“Lost in the Barrio” by KJ Stiglitz

The taxis were driving out for the morning. Paulo could hear them honking and revving their engines as they tried to get out of the crowded lot. As they got closer, Paulo heard their various Spanish radio stations blaring as they turned onto 187th street. He forgot about combing his thick black hair and ran to the window to watch the taxis crawling through Washington Heights, Manhattan. The line was like a parade, loud, single file, and blocking the streets.

Mijo! Quit watching los taxis and get dressed para la escuela!”

“I am getting dressed mamá!” Paulo grabbed his shirt and continued watching.

“Paulo! Come get un batido para el desayuno! You’re going to be late for school!”

Paulo tore his eyes away from the window and thundered down the stairs, as his mother put a smoothie and a plate of steaming mallorca down. Puerto Rican with an American twist, the way he liked it. He ate with a vengeance while his mom did the dishes.

Buenos dias mijo! How did you sleep?”

Muy bien mamá. Also, Don’t forget, I’m helping Tony after school.” Almost every day after school, Paulo went to help his friend Tony at his auto body shop. He was fascinated with cars and looked up to Tony a lot.

Bueno mijo, but don’t stay past dark, and text me before you caminar a casa. That phone bill is steep enough, you better start using that téléfono for its intended purpose, to call your mamá,”

“I will, adios Mamá!” Paulo replied, cleaning off his plate.

Adios Paulo! Have fun with Tony! Send him mi encanta!” she yelled after him, but he was out the door.

He was walking to the Bodega when he heard his mom yelling from the fire escape to have a good day. He turned to wave but she was walking back inside.

 

La Vega Bodega was on the way to la escuela. Paulo stopped inside the little store. He said hi to Abuela Carla and Leona from the beauty parlor down the street.

“Paulo!” Abuela Carla said warmly, holding out her arms. “Get over here and give me un abrazo y un poco de amor!” Paulo ran over to her and temporarily hidden in the folds of her billowy yellow sundress. The flowey fabric was a bright yellow jungle, the fabric twisting like vines. He loved the way she smelled, like coffee and a little bit of spray paint.

“How can I help you? How’s tu madre? How’s Tony!” Abuela always asked a lot of questions. He responded that he was good. “Abuela, un café con leche por favor.” Abuela had amazing coffee. Paulo grabbed a few other things from the shelves and got out his dinero.

Abuela, un boleto de lotería por favor as well.” Paulo asked shyly.

Lotería? Mijo you are muy joven for that.” Abuela Carla looked at the sheepish Paulo, but as he was walking out she slipped a lottery ticket in his pocket with a hug. He glanced at it and stuffed it back in his pocket to see what the lucky numbers would be later.

 

The school day was blah. Most of his classes were spent flipping through car magazines from last year or zoning out into a window. When he got to lunch he realized that he left his mom’s Puerto Rican lunch in the refrigerator. He loved when his mom made Puerto Rican food because it taught him a little about her culture. His mom was Puerto Rican and his dad was Portuguese which was where his name came from, but he had never known his dad, he left when he was still a toddler and hadn’t heard from him since.

The metro was full of people when Paulo was on after school, but no passengers went farther than 96th street. In fact, by the time the train pulled into the 167th street station, Paulo was the only person left on board except for Carmello the grocer who was heading to 186th street, one block next to Paulo. As he got off, Paulo said a quick hello to Carmello and told him he would be back that afternoon to buy lemons for his mother’s new American dish she was trying.

When he got to the autobody, Tony, the tall, blond Italian immigrant, welcomed him warmly. First, they worked on a dirty 2004 Honda pickup with a busted up radiator. Second, they worked on a 2014 Toyota Prius that had a shot muffler. Last, a half hour before dark, Paulo took the metro home to the 187th street station and walked past Carmello’s Tienda de Comestibles.

On his way home he saw a lot of neighbors. First, he waved to Leona as she was locking up the salon and she told him that he needed to come in for a trim and was getting scruffy. He laughed and waved. After, he saw Tino and Luca from the Tattoo Parlor. After that, he chatted with Jeanette and Ray from 182nd street who were touring the neighborhood. Finally, he got to his house and exchanged a few words with Abuela who had closed the Bodega and was heading in as well. He headed in for the night too.

 

The next day was a photocopy of the day before, except for when he got home after working with Tony, Abuela was waiting for him at his house. His mom must have still been working at the Stop and Shop up on 194th street.

Buenos tardes Abuela! Do you need something?” Paulo asked as he set his bag down.

Mijo, I have some pretty big noticias. Creo que deberías sentarte para esto. I think you should sit down for this.”  Abuela Carla said was chagrine. Paulo sat. “Paulo, tu madre fue asesinada hoy en un accidente automovilístico, your mother was killed in a car crash today. Ella se ha ido, she is gone.” Abuela bowed her head. “I’m very sorry that I’m the one who had to tell you this mijo.” She rubbed his arm as he sat. His mom was gone. He couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe that something so beautiful and majestic as a car could end a life and do so much damage. Furthermore, he still couldn’t believe that she was gone.

Abuela, ¿Puedo estar solo? Can I be alone? This a pretty big loss.”

Por supuesto mijo. I understand.”

Abuela Carla left and Paulo went up to his room. The familiar cracking yellow paint was alien and not what he was used to. Were all of those cracks here before? He asked himself. His wooden bed frame looked like it was bent at a weird angle. An angle he wasn’t used to. He walked into his mother’s room. Her few possessions neat and orderly, the room as if he had never been before. The potted plant on the nightstand that he had made for her in 1st grade was an different shade of green than he thought. The plant with more flowers than he remembered it having. It was too painful being in this house. Too painful living on this block. Demasiado doloroso in Washington Heights. So he ran. He packed a few necessities and left, the bitter truth of his situation hitting him as he left the Barrio.

Past Abuela’s Bodega where he bought coffee every morning. Past Leona’s salon where he got his first haircut. Past Carmello’s grocery store where he bought groceries for his mom to cook Puerto Rican food every weekend. Past the half empty taxi lot. The streets went by as he ran. 187, 186, 185, 184, 183, 182, 181, he couldn’t get out of Washington Heights.

It was night when he got to 155th street. He crossed it and looked back. There was no going back now. The faded signs of Washington Heights flickered at him. Spanish behind, English forward. He found a bus bench and laid down, using his backpack for a pillow, he drifted off to sleep.

 

When Paulo woke up, he was on a bed, his backpack by the side. A boy was sitting on the bed next to him. He was staring at Paulo.

Paulo screamed, “¡Oh Dios mío! ¡Dónde estoy! ¡Quién eres tú! ¡Dónde está mi mamá! ¡Cuando Abuela se entere de esto, te va a pegar!

“Woah! Chillax dude. My name’s Travis, and I don’t speak no Spanish or whatever.” The boy said. He fluffed his covers and closed his eyes. “Besides, I been in this dump for a while, I can answer any questions you got. What’s your name? What’s your story?”

Paulo was shaking, “Me llamo Paulo y solía vivir en Washington Heights hasta que mataron a mi madre en un accidente automovilístico y me escapé. Salí del Barrio pero luego, cuando finalmente crucé la calle 155, me fui a dormir en un banco de la parada del autobús y ahora estoy aquí.” He explained.

Travis still looked very confused, “Uh, sorry dude, I’m from Harlem, so I don’t speak no Spanish or whatever, English please.”

Paulo sighed, “My name is Paulo and I used to live in Washington Heights until my mother was killed in a car accident and I escaped. I left the Barrio but when I crossed 155th Street, I went to sleep on a bench at the bus stop and boom, I’m in this place.”

“Yowza dude, that sucks big time, my condolences.”

Ai cara, I don’t know what to say, except for that I have no idea who you are. But okay!” Paulo agreed. “To let you know, I speak mucho español. Also, I’m tipo de triste right now so, I want to be alone. I don’t know who I am nunca mas.”

“Well, I have an idea. As your newly recruited best friend, I feel it is my duty to help you find yourself again. I propose a tour of Manhattan!” Travis exclaimed.

“Dude, tipo, you’re a huge bicho raro. Besides, where do we start?”

“I don’t know what a bicho raro is, but I’m assuming it means friend. And isn’t it obvious? We start one 1st street.”

“But I’ve never been past 96th street!”

“Dude, this foster home is on 60th street, LIVE A LITTLE!”

“Okay, when do we leave?”

“Tonight.”

 

Paulo and Travis snuck out that night. They went all the way to the bottom of Manhattan.They got off at the 1st Street Station. Travis asked some interesting questions…

“So in Washington Heights, does everyone live on the top floor?”

“No, that’s stupid.”

“Okay, fine, what’s the Spanish word for homey?”

Hogareño, that’s also stupid.”

Travis kept babbling on and on. He took them all over the Financial District and into Tribeca and the Lower East Side. They cut through China Town. Paulo found nothing, he had never been to Chinatown or any of these places before. This far away from the Barrio, he felt farther away from his mom, and himself.

