Unworn

By: Ginevra Davis
Unworn 
 
My new dress is white with roses. It was made just for me, stitched precisely to the lines 
of my body. Each rose is hand painted with pink fabric paint, no fewer than five crystals 
painstakingly glued to each embroidered petal. White satin ribbons criss­cross the open back. 
Most figure skating dresses are polyester blend, but mine is pure silk, airy and fragile. The skirt 
ripples around my hips when I spin on the ice; crystal roses catching light with each turn and 
change of edge. Right now, the dress hangs outside my closet door, waiting for me. 
 Sometimes, I hate that dress. 
I am four years old, more snowsuit than child. My ankles wobble in dirty tan rental skates 
as I shuffle around the tiny outdoor rink. The other kids lean on stacks of plastic crates to keep 
themselves upright, but I refuse the crutch. I will skate on my own shaking ankles, and someday I 
will dance on ice like the skaters who smile through my television set. I push my blades against 
the ice harder and harder until velocity forces me down to my knees. I skate backwards and 
forwards, on two feet, then gliding on one. Later, I beg my parents for lessons, then a coach. I 
get real white figure skates with clean laces and two crystals on each toe. I am in love.  
Like all serious figure skaters, I have a dressmaker. My dressmaker’s studio is a shrine to 
the creative process — bolts of rich fabrics stacked high in the corners, uncapped tubes of 
crystals spilling onto tables stained with fabric paint. I know what I want, a white dress with pink 
roses and ribbons lacing up the back. I tell her my vision, and together we sit hunched over a 
sewing table with a piece of paper and a pencil, planning and erasing, saying this goes here and 
that goes there and, “Oh, wouldn’t these look lovely with pink crystals.” Each creative whimsy is 
11701134 
etched onto the page until my dream has been realized. Afterwards, I clutch the sketch, smudging 
my fingers as I trace over the graphite roses and ribbons.  
I am nine years old and I am ecstatic. I have landed a double jump for the first time, the 
youngest at my rink to do so. My coach gives me a hug and an approving smile, and my parents 
buy me a T­shirt that says “I landed my axel!” from the local skating store. This new jump 
makes me competitive, a “real skater” instead of a kid who goes to the rink sometimes. Two 
months later I will wave goodbye to my old coach and make the long drive to the storied Skating 
Club of Boston.  The old coach is replaced with four fancy new ones: one for jumps, one for 
spins, one for choreography, and one to manage the other three coaches. I skate everyday, I 
skate until my legs ache and my feet chafe and the tips of my fingers turn purple in the cold.  
It takes months to sew a skating dress, to take a roll of fabric and shape it into art. It is 
painstaking, exacting work, a skill so rare that most coaches have a single dressmaker deemed 
competent enough to create costumes for their skaters. Each piece of my dress is cut to my 
measurements, 18.9 inches from knee to hip, 24.6 inches around the waist, then threaded 
together with tiny white stitches. My dressmaker cuts the bodice from lycra before lining it with 
silk, then sews more silken fabric onto my hips to create a delicate skirt. The silk is expensive, 
but we use it anyway. You work so hard, my parents say. You deserve this. The uncut silk is soft 
as I hold it up to my body, and I wonder if I could ever be sad wearing something this beautiful. 
I am thirteen years old, long and bendy. I am a beautiful spinner. I can grab the tip of my 
left blade with my opposite hand as I spin, then straighten my knees until my legs are extended in 
a full split, my back arched at an impossible angle. I spin like this at the beginning of each of my 
routines, soaking in the jealous stares from my rivals, the high marks from judges.  Other 
 
 
 
Unworn 
 
My new dress is white with roses. It was made just for me, stitched precisely to the lines 
of my body. Each rose is hand painted with pink fabric paint, no fewer than five crystals 
painstakingly glued to each embroidered petal. White satin ribbons criss­cross the open back. 
Most figure skating dresses are polyester blend, but mine is pure silk, airy and fragile. The skirt 
ripples around my hips when I spin on the ice; crystal roses catching light with each turn and 
change of edge. Right now, the dress hangs outside my closet door, waiting for me. 
 Sometimes, I hate that dress. 
I am four years old, more snowsuit than child. My ankles wobble in dirty tan rental skates 
as I shuffle around the tiny outdoor rink. The other kids lean on stacks of plastic crates to keep 
themselves upright, but I refuse the crutch. I will skate on my own shaking ankles, and someday I 
will dance on ice like the skaters who smile through my television set. I push my blades against 
the ice harder and harder until velocity forces me down to my knees. I skate backwards and 
forwards, on two feet, then gliding on one. Later, I beg my parents for lessons, then a coach. I 
get real white figure skates with clean laces and two crystals on each toe. I am in love.  
Like all serious figure skaters, I have a dressmaker. My dressmaker’s studio is a shrine to 
the creative process — bolts of rich fabrics stacked high in the corners, uncapped tubes of 
crystals spilling onto tables stained with fabric paint. I know what I want, a white dress with pink 
roses and ribbons lacing up the back. I tell her my vision, and together we sit hunched over a 
sewing table with a piece of paper and a pencil, planning and erasing, saying this goes here and 
that goes there and, “Oh, wouldn’t these look lovely with pink crystals.” Each creative whimsy is 
11701134 
etched onto the page until my dream has been realized. Afterwards, I clutch the sketch, smudging 
my fingers as I trace over the graphite roses and ribbons.  
I am nine years old and I am ecstatic. I have landed a double jump for the first time, the 
youngest at my rink to do so. My coach gives me a hug and an approving smile, and my parents 
buy me a T­shirt that says “I landed my axel!” from the local skating store. This new jump 
makes me competitive, a “real skater” instead of a kid who goes to the rink sometimes. Two 
months later I will wave goodbye to my old coach and make the long drive to the storied Skating 
Club of Boston.  The old coach is replaced with four fancy new ones: one for jumps, one for 
spins, one for choreography, and one to manage the other three coaches. I skate everyday, I 
skate until my legs ache and my feet chafe and the tips of my fingers turn purple in the cold.  
It takes months to sew a skating dress, to take a roll of fabric and shape it into art. It is 
painstaking, exacting work, a skill so rare that most coaches have a single dressmaker deemed 
competent enough to create costumes for their skaters. Each piece of my dress is cut to my 
measurements, 18.9 inches from knee to hip, 24.6 inches around the waist, then threaded 
together with tiny white stitches. My dressmaker cuts the bodice from lycra before lining it with 
silk, then sews more silken fabric onto my hips to create a delicate skirt. The silk is expensive, 
but we use it anyway. You work so hard, my parents say. You deserve this. The uncut silk is soft 
as I hold it up to my body, and I wonder if I could ever be sad wearing something this beautiful. 
I am thirteen years old, long and bendy. I am a beautiful spinner. I can grab the tip of my 
left blade with my opposite hand as I spin, then straighten my knees until my legs are extended in 
a full split, my back arched at an impossible angle. I spin like this at the beginning of each of my 
routines, soaking in the jealous stares from my rivals, the high marks from judges.  Other 
 

Unworn

 

     My new dress is white with roses. It was made just for me, stitched precisely to the lines of my body. Each rose is hand painted with pink fabric paint, no fewer than five crystals painstakingly glued to each embroidered petal. White satin ribbons criss-cross the open back. Most figure skating dresses are polyester blend, but mine is pure silk, airy and fragile. The skirt ripples around my hips when I spin on the ice; crystal roses catching light with each turn and change of edge. Right now, the dress hangs outside my closet door, waiting for me.

     Sometimes, I hate that dress.

     I am four years old, more snowsuit than child. My ankles wobble in dirty tan rental skates as I shuffle around the tiny outdoor rink. The other kids lean on stacks of plastic crates to keep themselves upright, but I refuse the crutch. I will skate on my own shaking ankles, and someday I will dance on ice like the skaters who smile through my television set. I push my blades against the ice harder and harder until velocity forces me down to my knees. I skate backwards and forwards, on two feet, then gliding on one. Later, I beg my parents for lessons, then a coach. I get real white figure skates with clean laces and two crystals on each toe. I am in love.

     Like all serious figure skaters, I have a dressmaker. My dressmaker’s studio is a shrine to the creative process — bolts of rich fabrics stacked high in the corners, uncapped tubes of crystals spilling onto tables stained with fabric paint. I know what I want, a white dress with pink roses and ribbons lacing up the back. I tell her my vision, and together we sit hunched over a sewing table with a piece of paper and a pencil, planning and erasing, saying this goes here and that goes there and, “Oh, wouldn’t these look lovely with pink crystals.” Each creative whimsy is etched onto the page until my dream has been realized. Afterwards, I clutch the sketch, smudging my fingers as I trace over the graphite roses and ribbons.

     I am nine years old and I am ecstatic. I have landed a double jump for the first time, the youngest at my rink to do so. My coach gives me a hug and an approving smile, and my parents buy me a T-shirt that says “I landed my axel!” from the local skating store. This new jump makes me competitive, a “real skater” instead of a kid who goes to the rink sometimes. Two months later I will wave goodbye to my old coach and make the long drive to the storied Skating Club of Boston. The old coach is replaced with four fancy new ones: one for jumps, one for spins, one for choreography, and one to manage the other three coaches. I skate everyday, I skate until my legs ache and my feet chafe and the tips of my fingers turn purple in the cold.

     It takes months to sew a skating dress, to take a roll of fabric and shape it into art. It is painstaking, exacting work, a skill so rare that most coaches have a single dressmaker deemed competent enough to create costumes for their skaters. Each piece of my dress is cut to my measurements, 18.9 inches from knee to hip, 24.6 inches around the waist, then threaded together with tiny white stitches. My dressmaker cuts the bodice from lycra before lining it with silk, then sews more silken fabric onto my hips to create a delicate skirt. The silk is expensive, but we use it anyway. You work so hard, my parents say. You deserve this. The uncut silk is soft as I hold it up to my body, and I wonder if I could ever be sad wearing something this beautiful.

     I am thirteen years old, long and bendy. I am a beautiful spinner. I can grab the tip of my left blade with my opposite hand as I spin, then straighten my knees until my legs are extended in a full split, my back arched at an impossible angle. I spin like this at the beginning of each of my routines, soaking in the jealous stares from my rivals, the high marks from judges. Other coaches come up to me after competitions, saying, “I wish my students could spin like that.” I spin like this every day, tip my head back and spin around and around until I get so dizzy that everything goes black and stars dance across my eyes.

