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.



“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.” 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


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.

The Bench in Central Park

By: Anabel Silver

She didn’t look at the photograph as she handed it to the man who would frame it. She didn’t want to. Not here. The man smiled and said that she could return to pick it up tomorrow. The man was handsome. The girl in the photograph would have asked for his number, but the woman standing before the man simply nodded, turned on her heels, and left the store.

The man stared at the photograph. It was a close up of two women on a bench in what looked like Central Park. He wondered why the woman would choose to have it framed. It was not a pretty picture. It was obvious that whoever had been holding the camera had a shaky hand, as everything was blurry. One of the woman in the picture was wearing glasses and there was too much glare so you couldn’t see her eyes. The other woman had red eyes from the camera’s flash. The person taking the picture must have been covering the lens slightly with their finger, because you could see it in the top left-hand corner of the picture. At the same time, there was a certain innocence and beauty to the picture. Both of the women were laughing. They both had long wavy hair that was flowing in the wind, and they looked so free. The man could tell he was looking at pure joy.

He took the photograph to the back of the store to be framed.

The woman pulled her phone out of her purse as she unlocked the door to her apartment. As she set down her keys and took off her jacket, she dialed the only number she had memorized. The contact picture of the number showed up as the phone rang; it was the same picture she gave to man at the frame store, her favorite picture. The woman listened to the voicemail recording, but she did not leave a message. She never had, and there was no reason for her to start today.

The two girls met when they started middle school. They had both been outcasts all of their lives. The woman vividly remembered her soon-to-be best friend approaching her during recess and asking what book she was reading. After showing her the book, her new friend had laughed and pulled the same book out of her backpack. She sat down read it alongside her. In that moment in sixth grade, the woman had known that she was no longer alone.

The picture was taken right after the girls had graduated from college. They had always known that they would get out of the small town they had grown up in. They dreamed of somewhere grand, somewhere amazing. Graduating cum laude from NYU was a dream come true for both of them. The woman knew, with or without the picture, she would always remember that moment.

The woman laid out her outfit for the next day. She brushed her teeth, washed her face, and got into bed, alone in her apartment.

The woman dreamt of her friend that night. They were back in Central Park, where the picture was taken. They were running around and giggling, but soon the woman couldn’t tell where she was. The streets were getting more and more crowded, and it seemed as if they were getting smaller as well. The woman was having trouble breathing. She turned around and her friend had disappeared. She was pushing through the crowd for what felt like hours trying to find her, but her friend was gone, so she went back to the bench where the picture was taken and sat down, alone.

The woman woke up shaking, but she was unsurprised by the dream. It was not like this was the first time she had this dream.

The woman rolled out of bed. She wasn’t expecting to sleep well anyway. She put on the outfit that she had laid out the night before. She knew that it didn’t really match the occasion, but she didn’t care. She made a cup of coffee. She drank. The woman felt numb.

She gathered her things and left the apartment to pick up the frame. When she arrived, there was a different man at the front of the shop than the one who had been there the day before. As he handed her the framed picture, he looked at her critically. It seemed almost as if he were judging her picture because the quality was poor, but he didn’t understand. The quality of the picture didn’t matter. What mattered was the quality of the moment. The woman didn’t care that the picture was blurry or that you couldn’t really see her eyes or her friend’s eyes. She didn’t care that part of the picture was covered by the finger of the stranger in Central Park they had asked to take the picture. Her friend hadn’t cared about those things either because the moment was perfect. The woman took the framed picture and left the shop.

The woman didn’t walk or hail a cab or do anything for several minutes once she was on the sidewalk. She couldn’t believe where she was about to go. She took a few deep breaths, called her memorized number, and waited for it to go to voicemail.

“Hi, you’ve reached Charlotte’s phone. Thanks for calling. I’m sorry I’ve missed your call, but I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Have a great day.”

The woman felt relaxed the second she heard her friend’s voice. She loved how her personality came through even in her voicemail. She was glad that it did, because it was all of her friend that the woman had left.

The woman hailed a cab.

Everyone at the venue was in black. The woman was not. She felt out of place, but her friend would not have wanted anyone to wear black. No one listened when the woman said this.

