance topped off with vivid blue eyes. With all the video games Nathan played and the unrealistic aesthetics the women of those games presented, it was a wonder how Nathan found himself enchanted by this—while very pretty—very real girl, as opposed to his friends who were still crushing on the busty babe Beyonetta or Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. When Nathan entered the classroom, he was delighted to be greeted by the sight and sound of Haiden laughing at something on her phone. Haiden felt her mood dip a little once she caught sight of the tall awkwardly-figured boy in her peripheral vision. Okay, more like it dipped a lot. She had only meant to quickly check everyone’s Snapchat stories, but now that Nathan was in the room, looking directly at her of course, she was forced to keep her gaze locked on her phone as to avoid making eye contact. She then thought that maybe if she completely ignored his presence it would be like he wasn’t in the room at all. With that decided, she let her thoughts drift to other matters as she played with her phone. That is, until a nasally voice interrupted those very thoughts. “Greetings and salutations, M’Lady,” Nathan said as he took a seat at the desk next to hers. “How do you fare on this lovely day?” Haiden felt her face tighten up as she tried her best not to roll her eyes at the ridiculous dialect the boy used with her. She knew that he didn’t really talk like that. It was just that he had this absurd notion that it would make him seem more romantic when it really made him seem like a total tool. She gave out a heavy sigh before replying. “Oh, I’m fine, Nathan…” She began rubbing her temples, “And how are you doing?” “I fare rather merrily on this day.” He smirked. “Why, just last evening I began my descent into the vast universe that is Guild Wars Two.” “Oh, how…cool,” She feigned interest. “What, uh, race and class are you?” Haiden could then clearly see enormous delight spill onto the boy’s oily, acne-scarred face and thus realized that asking him such a question probably wasn’t a good idea. Okay, so she knew it wasn’t a good idea at all, along with interacting with him to any extent, really. Deep inside Haiden knew that the best course of action to take when a persistent boy can’t take a hint (it wasn’t even really a hint so much as a “Sorry, but I’m taken”) was probably just to straight up ignore him—make him hate her even, if she had to. But she just couldn’t. It wasn’t in her character to give the cold shoulder or be aggressive. Hurting people’s feelings was something she avoided on instinct. It scared her to think about what she would have had to say to people such as Nathan if she weren’t already with someone. How could she ever say no? “I take momentous pride in my skills as an elementalist, Asura. I have already achieved level fifteen and have constructed a formidable guild for others to join.” Nathan leaned forward. “Why, M’Lady, if you would ever so choose to integrate yourself into the game, it would please me so to have you be an honorary member of my guild. I could arrange for you to be well equipped for your journey…”

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Haiden screamed internally as he continued on. Taylor groaned as she made her way up the flight of stairs. Her legs were sore from all those damn lunges in gym class the previous day, and it had been a long walk to the school building. That was thanks to her late arrival due to her checkup at the dentist which caused her to get a crappy parking spot. God, she hated parking at school. She groaned again as she stepped in front of the door to her Sociology class with both hands already occupied by grande hot chocolates from Starbucks. She pressed her face against the window of the door while hitting the handle with her wrist in hopes of drawing enough attention for someone to open the door for her. Even though it didn’t take long for a peer to come to her aid, it was still enough time for Taylor to catch sight of a scrawny, long-legged boy happily chatting up a rather vexed-looking girl. Once the door was open, she immediately stomped towards the other two teenagers, not bothering to thank the girl who had helped her into the room. “Nathan, get the hell out of my seat and stop bugging my girlfriend.” Taylor swore that if she wasn’t holding her Starbucks she would have swatted the boy on the head, even if it meant having her hand come into contact with his greasy hair. Nathan let out a rather pathetic shriek in surprise, as if he didn’t expect to be confronted. Taylor rolled her eyes. “I said Move.” She kicked a leg of his chair. “Taylor,” Nathan spat out her name like it was venom, “Don’t you know that it’s rude to interrupt other people’s conversations?” “Oh, you’re right. Look, I’m sorry that I interrupted your conversation with yourself.” She set down the drinks on Haiden’s desk, smiling at her, before taking hold of Nathan’s shirt and yanking him up from his seat. “Now, if you could please take it elsewhere.” “Fine, I shall take my leave, but only if M’Lady wishes for me to do so.” He turned to the tight-lipped girl. “Haiden, do you desire my absence?” To avoid answering his question Haiden grabbed a hot chocolate and began drinking it. She burned her mouth in the process. Taylor let out an annoyed huff. “Why don’t you ask her who she’d rather sit by, huh?” Nathan just crossed his arms and remained silent. “It’s because you know the answer already, don’t you?” “Haiden, my fair, beautiful lady, whom would you rather sit by? Me or this spawn of Satan?” Haiden gulped down her hot chocolate before pointing her finger towards her girlfriend. Nathan slumped in defeat as he slowly began his quest for a new seat. Taylor plopped down in the seat next to Haiden. “You’ve really got to tell him to go screw himself sometime, yeah?” “I know…But it’s hard. Thanks for the hot chocolate, though.” “Of course… M’Lady!”

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Bright Stars and Attempted Suicide By Sam Rogers The halls went silent, everyone parted down the middle trying to get away from the lanky boy at the front doors. It was as if one small touch would infect the whole crowd with the same tragic fate. Everyone knew what Charlie had done; there were no secrets in this town. No one wanted to talk to the kid who tried to kill himself. When the school first found out about him, no one believed it. Charlie had always been so happy and upbeat, even when the whole world was trying to bring him down. Even on a day like today, he wore his iconic baby blue sweater with yellow stars covering it. He stretched a beanie over his golden brown locks. It looked out of place, but somehow it worked on a kid like Charlie. He stood at the front of the main hall. Everyone turned to look at him. Apparently when you’re in the hospital for two weeks, you become the talk of North Valley High School. With his backpack slung over his shoulder, Charlie trudged down the hallway through the crowd of teens. As he ducked into his first period class, Chemistry, he heard the hall become crowded and loud once again. “Ah, Charlie Stormson, you’re back.” The teacher called him over to his desk. “We have lots of work to catch you up on.” “Yes, Mr. Near. I am terribly sorry about missing so much school.” Charlie wasn’t too thrilled about his teachers finding out why he was gone. If they found out he had been suicidal, they would try to pity him and then the other students would just get mad at him. “I had a family emergency.” The look in Mr. Near’s eyes told Charlie that he had already known the truth, but that didn’t keep him from going along with it. “Very well,” Mr. Near said. “I do hope everything is okay.” “Everything is fine, sir’,” Charlie lied. “Thank you.” The teenage boy was finding that coming back to school was going to be harder than he had expected. “If you ever need anything, just let me know,” Mr. Near whispered. “Now down to business: you missed two labs and a test. There are also warm-ups for every day, but given the circumstances, I will drop those grades. Wh—” The bell interrupted the teacher, and Charlie turned around to return to his seat. Kids filed in groups through the front door. The room instantly became four times louder, and Charlie felt the familiar anxiety creep up into his stomach. Charlie had no idea how he was going to make it through the day with everyone ignoring him like the plague. Seats all around Charlie were left empty as students crowded into the desks near the opposite corner of the room. As everyone sat down, Charlie looked around. Everyone had someone to talk and laugh with. It felt like he was truly alone. Class moved excruciatingly slow, and when the bell rang, Charlie couldn’t have been out of there faster. The same thing happened in every single class he was in. Teacher gives sympathy, students ignore him, the bell rings, and repeat. It was fourth period, Charlie’s favorite class, art. The art teacher was his favorite because she understood him on a deeper level than the other teachers. She spent time to talk to him and understand how he was feeling. She was the one constant he was depending on. If she couldn’t act normal around him, then no one could. Charlie took a deep breath before swinging the door open to the art classroom.

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“Charlie!” Mrs. Mackle exclaimed. Charlie’s face lit up with a smile as he found the petite woman standing on a ladder by the door to hang a new piece of art on the wall. “I wasn’t expecting you to be here today. Welcome back, Mr. Stormson.” “Thanks, Mrs. Mackle.” Charlie went right for the drawer with his latest work in it. “I need to work on my art. It’s the one thing that won’t turn its back on me right now.” Mrs. Mackle gave Charlie a nod of understanding. “We just got a new shipment of art supplies,” she whispered down from the ladder. “I’m not telling you to go open the boxes in the corners and grab some new supplies, but I do have my back facing you as I put this picture up.” Mrs. Mackle turned back and focused on hammering a nail into the wall. Charlie found himself at the back of the room with the art supplies, and before he knew it, he was cutting open boxes and sifting through the supplies. “Charlie, stop!” A young girl yelled as she walked through the door. She dropped everything she was holding and ran to him, tearing the knife from his hands. “This is not the solution.” Charlie was puzzled to say the least. “Uh,” Charlie stammered, “I was just opening these boxes. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” The girl slumped away with a red face as kids snickered. “I bet that’s what he wants us to think,” one of the football players announced to the class. “He probably just wants all of our pity. He wants us to stop him from killing himself.” All the class was laughing by now. “Yeah, you’re right, Cap,” another jerk agreed. “He probably didn’t even really try to kill himself. It was probably all a part of his scheme to get some attention around here.” “Well, how did that work out for you, buddy?” “Look at him, he knows you’re right,” one of the popular girls said. “He just doesn’t want to admit that his plan wasn’t as foolproof as he thought it was.” Charlie threw down the knife and turned to face the crowd. “Enough,” Charlie yelled, as he grabbed a chair to stand on. “I have had enough of you. ALL OF YOU! I didn’t pretend to kill myself. No one in their right mind would risk that just to get attention from a bunch of dumbasses like you. WHAT DID I EVER DO TO YOU? You know what? I wish I had died in that hospital bed because death would be better than co-existing with a bunch of pig-headed, lumpy, and disgusting people like you!” Charlie was so pissed he couldn’t even find the words to explain what he was feeling. “Charlie, follow me!” Mrs. Mackle laid a comforting hand on Charlie’s shoulder as they stepped outside. “You …you’re better than them.” Charlie nodded his head. “So then why do you let them get to you? They don’t understand what it’s like to be someone as bright as you,” Mrs. Mackle said. “You are too big and bright for high school, like a

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star. You’ve got a whole lot of personality, but people don’t stop long enough to let you show them. One day they’ll realize how great you are, though. Don’t let them dim your light.” At this point, Charlie felt like he was going to throw up. The anxiety was all too much to handle. He felt himself slipping back into his bad place. “I really don’t want to do this, but you are at risk of hurting yourself, so you need to get yourself to the office.” Charlie turned to walk down the hall towards the office, but instead his legs collapsed underneath him as he turned the corner. A girl who looked to be in Charlie’s grade saw the boy fall and ran towards him. “Are you okay?” Charlie couldn’t answer, for his body was overtaken with violent sobs. All he could do was shake his head. “Oh god, okay, well, let’s talk. Tell me about why you’re sad.” After a minute of silence and trying to control his sobs, Charlie spoke up. “Everyone hates me.” Charlie’s voice was barely above a whisper. “I can’t do this anymore.” The girl placed a hand behind his neck and pulled him into a hug. Charlie couldn’t remember the last time someone had hugged him. It felt like ages. “I’m Charlotte,” the girl whispered. “What’s your name?” Charlie looked up at the girl to find the most stunning blue eyes he’d ever seen. He couldn’t trust his mouth to make out coherent words, so he just put his hands on his face and continued to sob. “That’s fine. Names are so overrated.” After sitting in the hall for about five minutes in complete silence, Charlie worked up the courage to talk. “I must look absolutely ridiculous crying on the floor in a high school hallway. I promise, I don’t do this often. I’m Charlie, by the way.” Charlotte just giggled and wrapped an arm around Charlie’s shoulder. “Well Charlie, would you like to go on a walk with me? School is also overrated. Let’s ditch and go to that park four blocks down.” Charlie got up.

My Star By Lexi Romero It’s been so long since I’ve seen Grandma; I think two years. Mama told me that she’s really sick, so we have to go comfort her. When we got to Los Angeles, we went straight to the hospital. The car ride there was quiet, until I broke the silence. “Will grandma get better?” I asked my mom. “Y-yes sweetie, of course she will.” She replied. The softness in her voice gave me the feeling that she really wasn’t sure.

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Honestly, it scared me. Would my grandma actually get better? Finally we arrived at the hospital. When we got inside, we had to wait about twenty minutes before we could go in and see her. Even as we waited, I could feel my heartbeat increase every second that went by. While I sat, not speaking a word, I would occasionally glance at mama to see a very worried look on her face. At last, the doctor walked in and escorted us to Grandma’s room. I had never been so nervous like this. In school we talked about hospitals once, and they said that people only go if they are really, really sick. One of my friends, Kailey, said that her grandpa passed away because of a serious illness. That day she sat by herself and would just cry. What if my grandma had that same illness? I prayed to God to let her stay here on earth with my mother and me. Mama told me to wait outside the room while she went to go talk to Grandma. I could barely see a thing through the glass, my eyes barely reaching the window. I saw a chair nearby and quickly pushed it in front of the door. When I peeked inside, my mother was holding Grandma’s hand. She looked like she was crying, but I wasn’t sure. When I saw her let go, I instantly got off the chair, pushing it back to its original place. I went to sit on the chair right by the door and waited anxiously to see my grandma. “Ella, come see your grandmother.” My mother spoke as she opened the door. My stomach began to turn into a horrible knot. Slowly, I got up from the comfy chair and walked in. Once I was in the room, I turned around to see mama close the door behind her as she left the room. After a moment or two I finally walked towards the hospital bed where my grandmother laid. “Hi, Grandma,” I greeted, my voice soft and sweet. “Hello princess. How are you?” she replied while a smile fell upon her face. She looked terrible. Bags were under her eyes like she hadn’t slept for days. She coughed a little bit, too. “I’m doing well…what about you?” I asked cautiously. Suddenly, the smile that was on her face disappeared, becoming a frown. She extended her arm out, offering a hand to me. I placed mine in hers, and she pulled me closer and closer until she hugged me. “Listen to me, Ella, I’m very sick…and I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of time,” she began. “What do you mean?” I whimpered as I let go of the embrace. “All good things come to an end, princess. I’m afraid I’m going to have to go soon.” As the words escaped her mouth, I felt my heart drop. No, this couldn’t be! She can’t leave us, not now! “But I don’t want you to…” I mumbled. “Don’t worry, even if I’m not here beside you physically, I’ll still be watching you. Just look for my star at night.” “How do I know which one is yours?” I spoke softly. “You’ll know it when you see it. Now, I need you to promise me something. Promise me, you’ll do well in school and be good for your mother. I know when she’s upset it may seem like she doesn’t love you, but my princess, she loves you to pieces. Remember that the only reason she’s upset is because she cares about you.” The more she went on, the more the reality of the situation was sinking in. “I p-promise.” it took me forever to actually respond. Grandma was leaving. A pain struck my heart, bringing me to tears. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I’m only six; it couldn’t possibly be happening so soon. “Don’t cry, princess. No need to worry about me. Wipe those tears. Let’s talk about your new puppy, yeah?” Grandma said, just as I began to cry. It was hard not to cry. It all made sense

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to me. This was the reason mama told me she was going to be okay. She was afraid I’d cry; I was afraid to cry. Eventually I convinced myself to calm the tears, and I finally spoke up. “Yeah, my puppy. She’s a border collie.” “What did you name her?” grandma smiled. “Rayne. She’s actually a lot a work, but I’m enjoying the company.” I wiped the last few tears and managed to smile back. “Do you have a picture?” she asked curiously. My face lit up, and I nodded before briefly running outside the room to grab my notebook where a picture of her was taped. When I went back up to Grandma I handed her the notebook. “Ah, a blue merle! What a beauty, she is!” she laughed slightly. We both gazed at the picture for a few moments, until Grandma opened the notebook. “What notebook is this, princess?” she asked. “It’s Rayne’s notebook. I keep track of her height and weight in here. Sometimes I’ll write about new trick she learned.” I replied as I scanned the pages with paragraphs and random words written on it. “What tricks has she learned?” “Sit, Lie down, Shake, and Sit up, but we’re working on spin right now!” I chirped. Grandma chuckled and handed the notebook back to me. Once I placed it off to the side, I watched as she took off the necklace that was around her neck. “Take this,” she said, handing me the necklace, which had a little heart locket charm. I took it between my fingers. When I opened it I saw a tiny picture of a baby. It was an older picture. I assumed it was Mama. On the other heart, there was a picture of me as a baby. A smile grew across my face as I admired the necklace and its locket. I clasped the necklace around my neck letting it rest on my chest. “Thank you, Grandma.” I pressed a small kiss on her cheek and gave her a hug. “You’re welcome…do you—do you mind singing me a song, princess?” she asked. I took notice of her eyes beginning to close. She must’ve been tired. I mean, if I had been in a hospital all week, I’d be tired, too. I nodded in response and began to sing the lyrics to my favorite song from Les Miserables. “There is a castle on a cloud. I like to go there in my sleep. Aren’t there any floors for me to sweep, Not in my castle on a cloud. There is a lady all in white. Holds me and sings a lullaby. She's nice to see and she's soft to touch. She says, ‘Cosette, I love you very much.’ I know a place where no one's lost. I know a place where no one cries. Crying at all is not allowed, Not in my castle on a cloud.” By the time I finished, she was already fast asleep. Something in me told me stay a little longer, but the more I looked at her, the more I realized something wasn’t right. I leaned over the bed and pressed my ear against her chest. Nothing. No heartbeat.