     My favorite part of my new dress is the ribbons lacing up my back. The lacing starts just under my shoulder blades, ending in a small bow at the nape of my spine. There is just something so romantic about a corset back. I took the idea from a book called The Bronze Horseman, an epic novel with the pretense of Tolstoy and the substance of Cinderella. A Red Army soldier comes home to Russia. He sees a peasant girl in a white dress with ribbons lacing up the back and falls madly in love. It is a silly book, but reading it, all I wanted was to love something as much as those characters loved each other.

     I am fifteen and my back hurts. It hurts when I jump, when I walk, when I sit at my desk in school. This is bad, this is wrong, I want to scream. I’m a teenager and my bones ache like I am already worn. When I grab my leg to spin I feel vertebrae rub and crunch, a dull knife sawing at my spine. I stop spinning.

     “Not today,” I tell my coaches. “Tomorrow, I’ll be better.” But tomorrow comes and it hurts to get out of bed. So I stop skating. The doctors tell me what I already know: my back is broken. I am broken.

     My back brace is white plastic. It squeezes my ribs and pinches my waist, it encases me day and night. If you hit the plastic hard enough through my clothes, I sound hollow.

     The most expensive part of a skating dress is the crystals. They are costly in themselves, but one mostly pays for the labor of applying them. Thousands of these tiny jewels must be glued onto the dress by hand, arranged in intricate patterns in order to reflect light and dazzle the judges. My dress has 1,300 stones: clear crystal for the bodice, matte opal for the ribbons, and three different shades of pink for the roses. I pick them out myself, holding each sample up to the fluorescent lights in my dressmaker’s studio, squinting as I try to discern the difference between a 6.2 mm Indian Pink and 4.0 mm Vintage Rose.

     I am sixteen and miserable. I am back on the ice, but after being of for months, my knees ache and my hips pull and my weakened ankles wobble like I am four years old again. I must skate slowly now. I must jump close to the ground. The brace is gone, but the knife in my back still saws with each landing. I watch the younger kids land their double jumps for the first time, hopping up and down on their toepicks and shouting “I did it!” with each twirl and trick. I watch my old rivals land triple jumps, watch them fly of for the National Championships and come home with new hardware. My back will bend no more, every stab of pain a firm reminder that I am not what I once was.

     I try on my new dress and wonder how such tiny crystals could become so heavy. They weigh on my chest, although the silk skirt lifts effortlessly when I twirl in front of the mirror. I admire the perfect stitches, the painted roses, the corset back, the hundreds of crystals glittering on every open inch of fabric. It is the most beautiful dress I have ever seen, and yet at the same time, I hate it. I hate that I made this beautiful, expensive, useless thing. I hate that I still feel hollow when I put it on.

     I am seventeen and tired. I am tired of skating, tired of pain, tired of feeling worn down. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to hang up my skates, to give in to my body and quit. But then I remember the little girl who wanted nothing more than to dance on the ice, who skated every day until her hands turned purple in the cold. I owe it to her to keep trying, to do the thing she loved as long as I physically can. So I decide to keep going, even though every practice is punctuated by pain in some part of my body. I get new music, a new routine ... all I need is a dress. I imagine a white dress with pink roses and ribbons lacing up the back, a dress so beautiful that simply putting it on will make me fall in love.

     Today I am competing. My new dress hangs outside my closet door. A bottle of little white pills sits on my dresser, painkillers that will allow me to perform an approximation of my old spins. I do not compete to win a medal, I compete because it is what I have always done. Because I have endured so much to be able skate. And it would be such a shame for that beautiful dress, with its white ribbons softly lacing up my back, to sit in my bedroom unworn.

 

Ginevra Davis is a 17 year old attending Concord Carlisle High School in Concord, Massachusetts.

 



Hush Little Baby

By: Lena Hartsough

Hush little baby, don’t say a word,

Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.

 

And if that mockingbird don’t sing,

Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.

 

And if that diamond ring don’t shine,

Mama’s gonna buy you a jug of wine.

 

And if that jug of wine turns sour,

Mama’s gonna buy you a bag of flour.

 

And if that bag of flour gets spilled,

Mama’s gonna buy you a board that’s drilled.

 

And if that board that’s drilled gets broke,

Mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat.

 

And if that billy goat turns mean,

Mama’s gonna buy you something green.

 

And if that something green turns brown,

You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.
 

I lay awake in the dark, staring at the cracked ceiling and trying to ignore the terrifying sounds coming from down the hall. I had been hearing them for the past seven years of my life, but I still found myself shuddering. I sat up, careful not to wake Lisa and Kari, who were on either side of me. Their closeness felt suffocating. I crawled to the edge of the bed, stood up, and walked over to the window. I stared out the tiny rectangle of thick glass at the glowing moon. For the millionth time, I wondered what went on in Mother’s room every night that caused such screams.

A pitter-patter of tiny footsteps made me whirl around, my nightgown swirling. I relaxed as I saw it was only Leo, the youngest inhabitant of our prison-like room. I smiled at the small six-year-old boy, and he grinned back. He held his arms up to me, and pointed at the window. I scooped him up and held him so he could see the moon. He tilted his head against my shoulder. We stood there for quite some time, until he yawned, and I carried him back to the bed he shared with the other six boys. I tucked him in, and he signed, Good night, Sara, before closing his eyes to sleep. I returned to the window, pulling a chair over. I watched the moon and stars as they cycled across the sky.

Shaking woke me. Lola’s face was inches from mine when I opened my eyes. I made a face at her, and she giggled noiselessly. I could see the stump where her tongue used to be. You fell asleep at the window again, Sara, she signed.

I shrugged, and signed back, You know it happens almost every night.

She nodded in agreement. I sat up fully, rubbing my cheek where it had pressed into the hard wall, and looked around the room. Everyone was waking up, stretching and yawning. I shivered, partly from the deep chill of the room and partly from the sight of all those tongueless mouths. Fourteen children, none of whom did anything to deserve this, were now trapped in a room and mute. Why? What did Mother do in her room with the samples of blood she took from each of us every day? Was there something special about us, or did she just pick us off the streets? And why did we need to be mutilated? I shook my head; thinking like that could be dangerous. I could get in trouble with Mother if she found out I was questioning her.

Speak of the devil.

The door slammed open and Mother flounced in, carrying a heavily-laden tray with our breakfasts on it. “Good morning, children!” she sang, starting to pass out our food. When she reached me, she set my plate of toast, eggs, and bacon in my lap, and pinched my cheek. “Were we sleeping by the window again, Sara?”

I nodded. I love the moon, I signed, and Mother nodded in agreement.

“It was beautiful last night!” she exclaimed, before moving on to pass Lola her breakfast. Once she had given us all food, she took out the little box with fourteen syringes in it, and asked us to line up. We obeyed, and she took exactly five milliliters of blood from each of us. Then she gave us small band-aids and left, without saying a word.

We weren’t surprised by the strange order; Mother always told us to have fun. We didn’t understand how we could have fun in a small room with no furnishings but the beds, two chairs, and a large stack of books, but we made the most of it. We played acting games and charades, we poured over new sign language books, we read the other books Mother allowed us over and over again. I can’t say it was a terrible life, but it was a boring one, and one full of confusion and slight fear. We were always afraid that if we managed to somehow make a noise we would get punished. We had all witnessed her anger; the first day Leo was with us he had started crying and tried to run when Mother tried to take his blood. She had lost her temper and screamed at us all for forty-five minutes. We had ended that breakfast with bruises and a greater fear of the unknown woman who told us to call her “Mother”.

She was beautiful, I mused as we ate our breakfast. There was never a hair out of place, and she had icy blue eyes. She was tall and poised, and she was even kind to us most of the time. But there was the slight madness in her eyes, no matter how sane Mother seemed. We knew she left the house during the day, and came back to her room at night. But we had no idea what she was doing.

Distracted as I was, I didn’t notice Shawn’s signs until Leo tugged on my sleeve. I glanced up in time to catch him sign pretending to be nice all the time. He seemed disgusted. I turned to Leo with a look that said, what’s happening? He shrugged, seeming just as confused as me, but he signed, Shawn thinks it’s stupid that Mother pretends all the time.

I frowned, and returned my attention to the conversation that Shawn had started. He was a rather hot-headed boy of nine, but even he wouldn’t be stupid enough to mention that in front of Mother. Lisa was disagreeing with Shawn.

She is not pretending, Lisa signed. She wouldn’t lie to us. She’s nice!

Shawn sneered. You think she is nice even when you see what happens when we disobey her? Are you crazy?

Everyone started signing at once, and I waved my arms through the air. When they had stopped, I signed, Everyone calm down. We may not know what Mother does, but we know that she is probably insane. I don’t really think there is anything we can do, so we should stop thinking about it and just live like we have been.

Rich shook his head. You think you are the best and always in charge just because you’re the oldest, Sara, he signed. I’m only a year younger, and I say we should find a way to escape.

I clenched my teeth and leaned back into the worn back of my chair as the flurry of angry signs started again. Arguments like these happened at least once a month. A few times, some of the kids had been convinced that we should try to escape, but they always chickened out at the last second. I had learned to just wait them out.

All of a sudden, Leo and Caroline started tugging hard on my sleeves. I stared at them, confused, to find them pointing at our tiny window. I followed their intent gazes and saw a small bird pecking at the glass. I waved my arms for a second time, and when I had their attention, pointed in the same direction as our youngest two. Everyone crowded around, and I sucked in a breath, worried that they’d scare the creature away. The bird only cocked its head at us, however, and chirped. At least, I think it chirped. I couldn’t hear it through the glass.

Evan jumped up and down, then ran to our small bookshelf and pulled out our big book of avian species. He flipped through it, then ran back to us. He pointed at a page, and I raised an eyebrow. A mockingbird, I signed to the rest.

Dylan opened his mouth and laughed in our silent way. How ironic, he signed.

Barbara frowned. It’s mocking us, she signed.

I guess that is its job, Iona mused. To mock people.

Evan shook his head, setting down the heavy book so he could sign. It is called a mockingbird because it can mock, or imitate, some birds, insects, and amphibians.

Nerd, Philip signed, ruffling Evan’s hair fondly. Evan slapped his hand away in mock anger.

It’s pretty, Caroline signed, eyes fixed on the creature.

We all nodded, but I couldn’t help but remember the line from the lullaby Mother sang us every night. Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. What would come next? A diamond ring? I grinned at the thought.

After that, the mockingbird came back every day and pecked at our window. Freddy came up with a sign name for the bird, combining the signs for free and bird. We talked about it often, us older ones wondering why it kept coming back when we couldn’t feed it or do anything else for it.