She placed the framed picture in the lobby next to all of the other pictures of her friend. None of these pictures were blurry. None of them had glasses with glare or red eyes or fingers covering parts of the picture. All of the pictures were quality pictures, but none of the pictures were quality moments. Still, the woman felt ashamed of her picture and of her colorful outfit. She could feel people noticing and silently judging her.

She knew that this was not what her friend would have wanted. Not at all. She doubted that her friend even knew all the people in the room. Most of them were probably friends of friends of friends. Friends of friends who didn’t understand. They didn’t have a right to come in their black, somber outfits, with their flat, emotionless “quality” pictures and judge her for her grief. They didn’t have a right to come in and judge her for doing what her friend, her best friend, would have wanted. The woman knew that none of this was right. She left. The woman didn’t know exactly where she was going. She ended up finding herself at that bench in Central Park, but this time her dream had come true.

She was all alone.

Anabel is age 16 and lives in Pennsylvania.

The Cupcake

By: Richard Golden

The Cupcake
February 11, 2017. Afsana would always remember that day, but she didn’t know it yet. She woke up from her short slumber. Five hours and seventeen minutes of slumber - to be exact. Afsana leapt off the pile of pillows, her skin tan and glowing. Her curly locks were bouncing around, flaming with natural highlights. Her bed lay on the crisp cement floor. As Afsana rose from her deep slumber, she began to dance from excitement.
“Afsana! Afsana!” My mama yelled. Before I could join the celebration, I looked at her. She was so beautiful. She had luscious, dark, curly locks which came from her head like streamers at a party. Too bad she had to cover it up with the hijab. I was stolen from my day dream by my mother, who grabbed and hugged me.
“Afsana! Why am I more excited than you?” Mama asked. “It’s your 13th birthday for goodness sake!”
“Mama I know!” I yelled. I then proceeded to jump up and down and dance around with Mama.
“Well Afsana, no time to waste, you’re already going to be late for school.” Mama said. I quickly rushed to my folded uniform and replaced the scratchy night gown I wore with it. I skipped towards the second, and final, room in my humble home.
“Come sit, my sunshine,” Mama said. She’s been calling me that since I can remember. “Because it is your special day, I will give you a cupcake for lunch.”
I changed into school attire, and with cupcake in hand, I was off.
“Well, off to school!” Mama said. I giggled and scurried out of the unstable home.
Most girls don’t go to school here in Pakistan. They stay home, and do housework. But not me. I was accepted into a school for gifted children. I read the rickety sign of my school, “افغان زده کونکي د زده کونکو لپاره,” also known as, “Pakistan Academy for Gifted Students.”
“Afsana! You’re almost late!” Ms. Azita said. She always spoke sternly but with the biggest smile on her face. I’ve always known that I’m her favorite student.
“زه-” I almost spoke Pashto but I caught my tongue. My school is immersed in the English language--the only language we’re allowed to speak. “I know! But it is my birthday!” I explained, wiping the perspiration off my face…I had to run from my house to school. And although it was early February, Pakistan is always unbearably hot.
“Well, happy birthday, and come on! Get inside!” Ms. Azita said. I chuckled and shuffled into the double doors.
What lay behind the double doors, is what my version of Heaven looks like. Although the one room school was small, and didn’t have much, it was all I needed. There was a bookshelf on the wall that was parallel to the doors. It was filled with books ranging from fiction to textbooks. There was a chalkboard at the front of the room. It was dusty and old, but it was perfect for solving hard mathematical equations on. And last, but certainly not least, there were the desks. Only five of them, but they still filled up all of my heart. My desk was in the middle of the room.
It was glowing with eagerness to learn. I practically did flips toward it. I sat down on my chair, it was cold to the touch.
“Okay, class,” Ms. Azita said, starting her morning ritual of explaining to us what we’re going to be doing for the day, “today we will be working on Pythagorean Theorem.”
My eyes lit up and I was bursting at the seams with excitement. Pythagorean Theorem is something I have no knowledge about. I know that there is a book on it in the bookshelf, but I have never read it myself.
Everyone else in the class seemed to be excited as well.
“Glad to see everyone is excited,” Ms. Azita said.
