“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.

 

“West End Blues” by Takeru Bulkley

It was a long ago in the dead of night a young private investigator back from the war did not expect what came next. A young female, about the age 29 headed towards the office building als een Kantoor 21. The building was quite old but quite unique. Instead of the usual stalls it was structured like a apartment complex with doors lining up each with its own number, except one. The oak door had a plaque that read “Ermittler,” German for investigator. Opening the door revealed a dimly lit room with three windows lining the left wall. A large desk stood in the middle of the room, many objects dotted the desk, with a single silhouette of a lamp only clear by the moonlight glancing in through the window blinds and a man. The newly made radio stood in the windowsill playing the newest tune “West End Blues,” but was soon turned off by the mysterious figure, that somehow got up without notice.

“I need your help to find this man,” she said, as she threw Polaroid pictures on the table

“Who is it?” grumbled the figure sorting through the images

“Sircio Martelinze, and you don’t need to be that secretive, Bill.”

“Who are you and how do you know my name?”

“I know many things, and your thought to be ‘close relations’ with Sircio is built on lies. “Now, let’s stop wasting time and get to work.”

“Why should I help you, and what’s in it for me?”

“Keeping your head.”

Bill got the lead on the investigation and was off to find Sircio. He didn’t know what to think of it. Bill was off on that dark night to begin the hunt for his old buddy. The first lead brought him to an old diner a few blocks down. A great big neon sign on the roof of the diner was shining down on Bill standing in front of the glass double doors. Booths lined the back walls and a counter dividing the kitchen and the eating quarters. There were only 4 people besides Bill, each more tired than the other. He thought things were quite dull and dead, but he also wondered if he was able to get any information. Bill decided to ask the waiter if she had seen him.

“Have you seen this man?” Bill asked with less curiosity as a dead goldfish.

“Oh, that’s the man that came here every day,” she said in a joyous tone.  “I haven’t seen him in a while.”

“Any clues on where he went?”

“Hmm . . . ” she wondered. “He always talks about that dangerous shipyard downtown. I never understood why he talked about that so much.”

“Thanks.”

From that Bill went to the shipyard and see what he could find. Dark and unsound the whole place had a fetor of fish because of its popular docks for fishing boats.  Only a couple street lamps dotted the port, emitting only a fleck of light.

 

“Holding Hands” by Aleydis Barnes

The plane rattled.

Oliva never thought that there would come a day where she would describe a plane similar to a kicked empty soda can, but she supposed there were first times for everything. The lights above her seat flickered, and the whole vehicle shook. Her younger brother Owen, usually loud, was as quiet as a whisper in a busy room. His face was grey like walls in hospitals. Olivia couldn’t look at it. It made her feel like her brother had been replaced by an imposter, devoid of any happiness or excitement.

Olivia closed her eyes and took three deep breaths. But no matter how slow she tried to breath in and out, nothing could stop her hammering heart and pounding ears. Everything is going to turn out fine, she told herself. You’ll land in Hawaii in just an hour or so. She wished that her parents could be with her. Her mother always knew how to make her feel at peace, even when she was feeling nervous or anxious about assignments. Her dad could make her burst into laughter no matter the situation or mood. But, unfortunately, they were back in California, and supposed to join Olivia and her brother in Hawaii with the grandparents in a few days.

She opened her eyes to assess her surroundings. Usually aisles and rows in airplanes were quiet, filled with sleeping passengers and busy travelers at work. Although the plane was silent, it was of a different kind than of the regular. It was eerie. The only noise was the rattling and clattering of the plane. Outside of her window, Olivia could see foreboding dark grey clouds gathering around each other. She swallowed the thick liquid which had accumulated in her throat. You. Are. Going. To. Be. Fine.

“Passengers aboard this aircraft, please stay calm and in your seats. Unfortunately, we are encountering a bit of turbulence. We are surrounded by storm clouds. We’re trying to get to the closest airport available to make a safe landing. We might have to perform an emergency landing,” the pilot’s voice rang through Olivia’s ears. Emergency. Landing. Wait, like a crash? As the words entered her mind, a loud crack sounded in the air. It sounded like thousands of fireworks exploding at once. Outside of her window, Olivia saw a burst of white light, and then she felt her heart stop and her mouth open and a scream leave her lips. And all the while she was falling down, down, down, down into darkness.

