Tungsten and The Happiness Factory

By: Robby Pettit

Detective Earl Smith and his son, Kevin, sat in the cop car. The world outside was green and plastic, awash in yellow sunlight. No bird chirped, no blade of grass moved. The wind stood still. The car’s radio provided a muffled soundtrack for the uncomfortable silence. Detective Smith’s mind was blank and wordless; he had run out of things to say to his son long before they had entered the car.
Detective Smith and his wife were in the painful process of an unacknowledged divorce where they still lived together yet were slowly drifting apart, like shards of a broken window grating against each other before the eventual shattering. Kevin was caught between them, slowly being pulled apart by their separating gravities. He and Detective Smith had only exchanged single-syllable words in the past few weeks.
Since today was take-your-kid-to-work day, and since his son got a free day off from school, Detective Smith’s wife had made a firm decision that he would accompany his dad to work that day. Detective Smith had not wanted to fight that morning, so he agreed.
Detective Smith shuffled the papers in his lap as he read them. They were that morning’s reports, picked up from the precinct, along with a donut, still uneaten.
Detective Smith made a noise.
“Kids’ve been going missing,” he said as one word. “So far 8 disappearances.”
Kevin said nothing. He looked at the grate in the center of the street. There was a crack down the center.
“Doesn’t seem to be a pattern. Some kids younger than you, some older.”
An animal made a noise somewhere far away.
“Maybe you know some of them. Here . . .” he shuffled the papers, “you know any girls named Cynthia? Cynthia Johnson? How about . . . Alex Keff? David Dundst? Alicia McHallen? The last girl was 6, you probably wouldn’t know her.”
A car drove by.
Detective Smith returned to the reports. “Looks like they all disappeared outside . . .”
He trailed off. Something in his expression changed, like a tomato souring in time-lapse. He sighed.
“What day is it today?” he asked.
“Friday,” responded Kevin. He didn’t meet his father’s gaze. “Why?”
Detective Smith put the car in gear. “That means they’re here today.”
The car edged out into the street and turned right on the suburban lane.
“Where are we going?” asked Kevin, sighing.
Detective Smith turned left into a neighborhood. “At every crime scene there were the same enormous runes dug into the earth.”
“What does that mean?”
Detective Smith shrugged as he pulled into the driveway of a house that looked like every other suburban house in every other cul-de-sac in the country. “It probably means aliens. But I don’t know, I’m usually wrong.”
Kevin looked his father in the eye. “What?”
Detective Smith got out of the car and walked toward the house. Kevin followed.
They stood in front of a thick mahogany door.
“Listen,” said Detective Smith, “you should probably stay in the car. The people who live here aren’t exactly . . . normal.”
“It’s take-your-kid-to-work day,” said Kevin, giving his father a blank stare. “Isn’t the whole point to take me with you?”
“Fine,” sighed Detective Smith. “Tungsten could use a friend.”
“Tungsten? What kind of a name is that?”
Detective Smith knocked on the mahogany door. There was a brief pause and the door swung open. On the other side was a boy, about Kevin’s age, with a pleasant face and eyes that protruded out of his head. They were blue and deep like the depths of the ocean, and they seemed to take in the world before them with such voracity it was like watching a hungry cow devour a patch of grass.
“Detective Earl!” the boy exclaimed.
Kevin flinched at the mention of his father’s first name.
“Hi Tungsten,” said Detective Smith, smiling softly. “Is your dad here?”
Tungsten shook his head. “Not today, sorry. We left him behind. He’s getting me a dog.”
“Like, from the pound?” asked Kevin.
Tungsten looked at him, and it felt as if Kevin were being memorized. “No, a real dog. One of the ones that roams the plains and drinks from the wild streams.”
Kevin was unsure how to respond.
Detective Smith looked defeated. “Oh. Well, tell him I’d love to talk to him when he gets back.” He turned to leave.
“Do you need his help?” asked Tungsten hopefully. “With police business?”
Foot on the driveway, Detective Smith turned back. “Yeah. Kids are going missing.”
Tungsten made a hmm noise. “Are there runes?”
Detective Smith nodded. “Yeah, there are runes.”
Kevin looked surprised. “How’d you know that?”
“I can help you,” said Tungsten, smiling.
Detective Smith looked uncomfortably at the ground. “Listen, you’re a great kid, Tungsten, and I really appreciate the offer, but I don’t want to get in trouble with your dad, and these things sometimes end up being—”
“I know at least half of what my dad knows, and my dad knows everything,” said Tungsten matter-of-factly. “Please, I can help. I want to help.”
Detective Smith sighed and put his finger on the bridge of his nose. “Fine.” He turned to his son. “I’m taking you home.”
“What?” exclaimed Kevin. “No!”
“I’m not having you involved in this. It’s dangerous.”
“Actually,” interrupted Tungsten, “it’s not. If my theory is correct, the aliens we’re dealing with are famously non-violent.”
“‘The aliens we’re dealing with?’” quoted Kevin, eyes wide in disbelief.
“I told you he was weird,” sighed Detective Smith.
“Well, if the aliens are non-violent, that means I can come along, right Earl?”
Detective Smith rolled his eyes. “I’m not taking you with us. End of story.”
“I don’t think Mom would be happy if I told her you ditched me on take-your-kid-to-work day,” hissed Kevin. Detective Smith flinched like he had just been stabbed.
“Fine,” he exclaimed, throwing his hands up in defeat. “Don’t blame me when you crap your pants in the portal.”
They drove to the crime scene, Detective Smith in the driver’s seat, Kevin in the passenger’s, and Tungsten in the back, face pressed up against the window, watching the identical houses blow past with childlike fascination.
The crime scene was in the center of a park. It was taped off, police cones making a sloppy circle around a ring of black, unintelligible scars on the green grass. A swing set and a jungle gym watched from afar as the group of three made their way past the circle of “CRIME SCENE: DO NOT ENTER” tape.
Tungsten bent down and inspected the violent black marks. It looked like someone had been lit on fire and tried to put it out by rolling in the grass. The dark marks had no pattern, no repeated symbols. Tungsten scrutinized the rune, his big Bambi eyes consuming every detail. Occasionally, he would take a piece of charred grass, put it on his tongue, swish it around his mouth as if it were wine, and spit it onto the ground.
“Who is this kid?” Kevin asked, confused and suspicious.
It was now Detective Smith’s turn not to respond.
Tungsten stood up suddenly. “I know what happened.”
He began to walk around the edge of the rune, picking up various twigs, pieces of grass, bundles of tape and the occasional police cone.
“Our diagnosis was wrong. It wasn’t a rune, it was a keyhole. We obviously don’t have the key anymore, but—”
Tungsten held up what appeared to be an arbitrarily constructed mess of grass and police tape wrapped around a twig with a police cone on top. He walked over to Detective Smith, took his shoulders, and guided him until he was standing on part of the rune.
He went to do the same to Kevin.
“Wait a minute,” said Kevin, backing away, “what is this for? What are you talking about?”
Tungsten frowned. “You don’t understand?” he asked, surprised.
“No, you eating grass and making modern art out of random stuff from the park doesn’t really make sense to me,” retorted Kevin.
Tungsten nodded. “I forgot,” he said explanatorily.
He moved Kevin into a position across from his father.
“You forgot what?” asked Kevin, begrudgingly accepting the boy’s instruction.
