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Grade
8

My head slowly rests on my shoulder, and my eyes drift from open to closed. “Camila, how do you expect to keep the new year’s resolutions you made today if you can’t even keep the one from last year? You were supposed to stay awake until midnight today, remember?” I look up and shake my head. “There is no way that is going to happen… it’s only ten and I’m more than half asleep.” Mollie shakes her head and goes back to playing on her phone. After what seems like two seconds, I hear the TV and everybody in the room counting down. I start counting with them and everything seems normal, until the room goes white. Then black. Then white. Everything goes black again. I close my eyes, and hope this is all just a dream. When I open them again, I figure it must have been. I open my eyes and find myself in a room. It looks old-fashioned, and the sheets on top of me are heavy and fancily embroidered. I see a sewing machine in the corner, and what looks like a vintage dollhouse next to it, but at the same time the dollhouse looks brand new. Suddenly the door cracks open and a little girl steps lightly into the room, gently closing the door. She sees me looking at her, and her eyes widen. So do mine; our eyes are the exact same mix of green, blue, and hazel. The only other person I’ve known with eyes like mine are my grandmother’s, but she passed away before I was born. The girl runs up to me and bounces on to the bed, causing the springs to creak. She winces, then whispers: “Mommy told me not to come in here, but I had to. I’m sorry.” I assure her it’s fine. “I’ve never seen such an old-fashioned sewing machine,” I tell her. “I like it.” She smiles at me, but there is confusion in her eyes. “Thank you, but that sewing machine is the newest model; that’s what Mommy told me.” I slowly nod my head, thinking that it was probably a rare antique and the girl was just a little confused. Before I can say anything more, she asks me if I want to see her dollhouse. I tell her yes, because I’ve never seen a dollhouse like this one. Instead of the bright pink door and glittering closet like the one I have at home, it has shutters and a small closet filled with clothes that look like they’re from decades ago. Just as we sit down in front of the dollhouse, the door opens and a woman wearing an apron approaches us. She smiles and her friendly expression gives me a feeling of relief, like I’m not in a random person’s house with no idea where I am. “Natalie, I told you not to disturb our guest.” Natalie shifts her position and looks down. “I’m sorry, Mommy.” Her mother smiles and tells her that it’s okay. Then she turns to me. “We found you asleep on our porch, sweetheart. I’m not sure what you were doing there, but I don’t think you have any idea, either,” she says, noticing the question in my eyes. “Would you like to tell me the name of your mother? Maybe I can find out where she is.” “Um,” I say, “her name is Annalise.” At that, Natalie jumps up and says, “my doll is named Annalise, too!” I look down at her and smile, everything beginning to click inside my head. The eyes. The name. The old-fashioned room. It has to be. But then her mother tells us that she’ll see about my mom later, and that she’s making us breakfast. I thank her and tell myself that I read too many books and that the sweet little girl in front of me is not my grandmother. I decide that after breakfast I’ll ask to go outside and find just where I am exactly. I help Natalie clean up her dolls and we go to the kitchen. “Why don’t we eat out on the porch? It’s sunny for once,” her mother suggests, indicating to a small table with a delicate vase of flowers on top. I think back to where my house is, California. We’d been in a heatwave, so I doubted I was there anymore. As we eat our eggs, I almost drop my glass of milk as I see a group of students walking to school, dressed in a style I’ve only see in history books. I turn to the side and see someone drive down the street in a car that is the opposite of modern. That’s when I know it for sure: I’m in the early twentieth century. I can feel sweat beginning to form on the back of my neck, despite the cool breeze. I move my hair to the side and drink my milk, trying to collect myself; Mollie used to tease me for always overreacting, but at this point I’m so scared that I don’t notice Natalie’s mother’s concerned face looking right at me. “Sweetie, are you alright? Maybe I should find your mother now, if you’re not feeling well.” I plaster a fake smile on my face, pretending to be confused. “What do you mean? I feel… great!” Natalie gives me a sideways look and rolls her big green eyes. “I’ll tell you what’s not great: your acting skills,” she whispers to me. I stare at her, not sure if I should laugh or try to convince her I’m not acting. I decide on neither. Natalie’s smart, and I’m going to have to think of a way to get her off my case. But then again, maybe she could help me. I shake my head, telling myself that a nine-year-old isn’t going to help me build a time machine and get back to where I belong… in fact, she might not even believe me. I excuse myself from breakfast and ask to go for a walk, but Natalie’s mom tells me to go change, because she doesn’t know what kind of clothes I’m wearing. I look down at my new year’s outfit, jeans and a sparkly top. I’m about to argue that it’s better than a T-shirt, when I realize I’m not in 2018 anymore. She lays out a dress for me from her closet, since I’m around her height. The dress is pale pink and it’s beautiful, but my Converse ruin the look. Natalie’s mother realizes that, because she gives me a pair of shoes. I look at the dainty shoes and then look back at my converse, but I know if I wear those I’ll get a lot of stares. Once I finally get outside, Natalie is there, waiting for me. “I’m going to come with you, and you’re going to tell me what you were so nervous about before.” The seriousness in her voice almost makes me laugh, but I hold it in. “Well, you’re not going out in your nightgown,” I tell her. Natalie, looking defeated, suddenly starts running into the house. “I’ll be right back. Please wait for me!” I can’t say no to her pleading tone, so I sit on the steps and wait for her to get dressed. When she finally emerges from the house, she reaches for my hand and begins to walk. “What are you hiding?” she asks me. I tell her that I’m just confused as to where I am, but I can tell by her face that she doesn’t believe me. “More like you’re confused as to when you are,” she says. I know she’s just a nine-year-old, but she’s so persuasive that I finally give in. “Fine. I’m not from… here. I have no idea where I am or when I am in time.” She nods. “That’s what I thought. But do you recognize anything here?” I’m about to say no when I realize there is something I recognize. “Well, there is one thing. Your eyes,” I say. Natalie looks like she’s about to question me when her eyes widen as she looks into mine. “That’s because they’re the same as yours,” she says. I nod. “The only other person I’ve known with eyes like mine is my grandmother. I have a picture of her right here, if you want to see.” I pull my silver locket from under my dress and unlatch it. I hold it to Natalie and she looks at it. But she seems more interested in the actual locket itself rather than the picture. “Why do you have Mommy’s locket?” She asks. “My mom gave me this,” I tell her. Natalie looks at me. “Oh. Well, the picture’s different, too, so I guess it couldn’t be the same.” “Well, my mom said that this locket has been in our family for a long time. My great-great grandmother had a picture of her grandmother, my grandmother had a picture of hers, my mother had one of hers, and now I have a picture of mine,” I tell her. “Wow. It’s the same with my family. In my mommy’s locket there’s a picture of my great-grandmother. Can I see the picture?” she asks. I hold out the locket again, and Natalie smiles. “She looks just like me!” I turn my eyes to the locket and immediately agree. The resemblance is certainly there. Same smile, same nose, same eyes. Natalie slowly looks up at me. “Camila, do you think… I’m your grandmother?” I know in that moment that it has to be true. “Yes,” I tell her. Natalie smiles. “That’s so cool, but … a little weird,” she says, and starts walking again. But as we walk, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever get home again. A few hours later, Natalie and I are walking back home with ice cream cones in our hands and smiles on our faces. When we walk through the door, Natalie’s mother is sitting by the window, sewing one of Natalie’s dresses. It suddenly occurs to me how this woman is my great-grandmother. I’m just thinking how cool it is, when she looks up at us. “Thank you for watching Natalie for the day, Camila.” I tell her it was no problem, and before she can ask about my mother again, I make up a story about how I was here on vacation and must have gotten lost on my way back to my hotel yesterday. Natalie’s mother seems to buy it, so she tells me to get my clothes and she can drive me to the place I was staying. I tell her that’s not necessary, and she finally agrees to let me walk there with Natalie. I gather my clothes and begin walking with Natalie, neither of us really knowing where we’re going. “So, how are we going to get you back -- or should I say forward?” she asks me. I sit down on a bench next to the walkway and look at her. I want to tell her that I have no idea and that I don’t think I’ll ever get back, but I don’t want to scare her. So instead I just shrug and keep quiet. Natalie sits down next to me and looks down at her hands. After a couple of minutes of silence, she looks up at me. “Staring contest?” she asks me. I manage a small laugh and say sure. I’m able keep my eyes open for fifteen seconds until I have to blink. “Want to try again?” Natalie asks, obviously proud of herself for winning. I accept, and this time manage to hold it for about twenty seconds. But suddenly I see white, then black, then -- I quickly close my eyes, and when I open them Natalie is staring at me. “What happened?” I ask her, and she jumps up. “You were probably going forward in time!” My eyes widen as I realize that when I was going to the past, the same black and white flashing had occurred. She quickly sits down again and we begin to stare. Within twenty seconds, I see the black and white flashing. I reach out to hug Natalie when suddenly I’m back on the couch, with Mollie on her phone and all of my family and friends hugging each other and wishing everyone a happy new year. I smile, but at the same time I feel like crying. I’ll miss Natalie a lot, but I’m still happy that I get to be back where I belong. I look into my locket and see Natalie’s face. I smile knowing that she’ll be with me wherever -- and whenever -- I go.     