One night, I went over to the window as I had the day before we first saw the mockingbird, to look at the moon. I watched the bright, white light until I began to drift off, but was snapped back to wakefulness by the now familiar tapping. I was confused. Mockingbirds aren't nocturnal. But I peered out the window into the dark night anyway, and sure enough, saw the small, pale brown shape staring at me with a little black eye that reflected the moon. Why are you here, Freebird? I signed, not caring that it was a dumb animal that couldn’t understand me. You are diurnal.

It stared at me, and jabbed at the window. Doesn’t that hurt? I asked.

It didn’t answer. I shrugged, and laid my head back down on my arms. We examined each other, the bird still pecking away, then a loud screech from Mother’s room startled it, and it hopped backwards. It looked at me in a way that seemed almost reproachful. It spread its wings and took off, spiraling off in a slow, teasing flight, up towards the crescent moon.

It’s not fair, I thought. If I could still speak, I would be whining. Why can’t we fly? Why can’t we soar up towards the moon and freedom just like the mockingbird? It’s not fair. None of us deserve this.

I went to sleep with tears on my face that night.

“—You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town,” Mother cooed, gently covering Leo and the other boys with their blanket. The younger children had already fallen asleep. Mother pressed a moist kiss to Leo’s forehead, and tiptoed out of the room. I watched her, heard the door shut, and closed my eyes. 3…2…1… The screaming from Mother’s room started. I sighed.

Freebird had been visiting for nearly a month. It had always been able to leave just in the nick of time before Mother came in, and it now came almost every night as well as the day, knowing it wouldn’t be heard by Mother over the sounds. Several hours into the night, it would show up by our window and start its relentless tapping. Tonight was no different, except the taps seemed more urgent.

I got out of bed and crept over to the window, staring at the small bird. It paused for a moment, and fluttered into the air, flying in frantic circles. I stared at it. Had all the knocking finally made it go mad?

Then I froze. Silence had fallen. There were no screams from Mother’s room. Leo sat up, staring at me with wide eyes. The quiet had woken him. The others began stirring as well. Accustomed as we were to the noise, we could not sleep without it. Freebird began beating its wings against the glass, and I started to shake. Footsteps pounded down the hallway, and the door slammed open. Mother stormed in. This was not the Mother that sang “Hush Little Baby” to us. This was the Mother that punished us, the Mother whose insanity shone out through her eyes with nothing to block it.

“Come on, children,” she said in a crazed, reedy voice. “We’re going on a little field trip!” She giggled. When none of us moved, her smile faded. “Now!”

I stood up, taking one last glance at Freebird. It was beside itself. The rest followed me, clambering out of bed. We stood in front of Mother, who lead us out of the room and down the hallway. The door was open. We all knew what it was. Mother’s room. She took my hand and tugged me inside. The others followed.

 

Lena Viola Hartsough is fourteen years old. She lives in San Francisco.



Gone

By: Malia Spencer

The tree’s branches clawed at the sky, it’s roots old and twisted. The child wept in painful silence. Tears flowed down her cheeks and off her chin, leaving her skin red and mottled. Lyla raised her head to explore the forest canopy as if in search of answers.

She whispered to the sky, so quietly it was only meant to be a secret to the wind. “I wish he’d just go away forever, he ruined everything.” As the words toppled out of her mouth, she sagged against the tree and her eyelids dragged her into a heavy sleep.

The morning radio cracked through the haze and Lyla awoke, her memories groggy and her skin sticky from the tears that had spritzed her face the night before. Streaks of sunlight poured through the blinds and danced on her bed sheets.

She couldn’t remember getting into her bed, or even out from under the tree; it all seemed like a dream when she thought about it. Then she heard the door creak open and her mother’s gentle voice, which pulled her into reality.

“Lyla, please come to the table.” With each word, her mother’s voice shook, and then she hurried from the doorway.

Lyla swung her feet out of bed and stumbled down the hallway. She stopped at Conner’s door, poking her head through the tiny crack to get a glimpse at her older brother. His bed was neatly made and he wasn’t inside, so she lazily moved one tiny foot over the other sliding into the kitchen.

At the table, her mother looked like a storm, her ash hair pulled into a bun. Her face was fresh red from crying and her hands shook as she clutched her black mug of coffee.

Lyla’s father was something new altogether. The man who would twirl Lyla around the kitchen was now a stranger, his playful light snuffed out.

“Mom? Dad?” Lyla spoke quietly, yet her parents still seemed to flinch from her words.

“He’s gone, Lyla.” Her mother’s lips barely moved. Although her voice was quiet, the remark hit Lyla like a tsunami and she swiveled her head in panic, searching for Conner.

“Gone?” The question escaped her lips like a gasp, before tears burst from her eyes and the breath rushed from her lungs. Lyla looked from her mother to father, but neither of them spoke. They just sat there, completely paralyzed by their grief.

Shaking her head, Lyla rose to her feet. Just as her mother’s eyes awoke and she threw a hand out for her daughter, Lyla tore away through the front door, the nip of autumn biting her cheeks. She launched herself out of her comfortable home and into to the wild.

Lyla ran down the dirt driveway, up the hill, and into the skeletal trees of the forest. Her feet smacked against the cool leaves that matted the ground, snapping twigs and crushing pinecones. The wind blew against her nightgown and the cold climbed up her body, but she refused to stop. Branches clawed at patches of her black hair, and the birds squawked in fury. As she propelled herself through the forest, her mind went blank and she could feel her face transforming like her parents’ had.

“Conner! Conner!” Lyla screamed with raw intensity. It charged the air as she reached the old oak. “You stupid thing! You stupid thing, give him back! I didn’t mean it, I want him back!” Lyla pounded her runty fists against the tree until her knuckles sprouted with blood. She raked the tree with child’s claws and continued its beating. She was relentless and her body went numb as she savagely attacked the tree.

Now she couldn’t believe their silly little fight that had caused her to cry herself to sleep. She couldn’t believe any of it. It was all her fault. She had wished him gone. She had done this.

Lyla remembered Conner’s voice and his many, many warnings. At the time, the warnings were confused with wishes. “The tree will give you everything you ever could want, Ly.” Now she understood, and her body shook feverishly with the awakening of the memory.

A cry seeped into her voice. “I’d do anything to have you back,” she whispered, a promise to the wind again. A pearly tear tumbled down her cheek.

As the air grew colder, so did her heart.

 

Malia Spencer is fifteen years old. She lives in Arvada, Colorado.



Cartly

By: Sophia Bryant

I haven’t stood in this spot in exactly 13 years, 6 months, and 21 days–my birthday 13 years ago–the day I was taken to England.

My name is Clara Anderson. I am 20 years old and I’ve always been way taller than anyone else I knew. I grew up in Cartly Island, a small Scottish island with only about 15 people living there. I lived in a foster home there, with eight other kids plus Ms. Lucy, the director of the home. Ms. Lucy was nice to everyone and never would get mad or angry about anything.

It was my 7th birthday and we were all tired from the small party we had just had so we all went to sleep, thinking that tomorrow would be a normal day just like all the rest. But that was the night our childhoods were ruined. That was the night that my life came tumbling down.

No one knew what happened to Ms. Lucy after that night, and with me only being a 7-year-old, I thought it was all my fault because it was my birthday. And over all of these years, I had started to believe it was true. I think about Cartly every single day. This all sounds like a story in a book, but it’s not just the story of my terrible childhood.

After 13 years, I finally was allowed to come back, after begging and begging my “parents”. I was so excited to finally be here again–so eager to find Ms. Lucy and everyone else I had known as a child. Mackenzie, my best friend from the foster home, had come with me. We were staring at the sea surrounding us, my long dirty blond hair blowing in the wind.

“What are we going to do first?” Mackenzie said being a very chatty person.

“Should we go find Ms. Lucy or explore the island?”

“I say we go find a room to stay in first, and then we can make plans.” I responded.

“Sounds like a plan!”

“Then let’s go.”

We walked to the center of the island where the town was, hoping maybe someone would remember us. When we got there every building, person, and thing reminded me of what had happened to us, the 2 men, the ship, every last We found the inn, the only place with rooms on the whole island.

Mackenzie and I had only been in here once, the night that the fire started in the kitchen. (It hadn’t hurt anyone or damaged anything). We walked in and the lady running the front desk screamed, “I can’t believe my eyes! Is that you Mackenzie? And what was your name?” This was Lisa, known for being the loudest person in all of Cartly.

“It’s Clara ma’am. We would like to stay in a room.”

“Well by all means. I’ll have to tell Lucy the great news.”

Mackenzie spoke up. “Do you mean Ms. Lucy?” she said enthusiastically.

“No, no, I’m talking about Lucy Stuart, the old manager of the fish shop. Who is this Ms. Lucy you are talking about?”

“Ms. Lucy, the headmistress of the foster home.”

“I think you must be mistaken. The headmistress is Mrs. McCleary. There never has been any other Lucy’s on this island except for old Lucy Stuart. I think you might just be confused. How about a visit to Lucy’s room?”

“No, you’re wrong. Ms. Lucy was the leader of the foster home. She was as real as you and me.” I said. By the look in Mackenzie’s eyes, I could tell how nerve-racking this felt for us both, having just been told that the person who had taken care of us and loved us didn’t even exist. We followed Lisa and walked up the stairs.

We walked past the three rooms, one of which we had stayed in all those years ago. When we got to the door where Lucy Stuart was staying, Lisa knocked on the door and waited patiently. It seemed to take forever for it to open, but when it did, my heart started to beat very fast.

“Yes?” Lucy Stuart said in a rough voice. “Hello Linda, who are these 2 children?” I guess everyone in an old lady's world is a child. She was covered in wrinkles from head to toe and her gray hair was shining in the light. The way she smiled with her whole entire body reminded me of Ms. Lucy, but after all of these years, I couldn’t recall any other feature or trait about Ms. Lucy. I didn't have any photos or drawings.

“It’s Lisa, and this is Mackenzie...and what was your name again?” I guess forgetting names is just a thing in the adult world.

But I decided not to complain and just said, “It’s Clara, nice to meet you."

“Ms. Lucy will do fine.” Mackenzie and I both looked at each other, never forgetting the name we had said so many times years ago.

By the time we had finished talking, it was dark outside, completely ruining our plans to explore. We both decided to go to sleep.

One thing about Cartly, is that very few people actually come here, meaning there are only about three rooms in the inn, and one was filled my Lucy and the other one by Lisa. Mackenzie and I would have to both share the other small room.

We talked for a while both wondering what she had meant by the fact that there never was a Ms. Lucy.