They went to bed and when they woke up in the morning they took the train to the heart of Greenwich Village and skipped right to Chelsea. They went to Hell’s Kitchen and ran out quick to Midtown. Nothing reminded Paulo of his mom in Midtown, but he still thought it was fascinating, especially on Broadway.

After watching people go in to watch a show, Travis took Paulo to the Upper East Side and after, they went to see Central Park.

“Hey man, how you doin’? You seemin’ kinda glum.”

“Travis, one question, why do you act all gangster, but also use words like glum and get all excited about Broadway?”

“Okay, to tell you the truth,” Travis explained. “I am a straight A student with a GPA of 4.2. I’m not trying to brag, but I am incredibly smart.”

“That is definitely bragging,” Paulo pointed out. “What kind of mala excusa is that? But you have straight A’s? Travis that’s realmente genial!”

“Eh, whatever.”

They each got a hotdog from the food vender selling from a cart and settled down on the grass to sleep. When they woke up in the morning, they ran quick to the Upper East Side which was blah and finally crossed over to Harlem.

“Me and my mom used to live together in this house! But she left and I got stuck at that foster home too. Let me take you to my house! Come on!” Travis led Paulo down a few streets and took a few turns. They came to an old busted up green house with a half broken porch swing and a light filled with dead moths.

“This was tu casa?” Paulo asked.

“Yup,” Travis looked at it proudly. “It was mine,” Travis’ eyes turned to longing instead of pride and he took his hands out of his pockets and wiped his face. “Anyway, let’s go, I want to show you East Harlem and after that, I have a surprise.” Travis led Paulo to East Harlem, he still thought it was lame. Travis told him to come on and follow him.

Paulo noticed Travis leading him back south, “Uh, Travis, north is the other way?”

“We have to backtrack to make one more stop. I wanted to show you regular Harlem,” he stopped. “Before I show you,” grand gesture. “This!” There was a sign that read WELCOME TO SPANISH HARLEM. Paulo was in shock.

“What is Spanish Harlem? You know I’m Puerto Rican right?”

“Yes I know, but I still thought you should see this, get a feel you know?”

Paulo loved it. They were walking around, Paulo was chatting with people, it made him feel like he was walking down a street in the Barrio, waiting for his mom to get home from work. His face lit up like the sun on a cold day. Paulo got a text from his friend Yaco that lived next door. Abuela Carla was dead. Paulo’s heart was like a heavy rock. He sank into the ground and his tears were boulders, pounding heavily on the pavement as they came crashing down.

“Barney’s Life Story” by John Robertson

Once upon a time there was a very nice family. The Robinsons were the wealthiest family in their little mining town on the outskirts of Honolulu the capital of Hawaii. Barney was their only child. He had short black hair and bright green eyes like his father. He was only 5 years old when tragedy struck. His parents went on a trip from their little home on the island of Honolulu in Hawaii to California on a boat. But as they were half way, the ship hit a storm and they were washed up against a rock. They saw something in the bushes, and then it jumped and killed them with lightning fast claws. 7 years later, Barney was all alone and depressed, because his parents died he had to live with his aunt and uncle who then told him of the legend of the land hydra with long claws and eight heads that lives on an island in the middle of the sea near Hawaii. Barney realized that the Hydra must have killed his parents. He had not known why they left for 7 long years. He asked his uncle where he could find a boat. His uncle told him, “You can’t go out there. It’s too dangerous. What if you got killed by that hydra just like your parents?”

That was the first time in 7 years that they had mentioned Barney’s parents when he was in earshot. He ran away wailing in pain from thinking about them being gone forever he couldn’t take it. He started reading. The book was about a warrior who had seen a hydra and lived to tell the tale. Barney packed up his things, took a knife from his uncle’s collection, and started down the string of islands to the biggest island of Hawaii, the southernmost island closest to the hydra. He arrived to the harbor near Honolulu and found a nice sailboat, but just as he was about to rig the boat, a man came walking up the deck. “I have to hide,” he thought to himself.

The man was getting closer and closer. He started to speak with a shaky tone. “If anybody is on these boats, I’m warning you, I am armed with a gun, so just give yourself up.”

From his hiding spot on the boat, Barney threw a rock as far as he could. It flew through the sky in the direction of the research center where they were. The rock hit the chain link fence with a loud CLANG.

The guard immediately turned around and ran for the gate. Barney finished rigging the boat. He only had 2 minutes before the man would return. Luckily for him, the gate out to the ocean was open. He started to sail out of the gate, but the man was coming back. Barney looked around frantically trying to figure out a way to make it look like the boat hadn’t been touched. He managed to park it just as the man came back into view. The man turned back around and walked off the wharf. The gate was still open. He had a chance. He waited and waited for what felt like hours. Then right then and there, there was some wind. He untied the boat and started towards the gate. The man was in the window and he saw Barney on the boat, “I knew there was something in the harbor. I didn’t trust myself,” he thought.

In addition, he called through the loudspeaker, “All hands on deck someone or something is stealing one of our boats. Close the gate!”

The gate was starting to close. Barney was getting worried that he wouldn’t make it on time. The wind started to pick up. He was going faster at this point in time. The gate was going to close. There was just enough room to get through and he did just barely. Barney was on his way to find a new hope of getting revenge on the monster. He was sailing and sailing down the coast of the island all the way to the bottom of the islands. The problem was, he couldn’t steer very well, so it took him a while to get from place to place. After 4 days of travelling, he was almost out of food. He needed to stop, but just as he was about to give up, he saw the island of Hawaii, the largest thing he had ever seen. It was so beautiful. He had some money to pay for food and somewhere to park his boat that his aunt had given him. He went to the main port and asked if he could park his boat.

They said that he could, but it would cost more than all the money he had, so he went around the island. But there were no other ports. With the rope he tied the boat to the tree along the shore and after that put some leaves over it so that if anyone came around they wouldn’t see it. Then he went into town to find food and the adventurer that his uncle had told him about. He walked into a grocery store to buy some food and saw the wanderer that he was looking for. Barney walked over to meet the man.

“Excuse me, are you Bob Higginson, the legendary hydra slayer?” He asked in a polite tone of voice.

“That is me but, those days are over,” he told him.

“Please, you have to help me!” Barney pleaded.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t help you,” The man told him.

Barney sulked out of the grocery store with a lot of food and some water for the boat ride to the island. At that moment, he heard something behind him . . . the man crashed out of the grocery store and sprinted down the street after him, until he caught Barney and told him he would help.

But, it was under a one condition: only if he and Barney went to his house right away. They started towards Mr. Higginson’s house, but then Barney heard another crash from back at the grocery store. The clerk was chasing them down. Barney looked to his left. The man was carrying a bag of groceries, but he didn’t pay for them. They started to run faster. Barney could have stopped him, but he knew that if he did, then the man wouldn’t help him They reached a dark alley. They went in clambered over the wall and ran off into the night. It was around 5:30 a.m. when they reached the man’s house.

“I have lots of food water and weapons we can use,” he told Barney.

“Thank you for your help. It’s really meaningful to me that you would help a stranger,” Barney replied with a smile.

The two started to pack up for the long voyage back up the coast towards the hydra. Barney kept wondering how this random guy beat a hydra in a battle so he asked him and the man replied, “Well, I have a harpoon that has eight points, so I can hit every head on the hydra with a harpoon instead of just one.”

They started on their voyage towards the island. They spent 2 days and 3 nights on the boat. They were starting to give up, but as they were the island came into view, “We’re here” he told Barney with a shaky tone

They were still far enough away that they couldn’t completely see the entire island. They started heading closer as the wind picked up threw the waves. Barney was having second thoughts about coming on this trip, but he was glad that he had someone with him. They reached the shore. Barney didn’t know what to say. He was so worried, but so excited. The man told him that the ancient land hydra would be roaming the perimeter of the island looking for trespassers, or he would be at the summit of the mountain.

The two started the log trek up the mountain. When they reached the summit of the mountain they saw it sitting on an ancient wall with futuristic markings on it. It was sleeping, but as they approached, it woke with a start. It raised its long thin black neck to the sky and opened his eyes then it dashed at them with tremendous rage. Barney was petrified. As he was about to have the same fate as his parents, Bob pulled him aside. Behind cover, Barney was still shaking. The hydra looked around trying to find out where they went.

Barney snapped out of it. He had a plan. He was going to run around fast enough and long enough to both get the hydra’s attention and to not be killed by its enraged state of mind. He started running out from behind the cover. He went sprinting around the hydra. It didn’t know what to do, then Barney heard it. It was the loudest and ugliest hiss he had ever heard. The hydra knocked him to the ground, and it was about to rip him open when Bob shot the harpoon into the hydra’s heads.

It wheeled around flailing its arms trying to break free. But it couldn’t. Barney thanked Bob for helping him defeat the monster and get revenge for his parents’ death. Barney also vowed never to never go on a boat again. It had make him sick and tired. As the hydra fell to the ground, the trees danced in the wind.