Tungsten looked him in the eye. “The way the world presents itself to you is not the same way it does to me. Dad always tells me that, but it’s so hard to remember something you don’t experience.”
Once again, Kevin didn’t know how to respond.
Tungsten placed himself so that the three of them were making a triangle on the edges of the rune. He held up the mess of cone, grass, twig and tape.
“It’s happening,” he said simply.
“Kevin, look at me,” said Detective Smith, meeting his son’s gaze. “What’s about to happen may be very  . . . alarming, but trust me, we are going to be perfectly safe.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Kevin.
“Just try not to freak out—”
The black marks suddenly glowed purple, and the next moment, the group of three found themselves pulled upward into the sky.
It was as if they were in an elevator moving at a million miles a second with no floor, ceiling, or walls. Kevin watched as the moon flew past and the earth shrunk to a blue marble beneath their feet. Space flew by them, so fast they could barely comprehend it. Occasionally, they passed a planet, there one second, gone the next. Kevin caught a glimpse of Jupiter and a smidgen of Saturn, but blinked and missed Uranus.
After a few seconds, Kevin realized he was still breathing.
He looked at his father, eyes wide in awe as he viewed the celestial world speeding past—awe, but not surprise. Tungsten, quite out of character, seemed bored with the incomprehensible majesties flying past. Instead, he was staring at Kevin, watching his reaction to the sudden change of scenery.
There was something separating the three of them and the cold vacuum of space. It was thin and glittered slightly, barely there, hard to notice, like trying to see if it’s raining outside without looking for a splash in a puddle. The thing surrounding them resembled a long, translucent silk curtain, like the skin of a bubble.
Kevin reached out and touched it. It flowed through his fingers like water, no texture, no sensation. His fingertips went through it and touched the outside world. It was cold and painful—
Detective Smith grabbed his son’s hand and pulled it back within the translucent veil. He shook his head.
“You don’t want to do that,” he explained. “Space and exposed skin don’t go well together.”
Kevin heard a noise and turned. Tungsten was laughing at him.
A series of planets he had never seen before passed by in the blink of an eye. After what felt like a thousand years and, at the same time, six seconds, the group of three suddenly landed.
The translucent silk curtain dissipated into nothingness. Somehow, they had landed feet-first, even though they had started facing the opposite direction.
Kevin looked around, opened his mouth to say something, and threw up.
Detective Smith stretched his arms and rolled his neck. “Just for the record, I warned you. You insisted on all of this, not me.”
Tungsten watched Kevin intently.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Kevin looked up at him. A brilliant purple sky shone behind Tungsten’s head. He could see two moons and another enormous planet in the distance.
“Oh wow. Wow. I . . . Okay, this is . . . huh . . . what, um, where are . . . wow . . .”
They stood in tall golden grasses that swayed in the breeze. The golden grass was smooth and parted around the three figures like water.
“We are on the planet of the Marsineans,” said Tungsten. “Obviously, the Marsineans are the one who made the passage to Earth.”
“They’re the ones kidnapping children,” said Detective Smith. “What are they?”
“Um,” interrupted Kevin, “is no one going to talk about how we just flew through space onto a different planet in a different galaxy? What’s that all about?”
“Tungsten and his family are different,” said Detective Smith. “They help us with . . . this type of thing.”
Kevin stared at the seemingly normal boy in front of him.
“I don’t understand any of this,” he whispered.
Tungsten was still staring at him intently. The shining purple sky, flowing golden grass, two moons and planet behind him not only didn’t catch his attention but seemed to actively bore him.
“Wait a minute,” hissed Kevin, turning to his father, “you’ve done this before, haven’t you? That’s why you weren’t freaking out. You knew about all of this—” he waved vaguely at Tungsten, the flowing grass, and the planet in the distance, “—and didn’t tell me?”
“I’ve only travelled through space a handful of times,” responded Detective Smith, “and mostly with Tungsten’s father. I didn’t tell you because Tungsten and his family are assets of the police department. They value their privacy.”
“So what are they, Uber for space travel?”
“We call them when we deal with situations we can’t handle, like this one,” explained Detective Smith.
“But only on the weekends,” added Tungsten. “Friday through Sunday. Including Sunday. And Friday.”
“Only on the weekends?”
Tungsten nodded. “We’re only visiting.”
Kevin shook his head. “This can’t be really happening.”
“To answer your question,” Tungsten said to Detective Smith, “the Marsineans are a telepathic, helium-based people. They feed off the plants native to this planet and are renown for being non-violent.”
“Non-violent, huh?” murmured Detective Smith. “Why would non-violent aliens kidnap children from Earth?”
“I think I might know why.”
Tungsten made his way through the silky, golden grass, beckoning them to follow. Soon, the ground rose up into a hill in front of them. After a few minutes of hiking, they made their way to the top.
“What is that?” exclaimed Kevin.
Beyond the hill was a valley filled with enormous trees. The trees had orange trunks and were each the size of a ten-story building. They were dripping with huge, juicy fruits the size of entire houses. The fruits were blue and resembled huge, sagging grapes bejeweled with glittering seeds.
“Those are the Marsinea trees. The Marsineans eat their fruit to survive.” Tungsten inspected the enormous orange trees and frowned. “There aren’t as many of them as there were last time I was here.”
“When was the last time you were here?” asked Kevin.
Now it was Tungsten’s turn not to respond.
“Hey, look over there,” pointed Detective Smith. There was a building, about the size of one of the trees, just a few football fields away. “That’s where the children must be.”
Confirming this fact was the sound of children screaming, echoing across the plain from the ominous building.
They made their way down the grassy slope, through a clump of the enormous orange trees, until finally they reached the building. It was nondescript and white. The only feature was a sliding door through which Detective Smith purposefully strode. Tungsten and Kevin followed quickly behind.
As soon as they entered, they realized what the noise they had heard was.
The room was filled with young children, mostly toddlers. The toddlers were laughing and playing, running around screaming, falling over, and getting back up again. Various toys were splayed across the floor. The walls were dotted with slots that opened every few seconds, revealing new toys to replace the ones the toddlers had been playing with. The toys that had been replaced were picked up from the floor and tossed into a chute in the corner, never to be seen again. The toddlers were completely enamored with the constant supply of new toys. They didn’t even notice the sliding door open and the three figures entering.
“This was not what I was expecting,” said Detective Smith, inspecting the chaotic scene in front of him.
“They’re . . . playing,” said Kevin. “Having fun.”
Detective Smith walked through the room, making sure to avoid stepping on any toddlers or their toys. There was another door at the opposite end of the room.
He pushed it open and entered. The room beyond was, once again, filled with playing children. This time, the children were older. The room was bigger than the first one, housing an enormous, complex jungle-gym system. There were monkey bars and slides, poles and bridges, pits full of bouncy balls and tall towers mounted with plastic binoculars. The kids, now around 6 or 7, were running around the playground joyfully. It appeared that a game of tag was in full effect. Somehow, the kids were having even more fun than the toddlers in the first room.
