“To Date or Not to Date” By Brennan Connell

 

“Jake, your boyfriend is gonna be here soon!” Katie, my best friend, bellowed up the stairs. I groaned. I’d been getting ready all afternoon, and had invited Katie to help me from going insane. I was beginning to regret my decision. Ryan and I had been pretty close for a while, and Katie knew I had a huge crush on him. Even though I doubt he even knows I like him, that doesn’t stop Katie from shipping us, and making a big deal about it. This was his first time at my house, and I needed to make a good impression.

He’s not my boyfriend, Katie,” I yelled back. “He’s just a friend!”  I quickly came out of the closet, having recently thrown on a colorful tank top, and jeans, and I rushed towards the door, but tripped and fell head over heels. My room was so full of junk you could barely move. Shoes and dirty laundry piled as high as mountains littered the floor. Katie appeared in the doorway, smirking. Her fiery red hair flowing freely down her back, and her mischievous green eyes seemed to laugh at me.

Uh- huh,” she said sarcastically. She picked up my glasses which had fallen on the ground.

“Listen,” I said checking my watch. “Just because he’s a guy doesn’t mean he’s my boyfriend.”  3:00 p.m. I rushed out of my room down the narrow hallway towards the bathroom to quickly comb my hair. Katie followed me.

“Then why are you freaking out? You’re freaking out about this guy, so I assume he’s your boyfriend,” she stated. “I’m just glad he doesn’t know you like him because he’d freak out if he saw you right now.” I froze.

Oh yeah! Well at least I-I…” I faltered. She was right. What was I doing? Ryan doesn’t even know that I like him. So why should I assume he likes me? I shouldn’t. Besides, I’ll only end up being rejected and having my heart broken like glass.

Tears formed in my eyes. I couldn’t even look at myself as I brushed my hair.  

“Hey I’m only kidding,” Katie said. Once I finished combing my hair, I raced back towards my room, with Katie close behind. “Jake, wait!” she called.

I slammed the door in her face when I had reached my room. Despite this, I was sobbing and I threw myself onto my bed, curling myself into a ball. I heard Katie knocking on my door.

“Go away, Katie!” I heard her footsteps receding. Quietly, I sat up and picked up my phone. Ryan had texted me saying he was going to be there in about 5 min. I pressed the reply button to tell him that I had to cancel. But, then I got a message from Katie. Scanning through the text, my eyes widened. Jake, I know you are really mad at me right now, and I am so sorry. You are such a great and wonderful guy, and you deserve to be loved and accepted. I know how it is to feel rejected and isolated. But I guess sometimes, you have to remember, what makes us different can also be our greatest strength. It’s not too late. I stopped. It’s not too late. I can still make this work. I just needed was to be myself. A new wave of determination flowed through me. The last thing I wanted was to live a life feeling like I was rejected. Maybe I couldn’t change the outcome of the situation, but till I tried, I’d never know.

I got out of bed, threw open my door and raced down the stairs which were to the right of the main door. Katie was waiting for me.

“Jake I-” she started, but I hugged her and she stopped.

“Apologize after we scare him away,” I whispered. She laughed and I let her go. I looked

outside. The sun was shining brightly and the sky was clear, not a cloud in sight. I saw Ryan walking up the small, stone pathway and opened the bright red door.  He was wearing a tie dye shirt and rainbow jean shorts. While Katie and I were barefoot, he wore flip flops, as well as toe nail polish.

“Hey, Jake!” he said.

“Hey,” I grinned. “Come in.”

 

“A Day in the Life of Melanie Graves” By Leyla Ulku

Melanie Graves woke up to a cat purring on her lap. Another one sat on a lampshade, while yet another crawled up the curtains. Two were trying to bite each other’s faces off. There were 6 more unaccounted for, but at least half were probably dead, knowing the caretaking capabilities of their owner. Once upon a time, she was happily in love and married to a nice young man. They both grew old and weathered together. When that nice young man died, she became happily in love with her cats, which she collected like baseball cards. She also talked to the cats as if they were her long dead husband, which was probably a major reason for why she might never have any guests. There were many animal abuse service letters that papered the walls in the hallway, as she never could find a better place for them.

Melanie got up and stretched, then put on a flower-print dress and a red wooly sweater. She ran a comb through her quickly thinning white hair and put a cat on her shoulder. She also grabbed another cat by the leg and put it on top of her head to let it nest in her hair. Her hair was quite thin, so the cats compensated for it, and they were always warm, which was a plus.

“Now, my beautiful kitties, we are going out for a walk!” Melanie cooed to her cats, which yowled angrily in return.  She started down the stairs to the main level of the complex.  “I know, I know you love me, kitties-” Then she started to walk across the street. The cats yowled and started to fight, much to Melanie’s dismay. “You two will stop it right now and-” Splat. Melanie Graves was no more. She died doing what she loved most; talking to her cats.

An old man groaned in disgust. The deceased’s bodily fluids (namely, blood and liquefied guts) had become a projectile, and they splattered quite neatly onto the old man’s blue tracksuit. In one hand, he clutched a ruined sandwich, and in the other, a pair of old-lady-and-cat-guts coated expensive wraparound sunglasses.

“She had the GALL to RUIN my appetite AND my sunglasses?” The old man handed the sandwich off to his left-hand-bird. “Go home, Frank, and feed your family.” The pigeon cocked its head meaningfully, and then took off with the partially eaten sandwich. He handed the sunglasses off to the right-hand-bird, which flapped away with much trouble. It eventually fell into a gutter.

“Now, my name is Marshall Dent. I am the old man whose appetite was ruined. I know everything.

“Okay, okay, I know, I know. “It’s impossible to know EVERYTHING,” you say. That may be true for YOU and YOUR intellectual capabilities, but I’ve seen a few things. Everything, in fact, since 456 B.C. “But how did nobody notice?” you ask. My question to YOU is how do you never notice politicians doing stupid things and then get OUTRAGED by them later on when you’re notified by that stupid, hippie-run Huffington Post?”

Marshall sighed and shook his head. “Let us move on to Central Park, where nobody notices people talking to themselves.” Marshall then proceeded to get hit by 6 taxis while crossing the busy street VERY slowly. Angry yelling came after him, but Marshall just waved off the abuse. “Been threatened before, with worse.”