Soon, he had said goodbye to Bob. He started the voyage home. All the way, he was thinking of his parents and how much he loved them and how sorry he was for leaving his aunt and uncle. Despite all of this, when he got home, his aunt and uncle embarrassed him in open arms and never thought anything of it.

 

“Between Angels and Demons” by Theresa Reis Pereira Dos Santos

The agents had decided they would walk to where the body was found, for it was close to the police department. After five years working for the FBI, one should be accustomed to the brutal murders seen on a daily basis, but Cas and Gabriel felt this one was different. They felt as if there was a connection to them on a more . . . personal level. All sorts of deranged thoughts filled their minds. Perhaps it was someone they knew? No, no, impossible. There was no reason why anyone would so brutally assassinate good people.

“Gabriel?” Cas reluctantly asked, “Do you think the victim was someone we know?” There was silence for a brief moment, and Gabriel let out a deep sigh.

“Not very likely,” he replied without even staring at Cas, “But we’re about to find out.”

From the other side of the road, they were unable to see much. A small crowd of people gathered to see the scene, and there were many curious eyes all around. As they got closer, they pulled out their badges from the pockets of their suits and Gabriel firmly said, “FBI agents Castiel and Gabriel.” Immediately, everyone’s attention was turned to them, and people rapidly drifted away so the agents could pass through.

“FBI, huh?” A cop asked. Even though he was short and a bit fat, he looked intimidating. Castiel simply nodded, and asked, “Same M.O. as the other five victims?” The cop looked confused, and before he could ask anything, Castiel explained, “M.O., or modus operandi, means mode of operation. In this situation, it means a serial killer’s characteristic way of murdering his victims.” The cop’s face grew snow white, and it very much looked like he was trying to hide his concern for the situation.

“I wasn’t aware there had been other victims,” he said so low it almost sounded like a whisper. “It is very unfortunate that a killer would go on a spree here in New York.” Gabriel said, “But we really need to take a look at that body, Sir.”

As they slowly paced through the sidewalk, that bad feeling got worse, a feeling of emptiness, as if they had lost someone very dear to them. And they had indeed. Lying on the dirty sidewalk, on top of a puddle of blood, was Paul Rivers, a man who they had been very good friends with since their childhood.

Gabriel immediately looked away from that macabre scene. Castiel’s face grew pale and his eyes widened. Incredulous, he dropped down on his knees and let the tears roll down his eyes. He didn’t know what he was feeling, or what he was supposed to be feeling. Angry at himself for not being able to help, enraged at the killer who had done that . . . Out of the several thoughts that could have gone through his head, only one rang through his mind as clearly as a church bell, “I will revenge you, my friend. No matter what it takes, no matter how hard it gets, I swear on my mother’s grave that I will arrest the one who dared to so heartlessly end your life.”

Gabriel could not believe his eyes. No, he did not want to believe his eyes. His whole body was consumed by anger, like a log being consumed by a raging fire. He clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. He should have known something was wrong from the moment Paul gave him that necklace two weeks ago. His great-grandfather had given him that necklace when he was only a little boy, and had told him to never take it off, what he had done for 23 years of his life. The necklace was a very old and dirty golden. Moreover, it had a small key with a red stone in its center.

Gabriel turned back around and firmly said, “We need to get ourselves together if we want to find out who did this to Paul, and you know that, Cas,” He held out his hand to help Cas stand up.

They started inspecting the body. He was stabbed three times in his abdomen, and shot once in the head. They found a tarot card, and a crumpled piece of paper on the inside pocket of his suit. It contained an address, and an unfinished note: If you are reading this, it’s already too late for me. My most valuable belonging is safe with trusted old friends, and only they can bring peace to my restless soul. If they choose to do so, they must be careful. Trust no one. Most importantly, beware of she from whom evil was born. Bewar…

“A tarot card of death?” Castiel muttered to himself, “I wonder why this looks so familiar . . . ” Like a lightbulb, an idea lit up on his head. “Gabriel!” He exclaimed, “All the other victims had the exact same tarot card on their pockets! That’s another of the killer’s M.O.’s!” Gabriel turned around, delightedly surprised. They were now one step closer to catching the killer. “Hey Cas,” Gabriel said, “we should also check out the address on the note, don’t you think so? Maybe we’ll find something useful.” Castiel simply nodded.

The two of them got in a taxi and Gabriel said, “1375 Willow Avenue, Manhattan, please.”

They stood in front of an old apartment building. It was a tall building, built with stones so dark it gave the impression that they had been painted. On the last floor, there were verandas in every other apartment, with pitch black window frames. On each side of the flight of stairs leading to the lobby, two menacing gargoyles seemed to stare at them.

“Oh man,” Gabriel mused, “it’s been so long since we last came here.” He slowly walked towards the stairs and sat on the first step. “Do you remember,” he lowered his head and mumbled, “that the three of us named the gargoyles? The one on the left was Greg, and the one on the right was Hunter.” Castiel, absorbed in his own thoughts, stared at an apparently broken window on the 13th floor.

“Huh?” He asked, turning his head in Gabriel’s direction. His sky blue eyes seemed to shine under the sunlight. Gabriel took one look at him, covered his face with his hands, and sighed, “You know what?” He said, standing up, “never mind, let’s just get in.”

The two walked into the lobby, and then pressed the elevator button. “Although it was unusual to find a tarot card and a rather… peculiar note inside Paul’s pocket, I have to say, I was not amused.” Cas confessed, turning himself to the elevator mirror and adjusting his black tie. Gabriel turned his head and looked at him with a straight face and cold eyes. Glancing at him through the mirror, Castiel said, “It really does puzzle me how you believe you are always right.” He commented, now facing his friend.

“I don’t. I just don’t think that it’s right to speak ill of the dead,” he explained.

“Though I have to agree with you. I was not surprised either,” Gabriel said, “He had been acting very strangely in the last six months. He basically cut all contact with us, remember? I think we only saw him around, let’s say, three times. He was always talking about some weird things he never even showed interest in before. He was not making a lot of sense either. Many of our friends, his colleagues from work, and even his neighbors said he was slowly slipping into insanity. I remember he once started talking about how work was stressing him out, and then he started talking about books and ended the conversation asking if Lilith was a pretty name. I believe that was the last time I saw him.”

But he was lying. That had not been the last time Gabriel saw Paul. The elevator arrived on the 13th floor, interrupting their many thoughts about the months prior to that horrific event. When they stepped onto the blood red carpet, one specific door caught their eyes. It seemed to have been broken from the outside, pieces of wood were on the floor.

“That is Paul’s apartment,” Castiel observed, walking towards the black door, or at least, what was left of it. He slowly turned the doorknob with one hand, and held down his gun with the other, fearing that whoever had done that could still be there. Gabriel followed right behind, his gun also on his hands.

The apartment was actually quite organized for Paul’s standards. There were no dirty cups or plates to be seen on the floor, and all seemed to be in order. Castiel let his guard down, lowered his gun, and confusedly said, “I cannot seem to remember Paul organizing his belongings, much less his entire apartment. Strange.” Meanwhile, Castiel paced through the living room, quietly observing it.

“We should go to his room to see if we can find anything. Do you think Paul kept a journal somewhere?” Gabriel asked, walking towards Paul’s room.

“He did find writing quite pleasurable, but I don’t believe so,” Castiel replied. “But given the wayward nature of his actions during recent months, I may be wrong.”

They turned the golden doorknob, however, they found the door was locked. Gabriel was extremely annoyed. Why did Paul have to make things harder for them?

“You know what?” he yelled, “we don’t have time for this.” He kicked the door open. Castiel looked at him, raising his bushy eyebrows. He was surprised, considering Gabriel rarely lost his temper in such a way.

The room had bad vibes. There was no rational explanation for that. Nearly everything there was either red or black, and there were old leather books scattered around the floor. Furthermore, the closet had been thrown on the floor.

Castiel looked around, eyes sparkling with curiosity. He loved his job, and he loved investigating, but the main reason he was so excited was because he would get to search Paul’s things. Something he would never be allowed to if Paul was still alive. His friend had always been secretive, even during their childhood.

While inspecting the room, he noticed a small door behind the fallen closet. “Gabriel,” he called out, “come take a look at this. I found a hidden door.”

Gabriel walked toward the door, “So that’s the reason for the key!” He blurted out.

“No need for keys,” Castiel said, “I had already opened it. Oh, and he indeed had begun to keep a journal. It was in there.”

Gabriel sharply turned his head, looking very surprised. The journal was on Cas’ hands, and he quickly read over the coffee-stained pages. For a brief moment, he lowered the book, and confusedly stared at the ceiling. He seemed to be mumbling something, but Gabriel couldn’t hear what.

“There is this woman mentioned here,” Castiel said, breaking the silence that had taken over the room, “that goes by the name of Lilith. I believe Paul mentioned that name in one of your conversations.” Gabriel had been pacing around the room, but stopped when Cas mentioned that name. He looked to the street through the dirty window and sighed.

