“A Lesson for Life” by Javier Laveaga

It was another bad day in school for me because of those two stupid kids, Julian and Jake. They don’t have anything else to do, but to bother people; they would always laugh at me and say, “Hey Diego, have you found your mommy yet, so that she can protect you?” I regretted the day when I told them that I was going to tell my parents that they bothered me.

Heading back home, I could feel the cool air slowly coming through the window of the bus touching the tip of my nose. As I was walking towards my house, I noticed something very unusual. Two police cars were parked in front of my house and I thought that there must be something really bad going on. I was so nervous that, without thinking, I quickly went up the stairs, reached into my left pocket to get my keys, and opened the door.

I saw two policemen talking to my parents, but I suddenly felt a horrible feeling that almost made tears come out of my eyes, because I saw my mom crying as she had never cried before. When they heard me coming, they slowly turned their heads towards me and stopped talking.

“What-what happened?” I asked in a weak voice. At first they didn’t answer but then my father, Gael, walked quickly towards me.

“He doesn’t need to know, Gael,” my mom, Charlotte, said crying. But my dad pretended like he didn’t hear.

He lowered his head and said to me, “I’m sorry you have to hear this, but your brother Carlos was killed yesterday.” I looked in my dad’s wet eyes to see if he really meant that and I just couldn’t believe it. A feeling that I had never felt before struck me right in the heart and I kneeled on the floor and started crying covering my eyes.

The next day it was Friday afternoon and I heard my mom slowly opening the door of my bedroom and she whispered, “Dieguito, are you awake?”

“Get out of here, Mom. I don’t want to talk,” I said in an angry voice.

“Dieguito it’s 2pm and you haven’t got out of bed.”

I did not answer.

“Come on, Dieguito. You can watch TV if you want?”

“You heard me mom” I said angrily. She closed the door violently and walked away. The following 2 days I did not get out of my bed and of course my mom would get angry at me and tell me that I need to eat something at least. Because I wouldn’t get off my bed, on Sunday night, my dad came to talk to me.

“Dieguito, I know you are sad about your brother but you are not the only one. Mom and I are really sad, too. And you being here in your bed all the time doesn’t help us at all. You have to understand that in this situations you have to stay positive and keep living your daily life. You can’t just give up and stay in bed all the time. You understand?”

“Mhmm,” I murmured. The next day, Monday, I had to go to school, because I knew that was the right thing to do. On Monday, I felt as if it was a normal day of school and everything was going good so far until I saw Julian and Jake.

“Oh Diego, where were you on Friday,” Julian said in an interested voice. And then Jake said, “Were you with your mommy?” They laughed. An angry feeling rose inside my body and I noticed there was no one in the hallway. I slowly formed a fist in my hand, and I suddenly punched both Julian and Jake in the face and ran away carrying my binder. After school I felt proud of myself, because I had given those kids a lesson. When I got home after school, everything turned dark in my mind as I remembered that my brother, Carlos, was dead.

We used to hang out together every day and talked about what we did in the day, what we liked, what we wanted to do when we grow up . . . pretty much everything; he was my best friend. As I was doing my homework, I saw a policeman coming towards our house and I wondered why he was here for.

“Dieguito come!” my mom said in a loud voice. I slowly walked towards the door and my mom said, “He is here to tell us about the investigation of Carlos.” I nodded to indicate that I understood.

The policeman stood straight and said clearly, “Your son’s killer has been identified and detained by the FBI. He was a terrorist. He has a life sentence which means that you won’t have to worry about him, because he is going to live the rest of his life in jail. This is the official paper from the judge.”

“Thank you so much officer,” my mom said weakly.

I was angry at my brother’s killer, but on the other hand, I felt good that he would spend the rest of his life in prison. Days passed and I was starting to live my normal life again which made me happy, but I still felt bad for the loss of my brother.

“Mom, I really miss Carlos.”

“It’s ok Dieguito, I miss him too. You know, Carlos will be always inside you, dad, and me. He will be watching over us. Don’t worry about it, he will be there for you always. You have the same blood as him. You are connected to him Diego. Don’t worry. As your dad told you, live your daily life and stay positive,” she said happily.

“I love you Mom,” I said sadly.

“I love you too Dieguito.”

We hugged each other and tried not to cry. Since my brother died I’ve learned that when a loved one dies, then you have to stay positive and live your daily life.

 

“A Trap” by Jonah Feuerstein

Michael Pruitt was hanging out downtown with a group of his friends. The whole area had seemed rather empty before he had heard a faint, suspicious noise coming from afar.

“Hold it right there,” announced an assembly of people. They were carrying some modern weaponry, specifically shiny, black tranquilizers.

“RUN!” Michael shouted. He literally carried Charlotte across the blacktop and into the woods before she finally realized what was going on. The rest of the pack followed suit, trusting Michael and his instincts.

“I think we lost them,” Michael whispered. “I hope,” Leyla and Calvin replied. Soon, everyone’s phone almost simultaneously receives an anonymous text message saying, “Don’t return to your house, only trouble awaits.”

“If my memory serves, I’m pretty sure downtown is forward and to the right from here about 100ft,” noted Eli, one of Michael’s best friends.”

Michael said, “Okay, let me text my mom about doing this and make sure the text we all received isn’t a scam.”

His mom soon replied, the text message said, “Oh, I’m sorry, Honey, but it’s all true. You gotta get out of there quick.”

They were thinking about heading for the block with Wild Wings ‘N Bears and ChiSlawGo, but before anyone had even thought about making their mind up, everyone had been shot down by a tranquilizer, without anyone having much of an idea at all for what had just taken place.