 

*****

It was the third time that week that Olivia had dreamed of the crash. She woke each time with a scream, her forehead wet with sweat and her heart racing like steps down a track. She clutched a hand over her mouth, trying not to let Owen hear. He was so young and innocent; she didn’t want him to know the gravity of the situation. She herself didn’t want to think about it. She hated thinking about the morning after, waking up in the aisle surrounded by lifeless bodies. For a moment before she found Owen, she thought she had lost him. It was all too much to deal with. But for now, they had settled into a routine, a semblance of safety and regularity, and she didn’t want to wipe it away.

“Via, what are we going to have for breakfast?”

Olivia turned to see her seven-year-old brother running down the beach. His clothes were dirt encrusted, mud hiding the little cartoon faces of his favorite movie characters. His brown curls were tangled like a bird’s nest, and small cuts and scabs littered his knees and legs.

“Owen, what are you doing away from the sleeping spot?”

“I was just exploring! I wanted to scout for dangers! Like the Transformers do in battle!”

“Well the Transformers are robots and don’t have to worry about physical harm like you do. You can’t just go running around-there could be animals in the forest!”

“Transformers aren’t just robots. They have personalities too! And they so do have to worry about physical harm!”

Okay, I was wrong,” Olivia said. She could feel her irritability rising-it was hard to appreciate her brother’s penchant for contradiction and boundless energy when she was the person in charge and they needed to find a way off of the island they were stranded on.

“Let’s go see what we have in the Meal Pack,” she said. They made their way to the designated suitcase filled with food they had assembled from the plane. It was stuffed with granola bars and sandwiches and the meals that flight attendants hand out along aisles.

“Can I have a Sprite to drink for today?” asked Owen. Olivia nodded but rolled her eyes as she carefully selected a protein bar. They had to be a bit practical. Who knew how long they would be stuck on the island? What if they ran out of clean water and snacks?

“What are we going to do today?” asked Owen.

“I think we should create a rescue sign,” said Olivia.

“In a movie I saw people created a big fire. A helicopter saw the people and landed to pick them up. Do you think we should start a fire?”

“No. We don’t have anything to start a fire, Owen. I don’t even know how to make one,” said Olivia, trying not to get too annoyed, “I think we should create some sort of sign. I think we should gather up wood pieces and write out SOS.”

“But in the movie they lit the thing on fire and they were rescued!”

“Yes,” said Olivia, “I understand that. But we are different from the people in that movie, so we obviously aren’t going to do the exact same thing as them.”

“Are you annoyed at me?”

“No,” Olivia said, aware of the fact that her voice was harsh.

“Okay!” said Owen. He whipped out of his knapsack one of the many glow sticks that he was obsessed with and brought with him everywhere. He laughed and ran around with his arms spread out. To Olivia, it sounded as harsh as an air horn. She winced.

After about three hours, they had enough bits and bobbles of wood to pile up into a small mountain. The whole experience of searching hadn’t been beneficial for Olivia’s temper. For what felt like almost every minute, Olivia found herself warning Owen away from some obvious danger and reminding him to stay focused on his work. She wished that he had stayed in California, and that one of her parents had gone with her on the plane. Her mother and father always knew what to do in sticky situations. They would have immediately found a way to get rescued, unlike her, who was just barely able to keep herself together.

“Okay,” she barked, clapping her hands, “let’s get started on constructing the sign.”

“Do I have to?” whined Owen, laying on his back on the sand, playing with his glow sticks.              “Yes,” she said. She felt like her dentist would kill her when he saw her teeth, she was gritting them so often.

“What if I don’t want to?”

“You still have to.”

After much begrudging, he relented. Olivia didn’t know how long it took for them to construct the messily shaped SOS, but the sky was darkening into an inky black before they finished. They returned to the sleeping spot from the morning, a large fort of blankets they had managed to gather from the airplane.

“Via! Via! Our sign is gone! Via!” Olivia felt herself be pulled, and as she sleepily opened her lidded eyes, she made out the blurry outline of Owen. The one night that she doesn’t dream of the crash, her younger brother decides to be her alarm. What great luck. Couldn’t she sleep in for one day?

“What do you mean?” she asked, her voice cracking like the sound bacon makes when it gets put on a hot pan.

“It’s gone,” Owen said, “just gone!”

“How could it have disappeared? It must be-,” began Olivia, but as she rose to her feet she saw that Owen was correct. The bundles of sticks clumped together to write out their sign were gone.

