Fiction



A Bad, Bad Day

By: Luke Turner

A Bad, Bad Day

 

 

“It’s time to get up, Tim!" yelled Tim’s mother from the downstairs level of their two-story house in Raleigh, North Carolina. “You’re going to be late for school!”

 

“Fine,” Tim groaned as he rolled over.  Klonk! Tim didn’t realize he had been on the edge of his bed when he rolled over, making him fall to the floor, hitting his head hard on his nightstand.

“Ahhh!” Tim moaned as he rubbed his head, which he could feel was swelling into a goose egg.

 

He stood up wearily and hobbled to his bathroom.  He tried to lay down his hair but it would not lie down and on top of that, it was pushed to the wrong side.  It stayed like this no matter how much water he put on it, and his goose egg was just making it look worse.

 

Tim hobbled downstairs and looked at the clock. It was already time to leave, and Tim hadn’t even had time to get ready.  He threw on his hoodie, got himself a bowl of cereal to go, and ran outside to the car where his mom was waiting. Off they went on the 10-minute drive to Tim’s local school. As they pulled up to the front of the school, Tim, while reaching to get his backpack, spilled the excess milk from his bowl of cereal all over himself.  “How could this day get any worse?" Tim thought to himself.

 

If only he knew how much worse it was going to get.

 

Tim, with a goose egg, sticking up hair, and milk all over him, walked into school to find his friends waiting for him.  They immediately started laughing. Tim tried to laugh it off with them, but inside he was crying.

 

Tim went to his first period class, math, his most dreaded class.  “What a coincidence that I have my worst class first on this already horrible day,” Tim thought.  Yesterday, the students had taken a big unit math test worth 200 points. The first thing on the to-do list for his teacher was to hand back the graded tests.  Tim got his back first. He psyched himself up and then flipped over the paper slowly. In big red marker, it said “F”. Tim slammed his head down on the desk, right where he had hit it on his nightstand.

 

Tim’s next few classes before lunch were not nearly as bad as he thought they would be.  Other than the fact that the teacher had to tell him to wake up and the fact that everyone kept smelling something like spoiled milk, they were actually okay.  At lunch, it was pizza. Tim hated pizza more than anything else at the school. How fitting for this day. Even though he didn’t want to, he got it on his plate. There was really nothing else to eat, so he had no choice. He sat down with his friends, who continued to make jokes about his hair and the milk that was all over him.  Tim took a few tiny bites of the crust on his pizza. As he got up to throw his tray away, someone bumped into him, causing red pizza sauce to get all over his already milk stained shirt. Tim just shook his head.

 

After science, which actually went okay for Tim, except for the fact that he had milk and pizza on his clothes, was his last class of the day, physical education.  Tim got dressed out in his uniform. They were playing the infamous game of dodgeball. Of course, in the first game they played, Tim was looking to peg someone when out of nowhere, he was pelted in the head, right on the same goose egg.  Tim was just done. He lay there until the bell rang and he got to go home.

 

As Tim lay in bed that night, he knew, or at least he hoped, that tomorrow would be better than today... And then his mom popped in and informed him that tomorrow morning, he was getting braces.  

Great.

 

Luke Turner, 13, Vestavia Hills, Alabama, USA

 

 


The Billy Goats

By: Kiana Mpala

 

Once upon a time, there were three greedy goats. One goat was strong and large, one weak and average, and the smallest, clever and tiny. The large goat was called Larger, the average goat was named Medusa, and the tiny goat was known as Timothy. Larger and Medusa were greedy and ate all the lush, sugary grass but they were still hungry. In the distance, they could see a field full of grass.

“Let’s go!” said Timothy happily. He knew there was a stupid troll living under the bridge leading to the field, and he was tired of his idiotic siblings. So they set off to see the field.

Timothy led the way. He was a leader in the making. Medusa and Larger were the noisy lot, they couldn’t keep quiet.

 

“I can’t wait to eat the delicious grass and sweet shrubs,” said Medusa greedily.

 

“You won’t eat anything!” exclaimed Larger, “Moi, will eat all the grass and shrubs!” The two argued the whole way to the bridge. Timothy was happy when they arrived at the bridge and was tired of the arguing pair. He wanted them to be gobbled up by the troll.

 

“We’re at the bridge!” whispered Timothy.

