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All this happened, more or less.... 10th Grade World Literature Plymouth South High School MS. KATRIN A KENNETT, ED.


Forward Welcome to our stories This year, our 10th grade consideration is the Universal Human Experience. What do we all share, what connects people around the world, provokes our humanity, comforts us in a shared collective? One could argue that we all share stories - starting with our own. Each of us has a beginning, we live out the days in the middle, and someday our stories too will end. Our days can be microcosms of our lives, and the narratives we leave behind can provide points on the plot chart of life. In this collection of short stories, you’ll find tales of mystery, love, fantasy, and even science fiction. Consider how these stories reveal a variety of universal human experiences, and how through telling them we learn to tell our own tales.

Thank you for reading,

Ms. Katrina Kennett January 2013

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CHAPTER 1

All this happened, more or less... - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

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MATT

Nora & Steve Part 1: Nameless Instructions

“We want you to kill Nora O’ Leary.” “My fiancée?” “It is absolutely necessary that her threat is removed from our world, yes” Steve Dolshine looked across his kitchen table, an eyebrow cocked, unable to articulate the questions that had leaped in front of his train of thought. The CIA members, weapons holstered, weren’t sure what to make of his response, mostly his lack of. It was only three but Steve rose to his feet for a beer. Despite his caution around these men poised in his home, he offered them one too. They regretfully refused, and Steve returned to his seat. “Let me get this straight...you want me...a banker living in the suburbs of Mississippi...to perform an assassination..on my fiancee of two and a half years?” “Absolutely,” uttered the first, his arrogance at an all time high. Steve was twiddling his keys around his finger, unaware of the noise. “I knew this would happen,” the second began, “Nora isn’t who you think she is. Tell me a brief description of who you believe she is.” “Nora is a caring, compassionate woman who moved here from Ireland several years back...2006 I believe. She works at the DMV on Finch Ave. I think she just got a promotion actually.” “And your relationship?” Steve let out a muffled sigh. The hesitation appeared to bother the men across from him, so he conjured the same fake smile he’d greeted them with. “I be3


gan dating her in April, 2011. I met her through my license renewal. I found her accent particularly attractive and I couldn’t help but ask her out. We’ve been together ever since. That’s why we moved into this house together and are to be married in January” “Damn, she is good.” “You think I’m lying? Ask her yourself you ignorant bastard.” His pale face gave way to pink, and the jingling had noticeably picked up intensity. Clearly, their definitions of ignorance differed. “I apologize for my partner, he doesn’t know how to keep his mouth closed sometimes.” He cuffed Mr. Arrogant in the back of the head and continued. “Listen, guy. I get that this is serious stuff. I know it doesn’t make sense. I know how it feels to have your life infiltrated and ripped apart from the core. But this isn’t about me, its about you. We, speaking for the United States and the CIA, need you to kill that woman.” “I’m not going to kill my fiancee. That’s ridiculous. Why does she ‘need’ to be killed?” He asked the question, but really didn’t wish to know the answer. The idea that this woman who had saved him from depression is secretly wanted by the government resonated within him. The keys flew out of his hands, he picked them up and without noticing the jingling resumed. “I’d prefer it if you didn’t ask that question.” “I’d prefer it if you didn’t want me to kill my girlfriend.” “Fair enough. First off, get rid of ‘Nora’. Her name is Lana Khrevchenkov, and she is from the Ukraine. She--” “Is she a--” He was cut off. “I know what you’re thinking, she’s not a spy. She is however the leader of her own terrorist organization, affiliated with Russia, against the United States. It isn’t known by most of the world, not even the president. We have the power to keep things like that away from him. He’s sort of a pansy and isn’t capable of handling situations like this. He tends to shy away from controversy. Thats why we left 4


Osama to him, a little confidence booster. And it helped his campaign so what the hell right?” “Wait just a second...” he cut off his ramble, “Nora is the most irish sounding girl I’ve ever met. Explain that. Ball’s in your court big guy.” This triumphant feeling flushed out the pink of his cheeks, and restored his normal tone. The second CIA agent stood up, as if to get a better look outside. The sun was shining through the window. “Fake. Before coming here 3 years ago, she spent three or four months in  Ireland perfecting said ‘brogue’.” The jingling resumed. “Now please, let me finish my explanation. She didn’t come here looking for a life, she looked for the absence of a life. She needed to blend in. Lana had a mission, a plan if you will, to shake our country to its bitter bones and establish Russia once again as the most dominant country. This plan involves her network of people, literally scattered across the nation. Under her direction, chips have been placed on every cell phone tower across the country. Well atleast thats what we believe them to be, we can’t find a trace of them anywhere. Once activated, by some code, the towers will begin to emit gamma rays instead of cell phone waves. This isn’t creating the hulk, no. Exposure to that amount of gamma radiation will kill anyone who receives it. This means that anyone who comes in contact with a cell phone, computer, or anything linked up with the greater system, will die. End of story” “Where are the cameras? Can Ashton Kutcher come out now and tell me I'm on TV . This is fiction. Please.” “Would two nameless CIA agents show up at your door with this type of tone if it was a joke.”There was a click below the table. “Cool it with that nonsense.” Steve put his keys down. “Fine. I’ll pretend to believe you for a little while. Still, even if all you’ve been saying is true. Why me? You have assassins and people trained to handle this.” “Exactly. With her background she expects assassins, she’s on high alert all the time. This is exactly why you’re the right man for the job. Because you’re a

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banker, because you have no training. She chose you to blend into society, to disappear from the eyes of scrutiny. She expects everything, except you.” The expression in Steve’s eyes was as blank as the color of his skin. The second man had undertaken pacing, and was exercising it frivolously, arrogance evaporated. He took out a handkerchief and wiped his eye, facing the wall, hoping he wasn’t being observed. “I can’t consciously do it. It won’t happen. I am telling you right now as a humble banker I can’t look into her eyes and kill the girl whom I’ve loved unconditionally for the past few years.” The CIA man grit his teeth as he spoke. “Listen to me, brother, we are on our last leg with this girl. We can’t fail again. Look into my eyes. See what I see.” For the first time since he got up, the second man spoke. “Our intel states that she’s going to set the codes in 36 hours.” Neither of the two parties fully understood the other’s dismay. Without uttering another command, the two men left, leaving a bottle of pills and a nine millimeter on the counter.

Part 2: Your Choice It wasn’t the tenacity or the emotion of the first man that convinced him. It was the second man, whose attitude at first rubbed him the wrong way, but by not saying anything he really said the most of all. For the first two hours after the men left, Steve sat, jingling his keys, in the same place they left him in: despair. He felt like a fool for being played, was he really that naive? Or was she really just that good? He stood up, his knees stiff from being stationary. He went to the fridge for another beer. Its frigid temperature cleansed his tongue, which had sat exposed to the Mississippi air for almost two hours now.

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Steve had an eternity to think but couldn’t get his head straight. He looked around at the late 90s appliances and the overall decor of the room. It occurred to him that this kitchen could really be done over. He had always told Nora that the broken-handled fridge and marble countertops were fine the way that they were. Nora. He looked at the countertop and picked up the nine millimeter. He had never used a gun before and never imagined himself ever using one. Now the possibility loomed that his first gunshot might be into the fleshy pink brain of his genius girlfriend. Steve walked outside, gun in hand. He looked out the porch into the miles of forest. We really do live in a secluded area, he thought. He outstretched the pistol in his right hand to shoulder level. Without a glimpse of hesitation, he pulled the trigger, sending a flock of crows in flight. A picture of Nora hung below the clock. She straightened her hair that day. She gave it to him for his twenty-eighth birthday. It was then that his infatuation with Nora grew once more, stronger than ever, really. How could he kill this spout of happiness. He couldn’t make her die in vain like this. But at the same time, he needed separation. Steve infallibly trusted those CIA men, against any conventional logic. In doing this, he would be lifted of the burden these men had placed upon him. With new drive, he got behind the wheel of their 2011 Cadillac and drove to the mom and pop liquor store down the road. It was a chilly autumn day, but his bare arms were blanketed by the blindness of his determination. He picked up Chardonnay and headed for home. It was five thirty in the afternoon and Nora was headed home. He had begun cooking the chicken with the peas that she likes. Business as usual. He poured two glasses of the wine, and made sure to dissolve the white pill in her glass. It had the characteristics of an antacid. The final particles disappeared just as she was walking in the door. “Chicken smells great, hon” “Thanks. I tried a new garlic rub my mother sent me. How was work?” “Usual drab, missing you as always,”  Eyesight to the blind. 7


“I picked up a new bottle of wine, thought you might like a glass” Before taking a sip, Nora inspected the glass and then the wine bottle. “Steve you know I hate white wine.” “Lana I’m sorry I’ll go get another.” “What did you just call me?” She casually leaned against the countertop, her face expressing concern, yet her mouth revealed a crooked grin. “Nora.”

Part 3: Lana & Steve She didn’t buy it. Bankers aren’t particularly inept at the craft of lying. Yet, both of them played dumb. Steve pretended he hadn’t just addressed her in a name she never introduced herself with, and Nora pretended not to hear it. Nora walked into the bedroom, and Steve sat in silence. He remembered that look she just gave him. How could he take away the life in those dark green eyes? Steve wondered what she went to do, and instantly remembered the man standing in his kitchen, wiping away tears, tears she had caused. He remembered his anxious pacing; will and determination returned to his blood. He reached into his back pocket, astonished the 9 millimeter was no longer there. He chased Nora up the stairs. She was sitting on the bed undoing her bootlaces. Steve noticed a thin fiber loop in her left hand. The tension was unbearable.  He could’ve cut it with a knife but instead he chose words. “Here, let me help you.” Steve got onto a knee and took over. In her hand the thin fiber wire was actually a footlong and she had curled it into a loop. His eyes flinched at its murky objective. Once finished, she returned to his feet. He watched the sway of her hips as she walked back downstairs. “Thanks love,” she echoed. 8


He frantically gazed over his environment, desperate to find a trace. The room was relatively untouched. Her jacket contained nothing but a Mentos wrapper with a scribbled set of numbers. He continued to look. To her, his intentions were clear. It was only a matter of time. She swished around Steve’s wine glass and took several sips. The unlabeled pill bottle sat suspiciously on the counter. Nora toyed with it before setting it down where she found it, the blank label facing outwards. Steve came back down the stairs holding the same meaningless expression he had going up. Nora’s confidence was restored. His mind sweltered once again with visions of the eccentric CIA agent from earlier that day. He took over. Without speaking a word, Steve reached his left hand into his back pocket, and whipped out the pistol that he only recently discovered how to use, and Nora died with a smirk on her face. The wire was gone from her hand, she abandoned any ideas of murdering him the minute he walked upstairs. He grabbed a few things and raced to the Cadillac. He did it. Steve really used all 6 of the cylinders in that car. He raced down the freeway, and toward  the local police department. Steve opened the glove box and pulled out the registration. The name line at the top read “Nora O’Malley and Steve Dolshine”. Steve used little thought to take out his phone and execute one final phone call. He dialed. The other end picked up. Steve trickled out his last audible sound “7 1 E F D 0 H B 3 M 4 5 9 0 1 O 8 3 H A E Q P 4 U L 0 9”. He stormed inside, gun in his right hand, phone in the other. Steve paid careful attention as to the direction of the receiver. He threw the phone at the fattest man in sight. From behind his desk, the chubby man picked it up, and brought it to his ear. “Hello?” Not three seconds passed before he hit the floor. Steve turned his attention to the sheriff. He raised his gun like he had done two times this day. This time, he 9


turned it around. The barrel felt cold between his teeth. His small mouth furthered his complications. He pulled that little sliver of metal to end his chaos before it even had a chance to begin. The gun hitting the floor made the sheriff ’s ears ring. The sound of dripping blood was interrupted and silenced by Steve Dolshine’s lifeless body, slumping down on the concrete.

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ERIN

Doomsday It was a foggy New Year’s Eve in Lightning City and people were swarming through Cloud Square in anticipation of the Golden Egg drop. It was just a short three hours until that magic moment but there was an eerie feeling of dread lurking like a wicked witch on Halloween night. Captain Thunder could feel something evil looming all the way from his Thunder cave. And he flashed back to when it all began. Captain Thunder and Dr. Storm were young boys when their rivalry began. The two of them always fought for the most attention by competing against one another at everything to see who was the most successful and eventually at saving the city from evil. Captain Thunder had the power of X- ray vision while Dr. Storm had no power, but he was extremely intelligent and created inventions beyond imaginable. But, it was always Captain Thunder who came out on top; he was more loved by the people, and had a heart of gold and always used his powers to help others. Dr. Storm was envious of Captain Thunder, and his way to cope with his jealousy was to get back at Captain Thunder and other people that hurt him the most. The two rivals have been hostile towards each other ever since then. Shaking his head back to reality, he knew he had to something fast or else the city would be doomed on New Year’s Eve. He knew his arch nemeses, Dr. Storm, was up to some evil scheme, but what could it be?  Captain Thunder’s supercar that he affectionately named “Bolt”, can travel through any weather and drives at the speed of light. He knew he was going to have to utilize Bolt’s powers to get to Cloud Square which was two hours away from Thunder cave, but fortunately would only take ten minutes in his lightning fast Bolt.  “MUWHUUHHA!!!” Dr. Storm shrieked, “I am going to steal the Golden Egg right from Cloud Square! And this time, no one will notice me with my new invisible cloak. I will scale up the tower and snatch the Golden Egg right off the 11


tower and ruin New Year’s Eve for everyone in Lightning city! With my new invention, my plan is flawless unless Captain Thunder suspects my evilness and attempts to foil my plan.”  Captain Thunder hopped in Bolt and sped off down the narrow windy mountain towards Cloud Square. He needed to formulate a plan to go up against Dr. Storm, because knowing him; he most likely created yet another new invention of destruction or deception. His inventions almost never work flawlessly, and fortunately Captain Thunder is usually successful in containing his wickedness; will he succeed again? Before he can catch him and place him in a desolate cell, he has to find out what his malicious plot is. However, Captain Thunder called his brother Wind Man, who has the ability to read minds from a distance, to see if he could determine Dr. Storm’s evil New Year’s Eve caper. “Brother you have to find out Dr. Storm’s plans as soon as possible,” Captain Thunder pleaded. “I just sifted through his thoughts and, he plans on stealing the Golden Egg from Cloud Square,” exclaimed Wind Man. “You must do something and fast,” he breathlessly and worriedly proclaimed. “I will, I am on my way to Cloud Square as we speak,” said Captain Thunder as he urgently sped dangerously down the deserted freeway. “He will regret the day he tries to ruin the New Year’s Eve celebration for the people of Lightning City,” Captain Thunder exclaimed. Meanwhile, as the clock ticked closer towards midnight Dr. Storm had a dreadful instinct that Captain Thunder would try to put a halt to his marvelous plans… unless he set up impossible obstacles for him to get through while speeding down the freeway to the city! “He will never reach Cloud Square in time,” stated a determined Dr. Storm. As Captain Thunder reached the edge of the city entrance, the moon was glowing like a shiny golden coin high in the sky, illuminating the buildings with its bright beams of light. The fog is still thick in the air, but with the moon’s help, the 12


city is a little clearer and the tall haloed buildings are guiding him to his destination; Cloud Square. “What on earth is this hideous creature attacking Bolt? This must be Dr. Storm’s new hybrid animal, his beefalo,” Said Captain Thunder trying to talk through his next move. Dr. Storm is up to no good and Captain Thunder must fight off the Beefalo beast to save the night for the revelers in Cloud Square. He remembers he has a few magic jelly beans that when eaten, can teleport the beefalo back to his owner at the Hybrid Farm so he can get back to the task at hand. “He has done it again and has beaten my first obstacle, but that was only the beginning of what’s up my sleeves,” Dr. Storm confidently stated. “This time I will send my minions out to destroy Tornado Bridge, and then there will be no way Captain Thunder can get to Cloud Square in time to stop me,” said Dr. Storm. Captain Thunder and Bolt swiftly made their way off the highway and crept up to the intersection to get onto Tornado Bridge when he saw a sight that he thought he would never witness. The entire silver suspension that was once Tornado Bridge was in chunk of twisted metal in the cold, choppy canal below. “Luckily Bolt just got an upgrade and had his wings installed and is now capable of short bursts of flight. If Dr. Storm thinks he can outsmart me, he is sadly mistaken,” Captain Thunder said as they soared safely across the treacherous waters below. Captain Thunder’s pulse begins to race as he realizes everything must go according to the plan for him to reach Cloud Square right at midnight when the Golden Egg is scheduled to begin its descent. He hears his heart drumming hoping Dr. Storm has no more obstacles for him to overcome.  Minutes later, Bolt and Captain Thunder come to a screeching halt at a red light only minutes away from the inner city close to Cloud Square. As Captain Thunder glances around, he notices hundreds of little yellow robots marching towards them with the obvious intent of harming them at all costs. 13


“Oh no, Dr. Storm has stationed robots all throughout Lightning City,” Yelled Captain Thunder, to prevent them from reaching the Square in time! Captain Thunder quickly realizes he has to find out where these robots are coming from, so he can shut down the main power source that is controlling them all to attack Captain Thunder and Bolt. Captain Thunder is able to use his x- ray vision to secure the destination of the main power outlet by looking inside the metal machines as they attempt to destroy Bolt. Of course he should have realized that the main power source was coming from Dr. Storm’s lab. He efficiently headed Bolt toward Dr. Storm’s lunatic lab to shut them all down so they could not complete their mission of destruction. Fortunately, the lab was empty and Captain Thunder was able to pull the plug causing the robots to cease. He didn’t think there was time for anymore of Dr. Storm’s hurdles. The dark evil clouds that are spattered throughout the sky are giving Dr. Storm the power to perform wicked and evil things. As he waits for the clock to strike midnight, he ponders how he will send his minions out to set up the last obstacle. “He has beaten me for the last time, I have a brilliant devious obstruction that he will never figure out,” exclaimed Dr. Storm to anyone that would listen.        Although the night was somewhat bright, the fog was still making it difficult to see. Dr. Storm maliciously arranged for his minions to put up fake signs that would lead Captain Thunder away from Cloud Square. Captain Thunder had been driving for longer than ten minutes through the dark streets of the city wondering he how he could have gotten so lost if he was following the signs to get to Cloud Square. “Wait a second, Captain Thunder said out loud, oh no, I bet Dr. Storm changed the direction of the signs so they all face the opposite route, so I have been driving for ten minutes down the wrong highway,” I don’t know if I can make it on time he exclaimed.

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Dr. Storm thinks he has finally outsmarted Captain Thunder, but he has underestimated his enemy and his resources. He doesn’t realize that Bolt has an emergency setting and can travel up to 300 miles per hour. Captain Thunder swiftly hits the red button and knows he can make it back to Cloud Square with five minutes to spare. Meanwhile Dr. Storm thinks he will finally be getting what he has been waiting for ever since their younger days when Captain Thunder claimed all of the attention from him. Dr. Storm believes has beaten Captain Thunder and is do proud that one of his evil schemes might actually worked. Dr. Storm promptly put his plan in motion and prepped his invisibility cloak as the clock continues closer to the stroke of midnight. The city will never see this coming and he thinks he will catch them by surprise. “Oh no, this can’t be possible” exclaimed a shocked Dr. Storm, “ I see Captain Thunder in the distance; I don’t know how he got here so fast  if I led him in the wrong direction. I have to execute my plan perfectly” said Dr. Storm. Captain Thunder got to Cloud Square with a minute to spare and quickly guided Bolt up the treacherous tower as the screams and chants from the people below energize him to succeed to save New Year’s Eve. Once at the peak of the tall skyscraper he spots Dr. Storm about to put on what looks like an invisibility cloak but he is startled by Captain Thunder’s sudden and speedy entrance and almost drops the cloak to the crowd below. “You may have tricked me” bellowed Captain Thunder, “ but I will always be here to catch you and put you behind bars where you belong for eternity”. “We have one minute until the New Year’s Eve Golden Egg drops and I still plan on stealing it right off the tower,” countered Dr. Storm. Dr. Storm fumbled with the cloak as he attempted to put it on, grab the Egg and run away from Captain Thunder hoping to bring doom to Lightning City and get revenge on the people who put him through hell for many years.  But just as Dr. Storm was about to snatch the Golden Egg, Captain Thunder used his x-ray vision and spotted him next to the Egg.  He grabbed him by his spaghetti like arms 15


and forced him into his unbreakable handcuffs before he could escape and just in time to save New Year’s Eve. “Fine Captain Thunder, you have me now, but what are you going to do with me?” inquired Dr. Storm. “I will put you in Lightning Jail where you belong forever,” said Captain Thunder as he handed over Dr. Storm to the head police officer in Lightning City. The city went wild into massive chants praising Captain Thunder for saving New Year’s Eve.  The governor of Lightning City, Lulu Murray, was so impressed with Captain Thunder and what he did to save the city that she declared a new holiday for Captain Thunder. “After New Year’s Day the people of our fine city will celebrate everything Captain Thunder does to save our city and we will call it Thunder Day,” Lulu Murray chanted to the crowd. Captain Thunder was honored by this recognition but more importantly, he was happy he could keep evil out of Lightning City. As days and months passed, Captain Thunder (and his trusty car Bolt) were satisfied that they had finally defeated Dr. Storm and were thrilled that he was in jail where he belonged.  Captain Thunder was proud of his new holiday, and he felt like life was looking sunny and serene and he was thoroughly enjoying his new found leisure.  He felt like he didn’t have a worry in the world.  Until he got word of Dr. Storm’s escape….

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KIM

The Guardian It was that day that changed my life story completely around. It seemed so ridiculous, but so real all at the same time. I pinched my arm a few more times to make sure this wasn’t a dream, and it sure wasn’t. I knew I couldn’t control what was happening to me, but it was unreal. After I got out of the hospital was my first experience. I saw a blurred face, and I couldn’t recognize who it was, but I could see they were in danger. I could see the fear in the lady’s eyes as she sat in the corner of a dark room not saying a word. She was just staring at a man on the other side of the room. Who was this lady and why was she in my head? I didn’t know her but I knew I needed to help her somehow. But this is so much craziness at one time, let me start from the beginning. My name is Shawn, and if you didn’t catch on, I can see the future. It is the most unusual feeling in the world, like I live two lives. It hasn’t always been this way. It started with an accident, a car accident. It was so cold and the streets were drenched the night it happened, I can hardly remember. All that went through my head was seeing a car coming straight my way and boom, I woke up in the hospital. They told me that I almost didn’t survive... that they had to save me, and I was thankful for that. The morning I got let out of the hospital was when I had my first experience, as I explained to you before. I needed to find out who she was and what was wrong. And I got my wish. I saw her face on the news the next day, killed by an unknown man in her home. He was robbing her house while she was hiding, but he soon found her. Was this real life? Why didn’t I tell anyone? Why didn’t I try to find out who it was sooner? I could have saved a life, and I do blame myself for her death since I was the only one who saw it coming. After that experience, I knew what this power needed to be used for, to help people. It couldn’t be ignored. Laying in bed, I was contemplating my power to see the future. No one could know, not a soul, not that they would believe it for a second anyway. It wasn’t 17


worth stressing over more. I could see the future and there was nothing to do to stop it. It’s not like it’s a bad thing? It’s not like I would use it to get attention, or to take advantage of people, I just wanted to help, that’s what I was made to do. I woke up late the next morning, and could remember every part of my dream last night, not knowing if it was a dream or a vision. It was a girl, around my age. Luscious blonde curls and bright blue eyes, typical teenage girl. She was walking down the street as night was blooming in the sky. I noticed where she was when I saw a bank that is two blocks away from my home in the middle of the city. But that’s all I saw, was her walking. It was so random, but seemed like it had such meaning. I soon decided that tonight I would hide out near the bank, but it was just incase. I wasn’t risking another life. I dressed in a black hoodie with worn out blue jeans. It seemed so creepy but I felt like it fit the time and place. Leaving around six seemed to be a perfect time. That was when it just got dark, just so I could plan out what I wanted to do. I wasn’t used to this, I don’t leave the house much unless its to go to school or visit my family. Which meant I obviously don’t have much friends either. But that didn’t bother me much, what mattered most was family. Family is always first. Anyways, I’ve almost reached the bank, but decided to stop for a hot coffee. I needed to think this through before I just attack like a crazy man. This could be really dangerous. What exactly am I getting myself into? There were no times for second thoughts, I needed to do whatever I can to help, since I got the help I needed when I was hurt. I knelt down in an alleyway across from the bank that I saw last night in my dream. Honestly, this could all be just another dream and not really happen, but you never know. It was getting dark quickly as I realized there was still no girl. I watched the moon slowly appear into the sky and shine brighter than I’ve ever seen. Just as I looked down was when I saw blonde hair flowing in the wind, walking towards the bank. It was all true... But the real question is what is going to happen next? She walked, and walked, and walked, without a soul in sight. Maybe not every vision I saw was bad, but just of a random event. As I was going to walk away, something in the alleyway across from me caught my eye. It was the man, 18


the same blurred face I saw a few nights back, and that’s when I knew it was time to step in and help. The man lunged at the blonde girl from behind and I ran as fast as I could. The man noticed me, but instead of running away, he ran towards me, ready to attack. The man’s fist flew into my stomach and I fell to my knees, totally distracted by the pain. I could hear the screams and panics of the blonde girl as she witnessed all of this, not knowing what to do. After he hit me, he left. Without a trace of where he went or what he was here for. The blonde girl ran towards me and tried to help me up, but I just couldn’t move with this excruciating pain in my stomach. She knelt next to me asking me if I was okay and if she should call for help. I mumbled no, and that I was okay. “My name is Melissa, who are you and how did you know where to find me?” I finally stood up and told said, “I’m Shawn. I guess I was just at the right place at the right time. Nice to meet you. I’ll see you around.” And I left, just like that. Without another word. I looked back and saw her still standing in the exact spot where I had just left. I just wanted to be home, and think about what just happened, and more importantly ice my stomach. It was all real now, not just in my head. I couldn’t get her out of my head. It all happened so quickly but at the time it seemed like hours. I wanted to be able to talk to her again, but this time unhurt and paying attention. I lost that chance. All I knew was her first name, that was no good at this point. I may never see her again, but all that matters is I helped her last night and she must feel as grateful as I felt the night I got help. I wonder if she still had me on her mind as she was on mine. It was nonstop that whole day and it was driving me insane. I helped her, what else was I supposed to do? I just don’t understand anymore. The next afternoon, I went back to the alleyway from the night before. I just wanted to backtrack on what had happened just to see if I could pick anything up that I had missed. I wanted to find a way to contact Melissa, anything to help me get to her. I figured, well since she was walking this late at night, maybe she was coming from a job somewhere close? Or her house? Any little clue could help me. 19


I just needed to find her quickly. As I was about to leave, there she appeared strolling happily out of a clothing store with hands full of bags. I was hesitant, but walked up to her, hoping she remembered me. “Melissa, right?” “Yes... Why are you here?” I couldn’t tell her I was looking for her. That would just make things suspicious. “Well I think I dropped something here the other night, just retracing my steps. What about you?” She looked at me, right into my eyes. “I figured I would find you here. I haven’t stopped thinking about the night with that man. I never got to say thank you.” “No need. I didn’t really do much, probably just aggravated him more.” It was silent for a little bit, as we looked around at the tall buildings around us, trying to think of what to talk about. I didn’t know what to say or how to say anything right now, but it just felt right being here with her, and that’s all that mattered to me. After that day, Melissa and I became pretty close, as best friends anyways. We talked all day every day for weeks on end, just about everything. We would talk about our days, our problems, just about anything. I eventually figured I should tell her about my secret. It was really hard to do, but it needed to be done. She never believed my story about “I just happened to be there” the night of the accident, but I just couldn’t get myself to tell her the truth. I made my mind up on that when the time comes, I’ll tell her. It was so strange, I haven’t gotten a vision since my vision with Melissa. I didn’t understand why, but I figured it was for the better since both of my visions ended badly. I just really wish I found out who that man was in both visions, because it’s my job to catch that man who was out to get these innocent women. But

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to be honest, as long as I don’t see him around, I’m not going to worry about it because I’m terrified to face him. That was the last task on my list. I was ready to tell Melissa my secret, but she told me she had one for me to. She called me and we talked for a while, and I’m still in shock. “So Shawn, I’ve always pushed you to tell me what you knew about that man the night I almost got attacked because I think I know something about him too. The truth is my Mother got killed a few months ago when someone broke into her house. He killed her... but the police never caught the man. I feel like this man is out to get me to since he killed my Mom, but I just don’t know who he is. I’m just really scared and don’t know what to do.” This explained so much. I was meant to help Melissa and now I was sure of it. She was the closest friend I’ve ever had and I would do anything I needed to do to have her back and help her through whatever she needed help with. She would not get hurt with me around. I finally told her about me seeing the future right after she told me her secret and she didn’t find me crazy. She understood me more than anyone I have ever known before and I loved having that in my life. It wasn’t more than about 5 hours after I told Melissa my secret when I had another vision, and sure enough Melissa and the strange man were in it. Melissa was in an apartment, maybe hers or maybe a friends, when this man came through the window from the escape exit. I wanted to tell her, but maybe that’s what would make this vision come true. I was determined to figure out where she was going tonight and stop that man from harming Melissa. I knew where Melissa’s apartment was, but didn’t know her exact room. Since I didn’t know the room, it would be best to find the fire escape outside and just wait. I didn’t care how long I had to sit outdoors, because I knew in the end I was saving my best friend. I hid behind a rusty green dumpster next to the fire escape and waited. Melissa didn’t know, nor did the strange man who wanted her. Tonight would put a stop to this man and his obsession with Melissa and her family, she didn’t need this pain and fear in her life anymore.

21


It was about 8:00 at night when I heard stumbling through the alley. You can never really know what to expect, it could be a drunk man lost on his way home or a kid trying to start trouble. I was afraid to open my eyes, like he was going to be staring at me once I opened them. I listened closely to what was going on around me. I could hear the screeching of the ladder being pulled down to the ground. I still waited, barely breathing so I wouldn’t get noticed. As I heard the boots start climbing the ladder is when I made my move. I jumped up and pulled at the man’s leg and pulled him off the ladder, and he hit the pavement hard. I could hear Melissa screaming from a few floors up as she saw me and the man below. The next thing I knew a gun was being held to my head. I froze instantly, like time just stopped in its tracks. I didn’t want to move, but I couldn’t get shot either. Before I knew it I heard a loud explosion and I was down. It was all over. Melissa called the cops that night, as everything was going into action. She didn’t know what happened to me yet or if I was even hurt. She waited in her home with all the doors and windows locked until the cops arrived. Once Melissa saw me not moving on the ground, her beautiful blue eyes filled with tears and she fell to the ground next to me. She apologized to me over a dozen times just in shock over what happened. Right before the police forced her to come talk to them about what happened, she came close to my ear and whispered “Thank you”. That made everything worth it. They caught the strange man finally, and that was my biggest relief. Although Melissa couldn’t exactly identify the man, the police could and knew he was the one who killed her mother. It was about time he got locked up, just one less worry in this world. Although my time was cut short, I made a difference in someone’s life. I was brought back to life for a reason the day of the car accident, and it was to help my best friend. Because of me, she no longer has to live in fear and I have no regrets on the night of my battle. Even though I’m not physically with Melissa anymore, I’ll always watch over her and help her through hard times, just like I promised.

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E M I LY

Just Another Princess Story Once upon a time, lived a King and a Queen. they lived in a huge castle is the woods. There were big trees hanging over the long driveway leading to the castle. And every morning when the sun rises the birds would chirp, it was very peaceful. Sometimes the castle is very dark but when you open the shades to the large windows in the hallways, the sun shines bright through the whole castle. Everything was perfect, except for one thing, a child. One day the King said to the Queen “Why does my life not seem complete?” The Queen responded “We don't have any children to take the throne.” “We are getting older and I think we should have a child” the King said. Soon after the Queen gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Rose. Her eyes were bright blue, like her fathers and her hair was light blond like her mothers. She had the most beautiful smile that lit up everybody's faces when they saw her. Nothing could compare to the Princess. It was now a few years later and the Princess was three years old. “It is such a beautiful day out” says the Queen, “why don't we go outside and sit in the yard.” Normally the King and Queen stay inside and never go out. The King, Queen and the Princess went outside into the lovely yard. The birds were chirping and the sun was shining bright. Rose crawled out of her fathers arms and ran straight to the bird bath. She stood there looking at all the birds wondering what they were doing. The King and the Queen sat down on the lawn chairs set up next to the swimming pool near the large sunflowers. They both started to doze off under the hot summer sun. They didn't even think that they brought their three year old outside with them. So now nobody was watching her. Rose went over her parents, who were fast asleep now. She poked her mother on her cheek, then pulled her father's arm and said “daddy, are you awake?” 23


When nobody responded, the Princess ran through the tall bushes and into the woods. “A lizard!” she shouted. She went over to the lizard and stated to talk to it. Since lizards don't talk of course it didn't answer. Rose spent three hours in the woods playing with the lizard she just found, she named him Wilbert. Then she heard her parents shouting “Rose!” “Rose where are you?” Rose stuffed Wilbert in her dress pocket and ran out of the bushes to her parents. They hugged her and told her not to take off like that again. Later that night Rose put Wilbert in a box and pierced holes in it so he can breath. Rose could not sleep that night so she decided to take Wilbert out of his box. “You’re my best friend” Rose said to the lizard sitting in her hands. “I don't really have any friends to play with since I live in a castle and I'm a Princess.” Rose noticed that Wilbert listened very well. It is now thirteen years later and Rose is turning sixteen. Wilbert and her are still friends till this day. The King and Queen came into Rose’s room and sang happy birthday to their Princess. “You know now that you are sixteen you have to find a Prince” Roses fathers father said. Rose sighed, she didn’t want to be forced into anything. The King and Queen then left her room. Wilbert crawled over to Rose. “I Don't want to have to marry anybody” she said to Wilbert. Later that night Rose went to a ball to meet new people. She danced with over 20 guys and haven't met one that she really liked. A very attractive man approached Rose and asked her to dance, his name was Jeffro. “You have beautiful blue eyes” Jeffro said. “Thank you.” They danced and had a great time.They decided to walk outside. They stopped in the rose garden and looked at each other. They gazed into each others eyes. Jeffro leaned in for a kiss. As their lips were about to touch Rose panicked and said “They named the garden after me.” He changed the subject and said “I know that you don't want this to happen.” Rose replied “What are you talking about?” “You're gonna have to marry somebody, so why not marry me.” Rose looked at the ground “ You are a nice guy and your really cute.” “So....” He said eagerly. “Okay.”

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It was the next day and Rose went to the dining room to join the King and Queen for breakfast. The King asked “did you find a prince?” Rose responded “well there was this guy.” Everybody sitting at the table turned their heads to Rose. They all were curious. “His name is Jeffro” she said. Everybody started talking at once saying “he wasn't good” and “hes not a good choice.” Rose didn't believe them so she just left. She decided to take a stroll around the castle to get her mind off things. Rose turned the corner and saw Jeffro. She didn't say anything, just watched. “I don't even like her, I just want to be a Prince and someday rule this town.” He said to his friend that he was with. “You jerk!” Rose screamed and ran to her room. She was talking to Wilbert “I don't have anybody to marry now,Wilbert, what do I do?” She was crying into her pillow. Wilbert went over and sat on her shoulder. Rose couldn't imagine what just happened. She whispered “I love you” to Wilbert. Wilbert licked Rose on her cheek to show that he loves her too. In the morning Rose went to her bathroom because she wasn't feeling so well, she was starting to get very itchy.. She looked in the mirror and her face started turning different colors.Pink, blue then purple and green.  There was a big flash and boom! Rose was now a lizard. She crawled over to Wilbert and he said to her “You are a lizard now, Rose.” Rose was able to understand Wilbert now. “Now I don't have to marry anybody.” Rose was excited. Rose and Wilbert crawled out of the window and climbed down the large vine growing from her balcony to the ground. Wilbert brought Rose to his old home in the woods to meet his family.Soon enough Rose and Wilbert ended up falling in love and they got married. The two lizards lived happily ever after.

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CARL

Unknown Road Standing still and confused, awaits two unknown passage ways. Left or the other. Signs reading "Come down here and I promise fun" on the left, and on the other it announces "Don't listen to the left sign, come down my way and I will show you the meaning of fun". Even more confused than before, I hesitate for a slight second and choose the other path. As I walk the path I look for fun. I press on through the track asking myself am I going through a circle. Suddenly the the of the path was revealed, only to be the beginning. I start to leave these paths when I all of sudden get pierced by a dart. As I turn around I caught a glimpse of a new sign. "Ha Ha Ha Ha. Know that was some fun. Wait you thought you were going to have the fun. NOOOOOOOOO!!!! This is my fun." I storm out of the park and make my way home. Now that I'm furious I start coughing blue smoke. I don't think anything of this because ever since I was hit by that dart I've been feeling a little odd. But then again I start to scare myself. Trying to calm down I put a movie in and relax on my couch. I seem to grow more and more tired as the movie rolls on. After waking up from my deep doze I go to see what time it is. I look at my microwave and then my stove to make sure they're the same time. They're  not. One saying 2:15, the other 9:37. I start to freak out but try to relax before more things happen like coughing smoke. I go upstairs to my bedroom. On my way there I realize that I'm counting my steps. It seems that I can't stop counting. I look up at my clock and the down at my alarm clock. 4:38 and 7:30. Both being different I go to look outside. When I open my window blind I notice it was dark out. I decide to go to bed. I wake up hoping yesterday was a dream. Falling to sleep not knowing the time and being afraid caused it to be hard to sleep last night.  But yesterday truly hap26


pened. All the clocks still all saying different times. Before I do anything I decide to correct my clocks. I find the real time by my phone. I start to change my alarm clock to 7:30 when I realized that was what it read last night. I try to remember what the other times where and if they had any importance. I didn't think they did until I looked at my to do list for yesterday. 9:37 was when I started my walk. 2:15 was when I came to the crazy circle. 4:30 I started to watch.... Wait 2:15 is also when all this crazy stuff started and 7:30 is now. I think about this for awhile. i still feel strange causing it to be hard to think, but still do. I believe now that this was set up. So I decided that maybe if I do everything the same as yesterday something might happen. I wait in my house until 9:36. I get ready to leave. The clock strikes 9:37. I start my walk. Following the same path as yesterdays walk I keep looking at my phone to make sure I'm going to make it to the crazy circle path in time. What is going to happen, Is anybody or anything going to be there, Should I be scared, are some of many questions racing through my head. Finally I arrive at the crazy circle paths and nothing is there. Suddenly I realize that I walked through the path’s and start to the path. I think to myself. Should I do this? I choose to move on. Moving slowly through the bends I begin to count my steps again. As I move around the last corner a dark and short figure appears. He is wearing a black suit with pencil thin gray stripes. On his head lies a black felt dress hat. Black running shoes cover his feet. He walks towards me with a straight face and extends his hand to greet me. I catch a glimpse of a watch that seems to be expensive. “Hello, my name is Craig Randall,” he announced. “I am here to remind you of this experiment thats going on.” “What experiment?” I ask. “Thats great you don't remember us informing you. Well let me start.”, Craig explained while walking over towards the bench. “About a week ago the FBI asked you to come in. You agreed to undergo an experiment in exchange for 5000 dollars. The test was a drugged dart.” “What drug?” I asked. 27


“I am afraid I can't tell you until I ask a few questions. In the past 24 hours have you experienced any a confusion?” “Yes”, I answered, concerned. “Have you experienced any hallucinations?” “If seeing blue smoke coming out of myself when I cough counts, then yes.” “Have you been more tired than normal?” “Yes I have.” He pulls something out of his pocket and a bright flash is emitted. “One more question. Who am I?” “No clue,” I answered to the random man. “Good your money has been deposited in your bank. Thank you for your help.” The man walks away. I stand there confused once again in my life. I don't know why I am here. I don't know what day it is or even what happened the day before.

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ZAC H

Candyland There once was two young boys named Bob and Billy. On a hot summer day when they had nothing to do, they decided to go to a local beach to take swim and play catch.  When the boys were playing catch Bob overthrew the football into the pond.  The football went straight to the middle of the pond and straight down into the water.  Billy and Bob looked at each other amazed because the football got sucked down into the water like a siphon.  They both dove into the pond and started swimming toward the center to see what was going on.  They got to the middle and something strange happened. All of a sudden the water started swirling around like in a whirlpool and it was dragging them into the center and pulling them under.  They fought and fought but couldn’t break free. The water finally settled and the boys found themselves sitting on the bottom of the pond. All of a sudden the pond floor was transformed into a type of candy world. The ground was made of peppermint candies lined with trees made of licorice sticks with green mints hanging from the licorice like leafs would from a normal tree.  The houses were made of gingerbread and the doors of chocolate.  The strange thing is that there were no people, just animals. There were raccoons, squirrels, deer and birds and they all were walking/flying  around peacefully.  We noticed the football a few feet ahead of us and as we approached it, it was snatched up by a hawk made of taffy.  They started chasing after the bird but it flew too high up in the marshmallow  sky.  The bird could not keep control of the football and the football fell onto a hill of gumdrops with a chocolate waterfall running through it.  The boys ran  to get the ball but they had to get through three obstacles first.  First they had to swim across the chocolate river, then through a candy cane maize and run past the gummy bear without the bear waking up. Billy said to Bob, “I think we should turn back, the football is not worth all this”.   “You know the writing on the football?” 29


“What about it?” “That ball was signed by Joe Montana, it is my dads prize possession.” Billy says, “Are you kidding me? Why were we playing with it then?”   They now were approaching the chocolate river.  They both proceeded to swim across the chocolate river.  Their clothes and faces were covered in chocolate.  They get out of the river and continue walking not saying a word until they reach the candy maze.   Once they reached the maze, Billy says to Bob, “Let’s stop fighting and work together to get this ball back.” Bob nods his chocolate covered head in agreement. The maze was more difficult than they thought, moving left and right, it seemed like a lifetime before they got to the end. By this time it was dark in candy land and all that they could see was  a few feet ahead of them.  So they decided to make a camp and spend the night after all.  They awoke the next morning and were very sore from their adventure through the maze.  Billy and Bob were almost at their destination.  As they were walking they saw a giant gummy bear taking a nap in a candy filled den.  They snuck past the bear and made it to the top of the gumdrop hill and then they saw the special ball.   Billy picked it up and screamed, “Finally, we can go home.” This woke up the giant gummy bear who looked very angry.  The bear began to charge at them so they ran as fast as they could through the maze .  The bear did not follow so they were relieved.  Once they reached the end of the maze, to their surprise the bear was waiting for them. They manage to outsmart the bear by throwing him some Swedish candy fish to get his attention off of them. As the bear is munching, the boys run past him looking for a way home.  They went back to where they had first entered the magical world of candy.   They noticed a portal which they had not noticed before .   “Do you think that’s the way back?”  Bob asked. “I don’t know but I’m jumping in because that bear looks hungry.” 30


Billy jumps in the portal first and Bob watched him disappear. He becomes frightened that he will be left behind so he jumps in. Up they travel toward a bright light.  They are shot out of the portal like a cannon shoots a cannon ball.  They swirl through the air and land on the beach. They have never been so happy to be covered in sand. They run home and put the football back in the case before anyone knows it was missing. They vow never to speak of this day again.

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ASHLEY

The High School Roller Coaster “This is gonna be the best year! This is gonna be our year, Lyla!” Nikki told me enthusiastically. Her bright white smile could light up any room, and I laughed because I was couldn’t quite understand why she was so eager for the early wakeups, the homework, the teachers, and the lack of sleep. We were soon-to-be seniors at Sunshine High School and as our last day of summer, we decided to hang out at Nikki’s beach house. The cool, calm ocean breeze whooshed outside and the smell of the ocean filled the crisp, summer air. This was it. Tomorrow we were back to school and we both had mixed feelings about it. Although Nikki was thrilled to finish the adventure known as high school with success, I couldn’t help but think about the bullies at our school and how badly they had treated Nikki last year. Nikki was the kind of girl I would want my children to be: funny, beautiful, amazing, and intelligent. She was the whole package, but most of the students at our school completely disagreed. Nikki had long brown hair, hazel eyes, and a beautiful smile, but almost the entire school never saw the real Nikki Tyler. My best friend was misunderstood and the way she carried was altered by her past. She had an enormous secret that she desperately wanted to keep hidden. If it was me, a secret like that would have remained in the vault under lock and key, but Nikki was courageous enough to share it with me. She is the bravest person I know. *** It was the first day of senior year in September of 2009. I rolled up in my navy blue Nissan Altima and soon after Nikki arrived. We both stood outside of the school just staring at the doors, and we both were anxious to walk in. I wish I could have said I missed the crowded hallways, the lectures, and the terrible lunches, but I didn’t. Nikki and I were leaving chemistry class third period. I stood with great posture, head up back straight and made eye contact and smiled to some familiar faces in the hallway. But I look over at Nikki, and she, on the other 32


hand, was staring at the ugly, permanently stained white tiles and the squeaky shoes of other students, desperately trying to avoid the glaring eyes around us. The loud clanking of heels made Nikki cringe with every step. She knew who it was -- Bella, Emma, and Melissa, Nikki’s worst nightmares. If you were to get on anyone’s bad side at school, you would pray that it wouldn’t be these three girls. But with Nikki’s amazing luck, she was their victim. The three girls approached Nikki and began antagonizing her because of her appearance. To me, Nikki dressed very nice - a cute top, a new pair of jeans, and a pair of chestnut brown UGG boots. But the most popular and ruthless girls and the most critiques. “And the Worst Dressed Award for the Class of 2009 goes to no other than --,” Bella started. Her bright blue eyes pierced Nikki and she had an evil smirk on her face. “Shut up, Bella, leave Nikki alone! I’m glad to see that you three girls haven’t changed one bit.” I replied in defense. I stepped closer to Bella and the girls and they all took a tiny step back of defeat. They’re afraid of me for some reason, so I used it to my advantage. “Fine, she’s not worth my breath anyways. Girls, let’s go,” Bella stated and her and her possy turned and strutted away in their expensive heels. I turned to Nikki, her hazel eyes are filled with pain and she tried to avoid eye contact with me but I got her attention. “Are you okay?” I asked Nikki with sympathy. Her eyes wandered off to the rest of the hallway. Everything seemed to have returned back to normal and no one was staring at Nikki anymore. And then she finally responded. “Yeah, I’m just getting really tired of being bullied all the time. What did I ever do to them?” She replied with hurt in her tone. I wished I could just grab each of those girls by their fake blonde hair and show them pain. And show them what it’s like to be bullied all the time. But Nikki never let me chase them down. I just had to sit there and watch Nikki take it, and it was like taking a sharp knife to the stomach every time. I hated just letting those girls get away with hurting my best friend. “You did nothing wrong and you don’t deserve any of it. Just keep ignoring them as best as you can” I replied with insistence. 33


*** On Friday, Nikki and I were eating lunch together and laughing about the frog we had to dissect in biology class. We both were giggling about how Jimmy, a student at our lab station, was practically in tears because he was afraid to touch the frog! As we continued discussing about class, the cafeteria was loud and crowded, and the smell of nasty sloppy joes filled the air as I tried not to gag. I feel someone almost breathing down my neck, and then I hear her annoying high pitched squeaky voice. “Oh hey guys!” It was Melissa. My heart started to race because I knew she was up to no good. She acknowledged Nikki by dumping her heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs on her head and then walks away laughing restlessly. That whole time, Nikki just sat there with the same expression on her face: nothing, almost as if it was a cardboard cutout of her sitting next to me in the cafe. She was completely empty inside, and I didn’t know what to do anymore. All I knew was that nothing I did or said at this point would make her feel any better. *** That night, after I ate dinner and my homework was finished, I decided to call Nikki on the phone. I wanted to make sure that she was holding up okay, and she was still not devastated about what happened at lunch earlier today. “Hey Lyla, umm I don’t think I’m going to go to school tomorrow. I’m not feeling well and I think I’m coming down with something.” Nikki said to me choking over her words. She tried to cover it up with a few fake coughs, but I knew she was lying by the sound of tears in her voice and the sniffles through the phone. However I didn’t point it out to her after all she’s been through today. So I told her I hope she felt better and that I’ll see her on Monday. Monday morning, the air was still outside and the shining sun beamed down on the pavement. Nikki pulled into the parking lot and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Nikki approached me with a gigantic smile on her face. She told me she was ready for a fresh start and so was I. This could be the beginning of a great new chapter in our lives. No more tears, no more pain, just lots of smiles, laughs, and blissful memories that would last a lifetime. 34


My parents weren’t home, so we had the whole place to ourselves. It was like a library threw up in my living room. Textbooks, papers, articles, and pencils were scattered all around the room. And while we were taking a break from our project, I asked Nikki how the rest of her day was. “It was unbelievable!” That was all Nikki could say through the beaming smile on her face. I couldn’t help but suppress a smile myself, because seeing her ecstatic makes my day even better. “Why?! What happened?” I asked excitedly. “Well you know Toby from the basketball team?” “Yeah..” I replied with curiosity. “He sat next to me in history today and I think he likes me! He said we should hangout sometime!” Nikki said enthusiastically. The light in her eyes was full of optimism and it was a nice change of character for her. Being lively suits her well. “That’s awesome! I’m so happy for you!” I replied. And I truly was. This definitely was much needed for Nikki because now instead of just having me, she had Toby too. *** Weeks later, Nikki and Toby were practically inseparable, and it was adorable to watch their relationship unfold. The more time they spent together the more they fell for eachother. Toby would drive with her to and from school, eat lunch with us, and go on dates with her on the weekends. I couldn’t have been more thrilled for her. In a matter of months her life had drastically changed and Nikki was now genuinely excited to go to school. She knew that no matter what happened, she would have Toby and me by her side every step of the way. It almost seemed too good to be true for Nikki at this point. And it sure was. The moment students at school realized the growing relationship between Nikki and Toby, they just had to tear it down. Why? I’m not sure. I guess a normal everyday girl being with a popular, gorgeous jock was unheard of. They should have just minded their own business and let Nikki live her life. 35


Melissa, Emma, and Bella knew just what to do to take Nikki down: find and expose her deepest darkest secret. To this day I’m still not sure how they found out, but I was just as surprised as everyone else when the secret came out. To this day I have always thought back on this day, and how these three girls could be cruel enough to do this to Nikki. It was English class, and we all had to give presentations in the auditorium about the books we read for our book reports. The auditorium was rather large, but every seat was filled. Some students were on their phones, some were sleeping, and the very few students were actually paying attention. It was Nikki’s turn and unlike every other time, she didn’t seem nervous at all. She was in mid-sentence and suddenly I heard movement from behind me. It was Bella. My heart sank to the floor and then Nikki glanced up between sentences and saw Bella glaring at her with an evil smile on her face. “So, Nikki, would you like to tell everyone your secret or should I?” Bella asked Nikki. Tons of blank stares of confusion lurked throughout the auditorium. Nikki remained silent and ignored what was going on.“Fine, I guess I will tell everyone right now then.” I never would have thought ANYONE would find out about Nikki’s secret, but they did. It was like the entire room was spinning, and I was desperately trying to keep balanced. Everything happened so rapidly and before I could stop Nikki from running out of the auditorium crying it was too late. She was already gone. *** Two years ago, Nikki had to attend a clinic because she suffered from severe anorexia and it’s a battle for her every day. Nikki encountered two near death experiences and since her rehabilitation, she has been following her diet orderly and precisely. She knew what the girls at her school were like so she knew that she had to keep this to herself. And now, it was all out in the open. Nikki was an open book and the pages were burning one by one. I did all that I could: stuck by her side and made sure she didn’t break. Surprisingly, Toby stuck by her side too. And even though that was a lot of help, it was the three of us against the majority of the sen-

36


ior class. As much as we attempted, we couldn’t protect Nikki from every obstacle throughout her day. It was lunchtime and Toby and I had gone to buy lunch. I swore we were gone for no more than five minutes. We were on our way back and a group of girls were standing around a lunch table. Our lunch table. Toby shot me a glance with worry in his bright green eyes and we both hurried back to the table. No surprise, Melissa was there with Bella and Emma, so I knew they were up to no good. Melissa picked up Nikki’s lunch: a salad, chocolate milk, and a green apple, and threw in the trash can. She didn’t say anything to Nikki because she didn’t have to. We all knew what was going on and we all knew why she did it. By the time we got to the table with Nikki everyone was gone, but the silent stares remained. The scene in the cafeteria got the attention of everyone, but there was not a sound. Everyone was completely quiet, even Nikki was. After the event that occurred in the cafeteria, Nikki was absolutely shut down. She didn’t even want to come to school anymore, she was completely devastated. She told me every night she would cry herself to sleep and was sick and tired of people mistreating her. Ever since what happened Nikki sort of locked herself in her own little world. She only talked to Toby and me every once in awhile and I was really concerned. After eight years of friendship I had never seen Nikki this emotionally drained, and it broke my heart. *** A week later, I get a phone call from Nikki after school. She had been diving into her school work lately as an escape from the poor times she’s been through during the day. I answered the phone and she sounded somewhat happy. It was relief to hear a shred of positivity in her voice. “I had a meeting with my guidance counselor Mrs. Smith this afternoon and she had some pretty exciting news!” Nikki told me. “What is it?” I asked. “Well, since my grades are at an all-time high I got accepted into my top school with a full scholarship!” Nikki replied with enthusiasm. 37


“That’s amazing! Where’s the school?” I asked Nikki with excitement. “Well, that’s the thing. I got the opportunity to study abroad in Paris, and I think I’m going to take it. It seems like an outstanding experience that I would regret if I didn’t take it.” Nikki replied. My heart sank but I acknowledged the news with believable excitement in my voice. I didn’t realize I would be saying goodbye to my best friend this soon. But then again, I was so proud of her and I thought this experience would be great for her. After graduation, summer flew right by. She was off to Paris tomorrow and Toby and I were going to school close to home. We spent the last day of our summer together like we did last year - at Nikki’s house. I gave her a huge scrapbook filled with all of our blissful memories: the birthday parties, summer days at the beach, first days of school, and at the end, a picture of us now. The transformation of us then and at the end of senior year was beyond anything we could have ever imagined. Pigtails, braces, and t-shirts were now dresses, curls, and gorgeous smiles. This is what I miss - the little details of our lives as best friends. And although we are far apart now, the memories will last forever and I know that someday I will see Nikki again. She will be home in five days.

38


MAGGIE

The Prettiest of Eyes Tell the Ugliest of Lies I have a story that I need to tell, not to anyone in particular, just anyone who will listen. They may not understand but that’s okay, as long as I know that my words are flowing into someone else’s head. So I know that somewhere out there a person is carrying around my story too, that someone knows the truth . Because this truth deserves notice. 
           Today had to be the longest day of my life. From first period to seventh it felt like a lifetime. And of course my car won’t start now; my stupid engine keeps roaring drawing attention to me. I try the key one more time click click...of course engine is officially dead. Now ignorant faces are turning and staring at me, do they think I can't see them? I’m not blind. The school doors finally slam shut as the last student walks out of the dungeon of a school. All of the freshman ride their little bikes home and the upperclassmen are making a scene like they are in a race to get to nowhere in particular. The exit of the parking lot is always a traffic jam, with kids wailing their horns, cutting each other off, because no one knows how to drive in this town. then again at least they can actually drive...right now I’m stuck in my old 89’ white JEEP Wrangler, top off, rain clouds moving in....in the middle of the deserted school parking lot, this is awesome. The school doors swing open one more time...I thought everyone already left. EW it's him from my English class, he thinks he’s some famous person the way he struts down the halls...oh god he’s strutting over here.
             “I don't need help, thank you I can handle myself.” I hate how guys think girls are so helpless, I know how to work my car.  “Really, cause you look like you do, is this an 89’?” he says with a smirk on his face pointing to my Jeep.
             “Uhh, yeah, my dad fixed it up a little so it has a brand new engine...but I guess that was kind of a waste seeing that it just died on me.” 
      “I can see that,  did you check the gas, maybe you're on empty.” He says as he 39


opens my hood to look at the engine.Is he being serious right now...obviosley I filled my tank, like i said they think we are helpless. Now He’s fiddling around with my engine, ugh, what does he think he’s doing? I hop off my lifted jeep.
 
      “What are you fiddling with, my engines fine, and of course I put gas in my tank, I’m not stupid.”
      “Whoa, someone’s a little sassy. Here I’ll be right back.”
      “Don’t rush” I mumble under my breath, he kind of looks back a little bit...oops I hope he didn’t hear me, then again it’s not like I would care much. Okay, I know I’m being a little bitchy today but in my defense it's been a really bad day, on top of getting to school late because my hardtop wouldn’t go on my failure of a jeep and someone spilled the mystery meat at lunch all over my new white cardigan. Now this clown trying to tell me how to work my jeep, oh god here he’s coming back.
      “Here I have some extra gas let’s just try to fill up the tank and see what happens. Did you leave it at a quarter of a tank?” he asks. But obviously I didn’t...if I did then that would mean the gas could have fell all the way to one side of the tank, but that’s only if my car was on a hill…which it is. Oh crap. 
      “Well, I don’t think so, I mean I could have, but I wouldn’t do that, I mean obviously you’re not supposed to.” He smirks at me again...what’s with him and his smirks. He closes my gas tank and walks over to me with his hand out. 
      “Keys?” He asks with his eyebrows up, the clouds start to rumble. 
      “Here” I jerk my hand out and plop the keys in his hands unwillingly.
      “Thanks” he says with the smirk. “Now, if I just start the engine like so and… Tada!” the engine roars to life. “Like magic” he smiles. He’s just so damn proud of himself.
      “Thanks.” I almost mumble, I just want to get out of here and melt into my bed, it’s about to down pore, and knowing this town it will be a monsoon.
      “I’m sorry what was that? I couldn’t hear it that well.” He puts his hand up to his ear like he legit couldn’t hear it, even though I knew he could, he was just being wise. 
      “I said thanks!” As I put a sarcastic huge smile on my face. I grab the keys from him and hop up in my jeep, slamming the door.
 40


“Have a safe ride home!” He screams as I drive away, I wave out the window. Okay, maybe I was a little mean, I mean he did help me and what not, but if it was any other person I would have been nice, not him though, not him. BOOM, the thunder roars over my bare jeep roof, I have to get home. 
      As I pull into my short little seashell drive way I notice the garage door isn’t open, maybe no one is home yet. This is strange. I press the button for the garage and enter my house. There’s a note on my granite top counter.  “Hi Honey, I had to go run some errands, I won’t be home till late there’s leftovers in the fridge.” Ugh I trudge up the stairs; I guess this is good; I can sleep in peace and quiet without my father bothering me. My bed looks so comfy in my light blue ocean sunset themed room. I turn my bed lights on and put down my canopy over my bed, pull up my fuzzy blanket and giant white puff, and sink into my bed. As I close my eyes I let all the stress, worries and problems and annoying smirking guys slip off my mind. Just me and my bed. 
     “Jess! Jess! Come back, that isn’t safe!” I scream, she continues to follow him into the dark.
      “Oh will you just chill Faith, stop being so uptight! It will all be fine!” she always does this, I’m not uptight, I’m just smart, she’s stupid, she’s acting stupid like always, reckless. With her long blonde hair and pail blues eyes, batting them around, I run after her because I am not leaving my best friend alone with this guy. 
      “Come on, just come back to the party, that’s where everyone else is, its fun I think they just started moving onto the beach!” My reassuring words did not seem to faze her. When she has a plan she goes through with it…nothing can change her mind. She just smiles at me. That’s when he looked up, digging straight in my eyes. What does he think he’s doing he knows she’s not thinking right, I knew this would happen, I could have called this, he’s bad news. He’s the guy everyone looks at in school, looks up to but also down. He has good grades but that’s definitely only because he’s varsity everything and god forbid he fails a class and can’t play. The coaches would never let that happen, he’s the all-star. But then on the weekends he’s doing whatever he wants, because he can, He’s Jake Walker.  
      “Jess, please”
      “Oh lighten up sassy.” She says throwing her hands around like she’s talking to 41


some big audience, when in reality it’s just little Faith. 
     “Yeah sassy” Jake smirks at me. With those perfect teeth and perfect crooked smile. And they were off, walking into the dark woods, to god knows where. 
      BEEP BEEP BEEP I grab my phone to see what the text was that just woke me up from my horrible dream, I can never get away from it, it just stays with me.  It’s just my dad making sure I’m okay, like always, I’m fine I’m not fragile. 7:00pm reads my bedside clock; ugh I throw myself up and sleepingly get in the shower, steaming up the bathroom. I blast my music and get under the hot water head, warming my frigid toes. 
      “Faith, I’m home!” my dad scream barely makes it through my blasting radio music. 
      “Okay dad!” I run across the hallway to my bedroom and change into my pj’s, throw my hair up and slump back in my bed. 
      “You okay?” He looks at me with caring eyes.
      “Yes dad, I’m fine, I’m just tired it’s been a long day”
      “Okay, I got the top on your jeep so hopefully tomorrow will be better, goodnight honey love you.”
       “Love you too dad.”
 Back to sleep I go.
     BEEP BEEP BEEP Oh my gosh! Who is texted me now. I roll over the clock only reads 12:02am, who in their right mind could possibly be awake in this world right now. I open the message and it reads a number that I have never seen. I hope you got home okay, just remember why you have to be nice to me. One more rude comment Faith. You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m not scared of him I hope he knows that. I shut my phone and try to ignore the fact that I had to take on another day in the morning.
      “Faith! Faith!” someone screams. I swing my head around to face Matt running towards me. God, why can't he get the point, I do not want to talk to him, I just want to get my best friend and leave.
      “Faith, there you are, I have been looking for you everywhere. They said you went into the woods with Jake.”
      “No Jake went into the woods with Jess. Matt I just want to go home, but I 42


can’t, I can’t leave without her.”
     “So what are you just going to wait here, Faith come on lets go its cold out here.” He reaches out to grab my arm.
      “NO! Matt you cannot touch me! You have no right; I honestly don’t even know why you are talking to me right now, you are the one who brought Jess and I here and now look what happen!” I look him straight in his eyes, those emerald green eyes and say it; I just let the words spill out of me like word vomit. “Matt we are done.” And I walk away; I walk away from all of it, into the woods, after my best friend. 
      I kept walking, and time kept passing, the night kept getting darker, brush thicker, trees taller. I suddenly notice how heavy the air is growing, it’s getting really humid. And the wind has gotten stronger, I look up, clouds are moving in the moons reflection is the only thing lighting the ground, I turn around and I can hardly even see the light to the house anymore.  I pull out my phone, no signal of course. There’s no one in sight, maybe I should start heading back, maybe Jake brought her back there because he is a nice person, HA! That’s a sick joke. Okay, well I need to do something, so I turn and continue walking into the dark, the mysterious, growingly frightening woods, until my foot gets caught on something lying on the ground, I wale my arms around trying to catch something to grab onto but instead I fall straight on my face, onto the cold wet ground.
      RING RING RING my alarm clock screams, 6:30am. Time to take on another day, I throw on my sweatshirt and yoga’s, my uggs and backpack, brush my teeth, don’t even bother with makeup and am out the door by 6:40. Driving to school is always a pain, my jeep is pretty good speed wise, it’s just no one else has ever heard of driving past speed 30. Making me 1 minute late to my first period class, I walk in and all heads swing towards my direction like coming in late is a sin. 
      “Do you have a pass?” My math teacher asks me, scolding me with her eyes for coming in late to her precious class. 
      “Uhh no, I’m 1 minute late can you just let it slide this time?” I beg her, I mean come on is it that big of deal.
      “No, it’s a rule, I’m sorry but you are going to have to go to the office and get a pass.” She says to me and continues teaching her lesson like it’s her dream to teach 43


17 year olds pre-cal. I loudly sigh and walk back out the door; I’m just not going back, what’s one absent going to do. Plus I know someone is going to give me trouble for making a scene in that class, joke around with me about it. But I am just not in the mood to be teased by them just like every other day. So, instead I go to the library and attempt to write the 5 page essay that was assigned to me last night and is due in 2 periods. I am two pages in when there’s a tap on my shoulder. 
     “Are you Faith Daly?” a stranger’s face says to me.
      “Uhh yeah, and you are?” I try to ask politely, but this is a little strange.
      “Oh well I just hear your name a lot, I, I, just wanted to say that I’m sorry it must be hard, I mean with her de…”
      “Yeah its fine, thanks though.”  I cut her off and try to continue writing my paper, trying not to think of what she was just about to say, the words she almost finished. Trying not to let my mind wander back to that night, what happen, the screams, the noise, the blood. No stop, I can’t go there, not now in the middle of school. 
      The next several periods go by fairly quick. And when that last period bell rings and all the student start piling out I am more than happy to get out of here. I rush to my car because those words keep rolling through my brain. “With her d…” “It must be hard” The rain, the cold, the dirt and screams and blood. My hands start to trembling and then my arms and then my knees. Finally I make it to my jeep without crumbling to the ground. I lean up against the driver’s door, letting it support my weight. I let myself calm down, breathing in and out, thinking of anything else, to keep myself from falling apart right here. I fling my body into the jeep taking my keys out with my limp arms and drive, I drive straight home through the honking horns of students cars and yellow lights of intersections. I drive to my house, run to my room, and slump back in my bed. Time to repeat the process, I close my eyes and let the problems slip away. 
      My bodies in shock, I feel around to find the ground, smooshing my fingers into the damp, muddy ground. My fingers scrambling through the dirt looking for my phone, but instead land on something wet, not like the damp ground, but gooey, and thick. I bring my hand closer to my eyes, the texture on my fingers is smooth and wet and red. My nose suddenly picks up on the intoxicating smell, engulfing my nose hairs, condensing the air like a hot cloud. My eyes follow the trace 44


of red; follow it to the stomach of a teenager, a pale open stomach. My eyes follow it up to the face of a girl, a pail sad girl. Now my hands are trembling, my whole body trembling, shaking. A thick ball forms in my throat, my vision blurs and I become light headed. But my eyes continue following the blood back to my hands. My quivering hands now fully covered in the blood, my saliva starts to taste sower, and the ball in my through is growing larger. My head turns around aimlessly, my breath becoming shorter and shorter. Before I know it I hear a screaming and realize it is coming from my own mouth. But I can’t move, I can find the energy to get back on my feet, so I sit there and stare at her. I stare into her open eyes. I can almost hear her reassuring words.  “It will all be fine. It will all be fine. It will all be fine.”  I repeat the words, over and over, whispering them. Convincing myself, trying to tell her it will all be fine. I grab her arm; I put both hands on her shoulders. Pick her limp body up hugging and squeezing, shaking her =, trying to make sense of this. 
      “Come back! It’s all okay! Everything’s fine!’ I hug her tighter. “It will all be fine” I whisper into her ear. And I sat there, in the middle of the woods, in the wet dirt, under the wide shining moon. I could hear the music in the distance, now faint and no longer seeming happy and fun. I can almost see the fire crackling with girls and guys standing around it. I can picture them laughing and telling jokes, not even knowing what had just happened. I could picture Matt sitting there alone because the love of his life just dumped him for something he didn’t even do. And then I could see them, all of them walking towards me, I could see them looking at me, still screaming. Staring at us, with their judging eyes, I could feel them staring into my soul, I could almost hear their fear, their silent screams for help. Because what they were looking at looked like a murder scene. It looked like two best friends, one dead, one alive with blood coating her white pail hands. It looks like I, Faith Daly just murdered my best friend. But I continued rocking, back and forth hugging my best friend. 
      “It will all be fine.” I whisper, “It will all be fine.”
      Gasping for air, I swing myself upwards. The alarm clock still ringing in my ears, making my pounding head worse.  Still gasping for air, I get up to the bathroom to get a drink of water. My knees are shaiky along with my breath. Before I even have time to recover I swing on my clothes and backpack and am out the 45


door again, erasing the memory from my brain and focusing on the road. 
 By the time I get to school my body is fully recovered, my mind not yet fully. Though I should already be used to this by now, the night terrors, but by the time I get to my fourth period class and see the face of him but body starts shaking all over again, this time with anger. He looks up at my with those green eyes, I quickly look away and find my seat. As soon as I sit down the bell rings and an announcement comes on the intercom. 
     “Ridge View High school! Good afternoon fellow Hawks, Reminder of the Friday night game tonight, come watch your fellow football team destroy their rival! And of course watch their captain, Jake Walker dominate the field! Go Hawks!”
      Everyone looks at Jake with open smiles, clapping, like his ego needs anymore applause. I’m the only one in the room who does not even look at him.
      “Okay class, let’s begin” And the class slowly drags on until the bell finally rings. I rush out of my seat and go to the door. Keeping my head down, to keep from the stares, I reach forward for the door and someone else’s hand reaches the handle first. I look up to catch a huge smirk straight in my face. 
      “There you go.” He says as he opens the door for me. I hardly look at him, and as fast as I can rush down the hallway.
      “No thank you! Come on sassy I know you're better than that!” He yells down the hallway. My heart sinks at that nickname he uses again, everyone stares at me as I nearly sprint down the hallway, still keeping my head down. I can feel their eyes digging into me, still judging me. But I finally make it to the front door, and I swing it open, the ball is forming again, making my throat swell, my hands start to tremble, my knees shake. This time I don’t make it to my jeep, but instead collapse on the sidewalk right in front of it. I waste no time but grab my books and jump into my jeep, pushing my keys into the ignition, and slamming on the gas. I backed out of that parking lot faster than ever before. Racing against time, driving, and driving. Still shaking, my fingers trembling on the steering wheel. But her face keeps popping in my head, the blood, the screams, the judging faces. (I gave you all) And those eyes, those green eyes stabbing me with the truth. I could see through those eyes, I could see the truth, the knowledge he held in those eyes was so strong.  And I could see the smirk, forming on his face; he stared through the crowd of teenager’s right into my eyes. Looking at this all playing out in front of 46


him, he could see me holding my best friend with blood on my red hands. And his hands clean and white. Just as everyone saw them as, innocent. I suddenly flash back and I’m at the woods, I’m at the house. I run out of my jeep and keep running, running into the woods, deeper and deeper. But I don’t stop, not until I reach that spot, where it all happen. And that’s where I searched for evidence, something that will prove that I did not do it, I did not murder my best friend. But I couldn’t find anything, not a piece of clothing, nothing. And at that moment I collapsed, for good, I just sat there staring up at the sun that was slowly descending under the horizon.  How time flies, things changed so quickly, just this past summer I was living a happy normal life. I had a boyfriend, friends, people I could trust. But you find out you can’t trust the perfect of faces, because the prettiest eyes tell the ugliest of lies. 
 Sincerely, Faith Daly

47


L AUREN

The Girl I Became Alone, sad, and abandoned were the only words that would describe the way I feel. I’m trapped with no way out of this experience they call life. It had not always been this way. Everything used to be jubilant and entertaining, but everything happens for a reason. That’s what I often told myself. I have been pushed around, judged, and mistreated, but it has all taught me a valuable lesson. Be wise and never underestimate what could occur in the near future. About ten years ago my life was everything a young girl could have fantasized it to be. I had the luxury of being born into a lively, wealthy family accompanied with both a mother and father figure. There was nothing my parents loved more than me, their precious daughter Kourtney. But all of that was rapidly changed in just one day. My father departed to go away for a long business trip when the dreadful news was delivered. The plane he was taking got into a horrendous accident and he had passed. My mother, Jen, and I were devastated. It was months before we could even get over the death. The event brought us close and made the two of us the best of friends. I looked up to my mom and depended on her for everything, until one day several years later. When I was about the age of sixteen my mother informed me that she had accepted to attend a date with a successful man from her office building, Scott. I was beyond ecstatic that my mother finally decided to get back on her feet and have a social life again after all these years!  Unfortunately for me, I never saw the great impact it was soon about to have on my life. Scott was always taking me and my mother out to dinner and buying us lovely gifts. He was a really nice man and I grew to enjoy Scott a lot. Then I realized Scott began to take up a large amount of my mother’s time which left less Jen and Kourtney time. Although this brought me so much disappointment I decided not to intervene with their relationship because I enjoyed seeing my mother happy. Ever since she started seeing Scott she was always so energetic, like she was when 48


my father was around. After a long year of dating Jen and Scott got married and forced me to move to Miami. It was going to be a huge change for me, but I was willing to do it for my mother. Scott hired a team of people to pack up all of our valuable belongings and get them shipped to Miami as soon as possible. When I first arrived there the new house was beautiful. It had a stone walkway, marble pillars, and a luxurious pool. The only down side was nobody thought to mention to me that Scott had two twin sons, Rob and Justin. They were the same age as me, but we were complete opposites. They were handsome, popular, and athletic, and I was just some stereotypical unpopular, nerdy, new girl. “Mom, why wouldn’t you tell me he had two sons!” “Well, I thought it would be a nice surprise…surprise!” “Yeah...Right some surprise. They already hate me and probably think I’m a weirdo.” “You haven’t even talked to them yet! I’m sure they like you! Come on let’s go and chat with them!” My mom had to drag me to get any where near them. I could already tell it would be a horrible idea to interrupt their game of basketball they were playing with their friends.   “Hey boys! This is Kourtney. She’s a little on the nervous side to meet you guys, probably because your hanging out with all your friends.” How embarrassing. I knew this was a bad idea. “Thanks for that one Mom. I appreciate it.” “Hey Kourtney I’m Justin this is Rob, Randy, and Sam.” To my surprise they all seemed welcoming. I just smiled and waved to everyone I was way too embarrassed to even think about saying anything to them. “Do you like basketball?” Rob asked. “I only play for fun I am not much of the athletic type.” They told me to join the game anyways. They were all genuine people from what I thought, nothing what I expected. That night I got all of my things moved into my new room. My room was the greatest thing since microwave popcorn! Scott had it painted and 49


put all new furniture in so it would be ready for me when I got there. The walls were a dark, mysterious purple. I had a waterbed with a canopy surrounding it. I was living the life. That’s what I thought at least. When I look back on how great my life used to be it is hard to imagine my life still being like that. Nowadays I spend my life picking up after the boys around the house, and struggling to finish my schoolwork. My life was always changing at a fast pace for me. Not to long after we moved to Miami the school year was going to start up again. My mother was more excited about school than I was! She decided she wanted to take me out back to school shopping. We were both so glad I was starting my senior year in a whole new environment. This could either make me or break me so I was determined to do it the right way. As we were driving to the mall another car was not paying attention to where it was heading and drove directly into my mom’s car. Everything happened so fast it was really just a blur to me. My mother managed to spin the car so her side took most of the hit. She was killed instantly. I have never seen or felt something so traumatic and depressing in my life and I never will. I watched my favorite person leave forever, in the blink of an eye. That day transformed my life into something I never wished it to become. About a month after my mother passed everything was slowly starting to go back to normal. My mother left me in the hands of Scott and that was such a big mistake. He was all about his sons and their athletics never really paying any attention to me. He never cared about anything I had to say or if I made a good achievement in school. All I ever got from him was a list of chores to do.  Justin and Rob became the stereotypical brothers that nobody wanted to have. Always antagonizing me and pushing me around. I had to obey everything that they told me to do unless I wanted to figure out what my consequences would have to be. Going to school was even worse than being at home. My brother’s took over the school. Justin was captain of the football team and Rob was captain of the hockey team everybody knew them. They always caused unnecessary problems with me and when they weren’t around they had their friends harass me. One day they really pushed me over the edge.  I was casually walking through the hallway 50


ignoring all the awkward glances and gestures when everyone bursted into laughter. I could not understand why, until I walked straight into their trap. There was a massive bucket of ice water hanging above the door way waiting for me. As soon as I entered through the doorway it was dumped all over me. I was completely drenched from head to toe. I was beyond mortified and embarrassed. My only instinct was to run away to the bathroom. I stormed through the laughing crowd as fast as I possibly could. I needed to get out of there. Once I made it to the bathroom I did not care if anyone saw me, I sat in there and just cried for the rest of the day. As soon as I got home I grabbed my chores list on the way to my room. I was not in the mood to speak or even look at Rob and Justin after what they put me through today. Suddenly I was stopped in the hallway by Randy. I could almost sense he had something to tell me. His heart was racing; I could heart beating out of his chest. “Hey Kourtney.” He spoke slowly with extreme caution. “What do you want Randy?” I spit my words at him vigorously. I wanted no association with anyone that’s close with my brothers. “I’m assuming this is a bad time. I just thought I could finally tell you something, but it can wait a little longer. I’ll just catch you later.” He ran back down the hall and slammed the door shut. Wow. What a weirdo. The next week in school Randy appeared more than usual. I would run into him when we had classes on complete opposite sides of the school. I decided to do some snooping around. I crept down the hallway on the way to my forensics class and I saw him talking to my best friend Sarah. As soon as he saw me coming he ran. “What was that all about?” I asked Sarah. “I don’t really know. He was talking so fast I couldn’t really understand. The only thing I got out of it was that he has something really urgent and important he has been meaning to tell you.” I thought I should  put an end to all this Randy nonsense and just talk to him, but I did not see him for the rest of the day. Luckily, Randy was at my house that afternoon. I called him over so we could talk. “Okay what is it that you have so desperately needed to tell me?” 51


“Well…you see Kourtney… I actually should have told you this as soon as I found it out, but I just couldn’t say it.” “What is it already! Just tell me so we can get on with this!” “Okay there is no easy way for me to say this so I’m just going to come out with it. That day your mom was killed in the car accident…I had been goofing off with Rob and Justin in the car and we didn’t even realize what we were doing and we were the ones who hit you. I’m so sorry I wish I didn’t wait this long! It was wron..” I cut him off with my loud sobs. “How could you just keep something like that from me. You all knew how upset I was about losing my mother and then months later I have to hear this!” “I didn’t intend to wait this long to tell you!” “Just stop Randy. I’ve heard enough from you. I can not even fathom that the three of you would do this to me, especially you Randy. You act like a puppy dog for Justin and Rob, doing whatever they say. They put you out here to take most of the blame and you did it. And to top it all off even after knowing this the three of you continued to harass me and make my life a living hell. I hope you all feel better about yourselves now.” I ran off to my room and just bawled. They did something horrible to such a perfect person. How could they let this happen? I want absolutely nothing to do with this family or anyone in this town. I had to get out of her before anything got any worse. I packed my things and left with no intentions of ever coming back. They all betrayed me. I booked the next flight I could and returned to my home town in the suburbs. Throughout my life I was never really given a happy ending, but I suppose you determine your own fate.