“Where… are … we?” they all asked. “And what time is it?” inquired Katherine.

“Well,” said Michael, “my watch says it’s 1:15 in the afternoon, on Wednesday. It’s been almost a full day since we were last conscious.”

Soon after, a screen pulled down from the wall, and a person in a robot costume and an extravagant cape appeared on the screen. “Welcome to the death chamber.” he said in a robotic voice. “I, the one and only, magnificent, Jeb, created this masterpiece of memorabilia. Using teamwork, cooperation, and wits, you must complete 3 different challenges within each of the restricted time limits, no ifs, ands, or buts.”

The ceiling and part of the floor opened. Jeb informed everyone about the first challenge. “This first challenge is the giant’s ladder,” he said. “All participants must buddy up with someone of the opposite gender and complete the challenge together. Harnesses will be provided to everyone before the task officially starts, or you could say that’s where it starts. Mwah hah hah hah hahhh. This obstacle is a series of ropes with large distances apart. Both people must ring the bell at the top of the ladder to pass. Failure to complete this task by within 85 minutes will result in a twelve-hour suspension from leaving.”

Now Michael knew he had to get out of here as quickly as possible, since he had to be there to represent Windy City High School’s football team in their rivalry game against Springfield High. He decided to partner up with Leyla, Eli partnered up with Katherine, and that left Calvin to team up with Charlotte. Slowly but surely, all three groups figured out how to best this first obstacle, by using their upper body strength to propel themselves up the initial step, and then helping each other up (quite literally) every step of the way and everyone had completed in a matter of only 67 minutes.

“Great job, everyone,” Jeb sarcastically expressed in the robotic voice. “The tasks only get harder from here. Your next challenge is a high speed, high agility obstacle course, and trust me when I say the obstacles could be softer. Failure to complete this task in 20 minutes will result in a minimum of 5 extra days spent in the death chamber, but don’t worry quality meal service will be provided.”

“Okay guys,” Calvin said while huddling everyone up, “We must get through this obstacle course. I know it may seem tricky, but the key to completing this with as little injury as possible is jumping and twisting when there are two obstacles side by side.”  “Sounds great!” Katherine agreed.

Immediately everyone noticed this wasn’t your typical obstacle course on a moon bounce, but far more similar to what you’d find from American ninja warrior. Nobody made it out fully clean, everybody got at least slightly dinged up from the portion where you had to stay in a tiny path between a boulder and a sharp thorn bush. The path was very narrow, causing the boulder to scrape all of them, and unfortunately for Michael and Eli, the thorn bushes got them so hard it caused both of them to start bleeding. The section where they had to swing across a 300 ft. area where dropping out early would leave in turn for some serious injury from 185 ft. down was also a pain creator, but for a not so obvious reason. The work was strenuous enough to the point that the rope created a serious rug burn on everyone’s hands. All of them made it out, but only with 31 seconds to spare.

There was no screen this time for Jeb to give more information. He actually came to them in person, and with some goodies as well. He announced, “I have provided you with a break, so here are some snacks before you guys attempt the final challenge.”

“I’ll take it,” Michael replied, “but do you have anything like a Band-Aid?”

“I’m sorry my kind sir,” Jeb responded. “Joy will have its time, but you must battle the pain every step of the way, or if you want to spend an extra month here, step right up, be a coward.”

Michael gritted his teeth strongly. He knew he must not quit right now, but first he treated himself to mega-stuff oreos, but something seemed a bit off

“Like what I did?” Jeb asked. “I put a drop of poison in each of the Oreos.  Well, not actually, but there’s a lemon tint sprinkle in it.”

 

“The Right Decision” by Ben Conover

He stared blankly at the TV. Ever since he was fired, Roy had nothing to do but count down the minutes until each meal and each unemployment check, staying in the same place for hours on end, molding his very own figure into the cushion of his cheap couch. His apartment was filled with the humid smell of mold, and the only light came from one window in the very corner. Next to him was Jackie, his Aussie Shepherd, still a puppy, and Roy’s best friend and “partner in crime” as he liked to call him. He could call his mom, but she was already disappointed enough. He knew he couldn’t keep it up for long though. His money was draining like water flushing down the toilet. It was time to check the help wanted ads in the newspaper. He looked over them carefully until falling asleep at his desk.

He woke up and groaned, he slept on his arm again. It ached like an elephant had slept on it as well. He slowly got up and put the same jeans he’d been wearing for days on, and grabbed his coat. He got into his car and drove down to the store for the week’s groceries. All he got was essentials, eggs, milk, bread, and a bag of dog food for Jackie.

“Will that be all for today?” The cashier chimed in the same flat tone as she did to everyone.

“Yeah, that’s it,” Roy said. “Say, are there any jobs avail-”

“It looks like your card didn’t come through, Sir,” she said, cutting him off. “You can get everything here but the dog food.”

“Alright,” he said despondently. Roy grabbed his groceries and left the store.

As he walked up to the door of his apartment he saw a red slip of paper pinned to the door.

“EVICTION NOTICE,” it said.

“Hey there, Jackie,” he mumbled as he walked into his cramped apartment. He could barely look at her, ashamed of himself, not even able to afford food for his best friend. All of a sudden, he knew what to do.