 

One year later

As I get ready for the New Year’s Party, I take my glittery top from my closet. As I’m about to close the door, my eyes linger on the pale pink dress given to me by my great grandmother. I put my glittery top down and pull on the dress. I smile and when I close my eyes I can see Natalie and I, holding hands and eating our ice cream. I go downstairs, and start counting down to midnight with everyone else. When we get to zero, I see a flash of black, then white, then black again…

State
CA
Zip Code
95035
Grade
8

A family of four. A family of four mouths, four tails, eight ears, and sixteen feet. Or, what it used to be.

This year, Winter and his malicious nobility murdered Autumn and her dances, drowning her in his surfs. He threw everything out of balance in Pack Massif, as if he was discarding wolves off a cliff like rocks.

I am Albert, the first born of my family and the first wolf fated to die in the pack.

My parents are Anna and Michael, and I have a sister named Alix.

Anna and Michael are two saintly wolves who had taken care of Alix and me. My mother, Anna, was beautiful. It was no doubt that her genes were passed down to Alix. My father, Michael, was such a courageous wolf, I couldn’t count the quantity of his dedications to Massif.

Father was quite peculiar, I must say. Unlike most, he is unable to feel most physical feelings a normal being would have. He could still walk and all, though. I’m assuming that this fault is genetic, for Alix had inherited this quirk.

Alix was and will remain to be very pretty. I don’t think she realizes, but with Mother and Father’s obtrusively different pelts, they formed a beautiful combination. A gray female wolf with darker grey specks along her spine. I find it funny how she lack awareness for her appearance, but I shall not question her choices. She was extremely bubbly and extroverted, but that will soon to change.

Me? I am a pathetic black wolf who had been diagnosed with a sickness so ill that I am not allowed to leave the summer camp. I grow even more pathetic every time I glance at Alix’s joyful and oblivious expression.

I watched as Alix hurled herself into the summer camp, yelping and expressing great happiness and excitement. Her unique teal eyes were glistening up until she noticed the unsettled faces of the wolves around her.

“W-what’s wrong?” She asked, her tail swung to a halt.

Father came up to her from the herbalist den where my body lies still and reluctantly looked into her eyes. “I’m sorry, Alix-”

Before he finished speaking, Alix pushed him and charged towards the den with my body that is stinking up the herbs.

I drift alongside her, unable to speak.

“Albert!” Alix yowls, barging into the den uninvited. “Albert! Where-”

Almost stepping upon my body which was covered in lavenders, Alix shrieked. No words, thus metaphorically dead. Anna was curled beside my body, crying and whimpering in lament.

“I’m sorry.” Another wolf approached, her pelt rusty brown. “Albert’s breathing was sporadic, and we tried our best.”

Alix dipped her head to the rusted wolf, Orchid, before looking away from my body and her. “I-I see.”

Anna’s whimpering continued, paining my nonexistent heart. From the left side, I could hear almost inaudible sniffling.

I’m sorry.

I mouthed, my paw passing through her body. I’m sorry.

My beautiful sister turned around, just dodging Orchid, and left the herbalist den.

I turned around and witnessed Mother crying, sniffling while her body shook.

“Ma’am, your temperature is very low. Please stay warm,” Orchid fully entered the den and curled around Mother. “We will give him blessings before he is rebirthed.”

Mother reluctantly left the cold body and was brought deeper into the den to stay warm. Two other wolves came in and dragged my body out.

Following the wolves assigned to bury, I caught my sister shaking her head and grooming her face before entering the main den. Breaking off from the two wolves, I stood next to her instead.

I’m really pathetic. Couldn’t I just wait another day or two before dying? Winter and his rulings are absolutely ruthless.

 

Days after the funeral, the pack was ready to migrate to the winter camp. My mother was getting sicker and sicker by the day, quavering no matter what mental instability she had. Father was busy, unable to come by much. Even I didn’t see him as much as any of the girls of the family.

Alix, however, changed. I can’t tell if she is grieving or not. Her indifferent expression took over her, and she no longer wanted to leave for patrols.

“I don’t want to,” she would snarl, her fangs bearing, “I can hear you well. It is the touch that I lost, not my common sense.”

I believe that it is my fault, yet her ambiguous words confuses me. I do not want to see her like this anymore. It’s as if she changed character, a completely different wolf.

“Alix, we will be heading out,” a brawny white canine trudged over, prodding the brooding chicken.

She snarled aggressively and opened her eyes. Immediately, her expression changed from aggression to submission. “R-reshie, I’m sorry for that behavior. I swear to Spring that I shall not do that again.”

The alpha nodded, “For your own sake, don’t be so formal. However, please mind your behavior.”

Alix seemed irritated and sighed while stumbling onto her four paws. “Yes, Reshie.”

I looked at the two conversing wolves, observing their body language as well.

“We will be heading out in a while. Please take care of your mother, for she is quite frail,” Reshie sighed, concern flashing through. “To be frank, I don’t know if she would make it through this migration.”

Alix’s ears perked, narrowing her eyes. “I’ll be mindful. I’ll be off now, see you later,” she spoke before dashing towards the herbalist den.

I watched Reshie as he left, and a smile crept upon my face. At least she has a close friend looking after her. I followed Alix, and stopped by the doorway. This must be a quirk of being a dead spirit, but this was not at all pleasing.

My mother’s soul was beginning to itch out of her mortal body.

 

“Mother!” I hear my sister’s cry, “Dad please help!”

I can’t do anything except to spectate. My heart burns.

“Dad dad please do something! Orchid!” Alix continued to shriek.

Mother was scrambling on a sheet of thin ice while trying to pass the fallen tree. Her quivering body was sprawled flat, unable to move without cracking more ice.

Alix looked around before taking a deep breath. She crawled upon the ice and snatched Mother’s scruff.

Crack.

A streak of lightning embedded in ice formed.

Crack-crack.

I could see Mother’s soul almost out of her body, only trapped by the tail. This is then, I realized that Mother will not be able to live another hour.

Alix and Mother were submerged in freezing ice. Mother’s body limp from the sudden drop of temperature while Alix slowly floundered her way back to shore.

A black blur passed through me as a wolf plunged in the water, helping Axis bring her mother back up shore. With Axis shivering, she quickly moved over to her mother and curled her body around hers, attempting to warm Mother before anything else.

The third wolf, Althea, was crowded by others, her expression of fury. “Alix! I understand your concern, but your option of saving a wolf is pathetic! I assume you know the faults of your body. Think twice, you immature pup!”

“Mother?” Alix spoke, ignoring Althea’s lecture.

Anna did not move.

“Mother!”

Alix turned over and moved her ear to her jaws, listening. Her facial expression was one of lament. Immediately, Alix began wheezing and crying, her body unable to feel the growing hypothermia of her own body.

Mother.

I looked at her spirit, smiling but sniffling at the same time.

I’ll see you later Albert, at rebirth.

With that, my mother left, drifting higher to reach the deities of the seasons.

“Alix, you will get hypothermia if you don’t take care of yourself!” Reshie rushed over, snarling. Michael and Orchid sprinted as well, curling around Alix to repel hypothermia.

“My mother is dead. Winter, isn’t my brother enough? Why my mother? Why hypothermia? Why make her suffer?” Alix whimpered, curling into the two warm bodies despite not being able to feel.

Albert, Albert. Yes, why did I have to die? Die with this timing? In the span of less than a half moon cycle from Anna’s death? Winter, such an abominable and despicable deity.

I looked turned around, witnessing Althea spit of irritation and Reshie’s painful gaze. Althea was still shivering.

“I’ll continue to trek, sir,” Althea spoke, barely audible to my own ears. She turned around and herded the other wolves to head towards the winter camp.

Reshie, on the other paw, stood there with pain crossing his face. Yet, he did nothing. The white wolf waited and waited until Alix’s temperature returned and Mother’s body was buried.

The rest of the migration seemed never ending. The small group of four wolves trudged through the snow in silence, moving in a much slower pace than they originally started. Alix was dragging her feet along the snow despite the physical support of her friends and father.

Upon reaching the camp, hordes of wolves surrounded Reshie while the herbalist and what was left of the small family trudged into the winter herbalist den.