“I’m beginning to sense a pattern,” said Detective Smith, pushing through to the next room.
This room was full of kids age 10 to 15. It was filled with screens and complex gaming systems. Each kid had their own screen; some were watching TV, others playing video-games, others sleeping in luxuriously padded chairs with noise-cancelling headphones and eyeshades. There was a fully stocked snack bar filled with every candy and drink a kid could desire.
“This . . . this is like kid heaven,” Detective Smith said, confused. “Why would aliens abduct kids and bring them here?”
Tungsten nodded. “Just as I suspected.”
Kevin looked at him, then at his father. “Is there something I’m not getting?”
“The Marsineans, they’re a telepathic race. And their trees, there aren’t nearly as many of them as there used to be—they’re obviously having some sort of famine.”
“What’s your point?”
“Don’t you get it? The trees are telepathic, too. They run on happiness. It’s like bees and pollen, except with emotion.”
Detective Smith’s eyes opened wide. “That’s why they wanted the children. What’s purer than the happiness of a child?”
“They made a child-happiness factory,” stated Kevin. “Who would’ve thought.”
“So that’s why they need children from Earth. They bring them here and make them happy so they can grow more trees.”
“But you can’t just kidnap children,” Kevin added. “That’s not okay. We have to get these kids home, to their parents.”
“Why would we do that?” asked Tungsten.
Kevin and Detective Smith looked at him.
“It’s obvious that they’re happy here, and isn’t the prime goal of every human to be happy? Why would we take them away from that?”
“But they were kidnapped,” said Detective Smith. “Against their will. Separated from their families.”
“But their families won’t make them happy,” said Tungsten. “They’ll never come close to making them as happy as this place does. I mean, look at you two. You two seem to only make each other sad.”
Kevin’s eyes opened wide. Detective Smith cleared his throat.
The room was quiet, except for the deafening roar of children laughing and screaming.
“Sometimes there are more important things than being happy,” said Detective Smith quietly.
“But if it will satisfy them—” Tungsten stopped. He cocked his head to the side, as if listening for something.
His face turned white.
“What’s wrong?” asked Detective Smith.
“Dad found me a dog already,” Tungsten whispered. “He’s coming!”
There was an enormous rumbling noise followed by the boom of something breaking the sound barrier.
Instantly the three ran through the various rooms, pushing past squealing children and emerging out of the prison of happiness.
Searing through the purple sky was a meteor. Its fiery trail glowed a vibrant gold. The meteor seemed to be headed directly for them.
“I’m gonna be in so much trouble,” Tungsten whispered. “He’s mad. He only takes the meteor when he’s mad.”
The meteor was getting closer. Any second now it would hit them and completely obliterate them in a maelstrom of fire and flying dirt.
The golden meteor arched over them, so close Kevin could feel the heat of it singe the top of his head. It slammed into the ground a football field away, coming to rest at the base of one of the enormous orange trees.
Nervously, Tungsten made his way towards it.
The meteor was the size of a burial casket. It was made of lustrous silver metal that shone magnificently in the low purple light. The crater around it was still smoldering when Tungsten approached.
“Hey, Dad,” said Tungsten nervously.
The meteor cracked in two, both sides heaving apart. Sitting inside it was a man. He had sleek blonde hair and a tight face stretched over angular bones. He looked like the type of man who owned the world, and when he opened his eyes, it was like looking into the face of God right as He sent you to Hell.
“What do you think you’re doing, Tungsten?” boomed Tungsten’s father. His voice was deep and inhumanly resonant; Kevin felt as if he would die before its echo stopped ringing in his bones.
“You were gone; I was just trying to help them,” Tungsten explained quickly.
Tungsten’s father rose from the meteor, and in comparison, the rest of the planet shrunk away. “You should’ve waited for me. You’re not ready to do this on your own.”
“I am ready!” Tungsten exclaimed. Kevin opened his eyes wide. Tungsten’s father did not seem like the type of man you would want to yell at.
Tungsten’s father eyed Kevin. “Who is this?”
“He’s my son, Quasar,” said Detective Smith. “It’s bring-your-kid-to-work day.”
“This is no place for a child, Earl.”
“I’m not a child!” yelled Tungsten. “When will you accept that?”
“You are weak, Tungsten!” shouted Quasar.
There was power behind that voice. Kevin couldn’t help but instinctually tremble.
“I helped them,” declared Tungsten triumphantly. “I deciphered the rune, I found the missing children—”
Tungsten fidgeted, then, as if a fly had crawled into his ear. His eyes flicked between his father and the ground, somehow drawn to his father’s gaze against his will. Kevin had the odd feeling that a conversation was occurring that he was not able to hear.
Quasar frowned, opening his eyes wide. “You were going to leave the children here?!”
“They were happy!”
“I have raised a fool!”
“I’m not a fool!” Tungsten pointed accusingly at Detective Smith and Kevin. “I watched! I listened! Just like you told me to. All they want is to be happy, and that’s what the children are.”
Quasar’s voice changed, then. It was no more angry and furious, it was now full of sadness.
“There are so many things you do not know, Tungsten. So many things you do not understand.”
“I understand them,” Tungsten said quietly. “I understand what they want.”
“No,” whispered Quasar simply, “you don’t. They are more complex than you give them credit for. Sometimes, the things they want aren’t what they need. Sometimes, they themselves don’t even know what they want.”
Tungsten looked defeated. “Then how can I? What is the purpose of being here if we can never truly understand them?”
Quasar didn’t meet his son’s gaze. “That is something I cannot teach you. That is something you will have to find out for yourself.”
It was apparent that the argument was over.
Turning to Detective Smith, he said, “I’m sorry my son endangered you. It’s time to go home, and take the children with us.”
The translucent veil once more descended from above. It encircled the two fathers and their sons, lifting them from the ground and lofting them through the sky, across the universe, past the planets and the stars, past the galaxies and the comets, back to the small blue marble and the thin, gray moon.
They landed softly in the park.
“I’ve returned the children to their respective homes,” said Quasar matter-of-factly.
“Thank you, Quasar,” said Detective Smith.
“Tungsten and I will be returning home now,” he said, putting his hand on his son’s shoulders. Tungsten stared at the ground dejectedly. “My wife is making tacos. They’re quite delicious.”
“Tell her I said ‘hello’.”
“Will do.”
Quasar and Tungsten turned and began to walk out of the park.
“Hey, Tungsten!” yelled Kevin as they walked away.
Tungsten turned, looking at him in surprise.
“We should, I don’t know, hang out sometime.”
Tungsten’s face lit up.
“I’d like that!” he called back.
The father and his son disappeared around the bend.
“I didn’t think you liked him,” said Detective Smith. “You two aren’t the most similar people in the world.”
Kevin shrugged. “He’s a weird kid, but he took me to an alien planet today. I’ve never had a friend who could do that. Maybe I should, I don’t know, branch out or something.”
Detective Smith put his arm around him. Kevin flinched but didn’t pull away.
“That’s good, son. I’m proud of you.”