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“Oh, no…” I covered my mouth as tears threatened to escape my eyes. “Mama!” I shouted out, taking Grandma’s hand in mine and holding it tight. Within a second the door flung open and my mother quickly picked me up. “No! No! No! I don’t wanna leave! Grandma!!” I couldn’t control myself; I kept kicking and screaming. My mom did everything in her will power to calm me down, but I couldn’t stop myself from fighting back. Soon she put me down, but held on to my wrist. I tried to tug my wrist out of her grip as the doctors pushed the hospital bed down the hall. I just kept screaming and crying. The rest of that day was a blur. All I remember is my mom finally letting go of my wrist and I dropped to my knees and cried hysterically. Just like that, Grandma was taken from us. I began to wonder why God, did this. If God is good, then why did he take my grandmother away in the blink of an eye? That night I lay in my bed and held the necklace above my face, thinking back to the moment when Grandma gave it to me. Despite the fact that she was taken from us, I reminded myself that she’s still watching me from the star above. I hurried out of my bed and looked out the window, searching for Grandma’s star. As if it were instinct, I found it out of the billions twinkling in the sky. “I love you, Grandma…”

The Victory Storm By Abby Sledge To any distant onlooker, the scene would have appeared tense: two pirate captains on the deck of a massive ship, at a standoff only a few arms’ widths apart. Each gripped a sword, though both weapons were still holstered, and their crews growled at each other from the edges of the ship. However, Quartermaster Patrick Jameson, from his excellent vantage point at his captain’s right shoulder, knew that he and the rest of the crew of The Victory Storm would escape with their heads intact. He could tell because of the look on his captain’s face: beneath the brim of her feathered hat, she was smiling. Apparently the captain of the enemy ship had noticed, too. “Oi, ye dirty wench! What the ‘ell are ye smilin’ about?” Patrick frowned. The enemy captain was a burly man, with an admittedly impressive beard, who so towered over Captain Mae that she was barely eye level with his shoulders. Still, that didn’t give the man the right to insult her like she was some common parlormaid. He didn’t make a move to counter, however. Captain Mae could handle herself, that was for sure. “Ah, lad,” Captain Mae said, “If ye came ‘ere lookin’ for a fight, ye’re bound to be disappointed.”

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The captain bristled at the perceived insult. “Are ye suggestin’ that me crew couldn’t handle itself in a brawl?” he asked, scowling dangerously. Captain Mae put on a show of being shocked. “Blimey, mate, no! Quite the opposite!” “Eh?” The man’s scowl dropped, and he was so confused that he took a step back. “That’s right.” Captain Mae tilted her hat back and Patrick caught a gleam of mischief in her eye. “What I’m suggestin’ is that yer crew would win any fight we ‘ad. Even though meself and me crew ‘ave plundered nearly every port in fifty leagues, outrun the Navy for thirteen years, and collected enough booty to retire like royalty…” Here Captain Mae looked pointedly at the captain who had dared to call her a “wench.” The bearded captain scoffed weakly, and Captain Mae continued, “Well, despite all of that, yer crew outnumbers mine two to one. We’ve barely a fightin’ chance.” The bearded captain regained his composure and attempted a sneer. “That’s right. Ye ‘aven’t got a chance to win!” Captain Mae smiled, dazzlingly. “Exactly right, matey! So, in light of that...I, on behalf of The Victory Storm, would like to surrender.” There was a moment of silence while the enemy absorbed that new information, and then, “Wh-what?” It was lucky the captain’s beard hid most of his face, Patrick thought, or his expression might have been embarrassing. “Well, not surrender, exactly,” Captain Mae continued, “seeing as ‘ow that would give ye free reign to loot and plunder me ship, and that’s not what I want at all. No, no, what I’m offerin’ is to give ye ‘alf of all the treasure on this ‘ere ship in exchange for yer peaceable withdrawal from ‘er deck.” Seeing the other captain floundering, Patrick piped up. “It’s really for the best, Captain. If you were to fight us, even if you won, you’d lose men. This way you’ll get your loot and keep your whole crew. Win-win, and all that.” Captain Mae shot Patrick a look, but didn’t chastise him. Instead, she grinned at the befuddled captain once more and said, “Well, ‘ave we got a deal, Captain?” The captain opened his mouth, closed it again, and held up a finger to ask for a moment. Captain Mae nodded, still smiling benevolently, and the captain hastily turned to confer with his crew. After a minute or two of harried conversation, the captain faced Captain Mae once more and cleared his throat. “I…that is, on behalf of The Raider’s Revenge, I accept yer terms, Captain.” “Excellent!” Captain Mae said as she clapped the still somewhat baffled man firmly on his shoulder—an impressive feat for a woman only five feet two inches tall— and spun to face her crew. “Garrick!” “Aye, Captain!” Garrick, a weasel of a man only a few inches taller than the Captain, scurried forward with a salute. To the other captain, Captain Mae said, “Garrick ‘ere is responsible for all our monetary affairs.” Then, to Garrick, “Show this sensible fellow to our treasure store so ‘e can see that ‘e’s gettin’ a fair piece of the booty. And then make sure that the captain and all ‘is crew get off me ship, friendlylike.” She turned away, whip-sharp, but the other captain stopped her.

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“I still don’t understand!” he exclaimed. “Why would ye give up yer treasure like that, without even tryin’ to fight?” Captain Mae, without looking back at the man, said, “Because a loyal crew is more important to this captain than any bloody lump of gold.” Then, without another word to the man, she continued toward her quarters. “Pattie, with me.” Patrick sighed. He hated that nickname, but there was no convincing the Captain to abandon it once she had made up her mind. He shook his head fondly and trotted after Captain Mae, trusting that Garrick would sort everything out on deck. He didn’t catch up with her until she was already in her quarters, and he slowed when he reached her doorway. Though he knew the Captain hated it, he knocked on the doorframe. “Oh, come in already, Pattie, ye bloody addled lad—‘ow many times do I need to tell ye that ye don’t ‘ave to knock?” Patrick, instead of laughing at the woman’s exasperation, entered the room with a frown. The Captain sounded hoarse, not at all like her usual boisterous self. Then, seeing her, Patrick suddenly felt as though he had been keelhauled. “Captain!” Captain Mae sat at her ramshackle desk, leaning heavily on her crossed arms, which she had propped on the desk. It seemed that in the last few minutes she had aged a decade—she had dark circles under her eyes, and her shoulders were slumped like they had the weight of the whole British Isles resting on them. Without a doubt, something was dreadfully wrong. Not wasting a second, Patrick rushed to his Captain’s side. “Captain Mae! What’s happened? Are you injured?” He began running his hands along her arms and sides, all earlier thoughts of propriety forgotten. “Only you, Captain, only you could somehow manage to get hurt when we didn’t even fight—“ “Pattie!” Captain Mae barked. When he didn’t stop his frantic search for a wound, she batted at his hands. “Pattie, stop it! I’m not wounded, and even if I were, yer blabberin’ wouldn’t ‘elp any.” Patrick had the decency to look chided, but only for a moment. “Then what’s the matter, Captain? And don’t say nothing, something’s obviously wrong.” Captain Mae sighed. “It’s been five years to the day, Pat.” Understanding hit Patrick like cannon fire. “The curse.” “Aye,” Captain Mae said. “Me time is up.” “There’s got to be something we can do,” Patrick exclaimed. “You just have to give your heart to someone, right?” “And expect nothin’ in return, that’s right,” the Captain muttered. “So, if we get you to port smartly, then—” “Pattie,” the Captain interrupted, “It’s too late, and even if it weren’t, I made me decision five years ago. I’d rather live five years as a captain with ye all than give it all up just for some borrowed extra time. And the sea-witch was clear—if I didn’t give me heart unconditionally, I’d die in five years. Never shoulda insulted that damned hag’s treasure horde. If I’d’ve known she was a witch—” “Scupper that!” Patrick shouted. Captain Mae moved to stand, shaking her head in mock disappointment. “Such coarse language, Pat…” She didn’t continue, instead swaying dizzily as a wave of vertigo swept over her.

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She certainly would have fallen if her Quartermaster hadn’t caught her with reflexes honed by years at sea. “Steady on, Captain,” Patrick murmured. “Not losing your sea legs, are you?” His quip earned him a shadow of a smile. “Let’s get you into bed.” When Captain Mae was settled onto her mattress, Patrick started to leave, but a hand on his arm stopped him. “Patrick,” the Captain said. The Quartermaster suddenly found it hard to swallow around the lump in his throat. “Captain…you don’t need to—” “Ah, I’ve given ye ‘ell for goin’ on ten years now. Ye’ve at least earned being called by yer given name by now, ‘aven’t ye?” Patrick could only nod. Captain Mae leveled a solemn gaze at him. “I don’t regret it. Ye need to see that, Patrick. I don’t regret one moment of me plundered time with all of ye.” “I understand, Captain,” Patrick said quietly. The Captain smiled, and Patrick thought he caught a flicker of the old brightness return to her eyes. “’ave I ever told ye ‘ow glad I am that ye decided to go on account?” “Aye, Captain,” Patrick said with the happiest expression he could muster, “nearly every day for going on ten years.” That garnered a laugh, which quickly turned into a coughing fit. Patrick watched helplessly until the fit subsided, at which point the Captain looked at him with resigned eyes and said, “I think it’s time for ye to call the crew.” “Aye, Captain.” Some minutes later, Patrick had gathered all the crew, except for a new hand whom he left to man the helm, in the Captain’s quarters. Well, in or near her quarters, as not all of the twenty-man crew would fit. The men who had been around the longest clustered around Captain Mae’s bed, while the fresher recruits hovered in the hallway. “Ye all know about the curse,” Captain Mae began, “so I won’t bore ye with the details, even though ye all know how Cap’n Mae loves to ramble on.” This earned only a few weak chuckles. The crew certainly didn’t feel like laughing when their Captain lay dying in front of them. “I just wanted—” the Captain broke off for a moment and coughed harshly. “I wanted to tell all of ye ‘ow proud ye’ve made me. The Victory Storm ‘as been known as the greatest pirate ship on the sea for thirteen years, me hearties!” The crew cheered, albeit in a more subdued manner than usual. “And ye were the greatest Captain ever to sail ‘er, Captain Mae,” Garrick said. His rodent-like eyes were brimming with tears, and he grabbed hold of the nearest crewmember in a paroxysm of sorrow. Once more the crew cheered, vigorously this time, roused by their distress and their respect for their Captain. Captain Mae smiled tiredly and waited for the cheering to fade. “Thank ye,” she said when her crew quieted. “Now, I said it to Quartermaster Pattie, but I think I’d like to say it again to all of ye.” She coughed weakly. Her eyelids had begun to droop, Patrick noticed worriedly. “I might be leavin’ now because I chose to stay with this ‘ere crew, but don’t none of ye go blamin’ yerselves. I chose this. And I don’t...regret it. Not a single…bloody…day…” The Captain inhaled fitfully, and her eyes finally drifted shut. The crew waited fearfully for her to sigh her last breath. Patrick clenched his eyes shut, unable to watch.

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A blinding sea-green light erupted from the Captain’s body. Patrick, along with the rest of the crew, braced himself against a wall as typhoon-force winds blasted through the Captain’s quarters. The whole of The Victory Storm rattled in the gale, and Patrick feared that it would blow apart altogether. He only dared to open his eyes again when the winds died down. When he did, he found himself face-to-face with a very angry hag of a woman. “How the hell did that thrice-damned pirate break my curse?” The hag, who Patrick now realized must be the sea-witch Captain Mae had encountered five years ago, stomped across the room and grabbed him by the front of his shirt. She stared at him with eyes like hurricanes before dropping him unceremoniously. “Not you.” The witch scanned the room full of petrified pirates, and scoffed. “None of you! So how the bloody hell did she—” “Wait!” Patrick said. Although he quailed under the fierce glare the sea-witch fixed upon him, he continued, “you said she broke the curse! Doesn’t that mean—” “Never mind what it means, you bilge-rat! I want to know how she DID IT!” For a moment, no one spoke. Then, slowly, Garrick took a step forward. “Erm…if ye really want to know…” “Of course, I want to know,” the sea witch barked. “Is there some man she’s managed to keep hidden from me on the mainland somewhere? Has she found one of those bloody loopholes?” “Er…not exactly,” Garrick said. “I think…maybe...the Captain didn’t give ‘er ‘eart to some man or anythin’ like that. Rather…er…” Patrick understood what Garrick was thinking before anyone else caught on. “Oh, Garrick, you addled genius,” he breathed. The sea-witch spun to glare at him again. “Well, boy, do you know what this idiot is blathering about?” “She didn’t fall in love with a man…” Patrick said quietly. He took a deep breath and looked the seawitch dead in the eye. “She gave her heart to all of us.” “What?!?” The witch shrieked. “She gave her heart to her ship and her crew!” Patrick said. “When she chose to stay with us, with no regard for her life, she gave us her whole heart and expected nothing in return!” The sea-witch seemed not to have anything to say to that. She furrowed her bushy eyebrows, frowned, and glowered at the floor. The crew hardly dared to breathe. There was still the possibility that she would snap and put a curse on Patrick for his audacity. So they were all startled when the witch burst into mad, cackling laughter. “Oh, that’s the best way anyone has escaped one of my curses in years!” The witch wiped tears of mirth from her eyes with a chuckle. “Imagine—a pirate escaping her punishment for piracy by refusing to stop being a pirate!” Then, abruptly, she scowled, shrieked an enchantment, and raised her arms. Another small hurricane shook the ship, and when it dissipated the sea-witch was gone. The crew, left in windblown bafflement, didn’t move. None of them dared to guess what was going to happen next. The Captain, who had lain unmoving throughout the whole commotion, suddenly heaved in a mighty breath and jolted upright. She sat for a moment, taking in the fact that she was most

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definitely alive, and then glanced around her quarters at her seemingly paralyzed crew. Apparently, she was able to grasp her resurrection more quickly than her shipmates, because she finally nodded sharply and said, “All right, buckos, who’s goin’ to tell me what the ‘ell just ‘appened?” “Captain!” The crew erupted with joy in unison, tackling their Captain in a massive group hug. Garrick wept profusely and clutched the unfortunate coxswain to his chest. The fresh recruits crowded in the doorway to watch, wide smiles on their faces. Quartermaster Patrick Jameson leaned against the wall, grinning and shaking his head. Only Captain Mae could have pulled this off, he thought. He caught the Captain’s eye, and she winked at him before she disappeared once more, laughing jovially, into the throng of jubilant pirates. Patrick’s grin softened. The sea-witch was right that the Captain hadn’t given her heart to any one man aboard The Victory Storm. But Patrick was glad, for more than one reason, that she had survived the curse through her love of her ship. Someday, when the time was right, he would tell Mae that there was one man on board who had already given his heart to her.

The Memoirs of a Time Traveler (Cover to a future autobiography) By Dylan Weaver Dylan Weaver’s adventures have finally been combined and published in a chronological fashion. He tells us of his journeys to the time before dinosaurs, the Stone Age, Greek and Roman civilizations, the Dark ages, our future, and much more. Read yourself into the past or future as the truth unfolds before you. Listen as he explains how he found out he could travel across time—and discovered the effects on his personal life. Sadly, Dylan cannot control his power but is randomly placed in a new time and place, which is why most of the book is written from a 17th century quill. We only know Dylan has gone missing somewhere in the Cretaceous period, fighting off dinosaurs at the age of 102 with only a chainsaw. Hopefully, we will get the final chapter and the rest of his story, but in the meantime, bring yourself up to date with his tale. So if you’re looking for the most riveting nonfiction ever, pick up The Memoirs of a Time Traveler, and delve into time itself. Time magazine: “This is the best nonfiction book written in the last 20 years. We definitely recommend it.” New York Times: “This will become one of the greatest bestsellers ever! The imagery of Dylan heroically saving the world from evil, time and time again, is astounding.” J.K. Rowling: “This is almost more fantastical than my books, and it actually happened. A must read.”