“Why are you whispering?” screamed Larger. Timothy was broken. Silly Larger had blown their cover! Well, his cover anyway.

“Who dares come on my bridge?” boomed a voice. This was the first time Timothy had ever seen Medusa and Larger so quiet and scared that you could even hear a pin drop.

Suddenly, a big, ugly troll emerged from the darkness. “You nice, juicy goats, that’s who!” The troll was green and had warts everywhere! Timothy took his chance and ran.

He managed to get past the troll and made it to the land of his dreams.

“Aaaaaaaagh!” He could hear the screaming of his siblings being eaten. He felt bad, but was happy that he had finally gotten rid of them. So, he lived happily ever after.

 

Kiana is 10 years old, attending St. Benedict Catholic School in Chatham, United Kingdom.

 

 



In My Head

By: Keya Shah

I drive my bruised fingers and short clipped nails deep into my palm, slowly drawing in big gulps of the musty summer air. I’m counting to ten, grinding my teeth together, and fighting the rising urge to scream. My eyes snap up to the passage in front of me, and I watch the inked black notes reform themselves into a colossal, looming mountain of horror. Fear squeezes at my chest and threatens to take control of my arms to tear the music into pieces. Release. My hands drop loosely to my side and I lean over and pick it up, setting the polished, worn wood under my chin for the millionth time. The passage lies, unassumingly innocent, before my glazed eyes.

Just before I begin, voices start to bounce around in my head; arguing back and forth. Anxiety is dressed in a simple summer dress, the picture of innocence. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that she has been following me around for days and days, whispering unkind words into my ears. When I finally turn around to face her, her eyes are ugly black pits, sharp knives that stab me in the stomach and twist back and forth, causing me to crumple at the knees and succumb.

Confidence is harder to grasp. I think I am holding onto her, but she’s dressed in a slippery silver cloth. For some, she is simply a part of them, integrated into their person. But for others, oftentimes their hands will slide straight through her, only to find her dissipated into mist and replaced by two ugly black pits staring right back at them

The two turn to face one another and Confidence speaks, loudly and firmly, “How could you have let this happen? They’re just blots of ink on a page.”

Anxiety replies, lazily filing her jet black nails into razor sharp points, “She should have realized that she’ll never get there. It’s better she quit now rather than later.”

“You know,” Confidence counters, “one day she’ll pick up her instrument, glance around her in search of your foolish mountain, and she’ll realize that the mountain is finally under her very own two feet.”

Anxiety simply glances away.

I press my fingers firmly to my temple, commanding the voices to cease. Taking yet another deep breath, I smile to myself. Within seconds, brilliantly pure sound floats into the air. It dances around the room like millions of sparkling fairies with colorful ribbons twirling in their wake. It wraps around the bookcases, under the bed, and bounces off the freshly painted walls. The musty breeze in the room slips out from underneath the door, replaced by the magnificent sound of music. Before I know it, I find myself among these fairies and their ribbons, with my own music as a warm blanket wrapped around me, filling me with an incomparable euphoria.

Keya Shah is 15 years old; she lives in Allen, Texas.