“If this doesn’t go well, Jackie, then I’m so sorry,” he rasped. He ran into the bedroom and lifted up his mattress, pulling out a revolver, fumbling with the bullets for what seemed like an eternity when attempting to load it. He put on a hoodie and got back into his car, it was time he showed the bank that he wasn’t gonna be pushed around by them anymore. Because he walked in calmly, and waited patiently in line until he was up. No one had any idea what was going on. Roy pulled out his revolver and fired a shot into the air.

BANG

“EVERYBODY GET ON THE GROUND!!!” Roy yelled vehemently. He shoved his bag to the teller and turned around to watch the door, when all of a sudden, he felt a tug on his leg, and next thing he knew, he was on the ground. He scrambled to his feet, panicked, and shot randomly, hitting someone in the leg.

“AHHH,” they screamed, “THAT GUY JUST SHOT ME!” Roy immediately fled, grabbing the money and sprinting out the door, as fast as a rocket ship.

“So Mr. Anderson, what did the criminal look like exactly?” asked Louis Parkins, the local police chief.

“6 feet tall, brown hair. And just call me Jim,” Jim Anderson replied, “and let me know when you catch this guy.”

“Well, I hate to say it but chances are that we won’t. These things don’t always turn out successful, but we’ll let you know,” said Louis, glumly. As soon as Louis left the white, sterile hospital room, Jim pulled out his phone. “Hello is this Gabriel Robins? Yes, I have a job for you.”

Roy stumbled on through the woods. What had he done? He had single-handedly ruined his life even more. He stopped. Roy could hear the vociferous sounds of a helicopter nearby, and only growing louder.

“Oh no,” he muttered to himself, “that can’t be good.” Roy began to run.

Gabriel squatted down to the ground, there were footprints in the mud from last night’s rain, he wasn’t far behind. Apparently what happened was some guy got shot by some burglar, and now they wanted revenge. He was happy with his job. He enjoyed it. It may not have been praiseworthy, yet being a bounty hunter had good pay, and he was certainly doing a better job than the cops.

As Roy trudged through the forest, his mood began to change. Maybe this thing wouldn’t be the worst for him after all. He could start a new life, make a new name for himself, but to do that he’d need to do a few more robberies to get just a bit more money . . . or a lot . . .  definitely a lot.

Louis sat in his seat, perched on the edge of the helicopter with his binoculars in hand, scanning the forest, if this case went well then it could very well mean a big promotion for him in the future. He was determined to catch this guy.

He’d done it! Gabriel watched Roy intently, it looked like he was sleeping. Gabriel did a little victory dance in his mind and began to approach him. Gabriel walked slowly, but didn’t pay enough attention, and stepped on a stick, breaking it. Roy snapped awake and stared at the figure standing a mere foot away from him.

“Wh-Who are you?” Roy mumbled.

“I’m a bounty hunter, you’ll be coming with me.” Gabriel started to close in more, but, without hesitation. Roy shot up with inhuman speed and broke into a sprint, but got tackled immediately. Gabriel pulled out a baton, about to knock him out when he heard him.

“Please,” Roy whimpered, “I know I messed up, but there was no other way, my life was in ruins, I just needed a little bit of money . . . ”

Gabriel stopped. He didn’t know why, but he saw some of himself in this guy, he as well used to be like him, but then he got his stuff together and really started to work.

“Listen, kid, I feel a bit bad for you, so I’m gonna cut you a deal,” Gabriel said. “Okay?”

“Yeah,” Roy mumbled.

“Here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m gonna let you go. And you’re gonna turn yourself in, that way, your sentence will be shorter, and as soon as you get out, get your life together. I used to be just like you, until I actually did something,” commanded Gabriel.

“Yes sir, I will.” Roy got up and dusted himself off, and began the long walk towards the road. Gabriel smiled, it felt good to help someone for once, maybe it was time for a change

As Roy sat in the back seat of the police cruiser, he contemplated his choice. He was happy, he’d made the right decision, and when he heard the loud buzz as the prison gates opened after his 10-year sentence, he was a changed man, and within weeks he had a job and was living with Jackie again in a brand new apartment, all because of Gabriel’s kindness. If it weren’t for him, he could’ve gotten a life sentence, and who knows what would’ve happened to him then.

 

“Distorted” by Carolyn Catan

It was 2 months ago that everything changed. It is hard to believe that one event completely changed 15 year-old Carla and Greg’s lives. Before the event, Carla and Greg had lived like regular teenagers, doing homework, hanging out and being students at the miniscule, J. R. Woodson High School. They dreamed of doing important things for others. They wanted a more interesting life. They received a used digital camera as a gift from one of their friendly neighbors, Mr. Capewell. After receiving the camera, Carla and Greg dreamed of being professional, world-famous photographers. They planned on making their own photography business and touring the world. They thought they could finally get the chance to do something important. This many seem kind of far-fetched after receiving what may be perceived as an old, dirty camera, but hey when you’re young, you have a lot of imagination.

Carla and Greg are 15-year olds with such imagination. Greg is intelligent, brave and curious. Carla is bold, confident and also curious. They are great friends and do a lot together. They decided to go to a local rock concert after taking some pictures beforehand. Nothing appeared strange or out of the ordinary with the photos they took of themselves. But they wanted a real chance to take pictures of different people and a rock concert was the perfect place to do it. During the concert they were taking pictures of people dancing, singing, and having a fantastic time. After taking many photos, they realized that some of the photos of particular people came out distorted. Now this would seem expected for the photos to come out distorted, for it was a used camera. The only thing was, with these photos, there were people in the background that weren’t distorted and only maybe one or two faces came out distorted. It was quite obvious that the distortion was on a particular face and it wasn’t just a general distortion of the photo. It was exactly on or not on a particular persons face. Carla and Greg were baffled by this; this didn’t seem like a problem with the camera.