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Deep Cut By Kennedy Ketcham I was always told, “You’re gonna end up just like her someday,” But I knew that couldn’t be true—I would never lead my family astray. When poppin the caps to her bottles became more important than poppin the doctor’s pills. While you were tripping over lies and excuses, I was tripping over your empty bottles. Your words were like cuts that couldn’t scab over. All you could ever think about is “When will life be over?” I remember the first time you told me you wanted to kill yourself. I told you, “fine, I don’t care,” it was because it was a thought I was unable to bear. I’d take you in my arms, holding and giving you the support you were neglected of. But the roles were never reversed, and then I became the neglected one. I remember thinking to myself, ‘My own mother doesn’t want to be here? But maybe she’ll stick around a lil’ while longer if I offer her another beer.’ When Nana was sick and told everyone you were a slut. I don’t know how you could survive such a deep cut. I’m sure it brought back memories from that pill that was settled in your drink. Your body was going numb, so was your heart. He took your innocence, didn’t he? He took your beauty, didn’t he? He took your sanity, didn’t he? He took my mother away...didn’t he…? Time passes, but it feels as if time has been standing still. You hear gunshots, you run after them, as if you can be someone’s hero. But you can’t even save yourself. My watch is flashing 7:00, and I’m still waiting for a ride. I try to call you, but all you can do cry. You’re sick, she’s sick, he’s sick. Maybe that’s why I keep being told I’m sick, He says, “You’re bipolar.” He says, “You’re schizophrenic.” He says, “You’re crazy.” But I just don’t give a damn anymore.

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Reality Vs. Fiction By Kathryn Tu I thought that Pokémon was cool since I was a kid. I did nothing more than catch a bunch of monsters that ended up a bit too big to fit in a capsule. I threw objects around my house, turned my hat back to mimic a 10-year-old prepubescent boy Who doesn’t seem to age, And no matter how much I loathe being real, I can achieve much more than he can in one day. I got so immersed within the virtual world as I grew older, That I started imagining Lightning as a real person. And that Hope was nothing more than an abstract idea. Snow wasn’t a soft flake, and Vanille wasn’t an ice cream choice, Maybe they were in my 13 ideas of Final Fantasy. I wish I could run faster than the speed of sound, much like Sonic or some other hedgehog. Or maybe save a princess from demise just like Mario and Peach. Link and Zelda would fit nicely, But I cannot stand the fact that Ganondorf is a ginger with no soul. I would look at myself in the mirror and see the reflection of Bowser staring back at me, Those eyes that convey the lack of sleep I can’t control. Halo and Minecraft soon came to be the top hits, Games that I had never known until now. Giving players first person shooters and blowing up creepers never interested me, But that only showed how naïve I was Until I shot my first victim and made myself A house which was blown up 5 seconds later. The new 3DS that everyone gushed over, The new iPhones and smart phones that seemed to get smarter, Remind me how much of a materialistic moron I turned out to be, How I crave sequels to the children’s games from the 1960s. Sometimes I wonder what I plan to do with my life But then I say screw it and return to playing Flappy Bird or Plants vs Zombies or some crap. If I could make myself a table and fill it in, I would put down names that have no relation to work or school. My parents would be so proud of me. Probably 50 years down the road if I ever look back on this crappy schedule, I would realize That video games controlled my life.

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Full By Holly Amberboy I think Your heart Is empty Like my belly right now. You don't fill me up Like my mama's fried chicken, You're not sweet to me Like Auntie Bryn's fudge. I think your heart is empty, and I wish you could fill me up like food. No, even better, I wish food could fill you up like it does me. Because you clearly don't know how to feel full, Feel what I feel for you. I think your heart is empty, And I just want food. So let's make a deal. Let's eat. And we’ll drink those nasty Izze sodas you love so much, So we can toast to the fact that our bellies are full. You told me you were full the other night, after I'd given you loving and food. Your belly might have been full, But I still think your heart is empty.

Anderson High School

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I Did Not Learn a Thing By Alex Anderson I had never been in this chair before. In fact, I had never been in this room before. “Hi, Zachary.” The lady seated in front of me stretched her lips into a grin. “My name is Mrs. Taylor, and I’m the school counselor. Can I call you Zach?” “No, my name is Zachary.” Her smile remained. “Okay, sweetie.” “Okay, then.” I guess she wasn’t a fan of the name Zachary. “Honeypie, I know that you’re being bullied.” She enunciated the words clearly, as if perhaps I wouldn’t have understood them if she hadn’t. I almost questioned who told her. Who could have told her? Probably a girl whose name I didn’t know: a girl who went home and told her parents how brave she was for telling an adult that the brown boy was being bullied. Bullshit. “Okay,” I said. The slackening of her usually rigid jaw did nothing to quell my apprehension. Mrs. Taylor didn’t respond and I had nothing else to say. It bothered her, I guess—how passive I was about the whole thing. Finally, she asked me if I wanted to talk about it. “There’s nothing to talk about.” “Well,” she began, looking me in the eye, trying to make me understand. “We have to do something about it.” Why? “Why?” I asked her. She smiled at me then, a sad smile. “It’s the nineties now, Zach. I know that this school isn’t the most diverse, but you should not be teased because of your skin color.” Her lipstick was chapped and too bright, and there was a piece of something green between her two front teeth. I wanted to point it out. I wanted to point my finger and list every single thing that was wrong with her. From her grey roots to the little specs of dirt under her fingernails to that little piece of freaking something in between her teeth. I wanted to raise my voice, raise it and say, “There are things wrong with you, too. I’m not the one who’s having trouble here; you have something in your teeth.” But I didn’t because, according to my dead grandmother, I was a growing boy. My voice may have cracked. Being the only black kid in most of my classes didn’t really bother me. Nothing bothered me anymore, really, because as far as I was concerned people were cruel and people would always be cruel and that was that. Cruelty. I had learned that word on the last Wednesday I saw my sister before she went off to college to study philosophy. It was dinner time, and she had said that “the only thing interesting about mankind was its forever-increasing capacity for brutality.” I remember her looking for a reaction from my mother and father and receiving none. She was disappointed, I could tell. Because she thought she was being clever, and she wasn’t, and we all knew that. I remember smiling.

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And then she was dead, just like our grandma—drunk driving, Mom had said—but it didn’t really make a difference to me or the rest of the world. She was a philosophy major. What difference could she have made? Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s not like I thought that I was going to make a difference either, but I was almost positive that I was going to stay alive, at least until the end of the year. After all, I hadn’t gotten my license yet. “I’m just worried about you, Honey,” Mrs. Taylor finally responded. “I want to make sure you don’t do something you’ll end up regretting. Kids can be cruel; it’s a fact of life. At the end of the day, some of us just need to grin and bear it.” She smiled triumphantly at her own words, looking to me for approval. I felt my face scrunch up confusedly. “Do you mean,” I paused, “do you mean that if I was gonna kill myself, I’d regret it? Why would I regret it?” The old woman raised a hand to her chest in what I guessed was shock, but could easily have been disgust. “I’d be too dead to regret anything, I think.” I added as an afterthought. “Can I leave now? I’m probably missing, like, a test, or something.” Before she could respond, the bell rang. So I left. I ate lunch in the cafeteria with Lewis, like I did most days. “Why did you get pulled out of class? Are you in trouble?” he had asked as soon as we sat down, a bit of saliva shooting out of his ‘new and improved’ metalmouth and on to my lunch tray. “Ssorry,” he lisped. I didn’t say it was okay, because it wasn’t. Lewis often did things like this, and I knew for a fact that I was one of the only people who hadn’t ever wanted to inflict physical harm on this boy. Lewis was, by all accounts, a disgusting creature: his clumpy, matted hair radiating a stench that was more of dirt than scalp. He was a nuisance to every single person he came into contact with. Even me. But the way Lewis hissed in pain when he sat down told me that someone had already hurt him this week, last night probably. In his bed, probably. I never bothered to ask about it; he would have lied to me anyway. So, instead of attacking, I opted for the far less confrontational, “Why would I be in trouble?” “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m not in trouble.” “Okay.” Lewis remained quiet after that, fidgeting with whatever sort of pasta the cafeteria had been serving that day: spaghetti, probably. Lewis had enjoyed spaghetti—and it became horribly obvious that he wanted me to continue. “Mrs. Taylor told me I was being bullied.” Lewis stiffened dramatically. We’d never explicitly spoken with each other about how our classmates treated us. About how many times we’d been pushed against lockers or called faggots, or about how many times Lewis had skipped Algebra in favor of crying alone in the bathroom stalls. “Well, I mean, we are, aren’t we?” “She told me I was. She didn’t say anything about you,” I noted the look of hurt ghosting over his features. “But I don’t really care either way.” He frowned. “Why not?” “I don’t know, I just don’t.”

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We sat in silence until lunch was over. When I arrived home, my parents had nothing more to say to me than usual. The number one blinked on the answering machine. It was probably Mrs. Taylor, because I never had to speak to her again after I erased the message and walked into my bedroom. Sometimes, when I couldn’t sleep, I thought about things like cruelty and brutality and everything my sister had said about them. I thought about Lewis just across the street, screaming into a pillow, praying to a God that doesn’t exist for it to stop, please stop. It was nights like these that I began to agree with my sister’s words on humanity. The next morning, my father asked me if the lights kept me up last night. “What lights?” Mom asked. “There were all these police cars and an ambulance at our neighbor’s house last night,” He stated as he took a bite of toast, speaking to my mother. “I think they have a kid in Zachary’s grade, actually. What was his name, son?” His face contorted in thought as he turned to face me, trying to remember. I hesitated. “Lewis?” “Yeah,” he breathed, his features relaxing. “That’s the one.” “I wonder what happened.” Mom said absently. “Ask Jamie, Honey; I bet she’ll know. And then report back to me and Zachary,” Dad joked. “Sir, yes sir.” I wondered, for a moment, about Lewis. I stopped wondering when Lewis wasn’t at school that day. Or the day after that. And no one much cared until the principal held a surprise assembly and told us that Lewis had passed away under some “tragic circumstances.” She had tried to sound choked up, but she hadn’t fooled anybody. Someone I didn’t know tapped my shoulder and asked who Lewis was. I said I didn’t know. The next day some kid—Bryce, I think—said that he was sorry for the way he treated Lewis and me. He told me that he learned a lesson, or something. I, on the other hand, did not learn a thing. Lewis’ death only changed my life in one way: I sit in the library for lunch now.

A Trip to the Museum By Elin Burgess We met in Morocco on a Sunday. James tells me it was a clear day. I suppose I’ll just have to take his word for that because my memory of that day is fuzzy at best. I imagine that has something to do with the fact that I spent the first twelve hours of it dead. The first thing I remember from that day is James giving me his watch. It is a rather charming watch: expensive, but not flashy. He said, “this watch is worth a lot to me. If you lose it, I can’t promise your safety.” “Safety from what?”

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“Safety from me,” he responded dryly. So I put the watch on, and I haven’t taken it off since, except to shower, and even then I keep it within sight. James is the last person I’d want to hurt me: I am proof of what he is capable of. After he had given me the watch, James took me to a museum. He bought the tickets, since I can only speak English, then led the way to a storage room full of crates—some full of artifacts, but most empty. Once we were there, away from the public, he explained the watch to me. He spoke slowly, as if to a child. Normally that would irritate me, but on that day, I found it particularly useful. If he’d spoken to me in his normal way, his way of using long words to show off and not even pretending to breathe, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up. “Okay, Josh, tell me what you remember of the last six months.” I thought for a moment before answering. “I know that I went on a trip to Venice… Met a lovely sailor there; he bought me dinner every night for a week, but stopped abruptly when he realized I wasn’t interested.” “Why weren’t you interested?” James asked, picking up and casually toying with an Egyptian necklace. “I’m married; if I looked at anyone other than my wife, man or woman, she would kill me,” I responded. Even thinking about my wife made me anxious. Her potential for rage was only equaled by James’. Fortunately for me, he was slower to anger. “Would you say you fear your wife?” “Oh, absolutely! I remember one evening she thought I’d been staring at a waitress, so she kept my arms chained to the oven for three months.” I spoke with a lighthearted tone, but perhaps I responded a little too openly, because that was when James dropped the necklace. He seemed just as surprised as I did, but only for half a second. After that, he laughed and picked up the artifact. “Slippery little things, Egyptians,” he muttered. I thought about pointing out that he was holding a necklace, not an actual Egyptian, but given that I was meeting James for the first time, I figured it would have been terribly impolite. “I’m sorry,” I began, as James easily untangled the knots the necklace had tied itself in, “but why are you asking me all of this? And who exactly are you? And when did I get to Morocco?” “How do you know we’re in Morocco?” James asked, a smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth. “Well, since we are in the Moroccan History Museum, it seemed like a fair assumption to make,” I retorted.

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James shook his head and laughed to himself. “You’re the first subject who has known where they are.” He smiled at me, and put down the necklace (deliberately this time). “I knew you would be a good choice for our project; after all, you were married to Alyssa for six years, and you survived—well, you survived for the first five and a half years, at least…” He trailed off into his own thoughts of my wife. “I never told you that my wife’s name was Alyssa,” I said, backing away slightly from James. “Come to think of it, I never told you that my name is Josh. How do you know so much?” James’ smile faltered. “You’re the first subject to realize on the first day that I knew too much. Josh, would you consider yourself a particularly observant person?” “No,” I responded, “but I’m observant enough to tell that when a stranger takes me to a museum storage room and starts talking about my wife, something isn’t quite right. And who are these subjects you keep talking about? Am I part of some experiment?” I could feel my voice rising, but at that point, I was too afraid to care. “What happened to the other subjects? And did they really not know that something was wrong, or did you just not understand what was going on? I mean, I think it’s pretty unreasonable—” I stopped when I saw the look on James’ face. I had only ever seen that expression on my wife before: jaw set to burst out from under the skin, eyebrows crawling closer and closer to each other, nostrils sucking all of the air out of the room. Eyes a murderous shade of yellow. As soon as I stopped speaking, James’ features retreated back to where they were supposed to be, and he became, once again, a fairly handsome man in his thirties, with thick black hair and inquiring blue eyes. “Are you and Alyssa related?” James laughed at that; his laugh, which had previously sounded light and carefree, became strained and synthesized. “An interesting suggestion, but no,” he explained. “Just very old friends.” He seemed willing to answer questions if I asked them softly. “Will you explain the watch to me?” When I asked that, he looked defeated, but rather than roll over and become nothing, James handled his submission with grace. “I want you to think very carefully, Josh. What happened the last time you saw your wife?” I sat down on a nearby crate and tried to focus my mind, but something was working against me. The more I reached for my last memory of Alyssa, the more it pulled away from me. I closed my eyes. “We were standing in the kitchen… No, we weren’t! We were in the lounge, and she was wearing that pearl necklace I gave her for her 32nd birthday… She was angry—” I opened my eyes and stood up too quickly. “She looked exactly like you just did just then!” James nodded solemnly. “And why did she look that way?” “She thought I’d cheated on her with that sailor,” I said, the memory becoming clearer as I spoke it aloud. I began pacing the room. “She said to me, ‘Josh, I know you slept with that sailor, because he called me up last night and said so.’ But I’d spent the entire night with her and there’d been no phone call like that.” I looked up at James. Something about my expression made his soften. “I think you need to stop trying to remember now.” That was all he said. Then he took my wrist and twisted the watch around it. “This watch will keep you safe from Alyssa, but that isn’t all it does.” He dropped my wrist and before I had time to understand what was happening, his arm was flying towards my face. The next thing I knew, James was on the floor and my foot was on his throat. I leapt back, repulsed, and drew myself into a corner of the room.

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“As long as you keep that watch in the same room as yourself, people of my kind, like Alyssa, will never be able to harm you; and believe me, you will need that much protection after what Alyssa did.” “What did Alyssa do?” “I can’t tell you,” James said, “and I must ask that you never try to remember.” He looked like it was painful for him to imagine what great act Alyssa had done. “The watch can only protect you from future harm; it can’t undo what’s already happened.” I decided to trust James, and I must say, it’s been a good choice for me. After all, I am still here, despite his claims about Alyssa’s kind being after me. I do occasionally find myself in slightly compromising situations, with a weapon I didn’t even know I had held to a stranger’s throat, but I am alive. He eventually agreed to tell me that I died for a few weeks, but he won’t tell me how. There are far too many things he won’t explain to me. He won’t tell me what he is, or what Alyssa was; he won’t tell me what became of the other subjects, or even what secret thing I am a subject of; he won’t tell me how I came to be in Morocco, and he won’t tell me how it is that I’m alive after death. But at least I am alive.

Friends By Helen Chun After graduating, not wearing our uniforms We sat on the bench in front of our school Filled the silence with previously unshared stories Filled the silence with old dreams Long time no see You have changed I have always missed you I have always thought of you When I endured that agony You were the first one in my mind You were the first one to come to me You were the last one to leave me alone I love you We will always be friends Even when going in different directions in our lives I will always be here You can always come here My Friend.

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I Can Dig It By April Blackburn I’m not really sure what you want from me. I…I despise poetry. It’s something that, every so often, tugs at my heart strings; It promises me goodies and smirks at me from afar, And when it finally catches me, It soothes my soul and cradles me oh so lovingly... But then again, so do boys. Poetry is nothing special to me. It’s…Its literary prowess is…it means nothing. I hate that I respect what it does for people. Because people need things like poetry to make them feel better, like religion, or video games, or sex. People need a hobby that can help them, that can save them from themselves, because they’re incapable of saving themselves. And I guess, if it’s what gets you through the day, write your freaking heart out, in short, stupid clauses. And make it meaningful— make it lovely or sad or lame or cliché, because you do what-chu do. And as much as I can’t stand these weaklings, or poetry, or religion, or... well, video games and sex are okay, but that’s beside the point. The point is, I can dig it. I don’t like it. We’re not friends, poetry and I. In fact, I’d be just fine if poetry blew me. But I can dig it.