***

We got up bright and early the next morning and went to go talk to Lisa. “Good morning Mackenzie and...” She stuttered for a second, “I'm sorry but I keep forgetting your name.”

“It’s Clara.” I said, “We were just about to go explore the island.”

“Ok, be safe.” She said as we walked out the door.

We had been walking around for about an hour now, everything reminding me of the night more than 13 years ago. My life flashing back, the long boat ride, the houses we were taken to. And then we got there, the old children’s home, looking like it hasn’t even been touched. Now looking at it, I wonder what happened to all of the other children. The only person from the home I had seen in all these years was Mackenzie. We decided to go inside, chills running down my spine.

***

Nothing can explain what just happened I have nowhere to go, every time I close my eyes I can see it.

After what seems like ages I decide to go back to the inn. I can barely walk, breathing hard. When I finally get there Lisa is eating lunch.

“Sweetie, what happened to you?”

I mutter back, “Ms. Lucy. Mackenzie. All of the other children.”

“Honey, what are you talking about? And where is your friend?”

“That’s what I’m telling you. She disappeared. They were all there, and then they just disappeared.”

“Who do you mean by them?”

“All of the children in the home.”

“You and Mackenzie were the only people that ever did live in the children’s home.”

“No there were 6 others,” I said very confused.

“No, only you and Mackenzie.” Said Lisa. “Would you like me to go there with you?”

“No thank you. Not after what just happened.” I said.

“Explain to me what happened.”

“Ok. First, Mackenzie and I walked in. I had turned the other way to look at something, and when I turned back around she was gone. I walked all around the place trying to find her. I walked in the bedroom hoping she would be there, and then I saw them. Ms. Lucy and all of the other children were there.” I started to get very scared “And then they just vanished, leaving Mackenzie standing there. I tried to run for her and ask her what was going on. But then, just like everyone else she vanished.”

I could tell how scared Lisa was, “It was probably just your imagination.”

But we both knew it was not.

 

Sophia Bryant is 12 years old and lives in Louisville, KY.



Into the Void

By: Cristian Martinez

“Are we almost there?” Lupe asked.  The rumbling of the truck drowned her voice.  She tried again, louder, but all that came out was the rasping of her throat.  The truck slowed to a halt.  Lupe felt the people around her perk up.  She listened to footsteps crunch on the rough desert road near the back of the truck.  Lupe faced the sound, eyes wide. 

The door opened and a blinding light swarmed in, reflecting off of sweat.  Faint mumbling erupted amongst them.  Lupe shivered as a brisk blast of air hit her.  She pressed against her boyfriend’s body, but he stood up and jumped off the truck.  The rest of the people followed suit.  They kept quiet so as to not attract any wildlife.  Eventually, Lupe got up and asked for a bottle of water.  As she gulped down the warm, sandy fluid, a little girl came up to her, “May I have some water, too, por favor?” 

“Of course, nena,” she replied, handing the bottle over.  Lupe walked away from the truck, towards the dark abyss of the desert.  She could hear the howls of coyotes in the distance, the soft whistle of the desert breeze.  As she stood there, she imagined she was facing her home.  It had been three days since they began to travel.  Every day she traveled the farthest distance she had been from home. 

~

It wasn’t her idea to go to the states.  In fact, she was quite content with her life back at the pueblo.  She loved the rich smell of burning wood in the morning, the buzz of insects flying through the thick forested mountains, but her mother insisted she went to the states.  Their crops weren’t as productive as previous years, they had no money to buy more animals, and the family had grown immensely.  Lupe was the eleventh child of thirteen.

Lupe’s mother was a strong woman at the peak of her strength, but now she showed signs of fatigue.  Her face slowly wrinkled over time, her hair lost its black brilliance and now seemed to have been touched by the moon’s rays.  She tried to keep the house together, but without her husband, no one took her seriously.  It would be a great day if she could find a loaf of bread for her children to share.

Despite the family’s shortcomings, Lupe knew nothing else.  She had grown to live with their poverty.  She didn’t ask for anything, but her mother wanted a brighter future for her.  When Lupe’s boyfriend offered to take her to the states, Lupe’s mother quickly decided for her.

“You deserve a better life than mine,” she said, caressing Lupe’s hand. 

A week after, during the dark hours of the morning, Lupe got her backpack of provisions and headed to the village plaza.  A pickup truck stood parked at the center, illuminated by a single lamppost.  The truck had seen many miles of desert, had carried countless people to what they thought was their dream.

Her boyfriend sat at the back of the truck.  He didn’t acknowledge her presence.  She never understood why he was so indifferent.  She blamed it on his father, a cruel man that spent his weekends getting drunk and taking his anger out on his wife and children.  Her brothers warned her against dating him.  They feared he would turn out to be just like his father.   

She threw herself next to him.  No reaction. They sat there in silence as several others crammed themselves into the space.  After a couple of minutes of heavy breathing, the driver got into the truck. 

They felt the engine roar to life.  Lupe felt her stomach turn, her fingers clutched her backpack.  She felt paralyzed, helpless, empty.  When the truck started to move, she wanted to jump out and run back home, run back to her mother, her family, but she stayed there, quiet.  Whether it was to follow her mother’s wishes, for herself, or for her boyfriend, she did not know.

They drove through the rugged mountain roads, frequently driving over potholes that would jolt people into the air.  They watched the sun rise from the mountains, throwing its rays across the vast land. 

They drove all day, and the sun was beginning to set when stone houses appeared from behind the mountains.  The road led to an entrance, after which it disappeared.  People slowly moved to the side as the car approached.  Children ran across the cobbled streets, playing with a deflated ball.  A group of men sat on their house steps, enjoying a couple bottles of beer. 

The driver took them to a small church.  Once the car stopped, Lupe got off the pickup and stretched.  Her boyfriend stayed in the truck.  Lupe looked around and spotted a small shop.  She headed in and looked for something to drink. 

“Where are we?” The small voice had come from a young woman behind her.  Lupe turned around to see a willowy figure looking down at her.  Lupe recognized her face.  She had often seen her in the village soccer courts, dominating the game.  What was her name, again?  She looked frightened.

“I’m not sure.  I think we’re nearing the border.”

“I’ve seen you around before, haven’t I?  You’re Lupe, right?  The one dating El Colorado’s son?”  Her boyfriend’s father had quite the reputation around the village as an abusive man. They called him “the colored one”, a nickname for the devil.  She didn’t wait for Lupe to answer.

“My name’s Laura.”

“Lupe,” she nodded at Laura as acknowledgement. 

“What did you see in him?” Laura asked, referring to her boyfriend.

“Who, Clemente?”

“Is that his name?  Yeah, him.”

“He’s not like his father,” she pressed, but even to her it sounded like she was trying to convince herself.  After their initial spell of love wore off, he became cold and distant.  He would humiliate her in front of his friends to make them laugh.  He would ignore her at times, and at others they would make passionate love.  His mood constantly changed, and Lupe didn’t know why she was still with him.
Lupe paid for a bottle of water and they both walked out.  The sky had turned into a rich shade of blue.  The sun seemed to be completely set, but its rays still managed to break through.  She walked back to the truck to find her boyfriend laying in the truck alone, gazing at the star streaked sky.  Lupe didn’t like to look up at the sky.  It frightened her to see.  She sat next to him and offered him the bottle.  He drank it all and belched loudly, then grunted in thanks. 

They stayed there for a couple of minutes, in silence.  Lupe sat there pondering her future alone in an unknown world.  Unbeknownst to her, the same thoughts haunted Clemente’s mind.  His back still hurt from the whipping his father had given him a couple days ago for dropping a bucket of drinking water.  His father was probably wondering where he was.  Clemente had decided he could no longer live with him.  He did love Lupe, but he didn’t know how to express his feelings.  He couldn’t say “I love you” because it felt stupid, too sentimental.  He couldn’t let his guard down.  Besides, he wasn't blessed with good looks.  What if she tried to leave him?  What if she had someone else in mind?  He couldn’t risk losing her.  She was his only companion now. 

The driver came back once the moon floated high above their heads.  The clouds broke the moonlight, like leaves of trees in sunlight. 

“Is everyone here?” he asked.  Everyone had returned and they replied softly in response.  “Follow me.”  He led them to the back of a church.  A truck stood there, engine purring.  The back was open and the man motioned for them to get in.  The group huddled to the truck and climbed on board.  As Lupe climbed in, she heard the cries of a group of coyotes in the distance.  Once everyone was inside, the man closed the truck.  Everyone was silent. They felt the truck begin to move.

This is it. There’s no turning back now. For some reason, she felt the same way now as when she looked up at the sky.

Lupe reached next to her and grabbed Clemente’s hand. Her fingers wrapped themselves around his clammy ones. He tightened his grip.

~

Lupe stared at the horizon as she saw rays of light pushing through the dark sky.  Everyone had started to go back in, but she stood there, at the line between road and desert.  She watched the sky turn a rosy shade of pink.  She watched the stars disappear into the oblivion.  She watched the sky, the terrible sky.  She wanted to look away, but couldn’t  She felt her stomach churn, as if she were flying towards the emptiness.

A hand grabbed her shoulder, and her moment shattered.  She turned around and saw it was Clemente.  He motioned to the truck.

“We have to go.”

“Do we?  Why can’t we stay here?  We can live happily here.  I don’t mind being poor.”

“No, we have to go,” he pressed, a hint of impatience in his voice.  He tried keeping calm, but he felt his impatience begin to turn into anger.  Lupe, sensing the tension, walked back.  She didn’t want to make him angry while they were still traveling. 

~

After another day of travel in the hot confines of the truck, they came out into the air.  They were off the road, near the base of a mesa.  Plateau and mountain surrounded them.  A scorpion, pale as the underbelly of a fish and illuminated by the moon’s milky light, crept across the brittle ground.  It stopped in front of Lupe’s foot, who looked down at it in disgust.  With a grunt, she crushed it under the torn soles of her shoes.

“We’re walking,” said the leader.  Lupe grabbed her bag and jumped off.  They walked in a group, eyes on the ground, trying to scrutinize what they were stepping on.  Their only sense of direction was the flashlight bobbing up and down in front of them and the faint moonlight that managed to break through the clouds.  Trees began to surround them, blocking out what little natural light they had.  They walked for a while on what seemed to be a very faint path.  After a couple of minutes, they stopped.

“Let’s make camp here.” 

The leader made a fire, illuminating where they were.  It was a clearing amongst the trees, with a canopy of leaves over them.  Clemente threw his bag against a tree trunk and plopped down, hands behind his head.  He motioned for Lupe to do the same.