Robby Pettit is 16 years old. He lives in Excelsior, Minnesota

The Brick Wall

By: Hannah Paterson

The hope lingered on the wall, there, as I stood,
if I could take it, then I would.
Though it stayed there stuck like glue,
I pray that my hope had stayed there too.

I felt the inspiration in the sea.
I wished not to leave it be,
and though I left it for someone new,
I felt the hope inside me too.

I saw the love in the world.
I watched it as it danced and twirled,
and though I had enough for me,
I watched it spread from sea to sea.

Hannah Paterson is 12 years old. She lives in Sanford, Maine.


By: Michael Leonard

Life’s best metaphor is water
with its infinite possibilities.

You can be powerful
like a tsunami.

You can be beautiful
like a waterfall.

You can bring life to new places
like rain.

You can be easy-going
like a river through the countryside,

flowing where ever you get pulled

never taking a straight path,
with twists and turns not always making sense.

Certain beauty brought on by the path you carve.
Occasional rough spots; it’s not always easy to keep going.

You just have to decide what mark you want to make.
A simple creek or a roaring river.

Michael Leonard is 18 years old. He lives in Lake St. Louis, Missouri.


By: Morgan Fillis

Not just for marines
but for teens with crooked pasts.
A life-long sentence
filled with life-long weakness and flashbacks.
Flashbacks to the day he wouldn’t take no for an answer,
the day that daddy raised his fist,
or the day that your sister left with no goodbye.
Just so she was happy instead of you.

They say get over it, as if it's easy.
The pain,
the memories,
and the abuse are carved into our minds and onto our skin.

Get over it?
I wish I could.
Just try not to think about it.
But the silence is a killer too.
The instance played out in our heads
clear enough to believe it happened yesterday.
A cycle of fear that feels never ending
without a gunshot
or prescription meds.
A ticking time bomb
and a game of chance.
Sit back and watch the ptsd entrance.

Morgan Fillis is 15 and lives in Mount Angel, Oregon.

The Crush

By: Morgan Fillis

It's the first week of school and you already noticed him.
A boy with eyes as pure honey,
a smile that could light up the darkest caves,
and freckles spread across his face.
Somehow you were lucky enough for him to notice you
and the cute boy across the room was yours.
He looked at you and all you felt was the flutter of a dozen butterflies in your chest.

He soon started to explore your body.
You liked it,
for a while.
The feeling of his hands tracing every inch of you left you breathless.
He knew how to make you weak with one touch.
Soon you were entranced in his spell.
You were his and everyone knew it,
especially him.

The word “no” was quickly removed from his vocabulary
and you no longer enjoyed the things you did in the beginning.
His gentle touches turned into daggers grazed across your thighs,
his kiss felt like the flames of hell,
and his words no longer felt genuine but scripted.

His touch was an uncomfortable feeling so you pushed his hands away
but the bruises told you to stop.
You were weak,
and could no longer remember how to breathe.
It was as if he were holding your head under water for hours on end.

One day your shackles were loose and you finally left.
You were free from the toxic relationship.
You could breathe again.
Every breath you took felt crisp as a summer’s night
but you still didn't feel the same.
It was as if you forgot to pack your bags before leaving.
Something was missing and you desperately wanted it back.

Your dignity,
and happiness was left behind.
But it was more than that.
He took a piece of your soul from your body
just so you could never feel like yourself again.
You began to believe he was the only way you ever could feel like yourself again,
but were never foolish enough to go back.
You still see the cute boy across the room
but his hands are dirty and eyes no longer pure.
Everything has changed, and this is where a new story begins.

Morgan Fillis is 15 and lives in Mount Angel, Oregon.