The next day, Carla and Greg went back to Mr. Capewell to ask if the camera was still working ok. He said he had taken it to the shop countless times to make sure it was ok and he had been using it since it was new. Same issue. He said he thought it could have had to do with how camera was made and not to worry about it. Greg and Carla were still not so sure. And this is where their adventure begins . . .

It was late afternoon on a Friday and Carla and Greg decided to hang out. They decided to take a stroll down the neighborhood, but ended up going farther than they thought. As they strolled, they came upon an old, vintage-looking house. It was made with wood and stone and was enormous for the time that it was built. It was probably built during the 1920’s. Even now it could be considered a mansion.

“I don’t like the look of this house . . . something about it is just creepy. I mean look at those lanterns at the front, all sticky and filled with cobwebs,” Carla said.

Greg couldn’t disagree. He thought the house had a powerful and majestic aura about it that one cannot help but to wonder about it. It was creepy and it seemed that it was filled with the supernatural. Something about this house seems abnormal like the house hadn’t just had humans living in it, Greg thought.

“Ah . . . but it is so intriguing! I am going to do some research about it when we get home. What’s the number? Ah, 1327 and where are we now . . . right, Greenhaven road. Got it!”

Greg wrote the number down on his notepad that he brings with himself everywhere.

“Can we leave now? This house is making me nervous.” Carla looked pale.

They began to trudge home wearily as the walk had been long.

2 more months went by. Carla and Greg were astonished. It was hard to believe the camera was found in the house. They had no idea the camera and the house were related.

After countless hours spent at Greg’s house, drawing, researching and interviewing, Carla and Greg found out the people that were distorted in the photos all said they had visited the house. Although Greg and Carla had only interviewed people they knew, every single one of them had been to the house. Something was off about the neighbors and others Greg and Carla were friends with. Beforehand, Greg told Carla to pay attention to how they act during the interview and in everyday life. One of their neighbors, Mrs. Manson, had been one of the people distorted in the photo. She was a bright lady. During the interview however, she seemed distant and glassy eyed. It wasn’t completely discernible though. Greg and Carla had to pay real close attention to her. She was able to answer the questions fine though. After all the interviews they conducted, everyone seemed more distant with less emotion, as though they were having their intelligence sucked out of them. Every one of them had said they didn’t remember how they got into the house but there was a strong aura about it. Some force was pulling them in. No one could account for what had happened.

At about 8:00 pm, Carla and Greg had just gotten home from all the interviews they conducted. Fortunately, it was a Saturday and there was no school.

“There must be some source, attracting all of these people into the house. Something hidden deep. Something that is making the supernatural stir to life,” George muttered

“I think we ought to go to the house,” Carla said.

The next few weeks were spent preparing in between schoolwork and homework. They got iron, flares, and weapons like iron. It seemed peculiar for kids to be walking in a store getting iron and flares, but they were able to convince the store cashier they were buying it for a science experiment. Yes, they were of course doing it with a parent!

“Whatever is in this house we will need to get all the possible weapons we can get,” Carla exclaimed.

“I think it is time we go. Tomorrow at 8:00 pm we leave, sneak out of this house, say we are meeting some friends for the night to our parents, my parents don’t care!” Greg had a glint in his eye, you could tell he was excited. He was jumpy and his blue eyes were shining with intelligence. All their life, Carla and Greg dreamed of doing something to help others, although it wasn’t their initial thought of becoming world-famous photographers, now they were doing something that could save many lives.

The next day went by slowly. It was Friday and school seemed to drag on. Time passed like a snail slowly sliding towards its destination.

Greg and Carla gathered their belongings and left promptly at 8:00 pm.

Finally, they reached the house. It looked even more spooky at night.

“You ready for this?” Greg asked

“I don’t know but I am confident we will survive this!” Carla replied.

They got to the door and opened it, the door creaked and the creepiest night of their life began.

Misleadingly, as soon as they entered, everything was quiet. There was so little sound, the quiet was ominous.

“I think we should stick together. Because this place is huge! We could wander off and not be able to find each other.” Carla whispered.

They started in the main hall, to the right was a large kitchen which looked it hadn’t been used for at least a few months. To the left was a living room with antique furniture. There were 2 stairways on either side straight ahead. The only light sources were Carla’s and Greg’s flashlights and the moonlight that shone through the house like liquid silver, seeping down the walls, creating spots of illumination. After a couple of hours, nothing happened unless you count the constant, anxious tapping of Carla with her fingers and the cold spots.

They had surveyed the whole house. Some spots felt chillier than others. The basement had a bar and was paneled with wood. There were 3 bedrooms upstairs and on the 4th level there was a small library/ study area. They went back to the main level. All they could here was the constant tapping of Carla.

“Carla the tapping is getting annoying now,” Greg exclaimed.

“What?! I wasn’t tapping I was just sitting here with you . . . oh I hear that,” Carla said with confusion.

The tapping got louder and louder.

Suddenly, a shape appeared in front of them at the top of the stairs.

Greg and Carla were speechless. It was beautiful. A silhouette of an amazing woman, her hair blowing. They suddenly felt a gust of wind. The wind came as soft as silk. The women stood there. Her lips like red apples. Her eyes blue like the sky. Carla and Greg suddenly felt the need to follow her.

“Follow me,” it whispered.