Lupe looked around for a comfortable area.  She lay down near the tree Clemente was, in the shade of various small trees.  She watched the fire flicker, listening to the buzz of the bugs, feeling the cool breeze caress her face.  Slowly, sleep began to pull her eyes closed. 

~

“Lupe!” The shout woke her up.  Everyone was scrambling.  Countless flashlights surrounded them. 

“La migra!” They had found them. 

She saw Clemente frantically searching for her, but no one could see her. She was safe in her area. She saw as the officials held people down. She watched as they were taken away. Still, no one spotted her.  In the chaos, their guide showed up behind her, with a small group of people.

“Come with us!  Quick!” They reached for Lupe.  She watched as the officials captured Clemente.  She felt herself move towards him, but if she went with Clemente, she had no idea what to do from then. She didn’t even know if she wanted to be with Clemente. He hadn’t done anything yet, but she was afraid of him, afraid of what he might become. But if she didn’t, she might get across the border on her own. She could live on her own and create a new life. She could be away from him.

“Come, now!” 

She tried to move, to go with the guide, to return with Clemente, but she couldn’t. She crouched there, feeling the blood in her fingers turn cold, feeling the vibrations on the ground of the scattering group, listening to the coyotes howl at the dark void above. She couldn’t move.

 

Cristian Martinez is a senior at Regis High School in New York.



Kryptonite

By: Matthew Shuirman

Fin-ish him! Fin-ish him!The hymn of two hundred bloodthirsty teens echoed throughout the abandoned rock quarry and up into the night sky. “Fin-ish him! Fin-ish him!Gavin and Ayn, leaning against the side of Gavin’s Jeep Wrangler, silently watched the fight from up on the fourth tier. “Fin-ish him! Fin-ish him!

The teenagers had turned the rock quarry into a coliseum. The four ten-foot tall steps cut into the rock served as their oversized stadium seats, and the bottom of the quarry had become the arena floor. Someone with fire abilities had lined the rock walls of the bottom of the quarry with flames, which filled the entire arena with a shifting orange glow.

Fin-ish him! Fin-ish him! Fin-ish him!

The third fight of the night was nearing a close. The brawl had been between Blake ‘The Hulk’ Bennet and Harry ‘Snowball’ Sheer. Harry put up a good fight, but in the end his ice powers proved no match for Blake’s super strength. Blake had Harry pinned against a boulder, and everyone knew Harry’s end was near. Blake’s hand was wrapped around Harry’s throat. He raised his other hand in the air and motioned for the crowd to make more noise. They obliged, chanting “Fin-ish him! Fin-ish him!with redoubled enthusiasm.

Satisfied with the crowd’s support, Blake palmed Harry’s head and smashed it into the boulder with all his super strength. Harry’s head exploded like a squashed watermelon.

The teenagers roared with delight.

Blake let Harry’s body slump to the ground. He beat his fists against his bare, blood-splattered chest as the crowd showered him with
praise. Throwing his head back, he howled at the moon.

Ayn trembled inside Gavin’s oversized sweatshirt. She closed her eyes in a vain attempt to shut the gory scene out of her mind. Gavin elbowed the side of her arm. “You’re up next,” he teased.

That marks the third win for The Hulk,Lazarus announced over his bullhorn. “The fourth challenger of the night will be Ayn Williams, with the power of super speed. The next fight will begin in ten minutes. Ayn, please make your way down to the Preparation Table on the second tier.

Gavin put two fingers on Ayn’s chin and turned her head towards him. Ayn opened her eyes. “Hey,” Gavin said with an encouraging
smile. “Hey, why the long face? You’ve got this, Ayn. You can literally run circles around this guy.”

He’s...” Ayn got choked up, and the words caught in her
throat. She looked down at the arena floor. Blake was still celebrating his victory. “He’s going to
crush me. You spent all your savings to pay for my entry fee. If I...If I don’t win this, we’ll never make enough money to get out of this town.”
Gavin stroked her cheek. “Look at me. You
will win. And if you don’t, we’ll find a way. We always do.”
Ayn took off Gavin’s sweatshirt and handed it to him, exposing her arms to the cold air. The chill was invigorating. “I should probably head down to the Table.”

You’ve got this, Ayn. I believe in you.”

***

The Preparation Table was a folding plastic table covered with an assortment of melee weapons. It had everything from knives to a mace to even a samurai sword. Where the hell did Lazarus get all this shit? Ayn wondered. There were so many weapons that they were threatening to spill off the table.

Here,” said Lazarus’s servant. He was holding out a dark green Kryptonite tablet and a paper cup of water. “Take these.” Ayn took them. “Have you ever taken Kryptonite before?”

Once,” Ayn said. She popped the tablet in her mouth and downed it with the water. Not a fun experience.

Well, I’ll give you the rundown anyways. Your powers will kick in after only thirty seconds. You’ll feel a little lightheaded in the beginning. The new tablets also have anesthetics laced in...”

Do you ever wonder why they call it Kryptonite?” Ayn blabbed. The words came tumbling off her tongue unbidden. “I mean, I get that it’s from a comic book, and that it’s dark green and all that, but Kryptonite takes away Superman’s powers right? So when you think about it that way it’s a pretty shitty name for a drug that gives you super pow...”

The servant cleared his throat.

Ayn felt her cheeks flush. “Sorry. I start talking uncontrollably when I...when I’m nervous.”

Pick a weapon.”

After thinking through her options, Ayn chose a kitchen knife. It wasn’t the most menacing of the weapons on the table, not by a long shot, but she figured it would work well for her. The smaller the weapon, the more easily she could jab her opponent and then dash out of his reach.

The servant gestured with an open hand towards the ramp that lead down to the quarry floor. “The Quarry awaits you.”

The ramp, which was right next to the Preparation Table, was thirty feet long. Ayn’s legs took one step after another, descending. She felt the heat emanating from the unquenchable fires burning along the walls of the quarry floor.

Entering the Quarry floor now is Ayn ‘The Bullet’ Williams, who will be facing off against the undefeated Hulk. Everybody, give it up for The Bullet!
The crowd hollered and clapped for Ayn. The echoing applause crashed down on her, making her feel small. She was all too aware of the four hundred eyes watching her every move. Her head spun. Blake glared at her, beating one fist against his bare chest like a war drum.

Girl!” he said, pointing at Ayn like Babe Ruth calling his shot. “I’m going to tear you limb from limb from limb from limb!”

Ayn's legs kept moving, dragging her towards the middle of the quarry. They finally stopped once she stood about thirty feet away from Blake. She tightened her grip around the handle of her knife. Her heart was threatening to beat out of her chest. What if my powers never kick in?! What if...

Let the fight...BEGIN!

Ayn and Blake watched each other closely, each waiting for the other to make a move. Then in one continuous motion, Blake scooped up a bowling-ball sized rock off the ground with one hand and hurled it at Ayn. She barely had time to lean out of the way as the rock soared by her and dissipated into dust against the wall behind her.

Blake picked up another rock. Just as it left his hand, Ayn ran a few feet to the right. At least, she intended it to only be a few feet. But she felt a rush of wind in her hair, and next thing she knew, she was a whole ten feet away from where she’d been standing! The rock flew through the empty air where her head would have been and smashed against the back wall. The crowd cheered.

I guess my powers kicked in.

Blake was breathing rabidly, his chest heaving up and down. “Stop playing games,” he growled.

Ayn didn’t budge. Her feet remained planted in the dirt, paralyzed by fear. After a few moments, Blake grew impatient and bolted at her. She sped away reflexively, and he barreled through the empty space where she’d been. He reeled to face her, face red, and charged again. Ayn blurred away from him with ease.

The Hulk’s face writhed with anger. “Coward!” he spat before rushing at her for a third time.

Ayn remembered the kitchen knife in her hands. This time as Blake came at her, she only moved a few feet out of his path, holding the knife out as he ran by. He barreled past her, making a grunt as he ran by.

Blake stopped and looked down at the new gash on his thigh. Blood drooled down his leg. He touched the wound with his fingers and, making eye contact with Ayn, he brought his fingertips up to his mouth and sucked the blood off. A chill ran down Ayn’s spine.

Come and get me,” Blake said, making ‘come here’ motions with his hands.
Ayn took a long breath out, her cheeks ballooning. “It’s alright,” she muttered to herself. She bounced anxiously on her toes. “You can do this, Ayn. You already cut him once, you can do it again."

Before Ayn had time to talk herself out of it, she took off. The world around her blurred into lines of light, like the Millennium Falcon jumping into hyperspace. She held her knife up in front of her and hoped for the best.

Then, just before she sunk the knife into Blake’s chest, something smacked her hard on the side of her left arm, forceful enough to knock her off her feet. Blake had backhanded her, she realized as she flew through the air. A car going seventy couldn’t have sent her sailing as far as his super-strengthed slap.

Oooh!” the crowd gasped in horrified delight.

Ayn's left shoulder crashed into the flame-covered wall. She lost a few second to blackout, and the next thing she was lying on the
dirt. Something - many things - on the right side of her body were broken. A tall tongue of flame had sprouted on her shoulder. She beat it out with her left hand, and even that small movement sent waves of pain rippling through her midsection. She winced. Luckily for her, the new Kryptonite tablets doubled as anesthetics. Still, this was more pain than she had ever experienced in her life.

The knife, she remembered. It was a few feet away from her, she saw. Her desire for self-preservation propelled her to pick it up. Pain shot through the right half of her body every time she inched her right elbow forward. When she got to the knife, she picked it up in her left hand instead of her right. Her right was her dominant, but that entire side of her body was useless now.

The Hulk! The Hulk! The Hulk!”

As Blake basked in praise, Ayn struggled to her feet. She felt like fainting, like vomiting. Like quitting. I could dash out of here. Run to Gavin’s arms. The thought was so enticing...

No.

Gavin had put up the money for her entry fee. He was counting on her to win so they could get enough money to finally leave this godforsaken town. No. She wouldn’t let him down.

She ran at Blake again.

But her injuries made her slower than before. When she got within arms reach of Blake, he reeled back and smacked her again. This time he hit her on her right side, her broken side.

The pain drove Ayn unconscious.
When she woke up on the ground, she couldn’t tell how much time had passed. A second? A minute? A day? She didn’t know or care. The pain made everything seem distant, false, dreamlike. Blake was marching towards her. That was important. Why was that important, again?

Somehow, she rose to her feet. Blake was strutting towards her. He took his damn time. Showing off for the crowd. Ayn had to kill him. She couldn’t remember why, but she did.

She rushed at him for the last time.