All of her hard work, all of their effort, had been wiped away. By what? She saw now what she had missed yesterday-the tide. While they were building the SOS the waves hadn’t even come close to the edges of the letters, so she had thought they wouldn’t be affected by the water at all. How could she have been so stupid? The sticks that they had spent hours collecting were washed away, gone forever into the sea. Now that she thought about it, the wooden slabs wouldn’t even have stood out that much from the beach. They wouldn’t help them be saved in any possible way. Nothing would. She and Owen were doomed to be stuck on the island forever.

“Via? Via?” asked Owen. “Are you okay?”

Olivia sighed and sat down. She didn’t want to deal with her younger brother today, didn’t want to pretend she knew what she was doing all of the time. She didn’t have all of the answers to problems.

“Via?” asked Owen again. “What’s wrong?”

Olivia took a deep breath. Might as well spill it out, she thought to herself.

“I don’t know what we are going to do. I don’t have any other plans. I have no idea how we’re going to get off this island and home to mom and dad, and I can’t stand to think that we’re never going to get rescued at all. I feel like I’ve been put in charge this whole time, and I hate it. And part of the reasons that I hate it is because I feel like you don’t take me seriously or listen to me at all. That’s what’s wrong.”

The moment the words left her mouth, she wanted to pull them back in. How could she say that to her little brother? It wasn’t his fault that he acted the way he did. But like a signature on a legal document, she had made her decision and couldn’t change what she’d done.

“Maybe I would listen to you and take you seriously if you listened to me and took me seriously. When I offered my idea about the fire, you didn’t even think about it before telling me it wouldn’t work. I feel like you don’t listen to me because I’m just a little kid.” His words stabbed Olivia in the heart. She saw now how he must have felt, like his thoughts weren’t worthy of consideration.

“I’m so sorry, Owen,” she said.

“It’s okay,” he said, “I’m sorry, too.”

“You were just trying your best,” Olivia said.

“Speaking of that,” he said, “I have another idea. We can make the sign out of my glow sticks, so that it can be visible from the sky, even in the dark.”

“That’s such a good idea!” Olivia said. “And we can make the sign higher up on the beach so that it doesn’t get washed away, and surround each letter with stones so they aren’t blown off course either!” Olivia was glad that she had taken the time to listen to her brother. She couldn’t believe she had been so angry at him. It was easy to blame him for the situation and stress when she hadn’t considered his feelings, but now she was able to see his point of view and understand his actions.

As the night drew to an end, the two of them slipped under their blankets, ready to go to sleep. Olivia felt a slight rustle, and she smiled, realizing that Owen was reaching out his hand to link with hers. She obliged. Closing her eyes, she slipped away into her dreams.

In the morning, they awoke to the sound of helicopters.

 

“Stealing from Thieves” by Ben Adams

One afternoon Jim, Aaron, and Oscar were walking home from Highland High where they attended school. Jim was the smartest of the three brothers and he spent his time studying and deciding on schools he wanted to go to. Aaron was a star athlete and spent his days out on the football field. He is easily angered, especially when people talked about him being thick headed. Oscar was the most hardworking of the three, but due to his lack of talent he always fell short of accomplishing his goals. Their father had passed away when they were young and they were living with their mother Eliza.

That afternoon when they came home they were shocked to see their mother lying on the floor.

“I can’t move my legs,” she yelped. The three boys rushed her to the hospital in their beat-down minivan. At the hospital the doctors said that she had a rare disease and she would need surgery if she were to be able to walk again.

The news was grim. When they got home, Oscar wheeled his mother inside.

“What are we going to do? We have no money to pay for surgery,” said Aaron.

No one could come up with anything better than sighs and moans so they decided to drop it.

Later that night, Jim was reading the newspaper when he noticed an article about a robbery that took place at one of their local banks. The thieves made off with over $500,000.

“Oh, how nice it would be to have that money right now,” Jim thought to himself.

All of the sudden there was an excruciating, sound of sirens piercing through the night outside of the house. A man wearing dark clothing streaked across the front lawn and in one quick motion leaped over the fence in the backyard. Jim noticed that when the mysterious man had hopped the fence something had fallen from his pocket. When Jim thought the coast was clear he went outside and saw a piece of paper lying on the grass. Jim was surprised to see writing on it, 1771 Arvill Ave. Jim knew he should throw it away or report it to the police, but his curiosity got the better of him and he put it on his desk.

The next morning, they were watching the news and the news man had a report on the robbery. The man had been wearing all black clothing, and had been caught only a block away from their house. Jim looked back at the paper on his desk with curiosity.