Anderson High School

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I’m Sorry By Quan Cheaves My beloved. You are the Yin to my Yang. The peanut butter to my jam. The Mini-Me to my Doctor Evil. Our friendship has come to an end But you will always my dearest friend I’ve said it once and I’ve said it twice I’ll even say it in different languages I’m sorry Lo siento For lying to you Gomen'nasa For taking your trust and stabbing it with a knife made out of jealously and pride Je suis désolé For not being there when you needed me the most Mian haeyo For running away from my problems And expecting you to fix them Mne ochen zhal For all the times you made me laugh And all the times I made you hurt I’m no more a friend than a piece of dirt I’m sorry.

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Technical Difficulties By Victoria Brandt “I’m going back to my room. I've had a long day.” I said to my friends. “See you guys in the morning.” I walked back up the stairs to my room and just stared out the window, looking at the stars that had begun to appear in the sky. As I watched, something moved at the corner of my peripheral vision. I turned to see what it was, and could not believe it. No way. It can't be. But it is. What I was staring at in utter disbelief was a skeleton who was holding a bow. I looked closer. There was another one, only this time it was riding a spider. Yes a human skeleton was riding a spider. “Oh dear God,” I muttered, then quickly ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time. “GUYS! YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE THIS!” I yelled as I ran toward where my friends were. “What?” Keith asked. “Skeletons. In the forest. Some are riding spiders.” “Like what you see in Mine—?” Bella asked. “Yeah, exactly. Come to my room, you can see them easily from—” What I was saying was cut off by the furious pounding on the door. “Crap, there are zombies as well.” I ran back to my room to grab my gear. Swords, check. Bow, check. Bow strung, check. Arrows, check. “Alright,” I sighed and ran back to the others. Apparently I wasn't the only one with fighting gear. Nina had her own bow and sword. Clay had a really mean-looking spear. Keith had a flipping claymore. Orson and Eve both had the same equipment that Bella and I had. “Ready?” I asked. Everyone nodded, faces grim with determination. “Let’s go.” I walked over to the door and pulled it open, the zombie that was pounding on it fell over and was quickly finished with one thrust of my sword. The rest started to pour in. Soon no more could enter, due to the massive pile up of bodies. But as we watched with horror, the bodies started to disintegrate, leaving the pathway open again. Those with long range weapons were taking things out as quickly as they could. Myself, Keith, and Clay were picking off stragglers, or those that didn't die with the first hit. We quickly made short work of the remaining zombies and skeletons. How long the battle went on, who could say? It could have been minutes; it could also easily have been hours. “That was my last arrow,” Nina said. “Same here,” Eve and Orson agreed. “Then I'll take over for the long range pickings. You guys do hack and slash,” I said, taking charge of the situation. “How many arrows do you have left, Bella?” “I have,” she quickly counted, “sixteen arrows left.” “Alright,” I looked at the length of her arrows. “You have about the same length I do, and I have 44 with me. So that is a total of sixty. Thirty each should suffice.” I split the arrows between us, and then got in to position. “Well, at least with the bodies drying up, we don't have to deal with them in the morning,” Keith grinned as the hoard started to attack again. “True enough!” I laughed, and loosed my first arrow into the head of the zombie that led the charge, but then fell silent as the wave of beasts crashed down upon us. Again after an immeasurable amount of time, the round was done, and the monsters faded away into the edge of the clearing, giving us as a slight reprieve. “Oh dear God, I ache. I even ache in places where I didn't know there were muscles to ache!” I moaned, when we got a small lull between waves.

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“At least we’re in one piece,” Keith remarked. “Speak for yourself!” Nina scolded. “You have not become a hedge-pig full of arrows. I have at least enough to kill a couple of cows!” she complained as she broke off the shaft of one protruding from her shoulder. “Guys? They now have some new friends.” Eve commented as she looked outside. “They are green, and look rather sad.” “Shit!” I exclaimed. “Oh dear God, why do they have to show up?!? Why?!?!” I cried. “What's wrong?” Clay asked. “They are Creepers. If you’re too close, they’ll blow up,” Bella explained, as I turned into a small pile of tears for the moment. “How many arrows do you have left?” she asked me, snapping me out of my woe. “About 12,” I replied, drying my tears. “I also have that much. Here, take mine.” She thrust her arrows at me. “I need to do some hacking and slashing myself.” “Here they come!” Nina cried, as the next wave of monsters swept up to us, giving us no time for arguments. On the battle raged. First it seemed as if we were winning, then we were losing, then winning again. Though we were fewer in number; Bella had fallen, taken down by a zombie. Nina had also died, taken out by a skeleton. “Crap! That was my last arrow, guys.” I told them, picking up my swords and launching myself into the fray. The battle continued, then slowly it died down. We had won. Dawn was approaching. But there was no rest for the weary. For almost as soon as the last zombie died, there was a sound that was akin to the roar of a lion, only twenty times worse. “Oh sweet mother of God.” I fell to my knees. “There is no way we can kill that. No way to do it and still live to tell the tale.” “What?” Orson asked. “The dragon. The Ender-dragon is here. We are so royally screwed,” I wept. “Oh dear Lord,” Keith whispered, as he caught sight of the beast. “She is right; there is no way we can do this.” The sun cracked the horizon. I looked up into the gradient sky, and time stopped. It just froze. A tear was halfway between my eye and the ground, glistening as the sun's rays hit it. /\/\/\/\/\/\/\ “WHAT?!” Elena called out. “It’s time to go to school!” her mother said again, this time standing in her door way. “But, Mama! I've almost finished this game!” she complained, “Just one more monster? Please?” “No. You can finish it at lunch. Now get ready for school; otherwise you will be late!” her mom said, with a tone of finality in her voice. Elena sighed. “Yes, Mom.” she closed the lid of her laptop, and put it away in her backpack and got ready for school.

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Snowflakes By Natalee Dunn I still remember the beginning. I can feel my cheeks heating from just thinking about it. It was Christmas time, the snow was falling, and I had a cup of hot chocolate in my hand. I had on that bright red jacket that doesn’t fit me anymore and matching rain boots. I was sitting on that little bench in the park just watching the snow fall. As tiny snowflakes fell on my jacket, I saw you. You were standing there right in front of me. “May I sit next to you?” you asked. “Yes, please do,” I hoarsely responded. After a few minutes of comfortable silence, you turned to me, and I stared into those beautiful green/brown eyes of yours and found myself lost in the colors. I tend to get lost in you. “You know, each one of us is similar to a snowflake. We are all created differently, but as we fall through life and the wind carries us through our ups and downs, we all land in the same place. We all end up melting when the time comes, and all we are is a distant memory to the sky.” I replied, “That is very poetic of you.” I wished I could say something that would rival what you said and make life seem less dark and depressing, but, in this time of my life, I was very dark and depressed. Your mouth curved into a small smile, and your eyes flittered to mine. “The good thing, though, is that every one of us falls and gets carried by the same wind. We even stick to each other when we start to melt.” I thought about it in terms of my life. “Yes, that is true; except it seems sometimes you can melt enough that no one can stick to the snowflake that needs to be saved the most.” Your eyes turned dark, and you put an arm around my shoulder. Even as complete strangers, I felt oddly connected to you. I felt myself become warmer, even though I was very cold. I turned to you, and you opened your mouth as if to say something else beautiful. “Would you like to grab a cup of coffee with me?” “I would love to.” We slowly shuffled through the snow and headed to the coffee shop.

Changing Your Fate Is Not As Easy As You Think By Jakoba Forster Kathrin opened her eyes. The last sunbeams warmed up her wrinkled skin. She leaned back, forth, back and stood up. Her knees were shaking, as well as her hands. The warm yellow light of the sun made the old garden seem like a magical fairy tale. She felt like she had gone back to being a child, when she walked towards the huge tree next to her house. The whole tree was full of moss and all sorts of plants around its big trunk. She remembered her mother telling her these wonderful stories about magical forests with small, shimmering fairies flying through the sky and old, grumpy dwarfs singing songs on their way to work.

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Whenever her mother was finished, Kathrin always asked her the same question: “Mama, are these stories actually real?” and her mother always answered the same: “Well, my dear Katie, you have to decide on your own if it’s the true or not.” Kathrin really had hated these answers; they weren’t telling her anything. Her mother had always called her “my dear Katie,” which really was annoying back then, but now she missed her mother’s stories sometimes, even if she was old enough now to know they were just imaginary. Kathrin stood under the tree, looking up into its tree top, and was sure she could see something shimmering. She thought, the whole world has changed. People are now able to send imaginary letters through a weird imaginary portal, so why should it be impossible for fairies and dwarfs to exist? She would’ve loved to sit down under the tree, but she knew that it would be too hard to get up after that. Then she thought about the time when she was about 15 years old and sat down under this tree with her friends, talking about the momentary gossip. And how they all remained friends even after everyone went to college and got married and had kids, while she was sitting in her small apartment writing her fiction novels. Tears filled her eyes as she remembered her last meeting with her friends, sitting underneath the old tree talking about the latest news, because she never would be able to sit and talk with her friends again. God had already welcomed them in his holy property. As the sun disappeared behind the small trees at the end of her garden, Kathrin sat down on the rusty swing which her father once hung up on a branch very high from the ground. She remembered her father climbing up to this branch, and how her heart skipped a beat that time, out of pride and worry about her father. She looked down to her house; it had a lot of cracks going from one window to another. Ivy grew on the walls up to roof. She slowly walked to the door, opened it, and took the walker she put next to the door so that she could walk properly. She never took it out in the garden; she didn't want to think about her physical condition when she was in the garden because it was the only place where she could feel young again. She knew that this evening was different from the all the others in her life; she could feel it. She went into the living room and sat down on the couch in front of the TV. There was a show: an old man talked about what he thinks happens after he dies. “Maybe I get reborn as a bird or something…but maybe I just have to be in a white place forever.” That was a good question: what would happen to her when death chooses her? She remembered her mother telling her, “If you’re a good person throughout your life, you might have the opportunity to go back to your childhood and talk to your child self and tell her everything you wished to have known better, but remember you only have a small amount of time and words you can spend on yourself, so choose your words carefully.” Kathrin closed her eyes; just for a moment. When she woke up it was dark, too dark. She tried to grab something to hold on to, but there was nothing. She stood up; her legs were holding her as if she didn’t weigh anything. That couldn't be real. She was scared. She opened her mouth and wanted to scream, but there was no sound. She was breathing hard, pressing her hands to her chest. Suddenly a light appeared. It was bright—brighter than anything she had ever seen—and came closer until it surrounded her completely. Her eyes got dazzled, and she felt like she was falling.

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She felt like she landed on a hard surface. Her eyes cleared themselves slowly. She was still sitting on the couch, as she was before she fell asleep, but something was wrong. The house felt different, and she heard noises she wasn't used to. She could hear a voice from out of the kitchen. Somebody was in her house. What should she do, call the police? She slowly walked to the kitchen, but before she entered the room, she stopped. Was it alright for her to face a person who's probably a criminal? Yes, he would find her anyway. She stepped into the room. A middle-aged woman was standing at the sink and was talking to a man who was about the same age as her. She stepped a little closer, but the woman turned around before she could say anything, looking in Kathrin's direction, but she didn't look at her. It seemed she was looking right through Kathrin, who almost immediately knew who that woman was. Her eyes filled with tears. No, she didn't want that to happen. She always knew that this day would come, but why now? Suddenly she heard a child’s voice behind her, and a little girl came running into the kitchen. She stopped, stared at Kathrin, and then looked over to her mother: “Mama, who is that old lady?” Her mother was irritated. “What lady? My dear Katie, I think it's time for you to go to bed.” “Mama, she is standing right in front of you.” Katie was confused; how could her mother not see this old lady? Before her mother could grab her hand, Katie turn to Kathrin and looked at her a little skeptically. “Who are you?” Kathrin didn't answer; she wanted to save her words for when she needed them. Katie's mother grabbed her arm and tried to get her into her bed room. “But Mama, there's a woman in our kitchen!” “Katie! Stop it! It's time to sleep now.” Katie looked at her a little distracted and was quiet. After her mother helped her put on her pajamas, kissed her goodnight, and turned off the light, the elderly Kathrin slipped through the door and sat down on the end of little Katie’s bed. Katie opened her mouth and wanted to scream, but Kathrin interrupted her: “Please don't scream. I'm not going to do anything to you. Please just let me talk.” Kathrin made a little pause to be sure that Katie wasn't about to scream, then continued. “I'm going to tell you a story, a story that will be important to you one day.” Katie shut her mouth and stared at Kathrin with her huge shiny eyes. “Once upon a time, there lived a young princess. She was very pretty and kind, but she was also very sad. All her princess-friends had found their one true love and were having their happy-ever-afters, but she was still alone. She became unsure of herself and grew sadder and sadder.

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One night, she got asked out to a ball at a nearby kingdom. It was a huge ceremony with a lot of royal people. And in the crowd she saw him. Her own personal prince.” Katie's eyes were still wide open. “And then?” she asked and came a little closer to Kathrin. She loved this kind of story. Her mother always told her one before she went to sleep. Speaking of Mama, she had to get her and show her the old woman, and who was that lady anyways? Katie stared at Kathrin's lips while she was talking. They were dry and really white. Oh, and what was that? There was long hair coming out of her chin. Katie was confused; shouldn't normally just men have beards? Then Katie noticed that she hadn’t been listening very well. “...and that's why she never had a happy-ever-after,” Kathrin smiled at Katie. “You have to remember this story your whole life. It will be very helpful when you need it. Do you understand me?” “Yeah,” Katie nodded. “I have to go now Katie, God is waiting for me.” Kathrin stood up and walked to the door. “Why are you leaving already? Can't you tell me another story?” Katie looked at her with her puppy-dog eyes. “I'm closer to you than you think, Kathrin.” After those words, Kathrin turned around and walked out the door. For the last time, she passed the living room, the kitchen and, of course, her beloved garden.

Child In The Sky By A. J. Gonzales I take pictures of the sky In hopes of capturing you You, who loved the endless rainbow Where else would you be, but there? Soaring with the wind Perched on a cloud With all white and no sound My dear son, black from scalp to soul I beg for your forgiveness And ask you to come back home

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Fixing Dysfunction By Michi Heckler She was trying so hard to fix the mess that they have made of their love. Carol’s hands were beginning to shake until her whole body followed; she shut her eyes tight and clenched her hands around the edges of her horribly hideous suitcase. Suddenly all the neatly packed clothing was flung across the room. Scarves, leggings, and bras were raining down in the space between them. They both stood, motionless, staring into each other’s eyes. Her bright blue eyes held a few tears; his only held fear. Carol broke the stillness and collapsed on the ground, falling into a pile of silky blouses. For moments, she stayed still, then raised her head. She rose from the floor like smoke; she stood strong with her arms down by her side and fists clenched. Clothing covered her feet, all the way up to her ankles. She stuffed all of her clothing back into the suitcase; this time with no organization. Zipping it shut, she stood up straight. Her short, dirty blonde hair was frantic and rested on the edges of her face, covering her eyes. All Jim could do was watch her leave; as if he were in shock, he just stared. He wanted to cry to her, tell her the truth, but all he did was watch.

Darkest Bright By Bryce Maverick The candle burns brightest When lit at night The shadow looks darkest When embraced by light People find selves in the spaces Left empty by others They define themselves With the words of brothers Who are the threads That string us together Shapeless beings formed by edges We are not whole without them

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School of Ghosts (excerpt) By Olivia Holder “Deep into that darkness, peering; long I stood there, wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before; But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token—” I was interrupted as the shrieking bell sounded, signaling the end of class. Ms. Twyla sighed, “All right class, you may go. I believe you have a very important test tomorrow in math. Oh, and don’t worry about those worksheets that were due today. I won’t be needing them from you anymore.” After putting my workbook in my satchel, I filed out of the class room with the rest of the students. Following a quick stop at the bathroom, I stepped out into the much emptier hall and began making my way to my dorm. Taking a left turn, I saw a body lying against the right wall. Walking past the body, I saw it was a sixteen year old boy, his eyes glazed over and his face blank. Looking at his white shirtcovered chest, I noted that he wasn’t breathing. Clearly he was a recent death, as the janitors hadn’t picked up his body. This was a normal occurrence in the school, finding someone dead in the halls. It’s just how the school is. They tell us that this is normal, that we should get used to it. Shrugging my shoulders, I continued on my way to my room, determined to get at least some studying in before it was time for lights out.