Her legs felt sluggish, even though they moved at sonic speeds. Blake reared back to smack her again.

But before she got within his reach, she threw on the brakes. Like a hockey player stopping on ice, she turned her feet sideways and let her shoes grind her to a halt. Blake, not expecting her to slow down, swung his arm, whiffing at the air. He swung so hard that he lost his balance.

Ayn stepped forward and punched the kitchen into his gut.

Blake shoved her to the dirt, but by then the damage had been done. He stumbled back, looking at the handle of the knife sticking out of his gut in wonder. Blood gushed from the wound. The crowd was still.

Then Blake ripped the blade out, looked at it, and tossed it over his shoulder casually.

Shoot.

Fin-ish her! Fin-ish her!”

Ayn’s hands scrambled around in the dirt, looking for anything. Her fingers found a small, sharp rock, and she clutched onto it tightly.

Fin-ish her! Fin-ish her!"

Blake squatted over her. A wide grin stretched across his face. Ayn swung her arm, trying to strike him in the temple with the rock. He caught her hand, then squeezed until she yelped. Her hand loosened, and the rock fell to the ground.

Fin-ish her! Fin-ish her!”

Blake raised his other hand up to the heavens, where it lingered among the stars. Then he plunged it into her chest. When it came out again, it held her still beating heart.

The crowd went wild.

Ayn looked down at the gaping hole in her chest. Then came darkness.

***
She awoke staring at the stars. There was something soft under her

instead of rock. The crowd was irritatingly loud - another fight had already begun.

A quick look around told her that she wasn’t on the quarry floor anymore. She was sitting on the second tier, on top of a picnic blanket. Blake sat off to her left, watching the fight. All his wounds had been healed.
Kneeling before Ayn was a boy her age, with long blonde hair and

an encouraging smile.

How did I get here? Who is he?

The images flashed back to her, fragments of a forgotten dream. Blake, standing over her. Her heart, ripped out of her body...She panicked and clutched at her breast, but found that all was back to normal. She could feel her heart racing, which was a good thing. The only thing out of place was her clothes - she had some guy’s T-shirt on instead of her white tank top.

"Wha...what...?”

Don’t worry,” said the boy with the blonde hair. His voice was soothing, like water to a parched throat. “I brought you back from the other side. Everything is going to be alright.”

You...you’re Lazarus,” Ayn said. It was a statement more than a question.

Yes.”

All of the memories came flooding back. She’d expected this. She knew she’d wake up after the fight with Lazarus standing over her, even if she died. Gavin had told her that Lazarus could bring people back to life.

Resurrection,” she said. "That’s your Kryptonite power. You can resurrect people.”

Lazarus nodded slowly. “You fought well. Rest up - I’ve entered you in another fight tomorrow night."

 

 

Matthew Shuirman is a 17 year old currently attending Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas, Nevada.
 



Crocodile Goddess

By: Benjamin Sonnenberg

You’re going to die, Mother. It will kill you, eventually: these were the words that paced back and forth in Brett’s mind.

But then came sadness, a despair so overwhelming that it threatened to swallow up his interests and passions, just as the disease had swallowed up his mother’s breasts. When that happened, all Brett could do was think back to when his mother was healthy, when he viewed her as a goddess.

****

His mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer in June. A powerful woman in both mind and muscle, she did not cry (as most would have done, the doctors told her). Instead, she continued to work around the house as she always had, chopping radishes and onions into salad, helping her son with college preparations, listening to her husband recount work stories. Eventually, she told Brett of the diagnosis; he was the first to hear of it, of course.

“I know you won’t overreact,” she said, steadying his hands. “I’m going in for radiation in about a month.”

After his mother told the rest of the family—Brett was with her to calm her nerves as she answered their questions— Brett himself started a personal obsession with breast cancer, familiarizing himself with the terms of the trade: mammogram, biopsy, local recurrence, mastectomy.

As he learned, he grew relieved. The numbers looked good. The technology was modern. Life expectancy was almost certain, and talking of such things made Brett laugh. It was almost humorous and surreal to be discussing death by breast cancer, especially with regard to his mother. His mother, he told himself, was not like other mothers. He bragged of her to his friends, who would taunt and tease him with gems like, “Brett’s in his mom, it’s been confirmed.” But none of that mattered. He knew of the relationships most kids had with their mothers. It was an old plot device, a tire cliché that, as was the case with most clichés, had a grain of general truth about it. The mother sometimes did embarrass her children, and the kids would shy away from her when in a public setting. Brett had seen it happen countless times. He’d seen the over-protective mother, the under-protective mother, the theatre mom who just has to get her daughter the biggest role, the outgoing mom who is a part of everything, the not-so-bright mom who, God bless her, is nice and harmless but not much else.

But his mother was not like these mothers. She was strange and unique, not because she wanted to be, but because she simply was. She lived by her own rules. Brett’s mother never harmed anyone, but she never exactly went out of her way for others, either. She was a natural introvert, but could flip the switch and tell funny stories at a party, should she feel like it. She was neutral about most people, but would never show it, and many truly believed that she was the most empathetic human being on earth. She slept during the day and awoke at night to eat fried chicken and exercise and talk with Brett, her “soul mate,” her fellow night owl. And finally, she was a genius with a towering IQ and a diploma from Princeton University that said she could be anything she wanted to be, even a housewife. In the end, she gave it all up for that career path.

So when his mother was initially diagnosed, Brett was worried, sure, but he knew the numbers and was confident that radiation would do its job. But just to be positive, he assumed the role of personal caretaker and caregiver. He quit his summer job three days in, citing family emergencies, and drove his mother to the medical center every two days for therapy. It was not easy; the drive was always at least two hours roundtrip, excluding traffic. Still, whenever he grew irritated with the driving, the image of his mother, her breasts made black and blue by radiation, always crept back into his mind. He was not about to let her drive herself back home.

It went on like this for more than two months. Brett would drive Mom to the medical center, they would sing “Sultans of Swing” on the way to disguise fears, Brett would wait an additional hour in the adjacent visiting room, silently drive his mother back home, and do it all again in two days. Finally, just before it was time for Brett to start college, radiation was done and waiting for results had commenced.

“Do you think everything will be all right?” he asked his mother during that time.

“It will be,” she answered. “It’s a 98% survival rate for first-timers.”

“I know. I did the research. When will we hear back?”

“In about three months. I’ll shoot you an email and tell you the good news, okay? Have you ever seen a mother stronger than me?”

Brett confessed that he had never met anyone quite like her. He gave her a hug and said he loved her. He found himself doing that now after every conversation with his mother. That, too, was just to be positive.

****

He went to college in early September. Brett studied in the Ivy League, like his mother. And, like her, he displayed an incredible aptitude for economics. Calling her on the phone, she would go on about how talented he was, about how he was going to own the school in a few days flat. His early grades (and the professors’ comments) seemed to confirm this. Slowly, he forgot all about breast cancer, biopsy, local recurrence, and mastectomy. New words like deadweight loss and corrective taxation replaced the old cancerous ones.

Some months later, as he and his mother talked over Skype, she told him the good news.

“All gone!” she said, her face shoved right into the camera. “Want to see what the doctors did to your mother?”

“Boy, would I!” he laughed.

Quickly, she pulled up her shirt to reveal the left breast, the once-infected lump. For something that had only recently been punctured with needles every two days, beaten and bruised with radiation, stared at, talked about, it looked quite good. Yes, it was misshapen and blotched with black in places where black should never show, but it was his mother’s, alive and intact in the end. Like her, it had been through much, but survived.

“I love you so much,” she told him.

“I love you as much as it’s possible for a boy to love his mother,”

“All right, Goneril.”

The smile that was forming on Brett’s face was fast becoming a wide grin. Now both of their faces were near the camera, seemingly inches from each other.

“One big difference,” he said. “I won’t leave you out in a storm.”

****

After completing a stunning first semester of college, he drove home for winter break. He took his car through two states on his way back down to Maryland, immersed in Christmas music and keeping watch for the gaudiest home decorations. His mind was now totally fixed on economics and history. He wondered if it was possible to find a line of work that could combine the two disciplines. If they would just supply him with the opportunity, he would own the world. He had the talent. His mother told him so.

Turning into his neighborhood for the first time in months, it looked no different than when he had left it. Brett had thought time away from Maryland would make the place strange to him, but it was not so. Yet, he had missed home and the little manger that his neighbors set up in their yards every Christmas. The shadows of Mary and Joseph were on all the houses, except for theirs.

Brett opened the garage door and drove in. As he turned off the ignition, the door to the mudroom opened and his mother, clad in torn pink slippers and coffee-stained dentures, stood before him.
“Merry Christmas!” she said, and subsequently laughed through her nose.

Brett got out of the car and cracked his back and knuckles. Contorting himself into an old man with a walking stick, he said, “Bah, humbug.”

“How was the first night of Hanukkah?” she asked him.

“My religion turned me into a bit of a rule-breaker.”

“Oh? How so?”

“Princeton told me, ‘No candles allowed in the dorms!’ So you know what I said?”

She stepped aside as her son walked into the house. Closing the door behind him, she asked what.
He pulled a blue candle from his shirt pocket and his eyes popped out of his head just a little.

“Religious exemption! Can’t you do it for the one Jew in your school?”

“I’m sure they relented,” she said, laughing.

“They did, they did. But I’d prefer to spend the rest of Hanukkah with an actual Jew, and not just my interested roommate.”

Brett, his mother, and his father lit the candles that night and belted out “Ma’oz Tzur” in hideous, enthusiastic song. Then, at 7:30 sharp, Jeopardy! was on, and the television was appropriately tuned to Channel 18. As always, Brett got many of the answers, but he knew his mother was the undisputed master of the game. He never heard her answer questions out loud, but he was sure she knew them all.

Routine set in again for a while. Brett would sleep until two o’clock in the afternoon, get up, have ice cream, read, light the menorah, wait for Jeopardy!, watch Jeopardy!, and enjoy every minute of it. His mother, who had been admittedly bored without her boy at home, was excited to have Brett back, but something was obviously troubling her. Finally, a week into the break, he asked her what was the matter and found out that the cancer had come back.

****

“It’s extremely rare, what happened. I don’t have bad genes, I’m remarkably healthy, you know. It’s some bad luck.”

He sat in stunned silence as she finished. At some point in late November, she went to the medical center for a review of the post-radiation therapy, and noticed something “troubling.” Some problems with the cells, some issue with calcification, signs that were only to be summed up by one horrible word: troubling.