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A LYS S A

Dead and Forgotten, but Never Really Gone Now tell me friends how would your life be without your mom and your best friend, it would suck right. Now think about that feeling and add the pain of knowing you’re the reason your life is turning out this way. Look at life through the eyes of everyone else and you couldn’t imagine the pain people go through everyday due to what they know. Now tell me this has knowing something ever hurt you? It did to my best friend and this is her story.        Growing up you couldn’t go so much as four feet without seeing Scarlett and I, her best friend Vivian, together. We had been with each other through all the hard times and had never once questioned why we were. As time went on and we grew up and our friendship only grew stronger, it had its tests for us along the way and somehow we made it through each one. The biggest challenge they faced happened on Scarlett’s 16th birthday, all was well that day until she got call stating, “I’m sorry to inform you but a member of your family has been injured in an accident, and I must inform you they did not make it.” The call that no child wants to answer, the call Scarlett couldn’t finish without tears in her eyes. Without an answer she dropped the phone to the ground, leaving it up to me, to find out all the details. The tragic loss of her mother tore her away from the rest of the world, isolating her within the tragedy. I was there by her side the whole time,  the  friend who never doubted or tested her best friend during this time I only stood by her side to help get her through it, little did we know the events that would unfold in the coming years.         As years passed after her mother’s death Scarlett starting becoming more and more social due to the help of her friends and family. However, just as things got back into a normal state she was hit again, struck down for the second time within a matter of 6 years. She was now 21 years old and our friendship was still as strong as could be, that was all about to change. On the night of September 3rd, 2009 I had been viciously attacked and killed by a man no one was able to 53


identify; only I knew who he was. With my death, Scarlett’s life went back into a spiraling dismay of hardships and loneliness, however this time was different from the loss of her mother because this time no one was there by her side the way I would have been. She shut out the only people left in her life and never opened up to anyone on how she truly felt. Time passed and Scarlett pushed further and further away from the people trying to help her isolating herself again but this time in her own world where not a single person was allowed in, she skipped my funeral, broke up with her longtime boyfriend, and moved away from the town she had lived in since she was a child, a town full of so many memories. Trying to escape her past she enrolled in college and started school that same year, at first she was hesitant to let people in but over time she opened up, and started talking to a young man named Mateo.        Mateo was had also just moved into the school, and he was also trying to escape the past but his was in a different way. Mateo had once lived in the same small town as my best friend and I just under a different name. I knew him well a little too well. He was a charming man who could work himself into anyone’s life, using his words and his looks to get himself whoever and whatever he wanted in this world. This time he had his sights set out on Scarlett, and he wasn’t going to let her get away be it dead or alive…         Time passed and she let him into her world, he got what he wanted and if I was still around I would have had my say and this would not be the same way it was. The two grew closer and closer, soon they enter into a budding romance and start going out. They both learn more and more about each other and slowly my murder investigation became the last thing on her mind. As I started to fade into the back of her mind still there but just as a distant memory.         Over the years she stops even thinking about me at all. She forgot about the open case surrounding my murder forgets that my killer is still on the loose, she lets everything go and focuses on her new love, her new life that she has found herself. On the day of their college graduation Mateo asks Scarlett for her hand in marriage and without a single hesitation she accepts, after three years together she thought she really knew this man, however from what I know everything she knew

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was a lie, every kiss every hug was another step to cover his past, and it was all working.        Months pass and they have their wedding a small ceremony with only a few guests including Scarlett’s father and grandparents, who all seem a little suspicious of their child’s new husband having a feeling they had seen him before.         When they all return back home they take up their suspicions and search around about their new family member and realize where they had seen him before. He was a member of local street gang from their town and had been a suspect in my murder, things I had all already known the thoughts that consumed my afterlife. With their new found information they call Scarlett and tell her the news, at first she becomes really defensive over her husband and defends him to the end, but as his web of lies starts to unfold she becomes more and more wary of the situation she may be in. Her family fearing the safety of their child puts a report in to the local police as a led in the case on my death, and being the first contact on the case a call goes out to Scarlett’s new home, only problem is Scarlett would never answer the message. Her call would be answered by Mateo and his plans would all change because of that.         In hearing his wife now knew the truth about his past Mateo devised a plan to take her out and get away again. His plan to kill his new wife and make a clean get away without the chance of being traced. The problem with his plan his every move is being closely watched. His every purchase closely monitored his every action mark down somewhere. He wasn’t going to get away and he wouldn’t be able to harm a single hair on Scarlett’s head without it going down in the log. Their house was bugged and put under 24 hour surveillance and she was in constant contact with a special agent from the police. However, though she now knew who she was married to she was oblivious to the plans he had devised and the police weren’t going to be the ones to tell her, they were trying to keep the situation at their home as calm as possible to create the least amount of attention to the plans in the works.         One night as Scarlett lay sleeping in the bed her and Mateo shared she felt a sense of danger and that her life was being threatened and her senses were 55


right, on this night Mateo had planned to take the life of his wife to get away with the past crime he had committed. Scarlett lay fearing the end of her life she could sense Mateo closing in on her; she now felt the way I felt. And just as Mateo lifted the knife to kill my best friend the way he did to me, the man she had spent hours talking to daily, divulging key information in the case with, Keith burst through the door to save her life. Mateo was now locked up and serving time for the crime he previously committed and the attempted crime he had planned out.        Scarlett’s life had never been at such a low with also being at a point of content with itself, she was pleased she had finally found the man who had killed me, her best friend so many years before but she was saddened by the fact she had let the same man into her life so easily without recognizing the signs. She had been hurt and let someone she hadn’t really known into her life, before she truly had known them. She was glad she still had her life and was happy to know that people around her still cared, but also tainted by the pain she was forcing herself to constantly think about.         The trial finally ended and Mateo was finally out of her life forever, but there was a new person she had found interest in, and that was the man who saved her life, Keith. The man she had told so much about her life, a man she trusted with everything. As things settled down Scarlett moved back into her old small town realizing no matter where you go in life trouble will always find a way to bring itself back into your life, and she soon fell hard for her savior and he fell for her too, they soon developed a strong friendship and showed how much she truly trusted him, they both fell in love and decided that it was the destiny for them to be together, they got married and lived in that small town full of so much love and so much loss. They started a family and she was never happier, and somewhere deep down inside she knew her best friend was looking over her, and she knew somewhere inside of Keith was a part of me, something that made her fall deeper and deeper in love every day.  That something may not be the only thing that connected me to Keith… There was another connection that had previously close, close enough to kill.

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Mateo soon “escaped” and was back on the loose, but something I knew kept me even warier than Scarlett would have ever been something I knew about not only Mateo but the man my best friend loved…        Time passed and no one really brought up my name no one tried to catch Mateo and no one thought that he could have had an accomplices, a man on the inside. The man no one was going to suspect, but the man knew had a part in my death.  This man much like Mateo had become so close to my best friend she would never suspect him, but he had also had a plan to take her out, a plan he would never have the chance to commit.         Scarlett being the great wife she was, was cleaning their home one day when she came across a box labeled “Vivian”, curious as to why the box was labeled with my name she opened it, only to find stacks of letters from Mateo to her husband planning and conversing about the plans to kill me, something she never thought she would have to go through again. She held them in her hands thinking this is how, why, and by whom I lost my best friend, these letters read, Dear Mateo, I know you have been experiencing some trouble following Scarlett due to the presence of Vivian; I would just like to inform you that problem will be taken care of as soon as possible. I have a plan to get rid of the girl without anyone ever knowing. Scarlett will finally be all yours and no one will ever suspect us in the murder of poor little Vivian. Your Friend, Keith The letter went on and on about their plans to get rid of me and no one would have known if it weren’t for these letters. Scarlett finally realized she was the cause of my death, the reason I was dead. Smaller clues lead into big hints on how these men truly felt about her something I had known since my death.        

Dear Keith, 57


I can no longer hide how I feel about Scarlett and having Vivian always with her is ruining everything. I can’t keep hiding how I feel and you know what is going to happen.     My plan to get rid of Vivian has started by the end of the week I plan to have Scarlett all to myself. If anyone is to find out about this you must be the one to step in and comfort         her I trust no other man to treat her right, no other man to love her. Your Friend, Mateo” As she continued reading finding out that my death was only caused because of the love Mateo had for her the pain exploded from within her and she couldn’t control herself she wasn’t going to let both of them get away with killing me and I wasn’t going to watch my best friend die trying to find me justice. She was the only person left fighting for my story to be heard and I was going to give her all the help I could, from the place I was. The final letter she read was from Mateo, he wasn’t only confessing his love for Scarlett, but also confessing the pain he felt for killing her best friends, the pain her put the love of his life through just to be with her just to have it all taken away Dear Keith, I know it’s been awhile since we last talked, but I have something to confess. My mind   keeps going on and on about what I did and how I could have done things differently and still had Scarlett. Vivian didn’t have to die for me to love Scarlett. I could have lived life with both of them all the time. What I did was take someone’s life away so I could be happy. And now that I think of it I’m not happy, Scarlett’s not happy and Vivian isn’t even here. I can’t live my life knowing she doesn’t know how much I loved her and that’s why I did this, I can’t stand knowing she thinks I’m this evil monster and I can’t stand knowing I may never see her again. Please help me get out of here, help me see her again because I truly cared. Help me get back to her if its only for a second, that’s all I need to tell her how I truly feel. Your Friend, Mateo

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Now knowing the whole truth about what had happened to her best friend Scarlett’s world was changed forever. Knowing she was the reason, love was the reason. If she had separated from her friend to let others in would it have changed anything? Well she couldn’t go back to the past through she wished so deeply she could and put herself in my shoes that night, could she have saved me.        Scarlett soon devised her own plan to get the word about who killed my out to the world while still keeping her name and her connection to knowing the truth out of it. She took hours out of her work to keep up with her ever growing knowledge of the truth, changing her plan day by day. The closer she grew to knowing the whole truth the more she feared her own safety, till finally one day she had to put a stop to their freedom and go to the police, the place where Keith worked some them what she had found. Much like how she defended Mateo at first accusation, the men on the force dared to believe Scarlett but the letters and all the information she had gathered forced them to see the truth, and though she had loved both men, she never really saw who they truly were until the day they both were cuffed and put into cells.         Scarlett’s life had been changed so much and she learned not only be wary of who you let in your life but also to trust those who always had your back though it may not be what you think is right in the moment down the road you will thank them, Scarlett was shown that though her best friend can no longer be with her in flesh it doesn’t mean she’s not watching over her, I’m always looking over her and I can only see her life going up from here. Me and her mom sat and watched her deal with all this pain by finding someone to love her, we now know she’s done making that mistake she’s grown up into the women I always saw her being. Not only had my best friend solved the end to my life she had also established herself as a strong powerful woman. She finally got back to focusing her life on herself, letting her family have her back again. Although I know the true reason to my death I also know that there is something that people have neglected to tell us all, something that the whole world is hiding about itself, something everyone is hiding about themselves.         Now that you have heard my friend Scarlett’s story how do your problems look, does your life still seem as bad. Can you picture living through this, 59


knowing either way you were losing someone you cared about, knowing in the end either you could tell the truth and lose 4 people you love, or lie and keep one of them while knowing the truth and having to hold it in all the time. Scarlett made that hard choice and she choose to lose the one she loved to tell the truth she knew.

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ALLISON

Shattered The wind was bitter as its harsh words pierced my nose. Gusts and whirls sent the golden amber and rust colored leaves sailing, settling gently at the bottom of the endless decaying forest. I watched as the earth behind me remembered my steps creating a map to take me home. I wasn’t alone; my friend followed me in the distance, protecting me, watching me. He listened to every word that spewed out of my lips, never judged or talked, just comforted me when needed. I wish I could stay in these woods for a while; become lost, unknown, and invisible. People disliked me, ignored me, and dodged me through the crowded, chaotic hallways at high school. It was sophomore year, and I already hated every second of it. I was nobody, just another obstacle in everyone’s way. No one talked to me, glanced at my faceless expressions. If only one looked into my eyes and saw the pain that filled my broken body. Sadness and solitude boiled inside of me, waiting to erupt. Kindness and generosity were nowhere to be found in the walls of the prison. It stunk of cruelty; shear insanity. I didn’t belong there. I wasn’t a geek who enjoyed complex math, a jock who smelt of swat and determination, or even a popular chick who reeked of perfume and gossip. I was nobody. I was useless for nothing except to fulfill the needs of others thirst; power. This life I lived is unnoticed, buried in the darkness of sorrow and loneliness, slowly slipping from my grasp. Why me? Abuse of words mentally and physical beatings destroyed my strength and willpower. I was bullied. I was the victim. No help was offered as cowardly bystanders watched an innocent girl get shoved around. They ignored what was wrong. It was too “difficult” to deal with for most. If it wasn’t them, then why care, they thought. Not one person felt my pain. You would think parents could help this situation, make things disappear,vanish but that was too unrealistic. My parents are rotten. Stained with the smell of alcohol and sweat, I kept my mouth shut. It was easier that way, for everyone. They were motionless hermits that drank their problems away, as I suffered, trapped with no 61


solution. No time was made to help me or talk to me, they wasted it away on alcohol. Do they even know who I am anymore? I wish I could have someone to care about me, and protect me. At least I had one, Jackson. He wore a thick coat of grungy brown that smelt of dirt and slobber. His eyes were hidden by many wrinkles that drooped down his long thin face. His paws, gentle and warm; he always nudged me for attention which I always gave. The mangled ears that were brittle and long, were always open for conversation. My home life sucks and school is a dump. I can’t skip class, I need to graduate so I can get out of this town, start a new life; feel safe and free again. Sometimes I bury myself beneath the mound of covers upon my frail bed and hope to stay there, cozy, closed off from the world around me. I need a day for myself, to find my bearings. I don’t know how to deal with everything that is thrown at me. I always freeze, shudder with fear, overwhelmed by life in general. I need support to guide me to a sense of hope that things will change. Prison is filled with horror. I cower at the voices of the mob, swiftly gaining on me, waiting to pounce. Someday I’m going to explode. that day was today. Unable to bear the pain, I escaped disappearing into the woods. I breathed in the brisk air as it soothed my sorrows. As I reached for the door of the sanctuary, slurred words screamed breaking the silence and peace. The interrogation began, questioning my sanity. I wasn’t crazy, just lost. I ran an abnormal life, filled with abuse and violence. I need to take a risk. I would take my parents car and drive, no destination, just the view ahead. I didn’t care where I went as long as I was away from the burden of this town. I drove today in the morning as the sun rose above the horizon, peeking above the sandy shores, illuminating the rocky blue waves. I slowly drifted off, away from the world. I jerked the wheel spinning out of control. My mind froze and everything around me went black. As the light slowly reappeared into my eyes I saw that the car and I were ruined. The car was wrapped around the palm tree like a glove fitting snug on a frosty hand. And I myself was well aware of the open wounds decorated with red. I never realized how much my parents were upset. I figured they would be lifeless bodies but they were reborn as the demon of pure evil. Father grabbed my arms violently, and shook me as if rattling on a cage. I was petrified. My mother was the worst sight. She just 62


stood there in silence and watched as my own father tormented and beat me to a pulp. Everyone in the world is cruel, identical and vicious in personalities and features. I had no one. Just as things could not get any worse, my only friend left me. He was taken by the creatures of the night. My father had pushed him into the cold after his rude behavior indoors. As a punishment he was to sleep out on the porch for the night. He was ambushed and attacked by rabid, mangy wolves. they took the only thing I loved from me. If only I could have been there to prevent my only friend from disappearing. My life was a complete blur. I felt as if nothing was real anymore, as if it never had happened. I wanted everything to end. I had suffered enough of this torture. For every bully or any unkindness shot at me violently, I indulged a knife into my forearm striking my scrawny, bruised wrist last. It made me remember what I was dealing with, that nothing was ever going to be the same. I was on the verge of collapsing, when one day someone entered my world of silence. She slowly sat at my food splattered table, unpacking her lunch full of colors. Her strawberry yogurt was beneath her chin, waiting to be touched as she cleaned her juicy red apple. speckled with brown. Each day more people piled to my table, boys and girls surprisingly. They giggled and laughed conversing with each other, but said zero words to me. My social life seemed to be improving. I was noticed. One day they asked my to join them in the courtyard and so I did, following my friends who I thought were very nice, turns out, I was wrong. I thought it was going to be a game of dodgeball or something enjoyable, yet it was far from happy. I was soon surrounded by them, all glaring at me, smirking and snickering. They began to pelt me with food. Tomato sauce splattered into my eyes. I heard laughter as cold slushies sprayed me violently as other various foods coated me with embarrassment. I dropped to the ground surrounded by tears and garbage, alone once more. It was too good to be true. That was all I needed. I could let go of all that happened and be free. It was all over. My mom i heard in the back of my mind telling me to wake up. But I was; I was living the dream. She tried to shake me but I didn’t budge, I was content. I was satisfied; finished. Everyone thought I started over but they didn’t real63


ize I was gone, forever. You probably thought that I was growing, standing out of the darkness. Maybe that I had friends, that I wasn’t bullied. Well you’re wrong. It was a dream. dreamt too far. My mom found me on the floor, surrounded by pieces of white. I was dozing off, losing myself, who I was, what the world was, my spot within it. She tried to shake me from my thoughts but I was in too deep to turn back. As I lay there, tears of anger and regret flash over her dreary face. My parents never knew what I struggled with, nor did they care. They didn’t realize that they missed their chance to help. They took me for granted and only noticed when I was gone; when it was too late. No one knew at school for a while until news spread the information all throughout the town. They didn’t know who I was, they just pitied me. Some wish they could have helped. Maybe it could have changed things but the truth is... all this happened, more or less.

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ANNA

The Adventures of Jeremiah and Rocky Jeremiah lived in Kentucky. He was only 12. He loved to go fishing and in the summer he did it everyday. One day Jeremiah headed down to the river. with his rod to go fish. As he was fishing, he noticed a frog on a rock in the river. To amuse himself, Jeremiah said to the frog “Hello there. Nice day we are having today, isn’t it?.” Then Jeremiah felt a catch and he started to reel it in. He could tell that this was going to be a big fish. He was struggling to pull it in. All of sudden he heard “Pull harder, you’re losing him!” This startled Jeremiah so much that he let go of the rod and it was pulled into the water. Angry, Jeremiah looked around to see who spoke to him. He saw no one. Had he just imagined it? “Did I scare you?” Jeremiah’s head snapped in the direction where the voice came from. He found himself looking looking at the frog on the rock in the river he had seen earlier. “Was that you?” said Jeremiah. “Yes? Who else would it have been?” said the frog, casually. Jeremiah was speechless. Was he going crazy? How was this frog speaking to him? “Never heard a talking frog before?” said the frog again. “No, of course I haven’t! How are you talking to me? Can all frogs talk?” said Jeremiah. “Yes, all frogs can talk! Can’t all humans talk?” replied the frog. And I was talking to you to tell you that if you didn’t pull hard enough you were going to lose the fish! But you managed to do that anyway. Just let the whole rod go while you were at it!” The frog was chuckling as he spoke. His voice sounded raspy and old.

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“Maybe I was scared of the random voice I heard telling me what to do when I thought I was alone! Do you always spy on people fishing who think they are alone?” asked Jeremiah. “No, not always!” the frog replied, chuckling. The frog spoke again “I’m Rocky by the way. Jeremiah responded “Jeremiah.” “I know,” said Rocky. “How do you know?” said Jeremiah, facing the opposite way of Rocky. “I hear your Mother call you for dinner.” said Rocky. Then, Jeremiah turned around to face Rocky but he was gone. He was still freaked out but he didn’t know what to do so he just decided to go back to fishing. The only problem was his rod was gone! As he was pondering how to get it back he felt a drop of rain on his head. He looked up into the sky.  It got really really windy. Lightning struck. Rain had started to pour down now. This was really weird, Jeremiah thought to himself. Then so suddenly, Jeremiah hit the ground. He could see grass. What was happening? He look up at the world around him and everything seemed huge, so much bigger than usual. where had the talking frog gone? He walked over to the river. He looked down to see his own reflection. Was this possible? Jeremiah saw a green bullfrog staring back at him with confused eyes. He was a frog. A frog! Why was this happening? This was all that frog’s fault. Where did he go? “Hello?!” shouted Jeremiah. “Where did you go Rocky? You owe me some answers!” No response. Jeremiah didn’t dare hop into the river. He wouldn’t be able to get out. He hopped over to the bushes. “Rocky!” he called again. He hopped deeper and deeper into the forest. He could go so fast. He just kept hopping and hopping until... “Hey there.” It was Rocky. “Crazy weather, huh?” he said.

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“You!” said Jeremiah, angrily. “You have some explaining to do. Why am I a frog? Why did this happen to me? You have to change me back into a human right now!” “Easy there! Calm down! I didn’t do anything. All I did was try to start a simple conversation and I get blamed for everything!” said Rocky. “Well then how do you explain me turning into a frog?” replied Jeremiah. Rocky said “I wouldn’t know the answer to that. But lets just say you will be back to your old self in no time. No time at all, I mean it.” “How do you know that?” asked Jeremiah. “Just trust me. Come on, lets go for a swim.” Strangely, Jeremiah did feel like he could trust him but his did not want to go swimming. “No way!” said Jeremiah “I don’t know how!” “Just try it,” said Rocky “ I bet you’re good at it. You never know until you try.” “This is all crazy,” said Jeremiah, silently agreeing. They hopped over to the edge of the river. Rocky hopped right in. “Just dive in! Swimming is easy for frogs! It comes naturally to us. Don’t hesitate!” Jeremiah was scared but he attempted to dive in. His attempt succeeded and resulted in a smooth, almost silent glide right into the water. Wow, he thought! I have never gone swimming before and I just perfectly dived right into the water! He heard Rocky “See, what did I tell you? Easy, isn’t it?” “Surprisingly, yes it is pretty easy.” said Jeremiah. They continued to swim down the river, letting the slow current pull them. “Where are we going?” asked Jeremiah. “Nowhere in particular. Just going with the flow.” replied Rocky. He was laughing again. As they were swimming along. Jeremiah noticed the river started to get faster and faster. “Maybe we should go back,” said Jeremiah. “Relax,” said Rocky. 67


“We’re fine. I’ve been a frog my whole life. I know what I’m doing.” “How long exactly has that been?” ask Jeremiah. “74 frog years.” replied Rocky. “Wow, you’re old.” said Jeremiah. Silently, he wondered to himself the equivalent of frog years to human years. The river continued to pull them along faster and stronger. Jeremiah looked over to see Rocky had hopped onto a piece of wood drifting along the river. “Come on!” screamed Rocky. “Its about to get wild.” Jeremiah swam quickly over to the wood and jumped on top of it. They were going very fast now. The wood get hitting rocks beneath the surface of the river causing part of the wood to fly up in the air. The was a huge rock that their raft was heading towards. There was no trying to steer around it. They couldn’t escape it.   “How are we going to get off ?” shouted Jeremiah over the rushing waters. “We’re going to have to jump! Soon!” said Rocky. “Wait! We are so far from the edge of the river. What if we don’t make it?” asked Jeremiah. “We don’t have any other options. On the count of three! One, two three!” Rocky jumped immediately and barely made it to the edge of the river. Jeremiah hesitated. What happens if I don’t make it? Will I die as a frog? Will I never see my Mom again? Jeremiah worried to himself. With only seconds left before the raft would crash into the huge rock, Jeremiah leaped into the air with everything he had... He hit the water and a feeling of panic immediately washed over him. Smash. He hit the rock and all he saw was black for a moment. Then he heard a voice calling him. “Jeremiah!” Whose voice was that? It sounded so familiar. “Jeremiah! Wake up, breakfast is ready!” Jeremiah opened his eyes. He was in his bed. It was his Mother calling him. What happened to Rocky and the raft in the river? Was that only a dream? It felt so real. He got up out of bed and ate breakfast. Then he did his chores. After he was finished with those he decided he was going to go fishing. He 68


got his rod and headed down to the river. It was a hot day. The sun was shining and usually on days like this there was fish left and right but today he hadn’t had a single bite. He was about to give up and start to head home when he felt a strong tug on his line. Finally! he thought. He began to reel it in as fast as he could, hoping he wouldn’t lose it. He was just about to pull the fish in completely when out of nowhere he heard a familiar voice from behind him say: “Pull harder, you’re losing him!”

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CHAPTER 2

And nothing is, but what is not... Macbeth, Macbeth, William Shakespeare

70


HAILEY

Crimson Joy It was a day, just as dreary and miserable as any other had ever been. The skies were gray and the average being could see merely a few feet in front of him. Feet, feet approaching, stumbling, parting through the fog. Clogging on the ground, shattering the silence of the town. A town that never spoke to one another in public, but behind closed doors, the room seemed cramped with gossip and chatter. As Harvey limped down the road, the same thought had been coursing through each individual’s subconscious. An unusual thought, but a thought none the less, and a one that shouldn’t have been there.

✷ Harvey had always had the worst of luck ever sense his youth. His mother had died in child birth when his sister, Nellie, was born. Harvey, only having been twelve at the time, was left to care for his sister. Nellie had been the sweetest child, with a bow in her long blonde hair, and was always found singing merrily. When Nellie was five, however, she became very ill and died of a cause unknown to all of the doctors that were within town limits.  After the fact, everyone could see how it had left Harvey. His face had shown he was hurt and his eyes seemed empty. After some time, things seemed as if they were turning around for Harvey. He was engaged to a lovely lady, Loretta, and they were to be married. Loretta had been known to have horrendous fits of coughing while she was with Harvey, but not one could have foreseen her passing away with Tuberculosis. As if that wasn’t retching enough, it had happened mere hours before the wedding.         Harvey pined for love and attention; it was what he needed at that point considering all that had happened. In fact, Harvey had resembled a stray puppy. Lost, lonely and confused. He quickly found a new woman to court. Things had 71


been running smoothly the first week that they had been together. During the second week Gracie had made a stop at the post office. On the way back to her abode, her buggy had been run off the road by a reckless driver. The buggy flipped and Gracie was crushed like an ant. Soon after, Harvey was looked down upon in the town. At the pubs, the drunkards would drown there sorrows and start each toast with, “At least we aren’t Harvey Brawn.” One miserable night when Harvey had gone out for a whiskey capable of inflicting memory loss, he had overheard one of these utterly alarming toasts. It had offended him so, and he had gotten into a brawl with the man who gave it. The fight was quickly broken up and Harvey was tossed out of the pub. The next day the man was found dead in the middle of the street with an empty bottle in his hand. The police had reported that Thaddeus Tuppets had drunk himself to death. No one showed sympathy for him because he had jested at poor Harvey, but even still no one would be caught talking to Harvey or even waving an encouraging hello when he walked by.        In every town there is always one person concerned with doing all things good, seeing past all rumors, and believing that deep down inside everyone there is something pure. In Rurdem, this person happened to be Lydia. Naturally, Lydia was drawn Harvey, and Harvey had a liking for Lydia. They spent all of their time together and seemed to be very happy. They were soon married and continued with their lovely life together.         Until today. To be more precise, three hours and forty-seven minutes ago.

✷        Everyone had stopped what they had been doing, their eyes glued to Harvey. Their heads turned to follow him and they trailed closely behind him on the dusty road so that he was always in sight. He walked into the  station, turned looked at the crowd standing by the door, and sat down to wait for his turn to see the Marshal even when there had been no line. When he was asked what had happened all that was said was, “Lydia was murdered.” If it was true or not, you wouldn’t be 72


able to tell from his face. Harvey’s face was neither happy nor sad, not angry, not anything. His face said nothing and his eyes said nothing more. It had seemed like the man sitting there wasn’t Harvey, but he wasn’t any other man either. He was just a tall piece of matter.        Everything in Rurdem had shifted, nobody could think straight and the streets were buzzing with news. The once silent town was now billowing with sound and chaos. Everyone had been waiting on the edge of their seat for Harvey to walk out of the station. They all knew Harvey was in there telling his story. A story that would be questionable and bring suspicion to his past. The story that would determine Harvey’s future. If there was a future for Harvey anymore.

Harvey had never known his father and he never asked questions. It was just him and his mother, Mary.It was fine that way, and that’s the way it always was. Harvey loved his mother and would do anything for her. He joked about never marrying so he wouldn’t have to leave her alone. Mary, however, was never really sure if he had been truly joking, or if deep down he had meant it. That was one of the problems with Harvey; for many it was hard to tell what he had been thinking, he showed no emotions that would let you into his mind.        When Harvey had found out that his mother was expecting a child he was enraged. He couldn’t understand why his mother could ruin the bond they had with a child none the less. The lowest form a person could be. One incapable of speech and cant fend for themselves. In Harvey’s mind that was the worst insult he could have received. Being replaced by a child. He was being abandoned by a mother whom he showed nothing but love for, a trifling mother, not even a mother, a despicable beast with horns and fur and fury. Harvey couldn’t go on with this woman, she was taking away his life, and as punishment, it was decided he would take away hers.

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Before Harvey knew it, it came time for the little child Nellie to be born. Harvey had been waiting, counting down days, planning, and waiting for this day. The day where he would return what he was given. The child was born with no major complications. While the doctor had been in the other room Harvey went to visit his mother. He took the cloth that was used to wipe her shameful sweat and placed it over her face. Weakened from the labor, Mary didn’t fight as her final breath was leaving her, just as Harvey had planned. His hand pressing to her face when her eyes had finally shut. The sight of her cold and breathless corpse was fulfilling and gratifying. He refolded the cloth, placed it on the table beside her bed, smiled, then called in the doctor.         Harvey was satisfied with his cunning ways, forgetting the one flaw in the plan. He was left with Nellie. He decided to try his best to raise the child. He found work at a courthouse just outside town lines, which was a big deal, seeing as no one had been ever known to leave Rurdem. Harvey organized records, reading every single one of them to find which shelf they would be best suited. School had not been a necessity, most of the attendants would leave at his age anyway. He brought Nellie up to be proper and taught her all things he felt she must know. If Nellie had grown up early it would be best for the both of them. Harvey couldn’t stand the stupidity and gullibility of children. He had known that everyone had had to be a child at one point, but he favored the people who left childhood the quickest.         Harvey hadn’t minded Nellie’s existence until she started to resemble his mother. It was the way she looked, and the gestures she made. It made Harvey think back to what his mother had done to him. Harvey soon came to realization that it was not only the fault of his mother’s but the fault of Nellie’s that should have been punished for. Nellie was the result of his mother’s philandering and the object that he was being discarded for. As seen in one of the records he had read at the court house, a man was arrested for admitting to putting arsenic in his wife’s food. None of the detectives had inferred that the cause of death was arsenic until the man had plead guilty.         Harvey had put arsenic in all of Nellies food until she finally had gotten fatally ill. His plan was full proof because if anything, Harvey would never plead 74


guilty. Harvey was taken pity of after that, which he didn’t mind all too much, he soon became dependent on it. If at the end of the day, he hadn’t been recognized with an apology, he began to think less of himself. If he had done his job correctly he should have received attention every hour of the day, he needed someone to be there to give him praise for his job well done. Harvey spent all his days at parties and various events waiting to be introduced to a lady because a proper lady should always give sympathy. When he met Loretta, she didn’t need to say anything, it was the way she looked at him with eyes full of sympathy. Harvey knew that he didn’t love Loretta, but he couldn’t let her slip away.         After some time, Loretta didn’t look at Harvey the way she used to. Loretta had forgotten what had happened to Harvey. She only wanted to be happy with him and grow old together. Harvey had quit his job filing papers and moved on to being a doctor. He managed to fake degrees of education through what he had learned from the papers; Harvey thanked the heavens for those papers. As a doctor he spent time with all kinds of patients with varying degrees of illness.  Harvey would take things from the patients with influenza or tuberculosis and rub them against Loretta’s clothes or handkerchiefs. He had enjoyed being a doctor because his patient’s eyes were full of sorrow and a plea for help. This look was not unlike the one of pity. It was because this look said, “I’m sorry,” but not for Harvey, for themselves. He couldn’t tell the difference. Harvey had hoped that if Loretta felt ill she would look at him this way too.         Harvey was very careful as to only infect Loretta and not himself. When she began coughing little spots of crimson joy, he was pleased with himself. He sat by her side, as she slowly retreated into her illness, looking deep into her eyes. Funny things eyes are. They hold so much in them, even though they are convex. It is like putting a gem on a marble but instead of falling off the gleam stays.         It was Harvey’s luck that had Loretta passed hours before the wedding seeing as Harvey had never actually sent out invitations or ordered a cake. Life without Loretta was fine with Harvey, for approximately one month before he started to crave affection again. One day a lady came to see him in his office with a burn on her hand from knocking over a tea kettle. She was very suitable and he was quick to court her. Gracie was much into gossip. She had known everything 75


about all the people in Rurdem. When Harvey and Gracie would go for strolls she would ask about his intriguing past. Harvey felt like Gracie knew too much for her own good. He couldn’t risk having his secrets exposed. When she was out picking up a parcel that he had sent her he took a buggy that had been parked and emptyed, then ran her off the road. He turned around and returned the buggy where he had found it. Harvey walked home laughing, full of the adrenaline that came from horses running at high speeds and the comparison of Gracie to an insect.        Harvey didn’t expect what would follow the accident. What he had expected was that people would have returned to their normal routine of doting on him. Instead, Harvey was practically quarantined. Nobody talked to him or gave him looks of pity. Nobody ever wished to even glance at him at all. Harvey became a disease that was thought to be highly contagious. The mindset of the people had become that if you were to close to Harvey, then you too would die. Harvey had failed, and failure was not something he took well. He was a man that was not known to drink, but that day it was hard to resist a good whiskey. Harvey walked in the buzzing pub and the noise instantly dropped by decibels. The pub did this often when someone would stroll in. They always feared that one day that person might be Harvey, it turned into a practice for the real event. The big day had arrived and they all had to be cautious.         Nobody got up to leave because it was too risky and highly unusual for a drunk to leave while still being able to articulate. Nobody was willing to roll the dice so they all sat and drank and whispered. One man, with a few drinks already drunk, made a toast to himself and his pals sitting around him with a lowered voice that wasn’t quite lowered, “To us being us and not the poor chap, Harvey Brawn.” The whole room was silent as a bar stool had scraped, scraped ever so slowly, wood against wood. The chunks of ice clinking, clinking against glass as they swirled around with the rhythm of Harvey’s gait. Then finally the deafening blow of knuckles hitting, hitting flesh and skull. The quick scrape of a chair. Different knuckles on different flesh. Knuckles on noses. Two chairs scraping. Fists deep inside the gut. Five hurried scrapes. Arms thrown across chests, pulling. Nine chairs. 76


Elbows breaking the grasp. Eleven. Knuckles and flesh. Door. Limbs reaching, pulling. Glass. Knuckles. Bones. Pushing. Force. Thuds, thuds on the cold hard earth. Door swinging, swinging shut, closed. Behind the door, peace, peace yet fear.        Harvey picked himself up and spat blood that was slightly less crimson and slightly less thrilling as he had hoped. The other man was still on the ground breathing slow and uneven breaths. Harvey picked the man up and drug him across the road into a small cove where they couldn’t be seen. Harvey couldn’t have someone else telling him when a fight was over. Then man snapped back to reality and struggled as he was being drug across the ground. Harvey let go of him only to knock him out cold. He walked to the general store and bought the cheapest bottle of alcohol they had. He took the bottle to the man and forced the liquor down his throat, not giving him a chance to breathe. The man drowned in the liquor and Harvey pulled him back out into the street, placed the bottle in his hand, and walked away into the obscurity and noir of the night.         The next day Harvey didn’t leave his house. The sun, even behind the clouds, was brighter than usual, and there was an incredibly loud knocking on his door. He opened it to find a woman there to inform him that a man named Thaddeus had died. He made tea and sat on his porch with the woman named Lydia. He later found out that Thaddeus was the man he had gotten into a brawl with and that Lydia was there to help him with all the troubles he had encountered in his life. Harvey, at first, had been disgusted and thought that Lydia was from the church and was there to do well and show him the way. He had hated people like this almost as much as he had hated children, but then he looked into Lydia’s eyes and it all changed. Harvey started to fancy her. She was the only one in town who had looked at him with such pity in so long. He knew that she would never stop looking at him that way because she would always want to help him see the things about himself that he couldn’t and make him wake earlier on Sundays. Lydia would always take pity with Harvey because no matter how hard she tried, Harvey would never change.

✷ 77


The news came to the town in waves and eventually the whole story had come together. They had all known that someone had attacked Lydia and Harvey. Lydia died and was disposed of but Harvey put up a fight, so they had to bury him alive. In order to hide the evidence the shovel was buried with Harvey. Harvey with his last amount of strength had dug himself out of the grave and went to get help. Poor Lydia was dead and Harvey had saved himself.        Harvey sat on the porch and rocked back and forth collecting his thoughts. He had met Lydia here and Lydia was a very fine wife up until the day she told Harvey they were going to have a child. Harvey sat and looked at a black widow spider making its way up a railing, spinning a web. He couldn’t help but think how much they were alike, the spider a widow and him a widower. The spider gave no remorse when it caught an insect in its web and spun it up saving it for later. Harvey sat there and waited for the town to run amuck after they had found a hole in his story and started to unravel the web of lies that Harvey had made. Harvey couldn’t keep up with the pity anymore. The only person who still gave it to him was his wife who wanted to replace him with a child. Harvey couldn’t think about her having a child and tending to its needs and forgetting about him and his scheming addiction.         Right on time the town’s people and law enforcers came running to his door to find a gun and a pool of blood. It couldn’t have been Lydia’s because they had already found where Lydia had been killed, where she was beaten with a crowbar and then buried. But, Harvey’s body was no were to be found. It couldn’t be found anywhere in town limits so the people of Rurdem had accepted that Harvey was somewhere out there, and it didn’t bother them much because where ever he was, he was dead. They continued on as a quiet town, even more quiet then they had been before. They skies were still gray and the spill of crimson joy was washed away.         This became the story that the people of the little Victorian town would tell their children, passing it along generations, and the story that I would soon try to forget. I am Edmund Starlet. Born a monster and retired a man like any other. 78


ASHLEY

The Unfortunate Sky,

I’ve learned a lot these past couple of months and enough to send me away, out of town. Thanks for all the memories you have left with me, plenty of good ones… Of course. I wish you luck, and I know you’re going to hate me for this but I built a strong beautiful girl in that body of yours. I love you. NICK

From experience I will never come down to the thought of going to a party, ever again. It was the end of my sophomore year, the day before school ends. Buzzing up like a bee with text messages, ‘Sky, you going to the party tomorrow night?!!’ or a ‘Better see you tomorrow night!’ text every five minutes. The last party of my sophomore year, I have to go I said to myself thinking everything was going to be great like the cherry to the top of my sundae. The next day, the final 2:00 P.M. bell rings louder than ever, with kids running like they’re joining the Olympics screaming, “SCHOOLS OUT!” and bus rides crazier than a park full of ADHD kids. The bus door slowly opens, releasing me out into the summer air. Once I enter my room, out of the corner of my eye I see a bright sequin material party dress laid out on my pink and black tie-dyed bed, thanks mom; you must be more excited than I am. While dating Nick, our love never faded, in fact it only expanded; at least that’s what I thought. We started going out as freshman, winning class couple every year. We spent every second we could together and helped each other with everything from school to pointless situations like video games but I loved every second of it. No one thought an end was going to be put to our relationship. At 8:00 that night, 79


the last sound of a beep I would hear from him came from outside, Nick’s here, my only thought, party time. Only by the time I woke up the next day from that party I realized two things: drugs were exposed into my drink and I had unprotected sex. Whether or not Nick knew those two things, he sure did know by the end of summer for my upcoming junior year, ruined. I looked at that test for hours like it was a newborn baby. I spent hours crying with puddles of tears coming from my eyes. I was stuck thinking of how stupid I was, looking at all the negative aspects, thinking of what my life is going to be like now with a baby. Worst part, was confronting my parents which lead to yelling, more crying, serious decisions, two virtual 20 questions, and at the end, total silence; the loudest noise. Her name is Gabriella, with a label of all mine. We’re left with not even a father anymore and a disease in her lungs with only six more months left of her life if no money is raised for her. *** I wake up with a sudden urge, but I don’t know what of quite yet. I walk downstairs, something seems different. Breakfast is on the table, blueberry pancakes with crispy bacon as always, thanks mom and dad. I sit there watching television alone. That’s it, I’m alone. Where is my family? I look around hopelessly confused but I dial the numbers, 789-332-5632. Voicemail. Ok, 789-332-0294 and voicemail. I finish my breakfast and soon head up to the stairs to wake up Gabriella for breakfast when all of a sudden I see a white ripped scrap piece of paper with chicken scratch handwriting hanging from my bedroom door. A note? My parents have never left a note before. I only read this note to find it just as similar to Nick’s.

Skylar, Your father and I have decided it’s best if we leave, for the better honey. You have some lessons that need to be learned and some that will always stick with you. We are always here but for now you need to learn the aspect of growing up. Here in this envelope is some money to start you off and I hope much more comes along. Love you always. XOXO 80


-Mom and dad

So this is what life really is and what it comes down to, all your loved ones leaving you in the end. No longer do I go to school; I am a sad drop out already during the beginning of my junior year. I didn’t have the confidence to face my school every day knowing I have a baby being carried in my stomach. Too top that off, I now have a two year old baby, no job, and the only money I have is the money my parents just left me, $1,000 with maybe a couple of loose change in my dresser. The only memory that flashes into my head is when my father and I went out for ice cream and I told him I wanted to be the “ice cream lady” when I grow up. It ended with him responding, “Sky, life is a puzzle, you live from piece by piece, don’t shove the pieces into each other too quick”. Well, this is a wakeup call; I only have 6 months to raise $15,000 for Gabriella’s treatment. I grab my jacket and head out the door to search for serious business. *** I come home knowing I just filled out 5 different applications and that I need to pick the first job that calls. I sit around playing with Gabriella for a while until the phone finally rings. I jerk up excited but stunned a call has already been made to me. “Hello, is this Skylar Hudson?” A man asks. Nervously I respond, “Yes this is”. “This is the restaurant you have applied for at Zero Gravity and we would like you to know you have got the job! And would there be any possible way of you working for us tomorrow at 9 A.M.?” “It would be my pleasure”, I respond quickly and surely. “Great! See you first thing in the morning!” He shouts thinking I can’t hear him and hangs up.

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The first thing I do is call Sammy, not my parents. I tell her I got my first job and I will need her to come over and babysit Gab, and she responds so happily and energetic, “Ok!!” She does so much for me. I met Sammy in the first grade and we have been best friends since. I can’t wait to see her in the morning and tell her all that has happened.

*** As I am rushing down the stairs the next morning with clothes barely on, I still seem to find time to tell Sammy all that has happened only in a day. I leave with a kiss goodbye from Gab as always and get to work just on time. Throughout the day I learn so many new techniques that I never thought I would learn. I also met a new guy named Keith who seems to be extremely nice and he is also very cute. *** As the next three months go on, my daily routine continues with the exception of going out on dates with Keith, having him walk me home some days when I can’t afford gas money, and as well as gaining more and more money for Gabriella, now at $9,000 and happier than ever. These past three months have been nothing but glorious. A couple weeks ago, Keith and I went to a restaurant right near the waterfront. After dinner we went to go walk the beach, holding hands like he was my guide throughout my life. It felt like we were living in the moment. We spent our time making jokes and skipping rocks, not realizing we were there for over three hours. I could smell the ocean seeping through my nose along with being able to look up to seagulls flying through the sky without a care in the world. It made me feel like Keith and I were the last two human beings left on Earth. A feeling I wouldn’t mind being played over and over again like a tape. Keith and I have been getting closer and closer as the days go on but the only thing I haven’t told him is that I am a teen mom with a two year old baby. I didn’t realize that until today when he was walking me home. It was 4 in the afternoon when we both got out of work and he promised me that he was going to walk me home since it was a nice spring day out. What I didn’t know what that Sammy was taking Gabriella out for a walk at the same 82


time, walking towards us. When I saw them both, I avoided them the best I could and kept on keeping the conversation I was having with Keith until I was shockingly interrupted by the sound of a little baby screaming, “MOMMY!” but looking down to see that my child had her skimpy arms wrapped around me like I was famous. *** When coming back inside from running away with the situation that had happened, I called in sick for the next day of work but I knew by the end of the day I was going to have to face him again. I knew I should have told him from the beginning. He was going to find out at one point but I know he would much rather be told the truth than finding out on his own. Hiding something never ends up good; you can never run away from negatives in your life because they will chase you back down. I walk through the door of Zero Gravity with a quick glance of Keith’s eyes on me but slowly does he look away, disappointed. I know deep inside of him he is hurt but I just don’t know what to say and when to say it so for now, words are better left unsaid. A month goes by and I have barely $10,000 dollars, only a month more until Gabriella can get her last ounce of treatment. A surprise ring comes from the door only to open it and see Keith, holding flowers. I freeze, lost in the heat of it all. “Oh uh hi” I respond surprised. “These are for you” he says and smiles. I didn’t know what to say, how to break the awkwardness. “I was wondering if I could come in and we could talk about what happened.” “Oh yeah uh sure, about that… look I’m really sorry about what happened, I...” He greets me with a kiss and walks right in.

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“Sky, it’s fine, I know what you’re going through. I just want you to know that I don’t care if you have a child, I won’t judge you. I actually hope to meet her someday.” “Really? Wow, I’m really glad to hear those words come of your mouth but…” A small voice cries out from interrupting me… Gabriella. “Mommy!?” she mumbles as she walks into the kitchen. I’m about to send her away when I remember, Keith accepts this. “Yes?” I say quietly. “Who is that boy you’re talking to?” “This is Keith, Gabriella” I say softly. A huge grin is left on his face knowing that maybe someday this child will be his as well. Two hours later a lot is solved. We both come to the conclusion what I did was bitterly wrong but he decides to move in the house with me and help with Gabriella’s treatment. *** The next month all comes by too fast but in a great way. Keith moves in, and we go to work every morning with each other but have to wait for Sammy to come over and help with the babysitting of Gabriella. By the next month, we happily raise all the money needed for Gabriella’s treatment along with a lot of leftover money as well. I got a job and someone who actually cares for me; looks like my parents knew I would be able to accept what I deserve. We treat each other with a nice dinner along the border walk just the three of us, Keith, Gabriella, and I. Once we get home everything seems to be so good that it feels like a dream. While we’re all watching a comedy movie together, the doorbell rings. Surprised that someone is here, I figure it is just Sammy at the door with a question as usual. Keith offers to get the door since Gabriella has fallen asleep on my lap. Keith opens the door to only see an unfamiliar face of a young man. Guessing, Nick.

84


KALEB

To Tie a Knot “Here is tedium, despair, a painful sense of isolation and whimsical if pompous self-regard. But that image is only of the mind’s vague structure, vague to me because it is my own. . .” Robert Creeley

I chose not to think before I acted. I must have hit this man forty times, waiting for an opportunity to claim what I wanted. I threw my hardest punch, something cracked unnaturally in my hand, or his face, and he quickly lost the ability to stand. I snatched the wallet in his jacket pocket. One-hundred sixty-six in cash, two or three credit cards, some loose change that fell to the concrete, and a drivers license with a picture and a name, both mine. The thief had taken something out of the empty compartments. I witnessed the crippled, cackling face of the man slouched before me before I saw my father’s small cross crushed in his hands, finished over with blood. I leaned to him, cross in hand, and placed the half  still connected to the chain around his neck and placed my hands on his cheeks. I felt blood under my eyes where tears should be. I whispered something to him, he whispered something as well. I will never forget how loud I heard those whispers as  compared to the final snap of the thief ’s spine. There is no memory of leaving the subway, or even managing to make it home. Only fragments of thoughts, of whiskey, of too many Advil. Thoughts controlled by whispers. At first, I couldn’t live with myself when I held that half of the cross. It felt almost like a paradox, praying with a cross that I stole from a dead man. My wounds healed, my funds were returned from what the thief had spent in that few days time, however, never did the blood come clean off of that cross. I found comfort in pretending that the man I killed was possibly the same that murdered my poor father, and I still do. I lose all of that miniscule comfort when I can’t help but shut my shades, lock my door, and hide while watching the tick of a clock. I may 85


still wake up in the night simply to vomit. At some times, I puke because of the Advil-and-whiskey combination, and others I puke simply by repeating those Godforsaken, bloody whispers in my head. I find that I have making note of all the little things. It took less time than I anticipated to overcome my paranoia, or most of it anyway. A single crazy thief, a low-life, a deadbeat was not going to phase the lucrative life of a Kaiser. Some nights I may drink too much, some nights I drink more than that; but is that not one of the joys of life when it is past 5:00 and one has nothing to do or think of ? I could hardly say the last time that I remember I felt alone. My days are more or less the same and my evenings will never cease to entertain me so long as I have a guitar, an ipod, and a notebook to write in. Some days I limit myself to just playing that guitar, or just writing poetry. It is those days which my thoughts are at their greatest depth with what feels like the largest capacity of both logic and imagination. Writing is fluid, playing is slow and serene. My mind seems content without the strain of the average human struggle, without the comfort of my father’s money. I thought one day about some student teacher I met. He asked me some queer question about whether looking at clouds was better than not seeing the sky. I helped him by explaining that the sun, that day, was indeed shining. I began to conjure my own games. I would mute my T.V. and play short fragments of notes to represent the visuals on-screen; short, light bouts of pretty sounds where characters laughed. Ominous chords chords usually accompanied the news. I would gaze out the 42nd floor of my window, see what there is to see. For all that I saw I would quickly jot down a random line in my notebook. When I finished, it was humorous to try and connect the lines to each other in a poem (one of those funny things that only one person can ever find funny). A cloudy day today, the perfect time to participate in this one-man-competition. Over there. . . a man drops his book in the street, a girl on her phone raises her hands up and down and up again in a rage. I hear a metallic sound after a pebble slams a sign, a police cruiser pulls into the parking garage. A moving van with a clearly incapable driver, a group of students playing an odd game, the audible “ding” of an elevator. Father and son wear the same colors, woman cries as the rain hits her notebook, traffic light never turns green. Footsteps. Men fight, car horn. Three rapid knocks 86


on my door. I stopped, read over what I had so far. I believe I knew who was at my door before I left the window. It had started to rain. The funeral was short enough considering that I didn’t attend the wake. I suppose that none of us were truly close to Tom. My brother had no immediate family, which was the reason why the police contacted me first when his car was found halfway to the bottom of a small, lonely lake in Oregon. I wanted to feel sadness, however, my childhood with him was more or less separated. Home life was normal again after the long plane ride back east, with a long string of sympathy letters and phone calls. I faintly remember throwing the phone at the wall yesterday; I was writing a song. I still drink but the best part is that I can hardly say I ever drink considering I don’t remember when I do, or when i don’t. I can’t sit right with that half of that cross anymore. I can’t pray unless I am drunk, which I seem to picture in my mind as a bit twisted. I have noticed that the blood, through every method, will not, and may never, wash off of the cross. Something is simply off. I ate, showered, watched the news, visited the market, the bank, returned to watch T.V. The clock reads 2:00. I feel very tired, my eyes are wide with many red roots extending from what used to be a very prominent bluish, green pigment. I decide to recline and watch the news with a simple glass of water. However, the news bores me and I move to grab the remote. A whisper of a smile crossed my face when I saw a picture of my High-School graduation with my friends Eric, David, C.J. and myself. In what was perhaps two centuries of time, the words poured from the screen. They shouted at me, screamed at me like a dying animal in the time span of what the clock said to be less than 60 seconds. The remote was in my water, which was quickly in the carpet, and I felt my self heave into the toilet. I wasn’t sure how I got to the toilet. Just like that, at exactly 2:06, I watched the rest of that news broadcast through violent sobbing. I watched pictures and videos of my friends pass on the television as the world attempted to relive their lives in minutes; their lives that we built since we were kids from the ground up. One wasted man at one men’s club party, a party I declined, with one loaded pistol pulled the rug under those beautiful, babylonian towers of life. That man got away, and, due to the condition of its emptiness, my whiskey bottle shattered on the floor. 87


The next day it was someone else. Someone I loved. The day after that it was two, and another the next day. Slowly, they all disappeared as did my sanity. A fire, a gunman, a car accident, a lost plane, a bombed building. “Gone missing.” My throat and eyes hurt constantly, there was blood in my mouth. Is there something wrong with my water? These horrible noises that come from my throat some days are inhumane, almost sinister. Am I laughing? Have I lost my ability to speak? No, but perhaps it is the combination of crying along with my attempts to laugh and talk. Every day I remind myself (out loud) who must be doing this. It’s that character: that disgusting, bloody, black hearted demon more sick than the devil and with more power than the God. I hit walls, and I cut strange things, and I asked myself why while the whole time I knew that not a single death, not a single drop of blood was an accident. I stopped writing music and I stopped writing my poems and I stopped brushing my damned teeth because I simply hated the way my blood looked in the sink when I spit. It came almost of no surprise to me that, when I had been buying my alcohol, every single card was rejected and my wallet was void of currency. I have lost everything in the span of a month. One day, my Mom called me. I only had to hear her say my name before I started to cry. I cried for 38 minutes straight before I finally managed to say something in a voice that may have matched a toddler. “Mom please, please please make it stop! What is happening? I need you here Mom, I can’t be alone, I have no one left. I don’t want to sleep and I bleed when i cough and please Mom! . . . I am in so much pain. So much pain. . . Mom. . .” She heard not one word. The phone was disconnected right before that 39th minute on the phone. This, too, was surely no accident. I knew that the last were gone then, and I didn’t need a news story to show my mother’s face to know that I will never see her again. I threw the phone at the mirror across the room. I remember entering a coughing fit, spraying dark stains across my apartment. I lost consciousness on the floor. “Good Morrow, Richy! Get the hell up!” I can’t remember standing. “Oh hello, you again! what is it you want this time?” “I wanted to tell a little story Richy! You love my stories, don’cha? 88


“I suppose” “Alright then! There once was a boy, littlun named Cane. This boy, oh, he was a wonder! Was speakin’ before he was walkin’! Full sentences too! I digress; Cane got a bit sad one day and wondered why it was. So he looked around and saw something that everyone had that he did not: a little bit of rope! So he saved his money, and bought himself that rope. Know what he did with it? Go on, take a guess!” I felt blind, and yet of the best health I have felt in a very long time. I saw white. “He tied it in knot?” “Exactly! He tied it in a knot! What a bright young lad, eh? So the other boys figured ‘Hey, if he can do it so can we!’ They soon realized that they can’t and decided to do something else instead. You know what they did? Go on, ask what they did!” “What’d they do?” I suddenly felt quite warm. “The damned boys up and stole it! Right outa’ young Cane’s pocket! So Cane was upset again. ‘How have I managed to be in the same spot again?’ he asked himself. Now ‘ere is where it gets interesting! Little Cane thought up a plan. He went in the middle of the night and snatched up every rope from every boy and made the most fantastic knot the world had yet to lay eyes on! Oh, but Cane wasn’t through yet! He climbed the tallest tree in the middle of the night and fastened that rope where no other boy would reach it. Cane sat in that tree until the morning. Now. . . I’m going to let you choose the ending!” “Dad I. . .” “Now you shut it, Richy! You wanna hear the fairy-tale? Or do you want to hear what happens in the real world?” I thought about this; thinking didn’t really feel normal. I felt like a smart child. “Tell me what I need to hear” “I did raise you right after all. Cane didn’t say a word, the knot was doing all the talking for him! The knot said ‘Cane made me, and you can’t. You can’t even 89


steal me! Just try!’ One of the bigger boys after a few hours threw a single stone and knocked Cane off that branch. Just like that. The knot caught his leg, and there he was. Nobody thought him to be alive.The boys left and the next morning he was gone, with somethin’ tiny in his place. The boys had to cut the tree down to get that knot, and when they got it they saw what was on it that they couldn’t see from the ground. “The boys left the cross in the dust and took the knot for themselves.” Now I could see him. I always adored my father, but i knew that now was not the time to speak to him, only let him speak to me. He dropped the cross in my hands. “Now you listen to me, Richy. Go tie a God-damned knot, don’t worry about losing like little Cane. Now get up! You hear me? I said get the hell up!” The blood on the floor was already blackening, aside from the portion still draining from my mouth. I saw a half broken cross, free of blood, in my hands.. I heard the door gently close, though I was looking directly at the latches that never came unlocked. When was the last time I left the house? More importantly, the last time I ate? It matters little; I didn’t bother to clean before I grabbed my keys and headed to my car. I drove and drove for countless miles. I knew who was following me, I knew what was watching me and where. I knew that none of those things were happening. I drove and drove until finally I reached where I wanted to be. I began to walk, to run. I only brushed my father’s grave with my fingertips as I passed by. I cannot recall when it was that I tied it, but I held the knot in my hands and approached the tree so tall that it would be the dream of any boy to climb it. Underneath the tree were two men. They slowly lifted their heads at my arrival. The other half of my father’s cross was tossed at my feet. Here I am, smiling. Laughing at a small, hand carved piece of wood. I looked at the men, and they looked at me. I can judge that the distance was about 10 yards, yet one man, now standing, saying something in a whisper, pointing at me with something odd, managed punch me in the gut. He punched me 3 more times, only shifting a finger. He was a cartoon, then a drawing. Some child he belonged to had forgotten to color him in. I am looking at this water, or some liquid that I cannot tell the color of, coming from me. I wanted to touch him and found my left arm unresponsive. I 90


touched his shoe with my right hand; what a beautiful thing touch is. It is as if this whole world is the feeling of this leather, nothing else. Here I am, sinking. Falling. Trying to hear the whispers through this thick darkness. I smell eternity; and already I am missing that beautiful touch. I woke up against a tree. There is a little wooden “T� in my hand, and a rope tied into a gorgeous knot above me. There is a very large ball of light just over the other trees not far from me. I do not feel the need to breathe, so I will not. I think I will stay here. My last thought is a faint memory, something once whispered to me by someone. Although I feel a hint of sadness, I think it is time to go back to sleep.

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CHAPTER 3

I’m claiming the right to be unhappy. - John the Savage, Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

92


SIERRA

The Ending Never Changes The news was sudden, but her dad couldn’t afford to pass up the job offer in California. Elaine was an only child living with her father. Her mother died 10 years ago when she was seven. She was a quiet person who usually kept to herself, especially when her mom passed. But Elaine lived in a small town in Nebraska named Chambers. The population is 270 people, and word gets around fast, everybody knows everybody. Elaine always had suspicions about this town though, it always seemed…different. People always act strange, like they have something to hide. She was extremely curious and couldn’t help herself but to wander off and go on adventures. Her adventures were both in a metaphorical and literal way. Being very shy, Elaine wasn’t a people person at all. She would usually sit in her room and would get lost in a book, a fictional adventure. But she also went on outside adventures a lot. She searched for everything and anything. Elaine always searched for an answer, and frankly sometimes she didn’t even know what the question is. She was extremely smart and was what I guess you would call a ‘geek’. She didn’t have many friends and was made fun of a lot for her appearance. Elaine was very tall and lanky, with long dark brown hair. She was very independent though, she could care less of what people thought of her. She was moving anyways and hopefully shed get a new start at her new school. Since it was Elaine’s last day here, she figured she should take her last adventure here. She decided to take one last stroll through her neighborhood. She was stoked when she remembered about the old abandoned house in the very back of her neighborhood. Elaine had walked by it multiple times before, but never had enough time to examine it, before it became too late. This house was very secluded from the rest. It was surrounded by woods and was far away from any other house. It had an extremely long dirt driveway with broken chains and rope off to the side, as if it was meant to be closed off. As Elaine passes by the trees, she 93


notices little signs etched into the bark, looking very ritualistic. She traveled along the windy pathway, pacing herself up the steep hill. She finally came around to the house, which sent chills up her spine. The essence of this house was very creepy and suspicious. There was a wraparound porch that was starting to erode away. All the windows were bordered off, as if there was a tornado warning. The shingles on the roof were almost all completely gone. Clearly, no one has tended to this house or the decaying window boxes filled with just dirt. There was a musty smell in the air, a non-pleasant aroma. Elaine cautiously advanced up the stairs, taking precaution to not hurt herself. She comes to the plain wooden door with no window or peephole. Obviously whoever lived here didn’t want anyone to see inside for some certain reason. Elaine put her hand on the rusty doorknob and pushed, to thrust the door open. It was looser than she expected, someone has definitely visited here recently. The door swung open and slammed against the wall. Elaine walked in the house to find the most peculiar room she’s ever seen. A bare, empty room is beheld in front of her, only with one single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, swaying back and forth. Directly underneath it was a large wooden chair with straps hanging from it. Everything flashed before Elaine’s eyes. She started to question what she was getting herself into. She walked further into the room, only to creep herself out even more. To the left, was an old kitchen with worn-out appliances that looked like they haven’t been used in years. There was an old gas stove that looked like it barely runs and a giant rusted sink. But the thing that caught Elaine’s eyes the most was the knives. They were everywhere. Multiple knife racks on the countertop, knives hanging from a rack on the ceiling, and drawers filled with knives. No matter how uncomfortable she felt, she kept on going. Elaine started to walk down the narrow hallway and stopped at the parlor on the right. As she walked in, she ran her fingertips against the red stained walls. She sat down at the make-up vanity and peered into the mirror. Behind her, the wallpaper was torn off in little sections, as if it was a last attempt to escape or fight back. On the exposed part of the wall was a different layer of wallpaper with a strange message on it. A message Elaine could associate with. On the wall, the words ‘the 94


ending never changes’ were plastered. That very moment Elaine staggered. She was confused as in why that was there and scared if it meant something. Strangely, it relates back to when her mom was alive. They would watch their favorite movie together, Titanic. Elaine used to watch it all the time and her mom would always tell her, “No matter what, the ending never changes.” Elaine then started to get flashbacks of her mom’s unsightly death .She stumbled back and tried to catch herself by putting her hand down on the vanity. But the vanity wasn’t very stable, it collapsed right along with Elaine. She could feel some sort of liquid slowly spewing out on top of her hand as she tried to sit up. She realized she cut her hand on the broken glass from the vanity. Elaine got up to go wash her hands off in the bathroom. She walked into the bathroom and closed the door behind her, feeling more secure. As Elaine washed her hands, she noticed framed portraits hanging on the walls. There were about twenty pictures of young women and under each picture were a number of hours. The scary part was, the longest amount of time was 5 hours. Elaine was extremely baffled at this moment. She knew that very second that she should get out of there. Right as she turned the faucet off, she heard the door slam. Her face immediately lost all color. Before the person could even find her, she scattered out of the bathroom and hid behind a chair next to the fire place.The person must’ve heard her footsteps pitter-patter on the floor. “Who's There?” There was a silent pause. The chair Elaine was behind was dark brown and leather, with scratches all over it, it even looked chewed on. “I’m not kidding around. Who’s there?!” There was another silent pause. The chair also had a haunting feature, handcuffs attached to it. Elaine could have not been more frightened. “I’ll give you three seconds to reveal yourself.”

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Elaine was crouched down near the fireplace, which had a weird stake inside, as if it was to cook something large and overly sized in it. “One.” She also found pieces of charred skin on the bottom of the fireplace. “Two.” Elaine couldn’t believe her eyes. “THREE!” As she leaned in to examine the fireplace, she fell over and knocked over the fire pitchforks. Just as she fell, she saw a lady shoot dagger eyes at her. Her heart was beating a million miles a minute as the lady paced towards her, “There you are, you little rat!” Everything seemed to go in slow motion. Elaine scoped out the lady. She was tall and pale, and had ratty black hair, which was quite intimidating actually. Elaine got up to escape before she could get to her, but it was too late. She was trapped in and there was no way out. The lady grabbed Elaine by her waist and threw her down onto the chair. As the lady chained her hands and her feet tightly to the smelly brown leather that reeked of blood,she spoke, “You know, I haven’t had someone like you in a while.” A tear slowly fell down Elaine’s face, just as the intimidating lady lit a fire in the fireplace. How ironic did it feel, as if Elaine was in one of those horror movies that always have the same, horrible ending. The lady shot Elaine a little smirk, “Let’s see how long you last.”

96


KATELIN

It Should Have Been Me I. The alcoholic beverage. It sloshes back in forth in my cup; if I dance too quickly it drips from the edge. Like I care at all. Wiz Khalifa’s words pound into my ears like an atomic bomb. Something wet begins to touch the back of my neck, I realize it is Jason. I turn around, he grabs my waist and our lips touch. He tastes like beer, or I taste like beer. “Let’s get out of here,” he gave me a wink. He grabs my hand and we follow the maze out of the sweaty crowd. As we make it to the car, he pulls out his keys and looks at me questionably. I shake my head, I’m okay to drive. I shove the keys into the ignition; it takes a few tries to start. I turn the radio to full blast and pull out of the driveway. Speeding down the long and windy road, no one is in sight. Out of the corner of my eye I see Jason put his seatbelt on. I begin to laugh at him uncontrollably. “Have a little fun in your life, would you?” I reach over the console and unbuckle him. He frowns at me. “Could you worry about me later, and just keep your eyes on the road? You shouldn’t be driving as it is.” His arms flew up in frustration. “Just pull over so I can drive.” He pleaded. The lines on the road begin to look like a slur of yellow paint. In the anger of the moment, I find myself reaching a speed just over 80 miles per hour. The faster I go the better I feel, I push the gas pedal down a centimeter more, and it feels fantastic. The trees are moving left and right faster than I’ve ever experience. Jason begins to scream. a tree appears in my headlights. I reach my foot for the break. But it’s too late. I wake up in a patch of gravel. Everything hurts. The pain in my body is like an expanding fire. Using each part of my skin as an accelerant making the fire bigger. I get to my feet, and realize what had happened. I see a trail of blood, my blood I think. I slowly follow it back to the car. OH MY GOSH. At this second I 97


finally understand where I was, and what had happened. I run to the car and feel my way through broken glass and shards of metal to find my boyfriend’s body. I find a patch of soft fabric, his shirt. I move my hand up, finding his cold face and eyes open. I kiss his bloody lips, but true loves kiss will not fix this. Jason is dead. Jason is dead. Jason is dead. Jason is dead. Jason is dead.   II.   I clutch the phone in the palm, of my hand, waiting for a call. My son has never been late a day in his life. His curfew is twelve thirty and the clock is continually ticking, making him later and later. He always comes home at least a half hour early to show his father and I respect.  I understand he is capable of taking care of himself, but this hour makes me nervous. The bars are starting to let people out and the dangers of the night are creeping into my mind. Ever since he started dating that Kim, his life has begun to go downhill. Traffic. That’s all it can be right? But why isn’t he answering his phone? I press the digits to his phone number a final time and press the phone up to my ear. “Hi you’ve reached Jason, but I’m currently unavailable right now. Please leave a –.“ I hang up and start to become furious. Where is he? The phone jumps out of my hand as it begins to ring. I answer as quickly as I can. “Excuse me is this the Hanson residence?” “Yes, this is Mrs. Hanson.” “I’m afraid I have some unfortunate news, we believe your son has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, could you come and identify the body?” The words slowly slip from the crevice of my mouth, “yes” The phone falls from my hand and smashes to the floor. My straight A student is no longer alive? At just seventeen years old? Jason will never experience so many milestones. The tears start to engulf my face and I can’t think straight. But one thing is certain. This is Kim’s fault, she killed my baby.   98


III. I hate parties. How does Kim even enjoy this? I peer through the crowd and find her. Wow is she a beauty. Her blonde hair falls down her shoulders and stretches to her back. Her white smile is contagious. I sneak behind her and bring my lips to her neck. There is only one way I’m leaving of this mess. “let’s get out of here.” I grab her thin waist and kiss her. God she tastes like stale beer. How much did she drink? I pull her through the nasty crowd, finally allowing myself to break away this dinghy place. I pull my keys out of my pocket and make the ‘do you mind if I drive?’ look. She obviously wasn’t that comfortable. She grabbed the keys and got into the driver’s seat.               What did I just agree too? She drives like an animal on drugs. I quickly grab my seat belt, the only thing I could control about my destiny at this moment. She reaches over cackling like a hyena. She unbuckles me. What? Who does something like that? I attempt at confronting her. Before I can reseat belt myself a large tree appears in the headlights. As I’m about to comment, the car begins to squeal. Heavily using the breaks. I close my eyes because there is nothing to do but wait. This could be the last time I live.                 I’m bleeding. A lot. Kim is nowhere in sight, and I’m stuck in a pile of metal and glass shards cutting into the major organs of my body. I’m sticky with my own blood smeared on my face and everything else.  I feel like there should be pain involved, but my body is numb in lack of blood. I’m missing my left leg, it’s somewhere in the cool metal. There is not much of the car left and the same goes for me. Darkness is coming closer to me, and I try to keep my eyes open. It begins to become a challenge to stay awake. I manage to find my bodily function and make my lips move. “God, please help me. Let me see my mom one last time.” And that was the last of my energy. The darkness sucked me into a dangerous sleep, where I would not stay alive much longer.

~~~

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IV. “Hi my name is Kimberly and it has been three months since I killed my boyfriend in a drunk driving accident.” The other members of the group clap for me and some nod understandingly. Like they understand. They don’t get anything about me; they don’t get who I was and who I am. They can shove their prissy little understanding right up their own – “So who is next?” Mrs. Nasque asks. “Look, I don’t care about anyone in this room and what they did to get themselves here. I’m going to my room.” Mrs. Nasque looks at me not approvingly. “This is a safe zone, and you’re violating that right. Please sit down and engage with the people around you.” She explains in her belittling psychologist tone. Bet she learned that at Harvard. Here’s something she didn’t get at college. I raise my middle finger to her face. “Excuse me” she interrupts my cuss. I stand and walk to my room.  My parents threw me into this home, after the accident. I haven’t seen one of them since. The cost to live in this institution is more than a small home, and I can only imagine how my family lives now, but I wouldn’t know. The walls are painted white with colorful murals painted on every corner, trying to bring a nonexistent happiness. The staff pretends to be happy as well, always lit up with an overwhelming smile. But we all understand they are professional liars. I am served three small meals a day consisting of slop found at the bottom of a freezer. I don’t have one friend, because no one is friendly and I am not friendly. There is a large lobby at the front of this endless building, with white tile, a large sofa, and many plants. It always remains empty, not one visitor to come intrude into the lives of the “mentally endangered”.  I walk through the halls seeing girls ripping out their own hair, murmuring hurtful things to themselves. I hear constant knocking over and over, I never question it though. I walk the halls expressionless, It has been months since I have experienced emotion at all. My life no longer feels like a life. I’m just here, living for no reason at all.

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After reaching my room I go to my freshly made bed and reach under my mattress. After searching for a few minutes, I find the item of choice. A razor. I take it to my wrist and slowly slice through my delicate skin. Red ooze begins to drip from my cut. The grief starts to fall off my shoulders. And now for another swipe, and another. The smile becomes clear on my face as I begin to feel good once again, and not care about what I did to Jason. Jason? Another cut. I didn’t mean too. Another cut. I’m sorry. Another cut. How can I be this bad of a person? Another cut. I rush to the bathroom and shove my fingers down my throat, and solid chunks push their way up my esophagus. The gag feels good. Like it wasn’t my fault Jason is dead. I brush my teeth and just cry to feel pain. I am certain that I will never get better. What I did, cannot be undone. ~~~ “Hi, my name is Kimberly and it has been five months since I killed my boyfriend in a drunk driving accident.” As they do every single day, they begin to clap for me. I sit down and cross my arms. They just don’t get it, why would you clap for me I’m a monster. I am a cold blooded creature who puts everyone else’s life under mine. Group begins to finish up and I stand and walk back to good ol’ room 238. As I step through the hard wooden door, my first visitor appears. “Hello Kimberly.” She whispers sending a cool shiver is sent up my back. “Hello Mrs. Hanson” I repeat the gesture. I stare into her distressed eyes. Wrinkles forming all across her face, in lines that tell the story of her son. “Actually it’s Miss Smith, I’m a divorced woman now.” She holds up her hand to show her ring less finger. I gulp down whatever it is in my throat. “I’m sorry to hear that, Miss Smith.” There is a pause for a few seconds before she chooses to speak next. “Well it is your fault of course; you ruined my son’s life, his parents, and their marriage.” Did she come here to ruin whatever of a life I still had? Did she come here to remind myself of the pain I put myself through every day? Did she come here to remind me that not even my parents have to come to visit me once? That 101


my entire world crashed around me and that no matter how much I want to forget, no one will ever love me again? Well guess what? She didn’t need to come here to remind me, I do a well enough job on my own. “Excuse me, do you mind if I go to the bathroom?” she nods her head. She must think I’m extremely rude for just walking out like that. I’m too selfish to even face her. I trudge into my small bathroom, and reach into my bath robe pocket. I pull out a box containing the Nyquil I smuggled into this place. I haven’t needed it yet. I’ve been contemplating for weeks, but it just didn’t feel like the right time until now. I fill a glass with water; and pop one of them out, and push it down my throat. The second and third come faster than the first. I continue to pop the green pills out of their packaging and shove them into my foaming mouth. I look down at the package for more, but it’s empty. Nothing looks right anymore, the bathtub begins to come closer to my face. I see a black shapeless figure in the room next to me, touching me. The force is too great though, it takes over my body and my eyes close. ~~~ A soft beeping noise fills my ears. My head hurts like I’ve never experienced before. It feels like someone has taken a hammer and slammed it as hard as they could into my temple. I try my best to open my eyes but something is forcing them shut. I also attempt at motion, but nothing happens. I’m trapped under thick black guilt. Voices, I hear voices. I try to scream for help, but yet again nothing happens. “I’m sorry Ms. Nolan, but she is not getting better. She is stable now, but we don’t know the outcome” Who is this man determining my own fate? I try to tell my mother I am fine, I’ve never tried so hard to wake up. I hate myself more now. I couldn’t even kill myself. I can kill Jason, I can kill his parents’ marriage, but I can’t kill myself. I am a monster of destruction. I had made the decision to be dead, and that’s what I want. I no longer want to feel the air in my lungs. Or what it’s like to see a field of grass. I no longer want to experience what it’s like to be kissed by a mother, or hugged by a father. I don’t want to be loved by anything. I want to be dead, just like Jason. I want to put his family in justice, knowing the beast that killed their son is no longer around. I hear a group of people murmuring, “This girl is a psychopath. She killed a boy in a car accident, we’ve found nu102


merous cuts on her wrists, she overdosed on drugs, and her esophagus shows extreme signs of bulimia.” A judgmental woman announces. Someone cuts her off, “No, you have it wrong. This girl is special, she should have died that night, but god saved her. Now she is just wasting the life that was saved.” I begin to weep. . The weariness begins to lift of my and I can finally open my eyes. The tears fall from my eyes, is this real? People start to crowd around me, most of them I don’t know. But I do recognize one person, and that’s Miss Smith. She smiles at me and whispers in my ear, “The other day when I visited you, I came to tell you that I hated you, and that you would never make it up for taking my son. But I changed my mind, I forgive you. I underestimated the fact that you were upset as well, so I’m sorry.” She gave me a kiss on the cheek. A sorrow is finally lifted from my chest, and for the first time in five months I feel satisfied.