Caloma By Katie Rodriguez She had a lovely disposition. Her dance was the most hypnotizing routine in her land, and many who came to visit her felt attracted to her like flies to a corpse. Caloma the Saraphari, they would sigh in ecstasy, as her patrons left to go drink sweet wine in the tavern, where they would boast of the many dances she would do for them. They called her Saraphari because she was the last descendent of the first witch of Iloha, the Magic Kingdom, and the only daughter ever born to the Saraphari tribe. She had auburn tattoos and a silver headdress; her long, gauzy gown would jingle like bells as she would turn and sway to her beholders. She was rare, though, because she was like a seashell: soft, pink and fragile. This is the story of how Caloma left Iloha one day, and disappeared without a trace.

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Caloma sat on her musty porch, absent-mindedly running her hands through the graygreen lichen that coated the ever-wet wood like a carpet. The stained glass window behind her silver head reflected a blue light onto the lush grass that surrounded her lonely abode. She stood up, toes curled and her rings clacking against the wood, and stepped down into her forest. She held her arms out and breathed in deeply. Her air was clean and sharp, unlike the choking smog of the city. Her birch trees swayed to protect her from the light mist that appeared as she walked by them. Her carmine dress grew heavy from the moisture in the air, but Caloma walked as if she didn’t notice. Her stag, Kendr, became her company, wandering out from inbetween the ash and pine trees. The stag’s silvery frost coat was like her eyes; she gazed upon Kendr with fondness and laid a long finger to his antler. They walked together to the river, where Caloma and Kendr ended their walk. The platinum moon was like a sun to Caloma. She preferred the white light to the golden harshness of Erkdir’s sun. Caloma whistled thrice, each low note shooting through the air like swift arrows, and her most favorite companion arose from the cerulean depths of the lazy river. Brenda, the Muckbeast, her guardian and friend for the last hundred years, gave a highpitched call to her in greeting, water spouting up from her striped shell. Laughing, Caloma ran across the water, bare feet barely grazing the chilly waters beneath her floating feet. As she climbed onto Brenda’s back to get to Iloha, Kendr gave a bellow, and Caloma waved goodbye to her stag. In Iloha, Caloma could not travel anywhere without being recognized by someone. The most aggravating to her of her patrons was a salamancer known as Viceroy; his drooling mouth and constant sweating were displeasing to her. He would visit her every moonrise, when the town was awake and bustling. Viceroy believed that he could cast a spell on Caloma to make her love him, even though she was a witch, and he, a salamander Sorcerer. Viceroy shuffled over to the marketplace. Street merchants of every kind thrived in Iloha, unlike the other city-states of Erkdir. Most of the attraction to Iloha, however, was to get a chance to see Caloma dance. Viceroy had heard stories all his life of the Saraphari dancers. Though many were men, their witch blood let them assume forms and contortions that no other being could do. Caloma’s father, Gnudba, had been the greatest Saraphari dancer until his daughter came to be. Legend had it, Viceroy had been told, that when Gnudba saw that his offspring was a woman, he and his mate committed suicide out of shame. When Viceroy first heard the tales of Caloma’s dancing, he hadn’t believed that a simple dance could be as satisfactory as a meal. Then, Viceroy had traveled from Udga, the Underwater city, to see her. And that’s when Viceroy knew that Caloma was his.

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Caloma arrived in Iloha later than usual this day, due to wanting to take the longer path down the river to spend time with Brenda. When Caloma arrived at the Fisherman’s Hook, a significant number of her patrons extended into the dusty roads to see her. Caloma sighed, tired of dancing for these people who came to see her over and over again. But it was the one thing she knew she was good at, and she received a decent income, so she continued dancing her life away on a platform stage with cruddy purple lights shining down on her face. Caloma quickly scanned the crowd, and was a little delighted to see that there were mostly new faces. She quickly darted inside the Fisherman’s Hook, and saw the doorman open the door. Caloma darted backstage to get into a costume, and seeing none that pleased her, quickly made one herself. A blue and silver gown with black pearls flowed down her figure, barely brushing past her ankles. Long, gauzy sleeves cascaded down her coral skin, and scarab beetles appeared to shift around on her lovely dress. Her headdress always remained constant, however: silver with lilac flowers. Caloma heard the manager welcoming the crowd into his establishment, introducing his only feature attraction to the excited gazes of the patrons. Caloma slowly moved onstage, the drums and caznikaris playing together to create a vibrant melody for her to dance to. She imagined sand, endless sand, and a violet-blue-green sky. Suddenly, the room grew hot, and the new patrons gasped in surprise as sand bubbled up around their feet, and the crappy lights that illuminated Caloma’s loveliness disappeared to reveal the sky of Caloma’s imagination. Viceroy sat in wonder as he gazed at Caloma. Her new routine pleased him and he praised his soon-to-be wife for the dance she was performing for him. What seemed like hours were mere minutes, and when Caloma made her last move, the familiar wave crashing of the crowd roared in her ears like the sea. That night, the moonset was lovely to Caloma, the indigo-purples of the sky fading to become the golden-red of the sunrise. As Caloma left the Fisherman’s Hook, she collided into a figure dressed in a sticky, black robe. The short thing thudded onto the ground, and Caloma made a noise of surprise from the sudden collision. Caloma moved to help the figure up, apologizing profusely for knocking the figure to the ground. To Caloma’s surprise, the figure she had collided into was the distasteful Viceroy, whose gummy sweat stuck to her skin from where she grabbed his slimy hand. Caloma made a noise of disgust and tried to let go of his hand, but her skin was glued to his. “If you wouldn’t mind, I would appreciate it if you would let me leave…” Caloma spoke, tugging to free herself from his flowing sweat. Viceroy drooled and said nothing. He smiled widely at her. “I said, please let me go,” Caloma said, irritated. Viceroy’s smile grew malicious, and he uttered words under his breath. “What?” Caloma said, confused by Viceroy’s actions. “I said, ‘U eld nu Fie acd daminad’” Viceroy repeated, and before Caloma realized that he had cast a spell, he kissed her, and she could not speak. Caloma gasped and flailed, unsure of where she was. She felt an unfamiliar collar around her throat, and grew fearful. As she tried, and failed, to open a portal to go to her secret home, she knew that the collar acted to inhibit her magic. She screamed, acting to call attention to herself so she could gather information. To her disgust, Viceroy came to her instead. The silver wooden bed did not comfort her, nor did the

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murals of grass and sea that covered the bracken walls. Caloma did not need to be told; she knew that she was in Udga. Viceroy walked to her, and attempted to comfort Caloma. “I know you don’t like me, but you are in the sea now.” Caloma’s gaze softened, for the word ‘sea’ made her feel at home. “I can forgive you for kidnapping me, since all I wanted was to live at the sea. But underwater, I cannot breathe, and as I am a witch, underwater, I shall seethe,” Caloma whispered, longing in her eyes. Viceroy gazed upon Caloma’s loveliness like he did when she was dancing. Her coral skin became tangerine hued, and slightly sticky. Viceroy thought that she had been gorgeous as a Saraphari witch, but she took his heart with how wonderful he thought she looked as a salamander witch. Caloma gasped at the transformation that was taking place. As Viceroy turned her into a salamander with his touch, she could breathe better. She could swim, and she could communicate with the many creatures of the deep. As she took her first breath as a salamander, Viceroy stole it with a kiss. Caloma smiled at Viceroy, and stood up. She kissed him on the cheek, then smiled coyly at him. Viceroy kissed her hand and stood up slowly. “Come get me!” Caloma laughed and ran out of the room. “Oh, I’m gonna get you!” Viceroy smiled and ran after his love. Down spiral staircases Caloma ran, until she burst out of the front door into the sea that surrounded the city. There were two sides to Udga, the more famous Underwater side, and the very desolate Land side. Where Viceroy lived was in a crumbling old tower that, a long time ago, must have been beautiful. Now it was a ruin, pummeled by waves. Caloma watched, entranced by the tall waves that came up like great arms as they crashed into the soupy sand her sticky feet sank into. She walked, entranced, into the waves. She got flung into the sea as a ten foot wave crashed into her, and was immediately thankful for gills. The breath had been knocked out of her. Viceroy was slow getting out of the tower. Once he was outside, he grinned. He couldn’t see Caloma; he thought they were playing hide and seek. Underwater, Caloma thrived. She swam in circles, this way and that, exploring shoals of fish and small underwater caverns. Everywhere she went, she felt like she belonged. Some of the locals weren’t pleased to see her, though, like the turtle couple she walked in on while exploring a cavern with a bunch of anemones on its outside. And then, a realization hit her. Viceroy’s love spell had faded away. Caloma felt anger at Viceroy’s love spell, but was thankful for the transformation he bestowed upon her. She caught a glimpse at the roads of Udga, and swam over to travel upon them. Looking to the surface, Caloma caught a glimpse of the moonrise. Underwater, it was even more beautiful. The indigoes and purples, the oranges and reds, the greens and blues bled together to create a swirling canvas of the topside. Caloma closed her eyes and smiled.

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Young Love By Madeline Sands Her hair flows down like the old, brown leaves of fall Her eyes the dark green of past summers Her skin a white only seen in the depths of winter Her lips as rosy as the fresh blooms of the new spring You crave her sweet scent of lilacs on your lips You wish you could touch her porcelain skin You could get lost in the forest of her eyes You want to run your fingers through the cascade of her hair His hair glows like the yellow sunflowers that flourish during spring His eyes icy blue like the frozen sky in winter His skin is gold from the many days of summer His lips chapped from the dry winds of fall You crave to find out how his mouth tastes on your lips You wish to marvel at his godly skin You could freeze and melt in his eyes You wa— “Hey,” he mumbles, his eyes avoiding yours, cheeks turning red. “My name is Logan… What’s yours?” He is practically red as a beet now, and he’s looking at his shuffling feet, afraid to meet her eyes. “Umm, A-ashl-ley,” she stutters, barely believing that he is talking to her. “Hi, Ashley!’ he says way too enthusiastically, feeling his lips spread into a blinding smile. He might as well have put a smiley face at the end of the sentence. He tones down the excitement—play it cool, Logan, you can do it—and tries to casually ask, “Um, you free Friday night…?” She feels her heart pounding in her chest, trying to break free from its bony cage. He’s asking her on a date! Oh wait, she has dance practice Friday. She is almost considering skipping it to go on a date with Mr. Perfect, but she’s the captain and not showing up would be a bad influence on the underclassmen. “No…I have dance practice, but I’m free Saturday.” He felt his heart drop when she said no. Of course she’s busy, probably has guys lined up waiting for her to cal— Dance practice, of course. He’s seen her dance and almost wept at the beauty of it. “Saturday is great I’ll pick you up at seven. See you then!” “Okay, see ya!”

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Shot By Felix Schattmann BANG! The shock goes through my whole body and makes me stumble backwards. Everything turns silent as the bullet enters my heart. I don't hear the screaming, the shooting, or the thundering storm over the battlefield anymore; I just hear my own heartbeat, which is slowly fading out as I understand what just happened. I see my family again, my mother crying and hugging herself so tight, my father failing in his attempt to be strong. I have never seen him cry before. We all knew that my chances to come back were too tiny to count on; I’m not that lucky. I see Mary again, my girlfriend, who still tried to believe in something that would save me. “You are going to come back!” she cried. “We will live together— in peace.” What will she do when I'm gone? I wonder if my body is going to be returned, or if they just leave me here, slowly sinking into the mud... My vision blurs and goes dark, but I am content. I'm just happy that it's over.

Letterman By Jordan Siebert I hurried down the sidewalk, clutching my thin jacket around my midsection and keeping my head down. Steady gusts of chilled wind lifted my hair, and I sniffed to fight the runny nose that the cold weather was gracing me with. It was November, and I was silently cursing myself for not wearing my heavier coat. I should’ve known. Once inside, warmth flooded my body. “Beth?” The slightly panicked call came from my mother, and within seconds her face peeked around the corner. “Thank goodness you’re here! It’s too cold out there for girls without proper jackets to be walking home from school.” I gave her a hug and mumbled my apologies for worrying her. “How are you? How was your day?” she asked. “I’m cold and tired, but my day was good,” I said as I walked to my room. … That night, I knew I should be working on homework, but here I was at 9:30, sitting on my bed and texting my friend about her newest love interest. He’s just dreamy! Emily typed. You don’t even know him, I replied. I rolled my eyes. You can’t honestly believe a relationship is going to come from you fawning over a stranger. Just because you don’t want a relationship right now doesn’t mean I can’t.

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It’s your choice, I just don’t think you’re being realistic. I didn’t mind talking with my friends about whomever they fancied. In fact, I usually enjoyed hearing what they thought of certain boys. But this was the third guy Emily had talked about liking this week. It was becoming a chore, especially for someone who placed their values in other things. I wasn’t bitter towards boys in general; I simply did not see the appeal in wasting my time dating someone who I most likely wouldn’t end up marrying or even caring about all that much. It wasn’t the logical thing to do. Along with that, all of the boys in my grade were complete idiots and I viewed myself as particularly mature. I couldn’t deal with someone I’d have to babysit. I opened up my math book and solved some problems… if only boys were as easy to figure out as algebra. … “ELIZABETH! IT HAPPENED!” I couldn’t tell who the voice was coming from, but its urgency was worrying. I scanned the entire hallway and my eyes met Emily’s grinning face. “Beth! Beth! He asked me out!” I forced myself to smile. “Who asked you out?” “I told you last night. Jacob. Weren’t you paying attention?” her smile dropped a little bit. “Yeah, yeah of course, I didn’t know if you were talking about Ryan or Michael or Jacob,” I said. “I’m really happy for you!” The last statement was tacked on as an afterthought, and she could tell. “He’s taking me out on Friday, and you’re coming with us.” “What? You know I don’t—” “Relax, it’s casual. He’s bringing one of his friends, and I think he’s older. I know you’ve always had a thing for older guys,” she responded with a wave of her hand. “But I don’t want to go! You should’ve asked me before volunteering me for a blind date.” “Look, it’s really simple. Nothing has to happen. My mom just won’t let me go alone. You know I’d do this for you.” I groaned. “What if I’m busy Friday?” She narrowed her eyes at me. “I know you’re not, so don’t try to pull that one on me.” My lack of social interaction was coming back to bite me in the butt. I was stuck, and I knew this meant a lot to Emily. So I did the unexpected. “Fine. I’ll go.” Her eyes lit up, obviously not expecting me to give in that easily. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she said, her smile taking up her whole face. Her small frame pulled me into a hug. “Anytime,” I grumbled. … My dark blonde hair was let down into loose waves from a braid and another layer of makeup was applied. I shimmied into a pair of skinny jeans and a loose long sleeved shirt. Even though I didn’t really care about the date, I wasn’t going to let myself look like the usual garbage. I usually didn’t try to dress up because the opinions of others didn’t really matter to me, but I had to admit I cleaned up nicely. A final coat of mascara was applied and I was ready to go. “MOM! I’m leaving!” “Alright, sweetie! Have fun and stay safe!” Emily’s car was already waiting at the curb. I slammed the door on the way out.

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She sat alone in her car, the light of her phone casting a rectangular shadow on her face as she scrolled down whatever she was doing. Locks of her brown hair fell into her face and she batted them away. “Where are the guys?” I asked. “Meeting us at the place.” She shifted into drive, and we were off to the restaurant. The seed of dread inside me had reached its germination. The Italian place we arrived at was small and mostly vacant. After pushing past the heavy wood doors, a pair of tall, fit guys were waiting for us, their heads bent in conversation. I had never seen either of them in my life. And I was completely out of my element. The one who I figured was Jacob jumped up and gave Emily a clumsy hug while she blushed cherry red. I glanced around the restaurant and felt slightly like puking because although I could sometimes act like I wasn’t completely virginal at school, I was exposed here. I felt a warm hand on my forearm and jumped back. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” He had enchanting hazel eyes. “Oh, it’s fine.” The smile on my face was bashful. “I’m Bailey.” His brown hair was swept across his head perfectly. “I’m Elizabeth.” My butterflies began to fly away. The waitress led us to our booth. Bailey slid in next to me, and even sitting down he was a good 8 inches taller than me. His arm that was barely brushing mine had the strength of an athlete’s. I had just met him and I felt…comfortable. This, I thought, is how you’re supposed to feel with boys. Across the table, Emily and Jacob seemed to be hitting it off. She talked with her hands, and he watched her every movement, looking at her like she was the most interesting thing he had ever seen. Meanwhile, Bailey asked me questions about myself. I hadn’t had a clue what we would talk about, but he took care of it. There were none of the awkward silences that I abhorred. We ordered, we ate, we talked. I loosened up. I remembered the first date I ever went on, back in 8th grade. It had been to the movies with a guy who was a drug dealer now, I think. I remembered going and praying he wouldn’t hold my hand because I thought my hands were too sweaty. I had barely spoken a word because I didn’t want to make myself sound stupid. What if I said something dumb and he didn’t like me anymore? This was different. I didn’t care if Bailey held my hand and if it was a little clammy. I bet his would be, too. And I didn’t care if I said something stupid because he’d probably end up doing it, too. Because it didn’t matter if I was in 11th grade and hadn’t had my first kiss. It didn’t matter that the idea of sex could bring me to tears out of the paralyzing anxiety that I felt when thinking of it. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about these parts of you because they make you who you are. He paid for my food (after a brief but heated battle for the check) and we stood to leave. Reaching the doors, I realized it had begun to snow. I didn’t have my jacket. Of course. Bailey shrugged out of his letterman jacket and draped it over my shoulders before I had a chance to protest. He wrapped me into a warm hug, and protest was the last thing on my mind.