“Yes, I think he was going out with her. He would always talk about this woman who had he met at a coffee shop one day, but he only told me her name the one time I told you about.”

Castiel quickly flipped the journal pages until he got to a blank one. He then pulled out a pen from the pocket of his black suit, and began writing something. His handwriting wasn’t turning out very well, for his hands were shaking. It was obvious that he was nervous, but he would not stop writing. “Paul was a man thirsty for knowledge. Had always been, since we learned how to read,” he said, while still writing. “He knew it was her the whole time, but wanted to help us out in this investigation. That’s why he left this journal, Gabriel. So that we would know. He never misspelled anything, but the quality of his writing was not very good.” He was almost done writing, and you could see an expression of triumph on his face.

“Tarot cards? Paul never believed that, no, he never did. But she did. Lilith, that’s the name of the serial killer.”

He raised the journal so that Paul could read. He had found certain patterns in the journal, and based on them, was able to find a hidden message. “Lilith is the one you must look for. It is the name of a woman who predicts your future based on tarot cards. Her little place is two blocks from here, on that dark alley we used to go to.”

Gabriel was speechless for a while. Then, a determined expression took over his face. “Well,” he said, smirking and cocking his gun, “What are we waiting for? Let’s go get that killer.”  He bolted out the apartment door, dashing down the stairs. Castiel smiled, and ran after him, throwing the journal on the floor.

They rushed down the lobby, and sprinted down the streets of Manhattan. “Sorry, sir,” Cas yelled, bumping into someone. He wanted to avenge his friend’s death. He felt a mix of despair and determination. As they got closer to the dark alley, they slowed down, fearing that the woman would get away. Her “house” was . . . eccentric, full of macabre symbols on the walls, and unlit candles. The main room had only a small table with a crystal ball on top of it. It was very dark, which is probably why they did not notice a figure sitting behind the table.

“Stay close, and don’t let your guard down,” Gabriel warned Cas. Just as he ended his sentence, the candles started lighting up, faintly illuminating the small room, and they saw the strange woman hiding in the shadows behind the table.

“I’ve been waiting for you, boys,” a surprisingly smooth voice said. “Why don’t you take a seat? This is going to take a while.”

Both Castiel and Gabriel had their guns pointed in her direction. She simply looked at them from head to toes, and burst into laughter. “Hahahahaha,” her laughter was quite scary. She suddenly changed her tone, and she now sounded very threatening, “You wouldn’t dare.”

Gabriel was just too tired at this point. Without breaking eye contact, he yelled “I wouldn’t? I WOULDN’T? YOU KILLED MY FRIEND, YOU HEARTLESS HUMAN BEING. YOU KILLED ONE OF THE FEW PEOPLE I CARED ABOUT, A PERSON WHO I HAVE KNOWN SINCE I WAS A KID.” He now had a dark expression in his face, and fulminated, “So you can try me, you murderer.”

With quick movements, she took a knife from below the table, and threw it on Gabriel’s shoulder. Castiel shot the woman in her chest, a few seconds after that. She immediately blacked out and fell to the ground.

Gabriel howled like an animal in pain, and fell down on his knees. “Gabriel! Gabriel, I need you to listen to me.” His friend desperately said, “the paramedics will be here in a moment, just hang on.” Gabriel smiled, and weakly said “Dude, I was stabbed on the shoulder. I’m not going to die.” They both laughed, relieved that it was all over.

The next day, their boss went to the hospital to visit Gabriel. He looked scary, very tall, broad shoulders, and had a scar underneath his eye. Nevertheless, he was a good man.

“You two acted very irresponsibly,” he began. “What were you two thinking when you began the investigation on your own? You could have been killed!” He looked disappointed, but his expression quickly changed.

“Still, you did good, and because of that, we were able to arrest the killer,” he said.

Gabriel smirked and said, “Does that mean we will get a promotion?” Their boss laughed, and replied, “No.”

He was leaving the hospital room, but turned around, and said, “I expect to see you both next week on Monday,” Gabriel and Cas glanced at each other, and laughed. They were glad this case had finally come to an end.

 

“The Longest Night” by Parker Profet

It was just another day in Maryland, where Chad and his two parents lived their quiet life. It was a perfect October Sunday for his small family on the bay. The sun shone bright in his eyes as it reflected off the peaceful water. Chad looked out to the water for a few minutes and noticed one boat speed by. When Chad saw the glass like water being broke it made him more and more excited for the day ahead. He remembered the days when he would not worry about his games, but today was different. Chad was 16, 6’ with short brown hair and blue eyes. Today was the day he would play in the high school football state championship. He was the star quarterback for his team. Today couldn’t be more important to him and his family. His parents were the only family he had, which made them extremely close, and he would never want anything bad to happen to them.

After lunch, Chad took a short bike ride to his best friend Dave’s house. Chad just got his driver’s permit and didn’t want to take his car out for a short ride yet, so he decided to bike down the windy dirt roads. He arrived at his friend’s massive house and knocked on the large blue door. He could smell the new wood inside of the house. The door slowly creaked open with a person’s head popping out the side.

“Hey, Chad,” he heard the friendly voice say, “You ready?”

Chad excited responded, “Yeah, I am!”

Dave is not only Chad’s best friend, but also the number one wide receiver on the team. David and Chad have known each other since kindergarten and were like brothers to one another. After a few hours of running over plays and enjoying themselves it was time to get ready for the game.

Eight o’clock, game time, they were ready to win the biggest game of their lives. The whole town was watching. Some shops closed for the night to see them play. The school had never been in a state championship. Chad could feel the excitement inside of him like a volcano about to erupt.

He looked out onto the Maryland University football field, grass perfectly cut with fresh paint that said his high school’s name on it.

Set, HIKE! The game has started. The first quarter went by too fast with them up 10 to 7, anyone’s game. Another quarter gone as the ear piercing whistle blew for halftime. The game was tied at 17 and each team was battling it out up to this point.

There was no score in the 3rd quarter, and fans for both teams were getting restless. Now it was down to the fourth quarter and Chad and the team had to win.

The first drives for each team resulted in a touchdown making the score 24 to 24.

The opposing team got the ball with 6 minutes to go and scored a field goal.

Now it was Chad’s time. They drove down to the 40-yard line with 5 seconds left on the clock. The lights were bright in their eyes, as the rain started to pour down on the field.

They all knew this was their last chance, and it was too far for them to kick a field goal to tie it. Chad got the ball, he sees Dave cut in then up, just the way they planned it. Chad planted his foot and threw the ball, and the whole world stopped around him as they watched the ball soar through the air.

TOUCHDOWN! Everyone on the field rushed to the end zone and dog piled on Dave. It all went by too fast for Chad, as he was awarded the state championship trophy. It was late at night when he was going back to the locker room to change and go home. 12:26 to be exact, but he wanted this night to last forever.

Walking off the field, he heard his mom’s voice, “We are heading home, it’s too late for us.”

Finally, Chad got in his car to leave the game. It was 1:30 am in the morning and still an hour ride home. His parents probably had gotten home and were probably asleep. Chad turned on the radio and listened to his favorite tunes the whole ride home. When he was going through the dense woods before he got to his neighborhood, he saw a light in the forest.

He was drawn to the light and got out of his car to investigate. When he stepped into the woods he heard the leaves crunch under his feet. As he looked in closer he noticed that it was a car and not just any car it was his parent’s black BMW.

He was in shock! “How did this happen?” he thought to himself. He slowly made his way closer and saw that there was no one inside.

Chad was immensely confused and kept thinking about what had happened to his parents. He looked around a little more and couldn’t find any evidence of what was going on. He drove a few more blocks to his house thinking that maybe they walked home and were waiting for him to come back. He opened the front door and yelled out to see if they were there, but there was no sign of them. It was now 3 a.m. in the morning and Chad was petrified with no sighting of his parents. He called the police.

Meanwhile, further into the woods, his parents were stumbling around trying to find a way out, but they were really digging themselves deeper and deeper into the thick forest. They did not know where they were, not even who they were since they hit their heads hard in the crash. They noticed a clearing and went to the nearby road. They sat down on the side taking a break from the pain of the headaches they dealt with. A man who was driving home late at night saw them on the side of the road. He stopped his car immediately. They looked horrible. This man had no clue who they were or why they were in this much pain, but he got out of his car to help.

Almost sunrise, 5 in the morning, and no one has gotten any sleep. The man asked them many simple questions, asking who they were and why they were hurt so badly. Chad’s parents honestly responded with “I don’t know,” because they were clueless. The man explained his name was Billy and he was visiting his relatives that lived here, but now he was leaving early in the morning to beat traffic. As Billy explained more and more about them, where they were, and what he knew, their memories started to slowly come back. When they were getting back their memories, Billy was gathering things that could help clean the wounds made from the crash and help the headaches from getting worse. The second his dad remembered his son Chad, he knew he needed to make sure he was okay.