“Sweetie, if you need anything, I’ll be here,” Michael spoke, his own paws trembling. The two wolves sat down, with Alix still as mad as ever.

I entered the den and sat next to Alix. Alix looked frail, despite her brawny frame from training. Her eyes were no longer glimmering even the smallest shard of glee. It was just deathly dull.

“I see,” was what came out of her mouth, as if not believing his words. “I see,” she faintly repeated.

Orchid sighed and looked down at Father, “Michael, do you feel well enough to tidy up the camp?”

He altered his focus and smiled, “Of course.”

It was conspicuous that he was pained. His fake smile was forced, for his quavering voice justifies my observation. Father picked himself up.

“I’ll see my favorite kiddo later,” he smiled once more.

“Yeah,” Alix replied.

With that, Father left the den.

While Orchid began sorting through the herbs that her apprentice, Lion, laid down for her, I stayed with my sister.

I lied over and over. I’m here for you. I’m here for you. There is no need for sorrow. I’m always here for you.

Yet I will never be there for her anymore.

 

Winter turned cold in the next few months, but it had no effect on Alix. My sister had to leave the herbalist den to make way for the physically ill patients despite being ill herself. Reshie increased his drop-by’s, visiting her at least once a day despite his busy schedule. Father, on the other hand, barely came by.

“Hey,” the white wolf popped his head into the den, causing Alix to stir. “It’s bright and sunny today. Want to come out?”

She looked up at him and stood up.

Reshie smiled and backed into the clearing, giving Alix space to wiggle out. He waited until she stretched in the afternoon gaze.

“This weather is quite peculiar,” Alix looked up to the sky, unable to find a cloud in sight.

Reshie nodded, “It’s as if Winter wanted to relieve us from his surfs.” He began trotting towards the entrance, followed by Alix.

“More like a preparation for another wave,” She looked away and sped up her walking. “I’ll make myself useful and go catch prey for the pack.”

He trotted next to her, surprised, “Oh? Why?”

“Eating without work is a sin,” Alix turned back and sped up to a sprint.

I drifted next to them, watching as they raced across. It was great to see Alix improving, but she still has a long way to go.

Alix’s line of sight changed drastically. She suddenly dashed to her right alternating from pouncing and sprinting. The gray wolf took a gargantuan leap and sent snow flying around her while a small squeal sounded from between her paws. Quickly snapping the writhing prey from her paws, Alix relaxed.

Reshie ran over and took less than a heartbeat to realize. “That was a smooth catch,” he spoke as his line of sight drifted to the Snowshoe hare.

“Tha-thanks,” Alix panted, exhausted. “Laying down all day proved to have a substantial result.”

“Quite obvious,” Reshie snickered. “Too bad that you are even more slower than me now.”

Alix retorted with a snort.

I couldn’t help but feel relieved. Her friendship seemed to help her improve quickly and efficiently, especially with Reshie.

“You are such a great friend,” she laughed, before picking up the white hare in her jaws. “And ith’s nat flatthery.”

Reshie chuckled before they started to walk back, or that is what I wished.

“Sir, sir!” a wolf barged through the light atmosphere. “Sir-” she looked at Alix and his face turned pale. “I’ll speak to you in private. Alix, please wait here.”

Alix nodded and sat down, guarding her catch while the two higher-ranked wolves talked out of Alix’s earshot.

My paws carried me to eavesdrop.

“Sir, Michael is poisoned and we realized it far too late.” The wolf spoke rapidly, his face as pale as ever. “He is being treated by my mentor, but she says that it may be slim.”

Immediately, Orchid charged through, startling everyone. She saw Alix sitting there, oblivious on what was happening.

Orchid walked over to Reshie gloomily and full of fright. Her body quavering, she took a deep breath before speaking.

 

“Reshie, Winter took him away.”

State
CA
Zip Code
94587
Grade
8

Chapter 1

 

December 17th, 1999. This was the day that Matthew Rich passed away. Matthew Rich is my father. He had a heart attack. We all thought he was joking. My father was always the comedian of the house. Always trying to make someone laugh. Whether it be me, my mom, or a friend I had over, he was telling knock knock jokes. A classic “the boy who cried wolf” moment. But this isn’t about my father, how or why he passed away, this is about why I lost respect for my mother.

After my father passed away my mother just shut down. It was like she wasn’t able to function anymore. She wouldn’t clean the house, do the laundry, cook me meals, and worst of all - she didn’t even go to my father’s funeral. She told me, “It’s to much for me right now, Cali. You know that.” But the only thing I really did know was that my mother, wasn't my mother anymore.

You might be wondering, why can’t you do this on your own? Right? I was only 5 years old when my father passed, and I was never taught to do anything up to that point. I've been taking care of my mother and myself since then. I’ve been cooking us meals and doing the laundry. Putting my mother to bed and making sure she falls asleep. I lost respect for my mother when I had to bathe her because she was too “out of it” to do it herself. From that moment on, I started calling my mother by her first name, Sharon.

My best friend Jeffry was there for me though, through it all. He has the prettiest eyes you will ever see, green with a little hint of blue. He wore all black all the time, said that it made him look better, although I think he looks great either way. I would spend the night at their house every so often when I couldn’t get enough money to buy me and my mother meals. They had a big brown house. Those ones you see in the movies with the perfect families inside. Yea, that was their home. The big red door, the blue shutters on the windows. Whenever I went to their house we would have the same thing, pasta with a side of mashed potatoes. It smelled wonderful everytime I walked through the door. They didn’t even mind me just walking in. I didn’t have to knock or anything. But my favorite part of going there was of course Jeffry.

“Sharon, what do you want for dinner tonight?” I get no response. “Sharon, what do you want for dinner?” No response again. I started walking to her room, “Sharon?” She wasn't there. For the first time in 14 years my mother wasn't in her room. I checked the bathroom. The mirror had fog all over it and there was water everywhere. No, I thought, she didn't…. I open the shower curtain. The water faucet was running, and the tub was full. Sorry for the climax, nope, Sharon was not in the tub. But then where is she?

I called the police station and asked for their help.

“Please help me, my mother is missing!”

“Honey, how old are you? Are you the only one in the house?” the police officer said, as if I were like, 4.

“My name is Cali, my father died when I was 5 and my mother has been in her room since then. I'm 19 now and she's not in her room.” I told him this information with some attitude, so he knew I meant business.

“I'm sorry mam, about your father. What is your mother's name? What does she look like?”

“My mother's name is Sharon, she's short, about 5’4.” I shiver thinking about what could be happening to her right now. “She should be wearing her pajamas. A long blue nightgown with moons and stars on it.” And what came next surprised me.

“Mam, does your mother have black hair? Some red streaks within it?” He said this in the deepest tone. “Mam, your mother is here, at the station. She was caught trying to dig up a grave last night, can't remember who she is, or why she was digging.”I then knew exactly what was going on.

“Was the grave of Matthew Rich?”

“Yes mam.”

“I'll be there in a minute, can you hold her there until then?”

“Alright mam, we will hold her in a cell until you get here.”

 

Chapter 2

 

We got into the car to go home and it was very quiet… I knew I had to be the one to start the conversation, whether it was a nice conversation or not.

“Oh my god, Sharon, what were you thinking?”

“Cali, your father, he was the love of my life.” She wouldn't look at me once. Just staring out the window the whole time. “He also was the holder of one of the most important secrets ever.”

“Sharon, what are you trying to get at here?”

“The portal, through the mirror.”

“You've got to be kidding me. Sharon, have you gone completely mad?” My mother spun around with the most annoyed face ever. Her eyes were wide open and an eyebrow raised. She obviously was about to scream and I was not ready for it. I was only wondering why I was driving her home when she was the one who walked out of it.

“DO I LOOK MAD TO YOU? All mirrors hold the most amazing thing in the world, another dimension. A perfect dimension.”

“Yes Sharon, there is another dimension on the other side of my mirror where life would be perfect…” She just stared at me. Not saying a word, just staring. “You're serious aren't you?” Again just staring. “MOM!”

    “Oh, now I'm mom huh?” Now I'm staring at her. “Yes, the perfect dimension is on the other side of any mirror, it just depends on who is looking through it.” The rest of the car ride was quite. I just kept driving, not even thinking about where I was going. The sky was grey now, pouring rain. My mother and I just looking out each of our windows, wondering, picturing, thinking about whatever came to our minds at that moment.

I pulled up to the house, helping my  mother out of the car and into her bed. “Good night, Sharon.” I said to her while tucking her into bed. I kissed her on the forehead, turned the lights off and walked out.

I layed in bed, not sleeping but thinking. What did my mother mean by “another dimension”? A perfect world where nothing goes wrong? Can that really exist or was my mom just coming to that point in life, where nothing makes sense?