Marshall arrived in Central Park, and sat down on an available bench. “I could spoil the years ahead of you, y ’know. Freddie Mercury dies in a few days, and David Bowie in a few years. No flying cars or hover boards in 2015. Donald Trump becomes President of the US in

2017. I could go on, and you might just think that I could be making things up, but in a few years, you’ll see.” He grabbed a pigeon from the ground and placed it on his head, where it proceeded to try to peck out Marshall’s eyes. One bench over, there was an aging woman, who looked confused as to why she was dressed up in a formal dress and hat. A young male approached her, and Marshall made a small sign to a pigeon, which in turn, pecked at the young man’s foot at an exhausting rate.

“Get OFF of me, you little-” The man’s words were obscured by the flock of pigeons all attacking him at the same time. He flapped his arms in agony, further ruffling the feathers-pun intended- of his assailants. The aging woman looked gratefully in Marshall’s direction, but he had disappeared.

“Now do you believe me? That guy was about to mug that innocent woman.” Marshall whispered from behind a tree. “Come over here. I need to run my errands. You can come with me.” He pushed an invisible button within the tree, and the tree’s bark peeled off grudgingly, revealing a rickety elevator. Marshall climbed in, and cut the rope that was suspending the elevator.

The doors opened up slowly, revealing a rainforest themed room. Birds chirped, and trees loomed over the old man’s head. A leopard pounced from the lush undergrowth, but Marshall just dodged it with a step.

“Always happens. Very predictable,” Marshall explained. “Over time, we’ve become good pals, even if the pigeons don’t like ‘I’m very much. He’s not very smart, either.” He stepped over a ditch hidden under turf. The leopard made a running leap and crossed the ditch effortlessly, just get caught in a bear trap. It growled, and pawed the trap. “Always forgets it’s there.”

At the other end of the room was an iron door. Marshall put both of his hands on it, and it unlatched to reveal a marketplace. Marshall motioned for an invisible person to come in.

The market place was wonderful. There was the scent of rich and exotic spices wafting through the air. The wails of lost children and pets pierced the air, and the wails of lost parents joined them. The number of people seemed to double by the second. Near the entrance was a mermaid floating lazily in a pool. She looked like a piece of melted cheese, and her rubbery complexion and yellow-tinted skin (and scales) just added to the overall effect.

“Hey! You ovah theyah! Yeah, thah pigeon one!” they called out. Definitely not a she.  Marshall shrugged and trotted over with his pigeons. “D’yah got anything tah trade?” Marshall shook his head suspiciously. “Well, ah mean, yah look like a man who needs a little mo’ death in his life, yah know what ah mean?” A pigeon landed in his/her tank, accidentally. It died immediately.

Marshall just pulled his pigeons close and walked away, looking back briefly to watch him/her light up a cigarette and cough like there was no tomorrow. He grimaced and walked through the market of oddities, occasionally waving to the owners of the booths he frequented. At last, Marshall and the pigeons reached their destination. The End.

Not the end of anything in particular. It was just what everyone called the last stall, and for good reason.

See, at this stall, one of the rarest elements of the magical world was sold. Something so rare that people were known to pay arms and legs for the vial. See, this priceless element was known to cause immortality- or to cure it.

Marshall made daily visits to The End. A dark and suspicious character with a long, mysterious backstory owned the stall.

“The ssssame thing assss alwaysss, Marssshhhall?” The vendor asked in a deep, grating voice. It wore a dark turban covering its head in its hideous entirety, save for the eyes, which had a malicious glint in them. It also wore a long, baggy robe, and thick gloves. It uncorked a dark vial, and poured it into a basin.

“Yes, yes. They’re almost done dying. My time is also coming to an end soon, I’m afraid.” Marshall sighed. “Might as well get on with it, they’re getting quite impatient. How is your wife?” The elderly man motioned for the pigeons to hop into the ever darkening tub, which they did. He stroked the heads of both his right and left hand birds, as they laid dying, for not only did the mineral cure immortality, but when added to water, it was fatal. Soon the pigeons were dead. Marshall held out the payment for the treatment, then left the market altogether.

He went up to his bench in Central Park, just in time to watch the sunrise (granted, the pollution was terrible even then, so it was a bit hard to watch).

His pigeons were dead and up in pigeon heaven.

And him?

Well, he was still among the living.

His time would come soon enough.

 

“Flight” By Jolie Rosenstein

“Buckle your seatbelts we are about to take off”, I heard the pilot say. I was sitting next to my optimistic friend Sarah who was wearing a light blue sweatshirt, black shorts and sneakers. We were in an immensely small and old plane and the heat from Hawaii was getting to me even though I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Before we took off I should have questioned the fact that it is only me and Sarah on this plane. As I look a little nervous, Sarah reminds me that we are only going from Maui to Oahu so the flight will be as short as a baby’s height.

Time flies and we are high up in the middle of nowhere. I feel the plane tremble a little, smell the peanuts, and hear the engine as we soar across the sky. All of a sudden I hear a sound from the pilot’s area and then the plane drops. I turn to Sarah looking nervous but she tells me it is probably turbulence. To be on a little plane in the middle of nowhere was frightening enough, but now I feel like the plane is going to fall out of the sky. Walking to the cockpit nervously, I knock on the door to see if everything is ok.

“No one answered, should I go in”, I asked Sarah

“Yeah, be careful”, she responds

Worried, I go in and check to see what happened and there lays the Pilot on the floor not breathing. His blonde hair is covered in dust from the floor and his uniform is wrinkled from falling. I call Sarah over and she makes me realize that we have to fly this plane if we want to live. “Help!! Our pilot just had a heart attack!!” Sarah yells over the phone, but we get no response. I’m extremely apprehensive and think to myself goodbye world, this plane is going to crash, and it’s the end of our lives as we know it.

“Stop panicking, we have to believe that we can land this plane”, Sarah says to me. I get my panicky self together and help Sarah with this very eerie situation. Even though it is hard to distract myself from the shaky plane and my heart beating so quickly I look around the cockpit. “Look there are labels for the controls”, I tell her. As we are about to start using them, the plane starts going insane and we get distracted. “Boom” things are falling everywhere from the plane shaking uncontrollably. One would think that it is ok if we dropped because there is just water underneath us, but they would be wrong. There is a giant spot of rocks just ahead of us and I have a feeling we are going to crash into them considering all our bad luck. I feel like I’m in a movie, this could not be real.

Two 18 year old girls should not be put in this position. While I look over at Sarah, her sparkling blue eyes are watering, but so are mine.

“Lexi, There is still hope, just believe”, Sarah tells me.

“Ok, let’s start figuring out the controls”, I respond.

Finally, we click on a control labeled smooth flight, and the shaking starts to disappear. Now all we need is to figure out is how to land the plane. Sarah and I walk back over to our seats, but get knocked over by the planning dropping about 5 feet.

“I thought the plane was flying smoothly”, I yell to Sarah.