At 5:30 a.m. Chad was about to give up until he heard the phone ring. It was an out of state number but he knew this was his final hope. He picked up the phone, although he wasn’t sure who it was. His dad was on the other end of the call. Chad tried his best to stay calm while his dad talked to him. For the next 15 minutes, his dad relayed the horror of the night in the best detail he could remember. When Chad heard the words, “We are heading home.” He couldn’t have been happier. After 10 minutes waiting at the front door for his parents, they came home. He thanked the unknown man and then made his way to his parents. To Chad and his family this was the longest night of their lives, but they were happy to be together. No matter how hard the night was on them, Chad learned that family was even more important than he thought and it was all thanks to the kindness of a stranger.

 

“Lost in a Storm” by Ashley Perrin

As I struggled down the stairs carrying my overloaded suitcase in both arms, I thought about how boisterous it would be to see my cousins again. I hadn’t seen them in six years, and my dad was taking me to visit.  But the most exciting part about getting there was that my cousins lived on an island, which meant we had to take a boat.

I managed to drag my luggage to my father, who hoisted it into our old yet reliable car. I hopped in the passenger’s seat and went over my mental packing list carefully in my head. Then I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw an exuberant face with chocolate brown ringlets grinning back at me. Suddenly the car door opened, and my father, with his shaggy brown hair and sparkling blue eyes, got into the driver’s seat and buckled his seat belt.

“Here we go! Are you excited to see Eliza and Jane, your least favorite cousins?” he teased.

“No dad, they’re my favorite cousins,” I said, playfully poking him in the ribs. “And yes, I am excited to see them,” I added.

After three hours of driving, we got to a dock where there were boats lined up in the water. There was a standard building off to the side that must’ve been the lobby or something. My father parked the car and got out, searching for someone that could tell us where to go. Before we could leave the parking lot, however, a business-like woman in a dark suit with a clipboard marched over to us. Her hair was in a perfect bun, and her glasses were at the tip of her pointy nose.

“Can I help you?” she asked in a voice higher than I expected.

“We are looking for a ride to Thomas Island,” my father replied shortly. I think he was mad about all the traffic we had to go through to get here.

Pointing to an old, tiny little boat with the wood in some pretty bad shape, she said, “You can use that one over there.” She scribbled something down on her clipboard. “I just need you to sign right here.” My father took the pen and wrote his name down.

“Thank you very much,” he said.

“Thank you,” the woman replied back. Then she turned swiftly on her heel and strutted away. My dad and I took our stuff out of the car and transferred it into the little boat that creaked when we stepped in.

“Is this really gonna hold us up until we get to the island?” I doubted aloud. The engine looked like it might fall off.

“Don’t worry. I hope it can work, but we’ll need to treat it carefully. I’ll handle the steering wheel and you can make sure nothing falls out of the back,” my dad told me.

We had just gotten about three miles away from the dock, when all of a sudden the sky darkened and a gust of wind blew into the little boat. A shadow cast over us as clouds formed above, covering the sun. There was a storm coming, no doubt about it. Rain began coming down harder and harder, drenching our luggage. If there was a leak in the boat, it was hard to tell because water was surrounding us in every direction. My dad tried to steer away from the storm, but it only got worse.

“How do we get out of this?” I hollered over the wind. I never got a response, because the next thing I knew, an immense wave crashed from out of nowhere into our boat, threatening to tip us over. I wasn’t brave enough to handle this alone. I searched for my dad, but to my complete and utter shock, he was gone.

Before I could stop them, tears came streaming down my cheeks as I recovered from the shock of losing my dad. I began to search urgently everywhere for him, steering the boat in all sorts of directions. What could have happened? Something told me that he wasn’t really dead. But an hour later with no such luck, I knew I had to make it to my cousin’s house before it got dark. As I hurried hastily to the island, I was more and more determined to rescue my dad before we got home, no matter what it took.

After a while, I reached the dock at Thomas Island and was checking in at the front desk. Every island had the same shipping port, which made it easier to travel because it was all the same system. A girl ran up to me as I pushed the doors open to get out of the building.

“Kate! I am so glad to see you!” she exclaimed. I didn’t know how she recognized me after all these years, but I think it was Jane because she didn’t have the same blond ponytail and upturned nose like Eliza. Instead, she looked more like my father: skinny, with brown hair tied in a bun, and eyes the color of sapphires. I ran up and gave her a bear hug. Then she asked, “Where is your dad?” I paused, and my face darkened. I took a deep breath.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “But I am going to find out, somehow.” She gave me an alarmed look, so I added, “I’ll tell you more about it when we get to the house.”

So off we went, arm in arm, and she led the way to her tiny residence. When we got there, I walked in hesitantly because I hadn’t been there in such a long time. Everyone was glad to see me, but they had the same question as Jane. I told them about what happened to my dad, and right away, Eliza (with a daring nerve, quite unlike me) volunteered to help. My aunt and uncle said we could search for him, but they told us to be as careful because something might happen to us.

My plan was to first stop at the dock on the edge of the island, where Jane greeted me the day before.

We got to the harbor, and I noticed something strange under the water. When I pointed this out to Eliza, she agreed that it looked funny.

“We better check it out,” she declared. I nodded, and together we dived into the deep blue waters of the ocean.  Since we couldn’t talk underwater, obviously, we motioned with our hands what to do next. I pulled her a little closer to the left, and there we saw it. It was some kind of city underwater, with talking fish, turtles, sharks, dolphins, you name it. There were sea creatures swimming every which way, and tiny buildings made out of stone. Eliza was clearly just as surprised as I was, because her eyes were bulging out of her head. We swam closer and came to a direct halt. About three feet in front of us was a crab that was a bed, for it wasn’t the normal size of a shellfish. We hadn’t seen it before because it just about blended in with all the action going on in the city. To our dismay, the evil looking crab turned towards us and spoke. When he snapped his pinchers, bubbles appeared over our heads so we could breathe again.

“I am Vancroy, king of the city Seaport. Why do you seek me?” it asked.

“I-I am looking for my father, who has, um, gone missing during a storm,” I replied in a shaky voice. This guy was not one you should mess with.

“Oh, yes!” Vancroy announced in a sharp and gleeful manner. “I have him held captive here because he has something I needed to complete a project. However, he has served his purpose. I do try to be clever, so don’t be surprised if there is some sort of puzzle headed your way. I will only give you sixty minutes to find him and bring him back to the edge of Seaport, and then you may have him. But I am warning you, it might be tricky. If you can’t manage to do it in an hour, well, then I can keep him here and use him for another one of my special . . . projects.”

Eliza and I glanced at each other and told Vancroy we would get started. So he let us pass through, and we took off swimming between schools of fish and parties of sea otters. We got to a place where there was a set of open double doors, and we raced in. Inside, we found my dad! Wait, hold on . . . There were more than one – about twenty – clones that all looked identical to my dad. How was I supposed to find my real father? Each one claimed to be the one, but I wasn’t sure. Then a thought came to me. I was the only person besides my brother that knew my dad could pull a really funny joke if he tried hard enough. So Eliza and I went through one by one, seeing if they had any decent jokes. Most of them were pretty bad, but even the okay ones didn’t sound like my father. I checked my water-resistant watch and saw that we had ten minutes left. Finally, the second-to-last “dad” we tried made us laugh until our sides hurt. Something lit up inside that told me this was my real dad. I gave him a hug, then Eliza pulled him out of the building and through the busy city life. We now had two minutes left to get out of Seaport. At one point we got lost, but my father hurled us in the right direction. With the clock screaming down the seconds, we reached the edge of the city and watched Vancroy’s face fall as we tugged my dad up to the surface. At once our bubbles around our heads popped and we breathed in the open air. I felt overjoyed that I actually found my dad! Yesterday, I never would have thought myself capable of being courageous, but today I proved that if I set my mind to it, I could achieve almost anything. With this hopeful thought in my head, Eliza and I took my dad back to my cousins’ house where we celebrated with sparkling cider and donuts.

 

“The Mission for the Unseen” by Justin Meng  

Once upon a time, there was a scout named Dan. He was an non-wealthy scout who was looking for a job to make sure he could support himself. He was tall, and lean, so that he was fast and sneaky. One day, Dan was wandering around on his planet looking for a job, when he came across a group talking in a secretive way.

Dan found his way there through bits and pieces of what seemed like a broken ship, and asked, “Are you in need of a scout?”

The group who goes by the name of the Unseen, quickly told him that their group was in need of help, because 3 days ago, their enemy had found out where their base was and had launched an attack on it. They had lost their best scout in the attack, and the others ran away and were never seen from again.

The Unseen were desperate, so they hired Dan and sent him on his first mission. He was to enter a high security compound and try to steal their intel. He went into the compound, and silently went toward the intel, but just before getting in the room where it was in, he discovered that there was an insane abundance of what seemed over one million patrols surrounding the room. The Unseen, by covert channel that his group had taught him how to use, told him that the only way that these guards would leave their post was, either that people have infiltrated the compound, or when they were switching shifts, which happened every four hours, and it only gave him a 15 second window to get in. Given these scenarios, he chose that the group send in a diversion, and he would sneak into the room and get out of the compound unharmed and unseen.