    The next morning I went to Jeffrey's house and told  him what my mother told me.

    “So that's why I'm here. I really think she is telling me the truth.”

    “How do you know? Don't you think it  may just be that time?”

    “Sharon hasn't talked to me in about 14 years other than telling me what she wanted for dinner. Why would she lie to me?” I asked him concerned he would say old age.

    “Maybe she isn't…..”  He told me, he got up and walked out of the room.

    “Jeffry, where are you going?”

    “Come on!”

Chapter 3

 

He got into my car and told me to hop in. We drove for about five minutes after stopping at a library. Jeffry got out and started running.

    “What are we doing at the library? And how do you have a key to my car.” I asked him. He turned around and said,

    “Would you stop asking questions and follow me?” Then he started running back towards the front entrance. I hate libraries, they always smell like old people and there's always a bunch of people ready to shush me around. Can't they use some febreeze every once and awhile? I finally caught up to Jeffry while he was searching through the books.

    “It's here somewhere I know it!” He explained when one of the shooshers came around the corner to shoosh.

“Here it is!”

    “Shoosh!”

    “Sorry,” I told the woman “what is it?” Jeffrey grabbed a book with a all black coverslip on it that reads, “The untold truth of the mirror” He then slammed the book on the table and flipped through pages while he kept whispering the same thing 79, 79, 79.

    “What does 79 mean?” He stopped. He pointed at the title of that page that said “The Unspoken Truth”. “This here says,” He read to me while following with his finger, “that anyone can pass through a mirror to THEIR perfect dimension, once they fulfill their life in their original dimension.”

    “You can't be serious to???”

    “It's worth a shot. If you really want your perfect life with your family, you need to try.” Now I knew he was seriously considering this. Could it really be though? A perfect world where I could be with my father? Jeffrey was right, if I really wanted it, I needed to go for it.

    The next morning I told my mother I was leaving, leaving for the perfect dimension.

    “You have not fulfilled your life here yet though, how do you think you'll get through?”

    “What else could I do to fulfill my life? I've taken care of you most of it, I think that's fulfilment enough.”

    “No, you need to fulfill your life. You can't just assume that by taking care of me you fulfilled your life.” She had a point, I haven't even thought about that.

    “Well you never know unless you try.” Now I knew it was time, time to go see my father again. I hadn't seen him since his funeral. He was so handsome, a beautiful smile. But I was one hundred percent ready to see him. I went into my room and stood in front of my body mirror.

    Am I crazy? I thought, am I crazy to think I can go and see my father again through a mirror to a perfect dimension? No, I can't trunk back now. I reached my hand out and it hit the mirror just as it would have any other day. I'm so stupid for thinking this cold have worked.

    I turned around to walk out and ask my mom what she wanted for dinner, when I noticed a little red danger alert signal pop up on my mirror. It read “life not fulfilled, life not fulfilled” Wow, I thought, it actually worked. Now I was full on crazy because I was screaming at my mirror.

    “How do I fulfill my life? How do I do it!”

    “I wish it were that simple,” My mom entered my room and started talking “ I did the same thing when I wanted to jump through, but this you see is my perfect life apparently. And you have to fulfill your life on your own.”

    “Sure, if this is your perfect life why is dad not here?”

    “You're father is svum. I loved him till death do we part, but he was a horrible person, man, husband and worst of all, father.”

    “Sharon, why don't you go back to bed. I know you're a little tired right now so what you just said I'll pretend like it never happened.” I said leading her towards her room.

    “No Cali, I know I should have told you this sooner and I'm sorry to have to tell you this now, but your father in the future if he hadn't have passed away,” She stopped. She fell to the floor and started crying.

    “Mom just tell me it's okay.”

    “ your father, was an abusive alcoholic who didn't know his wrongs from his rights. I really wish he could have been a great father for you which is why I came here to this dimension, but when I came your father had passed away and for good reason because if he hadn't.” She stopped again crying even more.

    “Mom, please don't cry, just tell me.”

    “Cali, if your father wouldn't have passed away on December 17th 1999, your father would have killed you and me both from all his abusing.” Now I was crying, not because I was sad, but because I knew she was telling the truth.

State
MI
Zip Code
48103
Grade
11

You may not break the rules.

That’s the first thing they teach you when you enter this world in a stream of blood, guts, and bright overhead lights. Don’t throw your rattle. Don’t throw your food. Don’t cry. Put on your socks. (No, darling, like this.) Don’t color outside the lines—then put your crayons back into the box where they belong, just like how you belong in line where everyone else has been placed, pushed into a crooked, confused formation that They hate but do not fix. And who pushed you there? They did. We all listen to the omnipotent They. They told us to stand us line. They told us to color inside the lines. They told us to cut nice squares and glue them to our uniform sheets of construction paper in straight lines, left-right top-bottom no overlaps no gaps, and we listen because that is what he have been taught ever since we entered this world in a stream of blood, guts, and blinding overhead lights.

And the lights don’t stop. Welcome to a new world, this innocent heaven, with all eyes on you. Listen to the cotton candy compliments, grab those sugar canes, but only until you reach that cherry tart age where your baby fat becomes just fat and your small limbs become scrawny; your crooked teeth stop being cute and get caged in by braces, your questions start to sound like a shelling. And that’s when the sugar cane becomes just a normal cane for bad comedy gags, a cane that loops around your neck and yanks you from Candyland and onto a different stage. The spotlight becomes ultraviolet—you’re no longer visible to the world.

We all talk about the final Judgment, that moment when God puts us on the weighing scale and tell us the heaviness of our sins, as if this is all that matters, but we are judged for our entire lives, every moment, every suffocating second where the angel on your right shoulder says people are a-changin’ but the devil on your left says you’re ugly, that people are not changing, that they’ll always have an opinion that you say you can not care about but care about regardless of whether or not you care...

Welcome to the world swathed in ultraviolet. Free admission, refreshments provided. All you need to provide is proof of a tainted spirit.

Now this is the real, all-American experience. The lights are on you; don’t freeze. Smile at the cameras, the audience, the lights. Make sure They are happy. Put on a show, make Truman Burbank proud. Exercise your rights, but don’t cross the line. Don’t use verbs. (Don’t use verbs unless they’re “will do,” “will succeed,” “will obey.”) Stay in line, but make sure you toe it to give the audience a dash of suspense. They like that sort of stuff. Toeing the line is freedom, dignity, and all-American, but don’t cross it unless you want to be on the cross for others like you; then you’ll really be burned by the ultraviolet. Conformity is your sunscreen; don’t let it run out.

Wave your flag. Go around and call people ‘darling.’ Let honey run from your words. Listen, listen, listen, and never say no. Say “yes,” “all right,” “lovely.” Don’t forget the ‘darling’; it makes you look happy. Devour poetry, sip 24-Hour Energy, eat gluten free, live a zero waste lifestyle. Be a contributing member of society. Get up at 6, come home at midnight because your boss told you to stay overtime in the form of a question.

And in all of this, stay in line. Toe it to give a show, but never cross it. Because you came into this world in a stream of blood, guts, and deafening overhead lights just to be bombarded by the blinding sounds of disappointment. Don’t cross, because what lies beyond is the Midway Judgment with many more to follow before finality.

So stay in ultraviolet; just do not forget your sunscreen.

State
CA
Zip Code
91789
Grade
11

The man sat in his chair staring at the multitude of screens before him. All the screens stared back at him all reading the same messages: ERROR! CANNOT COMPUTE! INSUFFICIENT INFORMATION!

The creak of the chair echoed in the vast area as the man let out a loud sigh into the empty space. Surrounded by so many beeping and blinking machines the man did not know what to do; he was ready to give up. Ready to give up on the problems the world had left him to fix. His withered and wrinkled face sagged with his frown as many rolls manifested upon his brow. These machines that were supposed to be so smart, so able and efficient in helping him, helping society, had failed him in every aspect.

“Do you require assistance sir? I heard a noise of distress,” a concerned voice called from the doorway behind him.

In came a blank faced machine, this one’s purpose to be more human like making it easier to be calm around, and came to rest in front of the elder. The old man thought it comical that the robot could voice ‘concern’ but couldn’t make its lifeless features move to form that expression. The robot was a rusted piece of garbage that needed many repairs, its gears and circuits long since rotted and decayed, but it was ill equipped to do so itself, so it deteriorated more and more year after year.

“No, I don’t need any help. When have you ever been of any use to me anyways?” the man growled in spite at the robot.

“Very well sir. Call me if you need anything,” the robot bowed respectfully and shifted back out the door.