~~~~   “Hello, my name is Kimberly Nolan, and when I was 17 years old I killed my boyfriend in a drunk driving accident. But I didn’t come to visit your school today to tell you not to drink and drive. Although you shouldn’t, I came for much more than that. I came here to teach the value of life, and how no increment of time should be wasted.”

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SAM

In the Nick of Time I have always been an outcast; an outcast with a secret. For as long as I can remember, my friends have been nonexistent. Aside from others not graciously accepting me, I have to be careful with who I accept in my life. I can not have others finding out my secrets. My daily routine is fairly consistent. I get up, dreading having to go to school and facing the solitude I know is to come. Throughout the school day, I remain silent, only murmuring words in a hushed voice when I am spoken to by a teacher. Lunch comes around, and I find myself longing for acceptance to a table and having people I can at least look like I am friends with. Everyday, I am unsurprised when I end up finding myself sitting alone at a table in the back left corner of the cafeteria, a ring a empty tables surrounding me. In a way, I am content with my solitude, knowing that my secrets can not be revealed, but on the other hand, I also wished to have just one person I could at the very least converse with. I am trapped in my own nightmare of a fairytale. In the acceptance of my loneliness, I did not expect my social circle to change. This is exactly where I was wrong. It was just an average Friday when my first period teacher introduced the new student to the class, Lucas. He was not the average boy; I had an overwhelming sense that he was different. Without thinking about it any further, I continued to work on my assignment, but not letting the thought of Lucas leave the back of my brain. Later in the night, I lay awake in bed, dwelling on the thought of this new boy Lucas. I had not taken much note of his appearance; his short black hair, gleaming blue eyes, moderately tan skin. He was handsome for being only 17, looking older than his age. All I wanted to figure out was what stood out to me so much when I first saw Lucas, why was he so . . . different?

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My mind dwells on thoughts of Lucas. My thinking is interrupted by the sudden outburst of laughter coming from down the street, where it is still so clear even though it is in the distance. A group of boys is hanging out down the street, having a bonfire. I try to hide my jealousy of their friendship, even though nobody is around me to see the small beginnings of tears that I have to fight to successfully hold back. Monday comes, and I notice that Lucas is sitting by himself at lunch, hidden in the corner of the cafeteria, like I am myself everyday. Great, I think to myself, somebody who can relate to me. With a sudden boost of confidence, I make my way over to Lucas and his table full of empty chairs. Cautiously approaching the table, not wanting to come on too strong, I take a seat, leaving one empty chair between myself and Lucas. “Hello,” I say, a slight smile on my face. “Um . . .hi . . .” Lucas says hesitantly, sounding quite confused. I pause for a minute, not wanting to sound too blunt, but before I can think, I find myself ranting. “I noticed you were sitting alone, and I came to give you a little company. I’m going to be honest, I’m an outcast, and I really don’t have friends to call my own. You see, unlike the rest of the people in this cafeteria,” I pause, gesturing to the many others flooding the room, “I’m going to be courteous to you. So here I am. I’m Andrea.” “Thank you, I suppose. I’m Lu-” he begins. “Oh I already know your name, you’re Lucas. I’m in your first period class. Not to sound blunt, but I had a strange feeling about you when you walked into that room on Friday. You are different. I do not know how, yet, but I’m determined to find out.” I hope that Lucas will stay content, hope that he won’t think negatively about me. Just then, a thought comes to me. I decide to try something, something I had only been able to accomplish with my father. I think Hello Lucas. Just after I finish my thought, Lucas’ head shoots up, a surprised look on his face. He avoids eye contact, not wanting to give anything away. I try again, Lucas, can you hear me? Lucas turnes to face me. 105


“How did you . . . you can . . . finally someone else . . .” Lucas seems to be at a loss for words. I have cracked the code to Lucas’ mystery. “Are you . . . you know, telepathic?” Lucas questions, keeping his voice down, even though the closest bystander is a good fifty feet away. “Well considering I’m pretty sure I just hacked into your thoughts, I’m going to let you figure out the answer to that question,” I say sarcastically. “I’ve never met someone else like me. I have always been . . . an outcast.” I hear the word outcast dwell in my brain. Finally, the chance to come out of my solitude has revealed itself to me. I have found someone who can relate to me, understands me. Lucas and I spend the rest of lunch perfecting how to lock into each others brains and communicate through our gift. Before parting ways, we establish that in the periods to comes, we will try to communicate from a further distance. Sure enough, Lucas and I are communicating from opposite ends of the school building. As the weeks pass, Lucas and I are communicating nonstop. We are becoming the best of friends. We have learned everything about each other over time, from the names of our parents, to what schools we previously went to, to even what fantasies we have thought of. We know everything about each other, or so Lucas thought. I have neglected to share another one of my secrets with Lucas. I have finally found someone who understands me, connects with me, someone I can call a friend. I do not want to lose this newfound happiness. One day, I decide that I am done hiding behind my secrets. Lucas deserves to know the whole truth, know the Andrea that has been locked deep inside  me for so many years. Walk home with me when school is over. I have something I want to show you. I inform Lucas. Will do, chief. Lucas quickly responds. I can see the small joking grin that I know is on Lucas’ face and cannot help but grin as well. 106


After school, Lucas and I meet up, as planned, and we walk home together. After patiently making small talk for a few minutes, Lucas finally lets his curiosity get the best of him. “Alright, what was it that you wanted to show me?” Lucas asks. “You will see, the timing needs to be better,” I respond, grinning, knowing that the anticipation is killing him. We walk together for a few more minutes, until there are several people walking the streets and cars driving by. “Now.” I says out of the blue. “Now, what?” Lucas says, confused. “I’m going to show you, right now.” I grab Lucas by the shoulders and turn him so that he faces the people and cars in sight. All of the sudden, everything stops moving, like Lucas and I are in a still picture. “What in the world just happened? Everything just . . . stopped . . .” Lucas is lost, yet in complete and utter awe. “Did you just . . . Alright, explain yourself, right now.” Lucas demands, trying to sound like he is in charge, when clearly, he has no idea what situation he is in. “Well, you see, the thing is . . . How do I put this simply? I can freeze time. I am in complete control. I choose when to freeze and restart time and those who freeze with it.” I explain so nonchalantly, as if the ability to freeze time is just another day. Lucas is awestruck. He can not think of anything to say other than, “Whoa.” I start laughing, first as a small chuckle I try to hold back, then I grow less aware and start laughing with joy. “What?” Lucas says harshly. “You should see your face! You don’t even know what to say!” I mock him so that he can see the shock that is written all over his face, clear as day, like the bold title on the cover of a book. “Well how would you react if someone threw a curve ball at you and said, ‘Oh, by the way, I can control time itself. Let’s just stop time . . . Now.”

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“Well would you rather I kept it a secret? Because I could have done that, easy. I was so nervous to tell anyone, even you! I-” My words are cut off by Lucas’ mouth as he kisses me so suddenly. Completely taken by shock, I quickly pull away and shout, “What was that for?” “I’ve been wanting to do that for a while now. Ever since the day you approached me at that lunch table, I knew we would come close. I knew you were different. I didn’t know how, but I was determined to find out. Sound familiar?” He whispers in my ear. He steps closer to me, our faces are now only inches apart. “You trusted me enough to share something with me that was so big, so important, something you’ve never told anyone before, besides me. I know you feel the same way, you must.” He leans in closer and touches his forehead to mine. “Am I right?” I lean in and give Lucas a quick kiss, then draw back. “I’m going to let you figure out the answer to that question.” Lucas smiles, remembering how I had said those exact words to him the day that we had met, the day we established our friendship through our telepathic minds. I unfreeze time, and the people and cars that were once still come into motion once more. Lucas and I walk hand in hand back to my home. Standing on the doorstep, Lucas questions, “When do you plan on freezing time for us again?” He grins, and it is clear that he enjoyed our day together. I step into the house and close the door, leaving a barrier between myself and Lucas. When the clock doesn’t strike, I think. I’ll be there.

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L AUREN

Write It On My Arms I collapsed on the stairs. “Honey, are you okay?” my mom yelled up to me. “Yeah, Mom, I’m fine.” The words rushed out of my mouth in a quick mumble as I picked up my books and scrambled up the stairs into my bedroom. I ran inside and shut the door quietly, so I didn’t break Mom’s rule. I threw my books and backpack across the room and slammed against the door, sliding down in a heap on the floor. My hair was frizzy and all over my face since I had to walk home today. As I sat here on the floor, tears spilled out of my eyes. But I wasn’t even thinking about anything in particular. It was more of a natural reaction. I finally picked myself up off the ground and hurried to my desk, tearing the drawers apart until I found it. “It’s not here!” I screamed in a hushed tone. I completely ripped the drawer out of the desk and tossed it across the room. Finally, I thought. The last drawer I check. I open the small white bottle and pour out two round pills. Without even thinking about it I shove them down my throat. I breathe a sigh of relief and feel my shoulders relax. Finally home. I let my body go, bouncing onto my cheery pink bed and I watched as all my old stuffed animals flew up around me from the impact. I’ve got to get rid of those stupid things. Suddenly, the sun peered out from behind the clouds, pouring sunlight into my room, directly into my eyes. “Ahhhh! Stupid sun!” I shout, and tear down the blinds in an attempt to block it out. I can feel the pills kicking in. Things are starting to become normal. For now at least. I jolt up from my bed and pick up all the stuffed animals that fell off. I shove them into my closet and slam the door. “Molly!” my mother shouts. “What?” I snip back. “We don’t slam doors in this house!”

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“Whatever, Mom!” Why can’t she ever just leave me alone? Our personalities couldn’t be more different. My mom is the happy-go-lucky neighbor you just can’t ever get rid of. And I’m the neighbor that you never see. I guess that’s not so much of a bad thing. At least I’m not the annoying one. Although I think Abigail and her friends would disagree. Abigail. I remember when we used to be friends. What a joke. Sometimes I wonder if she was ever actually my friend, or if everything was just one big plan to crush me. It used to be Abigail, Tina, Casey, Sammy, and Molly. Now it’s just Abigail, Tina, Casey, and Sammy. And Molly is just left in the corner, all alone with nothing to do and no one to talk to. It didn’t have to be this bad. I could’ve moved on to a new group. But that’s not how Abigail wanted it. And what Abigail wants, Abigail gets. -- “Hey, Molly,” Abigail says in her snotty voice as I walk into English class. I ignore her, which is what I do most of the time. But for some reason, it never works. I try to take my seat two desks behind her, but Abigail wasn’t done yet. “Gosh, Molly, I wish I could let you sit there, but today that’s Tina’s seat.” I look over at Tina and she’s smirking at me. “Mr. Monroe gave me this seat,” I mumbled out. “Well now it’s Tina’s seat. Move,” she snaps at me. I stumble out of the seat quickly, and look around for another seat. Of course, by this time almost everyone is here. I’m forced to sit alone in the corner. Figures. “Good morning class, how are we?” Mr. Monroe smiles as he walks into class. He glances over at me. “Molly, why aren’t you in your seat?” I open my mouth to answer, but I’m cut off. “Mr. Monroe?” Abigail pipes up in a sugary sweet voice. “Tina offered to take Molly’s seat because Molly said she’s more comfortable in the back.” “Is that true Molly?” Mr. Monroe asks me. Abigail, Tina, Casey, and Sammy all whip their heads around at me and give me their dirtiest glares.

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“Ye- Yeah,” I squeak. “Okay then.” Mr. Monroe claps his hands together. “Let’s get started.” I try to pay attention to the lesson, but I’m lost in my thoughts. I really love English I do. Writing is my escape. But not so much anymore. Nothing is my escape. I’m stuck in the black hole that I’ve been living in for the past seven months, and there’s no way of climbing out. The bell rings. I pick up my stuff and start walking out. Unfortunately, walking out of the room means passing Abigail and her friends. I can hear their voices get lower as I pass, and I fiddle with the strings on my hoodie to try and look less awkward. I don’t think it worked. Once out of the room, I hear a huge burst of laughter, most likely at my expense. I try and forget it, and walk into the cafeteria. I get in line to pick up the usual slice of pizza and cup of old fruit in some kind of juice with a dented carton of milk. I’m in line for no longer than five seconds when I hear Abigail’s shoes click clack up behind me. My whole body tenses and I can feel myself losing control. She puts her hand on my shoulder and slyly smiles at me. She’s taken the control away from me. “Molly, don’t you think you should walk a little bit faster?” she whispers in my ear. I look in front of me. There’s a big gap, and the cashier is watching me, waiting for me to take the steps that I’ll never be able to. Abigail removes her hand off my shoulder, and I walk up and pay for my lunch. “A little slow, this one,” Abigail tells the cashier as she points at me. They all laugh, even the cashier. As I turn around to apologize to Abigail, I lose control of my plate of food. Just my luck, it lands all over Abigail’s clothes. “AGHH!” Her high pitched scream stops the whole cafeteria. Everyone turns. “YOU FREAK!” she screams. “You’re going to pay for this,” she snarls in my ear in a voice so quiet only I can hear. She storms out of the cafeteria with her friends right behind her. I pick up my tray of food, or what’s left of it, and toss it in the trash. I walk quickly with my head down over to my table and slump into my chair.

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“You OK?” Bradley asks me. I just shake my head. “You’ve got some fruit juice on your sweatshirt,” he tells me. I grab some napkins and roll up my sleeve to dry my arm. Bradley glances over. “Whoa, what happened to your arm?” He’s looking at the dashes across my arm. I realize what a stupid mistake I’ve made. “Nothing, nothing,” I mutter and quickly pull down my sleeve. “I don’t feel good, I think I need to go home.” “Moll, you’ve already gone home twice this week.” He stands up as I start walking away. “I just don’t feel good!” I yell at him, and I throw my hood over my head, stick my hands in my pockets, and walk out. The nurse let me go. Of course she did, I’m a master at faking. She probably thinks I have a long-term illness that I’m battling. Works for me. As I walk up to the house, I see Mom’s car isn’t in the driveway. So she’s out and Dad’s at work, and I have no key. I walk to the back of my house and find the window we always leave open. I take out the screen and push the window up, then climb inside. Once I fixed the window, I went upstairs to the only place I felt safe. My room. Once there, I rip off my sweatshirt and stand there in my tank top. After checking to make sure no one’s home, I take it out of the drawer. Everytime I think about doing it, it gets less and less scary. I’m not even afraid anymore. I look at each side to make sure it’s clean. Of course it is. I washed it after last time, which was yesterday. It needs a good sharpening, but I can’t afford it. So I use it as it is. I inhale a deep breath and take it to my arm. I watch in pain as three drops of ruby red liquid stain my bedroom floor. After a couple of seconds, a clear drop joined them. The drops spread out in all different ways, crawling into the cracks of the wood floor. It hurt bad, but I’ve felt worse. I took it to my arm again. This one was double the pain, but in a way it felt good. I was about to go in for a third round when I heard the door open. I mumbled a couple swears under my breath as I ran around my room, wrapping the knife in paper towels and stashing it in the drawer. I frantically rip off two sheets of paper towels and mop up the mess. Lastly, I wrap my arm up with bandages from when I sprained my arm, which

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were now covered in blood from all the uses. I try to do all of this quietly, but Mom hears me anyways. “Molly?” “Yes, Mom?” I shout back as I open my bedroom door. “Why are you home?” “I think I’m sick again.” “Oh honey, I’m so sorry. You just rest in your room, I’ll check on you later.” Oblivious. Sometimes I’m thankful she never picks up on it, but other times I wonder if she just doesn’t care. She probably doesn’t, I mean no one does. It’s okay, I tell myself. I’m used to being alone. -- It’s Friday. To normal fifteen year old girls, this is the best day on the planet. They get to hang out with their friends after school and have fun the whole weekend. To me, it’s just another day. I suppose it’s one of the better days, considering I get the next two days off. But it’s still nothing special. I try to walk into the school unnoticed. You would think this would be easy, with me being someone who is easily forgotten. But Abigail keeps one eye out for me the whole time, never missing an opportunity to tease me. I walk in wearing my usual baggy clothes. The four of them come over and start circling me, like predators about to pounce on their prey. “Molly, do you ever wear clothes your own size? You just walk around here all mopey. Maybe that should be your name, more suitable for your personality,” Abigail slams me. Tina, Casey, and Sammy all laugh. They’re still circling me. “That’s your new name, Mopey.” I can feel myself tearing up against my own will. They see me too, and they stop in front of me. “Molly, stop being such a wimp. You’ve brought this all upon yourself. You don’t deserve to walk through these halls, you don’t deserve friends. Maybe you should just kill yourself.” Abigail tosses her hair, turns on her heel, and struts away with her posse behind her. Maybe I will, I think to myself. 113


Maybe. -- It’s been three days since then. Throughout those three days, I’ve gained nine new stories on my arms. All written about that one moment. I almost took her advice. I don’t know why I didn’t. Just this weekend, I’ve broken two knives, overdosed on my pills, and screamed at my mother twice. I know she’s worried about me, and she’s hurting. But I can’t stop. I’ve sincerely lost control of myself and I don’t know how to handle it. Bradley and I are studying together in the library today after school. Should I say something? -- We’ve been studying for 45 minutes. He’s reading a section aloud from our history book, but I’m not listening. He figured out that I’m not listening, and looks up at me. I think he’s losing control, too. “What is wrong with you lately, Moll? I always wait for you after school so we can walk home together like we used to, but you never show. You never talk to me anymore.” I look up at him and open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes. I silently pick up my books and start to walk away. I can feel his eyes on me. He’s the only one that has been here for me, and now I’m leaving him behind. In an adrenaline rush, I spin on my heel and speed walk back to the table. I quietly place my books on the table and sit down. After a couple of seconds, I wordlessly pull up my sleeves and show him my arms. He opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. -- Bradley told his mom, who then called my mother immediately. I knew that this would happen, obviously Bradley wanted me to get help. But for some reason I was still shocked when Mom and told me she signed me up for a support group. I was expecting something more along the lines of going to the doctors and strengthening my medication.

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Today is my first meeting with the group. I am dreading it almost as much as I dread going to school. It’s not like this group will help me, I don’t know if anything can. But I guess I’m going to find out. I open the door, and everyone’s heads whip around to see who is coming in. I scan the room, taking it all in. Everyone looks like normal teenagers to me. My eyes land on one small girl. She looks about 10. It startles me that she’s here. She’s too young to have to be dealing with this. “Welcome Molly, we’ve been expecting you,” the instructor says. “Everyone this is Molly.” “Hi, Molly,” everyone mumbles monotonically. “H-Hi.” Of course, I can’t speak a full sentence without stuttering for my life. I tried to slip into my seat nonchalantly, which actually works for once. The next hour goes by quickly, as everyone tells their stories and relates to each other. I didn’t say a word the whole class, I was too busy soaking up everyone’s stories. They have it so much worse than me. One boy has switched schools eight times, just trying to avoid one person. Another has attempted suicide four times. Occasionally some of the other kids look over at me, waiting for me to share my story. Luckily, the instructor never made me say anything. As soon as the session is over, I run outside to the car. Mom asked me how it went, and all I said was okay. But it’s much more than that. Their stories made me realize that you can’t ever let someone push you around that much. That’s much easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. -- I haven’t been to school in two weeks. I haven’t used my knife since then, either. As if I had a choice. Mom doesn’t keep knives in the house anymore ever since she found out. I don’t blame her. Now we can’t cut our chicken during dinner, and we’re forced to take bites of it from the fork. It’s weird, but kind of fun.

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Ever since I told Bradley, he’s called me everyday. Sometimes he visits me, but he has hockey after school, so it’s rarely. I have to go back there tomorrow, and he’s going to walk me to every class. I don’t know what I’d do without him. But I still feel like I can’t do it. -- It’s time for English. Bradley just walked away, and now it’s just me and the door. I push it open. I made sure I got here extra early so I can sit where I want. Soon after I sit down, Abigail walks in. “Molly, I was wondering where you were. I thought maybe you did us all a favor and killed yourself.” Tina, Casey, and Sammy all laughed. But no one else did. I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. But this time, it wasn’t because I was too scared to say anything. It was because she isn’t worth fighting with. She’ll never stop, even if I do stand up to her. -- “Bye, Bradley!” I say, with even a small smile on my face. A smile that’s been dormant for a long time, but feels better than ever to come alive again. “See you tomorrow morning,” he says, and returns my smile. I carry my smile all the way inside. “Hi Mom,” I say, and give her a kiss on the cheek. “Oh, hello sweetheart.” I can tell she’s taken aback by me. I think it’s in a good way this time. The stories on my arms are slowly fading, and I can proudly say I won’t miss them. Even though they represent a big part of me, it’s not a part I want to remember. Although I’ll never be able to forget Abigail and everything she put me through, it may be a good thing that I don’t. I want to remember this time and everything I went through as something that made me stronger, even if it had to make me weaker first. I may not be fully recovered yet, but I’m on my way. And that’s all that matters.

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My mom and I always watch The Ellen Show together everyday at 4PM. It’s kind of our tradition now. So I swallow my two pills and sit down next to my mom on the couch.

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E M I LY

Pianissimo When Kristen tries to remember music her body is filled with an aching pain, a misery too deep to just be categorized as emotional. She knew that the best memories her struggling brain could bring up were cheap imitations, watered down from the reality that was severed from her. Only a few months had passed and already everything she lived for was disappearing. What a horrible goodbye. Every chord, every single note had been her way to let alleviate all problems and find salvation. She was filled with a purpose and there was beauty in her world. After the accident she was terminal, separated permanently from her only source of medicine, it was impossible to heal. Right after the accident Kristen was filled with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. In the hospital denial and sleep, sleep and denial, became her existence; with the exception of her omnipresent visitor, Pity. It lurked in everyones’ eyes, shadowed all their smiles and soiling their written words of encouragement. Kristen felt she would have drowned in Pity, been smothered by it, but she learned that anger fended it off. Anger replaced the denial and foreboding, it became her soul feeling. Her friends, with increasing frequency, found excuses to stop being around; and her parents became distant, afraid that she would erupt into another moody outburst. Kristen was no longer the vibrant and intelligent girl that they had all known and loved, she was gone. She remembered that fatal moment with the first doctor, when it was first explained what her life would be like until the day she died. For her to understand he had to write his part of the conversation on the medical board. “Kristen, the damage done to your brain in the accident is what caused the loss of hearing.” Instead of writing she pretended to be normal, and used her voice, “It’s just a temporary loss right?” Even though her mouth was moving and she could feel it shape out the words, there was nothing, the absence of noise was disconcerting.

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He started to write, “ The damage done was too extensive and-” She repeated, but this time she was louder, the vibrations in her throat more intense, “Isn’t it just temporary?” Her mother patted her on the back and said something, forgetting again that she wasn’t able to hear. The others could hear the desperation her voice, “Isn’t it?” Her heart felt like it was being squeezed through the vacuum of space. Slowly he wrote out the words, those words that would snuff out the flame of her final hope, “The loss of hearing is permanent. I’m so sorry. ” A normally nonviolent person, Kristen had to restrain herself from lunging at the doctor and attacking him. Surprisingly there were no tears, but that was mainly because she didn’t believe him. She thought that it must have been his fault, there had to be something that could be done, he just wasn’t trying hard enough. In her imagination he died a thousand deaths as punishment for his lying, and her hearing was rightfully returned to her. Her suspicions turned out to be false, after numerous doctors telling her there was nothing they could do, the message sunk in. Every time the doctor would say the inevitable Kristen’s mother would try to swallow her tears, and fail. Even worse was her father who would roughly pat his damaged daughter on the back and stand unblinking, hiding his true thoughts, and she knew they were consuming him. Her parents were slowly realizing the burden this would be, everything would change because of this, and it dawned on her then too. She sat at her old piano, her fingers slowly caressing the keys, and she thought how beautiful it was. Before, it did not exist in the world of sight, it was a thing simply meant for the ears and nothing more, but now that was gone and the illusion shattered. Kristen was able to recognize how it was a work of art in craftsmanship. The paint job had lost it’s shine over the years, the black slowly dulling, but it miraculously hadn't chipped in any places. The curve of the piano, how she must have been blind to miss it’s beauty!

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How she wished she was blind now, because she did not care what it looked like. She used to be so familiar with it, but now it was a stranger to her. She lifted the lid and saw the underneath where there were over two hundred strings, in a row and ready to be pressed into action. At five years old she knew she wanted to be a pianist, she knew that it was her purpose in the world. The first time she heard one was at a concert with her grandmother, and the whole orchestra couldn’t compare to the one piano. It was perfection with every measure in the song, it did not play beauty, it made it. “Kristen,” her mom said, “taking on an instrument is a big responsibility and we’re not sure you are ready for something that demanding. There’s a lot to learn and it wouldn’t be immediate playing. Maybe in a few years, after you thought about it, you could take it up, but for now you couldn’t possibly understand what you want.” “Your mom’s right sweetie pie,” chipped in her dad helpfully. Her response was, “Mom, it made me feel so happy.” “Kristin,” her mom continued, “you couldn’t possibly know for sure that you wanted to do this after just one concert with your Nana.” “Mom, you should have heard it. It was so pretty, I really want to play,” she said, her voice trembled with immense enthusiasm she couldn’t effectively put into words. With the lid of the piano still open, she tentatively pressed one of the keys and watched the strings vibrate underneath. It was moving and she knew that she should be able to hear something, some noise, anything. “Please,” she whispered. Her eyes tried to absorb what her ears could not, tried to picture what was happening and hear it in her mind. It was not the same. Anger rose with the taste of bile in her throat. It did not even bring up a memory, after just a few months it was finally lost to her. She struck another key, this time with more aggression; and there was nothing, just the meaningless sight of the vibrating strings. She hit another key, and another, but there was still nothing in her heart except the misery and anger. Her hands reached out and started to slam multiple keys down at once, 120


the sound should’ve been echoing around her, deafening even. Her mother hurried into the room with a stricken expression; for a split second Kristen saw shame, but that was quickly covered by her mask of forced peacefulness. Again her mother tried to talk to her, whether it was words of comfort or a question, she didn’t know; all she saw was a jumble of mouth movements. “I can’t hear you!” she screamed, the feeling in her throat was more apparent without the distraction of sound. “Why can’t you get that through your head?” If Kristen hadn’t turned her back, she would have saw her mother calling to her, trying to reach out between the chasm that divided them. She sprinted up the stairs into her room. When she was a child she reveled in the heavy thunk her feet would make upon each step, it seemed to carry out the message that she was angry. Well, she was furious and yet the thunk was missing. Locking the door behind her she went to her desk, took out the piece of paper in the closed drawer, and lay down on the bed. At the age of eight her parents still insisted she was too young, but her grandmother believed her. She was the one who introduced Kristen to the piano, and it seemed right that she was the one who also gave it to her. Her parents had no reason to feel doubt though because her first lesson with the private teacher was amazing. “I truly believe your daughter is a prodigy, truly” Mr. Rechord exclaimed to her astonished parents. “After only a few hours she has started to pick up on all the beginner songs, and is asking for more advanced ones already. I’ve never seen anything like it, except maybe with me. She is simply fantastic!” “Is she really?” her mother asked breathlessly, if not a little surprised. “Oh yes, I think she will soon be moving above my second, or even third year students. Her energy is unparalleled with anyone, except me of course,” he told her. “Are you sure this is her first year of learning?” Her dad answered, “We just got the damn thing last week!”

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Tears streamed down her face and splashed onto the piece of paper that was being clutched in her trembling hands. She had just gotten the admittance into Juilliard when the accident happened. She was driving home from her friend’s house, they were celebrating because they both got into their first choice schools. Her life was on track and everything was going as planned, but when that truck slammed into her at an intersection, she was pushed off the track. Her seatbelt was on, saving her life, but the airbag malfunctioned. Her car barrel rolled down the highway, colliding with three other vehicles, and finally slid to a stop five hundred yards from the initial impact. During that entire time her head was like a pinball bouncing around in a game. The driver of the other vehicle was fine, without a single scratch on his mean, inebriated head, but she was in the hospital for around a month and a half. It was a miracle she wasn’t comatose or paralyzed, but on the other hand, she was stripped of her dreams. The paper was still clutched in her hands, she looked at it for a moment longer and then ripped it to shreds with a sob, because she knew it was mocking her. The pieces floated calmly down onto her unmade bed, into her snarled hair, onto the cluttered floor, and into her bloodshot eyes. How she despised her pointless eyes! In her world beauty was heard, not seen, she was left in an ugly world. They were a trivial thing, not worth having. Now she had to rely on them, now that she was deaf, and use them as a crutch to put her life together; but that would be like solving an incomplete puzzle, there are missing pieces and therefore no solution.   The tension became too much, she could feel her heart bursting at the seams, and she knew that this was just some nightmare. Real life couldn’t be this dreadful, and to prove it she lifted her fingers to her ear and snapped. Instead of hearing the noise she desperately wanted, she felt it, she could feel that something inside had finally snapped. All the frustration, and grief, and rage that she had internalized and kept coiled tightly inside her, burst through the barrier of her sanity. Her logic was destroyed, and with a shuddering breath she started to scream. Time escaped her, she was lost in a world she didn’t belong to anymore, and the only thing left was her torment. She decided she was going to scream until she heard something, anything. All the while her parents pounded on the door, begging her to open up, but she didn’t hear that either. 122


ZEKORY

A Patriot’s Story June 17th, 1775 Boston, MA. On Bunker Hill, a soldier under the name of Nathaniel Greene aimed down his sites at the oncoming redcoats. For the first hour of battle the Colonists were running low on ammunition, they attached their bayonets quickly and the brave colonists charged the elite redcoats as a last resort. As Nathaniel Greene ran downhill, a portal or black hole appeared just ahead of him sucking him in with ease. As the portal controlled the journey of Nathaniel Greene, a twist of history began to change with it‌ One hundred and seventy years later, in 1945 The Germans have unleashed new weaponry on the allied forces, this weaponry had made allied front lines disappear as they were beaten back. The Germans swept the Atlantic and invaded the United States. By the end of 1945, the Germans claimed an empire that stretched from its allied Japan across the map to the west coast of the United States; however the Germans applied strict martial law and control over its subjects. For seventy more years America will become a wasteland-poverty stricken, and a technological revolution begins. The year is now 2020 In the German states of America; migration of German citizens to the U.S is an endless endeavor to assert the German culture amongst the enslaved Americans. Propaganda continued to alter the minds of those who might have thought of joining the rebellion. However, there was a dwindled resistance looming in the poorest of cities and suburbs, led by a former marine named Maethus whose few attempts have barely damaged the powerful German military or government. The only way the resistance was able to continue to fight was through fellow Americans, who donated as much as they could, when they could, but it only 123


helped a little as more and more resistors abandoned the cause. On the German side, they continued a campaign to shackle and expose resistance fighters, punishable by death. And soon were able to set up a raid on the safe houses of members. Maethus quickly ordered evacuation as hundreds of German police stormed the streets and captured fleeing resistors. Maethus burned the plans of the next attack, and jumped into the alley. Suddenly the city block began to shake wildly like an earthquake, the safe house collapsed, and the Germans fall back to safety, and Maethus escapes up the street. As he we was running, a smoke cloud burst and a figure shot out from the darkness of this black hole. The figure stood up and looked at Maethus and asked where he was. Maethus responded as if the guy was crazy, but cautiously asks if the man is a German, and he introduces himself as Nathaniel Greene and the two decide to retreat to the outskirts of the city to an old abandoned car factory where others were gathered. Greene was astonished by the modernized civilians, and he wondered why they appeared and acted this way. Maethus and Greene had then talked about what had been going on since the war for independence in the 1700’s. As Greene wandered the factory he realized what hardship the modern Americans were facing and was convinced enough to join the resistance as Maethus’s right hand man. The two then began planning for the next assault on the Germans at the capital, Washington D.C. as the rebels trained and prepared for every detail and possible outcome of the fight the main objective was to recapture the White House and then retake America. It was a bold thought, but the resistance was up for it. The morning of the attack, a silent intensity was in the hearts of the rebels as they scattered and took up positions all over the city to avoid suspicion. Maethus and Greene ordered the communications and power to be cut signaling the attack to begin. Rebels appeared out of every building in the capitol sending shots ringing in the streets at the Germans who were completely surprised and retreated to defend important locations in the city. In a matter of minutes, the city was consumed in a cloud of fire and warfare. Maethus and Greene took their troops and began to march on the White House where the German high command was hiding and commanding the occu124


pation. Now at the gate the Germans are dug in all over the front lawn of the site. However, the detailed planning the resistance had done was to also place explosives in key points of the city, some undetected all over the Whitehouse and surrounding areas, quickly destroying the defenses. Soon, waves of rebels charged across the yard into the Whitehouse unopposed. With ease the resistance liberates the Whitehouse and capital from the Germans! However the one who had raised the flag on the roof of the Whitehouse was Nathaniel Greene who had fallen in the midst of victory, but he didn’t go without a fight, he surrounded himself with German soldier’s bodies. Hours later, the remaining Germans surrendered and a funeral was assembled for the fallen patriot. And a year after that Maethus had successfully liberated the rest of America from the Germans, and our independence was won.

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CHAPTER 4

The universe tends to unfold how it should

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ALEX

Just Like My Father Did This place I call my home, some would consider nothing but a shack. No, we don’t have a lot, but we have each other. I live in a small little house in a small little neighborhood. I live in a rather poor town, but I don’t mind. It’s all I know. All the houses look the same, but are all damaged in their own ways. Most have a cracked window or two, and it’s the ones without those windows that look out of place. The houses are close together too, with only a few feet or burnt grass in between. Luckily, I have good neighbors. But some others aren’t as fortunate. The houses don’t cost that much, so they attract some bad people. Lets just say that the windows don't get cracked on their own. I live with my mom, my dad, and my little sister Abbi. The house is small, but we don’t mind. We are a close family, and couldn’t live without one another. My father and I are the closest of us all. He treats me like an adult and values my opinion, unlike most of the adults around here. Abbi and I are pretty close too, but we are sisters, and we do have our occasional fight. It’s never anything major, just something like wearing each other’s clothes or taking each other’s phone charger. But that’s what we are supposed to do, right? My mom and I have never really been that close. It’s not that we don’t get along; it’s just that we have very different personalities. I am adventurous and like taking risks and she would rather just lay back and go with the flow. So that never left us with much to talk about. However, we were all very honest with each other. None of us are the type of people to keep secrets. Right down the street not even two paces away lives some of my closest friends. I would honestly consider them my family. My best friend Will, who is not much older than me, his many sisters and his mother live there. We talk like family and love and care for each other like family. We walk in and out of each other’s houses freely, just like it was our own. Our parents are friends, so there isn’t a day that

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goes by when we are all together. Like the rest of my family, we don’t keep secrets from each other either.        There was one thing that I knew was kept from the family. I always see my father run off to that strange building. I am not naive; I know what he does there. Why must he keep it a secret? It is nothing to be ashamed of. He must be good at it too, with all the beautiful paintings he brings home and sells to the others. He always says that people give them to him. Why doesn’t he admit that they are his? It is clear, well at least to me, that he doesn’t make all of him money at the corner store. His painting should be something he is proud of. I have talked about it with Will and he agrees. We both want to learn to paint like him. We would be able to support our family and have a little fun.         “Daddy!” I hear Abbi yell as the door opens. In comes my father, just getting home from a night of painting, no doubt.         “Hi Honey! How was your day?” replies my dad. I cannot take this small talk and pretending anymore. While thinking this, I must have had a weird look on my face. Because the next thing that was said was, “Bethany, is there something wrong?”         “Where were you dad?” I say, still thinking about the painting.         “I was working at the corner store, you know that,” He replies, still trying to use his coverup.         “No I mean after that,” I shoot back, making my intentions clear.         “Well, I closed up and came home.”         “No before that.”         “What are you trying to get at?”         Now was the best time to ask. I didn’t have Will to back me up, but I knew this was the best opportunity. “I want to learn to paint. So does Will.”         “Okay, how about tomorrow?” He says, ever so calmly.

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That was a lot easier than I thought. Why didn’t I just ask before? Thankfully, my father kept true to his word, and the next day he took us to the workshop.        “I thought this building was boarded and locked? How do you get in?” Will asks as we approach the run down mysterious building that I had seen my father enter before.         “Well, it is supposed to be closed, because it is probably unfit for people to be in. But the authorities have bigger problems to deal with here. And who would really even want to be in this place if they didn’t have to? That’s why my friends and I chose it, to use as our workshop. We can come here and just work, and usually are not bothered.” my dad replies.         As we enter the building, the walls are lined with paintings, which I assume are set out to dry. They are all so beautiful, no detail left untouched. As we enter deeper, I see all the supplies and empty canvases waiting to be turned into masterpieces. “When did you first start painting?” I ask as I continue to admire each piece I see.         “Well my grandfather used to do it. And when I was little, he showed me. I always had an interest in it, but my father didn’t. He said it was pointless, and basically an embarrassment. He really hated it, a lot. I never fully understood why, and still don’t. So when my grandfather passed away, I felt that I needed to carry on the tradition because my father didn’t. I wanted to paint, just like my grandfather did.”         “But your father didn’t want you to, did he?” Asked Will, a typical comment coming from him.         “No, no he didn’t. That’s one of the reasons he moved here in this little town. Here there was nothing artistic anywhere, other than the vandalism on the large brick buildings. That way he figured I would find a job at something like a corner store, and not an art workshop.”         “Which you did.” Will butted in once again.         “Yes, that’s true. But his plan didn’t fully work. Working at a corner store gives you the opportunity to talk to people, to get to know them. So I got talking 129


with some people, and began to learn the interests and hobbies. Sure enough, I met a guy who liked to paint. We got talking, and next thing I knew I ended up here. And I had been coming here every night ever since.”         “But why did you keep it from us? Aren’t you proud of what you do?” I then ask, my curiosity taking over.         “Well, this one is tough one to answer. Your mother knows that I paint, and she is proud of what I do. It does provide for our family, if you haven’t already realized. The thing is, no offense, you and your sister could not be trusted with the knowledge. You were just too young, and could have told my father. And then he would not want to be a part of any of our lives, and it just wasn’t worth it. I don’t know why he despises painting so much, and it was better left a secret from him., and you two.” Out of what seems like nowhere, he pulls out a small little stick with a cluster of hairs on the bottom. I have never actually seen one of these before. It was sort of like a pencil, but with so much more potential. Next to it was a plate-looking thing, with a million colors being mixed and blended to be created into more. It is hard to believe that such beautiful things could be made with a set of simple tools like these.         He then picks up the little brush and starts on a blank canvas. It starts as simple little lines, which in no time turn into people. Then the people turn into people I can recognize. It was Will and I. Then behind us, the little lines form again. Then they slowly become more complex, and turn into things I can once again recognize. It is the workshop. Then the little details get put on, ones that I would have not thought to include. Then this beautiful painting gets put up with all the others to dry.         Next was mine and Will’s painting tutorials. We learned the basics, just as my father had learned from his grandfather. We both caught on really quick. My father said we were naturals, and I believed it coming from him.         We went back to the workshop probably every day that week. Will and I slowly learned all of my father’s tricks. We learned how to first make the little lines that we had seen him do, then how to turn them into people. We learned how to 130


blend colors, and how to layer them to create certain effects. I know in no time that Will and I will be skilled enough to come here and do it ourselves.        One day a few weeks later, Will and I were waiting for my father in the workshop, knowing he would be closing the store up soon. But moments after we arrived, we heard a loud noise in the direction of the corner store. As soon as it happened, we both knew what it was; a gunshot. I was in shock, not knowing whether to run to it or run away from it.         Shaking me, Will yelled, “Bethany! He will be okay. We don’t even know what it is yet. It was probably on the street, and not in the store. Your father knows what to do if he ever got in a situation like that. You go find our mom and Abbi, and I will go see what happened before we jump to any conclusions.”         Barely making sense of what he said, I ran home. There I found my mother and Abbi, both crying in front of the TV with the local news on, waiting for any word on what had happened because they were not letting anyone close to the crime scene, at least not to girls like them. I tell them what I remembered Will saying to me, to say positive and things like that.         When the front door shot open, we all looked up in hope. But when we saw Will in the doorway with tears in his eyes, we all knew very well who was on the unlucky side of that gunshot.         After that day, my mother was never the same. She completely shut down: physically and emotionally. She would stay in her room for days at a time, only getting up for the occasional trip to the bathroom or to get glass of water. She was never much of a mother to me, but she did care for Abbi. Abbi and my mother had the kind of relationship that I had with my father. This left me to care for Abbi, and help her move on from this horrible situation. I was a child, raising a child.         Being the oldest, I took on some of the roles that my father had played. I felt that I had to carry on the tradition like my father had to when his grandfather passed. Will and I still went to the workshop to paint but it was not for fun anymore. It was to provide for the family, which was a job left for us. We would paint the best we could, and sell it to the people of the town like my father would. Most 131


of the people pitied us, and paid more for the paintings than they probably should have. But we were not the only people in this town with financial problems; therefore they could not buy as much as they wanted to help support our family. Selling the paintings was not enough to provide for my family and Will and I could not do this alone.        One day when my mom came out of her room for her daily trip to the bathroom, Abbi tried to have a conversation with her. I just sat to the side not saying a word, because I did not want to ruin any connection that Abbi was trying to recreate. But when I saw my mother just brush her off the way that she did and act like she was the only one that was affected by the loss of my father, I lost it.         “What’s your problem mom? Answer her! She is trying to talk to you!” I say, regretting in the moment it comes out of my mouth.         They both turn to me, with shocked looks on their faces. I can tell Abbi is afraid, knowing exactly what I am going to do. I feel bad for her, but my mother needs to hear this, and it is too late to back out now.         “What do you mean?” My mom finally has the nerve to spit out.         “She is your daughter that you have abandoned. She needs you, why can’t you see that? She is trying to talk to you! Just like you used to! Do you remember how to talk to people? Or has that left your mind, just like your two children.” I yell back, finally releasing a small portion of my anger.         “I haven’t forgotten, it’s just a tough time for me.”She says, which fuels my anger higher than it was before.         “We all lost him mom! He wasn’t just your husband, he was our father too! I can’t do this on my own. I am a teenager, not an adult! But it sure doesn’t feel like that lately. You need to get up and get over it!” Once again, as soon as I say this, I regret it. My mom runs back into her room, and Abbi tries to follow her, but gets the door shut in her face. Then she runs to me.         “I’m sorry Abbi, it had to happen. She needed to know that she can’t do this anymore. Trust me, she will get better. She needed to hear this.”

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Abbi stands in my arms and cried for what seems like days. And even worse, my mom doesn’t come out of her room for what was actually days.        After this night, I spent even more time in the workshop. It became a special place to me. It was one of the only ways I could feel connected to my father. But my mother did not ever get over what I said, and I had to get a job of my own. But sure enough, I came to this workshop everyday after work so I could provide for Abbi, just like my father did.

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ROBBIE

Something Better    Whenever his travels took him through this part of town, Tim Gray thought back on the good old days. He remembered his few days with his team, the days where everywhere he looked, he saw success, or at the very least, potential. He was one of these, a prodigy rising to the top of his game. He usually felt regret when he looked back, but for some reason, he had woken up that morning in a terrific mood. He felt as though he could turn his life around. It was a great feeling, knowing that you are on your way to something better. A patron entered his car, relieved to be out of the rain. He had learned to be friendly with the customers, and sports was the best way to do so. He had picked up a newspaper, and read all the headlines and now proceeded to talk about the coaching situations on the football teams, and finally they moved to basketball. The businessman in the backseat, having almost reached his destination, began to speak of the recent signing of Bill Hall to the local team. Bill was an old friend of Tim’s, one he knew from his old days in the league. They had been on the practice squad together. He was the one who helped Tim to his feet after he blew out his knee. That was the end of his time and bad luck had followed him ever since.  He had been off the team since then, never to play again. Such a small twist in his knee and his life was changed. The customer paid him and left Tim with a smile on his face. He had only twenty more minutes until he was required to return his cab. Just enough time to drive to the drop off.         After he returned his cab, he began his walk home. It was three blocks down the street. It was a dingy apartment, far less than he believed he deserved. The couches were stained and had a couple of holes. His kitchen was dimly lit and he could barely see enough to wash his dishes every night. The rugs on the ground were coming apart, worn through to the wood in some places. The ground was so dirty that you could see the dirt being ground into his fake wood floors. The ceilings had stains, most likely from a leaking pipe. 134


Once he had walked in and unwrapped a frozen pizza, he was called by a number he did not recognize. He rushed to put it into the oven and jogged towards the ringing phone. “Hello?” he said as he answered it.        The voice on the other side asked, “Is this Tim Gray?”         “Yes,” he answered uncertainly. He recognized the voice, but he couldn’t match the voice he heard to a name.         “This is Bill Hall, you might know my name.” Tim was beside himself with joy. They caught up with each other, talking for about 45 minutes. Tim finally said that it was getting late and he would have to finish this conversation later. Bill insisted that they meet the next day at his new apartment, downtown. That night, Tim Gray fell asleep with a relinquished smile shining brightly on his face.         The next day was the day that Tim reserved for himself every week. He picked Tuesdays because nobody ever went out on Tuesday nights and this was bad for his cab business. He figured that he might as well rest on the day that he wasn’t needed as much. He slept in until about ten, and then he made himself a couple of eggs for breakfast. He hung around for a couple of hours and then decided to drive his cab to Bill’s. Bill’s apartment was located in a gated community in the center of town. ‘How funny it must have looked,’ Tim thought, ‘a cab making its way into a neighborhood for millionaires.’         He pulled into Bill’s driveway and parked his car. He walked to the door and rang the doorbell. He waited a few seconds and someone answered. It was Bill himself. He entered and they exchanged pleasantries. Bill told him that he had to get the tour. They toured around Bill’s new apartment and the place was a sight to behold. It had everything an elite professional athlete could want. He had a huge kitchen, an even bigger living room and an eighty-five inch plasma television screwed to the ceiling over his bed. There was a game room, almost as big as Tim’s apartment. It had a full-sized basketball court with a rack of balls, ready to be played with. It had a pool table, an air hockey set-up and a ping pong table on the far side of the room. It was fully staffed, with a maid and a chef from a culinary school in southern France. Bill told Tim that he hadn’t seen the best part yet. The best part that Bill spoke of was his personal masseuse. The house was exactly 135


the way that Tim would have done it for himself. It was exactly the house they had dreamed of since they were little boys. It was the house Tim still dreamed of. He had the life Tim still wanted.        That night, he met his friends at a local restaurant. His group of friends wasn’t the best group of people to hang out with. They were the leftovers from all the other groups, the other members having settled down. They were the only ones who would still go out on a Tuesday night. And there was a reason they hadn’t settled down.  They talked about Bill’s mansion and the life he had. They were all jealous and wanted a life like his. These were not the nicest people in the world either. Their conversation turned to how they could get that life. One of them, jokingly, said that they should rob a bank. They all laugh, and subconsciously, Tim lets two words slip. “If only” One of their group, Mike, replies with a completely serious, “I’m in.” Mike always acted as if he had something to prove. He was overconfident in himself and his abilities. All around the table, they say that if they were seriously going to do this, they would help out. Over the next three months, meeting every Tuesday night, they finalized their plan. One in the group, Dave, worked for an architecture firm. The firm had just built a bank near the airport. It was the main branch of a huge bank. The plan roughly came into focus in the back of Tim’s mind. Dave would obtain the plans by making copies in secret. Dave had always been a good-natured person and they all were surprised that he had complied with the plan. At about nine-thirty, they would enter the bank wearing clothing a couple sizes too large. This would provide a discreet place to smuggle out their stolen money. They decided that they would access the vault through a hole blowtorched through the bathroom wall. Mike would bring the blowtorches and carry them into the bank. They would enter the vault and pack as many bills as possible into their duffel bags and pockets. Then, they would duct tape the remaining money to their chests and legs, invisible to guards because of their huge clothing. They would look suspicious, but they would make a break to the airport into a car waiting for them outside, which would be driven by Tim. At the airport, a private plane would be waiting to be driven by another one of their friends, Joe, who is a pilot. They would fly nonstop 136


to El Salvador, where they would be safe from the US government and anyone that had any interest in them or what they had done. Finally, the day had come. Tim finished his rounds on Monday night and settled in early, to prepare for the day ahead. They met that morning in a coffee shop to go over the plan one last time. Tim never liked coffee, but he figured that he could use the caffeine. It still tasted terrible, regardless of the benefits. They talked for about twenty minutes, checking and rechecking that each and every small detail was in order. Mike had brought the blowtorches, Joe had filled the tanks and rented a small plane to transport them to Central America. They all handed Joe a small suitcase with enough clothes and toiletries for a short while until they would be settled in El Salvador. They began their plan just as they had hoped. Everything was ready, and it appeared that luck was in their favor. The blowtorches were easily smuggled in a briefcase that blended in with their pinstriped suits and ties. They looked no different than a couple of financial workers, destined to a life of just counting their money. To some of them, that is what they believed would happen. They taped an “OUT OF ORDER” sign on the bathroom door, turned on the fan to mask the sounds of blowtorching and began burning a hole into the vault. It took almost ten minutes of four thousand degree temperatures to burn through, but finally, they were in. They loaded the bags up, stuffing each duffel bag to the rim with thousand dollar packages. Then, they taped themselves in a blanket of bills. Dave finished and put his suit on again, over the money taped all over him. “Jesus, you look like you weigh seven hundred pounds,” Mike told Dave. They all laughed. They didn’t laugh because it was funny, which it wasn’t, but because it calmed their nerves. They felt better releasing the stress that had been in their blood since that morning at the coffee shop. Once they had all they could carry, they went back into the bathroom and began phase two. Phase two was their escape. The exit of the bank was the least thought out part of the plan. They just grabbed two heaping bags each and tried to walk calmly out the front door. There was no chance of this ever happening. They were asked to stop and just started running for the door. Tim started his taxi 137


just as everyone piled in. He took off for the airport in haste. Tim had perfected his driving skills over the years, and now he needed to show his full potential. He swerved in and out of traffic, and drifted around the corners. He arrived at the airport and drove through a fence onto the runway, completely skipping the security checkpoint. He raced down the runway, heading for the plane, which had just been filled to a full tank of gas. They took no time at all to board the plane with their bags of cash and outrageously big suits. Joe had already loaded their bags into the cargo area. It was finally going to happen. They would get the life they had been wishing for this whole time. They would not only get the life that Bill had, but theirs would be better. Theirs would be on the beach. They would need to have someone to build them a huge house, just outside some vacation area. They would get surfboards, and spend the rest of their days on earth surfing and relaxing on the crisp, white sand and crystal clear water. All of their other needs would have to be mailed in, sent to them by a couple contacts they would send their address to. They would send a postcard, saying that they were having a great time to Joe’s friend. They would send him some money, and he would send back a sort of care package, to keep themselves connected to the outside world. They sat in the soft leather seats and looked at each other. Around the circle, Mike, Dave, Tim, and Joe began to smile. They could not believe that it had actually worked. The group of misfits had pulled itself together, set their hearts on a goal, and accomplished it with a small amount of effort. As he looked back at the airport, he was he felt as though he had turned his life around.  It was a great feeling, knowing that you are on your way to something better.

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MIRANDA

A New Found Love I don’t know how I got here, who I am or what I’ve become. I remember brief glimpses of a beautiful woman holding the one thing that made me proud. I remember his cries and his smiles and the sound way he slept in her arms. We were Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Ryder. Our son’s name was Liam. I loved them both. I would have done anything for them as long as I knew they were happy and safe. Then I saw the whiskey. I saw the way it lured me in; the way it called me and convinced me all the hardship, all the pain would go away after a glass or two.        We were young and in love. We wanted something made from the both of us to hold and love and raise to be different from the lives we led. We realized we weren’t ready when the pregnancy test read positive. I was in college to be a history teacher and she aspired to be a lawyer. Money was tight and we both had to drop out to create the best life possible for our unborn baby. I became a service station attendant and made barely enough a week.  She was a police officer and made enough, but it took her months of hard work to get there. We ended up moving to Huntington, West Virginia.         I looked back at that bottle of whiskey I bought when I dropped out of school. There was about half a bottle left.  I figured I’d finish that soon and so I bought another one for later. I lied to Joanna and told her I was going to pick up some milk, when I was really going to pick up a new bottle of whiskey and visit and old friend: the bar. Joanna never liked the fact that I liked to drink. She has never tasted a drink stronger than red wine in her life and she refuses to.         It was a cool night where the moon shined on the town and danced on the water. The bars were lit up and raving with country songs. There were newcomers, regulars and people who just wanted to have a good time. I walked in, had a few drinks and don’t remember much else about the drinking.                                        

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I came back at 2 o’clock in the morning and she was asleep on the couch, I presume waiting up for me to get home. I stumbled in the doorway and awoke my beautiful wife by the thump of my body hitting the floor. She sprang up and caught me in her arms. Her fingers traced my eyes and forehead. She kissed my face lovingly. I saw a tear roll down her cheek and hit mine. It was a warm, wet, salty tear. I had never seen my love cry like this before; I had never caused the tears. I stared lovingly at her then I looked away while she brushed her cheek with her hand. I stumbled to the couch and she draped a blanket over me and then ambled up the stairs. I fell asleep instantly and woke up to the smell of Joanna feeding Liam his formula. You could see the stress draining her body each time he cried. I could not fight the guilt I felt for last night, however I could never conjure up the words to apologize; something I will regret for the remainder of my life. The same situation happened every night for the next three months. She gave me looks every night but we never seemed to converse about the problem. One day when I woke up, she was standing over me. “What happened to you?” Joanna asked me, wanting to understand why I’ve been getting drunk every night. I haven’t slept in the same bed with her for about three months. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I responded.  I didn’t want to confront the situation. I didn’t want to see and feel the pain she’s been feeling because of me. I just couldn’t do it. “I want to understand. It’s getting to the point where I can’t play the happy wife act anymore. Our son is almost 12 months old and he barely sees his father. You have never put him to sleep. You don’t wake up in the middle of the night for him, change his diaper or feed him when he’s crying. You can barely make it to the couch, let alone the bedroom. I’m tired of going to work and coming home to a babysitter with my son without a father because he decided to drink all his pain away. If this happens again, I’m leaving you and I’m taking Liam with me. I don’t want you a part of our lives anymore. You aren’t the father he needs and you’re just dragging us down. I don’t need two babies to take care of in this house.” Joanna went on. 140


“I didn’t realize how much I’ve been affecting you like this. These months have just been going by so fast I guess I just forgot about how much you both need me. I just don’t know what to do to stop. I have nothing anymore.” Daniel responded. Her voice started to rise as the rage grew within her, “You’ve missed your son’s first steps, his first smile, his first word. It was mama. You haven’t been here, not for me, not for Liam! Either you get your act together, or there will be two rooms empty when you come home one night and you won’t feel my hands against your face or me rubbing your back as you throw up all the whiskey and liquor you’ve used as a gateway for your pain and suffering. I fill my life with happiness from Liam. I wish you could say the same.” She sat down and all the bottled up tears flowed down her face as she muffled the sobs with her hands. “I’m so sorry Joanna Claire Ryder. I didn’t realize. I love you. I promise I’ll be here more. I’m addicted and I need to stop. I’m missing the life of my boy growing up and you’re beginning to hate me. I won’t do it anymore. I’m coming home after work tomorrow; to be with you, to be with Liam.” He went to her and hugged her, kissed her and held her for the remainder of the day until they fell asleep together on their bed for the first time in three months. The next day, after work, he couldn’t resist the brand new bottle of whiskey in the back of the cabinet. He poured himself a glass as Joanna walked in the door with as many groceries as they could afford, about two bags. She stared at the glass in his hand and the pain and hurt returned to her face. She gently placed the food on the counter and ambled up the stairs. She came down later and stood in front of Daniel. “I can’t handle this anymore. We’re leaving tomorrow morning. If you want to say goodbye, do it while you’re still sober.” She turned around and went into the nursery of the crying baby. He went to go to him, but she pushed him away and said, “It’s too late now; you’ve ruined it all for yourself already.” He woke up in the morning to an empty house and no noise but the buzz of the refrigerator light he neglected to fix. It was real now. She had left him. All he has ever known was gone, moved on and never returning. He was alone and he had made it that way. 141


*** Over the next six years, I reverted to drinking, sleeping and working. That was all I ever did. I couldn’t stop thinking about Joanna and Liam and how they might be doing right now. I wanted to know if they were safe and living in a house with food and warmth. I couldn’t let them go. I wanted to, but I still loved them. I will always love them. I walked to the bar one day and looked at the TV for the first time in a long time and saw that a woman police officer was killed. They wouldn’t release the name, but I knew by the town that it was in that it could have been someone in Joanna’s unit. I threw down enough money to cover the drinks I’ve had and called a cab to go home. I got home and saw the police cruiser outside my apartment. They stopped me and began, “I don’t know if you’ve heard the news, but Liam’s mother, who also happens to be your wife, was shot by a drug distributer whom she pulled over because he was speeding. She told him to pull over and get out of the car because she discovered meth amphetamine in the back seat of his car. He pulled out a gun and shot her in the head. She didn’t suffer much because she died almost instantly. I am so sorry for your loss. Liam is now an orphan without his mother and you are the only relative he has. Your son needs you to take him in. He’s in Charlestown, and you’re in Huntington. We can drive him and all of his things over to you tonight. He needs you.” “Uh, um, o-okay sure. Bring him over.” That was when I got the phone call. It was Liam. “Hi. Is this Daniel Ryder.” Said a small child’s voice on the other end of the phone. “Hi? Is this Liam?” I responded in a shaky inquisitive tone. “Yes. The police officers told me to call any relative I have. You’re the only one my mommy had in her phone book.”

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“Yes, they’re bringing you over to live with me tonight, I’ll see you soon Liam.” I hung up the phone. I began to sob, uncontrollably. Flashbacks to all the moments I came home drunk to Joanna and the tears she shed on my face. I thought about how much I’d hurt her and made her raise our child single-handedly and pay for my alcohol addiction. She worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met and she had to deal with me. I knew right at this moment what had happened on the TV screen. I knew exactly who was shot and I knew exactly why Liam was told to call his “father” if that’s even what I deserve to be called. I just collapsed. I fell to my knees and realized the gravity of the situation. I must raise a child whose life I haven’t been in for over 6 years. Joanna is dead and I never had the chance to apologize or make things right with her. My son must hate me and not want to be with me. I’ve been a drunk his whole life and he must have asked about who his father was. I wonder what Joanna told him. She either told him I was dead, or I left them, or she left me, or the whole truth. I couldn’t handle the stress of raising a child and I became a drunk who couldn’t support his family so his wife left him to create a better life for her and her child. I don’t know how Liam will react to me. He called me ‘Daniel Ryder’ not Daddy. I didn’t expect him to call me that because I was only in his life for 12 months when he was a baby and even then I wasn’t his father. I was never a good father. I have no clue how I will take care of him. He will be grieving, I will be grieving. I feel the guilt of what I did. I have all these years. I still haven’t forgiven myself. He arrived at my apartment around 9 pm and I was sweating buckets and shaking uncontrollably. He stepped out of the police cruiser and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He looked just like her. His blue eyes, chocolate brown pin straight hair, and his small mouth with a shy smile on his face. I could see here in him. He had a superman backpack on and a Pittsburg Penguins jersey. “Hi.” A shy smile spread across the boy’s face. 143


“Hey, Liam,” I responded, still in shock, “Let me take your bags. I’ll get you a bed in my spare room.” I brought him to the room and showed him around my apartment. I tried to make some small conversation with him but he didn’t seem like he wanted to talk. I went to bed that night without touching the whiskey. I didn’t think that would be right.        I woke up the next morning and found him with some toast and a glass of orange juice.         “Sorry, I didn’t go shopping for food recently. I don’t have much money and I try to conserve as much of it as possible. I can buy you like Fruity Pebbles or Cocoa Puffs. Whatever you want,” I tried to talk to him but he just nodded his head and said thank you. “I’m sure we’ll have to set you up with a school soon but I’m not sure what schoo–“ He stopped,  ran over and hugged me and started weeping into my chest. I just wrapped my arms around him and said everything was going to be okay. I remembered back to that time where Joanna told me all the things I missed of Liam. I won’t miss any more. I want to raise him and be the father I never was. I want him to be proud of his daddy. I will be that man.         “Your mother’s funeral is today and I figured we would go so we could say a few words. Would you like to do that Liam?” I questioned. He nodded to me.         We took showers and put on nice clothes. I taught him how to tie his tie. We hopped in the car and took a ride down to Charlestown. There was the funeral: the funeral of Joanna; the love of my life, the mother of my child. She was the only person I’ve ever cared about in this world before our son. I couldn’t believe she was actually gone. This is not going to be easy.         We stepped out of the car and I held in the tears ready to stream down my face. Liam started to weep and I just hugged him and rubbed his back, trying to comfort the helpless, vulnerable child. The funeral was filled with police officers and people I would assume were Joanna’s friends. There were a few words said as her casket was lowered into her grave and we waited for everyone to leave in order for us to say what we needed to say. 144


I began, “Hi Joanna. I know we’ve had our differences in our life, but I just want to start off telling you that I’ve never stopped regretting what I did. I never stopped thinking about how much I’ve hurt you and how much I’ve hurt Liam. I missed so much of both of your lives. I promised to myself that I would get sober one day and make it right with you two. I guess I never did that. When I got drunk every day, time kind of slipped away from me. But I can make it right now. Liam is with me and I promise I will try to be the best father I could possibly be for our son. I wish I could have done this earlier, but no one can change the past, but I will change my future. I love you and I always have. I have been given this gift, and I will cherish it. I miss you, and Liam does too. I will be his father. I promise.”

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C H AYC E

The Samurai Pit. Pat. Pit. Pat. Was the sound of the pouring rain coming down from the black sky. It was a stormy evening, when a sudden cry pierced through the heavy rain clouds, ending the fierce rain without hesitation. It was the cry of my innocent baby. However, he was no ordinary child. His cry had the strength of a gazelle, but he had the eyes of a lion. A powerful warrior is what he would become, a warrior with an unforeseen destiny. The baby would have a tough road ahead, one that only he could surpass using his mighty powers.        My baby began to grow and mature. He was only the age of 5 when the first tragedy struck him. Government soldiers were sent to our moldy, old wooden house. BANGBANG. The soldiers knocked on the door repeatedly. My husband and I began to scramble in panic. Opening a hidden compartment in the floor we whispered to the little boy “Son, you must go in here and hide until it is dark. Some bad people are after us, I want you to then find your way to the nearby town of Zohn. Look for work there and offer the employer you servitude in return for food and shelter. You must grow up here until you’re able to live on your own. Here,  take this” as I handed the boy a small box, while my husband was holding off the soldiers “once you’re old enough you will understand what to do with it, you will have a long road ahead of you and we will not always be here in front of you, but we will always be right here.” Were the final words the boy heard from me as she I to his heart. He climbed into the hidden room as I kissed him goodbye and shut the door behind him. BASH. The soldiers finally broke through the door, the clinging of metal sounded in every which way. Looking through a little whole in the wood, he saw in a moment of disbelief his very own mother (me) and father were taken from him by an evil man and a black sword. He was flooded with anger and sorrow. Avenging his dear mother and father were the only things in his sight. He harvested anger in his very bones, and his blood was consumed by enmity. 146


After hours and hours of crying and weeping the boy came to his senses. Still wounded from the death of his loved once he wobbly walked out of the cover at dark. He remembered every word I had told; travel to Zohn, find work, and offer his servitude for food and shelter until he was old enough to be on his own. He gathered what remained of his dismantled house and began his journey. Although he could not map the way to this unknown town, he had a strange feeling of direction.        Dawn arose and the little boy was exhausted. Practically crawling he decided to take a breather by a nearby tree. The tree was monstrous and as green as can be. He laid down upon a blanket of clovers. Picking away at the oddly shaped plants, he came across a special clover. He picked up the four leaf clover and held it up to the sparkling sun to get a better view. The 5 year old boy was amazed at the special clover as he thought of it as a resemblance of himself. Suddenly, in a stroke of luck a townsman riding in a horse-drove wagon stumbled across the boy. Seeing the innocence of the 5 year old he politely asked the boy “Need a lift?” The boy happily accepted. Finally, his luck was beginning to turn as he took another glance at his four leaf clover.         The men and child soon arrived in the town of Zohn. As they began to unpack the wagon the townsman said to the boy:         “You got any family? Parents? Sister or brothers?”         “No, my parents were recently murdered. I came here looking for work in hope to be adopted.” the boy said while a tear slide down his cheek.         “I’m sorry to hear that son. If its work you looking for I might be able to help.”         “Really! That would be great, I will do anything and promise to do my best at whatever it is at all times.”         “Something about you strikes me as unique, follow meet to my shop. You’ll be collecting firewood.”

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The boy was excited beyond measure that he had found easy work, while making a new friend. He would spend the upcoming years doing his work and becoming loved throughout the town.        Years passed and the boy lived with his loving adopted father (the townsman who gave him work). As the boy began to grow into a man he noticed some strange attributes. First, he was far stronger than anyone else in the town. He was able to lift 3 times the amount of wood than anyone else. Second, he was mentally smarter than anyone else. He was able to solve problems and use creativity the better than anyone in the town. Finally and most importantly, he was immensely brave. His bravery and courage was noticed by everyone in the town. People admired him, his natural leadership allowed for him to gain followers and confidence. However, he must learn to be able to control such power. Responsibility is the one power he must tame to be far more advanced than any other attribute. Without responsibility he will become corrupted with power.         The young man was doing some chores around shop when he came across a strange box. The man felt as if he had seen this box before. He picked it up off the dusty shelve and held it in his palm. Suddenly, as if in a dream he heard my voice speak to him. I spoke the simply words of “Fulfill you destiny, as you were meant to do.” Then the box swung open and a medallion and sword appeared. Once again I spoke to him “With these tools you will be able to defeat anything that troubles you, the medallion is in crested with the souls of your ancestors. They will protect you in your toughest times. And use this valiant sword, but only when you must protect others. Use these wisely and nothing will interfere with your triumphs, and remember you hold the future to this world in the palm of your hands. So be brave, wise, and responsible. Goodbye Son, I will welcome you home soon enough.” Crying from hearing the voice of his mother one final time, the man accepts his destiny and is determined to defend the greater good of mankind. He soon begins his tough and vigorous training to become a Samurai in order to be prepared for what is to come.         Over time, the Samurai began to lose focus as he lost faith in what was to come. But suddenly the ground began to tremble, fire erupted, and the air whirled at dangerous speeds. He knew this was the moment he had been waiting for. He 148


received word that a massive evil had rose in a distant town located near a treacherous volcano. He concluded that he must begin his long, 10 day journey in order to reach this evil and fulfill his destiny. He set off with nothing but trust sword, medallion, and the armor he wore on his back. By traveling light he would reach his destination faster. He traveled through the driest of deserts, the wettest of jungles, and coldest of tundra’s. His natural ability to adapt is the only reason he was able to survive through such tough conditions. Finally, in the distance he saw the peak of a volcano; the sky was dark, and strange red bolts of lightning struck down. The thick and dirty air filled his lungs causing him to briefly cough. He knew he could not turn back, he must continue for he was the only one who could succeed. He continued his journey, which was now almost completed. As the giant volcano grew larger and larger, so did the butterflies in his stomach. Soon enough he was at the base of this mighty volcano. Looking up he saw a giant serpent like figure rise out of the lava and ash. It was an ancient evil that obtained the form of a massive, 5 mile long dragon. This evil terrorized the people, fire spurted every which way, and darkness consumed the sky. The dragon spoke in between fire spewing fire breaths saying in his demonic language “I have come to rid the world of all life and make this world my won”  which means “I have come to rid the world of all living life and make this world my own, consuming it by fire and rage I will become the all mighty.” The Samurai never saw a sight so gloriously dreadful, he was both excited that he finally has met his match, but nervous of what might come if he fails. The Samurai rushed to the scene with his armored strapped tight, medallion around his neck, and sword sharpened to perfection. The dragon had his eye fixed on the young Samurai. Swooping and gliding through the air the beast thumped down onto the earth creating a massive shock wave, trembling everything but the Samurai. After moments of staring eye to eye the inexperienced Samurai took the first step and attempted to strike with a fatal blow, however the mighty dragon swerved out of the way with his great speed and attacked right back with a tremendous strike. Being knocked back and momentarily stunned the Samurai quickly learned that he must defeat the dragon using his mind instead of his strength. He quickly 149


glanced at his surroundings to look for any opportunities when suddenly the dragon struck him again. Flying through the air the Samurai was hurt. He realized that the only possible way to defeat the much stronger and more powerful monster would be to trap him in exile for eternity. He must trap the soul of the beast in the bowels of his medallion, the only place strong enough and capable enough to contain such an evil. He must then toss the cursed medallion into the flames of the volcano so no being is able to resurrect the evil. Escaping from the dragon, he began his ascend up the volcano. After hours of vigorous climbing he reached its peak. Once at the tallest point he yelled with such fierce power “Hey you weak reptilian you better come get me up here before make you!” and with the blink of an eye the dragon appeared before the Samurai. Knowing what he must do, the Samurai took put all his strength into one tremendous blow, weakening the dragon. While the dragon was weakened, I took my opportunity to speak to him saying “you must take this special medallion and hold it up the great evil, your ancestors trapped within will know what to do. But their souls alone will not be able to tame the evil, you must sacrifice your soul to the medallion in order to restore peace to the world and trap the evil forever. Do not frown, having special capabilities is a gift and you will save manly lives. We will welcome you with open arms, do this for the people, do it for your ancestors, but most importantly do it for yourself. Welcome home son.” Listening to me, he did exactly as I claimed, a sudden flash ran across the world. All evil seemed to vanish and disappear in the sudden downpour that came across. Pit.Pat.Pit.Pat. Was the sound of the pouring rain coming down from the black sky.

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ASHLEY

Save You Finally. I get to figure out what this stupid tattoo is going to be after waiting my whole life to find out. You see, I don’t want to be one of those people that finds a stupid hammer on their forearm and be stuck being a carpenter for the rest of my life. I want it to mean something more than that. I want it to be something I’m passionate about, or at least something I have some interest in. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life since I was a little boy. I was 8 years old when my brother Zachary got his tattoo. I remember squirming into my pajamas the night before his birthday, anxious to see what would be stamped onto my brothers skin for the rest of his life. His bed was next time mine. My Superman night light projected a glowing figure on the ceiling. Once we settled in, almost asleep, I peeked at my brother through one eye. “Zach...” I whispered cautiously. I did not receive a reply. Normally I would just leave him alone, but apparently this was very important to my 8 year old self. “Zachary!” I said a bit louder. “What do you want Parker?! I’m trying to sleep,” he shouted at me impatiently. I could tell he was irritated, but I didn’t seem to care. “Nevermind, I don’t want to bother you...” I timidly backed off of the subject. I hated when Zach was angry at me. “No, Parker. You got me up, now what do you want?!” He said, whipping his head around to face me. “Um, are you nervous? What do you hope it is? Your tattoo, I mean.” I curiously asked him. Minutes slowly passed by, as I anxiously awaited a reply. Finally, his calm voice broke the eerie silence. “I’m scared, Parker. I really am. I’m not going to lie to you. Knowing that whatever shows up on my body tomorrow will determine my life is a strange concept to 151


grasp. But at the same time, I’m excited. I want to change the world as much as this appearing tattoo will change my life. I’m just anxious. But get some sleep, bud. We’ll know soon enough.” I don’t remember him saying anything after that. Probably because I finally let my wandering brain rest. The next morning I woke up to my brother crying. His tattoo was a clock. What did that mean? How was he supposed to figure that out? I don’t know. Nobody did. But he had the rest of his life to find out.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Now it was my turn. My turn to get questions fired at me. To get asked what my hopes and dreams are before they’re crushed by whatever image focuses itself on my flesh. The clock counts down the seconds with each tick-tock. The clock was laughing and mocking me, taunting me with each minute that slowly slips by. I can’t sleep. Just like 10 years ago when I was waiting to find out what my brother’s future was. All of my family and friends were coming over tomorrow. This isn’t anything special. I see them all the time. Every day I come home and there’s a different relative or friend that needs a home laying on my couch. Everybody always turns to my mother, she’s the most giving woman out there. Sometimes I wish she was a little more assertive though, sometimes these people give me a headache. But there is one person I can’t wait to see. Her name is Layla. God is she beautiful. I’ve always been attracted to her for her glistening green eyes. That’s what I love the most about her looks. They way she looks at me with her green eyes, I can’t handle it. She has blonde hair. But not the blonde where you need to shield your eyes because it’s so white, but the golden blonde that women all over the world envy. We have been friends since elementary school. She’s been my neighbor since the second grade. I’ve had a crush on her ever since. But I think it’s evolved to more than a crush, I love her. She’s my everything, my world. I would do absolutely everything and anything for her. She’s always on my mind, all day, all the time. I’ve never felt this way about anybody else. I’m just not so sure I mean the same to her. 152


It’s probably the worst feeling ever, knowing the person you love doesn’t love you back. If anything happened to that girl, I’d be devastated.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

The stairs cried in agony as I tiptoed down into the living room. I could feel a group of eyes locked on me. Everyone was already there. What time was it? I could feel them all studying me, looking for the ink. “Can I atleast go to the bathroom?” I asked. Everybody nodded. In attempt to lift the awkwardness, my brother went in for a joke. “What, are you going to check if its on your -” My mother cut him off and gave him the look. You know, that look that mothers give that tell you to cut it out, or else. You never know the consequence if you ignore the look, but you know its bad. I waltzed into the bathroom, making sure to go extra slow just to irritate them all. I flicked on the light switch and stared at myself in the mirror. I still cannot believe this is the day. I knew the tattoo wasn't visible on my arms or legs because it would have been spotted all ready by the gang of detectives in the living room. I slowly lifted my shirt and thats when I saw it. That’s when I saw the black stamp peek out from under its hiding place. Smack-dab on my chest was a world, inked over my heart. A black circle outline covered my skin. Each continent was neatly outlined in its assigned position What was this tattoo supposed to tell me about my life? I threw my shirt over my shoulder, and jiggled the door knob. I could hear everybody turn quiet as they awaited my return. As soon as I stepped outside of the door, my mother instinctively jumped to her feet, ran over and gave me a huge hug. A whole bunch of questions and congratulations buzzed in my ear. But, there was one voice I heard over the rest. It was Layla. Her tiny arms wrapped around my body as her sweet little voice crept into my ear. “Congratulations Parker!” I hugged her back, and gave her a huge smile. “Now you’re an old man, with your tattoo and everything.” She teased me while playfully punching my arm. 153


“Yeah yeah yeah, you’ll be old with me soon enough, Layla.” I wasn't as good at making fun of her as she was making fun of me. “That’s true...but do you remember my birthday?” She really loved to test me. She always has, and definitely always will. “Of course I do! It’s April 24th, duh!” She smiled big. I loved it when she smiled like that. It was one of my favorite things ever. She giggled and walked away to share me with the others. I didn’t even know what half of these people were saying, I just nodded and smiled. That’s always a good way to get out of uncomfortable situations. Then, she finally came back and rescued me from these faces I’ve seen one too many times. “Hey, lets go do something!” My heart skipped. Was this a date? Am I overthinking things? “Of course! Let me go get changed.” I ran up the whining stairs once again, rushing to get ready. I ran back down the second that I was done, grabbed my jacket, and Layla’s hand, and ran out the door before my mother could stop me.