“I guess it’s still not being flown”, she answers.

We are sitting on the floor praying to land in the water hugging each other tightly. The plane starts falling traumatically, I feel like I’m on…..

 

“Goodnight Jane” By Emilia Pedreros

Today was definitely not my day. This whole week hadn’t been my week. Everything was going wrong. First, I find out that my parents are getting divorced. That was Monday. It was not a great day if you ask me. Then, on Wednesday, I found out I’m moving to a new city. That meant I would have to leave all my friends and start all over again. I had never moved out of this city. I grew up here, my sister grew up here. The only few times we had left was to visit my grandparents but they usually came to visit us. The good thing is that we move in two days so I have time to pack most things without any help. My name is Liza by the way. I’m in ninth grade. I don’t really like talking, I like to write, and people say I’m antisocial. That’s probably why I have trouble making friends. Another reason why I don’t want to move if you didn’t catch that. My mom showed me pictures of our new home and it’s very pleasant. “Goodnight!” my mom yelled from the other room. “Goodnight Mom! Goodnight Liza!” Jane, my younger sister, yelled from her room. Yelling back at them, “Goodnight Mom and Jane.” I was in my bed thinking about everything that had happened this week. I knew the next day would be better because we would be moving most of our things in tomorrow but wouldn’t be moving there officially until Sunday. Soon after that, I fell asleep, curious if this week could get any worse.

The next morning, we woke up, got ready, cleaned some things up and loaded most things in the truck to take to the new apartment. It was only an hour away, but it seemed like forever to get there. I was excited because my mom had said I would be getting a bigger room. When we finally got there, Jane ran around the apartment and kept yelling, “Liza! Liza! I think this is our room!” I didn’t bother listening to her because I was not gonna share a room with her. She’s too lively and never gets quiet. All she ever does is talk. My mom asked her to go help our uncle carry some of the stuff from the truck into the apartment. She said that she wanted to talk with me for a minute. I totally knew what was coming. She was gonna say that I would get my own room and my own bathroom and that she would share a bathroom with my sister. Of course I would be more than fine with that.

“Hey Liza,” she said in a slow quiet voice.

“Yeah mom?” I replied, in a clueless tone.

“Can we talk?” she asked, again in a soft voice.

I felt like something was wrong. I questionably said, “Um, sure”

“As you may have noticed, there are only 3 rooms in this apartment. But one of them is too small for anyone to have. That means you’re gonna have to share a room with your sister… Is that alright?” she said in a timid voice.

I couldn’t say no. After all she’s been through and all she’s done for me and Jane. But Jane was the kind of person who barely had a filter. She’s always talking and happy and looks at the bright side of things but that can make her a little annoying. I had to put up with my sister. “Sure mom, I don’t mind,” I said, not 100% confident. I was really nervous because in less than 24 hours I would be going to a new school where I knew absolutely no one. I couldn’t fall asleep that night. What if everyone already had their own group of friends and wasn’t willing to accept me in their friend group? Or, what if I just didn’t fit in with the people there? Or, what if I never get used to the new school? It was all so scary I didn’t know what to do. All I could really do was sleep. It took me some time but I finally fell asleep. When I started falling asleep Jane woke me up. She was also scared of her first day at her new school. I told her a bedtime story. It was about a girl who was also agitated for her first day of school. But she was confident in herself

and that everything would go just as planned. Her school was near the ocean so they had fish as one of their lunch options. One of the kids tripped on one and then had a coconut fall on his head. Jane laughed. She fell asleep shortly after. That story made me feel better too. I fell asleep and was more excited for my day tomorrow at school.

When we woke up, everyone was in a big rush. Our room still was filled with boxes and mostly everything was in them. The closets were mainly empty except for some shoes. Because Jane couldn’t find anything, she missed the bus. I left my outfit ready to go the night before so I was ok but I couldn’t find my school stuff. I needed to leave. I took a few folders, two journals and a pencil and left the house.

The school was much bigger than my old one. The courtyard tons of different plants and was twice as big as the one at my old school. Everything seemed to be larger. The classes, cafeteria, the library and the labs. That day I actually made a friend. Her name was Ivy. She was amiable and cool and I really liked her. Voluntarily, she asked to take me from class to class and to show me around the school. I thought she liked me. But today in school, something odd happened. Someone slipped on a banana peel and then a juice box fell on their head like the story I told Jane the night before. It was just a coincidence, but it did seem a little odd. At dinner Jane told us all about her school day and all about how she made lots of friends. She seemed very content. That night I told Jane a different story but with the same characters. This time, the girl had made new friends and was happy at her new school. She lived in a tropical area where there were active volcanoes. One volcano was about to erupt but it started raining really hard and the volcano cooled down. All was great and no one got hurt. I heard Jane fall asleep so I did too. In the morning, I went to school and it all started as a normal day until science class. Some kid had brought in a volcano. I wasn’t very surprised because it was science. The lab was filled with old projects made by students in the past. There was this other volcano that was really big and had a sign that said, “Do Not Touch.”  When the teacher was talking, the volcano erupted and the sprinklers went off. It was an accident and no one got hurt but everyone had to evacuate the building. I thought it was a little funny but the teachers sure didn’t. I came home and told my mom all about it. She didn’t like it very much either. A few weeks passed and I was getting a little scared but surprised. I hung out with Ivy after school some days and it was lots of fun. She was my best friend at the moment. Bits of the stories I was telling Jane, happened in my life in a realistic way. That night, I told Jane a story about how the girl became very popular and everyone liked her. Jane didn’t like that story very much. She asked what would happen with her other friend. I said, “Well her other friend wouldn’t care. She didn’t need her other friends anyway,” I thought about that for a second. I was excited to find out what would happen. I woke up and i got to school early. Nothing happened. I was still the same person. But Ivy just stared at me then looked down and walked away. I walked up to her and tried to talk to her.

“Hey Ivy,” I said, cheerful to see her.

“Hey Ivy? Really Liza?” she answered.

I was confused. I didn’t know what was wrong. “Is everything alright?” I asked with a concerned tone.

“Liza, stop. I know what you said about me. I was so kind to you because I know what it feels like to be the new kid in school. But you were just using me,” she said.

Now I was really confused. I looked at her with a confused face and asked her what happened. She said that the whole school knew. Someone said I didn’t need Ivy and I was just using her. Just like the story I had told Jane. I needed to fix this. I would be so lonely without her.

Throughout the school day I couldn’t focus on anything. That night I tried to fix it with the story I told Jane but it did nothing. No matter how hard I tried, Ivy was not willing to talk to me. The stories didn’t seem to fix it. I didn’t know what to do. I asked my mom what she thought I should do. She said I should talk to Ivy and explain the situation.