The man let out another despairing sigh as he looked back up at his many screens, still blinking the same messages. He raked his hand through his fading hair and pulled it down to see a clump of white, matted follicles in his palm. He felt his grief rise up again and he prepared to just call it quits, to turn off all the lights, the blinding lights that could never come close to the brilliance and beauty of the star blocked out in the days of his youth. He looked at the small button on his chair and once again found a ironic thought. Such a small thing held the power to end it all, as is such with small buttons. It had to have been a small button that caused so much damage to his vibrant world. This button didn’t have quite that affect, then again, it would be just as affecting to him as other buttons. Life was supposed to be something cherished, and perhaps it would have been, had there been a life to live. All the old man saw the button cutting off was a bunch of machines.

“Sir,” the robot from before called out tentatively, “I have to make sure everything is regulation with the machines for your ailments.”

“Come in God, and after you’re done we’re going to try out the last test,” the old man answered.

“But sir, none of the others have worked and it would not be logical to waste any more of the energy we have. You need as much as you can keep.”

“Do as I say!” the old man snapped.

“Yes sir.”

The robot fully entered and fiddled with several of the machines hooked up and laced in the man’s back and chest, checking and making sure that his lifetime companion was well taken care of. In his memory banks he could remember seeing the man before him as a young child going about his adolescence until adulthood where he had lived a life of fear. Where the two of them hid from the realities that shouldn’t have been real. He remembered the day he really looked up and saw what his friend had become. He became the withered prune he was now. In the past he might have voiced his thoughts in a humorous tone but the man had long since lost all sense of the feeling. The robot sometimes wondered who was more human now? He, who was given artificial intelligence and the ability to share the human mind, or the old man before him, born human, now needing as many gears as he did just to survive and function day to day. Once done making sure everything was functioning correctly the robot was promptly pushed out of the way as the man had his chair wheel itself to a table cluttered with many different vials. The scraping of the wires protruding from his back and chest flowed through the wide space until he came to a stop and began searching through the mess on his table. After some time it seed he finally had what he needed and the chair wheeled itself back to its original position.

The old man stared back up at the screens for a moment and then had himself turned to a set of doors. The doors scanned him and the robot before shifting open slowly only to stop midway. The old man gave a curious glance to the doors as they had never done this before. These doors always opened and closed dutifully after scanning and making sure everything was safe. Not once had he ever had any problems out of these doors, and then suddenly, they fell. The two sliding arches of the doors fell off their belts and slammed to the ground on both sides of the chair. The only reason the robot and the man weren’t smashed to their relative bits was because of the small opening the doors had made before malfunctioning. Both the man and the robot stared at the fallen doors for a time before the man shook himself out of his stupor.

“Come on God,” he demanded and they made their way through.

Inside this room heaps of scrap metal sat in various places, rising like the skyscrapers that used to stand a testament to man’s capabilities.

“Sir are you sure you want to do this?” the robot asked staring at the huge piles of failed experiments.

“Quiet,” the old man ordered.

On his lap sat a vial of quickly flashing liquid. The liquid inside changed colors from green to blue to brown to white and so on and so forth. The old man picked up the vial and emptied out the contents into the palm of his hands. The liquid puddled in his hand for a bit until solidifying into a large teardrop shape. The old man then reached into his breast pocket and pulled out an identical object in shape. The only difference between the two was that the first was made of different patches of color like the the original liquid while the other was a distinct silver color. He set both together in his hand and the merged together like magnets. There was a quick flash of light and then the end product was a glowing white teardrop in the palm of the man’s hand. The chair wheeled over to a decent sized hole set aside from the piles of metal. The floor, being metal itself, looked as if it had been carved out and smoothed until it was the crater that was there before them. The man and the robot went to the edge of said crater and peered down into it. The man took the object in his hand and threw it down into the crater, then he reached behind himself and grabbed onto one of the many wires attached to him.

“Sir please reconsider,” the robot tried to reason with the old man.

“This is my choice and I will create this life in my own image God,” the old man snarked at the robot before yanking a batter out of his many circuits.

The robot turned his head as the man threw down the battery with the teardrop. On his chair was a switch and he flicked it. The old man tensed up as if a heavy strain was being placed on him and out of the chair flowed blue sparks of electricity into the small crater. Finally it all stopped and the man let out a loud gasp as his body finally relaxed and he laid limp on his chair.

Inside the crater a pool of sparks had covered the battery and teardrop and small sparks flew out and into the air before disappearing. The pool was swallowed into the ground and nothing was left in the hole, then suddenly the ground began to shake. The piles around crumbled further and became a great mass of metal surrounding the man and the robot. Out sprang a large silver and brown base. Bulky and strong limbs spiraled out of it and seemed to reach for the sky as if searching for something, anything to grasp on to. The figure kept climbing and climbing and continued to sprout out more limbs, only these were smaller and the grew small specks. The specks shook creating a rushing and mighty sound that the old man could barely remember, from a time where the wind used to actually flow and those specks had a name. Finally the shaking stopped, the limbs stopped appearing, and there stood something beautiful. A strong sturdy base, multiple limbs, large and tiny specks vibrating in the gleaming light, it all stood there. The limbs wide and inviting as if beckoning to the man to come home and then the glowing stopped. A loud and desperate groan resonated throughout the room as the color drained from this great beast. Soon all the specks started to fall and drifted to the ground, leaving behind only a skeleton of a great creature. Its many limbs still outstretched, still searching desperately, until those too started to fall. Withered and weak they broke on impact with the ground leaving only a tall body of a once beautiful thing.

The man stared at his creation with a blank expression. After everything, after all those breakthroughs, after all that trying, he had failed. That was his final chance to right the wrongs of those before him. He couldn’t even find it within himself to despair; it was all over.

He let out a self-hating  laugh before turning to his robot, “You know I can’t believe they named you God. They thought you’d be our savior.”

“Have i failed in my service to you sir?” the robot asked having a panicked lilt to its voice.

“No. That was a flaw with the humans. You did nothing wrong. Could you push this button for me God? I can’t do it anymore,” the old man asked.

“It was never your job to do so Adam,” the robot replied and pushed the button.

Adam stared up at his creation as the light faded out of his eyes, as the light faded from everything. The whirring and beeps ceased to sound as all the lights faded. He looked up with a blank stare. In his final moments the robot sank to the ground beside the old man. As all his functions started to power down fluid flowed from his upturned eyes and he cried at the loss of his friend.

State
MI
Zip Code
48198
Grade
11

Iris stood alone in her room, too tired to take off her shoes, even though the two inch heels were killing her. It had been a long day, and not because of the endless hours she had spent listening to what felt like an endless court case and defending her client. No, that part was easy. The trouble came when she ran half an hour late to dinner with Ray, her boyfriend. What was even worse than her late arrival was his news.

"Iris, listen," Ray had said, taking both of her hands in his. "You've heard about Creekstone, that movie company that's out in LA?"

She had smiled, wondering what on earth he was up to. "Um, yeah?"

"I applied to a job there, they've got good opportunities."

"In, in LA?" The shock was beginning to hit her. "That would mean moving..."

"It's not ideal, but, there's not much work for me here."

Iris slumped down onto the bed at the memory of those words. We live in New York city. She thought. There's plenty of work here.

For the rest of the meal he had tried to comfort her. "Nothing's certain yet..." "We could make a long distance relationship work."

Iris kicked off her shoes in anger. "I don't care,"  she said to thin air. "I want him here." She sighed and slowly raised herself off the bed and looked in the mirror. "I can't convince him to stay," she told her reflection. "I love him too much to do that." Iris rarely cried but she felt tears well up in her hazel eyes. "But I love him too much for him to leave." She sobbed. "There must be something I can do!" She flopped against the side of her bed like a fairy tale princess whose father has forbidden her from marrying the prince in disguise.

I can't call the company and tell him what a horrible producer he is, because he's good at it. I can't call his parents in Washington to convince them to convince him to stay; they'd probably support the move because he'd be closer, she thought hopelessly. Suddenly she lifted her eyes. "If I can't convince anyone here on Earth, maybe, just maybe, I can convince You, Lord!"

She stood up and started pacing the room. "Now, how does one convince GOD to keep a man in New York City? I guess I just need to prove that we're meant to be together! That we're soul mates, and all that good stuff. It could require a lot of convincing..." Iris laughed, "Oh, I'm a lawyer, this will be a piece of cake!"

Looking up at her ceiling she began, "Dear GOD, or Your Honor, I am here today to make a case for why Ray should NOT move to Los Angeles, and I will be making that case by proving to You" -She pointed her finger up at the sky for emphasis- "That we're meant to be together. Now I know this is probably not what you're used to, but I have won quite a few hopeless cases in the courtroom, so winning my own case right here shouldn't be too much of a problem."