The Indigo Sisters

By: Amrita Bhasin

During the fall of ninth grade, my mother signed me up for a local soccer league. I wasn’t too happy about it as I had planned to attend a prestigious art workshop. It didn’t help that I was not a natural at sports. I was an artist and nothing came to me quite like art did. But I respected my parents, so I pulled on my shin guards and went to soccer practice. The conditioning was horrible, and I found myself taking longer breaks than anyone else.

I was desperately slurping water from the fountain when a girl appeared next to me.
“Hey.” I wiped my mouth on my sleeve and looked up at the girl. She was tall and pretty, and her hair was a deep shade of blue.
“I like your blue hair.”
The girl’s mouth hardened. “It’s not blue. It’s indigo.”
“Indigo?” I had never seen anyone with indigo hair.
The girl’s eyes lit up. “Yeah. You see, every color in the rainbow gets acknowledged. Except for indigo.”
The girl sat down. “Did you know that there’s controversy over whether indigo is a color? Like how can indigo not be a color?”
I stared at her curiously. As an artist, my whole world was color, and I felt a tiny bit ashamed for not having ever given indigo this much thought.
The girl smiled as if she could read my thoughts. “I’m Jodie by the way.”
“I’m Serena.” I stared at her cleats. “Are you on the soccer team? I haven’t seen you around.”
Jodie shrugged. “I’m supposed to be. But then again, I’m supposed to be a lot of things.”
“Serena!” The coach’s raucous voice interrupted us. “You’ve been drinking water for ten minutes!”
I stood up. “I have to go.”
Jodie waggled her fingers at me, an amused smile on her face. As I went back to the soccer drills, I remember thinking that maybe, just maybe, this soccer season wouldn’t be so bad.

I didn’t see Jodie for a few weeks after that. I soon realized she didn’t like commitment. When she actually showed up, I abandoned soccer practice to sit with her.
“But, what do you really wanna do?” Jodie was lying on her back, staring at the clouds. She twirled a strand of indigo hair around her finger.
“What do you mean?”
“I know you hate soccer.” Jodie retorted.
I shrugged, thinking about what my parents would say if they knew I was ditching soccer practice. “You wouldn’t understand.”
A defiant look flashed in Jodie’s eyes. “Try me.”

So, I told her. I told her about my strict Indian parents and how they wanted me to pursue a career that would “make the family proud.” How I was expected to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. How my parents wouldn’t fund my education if I pursued the liberal arts.
Jodie listened. Then she told me her story.

Jodie was a rebel. She fought against everybody and everything. She had straight D’s and smoked cigarettes. She told me about her deranged mom and her deadbeat dad. Jodie was the one taking care of her younger brother.  I knew my parents would kill me if they knew I was hanging out with someone like her.  In a strange way I admired her. I never told her, but she knew. She was a sophomore, and it felt good to talk to a cool, older girl.

Soccer practice became our hangout. It was odd how we bonded over something that we both despised. We were so different-- yet we both saw indigo in the world and that meant something.

At school we didn’t talk. Jodie hung out with the rough crowd and I knew it would hurt both our reputations if we were seen together.
“Serena!” My friend Elise Cho caught up with me outside geometry class. “Where have you been?”
I shrugged. Ever since I’d met Jodie, I hadn’t really given my other friends much thought.
Elise narrowed her eyes at me. “I heard you’ve been hanging out with that girl.” She pointed to Jodie and her friends in line at the snack shack. “She’s not exactly good company, if you know what I mean.” Elise wrinkled her nose in distaste, as if Jodie was a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of her shoe.
“She’s a good friend. And I don’t think you should judge people so quickly.”
Elise looked embarrassed. “Oh okay. Hey, what did you get on that math quiz?”

That weekend, I was calmly working on a painting in the garage. I was engrossed in painting an aquatic scene, trying to make the water shimmer by adding a white undertone. I was relaxed; the tick of the clock was the only other sound in the room.  Humming along, I squeezed the acrylic tube, but nothing came out. I realized that I was out of the pearl color I was so fond of. I combed through my pile of paints, looking for any other white color, like ivory or cream. There was nothing. My wooden paint box remained a rainbow of crimson, coral, amber, turquoise and lavender.  I spied my old art box sitting on a dusty shelf. Wiping my hands clean on a cloth, I rummaged through the box looking for any white paints, but I couldn’t find any.

There was one more box on the next shelf that I could try. As a last thought, I lifted the lid. I flipped through folders and binders. One of the folders had my dad’s name printed on it. Curious, I opened the folder. Inside were pages after pages of poems. One poem was printed on glossy, expensive paper. It was stapled to an old-fashioned certificate that read “Congratulations on winning first place in the 10th annual Greenville County Poetry Contest.”  I scanned a few lines of the poem. It was something about a snowman melting in the sun. The poems were obviously written on a typewriter, and my dad’s signature was printed at the bottom. I was startled. I couldn’t picture a practical Silicon Valley engineer like my dad writing poetry.

Somewhat curious, I climbed the steps looking for him. My dad was in his office, typing on his computer. I cleared my throat.
“Oh, Serena.” My dad looked tired.
Wasting no time, I held up the folder.
“I found this.” My dad’s eyes widened in surprise. He took the folder.
“Wow, I haven’t seen this folder in years. Where did you find these?”
I shrugged. “In the garage.”
My dad looked happy.
His eyes lit up, as he came across the snowman poem. “I remember this. When I was in college, I entered this local contest. I never thought I would win.”
“You wrote poems. A lot of them.” I stated pointedly.
My dad looked at me but didn’t say anything.
“Why don’t you support my art?” I uttered softly.
My dad stood up.
“Serena, it’s not that I don’t support your art. I just want you to be practical. I loved writing poetry, but I was an immigrant in a new country. I couldn’t make a living at it. The liberal arts are a risk. You don’t want to be a starving, homeless artist,” my dad spoke gently, “it isn’t realistic for a career.”
My dad pulled me into a hug. “I do support you, Serena. I just want you to be pragmatic.”
I smiled happily. “Thanks Dad.”
My dad and I continued to talk. He agreed that it was okay to sign up for a painting class at school for next year. I felt better after talking to my dad. Maybe he did understand me.