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The Old Field By Casey Thorsen As I sat in the field my life had, for so long, centered around, I couldn’t help but lose myself in the nostalgia of it all. As a child, I would always run through the two nearly identical trees, or just lie in the tall grass and watch the clouds. It was, as I called it nearly seventy years ago, “The Dream Field.” As a teenager, it was the sight of many a date and intimate conversation with my various partners. Now and then, I would catch myself loafing about in the grass, putting off my homework, or perhaps even fornicating between the trees. I still would visit the field alone, however, and daydream once more. In my college years, the field was where I would go on a weekend or a break, to find some scarce time to myself. I was always much happier after a weekend in the field I grew up in, to return to class and continue wallowing in the doldrums of my life. My mind, however, with the thought of my higher education, trailed off. I began to think of Charlotte. I met her in my sociology class, which for some reason matters enough to be noteworthy. We talked about upcoming assignments and nothing more at first, then began making small talk over drinks, and discussing friends of friends or our own friends, and eventually I found myself discussing her with my friends. For months we joked about how our teacher always had his wig on backwards, or how this friend got drunk and slept with that friend, and who would keep the baby, and so on. Then, one night, we really talked about ourselves for the first time. I asked about where she was from and what it was like, and we talked for a good hour or so about the downtown area of Seattle. I honestly didn’t listen much. I just kind of heard her. What I really wanted was for her to talk about…well, her. We always discussed such menial things when I asked about her or what she likes doing or who she really is. I don’t remember how I ever got to know Charlotte. I think I just kind of figured her out. She would always ask about me, and I would always tell her about the next town over where I grew up, and how Miss Leany across the street would always bring me chocolates and other sweets on my birthday. But one conversation we had stuck out to me. “What did you like doing as a kid?” she had asked over a glass of wine. I think we were dating then, but neither of us said anything to confirm or deny that. “Well,” I took a drag from my cigarette, “there was this field near my house.” “What about it?” “Well, I never really did much there, but I guess it’s where I spent most of my time.” “Doing what?” She took a sip from her glass and eyed me suspiciously. “Nothin’ too bad, usually. Daydream, smoke, procrastinate.” “Do you ever still go to that field?”

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“Yeah, about every other weekend, I go back home and spend some time out there.” That made her face light up and her eyes gleam with life. “I wanna come with!” I figured it couldn’t hurt much. I mean, I hadn’t shared my time there with anyone lately, and I did get lonely sometimes. “Alright.” Years had passed since the first night we spent in the field, and I had grown to love Charlotte very much. And she loved me, too. ----But now, as I lie here still, in this field, old and alone again, I remember why I had come out here in the first place. My eyes follow the two long depressions in the grass, leading up to the smaller of the two trees. My eyes travel, slowly, anxiously, to the small wooden cross nailed to the base of the tree, and follow the path of each letter painted on it, spelling out Charlotte, with a little bit of the “e” missing. I let my tired eyes fall to the brown, cracked roses at the bottom of the tree, and beneath the rotten stems, I can see a picture of the girl I made small talk with in college. She’s in her wedding dress.

Prince of the Apes By Catherine Trevino Since the time of Grape Julius, there have been many monarchs ruling each continent, maintaining agriculture, trade, power, and slavery of the humans. My father was one of those great monarchs. He was King Henry the Great Ape, or Grape. Now he is just old Henry, the prune, who lives in a nursery jungle. He was mad that he couldn’t stay in his gorgeous stone fort on the north side of town that all the apes live in. Henry enslaved the most humans on record in the history of apes. Though not all humans are enslaved, Henry always said we are doing to them what they did to themselves. I never argued; watching men suffer was no pain to me. That is, until recently when a string of events happened. First, my father’s prunery diagnosis had me staying home doing a lot of paperwork, and then I was caught driving while in possession. Of bananas. I know the whole charade humans made up about monkeys loving bananas is supposed to be all BS. Well, it isn’t; we do love bananas, but they act as a sort of illegal substance for us. Consumption leaves us “baked,” as the humans would say. Anyways, I was caught in possession, so they threw me in the “slammer” (again, as the humans would say) where my neighboring cell was occupied by a young human. He was 20 or 21 maybe. His name was Johnny, and he decided to endanger his life and strike up a conversation. Throughout my life, my father had nothing but bad things to say about humans. I’d never actually talked to one before Johnny, but I must say it was quite the experience. At first I hated him because he was a human and he smelled bad. He decided to open with telling me that a man

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created the stage coach—which yours truly then developed into cars. “You’re welcome”, he said with a devilish grin. I was paralyzed with shock that he was speaking to me with his tone, implying I should thank him for maybe the most impactful transportation invention earth has ever seen. The conversation continued revolving around the jabs that we made to each other concerning inventions of the world, then shifted to Johnny’s life as one of the humans who is a free man. Johnny’s father fought in the Rebellion against apes, and his mother died in slavery. He said he lives in a house which is basically a giant bucket that the government issued him, on the South side of town, of course, and that he lives with his pregnant wife, Darlene, whom he has loved since he first laid eyes on her. Johnny said she warns him to keep his mouth shut often because she knows it will get him in trouble, like it has now. He bad mouthed an imperial officer of the Chimpish Embassy, resulting in a very expensive fee and a week of jail time. Johnny claims it isn’t much different than living in the giant bucket-houses that apes forced the humans into. Being that my home is a glorious stone fixture which descends underground on an island, I cannot imagine Johnny’s living situations. His stories of what his life is like and how he cherishes his unborn son and wife got me thinking weird thoughts. Like maybe we shouldn’t focus on destroying mankind. They have the same thoughts and feelings as we do. Should we really destroy all of that? I could not have had this epiphany any later as my crowning is just days away, like my father’s predicted death. Today I have a council meeting and they will want to know my plans as king—“Prince Mortimore, the senators of the council are here for you” “Tell them I’m on my way.” Now it is time. *** Okay the meeting was a bust; they threatened me with charges, and I am currently on the run. I find my feet taking me to the jail which just yesterday I was bailed out of. I need to find Johnny, and gather the apes that truly wish to follow me. This Revolution is well overdue.

Ten-Word Poems By Kayla Williams Adults have just been scared of the world much longer. Bravery is the absence of fear; I fear the absence. Happiness is a lit candle; sometimes it just burns out. Eyes are windows to the soul; yours, full of tears. You paint your face every day just to fit in. Your smirk scary, your smile warm: which one is you? My heart beats to the melody of our love song. You have always liked to break things, including my heart. Anger burns my throat as my eyes fill with tears.

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A Simple Brownie Bite By Amanda Yager The crunch from the walnut sounds like fall leaves being stepped on by friends taking a stroll in the park. The rich, dark chocolate in a way melts in my mouth, but the soft texture comforts my teeth as I continue to chew and chew, until I swallow the brownie bite with delight. They’re chewy, but not like Laffy-Taffy chewy. Kind of like those Sour Patch straws. But this fills my body with a warm, rich, chocolate feeling. Probably one of the best brownie pieces I’ve ever eaten. From the side, you can see all the walnuts that are packed into such a small bite, almost as if they’re asking for help to get out, but cannot be heard. The aftertaste leaves the walnuts embedded in the crevices of the top and bottom of my teeth, a memory of the singular experience.

How I Write Poetry By Nayla Zylberberg I don’t think I’m the best at writing poetry because My sentences run together And I have too many syllables And not enough adjectives And sometimes I feel like rhyming But I do so with inappropriate timing And people tell me that my poems are too “story-esque” Then I ask what the hell that’s supposed to mean And they respond with an air of self-righteousness That “this needs to be shorter” And I say that I’m sorry and I’ll fix it But in the end, I don’t want to shorten it at all Because whether it’s too wordy With not enough punctuation and too many run-on sentences I know that it’s something I wrote And can be proud of Even if To some It’s more of a story than a poem.

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The Heist By Joey Huddleston The doors on the mag-lift train hissed open, steam rising from the hydraulics. Armed guards completely encased in black Kevlar and shiny helmets imprinted with the UNPS symbol marched down the fully lowered steps. The sound of their reflective boots echoed throughout the empty station. Over the intercom, angry speakers chorused out their usual announcements, and the sound of officers unloading other compartments on the train was hushed over the speakers. The view of the city, shrouded in a haze below an orange sky, was a beacon of hope surrounded by arid land. The prisoners, dressed in orange nylon jumpsuits trudged over to the now empty train cab. Their lowered heads displayed their ID numbers sprawled on their backs. The prisoners, connected by glowing chains, stepped onto the first chrome step, every movement closer to their last in the free world. The motley crew, guided by the shrouded guards, entered the sleek cab and sat on the sleek seats. The train whirred to life, and the cab shook with anticipation. The train stood still, and then shot off towards New York. ------------------------------------------------------Marty sighed. “You were the one that said this was a good idea!” “I was told the bank wasn’t transferring any more money,” Simone cried. The two butted horns for hours, while Spiz and Frank cleaned the guns. “This’ll be real quick, real simple, doncha worry!” Marty reasoned. “Look, Simone, we’ve been over everything. If we don’t get behind schedule, we will be okay.” It was Frank speaking now, the smartest of the group. “Our insider got us the key codes we need to get in the vault. We just need to access their mainframe, open the vault, and stuff as many credits into our bags as possible. As easy as that.” “As easy as that,” Spiz repeated. -----------------------------------------------The six prisoners were hushed as the cab flew to the city. Around them, abandoned buildings, once bustling with people, now rushed past like old leaves on the wind. They were derelict, homes for the new breed of rats that were the byproduct of the radiation. Spiz felt, above everything else, awkward. He wanted to speak up, get the events of yesterday off his chest. “So whachya in for?” The prisoner adjacent to him looked up. A big man with a bushy beard. His skin was the color of cocoa beans, and he had a silver ball for his left eye. “Why you wanna know?” Spiz looked over at the expressionless guards, two in each corner of the cab, and then smiled. “Because these guys aren’t exactly talkative.” The prisoner coughed, clearing his throat, and the guards snapped to action.

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“Halt, show your hands.” The soldiers raised their weapons and motioned to his shackles. “Resistance will result in your death.” The man raised his cuffs and showed his calloused hands. “Look, look,” his voice got soft and apologetic. “Ain’t got nuthin’. Jesus Christ almighty…” He mumbled under his breath. Through this, Spiz just looked away and zoned out, just trying to think of anything else. ------------------------------------------------------Spiz peered through the tinted window towards the bank. “Alright, we’re here. Roll us ‘round back. Everyone remember their roles?” This was met with a click of Frank’s pistol as he stuffed it into his pants. “We’re ready.” The crew drove across the cracked road to the back lot. They grabbed their masks; plaster board skulls with the anarchy symbol painted over the forehead, and checked their shiny guns. Spiz went for his shotgun and fumbled a couple of shells into it. “Time to summon some confidence,” Frank laughed and patted Spiz on the back. “God knows we’ll need it.” The three piled out of the van as Marty drove away. The manholes oozed with steam that concealed the robbers as they neared the back entrance. Spiz looked up at the orange sky one last time, before sealing his fate as he headed into the bank. ------------------------------------------------------Spiz looked up from his cupped hands, his puffy eyes surveying the silent train cab. “Hey, hey you. Whitey.” The prisoner with the silver eye whispered at him. Spiz looked up, smirking. “It’s Edward. But Spiz is fine.” He was happy for the light attitude the big man had. The train rocked, and then plunged down. The guards, statues they are, didn’t even flinch as the prisoners tried to grab something. There were cries around Spiz. “Damn!” “Holy—!” “AHHHH—” The guards clicked their weapons and pointed them at the disorientated passengers. “Remain quiet. Resistance will—” A Hispanic man retorted. “Will result in your death? Yeah, we know.” A guard lunged in front of the man and slammed the butt of his gun against his head. A sharp “crack” could be heard from the now unconscious man. This brought more voices of outrage. “Oh, god…” “Is he…dead?” “Okay…Okay…” “Remain quiet. Resistance will result in your death.” Everyone still conscious shut up immediately. Spiz glanced at the man with the silver eye. His eyes were focused on the shiny helmets surrounding them, a look of complete disgust covering his face. Spiz tried to look through the mass of soldiers inspecting the unconscious prisoner, only to look down as they concluded their analysis. “Take the body to the back.” “Yes, sir.” ------------------------------------------------------“Ev'rybody get on the goddamn floor!” Panic broke out almost immediately, with patrons screaming and scrambling for cover. Simone shoved the closest person, hushing a chaotic scene almost entirely.

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“Spiz, get to that computer,” Frank waved his pistol over to the upturned monitor nearest the vault. “Get that safe unlocked.” Spiz casually neared the counter, trying to keep whatever wits he had left about him. He eyed a man that looked particularly restless before reaching the slim screen he needed to access. He glanced over the bank. The small building had 2 employees he could see, as well as 4 or 5 citizens. Papers and signs littered the floor from the entrance they made, and Frank was going around collecting peoples' phones. “Hey, Spiz, hurry it up there, aight?” Simone reeled Spiz back to reality. Spiz shook his head and picked up the fallen monitor. He studied the screen, and then looked at the clerk next to him, kneeling. “Hey, unlock the screen,” he said in a lighter tone. “We'll be outtaya hair real quick. Just unlock the computer.” The attendant violently shook her head and remained cowering. Simone looked over at Spiz again. “I mean it, man. Get that vault open.” “It's not my fault!” Spiz countered. “The screen's locked, and she refuses to unlock it.” “Hey!” Simone's voice, directed at the employee, suddenly got rough as he heaved a customer up to gunpoint. “Get that screen unlocked or the fat man gets it!” The man stared at the clerk, stood up, and gave a look that could melt the coldest of glaciers. I want to live, the man pleaded with his eyes. Help me. The attended lowered her head, and typed a code into the computer. “We're online, fellas!” Spiz laughed in relief. Simone started to laugh, then paused. “Put down your w-weapons, n-n-now.” ------------------------------------------------------Spiz rocked back and forth with the shaking cab as it rushed on invisible wheels to New York. He put up no fight now, not against the UNPS, nor life. His mind cowered now, grasping what was left of its happy memories. That's all I have now, Spiz closed his eyes. My only lifeline. He thought about kindergarten, about Marty, Simone, his parents. He thought about the days before the US gave up fighting the will of the UN and their “peace-keeping” force. Before Marty became friends with Frank-From-Work. Frank-From-Work, who had an idea, a foolproof idea, that would leave each us very, very economically comfortable. Spiz joined his fellow inmates in prayer, the common thing to do when all hope is lost. God? It's me, Spiz. ------------------------------------------------------The bullet pierced the air and shattered it like glass as it sent the worried security guard back. Everyone held their breath for a minute. The silence was interrupted by Spiz vomiting in the corner. “Jesus Christ, Frank. Seriously?” “What else was I supposed to do?! The man aimed his gun at me!” “Alright, alright. Just...uh...Spiz, buddy? You alright?” Spiz wiped his mouth and looked up. He raised a thumb up and mouthed fine. He proceeded to press a couple of buttons on the computer which opened the vault. Metal pistons whirred and chinked as the massive door separated and revealed its glorious bounty. Frank cackled. “Simone, grab a bag and get stuffing. Spiz, guard us.”