The very next day when they were on their way to school, Jim said, ¨I think I left my science homework at home.¨

He started strutting backwards. He got into the minivan and started the car as quietly as he could. He was heading straight for Arvill Ave. When he arrived at 1771 it was an old office building ready for demolition. He knew he shouldn’t go in, but his curiosity got the better of him. When he walked up to the massive spiraling door. He tried pushing on it but it wouldn’t budge. To his right, he noticed a small opening in the pavement big enough for a person to slip through. When he walked up to the hole he heard muttering from inside.

¨Yes, he was caught last night,” spoke the first man.

¨We need to complete the mission,” said another person.

¨But what about the money,” said yet another mysterious man.

On his way home Jim came to a realization that the man who had ran through his front lawn last night was one of the criminals that stole the $500,000 from the local bank and the people below the abandoned building must be the other criminals.

Later that night he was talking with Aaron, Oscar and their mother, he said that there was a large sum of money under an abandoned building on Arvill Ave.

¨Great we should use that money to pay for the surgery,” Aaron blurted out.

¨We should go into the building at night,” suggested Oscar.

Jim and Eliza didn’t like the idea but Jim started thinking about his mother, and never being able to walk again.

He hesitated and said, ¨I will do it.”

They spent an hour preparing, and the three brothers went down to Arvill Ave. in the minivan. They walked up to 1771 and listened through the opening in the pavement. There was silence. Then Aaron and Jim slipped through but when it was Oscar’s turn he got stuck. Then Jim and Aaron pulled down on his legs and Oscar hit the floor as loud as a beating drum. Jim was sure they had been caught and Aaron was ready to fight. After a few moments of panic Jim came to his wits and looked around. They were in a dark room with 3 doors in it. He calmed down Oscar and Aaron.

Aaron wanted to try the door on the left and Oscar wanted to go through the door on the right. They were both sure that their way was the correct one. Jim sat and thought for a while, he noticed that when he held the paper dropped by the thief up to the light more writing appeared. It was a map of the tunnel system that ran under the abandoned building. He studied the map for a while and said, “We need to go straight.”

“Straight? That’s way too obvious to be right.”

Jim showed him the map but he still didn’t understand his logic. Eventually Jim was able to convince his two brothers to follow him through the door. Once they were through the door, Jim led them into the tunnel system. After making a few turns Oscar was getting nervous.

“We should turn back,” Oscar said.

“We can’t turn back when we’re this far,” said Aaron.

Jim continued through the tunnels. The three of them were like mice creeping through the walls, always careful that they weren’t being followed. Jim led them to the end of the tunnel system.

They arrived at a large room with nothing in it. “Where’s the money?” asked

Aaron.

“I don’t know,” answered Jim.

Aaron hit the wall out of frustration. There was an ear blasting smash, followed by the fast footsteps of three people coming through the tunnels towards them. Then Oscar was hit in the head by a large briefcase that felt as heavy as a brick. The case hit the floor and cracked open. It was the cash! Aaron did some quick thinking and picked up the briefcase before the money fell out. The three brothers prepared to fight the men coming through the tunnels.

They ran as fast as their legs would take them and they rushed passed the three men before they could come to their senses. The three of them reached the original room where they hoisted each other up and out of the building. It was in the nick of time to because right as Oscar squeezed through, the building collapsed. They had escaped with the money and their lives.

They drove home in the beat down minivan and they told their mother that they had the money to pay for her surgery. She was as happy that she would be able to walk again.

 

“A New Beginning” by Shannon Yehl

“There’s one!” I shouted.

The rusty yellow taxi cab was coming in our direction. My mom whistled for it to come to us. The cab came to an immediate halt. We ran as fast as we could with our large bags in our hands, hustling to make it in time. The cab driver opened the door and took our bags for us. I sat myself on the seat and peered out the window. I shivered. It was 35 degrees, typical New York weather in December, that I, however, was not used to.

“Where to?” asked the cab driver in a deep voice

“594 Euclid Lane.” My mom replied.

As we pulled out of the airport and into the city, I couldn’t help but feel so nervous. I tugged on my curly brown hair. So much had happened to me this fall, I didn’t know what would lie in the New Year to come. The first thing was that my father had died. He had been fighting lung cancer for 3 years. When he died, my mom told me that we would be leaving Santa Monica, to come to New York. When I asked why, she responded, “Santa Monica reminds me too much of him. We both need a fresh start.” Like always, I had nodded and never asked why again. When we left, I had been leaving my friends, neighbors, and my house behind. I knew that I would have to make new friends, and get used to the island of New York City. In addition, my mom had worked for a hospital as a nurse, and she had managed to find a hospital that could take her at the last minute. She also found us a small 2-bedroom apartment that fit our belongings. Also, she had found me a private school, Constance Billard School on the Upper East Side. My mom seemed to have everything planned out for our “new future.” I felt like the whole world was sitting on top of my shoulders, every plan and every decision. I closed my eyes, trying to remember what it felt like to live in the world I used to live in.