Every moment that Dan was waiting, felt like eternity, and soon his eyelids began to droop downward like a deadweight was hanging off of it, and forcing it to go down, but he would jerk himself back awake by telling himself, “They should be here soon.” Dan soon dozed off, thinking that the guards would never find him, and that he could have a small nap because his diversion had not arrived, but as soon as he fell asleep, his group from earlier called him, and said that they were sorry for taking so long, and that the diversion should be happening soon.

The perpetual ringing of Dan’s phone caught one of the guard’s attention, and he went toward the sound when it stopped, not knowing what to expect. What the guard saw in the corner surprised him. It was a small scout. The guard thought that the compound was impenetrable, and here was an enemy scout, sleeping in a corner of the room. The guard didn’t know what to do, so he called back a group of guards and took Dan up to an empty cell, and locked him in. He was unconscious, so he just lay as a lump on the ground.

When Dan eventually woke up from his “nap” and saw that he was trapped in a laser cell that had virtually no way out, Dan went crazy trying to find a way to bypass the lasers, but he couldn’t touch any of the lasers, or else it would alert the enemy and they would rush into the cell and kill him. He ran around his cell, which was 15 feet by 20 feet, and made out of the lasers that were like steel and a camera at the same time. All the while, he tried to find out what in the world would get him out of there, and just as he sat down to give up, something scratched his leg, and he reached downward. He felt the round outline of the teleporter machine that his group had given him.

Because of this, he started to realize that he wasn’t dead after all. He started up the teleporter, and found that there was enough space in the teleporter for 2 transports, and because of that he started charging up the teleporter, and he didn’t realize in time, but he was playing the waiting game because his captors were going to his cell at that exact moment. Dan looked outside and saw them running up the stairs. He would not have enough time, until he saw that one of them had tripped. He only needed 1 more minute to make the jump to the intelligence, before leaving immediately. His plan was perfectly laid out in his mind, but when he teleported to the intelligence room and grabbed the case, his device said that he needed to wait 3 minutes for cool-down time, and that he would have to stay put and wait for it to teleport him.

Dan waited anxiously. Until Finally, the teleporter beeped, signaling that it was ready and Dan couldn’t press the button fast enough, as soon as he got back to his group, he breathed a sigh of relief. He was home! His group rushed out of the door and started to ask him if he was okay. Dan said he was, so they asked him to recall what had happened throughout the raid, and Dan said, “It was going well at first, but when I went to their room with the intelligence and you guys called me to tell me that it was guarded 24/7? I freaked out that I was going to fail my first mission and get killed, until I heard you guys saying that you could send a diversion to help get the guards attention. I was waiting for a very long time, and eventually fell asleep. I don’t know what happened, but I woke up in a big laser cell that I couldn’t get out of, and was going to give up when I felt this teleporter in my back pocket.”

The Unseen looked on in awe as Dan pulled the unharmed teleporter out of my back pocket. The Unseen then said, “Wow, I don’t believe that any one of us had given that to you, did you guys?” The rest of the group said no and shook their heads in disbelief. The leader than said to Dan, “Well, you’re lucky for one thing, and you must also be very forgetful, you probably took it from the enemy, because we don’t make teleporters like that. Our teleporters have a signature scratch at the top right corner extending down the back.”

Dan looked at him like he was crazy, because his didn’t have a scratch or anything. He asked, “Well, is it the enemies, and if so, is it going to do anything?” No one knew, and soon the topic was dropped. Ever since then, Dan was a valuable member of the team, and soon was respected and sent on classified missions. Dan never had a monotonous day in his life again.

 

“A Culinary Cook-off” by Amelia Levin

“I’ve got to go soon, Mom!” Cici hollered upstairs. Cici grabbed her suitcase and said a final goodbye to her lovely home in New York City. Her mom quickly scrambled down the stairs and gave Cici a bear hug.

“I love you so much, Cici. Be safe, try your hardest, and have fun in Paris!” Cici’s mother whispered to her with a squeeze.

“I will, Mom. I’ve got to go! Bye!” Cici exclaimed and got in the cab waiting outside her house. Cici boarded her flight at 6:00 am, but when she arrived in Paris it was already 7:00 pm! Jet-lagged and exhausted, Cici got to her apartment and collapsed onto her bed. A couple minutes of recovery later, Cici went to explore the city. She decided to go see the restaurant she would be working at.

When Cici approached the beautiful building of Le Cappiello, she was amazed at first sight. It was glorious and bold, yet gentle and inviting. She floated inside and got a table for one. The menu was classy and sophisticated, and Cici was in love. She ate a lovely first meal in France and walked home satisfied and exuberant. The stars were twinkling and her heart was falling for this new mysterious city.

The next day, Cici woke up bright and early to head over to her job. She was introduced to Marco, the head chef she would be studying under. Marco told Cici she would have to work her way to the top if she wants to be the best. Then, Marco introduced Cici to Lucia, the other intern. Cici stepped into the kitchen and took a long sniff of the pungent smell. The kitchen stank of herbs and spices. Marco assigned Cici to start washing dishes and Lucia to cleaning off tables. As Cici was carrying a clean tub of silverware to the other chefs, Lucia “accidentally” bumped into her, sending silverware flying and Cici face planting. Red-faced and embarrassed, Cici picked up the pile of forks and knives and ran outside. Behind the restaurant, Cici stumbled upon a girl.

“Are you alright?” she asked Cici. Cici had tears in her eyes and her spirits were down.

“Not really,” Cici started. “There is another intern, Lucia. It’s my first day and she is already trying to ruin my chances here!” The girl embraced Cici in a hug.

“I’m Addy. I work in the kitchen as well. I met Lucia a few days ago, and I can see what you mean. She can be a handful. But this internship will be the best thing you’ve ever done, especially since Marco is running it. So you should focus, try your hardest, and ignore Lucia. I believe in you, don’t worry,” Addy reassured her.

Cici took a deep breath and walked back into the kitchen. She pulled her long blonde hair into a bun and washed her hands. Next Cici got back to work and washed the dishes fast and furiously. Marco was impressed by her determination to get things done that morning, so in the afternoon she was bumped up to observing one of the sous chefs. Cici helped find ingredients and observed how the kitchen worked.

At the end of the day, Marco talked to Lucia and Cici. “Great first day, ladies. Tomorrow, you all will get the morning off and come in at 11 to start your official positions working in the kitchen. Lucia, you will be assisting Chef Simone, and Cici will be assisting Chef Madeline. You are to follow what they say and do as you were told so everything goes smoothly. See you tomorrow,” Marco told them.

Then Lucia and Cici nodded, gathered their stuff, and went outside. It was very dark and the Eiffel Tower shone like a star in the distance. As the girls reached the front of the restaurant, Lucia leaned over and whispered, “It’s on, Cici.” Cici’s eyes widened and she called out to Lucia, but she was already turning around the corner.

Cici briskly walked back to her apartment and sat down. She knew this was no easy job, it was going to be a battle. Cici realized Lucia had no mercy. Cici opened up her computer and did some more research on the restaurant. She had to be 100% ready for the upcoming challenge.

As the days turned to weeks, Cici was tremendously improving in skill and mindset. She was focused and determined to do her best. Whether she was told to “chop the potatoes” or “clean the work area” or “dice the carrots,” Cici performed every task to her highest standards. Her leadership skills and culinary advancement were showing, and Marco was impressed. He promoted Cici to cooking on her own, then small side dishes, and was currently assembling the main meals!

Lucia was not thrilled with this. She was making progress as well, but not quite as fast as Cici. There was only a month left of the internship, so Lucia decided to make her main goal to ruin Cici’s chances of beating her for the job. She would sabotage, wreck, and work her way to the top. The next morning, Lucia brought everyone pastries, but the one she planned to give Cici was stale and rotten. Although it was cruel, Lucia wanted Cici to get sick so she could jump ahead of her and get to show off towards Marco.

Cici accepted the pastry, but the next morning when she woke up she felt sick and could barely get out of bed. Cici sighed, for she knew she would have to take a day or two off. Cici slipped back into her bed and slept the entire day. Unfortunately, it took a whole 3 days until Cici felt well enough to go back to the restaurant. She was exhausted and upset.

With only 3 weeks left until her internship is over, Cici had to bounce back from this break quickly. Cici bounded into work and began to chop her vegetables and meats to prep for the day. She first made the soup of the day, after that she fixed a few main courses, and ended her shift making many portions of lamb chops with potatoes.

Cici continued this usual routine for many days until Marco approached her and Lucia.

“Girls, it is time for your final test. You will each come up with a new recipe or bring your own recipe to this kitchen to serve. Whoever’s meal is better will be given at the restaurant and added to the menu,” he explained. Immediately the girls ran off to begin searching for a recipe that is both classic and elegant enough for this restaurant. Cici chose a grilled fish served with sautéed onions, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, and radishes. She gathered all of her ingredients, diced the vegetables, and prepared the fish. When the timer ran out, Lucia and Cici both brought out their dishes to a table with the other chefs. Marco and the other judges tasted Cici’s food and their eyes lit up.