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

I couldn’t stop looking at her, she’s beautiful. We walked down the street to the beach. Cars zoomed past us, but time seemed to be going in slow motion. The beach was Layla’s favorite place to go. We used to go there all the time when we were little. “Let’s go swimming!” She tried to tug me into the water. “No, Layla! It’s so cold!” I tugged back. “Come on, you’re a baby!” she kept begging and begging me to go in. “Layla, I’m not going swimming! It’ll be freezing, and we don’t even have our swimsuits.” This is one of the only times I’ve said no to her.

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“Fine, I’ll just go in alone!” She smirked at me, ripped off her shoes, and ran into the water. First, she just stood there, waiting for me to go in too. But, that’s one thing she can’t charm me into doing. She slowly waded her way deeper and deeper, occasionally glancing back to see if I was coming in after her. “Dare me to dunk?!” She splashed the water with one hand as the other cupped around her mouth, attempting to amplify her fragile voice. “You can if you want to, crazy!” I yelled back. “Watch me! Count how long I can stay under too! Just like when we were little.” I could hear her smile in her voice. “Get ready...get set...go!!” I yelled out to the ocean. She plugged her nose and plunged underneath the glassy covering. “...33...34...35...” The numbers got higher and higher. I knew she couldn’t be under for much longer than this, she’s never gotten past 40 seconds. “Layla?!” I called out to no one. She didn’t reply. I knew something had to be wrong. My shoes jumped off my feet as I flew to go in after her. Every second that she’s trapped in the depths of the ocean feels like an hour to me. I break the smooth surface of the water when I force myself through the ocean’s film covering. I can see her. Her golden blonde hair floated in the depths as bubbles of precious air escaped from her mouth. I will save her, no matter what it takes. I extend my arm and clench onto her body, never letting go. Her lifeless body floats along to the top of the water, so graciously it’s eerie. I get her above water and throw her over my shoulder to make sure she can get to the air, making up for what she’s lost already. I drag her back to shore as fast as I possibly can. “Breath Layla, breathe.” I push on her chest and stomach, in separation to unlodge the water from her lungs. “HELP. SOMEBODY HELP!” I scream on the top of my lugs to no one in particular, and nobody answers. Nobody can hear me. This is all my fault, I’m the one that didn’t go in with her. I’m the one that told her she should dunk. Why me? Why her? Just as my last drops of hope start to slip, I feel a tiny hand rest itself on my chest, right over my heart, and tattoo. She was awake. “Thank-” Layla was cut off by her cough. That’s when I knew. I knew what my tattoo meant. I was supposed to save the world. Not your world, not his world, not 155


her world. My world. I was supposed to save Layla. My sole purpose was to make sure that this girl was okay, and that’s what I’m determined to to.

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JILL

The Moment I Knew His name is Mark. I was 13 years old: a seventh grader, and Mark was a sophomore in high school. Our meeting was nothing special, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Common friends introduced us after one of my soccer games, and I knew from that moment on that I was hooked. There was just something about him: aside from being charming and funny, he was athletic, fit, and extremely handsome. His fresh-cut, brown hair was slightly lighter than his matching eyes. His jaw line could cut like a sword and his broad shoulders showed strength. He played soccer and had been on varsity since freshmen year. Something inside me jumped at the way my name sounded coming out of his mouth when he said, “Nice to meet you, Avery.” Not to meet the stereotypical criteria of all girls, but my heart quite literally melted. I arrived at that hypothetical “cliff ” of falling in love, and despite all signs that read “Caution”, “Danger”, “DON’T DO IT”; I took my chances, and jumped. Soon, we started texting and that turned into an everyday affair. We saw each other once or twice a week in public and around friends, and our connection became evident. I even started going to his church and quickly became a part of that church’s family. I hadn’t realized how insync we were with our faith, which was important to the both of us. I couldn’t keep a smile off my face when I was with him, and for at least two hours after we left. I had trouble describing how I felt because the English language clearly cannot handle such intense happiness with words. For a while, however, I wondered if he felt the same. I certainly thought he did, but what if I was wrong? What if I was psyching myself out? I had to know... I remember the day perfectly. The sun was shining through my bedroom window and warming my skin to the touch. My room was still and quiet, aside from the soft hum of my radio. We were texting, as usual, but I felt an overwhelming 157


urge to just be honest with him and tell him how I feel... So I did. I told him that I liked him (which may or may not have been an understatement) and how incredibly happy he made me. Although, as soon as I told him, I regretted it. My stomach churned and a trillion thoughts started running through my mind; all of which included some version of him never talking to me again. However, what actually happened shocked me. His response was very nonchalant, but not rude. He seemed to have accepted what I said and understood it, but there was no actual response that told me whether or not he felt the same way. I was relieved, of course, that I didn’t scare him off or freak him out, but he didn’t tell me how he felt! I automatically came to the conclusion that he didn’t feel the same way about me, but didn’t want to tell me so he wouldn’t hurt my feelings. However, nothing changed. For days, weeks, and months after I’d told him, we still spoke every day and neither of us acted any differently. This, of course, only made me fall even more in love with him. It took someone special to be so understanding and accepting without judgement, and special he was. We had become pretty close at this point, and although we were close friends, I desperately wanted more than that. I wanted to hold his hand, to cuddle with him, kiss him, and more than anything, I wanted him to love me back. I could tell Mark was acting strange at church that day. I stared at him from across the aisle; he was in a pew alone. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days; his eyes were tired. After church, we went for a walk down to the beach. We didn’t speak: we walked in silence all the way to the beach. It was a comforting silence; not awkward or trying, but comfortable. It was sunny but cool. The ocean’s breeze and autumn-air made it a little chilly, so he offered me his jacket. This gesture, so small, and yet so immensely meaningful, caring, and romantic, made my insides flutter. I could tell that something was really bothering him and he was surprisingly upset. He tried to wipe it away before I could notice, but I saw a single tear trickle out his right eye. All I could do was hug him. I didn’t know what was bothering him, but I felt this overpowering impulse to fix it. I hugged him tight and we just stood there for a while.

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I couldn’t bear to see him upset because I cared about him so much. I wanted to tell him that, but I knew this wasn’t a time for words. I turned my head and kissed him on the cheek, gentle and soft. Not a minute later, he placed his hand under my chin and lifted up my face to kiss me on the forehead. In this exact moment, I knew we would end up together somehow. I didn’t know where, I didn’t know when, but I knew. What I didn’t know was my own strength... When his lips slowly pulled away from my forehead, we just looked at each other. We were still wrapped in each other’s arms, just standing there. Before I knew what was happening, I kissed him... Or he kissed me... I didn’t know, and frankly I didn’t care. The kiss felt like it lasted seven years and seven milliseconds at the same time. After he ever-so-slowly pulled away, my eyes had yet to open and I still held my breath. When I finally looked at him, I couldn’t speak. All I could do was bask in the brightness of the smile that mirrored my own. We walked back to the church in another bout of silence; although, this one had a happier ring to it. Later that night and for days after, we finally expressed our feelings to each other. As it turns out, he fell just as hard as I did. The reason he never told me was because we both knew we couldn’t be together. Although three years may not mean much to a married couple, it’s like an eternity between teens. The problem wasn’t necessarily the age difference itself, but rather the reaction and criticism we knew we’d get from our friends and family if we decided to date. After talking and thinking long and hard about it, we decided that we wouldsomeday- end up together, and that now just wasn’t our time. Believe it or not, even without actually dating, our bond became much closer and deeper than that of people our age. Our connection was undeniable and impossible to resist. Pretty soon we started getting questions of our relationship, which, of course, we denied fully. We simply told them we were close friends, and that was it. As time went on and on, I only fell for him more. Although we did agree that it wasn’t our time, I couldn’t pull myself away. It started getting more and more difficult to be around him and talk to him without wanting more. I so desperately wanted to tell him I love him and live happily ever after in a castle with butlers 159


and horses... Okay, maybe I’m getting a little carried away here, but I wasn’t kidding about the love part. It may have helped if there were some sort of disconnect between us to at least put a stop to the growing desire, but we went on with our lives as though nothing were different; and really, nothing was. By this time I was a freshmen in highschool, making Mark a senior (when you hear the expression “time flies,” take it literally). Dealing with the stress of the situation, however, did not get easier with time. After two years you’d think most people would have given up by then, but not us. We chose, mostly, not to talk about our love-situation and continued to be very close friends. By now we were closer than ever, which- as you may imagine- made our connection essentially unbreakable. It may seem as though we made the best of the situation- which we did- but it was still extremely hard to deal with every day. Most days I escaped through the wonderful world of music, only to be brought back by the buzzing of my phone which always meant a text from Mark. Music was the only thing that kept me sane. Mark just acted tough- like nothing could phase him- but I knew him better than that. After an excruciatingly long, exhausting day at school, I went home and went on Facebook. The first thing I saw at the top of the news feed froze me in my chair. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach: I felt sick. The only movement I was aware of was the sudden hot tear that snuck its way down my cheek and crashed on the space bar. I had a hard time focusing on the words on the screen in front of me. It read, “Mark Sullivan is in a relationship with Michelle McIntyre.” Doctors would rule against it, but I am one hundred percent positive that I felt a thin, branching crack run through my heart like a bolt of lightning. It was not a good day. Mark dated this girl for a couple months, and they seemed really happy together. Although it was extremely painful to see him with someone else, I was happy for him. I was glad he could find someone his age to make him happy, since we clearly would not work out. At that point, I came to the conclusion that Mark

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and I had silently agreed to give up. However, I knew I’d never be able to let this feeling go. After a few months of their relationship, I thought I was losing Mark for good. He texted me less and less, and I felt like he was avoiding me. Words cannot describe the pain I went through in those few months which felt like years. I thought it was never going to end. It didn’t help that everywhere I turned I saw quotes like, “You never forget your first love.” I always thought to myself... If I never forget Mark and the feelings I had for him, how can I ever move on? All hope seemed to be lost, and music just didn’t cut it anymore. Walking down the hallway in the midst of all my thoughts, I was blindsided with the news that Mark and his girlfriend had broken up... Have you ever gotten up at 5 o’clock in the morning to watch the sunrise? Well that’s what happened, only it was inside me. I felt like an extremely heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders that I had gotten so used to, I forgot it was there. I almost felt guilty for being so happy about a breakup, but then I thought better of it. Naturally, everybody approached me with questions about why they broke up and when it happened because we were notoriously known as best friends, which is why they found it so hard to believe that I knew absolutely nothing. Being curious myself, I asked Mark later that night. He gave me the simple answers like, “it was a mutual breakup” and “ we just didn’t work out,” but something told me that there was much more to it than that. However, out of respect and love for him, I didn’t pry, despite every fiber of my being that told me to. After the breakup, I expected to get my best friend back. However, that didn’t happen. We still didn’t talk very much, and we almost never saw each other. My pain then turned to anger, and I thought I deserved some answers. I understood why we stopped talking as much in the first place- out of respect for his new girlfriend- but now I just had no idea. Months past and there I was, the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of highschool without any answers, and soon to be without my best friend... for good. At the end of August, Mark would be off to college. That of which he chose to be over four hours away. I couldn’t

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just let him go and never know why I lost him. I needed answers, I needed closure, but more than anything, I needed him. One day I asked him to go to the beach with me, just to talk. Ironically, we ended up at the beach where we first kissed. For a while, neither of us said anything. It was cloudy and cool, but the sky opened to let the sun shine through now and then. Mark had commented one time that we were so close that we could practically have a silent conversation... That hadn’t changed. However, this silence wasn’t as pleasant as most of our former ones had been. This was a questioning, unknowing, painful silence that couldn’t last much longer. Just as I opened my mouth to say something, he spoke first. “I’ve been thinking about the ways I could tell you this for months now and I couldn’t come up with an easy way. I’ve been trying so hard to think of telling you without hurting you any more than I already have, and it just turns into a mess. II just-” he was spitting his words out faster than I could keep up with and I could tell he fumbled his train of organized thought. “Spit it out man!” I couldn’t wait much longer... Have I mentioned my infamous impatience? “I love you. I’ve loved you since the day I met you and I haven’t stopped since. When I dated Michelle, sure she made me happy at first, but if there’s one thing I got out of that relationship, it’s that no matter how hard, long, and focused I try, I will never find another girl like you. That’s why I broke up with Michelle; every single day that went by, I grew more and more unhappy with the fact that the hand I was holding wasn’t yours, and the person I was sharing my life with certainly wasn’t you. That’s also why I avoided you. I knew that if I spent time with you, I would feel unfaithful to Michelle, because my connection with you is so strong. I’m so sorry for what I put you through, and I wouldn’t blame you for hating me. But I just needed for you to know that I love you more than I can begin to describe to you with words. You mean everything to me, and I’m so sorry I let you down.” I think Mark was actually beginning to cry. I stared at him in wonder and amazement. I could tell he was waiting for me to say something, but before I could remember how to speak, my body spoke for 162


me. I jumped into his arms and kissed him passionately and tenderly at the same time. I wrapped my arms around his neck and held on tight as he lifted me off the ground. It was like one of those cliche movie moments, but ten times better because it was actually happening to me. I felt like the happiest, luckiest, most fortunate girl in the entire universe. That day, August thirteenth 2012, became our anniversary. We dated for seven years after that day. And today, August thirteenth, 2019, I’m marrying the love of my life. His name is Mark.

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JAC K

Bart’s Life Bart has never been to a place he can call home. As a young calf, he had seen his parents be taken away by a butcher. This image had been scarred in his brain forever. Ever since that day, Bart had been moved from farm to farm. Many farms had been struggling to have enough money to stay alive. As the years of his life went on, he had seen many beautiful farms with beautiful landscapes as far as the eye can see. Sadly, he could not stay at these farms because many of them would close down. Although Bart had been to some of the most beautiful places in the world, he had not found a place that he yearned to stay at, giving him interest into what place he would call home. Bart lived on one particular farm for about four months. He had reached the age of ten years and was still going strong as the average lifespan of a cow is twenty two years old. The farm he was living on was not one of his favorite places to live by any means. The grass was rather dry, and the farmer was abusive to the cows. Bart did not like having no choice on where he had to live, whether it is beautiful and nice, or dry and dark. He felt that any being should have the choice to go and seek out their true home; the place at which their heart is truly at peace.   One night, Bart and all of the other cows had just finished eating and were now going to sleep in the barn. It was dark and quiet, and all that could be heard was the heavy breathing of the other cows. Suddenly, “BANG!” The farmer slammed the doors of the barn open. Everyone had their eyes on the silhouette surrounded by the moonlight. He began to stumble towards Bart, seeming to hiccup every few seconds. In his hand there was a glowing branding iron. He came closer and closer to Bart, causing Bart to become nervous and unsettled. As the farmer kept walking towards him, Bart could only hear the slight steps of his boots on the dirt. The farmer finally reached him when Bart had reached an extreme level of fear, causing him to shiver vigorously. The farmer took the branding iron and delved it into the skin of Bart, marking him as a slave to that horrible man. 164


He had branded a mark with his initials into the cow’s skin, making a statement that he has complete control over Bart. Bart had nearly fainted as the excruciating pain was that of a thousand wasps. He vowed that night that he would never let anyone or anything keep him from finding his home. The next day, Bart bade his fellow cows farewell and departed from his temporary abode. He was now alone to wander the great and diverse landscapes of America. He traveled over hills of green, mountains of white snow, and deserts of dry sand. At some moments along his journey he would have given up, but the thought of finally finding his home fueled his drive for survival. He stopped only to drink, eat, or sleep. As he walked along, Bart looked around him, searching for what he was looking for. Being in complete solitude for most of his journey gave him a chance to think about life. He began to evolve into a cow of extreme intelligence, which did not just wait for the next feeding, but for the next chance to learn, or figure out a puzzle. Bart the Cow was now sixteen years of age. As he walked for years, mostly in complete silence, he had become wiser and tougher.     After about six years on Bart’s journey, he had found a jungle that he thought looked very interesting. The jungle he had found was not anything like other jungles he had seen. It was next to a desert, making it almost unfathomable that two such contrasting biomes could be next to each other. Bart’s curiosity brought him into the jungle area. He observed the beautiful and colorful wildlife of this area. Many different colored flowers and long green grass covered the jungle floor. The jungle was filled with wildlife, but not dense enough to hinder an animal not from the jungle. There were turtles and fish in watering holes, bats in caves, and monkeys bouncing from tree to tree. All of the animals lived peacefully together in a safe haven for nature. It seemed as though humanity had not tampered with this landscape, giving it a sense of natural beauty that Bart had found nowhere else. As he walked along the long grass paths, looking up into the canopy, he wondered if this could be his home. This place was like no other he had seen in his years of traveling. Although he found this place to be so great, he did not yet feel right. He believed that this was his home and continued to live there for months. The other animals of the jungle grew to accept him, and they began to treat each other as friends. 165


I saw Bart and immediately thought that I should introduce myself. I told him that my name was Tony and I was a snake. I was later in my years just like him, and had been fond of traveling. Bart and I would have long talks with each other about our lives and what we have seen. Bart and I quickly became the best of friends, and would spend most of their time with each other. The sun was shining high up in the middle of the day. The jungle was humid, but not too warm, giving a dewy feeling to the foliage all around. Bart and I were playing a normal game of checkers, talking about day to day life. As we conversed with each other, I noticed a large burn mark on the side of Bart. I asked him about the burn, and Bart told him of his tough life in the farm. Bart explained that the attempt to own him fed fuel into his plans to search for a home far away. The farmer had tried to keep him in line with force, but Bart rebelled. He promised that someday he would finish his journey of finding his home, and no one could do anything to stop him. One day, Bart and I were just talking at one of the lakes. Bart had told me the story of his journey. He had mentioned scenes from his past before, but had never explained his life story in such detail with a beginning, middle, and end. I sat there, listening to what he had to say intently. When Bart had finally finished, I had stayed silent for a few moments. I had to absorb the amount of information given to me. I completed my thought and asked Bart, “Are you at home in the jungle?” Bart thought about this for hours. He wanted to believe that he was at home, but his heart was not in it. He had friends, food, and water; what more could he have wanted? Bart finally answered by saying one simple word, “No.” As years went by, our relationship grew stronger. Everyone in the jungle knew that Bart and I were inseparable. We did everything together such as play games, go swimming, or just talking. Us two began to get older and older, and the toll on our bodies had clearly portrayed our age. We both tried to have fun as we did when we were younger, but realized that our lives would have to be calmer. This brought a bit of sadness to the both of us, but we still enjoyed life as much as we possibly could have. 166


On one rainy evening, I went into Bart’s house to have a nice talk with him. I saw Bart lying down and coughing in his bed. Bart gave closure to the thoughts now pondering in my head by telling me that he has a terminal illness. I cried with all of the passion I had. I could not accept that my best friend was going to die. Bart had already had enough time to accept his fate. Bart told me that it was his time to die and that everyone has to die at some point, but I could not accept this. I went out the door, still in hysterical tears, and slithered away.     I believed that if I tried hard enough I could find an antidote for my friend. I went all around the world searching for medicines. From every corner of the earth, I searched for the magical medicine I desired so. As I traveled all around, I felt the weight on the world on my shoulders. There was a burning sense of reality in me telling me that it will be impossible, but I did not want to believe it. Not one veterinarian was able to help me in the search for the wonder medicine. They all told me that it did not exist, and I should give up. I did not want to believe that saving Bart was not an option, but I had to if I wanted to spend his last days together.   When I had arrived home in the jungle, it seemed like a normal sunny day. The animals were out and about the beautiful habitat. I was not distracted by the landscape at all. The only thing that my mind was on was my best friend. When I had finally reached Bart, I had noticed an extreme decrease in his health. When I slowly went up to the sleeping Bart, I bawled my eyes out, saying that I was sorry that I could not save him. Bart opened his small, shriveled eyes and told me, “You have no reason to be sorry. Everyone dies at one point and this was mine. The one thing I have been searching for all my life was a home. After all of this time, I finally realized that my home is not a place, but it is in fact you. You are where my heart wants to be. We have been best friends for a portion of our lives now, and that portion of my life has been the best. Goodbye dear friend.” Bart then turned away and died moments later.

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L I LY

Cherries, Fireflies, and Fireworks My whole world turned upside down someone else’s decisions changed my life. The divorce happened during my freshman year, just when I thought things were starting to fall into place. I knew it was coming, but I think they make me choose. I also didn’t think I would choose wrong. Living with my dad is not what I thought it would be. I used to think he was the fun one, but I learned that wasn’t true. So I one of undid my choice and moved back home to my mother.        My homecoming wasn’t exactly a celebration. Mom was happy to see me, but she had a business trip first thing in the morning. I wanted to come over earlier, but I had to finish up the school year. So this morning, my first day back, I woke up alone in the house that was familiar and at the same time foreign.         Lucky for me my return was news around this town. Before lunch the phone rang every three seconds. After about the 10th call I answer. It is my neighbor, Ellen, telling me there was a neighborhood barbecue today to celebrate the start of summer. I dress quickly and head over. I’m surprised to find that I am excited to be going to this, I used to dread these things.         All the kids in the neighborhood have friends with them, so about half my class from school is here. It seems like an endless line of “I missed you” and “it’s good to see you”. Finally my best friend Ari gets there, she was right up the street but is somehow always late. She sprints across the yard and tackle hugs me.         “You’re home!”         “Yes.”         “You look different!”         “I guess so.”         “You missed me!” She says in the same matter-of-fact tone as before.

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“Of course!”        We spend most of the afternoon catching up. She wants to know all about my friends from Maryland, and what it was like living with my dad. I want to know what it’s like at home. And finally she gets the topic of how much I changed.         “So when did all this happen?” Ari gestures to me.         “I told my dad I wanted to remake myself. He let me, he bought me new clothes, makeup, anything I asked for. It was a good chance to turn myself into something I always wanted to be, so I took it.” I don’t know what else to say about it so I hope that’s enough, and luckily it is.         “Let’s go swimming.”         The truth is I was sick of the old me. I wasn’t pretty, I wasn’t interesting or fun. I was boring. But I changed my hair and my clothes. I started to act like I always wished I had the nerve to. And as I started to do those things I started to like myself more.         Later in the evening, after we changed into sweaters and jeans, there’s the traditional bonfire. Ari’s mouthing something to someone across the fire pit, but I can’t tell who it is. Someone breaks out a guitar and starts to play, others sing, And the rest of us clap along to the beat. Look across fire and see Luke sitting there. He was one of my closest friends before I left. I wave to him and he waves back, my heart skips a beat. He doesn’t come over here, so I keep talking to Ari.         “Where are the McCalls?”I ask her when I realize I haven’t seen them all night.         “They moved. Do you see the boy with the guitar and the two on either side of him?” I nod, “They moved into their house like a month after you left.”         Right on cue one of them looks over at me. He has dark hair that is pushed across his forehead. His eyes are lit up by the fire, but still shine blue. He looks at me for another second then turns back to his brothers and keeps singing

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along. When the song ends they linger, but Ari and I start across the lawn and down the road.        The next morning we decide to head out for coffee at our favorite café in town. Right when I walk in I see Luke sitting in the booth we used to sit at every Saturday morning. Ari and I get our coffee then head over to the booth.         “Hey Ari. Did you hear that Cheryl was coming back? Because she didn’t show last night, not that that’s a bad thing.” Luke greets her, sliding over in the booth. “Who is your friend?” He says eying me.         Ari and I exchange a look or disbelief, then a flood of sadness washes over me. “Have I really changed that much?”         “I’m sorry, what?” Luke asks, confused. He really doesn’t recognize me.         “Maybe this will remind you of who I am.” I rip off the necklace I’m wearing and drop it in his hand. He gave it to me for my birthday last year, before I left. Then I turn around and walk out, completely humiliated.         On the street I walk right into the boy from the fire last night. I fall down, and he offers me a hand up. “I’m sorry.” I say quickly and try to hurry on my way.         “Are you alright?”         “Just a little bump, I’m fine.”         “That’s not what I meant.” He says, he can probably see the tears welling up in my eyes.         “Why do you care, you don’t even know me.”         “I’m Logan. You are?” he says with a slightly comical grin on his face.         “Cheryl.” I introduce myself, forgetting about Luke for a second.         “Cherry? That’s an interesting name.” He actually gets me to laugh.         “No, it’s Cheryl. Thank you Logan.” I’m not sure if I am thanking him for helping me up, or making me laugh, or just for caring. 170


“You’re welcome Cherry.” He says and walks away.        A year ago I would’ve kept going, but today I proved that I could stay the girl I’ve become in the place where everyone knows me as the girl I was. Just then Ari walks out of the café and Luke follows with a red mark on his cheek. He opens his mouth to say something but I walk away before he can.         For a while it is easy for me to fall back into my old life as the new me. I like that I’m not afraid to go out, and that home is peaceful. I like that I keep bumping into Logan. I like that I don’t have the ghost of the person I was haunting me whenever I’m with him. The day go by quickly, and I forget the bad memories I have from this place. The days where I would leave he torture from my peers at school and come home to the excruciating sadness from my parents’ constant fighting. Now it is fun days out and around where I feel like I stand out in a good way. The way that people want to know you, not in the way that they want to tear you down.         This morning when I woke up something felt wrong, like something bad is meant to happen. Mom left for another business trip, and dad is coming up to visit because he says she shouldn’t leave me alone for 5 days. He gets here tomorrow night. But that gives me all today alone. A year ago that would mean sitting at home alone listening to music and feeling sorry for myself.  But, when the phone rings and I recognize the number I answer it.         “Cheryl?” Luke’s voice is shaky.         “What?” I’m still mad, clearly he isn’t who I thought he was.         “Can I please come get you? We can go anywhere, I just want to talk to you.” He sounds so unhappy, he sounds like himself, or at least the friend I used to know.         “Fine.”         He gets there faster than I remember him taking, so I’m not quite ready to go, but I run out as I am. For a while we drive around and talk about nothing in particular, and feels like old times. But now I can control my heartbeat when I’m around him. I know I have to ask him about the other day. 171


“Luke what did you mean by what you said the other day. About me not being there and that not being a bad thing.” I feel like he will lie to me.        “I wasn’t ready to see you yet. I didn’t know what I would say to you when I saw you. There is something I want to tell you, and I didn’t know how, but I do now.” He looks at me, but not the way he used to. “I want us to be together.”         “Now?” it slips out as I think it. “All those years, but you want me now? Now that I look different and act different. Now that I’m not invisible.” It’s a good thing we are near my street because I don’t think I can stay in this car with him. He doesn’t even respond.         “That’s what I thought. Let me out of the car.”         “Cheryl, just let me drive you home.”         “No, let me out of the car.”         He pulls over and stops the car at the end of my street. I get out and just before I close my door he calls out to me, “Hannah was right.”         Tears start to run down my face, and the clouds that have been accumulating all day pour down rain like in an old movie. I turn from him and his car and or friendship and I run away as fast as I can. The rain is cold, and my feet slide in my slippery flip-flops. When I get to my house I try the door, but it’s locked. I remember I left my bag in the house this morning when I left.         I wrap my arms around my legs and lean against the house and I sit there in the rain. I cry the tears I’ve been holding back for a year. I have no tears left to cry, and I am exhausted when I see a pair of sneakers in front of me.         “Logan.” I don’t need to guess.         “Come here Cherry.”         He helps me up and wraps me up in his arms. “Are you alright?”         “I will be.” I realize.         “At a girl. Why are you here?” he asks me. For a second I can’t remember. 172


“I locked myself out.” I finally recall.        “Well we should probably get out of this rain, so let go to my house.”         We walk across the street in silence. I am thankful he doesn’t ask me what’s wrong, I don’t even know if I could put it into words. He dries off and his mother finds me some dry clothes, shorts and an old tank top. When he comes back downstairs he tosses me a sweatshirt.         “You must be freezing.” I slide it over my head and breathe in his scent.         They invite me to stay for dinner and though I feel awkward staying here but I have nowhere else to go. I help his mother clean up. She smiles at me in a knowing way. I’m sure she is psycho-analyzing me right now. She is a psychiatrist. I wonder what she makes of my stained cheeks from dripping mascara, and my blush every time Logan says my name.         “Hey Cherry, come here.” He comes in and drags me away into the den. His older brother Daniel pulls out a guitar, and they sing songs together and I listen. Logan looks over at me and realizes I’m not singing along.         “You know you want to Cherry.” He whispers in my ear, and eventually I sing with them.         The next morning I am stuck with the weight of yesterday and even the lift of last night can’t get rid of it. I called Ari this morning and she brought me the spare key to my house. I missed 5 calls from my dad. I call him back and tell him what happened, and let him know that I might not be home when he gets here. Logan said he was going to cheer me up today.         The feeling I had yesterday is gone, but that is only because the bad has already passed. That means things can only get better. He takes me to a town on the coast. He pulls out a picnic basket and walks away from the beach.         “Where are we going?” I ask his as I try to keep up.         “I want you to see something.” We walk for ages, and we stay quiet. The silence makes me slip someplace I don’t want to be. It puts me back where I was freshman year. I try not to show the sadness that is taking me over. We finally get 173


where he wants to go. He lays out the blanket and we sit. We are at the top of a cliff that drops about a hundred feet at least. I stand up and walk up to the edge, he comes with me. He stops 3 or 4 feet back, but I take another step, until I’m about a foot away from the drop. The wind blows my dress back, and my curls fly around my head playing on the wind like currents in the water that roars below. A hand closes around my arm and pulls me back.        We sit back down for our picnic, and we can see miles of beach on either side of our cliff.         “So what happened to you yesterday?” he asks casually, like he’s not asking me to bare my soul.         I surprise myself when I tell him. “I spoke to Luke yesterday, first time since the day after I got back”         “And what happened?” he seems put off by the mention of Luke.         I tell him what happened. I tell him I miss the friendship I had with Luke. I tell him about the girl I was before I left. I tell him about how bad I got when my parents were separating, and how much worse I got when my brother Alec left to join the Marines. I tell him about Hannah McCall and how she tormented me every day at school. I tell him why I left, and why I almost didn’t. And he listens, and nods, and empathizes, but he clearly has never known anything like that. But he doesn’t try to pretend to have, he just listens.         We walk to the beach and Logan and I talk about things that don’t matter. He keeps trying to skip rocks on the ocean, and right when I would have given up he throws one more, and there it goes, skipping along on the waves.         “You know a year ago I would be hiding in my room while my parents fought, feeling sorry for myself.” He gives me a look like he doesn’t believe me, “But I realized that I can either waste my time being upset over what other’s people’s choices do to my life; or I could take what I’m given and find joy in it. It took me a long time, but now I see that there is always good with the bad, you just have to search for it.” He doesn’t say anything, just takes my hands and spins me around with him. 174


“Cherry you forgot white.” He says while we walk back to his car. I look down at my red and blue dress; I did forget to wear white. When I look back up he knocks his ice cream against my nose. “Got it!”        I chase him to his car then race home to catch the fireworks. He opens my door for me and helps me out, and I can see my dad watching from across the lawn. I run across to greet him and drag Logan with me. I introduce them. My little neighbor Ella tugs the bottom of my skirt and points out a firefly.         “Fireflies!” I yell out to everyone. All the kids run around the yard trying to catch the little bugs. I look over at Logan’s youngest brother Jeremy who is 13 and is acting like he is too cool to chase fireflies. I grab his hand and pull him over to the rest of the kids. He looks hesitant, but eventually joins in. I look over to find Logan shove Luke and my heart sinks a little. He sees me looking and says one last thing to Luke, then walks away.         Luke comes up to me, “He doesn’t want me talking to you but I just wanted to say sorry.”         I can’t believe Logan would do that. I told him I missed having Luke in my life, and he is trying to keep him away from me!         “I still want us to be friends,” Luke misread my expression.         “I do too.” I say. Then he walks away, having said what he wanted to. I realize that Logan might not have been keeping him from me, he might have been trying to bring him back into my life.         “Hey there kiddo” Alec says from behind me. I whip around and hug him fiercely.         “I miss you.” I tell him. I tell him in every letter I write. My mom is there with him, too.    And for the first time in a long time my whole family is together. My parents wrap us in their arms, and I know everything will be okay.         The fireworks are about to start. All my neighbors have blankets laid out of the yards near the house where we do fireworks. I lay down on a blanket next to

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Logan, and he wraps his arm around my shoulders. Alec sits behind us, watching protectively. We watch the fireworks and I think.        My family is together, and we may not be the same, but we still love each other. Alec is here, and for a little while I won’t have to miss him. Luke and I can be friends again, and Ari is there to keep him in line. Life is almost like it was before. But it is different, it is better. Lying on a blanket on my neighbor’s lawn I realize that there is hope, and that things always get better.         “Want me to walk you home Cherry?” he stands up and pulls me up after him. He holds my hand and starts to walk before I answer.         “I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to keep him away from you, but I can’t watch him hurt you again.” I already know that.         “Thank you Logan.” I say.         “For what?”         “For helping me up that first day, and for caring, and for listening, and for taking me out of the rain. Thank you for everything” I say.         “You’re welcome Cherry.” I don’t know what comes next, happily ever after, or more trouble. I do know that everything has changed, and that there is hope to hold onto now. I know that tonight while I walk a road I’ve been down a thousand times there is a shift in my world; there is possibility in my life.         And somehow the hurt that has come from the choices of others is mended, and my upside down world is righted. I know myself now, and I know it is my choice to be happy and from now on I’m going to make it. Starting with tonight, as I walk hand in hand with the boy who knows me for the person I enjoy being, in front of a broken home that doesn’t seem so broken anymore.

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ALAN

The Comeback Only one in a million riders will ever qualify for the World Cup. For those that do, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime, a dream come true. For many it’s a dream that falls short of only the Olympics. For some, their rise to stardom will end prematurely. For others, this is only the beginning. My mother always dreamed of being one of the world’s great riders. She wanted to know what that moment of pure perfection felt like. That one moment, when the entire world has their eyes on you. When you know you’ve finally made it and that’s all that matters. It’s not the score, the medals, trophies, ribbons or prize money that matters, its the feeling of accomplishment and pride in who your are. Sadly, my mother never got her moment. She was killed rescuing horses from a barn fire when I was sixteen. As tragic as that day was, it brings me peace knowing that she didn’t die in vein. She lost her life to save her beloved Belle and her unborn foal. My mother had loved Belle with all her heart since she had witnessed the miracle of her birth. From that day on, they had a bond that words can’t begin to describe. Between them was an unspoken agreement to go to the ends of the Earth for each other, and that’s what they did. Belle would have done anything my mother asked, no matter how far beyond reach it was. In turn, my mother would go above and beyond to give Belle the best life possible, at times spoiling her more than me. It was for that reason my mother ran into the barn that day knowing she’d never walk out alive. There is no question that her loss has left a hole in my heart, but I know, had she not given her life for Belle, I would never have been blessed with Carpe Diem, my pride and joy. Eight years have passed since that tragic day. With everyday that passes, I am forever thankful for my Carpe Diem and everything my mother worked so hard to give me. A new barn stands on the site of the old, but will never fill my heart with so much joy as it once did. Still I feel my mother’s presence, hear her voice, and 177


see her warm smile. She is why I do this. It’s for her I endure the pain of returning here each morning. I ride because she wouldn’t have wanted me to give up my dreams over her loss. I ride because from childhood she fostered my love of horses, never letting me believe that I was anything less than a great rider. I had always dreamed of being an Olympian, World Cup Champion, and USEF Equestrian of the Year. She had always made me believe that one day I would be all of them. She was my coach, my friend, my entire support staff, all in one. She followed close at my heels to every local riding competition, playing horse show mom to the best of her abilities. I traveled the circuit with her, taking in every moment at the big International shows. I probably saw more of Europe before my sixteenth birthday than many people do in a lifetime. It was in her last competition that I made my International debut in the Netherlands, aboard a massive black stallion with a dark side by the name of Dystopian. I’ll never forget what an experience that show was, seeing my mother smile from the sidelines as we butchered the FEI Young Rider Grand Prix 16 to 25. At 16, I’d won my first International competition. Despite the score, my mother still believed that I had it in me to turn this horse into a champion. After losing her, I tried for the longest time to turn him into the champion she’d seen in him. It was hopeless. We were just going in circles. No matter what, I could never get past his mule-like stubbornness. Two years later, I was glad to see him go. I had a new project, turning Belle’s baby, whom I’d given the name Carpe Diem, in honor of my mother who lived every day like it was her last, into a champion. It was clear right from the get go, that had my mother still been alive, this would have been the horse that she’s won her World Cup with. It was then I knew what I had to do. I had to finish what she had started and make her proud. I was going after the World Cup win she’d always dreamed of. Carpe Diem and I would continue her legacy. It took another six years to bring Carpe Diem from the awkwardness of adolescence to the poised perfection of a mature dressage horse. That, as I soon learned, would be easier said than done. Despite his God-like gift of pure talent, Carpe Diem was your typical Thoroughbred, flighty. I was no prize either. A 178


flighty Thoroughbred and a hot headed rider, individually, we didn’t stack up but together it was magic. He moved with more grace and poise than I could have ever dreamed of, and I had the concentration and attitude that he so evidently lacked. We were a match made in heaven. Sometimes, I wonder if my mother had planned this partnership, or if this was merely a coincidence. Either way, she’d have been proud of what we’d set out to accomplish. My mother always told me that it took time, patience and a great brain to become a great rider. She was right about all of them, accept she forget to include stress management in her list. Stress and International competitions were almost synonymous. Let me tell you, as an upper level rider, yoga and pilates will always, and I mean always, be your best friend. This translated to Carpe Diem too, he was always so tense and our score always reflected it. My mother had never been a true believer in all of the equine chiropractics, massage therapy, or acupressure, but that didn’t stop me from giving it a shot. It worked like a charm. Carpe Diem was as relaxed as I was, and our scores were on the rise. With the World Cup Qualifiers under way, it was now or never if we were going to do this. The qualification process is rigorous. Eight qualifiers, five countries, six months, and only two positions in the starting lineup allocated to the North American League. The competition for a coveted starting position is fierce. I doubt my mother could have imagine just how fierce it was. Once you’ve finally qualified, it’s like an enormous weight has been lifted. Then the pressure is on to be your best, ride your best, and ride for the title of World Cup Champion. We made our debut late in the qualifiers. The London International Horse Show, Olympia, was the fifth of the eight qualifiers. Held every December in London, it was a British Christmas tradition. It was by far the best Christmas present I could have asked for. We channeled immense pressure into pure perfection, making it the ride of a lifetime. We won Olympia with an 87.9% in the Grand Prix Freestyle, setting a new personal best. We held a substantial lead in the North American League and were quickly becoming the fan favorites. There was nothing stopping us now. With that, we established that we were serious. We were here to stay.

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We finished our World Cup campaign at Indoor Brabant, Brabanthallen, ‘sHertogenbosch, The Netherlands. The last of eight qualifiers, everything came down to this. Another score in the upper eighties and we’d maintain our iron grip on the top spot in the rankings. This being the last qualifier, their was no way anyone could close the gap between us and the rest of the riders in the rankings. I calmed myself and settled Carpe Diem. Then, we trotted proudly into a sold out arena. The announcer’s voice soon filled the air, “Callie Davis and Carpe Diem, the eight year old Thoroughbred gelding from the United States. Callie Davis, daughter of the late Anne Davis, following in her mother’s footsteps. The top ranked rider from the States with her own Carpe Diem by Avatar out of Anne Davis’s Virginia Blue Belle. Coming into this freestyle with a round one qualifier score of 87.9%, hopefully another record score from them tonight.” The muffled crowd went silent, the only sound being the judges bell signaling that I had 60 seconds to begin. I brought Carpe Diem to a halt and threw my hand up signaling for my music. I was given the standard, ‘your music is rolling’, and with that the arena came alive. We were overcome by sheer brilliance. Tonight would change everything for us. Carpe Diem and I were in perfect harmony. He was my legs and I was his eyes, moving as one with absolute precision. I couldn’t have asked for, or even dreamt of a better ride. Then the arena went dead silent. My music had failed, and I hadn’t noticed until the judge’s bell rang again. I was mortified. At first, you think this can’t be happening, but it is. You’re wondering how long it will be until your music comes back on, can you continue, can you refocus? The horse is saying ‘what the heck are you doing?’, ‘are we finished?’, ‘are we going on?’. It’s an interruption. You lose focus, the horse loses focus, something Carpe Diem can’t afford. You spend five minutes walking in circles and then finally your music comes back on. Then you ride for your life, like nothing has happened. In the end, the crowd was pleased. They cheered, giving us a standing ovation. From what I could tell, the judges looked pleased, but it’s impossible to know

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until the score comes out. We were making our way down to the warm up arena when the roar of the crowd hit us. I made out the announcer’s voice above the noise, “finishing with an 88.196%, qualifying them for the World Cup with an 88.048%”. Tears of joy streamed down my cheeks, another personal best. We’d done it, we’d qualified for the World Cup, making us the youngest combination ever to do so. Little did I know at the time, our climb to the top would stop there. Upon arrival Stateside, Carpe Diem was discovered to have sustained injury in transit. I hastily had it examined, praying it would be nothing more than some minor swelling that with rest would go down in a few days. To my dismay, this wasn’t the diagnosis. The words still ring in my head like an echo in a canyon, “lateral condylar fracture”. It just sounds so cold and blunt, like a steel rod. The vet droned on about treatment options, recovery, and risks while I smiled and nodded, simply going through the motions as I died inside. Like a look back in time, it appeared that a World Cup was not in this family’s future. The recovery was long, and painful, both for Carpe Diem and for me. I spent countless hours just hanging around his stall keeping him entertained. I’d come and go, but still a majority of my day was spent with him. It wasn’t rare that a boarder would leave in the afternoon, only to return the next morning to me sleeping in a stall. I must have come off as distressed, because I couldn’t tell you how many people asked how I was holding up or how I really felt. Truth be told, I felt fine, better than ever. I went back to the basics, back to why I was really here: for the love of horses. For the love of Carpe Diem, my knight in shining armour, the only thing left of my mother. What was possible just weeks ago was now just a distant memory. Despite the fact that the odds were against us, I held onto hope that we’d someday get our moment in time, to shine on the World’s stage, and to bear the title World Cup Champion. Slowly, he regained his strength, and slowly we began our climb back to wherever we were going. We progressed, inch by inch, day by day, and rose up

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through the levels. Only even giving it our all, it just wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t as good as it had been. It’s times like these when you really have to evaluate what you want versus what’s best for everyone. I’d lie awake at night, wondering if I was pushing too hard and he was just shutting me out, or if I was simply asking more than he had to give. As much as it pained me to think of it, I contemplated retiring him, giving up on my mother’s dream for her and myself. Time and time again, I asked myself those questions, and every time I promised myself that I’d give it one more shot before I gave up. Only I could never bring myself to give up. No matter how bad, frustrating, or impossible it seemed, there was always that glimmer of hope that kept me going. I tried everything I could think of and then one day we had a breakthrough. I stood staring into Carpe Diem’s deep, dark eyes, trying to look into his soul. Then I asked him, “don’t you want this? You’ve worked so hard, we were so close, and now you just give up on me. I’ve been here everyday, I’ve done everything for you, and you just give up. You didn’t get a death sentence, you wouldn’t be here if you did, you have a chance, why won’t you take it?” As it turns out, that was exactly what we needed. I got on Carpe Diem that day expecting no more than what I’d come to know as his best, and was blown away. He was back, we were back ,and better than ever. He worked harder, pushed himself further and gave me more than I thought he had to give. We worked for week after week and made more progress in three months than in the eight years I've owned him. It was at the end of December, just over ten months since his unfortunate injury, that I decided it was time to make a comeback. I entered him in World Dressage Masters Palm Beach that January, despite near universal disapproval. It wasn’t a victory, but after an injury of his extent, an 81.375% was nothing to sneeze at. I caught even more disapproval when I announce my intent to enter him in the last two World Cup Qualifiers for the 2012/ 2013 season. I didn’t care what anyone said, we’d worked hard, and we’d earned our right to be there. I didn’t expect to qualify, but I wanted to show everyone that an injury wouldn’t stop us and the anything was possible if you were willing to 182


work for it. I had to take one more shot at making mine and my mother’s dreams come true, I owed her at least that. And boy, let me tell you, that’s what we did. A few short weeks laters, we rode out into a packed arena in Neumunster, Germany, and gave them a show to remember. It was only fitting that we debut a new freestyle for our big comeback, and I found it only fitting to use selections of Olympic Fanfare and Theme, The Land of Hope and Glory, and One Moment in Time. It was a flawless performance, more than I could have ever asked for. The final halt and salute brought a feeling like never before, calling it eternal bliss wouldn’t do it justice. The crowd cheered like never before, and it grew to a roar that could’ve brought the arena down when the score was announced. I leaned in close to Carpe Diem’s neck and sobbed with pure joy after hearing we’d crest 90 for the first time ever. I couldn’t believe we’d scored a 91.8%, especially after everything we’d been through. My mother would’ve been proud. We were closer than ever to the World Cup, and this time nothing could stop us. To my relief, Indoor Brabant went off without a hitch, no where near the music massacre it had been last year.  I sobbed again at the score, with joy of course. I just couldn’t believe it, 90.65%. The score was big, not as big as Neumunster, but with it we’d  proven to be real contenders for the World Cup. I was amazed that in a year we’d suffered injury and hardship and beat the odds to qualify with a 91.225%. It was unbelievable. We were on our way to the World Cup and this time, nothing would stop us on our climb to the top. We’d certainly done my mother proud. Wherever she was, I knew she was smiling down on us. It didn’t matter to her whether we won the World Cup or not, we’d achieved more than she could have dreamed for us. Winning would only be the icing on the cake. Finally, after much anticipation, we arrived in Goteborg, Sweden. It was a dream come true. We had ridden into sold out arenas time and time again, but never before had I felt such tension. I buried my nerves, settled Carpe Diem, and rode into the arena like we owned the place. We were the last to go, with a score to beat of 90.089%, but I knew that today was our day. The arena went silent as it had so many times. At the judge’s bell I halted near the ingate and said a silent prayer, reflecting on everything we’d been through. I thought of my mother, and before my hand went up to signal my music, I whispered to myself  “this one’s for 183


you mom”. Then, music filled the air and everything but right here, right now faded away. It was what every dressage rider dreams of, but seldom achieves. The countless hours of practice that go into minutes of perfect performance had payed off. It was flawless, and I mean flawless. Tears began to stream down my face before we even finished our freestyle. My heart stopped as we halted at the end of our test. I knew at that moment, that everything my mother and I had ever dreamt of had just become reality. In that moment, we were one, sharing a heart and soul. It was the ride of a lifetime. I wouldn’t trade that moment for anything. I wouldn’t ask to do anything different, only to relive that moment a thousand times over. The crowd had never come so alive with applause. I’d never felt so loved as I did in that moment. The applause gave way to an eruption of cheer, as the announcer’s barely audible voice came over the speakers with our score. We’d won the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Final with a 92.447%, shattering the previous world record. We’d achieved the seemingly impossible. It was a miracle. I can conjure only one explanation for any of this; divine intervention. It was divine intervention the day the hot head and the horse who’d broken his leg made the comeback of a lifetime to be named World Cup Champion and Horse of The Century. I’d fulfilled my mother’s legacy, finally giving her the World Cup she’d always dreamt of. That means more to me than any title, score or prize ever will.

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JAKE

Impenetrable PROLOGUE                Although the air held the sticky warmth of midsummer, rain fell without remorse outside the city gates of Shariz, drumming on the polished steel armor of the guardsmen. Squinting through the rain, which was no simple task, the soldiers observed a figure in black armor drudging towards the gates. As he drew nearer, they raised their crossbows, and one of their number swung the city gates shut in precaution.                 The black-clad figure walked closer still, as easily as if he were naked, despite his heavy armor and shield that looked as though it had been stripped from a siege engine.                 An officer on the wall, wearing rain-slickened armor, pulled down her visor, and met the approaching figure nearly twenty yards from the gate. Drawing her sword, she commanded the stranger to halt his steady approach.                 Upon closer observation, it seemed the man’s armor was hardly black at all. As the rain continued to splash about, his dark armor gave way to crimson, which in turn rolled off to reveal white etched with blue, and lined with various dents and scratches. The guards on the wall aimed their crossbows at the slit in his helmet where any normal creature’s eyes should be in preparation for any resistance. Of course, it should also be noted that this being’s eyes were hardly eyes at all, instead there was an eerie blue glow that seemed to emerge from the utter darkness from within his helmet. Nevertheless, if the stranger was aware of the threat, he showed no sign, and pushed on towards the castle gates.                 Just as the officer opened her mouth to give the command to attack, the stranger knelt down and raised his gargantuan shield for all to observe.

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The guards failed to contain their various gasps and shouts of surprise, as the symbol on his shield was revealed to be a large, blue tree, the widely known symbol for the city of Rivacheg. The officer, shocked into silence, put her hand on the knight’s shoulder. After a brief moment of silence, the officer removed her hand, which had now become red with the charred blood that so covered the man’s armor, and asked, “What news? What news of Rivacheg?”               “Rivacheg”, the dark knight rasped, “has fallen.” And with that one, raspy breath, which would turn out to be his last, the knight surged forward, collapsing in a puddle of mud.    

SHARIZ, TWO WEEKS LATER               The crowded city of Shariz was nestled in a rocky peninsula that stretched deep into the ocean. This was a huge factor that made the city a vital strategic position, and very easy to defend against any invasion, as many men had discovered before being dashed on the jagged rocks below the steep walls. The single entrance to the city was a pair of massive, thick steel doors, which had once been open to all who visited the prosperous city. However, some years ago, King Ventius had ordered the gates closed to all but a very small, specific group of people, upon pain of death. In this way, Shariz had been isolated from the rest of the land for quite some time, and the nobility residing within the city (who were, coincidentally, the same people who could pass through the city gates at will) were able to very effectively control the masses via the control of information.                 This meant that the citizens of Shariz had no idea what they were missing on the outside world, yet they did not know that they were being lied to every day by the very nobles they were forced to trust. So, as the city became selfdependent and prospered at just a slightly smaller degree than before, the outside world was being ravaged, unknown to the citizens of Shariz. 186


The once verdant lands had been turned a bruised, purplish-brown in the wake of necromancy and plague, the forces that combined had conquered all the great nations, which in turn strengthened the undead armies. These undead armies were, of course, what was currently on the agenda for Shariz, the swarms of rotting flesh and crumbling bones that were only just held back by a line of cold, hard steel on the castle walls.               The famed soldiers of Shariz were doused in gore and bone powder, their two-handed great swords tearing through the undead as if they were water. In the beginning of the siege, the undead apparitions had been easily recognizable as the friends and family members that had fallen on the first day, but as the redrobed necromancers conjured new abominations, shooting purple-green magic from their bony fingertips, and reanimated the fallen one, two, three times, the mindless beings that used to be loved ones weren’t even comparable to what they were before.                 One of the soldiers on the wall shouted a warning to his comrades as two enormous beings mounted the city walls. The giants wore a strange patchwork of cannibalized human breastplates and shields, which bore the banners of previous victims of the undead conquest, a constant reminder to the knights of the gravity of the situation. The knights reacted with a practiced grace, sweeping the lesser-undead off the wall, and isolated the two giants. However, one of the soldiers was not quite fast enough to avoid the reach of the giants, and the nearer of the two brought a steel-clad fist down on him with unparalleled speed. The knight reacted at the last moment, bringing his shield up to catch the giant’s fist with a terrible crack.                 As the dust settled, the other guardsmen were surprised to see that the soldier was still alive, forced onto one knee, the flagstones beneath him cracked. The man pushed upwards with an unexpected burst of strength, catching the giant off guard and off balance, causing it to stagger wildly. Not wasting a second, the soldier lept at the giant, swinging his sword through the back of the giant’s knees with surgical precision. With a terrible scream, the giant fell backwards into the second giant, and the two suddenly vanished from the wall altogether, taking a host of horrors with them to the jagged rocks below. The battle lulled for a 187


moment, and the other guards took advantage of the momentary pause and cheered, bellowing their approval.               Their merriment was cut off by a gruff shout from the city below. “Xavier! Down here now,” shouted the voice, echoing off the walls. The voice of course belonged to no less than the man who had ruled Shariz for nearly forty years: King Ventius.                 “You’re in for it now”, said a tall, broad-shouldered knight.                 “You too Lokius!”                 The big man cursed and followed Xavier down from the battlements. Once down, the two men felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from their soldiers. Sure, they were about to get chewed out by their foul-tempered King, but at least they would get a chance to rest.                 The King wore a glittering steel breastplate, gauntlets, and leggings. He had a silky purple cape, and a jeweled gold crown. He spoke with a voice that demanded respect, and no small amount of barely concealed rage. “Try not to get yourselves killed! The last thing we need is another one of those things coming back at us- especially if said zombie is a highly trained knight of Shariz!”                 “But-“                 “NO!”                 As Xavier and Lokius hung their heads in defeat, their King continued, “Wash yourselves up. Your standard eight hours of duty continues tomorrow at nine o’clock sharp.”                 

SHARIZ, FOUNTAIN DISTRICT               The pair of knights picked their way through the various weapons, armor, and various bits of rubble strewn about the city streets, as they entered the 188


Fountain District. While the city walls had never been broken and had withstood many invasions, the amount of wall that was on the ground and not as a part of the physical wall itself made it evident that they were not invulnerable. After all, there IS a first time for everything.               Yet as much as Shariz was known for its walls, it was secretly revered for its fountains. At the city center, there was a giant ring of polished marble fountains, which could be depended on to spew water at a constant rate without ever stopping. The water from these fountains was recycled and cleansed daily via a potent purification spell, and made for both a place to clean and a place to drink.                 Xavier knelt down at one such fountain and began to strip the armor from his tired body, piece by bloodstained piece. After each piece, he held it under the flowing water, tinting it a deep red and rubbed the excess gore with his gloves. The remnants of old friends and humans was one thing, but the skeletons of long dead ones were the worst for sure. While the recently converted bodies left blood and flesh, the skeletons left a powder of crushed bone in their wake, which morphed into a sticky paste when under the water, and several times Xavier had to use the edge of his sword to pick off some of the paste.                 Before Xavier could finish with his cleaning, Lokius approached him in his undergarments, having finished his cleaning. He sat down next to where Xavier knelt, and helped with his armor. He lacked the calculated efficiency that Xavier had, but he helped nevertheless, and Xavier was done within a few minutes. Xavier thanked his friend, and Lokius asked, “Merlo’s later?”                 “Sure”, said Xavier. Merlo’s was a popular after-dark scene, especially after the cold nights spent on the walls since the siege began. It was a bar that served various drinks and some crappy food in what was barely more than a hastily built shack, which was also floating on a river. The owner, Merlo, had floated down the river many years ago on the raft, which had now been converted into a bar, but it was obvious that he had built it himself. The boards creaked and groaned under the pressure of even the lighter knights, and sometimes the bar even flooded during the river’s higher water levels. That was when Merlo sold his “Wet Specials”, which were watered down alcohols that were very inexpensive, 189


and kept people coming in droves. Most people assumed it was to stay in business even though the customers were ankle-deep in water, but Xavier believed it had more to do with weighing the bar down so that it did not float away down the river.               Lokius nodded to Xavier, and walked in the direction of his home. Xavier left his now shining armor by the fountain, and headed to his own residence, where he got dressed in more comfortable clothes, tended to his garden, and prepared to spend a few hours at Merlo’s. It was not an hour before Xavier and Lokius stood below the old, faded sign that (probably) read Merlo’s Tavern and pushed open the door.                 Merlo’s was filled with an assortment of different beings; in one corner stood three or four burly Talonites, which were reptilian humanoids, and in another corner was a lone elf. However, the most striking of the non-humans was the white-haired troll standing in the middle of the room with a purple-robed young woman.                 Xavier and Lokius felt themselves gravitating towards the pair, as if drawn by some magnetic charge, and Xavier wondered if some sort of magic was behind the scenes here. The woman turned and smiled at the two knights, and gestured for them to sit down. Meanwhile the troll just stared at them with a pair of black, beady eyes, miniscule in comparison to the glistening, curved, polished white tusks jutting from its lower lip. It was freakishly large, and the arms that were attached to its muscular torso looked like they could tear a man in half without the slightest bit of effort; which Xavier did not doubt for a second. With a shrug, Lokius sat down in one of the empty seats, and Xavier did the same.                 Merlo, seeing some familiar faces, hobbled over from behind the bar, all the while polishing a mug with a dirty cloth. He was a jovial man, as was apparent by the constant smile that occupied his face, which was always red with the strain of laughter. When he had reached the table, he turned to the woman and asked, “What’ll it be today?”

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The woman looked at the man and graciously told him that no, she would not be having anything to drink, and that no, she was sure. Content, the man then asked Xavier the same question.               “I’ll have whatever it is he’s having,” replied Xavier, gesturing to one of the random patrons within the bar. It was an old joke between the two of them, as Merlo had always asked the same question for the past fifteen some odd years, and Xavier had always gestured to the person sitting in the same seat of the bar, but Merlo laughed a deep, hearty laugh as if this was the funniest joke he’d ever heard.                 “Oh, well then you’ll be having some of me old Hangman’s Tonic!” Merlo was always fond of naming his drinks odd names, but you would die of the horrid taste before you would die of alcohol poisoning. Merlo’s Tavern was not known for its quality.                 Merlo then asked Lokius, “Now how can I help you, Lokius?”                 Lokius replied with a smug grin, “I think I’ll have some of what’s under that counter of yours”, indicating the countertop next to a row of barstools at the back of the room. Merlo scowled as he reached down to pull out an expensive looking bottle of mead. The bartender muttered something about how Lokius asked for the same thing every time he visited the bar, and how Merlo had not owed him thatbig of a favor. However, Merlo still poured Lokius a large frothy mug of the expensive mead, and then tended to Xavier’s request. He left the group without ever having asked the troll what he had wanted, probably because the troll intimidated him, Xavier assumed. Hell, that troll would intimidate anybody, let alone the short, plump bartender that Merlo was.                 After a few moments, the woman introduced herself to the duo of knights. “I am Coqua, mage and fortune teller, and my companion here, “she said, gesturing to the troll, “is Frostbite”. The troll was, now that she mentioned it, what was just revealed to be a Frost Troll, from the far north of the continent. Frost trolls were revered for their ability to turn victims into ice with their breath. “We’ve been watching you for quite some time, “Coqua continued”, and we think that it would be quite … revealing … to read your fortunes. You see, we believe 191


that we’ve narrowed down the reason for these undead assailants, and how to defeat them, but tomorrow the city will fall, and we need someone to get these documents,” at this she pulled a tattered scroll from within her robe “out of the city and to the Mage College to the south. They would know what to do with it, yet everybody that gets their fortunes read seems to die tomorrow.”               Xavier could see where he came in. “Okay, so let’s have a go at reading my fortunes then”. Xavier did not like the thought of his inevitable doom the next day, and was more worried about living more than another 24 hours than stopping the plague of necromancy.                 The woman turned to the troll expectantly, who reached down into a knapsack and withdrew several assorted bones of different shapes and sizes, and handed them to Xavier. “Toss them onto the table”, encouraged the woman, and Xavier did. As they landed, they all began to spin very quickly. After a brief moment, all but two had stopped spinning, and the woman eagerly scooped them up. She paused, before looking up at Xavier.                 “Interesting,” she said, entranced by the bones. Appearing puzzled, she showed them to the troll, who seemed to be just as confused by whatever they could see in the bones. “According to these bones - which are never wrong, mind you – you won’t die tomorrow. You are going to survive, and yet you will die. I have seen many fates in my time, and yet never before have I seen any as contradicting as this.”                 Lokius looked from the woman to Xavier, and said, “So, Xavier. Does this make any sense to you?” The man rubbed his temples with mental strain.                 Xavier shook his head. How could it work? He cannot survive the entire day, only to die at some point within the same day.                 The woman muttered something under her breath and scooped up the bones. Handing them to Lokius, she commanded, “Roll”.                 Lokius did as she bid him, and threw the bones across the table. Instead, only one bone remained spinning, and the woman quickly revealed to 192


Lokius that on all accounts, he would not make it out of tomorrow. Lokius sat back in his chair and was silent. Xavier did the same. Eventually, the woman and her companion left the tattered scroll in front of Xavier, and left the bar.               Xavier was in a daze. It was not that he was afraid of dying. He had grown used to the idea long ago. It was more the thought of him living and dying all at once that unnerved him. Surely, it would be worse than any existence he could imagine. How could it be better?   SHARIZ, THE FOLLOWING DAY                     Xavier had woken up to the sounds of destruction. To elaborate, there were the screams of men, women, and children, the crashes of rocks as they tumbled to the ground, launched from some great siege engine far away, and the sliding of steel through flesh. Nothing better than that to wake up to in the morning. Not to mention the smell of burning flesh, thought Xavier as he looked out the window to see a fiery boulder flatten several pedestrians.                                              Xavier quickly pulled on his clothes, and then ran outside to pull on his armor. It only took him a moment or two, and he was at the walls of the city. Everywhere, knights, old men, and young boys were holding various bits of weaponry, some of them even holding farming equipment. No sooner had Xavier reached the walls, and then a magnificent hole appeared in the center of the wall. A flood of unnatural beings filled the space where the wall no longer was, and surged forwards into the crowd of humans. Xavier backpedaled, and ran down the narrow streets towards what used to be considered the harbor.                      He climbed up the steps to the back wall, looked down below at the raging current, and jumped.                 Shariz, the city with impenetrable walls, the city that had not fallen since its founding several hundreds of years ago, had fallen.

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ALISHA

The Short Story of Romance One day Shelly decided to go to the beach with her whole family. She had two brothers and one sister. She had one older brother and one younger brother. Her sister was younger then her also. Shelly was seventeen her older brother was twenty one her younger brother was thirteen and her younger sister was fifteen. The oldest brothers name as Stephen, the younger brother name was Samuel, and her younger sisters name was Shauna. They started to pack the car for the whole day. Everyone in her family was being extremely lazy that day so Shelly decided to pack the car all by herself. She packed snacks, sun tan lotion, tanning oil, beach towels, and drinks. Her mom went out to the car to make sure she didn’t forget anything. “Shelly, you forgot to pack the umbrella, you know how easily Samuel and Stephen burn.” She yelled. “Sorry mom. maybe if somebody helped me pack the car I wouldn't have forgot it.” Shelly yelled back to her mother. “Tell your brothers to pack the umbrella and then we can leave” She said back. “Samuel and Stephen, go back the umbrella so we can leave” Shelly yelled to her           brothers. Surprisingly Shelly’s brothers actually listened to her and they put the umbrella in the car. After everything was all packed they all got in the car and left for the beach. Once they arrived they found a parking spot and unpacked the car, this time Shelly’s sibling helped her unpack the carl. It took them about a half hour to unpack everything. They finally finished and went down to the beach

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Once the whole family got settled and found a spot down at the beach Shelly decided to go for a swim after that long process of getting everything ready to go the beach. The water was very cold so it took her awhile to get in and under the water. The water was sparkling blue from the sunlight above. After about an hour of taking one step more into the water Shelly finally went under the water. When she went under the water she slipped, there was a slope and she started to fall down it. The lifeguard hopped off his chair and started to run as fast as he could into the water. He got her out of the water and started to give her CPR but it wasn’t working, she wasn't waking up. They had no other choice but to rush her to the hospital. He didn’t have time to tell anybody, he only had time to get her in the car and bring her to the hospital. He had to save this girls life or he wouldn't be able to live with himself, if she died it would be all on him. He put her into the car and got the the hospital as fast as he could. They finally arrived to the hospital, “HELP HELP” the lifeguard yelled. “How can I help you?” said the nurse. “This girl needs help, I tried giving her CPR but it didn’t work” replied the lifeguard.  “Okay, bring her in.” said the nurse. They rushed the girl into the room as fast as possible. The lifeguard waited for the girl to come out in the waiting room. He felt really anxious while waiting, he really didn’t want anything to happen to this     girl. If anything ever happened to this girl to it would be all his fault, he was the only one that could have saved her life. He was just sitting there waiting and it felt like he was sitting there for hours but it had only been a half hour. The nurse went over to Spencer, “I have bad news.” said the Nurse. “What’s wrong, what happened?” asked Spencer.

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“We don’t know if she is going to make it, you might have arrived too late.” said the Nurse. “Oh my god, this is all my fault.” said the lifeguard. “Have hope, she might still live.” said the Nurse. “How am I going to tell her parents, I won’t be able to live with myself.” said the lifeguard. “Calm down, she might still live, don’t jump to conclusions.” said the Nurse. Spencer sat there for an hour longer which felt more like three hours to him. The poor guy, he didn’t know what he would do if she died, it would be all on him. When she came out of the room Spencer ran over to the girl. He had never felt more relieved in his life. He had saved this girls life, he felt like a hero also because of this. “Are you okay?” said the lifeguard “Yeah, I’m fine, but do I know you? said Shelly. “Oh sorry, let me introduce myself, My name is Spencer. I am the one who brought you here. I am a lifeguard at the beach and I tried giving you CPR but it didn’t work so I had to rush you to the hospital.”  said Spencer. “Oh thank you so much, but I need to let my parents know that I am okay.” said the girl. “Here is my phone, you can give them a call” said Spencer. She called her parents and told them everything that had happened. They couldn't believe that she had almost drown. They were worried about her, they had no idea where she had gone. They searched the whole beach for her and she was nowhere to be found. They were just happy that she was safe. “Would you like me to bring you back to the beach now?” said Spencer.                                                                                                                                           “Okay that would be great.” Shelly replied. 196


“Sounds good, lets go.” said Spencer. “Thank you very much, I want to thank you for saving my life.” said Shelly. Spencer had brought Shelly back to beach. They got into the car and Shelly noticed that Spencer had kept looking over at her. “Why do you keep looking at me like that?” said Shelly. “I’m sorry, is it making you uncomfortable?” said Spencer. “Yeah, just a little bit.” said Shelly. “It’s really hard not to look at you.” said Spencer He pulled over to the side of the road. Spencer pushed Shelly bangs back then slowly leaned in and kissed her. “Wow, that was amazing.” said Shelly. “I know, I have never felt that way before.” said Spencer. “Me either.” said Shelly. “Would you like to go out with me sometime?” Spencer asked. “I would love to.” Shelly replied They finally got back to the beach, Shelly’s family was so happy to see her. They pack everything up and went back home. Shelly and Spencer had exchanged phone numbers. The next  night they went out to dinner, he had picked her up at 7 o’clock and they went to Olive Garden. Everything on their date went really well, they had connected in so many ways. Shelly had never felt this way about a boy before, she really felt a connection with him. She had had boyfriends in the past but she never felt this way. They started to date and everything was going great. Her parents loved him, not only was he a great guy but he had saved their daughters life. They ended dating for about five years.

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One night they were on the beach where Spencer had saved Shelly’s life. They couldn’t believe that it and already been five years since they had meet at this beach. Spencer got down on one knee, “Will you marry me?” he said. “Oh my goodness, of course.” she cried happily. They ended up getting married a year later. They had a few kids of their own, everybody was so happy for them. Shelly never thought this day would happen. She was so happy with Spencer, he really did treat her right. They ended up being together for the rest of their lives, they watched their kid grow up together and helped them through thick and thin.  Shelly and Spencer grown old together and they lived happily ever after.

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CHAPTER 5

Anyone with gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things: what’s said and what’s done - Beowulf

199


MADISON

Becoming September My life is not an epic. I cannot just whisk into an alternate reality where my life is where I want it to be at that very moment. Dragons, wizards, love, are all fantasy in the grand scheme of the real world. Then... again film is an outlet for imagination to flow and thrive and express our true selves... “SARAH BREAKFAST!” my mom yells from down stairs. The small wisps of chocolate chip waffles filled my sense of smell. A smile creeps across my face like a puppy ready to pounce on its new toy. Waffles are my favorite breakfast food beside a good muffin on occasion. My mother loves to make special meals on the first day of school. Every year the honor of choosing the meals switches between my three young brother - Todd, Scott, and Peter - and I. Technically my year of the “food choosing” is next year but today starts the end of it all, my senior year of high school, the last hurrah before “life” starts. Todd was nice enough and switched years as long as I drove him to school since now I had a car. He was starting his freshman year, for me that feels like ages ago. “One second, Mom” I yell out my door. A quick glance around my cluttered room compiled with book, athletic equipment, and photographs - I love photographs. My room is a normal uninteresting square shape with my bed pushed up against the wall opposite the door. Behind my bed the wall is covered in photos, posters, anything visual. On the other wall stand three tall dark bookcases that stand noble and strong holding the intelligence behind the literature genius of Dickinson, Poe, and Frost. Beyond the few oddities I have aquired from my Dad’s travels my room is boring compared to the “typical” teenage oasis. Its has a light brown carpet, my bedspread is a swirl black and white floral pattern draped across my twin size mattress.. The furniture is a deep dark oak looking wood that seems sophisticated. I like the darker colors because of the fact its mature and they are beautiful. Grabbing my canvas backpack, keys, phone, and of course my digital 200


camera. With a quick check in the mirror I wear a quarter sleeve shirt with dark jeans and knee high boots. My dark brown hair sits straight on my head it looks a bit messy. So I decide to pull it into a bun. My polaroid sits on my desk looking abandoned, film is expensive so I must use it wisely. Breakfast awaits. “Hi Sarah” my mother greats with the biggest smile possible. She embraces me with a hug almost suffocating and tops it off with a kiss my forehead. “Hi mom” I say with a chuckle. The mornings are always hectic with getting people where they need to be, but somehow my mother is always able to get four kids in line for a first day of school picture, my last first day of grade school. Click! Flash! Our picture is complete. “Come on Todd, time to go! We have to pick up Graham” I said “What? No! I call shotgun! Doesn’t he have a car of his own?” Todd said with a slight distress in his voice in fear of being cheated out of the covenant front seat by my best friend. “Don’t worry, you can have shotgun.” I laugh as my little brother hops into the car with a glow of delight and success. Ten minutes later we pick up Graham and have mindless chit chatter until arriving in the wasteland - high school. I don’t like school. My reasoning behind my dislike for school is not because its boring or “I’m lazy” or the teachers are mean, these are the excuses of stupid teenagers drunk on the power they don’t have. In reality, when “life” happens they will all be in a shell shocked state for the next millennia. School is a waste of time, I could be taking photographs or experiencing the world, the wanderlust grows intensely inside my soul waiting to burst! Along with my need of freedom, I am invisible. I suppose I like that aspect of coasting by unnoticed but sometimes I wish I was acknowledged. Everyday I sit in class, obtain excellent grades that are deserved, maybe ask a teacher’s question, and attend whatever after school activities I have that day. I only really have 3 friend  - Graham Weller, Annie Maverick, and Ryder Haddock - I guess it a effect from my almost painfully quiet nature. “Sarah! Hello?!” Graham playfully bumps my arm acting like I am in a transe. 201


“Oh! Sorry! I was just thinking about stuff ” trying the play my awkwardness off as intelligence. Graham chuckles. “Cool! Let’s get inside. I want to see Ryder and Annie. We all have Mr.Washington first period. Wooooh! AP English!” “Aren’t you excited?” I joke “Well of course! It’s senior year Sarah! Only..mmphm.... days left” “I like your mumbles in the middle” I laugh hard and people start to look at me. “Shall we enter at the end” He opens his arm for me to take and tries to look noble. “We shall!” I fold my arm into his and we stroll into first period. I take twenty picture of the people mingling around in the halls. Nobody takes a notice. Invisible. ✹ ` The school announcements rolled on ominous as usual, lunch for today, welcome back to school, etcetera. Looking around the room with the desks shaped in a wide U shape I see the same faces. Jocks, preps, socialites, and any other class you could think of and the reason we all converge into one class is simple. English is universal. “Hello Seniors!” Mr. Washington yells. This is how he greets all his classes everyday, he is a man of pattern. Without fail Mr.Washington brings a sense of life to the mostly dull morning routines. “Hello Mr.Washington” We all say in unison but each individual giving their own twist to the words - loud, soft, crazy, dramatic, monotonous, or asleep. “Did you know on this day, September 7th, ESPN debuted on cable in 1979? Bet you didn't?” His smiles widens as chuckles filled the room. For a English teacher Mr.Washington loved quirks of history, maybe its a side effect from his name. “I have a challenge and a project..” Groans filled the room like monsters ris-

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ing from the depths of the earth. “AH! Don’t be so quick to judge! This year you will become somebody.” “What does that mean? Aren’t we people already” Graham asked out loud. “Now, Mr. Weller. I did not say become a person. I said become somebody. By the time you walk across that stage at graduation high school ends. Most of you will fall into the lost puppy stage and forget who you were in high school, possibly drift into oblivion. In any form, shape, or outlet you please - by the end of the year you must present how you became somebody. This assignment starts now and before any more questions ponder the thought a bit.” Mr. Washington fell into his desk, grabbed a book and started to read. The period ended 26 minutes later, nobody talked, everyone escaped into their minds. ✹ November The becoming someone project that Mr.Washington has assigned has caused me to think in depth on who I am. My outlet will be photos and my mission to not only become somebody but be remembered... “Happy Birthday Sarah!” All my family bursts into my room at once is a whirlwind of confetti and colored paper. Today is my 18th birthday, November 26th, I am officially an adult. “Thanks everyone!” “Oh! Graham called he said to tell you to get ready he will pick you up in an hour and be out for the day” My mom said this a squeaky pitch in her voice. Saturdays are the best days - no school and tons of time for whatever. I jump up and start to gather my things together. My family leaves and I think outloud. “Ok. Backpack, phone, money plus license, ummm..... polaroid camera!” I throw on my baseball t-shirt with a pair of dark jeans and my tall brown leather boots. Beep Beep! Graham honks and takes me on a adventure to whenever we please - picnic, photos, and a good movie. While laying on the grass staring up at the clouds with Graham laying besides me, my mind begins to race. Then like a 203


tidal wave of emotion I start to cry. Crying is something I do not do often and NEVER in front of people outside my immediate household. My chest tightens as my sobs increase a whimper escapes my throat causing Graham to look over at me. Naturally he was shocked. “Sarah” He said with hesitation. “ Are you ok? What’s wrong? Do you want to do something else”. His questions burned into my brain. Yes, I am not physically hurt so I am ok in a sense. Honestly I don't know what is wrong, hormones? Reality?. The hot wet tears slide down my checks. I can feel my face growing hotter as my upset feeling increase. “I don’t know” that is all I can say. Graham then does the unexpected. He wraps his long arms around me. His arms carry strength which in return starts to calm me down but not completely. I lean my head into his shoulder and hold it there. He smells good - clean with a cologne that fits him. Graham is the perfect size for a girl my height at about 5 foot 9. He has dark brown hair and stands about 6 foot 3 inches. Today, He is wearing dark jeans with a plaid button up shirt. He is handsome even with the small scar on the curve of his right cheek. Graham fell out of a tree when we were kids, he needed five stitches. After my brief admire of Graham, I speak. “I am an adult” I giggle of helplessness escapes and tears flow like a waterfall. “That’s what happens. We grow up” Graham said with slight disappointment, not wanting to speak the truth. “But how did this happen! Yesterday I was a child wanting to be and adult. Now I am an adult that wants to turn back the clock” My emotions tingle through my body - adrenaline takes over, “High school is almost over! Then we will have reunions. Our parents have those! Nothing will be the same. Even now I can vote! I can handle voting I’m too competitive for that, if the person I want loses I’ll.... I'll..... I don't know what I will do! But it will be something! On top of it I am going to fail Mr.Washington’s project!” I catch my breath in a few large gulps. My thoughts continue, I probably could have ranted for hours. “Calm down. Its ok. You won’t fail and you don't have to go to the reunions if you don't want to” Graham laughed and gave me a big hug. 204


“Your such a dork” I laugh with him. Suddenly I feel better. Its strange, Graham’s dorkiness remarks always make me feel better. That day we took one hundred and twenty six photos of everything and anything. My birthday was perfect. ✹ January I am speaking more in class and to other people. It’s funny how they react to the change. Let the record show I am only an antisocial person to a small extent, I just never found you interesting before. Also my project is coming along.... I walking into my fourth period spanish like any other day. I love spanish because its different and cultural, in a way its magic how words are the same but are said so differently. There is one reason why spanish is horrible this year - Tim Dalton. He is a know it all, condescending, rude, arrogant, and a true a double s. Thats putting it lightly. Basically Tim thinks he is the man and the smartest person in our grade a shooing for valedictorian. The only saving grace of this establishment is that we do not know our class rank until april of senior year. Naturally he thinks it will be him and nobody questions him on it. Today I took a step to become somebody. Tim is going on and on to Senora about his achievements as she does anuncios. I raise my hand. “Hoy, Yo saco una phographia de los flores y arbol. Creo es bonita” I said confidently. Tim looks with a twinge of anger and disbelief. He tries to speak again but I cut him off. Tim is furious. The competition has begun. We both start saying random spanish facts at Senora. Then it happened - I showed a weakness - I looked a word in the book which I already knew and he pounced like a unforgiving lion on its prey. “ Sarah necesita su libro. Es muy tonto en la clase de espanol.” Tim chuckles like that is the funniest thing anyone has ever said. I get up storm over to his desk. Pound my fist down and yell is perfect spanish. “Yo es no tonto. Tu es un tonto porque grosero y arrogante rana comer cacahuete” The class laughs. I won. Then calmly I turn to Senora and ask. “Puerdo ir al bano?” 205


“Si Senorita Sarah, Tu usas los palabras vocaulario bueno. Excellente” Her smile made my day. I go to the bathroom to collect my thought and feel satisfied, I just called Tim Dalton a peanut eating frog. All I hear when I leave from Tim is. “She can’t do that! That is bullying or something!” “No it is not just great use of the vocab. Now return to your seat Mr.Dalton.” Forty eight photos were taken that day. ✹ April My wall is filled with photos for the year and most are for my project. Random students chatting at lunch, teachers teaching, the lone fruit cup left on the table, and most importantly Graham and Ryder and Annie. What am I going to do? Am I becoming a better person. Am I... The list is pinned on the board outside the main office. Today is the day some hope and dream for all their years in high school - class rank. I walk up a fall into the mash of student right behind Tim Dalton who is frozen. That picture was priceless. The top of the list - valedictorian - the name stands as number one. Sarah Radke. ✹ May Presentation Day... I compiled all my photos I have taken on too long pieces of string. Arriving at school a few minutes early helped me hang the string around the room. Beep! Students fill the seats like a movie is about to begin. “ I am Sarah Radke and this year I became somebody.” I stare back at their inquisitive faces, not is a fierce or intimidating way but in an intriguing manner. “Polaroids last a lifetime, that single moment of joy, pain, or any number of feelings. This is the medium I decided to show my form.” I walk to one end and just talk. “ My 18th birthday was magical with Graham - we just talked and had a picnic like any other day but thats when it hit me which explains why this photo has 206


tear marks. I have no legacy left in this school. No one would remember me, sure I played sports and joined clubs but my own quietness was the death of being remember. Its not about being popular or cool, its about... making a name for yourself. So from then on I spoke up and out about my feelings like some of you do naturally. As everyone know I told off Tim Dalton to make a point and to knock him down a few notches. Also I was tired of listening to him.” Laughs this is a good sign. My presentations continues for the rest of the period to the bell. That day I gave more examples and details about my senior year and life then I have ever before to my peers. It is exhilarating and freeing but terrifying at the same time. “Thank you Sarah. Yours has been the best so far” That was all Mr.Washington said about my project and I happily took the compliment with pride. Twenty six photos were taken. ✹ June Today is the day we live. Graduation.... “Ryder Haddock” I clap for my friend. “Annie Maverick” I clap for my friend. My name is about to be called. The speech I have prepared comes next. “Life starts after high school for the simple reason being we are on our own. No lunch table of friend to sit with for 180 day or looking at schedules to see who you have as a teacher. I am not trying to be doom and gloom but give a bit of reality. Now a majority of us can vote, that means for the President.” The room chuckles. “In fact this is something to be happy and excited for. I know I am because I am ready for the future. This is when it begins, nothing truly end and high school will live with us forever. The thought of the end brings us to the state of mind that lead to denial and fear. One thing is certain when its us against the world. We can do this.” My speech continues for about ten minutes longer, an appropriate length. Upon completion, applause roars through the theater. All I have done is speak the truth. 207


“Sarah Radke� Graham clasps the loudest as I walk across the stage to receive the diploma. Then it hits me like a ton of bricks - I like him. He has be there when I cry, laugh, or just want someone to be there. Him - Graham Weller. My last steps of high school are coming. The feet touch the first step, second, then third, I am on the ground - My life has started.