Carla, being a female, wasn’t as compelled to go toward her but Greg, mesmerized by her, stumbled toward the lady. No that was not a lady! Suddenly, Carla came to her senses. She rushed forward with the iron, angry at the woman for trying to steal her friend! She slashed at the women, and in a second she was gone. Carla turned back to Greg.

“Alright, stop with the tapping already,” Greg said dreamily.

“Do you know what just happened?!” Carla was angry for she had just saved his life. She slapped him hard.

“Right! Sorry about that, it was so compelling.” Before he could finish there was suddenly a loud banging, like footsteps coming up the stairs slowly getting louder and louder.

Bang!

Something rushed toward them out of nowhere. A flash of light!

“Come to me now!” Something said that. Carla and Greg are still unable to recall what it was.

All Greg could do was slash the iron and . . . Bang! The thing had disappeared.

“We must find the source of this!” Carla yelled. “Now!”

They noticed both of the phantoms came from a certain place, so they ran toward where it looked like the phantoms had spawned. They ran down the stairs, all the while screams were filling their ears, echoing the treacherous past of the house. Down they went.

They finally got to the lowest floor. They saw a wooden box. Something about it seemed eerie like it held the past in it. They ran toward it. As they ran, they could hear footsteps following them. Something was following them starting from upstairs they could hear walking on the level above them.

“We got to get rid of this quick! Come on! Hurry!” Greg could hear the screams of Carla. Wait! They weren’t able to open the box. They slumped there. Carla knew they couldn’t stop now. The . . . things that were pursuing them were coming quickly. What could they do now? They felt helpless. The box would not open. Then, Greg was the hero this time. He remembered they didn’t need to open the box, they just needed to destroy it.

“Come on we must destroy this. Now!” Greg screamed.

They threw all their supplies on the box and slashed it up with the sharp iron. Throwing all their flares at it. Destroying it completely. Greg looked back just in time to see it. The phantom chasing them, extending its hand toward him. Bang! Everything went silent. You could only hear the panting of Carla and Greg. They ran out of the wretched house and didn’t stop running till they got home.

Weeks passed by. All the pictures of the people that were originally distorted now looked fine as they took their picture with the same camera. Life seemed to return in Mrs. Manson and all the others that had visited the house.

Everyone was very thankful for them. Carla and Greg never forgot their crazy adventure.

 

“The Lost Soul” By Addie Bounds

I took a step closer to the doorway but keeping enough distance too that I was sure I wouldn’t be seen.

“Thank you so much for coming” I heard my mother say to him. “I’m sorry Marian couldn’t be home to meet you, but if you’d like to court upon her again in several days I know she’ll be available.”

A low grumble followed, speaking these words, words that I knew from that moment on would be incised in my mind forever.

“I look forward to telling her the news of the engagement.” Mr. Mackle’s low voice reechoed with pride. I stumbled back into a plate knocking it to the ground. A loud crash shattered through the house.

“What on earth” my father said. “Who’s there?” I sprang up and sprinted out of the house, only turning back to see my parents running out onto the porch. I saw my mother’s mouth moving, but I heard no words.

I ran until my breath was sharp and my stomach was on fire. I fell. The grass was wet with dew and it prickled my legs and hands. The grass buried away some of the fear that was quivering inside of me. When I looked up I saw the gray sky, the clouds that would carry me up to heaven one day, and the one strand of sunlight dangling down on the world as if us humans where the idiotic cats who couldn’t figure out how to catch it. That one ray of golden light seemed to be bragging to me about how it got all of the freedom it wanted.

First I sat up from laying on my back and second I twisted over, so that I was face to face with my house. The estate that had protected me my whole life, the one where my mother and father were most likely apologizing for my absolutely mad behavior. I didn’t want to be married, but my parents didn’t care, for Mr. Makle was rich and loyal to the government. That house could not ever have looked so pale and rotten, so weather and old.  As I looked at the tattered roof and the paint-less porch I saw the memories of my childhood, the times my sisters and I shared on the swing and in the kitchen, laughing and playing. Then my thoughts were drowned an image of Mr. Makle’s sharp black eyes, his brown hair and long sideburns. I saw his plump calves and his fat head. That plump, prehistoric, pig would take me with him in a week’s time and I would have no say. When I realized that my alluring house was now a memory destroyed by this man, I couldn’t take it anymore. My arms trembled and my eyes burned. My rib cage broke and my elbows snapped. My sobs catapulted me to the ground. The grass started to itch and now in the moment of utter pain, each and every fragment of grass was a needle stabbing me till my body was numb. I sealed my eyes and prayed for a different life.

 

*****

 

As the Sun plunged into the hilltop, I started walking towards my house. I was not letting my family marry me off so that they could live in riches again. I had always been stubborn, and people always judged me because of it.  Each step I took was one closer to my freedom. Each time my shoe made an impression in the grass I was making an impression on my future.  While I walked I lost track of my thoughts. I started wondering how my life would be if I had grown up in the city, in the noise and music. Maybe I wouldn’t mind a husband if I had lived there. That’s when the ideas besieged my head. I could move to the city! My uncle lived in the city, so I could stay with him until I got on my feet in the new environment. I had to. That was the only way to prove to my parents that I could live alone and still pursue my life. When I realized that I was actually going to carry out my arrangements, I realized that conversing with my parents would be even more impossible now than before.

 

*****

 

I held my breath as I knocked on the door. All I could think of was the face my mother would have plastered on.  Knock Knock Knock.  The sound of my bones on the wood echoed in my head, then tingled all the way down to my toes and back up to my heart, sending a shiver up my spine. I was snapped back to reality by the voice of my dear father.  “I’m coming.”