Sometime in early October, Jodie asked if she could come over to my house. I made sure my parents weren’t home because I didn’t know how they would react towards her.
“Nice place.” Jodie waltzed through the door. The strong scent of chicken curry and masala wafted through the house. I cringed.
“So, where are your paintings?” Jodie asked.
I led her down the steps into the garage. I nervously watched her eyes scan over the dozens of canvases occupying the room. Jodie roamed around, cautiously touching my work. Then, she took out a cigarette.
“Jodie! You can’t smoke in here! My parents will kill me!” I squealed anxiously. She waved me off.
“Jodie!” That’s when I saw her expression. Her eyes widened in shock. Her unlit cigarette dropped to the ground.
She gaped at a painting I had drawn of her. I cringed, embarrassed. I’d completely forgotten it was in the garage.
“Oh my god is that me?” Jodie turned to me incredulously, tears in her eyes. “Nobody has ever considered me worthy enough.”
I shrugged, flustered.
“Serena, you can’t ever stop painting. You are really good at this.” Jodie’s eyes were blurred with tears. “Serena, you have to promise me.”
I was shocked. Jodie didn’t usually cry. I had never seen her get emotional over anything.
“Okay.” I whispered.
Jodie picked up her cigarette. “Come on, let’s get some frozen yogurt.” She was still mesmerized as we left the house.

A few days later, my friend Elise Cho came over to my house to work on a project for biology. We sat on my bed, typing away on our laptops.
“Have you thought about what classes you want to take next year?” Elise asked.
I shrugged. “I was thinking about taking a painting class.”
“What about college?” Elise looked up at me in shock.
“What? Don’t you have to take academic classes like computer science or AP English?”
“I don’t think you should base everything on college. We’re only freshmen,” I responded.
Elise looked sad. “There’s so much pressure though, especially from my parents. Surely you must be feeling it too?”
I turned the volume down on my headphones. “But, you have to do what you want, Elise.” I replied gently.
She nodded wistfully. “I guess. It’s just so hard sometimes, you know?”

Two days later, Jodie’s mom was placed in a mental hospital. I tried to get Jodie to talk about it, but she refused. I didn’t know what to do except be there for her. A couple of my friends on the soccer team judged me for hanging out with Jodie, but I didn’t care. Jodie spent the tips she earned from her waitress job to take us to the local Guild Theater. We watched old art movies.

Hanging out with Jodie made me happy. She never pressured me to smoke or made fun of how much I cared about my grades. With her, I could be myself. I didn’t have to compete for higher grades, like I did with my friends. I didn’t have to feel bad about being mediocre at soccer, like I did with the soccer team. I didn’t have to feel like I had to live up to someone’s high expectations, like I did with my parents. When it was just the two of us, sitting in the park, I felt like myself.

One Monday, I was called into the counselor’s offices to select classes for sophomore year.
“So what classes are you considering?” Ms. Jenkins leaned back in her chair.
This was it. I took a deep breath. “I want to take the painting class.”
Ms. Jenkins was aghast. “Painting? Are your parents okay with that?” The way she said it made me sound like a teenage rebel.
“Yes.” I tried to stay calm.
“I really think you should do the AP computer science course. It will look really good on a college application.” Ms. Jenkins turned towards her computer and started selecting the course.
“Ms. Jenkins?”
“Mmm hmm?” She was about to click the submit button.
“I’m taking the painting class.”
Ms. Jenkins turned around with an exasperated look on her face. “Serena, I think you should go home and have a conversation with your parents about this. You don’t want to do something you’ll regret.”
I stood up and walked out of her office, leaving Ms. Jenkins in shock. I smiled, knowing that Jodie would be proud.

A couple of weeks later, there was an accident.
The coroner said she had drowned in a swimming pool. She’d been drinking.
I remember crying. I remember endlessly sobbing. I remember screaming. For seven days, I didn’t leave the house. I locked myself in the garage and painted. I hurled tubes of paint at the canvas. I slashed line after line like my paintbrush was a knife. I threw away all my paints except for indigo.
My parents didn’t understand. My friends didn’t understand. Nobody knew Jodie.
They didn’t even have a funeral. She was quietly buried in a local cemetery. I found out from the newspaper.
I was Jodie’s only friend.
I felt completely alone. I hated Jodie for leaving me, and I hated myself for hating her.
My parents worried about me. January led to February, and February led to May.
It took me a long time to understand that Jodie wasn’t coming back. She was my guardian angel, and I never got to thank her.

I passed my days in the art room at school. I befriended the teacher, and she let me paint there every day at lunch. I stopped being the perfect daughter. I still got A’s, but I was no longer quiet and shy. If I didn’t agree with something, I spoke out. If somebody said something rude about my clothes, I didn’t cower away. I lost most of my friends after I quit the debate team and signed up for art classes. But, I quickly made new friends, many who were more inclined to the arts, like me. Painting in the art room, I felt like I truly belonged.
It’s been four years since Jodie died.
I took her advice and applied to The Rhode Island School of Design. My parents weren’t too happy about it, but even they could not resist the full-blown scholarship I was awarded. In a few weeks, one of my paintings will be displayed at a prestigious art gallery in Providence. It’s titled “Indigo Sisters.”

Every year, I visit Jodie’s grave. I always lay flowers; they’re never blue and always indigo.
I like to believe that Jodie wasn’t a bad person. She was just too lost to ultimately find her way back. I will always regret the fact that she helped me find my way, while I could not save her. Without Jodie, I doubt I ever would have learned to value what I want from life.  I smile, remembering the time I stood up to Ms. Jenkins. That one day now seems so far away.

I doubt I’ll ever meet anybody as spontaneous and rebellious as Jodie. She taught me to see the world not as blue, but as indigo. Jodie and I, we’ll always be the Indigo Sisters.

Amrita is 17; she lives in Menlo Park, California.

I'm Done

By: Laura Bond

If all men are created equal,

Why are people discriminated for their race or gender?

Women are told to cover up

Women are told to be modest.

Who told the men to chill and that we aren’t toys to play with?


Some men are like dogs

Barking at girls

Telling us how pretty we are when we don’t know them

Making us very uncomfortable

I’m done with the stereotypes

I’m done being catcalled on the street.

I’m done being afraid of my body.