“Beep!” honked a nearby car.

My eyes flew open. I guess this is what my new life would be like.

 

*****

 

I stared up at my ceiling in our apartment later that day. My room smelled putrid. The room had a small bed in the corner of the room, a bookshelf on the wall. However, it had a window that faced the entire city. It was beginning to get dark out and the New York City lights had already looked like twinkling stars in the distance.  The city was ablaze. I sighed and looked at the boxes of my belongings sitting on the floor. I should probably unpack. A loud knock interrupted my thoughts as my mom swung open the door.
“Ready for dinner?” she asked, holding up a frying pan. I nodded and escalated out of my bed.

The next morning, I woke up at 6:00 am. I was greeted by a loud shriek, “WAKE UP IT’S YOUR FIRST DAY!”  I groaned and pulled the covers over my head. It couldn’t be the first day. It just couldn’t.

As we drove to my school, the sun had begun to rise over the New York City buildings, I was exhausted but completely nervous about school, most kids have their first day of school knowing what friends are going to be there and what teachers they have. My head was spinning like it was on a roller coaster of thoughts and questions. But it would be completely incommensurable for me. We pulled into the front entrance of school. The top read Constance Billard: Home of the Tigers! My palms began to get sweaty. All of a sudden my whole body was shaking. And I felt like a zillion butterflies were fluttering in my stomach. My mom turned around and smiled.

“You’re going to do great, Sweetie.” she said. “I know the first day is rough, but you will get used to it.

“Thanks, I hope,” I replied.

An old man with a dark gray suit was knocking on the car window. He had grayish and white hair. A girl was standing next to him. She had long black hair and was wearing the same uniform I was. All of a sudden, I stepped out of the car and shook the man’s hand.

“Welcome to Constance, we are delighted to have you here,” he smiled. “What is your name again?

“Ava,” I replied

“Well, Ava, this is Jacqueline,” he said pointing towards the girl. “She will be showing you around Constance today to help you feel welcome at our lovely school. The girl was wearing dark eyeliner, and had a two piercings on her ears. She wore silver bracelets all over her arm. I smiled plainly. She rolled her eyes in frustration. Well, so much for trying.

She walked to the entrance and I followed. We opened the large doors to the school.

“So, you moved here from Cali?” She asked. She grabbed gum from her pocket.

“Yes, recently.” I nodded.

“Wow, aren’t people from California, like, really rich?” she asked.

“I guess. I don’t know.” We moved down the large hallways of Constance. The lockers filled hallways and classrooms doors had been shut. The school looked different

“So, last week I got detention for bringing my lighter into school,” she said, almost bragging. “So, wanna help me steal it back?”

Her dark brown eyes pierce deep into my dark green ones. She stared at me waiting for an answer.

“I . . . uh . . . err,” I attempted to find the right answer. I couldn’t get in trouble for something on the first day. But was I that desperate to find a friend? Maybe it wouldn’t be that bad.

“Ok,” I nodded. Jacqueline smiled and blew a bubble. Pop!

“Let’s go to the detention room.” We walked on.

The detention room was at the end of the hall. We peered inside the room. An old lady was sitting at one of the desks. She was sleeping and let out a large snore. The classroom was empty.

“There it is!” Jacqueline whispered.

She pointed to a small plastic box that marked BANNED ITEMS. The small red lighter sat in with a bunch of phones and other devices.

“Ok, here’s the plan. You stay here and keep watch, while I take back my lighter. If anyone sees you, bang on the door as loud as you can. Got it?” She asked.

“Alright,” I felt even more scared than before. What had I gotten myself into? And why was this going to be the way I wanted to make new friends?

Jacqueline quietly opened the door. The old lady kept snoring. Jacqueline tiptoed across the room to the box. She reached for her lighter and waved it in the air. I heard footsteps. A teacher had been coming towards the room. My heart started to beat fast like a moving train. When I was about to start banging on the wall, the teacher turned the corner and was gone. Jacqueline came out of the classroom. She had a big smile on her face.

“We did it! Oh my god, let’s go steal more things! It’s so much fun!” she cheered. I looked at her strangely. It all hit me at what I really wanted. I didn’t want friends who forced me into things, and I didn’t want to end up like Jacqueline, with her gothy makeup and dark jewelry.