“I tried but she won’t talk to me!” I told her.

“She doesn’t need to talk to you. All she needs to do is listen,” she said.

That’s exactly what I did. I arranged a speech but nothing seemed right. I just told her the truth. I texted her asking her to meet me in the cafeteria after school. I know she read it but she didn’t respond. I went after school anyways. She was there. I was so relieved. I thought she didn’t even want to see me. To talk to her was all that was left now.  I was nervous and didn’t remember what I had practiced. I was just going to have to talk to her.

“Hey Ivy, can we talk?” I asked.

She didn’t answer.

“Look Ivy, I know you don’t want to talk to me. All you really need to do here is listen. I’m sorry for what you heard from others. I know it hurt your feelings a lot. It was wrong of me to think like that. I looked back at what I did and i know it was completely wrong. You treated me so kindly and made me feel so welcomed. I’m so terribly sorry for what i did and i understand if you don’t want anything to do with me anymore. Just wanted to let you know I am sorry.” I picked up my things and slowly left.

I was far down the hall when i heard someone speed walking behind me. It was Ivy. I waited for her. She looked like she wanted to talk.

“Liza!” she said happy to see me, “I accept your apology. I’m sorry for being childish and avoiding you.”

“You’re not the one that should be sorry, Ivy! It was my fault! I’m just glad we’re alright now,” I said in a joyful tone.

After a few weeks, everything seemed to be back to normal. The only thing that had changed was the story telling. I hadn’t told Jane any stories that didn’t come right out of a book.

 

“Veritas” By Tapti Sen

I woke up with a start.

“That dream had seemed so real,” I said to myself, as I imagined my bed getting out of bed and

thought up the bathroom, white and marble and shiny. The tiles, however, were a bit too cold so I imagined them becoming warmer and relished in the instant heat. I thought of clean teeth, and my teeth instantly felt squeaky clean. As I mentally got my things ready, I talked aloud to myself about the dream.

“It was a very strange dream,” I commented to myself, “People couldn’t thought-perform

any more and they had to do everything manually! It was more of a nightmare than a dream. In fact, the funniest part was, people talked aloud to each other instead of thinking at each other. And thoughts were private!”

“How absurd”, I said to myself as I imagined myself in my classroom.

‘What’s absurd?’ My friend Tate thought at me as I appeared in my classroom.

‘Nothing’ I thought back. ‘I just had a really weird dream last night’ I thought. The teacher’s voice echoed in our hands.

‘Please get into your seats’, She thought at the students.

‘Today, we will be learning about the Pythagorean Theorem’, she said, envisioning a white board with the formula scrawled on it. As her thoughts continued, words began to appear on the board.

‘This is stupid’, One of my classmates thought. The teacher gave them a look.

‘Mr. Finch, I understand your feelings but I do wish you would put at least a minimum effort into Thought-Math’, She thought. The boy’s face colored.

‘I am sorry for interrupting the class, though not, for what I said’, the boy thought guiltily.

‘It’s ok Ms. Finch, we can’t control our thoughts after all, can we?’ The teacher thought,

before turning back to the lesson. It was common courtesy to excuse a person’s thoughts, as they couldn’t control what they said, but I couldn’t help but notice the teacher’s hurt face.

‘You know’, I thought to Tate after the lesson was done, ‘What if we lived in a world where we could think untruthfully?’ I wondered.

‘Untruths have no purpose except spreading toxicity in the environment. What would be the point?’ She thought, her mind already wandering to what she was going to do after class.

‘‘What if it was for a good cause? What if untruths improved someone’s lives? Or they were used for a good cause?’ I thought.

‘Yeah but, it’s better to leave things as they are, right?’ She thought pointedly.

‘True’, I sighed softly.

In the middle of my next lesson, I was thought-asked to come to the principal’s office. As

soon as I appeared there, I saw two women in black suits standing there, looking strict and professional.

‘Ms. Monroe, could you please come with us,’ They thought in unison. It was rather creepy.

‘Of course’, I answered confusedly. They showed me the image of a prison cell, and I appeared there. As I appeared there, I couldn’t help but wonder what wrong-doing I had

thought-performed to be sent here. In person, the cell was much gloomier than it looked with dim lights and dirty walls surrounding me.

One of the women walked up to me.

‘Today, we heard you and your friend think some interesting things. Apparently you’re not happy with how our society functions?’ She thought with a soft tone.

“It’s not that’, I thought hesitantly, ‘I just think that untruths, while terrible, could be utilized for certain purposes.’

‘But that would be false’, the woman pointed out, ‘And we as a society rely on reality, don’t we?’

‘Yes but-’ I tried to interrupt, but the women raised her palm as if to communicate ‘stop’.

‘Do you know why we converted to Thought-Performing?’ She asked. I shook my head.

‘Long ago, we realized that so many of the world’s problems would be solved if people just learned to communicate better. Except there was one problem, untruths, or ‘lies’ as they were called them. That’s when a brilliant person, Shan Garcia invented the illustrious ‘Veritas’ machine. The machine induces hallucinations in people, that can last decades, or even centuries’ Once we created our own ‘thought society’, we banned untruths and made everything truthful,’

‘Yes, everything in this world is false.’ She thought, seeing the realization dawn on me.

‘But why? If everything is fake, then why do we ban untruths,’ I thought.

‘Who said everything is fake? Your thoughts are just as real as anything else. Why shouldn’t you be able to build bridges and entire cities with your mind, stopped only by the limits of architecture? Who needs mundane things like physics when you have your mind? It was thinking of this, that Garcia had created the Machine.’ She thought. Then, she turned to me.

‘And now, unfortunately, we must erase all your memories of everything that you learnt here today again.’ She said with an almost sad smile.

Again? I wondered but before I could say anything, a strange blackness started creeping

into my mind, similar to how thought-sleep felt, but even scarier somehow. In a few seconds, I was out cold.

I woke up in my bed with a start.

“That had sure been a strange dream’, I thought as I imagined my bed away.

 

“Dream” By David McCrystal

Walking home from school was always uneventful. I live in a neighborhood right next to school, so I only take a few minutes to get home. There are always birds chirping and dogs barking and somebody mowing their lawn but to my surprise none of that was happening today. Worried I jogged quickly back to my house and ran in the door. The door came flying open and hit the wall and my mom, who was sitting at the counter, screamed.