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M I K AY L A

A Weekend In Maine It was a beautiful July day in Old Orchard Beach, ME. The sun was setting, and Bridget and her two good friends were getting ready to go out for the night to the local amusement park called Palace Playland. It is located on the beach front. There is also a pier that they love. The pier has all their favorites including fried Oreo’s and henna tattoos. Bridget has always brought her best friend Abi with her. But, this is her first time inviting her good friend Kelp anywhere. Bridget loved inviting her friends to go on vacation with her. She never liked going on vacation alone with her parents because she was the only child. Bridget always got easily mad at the people around her. But she always the first to care. She never felt to alone because she always had her good friend Abi there for her.     Abi was always excited to go on vacation with Bridget. “This time is different though” Abi said. Bridget didn’t know why she said that. She thought possibly because she invited kelp to come along. And Abi wasn’t always nice to Kelp. Kelp wasn’t too trustworthy. She has a lot of problems in the past. Abi and Bridget believed Kelp changed. She wasn’t her old self. Kelp was always trying to steal Bridget and Abi’s boyfriends. But that was years ago. So Bridget figured it’d be a good idea to invite her on vacation.    So the night started. The girls checked out the pier a bit before they went to the amusement park. They were pumped to get their favorite fried oreos. After they ordered their oreos they were happy to notice a “3 FOR 15” henna tattoo sign. Bridget got a snake. Abi got a dolphin. And Kelp got a heart. They walk off the pier and notice some cute guys. With no surprise, Kelp walks over to them and gets their numbers. Bridget was kind of interested in seeing them tonight. Abi didn’t really care too much because she has a older 21 years old boyfriend Richie.                         209


The three girls walked towards the park entrance and headed over to the ticket dispenser. All of them got a all night wrist band pass. As they are checking out the rides Bridget and Kelp are upset to find out their phones are dead. Thankfully Abi’s phone is fully charged.                             It gets to be about 6:30 PM and they have been going on a lot of rides. So they decided to get some fried dough. As they walked throughout the park to get to the fried dough stand Abi noticed something.       “Kelp and Bridget look at that creep. It seems like hes been following us.” Abi said frightenly. Bridget and Kelp believed Abi was just messing with them so the two didn’t look. They finally got to the line. Abi said again, “Guys, seriously look at the end of the line at this creep.”            Hesitantly, Bridget and Kelp looked. “Oh my god!” This guy was in a long black trench coat. His face was covered by the oversized trench coat. He was wearing big black boots. They all were frighted.        Bridget, Kelp, and Abi were dying to get out of that line. They all wanted to go on the ferris wheel and eat their friend dough and calm their nerves. So they walk fastly to the ferris wheel.                   As they are at the top of the ferris wheel enjoying their crispy tasty fried dough overlooking the beach Abi noticed something. Astonished Abi says “It’s him. It’s the stalker, hes on the ride!” Bridget spits up her food from being so surprised. “It’s time to go” Kelp says. But Abi assures them it must be a coincidence and to stay at the park. “Hey Abi, can I use your phone real quick so I can text my sister to walk over the park for a bit, just incase.” Bridget says nervously. Kelp agrees with Bridget. 210


“Sorry guys, but um I have no cell service.”     The three get off the ride. They walk reckless to the beach to watch the bright booming fireworks. They’re a group of people around so they weren’t too afraid. But as soon as they ended the group of hundreds of people scattered off. They got worried Bridget and Kelp wanted to go back towards the park, but Abi insisted if we go back to the park the creep would find them. “If we walk the beach its less likely some like that will find us” Abi added.           So they walked along the beach. Being very confused Bridget and Kelp asked Abi why shes on her phone if she doesn't have service. “Oh um because I’ve been playing some games.” Bridget and Kelp just go with it. Even though it sounds weird. Surely enough the creep was behind them. “We have to get off this beach now!” Bridget said. “Alright follow me I know a path” Abi said. Soon enough they got lost. “Guys I am sorry, but I don’t know where we are” Abi said holding onto her vibrating phone. “Are you kidding me” Kelp says frightenly. “This guy is getting closer to us” Bridget said. “Why is he laughing” Kelp said. “This is too weird.” She added on. “I’m gonna get you’s!” The creep yelled out. “Leave us alone!” Bridget cries out. “Get away or we will call the cops!” Kelp screamed out. Bridget and Kelp are wondering why Abi isn’t scared and why she is smirking down at her phone typing. 211


Bridget snatches Abi’s phone out of her hand and sees what her deal is. Abi has had cell reception and she has been texting her boyfriend Richie. They go through her texts with Richie. Bridget and Kelp find out the news that the creep is Richie. And Abi was in on the plan. They run over to Richie and push him into the ocean. They surprisingly find it funny. “Well thankfully nobody was actually following us.” Bridget says. “God, I’m gonna kill you two.” Kelp says. “But it was a good prank.” She added on. “It’s alright, Kelp and I will get you guys back.” Bridget said jokingly. “Yeah okay!” Abi said sarcastically. “Well guys, do you want to go enjoy the park before it closes?” Richie said. “Of course” They all said! “Thanks for giving me another chance and inviting me” Kelps said. “You’re welcome Kelp!” Bridget said happily. “I’m glad Bridget did too” Abi said. “Now lets have some fun!” Richie said! And they enjoyed the rest of their warm weathered time in Maine!

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CHAPTER 6

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle - Plato

213


CAITLIN

Looking Down I watch as Sophia sat on her bed covered with a pink and white blanket, in the room we used to share. The window was cracked open. A slight breeze traveled through the room, softly blowing the stands of Sophia’s long, brown hair. The color of her eyes matches her hair perfectly and her teeth are white and straight. The sun light peered through the window shining on her face and making the pink walls shine brighter than usual. The ground, covered with grey carpet, was spotless. Sophia’s room was never messy. The walls are covered with memories; pictures with friends, tickets to concerts and anything you would expect a teenage girl to have on her wall. Tear trickled down her face as she looked at old pictures of her, her friends, and her family. The tears are controlled until she comes across a picture of her, her mom, her dad and me her sister Lucy. The tears started pouring down her face as if the whole tragedy had just taken place again.    Sophia and I were so close, like best friends. Even though I was younger, I got made bullied a lot at school, so Sophia being the kind big sister she always was, invited me to hang out with her and her friends all the time. Suddenly, Sophia’s prized possession; the little girl who aspired to be her was taken away in a heartbeat. One day, Sophia and our family were driving through New York City, New York, were we lived, in the car when we were hit by a drunk driver. Sophia and Mom survived, but our father and I did not. The terrible accident ruined Sophia, she felt guilty for being alive while Dad and I were killed in the same accident. She didn’t understand how she could have just a couple scratches and Dad and I could have such tragic injuries. After the accident, Sophia went in to a deep state of depression, however with the help of her best friends and mom; she was able to get through it. Today Sophia and mom are so much closer and happier, which fills me with joy. I can tell Sophia and Mom miss us all the time and there isn’t a moment that goes by that they don’t think about them, but now they are able to cope with the pain. Even though I wish I was able to spend a longer life with Sophia and my 214


family, I am happy I am able to watch over them as they travel through the stages of life. Sophia has known her best friends since Kindergarten. Their names are Liam and Kendal. They have been inseparable ever since they were little and they did everything together. As she looks through the pictures, the pictures portray the evolution of their friendship and how much they have changed. It started in Kindergarten when they were young, innocent, five year olds who thought it was fun to go to school. Sophia, Liam, and Kendall were in the same class and soon became best friends. None of them knew how much they would mean to each other later on in life. They went through elementary school and middle school together facing bullies, school, enemies, and bad days the typical struggles best friends face while growing up. They also experienced the exciting and happy times together. They always had each other to confide in, but recently everything was beginning to change. Sophia felt her life spinning out of control again and there was nothing she could do about it. Sophia knew her relationship with her friends was strong and didn’t want it to end, but she had doubts whether their friendship was going to last through the hardships and pressure to fit in, in high school and life itself. Their friendship was about to be put to extremes they never thought they were going to have to face.    High school was going good for Sophia. She had her two best friends, good grades, and a life everyone dreamed of having. It was still dark when Sophia woke for school that the morning just like every other day. She put on her clothes, grabbed her backpack, and ran to the bus, just making it. When she arrived at the school, she went to print out her essay for English Class in the library, where she usually met her friends in the morning. Except this morning was different neither Liam nor Kendal showed up. Sophia didn’t think much of it at first; she thought they were probably out sick since the flu was going around. Then she saw Liam in the hallway later that day and he completely avoided eye contact. When she said hello, he softly said hi and kept on walking. It was the strangest thing and Sophia started to get nervous. Why weren’t her friends talking to her?     At lunch Sophia sat with Kendal, along with some other girls in their grade. Kendal didn’t seem mad, which meant she still had one best friend. Sophia still 215


didn’t know what was going on. Kendal, however, seemed a little off. Usually Kendal is the spark of the conversation, cracking jokes here and there, and always in a great mood. Not today though. Sure everyone has a bad day now and then, but Sophia could tell something was really bothering her. Kendal tried to cover up the pain she was feeling with a smile, but she was unusually quiet. Sophia always knew when something was wrong; she was really good at that kind of stuff, which really helped me when I was bullied. She could tell something really terrible was on Kendal’s mind. Sophia was eager to know what was going on, but she knew she shouldn’t ask right now, not in front of everyone else. She was going to have to wait until later, when they were alone, to find out.  After school, Sophia was able to catch up to Kendal. She didn’t understand why Kendal hadn’t said anything about what was going on. Kendal always told Sophia everything, but this time it was different. What Kendal was about to tell Sophia was something neither of them expected to ever happen. Kendal was distraught from the news she learned earlier this morning and now she was about to inform Sophia with the extremely sad information, too.   “Sophia,” Kendal spoke slowly, “My parents are getting a divorce. I am sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, but I am so upset and I haven’t even been able to completely consume what is going. I didn’t know how I was going to tell you, so I decided to just come out and say it.” She was speechless. No word came to her mouth and she just sat there in awe. When she saw tears running down Kendal’s face she began to cry too. For a long time they just sat there crying, Sophia letting Kendal let it all out.   Finally, Sophia said, “I’m sorry this is happening to you Kendal, but know that both of your parents still love you and this has nothing to do with you. I’m always here if you need anything and I know it is going to be hard, but soon everything is going to work out fine even if it doesn’t seem like that now.” That afternoon was disastrous; Sophia and Kendal, once again had to face a challenging time in their lives. Little did they know the worst was yet to come. Kendal was so upset, that she didn’t feel like going home that night and decided to sleep at Sophia’s. They walked through Time Square to get to Sophia’s 216


apartment. When they arrived at the apartment, our mom ran to embrace Kendal with a hug. Kendal and our mothers were best friends, just like them. Kendal’s mom had already informed our mom about what had happened. Our Mom invited over Kendal’s Mom, too. They picked out a movie, ordered pizza, and decided to have a movie night to lighten the mood a little. After watching Pitch Perfect and lots of laughs, the girls finished their homework and headed to bed. Kendal had trouble sleeping, so Sophia stayed up as long as she needed to talk to her. Even though Kendal had a lot going on in her life at the moment, she was also able to help Sophia with troubles she was facing too. Sophia told Kendal what had happened between her and Liam in the hallway today and Kendal said he did the same thing to her. They were confused, he had never avoided them before. They decided they were probably reading too much into and soon dozed off to sleep. The next morning the girls got up and got ready for school. Kendal was feeling a little better and when they went down stairs, Mom had pancakes made for breakfast. Mom’s parents got divorced when she was really little and affected her a lot. She was going to do everything she could to comfort Kendal and Kendal’s Mom. At school, Liam was completely avoiding Kendal and Sophia again. Sophia and Kendal started to get worried. They decided to confront him about to figure out if they were just over thinking everything. Nothing like this has ever happened in their long lived friendship. “Liam!” Sophia and Kendal called after him as he quickly tried to get away. “What?” He yelled back kind of aggravated. “ I have to get home. I have a lot of homework to do.” “First of all, you never do your homework, but that is beside the point. Kendal and I feel like you have been avoiding us…?”  Liam was a popular kid. He had a lot of friends besides Sophia and Kendal, but he always made it obvious that they were his best friends and he would always be loyal to them. Kendall and  Sophia had been there since the beginning. Liam 217


was a guy who played sports, but wasn’t mean and conceited like all the boys. He was generally sweet and kind. Recently, though he has been acting a lot like his other friends. He has beginning to drift away from them. It wasn’t easy for him to be best friends with two girls because his other friends made fun of him for it all the time. High school was changing him and they couldn’t bear to lose him, especially now. Losing Liam would be like losing their brother and that would destroy them. Liam always acted like their brother sticking up for them and always being on their side. Now they were about to find out that was all going to change. “Look, my friends said that if I still wanted to hang out with them, I couldn’t talk to you guys anymore. I know I shouldn’t listen to them and it is killing me inside, but I can’t just hang out with a bunch of girls all the time. I’m sorry.” Liam said with a rasp in his voice like he was about to cry. Tears trickled down Sophia’s face as she said “ Don’t be” and then ran away. Kendal stood there with a complete look of awe on her face, staring at Liam, and then turned and ran after Sophia.  Sophia and Kendal received even more bad news later that afternoon; because of the divorce, Kendal was moving.  Kendal said, “ That’s okay we will still go to the same school, right mom?” “Well, not exactly.” Kendal’s mom said in reply.  Kendal, surprised, was only able to force out, “Mom, you can’t do this to me. I have already lost so much in the last couple hours. I can’t afford to lose Sophia too!” “Kendal, I have no choice. We can’t live here anymore and you can still visit on the weekends we are only moving an hour away” Answered her mom.  Kendal didn’t think her mom understood. She lost her dad, who had fled to California after the disastrous divorce, Liam had changed, and now she was going to leave Sophia too. She was going to have no one else and neither would Sophia. Kendal would be going to a new school where she knew no one and Sophia had other friends, but was losing both of her best friends since Kindergarten in one 218


day. Sophia couldn’t stop crying it was like someone just dropped a hundred pounds on her shoulders. The move took place really fast because of the time frame they were faced with to get out of the apartment. That weekend Sophia and Kendal said their good-byes, which were filled with a lot of tear and promises. They promised to hang out whenever they could and make sure to text each other every day. After about five minutes, it was time for Kendal to go. Sophia watched until the car disappeared down the street.    School was horrendous without her best friends. Sophia just decided  to focus more on her school work more than anything else. She sat at the same table at lunch, but it wasn’t the same because Kendal wasn’t there. She sat in the same seat in English class next to Liam, but it wasn’t the same because ever since the incident in the hallway they hadn’t talked. Sophia began to slip back into her depression after a few weeks without her best friends. Her mom had to take on two jobs to support her and Sophia, so she barely saw her anymore. Sophia felt more than alone like she had no one to turn to. She began skipping school and when she went to school, she refused to do the work. Liam knew something was going on, but still refused to do anything. Kendal still talked to Sophia every day but when Sophia was talking to Kendal she would put on an act because she didn’t want her to know she was in a bad place. She was embarrassed by the fact that she had slipped this low once again. She would cry herself to sleep, tell herself that I should have lived instead of her, putting herself down all the time. She was almost to the breaking point when everything began to turn around again. One day after class, Liam ran out into the hallway trying to catch up to Sophia. When he reached her, she stared at him in confusion. Sophia didn’t want to talk to him, what he said hurt a lot and she was ready to forget about it and him. “What do you want?” She snapped at him. Ignoring her tone, he asked, “Where is Kendal and where have you been? Why have you been skipping school?” Sighing, she replied, “If you were still friends with us, like you said you always would be you would know that she moved a couple weeks ago” She broke down 219


into tears. She didn’t want to cry in front of him, but she couldn’t hold it in any longer. “It’s none of your business where I have been. You lost the right to know when you ended our friendship.”  A frown appeared on his face, and tears appeared in his eyes, “Look Sophia, I am really sorry about what happened. I should have never listened to those guys. They aren’t my real friends. You and Kendal are and I understand if you don’t forgive me. I’m sorry you had to go all through this on your own. You and Kendal were so close and I can’t even imagine how hard this is for you. I truly am sorry! You can’t go back to your old ways. I am here for you even if you don’t want me to be. I know the depression has come back, I can tell by the way you are acting and you can’t let it take control of you. You have to keep up with your school work. Even if you’re not going to forgive me you have to promise that you will bring your grades back up, because I know it is your dream to go to Boston College and I am not going to let you throw it away.”  Sophia thought for a moments and then replied, “I forgive you. I promise. Thank you”   The two friends hugged and then went to class. Liam was the oldest of the three and he and Sophia decided to surprise Kendal after school that day. Kendal was so excited to see Sophia, but didn’t understand why Liam was there. She ran to Sophia and gave her a hug then turned and looked at Liam. They explained everything that happened and soon they were all laughing and joking around again.  The obstacles the friends faced over their high school education, made their friendship stronger. Sophia and Liam visited Kendal as much as they could and they never lost contact with each other. When it came time to graduate all three of them were accepted into the same college and like they planned since they were still in 6th grade, unanimously decided to attend Boston College together. Life was about to throw a new set of challenges in their direction, but together they would be able to survive in the cruel world. I know their friendship will last forever. One day they will join me up in heaven and we will all be together once again. 220


HEIDI

A Beautiful Rose She sure was beautiful. I thought this very thing a million times a day. I stared into her deep green eyes, the color of the rough ocean during a storm. Her eyes told so many things, just the way she looked at me with them, I knew what she thought. She had dozens of freckles gathered on her nose and cheeks. When I wasn't gazing in her eyes I was connecting her freckles like constellations, freckle by freckle; star by star. She had smooth pale peach skin, the color of dry summer beach sand. Her hair had been brown, deep chocolate, and it was crazy just like her. Crazy in a good way though. Her curly spirals went in all directions, it could not be tamed. She could light a room just by being present. She was as bright as the moon in a dark nighttime sky, in comparison to others who were stars, bright but not as dominant and breathtaking. Rarely would she be angry, but often frustrated from helping people and trying to make things perfect. She would help a stranger she had never met because that’s who she was, a truly caring person. She was quite fascinating. Not a day went by when I wouldn’t think about her. We did simple things together, like take trips to the nearby park, watch movies all day, go out for coffee, just sweet things like that. It didn't really matter what we did, as long as we were together. We could make the best of anything. But no matter what the day brought us we would always be laughing and have a smile on both our faces. Even in the dead silence she would look at me and smile. She said she couldn't help it, that I had a contagious smile. I thought this was a good thing; I could make her smile anytime I wanted. And I always wanted that. There was a time when I couldn't make her smile, even if a tried. A very specific time. She knew something that I didn’t, and she wasn’t willing to give it away. She was one who would hold things in and lock them up; no one had a key to unlock these secrets. I knew by her eyes it was horrible, her eyes still red from crying. She didn’t stare into my eye the way she used to. She looked up at me and back 221


down; that’s when I knew she was scared. I couldn't rush her to tell me though. Secrets don’t last forever. She would tell me when she thought she should. So for now I told myself to just comfort her and make her happy. This is exactly what I did. I told her funny stories and talked to her just like I had always done. I bought her a single rose every day. She smiled every time; part of why I did it, I would do anything to see that smile back. She sure loved roses. After 5 days, 5 roses, she looked at the ground, fingers playing with the rose. We were at the park sitting on the same bench we always had. "I have to tell you something Dan.” She said those words as if she was forcing herself to do so. My heart sunk a little, I don’t really know why. Maybe because I so desperately wanted to her what was next. I was nervous as hell. I took her hand and intertwined our fingers. We looked blankly at each other for a few seconds, which felt like years. But I remember the next words; I recite these word over and over in my head every day. Her innocent voice, a bit shaky. " Dan..I...I have cancer." This is the first time I experienced heart break. At that moment we both broke down, words were trapped inside me; I had no way of releasing them. But I hate thinking that, my heart still sinks even thinking about it. But no matter what, I will never be able to erase this. This moment is on constant replay in my head. I felt every kind of pain inside me, I didn't know what or how to handle this. I made her a promise that day. I told her I would never stop loving her and I told her that we’d get through it. I would never let her go. This was a challenge we were given, but together we will get through it. This promise was also for me. I needed to tell myself I can handle this situation and be a man. I wasn’t definite that I could keep this promise, but I would try and give everything I had to make it reality. But promises are hard when in it something like cancer, I’m not in control. I told her over and over it would be okay, but I started to doubt myself as time went on. She slowly lost some of her crazy brown curls. As her crazy hair went so did her crazy personality. She was more insecure and getting quiet skinny. She was clearly not her bright self, she wasn’t confident. But every day I would see her still,

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bringing her a rose and telling her how beautiful she was. She smiled, but these smiles vanished seconds after as she was brought back to reality. After a few months I found myself visiting her multiple times daily at the hospital. I paid her all my time; she is the number one thing I cared about. Still of course I was bringing a rose every day, it was my routine. Sometimes they were pale peachy pink, the color of her skin, sometimes red the color of the lipstick she always used to wear. I missed that about her, she was always wearing red lipstick, and it was adorable. She looked so happy and it was on more thing I couldn’t help but stare at. Now her lips were pale, no lipstick, but still beautiful. No matter what happened, she still maintained all her beauty inside and out. She will forever be beautiful. She started to get weaker and weaker, the treatments weren’t working. My head was a traffic jam of everything, I could not think straight. I was lost, for once in my life. I didn’t know what to do. I thought and thought  24/7. But I knew I had to be with her, next to her side, holding her hand, next to her vases of all the living flowers left that I had gotten her. It sure was adding up. It showed the time we’ve been together through this. The love I had for her, and the beauty of her.  They showed every day I did not stop caring; I was a man of my word. Not only was I a man of my words, but I wanted to do this; what I loved. Looking at her pale face with a bald scalp and tiny body always brought tears to my eyes. She was beautiful and so tough, I still have a picture of her in my mind. Her lying there helplessly, looking up at me with her big eyes, looking for guidance. She looked up to me for support and help, I gave her all I had. It wasn’t enough.                 I woke up that day. Not prepared for it to be the worst day of my life. I got ready and put my coat on and walked out the door, got in my car and drove. But first I had to pick up a rose, which I got at a cute little flower shop called Flower Hill. They expected me every day. That day all’s they had was white roses for some reason. Of course I got one, I just had never gotten a white rose for her yet. I remember that I couldn’t wait to give her this white rose, it was beautiful and different from the other pinks and reds. I wanted to see her cute little smile. 223


I checked in the hospital and walked right to room 207 where she was held. I got that feeling as I did every day, I got so excited to see her cute face, she brightened anyone of my days. As I passed the hallways I looked around and saw 200… 203...206…then there 207, right where it had always been. I opened the door and walked right in… My heart dropped, my body shook, I got light headed. “Where is she? Where is Rose?” I yelled. At first none answered and I checked around the room. All that was left was a journal. It was hers. I picked it up with little strength left in my body and held it tight, I dare not read it now. Then a nurse came in the room “Hello, are you by any chance Dan?” “Y..yes.” I barley had the life to say that one little word. One three letter word was never so hard to say before in my life. I still didn’t know what to think in that moment. “I’m extremely sorry Dan, she had a severe case of cancer and despite the efforts of the treatments she was unable to pull through, I’m sorry.” These words were like bullets through my heart. Everything I loved was taken, robbed out of my life. All happiness striped out of my body. I was left alone in an empty hospital room, collapsing to the ground. My normal tears were like rain showers, but this time it was different. My tears were a hurricane, heavy tears flowing uncontrollably. My hand was bleeding from clenching the rose so tightly, the thorn pierced my skin. A beautiful innocent rose only noticed for its beauty, not its violence. I threw that white rose; I threw it as hard as I could. I needed to give that to her, but she wasn’t here to receive it. The next day I was a little more stable, but not by much. This little strength restored within me allowed me to open the diary.“Dan when you read this that means I’m gone. But not completely, I’m still here with you Dan you just don’t realize it, I have a picture of us taped in this diary so you never forget. And I hope when you read this, whenever you read this, you remember me, the memories, and your happiness. Remember that happiness because I want you to go find it, don’t worry I’ll wait for you, but you need to be happy now. You need to live your life. I 224


love you Dan.” This was the first page, only one page and it took almost an hour to get through it. I read it word by word, over and over again. A story that never got old, as if it said something different every time I read it. In the following pages of the diary were all the written memories of our past, everything she loved. Now reading this diary so many years later the pages are stiff and wrinkled from all the dropping tears, but still intact. Well it is now early morning. Time to get my day started. I put my shoes and coat on and head out the door... “Have a good day Phil!” as I waved and headed out the door of Flower Hill that morning. I now had only one thing in my hand, a pale pink rose. Still just a beautiful as all the ones before it. But not as beautiful as Rose, nothing was as beautiful as her. I made a promise and I kept it, I would never stop loving her; and I still bring her a rose every day to her grave. All the roses in the world wouldn’t be as beautiful as Roseanne. But after all we are only petals and we eventually fall.

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CHAPTER 7

For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief - Narrator, ‘The Black Cat’ by Edgar Allan Poe

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TIM

Arngeir Theringod The blinding sun shone above castle upon the hill as Arngeir Theringod awoke. His piercing blue eyes snapped open when a beam light struck his bearded face. He rose from the bed, crouching so he didn’t hit his head on the ceiling, and stoked the smoky fire to keep warm on this freezing winter day. Once the fire was blazing, he tied back his long brown hair, put on his blacksmith apron, and stepped outside to the fiery forge. Arngeir was fixing up the Royal Guard’s armor and weapons to look fantastic for the Festival of Kings. The Festival was an annual event that happened on the Winter Solstice where the poor and hungry citizens would bow down all day to the fat, rich, and tyrannical King. This extravagant festival had been going on since Sven Nahkriin, the first king of Ronan, had taken the throne two-hundred years ago at the start of the Second Era. King Sven was a good-hearted king. Under his rule, the Kingdom had prospered. Acres of crops scattered the land, a plentiful bounty of game roamed the woods. But now, under the rule of Aldus Nahkriin, the Kingdom is in grave danger. The crops have died, the game has fled, and the throne is in debt. King Aldus was a greedy and gluttonous king. Instead of using the Kingdom’s money for city repairs, agriculture, and a military, he spends it on his extensive wardrobe of the fines robes made of silk and fur. The Kingdom is now falling to pieces, the crops are dead, and the military was non-existent. The citizens of Ronan despised the crown for this. Arngeir chose today, the day of the festival, to act upon that hatred. He devised a plan to assassinate the king during his speech in the courtyard upon the balcony of the castle. Arngeir had been planning this assassination for months now. After the King’s speech from the balcony of Castle Stendor, fireworks are shot up in the air and cause massive explosions. During this large, bright distraction, Arngeir was going to assassinate King Aldus. Across thecourtyard from beautiful castle was a small stone building were the guards would take breaks from blocking the castle gates. During King Aldus’ speech Arngeir would climb this building on to the roof227


top, wait for the fireworks, and in all of the amazement and distraction, Arngeir would shoot an arrow through King Aldus’ heart. Minutes before the Festival began; Arngeir grabbed his beautifully crafted elven bow, made from the ancient oak of the Forest of Noldor in the Kingdom of Duskwood, and his brown leather quiver, and slung them across his back. He put on a long unassuming brown cloak to conceal the weapon. To avoid suspicion during the Festival, Arngeir stood at the back of the crowds until it was his time to strike. He waited countless hours into the dark night until the parade was ended and the King took his place upon the balcony. As King Aldus’ speech was coming to a close, Arngeir scaled the building as silent as a shadow and perched himself like an owl upon the rooftop. He dropped his ragged cloak and nocked an arrow to the bow. The click of nocking the arrow rang in Arngeir’s ears. The bright moonlight shone brilliantly upon the cold steel tip of his deadly arrow. Now it was a waiting game. The King’s speech had finished but the fireworks erupted. He waited and waited, time seemed to slow down in these short, precious minutes. The end was drawing near and not a light from the torch. Suddenly, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, a huge fireball rushed into the sky shining as bright as the sun. Everybody, the King, The guards, and the crowd, focused upon the blazing rocket in the sky. Arngeir drew his bow back and the rocket exploded. An umbrella of dark red covered the clear night sky. In this very moment of time, Arngeir’s life would drastically change forever. “No going back.” He whispered to himself as he released the sinew bow string and the arrow went flying. He watched the glistening arrow cut through the air and the arrow passed through the King’s heart without hesitation. The tyrant looked down from the fireworks, his amazement turned to horror. Crimson blood poured out of the wound. King Aldus dropped to the floor, hands clenching his torn heart. Writhing in excruciating pain, he uttered a bloodcurdling scream. On this cold winter night, Arngeir could see his final breath escape his body as he lay, in a puddle of blood, on a night to celebrate his kingship. Arngeir stood there, astonished at what he had done. Not a muscle moved in his body as he replayed what he had done in his mind, over and over. An arrow whizzed by his face coming within inches; he snapped back to reality. His cover 228


had been blown. Disguised by darkness, Arngeir rapidly put on his cloak and jumped from the rooftop into a crunchy pile of hay. Standing up in a daze for the jump, he stumbled forward out of the hay. Guards closed on both sides of him, like a pod of dolphins trapping a school of fish. His death was imminent. As the guards get closer, he draws his bow with the grace of a dancer. Locked in a standoff with a unit of 4 guards and only one way out: to kill. Hiding his face, Arngeir lets an arrow fly at a guard, its steel tip strikes him in the leg immobilizing the man. One guard lunges at him, without thinking he pulls an arrow from his quiver in flash, doges the swing of the sharp blade, and stabs the guard in the eye with his arrow. One of the two guards left flees in fear of death. Arngeir picks up the heavy steel broadsword of the dead guard. Fighting against a trained swordsman is a challenge. Like a samurai, Arngeir swiftly swings the swords at the guard’s midsection. The guard could not block this massive swing; his sword flew out of his hands and clattered against the cold stone ground. Arngeir’s sword continues through the air and slices through the air into the gut of the man. Dark blood flows out like a red wave out of the wound. Arngeir leaves the sword inside the man and runs from the scene. The huge crowd of people stood in shock and awe at the group of dead guards. Arngeir ran through the night not knowing what his fate would be. He makes it to his home after hours of wandering about the city. Tired, battered, and emotionally broken, he stores his bow and quiver in a large wooden chest. He burned his cloak in the fire so people couldn’t identify it. Tears ran down his face as he washes blood from his hands. Arngeir had never killed a man, never seen the last breath escape a person’s body from his doing. He could not sleep. Thoughts of those men and their families raced through his head all night. The next morning, Arngeir woke up and begun business as usual: making blades, armor, shields, and jewelry. His apprentice arrived at the forge. “Good morning Arngeir.” He said “Good morning Matthias.” “What happened last night was quite wild, wouldn’t you say?” “Indeed, indeed it was lad.” Arngeir said with a slight wavering to his voice. 229


“You know, there are rumors about who killed the King.” “The people of this city are a bunch of lying crooks; I wouldn’t believe a word of it.” “They are saying it was you. Graylof, the barkeep, said he recognized your bow.” “Matthias, you must leave now, I have much work to do and can’t be bothered by such blasphemy!” Arngeir exclaimed.Without speaking a word, Matthias left the forge with a look of fear and confusion upon his face. Arngeir realized the trouble that he was in and decided to flee the kingdom. He packed his thing in a flash, bringing only his bow, quiver, sword, a map, and the clothes on his back, and left all that he has ever known behind him. Arngeir ran south for miles and miles until he could run no more. He set up camp near a small lake that night. He scavenged through the woods for wood to make a fire and small mammals to eat. He brought to life a fire within minutes and cooked his meal of rabbit. Tonight he was warm and well fed under his leanto made of lush green pine boughs and sturdy oak branches. Life went on like this for weeks, traveling south on foot by day and sleeping near rivers of lakes by night. Every once and a while, he would come across a small town with an inn. Although he had no gold to pay with, he would pay with labor. In these towns he would talk to people about the death of the king. People were saying that the man who did it skipped town and the guards were after him. They were right; it would only be a matter of time until Arngeir would be caught while inside Ronan. He would have to travel to one of the other kingdoms, Morningstar in the East or Duskwood in the West, until he had the means to survive in the Forest of Athenry. Duskwood was an elven society; Arngeir could not speak elven, so he decided to head for Morningstar. Far away from Ronan, near a small farming town called Falconworth, Arngeir was out on a hunt for food and came across a mangled body of a mother gray wolf. You could hear the whine from her lost and innocent cub left to die somewhere nearby. Lying cold and alone on the wet forest floor, this wolf cub was on the brink of death, he was malnourished and dehydrated. Arngeir didn’t have the 230


heart to kill him there and put it out of its misery, so he took it him and gave it care. When he first picked the wolf, it was scared, but then he realized that Arngeir was there to save him. Arngeir looked into the soft blue eyes of this cub and said, “I call you Orion, little one.” Orion treated Arngeir just as the alpha male of the pack. Orion truly loved Arngeir and protected him at all costs. Although Arngeir went home with no food on this hunt, he gained a loyal companion on this lonely journey of his. Back at his camp, Arngeir shared what little meat was left with Orion and gave him the last of the water, Arngeir had gained a new friend. The next morning, in the early dusk, Arngeir was woken by the snap of a stick and the rustle of a branch. Through the brush he saw two men, one tall and lanky and the other short and fat, sporting beat up armor and rusty swords. These men were clearly bandits looking for a quick looting. Arngeir stayed still, pretending to be asleep. Orion whimpered in fear. As the men drew closer, Arngeir slowly moved his hand to his sword. The lanky one crept up slowly to Arngeir and drew his sword. Once he was in striking distance, Arngeir ripped his sword from its sheath and sliced the man’s leg in once swift motion. With an agonizing scream, he told the fat one to attack. Sprinting up to Arngeir, he swung his broadsword with all his might at the necks of Arngeir. He easily evaded the fat man’s attack and countered with a stab at the man’s chest; barely dented the rusty metal. Recovering from the cut, the lanky man lunged at Arngeir. Arngeir blocked his sword back and readied himself for the fat man’s attack. The fat man swung his sword down, Arngeir stepped back. The man’s blade continued its past all the way through his fellow bandit. A clean slice all the way through the abdomen of the lanky one, Crimson blood poured out as the fat one stood there in disbelief. Arngeir acted fast and with one quick slice. The fat man’s head was on the ground. Arngeir packed his things, and left the battle site untouched. Months had passed while on the road to Morningstar. The spring was coming. Orion was getting big now. His trim muscular body was perfect for the hunt. On their way to Morningstar, they had encountered more groups of bandits. Slaying them with ease now, he started to loot their camps. Arngeir had stolen a horse, an ax, a canteen, hundreds of gold and rusty old swords. He was becoming a particularly good swordsman, being able to behead a man in one clean stroke. 231


Over the hill the castle of Morningstar was a welcoming beacon for the two. The port city gleamed in the bright afternoon sun.Walking through the front gate, Arngeir and Orion were greeted by a large gold statue of King Solomon. Flowing golden robes and a large golden crown dressed theKing. In his hand he held a staff bearing a beautiful ruby. The royal guards, clad in shining steel, stood by this statue all day in night protecting it. Passed this Golden King was a garden filled with green grass and flowing fountains. Arngeir and Orion walked through slowly admiring the beauty they saw. It has been a long time since Arngeir saw the walls of a castle and inside he felt safe.After walking through the garden, the pair went to the market to get supplies. This part of the town was flanked by the sea. The salty air flowed through the city and stung Arngeir nostrils. This odd scent was new to him. The wooden shacks filled with miscellaneous goods were scattered about this port, attracting the various sailors that came through. but Arngeir had to get new weapons for the road. While scouring for the blacksmith, he noticed wanted signs with a man resembling him on them.They read, “Arngeir Theringod, Wanted Dead or Alive for assassination of the late King Aldus of Ronan and murders of four Royal Guards. Bounty: 100,000 gold.” This is what he had feared, word spreading to the next kingdom over. He needed to leave fast, but first had had supplies to get. At the blacksmith, he bought a new sword, 50 arrows, and leather armor. At the tailor, he purchased a new cloak to conceal his face. He immediately left the city. Arngeir got on his horse and headed for the Forest of Athenry, a 3 days ride from Morningstar. He got to the Forest of Athenry without hassle. Once there, he began to build a house for himself, a one room log cabin. Arngeir had lived here in peace for many years, living off the land. Here Orion and he were warm and well fed. All was peaceful, his actions in the past, all of the killings and stealing he had forgotten. Until one day, a courier showed up at his doorstep with a mysterious note from “A Friend”. The note said that Ronan was in trouble, the King was more corrupt than ever and only he had the power to slay him and restore peace. After reading the letter Arngeir thought for days about returning. One morning he knew what he had to do. He picked the note from the table read it once more, and threw it in

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the fire. He watched at the flames engulfed the paper and all the trouble it carried. He was finally happy and free in life and chose to keep it that way.

233


E VA N

Living Nyctophobia I sat there in the market, dematerializing, something I thought to be impossible. I spoke with Akatosh about how my life would be different, and he thanked me for my sacrifice.  Akatosh gave me advice on how to start my new life and where to search for another like us.  I knew that I would want to leave this dreaded form as soon as possible, so I decided that tonight, I would begin my hunt.  Akatosh left me to myself in the late afternoon and I rested in the market, unable to do anything else.  I was not excited about what would become of me soon, and I felt remorse for all of the deeds I had committed.  However, there was no turning back in this situation and no way to make what was wrong, right. My parents were among the common folk; peasants, as you might refer to them.  They lived happily, regardless of their wealth or fortune.  I was a happy baby, or so I have been told, always representing my parents in personality.  Of course, all stories must have a time of struggle, and mine happened to being when I was quite young.  Roughly three years after my birth, a group of strange, armed men entered the village in which we resided.  They belonged to an unjust faction, who wanted to send our King a message by pillaging his villages and ours, was the first to fall.  They burned it, looted it and harmed everyone they could.  My parents perished in the raid, and I survived by myself in the ashes of what was once a loving, lively village. Living in the ashes, I was a lonely soul.  The villagers who survived had left to find new and safe homes, leaving me behind on accident.  It just so happens however, that Lord Alistar of our village and several others, visited to pay his tribute to the lives lost.  He found me, and adopted me as a family member, a son, perhaps.  Lord Alistar was not a kind man, as you might have thought.  The days I spent with him were all but happy and I dreaded my adolescent days.  I never saw myself as I warrior, a leader or a soldier as a child, I had wanted to be a simple man with a simple life, but now being in royalty, this was not going to be the case. 234


When I turned ten, he gifted me a sword that I could barely hold, which confused me.  I thought  to myself “Why did he give this to me, I can’t even hold it, never mind use it.”  His eyes were filled with fury when I asked him about my gift and how I did not want a weapon.  My questioning most likely provoked my training at an early age and the days became worse than they already were.  He dismissed my tutor and did not permit me to explore the surrounding area any longer, the pond, the village and the sun pierced forest were all but “...dead to me now.”  We trained every day until I could not longer stand, then he’d allow me to sleep for several hours before waking me up to keep practicing.  This must have continued for years, until finally, he suddenly stopped. Lord Alistar turned to me and spoke to me the day he paused our session and said that I must consider marriage and military service soon.  It seemed so strange that these were on his mind and for once training was not.  He introduced me to his peer, Lord Lorkhan, and his daughter, Fiora.  We spoke briefly that day, and I learned that my marriage to Fiora would happen soon.  I was not phased by the decision, but my liking for Fiora would grow as time passed.  We were wed and not too long after, I was placed in command of an armed force that represented my King and his Lords. The men of my forces looked to me for orders, something that I had been trained for but had never had to use.  I directed them as I was taught too, and off we went, with my soldiers looking to me for guidance, something I did not think I could provide.  We patrolled the border of Riverwood, a small village under my Lord’s control.  As time pressed on, our relations with the towns people grew, and I was happy to protect them.  At last, a threat presented itself to us, a force of men from an unnamed faction, set on destroying this village, for no reason other than to profit.  We met them in combat and under my command, we faced little losses and manage to decimate their numbers.  Their leader was capture, and the fighting ceased.  Now though, a question presented itself to me “What do I do with these prisoners?” The day was encroached by nightfall and my interrogation of their leader continued onward.  Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, I learned that they belonged to the same faction that had burned down my home nearly two decades 235


ago. Out of spite, I demanded that their ranks be assembled, and marched to the closest town.  I had no idea what I was going to do, until a solution presented itself to me, I was going to sell them. The days of capturing my enemies and selling them pressed on until Lord Alistar died, and I inherited his property and title.  Fiora and I retired to the castle and I ruled my villages like a good leader.  I supplied them with goods, both necessary and luxurious, and they in returned obeyed and praised me.  Not many were aware of how I had gained my riches, for I was both more powerful and wealthier than Lord Alistar before me.  The thirty years I served as a commander in the army, I led my forces on raids on enemies, capturing both the innocents and their protectors, and selling them as slaves.  The rest of the kingdom looked upon me as a savage, but my people loved me.  It seemed as though my decision to enter the business was a fine choice, until one night, not too long ago. It was a dark night, a night so dark I could barely see my hands in front of my own face.  I tried to sleep, yet I could not as I had the feeling I was being looked upon.  I woke Fiora, and asked her if she felt the same, yet she did not.  She looked at me as if I were crazy, which I could be at this point.  I told her to forget what I asked and to return to bed, and I continued to wander the castle and its haunting integrity.  I turned the corner and was greeted by an apparition, a sight so shocking, that if I was still alive, its mere memory would torture me.  The first time I saw the figure, it relit our corridor with black flames and spun the torches at a rapid rate, then after what seemed to be an eternity, it spoke.  It did not do so out loud, but rather the apparition surrounded me, piercing me with blood curdling screams and destructive memories that did not belong with me.  Then, as suddenly as it came, it left, leaving me there, speechless, crawling on the floor. I am not sure if I had passed out or was moving along unconsciously, but I regained my mental stability in  the mid-afternoon, greeted by a servant of mine.  I discovered something that I thought was just an illusion of the morning, but it was not.  My hearing had all but left me, my tongue was tied, I could not smell or feel or see very well.  The servant, worried, returned me to my quarters and laid me on my bed, where Fiora soon rushed in to see what was wrong.  I wrote to her what had happened and she looked at me as if I was mad.  Out of pure anger of 236


Fiora not believing that I was being watched, I killed her. I do not remember how it happened or what her response was, but I recall my senses coming back and they remained for the rest of the day.  My servants and I relocated my wife’s body and I could help but feel guilty. I knew that the figure who had greeted me long ago was still lingering there, in the darkness.  As night fell upon the day of my wife’s death, my senses left me once more and the dark figure surrounded me, refusing to leave me to myself that night.  It was motionless and speechless, yet it sat there, refusing to let our eyes’ contact to stop.  It did not necessarily have eyes though as they were more like craters in its hoodlike head, still I saw in those craters only  hatred and violent thoughts.  I wondered why it was there and I spoke to it.  I asked the figure who he was and what he wanted from me and received no reply.  I continued to ask him why he would not leave me be and the figure would not answer me.  I sat there for quite some time and apparently managed to fall asleep, though it could not have been for long. When I awoke I remembered all that had happened yesterday, my wife’s death and my temporal handicaps.  They had not yet returned, so when my servants entered to make funeral arrangements I was able to communicate.  They never suspected me to have caused Fiora’s death, that or they were scared that I would have done the same to them if I learned of their knowledge of the event.  The day strangely went by quickly and before I knew it the sun was setting.  All of Fiora’s arrangements were made and I went off to bed by myself, knowing it’d be waiting for me.  I entered my bedroom and sat down on the side of my bed and looked into the darkness plaguing my room, it was there and we knew of each other's presence.  It emerged and stared hopelessly at me, and I did the same.  That night dragged on for what felt like years. My servant Barbas performed the usual process of waking me so I did not oversleep that morning, though it did not go as normally as it usually did.  When he knocked upon my door, I let him in, and killed him.  My senses had disappeared that night and I had no option other than to kill poor Barbas.  It was a shame, Barbas served me well and was the finest of my staff.  I peered into the corner and watched the dark figure emerge and absorb Barbas and finally it spoke. 237


He spoke of a way to cure the disease he plagued me with. I don’t know why I believed him, but he told me that my people had to sacrifice themselves for my health.  I accepted his proposal and agreed to fulfill my half of the bargain. The next morning, I woke earlier than usual and got ready for my big day.  I left my room before the sun had risen and paid a visit to my castle’s barracks first.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a trained soldier or not, when you’re taken off guard you just can’t fight back.  I finished the good lot of the soldiers in my possession accept for the night patrol.  Next, I visited my staffs’ quarters.  They had been treated so well by me, they were paid well and received respect and honesty from me.  It was good that they could finally pay me back for all the good I did for them.  I turned my head during the process and looked at the figure, it was materializing slowly and it was becoming more human-like. I left the castle’s grounds and ran to the small patrol group of the night.  I put on such an act they believed me as if my words were the truth.  I spoke discovering my murdered staff and feared I’d be next.  The patrol returned to the castle grounds with me amongst their ranks.  When they dispersed into small groups to discover the ‘assassin’ I targeted them one by one.  It was impressive, even I’ll say that to be true.  The figure was with me the whole time and I swear on the last target, I saw a hand emerge from the finally outlined figure, which looked strangely human. That next night I slept peacefully and prepared to visit the town located outside of my castle.  It was the same town I protected so long ago, where I commanded my small patrol and served the land’s inhabitants well.  I snuck around the village, performing my work stealthily with the figure at my side.  I noticed it was far more humanlike than when we started and I looked at myself and saw my body dematerializing.  I don’t know why I didn’t stop after I saw that I was being killed by it, but I felt compelled to do so. The village was silent that day, and for the lucky few who survived the night entered the market expecting it to be lively and occupied.  What they found was their Lord, dematerializing and dying in front of them.  They ran to me, trying to help me yet I stopped them as they came, killing those poor souls.  The dark figure 238


was almost completely materialized and the transformation was shocking. He was a human, a male human, who had an appearance as if he belonged amongst the nobles of the land.  I asked him why he was becoming human and he told me that he was once a man, until he did the same as I did.  He too, was a bad man who never made an honest living and was cursed with a man like the both of us in the form of a dark haunting figure.  It apparently haunts victims similar to it, and causes them to kill until the victim becomes the dark figure. That day was the last of mine amongst the living and I learned many things from the once dark figure, known formally as Akatosh.  He was able to find me within his time as a cursed being and found my weaknesses.  He targeted my senses, drove me mad and successfully tricked me into becoming the figure rather than him.  Akatosh thanked me profusely for my service to him and bid me luck on my exilement.  He informed me that by nightfall the transformation would be complete and that I would resume the rule of the living nightmare he once was.  When the moon rose, I knew that I would need to go find the next victim of this poor curse.  It was simply a thing that all mad men must go through in the realm, well, that’s what I told myself.

239


ALEX

Pulled from the Bad to the Worst Brisk air masked with the smell of fresh cut lumber passes through the small wooded village. Over the underlying sound of rushing water, is the sound of the spinning wheel at the lumber mill. One man wakes early enough to watch the dawn-breaking sun breach over the Mountaintops. Warm Beams of sunlight warm the forest and dissolves the underlying fog. His time of admiring beauty is cut short for he has to prep the mill for another laborious day. The birds harmoniously sing in the trees above as this lonely man begins his long day of work. This man works through the day until he returns to the drinking hall that he arrived at two winters ago.        Grelof, a man of brute strength, had arrived in this town in search of work two winters earlier. All the people know of him is that he has been labeled an outcast by the Imperial Army. He previously served in the army, but for unknown reasons he was discharged and exiled from the empire. He has little to show for his time served. His pockets are empty, his clothes tattered, and his hands are ridden with dirt and his face no better. His greasy blonde hair has grown long in his search for a place to rest his head. From tavern to tavern he endlessly walks barefoot in search of work. His fur shoes are riddled with holes and stained with the dirt and mud from along his travels. But once he arrived in this particular town, he found one woman who had the morality to take this outsider in.         Grelof approached the town in the middle of a horrendous blizzard. The wind whipped and bit ferociously at his bare skin. His feet and hands were numb from the little outerwear he possessed. With his bony hands blocking the wind, he stumbles before the main gate. With little to no food the bitter cold broke his spirit. The numbness became too much to deal with. His battle against the fierce weather slowly approached defeat. Grelof ’s knees buckled, and his large body crashed into the frozen ground covering his face in icy mud. His vision blurred and his mind went blank. The snow clung to him preparing to erase him 240


from this world, and end his long life of suffering. Fortunately, his potentially fatal collapse outside the gates did not go unnoticed. The night watch saw the hump of a man hit the ground in the edge of their torch light.        The Guards who kept watch outside the town could see the silhouette of the large man collapse through the continuous bombardment of snow. The two guards rushed to his aid and pulled the large bloody man to the town’s tavern. The door flung open and in came the two guards towing a large snow covered man in. The people of the drinking hall seemed puzzled with the new arrival. Wind whistled and cold air shook the herbs hanging over the bar. The remaining embers of the fire glowed with the cold gusts of wind. Wind slammed the door against the wooden beam over and over again. The curtains flew wildly like startled fledglings.  The remaining people in the drinking hall looked startled and confused to see this unconscious man lying unresponsive on the ground. The Innkeeper fought the wind and closed the door. The guards explained to the innkeeper of what had happened. Surprised at the near death of this monster of a man, she seemed to already know him. You could just tell from the look on her face, puzzled at her own thoughts. As if she had foreseen his coming, she had an empty room waiting for unexpected guests. She then sent the guards off back into the cold, fearful night. The Innkeeper left the man on the table in front of glowing embers of the fire. She then ordered the men in the drinking hall, to lift from their groggy laughter, and bring the unconscious body to the empty room. The room had collected dust from the weeks of no one using it. The bed with wolf pelts neatly layered on top of the mattress, was made of birch saplings from the nearby forest. A wardrobe sat in the corner with decorative red paint on the doors peeling with age. The only other thing in the room was a small stool and small wooden brown trunk. The innkeeper stayed with the anonymous man for the rest of the night tending to his wounds and other ailments. She sat on the small stool beside the man, pondering why she felt like it was necessary to tend to this man. The sympathy she had for the unknown man was surprising for the remaining people in the drinking hall. Nobody in the hall knew of Grelof but the woman had faith in him and stayed till morning.

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Morning came, and with it, so came Grelof ’s consciousness. The sound of a crackling fire was muffled from the closed door but still was audible. When Grelof was released from the deep involuntary sleep, he slowly opened his eyes. His eyesight, fuzzy first, came into focus in the small oak walled room. He felt his clothes and they were different, softer and thicker than the tattered clothes he had on before. He looked down at his feet and they were wrapped in linen cloth. His hair and face felt clean and smooth, something that Grelof has not felt for weeks. The warmth was soothing to Grelof, and noticed the soft wolf pelts brushing his arms. He uncovered himself and began to notice the neat embroidery upon his fresh clothes. A background of green was lined with gold embroidery. His trousers, a fleece lined, blue cloth was in perfect condition, as if never worn. Grelof went to stand but, sat there dismayed by where he was. His mind was drawing a blank on what had possibly happened. All that could pass through his mind was the cold winter snow and the gates of the town before him. But now he woke up clean and shaven in a mysterious room. The stone floor tingled his callused feet, which were also clean. He hastily rose to his feet and instantly felt a pain in his right leg; sharp and quick were the only words that could describe it. With every step towards the door he took he felt that pain. But it’s nothing that he hasn’t experienced before. Grelof cautiously approached the only door in the room and opened it slowly. The hinges creaked crying for somebody to oil them. Outside sat the innkeeper chatting with some younger children eating some sort of soup. She saw him standing there in the doorway with the confused look on his face. Grelof stood there mesmerized by the beauty that the woman possessed. Her blonde hair was tied back in a bun and one strand of hair rested upon her small curved brow. Her eyes shined with green like early spring grass. At first sight her eyes showed many emotions that gave Grelof a sense of her personality; confident, serious, but yet, they also showed tranquility and kindness. She smiled when they made eye contact and she began to approach him. Grelof stood there motionless in a stupor over this woman’s appearance. She said “Hello sir. My name is…” Grelof interrupted, “Excuse me but where exactly am I? And whose clothes am I wearing?” 242


She responded with a smile, “You are at the Thistle Branch Inn in Riverwood. And don’t worry about the clothes, I couldn’t let you walk around in the tattered rubbish you had on. You’re so large we couldn’t find any shoes that could fit. Sorry. But my name is Ingrid and you wound up here after the guards found you collapsed outside the town gates. I took the courtesy to clean you up and tend to your wounds.” Grelof said, “It is a pleasure to meet you Ingrid.” Grelof bowed and continued, “I am forever in your debt madam, for you had no reason to take in a beggar like me.” Ingrid said with a brow raised, “If you are in my debt, then you should make it up quickly, for I do not appreciate loose ends.” Ingrid began to pace and then leaned on the bar. She looked up excitedly and said, “Since you seem to be short some money; I take it you are in need of work, correct?” Grelof, at a loss for words, quickly dropped down to a knee and responded, “Please my lady, I have been searching these lands far and wide for work, if you could so graciously send me in the right direction, I would be ever so grateful.” She laughed and said, “Well, what a chivalrous one you are? If you want, this spring we will be in need of a new man at the lumber mill. And you, being a man of your stature, I feel that you would fit right in fairly quickly. But I am still unsure for who you are because you did not clarify.” Grelof responded, “I am Grelof of Whitewater and I will be at your service madam.” Ingrid responded, “Well, Grelof, you can start by stopping with madam. Just call me Ingrid.” She smiled and chuckled, “Then you can go meet my brother, Hadvar, out in the lumber yard.” She patted Grelof ’s shoulder and went back to the table with the children. Grelof excitedly headed for the door at the end of the drinking hall.        When he opened the door a cold breeze brushed his freshly shaven face. The small hairs upon Grelof ’s neck rose to the cold air like tiny soldiers. He then noticed that his long blonde hair was braided in the back neatly resting on his 243


shoulder. He thought to himself softly, “I guess I have Ingrid to thank for that.” The fresh snow from last night’s blizzard glared with the morning sunrise causing Grelof to squint. When his eyes readjusted, he stepped outside and found his two mud ridden shoes half buried in the fresh snow. He put them on although they didn’t offer much protection from the elements. While slipping them on, he listened to the river running rapidly across the road. He noticed a large male elk drinking from the bank of the far side of the river. When Grelof rose to his feet, the Elk raised his head and darted its large muscular body into the brush. Riverwood was a small town surrounded by the thick forest. Not many people leaved the small wooden and stone walls that lined the edge of the town. There were a total of six buildings inside the protected walls. The townsfolk who stayed at the Thistle Branch Inn make up the majority of the population. The inn was a two story building, now covered with the fresh winter blanket, but it had many windows on the first floor. The Green shutters were fastened to the light brown oak timbers that made up the wall of the inn. An awning hung over the porch at the front door, where the townsfolk would sit in birch chairs. But with the fierce cold, not a soul was in sight. The stone chimneys puffed out black smoke from the burning fires that warmed the shaking bones of the townsfolk. Grelof stepped off the porch onto cobblestone road. He passed the small two story shop on his left where a holly berry bush sat glazed in snow. The large sign creaked in the early morning breeze. Upon the sign said, “Nelithar’s General Goods Store,” in green paint that was withered from the weather around it. As he continued on up the road he passed many small three one story houses. The houses, dotted with last night’s snow, showed their hay roves. When he was nearing the last building on the road, he found the bridge that must lead to the lumber mill. He continues onto the bridge that crossed the river Up the river, the snow covered roof of the lumber mill. The mill wheel span slowly and creakily. Grelof crossed the wooden bridge and continued into the lumber yard. At the end of the bridge were two walls of stacked lumber. He continued down the path and reached the mill. Once he had rounded the corner the smell of burning firewood filled the air. The hot crackle of cedar was the only sound to be had. When he found the source of the sound, there sat a man on a log in front of 244


a campfire. His hair tied in the back was light brown, and his muscles were larger than Grelof ’s; “from lumberjacking,” Grelof assumed. The man seemed surprised to see Grelof approaching the fire. He said loud and cheerfully, “Ah, look what the cat dragged in. You must be that poor fellow Ingrid was talking about. The name’s Hadvar! And you are?” Grelof responded, “Grelof of Whitewater. Ingrid said I should come see you about work. She’s a nice lady to offer somebody like me work. I hope you can do the same.” Hadvar responded, “Straight and to the point are ’ya now? Well sure I have work for ya, but this ain’t no job for man of your condition. I’ll teach ya how to use the mill this winter, for when spring rolls around I’ll be opening my furniture shop in Mosstown. Well I’m going to need some lumber to do that won’t I? So you’ll be running the Lumber mill.” Grelof respectably answered, “I thankfully accept the terms Hadvar, and once I am Better condition I will Work on this mill.” The two men shook on the deal and headed for the Thistle Branch Inn for some mead. Time Passed and the winter’s blanket was slowly lifted from the land and dripped down into the rivers to be carried away. Spring flowers began to blossom and add color to the mountainsides. Birds and animals begin to awaken from logy winter stupor and emerge from their homes. And with that, Grelof and Hadvar packed the wagon for Hadvar’s departure to Mosstown. When it finally was time for Hadvar to leave he gave Grelof some words of advice. “Keep the mill up and running Grelof, for if we make enough money I can send some more lumber workers back here to Riverwood. And also with my leave I leave you this.” Hadvar handed Grelof a package made of leather. Grelof opened it and within was a steel sword and sheath. “What is this for?” Grelof said shocked. Hadvar said, “If anything were to threaten the very safety of my sister, Ingrid, I hope you can protect from whatever could harm her. Could you do that for me?” Grelof stood there awe struck at what the man said. He instantly knew that there 245


is something outside in the forest that threatens the very safety of everything in this town. He at the very moment felt strength flow through his hand into the sword as he picked it up. His veins bulged from his forearm and his arm tingled. Grelof stood tall and gave the sword a couple swings. Hadvar grinned and said “I know you have the ability to wield. I saw it in your eyes when I first met you by that fire. There’s something special about you that I believe that only you can find. When you find it you can face anything that comes our way.” Grelof fastened the sheath to his belt and sheathed the sword. Grelof looked up and said proudly, “I promise to protect your people Hadvar, up until my last breath.” And with that Hadvar nodded and mounted the carriage and road off down the path towards Mosstown. So Grelof works on the lumber yard through the early hours of the morning up until the sun sets over the mountain tops. Day by day he cuts the timber to sell to Hadvar in Whitewater. But by night Grelof spent his hours getting to know Ingrid at the Thistle Branch Inn. The more time they spent together the more Ingrid grew on Grelof. Grelof couldn’t think of any better time in his life like his life right now. But in the back of his mind he feels that something could ruin all this for him. He knew that Hadvar’s warning would eventually make sense. HE just didn’t want what he had now to end. Days passed of Grelof working the mill in the day and nights at the tavern. All was going well for Grelof and Ingrid. They spent much time together enjoying conversations of each other’s endeavors over mead. Passing bards came through town and would engage the tavern in sing-a-longs to songs most every person of the time would know. When the fun and jolly nights were spent, Grelof and Ingrid stayed up enjoying each other’s company until the glowing embers brought darkness to the tavern. The two would then go back to their day lives working the mill and running the inn the next morning. About a month passed with the two getting along so well, but, it was short-lived for what happened next became disastrous. On one foggy night, Grelof was shutting down the lumber mill for the day and was preparing to head to the Thistle Branch Inn, when he heard something rustling in the woods \. He turned around to investigate and grabbed a torch. The 246


flames danced upon the wooden club and enveloped Grelof in a ball of dim light. Beyond the torchlight he could see nothing but the forest floor. Darkness filled beyond the endless tree trunks. Grelof suspected the noise to be a deer or some other woodland creature. But when he started back for the inn there were some torchlight at the city gates and the deafening screams of men. The echoes of the screams traveled throughout the town, hopefully warning the people of the town of what danger lay ahead. Grelof dropped his torch in the river the orb of light dispersed from Grelof and the ground below him with a quick hiss. He then bounded toward the gates with record speeds. Sprinting up to the supposed scene of the cries he saw the two guards of the town riddled with arrows and slash wounds. Without stopping Grelof drew his sword and bolted towards the inn. The moonlight shined upon the blade shining light upon his brow. His eyes deep and blue showed a bitter hatred and animalistic ferocity. When the inn was in sight Grelof spotted a group of armed men and dove into a bush. The men covered in hides and makeshift armor went about breaking the door down to the inn. Grelof sneakily traveled in the mist of darkness around the back of the inn. Screaming muffled from the wooden walls was coming from inside the inn. Grelof reached the back door and kicked the door down. After he busted the locked door down he found one of the men dragging Ingrid away. Kicking and screaming, she saw Grelof stumble through the wreckage of the broken door. The dark haired man grasped Ingrid’s hair tightly and dragged her towards the front door. The bar was ablaze and the group of bandits was looting all the drawers and cabinets. Plates and silverware crashed against the floor. Grelof belted out, “NO!!!” The Bandits startled drop Ingrid and attacked Grelof. Grelof screamed to Ingrid, “Run Ingrid, run!” She stumbled to her feet and scrambled out the back door of the inn. There were 6 bandits in all and they all had makeshift leather armor on. They were all armed with similar steel axes and wooden clubs. They surrounded Grelof and began to attack. Grelof deflected the untrained and unorganized attacks of the Bandits. Grelof, surprised at his self, kept up the movements he performed ever so perfectly. When the men began to grow tired of the perfect defense Grelof possessed, he began to counter attack them. The larger one of the bandits swung his club at him. Grelof dodged it swiftly and slashed the back leg of his foe bring247


ing him to the ground. The floor now splattered with the crimson arterial blood, Grelof brought his hand high and finished off the bandit. He continued on this rampage until his blade dripped with the remains of his ferocious attack. The remaining three Bandits dropped their torches upon the floor lighting the already burning Inn into a blaze. Grelof in his rush of Adrenaline ran straight through the fire, burning his already blood stained clothes. He chased down the fleeing bandits with the audacity of twenty men and tackled the wounded straggler. Grelof pounded the man with the blood stained hilt of his sword. The man slipping in and out of consciousness spit blood from his lips. Grelof then began to interrogate the man, “Where did you come from?! Who is your leader?!” The man cried, “Please no more! We are from Windwhistle cave up in the mountain. My leader is called the Troll. Just please let me go!” Grelof responded on his shaky breaths, “Maybe I’ll reconsider that when you don’t burn my town down and murder my people.” Then Grelof raised his hand above his head and drove his sword into the man’s torso. He threw the corpse off the road into the woods for the wolves and returned to the town. He collected the corpses of the dead guards and buried them respectfully in the light of the burning inn. He placed wooden crosses above each grave recalling of the time of when the guards saved his life. Grelof grew a bitter fury for that he couldn’t save the lives of the guards. He searched for Ingrid and found her hiding in the woods outside of Riverwood. He told her, “I have discovered the location of the bandits that raided the town Ingrid. I have come to the decision to go in there myself and eliminate them. I feel that if we want our lives back they are always going to be able to come back and harm us. I feel that you would be safe in Mosstown with your brother, Hadvar. I’ve prepared a horse you must leave at once.” Ingrid began to sob. Her face was already stained with dried tears from the events that already happened. She hugged Grelof tightly. His soot covered clothes were riddled with burnt holes. It reminded her when she had first seen him. She said sobbing, “I have already lost my Inn now I could lose you? .....I suppose it’s what must be done. You must go then for I know I cannot stop you.” 248


Grelof replied, “You’re right it is what I must do. I took the armor of the guards. It’ll have to do. I promise I will try my best not to fail you.” They hugged for one last time and Ingrid mounted the horse and went off towards Mosstown. Grelof spent the day sharpening his sword on the grindstone, and washing the armor in the river. The blood of his allies diluted the clearness of the river. The dark oxygenated blood reminded him of the bloody faces of the two guards that saved his very own life. He sifted through the warm ashes of demolished Thistle Branch Inn. His anger built up through his day and waited for nightfall. When dusk descended upon Riverwood Grelof departed stealthily through the darkness. As he passed through the woods his mind shifted back towards all the good times in the tavern. And the image in his mind dissipated and reformed into Hadvar’s request. “If anything were to threaten the very safety of my sister, Ingrid, I hope you can protect from whatever could harm her. Could you do that for me?” The image dissipated once again and Grelof developed a strong sense of courage and trudged up the hills to Windwhistle cave. He quickly understood why they called it wind whistle cave. The high-pitched whistle came from the mouth of the cave. From the edge of the trees Grelof peered at the entrance and saw the one bandit dosing off in a chair lit by lamp light. Grelof waited until the man fell asleep and slipped by him silently as a snake in the grass. Grelof then began his decent into the cave. Through the twists and turns he could hear the echoes of the bandits laughing hysterically. He could hear the footsteps of what seemed to be one person. When he rounded the corner, Grelof hugged the darkness against the wall. When the man passed Grelof stabbed him and covered his mouth like a trained assassin. He continued through the cave to find that there was a large room with a fire in the middle. You could see where the soot built up against ceiling of the cave like a large black silhouette of death. For all the bandits knew that was soon to be there fate. Grelof spotted out the three bandits that were sitting around the fire. Their shadows danced around the walls like huge black dancers. When the fire shrunk down to embers, Grelof descended into the room. He went unnoticed until his shadow grew large on the wall. The Bandits turned around to find the huge armored blood stained Grelof behind him. They recognized him and were instantly quivering in fear. The men 249


jumped to their feet as Grelof drew his sword and felt a rush of power in his body. Grelof leaped with the ferociousness of a mountain lion and swung his sword wildly at the scrambling bandit. The bandit fell to ground only to land in his own pool of crimson blood. The other two bandits reached their small weapon rack and they grabbed two small short swords. They charged at Grelof. The first swung and missed losing his balance. Grelof used it to his advantage and tossed him into the hot embers, scorching left side of his body. His screams echoed through the cave along with the sound of clashing metal. Grelof defended himself from the smarter and more talented Bandit. The fight continued for what seemed like hours. Until Grelof caught the bandit off guard and struck the man in the stomach. The man fell to the ground clutching his blood stained clothes and collapsed motionless. The mutilated body of the first bandit only made it ten feet from the fire before collapsing. The three bandits were no more. Grelof ’s sword steamed with blood of his foes. He stood over the scene with a sense of victory. But it was short lived, for in came the last bandit, The Troll. The Troll stood tall, taller than the tallest man. He wore a steel helmet, spiked gauntlets and no chest plate. He said in deep demonical voice, “You’re the one who’s been giving my bandits some trouble.” Grelof replied with blood dripping from his face, “What if I was? You must be the Troll. Well I’m afraid that you going to have to die. For what you have caused is too substantial to my people.” The huge Troll came at Grelof snorting and grunting. Grelof rolled out of the way letting the huge behemoth ram into the cave wall causing stalagmites and stalactites to crumble.  While the Troll was dazed from the crash Grelof stabbed the Troll in the thigh and slashed its shoulder. He stabbed it one more time in the thigh. This time the Troll swung his thick arm at Grelof knocking him back ten feet onto the floor. His sword skittered across the room. Grelof stumbled to his feet while the Troll limped towards him. Grelof charged the creature and slid under its legs and kicked him in the crook of his knee. The Troll fell to the ground. Grelof jumped on its back and put it in a choke hold. Grelof gripped tight and the troll swung its arms wildly to help free itself. Its arms were so big that he couldn’t reach up to get Grelof off. The Troll choked and gasped for air but could obtain nothing. The beast of a man fell to its 250


knees and Grelof gripped tighter. The beast fell on its stomach and stopped fighting. The beast known as the troll was now dead. Grelof had vanquished the men who threatened the safety of his very people from the world. He kept his promise to Ingrid and to Hadvar and kept the people safe and keeps himself alive. Hadvar’s thoughts of Grelof being a warrior came true and Grelof kept Riverwood along with Ingrid safe. But when he retrieved his sword, his hilt began to glow with white light and slowly became brighter and brighter. When the light dissipated, he sheathed his sword and looked upon his palm. An unfamiliar mark was left glowing gold on his hand. It was in the shape of an eye.