They Were Both Soldiers

By: Alexandra Adams

They Were Both Soldiers
by Alexandra Adams

They had decided on IHOP, hoping that a delightful breakfast for dinner would ease their stress, the sorrow and dread that had been produced after the realization that it was Sunday, a school night, and there were still piles of memorization and work ahead of them.
The car screeched to a stop, a thick smell of gas dissipating throughout the brutal air, as the roaring engine was silenced, and the only sounds penetrating the tranquility of the dusk were the faint conversations of families, ordinary customers, strolling down the parking lot towards their cars.
Food. Syrup. Greasy bacon. It clogged their heads, clear, poisonous images of irresistible, hot plates making them dizzy, as they unbuckled their seat belts and studied their destination outside the iced glass of their windows, their hunger urging their legs and wrists.
Agony coursed through her back as she pushed the door open, emerging from the cozy warmth of her family’s vehicle and took her first breath outside, wondering if her heart was trying to explode through her chest, with the desperation to escape the cold as well. The blinding light that shot out in tiny beams from the large windows of the friendly IHOP restaurant illuminated the parking lot, which eased her discomfort slightly, knowing that she could see the ground, the damp road, the slimy white lines and filthy blotches of gum, which lowered her chances of stumbling and tripping, blindly, like a fool.
Sharp, powerful blows of the untamed gust pinched her cheeks as she slammed the door of the bulky, ancient Escalade, her breath visible, as if she were smoking one of her father’s cigars, like little clouds of smoke, each time she exhaled, numbly. Unable to feel her fingers, she reached out for her opposite’s arm, her mother, who looked just as uncomfortable as she did, her eyes bulged as if someone were strangling her, her jet black curls whipping across her face, the moonlight shimmering above them creating thin streaks of blue...as if a chunk of the night sky had fallen and piled itself, like a ton of black sheep’s fur, onto her head.
The young, teenage girl, who felt as if she would pass out right in front of the Jeep she and her mother were approaching, rolled her eyes, unable to fathom why her ski jacket, and waterproof gloves were unable to give any sort of warmth within the cocoon of icy air crushing her chest.
“M...maybe if we run, it’ll...it’ll be easier?” she asked her mother, feeling as if her voice were crawling back down her throat, away from the daunting chatter of her teeth.
She waited for a response from the panting women beside her, who had wrapped her arm around the girl’s shoulder, her oldest daughter, affectionately, but also with slight desperation, as she blew a coal-dark lock of hair away from her eyebrow. The young girl, dressed poorly for this brisk twilight, noticed the tiny glints of blue within her mother’s stormy hair, like simple rivers of starlight glimmering down to her forgotten split ends, then peered over her shoulder and studied the reflection of her own, unkempt mess, which she’d had no intention of combing that morning.
Total opposites.
She, with long, milky-oak strands of hair that waved down her back, like melted chocolate, the added bounce of curls at the end, usually speckled with gold when exposed to the morning-rays of light, tickling the small of her back.
Her mother, born with an endless, frizzy pound of oil-black hair, stubborn and dark, as if iron, or steel, rather than chocolate, were melting from the center of her scalp.
“I cannot,” she replied in her thick Greek accent, the freezing wind making her articulation poorer than usual.
“Okay,” The impatient girl breathed back,”Okay. Let’s just walk.” She studied the road, then the pavement of the sidewalk, the splatters of bird waste, and faded color drawn from what looked like chalk rock. Feeling herself form a painful smile, her cheeks stiff, she imagined the little toddlers, their cheeks and chins smeared with chocolate from the deserts, their careless hands snatching the rocks and destroying the spotless ground with their dreams.
Life had been so easy then, she had begun to forget. The life where the only things to worry about were the wind messing up her large bow, whether her tutu had enough glitter, the numbers of hours left for her to play with her stuffed animals before bedtime...and homework.
Now, dozens of things floated within the air, tons of stressful, heartbreaking, and exhausting troubles, swirling around in front of her and her mother’s squinted eyes, like a confusing curtain of restless leaves, blurring the image of their destination in front of them, stinging their eyes with their rough surfaces, slowing their footsteps. It was hard to ignore the stress, the anxiety, the trauma, and most important, most intoxicating...their dreams, which filled the atmosphere they breathed, made the wind colder, and the seconds crossing the parking lot even longer.
“Almost there,” she told her mother.
“Oh gosh,” her mother groaned. “Oh gosh, I’m working tomorrow….darn.”
“I know the feeling,” she chuckled back to her. “I’ve got a math test tomorrow afternoon. I barely know anything.” She wished she hadn’t said the last part, knowing how her mother would normally react...the woman who was one of the best students in her class, in medical school, and high school...a very accomplished pupil. She would say, or rather, she would scold that in order to achieve anything, you had to work, and this girl, with her shivering, small body, was in no mood for another lecture about work ethic. However, despite her worry, her mother didn’t seem to have heard most of her sentence...or even her voice. Were her ears numb? Or was she blinded, once again, by worry?