“No, I am not a person who doesn’t follow the rules and thinks that they can get away with it,” I snapped. Her smiling face turned into a dark scowl. “I want to make real friends.” She looked at me up and down and flipped her black hair. I turned around and ran as fast as I could.

“YOU’RE WEAK!” She shouted. “YOU WILL NEVER MAKE IT HERE!” But I didn’t care.

I ran outside to the steps of school. It was lunchtime and everyone was eating their lunch.
“Hello?” a voice behind my said.

I turned around. A girl with blond straight hair was standing right in front of me. She had a kind smile on her face, a different greeting that I had gotten before. She had blue eyes that sparkled like the ocean.

“My name is Caroline. Do you want to come sit with my friends?” She asked. She pointed to a group of girls sitting at the lunch table.

“Someone told me you were new here, so as SGA president, I wanted make you feel welcome.” Welcome, there was that word again. I didn’t know what welcome meant anymore.  But maybe I should take a chance. So many changes were happening to me so maybe to make them seem less scary I had to take changes. I took a deep breath a squeezed my hands.

“Ok, my name is Ava by the way, and yes, I would love to sit with you guys.” She smiled and we walked to the table. Maybe my new beginning wouldn’t be so bad after all.

 

“The Life Changing Cruise” by Grady Wiley

Jeff Smith was a lonely middle aged man who lives in a small apartment outside of Miami. He was a bartender at a small bar in the sleepy town he lived in and barely ever had interactions with other humans. He had saved up his money and went on a cruise in the Caribbean and while on that cruise noticed that the company that operated the ship was hiring bartenders. He instantly knew he wanted this job so badly.  It had been a couple of months since he had sent his application for the job and he was anxiously waiting for the reply when he finally received an email from the company–he had been accepted.

Jeff had been working on the ship for four years but finally the excitement had faded away and it felt like his old job all over again. He was considering quitting this job and decided he would quit after the next cruise. The cruise had started and he was working the night shift on the first night. The bar was located at the front of the ship on the main deck. That night it was the same kind of people he always saw coming to the bar, the parents on the cruise who needed a deferral from the kids. Every now and then there would be some kids that were coerced by their parents to come with them although on this particular night a four-year-old girl was dragged along. Usually, Jeff didn’t care and the kid wouldn’t either but this girl started trying to talk with him.

“What’s your name, Mister?” she asked.

Jeff didn’t know what to say, he hadn’t had anyone ask his name in a long time.

“Jeff,” he told her.

The girl asked him some more questions and he answered all of them with enthusiasm. He was used to drunk men yelling at each other but now this sweet little girl was interested in talking to him. This was the first time that Jeff felt like he made a friend in a long time. Eventually, the girl’s parents got too crooked so they decided to leave, as a result Jeff was lonely again.

The next night the girl came back again and they talked some more. Jeff learned that the girl’s name was Ashley and that she liked to swim and dance. Again, Jeff felt happy and was excited to have finally made a friend. Later that night after his shift at the bar he went back down to his room that he shared with another bartender. Jeff and the other bartender never really got to know each other, however Jeff decided to tell him about the girl he met. The other bartender just stood there and laughed at him.

By now it was the fifth night of the trip and they had just left Nassau in the Bahamas and were on their way to the Dominican Republic. Tonight was Jeff’s first off night of the trip and he decided to go to a concert on the main deck. He made it up to the concert and was able to get a seat up close to the stage since he worked on the ship. During the concert the blaring speakers sounded like a thunderstorm in his ears but about halfway through the concert, he was able to hear the fire alarm. Jeff along with everybody else thought this was just a customary drill. The alarm was still on and a couple people were getting worried. All of the sudden a couple of people came screaming from the front of the ship. There was a fire.