Everyone in the class started murmuring until Ms. Azita interjected, “the more you talk, the less work you get to accomplish.” Everyone quieted down and the only noises left were a few hushes from a kid or two. “Very good,” Ms. Azita chirped, with a smile on her face. You could tell she felt accomplished by how she took control of the situation.
Ms. Azita has only been teaching for a year. This is her second school year. She started the school, and she practically lives here. She’s always staying here late to make lesson plans, but she’s never lonely, because we students stay late too.
The school is located right inside Lahore, Pakistan. It is actually a pretty nice area. Not much goes on near the school. Because my Mama can’t drive, I have to walk. My Mama is now getting worried whenever I walk to school. The Taliban is becoming stronger and stronger, and she doesn't want anything happening to me. There is also a big protest today inside Lahore, and both my Mama and I are worried about what will happen.
12 Hours Later
“Okay, guys,” Ms. Azita announced, “it’s time to go home.” All the students groaned in unison as they packed their bags. I didn’t bring anything to school because mama couldn’t afford it and I didn’t want to have to carry books on the long walk to school and back.
“Bye Ms. Azita!” I said politely as I scampered out the double doors. Although it was 8 at night, it was still fairly light outside. There are no street lamps once you get outside of Lahore, so it’s a good thing it is always still light outside.
“Run!” A voice screamed in the distance. I hurried towards the noise to see what was going on. When I got to the scene all I could see was fire, men covered in turbans, and people lying on the ground. I dropped my little box that contained nothing but my cupcake, the cupcake that my mother gave me. I planned on munching on it on my way home, but I guess that isn’t happening.
I made eye contacts with one of the men. He pulled down his turban and the second I saw his whole face, I realized that we have met once before.
My day dream was abruptly interrupted by Ms. Azita. She picked me up and ran. Before I knew what was happening we turned into a skinny, dark alleyway. I couldn’t see much and before I knew it, I was on the ground and I could only here a loud ring. I turned, what I saw was a sight I know I will never forget.
I looked at Ms. Azita. She was on the stone floor. I saw her mouthing one word to me over and over again, “Run.” I jolted off of the ground and with one last kiss on the forehead, I ran from Ms. Azita.
“I see one!” I heard a voice yell, “Get her!” Without looking I ran, faster than ever before. I didn’t want to run home because they could follow me and then find my mother, so I ran to the one other place I feel safe, school. I knew short cuts throughout the town so as I continued to run; I turned a sharp left into another skinny alleyway. I was sure they wouldn’t catch me but I heard their footsteps running towards me. With another sharp turn I was facing the school. I ran through the double decker doors and quickly barricaded them with all of the desks.
“In there!” A voice yelled. I quickly ran towards the bookshelf and with all my might and I shuffled it towards the doors. They can’t get in now, I said to myself. But I guess I spoke too soon because with one loud thump, the man I recognized was inside the school.
“Get out!” I screamed. The man didn’t even seem startled by my loud tone. He took a step forward and I ducked towards the pile books which fell off of the book shelf. He took another step towards me and I shuffled backwards until I was in the corner.
“Don’t worry, Afsana,” the man said, I was taken aback by his knowledge about me, “I’m not going to hurt you.” He took another step and although he said those kind words, I didn’t trust him so I continued to try and escape. I ran towards the doors but the man stepped in front of me before I could leap outside. He pulled down his turban and I immediately realized who he was.
“Papa?” I asked meekly. He took a step forward so that he could embrace me but I quickly ducked out of the way.
“Please don’t be afraid, my Afsana,” Papa said. He stepped forward to try and embrace me again but I slapped him across the face before he could touch me.
“How dare you?” I asked. “How dare you try and hug me years after you left my family, after you killed all of those people? Tears were streaming down both mine and his faces.
“Afsana, please, I can explain --”
“No, Papa!” I shouted, cutting him off. I ran towards the door one more time, this time Papa didn’t dare to follow me. I sprinted all the way home, tears whisking away with the wind. As I arrived home I saw Mama waiting for me at the door. She seemed upset, as if she knows what just happened. I jumped into her arms and cried as she picked me up and carried me into our humble home.

Richard Golden is thirteen and lives in New Jersey.