“I don’t want to work,” she could feel her mother’s fear, not pain...fear. And suddenly, the wind hurt her more, made her arms ache, her exhales more frequent.
“Don’t worry”, she offered, trying to ignore the goosebumps prickling across her shoulders, legs...even wrists…. “I’ll be there, in the morning, ready to drink coffee with you. Then, you know what will happen?”
Her mother shook her head, a few of her twilight curls bouncing over the brim of her big, yet exotically beautiful, nose.
“I’ll give you a tight hug before you walk out the door.”
Her mother grinned, her face, pale, even though she was blessed with a deep, olive tan, brightened underneath the moonlight. “Thank you, honey.”
They continued to walk, and even though she told her mother that she would be there, at the crack of dawn, right beside her while she blotted lipstick and applied eyeliner, the girl still heard her moan, and complain.
It was unsettling, but even though her mother was human, the teenage girl always thought she was bulletproof...the woman with the bluish-black hair, the unique, beautiful facial features, the flawless body….the girl always saw her mother as an impenetrable soldier. Any sign of weakness from the woman who had raised her to be strong, to avoid shedding tears, to fight hard for anything worth fighting for, any sign of a breaking point, and she felt unsafe. As if something important, something she needed desperately, something more urgent than oxygen, was slipping away from her fingers.
Her strength.
Her mother hadn’t always been a woman who woke up early to beat traffic, coffee mug in one hand, big coat in the other….not long ago, she was just a mother. A mother of her, the typical, lazy, yet passionate teenager shivering in her arms as they approached the steps of the IHOP. One day, before she started junior high, the woman who had cooked the greatest meals, had taught her to work hard and strive to achieve the greatest and more, the woman who tucked her in each night and gave her the most beautiful adventure known as her childhood...decided to go back to work.
She would never forget the nights she’d come up and bring her mother Diet Coke, after Diet Coke, after Diet Coke, watching her study those books like she was studying the skin of one of her children whenever they had developed a strange rash. Her mother’s creased forehead as she pondered a question she had come across as impossible, challenging, irritating…
A mountain. That was what her mother had chosen as a challenge. A mountain that was even more unbearable, excruciating, and mentally difficult than the wind the girl faced tonight. A steep, endless mountain with a foggy destination and strategic obstacles, a path taken with a price, with moments when faith, and hope, dwindled unexpectedly. Her mother, the girl’s superhero, had climbed one of the hardest mountains. How could she be afraid of work?
“I have to work tomorrow.”
“It will be okay,” she assured her mother, “I promise.”
At last they reached the end of the parking lot and stepped up to the sidewalk. She peered down at the marks, the spots where the children had scribbled their imagination and dreams, and without hesitation, almost automatically, stretched her scrawny arm out, curled her aching fingers around the metal knob, and with an exasperated sigh, yanked the door open, the immediate wash of heat dumped onto her body snatching her breath away, burning a tender area deep within the center of her stomach.
Her mother smiled, closing her eyes, and exhaled, her fingers trembling with gratitude, as she scratched her daughter behind the head, then walked toward the hostess stand.
The teenage girl imagined that this was how it was for her mother when she passed her board exams and was officially licensed to carry a stethoscope and wear a lab coat. All those years of Diet Cokes and staying behind to study finally gave her a reward, something unforgettable and rare.
As the girl took off her jacket, she saw her mother’s cheeks burn red, as if the cold outside had slapped her while she was struggling to walk toward the rest of her family, toward IHOP, the oasis. The promise of warmth.
A breaking point.
Her mother had moments when things were too much. She, the teenage girl who despised studying, who wanted to enjoy life, and avoid any sort of responsibility, had a breaking point too, when things seemed overwhelming.
Then, like her older, wiser, and experienced Opposite, who had just sat down with her father and brother, laughing at something on Facebook, she had a breaking point. A point when giving up looks sweeter, and much more delicious, than your dreams. The brief moment when anything, anything, is better than what you are doing.
The girl sighed, took off her coat, smiled at the waitress who passed by, carrying a tray of room temperature cups of water, and winked at her; then walked over to the booth where her mother was sitting, scanning the menu eagerly. Slumping beside the inspirational woman that had raised her never to be afraid of her own potential, she looked at her mother and focused on her makeup, on her eyes, big, chocolate ones, and at her hair, which now looked standard black, shiny, with a thick scent of coconut.
They liked different things, and worked hard to achieve goals that weren’t even in the same category. But they did have one thing in common, one thing that didn’t involve character, hair, or passion.
They were both climbing the most impacting, dangerous mountains.
They both had brief moments of fear, a few seconds when they could barely swallow.
They both used each other to cross the parking lot, to break through the unfair, overpowering cold towards what they desired.
They were both soldiers.