“Okay I’m here.” It was my classic entrance comment

“Marian! Is that you?” from the sound of my mother’s voice I couldn’t tell if she was completely static with rage or so overwhelmed with pleasure that I had come home safely.

“Yes mother. I’m home.”

“Oh thank God I’m so glad your back. We were so perturbed when you ran out.”  My mother embraced me in a hug. So she was pleased.

“I can’t get married Mom. You know that don’t you? I’ve been telling you that for the past year.”

Next my dad walked in seeming as calm as a sweet spring afternoon, “I knew you would come back. Uou would always run away as a little girl. You would run all the way to the creek and stay there for hours on end.” After a hug from each of my parents we all went into the kitchen. “Honey I know that marriage isn’t your top choice but this is what you are going to have to do to save your family. Your sisters all made the sacrifice. I think you can too.” My mother was smiling a serene smile but I knew that she wasn’t in the mood for backtalk.

“I’ll get a job in the city. There are other solutions.” I pleaded but she simply said, “That’s not enough. We need Mr. Mackle to help us. You’re lucky we even have this opportunity after all your horseplay, running off and not showing up when he courts. You need to prioritize darling. This marriage is crucial.”

I looked her in the eye, “No.”

Twenty minutes later I was in an Attic clutching my suitcase and my clothes. “YOU BRAT!!!” my mother was not taking my decision. “All I have ever done for you is good, and now when it’s your turn to replace the favor, you run off!” Her red face and shaking hands made my close to speechless.

“Mother I am sorry. I am really very sorry. However I must leave to the city. I cannot be married to a man 30 years older than me!” With that I escaped from the shouts of thunder. My blue satin dress caught on a loose nail and I tumbled to the floor, smashing my knee on the stone staircase. As I stood back up I saw a puddle of red. Cinderella got to leave a glass slipper in her escape and I had to leave I splatter of blood.

 

 

“Wake” by Archie Achesa

The teens assembled at the old high school basketball court with its caved in floor and small broadleaf weeds unaware why. The five completed mastering their powers oblivious of each other’s own motivation. Steve, the confident, handsome, and well-built athletic senior began the conversation, “Does anyone know what we are doing in this dump of a court?” Steve said in an acerbic manner.

The others replied with a slight shrug and giggle. Even though no one knew each other, they began a discussion about how life is at the shady and boring Trenton high going on until they realized it was that time of day where crime erupted like a volcano in the neighborhood. Murders and robberies was a usual thing that happened. It was a day to day livelihood for the people.

Instantaneously, a white, bright, blinding light burst in the middle of the teenagers causing an awestruck feeling for the figure that appeared from it. Torn toga robe, and sandals-all white with a gold lining, it appeared to be as if heaven had come down to Earth. Everyone’s eyeballs moved from side to side leaving their bodies at a complete freeze. The being sat on the hard concrete as he struggled to breathe. He signaled for anyone to come closer but no one dared, until Steve’s audacity overcame him and he reached out to touch the man. In an instant, Steve vanished to dust.

Terrified of this, everyone took a step back in stupefaction. As a result of this, Neo scrubbed off his glasses in utter disbelief.

“Was it possible? Were all the legends true?” Neo cut off from his deep thinking due to the wrinkly sage man screaming out in horror, “War is coming!” he screamed till it all came to a slight gentle murmur that swept away with the gentle breeze.

Everyone’s mind puzzled around what had happened. Truth be told, instincts activated as a large purple being lunged at the teens. It was almost twenty-feet-tall with large muscles which bulged out of its chest and arms. Calling to address it by name, Titan Trax. Swinging from side to side in its hands was the senior star Steve, he was unconscious as Theo lashed out with his enchanted fire sword and death shield which had appeared with the snap of a finger to try to get to his new companion. Gianna rolled into battle alongside him with her magical enchantments that had no effect on the Trax.

Meanwhile, Neo stood to the side as the same questions ran through his mind. Luckily, Aria was beside him to snap him out of his long and blank thinking before he got hit by a gigantic frozen boulder. She encouraged him to try anything he could to help. “Bang!” another so-called Titan popped up, accompanied by the dark sky and the hard rainfall. Water drenched the young teenagers. Theo’s fire sword came to be smoke as the first raindrop hit the tip of its sharp iron blade. Theo defenselessly was throttled with large fireballs and rocks from the two titans. The newest of the titans called himself Xtra which was kind of odd considered it was uttered as “Saxtra.”

Defenseless and unprotected, the small group ran to the nearest cover they could find, the school’s large tree plantation. Neo got knocked out cold when he stopped to stare one more time at the titans and got hit by debris. Tired and slow, outnumbered by the doubling titans, they had no choice but to come up with a plan that would help them to win this odd experience of a war. They all sat there in anticipation of either someone’s life saving plan or the large, life ending foot. Whichever would come first would be destiny. Gianna suggested they outflank and try to attack the titans from the sides but it was soon overrun. With time running out and ideas falling short, it was concluded that the main aim was to rescue Steve and keep any civilians clear of the area. It was a long hard fight which resulted in the injury of Trax helping even out the battlefield but costing the heroes all their fighters apart from Theo and Steve. He was able to escape as the final blow struck to put down the twenty-foot-tall giant. Xtra was unfortunately able to injured all but Steve and Theo who ended up looking like they had just walked out of the city dump.