“Brandon what on earth caused you to scare me like this.” Yep I’m Brandon, I’m in the 10th grade at greenwood high school and live with my mom in a small house close to the school. I’m a jockey kid on the soccer team but still get good grades. I’m 6 1’ and have short brown hair and blue eyes.

“I’m sorry mom but something seemed off today and I hurried home to make sure you were ok”

“What do you mean something seemed off sweetie?”

“Well there was no sound, there was an eerie silence while walking home from school.”

“Well silly that’s probably because it’s going to be fall soon and it’s getting cold, there are no more kids playing outside or people washing their cars. I’m just surprised that the silence scared you”

“Oh, ok mom,” I said at last, “that makes much more sense.” But the thought hung over me throughout dinner. The silence was complete outside. No voices from inside the houses and rolling of trash barrels, it was the middle of the day, where was everyone. But as we finished dinner I went upstairs, finished my homework, and got ready for bed. To sleep I went without thinking of the eerie silence of earlier today.

Waking up for me was always easy, rolling out of bed, throwing on some clothes, and then going downstairs for breakfast. But today felt unusual when I couldn’t effortlessly roll out of my bed. So I slowly got up and stood and looked around. The surprise was like waves falling over me as I realized I was not in my room. It seemed to be a dark small cabin of sorts that you would see at a sleepaway camp with an all wood finished inside. I noticed that I was still in my pajamas but in the corner of the room was a uniform with my initials pressed into it. I decided I would put on the clothes and walk outside. Because I walked outside after being in the dark I was blinded by the bright sun. Then I noticed the strangest thing yet, my vision cleared and there were hundreds of identical cabins to mine in this giant field that I was standing. Along with them was a boy or girl outside of it in ranges of ages that seemed rather close to mine. Everybody seemed as dazed and confused as me and before anybody could say anything something happened.

“HELLO,” yelled a voice from what sounded like a megaphone, “AND WELCOME TO THE LOBBY!” confused we stood there looking around until the voice spoke again “You all must be a little confused so I will explain. You have been pulled from you daily lives, or really from your sleep, to save the world.” No body moved or really said anything, we were in awe of this strange moment. A scruffy, jittery kid towards the middle of the group laughed.

“This is the weirdest dream ever,” he blurted out in disbelief.  

“I’m afraid this is no dream William,” the voice explained, “In fact the earth and everyone on it is in great danger and it is up to you to save it.”

The boy, apparently William, froze at the mention of his name. “That’s the cheesiest most fake line I’ve ever heard, who are you and why are we hear?”

“I’m sorry William but it’s true, and if you must know, I am the decider and I have chosen you and everyone around to participate in this special task force to fend off an invasion. You will have to defend for yourselves against the horde and then close the portal. Once this is done we will return you back to your normal lives. But if you fail the world will face the full strength of these unknown creatures. Good luck and use your weapons wisely.”

At that the entire setting around us changed into a dark endless landscape. I noticed that a strange assortment of weapons had appeared around my waist and I picked the first one out, It appeared to be a sort of laser rifle. As I examined it a countdown started and a light grew behind us. A blue swirling portal erupted open.

We stood there as the portal swirled and roared angrily, yet nothing happened. Eventually the portal started to flicker and we all stirred uneasily, almost all of us figured it was a good idea to pull out our weapons. The portal disappeared for half a second before it came back even bigger. People screamed as black creatures started running out of it. My first instinct was to aim and shoot as these flashing figures ran towards me. They disintegrated as my shot hit home but for many others they were not as lucky. These creatures tore through them as they fell to the ground. Next the group started to fall backwards, people firing at these strange creatures trying to save their lives. The creatures flow through the portal did not slow down, they kept coming as we shot them down. Their running was endless. Bizarre black beasts brigaded our defensive line. By this point only the strongest in the group where standing, yet even them began to fall under this exhausting assault. I looked around me and it seemed like it was hopeless. All of a sudden the deciders voice came back to me, You will have to defend for yourselves against the horde and then close the portal. He had said nothing about defeating the horde only closing the portal. As this thought came to me a ball appeared at my belt with a button on it. I looked around at our small defense crumbling before me. All things considered I ran forward firing my gun like a madman, a chicken with its head cut off. Monsters swarmed me as I pressed the button and lobbed the ball at the portal. BOOM! Everything went white.

I woke up in a sweat and looked around at my same old boring room. Nothing had changed everything was the same. Dreams you barely remember but last night was a vision of fire in my mind.

Life was back to normal and no one believed my “dream.” But inside the truth was held, I helped save the world from a crazy alien invasion.

 

“The Life of War” By Matthew Mande

Reyker’s dark brown eyes slowly opened, and he saw the familiar sight of the cold metal walls and empty room that he called home. As usual, he had dreamed of his sister. When he was fourteen years old, he had took the requisite military test that every fourteen year old was forced to take due to the war with Russia. To find the few people compatible with the commander expectations, the military had released this test. When Reyker took these tests, he was hoping to fail. His mother was very ill, and he wanted to stay by her side until the last of her days. Reyker also had a younger sister who would be alone with Reyker’s father after his mother passed away. This was worrisome because their father was often abusive, and the last thing Reyker wanted to do was leave his sister with his father. Surprisingly, he had passed the test, and had been forced to leave, away from the drylands of Texas that he had once called home, and to the military commander facility located underground in North Carolina.

Eventually, Reyker received a letter stating his mother had passed away, three years and two months after Reyker had left for the military base. The death of his mother was calamitous, but he had expected it. What was worse was the news that came after. In addition to his mother’s death, his father had been arrested of child abuse, and Reyker was shown a series of photos containing his sister’s injuries. Reyker could not help but think it was his fault. If he had only tried harder to stay with his family…. The weight of this guilt had carried with him throughout his time at the military base. It was the main reason why he always dreamed of his sister, and the dreams were always nightmares, containing the worst possible things that he thought could happen to her. But today, one of these things came true.

As Reyker swung his long, scrawny legs out of his bed and ran his hair through his short, brown hair, he checked his most recent scores on his training exercises. As he had expected, he had set records for the highest score. Commanding was Reyker’s main talent, and ever since he started to learn how to command, he had met and succeeded the expectation of his teacher, General Carter. He knew that he was exactly what the military was working for: a genius commander who could pick apart Russia’s army and win the war. Ryker’s eyes looked down at the floor, and he noticed a message waiting on the floor of his room. He slowly walked over to it, using his skinny fingers to open it. What he saw made his guilt one million times worse. His sister was dead.