Number Thirty

By: Kevin Dunse

The winter light waned quickly, and the full moon began to show its true colors as the freshly fallen snow turned blue in its glare. In near silence, I slipped through the woods with a confident swagger, sliding under logs and through brush with a grace that could be challenged by no other beast. I was a Manitoban gray fox, one of the last of my rare kind. It was the night of the first snow, and from the many years past I knew what this night would bring. They called my kind the sungila, and we were hated fiercely.

I prepared myself for the night of first snow by distancing myself from man. My relationship with man was one of exchange. In my age of many moons, I had begun to rely on man, stealing from him the food on which I lived. For this, man hated me, and on the night of the first snow he would run me to the ends of the earth.

As I crawled through undergrowth that was home to the rabbits I had hunted in my youth, I turned my eyes to the sky. The moon had reached full height, casting its glow across the snowy expanse. I stopped to lick the frozen clumps from between my toes, and then I heard it.

The horn sounded like the bugle of a bull elk. Following it were the bellows of the foxhounds that had tracked me in so many years past. I had traveled a seemingly long distance, but I knew that the well-conditioned foxhounds would be upon me in moments. I began to vary my trail. Moving up and down logs, across creeks, and even up and down trees. I ran until I could run no longer. I moved for many miles, until my elderly body could move no longer. I had free range, as my kind were few and far between, and I had no contenders. I moved until I could no  longer, and I knew it would not be far enough. At this, I coiled into a hollowed log and awaited my fate.

I listened as the hounds bellowed away into the night, defeating every obstacle I had thrown at them. They crossed the creek with a vigor that could only be had in an animal, a true beast. I was not safe, and I knew it. With age had gone my endurance, and with my gluttony I had grown lazy. I was foolish to allow such things to overcome me. I backed deeper into the hollowed log as the hounds moved closer and closer. My breaths grew sharper and the log felt as though it were constricting around me. The hounds drew closer and closer yet, and I knew that my life would be drawing to a close within mere moments. I panicked. I couldn’t sit. I had to run.

I slithered out of the hollowed log and peered across the flat expanse. I heard the bellows of the hounds and within seconds I could see them, ears flopping and noses held tightly to the ground. I spun in the opposite direction and moved up the hill towards the largest oak tree in the land that I had roamed as a young dog. I stopped at the base of the tree and saw that one hound had spotted me and was closing the ground quickly. I looked up the trunk, and pulled the last trick that I had up my sleeve; one that few Manitoban foxhounds had seen in many years.

I reached the first scraggly limb of the oak tree and peered down to the hound that had treed me. I could see its dark brown face staring up at me, split by a strip of white. I feared its endless bellows would shake me out of the tree. I looked the beast in the eyes and knew that this was the face of death. I no longer had the agility to move through the trees and had cornered myself. All that I could do was sit and wait. Wait for the slower hounds. Wait for the man that inevitably followed. Wait for death.


I stood leaning on the bed of my truck, smoking the last cigarette that I had in my pack. For the ninth year in a row, I found myself at the old Vandervelden farm. For many years, a fox had tormented the native family’s stock, and for years I had failed to kill the beast. I knew that this year my luck would change. I had always lost the fox in the most strange of ways. He did things that foxes should not be able to do. He was a spirit of the wilderness, a beast that’s cunning was challenged by no other animal I had ever encountered. With that thought, I threw down my cigarette and stomped it into the dirt. I looked up to see that the moon was high in the sky, and I lowered the tailgate of my truck. I unlatched the large dog box contained within the bed and let my trio of American foxhounds jump down onto the frozen ground. Within no time, they had struck a track. I reached into the back seat of my truck and carried on a tradition that my father had taught me when I starting fox hunting many years ago as a child; blowing the horn. I blew a hearty blow and sounded the beginning of the hunt. I then watched the dogs as they ran into the moonlight. Certain of their direction, I crawled back into my truck and started off to get ahead of them.

I knew from my experience with this fox that it always seemed to cross one dug road in the same spot just a few hundred yards over the ridge of a hill. I reached the spot in a timely manner to ensure that the animal wouldn’t get too far ahead of the hounds. I stopped one hundred and fifty yards away from where the fox was sure to cross and exited my truck. I first stopped to listen, and I confirmed that the hounds were headed my way. I then took a moment to remove my gun from the back of the truck. I admired it after getting it into the moon’s glow. It was a bolt action 12-gauge, engraved with The Original Marlin Goose Gun along the barrel. In the bluing near the inscribed lettering were twenty-nine crude tallies. Each mark represented a red fox that had fallen dead to a shot from the unusual weapon. The two round magazine slid into the well smoothly, and I locked a No. 4 buckshot shell into the chamber. I then removed the magazine and placed in a third and final shell before returning the magazine to the gun.