Blood dripped down Theo’s swollen lip, small specks of stone lodged in his legs and heels, Steve was no different. Standing side by side surrounded, the two fought to the death. All his wit, Steve went in for the kill, getting to all the Titans apart from Xtra who whacked him away like a pesky fly with his unattractive, wrinkly hands. It was the end, bodies were scattered all over the school upper field, covered in blood wounds and battle scars that left scars in the soul, nobody moved apart from the rustling wind that passed through the grassy fields. Xtra overlooked the scene with his fellow Titans celebrating the victory. Theo rushed to Steve’s side, he coughed blood like a pump machine.

“Wake up, Wake Up!” his voice rang like a church bell in the vast mountain plain of his mind.

 

“The Soldier” By Sadie Goldberg

At the end of the Sunset,

The soldier wins the battle

But not this soldier.

 

At the end of the Sunset,

The man comes home,

But not this man.

 

At the end of the Sunset,

The wounded are healed,

But not him.

 

At the end of the Sunset,

The journey will start,

But not this wanderer.

 

He did not win,

He did not come home,

He was never healed,

And his journey ended many sunsets ago…

 

 

“The Quilt of Life” By Dhruv Raman Raghavan

I’m a worker eagle soaring through the sky

above me is the never ending plain of light blue and white

below me is the colorful quilt of life

each day, I fly over the world, and take some stories from it

my job is to give these stories to the weavers of the quilt

each block of fabric is unique and essential in the making of the quilt

it has been woven since the birth of the planet

its threads and dyes are constantly shifting

I swoop down to one particular land

my birthplace, India

a diverse land of many cultures

there are Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Christians, Buddhists and many more people

I see the bustling cities of Chennai and Coimbatore

Cars, autos and motorcycles weaving in and out of lanes

street vendors shouting out products

people walking in and out of small apartment buildings

taxis turning to nice neighborhoods

I see glorious and beautiful temples

some are centuries old and are dedicated to an even older faith

with tall towers with different designs

gold and bronze pillars

decorated with scenes of gods

I see people walking in and out

I hear priests chanting prayers

they place ornaments on the majestic idols

worshippers admiring the idols and wearing beautiful kurtas and sarees

I see farmers busy in their land

they are cultivating okra, brinjals, snake gourds, dal, rice, and much more

the smell of spices coming from each house

cinnamon, cumin, asafetida, bay leaves, cardamom, and much more

grandmas prepare for holidays by making sweets and desserts

gulab jamun, jalebis, kozhukattai and murukku are just some of them

I fly over trees with jackfruits, mangoes, guavas, and star fruits

I fly over jungles with tigers, buffaloes, deer and elephants

I hear children playing, laughing, and talking

in over 1000 different languages

I see their simple villages with straw huts and wells

they are proud of who they are and where they live

though some sleep with empty stomachs and aching limbs

but it’s getting dark and I must return to my nest

I look forward to tomorrow and all the days after

since no two parts of this world are identical

that is why the quilt is so remarkable and diverse

 

 

 

“The Flavor of Culture” by Iman Ilias

I think it’s safe to say

Today wasn’t the best of days

I failed my Algebra test

And in Phys Ed I didn’t get to rest

Now finally I’m back home

Looking for some comfort

I search the fridge

Ah! There it is

My grandmother’s Chicken Karhai

A Pakistani curry made of chicken and delightful spices.

As I sit down to eat,

I am transported on a wondrous journey

The vibrant red color of the curry

Reminds me of the clothes women wear

At traditional Pakistani weddings

Red, yellow, blue, green

Striking patterns stitched with silver thread on them

I think of their long, dangling earrings

How they swing back and forth gracefully

As they dance and sing jovially

I savor the rich flavor of the chicken,

And I recall eating Biryani at the local mosque

And how the community there was in fact

Like the delicious rice itself

Both composite blends

Each grain a different color than another

And each person is too

The shape of every grain is distinct

And the backgrounds of all the people different

But both the rice and the community

Come together as one

To provide a wholesome and beautiful result

All those people who think Muslims are terrorists

Don’t know what Islam is really like

They don’t know who we truly are

We who embrace love and respect

Not who encourage violence and hatred

Who believe in family, and community, and strength of character

The texture of the warm, white, scrumptious Naan bread

That I eat with the curry

Evokes memories of the cozy blanket that family provides

In times of struggle

In times of failure,

My family tells me that failure is in fact not a bad thing

But that it offers many lessons of life

That I should learn from my mistakes

And learn what I should be wary of next time

Family will be the first ones

To pick you up when you fall

Family is the people who feel proudest of you

When you experience success

They’re the people who shape your values

And the way you look at life

As I finish the meal, I rise from the table

And my spirits rise as well

 

 

“Spring” by Leo Russell and Sophie Alzona

I felt my heartbeat dance in my chest as Winter reached for my hand, sitting on the bench near the schoolyard.

“What’re you doing?” I asked quietly, meeting her gaze.  Her cheeks flushed as she turned away, whispering, “Nothing.”

“You know it would ruin your reputation, right?” That just had to come out of my mouth. “I mean, you’re really cute and all, for all I know all the guys . . . and all the girls . . . are drooling over you, and you’re already dating Summer.  That’s what I was worried about this whole time.”

“We broke up,” she said, her voice cracking. “A few weeks before we had met.  That information that you got was wrong.  She has cancer now.”

“Oh my God,” I said.  I squeezed her hand that had somehow made it into mine as we were talking. “It’s gonna be okay, she’ll be fine.”

“No,” she said, tears threatening to spill out of her eyes. “It’s not okay. I don’t love her any more.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”

I looked over at her again.  “Maybe it’s because you found someone new.”