Jeff thought it was another small fire like the one a couple weeks ago, but then the captain of the ship came over the P.A. asking people to be prepared to possibly evacuate the ship. This is when Jeff saw it, thick black smoke looking like a wildfire out of control coming from the front of the ship. He knew this was bad. He started making his way towards a lifeboat along with everyone else from the concert and started getting into the it when he realized something. The bar was at the front of the ship and this meant that Ashley was at the front of the ship. As his lifeboat was starting to be lowered he made the decision and jumped back onto the deck. He ran like he was in a marathon in the final sprint towards the front of the ship and saw the true size of the fire. This was the first moment that he thought he might die. He looked towards the bar but couldn’t see it through the smoke. Without hesitating he ran into the smoke. While running he heard crying in the direction of the bar. He knew this could only be one person, Ashley. He followed the sound of the crying to where Ashley was. She appeared to be fine but her parents weren’t in sight. They were surrounded in flames, so Jeff decided to leave and they ran back towards the front deck. By now the ship was slowly starting to sink lower and lower into the water like a toy boat sinking in the pond. Jeff who was carrying Ashley finally made it back to where the lifeboats were and found that all of the lifeboats had been taken. There were a couple of other people also stranded on the sinking ship who had decided to jump. Jeff was about to jump as well when he realized that he had Ashley with him. He remembered their conversation the second night and her saying that she liked to swim. He thought about it one more time then jumped.

As he was falling through the air he looked back at the ship and saw that more than half of the ship had burst into flames. When they hit the water Ashley was ripped from his arms and he sank below the surface. He came back up and looked around for Ashley, she was nowhere to be seen. Jeff worried that she had drowned when he looked to his left and saw a little girl swimming like it was a warm summer day at the pool. Jeff was reconciled to find her but they were still stuck swimming in shark infested waters. They had been swimming for 30 minutes trying to reach a lifeboat but each time it would float too far away without someone noticing. Finally, someone on one of the last lifeboats around saw them. They boarded the lifeboat, and made their way back towards Nassau.

When they got back to Nassau they were put in various hotels for a week before they were flown back home. The third day of the stay in Nassau, Jeff found out that Ashley’s parents didn’t make it. Jeff went to tell her the news and surprisingly her reaction was much the same as he had been 29 years ago when his parents died in a car crash. Both of their parents had been alcoholics and weren’t caring for their child. Later that day Jeff also learned that Ashley would be taken to an orphanage back in Boston where her family had lived. Jeff thought about this for a while and decided that this sweet little girl shouldn’t have to go through the same childhood he did. Jeff ended up adopting Ashley and they lived in that sleepy town outside of Miami for the rest of Jeff’s life. He was never lonely again.

 

“Deployment Day” by Max Walker

Craig was staring back at the setup of tents and buildings where he had spent 6 of the last 8 years of his life. He saw the building where he had his first combat lesson, the spot on the road where he did his first push-ups, and the hut where he cried himself to sleep half the nights, thinking of his wife. The thought occurred to him that he might never see this place again, and he realized, maybe it is a good thing he is moving on.

Craig took one last look at the misty sky, the dust coated roads, and his home for the past years, and he boarded the stealth jet with his squadron. As the doors closed he was about to begin a new chapter of his life that would change him forever.

The jet took off very early, so Craig was tired from the beginning. An hour into the flight he decided that it would be fine to rest his eyes for a bit. As he was falling asleep everything around him was quiet. The quiet was like the calm before the storm, everyone was silently anticipating the war they were about to be dropped into. Craig closed his eyes and didn’t wake up for 3 hours.

Craig was greeted from his nap by loud blaring lights and the panic of everyone around him. Everyone in the back was nervously chattering as the pilots were talking in frantic yells.

“I think we’re going down,” the co-pilot realized.

“Yeah, the left turbine is out,” shouted the pilot, “I don’t think we’re going to make it.” Just as the pilot shouted out his last words there was a loud explosion from the front of the jet. The entire cockpit was ripped and shredded from the rest of the jet by an enemy rocket. Craig could no longer hear anything except the violent ringing in his ears. He saw the deserted and decimated streets of Russia out of the front of the jet, and the red lights flashing all around him. He started to feel the jet lose momentum and fall out of the sky. As things were getting ripped out of the front of the jet, Craig gripped his seat with all of the strength inside him and braced for impact.

In what he thought were the final moments of his life, Craig thought of his wife and his son, whom he had only seen pictures of. He thought of how his wife would feel, knowing that he was dead and couldn’t deliver on his promise to be a dad. Finally, Craig knew he was going to come through with his promise, and he would be a great father. Craig knew this wasn’t his time. Craig watched as everything around him lit up with the spark of 8 souls being torn from their bodies. Then, everything went dark.

In what must have been hours later, he woke up in a cold sweat. His head felt like it had just endured hundreds of bullet shots. Everything in his body was sore and everything around him was dark. His ears still had a slight ring in the background of what he heard outside. He listened very closely and heard what sounded like men talking in Russian. He couldn’t make out what they were saying, but listened anyway. They stayed there for 10 minutes or so, until they must have decided to leave and come back with a team of men. Craig wasn’t sure though, so he waited about 5 minutes after they passed until he left the rubble of the jet. Before wearily crawling out of the jet, he grabbed the first aid kit above his seat and the nearly smashed emergency phone that was hidden under the secret hatch in the floor.