If this is “the home of the free,”

Why did gay people only recently get the right to marry?

Cars screaming to a stop so people can yell discriminating words.

How would they like it if I complained?

But I don’t


I’m done with being scared

I’m done with being provoked

I’m done with walking alone and being scared.

I hate being bullied for who I am.


Call me fat,

Call me ugly


I don’t care.


Say what you like

I’ll just accept it!

I am fat.

Fabulous and terrific.

I’m done with the hate.

I’m done with the hurt.


Why are we not all seen as the same?

We are on the inside.


Laura is 14 and lives in Wyoming.

In The Stars

By: Sara Sonomura

I’ve been sleeping with the nightlight unplugged,

With a note on the rocking chair

That says I’m dreaming of the life I once loved

So wake me if you’re out there

“Angels” by Owl City


*    *    *


The night sky had never looked emptier.


“You’re really not giving me much to work with, Aimee,” I muttered, adjusting the lens of my telescope for the fifth time. I sighed, frustrated, and let out a tired laugh. “You always made this look easier than it is.”


So many nights had been spent on this balcony with its crudely painted walls–an attempt to cover up the chipped gray behind it. Aimee had excitedly proposed the idea one night as we were lying on the floor of the balcony, staring at the sky as she pointed out constellations I pretended to see. I mostly just watched Aimee. She would eagerly tap my shoulder every few seconds and dive into an animated explanation of what seemed to be every speck of the galaxy. She was incredibly passionate about it all. Even with my limited knowledge of astronomy, I couldn’t help but get caught up in her infectious enthusiasm.


“You want to paint it a dark blue then? To match the sky?” I asked, gesturing above us.

“No, no, not like that.” Aimee shook her head emphatically. “A light blue. Something bright and pretty and sparkling, like your eyes!”

I smiled. My eyes were green. Aimee was colorblind.

“That sounds perfect, Aimee.”


I traced my hands along intricate maps of stars that Aimee had drawn on the walls, now faded. Aimee had been gifted an old telescope and some books on astronomy from her grandmother that summer, and she had taken ambitiously to stargazing. My parents had been mildly horrified at first by Aimee’s wall art, but I defended Aimee, and when they saw the attention to detail that she had put into it, they were amazed, and they actually encouraged Aimee to keep at it.


I turned my attention back to the night sky and dejectedly put away my telescope. I wasn’t going to find what I wanted tonight. 2:37am glowed red on my alarm clock. Aimee had always said that the stars were prettiest after midnight. A light knock on my door pulled me from my thoughts.


“Mira?” My mom stood at the door and paused for a moment, unsure, searching for her words carefully. “Are you doing okay?”

I continued to put away my telescope, my back turned to her. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“I know…” She took a deep breath. “I know that Aimee was important to you–she was important to all of us.”

My grip tightened around the telescope case.

“Mira, honey, it’s been five years.” She laid a hand on my shoulder gingerly. “I know you’re still hurting, but the closure you’re looking for… you’re not going to find it by staying up every night looking at the stars.”

I gritted my teeth and willed myself not to turn around. I wasn’t about to have this argument again.

“Mira…” she sighed.

After waiting a few moments, she finally left, pausing in the doorframe in hopes of a response before walking away. I sank down onto my bed and placed my face in my hands.


“What do you think happens when we die?” Aimee asked one night as we looked at the stars.

I yawned, turning to look at her. The bruise on her cheek had turned a deeper shade of purple.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged sleepily. “I’ve never really thought about it before.”

“Well, I want to be reborn as a new star… I think. Or maybe a meteor?” she pondered aloud. “Do you think I could become an entire planet?”

“If you want to,” I said.

“Well, whatever happens, I just know I’ll visit you.”

“Okay,” I said, smiling warmly at the thought. “But what if I die before you?”

Aimee frowned. “You’re not allowed to do that.” She turned her attention back to the sky, humming curiously to herself. “Maybe we could both become stars?”


She rambled on, and I closed my eyes, eventually drifting back to the sound of silence. I tilted my head up to Aimee. She was staring up at the sky, the usual look of wonder replaced with something quieter, more somber.



“You would never forget me, right, Mira?”

“No, never.”


Aimee stared intently at me, looking to see if I was telling the truth. Contented, she nodded once and gave her usual smile.

“Right, of course,” she said.


The memories kept coming, and I stood up from my bed, restless. I could picture every smile so clearly in my head. My hands were already reaching for the telescope. I set it up just like Aimee had taught me. Almost five years ago, I had pleaded tirelessly with my mom to let me buy it. After working many, many odd jobs throughout the neighborhood, I came up with the money myself and bought it without her knowledge. When my mom saw me come home with a telescope in hand, she stared at it with a pained expression. I didn’t give her a chance to say anything about it. I ambled past her to set it up on the balcony, but I could hear her call up my dad from downstairs, saying something about a need to cope.


“Will this help her?” her voice echoed up the staircase. “I just… I don’t want this to set her back. It took months for her to even be able to speak to anyone again.”

I continued to fiddle with the telescope.

“Yes, yes. I know you’re right, but I’m still worried.”


I splashed my face with water. The sun was just rising, and I figured it was time to give up on sleep. The sun glowed faintly on my desk. I picked up the note that lay on top of it.


Dear Mira,

You’re my best friend forever and ever. Let’s continue to look at the stars together for a long time, okay? I love you endlessly, far beyond any galaxy I’ve ever known.

- Aimee


The note had come with an old birthday gift and was decorated with a picture of the stars, not unlike the map drawn on the balcony walls. Tears dripped down my face. It had been five years, five whole years, and it still hurt exactly the same.



Sara is seventeen and lives in Honolulu.

The Bird

By: Eli Hoban

Sitting in solitude,

the solemn bird is eyeing

his former paradise.

He endures the scent of rotted

wood and stale grass,

facing the repercussions

of the politics

of nature.



After the bombs

of cold have flown over, leaving

mushroom clouds

of snow and taking

the leaves of the

trees as speechless



There is nothing left but

a view of his

former paradise.


On the face of the seemingly

tangled trees and

dead woods,

he can read the



“It’s time to leave.”


So he flies from

this war zone in

search of another

soon to come.


Eli is a seventeen year old from Missouri.