*****

I saw her in the hallways after we had held hands for the first time.  She would quickly look at me in Science, the one class we had together, but would then turn away just as quick when I looked back.

“Hiya,” I said, a few weeks after we had talked in Science.  I had decided it was the right thing to do.

“Summer’s in the hospital,” she mourned.  “Her results are good.”

“I-I’m so happy to hear that,” I crowed.  “You two back together?”  I didn’t mean to say that.

“No, we’re not,” she said, looking over at me.  “Why? Do you want us to be together?  Do you not like me anymore either?”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that!” I cried.  “I really like you, Winter!”  Another thing that I

didn’t mean to say.

She looked over, a light red blush dusted her cheeks.  “Oh.”

I looked over at her with what was I hoped was a look of expectancy.  “What do you want?” she questioned, before her blush deepened, and again she said, “Oh.”

When she leaned in, my heart started beating a million miles per hour, like when she was holding my hand for the first time.  “Yeah, that’s right,” I said.  Of course.  Ruin the moment, Spring.

She smashed her lips onto mine and I kissed back. When she leaned away, her face was no longer red.  “Wow,” she spoke softly.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Wow,” she repeated.  “F-Fall Out Boy… I mean, that was, uh, nice!”

I laughed slightly. “Fall Out Boy? Where did that come from?”

The blush crept back onto her cheeks.  “Nowhere.  I was just thinking.”

“Some thinking,” I teased.  She punched me on the arm lightly, laughing too, and saying, “Shut up!”

She quickly grabbed my hand for the second time, and I leaned into her shoulder.  “No PDA, girls,” our teacher, Mrs. Purcell my English teacher, prompted.  “I saw that.”

She sighed and I took my head off her shoulder, although she still continued to play with my fingers below the table.

“Some romantic setting. Don’t be homophobic,” I heard her mutter.

I laughed and she looked up.  “Class’s starting, sweetheart,” I said.

“S-sure,” she stuttered after a few moments.

“At least you didn’t say ‘Fall Out Boy’ this time.”

She giggled.  Which was adorable.

*****

Once we got out of there, she took my hand and dragged me outside.

“Where are we going, Winter?” I asked, my ears heating up at how easily she grabbed at my hand.  I could feel it, so I drew my hand back and covered my face with it.

“What?” she questioned, looking back quickly, her platinum blonde hair swinging over her shoulder. “Oh,” she said quietly, then yelled out, “FALL OUT BOY!”

I laughed, the blush growing darker.  “Shut up!”

“Really?” she joked.  “I can’t, Spring!”

“Oh, I knew that already,” I said.  She quickly pecked me on the cheek and then shrieked.

“What?” I said, panicking.  “What’s wrong, Winter?!”

“You’re so soft!” she said loudly, smothering me in a hug.  Her face was flushed and her hair now tousled.

“I love you,” I teased, embracing her.

“M-me too,” she said, then snuggled up, making my face flush red.  “You’re blushing,” she said, looking up.  “That’s cute.  Super cute.”

She then looked away, down at the ground, and pulled herself from me.

“That was something,” I said.

*****

After the best moment in my life I went to English class. The rest of the afternoon was pretty boring although when I saw Winter in the hallway I smiled playfully at her and she smiled back.

Life was going well for about 2 months from them, me and Winter got more serious and spring break was just around the corner!  I was practically skipping to class when Winter ran up behind me and grabbed me around my waist to stop me from moving, laying her head on my shoulders.

“Need-weeze-to-weeze-tell-weeze-you-weeze-something,” she said, gasping for air. Winter looked a little worried.

“OK, just catch your breath,” I said, unsure if what Winter was going to say was bad or good.

“Um, well, Summer is doing better and she’s going to be coming to school tomorrow,” she practically spit out.

“I… I… great!” I said, “Wait, why do you look worried?”

Winter looked at the floor and started to bite her lip, “Well, I’m not sure what her reaction will be to us dating.  She might be mad or she could be fine with it.”

“Wait, you didn’t tell her?” I felt my face getting hot, tears started to form in my eyes.

Winter obviously noticed, as she quickly added, “I didn’t want her to think that I didn’t care about her because she’s still my friend . . . or I hope that she still is.  I don’t want her to think that I wasn’t faithful to her during our relationship.”

At least Winter didn’t still like Summer. She was just trying to not cause any more drama. I smiled at her and whispered in her ear, “Fall Out Boy.”  That would be our always.

*****

The following morning when I finally got to school after missing the bus, I saw a girl with short dirty blonde hair talking to Winter.  The girl seemed angry.

I approached them slowly. Once Winter saw me, her eyes got wide with fear. Her ears started to get red, which only happened when she was nervous. Great.

“Hey, Winter,” I said casually. “What’s up?”

No reply.

“Hey Winter,” I said a little bit louder. “What’s up?”

“Hey,” she said timidly.

The girl that Winter was with looked over at me.  Her skin was pale and her dirty blonde hair seemed rough.

“I don’t mean to be rude but, who are you?” asked the girl.

I extended my hand and replied, “Spring and you?” The girl looked at me as if I came from a different planet. She glanced at Winter in a weird way. As if they had once been together.
She shook my hand and awkwardly replied, “I’m Summer.”

I gasped.  This was the girl.  The girl that Winter had once been with.  I pulled my hand away quickly and said, “What was that?”

She leaned in, closer, and repeated it louder and slower, as if she was speaking to a child, “Summer.”