251


JOSH

Fighting the Cold For the few weeks it had been since Ferdinand had hatched from his shell, he had become accustomed to a particular routine. Every day he would awake to the harmonious chirping of his fellow siblings as they fought over the fresh worms his mother had gathered. Ferdinand’s mother was a caring and nurturing bird that loved him deeply. It was safe to say that life was going good for young Ferdinand. But little did he know this comfortable lifestyle was far from the harsh reality that was the Canadian wilderness. Ferdinand’s comfortable life style would soon come to a crashing halt. It was autumn, and the leaves had turned a variety of vibrant colors, from red to brown to orange. Ferdinand noticed that the temperature was slowly descending, and he was beginning to feel the icy chill of winter approaching. He had rumors heard among the treetops that soon the first snow would touch down upon the forest, which was synonymous with the yearly tradition of flying south for the winter.        Ferdinand didn’t know what snow was, but from what he was told, he didn’t want to find out. The other birds depicted snow as a terrible cloud of white that ravaged the forest like a wildfire. This made Ferdinand all the more eager to spread his wings and fly far away from the punishing weather that plagued the forest during winter. There was one problem with this however; Ferdinand had no idea how to fly. He had attempted the feat many times, only to come crashing down into the thick brush nestled below him time after time. His mother had told him that he would learn with time and patience, but Ferdinand was beginning to grow skeptical of this assumption.         One crisp fall afternoon Ferdinand was practicing his futile attempts at flying. His mother was out collecting worms for him and his siblings, when Ferdinand sensed something off.  There was a feeling of danger in the air that Ferdinand was unaccustomed to, when suddenly there a thunderous roar and he felt the branch beneath him tremble. The tree he had come to know as his home began to 252


sway back and forth, and in all the chaos, he fell from the branch he was perched upon into the forest below. Ferdinand screeched in terror as he watched the tree gently crash into the forest floor, nearly flattening him like a pancake. Shock and fear swept through Ferdinand’s body as he realized that a tremendous metal monster was systematically destroying the entire forest. Ferdinand had never seen such a thing before. It had long arms that sliced through trees like butter, and then devoured them into its monstrous mouth.        Then, Ferdinand’s worst fears were realized, as the birds of the forest lifted into the air and flew far away from the destruction that had been set forth. Ferdinand heard a familiar screech, and the panicked voice of his mother became audible. Daylight broke through one side of the branches that encased him, as his mother frantically tried to free him. “Ferdinand!” his mother hollered. Her voice comforted him from the pandemonium taking place around him         “Just stay still Ferdinand; everything is going to be alright” The beak of his mother touched Ferdinand’s ruffled feathers, and he let out sigh of relief. As he began to climb out, he spotted to his horror a large tree falling in his mother’s direction.         “Mommy!” shrieked Ferdinand “Lookout!” The tree hit the ground with a loud thud, as Ferdinand’s mother was unable to escape its path.         “No!” whaled Ferdinand in agony, realizing what had happened to his mother.         What would happen to Ferdinand? He would certainly perish if left alone the wilderness. With no source of food and winter quickly approaching, death was all but inevitable for the young bird. Escaping the branches that encased him, Ferdinand desperately flapped his wings in an improbable attempt to join the group above him, but to no avail. With his mother gone there was no hope for him. Out of nowhere a rogue branch swooped down from above and knocked Ferdinand to the cold hard ground. The sky above him spun in all directions, and he slowly lost his grip with consciousness.         Chills ran down Ferdinand’s spine as he slowly regained his senses. A dense layer of branches and leaves surrounded him, as he slowly ventured his way 253


towards daylight. The beast that had destroyed his home was gone, but it had left a trail of destruction in his wake. A trail of fallen trees and scattered branches that littered the area made the forest unrecognizable. It had finally hit Ferdinand that he was now completely on his own. Still in shock from the loss of his mother, he was ill equipped for what awaited him. From what he could observe, everyone was gone, not just the birds but the squirrels, the rabbits, and even the foxes had all deserted the forest. With this sudden realization came the emerging question of what to do, where to go, and how to survive. Another rush of air swept past as the sun steadily sunk down into the horizon. It would be night soon, which reminded Ferdinand of the ever increasing danger of predators. Without a standing tree in sight, there was nothing protecting Ferdinand from the wolves and other predators that plagued the Canadian Wilderness. Without a sense of direction or purpose, Ferdinand slowly hobbled into the ever darkening forest, not knowing if this would be his final night alive. The sky was now pitch black, and the howls of wolves echoed throughout the air around him. He was done for; there was no way he could possibly survive. Ferdinand frantically searched for a place to hide as the effects of exhaustion slowly set in. Ferdinand sprinted blindly through the woods, not knowing where he was or caring for that matter. He stumbled over twigs and branches hidden by the night as he made his way across the forest. Suddenly the ground fell out from under him and he tumbled into a deep hole that had previously been masked in the darkness. Now Ferdinand could take no more, and his body collapsed onto the frost laden dirt beneath him.        Daylight shined down onto Ferdinand’s ruffled body, as he sluggishly rose from the now frozen ground he had spent the night on. It was now clear what he had fallen into, it was a rabbit hole. The rising sun illuminated the area around him. The rabbit hole must have been abandoned in the chaos of the events of the day before, and Ferdinand had luckily stumbled upon it in the midst of his panic. Slowly regaining his consciousness

254


Ferdinand searched out into the forest. and what he saw nearly knocked him unconscious once again. The leafy forest floor had vanished, and in its place laid thick blanket of white stretching as far as the eye could see. “So this is snow” he thought to himself, bewildered by the indescribable sight set before his eyes. It was like nothing he had ever seen before. The distant pine trees were coated in a pristine layer of luscious white, as white flakes gently cascaded down from the sky onto the forest floor. This sense of astonishment however quickly transformed into a feeling of dread, and Ferdinand realized just what sort of horrible predicament he had found himself in. With no source of food and with the nearby pond presumably frozen over, it was only a matter of time before he would perish.        Remembering what his mother had taught him, Ferdinand vigorously dug into the frozen ground below him, praying that he would uncover something that find something to satisfy his growling stomach. After an intense period of fruitless digging he plucked out a small worm, and devoured his first meal in over a day. It was undersized, but it would be enough to stop the grumbling that had begun in his stomach. Somewhat satisfied, Ferdinand slowly but surely took his first steps into the snow and ventured into the unfamiliar terrain set before him. However, he instantly realized why snow had been so feared among the other creatures of the forest. His slender legs became instantly numb, and a rush of cold swept throughout his entire body. He stumbled back into the rabbit hole and began to shiver uncontrollably. Clearly walking through the snow was not an option, and he would have to find some other means of traveling. However, the only other option would be to fly. Ferdinand began to flap his wings furiously, managing to momentarily lift his body off the ground. Now more determined than ever he flapped like he had never flapped before, and with a burst of speed he was sent fluttering up into the sky. He was finally doing it! Ferdinand could fly! He hovered above the snow in pure ecstasy, releasing all of his past fears and feeling as if he could conquer the world. Ferdinand suddenly realized that if he flew fat enough, he could meet up with his fellow birds. But first thought Ferdinand, it was time to have a little fun. Ferdinand flew for hours, not noticing the fatigue that was steadily creeping its way into his muscles. After many hours of flying, he perched himself upon a tower255


ing branch, and became instantly drained of his remaining energy. An all too familiar feeling set in as whatever balance he once had quickly vanished, and he was tumbling down into the snow below him. Unable to move, Ferdinand began to slowly freeze as the sun began to set. Soon Ferdinand would be done for, he lay helplessly in the icy snow, unable to move or even scream for help. As the temperature dropped and the sun disappeared out of sight things were growing increasingly worse for Ferdinand. He sobbed quietly to himself knowing that his mother had died in vain. Suddenly a distant sound became increasingly audible from the distance. Ferdinand instantly recognized it as the unmistakable sound of footsteps wading through the snow, and they were approaching quickly. Surely it was some kind of predator which would once and for all seal the fate of Ferdinand. He thought to himself that at least he would go out quickly, not having to slowly freeze to death on the forest floor.         The footsteps grew louder than ever, and out from the corner of his eye Ferdinand spotted the dreadful sight of a raccoon trotting towards his paralyzed body. As the raccoon approached its pace quickened and Ferdinand felt a sense of relief as he knew that it was finally coming to an end. The footsteps ceased and a masked face looked upon Ferdinand as it licked its lips in anticipation. A comforting warmth rushed through Ferdinand’s icy body as a large leathery paw extended itself under the frozen body of the bird. The raccoon tucked Ferdinand under his belly and scampered off into the dark depths of the forest.  Ferdinand had never been so comforted in his life, as the soft underbelly of the raccoon provided a safe haven from the ruthless cold of the snow Ferdinand had become accustomed to. Still, Ferdinand knew what his fate was and was not fooled by this false sense of safety.         After what seemed like an eternity the raccoon finally arrived at a small cave partially illuminated by the winter moonlight. Ferdinand now realized why he been saved rather than devoured as the screeches of the raccoon’s offspring became increasingly audible. The raccoon entered the surprisingly warm den and gently placed Ferdinand on the mossy floor. The starving cubs screeched with anticipation as the mother prepared to feast upon the body of Ferdinand. It was all 256


over for him. Despite the fact that he had regained some of his strength there was no way he could escape the den of his captors. He was far too weak to fly and even if he somehow managed to escape he would surely perish in the deathly snow that awaited him outside. But then Ferdinand thought of his mother, and with every last muscle in his body he stretched out his wings and was lifted into the air. As he did this, the mother raccoon brought him back to the floor with a mighty swat. Slowly the cold hand of death reached down the throat of Ferdinand which would once and for all seal his fate. When all hope seemed lost a deathly bang echoed throughout the cave and the frightened cubs scampered away in every direction. The mother lay slumped over Ferdinand’s body as a warm fluid drenched his feathers. A gaping hand reached into the cave and raised the mother up into the sky, with blood now profusely seeping from its lifeless body.        It was as if god himself had reached into that cave and awarded young Ferdinand a second chance at life. Miraculously Ferdinand went unnoticed as the figure disappeared into the darkness with the limp mother raccoon slumped over his shoulder. Next to Ferdinand lay the steaming metal cylinder that had pierced the raccoon intent on taking his life. The cubs had fled at that sight of their dead mother, and now there was nothing left in the cave except the stunned and shivering Ferdinand and a small pile of nuts and berries accumulated by the cave’s inhabitants. The supplies Ferdinand had uncovered would not be enough to last the whole winter, but were sufficient for him to regain his strength. To survive the rest of the winter he would have to suffer through cold nights and learn to survive by himself. The events that had transpired in the past few days would prepare Ferdinand for what lay ahead, and the death of his mother would propel him through the tough times. But Ferdinand still had a lot of growing up to do, and in the end he would either have to toughen up or die. And it was going to be a long long winter.

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DAN

The Pursuit of the Impossible Reginald awoke scared and confused. There were two large birds staring at him looking concerned. The larger of the two spoke with a booming voice, “Hello, little one my name is James and this is Molly.” Molly then gave Reginald some food and water. Reginald was too weak to talk or even think. He grabbed the food and started eating ferociously. Reginald couldn’t quite remember what happened earlier or how he got here. After he was finished eating and had gained some strength he gathered up the energy to talk, “How did I get here? And what happened earlier?”                 “Well, we hear a gunshot go off a few hours ago so we went to investigate,” James said. “And we saw this big man with a gun walking towards what seemed to be a rabbit. We then noticed that the rabbit was what he shot earlier. We saw him take the rabbit away to his truck and drive off. A few moments later we saw a little bunny hop around looking for his mother. This bunny was you,” James looked like he was about to cry.                 Molly picked up where he was in the story, “We went over to try and help you and tell you what happened but you ran away like you saw a ghost. We chased you all the way to a waterfall about a mile away from the spot where we found you. We tried to talk to you and tell you that we were not enemies, but you wouldn’t have it and you just jumped off the cliff and down the waterfall when we tried to approach you. You passed out when you hit the water at the bottom and we wrapped you up in a blanket and flew you all the way back here to our nest.”                 “So you’re telling me that my mom is DEAD?” Reginald said with terror. “My mother was all that I had in the world,” he began to cry. “Without my mom I don’t have anyone because my dad died the same way a year ago,” by now Reginald was weeping uncontrollably and he couldn’t compose himself.                 “There, there darling we can be your parents,” Molly said with love. 258


“Well I don’t know about that,” James said looking at Molly angrily. “We have enough trouble finding food for the two of us birds, never mind a rabbit!”                 “Quit being ridiculous James! If we ever had kids and we died we would want someone to take care of them wouldn’t we?” Molly said.                 James was giving it thought, “Well that may be true, but we are birds, Molly. Raising a bunny would just simply not work.”                 “Of course it would as long as we love him and give all the effort and passion that we can we can raise a son no matter what species he is,” Molly said.                 “Well I suppose that we can take care of him for a while until we find proper RABBIT parents for this poor boy,” James said. “What is your name, boy? If we are going to raise you we have to know your name.”                 “Reginald. My name is Reginald,” he said with confidence.   …                   Molly and James raised a good bird. And that was the one problem with Reginald; he was raised to be a bird, not a bunny. He was convinced that when he grew up he would be able to fly. James and Molly tried to convince him that there was no way, but he was convinced that the day would come where he could fly. James and Molly had a baby bird about a year after they found Reginald. Her name was Angelica and the two kids grew up side by side. Birds grow faster than rabbits so by the time Angelica was grown up she flew away from the nest. Reginald thought that if she could fly then he definitely could. Reginald was now one hundred percent convinced that he would fly soon.                 James and Molly made the nest into a perfect place for bunnies and birds to live together. They made a spiral ramp all the way up the tree to the nest where they all lived. After Angelica left Reginald had a lot more room to grow. By now he had made himself at home and hollowed out the tree to make his extrava259


gant dwelling. The home was ancient, passed down from James’ grandparents. Reginald couldn’t wait until he could fly. He had dreams of flying away from the nest and meeting a wonderful girl. But for now he was stuck at home doing mere busy work, retrieving worms and grass for food. He loved his parents because they didn’t have to raise him but they thought it was the right thing to do so they decided to make the right decision.                 One day he was sick of waiting around and he thought that he might as well try flying by himself. His parents begged him not to. “Reginald, if you try and jump out of the tree you will DIE. Please do not try and be the first rabbit to fly. We don’t want you to break your legs or even die honey,” Molly said.                 Reginald was sick of hearing this, “Look, mom I know that if I just go up as high as I can and jump I will fly. It is simple science. Angelica did it, and you said that I could do whatever she could.”                 “Okay Reginald, if you want to jump from the tree and break your neck be my guest,” Molly said with an attitude.                 “You know what mom I’m going to do it, and you will be amazed at how glorious it is to see a rabbit flying,” Reginald screamed defiantly. He then proceeded to climb the tree all the way to the very top. Once he was at the end of the dead limb he paused for a second to look around and say a final prayer before he made the final decision to jump. After about a minute of looking around and contemplating life he jumped.                 He saw his whole life flash before his eyes. He saw his parents being killed, a memory that had been suppressed until this very moment. He also saw his little sister grow up and his parents grow and get older. He realized that all these people would mourn if he died. He instantly regretted jumping and began to flail wildly in an effort to stop descending rapidly. Reginald felt the wind in his fur and remembered that he had made the decision to jump for the purpose of flying. Reginald put his arms out and attempted to glide to safety. However, bunnies are not very aerodynamic and the flying was to no avail so he just braced for impact. He felt a sharp pain shoot through his whole body as he hit the ground. Soon after impact everything went black. 260


When he awoke he was back in his bed with his parents sitting around him nursing to his wounds. After a few moments of silence he mustered the energy to speak, “I’m sorry mom.”                 She looked at him with a mixture of love and ‘I told you so’ in her eyes, “Reginald, I told you that bunnies would never fly.”                 James looked at him with very differently. It was a look of pure hatred. He managed to keep his voice at a regular volume, but he looked like he wanted to scream and hit Reginald with all his strength, “What in the world were you thinking, boy!”                 “I just wanted to be like you guys and fly,” Reginald said quietly.                 “Well I don’t want you doing something that stupid ever again. If you ever try and do that again I’ll kill you if the fall doesn’t,” James said angrily.                 “He is right honey,” Molly said. “You are one lucky bunny. You got out of a fall which would have killed anyone 99 out of 100 times with just a broken leg.”                 “Well it’s just not fair! How come every other bird in the world can fly with no problem but just can’t!” Reginald said in a fit of rage.                 Molly had a simple answer for this, “Reginald, you are a RABBIT, not a bird. I know that it’s tough to cope with that but you can’t change who you are.”   …                   Reginald had learned to deal with the reality of his situation and he lived the rest of his life as a rabbit. This didn’t stop him from dreaming of flying. After that one fateful day where he jumped from the tree he had made a promise to himself that he would someday come back to the dream of flying like a true bird.

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After many years he was ready to leave the home of James and Molly. He was all grown up now, and he had met a wonderful girl. Her name was Grace. He met her one day while out getting berries for dinner that night. He vowed to marry that girl the second that he laid eyes on her. She was a lovely young bunny much like him. She wanted to move somewhere far away and have a family with the perfect man. After months of anticipation, he gained the courage to talk to Grace. They hit it off from the very beginning. After many months of seeing each other in secrecy, he proposed to this wonderful girl. She was stunned and said yes with no hesitation.                 They had a plan to walk as far as they could into the wilderness and set up a family in secrecy. A quick good bye was the only thing that he owed to his parents. Besides, he was never a fan of the mushy stuff that came along with a goodbye. He simply left a note on the door of his parent’s bedroom. It read “Dear mom and dad, I will be leaving with the love of my life, Grace. We are going somewhere far away to raise a family. I’m not sure where I am going so don’t try to look for me. I will return eventually to show you that anyone can fly, no matter what species they are. I love you and I thank you for everything that you have done for me. Love, your son, Reginald.” He realized that this was the coward’s way out, but he had no time for long and sad goodbyes. He had a life ahead of him to live.                  …                   Many years later Reginald had successfully raised two wonderful bunnies. By now they had moved out and started families of their own. Reginald and Grace had lived full lives of joy and happiness. Reginald had never forgotten his dreams to fly. Over the years he had been constantly creating and testing designs that gave the average animal the ability to fly like a bird. After hundreds, if not thousands of attempts to create a flying machine he had finally struck success with his most recent version. It was a simple design that allowed the user to glide a great distance if they jump from a high point. He was very proud of his invention

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and he decided that it was time to go back to his old nest where he grew up to show his parents his great invention.               He left with hopes that finding the old nest wouldn’t be hard. He packed supplies for a week in case he got lost along the way. Reginald headed off in the direction that he had come to arrive at his current homestead. He came across various critters and he would ask if they knew the direction to James’ and Molly’s nest. Every single one of these animals had never heard of the two birds. After about three days of searching the woods he spotted the tree. His heart skipped a beat and he sprinted to the front door. He knocked and to his horror, a bird who he did not recognize appeared at the door.                 He asked, “Do you know Molly and James?”                 The bird thought about it and then replied with, “Oh, the old couple, they have been dead for some years now.”                 “Oh…” that was the only word that Reginald could get out before collapsing.                 Reginald felt at thought someone had just run him through with a sword. He sat down on the stoop and began to bawl uncontrollably. He questioned why he never visited. After leaving his old home he went on a silent walk. He found himself at the waterfall where he had jumped when his mom had been shot. He pulled out his flying contraption and put it on. After a few moments of thinking about his parents and his birth parents he jumped. He glided over the river for miles while remembering all the good memories he had with his parents and regretting the fact that he had never returned to visit.

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CAMERON

The Revenge of Instinct It was the night before my first day of high school. I was walking back to my sister’s apartment in San Diego after buying the week’s groceries from the local CVS. My sister, who has raised me ever since our mother disappeared, gave me an extra $1.25 as an end of the summer treat. I decided to buy a soft serve vanilla ice cream, my favorite sweet. It was an abnormally hot day, so I had to continuously lick where the ice cream met the cone to stop the dripping. The day was perfectly normal, but that was all about to change. I remember the day clearly. I was eleven years old, coming home from a hard day’s work at the local nursing home. I had been working there for a couple months to help pay the rent. I strolled up to my family's apartment steps, and I could feel something amiss in the air. I heard a scream from behind the apartment, darted under the broken fence separating the front from the back, only to see a man diving into a black van with my unconscious mother in his arms. I tried to chase after the van, but my efforts were utterly futile. My sister and I, Michelle, waited for days in hope that she might return to us, but she never did. Michelle was seventeen at the time. She took me under her wing and treated me like her daughter; always watching out for me and beating up any kids that would make fun of me for my freakishly tall height. I was a storming six feet four inches, but was gentler than a deer licking feed out of your hand. As I walked up my apartment doorsteps, the feeling in the air was the same as the day my mom was kidnapped. I walked into my apartment. My sister was at work, but the door to my apartment was mysteriously open. Mystified, I slowly crept through the doorway and into the main living room. Everything seemed in order. As I went back to close the door, I noticed the lamp that is usually on the nightstand was gone, and then I got a throbbing pain in my head and drifted off into blackness.

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Next thing I know I was trapped in a dark room with no escape. As I slowly regained consciousness, I started to take in the details of the room The musty room had all slate rock walls, and no door. I shuffled around the room, still in shock, feeling the walls for any secret compartments or cracks that might lead out, but nothing caught my eye. I could not wrap my mind around the idea that I, an innocent fourteen year old girl, might have just been kidnapped, and that I could end up just like my mother; never to be seen again. After what seemed like an eternity, I heard a small buzzing noise. I looked up and saw a small speaker emerge gracefully from the stone ceiling. A shady voice emitted from the speaker. "I would imagine you are wondering where you are and why you're here. And I will answer both of those questions, in good time. I suppose you are hungry. I'll       send a tray along with some chicken and mashed potatoes. We will come for you       tomorrow, and tell you what you need to know. Rest well." The speaker clicked off, and I was alone once more. The man kept to his word about bringing me food. I hadn’t realized it until he mentioned it, but I was hungry. The last thing I had eaten was that ice cream cone. The food was surprisingly good, considering I'm used to Lunchables and microwavable meals. I quickly finished off my plate, but wanted more. I didn’t know if I could talk into the speaker or even how I could make it appear from the wall, so I settled on one helping. The man said he would come get me tomorrow, so I decided sleep was my best option. But that didn’t come easily. So much was on my mind, like where was I? What would they want with me? Are these the same people who took my mother, and would they lead me to her? All of these questions had to be pushed out of my head. I had a feeling I was going to need all of my energy for the following day. I was woken by a rattling noise from one of the walls. A portion of the wall rose up from the ground revealing a dark doorway. After waiting several minutes for something to happen, I slowly made my way through the doorway and down the long corridor. I ended up in a white room with a long chestnut table with six men and women sitting around it in all black suits. Next to a man, the most intimidating one there, was an empty chair calling my name. I would imagine they 265


made it next to him so I didn’t try anything deviant. Before anyone said anything, I somehow felt obliged to sit down. The man next to me, whose voice I recognized from the intercom said, "Welcome. Let's get started." "Before I let you ask any questions I'll answer the easy ones. First off, we are an agency that abducts, as you would call it, and houses people to keep the human race thriving after the apocalypse. Where you come into play is we try to collect whole families, and as you may know, we already have one of your family members." "Where is this place?" I asked. "That is confidential information. Precautionary measures incase someone manages to contact someone on the outside world. None of our inmates know where this is." "How many people do you have here?” I asked. "In this particular institution, we have twenty three people. But we are a worldwide corporation. We have over fifty institutions just in the United States. When the apocalypse comes on December 21st of this year, all the inmates around the world will be sent to one secure location where we are sure we will be able to survive. We are very prepared to save the human race", said the man. I just sat in my chair, taking everything in. Thousands of people over the world have been plucked from their everyday lives to be dummies for a bunch of conspirators. Of course I didn’t believe in the 2012 apocalypse, but what if they were right and their actions would save humanity. No. I refused to believe that. I needed to find my mother and get us both out of here in…what day was I stolen? September 6th? Three months. I had three months to get me and my mother out of this place and back home. But first I had to find her. Soon after they realized I had nothing else to say, they sent me back to my cell with another tray of food. When I asked the person who escorted me back why they feed me so good, his response was "We take care of our patients here. We are not mean people, even though you may think we are." I didn’t know what I was 266


supposed to do then, so I just laid on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I wondered what my sister was thinking about right now. Did she miss me? Was her life easier now that she wasn’t carrying my life on her back? She could finally go to college and be the surgeon she always wanted to be. Nothing was holding her back. As much as I tried to push the thought out of my mind, I couldn’t help thinking of the fact that my mother was in here. I needed to find her. My guess was that it was probably around noon, but I could have been completely wrong. I started to dose off, and the rattling of the doorway rising up woke me again. A woman, probably in her twenties, emerged and signaled me to follow her. We started walking, and I noticed other corridors branching off from all different directions. Other inmates were being escorted the same way that I was going. We passed the room where I had my meeting, and we passed a room with a chair in the center and windows all around it. I asked my escorter what that was and she told me it was an old torture room, but not to worry because they haven't used it in decades. We walked for a long time, and the corridor started slanting upwards. It ended in the bright sunlight. It took me some time for my eyes to get adjusted, but eventually they cleared and I noticed we were in a fenced in square with an assortment of other people. I assumed they were other inmates. I scanned the crowd for my mother, but did not see anyone that looked like her. Would I even recognize her? It had been three years. My escorter brought me back to reality by speaking to me, causing me to jump. "We let the inmates come out here every day at 1 o 'clock to get some sunshine and socialize with other people." I responded with, "Does everyone come out here?" "Everyone who is not in a meeting with the board of directors." That’s where my mother must have been, in a meeting. But I wondered what for? Everyone out here looked surprisingly happy to be here. I tried to talk to some of them and they all tried to sound cheery, but I could tell it wasn’t honest. The time went by fast, and soon, we were all being escorted back to our separate rooms. I tried to look into the meeting room on our way back, but nobody was in there. As I got back into my cell, my heart stopped. On my narrow bed, there she 267


was, fragile and pale. She hadn’t noticed me yet, and before she could, I turned to my escort and asked her who this woman was. "Well, that’s your mother of course." I turned around and just stood there, baffled. I slowly crept towards her. She looked up and immediately had her arms wrapped around me. I was so much taller than her now; she had to tilt her head straight up to see my face. She started talking so fast and with too many jumbled words, I couldn’t understand her, but this is what I got out of it, "Oh my you've gotten tall haven’t you? How's your sister? I still can't believe that you're finally in here with me! Now we can build a new earth together!” Uh, what? Did she just say what I think she did? Astounded, I asked her, "But what about escaping? You don’t believe any of this “end of the world” conspiracy do you?" "Of course I believe! I was a little skeptical when your father told me about this place, but now that I've experienced it myself I know it must be true! Oh yes, that’s right, you don’t know what your father looks like so you wouldn’t have been able to recognize him. That big, intimidating man that you sat next to at the meeting? That’s your father!" Whoa. Talk about a major loss of respect. I mean, I never had much for him before considering I was told he left us without any warning, but I guess that’s just a big lie now. How could my father bring all this upon me and my family? Years of mourning and wondering where my mother was, and thinking she might not even be alive, all because of a stupid conspiracy plot. I knew I had to get out of here, with or without my mother. I couldn’t try to convince my mother to come home with me because then she might tell someone of my plan to escape. No. She had made her decision, and I couldn’t try to convince her otherwise. There must be a way out of this place. I just needed to get far enough away that I could find out where I was and make my way home and to my sister, who is not crazy. The next three months passed about as slow as you could imagine they would, spending all of your time with a mother you now know is completely crazy. I tried 268


to talk to some people about anything that might be of some use to me for my escape. I couldn’t lead onto the fact that I was trying to escape though which made it difficult. I was told that there were rooms beyond the meeting rooms where all the administrators lived, and beyond that, the outside. The doors to the outside only opened when food and supplies were delivered here, and there was no pattern to when the deliveries come. But before any of that planning came, I needed to figure out how to get out of my room through the rising door. The next night that my mother did not sleep in my room with me, I felt around where the door rose from ground. I didn’t feel anything, and just I was about to give up, my hand ran around a circular bump in the otherwise smooth slate. I moved back onto it and put pressure, and the door rose up: a button. How clever. I quickly pushed the button and closed the door before anyone found out I knew how to open it. I overheard some administrators talking about how we would be moved to the secure location in two weeks time. The supply truck had better deliver in two weeks, or I would never have the chance to escape. Throughout the next two weeks, I spent all of my time listening to guard conversations, and using any method possible to find out when the next supply truck came. After about a week of no luck, I figured I was done for. Until one day we went outside, and I heard two guards talking about how nobody wanted to work the last delivery shift tonight. The last one. This was my only chance of escape. I tried to prepare with sleep, but it wasn’t going to happen. There was too much on my mind. Too much to think about that could go wrong. Hopefully my mother didn’t want to sleep in the same room with me tonight which she had been doing a lot lately, because if she did, all of my planning would go down the drain.        As night came, I lucked out. I didn’t even see my mom. She didn’t even come to say goodnight to me, which is fine by me. It would have been to hard to say goodnight to her knowing that potentially, this was the last time I would ever see her. At what I thought might be the right time, I opened up the slate door, and slipped out into the darkness. I had to feel my way along the wall to get to the meeting room. That day I had counted that there were three doorways on the left before the meeting room. The first room came almost immediately. After a minute of walking and thinking I went the wrong way, the second one passed. One more 269


to go before the final push of freedom. The third came soon after the second. I got to the meeting room, turned the corner and came face to face with the back of a guards head. I gasped like I had seen a ghost, but luckily the guard didn’t notice. I was afraid to breathe with fear of him hearing, but my lungs couldn’t take the burning any longer. I loudly breathed out and in, and this time, the guard did not miss it. As he whipped around, I panicked and pushed him. I didn’t know what that was supposed to do against a trained guard, but he managed to lose his balance, trip, and hit his head square on the rock hard floor. I saw ruby red blood shining off the ground, but I couldn’t stop to think about. I was in it now, I couldn’t stop. I grabbed his wooden baton that was probably used for hitting any night-goers. I ran through the room, ripped the door open, and sprinted straight ahead. I had no clue where I was going, but I hoped it was the right way. There were plenty of hallways that probably led to administrators rooms. Hopefully nobody heard my footsteps trampling along, and even if they did, I would be long gone before anyone could do anything about it. I took a hard left, ran about 100 feet, and noticed red lights backing up. I saw two guards standing behind it motioning it into the right spot. I dove behind a box and crates. Now I just had to wait for an opening for me to jump into the back of the truck and hide. It was getting close to the end of the unloading. Each guard took a final box and unloaded it onto the spot where all the other boxes were. I sprinted out from my hiding spot, and just as I was about to climb up into the back of the truck, I turned and noticed the truck driver staring straight at me. I froze, and remained motionless. He winked at me and motioned his head in the direction of the truck. Before the guards could turn around, I scrambled up into the truck and behind an abnormally large crate. The driver pulled the back truck door down, and sealed the lock. I was free. The drive was long and bumpy. It seemed to go on forever, until finally, we stopped. I imagine it was to refuel. I didn’t know if I was supposed to get out, but the driver answered that for me. He lifted the door and urged me out. "Why did you let me come with you? You could have easily stopped me and gotten me sent back in there,” I asked him.

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"Are you kidding? Whenever I have to do a delivery there I get the creeps. I don’t know what that place is, but I didn’t think it would be fair for me to decide whether you had to stay there or not." "Trust me; you don’t want to know what goes on in that place. But thank you for letting me ride with you. Where are we anyways?" "Los Angeles. Where are you trying to get to?" "My home is in San Diego. Is there a phone I could use?" "Here's fifty cents for a pay phone. I'm sorry I can't take you any farther, but I have plenty of deliveries that I need to attend to." "Thank you so much. What day is it today?" "It is December 6th. I have to hit the road now. It was nice meeting you and good luck." The man got back into his truck and drove off down the interstate. I quickly ran to the pay phone, ecstatic about getting the chance to tell my sister where I was. But of course, there was another person talking on the phone there too. I waited for over five minutes, and then tapped her on the shoulder to ask her if I could use it and tell her that it was urgent. She took one look my raggy clothes and dirty face, and decided I wasn’t worth trouble. She hung up the phone and handed it to me. My hands were shaking so I had a hard time putting the money in and dialing the phone. I still knew the number. It rang a couple times and I realized if she didn’t answer I might never be able to reach her because I had no money. I was about to lose hope when I heard the click of the phone being answered. She sniffled like she had just been crying, and in a crackly voice said                            "Hello.” I didn’t know what to say, so I just said hello. A moment passed and I said "It's Susan". She sounded mad and said,

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"If this is another one of your pranks I’ll call the police, and if they don’t do anything about it I'll personally come to your house and beat you". I laughed because it was a classic Michelle comment, and I said "No…it's really Susan. I'm in a Los Angeles gas station. Can you come pick me up?" She sighed, and said "Yes. I'll be there as soon as I can. You better have a good reason why you've been gone these past few months." After a few hours she was here. On the drive back I told all about everything that happened. About how they abducted me and how they were trying to build a community that would survive the apocalypse. I told her how I met mom, and how she believed in the conspiracy, and how dad was the head of the institution I was at. I thought about telling her a lie about mom. Telling her that mom wasn’t crazy, and that I never even saw her. But I couldn’t bring myself to it. I couldn’t lie to my sister. I made it home safely, but I had failed to save my mom. I tried not to hold it against myself, but I somehow felt like there was something I could have done to get her out of there with me.        I am laying on my bed writing this reflection on the journey of the end of my life. Yes, the end of my life. The apocalypse turned out to be true. Everything that I thought was crazy about my mother and my father turned out to be not so crazy. Writing the story of my final months is helping me reflect on the decisions I made and if they were the right ones. If I stayed with my parents and went on to live after the apocalypse, would I be happy? Would I be able to forgive myself for leaving my sister by herself after all that she has done for me over the years? No. I made the right decisions. I decided to listen to my instinct, and escape that crazy place. Japan has already been destroyed and the natural disasters are making their way across the Pacific Ocean, straight towards the coast of California. I am writing this reflection in hope it will survive so that whoever finds this and reads it knows the story of me, Susan. The wind is starting to pick up. I can hear the rain starting to tap tap tap against the windowpane. The crash of the waves, and the crack of lighting could be heard by everyone in the city. One by 272


one, people made their way to the shores of the San Diego beach. The whole city, lined up and down the peer. My sister and my hands managed to find each other, holding on for dear life. The only good thing about this whole situation is that I get to spend the end in the arms of my loving sister. We will grow up together, and we will die together.

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CHAPTER 8

I am not yours, not lost in you, though I long to be

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NIVI

Hasini Indian Terms: Bollywood Movies: Indian Movies Shah Rukh Khan and Sidharth Malhotra: Indian actors Idhazhin Oram: Tamil song from the movie, “3” Salwar kameez: Indian dress Bindi: Sticker that an Indian girl might wear Kuch Kuch Hota Hai: Bollywood Movie Rahul, Anjali, Tina: Characters from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai

 We all have that one friend who is crazy, extroverted, and goes to ridiculous extents to see you smile. I once had a friend like that; Hasini. I gained her friendship and lost it as well. I am Karthik and this is my story.   Deep mahogany eyes that spoke for themselves. That contagious laugh that consumed everyone. When I first saw her, she was six and picking a fight with her Dad because he had bought the wrong kind of chocolate. I didn’t know her but she was definitely a Daddy’s girl. I walked up to her and grabbed the piece of chocolate.Her eyes were the size of two Olympic swimming pools!! I could tell she was furious; if she was a cartoon character her face would be bright red with steam coming out of her ears! She was running after me screaming, “Give me my chocolate back! NOW!” I turned around and gave back her chocolate. I didn’t really like chocolate but I knew she would want her chocolate back if I suddenly seemed interested in her choco-

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late. She didn’t say another word but her silence spoke for her and that was the moment I knew I had found my best friend.    It was 2003, when we were six. Now, we are eighteen and still best friends. I have learned so much about Hasini over the years. I know: she’s afraid of heights, she’s obsessed with Bollywood movies (I think Shah Rukh Khan’s favorite or is it Sidharth Malhotra?), and there is so much to know about Hasini that one list wouldn’t be suffice. Our first day of college was approaching; little did I know my life was soon going to change.    Her name was Priya. She moved into the house above Hasini. When I first saw her, all I could hear was ‘Idhazhin Oram’ from 3. There was something about her that made my heart skip a beat. I didn’t really know how to talk to girls; I know this is shocking considering my best friend was a girl. Hasini came running into my house after she had met Priya. Just as I was about to tell Hasini about Priya, Priya walks in and I am speechless. She was wearing a royal blue salwar kameez, her hair parted in such a way that it framed her face in an elegant and classy way, her eyes were so alluring, and her bindi was perfectly placed on her forehead. I would be lying if I said she wasn’t the most beautiful girl I had ever laid my eyes on. The moment our eyes met it  was enchanting and I was patiently waiting to hear her voice. If she was stunning as I thought then, her voice must be sweeter than honey. As we spoke, Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ was all I could hear. Her voice was music to my ears, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Where had this girl been all my life?’ While I was falling head over sneakers (guys don’t wear heels) for Priya, Hasini was hiding a secret of her own.     I didn't discover this till it was too late; Hasini had begun to fall in love with me. I was too busy trying to woo Priya that I was completely oblivious to Hasini’s feelings for me. I know what you Bollywood fans are thinking, I’m not Rahul from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Hasini was not Anjali and Priya is not Tina. Hasini, Priya and I don’t get the happy ending that Rahul, Anjali, and Tina got.Our ending was unexpected . While Hasini was falling hard for me and emotionally exhausted, she was suffering physically as well. The doctors told her that she had leukemia and that she 276


had less than a month to live since the cancer had been detected late. As usual, Hasini kept this to herself and told no one. She was twenty-two and had her whole life ahead of her. Pain was one of the emotions, Hasini rarely expressed; in fact pain and anger were the two emotions that Hasini would build up and express one day through a big outburst. Hasini often bottled up her pain and anger inside because she never wanted to be thought of as weak or psycho.  By expressing her pain and anger, Hasini would not have been weak or psycho; she would have been human. Priya finally reciprocated my feeling and it only took four years of sending roses every day and saying ‘I love you,’ every time I saw her. Hasini was still my best friend and on the day I proposed to Priya, she started crying. She told me they were happy tears. I knew she was lying because Hasini was the one that told me that when you’re crying and the first tear falls from the right eye, it's happiness but when the first tear falls from the left eye, its pain. Hasini’s first tear had fallen from her left eye. I knew something was wrong but she insisted that she was fine so, I let it go.   On the day of my engagement party, I was beyond happy and Priya as always was calm and composed. Hasini was ecstatic;  it was later I found out that it was her way of hiding the pain of knowing I would never be more than her best friend. Just as I was about to make a speech, Priya comes running and telling me Hasini was being taken to the hospital. I dropped everything, running because Hasini, my best friend  who I wasn’t ready to lose just yet.   As I rushed into the hospital, I was told Hasini wanted to see Priya and I. Priya was behind me the entire time. As the both of us walk into Hasini’s room, what I see shocks me. In the place of the Hasini that always had way too much energy, I saw a spiritless, tired, and weak girl.As her eyes open she forces a smile. “Karthik, there’s something I need to tell you,” she says. “I love you, Karthik and I hope you and Priya are very happy together. I couldn’t die without telling you that I love you. Priya, Karthik is all yours in this life but in every life after this he is mine. Will you promise me that, please?” Priya with tears in her eyes silently nods her head. 277


“Oh Mr. Karthik, you better take good care of this girl or else my ghost will haunt you for years to come!” Priya and I force a laugh. I couldn’t believe that Hasini was on the verge of death and she was still cracking jokes. I looked at Priya and then Hasini; I began to think about how my life would have been if I hadn’t met Priya. I mean I really love Priya but Hasini had made me the person I am. I looked at Hasini again and she closed her eyes and I cried, “Hasini!” She opened her eyes and said, “Not yet… Idiot!” We laughed and I knew that she wasn’t going anywhere; she would always be with me in my heart. Listen…live…love…be happy…smile… Who knows? Tomorrow may not be…

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OLIVIA

Always There It’s October. The weather is beginning to get nippy and most outdoor activities cease to exist. So, teenagers have to work to create new environments they can spend their friday nights in. Where better to go than the mall? Shopping, food and friends all around. Michelle and Oliver went to the mall together every friday. The two were inseparable. They had been best friends forever. And by best friends, I mean the whole shabang. They’d talk on the phone for hours every night, hang out after school and on weekends and knew everything there was to know about each other. And I know what you’re all thinking, “How would you know every detail?” Well I know every detail because I am Michelle. And this is my story. Everyone always questioned the friendship between us two. If we had feelings for each other, if we were dating. The answer from the both of us was always the same. “No, we’re just friends.” Nobody ever believed us. There was not much we could do about it though. So we just let the people talk and denied everything. Feelings, dates, kisses, everything. It’s not like we were REALLY lying. We had never admitted that we had feelings for each other nor had we ever had any physical contact more than a friendly hug. But could Oliver and I be lying to ourselves? The friendship we had was too precious and too fragile to experiment and find out. Either way, we were just friends. Oliver was tall. He was a good four inches taller than me.. He had short hair that was a dark brown shade, which perfectly complemented his icy blue eyes. His wardrobe was completely average. Jeans, sweaters, t-shirts and Sperry’s. Oliver knew how to look good and no one has ever had anything to say about his style because of how perfectly it suited him. Although Oliver is the fun type that wants to make you laugh, he’s very deep and intelligent. Most people don’t know this side of him. You have to be really close to him in order to experience how caring and how helpful he is. Oliver puts any one of his friends before himself. He would never let anyone down. 279


Now me? I don’t have much of a style. My wardrobe consists of yoga pants, hoodies, jeggings and band tees. My hair is an array of different color browns and reds but everyone thinks it suits me. I’m not as tiny as the girls in my grade and it almost kills me that I can’t be. I don’t think I’m an attractive girl although other people have told me I am. I know confidence is supposedly an attractive feature, but I cannot come to terms with exactly what I am and what I am about. Oliver was one of the funniest people I had ever met in her life. This was why we were such a good match- I among others think I’m a little beyond hilarious myself. We could turn any sad situation into a hilarious scenario and could make a joke out of anything someone says. It was friday, and it was time to let loose and have fun. Some PG rated fun, that is. Oliver and I headed off to the mall. “Pizza or chinese?” Oliver asked. “I should probably get neither considering I’m morbidly obese,” I responded with a half smile on my face. I was smiling because I knew Oliver was about to yell at me for putting myself down, but I thought what I said was accurate. “Would you just shut up? We’re getting pizza,” Oliver stood up from the food court table and went to retrieve the food. Of course Oliver payed for it. He payed for everything us two did. Which was yet another reason everyone thought we were dating. Usually when poor teenage friends go out it’s every man for himself. But if I didn’t have money, Oliver would spot me. While Oliver was up getting the pizza, I was just sitting alone. I shyly looked up at all of the faces passing me by. Some familiar, and some not. Suddenly one of the familiar faces stood out. Not as if I really knew exactly who it was, but as if I had a conversation with this tall, blonde and blue eyed boy before. I held his gaze and he basically cradled mine back. The mysterious boy then sat down with me confidently and looked me in the eyes. “Do I know you from somewhere?” he asked. “Hopefully,” I answered, with a big, fresh I-just-got-my-braces-off smile on my face. “I’m Christopher,” the boy said with a flirtatious smile on his face. “Feel free to call me Chris or anything you’d like.” I was completely mesmerized by this boy but I had to act cool and make it seem as though I was uninterested. 280


“Michelle,” I said softly. The two engaged in conversation a little bit about what neighborhoods they lived in and if they had siblings and what schools the two went to. During this, Oliver approached holding two grease-covered triangles looking confused about what was going on. “Hey, this is Chris,” I told Oliver. Oliver smiled, asked how he was and all different sorts of small talks. Chris seemed to click with the duo for the rest of the night and I knew Oliver could tell by the look on my face that I was really into this guy. And who could blame me? He was tall, handsome and seemed to be everything a teenage girl dreams of having. But Oliver was a bit skeptical. Christopher’s cocky attitude didn’t seem to exactly fit what he thought I would want. Maybe he was completely perfect and Oliver was just a little jealous. I was totally into Chris. So into him, that before I left, I let him kiss me. When he did so, I almost felt as if an electric shock went through my body. Thoughts about me and Chris being together were running through my mind. I knew that maybe it could be just a kiss, or maybe it could be the start of something great. We exchanged numbers and Chris left. I couldn’t stop talking to Oliver about how much I liked him. Oliver pretended to actually be interested in what I had to say about Chris. The whole time I was bragging, I couldn’t shake feelings of Oliver. Not FEELINGS feelings, but just about the friendship. If I had a boyfriend, how would my weekends go? When would I be able to hang out with Oliver? Would Chris let Oliver come out with us? I was worried. I didn’t want to lose him. It had been a week and I still hadn’t heard much from Chris. So, I figured my weekend would go the same as planned. Oliver and I went to the mall. As we walked through the long strip of stores, we happened to pass by Chris. Chris looked at me and looked away. Why was this? It must have been because of the girl he had his arm around. I felt like I just got shot in the stomach. Why wasn’t that girl me? What was wrong with me? Oliver automatically knew I was crushed so he just threw his arm around my waist to let me know he was there and so I wouldn’t cry. I didn’t want to cry either, so I just pretended nothing happened. I had my best friend by my side and that was all that mattered.

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A couple of weeks later, I finally received a text message from Chris. “I’m sorry,” was all it said. “That’s odd, I didn’t know you had a conscience,” I replied snarkily. The two of us went back and forth with Chris apologizing and me trying to not accept it. I tried to remain proud, but eventually gave into Chris and his sweet words. I called Oliver to tell him what happened. “So I’m going on a date with Chris,” I told him. “Why on earth would you want to do that to yourself ?” Oliver said. “I mean he dates some other girl, then dumps her for you. He could do the same exact thing to you in a few weeks!” Oliver could hear in his voice that he was being a tad loud, and maybe it seemed like he was yelling at me. I knew that he was just looking out for me, so I couldn’t be mad. “I know it sounds stupid, but I can’t help it! I want him to be mine,” I explained. I knew I was being foolish but I knew how I felt about Chris and I wasn’t going to hide it and let an opportunity such as this slip away. I went on the date with Chris and we both became hooked on each other. We were official, and Chris began going to the mall with Oliver and I on fridays. Chris grew on Oliver and the two became close. It was obvious that pangs of jealousy still hit Oliver every once in awhile. Sometimes he would fake laugh when I talked about him. And I still missed being with Oliver alone. But neither of us said how we felt. I didn’t want to lose Oliver or Chris and Oliver didn’t want to ruin happiness for either of us.. A few months passed. Chris and I got into stupid little fights about everything and anything and every time I was upset about it Oliver was there to comfort me. He may have been close with Chris, but he obviously still had my back primarily. One day Chris decided to text me and end things. And I was crushed, to be blunt.. I knew we only dated for a short period of time and I had had a boyfriend before then, so it wasn’t my “first love” or anything. I just thought I had a special connection with Chris that I had never had with anyone else before. Crying, I called Oliver. And he was there because he always was. Chris dumped me on a friday. Oliver dragged me to the mall. He didn’t drag me to the mall because he actually cared about going, he dragged me there be282


cause if Chris was there, he wanted him to know that I was okay, that I would be okay and that I didn’t need him to be okay. “You’re too pretty for him anyways,” Oliver said trying to get me to crack a smile. It worked. I couldn’t help but smile at Oliver. His voice was so inviting. It made me want to smile and it made my soul want to sing. A few weeks had gone by and I was slowly and surely recovering from my recent heartbreak. Chris had already recovered since he already had another girlfriend. Since I was more lonely and sad, the time I spent with Oliver increased rapidly. It was basically every day. Since we were spending such a great amount of time together, we were just becoming closer and growing more fond of each other. Nobody even knew that us being any more fond of each other was possible! But we achieved it. One day, I was at Oliver’s house. We were laying on Oliver’s twin sized bed, which was in the far right corner of Oliver’s room. A TV was alongside the same wall as the bed on an old brown coffee table. A dresser was opposite the bed on the other wall. On top of the dresser was loose change, school papers, and a framed picture of the two that I had given Oliver a while back for Christmas. Oliver and I were watching stupid things on the internet that any other young teens would watch too. The giggles subsided. Oliver put on Pandora and the two just laid in complete peace. There was nothing that was disrupting them. My head was on Oliver’s chest and Oliver’s arm was underneath my side and back up around my hip. The butterflies I had were extreme. I knew why, too. I had fallen for Oliver. I never thought it would happen, but it did. I didn’t know if I was ready to admit it. The both of us seemed to treat it like a challenge. Who would crack first? Who would make the first move? It was never exactly known. Oliver was lightly rubbing my back which was making my heart roar. I looked up at Oliver and he just smirked. My heart kept beating faster and faster. He thought maybe I was looking at him because I was upset that the back rub was tickling me. But I just looked up and didn’t know exactly what to do or how to go about sharing my feelings. His eyes looked so inviting. I wanted to fall into them. The loud beating began ringing through my ears almost like an annoying alarm 283


clock. I was getting nervous. “I kind of want to kiss you, I think I’m going to do it,” I said softly. Oliver didn’t object when I leaned in to kiss him. After we shared this kiss, this heart pounding, blood racing kiss, I told Oliver how I felt. “I think I kind of like you,” I said. This obviously didn’t express exactly how I felt, but I was so awkward and almost embarrassed and didn’t know exactly what Oliver was going to say. “You do?” Oliver said surprised. “Well that’s good, because I kind of like you too,” Oliver leaned in and kissed me again and that was the decider. My blood was practically boiling! Oliver was my boyfriend. MY boyfriend. He was mine and not anyone else’s. At this moment Oliver may only have been wearing a white tshirt but he still looked absolutely perfect. He always looked perfect. “You’re my boyfriend...” I said out loud, letting everything sink in. It didn’t even feel real. But in a good kind of way. We were finally together. It had taken forever for everyone else, and forever and a day for us. The happiness Oliver and I both felt in our hearts and minds was eventually going to make our bodies burst. Everyone else was almost more happy for us two than they were for ourselves. Oliver and I both finally found someone to make us happy. Or at least that’s how we felt. In reality, we have both been there to make the other happy all along. Years had gone by, and Oliver and I were still together. We graduated high school and had big aspirations. Oliver wanted to be a high school English teacher and I wanted to be a counselor for lost teens. Although we both had dreams that we wanted to fulfill, we couldn’t just leave each other. It seemed almost impossible. We both applied for the same schools. The schools that differed were still driving distance from each other. Oliver got accepted to Boston University, his dream school, and I got accepted to Bridgewater State. The two schools weren’t on top of each other, but I knew and Oliver knew that we would be able to make it work. And so we did. Oliver and I pushed ourselves through the years at school. The papers, the exams, the horrible professors. With each other’s love and support, we knew it was possible. Possible to start our careers, make the money we needed to get married and have the beautiful wedding on the beach we had always dreamed of. The sun284


set that day had just enough light to make his crystal clear eyes glow even more than usual. My white dress hung right above the still warm beach sand so it wouldn’t drag through or get wet. We knew we’d have beautiful children, too. That’s why we had three. Three of the most beautiful, delicate children anyone will ever lay their eyes on. Two girls and one boy with the best looks out of any child they will ever encounter! They’re lucky they have Oliver for a father. That is where their good looks come from. And their good hearts.

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KATIE

Silently Screaming Your Name As I lie awake in bed every night, it’s always the same person’s image that keeps popping up. Everytime I close my eyes he’s all that I see and I ju.st don’t know what to do anymore. Everything I hear, or see, or do reminds me of him. I feel as though I might be falling for my best friend and it scares me. Who knew love and friendship could be so confusing at 16? My name is Andy and this is my story of how I fell for my best friend, but wish I didn’t.        The summer before sophomore year was one of the best summers of my life, even though my brother, Eli, was gone for most of it. He left the last week of June and came back the first week of August. Eli and I were really close, so when he was gone for almost the entire summer, I didn’t do much other than occasionally hang out with Isabel, my best friend. Eli and I would spend almost every day together when he was around and just do whatever we felt like doing. We never really got into fights because we were so alike; we might as well have been twins because I was such a tomboy. Over the summer, Eli spent every day traveling through the United States on a cross country tour with his band. I knew everyone in his band but one of them I knew really well, and that was Sam. Saturday, October 27:         Sam and I had never really talked much because we were complete opposites, or so I thought. It was the day before his birthday and we had a marching band competition.  Sam, Eli, and I were all talking on the bus ride home and when Eli fell asleep, Sam and I just continued talking and it felt normal. We got back to our school really late at night, around 1:30AM, but Sam and I still wanted to talk. So we exchanged numbers and headed our separate ways. Later, when I finally got home, I checked my phone before going to bed and saw a message from Sam. It read: “Andy, I had a really good time talking to you today and I hope you did too. I never realized how much we have in common but talking to you was

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nice and I hope we can continue talking.” We talked until we fell asleep that night, which was about 3AM.

Sunday, October 28:        It was Sam’s 17th birthday. I had said happy birthday the night before but figured I might as well say it again, so I texted him that morning and we talked again, just like the night before. “Happy actual Birthday!” “Thanks Andy!” “You’re welcome! Has it been a good birthday so far?” “Yes! We had my favorite breakfast, red velvet cupcakes with ice cream, and I got a voucher to go for a helicopter ride in Newport!” “That’s awesome!” “I know! Almost as fun as spending the summer, when I was home, at your house.” “Yeah, you’ll have to come over again soon when we aren’t all busy with school.” “Sounds good, I hope it happens soon.” “Me too, well I’ll let you go so you can enjoy your birthday. Have fun!” “Thanks Andy. Bye.” Later that night we talked and we just became even better friends. Every conversation brought us closer and closer. Thursday, November 8: Sam and I were just as close as Eli and I were, if not closer. But Eli had a girlfriend and sometimes because of her he wouldn’t listen me; sometimes it was as if I wasn’t there. There were things I wanted to tell Eli, but he wasn’t listening, so I talked to Sam instead. 287


“Eli doesn’t even care. He’s with Angela.” “Why doesn’t he listen to you?” “He’s too busy talking to her.” “Oh, his girlfriend. How are they?” “Good, I guess.” “Oh, good, because I know when my brother got a girlfriend she sucked him up. It was like really? He’s still my brother.” “Yeah, that’s how it is with Eli. He constantly talks to Angela. Sometimes we’ll be out and his phone will die and he’ll take mine just so he can talk to her.” “Oh, that must be really annoying. Do they even hangout? Doesn’t she live far away?” “Yeah sometimes he goes down for the weekend and when Drum Corps starts again they’ll see each other there. That’s also kind of annoying though because then I have no one to talk to at Drum Corps because he’s always with her.” “I’m sorry. Makes me want to go down to Drum Corps to keep you company.” “Thanks.” All our conversations were just between us and we were just friends, but sometimes I got a little hint of him trying to flirt and sometimes I flirted back. But it was never much because he had a girlfriend and even if he didn’t I would never date him. Being friends was just fine for me. Tuesday, November 13:        Eli and I had gotten into a fight earlier that day and it was a big one. We never really fought but when we did it was bad. Fighting with Eli always upset me a lot and when Sam and I were talking the night of the fight, he could tell something was wrong. “Hey Andy, sorry it’s been a little crazy.” “It’s fine.” 288


“Ok. How are you doing?” “I’m fine.” “What’s wrong?” “Eli and I got in a fight today and I’m just thinking about that, but it’s ok.” “Oh, sorry. I understand, it’s the same way with my brother and I, where we are so close that when we do fight its huge.” “Yeah, that’s how it always is with Eli and me.” “I understand, why don’t you vent to me Andy!” “I don’t want to annoy you and burden you with my problems.” “Don’t worry, it would be my pleasure. I love talking to you.” So I vented to Sam and told him everything about the fight and what happened with Eli. “Eli seems like a jerk.” “Only when he’s talking to Angela, which is most of the time.” “Wow, has he changed?” “No, not really. He’s only a jerk to people in my family.” “Oh, I’m sorry, that kind of sucks.” “Yeah, it’s ok. I just wish I could get away from it sometimes. Like drive somewhere and just hang out there when Eli and I get in fights.” “I see. You should live near me so when you need time off we could watch a movie or go in the hot tub!” “Yeah, that would be nice.” Sam and I stayed up talking until we both fell asleep. Talking to him always helped; he always knew how to make me feel better.        Sam and I talked every night before bed and almost always fell asleep talking to each other. It was nice having someone to talk to whenever you needed 289


it. Even when I had work and I told him I wouldn’t be out until 11PM or later, he still insisted on me texting him. The only time we stopped talking for more than a day was when Sam’s girlfriend, Danielle, freaked out.        From what Sam had said, Danielle and he had been dating for almost a year and a half but no one would have known. I didn’t even know the girl but Eli told me her and Sam barely talked and didn’t even act like more than friends. Sam would text me sometimes saying how she was upset or they were in a fight but it had never really gotten that bad. Sam always knew how to fix it because he was a smart guy, until one weekend in mid November. I had been staying at my brother’s girlfriend’s house with him for the weekend because she lived a few hours away and we were going to the torchlight festival in her town. Other than the festival on Sunday it was a rather boring weekend and I had no one to talk to because all Eli and his girlfriend did was make out and cuddle and it was just gross. I spent most of the weekend in the spare bedroom talking to Sam and it was then that the whole freak out happened.         It was Saturday night and I texted Sam a little earlier than usual because I couldn’t take Eli and his girlfriend any longer. That was a bad mistake. Later that night, around 11 PM, Sam texted me saying Danielle was pissed at him and this time it was serious. Sam said that when I had texted him, he was at Danielle’s house and she saw the message from me and thought Sam was hiding something from her. I realized that I was the problem between Sam and Danielle and I did not want to be in the middle of them. I told Sam to forget about me and worry about fixing things with Danielle before even thinking about talking to me. Sam tried to go against what I had said and kept saying that he couldn’t; that he loved talking to me and that he couldn’t not talk to me. I felt the exact same way, but I kept my feelings to myself and told him to work things out with Danielle first. Sam texted me a few days later as if nothing had ever happened and when I asked if Danielle was ok with us talking he said yes, that we were just friends and we just couldn’t get too close. I was happy that Sam had worked things out with Danielle and everything went back to normal. Sam and I were best friends nonetheless and nothing could break that friendship. We went back to talking everyday and sharing everything with each other just as we had before. 290


My mom always bugged me about Sam and told me that I should ask him out and every time I told her, “He has a girlfriend, Danielle.” But she still insisted. Isabel, my best friend, also told me we would be perfect for each other. She did it kind of jokingly because she knew how much I hated it when my mom did it, but I knew she still wanted me to be with him. And I wanted to be with him too. It took me a while to realize it but I really liked him and it kind of scared me. Being friends with Sam was one thing but dating him was another. Sam was my best friend and we had become so close in such a short amount of time that I had barely noticed how little we’d been talking for. And even if Sam did ever break up with Danielle and ask me out I’m not even sure if I would say yes. I wouldn’t want to ruin the friendship we have now. But Sam and Danielle had been dating for a while and it didn’t look like that was changing. Even though Sam told me that they rarely kissed and that he got no action, he didn’t seem to mind. He said they had a strong emotional connection and as long as he was fine with it, it didn’t matter to me. Sam always knew how to work things out with Danielle. There was only one time he didn’t and that’s when he came to me. Wednesday, November 28:        Sam and I were talking that day about homework and school and I was really excited because I’d finished all my homework at 7, which rarely happened. I was usually up until about 10 or 11, at least. But that day we’d had a half day and I hadn’t procrastinated much. Sam congratulated me on finishing so early and asked me if I had plans on Friday. He asked me to go to the movies with him to see one of the newer movies that all his friends and family had already seen. Both he and I hadn’t seen it and had no one else to go with. I wanted to go so bad and wished I could say yes, but I had work that night. Isabel was so excited, and also mad, when I told her about it, she nearly freaked out. But later that night, Sam and I also talked about his girlfriend because they were kind of in a fight and he didn’t know what to do. “Danielle’s mad at me.”    

“Why?”

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“She ‘wants the old Sam back.’ I guess because I made some dirty jokes today.”   

“Oh, but it’s not like you’ve completely changed?”

  

“Not at all, I just haven’t been watching what I say.”

  

“Oh, ok then.”

       “Yeah, I’m just thinking about it now because I said goodnight and she said goodnight, then she sent me a couple more texts like she wanted to talk, and I simply responded to them, but I feel bad.”    

“So talk to her about it, tell her your opinion and how you feel about it.”

  

“Tomorrow in person?”

       “Whenever you want, but she needs to know how you feel about things because even though you may want her to be happy, you need to be happy too. You both need to be happy together.”    

“Wow, thanks. That’s really helpful. Thanks Andy.”

In order to get his mind off things, Sam spent the weekend at our house and hung out with Eli and I just like he was a part of the family. Our parents may as well have adopted him because they talked about him like one of their own and treated him just like they treated Eli and me. I helped Sam talk with Danielle and helped him realize that even though he wanted Danielle to be happy, he too needed to be happy. I told him to talk to Danielle and he did when they went back to school. Later, after I’d helped Sam fix things with Danielle, I got to thinking, as I always did before bed. I got to thinking what if ? What if Sam and Danielle broke up? What would I do? How would Sam be? Would he get over it? Would we still be friends? How would it affect our friendship? Etc. I showed the conversation to Isabel the next day in school and she was excited. I told her I felt bad about it because if Sam and Danielle broke up I would feel like it was my fault. Isabel said, “Don’t worry about it. All you did was give him friendly advice just like you would have given to me if I was in that situation. Even if they do break up it’s not your fault. And if they do break up then he can be with 292


you!” I appreciated Isabel’s advice, as always, but I still wasn’t sure how I felt about dating Sam if he and Danielle broke up. Thankfully I didn’t have to worry about it though, because the next day after school Sam texted me and said that he and Danielle had worked things out. We talked even more than usual, almost 24/7, when Sam went back home and some nights we even called each other and talked for hours just listening to how each other’s days went. It was nice to be so close to Sam and know he cared but it was also kind of weird. Some days it felt a little too good and I even caught myself thinking about what it would be like if we were dating. That’s where we get to the whole spending every waking moment thinking about Sam. I simply couldn’t get my brain off him.        I still felt the same way about him and he still felt the same way about me for all I knew, but I think maybe our feelings had grown when I’d helped him fix things with Danielle. It was nice to be so close to Sam but in a way it was scary. I felt as though I was falling for him and I knew that I should be happy that I had a crush but I just wasn’t. It would’ve been nice had it been anyone else, but not Sam. I didn’t want to ruin our friendship; I didn’t want to ruin what we had. I spent every night thinking about it and I still do. I just don’t know what I want and when I feel as though I’ve finally figured it out, something just doesn’t seem right, I just wanted to stay friends with Sam forever but I couldn’t keep myself from liking him as more than a friend. Love and feelings were just too complicated for me and that’s why I’d never experienced them or wanted to experience them before. To me it was all just a blur that I didn’t want to get lost in. I’d rather just stay really close friends with a person and that’s what I decided I would do with Sam.         I decided we would only be friends and keep things the way they were, even if Sam and Danielle ever broke up. We were best friends and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that. But I just couldn’t keep myself from thinking about him. It was like a person inside my head screaming his name constantly, but silently. It was a whispered yell that kept me thinking about what could be and after one night’s long conversation I realized I wasn’t the only one with silenced screams in my head. Sam, too, said he couldn’t stop thinking of me. After not talking for a day it felt so empty. He filled the emptiness. When he was busy, and we 293


didn’t talk, it was dreadful. But I didn’t want to ruin our friendship even though I wanted to be more than friends. I spent all my time thinking of ways to solve this dilemma, answers to my problem, but I could never figure it out. Maybe I’d figure it out someday but for now, we were just friends and that was completely fine with me.        There were a few times when I really thought about Sam’s relationship with me because sometimes he would send me some messages that seemed a little too flirtatious to come from someone with a girlfriend. One night, for example, we were talking about coffee. He had tried to get me to drink coffee before but I never did because I knew I didn’t like it. We were talking about coffee and Sam said, “Listen, there is nothing like a nice warm cup of coffee, in a cozy blanket, some good music, and some company.” It was moments like that that really confused me. I wasn’t sure how to react or what to say back because Sam had a girlfriend. He seemed sort of miserable with her but they were still dating and I didn’t want to be the reason they broke up. Liking Sam more than friends was just a dilemma I would have to get over because I knew I didn’t want to ruin someone else’s relationship. But that wasn’t the real problem.         The real problem occurred when Sam and Danielle broke up for good. Things were still the same between Sam and me; in fact they were better. He was happier and we talked even more than usual. But the thing was, would it stay that way forever?

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J O C E LY N N

Something to Hold On To The lines that distinguished one body from another were fuzzy and undefined. Diana squinted at the man in front of her, focusing on the hazel-blue eyes that lit up his face. She could hear the southern drawl in his voice, and she was giggling at his confident and easy smile with the gaps in between his teeth. He saw her with sharp and clear precision. Her thick, shiny, jet black hair stretched down her back and matched the glimmer in her deep brown eyes. He forced himself to blink and close his mouth when she spoke to him in her loud and giggly Boston accent. She slurred and swayed in her chair, and the other seamen winked at him, encouraging him to take her home. He looked at the girls she had arrived with gathering at the door, and he got up from the bar. She followed and immediately toppled into his arms. As he carried her to the exit, the men behind him cheered and whistled. However, instead of guiding her out the door, Mitch handed Diana off to her friends after taking her number and disappeared into the warm night air.    *** The phone rang, sending a pounding shockwave through Diana’s head. Moments later, Beth’s unusually trembling steps marched up to the upholstered couch and handed the phone to Diana. Before passing the phone, Beth turned the volume all the way down for her friend. Diana gripped the phone. “Hello, this is Diana,” she spoke with great effort to sound decent. “Hi, it’s me, we met last night at that bar,” a southern boy answered. He sounded serious, but wayward and easygoing at the same time. She pieced together a fragmented picture of a military hairstyle and set jawline. “Oh yes, I remember you now,” she said groggily, “Mike, Matt, Mark, M....” she trailed off. Mitch could almost hear her face flush. He could tell she was embarrassed about not remembering his name, but picturing her brilliant smile he couldn’t help but laugh. 295


“It’s Mitch,” he told her gently, “Mitchell Davis, and if you need a refresher on who I am, I would love to take you to dinner sometime.” His heart was pounding in his ears so loud that he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to hear her response. Amid the steamy Hawaii morning, his hands were frozen as they clung to the phone. He should’ve asked in person, he should’ve been smoother, he shouldn’t have stuttered, he shouldn’t have made a fool of himself in front of this beautiful girl that he’d known nothing about. His teeth chattered. “You know what? Yeah, let’s go to dinner,” Diana blurted, “Pick me up tomorrow at seven.” Mitch was flying high now. After they had hung up, Diana crashed back into the couch she had slept in. Her head screamed at her for the alcohol, and her mind had tormented her for the phone call. She couldn’t go out with Mitch. She didn’t know him. Didn’t know anything about him. She knew his eyes. His big, round, hazel eyes... Beth walked into the room hours later, startli “Oh my gosh was that the guy from last night? What did he say?! I thought you were going home with him to be honest! Come on D, what did he say? Tell me everything!” Her voice was loud and high pitched, and Diana winced. She conjured the most animated voice she could manage, describing the phone call in detail. “Okay, when he said hello I didn’t even remember his name! It was the most horrific thing I’ve ever done! And then he asked me to dinner..” “AND??!” “I said yes, but I can’t go with him, I don’t even know him! I don’t know anything about him! He’s military! Plus, we’re only here for a week and a half until we go back to Southie, and there’s Keith...” Beth rolled her eyes and glared at Diana, who was rubbing her temple. “I’ve told you too many times already, D, Keith is not a good guy! How many times have you broken up again? Should I even mention that you aren’t together now? And how much do you want to bet that that scum is with Tamera at this very moment? You know that I’m right! He’s gonna be with her until you come 296


back and then he’ll come crawling to you and you’ll take him! He’s not worth your time, girl. And go have a good time with this new guy, what’s his name again..? Anyway, have a little fun here, you’re only here for ten more days, make the most of it. Plus, Auntie and Uncle said they’ve met him a few times, he’s nice guy.” Diana said nothing for awhile as she pieced together the speech she’d just received in her soupy brain. The more she thought about it, the more likely it became that Keith was really with Tamera, and how it occurred to her that she didn’t even care. She finally met eyes with Beth and flashed a weak smile. “You’re right. I guess I’ll go,” Diana said, but she couldn’t conceal the smile plastered on her face when she thought about tomorrow night. *** The Oasis was more on the elegant side, with marble floors and dim lights hanging low overhead. The hostess guided the couple to a black leather booth, and after Diana settled in, Mitch slid in the seat across from her. It was almost bizarre to see him there, slouching in a gray polo and cargo shorts, talking loudly with his accent and winking at her with those eyes. They talked for a long, long time after their meal was over, and it became apparent that the waitress was getting anxious. Suddenly, Diana found herself looking at his waist and she’d realized that he’d gotten up from the table. “Do you wanna dance?” Mitch asked with a wide grin, “I’m pretty good,” he added. He flushed when Diana took his arm and he led her onto the floor. Almost immediately, the atmosphere adjusted to the sway of a slow song. Mitch pulled her close to his tall and lanky frame, and whispered in her ear. She laughed, just like she always did, and the light and airy sound of her voice caused Mitch to sigh. They held each other and shuffled their feet to the song for an eternity, but before the second chorus, Mitch had his mind made up about Diana. Diana leaned into him as he breathed into her hair, and in that instant, he spoke calmly. “What would you say if I asked you to marry me?” he asked her, and without a hint of hesitation, she replied: 297


“I don’t know, you haven’t asked me yet.” She was flushed with color. Her heart was beating a thousand times a minute when he released her from his grip and stood before her. Sinking to his knee in the middle of the dance floor, he took her hands in his. “Diana, I know I sound crazy, but I love you, will you make me the happiest man on the planet and be mine forever? Diana Marie Gates, will you marry me?” Before he had even finished speaking, hot tears streamed down her face. She crouched down and kissed him hard for the first time, a simple kiss that had confirmed all that they were meant to be. It was an instantaneous and contagious and unquestionable love, a relief from the burden of life and a shift into the cloudy unknown that could only be heaven. He picked her up and spun her around, and the ballroom cheered. Once they had ducked out of the Oasis hand in hand, Diana ran to the payphone. “We have to call my mother and tell her,” she cried. With shaky hands, Mitch dropped all the quarters in his pockets into the payphone. He watched her wait for her mother to pick up and found himself shivering in the hot summer night. “Hello?” Diana said cautiously. “It’s me Mum! I know you’re gonna think this is totally crazy, and I don’t know how to break it to you any other way, but I met a guy.” Mitch watched her focus her eyes on his face, paying attention to her mother on the other line. “Well yeah, he’s 23, and in the Navy on leave here. We just went out, and he proposed...Now don’t say anything yet Ma, you know I’m not that type,” Diana tuned in to the words of her mother and then she took the phone away from her ear and covered the speaker. “She wants to talk to you,” D said. Mitch took the phone slowly, knowing he wasn’t great with first impressions. “Hello Mrs. Gates,” he listened to her shriek at the absurdity of his request to marry her daughter for quite some time, and then he chuckled to himself. “Why the hell are you laughing, boy?” the woman on the other line said. 298


“Because I’m in love with Diana, and I still will be, even if you try to talk me out of it. And even if you talk her out of it, and she doesn’t want to marry me, I will still love her.” the other line subsided to gentle breathing. Diana was fidgeting in front of him, trying to hear through the phone. After a few more minutes, Mitch laughed and said, “She loves you too, goodnight Mrs. Gates,” and placed the phone back on its hook. Diana stared at him blankly. “What did she say to you?” She couldn’t believe that her mother would ever be so understanding of the situation. “She told me to be smart, and to come up and meet her as soon as I can, and to take care of you,” Mitch answered with a smirk. “So I guess we’re in the clear.” He winked at her, sending a wave of butterflies through her blood and her heart gushed. *** The next week and a half buzzed by, and Mitch and Diana were caught in the haze of the hot Hawaii heaven. Mitch joined Diana and her friends on beach trips and dinner outings, and Diana was introduced to Mitch’s shipmates. But after what felt like minutes, the time was up, and Diana found herself back at the airport. “Bye baby,” she whispered to him when the plane had its last call. “Goodbye girl,” Mitch sighed and gave her one long, slow, tender kiss. She stared deep into his eyes, then turned abruptly and walked onto the plane. The island was swallowed into the ocean as the plane reached higher and higher into the sky. Diana’s eyes fluttered and a single tear rolled down her cheek. Two months until she saw Mitch again, she was on the countdown. *** Surprisingly, Diana’s first sight of Southie was Keith standing among the crowded titanium airport in khakis and jeans. His short black hair was all riled up, it gets that way when he scratches his head too much. His jaw was tense, but his mouth showed no emotions. When he made eye contact with Diana, he smiled, 299


but he was quick to wipe it away. Aside from Diana’s polite hello, they had not exchanged words. After loading her luggage into the trunk of her Corolla, he squinted into the sunlight to see her. “I heard about your fling, Diana,” Keith said flatly, “And frankly, I think you’d be a fool if you thought that that Mitch kid will actually marry you. You don’t know the guy, that’s dangerous baby.” He looked into her eyes with steel probes, searching through her mind, looking for her heart. “I was never looking for your approval Keith. Go find Tamera.” “Diana, this is ridiculous, look at me. Look at me, look at me! Tamera isn’t important, I’m concerned about you and what you’re doing with yourself ! You’re setting yourself up for disappointment, you’re gonna get hurt! Diana, if you’re lookin’ to get married, why didn’t you tell me? Huh? I’ll marry you!” “No, Keith, I wasn’t looking to get married. I wasn’t looking for anything, I thought I had you. But I realized I don’t need you and you don’t need me. We wasted each other’s time, and for that, I apologize. And if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to go home now, thanks.” She slid past him and let out a long, slow breath. She got into her car and backed out of the airport parking spot, pulling on to the main road as Keith stared, hot blood in his face. *** August was buzzing with the news of Diana’s engagement. As the months rolled by the excitement faded, and the wait got difficult. Mitch would remain in the war for the next year and a half, and all Diana could do was wait. Wait by the television for news about Vietnam to come on, wait through the commercials on the radio for the announcements, wait by the mailbox for the mailman to come. She waited in line at the store and tried to ignore the heat of former high school friends staring at the girl who turned Keith Mathers down for a mystery man. Diana used all of her waiting to make cards and bake cookies to send to Mitch and to write letter after letter after letter. After about nine months of letter tag, she received her first package from Mitch. The brief letter said: Darling Diana, 300


Fifteen months until the wedding day! Let’s get planning! I love you, Mitch P.S. I wasn’t sure, but I hope it fits. If not, grow into it (: In that last instant, the little golden ring escaped from the envelope and into Diana’s lap. A high pitched giggle escaped her mouth when she slipped the princess cut diamond on her left ring finger. It was a weird feeling at first, to have that precious metal separating her fingers. She tilted her hand back and forth to catch the glimmer of the diamond. The ring embraced her finger with the perfect fit, and that’s when she was sure that they were real. Diana would wait for him for the next 15 months and then they would start their lives together. Until then, she had the ring and his heart to hold on to.

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BRIDGET

Bright July Moon 1. Ella The bright beautiful sun shining in the sky with the smell of the salty blue waters and the ocean breeze blowing against one's face. It was a beautiful sunny day like usual in Florida. It was just the beginning of summer and life just couldn't get any better. Ella Randolph could not have been more excited for what she hoped for would be the best summer of her life. She just graduated High School and was looking forward to what life had in store for her. Ella grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts with her Mom and Dad until she was 10 years old. Her grandparents lived down in Naples, Florida so when her grandmother became sick with cancer, they decided to move there so they could be closer to her. They bought a beautiful house right on the beach just 20 minutes away from her Grandmother. Ella was hesitant at first about moving down there but now looking back on it 8 years later, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to her. Ella was an only child and was very shy which made it hard for her to make friends. When she moved down to Naples, she didn't have anyone to talk to. That was until the day after she moved in, a little boy and his mother showed up at her door. The little boy was tall for his age, with dark brown hair, and a usual Florida tan. His name was Landon Mitchell and he was a year older then Ella. The two became inseparable , spending most of their time exploring the beach and causing trouble. Landon became very special to Ella. She began to grow a crush on him and imagined that one day they would get married. Ella could tell Landon anything and Landon was always there for her. Especially when Ella was 14 and her grandmother passed away. Ella cried for days and never thought she would be okay again. But Landon stuck with her everyday comforting her , trying to cheer her 302


up.They became even closer, which seemed impossible, and her feelings for him grew even stronger. Ella wished that Landon would like her back, and at times he acted like he did but boys are difficult, you never know what goes through their heads. Landon had the usual high school girlfriends but they never seemed to last too long. Ella would ask why he would dump them and he would always respond with 'They aren't what I'm looking for.' or 'Something is just missing'. This made her happy to hear, but jealous at the same time. She was happy for the fact that she may have a chance. But she was jealous of the next girl who might come into his life and be the one thing thats missing. Now at age 18, Ella was ready for what life threw at her. She was going to spend a year at home before she made any huge decisions to go away to college. Landon was still living next door going to a community college. They still spent time together but not as much as she wanted. “Ella?!” Landon's voice came booming through Ella's empty beach house. She jumped out of her bed, and ran to her bedroom door. She stopped at the mirror on the back of the door and was disappointed with her messy hair and tshirt and shorts. She didn't have enough time to prep so she quickly brushed her hair out and ran down the staircase to the back porch where landon was waiting. “Oh hey Landon!” Ella said.Trying to act normal and not embarrassed with her appearance. He came over and gave her a hug which gave her butterflies every time. “How does it feel to finally be a big kid and be all out of high school?” He teased her.       “Uh, pretty good actually! I can't believe its all over. Are you going to my stupid graduation party on sunday? ” “Thats how I felt too. Your stupid party? Of course I'll be there, I wouldn't miss it!”

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This made Ella happy to hear. They continued on with the small talk and then decided to spend the day at the beach together. It looked like they were a couple and as much as Ella wished they were, they were just friends. She still held onto her dream of becoming married to him, and one day she would tell him how she really felt.