For the next months, Reyker distanced himself from everyone, becoming an invisible speck in the large facility. His test scores dropped, almost dipping below previous records, and he was always as exhausted as poet’s final words, paying attention during his lessons, but never learning, never enjoying them. The guilt had doubled itself and was greater than ever, but his desire to return was gone, for he had no reason to return, no one to return to. General Carter noticed his obvious depression, but could do nothing about it. To Reyker, every day was stodgy, every night full of nightmares.

One morning, he was awoken by the sound of alarms. General Carter Rushed Into his room.

“Reyker, we are under attack!” Carter yelled, so loud Reyker knew this was not a drill, “And you are going to defend us.”

This news finally jabbed a whole in Reyker’s emotional lockdown, and he jumped up, running quickly down the long, white tile hallways of the military base, and into the command room.

“Where are they coming from?” he asked, “What type of transportation and weaponry?” His eyes raked up and down the hundreds of different colored switches he had learned about located up and down the panels of the control room. The computer in front of him showed him the answers to his questions. There were a series of computer piloted bombing jets flying directly at the East Coast. He knew that if he did not stop these drones, then hundreds of thousands of people would die. Moving his hands speedily up and down the controls, he launched a series of his own planes to attack the drones.

For the next few minutes, Reyker worked quickly and efficiently. He did not notice that he was doing everything so fast that everyone had stopped using their computers and tried to get a look at what he was doing. All of the sudden, all of the Russian drones were at the bottom of the sea. Reyker slowly realized he was finished, but what he did not understand was the relief he felt. Not the relief of winning the battle, but the absence of the pain that had tormented him for such a long time. Military officers and generals around the room came to shake his hand. General Carter came up, and Reyker gripped his large, chubby hands and looked up into the General’s round, smiling face.

“Congratulations,” general carter quietly said to him, his eyes sparkling with pride.

And for the first time in months, Reyker smiled back, because for the first time in months, he was truly happy.

 

“Shadow of Veranox” By Marc Blitz

I slipped out of the shadows at the edge of the Cobblestone Coster Market, and tried to look like I had something important to do. And, arguably, I did. Leaning against one of the tall buildings surrounding the plaza, I carefully scanned the market stalls for my prize. The midday sun glistened off the rows of fruit in various market stands. I straightened my cloak and instinctively patted the dagger that was concealed at my side. Of course it was still there, but it was a habit at this point. Casually strolling over to a fruit stand, I sized up its owner. She was a larger woman, a bit past her prime, but could still put up some sort of a fight if she had to. Scrapes on her knuckles and a scar on her cheek implied she had dealt with thieves before. An apple or orange wasn’t worth all that risk. At the baker’s stand, my odds seemed more promising. A young-looking man in the booth was facing away, making conversation with a customer. I checked once more for any authorities around the market as I slyly moved toward the baker. Without stopping, I slipped a small swirled loaf into a pouch under my cloak. I was almost past the stand when I heard a shout from behind me.

“Hey!” A gruff female voice from the fruit stand. I knew she would be a problem. In a single smooth motion, I pulled out my dagger and swept behind the unsuspecting shopper. I held the steel to his throat as I stared down the Coster Market lady who had yelled.

“Don’t speak, don’t move,” I grumbled, trying to mask my voice. I knew it wouldn’t do any good, of course. They had seen my hair, a unique mess of blonde and brown strands tied back in a ponytail. Anyone could report a girl thief with weird hair to the town guard, and they would be on the lookout for me immediately. There weren’t many like me in Veranox. Anyway, the shopkeepers stood still. While I had him hostage, I took the opportunity to nick the coin pouch from the young man’s belt. It may have been overkill, but I could always use some extra cash. I slowly walked backwards, dragging the customer along with me. On the edge of the market, I pushed him to the ground and ran around the corner. When the fruit seller came running after me, I was already three stories up on the side of the building.

A loaf of bread and a pouch of silver coins, but probably a town watch out for me too. I took a circuitous route home, making sure I wasn’t being followed. My parents, Juane and Tara Goldhardt, worked for a criminal ring in Veranox. They wouldn’t be home, so I wouldn’t have to explain what I had stolen. They had some sort of “honor code” about stealing only from the rich, but I didn’t care about that. One loaf of bread wouldn’t starve a baker, and any peasant dumb enough to carry all their money on them probably had it coming. Either way, they still had more money than I did, so what does it matter?

I entered the loft of my home through the window, as I usually did. The building looked average from the outside, about two stories with sandstone walls, like every other residential building in Veranox. The inside, on the other hand, gave away our condition. It was sparsely decorated, with a bed for my parents and a small oil stove. The second floor had mostly fallen away, and the only corner of sturdy flooring that was left had become my loft, with an uncomfortable pile of straw to sleep in. I stashed away my stolen goods in a lockbox, my only possession besides my daggers, lock picks, and clothes. I practiced picking the lock a couple times before I relaxed in my makeshift bed. My parents had taught me how to steal, climb, pick locks, and look out for myself. I’d say they were pretty good parents, but what do I know? I took a piece of my new bread and drifted off into a light sleep, one eye open.

I saw a blurry shape of movement and was woken up by my father. It was around sundown, and he had a small smirk on his face.

“Good evening, Amada,” he said, eyes twinkling. “We have a job for you.”

“What job?” I inquired, already awake and interested.

“The thieves’ guild wanted a small, covert team to sneak into Pyrite Manor. I volunteered you, your mother, and me.”

“Lord Pyrite’s manor? He’s the one who orders around the town guard and runs the prison! Is the guild out of their minds?” Despite my verbal protests, I was already getting ready. I switched my cloak, one side of which was the color of sand, to the opposite side, a pitch black that would conceal me at night.

“We’re to sneak in and steal the plans he has for the town watch,” he said nonchalantly, also preparing for the mission. “And nothing more,” he added suddenly, staring directly at me. He hadn’t seen inside the lockbox, but I suppose he knew about my bad habit of stealing whatever I come across.

Fine, ” I muttered, rolling my eyes and secreting away my dagger. Why shouldn’t we steal from Lord Pyrite? He’s the one who probably has a bounty on our heads. But I went along with my father. I could probably find something small to steal anyway.

“No, not ‘fine’, Amada. Promise me you won’t take anything,” my father commanded, his voice and face stern.

This surprised me. Why would he not want me to steal from the richest lord in town? My parents take promises very seriously, “honor among thieves,” and all that. Direct orders from the guild, I guess. They let me in on the mission, but I have to prove that I’m loyal to them. I’m not much for loyalty, but I wanted to try my hand in Pyrite Manor. “Alright father, I promise,” I responded, looking him in the eyes.

“Good. In that case, let’s get going.”