Alexandra Adams is seventeen and lives in Garden City, New York.



Fire in the Dark

By: Isys Nelms

In the darkness of night, a lone figure can be seen weaving between the flickering streetlights. She looks rather ominous, skulking among the shadows as if she were one herself. From underneath the hood of her dark gray sweatshirt, a single lock of fiery red hair is visible. From within the shadows on her face, one bright green eye can be seen.

Behind her, she hears a faint creak from a fire escape. Her breath hitches, and she whips around, only to find a small grey squirrel standing on the cracked pavement, paralyzed with fear. The girl lets out a barely audible sigh of relief and despite the fact that any danger is seemingly gone, she breaks into a run. She runs quickly, long strides like an antelope, her nimble feet pattering noiselessly as she passes through the quiet city streets. She stops once in a while to pull back any loose red hair that could be so easily seen in the colorless darkness. After a few blocks, she slows down to walking again.

Swiveling her head side-to-side, the girl scans the street before ducking into a narrow alleyway. Carefully, she tip-toes swiftly among the broken glass and refuse-soaked garbage that litters the passage. “Where are you? she whispers.  I’m here. You can come out.” She glances around constantly, exploring every nook and cranny, every forgotten cardboard box.

To the left, she hears a sound, like the soft beating of butterfly wings. From out of a corner comes a small kitten with orange fur as bright as the girl’s hair. The girl smiles and bends down to pet the kitten lovingly. As the kitten purrs, the girl reaches into the pocket of her sweatshirt and pulls out a tin of tuna. She pries it open for the hungry kitten, and then slowly gets up and slinks away, back into the shadows. Underneath her hood, she is smiling.
 

Isys Nelms is 12 years old; she lives in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania



Because You Loved Me

By: Amina Mohamed

You tore me down

Then you picked me up

Only to shatter me to pieces

 

You told me I was useless and pathetic

Only to then kiss my lips

and tell me I was your everything

And when you found me to be of no use

You crumpled my heart like a piece of paper

And tossed it over your shoulder

 

Because you told me I was special

I let you spin a web of lies around me

Because you called me beautiful

I forgot about the bruises

That lay scattered on my shoulders

Because you taught me your idea of love

Every tear I shed goes unnoticed

 

 

Amina is fifteen and lives in Portland, Maine



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.

 

“Aimee?”

“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 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.”
“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.
 



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



Solitude

By: Victoria Tan

Anne-Marie loves to draw. After her mother left, her father would draw for hours in front of her. But that was before.

Now, Anne-Marie draws every day. She’ll use anything--charcoal, pencil, ink, chalk. But charcoal is her favorite and her body is her canvas.

Starting every morning, she draws directly on her skin; and before sunset, she passes out with a pencil in her hand. When she draws, she’s transported into another dimension that deadens her worries in a way that her doctor’s prescriptions cannot. Anne-Marie can’t afford to see the doctor anymore, anyway. But it doesn’t matter. As long as she can draw, she knows she’ll be all right. Almost happy.

~

On Tuesday, Anne-Marie travels to the local market to buy more charcoal. The stall is tucked away at the end of the street. Most people would miss it but Anne-Marie knows exactly where it is. Stopping by every couple of days, she’s a frequent customer. Exchanges are quick. She’s anxious to get home and draw.

She rushes up the cracked, concrete stairs of her building to her room. Stepping over the broken glass and crevices in the ground, she arrives at her door. There’s a wrinkled note posted on it. “EVICTION NOTICE,” it reads. Anne-Marie stares at it, tilts her head to the left, purses her chapped lips and tears it down to bring into her room to draw with.

After wiggling the door open and stepping into the dreary space, she immediately sinks down onto her tattered mattress and begins to draw. The voices join her, as they always do, and Anne-Marie begins to see vibrant colors wisp through the air in flashes. Bursts of light erupt with pings and crackles. A feeling of relaxation envelops her toes and travels up her legs, past her sides and her arms and up, up, up, until she feels her eyes begin to flutter close.

“Stop banging and scratching on the walls or I’ll call the police! I’m not joking this time!” she hears in the distance.

The world starts to fade and blur, beginning around the edges, until Anne-Marie falls into a deep sleep with an untroubled expression on her face.

~

Rifling through her room another day, Anne-Marie notices that her supply of charcoal is beginning to dwindle. She quickly tucks the remnants back into the burrowed-out hiding spot in the wall underneath the window, grabs all the crumpled bills from her kitchen drawer, and heads down to the market.