I put the firearm on safe and crept down the road to the spot where the fox crossed every year without fail, a lack of tracks in the fresh snow reassured me that the mysterious animal had not yet crossed the road. I sat down, leaning against a tree nearly perfectly on the path the fox would take. Soon, I thought. For now, it’s a waiting game.

I bursted awake in the snow. The waiting game had taken too long, and I had nodded off to sleep. Large flakes of snow fell silently in the brightening morning sky. I stood and brushed them from myself and my gun. It was then that I first heard the hounds, sounding like ringing bells in the otherwise silent and peaceful night. They didn’t move towards me, staying in the same place. I began to move to look for tracks, but I quickly realized that it would be useless in the fresh snowfall and set off into the wilderness after my dogs.


The slower dogs soon caught up, yet there was little that they could do to reach me—and little that I could do to escape them. They attempted to rocket themselves up the tree at me to no avail, sounding their awful howls across the land. I knew man to be a slow and clumsy creature, but he was one who’s firestick could deal great harm to all wild things. The snow began to fall again, soon in larger and larger flakes until the blizzard was nearly obscuring all vision. The violent winds drew cold and blew the flakes sideways, until the forest was hardly visible from my perch high in the tree. In the violent weather, I quickly drew tired of life. My bones ached deeply and I was wrapped in a veil formed by the freezing air as it coiled around me. I finally began to wish for the hunter to come as the hours of night passed into hours of morning.


I trudged through the deep snow to find out why the dogs had stopped. I was sure that my opportunity was wasted again, bringing the hunt for this animal into the tenth year. I wanted nothing more than to take this animal's pelt to the taxidermist. I went about 300 yards into the woods before spying my dogs leaping up a tree, sounding into the night.

My initial thought was that they had treed a bobcat. It had happened once before, and it had sprung from the tree as I approached. This beast did not leap. As I approached the base of the tree, it did not take me long to spot a pair of eyes peering back down at me. It stood as I raised my gun, and I saw the canine outline. I placed the bead over the area of the lungs and squeezed the trigger.


I laid in my tree as I watched him approach. His long firestick rested in his arms as he walked. He came up just underneath me as I stood in my final act of defiance. I heard a click come from his firestick just moments before it let out a roar and licked flames in my direction. I dropped and held tightly to the branch in my last thoughts of life. I felt the warmth of the blood leaking down my sides as I kicked myself off of the branch subconsciously. The fall felt strange, as I never hit the ground. My last memory was being caught around the throat by the strong grip of the jaws of an american foxhound. The last memory of my kind. The Manitoban gray fox.


I rushed over to my hound and pried my prize from his jaws. As I pulled it above their heads, I was incredibly surprised to see a gray fox, not the usual red. It was an animal like I had never seen before, unmatched in beauty. The blood stained his mottled coat and frothed from his mouth. I returned to the truck as the sun began to crest the horizon and returned the dogs to their box. I laid the fox onto the tailgate of the truck and admired it. It was an old dog, with aged cuts and teeth worn to nearly flat. He was covered in a thick layer of fat and crippled. The fact that I had finally killed the Vandervelden fox had settled in. I laid him gently in the bed of the truck and closed the tailgate. Before crawling back into the cab, I took my hunting knife and sliced the thirtieth notch into the bluing of my gun. I put the key into the ignition of the old Ford and it grumbled to life. Putting it into drive, I began to reflect. It would be daylight by the time I hit town, and I was exhausted, but I drove for lack of choice. My hands that had been numbed by snow and wind began to thaw. I decided that my first stop in town would be for food, and then I’d be off to taxidermist. As I pulled off the dirt road towards town, I realized that I had almost forgot to show Old Mr. Vandervelden.



Kevin is a 15-year-old from Wisconsin.