He understood very little of it, which was disappointing as he had spent so many hours alone researching the thing, just for the purpose of being in the know. He hated the feeling of being unsure, and this time around, everything was a mystery. The machine gun questioning came to nothing, because there was nothing to work with.

“Can you go in for radiation again?”

“No. Only once.”

“What stage is the cancer in?”

“They don’t know.”

“Can you undergo a biopsy?”

“They don’t know.”

“What are your chances?”

“They don’t know.”

In fact, the only thing they really seemed to know was that most recurrences ended one way: mastectomy. As Brett stewed over this, his mother sat down on her bed, looked at him for a while, and began to cry. Her son stopped pacing back and forth and for a moment just stared at her. Brett did not know if his mother cried alone, but he knew for a fact that he had only seen her cry once before, when her mother’s fur coat was lost. Strangely enough, she did not cry when her mother died; rather, she saved her tears for when robbers broke into the house and took (among other things) the last coat she still had of her mother’s. Brett had helped his mom then, hugging her on the floor and wiping her tears with his socks. But now he could not do that. He didn’t know why, but he couldn’t hug her and wipe her tears this time. Instead, as his mother cried, “Don’t leave me!” he left.
Instead, he broke away from her. She tried later to explain to him what a recurrence probably meant for her, but he refused to listen. Each time she brought it up for the remainder of the break, Brett would leave the room. He was not mean about it, he never told her to shut up, as other kids surely would have done. No, he simply removed himself from all traces of the discussion. The cancer books he had kept in his room, leftovers from the first occurrence, were all thrown away. He even stopped looking at porn on the internet, in fear of the two lumps.

His father, however, made advoiding the subject difficult. A loud man who hid his sensitivity behind bravado, he constantly expressed his fear for the endangered health of “Mother,” as he called her.
“Mother is pretty scared, you know,” he said one day when he and Brett were alone.

“I’d be, too,” Brett said.

“Honestly, I think she’s overblowing it.”

And when Brett didn’t answer, his father said, “She has a lot of time on her hands, you know. She spends a lot of it looking up her prognosis on the internet. I swear, spending too much time on the internet will make you nuts about things.”

“Definitely,” Brett said.

“And if she’s got to undergo a mastectomy, fine. Just take the damn thing off, right? More trouble than it’s worth.”

“True.”

“It’ll hurt Mother, and she’ll have some pain in her shoulder muscle, but it’s better than being dead.”

“I’ve got to go, Dad,” Brett said.

“Just stay a little while,”

“No, I’ve got to go.”

“Brett, I’m scared about this. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true. I just love Mother so much. We’ve got to help her through this. She’s really more sensitive than she lets on.”

“Bye, Dad.”

****

He went back to college a few weeks later. Immediately, his performance began to weaken. He no longer asked questions formed from curiosity; now, everything was done to ensure an A, but not much else. There was no fun involved in his studies because Brett had suddenly lost all passion for the classes, even history. In economics, the professor he had had last semester was startled by his change, but asked no questions, even when he handed Brett a C on the first test. The professor gave Brett the test, watching the student’s face closely, and was again worried to see no expression there. No effect. His classmates and suitemates noticed a new lack of caring, too, although they themselves cared less than the professors. Caleb, his roommate, asked only once if Brett was okay. Brett told him not to worry about it, and Caleb most certainly did not.

But Brett worried. He worried now almost constantly. The words flowed through his mind again and again: You’re going to die, Mother. It will kill you, eventually. He knew it first when she told him of the recurrence, of how radiation wasn’t going to save her this time. He knew it first when he thought of his mother, his mother, drugged and staggering back and forth without a breast. He knew it first when he found out the horrible truth: that she was not everything he thought she was.

Only after the news did he begin to see her as a regular person, her true form. A regular person without all the power of an Übermensch or the wit of a Shakespearean fool. Now he saw her get questions wrong on Jeopardy!, easier questions that were once supposed to be obvious. Two months into the second semester, he was forced to talk to her on Skype. He’d been putting it off, and when he saw her, it hurt him. Her hair was in tangles, the eyes were set into deep, fleshy bags, and she spoke very slowly and simply.

“Why haven’t you been returning my emails, Brett?” She asked him, and then quickly said, “No, don’t tell me.”

“Fine. I won’t.”

“I’ve been going in for tests. They’re working on another biopsy. Then they can tell me what I should do.”

“Have you been crying?” he asked her.

“Why?”

“You’ve been crying?”

“Yes,” she said.

“You didn’t cry last time. Why are you crying now?”

“Because this is not good. The doctors are telling me that a mastectomy is almost certain.”

Brett’s heaved and held back tears of his own. “Well, that’s it.”

“Will you love your mother even if she doesn’t have a full set of breasts?”

Brett looked at the screen that held his mother’s face and very quickly said, with already fleeting firmness, “No!”

And cancelled the chat.

****

As he sat in class, now absorbing nothing from the lectures, Brett thought back to a documentary he had seen as a little boy. It was about saltwater crocodiles. They were interesting animals, dangerous animals, but they loved their children very much. Ordinarily, the babies could be picked off by birds as a light snack. But nature, as always, thinks ahead. The mothers carry their children across the water in their mouths, and what predator would dare try to snatch a baby from a cage of teeth? Sitting in class, Brett wondered what would happen to the child if its mother died. Would the baby also die, doomed to drown within a cage of teeth?

But above all, he felt regret. 

 

Benjamin Sonnenberg lives in Severna Park, MD and is currently a Freshman at the University of Maryland



A War Against Myself

By: Sai Skanda Tummala

The sky was dark and gray. As I walked through the lonesome path, I noticed the trees looked like toothpicks with branches. The foliage was droopy and lifeless. Even I, once happy and full of life, couldn’t help but wipe my tears away. The forest was dead silent. Perhaps, it was because everything in it was nearly dead.

I sat down on a huge rock, too depressed to say anything. How did this happen? Everything was going fine. I made friends, and my grades were perfect until now. What went so terribly wrong that I was suddenly left with no one to talk to? I tried to remember what had happened over the past five months. After a few minutes of thinking, I remembered when it all started, when I decided to come out of my shell. . .

You should know that my name is Allegra. I am eleven, and I am a redhead with hazel eyes. People have said that I am very quiet and independent, but that’s being generous. The truth is I’m kind of a loner. I have no friends even though many people have tried to be my friend. Usually they say I’m stuck up, but I’m just quiet. I love to read, bike and play basketball. Those are pretty much my only interests, but I hope to have some more, one day.

It was a windy day in the beginning of October, and I was sitting at my desk reading. Our science teacher, Ms. Davern, was trying to explain Newton’s three laws of motion to us. I wasn’t listening, as usual. I was reading this great book and couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Our teacher said something, and suddenly the room became quiet. I looked up, slowly, to find everyone’s eyes on me. She must’ve asked me something, I thought. I asked her to repeat it, which resulted in a huge, endless round of laughter from my classmates.

My mom had always told me to laugh with people when they were laughing at you, but right now, I couldn’t. My eyes filled with tears, but before I could let them see me cry, I turned and ran out. My teacher called after me, but I didn’t stop until I got home. Luckily, my aunt wasn’t home yet, so I wouldn’t have to answer any questions. I unlocked the front door and ran upstairs to my room.

In many ways, my room was unlike the room of any other girl my age. My walls were painted pale gray and had nothing hanging on it, except for an old clock. My bed was black with white sheets. My dresser had nothing on the top of it except for a book. My Aunt, who I lived with, had tried to hang things of the wall and change my sheets, but I had always refused to let her do that. I didn’t care how my room really looked like. The only thing I did in it was sleep.

I have heard that a person’s closet says a lot about a person, and that is definitely true for me. My walk-in closet’s walls are painted rainbow colors and have many pictures of my favorite things and people hanging on it. The floor of my closet is filled with boxes with all my favorite books in them. I have my trophy case that is full of my accomplishments. I have medals from soccer, trophies from basketball and dance, and certificates from my teachers.

That was all in the past, though. That was when my parents were alive. I miss them very much, and since I was with them when they died, I remember everything. They died in a car crash when I was six, and I was the only one who survived the crash. I was sent to live with my Aunt Rhea, who is a fat, happy woman and a great cook.

The sight of my closet made me feel good, but for me, a happy moment wouldn’t ever last long. I once again remembered what had happened in school. I realized that I was making life difficult for myself. After five years, I was still saddened by the death of my parents, therefore stopping myself from having friends. Then, it hit me. I couldn’t take it anymore, being alone. I was going to be loud and colorful. I was going to make friends.

The next day at school, I made my first move in the cafeteria. I usually sat and ate in the back of the cafeteria where nobody ever noticed me. People used to pity me, but now, they think that sitting alone didn’t bother me. But it does.

I came to a table with a bunch of kids, girls and boys who looked pretty cool. I spotted a girl that I recognized from the hallways, Lily. She had black hair, coffee colored skin, and gray eyes. She was dressed in green and purple. Those two colors might seem weird together, but they actually looked good. I slowly reached my hand out and tapped her on the shoulder.

“Hi, can I sit here?” I asked the girl at the table, stumbling over my words.

“Who are you?” she interrogated.

“I’m Allegra,” I mumbled and asked her again, “Can I sit here?”

“Sure. I’m Lily,” she introduced. “Are you a new student?”

“No, actually. I’ve been in this school since the beginning,” I told her.

“That’s weird. I’ve never seen you before,” she said.

“Probably because I’ve been sitting in the back of the cafeteria until now,” I said bitterly.

“Sit here. I’ll introduce you to the rest of the table,” Lily offered.

I nervously took a seat between a boy with dyed orange hair and a girl with huge glasses. Lily introduced me to her friends just like she said she would. I left the table, happier than I had ever been in years.

Sitting at the table made me feel like I had friends. Then, an amazing thought occurred to me. Maybe I had made a friend! Maybe all the kids at the table were my friends! I can’t believe I had gotten this far in just one day. All through the day, I wore this big happy grin on my face. I was so happy, something bad was bound to happen, and something bad did happen.

In class the next day, I felt like a new person. I had a friend and a place to sit during lunch. But in class, everyone was still unaware of me changing. In English, we had to choose partners for writing a story. As I looked around, everyone already had a partner, and I was the only one without.  The teacher, Mrs. Haver, offered to be my partner, but I refused.

Instead of getting upset about it, during gym, I sat next to one of the kids from our cafeteria lunch table.  I remember his name was Brian, and he loved basketball, just like me.

“Hi!” I said, nervously.