They don’t have charcoal that day. All the vendor offers her is pastels. It isn’t ideal but it will get her through the night. She buys everything he has. She will be fine.

Rushing back to her apartment, Anne-Marie takes the stairs up two at a time and fumbles with her keys for a minute before swinging the door open. She doesn’t even bother to take down the notice posted on her door. It has been there for over a week.

She hastily plops down on the hardwood floor and begins to draw. Once again, the sensations take over and she lays there with a twinkle in her eye until she passes out. She had sold her mattress days ago to pay for drawing materials, but it was a small thing to her.

~

A sense of dread wafts through Anne-Marie when the sun’s rays pry her eyes open the next morning. She knows she only has enough money for one more market run. This would be it. It would be over soon. No more drawing. She doesn’t know what will come next, and she forces those thoughts out of her head.

Stumbling onto the cracked pavement, Anne-Marie searches frantically for the familiar man she relies on to numb her suffering. He is nowhere to be found. Panic begins to submerge her.

She staggers aimlessly around the city looking for the man. Time passes quickly until the sky is dark and stars peek out of the gloom. The voices that follow her get louder and make her head pound. She has picked the skin off her fingers until blood covers the tips. Anne-Marie hobbles around for hours until her head aches and her frail body is quivering. Even though it is the middle of summer, the breeze is icy as it nips at her red nose and peeling lips. She feels as though someone is banging on a large drum next to her ears and she winces as the piercing wail of sirens passes by. She is cold, so very cold. At yet another street corner, somewhere, she finds him, at last.

When he sees the desperation and weariness in her eyes, he smirks, baring his yellow, chipped teeth at her. “I knew you crazies would find me eventually,” he rasps.

Anne-Marie purchases her drawing materials eagerly. Relief floods her body, but at the same time, her pain increases tenfold. The urge to draw intensifies until her vision is swimming and her hands shake uncontrollably.

The journey back to her room passes in a blur. Night has fallen and the fluorescent street lights flicker on. She doesn’t know how she managed to find her way back so quickly but thinks little of it. There are more pressing issues at hand. She kneels on the floor and begins doing her favorite thing--the only thing she knows how to do without messing up. This night, Anne-Marie draws longer than she has ever done before, longer than she knew she could. She just keeps going, and going, and going until the room spins around her and the stench of her own clothes goes away. Her aching body refuses to hold her up anymore and she leans against the wall for support until it all hits.

Anne-Marie breathes shakily in and out and groans aloud as pleasure invades her body.

Then, the chaos of nightlife in the city fades away into nothingness. The world goes blank.

She doesn’t wake up the next morning. Anne-Marie never wakes up again.

Her body is found a month later.

~

“Approximate time of death: 3:00 a.m., August 19th. Cause of death: drug overdose.” The medical examiner droned on like in any other report. “Anne-Marie Winters, one MIA mother and a deceased father who also died from an overdose--practically an orphan.”

The cleaners moved swiftly to rid the apartment of needles and rolled-up flyers scattered all over the floor. They finished after 10 minutes. After all, there wasn’t really much to clean up. The room was ready to be rented out again later that same day. It was just another overdose case in the part of town where people had multiple sets of locks on their doors and slept with one eye open at night. It was far too common.

~

The vendor didn’t even notice Anne-Marie’s absence. Why would he? He has plenty of other junkies to sell to and an endless stream of new customers. She means nothing to him.

The neighbors did notice the psychotic girl’s absence. They notice that the clanging and clawing and screaming has stopped, but they assume that she has either been arrested or finally kicked out onto the streets. They will use Anne-Marie as a cautionary example for their own daughter, but she won’t listen to them. Her life will end the same way as Anne-Marie’s did. Other than that, Anne-Marie means nothing to them.

As for her mother, the day Anne-Marie met her end will simply be another Tuesday. Anne-Marie is merely another reckless teenager to her. Anne-Marie means nothing to her.

~

Anne-Marie’s spirit is finally free. Though her exit was quiet, the outcome is exuberant. She’s refreshed like a phoenix reborn from its ashes. She forgives her parents. She forgives all the people who did her wrong. But most of all, she’s learning to forgive herself. For the first time in her life, Anne-Marie is happy. Radiant. Carefree.

 

Victoria Tan is a 17-year-old from Minnesota.

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