“Magnificent!” Marco exclaimed, “the mix of flavors and colors compliment each other perfectly. Your leadership and abilities in the kitchen influenced me to pick you for the job. You will be a very great asset to the staff of Le Cappiello. Lucia, I’m sorry, but you don’t work as well with the others and you are not progressing as fast. I’m very proud of how far both of you have come, but Cici, the job is yours.”

“Thank you so much,” Cici replied. Lucia scowled and stormed out of the room.  Cici shook hands with each person at the table and smiled.

“I am so thankful for this opportunity,” she grabbed her stuff from the kitchen and gave Addy a huge hug. Cici danced back to her apartment with glee and called her mother, sharing the news. She felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. After all of her hard work, Cici used her strong-willed attitude and persistent mindset to win Marco over and get her dream job. Her transition to France was a success!

 

“One Pitch” by Jake Keller  

It’s a hot dry Friday evening, and Jim was a baking potato in the heat. Sweat was dripping down his forehead, and his eyes were stinging, because the salt getting in his eyes. His longish blond hair wasn’t helping the situation. His team was at practice, and they were currently doing groundball drills. Crack! A ground ball was hit at the speed of light directly at him, and he barely gets his glove down to field it, before he under throws it to first. Luckily, his best friend Andrew gets an amazing snag, saving him from certain mortification. Shortstop is not his favorite position, but nobody else on the team can afford to play it. Jim is atrocious at outfield, and all of the other infield positions are taken, so he played shortstop.

“HALT!” his coach calls, “we’re ending practice early today.” Relieved, Jim slowly walks back to the dugout to pack up his bag.

“Jim, come over here,” Coach Williams said. Jim knew what was coming. “Jim, practice more,” “Jim, I expect more from you,” or the worst of all, “You and I both know you’re letting the team down.”

When Jim reached Coach, Coach didn’t yell at him, or say any of those things.

He said, “You decide how much you need to improve.” And he walks away. Jim knew more than ever he needs to step it up. His team is the bottom seed in the playoffs, and they will face the top ranked opponent in a couple of days. He was the only person on the team who doesn’t get a hit every game.

As he was trudging back to the parking lot where his mom was parked, Andrew approached him.

“You’re getting better,” Andrew claimed encouragingly. Jim knew that that statement is as stretchy as silly putty, but he appreciated the encouragement.

“I still need to improve,” Jim replied wistfully. He didn’t know how though. He has tried practicing more at training camps, and anything in between, but he wasn’t that great at baseball, and he was disappointed because of it.

“Come on man, it only takes one pitch, one hit, and you’re a hero,” Andrew insisted.

“It isn’t that simple though!” Jim shouts as he storms off.

The game was to start soon, and Jim was a nervous wreck, and to add onto that he still hasn’t apologized to Andrew. Coach Williams gets everyone together to make his big pre-game speech. When he started talking, he got the group in a trancelike state, as if he was hypnotizing them.

“I know we have come a long way from where we were last year, and I’m proud of you for that. But I still believe we can do more. We didn’t come this far to give up, when people think we have no shot. So get out there, and prove them wrong!”

The game started, and it went satisfactorily for the first 5 innings. The Tigers (Jim’s team) were up 1-0 on The Giants, but it all went wrong in the 6th. The Giants score 3, and score another 1 in the 8th. Jim enters the bottom of the 9th with the bases loaded and 1 out. Jim is 0-3 today, but all it takes is one home run to win the game for his team. He walks up to the plate and takes a pitch. Strike one! He decided to swing at the next pitch, and he missed. Strike two! For strike 3 Jim sees a bad pitch and takes it, but the ump makes a horrendous call, and calls him out.

 

Andrew went up after him and hit a walk-off grand slam, which won the game. Jim got rushed out his sorrowful state, and he ran up with the rest of his team to swarm Andrew.

“We did it!” yelled Andrew, ignoring the fact that he carried his team to victory. After everybody was done celebrating, it felt like they won the world series. They shook hands with the shell shocked opposing team and started gathering around their coach for his post-game speech.

Coach Williams started to speak “I’m extremely proud of this team, for what we have achieved this year, exceeded everyone’s expectations. But we aren’t done yet, we still have to make it to the championship and win!”

Jim still was disappointed with his performance, but he kept repeating Andrew’s words “All it takes is one pitch.” He knew he would probably get another shot to become the hero he had always dreamed of being.

After the chaos was over Jim walked over to Andrew and apologized, for yelling at him after practice, and Andrew replied, “Oh, it’s all cool man. I know how stressful this is.” Glad that he got that weight off his chest Jim at least got something from that game.

 

*****

 

It’s was championship day, and The Tigers were on a roll. They won the two other games needed to make it to the championship in blowout fashion. Jim had only gotten a couple of singles in these games, but he still hoped for that one pitch.

When the first inning come around Jim had the chance to give his team an early lead, but he hit a pop up.

“You still have more pitches,” he told himself. Having equally unproductive 3rd and 6th innings Jim was facing a do or die situation. There were 2 outs in the 9th inning The Tigers were down by 1 and a runner was on first.

“This is my chance, my pitch,” Jim repeated to himself, as he walked up to the plate. On the first pitch he swung, but he barely made contact, as the ball rolled parallel to the 3rd base foul line before stopping, which gave Jim a single. Jim thought to himself, “I wasn’t the hero, but I gave Andrew a chance to be one.”

When Andrew stepped up to the plate, everybody went silent. On the first pitch he hit a line drive into the gap, which scored Jim and won the game. Everyone rushed Andrew for the second time this playoff run, celebrating their first championship win. Jim knew he wasn’t the hero he wanted to be that game, but he does know that he played a key support role in that win.

 

“The Criminal Spy” by Eve Hastings

Maia Adey had gotten good at leading a double life by her fourteenth birthday. She was a spy for a group of wanted criminals, and even her family didn’t know.

“Adey! Get in here!” Maia’s boss yelled one afternoon. No one knew his real name, though he was the most wanted criminal in the U.S. Everyone called him Crypt because he was extremely vague when he talked about his past. Not to mention, he had a history of putting his “mysteriously dead” enemies’ bodies in crypts.

Maia shot up and nimbly leapt from her chair to the door of Crypt’s office. She used her shoulder to shove open the door, which usually liked to stick to the doorframe.

“Adey, here’s your new mission,” Crypt told Maia. In the five years since she’d joined, she’d learned being quiet and obedient usually got her raises. This was why she joined–her family needed the money.

“There is a government agency called the Youth Spy Division, and they have a recruiter at your school. Your job is to get the recruiter’s attention. Be recruited to the agency, and spy on them. You will report back to us with information on what they’re doing and when they’re doing it. If you are assigned to missions, inform us. Got it?”

“Yes, I think so,” Maia replied.

“All right, girl, get out of my office and get going.”

Maia ran out of the office and snatched her bag from her chair, startling all of the people waiting for an audience with Crypt. When she got to school she spotted the recruiter immediately: a new “gym teacher.”

Maia was assigned to the recruiter’s group, and he said that they be doing fitness tests. She aced the tests with flying colors.

The recruiter pulled Maia aside and explained that she was being recruited to the Youth Spy Division. “You’re very athletic,” he said. “And we’ve taken a look at your grades–you’re perfect spy material.”

For the rest of the day, every agonizing second scraped by like nails dragging down a chalkboard. Eventually the bell rang, and with it Maia’s heart began beating faster. This is it.

Two men in suits stood casually outside a black van in the carpool line. Maia walked up to them and told them who she was. They simply motioned for her to get in. After a few minutes, the car pulled into a lot in front of a building marked GOVERNMENT FACILITY: NO TRESPASSING. She hopped out and sprinted through the door.

Maia arrived in a room with whitewashed walls and the faint smell of lemons. One enormous window was open, letting the late spring heat inside. Two teenagers sat in the middle. They both had olive skin, curly hair, and hazel eyes. The girl’s hair was pulled back into a sleek ponytail.

“Are you the girl we’re working with?” the girl asked. “I’m Lilia, by the way. And this is my brother, Jonathan.”

“Maia Adey,” Maia replied. She twisted her own straight blonde hair around one finger. “Yeah, I think one of the agents said so.”

Sure enough, a few minutes later, an agent came by and told them they were going to start training. He led them inside, where they went through an intense workout that left all three of them exhausted and sore.

For the next week, everything raced by in a blur. Maia barely had time for everything she had to do. Whenever she came home after training, her muscles felt like lead.

“Hey,” Lilia greeted Maia breathlessly one day. “We’re going on a mission.”

On the car ride to the location, an agent explained what they were doing.