The front door would be too obvious of course; guards flank it on either side. We could have dispatched them if we needed to, but it was better not to raise any alarm. The three of us split up, and I took the right side wall. It was easy to scale the wall, with elaborate windowsills jutting out into the yard. I entered through a third-story balcony, picking the lock and stepping inside as silently as possible. It was dark inside, but bits of light were shed from a dying candle on a desk. I moved through the small office, probably used by a secretary or clerk. The door to the main hall was ajar, and a glance into the hallway told me it was safe. As I entered into a lavish corridor, I heard footsteps at one end, cutting off my escape. At the far end was the largest door, probably leading to Lord Pyrite’s bedroom or office. No, that’s probably where the guard is going to go, I figured. Other, smaller doors lined the corridor. Sticking to the wall, I silently evaded the chasing light of the guard’s candle and made my way to the end of the hall. Instead of entering the large doors, I slipped into the last doorway in front of them.

A small room with a desk greeted me. I immediately noticed a garish portrait of Lord Pyrite on the wall. It seemed out of place in the otherwise bare room. The perfect place to hide something, I noted. After I heard the large door creak open, I carefully lifted the painting off the wall. It did not disappoint; a grate locked into the wall looked into a small, dark room. Out of the darkness, a glint caught my eye. Gold! It must be gold. What else would a lord keep locked secretly in his manor?

I picked the lock with some difficulty, as it was fairly rare and expensive, and stooped on the sill of the grate. Ducking down, it would still be a squeeze to get in. I carefully lowered myself to the floor and noticed something odd. Instead of clinking on gold coins, the metal poked sharply at my boots. My parents had told me not to take anything, but this intrigued me. It must be even more valuable than gold coins! I could buy anything with this. I failed to notice however, that the small room would have been connected to the office. Before I could react, I heard the guard’s footsteps and saw an eye slit in the wall slide open. A guard’s rough eyes stared at me.

“Intruder,” he yelled, “thief!”

I scrambled for all of the gleaming material I could, the rough edges of the unfamiliar mineral scraping my hands and boots. I dove through the opening that had led me to the small room. The large painting lay on the floor, and the bare desk still stood in the corner. I frantically looked around. No windows. Footsteps marched from all directions. There had to be a way out. I propped the painting against the door, which could buy me a second as I made a plan of escape. There had to be a way out.

There was always a way out. The first guard who had noticed me barged through the door. He almost tripped on the painting, and I threw my dagger at him. It clanged against his metal armor. As he continued to approach, I threw a piece of gold at him. It was too light to be gold, and bounced off his helmet. A revelation hit me as the mineral hit him. It’s Pyrite Manor, of course! I would have slapped my forehead were the circumstances not so dire. Pyrite! Fool’s gold!

I dropped the minerals as the guard grabbed for me. I made a desperate leap for his throat. My hands had almost found a grip around his neck when two other guards marched in, sword and spear drawn. He fell over with my momentum. I felt the breath draining from him as I was being pulled off. His life slipped away by my hands. Rough hands grabbed me. I was restrained, I couldn’t move. My vision began to blur. Black creeped in. A hand slammed my head and I was out cold.

I woke up in a cold, lifeless room. I no longer felt the familiar warmth of cloak, dagger, and lockpicks. My blonde-brown hair sagged in front of my face. My body ached, and my head pulsed painfully. My eyes opened to a desolate cell, stone walls and iron bars trapping me in. Precious little light came from a wall-mounted candle beyond the bars. The events of last night returned to my mind. I could still feel the fool’s gold in my hands, and the guard’s life on my conscience. My parents had probably been able to escape after the guards’ attention was focused on me. I broke my promise to my father and was captured, all for fool’s gold.

A short, stout figure approached the cell. “You up?” A gruff voice intruded on the silence. “You got guts, kid, to steal from the mayor of Veranox.”

I scowled behind my mop of hair, silent.

“But, you know, you’ve got some skill at thievery. If we could get you disciplined, Veranox could use someone like you.”

“Disciplined? I’ll never work for you,” I spat distastefully.

“Then you’ll just rot in here, I suppose,” he reposed with equal disgust. He began to turn and walk away.

“Wait, wait,” I almost pleaded. No, I shouldn’t. I wouldn’t trade away my loyalty for… But I could get rich… Yes, yes, this is a perfect opportunity…

I swept my hair out of my face with a sly, nervous smile.

“How much gold is in it for me?”

 

“911, What is Your Emergency?” By Sarah Tong

Each morning, I wake up to the amiable smell of bacon and pancakes. Hearing the calming sound of music faintly playing from my mom’s speaker as she works on my breakfast.  This morning, I woke up to something different. Everything was silent. I didn’t smell anything and I didn’t hear anything.  Confused, I slowly sit up and get out of bed. I think to myself, “She probably just slept through her alarm since she was so tired.” Not thinking much of it, I walk into my bathroom and start to get ready. I brush through my tangled dark hair and wash my tired face with the refreshing cold water.

30 minutes later, I open my bathroom door and I can sense that something is different deep in my gut. Panicking, I quickly unplug my phone from my nightstand and open my bedroom door to head downstairs. As I touched the black doorknob of my bedroom door, thousands of thoughts race through my head. Being a normal curious teenager, I have watched many terrifying horror videos that haunt me whenever I am scared. Just like the devil always ready for attack. Horrendous scenes from movies, horror stories, TV show mysteries, terrifying YouTube videos . . .  Silently, I pray that everything would be okay. I open the door and start to walk down the stairs. As I became closer and closer to the end of the staircase, I realize that my mom was not in the kitchen. Racing back up, I head towards the master bedroom, thinking that maybe just maybe that she would be there.

With my heart pounding, mind racing, and cold sweat forming on my forehead, I put together enough courage to open the bedroom door. Begging that she would just be there, in bed. As I peeked through the minuscule crack of the open door, I couldn’t see anyone. There was a bed that was perfectly made, not a single bump showed. Nobody was there. “No.” Racing out, I looked in the bathroom, closet, study room, guest room, basement, and all the rooms in the entire house. Nobody was there. In that moment, my whole body felt like a snowstorm. I was as dizzy as a shaken snow globe and my mind was as blank as a paper. Walking back to my room, I sit down on my turquoise sofa and try to think. With my phone buzzing in my hand, I decided to text my friends. Pulling up our group chat, I started to type.  

“I know that this sounds really weird and crazy, but u gotta believe me k?” I typed.

“Spill it out b.” My friends responded.

“Okay so this morning, when I woke up, my parents were not here. They disappeared.” I typed.