He said hello back and smiled. I couldn’t believe it! He actually smiled. A boy who was popular and nice, actually acknowledged me. In gym, we played dodgeball, which I suck at, but Brian was captain, and he chose me to be on his team. Our team ended up losing, but for once, I had fun.

In the hallway of our school, there was an easel board that read, JOIN OUR CLUBS. Then, on a table next to the board, there was a list of clubs like songwriting, chess, and my favorite, a basketball club for boys and girls. I signed up for it, along with a few other clubs that sounded fun. It would be a great way to make friends and get my grades up. My grades were fine, but I would like to get at least one A+ on my report card. I also got a D in social studies, but that was only for lack of participation.

Anyway, after that, for a few weeks, I was super busy. Lily became my best friend and was in many of the clubs I had joined. I had become close with Brian, also. They were really nice, and because of them, I had become very popular throughout the school. I met many other people, too, and my grades went up. My teachers, especially our social studies teacher, Ms. Grant, were really pleased with me, because I did my homework.

My bedroom slowly changed. I started to put up pictures and other stuff up on my walls, and I painted my walls four different shades of green. I also put up canvas paper, so I could paint. I had actually become fond with art, thanks to our art club teacher, Mrs. Brilliant. My Aunt and I had become very close, and I would try my best to forget about my parents’ death. I couldn’t help but think about my parents every day, and it made me sad. But, everything other than that was perfect.

Then, one day, in the middle of November, not so long ago from now, I met Cindy, one of Lily’s friends. She hated me. That was for sure. Cindy made fun of my short hair and told me I looked like a boy. She would always try to pull Lily away from me. I didn’t know why. Then, one day, Lily didn’t talk to me at all. She wouldn’t say hello, and during lunch, she sat with Cindy and her friends instead of with me. I was so sad that when I got home, I locked myself in my room.

The truth was that I was jealous. I was jealous that Lily was talking to Cindy more than me. Now she wouldn’t even talk to me. Before Cindy came, it was all perfect. Now, it was all ruined. I sat on my bed, in silence. I didn’t cry or do anything. I was frozen.

“Allegra, what are you doing?” I heard my aunt ask from outside the hallway.

“Leave me alone,” I told her finally speaking.

“Allegra is this about one of your friends?” Aunt Rhea asked

“Sort of,” I replied, reluctantly. “Lily won’t talk to me anymore”.

“I knew I shouldn’t have tried to make friends,” I regretted, forgetting Aunt Rhea was still there.

“Maybe you should try to find out why she isn’t talking to you,” my aunt suggested, trying to be helpful. “It could just be a misunderstanding”.

“I could try,” I said at last. “Okay, I’ll find out tomorrow”.

“I’m glad you are willing to talk to her, Allegra,” my Aunt Rhea exclaimed.

“I am glad we had this talk, Aunt Rhea,” I said. “Thank you.”

My Aunt Rhea was the best. She would always know when I was sad of mad or lying. She always knew the right thing to do.

The next day, I talked to Lily. She told me that Cindy didn’t want her to talk to me. She was jealous of me having friends, even though she had more than me. She was trying to bring me down, and turn everyone against me. Lily said that she wasn’t friends with Cindy anymore. I was relieved, but part of me felt like I needed revenge. Cindy had made me feel bad, and more than anything right now, she needed get a taste of her own medicine.

Now that I think about it, I can’t even remember what exactly I had said to Cindy, but I think I told her to go find friends because Lily didn’t want to be her friend anymore. I said a few more things, and I only stopped when I thought I saw a tear running down her face. As soon as I stopped talking, Cindy ran in the direction of the bathroom, and I stood there, shocked. I couldn’t believe it! In the past few years, I had never said one mean thing to anybody, but now I felt like a totally new person. I felt bad. I shouldn’t have said anything to Cindy, even though she deserved it.

The next day at school, Cindy seemed to be back to normal. Then, during math, I heard from one of my classmates that Cindy was spreading rumors about me. Now, people thought that the only reason I wanted to be with Lily and Brian was to be popular. Lily was shocked, along with Brian, and refused to sit with me during lunch. People thought I was too loud and obnoxious. Maybe even if I was, I wasn’t trying to be! Cindy fake-pitied me for having no parents. But, I knew that I couldn’t do anything. I regretted trying to make friends.  For the rest of the day, I kept my feelings all bubbled up inside of me because I knew that at home, I would burst.

At home, I collapsed onto the floor of my bedroom. What had just happened? After all the mean things people had said to me, I thought hurting someone’s feelings back would make me feel better. It sure did make Cindy feel hurt, but not as hurt as I was feeling right now. I knew making friends would help me overcome my grief and quietness, but I had no idea it would be this hard. But in some twisted way, I felt like I had achieved something. I had learned something. I had learned that hurting people makes you feel horrible. I knew better than to dwell in the past, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was back in square one again. I felt as sad as I was when I was alone. I suddenly realized I was silently crying. When I was little, I had heard that the worst kind of crying is the loud kind of crying, and you can’t stop your tears from going down your face. But, now I knew that the worst kind of crying is the silent kind, when you are left all alone on the ground with no shoulder to cry on.

Those four months led to now. It was only yesterday that I was on the floor of my room, crying. I had wandered into this forest to think about things. It was Saturday evening. Aunt Rhea was out of town. I wished I could start all over again and make things right. Then, it hit me. Maybe I could. It was true that most of my energy and happiness was drained out of my body just yesterday, but I still had some spontaneity left inside of me. I still had all my happy memories stored safely in my brain. That was all I needed to start over.

On Monday, after winter break, I gathered up all my courage and stop Cindy, Lily, and Brian in the hallway. To Cindy, I said sorry.

I had forgotten how apologizing had felt, but as soon as I did, memories of me apologizing came flooding back into my brain. As soon as I said sorry, everything I ever did wrong seemed to disappear. As soon as I did, my guilt was washed away. Apologizing didn’t make everything perfect, but it made everything right. To my surprise, Cindy smiled, and said sorry back.

“Why?” I asked.

“For everything, Allegra”, she said. “For being mean to you and spreading fake rumors.”

Cindy explained that she was jealous of me and Lily. Lily had been her best friend since preschool, and Cindy told me that it felt like I was coming between her and Lily. It all made sense. Cindy was just mad at me because she thought I was trying to steal her best friend. That was why she was being mean to me. That was why she was trying to bring me down.

I forgive her. Now, I feel much better. I’m glad I apologized. I’m glad I tried to make friends. I’m glad that I can finally talk openly to whoever I want. Cindy, Lily, Brian, and I were all friends now, at last.

After school, I took another walk. But instead of finding myself in a dark, dead, lonesome forest, I found myself in a beautiful one, with snow on the ground and bright green evergreen trees around me. I laid down on the snow, laughing to myself. I had learned many things during the past four months.  I learned that I should never cover up my grief with a fake smile. On the contrary, I also learned to try to keep cheerful no matter what. I learned that everything is better with friends, but they are not necessary for everything. Cindy taught me that sometimes things aren’t anything like they seem. I learned to live up to my name, Allegra, which I found out, meant joy and energy in Italian.

Most of all, I learned that life is like a ten foot tall boxer, and he is going to knock you down. That boxer knocked me down many times this year, and part of me wanted to stay down. But now, I realize that I did the right thing by getting up for another round. I had finally won this epic war against myself.

Sai Skanda Tummala is a 6th grader at Chesterfield Elementary School in Chesterfield, NJ.



Big Bad Lobster of the North

By: Zachariah Curtis

                                                                                       

Who am I? I’m The Big Bad Lobster of The North. Where do I live? Deep in the sea, somewhere you’re not. Why haven’t I gotten caught? Well, you try to catch me and see why.

I‘m a six-pound lobster, I have a blue shell, and I’m one foot long. Most of the ladies think I‘m all that and more because I’m big, but I’m just normal. Basically I roam the bottom looking for sea urchins, starfish, mussels, and clams. I eat just about anything, I’m not a fussy eater. I don’t have many predators, but life is like a tag game: if I get “tagged” by a cod I’m out for good.

I’ve experienced many catches but I escaped the cage and got the herring. I’m a six-pound lobster. I’m a safe lobster and its illegal to catch me, so ha ha.

One day I was in my den and a female lobster came out of nowhere and sprayed pheromone in my face. I smelled it and I thought to myself, “what the heck is this?” I followed that lobster and somehow we got into a boxing match. Then she followed me into my den and shed her shell. When she was completely out of her shell I had a choice: to mate or eat her. I wanted revenge for the boxing match, but I decided to do the right thing, I mated. Now when she gets caught, the fisherman has to v-notch her and throw her back. It’s illegal to keep her if she has eggs.

I'll eat anything that gets near my crusher claw and ripper claw, and I'll also eat anything that gets on my bad side.



Unstable

By: Helen Newell

I stumble down the streets, unstable. People dodge me as I bump into walls and sway in their direction. I collapse onto the ground next to the mouth of a long alleyway in between a bank and a block of apartments. No one gives me a second look as tears drip onto the ground around me. No one, not even the staring, blank-eyed children offer help or ask what is wrong. My head spins.

 

I am leaning against the building next to the alleyway, and I hear a voice ask if I need help. I nod, not able to fully understand what I am hearing, and hands pull me up to a shaky stand from my position on the ground. My vision clears, and I see a man dressed in rags, holding a tattered knapsack in front of me. He asks me if I am lost, and I weakly nod. He helps me over to the side of the road, and I watch silently as he hails a cab. He helps me into one and waves goodbye, directing the cab to the nearest hospital. He doesn't seem to have a phone to call 911 with, but I still am grateful as we leave him behind us.

 

The cab is a small yellow taxi with a Fault in Our Stars advertisement on the top. I hear beeping but do not feel much of the car’s movement. My head is pounding. The seats smell like cigarettes, and the black leather is old and cracked. As the driver slams on his brakes and honks his horn loudly, I slam into the seat ahead of me and fall to the floor. I didn't remember to clip my seatbelt. The driver curses, and I feel myself slipping out of consciousness again. All I want is it to be all over. Why did I have to wander? I should have known better, and now it might be too late.

 

As my eyes flutter open, I see the dark-skinned man wearing a blue conductor's cap seated in the taxi. He is driving, and still swearing. He catches my eye in the mirror, and makes a sound of relief. I am lying horizontally on the seat now, curled up against one of the doors. My dark brown hair is fanned out around me, and my clothes are stained with dirt. I understand. I was lost, but that feeling is gone now. It will be ok.

 

We arrive at the hospital, and my eyes begin to flutter uncontrollably. My breathing is short. The door to the taxi opens, and two men and a woman wearing white reach their arms towards me.

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