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Spiz nodded, and then wheezed. He looked up at the terrified people kneeling in front of him, then at the wretched gun coiled in his hand. He raised it, and kept watch even though he made a silent vow never to use the metal power in his hands. ------------------------------------------------------“Prosecution calls Edward Spiscreck to give evidence.” Spiz somberly stood up, and left the company of his worried lawyer. He looked at his partners in crime, all avoiding any eye contact with their friend being sacrificed. Spiz sat down at the podium and awaited further instructions. “Edward Spiscreck, also known as ‘Spiz’, is convicted of armed robbery and unauthorized use of government-owned property. This is punishable by death.” The words rang throughout the hall room and took the air out of everyone there. Spiz thought nothing of it, though. He expected this ever since the UNPS reached American soil. They made ridiculous punishments to try and scare any rebels still out there. The Prosecution neared him. “Edward, where were you on the night of May 6th, around 6:00?” Spiz smiled. ------------------------------------------------------“Guys, we've got company!” Marty's static voice came as soon as Spiz heard the sirens. Spiz silenced his walkie-talkie and shouted to his looting comrades. “Pack it up! UNPS inbound!” “What? Goddamnit!” “It was that security guard, damnit! You should've checked every room!” “I thought this would've gone a lot quicker, alright!” Marty interrupted. “Just shut it and get out here! We can still make it to the safe house in time, just bring what you've got!” “Alright, open that door for us, Spiz,” Frank grunted as he picked up several large bags of currency and headed out of the ransacked vault. “Simone, cover us as—” he stopped as he heard shots. “Aagh, God! Help me!” Marty’s cracked voice was mixed with many different gunshots and the sound of glass breaking. A machine gun fired, and then the communicator went silent. “What happened?!” Simone ducked under a desk, gun drawn. “Marty, do you read me! Pick up! God, pick up!” Frank repeated angrily over a dead line. Spiz saw many different lights outside intrude through the windows like a curious dog’s nose A message droned: “HALT. WALK OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP. RESISTANCE WILL RESULT IN YOUR DEATH.” “Aw,” Simone sighed and relaxed. “Well, we tried, didn't we?” “Hey coppers!” Frank retaliated. “We have hostages in here. Move and we start poppin'!” His words were slurred with adrenaline and anger. He picked up a kicking citizen

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and pointed a gun to her head. Everything went silent. Spiz swore that time slowed as the pigs debated on what to do. The first flashbang came through the front window, followed by numerous others though other windows. Spiz instantly recognized what was happening. “Shield your ey—” Bright bursts of light enveloped the room for a split second, followed by ear-killing screeches. Simone wailed, as he stared directly at one of the grenades, and Frank cursed. Spiz kept his eyes shrouded in his coat, muffling his cries. He did not raise his head until the cops lifted him and latched his wrists. Throughout the whole thing, through his bleeding ears, Spiz heard shots of Frank's gun go off until a bullet was delivered to him like a box of sweet salvation. He heard the thump, then another, then nothing. ------------------------------------------------------“Your honor, I feel that all evidence point directly at our friend here, and it seems that he doesn't deny it.” “I understand, Mr. Raylen. Now...” Spiz looked around, looked at Simone, a shell of what he once was. He looked at the merciless judge reading his final words, looked at the guards, unmoving like the statues he and his family saw in the museums. He faded away, protecting himself from the verdict he would hate to hear. ------------------------------------------------------“So, everyone understand the plan?” Marty was of course, the plan guy. “Yes, yes, we understand.” Simone was always so impatient. “Now, all in favor of a little bourbon before the big bank bust?” “I think we've earned it, gentlemen!” Frank, from college prep to a small time robber. Marty cut in. “Everyone got their bags?” “Yes, Mom.” They all laughed and Simone got the bottle. ------------------------------------------------------“Excuse me, Edward?” The judge looked at Spiz expectantly. Spiz blinked and looked up. “Yes?” “Do you plead ‘not guilty’ to the charge laid out before us here today?” He repeated the message blandly, a phrase too common to him. “Well?” Spiz just closed his eyes and thought back one last time, before answering. ------------------------------------------------------“Well?” “Well what?” “Well, are you on board?” Spiz laughed. “You’re serious? Rob a bank?” Spiz and Marty walked down an old pier, sun-bleached and derelict. They played here as children, and it seemed like a good place to just think sometimes. “Look, Frank said that the plan is foolproof. Just in-and-out, and we are guaranteed enough currency to get us out of this hellhole. Just trust me,” Marty said to Spiz with crossed hands. Spiz looked at Marty, then looked down and laughed. “Sure. Why the hell not?”

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“Electric” by Urban Decay By May Buzzetti Slowburn. Burns like the sunscreen that manages To get in your eyes every summer Stays like the memory of you and your Best friend staying up late and talking About all the people that you hate. The FDA doesn’t approve. When my face is bare and slightly stings, I wonder why.

Will (excerpt) By Juliana Cohen I love the feeling of my mommy’s hands. They’re so big both of mine can fit into one of hers. And they’re always nice and warm. They remind me of summer. When it’s really cold, I run to her and she puts me in her arms and rubs our hands together, and then I don’t feel cold anymore. And when we go to places she always makes me hold them. I asked her why I always had to hold her hands once, and she told me it was to keep me safe. Mommy has magic hands. I know she does because whenever I hold them I feel better. No matter how bad everything seems she just holds my hands and then the whole world is good again. That’s how I know the world is ending. Because I let go of her hands. We were only going to the store to buy some food. I wish I never went because then none of this would have happened. It was really crowded. Much more than usual. I told her I was scared and she just told me to hold her hand and everything would be better. And it was. Before the big man came in. The big man was mean and angry. He was walking really fast and yelling at everybody who got in his way. There were so many people and it all happened so fast. A woman stopped us and asked Mommy a question. A man dropped a box of crackers. I let go of Mommy’s hands to help pick them up. Mommy turned and reached for me but the big man came right in between us and pushed us both away. I fell on the ground and my elbow really hurt. It made me cry. I needed Mommy and her hands to make me feel better. But when I got up I didn’t see her. I looked everywhere, but she was nowhere. I started to cry even more because what if she disappeared? What if I never see her again? I suddenly realized how alone I was. This store was so big and I was so little. I cried for help. “Have any Anderson High School

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of you seen my mommy?” I yelled as loud as I could, but nobody listened. I didn’t know what to do. Where could she be? The only place I knew she would be was at home. O thought that she had to come home some time, so I’ll just beat her there. I ran to leave the store, but as I stepped out those doors, I remembered I didn’t know how to get home. It was a short car ride so home couldn’t be too far. I just needed to cross the street. But I’ve never crossed the street by myself before. Mommy always holds my hands when we go anywhere. I had to face it: I needed a new pair of hands to hold…

The Black Moon Battle By Theresa Foster My heart beat loud in my ear and pounded in my chest like a drum. I hadn’t even stepped off the porch yet, and I was already scared. My hands were shaking, and clenching them into fists didn’t seem to help in the slightest. Hands landed on my shoulders and I tensed, but the voice that came from behind over my head let me relax again. “It’s going to be alright.” I stepped out of his grip and sat on the porch bench left of the door. “Nicholas, what am I going to do?” I asked, putting my head in my hand. “Travis isn’t here yet. I can’t do this without him,” and I felt tears come to my eyes. “I can’t do this without him.” I whispered. He crouched down in front of me. “Alyss, listen, he’ll be back with more of us soon. These things just take time. We’ve still got three hours till the Black Moon.” He moved to sit next to me on the bench and leaned his elbows on his knees to make me look at him. “Look, my brother isn’t an ass like I am, okay? He won’t just leave you behind. He is too in love with you to do that.” I nodded. There was a long pause, then I took a deep breath in. “You wouldn’t leave your family to save yourself, Nick. I know that.” I looked away. There was another long silence. “Was she worth it?” and I looked at him again. It was his turn to look away. “Nick, was she worth leaving?” and I stifled a cry. He looked at me and brought me into a hug. “Not even for eternal life.” We stayed hugging for a couple minutes before I pulled away. “What was she like?” I asked wiping a tear away from the corner of my eye. “She was...like you,” he said wiping a stray tear from my cheek, “except for the fact that you’re like a sister to me. She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen, and had that certain spark that wouldn’t go out no matter what the situation was. But...you know what made me fall in love with her?” I shook my head gently, afraid of speaking. “She didn’t let anything shake her faith—no matter how hard she was pushed.” I couldn’t hold back the cry I was trying to keep in and I wrapped my arms around his

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neck in a tight embrace. “I’m so sorry.” He patted my back. “Travis wouldn’t be himself if he ever left you.” Another silence; this one lasted the longest. There was a loud wolf cry in the distance, signaling something for others surrounding the area. “That’s a good sign,” Nicholas said, reassuring me. “That means we have more numbers on our side.” “Who was the one that just signaled?” “Our neighbor across the property border, another werewolf family. They’ll be able to cross as soon as blackness starts to cover the moon.” I jumped at the sound of the door swinging open, and looked around Nicholas to see Mrs. Hayne peeking her head out. “You two should come inside. It’ll be time to leave soon.” We stood up and Nicholas let me pass and go ahead first. The lights were all dimmed to the point that I could just make out everyone’s features. The only lights on were the ones on the first floor and the stair light, but all the others were shut off so that we wouldn’t have to run around shutting off the lights right before the Black Moon. The time was running out for Travis to get back with more werewolves and mutual alliances. Looking down at my watch I read ten forty-three. There was only an hour and fifteen minutes left before the start of the Black Moon. “Have you heard from Travis?” I asked Mrs. Hayne, and bit my lip when I saw her shake her head. “Not yet. It should be soon though. All we can do now is hope that he got to the council and is successful in convincing them to help.” I nodded and sighed. “I just don’t know why this could have happened now—this close to the Black Moon—that we lose contact with him.” She gently hugged me to her. I wrapped my arms loosely around her waist and let her comfort me. “Don’t worry. Travis will be just fine, and so will you,” and she gave me a motherly kiss on the forehead. “Al!” I looked to the side at the sound of my name, and took Jeremy and Tony into my arms when they came running towards me. They held tight onto my legs and waist and pulled me down to my knees. “Will you be coming back?” Jeremy asked, looking at me with a pout. I looked between the both of them. “Of course I will,” and I pulled them into a hug. “Travis will come back too—all of us will come back.” I looked at Tony and saw for the first time in his eyes worry and fear. “Tony, are you going to stay strong and man the fort until we get back?” He straightened up and spoke boldly. “Yes, no one except you, Mackenzie, and my family are allowed in the house.” I smiled and laughed at his explanation. “That’s good...speaking of Mackenzie…” I turned around on my knees to ask where she was, but she was standing in the doorway. “There you are.” I stood, and she walked up to hug me. “Time’s almost run out. If Travis isn’t back in the next forty five minutes, then we’ll have to start with just the eleven of us.” “How are the numbers on the other side, Mackenzie?” Mr. Hayne asked, walking in from the living room. “Multiplied by almost three times what we thought. We’ll need some strategic plan of attack to wipe out a good fraction of them.” I felt like my airway shrank just then and started trying to come over the shock.

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Mackenzie put a hand on my shoulder and looked at me. “Alyss, breathe, everything will be fine. I’m confident that Travis will come back with more than enough and in time.” Time passed slowly and couldn’t seem to speed up as our time finally came. Nick’s brother, Aiden, peeked out of the door. “It’s time.” Those two words I had been dreading for four days, and now the dread seemed to thicken with the tense atmosphere in the room. I prayed in my head, Please Travis, be okay. Hurry. “Alright, we should get going.” “Good luck,” Mrs. Hayne said hugging her husband and kissing him. “All of you.” We filed out of the house, Mackenzie and I with weapons in hand, and we started walking down the street as far away from the neighborhood as possible. The plan was to get on the outskirts of town so that the creatures wouldn’t enter, and the only main road that led us to them was where the pavement dead-ended into the beach and where the woods thrived. “Light on, Alyss. They could catch us by surprise,” Mackenzie said just above a whisper. I switched on the light that rested on the top of my gun, and held it against my shoulder. I put a hand on my waist where my knife was, just to check that it was there, and continued looking around in the trees for any sign of movement. The light from the moon was slowly getting lost behind the darkness, and now only half visible. “We’ll get there just a little before it’s completely gone,” Nicholas said from behind me and to the side. I looked his way and saw movement past him. I turned and pointed my gun. Everyone stopped walking and turned to where I was facing. Nick, Aiden, and their brother Tom tensed, letting their nails grow into claws and their hands enlarge a little while fur appeared. The tension grew strong and we watched as whatever it was slowly emerged from the trees. The time couldn’t seem to go any slower, and just as I was about to pull the trigger, the mass came fully into the subtle light. It was Mr. Henderson, the leader of the werewolf council. The one that Travis had gone to meet up with. He was with members from the council and a few others I didn’t recognize. With no sign of Travis around me, I kept my gun up, pulling it snug against my shoulder. “Ms. Drey,” he said in a dull tone. “Where’s Travis?” I asked sharply. “He’ll be here shortly, I assume. He’s leading the others to the area.” “You already sent him ahead?” Aiden asked, and I could see in the corner of my eye that he glanced at me. “Alyss,” he said, trying to encourage me to put the gun down. “No. Henderson, if you’re lying to me—” “I’m not lying, Ms. Drey. You will see him in short time, if we start walking again.” I didn’t trust what he was saying, but he was right that we had to continue walking. I let my finger unwrap from the trigger slowly and started walking—faster now. The moon was just minutes from being completely veiled in black when we arrived at the end of the road. We stopped about fifty yards from the beach and just waited. I gripped my gun tighter when I didn’t see any sign of Travis or any others. I couldn’t let

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my emotions fly, though, because we would go to battle any minute now. “Turn your light on high, Alyss.” Mackenzie spoke again, stepping up beside me. Just as we did so, the moon went black. Cries of all sorts filled my ears, and I was faced with dark masses emanating from the trees. My light caught the gleam of their eyes or the goriness of their skin, and we took formation. They attacked first, giving us the opportunity to start with the upper hand and hopefully stay that way. I felt something pull me back and heard a hiss in my ear—a vampire. Without hesitation, I pulled my knife from the holder and swung it over my shoulder where the vampire’s head was. I heard a noise of shock and pulled the blade from his skull, turning and shooting him down with a bullet to the face. I circled around and was about to shoot at a Durzog, a nasty swamp dog-like creature with the look of serious malnutrition and scabby, flaky, greenbrown skin. He was getting ready to strike when he was shoved to the ground by a big mahogany-colored werewolf. Travis. I hid a smile and continued attacking creatures. I heard a growl and watched as Travis wrestled with another creature. I turned on my heel to help, but I was taken to the ground by another Durzog. I rolled and shot my gun at its head, covering my face when blood spatter. Getting to my feet, I went on fighting. I t felt like two hours passed when the battle was finally ending. The moon couldn’t come any sooner for us. The darkness dissipated and the moon shone brighter than before, burning any creature that was in its sight—apart from the werewolves and our allies; they were just turned back to human form by force. Right after the Black Moon is when a forcible transformation occurs. I dropped my hands to my knees in exhaustion, and took a breather. “Alyss?” Travis asked, coming up to me. I straightened up immediately and wrapped my arms around him as best as I could. He hugged me back, and we stayed like that for a couple moments. We shared a kiss, and I turned my head to rest it against his chest. His chin rested on top of my head, and he held me. I noticed something lying on the ground twenty yards away, a body that hadn’t been burned by the moon. “Give me a second,” I said, pulling away from his embrace and walking towards the object. As I got closer, I saw that it was indeed a body. Then, I felt a gasp escape my lips as I recognized who it was. The cry that left my lips was like nothing I could ever imagine producing: a mix between a battle cry and a cry of pain and anger. Running down the bloodstained road and up to the body of Mackenzie, my legs gave way and I collapsed to my knees, looking over her. She had blood covering her shirt and neck. Gathering her up in my arms, I felt my body rocking and hiccupping with painful cries and gulps of air. Looking at her neck, I could see a deep gash matching the size of a bite mark. Her shirt over her stomach was soaked in blood, and was ripped by claw marks, but the blood was too thick and dark to see her skin and wounds. Seeing the evidence, I knew what I had to do to save her before she became a werewolf. Laying her down on the ground flat, I took out my short knife and raised it above my head. Trying to keep my cries silent but failing, I sent the knife plunging through her heart. The next action, though, was the toughest, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it as one hand slipped from the hilt. I looked away into my arm trying to wipe away the tears waterfalling down my face. Finally finding the strength to continue, I turned back to the knife, put my hands on both sides of the hilt, keeping my eyes on the very end of it, and twisting the knife to the right with one cry. This started another round of cries as I kept the knife in place for several seconds before pulling it out and throwing it to the side. Gathering her back up in my arms, I sat there crying for what felt like hours. After an eternity of rocking the cold lifeless corpse of my sister, I felt someone take me

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into their arms and cuddle me to their chest. I tried not letting another take Mackenzie from me, but my hands slipped across her blood-soaked body, and she was gone. An eruption of wails left me deafening myself and becoming weaker by each millisecond, and by the time the person had me bridal-style in their arms and walking, I was complete putty. Each exhale was loud and heavy and each intake was short and sharp, burning and aching my throat every time. I couldn’t stop my crying even if I tried holding my breath, which was more difficult than trying to breathe. I covered my face in the person’s chest and tried to calm down.