“HA is this another one of ur jokes? Quit it.” They replied. Those words shook me. How could my best friends do that to me? After all the things that we’ve been through? HOW? I shook my head and decided to call 911. As I dialed 911, I thought of all the memories my mom and I shared. All the things that she had done for me and how I had never really appreciated her. I thought of all the times that I wished that she would just disappear and how now that it had really happened, all I wanted was that it would stop.

“This is 911 what is your emergency?” the lady on the other end of the phone calmly spoke.

“Um, I think my mom just disappeared. I woke up this morning, and she wasn’t there. I really need her, please!” tears started to form in my watery eyes and I spoke these words.  As if I had earbuds shoved in my ears, I couldn’t hear a single word the lady was saying. But all of a sudden, I heard a voice. A sweet, soothing, simple voice. “Oh my gosh, honey get out of bed!

You’re gonna be late!”

 

“The Landfill” By Anisha Sankar

Wednesday morning started with the sound of a fly buzzing in my left ear, and my mother yelling at me in my right.

“Just because it’s a holiday Meena, doesn’t mean you have to sleep the whole morning.”

The whole morning? I glanced at the clock. It was 8 AM. She pushed open the curtains, so the sunlight flooded into my room. Mama surveyed my room with a frown. Rolling up the sleeves of her navy blue pantsuit, she proceeded to tidy it. I don’t know why she bothered, it was just going to become messy again.

“Some sort of sleeping grippe, I suppose,” she continued,anyway, while I’m at work I’ve given you a list of chores for you to do in what’s left of this morning”. I looked at the clock again. It was 8:01.

Picking up some clothes that I had claimed “fell of their hangers”, she waved goodbye and shut the door, her heels clicking on the wood floor. I sat up groggily and pushed of my covers that Mom had made me launder and fold myself.

Stumbling into the bathroom, I showered and brushed my teeth, then went downstairs. Our kitchen was cramped with an old grey-tiled floor and plaster walls. It was definitely not my favorite room in our tiny apartment. For years, I had asked my mother to get it redone, but she always replied that it was functional and that was enough. After a healthy breakfast of potato chips and cookies, I scanned the list Mama had pinned to the door. Mama had written in Hindi, not our local language Kannada because she thought that reading Hindi more would help me improve my reading skills, but I didn’t think that reading a lifetime of chores lists would do me much good. Every day, I was given housework to do. Every day, Mama would come home and criticize it. If she wasn’t going to be satisfied with my work, she should just do it herself, I thought. First item on the list, I shuddered when I saw the words clean the bathroom. Feeling queasy, I decided to skip it, and do it later. Second item: Take out the trash. In my opinion, it wasn’t the worst chore, but definitely not the best one.

Hauling the trash bag in the corner over my shoulder, I stepped out of our apartment, and took the stairs down to the bottom floor. Usually, there would be silence on a work day like today, but it was a national holiday for students. Waking up early for school every morning was tiresome, so I was grateful to have a holiday. Today, the apartment complex was as noisy as my last birthday party. Checking my watch, I saw that it was already 9:00 AM, I quickened the pace, I didn’t want to have to do chores the whole holiday. Opening the gate, I waved to the mailman, and set off down the road to the landfill. I despised the dump, obviously it smelled awful, but that wasn’t the worst part. Cows always left “presents” there, and I had chanced to step in them on more than one occasion. Also, the people living around there were rumored to be vulgar.

When I narrated this to Mama, she simply replied, “Rumors are rumors. When there is a real problem, please tell me.”

Therefore, I was forced to comply, and every week she sent me on the dreaded errand. Usually, my little brother went with me, but he was with Papa in the U.S. visiting our cousins. I envied him, he didn’t have to do chores, he was probably watching a movie at that moment, or sight-seeing with my relatives. According to Mama, I couldn’t go because I had my exams coming up in a month and I needed to study. Forget studying, our class hadn’t even started covering the exam material yet! Mama was always nagging me, being unreasonable and aiming

to make my life horrible.

Until I had finished every chore on the never-ending list, I wasn’t allowed to play with my friends. I was only ten! None of my other friends had to do what I did, and their parents never bossed them around. Just then, the scent of moldy food filled my nose. Sure enough, I had reached the landfill. It was a huge circular pit filled with all sorts of rancid garbage. Programs had been created in our city for recycling, but most people didn’t bother.  

Angrily, I threw the trash to the bottom, and was about to head back when I heard a noise. Cautiously, I turned in a full circle, all my senses on high alert. Then, the sound came again, louder this time, and from the bottom of the dump. A girl no more than eight, was sorting through the piles of garbage. Her hair was matted, and caked with dirt. Her skin was dry, and she had many bruises. She was as thin as a stick, and looked miserable. Torn and ragged, her dress was barely discernible. Watching her, I wondered how long it had been since she had a bath. It occurred to me that she might have never had one.

Two boys, both of whom were around my age, were using a tiny magnet to pick up metals, but they didn’t have any luck. The rumors were wrong, the locals weren’t vulgar, and they were poor. I remembered the water bottle I had stowed in my pocket earlier and pulled it out. Making my way carefully down the garbage slope, I tried to reach the kids, but I slipped on a juice box and crashed into a broken bicycle. I fell face-first into the muck with a thud. Alerted by the noise, the kids saw me, and turned pale. Running through the filth, they ran over the hill, and I couldn’t see them anymore.

Wait!” I yelled out to them, but they’d disappeared. Climbing out of the landfill, I ran home.

To my surprise, Mama was waiting when I got there.

“Where were you?” she demanded,” I called Mrs. Raman to check on you, and she said you weren’t here!”

Suddenly, she noticed my filthy clothes, and pale face.

Furiously, she asked, “What happened? Were you in a fight?”

“No Mama, I-I was at the landfill.”

I burst into tears. Mama looked surprised, I rarely ever cried, but she picked me up and held me until I stopped. I described what I had seen at the landfill, and how horrified I had felt.

My mother turned me around to face her, and said,” Those kids are from very poor families. If they don’t search for food, their entire family will starve. The boys with the magnet were trying to find metal they could sell to buy necessities for their families. Most likely they ran away from you because they thought that you would be rude to them. Many people disrespect poor families and hurt instead of help them.”

I didn’t know what to say.

Mama placed me on the ground and ushered me out of the kitchen, so she could make dinner. I thought I saw her brush a tear out of her eye.  

That night, I couldn’t sleep, I felt more than pity for the family, I felt something very like guilt. All my life, I had complained about my mother and her bossing me around. Finally, I realized how lucky I was to have a mother who took care of me, and worked hard, so I could go to school, eat good food, have a roof over my head, and more. To summarize, I was a brat. The next morning, I checked off the first item on the list and resolved never to complain again.