The Worst Cowgirl in the Wild West of Words

By: Sophie Hood

Reading is easy, and reading is fun—but only for other kids. Not for you.


For you, words double, fracture, and run right off the page before you have time to

read them. You go to ocular therapy twice a week to learn how to corral words onto the

page and spend hours in a dark room staring at a beam of light. It doesn’t seem to work.

You’ve been in the lowest reading group since you were old enough to notice that

teachers were splitting kids into groups. You’ve accepted that words are wild animals and

your inability to tame them will keep you in the “fun group” or the “go at your own pace

group.” You protect your little ego with the flimsy explanations adults have given you

over the years about the difference between reading speed and reading aptitude. You tell

yourself that the ocularly typical kids are no better than you are and that you’re special

for knowing the word “ocular” at all. This year, third grade, the rift between the

“advanced group” and “fun group” becomes painfully obvious. The bookshelf for

advanced kids is filled with hardback books two inches thick, with inside covers

describing complex characters, and teeming with all those words you can never seem to

catch. The fun section, on the other hand, has books made of cardboard so toddlers can

teethe on them. Your teacher gives the class five minutes to pick a book from their

respective sections to read for homework. Kids shout, holler, and fight over books. You

are not one of these kids. You stick to the back lacking the enthusiasm to even pick a

book at random. When the five minutes are almost over and most of the other students

have taken their seats, a book catches your eye: The Secret Garden, it’s glossy spine

sticking out slightly on the top shelf -- the advanced shelf. You reach up and grab it; at

the moment you aren’t fully sure why, but once you sit at your desk, it somehow feels

right. At home, you will not be rushed or distracted. You will take your time to pin every

word to the page, read them, and prove that you have the aptitude of an advanced reader.


When Mom notices The Secret Garden in your backpack after school, it feels

even more right. Your smile grows wider and wider as she tells what a good choice you

have made and that she’s glad you’re challenging yourself. After that shower of

positivity, you rush to show the book to Dad. While Mom’s opinion matters to you

greatly on many subjects, Dad is the reigning authority on reading. Nothing rivals his

love for reading except maybe your love for him, and you know he wants you to love

reading just as much as he does. While your sight has improved, your love for

reading has lagged. You blame it on the boring and simple books filled with

weakling words that are easily caught. Only runt-of-the-litter words are offered to you:

The Worst Cowgirl in the Wild West of Words. You aim to change your title when you

triumphantly drop The Secret Garden in Dad’s lap. After explaining your choice to him,

he is overjoyed. He too is glad you are taking the challenge. He asks you to analyze the

book for meaning and discuss it with him as you read through it. Your parents were far

more apathetic about the juvenile books you read in the past, and their current excitement

confirms that you made the right choice. Mom and Dad, as an almost nightly ritual, sit on the bed and read together


. They often invite you to read with them but you are usually


disruptive to their quiet reading environment when your simple books lose your

interest. That is all going to change tonight. The Secret Garden in hand, you march into

their bedroom and nestle yourself in between your parents, ready to love reading, ready to

show them that you love reading.


You flip to the creamy first page of the book, and, having skipped the introduction

so that it looks like you’ve already made progress, you look like a real reader. The spine

of the book delicately placed on your knees, you feel a shock of excitement run up your

spine. As you look down at chapter one, the words seem smaller than you’ve ever seen

before. You decide it won’t be a problem and bring the book closer to your face. Just as

the words begin to go into focus, they vanish. Your heart sinks as the words double and

dance right off the page. You look up from your book to your parents; Dad is already

immersed in his book, but Mom looks back at you and smiles. That smile motivates you,

and you return to the pages. You focus hard and the words return. You begin to read, but

as you go, it gets harder. Tilting your head to one side seems to make the words stay in

their pens. Then when that isn’t enough you close one eye, but even that one canted eye

can’t make the words take orders. All of this work has only brought you to page three.

The meager progress seems impossible. It’s humiliating. You don’t love reading. You

can’t. How could you like this?


You don’t want to tell them though. You start turning the page every once in

awhile without reading. Your dad jokes that you’re reading very quickly and asks if

you’re skimming. You freeze and say yes but that you’re going to go back to actually

reading now. You stay on that one page for a while. You then look to the side and begin

to keep track of how fast your parents turn their pages and devise a system. When Dad

turns the page, wait fifteen seconds and then turn yours. If Mom turns her page, within

those seconds start the counting over and turn your page fifteen seconds later. You are

proud of this system; it took a great deal of trial and error for no one to question your

pace. Now everything seems normal; everything is normal. Everything is perfect here

between Mom and Dad, in the warmth of their bed, reading.


My imitation of reading over time evolved into actual reading, but for years the

act of reading was still a kind of imitation. My ocular issues robbed me of discovering

my own reasons to read, so I found reasons outside of myself. Reading felt pointless, and

not reading felt shameful, which left me in a Catch 22. My drive to read was entirely

external which left me empty. I didn’t find internal motivation until I was much older and

wasn’t expecting to.


You have some free time after school, a rarity considering your sophomore year

of high school is in full swing. All you have left for homework is reading a couple

chapters of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and you know your teacher won’t check annotations,

so it will take no time at all. With the prospect of binge-watching Buffy the

Vampire Slayer in the back of your mind, you crack the matte spine, hold the pulpy pages

in hand, and begin to read. You have a rather ugly copy of the book with extremely brittle

covers and pages poorly pasted together. The words line up for you, row by row, crystal

clear, and perfectly tame. There is no novelty in this, clarity in language has become the

norm, so the book lays like a dead thing in your lap. With each page you read to your

amazement, both you and the book come to life. You finish the pages you were assigned

and continue on in the book; with each passing word you are enveloped, entranced, and

invigorated. You find sanctuary from the stress of everyday life as Winston and Julia

find sanctuary in their apartment above the antique store. Each time you read you do it

without thinking about others. You are reading for yourself, and for the first time, you

know what reading is.

Sophie is 17 and lives in California.


By: Tempest Erykson

I wanted
to be beautiful.
Isn’t that
how all the stories start?
But when he says,
“you’re beautiful,”
it doesn’t feel
like a compliment.
And when he shouts,
“hey there,
it sounds
like a threat.
Call me
but I don’t want
to be beautiful.

Tempest Erykson is 13 and lives in Seattle, Washington