It took a while for him to get out, because he could barely tell which way was which. He crawled very slowly to make sure he didn’t bump into any walls. After a minute or so of searching, he found the exit. Eye piercing light shone through the hole in where cockpit used to be. Outside the air was dense and debris filled, and the road was covered in metal bits of jet and smashed cinderblock from the surrounding buildings. The war zone looked like a ghost town. Nothing was there except the buildings and the occasional Russian patrol.

“Shoot,” Craig muttered to himself, “I need to find shelter before a patrol or someone worse finds me.” So he went as fast as he sore legs could go and went into the basement of one of the nearby buildings. He just than realized, the jet must have crashed behind enemy lines. Meaning that Russian troops could be anywhere, in any of the buildings. Craig needed to stay hidden. He was worried he could be in danger of getting discovered. So he took a huge piece of cinder block and covered the entrance to the basement of the abandoned building. He was safe for now and exhausted. As if on cue, all of his limbs went limp and he collapsed.

He woke up to the sound of wheels barreling over the road outside. It must have been Russian tanks. His head was feeling a bit better but he was still sore. Craig went to go peek out of the door when he remembered the emergency phone. He ran to the spot on the ground where he had dropped it and tried to turn it on. Nothing. The screen was nothing but black. This phone was his only option at the moment, so he took of the back panel to see what was wrong.

He was no expert on how phones worked but he had worked with computers many times before so he knew he had a small shot of knowing. Lucky for him it didn’t take a genius to tell when a battery pack is pierced. If he was anywhere but confined to the basement of an abandoned building in a ghost town, this would have been an easy fix. However, there was no replacement battery and no manual way to power the phone, so Craig had hit a dead end. So he racked his mind for ways he could make it work. He thought for hours on end but just couldn’t figure out a way to get the phone to work. He was just about to give up when he saw his ticket home, the one thing keeping him from getting back to his son. It was the jet turbine. He figured that if the managed to connect the phone to the wires of the turbine and spin it with his hands, he could generate enough power to make the call back to base.

He went outside and took a good look around to make sure there were no more patrols around. When he saw there wasn’t he grabbed a very sharp rock and sprinted to the jet. He wouldn’t have much time because a group of enemy soldiers could appear at any moment. He found the hole in the jet where the cockpit was, ducked through it, and was inside. He could just barely see, by the light of the sun peeking through. He went to where the turbine would be and saw one of the wall panels was out of place. He reached his fingers in and tried to pry the panel away, it didn’t budge.

He grabbed the rock he had brought and banged the panel making a loud ‘Clang.’ The panel still hadn’t moved. Over the next hour he used all his energy prying and smashing the panel until he finally managed to dismantle it.

At this point he was starving. He hadn’t eaten or drank since the day he left the base. It had been about two and a half days, he was starving and his body had started to consume his muscle to get energy. He was close to death probably only another day away. But he was so close to getting home and knew he couldn’t give up now.

His short black hair was dripping with the sweat of hours of work. He was tired but had to keep working. Next, he took the internal wires of the phone that connected to the battery and hooked them up to the output cable of the turbine.  He reached his hand to the backside of the turbine and spun as fast as he could. As he spun, it got faster and faster. Soon enough, the emergency phone screen flickered on and lit up the jet. He had paid attention when they instructed him on how to use it so he knew what to do. He went to the keypad and dialed 767 on the keypad for S.O.S. After a brief moment he heard the strict voice of the general of the special ops training camp filled the jet.

Craig told him who and where he was. The general immediately replied, “We will send the closest chopper to your location, be ready in 15 minutes.”

Just at that moment he heard a gunshot in the distance. Craig knew it was the Russian troops, but he started to feel a bit light headed. He tried to walk but saw the world around him start to swirl around and around until nothing was left but darkness and the stone cold floor.

Craig woke up in a coughing fit. There was a bunch of Holter monitors attached to his chest and a heart monitor sitting beside him. He opened his eyes and saw a huge overhead light and one large set of eyes staring down into his.

“He’s awake,” Announced the woman who was looking down on him.

“Honey it’s me,” Craig heard. He looked up and saw his wife, Sarah walking over to him. He burst into tears,

“I love you so much, Sarah, I’m never going to leave you again.”

“I missed you,” Sarah responded, “How would you like to meet your son?”