Iris stood up a little straighter. "If two people are meant to be together, than nothing should separate them. Therefore I believe that I can show You that my client, excuse me, Roy, my boyfriend and I are meant to be together. I will be doing this by showing that we have the three things needed in a successful relationship. First, passion and romance. As we can clearly see in the example of every single candle-light dinner date we have ever been on, we definitely are romantic. And we are very passionate about each other, thus the whole reason why I'm presenting this case!" Iris was about to move on what she thought, is that enough evidence? How am I supposed to officially present it?

Then she realized that it was very unlikely GOD received a lot of prayers like this one, so he'd probably be just fine with only verbal evidence. After all, He was all knowing. For a final piece of evidence under her first argument she added, "And Your honor, er, LORD, we did take a very long walk in the park last week, which I think anyone would agree is very romantic."

Iris paused, as if awaiting some response. Realizing that this was pointless she continued. "Another very important thing to have in a relationship is teamwork." For lack of a better word. She added silently. "All couples in life must be teams. Ray and I know how to work well together, like when we made spaghetti." Okay, not the best example, since we nearly set his apartment on fire when we forgot about the garlic bread in the oven. "We also helped organize a charity drive at his old job last Christmas." Though his boss did get pretty upset when the mountain of cans fell over and damaged the new floor. Iris bit her lip. There had to be some example of their teamwork that didn't end in a minor disaster. "We've almost never missed a date together, even when we're both super busy. Even if I'm running late he'll still wait for me. Or if he really has to cancel, I make sure we reschedule." She smiled, thinking of all the happy times they had shared together. "We never even made an agreement about it, we just know how important it is to each other to spend time together, and I think that's a pretty good example of teamwork." She looked up at the ceiling, wondering if GOD was smiling as much as she was.

"Are You convinced yet?" She wondered aloud, all of her typical courtroom formality melting into gentle charm. "I have convinced myself more than enough, but You may not be, so, I suppose I will present one last argument..."

She took a deep breath, her heart beating in bliss. "The third thing that every relationship needs," she whispered, "is love." "He loves me, and I'm not sure how to provide proof of that, because I just know." Straightening, she replaced her lovestruck smile with her everyday lawyer face. "But if You would like evidence, I can provide plenty; he tells me so very often how much he loves me, and he is always sure to spend plenty of time with me." Iris sighed, slipping in between an infatuated girlfriend and a firm defender of truth. "I suppose now, there is just one thing left to prove- how much I love him."

She swallowed hard, not realizing that although she had just poured out so much of her heart here was the final piece. "I've stuck with him for almost two years, through times when he's been rich enough to take me out to nice steak dinners and in times like these past few months, when he's struggling to find employment. I have spent so much of these past few years with him, and only fallen in love with him more every moment." Once more she felt tears form in her eyes, but she wiped away the first one that fell across her cheek. "Maybe I shouldn't have presented this case at all, because I know deep down I could never stop him from pursuing his dream, if that's what LA will be. I don't know if it is, but if so, You may need to just disregard everything I've said. I'm not sure anymore," Iris laughed through the tears. "Anyways, GOD, or Your honor, I rest my case. I do truly believe that Ray and I are meant to spend the rest of our lives together. I have fully convinced myself of that fact, so please LORD, be convinced of it too."

State
CA
Zip Code
92801
Grade
12

Spring four years ago, I was offered a job at a local environmental research center to test samples and run machinery. That was before the center’s budget cuts were announced and my coworkers were laid off one by one, a process I escaped from. Now it’s just Andrew and I in a white building filled with empty desks and computers, all an off-white that looks like the yellow of old age, but is really just the yellow of someone’s design choice. Andrew and I work in the lab of the building, a constantly humming set of rooms that, I think, might have given me tinnitus.

 

I work next to a river that runs a deep gray-blue in the spring and freezes over a pale turquoise in winter. Some areas are swampy with reeds growing twice my height and a plastic pathway mowing them down; some areas are foaming and white, with stones atop of rushing water that flows through man-sized pipes underneath.

 

The first week I came here, I bought a pair of leather boots to keep the red dirt surrounding of the waterbanks out of my socks. Almost immediately I had formed a habit of taking walks around the area after work, and sometimes before. The very first day I stood on the plastic pathway sturdy above the lapping water in an area freed by the reeds, mesmerized by the way the water ran so dark and reflected light in even domes, never staying still. I felt an urge to let myself fall in to touch my palms to the moving mud at the bottom of the river, even though I’m deathly afraid of drowning. Some teenagers found me once, torso half-draped over the plastic railing, just looking into the moving body. They must have thought that I was crazy.

 

Over the course of my weekday walks in the past four years, I’ve seen a lot of dogs, fishing rods, and older women gossiping in pairs that venture through the river. I’ve only met another person so transfixed with the water as I am once, last year. He was tall and disheveled, and his name was Jackie. He always had a smell in his hair, something like grease but a little like car engine. The first time I saw him was after work some time in February, when the January chill was relenting and the ice caved in around certain portions of the river.

 

He always had a smell in his hair, something like grease but a little like car engine. The ducks hated him. I saw him after work. Sometimes we talked about baseball, which he really knew nothing about, and sometimes we talked about the river. Sometimes he would turn his gray face down towards me and exhale something colored, always musty and pungent.

 

“Why do men fish here?” Jackie once asked.

“For sport,” I answered. “We warn them not to eat any of their catches.”

“Sport? I thought sport was baseball.”

“Sport is entertainment.”

“The fish die.”

“The men get diarrhea.”  

 

It is now a bit after my one year anniversary of meeting Jackie, if you can call it that. He has greeted me every day after work in the same exact spot week after week, season after season. And as we approach summer, Jackie has been smelling stronger of gasoline - I decided gasoline was the name of the odor that always surrounded him after I discovered that my car suffered a fuel tank leak a few weeks ago when I went to get it washed. I thought it came from the slicked-back, shiny black hair he always sported, but the occasional whiff has spread throughout the air around him. I think it would be a bit rude to point it out. Instead, I yesterday all I mused about was the coming heat. Summertime is approaching. Summertime, when the river runs heavy and bright, full of active life and movement. The air gets hot and holds onto sharp smells closely. Birds are aplenty, and people of all ages come to stand by the rocks. Yet nobody is ever around when I meet Jackie.

 

A job of mine and Andrew’s is taking samples of the river water and soil every season for river quality check, and we chose today to do the deed. Andrew, a man with a dull sense of smell and the clumsy hands of a toddler, commented only on the refreshing feeling of dunking his arms into the water as a release from the humid, pulsing air around us. Summer had hit us with full force. Yet as the motorboat roared us through the river, all I could think about was the pungent smell rising from the water we touched. Feces, gasoline, and a whole array of chemicals I couldn’t name wafted up in the air and into my skin.

 

I left the white building today with sterilized hands (soap and sink water) and a fuzzy mind, exhausted from standing against the wind of the motor boat all day. Yet I still took my sweaty walk alongside the river. Jackie was there.

 

“Hello, Jackie.”

“Hello.”

“Why the long face?” I asked. Jackie never really smiles, but his complexion is unusually dark today. His eyes bulge out of his face when he stares at me.
Before I can ask another question, Jackie says, “I must be going soon.”

“Huh, even river freaks like you have appointments?” Honestly for all I knew, Jackie never strayed from his spot by the river. Although he technically isn’t allowed to stay in the area after dusk.

“I suppose an appointment is what it is,” Jackie says before the sides of his neck slit.

“The dissolved oxygen levels are low today,” I say. Andrew and I took them that afternoon when we were on the motorboat.

“I will do what I can to breathe.” Jackie’s skin reflects the summer sunlight. I wave goodbye and the water ripples.

 

Man to fish, dust to dust. The river runs black. My samples peak in the GC.

State
NJ
Zip Code
07410
Grade
8

When I lived in the city, I never got to appreciate the stars. They were always there, hidden behind skyscraper lights and fogs of cloud, but I never saw them for what they really were. Not tiny dots in the sky, but jewels. Balls of fire and gas and beauty that we, as humans, can't quite comprehend. 

Then I moved to the countryside. And I met Jupiter. 

“Do you like it?” a voice asks quietly—speak of the devil—and it brings me back to reality. I can just barely make out his face in the darkness of the night; amber eyes the color of honey. Hair as pale as snow, stray strands disheveled on his forehead. I resist the urge to flatten them back in place.

We sit on a blanket laid out on the very peak of a hill stained with grass and past sunshine, waiting for the sky to open fire.
Meteor showers are hard to come by, and it’s Jupiter’s last day here. I want to make it count.

“Of course,” I say truthfully. “It’s beautiful.” He smiles at this, that warm smile that makes me weak in the knees and my stomach all fluttery. I hate how Jupiter makes me feel sometimes. So vulnerable, like the smallest touch could send me shattering to the ground. And with him gone, no one would be there to piece me back together. 