By: "Larry" Xieyuan Guo

When I was in the third grade in grammar school back in a small city in China, I suffered from depression. I kept my head in my shoulders, my sight stuck on the ground as if there were gold in it. I walked so fast that no one could catch up with me.
No one wanted to catch up with me as well.
I passed a cent to the beggar every single time I passed by. I had no impressions of him. I thought he always sat there under that regular tree, shook a bowl in his hand, stayed through the winters and summers, saw every cent thrown into his bowl.
This time when I gave the coin to him, he uttered something.
“Thanks,” he said, innocently and carelessly. “Don’t you have any friends with you?”
I shook my head, smiling with embarrassment.
“Sit right here,” he said in a surprisingly young voice.
I used my hand to clean out the dirt beside him. He saw that and laughed at me. “My friend, would you rather want to make your ass dirty, or your hands?”
My face turned red and I sat down quickly. What a word he just said.
“Don’t you want to know how old I am?”
It was such an interesting and direct question that I grew quite confused while I watched him over and over. He had messy hair but it hadn’t turned grey yet, and his black beard seemed to have terrible care. His broken clothes were shaking and telling its story in the winds of spring. He sat there under the tree with sprouting green leaves, seeming not old at all.
I said, “35?”
He said, “24,” and laughed and laughed, quite proud of his little trick.
I went silent for a moment. “Then, why,” I said carefully and seriously, eyes focused on the bowl in his hands, "do you do this... Yeah, this?”
I threw the conversation into an awkward silence. People walked by, talking and laughing, and the cars crossed my sight rapidly like ants busy carrying things. From time to time there would be one of my classmates stopping in front of me and they would look right through me and chuckle. It was quite funny, I think, the picture the two of us made. The beggar and I.
“Time for you to go home,” he said. “And you’re definitely too young to know those things.”
His face was frozen. I stood up quietly and headed for the bus stop and got onto the bus. I watched him sitting there with a blank expression, right hand rubbing the dirty pants, under that light green tree.

I had no idea about the relationship between him and me. I couldn’t tell.
I talked to him from time to time, always started from his greetings, always when I was in low moods.
I put the coin into his hands; he smiled at me slightly.
It happened every single day. However, I never considered him my friend. Of course, I knew him only a little bit, added with the born doubt about beggars. There should be a long way to go as well; of course I wouldn’t be proud just because I had a beggar friend.
It had been 3 months since the special spring day he talked to me for the first time. The leaves on the tree grew much bigger and greener over him.
I passed him a cent. He smiled.
I walked past him, accompanied by the hot summer winds, shot by the spicy sunshine. I hid into the shadow of the bus stop.
The bus came and I got onto it at last, because everyone rushed to get a seat and I didn’t want to be in that mess.
My face turned red when I was trying to grab my coins. My hands moved slowly and I counted the coins I had in the pocket.
I don’t have enough, I found it out.
This was so embarrassing that sweat appeared on my head.
“Looks like you’re feeling hot,” one of my classmates said, and laughter filled the bus. I gave him a careless glimpse, and he gave me one back. The bus driver was watching me as if a policeman was scrutinizing a prisoner’s every single move, the door left opened, his hands tapping the steering wheel. The boys and girls on the bus were watching me with a disgusted expression after finishing laughing because of such a “funny” joke.
The driver finally exploded, pointing to the opened door. “Pay or go! You’re wasting the time for all of us!”
I shrank a little bit. I turned around and when I was about to get off, he came onto the bus, the beggar. He walked quite slowly up onto the stairs, and everyone’s eyes were fixed on him in quiet surprise. He picked two coins from the bowl and gently put them into the container. He turned around, and slowly pulled his legs off the bus.
There was suffocating silence. The only noise was the doors being closed. He, the beggar--or my beggar friend, whatever I could call him--was waving to me with a smile. I lifted my hand and waved in a small radius. He stood right there, under the boiling sunshine. behind him was that purely green and growing tree.