2.Landon

Landon Mitchell was the typical Florida guy. He was tall, tan, and good looking. He lived in Naples for all of his life and it was his favorite place to be. He was also an only child and lived with only his mom since his dad passed away from cancer when he was a little kid. He did well in school, and rarely got into any trouble. When Ella moved in next door when he was little, he couldn't have been more excited. Their neighborhood didn't have a lot of kids so he finally had someone he could play with. When he first saw Ella he thought she was very cute. She had long blonde hair, blue eyes, and a soft tan. He liked to spend all of his time with her. He spent some time with his friends , but there was something about her that he liked. He could be himself, and tell her anything. It wasn't until long that he realized that he grew feelings for her and he loved her. Landon knew Ella was the girl for him. They shared the same interests, she could make him laugh, and she knew everything about him. But for some reason he just didn't have the courage to say anything. He had some girlfriends throughout high school and every time he knew it just wasn't right. Something was missing, and that something was Ella. But, he thought Ella was too good for him. He was scared that he would not be able to be the guy that she deserved to have. He was ecstatic that Ella was out of school again. He was hoping that they could finally spend some more time together. The day they spent together at the beach the other day was the best day he has had in awhile. She made him laugh and he just couldn't keep his eyes off of her. Her beauty captivated him and he got worried she would catch him staring at her. He knew he would have to say something to her at some point. He couldn't let her just walk out of his life now. Not after all that they have been through. On Sunday, he was going to tell her how he felt. Before it was too late. 304


3.Ella It was finally Sunday, the day of Ella's graduation party. It was a beautiful day with the sun shining and the air at a nice cool temperature. Decorations covered the house and yard. Streamers and balloons hung from every corner, and every chair. “Ella, start getting ready soon! People are going to be arriving any minute now and you're still In bed!” Ella's mom yelled up to Ella from the bottom of the stairs. Ella rolled out of bed and just didn't feel like going to her party. She took a quick shower and got in her party dress and was starting to apply her makeup which she does behind her door since her favorite mirror is hanging up . She was leaning in to do her mascara when the door flew open and banged her so hard she fell over. “Oh my God..Ella I'm so sorry!! Your mom wanted me to come up and get you because people are here!” Landon ran over to her embarrassed over what he just did. Ella stood up and looked in the mirror, a nice red bump was forming above her right eye where the door hit her. And her mascara smeared across her face. “Haha what just happened? “ Ella asked confused. “Oh, I sorta just nailed you with a door..” Landon replied “Thought so. Well, we better go downstairs..no point in trying to look good with this bump on my head.” “Don’t forget about that mascara thats all over your face!” He teased her. She looked in the mirror and was embarrassed that she didn’t even notice. she took a tissue and frantically got it off. “You look beautiful as always. Lets go!” Ella's head was spinning. Not just from getting hit in the head by her door, but from the three words Landon just said to her:You look beautiful. She couldn't 305


believe it. Through their 8 years of friendship he has never called her beautiful..ever! The whole way down the stairs she could feel herself blushing. Her face was getting redder the more she thought about what he said to her. She couldn't help but smile to herself. “There she is! You look happy! Oh..what happened to your face?!” Ella's dad asked. “Oh..you should ask Landon!” “Uh, I opened up the door and hit her head. Sorry.” Landon replied embarrassed. They all couldn't help but laugh over what happened. Ella's house was filled with people all day. And Ella actually enjoyed the day which she didn't expect at all. It was filled with laughter, love and lots of food. People came up to her handing presents and cards and telling her how proud they were of her for graduating. The whole day Ella couldn't stop smiling. Around 8 the party started to die down. The only people left was Landon's family of course. During every event at the Randolph's, Landon and his mom were the last ones there. They were basically family and enjoyed each others company. “Did you enjoy your day?” Landon asked Ella who was sitting down at the kitchen table. “Well yeah, I suppose! It wasn't as bad as I expected it to be!” She said. “Here” , Landon reached into his pocket, “ Me and my mom got this for you.” He handed her a white box with a purple bow on it. She was so excited to open it she couldn't even get the bow untied. She finally managed to open it and gasped at the pretty diamond heart necklace. “Oh wow! You didn't have to get me something this nice, thank you!” She couldn't help but give him the biggest hug ever. “Anything for our Ella!” He said. 306


Again came the red cheeks, and stupid smile. They went and sat down on the hammock outside and talked and talked for what felt like hours. The whole time she just couldn't stop thinking about her feelings that she had for him. She didn't know much about love, in fact she knew little about it. But what she felt for Landon was strong and different. And if it wasn't love, she had no other words to describe it. 4.Landon Landon and Ella kept on talking and the hours kept on passing. He knew he had to tell her how he felt. He has come this far, there just wasn't any turning back. “Do you want to go for a walk down the beach?” He asked. “Sure!” Ella replied. They jumped off the hammock and walked down the stairs to the beach. They began to walk on the cool wet sand along the water ,under the bright July full moon. Both of them really didn't say anything but just walked under the glow of the moon. 'Grab her hand! Now' His mind kept yelling at him. He took her hand in his and they continued down the beach. They came to a stop at one of the sand dunes and decided to sit down. He couldn't get over how beautiful she looked and without thinking the words just spilled out ; Talking a mile a minute. “Ella, okay I have been dying to tell you this and I don't know how you feel but I'm going to tell you how I feel. I love you. I do. Ever since I met you there was just something about you that just captivated me and made me drawn to you. I know I have had other girlfriends but they meant nothing. I told you there was something missing about them...and it was that they were missing everything you have. I like you, a lot and I ju-” He was cut off short by what he has been waiting a lifetime for. A kiss. Ella kissed him and it was the best feeling in the world. He knew that she was the girl for him, and this kiss proved it. They kissed and kissed until she stopped him. “I love you too.” She said

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This was all he wanted to hear at that moment. The girl of his dreams telling him that she loved him too. They stayed down the beach for awhile but then decided they should probably head home before their parents started to get worried. They walked back up the beach to Ella's house hand in hand thinking about everything that just happened. He didn't want to let go of this moment and was disappointed when they started to walk back up the stairs to her house. Her parents were already asleep and the clock on the microwave blinked 4:30. He pulled her in and kissed her goodnight and headed home. 5. Ella

Ella walked in through the back door and floated up the stairs to her room. She plopped down on her bed and couldn't help but smile. This was the most perfect night of her life. She kept replaying the words Landon had said to her as they were sitting by the sand dune. She could still feel the softness of Landon's lips lingering on her own. She could feel his hand holding hers and his shoulders brushing up against her when he got close. She fell asleep with a smile on her face and the thoughts of Landon floating through her head.

6.Ella (One Year Later) Fall was rolling around and kids were starting to go back to school. But thankfully, Ella wasn't one of them. Ella and Landon  shared a wonderful year together filled with laughter and love. Their parents couldn't be any happier that they were dating since they wanted it to happen all along. Talk about marriage even started to come up every once in awhile. But lately, things started to get weird. Landon was always at the doctors and always seemed to not be feeling well. He rarely wanted to go out. He wanted to sit at home and just watch movies. He also was starting to look very thin. His once toned body, was now just skin and bones. And his Florida tan was fading. She was started to get worried and didn't know what to do. Everytime Ella asked what was

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wrong, he replied with 'Oh, just allergies.' Landon was currently away for a week and he never really said why or where he was going. Ella was sitting in the kitchen over thinking when her mom walked in. “Mom, can I talk to you about something?” Ella asked. “Yes of course you can!” “Whats wrong with Landon?” Right away the tears began to flow down her cheeks “Why is he always sick or missing? Please tell me mom. Please.” “Oh honey. Lets sit down on the couch.” They both walked over the couch and Ella's mom grabbed Ella's hands and looked straight into her eyes. Right away Ella knew something was terribly wrong. Ella's Mom just didn't know what to say or how to say it. 7.Landon Landon didn't know what to do. He was scared, and hopeless...and dying. He had developed the same type of cancer that his dad had but worse. There was absolutely nothing the doctors could do but advise him to stay strong. He was given 2 options but he did not know what to do. He traveled all the way up to Boston to see if there was something that could help him live longer. But all they found out was that their time was shorter than expected. He knew he had to tell Ella, she deserved to know. Landon and his mom were driving back down to Naples from Boston. The car ride was filled with silence and Landon’s mom was dying to know some answers. “Landon, what are you planning on doing? Are you going to go through with the surgery the doctors suggested or..?” Landon's mom asked him. She wasn't sure what answer she was hoping to get but, she was accepting either way. “I really don't know. There are no other options. I just want to live but obviously I can't get that. I think I want to go through with it..I have made it this far already. If it possibly gives me more time to live and be with Ella, I'll take it. Who knows, maybe it will actually work.” 309


“Okay. Whatever you think is right. I’m not going to force you to do something you don’t want to do.” So that was it. Landon was going to go through with the surgery. It could either try to get rid of his tumor, or it could make his sickness even worse. Landon's mom really did not want him to have the surgery but her son's hope gave her a tiny bit of courage. Landon drifted off to sleep while the tears slowly rolled down her face on their way back to Naples. *** It was the day of the surgery. Landon was laying in his hospital bed in a local Naples hospital, not knowing what to think. He was thinking about Ella and her beautiful smile. He was thinking how she still did not know what was going on. She deserved to know and he would tell her once he got out of the surgery. He was positive it was going to work but his Mom had some doubts. Only 1 in every 200 people who get the surgery, actually get the tumor mostly gone. “Stay strong Landon..I'll be seeing you soon honey. I love you.” Landon's mom whispered in his ear as he was getting rolled away down the long white walled, white tiled floor hallway. She put together her hands and prayed. Prayed that a miracle could happen. 8.Ella Ella was up in her bedroom sleeping as usual and was woken up by the sound of the telephone ringing. She could hear her mom talking on the phone and she could sense something in the atmosphere. Ella could hear her mom stop talking and start to cry. Ella jumped out of bed in a haze and ran down the stairs two steps at a time. She ran in the kitchen and her mom was sitting in a chair crying, clutching her phone. “Mom! What is it! Is it Landon?” Ella asked trying to not get choked up. “We have to get to the hospital. Landon had a surgery last night which could have helped him get better but it just..it just went wrong.”

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Ella couldn't believe this. She couldn't believe that he did not tell her, that her mom didn't tell her! She felt like she just got shot in the heart by a bullet going a million miles an hour. She grabbed her car keys and ran to her car. She didn't care that she was still In her Spongebob pajama pants and blue tank top. She jumped in her car and pushed on the gas, she flew down the highway going 50, 60 70 , 90 miles an hour. The 10 minute car ride felt like 10 hours even while speeding the whole way. She pulled into the parking lot and ran into the hospital. “Landon Mitchell. Where is he? I need his room number now!” Ella asked the old receptionist sitting at the front desk in a panic. “Room 307. Second floor to the L-” Ella didn't even let her finish. She ran over to the elevator and pushed the button anxiously, she was so impatient waiting for it to come that she just gave up. She ran to the stairs and bolted up there faster than lightning. She ran down the hall and took the left. On the door it read 'Mitchell'. “Landon!” Ella whispered when she burst into the room. Landon was laying on his bed with wires poking out every which way and looking so pale and blue against the white sheets, that it just broke her heart. The smell of medicine lingered in the air so strong, she could almost taste it. In no way did he resemble the dark haired tan skinned boy she knew since she was little. “Ella” He could barely get the words out of his mouth. She cried. She cried and cried until she couldn't cry anymore. The sobs shook her and with everyone she could feel a piece of her heart just breaking. Landon's mom sat next to her and put her arm around her. They sat there on the uncomfortable blue hospital couch in silence. Ella was holding Landon’s hand with her head on Landon’s moms shoulder. When Ella's mom came Landon's mom left the room so the two of them could share a moment together. Ella told him how much she loved him, how much she cared for him and how she wasn't mad that he didn't tell her anything. She also thanked him for always being there and for being the best boyfriend she has ever had. She cried the whole time but tried to lighten up the mood by telling old childhood stories and the night they first shared their feelings to one another. She leaned over and kissed him gently on his cheek knowing this 311


would be the last time. He looked over at her with the same hypnotized stare and whispered ever so gently “I love you Ella. I always will beautiful.� *** Landon wasn't that one who survived. As much as he wanted to be, it just did not work. He spent his last moments surrounded by the girl he loved, her parents, and his mom. He didn't want to leave but it was time for him to go. Ella and Landon had a love that very few get to experience. And she is thankful that he was in her life. Ella doesn't know how she will ever move on from him and will miss him for as long as she lives. But there is something that keeps her happy..the memories. She thinks about him all the time and not about his last days but about the first days they spent together. The first 10 months when everything seemed normal and happy when they were dating. She also thinks about their childhood together and that bright July full moon when they shared their feelings. She knows he is watching over her, and the memories will keep her smiling forever.

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KALEIGH

Golden Scars I existed in the dull grey box that society called a classroom. The boring grey door that opened to the boring grey room kept the boring grey students in that hell of a school. I would sit and daydream about the same Polo wearing, stick thin, pale, plastic looking kids that I now surrounded myself with on a daily basis; but as young, free spirited goofballs. I loved imagining an innocent world of scribbling colorful pictures and dreaming of what it was like to be a grown up. Nobody would care what people looked like or what their quirks were. Everyone could just be accepted for who they were. Everyone would become friends and no one would give a care in the world about what tomorrow would bring. I then realized what a perfect world that was. Damn. I wanted to go there.        I sat, staring blankly at the teacher. If I actually paid attention my friends would mistake me as a  “try hard” and I certainly did not want that. I brushed my long blonde hair behind my ear and made a popping noise with my tasteless gum from first period. Hadley, who sat parallel to me on the other side of the room gave me a smirk and took the gum from her mouth and secretly hid it away in the tangled hair of the ‘scarred’ girl who sat in front of her. I had to smile back but I couldn’t keep my stomach from tightening up for a split second.         Hadley was my best friend. We grew up together, lived together while her house was being built, had dance classes together when we were three, and did practically everything by each other’s side. She wasn’t the nicest girl at the time. I’d often wondered if it was mentally healthy for me to keep her in my life. I got urges every once in awhile to just get up and punch her in the face, but I couldn’t. I’d often wondered if it was healthy for me to keep her in my life.         The scarred ones were the people we were told not to talk to; the ones they said were bad. I now know that they were the children of the once imprisoned for rebelling against our ‘sacred’ government. Once children reached the age of 16, they themselves would be mentally punished for revolts or even becoming 313


too friendly with someone who was scarred. The painless little crest was printed on the side of their children’s faces as a form of punishment and to show the nation that government rules everything after all. After all, the worst form of punishment is neglect.        I sat anxiously staring at the clock. Pop. Pop. Clank. Our entire nation had been industrialized in order to create ‘sameness’. I was scared out of my mind to think that equality was normal and even more scared to say that our nation wasn’t even equal in the first place! There were two levels of society: scarred and normal.         The murmuring in the back of my skull seemed to be interrupted by the opening of the classroom door. I turned. I saw. A feeling that I had never felt before rushed through my entire body. A cool gust of serenity clashing with fireworks exploding inside of me. It was a boy; just a boy and I didn’t quite understand what was happening to me.         He stood there so innocently shaken inside the doorway. He was a beautiful interruption in the endless metal sea of a room. Shiny dark hair that met just below his brow, landed so perfectly across his face. He was pale, yes, but he wasn’t blonde. The first word that popped into my head was “scar”. He must have been one of them. You couldn’t see his scar, for it was hidden under his hair, but you didn’t need to see it to know. His kind always had dark hair.         He couldn’t. He just couldn’t be one. Everyone automatically hated him. You could tell by the glances they were throwing back and forth to each other but he was the most perfect human being I had ever seen.         “Everyone, this is Henry. He will be attending our school now.” This was all the teacher had to say. The murmuring came back on. I was even more distracted than before, secretly glancing at him glide to the vacant seat in the back of the class hoping no one caught me.         I returned home that day in a fog. My brain was overpowered by the certain feeling I felt and it couldn’t be stopped. But it needed to. I would be neglected; forced to become scarred if I was ever caught talking to him. I wanted to feel this feeling. I wanted to so bad. I couldn’t. 314


I walked through the front door.        “Hi honey! How was your day?”         “Fine.” I said completely avoiding conversation with my mother. I took off my shoes and walked directly up to my room. As soon as I walked through the door my phone buzzed. It was the daily news that everyone got every day at the same exact time. Everyone. It was followed by a text from Hadley. It read: ‘Hey Alivia. Come over. I’m bored’ Considering she was my best friend, I felt as though I had to; like it was some sort of promise to always be right there whenever your ‘best friend’ needed you to be.         I drove over without telling my mom because she rarely cared what I did. When I arrived, Hadley’s mom answered the door with:         “Hi honey! How are you?”         I simply smiled and walked past her. It was like a tape recording that all parents had programed into their minds and played automatically whenever their children walked in the room. They never really cared what we did that day or how we felt. It was the simple requirement that parents had to act a certain way in order to be socially acceptable and not shunned for the rest of their lives.         When I walked upstairs Hadley was typing away on her laptop, probably gossiping about me to her numb skull friends. She was kind of a two-faced friend. But she was my best friend.         “Hadley.” I tried getting her attention. She looked up at me in a sort of annoyed way.         “Oh, hi Liv.” She continued to type away as if I wasn’t worthy to be in her presence right then and there.         “I thought you said you were bored.” I sat down on her bed and picked up the hair brush labeled ‘Alivia’ off her bedside table and began stroking it through my hair.

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“I am. I have no one to talk to!” she said in her baby voice. Hadley’s ‘baby voice’ was worse than nails on a chalkboard. It made my bones cringe but I never complained.        “Looks like you have plenty of people to talk to on that thing.” After a brief moment of contemplation in my head, I walked over and shut the computer screen. She looked up at me with a look of disgust.         “I wasn’t done.” she said.         “I don’t care. We’re human beings. We have the capability to communicate through this thing called talking, so why don’t you do that.”         “Ugh. What’s your problem lately? Never mind. I don’t care.” At that point I wanted to leave so badly. I wanted to leave and be with Henry. ‘No you don’t Alivia. Be with your best friend.’ I kept telling myself.         “So there’s this boy.” I started off. I only started on this subject because the tension in the room was so strong that it could slice through a sheet of metal.“I’ve never met him, but I like him. We’ve never talked, but I’ll love everything he has to say. He’s the most incredible person. I don’t know what it is but I just cannot shake the thought of him.”         “You’re losing it Alivia.” she said with a blank expression.         “No. I’m being serious.”         “Then tell me who it is.” She demanded         “It’s the new boy.” I hesitated. “Henry.” Her eyes widened and a worried look came across her face. I then started regretting telling her.         “Is this a joke?!” she laughed. “You can’t be falling in love with HIM!” A sudden look of assurance popped across her face as if she had just thought of something. That was it. I was done.         “You can’t tell anyone—Promise?!” I asked with power in my voice so maybe the idea of “not telling” would plant itself farther into her head.         “Oh, Alivia.” She paused and snickered. “I won’t tell a soul.” 316


“Thank you.” I said. After another hour or two of Hadley’s soul being sucked into the depths of her computer, I decided it was time to go.

       Three months of living in secrecy. Three months had gone by of an irresistible, unauthorized bond that I fell into unintentionally. This boy and I made small, pleasant, but hidden interactions that only we and Hadley knew about. Three months of discovering this new friend that I only grew fonder and fonder of each day. He truly was a lovely creature whom I’d never expect to fall hopelessly for. He was the answer to what I had been craving my whole life; a friend to trust, rely on, and share the most special moments of my life with. Three months of existing unlawfully with this boy had seemed to make more of an impact on my life than an entire seventeen years of blending into the greyness that surrounded me. Although this was true, my entire life with this boy was in the hands of Hadley; my best friend.                 A piece of musty fabric came over my ears; my head. It was dark. I was dragged. An engine started. Mom? Dad? A door slammed. My mind became blank; completely white and spinning out of the control that I no longer had. I tried moving my arm. I was paralyzed. The white turned to black and my body went numb.

       My eyes opened to the blinding glare of steel. It was a metal ceiling in a metal room that contained a hard metal table that supported my body. My face tingled and I was startled by the sensation of cloth taped to the side of my face. A bandage? I sat up and the blood rushed from my head back down to the rest of my body. When my eyes came back in focus, I realized that my face was inches away from a laser type instrument that you’d see in the movies.  The room smelled like the way the doctor’s office smelled as a kid; the smell that would leave me crying and clinging to my mom’s leg. My mother wasn’t there and the room didn’t have funny looking anatomy posters or flowers on the walls. Instead, it was a metal room with sharp and shiny metal objects. It was an operating room of some sort. I 317


turned my head and jumped at the sight of myself in the mirror that took up half of the wall. But it wasn’t me. I squinted to make sure I was seeing correctly. My long golden hair was replaced with short, messy looking, dirt colored hair. I looked paler than normal, or maybe it was the dark circles under my eyes. I stared at myself for a long time. I sat trying to remember how I got there, or where I was. I tried remembering the last thing I could conjure up in my memory. Nothing. I remembered Henry. I remembered the promise I made with Hadley. But-- That’s when it came to me. I touched the bandage delicately and slowly began peeling it off. I was hoping with all my heart that I wouldn’t find what I thought I would find under that white mask. I did. There, between my right eye and temple, was a dark brown crescent shape that symbolized neglect, punishment, and true disgracefulness to the country. I had been scarred.         I sat holding the bandage delicately in my hands. I looked down at the only thing that kept me from seeing the reality that exposed itself in the mirror. I felt a tear come trickling down my cheek and onto it. What had I done? My existence I cherished so deeply with Henry had surely been exposed to more than just Hadley. But Hadley was my best friend.         The sound of wheels squeaking across a metal floor and the heavy thud of footsteps came from the doorway that led to a hallway. This noise captured my attention and I turned.  It was Dr. Conroy; Hadley’s father. I recognized this man so very quickly as well as the person who followed him down the hallway. He continued past the doorway, pushing the metal cart. She stood there in the doorway facing Dr. Conroy and turned her head so very slow. She gave me a sly smile, then turned and followed after her father. As I started pondering the new life I had ahead of me, I came to the realization that what I should have been be feeling; regret, disgracefulness, and discomfort; I was not. Instead, I had been released from the relationship that ended up being purely unhealthy and unethical for me. Perfection does not exist. Hadley’s perception of “perfect” was much different from mine. Now I can say that we’re both happy. She got what she wanted. She showed me that not being “perfect” wouldn’t be tolerated. But I got what I wanted as well. I was now able to spend the rest of my life without a judge telling me what’s acceptable and what’s not. I could spend 318


eternity with my true best friend and trustworthy companion; Henry. Life isn’t supposed to be perfect because frankly, perfect is boring. In the boundaries of society I am the loser. However, I felt simply, purely, to the depths of my core, like a winner.

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CHAPTER 9

You choose what you think about - John Greene, author

We are given many choices through the day, but at the heart of it, free choice is about what you think about and what you do.

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ALEX

The Boy in the Plastic Box Forcing the citrus-plum puree into my mouth was a nightly struggle for my parents when I was a small child. It is quite remarkable how I have learned over the years to cherish its existence. Sitting at the dining room table, I now relish its oozy and lumpy texture for the sake of my screaming stomach. It is not an option for my energy to wane or to go to bed hungry anymore. I have responsibilities, duties, tasks. I, like the rest of the able-bodied citizens, are an asset to the well-being of the community. Every single morning, at precisely six o’clock, the sun ascends above the Garden Hills in my quaint village of Pewter. The golden blaze engulfs the land, serving as the alarm clock for all. Life is simple here. I live with my mother and my brother, Theo, in a modest villa one mile outside of Town Square. Every morning we rise at six and must return back to the house and be in bed by eight. Eight sharp. I’m not sure if this rule is law, but I have never seen anybody test its lenience. Being under the age of eighteen, I attend studies for four hours in the morning before I head off with the rest of my class to perform the daily tasks. Every day there are new tasks to be completed. Yesterday we painted Town Hall, and today we are harvesting the citrus fruits. No two-day’s tasks are ever the same. The town strives off efficiency. The Enforcers never imagined that our population would flourish as rapidly as it has. Because of this, things such as food, water, and other essentials have become rationed. The Enforcers are in charge of creating algorithms that explain and decipher everything. Pain, sorrow, and failure do not exist because of them. They control everything, from the weather to the knowledge of the town, in order to keep society functioning smoothly. Everything has an explanation and a purpose in Pewter.

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Five days ago, a plastic box appeared in the center of Town Square. It was the catalyst of chaos in the town. The box’s appearance challenged our societal system. Nothing about it was orderly. Or logical. A box was all it took to create Pewter’s first wrinkle. But it’s not that simple. It’s not that simple because inside of that plastic prison, is a boy.

“Theo, chew with your mouth closed!” Mother shouts as Theo continues to shovel the citrus-plum concoction into his mouth. He, unlike myself, loves the sour and pungent flavors the meal brings. “It’s quite rude of you to eat like that. You are a boy, not a savage animal,” she continues. Her voice is stern, yet warm at the same time. Her sunken skin and the charcoal circles below her exhausted eyes make her seem older than she really is. However, her smile brings back the youth to her face. And Mother is always smiling, even right now when she is scolding Theo. “My sincerest condolences,” he replies with a sly grin plastered on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. We all laugh, because Theo has a way with his words. He does not talk much, not since Father vanished. But when he does, he lights up the room with his timely and witty responses. “Have you heard anything new about the boy?” I ask Mother. Like the rest of the children in Pewter, Theo and I were taught not to ask questions that didn’t have to do with our daily tasks or things necessary to our well-being. As the rulebook states, “curiosity will be the undoing of mankind.” Growing up, Mother was different than the other parents. She secretly welcomed our questions. “Not really, he always looks depressed and he never smiles. I find it odd, but then again, who am I to judge? Everything I’ve seen has been the same. You should check it out for yourself Evelina, it’s quite interesting and you’re probably the only one in town who hasn’t seen him.” “I have better things to do.” My curt remark borderlines rudeness, and I immediately regret being so cold towards Mother. It’s not her fault she doesn’t under322


stand I am not like her. I cannot think about the situation the boy is in and not feel sadness or pain. Despite the Enforcers efforts to shield us from such feelings, my empathy has not been hindered. “Do whatever you want Evelina. I just thought it was interesting how---” The piercing sound of the alarm cuts Mother off mid-sentence. The room goes silent. No more talking. No more eating. It’s bedtime in Pewter.

       I flick the light switch off and crawl into bed. As I slip under the covers, I immediately regret not retrieving my wool socks from the armoire. The frosty air nips at my bare feet, which is strange, considering just this afternoon the temperature was warm and mild. As my head begins dipping towards the pillow, my eyes catch a glimpse of a white sheen outside my bedroom window. An ivory blanket covers the front lawn.

       Snow.

Snow is a rare occurrence in Pewter. After all, our climate is regulated by the Enforcers. It is always sunny and temperate, perfect for growing crops. I haven’t seen snow in a long time, not since Father went missing. But that was years ago. The Enforcers claimed that he got lost while hunting in the woods and most likely starved until he could walk no longer. No search party was ever sent out after him. The Enforcers never explained how he defied their algorithms and put himself in that painful situation. But Father was smart. Too smart to get lost.

I am not supposed to believe in coincidences. Surely, it is no coincidence that is has snowed days after the boy’s appearance in Town Square. The same thing happened when father disappeared.

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I didn’t get much sleep last night. Curiosity is running rampant through my mind. Before yesterday, I had no desire, no reason to go see the boy in the plastic box. However, the snowfall changed all of that. It is the first connection to my father’s disappearance that I have been able to make. There is meaning behind every action and event in Pewter. Strange things happen when it snows. What is the reason behind that? I slowly peel myself out of the warm barrier of blankets and trudge downstairs. The wood floors are ice beneath my feet. Its arctic paneling sends a cold tingle through my toes and up my spine. I shiver as I snatch my parka from the bannister. The front door creaks as I twist the bronze knob. Our villa is old. The gutter’s need to be cleared and a fresh coat of paint should have been applied months ago. Splinters of grey, rotting wood sprout up where the white paint is chipped and chapped. Despite the bitter cold, my hands are sweating through my mittens. There is minimal activity in Town Square this early in the morning. The only sounds are those hailing from the two blackbirds singing their sweet, soft melody. My heart races. With each step I remind myself to breathe.

       In, out. In, out.

       My hands tremble like the willow trees that fence in my house. The sunlight blinds my vision. When it clears, the box is visible. And I find two piercing blue eyes upon me.

       In, out. In, out.         His dark blue pupils pierce my flesh, and I am afraid to look back. Pain manifests in the cobalt eyes.  But it’s not the kind of burning agony that is the result of physical abuse. Emotional despair has cut him deep. However, there is something 324


else that reveals itself through his fixed stare. He seems to be lost in his own thoughts, like he is the one studying me. When he looks away, a sense of relief washes over me. He can’t be more than sixteen years old. But the childish features a boy his age should adorn have been ripped away from him. Any signs of adolescent innocence do not show on the boy. With one glance, it is obvious that he has experienced and seen things beyond my comprehension. Damaged would be a good way to describe his appearance. Despite this, his physical appearance seems incredible. He is strong. Olive skin peeks out from beneath the red jumpsuit that clings to his body. His black hair is cut close to his head. His jawline is defined as are the muscles that create imprints against his clothing. He is not quite handsome however the sight of him is alluring. He seems relaxed although he stays motionless, huddled in the right corner of the box, concentrating on the cold plastic floor. There is a certain enigma which radiates off him that intrigues me. But it’s not only that. His demeanor is familiar, like a distant memory that I cannot pinpoint. But I know that thought is impossible. Pain and sadness, two things that are not supposed to exist in Pewter lurk in the boy. He cannot be from here. The old grandfather clock in Town Square strikes seven, sparking a clamor of gongs that disrupts my thoughts. Reluctantly, I turn from his gaze and begin walking home.

Mother did not question where I went this morning. The rest of the day was monotonous. It is as if I am repeating my daily schedule in a pattern; carrying out the same tasks every day of every year.

That night I go to bed while Theo and Mother eat in silence down the hall. My body welcomes the warm bedding, effortlessly sinking into its cuddly embrace. My eyes flutter, desperately trying to stay open. It’s a waging war between my curious mind and my exhaustion. I need to visit the boy again. I need to know why it snows. Before I can rethink my decision, I am out of my room and tip-toeing down the hallway. Theo and Mother must also be in bed because the house is still. Which also means another thing. It’s past 8 o’clock. 325


As I sprint swiftly and silently through the shadows, fear eludes me as determination sets in. My feet pound the cobblestone pathways. With each stride my breaths grow deeper and more strained, but I no longer feel tired. The streets are empty. Each house I pass is consumed by the murky nightfall. There is only one more turn, down the west alley, until I reach my destination. A bright light beckons from the end of the alley. The whole town is supposed to be sleeping and night should be burying the town in blackness. But there is activity in the center of Town Square. I am not alone. Panic and horror surge through my muscles as I peek my head around the corner. There, surrounding the box are about twenty men, each adorned with lab coats and tiny handheld computers. Black fabric conceals the plastic box and the boy sits adjacent to it. Metal chains are padlocked to his wrists, ankles, and thighs. Some sort of collar restricts his neck. But he still looks strong. There is tenacity in his eyes, not fear. I plaster myself against the brick wall. Sweat beads down my forehead. My heart clobbers my chest over and over again.

“What is your name?” I hear one of the men demand of the boy. “Curtis,” the boy replies. His voice trembles on each syllable as if he is unsure of his answer. As if he is unsure of his own name. Seconds after, an ear-splitting scream pierces the silence, vibrating off the brick alley walls and through my bones. The boy, Curtis, is hunched over vomiting from the amount of pain inflicted upon him. The man repeats his question, but this time Curtis does not reply. He shakes his head as if saying he does not know. “Good, very good,” another man with a stubbly beard mumbles. His deep hazel eyes hide behind his square spectacles. He can’t be more than forty years old. Underneath his lab coat he wears a plaid shirt and khaki slacks. As he types something into his computer, I notice his hands. They are abnormally large and a horizontal scar runs from his pinky to his thumb. On his ring finger is a slim, wooden ring. Willow bark. I know this, because I know those hands. They are the same hands that tucked me into bed when I was a small child. 326


“Why are you here?” the first man’s voice booms through Town Square, “Why are YOU here?” he repeats again. “I don’t know,” Curtis replies.

It goes on like this for another hour. The different men interrogate Curtis with questions and he replies each time with the same answer. At first, I thought that they were trying to break him, trying to get information out of him. But their satisfied smiles after every response show otherwise. They aren’t trying to make him remember, I realize. They are trying to make him forget.

Forget what?

The thud of a body crashing to the ground shakes me from my trance. Curtis is back in the box, laying lifelessly in the corner. Gradually, the men vanish one by one. To where I am not sure, their bodies slip in and out of the shadows just as easily as mine. When I am confident that they have all disappeared I inch out of the alley, revealing my location. My eyes find his this time. Fatigue replaces the tenacity and strength that once inhabited them. I search deeper into his eyes, allowing myself to get lost in them. Something twelve hours ago I was afraid to do. I squat next to the box and run my hands along the exterior. Although plastic, it seems impenetrable. I wish I had seen how the men opened it because all my efforts show to be no use. I place my hand flat, up against the plastic wall. Curtis mimics my motion, sending a tingle through my hand and unleashing butterflies in my stomach. Blood oozes out of his bruised neck. His wrists and legs are no longer a olive hue but instead his battered skin is a deep shade of mulberry. He sits up, shoulders propped back and begins frantically counting his on his fingers. He brings each one up and then back down again in a repetitive rhythm. A pattern.

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As he focuses on his trembling fingers, counting over and over again, I find myself taking in everything about him. I don’t want to forget him. Although a sharp pang in my side tells me that I already have before. Slowly, he begins to pull his fingers away until only one remains. Motionless, he sits there with his single finger fixated in the air. He does not blink. He does not breathe. He does not move his eyes away from mine. He is trying to tell me something. Trying to reveal information locked deep inside of him. Information only he remembers or knows. When I am convinced he does not have the answers I seek, I begin to draw back. As I do, his single slender finger slowly begins to stir and move towards the direction of the sky. He is pointing towards the moon which dangles above the Garden Hills.         I accept the fact that there is nothing I can do to help Curtis, or myself, and begin to move on. As I pivot to depart back home, our eyes meet for the last time. And I swear that the glimmer in his eye is not from the reflection of the moon, but from the formation of a tear.

When I finally reach home, I crawl through the door and collapse on the dining room floor. Mentally and physically exhausted, I sob silently until sleep is finally granted to me. As my eyes and my brain shut down, the last image imbedded in my mind is the blueness of Curtis’ eyes and his one, single finger pointed up towards the sky.

I awake to Theo violently shaking my shoulders and urgently whispering my name. He sounds perplexed and distraught. Grabbing my wrists, he yanks me outside and directs me east, towards the Garden Hills. “It’s 6:20 Evelina,” he whispers.

Total darkness engulfs the land. Over the cast of the blackness and shadows, something strange becomes visible. A reflection perhaps, I do not know. I peer 328


down at Theo, and then look to the sky again. Squinting and examining more closely, I could swear it had the texture, the sheen, the cold exterior of plastic.

329


CHAD

The Fight for a Son Date unknown, I am the invisible man. My name is Carter. First I would love to thank you for invading my personal journal. I have lost everything I care about in life. The only thing that remains on my mind is my son and revenge. As I sit in this cold dark cell I try to remember what seems like forever. My son is sits on his brand new green and blue tricycle with the sun shining on his handsome smile. My darling wife Lily tans while lounging the pool deck on this beautiful summer day. My trance is broken by the ice water thrown on my cold constricted body. My cell guard Rich, has been forced to give me these crude wake up calls. I hate this life and I miss my son and to think it all started with Mr. Gates’s death....

The blue and red lights appear in the corner of Carters eye. The police officers pull up next to him and see that he fits the description: A tall man with light brown hair and blue eyes, in his only pair of work pants that have a slight rip in the knee and his white tee shirt with a package of cigarettes in the pocket. The police officer questioned, “Are you Nicholas Carter?” Carter responded with concern, “Yes. What seems to be the problem officer?” “You are under arrest for the murder of Mr. Gates!” exclaimed the police officer. Without hesitation Carter used all the adrenaline in his body and made a straight run for his house. The only thing he could think of was his son, Charles. Carter knew the town more than anyone else, he practically built it. Carter had worked as a town construction worker since he was sixteen years old. As he started to run he could see his breath hit the cold frosted air. Carter dodged all the trash barrels and jumped over Mr. Flattery’s fence into his own backyard. He opened the door and saw his wife playing with Charles at the kitchen table, as a small 330


warm tear slivered down his cold rose red cheek. He had just realized that his family’s lives will be completely altered. His son will never be able to grow up and have a normal life with his friends. Carter loved his family too much to leave them. Carter walked straight into the kitchen and whispered in Lily’s ear, “Grab Charles, we need to leave this town tonight. Bring him to the car grab your coats and the essentials. We only have about ten minutes before they get here.” “Who?” She replied in fear. A breaking news alert appeared on their television. The feminine news anchor, Todd, was covered in makeup. He was talking about the unexpected murder of Martin Gates. He announced the only known suspect was a man by the name of Nicholas Carter from Westfield, South Dakota. “The police.” sighed Carter. The anchor continued to talk about how Mr. Gates was seen at a bar fighting with Mr. Carter. “What were you fighting about?” Lily said cautiously, “Who is Mr. Gates? Why were you at a bar, I thought you gave up drinking? Did you kill him…?” Carter defensively spoke with a progressively louder voice, “I was out with the guys from work, I only had one beer you know I don’t drink anymore. I fought with him because he was buying half the land in this town and building on it. That would destroy the small businesses. Why are you accusing me of so much? Hurry with Charles we need to leave now!” Carter ran to the car with his family. His old Chevy pickup truck had chipped fire engine red paint and a couple rips on the dash board, other than that it was a fine truck. He decided to drive as far away from his home as possible. They were going to New York City and he wouldn’t go back until he figured out how to prove his innocence. *** When they reached New York they stayed at a motel. The room was cold and dark there was only one light and a red cut up pull out couch in the center of the 331


room. Charles was scared of what was happening. All he knew was his dad had forced him to leave their house and now he had to sleep in a scary room in some dark city with a foul odor. The police have been trying to find Nicholas Carter for the past six months.

June 23, As I sit in this dingy motel all I can think about is how I pulled my child away from his normal life. I bought a gun today for protection. I can’t stand the thought of losing my only child. I am not prepared to kill anyone but, if it is the only way I get to keep Charles I can do it. My life consists of constant fear and running. The only thing that matters is Charles, I can’t live without him.

Lily was given the money to get what was needed for the groceries that week. Carter had been making money working at a gas station, being paid under the table. He has been going by the name Nicholas trying to become completely invisible to the rest of the world. Lily came back to the motel with the groceries and locked herself in the bathroom. Carter heard the sudden snap from a new bottle of pills, then a sudden heavy thud echoed throughout the motel. Carter was concerned about the noise. When he opened the bathroom door he saw his blue faced wife lying on the floor next to an empty bottle of sleeping pills. When he felt her face it was cold like a winter’s night. All he could do was sit in the bathroom and cry. He watched the hopeless tears hit his ever so beautiful wife’s face. The guilt flooded his body. Carter went into a panic when Charles walked into the bathroom. “What happened to mommy?” squealed Charles. Then a knock came from the door. Carter pushed Charles out the small window in the bathroom. He was too scared to find out who was at the door. He left his cold dead wife on the bathroom floor. It was like the night of Mr. Gates’s murder. He couldn’t hesitate if he wanted to make it out with his son. The police bursted through the door in the motel and realized Mrs. Carter wasn’t breathing. 332


Carter ran toward his truck in the back of the motel. When one of the police officers appeared at his truck, he shot him. Carter was too scared to lose all of his family in one day. He drove as fast as possible away from the motel. Charles was still in shock over the death of his mother. He was so angry that no matter how hard he tried to cry, no tear would form. All they could think about was Lily. *** They went to San Francisco, California to try and start a new life. They moved into an apartment by the beach. Carter earned money by making deliveries for the mob. He is now wanted for two murders; Mr. Gates, and his wife. His crimes were made federal crimes because he crossed state borders. Charles has stopped talking to Carter because he is still awestruck by the death of his mother. Every night before he goes to sleep he prays to feel his mother’s warm hand touch his face again.

April 12, Today is Charles’s tenth birthday. I wasn’t able to be with him today. I had to run a couple errands for the boss. Every day I feel I am growing more distant from Charles. He doesn’t talk to me like he used to before Lily died. I miss Lily. When I shot the cop that night it felt so easy, I had no hesitation to pull the trigger all I could think about was saving my son. I can‘t lose the only thing I love in life. I hope he knows I love him.

Carter came home and noticed that his apartment was dark and seemingly empty. He found Charles already asleep in his bed. He could see the outline of Charles’s body on his bed and he remembered the times when he used to look in his crib to check that his baby was still sound asleep. Carter made his way to his room. He entered his bed and it was cold. There was no warmth radiating from the other side, no warm body to touch. He hasn’t been able to sleep right since Lily’s death. As Carter fell into his only escape from life, he dreamed about his life before Mr. Gates. Carter always dreams about his old life and the happiness it brought him.

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In the morning, a potent smell of bacon frying on the stove filled the air. Charles woke up to his father making him breakfast. There was a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon already made with care at the kitchen island. Charles was extremely hungry from the lack of dinner the night before. “Would you like to join me for breakfast?” Carter asked in a loving voice. The food was too tempting for Charles to resist. He shrugged his shoulders and sat down for breakfast. He could see a care in his father’s eye. They talked all morning about what has happened. Later that night Carter and Charles sat down and watched a movie together. They started to get along again. Carter was happy about his new relationship with his son. A loud noise materialized at the kitchen window. The glass sounded like a million marbles hitting the floor when it shattered. Carter looked at the gun under the couch and thought about his options. He knew there were only two things he could do: try to shoot as many FBI agents as possible or let them arrest him. Carter thought rationally and realized he would rather be taken to prison than shoot another man in front of his son. Charles began to cry when the cold steel handcuffs were tightened on Carters wrists. Charles didn’t know what to do. Neither did Carter. *** “The Jury has found the defendant guilty of first degree murder with the deaths of Lily Carter and Martin Gates.” The judge said proudly. After countless hours of arguing he was innocent, he was given two life sentences in solitary confinement. The nearest prison was Alcatraz. Charles was taken to a foster family because he had no other relatives. Carter was given no visitor hours during his sentence. Carter knew his life was over.

December 22, Charles was taken away from me by the end of my case. I am unable to see the only joy in my life. I died the day he was taken away from me. There is no hope in me ever seeing my son again. 334


The Judge put me in solitary confinement. Here in Alcatraz, I am brutally beaten if I don’t cooperate with the warden. The only thing I want is to tell my son I love him. I want to see his handsome face smiling like it used to. He’s the only reason I’m proud of my life and I don’t want him to forget me. I cry myself to sleep almost every night in the memory of my family.

It was cold and wet in Carter’s cell. It was like seeing light for the first time when the jail guard opened the small window in Carter’s cell door. His small bit of food was slid through the window. The jail guard James, and Carter had become acquaintances. Carter would tell him stories about moving around the country and his life with the mob. In return James would give Carter cigarettes or extra food. One day Carter had ran out of stories to tell James. James is the only person who knows Carter’s whole life story.         “I’m sorry James I have no more stories to tell you.” Carter’s sadness was exposed, “Do you have any stories about your life?”         James responded with happiness, “I’ll bring you the key to your son.” He smirked.         No one ever cared about James. He had never had someone ask him about his life before. Later that night, something that looked like a shiny silver utensil slid under the door to his cell. A man’s voice carried from down the hall, “I hope you can open the door.”

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JOE

Wolf Stare “Tommy... are you awake?” a groggy, but startling voice awakened Tommy. “Now I am...” Tommy said sarcastically. He was awoken by his younger brother Mark, just barely old enough to hold a conversation. “Tommy, do you think Mommy and Daddy even like each other, I can hear them arguing again”, Mark questioned him. “Maybe, maybe not, go back to bed buddy.” Tommy often wondered the same as his brother as he laid awake in his bed drifting off to sleep. Why were his parents still together? He certainly knew it wasn’t for them, Tommy and Marcus. They weren’t allowed in the house and were forced to go directly from our day on up to their beds in the attic. The damp, dark and humid qualities made sleeping almost impossible. Not to mention the medieval-torture-device-like beds they had become somewhat accustomed to. Tommy not only had to fend for himself at the age of 18, but his little brother as well. Tommy had dropped out of high school as soon as he could to find a job to buy food for Mark and himself. It was easier said than done. At some points they didn’t eat for a day or two because of low food supplies. His parents, not a care in the world. They wouldn’t care if their children dropped dead right then and there, in Tommy’s opinion. The goings wasn’t easy, but it was going. Brushing years of dust off an old photo album, Mark held it up for Tommy to look and see his recent discovery. His Old Grandpa Joe in his prime on the front cover. He had a flimsy tent strapped to his back and and a sack of food slung over his shoulder, he was a true adventurer, a mountain-man of sorts. The stories he could tell of his journey’s up mountains and surviving weeks “without nothing but a can o’ beans” as Old Grandpa Joe used to say, enthralled Tommy as a child 336


when he used to sleep over his house every once in a blue moon. Those nights he paid such close attention to his Grandpa’s every move. Even today Tommy remembers all the techniques his grandpa taught him as a child. Tommy held back the wary tears after he had flashbacks of his Grandfathers funeral. Watching the casket plunge into the soggy empty slot. The rain poured onto everyone surrounding the grave, masking the tears dripping down each of the trembling faces. After the deed had been done he walked away and had time to ponder, knowing he wanted to be just like Old Grandpa Joe. A true hero. Mark then set the photo album down back onto the dimly lit shelf he had found it on, noticing Tommy had been upset by it although he didn’t understand. It stood out against other books after the dust had been cleared off of the binding. They both sat on their beds that were side by side separated by a small night stand, looking at each other. “Mark, I think it’s time we left this god forsaken place” Tommy said quietly. “But, what about Momma and Daddy?” Mark looked at him with a confused look. “To hell with them...”, Tommy’s eyes glowed with hatred. No more words were spoken that night and they promptly went to bed. The next morning again Tommy was woken up by Mark. This time it wasn’t such an innocent little question. As Tommy came out of a sleepy fog he couldn’t put two and two together. His father in the doorway, standing there with such an intimidating glance and posture not even Muhammad Ali would stand up against him. The first words he heard out of his father's mouth in a couple months were, “Mark, we’re putting you up for adoption, we don’t want you no more...Tommy, you’re out of the house.” It took a couple seconds for the shock to set in. Tommy had no words at first, only a stunned look as this man stands in the doorway.

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Tommy confronted him smugly, getting up in his face and pointing and said “I wish this god awful life was a dream and you had a heart for a change. I HATE YOU!” Tommy walked away while the man left with the exact same expression, as if it didn’t affect him whatsoever; realizing that was the first time he had stood up to the man. Mark asked Tommy what was happening, but before he could explain the man picked Mark up and carried him down the crooked stairs. Screaming and kicking, he put up a good fight. Tommy watched out the rectangular attic window as Mark sobbed not knowing what was going on, forcibly struggling to escape the adoption services vehicle iron-bar-like door close. Quick paced footsteps pounded up the squeaky stairs up to the attic once more. Only this time for Tommy. Around the corner he saw the shadow of a baseball bat and a man carrying it. Without hesitation, the man stated “you know, you’re 18 now, it ain’t called child abuse if you don’t get the hell outta my house in the next 5 minutes”. Tommy gulped and saw a new kind of crazy emitting from the mans eyes. He knew it would be best for both of them if he just listened and didn’t put up a fight with the intimidating man. He gathered some necessities he’d need like a change of clothes and brushed by the man holding the bat. Tommy walked through the kitchen hastily and saw a can of beans like the ones his grandpa used to take with him on his adventures. As sneakily as possible, he scooped it off the counter and into his hand and kicked open the front door, slamming it to show his last thoughts. No goodbyes, no “I’ll see you soon’s”, complete and utter hatred on either side. Tommy’s head was racing, where would he go? What was he going to do? A single tears ran down his face. The first thought of knowing no one cared about him except his brother; who ransacked his mind. He stopped in his tracks and realized the circumstances his brother had just been put into. He’d never see Mark again, ever. Tommy slummed around the town for the day watching the sun pass 338


over head. He milled about and spotted the town park from there and decided to hunker down on one of the park benches for the night under a big maple tree that was dropping leaves in the brisk wind and think of a plan tomorrow morning. It was starting to get chilly so he put on his change of clothes over his clothes to keep warm for the night. In a state of disbelief, he laid down on the bench, almost as comfortable as his prior bed. He slept. In the morning he caught his breath after nearly having an anxiety attack reanalyzing the series of unfortunate events, as if he was hoping it was all a dream and he woke up to reality. He looked down at the can of beans and an idea struck in his mind. He was going to go have an adventure, just like his Old Grandpa Joe. It was as good of a time as any. Tommy had always peered at the pure, motionless mountain in his town out the window in the attic wondering what was at the top. He was going to find out. Onward he went with a bounce in his step instead of a glum, zombie-like gaunt down the street as before. After a couple minutes of walking he came to a dirt road, with a small sign reading “Mount Surtun Elevation at Peak: 7,078 ft”. This was his dream, he felt a freedom like no other. He had no responsibilities to others, just himself to worry about. Tommy started to run down the dirt path, as if he was running late to his own party. There was no need to check if anyone was around, he let himself go: dancing, skipping, screaming at the top of his lungs, no one could hear him and in this moment he knew this is where he had belonged. There was a very definite path up the mountain for hikers, at first Tommy followed this winding path ensuring he knew his way back if need be. Higher and higher he rose, seeing over his entire town, but not a soul knew of him being there. Meandering up the path he gathered some berries his grandpa taught him that he could eat, he was starting to feel hungry. Night seemed to creep up on him and as the sunlight died down. He could hear his grandpa in his head telling him, “the first thing you need to do is find shelter”. Tommy heeded his thoughts and set out to find shelter for the night. He had forgotten some of the techniques for building a shelter his grandpa had taught 339


him. Tommy was in search of a natural shelter such as a cave, or a tree to be a barrier to the chilly elements. There was just dim light now and he heard a river flowing somewhere close and he tried to follow the sound. On his quest to find the river Tommy noticed he had lost the path, but continued on because the thought of a nice gulp of water succeeded over his precautions. He reached the stream and shoveled handfuls of water into his mouth, an extreme relief. As he faced the stream, he looked along the banks for a hope of a shelter. Tommy was in luck. To the left of him perched a giant oak tree probably 100 feet tall with thick cover on the banks. The massive tree roots had been eroded underneath to leave a nice indent in the bank, wide enough for two to sleep in and just long enough for Tommy to stretch out in. Sprawled out like a dead man he drifted off.Tommy was exhausted from the days hike and turned in for the night under the big oak tree. As Tommy was falling asleep he soon realized how his hunger had really crept up on him, but this was only a minor hunger compared to what he usually goes through on a daily basis. Tommy ignored his growling stomach. Awakened by a distant howling wolf, Tommy quickly sat up and hit his forehead off of one of the roots above him. Cursing like a sailor he impulsively grabbed his wounded forehead and rocked back and forth, gritting his teeth. Checking for blood he looked at his hand and as he suspected it was covered with blood. Tommy went down to the river and splashed water on his face and washed his reddened hands. He looked at his rippled reflection in the water and saw the cut about 2 inches long square on his rectangular forehead. A second wolf howl unfocused his attention on his wound and onto the great howling beast. The morning fog over the river flowing down the mountain as if the river itself made him uneasy. Yet another wolf howl commanded his utter attention to the wolf ’s location. Looking all around, his heart started beating faster and faster. With hesitation he looked over his shoulder knowing the beast would be growling right behind him. There it was, a menace with a missing eye, obviously a battle wound. Tommy stood still but shaking like a leaf. He looked straight at the creature as if it was his own father for a second: ruthless, mean, heartless, cold. It was a stand off to see who was chicken enough to start running first. Fortunately it was the wolf, but only slowly as if to say, “I’ll be back”. After the wolf trampled the 340


bushes back into the dense tree cover, Tommy took a big sigh , still trembling. It reminded him of another thing he needed, a weapon, to protect himself and also to catch some food to eat, he was very hungry by this point. Calming down he thought through the different types of weapons he could make with the materials he had and be most efficient. He thought through a list an axe, a knife, a spear, a bow and arrow...A BOW AND ARROW! Some years ago some of his friends and himself made bow and arrows as a pastime in the summer. He searched out the perfect sapling of his choosings. Not too long, narrow and strong. For about thirty minutes he scavenged for the perfect bow and then there it was sitting there like a golden egg. The only problem was that Tommy needed to cut it down. Along the river he then hunted for the sharpest rock he could find to use as a hand axe. Careful not to lose his perfect sapling for his bow he dragged his foot to  ensure he wouldn’t forget the location. At last he found a surgically sharp rock for the job (the kind you only step on in nightmares) and followed his trail back to the sapling. He swung at the sapling with force sending a zing up his arm with each thrust.  After twenty or so swings the sapling was haphazardly cut at the bottom but still had minute branches and leaves at the top swaying in the wind. Remembering back to when he made his first bow and arrow, he shaved the bark off with the rock and cut off the delicate branches. After he had done so, he notched out each end of the stick so that the bow string could then be tightly tensioned from one end to the other. It reminded him, what was he going to use for the bow string? Almost giving up he scratched his neck flipping the string that you pull to tighten the hood of your sweatshirt.  That was it, Tommy was going to use the string from his sweatshirt. He yanked on the off-white string with a quick pull and it came out. With the knot tying skills of a boy scout he constructed a sturdy knot able to handle his bow pull. With two knots on either end of the string he looped it around one of the notches in the bow, he smiled looking quite pleased with his work. He was afraid of snapping the limb if the string was too short and over tensioned the bow. Pushing down on the bow between his knees, he struggled to get the other loop into the notch. Shaking and grunting he got the string firmly around the notch. It looked somewhat childish and crude, but it would do the job. 341


By the time Tommy had constructed his masterpiece, the sun was almost perfectly straight up in the sky, lunchtime. His stomach growled, aching, moaning, wishing for a big juicy steak. He didn’t have arrows yet, he couldn’t kill anything with his bow yet, nonetheless actually hit anything with the arrow. Tommy whistled a made up tune as he kicked the sand on the banks of the river, walking back to his big oak tree to think of a plan for food. Taking a break to conserve energy he sat about an arms length away from the rushing river, Tommy noticed the water surface was almost bouncing like rain would in a puddle. With the glare of the sun on the water, Tommy could not see what was in the water and he stood up to get a better look at what it was. There was fish, hundreds of them, easily catchable as he thought. He focused on one’s marking and features, the fish had a red body and a greenish head with almost a bird-like beak. He’d never seen this kind of fish before, but remembered one of the most distinctive traits about this fish, it was swimming up stream. They were big juicy salmon, oh how Tommy dreamed of sinking his yellow tinted teeth into the meat of one of them. He figured salmon fisherman would be envious of what his eyes were beholders of right now. With no net, this wasn’t going to be an easy task. Tommy knew from experience hand fishing in his nearby rivers that you can’t just dart your hand down onto them, they’re much too smart. With a school this big winding down the river, he could let them come to him. Slowly inching his hand down into the water where he had seen some pass by he dangled his hand as if bait, waiting for a fish to fall into his grip. The water was bone-chilling, making it almost unbearable to keep his hand in the icebox of a river, but he persevered through the numbing pain. After about ten minutes of no success he was just about to give up for fear his hand would nearly fall off. Then at the last minute a slight tap on his hand, a fish within his grasps. Slowly he gripped the fish as not to scare it away because it was much too fast and agile for him. Plucking it out of the water, he threw it over his right shoulder making sure the fish would not escape back into the water. Tommy was an animal lover and to kill this fish was hard for him to do, so he quickly found a sizeable rock and slammed it down onto the fishes head to put it out of 342


misery, almost a little too hard. He was game for another fish too, so Tommy turned back and set out for more. Hours later the sun started the dip below the tree-line, looking sheepish and scared. A deep howl again reminded him of the wolf that had so passionately stalked him. Only this time the wolf had the added benefit of the 5 fresh fish that had caught been caught by the hands of Tommy that day. Wishing he had made those arrows for his bow, he again felt panicked that the wolf would come back to finish the job this time. The howl got closer, something was different though, there was howls from all directions and different pitches. His stomach seemed to be in his throat, no words could be said. A rustling of leaves whipped his head around as he grabbed a rock to throw at the approaching beasts. Coming out of the enclosing darkness was the original wolf, missing his eye and what looked like some fresh battle wounds on his left shoulder, dried blood encased the wounds. Growling and inching slowly closer Tommy yelled “GET! GET OUT OF HERE! ALL OF YOU!”, the voices in his head knew this would do nothing, but it was worth a try. Stepping back, Tommy chucked the rock hitting the beast right in between the eyes, or eye. The rock bounced off it’s skull and made a thud back onto the sand. The beast didn’t even wince, only becoming more aggressive as it moved faster towards him. As Tommy backed up, a root of the big oak tree poked him in the back which had halted his back-pedaling. Unaware of the other wolves, they soon joined in on the prowl of Tommy. An idea popped into his head, Tommy knew that these wolves were hungry, they were just skin and bones scavenging for food. He had seemed to be the menu for tonight. Slow movements turned to quick as Tommy squatted down grabbing one of the salmon and threw it at the wolves coming in from all directions, then another and another. The wolves backed off while noisily devouring the carcasses, bones and all. This gave Tommy a break as he ran with the two of salmon just in case they caught up once again. He darted into the woods unnoticed by the wolves for the time being. He scampered parallel to the river in the woods heading down 343


stream. He tried to be as quiet as possible even though he heard on some science show that wolves could smell you from a mile away, he didn’t care. Trotting through the woods he brushed low branches out of the way and maintained sight with the river heading down-stream. A trot turned into a run after Tommy heard a tree limb snap in the distance, he couldn’t see much now and tripped over an exposed root falling flat on his stomach and hands. He sat there for a minute to make sure he couldn’t hear any movement. The coast was clear and he got up again and gazed at a big pool of water off to the side of the river, probably twenty feet long by 5 feet wide. The moonlight made the pool look majestic as if asking for a swim. Tommy knew the water was bone-chilling, but it needed to be swam in or at least a quick dive. After waiting by the pool for about a half hour, paranoid as could be, Tommy figured the wolves had their share for the night and didn’t want him anymore. He stripped off his clothes and plunged into the murky water by the moonlight. Tommy felt the ice-like water hit his chest like a ton of bricks. He noticed himself sinking and wondering why his brain wasn’t letting him move his arms or legs . A force seemed to push him to the side, looking over but nothing was there. Panic set in as he heard a vague splashing sound near the shore where he had jumped in from. Losing his sight from the lack of oxygen he looked up at the surface with tunnel vision as his almost lifeless body plundered to the bottom. Out of the corner of his mouth bubbles started to emerge first a few at a time and then more panic as a plume of bubbles rose, grasping for his neck he screamed ten feet under. The water started getting darker, cloudier as the moonlight filtered through the glassy surface. A vague screech echoed through his impaired mind. The wolf. Thrusting it’s paws against the water as if bounding of a solid wall, directly at Tommy with a dirty look in his squinted eye. Closer and farther down the wolf came, faster than possibly conceivable. The wolf opened his jaws as if inhaling Tommy in one bite. Tommy was unable to react and simply held his spot motionless in the murk with an incoming intruder. The wolf ’s jaws widened and got bigger and bigger. His meaty and eerily bloody jaws clasped Tommy’s arm wanting his flesh. Tommy sat just staring with no pain. Watching the beast rip his arm apart, puncturing his

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freckled skin with every bite. He felt nothing, but a cozy warmth as he drifted into an unconscious state. Fluttering his eyelids Tommy expected to be at the gates of heaven. Instead, Tommy ascended in a blur from lying down, only this time the wolf was gone, the water was gone. Only his room was there as it was ablaze in flames. Mark cowering by his side trying to wake his big brother Tommy up. Had he been dreaming of the wolf or was this a dream now? Tommy was not sure, but felt heat from the flames and assumed this to be reality. Picking up Mark he nearly cried just seeing his face once more, but there was no time for that. Holding Mark, Tommy kicked down the door to the room and swiftly descended down the stairs which had looked to be sturdy and of good construction now. Mark whined “Mommy and Daddy, they’re still sleeping”. Tommy struggling to comprehend his compassion for his parents, took Mark outside of the house and planted the crying boy onto the nicely groomed grass in the front yard. Tommy again went into the house and broke down the door to his parents room screaming “GET UP! GET UP! THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!” Their parents were startled more at the scream than the information they had been told. Again Tommy repeated “THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE!”. The second time it had worked and the three of them ran out of the house in their pajamas half asleep stumbling. The family reunited where Tommy had placed Mark, with crying smiles of family safety, it seemed so foreign to Tommy. Who were these people? How had this new family come to be? Tommy broke down crying in confusion and happiness, Mark and his parents jumped at the opportunity to console him. Tommy stopped crying and look up, in the neighbors yard across the street was the wolf, one eye shining right at him, howled. Words flashed back at him, “I wish this god awful life was a dream...”. Tommy looked straight back into the eye of his new life with vigor.

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JAC K

The Unfortunate Event Scooter was sitting around his house, lounging around watching TV. He was bored as ever. “Why is there always nothing on when you’re watching TV these days” Scooter said as he was flipping through the TV channels. “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this, but I think I’m going to read the newspaper instead of watching TV.” So he gets his daily newspaper and reads the articles on the front page. One Article topic was “local cats busted for possession of illegal catnip stashed in their household.” Then another article talked about how beloved Looney Tunes character Sylvester gets arrested for the murder of Tweety bird by eating him.” Then finally one article got his attention. “Rabid, violent Dog on the loose. All are advised to stay indoors until the dog pound captures vicious creature. It could be running around in a neighborhood near you or in yours.” Scooter then thinks to himself “Man, this won’t happen to me. I’m not going to be that guy that gets on the news for getting attacked by the criminal.” Moments later Scooter sees his mail man from his window getting out of his truck and delivering his mail. “O boy the mail is FINALLY here!” Scooter says to himself. So he run’s upstairs to throw on a pair of slippers, so he can go outside and get his mail.

While Scooter was running upstairs, he doesn’t see his mail man’s reaction when he spots something terrifying running around up the street. So the mail man, in panic, runs back into his mail truck and bolts his truck out of there. As the mail man leaves the area, Scooter comes down the stairs and goes out his front 346


down. While Scooter’s walking through his front yard to his mail box he thinks to himself “WOW! What a beautiful day it is outside. The sun’s out and the weather's warm. Everything is so peaceful. Nothing could go wrong.” When Scooter approaches his mailbox, he looks through his mail. “Why is my mail mostly bills. I HATE IT!!! YESS!! MY sports Illustrated finally came. HEY!! Gronks on the cover of it. Well isn’t this awesome. My gamer magazine in jam packed with coupons. Maybe I will get NHL 13, since the lockout is over.” Then out of nowhere, Scooter see’s something in the distance, “Please don’t be what I think it is.” Then he sees it coming at him. Scooter then realizes, “O crap it’s that dog from the newspaper, figures.” His heart’s beating slowly and he’s horrified. Scooter tries to run away, but he’s too slow. The vicious dog comes at him and pounces on him. Then the dog says, “I HATE CATS!!!” Then Scooter replies “O really, I haven’t noticed.” Scooter is thrown around all over the place like a rag doll. He had no chance of escaping the clutches of the fierce dog. The dog was so much bigger than him also so its impossible to escape anyway. Minutes later after getting attacked. Scooter is laying down in his front yard blacked out and hurt really badly from the attack.

When Scooter becomes unconscious and wakes up. He looks around the unknown area he’s in. Then he finds himself lying down in a hospital bed. “O gosh I’m this badly injured?” Scooter said. Then the doctor walks in, “Aw Scooter your awake, you got attacked really badly from that attack.” 347


Then Scooter says, “What’s the damage doc?” The doctor looks at his clipboard then flips a couple pages. “Well for one thing, I’ve got some bad news to tell you.” Scooter replies in sorrow “What’s the bad news?” The Doctor then tells Scooter, “Um your legs got torn up so badly that we had to amputate them.” Scooter throws off his covers and looks at his legs. Then he replies to the doctor in a shocked expression, “MY LEGS WERE THIS BADLY DAMAGED!!!” Then the doctor replies, “Yes they were and we have a wheelchair for you.” When Scooter finally gets home he says to himself, “I should have stayed inside instead of getting the mail. Also I should have listened to the newspaper when it told me not to go outside because of that dangerous dog. Now I can never walk to my mail box again. I have to wheel myself there from now on.”

348


MIKE

The Epic Battle Between Humanity and Wildlife Some say that miracles are only an improbable dream, an illusion of the mind. A miracle could be defined as a beneficial phenomenon occurring when the odds are not in someone's favor. Some don't believe in miracles, while some see it as God’s gift to those in trouble. Well, with that being said, what I am about to tell you can be seen as unrealistically impossible to the common present day viewer. I like to call it a bewildering victory, or as I like to call it; a miracle. This event went head to head with the common expectations of human dominance across the globe. I advise you humans to read my words, and learn from my story, as your mistakes in the future will cost you everything and will be the ultimate destruction of the world, and humanity itself. It was the year 2067. You humans continued to dominate all the world's species and you continued to expand their vast “utopias� across the earth. You humans had lost your sanity, persisting in the destruction of forests. Your once beautiful and enchanting homes, gone as you all tear up the forests for their own society. You humans aren't even considerate of us, the animals that have been here since the beginning of time, the ones that have made the forest their home. Soon, with the rapid deterioration of our earth and the growing need for expansion, I feared that my own forest, Oaksville, Maine, would soon be one of the victims, in this unholy annihilation of nature's children. But, we animals were fed up. My name is Ed, the platypus. I am a citizen of Oaksville and a proud patriot at that. I am going to share with you soon to be evil humans an event that is known as the Epic Battle Between Humanity and Wildlife. Rain poured from up above, the teardrops of the sky. Clouds filled the air like smoke from a fire guarded by a chimney. I noticed a flash in the sky, succeeded by a loud boom that gave me goosebumps and raised the fur on my body. I was inside the Treehouse, the capitol building of the forest. King Bear had called a meeting, 349


and had asked me personally to join in due to the fact that he considers me a great friend. I accepted his offer out of curiosity, for such a meeting fills my brain with imaginative thoughts as I wonder what will be discussed. In the meeting, I sat with a couple of high- ranked officials. I'm guessing they were very powerful and affluent government officials, as they were clad in luxurious suits that would cost a fortune. I then noticed King Bear walk in quietly with the lovely and timid Queen Bear. King Bear had a somber look to his face; the look of a mother who had lost her newborn. He looked very stern but at the same time relaxed. As he was about to speak, he had a loss of words. He was silent, standing at the podium, his muscles tense and his eyes bloodshot. He held a cigar in his right hand. He smoked the cigar a few times, puffing out black smoke, the color of a raven. “I'm glad all of you could make it. I have something truly devastating to share with all of you. A blatant tragedy that breaks my heart and corrupts my mind” King Bear said. The microphone suddenly shrieked, much to the displeasure of my ears. “Blackwoods Forest has fallen. The humans have burnt it to ashes. Thousands of casualties and tons of damage. The animals that escaped are now homeless and without food. Our forest is next on their checklist as they continue to clear our land. I have come to you all today for answers. What should we do?” An old deer yelled loudly, “Attack the cities, burn down their homes and see how they like it.” “Run into the cities and kill and attack as many people as possible,” yelled a beautiful woman. “Run as far away from the humans before they catch us, kill us, stuff us and put us on the floor of their living rooms”, a wicked looking duck said. The room soon erupted with yells and chants, animals voicing their opinions on the subject. King Bear looked back and forth at his wife, looking frustrated and impatient. “Order”, he yelled. “Quiet down in here! It's bad enough I have to worry about these vicious and uncaring humans but now I have to worry about keeping 350


order in this room. Good God almighty, please, would you all simmer down! Now, can we all agree on something?” He took another puff of his cigar, puffing out more black smoke. He paced around the podium nervously, staggering with each step like a drunken crook at the tavern. He then looked around the room nervously, his bloodshot eyes like the roots of the mango tree that is planted in my yard. His eyes were marbles as they rolled around. His eyes then found me and I saw a sort of crease in his cheek from the slight smile on his face. “Ed, my good friend Ed,” King Bear said. “How do you suppose we deal with these menacing humans. I mean, you are as smart as they come and I know you have personal animosity with those humans. I'm sure when those things took your parents, I mean, you just couldn't stomach the thought of humans. I bet you despise them even more than anyone here.” He struck a nerve. He reminded me of an unforgiving tragedy that I wish I could shed from my fur. I felt pressure forming in my head. The steam blasted from the kettle, being tormented by the burner heating the water. I couldn't hold in this steam. I lost it. “Kill those humans! They wanna fight, how 'bout we fight back! I wanna rip their heads off, I wanna see them all fear us animal. We need to fight. There will be bloodshed! Let's send those asses back to where they came from!” I finally sat down after a few seconds, almost embarrassed that I had lost my temper. But it felt like I lifted a ton of bricks off my chest. I never told anyone about how I felt about my parents being taken. I felt like no one needed to hear my opinion, or my reaction. I looked around the room where I saw wide eyes that matched wide mouths. The animals looked shocked, like they just witnessed a murder. I looked back at my feet, almost sulking. King Bear had finally spoke after coughing horrendously for a few seconds. “Well.... I think we must prepare ourselves for a vigorous battle, as I believe that our forest needs us. We are strong. We are fearless. We will not fall like our brothers and sisters. We will fight back against the evil humans. We will be victori351


ous! Now come everybody, I'm sure you all are tired of being pushed around and being seen as just “worthless” animals. Now, who wants to fight for our freedom?” The whole room erupted with cheer. I swear to the Holy Ghost, my ears will stop working after today. I can see Queen Bear, sitting uncomfortably, fear and delight intertwined in her brown circular eyes. “Okay,” King Bear finally said. “We will prepare for battle tomorrow. My general and friend Tom Turtle has spoken to me today and has told me that the humans will be here in three days. So, if we must win this war, we must ready ourselves. Now, I will see all of you at the crack of dawn. Goodnight, and let the Gods bring us luck and prosperity for years to come.” King Bear then leaves with Queen Bear and their son. The crowd begins to leave through the exits, as well as I. I have never been so inspired. I love my forest, and I am ready to fight for it. My heart, a once plump and uncaring organ, is now filled with the most bliss and love it can contain. We are going to show those humans that they aren't the only ones that can cause destruction, and I can't wait to see the look on their faces once we defeat them. I am ready to get revenge for my parents kidnapping and put an end to the terror that those humans cause.

The darkness disappears as the specs of sunlight soon rise over the horizon. The sky glistens as the yellow rays shine bright, beauty displayed by blue diamonds. Clouds are sparse. The sky reminds me of the voluptuous oceans on the coast, the blue water being an amazing spectacle. The humans are expected to come within a few hours. It has been two days since the meeting, and the citizens of Oaksville have been preparing for battle. The anxiety excites my brain, making me jumpy and aware. But at the same time, it fills my mind with stress and it makes me shake nervously. It feels like I am on a cutting board and the humans represent the cleaver. I see the cleaver rising, but it is risen slowly, and once it gets to me my life would be over. I suddenly hear a hammer being slammed against a plank board. I hear it again. Bam! Whack! I then notice it is coming from the river. I run over to it and discover a giant dam built. 352


“What could have built this,” I said. The dam was a magnificent structure. It must be twenty to thirty feet high, creating a colossal amount of water built up behind it. I notice the workers, all beavers, gathering mud covered sticks and twigs and placing them on the dam. “Well, would you look who it is,” a voice sounded behind me. “Hey, Ed, how's it going?” I turned questionably, unable to determine who was speaking to me. Once I turned, I realized it was my good friend George. George was the leader of the workers that built the dam. He had very sharp buck teeth; glistening white incisors that could cut through metal. He had oak colored fur matched with hazelnut stained eyes. I couldn't believe that this was George, my friend I haven't seen in five years. My heart almost sank to the bottom of my body, as I had felt like I had found my long lost daughter I hadn't seen in years. Though, I have never had a wife that bore a daughter. “George, it is so great to see you. I haven't seen you since high school. What have you been up to?” “Well, I've been building this here dam ya see, and it's been a difficult and tedious task, but we are just about finished. King Bear asked me to do it. He said we can use the dam to power our weapons. Just like the humans use those doohickeys called hydroelectric dams that can power cities. I thought it wasn't possible but I guess dreams can become realities too huh.” “Yah George, it truly is very remarkable. I gotta meet with King Bear later, right before the humans come. He says he has a special mission for me. I can't wait.” “Well, my long lost friend, I wish you luck. I gotta get back to this guy right here. Preparation is key in a battle like this.” I walked off, waving goodbye and starting to walk to the Treehouse. As I walked, I saw animals evacuating their houses. Some were preparing for the battle. 353


Porcupines were sharpening their spines, squirrels gathering nuts to shoot with their slingshot and various other animals hanging heavy objects from trees to squash humans running by. I finally made it to the Treehouse, when suddenly, I heard a large boom. This noise irritated my ears and vibrated my body. It frightened me to a great degree. I felt my heart beating uncontrollably, almost having a mind of its own. I then knew that this wasn't the sound I normally hear. I knew that we had no more time to worry or prepare. The humans were finally here, and they are ready to wreck lives and destroy mother nature's children. I ran into the Treehouse, evading the flustered soldiers running down the halls. I searched throughout, trying to find King Bear. I finally found him after searching for him, which seemed like forever. He was huddling together with his wife and son, consoling them. He knew we had to fight. King Bear's eyes finally met mine. “Ed, there you are. I want you to take a special mission. Guard my child and my wife. My heart fills with joy just thinking of them. They are my everything. Please, protect them at all costs. I know I can trust you with this job.� Before I could answer, he ran off outside. I was now responsible for his wife and kid. My heart felt broken. I feel like I have lost all my dignity. Me, one of the most trusted and respected animals of King Bears, is asked to watch his family. I feel like he thought I wasn't strong enough to fight, that I didn't have enough moxie to get the job done. I just wanted to leave and just sulk away in my home, crushed like a rock, the victim of a gigantic mallet. But, his son ran to me, hugged my leg and begged. Tears filled his eyes, the worried son terrified. If I left, I could be compared to a wicked stepmother, so I chose to stay. I had the Queen and her son go up to the top floor of the Treehouse with me, where I could watch the whole battle take place. Outside, I could see the humans marching up the hill in lines. They were carrying swords, guns, flamethrowers, and various weapons. Situations like these now a days were taken seriously. They were like battles for the humans too, as they knew animals could be violent. I then saw the Sergeant General. The General was a tall and opulent looking man, clad with a red cape and a metallic black suit. His 354


suit was the color of the smoke that would come from King Bear's cigar, the cigar that he had been smoking non stop nervously. He walked with a confident strut. All of a sudden, he had lifted his arm up high and then brought it down rapidly, like a thousand pound weight had been strung to the arm. Following that, I could hear him say “Fire!” and the humans began to run for the forest. King Bear then marched with his force and they ran to the humans as well. “Oh God, I wish this war would just end,” said Queen Bear. I can tell by the quiver in her voice she was slowing dying, the anxiety slowly choking her. “I hate those humans and I just want peace, but we can't have that. I love my husband and if I ever lost him I would be dead inside.” I quickly tried to reassure the Queen, calming her down and giving her hope. But it was no use. She felt like someone had tied a rope to her heart and was vigorously pulling it from her ribcage. “Don't be scared,” I said. “I'm sure we will win this battle.” Outside I can clearly see the battle was a tug of war. The animals, such as foxes and coyotes, attacked the soldiers, biting into their legs and paralyzing them. Blood spurted out of there bodies like water shot from those toy guns the humans use to play with. The squirrels in the trees used slingshots to fire acorns precisely at the oncoming militia. These weren't normal acorns. They were very sharp and could even cut through cement. I heard the Professor, a squirrel scientist, had invented a few so-called gizmos to keep the humans back, including the razor acorns. I looked around and saw that King Bear was directing troops of animals, directing them to their destinations. I looked away and saw Queen Bear, the worrisome lady trying to keep her mind off the battle. “You know, the humans don't realize what they are getting themselves into,” I said. “They don't realize that with the destruction of the forests, the natural resources used to fuel the whole planet, comes with the destruction of themselves. It's like a boulder. Push it too much and it will tumble down, crushing you into

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oblivion. I know you are scared, but I hope you realize, that life's most dangerous and common mistakes are the most preventable.” She was silent. She eyeballed the battlefield, where many dead animals and humans lay resting, the bodies of dads, moms, brothers, sisters, friends and even enemies. Does a battle really cause this much chaos and violence? Could this violence be preventable? I looked outside again. Two hours have passed, cruel time fails to go rapidly. Yelling was a common noise, along with the screeching of the victims. Pain filled their bodies. Pain crippled them. Pain made them experience a terrible feeling. Sometimes it was better to die right away. Those who are lucky die right away instead of feeling an intense pain that could last continuously, slowly killing them. Slowly eating away at their souls, the agonizing pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Blood. These two words seem to fill my mind as I see my comrades, my friends, or just indistinguishable animals risking their lives and being killed. I see the warrior falcons flying overhead, dropping heavy rocks and homemade bombs on the soldiers. Then something struck my vision, an interesting sight that caught my eye. I saw the porcupines, led by Henry the porcupine, shooting spikes at the soldiers. Queen Bear shook, the victim of anxiety and its cruel mind games. Her eyes watered. She then muttered something within her quivering, soft voice. “Go, go outside and help fight this battle,” said the Queen. “But my Queen, I have a duty to stay with you and your son and protect you.” “It's okay, I will be fine, as well as my son. I know we will. I have a gun with me just in case someone comes in and I have an escape shoot if need be. Just go out and help my husband.” “Are you sure, I mean...” “Go! Please. Help my husband and win this war!” I quickly left the Treehouse and made my way to the battlefield, completely vulnerable due to the fact that I don't have a weapon. I then spotted a few swords and I equipped myself with a shiny, coal- colored one and ran out to find King 356


Bear. Once I found him, things started to look grim. The humans were advancing and fires had began to be set. Many trees were lit on fire. So much destruction, yet the fire created an almost beautiful seen. It is funny how things can be so deadly, yet so beautiful. More and more casualties came in, and I started to become worried that we might lose this battle. We might lose our home. However, I continued on. Once King Bear spotted me, his temper exploded. “What are you doing out here!” he yelled. “You are supposed to protect my family.” I had only a few seconds before he could grab my throat and strangle me. “Your wife demanded that I come and help. She said she would be fine. I'm sorry sir....” “Oh, whatever. Just get back and fire this launcher that the Professor invented. It shoots fireballs at rapid speed. Shoot it at those weird looking vehicles.” I took the fireball shooter and shot a couple vehicles. I am actually pretty good. I then aimed at a group of soldiers. Reload. Fire. Boom. Reload. Fire. Shoot. I kept shooting and reloading , hitting multiple targets in seconds. “Good job, Ed,” King Bear said. “Hit them with everything you got.” I had a sense of pride that the king of Oaksville, a powerful and well-liked animal, was saying to me that I was doing a great job. I know King Bear is a family friend, as he made sure I went to a wonderful family after my parents were taken when I was young, but I just felt like I was standing around royalty for the first time. I felt special. And then I saw it. It came into my vision, blinding and disorienting me for a second. It was an arrow. An arrow that was shot by the Sergeant General. I watched it strike King Bear in the heart. His eyes shut. A loud roar came from his mouth, a frightening, blood curdling noise. I saw a tear, clear as the ocean waters, travel from his eye, down his cheek. He gripped the arrow that was shot through his chest tightly, and he fell backwards on his back. I screamed. “Bear! Oh my God!” I shrieked, horrified. “Help someone, help! Ah! Oh my God Bear, what the.. how the.. Oh my God! Bear!” 357


His muscles twitched sporadically. It was like his body was electrified with 1000 volts of electricity. Blood shot out of his body as the constant yelps escaped his mouth. I ran over to him and tried to revive him. There was no use. King Bear soon began to fade, his eyes closing for the final time, never opening again. His body stopped twitching, never moving again. His heart finally stopped thumping, never beating again. I slowly lifted myself up and almost began to cry. I felt my throat getting dry, my eyes turning red, the color of the blood. I started shaking. I slowly realized a few tears flow down down my face, racing each other to my chin. I imagined my parents being torn away from me. I was demoralized. I didn't want to move. I just wanted to fall down and start crying. And with that, I did. I got back up, realizing that a battle was still going on. God must have sent an angel to protect me because I was lucky I hadn't been killed. My sadness slowly evaporated and turned into anger. Rage boiled the blood in my arteries, it made my teeth grind. I was livid. Somehow, something had taken over my body. I grabbed my sword, held it tightly and ran as fast as the lightning in the soot covered sky. Something had fueled my hatred. I ran, avoiding the soldiers trying to slice me with their swords. I grasped the sword, swung back and then swung forward, decapitating Sergeant General. His body fell to the ground instantly, like broken robot parts. His body was lifeless. I then spotted his lieutenant, Stu, in complete shock. He would have never expected an animal like me to commit such an ungraceful act of murder. I had done it. Lieutenant Stu then jumped on me, tackling me to the ground. The back of my head hit the ground hard, like a stone being cracked against a boulder. He then grasped me by the throat, squeezing it like a stress ball. His hand was icy cold, his fingers plump but bony. I was losing air, my face turning the color of the fresh sweet plums that fell off the giant tree this summer. My life suddenly flashed before my eyes, from my childhood, to my parents kidnapping, until King Bear's death. “Now you've done it! This is why you filthy, smelly, and grotesque animals should be killed. You cause nothing but trouble and I am absolutely sick of it. How's it feel competing against the big leagues, huh, you little piece of trash? You filthy vermin, you all can go to hell.� He raised me up by the throat, throttling me. My lungs desired air. 358


“I hope you burn in hell you son of a ….”. Stu had been shot in the head. I saw a spot on his head that started leaking blood profusely. His eyes rolled back and he fell on his face, dead. I then ran back through the forest, angry soldiers fighting to keep up with me. I then saw Queen Bear holding an automatic rifle. She had shot Stu. Her eyes were cherries, being clearly evident that she had been crying. She still had tears falling from her eyes. I couldn't believe what I had just witnessed. I continued to run thinking that I was going to die. Then as I ran up to the dam, an idea sparked in my head. “Evacuate the battlefield!” I said this with a vociferous voice. “Clear the land and get behind the dam.” “What the hay are you doing,” Henry asked me. “We are fighting. If we evacuate the land, they will continue to light fires and eventually advance on us.” “No they won't, just lead them up to the dam. I have a plan. We are going to burst the dam and flood the battlefield.” “Well, without a commander, I guess we should rely on you. Hmm. Okay, I will tell everyone.” Henry had his loud speaker and alerted everyone to fall back to the dam. As soon as he did, thousands of animals began running back, hearts beating like a drum. The soldiers soon followed. Once everyone went behind the dam, safe and sound, I told the beavers to break the dam. George, my good friend, hesitated for a few seconds not sure if he should flood the valley. But, he knew what he had to do and he pulled the switch, opening the dam like french doors. The water blasted out of the dam. Soldiers began running back, but they would soon be underwater as the water quickly flooded the valley. Even some of the shorter trees were flooded. The water continued down into the valley. After about a minute, I saw the soldiers walking back. A lot of them died and the ones that didn't die were coughing up water. They had finally surrendered. We, the wildlife, had won the battle.