I shake my head, blocking the thoughts out so that they can only infiltrate the back of my mind. No point in worrying about a future that hasn't happened yet, or missing someone that's still by my side. 

"Look,” Jupiter says, gently shaking my shoulder. He sounds calm, but I can see the undertone of excitement behind his eyes. “It's starting.” 

I turn my attention to the darkness of the sky, and it falls. 

The stars make way for streaks of light painting themselves on a charcoal canvas, and then they fall in elegant swoops behind curving mountaintops and an invisible horizon. More and more come to await their ends, a seemingly never-ending shower.

Admist all the awe, Jupiter reaches for Jupiter’s hand. I let him take it, and our fingers intertwine. His touch is cold against my palm, but soothing nonetheless. 

The shower ends, finally, though it must have only lasted for a brief moment anyway. 

“How was it?” I say softly, exhaling a content sigh as I rest my head on Jupiter’s shoulder. It's not too bony, or too small. Just the perfect ratio to the crook of his neck, and okay, maybe it's a little odd that I’m examining the qualities of his shoulder, of all parts, but sometimes that happens when you fall in love with someone and you know it won't last. You spend so long thinking about how they are now, so that the parts you try to remember will stay ingrained in your memory when they depart.

That's when the cold finality of the situation sinks into my head—tonight is the last time that I will ever see him again. One moment, I hold his hand. The next, he will leave only remembrance as a reminder that he was once here. Coming and going as fast as a falling star. 

I swallow, forcing myself to stand up.

“So,” I begin. “Are you...are you going soon?”

“Yes,” Jupiter says. His eyes flit to the sky, then back to me. “They should be here soon.” 

"Ah,” I nod, sadly aware of how pathetic I sound. “I had fun today.” 

“I did as well,” Jupiter agrees. He smiles. “It's fun, being with you.” 

Damn it! I can feel my face flush, and my cheeks turning into the color of boiling tomatoes. Stupid, stupid, Jupiter. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

“I’ll miss you,” I finally blurt out, and as soon as the words comes out of my mouth, I internally facepalm. “Er, um, you—will you ever come visit again?” 

“Perhaps,” Jupiter says thoughtfully. He looks at me curiously. “What does it feel like, to miss someone?”

I raise my eyebrows. "I mean, well, it's hard to explain, but I guess...it's kind of like you wish they were with you instead of somewhere else, and it sort of leaves you feeling empty, like they made up a part of you that's gone without them, and they're always on your mind..." I let my voice trail off. "Um. Yeah. Something like that."

"I see," Jupiter says. "Hmm. I suppose that means that I would—" A loud, whirring buzz—almost like helicopter blades spinning—cuts him off. It sounds like it's coming from above us, and when I look up, lights flash in the sky. Not stars, but something bigger. More foreboding. 

The lights come closer, and in the pale reflection of the moon, I see the shadow of a ship. It's shaped like a saucer (talk about stereotypical), and maybe big enough to cover the same amount of land as a house. 

It hovers above the hill that Jupiter and I stand on, and the look on his face is so melancholically beautiful that it makes me ball my hands into fists. Don't cry, don't cry, don't—shit, I'm crying, I'm crying, I'm—

"Sorry," Jupiter says softly, brushing my tears away with the tips of his fingers. "I didn't mean to make you upset." 

"No, it's—it's not your fault," I say thickly, rubbing my nose with the back of my sleeve. "I just—I wish you weren't going."

"I wish I wasn't, either," he says sadly. A strange look flashed across his face, and for a moment, he seems...sheepish, almost. 

"Sometimes," he hesitates. "Sometimes I wish I could cry." 

"What? Why?"

"I always thought feeling emotion so strongly was a rather human trait," he explains. "And,..I suppose I've always wanted to feel human. I've wanted to be like you, Elliot." 

"Though I know it's impossible," he adds quickly. "When I'm an alien to your planet. But I do dream about it sometimes. I despise that I do." 

"Don't," I argue. "You're one of the most human people that I've ever met! What does it even mean to be human, anyway? A lot of people don't cry and they're as normal as everybody else. I think, if you can feel and love and communicate somehow, then—you're human." 

"Love," Jupiter repeats. He looks at me intently, amber eyes glowing. "And what...what does it feel like to love?"

"God, do I have to explain everything to you?" I tease. The smile fades from my face. I sigh. "It's, like, when you care about someone so much that you'd do anything for them, even if it meant you had to sacrifice something. You couldn't imagine life without them, because, well, you love them." 

 Beeeep! The sudden noise makes me flinch as I realize it's coming from the ship. A signal for Jupiter to hurry, probably. 

"I should go now," Jupiter says. He gives me the butterflies-in-my-stomach smile again, giving my hand one final squeeze. "Thank you for everything, Eliot. For teaching me about life, about your planet, about the stars." 

"O—of course," I stammer. "It's nothing." 

"And according to your definition of love," he continues, taking a step closer to me until his breath feels cooling against my skin. 

"I think I love you." 

Before I can even register what this, the ship casts down a ray of light, and it sweeps Jupiter up with it. 

 

As he leaves the ground, his fingers slowly leaving mine, I search his face for what must be the last time. 

A tear drops from the corner of his eye.

I must be imagining things, because it feels so impossible, really, but the ship has already disappeared as soon as I blink away my own tears, his silhouette gone with it.

The words echo in my head, over and over and over until it gets to the point where I should be tired of it, but I'm not.

 I think I love you.

I look up at the view above my head, still glittering with twinkling stars, when the impossible happens yet again. A stray meteor makes its way across the horizon. I smile.

"I love you, too," I whisper, and I hope that somehow, he hears me.

 

State
MI
Zip Code
48176
Grade
11

Perhaps it was due to the rise of cinemas or mainstream television, but the men and women of Rolling Hills in the late 1900’s seemed to prey on bold news, bold accessories, and bold clothes - though on a much lower scale in liberality.

 

And through the chaos that encased them day after day, a young man held onto his lifelong dream of being amongst the world’s handful of finest writers, in hopes that he could quit his job at the local newspaper office.

 

The man had just arrived to work and began hastily flipping through pages of the trending news to reach a small section on page seven, wherien authors paid to have excerpts from their latest books published.

 

A rotund figure approached him and tapped his finger lightly on top of his head.

 

“You are but a rookie writer at best, Theo! It is time to focus on a real job - would you go make some calls for me?”

 

His boss proceeded to push him out of the door, placing a cigarette in his hand.

 

He paused at the door’s frame and looked down at his palm then back up. His boss quickly replaced it with a rolled up piece of paper and motioned to the telephone booth across the street.

 

Theo rushed out and waited patiently for a group of businessmen to cross before him, only to hear noisy chatter grow increasingly loud as he approached the telephone booth. Behind the booth, a woman clad in a red vest too loose for her small frame exited the Rolling Hills theatre.

 

“Excuse me miss, but what’s all the fuss about?”
“Boy, are you a writer?” she asked.

“I would like to think so - “

“A fine young writer like you must enter the competition. I hear the prize is a fruitful one,” she looked up at him with bright, child-like eyes.

“It seems our world is much too busy with new Hollywood today,” she called over her shoulder as she bustled away.

 

And so the young man began devising a plan that would distract his world from the hustle and at the ripe age of twenty-two, Theo created a pen name.

“Angus Schlep,” he revealed to his youngest sister.

 

“Like Guy de Maupassant!” Marline exclaimed.

 

He paused for a moment and nodded, “Yes, I suppose. Marline, you’ll visit me when I become famous, isn’t that right?”

 

“Theodore,” she laughed to herself, “if you manage to win this I shall be the first fan knocking at your door.”

Marline reached over and fixed a stubborn strand of hair atop her brother’s hair and urged him out the door, “There are only three hours left of the day!”

 

Theo, with a couple hours left to write a fruitful prize-winning story, walked briskly into the spare room located in the back of the theatre when a blinding flash stopped him. He looked around - numerous young men were having their photos taken and being urged towards rows of tables messily set up. He sat down in the far corner and wrote what he already considered his greatest work, a rather sarcastic tale of a man who achieves unwanted fame because he had the same name as a successful writer’s pen name.

As the red-vested lady had mentioned the morning before, large letters had been sprawled across the next day’s newspaper: “Congratulations to Rolling Hills’ own Angus Schlep!”

Theo’s boss’s eyes met his own and with a confused look on his face, his boss shouted “My glasses - quick! Here boy, how is it that this one here has your face?”

Theo repeatedly scanned the black-and-white photograph plastered onto the front page and frantically crossed the street to phone Marline.

Yet, to his dismay, his eyes surveyed a freshly-painted Ford resting outside the theatre. A lean man in a solid blue suit coat scurried out to shake his hand.