“You know what,” I said, “I don’t know how fast the time flies. I’ve gotta go next month. Going to a middle school in another city.” I swept the dust away from my pants, and continued talking. “I really want to thank you for saving me out of depression to some degree. Sometimes when I felt lonely, I still know you’re here. Really. But, well, I’ll be gone for years, after a few months.”
He said nothing, nodding slightly. He sat there, watching into the void. The brown leaves which fell down from the trees covered his lap. But his hands were frozen and he didn’t clean those leaves from his legs. I, a 6-grader now, looked a little maturer than before. A little.
“Hey, you know what?” he said, imitating how I started the conversation, smiling a little bit. “You asked me why I did this, huh?”
“... Yes?”
“I was an orphan,and through my own efforts and scholarship I got to be an IT student and graduated with a great grade. well at least they told me I was a great student. Of course I was accepted to one of the best companies here. I did an excellent job there, but, you know what?” I saw tears coming out of his eyes focused on the east, the tears reflecting the orange lights from the sun of the late afternoon. His fists hammered his legs, casting the leaves aside. “Just because of my terrible efforts... Others were jealous... Jealousy, others’ jealousy, made me out of work...”
“What happened?”
“I don’t know how to... how to communicate with my co-workers. Everyone hated me; everyone hates me, always. I work so hard that everyone around me feels threatened, and anyone who has a little bit of a relationship with the boss can use a simple trick to kick me out of my position...”
He broke into tears and cried. I didn’t know how to comfort him. My sorrow was just a bunch of combined boring things. He patted my shoulder and said, “Remember, not everything can be earned by efforts. Really, the world is just that unfair.”
I said nothing.
“I can do nothing. I’m an orphan. I don’t really know how to communicate with others. I don’t know what to do, and the world is definitely not as friendly as I think. What can I do? I can only run away from everything. Everything. I’m not afraid to start everything all over again. Dreams never die. Never.” He wiped the tears out of his face, calming himself down. “Come on, which direction you’ve walked toward is not called ‘forward’?”
He stood between me and the sun, his outline traced by darkness. Over his long, long shadow were those falling leaves, falling, falling, falling.
“Just go,” he said without turning his head toward me. “Go home. Your parents should be worrying about you at this time.”
He sighed, and repeated, “Which direction you’ve walked toward is not called ‘forward’?” And he laughed. The laughter was noisy and wild.

In the winter vacation of my 8th grade, which I spent in a middle school in another city, I decided to go back to my hometown and stay for days. One day I went to roam around my hometown. The temperature was swaying just above the freezing point but it didn’t snow. I stood under the tree, the bare tree, the tree with all of the memories of the only beggar friend I had ever had.
No one was there.
A beggar walked towards me with great effort, shaking, his clothes half worn out, a dirty hat, a pair of dusted and broken pants, his beard messy and dirty, the frozen liquid on it shining. It’s him, I thought, but through the thick mist in the winter morning I could only see an unclear outline. With me in sight, he pulled his legs even harder towards me, and an enthusiasm and indifferent smile appeared on his face. He shook his bowl with his wrinkled and withered hands and the coins made annoying noises inside it.
“My brother... you have any...just any change?”
What happened to you, my... my brother?
The world was frozen. Everything stopped moving and only he, the beggar, my once-had-been beggar friend, was bending his body towards me, handing the bowl to me, with that pleasing and disgusting smile on his face. I didn’t know whether only I was his “brother”, or every single person is either his “brother” or “sister." I sighed, held my breath and controlled my heart rate, focusing my gaze into his earnest eyes. I pulled out a coin and tamped it into his bowl, and he bowed and bowed and, and “thanks, thanks, thanks” escaped his mouth. Then he walked away slowly, as if he was injured all over his body, and suddenly walked much faster and ran away from the scene and the sins.
I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say.
I had questions in my throat. Of course I did. I just thought those words were pointless.
Where are your dreams that live forever? Are you going to start all over again, as you said, or be a lifelong beggar? Where is the direction you called “forward”?
“Which direction you’ve walked toward is not called ‘forward’?” I heard someone speaking, voices coming from the sky. I walked away, with my dreams and a dream that had stopped breathing, from that tree standing in the cycle of the seasons and every single second of the memories and everything. When I was trying to flee away I burst into laughter. The laughter was noisy and wild.
He was once a motivation for me. He was once an uncommon reason for me to live in this world. Once.
Well, how funny is it? Brother, how funny is this joke? A beggar friend? A beggar with a dream?
The snow was coming down from the sky. The tears which stayed on my chin froze up.



Larry is 17-year-old from New Mexico.