“We’ve intercepted a message saying that someone plans to burn one of our government facilities–the Facility for Aspiring Spies-in-Training, or FAST. This is a protest, but they won’t care if they hurt anyone. Your objective is to get everyone evacuated quickly.”

Maia slipped her phone out and sent a message to Crypt explaining the mission. His response was: Delay them until 4.

So Maia confused the driver and made him take several wrong turns. She noticed Lilia and Jonathan exchanging a suspicious glance, but ignored it. At the facility, she made so many alleged “mistakes” that she set the evacuation back at least half an hour.

One of the little girls was clinging to a desk in a classroom. She had elfish features. Her hair was a light blonde and her eyes were deep blue lakes. “What’s going on?”

“We have to leave,” Maia replied. “Come on.”

The girl held Maia’s hand the whole way out. But when Maia tried to leave the girl with Jonathan, she let go, “I want to help.”

In that moment, something in Maia melted. She’s only an innocent little girl. She decided to help the little girl, who reminded Maia of her little sister–scared, hungry, and small. Maia stopped delaying everyone, and they made it out with two minutes to spare.

When she tried to explain to Crypt later, he swatted her questions away. “You did okay, Adey. At least they still got the building.”

But he became suspicious when she allowed the next three missions to succeed. Finally, Crypt told Maia to just pass the information along to him. He would take care of the rest.

After Maia had failed to get the location of another government facility Crypt had asked her to get, she called him to explain and fix things.

“I honestly tried, boss. I . . . okay, you want me to find out how to get into the CEO’s software? On it, boss.” Maia hung up.

Maia heard a small cough from the doorway. Lilia.

Apparently, she had heard the whole conversation.

The agents didn’t lock her up, but instead kicked her out of the program. However, this meant Maia would have to face him the next day.

That night, her phone buzzed: Set bombs inside YSD dormitories, detonate in 1 hr.

Jonathan and Lilia boarded there, since their parents worked for the government. So did that little girl Maia had met during the evacuation. She’d had been officially accepted into the YSD as a result of her bravery.

The three of them had been amazing people. Jonathan had shown Maia how to jump out of a moving car without getting hurt. Lilia had risked her life to protect a visiting ambassador. The girl, whose name was Annabelle, had wanted to go back for her classmates.

Then, Maia made her decision.

She slunk out the back door and silently took her bike out of the garage. It was two in the morning. Crickets chirped and the dewdrops settled on plants, little gems glinting in the moonlight. Maia biked to YSD as fast as she could. When she got there, she found the back entrance and scaled the wall as only an expert Youth Spy can do. She landed lightly on her feet and took off. Next, she found the nearest panic button and punched it. The alarm began blaring. The sound made it all seem so real that Maia began panicking, her heart beating faster and adrenaline filling her with energy.

Next, she ran up two floors to where some of the spies lived. She knocked on every door, yelled, “Evacuation!” and moved on to the next. Kids stumbled out, rubbing sleep from their eyes. Many of them recognized Maia, but she continued running.

When she got to Lilia’s room, she found Lilia outside, looking about her with panic in her eyes. Lilia spotted Maia and raised her eyebrow.

“Bombs are set to go off in one hour!” Maia yelled. “Help me round people up!”

Lilia folded her arms. “And why should we trust you?”

Maia shrugged. “You don’t really have a choice.”

When Maia got to Annabelle’s hall, she found Annabelle rounding up kids.

“Bombs are set to go off in an hour!” she called to Annabelle. “Help me evacuate!”

Annabelle’s eyes stayed on her for a moment. “I’ve got this floor. You get the top one.”

Maia nodded, and took off. She didn’t stop running until everyone was evacuated. The adults who were taking night shifts in other buildings questioned everyone. Maia explained that many wanted criminals were very close by. Several adults went inside to diffuse the bombs, and others went to catch the criminals. Maia also mentioned the location of Crypt’s office.

The next day, Maia was offered a position in the Youth Spy Division. She told them to wait. She wanted to have a normal life for the time being.

Crypt was captured, and Maia would live a normal life for some time. Someday, she’d be a spy again. Her criminal days were over.

 

“The Color of Life” by Meg Graham

There once lived a black and white panda in the vast mountains of China. The panda lives in peace and he was content with himself. One day, early in the morning, the sun still not risen past the farthest mountain. A pheasant was strolling by, head held high. The pheasant’s head was golden, surrounded by bright orange feathers. His broad chest puffed out, outlined with crimson feathers. His back a mix of sparkling golden and rich royal blue feathers. The panda had never seen such bright colors in his life. The pheasant glanced at the panda, the boring black and white colors made him snicker and laugh. The pheasant teased the panda for his boring colors and with one broad push of his wings the pheasant lifted off the ground and soared into the sky. As the pheasant flew away into the soft blue sky, the wispy clouds hung low. The panda watched the pheasant flap its mighty wings, it’s vibrant body twirl through the clouds. The panda felt somber that he had no color, though every other animal in the forest was very colorful. All day and all night the panda dwelled on the pheasant’s harsh words. He stared into the navy blue pond, his black ears hung low, his white face contrasted the spots of black around his eyes. The panda couldn’t bear to see himself colorless another day. He decided he must go on a journey to find his color.

The panda would leave in the morning. Meanwhile, he lumbered back to his cave to have a good night’s rest. Soon the morning was upon him. Rolling over he reminded himself of the task ahead. He thought about how wonderful he would look once he found his color. Outside he began to eat. He planned on eating a large breakfast, so he would have enough energy for the day ahead of him. He ripped the bamboo down the jade green stalks shooting out of the ground like spheres flying through the air, and it made his stomach rumble. He ate and ate. Finally, when he was finished, the fiery gold sun was high is the sky. Satisfied with his meal, he looked back at the place where he spent most of his life. The dull gray pile of rocks that made up his cave covered with silky emerald green moss. It wasn’t much. Nevertheless, it was a home to him. Unsure where he was going or what he would do when he got there, he simply began to walk.

As the hours passed he continued to walk. He hadn’t seen any other animals for a while, suddenly, a tiger sprang out of the bushes. The panda sprang back with fright.

“Oh please don’t hurt me!” The panda cried.

“Don’t be afraid, I wouldn’t hurt you,” said the tiger calmly. “Well, little panda where are you off too?”

“To find my color,” stated the panda.

“Your color! What does that mean?” The tiger roared with laughter.

“Well I have no color. You have vibrant orange fur and mine is black and white.”

“You don’t need any more color than you have. Your colors are black and white and they are the most important colors,” stated the tiger.

“Really how so?” questioned the panda.

“Well, everything that we can see has the color black and white. Look at me for example, without black I wouldn’t have my strips and without white, I wouldn’t have my teeth!”

“You do have a point. However, I still want a little color,” replied the panda.

“Okay, well I hope you find it then,” the tiger called back, bounding back into the bushes. The panda watched the tiger go. Once out of sight, the panda continued through the forest.

Before long the night was upon him, the sky turned from a pale blue to a midnight blue. Finding a place to sleep, he laid down and drifted to sleep.

He awoke abruptly. It was morning. Above him was a group of snub-nosed monkeys. The little ones leaped around from branch to branch as the adults watched. Noticing the panda was up the leader leaped down to the ground beside him.

“Who are you?” the leader questioned.

“I’m a panda.”

“I know that! What is your name?” asked the leader. Fully awake, the panda studied the leader before him, his frizzy apricot hair gave way to his soft blue face.

“I was never given a name,” the panda said gloomily.

“No name! That is crazy! Well, panda, what brings you to my territory? To take our food! Well, think again!” Threatened the leader.

“No! I’m only passing through, I’m on my way to finding my color,” stated the panda.

“Why would you want that?” Asked the leader.

“So I can be colorful similar all the other animals in the forest,” replied the panda.

“And why would you want to do that. You are unique like no one else!” cried the leader with joy.

“I never thought of it that way. However, I still want a little color,” replied the panda. So the panda continued on his journey to find color. As he patted throw the forest his stomach began to growl he looked around and saw a patch of lush green bamboo, waving in the wind they seemed to be calling him over. Sitting down he began to eat, he was not alone for long. A small head pops out from behind the stocks. It was a red panda.

“Well, hello my friend, what brings you to this part of the forest?” asked the red panda.

“I’m on a journey looking for my color,” the panda responded.

“And you are doing this because?” Asked the red panda.

“So I can be beautiful and colorful and not black and white,” respond the panda

“My friend, it doesn’t matter what is on the outside. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. Pandas, such as us, have enormous hearts. It doesn’t matter what color we are because the outside doesn’t matter. Take me for example, I could be black, white, red, pick, or rainbow and it would matter because I’m the same on the inside.”

At last the panda was convinced, “You’re right. All this time I’ve been thinking about how others look at me and that the outside matters more than what’s on the inside, in my heart!”

So the panda when home for he had realized that he was exquisite that way he was and that he didn’t have to change one aspect about him. The panda is content to know that he should not worry how others judge him based on his appearance. They are overlooking his heart as bright as a star, and it is made up of one thousand of the most amazing colors.