The man resembled a cane, Theo thought to himself, with the way his long body hunched over the steering wheel.

After a drive that seemed to surpass hours, Theo was taken to a hotel he did not know the name of, on account of him being rushed inside to avoid reporters. Without a doubt, hopeful men and women everywhere were all anticipating a word from Angus Schlep himself.

From behind Theo, a muffled voice similar to Marline’s called, “Mr. Schlep!”

He turned around to face a pale young woman instead, who whispered into his ear, “Do not worry, Angus! You will have plenty of time to address all the reporters at the dinner tonight.”

Theo imagined a dining hall larger than any he had seen before. This one was filled with important men, packed like sardines, whose biggest problems in life were most likely deciding between a corduroy jacket with leather buttons or a double-breasted suit.

The woman introduced herself as Annelise and informed him that she was to be his first assistant. He hesitated to shake her hand and instead asked, “Miss, how am I supposed to be dressed for this ... dinner tonight?”

She was looking at him with the same childlike eyes as everybody before had been.

“I believe the suits in your closet are equally as fashionable as the jackets, Mr. Schlep,” she motioned to the suite behind him and smiled softly, “but corduroy is of desire these days!”

Theo managed a weak smile in return and watched as Annelise carefully closed the door behind her, leaving the now famous writer alone in his room. He sat by the door and eavesdropped on the excited small talk outside until it died down.

Though having finally acquired a promising career, Theo found himself lonely without a Marline. He missed a comparatively quiet Rolling Hills, where he was known as the humble and conservative man.

 

But Angus Schlep, who had been ushered into the fanciest hotel room in all of the city, seemed to be the most famous and boldest man emerging in Hollywood.

State
NJ
Zip Code
07650
Grade
6

Overcomer

 

     For the first eight months of my life, I lived with a man called Tom. Some of Tom's friends and a number of other puppies and adult dogs also lived there. The dogs staying at that place seemed to be ever changing. One went, a new one came in.

 

Tom gave me a bowl of pale, mushy, sloppy meat every morning. I lapped this up because it was the only food I ever got. One day, I overheard Tom talking to his friends. “That's one of the worst pits I've ever had,” he puffed on a cigarette as he gestured towards me. “But if I can make him look tough by beating him up a little bit and givin’ a spiked collar, the bets will go to him. I can drug my best pit to make him more aggressive and he’ll destroy that awful pup. Best part is we can turn a handsome profit betting on the other dog,” Tom and his friends laughed. Whatever they were talking about, it sounded horrifying.

 

     Tom came and scratched me, hit me, and pinched me, but only a little bit – just enough to leave a mark. Then, I was led into a cage on the outside of a circle of dirt like a small enclosed desert. In another cage on the opposite side of the circle was a large, blue, agitated dog. This was a terrible situation to be in. I instinctively knew at that moment that I was about to be in a dog fight. The fight ended without much excitement because I was smarter than the other dog. I didn't attack the him, I just avoided him until his energy ran out. After it was all over, Tom angrily forced me back into the cage and shouted harsh and crude sounding words to the other men around. We were all taken by surprise when an unfamiliar voice called out from the shadowy area behind the cages “Police! Freeze!”

 

     A man and a woman in dark uniforms with a golden shield shaped plaque on their chests stepped up to Tom. “You’re under arrest,” the uniformed man declared, fastening Tom’s thin, bony hands behind his back. Watching the excitement was interesting, but I was tired. I fell soundly asleep in the dirty cage. I’m sure I would have slept longer if not for the uniformed woman opening my cage door. She looped a ring of wire at the end of a long pole around my neck and waked me to the back of a van that was filled with other dogs I had lived with, all in clean cages. At first, she stood far away, timidly guiding my way. Then, when she noticed I wasn’t fighting back, she walked closer to me. “You’re a great behaved pup, especially after all you’ve been through,” she told me. Even though I didn’t quite understand what that meant, I happily barked. The woman smiled at me. “Oh,” She muttered. “I can’t just let you go to the pound. I think I’ll take you back to the police station with me. How does that sound, buddy?” It sounded great. I liked it when she called me Buddy. I was ushered into a small, dark, cave like space in the back of her police cruiser. We drove away from the wretched place that I used to call home.

 

     The “police station” was a big building with more people in the dark uniforms. Many of them looked at me and smiled. The uniformed woman took me to one man in nice, deep colored clothing who she called “Chief". He was as tall as a ladder and as sturdy as a brick wall. “Chief,” she explained. “I helped rescue this little guy, I call him Buddy, from the dog fighting operation. I think he has great therapy dog potential.” Chief thought for a moment. “You think this little red pup can be a therapy dog?” he asked reluctantly. “Yes, Sir,” the woman answered with confidence. I barked in excitement. “He'll have to go through strict behavioral training, but I think it’s worth giving him a shot,” I sensed the pride rush over the woman. “I'll call the animal behavior specialists, you stay with that pup,” commanded Chief. I sat near a chair with the woman. It was the most comfortable place I had ever sat. A few minutes later, some new people came. I licked their hands to indicate to the people I liked them. After a short conversation with the woman and a few other people in dark uniforms, they took up the leash the woman had adorned me with and gently walked me out the door.

 

     I was loaded into a large kennel in the back of another car. I LOVE car rides! This one in particular, it soothed me right to sleep. I awoke to the loud pop of the back car door opening. The people took me put into a strange room with strange toys where we played strange games. I had never had toys or people to play with before.

 

     The first thing they did was pet me all over. My tongue hung out of my mouth. I LOVED to get rubbed! One of the people in the room stood in a corner making notes on a clip board. For the next game, I was given good, delicious food! While I was eating, they stuck a rubber hand into the bowl. I stopped eating and laid down, waiting to get the dish back. The note taker made another mark on his clip board. For the last game, the people had some stuffed creatures with real scents walk near me. First, a child. Then, a cat. And finally, a dog. I wagged with excitement as they paraded by. The last mark was made on the board. The people smiled and indicated I had done a great job.

 

     The games were easy for me. All I had to do was not get upset. After the games, the people walked me into a big room with a lot of other toys to play other games. I had just earlier been introduced to the tennis ball, which instantly became my favorite toy. I excitedly plunged for one of those! The people talked a lot. Then, another new person came and took my leash. “You're a natural!” he whispered to me. “All that’s left is a bit of training,” he said. I barked, knowing that this training would be much better. The new man’s name was Michael. He was beyond kind. He gave me a proper home with him. He fed me wonderful food and provided me with a comfy bed. He took me to the toys and games facility every day for a long time. He taught me things like “sit", “stay", and “comfort”. I learned these all within a few months. After that, Michael and I went to a new place.

 

     This new place was called the hospital. At first, I was hesitant to even step through the doors. The hallways and equipment had a strong, chemical smell; a scent that burned my eyes. The people in scrubs, called doctors, smelled clean and fresh. The people they visited, called patients, had various smells about them. There were people who smelled weird. People that smelled sad. People that smelled sick. I learned that many of these people needed me, so I ended up enjoying it without a second thought.

 

     This is where I did the command “comfort". I put my head in their laps and they rubbed my ears. This small gesture filled them with joy instead of sorrow. I saw some people several times, other people just once. One of my favorite people to visit was a little girl named Lucy. She was so weak, but when she saw me, her heart was filled with shear happiness. She would throw me a tennis ball from her bed. When I brought it back and set it in her lap, she would toss it again. We would repeat this until her arm was so sore that she could barely move it. Then, I would lie on her lap. She could rub my belly, and sometimes fall asleep, which was something she was not able to do very often.

 

                Most of the patients I visited were children, but I also saw adults and seniors, too. I once went to an old man named Walter. When Walter laid eyes on me, I could tell he had forgotten about his pain. “That dog looks just like the one I had when I was a boy,” He said. “What’s that dog’s name?” He asked. “Buddy,” Replied his nurse. “Buddy,” called the old man. I walked to his side and rested my head on his knee. He scratched me right between my ears. I licked his hand. The day after that, Walter was able to leave the hospital, not sick anymore. I think I was able to contribute to that.

 

     I loved to make people feel good. It seemed to make a true difference in their lives. On one particularly happy day, Lucy Michael, what my story was. “Well,” answered Michael. “He was rescued from a bad, abusive place. But, Buddy was so kind and gentle that the police woman who rescued him suggested him as a candidate for the therapy dog program,” He smiled. Lucy smiled bigger. “So, he overcame something! Just like I am doing! I get to change departments tomorrow ‘cause I’m getting better!” Michael looked at her happily. “Yes,” he cheered. “You, dear Lucy, and Buddy are both strong overcomers.”

State
IL
Zip Code
62629