In the Crypt By Wyatt Weber The plastic leaves of white, beige, and brown have lost their song and dance. From their roots teased by the wind, they may only join it faintly in their decay, calling to leaves green with life, like some often told anecdote with a forgotten moral. The majesty has left the restless clattering, replaced by the illusion of stinking wet yard trash littered with squirming earwigs. Continually I look for differences, but, alas, they are as indifferent to me as I to them. This is why I eye electrical outlets, dwell closer to marvelous cliffs, admire the sharpness of a blade as it splices sunrays across my vision. This is why I dream of memories and adhere to the future sparsely. This is why the uncanny taste of death lingers in the pit of my throat each and every moment, happy or not. As a child I feared change; in adolescence I embraced it. As for this rut that must be adulthood, I question if there’s been any change at all. Sinking in the sameness of being and nothingness all might as well be summed up as hopelessness. The chain of life may transform us for better and for worse, but if naiveté is innocence and ignorance is bliss, I would shatter the last few links of understanding and join the other natural things in their total mindless mechanicalness. If only such a chain were existent before me. If only such a chain’s existence could be concrete. But “if only” is a lonely beginning, and loneliness is next to insanity. And so, loneliness has madly driven me to the small forest behind my childhood home. Centered in the wooded clearing, dusty sunlight taints my nostalgia, utterly trapping me in a damned state of melancholy. Hope is a joke and I laugh at that. Maniacal tears soothe the indelible detritus, and the musty stench of silkworms yields bitter-sweet recognition of punching craters in ant hills, dropping their syrupy green bodies into the arena, and watching their black heads writhe and jerk in the crumbling mound as the hoard of fiery soldiers tears at them. How us tots discovered power and mercy, cruelty and regret. Young gentle hands preciously holding such beauty in such small form. The next moment I’d pull the body apart with frightening ease, meticulously observing the glimmering brownish red ooze bridge apart. Certain disgust filled Anderson High School

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me. It was the last time I tortured a bug. The pain of remorse even haunted me as a teenager after I closely eyed the thin snake of hash oil, so similar to the guts of the silkworm, as it slowly melted into the red hot nail of the bong and got me so high that images of my past atrocities whispered “monster” into my ear. I want to leave this place. There is no place different from this, except one: into the black. How much darker could death be? How ironic that the sun illuminates all before me, yet exposes a shadow cast over my eyes. Make it stop, I say aloud, shouting it again above the forest canopy for all the dog-walkers and patio-sitters lurking and skulking to hear. After my outburst, I would have gladly retreated up to my backyard and perhaps into my house as I had done in the past after venting in this convenient wooded sanctuary. But my old home had been sold long ago, and I didn’t want to disturb the young family of five that I hoped lived there. So I darted up the dirty slope to the street opposite from where my house was and drove off in my car. Where was I to go now? I’d driven four-and-a-half hours to Austin just to stand in that stupid clearing in that stupid forest. And for what? To escape a mental breakdown? I pondered my options, moving along with the old roads. I still had a number of burnt out friends living in Austin, but they had faded away. I stopped suddenly, turning off my engine. I was in front of an old friend’s house. He was gone living a better adventure than I was. He was always a competitive sort, very talented. Long ago, late in high school, I had punched him in the face in a moment of rage. He had it coming at the time, I remembered. But it was my fault for letting that charred bridge crumble. He was the best of my friends. I looked down my old friend’s steep driveway and saw that none of the vehicles were familiar. Maybe his parents bought new cars, or maybe they moved. I let out a sigh and started my car. I felt it rust; I could not move. The incident, when I struck him, had been in front of his entire family. He pushed me from behind, and I caught my balance with my recovering leg. I swung and popped him in the jaw. I shook my head at the memory. Not too much time passed before I apologized to him, his two brothers, and his dad. But I never did to his mother. I could never get the courage; she still held some sort of disappointing grudge towards me. And that was why our friendship died. I hate myself, I thought. I thought back to those times, about where I was both mentally and physically. I was having big troubles with avoidance, but it was all that weed I smoked that made avoidance no trouble at all. The cause of my cowardice stemmed from an existential crisis buried in stress from suffering both the world’s brutality and its cruelty. I had been hit by a car; it broke my leg and prevented me from remaining in my beloved sports. I had a mother with two failed suicide attempts, during the first of which I found her, swollen from an aspirin overdose. Both of those tragedies occurred within six months of each other. The dreaded thought of a hospital made my heart sink. Before some reckless bitch busted my leg, I had been in hospitals rarely. That whole year I spent nearly every holiday at my mother’s hospital bedside with my siblings. After reminiscing those nightmares, I grew sort of relieved, surprised that I made it through senior year of high school and continued on to college. I should go back to Harlington, I thought, I have work later tomorrow. Then the thought of climbing back into that yellow EMS ambulance made me shudder. I can’t go back to being around all that death. If it wasn’t the gore or the misfortune that sickened me, it was being indifferent to it all. The indifference reminded

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me of my darker self, the sociopathic pessimist that wanted to destroy, annihilate. Whenever my dark self comes back, he’s trying to kill me. Tears swelled. A green silkworm gently glided onto my windshield. My hand floated to the lever for the windshield wipers. The silkworm raised and lowered his head, plotting where to inch next. Then, I A) pull the lever. B) lower my hand.

A) I pull the lever. The windshield wipers race up and across, down and back. The silkworm’s once green, wavering body is now a red streak arced along my windshield. I do not feel sad. I feel empty. I think I may feel a sort of joy, but no, just emptiness. I put my car in gear and begin making the trip back to Harlington. I will continue.

B) I lower my hand. I put my hand down. I get out of my car and, as carefully as possible, remove the silkworm from my windshield and place it on a green leaf. I take a deep breath and begin walking down the concrete steps to my old friend’s house. The wind blows. Dead leaves swirl around my ankles as I walk. The air sweet. When I get to the front door, I brace myself and knock. Wait. Ring the doorbell. Wait. No one’s home. I yell the name of my old friend’s mother through the door. I feel a frog in my throat and a need to die. I peer up to my car. I now know what needs to be done: I will go to that high parking garage, the close one where I used to longboard down as a kid, and I’ll jump from it. I race up to my car.

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The Door (excerpt) By Sebastian Benavides You notice there are some wooden doors in the back of the church, and wonder about the legality of going in further. Aren’t churches public property? Surely anyone could enter. You doubt that you would get in any trouble; you resolve just to fall back to the “what would Jesus do” argument if any church workers threaten to press charges. You place a hand on the wood door, suddenly having reservations about opening this huge thing. It is not because you are afraid of legal charges; it is something more instinctual. Every hair on the back of your neck stands up, you feel as if the beat of your heart is saying “No…no…no…no…” with every pulse. You place a trembling finger on your camera hanging around your neck, as if that would offer you some sort of protection. You take a deep breath and swing open the door. It is a broom closet.

Zombies and the Antichrist By Jennifer Cabiya You have horrible posture. You’re lying on your couch with your laptop on your stomach, completely supine except for your head, which bends at an almost-ninety degree angle against the armrest. Your arms are awkwardly folded like a predatory dinosaur’s, making light jabs at the backlit keys. Instead of laughing, you snort faintly. Blowing a little bit of air out of your nose. You don’t notice how utterly ridiculous you look until your cat meows, hungry, with this patronizing expression, all impatience and furry disdain. You decide that you have a complicated relationship with your cat. You’re talking to this friend of yours on Skype, except she doesn’t have a webcam so you’re just IM-ing. You figure that’s fine, considering your less-than-graceful position. You suck on a cough drop instead of brushing your teeth. You scroll through the endless pages of Pinterest boards, looking for the right end-of-the-world outfit. Your friend insists that leather jackets are a necessity, but you think you’d overheat in an hour. Your friend is much more punk than you. An irritated groan comes from the room behind you. “Aren’t you going to do anything about that damned cat?” It’s your dad. He’s kind of a grump. Anderson High School

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You shrug, not really noticing or caring that he can’t hear your shrug. He couldn’t hear a lawnmower across the street the other day. But anybody could hear this cat, you swear. She’s like an alarm clock whose snooze button is more food. He shuffles out of the room, prepared with two despairing glances. One for the cat, and one for you. You suppose that’s fair. “How was your day, your majesty?” he asks. “More or less,” you answer noncommittally. He mistakenly assumes this is an invitation for conversation. “Well, I just saw this thing on the news,” he ventures. “Oh yeah, me too,” you say. “In this suburb of Dallas,” he continues. “Forgot which one, but anyway, so this couple with a dog—it’s about to have puppies, right?” “I guess.” “Right, so they take their dog to the vet and it’s huge, as in it ought to be having two pups instead of one, right?” “Sure.” You don’t bother to correct his misinformed notions of canine reproduction. “Right, so they take it to the vet and the couple is all concerned… Are you listening?” Jesus, you feel like he’s your mother-in-law. Blah blah blah. “Yeah, no,” you say. “Totally in on this right now.” “Right, so…” He scratches at his beard. Or, well, his unshaven chin. Same thing. You roll your eyes. “So, the dog gives birth to—guess!” You unfold your dinosaur arms to mockingly scratch your chin. “A litter of kittens. That’d be rad, I bet. My money’s on interspecies romance.” “Even better,” he says. “Impossible,” you argue. “Do you even know the meaning of adorable? Get out!” He cuts the air with a flat palm, a precise end-all to the cat nonsense. “Human.” “What, no waaaay.” You feign incredulousness. He holds a finger in your direction. Wait for it. “A baby boy.” “Well that’s weird. If a dog’s gonna give birth to a human, you’d think it’d be a girl.” “And you know what happened next?” You shrug. “What, they sued the place?” “No, this happened yesterday! There wouldn’t have been time for a lawsuit. Get with it, already,” he says. He clears his throat. “No, some guys came in and took the baby. Just vanished.” “Ok, so cops, then?” “No, no, you’re not getting it!” “What? What is there to get?” you ask, showing an open palm. “You’re just making this up anyway. Is there a moral to the story, or what?” “The antichrist!” You stop. Okay, you know your dad is pulling your leg. Squicky stuff is fine. Dogs giving birth? Kinda messy, but doable. You can handle that. Dogs giving birth to non-dogs? Potentially cute. A good day for tabloids across the nation. The antichrist? Nah, you’re not about that. You laugh nervously. “Yeah, right, Dad. Sure.” He shrugs and walks into the kitchen. You hear the sounds of cat food being scooped and poured. You hear cat sounds. You look at the window. It’s dark. “Hey, Dad?”

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He turns to face you from the pantry. “Could you close the curtains?” His laugh is dry and dusty and mean. “Shut up!” He wipes a fake tear from his eyes. “Oooh, the doggy Satan’s gonna come peek at you after dinner, yeah!” “It’s not about that!” “Sure, honey.” “No, I mean,” you scramble. “It was light out before, but now it’s dark.” “Fantastic grasp of time.” You could flip a table. You nudge your laptop instead. He closes the curtains anyway. “Check the clock,” he asks. Demands, whatever. “Bit past nine, why?” “Welp,” he says, drumming on his beer belly. “Time for bed. Good night. All alone. In the dark. By yourself. In the dark.” “Whatever, Dad,” you say, acting nonchalant. Keyword: acting. Without further ado, he ruffles your hair and goes back to his room. Your friend has left you a series of confused messages. and so i was like… yo r u there? helloooo? You reassure her that you’re still alive. She links you to a zombie-apocalypse survival guide that details what kinds of clothes you should wear. She points out, smugly, that it recommends a leather jacket. You say you’ll duct tape your hoodie sleeves. Has she ever bitten through duct tape? She says that she has, you know, when she rips it off the roll. You send her a tongue-sticking-out emoji, and she sends you the laughing one. After half an hour discussing the hiking boots versus running shoes conundrum, she decides she’s gonna go to bed to. You call her an old man. ya got me lol

#gpoy You say good night but when her Skype bubble goes grey, your laugh dies. You continue scrolling through the apocalypse blog. You didn’t realize the multipurpose advantages of bungee cords and crowbars. You think that a grappling hook would be your weapon of choice in that sort of situation.

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You look at yourself and realize that the only way you’d survive any encounter with any beast is by having a friend who can use a makeshift grappling hook. Or one with a machine gun. Or a Jeep. Or a machine gun mounted on a Jeep. Yeah. While totally spacing out, your ironic zombie fugue is interrupted by lapping sounds in the bathroom. “What is with that freakin’ cat,” you mutter to yourself. The laptop has left red marks on your thighs. You think you’ve been sitting on the couch for at least four hours. You wobble a little when you first stand up. The bathroom is only a few paces away, but in the short time it takes you to walk down the hall, your cat has apparently quenched her disgusting thirst and is waiting expectantly, sprawled out, in the middle of the floor. You think it would be funny to “trip” on her, just to let her know that she’s not as cute as those hypothetical puppy-cats. Which, when you really think about it… It’s actually kind of a horrifying thought. Suddenly you’re imagining a golden retriever on a chrome vet table, paw in a little boy’s hand, and she’s pushing and it’s all dramatic and the boy looks over and instead of cute little golden retriever puppies there’s a litter of goopy, long-haired Persians struggling to free themselves from the stringy binds of the canine womb. Amniotic juices discolor their hair to a brownish yellow, and you think, in the glint of their eyes, you see the absence of innocence. You are glad you’re in the bathroom now because that was incredibly terrifying and you hope you never think about interspecies reproduction again. As you empty your bladder, you hear a creak from just outside the bathroom window. The frosted glass one that no one could (or would, or should) ever open. Your urine trickle halts. You listen. There’s no other sound. Not even a grasshopper. You continue peeing. After the deafening roar that is indoor plumbing subsides, you hear the noise again. Woooeeeshhhhk-kuh Okay, so it’s real. You doubted it, but it’s definitely, for sure, A Thing That You Did Not Just Imagine Because You Were Thinking About Interspecies Demon Babies. But it’s probably the neighbors. They have dogs. They’re probably letting their dogs out in the backyard before bed time. Obviously. You return to the living room. To your laptop. To, hopefully, sanity. And you don’t hear anything else. You figure, well, you’ve got a hallway and a line of rooms between you and whatever the noise was. You probably wouldn’t be able to hear it if it’s still there, anyway. And usually people only open the doors twice to exchange their mutts with the world, right? One, out. Two, in. End of Story. You finish browsing the “How to Make Rabbit Snares” article. Everything is quiet. Even your clicking seems muted. Then, you hear rustling on the other side of the wall. “Hrrruuahh!” You turn around but you can’t see a shadow on the wall because whatever’s approaching is down the hall and you really wish you could see its shadow. God, it’s probably a zombie. You thought about zombies and now they’re real. That’s how it works. And out stumbles…?

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A) A zombie! That’s how it works. B) A dog-kitten-antichrist-infant. You thought about that more. C) Your dad. Obviously. A) A zombie! That’s how it works. You’re right. It’s a zombie. It’s just this random-ass zombie in the middle of your house despite all the doors being locked and the still not-very-faint snoring of your father in his bedroom. No one knows how this creature has managed to insert itself into your house, into your life. You’re pretty much astounded. How come this didn’t happen two hours ago, when you were thinking about the gorgeous Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead? You shove your laptop off your legs and back the hell up. The zombie shuffles closer to you, and then you realize… It’s actually zombie Norman Reedus! You are so shocked. You don’t know if you should grab the fire poker from the mantle or jump up and down on the couch cushions. This is the closest you’ve been to a celebrity in, like, weeks. In your unbridled and frantic fangirling, Norman Reedus, the Zombie, puts his beautiful rotting lips on your neck. You die. The End.

B) A dog-kitten-antichrist-infant. You thought about that more. You suppose you have a point. You did, actually, think about weird demi-human babies. The thing emerges crawling. On the ceiling. You flip the frick out and knock the laptop off yourself, fumbling for the fire poker on the mantle. It sees you and hisses. It doesn’t have ears. Why the hell doesn’t it have ears?! It lunges at you just as you bring the metal bar in front of your face. It spits acid on you and everything is burning. At least your eyes were closed, but now it’s gnawing on the metal and— It chewed through the metal. You punch the demon baby in the face. Its head lolls to one side, unsupported by its fragile infant neck. You stare at it and scream, just scream. Now it’s screaming, too. You can’t tell if it’s an unholy shriek of unending agony, or if it’s just a normal baby sound. Your dad rushes out of his room with a shotgun and straight up murders the child of Satan. You think he’s pretty rad. “I told you,” he says. The End.

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C) Your dad. Obviously. But of course, it’s just your father. He’s scratching both his head and his stomach and you wonder how he is so coordinated, even when he’s dead tired. “Hey,” he says. “H-hey,” you say. He glances at you through squinting eyes. He turns off the lamp. You turn it back on. No. The light stays on. “You heard that gate?” “What gate?” The gates of hell? “The fence gate. Our gate. The wooden one? It’s been slamming right outside my window. Dang wind,” he says. Oh. “Oh,” you say. He mumbles something and walks out the front door. He leaves the front door open. You cannot believe how utterly imbecilic your father is, leaving the front door open in the middle of the night while investigating strange noises outside. Has he ever seen a horror film? Nothing happens for an entire minute. You’re picking at your nails and eyeing the fire poker on the mantle. You hate yourself for this. “Dad?” you call out. Now you’re gonna get it, says the voice in the back of your mind. The voice asks if you’ve ever seen a horror film because you don’t just start calling out for people who’ve been missing for more than four seconds. The front door opens slowly. Merde. Your last thoughts are about the movie Insidious. You really regret not thinking about something worthwhile, like Norman Reedus. But again, it’s just your father. Completely normal. Tired, but living. You chuckle to yourself. He goes to bed without messing up your hair. Victory is yours! The End.

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The Writers’ Block 2013 – 2014 Praise for this issue: “Top notch edge & angst from the teenage minds of Anderson HS.” –Conner M. “This is the best thing you will ever probably not read!!!” –Leah K. “Amazing! Fantastic! This is the best thing I’ve ever read! Throw out all your Harry Potter and Hunger Games. You won’t need them after you’ve read Writers’ Block!” –Juliana C. “A fun way to read passages is to choose the ones written by the kids with the weirdest names.” –May B.

Thanks for Reading

The Writers' Block 2014  

Literary Magazine of Creative Writing from Anderson High School in Austin, TX

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