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Months later, the forest had been fixed up. The water had finally left the area and the trees started to regain their wondrous colors. I was now King of Oaksville, for my bravery and intelligence couldn't be touched. I couldn't have been more honored to accept such a title. Queen Bear, who had gone mentally insane, continues to mourn her husbands demise, but reluctantly gave me the title of King of Oaksville. She believed that I have an incredible gift that will truly inspire the animals to fight; that gift was hope. She wished me well, and went into hiding with her son, hoping that he could cope with the current situation. A part of me felt grief for Queen Bear. I felt she had lost her soulmate, and now she was left to nothing. The only one that could help her cope was her son, who continued to make Queen Bear happy. Now that she is gone, I now lead the forest. As King, I intend to protect my forest at any costs. But I knew something. I expected something. I knew you humans would be back, with numbers greater than ones that can be counted. But, when you all do come back, us animals will be prepared. Long ago would you humans continue to dominate all the wildlife on the earth, but now that simply isn't the case. Now, I must inform you humans reading this that I must go, as we have to prepare for our next battle. So I ask you all this question before I leave to fight. After reading this, do you now think it is a good idea to mess with mother nature? Do you still see us animals as just “worthless animals”? My mission here today was to inform you humans in the past of your future mistakes and to prevent the inevitable from happening. I'm no miracle worker; you control your own destiny and you take your own paths. So if this story failed to phase you or if it failed to make you see the utter chaos caused by the destruction of forest, then... I hope you humans are as intelligent as everyone says and you avoid coming face to face with Oaksville any time soon. I wish you humans luck, as you are going to need it once us animals defeat you. To us, this battle is a miracle. Just because you humans don't believe in miracles, it doesn't mean they don't happen.        

360


CIAN

Hockey ‘til Death It was a chilling morning. Heavy white snowflakes blanketed every green blade of grass, each of them sparkling with bliss through a reflection of the sun. There was talk last night about a possible snow day, and the thought and hope still lingered in every high school students dreams as they slept soundly. All of a sudden, you are woken up by a loud annoying noise. But not from the alarm clock sitting ready for ignition next to you, but from the house phone in multiple rooms. It’s at this moment that a sudden relieving sigh is given when everyone is still half awake. You know now, that you have the day off. It’s a snow day. As a young gun in high school, sophomore hockey player Xavier Sacapuntas was jumping for joy when he found out school was cancelled. Not only because of the day off, but because he could just manage to see through the frost-covered thermometer hanging outside that it was only 16 degrees outside. The first thought running through any true hockey players mind at that moment is, pond hockey. However, another thought stuck needles in his mind. Along with winter came the dreary threat of ice dragons. Monsters so evil that lurked at the bottom of local ponds and lakes. There only two ways to keep an ice dragon from breaking through the ice and ruining your pond hockey game: Anti ice dragon undergarments and drawing a circle around you. Although this great fear keeps people away from the ponds during the winter, hockey players are willing to do what it takes. For the time being, Xavier and his hockey team went out to breakfast. He threw on his socks, moccasins and hockey sweats and anti ice dragon undergarments and charged down the stairs to accompany his big brother Eren. The two prepared for the bitter rush of cold they were about to enter and on the count of three they sprinted to the already heated car. Once in, a big shiver ran down their spines and they sat there for just a minute to soak in the warmth. Eren pulled out

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of the driveway carefully trying not to get stuck on the ice and in a split second, they were on their way to meet with the team. As the silver Santa Fe pulled into the IHOP parking lot, smiles appeared on the brothers’ faces when they saw all their teammates running into IHOP with them. The first major customers of the day they were and it took all of 20 plus chairs and 4 tables to fit the rambunctious group in nice and snug. Xavier sat with his best of friends Tam, Gio, Smallz, Joey, BK, Kevin, and Nemo. One by one, the entire team ordered their drinks and food because mostly everyone already knew what they wanted. The kitchen must have been mayhem. Finally settling in, the clowns joked and goofed off for a long time until finally their drinks came. Everyone was polite to the waitress and as soon as she left, the shenanigans picked right back up. Everyone was loud and having fun, but the second the heavenly sound of sizzling bacon and sausages and the loafing aroma of eggs and hash browns hit them, complete silence. A few oohs and ahhs but overall, the boys were awestruck. It took only about a half hour until every little crumb on the table was sucked up by the pigs and every drink was slurped right down. The boys were jam packed full of eggs, bacon, sausage and hash browns and there was no way anyone could stuff down even the slightest bit of dessert. Pure satisfaction and smiles on everyones face as the team stormed out of the warm IHOP. Right before anyone got in their car, Xavier’s brother yelled out, “Pond hockey at Little Sandy Pond. Go Home, grab your stuff and let’s go. I Have nets and pucks, just bring yourself and waters. If anyone needs a ride find one now.” Everyone did exactly as he said and sooner than later, each and every car stamped with a South Korrigan Hockey sticker was flying down the highway. It was incredible. Having already left our gear in the back of Eren’s car, Xavier, Eren, BK, and Sloppy Joe all went right to the pond. Xavier, BK, and Sloppy already threw on their skates and were saucing a puck back and forth while Eren went to grab the nets from his house. As soon as he got back within 5 minutes, the entire team was already there. Captains Brio, Gio and Nemo plus the rest like, Cj and his dad, Smallz, Tam, Joey Good, Kevin, OC, Joey Colbert, and Erik. It was a hockey player’s dream. The ice was cleared by shovels and the remnants were brushed off by the brooms and brushes. The ice underneath was pure glass and the sky was 362


more blue than any of them had ever seen. It was the overall perfect day. Back and forth they went all day, tearing up the soft ice below them and grinding away layer upon layer of it. Every now and then, Captains Nemo and Gio would split up the group and make new teams, but it was all the same. It was still joyous harmony on the pond. Around three o’clock, the boys all pooled their money in and ordered pizza from Mr. G’s Pizzeria. They also got Cj’s dad to go get hot chocolate and in 30 minutes, everyone was feasting on the best snow day food and drinks ever. Then suddenly after about another hour of skating, the unthinkable happened. It was like a roar of a dinosaur far off into the distance in a Jurassic Park movie, but this was much more terrifying. Peering through the crystal clear ice, the boys could see her; it was Rudy. The meanest, whitest dragon in the lake, and she was right below them. Quickly, everyone was circling the pond, looking for any breaks in their circle of protection. None. Then with heart crushing calmness, Smallz said, “She went down.” And everyone stood motionless. Rudy was preparing to breach. The world seemed to stand still for that split moment, and then the ice began to shake. Rudy was getting closer, slicing through the chilled water below. Smallz, looked down one last time but this time Rudy’s face came right up to the ice below and came right up behind him. She let out a screeching roar and in one quick drop of the head, Smallz was gone and Rudy retreated to her sanctuary. One pair of Nike bauer skates lay empty on the ice. It was awful. The crew would never see Smallz, ever again. The week after the incident, three days after the funeral, and the day after the hole in the ice froze over, the team gathered on the bank of the pond. They have organized a plan to capture and kill Rudy, once and for all. Gio, Xavier, Sloppy Joe, BK and Nemo scrapped together an old net made of fishing net and barbed wire. It was laid over the thin frozen hole and pegged into the surrounding, thicker ice. Steak, chicken and lamb were thrown into the middle of the net which was given much slack. The boys knew if they pretended to play the game they love, Rudy would surface. And so they did. Back and forth the team went, skating circles around the hole. Within minutes, The ice began to shake. “Get ready boys! She’s coming!” said Gio. And so she did. CRAACCKKK! The thin layer of ice 363


was sliced through like butter by Rudy’s sharp snout, but her screeching roar pierced the young men’s ear drums. With 3 foot short sword blades attached to their hockey sticks, the boys began to charge. The evil monster Rudy lay helpless in her trap, but the men didn’t seem to care. They were there for one reason and one reason only, to kill Rudy. Gouge after gouge, stab after stab, and slice after slice. The team ripped through the heavily plated scales and right into the warm flesh of the dragon. It was beautiful hatred. Each stab symbolized the love and connection each teammate had for each other. The remembrance of Smallz came through everyone’s minds and fed their hunger to kill Rudy. Absolute silence. Not a single rustle, not a roar, not a huff of breath. The enormous white dragon lay still in a red sea of lifeless blood. The deed was done. Smallz was now avenged and Rudy was dead. The town no longer needed to wear anti ice dragon undergarments or draw circles around them to stay clear of ice dragons. The team were victors in the hateful game of life and death. For years the lake froze and froze again each winter as it always did, but it was empty. No life. There wasn’t anything to fear and this is they way God intended. As years passed and memories died, the young men of that South Korrigan hockey team were now old and weary. Although apart and having moved on with their individual lives, the team stayed connected. Every year they had a gathering at that very lake where their dear friend Smallz was diminished. Stabbed straight through the thick permafrost was an old wooden Sherwood hockey stick. Held by a rusty red nail was a large chunk of tree bark that was gouged. The words gouged into it read, “Lake Small”. The boys named their favorite, forever hated lake after their long lost best friend. Every year, the newer tears from older men dripped slowly through the white fluffy snow. For these split moments, every man present at the lake was in high school again. They were still a team and still a brotherhood. It’s this quality and passion inside a team of kids that makes them play hockey ‘til death. Lake Small was now sacred, the most beautifully evil landmark the team would ever know.

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C H A P T E R 10

I hope my tale is true enough and flexible enough that you can make it into a world worth living in - Orson Scott Card, preface Shadow of the Hegemon

365


LEO

The Squirrel “Hey!” yelled a rotten boy. “Run away you little scoundrel!”        Briscoe, an innocent and unlucky squirrel, sprinted for his life. The rotten boy struck fear into the bushy-tailed rodent. Running like a mad man, Briscoe struggled to find a good hiding place.         He was out of breath, and had to stop, knowing that he would be harmed by the disgusting boys. He turned around only to see the boys hundreds of feet from himself, laughing. Briscoe looked elsewhere and just wanted to die. This kind of stuff was constantly happening to him, and he could find no solution to stop it. As he puffed and he puffed, he was overcome with exhaustion amongst this dump, and he fell asleep. …         Briscoe awoke only to be dizzy and very nauseous. He could smell this sickening from where he was. One of the many horrendous, ugly buildings was having a gas leak. He had to leave this area immediately, because the harmful, poisonous toxins were too much for him to handle.         He picked his slouching body up and dragged himself to another place. The only problem was that he had nowhere to go. Roads surrounded him with fatal cars driving at speeds faster than he ever imagined. He managed to get as far away as possible, only to face more problems. The sky was a cloudy light grey, taking all happiness away from Briscoe. He was near the street when he heard a car race by. He looked up, only to see something odd in the air. It had a cylindrical shape to it. He saw it come toward him with quick speed, but didn’t have enough time to react. He jumped to the side, but his tail was hit with this odd object. He didn’t think anything of this thing, until he felt a burning pain shoot up through his tail and into his chest. 366


This pain burned his nerves in his tail and singed some hairs on his tail. He looked back at his tail and was sickened to see portions of it burnt to evil black crumbling ashes. But Briscoe didn’t care about the looks of his tail, because the pain was so gruesome. He looked at the object that had given him this much pain. He couldn’t control his anger, as he looked at this horrid object. It was a filthy burned out cigarette, filled with black crispy matter, and leaving behind a malevolent memory. Briscoe was very irate at these horrific humans. He hated humans, and wished all of their unwashed souls would rot elsewhere. If they were to have an ecstatic extinction, he hoped they should not leave behind any of their “inventions.” He sat and thought for a while about his life, and how he has lived in this area all of his life. He lived in what had once been a lush, vibrant, and colorful forest with an abundance of food and many friends. Within five years, leading up to now, nearly all of his loved ones had gone to heaven. Briscoe was the lone survivor. He remembered the good old days, the colossal trees and the sweet aroma of flowers, along with the up-tempo chirping of birds, and the feeling of safety all around. But now, as you might expect, there was a repulsive a smell of gasoline, and the constant irritating noise of cars and obnoxious people. Briscoe felt in danger everywhere. All of the beautiful trees were cut down and made into ghastly buildings. All of the color and energy, all of the precious lives in what used to be an enchanted forest were sucked from the earth like an all powerful black hole, and vanished from life forever. Briscoe knew that he must leave this place soon, as it was like being stuck in a dark jail cell with nothing to look at, and nothing to do. Every last bit of what used to be the squirrel’s nest was masked like an ancient fossil beneath detrimental, sordid buildings. Briscoe had hoped that one day he would be able to move on from this tomblike junk yard and travel to a paradise, a land of his dreams. A land without humans, but with a variety of healthy plants, a surplus of acorns, and most importantly, a sweet sense of nature.

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Briscoe still stood there with the burnt cigarette near him, staring at the street. He decided that it was now or never to leave. He couldn’t wait any longer to flee from this terrible and abused land. Because of the humans, and their egos, this was the first time Briscoe had crossed the street. He sat and watched as cars sped by faster than the blink of an eye. The target spot was only about twenty feet away, on the other side of the street. He figured he had the confidence to do it. But that was just a hope. In reality, the bushy-tailed rodent was absolutely terrified. It was like making the decision either to jump out of an eighty story blazing building and plummet all the way down to the deadly ground or being scorched to a heated crisp by a large disastrous fire. He had never done something nearly as risky as this. He watched the street in amazement as there was only one car driving by. There was an open lane to the other side of the street. He jerked forward a couple of times, but just didn’t have the confidence to cross. He was too frightened. He thought only of the benefits of crossing, only the good things. If he thought of bad things, it would throw him off of his concentration. He slowly gained his composure, and controlled his breathing. He saw that there were a clump of cars driving by, followed by an empty opening for opportunity. Briscoe began a countdown from five seconds, but still hoped that he could elongate every second to a day, because he was so scared of death. Suddenly there were only two seconds left, and then one. He gathered all of his energy, got his blood pumping, and absorbed momentum from the ground. Before he knew it, he had burst off the ground in an instant, and was in the street. He was running faster than he had ever run before, and his heart was pumping faster than it had ever pumped in his life. He couldn’t believe it as he found himself passing the double yellow lines in the middle of the road. He thought only of the pros of leaving this ruinous town, and the gladness he would feel. He licked his lips at the thought of finally starting a new and placid life. He concentrated his eyes and ears only to the other side of the road, as he could almost taste his success.

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In reality, even being very close to the other side of the street, he found himself just shy of a monstrous truck. His nerves couldn’t handle the thought of death. Adrenaline pumped throughout his body, but he quickly realized that the truck was closer to him than the end of the street. He felt worthless, and that all that he had lived for, all that he had pursued, all of his strength used to outlast the selfcentered humans would be taken away from him. He looked at the truck, the immoral enemy that would squish the life and soul out of his corpse. He used every last bit of energy to try to reach the end of the street, but it was just short of being enough. The enormous tire ran over his back. Briscoe was burdened with so much pain. It only lasted for a split second, but it was a split second too long. He saw his body deteriorate, and felt all of his bones snap. His vision of the forest that he had made a dash for slowly disintegrated before him. Briscoe knew that he would die, and couldn’t do anything about it. He felt so many emotions at once, and tried to look for anything, even something simple that could save his life. But it was too late. His vision finally became all white and he felt so weary, like he had no energy left in his body. He sat in this whiteness for a long time. He cried at the thought of his death, of his failure. Briscoe then realized that he was still in this white vastness, and didn’t know how to escape. He was nervously petrified that he might be here forever. There was no surface upon which he was standing, yet he still stood. There was no food around, yet he never felt hungry. He could try to kill himself to leave this place, but he wouldn’t die. Briscoe was now immortal in the plainest space ever. Suddenly, spurts of color appeared before his very eyes. He couldn’t make out exactly what was happening. It was like the first pieces of a puzzle being put together. He saw spots of green, brown, and blue. As it slowly formed together, Briscoe hoped that it might be a forest, the forest that he had dreamed of once before. He was realizing that his dream was becoming true, as a forest with monumental trees, amicable animals, and a colorful lively environment appeared before him. To him, it was an unbelievable miracle. In a sudden moment, he was brought into this environment, as it was not only in front of him, but all around him. He could 369


hear the birds chirping, he could smell the pretty flowers, and he was glad to see acorns all around him. He saw a group of deer and butterflies, as well as some other squirrels. He was overjoyed, because he hadn’t lived in such an environment in five years. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He slowly progressed toward the squirrels and was immediately welcomed into this environment. He was glad that he knew that this was the best that it could get for him. He felt as though he was restored, and that he never died. Briscoe immediately looked at a deer, who gave him a heartwarming smile, like the squirrel had always been part of his family. He was happy that he succeeded in going to his dream land. It was a fresh start for the tortured squirrel. He felt that this dream was much deserved. He tried, and although he died, he still made it. And as far as he is concerned, that was good enough.

370


ALEXA

A Family’s Dog Named Madison When I was 5 years old, I got my first puppy, I was so happy, I couldn’t settle down; I was like a little kid in a candy store. My family decided to name her Madison. We named her Maddy because we thought that name was pretty.Maddy was a Cocker Spaniel and her fur was golden brown with blonde. Maddy was small and cute and adorable; her fur was really long and thick. When you would pet her, her fur felt like it was a stack of hay. She would love to swim in the grass but not in the water, because she didn't know how too. It was the cutest thing I have ever seen, it would look like she was itching her back in the grass. She would only go out to swim in the grass in the summer time. Driving into Boston was hectic, it was a lot of ongoing traffic just to get Maddy. When I walked into the place all I could smell was dog’s. When we got Maddy we also got a her sister whose name was Mckenzie. After a month we got rid of her because she was always biting people. I was so happy when I got Maddy because she was the first dog I ever had, she was friendly and loving. Every time I would come home from school she would meet me at the front door. Before I would go to sleep and get all warm and cozy in my fuzzy P.j’s and my cozy bed, she would always lay with me, especially when I didn't feel good. She would jump up on the bed or couch(whichever one I was laying one) and snuggle up to me and lay under my arm, it felt like she was trying to protect me. It was so adorable. Mckenzie was the same age as Maddy. When we first got them I thought they were both fine but, they were both very sick. Mckenzie and Maddy were very sick when we first got them. They had tapeworm. So, when we brought them to a vet. He said with a serious tone and voice that it could have been fatal. We payed $900 for both dogs, but since they were so sick we got our money back from the kennel place.But a lot of medical treatment and a lot of time, they got better. Mckenzie became very vicious and violent, it was like she was a human getting really mad and angry. She would always bite someone, every time they would 371


move or play around. Besides her being vicious and always biting everyone; she had good traits too. I was on the couch and I would look over and she would be on my couches, she would sit like a human. But because she was always biting people we had to give her away. One time me and my friend were playing and out of nowhere she attacked the girl. I haven't seen or heard about Mckenzie since then. Madison wasn't like any other pet I have had. She was honestly like a little sibling or another baby. I have never really had a pet that can be part of a family until I got Maddy. She was another person. As soon as I opened the door and she heard it she would meet me at the door and whenever I would talk to her she would talk back by barking. I would say “Want some food, wanna go out.” “Roof, roof ” Whenever I would need to talk/cry/vent, anything, she would always be there to listen. She would just sit there and listen and cry and tilt her head and look at me with her puppy dog eyes. have never cried over a pet but I cried really bad when Maddy when she passed away. She was the absolute best dog someone could have. I honestly don’t think someone could I have gotten a better dog. I really lucked out when I had Madison. I tried getting other dogs but none of them were as good as Madison. I would try to play or talk to them, but they were either too hyper or too calm. We had Maddy for a while, almost 6 years, since kindergarden. Then one night Maddy was playing and out of nowhere, when I saw a cut on her stomach, it looked like a huge gash and I got a little sick but I was mostly nervous. It was from a piece of wood that had nails on it. My sister took Maddy to the vet so that they could sew her up. We all thought Maddy would’ve been okay so we brought her home. I can still remember every single detail of that night. When my sister brought Maddy home, the doctors told us not to move her,because she just had surgery and I thought that would be easy to do. But, my dad didn’t know and moved her. Right after he moved her, I woke up it felt like something was wrong.The next morning, my mom woke up bawling her eyes out and right then and there I knew that Maddy had passed away; and I started crying too. It was winter time and eve372


rything was all snowy and icy, like a winter wonderland went bad, we buried her in our backyard. Where we buried her, there is a white and black pole there, so everyone will know where she is buried. and not to walk on her grave. It has been 4 to 5 years since Maddy has passed away. I still do wish she was here with me because she was honestly my best friend. It was a cold snowy, icy night in the winter time. I can still remember my sister carrying Maddy in a little wooden box, and I could literally feel my heart drop to my stomach and balling my eyes as I saw her carry Maddy to the backyard to be buried. I ran as fast as I could to my bedroom so I could forget all the hurt and pain of losing Maddy. After I realized that I shouldn’t be in my room, I should be in my backyard; I walked there. As I get closer to where they were buring Maddy, I can see the dirt dug up and then I finally realized that she was going to be gone forever. I couldn’t take seeing my bestfriend get buried, so I had to go inside. The next day, I didn’t feel the same, it felt like a huge chunk of my life was gone. I went outside to go see the grave, when I got to the grave; I just put a blanket on the ground and sat there in front of Maddy’s grave with my hot chocolate in total silence. I didn’t know what to do or say, so I just said “I’ll miss you forever, rest easy.” and kissed her grave and walked away. I visit her grave whenever I feel upset or something is bothering me, even though she’s not there and she’s not a person; it still helps me when I am upset or something is bothering me.

373


SAM

The Quest for Color Far away, on a planet that humans from Earth had never discovered before, was a planet just like Earth called Lynnaria. Lynnaria was similar to Earth because it also had humans. A long time ago, planet Earth launched a space shuttle into to space with 6 people aboard with hopes to discover a new planet. They came across Lynnaria but while trying to land on it, the shuttles left wing got caught on a tree and tore off forcing them to crash land. There were no resources on the planet to rebuild the wing so the 6 astronauts were stuck there. They thought once they ran out of oxygen supply they were going to die but luckily one astronaut realized that the planet of Lynnaria must have oxygen if there are trees and he was right. The six astronauts fought to survive for many years and reproduced to form a civilization which would eventually grow to the Lynnaria they had today. It also had some differences which were that it had only one big continent surrounded by water. But the difference that really set the two planets apart was that in Lynnaria, everything was black and white. Not one thing on the planet was colorful. The water was dark gray, the grass was gray, and even the sun was a very light shade of gray. Everyone’s house was the same color, everyone’s clothes were the same color, and everyone had pale skin with dark black hair. There was one man who stood out, his name is Johnathan Battles. John was just the average man. Wakes up every morning, goes to work, goes back home then repeats the same thing every day. He stood out because he was bald. John shaves his head every morning because he was sick of having the same hair as everyone else on the planet of Lynnaria. People would stare at him because he was different but that didn’t bother him. John worked in the capital city in the presidents building. His job was to walk around the building and make sure everything was normal, kind of like a security guard. Ever since he graduated college, John has been working here. There’s one room in the presidents building that John has always been curious about. Every day he would walk by a door with a sign on it that said, “Secret Color Room: Do Not Enter”. John has been in every room in the building except for that one. He’s always 374


wondered what’s inside that room; he would even have dreams about going in there. One day John awoke to his alarm clock that when he turned and looked it read 5:45am, he had to be at work at 7am. It was a beautiful day; the sun was shining, the sky was clear, and there was a cool breeze. John got up ate breakfast, brushed his teeth, shaved his head, took a shower, got dressed, and then got in his car. By the time he got in his car it was 6:30am, it was a 15 minute drive to work so John decided he had time to stop on the way and get a coffee. When he got to work, his friend Paul was in the lounge room lying down on the black leather couch with his feet rested up on the small wooden coffee table. Paul and John had been friends since college and both got a job at the presidents building. Paul was the janitor of the building but he rarely had to clean anything because nothing ever got too dirty. Once in a while he would go clean the bathrooms but that’s about it. Paul would just sit in the lounge room and watch sports on TV when he wasn’t cleaning. “Hey Paul, what’s up?” John said         “Oh nothing, just watching football.” he replied         “Do you know that room in the building that says, Secret Color Room: Do Not Enter?”         “Yeah why?”         “I’m going to go in there today and I was wondering if you wanted to come?”         “Okay, I’ll come. I’ve always wondered what was in that room.”         “Okay let’s go.” John said         John and Paul left the lounge room and headed down the hall towards the room. The walls of the hallway were covered with pictures of past presidents of Lynnaria and a map of Lynnaria. When they got there, the little light above the handle was red it was locked so John slid his card in the door and the light turned green. John entered the room first and Paul followed close behind then closed the door. They saw a metal box with a bunch of wires and switches on it. John and Paul took a step closer to it and saw that it had two opening on the top. One was 375


filled with a little box like object and the sign above it read, “Black and White Filter”. The sign above the empty opening read, “Color Filter”. John and Paul looked at each other, “I think we found the reason why.” John said        “If this is the reason why everything is black and white, then we have to go find the color filter.” Paul replied         “I agree. Let’s go talk to Mr. Sanders.”         John and Paul left the building and got into Johns car. They headed to Mr. Sanders house which was 30 minutes away. Mr. Sanders lived all by himself in the middle of the woods up on a hill. He was 105 years old and people would refer to him as, “The wise man on the hill”. When John and Paul arrived at Mr. Sander’s house and knocked on the door. Mr. Sander’s house looked very worn down, shingles were loose, paint was peeling, and some siding had fallen off. In his front yard he had a little pond with fish in it and he had no grass, only dirt. Mr. Sanders eventually answered the door. He had a white tangled beard and very long knotted hair, he looked like he hadn’t showered or bathed in years. His clothes were ripped and he walked with a wooden cane. “What can I do for you young boys?” Mr. Sanders asked         “We are looking for the color filter. We thought you would know where to find it.” John said         “Indeed I do know where it is but you’re going to have to go distract Hector, the giant ostrich because he is sitting on it. He is located in the Koba Desert right next to the only tree you will see.”         “Okay. Why is Hector sitting on it though?” Paul asked         “He thinks the filter is his egg. A long time ago Hector lost his egg and found the missing color filter in the desert so now he thinks that’s his egg.”         “So if we were to make a fake ostrich egg and replace the color filter with it do you think we could get away?” John asked         “It would be tricky but I think it you two could pull it off.” 376


“Okay thanks for the help Mr. Sanders.” John said        “You’re welcome boys, good luck.” Mr. Sanders         As they were leaving Mr. Sanders house they saw an egg shaped rock on the side of the road. Paul got out of the car, picked it up and then returned to the car. “We could use this rock as the fake egg. I think it will work perfectly.” Paul said         “Yeah I think it will, it looks just like an egg.” John replied         John and Paul started their journey to the Koba Desert. During the car ride, Paul fell asleep and dreamt about what Lynnaria would look like if it had color. The water was blue, the grass was green, people wore different colored clothes, and the sun was yellow. They arrived at the Koba Desert and saw the tree with Hector under it. John woke Paul up and he grabbed the rock then got out of the car. John noticed Hector was in a deep sleep so he let Paul know. Paul quietly snuck behind Hector while John stayed in front of Hector to make sure he was still asleep. Paul saw the color filter squeezed under Hector. Paul slowly pulled it from underneath him. Hector started to wake up but then fell back into his deep sleep. Paul gently slid the egg sized rock under him. “Let’s get back to the presidents building fast! I can’t wait to see in color!” John said         John and Paul got in the car and hurried back to the presidents building. When they got there they ran straight to the secret room. John slid his card and the door opened. They quickly approached the metal box with the empty slot. Paul gently placed the color filter in its slot, and the machine started making a loud noise like a fan on its highest setting. Then Poof, a golden flash of light appeared then everything was in color. “We did it!” John screamed in excitement. The machine started to smoke and overheat. Paul panicked and suddenly noticed a piece of paper next to it that read, “Only have one filter in at a time”. All of a sudden the machine exploded and everything was black and white again.

377


C H A P T E R 11

And last, but not least

378


MATT

The Mount In the year 1746, Andrzej Tadeusz Kosciuszko was born in a small house in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in the village of Mereczowszczyzna. He grew up under nobility, which he could trace back to nobles in the court of Sigismund I the Old. He was raised as an average child would be raised in the 18th Century. Tadeusz played with other children of the merchant class, and if possible even the peasants’ children who worked the field of his father. He also was taught basic things by his family (his mother when he was a child) and private tutors who taught him in his late childhood and in the early adolescent years of his life, along with his brother Josef Tomasz, and his sister Anna. Life was good. Tadeusz got along with his sister especially well as he also did with his brother. But, unlike his interactions with his sister, he and his brother fought occasionally, similar to cubs or puppies playfully fighting and challenging one another. Sometimes things got out of hand, and one of them would have a broken nose or bone. It was here that Tadeusz learned how to fight. Overall life was quaint, sometimes too boring for the young and adventurous Tadeusz. He had little knowledge of what adventures were to be set before him. It was a perfectly sunny day in June, the year of our Lord 1756 (Tadeusz had turned 10 years old), it was a great day. Then suddenly trumpets sounded and drums began to beat in the distance. “Is that the military?” Ratomska Kosciuszko (Tadeusz’s mother) asked. “I think so,” replied Ludwik Kosciuszko (Tadeusz’s father), “Children, go inside!”

An infantry regiment, and a cavalry battalion emerged from the horizon and moved forward to the village and approached the village center, and then halted and got into formation. A prominent figure emerged on a horse. The man was old 379


and grey, but one could tell he was an officer, the one in command because of his white horse,and his brilliant and ornate uniform. “Who is the owner of this village?” demanded the officer. “I, I am Ludwik Kosciuszko,” he answered, “Who are you, and by what right do you come to my village?” “I am Colonel Michal Maciejewski, and by order of our most gracious sovereign, Frederyk Augustus II, I am instructed to inspect all children between the ages of 6-12,” replied the Colonel. “Why are you inspecting the children, what are you inspecting them for and which children will be inspected?” quered Ludwik. “The king has decreed that my regiment and my major’s cavalry battalion are to inspect all of the children in this province of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to see if they have an intellectual capability to be an asset to this great Commonwealth, militarily. And to answer your third question, since they will be inducted into the military as officers, the children will have to be of noble birth, and male,” replied Colonel Maciejewski. “Why is this necessary?” asked Mr. Kosciuszko. “That information is private, and can not be discussed in public,” sharply replied Maciejewski “But I can not agree to let you possibly take my children, as my family is the only nobel one in this village,” stated Mr. Kosciuszko. “Only if you allow me to tell you in private,” argued Maciejewski “Very well, come with me and we will talk,” agreed Ludwik Kosciuszko The Colonel ordered his troops to remain in position and followed Kosciuszko Sr. into the house. Both of the men promptly moved into a room and closed the door. “The reason we are “recruiting” these children is because they may be of value to Poland in the near future,” answered Maciejewski 380


“What sort of purpose?” asked Ludwik probingly. “What I am about to tell you is classified, and can only be spread to this household, and this household alone. Do you understand?” Ludwik nodded “Very well, the reason the military is looking for especially able children, who have the aptitude for tactics, strategy, and warfare is because the king has reason to believe that the Russians and the Prussians are uniting together to once again attack Poland. If this happens, Poland will, once again, be faced with its own annihilation. This is where the children come in. Hopefully this will not happen for at least another ten or so years, so that Poland will have enough skilled officers to lead its soldiers into battle on a multi-frontal conflict. The king truly believes that the children are the answer, and has tasked many men with collecting the best minds that this nation's youth has to offer,” explained the Colonel. “I have one more question,” said Ludwik. “Ask away,” said Maciejewski. “Where will the children be going?” “To Warszawa (Warsaw), to the newly founded Akademia Szlachecka Korpusu Kadetow Jego Krolewskiej Mosci i Rzeczypospolitej [True translation: Nobles’ Academy of the Corps of Cadets of His Majesty and Commonwealth- it will from now on be referred to as the Corps of Cadets],” replied Maciejewski. “Ok, you may begin your inspection of my children.” agreed Ludwik. Some time passed as the Colonel and the Major conducted their interviews of the both Josef Tomasz and Tadeusz and came up with the conclusion 1 Pass- Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kosciuszko 1 Denied- Josef-Tomasz Kosciuszko

There was no celebration only sadness for Josef Tomasz and fear for Tadeusz, the fear of the unknown and the fear of leaving his family and the only life he had 381


ever known. All these things raced through his mind as he accepted the thought of joining the Corps of Cadets as an inevitability, and what fate had in store for him. “Are you sure that you are ok with this Tadeusz? Afterall, you know you won’t be able to see any of us for at least nine out of twelve months?” said Tadeusz’s father nervously. “I guess so, after all I passed and the Colonel said that the “fate of Commonwealth” is in my future classmates and my hands,” replied Tadeusz. “I guess so, we will pray for you,”  added his mother.   After some preparations and long goodbyes, Tadeuz Kosciuszko left, and the colonel dispatched a lieutenant to escort him across the Commonwealth to Warsaw. Along the way, Kosciuszko saw many things he had not seen in his entire life. Towns, cities, the extreme amount of bustling life of the city and calm of the countryside.The extreme contrast amazed him. Along his way he saw many vagrants in the city streets, and the unfortunately poor citizens living in poverty, while the szlachta (Polish nobility) lived comfortably, and the middle/ merchant class lived their lives. Tadeusz was amazed by this and pledged that he will protect not only the szlachta, which was what most members of the szlachta did, protect their own interests, but protect the interest of everyone, especially the poor, so they may have the ability to become middle class#.

They arrived in Warsaw in the middle of August, enough time for Tadeusz to explore this magnificent capital. He saw all of the life, the affluence, and the splendor, and was amazed with the grand city. He saw the palaces and courtyards and thought it was amazing. Tadeusz then found out that the Corps of Cadets was stationed inside an old palace, the Kazimierz Palace, and he was delighted. He immediately began to move into what would be his new home for the next nine months, as school was going to begin soon. But while he still had time off, he was accompanied by his escort to points of interest and explored the city and became familiar with it. 382


Much to Tadeusz’s dismay, classes began and they were rigorous and more challenging than any other task he had done before. Due to the stress from the very demanding courses, he had trouble sleeping at night. He often woke up from having dreams of home and had a strong sense of loneliness as he had not yet gained any friends at the new school, only acquaintances. Then one usual sleepless night, Tadeusz woke up and decided that he would go exploring the school. He tried to guide his way to the atrium of the school, but tripped and tried to recover his fall by grasping onto a candle holder as to avoid making noise, as not to awaken anyone. But much to Tadeusz’s surprise it opened a small corridor, with only enough room to crawl. As a curious little ten year old boy, he ventured into this suspicious chamber guided by the small torches lit on the wall. As he crawled farther into the corridor he began to hear voices, adults and one child’s voice. He recognised that voice, it was that of one of his classmates, Stanislaw Poniatowski! Tadeusz crawled onward, and eventually he could make out that the language they were speaking, Russian! But why would they be speaking Russian? Tadeusz, resolved to solve the mystery, ventured forth and found an opening. Tadeusz observed and saw that one of the adults bore a strong resemblance to Poniatowski, probably his father, and then Tadeusz was shocked, there was a Cossack, from the Hetmanate of the rebellious Ukraine, and a guard from Moscow of Russian Tsar (or czar). He could make out that they were plotting an attack of some sort. On the school! A raid of Corps of Cadets, so that the Polish people would not be able to repel any invasion! Tadeusz was astonished, why would any Polish person even consider siding with the Russians? He had to present his findings to the headmaster as to protect the Commonwealth! He scurried away but this created a noise which alerted the conspirators to his presence. Tadeusz had been discovered.         

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SAM

An Old Friend “Jeanine Bradley is sentenced to 100 hours of community service.” The judge said as he pounded his gavel, sending a ripple of sound throughout the courtroom. Jeanine breathed a sort of sigh of relief. Her heart had been breaking through her chest for the past three days. “At least it's not jail...” she thought on her way out, “These people probably won't even remember me the next day.” It happened so quickly. One minute, Jeanine throwing away the last can of spray paint she used to vandalize her high school. The next minute she was in handcuffs being shoved into the back of a police cruiser. She used crime to heal her heartbreak. It was like a dream sitting in a jail cell, waiting for her parents to come and bail her out,dreading their reaction. The ride home seemed to drag on for days. Her parents, Dr. Richard Bradley and Attorney Susan Bradley, were embarrassed and ashamed that their daughter, who has everything that any child would want, would do something so stupid. “I can't believe you. If you knew how embarrassed your mother and I are Jeanine...You're a disgrace to this family. ” Jeanine didn't have an answer, but it was the first time in a long time that her father came to her room to talk to her. Jeanine walked through the automatic doors of the Sunrise Nursing Home. She got an immediate whiff of Bengay and urine. Her face cringed in disgust. She took a look around the lobby. She saw a patient in a wheelchair fast asleep, with a long stream of drool hanging out of his mouth. Jeanine shuttered. She walked up to the front desk where a petite woman in a maroon suit flashed her a slightly crooked smile,

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“Good afternoon!” she squealed, “can I help you?” Jeanine examined the girl from her pin straight, chocolate brown hair, to her jet black ballet flats. “Yeah, I'm here for that community service thing.” Jeanine said as she rolled her eyes. “You must be Jeanine! It's so nice to have you with us! You have been assigned to Jack Andrews' room. He's a little grumpy but I'm sure he would enjoy some company. Jack needs it... He is in room number 77.” “Thanks.” Jeanine groaned. Jeanine dragged her feet down the long hallways, passing more wheelchair, walkers, and nurses then she could count. She finally got to room 77. She stopped in front of the door and glared at it, as if she wanted it to open by itself. Jeanine contemplated if she should just run out of the building, but she knew that the circumstances would be much worse if she did. She knocked, waited, and then opened the door. “Hello?” She peered her head in slowly and caught sight of an old, fragile man in a wheelchair in the corner of the room. He looked up at her, then looked back down. He had the face of Ebeneezer Scrooge and it seemed like it was plastered on his wrinkled face. Hesitantly, Jeanine stuttered, “Uh.. hi. I'm Jeanine. I'm here to keep you company for a while.” She tried to smile but it just wouldn't happen. He looked at her again, and this time, he held his gaze. “Hm,” he shrugged, “come in.” Jeanine slowly made her way into the small box that was his room and shut the door behind her. The room was very dimly lit, and there wasn't much in there: a small, perfectly made bed, one lamp, a medium sized table, a chair, and a closet. “Have a seat.” the old man muttered. Jeanine took a seat in the rickety chair that matched the table. She could practically feel the awkwardness in the air. “So...” Jeanine said . 385


“You know, I don't need a babysitter, I can take care of myself just fine.” He grumbled. This man was pushing Jeanine's buttons. “Look, this isn't really where I'd like to be spending my afternoon either bu-” She cut herself off. “Can we just make the best of this please? It's going to be a miserable 100 hours if we don't.” She pleaded. They both crossed their arms and looked in opposite directions, soaking in the silence. After what seemed like a week, the time had finally come for Jeanine to leave. She counted down the seconds on his large numbered clock until 6:00. She rose from her post, said a speedy goodbye on her way out, and made a fast walked to the front desk. The same girl was there and her face lit up with a beaming smile when she saw Jeanine, probably because she was expecting positive feedback, “How was it!?” The smile quickly dropped from her face when she saw the wrath that was about to be unleashed. “I can't do this. He's impossible.” The words were cold. “Please give me someone else, anyone, just not this guy.” “I'm sorry, but unfortunately we can't make any changes. The court assigns the patients and we don't really have a say.” Jeanine grabbed her belongings and stormed out of the nursing home. When Jeanine got home, her parents were absent as usual; working late as always. Jeanine became convinced years ago that they took extra shifts and offered to work later just to avoid her at home. As usual, she made herself some type of makeshift dinner, refusing for the family's personal chef to make her something, as she did every night. Jeanine had never felt like she was in the right family. Her parents desired a luxurious life, while she longed for a simple one. She dragged herself up the spiral staircase to her sanctuary and crawled in bed. All that was running through her mind was the dread of the next day. When Jeanine arrived to Sunrise Nursing Home for the second time, it was the same experience as it was the day before: the awkward silence, the crossed arms, the counting of seconds. But this time, Jeanine noticed something on Jack's table: a baseball card. The name on it said Ted Williams, and had a perfectly 386


posed picture of him with a bat resting on his shoulder and a crooked smile resting on his face. Jeanine thought that Jack must have had an interest in this guy, so she decided to research him when she got home, in hopes of some type of medium between the two of them. She googled “Ted Williams” and found millions of links to all sorts of things from biographies to pictures to tributes. She wrote down every piece of information that she thought Jack might want to talk about with her on a small index card. As long as the two of them were stuck there, why not make him happy? The next morning, Jeanine dragged herself yet again into Sunrise. When she arrived to room 77, she knocked and went in as she did everyday. “Hi Jack.” He looked up in shock. “You again.” Jeanine took her seat and pulled out her index card and placed it on her lap. After a slight pause, Jeanine says, “So... I can see you take interest in Ted Williams. Did you know that he wa-” Jack cut her off, “I have NO interest in that man.” Jeanine was shocked. “Then why is his baseball card here?” She questioned. “He ruined me, stole my spotlight.” There was a moment of silence before Jeanine asked what had happened. “When I got into my accident, he stole my career away from me.” Seeing how confused Jeanine looked, he went in more depth, “I shoulda known a young girl like you wouldn't know a thing about 1938... or me.” Jeanine shrugged. “I was on the Boston Red Sox major league baseball team. My life was perfect. I had money coming out of my ears, women crawling all over me, and some of the best stats in the league. One game in the middle of the season, I hit four home runs in one game. I took the opportunity to celebrate since I didn't have to get up early for practice tomorrow, if you know what I mean. I had had the most beautiful car: a Chevrolet Master Six Sport Coupe. It was my baby, almost as gorgeous as my wife. Anyway, that night I celebrated a little too much 387


and crashed my poor baby straight into a tree. I butchered my career in a matter of seconds. Long story short, Ted was my replacement. The people adored him. Why not, a handsome young guy from San Diego, who was one of the greatest hitters that ever lived. No one cared about me anymore, and as time went along, people forgot about me.” Jeanine was engulfed in this man. As sad as this story was, she wanted to hear more. “Wow.” She said, almost shocked that Jack had feelings. “I'm so sorry.” “Yeah well, nothing we can do about it now I guess.” he said as he flicked Ted's baseball card. The next visit was all about Jeanine. “Tell me about yourself kid.” Jack said seeming more relaxed then usual. The two were opening up to each other. “What do you want to know?” “Tell me about your parents.” Jeanine groaned. “Ah, not too fond of your folks. I know the feeling. Mine completely gave up on me after my accident.” “Mine completely gave up on me the day I was born.” Jeanine almost gagged on the words. “That bad, huh?” “You have no idea.” Jeanine went on to tell the many stories of every nanny that had raised her, the holidays without her parents, missed soccer games and school plays for extra shifts and overtime, or vacations that she never got to attend. “Well, you have me beat, Jeanine.” Even after Jeanine's 100 hours were completed, she still visited Jack. The pair talked about everything. They told stories and and shared secrets, laughs, and even a few tears. Jeanine had found the one person in the world who seemed to under-

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stand her. She visited him everyday and they would have dinner together, and she would stay until she was asked to leave by a nurse. Jeanine arrived at Sunrise on a sticky, Thursday afternoon. She waltzed through the automatic doors, excited to see her best friend. She waved to the front desk girl and headed down the mile-long hallway, as she did every day, to room number 77. A symphony of hustle and bustle was coming from Jack's room. Jeanine peered past the door and found three nurses juggling Jack's belongings in their hands. “What do you think you're doing?!” Jeannine screamed as she tried to snatch Jack's items from the nurses' hands, “That's Jack's!” An older nurse put down her pile and cupped Jeanine's shaken face in her hands, “You must be Jeanine...Jack really loved you, Honey. You were all he had.” Jeanine's eyes suddenly became pools of salt water, “Loved?” The nurses started to cry with her. One of them handed her an envelope that had the word “Jeanine” in the center, written in shaky penmanship. Before her tears drenched the paper envelope, Jeanine opened it with trembling fingers. Inside, was a wrinkled note and the Ted Williams baseball card. She unfolded the note, and with reading each word, Jeanine broke down:

Jeanine, Thank you for making me laugh for the first time in 50 years, thank you for letting me share things with you, and thank you for sharing things with me. I know you won't forget me like everyone else did.

With love, Jack Andrews

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With reading the last four words, Jeanine clutched the envelope and ran out of Sunrise Nursing Home for the last time. She ran, but she had nowhere to go. The only place she felt accepted was when she was with Jack at Sunrise. Jeanine paused from her panic, and processed her thoughts. She realized that the only way she could ever be happy again, was to still be at Sunrise everyday and continue Jack's silent legacy. From that Thursday on, Jeanine applied for a job at Sunrise Nursing Home, and landed it. She went everyday after school and made more companions than she could ever imagine. Jeanine realized that the loss of one friend, opened up the door to hundreds of other friends. She knew she was finally home.

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MATT

Indian Camp We had just left are house in Alaska on a hunting trip. We decide to try a new place but the only way in was old logging roads and trails.The only thing that we had were maps.We had gotten to the logging road that had many mud pits.We had thought we would get stuck but we weren't sure. So we just kept going. We couldn't tell how deep the water was. It seemed like no one had been up the road in months. We had been on the trails for a few hours. We had almost gotten to the hunting spot when we got stuck in the mud. As we tried to get out the truck just went deeper into the mud. We couldn’t get out and there was no one to help. We had forgotten to put the winch in the truck. The phones did not have signal. We hadn't told anyone where we were going. so the other decide to head up the trails were we had come from. I didn't know if he would find his way but we had no choice. I heard gunshots in the woods so I went that way. But I had not none the gunshots were miles away on a mountain. I hiked for hours but now I didn't know how to get back. I didn't bring my gun or my hiking bag. The map and compass were in the truck to. The other man had not know I left the truck. As I tried to get back I went deeper into the woods. I had no food or a way to make fire. At night it gets to be below freezing. So I would need to find a warm place to stay the night if I could get out. As I walked, I came across an old logging road and I could see a tent. I walked up to it slowly because I didn't know who was inside of it. As I walked up to the tent there was a man there but he had a gun in his hand. When the man heard me he jumped out of his chair. But then I noticed he had no truck. And no way of helping to get me back to the town. The man had only spoke native Alaskan. I said something and he aimed his gun at me. I said I need help and he started to yell at me but I didn't know what he was saying. When I said something else he shot me in the arm. I was bleeding and he was pointing to the woods. I start to run

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into the woods just as it start to snow. But if it was his land it was legal for him to shoot me. But maybe if he was here there were other people out here. I heard voices but didn't know if I should go up to them. They weren't speaking English but there were more so maybe one could. As I went up to the camp they had aimed guns at me. But one yelled over to me in english. “What do you want”. I said “I needed to get home”. Instead they took me into a cabin. He told me to stay here as he went to talk to the others. The men left me in there for hours. I think this is where they kept the dogs. People kept walking up to the window and laughed. I looked different from them but I didn't think that they looked funny. the man came back in and said you can leave. But I was very hurt so I asked if I could have some medicine. He told me to leave or they will kill me. I had a feeling that there were other Indians. When I was leaving I say a gun on a stump and I picked it up and left. I found a cave and went to sleep. When I woke up there were indians were everywhere and I could tell if they were looking for me. They could have been because I had stolen there gun. So I stayed in the cave till they had left. When they left I start away from the indians. The rifle only had four bullets. So I decide to go hunting. But as I start to walk again I was back to the first camp. I wasn't sure what to do. I could go up and shot the man. Something made me what to get revenge. when i got to the tent he wasn't there. So I stole some food and took a fire rod. But I did not know why this Indian did not live in the tribe. Maybe he was kicked out of the tribe. But what for. I decide to not take a lot of time. When I was leaving the man came up out of the woods and shot into the air. I turned around and shot back. I missed because I did not have time to aim. He shot me in the chest. He did not hit my chest so I was still alive. The other man I was hunting with came out of the woods. He shot the Indian. I don't know if he had died but it didn't concern me . He carried me out of the woods and to the truck. We drove to the hospital. I almost died on the ride. I got to the hospital and they saved my life. I now live in a wheelchair and can't move. 392


The one thing I don’t miss is hunting.

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MONICA

Underestimated “Now remember once you arrive you are one of them, you are no longer Natalie Ebony.” She nodded her head looking at each and every one standing in the room. She had a mission and there was no way she was leaving until she accomplished it. They escorted her to where an enormous jet roared its engines. Competing with the powerful sounds of the jet, he called “Your belongings and everything you will need are in the Jet, contact us when you can by radio after arriving. Good luck Ebony.” They both saluted and turned to walk their separate ways. As Natalie stepped into the jet she couldn’t help but think that this could be the last time she would ever step foot in the United States, and see the faces of those she loved ever again. It seemed like high school and an ordinary life was just a few weeks ago.  In fact, it had been 3 years.         It was the final week of senior year at Highlands High School, something she couldn’t wait to be over with. Although she had achieved high honors every term and all her teachers adored her, school wasn’t something she looked forward to. Natalie Ebony was smart alright but she was shy.  She spent her high school years trying to be as inconspicuous as she could.  And she largely succeeded.  Nobody seemed to think much about Natalie she was just sort of there.  There were nevertheless some surprised looks when people learned that had chosen to join the armed services.  To be precise Natalie was going to be an airman in the United States Air Force. Even she wasn’t really sure why.  That’s just what she did.   Her parents though proud of her academic success weren’t too keen on this shocker of a decision.         Her father parting words, in fact, “See you in two weeks!”         Natalie’s father never meant to be unkind but he couldn’t picture his little girl in army boots with an M16 in hand.         Natalie chuckled while shaking her head and said “We’ll see.” 394


And off she went onto the commercial jet that was to carry her into a new world.        At around 11:45 pm she arrived in San Antonio, Texas. After getting off the plane her and a group of fellow recruits were escorted to a bus where they all filed in one by one and piled on top of each other. So far so good.  Next came an uneventful bus ride so much so that she dozed off before arriving at the final destination, Lackland Air Force Base.  She was awoken by the loud, angriest people she had ever encountered in her life.  Their growls of orders to hurry up echoed through the entire bus.  Each of them was told to run to the open field straight ahead and stand at ease with their belongings in hand. The drill sergeant barked in their faces         “Drop your bags!” the girls quickly did so. As soon as their belongings hit the ground, the Sergeant ordered them to “pick’em up!” again. This went on for about five minutes.  And then came more pointless orders. After this strange and terrifying welcome they were finally herded to a cinderblock building which they were informed would be there new home for the next 8 weeks.  The sergeant screeched at them to memorize their locker combinations and bed numbers. Natalie tried her best to stay low and do what she was told to avoid a sergeant yelling in her face but it was too good to be true. All of a sudden the sergeants’ bald head sharply shifted his body facing Natalie and darted for her. She silently stood up and looked straight ahead. He stopped right in front of her and leaned in close, and in an ear piercing painful burst shouted “Why aren’t you finished putting your crap away? Let’s go! Let’s go!” Frantically Natalie dropped to her knees and finished locking her clothes up while he repeatedly swore in her ear to pick up the pace. Finally stumbling to get back to standing he turned to walk away and started off with someone else.  And so began the toughest 8 weeks of Natalia’s life.  Yet, she flourished and her intelligence did not go unnoticed.  Here it was determined what her next stop would be; Monterey CA to learn Arabic. Before moving on to California there was the triumphant moment spent with her proud family who made the trip to Lackland for the graduation.  Still, the process happened quickly. She was immediately put on a plane to California and to yet another life altering venture. 395


It was on the first day of class that she met the most beautiful man she had ever seen Patrick O’Malley who was also in the navy. She had had crushes before, even a boyfriend or so she thought for about 2 months in high school.  Somehow she knew this was different.  But what did he think of her? For a full week she had no answer to that question and then came the Welcome Party. It didn’t start out well. The first thing she noticed was Patrick dancing with the most beautiful girl in her class. Surely, she thought, this guy was out of her league. Natalie decided to stay for a little bit and chat with her other fellow classmates but then decided to leave.  She headed towards the door and before she stepped out of the room a hand reached her shoulder. Natalie turned her head to see the face of Patrick. He smiled, “Would you like to dance?” She was so shocked that she didn’t even realize that the word “yes” had come out of her mouth.  She lost all track of time as they danced into the wee hours of the morning.  When they realized they were the last two people there, Patrick and Natalie walked back to Natalie’s dorm. At the door, she looked up to say thank you, their eyes locked, and they kissed.  It was the best kiss Natalie thought in the history of kisses.  He opened the door for her and walked away into the night.  “Until tomorrow!” he yelled back.  “Until tomorrow” Natalie silently said back, her heart still fluttering, making it a struggle just to speak.         Patrick and Natalie’s relationship grew stronger every day; although she was in the Airforce and he was to be chopper pilot in the navy they still found time to see each other as much as possible. Natalie was excelling in all her classes with the top grade and was in love with the man of her dreams.  She believed nothing could crush her perfect world.         “Oh Natalie, I was told to give you this letter.” Her professor handed her an envelope as she was walking out the door of the class.         Natalie asked “What is it?”  The professor spoke as she walked.         “It was given to me by Sergeant Wifton but I have no clue as to what it is.”         Natalie brought it back to her dorm and opened it. Airmen Ebony, 396


Due to your excelling results in all classes, we’ve come to the realization that there is nothing more for us to teach you here. You are ready for a field deployment where the Air Force will be able to take advantage of your extraordinary skills. Report to Airmen Deployment Headquarters this afternoon, Room 34.                                             Sergeant Wifton         She lay on her bed staring at the blank sealing. Her mind couldn’t comprehend what she had just read. Maybe it wasn’t what it sounded out to be. Maybe this was just something that would be brought to her attention but she could reject it. Whatever it was Natalie was going to find out within thirty minutes. The thirty minutes passed as though it were only five. She got up to leave and tried to shake away every thought of a bad outcome of this letter.  Her heart pounded as she walked into the building, what she feared the most was having to leave Patrick.         “Have a seat Ebony” He saluted She sat and eagerly waited for an explanation to the letter.         “Your grade point average in all your classes has exceeded all your professors and your sergeant’s expectations. Arabic is an extremely difficult language to grasp, and you have proven to have great aptitude for it.  The professors of the Defense Language Institution have been asked to scout out individuals who have learned to speak the language with the most fluency. All of your professors recommended you as being the best.  They’ve informed me that you have the rare gift of being able not only to learn a language rapidly but to speak it without an accent.” Natalie, felt a mix of emotions. At first, honor to be selected from so many others. But then it struck her that she and Patrick would be separated and soon.  What would this mean for them?   And what was this mission she’d been selected for.  She didn’t have long to wait, for the next person she reported to informed her that “You have been chosen for a mission which first requires additional training.  You’re going to Airborne School.  There you will learn how to parachute in enemy territory, fight in hand to hand combat, use of explosives and other specialty weaponry training, Whoa Nellie she thought.  I might be a good learner but hand

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to hand fighting. This is not something she felt she would excel at and besides it sounded just a little bit dangerous.          “Airmen, you will learn what the Air Force says you will learn and do what the air force says you will do had come the reply.  We need your language skills and we need them in a very dangerous place.  You’ll be glad for the additional training.”                 This should’ve been a huge honor for her to be chosen but Natalie didn’t feel honored at all. This felt like a punishment, she did not want to go through intense training to learn how to kill people with her bare hands but mostly, she didn’t want to leave Patrick. She would have three days before leaving.  The next day she broke the news to Patrick. His reaction comforted her in a way. He stayed positive even though he knew it was going to be a long time until they saw each other again.  But he was proud of her and that made her feel better to. Before she knew it, there she was in combat training again.  It was like basic training except more advanced and the small matter of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.  Training was every day from five in the morning to eight at night. From eight to twelve she would study and do homework, the remaining hours were for sleep, something the Airforce didn’t seem to place much emphasis on. Every day she thought about Patrick all day long and wrote as often as possible.  As the weeks went by she was surprised to learn that this too was something she was awfully.  Even at hand to hand combat she discovered fierceness in her that she had not known existed, reflexes she’d never have dreamed of and speed? She was soon at the top of her class in that category too and that included the men.  Her deployment day she knew was growing near.  And once again, due to extraordinary capability and a need to send her on this all important mission sooner rather than later had her graduating sooner than the rest of the class and at or near the top in every category.  And then the day came. The mission was a rescue mission of one Ara Abiba a nuclear scientist who is being tortured by the Taliban in an effort to learn how to build a nuclear bomb.  “So far, our intelligence is she’s not told them much but everyone has their breaking point and we need you to get her out of there before she breaks.   398


“You’ve been selected because you have all the skills we need plus you’re her burka size. We need you to parachute into the remote mountain region where she’s being held wearing a burka and then to blend into the community.  We know approximately where she is, but you’ll have to befriend the locals to learn exactly where she is.  For the next two hours” they explained the rest of the plan to her at which point she asked “When do I leave”  A plane is waiting for you right now and here is your burka.         “I’m not ready for this!” She pleaded.   “You can and you will Airman and you must.  Just use everything you have been taught you will succeed”. “Do you really think so?” she asked. “Ehh – 50 50” said her instructor.  But that’s better than any other person we’ve got.”         “Now remember once you arrive you are one of them, you are no longer Natalie Ebony.” You will be Aisha Woodnwanabesha.  She nodded her head looking at each and every one standing in the room. She had a mission and there was no way she was leaving until she accomplished it. They escorted her to where an enormous jet roared its engines. Competing with the powerful sounds of the jet he called “Your belongings and everything you will need are in the Jet, call us as soon as you arrive. Good luck Airman.” As Natalie stepped into the jet she couldn’t help to think that this could be the last time she would ever see the United States.  She was about to fly non-stop from California to Afghanistan.         Thirty hours later, a women dressed in a burka and a parachute armed to the teeth floated to earth in a remote region of Afghanistan.  Her feet touched the ground in a grassy open field just as she was told. The town where she would be living in was just a few miles away.  She adjusted the burka to be certain you could only see her eyes and set off to find her contact.  The town was crowded with very little room to walk.  It wasn’t too difficult to find the family she’d be living with.  The CIA had bribed them well to participate in the ruse.  She would be 399


a cousin coming to visit which would make it easy to introduce her to other women so that she could learn where the hostage was being kept. Three weeks had passed when she caught a break.  One of the women told the story of a scientist being held captive by her husband just 2 kilometers away from the village in a warehouse.  The planning phase now began.  The facility was not large or impressive but it was guarded by about 20 men.         It was the morning of the rescue and Natalie surprisingly was not nervous. She dressed herself in her dark black burka as she passed through the town but once out of sight stripped down to her all black standard military uniform, armed with an M-4 rifle, 6 grenades, a 45 pistol and 8 inch knife and 2 Claymore mines and night vision goggles and a pack of Rolaids.  She made her way to the prison and waited for night fall.  She also radioed her plan back to headquarters so that arrangements could be made to pick her up at the landing place she had found 1 kilometer away from the make shift prison.  She hoped the helicopter pilot had the nerve to pull this off.  She knew that there could be a lot of gun fire directed at her and at anyone coming to pick her up.         After careful study, she determined that the only way she was going to be able to get in was through roof. But first she’d have to draw the attention of all those bad guys away from the place.  This is where the claymore mines came in.  She had planted them well to the west of the building and set them off at 0200.  She moved in armed with a ladder on the east side of the building.  Once on the roof, she found a door leading into the building from the roof and before she knew it, she was in.  She lowered her night vision goggles into place and stood still.  Someone was coming.  It sounded like two men.  As they came around the corner Natalie deftly swung her knife with two motions the first taking out the short fat man and second slicing the throat of a taller man.  Two down she thought, how many more before the night was over? After hiding the bodies and with most of the men still investigating the large explosions she had detonated, she was able to search the premises freely.  She found her target.  Although bruised and malnourished and beaten, she was able to see that this was the women she came for.  This person was at the heart of everything she had trained for.  Natalie spoke in Arabic to her, told her that she must trust her 400


and she was going to get her out of there. The idea that this angel had appeared out of nowhere to rescue her was enough for this women to trust Natalie completely. The first thing they’d need to do is unlock the chain around the women’s neck.  Natalie had found a key outside the room.  She tried it now and was able to open the lock.  Although weak, the women was able to stand and at least walk some.  Natalie knew that they’d have to move as fast as possible and that there was no time to waste.  As quickly as they could, they made their way to the rear door.  Just as they closed the door an alarm sounded and all hell broke loose.  Men started screaming.  “Someone has taken the prisoner”, “search the premises”. Natalie thrust Ara over her shoulder and bolted for the tree line.  They were nearly there when the gun shots in their direction started coming.  Just one rifle at first but then there were many.  She put Ara down, grabbed her M4 and took out 4 of the enemy.  She hoisted Ara again on over her shoulder and again began down the trail at the end of which she could only hope was a helicopter.  Her actions had killed 4 men, but at least a dozen were now in pursuit of them.  She slowed them down by periodically throwing a hand grenade or firing a burst of automatic fire, but while this stopped them from catching up, there numbers only seemed to grow.  Suddenly there was another sound; A whooshing sound, something passing near them and then exploding a hundred feet in front of them.  These were rocket propelled grenades and not a good thing to be hit with or even to be anywhere near when they exploded.  This was getting hairy.  And just when it seemed like they were just too outnumbered and too outgunned another, new and very loud sound erupted.  Natalie recognized the thump thump thump of a 60 millimeter machine gun and realized that someone up ahead was firing at the bad guys behind her.  And then she realized another familiar sound.  A helicopter.  Soon they weren’t firing at Natalie.  The enemy knew that this new foe needed to be there priority and so they hit it with everything they had.  Despite the rocket propelled grenades and gun fire, the helicopter kept coming, kept firing it’s own machine guns and rockets finally dropped into the field that Natalie and Ara were about to emerge into.         GET IN boomed the pilot NOW!  Natalie needed no further invitation.  As carefully as she could she deposited Ara into the cabin and jumped in herself. 401


She immediately, unshouldered her M-4 and was gratified to see that her expert marksmanship was having the desired effect. The helicopter meanwhile was gaining altitude and increasing the distance between themselves and the bad guys until finally, miraculously, they were out of the range of the enemy.         Natalie checked Ara to make sure she was ok which she was and then for the first time in what seemed an eternity she relaxed.  She knew that they still had some very tricky flying to do at low altitude until they were out of the mountain region.  But that was up to the pilot and this one seemed to be very good. Very good indeed.  She’d have to remember to thank him when this was all over.         After about 30 minutes they landed at the American air base in Kandahar province.  When the chopper was landed the pilot still wearing his helmet came around to the cabin of the helicopter.  Natalie began to thank him as he took off his helmet until she stopped in utter shock.  She practically dove out of the cabin and into the arms of Patrick.  Suddenly the brave soldier broke down into tears.  Tearsof joy.  Mission accomplished Natalie he said.  Mission accomplished.

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JESS

Father Rebecca wakes up every morning and grabs her pail. She slips on her worn sneakers and her thin jacket. She always slowly goes down the broken stairs, trying not to wake u her mom. It was usually up to her to start up the farm because her mom was always so tired from working in town. Once Rebecca reaches the barn, she gives each animal a quiet hello. She feeds each one and takes their milk. Once she’s done, she puts on her only nice shirt and a pair of jeans. She washes the dirt from her pale skin and brushes back her blonde hair. After she’s dressed for the day, she gently wakes her mother. When her mother was finally awake, Rebecca decided to ask the question she always asks. “Mom, do I look like dad?” Rebecca’s mother looks up from the morning paper and answers yes. Her eyes have sadness in them, even when she smiles. Today she looks more tired than normal. “Where is he?” Her mother rolls her eyes and repeats what she always says. “It doesn’t matter.” Rebecca slowly got up from her seat and went to her room. She runs her hand along the chipped paint of her walls. She sits on her creaky bed. She picks up the old wooden frame that holds the only picture of her father. The wind is blowing in the background, he’s smiling. His blonde hair is in his face. The ocean is gleaming behind him. Why wouldn’t her mother tell her about her father? That’s all she ever wanted to know. The little her mom told her was that he lived in Massachusetts and worked for a plumbing company. She was sure that she would know who her father was just by looking at him. She slowly packed her few items into a duffle bag. She crept out the door after her mother was asleep. She started down her 403


dusty driveway and onto the road. She walked for hours along the dirt path leading to the highway. Her legs began to quiver; she knew she needed to stop and rest soon. She kept going, knowing the bus stop wasn’t too far down the road. She began to think of what it would feel like to have a dad. Towards dawn, a truck slowly pulled up to her. A man with dark hair and a shaggy beard stared at her through his cracked window. “You need a ride sweetie?” He asked with a twinkle in his eye. “No thanks.” She replied knowing that he had wrong intentions in the gaze he gave her. She walked faster along the road with her head down as he slowly drove by and down the road.  She finally reached the bus stop. She sat and rested her sore legs.         The bus pulled up, the bus that was going to change her life. She stepped on and started her journey. She spent a day and a half with stops and breaks. When the bus finally reached Plymouth, Massachusetts her heart beat increased. She was finally going to find her father and understand who she really is. When she stepped off the bus, the cool New England breeze caught her by surprise. She wrapped herself in her thin sweater and pushed against the wind. She had no idea where to start. She walked into a tourist info building and asked for a phonebook for Massachusetts. She began highlighting all of the plumbing companies. Her list was in the hundreds. Her mother did mention once that his last name was Doe. So she narrowed down her list to about 50. There were over twenty towns to search through and she knew that her mother would probably find her within a month. She decided to start with the closest business in Wareham. She attempted to hitch a ride with a stranger on the freeway but remembered her experience back home with the older man. She had only a few hundred dollars that she took from her mother. She never steals but she decided that she would be forgiven this one time. Her relationship with her mother was strong but Rebecca couldn’t stand not knowing. She knew her mother was protecting her but she couldn’t move on unless she knew. She left her mom a note that explained why she was leaving. She was already missing the sweet smell of her Louisiana home.

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The taxi finally arrived at the bench she sat at. She slid into the back seat and quietly said the directions of the plumbing company. After a half hour, the car finally pulled in front of the plumbing building. The lights were out on the building and the sky was dark. She didn’t even notice the time. She never thought about sleeping arrangements or food. Her stomach grumbled and she felt faint. Where would she sleep, it was freezing? Panic began to set in as she noticed that she was nowhere near another home or building. Snow began to fall heavily, soaking her clothes and chilling her to the bone. A man peaked out the window and saw a cold young girl hanging outside of his store. The man came outside and tapped gently on Rebecca’s shoulder.        “Excuse me miss, would you like to come in.”         Rebecca jumped, thinking she was alone. She slowly backed away, and gave the man a questionable look. The man understood that kids were taught not to talk to strangers so he gave her some space.         “I saw that you were out here in the cold, I figured that you would want to come in. I have some coffee brewed and a TV.” Rebecca looked at him for a long time. She debated going against what she was taught or to find somewhere else to go. She nodded her head and followed him into the store. She sat down at the table, looking down at the ground. The man disappeared into the other room. He came back with a steaming cup, placing it down in front of her. The room was barren, there were packed boxes shoved in corners.         “What’s your name?” the man asked. Rebecca told him her name without looking at him.         “So Rebecca, my name is George, what I’m really wondering is why your alone in front of my store.”  Rebecca stared at George for awhile. He was around 40, with black shaggy hair and specks of gray sprinkled throughout. His eyes were a warm blue, and he had many stress lines. She decided that she would trust him because she had no one else. She told him about not knowing her father and her journey here.         “Well I might be crazy, but I think I’m going to help you.” 405


Rebecca wasn’t sure what to think. He’s the first man she’s met in a long time and her mother always told her that she should never trust men. Whenever they went into town, men would whistle at her mother. Her mom would just glare at them and turn around. She told Rebecca that the only thing men are good for is a broken heart. But this journey was for new beginnings. She agreed to his offer of help. “Well there is a couch in the other room that I can set up. In the morning we can begin looking for your dad.” She fell asleep with a new hope. In the morning she showed him her list of companies and names. They figured out that they could accomplish this list within the month. Every day they would go from company to company and ask for a man with the last name of Doe. Each time a new man would come out and Rebecca would ask George to compare their faces. The only reason George was able to help Rebecca was because his company was being taken by the bank. He knew helping Rebecca would be better than trying to save his store.        The list began to dwindle and the month began to come to a close. George and Rebecca’s relationship blossomed and they became close friends. He took care of Rebecca when she ran out of money. George would pull the sheets over her when she fell asleep looking for information on her dad. George protected Rebecca from sketchy men when they walked back to the motel. George bought Rebecca a necklace that she was staring at in one of the stores they went to.         “Early birthday present.” George said when Rebecca asked what it was for. But the money George had brought with him was running low. He had to check them into shady motels. But Rebecca’s hope was running low and she thought she was never going to find her father. Each time they asked about her father, it was always a no. They were at their last company. George squeezed her shoulder and gave her a gentle push towards the door of the store. Rebecca slowly walked up to the front desk and asked the manager if he had a worker with the last name Carberry. A man came to the front desk. As George compared their 406


faces, he knew that he wasn’t her father. A tear rolled down Rebecca’s cheek, she turned towards George and ran into his arms. They thanked the manager and left. They got into George’s car and sat in silence. Rebecca felt lost; she had no other information on her father. George took out the list and found that they missed a company. He told Rebecca and they cheered. They drove to Boston and went to the entrance of their last hope. She walked in and asked the manager the same question she asked many times before. The man said there was a man with the last name Doe.        “I’m sorry Hun, but he passed away a few years back.” The man said. Rebecca’s heart cracked as she asked where the grave was. George drove them to the grave site. Rebecca slowly walked down the road towards the plot her father could be in. When she got there, she collapsed onto the snow covered grass. She cried for the father she never got to meet, the father she needed when her mother wasn’t enough. George placed his arm on her shoulder until she was done crying. “Rebecca I consider you like a daughter.” George whispered. “Thanks George.” “At the end of all of this, I will still be here for you.” “Really?” Rebecca asked. “Always.” He responded. “George you’re the closest thing I have to a father.” Rebecca shyly said. “I love you Becca.” George said. When they were back at the motel they were staying at, someone knocked on their door. Rebecca’s mom walked in with fury. She grabbed Rebecca and yelled at her for leaving and asked who this strange man was. Her mother looked at her with fury. Her mother told her how scared she was. Rebecca explained everything and her mother slowly calmed down. Her mother hugged her tightly for the first time in a long time. George introduced himself to her.         When they all left, her mother asked George if he would like to stay with them on their farm because she knew that he had nowhere to go. He agreed. 407


George brought home flowers each day. Her mother would ignore him and glare at first. He lived with them for a month when something happened. George and Rebecca’s mother began to look at each other differently. Something bloomed between them. Rebecca didn’t care, she loved George. To her George was her father. Rebecca’s mother started to stay up later with George and talked until morning. She laughed more. No longer did her mother hate men.

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Copyright

Š Katrina Kennett & Student Authors All intellectual property found in this book is the sole property of the authors who wrote it. cdix

Short Story Anthology : 2012-2013 World Literature  

Exploring Universal Human Experiences with Ms. Kennett

Short Story Anthology : 2012-2013 World Literature  

Exploring Universal Human Experiences with Ms. Kennett

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